In August 2022, the Israeli Defense Forces conducted dawn raids on the offices of seven Palestinian human rights NGOs. The targeted organizations included groups working to support Palestinian women and children, as well as political prisoners. The Israeli government justified shutting down the organizations under the pretext that they were fronts for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The organizations have rigorously denied the allegations, and vowed to continue their work in spite of Israeli repression. Sahar Francis, General Director of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, joins The Marc Steiner Show to explain why these organizations have come into the crosshairs of the Israeli government. Francis explains that a key motivation for the raids was the work of her and other organizations to advance investigations for Israel’s crimes through the UN and International Criminal Court. In order to consolidate the occupation and complete the annexation of Palestine, the Israeli government must target and destroy any resistance. While Francis denies the allegations of Addameer’s connections to the PFLP, she points out that the PFLP is not considered a terrorist organization under international law due to the special circumstance of Palestine as an occupied territory.
Since 2006, Sahar Francis has been the General Director of Ramallah-based Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, a Palestinian NGO providing legal and advocacy support to Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli and Palestinian prisons.
Studio: Dwayne Gladden
Post-Production: Brent Tomchik
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner, and it’s great to have you all with us.
In early August, the Israeli government raided, at the crack of dawn, the offices of six Palestinian NGOs, claiming they were front organizations for the PFLP, which is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. And despite that claim, the Israeli government has not revealed any proof that these organizations are even remotely connected to the PFLP, even after the European Union demanded such proof. Those organizations were the backbone of civilian public agencies, working with farmers, children, and fighting against the mass imprisonment of Palestinians. So, these organizations, Al-Haq, Addameer, The Bisan Center, the Defense for Children International Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Works Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, had their doors sealed shut, their computers and all their equipment seized, and the leaders of all those organizations are still under threat of imprisonment themselves.
So today we’re joined by one of the leaders of those NGOs, Sahar Francis. She’s a Palestinian human rights activist, defender, and general director of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. Sahar Francis is a lawyer fighting against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, and as director of Addameer, she focuses on the political and civil rights issues in the occupied territories, especially those of political prisoners and detainees.
So, Sahar, welcome back. It’s a pleasure to have you with us here on The Marc Steiner Show.
Sahar Francis: Thanks.
Marc Steiner: But this is not a very pleasant time, obviously. And if we could take a step backwards for just a minute, and just in context about the organizations that were raided, why they were raided, and what the Israeli government did, and then we’ll get into the meat of where you are now. So give us a little background to this.
Sahar Francis: So Addameer, my organization, we are a Palestinian organization that supports Palestinian prisoners with legal aid and advocacy and documentation and research. All the other colleagues, like the other six organizations that we were raided and designated, we all work in human rights, in the health sector, in the agriculture sector, in children’s rights, in women’s rights, and offering research and development studies. I believe that our work, and especially on the international level in protecting human rights and promoting accountability, exhausting the UN mechanisms and other international tools like the International Criminal Court, was the main reason behind the Israeli campaign against these organizations and other Palestinian civil society organizations.
This smear campaign started couple of years ago – If not more than one decade – Attacking the organizations, the people working in these organizations, distributing false information about us as individuals, about our work. And it all failed, actually, to affect seriously our work, so I believe the last tool was in the hands of the Israeli authority is to use the anti-terror law and the military orders in order to illegalize us as organizations. And this is what happened last year, actually, last October. And last week, they decided to raid the offices and close the doors and seal the doors, actually. In some organizations, they confiscated property. They took laptops, photocopiers, files, and data, and sealed the doors of the seven organizations, hanging a military order forcing the closure of the seven organizations for an indefinite period.
Marc Steiner: So, one of the things that I heard you talk about in another program, it might have been on Democracy Now!, was that you believe that Israel raided your group and the others to send a message to Europe as well. And so I’m curious how you think the Europeans are going to respond to this, because so far the Americans, the American government, has remained really silent. They’ve not said much. So what do you think that message is?
Sahar Francis: Actually, to put it in the correct context as well, before the designation, the Israeli intelligence prepared a dossier, a secret dossier, that was submitted to the European countries, mainly those that financially support the organizations, in order to affect their decision to suspend their financial support for us, and it failed. And this is why we believe Israel at the end decided to designate the organizations. Then, the European countries were examining this information, the intelligence information that they received. And lately, in July, they issued a joint statement by 10 European countries that they are the main funders for the civil society organizations in the occupied territories, actually clarifying that the secret information that the Israeli intelligence offered for them wasn’t sufficient, wasn’t enough in order to base such a serious decision against the organizations on, and they decided to continue with supporting the organizations. So, this is why we believe that the raid, the physical raid for the offices, is a kind of a message for these countries. No matter what your position, we can force the closure of these organizations on the ground.
Marc Steiner: I wonder what kind of personal trepidation and fear you might have for your own safety at this moment? I mean, already two other Palestinian leaders were brought and were told to come and to be interrogated. But what do you think could happen as a result of this?
Sahar Francis: We expect the worst, actually. Personally, not just the senior staff in these organizations could be arrested, could be harassed, but any employee or any person that is in contact, volunteering, or offering any service to these organizations could be liable under the military orders and the Israeli procedures. So, people could be arrested, could be prosecuted and sentenced for long periods. There are also other measures that could be taken against the individuals on a personal level in order to harass and affect and intimidate and threaten us from continuing our work, and it includes a ban on travel outside the country, canceling any permit that you have for entering inside Israel, or moving from one place to another. They can affect family unification procedures for individuals. They can arrest family members of people and harass them. Lots of procedures, actually, that the occupation were using so far against human rights defenders and activists in the occupied territory.
Marc Steiner: You were banned from leaving the country, right? That happened before this?
Sahar Francis: I was banned board by American Airlines, actually. And later on, I received a message from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv that my visa was revoked. Not clear what’s the basis for this step, but my banned travel was forced by the United States and not by the Israeli side.
Marc Steiner: So, I think that’s fairly shocking as well, that someone had reported to me it was the Israeli government. The fact that the US government not only has not responded to these raids and calling your organizations terrorists, when in fact they’re not, they’re human rights organizations. Now you’re saying the American government has somehow been complicit in banning you from traveling from Palestine, from your home, to anywhere else to talk or to meet with people.
Sahar Francis: Exactly. This is an indirect implementation for the Israeli decision against the organizations. As you said, instead of taking a clear position while they kind of said as well as the Europeans, that the information is not sufficient. So, they didn’t take any concrete or clear measures. So, indirectly they’re implementing the Israeli decision by putting these restrictions, whether on the ability to travel via the United States. I was supposed to attend the World Social Forum in Mexico – I wasn’t traveling to the United States – And I was banned. So, other colleagues like Ubai Al-Aboudi, the director of Bisan Center, he is a United States citizen, but he was banned by the Israeli authorities from attending the World Social Forum, and the United States did nothing in support of their own citizen that was facing such a measure.
Marc Steiner: Well, that’s something we need to look into a great deal deeper. And I think that, going back to the situation that you face at the moment and the others face in these organizations, I think it was a quote that came from you – If not, you can correct me [laughs]. But when you said, why the Israeli government did this was, we are the masters, we are the ones who control the occupied territory and decide who could continue and not in reality on the ground. I mean, what happened to all of you and your organizations is really Orwellian, and it’s like 1984 that Palestinians seem to have to live under, especially those of you who are leading the struggle for equality and for independence. So talk a bit about that and what it’s like to have to survive in that.
Sahar Francis: It is very difficult, because we are subjected to two different legal systems at the end of the day as well. Like the Israeli authority, the minister, basically when designating us according to the anti-terror law, he used the Israeli law to be implemented on the occupied territories. This is a very serious violation of the international law, for the standards of the international law. And at the same time, they use the military orders as well against us as an occupying power. And at the end of the day, we have to face this reality, and we decided to continue. We will not back up because we believe this is totally in order to silence us because it seems we are succeeding in the work that we are trying to do at the international level. Especially, as I said, on the accountability level, working with the UN, different bodies, highlighting the war crimes and the crimes against humanity and all the other serious violations that the Israeli occupation is committing systematically in the occupied territories.
This is what makes the occupation worried about our work. It’s not true that we are associated in any illegal activities or terrorist activities. And this is very clear because, for Addameer, we have been existing for around 30 years and working on a daily basis versus the Israeli system, the military courts, or the prison system, and so on. Why now all of a sudden we have become a terrorist organization? It’s totally connected to our work against torture, against arbitrary detention, and naming the military system as a war crime because it’s not offering a fair trail procedures and standards for the thousands of Palestinian prisoners that they are detained yearly and prosecuted in front of this system.
This is what bothers the Israeli occupation, and this is why we became dangerous organizations in the Palestinian context. But we believe that it’s not going to stop here, because we believe that, for the occupation, in order to continue in implementing their plan in the annexation, any organization, any group that will resist this, that will work hard in order to prevent these plans, will be facing an attack and illegalizing like we face. Because all the organizations that are trying to protect farmers in Area C or house demolition policies or supporting Bedouin communities that are supposed to be displaced from sensitive areas like what’s going on now in Masafer Yatta or in other communities, will be attacked, will be facing the same attacks that we faced as six organizations.
Marc Steiner: Before we let you go, and I know you have a very busy time trying to keep all this together and keep this alive, what do you think – Two questions here. A, you all have been accused of being front organizations for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the PFLP. That was the excuse. So A, speak to that, because I want people to hear what your response is to that. And then I also want to talk to you about what you will all do from here. What happens next for you? But let’s start with that accusation that you all are front organizations for the PFLP.
Sahar Francis: So, actually this is the false information that the Israeli intelligence and the Israeli right-wing groups that were established in order to attack Palestinian civil society organizations, especially after the very important case of the ICJ ruling on the wall in 2004, when the ICJ decided and confirmed that it’s occupation, that both the international humanitarian law and human rights law should be implemented, and requested Israel to dismantle the wall, and all the organizations started the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign. And then the whole work on the accountability level became more serious. And then the campaign, the serious attack against the Palestinian civil society started. So, the way the Israelis can justify this link with terrorism is linking the different Palestinian NGOs with the political parties that already designated or declared as terrorist organizations by the Israelis or in the US context or in Europe.
And we should highlight that all the Palestinian political parties that are considered terrorist by the EU or the US are not declared so according to the UN standards. They aren’t included in any UN list. Because of the unique circumstances of the Palestinian context, being a people under occupation and all what the international law enables the people under occupation to use as tools in order to resist the occupation. But as organizations, Israel is trying to use – Every Palestinian could be arrested, prosecuted, and we all know there’s not enough time now to enter into all the procedures in front of the military court, in the torture, in how they obtain confessions in this system. The whole coercive atmosphere that brings the detainees at the end to accept a plea bargain in order to make their detention as short as they can, so they plead guilty for anything in order to be released, because they are fully aware that they will be rearrested and they could be facing administrative detention without charges, without fair trial, without any legal procedures.
So, this is how the intelligence collects their information. This is how this whole story was designed. And this secret information report that was presented for the European countries in order to make this connection between the organizations and the Popular Front, and this was rejected by the 10 European countries, and actually by all the countries that received this information. So, this is the way the Israeli occupation forces were using secret information and collecting evidence, out of torture and all these methods. Not just now, since the beginning of the occupation. More than 400 other, 450, actually, other Palestinian organizations, charitable organizations, unions, student movements are designated as terrorist and illegalized by the military orders. It’s not just these six organizations. This is the way the Israelis are controlling the Palestinian society in order to maintain the occupation as long as they can.
So, how will we face all this? We will continue, because it’s not a job. It’s not about the work that we are doing just in order to work. It’s our struggle against the occupation, against the illegality of the occupation. It’s our struggle to seek justice. It’s our self-determination as a people. So, even with the high price that we can pay as individuals, being arrested or harassed, or affected, I think, our vision and our mission as human rights defenders, that we decided to be committed to the international standards of human rights. We will continue this because we know deeply that we will succeed at the end of the day, because the truth will conquer at the end of the day.
Marc Steiner: So, Sahar, I will let you go here. I just have to ask one last quick thing. Is there a very real chance that the Israeli government could come after you, your staff, freeze your bank accounts, just completely shut you down? I mean, is that the next step? Is that something you are preparing for? Have there been any indications that that’s going to happen?
Sahar Francis: Of course, it can happen. The fact that they raided in the way that they did last Thursday was a clear message that they can do it. And we expect that they will continue unless there is really serious pressure coming from the United States and sending a clear message to the Israeli side that they should cancel their decision and stop all measures against the organizations and the people working in these organizations. And of course from the European side. I mean, it is the time for the international community to implement human rights in a correct way and not to work with double standards. And we all know that there are ways to make Israel abide to the international law and respect the rights of the Palestinian people.
Marc Steiner: Sahar Francis, first of all, thank you for your work. Thanks for taking the time today. I know it’s a very busy time for you. And we will stay in touch and continue to follow this. I will stay in touch and continue to follow this here. And we will keep watching over your safety as much as we can from thousands of miles away. So, thank you very much for joining us.
Sahar Francis: Thank you. Thank you for the support.
Marc Steiner: It will always be there. As someone who is Jewish and formerly a Zionist, who had family who was killed in the Holocaust and people who sat in my living room with numbers on their arms as a child, knowing their stories in the Holocaust, this makes me and many other Jewish people stand up and say, no, not in our name.
Sahar Francis: Exactly.
Marc Steiner: And I want to thank you for your work.
Sahar Francis: Thank you.
Marc Steiner: Thank you. Thank you.
I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Sahar Francis in the occupied territories in the West Bank, where she heads Addameer. And once again, thank all of you for joining us today. And please let me know what you thought about what you heard today, what you’d like us to cover. Just write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get right back to you. And if you have an extra minute, go on over to www.therealnews.com and become a monthly donor, become part of the future with us. So for Stephen Frank, Dwayne Gladden, Kayla Rivara, and the crew here at The Real News, I’m Marc Steiner. Stay involved, keep listening, and take care.