On July 20, 2020, the Dutch government announced that it was suspending funding to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) over links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). During a parliamentary debate, Foreign Minister Stef Blok and Development Minister Sigrid Kaag acknowledged that an internal government audit concluded that Dutch funds were used to pay the salaries of two UAWC employees who were also members of the PFLP terror organization and then arrested for murder.
According to NGO Monitor research, since 2013, the Netherlands has provided UAWC with approximately €20 million in grants.
In response to the Dutch announcement, UAWC issued a statement (July 22) attempting to deflect the serious allegations and misleadingly referring to “former employees” (the two were employed by UAWC at the time of the murder and their subsequent arrests). Reflecting the core emphasis on public relations and donor retention, the statement was published in English.
NGO Monitor has prepared the following detailed analysis of UAWC’s response:
Quote: For many years, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) has been attacked by the Israeli government and right-wing organization affiliated with it. Most of our projects are in “Area C” of the occupied West Bank, where we help vulnerable communities hold on to their land. The Israeli government has built illegal settlements in this area and wants to annex it. This is the key reason why we are attacked.
Analysis: UAWC opens (and closes) with a clearly political defense meant to appeal to European officials, emphasizing “’Area C’ of the occupied West Bank, where we help vulnerable communities hold on to their land,” and asserting that the “key reason” for being “attacked” is the Israeli government’s pursuit of annexation.
In reality, NGO Monitor’s research is the result of evidence linking UAWC to the PFLP terror group (see below). Since December 2019, UAWC’s links to the PFLP have taken on heightened importance, after Israeli authorities announced the arrest of two UAWC employees for murder. On August 23, 2019, Samer Arbid, UAWC’s accountant, commanded a PFLP terror cell that carried out a bombing against Israeli civilians, murdering 17-year old Rina Shnerb, and injuring her father and brother. According to the indictment, Arbid prepared and detonated the explosive device. Abdul Razeq Farraj, another UAWC employee, was also indicted for his involvement in the PFLP and the 2019 attack.
Quote: We have been exposed to toxic smear campaigns in an attempt to intimidate our donors and stop their funding. During the past years, several donor governments have launched reviews into recurring allegations that UAWC is linked to the PFLP. Each time, such allegations were proven to be false.
The “toxic smear campaign” against UAWC, in fact, consists of clear evidence. Any donor government reviews that may have been performed but did not note the links between the UAWC and the PFLP apparently failed the due diligence requirement.
Quote: UAWC is an independent organization, which has no political or religious affiliation with any party or political organization. It is governed by a set of regulations, by-laws, policies, systems and procedures, which meet international best standards and good practices. International donors and NGOs attest to UAWC’s full compliance, accountability and transparency.
UAWC is identified by Fatah as an official PFLP “affiliate,” and by a USAID-engaged audit as the “agricultural arm” of the PFLP. According to scholar Glenn E. Robinson, UAWC was founded in 1986 by “agronomists loosely affiliated with the PFLP.” For more information on UAWC’s PFLP ties, read NGO Monitor’s report “Union of Agricultural Work Committees Ties to the PFLP Terror Group.”
In June 2018, Visa, Mastercard, and American Express shut down online credit card donations for UAWC due to its ties to the PFLP.
In addition, it is important to note that UAWC has not published any financial data, donor information, or sources of funding on its website since 2014, reflecting a complete lack of transparency and accountability.
Quote: One of our long-time donors is the Dutch government. We are most grateful for the support we have been receiving from the Netherlands. This has improved the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinian families depending on agriculture.
What UAWC claims to do (without independent confirmation) is irrelevant to being caught with terrorists on the payroll, and the ties of the organization, its staff, and board members to the PFLP.
Quote: On 20 July 2020, the Dutch government announced it is launching its own review into alleged links between UAWC and the PFLP. This review was triggered by the arrest last year of two former employees of UAWC, suspected by Israeli authorities of involvement in an attack near a settlement.
The implication that murdering a 17-year-old “near a settlement” is somehow less criminal than other murders is morally repugnant and legally irrelevant.
At the times of their participation in the attack (August 2019) and their arrests (October 2019) Samer Arbid and Abdul Razeq Farraj were employed as an accountant and “Administrative Manager,” respectively, at UAWC (they were not “former employees”). Materials from Amnesty International state that Razeq Farraj served as “Finance and Administration Director” at UAWC. Their responsibility for UAWC’s budget highlights the urgency of an independent, thorough investigation into the NGO.
Beyond the arrests, both have been indicted, and their trials are ongoing. Arbid’s alleged crimes include: Premeditated murder, planting an explosive, multiple counts of premeditated attempted murder, weapons trafficking, and membership in an illegal organization. Razeq Farraj’s indictment alleges that he was responsible for recruiting new members into the PFLP and that he was involved in the bombing.
Quote: During interrogation and detention, both men have been denied their right to humane treatment. One was tortured so severely that Amnesty International released a statement stressing torture is absolutely prohibited under international treaties. Four UN human rights experts also issued a statement, calling on Israel “to ensure a prompt and impartial criminal investigation”.
This allegation is entirely irrelevant to whether two UAWC employees murdered a 17-year-old, whether UAWC is linked to the PFLP, and whether the Netherlands should permanently freeze its funding.
Quote: In line with UAWC’s general policy preserving the independence of our organization, our employees may not be politically active. Nevertheless, the arrest of our former employees unleashed an unprecedented incitement and defunding campaign against UAWC itself.
The issue is not about an NGO that is “politically active,” but rather the numerous links to a terror group, as well as overlapping personnel. Given UAWC’s institutional links to the PFLP, as well as those of numerous staff and board members – including the two employees accused of murdering a 17-year-old, claims of “independence” and “incitement” are absurd.
Quote: We await the review by the Dutch government with confidence and stand ready to cooperate with it, as we have done before. In the context of this review, we expect the Dutch government to pay due attention to the torture of our former employees.
UAWC wants the Dutch review to ignore evidence of links to the PFLP, employees’ alleged involvement in terror attacks, and the question of whether financial officers diverted funds to illicit purposes.
Quote: We are looking forward to the resumption of Dutch funding and urge our other donors to maintain their support, which is essential to UAWC’s financial and organizational sustainability. Tens of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip rely on us for critical support.
Again, to the degree that the NGO assists Palestinian families, this would not justify involvement in and links to terror.
Quote: We call on the donor community and the international community at large not to be carried away by campaigns designed to uproot, marginalize and dispossess the Palestinian people, which have been under Israeli military occupation for 53 years and are facing the grave threat of annexation.
The UAWC appears to believe that European officials can be persuaded that due diligence and responsible grant-making– specifically preventing taxpayer funds from being channeled to those who commit, support, defend, and/or condone violence –constitute an attack against the “Palestinian people.”