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Finnish Christian charity cuts ties with Palestinian NGO accused by Israel of aiding militants

November 5, 2021 at 1:44 pm

Palestinian children hold banners as they gather to release balloons during a protest against Israeli blockade in front of Beit Hanoun border crossing in Gaza City, Gaza on August 24, 2021. [Ali Jadallah – Anadolu Agency]

A Finnish Christian missionary group has cut ties with Palestinian children’s rights NGO which Israel labelled a terrorist organisation, the charity’s executive director said, citing concerns about possible banking sanctions.

Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCIP) is one of six Palestinian groups Israel accused of funnelling donor aid to militants. It rejects the charge and says it has asked the missionary society, Felm, to reconsider cutting funds.

Israel says the six accused groups have close ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has carried out deadly attacks on Israelis and is on US and EU terrorism blacklists.

Felm executive director, Rolf Steffansson, said his organisation had seen no evidence its funding had been misused.

“We have actively monitored the use of the money and it has been used for work advancing children’s rights,” Steffansson, whose organisation provided DCIP with 30,000 Euros ($35,000) annually from 2015 to 2021, told Reuters.

But the Israeli designation had made it impossible to maintain ties with the group, Steffansson added.

“It could have impacted the work we do in 30 countries through banking services, for example,” he said.

READ: Israel – Unban the 6 human rights groups 

DCIP, which relies on European aid to fund its advocacy and rights monitoring work in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, told Reuters no other donors had moved to cut off funding since the Israeli designation.

“We have been subject to escalating delegitimisation and disinformation campaigns advanced by an international network of extremist groups, with the support of Israeli government ministries,” DCIP Director General, Khaled Quzmar, said via a lawyer.

Felm operates under the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and receives part of its funding from the Finnish Foreign Ministry. None of that money has been channelled to DCIP, Steffansson and Finnish Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, told Reuters.

Haavisto said he understood Felm’s concern that cooperation with DCIP could impact its other aid work, but added: “According to our understanding, the group has done normal peaceful civil society work.”

Asked by Reuters for evidence backing its accusations that the organisations funnelled money to PFLP, an Israeli official said such documentation was classified.

Haavisto said he was worried the Israeli designation would harm Palestinian civil society and children’s rights work in territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. The United Nations and rights watchdogs have voiced similar concerns.