Non-governmental organizations in the Palestinian Authority are hard to find, especially ones not affiliated with the PA. NGOs are central to building and developing any democratic civil society and Palestinian NGOs, although in their infancy, are a means to build the value of human rights and justice in individuals, government and society.
Having worked on joint programs with Palestinians in the PA and Israelis (Jews and Palestinians), I have seen how both sides can benefit and begin to build bridges, understanding and mutual respect.
Israel’s military raids and closing of several central NGOs in the PA – Al-Haq, Addameer, the Bisan Center, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women – is at best difficult to understand especially in light of the fact that many, if not all of these NGOs have received support and funding from the European Union and the US government.
I do not belittle the need for security in Israel, nor the fact that there are real security issues. I have known too many who have died in terrorist attacks.
However, the European Union foreign policy chief said that “no substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our [EU] policy toward the six Palestinian civil society organizations.” Nine European Union countries have said they will continue working with the groups, citing a lack of evidence for the Israeli accusation.
The British newspaper The Guardian said it had obtained a classified report from the US’s CIA that said no evidence had been found to back up Israel’s claims that the NGOs are terror affiliates.
And, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank and Israel must be able to continue their important work,” adding that a review of the information Israel has provided to the US on these organizations has not caused the Biden administration to change their designation.
I LOVE Israel, I have chosen to live my life here working to make it truly “a light unto nations.” I will not give up on this dream. I have founded, built and developed Israeli NGOs, and in my work over the last 40 years have seen how they have become central players in Israel’s education and welfare systems, bringing innovation, government accountability and vital advocacy for all of Israel’s citizens.
It is time that Israel actualizes its commitment to allow the PA to develop infrastructure, take responsibility for its citizens and develop an independent civil society. NGOs, even when they criticize Israel’s operation in the PA, are the cornerstone of building civil society in Palestine.
I, like many, are frustrated with the ongoing stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations and Israel’s military laws that overshadow life in the Palestinian Authority. I urge those in the US to ask their congressional representatives to make Israel accountable for closing these NGOs in Palestine, and for those in European countries to reach out to their governments with a similar request.
Unfortunately in Israel, I see few ways to influence the present situation; however, I will continue to seek a better future for all in the region.
Born in the US, the writer has lived in Israel since 1983 and has worked with Jews, Palestinian Israelis and Palestinians from the PA at Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam, developing programs funded by USAID and the European Union and working at the Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education, creating shared curricula for Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.