Diakonia: An Analysis of Activities in the Arab-Israeli Conflict
- Diakonia is Sweden’s largest humanitarian NGO, founded in 1966 by five Swedish churches. It receives most of its budget from the Swedish government (SIDA, SEK 332 million, ~$47.2 million).
- By promoting a “right to resist” and delegitimizing Israel’s right to self-defense, the Civil Society and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) programs exploit and misrepresent international law.
- The IHL Program’s International Advisory Council is populated almost entirely with PLO advisors, Palestinians, and anti-Zionist Jewish activists.
- While some of the organization’s programs appear to be genuine and important humanitarian projects, the vast majority of resources are devoted to political campaigns, including a submission to the Goldstone Commission vilifying Israel and delegitimizing its right to defend itself against rocket attacks.
- Diakonia’s repetition of the Palestinian position refers to the “continuing of the occupation,” the “building of the Wall,” and “the fragmentation of the Palestinian territory” as “structural problems” behind the conflict. The pre-1967 history of terror, war and rejection of Israel’s right to exist are erased.
- The tendentious international law activities, including the Humanitarian Policy & Law Forum at Harvard University, receive more funding than any other program related to the region, and represent the only such political example in Diakonia’s worldwide activities.
- Many of Diakonia’s partners (Alternative Information Center, Sabeel, Al Haq, Al Mezan) are among the most extreme anti-Israel NGOs operating the region, employing inflammatory and, at times, antisemitic rhetoric.
- Enactment of NGO Monitor’s recommendations (listed below) will provide more balanced coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Diakonia will also better serve the interests of the Palestinians, who deserve real help, not radical posturing.
- This report was sent to officials in Diakonia and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Diakonia responded that they would provide no comment; SIDA did not reply.
Diakonia is more a lobby group with a clear political agenda for the Middle East than a Christian aid organization….In one single month, October 2008, Diakonia sponsored 10 articles in the Swedish media, nine of which dealt with the world’s only Jewish country. (Ilya Meyer, Equal value of all human life?, Jerusalem Post, December 6, 2008)
International Development Associations
Debate in Sweden over Efficacy of International aid and Funding Conflict
Diakonia & the Middle East
Diakonia’s Position Paper on Israel/Palestine
Diakonia’s Activities in the Arab-Israeli Conflict
The Rehabilitation Programme
The Children’s Literature Programme
Supporting Civil Society Organisations in Palestine Programme
The International Humanitarian Law Programme
IHL International Advisory Council“Easy Guide to International Humanitarian Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” Website
Seminars & Events
HaMoked Law Database
Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) in conjunction with Harvard University School of Public Health
Diakonia Support for “Lawfare,” BDS, EU-Israel Relations
Diakonia & the Gaza Conflict
Conclusion & Recommendations
Diakonia (“care and service” in Greek), Sweden’s largest humanitarian NGO, was founded in 1966 by five Swedish churches: the Alliance Mission, the Baptist Union, InterAct, the Methodist Church and the Mission Covenant Church. It describes itself as a “Christian development organisation working together with local partners for a sustainable change for the most vulnerable people of the world.” The organization works with more than 400 partners in 30 countries, claiming to promote “fair and sustainable development in which living standards for the most vulnerable people are improved, and democracy, human rights and equality are respected. The starting point for this is the gospel with Jesus as the role model.”
Diakonia’s work centers around five “core values”: “Human rights,” “Democratisation,” “Gender equality,” “Social and economic justice,” and “Peace and reconciliation.” To further these values, Diakonia states that it “does not carry out any projects of its own, but supports local partners. As these organisations are already present, the aid becomes more effective.”
In 2008, Diakonia’s revenue exceeded SEK 367 million (~$47.2 million), of which SEK 332 million came from the Swedish government’s International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), SEK 10.5 million from the EU, and SEK 5 million from the Norwegian government. Activities in the Middle East, Central America, and South America each comprise about 14% of Diakonia’s budget, while spending in Asia is 25%, and 30% in Africa. Advocacy work (primarily political lobbying in Sweden) is about 3% of Diakonia’s budget.
International Development Associations
Diakonia is a member of two large international development agency frameworks – the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) and AidWatch.
AIDA is a “co-ordination facility for international development agencies operating in the West Bank and Gaza” including Oxfam, Trocaire, Christian Aid, and the Mennonite Central Committee. The organization collaborates on events and press releases, including many that condemn Israeli policy while stripping the context of asymmetrical war. AIDA is a co-sponsor of Diakonia’s IHL forums held at Al Quds University (see below).
AidWatch is “a pan-European lobby and campaigns initiative monitoring and advocating on the quality and the quantity of aid provided by EU member states (EU MS) and the European Commission (EC)” under the auspices of the EU-supported Concord – a confederation of European NGOs active on relief and development work. In 2009, AidWatch issued a report, “Lighten the Load” that examines EU funding to humanitarian NGOs. One of the problems the report identifies regarding European aid is that it is “increasingly being used as a political tool, and not aimed at poverty reduction” (emphasis added).
Debate in Sweden over Efficacy of International aid and Funding Conflict
In September 2008, Swedish journalist Bengt Nilsson published a book, Sweden Finances Wars in Africa. Nilsson claimed that Swedish aid was used to provide a “lucrative market for astute political leaders and guerilla movements.” The book sparked an intense debate in the Swedish press and aid community over the efficacy of development and humanitarian aid activities. Diakonia claims to have been impacted by this debate “politically and externally.” Nilsson’s conclusions, that humanitarian aid can have unintended consequences, and can even fuel conflicts, without proper oversight, are consistent with NGO Monitor’s research into the impact of funding for “human rights” NGOs active in the Israeli-Arab conflict – in particular Diakonia and its partner organizations.
Diakonia & the Middle East
Diakonia has been operating in the Middle East since the 1960s, and opened its first office in the region in 1989. It runs programs in Egypt, Kurdish Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and “Palestine.” Diakonia’s goals for the region are to “concentrate on addressing the lack of peace and security, increasing respect of human rights and eradicating the multidimensional aspects of poverty.”
Diakonia’s Position Paper on Israel/Palestine
“Israel/Palestine” is a “priority area” for Diakonia – one of only two country-specific priority areas (the other is “Congo-Kinshasa”). In conjunction with its work, Diakonia has issued a “Position Paper on Israel & Palestine.” This policy paper appears to be the only country-specific paper issued by Diakonia, and presents a vision for a “viable two state solution” and to “not take side with any of the parties in the conflict.” The organization claims to want “an honest analysis of the causes of the current humanitarian crisis and we need an understanding of the structural problems behind them.”
In contrast to this stated goal, Diakonia’s paper uses the language of the Palestinian narrative, including “continuing of the occupation,” the “building of the Wall,” and “the fragmentation of the Palestinian territory.” The authors further claim that “these facts all constitute formal violation of international law.”1 Diakonia does not discuss Palestinian terror, Arab rejectionism, the inculcation of antisemitism and violence among Palestinian children, corruption in the Palestinian Authority, restrictions on women’s rights, or Palestinian in-fighting as “structural problems” that impact the conflict. When some of these problems are mentioned, they are attributed to the effects of “the occupation,” even though they all predate the 1967 war.
Diakonia’s paper includes vilifying rhetoric such as referring to the “structures of apartheid”2, and argues that Israel “strangles” the Palestinian economy and “continuously violate[s] the laws of warfare.” Additionally, the organization, in recognizing a so-called “right to resist,” invents international law by claiming “IHL relates to resistance movements as a fact that needs to be taken into account,” and that because the international community does not recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem, Israel is “in violation of international law.” In this discussion, Diakonia also denies the Jewish people’s historical and religious connection to Jerusalem.
The views expressed in this policy document contribute to and reflect the one-sided activities of the organization.
Diakonia’s Activities in the Arab-Israeli Conflict
As with its work in other regions, Diakonia’s approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict centers around five themes: “gender, democracy, human rights, social and economic justice and peace and conflict transformation.” These themes are promoted through four sub-programs:
- The Rehabilitation Programme;
- The Children’s Literature Programme;
- Supporting Civil Society Organisations in Palestine programme supporting local civil society actors in their work in democracy and human rights; and
- The International Humanitarian Law Programme
While the Rehabilitation and Children’s Literature programs appear to be genuine and important humanitarian projects, the Civil Society and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) programs are highly problematic, as this report demonstrates. Both attribute sole blame for the conflict to Israel, minimize the impact of terrorism and the context of asymmetrical war, and overtly promote the Palestinian narrative through political activities.
Many of Diakonia’s partner organizations for these projects – including Al Mezan, Al Haq, the Alternative Information Center, and Sabeel – are among the most extreme anti-Israel NGOs operating the region, employing inflammatory and at times, antisemitic and “Nazi” rhetoric. Other partners, such as B’Tselem, HaMoked, and PHR-I have been widely criticized for their one-sided reporting and problems with credibility. This aspect of Diakonia’s activities works against peace and normalization in the region, further entrenching the conflict.
It is also unclear how these two programs, particularly the IHL program that receives the bulk of Diakonia’s funding in this region, contribute to Diakonia’s goals of eradicating the “multidimensional aspects of poverty”. The overwhelmingly one-sided political content is inconsistent with Diakonia’s own critique of EU funding for humanitarian aid that it is “increasingly being used as a political tool, and not aimed at poverty reduction” (see above).
The Rehabilitation Programme (2008-09 Budget: SEK 24,780,000 )3
Diakonia established its Rehabilitation Program in the early 1990s, in conjunction with the Norwegian Association of Disabled and is funded by SIDA and the Norwegian government (NORAD). It aims to promote for the disabled the “right to inclusion within their families, society and the state,” and provides and coordinates “treatment plans”.4 The objectives and activities of this program appear to be in keeping with Diakonia’s aims as a humanitarian organization, though the organization claims that due to “the occupation and lack of peace in Palestine, it is not difficult to grasp the negligence of the Palestinian Government to implement the law of Disability eight years after it has been endorsed.”
The Children’s Literature Programme (2005-07 Budget: SEK 18,000,000)
Diakonia started its children’s literature program in 1992 due to a “general dissatisfaction with the reading habits of Palestinian children.” The program distributes Arabic translations of Swedish books and books written by local authors; trains teachers and writers to improve the understanding and quality of books “in the Palestinian market”; and operates in partnership with the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Education and thirteen NGOs. This program appears to be a positive endeavor without overtly engaging in the demonization or delegitimization of Israel. However, one of Diakonia’s program partners, the Tamer Institute, is a signatory to several calls by the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Aaprtheid Wall Campaign for “a comprehensive academic boycott of Apartheid Israel” and one of the organization’s publications is entitled, “Apartheid, Annexation or Separation”. (NGO Monitor was unable to evaluate all of the books that are part of the program.)
Supporting Civil Society Organisations in Palestine Programme (2008-10: SEK13,500,000)
Under this program, Diakonia provides funding to local NGOs to ostensibly promote “social empowerment and capacity building” to “change the unfair structures in the society from within.” Diakonia’s NGO partners under this program are AIC, PHR-I, Al Nayzak for Scientific Innovation, Al-Sarayah Center for Community Services, Palestinian Counseling Center, Sabeel, Tamer Institute for Community Education, Wi’am, and Women’s Affairs Technical Committee.
Aspects of the program nobly target youth to promote “non-violent conflict resolution, the dangers of dropping out of school and early marriage,” and seek to “empower young women.” However, several partners funded by this program, such as Sabeel and AIC, are among the most radical pro-Palestinian NGOs operating in the region and at times engage in antisemitic or “Nazi” rhetoric.5 Other partners, such as PHR-I suffer from lack of credibility in its reporting, and a biased ideological agenda. There is no rationale for funding for Sabeel, AIC, or PHR-I under the auspices of a program claiming to promote “non-violent conflict resolution, the dangers of dropping out of school and early marriage,” or “personal development” among Palestinian youth, particularly young Palestinian women.
The International Humanitarian Law Programme (2006-09 Budget: SEK 46,400,000)
The IHL program (fully funded by SIDA) receives the majority of Diakonia’s funding for the region and is widely promoted by the organization. The program has its own website with a link on Diakonia’s homepage and separate promotional materials. The program “aims at increasing respect for and further implement[ation of] international humanitarian law in Israel/Palestine, as a means to improve the humanitarian situation, and create a possibility for peace in the region.” The program is comprised of several components, including the IHL “Easy Guide” Website, seminars and events; sponsoring IHL webportals; and “monitoring breaches” of IHL. To carry out this project, Diakonia partners with several organizations: Al Haq, B’Tselem, HaMoked, Mossawa, Al Mezan, ACRI, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Al Quds University Human Rights and IHL clinic (detailed profiles on partners below).
The IHL program directed against Israel appears to be unique in Diakonia’s framework. A review by NGO Monitor could not find a similar type of program in terms of content or resources involving any other conflict region in the world. The importance of this program is linked to the exploitation of international law as a key strategy in the political war against Israel. The results of this program and its one-sided content should raise serious concerns among policy officials and the Swedish public as to how this type of program serves humanitarian objectives, and why it is being supported by the Swedish government and ultimately, Swedish taxpayers.
IHL International Advisory Council
The content of the IHL program reflects the political leanings of the members of its “International Advisory Council” that overwhelmingly consists of Palestinian advocates, consultants to the PA, and anti-Zionist Jewish activists.6 Only one of the members, Anita Brodén, member of the Swedish Parliament, appears not to have this type of background:
Charles Shamas is a co-founder of Al Haq and a senior partner of the Ramallah-based Mattin Group. He is also a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East–North Africa advisory board. He has “advised the PLO/PNA on IHL-related diplomacy”; and led the lobbying effort of the EU “into reversing their de facto acceptance of Israel’s administrative annexation of the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories.” Shamas compares Israeli policy to “apartheid” and “genocide,” and distorts IHL to erase Palestinian terror (what he labels “resistance”). He also erases the immorality of terrorism, by describing Palestinian mass violence as: “an uprising of large elements of a civilian population against an Occupying Power’s unlawful and predatory abuses of its control over that population and their habitat.”
Michael Bothe represented the League of Arab States in the ICJ Advisory Opinion hearings on the Separation Barrier.
Fritz Froehlich is the coordinator of “UNWRA at 60” and was an early proponent of the Durban Strategy. In 1994, at a conference organized by PASSIA, Froelich advised that “projects emphasizing Jerusalem as Palestinian city should be implemented, NGOs should fight against demographic, physical, geographical and political deformation of Jerusalem and do their best to restore Arab presence and reconsider their activities.”
Göran Gunner is a board member of Friends of Sabeel Scandanavia and was a speaker at Sabeel’s 5th International Conference, “Challenging Christian Zionism: Theology, Politics, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict.” The website, www.christianzionism.org was an outgrowth of the Conference, and perpetuates anti-Israel demonization and the delegitimization of Zionism using theological themes. On the website, Sabeel advocates its stance for a “one state” solution.
Vinodh Jaichand, Deputy Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights. In a December 2005 speech, Jaichand compared Israel to an “apartheid state” and examined ways the “State of Israel is likely to be prosecuted for the crime against humanity of apartheid.”
Helena Johansson, Department Head for the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees, writes on her blog that Israel must be held responsible and prosecuted for the “completely disproportionate bombing of Gaza’s densely populated areas and attacks against UN buildings and hospitals,” and repeats false claims that “there was a truce between Hamas and Israel, but Israel did not commit to the conditions of the agreement sponsored by Egypt and continue their attacks and closure.”
Gilbert Marcus SC, delegate to Amnesty International, claims Israel’s security barrier is “disproportionate”; was a signatory to a letter condemning Israel’s Gaza operation as “inhumane”; and served as a consultant to a pseudo-academic study organized by the former UN Rapporteur John Dugard and Al Haq, claiming Israel is an “apartheid” state.
Iain Scobbie is active in advancing pro-Palestinian legal arguments and delegitimizing Israel’s right to fight against asymmetrical warfare. During the Gaza war, he was a signatory to a letter claiming that Hamas rocket attacks do not “amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence,” and claimed that the war was an act of “aggression” by Israel. Scobbie was also a “principal contributor” to the Dugard apartheid study and is an advisor to the PA’s Negotiation Affairs Department.
Lea Tsemel, a Jewish, anti-Zionist activist, was a leading member of the Trotskyite anti-Zionist Revolutionary Communist League Matzpen party and founder of the Public Committee against Torture in Israel. She is married to Michael Warshawski, founder of the Alternative Information Center (see below). Her writings level accusations against Israel, including “ethnic cleansing.”
Marcelo Weksler is a board member of the Alternative Information Center. His article, “Israeli Attacks on Gaza: Before Words Will Not Help,” (and posted on B’Tselem’s Facebook page) uses such phrases as “the bestiality of Israeli society,” “the evil of the Israeli regime,” and that to the “clowns [mainstream Israeli society] . . . [h]umanity is an anti-Semitic fiction. An invention of non-Jews lacking a conscience—a Jewish conscience.”
Julia Wickham is Secretariat and Delegations Co-ordinator for the All-Party Parliamentary Britain-Palestine Group and the Editor of The Palestine Post (UK). In an August 2006, letter to Tony Blair, she wrote that “Israel’s indiscriminate destruction of Lebanese and Gazan infrastructure is not lawful in that it constitutes retaliatory and collectively punitive measures against the civilian populations.” She was a signatory to a petition supporting the filing of the “crimes against humanity” lawsuit against Ariel Sharon in Belgium.
“Easy Guide to International Humanitarian Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” Website
The “Easy Guide to IHL” website is a primary component of the IHL program, and is intended to “target” Swedish and English speakers “who are interested in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, generally familiar with the facts on the ground but are seeking to familiarize themselves with the legal tool in their advocacy messages and analysis.” Diakonia claims that the “analysis” provided on the website “reflects Diakonia’s perspective following Diakonia’s position paper and does not intend to voice approaches of either one of the parties to the conflict.” Although the NGO includes a few scattered links to Israeli government sources, Diakonia notes that “the website primarily engages with the obligation of the State of Israel, as the occupying power, towards the Palestinian population,” and much of the content repeats unverifiable allegations made by NGO partners Al Haq, HaMoked, and B’Tselem. The information presented on the website and the frequent misrepresentations of international law reflect this one-sided approach.
Distorted History and Omitted Context. The website provides an overview of legal and historical issues through the Palestinian narrative, distorting history and erasing context. In a representative example, the overview of “the years 1947-1967” claims, that after “war broke out between Israel and a number of Arab states” in 1948, Israel was established on territory “which covered a larger part than allotted to it by the UN partition plan. A Palestinian state was not established and the Palestinians have been pursuing for many years, and still call for the implementation of their right to self-determination.” This summary ignores the Arab rejection of the 1947 UN partition plan, the Arab-initiated 1948 war to destroy the nascent state, and the campaign of Arab attacks and massacres on Jews in the region both before and after the creation of Israel. Another claim on the website says, “The oPt has been under the control and government of different regimes during the past 500 years.” (emphasis added)
In another depiction of “The Wall,” Diakonia describes the “Seam Zone” as “caged between the Green Line and the Wall,” and writes that “[i]n 2002 Israel started to construct a wall inside the West Bank, separating Palestinians that live west of the Wall from their lands, families and services on the eastern side of it, based on Israel’s stated security reasoning to protect the state and Israeli settlers.” No mention is made of the hundreds of Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian suicide bombers prior to the barrier’s establishment, nor does Diakonia mention that these attacks have nearly ceased since its construction.
Misrepresentation of International Law. Much of the content on the IHL website is aimed at delegitimizing any means of self-defense employed by Israel. It includes statements on “a selection of Israeli policies that severely affects the daily life of Palestinian civilians” such as “the Wall,” “House Demolition Policy,” “Movement Restrictions,” and “Israeli Settlements.” The page on Gaza promotes the nonserious claim that Gaza remains “occupied” after disengagement. It also advances the false argument that international recognition of the end of occupation is a precondition for changing the status of “occupied” territory, even though no such requirement exists in international law. The Gaza page also asserts that Israel is engaging in “collective punishment” against the civilian population, and that “the methods used in the [Gaza War] [were] highly problematic and raise reasons to consider them as war crimes – violation of the principle of distinction, proportionality.”
Reliance on the ICJ Advisory Opinion “Against the Wall”. Diakonia continues to promote the ICJ Advisory Opinion “Against the Wall”, as well as many of the related legal briefs, even though the opinion is not legally binding, and Israel did not recognize the legitimacy of the proceedings. In one example, Diakonia uses the ICJ opinion to support the absurd claim (originally advanced by Al Haq) that Israel does not have a right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter because “as specified in the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the Wall from 2004,” Hamas launched rockets from Gaza, “an occupied territory, rather than from another state.” In addition, the attempt to erase Israel’s unequivocal right to self-defense in the wake of attacks on its civilian population is fundamentally immoral.
Promotion of the “right to resist”. As noted, the IHL website promotes a so-called “right to resist” on behalf of the Palestinians – excusing the Palestinian campaign of deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians and delegitimizing Israel’s right to defend itself. To support the specious claim of a “right to resist,” Diakonia writes, “[t]he use of force as part of resisting occupation in the Palestinian case is therefore derived from the international legitimacy to recourse to armed struggle in order to obtain the right to self-determination.” (emphasis added).
Notwithstanding the legal dispute whether Palestinians are “a people under occupation,” no source is provided by Diakonia; and the invented concept of “international legitimacy” does not confer any type of legal right on Palestinians to conduct attacks on civilians. The “right to self-determination” also cannot be exercised in order to deny the self-determination rights of other peoples; Hamas, Fatah, and the PLO all call for the destruction of Jewish rights to a homeland.
(For more information on the unsupported legal arguments disseminated by Diakonia and its partners see NGO Monitor’s, The NGO Front in the Gaza War and HRW’s Letter to President Bush on Gaza: The “Collective Punishment” Hoax.)
The IHL Program hosts many seminars and events for local UN and NGO officials to further the ostensible goal of “rais[ing] awareness for the basic rules of IHL within the Israeli and Palestinian societies.” Presentations include, “The Right to Health and Health Care under IHL and IHRL,” “International Law and the Economic Aspects of the Occupation,” and the “Monitoring Forum of IHL Violations in the OpT.” While some of the seminars present a more balanced view of IHL and the conflict, many promote the nullification of Israel’s international legal rights, involve speakers from radical NGOs that aggravate the conflict, and disseminate Palestinian propaganda. At one event attended by NGO Monitor, a Diakonia staff member referred to rocket attacks on Israeli civilians as “resistance.” (Summaries and PowerPoints of many of the events are available on the IHL website.)
At the March 2008 IHL Forum, held at Al Quds University in conjunction with AIDA, entitled “Economy and the Occupation,” participants included Shir Hever from the Alternative Information Center (see below) and a representative from the Stop the Wall Campaign. The presentation by Diakonia’s Legal Advisor included the claim that Israel is “using political and military control to transform the existing –mostly agrarian-economies into captive markets for Israeli produce and sources of cheap, unprotected labor,” and advocated for divestment. Another speaker from Medico International claimed, “[e]ver since Oslo, Israel has been let off the responsibility for the OPT, and has been able to keep its enclave system going only with the help of foreign donors.”
NGO speakers at the December 2007 IHL Forum included Sari Bashi of Gisha, Gareth Gleed from Al Haq, and Fatmeh El-‘Ajou from Adalah. In support of the PLO claim that Israel continues to occupy Gaza, despite the 2005 withdrawal, Bashi made the illogical assertion that Israel decides whether “a new born child [in Gaza] is issued an ID or not” and that “[o]f course Hamas and Fatah can issue the family with an ID but this is pointless as Israel is the border authority.” Under such reasoning, it would be “pointless” for the US to issue passports, since other countries determine whether US nationals can enter their territory. Two articles posted on the Diakonia website which summarize “the main points presented” are entitled, “Israel Violates International Humanitarian Law in Gaza” and “The Legal Case for Gaza” published by Palestinian NGO Miftah.
Speakers at other events include Charles Shamas (see above), members of the Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit, a member of the Palestinian defense team for the advisory opinion case at the ICJ, Badil, UNWRA and Lucy Mair of HRW (formerly associated with Electronic Intifada).
HaMoked Law Database (SEK 1,600,000 from 2006-09)
The IHL program supports HaMoked’s Online Legal Library. As on Diakonia’s IHL website, many of the documents on the database provide a distorted view or incorrect analysis of IHL. In one representative example, HaMoked claims the concluding observations of the UN Committee Against Torture “rejected Israel’s claims” that detention facility 1391 is no longer in operation and “demands operation of the facility cease.” Yet, far from “rejecting Israel’s claims” and “demanding” operation of facility 1391 “cease,” the committee’s report in fact accepted Israel’s statement that the facility “has not been used since 2006” and simply stated that Israel should “ensure that no one is detained in any secret detention facility under its control in the future.”
Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) in conjunction with Harvard University School of Public Health
“IHL in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory” component – (SEK 2,800,000 from 2006-10). With SIDA funding, Diakonia supports HPCR International’s Humanitarian Policy & Law Forum operated in conjunction with Harvard University’s School of Public Health . A central component of the program is “IHL in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” developed “in consultation” with the UN, and aiming “to improve access to balanced information on international law and to promote the integration of legal and humanitarian analysis in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Roadmap framework.”
This program, like other Diakonia and IHL activities, promotes the Palestinian narrative under an academic façade via the distortion and manipulation of international law. Its “web portal” contains “policy briefs” that claim to “analyze” IHL on aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, yet invariably conclude that Israel is violating international law. The forum is has been a major proponent and disseminator of the PLO “legal opinion” that Gaza remains “occupied”. (For a detailed analysis see NGO Monitor’s forthcoming report on this program.)
Diakonia Support for “Lawfare”
Another major component of the Diakonia IHL program is the exploitation of legal processes and courts to harass Israelis or companies doing business with Israel. This aspect of Diakonia’s work is consistent with similar efforts involving Advisory Council member Charles Shamas, who is also co-founder of Al Haq – one of the NGOs leading the lawfare campaign, and a recipient of significant Diakonia funding.
The primary vehicle for promoting lawfare is through sponsorship of conferences and seminars examining ways in which Israel can be held “accountable” in courts for alleged violations of international law. These events never encourage bringing Hamas, Fatah, the PA or other Palestinian actors to court for the murder and wounding of thousands of Israeli civilians. Nor do they target state supporters or companies aiding the financing of these attacks including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and many banking institutions.
In September 2008, Diakonia sponsored a major conference in Brussels entitled, “Palestine/Israel: Making Monitoring Work: (Re-) Enforcing International Law in Europe.” NGO participants at the event included Jessica Montell of B’Tselem, Hassan Jabareen of Adalah, Hadas Ziv of PHR-I, representatives of ICAHD, PCATI, Badil, Avocats Sans Frontiers, FIDH, as well as leaders of the anti-Israel lawfare movement: Raji Sourani of PCHR, Charles Shamas and researchers from Al Haq, Yesh Gevul, Maria LaHood from CCR, a representative of the law office of Michael Sfard, and attorneys Daniel Machover and Phil Shiner.
In support of the “Durban Strategy,” participants accused Israel of “war crimes,” and called for boycotts and lawfare against Israel. In particular:
- Montell declared that “most violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are the result of government policy, not the actions of a particular individual, so holding the army and state accountable on a broader level is crucial.”
- Jabareen of Adalah claimed the “dominant trend with Israeli legal thinking is revealed to have supported the collective punishment of Palestinians”; falsely claimed that the Israeli Supreme Court “is not amenable to hearing  cases that deal with acts amounting to potential war crimes”; and stated that “[w]hen the Supreme Court justices had to justify the rationale behind the family unification law . . . they could only provide racist reasons.” He further noted that activists should try to portray Israel as an inherent undemocratic state” and to “use that as part of campaigning internationally.”
- Raji Sourani repeated canards such as claiming the IDF deliberately “fired seven artillery shells straight at [the] picnicking families” during the “Gaza Beach Incident,” and noted that the purpose of the conference was to “look at the potential for launching more cases of universal jurisdiction” against Israel.
- Hadas Ziv, Executive Driector of PHR-I (see below) falsely claimed that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “gives people the right to fight occupation” and added “that if human rights don’t get revolutionized they in fact are part of the oppression.”
- Many participants discussed finding “ways to get more out of the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion,” including targeting “charities in the UK” and “financial institutions and banks.” Diakonia’s representative, Grietje Baars noted that “Diakonia is currently researching third state responsibility.”
Other activities promoting lawfare include the March 2009 IHL Forum “Accountability for IHL Violations” held at Al Quds University in conjunction with AIDA, and a July 2008 workshop held in conjunction with Avocats Sans Frontiers entitled, “Enforcing International Humanitarian Law in Foreign Courts.” The workshop materials include a Powerpoint presentation entitled “Palestine: a war crime a minute,” which advocated using the “Easy Guide” website for legal analysis, and ending with the slide, “See you in Court!”
BDS, EU-Israel Relations
Although officials from Diakonia told NGO Monitor that the organization does not support boycotts against Israel and on occasion release statements calling on the EU to demand the PA to enforce its international legal obligations, the evidence shows that it does promote divestment initiatives, call for suspension or downgrading of EU-Israel relations, and speakers at several Diakonia events explicitly advocate for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS). In addition, many Diakonia partners are active in or support BDS measures against Israel.
- Diakonia partner, the Tamer Institute, is a signatory to several calls to boycott Israel including a petition “to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel.”
- Charles Shamas (see above) discussed sanctions available under EU policy in his presentation “Economic and Political Measures in EU Legal Documents” at the March 2007 IHL Forum. At the same event, Diakonia’s legal advisor presented, “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – Legal Concepts in International Law.”
- Lucy Mair, former researcher for HRW and Electronic Intifada author, spoke at the May 2005 IHL Forum on corporate responsibility, highlighted the divestment campaign against Caterpillar and how to “use corporate responsibility as a tactic in fighting against the Wall.”
- Diakonia issued a joint report with the Church of Sweden targeting the Assa Abloy corporation for manufacturing locks at a factory located in the Barkan industrial zone.
- On January 27, 2006, Diakonia and Amnesty International Sweden wrote a letter to Connex (copying the Swedish Foreign Minister and the French and Israeli ambassadors to Sweden) claiming that its participation in the Jerusalem light rail project and cooperation with the Israeli government was in violation of international law and UN Conventions.
- During the Gaza War, Diakonia along with AIDA partners Christian Aid, Oxfam, FIDH, Trocaire, World Vision, and others, issued a joint press release calling for the suspension of EU “upgrade” talks with Israel.
- A presentation made by Diakonia’s Legal Advisor at the 2008 IHL forum (see above) advocated divestment strategies as a tool against Israel.
- Diakonia partners active in or supportive of the BDS movement include Alternative Information Center, Al Haq, Al Mezan, Sabeel, Wi’am.
Diakonia & the Gaza Conflict
Following the violent takeover of Gaza by Hamas and increased rocket attacks on Israeli civilians in 2007, Diakonia joined the NGO campaign against Israel’s Gaza policy, accusing Israel of an “illegal siege,” “collective punishment,” and continued “occupation.” This campaign contributed to the conflict and gave Hamas leaders the expectation of international support for its terror activities. Many news stories on Diakonia’s website promote these themes and are a central focus for the organization. These statements present an immoral equivalence between Hamas’ deliberate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and Israel’s response in self-defense. The claims are used to promote a political agenda, including calls for increased diplomatic pressure, and demands that the EU and other international bodies suspend agreements with Israel. No similar demands are presented with respect to Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, or Iran.
Examples of Diakonia statements relating to Gaza: (Note that few mention or call for an end to ongoing Palestinian rocket attacks against Israeli civilians):
- April 15, 2009 statement accuses Israel of a “strangling siege”; refers to Palestinian partner Al Mezan “going all around the Gaza Strip collecting testimonies and evidence of possible war crimes committed by the Israeli military.”
- January 15, 2009 press release: Diakonia Secretary General, Bo Forsburg demands that “[t]he Swedish Prime Minister must meet with the Israeli ambassador to hand in a protest against the Israeli violence in Gaza, both regarding the attack on the UN headquarters in Gaza City, the disproportionate violence and the destruction of all Swedish aid.”
- December 29, 2008 release Forsburg claimed that “[s]o far, only the Palestinian side suffered from sanctions for not meeting the terms of the peace process. The world’s lack of political pressure on both parties, including the approval of EU’s association agreement with Israel void of any demands on Israel, has regrettably contributed to the negative developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . . . This madness must be stopped.”
- November 11, 2007 “Call to end the isolation of Gaza” claims the “political, economic and social isolation imposed on the occupied Gaza Strip violates international law and has dire consequences for future peace, development and security in the region.” Israel is accused of “make[ing] a mockery of international humanitarian law, the illegal policy of collective punishment is only serving to deepen despair and frustration in Gaza.”
Submission to Goldstone Commission
Repeating distorted legal claims (see above) and unverifiable NGO claims, Diakonia submitted a 15-page brief to the Goldstone Commission. The submission vilifies Israel and delegitimizes its right to defend itself against rocket attacks, while Hamas crimes are relegated to three short paragraphs on the last page of the report.
The document also repeats many legal canards including:
- Diakonia makes the non-serious legal claim that Gaza remains occupied.
- Diakonia repeats a spurious legal claim made by Al Haq that Israel did not act in self-defense during the conflict. In other words, Diakonia is promoting an argument that Israel has no right to defend its civilians from attack under international law – a complete distortion of international law. The only reason to advance this argument is to justify Palestinian war crimes.
- Diakonia claims Israel deliberately targeted civlians, ignoring the myriad of evidence to the contrary, and ignoring overwhelming documentation of Hamas’ policy of operating within residential areas to maximize civilian casualties. Hamas’ actions are a violation of the principle of distinction and the prohibition against human shields.
- Diakonia uses language such as “collective punishment” and repeats the controversial ICRC guidelines regarding the classification of civilians who “directly participate in hostilities.” These guidelines were rejected by a majority of the legal experts engaged by the ICRC to draft them.
See NGO Monitor’s report on the Goldstone Commission, forthcoming September 2009, for further analysis of Diakonia’s and other NGOs’ submissions.
Diakonia emphasizes the role of its partners in carrying out the aims of its organization. The 2008 Annual report lists 27 partners in the region – 4 in Israel (ACRI, B’Tselem, HaMoked, and PHR-I) and 23 in “Palestine” (Mossawa, a Haifa-based NGO, is listed under “Palestine”). While some of its partners are engaged in genuine humanitarian aid activities – such as the Al Bireh Public Library, Al Iman Childhood Center, and several rehabilitation organizations – many of its partners are among the most politically extreme NGOs in the region. Several Diakonia grantees are signatories to the Palestinian NGO Code of Conduct which states:
“The signatory NGOs also undertake to be in line with the national agenda without any normalization activities with the occupier, neither at the political-security nor the cultural or developmental levels. No endeavor would be carried out if it undermines the inalienable Palestinian rights of establishing statehood and the return of the refugees to their original homes . . .”
All partners listed below receive funding from Diakonia via SIDA. See NGO Monitor’s report, A Clouded EU Presidency: Swedish Funding for NGO Rejectionism, for more information on Swedish government funding of NGOs.
Alternative Information Center (AIC) (SEK 1,5 million, 2007-09). NGO partner in the Civil Society program. AIC often refers to the “Israeli occupation-regime” and the Arab-Israeli “colonial conflict”; opposes “normalization’ with Israel, claiming that the collaboration of a Palestinian NGO with the Israeli Peres Center for Peace “is politically unacceptable, and morally disgusting. Shimon Peres is definitely an enemy of the Palestinian people, of human rights and of peace.” AIC officials participate in United Nations frameworks; have accused Israel of “genocide,” a “policy of ethnic cleansing,” and “apartheid”; and have also compared Israeli military and political officials to Nazis. (See AIC Profile, NGO Monitor, June 4, 2009). Two members of Diakonia’s IHL Advisory Council are linked with AIC.
Al Haq (SEK 3.2 million, 2006-10). Al Haq is a central partner in the IHL program. The organization is a leader of the “lawfare” movement, initiating lawsuits in Canada and the UK, and preparing “ready-to-be-used case files” for use against Israeli officials in foreign courts. Al Haq lists boycotts among its goals and objectives, and lobbied the EU to annul the upgrade of EU-Israel bilateral relations. General Director Shawan Jabarin has been denied exit visas by Israel and Jordan for his alleged ties to the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group. Charles Shamas (see above) is a co-founder of the NGO.
Sabeel (SEK 800,000, 2006-08). Sabeel is a partner in Diakonia’s civil society project. A 2008 Sabeel project, “The Nakba Memory, Reality and Beyond,” aims “to commemorate the Nakba of 1948, examine the current struggles for freedom, equality, and identity, and confront the continuing problems of the 1948 refugees”; “create a better understanding of the history of 1948, the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe)”; and “create a stronger civil society informed and concerned about the Nakba and who will work proactively inside Israel…on…the situation of second class citizenship for Palestinians.” Sabeel is a leader of the church divestment campaign, and director Naim Ateek employs antisemitic themes and imagery in sermons promoting his “Palestinian Liberation Theology.”
Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) (SEK 1,6 million, 2006-09). Under the civil society program, PHR-I carried out a project entitled “The Occupied Palestinian Territory, Prisoners & Detainees” claiming to “Protect the right to health of Palestinian in the Occupied Territories: Protect medical neutrality and the safety of medical premises and staff in the occupied territories, [and] Protect freedom of movement (access to health) of Palestinian patients, medical personnel and medical goods and conducting local and international advocacy.” PHR-I campaigns include the unsupported claim that Israel is required to provide “free access to health services” in the Palestinian Authority, and that Israel is responsible for the PA’s decision to suspend payments for Palestinian patients in Israeli hospitals. This political NGO is also lobbying against the upgrade of EU-Israel relations.
Women’s Affairs Technical Committee (WATC) (SEK 113,959, 2008). Another partner in Diakonia’s civil society program, WATC’s plainly stated ideology is that “the social struggle for the full emancipation of all members of the Palestinian society…must go hand in hand with the national struggle for the liberation of Palestine.” A WATC newsletter asserts that “[t]he Israeli occupation has continued building its wall of apartheid and segregation.” In a letter entitled “Stop Israeli Massacres and the Zionist aggressions on the Gaza Strip immediately,” WATC irresponsibly labeled the Gaza conflict “a war of extermination.”
Al Mezan (SEK 1,100,000 2007-09). An IHL program partner, Al Mezan´s activities reflect a radical anti-Israel agenda, including promoting claims of “Israeli war crimes” and “apartheid” (page 7). During the Gaza conflict, Al Meza accused Israel of “unprecedented, disproportionate bombardment of civilians targets,” “criminal aggression against civilians” and committing a “’holocaust’ (genocide)” Al Mezan’s casualty figures during the conflict have been found to be without credibility as many Hamas fighters are listed as civilians.
Mossawa (SEK 1.4 million, 2006-08), partner in the IHL program. Mossawa engages in political and legal campaigns that delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state with charges of “racism” and other pejoratives. Mossawa is influential in international forums and uses lawfare and the legal process to silence independent analysis and criticism of its activities. libeling its critics as “racists”. This strategy is akin to that used by many politicized NGOs “whereby Zionist organizations, foreign companies and governments that collaborate with Israel’s regime can be held accountable in court.” Although the claims in such cases are without foundation, the primary goals are to deter analysis and divert the limited resources of critics into costly legal processes.
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (SEK 240,000, 2004-05). EMHRN encompasses over eighty NGOs, to ostensibly strengthen “synergies between regional and local human rights work, the human rights instruments of the Barcelona process as well as the wider Arab world.” EMHRN funds are allocated to conferences, research, and educational materials produced for its member NGOs. EMHRN members from Israel and the PA consist exclusively of NGOs active in advancing Arab and Palestinian political goals and promoting BDS. (Source: Europe’s Hidden Hand, pp. 23-25).
HaMoked (SEK 1.6 million, 2006-09). HaMoked’s legal database is funded via Diakonia’s IHL program. The organization is an Israel-based NGO which claims to assist Palestinians who are “subjected to the Israeli occupation which causes severe and ongoing violation of their rights.” HaMoked joined six other Israeli NGOs in a submission to the UN Human Right’s Council’s investigation of the Gaza War, accusing Israel of “war crimes” with only a token reference to Hamas’ “sporadic” rocket fire against Israel civilians. A 2007 HaMoked report on security detainees utilized “questionable methodology” and a “lack of verifiable sources.” In 2006, State Prosecutor Nira Mashraki argued that HaMoked’s work to defend human rights was seriously compromised by its one-sided approach, arguing that “the organization’s self-presentation as ‘a human rights organization’ has no basis in reality and is designed to mislead.”
B’Tselem – (SEK 4,4 million, 2006-08). Diakonia’s highest-funded partner in the IHL program. B’Tselem “endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories.” However, B’Tselem focuses almost exclusively on alleged Israeli violations, eliminating the context of asymmetrical war, mass terror, and intra-Palestinian violence. B’Tselem is one of the first exponents of the “collective punishment” and “Gaza remains occupied” allegations. B’Tselem’s credibility, particularly regarding statistics on Palestinian casualties, has been repeatedly challenged by independent researchers on grounds of faulty methodology, inaccuracy, and unverifiable sources.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Diakonia’s support for some of the most extreme NGOs operating in the region raises considerable concerns, particularly given the substantial amount of funding it receives from the Swedish government and taxpayers. Diakonia consistently presents a simplified and highly misleading view of the conflict, where Palestinians are always victims and Israel is always guilty. Its campaigns, publications, statements, and events repeatedly promote the Palestinian narrative, while ignoring the context of asymmetrical war as well as responsibility of Palestinian actors for failures in Palestinian society. Its extensive funding for programs that do not have humanitarian objectives (despite the rhetoric) suggests that the organization is not fulfilling its mandate and lends credence to the debate currently underway in Sweden regarding the role of humanitarian organizations. As a result, the evidence clearly suggests that not only is Diakonia’s work not bringing the region any closer to peace, rather it is exacerbating and entrenching the conflict.
Given the amount of Swedish public funding used to support Diakonia’s projects in the region and the nature of those activities, NGO Monitor has the following recommendations:
Transparency and accountability:
- There are few publically available reports that analyze the impacts of Diakonia’s activities and funding programs. Lacking such basic information, it is impossible for public officials, journalists, and others to determine whether the funding promotes the declared objectives. Therefore, we recommend that substantive and independent program evaluations of Diakonia-funded projects made publicly available. These evaluations should systematically assess how each program is contributing to the goals of the organization.
- Diakonia should also undertake investigations to ensure that its funding is not being used to support terror or to justify acts of violence.
Programming and Decision Making:
- As noted in its own AidWatch report critiquing EU humanitarian aid, Diakonia should make aid less of a “political tool” and direct it more towards “poverty reduction” on the ground.
- The IHL program receives the highest amount of funding in the region, yet does not appear to serve humanitarian goals. Diakonia funding should be directed more towards programs such as the Rehabilitation and Children’s Literature program rather than towards programs that are used solely as a tool to delegitimize Israel’s right to self-defense.
- The IHL Advisory Council is almost entirely populated with PLO advisors and Palestinian and anti-Zionist Jewish activists. The board should be diversified to include a wider range of opinion and expertise.
- The IHL program currently approaches topics exclusively from the Palestinian perspective. It should be expanded to include the Israeli perspective.
- The IHL program should seriously examine the obligations of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and other Palestinian actors under IHL
- The IHL Partner organizations should be more diversified representing both Palestinian and Israeli perspectives (and not just Israeli partner organizations that reflect the Palestinian narrative).
- If these reforms cannot be implemented, the IHL program should be disbanded.
- Funding under the Civil Society Program should actually be directed towards programs aimed at serving youth, rather than programs promoting antisemitic or Nazi analogies.
Many of Diakonia’s partners are among the most extreme voices in the conflict. The organization should work with more partners within the mainstream of Palestinian and Israeli societies, particularly those that do not engage in demonization or the delegitimization of Israel, or contribute to the conflict.
- Diakonia should work with organizations whose activities as well as rhetoric consistently support a two-state solution – a Jewish state of Israel alongside a Palestinian state – and end support for organizations that work against this goal such as by promoting a “right of return”.
- Diakonia should end support for those organizations that actively campaign against normalization with Israel or Israelis, and that oppose peace based on mutual compromises.
- Diakonia should end support for those organizations that seek to deny the right of the Jewish people to self-determination.
- As a church organization, Diakonia has a moral obligation to promote acceptance of all religious faiths. It should not countenance expressions of religious hatred or use of Nazi analogies directed against Israel. The organization should not tolerate partners that promote antisemitic theological themes in their work.
- Diakonia should end ties with any partner organization that supports terrorism or is connected to terrorist organizations.
Enactment of the above recommendations by Diakonia would not only provide more balanced coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it would also better serve the interests of the Palestinians, who deserve real help, not radical posturing.
- There is no provision in any IHL convention or in customary law that states “occupation” is a violation of international law. Rather, if there is a situation of occupation, international law prescribes the actions of the occupying power. In addition, it is unclear what constitutes a “formal violation” of international law.
- Anthony Julius & Simon Schama, “John Berger is Wrong”, Comment is Free, The Guardian UK, December 22, 2006, available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/dec/22/bergerboycott (“The Palestinian cause, still less the cause of peace, is not served by promoting discrimination against Jews. It is indecent to call for the shunning of the Jewish state [such as using the inapplicable and immoral analogy of “apartheid”].”).
- Figures provided by Diakonia.
- Diakonia’s Rehabilitation Programme brochure, June 2008.
- Anthony Julius, “This boycott is not just wrong, it’s anti-Semitic,” Times Online (UK), June 14, 2007 available at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article1929259.ece
- Analysts have noted the attempt to legitimize anti-Israel and anti-Zionist positions by highlighting agreement from individual Jews, including Israelis, who profess these positions. See ‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, American Jewish Committee, 2007, www.ajc.org/atf/cf/…/PROGRESSIVE_JEWISH_THOUGHT.PDF