Israel’s Sustained Attack on Palestinian Civil Society

On the 27th of October, the Israeli Supreme Court laid down a “precedent setting decision” in which the court has denied-tax exempt status to the society of Islamic Sciences and Cultural Committee, because it provides services to Palestinian, not Jewish, children, Human Rights Watch reports. This decision is highly controversial considering that the Israeli authorities have guaranteed tax-exempt status to many Israeli organisations despite their provision of services to Israeli settlers living in settlements established in contravention of international law in the Occupied West Bank. 

According to Human Rights Watch, the Society of Islamic Sciences and Cultural Committee, an NGO registered in Israel, has been running a number of schools in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for three decades; the Society has been submitting regular reports to the Israeli non-profit registrar. Following Israel’s construction of the wall that separates East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, the organisation shut down its Jerusalem schools, and only maintained one school in Bir Nabala, “a West Bank Palestinian town inside an enclave surrounded by walls and fences.”  


According to Israeli income Tax Ordinance, non-profit organisations are exempt from income tax if they perform a public purpose such as education. Despite this, the Supreme Court refused to guarantee the society tax exempt status, on the basis that its education services are provided for schools that serve Palestinian students. This decision operates under a few misguided assumptions. First, it upholds the notion that schools not educating Israeli students do not serve the “public’s interest,” not considering the argument that a number of the students in the school in question are considered residents in Israel as they hold an Israeli ID. Further, the courts’ declaration that the Israeli government cannot effectively oversee the activities of non-governmental organizations in “areas that are not under its control,” disregards the fact that the Israeli authorities have maintained exclusive control over Bir Nabala neighbourhood, imposing tight restrictions on travel into and out of the area, alongside policing, licensing, and construction.  


The decision of the Supreme Court is of dangerous implications and sets a threatening precedent that contributes to imposing additional financial burdens and shrinking the space for Palestinian civil society organisations, especially those registered in Israel that provide services for Palestinians in the OPT.  

The timing of the Supreme Court’s decision is especially crucial, as it comes only weeks after the Israeli authorities designated six prominent Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations in an abhorrent attack on Palestinian civil society organisations. 


Human Rights Watch has described the decision as one that places a:  

“Financial burden on Israeli-registered groups that serve Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and is the latest example of Israel’s highest court rubber-stamping discriminatory practices that contribute to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, under an overall policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians, even in matters of education.” 


This decision must be read in conjunction with the latest Israeli authorities attack against Palestinian civil society organisation and can only be interpreted in a manner that implies the complicity of Israel’s Supreme Court in the crackdown on the Palestinian Civil Society. The continuous Israeli campaign and harassment against civil society organisations is invidious and reprehensible, with the most dangerous of implications towards the advancement of human rights and hinders efforts in providing vital services for Palestinians, especially in areas where both the Palestinian Authority and Israel do not.