Newsletter #01

Dear friend,

We hope that this newsletter finds you and everyone dear to you healthy and safe. As we all experience an unprecedented and challenging reality, our congratulations go to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for the important victory in the UK Supreme Court defeating the Government over pensions divestment. Let’s all join efforts to come out of this stronger and even more committed to justice and freedom for everyone

As attempts to smear and silence those who stand up for freedom and justice for the Palestinian people have been on-going in Europe before and during the Covid-crisis and lockdowns, our work to defend and support the movement for Palestinian rights continues. We would like to update you therefore about new developments and achievements.

First of all, we are pleased to introduce Eloise Bollack, who has joined the ELSC as Communications and Media Officer. Eloise is currently developing our first website, along with other communication tools, such as this newsletter. She will ensure that you will be able to communicate with the ELSC and follow our work more easily.

Then, we are happy to share with you our 2019 Annual Report.

You will find in it an overview of accomplishments in the ELSC’s first year on the main pillars of our program – Monitoring, Legal Defence and Empowerment of the movement for Palestinian rights.

We’d appreciate your feedback!

Mobilize law in the service of Palestinian rights defenders

With regard to the current year, we’d like you to know that our capacity for legal research and assistance has increased. This is thanks to nine law graduates and students who have joined the ELSC for various duration as consultants, guest researchers and interns. At present, our team is working from four European cities: Amsterdam, London, Berlin and Turin.

In these first months of 2020, ELSC research has been focused primarily, although not exclusively, on developing legal strategies and tools for the defence against de-funding and “de-platforming” together with partner NGOs, lawyers and experts in this field. These tactics are used relentlessly by Israel-lobby groups and lawfare organisations to smear NGOs, charities and nonviolent campaigns for Palestinian rights as “affiliated with terrorism”, in order to intimidate donors into withdrawing funding, and providers of online platforms (social media, payment or fundraising) into denying use of their service.

We have also provided practical assistance to some of the many affected by these attacks. Here are some examples:

In January, we referred an urgent case of denial of online payment service to our Dutch partner Pro Bono Connect. In parallel, our legal team is studying non-legal remedies that could be used to challenge the payment service provider, Mollie, who unilaterally closed the account of a foundation supporting a peace and democracy education program of a school in Palestine. Without clear explanations provided in the first instance, Mollie eventually hinted the account was closed because the funds were transferred to Palestine, allegedly posing a high risk due to the amended Dutch Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorist Financing Act.

In February, our legal team prepared a letter of objection to the disclosure of grant agreements between a Ramallah-based NGO and a European governmental donor. The disclosure had been requested by an Israeli lawfare organization under a freedom of information act, in the wake of a defamatory campaign accusing the NGO of ties with terrorism and misuse of foreign funds. Currently, our team is developing a legal brief for the targeted donors refuting the accusations of “guilt by affiliation” and explaining that the NGO’s development programs are in conformity with international law.

To the Palestinian NGO network PNGO, we provided assistance in finding clarity and a common position about a problematic clause concerning EU sanctions that had newly appeared in EU funding contracts with civil society organizations.  There was no clarity about the concrete meaning of this clause, and outrage over the inclusion of seven Palestinian liberation organizations in the EU list of sanctions which is strongly rejected by Palestinian society.
We supported PNGO with an ELSC memo that examines the EU sanctions regime, including its appeals procedure as well as differences to the much broader and even more arbitrary regime of US sanctions. The memo also suggested an interpretation of the clause on “restrictive measures” in EU grant contracts that does not result in new obligations for Palestinian NGOs. At the end of March, the EU issued an official clarification letter which confirms our interpretation and has laid some of the main concerns to rest. Most importantly, the EU clarified that,
… it is understood that a natural person affiliated to, sympathizing with, or supporting any of the groups or entities mentioned in the EU restrictive lists is not excluded from benefitting from EU-funded activities, unless his/her exact name and surname (confirming his/her identity) corresponds to any of the natural persons on the EU restrictive lists.
Since no Palestinian individual is on the EU sanctions list, the above means that NGOs are not required to screen the political affiliation of individuals participating in their EU funded activities  (i.e., the so-called “vetting”, a form of spying that is required under US anti-terrorism financing rules). With this statement, the EU has also taken a clear stand against the relentless campaign of Israel’s government and lobby groups seeking to terminate EU funding by smearing Palestinian NGOs as “guilty of terrorism”, because of the affiliation of individuals among their staff or board with a Palestinian group included in the EU sanctions list.
Read the ELSC memo
Read PNGO’s response to the EU, as well as the official EU clarification letter
Along with 180 civil society coalitions and organisations, ELSC signed the Open Letter that was submitted to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, on 29 April. We express our strong support for the opening of an investigation into Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which was initiated by Bensouda in December.
Please contact us if you or your group , association, NGO, foundation, have been intimidated, slandered, censored or banned from speaking out about or carrying out solidarity actions with Palestine, or if you have questions about your rights.
Feel free to share our news with your networks.
Ramadan Kareem from all of us.

Eloïse Bollack
Communications and Media Officer

Giovanni Fassina

What is the ELSC?

The European Legal Support Center is the first and only organisation providing professional legal support and assistance to organisations, groups and individuals advocating for Palestinian rights in Europe.
The ELSC intervenes to end arbitrary restrictions and criminalization of peaceful advocacy and humanitarian work. It also develops legal tools and strategies to support civil society advocacy and campaigns. The Center was established in January 2019 in Amsterdam as a joint initiative of the Palestinian civil society network PNGO, the Dutch NGO The Rights Forum, and European jurists.
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