10.12.2012 | Jerusalem: A Lecture By Ghada Karmi
19.12.2012 | Teaching the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict By Ghada Karmi
14.11.2012 | The False Paradigm [...]
Borders, Aid, Aid Workers and Subsidising the Occupation
|Control over the Palestinian borders allows Israel to exert influence over foreign aid workers, compelling them to carry-out aid in a manner that ultimately helps to sustain rather than to challenge the occupation.|
Control over Palestine’s borders provides the Government of Israel with the opportunity to exert tremendous influence over the way foreign aid is delivered in the West Bank and Gaza. It gets to choose who gets in and what gets out. International aid organisations, meanwhile, need to get in. If their aid workers are denied entry, this can put their projects in jeopardy and lead to a loss in funding. A loss in funding may mean a loss in jobs, prestige or even basic survival for an organisation. This results an obsessive need to “enter at all costs” that compels aid workers to censor their criticism of the Israeli occupation for fear of being denied entry at the border. This silence helps the Government of Israel to hide the actual conditions of occupation, contributing to a de-contextualised narrative creating the illusion of two relatively equal armed sides at conflict with one another. De-contextualised aid results in inappropriate projects which do not address the root cause of Palestinians’ problems, the Occupation, allowing the Government of Israel to instead use aid dollars to subsidise the costs of the occupation within the guise of a “peace process”. So long as aid workers remain quiet, aid will become just another characteristic of occupation. In effect, they will be “aiding occupation”.
Entering through the Border
Anyone who has travelled to Palestine is familiar with the insecurity of passing through Israeli security at the border. In my previous position, being denied entry at the border would have put our aid programs and entire organisation’s work at jeopardy. That is because the Government of Israel controls all the borders to Palestine, allowing it to choose who gets in and who does not. Typically those authorities do their best to deny entry to activists who oppose their policies toward the Palestinians. The more zealous Israeli passport officer will deny entry to anyone who appears to be even remotely sympathetic.
The borders are at the front-line of efforts by the Government of Israel to control, shape and deny solidarity work for the Palestinians. Foreign activists, NGO workers, foreign nationals of Arab descent, journalists, university professors and diplomats are routinely denied entry into Palestine if they are considered to be a threat to those policies. In the most extreme cases, peace activists and aid workers have been killed attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Journalists have died covering their story.
For years I ran an education project in Palestine that relied on foreign volunteers being given access to Palestine at the Israeli-controlled border, in order for them to join us as course instructors. Regularly volunteers were denied entrance, throwing our class schedules into disarray. It made planning ahead nearly impossible. Because of this discriminatory policy at the border, individuals travelling to Palestine are forced to take to extreme measures to hide their sympathies and cover up their solidarity efforts. This has developed into what I refer to as a “border ritual” that every solidarity activist, scholar, journalist and aid worker must engage in.
The ritual often begins with an individual temporarily deactivating their Facebook account and erasing from the hard-drives of their computers any information that betrays an interest in Palestine. The ritual includes erasing from their mobile phone the numbers of people they know in Palestine and then uploading all of this information to be accessed Online later. Aware of this routine, Israeli passport officers often pressure “suspicious” travellers to open their email accounts at the airport, necessitating the creation of a decoy email account that is filled with messages that never once mention Palestine. The more cautious travellers even refuse to communicate by email about a trip to Palestine, for fear that their messages are being intercepted by the Israeli intelligence services Mossad and Shin Bet.
The border ritual also often includes a purge from their personal belongings of dangerous material, such as a copy of Edward Said’s Orientalism, a T-shirt bearing the image of handala or a beginners guide to Arabic. Those items may be replaced with an Israeli nationalistic T-shirt and a beginners guide to learning Hebrew. Hopefully their story about Christian tourism or visiting a Jewish friend (definitely not “Arab”) in Israel will work if they are travelling without a formal sponsor. If they are an aid worker, they can hope they are sponsored by an organisation which Israeli border officers consider non-threatening. In an effort to exercise even more control over foreign aid workers, Israel no longer grants them work permits. They are given only tourist visas valid for three months. This provides Israel with the opportunity to deny them re-entry at the end of every three months, leaving aid workers in a state of constant insecurity.
Tragically the ritual has come to include self-censorship against advocacy work about the occupation, when such work embarrasses the Government of Israel and threatens its policies toward the Palestinians. For this reason aid workers typically keep a low profile as they produce endless “optimistic” reports about the impact of their project, contributing to the illusion of a “peace process,” “capacity-building” and “development” that hides a reality where there are not two sides at war, but rather a “settler-colonial state confiscating land from another people.” In this way well intentioned aid workers end up providing money for the Palestinian economy to exist under occupation, rather than resist it, while trading for goods at inflated prices that benefit the Israeli economy. This is done without addressing the root cause of the Palestinians’ problems, the occupation itself. I myself have been guilty in the past of participating in such a process, quietly passing through the border and not engaging in advocacy work for fear of being denied entry and putting my own projects at risk.
Facts on the Ground
In spite of official rhetoric, Palestine has “physically” ceased to exist. It now exists only as an ephemeral entity that Israel refers to when it needs to come up with an excuse for breaking international conventions not providing public services for Palestinians, denying them equal rights because Palestinians have their “own country” or maintaining the illusion that the Government of Israel has a sovereign governmental partner, the Palestinian Authority, to have “peace talks” with.
Palestinians live in tiny but densely populated “bantustans” disconnected from each other by an array of Israeli barriers, checkpoints, settlements, settler roads and a massive concrete wall. Palestinians exercise only limited sovereignty over those bantustans. Israeli control over the population registry allows it to determine who “exists legally” within the bantustans. Palestinian control over their own land keeps shrinking as Israel takes new lands for colonisation, typically on the 60% of West Bank land called Area C which Israel was granted “temporary” sovereignty over by the Oslo Peace Accords.
These Palestinian bantustans would be economically infeasible if not for billions of annual dollars in foreign aid from the international community. These aid dollars allow Palestinians to sustain the costs of their enormous trade deficit with Israel. Shir Hever refers to them as a captive market for Israel.  Those aid dollars relieve Israel of the need to pay for public services for Palestinians, while simultaneously earning money off aid. A trade surplus provides revenue in the form of taxes to the Government of Israel, which helps it to bear the enormous military costs of occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land. Further, for every dollar spent in those Palestinian bantustans, an estimated forty-five cents flows back to Israel. Hever believes that is an underestimate. 
Everyday life in the bantustans is grim. They act effectively as giant open air prisons where every Palestinian child is treated like a potential terrorist and all too often abused by the Israeli military. Meanwhile, Palestinian villagers are drawn in search of work to the bantustans, where the aid economy is concentrated. In the process they leave the Israeli controlled Area C, where land is being confiscated and villages destroyed. Stephen Walt describes this land expropriation as: “What is going on, in short, is slow-motion ethnic cleansing. Instead of driving Palestinians out by force, as was done in 1948 and 1967, the goal is simply to make life increasingly untenable over time, so that they will gradually leave their ancestral homelands of their own accord”. 
Foreign aid from the international community is sustaining the status quo. It represents a situation Mary Anderson refers to in “Do No Harm” where foreign aid can be inverted to contribute to, rather than to ameliorate, a conflict.  The two-state solution is effectively dead, Israelis are doing everything they can to erase the Palestinian identity and the two sides cannot stand living beside one another. Meanwhile, aid helps maintain the illusion that there is a peace process and that there are two equal sides in conflict with one another, rather than one side exercising total power over the other. As Nadia Hijab recently wrote in “Rethinking Aid to Palestine” for Foreign Policy: “Foreign aid to Palestine is desperately in need of rethinking. Wittingly or not, external aid facilitates Israel’s occupation, enables an inept Palestinian leadership to survive, and subverts much of Palestinian civil society. The extent of the dependency on aid means the Palestinian Authority (PA) must spend considerable energy begging for handouts from Arab governments, the European Union, and the United States”. 
Projects Detached From Reality
Aid projects in Palestine are designed based on false premises of a peace process and a de-contextualised narrative built on Israel’s terms. This leaves those projects doomed to failure because they are detached from reality.
Take for example foreign aid agencies working on child protection in Palestine. Rather than treat the condition of Palestinian children as a chronic and long-term human rights problem caused by Israeli occupation, Hart and Lo Forte found that aid agencies involved in child protection tend to operate on the premise that there is a conflict taking place between two more-or-less equal sides. This is in part due to those agencies taking funds from influential donors who prioritise their relationship with Israel, whose front-line of defence is access at the border. Operating under this illusory premise and because of the need to enter through the border, those agencies fail in their mandate to protect Palestinian children because they are unwilling to publicly advocate for the rights of Palestinian children. Such advocacy would require speaking out against the occupation and mistreatment of Palestinian children by the Israeli military and settlers.
Instead, those agencies invest their energy into activities that are ameliorative in nature: intended to increase the capacity of Palestinian children and their families to cope better and longer with Israeli invasions – not addressing those invasions themselves. As a result of focusing on response to harm rather than prevention, Hart and Lo Forte suggest that “by failing to pursue children’s protection on the basis of international law and human/child rights, and in a manner fully engaged with Palestinian children and their families, organizations are at risk of invalidating their own claims of neutrality and accountability. Moreover, they should not be surprised if questions are raised about the primacy of their commitment to children’s safety and well-being”. 
One of the worst projects I ever managed in Palestine required “teaching” Palestinian refugee children about human rights in Nablus refugee camps during the Second Intifada. I bore no illusions that the implicit belief behind the funding was that we were teaching those children to respect Israeli rights (and women’s rights naturally), on the premise that there were two equal sides at “war” which needed “convincing” to live together in peace. At that time those children were being abused by the Israeli army on a daily basis, could not sleep at night because their homes were being raided, many had been to prison, and many more were injured (or killed) in deadly clashes with the Israeli army. Those children were suffering from collective punishment inflicted upon them, in contravention of Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention. My Palestinian colleagues scoffed at the human rights project. If anything, Israeli soldiers involved in the invasions could have used workshops to teach them about human rights since they had the guns.
One of the more twisted projects I have heard about recently is a water project funded by USAID, which brings together Palestinian and Israeli youth to educate them about water resources. It is being run at a time when Palestinians are prevented from using their own water, which is being redirected to Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Israel itself. At least with our “human rights” project we were able use the funds to provide salaries during tough economic times and to build our organisational CV without doing harm.
As a result of the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Israel in 1948, an entire United Nations agency was created to provide assistance for these refugees: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Unfortunately its creation was used as an excuse to exclude 750 000 Palestinian refugees from the refugee law conventions established soon thereafter. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees specifically incorporated an exclusionary Article 1D which stated: “This convention shall not apply to persons who are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations other than the United Nations High Commission for Refugees protection or assistance”.  The only group Article 1D really applied to was Palestinian refugees. Even though Palestinians are by far the oldest and largest refugee population in the world, they are therefore not included in many reports about global refugee populations. That loophole helps to de-contextualise the Palestinian refugee and plays into efforts to strip them of their rights as refugees under international law, by laying open questions about their refugee status. It also makes their legal status unnecessarily complex.
Aid to the Palestinians has been used as a political tool to “buy” Palestinians into participating in a “peace process” with Israel. This began with Oslo Peace Accords in the early 1990s, bringing an end to the First Intifada. The assumption was and has remained that development would lead to peace. It has not mattered to the donors, often close allies of Israel, that Israel has ignored its obligations under Oslo. De-contextualisation of the occupation allowed aid projects to be developed without taking into account the Government of Israel’s historical policies toward the Palestinians of land expropriation for colonisation and large-scale human rights abuses. During Oslo itself the Government of Israel took measures to sabotage the peace process, such as accelerated settlement building and deceit by Israeli politicians. In reality development is impossible under a violent occupation that involves the expropriation of land, while the peace process serves a pre-text for Israel to side-step international law.
Aid and aid workers who refuse to contextualise the occupation will continue to fail to support the Palestinians. Palestinians are very aware of the problems with aid and consider many projects to be inappropriate, such as the human rights project my former colleagues scoffed at above. Recently the Palestinian Ashtar and Al-Harah theatres staged a play called Beit Yasmine that satirises how donors sideline Palestinians. Or as one of the interviewees of Hart and Lo Forte, an employee at an NGO expressed: “Listen, we are expert now. You funded us so much that we are experts and professionals, as you said. And this is our solution: our solution is human rights. If it conforms to your standards, support us. If it doesn’t, goodbye“. 
Working With Aid
I spent nearly ten years working within the confines of foreign aid in Palestine. I am confident in my belief that the overwhelming majority of foreign nationals who travel to Palestine to provide aid do so with the best of intentions and a sincere desire to help Palestinians. As an American colleague pointed out, many of them probably travel there assuming that they will be the one that is finally able to bring about a resolution to the conflict. He himself was one of those people, and warns those who travel beforehand against harbouring such unrealistic expectations.
Unfortunately those well-meaning individuals end-up finding themselves constrained within the structures of aid’s rules, and for most of them, challenging those structures could mean losing their jobs. Richard Falk noted the challenges of being a United Nations career civil servant or diplomat serving a particular government: “Many of these individuals work with great dedication and take on dangerous assignments, but are expected to conform to institutional discipline that is exercised in a deadly hierarchical manner that often links the UN to the grand strategy and geopolitical priorities of a West-centric world order”.  With rising unemployment in Europe and the United States, that need to be employed further puts pressure on them to not lose those jobs. As one American explained to me in Ramallah following the 2008 financial crisis: “The job situation for me in here in Ramallah is actually better than back home in the United States. It’s better for me to stay here for now“.
My own experience with aid in Palestine began with the same genuine desire to provide humanitarian assistance for Palestinian youth in Nablus at the beginning of the Second Intifada. At that time, the city was devastated by conflict and curfews which could be imposed upon the city for days, weeks or months at a time. Violating those curfews could put you in mortal danger. Regular Israeli military invasions and repressive checkpoints shattered children’s sense of security, while restricting their access to schools (or anywhere, at that). Meanwhile, Western aid workers tended not to enter the city due to the danger and the limits on access placed upon them by the Government of Israel. This led to a vacuum of assistance in places where aid was genuinely needed. In spite of the challenges of working in such an environment, I and my Palestinian colleagues were highly successful in providing education-focused activities for Palestinian children.
In the process of carrying out such activities, we asked international volunteers to join us in running activities. Although grateful for their support, we were careful to do our best not to provide them with a salary (with some necessary exceptions) or to fund their stay, in spite of a lot of pressure to do otherwise. In fact, we asked volunteers to cover the costs of their accommodation and coordination. This was all based on the premise that aid should go toward the Palestinians who were most in need. While it would be nice to reward foreign volunteers looking to advance their careers and provide support for the financially less able, this would have led us astray from our mandate of supporting Palestinians in an emergency situation.
Unlike the large International NGOs, we competed fairly with local charities and business, not paying anyone (myself included) more than a fair local wage. If anything, we were too concerned to support as many employees as possible in a tough economy than to participate in NGO wage-flation. Yet in spite of our morale purism and financial efficiency, I was always conscious that I may not be doing enough, because I was not focusing on advocacy work against the severe conditions created by occupation. Rather than channelling my energy into helping to eliminate the conditions which necessitated our charity’s formation, I had fallen into the trap of focusing my efforts solely on finding resources for our charity to exist and expand its services further. In the process I shied away from direct advocacy work against the occupation and its violent discrimination against Palestinians. I actively chose to silence myself in my criticism of the occupation, just as I now have trepidations about repeating Walt’s words and Pappé’s research acknowledging ethnic cleansing. I was silenced because, like other aid workers, I needed to “enter at all costs.” I was afraid of being barred at the border and rendered incapable of carrying out my work in order to keep our funding flowing and staff employed. This happened in spite of all my best intentions.
The Structure of Aid and the Need to Speak up
There are many problems with the way aid is structured in Palestine. As with foreign aid anywhere, there is always the question of “agency”: independence for the Palestinians to design on their own terms programs that meet their real (contextual) needs, versus donor expectations and an alternative agenda. Many of the largest donors are also Israel’s closest political allies, home to strong domestic pro-Israel lobby groups. Because aid from donors is de-contextualised, those donors will not patiently fund or politically back any aid worker or aid agency that is denied entry at the border by Israel. It is a lonely place in that environment if you speak up. In my experience the work of pro-Israel lobby groups and de-contextualisation makes running an effective aid project with Canadian or American funding nearly impossible.
Ultimately though the charade of a peace process is only possible so long as aid workers continue to prioritise passing through the border and remain silent about Israel’s abuses. So long as aid remains de-contextualised and operates on the aggressor’s terms, it will do harm. It is an ominous sign that the Government of Israel has itself become an advocate of aid for the Palestinians and recently sought an IMF loan on their behalf. It is a sign that aid is subsidising the occupation and the colonisation of Palestinian land. As Sam Bahour recently wrote: “Investment in Palestine, without divestment from the Israeli occupation, only continues to underwrite the status quo of military occupation. For investment to be successful, occupation must be dismantled and control passed to Palestinians”. 
Palestinians should not told by their donors to politically tailor their struggle to the needs of the oppressor; especially by donors who are making hollow proclamations against Israeli policy while enhancing their mutual political ties. Aid in Palestine is sustaining an illusory peace process and a status quo which seems set to end in tragedy. Left to their own, Palestinians are more than able to manage their own affairs. They just need to be removed from the shackles of occupation and exploitation, and the added humiliation of having to exist on handouts from others.
Aid needs to do more than provide Palestinians with ways to cope with the effects of occupation. Aid workers need to emulate the minority of noble organisations, such as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and B’Tselem that are documenting, reporting on and speaking out against Israeli human rights abuses. They should refuse to provide aid on the terms of the aggressor, even if that means being denied entry into Palestine. They should strongly support organisations such as OCHA that run afoul of the Government of Israel for providing support to Palestinians facing the demolition of their homes and villages. Aid workers need to do this in order to help reform aid to truly provide support to the Palestinians. Until that happens, they will not be addressing the problem’s faced by Palestinians and they will definitely not be helping find a solution. Instead, they will be aiding occupation.
Jeremy Wildeman is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, where his research is on the effects of foreign aid on Palestinians. He co-founded the Nablus-based charity Project Hope.
Endnotes  Hever, Shir. The Political Economy of Israel’s occupation. London: Pluto Press, 2010, pp. 64 & pp. 145.  Hever, Shir. The Political Economy of Israel’s occupation. London: Pluto Press, 2010, pp. 36-37.  Walt, Stephen M. “What’s going on in Israel?” Foreign Policy. 2012 July 12. http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/07/12/the_veil_falls#.UAFNNcsXplQ  Mary B. Anderson. Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace – Or War. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999.  Hijab, Nadia. “Rethinking aid to Palestine.” Foreign Policy. 2012 Aug 3. http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/08/03/rethinking_aid_to_palestine  Jason Hart and Claudia Lo Forte. Protecting Palestinian children from political violence: the role of the international community. Forced Migration Policy Briefing 5. Oxford, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, 2010 September, pp. 2.  “Note on the Applicability of Article 1D of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees to Palestinian refugees.” UNISPAL / High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2002 October 10. Retrieved from http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/68C845ADCFF3671A85256C85005A4592 on 2012 Aug 14 @ 19:22 GMT.  Jason Hart and Claudia Lo Forte. Protecting Palestinian children from political violence: the role of the international community. Forced Migration Policy Briefing 5. Oxford, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, 2010 September, pp. 34.  Richard Faulk. “Pros and Cons of Western Solidarity.” Al Jazeera. 2012 July 18. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/07/201271753133985576.html on 2012 Aug 15 @ 2:41 GMT.  Sam Bahour. “Palestine’s Investments Require Divestment.” Huffington Post. 2012 July 25. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-bahour/palestines-investments-re_b_1703563.html on 2012 Aug 15 @ 2:02 GMT.
 Hever, Shir. The Political Economy of Israel’s occupation. London: Pluto Press, 2010, pp. 64 & pp. 145.
 Hever, Shir. The Political Economy of Israel’s occupation. London: Pluto Press, 2010, pp. 36-37.
 Walt, Stephen M. “What’s going on in Israel?” Foreign Policy. 2012 July 12. http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/07/12/the_veil_falls#.UAFNNcsXplQ
 Mary B. Anderson. Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace – Or War. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999.
 Hijab, Nadia. “Rethinking aid to Palestine.” Foreign Policy. 2012 Aug 3. http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/08/03/rethinking_aid_to_palestine
 Jason Hart and Claudia Lo Forte. Protecting Palestinian children from political violence: the role of the international community. Forced Migration Policy Briefing 5. Oxford, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, 2010 September, pp. 2.
 “Note on the Applicability of Article 1D of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees to Palestinian refugees.” UNISPAL / High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2002 October 10. Retrieved from http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/68C845ADCFF3671A85256C85005A4592 on 2012 Aug 14 @ 19:22 GMT.
 Jason Hart and Claudia Lo Forte. Protecting Palestinian children from political violence: the role of the international community. Forced Migration Policy Briefing 5. Oxford, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, 2010 September, pp. 34.
 Richard Faulk. “Pros and Cons of Western Solidarity.” Al Jazeera. 2012 July 18. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/07/201271753133985576.html on 2012 Aug 15 @ 2:41 GMT.
 Sam Bahour. “Palestine’s Investments Require Divestment.” Huffington Post. 2012 July 25. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-bahour/palestines-investments-re_b_1703563.html on 2012 Aug 15 @ 2:02 GMT.