Maureen Clare Murphy
The Electronic Intifada / January 6, 2022
The Netherlands has ended funding to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, one of six Palestinian organizations recently declared as “terrorist” groups by Tel Aviv.
The implications of the Dutch move will reverberate throughout Palestinian civil society, which is under unprecedented attack by Israel.
Israel accuses the prominent human rights and social services organizations of serving as front groups for the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist political party banned by Israel, the US and EU.
The targeted groups reject Israel’s claims and have demanded that Tel Aviv provide the evidence that it claims justifies the sweeping measure.
This week, Israel responded by saying that it would allow the groups to review only the unclassified material on which it is basing the designations.
In its response, Israel’s military attorney stated that “the core of the declarations is based on classified, cross-checked and reliable intelligence information that cannot be disclosed” as it may harm national security.
Israel’s response shows that the targeted groups “are afforded no due process rights,” Adalah, a group providing legal representation to the banned organizations, said on Thursday.
It also suggests that “Israeli authorities have no evidence linking them with illegal acts and that this move amounts to the political persecution of human rights defenders,” Adalah added.
The terror designations leave the organizations’ staff vulnerable to arrest and their offices and property subject to closure and confiscation.
The blacklisted group UAWC stated that given this context, the Dutch government was “not just abandoning” it “but Palestinian civil society at large.”
The Dutch foreign ministry announced the decision on Wednesday after suspending aid to the group 18 months ago and following a year-long probe into “possible links” between the UAWC and the PFLP.
That review, examining the group’s activities since 2007, when the Netherlands began funding the UAWC, yielded “no evidence” of “financial flows” between it and the PFLP.
“Nor has any proof been found of organizational unity between the UAWC and the PFLP or the PFLP providing direction to the UAWC,” the Dutch foreign ministry states in an eight-page briefing to that country’s parliament.
While rejecting Israel’s claim that the UAWC is an arm of the PFLP, the Dutch review found ties between individual staff and board members with the leftist group.
The Dutch government is ending its funding on the basis of UAWC staff and board members’ political affiliation in their personal capacities.
The Netherlands is effectively punishing an entire organization and all of its beneficiaries over the alleged political sympathies of some of its staff and board members.
The foreign ministry’s briefing to the Dutch parliament states that organizations will be asked how they deal with employees or board members who may be involved with groups that are on the EU and UN sanctions lists.
Palestinian resistance to Israel’s regime of occupation, apartheid and settler colonization has long been branded as unacceptable and criminalized.
The US designated the PFLP and other factions as terrorist groups as punishment for their rejection of the Oslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s.
UAWC on Wednesday said that the findings of the Dutch review reflect the group’s “status and existence as an independent organization, which has no political or religious affiliation with any party or political organization.”
The group added that it cannot and would not “interfere with the personal political beliefs and affiliations of its employees and board members.”
UAWC said it was “shocked” over the move based on “alleged individual links resembling the toxic allegations of Israeli groups like NGO Monitor.”
Groups closely aligned with the Israeli government, such as NGO Monitor, have for years published scurrilous accusations against Palestinian groups attempting to link them to proscribed political parties.
The smear campaigns have resulted in onerous conditions on funding to Palestinian groups, curtailing their ability to carry out their work.
So far no government has come out in support of Israel’s banning of the six Palestinian organizations it declared terror groups in October.
But the US and EU have yet to explicitly condemn the move and demand that Israel revoke the designations. And as the Dutch abandonment of the UAWC shows, the Israeli declaration may have the intended effect of isolating the groups and drying up their international funding.
Three of the targeted groups – Al-Haq, Addameer and Defense for Children International-Palestine – have submitted evidence to the International Criminal Court’s war crimes investigation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
That international tribunal is based in The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government.
The UAWC was established in 1986 to support Palestinian farmers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip facing Israeli land and water theft.
Israel’s settlement activity is likely to be a primary focus of the International Criminal Court’s investigation, should it move forward.
The Dutch government has been a “leading donor” to the UAWC since 2013, according to the group.
The campaign to cut off Dutch funding to the group began in May 2019 when UK Lawyers for Israel sent a letter to the Netherlands’ representative office in Ramallah with information about UAWC’s supposed links to the PFLP.
In June 2020, UK Lawyers for Israel repeated those claims in a letter to Sigrid Kaag, Dutch development minister at the time, citing NGO Monitor as its principal source of information.
UAWC said it was “particularly saddened” that the process leading to its disavowal was initiated by Kaag soon after her visit to the West Bank in early 2020, where she “witnessed the relevance of our work.”
Kaag’s oversight of funding to the UAWC was used as a “political cudgel” by right-wing politicians in the Netherlands during that country’s elections last year, as reported by +972 Magazine.
The UAWC said on Wednesday that Israel will “seize” the Dutch “decision to further escalate its all-out attack on Palestinian civil society.”
“All of this is diverting international attention from Israel’s theft … and its brutal suppression of the Palestinian people living under military occupation,” the UAWC added.
The Dutch foreign ministry’s briefing to parliament mentions that the UAWC ended the employment of two staff members who were arrested by Israel in 2019 over their alleged involvement in a roadside explosion near a West Bank settlement that killed an Israeli girl and injured her brother and father.
One of the arrested men, Samir Arbeed, was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after being tortured during his interrogation by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency.
Israeli prison authorities continued to interrogate Arbeed while he was in intensive care and a prison guard reportedly fired tear gas into his hospital room.
Palestinian human rights organizations said that both Arbeed and the other former employee – Abd al-Razzaq Farraj – “suffered physical and psychological torture during interrogation.”
Israel’s attorney general closed an investigation into Arbeed’s brutal interrogation early last year.
Independent UN human rights experts condemned “Israel’s failure to prosecute, punish and redress the torture and ill-treatment perpetrated against” Arbeed.
“We are alarmed that the use of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ or ‘exceptional measures’ during questioning reportedly led to a forced confession, which the universal prohibition of torture and ill-treatment aims to prevent,” the experts said.
Concerning the broader attack on UAWC, which predates the arrest of two of its former employees, Palestinian groups stated in 2020 that “UAWC is preserving the Palestinian presence on land [that] Israel wants to annex.”
“This is why UAWC has been under attack for years.”
The Palestinian groups said the Netherlands should investigate “Dutch companies maintaining commercial relations with and profiting from illegal Israeli [Jewish] settlements.”
Instead, a Palestinian group “supporting farmers and vulnerable communities across Palestine finds itself under review.”
In its letter to parliament, the Dutch foreign ministry reiterated that the Netherlands funds Palestinian nongovernmental organizations as part of the country’s support for a “two-state solution.”
Israel’s current government openly refuses to negotiate with Palestinians towards a two-state solution supported – at least in rhetoric – by the US, EU and United Nations.
But it is a Palestinian group – rather than the Israeli government colonizing Palestinian land – that is sanctioned by The Hague.
In January last year, the Netherlands awarded a $24 million contract to Israeli arms maker Elbit Systems to supply tactical computers to the Dutch army.
The following month, the Dutch signed an $82 million contract for Israel’s Iron Fist “protection system” for armored vehicles.
While trading in military tech with Israel, the Netherlands has helped shield it from accountability.
In December, a Dutch court upheld war crimes immunity for Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz last month, ruling that Israeli military commanders cannot be sued for killing a Palestinian family in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when Gantz was army chief of staff.
In May last year, Gantz delivered on his threat that “no person, area or neighborhood in Gaza is immune,” wiping out entire families by targeting residential buildings.
Following that 11-day offensive, some 250 organizations around the world called for a two-way arms embargo on Israel.
Instead of heeding that call, the Netherlands rewarded Israel with a new “security cooperation” agreement signed by the Dutch ambassador in Tel Aviv and Gantz.
Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada