Palestine’s Aid Issues

Why spend money on an expensive aid campaign when the children will really only get balloons?

Palestine receives over $3 billion dollars of international aid every year, $2 billion of which goes directly to the Palestinian Authority, making the country one of the biggest beneficiaries of international aid in the world. It is said that the PA has used its portion of international aid to enhance the Palestinian economy, growing now at 9% per year. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority – which used to just keep the aid money – is now investing 100% of the aid into unsustainable, donor-driven projects, meaning that the government projects are nothing more than life support for the Palestinians. Moreover donor organizations and countries consistently are surprised when their large aid donation produces little results.

The problem is three-fold. Firstly, there is a culture of corruption that still exists within the Palestinian aid community. Various local NGOs seem to be increasingly creative in their inefficiencies and abilities to spoil away donor money. Secondly, the Palestinian government answers to its international financial backers and thus spends more money on unnecessary security projects than on sustainable projects. Finally, the division of Palestine into Areas A, B, and C by the Oslo Accords has effectively given Israel complete control of nearly 60% of the West Bank and over 95% of the Jordan Valley, effectively cutting the PA off from the Palestinians living in the reviled Area C.

Ka'abneh has no music program (or bathrooms), so international organizations paid to bring one in

Kierion Monks describes this junction of inefficiency, corruption and endless aid in the Guardian (a must read), noting the first two factors in the problem of Palestinian aid. Monks gives one example of the stunning ability to do little with a lot, using the example of a generous Japanese donation of $5 million. Naseef Mu’allem, director-general of the Palestinian Centre for Peace and Democracy, estimated that of the $5 million, only $600,000 was spent on Palestinian development. The rest was squandered on accommodation, transportation and salaries of the foreign aid workers.

The Palestinian Authority is hardly much better. Although the corruption of the PA has decreased in recent years, demands of the international donors that completely fund the Palestinian government must be met. Thus, rather than spending the $2 billion per year in sustainable development projects designed to boost Palestine’s economy, the PA allocates 10 times more money to security – under the watch Israeli eye – than to any meaningful and sustainable.

[tweetmeme] Both issues – the government and the inefficiencies of NGOs – were proudly on display last Sunday in Ka’abneh, a small Bedouin village in the Jordan Valley. A campaign to improve the “friendly spaces” around schools throughout the West Bank. The campaign is the result of cooperation of international and local NGOs, the Palestinian government and UNICEF. While I do not know what the total budget of the project is (and I will try to update this post with a number), I can assume that with Save the Children, UNICEF and the PA as high-rollers, the budget is not insignificant. Yet, attending the opening ceremony of the initiative in Ka’abneh left me feeling slightly ill and more sympathetic to the views Monks espoused in his article.

Local Bedouins from Ka'abneh watch the ceremony, leaning on the corrugated tin classroom

Ka’abneh, to be sure, is an extremely impoverished Bedouin community. The school is comprised of a handful of portable caravans and tin shacks. It lacks electricity and running water, not to mention more luxurious commodities such as a library, arts program or computer lab. The school, located in Area C, is unable to build more classrooms to accommodate all the students who are, themselves, forced to study from outdated books and work in settlement plantations to support their families. Needless to say, the Ka’abneh school is only able to provide its students with the most basic of educational services – far below the standards of schools under Palestinian administrative control.

The ceremony was meant to bring attention to the idea to create “friendly spaces” as well as the first of a number of events to show solidarity between the children of Areas A and B and those in Area C. The ceremony began with a marching band that was brought to Ka’abneh from the larger (and Area B) town of Jericho; balloons were given to the local children; and the school turned on its expensive generator for the first time this year in order to provide power for the expensive and high-tech PA system. The governor of the Jericho governorate spoke, followed by a representative of UNICEF, Save the Children and finally the Minister of Education for the governorate. Each spoke about the importance of education, the need for better schools and the need to provide for Palestinian students.

“We must stop violence in schools!”

“Palestinian children have the right to safely travel to school!”

“No more smoking or drugs in our school!”

“We must lower the dropout rate!”

Every speaker covered the basics of the Palestinian Authority’s tagline on education. After the speakers, the crowd, made up of mostly internationals and Palestinian elite from Ramallah, braved the heat and were treated to a Dubkeh performance (brought in from Jericho) as well as speeches from students (from Ramallah) in Arabic and English about education. In the meantime, a handful of local Bedouin villagers sat in the back watching quietly, their tin houses visible behind them. Bedouin children held on tightly to the helium balloons that were brought in for the occasion, laughing at what is, for them, a complete novelty.

The children of Ka'abneh deserve more than balloons and tee shirts

Those attending the opening ceremony were treated to bottled water and small snack cakes, served to them by the poor children of Ka’abneh, as they spoke about how effective this campaign should be. Yet after the last of the talking points were made on the PA machine, it was packed up and brought back to Ramallah; the dubkeh dancers and marching band return to Jericho and the young women who spoke about their love for school got into their cars and left Ka’abneh.

All that remained were empty bottles of water and packaging from snack cakes littering the ground. The Bedouin men who had sat in the back returned to their meager homes, the boys brought the broken plastic chairs back into the classrooms and the girls walked around and picked up the trash of those who had already driven away.

Six organizations have donated money to this campaign and organized the opening in Ka’abneh, bringing in people from across the globe. Yet Ka’abneh will remain in Area C, where the PA and international organizations are unable (or unwilling) to work. The most difficult educational situations in Palestine require fast, brave and material actions. Classrooms, bathrooms and libraries must be built; teachers must be trained; books must be provided. A display of Palestinian solidarity means little unless the communities are linked in the struggle for justice. Money can be spent to bring Jericho dancers and Ramallah speakers to Ka’abneh, but the school will still be receiving demolition orders and the students will still be denied one of the most basic human rights. Thousands of dollars were spent. Just not on the right things.

The PA Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE) released a new strategic plan a few years ago aimed at tackling these specific problems, specifically the infrastructure and retention issues. Yet two years after the MoEHE and PM Salam Fayyad made education paramount in the government, the Ka’abneh school remains in Area C – off limits to the PA and international NGOs. In the MoEHE strategic plan, the Ministry is aiming to construct “classrooms, schools and non-formal education programs… in geographical locations where poverty is higher or where people are isolated due to Israeli restrictions.” Yet Ka’abneh School – and many more like it – remain woefully inadequate as the PA continues to spend most of the foreign aid dollars to arrest members of Hamas.

The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) were most likely aware of the ceremony that took place at Ka’abneh. With a settlement easily visible from the school and the town living under a giant settlement water tank, Ka’abneh is very clearly dominated by Israelis. The IOF probably knew, though, that the gathering of Palestinian and international notables would do nothing to lessen its grip on the Jordan Valley or the Palestinians who live there. Indeed, over the last three years, the 9 classroom school in Ka’abneh has received 6 demolition orders. The town’s only bathroom, which is currently being constructed, just received a stop work order and risks demolition. And the IOF knows that it is unlikely that the campaign, the internationals or the Palestinian government can or would do anything to help.

Likely, the only change in the Ka’abneh School from this campaign will be a bigger bag of garbage and slowly deflating balloons.

Photos from Chris, 2010

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