Last year, Palestinians and their supporters around the world were up in arms after Israeli security authorities closed down seven Palestinian NGOs that had ties to the terror group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Nine European countries published a joint statement in which they rejected the Israeli move and announced that they would continue to cooperate with the Palestinian organizations.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas also weighed in on the Israeli decision, dubbing it "unacceptable and rejected." Abbas said that the Palestinian leadership was reaching out to the relevant parties "to stop these Israeli provocations against our institutions that operate in accordance with international law and human rights."
The condemnations of the Israeli decision by the European countries, the United Nations and the Palestinians came despite reports by the independent NGO Monitor organization documenting the connection between the Palestinian organizations and the PFLP, designated by the US and other countries as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
The voices of those who denounced Israel for taking action against organizations linked to a Palestinian terror group, however, are silent when the Palestinians crack down on their own human rights institutions. When Palestinians commit human rights violations against Palestinians, the European Union and the UN are beyond indifferent. It is only when Israel takes a decision to defend itself against terrorism that we hear their supposedly righteous cries. The Europeans and the UN seem to be more concerned about the rights of organizations that are affiliated with terrorism than the rights of organizations that speak out against human rights violations perpetrated by Palestinians.
As for Mahmoud Abbas, the 87-year-old Palestinian Authority President who condemned Israel for closing the PFLP-affiliated organizations, he has again exposed himself as an inveterate hypocrite.
For a start, the PFLP does not recognize that Israel even has a right to exist. Imagine if a group said that Germany, Ukraine, Moldova or Taiwan did not have a right to exist.
In addition, the PFLP has carried out countless terror attacks against Israel and Jews, and regularly criticizes Abbas and the PA for conducting security coordination with Israel.
Between 1968 and 1972, the PFLP also carried out a number of hijackings against international airlines; and in 2002 and 2003, claimed four suicide bombings in Israel and the West Bank.
Recently, even Abbas himself decided to punish the PFLP, which is part of his own Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). He cut off all funds to the organization.
In the past, the same Palestinian Authority also imprisoned the secretary general of the PFLP, Ahmed Saadat, who was responsible for the 2001 assassination of Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehavam Ze'evi in Jerusalem.
The PFLP, in fact, has long been a headache for Abbas and his PA. That is why the closure of PFLP-affiliated organizations in the West Bank actually serves the interests of the PA: it weakens its political rivals.
Why is Abbas a hypocrite? While he has been accusing Israel of targeting Palestinian NGOs, he has ordered his security forces to crack down on Lawyers for Justice, an independent Palestinian group of lawyers based in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians.
On March 26, the PA Ministry of National Economy informed Lawyers for Justice of the Ministry's decision to not renew the registration of the organization as a civil company. According to the Ministry, the decision is based on a request from the Palestinian General Intelligence Service to freeze the registration of the organization on the pretext that it has engaged in "nonprofit activities" and accepted foreign funding in violation of the Palestinian Authority law.
Lawyers for Justice works to support Palestinian human rights activists and political prisoners detained by the Palestinian Authority. It also monitors and documents human rights violations committed by the PA security forces.
The organization has published a number of reports criticizing the PA for its imprisonment and torture of Palestinian political activists in the West Bank. In addition, it has been closely following the case of leading human rights and political activist Nizar Banat, beaten to death in 2021 by Palestinian security officers who came to arrest him in Hebron.
In one of its recent reports, Lawyers for Justice revealed that the number of Palestinian political activists arrested by the PA has significantly increased, while peaceful demonstrations and assemblies were being suppressed:
"The group notes that the policy of suppressing freedoms clearly extends to public rights and freedoms, including freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of political affiliation, which are constitutional rights that must be respected and preserved."
It is no wonder, then, that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are trying to get rid of Lawyers for Justice.
Palestinian leaders do not tolerate any form of criticism. They do not want to hear complaints about human rights violations committed by the Palestinian security forces. They do not want any human rights organizations that challenge them in public and demand an end to the suppression of freedoms.
The only human rights organizations Palestinian leaders want to see are those that direct their hate against Israel, or those that are affiliated with terror groups such as the PFLP, or those that focus their time and energy on defending the rights of terrorists who carry out attacks against Jews.
According to Lawyers for Justice, there is no Palestinian Authority law that prohibits lawyers in their individual capacity or within a framework of a civil company from providing free legal services. The new measure against the group is unlawful: it was taken by a Palestinian security agency, not the PA Ministry of National Economy, which is responsible for granting licenses to such groups, Lawyers for Justice clarified in a statement, adding:
"We consider the decision of the Ministry of National Economy, which came at the request of the General Intelligence Service, as an integral part of the state of repression and persecution of the human rights activists, especially during the past three years, which witnessed a sharp rise in the pace of suppression of public freedoms and constitutional rights guaranteed under the Palestinian Basic Law and international human rights conventions."
According to Front Line Defenders, an Irish-based human rights organization whose overall goal is to enable human rights defenders to continue their work without the risk of harassment, intimidation or arrest:
"Lawyers for Justice is facing severe consequences that will affect its existence as a human rights organization due to the punitive measures and restrictions imposed on its registration. This will impede its work by blocking its ability to enter into contractual agreements with local or international organizations, or have a bank account.
"The efforts of the Palestinian Authority to hinder the human rights work of Lawyers for Justice has been ongoing for multiple years. The group has been subjected to different forms of targeted harassment [by the Palestinian Authority], including judicial harassment and defamation campaigns..."
Muhannad Karajah, head of Lawyers for Justice, was quoted as saying that the move to muzzle his group reflects a larger trend of the Palestinian Authority "shrinking the space for civil society organizations and further empowering its security services." Without valid registration, Karajah said, Lawyers for Justice will not be able to access its bank accounts and could have its offices shuttered and staff arrested.
The issue of Lawyers for Justice has thus far failed to attract the attention of the international community or the mainstream media in the West. This silence serves the Palestinian Authority's goal of muzzling its critics while continuing its campaign to vilify Israel and to demonize and murder Jews.
By staying silent about the human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority, the UN and many Western countries are doing a terrible injustice to the Palestinians, who will continue to suffer repression and suppression under the PA while the international community, obsessed only with defaming Israel, looks the other way.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.