Nine European countries said Tuesday that they have seen “no substantial evidence” to support Israel's allegations that six Palestinian civil society groups are terrorist organizations and would not change their policies on supporting the groups.
The rare joint statement was a major rebuke of Israel, which backlisted the groups as terrorist organizations last October but has provided little evidence to support its allegations. The rights groups denied the allegations and accused Israel of escalating a long-standing crackdown on Palestinian opposition to its decades-long military rule.
“Accusations of terrorism or links to terrorist groups must always be treated with the utmost seriousness,” read the statement, issued by Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.
“No substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards the six Palestinian NGOs on the basis of the Israeli decision to designate these NGOs as ‘terrorist organizations’” it said.
"Should evidence be made available to the contrary, we would act accordingly," it added.
The announcement came a day before President Joe Biden is scheduled to arrive on a visit that is expected to include meetings with Palestinian civil society representatives, though it is unlikely he will meet any of the groups targeted by Israel.
Israel's Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Israel accused the groups of serving as a front for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a left-wing movement which has a political party as well as an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis going back decades. Israel and Western nations consider the PFLP a terrorist organization.
The blacklisted organizations are the Al-Haq human rights group, the Addameer rights group, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.
In its Oct. 22 announcement, the Israeli Defense Ministry said the organizations are “controlled by senior leaders” of the PFLP and employ its members, including some who have “participated in terror activity.” It said the groups serve as a “central source” of financing for the PFLP and had received “large sums of money from European countries and international organizations."
The terror declaration initially appeared to pave the way for Israel to raid their offices, seize assets, arrest staff and criminalize any public expressions of support for the groups. But all six have continued operating.
The Dutch government announced in January that it would stop funding the Union of Agricultural Work Committees after it found evidence that individual staffers were linked to the PFLP. But it said it found no evidence the group had “organizational ties” to the PFLP or was involved in funding or carrying out terrorism, as Israel had alleged.
Israel has long accused human rights groups and international bodies of being biased against it and of singling it out while ignoring graver violations by other countries.
Most of the targeted organizations document alleged human rights violations by Israel as well as the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Both Israel and the PA routinely detain Palestinian activists.