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Humanitarian organisations in the face of Israeli tyranny (Part Two)

UNESCO meeting room [file photo]
UNESCO meeting room [file photo]

Israel’s targeting of international organisations is not limited to those specialising in emergency relief and humanitarian aid. It has also affected organisations helping Palestinians in the educational, economic and social fields.

Consider, for example, the vitriol directed at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) after it issued a report in March confirming, based on indisputable evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of Apartheid against the Palestinians. A spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the report as “Nazi propaganda” and “anti-Semitic”.

According to the ESCWA report, “The strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people is the principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime.” The Palestinians as a people, it continues, “have lived in four ‘domains’, in which the fragments of the Palestinian population are ostensibly treated differently but share in common the racial oppression that results from the apartheid regime.” The report identifies the four domains as those who live as citizens of Israel, Palestinians living in the occupied city of Jerusalem, those living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinian refugees or exiles, living outside the territory which is under Israel’s control.

Israel was also furious after UNESCO issued a resolution on 2 May this year in which it considered it to be the occupying power in Jerusalem. This was entirely consistent with international laws and conventions. Members of the UNESCO Executive Council voted in Paris in favour of confirming the previous resolutions issued by the organisation that regard Israel as occupying Jerusalem and reject its control over the city. The resolution passed by 22 votes in favour and 10 against; the rest of the member states either abstained or were absent. Carmel Shama-Hacohen, the Israeli ambassador to UNESCO, described the resolution as “a new low for the Arab countries.”

Read: UNESCO resolution pulls the plug on Israel’s narrative

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is another official body to have exposed Israel and its rights violations for all the world to see. Israel is thus fighting against people of conscience around the globe. Over the years, the UNHCR has issued numerous resolutions condemning Israeli actions in the occupied Palestinian territories that violate international humanitarian law. The most recent were issued in March, one of which condemned illegal settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Syrian Golan Heights. It called upon states and companies to refrain from any direct or indirect contact with the settlements. As usual, Israel reacted petulantly. Its Permanent Representative at the UN in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter, described the resolutions as “one-sided” and called out the Council for its “absurdity” and “cynicism”.

War on Palestinian orphans

Flexing its political, economic and military muscles in the face of the poor, needy and orphans has reached such a level that Israel persecutes charities operating in the Palestinian territories. The long track record of oppression, injustice and violations against many organisations and charities in occupied Palestine is evidence of this.

The closure of the Humanitarian Relief Committee for Aid Association inside Israel (what Palestinians call “the Palestinian territory occupied in 1948”) led to more than 23,000 orphans in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem being deprived of monthly sponsorship. At the time, in 2015, Israel justified this closure by banning the activities of the Islamic Movement in Israel — headed by Sheikh Raed Salah — along with the closure of 17 institutions affiliated to the movement across the occupied territories.

Other specialist NGOs were also closed down by the Israelis, including the Iqraa Association for the Advancement of University Students, the Sanad Foundation for Motherhood and Childhood Care, and the Heraa Foundation for the Memorisation of the Holy Qur’an. These closures were preceded by Israel’s closure of Al-Aqsa Foundation for Reconstruction of Islamic Sanctities, also headed by Sheikh Raed Salah, in 2008. The Israeli government’s excuse at the time was that the foundation did not have a permit and — the old chestnut — “had links to the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas”.

Read: Israel has arrested 800 Palestinian children since start of 2017

At the time, Sheikh Salah rejected the false allegations and lies used to justify Israel’s closure of Al-Aqsa Foundation and revealed the real reasons for the move: “The foundation held a major conference two weeks before the closure, during which it revealed many of the Israeli plots against Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and other Muslim and Christian sanctities,” he explained. The details of the plots were well documented and backed-up by maps and reports.

The Israeli occupation authorities have failed to provide credible evidence every time that Sheikh Salah has been arrested as part of the state’s spiteful retaliation for his activism. He has been put on trial for allegedly inciting violence, harassing security officers and other general charges. In reality, he has worked transparently and entirely within the law to support the poor and needy, orphans and students, as well as the mosques of Palestine, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in the Muslim world.

Israeli forces use tear gas on Palestinians as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem, on 27 July 2017 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Concern over the fate of thousands of orphans and poor people in the occupied Palestinian territories is intensified by the closure of local charities in the West Bank, including a number of Zakat committees, the Dura Islamic Society for the Care of Orphans and the Islamic Charitable Society in Hebron. The Israelis have shut down orphan centres and schools, sewing factories, community bakeries and other vital institutions that serve needy people who depend on humanitarian assistance and support.

It is ironic that Israel has accused the Islamic Charitable Society of being part of the “infrastructure of terrorism” when, in fact, it was founded in Hebron pre-1967, when the de facto government was Jordanian. The society is, therefore, older than the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its roots in the fabric of Palestinian society are very deep. It has shouldered the great burden of looking after poor and vulnerable people for decades.

In its efforts to maintain a favourable position in the eyes of its Western sponsors, Israel has been able to put a spin on international events to its benefit. It spends millions of dollars every year on hasbara (propaganda) in an effort to convince the world that it is the victim of circumstances and that it is Israel, and not occupied Palestine, which faces an existential threat.

Indeed, Israel is shameless in exploiting even the most tragic of world events, including the attacks on New York and Washington DC on 11 September 2001. Israeli spin doctors lost no time in likening the legitimate resistance of the Palestinians living under its brutal military occupation to the new terrorism and the development of the relationship between the United States and Arab and Islamic countries. As a direct result, it has been able to tap into the “war on terrorism” whenever it has attacked charitable institutions who offer humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, especially such NGOs and charities in Western countries founded by members of the Palestinian Diaspora.

Aggressive campaigns

The British charity the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund (Interpal) has battled with the institutions and organs of the pro-Israel lobby in Britain, in the face of outrageous accusations and lies, which are undoubtedly stoked by Israel. Israeli officials have claimed that the charity backs organisations that carry out acts of terrorism. Interpal’s case is an example of the direct targeting of charitable and humanitarian support for orphans, the needy, widows and sick people who are specifically Palestinian.

Israel has used its proxies in Britain in its war against Interpal (“a particularly tough nut to crack”, according to one) and similar charitable organisations. Its methods include defamation through a hostile media, sowing negativity about the charity in the minds of British politicians and government officials, preventing Interpal from continuing its operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and legal action. In August 2003, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented the then US President George W. Bush with a list of individuals and organisations it wanted designated as “global terrorist entities”; Interpal’s name was on that list, and Bush duly obliged. There was no investigation, no due process and no right of appeal.

#GazaCrisis 

Interpal has fought a number of legal battles to clear its name with patience and perseverance, stemming from the belief of its trustees (of which, I must add for the sake of transparency, I am Vice Chairman) in the legality of the charity’s work. It has stressed consistently that its offices and records are open to any British government or quasi-governmental body to verify its legitimacy and the nature of the projects it carries out, all of which comply with English and international law. Moreover, it has even invited US Treasury officials to visit and check its records, but they declined, pointing out — off the record, of course — that the decision to put Interpal on the terrorist list was “purely political” so Treasury involvement is never really going to help the charity to get off the list. As Interpal’s chairman told CNN in 2003, the designation was “gesture politics” by President Bush.

The charity has been successful in protecting its reputation in the face of such aggressive attacks against it, and has a won a number of legal challenges. It has proven, beyond any reasonable doubt (the usual benchmark in the English legal system), that it has only dealt with Palestinian organisations and charities which work in the open and have operating licences issued by not only the Palestinian Authority but also, in many cases, the pre-1967 Jordanian authorities and even the Israeli occupation authorities. There is credible evidence that the US authorities — and, by implication, the Israelis — know full well that there is no “smoking gun” to link Interpal to any illegal activity.

I have stated on many occasions in numerous forums around the world that Interpal’s work is purely humanitarian, devoid of any political or partisan background or objectives. The charity’s goals are based on serving the Palestinians in occupied Palestine and Palestinian refugees elsewhere. This it has done with some degree of success in terms of outcomes, and it has attracted a loyal donor base as well as support from senior politicians and officials in Britain, Europe and the Middle East, despite Israel’s best efforts to have it closed down.

In many respects, Interpal is a textbook example of a charity which has been attacked by Israel and the pro-Israel lobby in the West. That it still exists more than 14 years since its designation by the United States is testament to the clarity and transparency of its operations and, above all, the legality of its work. It is but one of many charities and NGOs which have had to withstand attacks by Israel and have succeeded in demonstrating this fact. Nevertheless, humanitarian organisations remain a soft target for Israel and its lobbyists.

A shorter version of this article appeared on felesteen.ps on 27 September 2017.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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