In September 2004, NGO Monitor reported on how Palestinian environmental NGOs were using ecological issues as a pretext for political and ideological attacks on Israel. This update shows that such activity has only become more pronounced. Such organizations continue to misappropriate their funds towards political campaigns, and repeatedly present unreliable and even false data, for example in accusing Israel of cutting down trees in order to build the security barrier. Yet international donors continue to support the NGOs’ "environmental" projects.
In 2004 NGO Monitor noted that out of 21 Palestinian environmental NGOs listed by PENGON, an online network of Palestinian Environmental NGOs, only 2 were actually involved in environmental matters: the Wildlife Palestine Society and the Roads and Environmental Safety Centre – and even these two were using the environmental platform to attack or undermine Israel. In the last year, PENGON and its leading body, the Applied Research Institute (ARIJ) in Bethlehem, have persisted in pursuing a political platform, focusing resources on campaigns against the "apartheid wall" and settlement activity.
On September 2, 2004, ARIJ published a story on its partner website for "Monitoring Israeli Colonization Activities in the Palestinian Territories" entitled "Ecocide in Tequ’a Town". It claimed that the IDF had "burned considerable areas of cropped lands and forbid Palestinian farmers to reach their lands using dogs" and then "randomly dispensed flyers on the farmers’ lands informing of the Army’s intention to clear all trees (mostly olive) existing along the Israeli bypass roads". In fact, a visit to the area demonstrates that no trees have been uprooted from the area around Tekoa, despite their use as a cover for terrorists to shoot at the road.
Similarly, ARIJ’s monthly reports include tables which summarize figures in such categories as "uprooted trees", land threatened, land confiscated etc. In the two reports for February and March 2005, in nearly half of the 12 categories featured in each of the tables, there is some incongruity between the text and final numbers. For example, in the Qalqiliya area in the March report, 645 allegedly uprooted trees are mentioned in the summary, while in the detailed text, three separate events are described: a) 45 uprooted trees, b) uprooted olives (with no number) and c) tens of uprooted trees… No explanation is given as to how the figures can add up to 645. For the Hebron district, 30 trees are mentioned concerning one event, and "hundreds of olive trees were uprooted west of Surif town" in a second event. In the summary table however, we find just 30 under "uprooted trees in Hebron" (see report). These unreliable and often false reports are funded by the European Union and often cited by other Palestinian environmental NGOs.
ARIJ’s involvement in the Divestment campaign is yet further evidence of its political agenda. It joins other alleged "environmental" Palestinian NGOs such as the "Palestinian Hydrology Group" and the "Environmental Education Center" among many NGOs promoting disinvestment in Israeli products (see Electonic Intifada). The claims published by ARIJ and other groups reflect the extreme political agendas of environmental NGOs following the Johannesburg summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. After the summit some very modest criticism was heard from European and Swiss Development Cooperation officials, but there was no reduction in their financial support (Link has expired). ARIJ can even boast that in 2003, it "was able to restore its activities to that of 2000 and resume its development…. This is basically attributed to the fact that the Swiss Development Cooperation granted [it] a core funding program that enabled it to proceed with its work" (see report). And EU funding of ARIJ leapt considerably from less than $100,000 in 2002 to around $250,000 in 2003.
Immediately following the Johannesburg summit, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) published a "Desk Study on the Environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories" which clearly reflected a pro-Palestinian agenda. More than 150 press releases from Palestinian NGOs, some of questionable political and ecological content, were included in the study, forming a major portion of the total 500 documents used. Nevertheless, the study was condemned by PENGON for a "continued failure on the Part of the United Nations towards the Palestinian People". This severs as yet another clear indication of PENGON’s primary political objective.
Many other Palestinian environmental NGOs exploit ecological issues for political attacks on Israel. With the single exception of the cross communal project to protect migratory birds – which continues to be operated by Israeli and Palestinian bird lovers, with minimal outside support – all joint efforts have ceased as Palestinian NGOs radicalize their activities to openly campaign against the security barrier, Israeli settlements and the "occupation", often without so much as a pretence of an environmental basis for their criticism. (See Michael J. Zirwin’s article, "Promise and Failure: Environmental NGOs and Palestinian-Israeli Cooperation").
Furthermore, donors seem blind to the hidden agendas of the groups they are supporting. These NGOs exploit the veil of legitimacy awarded environmental organizations to propagate false reports and open political campaigns against Israel. Yet the foundations that help support these activities appear oblivious to this practice and the damage that results.