In a blow to Israel, a British high court has ordered World-Check, a subsidiary of Reuters, to pay compensation to a pro-Palestine organisation listed as a terrorist group on its global online database.
A two-year legal battle concluded with World-Check agreeing to pay $13,000 in damages plus legal fees to Majed Al-Zeer, the chairman of the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), for incorrectly listing them as "terrorists" on the risk companies financial database.
It was found that Israel's designation of PRC and its chairman as terrorists was adopted by World-Check which supplies private information on potential clients for corporations, businesses and even governmental agencies, such as police and immigration.
With more than 4,500 clients including 49 of the world's 50 largest banks and 200 law enforcement and regulatory agencies, World-Check has become essential in satisfying statutory requirements towards due diligence obligations. However their failure to carry out satisfactory checks and independent verification has raised concerns over the misuse and falsification of data that can have severe consequences for victims.
Declaring his victory over World Check service today at a London press conference as "a precedent for those who are on the forefront of human rights and justice" Al-Zeer said he had been a "victim of an organised campaign waged by Israel and its spin machine of propaganda and false information."
Pointing to World-Check's failure to carry out independent verification he said that "companies and [news] outlets are failing utterly in protecting the basic ethics of media and reporting by adopting false fabrications often reiterated by Israel propaganda doctors" while claiming that they are "often wittingly or unwittingly mislead by the Israeli propaganda which aims at damaging the reputation and fine image of human rights defenders".
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The PRC has been granted consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Over the past 30 years the centre has advocated for Palestinian refugees at international forums like the UN and EU. In addition to producing reports on the situation of Palestinian refugees; hosting conferences to defend their human rights, the UK organisation has been leading parliamentary delegations to refugee camps across the Middle East. Following Israel's bombardment of Gaza in 2009 during operation "Cast Lead" in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed and thousands more were wounded, the centre organised the largest European parliamentary delegation to the besieged enclave.
In the case summery it was pointed out that Al-Zeer is a British citizen and the PRC is a UK company. The centre has never faced any issue with British authorities let alone being charged with terrorism. They are subject to very high levels of scrutiny with a particular focus on security and any possible links that they may have to terrorists.
Al-Zeer's lawyers pointed out that he "has never been subject to any charge or even suspicion of terrorism. However, Israel has made this extremely serious and damaging allegation without bringing any proof, thereby subverting the sovereignty of England and are manipulating the banking sector to carry out their policies in an underhand way."
Al-Zeer's lawyers described the victory as "shedding light into the secretive and unknown world of regulatory agencies" and the potential for their abuse. During their press conference, both expressed the urgent need to develop mechanisms for independent verification of entries that may have a "crippling effect" on people's lives. "Such a company has a moral and ethical duty (at least from the perspective of the Media) to provide its clients with verified and real information," said Al-Zeer, "yet, it has chosen to ignore that and stuff its database with merely politically motivated information."
"Instead of providing risk management solutions service to expose heightened risk individuals and organisations including corruption and financial crimes," as they are meant to, Al-Zeer charged World-Check of Reuters Limited of going after people and organisations defending human rights and subjecting themselves to politically motivated campaigns. It was also pointed out that several Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt have taken advantage of regulatory agencies such as World Check to go after political oppositions.
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In his comments to MEMO Al-Zeer said that the PRC was targeted because of its long campaign for the rights of Palestinian refugees. Israel has never accepted responsibility for the 750,000 Palestinians that were ethnically cleansed from their homes in 1948 and the hundreds of Palestinian villages that were razed to the ground to make way for the state of Israel. Under International Law, refugees have a right to return to their land and seek compensation. Both have been denied to Palestinians.
Al-Zeer explained that the refugees issue is crucial to resolving the conflict but Israel has continually rejected to address this historical crime against the Palestinian people. PRC's work in exposing Israel's responsibility for the plight of refugees and its legal duty under international law has made the centre a target of the Israeli government.
Israel has gone to great length to discredit the PRC, he said, pointing to its efforts to classify the organisation as a terrorist group. He insisted he will not be intimidated by Israel's disinformation campaign and "vowed to continue working for [my] people and the mission of refugees right of return to Palestine".
PRC's legal team believe that hundreds if not thousands of individuals and organisations may have been placed on World-Check's list without their knowledge. They pointed to several cases including that of a British mosque which also won an apology and compensation after being designated "terrorists" by the risk screening agency.
Note: This page was updated at 12.25pm GMT on 22 January 2019. An earlier version incorrectly stated that World-Check was ordered to offer an apology by the court.