Tuesday, 1 February 2022—The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO) held a conference at the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in Ramallah to announce the commencement of the EU-funded project ‘Shoraka’ to present and discuss the trend of “shrinking space for civil society organizations” within the Palestinian context. It is a collaborative action plan aimed at addressing shrinking space and supporting various stakeholders, including donors, in improving their policies when operating in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
Dr. Mohammad Abboushi, Chair of PNGO Board of Directors and Mr. Sven Kühn Von Burgsdoff, Head of the EU Delegation to the West Bank and Gaza Strip presented a joint welcoming speech to all participants.
In his welcoming remarks, Dr. Abboushi affirmed that “the European Union must protect European institutions that insist on having a relationship with Palestinian institutions and continue to work with them and support them politically.” He also added that “Israel continues to implement the deal of the century, annexation plans and Judaization projects on the ground, and therefore a stronger position is required against these Israeli measures that change the reality every day in light of the recognition of civil society and that no party has the right to change this reality unilaterally. Holding Israel accountable for all the grave violations perpetrated against the Palestinian people and the civil society organizations must be taken more seriously.” Dr. Abboushi concluded his speech by reminding the participants that “what we are experiencing in Palestine today is an apartheid regime and racial discrimination, and therefore the European Union must deal with this issue just as it is dealing with the regime of apartheid and racial discrimination in South Africa. Hence, it is of utmost responsibility to confront the apartheid regime by supporting the development and steadfastness of the Palestinian people and preventing the ethnic cleansing by the occupying power.”
The EU Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff expressed at the launching conference that “Civil society organisations are unique partners in their capacity to reach, empower, represent and defend local populations – they are the engines of change, the ones on the frontlines, fighting for equality and justice. In Palestine, the EU is proud of its partnership with the Palestinian civil society organizations as they continue to play a major role in promoting international law, human rights, and democratic values. This partnership is demonstrated by around fifty ongoing projects with a total budget of almost seventy million Euros. These projects are making a difference and maintaining hope amid a tough reality.’’ He continued, “meanwhile the EU is aware that freedom of association in Palestine is increasingly challenged and space for civil society is shrinking. With concern we have followed alarming incidents recently where human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations were subject to unprecedented violations whether in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or Gaza. In this context, our position remains principled and unchanged: civil society is and will remain our partner as we promote together the human values and principles that we share,’’ he added.
The conference included two main dialogue sessions to address policies regarding the operational environment of local CSOs as a key indication of shrinking civic space. Speakers from local civil society organizations (CSOs) from different sectors, legal experts, advocacy and social activists, and representatives from international NGOs have participated in the dialogue sessions and interventions. The seminar sessions were conducted by an expert panel for each topic that delivered research findings and analysis of the designated policy themes.
The input of Palestinian CSOs focused on addressing existing constraints on the local and international levels to amplify civic voices, support activism engagement, and investigate approaches to defend and protect CSOs work and space. In addition, the conference is designed to reinforce experience sharing between CSOs, International donors, and governmental entities.
The first session addressed the challenges and opportunities of various humanitarian and development actors in pursuance to the shrinking space hindering the work of the Palestinian CSOs. Three presentations were delivered focusing on promoting and strengthening the enabling environment and space for CSOs; reinforcing the representation of citizens’ rights; and finally fostering a coherent approach against combating public defamation.
The second session focused on the strategies and mechanisms needed to combat counter-terrorism policies, regulations, and policies. The main topics discussed bank de-risking and CSO access to financial institutions, as well as proposals for increased engagement with the Financial Action Task Force, restrictive legislative and policy measures, and the use of laws against human rights non-profit organizations and defenders in the oPt.
The main outcomes following the conference is to make local CSOs more aware of the concept of shrinking civil space and its impact on their work and future implications. The conference serves as a platform for successful and long-term collaboration between local CSOs and their beneficiaries.
This conference serves as a springboard for a series of dialogues between local CSOs and governmental institutions, coalitions, financial institutions, social movements, and international donors. Following the conference, PNGO will review the recommendations made during the dialogue sessions and disseminate them across numerous platforms. Recommendations will be incorporated in the development of indicators for PNGO policy action.
The conference covered a wide range of topics and issues related to ensuring the functioning of Palestinian civil society actors, including increased involvement in development and humanitarian efforts, as well as involvement in policymaking, monitoring, and service provision.