Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have become an important part of international politics, with their work often seen as complementing governments in shaping and implementing policy.
However, while government officials are subject to a strict set of legal boundaries and are supposed to be held responsible by their constituencies, civil society NGOs operate beyond such confines. The potential for abuse by and of civil society organisations, especially in conflict ridden areas, therefore, poses a significant challenge to NGOs and to their government funders alike, as they become vulnerable to radical and terrorist elements.
One of the most striking examples is that of European-funded Palestinian human rights and humanitarian NGOs, many of which are directly affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – designated as a terrorist organisation in the US, the EU, Canada, and Israel. Since its founding in 1967, the PFLP has been involved in suicide bombings, hijackings and assassinations, among other terrorist activities targeting civilians.
According to data compiled by NGO Monitor, in 2011-2019 the European Union alone authorised grants of at least €37 million (A$59.5 million) to NGOs with ties to the PFLP. Although this constitutes a breach of the general conditions applicable to EU-financed grant contracts, and despite many NGO officials and employees having served security-related prison sentences, these organisations continue to receive funding from European governments even after the discovery of evidence of these terror ties.
After over a decade of suspicious but inconclusive evidence of terror affiliation, in late 2019 the Israel Security Agency announced that it had uncovered a 50-person terror network operating in the West Bank on behalf of the PFLP. Among those in the network were individuals arrested for carrying out an Aug. 23, 2019 bombing attack which murdered 17-year-old Rina Shnerb and injured her father and brother. At least five members of this network were employed as senior officials at the Palestinian NGOs Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) and Health Works Committee (HWC).