After a year-long review, the Dutch government formally cut ties on Wednesday with one of six Palestinian civil society organizations that Israel controversially declared to be a terror group in late 2021.
The Netherlands will no longer fund the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, or transfer the organization the last tranche of an already budgeted Dutch grant, two Dutch ministers wrote in a joint letter.
Israel last October declared the UAWC and five other nonprofits to be terror groups for their alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The declaration sparked international condemnation; Israel doubled down, insisting that the evidence supporting the classification was “ironclad.”
Israel has charged that the groups hoodwinked European donors into providing them with millions in funding that they then transferred to the PFLP. The Dutch government’s review found no evidence that the UAWC had done so.
“The external review shows that no evidence has been found of financial flows between the UAWC and the PFLP. Nor has any proof been found of organization unity between the UAWC and the PFLP or of the PFLP’s providing direction to the UAWC,” wrote Foreign Minister Ben Knapen and Foreign Trade Minister Tom de Brujin.
The external investigators did, however, find some overlap between the two organizations’ membership.
“There were ties at the individual level between UAWC staff and board members and the PFLP for some considerable time. The great number of UAWC board members with roles in both organizations gives particular cause for concern,” the two Dutch ministers wrote.
The external investigators hired by the Dutch government determined that the UAWC was likely unaware of members’ political affiliation. But in their letter, the Dutch diplomats said it was “reasonable to assume” that the organization knew of board members’ PFLP ties.
The Netherlands had already suspended its funding for the nonprofit in July 2020 after two UAWC employees were arrested by Israel for terrorism. The two employees, Abd al-Raziq Farraj and Samir Arbeed, were later indicted for their alleged involvement in a 2019 roadside bombing that killed Israeli teenager Rina Shnerb.
The investigation by the Dutch determined that their funding had helped pay for the two employees’ salaries, although neither had managed Dutch-backed development projects.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry hailed the Netherlands’ decision as an “important and commendable announcement.” It declined to comment on the Dutch investigators’ failure to find evidence to back up Israel’s other claims about the nonprofit.
“Israel will continue its dialogue with the Netherlands and other countries regarding these organizations, support of which constitutes a violation of Israeli law,” the Foreign Ministry said.
In a statement, the UAWC condemned the decision to end funding, which it called “shocking and deeply troubling.”
“We are shocked that the Dutch government has ended its funding for a leading Palestinian civil society organization…based on alleged individual links,” the organization said, adding that the investigation had contained factual inaccuracies.
Founded in 1986, the UAWC conducts agricultural projects on behalf of tens of thousands of Palestinian farmers. According to its director, some 25,000 Palestinian families benefit from the group’s work.
“We have no factional, religious, or sectarian affiliation. We simply don’t believe in those kinds of ties. We’re part of civil society,” director Fuad Abu Seif told The Times of Israel in a previous interview.
Abu Seif claimed that Farraj and Arbeed’s alleged terror involvement was not representative of the hundreds who work in the organization.
“We’re talking about two people amidst hundreds of employees and thousands of families. What kind of ridiculous stupidity would drag us down with such an operation?” said Abu Seif.