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No Way to Treat Children

Strong ties between international aid organizations and terrorist groups make the lives of Palestinians and Israelis more miserable

Emily Benedek
September 28, 2018
Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

At the beginning of August, a Palestinian man opened fire on IDF soldiers at the Gaza boundary, threw an incendiary device, and attempted to breach the fence. He was killed by return fire. What made his act stand out was that the man, Hani al-Majdalawi, was employed as a nurse with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), one of the world’s best-known international aid organizations. Al-Majdalawi had previously been employed by both Oxfam Great Britain and the American Friends Service Committee, two of the West’s oldest NGOs. Although he was not dressed as a medical provider at the time of his attack, his act added to mounting concern that NGOs operating in the Middle East are increasingly vulnerable to infiltration by terrorists, and susceptible to being co-opted by extremist ideologies. Doctors Without Borders is currently conducting an inquiry.

In August, another alarm was sounded about the possible spread of terrorist ideology to supposedly neutral aid groups when a respected EU police mission called EUPOL COPPS, the EU Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support, announced it was partnering with a children’s charity, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P). EUPOL COPPS, which was founded under the auspices of the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process in 2005 and has a current budget of 12 million euros, provides assistance and training to the Palestinian Authority to improve its civil police and law enforcement capacity as part of the EU’s wider effort to work toward “a comprehensive peace, based on a two-state solution.” Though it enjoys the reputation of being a serious and professional group, on Aug. 8, EUPOL COPPS posted a notice on its Facebook page that it was hosting a workshop with DCI-P, an organization, it announced, with which it has enjoyed “a longstanding collaboration,” despite the fact that its founding members enjoy strong ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is considered to be a terrorist group by Israel, the European Union, the United States, and Canada.

There is nothing particularly subtle about the reasons why the EU itself labels the PFLP as a terrorist group. The organization was responsible for more than a dozen high-profile airline hijackings, bombings, and shootings starting in the 1960s and ’70s, including the Lod Airport massacre, in conjunction with the Japanese Red Army, which led to the deaths of 28 people. The PFLP-General Command was responsible for the hijacking of an Air France plane to Uganda in June 1976, which was ended with the successful Israeli rescue operation, Operation Thunderbolt, at Entebbe Airport. Since 2000, PFLP has carried out at least 13 suicide bombings, stabbings, shootings and ax attacks, including the murder of Israeli Minister for Tourism Rehavam Ze’evi.

Defense for Children International-Palestine’s links to the PFLP have been fulsomely documented. According to NGO Monitor, Mahmoud Jiddah, who was elected to the DCI-P board in May 2012, was imprisoned by Israel for 17 years for carrying out grenade attacks against Israeli civilians in Jerusalem in 1968, and is reported to be a member of PFLP. Hassan Abed Aljawad, another DCI-P board member up to 2018, represents the PFLP at public events. Fatima Daana, an attorney and board secretary, is said by Israeli intelligence to be the widow of Raed Nazzal, the former commander of the PFLP’s armed wing (the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades) in Qalqilya. Nazzal led several terrorist attacks and was killed in 2002 in a shootout with IDF forces. Shawan Jabarin, a PFLP activist, was a member of DCI-P’s board of directors from 2007 to 2014, and was convicted in 1985 for recruiting members for the PFLP and arranging PFLP training outside Israel. In 1994 Jabarin was again arrested for PFLP links and placed in administrative detention for six months. Israeli authorities claim he “had not discontinued his terrorist involvement and maintains his position in the leadership of the PFLP.” Nassar Ibrahim and Dr. Majed Nassar, also on DCI-P’s board, are also both alleged to be members of PFLP. DCI-P’s latest published annual report for 2014 is dedicated to Hashem Abu Maria, one of its employees killed during a riot in July 2014. Abu Maria’s obituary was also featured on the PFLP website and in its Facebook postings, where he was described as a PFLP military commander. After the revelation of DCI-P’s terror ties by U.K. Lawyers for Israel, both Citibank and Arab Bank deactivated their online links for monetary donations to DCI-P.

So how did such a bizarre mix come about? Defense for Children International, DCI-P’s parent organization, was founded in 1979, the “Year of the Child,” for the purpose of advancing the rights of children, particularly in cases of intercountry adoptions and human trafficking. With 45 sections around the world, and an international secretariat in Geneva, DCI has an international reputation, and holds “consultative status” on the United Nations Economic and Social Council, UNICEF, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe.

The Palestinian branch of DCI, DCI-P, founded in 1991, asserts that although it has pledged to “follow DCI’s mandate to ‘promote and protect children’s rights in accordance with international standards,’” it reserves the right to go its own way, by “autonomously” developing its own programs. Its homepage says the group is “committed to securing a just and viable future for Palestinian children in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and it claims to hold both Israeli and Palestinian authorities to account. Yet, past the more-or-less balanced welcome page (which features a donate button), the rest of the site offers strident, one-sided condemnation of Israeli practices.

Although it claims to be dedicated to the treatment of Palestinian children, DCI-P’s website makes no mention of Hamas’ practice of forcing women and children to act as human shields, nor does it criticize Hamas’ practice of paying injured children (the monetary award increasing with the severity of injury) to approach and provoke armed IDF soldiers. It does mention the connection between Palestinian school-sponsored youth groups, or futuwwas programs, and winter and summer camps led by al-Qassam Brigades and other armed groups that offer physical training, including military marching, to thousands of Palestinian children at military bases near the Israeli border, sometimes using bullets for target practice. The DCI-P noted that Palestinian parents strongly objected to the military drills that are part of the schools’ al-futuwwa programs, while also acknowledging that “there appears to be an indirect influence that may encourage students to enroll in the camps, increasing their vulnerability to future recruitment.”

Nevertheless, DCI-P concluded that neither the futuwwas nor the camps constituted “child recruitment.” Instead, the fault for the use of children by terror organizations lay entirely with Israel: “The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza—fueled by Israel’s nearly 10-year blockade and frequent military strikes—keeps children vulnerable to recruitment and other forms of child labor.” No mention was made by the organization of who is doing the recruiting, who is paying for the dead and injured, or who wrote the Palestinian school curriculum, which glorifies terrorism and systematically prepares students from grades 1 through 12 for war against Israel, according to IMPACT-se, an international monitor of educational systems.

In spite of the denials on DCI-P’s web pages that Palestinian activities promote terror activities and hatred of Jews, according to a Palestinian Media Watch bulletin from Nov. 9, 2017, DCI-P’s accountability program director, Ayed Abu Qteish, said on official PA TV that children commit terror attacks to elevate their status in Palestinian society. “There are children who, when they were in prison, told the lawyer: ‘I want to be imprisoned.’ The first time [the child] was imprisoned, he didn’t confess, and they released him because there was no evidence to convict him in the Israeli military court. The second time, there was no evidence either. The third time, he wanted to be imprisoned so that his image won’t be hurt in the eyes of his friends, even though he is actually innocent … In several cases [Palestinian children] carried out stabbing operations because of the way the public looks at them. They realized ‘the best way to clear myself of this image [of helping Israel] is to participate in resistance operations.’”

This statement from the DCI-P “accountability director” contradicts numerous false claims by DCI-P about IDF abuses of minors by making clear that Israeli military courts release minors when there is no evidence of their having committed crimes. Furthermore, he acknowledges that children are motivated to commit terror attacks against Israelis to enhance their standing in Palestinian society.

Gerald M. Steinberg, head of the Institute for NGO Research, which publishes NGO Monitor, said that DCI-P “leads the campaign that exploits children for propaganda, posting false allegations and using them to demonize Israel. We would expect the EU officials involved in this project to immediately suspend DCIP’s involvement.” Steinberg said “the PFLP uses its NGO network to cover and obscure its role in terror, to gain entry into ‘polite company’ in the U.N., the EU, the U.S. Congress, the Canadian and Australian parliament and elsewhere.”

In response to a written inquiry, the press office of EUPOL COPPS told me: “We engaged in a workshop with DCI, with the aim to strengthen juvenile-justice practices in Palestine. You might be aware that DCI is a leading organization in the field of juvenile justice, and in our context instrumental in training and supporting the Palestinian Authority on the subject.” With regard to any security threat posed by DCIP to EUPOL COPPS or its Israeli counterparts, the press office wrote: “EUPOL COPPS is not in a position to comment on the DCI’s structures or activities other than its work in the field of juvenile justice.”

Dani Dayan, the Israeli consul-general in New York, met with the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), a charity that funds many Palestinian causes, to present evidence that DCI-P channeled money and support to terror organizations. The Jerusalem Post reported that DCI-P had received a grant of $25,000 from RBF in March 2017. Dayan told me: “I indeed met Rockefeller Brothers Fund President Stephen B. Heintz in my office in New York City. I presented him documents proving RBF funds organizations linked or sympathetic to terror organizations and/or calling for the extinction of the State of Israel. Mr Heintz denied the charges without going into specifics. He promised to get back to me with proofs but he never did.”

The PFLP has promoted its anti-Israel propaganda through links with a network of prominent NGOs that receive funding from European governments, the United Nations, and private charitable organizations. They include, in addition to DCIP-Palestine: Addameer, Al-Haq, Alternative Information Center (AIC), Health Work Committee (HWC), Palestine Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), according to research performed by NGO Monitor. The relationship of these NGOs to terror-linked groups is often unknown by partners and funders. Steinberg points out that U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who sponsored a bill about Palestinian children that was largely written by DCIP, was “entirely unaware of the connection of these NGOs to the terror group, a major failure of due diligence.”

As a result, McCollum introduced a bill in November 2017 in the House, HR-4391, “The Promoting of Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act,” which would prohibit “U.S. assistance to Israel from being used to support the military detention, interrogation, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in violation of international humanitarian law.” On its website, DCI-P takes credit for the bill, claiming that it “lead [sic] efforts to support the first-ever bill in US Congress focussed on Palestinians human rights, specifically grave human rights violations against Palestinian child detainees.” Elsewhere on its pages, it wrote that, in cooperation with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), it “spearheaded efforts to have the bill introduced in Congress.” The proposed legislation’s endorsers—including the American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International USA, Center for Constitutional Rights, DCI-P, and Jewish Voice for Peace—all support BDS campaigns in the United States, often in partnership with PFLP-connected groups.

DCI-P and its #NoWayToTreatAChild campaign are also energetic promoters of other anti-Israel projects including the effort to return 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to Israel, introduce war crimes accusations against Israel at the U.N. Human Rights Council, and claim that Israeli security measures constitute “a central pillar of the Apartheid-like system of discrimination” in the West Bank and Gaza. What the PFLP has not achieved through terror alone, it may now be attempting to achieve through the manipulation of international aid organizations and the language of humanitarian concern for the welfare of children.


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Emily Benedek has written for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and Mosaic, among other publications. She is the author of five books.