PYALARA, the "Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership and Rights Activation" is a student-run Palestinian NGO founded in 2000. It was founded as a non-political organization to provide support to young Palestinians.
The organization describes its main aims and objectives as:
"Expanding awareness of one’s roots and identity, environment and culture, as well as of other countries and the world at large.
Creating a lively Palestinian youth culture, with both a light and a serious touch, in which things are done which have never been done before, in which life style is explored, social borders crossed, and in which pleasure and joy are not forbidden.
A commitment to developing one’s community, people and nation."
Source: PYALARA Website
PYALARA’s non-political mission statement and noble goals have been richly rewarded by UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, who chose the NGO as "a major strategic partner in Palestine." The organization enjoys considerable funding from UNICEF itself with additional support from the International Red Cross and various European groups such as the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, (which in turn is supported by the German government). The NGO has an annual budget of $144,000, which it is looking to enlarge. Over the last few years PYALARA has built itself a steady base; a youth newspaper with a circulation of 10,000, a website, seminars, training groups and delegates to international NGO conferences such as the World Civil Society Forum, organized by the UN to strengthen international cooperation amongst Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and NGOs.
PYALARA is also an officially registered NGO at the Palestinian Ministry of Interior Affairs and works closely with the Palestinian Ministry of Education, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Palestinian Universities and Colleges and a wide national network of schools.
Despite its non-political mission statement and its commitment to UNICEF not to engage in political activities, NGO Monitor is concerned by the organization’s covert ideological agenda. Of particular concern is the publication of an article on Abu Ali Mustafa, the leader of the PFLP terrorist organization and killed by Israeli forces in 2001. The article can be read on the PYALARA website at http://www.pyalara.org/after%20thoughts/ali.htm (Link has expired).
The NGO Monitor’s objective is to expose contradictions between mission statements and activities. As will be seen in the quotes below, in this publication, PYALARA has used funds that are donated explicitly for non-political and non-violent projects in order to promote blatantly political objectives, including the indirect support for terror attacks on civilians. The article calls Abu Ali Mustafa "a political leader…whose history prides his nationalistic activism." Further on it states, "this is a human being who has a family that awaits his arrival every day."
There is no mention of the fact that Abu Ali’s Mustafa’s organization, the PFLP, has been responsible for 3 car bombs in Jerusalem, the death of an Israeli government Minister and many other terrorist attacks since September 2000. This comes from an organization that with Red Army assistance carried out a massacre of 24 people at Tel Aviv’s International airport in 1972. Four years later, the PFLP hjiacked a Paris-Athens Air France flight and diverted it to Entebbe in Uganda demanding the release of jailed militants. Founded by George Habash in 1968, the Marxist-Leninist PFLP has changed alliances and shifted positions several times since its establishment, but it has always been consistent in its opposition to peace negotiations with Israel.
The report goes on to say that "the Israelis could have turned to Abu Ali Mustafa to talk peace if peace were what they truly wanted." Mustafa was famous for his refusal to engage with the Israelis.
In an interview with the Qatari satellite television station Al-Jazeera shortly before he became leader of the PFLP, Mustafa stressed his movement’s commitment to the struggle against Israel, regardless of peace efforts:
"We believe the conflict and the struggle against Israel is a strategic [principle] that is not subordinated to any consideration," he told the interviewer.
"We believe the Palestinian people, both in the Diaspora and under occupation, have the right to struggle using all means, including the armed struggle, because we think the conflict is the constant, while the means and tactics are the variables."
A second item revealing a non non-violent approach is a letter addressed to "Dear World", found at http://www.pyalara.org/youthtimes/ac_4.html (Link has expired). This section reveals a covert justification for suicide bombing.
"The world talks a lot about the young Palestinians who have willingly sacrificed their lives in the name of their homeland and condemns their actions, but one has to remember that we are talking here about a new generation whose innocence was taken from them the minute they were born. The youth in question were raised amidst evil war crimes and exposed to the most terrible acts of violence, and as their ears were deafened by numerous explosions and their lungs filled by gas and smoke, they were expected to settle for ruins for playgrounds and missiles and spent bullets for toys. Tell me, in all honesty, who is to ‘blame’ for their actions?"
The NGO maintains extensive links with the Palestine Authority. The director of the organization has a picture of Yasser Arafat hanging over her desk (according to the news website salon.com and PYALARA’s own website features a prominent link of Yasser Arafat kissing the hand of a small girl. The title of the piece is "After School Terror" and is not entirely relevant to Arafat. The link can be found at http://www.pyalara.org/after%20thoughts/main.htm (Link has expired).
NGO Monitor’s objective is to expose the fact that PYALARA has not been open or honest regarding its hidden agenda. Moreover, its main funder UNICEF regularly uses its materials in its school systems, as shown below. It is unclear whether its other funders realize the full extent of PYALARA’s activities.
PYALARA’s main activity is the publication of The Youth Times (TYT), a 16-page monthly youth newspaper in English and Arabic, produced with UNRWA funding. The newspaper is distributed at the major Palestinian universities, colleges, and community centers. UNRWA headquarters also receive 2000 copies of each issue. This puts the organization in a powerful position to influence public opinion both among the young Palestinian population and in the UNRWA. PYALARA has received permission to distribute the newspaper at government and UNRWA schools and has already made arrangements with principals. It should be noted that the newspaper has been funded by CORDAID, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung/German Fund for Palestinian NGOs, UNICEF, and the European Union.
The organization provides a major contribution to education in Palestinian society and is attempting to train a new generation of journalists. It is a shame that it undervalues its own successes and cause by engaging in selective criticism and education. No effort is made to understand the Jewish position and there is no criticism of Palestinian society. This is surprising as its mission statement promises "expanding awareness of one’s roots and identity, environment and culture, as well as of other countries and the world at large." Instead PYALARA resorts to superficial and easy criticism of Israel.
As described in its mission statement, PYALARA should have much to offer Palestinian society. Regrettably, in some of its work, it has taken a blatantly ideological approach, which undermines the positive aspects of its work. An organization which receives financial backing from major international agencies should be very careful to adhere closely to its own stated aim of "expanding awareness of one’s roots and identity, environment and culture, as well as of other countries and the world at large." Such an approach certainly does not include publishing misleading and apologetic articles about known terrorist leaders.
NGO Monitor calls on UNICEF, CORDAID, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung/German Fund and the International Red Cross to monitor PYALARA’s activities more closely and to pressure the organization to adhere to its own values.