A year ago, I arrived at Defense for Children International – Palestine’s office in Al-Bireh, just outside of Ramallah, and immediately knew something was wrong. The door had been forced open. My heart sank.
I went inside, and saw the office was a mess. Computers were missing. My heart sank further.
My colleagues trickled into the office, arriving for what was no longer a normal Thursday. We examined our security camera footage, which confirmed what we suspected: Israeli forces had raided our office, breaking in and confiscating desktop computers, laptops, hard drives, and client files related to Palestinian child detainees represented by DCIP’s lawyers in Israel’s military courts.
BREAKING: Israeli forces raided our main office in Al-Bireh today around 5 a.m., confiscating computers, laptops, and files concerning our Palestinian child detainee clients in the Israeli military courts. We were not informed of the reason for the raid. pic.twitter.com/IE9i4ZDvfP
— Defense for Children (@DCIPalestine) July 29, 2021
The footage showed at least 12 Israeli soldiers forcing open our office door at 5:15 a.m on July 29. Once inside, they gathered computers, laptops, and files, and then cut the closed-circuit television camera feed at 5:27 a.m
DCIP, where I serve as general director, has long been a target of the Israeli government’s campaign to delegitimize and eliminate Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations. We defend Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system, advocate for greater protections for Palestinian children, and work to hold Israeli authorities accountable for detaining, torturing, injuring, and killing Palestinian children.
To this day, a year later, the Israeli authorities have still not provided us with a compelling reason as to why they raided our office. Nor have we received any of the confiscated materials back.
Israel’s campaign of repression against DCIP did not stop after those soldiers seized our equipment. Last October, just a few months after the raid, the Israeli government designated DCIP and five other Palestinian civil society groups as “terrorist” organizations, effectively criminalizing and outlawing our work.
This designation, clearly designed to isolate us, has strengthened our network of solidarity with communities around the world in ways I didn’t think were possible. Immediately following the office raid, and even more so after the designation, our email inbox began to fill up with messages of support from every corner of the world. Within days, academics, trade unions, grassroots organizations, churches, NGOs, funders, UN experts, and others issued statements of solidarity with hundreds of signatures. Rep. Betty McCollum introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives condemning the designation and calling for its immediate reversal. The outpouring of support was stunning.
And the backing didn’t stop after those first few weeks. Just last month, on July 12, nine EU governments — Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden — issued a joint statement saying they had reviewed the Israeli government’s so-called “evidence” against us and found it insufficient. Norway followed suit a few days later. Then, on July 18, Rep. Ayanna Pressley led 21 members of Congress in sending a letter to the Biden administration demanding that the United States reject the Israeli criminalization of Palestinian civil society organizations and insist Israeli authorities reverse the designation.
We have also challenged Israel’s repressive actions every step of the way, but Israeli authorities refuse to share any specific evidence for these designations, or provide an impartial process to reverse them.
The Israeli government’s attempts to shut down our work have forced us to spend countless hours fighting back. It is exhausting. Some days, it seems like it will never end. And on those days, I turn to the Palestinian children whose rights we are determined to continue defending.
I think of the bright young Palestinian children on our Children’s Council, advising local Palestinian authorities on creating child-friendly policies. I think of Amal Nakhleh, now 18, unjustly and arbitrarily imprisoned by Israeli authorities for more than a year without charge, who is now free. I think of the brothers and sisters of Palestinian children killed by Israeli missiles in Gaza, navigating a new world without a sibling by their side. And, of course, each of the Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces, with no one held accountable for their deaths.
Each one of these children is reason enough to keep pushing forward.