Charities operating in the West Bank and Gaza, and with Palestinians elsewhere in the region, provide essential services to displaced and vulnerable people in extremely difficult conditions. Often under-funded, constrained by Israeli-imposed restrictions and operating in a sensitive political environment where Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas all hold degrees of power, they fulfil a vital function in areas such as education, healthcare, humanitarian aid and the vindication of rights.
The challenges they face were underlined this week with the revelation by the Irish organisation Frontline Defenders that the controversial spyware programme Pegasus has been found on the phones of six Palestinian human rights activists working for established non-governmental groups. The spyware, made by the Israeli company NSO, allowed for the remote surveillance of the phones of activists at the NGOs Addameer, Al-Haq, and the Bisan Center for Research and Development. NSO has said it only sells Pegasus to legitimate governments focused on countering terrorism. Last week, the US Commerce Department blacklisted NSO, but international condemnation only goes so far; what is needed is a global regulatory regime governing surveillance technologies and their sale.
Separately, the Israeli government announced that it had designated six Palestinian NGOs as "terrorist organisations", authorising the Israeli army to arrest employees, raid offices and confiscate equipment. The six organisations – including al-Haq, which has a long record of human rights advocacy and is partly funded by Irish Aid – could now find it difficult to keep their doors open. The move has drawn criticism from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations. As Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has pointed out, Israel has yet to provide "credible evidence" to link the NGOs to terrorism.
Unless it can do so, many will conclude that it is simply moving against groups that play an important part in building a vibrant Palestinian civic life.