ISRAELI civil rights group Shurat HaDin has threatened legal action and blasted World Vision Australia and AusAID over their investigations into a Palestinian organisation the former alleges has links to a terrorist group.
Last month, Shurat HaDin wrote to both World Vision Australia and AusAID – the Australian government’s foreign aid arm – alleging the Gaza-based Union of Agricultural Work committees (UAWC) is a subsidiary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
AusAID channels its UAWC funding through World Vision Australia.
World Vision Australia suspended funding to the UAWC in response, but both it and AusAID announced last week that their investigations had cleared the UAWC and funding would resume.
“World Vision Australia undertook an extensive investigation of the UAWC and provided key information and the findings of that investigation to AusAID. AusAID also undertook its own inquiries,” World Vision Australia head of public affairs and external engagement Martin Thomas said.
“These investigations clearly found the UAWC and key executives were not listed on the listings of proscribed organisations or individuals published by the Department of Foreign Affairs and by several agencies of other governments.”
A spokesperson for AusAID said based on available evidence, it had concluded that Shurat HaDin’s allegations were unfounded.
The spokesperson added that there was no evidence of a formal or informal relationship between the UAWC and the PFLP, nor of any aid funds being exchanged between the two.
“As a result, AusAID sees no impediment to World Vision resuming its partnership with the UAWC,” the spokesperson said.
But Shurat HaDin solicitor Andrew Hamilton said the organisations’ responses demonstrated clearly “the naivety and irresponsibility of their organisations in dealing with Australian taxpayer dollars and serious potential criminal offences”.
“Neither World Vision or AusAID asked Shurat HaDin for the evidence that led to us sending the warning letters,” he said.
“Yet they say they have conducted an ‘extensive investigation’.”
He stated that the organisations clearly did not understand the way things worked in the Middle East. “Terrorists certainly aren’t stupid enough to document the relationship between their terror arm and their agricultural arm in a public register,” he said.
He also clarified that the Israeli Justice Ministry, not the Interior Ministry, provides not-for-profit registrations and the UAWC “does not appear to be on the list”.
He warned that World Vision and AusAID have been put on notice.
“If they continue to fund the UAWC, Shurat HaDin will take steps to bring the full force of the Australian and United States criminal and civil law upon the organisations, including criminal prosecution of the leadership of the organisations and those knowingly concerned in these serious criminal offences,” he said.
A UAWC gathering in the “devastated lands of the farmers” in the Jabal Alkashef area in Jabalia. According to UAWC, “hundreds of farmers … carried signs supporting the steadfastness of farmers, denouncing Israeli policies, and calling all Palestinians to be united.”