On November 10, 2021, Juanna Sanchez Rishmawi, a fundraiser from 1993 for the West Bank-based NGO Health Work Committees (HWC), pled guilty to “carrying out services on behalf of a banned organization,” the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). This case is part of wider allegations regarding the systematic diversion of European government funds that were provided to Palestinian NGOs for human rights and humanitarian work.
(For information on Israel’s October 2021 designation of six additional Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations over their ties the PFLP, see NGO Monitor’s “PFLP Ties of Six Newly Designated Terror NGOs.”)
According to the indictment, Rishmawi raised millions in donations from Spanish governmental and civil society bodies to HWC since 1993, significant portions of which were then diverted to the PFLP.
In May 2021, the Israel Security Agency (Shabak) announced Rishmawi’s arrest with three other HWC employees. According to the ISA, HWC, which was designated as a terror front in January 2020 due to ties to the PFLP, implemented an elaborate scheme of “reporting fictitious projects, presenting false documents, forgery and inflating invoices and receipts… forging bank documents and bank seals,” and a variety of other methods of embezzlement. This was done in order to provide money for “the families of PFLP ‘martyrs,’ salaries of PFLP members, recruitment of new members, advancing terror activity,” amongst other purposes.
The arrest, plea bargain and conviction of Rishmawi were preceded by the December 2019 indictment of the NGO’s financial director – Walid Hanatsheh – for his role in bankrolling an August 2019 bombing attack that murdered an Israeli teenager.
Summary of indictment
Summary of indictment
The specifics of Rishmawi’s plea bargain focus on her continuing to work at HWC, despite learning of Hanatsheh’s role in the August 2019 bombing. Additionally, she continued to work at the organization following Israel’s January 2020 terror designation.
The charge sheet, to which Rishmawi pled, also states:1
- HWC is “controlled by the PFLP” and was involved in “raising funds for the PFLP’s activities, financing PFLP activities and carrying out PFLP’s activities.”
- At least four individuals who served in financial positions at HWC (Hanatsheh, Sai’d Abidat, Amro Hamuda, Tayseer Abu Sharbak) are PFLP members.
- “The organization [HWC]’s revenues are usually based on donations from foreign countries, a limited number of local donations and revenues from the various services that the organization provides. The organization’s budget is about NIS 20 million per year.”
- “Most of the donations to the organization [HWC] come from Spain…The organization has also received donations from organizations and associations including from England, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium and the European Union.”
- “Over the years and in the period beginning at least in 2006 to September 2019, the organization worked systematically to fraudulently receive donations from said countries in order to increase the organization’s revenues and thus fund the activity of the PFLP and strengthen the PFLP status in the region and its infrastructure.”