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Israel's 'terrorism' smear dismissed as EU resumes funding for Palestinian NGO 

Palestinians urge UN to reverse Israel decision to blacklist NGOs, on 10 November 2021 in Gaza [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]
Palestinians urge the UN to reverse Israel's decision to blacklist NGOs, on 10 November 2021 in Gaza [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

The European Union (EU) has resumed funding to two prominent Palestinian human rights groups, more than a year after suspending support for six Palestinian organisations labelled terrorists by Israel.

Indicating that the Israeli claims are baseless, the European Commission – the EU's executive branch – sent letters to Al-Haq and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR). The two organisations were informed that their 13-month-long suspensions were lifted unconditionally and with immediate effect.

The PCHR and Al-Haq collect evidence of alleged Israeli crimes in the Occupied Palestinian  Territories and have worked with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in its investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity. All six groups which were banned by Israel believe they were targeted by the Apartheid State for their work with the ICC.

Announcing the resumption of funding, the Commission mentioned the results of a review conducted by the EU's European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), which it said found "no suspicions of irregularities and/or fraud" and "did not find sufficient ground to open an investigation".

OLAF's conclusion is one many had anticipated as several EU member states had previously dismissed Israel's "terrorism" label. Earlier this month EU diplomats also said that the evidence submitted by the Apartheid State "doesn't meet the required threshold of proof".

"The suspension has been lifted unconditionally and with immediate effect," Al-Haq said in a statement yesterday. "Since its imposition in May 2021, it was clear that the suspension was not prompted by any genuine concerns about the possible misuse of funding," the rights group continued. Al-Haq claimed that Israel had tried to "defame" the Palestinian groups in a politically motivated campaign to disrupt the work of civil society.

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"Due to our human rights work to hold Israel accountable for its grave and systematic violations against the Palestinian people, Al-Haq has been a long-time target of smear campaigns, intimidation and reprisals, including death threats," the rights group said.

"These tactics have been deployed to distract Al-Haq and to divert its resources from its core mission to promote human rights and accountability – in order to enable Israel to entrench its settler-colonial and apartheid regime in Palestine and against the Palestinian people as a whole."

Al-Haq warned of Israel's attempt to shrink civic space for human rights organisations and to silence human rights defenders in Palestine. The culmination of which, said Al-Haq, was Israel's decision in October 2021 to designate the rights group alongside five other leading Palestinian NGOs, terrorists.

The EU suspended its funding to Al-Haq and PCHR in May 2021. That month, European diplomats had received a classified Israeli intelligence dossier alleging that six prominent Palestine-based NGOs, including Al-Haq, were using EU money to fund the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The Commission suspended its funding for the PCHR at the same time despite it not being one of the six NGOs mentioned. A few months later, in October 2021, Israel outlawed the six organisations.

The EU Commission was the only international actor which froze funds. However, several European countries, including Ireland, the Netherlands and Norway spoke out against the ban. "You have to look at the facts here," Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said in May.

"There isn't a single European state — nor the United States — that has arrived at the same conclusions as has Israel. If there is proof, then we should see and we should review it. An accusation in and of itself cannot be sufficient for a country that subscribes to the rule of law," Hoekstra said.

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