Israel's NGO terror listing: the colonizer's oldest trick

Al-Haq: For saying the truth, Israel labelled us terrorists. It's the oldest trick in the colonial handbook
7 min read
01 Dec, 2021
Israel's latest colonial move to silence Palestinian civil society by designating six NGOs as terrorist organisations is doomed to fail because the pursuit for truth is unstoppable, writes Wesam Ahmad.
Palestinians burn tires and throw stones upon Israeli forces' intervention during a protest against illegal Jewish settlements in Kafr Qaddum town of Nablus, in occupied Palestine on 26 November 2021. [Getty]

Israel's latest attempt to silence Palestinian civil society is just another tactical move in its colonial strategy, which aims to remove the obstacles in pursuit of such a strategy. This attempt, like others before it, is bound to fail because the message is bigger than the messengers it is targeting. The pursuit of truth is a part of human nature that cannot be eradicated.

The Israeli Minister of Defence's designation of six Palestinian civil society organisations as terrorist organisations, followed by military orders along the same lines, may have sent shockwaves throughout the international community but for those of us working within these organisations, it was no surprise.  

For years, Israel has been trying to undermine the efforts of Palestinian civil society standing in the way of its colonial policy without much success in comparison to the number of resources it has dedicated. Despite the deference given to Israel in its allegations, the international community has not been convinced that Israeli claims are representative of the truth. 

"The use of such tactics, however, is not new in the historical context of relational dynamics between coloniser and colonised, oppressor and oppressed"

This failure has led Israel to create its version of the truth through its power to impose laws, which reinforce its narrative with the expectation that the cover of law will force capitulation. The use of such tactics, however, is not new in the historical context of relational dynamics between coloniser and colonised, oppressor and oppressed. From the Americas to Africa, in Europe and Asia, similar tactics have been used throughout history to justify persecution and subjugation of those in pursuit of justice, accountability and truth, in the context of an asymmetrical balance of power under the premise that 'might makes right'.

There are, however, two main variables in today's context, which distinguish the use of such tactics in the present from their use in the past.  

The first is the development of international law and the institutionalisation of an international human rights regime, which aims to address the asymmetrical power dynamics while regulating the path towards decolonisation and the pursuit of the right to self-determination. The second is the advancement in technology, which has opened the door for new means and methods through which the tactic can be both operationalised and countered. 

As an employee of Al-Haq, the oldest of the six organisations, I will focus on the application of these new variables to the Al-Haq experience, although I am confident in its more general applicability. 

When Al-Haq (Arabic for "The Truth") was established in 1979, the institutionalisation of the international human rights regime was in its early stages. The work of the organisation aimed at bringing the truth about what was happening on the ground to the international community with the hope that exposure to the facts as applied to international law would lead to action.

Over time, the organisation developed a more proactive approach towards advocating for the enforcement of international law by targeting the political will of the international community and using the mechanisms that have been developed and designated as the legitimate tools through which the pursuit of the right to self-determination should be achieved. 

With our refinement in the use of tools - such as the International Criminal Court, the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the area of Business and Human Rights - we have been able to challenge Israel's colonial policy by confronting the impunity it enjoys, its narrative of adherence to democratic values and the rule of law, as well as the economic incentive structure facilitating and perpetuating its continued colonisation of Palestine. 

Perspectives

Our successes in mounting these challenges have naturally made Israel uncomfortable, with its recent moves simply being an attempt to remove the source of this discomfort and a natural reaction of speaking truth to power.

Nevertheless, despite Israel's ability to take direct action against Al-Haq and the other organisations, it has opted for a more indirect approach. This approach makes use of another development of international law around the financing of terrorism with the expectation that term alone will instil fear in the international support system of solidarity and the external mechanisms through which it functions, leaving us isolated and unsustainable.

By drawing on behavioural psychology, Israel's strategy is to secure the capitulation of those enabling the oppressed to resist their oppressor, not because of conviction and belief in the truth, rather because of fear.  In the behavioural response of fight or flight, Israel is betting on flight.

Concerning the second variable of the development of technology, Israel's refinement in the means and methods of oppression and control form part of its broader policy in making the continued colonisation of Palestine a profitable business venture which our work aims to challenge. Through the impunity Israel has enjoyed, it has not only been able to exploit the Palestinian population to secure a captive market of consumption. It has also used that same captive population as a laboratory for the research and development of weapons and surveillance technology, which then is marketed and sold around the world as Israeli innovation.

The recent discovery of the use of Pegasus spyware to target Palestinian human rights defenders, including staff of the designated organisations, is a case in point. It cannot be a coincidence that Israel's designation coincided with the discovery of spyware on the device of an Al-Haq staff member. Likewise, it is because of the nature of our work in this context, which triggered the intuitive response of suspicion and investigation that may have been dismissed otherwise. 

It is important to note, however, that our concerns were not merely regarding the use of surveillance technology as such, rather the potential abuse of such technology to fabricate evidence that could be later used as "secret evidence", which is immune from objective scrutiny considering the deference given by the Israeli judicial system to its security apparatus.

That is why Israel's most recent attack on Palestinian civil society must not only be seen as an attempt to remove the obstacles to Israel's general colonial policy. It must also be seen as a specific attempt to distract us from pursuing the investigation and preemptively undermine our position in the eyes of the international community, to secure a key component of the economic incentive structure perpetuating the continued oppression of the Palestinian people and suppression of the truth. 

However, thanks to the development of social media and the advancements in the technological capabilities of human rights defenders such as Front Line Defenders and Citizen Lab, the suppression of the truth has become more difficult to achieve.

"Our work will continue because capitulation and subjugation to tyranny and oppression goes against human nature, unlike the pursuit of truth"

As the international community weighs its response in the context of Israel's cost-benefit behavioural assessment, two additional variables must also be taken into account. 

The first is the conviction in the just nature of the Palestinian struggle for the right to self-determination shared by Palestinian and international civil society alike. The second variable more directly related to Palestinian civil society operating under occupation, including the six in the line of fire today, is that for us flight is not an option. 

Our work will continue because capitulation and subjugation to tyranny and oppression go against human nature, unlike the pursuit of truth. 

#StandWithThe6

Wesam Ahmad is the Director of the Applied Center for International of Al-Haq and Coordinator of Al-Haq's Business and Human Rights Program. His area of research focuses on the economic incentive structure perpetuating the colonisation of Palestine along business lines.

Follow him on Twitter: @alhaq_org

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.