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Israel’s demonization of Palestinian human rights defenders

27 January, 2022 @ 6:00 pm 7:30 pm

The recent targeting of Palestinian civil rights organizations in the context of the so-called ‘war on terror’ has led to a rolling back of civil liberties. What implications is this having on the work of human rights defenders and what responsibilities do states and international organizations have to protect human rights defenders? 

Join us for a critical discussion as we analyze the recent targeting of Palestinian civil rights organizations in the wider context of the so-called ‘war on terror’ and the rolling back of civil liberties that it has led to.

Specifically, we will discuss:

  • the circumstances under which these ‘designations’ were made
  • the implications this is already having for the work of human rights defenders associated with these organizations
  • the responsibilities of States and international organizations to protect human rights defenders, and
  • how the struggle of these 6 Palestinian organizations connects to other political and social struggles that we are facing today.


On 19 October 2021, six Palestinian civil rights organizations were designated by way of a military order as ‘terrorist’ organizations by the Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz. These designations have been widely rejected by Palestinan and Israeli civil society organizations, as well as by international human rights NGOs, foreign governments and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Despite these principled statements, there have been no consequences – diplomatic, economic or political – for Israel’s suppression of human rights defenders. The representatives of these Palestinian human rights defenders continue to fight for the  bare minimum political space necessary to be able to do their work.

Israel is not alone in pursuing this tactic. For the last 20 years, governments across the world have instrumentalized the so-called ‘war on terror’ as a powerful tool to target, isolate, and deligitimize critical voices and political opposition. Civil rights have been rolled back and undermined in the process, particularly amongst Muslim communities, indigenous communities and people of colour. Accordingly, surveillance, political repression and so-called preventative policing have been normalized and intensified – always in the name of fighting terrorism and largely through the targeting of racialized communities.


  • Ahmed Abofoul, Legal Researcher and Advocacy Officer, Al Haq Organization
  • Sahar Francis, Director, Addameer Organization
  • Fuad Abu Saif, General Director, Union of Agricultural Work Committees
  • Chris Collier, Consultant and expert on Human Rights Defenders
  • Nisha Kapoor, Associate Professor in Sociology, Warwick University


Jeff Handmaker, Associate Professor in Legal Sociology, ISS


Organized by the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Dutch Scholars for Palestine and Students for PalestineOpens external (Leiden), Access2Justice Lab, Lectoraat Recht & Rechtvaardigheid Hogeschool LeidenOpens externalInternational Lawyers (Geneva). This event is hosted by ISS.