On the innocence of aid

As reported by The Guardian a few days ago, Israeli security forces have arrested the Gaza director of World Vision (one of the world’s largest Christian charities) accusing him of diverting tens of millions of dollars to Hamas. The main Israeli concern is probably not the mismanagement, but that these funds were allegedly used to build a military base, dig military tunnels and pay salaries in Hamas’s military wing.

Reading the related articles (AlMonitor, Haaretz, +972Mag, others) and reports on similar cases (UNDP or here; Save the Children) the most surprising is the international surprise. The management of World Vision, other donors, diplomats and journalists  claim that they were not aware of the mismanagement of funds. Hamas officially denies the accusations condemning “the Israeli detention campaign against staff of international organizations working in the besieged Gaza Strip” (Ma’an). However, it is either a pure lie (since it is more or less known how things are usually going on under a sort of authoritarian rule, military occupation or simply tough economic conditions; big international donor charities have been quite visible in Gaza for the past decade) – or donors really did not know anything about these practices and their surprise is genuine. But then they have been simply blind/deaf, so to say, cheated…? Would it be so simple? Is it possible that international donors, being present and witnessing what has been going on in Gaza for years, really do not know the rules of the game? As proposed by a related journal article (by Neil Narang in International Studies Quarterly), ‘aid can inadvertently increase each combatant’s uncertainty about the other side’s relative strength, thereby prolonging civil war (…) so policymakers need to carefully consider whether the specific benefits provided by humanitarian aid outweigh the risk of prolonging civil conflicts.’

Our interviews conducted last summer (see previous post) did not touch upon this subject, my colleague did not heard about similar cases during the interviews (we did not ask about it). It is probably very difficult to investigate and prove these claims (by academic means). But to run an aid organization or a humanitarian charity without ‘compromises’ is equally very difficult under such circumstances, if not impossible. And while one can only guess how or why someone, an individual working at an aid organization “gets into trouble” this way, it is hard to believe that donors are not aware of such attempts.

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