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Palestinian organisations slam EU over damage caused by year-long suspension

Despite lifting its suspension of two Palestinian rights groups, campaigners say the unjustified 13-month suspension by the European Commission has caused huge reputational damage
The Al-Haq Institute in Ramallah is one of several prominent Palestinian charities that Israel is looking to shut down (AFP)

A European Union move to restore funding to two prominent Palestinian human rights organisations has failed to quell anger at the groups' "disgraceful" 13-month suspension.

In a letter sent earlier this week to Al-Haq and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), the European Commission said its anti-fraud agency had not found any grounds for an investigation after Israel failed to back up claims that the two organisation were involved in supporting "terrorist" activities.

'The suspension as such was politically motivated and contradicted the ethics of partnerships and the contractual obligations of the European Commission' 

- Shawan Jabarin, the general director of Al-Haq

Despite the lifting of the suspension, campaigners were heavily critical of the time it took to resolve the issue.

Speaking to Middle East Eye, Shawan Jabarin, Al-Haq's general director, said Israel's campaign against the two groups "had no legal and factual grounds."

He also accused the Europe Commision of succumbing to political pressure over the issue.

"The suspension as such was politically motivated and contradicted the ethics of partnerships and the contractual obligations of the European Commission," he said.

"I am aware that certain people inside the Commission do not follow the actual principles and values promoted by the Commission."

Jabarin expressed his relief that the "harmful decisions" taken by the commission had lifted the cloud of suspicion against the organisations and praised the EU for moving back in the "right direction of supporting civil society and human rights."

But he said the suspension had likely had its desired impact in damaging Al-Haq's ability to collaborate with other international organisations and governments.

"We are concerned the suspension may have been intentional in order to harm our reputation and standing," said Jabarin.

Hungarian influence

In a statement on its website, Al-Haq blamed Oliver Varhelyi, the European commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, for politicising EU aid to Palestinian rights groups.

Varhelyi, who is Hungarian, is a long-time ally of the hardline pro-Israeli Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and a strong advocate of Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a statement on its website, Al-Haq said that the "suspension became a political initiative aimed at giving the Israeli government a tailwind in its attempts to disrupt and defame Palestinian civil society and to oppress the voices of Palestinian human rights organisations and defenders."

In May 2021, the EU commission froze its funding for Al-Haq and PCHR after Israel made unproven claims that the NGOs were using the financing for "terrorist" activities.

The past allocated frozen funds will now be released. However, the EU has given no indication about the nature of its future relations with the organisations.

'Terror organisations'

Earlier this year, Al-Haq and PCHR led a grouping of other rights groups in sending a detailed file to the International Criminal Court (ICC) of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the May 2021 Israeli military offensive against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.

In October 2021, Israel's then defence minister and alternate prime minister, Benny Gantz, designated six leading Palestinian organisations, including Al-Haq and PCHR, as "terror organisations."

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Israel accused the groups of, among other things, distributing some of their money to the Palestinian armed group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a charge rejected by the named groups.

An investigation by +972 Mag, which obtained the secret Israeli dossier prepared by the country's intelligence agency Shin Bet, found that it rested on the testimony of two men held in Israeli detention who had never worked for the NGOs.

One of the lawyers representing the detained man even alleged that confessions could have been obtained following torture or ill-treatment.

Despite these reports and countless questions submitted by Al-Haq, the EU Commission failed to respond. It wasn't until two weeks ago, after the organisation started legal action against the commission, that it moved to resolve the status of the two charities.

Even though the EU has now unfrozen funding the funding, Al-Haq has confirmed that it won't be ending its case against the commission.