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Interpal is David to Israel’s Goliath in the struggle to help Palestinians in need

Interpal aid worker [file photo]
Interpal aid worker [file photo]

One of the most inspiring Biblical stories is the legendary battle between David and Goliath and it is often referenced as a moral lesson of how underdogs can triumph in the face of overwhelming odds. I was reminded of it the other day while attending a lunch to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the British charity Interpal.

The parallels are conspicuous. Like David, armed with only a slingshot against the giant warrior Goliath, the heroic little charity Interpal punches well above its weight in the face of overwhelming odds. For years, Israel and some of its hardcore supporters have tried to crush Interpal underfoot on the grounds that it presents a threat to the Zionist State.

What really puzzles me is why a charity which dedicates itself to providing humanitarian aid, education, health and hope for Palestinian families and children in need should be targeted by Israel in such an unrelenting, vindictive and spiteful way. How can putting bread in a child’s mouth, resources in a school or medicine in a hospital be viewed as a threat to Israel?

Nevertheless, the evidence is stacking up as individuals, groups and even the US Treasury Department wade in to make it almost impossible for Interpal to survive in an extremely hostile climate. The fact that the charity is celebrating 25 years of humanitarian work is nothing short of miraculous, and testimony to those involved in its survival.

The enemies of Interpal are many but not one has yet been able to stand up and justify why they want to crush a charity that does nothing more than deliver aid to Palestinians in need. As a result of the spite and malice which fuels Interpal’s critics, however, it can no longer take credit card donations and some of the online crowdfunding facilities have also been stopped.

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I have to declare an interest at this point because I pledged to raise £10,000 for an exciting project to establish an educational trust in the name of Razan Al-Najjar, the fearless young paramedic whose life was cut short when she was hit by a sniper’s bullet in Gaza last year. Female empowerment, combined with education is a noble aim and within days I had received pledges of more than £5,000 but, without warning, BT froze the account on its MyDonate network and has yet to provide me with a satisfactory explanation for its move. Maybe I am missing something here, but how can an education-based project which serves to empower young women provide any sort of threat to Israel?

One thing I am convinced of is the transparency of the charity. I am confident that any funds I raise and hand over to Interpal will be used correctly because it is probably the most forensically investigated charity in the world. Its accounts, expenditure and projects are not only audited externally, but also scrutinised by its enemies as well as Britain’s charity regulator, the Charity Commission. It is a matter of record that the Commission has conducted at least three major probes into Interpal following allegations of illegal activity and in each case it has been cleared and exonerated.

One of the most vexatious complaints remains that it has terrorist links. At Israel’s request in 2003, the US government of George W Bush designated Interpal as a “global terrorist entity”. There was no due process and no contact with the charity. Despite being asked by the British government to provide credible evidence for the designation, neither Tel Aviv nor Washington has done so.

Although it often shows support for Israel on the international stage, Britain has not placed Interpal on its terrorist list, nor has the United Nations. Indeed, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) — treated so callously by US President Donald Trump last year when he cut America’s donations to its budget — regards Interpal as a valued partner in providing support to Palestinians in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and Syria.

Palestinian refugees hold banners during a protest against the UNWRA's decision on aid cuts and downsizing plans in Bethlehem, West Bank om 26 September 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian refugees hold banners during a protest against the UNWRA’s decision on aid cuts and downsizing plans in Bethlehem, West Bank on 26 September 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency]

Now the latest group to pile on the pressure has been exposed as a group from the British legal profession calling themselves UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI). Claiming that their objective is to “protect” the State of Israel, they have campaigned and lobbied financial institutions and banks to withdraw banking and online donation facilities for Interpal. UKLFI’s aim is obvious: stop the donations and humanitarian aid for Palestinians, among the neediest refugees on the planet, will come to an end. This is hardly a worthy or noble aim and I have to wonder if the great and the good who are patrons of UKLFI are aware of this.

Cheques, bank transfers, standing orders and cash are still being accepted by the charity which is dedicated to changing the lives of the most vulnerable groups in Palestinian society including orphans, the sick and disabled. Quite why UKLFI wants to kick the crutches from underneath disabled Palestinian children is beyond me but that appears to be the net impact of their actions as they seek to prevent Interpal from raising money.

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Just recently, a journalist colleague of mine, Peter Oborne, conducted his own investigation into the motives driving UK Lawyers for Israel who have also targeted other organisations, including Medical Aid for Palestinians, Educational Aid for Palestinians and the anti-poverty charity War on Want. Some of WoW’s work includes campaigning for Palestinian human rights and at the moment it is lobbying the British government to impose a trade embargo on the sale of arms to Israel. The common thread between UKFLI’s targets isn’t too difficult to spot.

The highly respected Oborne, like me, wants to know why UKLFI regards Interpal as a terrorist-supporting organisation which needs to be put out of business even though Britain and the UN does not. He pursued the organisation through numerous phone calls and emails to elicit a response but none was forthcoming. I also tried without success; not even so much as a “no comment”. I sent the barrister who works as chief executive of UKLFI, Jonathan Turner, emails but, at the time of writing, he had not responded. So if he or any of his colleagues at UKLFI want to push their side of the story my request is simple: Please explain why you appear to be conducting a coordinated campaign to damage the reputation and fundraising capabilities of Interpal, and why you want to put the registered charity out of business.

Perhaps Turner can also give an explanation to Al Rayan Bank — other than a reference to the US designation, ignoring the fact that Interpal operates perfectly legitimately in this country — which currently has the charity as one of its customers. UKLFI have already written to the bank demanding that it should close the charity’s account; I hope Al Rayan responds with the contempt that such a grubby demand deserves.

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Other organisations who have tried in vain to link Interpal with terrorism have fallen foul of Britain’s libel laws. In 2005, the Board of Deputies of British Jews apologised unreservedly and paid undeclared damages and costs after it wrongly denounced Interpal as a terrorist organisation on its website. The following year, the Jerusalem Post was forced to apologise over similar issues and Express Newspapers shelled out damages in 2010 after falsely claiming that Interpal was linked to Hamas.

Last weekend, the Daily Mail issued an apology to Interpal following an article published in August 2018: “The Trustees assure us, and we accept, that neither Interpal, nor its Trustees, have ever been involved in or provided support for terrorist activity of any kind. We apologise to the Trustees for any distress caused.”

The pro-Israel lobby accuses Interpal of working alongside senior Hamas figures, even though the movement is the de facto government in the Gaza Strip; it won the “free and fair” democratic Palestinian elections in 2006. Any and all aid agencies must have the cooperation of the authorities wherever they work in the field if their operations are to be effective and beneficial. Hence, even the US government’s own overseas aid agency, USAID, which operated in Gaza until earlier this year, worked alongside Hamas officials in order to get things done. Having dealings with the authorities in any jurisdiction does not imply support for the political or other affiliations of those in power.

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These are tough times for the Palestinians. Last August, whilst continuing to pay the State of Israel around $3 billion every year in aid of one kind or another, the Trump administration said it was halting its funding programme to UNRWA, which amounted to more than $360 million in 2017. In January, the World Food Programme cut food aid to about 190,000 Palestinians due to a shortage of funds. Charities like Interpal are needed more than ever.

The amazing battle for survival and the history of Interpal is outlined in the pages of Faith, Hope and Charity, a book produced to tell the charity’s story from its perspective. Like David and Goliath, the odds stacked against both the Palestinians and the charity dedicated to their survival are high, but their adversaries regularly make the mistake of underestimating both. As Peter Oborne said so convincingly in his article, “It will be a dark day if we allow Interpal’s detractors to drive it out of business.” We should all hope and pray that such a day never dawns.

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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