Once it became clear to the Israeli government that their European friends were not buying the claim that these human rights organizations are connected to terrorism, and would refuse to stop funding them, Israel pulled out the “big gun” and designated them as “terrorist organizations.”
JERUSALEM — The recent designation by the Israeli government of six Palestinian human rights organizations as “terrorist” organizations is yet another draconian step on the path to the total elimination of Palestinian civil society. Some parallels can be drawn between the Israeli action taken against these organizations and the 2001 U.S. government designation and closure of the Holy Land Foundation, or HLF, after 9/11 — a story I wrote about in my book, “Injustice, The Story of the Holy Land Foundation.”
From the use of corrupt witnesses — who, motivated by things other than the truth, are willing to lie — to the more broad strategy of weaponizing the designation of who is a “terrorist,” Israel is using the same playbook as the United States.
The Israeli Justice and Defense ministries shocked the world and puzzled even Israel’s most staunch allies when they designated several leading Palestinian NGOs as arms of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP.
The PFLP has been designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S., EU, Canada, and several other countries. The Israeli ministries issued documents classifying Addameer, Al Haq, Bisan Center, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC) as branches of the PFLP.
A 74-page document that the Israeli government sent to its international allies is at the heart of this case. This document supposedly demonstrates what Israel called “solid evidence,” but is based on the testimony of two bookkeepers who worked for a Palestinian organization not related to the six that were designated.
The two bookkeepers had never worked for any of the six organizations that were designated and were fired from their jobs altogether due to mismanagement of funds. According to their lawyers, their testimony — such as it was — is inadmissible because during their interrogation by the Shabak, the Israeli secret police, they were tortured.
Weaponizing the designation of “terrorism”
The government report includes a list of European countries to which Israel appealed to stop funding these organizations. The countries listed included Switzerland, Holland, Germany, the U.K., Spain, and Belgium, among others that, all told, were funding the human rights organizations to the tune of several million dollars per year. However, it seems that the attempt to prevail upon the Europeans failed, mainly because they were not convinced by the evidence Israel presented.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said during a visit to occupied Jerusalem that, “Israel hasn’t shown Ireland or the European Union credible evidence to prove that there is substance behind its decision last week to designate six Palestinian nongovernmental groups as terror entities.” He went on to say: “We have asked for, as has the EU, the evidence basis for designating those NGOs, but we have not gotten any credible evidence to link the NGOs to terrorism.”
A report in the Hebrew publication MEKOMIT — which has a copy of the document Israel had sent and had been communicating with European officials — claims that the Dutch Foreign Minister and the Belgian Minister for Regional Development both said that the document did not contain a single item that proved a connection between the six organizations and the PFLP. Also according to MEKOMIT, the Swedish and Belgian governments conducted their own independent investigations into the matter and found no incriminating evidence.
Once it became clear to the Israeli government that their European friends were not buying the claim that these organizations are connected to terrorism, and would refuse to stop funding them, Israel pulled out the “big gun” and designated them as terrorist organizations.
One of the key witnesses in the HLF trial was a man who embezzled over half a million dollars from his employer. In exchange for lying about HLF, he was never charged with embezzlement but instead admitted to one count of material support for terrorism and served a reduced sentence. When I was working on my book, I tried to reach him but was not able to find him.
Throughout the 1990s, Zionist organizations and politicians in the U.S. tried to discredit the HLF by claiming that it was funding terrorism. Because there was no proof, they didn’t succeed, although they did cause some harm: the FBI began tapping the phones of some of the people involved with HLF.
In the trial, Shukri Abu Baker, the HLF’s CEO, discovered that his phone was being tapped for almost a decade. Since many of the conversations he had were in Arabic, they needed to be translated. Those translations were done by someone more interested in pleasing the FBI than translating what was said and thus the translator gravely misrepresented the content of the conversations, incriminating Shukri and the others.
After the attacks of September 11, the U.S. government cynically took advantage of the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab propaganda used to defame the HLF and on December 4, 2001, President George Bush closed the organization down, declared the HLF a terrorist organization, and ordered the Treasury Department to freeze its assets.
Lawyers for the HLF challenged the government to provide proof but none was forthcoming and the government resorted to “national security” to excuse the blatant violation of rights it had perpetrated against the HLF as an organization and the officers who ran it. The government also produced a list of “unindicted co-conspirators,” which included thousands of people and organizations who were connected or had contributed to HLF over the years.
During the cross-examination of one of the government’s witnesses, HLF lawyers were able to reveal just how low the bar was set when the government decided to designate an organization or an individual as “terrorist.”
In one exchange that I quote in my book, “Injustice,” a U.S. Treasury official by the name of McBrien was asked by HLF lawyer Jon Cline how the designation was made. McBrien explained that either the President or the Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Asset Control, known as OFAC has the authority to designate a “Specially Designated Terrorist,” based on, “a reasonable belief that the person or organization is owned, or controlled by or acting on behalf of a designated party.”
Clines pressed on, stating, “What is required for a designation under that provision is a reasonable belief. It is not proof by a preponderance of evidence, like you have in court.”
“That is correct,” McBrien replied.
In other words, the government does not have to abide by any particular rules of evidence in order to designate a person or an organization as a terrorist.
The value of Israeli intelligence
Another important connection that can be made between the HLF case and the recent case of human rights organizations being designated as terrorist organizations, is the quality and value of Israeli intelligence.
One of the key witnesses for the defense in the HLF trial was former U.S. Consul General Ed Abington. Prior to serving in this post, Abington worked as a CIA analyst. Here is one exchange that took place during his testimony:
Q: How often would you and in what form did you see information that the CIA collected from Israeli intelligence?
A: On an almost daily basis.
Q: As a United States representative, did you consider Israeli intelligence to be reliable?
Q: Why is that?
A: I feel that the Israelis have an agenda in terms of trying to influence the thinking of U.S. policy makers and that they apply intelligence in a selective fashion to try to influence U.S. thinking.
Abington was also asked about documents that were provided by the government of Israel, and he said, “the State Department considered the documents to be essentially a propaganda exercise by the Israelis.” Abington ended by saying, “You can’t really rely on these documents as showing a true picture.”
It seems that the European governments that were shown Israeli documents regarding the six human rights organizations feel the same way.
Feature photo | A Palestanian man walks past a sign near the Qalandiya Checkpoint, West Bank. Yotam Ronen | AP
Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books are”The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect MintPress News editorial policy.