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Europeans reject Israeli charges against Palestinian NGOs

AP – Nine European countries said on Tuesday that they have seen “no substantial evidence” to support Israel’s allegations that six Palestinian civil society groups are terrorist organisations and would not change their policies on supporting the groups.

The rare joint statement was a major rebuke of Israel, which backlisted the groups as terrorist organisations last October but has provided little evidence to support its allegations.

The rights groups denied the allegations and accused Israel of escalating a long-standing crackdown on Palestinian opposition to its decades-long military rule.

“Accusations of terrorism or links to terrorist groups must always be treated with the utmost seriousness,” read the statement, issued by Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

“No substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards the six Palestinian NGOs on the basis of the Israeli decision to designate these NGOs as ‘terrorist organisations’,” it said. Should evidence be made available to the contrary, we would act accordingly,” it added.

Director of the Al-Haq human rights group Shawan Jabarin at the organisation’s offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah. PHOTO: AP

The announcement came a day before United States (US) President Joe Biden is scheduled to arrive on a visit that is expected to include meetings with Palestinian civil society representatives, though it is unlikely he will meet any of the groups targetted by Israel.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Israel accused the groups of serving as a front for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a left-wing movement which has a political party as well as an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis going back decades. Israel and Western nations consider the PFLP a terrorist organisation.

The blacklisted organisations are the Al-Haq human rights group, the Addameer rights group, Defence for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

In its October 22 announcement, the Israeli Defence Ministry said the organisations are “controlled by senior leaders” of the PFLP and employ its members, including some who have “participated in terror activity”. It said the groups serve as a “central source” of financing for the PFLP and had received “large sums of money from European countries and international organisations”.

The terror declaration initially appeared to pave the way for Israel to raid their offices, seize assets, arrest staff and criminalise any public expressions of support for the groups. But all six have continued operating.

The Dutch government announced in January that it would stop funding the Union of Agricultural Work Committees after it found evidence that individual staffers were linked to the PFLP.

But it said it found no evidence the group had “organisational ties” to the PFLP or was involved in funding or carrying out terrorism, as Israel had alleged.