On October 22, 2021, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz designated six Palestinian NGOs as terror organizations that are linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP is recognized as a terrorist organization by Israel, the EU, the United States, and other countries, as it was involved in airplane hijackings in the 1970s, attacks against Israelis in the Second Intifada, the 2014 murder of five Israeli worshippers at a synagogue in Jerusalem, and many more attacks on Jews world-wide. Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the terror arm of the PFLP, maintains operational cooperation with Iran and Hezbollah. Furthermore, the PFLP is a principal partner in the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces (PNIF), the umbrella organization for Palestinian terror groups.
Responding to international backlash, critical of the Israeli declaration, this paper aims to explain the ties between the Palestinian NGOs and the PFLP and the legitimacy of the “terror organization” designation under international law.
The Linkage between the Six Palestinian NGOs and the PFLP
A detailed report by NGO Monitor1 revealed the linkage between the six designated Palestinian NGOs to the PFLP organization. NGO Monitor published the following activities by members of the NGOs which relate directly to the support, finance, and encouragement of the terrorist group, PFLP:
- Shawan Jabarin, Al-Haq’s General Director, was convicted in 1985 for recruiting and arranging training for PFLP members. In 2008, he was referred to by Israel’s Supreme Court as a “senior activist” in the PFLP.
- Funding: European Union, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Italy, France, and Spain.
- Abdul-Latif Ghaith, Addameer’s founder and former chairperson, has been identified as a PFLP “activist.”
- Khalida Jarrar, Addameer’s former Vice President, was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2021 for membership in the PFLP.
- Bashir Al-Khairi, a member of Addameer’s Board of Directors, is a member of the PFLP’s National Council.
- Funding: Ireland, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and the Heinrich Boll Foundation.
Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P)
- Hashem Abu Maria, the former coordinator for DCI-P’s community mobilization unit, was hailed by the PFLP as a “leader.”
- Nassar Ibrahim, former President of DCI-Ps General Assembly, was a former editor of El Hadaf, the PFLP’s weekly publication.
- Mary Rock, a former DCI-P board member, was a PFLP candidate for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
- Funding: EU, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, Broederlijk Delen, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Save the Children, and UNICEF.
Bisan Center for Research and Development
- Ubai Aboudi, Bisan’s Executive Director, was sentenced to 12 months in prison in 2020 for membership in the PFLP.
- Itiraf Hajaj (Rimawi), former Executive Director of Bisan, was responsible for clandestine PFLP operations and was sentenced to 42 months in 2020.
- Funding: European Union, European Commission, Belgium, Italy, and Spain.
Union of Palestine Women’s Committees (UPWC)
- Suhair Khader, UPWC’s Vice President, is a member of the PFLP Central Committee.
- Smira Abdel-Alin, UPWC head in the Rafah area, is a member of the PFLP Central Committee.
- Ismat Shakhshir, head of UPWC operations in the Nabulus district, ran for the Palestinian Legislative Council representing the PFLP.
- Funding: Basque Government, Norwegian People’s Aid, and AECID.
Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC)
- Identified by USAID as the “agricultural arm” of the PFLP.
- Abdul Razeq Farraj, former UAWC Finance and Administrative Director, was arrested in 2019 for recruiting members of the PFLP.
- Samer Arbid, UAWC’s accountant, was arrested for commanding a PFLP terror cell that carried out a bombing that murdered an Israeli civilian.
- Funding: France, Netherlands, Spain (AECID), Norwegian People’s Aid, Medico, Grassroots International, Oxfam Solidarité, and UN OCHA.
Relevant Provisions of International Resolutions and Conventions that Relate to Terror Activities
In Article 1 (1), the UN-Charter sets out the Purposes of the United Nations as inter alia the maintenance of international peace and security. In so doing, states are required to take effective measures for the prevention of such threats. Accordingly, by designating the six Palestinian NGOs as terror organizations, Israel pursues its Charter-protected right to safeguard against an internationally recognized terrorist organization.
This is in conformity with the relevant United Nations Resolutions and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.
United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1373 (2001)2
In its most prominent resolution on terrorism, adopted in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks against the United States, the UN Security Council emphasized in the Preambular Clauses the “need to combat by all means, (…) threat to peace and security caused by terrorist acts.” The passage “by all means” has in the past been interpreted to allow measures of self-defense against terrorist groups. The criminalization of groups in order to protect the state is a more moderate means for a state to protect itself. Consequently, criminalization must be covered as well.
In Operative Clause 1 b) of Res. 1373, the UNSC decided that states “shall criminalize the willful provision or collection, by any means, directly or indirectly, of funds by their nationals or in their territories with the intention that the funds should be used … in order to carry out terrorist attacks.” The resolution thereby permits states to criminalize the funding of terrorist groups. It must not preclude that the NGO members supported the PFLP financially.
Furthermore, Operative Clause 2 d) obliges states to “prevent those who finance, plan, facilitate, or commit terrorist attacks from using their respective territories for those purposes against other states or their citizen.” Israel, therefore, was allowed to protect itself against the supporters of the terrorist group PFLP.
UNSC Resolution 2642 (2019)3
Even though Res. 1373 is the most cited Resolution in terms of the prevention of terrorism, there are more recent ones which reaffirm the principles of Res. 1373. Res. 2642, for example, reassures in its Preambular Clauses, that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable. In Operative Clause 8, Res. 2642 further calls upon states to “more effectively investigate and prosecute cases of terrorist financing and to apply appropriate, effective and proportionate and dissuasive criminal sanctions to individuals and entities convicted of terrorist financing activities.”
As a result of the criminal nature of terrorism, acts that support terrorist groups can and must be criminalized to ensure effective terrorism prevention, which the International Community seeks.
The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (Financing Convention) (1999) and Israel’s Counter Terror Legislation4
According to Article 4 a) of the Financing Convention, each Party shall “adopt measures to establish criminal offenses under its domestic law.”
Israel adopted the Counter-Terrorism Law 5776-2016 to establish those criminal offenses. Chapter Two of this Law, Article 3 a), enables the Ministry of Defense to designate a body of persons as a terrorist organization. Even after a designation, Article 5 a) and 7 b) offer opportunities to submit written arguments or revoke the designation.
Lastly, designated organizations have the option to petition Israel’s Supreme Court. Therefore, Israel established a domestic legal basis that is efficient and transparent and is in accordance with the Terror Financing Convention.
The Jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice (ICJ)
Lastly, the highest court for international law, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), has ruled in its infamous Nicaragua Judgement5 that the United States bore responsibility as a result of its training, arming, equipping, financing, and supplying or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding the Contra rebel forces. Even though this decision relates to actions by states, it nevertheless shows the line that international law draws with respect to providing support to terrorist groups. The idea of an absolute prohibition to providing support to terrorist groups, whether financially or by training (as members of Al-Haq and UAWC did), indicates the strictness of international law and thereby provides states with the opportunity to protect themselves against terror threats. This clearly must include criminalizing NGOs that provide active and tangible support to such terrorist groups.
The Problem of Funding
As identified by NGO Monitor, the designated Palestinian NGOs are occasionally funded by European governmental institutions. This draws a two-sided problem: firstly, the European frameworks financially support organizations linked to terrorism and thereby indirectly fund the PFLP terrorist organization. Secondly, the six designated organizations accept funding which they misuse for their involvement in terrorist activities. The use of funds for terrorist activities is a blatant breach of international law.
According to Article 2 (1) (a) of the Terror Financing Convention, “any person commits an offense within the meaning of the Convention if that person … collects funds with the intention that they should be used, in full or in part, in order to carry out an act which constitutes an offense….” Consequently, the use of funds of the designated NGOs for their PFLP-linked purposes creates a further violation of international law.
Israel’s designation of the six Palestinian NGOs was in full accordance with international law norms and obligations. Moreover, by designating those organizations, Israel focused on their connection to the PFLP and the resulting active support of a terrorist group, which outweighs activities ostensibly carried out by such organizations as a cover for their terrorist activity.
The linkage between the organizations and the PFLP renders them eligible for criminalization in accordance with provisions of the relevant UN Conventions and Resolutions.
As a protection against the PFLP’s active and ongoing actions to undermine Israel’s security and the safety of its citizens, Israel, therefore, is justified in designating PFLP-linked NGOs as terror groups and, as such, in protecting itself against prevailing threats to peace and security.
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5 ICJ, Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua, Merits, ICJ Rep 1986, 14 (1986), para. 228 (https://www.icj-cij.org/public/files/case-related/70/070-19860627-JUD-01-00-EN.pdf)