Kairos Palestine

Karibu joined the efforts of more than 100 philanthropy organizations and individual philanthropists to speak out on the attempts to criminalize six prominent Palestinian civil society organizations (CSOs).

Philanthropy Open Letter to Defend Democracy and the Rights of Palestinian Civil Society

November 16, 2021

On October 19, 2021, six prominent Palestinian organizations were labeled as so-called “terrorist organizations” by the Israeli Minister of Defense, Benny Gantz. This designation criminalizes the work of these organizations and allows the closure of their offices, seizing of files and equipment, and arresting of staff members, as well as aiming to criminalize those who fund or support them in other ways.

Foundations and international donors play an essential role in supporting communities on the forefront of promoting social justice across the globe, particularly in areas where the wellbeing and human rights of marginalized peoples are most threatened. In Palestine, civil society organizations fill essential roles in providing services, advocating for human rights, protecting land and water resources, and speaking out against the ongoing occupation and violations of international laws. The six groups criminalized by Gantz’s edict include:

Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association was founded 1991 to provide legal support for prisoners, collect data on arrests and administration detentions, and to work to end torture and violations of prisoner rights. Recently, it has been highlighting a prisoner hunger strike, which in the case of one prisoner has lasted for more than 90 days.

Al Haq, the oldest Palestinian human rights organization, was established in 1979 “to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the occupied Palestinian territory.” It has played a primary role in bringing Israeli violations of international law before the International Criminal Court, which opened its formal investigation into Israel’s alleged war crimes in March 2021.

Bisan Center for Research and Development was founded in 1989 “to contribute to building an effective democratic society.” Through its programs, the Bisan Center advocates for civil rights, human rights, and socio-economic rights.

Defense for Children International – Palestine is the national section of the Geneva-based international child-rights movement. Since 1991 it has “investigated, documented, and exposed grave human rights violations against children” and provided them with legal services. Its research informed the drafting of Rep. Betty McCollum’s ‘Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living under Israeli Military Occupation Act’ (H.R. 2590).

Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the largest agricultural institution in Palestine, was established in 1986 to improve the situation of Palestinian farmers and fisherfolk. It has played a critical role in confronting Israeli settlement expansion and displacement of farmers from their land, a process that has accelerated in the past few years. UAWC received the prestigious Equator Prize in 2014 by the United Nations Development Agency for its outstanding work on sustainable agriculture and preservation of local seeds through its seed bank.

Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees was established in 1980 as a feminist organization to empower women to play an enhanced role in social, political and economic life, and advance the struggle for dignity and liberation.

The targeted assault against six of the leading civil society organizations in Palestine is a blatant attempt to silence and criminalize dissent against the human rights violations of the Israeli government. According the UN Human Rights Office in the occupied Palestinian territory, “These designations are the latest development in a long stigmatizing campaign against these and other organizations, damaging their ability to deliver on their crucial work.” A group of UN human rights experts added that, “This designation is a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere.”

We defend the rights of Palestinian civil society organizations to carry out their crucial work. We uphold the key values of the freedom of speech, the power of solidarity, and the right of all people to justice and dignity.

The additional threat to criminalize those who speak in defense of these organizations (including funding them) is a direct attack on the freedom and purpose of global funders to stand in solidarity with Palestine. As funders invested in human rights, we refuse to be silenced or intimidated. We conduct thorough due diligence processes in our grant-making, including accompaniment of projects. Our funding decisions belong to our boards and our conscience, not the Israeli Defense Department.

Furthermore, prior allegations against these and other Palestinian civil society orgaizations have been refuted repeatedly by both European and US due diligence investigations. In response to this latest move by the Israeli government, the European Union asserted that: “Past allegations of the misuse of EU funds in relation to certain of our Palestinian CSO partners have not been substantiated…The EU will continue to stand by international law and support civil society organizations that have a role to play in promoting international law, human rights, and democratic values.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who work closely with many of the groups, said in a joint statement:

This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement. For decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians. While staff members of our organizations have faced deportation and travel bans, Palestinian human rights defenders have always borne the brunt of the repression. This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations. The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.

How the international community responds will be a true test of its resolve to protect human rights defenders. We are proud to work with our Palestinian partners and have been doing so for decades. They represent the best of global civil society. We stand with them in challenging this outrageous decision.

In that spirit, we stand in solidarity with civil society organizations in Palestine and ask that:

  1. The governments of the United States, the European Union, and other countries denounce all smear campaigns against Palestinian civil society organizations, press the Israeli government to immediately and fully rescind Gantz’s designation of so-called “terrorist organization” against these 6 Palestinian human rights organizations;
  2. The United States, the European Union, and other governments hold the the Israeli government accountable to adhere to international law and human rights standards; and
  3. US, European, and other government officials ensure that any philanthropic funds designated toward civil society organizations in Palestine reach them without interference by the Israeli government or financial institutions.

As global funders of human rights and democracy, this attempt to ‘chill’ our funding and solidarity will not work. We stand with Palestinian civil society organizations and human rights defenders. We assert our right to free speech and to provide financial support to organizations advancing human rights, dignity and wellbeing for the Palestinian people.

The full signatory list with 100+ philanthropic actors can be found here.