Belgium freezes aid for Palestinian schools over honor for terrorist

Oct 11, 2017

Dalal Mughrabi

Palestinians hanging posters with pictures of Dalal Mughrabi in Ramallah, March 13, 2011. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Belgium said it will freeze funding for the construction of two Palestinian schools after a West Bank school the nation helped fund renamed the institution for a terrorist who killed Jewish civilians.

The nation’s Jewish groups welcomed the decision by the Foreign Ministry, which announced the move Tuesday in a statement that was unusual for the seniority of the undersigned: federal vice prime ministers Didier Reynders and Alexander De Croo. The Forum of Jewish Organizations of Belgium’s Flemish Region said it was “the right thing to do.”

Compared to the Foreign Ministry’s handling of past complaints about misuse of aid funds by the Palestinian Authority, the government reaction this time was unusually harsh.

“Belgium has suspended two ongoing projects, totaling 3.3 million euros [$3.8 million], of construction of Palestinian schools,” the statement read. “The Belgian government unequivocally condemns any glorification of a terrorist attack. Belgium will not allow itself to be associated in any manner to the names of terrorists.”

Sometime after 2013, a school built in Hebron with Belgian money was renamed for Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist who was part of a 1978 attack that killed 38 civilians, including 13 children. The school was called Beit Awwa Elementary School for Girls at the time of its inauguration in 2013

The renaming came without the Belgian government’s knowledge, the statement said. The government has asked the Palestinian Authority to provide clarification over the renaming and frozen the aid pending talks.

The president of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations told JTA on Wednesday that the Belgian government has increasingly shown sensitivity to such issues and making sure taxpayer money does not fund terrorism.

Yohan Benizri said that while Belgium has not changed its policy of supporting the two-state solution and opposing Israeli actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians, “there is a push for more balance in the relationship and a push that is heard also by the Foreign Ministry” headed by Reynders.

Benizri added that the freeze reflects how “there is no more sweeping under the carpet.”

The Palestinian mission in Brussels declined to comment on the matter when contacted by the French news agency AFP. Palestinian officials resisted calls by United Nations leaders to change the name of a U.N.-funded community center named for Mughrabi.

Such intransigence, Benizri said, reflects concerns by Palestinian officials of creating a precedent that would require changes to Ramallah’s celebration of terrorists, including in textbooks that are produced with international aid money and are under review.