Human rights defenders targeted by Israel launch joint website

Online Hub Provides Information and Calls to Action Aimed at Reversing Ban on Six Palestinian NGOs

14 December 2021, RamallahThe Palestinian civil society organizations (CSOs) targeted by the Israeli government alongside partners have today launched a new website www.PalCivilSociety.com as part of their #StandWithThe6 campaign. This follows Israel’s escalation of its systemic efforts to shrink civic space, defund, criminalize human rights defenders (HRDs) and civil society.

This culminated in Israeli Minister of Defense, Benny Gantz outlawing the six organizations on 19 October 2021 under Israel’s domestic Anti-Terrorism Law (2016), and as “unlawful organizations” on 3 November 2021, by the Israeli Military Commander in the West Bank. These baseless accusations aim to effectively outcast and discredit the work of leading Palestinian CSOs, placing them and their supporters at imminent risk of reprisals, including cutting off funding, office closure, and arrest of staff members. 

In response to the designation, the international community including world leaders, UN representatives, celebrities, funders and international NGOs have condemned the designation as a blatant threat to human rights. However, Israel continues to firmly maintain its unlawful designation, and by not calling for an immediate reversal of this policy, governments are allowing this dangerous attack to go unchallenged, putting all HRDs at risk, in Palestine and globally.

The website consolidates the efforts of the six Palestinian CSOs and partners, and provides resources for supporters outlining the full context of Israel’s ongoing harrasment campaigns to silence and diminish Palestinian civil society overall. The website will be a central space where supporters can mobilize in solidarity with civil society, starting by sending emails to US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, and Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy asking them to take decisive action to force Israel to reverse the unlawful designation.

As jointly stated by the six organizations, “this designation is only the latest of a series of attacks against us and certainly won’t be the last. This continued assault on Palestinian human rights defenders is also accompanied by systematic use of cybersurveillance technology to hack our phones and surveil us. It’s clear that Israel’s intention is to silence and harrass Palestinian human rights defenders who criticize Israel’s apartheid and settler-colonial regime and call for holding Israeli authorities accountable for their human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Through this common digital space we invite all supporters of human rights and freedom around the world, to take action and show solidarity with Palestinian civil society.”

‘I thought I was a free man’: the engineer fighting Texas’s ban on boycotting Israel

Rasmy Hassouna, a Palestinian American, is suing the state over a provision that bans him or his company from protesting Israel or its products


Rasmy Hassouna: ‘If I don’t want to buy anything at WalMart, who are you to tell me not to shop at WalMart?’ Photograph: Courtesy Rasmy Hassouna

Erum Salam, The Guardian, 7 Dec 2021

For more than two decades, Texan civil engineer Rasmy Hassouna was a contractor for the city of Houston. Hassouna has consulted the city on soil volatility in the nearby Gulf of Mexico – a much needed service to evaluate the structural stability of houses and other buildings.

He was gearing up to renew his government contract when a particular legal clause caught his eye: a provision that effectively banned him or his company, A&R Engineering and Testing, Inc, from ever protesting the nation of Israel or its products so long as his company was a partner with the city of Houston.

For Hassouna – a 59-year-old proud Palestinian American – it was a huge shock.

“I came here and thought I was a free man. It’s not anybody’s business what I do or what I say, as long as I’m not harming anybody,” he told the Guardian. “Were you lying all this time? If I don’t want to buy anything at WalMart, who are you to tell me not to shop at WalMart? Why do I have to pledge allegiance to a foreign country?”

But Hassouna’s reaction did not stop at anger. He took action, launching a case that is challenging the Texas law and – by example – similar provisions that have spread all over the US that seek to stop government contractors from boycotting Israel and can be found in more than 25 US states. Along with the Arkansas Times newspaper, A&R Engineering and Testing Inc is now one of only two companies fighting this kind of law in the nation.

Hassouna’s case – which was filed on his behalf by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – will be heard in federal court on Tuesday and is based on the idea that such laws violate free speech. If ruled unconstitutional, the 2019 ban on boycotting Israel will be illegal in the state of Texas.

But Hassouna’s decision to sue is not without a price. It could cost him a substantial amount of his yearly revenue, his lawyer said.

“They weren’t counting on Rasmy Hassouna from Gaza, whose family has suffered so greatly. He believes that Americans have the right to boycott whatever entity, foreign or domestic, that they want to. That’s what he’s doing – putting his money where his mouth is,” said Gadeir Abbas, a senior litigation attorney for CAIR who is representing Hassouna.

Free Palestine advocates in Columbus, Ohio, protested the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and proposed boycotting companies and goods that support Israel, 12 June 2021. Photograph: Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Hassouna first set foot on American soil in 1988. Like many immigrants, Hassouna’s first experience of the US was New York’s JFK airport. However, his final destination was the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the university at which he planned to study civil engineering. “Regardless how long it was going to take or how hard I had to work, I was going to keep aiming toward my goal,” he said.

As a Palestinian under Israeli occupation, Hassouna had no claim to citizenship, so he had to get permission from Israeli officials in order to leave his home in Gaza, an area described by humanitarian organizations and politicians as an open-air prison.

“For almost two months every day, I left the house and I took a cab to the center of Gaza city. I gave [Israeli officials] my government application, my ID. I went to the gate and waited from 7 in the morning until 5 in the evening. You’re looking at the month of June and July in the sun, just standing there.”

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New York Times Op-ed on BDS



November 22, 2021

I’m writing to share some news: a few hours ago, The New York Times published an important op-ed by Alan Leveritt, a news publisher in Arkansas who is suing the state over its anti-boycott legislation.

Alan is also one of the protagonists of our new film, Boycott, and his article — “We’re a Small Arkansas Paper. Why Is the State Making Us Sign a Pledge About Israel?” — paints a vivid picture of the impact of legislation designed to silence voices of dissent on Israel-Palestine.

Alan is writing at a crucial time. His case is right now being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and he’s not optimistic that the ruling will go his way.

If it doesn’t, the case will likely end up at the Supreme Court, potentially impacting not just the right to boycott Israel for its human rights record — boycott being constitutionally protected under the First Amendment — but also our right to voice dissent on a whole range of issues.

We hope you’ll share Alan’s op-ed widely. Please forward this email or share the article on social media. We just had the world premiere of Boycott at DOC NYC last week. With Alan’s case awaiting a ruling, this is a crucial time to spread the word and raise awareness about the dangers of these laws, which, to date, have largely gone underreported.

With determination,

Suhad Babaa
Executive Director & President, Just Vision
Producer, Boycott

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine #StandWithThe6

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, November 16, 2021

Our own Executive Director, Reverend Mark Davidson, sent this opinion editorial to the News and Observer last week to urge our community at large to stand for justice against Israel’s designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist organizations.” Please read below.

In “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” Yale historian Timothy Snyder emphasizes the importance of defending institutions. He warns that institutions don’t protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless they are defended. So, if we care about democracy and human rights, he writes, “choose an institution you care about – a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union – and take its side.”

In late October, the security establishment of the Israeli government designated six Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist organizations.” Al-Haq, Defense of Children International-Palestine, Addameer, and three others are well-respected civil society institutions I care about and I am taking their side. They have long, distinguished track records of documenting human rights violations, defending Palestinian children, supporting Palestinian prisoners and their families, helping Palestinian farmers, and supporting women’s associations. I know and trust some of the founders of these civil society institutions. They do great work, and deserve widespread support.

The Israelis allege that these human rights groups are linked by fraud and subterfuge to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been designated by Israel as a terrorist organization. A serious charge, and devastating, if true. It would allow Israel to freeze their assets, dry up their funding, arrest and jail their employees, and shut down their offices. It could have cascading effects, chilling dissent, intimidating and isolating human rights work. It is a tactic straight out of the playbook of authoritarian regimes.

In May, Israel presented its “secret evidence” to European Union countries which provide important funding to these six Palestinian human rights institutions. Armed with these disturbing allegations, they strongly urged the EU countries to stop funding them. They rejected Israel’s request, because the dossier was filled with unsubstantiated claims, tortured “confessions,” innuendo, and propaganda. It provided no concrete evidence of links to terrorist activity.

Israeli governmental harrassment of Palestinian human rights organizations has been going on for years. Why now, and why this escalation? Turns out that “the red line” these Palestinian human rights organizations crossed was sharing their factual information about Israeli human rights abuses with the International Criminal Court. Frightened to face accountability for their violent policies and practices, illegal under international law, Israel has resorted to baseless attacks on human rights defenders.

The U.S. government is under enormous pressure to go along with this false, dangerous campaign to shield Israel from accountability. The price for succumbing will be a further delegitimizing of a rules-based international order. We have to hold the line and resist the continued disastrous drift toward authoritarianism both at home and abroad. I have alerted my congressional representatives not to fall for this anti-democratic smear campaign. I urge everyone who cares about human rights and democracy to support courageous local and global civil society institutions that stand up and tell the truth. I don’t want to live in a world without them.

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP) was founded on the belief that Justice is a necessity before Peace can be achieved.

Israel can monitor every telephone call in West Bank and Gaza, says intelligence source

‘Harsh invasion of privacy’ provides Israeli Security Agency with a system of control over the Palestinians


A woman uses her phone in a courtroom in Nablus, occupied West Bank in February 2021 (AFP)

Lubna Masarwa, Middle East Eye, 15 November 2021

Israel can listen to every telephone conversation taking place in the West Bank and Gaza, a former member of the Israeli Army’s elite signals intelligence unit 8200 has told Middle East Eye.

Every mobile or phone imported into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing – in Gaza’s south – is implanted with an Israeli bug, and anyone using the only two mobile networks serving the occupied territories – Jawwal and Wataniya – is being monitored as well, the former signals intelligence member said.

‘Sometimes these are private conversations, maybe even intimate conversations… Soldiers save the conversations and send them to their friends’

Former member of the Israeli Army’s elite signals intelligence unit 8200

At any given time, hundreds of soldiers are listening to the conversations being conducted. The audio monitoring falls into two groups. The first is Palestinians who are politically active or who represent a security threat in Israel’s view. The second level of monitoring is used by Shin Bet, the domestic security service to find “pressure points” in Palestinian society.

“It might be finding gays who can be pressured to report on their relatives, or finding some man who is cheating on his wife. Finding someone who owes money to someone, let’s say, means that he can be contacted and offered money to pay his debt in exchange for his collaboration,” the army veteran said.

“This is an entire world in which the Shin Bet can acquire power over Palestinians that ultimately forces them to collaborate or reveal things about other people, and it is all part of the system of control,” he said.

Living without privacy

The army veteran was speaking in the wake of the Washington Post’s revelations about Blue Wolf, facial recognition technology that alerts soldiers at checkpoints to detain suspects.

The “grunt work” of this system of mass surveillance is done by Jewish Israeli soldiers who studied Arabic as part of their military service. They are monitored by Druze soldiers or Jewish soldiers of Syrian descent for whom Arabic is their mother tongue. They transcribe the conversations, whose texts are translated and sent to the army’s intelligence units and to Shin Bet.

He said there were no limits to Israel’s ability to invade Palestinians’ private and public lives. And there appear to be no limits as to what soldiers do with the conversations they have intercepted.

“Sometimes these are private conversations, maybe even intimate conversations. People who are soldiers in the army would laugh when they heard sex talk. Soldiers save the conversations and send them to their friends. This is a very harsh invasion of the privacy of every Palestinian living there,” he said.

The soldiers who do this do not regard their surveillance as a moral or ethical problem.

“The people around them, and their families, tell them that this is proper; everyone supports them. Their commander, their parents, the state, their friends… There is no reason that soldiers should think that what they are doing is not okay,” he said.

Meet Blue Wolf, the app Israel uses to spy on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank

The recent revelations about Pegasus and Blue Wolf are nothing new to Palestinians who have grown up under constant surveillance.

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Escalating surveillance calls for escalated action: #StandWiththe6

News broke today that NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware has been detected on phones of six Palestinian rights defenders, three of whom work for Al-Haq, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, and the Bisan Center for Research and Development, organizations that Israel recently criminalized.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has uncovered a massive Israeli military facial recognition program threatening the safety of the Palestinian people, with Israeli military units photographing thousands of Palestinians to track and criminalize everyone from the children to the elderly. Read more in this policy memo.

These developments are part of the Israeli regime’s calculated, systematic acts of repression and violence against the Palestinian people.

Pegasus is a tool of repression, weaponized by authoritarian governmentswhich can gain access to essentially everything on a phone, from activating the microphone to tracking the location. An investigative report released by Front Line Defenders, an international human rights organization, reveals the pattern of Israel’s repressive violence while calling for “an immediate global moratorium on the export, sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology until an adequate human rights regulatory framework is in place.” 

Surveillance tech is a threat against all our communitiesThe Israeli regime exports its weapons and surveillance tech, field-tested on Palestinian people, to oppressive regimes around the worldthreatening everyone’s safety while systematically targeting Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities.

In the words of USCPR’s Executive Director, Ahmad Abuznaid, “We know what repression looks like. The Israeli regime is a separate-and-unequal apartheid state employing every last authoritarian tactic at its disposal, but we know the truth: that liberation is coming and Palestine will be free.

Liberation is coming so long as we continue our collective efforts toward justice. You can take action today by asking the White House and Congress to echo international calls to investigate Israel’s acts of surveillance. The U.S. government must take actionable steps toward accountability while divesting from surveillance technologies that erode our shared human rights. 

Contact the White House & Congress Now

This moment calls for collective action in order to protect our collective safety across borders. In defense of Palestinian human rights and human rights everywhere, continue to demand accountability for Israel’s crimes. 

In solidarity,
SANA SIDDIQ
Manager of Policy & Advocacy Campaigns

P.S. Read these statements from the #StandWithThe6 organizations and the Palestinian Digital Rights Coalition, and uplift their demands for immediate action from the international community. Find more resources to share in this social media toolkit.

 

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Digital Censorship Of Palestinians

Israel requests social media to remove content


Speaking at the panel with the 7amleh digital rights team on Monday, Mahmoud Franji, the coordinator for the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC), said such a tool is needed now more than ever [Hisham Daraghmeh/Al Jazeera]

Wisconsin Muslim Journal, Nov 5, 2021

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – A new open-source online platform has been launched to centralize digital rights violations and censorship by social media companies against Palestinians and Palestine-related content.

In a news conference in Ramallah on Monday, the Arab Center for Social Media Development (7amleh), which built the website, said the tool will allow for more detailed and proficient documentation of violations, and rights groups to better follow-up with relevant social media companies over posts, pages, or accounts that have been singled out.

The group highlighted the relevance of such a tool in light of the recent mass censorship in May of Palestine-related content during digital mobilization over the Israeli war on Gaza and attempts at ethnic cleansing in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem.

Titled the Palestinian Observatory of Digital Rights Violations (7or, or “free” in Arabic), the website provides users with the ability to report the different actions taken against them over their posts, including account suspension and content takedown. It also includes a searchable database bringing together years of recorded violations by 7amleh and other local groups.

7amleh said the platform will “fill a gap” faced by local institutions consisting of access to “a practical, detailed and organized database of digital rights violations against Palestinians.”

Ahmed al-Qadi, the monitoring and documentation coordinator for 7amleh, said this will be the first tool, both in Palestine and regionally “to provide real-time data” on digital abuses against Palestinians.

“This kind of reporting and documentation doesn’t exist now. There is no systematic [Palestinian] work to confront these large companies, and there are not many organizations that work on digital rights in the country,” said al-Qadi, adding that 7amleh, along with other rights groups, are “trying to create a consortium to be able to pressure through all the available means – to lobby, conduct advocacy, and embarrass these companies.

“The more reports and the real data we get, the more we are able to put pressure on these companies so that they no longer have the space to deny that they are conducting these violations,” he continued.


Palestinian university students attend the news conference saying their content was censored in May [Hisham Daraghmeh/Al Jazeera]

May events

Social media giant Facebook came under fire by users in May after their Palestine-related content, including on Instagram which it owns, was taken down without prior notice or a reason provided, while accounts were suspended or shut down. Others, including influencers, reported a significant drop in the number of views on stories, or participants on lives, when they posted content on Palestine or used viral hashtags such as #SaveSheikhJarrah.

In a recent report, 7amleh said between May 6-19, it recorded more than 500 reports of Palestinian digital rights abuses that “showed a significant increase in the censorship of Palestinian political speech and narrative online” with some 50 percent of complaints against Instagram, 35 percent against Facebook and 11 percent against Twitter.

Speaking on the panel on Monday, Mahmoud Alafranji, the coordinator for the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) said the May popular outburst “showed the extent to which Palestinian content, and the entire narrative, is being targeted”, and such a platform is needed to aid in the protection of Palestinian free speech, and in international advocacy and mobilization.

Al-Qadi said the figures currently being reported on, however, “do not represent the reality” where violations are much higher against accounts inside and outside of Palestine.

“That’s also a key goal in creating the platform – we want to strengthen and encourage the culture of reporting violations because most people don’t report,” he said.

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Human Rights Groups: ‘Israel targeted us for one reason’

‘We’re succeeding in changing the paradigm’

After being outlawed as ‘terrorist organizations’ overnight, Palestinian human rights groups talk to +972 about why Israel’s allegations are not just unfounded, but amount to an act of political persecution.

Sahar Francis, Director of Addameer, seen at the organization’s offices in Ramallah, the West Bank on February 19, 2019. (Photo: Mohannad Darabee for +972 Magazine)
Sahar Francis, Director of Addameer, seen at the organization’s offices in Ramallah, the West Bank on February 19, 2019. (Photo: Mohannad Darabee for +972 Magazine)

Yuval Abraham, +972 Magazine, October 25, 2021

When Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed an executive order last week declaring six Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist organizations,” the government did not even bother with putting on a facade of due process. With the swift stroke of a pen, the NGOs — Al-Haq, Addameer, Bisan Center, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union for Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees — were instantly outlawed with neither a trial nor the opportunity to respond to the accusations against them.

Yet rather than question the dubious nature of this move, the vast majority of Israeli media outlets simply cribbed the Defense Ministry’s official statement on the matter, which accused the six organizations of serving as “arms” of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — a secular, Marxist-Leninist party and movement deemed a terrorist group by Israel.

The government claimed that the NGOs whitewashed funds intended for humanitarian reasons and transferred them for military purposes instead, further accusing the organizations’ employees of belonging, either in the past or present, to the PFLP. Right-wing Israeli groups, too, have for years tried to draw connections between these organizations and the PFLP in an effort to cut off their funding abroad.

The Defense Ministry’s decision was based on intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet, which it has not revealed to the public. But according to sources with knowledge of the legal case, the agency’s evidence is reportedly based on the testimony of a sole employee who was terminated from one of the organizations for corruption.

Evidence that contradicts the Shin Bet’s account, however, exists in spades. Over the past five years, under pressure from the Israeli government and pro-Israel NGOs, multiple European governments and private foundations that provide funding to Palestinian civil society have conducted extensive audits of each of the six organizations. None found any evidence of foul play.

Employees at Addameer seen following a raid by Israeli forces on their office, Ramallah, West Bank, December 11, 2012. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Employees at Addameer seen following a raid by Israeli forces on their office, Ramallah, West Bank, December 11, 2012. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Moreover, the targeted organizations themselves paint an entirely different picture from the allegations meted out by the Shin Bet — with much evidence to back them up.

I spoke to the heads or senior members of five of the NGOs, all of whom are prominent activists, lawyers, and thinkers who harshly criticize both the Israeli regime and the Palestinian Authority [the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees declined to speak to Local Call, +972’s Hebrew sister site, where a version of this article was first published]. Vehemently rejecting Israel’s accusations, they describe these latest attacks as part of Israel’s years-long political persecution of Palestinian civil society in order to silence their work.

‘We have nothing to hide’

“We are the only human rights group that focuses on children in Palestine,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, the ​​Accountability Program Director at Defense for Children International-Palestine, which was founded in 1991.

“Our job is twofold,” he explained. “The first is legal: we represent around 200 children a year in Israeli and Palestinian courts. The second is policy-based: since 2000, we have documented the killing of over 2,200 Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli military forces, particularly in Gaza.”

The Defense Ministry briefing that was distributed to journalists following Gantz’s announcement did not specify the specific reason for labeling DCI-Palestine, a highly-respected organization that is active in the UN committees and on Capitol Hill, as a “terrorist organization.”

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#StandWithThe6 and Call Out Biden

Register for & share the Wednesday Power Half-Hour #StandWithThe6 Call-In to Call Out Biden

Join us for the Power Half-Hour #StandWithThe6 Call-In to Call Out Biden. Join us for 30 minutes on Wednesday, November 3, 2pm ET / 1pm CT / 12pm MT / 11am PT to be part of a wave of people power flooding the White House’s reactivated comments line (202-456-1111) to #StandWithThe6. We’ll take action together and also hear analysis to shape our grassroots advocacy strategy in this moment, in order to advance an end to U.S. military funding to Israel, uplifting effective human rights advocacy work that Israel is working so hard to silence.

Drive Emails for H.Res. 751 #StandWithThe6 Resolution

Just a reminder that we have an email action tool and accompanying social media toolkit for the letter launch. 300 organizations have signed and individual signers are still welcome!

9 progressives joined as original cosponsors on H.Res.751 – Condemning the repressive designation by the Government of Israel of six prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations. Rep. Holmes Norton has since joined. We’re disturbed by silence from high profile ‘Progressive Except Palestine’ Representatives who claim to care about human rights.