After Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in October 2021 designated six Palestinian non-governmental organizations as terror groups due to their close ties to the US-designated Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), leading news outlets ran numerous articles casting doubt on the merits of Jerusalem’s decision.
For instance, an October 22 report by the Associated Press (AP) alleged that Gantz’s move constituted “a major escalation of [Israel’s] decades-long crackdown on political activism in the occupied territories.” The wire service later added that a leaked confidential Israeli dossier “contains little concrete evidence,” echoing Palestinian claims that the designation was aimed at “muzzling critics of Israel’s half-century military occupation.”
For its part, Foreign Policy on December 29 went as far as to call the charges “specious,” describing the six organizations as “respected Palestinian civil society groups.” In total, journalists at the most widely-read global publications and press agencies, including The Washington Post, CNN, The Guardian, AFP and others, filed 52 reports on the issue.
Already on October 24, HonestReporting highlighted publicly available data confirming links between the outlawed groups and the PFLP — facts that have been largely stricken from the conversation. Yet even as more evidence in support of Israel’s position surfaces, media outlets continue to downplay these connections.
UAWC and the Murder of Rina Shnerb
First some background. On August 23, 2019, a PFLP terror cell carried out a particularly brutal attack in which they injured Rabbi Eitan Shnerb (46) and his son, Dvir (19), and murdered his daughter Rina (17). The explosive device that killed the teenager was planted by employees of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), one of the six Palestinian groups outlawed by Israel.
Samer Arbid, UAWC’s accountant from 2016 until his arrest on September 25, 2019, is believed to have led the cell and detonated the bomb. The PFLP in a public statement called Arbid a “prisoner and commander,” as well as “one of the heroes of the Bubeen operation” — referring to the bombing in which Rina Shnerb was killed.
According to The Jerusalem Post, Arbid is “one of the PFLP’s officials in Ramallah and was previously arrested for involvement in terrorist activities during the Second Intifada under the direct command of the PFLP leadership, preparing explosive devices and committing terrorist attacks.”
Related Reading: Reign of Terror: The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Abdul Razaq Farraj, a longtime employee of the UAWC, was also implicated in the 2019 attack. The indictment notes that UAWC’s finance director was responsible for recruiting new members into the PFLP. Other UAWC staffers with terror links include Rezeq Al-Barghothy — described by Palestinian media as the representative of jailed PFLP leader Ahmad Sa’adat — and Ubai Aboudi, who in 2005 was arrested for aiding would-be suicide bombers.
Furthermore, a report commissioned by the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) in 1993 describes the UAWC as being the agricultural arm of the PFLP.
Despite its well-documented ties to the terror group, the UAWC in recent years has received millions of dollars from foreign governments and international organizations, as established by the Israeli research institute NGO Monitor. In fact, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) as recently as December 2021 pledged over 330,000 US dollars to the controversial front group.
Independent Audit Confirms ‘Individual and Organizational Links’
While media outlets and some donors continue to trivialize the “allegations” of terrorism, a recently published independent audit commissioned by one of UAWC’s former leading benefactors — the government of The Netherlands — shines a light on just how intertwined the “agricultural” organization is with the US-designated terror group.
The seven-month investigation carried out by Proximities Risk Consultancy, of which the results were shared with the parliament in The Hague last week, concluded the following:
- From 2007 to 2020, there were at least 34 individual links between the UAWC and PFLP. Of these 34, 28 were UAWC board members, and 12 simultaneously held “leading positions” in both organizations.
- There are also indications of organizational ties between the UAWC and PFLP. There were contacts between representatives, expressions of solidarity and joint meetings. The UAWC and PFLP also shared buildings. According to the research agency, it is “reasonable to expect the UAWC to be aware of these organi[z]ational ties with the PFLP.”
Outgoing ministers for Foreign Affairs Ben Knapen and Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Tom de Bruijn in a January 5 letter (PDF) welcomed the report, praising Proximities’ “thorough, painstaking research within the limits that are unavoidable in a review that must be based on interviews and verifiable, publicly accessible sources,” adding that, “in the government’s judgment, it is reasonable to assume that the UAWC was aware of these individual ties.”
It is important to note that Proximities’ mandate, as laid down by the government in the terms of reference document (Dutch), required it to use only information that could be “checked and verified.” Confidential information, supplied for example by intelligence services, could not be used in the review.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the firm did not find evidence of cash flow between the UAWC and the PFLP.
While Knapen and De Bruijn questioned some of Proximities’ conclusions, they wrote that “the findings about individual-level ties between the UAWC and the PFLP, and the UAWC’s lack of candour about the situation before or during the review, constitute sufficient reason in the government’s view to no longer fund the UAWC’s activities.”
Related Reading: Should News Be Reported With Balance? The Answer May Surprise You.
Exposed: Media’s Selective Reporting
Unlike the news of Gantz’s decision, Proximities’ findings generated precious little coverage in the mainstream press, with the Associated Press being the only major news organization to dedicate an article to the latest developments.
But here’s how the Associated Press framed the story on January 6:
The Netherlands said it will stop funding a Palestinian civil society group recently outlawed as a terrorist organization by Israel but rejected Israel’s main claims about the group following its own audit.
The Dutch government said Wednesday it found no evidence that the Union of Agricultural Work Committees had “organizational ties” to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a left-wing militant group, or was involved in funding or carrying out terrorism, as Israel has alleged.”
Not once does the AP mention that a whopping 34 individuals associated with the UAWC had ties to the PFLP, or that Proximities did find indications of organizational links between the two organizations.
As the axiom goes: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck” — but in the eyes of the media, this is seemingly not the case when this duck is a Palestinian terror group.
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Featured Image: Majdi Fathi/TPS