Why Palestinian rights groups reject EU funding conditions

The European Union’s policy on Palestine increasingly resembles that of the US and Israeli governments (Johanna Geron - Reuters)

Lubnah Shomali

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 7, 2020

The European Union is seeking to criminalize the Palestinian struggle for national liberation.

Badil, the human rights organization which I represent, refuses to accommodate the EU’s efforts. We have already been penalized for sticking to our principles.

A few weeks ago, the EU informed us that an application for funding we had made was “no longer valid.”

The grant for which we had applied would be worth almost $2 million over a three-year period. But the conditions attached to it were completely unacceptable.

To receive this funding, the EU had insisted that Badil sign a document deeming seven Palestinian political groupings as terrorist organizations.

Since July 2019, the EU has stipulated that such a clause be inserted in all funding contracts it concludes with organizations receiving its funds.

The “anti-terrorism” clause does not respect international law.

Palestine is a country under a military occupation. Palestinians face constant colonization and are subject to an apartheid system.

Under international law, Palestinians have the right to resist, including by means of an armed struggle.

Although the European Union has not held Israel accountable for its crimes against humanity, the EU has been willing to finance Palestinian organizations that investigate and campaign against those crimes.

In the past, the EU did not seek to micromanage the activities of Palestinian groups.

By attaching the new conditions to its grants, the EU is now mimicking Israel and the US, which have long portrayed resistance as terrorism.

Divisive

While the EU has the power to set rules for aid recipients, it cannot force Western ideology on Palestinians.

The EU’s conditions are divisive.

Any group which accepts them would be placing itself at odds with the Palestinian national consensus. The group would be isolating itself from the rest of Palestinian civil society.

Under the new conditions, aid recipients have to screen their own staff, partners and potential beneficiaries of the project being funded. The stated purpose behind the screening is to ensure that people who are members or affiliates of “terrorist” organizations are excluded from funding.

These conditions would force Palestinians to decide who can and cannot participate in or benefit from an EU-funded project. That would undermine the credibility of Palestinian organizations and damage our relations with our own people.

It is not our job to act as police. Screening is the responsibility of states or of government agencies.

Palestinian civil society organizations clearly work within a political context – that of occupation, colonization and apartheid. By imposing new conditions on us, the EU is attempting to erase that political context (without, of course, ending the occupation, colonization and apartheid).

That is in keeping with a pattern that has been established since the Oslo accords were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization during the 1990s. Palestinians are being required to follow an agenda designed to please our oppressors – the State of Israel.

When our refusal to accept the EU’s conditions became public knowledge, Badil was described as a “radical” group in the Israeli press. We have also been accused – without evidence – of being anti-Semitic.

The Israeli government has congratulated the EU for its conditions.

The EU claims to be neutral and impartial and presents itself as an “honest broker” in the Middle East “peace process.” Our experience and that of many others forces us to recognize that the EU is not unbiased.

Nor is it really a friend of the Palestinians and our struggle for basic human rights.

Actions speak louder than words. EU representatives have tried to offer assurances and clarifications to Palestinian organizations. Yet they have rejected proposals made by Badil for alternatives to the new conditions.

Double standards

In reality, the EU does no more than pay lip service to the wide spectrum of Palestinian rights, including the right to national self-determination and the right of return for our refugees. By claiming to care about human rights, yet showing great eagerness to please Israel and the US, the EU displays flagrant double standards.

Many Palestinian civil society organizations have made it plain we will not bow to the EU’s demands.

The Palestinian National Campaign to Reject Conditional Funding was established in December last year. Badil is a founding member of this campaign.

The campaign has been busy. It has held dozens of meetings and undertaken many awareness-raising activities on social media.

The most recent meeting of the campaign’s steering committee took place during June in Ramallah, a city in the occupied West Bank. The committee agreed at that meeting to cease cooperation with the small number of Palestinian organizations which have so far signed a grant agreement with the EU containing the new conditions.

The committee also decided to boycott all EU representatives and visiting delegations.

Other possible actions are being explored. They include organizing a major conference to highlight the problems with the EU’s conditions, as well as holding street protests against them.

We are examining, too, how to encourage more voluntary work among Palestinians so that our reliance on funding from international institutions is reduced.

Another idea raised was to pool the resources of Palestinian organizations and for staff members to take salary cuts.

The future actions taken by the campaign will depend on the response we receive from the EU and other international aid donors to our demands, as well as the public health situation arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Palestinian people – including the majority of civil society organizations – remain steadfast and principled in their struggle for human rights and justice. The fact that only a small number of organizations have so far signed EU contracts containing the new clauses shows that we are for the most part united in rejecting conditional funding.

Badil’s work will certainly be harder because we have refused to accept funding with the EU’s conditions attached.

The $2 million project for which we had applied would have allowed us to conduct vital research on crimes against humanity committed by Israel in the Jerusalem area. It was aimed, too, at increasing the efficiency and impact of the Palestine solidarity movement internationally.

It is not the only grant we have refused. Badil has withdrawn from contracts with three other donors because they had similar “anti-terrorism” conditions attached.

Palestinian organizations know that we will pay a high price for refusing to accept such conditions. But it is a price we are willing to pay.

Lubnah Shomali works as the advocacy manager with Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights