The NGO-Terrorism Connection: The Case of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict


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In the post 9/11 world, the issues of funding for terrorist organizations via Islamic charities and non-profits (as well as other sources) has received vast attention from global law enforcement and security agencies, as well as from scholars and other policy researchers. This paper attempts to shed light on a related but less explored phenomenon of Israeli, Palestinian, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, that receive international government support and have ties to terrorist organizations. This financial support provides NGOs with legitimacy to continue operating despite their terror connections. As is the case globally, NGOs that operate in conflict zones are subject to certain additional challenges, particularly the siphoning of aid by terrorist groups that control these areas. As we will demonstrate, and case of the Arab-Israeli conflict highlights the issue of aid diversion by terrorist groups as well as NGOs having personnel ties to terrorist organizations, resulting in significant challenges for government donors wishing to promote human rights and provide humanitarian assistance in the region.



The ongoing Middle East upheaval leading to the downfall of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, followed by the civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq has led to a global crisis not seen since the end of the Second World War. Millions of refugees of unprecedented numbers fleeing the conflict in Syria are crossing borders in an attempt to escape these civil wars.

The rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, perhaps what some might consider to be a new type of global threat, has similarly created new and complex challenges for Europe and the US. These challenges include a dramatic increase in terrorist acts committed by “home-grown jihadists” or by ISIS fighters returning from Syria and Iraq in their home countries. The challenges of terrorism are magnified with the domestic political concerns of addressing the flow of refugees, social and religious conflict, and their economic ramifications.1

The US decision to “degrade and destroy” ISIS2 led to an ongoing Western military presence in Iraq and Syria. This effort is spearheaded by the US with other NATO countries taking part in cooperation with local forces.

The Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war began with an air campaign in support of the Assad regime on 2 October 2015, and intensified after the bombing of a Russian airliner on 30 October 2015.3 The Russian campaign has solidified Assad’s control over certain parts of the country and reportedly killed more than 2,000 civilians in its first six months.4 The Russian forces engaged in indiscriminate bombing of civilians, as well as apparent intentional bombings of hospitals, schools, and rescue workers.5

In response to the humanitarian crises caused by the Syrian civil war, a massive humanitarian relief effort is underway in Syria and Iraq, providing essential supplies to war stricken areas, as well as in neighbouring countries, which took in millions of refugees. Leading these activities are local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), funded by the US, European countries, and the UN.6

In 2014, a media report revealed that many of these various NGOs are directly or indirectly paying ISIS for permission to allow humanitarian supplies to reach their destination in areas under ISIS control. Some US officials questioned the wisdom of providing financial support to the terrorist organization, while at the same time using military means to destroy it.7

The exploitation of government-funded humanitarian aid by warring parties and/or terrorist groups in conflict areas is not a new phenomenon. Instead, we should understand the apparent influx in aid appropriation by terrorist groups in the context of the global post 9/11 “War on Terror” world order. Indeed, the use of Islamic charities and aid groups serving as conduits or sources of funding for terrorist activities has been highlighted in the past 15 years.


  1. See for instance: Rettman, A. “EU reaction to Egypt coup: ‘Awkward. Disturbing’”. EU Observer, 4 July 2013., Accessed on 1 August 2017.
  2. Hudson, D. “President Obama: ‘We Will Degrade and Ultimately Destroy ISIL’”. The White House. 10 September 2014., Accessed on 31 July 2017.
  3. MacFarquhar, N. and Thomas, M. “Russian Airliner Crashes in Egypt, Killing 224”. New York Times, 31 October 2015., Accessed on 31 July 2017.
  4. Graham-Harrison, E. “Russian airstrikes in Syria killed 2,000 civilians in six months”. The Guardian, 15 March 2016., Accessed on 31 July 2017.
  5. Chulov, M., Shaheen, K. and Graham-Harrison, E. “East Aleppo’s last hospital destroyed by airstrikes”. The Guardian, 19 November 2016., Accessed on 31 July 2017.
  6. Dettmer, J. “U.S. Humanitarian Aid Going to ISIS”. The Daily Beast, 20 October 2014., Accessed on 31 July 2017.
  7. Dettmer. “U.S. Humanitarian Aid…”.

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