Charities Frozen Before Eid as
Jewish Charities Support Settlers, Soldiers
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,
By Delinda C. Hanley,
As the al-Aqsa intifada entered its second winter, Israel's American
supporters launched a particularly cruel weapon against the Palestinian
people. While Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent helicopter
gun ships, bulldozers and heavy weaponry to attack and re-occupy
Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, his lobbyists
in the United States used political pressure and smear campaigns
to block humanitarian aid from reaching the Palestinian people in
time for the holidays.
As the holy month of Ramadan neared an end-a time when Muslim Americans
are most generous in opening up their pocketbooks to help those
in need-President George W Bush announced on Dec. 4 that he was
ordering the closure of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for
Relief and Development (HLF). On Dec. 14 he took the same action
against the Illinois-based Global Relief Foundation and the Benevolence
International Foundation, also in Illinois.
Accusing the Islamic charities of funding Hamas extremists, the
Treasury Department froze their funds, raided their offices and
seized their records. Almost immediately the Canadian government
took the same actions against the three charities.
"For weak, suffering and innocent victims, the timing of this
action could not have been worse;' a Global Relief press release
declared. "By halting medicine, food and other humanitarian
aid, we risk the slow starvation and gruesome death in parts of
the Muslim world that rely on such badly needed aid."
The non-profit humanitarian organizations and their supporters
strongly deny any links to terrorism. Global Relief, founded in
1992, says it "is in the business of helping innocent civilians
and takes every precaution to ensure our aid does not go to support
or subsidize any nefarious activity."
The Holy Land Foundation, founded in 1987 by president and CEO
Shukri A. Baker, raises funds for relief efforts for Palestinians
in Israel, Lebanon and the occupied territories. In recent years
the HLF expanded its mission to help Muslims face disasters in Chechnya,
Kosovo and Turkey (see Sept.1999 Washington Report, p. 96).
Donations to both groups helped feed the hungry, bring injured
youths to the United States for medical treatment, and provide medical
and educational support. Like many Christian charities, contributors
could also sponsor a Palestinian orphan for a set monthly amount
and then regularly receive letters and photographs.
The HLF raised more than $13 million in 2000. In 2001, in the wake
of a deadly tornado, it gave the city of Fort Worth $10,000. In
December the Treasury Department froze $5 million in donations to
the Holy Land, nearly half the amount it had raised during the year.
In closing down the Holy Land Foundation, President Bush said that
the organization builds schools to "indoctrinate children to
grow into suicide bombers" and supports the bombers' families
after deadly suicide missions. The Holy Land denied connections
to Hamas and providing assistance specifically to the families of
suicide bombers, although they may be among the many recipients
of HLF relief aid. The organization's friends note that no relief
organization in the world is asked to question hungry children about
their parents' religious or political beliefs or legal status. Is
public assistance denied to American children whose parents have
been imprisoned or executed? Has the US. denied aid to the children,
orphans or widows of Taliban fighters? Why, then, is there a double
standard when it comes to Palestine?
By closing these Islamic charities, the Bush administration has
demonstrated that it succumbed to Israeli pressure to link the U.S.
war on global terrorism with Israel's war against the Palestinians.
Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House was careful
to make a distinction between its war against al-Qaeda terrorists
and Israel's war on Palestinians seeking independence. Needless
to say, this did not sit well with Israel.
The Israeli government, along with its public relations machines
and its lobbyists in the United States, methodically set out to
reverse the administration's position. According to the Nov. 8 Washington
Jewish Week, leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American
Jewish Organizations met with administration officials in the beginning
of November to ask for anti-Israel groups to be added to the list
of terrorist organizations. Similarly, the Nov. 9 Forward reported
that a concerted effort was launched to add Hamas, the Islamic Jihad,
and the Lebanese Hezbollah to the list of terrorist organizations
subject to new financial sanctions. "The lobbying effort for
the inclusion of the Palestinian organizations was wider than typical
campaigns mounted by proIsrael advocates in Washington;" Forward
noted. "The pressure on the administration had become unbearable."
American Jewish organizations were delighted with the success of
Avi Dichter, the head of Shin Bet, the Israeli security police,
visited Washington at the end of November to deliver dubious "new
evidence" which, he claimed, linked Hamas with al-Qaeda, according
to the Dec. 5 London Guardian. Israel also provided the FBI with
more than 50 names of Palestinians with alleged Hamas connections
who had received Holy Land money. Israeli counterterrorism agents
met with Citibank and U.S. Treasury officials to inform them that
money transfers from the Holy Land to the Al-Aqsa International
Bank and Beit al-Mal Holdings Company, both in the West Bank, were
being funneled to Hamas.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which for years has sought to
close the Holy Land Foundation, posted a rambling fivepage document
on its Web site enumerating its accusations. Judicial Watch, "a
public interest law firm," prepared a letter detailing complaints
against virtually every major American Muslim nonprofit organization
in the country, calling them "fronts for radical Islamic terrorists"
that provide "terrorist funds" for Osama bin Laden and
Hamas. The letter was "hand-delivered" to the commissioner
of the Internal Revenue Service; President Bush; Attorney General
John Ashcroft; Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill; Assistant
Attorney General Michael Chertoff of the Justice Department's Criminal
Division; and all members of the House and Senate.
While his American supporters worked over U.S. policymakers, Israeli
Prime Minister Sharon and his government began to use the word "terrorist"
to describe not only all Palestinian militants, but Palestinians
of every stripe, and even President Yasser Arafat. America's mainstream
media quickly followed suit.
Israel used the calculated assassination of Hamas leaders to provoke
predictable retaliation in the form of "terrorist attacks"
and "suicide bombings" and gain unquestioning American
support for Israel's own heavyhanded "response" to terrorism.
Israel's anti-Palestinian campaign came together like clockwork.
By the time Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited President Bush at
the White House on Dec. 2-days after the Nov. 23 murder of another
key Hamas leader, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, inspired more horrific suicide
bombings-American Muslim charities were doomed. Just as Bush inexplicably
but obediently blamed Arafat for Hamas attacks, he closed down the
charities without waiting for a complete investigation or a court
ruling. Deprived of income or charitable assistance this winter,
Palestinians face only hunger and cold, as well as continuing Israeli
raids, destruction and closures.
Jewish Americans Donations Support Settlers, Soldiers By contrast,
American Jewish money has long gone toward closing the funding gap
in Israel's social services, due to the nation's heavy spending
on military and defense.
At Sharon's urging, the Israel Now campaign was created in the
Spring of 2001 with a two-year goal to raise $400 million. The tax-deductible
"charity" was launched by the United Jewish Communities
(UJC)-the two-year-old organization formed by the merger of the
United Jewish Appeal, Council of Jewish Federations and United Israel
Appeal-to fund the purchase of armored vehicles, upgraded security
systems to protect schools and community centers, counseling for
Ethiopian and Russian immigrants who have suffered from terrorism;
bulletproof glass for houses in vulnerable and illegal Jewish settlements;
and support services for Israel Defense Force soldiers. By mid-November,
according to the Nov. 16 Washington Jewish Week. almost $86 million
had been raised, nearly $5 million from the Washington, DC area
Leaders of many Jewish federations say the Israel fund-raising
campaign had actually boosted contributions to the general coffers.
Last year, for example, the UJC raised $245 million-the majority
of which was allocated to the Jewish Agency for Israel-and in 1999,
$246 million. Before the three groups combined, "Byzantine
accounting procedures" made it difficult to arrive at a single
figure raised for domestic and overseas Jewish needs.
All Jewish groups in the federation system collectively raised
$2.9 billion in 2000, up from $2.4 billion in 1999. Outgoing UJC
chairman Charles Bronfman pointed out in the Nov. 16 Jewish Weekly
that private Jewish foundations, which now have assets in excess
of $25 billion and distribute more than $1 billion annually, have
surpassed the Jewish federation donations.
According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy's annual ranking of
the top U.S. philanthropies in the United States-based on tax filings
from 2000-25 Jewish organizations and institutions made the top
400, including four American groups that support Israeli universities,
and two Jewish defense agencies.
The One Israel Fund purchases bulletproof family and medical vehicles
for Jewish settlements, and security systems, as well as funding
educational and social welfare programs. This tax-deductible fund
"provides essential humanitarian assistance to 144 Jewish communities
located thoughout Judea, Samaria and Gaza [the territories illegally
occupied by Israel."
The Libi Fund, another U.S. tax-deductible "charity"
for strengthening Israeli defenses, raises funds for Israeli soldiers.
It built a fitness room to serve soldiers of the Northern Command
who guard settlers in the Upper Galilee and the Lebanese border,
and a library for the use of IDF soldiers stationed on Mt. Hermon.
This fund recently raised $1.7 million for an orthopedic rehabilitation
institute for soldiers, and another $11 million for an Army Medical
Corps Center to serve Israel's Southern Command. A $1.5 million
donation helped build the Estherina Giron School, which teaches
Hebrew to new immigrants serving in the IDF. The Libi Fund also
gave 26 scholarships to recently discharged soldiers studying software
The Justice Department says that charities in the U.S. that knowingly
contribute to foreign terrorist organizations can be sued for damages
by victims of attacks carried out by those organizations. On that
basis, the U.S. government said that the family of David Boim-a
17-year-old American who was shot and killed at a bus stop in the
West Bank in 1996 by Hamas terrorists can sue the Holy Land Foundation
and the Quranic Literacy Institution.
Can the families of Palestinian Americans who have been crippled,
blinded, tortured or killed by Israeli soldiers or Jewish settlers
sue Jewish American charities that have contributed funds for their
support? Is a soldier who targets a stone-throwing or footballkicking
child not a terrorist because he wears a uniform?
The Bush administration is skating on thin ice when it stops donations
given by good people in good faith from reaching sorely abused Palestinians
and other Muslims suffering around the world. It would do well to
follow the example of the Holy Land and the Global Relief foundations
and other charities to use education, aid, and hope to counter extremism
instead of smart bombs, missiles, sanctions, and other forms of
violence that kill innocent civilians and create more animosity