Head of targeted Palestinian rights group says IDF summoned him for questioning

AP – A Palestinian rights activist said Israel tried to summon him for questioning on Sunday with a threatening phone call, after Israeli soldiers searched the offices of various Palestinian rights groups last week.

European and American diplomats have pushed back against Israeli officials’ claim that the targeted groups are linked to terrorism.

The apparent order for Shawan Jabarin to report to a military prison follows an Israeli raid last week against six Palestinian organizations in the West Bank. Nine European countries, using unusually harsh language, called the raid “not acceptable”, while the United States expressed concern.

Last year, Israel banned all six rights groups, including Al-Haq, the group led by Jabarin, saying they had ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP is a left-wing secular movement with a political party, as well as an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis. Israel and the United States have labeled the PFLP a terrorist organization.

Shawan Jabarin, director of al-Haq rights group, at the organization’s offices in Ramallah, West Bank, October 23, 2021. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Rights groups deny the allegations.

On Thursday, Israeli soldiers entered the West Bank city of Ramallah in an armored convoy and blew up the entrance gates to the offices of Palestinian groups. Soldiers seized documents, computers and smashed furniture and appliances before sealing off entrances.

Jabarin said on Sunday he received a five-minute “threatening call” from Israel’s Shin Bet security service ordering him to come to Ofer military prison in the West Bank. He said an officer threatened arrest, questioning and “other things” if he didn’t comply.

“I won’t change my mind, but if he wants to arrest me, he can certainly do it as the occupying power,” Jabarin said. He said he invited the officer to Al-Haq’s office and demanded that the summons be sent officially through lawyers, not by telephone.

Khaled Quzmar, head of Defense for Children International-Palestine, another targeted group, spent two hours in Shin Bet custody on Sunday, the NGO said.

Jabarin called the claims of links to the PFLP “total nonsense and complete lies.”

The nine European countries – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden – also dismissed the Israeli charges, citing a lack of evidence . They said the latest raids were “part of a worrying shrinking civil society space” for Palestinians.

Security camera footage of Israeli troops raiding the offices of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Ramallah on August 16, 2022. (Screenshot/Twitter)

“These actions are not acceptable,” they said in a joint statement, adding that they had seen no evidence of extremist links.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week that Washington was “concerned” about the raids and closures, but Israel had pledged to provide additional information. Western diplomats visited one of the offices hours later to show support for the banned groups.

Groups raided include Al-Haq, a veteran, internationally respected Palestinian rights group; Addameer, which defends Palestinian prisoners held by Israel; Defense for Children International-Palestine; the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Bisan Center for Research and Development.

On Sunday, some 45 Israeli and Jewish advocacy groups issued a statement of solidarity with the targeted Palestinian groups.

“Defending human rights is not terrorism,” the statement said. “We refute these baseless statements and call on the international community to put pressure on Israel to reverse its decision.”

Israeli human rights groups including B’Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, as well as the liberal pro-Israel group J Street, were among the signatories.

Rights advocates have described the raid as part of a decades-long crackdown on political activism in the West Bank.

“We know there is a price to pay for defending rights and citizens, and we are moving forward,” Jabarin said.

The NGO Monitor, which tracks anti-Israel nonprofits, backed the Israeli government’s 2021 decision to ban the six groups, saying the move was a natural response to Europe’s reluctance to acknowledge what she calls evidence linking the groups to terrorist activity.

“Even without any classified intelligence, the open source information published by NGO Monitor clearly shows the links between the PFLP and European-funded NGOs,” said founder Gerald Steinberg.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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