Grants to Israeli Settlements Could Breach UK Law, Charity Commission Warns

The Charity Commission has warned that making grants to Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) could potentially constitute a breach of the Geneva Conventions Act of 1957, in a significant hardening of the Commission’s approach to the issue.

It is understood to be the first time that the Charity Commission has specifically cited the 1957 Act in communication with a charity regarding Israel and oPt.

The new statement from the Commission comes in response to questions about UK Toremet, a charity which, as revealed by Middle East Monitor in September 2015, is acting as a conduit for donations to Israeli settlements in the oPt.

Settlements are considered a serious violation of international law, a position held by the United Nations Security Council, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the British government, among others.

Following the initial report in Middle East Monitor, the then-Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office disclosed that the Commission would be meeting with the charity’s trustees to review UK Toremet’s “governance, policies, procedures and operational activity”.

In May 2016, the Commission confirmed that it had an “open case”, and a few months later, said UK Toremet had been issued with “an action plan” and that its “compliance” was being monitored. The Commission uses such plans to advise and require the trustees to carry out certain actions.

The latest statement from the Commission, issued earlier this month, adds significant details to what is known about its communications with UK Toremet.

According to a spokesperson, the Commission has “informed the charity that it must consider the risk of making a grant to a charity operating in the occupied territories, including whether it would breach the Geneva Conventions Act 1957”.

While “a grant to a charity in the occupied territories does not automatically constitute a criminal offense in the UK”, the statement continued, it is “for the trustees to manage the risk of doing so and to consider whether it is in the charity’s best interests”.

The Geneva Conventions Act 1957 incorporates the provisions of the Geneva Convention into British law. Israeli settlements in the oPt are widely seen as constituting violations of the Convention’s prohibitions on, respectively, transferring the Occupying Power’s civilian population into the occupied territory, and the appropriation of property not justified by military necessity.

The Commission further added that it “is in continued engagement with the charity”, and that when this is completed, the Commission “will provide a report detailing the engagement”.

UK Toremet receives donations on behalf of what it calls ‘recipient agencies’, organizations or charities in Israel and elsewhere, who donors wish to support. By September 2014, it had distributed over £1 million, and represented “over 250 carefully-vetted Recipient Agencies”.

Crucially, the charity enables “tax-efficient online donations”, making it “easier to gift money to charities outside the UK by facilitating a UK tax receipt and Gift Aid qualification”. Donating through Gift Aid enables a charity to claim from the UK government an extra 25p for every £1 given.

Among the list of UK Toremet’s approved recipients are several operating in, or for the benefit of, Israeli settlements in the oPt and their residents. These include a religious school built in the heart of Hebron, as well as projects in the settlements of Susya and Ma’ale Hever.

(MEMO, PC, Social Media)

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