A Blurred Line between Civil Society and Terrorism: Examining Charges of NGOs Funding the PFLP

(Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Matthew Levitt - On October 19, 2021, Israel designated six Palestinian civil society NGOs on charges of supporting the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S.- and EU-designated terrorist group. The designations were the result of a terrorism financing investigation run by the Israel Security Agency and Israel's National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing. While these NGOs publicly defend the human rights of some people, they support acts of terrorism and murder targeting others. Israeli authorities have mapped out a network of front organizations providing funds for the PFLP, day jobs and legitimacy for its operatives, and space for secure meetings. The information underpinning the designations comes from sources including classified intelligence, seized materials and other court evidence, and the statements made by arrested NGO employees to investigators. For example, the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC) is accused of defrauding European donors by manipulating records to cover funds "in the eight figures" diverted from the NGO to the PFLP. Investigators found that European donors were duped "using financial records doctored to hide cash diversions" to the PFLP. Israeli officials concluded that a network of seven NGOs - the UHWC and the six just designated - "act under PFLP leadership and in accordance with the organization's directives, as a cover for promoting the PFLP's activities and funding." One of the arrested UHWC employees explained that "the PFLP-affiliated institutions are inter-connected and serve as the organization's lifeline financially and organizationally." One NGO would learn how to conduct various types of fraud and money laundering, then pass this knowledge on to the others. The NGOs forged documents and receipts to significantly inflate the cost of a given project as presented to donors. The difference would go to the PFLP. The NGOs negotiated deals with local businesses to provide realistic-looking invoices the NGOs could use to pad their numbers. The NGOs would add a 16% tax to these invoices, which they passed on to the businesses for participating in the scheme. The NGOs also presented foreign donors forged invoices for purchases that were either never made at all or made for a fraction of the stated cost. For example, the UHWC forged receipts indicating that a Spanish-funded project to supply medicines in eastern Jerusalem would cost $800,000, but the actual project cost only $32,000 and the remaining funds were redirected to the PFLP. In another case, the UHWC told donors a project to vaccinate Palestinian children would cost 245,000 euros, when the actual cost was less than 700 euros. Employees were sometimes listed under two different salary systems. One salary went to the employee, while the second went to the PFLP. The writer is director of the Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute.

2021-11-08 00:00:00

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