There has been world-wide condemnation including in Australia of Israeli designation of six Palestinian human rights organisations and unions as “terrorist” organisations on Friday 22 October 2021 “designed to criminalise, persecute, and silence Palestinian civil society and human rights defenders for their commitment to the struggle against Israeli occupation, entrenched settler-colonialism, and apartheid.”

The organisations targeted include: Addameer – Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Al Haq – Law in the Service of Man; Bisan Center for Research and Development; Defense for Children International – Palestine; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

This move allows the Israeli Government to arrest human rights defenders, and confiscate property of the organisations in an effort to silence Palestinians in their efforts to resist the occupation.

According to a statement by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International the designation “authorises Israeli authorities to close their offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members, and it prohibits funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities.”

A petition put together by the Australian Centre for International Justice condemning “Israel’s latest dangerous attack on Palestinian human rights institutions in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT)” has been signed by a large number of Australian individuals and organisations.

The signatories include over 70 organisations, including Amnesty, ACTU, Australian Council for International Development, as well as many former diplomats, academics, lawyers and former parliamentarians.

The petition named  Australian Human Rights Community Solidarity Statement released on Wednesday 27 October 2021 has been jointly initiated by the Australian Friends of Palestine Association Inc (AFOPA) and Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN).

The signatories have called on the Australian Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to condemn these outrageous attacks on Palestinian human rights organisations and human rights defenders and to demand that Israel’s occupation authorities reverse these arbitrary decisions immediately.

The statement also called for “the Australian Government to end its complicity with Israel’s violations of international law.

Palestinian human rights organisations are critical to documenting decades of grave abuses by Israeli occupation authorities, many of which are said to amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

They undertake their work at great risk to themselves and operate in a context of war and military occupation. Their offices are routinely raided, property, including sensitive evidence and equipment is confiscated, and their staff are subject to arrest, harassment, intimidation, and travel bans. Palestinian human rights organisations also play a critical role in documenting abuses by Palestinian authorities.

The consequences of this new measure will further criminalise their human rights activities and license Israeli authorities to close their offices, seize their assets, arrest, and imprison their staff. It will also prohibit funding and public expression of support for their work.

This move represents an escalation of punitive efforts by Israeli authorities in their ongoing campaign to delegitimise Palestinian human rights organisations and defenders.

Israel’s proxies working with, and for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, routinely target institutional donors, supporters, and partners of Palestinian human rights organisations with misinformation and defamatory campaigns designed to defund, discredit and silence their work in exposing Israel’s catalogue of abuses.

This includes successive Australian governments entering into agreements that foster Israeli defence industry partnerships, and Australia’s abysmal voting record and interventions at international forums such as the Human Rights Council, Security Council, General Assembly, and the International Criminal Court.

In addition to the dangers that these designations present to a shrinking Palestinian civic space, it also has implications for Australians and Australian organisations who collaborate with, and rely on the work of, Palestinian human rights organisations.