In the nearly six months since declaring it and five other Palestinian NGOs "terrorist" organizations, the Israeli government has not taken any steps to shutter Addameer, which supports Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. This is certainly not because Israel lacks the means.
After all, the Israeli army had broken into Addameer's Ramallah offices and seized equipment and documents three times in recent years, but it has not done so since the designation last fall. Israel famously placed the organization's former director, Khalida Jarrar, under administrative detention on numerous occasions in the past, but it has made no attempt to arrest, detain or even question its current leadership despite branding them as "terrorists."
This all highlights the absurdity of designating human rights NGOs as supposed terrorist groups while taking no steps to halt their activities or arrest their leaders. But that does not mean the designations are without consequence, as the director of Addameer, Sahar Francis, explained in a recent interview with DAWN. Indeed, Israel's decision to use—or misuse—anti-terror legislation against these groups means that they and their employees live in constant fear of arrest, military raids, travel bans, and sanctions from the banking system, international donors and foreign governments.
For the time being, Israel, and the Western governments it has briefed on the "terrorist" designations, have taken no action. According to numerous reports, Western diplomats, who were shown two secret Israeli dossiers purportedly containing evidence against the groups, dismissed them as insufficient and unconvincing.
Founded in 1992, Addameer provides support to Palestinians arrested and imprisoned by Israel, largely through free legal aid, but also through local and international advocacy. It has made submissions to the International Criminal Court over Israel's deportation of prisoners, including minors, out of the occupied territory to hold them in prisons inside Israel, against international law. Addameer advocates against Israel's use of administrative detention, in which almost exclusively Palestinians are held without charge or trial, subjected to poor detention conditions and reportedly torture.
According to the latest data available, from March of this year, Israel currently holds 490 Palestinians in administrative detention, at least three of whom are journalists. In recent years, numerous Palestinians held in administrative detention have gone on extended hunger strikes to demand that Israel either charge them with a crime or release them. In almost every case, Israel has chosen to release them.
Currently, these Palestinian detainees are boycotting Israel's military courts in protest of the secretive, unaccountable practice that leaves them with no option to defend themselves. In some cases, Israeli officials do not even tell the detainees what crimes the Israeli government is accusing them of or fears that they may commit.
In her interview, Francis discussed these Palestinian prisoners and explained why, while she was not surprised by Israel's terrorist designations for Addameer and the other Palestinian NGOs, there should be more international pressure on Israel "to totally revoke this decision."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
We are under Israeli attack because of the kind of work we are doing on the ground—because we are succeeding in protecting and supporting farmers, prisoners, children, woman and all other vulnerable groups in Palestinian society.
- Sahar Francis
Can you explain what administrative detention is and how Israel uses it?
Administrative detention was actually taken from the British security regulations of 1945 [in then-Mandate Palestine]. It enables the military government to arrest anyone based on secret information, from one month up to six months. Israel later amended the legislation and incorporated it into its legal system, domestically in Israeli criminal law, and in the occupied territories through military orders.
So now the Israeli military commander in the occupied territories—or the Israeli minister of security inside the state—can issue an administrative detention order for up to six months and they can renew it indefinitely. It can be used against anyone, whether woman, child or man, activists or student political leaders. Anyone can be subjected to administrative detention.
Palestinian administrative detainees are currently boycotting the Israeli military courts. How long has that been going on, and is there a demand attached to it, or is it an indefinite boycott? What led to it?
They started boycotting the military courts on Jan. 1, 2022, but this came after a long time of individual hunger strikes against the policy of administrative detention. The main problems are the indefinite period that you can spend in administrative detention, and that detainees believe the military courts are not a real source of judicial review and appeals.
They see in most cases that the court affirms the [administrative detention] orders as the military commander issued them. They do not have many ways to fight back against this policy, so they decided to jointly boycott the entire legal procedure to send a message that they are against the use of administrative detention.
How many Palestinians are currently held by Israel in administrative detention?
Around 500, but the number changes daily. Lately, we are seeing an increase in new military administrative detention orders, but it is being used inside the state of Israel as well now. There were a few cases in the last couple of weeks where Israel issued administrative detention orders, especially after the militant attacks in Israeli cities.
Can you tell me about the case of Salah Hamouri, who works for your organization and is currently in Israeli administrative detention?
Salah has been facing a long period of persecution and harassment. Currently, he has been in prison for three months of administrative detention, but it is not the first time. Since 2011, this is the third time he has been placed under administrative detention.
He is a resident of Jerusalem—as well as a French citizen—and his residency was revoked by the Israeli minister of the interior back in October 2021 on the claim that he broke allegiance to the state—again, based on secret information. Salah has also faced restrictions on entering the West Bank. He was forbidden from staying in his city of Jerusalem for six months. His wife was deported back to France a couple of years ago, and now his wife and two children are not allowed to visit him in the country.
Salah was also targeted for surveillance with Pegasus spyware. We discovered this when we found that six other colleagues from the Palestinian human rights organizations who were designated were targeted with Pegasus. So Salah has been facing harassment and attacks for several years based on the claim that they have secret information that he's still politically active and a threat to security.
We were targeted for discussing more seriously war crimes and crimes against humanity, for the work we are doing with the International Criminal Court, and for highlighting the colonial and apartheid aspects of Israel's control over the Palestinian people.
- Sahar Francis
But he has not been convicted of a crime based on this information?
Exactly. The first case that Salah was convicted in was a long time ago. He was sentenced to seven years, and was released in an exchange deal in 2011 in the Gilad Shalit case—he almost finished all his seven years, he had only three months left in his sentence. Since then, he has never been convicted of a crime, only placed in administrative detention. That is why we claim this is persecution.
Israel categorizes prisoners as "criminal prisoners" or "security prisoners," with Palestinians usually called security prisoners. Palestinians tend to categorize them more as political prisoners. How should the international community view Israel's detainment and imprisonment of Palestinians?
The Israeli policy of imprisonment aims to control the whole of Palestinian society. The majority of the 5,000 Palestinians currently in Israeli prisons are there for being involved in political activities, in student activities, for peacefully resisting the occupation by participating in demonstrations against the wall, against settlements, for incitement on Facebook and social media. The way Israel tries to portray Palestinian prisoners—that all these people are involved in militant activities—is not at all true.
That is why we claim all these prisoners are arrested because of the conflict, because they were criticizing and resisting the occupation. Israel is using imprisonment to maintain its occupation and to promote its annexation policies. Whenever you attack a whole village that resists the expansion of a settlement, like is taking place in Beita, and you arrest the activists who are defending their land and opposing the expansion of the settlement, it is very clear that your aim is to control this village and to enable the settlers to expand their settlement.
Your organization was one of six Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations that Israel designated as terrorist organizations without presenting any credible evidence. What do you think Israel is trying to accomplish with these designations?
The designations are part of a long history of harassment and smear campaigns against Palestinian civil society organizations, including these six organizations. It is not something that came suddenly. We are under Israeli attack because of the kind of work we are doing on the ground—because we are succeeding in protecting and supporting farmers, prisoners, children, woman and all other vulnerable groups in Palestinian society.
We were targeted because we were making friends on the international level with relation to special procedures and mechanisms in the U.N. We were targeted for bringing new narratives and discussing more seriously war crimes and crimes against humanity, for the work we are doing with the International Criminal Court, and for highlighting the colonial and apartheid aspects of Israel's control over the Palestinian people and highlighting the root causes of this conflict.
That is why they needed to silence us, to dry out our resources and to attack us. This is what they were trying to do in this long smear campaign in the past decade or so. When they failed in those efforts, they used this—what they pretend is a legal way, but which we claim is a manipulation of anti-terror laws.
This is also what the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights [Michelle Bachelet] confirmed to the U.N. Human Rights Council—that this is a manipulation and misuse of anti-terror laws at the international level.
We believe it is not going to affect just the six organizations; it is going to affect the whole of Palestinian civil society. It could also be taken by other states as an example of how to attack human rights organizations and human rights defenders based on secret information.
And how have the designations affected you or Addameer's work so far? How do you think they may affect you in the future?
Of course, it is making our work very difficult. Although we can open the office and continue our work, we are under a daily threat. Any day, any time, we could be raided, our office could be shut down, and I and my colleagues could be arrested—like Salah Hamouri—and either prosecuted or placed under administrative detention.
They can go to the banks and confiscate our money and seal our accounts. They can place restrictions on movement, on travel outside the country or even limit our ability to travel [from] one area to another area [within the country]. There are lots of ways they can directly affect our work, but so far, the only thing we face is the arrest of our colleague Salah Hamouri.
But we expect that because of the international campaign [opposing the designations] that they decided to make our case low profile. In the future, maybe they will take more measures. This is why it's very important that at the international level, organizations and states should put more pressure on Israel to totally revoke this decision.
It can't be tolerated that the Israeli side decides not to revoke them, even if they send a message that they are not taking any further steps. In that case, banks or donors will take measures themselves so that they don't risk collaborating with "illegal" entities, with "terrorist" groups.