Israel lobbyists force Dutch government to suspend funding of farmers’ organization

Palestinian farmers often find access to their land difficult or impossible because of encroaching and always-expanding settlements (Shadi Jarar’ah - APA Images)

Adri Nieuwhof

The Electronic Intifada  /  August 18, 2020

Pro-Israel groups have been campaigning to undermine a large Palestinian agricultural development organization by accusing it of “funding terror.”

UK Lawyers for Israel, UKLFI, and Dutch pro-Israel lobby group Center for Information and Documentation Israel, CIDI, have both been calling on the Dutch government to end funding to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, UAWC.

On 9 July, Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister of international trade and development, gave in to the pressure and suspended UAWC’s funding pending the outcome of an external review.

Pressure on Dutch government

In May, last year, UKLFI sent a letter to the Dutch representative in Ramallah with information about UAWC’s supposed links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP.

UKLFI repeated the accusations in a letter sent to Minister Kaag in June this year, citing NGO Monitor as its major source of information.

NGO Monitor has close ties to Israel’s political and military establishments.

CIDI joined UKLFI’s attack on UAWC by bringing the issue to the attention of lawmakers. As a result, the nationalist, right wing PVV party and Christian parties SGP and CHU asked the ministry if it was prepared to end Dutch funding of UAWC.

The UAWC was established in 1986 to support Palestinian farmers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza who suffer from Israel’s policies of theft of land and water.

The union describes itself as independent, with no political or religious affiliation to any party or political organization.

It was set up to help Palestinian farmers reclaim and rehabilitate their land, in part to support farmers themselves and in part to prevent the Israeli confiscation of land for settlement expansion.

UAWC also develops projects to cultivate land and maintain an infrastructure of agricultural roads and water resources. It supports projects in the fishing and livestock sector.

The Netherlands has financed UAWC projects since 2013. All donations are subjected to a strict reporting, monitoring and evaluation system.

Arrest of UAWC staff

On 25 September last year, Israeli forces arrested Samer Arbeed, an employee of the union.

Arbeed’s arrest was connected to an explosion near the Jewish settlement of Dolev that killed Israeli teen Rina Shnerb and injured her father and brother.

Interrogators from Israel’s domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet “used exceptional ways to investigate” Arbeed under the “ticking time-bomb” procedure. After two days of questioning, Arbeed was admitted to hospital in critical condition.

On 3 October, UAWC informed the Dutch ministry that an employee had been taken into custody on suspicion of involvement in the Dolev attack. A second employee was arrested a few weeks later in relation to the same attack.

The Netherlands Representative Office in Ramallah entered into dialogue with UAWC to obtain further information about the arrests.

UAWC informed the representative office that it had again reminded the staff of the ban on active membership of political organizations, including the PFLP. The union also terminated the contracts of the two employees.

The Dutch ministry then clarified its position in its response to UKLFI’s 18 June, 2020 letter.

“UAWC is not listed as a terrorist organization by the EU or UN, nor are its board members listed as members of a terrorist group. Previous international screening and the Netherlands’ own oversight of UAWC did not reveal any ties between UAWC and organizations on any international terrorism list.”

Minister Kaag, however, told parliament that she wants to act with caution and therefore decided to commission an external investigation into the possible links between PFLP and UAWC.

In the meantime, she said, she suspended UAWC’s funding pending the outcome of the review. Other donors, according to the minister herself, did not see any grounds to take similar measures.

Undermining Palestinian groups

The attack on UAWC is in line with an Israeli government strategy to undermine Palestinian organizations.

Last year, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy published a reportTerrorists in Suits: The Ties Between NGOs promoting BDS and Terrorist Organizations.

The report effectively sets out to smear Palestinian organizations who defend the rights of the Palestinian people. And its impact on organizations listed in the report has been dramatic.

Thus, Mahmoud Nawajaa, national coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) was recently detained, taken from his home in the middle of the night in front of his children.

He has only just been released after over three weeks. The military has issued no charges.

Not so lucky is Khalida Jarrar, board member of Addameer prisoner rights organization and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Jarrar was arrested in October 2019. She remains in administrative detention – without charge or trial – today.

UKLFI has smeared Defense for Children International – Palestine, but had to retract its allegations that DCIP provides “financial or material support to any terrorist organization” after legal action.

And human rights group Al-Haq has been smeared and attacked for many years.

All of these groups featured in the Terrorists in Suits report which relies “on outdated and unsubstantiated allegations,” according to al-Haq and is “premised on racist caricatures, attempting to paint Palestinian civil society organizations as essentially suspicious and violent, in order to discredit and defund them.”

In 2016, then minister Bert Koenders refused to give in to the pressure to cease funding Palestinian groups whom NGO Monitor had accused of supporting the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Rather than allow herself to be bullied, Minister Kaag should follow the example of her predecessor.

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa