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AIDA statement on the Government of Israel’s Attempt to Suppress Legal Representation of Wrongfully Designated Palestinian NGOs (July 2022)
20 July 2022 – Jerusalem
AIDA has learned with utmost concern that on July 14, the Israeli Ministry of Defense (MoD) communicated to lawyers representing wrongfully designated Palestinian NGOs in an appeal before the Ministry that they may be in violation of Israel's counterterror laws for accepting legal fees from the respective organizations. Such veiled threats serve to suppress independent and effective legal representation, and AIDA calls for urgent diplomatic action to reverse these unprecedented threats.
This recent development comes at a time when repressive measures against civil society, writ large, are rampant. AIDA – as a collective of humanitarian and development agencies - is committed to safeguarding humanitarian and civic space.
The MoD has suggested a requirement under Israeli law to seek pre-approval from the Ministry of Finance for the use of financial assets to pay legal fees. That assertion, according to prominent scholars and practitioners, is legally incorrect, and such practice is entirely unprecedented.
The MoD further claimed that the lawyers erred in not seeking pre-approval for receiving legal fees. While not suggesting that such approval would be withheld, it implied that providing legal representation to designated persons or entities warrants a separate analysis as to its underlying legality.
This development is particularly alarming if organizations cannot be represented before an Israeli administrative or judicial body in challenging their unwarranted designation under Israeli law and the enactments of the military commander of occupied Palestinian territory.
In the letter addressed to lawyers representing the six designated NGOs before the MoD Advisory Committee - issued mere days before the scheduled hearing by opposing legal counsel - they were cautioned against "representing designated terrorist organizations […] receiving legal fees from such organizations [and] the legality of representing and providing legal counsel to a designated terrorist organization per se."
At stake is the very role of lawyers, and the rights of affected NGOs to call upon the assistance of lawyer of their choice to protect their rights and represent them in all stages of proceedings. International law irrefutably establishes that no court or administrative authority shall refuge to recognize the right of a lawyer to appear before it on behalf of his or her client. Denial of the right to counsel of one's own choice or to counsel altogether – as in the case of Palestinian NGOs - is a clear violation of international legal norms.
AIDA stresses that the State of Israel retaining veto powers over legal representation – possibly precluding access to counsel altogether – is entirely incompatible with international norms regarding the independence of lawyers, and would be inconceivable in a legal regime where the right to counsel is espoused, as Israel continues to argue. Moreover, if this unprecedented threat to legal aid goes unchallenged, it may compromise representation in other instances and areas of work where legal aid is required.
AIDA wishes to remind all concerned parties that Israel repeatedly and in different ways has taken steps to silence well founded criticism of its human rights and IHL violations, and that claims of diversion of humanitarian assistance towards illicit uses remain unsubstantiated. AIDA took note of the recent statements by the European Commission and ten donor-States affirming that no substantial information to base the Israeli designation of Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations has been provided, and welcomes these important donors’ commitment to continue their cooperation with and support to organizations forming an indispensable part of Palestinian civil society.
Therefore, AIDA urges concerned states to take urgent private and public diplomatic action with a view of having the Israeli MoD rescind the requirement for counsel pre-approval immediately and entirely, and cease any other measures that hinder independent and effective legal counsel to affected Palestinian organizations and individuals. The right to independent counsel is an inalienable right, from which no derogation should be permitted.