The architects of the universally esteemed Geneva Human Right Conventions are willing to support financially, without conditions, a terrorist organization. Believe it or not, this is the truth.
A couple of weeks ago, I returned to Israel from a trip to Switzerland. While there, I met with members of Parliament responsible for the flow of available funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas. At the very moment I sought to convince members of Parliament against continuing with past funding practices, just a few feet across the hall from us sat Mahmoud Abbas. The express purpose of his visit was to solicit still more financial aid for the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas will get everything that he asked for. How can I be so certain? Sadly, my confidence comes from the very people with whom I sat. They told me with explicit clarity: “We always support third-world countries, especially those experiencing human rights violations.” Obviously, I have encountered this now-familiar approach on other occasions. Even so, I can never get used to the shock I experience from such a response. After taking a deep breath, I explained to the respected Swiss parliamentarians sitting before me the gulf between hope and reality. They imagine that the Swiss francs which flow like a mighty river into the depths of the Palestinian Authority will quench the intense thirst of Palestinians for educational, cultural and medical improvements. Instead, their gifts will be held tightly within the grasp of the one who received them. Money which has been taken generously from the resources of Switzerland’s heavenly mountains and valleys will feed the corruption and abuse of Palestinian leaders towards their people. It seemed as though my words fell on deaf ears. Then, just before I left the meeting room, something unexpected happened. One of those same parliamentarians remarked to me, casually, that I should not give up my efforts. His ‘door’, at least, would remain open. He implied there was a chance, though slender, that my words might yet reshape the group’s perceptions. This was all the encouragement I needed. I left the offices of Parliament reassured and determined to advance this quest for justice with redoubled energy. For obvious reasons, I cannot state here what I intend to do to prevent the PA, if possible, from receiving more funds from the Swiss government. The Palestinian Authority’s intelligence network analyzes our public scripts, even as we check theirs. Our chances of success are not high, but the effort remains worthy. Every Swiss citizen, along with all Europeans, should condemn this entire fund-raising and distribution apparatus as wholly unacceptable. Europe pours its wealth into a Palestinian ‘Authority’ that has freely signed a wide range of human rights conventions, while profoundly breaching the vast majority of them. Still unsatisfied, the PA violates, repeatedly, common moral principles with which all countries or organizations should comply, whether or not they have entered, formally, into mutual commitments. What are these moral principles about which I write?
- Arbitrary arrests and imprisonment occur routinely in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The internal conflict between Fatah and Hamas alone has brought hundreds of complaints about abuse and political arrests before international human rights committees. Those caught in this cruel net have included journalists, teachers, university professors, students, clergy and others.
- Torture and cruel punishment await many Palestinians, especially if they are suspected of collaborating with Israel. Not only are they refused the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in court, but they suffer arrest, undergo severe torture and are, often, executed according to the government’s arbitrary decision without benefit of trial. Hamas goes even further, serving as a patron and sponsor to the torture of civilians outside the Gaza Strip and, even, beyond the region.
- The violation of the Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press has become so commonplace at civilian demonstrations that intimidation by punching and beating journalists, as well as breaking their equipment, scarcely draws due attention. Human rights activists, alongside non-partisan Palestinian journalists, face abuse, harassment, and violence. Increasingly, they are prevented from going abroad. Even the murder of innocent people, during peaceful demonstrations, by the Palestinian Authority can no longer be considered a rare exception. Remarkable, the situation is much the worse in the Gaza Strip.
- The violation of the Freedom of Religion and Minority Rights arises from portions of Sharia law that impose explicit inequalities between Muslims and non-Muslims. Christians specifically, are regarded as second-class citizens under Sharia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, evidence has surfaced of crimes against Christians in the West Bank that were either sanctioned or overlooked by the PA. The still-more-extreme religious crisis in Gaza has been marked by the destruction of churches, shops and holy Christian books. In a particularly shocking incident, a Christian shop owner, the husband and father of small children, was kidnapped and murdered brutally, with his body discovered the next morning. Some now foresee the near-total disappearance from Gaza, by emigration, of two millennia of Christian presence.
- Formal and informal discrimination against women of all ages characterizes both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. So-called ‘honor killings’ may be carried out by perpetrators, without undue anxiety, for reasons ranging from extra- marital sex, the desire to divorce, declining to marry a man, immodest dress or, for that matter, virtually any issue deemed shameful by the victim’s family. While individuals commit these crimes, not the government, Palestinian case law enables these murders to receive a light sentence or, often, none at all. Women living in the West Bank and Gaza express many other concerns: severe sexual violence experienced by women from their own family, their legal inability to receive familial inheritances and, as a common thread across all these abuses, the discounting of a woman’s sworn testimony by comparison to that of any man. Against this shared backdrop, women living in the West Bank do enjoy greater freedom, relatively, than women living in the Gaza Strip.
- Children’s rights violations include their forced recruitment by Palestinian armed groups for use as propaganda props in their ideological struggle against Israel. Doing so threatens the inherent, universal right to life accorded these children, as proclaimed by human rights activists in the United Nations and the world.
- Direct and indirect financing of terrorism by the PA has been underwritten, if unintentionally, by the European Union and the United States. This major, non-stop pipeline of assistance has rarely been used to build infrastructure or raise the standard of living of Palestinian residents. To the contrary, audits reveal how funds have been transferred, instead, to underwrite terrorism. This has gone as far as providing enormous familial compensation to Palestinian prisoners serving just sentences in Israeli prisons. That single category amounts, currently, to roughly 6% of the total Palestinian Authority budget. State-controlled PA media have recast prisoners convicted of heinous crimes into heroic national figures whose deeds should be treasured forever by Palestinians. In parallel, the educational establishment trains up the terrorists of tomorrow, not only by hateful curricular content in textbooks, but at summer camps where teen-aged students are certified with the ‘skills’ needed to carry out terrorist acts against Israel.
For some readers, the scale, scope and detail of Palestinian human rights abuses will come as an unexpected revelation. Others to whom this is ‘old news’ may be tempted to adopt the shield of a worldly-wise cynicism or resort to the counter-charge that, after all, Israel does the same, does she not?
No, Israel does not. Few nations do.
The attested behavior of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas towards their own peoples can only be matched by a handful of the world’s other worst human rights abusers. Since no one has refuted the simple truth of these abuses by Palestinian leaders against their own population, because to do so would be impossible, why, then does Switzerland continue to rain money upon Mahmoud Abbas?
Even after factoring numerous historical and political variables into this complex situation, I cannot answer such a question. It is for that reason I admitted earlier, without embarrassment, to my own shock at the response of these sincere, convinced Swiss Parliamentarians to the incontrovertible evidence I have shared with you here.
To those EU officials whose ‘doors remain open’, I say with respect and encouragement – the European Union’s legal code assigns to you, explicitly, the right and the capability to withhold or halt, altogether, funding awarded to any country that fails to respect international human rights covenants and the rule of law.
Since non-stop funding of the Palestinian Authority has become essential to sustain its very existence, both the EU and the U.S. should condition any further funding commitments, without delay, on the demonstrable commitment of the Palestinian Authority to verifiably implemented human rights reforms. After all, even the United States has placed ironclad restrictions on their aid to the region. Should Hamas become a true governmental partner of the PA, international aid must stop unless-and-until Hamas recognizes the legitimate existence of the State of Israel.
I hope, sincerely, that when I sit again with you who bear crucial responsibility for the affairs of Switzerland, both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples will be dwelling under happier and more just circumstances. Your courageous decisions on behalf of simple, crucial truths can be a difference-maker for authentic peace and coexistence in the Middle East.