The 74-page document appears to have been prepared by Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service and shared with European governments in May. The Associated Press obtained the document from online magazine +972, which was the first to report on it, along with the Local Call in Hebrew. Israel may have additional evidence that has not been made public.
Last month, Israel designated six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist groups, saying they were linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a secular leftist political movement with an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis. . Israel and Western countries consider the PFLP a terrorist organization.
But Israel has yet to take further action against the groups, which operate openly in the West Bank. The Defense Ministry and the Shin Bet did not respond to requests for comment.
All six groups, some of which have close ties to human rights groups in Israel and abroad, deny the allegations. They say the terror designation aims to muzzle critics of Israel’s half-century military presence in territories the Palestinians want for their future state.
The designated groups are the human rights group Al-Haq, the rights group Addameer, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Labor Committees.
The file is based almost entirely on the questioning of Said Abedat and Amru Hamudeh, who worked as accountants for the Union of Health Committees, a separate group that was outlawed in January 2020. Both were reportedly fired in 2019 for embezzlement and later arrested by the Shin Bet. His attorneys could not be reached for comment.
None appear to have ever worked for the six organizations outlawed last month.
In redacted excerpts from their questioning by the Israeli authorities, they allege that the six organizations are branches of the PFLP, but provide no evidence beyond naming a handful of suspected PFLP members employed by the groups. They suggest that some of the employees falsify receipts to divert donor funds, but do not provide proof or say where the money went.
Speaking about the Union of Agricultural Labor Committees, one of six, Abedat is quoted as saying, “as far as I know, this organization is affiliated with the PFLP.” His “estimate” is that the same printer that helped him falsify invoices also helped the other group.
Even when describing his own work to divert funds to the PFLP, Abedat does not mention militant activities. “We fund PFLP activities such as university activities, Wounded and Sick funding for the PFLP, funding for families of PFLP martyrs and prisoners,” he is quoted as saying.
Israel says the PFLP and other armed groups use such activities to recruit and indoctrinate members and to provide financial support to militants and their families.
The file also details several falsified invoices, all from the Union of Health Committees. In one case, Abedat says, “I reckon this money went to PFLP activities.” In the others, it is unclear where the money went or Abedat says it was used to cover UHC’s debts.
Several European officials have expressed skepticism about the allegations.
In a letter to Dutch lawmakers on May 12, Acting Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag said that new Israeli information on two Palestinian organizations that were indirectly funded by the Netherlands “does not offer concrete evidence of links to the PFLP.”
Kaag acknowledged that two former UAWC employees who had received salaries from a Netherlands-funded project were suspects in a deadly August 2019 attack in the West Bank that was attributed to the PFLP. He said the government had already suspended funding for that project pending an independent investigation.
Belgium’s development minister told a parliamentary commission in July that her government also investigated Israeli information received in May, but found “no concrete material evidence of possible fraud in partner organizations.”
Minister Meryame Kitir said the government also examined the annual audits of the groups by international firms such as Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers without finding any irregularities.
“So today I don’t see any reason to freeze the funds or to carry out additional external investigations,” he said.
Last month, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney expressed concern over the terrorism designation, saying that previous allegations against Irish and EU-backed Palestinian civil society organizations “have not been substantiated”.
NGO Monitor, a pro-Israel group that investigates Palestinian non-governmental organizations, says it has identified 13, including the six targeted with the terror designation and the previously banned UHC, which together have employed more than 70 people with ties to the PFLP.
Gerald Steinberg, director of the NGO Monitor, said Israel turned its attention to the alleged network after the August 2019 attack, which killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl, and appears to be building its case.
“The HWC was the first. They are looking to see where the money comes from, ”he told the AP. “We identify organizations with sometimes 10, 11, 12 people in senior positions, in many cases accountants, treasurers, board members.”
Critics say pro-Israel groups seek to discredit Palestinian rights activists to protect Israel from criticism at global bodies such as the International Criminal Court, which opened an investigation in March into alleged Israeli war crimes. Israel is deeply opposed to the investigation and believes that the ICC and other international organizations are biased against it.
Michael Sfard, a prominent Israeli lawyer who often represents the Palestinians, said the dossier “amounts to absolutely nothing” when it comes to the six organizations. He is providing legal representation to one of the six, Al-Haq, a human rights group founded in 1979 that only receives a fleeting mention in the record.
Sfard said the two detainees cannot be considered reliable witnesses and that even if their statements are taken at face value, they do not prove anything.
“Everything is guilt by association. Even if it is true that the people who work in certain organizations are PFLP operatives, it does not follow that the organization itself is part of the PFLP, ”he said.
“At all levels, this document actually shows how weak the whole case is against these six organizations,” he added.