JERUSALEM (NWN) — A confidential Israeli document detailing alleged links between Palestinian human rights groups and an internationally designated terrorist organization has little solid evidence and failed to persuade European countries to stop funding the groups.
The 74-page document appears to have been prepared by Israel’s Shin Bet Internal Security Service and shared with European governments in May. The Associated Press obtained the document online from +972 magazine, which was the first to report on, with Hebrew-language local calls. Israel may have additional evidence that has not been made public.
Last month, Israel designated six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist groups, saying they were tied to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a secular, left-wing political movement with an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israel. Israel and Western countries consider the PFLP a terrorist organization.
But Israel has yet to take further action against groups that operate openly in the occupied West Bank. The Defense Ministry and the Shin Bet did not respond to requests for comment.
Six groups, some of which have close ties to rights groups in Israel and abroad, deny the allegations. He says the terrorist designation is intended to strangle critics of Israel’s half-century military occupation of the territories Palestine wants for its future state.
The designated groups are the Al-Haq Human Rights Group, the Admir Rights Group, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Federation of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Federation of Agricultural Action Committees.
The dossier relies almost entirely on interrogations from Said Abedat and Amru Hamudeh, who worked as accountants for the Federation of Health Societies, a separate group that was outlawed in January 2020. The two were reportedly fired in 2019 for embezzlement of funds, and were later detained. by Shin Bet. His lawyers could not be reached for comment.
It never seems to have worked for the six organizations banned last month.
In revised excerpts from his interrogation by Israeli authorities, he alleges that the six organizations are PFLP branches, but gives no evidence other than the names of a handful of alleged PFLP members employed by the groups. They suggest that some employees use forged receipts to launder donor money, but do not provide evidence or explain where the money went.
Speaking about the federation of agricultural work societies – one of six – Abedat is quoted as saying, “As far as I know, this organization is affiliated with the PFLP.” Their “guess” is that the same printing company that helped them create the invoices helped the other group as well.
Even in describing his own work in funding the PFLP, Abedat makes no mention of militant activities. “We funded PFLP activities such as university activities, funding of injured and sick for PFLP, families of martyrs and prisoners from PFLP,” he said.
Israel maintains that the PFLP and other armed groups use such activities to recruit and motivate members and to provide financial assistance to terrorists and their families.
The dossier also details several fake invoices from the association of health societies. In one example, Abedat states: “My guess is that this money went to PFLP activities.” In others, it is either unclear where the money went, or Abedat says it was used to cover UHC’s debts.
Several European officials have expressed skepticism about the allegations.
In a letter to Dutch lawmakers on 12 May, Acting Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag said new Israeli information on two Palestinian organizations funded indirectly by the Netherlands “provides no concrete evidence of links with the PFLP.”
Cork acknowledged that two former UAWC employees who received salaries from the Dutch-funded project were suspected of a deadly bombing in the occupied West Bank in August 2019 that was blamed on the PFLP. He said the government has already suspended funding for that project pending an independent investigation.
Belgium’s development minister told a parliamentary commission in July that his government also examined Israeli information obtained in May, but “did not find any solid material evidence for possible fraud in partner organisations.”
The minister, Meryam Kittir, said the government had also examined annual audits of groups conducted by international firms such as Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers, which found no irregularities.
“So I see no reason to deposit the money today, nor to conduct additional external investigations,” she said.
Last month, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney expressed concern about the designation of terrorism, saying that previous allegations against Palestinian civil society organizations backed by Ireland and the European Union were not substantiated.
Shin Bet officials traveled to Washington last week to brief US officials on terrorism. He shared with the NWN a summary of his presentation that largely matched the dossier, including excerpts from similar inquiries, but may have shared other evidence that was classified. State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on those discussions or to say whether the United States shares Israel’s assessment of Palestinian groups.
NGO Monitor, a pro-Israel group that researches Palestinian non-governmental organizations, says it has identified 13 – including six with terrorist designations and a previously banned UHC – that together have 70 with PFLP ties. Has given employment to more than one person.
Gerald Steinberg, head of the NGO Monitor, said Israel turned its attention to the alleged network after the August 2019 attack in which a 17-year-old Israeli girl was killed., and appears to be making its case.
“HWC was the first. They are looking at where the money comes from,” he told the NWN. “We identify organizations with sometimes 10, 11, 12 persons in senior positions, in many cases accountants, treasurers , board member.”
Critics say pro-Israel groups aim to discredit Palestinian rights activists to shield Israel from criticism at world bodies such as the International Criminal Court, which launched an investigation in March. in alleged Israeli war crimes. Israel strongly opposes the investigation, and considers the ICC and other international organizations to be biased against it.
Michael Spherd, a prominent Israeli lawyer who often represents the Palestinians, said the dossier is “absolutely nothing” when it comes to the six organizations. He is providing legal representation to Al-Haq, a human rights group founded in 1979, one of six that gets only a passing mention in the dossier.
Sfard said the two detainees cannot be considered credible witnesses, and even if their statements are taken at face value, they prove nothing.
“All this is an offense by the association. Even if it is true that people working in some organizations are the operators of PFLP, it does not mean that the organization itself is a part of PFLP,” he said.
“At all levels, this document really shows how weak the whole case against these six organizations is,” he said.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.