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Islamic Charities Frozen Before Eid as
Jewish Charities Support Settlers, Soldiers

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,
By Delinda C. Hanley,
January 2002


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 their efforts.

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 alone.

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 development.

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 toward Americans.