'Soon they will ask us to become Zionist': Palestinian NGOs slam EU funding restrictions

'Soon they will ask us to become Zionist': Palestinian NGOs slam EU funding restrictions
As European countries continue to tighten up restrictions on funding of Palestinian NGOs, legal organisations warn that restrictions would deteriorate already-dire human rights situation of Palestinians.
5 min read
West Bank
06 December, 2023
Palestinian NGOs have been accusing the EU of 'political conditions' on funding since 2019. [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Palestinian civil society organisations continue to warn against the possible consequences of European funding restrictions imposed on Palestinian NGOs since 7 October.

Last week, 96 Palestinian and international legal organisations said in a letter that the restriction of funding by European countries would "deteriorate the human rights situation". The statement also called the restrictions "discriminatory", adding that they will "further undermine the credibility of the EU, which positions itself as a pioneer of human rights".

According to the letter, signed among others by Amnesty International, Palestinian civil organisations are facing "a deep crisis". The letter pointed out the role played by these organisations in documenting human rights violations in Palestine, considering that the European funding restrictions aim at "silencing human rights organisations by obstructing their work, depriving victims of human rights violations from any kind of protection".

On Tuesday, 5 December, Shawan Jabarin, the general director of Al-Haq, the largest Palestinian human rights organisation, told The New Arab that "the restrictions are mainly imposed by a number of European countries which have frozen some of the funding programs with the excuse of vetting them to avoid beneficiation by terrorist entities".

"Vetting is only an excuse to advance the pressure that these countries have been putting on us for many years to accept political conditions, taking advantage of the events on 7 October", he said.

According to Jabarin, the effect of funding restrictions will begin to be felt at the beginning of 2024, as most programs continue to run effectively until the rest of the year. However, other organisations have been more severely affected.

"Some of our most essential programs in the West Bank, especially one funded by Germany to assist farmers in vulnerable rural areas, have been completely frozen", a source in a Palestinian farmers' aid organisation who asked not to be named, told TNA.

"This almost paralyses our capacity to operate, given that our offices in Gaza have been bombed", the source added.

The scale of terror and brutality against #Israel and its people is a turning point.

There can be no business as usual.

As the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission is putting its full development portfolio under review, worth a total of EUR 691m

— Oliver Varhelyi (@OliverVarhelyi) October 9, 2023

Following the 7 October Hamas surprise attack, EU commissioner Oliver Varhelyi tweeted on X that the EU was "putting its full development portfolio under review, worth a total of 691 million euros".

The EU's high representative Josep Borrell also announced that the EU would review its aid to Palestinians, however, underlining that this would not include humanitarian programs. Similar positions were followed by the German foreign minister and the president of the EU commission, Ursula von Der Leyen, who stressed reviewing funding to "avoid funding from reaching terrorists" although insisting that humanitarian aid was "out of the question".

Later, Denmark and Sweden said they would provide Palestinian development aid, excluding humanitarian assistance. Then, in early November, Switzerland announced freezing all funding to Palestinian and other human rights and legal organisations documenting Israeli violations.

The Swiss freezing targeted 11 Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations, including Adala - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the US-based Palestinian think-tank Al-Shabaka, the Is Hamoked human rights organisation, the Palestinian Women Centre for Social and Legal Counselling and Medecins Sans Frontières - Israel, among others.

Later, the Swiss government limited the freezing on three organisations after pressure.

'Announcements by a number of #European countries & the European Commission to restrict funding to #Palestinian human rights organizations would further damage the EU's credibility as a self-proclaimed champion of human rights.' Read the full letter: https://t.co/O14bg53rH6 https://t.co/dA4hQPTMy0

— Al-Haq الحق (@alhaq_org) November 30, 2023

In mid-October, a group of Palestinian civil society organisations co-published a statement denouncing European fund restrictions, calling it "a systematic weapon to force Palestinians into submissions".

The statement also called out what it described as "Western institutions holding an enlightened speech while practising colonial arrogance", specifically pointing out what they called "helping to spread lies legitimating genocide".

European restrictions on Palestinian NGOs have been going on since before 7 October. In July 2019, the EU added "article 1.5" to its funding contracts to Palestinian NGOs, conditioning them to vet all subcontractors and beneficiaries of their programs to ensure that they have no links to any of the Palestinian factions that the EU considers terrorist.

Around 40 Palestinian NGOs signed a statement rejecting the new conditions, pointing out that many Palestinian families in need of assistance have members who have been related or accused of being connected to Palestinian political forces, included in the European terrorism list.

In an open letter, the NHRF and 99 other civil society organisations express serious concern at the EU and several European states‘ decision to suspend or review their funding to Palestinian and Israeli civil society organisations.
Read the letter here: https://t.co/lOjw3G5Dbl

— NHRF (@nhrf_hrd) November 28, 2023

One of the programs affected was the Palestinian branch of Young Men's Christian Association - YMCA's rehabilitation program for children and teenagers who have been released from Israeli jails, most of whom have been at least identified as members or sympathetic of Palestinian factions or student unions related to them.

"We are dealing with a clear political bias by European countries, who want to impose their political views on us, with no respect to our Palestinian reality, identity and rights", Al-Haq's Shawan Jabarin told TNA.

"In private meetings, we have challenged these countries' representatives after 7 October", said Jabarin. "They did not reply when I told them that soon, their countries will ask us, Palestinian civil society organisations, why we haven't become Zionist yet".

"However, we will continue to push back and insist on our right to do our work without political conditions and have our loyalty exclusively towards our people and our society", he added.