We Must Stop US Funds From Indoctrinating Palestinian Children
In the realms of domestic and foreign policy, the Biden administration has made a concerted effort to reverse many of the policies that guided the previous administration. Regarding Washington’s relationship with the Palestinians, the White House and Congress are renewing tens-of-millions of taxpayer dollars in US funding to Palestinian NGOs and UN agencies, after several years in which such support was frozen. In addition, the US plans to provide nearly $40 million in aid to Gaza following the May conflict between Palestinian terror groups and Israel.
However, past experience suggests that US vetting mechanisms are insufficient to ensure that aid isn’t provided to extremists who oppose US values and policies.
The decision to reinstate aid courts dangers, as well as opportunities. If the US is going to advance its principles and interests, officials must first recognize and correct past failures in selecting Palestinian NGOs, before moving forward with major funding initiatives.
In this context, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) March 2021 audit of USAID funding to the West Bank and Gaza is particularly important. The GAO publication covered projects from 2015 to 2019, focusing on issues of compliance with the agency’s anti-terror vetting protocols. Auditors found serious deficiencies when implementing required procedures, concluding that vetting of second-tier grantees — akin to subcontractors — was often incomplete or conducted after the fact.
Extending the GAO’s work, NGO Monitor, in a newly released report, analyzed specific USAID grants during that time period. The research revealed that USAID provided approximately $7.2 million to a series of Palestinian NGOs that glorified violence and presented convicted terrorists as role models for children.
Chief among these is Juzoor, which has received over $6.6 million from USAID as part of three separate projects since 2013. On multiple occasions, this NGO introduced teens to convicted Palestinian terrorists, including those that served sentences for involvement in murdering an Israeli civilian, firing on Israeli vehicles, stabbing an Israeli, and an assortment of other violent crimes.
Tellingly, one of Juzoor’s ”youth coordinators” utilized his social media accounts to lionize the terrorists who murdered five Israelis in a November 2014 assault on a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood. In a Facebook post hours after the attack, Juzoor’s Mosab Abbas wrote, “Jerusalem has sons, the lion comrades Uday and Ghassan. You two and the martyrs have eternal life.” A few days later, Abbas also shared an official poster from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — the US-designated terrorist organization that the killers were affiliated with — hailing the pair.
Another USAID grantee during this period was the Al-Quds Hilal Club. Shockingly, the club took its youth members to participate in a 2015 rally in support of Muhammad Allan, jailed by Israel on suspicion of recruiting suicide bombers for Islamic Jihad.
It gets worse. Following an October 12, 2016, shooting attack in Jerusalem, in which Palestinian attacker Mesbah Abu Sabih murdered two Israelis, the club honored Abu Sabih, taking a team photograph with a poster of him before playing a soccer match.
Common to all of these and other examples uncovered by NGO Monitor is that the information is all publicly available, and could have been reviewed by the staffs of USAID and of the primary grantees tasked with vetting secondary partners. Apparently, they were not.
Many of these incidents occurred before grants were issued, highlighting the failure to properly vet grantees. Several of the incidents took place during the grant period, reflecting the need to continue to monitor grantees after funds are approved.
Such examples of Palestinian NGO involvement with terror organizations are far from unusual — rather, there is a strong pattern highlighting such links, as documented by NGO Monitor. Given this background, and as plans are made to invest tens-of-millions of dollars in new funding to Palestinian NGOs, it is imperative that USAID learn from previous failures. Re-engaging with Palestinian civil society without a constructive and frank evaluation of past outcomes will inevitably lead to more money being entrusted in the hands of extremists whose activities contrast directly with American values and interests. US funding must not be used again to endanger Palestinian children by subjecting them to incitement.
When evaluating potential grantees, USAID and other American agencies must conduct a thorough review of the websites and social media accounts of potential partners, as well as those of key officials at these organizations. They should also scrutinize media reports, court documents, and other public records relating to potential partners.
This material should be reviewed to ensure that potential grantees are not tied to terrorist organizations, do not espouse or glorify violence, and do not promote antisemitic tropes and rhetoric.
Implementing commonsense guidelines, consistent with US policies, interests, and values, is the only way to ensure the integrity of US funds, and to shun violent elements seeking to radicalize and endanger Palestinian youth.
The author is the Director of Research at NGO Monitor.