• October 9, 2007

Closing NGOs underming Abu Mazen government

Closing NGOs underming Abu Mazen government

The Al-Wurud Organization supports 130 poor families by providing food packages during holy days, feasts, and at the beginning of the school year. They hold workshops for women on social, educational and health issues. But the Palestinian government — the emergency government declared by Abu Mazen — is closing Al-Wurud, along with hundreds of others just like it. The emergency government claims that the organizations are being closed because they “are not properly registered.” But, in fact, it now appears that the charities that are being closed have crossed a thin political line being drawn by Abu Mazen: it is not that they are not registered, it is that they are registered in the wrong place. As Sumud Dameeree, a lawyer at the Ministry of Interior notes: “Why did these charities register in Gaza when they are located in the West Bank? They are required by law to register in their place and not in Gaza.”

Fadwa Eshaer, a director at the ministry argues that NGOs like Al-Wurud bring with them an Islamist agenda. “We need to build a state,” she says. “We do not need funds from Syria or Iran that will destroy our society. We do not need violence. We don’t need such NGOs which nurture an extreme Islamist agenda.” But Eshaer failed to detail exactly what Islamist agenda a bread-baking NGO like Al-Wurud promotes — or how supporting poor families by providing food packages promotes violence or “nurtures an extreme Islamist agenda.”

The women at Al-Wurud freely admit that the registration of their organization was carried out in Gaza. “It is not our problem that the Minister of Interior who signed our registration is a Hamas Minister,” they say. But they also deny any affiliation with Hamas and say they are not affiliated to an Islamic party. “We are Moslem women. We concentrate on social work only. We have no political agenda.” According to the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights, (PICCR) in Ramallah, the targeting of Non Governmental Organizations by the Abu Mazen West Bank government is politically motivated. Among the 107 NGOs that have been dismantled by Abu Mazen, 80 percent are Hamas-affiliated NGOs.

Mu’een Barghouthi, a lawyer and researcher in the centre freely states that the NGO closings are connected to the events that took place in the Gaza Strip in mid-June. Reports compiled by the research department at the centre show that since the rift between the West Bank and Gaza there has been a deterioration in human rights on many levels, including freedom of speech, educational and health opportunities. Barghouthi notes that Hamas’s strength has been in its ability to provide social services at a time that the Palestinian Authority had failed to do so. So the question is: is Fatah fighting extremism — or undermining its own credibility? And who will carry out the task of providing bread for the convent school of Birzeit?