On February 1, 2022, the highly politicized and terror-linked Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO) – an umbrella organization of over 135 Palestinian organizations – hosted an EU-funded conference, titled ”Shrinking Civic Space for Palestinian Civil Society Organizations: Local and International Policies.” The gathering included a workshop “focused on the strategies and mechanisms needed to combat counter-terrorism policies, regulations, and policies (sic)” (emphasis added).
The conference was attended by Head of the EU Delegation to the West Bank and Gaza Strip Sven Kühn Von Burgsdoff (see below). The event marked the launch of a €588,299 EU-funded project (2021-2024), “Shoraka: Enabling the Environment of CSOs [civil society organizations] in Palestine and Participation of Grassroots Organisations in Decisions Making Process and Constituency Building,” with the primary official objective of seeking “to mitigate and reverse the shrinking space trends, to amplify the Palestinian narrative and the effectiveness of Palestinian advocacy efforts in the EU/EUMS [EU member states]” (emphasis added).
During the conference, Von Burgsdoff referred to Israel’s October 2021 designation of six Palestinian NGOs – including PNGO member organizations – as terrorist entities. He declared, “with concern we have followed alarming incidents recently where human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations were subject to unprecedented violations whether in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or Gaza. In this context, our position remains principled and unchanged: civil society is and will remain our partner as we promote together the human values and principles that we share.”
As such, Von Burgsdoff appears to be promoting noncompliance with the EU’s own anti-terror policies, which require grantees to ensure that no aid reaches terror groups or entities.
Israel’s October 2021 decision, as well as the other “incidents” (security-related actions) referred to by Von Burgsdoff, are wholly consistent with EU policy and broader efforts to address the problem of terror-linked NGOs.
The multiple links between a number of Palestinian NGOs funded primarily by the EU and other European government frameworks have been documented in detail in NGO research publications.
In the context of the February 1, 2022 conference, at least two officials from designated PFLP-Linked NGOs were among the participants:
- Ubai Aboudi – Executive Director at Bisan Research & Development Center. Aboudi was sentenced to 12-months in prison in June 2020 for “being a member and an activist of the Popular Front organization during the period starting from 2016 and ending in July 2019.” Aboudi also served four years in prison after he “planned to perpetrate a terrorist attack at the IDF Armored Corps Museum at Latrun, using two suicide terrorists and a car bomb.”
- Fuad abu Saif serves as Director of Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC). UAWC was designated as a terrorist organization in October 2021 by Israel. In January 2022, the Netherlands announced the cancellation of its contract with UAWC over the latter’s ties to the PFLP. In 2019, two senior UAWC employees, Samer Arbid and Abdel Razek Farraj, were arrested for their involvement in an August 2019 terror attack in which Rina Shnerb, a 17-year-old Israeli, was murdered.
Previous statements by Sven Kühn Von Burgsdoff downplaying anti-terror efforts
The PNGO conference is not the first time the EU’s Von Burgsdoff has supported the Palestinian NGO position regarding EU anti-terror restrictions. In March 2020, following PNGO objections to new EU anti-terror stipulations in grant contracts, Von Burgsdorf sent a letter assuring the PNGO that “a natural person affiliated to, sympathizing with, or supporting any of the groups or entities mentioned in the EU restrictive lists is not excluded from benefiting from EU-funded activities, unless his/her exact name and surname (confirming his/her identity) corresponds to any of the natural persons on the EU restrictive lists.”
Following the letter’s publication in Israeli media, the EU Ambassador to Israel was summoned for a demarche at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In a letter to MEPs dated 25 June 2020, as well as in an official response to a parliamentary question dated 31 July 2020, High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission Joseph Borrell appears to have contradicted Von Burgsdorff’s statement.
As recently as December 8, 2021, Von Burgsdorf met with the representatives of the six newly designated Palestinian NGOs, conveying that the “EU will continue to stand by international law and support civil society organizations that have a role to play in promoting international law, human rights, and democratic values.” However, in parallel, the EU has suspended funding for two of the organizations, and OLAF (the EU’s anti-corruption unit) has opened an investigation.1
Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO)
As documented by NGO Monitor through open sources, PNGO has multiple ties to the PFLP terrorist organization, and several of its board members and employees have been arrested for terror-related offences. For example:
- Walid Hanatsheh (Abu Ras) – Member of the board of directors of PNGO, and finance and administration manager at the designated PFLP-linked Health Work Committees (HWC). Hanatsheh was arrested in October 2019 and is on trial for allegedly leading PFLP terror operations. In this capacity, he is accused of being involved in the aforementioned August 2019 terror attack. According to an Israeli media report, Hanatsheh financed the bombing.
- Shatah Odeh – Chair of the PNGO Board of Directors (until her arrest in July 2021) and “General Director” of the designated PFLP-linked Odeh was arrested, along with five additional HWC officials, for “using fraud and deception in many European countries in order to receive large-scale financing worth millions of Euros” that was allegedly diverted to the PFLP.
In November 2021, PNGO published a position paper in which it affirmed that it would work to “develop or change the European Union’s position on the [anti-terror] conditions, on the ground of dialogue and serious work in Palestine and European capitals.” It appears that the EU-funded project is being used as part of this agenda.
PNGO has repeated rejected he EU anti-terrorism requirements for NGO funding:
- In January 2022, PNGO condemned the Dutch government’s decision to end funding for UAWC (see above) and demanded that “the donor community to categorically reject and denounce funding based on political conditionality, as well as the use of counter-terrorism laws to repress civil society.”
- According to media reports, during a December 20, 2019 meeting with EU officials, representatives from PNGO “refused to sign an EU grant request which stipulates among its criteria that beneficiaries must refuse to transfer any EU aid given to terrorist groups or entities… claiming that Palestinian terrorist groups are merely ‘political parties.’”
- In June 2017, PNGO condemned Norway for canceling its funding from a youth center named after Dalal Mughrabi – a terrorist who in 1978 murdered 37 civilians, including 12 children – asserting that “there is a difference between freedom fighters and terrorists.”
- In April 2017, PNGO called on the international community not to “use aid to undermine legitimate Palestinian resistance.”
- According to a 2013 study commissioned by the UN, PNGO “stated that its members would not sign funding agreements that included the ATC [Anti-Terror Certificate]. This is now a condition for membership under PNGO byelaws [sic].”
In addition, PNGO has defended Palestinian “resistance” (a euphemism for terror) and blocked normalization with Israel and Israelis (see NGO Monitor’s report “Palestinian NGOs Reject EU’s Anti-terror Funding Requirement”).
- It appears that the information was provided on July 14, 2021, by the Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation and Major Cities Policy, during a foreign affairs committee meeting.