This past October, the New York Times reported that Israel invoked its Counter-Terrorism Law of 2016 to outlaw as “terrorist” six Palestinian civil society groups that have long been active in legal, peaceful, and legitimate human rights advocacy.  Israel’s unsupported “terror designation” has been widely rebuked by world leaders, including several members of Congress (H. Res. 751).

John Fussell

However, our Connecticut congressional delegation (U.S. Reps. John Larson, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes, and Jahana Hayes) have remained silent to this injustice.

This author is very familiar with Defense of Children International Palestine (DCI-P), one of the six human rights organizations unjustly labeled as terrorist. DCI-P supports H.R. 2590, the Palestine Children and Families Act. Thirty-one members of Congress presently co-sponsor that legislation. Sadly, none of our Connecticut representatives have yet to co-sponsor the bill. A coalition of Connecticut organizations has collected resolution endorsements of 78 Connecticut faith-based, labor, legal, civil rights, and community organizations requesting our Connecticut members of Congress to join in co-sponsoring H.R. 2590.  If passed, that bill would require auditing the $3.8 billion given to Israel each year to ensure that U.S. aid is not paying for the military detention and abuse of Palestinian children, the demolition of Palestinian homes, or the annexation of Palestinian land.

Al Haq (Arabic for the “Truth”), one of the six organizations unjustly labeled “terrorist,” was among the first human rights groups in the Arab world and the first in the Israeli-occupied territories.  Raja Shehadeh, a life-long resident of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, completed his legal studies in London in 1978.  Enthused with the idea of using international law to resist Israeli occupation, the following year, he, along with two colleagues – a recent Yale graduate named Charles Shamas and an American lawyer Jonathan Kuttab – established Al Haq as an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva.

The December 2, 2021 issue of the New York Review of Books describes Al Haq’s human rights work, including contesting Israel’s illegal acquisition of Palestinian land.  Israel’s past efforts to discredit Al Haq’s work failed to silence this trusted resource for numerous international human rights organizations, the United Nations, and governments worldwide.

In an editorial on October 24, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz describes the unjustly “terrorist”-labeled Palestinian human rights organizations as follows:

Addameer offers legal aid to prisoners, collects data on incarcerations, including so-called administrative detentions – without trial – and acts to end torture. Al-Haq which documents violations of Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories. The Palestine branch of Defense for Children International monitors the killing of children and the wellbeing of children imprisoned in Israel. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees aids Palestinian farmers, mainly in Area C of the West Bank, which under the Oslo Accords is under full Israeli control. Also included are the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Bisan Center for Research & Development.

The Haaretz editorial denounced the Israeli government’s anti-democratic action “characteristics of military regimes” as a “stain upon Israel,” noting that:

The literal meaning is clear: All resistance to the occupation is terror. Israel is undermining the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate struggle. This is a boon to terrorist organizations and the use of violence.  If all forms of resistance constitute terror, how can one resist the occupation with being a terrorist?

United Nations experts condemn Israel’s designation of Palestine rights defenders as terrorist organizations.  U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet denounced the Israeli designation while defending the legitimacy of the civil society organizations and their work. “Claiming rights before a U.N. or other international body is not an act of terrorism, advocating for the rights of women in the occupied Palestinian territory is not terrorism, and providing legal aid to detained Palestinians is not terrorism, said Bachelet.”

Jonathan Cook, a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism, noted in the Washington Report this month that labeling Palestinian human rights activists as terrorist serves the same goal for Israel as labeling Western activists seeking to end Israel’s oppression of Palestinians as “anti-Semites,” or labeling Jews acting in solidarity with Palestinians as “self-hating” and “traitors.”

Our Connecticut congressional delegation favors billions of dollars in aid to Israel.  But to do so without taking measures to hold Israel accountable to international law and human rights is at best misguided. Our Connecticut congressional delegation should condemn Israel’s McCarthy-like efforts to silence legitimate criticism and human rights advocacy.

John Fussell is the Connecticut Organizer for Americans for Justice in Palestine Action (AJP-Action).