How a Palestinian Terrorist Group Uses “Civil-Society” Organizations to Raise, and to Launder, Money

November 8, 2021 | Matthew Levitt
About the author: Matthew Levitt directs the Jeanette and Eli Reinhard program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he is also the Fromer-Wexler senior fellow. A former U.S. intelligence official, Levitt is the author of Hizballah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.

On October 9, the Israeli government formally designated six Palestinian charities as terrorist groups due to their support for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—a move that met with predictable condemnations from the UN, the State Department, and self-styled human-rights groups. Since at least 2011, multiple PFLP operatives have been hired by the designated charities. Matthew Levitt assesses the evidence that these organizations act as fronts for the PFLP, which even the EU considers a terrorist group. Between 2011 and 2019, the PFLP murdered at least six people, in addition to countless foiled attacks:

Then, on August 23, 2019, PFLP operatives planned and detonated a bomb at a popular West Bank hiking spot, killing seventeen-year-old Rina Shnerb and wounding her father and brother. Two of the PFLP terrorists involved in this attack—one of them, Samer Arbid, charged with recruiting cell members and personally detonating the explosive—were employed by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, one of the recently designated NGOs.

Among the arrested PFLP operatives [after the attack] was Walid Muhammad Hanatsheh, a finance and administration manager for the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC), another PFLP-affiliated NGO. . . . Pulling at the threads of the two NGOs directly tied to PFLP operatives involved in Shnerb’s murder, . . . Israeli authorities began mapping out what they ultimately determined was a network of front organizations providing funds for the PFLP, day jobs and legitimacy for its operatives, and space for secure meetings.

Then, in March 2021, Israeli authorities raided the UHWC headquarters in al-Bireh, searched the premises, and seized files and computers, while also detaining three office employees. In early May 2021, Israel arrested four people affiliated with the UHWC. . . . The defendants were charged with activity in a proscribed organization, conducting illicit money transfers, and fraud, and accused of defrauding European donors by manipulating records to cover funds “in the eight figures” diverted from the NGO to the PFLP. Together, investigators said, the four “duped European donors using financial records doctored to hide cash diversions” to the PFLP.

[I]n a statement to Israeli police, one of the arrested UHWC employees explained that “the PFLP-affiliated institutions are interconnected and serve as the organization’s lifeline financially and organizationally, i.e., money laundering and financing PFLP activity.”

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