Palestinian activist defies Israeli interrogation order
JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian rights campaigner said that Israel tried to summon him for questioning on Sunday, as it pressed ahead with a crackdown on Palestinian rights groups based in the West Bank.
European and U.S. diplomats have pushed back against the claim by Israeli officials that the targeted groups are linked with terrorism.
The apparent Israeli order for Shawan Jabarin to report to a military prison followed a widely criticized raid last week on six Palestinian civil society organizations in the occupied West Bank. Nine European countries, using uncharacteristically blunt language, called the raid “not acceptable,” while the U.S. expressed concern.
Jabarin, who is director of one of the targeted groups, Al-Haq, said on Sunday that he received a five-minute “threatening call” from Israel’s Shin Bet security service ordering him to go to the Ofer military prison in the occupied West Bank. He said an officer threatened arrest, interrogation and “other things” if he did not comply.
“I will not change my mind, but if he wants to arrest me then he can surely do it as an occupying power,” Jabarin said. He said he invited the officer to the Al-Haq office and that he demanded the summons to be sent officially through lawyers, not over the phone.
The Shin Bet did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel last year outlawed six rights groups, including Al-Haq, claiming they have ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP is a secular, left-wing movement with a political party as well as an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis. Israel and the U.S. have labeled the PFLP a terrorist organization.
The rights groups deny the Israeli allegations. Jabarin called the claims of PFLP ties “utter nonsense and complete lies.” Nine European countries have also rejected the Israeli charges, citing a lack of evidence.
Despite the criticism, Israeli soldiers last Thursday entered the West Bank city of Ramallah in an armored convoy and blew up the front doors of the Palestinian groups’ offices. Soldiers seized documents, computers, and broke furniture and appliances before sealing the entrances.
The nine European countries — Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden — stepped up their criticism of Israel over the weekend, saying the latest raids are “part of a worrying reduction of space for civil society” for Palestinians.
“These actions are not acceptable,” they said in a joint statement, adding they have seen no evidence of extremist links.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price last week said 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 in a show of support for the outlawed groups.
The groups raided include Al-Haq, a veteran, internationally respected Palestinian rights group; Addameer, which advocates for 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 in solidarity with the targeted Palestinian groups.
“Defense of human rights is not terrorism,” the statement said. “We repudiate these baseless declarations and call on the international community to pressure Israel to revoke its decision.”
Major 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 defenders have described the raid as part of a decades-long crackdown in the occupied territories on political activism.
“We know that there is a price to defend rights and citizens, and we are moving forward,” Jabarin said.