ISSN 2330-717X

Starving The Terrorists Of Cash – OpEd

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 It was as far back as October 2021 that Israel accused six Palestinian civil society groups of funneling donor aid to militants, in particular the PLFP (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), and consequently designated them terrorist organizations.  On August 18 Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, repeated Israel’s claim that the designated NGOs operated undercover to serve the PFLP. maintaining that “they also assist in raising funds for the terrorist organization via a variety of methods that include forgery and fraud.”

The next day Israel’s security forces closed down seven Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the West Bank. The reason given was that those particular NGOs had been diverting to the PLFP charitable funding provided to them for their own use.  The PLFP is designated a terrorist organization by Israel, but also by the US, the EU, Japan, Canada and Australia.  The UN immediately condemned the closures as “totally arbitrary”.

Justification for this can be traced back to a document published by the Israeli government in February 2019 titled: “Terrorists in Suits”.  It presented dozens of examples of ties between NGO activists who delegitimize Israel, and the PFLP and Hamas. The ideological connection between them is that all reject the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, and oppose any normalization between Israel and its neighbors. The report, which lists in detail the ties between the various bodies, also found that many of these NGOs were led or staffed by members and operatives of known terrorist organizations.

In designating the six NGOs as terrorist-linked, the Israeli defense ministry said that they had “received large sums of money from European countries and international organizations, using a variety of forgery and deceit,” and that the money had been passed to the PFLP to support its activities.  “Those organizations present themselves as acting for humanitarian purposes,” it said. ”However, they serve as a cover for the ‘Popular Front’ promotion and financing.” 

“Terrorists in Suits” is not the only exposé of this connection between non-governmental and terrorist organizations.  In November 2021 the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a research body associated with Tel Aviv University, published an 11,000-word academic research paper. It analyzed the extent to which the EU, as well as individual European nations, consistently pour millions into the coffers of certain Palestinian NGOs nominally concerned with economic development, peace and human rights.  The recipients, however, are “substantial political and economic actors, and are among the leaders of intense soft power conflict, voicing repeated allegations of fundamental Israeli wrong-doing and encouraging anti-Israel campaigns through boycotts and lawfare.” 

 The document summarizes its conclusions as: “The EU and West European governments provide funding and access (particularly to media and international institutions such as the UN and ICC), in return for political services from the carefully selected Palestinian NGOs. This is evidenced by a detailed examination of repeated and overlapping grants and contracts from numerous European funding frameworks to the same group of recipients, including some linked to the PFLP terror organization.”

Israel’s defense ministry said: “Those organizations present themselves as acting for humanitarian purposes; however, they serve as a cover for the ‘Popular Front’ promotion and financing.”  Reuters reported that an official with the PFLP did not actually deny its ties to the six NGOs designated by Israel, but said they maintain relations with civil society organizations across the West Bank and Gaza.

Predictably Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said the “decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”  The UN Human Rights Office in the Palestinian territories said “Israeli authorities have not presented to the United Nations any credible evidence to justify these declarations”

A clue to the comparative dearth of hard and fast evidence in support of Israel’s action lies in a document issued on January 6, 2022 by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.  It reproduces a letter received from the Legal Advisor’s Office of the Israel Defense Forces, which includes the following:

“The core of the declarations is based on classified, crosschecked and reliable intelligence that indicates that your clients operate on behalf of the terrorist organization, the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” and are essentially arms of the terrorist organization, which cannot be revealed for fear of threatening national security.”

In short the security forces maintain that the evidence they hold about the connections between the designated Palestinian NGOs and the PFLP is classified, and to reveal it would endanger national security.

The resultant situation is stalemate.  Without chapter and verse to support the Israeli contention, the NGOs concerned, the UN and the nations and organizations that fund them will continue to assert that closing them down is arbitrary and unjustified. Indeed no less than nine EU countries have said they will continue working with the groups, citing a lack of evidence for the Israeli accusations.  All Israel can do is keep reiterating that it has incontrovertible evidence that links the designated NGOs with covert financial and other support for the PLFP and related terrorist entities, while steadfastly refusing to reveal classified information.  Meanwhile it has cut off the flow of finance to the PLFP from this source, defying the objectors in order to avoid compromising national security. 

   There is a glimmer of hope in the impasse.  Although the EU announced in June that it would resume funding for two of the designated Palestinian NGOs, it has agreed in July to resume meetings of the EU-Israel Association Council.  This confirms the new Middle East diplomatic reality, namely that political and economic relations are no longer dependent on the Israel-Palestinian dispute. The EU-Israel Association Agreement, which came into force in 2000, is intended to develop “mutual understanding and solidarity” and “convergence of positions on international issues”. 

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