NGOs under microscope as Hamas takes power

Israel's decision to halt funding to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government has put non-governmental organizations under a harsh spotlight. A Defense Ministry committee will present Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday with preliminary recommendations regarding which non-governmental organizations should be considered as conduits for the funding of Palestinian humanitarian causes, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The committee is conducting a survey of NGOs and quasi-NGOs to assess their effectiveness, the focus of their work, and whether they have any ties to Hamas or other terror organizations. Government spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said on Thursday it was too early to name any organizations to which the government might funnel funds or encourage foreign governments to support, as the committee's findings had not yet been presented. The focus of the survey, Gissin said is two-fold: to ensure that terrorist entities and organizations do not receive financial support and to ensure that Palestinians who are not involved in terror continue to receive the necessary humanitarian aid. "There will be changes in the disbursement of funding," Gissin said. "The rules of the game have changed, and that decision has been taken on principle." There are hundreds of local NGOs which operate in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as a several large ones. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which was created in 1949 specifically to service the needs of Palestinian refugees, is by far the largest organization providing humanitarian relief. Due to its affiliation with the UN, it is not considered an NGO. Its total budget in 2005 was $57.5 million in the West Bank and $106.5 million in Gaza. As of last year, the organization operated 19 refugee camps in the West Bank and eight in Gaza. It also ran 93 schools in the West Bank and 180 in Gaza with enrollments of 60,004 and 194,171 respectively last year. The agency operated 36 health care facilities in the West Bank and 18 in Gaza which saw some 1.4 million and 3 million patients respectively. UNRWA also manages numerous social programs and microfinance and microenterprise projects in the Palestinian territories. Among the larger international NGOs which provide humanitarian aid are Oxfam, Christian Aid, and World Vision. Oxfam's main goal to provide 150,000 Palestinians with clean and affordable water in 42 villages. Christian Aid has worked in Israel and the territories since the 1950s and has 28 Israeli and Palestinian partner organizations working in the fields of agriculture, health, women's rights, education and human rights. World Vision has operated in Israel and the territories since 1975 and has 46 ongoing projects. It claims to have served 200,000 Palestinians last year providing agricultural development, health care, house renovation, education and water resource management. World Vision also partners with 20 local NGOs, many of which are religion-based.