UK unions urge gov. to oppose Israel's 'draconian' criminalisation of Palestinian NGOs

UK unions urge gov. to oppose Israel's 'draconian' criminalisation of Palestinian NGOs
UK unions have released a statement calling on the British government to oppose Israel's criminalisation of six Palestinian human rights organisations.
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The UK unions issues a joint statement on Thursday [Getty]

A number of unions in the United Kingdom have released a joint statement urging the government to reject a controversial move by Israel to designate six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organisations.

In a statement, TUC, ASLEF, BFAWU, NEU, PCS, RMT, UCU, UNISON and Unite the Union strongly condemned the Israeli government’s "outrageous decision" to criminalise the Palestinian human rights and civil society groups.

"This attack is a brazen attempt to further restrict Palestinian rights and to silence and punish Palestinian human rights defenders already working against incredible odds," the statement said, noting the six organisations targeted are among those most effectively documenting Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian rights.

This includes those monitoring the building of illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land, attacks on Palestinians’ right to food sovereignty, and the illegal arrest and detention of Palestinians, including children.

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"These organisations have made their voices heard internationally, including in the International Criminal Court and in UN forums, and they are undoubtedly targeted for that reason. Smearing, attacking, and banning the most vocal proponents for accountability and justice is a classic move for repressive regimes. It is a threat to the Palestinian people and to human rights defenders everywhere," it added.

The unions described the move as an attempt to cut off international solidarity by isolating Palestinians and delegitimising their crucial work.

"As trade unionists and campaigners for justice, we know all too well how repression and silencing works, and we also know how to stand up against it: by redoubling our commitment to stand with the Palestinian people, and in particular, the courageous human rights defenders criminalised for calling for freedom, justice, and equality."

The statement called on the UK government to "publicly oppose this draconian measure, to demand that Israel reverses it and further to begin to fulfil its own obligations to uphold international law and Palestinian rights, including the right to self-determination, and the right to oppose apartheid".

Israel's controversial move was announced last Friday by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, triggering shock waves worldwide, including among European donors who support the targeted groups and from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. 

Israeli non-government organisations, or NGOs, which partner with the implicated Palestinians also voiced astonishment. 

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United Nations rights expertsAmnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Palestinian rights groups Adalah, which operates in Israel, have all slammed the move to outlaw the six Palestinian NGOs.

Adalah called the decision an "unprecedented attack on human rights defenders who are exposing and resisting the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies in the West Bank".

Gantz has even taken fire from within Israel's government, an unwieldy eight-party alliance that includes left-wing politicians.

The European Union on Thursday said it would be "engaging Israeli authorities for more information regarding the basis" for the terrorism designation, pledging that it would seek to recover funds if "substantiated evidence" were provided. 

But "past allegations of the misuse of EU funds" by Palestinian civil society partners were not substantiated, the EU added.

Meanwhile, representatives from 25 Israeli civil society groups travelled to Ramallah on Wednesday to show solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues. 

"This attack on Palestinian civil society, on Palestinian organisations, is not new," Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of Israeli rights group B'Tselem, told AFP at the demonstration. 

"What is new," he added, is that "they're targeting some of the most respected and oldest civil society organisations in Palestine, like Al-Haq", and that growing international outrage means Israel may no longer be able to act with "impunity".