Last year, Israeli defense minister, Benny Gantz, decided that Palestinian human rights NGOs were an existential threat to the “Jewish state.” Specifically, six Palestinian groups were consulting with the International Criminal Court (ICC), as it determined whether to open an investigation into Israel’s war crimes. This apparently is a causus belli against the Israeli state (and perhaps the Jewish people?).
Gantz apparently believed this and launched an all-out assault on Palestinian civil society, as Israeli human rights lawyer, Eitay Mack, writes in Haaretz:
…Many around the world saw Gantz’s declarations as an attack on the entire Israeli-Palestinian movement for human rights, as well as an attack on the global community of human rights activism. It was an attack conducted through draconian measures, reminiscent of those taken by the dictatorial regimes in Russia, Vietnam, Venezuela, China and Uganda.
Gantz declared them to be terrorist groups because their staff were supposedly card-carrying members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Also, the groups purportedly raised funds for PFLP to support terror attacks against Israel. It was clever of Gantz to use the PFLP angle, since the State had already designated it as a terror group. Therefore, linking these six groups to it made them terrorists by association.
The only problem is that no one believed these claims:
The Ministry of Defense repeated and justified the meager and vague reasons by saying that it is based on secret evidence, which cannot be disclosed to the public. It is possible that the evidence on which Defense Minister Gantz acted is so secret that even the Defense Ministry and Foreign Affairs Ministry were not aware of it.
Israel even went to the trouble of sharing its “evidence” with a number of nations including the US. None of them accepted Gantz’s claims. None of them found a shred of credible evidence to support them. Because, of course, there wasn’t any. But that hardly matters to Israel. It merely makes a pretense of validating its claims in order to throw its critics off the scent.
Then a year went by when, conveniently, an election neared, and Gantz reared his ugly head once more. As his Blue and White Party craters in the polls, he’s turned rightward to cater to right-wing voters. No Israeli politician has ever lost votes by using an iron fist against Palestinians and thumbing his nose at the international community. Israelis have lost any semblance of respect for democratic values or the rule of law.
But Gantz’s problem is that Likud has largely laid claim to this constituency. Which makes this campaign ineffective as an election ploy.
The defense minister sicced scores of heavily armed troops on the offices of each of the NGOs in the middle of the night. They battered and smashed their way in, destroying everything in sight. On their way out, they welded the doors shut as if this would prevent the groups from continuing their work. They even broke into the Episcopal Church of St. Andrews, which housed the Al Haq office. Imagine, the IDF trashed a church looking for terrorists.
972 Magazine published an account of Gantz’s egregious offenses against democratic values, despite being the leader of the purportedly centrist Blue and White political party:
Benny Gantz is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous officials in Israel’s recent history…it is hard to dispute that for the past decade, Gantz has held a special place in this machinery of violence. Whether sporting an army uniform or donning a dark suit, he has been at the center of some of the most egregious acts of oppression against Palestinians in recent years…
Israeli army raided and attacked the St Andrews/ Episcopal church in Ramallah and destroyed church property. Full Statement. pic.twitter.com/4gBKGQ60WZ
— Ali Younes (@Ali_reports) August 18, 2022
Israeli forces raided the premises of St. Andrew’s Anglican/Episcopal Church in Ramallah at 3am. Soldiers wrecked Church’s entrance, smashing the door’s glass and pulling down the door’s lock. Attacks on places of worship and the devastation of church property violates intl law. pic.twitter.com/BjhQv8HsPd
— Daoud Kuttab داود كُتّاب (@daoudkuttab) August 18, 2022
Shabak summoned Khaled Quzmar, general director of Defense of Children International-Palestine, for questioning at Ofer Prison. He was detained there for two hours under interrogation. I suppose he was forced to give his interrogators the bank account numbers for his Swiss bank accounts; and the names of his handlers in PFLP. Or maybe they just asked whether he was having a nice day, and sent him on his way. Al Haq’s Shawan Jabarin was also threatened by the Shin Bet, which demanded that he too come to the prison for questioning. Jabarin refused, telling the caller that if he wanted to communicate with him that he must do it via his lawyer. So far, he has not been thrown into a dark Shabak dungeon.
Last year, an Israeli security source told me that his agency considered all six organizations to be “civilian;” and that the claim they were terrorists was “far-fetched.” Nor could he verify there was any credible evidence to support Gantz’s claim. At the time, there appeared to be a split between Israel’s various security agencies. But given the Shabak interrogation, it appears that Gantz may have forced them all to close ranks behind his cockamamie scheme.
No less a source than the CIA announced today that it could find no support for Gantz’s claims. This was clearly meant as a shot across Israel’s bow by the Biden administration which has, until now, expressed feeble “concern” about the raids. Presumably, it is ratcheting up pressure against this Israeli brutalism. If so, it’s quite a futile gesture. Israel gives short shrift to outside pressure unless it comes in the form of demands with consequences attached. Short of that, you might as well be whistling in the wind.
The EU and its member states one-upped the US by expressing “deep concern” over the attacks. Another official even went so far as to offer “grave concern.” Oh the adjectives did come flying from these fearless diplomats entering, like the Biblical Daniel, into the Israeli lion’s den. Curiously, none of them offered any meaningful demands or threats. There would be no consequences for this assault on Palestinian civil society. No threat of sanctions. No demand to rescind the terror designation. They tip-toed ever so quietly around the matter, so as not to wake the lurking Israeli beast from slumber.
The freedom of the Palestinian people will continue to be subject to the internal political needs of Israeli politicians, as long as the international community allows it. Gantz acts this way because he knows he can. No country in the world will impose personal sanctions on him for persecuting Palestinian human rights organizations.
Most of the Israeli human rights NGO community joined in releasing a strong statement criticizing the IDF attacks. But even it would only request that the defense ministry “rescind its decision,” rather than demanding stronger action. Unfortunately, many of these NGOs are themselves under attack. They are routinely labeled as traitors to the state and face threats and physical violence. So they themselves feel they must restrain themselves in their public statements. This, in turn, serves the interests of the state and its right-wing militants by intimidating and anesthetizing the human rights community and the Israeli left itself.
The Center for Constitutional Rights released a powerful indictment of Gantz’s punitive policy:
Today’s physical assault by Israeli occupying forces on the offices and property of prominent Palestinian civil society organizations must be urgently condemned by the Biden administration in the strongest terms, with concrete actions in response to the criminalization of human rights defenders to follow.
These are the types of statements that must be made and acted upon in order to rein in such criminal Israeli behavior.
Israel has become a toxic stew of hate, both for Palestinians and even Israelis who refuse to toe the line. Even though these groups offer no real threat to the state’s far-right agenda, they are treated as if they are capable of destroying it by their very existence.
The silence of the global community in the face of this outrage is almost as atrocious as the Israeli brutality. It serves as yet another example of the success of Israel in muzzling criticism of foreign states. They are cowed by threats of using the ultimate weapon: invoking the anti-Semitism and Holocaust cards. They seem powerless against them, as if they cast a magic spell of silence upon them.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.