In 2014-2021, the Belgian government (Directorate-General for Development Cooperation; DGD) allocated approximately €23 million in aid to “NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and Civil Society” in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. According to DGD, “recognized [Belgian] NGOs” provide funding to local NGOs through “co-financing programmes,” where DGD provides up to 85% of the total grant.
Many of these Belgian-funded NGOs propagate biased anti-Israel narratives and promote the delegitimization of Israel, including lawfare and BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns.1 Some of these groups also have ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), designated as a terrorist organization by the EU, US, Canada, and Israel.
NGO Monitor’s research shows that in 2014-2021, at least €8.9 million has been earmarked for projects involving Palestinian NGOs linked to the PFLP terror group or NGOs that have employed PFLP members.2
Palestinian NGO Staff Arrested as Part of PFLP-Terror Cell
On December 19, 2019, the Israel Security Agency (ISA) announced that it had uncovered a 50-person PFLP terror network operating in the West Bank. The ISA published pictures of weapons and bomb making materials confiscated during these raids.
Among those arrested were individuals allegedly responsible for an August 23, 2019 bombing attack in which 17-year-old Rina Shnerb was murdered, and her father and brother were injured.
The ISA named multiple leading PFLP figures, several of whom worked in senior positions for Palestinian NGOs which receive Belgian funding. Critically, as detailed below, these included NGO accountants and financial directors, responsible for handling grants from foreign governments. Several of these individuals are currently standing trial for the Shnerb murder.
Belgian NGOs Partnered with PFLP-linked Organizations
In 2014-2021, DGD provided the Belgian NGO Viva Salud (formerly Third World Health Aid/ Médecine pour le Tiers Monde/ Geneeskunde voor de Derde Wereld) with €1.4 million for three projects: “Youth organizations, movements and communities are better represented in the Palestinian social movement to defend the right to health of the Palestinian population from West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip”; “Palestinian social movement advocates for Palestinians’ right to health through networks vis a vis local and international stakeholders”; and “Palestine – Youth in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza play an active role in the Palestinian social movement to promote the right to health.”
Viva Salud promotes BDS campaigns and cooperates with terror-tied Palestinian NGOs.
Until 2019, it listed the Palestinian “sister” organizations Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC) and Health Work Committees (HWC) as its sole Palestinian partners. In 2019, Viva Salud reported that it partnered with four local NGOs and provided €171,091 to these organizations for activities in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Though it does not name all of these NGOs, based on Viva Salud publications it appears that UHWC, HWC, and Bisan are among the current list of Palestinian partner organizations.
On June 9, 2015, Israel’s Defense Minister declared that “the group of people or institutions or association known as the ‘Union of Health Work Committees-Jerusalem’…or any other name that this association will be known by, including all of its factions and any branch, center, committee or group of this association is an unauthorized association, as defined by the Defense Regulations” (emphasis added, p.6489). At the time of this declaration, DGD was funding Viva Salud for programs in partnership with UHWC and HWC.
An academic dissertation by scholar Sbeih Sbeih (Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines) on Palestinian NGOs indicates that “some [NGOs], because of their link to PFLP, opposed the Oslo Accords. Such was the case of Bisan.”
Numerous UHWC, HWC, and Bisan staff members, founders, board members, general assembly members, and senior staff members have ties to the PFLP terror group. For example:
- HWC finance and administration manager Walid Hanatsheh (Abu Ras) was arrested in October 2019 for being the alleged leader of PFLP “military” operations and commanding Samer Arbid, the terrorist responsible for leading the PFLP terror cell that carried out the August 2019 bombing. According to an Israeli media report, Hanatsheh bankrolled the attack. Following his arrest, the PFLP labeled Hanatsheh a “leader in the Popular Front.” Prior to this, he was arrested several times in 2002-20123 by Israeli security forces.
- In his answer to a 2012 parliamentary question at the Israeli Knesset by MK Isaac Herzog (Labor), then Israeli Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai referred to the HWC “finance manager” as “a senior activist in the PFLP terrorist organization… [Who] was involved prior to his arrest in activities that endanger the security of the region and the public.”
- UHWC’s treasurer4 Magdi Yaghi is referred to by the PFLP as a “member of the regional command” and a “comrade.”
- Ubai Aboudi, Bisan’s Executive Director,5 was arrested by the Israeli authorities on November 13, 2019. In June 2020, Aboudi was sentenced to 12 months in prison. According to his conviction, Aboudi “was convicted of being a member and an activist of the Popular Front organization during the period starting from 2016 and ending in July 2019.” Specifically, Aboudi “was responsible for recruiting additional activists to the organization from young people and students, as well as strengthening the organization’s infrastructure in the area” (on file with NGO Monitor).
- On November 17, 2019, Viva Salud condemned Aboudi’s arrest and referred to Bisan as a “Palestinian partner organization.”
- On October 22, 2020, after Aboudi completed his jail sentence, Viva Salud published a Facebook post claiming wrongly that he was placed in administrative detention “without charge and without reason.”
- For former PFLP-linked Bisan employees, see below.
In 2017-2018, Oxfam reported that DGD provided €288,002 for the project “Protecting Lives in Closed Borders.” The project partners included the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC). DGD reports that the project had a budget of approximately €1,174,244. In addition, Oxfam Solidarité (Oxfam’s Belgian branch) reports that a DGD-funded program called “Cash-for-work” (funding details unknown) was implemented in partnership with UAWC.
UAWC is identified by Fatah as a PFLP “affiliate” and by a USAID-engaged audit as “the PFLP’s agricultural organization.” According to academic work published by l’Institut français du Proche-Orient, “UAWC is an agricultural NGO linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.”
Numerous UAWC staff members, founders, board members, general assembly members, and senior staff members have ties to the PFLP terror group. For example:
- UAWC’s Finance and Administration Director6 Abdul Razeq Farraj was arrested by Israeli forces on October 23, 2019. According to his indictment, he authorized the August 2019 bombing (see above). According to Addameer and Amnesty International, Farraj spent 1985-1991 in “an Israeli prison after being convicted of affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.” He is currently standing trial for the Shnerb murder.
- UAWC financial director Samer Arbid is on currently on trial for commanding the PFLP terror cell that carried out the murder of Rena Shnerb. According to the indictment against him (on file), Arbid prepared and detonated the explosive device. In August 2020, the PFLP published a statement referring to Arbid as a “prisoner and commander” and “one of the heroes of the Bubeen operation” – referring to the August 2019 bombing.
In 2014-2016, DGD provided Solidarité Socialiste (SolSoc) with €1.1 million for the project “Capacity building of youth for the creation of a social movement that supports equality, freedom, human rights and social, political and economic justice.” During this period, SolSoc listed three Palestinian NGOs as partners, including Bisan (see above for Bisan’s ties to the PFLP) and Ma’an Development Center (Ma’an).7
Itiraf Hajaj (Rimawi) served as Bisan’s Executive Director during the years of the DGD grant.8 Rimawi was arrested on September 23, 2019, and a Shabak statement refers to him as responsible for PFLP clandestine operations. Additionally, according to the PFLP-linked organization Samidoun, in 1995-2017, Rimawi was arrested several times.9 A 2016 High Court of Justice decision [HCJ-2524/16] referred to Rimawi as a “PFLP member” who “posed a security threat” (on file with NGO Monitor).In addition to Bisan, SolSoc partners with Ma’an Development Center (Ma’an). In 2017-2021, DGD provided Solsoc with €1.73 million for a project whose objective includes empowering young Palestinians to “defend locally and internationally…their social, political, economical, and cultural rights.” Ma’an is slated to received €986,954 out of the total budget.
On May 15, 2018, Ahmad Abdallah Aladini, a Ma’an employee, was killed in clashes on the Gaza border. According to the terror group, Aladini was a “member of the leadership of the PFLP in Deir al Balah,” a town in Gaza.
In 2014-2021, DGD provided approximately €1.9 million to the Belgian NGO Broederlijk Delen (BD) for its programs in “Israel and Palestine.” BD lists eight local partners, including Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), a PFLP-linked Palestinian NGO that seeks to convince government officials, UN bodies, and the general public that Israel is systematically abusing Palestinian children. In 2014-2016, the last year BD detailed its funding to NGOs, BD provided DCI-P with €120,000, including €96,000 from DGD.10 According to a 2017 BD report, DGD was expected to provide DCI-P with €170,800 for 2017-2021.
Numerous individuals with alleged ties to the PFLP terrorist organization have served as employees and as board members at DCI-P. In June 2018, in light of these PFLP links, Citibank and Arab Bank closed accounts belonging to DCI-P. Global Giving, a US-based crowdfunding resource, also removed DCI-P from its website. Examples of DCI-P employees with ties to the PFLP include:
- Hashem Abu Mariawas coordinator of DCI-P’s community mobilization unit and was hailed by the PFLP as a “leader” after his death in 2014. The PFLP announcement praised his work for DCI-P, stating “he was in the ranks of the national liberation struggle and the PFLP from an early age, arrested several times, and was a model for a steadfast struggler and advocate for the rights of our people through his work in Defence for Children International.”
- Riyad Arrar, Director of DCI-P’s Child Protection Program, addresseda December 2014 PFLP memorial event for a group member who was killed “while engaging in a demonstration confronting the occupation forces with stones and Molotov cocktails.” The event featured PFLP paraphernalia and individuals clad in military garb – some of whom appear to be children (video on file with NGO Monitor).
- Nassar Ibrahim, President of DCI-P’s General Assembly, at least through May 201711, is the former editor of El Hadaf – the PFLP’s weekly publication.
- Mahmoud Jiddah, DCI-P board member from at least2012 to 2016, was imprisoned by Israel for 17 years for carrying out grenade attacks against Israeli civilians in Jerusalem in 1968.
In early February 2020, Belgium, which held the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, invited DCI-P’s Senior Advisor for Policy and Advocacy to brief the Council. Following a public information campaign highlighting the terror links of the NGO and diplomatic protests by the Israeli government, Belgium rescinded the invitation.
Belgian funding for projects involving Palestinian NGOs linked to the PFLP terror group (2014-2021)
|Belgian NGO||Project title(s)||NGO partners of concern||Budget projects||Year(s)|
|Viva Salud||Le mouvement social palestinien plaide pour le droit à la santé des Palestiniens à travers les réseaux vis à vis des porteurs d’obligations locaux et internationaux; Youth organizations, movements and communities are better represented in the Palestinian social movement to defend the right to health of the Palestinian population from West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip; Palestine - Youth in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza play an active role in the Palestinian social movement to promote the right to health|
NGO Geneeskunde voor de Derde Wereld - programma 2014-2016
|UHWC, HWC, Bisan||€1,414,461||2014-2021|
|Oxfam||Health care and protection WB||HWC||€629,088||2013-2015|
|Protecting Lives in Closed Borders||UAWC||€1,174,244||2017-2018|
|Emergency Health & Preparedness - Gaza||UHWC||€350,400||2014-2016|
|Strong Local Humanitarian Actors Program - SLHAP||Ma’an||€232,151||2019-2020|
|Food and Cash for Vulnerable HHs||Ma’an||€389,284||2019-2020|
|Solsoc||Les travailleuses et travailleurs des carrières et de l’industrie de la pierre, avec l’appui du programme, se renforcement et sont capables d’obtenir un cadre de travail plus propre et sûr, de même que l’application et l’extension du code du travail relatif aux travailleurs et employeurs, dans le c; Des jeunes palestiniens se renforcent grâce à l’appui du programme et sont en capacité de défendre, aux niveau local et international, et par-delà les clivages qui traversent la communauté palestinienne, leurs droits sociaux, politiques, économiques et culturels, en particulier ceux des femmes||Ma’an||€1,737,229||2017-2021|
|FCD SolSoc - pgm 2014-2016- volet Territoires Palestiniens: Capacity building of youth for the creation of a social movement that supports equality, freedom, human rights and social, political and economic justice||Ma’an, Bisan||€114,4571||2014-2016|
|BD||NGO Broederlijk Delen – programma 2014-2016 / Palestinian Territories; Enhance Palestinians' dignity through better access to rights and creating opportunities for personal and community development||DCI-P||€1,892,355||2014-2021|
- In 2020, NGO Monitor researchers have uncovered a Belgian government approved Joint Strategic Framework document written by a group of Belgian NGOs, specifying the objectives of government development aid for Palestinians. The signatories commit to promoting anti-Israel campaigns through advocacy and lobbying in Belgium and the EU. One of the strategic goals is to “increase advocacy efforts towards European institutions and member states, promoting respect for international law and mitigating the influence of pro-Israel voices” (emphasis added). See NGO Monitor’s report “Belgian NGOs “Mitigate Pro-Israel Voices” with Government Support.”
- See details in Appendix.
- According to Addameer, Hanatsheh was arrested and placed in administrative detention by Israel between May 2002- December 2005, January 2009- January 2010, and November 2011-August 2012.
- As of an August 8, 2019 UHWC article.
- Since April 2019, according to his LinkedIn profile.
- According to Farraj’s LinkedIn profile, he is the “Administrative Manager at Union of Agricultural Work Committees.” An August 2018 Amnesty International document titled “Urgent Action” refers to him as the “Finance and Administration Director” at UAWC. He is also seen in a March 21, 2019 photo at a UAWC event, along with July 30, 2019 photos from a similar UAWC gathering.
- SolSoc’s 2014, 2015, 2016 annual reports.
- SolSoc 2015 annual report referred to Rimawi as the “director” of Bisan; The PFLP-tied organization Samidoun lists Rimawi as the “Executive Director” of Bisan when referencing his imprisonment from September 2014 to July 2016. Samidoun further reported that in 1995-2014, Rimawi, “the director of Bisan,” was arrested six times.
- Samidoun, “Prominent Palestinian community leaders and rights activists seized by Israeli occupation forces,” May 21, 2017; “Administrative detainees Eteraf Rimawi and Suad Rezeiqat freed from Israeli prisons,” July 6, 2016; “Palestinian civil society leader Eteraf Rimawi seized by occupation forces,” September 16, 2014.
- BD provided DCI-P with €40,000 in 2016, €40,000 in 2015 and €40,000 in 2014. Of this, each year DGD provided €32,000.
- As of a May 13, 2017 article posted on DCI-P’s Arabic language website. Due to a lack of transparency regarding DCI-P staffing, his current affiliation with the NGO is unclear.