Several European-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict appropriate the language of human rights and international law in order to distort historical and political contexts and blur moral distinctions. Often, this occurs to the point of propagating thinly veiled libelous claims or endorsing violence and terrorism. Some of the NGOs even have ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – a designated terrorist organization by the EU, US, Canada, and Israel.
Founded by George Habash in 1967, the PFLP is a secular Palestinian Marxist-Leninist organization, originally supported by the former Soviet Union and China. Through its establishment of and other involvement in NGOs that claim human rights agendas, the PFLP is able to access European government funds to conduct and expand its political warfare operation. At the same time, the PFLP has continued terror attacks and incitement to violence against Israeli civilians, justifying such acts as legitimate resistance.
By exploiting the language of human rights and in partnership with a vast, well-funded NGO industry, these and other groups are able to amplify their claims, garner undue exposure, and gain legitimacy for their radical ideologies. Their messages, which are in blatant defiance of their funders’ policies, resonate in a global context of rising populism and a creeping extremism that rewards fearmongering, incitement, and misleading rhetoric.
Historical Distortions and Revisionism
Factual distortions are a central feature of populist discourse. Many European-funded NGOs publish historical summaries and timelines that omit or revise central developments, portraying Zionism and the foundation of Israel as inherently illegitimate.
An EU-funded project implemented by Palestinian NGOs Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) and Land Research Center (LRC), for example, features on its website one such summary titled “Palestine in Century (sic),” which entirely omits the Arab rejection of the partition plan and the Arab-initiated war against Israel. This historical summary also falsely alleges that a “transfer policy” for the displacement of Palestinians was carried out by Israel “During and after the 1948 War,” citing the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) as its source. The EU logo is prominently displayed on this page.
PASSIA is another European-funded organization that selectively presents “facts and figures” under the premise of academic rigor. PASSIA prepared a detailed timeline spanning the years 1400-2006. Under 1929, the timeline lists a “Palestinian uprising in several towns in reaction to militant demonstrations at Wailing Wall.” This depiction fails to mention that the “uprising” consisted of a series of massacres during which 133 Jews were murdered.
British NGO Oxford Research Group (ORG) also uses the façade of academic objectivity in order to promote fringe narratives. Dr. Husam Zomlot, a member of ORG’s Middle East Team and co-founder and coordinator of its Palestine Strategy Group, claimed in an interview on BBC (BBC Interview, 20 Aug 2014 from 39:21) that Israel “fabricated” the beheading of James Foley “like they are fabricating the story of the Holocaust, that it happened in Europe.”
Spanish NGO and ORG partner Novact follows the same strategy, utilizing a veneer of professional analysis in order to present Israel and Zionism as an illegitimate colonialist enterprise. A 2015 Novact report titled “The Privatization of Security in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” published as part of an ORG-funded project, accused Israel of “occupation” since 1948: “Since the Declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, the Israeli government has used the pretext of security to justify the occupation of the Palestinian people, committing terrible atrocities and violating human rights.”
Novact and ORG are both funded by the European Union (EU), as well as other European governments. ARIJ is a longtime EU grantee and is also funded by the governments of Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. PASSIA has been repeatedly funded by the German-funded political foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and is implementing a project together with the German public-benefit federal enterprise GIZ.
Legitimizing “Resistance “
In addition to propagating historical distortions and omissions, NGOs also manipulate the terminology of human rights and international law in order to justify violence against Israelis. This is achieved via the blurring of moral distinctions and a gradual escalation from “defending human rights” to “peaceful resistance” to “popular resistance” and finally outright violence. “Resistance” is the term used by Palestinians to refer to armed groups that carry out attacks on Israel, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. Within populist-leftist European discourse, “popular resistance” resonates as a legitimate, non-violent response to elitist oppressive forces.
In a 2015 publication sponsored by the German-funded foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, PASSIA (see above) refers to stabbings that began in October 2015 as “a ‘youth uprising’ against settlers and the Israeli military forces in an individual, unplanned and spontaneous manner. . .” Listing examples “of the Palestinian Youth Uprising,” the publication describes how “this generation threw stones, burned tires, attacked Israelis with knives, and were shot by live and rubber bullets” and refers to “Palestinian martyr, Baha Eleyan,” who was one of two terrorists to board a bus in Jerusalem in October 2015 armed with a gun and a knife, murdering three and injuring seven; most of the victims were elderly.
In its report on “The Privatization of Security in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” (see above), Novact claims that, “The Israeli notion of security is closely linked to their concept of terrorism, drawing an extremely thin line between terrorism and resistance. The right of the Palestinian people to resist Israeli military occupation is not only a moral right but also a recognized right under customary international law” (emphasis added).
The Kairos Palestine document, a key resource for church groups around the world promoted by the World Council of Churches and others, is another example of blurring the lines between non-violence and “resistance.” According to the Kairos document, Israel falsely defines “armed resistance” as terrorism in order to “distort the real nature of the conflict, presenting it as an Israeli war against terror, rather than an Israeli occupation faced by Palestinian legal resistance aiming at ending it” (emphasis added).
Randa Siniora, General Director of Palestinian NGO Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), has stated, “Although resistance against occupation and its arbitrary practices is legitimate under international law, and these acts are considered a part of the Palestinian people’s resistance and struggle against occupation in order to achieve their right to liberation and independence, the occupation forces call it ‘terrorism’ or ‘destructive acts.’”
Manal Tamimi, a WCLAC fieldworker, frequently utilizes antisemitic and violent rhetoric and imagery on social media. Far from condemning her actions, WCLAC has filed a complaint to the United Nations over the “Frequent targeting of Palestinian human rights defender: Mrs. Manal Tamimi.” In February 2017, Tamimi was invited by Novact to speak at an EU-funded conference in Barcelona on “preventing violent extremism.”
WCLAC is a prominent Palestinian NGO funded, among others, by the Human Rights & International Humanitarian Law Secretariat (the “Secretariat”; joint government funding from Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands), Norway, the European Union, and Germany. Manal Tamimi is also a board member of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC), a Palestinian NGO that has organized protests that have turned violent, and has received funding from Germany, the EU, and Spain.
NGOs and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Terrorist Organization
Several NGOs that attempt to legitimize “resistance” by appropriating human rights also have links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization. These NGOs receive significant funding from the EU and individual European governments. (For NGO Monitor’s full analysis of European funded NGOs with ties to the PFLP, see “The European-Funded NGO PFLP Network.”)
The PFLP is a terrorist organization designated as such by the US, EU, Canada, and Israel. Since its inception in 1967, the PFLP has been involved in suicide bombings, airplane hijackings, assassinations, and other terrorist activities targeting civilians.
Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian organization Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), admitted in an interview that he served “a three-year sentence [1979-1982] imposed by an Israeli court which convicted him of membership in the illegal Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine…” He was also denied a U.S. entry visa in 2012. In February 2014, the PFLP organized a ceremony in Gaza honoring Sourani for winning the “Alternative Noble (sic) Prize.”
PCHR consistently labels terrorist attacks as a part of the “legitimate right to resist the occupation”; in April 2016, Sourani declared that “I think resistance is our right and our obligation.”
Palestinian NGO Addameer is an official PFLP “affiliate,” which refers to Palestinian prisoners convicted of security offenses as “political prisoners,” including those convicted of murder and attempted murder of Israeli civilians. Addameer’s Chairperson and Co-founder Abdul-latif Ghaith was banned by Israel from travelling internationally due to his alleged membership in the PFLP. He was also banned from entering the West Bank in 2011-2015. Addameer’s vice chairperson is Khalida Jarrar, a senior official of the PFLP. She was indicted in April 2015 for various offenses, including active membership in a terrorist organization (PFLP) and inciting to violence through a call to kidnap Israeli soldiers.