From Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews, 2008.
The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) is the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s primary agency for global development and cooperation.1 It administered approximately SEK 14 billion ($1.8 billion) in 2005, 63 percent of Sweden’s total contribution to international development cooperation.2 In 2004, SIDA invested a total of SEK 273 million ($34 million) in the West Bank and Gaza. Of that, SEK 72 million ($9.1 million) went toward “human rights and democratization” programs, SEK 147 million ($19 million) toward the social sectors, and SEK 42.5 million ($5.5 million) toward infrastructure, commerce, and urban development. SIDA channels substantial funds through local NGOs, thereby providing significant support for their agendas.
SIDA’s projects in the West Bank and Gaza aim to improve the situation of the Palestinian people. However, its approach is highly unbalanced and its promotion of the Palestinian narrative contributes to the conflict. SIDA’s website states that: “Palestinian society is in a deep crisis and the conflict is leaving deep scars: human rights are being violated every day, unemployment is rife and the destruction of the infrastructure continues.”3 Following the standard Palestinian narrative, SIDA attributes this situation entirely to Israeli policy:
The Israeli blockades and the prolonged curfews have severely restricted people’s chances of earning a living and their access to schools and hospitals. The wall, or “separation barrier,” that Israel has built on the West Bank prevents Palestinians from moving freely, even within and between the Palestinian controlled areas on the West Bank and in Gaza. Israel’s military air and ground operations have had a devastating effect on people’s physical and mental health as well as on crops, buildings and roads in the Palestinian areas.4
In enumerating the causes of Palestinian poverty, SIDA fails to mention the history of the conflict, the terrorism that these measures seek to prevent, and the widespread corruption within the Palestinian Authority that explains the ineffectiveness of international aid.
A Politicized Approach
Since 2000, SIDA has increased its humanitarian aid to the West Bank and Gaza from SEK 20 million ($2.5 million) to almost SEK 100 million ($13 million) per year. The stated objective is to ease suffering caused by the conflict through food aid, job creation, repairing homes, support for the health sector, transport, and promoting dialogue and peace.5 However, some of its activities and the organizations through which it channels funding are systematically political in nature, and promote external agendas—against Israel—rather than internal Palestinian development.
In 2005, as part of the ongoing support for specific Palestinian human rights NGOs, SIDA donated $58,734 to the Palestinian group Al-Haq.6 Al-Haq was an active participant in the infamous 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, which adopted a campaign of anti-Israeli demonization through boycotts and divestment while exploiting the rhetoric of human rights. This NGO frequently distorts international law in its publications and regularly submits politically motivated reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).7
For example, in a submission to the UNCHR on 13 February 2006, Al-Haq reports that “Israel’s extrajudicial killing of Palestinian civilians has continued unabated…. Such killings fly in the face of the fundamental right to life and other associated rights such as that to due process, as upheld in international human rights and humanitarian law.”8 In its analysis of Israel’s international legal obligations, Al-Haq completely erases the context of terrorism and the need for defense against it.
Together with the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and the Ford Foundation, SIDA also funds the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN).9 EMHRN provides money, legitimacy, and publicity for the work of NGOs such as the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and Al-Mezan, which selectively exploit human rights terminology for partisan political objectives.10
SIDA’s development program also aims to address the health needs of the Palestinian people through its support for the Palestinian Solidarity Association of Sweden (PGS). PGS, which describes itself as “a politically and religiously independent non-profit and non-governmental organization,”11 supports the campaign to boycott Israeli goods12 and programs run by the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC).13 UPMRC’s systematic condemnation of Israeli actions ignores the context of Palestinian terrorism. For example, on 25 February 2004 its website reported that Israeli armed forces had entered Ramallah so as to “raid” and “attack” specific banks, holding staff hostage and clearing the surrounding buildings while doing so.14 It failed to explain that the purpose of the operation was to dismantle the financial infrastructure of terrorism and that over $2 million was confiscated from fictitious accounts used to funnel funding to Hamas directly from Hizballah and the Iranian, Syrian, and Libyan governments.15
Support for Vilification
SIDA also channels donations through the Swedish group Diakonia, which describes itself as “a Christian development organization working together with local partners for a sustainable change for the most exposed people of the world.” Beginning in 2004, Diakonia focused on a program in international humanitarian law that aims “to improve respect for, and implementation of, international humanitarian law in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”16
However, Diakonia’s support for highly political NGOs such as Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I)17 undermines its credibility as an NGO committed to promoting the universal application of international law. PHR-I’s examination of the impact of the separation barrier in February 2005 ignored the context of Palestinian terror,18 and Diakonia’s 2004 annual report19 reflected this theme by neglecting to mention the barrier’s role in preventing suicide bombers from entering Israel. Christian Lagerlof, the regional representative of Diakonia, participated in a conference organized by the Palestinian Counseling Center (PCC), held on 26 September 2005, which discussed “the psychological implications of the construction of Israel’s Annexation and Expansion Wall on the residents in five villages in the Qalqilya district.”20
This rhetoric and the accompanying campaign is part of the Durban strategy of demonization and is far from the objectives claimed by SIDA and Diakonia. The conference report also failed to mention the close proximity of Qalqilya to the Israeli town of Kfar Saba and the terrorist attacks emanating from Qalqilya, which claimed the lives of twenty-eight Israelis before the barrier’s construction.21 Despite PCC’s involvement in rejectionist political activities including boycott and divestment campaigns,22 it has been one of Diakonia’s strategic partners for the past eight years.23
Support is also channeled to NGOs through the Swedish section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-S),24 whose Palestinian affiliates include the above-discussed Al-Haq and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. ICJ’s website does not list any Israeli affiliates.25
Other human rights support is given to the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights (PICCR),26 an organization established by Yasser Arafat in 1993 “to follow up and ensure that the different Palestinian laws, by-laws and regulations, and the work of the various departments, agencies and institutions of the State of Palestine and the Palestine Liberation Organization meet the requirements for safeguarding human rights.”27 Although the PICCR provides an important check on the Palestinian Authority, it frequently digresses from its mandate, using human rights rhetoric to engage in one-sided criticism of Israeli actions.
SIDA’s Support for NGO Campaigns against Israel
For example, in its 2004 annual report, the PICCR documents Israel’s targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi without mentioning their role in organizing terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.28 Similarly, in its account of the construction of Israel’s separation barrier, it enumerates the wall’s effects on Palestinian education, health, water resources, and social life without mentioning the context of terror.29
SIDA’s funding for the Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit (NSU) is also highly problematic. The NSU is a political framework established in 1998 to “provide highly professional legal, policy and communications advice to the [Palestinian] Negotiations Affairs Department and Palestinian negotiators in preparation for, and during Permanent Status negotiations with Israel.”30 However, since the cessation of formal peace talks, the NSU has focused on advocacy activities. The NSU was instrumental in bringing the issue of the security barrier to the International Court of Justice at The Hague and it is an integral part of Palestinian propaganda.31 The extreme bias and vilification of Israel on the NSU website32 demonstrates that SIDA’s overall contribution of SEK 20 million ($2.7 million)33 is being spent on political campaigning to promote demonization, rather than development and compromise.
In summary, SIDA uses funding for groups that fuel the political conflict and fail to meet SIDA’s declared goals of promoting development. This agenda is also apparent within SIDA’s own statements and publications. To achieve its stated objective of facilitating democratic, economic, and social development in the West Bank and Gaza, SIDA should establish and implement guidelines designed to ensure that it only funds NGOs that comply strictly with this mandate.
* The NGO Monitor research team contributed to this analysis. It was sent to the following people for comment, but as of 31 December 2007 no response was received: SIDA, the Swedish ambassador in Tel Aviv, the Swedish embassy in Tel Aviv, the Swedish General Consulate in Jerusalem, and Staffan Duhs and Erika Ferrer at the Swedish Foreign Ministry, www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/3102.
- “EMHRN Executive Committee Meeting,” London, 4-6 February 2005 (Word document).
Gerald Steinberg 105
- diakonia.se/main_eng.htm, 2004 Annual Report, 42-45.
- “Anti-Terror Fence,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs (PowerPoint presentation).
- swedenabroad.com/pages/general 6401.asp.
- swedenabroad.com/pages/general 6401.asp.
- piccr.org/report/annual04/chapter4ea.pdf, 169.
- www.piccr.org/report/annual04/chapter4ea.pdf, 180-83.
- Daniel Schwammenthal, “The PLO’s European Paymasters,” Wall Street Journal Europe, 2 March 2004, A12, aijac.org.au/updates/Mar-04/040304.html#Article_3.
- Ewa Bjorling, “Aiding Palestinian Propaganda,” Wall Street Journal, 15 March 2004, defenddemocracy.org/research_topics/research_topics_show.htm?doc_ id=218138&attrib_id=9059.