Why Have American Taxpayers Supported Hamas Trainers?

Youth training at the Al-Futuwa program. Photo: Paldf.net.

Youth training at the Al-Futuwa program. Photo: Paldf.net.

 Algemeiner, By Dexter Van Zile:

Should American taxpayers be funding an organization that has provided activist training to an illegal terrorist group?

This is not an abstract question. It has happened.

In a recent report, NGO Monitor revealed that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a non-profit funded largely by the U.S. Congress (i.e. American taxpayers), gave approximately $232,000 to the Holy Land Trust (HLT) between 2006 and 2012.  A search of NED’s website confirms that it has given multiple grants to the organization.

HLT is a Bethlehem-based “peacemaking” organization whose leader, Sami Awad, has stated publicly that his organization has given training in non-violence to Hamas and other militant groups in Palestinian society.

He did it in a speech he gave at the National Leadership Conference for the Vinyard Church in Galveston, Texas in 2009. “[W]e’ve actually done training in non-violence for Hamas leaders and other militant groups as well,” he told the audience.

At the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference held in Bethlehem in 2012, Colin Chapman, an expert on Islam praised Awad for his willingness to speak with Islamists and to form genuine “face-to-face” relationships with them.

“Sami Awad has, for several years, been working with people in Hamas exploring with them a genuinely Islamic basis for non-violence, peacemaking and reconciliation,” Chapman said.

While some people might praise Awad for speaking words of peace to Hamas, there is little, if any evidence that his words have had much of an impact on the organization, which was designated a “foreign terrorist organization” in 1997. It still remains committed to Israel’s destruction and has engaged in numerous attacks against Israel.

Clearly, Awad’s activism has a strong ecumenical component. In the 2009 speech to Vineyard Church leaders he said, “Any community that asks us, we’re there to serve.” Still, Hamas is a bit much.

A line has to be drawn somewhere.

Hamas is on the other side of that line.

It’s pretty irresponsible and naïve for Awad to teach the language of peacemaking to totalitarian fascist organizations such as Hamas. Such training can easily be repurposed by Hamas leaders so as to make its messaging more effective to Westerners. Awad himself seems to understand this. In 2008 he told Michael Lerner, “Hamas is not denouncing nonviolence. There are Hamas people who see nonviolence as a useful tool.”

Why would Hamas see nonviolence as a useful tool?

Simple.

It’s not just acts of terror that makes groups like Hamas effective, but the story they tell to justify and frame this violence. And Awad’s Holy Land Trust, has given Hamas and other militant groups expertise in framing their acts of terror for Western audiences.

As I have written elsewhere, “Awad’s group, the Holy Land Trust, has taught Hamas and other militant groups that seek Israel’s destruction how to speak the language of peace activists in the West and appeal to the conscience of human rights activists in the U.S. and Europe.”

In addition to being irresponsible, it may also be illegal. Federal law prohibits providing terrorist organizations with material support, which according to the statute includes “training” and “expert advice.” That seems to describe what HLT has, by Awad’s admission, provided to Hamas and other militant groups.

Why has the National Endowment for Democracy given money provided by American Taxpayers to the Holy Land Trust, an organization whose leader has admitted to and been praised for interacting with – and giving training to – Hamas?

Just what type of oversight has the National Endowment for Democracy exercised over the Holy Land Trust?

And what type of oversight has Congress exercised over the NED?

What is going on here?

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).