- Powerful political NGOs such as Ir Amim, B’Tselem, and the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) use EU and European government funding to advance agendas on Jerusalem that are in direct opposition to Israeli policies, thereby circumventing the democratic process on this highly sensitive issue.
- Two-thirds of Ir Amim’s annual budget comes from the EU and European governments. ARIJ and B’Tselem also receive significant amounts of foreign support.
- An EU position paper on Jerusalem relied heavily on NGO reports, without any independent confirmation.
- In an EU-funded project, “Monitoring Israeli Colonizing Activities in the Palestinian West Bank & Gaza,” ARIJ baselessly accuses Israel of “eras[ing] all trace of Palestinian existence in Jerusalem.”
- B’Tselem falsely asserts that the route of the security barrier was selected in order to sustain the “myth, that ‘unified Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel.’”
Jerusalem is one of the most contentious and sensitive issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in this context, it is surprising to find large-scale funding from European governments and the European Commission (EC) for politicized NGOs that promote the Palestinian narrative. Powerful political NGOs such as Ir Amim, B’Tselem, and the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) use this foreign support to advance agendas on Jerusalem that are in direct opposition to Israeli policies, thereby circumventing the democratic process on these highly sensitive issues. As shown below, European governments fund favored political NGOs, which in turn provide reports on Jerusalem that are adopted as official EU policy publications, in a revolving door process.
Ir Amim – which focuses all of its resources on the Jerusalem narrative – receives the majority – 67% – of its annual budget from the EU and European governments (documents from the Israeli Registry of Non-Profits). In 2007, 1.6 million NIS came through the European Commission’s “Partnership for Peace Program”; 790,000 NIS from the British government; 164,000 NIS from Norway; and 71,000 NIS from the Netherlands. An Ir Amim official told the Jerusalem Post that “the group was indeed seeking to advance a political agenda, and was not an organization geared to promote coexistence.”
Similarly, the majority of ARIJ’s budget is from the EU, Spain and Switzerland (exact percentages are difficult to ascertain as ARIJ is a Palestinian-based NGO). And the EU, the UK, the Netherlands, and Denmark provided 35% of B’Tslem’s annual budget in 2007 (documents from the Israeli Registry of Non-Profits).
Internal EU report on Jerusalem: Mouthpiece for Ir Amim
The European Union and the NGO network cooperate closely, with NGO biases and unsubstantiated allegations often copied directly in EU policy papers. For example, an EU position paper from December 2008 included parts taken directly from the NGO reports, which totally disregarded Israel’s historical and legal rights in Jerusalem. For instance, the section of the report (p. 46-50) on “excavation sites in the Holy Basin” which “threaten the viability, integrity and the public domain [of Christian and Muslim holy sites],” is based entirely on Ir Amim publications (here, here and here). Ir Amim’s direct influence is also visible in the EU paper’s highly tendentious claim that “archaeology is becoming an ideologically motivated tool of national and religious struggle carried out in a manner that modifies the identity and character of the city and threatens to undermine its stability.”
Similarly, statistics in the same paper – taken directly from B’tselem materials – claim that only 12% of East Jerusalem is used for Palestinian residential purposes, and that the Palestinian population represents only between 5-10% of the municipal budget. There is no evidence of any effort to check the accuracy of these NGO claims, or to find independent confirmation.
NGO activities and rhetoric on Jerusalem
ARIJ’s EC funding is for a project entitled (in the EC version) “Monitoring actions and transformations in the Palestinian Territory, or – on the ARIJ website, “Monitoring Israeli Colonizing Activities in the Palestinian West Bank & Gaza” (emphasis added). This use of inflammatory language promotes the Palestinian narrative and erases the context of Palestinian violence, incitement and rejectionism that long preceded the 1967 war that brought these territories under Israeli control, and which continues to prevent an equitable peace agreement. Such claims also erase the Jewish presence in many of these areas prior to the 1948 war. It appears that the EU-funded information gathered by ARIJ is used expressly to bolster the Palestinian demands “in the course of negotiations.” In fact, the result is a further obstacle to discussion of compromise and mutual understanding in Palestinian society.
As part of this project, ARIJ published a report accusing Israel of “eras[ing] all trace of Palestinian existence in Jerusalem,” dismissing “the pretext of lacking valid building permits.” This exaggerated allegation is inconsistent with the statistics presented in the report. This NGO predicted “a drastic increase in the number of demolition orders that target Palestinian houses in the occupied city.” ARIJ also claims without any sources that the municipality has issued more than 349 demolition orders for Palestinian homes – a figure that is grossly out of proportion with actual figures since 1994. In fact, according to statistics obtained by NGO Monitor from the Jerusalem municipality, the number of demolition orders has remained approximately the same for the past five years (the most being 115 in 2004 and averaging around 75) and in 2009 so far, there have been only slightly more demolitions carried out in East Jerusalem (17) as opposed to West Jerusalem (11).
In its publications on Jersualem, Israel-based B’Tselem asserts that “the primary consideration” for the location of the security barrier, in particular around Jerusalem, “was political” – in order to sustain the “myth, that ‘unified Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel.’” B’Tselem allows claims that the route “curtails the existing fabric of [Palestinian] life on both sides of the barrier,” erasing the terrorism that necessitated the construction of the barrier, its success in preventing attacks in Israel, and the right to life of Israelis.
B’Tselem also alleges that since 1967 the Israeli government has tried “to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city” by “discriminating in land expropriation, planning, and building, and demolition of houses.” Specifically, “the Jerusalem Municipality enforces the building laws on Palestinians much more stringently than on the Jewish population.” However, independent research conducted by Israeli attorney Justus Reid Weiner has found that “a majority of these homes were built illegally in violation of building codes, posing a safety hazard to their inhabitants and neighbors.”
These are only some of the examples showing the degree to which European governments and the EC use the NGO funding process to promote the Palestinian narrative and positions on the very sensitive issues of Jerusalem. This is counterproductive to mutual understanding and to the compromise necessary for a serious peace process.