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European Commission lifts financial suspension of Palestinian NGOs

Jerusalem24 – The European Commission (EC) officially lifted on Tuesday its financial suspension of funding for Palestinian NGOs Al-Haq and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Al-Haq was one of six Palestinian civil society organizations declared “terrorist organizations” by the Israeli government in October last year.

Al-Haq released a statement on Thursday revealing they had received an official letter from the EC clarifying that the suspension of funds was lifted unconditionally and with immediate effect.

“This decision is based on several elements including OLAF’s [The European Anti-Fraud Office] assessment, who did not find sufficient ground to open an investigation. Specifically, OLAF concluded that there is no suspicions of irregularities and/or fraud affecting EU funds in the implementation of [Al-Haq’s] EU funded project,” said an excerpt of the EC letter published by Al-Haq.

On 21 January 2022, Al-Haq had issued a statement saying that the absence of indications of fraud had already been established by the Commission in July 2021.

Now, following a financial audit of Al-Haq’s project, “The latest assessment of the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF only confirms this conclusion.”

An Israeli/European attack on Palestinian civil society

Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed the order designating six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist organizations on 19 October 2021, namely Addameer, Al-Haq, the Bisan Center for Research & Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC), and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC).

Al-Haq General Director Shawan Jabarin spoke to Jerusalem24 in May following the news that the European Commission was not expected to open an investigation into the NGOs following the Israeli allegations of terrorism: “We are not in a defensive position; we have continued our work. The Israeli decision is a political decision.”

“They took this decision but they failed to dry up our resources. They tried to silence us, and failed to push us back from our mission and the work that we do in accountability when it comes to the International Criminal Court.”

Al-Haq alleges in its latest statement that the imposition of this suspension was not prompted by any real or genuine concern regarding the misuse of funding, but rather a political decision headed by the Hungarian EU Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi.

“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 organizations and defenders,” said the statement.

Al-Haq takes EC to court

Al-Haq has challenged the suspension from the start and asked the EC on multiple occasions for clarifications of the grounds the suspension was based on. Al-Haq confirmed in their statement they have not received any clarifications to this day, and were therefore pursuing legal options.

“Throughout 2021, the Commission consistently ignored our questions and requests. In early 2022, we therefore appointed a Belgian lawyer to defend our rights vis-à-vis the Commission.”

“On 1 April 2022, he launched a procedure for “amicable settlement” on our behalf, including our proposal on how the dispute between the parties should be resolved.”

Al-Haq explains they decided to legally challenge the suspension by taking the commission to court for “its ongoing violations of Al-Haq’s rights and the harm resulting from that, which has been exploited by the Israeli government and groups affiliated with it.”

The organization wishes to continue with its lawsuit despite the suspension being lifted.

“The unlawfulness and harmful impact during the past year of the suspension on Al-Haq does remain relevant to the lawsuit, which Al-Haq intends to continue pending further discussions between the parties.”

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