Veteran Palestinian rights activist Shawan Jabarin stares down the street from his office in the West Bank as if awaiting the imminent arrival of Israeli forces, following Israel’s August raid on seven Palestinian groups he says are linked to a terrorist organization.
“I don’t like going to jail, but if that’s the price to pay for standing up for human rights and continuing to speak out against the oppressive regime, I’m ready for it,” said Jabarin, 62. years, dean of the small world of Palestinian non-governmental organizations.
On August 18, Israeli forces closed the offices of Al-Haq, a legal organization that defends Palestinian rights and is headed by Jabarin, and six other NGOs in Ramallah.
The move came 10 months after the Ministry of Defense designated Al-Haq and other NGOs as terrorist organizations, due to their alleged links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terrorist group from left.
The NGO Monitor, which tracks anti-Israel nonprofits, backed the government’s 2021 decision to ban the six groups, saying the move was a natural response to Europe’s reluctance to acknowledge what which 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.
The allegations have been dismissed by the organizations, which say Israel is trying to silence Palestinian rights advocates.
‘Moment of truth’
Since IDF forces closed the offices, Jabarin said he has received a series of phone calls from an Israeli intelligence officer identifying himself only as Fadi, asking him to stop working with a “terrorist organization”.
The Shin Bet intelligence service did not respond to AFP inquiries about the phone calls.
“It’s not a job,” Jabarin said of his role. “It’s beliefs, it’s international law and human rights – we have to live up to our commitment.
“This is a moment of truth, and we have to decide, but maybe we will pay a personal price,” he added.
Jabarin began as a field researcher for the organization in the 1990s, when he was repeatedly placed in administrative detention – a measure allowing the incarceration of people without charge under Israeli law.
These prison stints followed a nine-month prison sentence after he was convicted in 1985 of recruiting for the PFLP.
Another Palestinian NGO worker, lawyer Salah Hammouri of the prisoner support group Addameer, has been jailed since March under the controversial measure.
Appointed director of Al-Haq in 2006, Jabarin led a campaign to label Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as an “apartheid” system.
This characterization, which Israel vehemently denies, has been embraced by global rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. However, many major governments, including the UK and the US, reject any suggestion that Israel maintains apartheid policies.
Jabarin said his organization “crossed a red line” by using the term apartheid, which he said prompted the designation of terrorism.
“They failed to shut us down, they failed to dry up our resources,” he said. “They came up with the idea of using their heavy hands as a political state and declaring us a terrorist organization.
“They did it to discredit us and instill fear in our partners and funders.”
“Pay full price”
Nine European nations have pledged to continue funding Al-Haq and other rights groups banned in the Jewish state.
“[Israel] hasn’t listened to us so far, so why should we think our condemnation will make a difference this time around? a European diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
If Jabarin is arrested, the international community is “fully aware that it would not be enough to issue a statement”, said Sahar Francis, director of Addameer, which Israel has also designated as a terror group.
“Now is the time to act,” added Francis, a longtime associate of Jabarin, who she says is willing to “pay a heavy price” for his beliefs.
Jabarin, who along with other NGO leaders has received support from 45 Israeli organizations, said he had no alternative but to continue leading Al-Haq.
“It’s not my choice [to go to prison]but if [it] imposed on me, for sure, I will not collapse,” he said.