Israel spied on Irish-funded Palestinian NGOs reporting alleged war crimes, investigation finds

Near-decade long campaign against International Criminal Court uncovered

An investigation by international and Israeli news outlets has reported that Israel spied on officials from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and four Palestinian human rights organisations in an attempt to hinder and discredit an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes.

Three of the organisations concerned, Al-Haq, Addameer and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, receive annual funding from Irish Aid, as confirmed by a representative for the Department of Foreign Affairs. Al-Haq is led by Shawan Jabarin, a Palestinian human rights activist and graduate of the University of Galway. He received an alumni award from the university in May during a visit to Ireland.

The investigation by The Guardian, +972 Magazine and Local Call, found that Israel ran a near-decade long campaign against the ICC, deploying its intelligence agencies to “surveil, hack, pressure, smear and allegedly threaten senior ICC staff in an effort to derail the court’s inquiries”.

In particular, Israeli military and intelligence personnel were directed to monitor the communications of Fatou Bensouda, the former chief prosecutor of the ICC, and Karim Khan, its current chief prosecutor, with Palestinian human rights organisations submitting evidence of alleged war crimes and abuses by Israeli soldiers and settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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The Israeli Defence Forces and the Israeli prime minister’s office have denied the claims made in the investigation. The Israeli embassy in Dublin did not respond to a request for comment from The Irish Times.

Al-Haq’s submissions to the ICC are understood to have linked specific allegations of crimes under the court’s Rome Statute to senior Israeli officials including military chiefs, directors of the Israeli intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, and former defence ministers such as Benny Gantz, who serves in the Israeli war cabinet. Addameer is understood to have provided evidence to ICC officials about Israel’s use of torture against Palestinian prisoners and detainees.

One Israeli intelligence source told the investigation that the Palestinian NGOS were surveilled as they “operate in the international arena, participate in BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions], and want to harm Israel legally ... That’s why we’re engaging with this. Because it can hurt people in Israel – officers, politicians”.

Mr Jabarin says he and his colleagues at Al-Haq were not surprised that Israel was spying on them. “We know very well from Israel’s statements that it will not let the ICC commence any investigation against it,” Mr Jabarin said on a call from Ramallah. “They will do everything they can to stop the ICC – spy, follow, threaten.” He said: “Maybe I am surprised that they spied on the telephone of Karim Khan. I thought maybe they have some limits. But Israel, every day, proves that they have no limits, even when it comes to spying.”

An intelligence source also told the investigation that: “One of the [priorities] was to see who [in the human rights groups] is involved in collecting testimonies, and who were the specific people – the Palestinian victims – being convinced to give testimony to the ICC.” Mr Jabarin says: “We are not worried. We are not hiding things – we are doing legal work. The only thing we try to hide are the victims who ask us not to disclose their testimonies.”