Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs has released a report called Terrorists in Suits: The Ties Between NGOs promoting BDS and Terrorist Organisations. The report has a sense of melodrama, especially its pictures of BDS activists pinned to a noticeboard with red pins connected by red thread, like a scene from a crime drama.
The man behind the report is Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan; he clearly has a wild imagination. Names, places, dates, events, meetings and pictures are all jumbled together to present a scenario which is supposed to deter people from supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and wash away all of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. In doing so, it simply peddles more myths and lies.
Every pro-Palestine, pro-justice activist named in the report, it is alleged, is not what they seem. It quotes, for example, an Israel Supreme Court 2007 description of Shawan Jabarin, the General Director of Al-Haq Foundation, one of the oldest human rights organisations in the occupied West Bank, as a “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” character. Due to “significant security concerns”, the court backed the army’s decision to ban him from overseas travel. Khalida Jarrar, Deputy Director of Addameer rights group, is defined in the same way. She has been held under an administrative detention order since 2017 for her role as a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and her alleged involvement in terrorist activities. Administrative detention allows Israel to keep people – always Palestinians – behind bars with neither charge nor trial on a renewable six-monthly basis.
One section of the Israeli report seeks to present an act of piracy on the high seas as some kind of heroic act against terrorists. When Israeli commandos attacked the Turkish-registered Mavi Marmara in 2010 the vessel was part of a convoy of ships taking humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip. In international waters and with utter disregard for international law and human life the Israelis hijacked the convoy and killed nine Turkish activists — İbrahim Bilgen, Çetin Topçuoğlu, Furkan Doğan, Cengiz Akyüz, Ali Heyder Bengi, Cevdet Kılıçlar, Cengiz Songür, Fahri Yaldız, Necdet Yıldırım — and left a tenth, Ugur Suleyman Soylemez, so badly wounded that he died after being in a coma for four years. Israel eventually agreed to pay more than $20 million to the victims’ families. Israeli propagandists working for Erdan’s ministry still engage in the character assassination of these martyrs and distort the reality of that attack. Indeed, everyone who had anything to do with the Mavi Marmara convoy is still accused of “terrorism”, including the then head of Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign Sarah Colborne, Ismail Patel of Friends of Al-Aqsa and leading Palestinian exiles Muhammad Sawalha and Zaher Birawi.
Allegations against such activists include appearing on Al-Aqsa TV channel, which belongs to Hamas; promoting freedom flotillas to break the Israeli siege of Gaza; calling for an end to arms sales to Israel; and arranging demonstrations in support of the Palestinians’ legitimate right of return and the Great March of Return protests. It is even enough, according to Erdan’s report, to have gone to Gaza to give humanitarian aid and moral support to the Palestinians. Describe Israel as an Apartheid state and you will be called a terrorist, even though it fulfils all of the criteria for such a description.
Throughout Terrorists in Suits… there is a brazen disregard for international law, UN resolutions and plain common sense, reflecting Israel’s contempt for the laws and conventions intended to protect vulnerable people and provide them with justice. Nowhere does the report give you any indication that its authors are even remotely aware of Israel’s brutal military occupation, to which the country’s courts and security agencies are in thrall. Indeed, it cites court judgements and reports by Shin Bet, the internal security agency, as if they are independent and completely impartial, which is nonsense. Any opposition or resistance to the illegal and belligerent occupation is ranked as terrorism, and woe betides anyone who thinks differently.
According to Erdan and his team, nobody is safe from such a damning indictment, whether civil society organisations, Palestinian factions, intellectuals or activists. The report claims that 42 leading NGOs out of nearly 300 international organisations promote the “delegitimisation of Israel” and the BDS campaign against the Zionist state. That alone, it insists, is a good enough reason to classify them as “terrorists” and discredit them and their admirable work. Such activism, in the eyes of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, is only acceptable when it favours Israel, otherwise, it is “terrorism”.
As US President George W Bush said post-9/11, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” He left no room for the middle ground; that it is perfectly reasonable to be both against US militarism and terrorism. Israel has jumped onto this bandwagon, so either you are pro-Israel or you are a terrorist; you cannot be pro-justice if that justice will benefit the people of occupied Palestine. When I wonder, will Israel and its supporters wake up to the fact that peaceful pro-justice, pro-Palestine activists are not the problem, and that it is the Israeli occupation which is at the core of the matter?