World Vision Rejects Shurat HaDin’s Allegations

May 21, 2013 by  
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The Israeli NGO Shurat HaDin (Israel Law Centre) first wrote to World Vision Australia (WVA) in February 2012 claiming that our AusAID-funded agricultural development project with the Palestinian organisation – the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) – violated Australian and US counter-terrorism legislation because, they claimed, UAWC is an arm of the proscribed terrorist organisation the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

from Tim McCormack

Shurat HaDin alleged that WVA’s financial assistance to the UAWC ‘directly or indirectly makes assets available to the PFLP’. Shurat HaDin’s strategy is to initiate legal action against financiers of terrorism and the organisation has had some significant awards of damages in US courts.  They threatened to sue WVA if we did not terminate our project with the UAWC.

worldVisWVA and AusAID both took Shurat HaDin’s allegations seriously and undertook their own investigations. In late May 2012, AusAID publicly announced that it had dismissed all Shurat HaDin’s claims against UAWC. AusAID based its conclusions upon its consultations with agencies such as the DFAT Sanctions and Transnational Crimes Section, the AFP and ASIO. AusAID also stated that its legal advice from the Australian Government Solicitor was that no offence had been identified and that the AFP had advised there would be no further criminal investigation.

WVA conducted its own extensive enquiry into the UAWC organisation and systematically investigated each detail of Shurat HaDin’s allegations. WVA agrees, for example, that the UAWC was closely linked to the PFLP at its inception in the 1980s. Each of the various PLO factions established their own grass-roots organisations in various sectors – agriculture, health, childcare services etc – and the UAWC was the agricultural organisation affiliated with the PFLP. Shurat HaDin has repeatedly cited a 1993 Report prepared for USAID to substantiate their assertion of the historical ties between the PFLP and the UAWC. WVA located this 1993 report, tracked down the author of it and engaged in correspondence with him and also with other experts on the structure of Palestinian organisations. Our understanding on the basis of these communications is that the PLO-factional affiliation of grass-roots Palestinian organisations in the 1980s (including the PFLP with the UAWC) changed after the signing of the Oslo Accords. From then, various Palestinian organisations, including the UAWC, professionalized their activities and management structures and distanced themselves from political factionalisation. In the post-Oslo era, Shurat HaDin is the only organisation we can identify that claims ‘the PFLP is the controlling hand of UAWC’. The author of the Report on which Shurat HaDin relies certainly does not agree with Shurat HaDin’s assertion of ongoing PFLP control of the UAWC.  Indeed, in addition to AusAID/WVA the UAWC counts among its donors the Governments of Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain as well UNDP, UNRWA and a number of international charities.

In July 2012 WVA engaged the Israeli attorney Dov Weissglas. Weissglas served as Chief of Staff to Ariel Sharon (former Prime Minister of Israel) and, in that capacity, was heavily involved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians and in the implementation of Sharon’s decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip. WVA engaged Weissglas because he is highly regarded in Israel as an independent and fearless advocate and because he is well connected with senior policy-makers across a range of relevant government agencies.

On Weissglas’ recommendation, WVA engaged Prof Matti Steinberg to provide an independent opinion on Shurat HaDin’s allegations.  Steinberg is Israel’s leading intelligence analyst.  He served as the Head of the Division of Palestinian Affairs of Israel’s General Security Service (Shin Bet) and in that capacity knows Palestinian organisations, structures and relationships.  He is now an academic focused on those matters and also a consultant to Shin Bet and to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).  Steinberg prepared a written report for WVA on the UAWC relying on open sources as well as on his contacts within Israel’s intelligence community.  Steinberg’s conclusion is that there is no reliable indication to corroborate Shurat HaDin’s allegations and that, in fact, there are many indications – in deed and in word – to refute them. Steinberg placed significant emphasis on the fact that the Managing Director of the UAWC, Khalid Hidmi (a resident of East Jerusalem), travels freely between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.  Steinberg’s view is that the Israeli authorities would not permit Hidmi to travel freely if the organisation he worked for really was a front for the PFLP.
Shurat HaDin claims that as an East Jerusalem resident Hidmi is free to travel in and out of Gaza and the West Bank and that, in fact, he is less restricted than an Israeli citizen in his freedom of movement.  Steinberg has a completely different view and, as will be explained, so do the Israeli authorities.

Shurat HaDin continues to make much of the role of Bashir Khairy – a former Chairman of the board of the UAWC – in particular that he has an active role for the PFLP and that he has spoken at rallies organized by different PLO organizations including the PLFP and Fatah.  WVA is aware of Khairy’s history (he was jailed for 15 years following conviction for involvement in the bombing of an Israeli supermarket by the PFLP in 1969 and has been imprisoned by the Israeli authorities several times since).  WVA is also aware that Khairy is close to Mahmoud Abbas (the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Chairman of the PLO and who has been committed to a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians) and regularly represents Abbas at major meetings and events for various PLO factions including Fatah and the PFLP.  Khairy is no longer a board member of the UAWC and is not a proscribed individual on the DFAT list of terrorists (and its equivalent in other jurisdictions).  Today, he is equally well known for his involvement in the “Open House” center for peace and reconciliation between Israeli Arabs and Jews (which has been established at Khairy’s former family home in Ramla by Khairy and Dalia Eshkanazi whose family was given the house by the Israeli government in 1948.  The Open House and Khairy’s friendship with Eshkanazi is celebrated in Sandy Tolan’s book The Lemon Tree).

I travelled to Israel with the CEO of WVA, Rev Tim Costello AO, from 30 January – 6 February 2013. One primary purpose of the trip was to further WVA’s investigations into the allegations by Shurat HaDin against the UAWC.  We met with various people and organisations in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. All the information we received confirmed to us that the UAWC is a bona fide partner organisation and that Shurat HaDin’s allegations that it is owned and controlled by and a front for the PFLP remain unsubstantiated.

In Israel, Weissglas arranged a meeting for us with a senior IDF officer responsible for travel permits from Israel in and out of Gaza and in and out of the West Bank.  The IDF officer confirmed that he regularly consults Steinberg as Israel’s leading national security analyst and that he trusts Steinberg’s analysis implicitly.  The senior IDF officer also explicitly endorsed Steinberg’s assertion as to the implications of Khalid Hidmi’s freedom of travel and claimed that there is no way the IDF would permit Hidmi’s travel into and out of Gaza or the West Bank if the UAWC was a front for the PFLP.  Further, the IDF officer asserted that if the UAWC was indeed a front for the PFLP the Israeli authorities would shut down the organisation.  Instead, Hidmi is also permitted to travel freely from Israel to the US (he holds a multi-entry permit into and out of the US) and recently 10 Palestinian farmers (some employees of and others beneficiaries of the UAWC) were given permits to enter Israel to participate in an agricultural exhibit at kibbutzim in the Arava region.  Those permits would not have been granted if the UAWC was a front for the PFLP.

While we were in Israel we took Weissglas with us to meet with Shurat HaDin and to explain to them why we are of the view that their allegations against the UAWC remain unsubstantiated.  Shurat HaDin does not accept our findings.
We have invited Shurat HaDin to take their allegations to the Israeli authorities and we have assured them that we will take any responses seriously.  Shurat HaDin has refused to approach the Israeli authorities.  They claim that Israel has no jurisdiction over the UAWC because the organisation operates in Gaza. Weissglas reminded them that Israel never requires jurisdiction in taking action against terrorists.  Instead Israel has a policy of targeted killing of those who threaten its national security – whether they are in Gaza or the West Bank or elsewhere.  Shurat HaDin instead claims that Israel engages with terrorist organisations and so does not set the appropriate benchmark for acceptable dealings.  For example, Israel itself releases tax monies to the Palestinian Authority which, in turn, passes some of those funds onto Hamas (a proscribed terrorist organisation in Israel and most Western countries).

WVA finds itself in a ludicrous position.  The Israeli authorities themselves have expressed their satisfaction with the bona fides of the UAWC, approve of its ongoing agricultural activities and accept WVA’s project partnership with the UAWC.  Tim Costello visited Gaza and he saw some of the agricultural projects implemented by the AusAID-funded partnership with the UAWC.  He was most impressed with what he saw.  Meanwhile, Shurat HaDin asserts that WVA cannot rely on the Israeli authorities and, instead, should terminate the partnership with the UAWC because Shurat HaDin says it should.  The clear implication is that Shurat HaDin, an Israeli NGO, sees itself as a better judge of the true character of a Palestinian organisation than the relevant Israeli authorities themselves.  WVA finds that a preposterous claim and is not prepared to terminate its partnership with the UAWC on the basis of it.

Tim McCormack is a Professor of Law at Melbourne Law School
He was an International Observer to the Turkel Commission of Enquiry into Israel’s Processes for Investigation of Alleged Violations of the Law of Armed Conflict and is an Adviser to World Vision Australia

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