In 2015-2018, the Belgium government (Directorate-General for Development Cooperation; DGD) provided €109.08 million in aid to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Of this, approximately €18.9 million (17.2%) was provided to “NGOs and Civil Society.”
In the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, many Belgian-funded NGOs promote delegitimization and anti-Israel narratives, including promoting lawfare and BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns. 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.
Palestinian NGO Staff Arrested as Part of PFLP-Terror Cell
On December 19, 2019, the Israel Security Agency (Shabak) announced it had uncovered a 50-person PFLP terror network operating in the West Bank. The Shabak published pictures of weapons and bomb making materials confiscated during these raids.
Among those arrested were individuals allegedly responsible for the August 23, 2019 bombing attack in which 17-year-old Rina Shnerb was murdered, and her father and brother were injured.
The Shabak statement named multiple leading PFLP figures, several of whom currently or previously worked in senior positions for Palestinian NGOs. Critically, these included NGO accountants and financial directors, responsible for handling grants from foreign governments. Some of these NGOs receive funding from Belgium. For example:
- Samer Arbid (UAWC): According to Israeli security officials, on August 23, 2019, Samer Arbid commanded a PFLP terror cell that carried out a bombing against Israeli civilians, murdering 17-year old Rina Shnerb, and injuring her father and brother. According to the Shabak, Arbid prepared and detonated the explosive device. (See below for details of Belgian funding).
- Walid Hanatsheh (HWC): Alleged leader of PFLP “military” operations, who commanded Arbid. According to an Israeli media report, Hanatsheh bankrolled the August 23 bombing. (See below for details of Belgian funding).
- Abdul Razeq Farraj (UAWC): According to his indictment, authorized the August 23, 2019 bombing. (See below for details of Belgian funding).
- Itiraf Hajaj (Rimawi) (Bisan): According to the Shabak, responsible for PFLP clandestine operations. (See below for details of Belgian funding).
PFLP-linked NGOs funded by Belgium
Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC) and Health Work Committees (HWC)
In 2017-2021, DGD is providing Viva Salud (formerly Third World Health Aid/ Médecine pour le Tiers Monde/ Geneeskunde voor de Derde Wereld) with €762,1011 for two 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” and “Palestinian social movement advocates for Palestinians’ right to health through networks vis a vis local and international stakeholders.”
Viva Salud promotes BDS campaigns and lists the Palestinian “sister” organizations Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC) and Health Work Committees (HWC) as its sole partners Palestinian partners. In 2018, Viva Salud reported that it provided €178,654 for its partners in “Palestine.”
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.2
Numerous UHWC and HWC staff members, founders, board members, general assembly members, and senior staff members have ties to the PFLP terror group. For example:
- UHWC’s treasurer3 Magdi Yaghi is referred to by the PFLP as a “member of the regional command” and a “comrade.”
- 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 23, 2019 bombing attack. According to an Israeli media report, Hanatsheh bankrolled the August 23 bombing. Prior to this, he was arrested several times in 2002-20124by 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.”
Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC)
In 2017-2018, Oxfam reported that DGD provided €288,002 for the project “Protecting Lives in Closed Borders.” The project partners included UAWC. DGD reports that the project had a budget of approximately €1.2 million. In addition, Oxfam Solidarité reports that a DGD-funded program “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 “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 Director5 Abdul Razeq Farraj was arrested by the Israeli forces on October 23, 2019. According to his indictment, he authorized the August 23, 2019 bombing. 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.”
- According to Arabic-language media, Samer Arbid served as UAWC’s accountant in 2019 when he was arrested. He was also identified as the “financial director of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in the West Bank” in 2016.( See above for Arbid’s leading role in the August 23, 2019 bombing.)
Bisan Center for Research and Development (Bisan)
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 the years of the grant, SolSoc listed three Palestinian NGOs partners including Bisan Center for Research and Development (Bisan).6 Since 2017, SolSoc has not listed Bisan as a partner.
- Itiraf Hajaj (Rimawi): It appears that Rimawi was Bisan’s Executive Director during the years of DGD grant.7 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-tied organization Samidoun, in 1995-2017, Rimawi was arrested several times.8 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).
- Ubai Aboudi, Bisan’s Executive Director (since April 2019 according to his LinkedIn profile), was arrested by the Israeli authorities on November 13, 2019. In the indictment of Abdul Razeq Farraj (see above), Aboudi is referred as a PFLP member who was told to recruit more members to the cell.
- On November 17, 2019, Viva Salud condemned Aboudi’s arrest and referred to Bisan as a “Palestinian partner organization.” The nature of the partnership between Bisan and Viva Salud is not clear.
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.”
Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P)
In 2014-2018, DGD provided approximately €1.1 million to the Belgian NGO Broederlijk Delen (BD) for its programs in “Israel and Palestine.” BD lists eight local partners including 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.9 Due to a lack of transparency on the part of BD, it is unclear what organizations it has funded since 2016.
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.
- Hashem Abu Maria was 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.”
- Nassar Ibrahim, President of DCI-P’s General Assembly, at least through May 201710, is the former editor of El Hadaf – the PFLPs’ weekly publication.
- Mahmoud Jiddah, DCI-P board member from at least 2012 to 2016, was imprisoned by Israel for 17 years for carrying out “grenade attacks” against Israeli civilians in Jerusalem in 1968.
- Another Belgium official database reports a budget of €955,976 for these projects.
- In 2014-2016, DGD reported it provided €461,485 to Viva Salud for the project “Palestine – Youth in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza play an active role in the Palestinian social movement to promote the right to health.”
- As of an August 8, 2019 UHWC article.
- 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.
- According to Farraj’s LinkedIn profile, Farraj 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; According to the PFLP-tied organization Samidoun, Rimawi, who is defined as the “Executive Director” of Bisan, was imprisoned 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 (http://www.broederlijkdelen.be/sites/default/files/downloads/jaarverslag-2016.pdf#page=25), €40,000 in 2015 (http://www.broederlijkdelen.be/sites/default/files/jaarverslag2015.pdf#page=23), and €40,000 in 2014 (http://www.broederlijkdelen.be/sites/default/files/downloads/gesteundeprojecten2014.pdf#page=10). 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.