NGO Monitor Letter to H.E. Stef Blok, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, and H.E. Sigrid Kaag, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation
Re: Response to your statement on Dutch funding for Al-Mezan and allegations of terror ties
Dear Ministers Blok and Kaag,
We have taken note of your response to a parliamentary question (October 8, 2020)1 pertaining to the ties between a Dutch grantee, the Palestinian NGO Al-Mezan, and an EU-designated terrorist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The allegations stemmed from a detailed report prepared by NGO Monitor, and we appreciate the importance of taking such charges seriously and carefully investigating them. Your response confirmed many of our findings, including your awareness of incendiary statements made by Al-Mezan officials on social media. Given that several expressed support for the PFLP, celebrated the murder of Israeli civilians, and generally glorified and encouraged violence, this alone should be sufficient to disqualify Al-Mezan from receiving Dutch taxpayer money – especially on projects geared toward human rights.
Unfortunately, such concerns were set aside. Most crucially, the response was incomplete, inaccurate in places, and incompatible with human rights. Instead of undertaking a detailed and independent investigation, the response appears to rely entirely on the self-interested and biased claims of Al-Mezan.
It is also notable that the issues related to Al-Mezan should have been identified in an effective pre-funding process by Dutch officials. Failure to conduct prior due diligence and timely investigations of Dutch funding to Palestinian NGOs appears to be a systemic problem, as exemplified also by the case of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC).2
The response appears to excuse vulgar hate speech, parroting the NGO’s claim that “these are personal messages, not statements on behalf of Al Mezan, and that employees have freedom of expression.” According to the statement, “Al Mezan has promised that the messages will be removed and has again reminded employees of internal agreements, whereby on the one hand freedom of expression is respected, but employees promise not to express opinions that are contrary to human rights.”
The problem with these social media posts is not their public availability, but what they reveal about the deep incompatibility of Al-Mezan with human rights values and Dutch interests, as well as the NGO’s unsuitability for taxpayer funding. Removing such hateful and violent rhetoric obscures and suppresses the fundamental problem, but does not solve it, particularly while such individuals are still employed by Al-Mezan.
We re-reference a few of the “highlights” of these messages (for more information, see NGO Monitor’s report, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights’ Ties to the PFLP Terror Group):
- Hussein Hammad, responsible for Al-Mezan’s “North Gaza District” and a “Delegate to the Mobilization and Technical Assistance Unit,” celebrated of the murder of an Israeli civilian, supported stabbing Israeli civilians, praised a PFLP terrorist who murdered Israeli civilians, and posted the terrorist organization’s logo.
- The head of Al-Mezan’s Rafah branch Mohammed Abdullah praised a PFLP terrorist who murdered an Israeli civilian.
- Al-Mezan’s accountant, Wa’el Ahmad, used social media to celebrate the assassination of the Israeli Tourism Minister by the PFLP, to explicitly call for bombings and kidnappings, and to assert that “The right will be returned by the sword and machine gun.”
The attempt to explain why a photograph of Ahmad with the PFLP flag does not indicate an affinity for the terrorist organization3 fails to address the Facebook post accompanying this photograph, where Ahmad wrote, “Happy anniversary to my brothers and comrades, long live our resistance and we will remain in the pledge of the martyrs.” Given Ahmad’s role at Al Mezan and recalling the case of UAWC, such dangerous and compromising statements cannot be so easily dismissed.
Furthermore, the government statement appears to endorse the effort to conceal incriminating evidence, instead of recognizing the implications of this information: “the government is of the opinion that employees of a human rights organization should be aware of the political context and sensitivities when it comes to photographs taken in the private sphere.” In other words, the problem is not the violent content in the posts by Al-Mezan officials, but the platform and public availability.
Al-Mezan connections with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the PFLP
The response minimizes the significance of Al-Mezan’s cooperation and engagement with EU-designated terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the PFLP.
“The simple fact that people are meeting or attend a meeting, can according to the government not be construed as support for an organization, let alone membership. In the case of Al Mezan, photos can be found of representatives of Al Mezan with members of Hamas and PFLP at intra-Palestinian meetings, for example on reconciliation or the ICC, as mentioned above. At the same time, there are also photos of representatives of Al Mezan with soldiers of the Israeli army. Contacts with parties to the conflict are part of the work of a human rights organization.”
Al-Mezan has openly given a public platform to terrorist organizations that have collectively murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians. The suggestion that this is somehow equivalent to supposed meetings with Israeli officials is obviously absurd, immoral, and diverts the focus from Al-Mezan’s unsuitability as a recipient of Dutch taxpayer funds.
Lack of terror designation
The response employs narrow legalistic claims to defend the Netherlands’ support for Al-Mezan, noting that it has not been designated a terrorist organization itself. This is immaterial to the question of whether or not any government should be associating with and funding such a group.
If an individual seeking employment in a Dutch government office had the same associations with terrorist organizations as in the case of Al-Mezan officials and made similarly hateful and dangerous social media statements, would they be eligible for a position?
The statement misrepresents NGO Monitor research in several instances. Contrary to the answer to the parliament, NGO Monitor did not state that Al-Mezan board member Nafiz Al-Madhoun is a Hamas member. Rather, we cited multiple Arabic-language sources that make that claim or label him as the head of the Hamas parliamentary bloc. Moreover, despite the unverified assertion that Al-Madhoun ceased his parliamentary work in 2019, an Arabic-language news article from September 28, 2020 refers to him as “the Director General of the Legislative Council and a member of the Legal Committee.”
Similarly, quoting Al-Mezan, the response insists that Al-Mezan’s Chairman of the Board, Kamal El-Sharafi, is not a PFLP member. NGO Monitor made no such claim, documenting several instances in which he hosted PFLP members and participated in events celebrating PFLP members. This is another instance of resorting to narrow technicalities, so that the statement downplays the substantive importance of these connections, choosing to refer only to El-Sharafi’s meetings with PFLP-affiliated students, while omitting his meetings with the head of the PFLP in Gaza and with a member of the terror group’s “political bureau.”
Membership in the PFLP
Citing NGO self-reporting, the response acknowledges that Al-Mezan’s deputy head of the board, Talal Awkal, was indeed a PFLP member, claiming this ended in 2000.
In addition to the obvious concern that a Dutch grantee openly admits that one of its leading board members was a member of a designated terrorist organization, this statement ignores the fact that, far from distancing himself and denouncing the terror group, Awkal’s work was featured on the PFLP’s website in 2013 and that in 2015 he spoke with pride about serving in the PFLP.
Moreover, as demonstrated above, Al-Mezan’s self-serving claims are not proof of any disassociation from the terror group and should be treated with extreme skepticism. The acceptance at face value of non-credible claims again highlights the absence of independently verifiable analysis and due diligence for NGO grantees.
The response you provided to the parliamentary question implies that the Dutch government is committed to supporting Al-Mezan, even in the face of clear evidence that the organization and its members are unsuitable for the role of protecting and advancing human rights. On the contrary, their myriad links to EU-designated terrorist organizations, as well as numerous statements made by Al-Mezan members celebrating the murder of Israeli civilians and calling for violence, should be cause to immediately cease all support for and contact with the organization.
Instead, the statement parrots Al-Mezan talking points; obfuscates, ignores, and excuses reprehensible behavior; and encourages Al-Mezan to cover it up.
We call on the Dutch government to immediately end any cooperation with this anti-human rights NGO, and forcefully condemn the immoral actions of Al-Mezan and its members.
As noted, for years, the Dutch government repeatedly dismissed clear evidence that the UAWC had ties to the PFLP. This only changed, belatedly, after its employees were arrested and indicted for murdering a child. We hope that such tragic circumstances are not needed for the evidence concerning Al-Mezan to be taken seriously too.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, President, NGO Monitor
Olga Deutsch, Vice President, NGO Monitor
cc: H.E. Hans Docter, Ambassador to Israel
Raymond de Roon, Chair, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation
- As well as a memo, dated 8 September 2020, from Minister Kaag, available at https://www.tweedekamer.nl/kamerstukken/brieven_regering/detail?id=2020Z15778&did=2020D34081.
- In a July 20 statement, Ministers Blok and Kaag acknowledged that the Netherlands had paid the salaries of two employees at the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), arrested in September and October 2019, and currently standing trial for orchestrating an August 2019 bombing, murdering a 17-year old Israeli girl. These individuals, Samer Arbid and Abdel Razeq Farraj, served respectively as UAWC’s accountant and its “finance and administration director.” The statement also announced an external investigation into UAWC’s ties to the PLFP (10 months after the arrests). Three months later, the status of this investigation is unknown.
- It should be noted that the PFLP logo on the flag depicts the elimination of Israel.