Israel's Defense Ministry on Friday listed six Palestinian NGOs as "terrorist organizations," a move that makes them vulnerable to raids and arrests by Israeli security forces.
The groups listed were: the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees (UPWC), Addameer, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCI-P) and the Union Of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC).
A Defense Ministry statement said that these groups were "controlled" by senior members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group that became infamous in the 1970s for its use of plane hijackings. Israel alleged that the groups use humanitarian funding from European governments "as a central source for the financing of the PFLP's activity."
Defence Minister Benny Gantz called on governments and organizations around the world "to refrain from contact with organizations and groups that feed the flames of terror."
The PFLP is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, and the European Union.
Global condemnation from rights groups
The move was swiftly met by an outcry, both within the Palestinian territories and internationally. Activists highlighted how these NGOs can serve as the only means of acquiring aid for Palestinians who essentially live under a blockade.
In a joint statement, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch noted that the Israeli designation "effectively outlaws" the activities of the six groups.
"This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement," Amnesty and HRW said. "This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine's most prominent civil society organizations."
Adalah, an organization that advocated for the rights of Palestinians in Israel, called it an "unprecedented attack" that "fits totalitarian and colonial regimes and constitutes political persecution under the pretext of anti-terrorism legislation."
Leaders of the targeted groups decried the move as politically motivated and lacking a basis in truth.
Later on Friday, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Palestinian territories said it was "alarmed" and accused Israel of "a long stigmatizing campaign" that damaged "their ability to deliver on their crucial work."
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington would "be engaging our Israeli partners for more information regarding the basis for these designations."
"We believe respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance," Price told reporters.
es/sms (AFP, dpa)