Feminist Economics published an article (Funding Pain: Bedouin Women and Political Economy in the Naqab/Negev) on experiences gained by Bedouin women in the Negev (Israel). The article deals with the “political economy of their unrecognized, officially nonexistent villages and homes” and “rectify the gap in bottom-up knowledge of political economy by investigating the institutional structures that define and circumscribe women’s lives.”

There are interesting paragraphs informing the reader about Bedouin women’s experiences gained during their interactions with various donors. As quoted by one of them: “A year ago, one of the foreign groups – a potential funder – that we usually host, visited our organization; usually I meet the groups from overseas to describe and explain the life of Bedouin in the Naqab, sometimes the group was joined by a Jewish guide. During one of these visits, the guide asked me in front of them all, to tell my personal story, and share details from my life; and I did. Following this meeting, the guide recommended to our director [that we] stop talking about the Naqab and the difficulties facing Bedouin communities and Bedouin women, and concentrate [instead] on personal stories. It was very hard and I felt very bad, because I am not asking for their sympathy. I want them to believe in my cause.” (p15)

Interpreting this and other voices, the authors conclude that “requiring Bedouin women to share their private pains in the public sphere of funding works to re-center the role of donors and thus reinforces the starkly disparate relations of power that characterize the Naqab. Bedouin culture is more often than not portrayed as inferior and backwards. Donor relationships can become a transaction in which they ‘steal the pains of others’, which, as Sherene H. Razack suggests [with reference to the Rwandan experience] (2007), institutionalizes conceptions of Western superiority” (p16).

These arguments on “stealing pain” and the citation of old, Egyptian perceptions on the “Western” gazers (p13) recall a very similar feeling described in a totally different context. A (well-known) Hungarian writer, Magda Szabo wrote a (less known) novel with the title “Szemlelok” (in the early 1970s, no English translation). The word ‘szemlelok’ could be translated as ‘bystanders’ or ‘spectators’ or indeed, ‘gazers’. The story is about a Western diplomat (from a neutral country) preparing to serve in an imagined communist CEE country. Right after they arrive to the host country, her wife dies in a fatal accident (her car crashes with a wedding carriage, the driver of which was drunk) and he gradually develops a strange relationship with a rather independent, local woman whose father was privileged enough to spend long years in the West before he was summoned home to be detained after WW II (and after a while to be “rehabilitated”… the historical context is too complicated to detail here). The woman, Anna, is the central character of the novel, for she is able to assess the developments from both (Western, Eastern) perspective due to the fact that she spent her first ten years in the West.

What she says and how she says resonates well with the experiences of the Bedouin women (and that of those cited in the paper from Rwanda). Although her real ‘enemy’ is not the donor, but a curious Western journalist – representing the Western audience – hunting for secrets in the diplomat’s private life, the arguments are the same: there are not real, everyday dangers in the West (except for the ‘dummy’ dangers of amusement parks), so the ‘audience’ has to to ‘buy stories of sufferings’ and feels compelled to send ‘butter’ and ‘chocolate’ in the summer hot to help this way…

Reading (so far only) excerpts from A. Furia’s book on foreign aid and gift-giving (Palgrave Pilot, 2015), one may find references to an ‘old’ declaration by Julius Nyerere. The Arusha Declaration (1967) deals extensively with foreign assistance (‘external aid’) which was sorted into three (basically non-desired) categories by (the early/young) Nyerere: gifts, loans and private investments. Gifts were understood as a non-reciprocated transfer: ” another government gives our Government a sum of money as a free gift for a particular development scheme. Sometimes it may be that an institution in another country gives our Government, or an institution in our country, financial help for development programmes.” For Nyerere it was the less favourable form of aid as long as he understood it as a ‘gentle’ means endangering independence and sovereignty. Regardless to the fact that foreign aid was eventually ‘accepted’ by the Tanzanian government, the reason for rejecting it may be worthwhile to recall:

Even if there was a nation, or nations, prepared to give us all the money we need for our development, it would be improper for us to accept such assistance without asking ourselves how this would effect our independence and our very survival as a nation. Gifts which increase, or act as a catalyst, to our own efforts are valuable. Gifts which could have the effect of weakening or distorting our own efforts should not be accepted until we have asked ourselves a number of questions.

Some 25-30 years later, in 1993, the Palestinian political leadership faced the same dilemma and asked very similar questions. The promise of foreign aid (at the advent of the Oslo Peace Process) was by no means generous and altruistic for many (this ‘many’ was really a ‘minority’ then). By attaching conditions to their ‘gift,’ donor countries took advantage of their material and political dominance in order to pressure them to behave in line with donor (ie. Western) political agenda. Reservations were formulated against giving up parts of Palestinian political identity in exchange for foreign aid in the early 1990s [i]. This fear was worded, right after the Oslo Accords had been signed, by Hani Hassan in the following way [ii]:

‘it is true that we will get a handful of billions of dollars and that we will build power stations in Gaza and sewage system on the West Bank. But this is not what PLO is about’.

As these two examples probably illustrate, it is the very being – identity – of the beneficiary which is threatened by (the acceptance of) external assistance (let it be formally or informally conditional) as long as the quality of relationship between the donor and recipient (giver-receiver, helper-helped) is determined by any sort of inequality, asymmetry and unwillingness to share a particular set of norms, values and interests. Permanent or prolonged indebtedness creates enemies… but makes real gifts possible, indeed.

Notes: [i] On the critics of the Oslo peace process, see for example: R. Lentin, ed. (2008) Thinking Palestine. London: Zed Books; [ii] The full text of his speech is quoted by Laqueur and Rubin (2001): The Arab-Israeli Reader, p. 435-36.


It was perpahs in December last year, that the EU first offered „unprecedented” political and economic aid as an incentive to push Israel and the Palestinians into resolving their decades-old conflict and to promise them better access to European markets. As repeated by EU foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton in Munich at the beginning of February the EU would give an ’unprecedented package’ of aid to Israel and Palestine if they reach a peace accord. She spoke after a meeting of the Middle East ’Quartet’ trying to support Israeli-Palestinian talks. To complete the picture, a sort of blackmailing was also in the air illustrated by Lars Faaborg-Andersen’s words (EU ambassador to Israel): “We have made it clear to the parties that there will be a price to pay if these negotiations falter.” Most Palestinians disliked this message. Ordinary people feel in humiliating – cf. the causes of the ‘Arab Spring’ as analyzed by Telhami, S. (2013) The World Through Arab Eyes –  their leaders find it highly, perhaps even increasingly risky. As formulated by Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of the PLO executive committee: that “any Palestinian leader budging under financial pressure from the US or EU would lose public support, and if and when this happens, that leader is finished.” These perceptions have not found their way to Brussels so far.

An even more creative offer was formulated last week: the EU would be willing to provide financial compensation for Palestinian refugees and their descendants who renounce their ’right of return’ in a final peace deal with Israel. It appears to be the first time that a senior EU official, Faaborg-Andersen, publicly announced-endorsed such an offer. This will likely be part of the framework (see previous paragraph) of an “unprecedented new partnership” offered to Israelis and Palestinians if they sign a permanent peace treaty. As reiterated by Faaborg-Andersen, Brussels would be willing to significantly upgrade commercial and trade cooperation with both sides – provided that they will finally be ready to forget their history and look ahead. Assuming  good intentions, the EU somehow fails to acknowledge that money, let it be aid, can spoil man and ruin relationships as well.

Ahren, R. (2014) EU ready to pay Palestinians who renounce right of return. The Times of Israel,  Jerusalem, 24 March 2014

Amayreh, K. (2014) Palestinians denounce ‘financial blackmail’. by Al Jazeera,, Hebron, 31 January 2014

Reuters (2013) EU offers ‘unprecedented’ aid to help Israeli-Palestinian talks. Brussels, 16 December 2013,

EUObserver (2014) EU repeats offer of ‘unprecedented’ aid for Israel and Palestine. Munich, 01 February 2014,

EU Neighbourhood Barometer is part of the Regional Communication Programme 2012-2014. It aims to generate an analysis tool for DEVCO (Directorate General Development and Cooperation, EuropeAid) and the EU Delegations in the 17 countries and territories neighbouring the European Union about the population knowledge and perception of the EU Neighbourhood Policy (ENPI) and its cooperation activities and programmes. The project (neighbourhood barometer) has two objectives: (i)  to measure public opinion towards the EU policy in the respective country of the EU Neighbourhood area; (ii) to monitor the media coverage in each country of the EU Neighbourhood area related to the EU and EU cooperation/policy.

As far as the first (i) objective is concerned two waves of opinion polls were conducted in 2012; similar results for 2013 are unfortunately not available. Section 3 and 4 of the 2012 Barometer is dealing with the ‘perceptions on the European Union’ and perceptions on ‘aid and cooperation with the European Union’ respectively.  Key findings show that around 40-42% of the citizens (ENPI South, 10 countries) had a positive image of the EU in 2012; ca. 20% of the respondents found the EU neutral, a little less than one third of them had either no opinion or did not know what to think about the EU, whereas only 9 percent had an explicitly negative view on it on average. Taking a closer look at the results the ‘do not know’ answers were very rare in Israel (6%) and Palestine (5%), somewhat higher in Jordan (16%) and extremely high in Egypt (66%). Only 20 percent of the Egyptians said that they had a positive view on the EU (Israel: 34%, Jordan: 48%, Palestine: 50%), while the EU-image is the most negative in Israel (20%), which is followed by Palestine (16%), Egypt (6%) and Jordan (3%). According to the polls findings, citizens of the ENPI South countries were (are) poorly aware of the EU cooperation programmes, development and humanitarian assistance included: 45% of the respondents did not know anything about it, whereas 28% said that the EU had not provided financial support for their countries. As authors of the report note “the availability and the quality of the EU-related information appear to be insufficient for ENPI South citizens”, especially in Egypt (74% said ‘do not know’ and Jordan: 57%). The most informed respondents lived in  Palestine where two thirds of those interviewed knew that the EU provided financial support for cooperation programmes in their country. Indeed, most of the Palestinians, even ordinary people have firm opinion on how the Western/EU/international cooperation works. Qualitative interviews revealed that those beneficiaries being familiar with aid(ing) are content neither with the technical-level cooperation (projects), nor with the policies behind (Paragi 2012a, Paragi 2012b). These results are well illustrated by this short film conducted by Dalia (, a local Palestinian civil organization in 2011:

International Aid hurts Palestinian Society

European Neighbourhood Barometer. South. Wave 2, Autumn, 2012. TNS Opinion

European Neighbourhood Barometer. South. Wave 1, Spring, 2012 TNS Opinion

‘All that happened thanks to financial and other assistance from Arab regimes loyal to the US, in the hope that this Islamic input would keep Arab society free of socialist ideas and progressive projects that called for emancipation in all spheres, beginning with liberation from Western influence and extending to the unleashing of the creative energies in society’ argues Sahar Khalifeh, a Palestinian, Arab writer. The word ‘all’ refers not only to the return of mandatory veiling for women in the Islamic world but, in more general terms, it also applies to rise of the politically motivated Islamic organizations being interested in exerting ideological influence over the others. As long as the West is seen to be responsible for the gradual emerging of political Islamism (in particular Salafism) since the early 1970s and is held responsible for supporting oppressive and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (anywhere within its sphere of interest) simultaneously, it seems to be uneasy for cooperating with it. Any potential cooperation is difficult, even if ‘the socialists, the liberals and the pro-feminists are today closer to this West in [their] thinking and in [their] democratic and scholarly attitudes – [they are closer to the] West that plotted against the peoples of the Third World and their interests’ (Khalifeh 2011).

The question on the necessity of cooperation with the West is less and less philosophical due to the fact that the West – the EU in particular – has been interested in revising former foreign and aid policies and is overly in favour of supporting transition to democracy, at least in those sixteen countries lying in its close neighbourhood. Official documents describing the EU’s new approaches since the ‘Arab Spring’ take some sort of implicit responsibility for the mistakes committed in the past – ‘Recent events and the results of the review have shown that the EU support to political reforms in the neighbouring countries has met with limited results’ (COM 2011b: 1) – whereas the EU explicitly calls for cooperation in forms of mutual accountability, shared commitment and compliance with conditions set in order to promote democracy, human rights and good governance in its neighbourhood. Moderate people being interested in politics living in the MENA as well as in the wider EU neighbourhood have chance to choose between (i) siding with their own fellows, community, religious and political leadership by likely betraying democratic values, or (ii) cooperating with the West, EU included, in promoting democracy and human rights – by risking their own lives and challenging (questioning) the legitimacy of their own community. The choice is much less about democracy and co: it is purely about opting for the self (over the other) or for the other (over the self), which will explain (the lack of) success in the longer run.

COM (2011a) A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Responsibility with the Southern Mediterranean. Joint Communication to the European Council, the European Parliament, the Council, The European  Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. March 8, 2011, Brussels: European Commission

COM (2011b) A new response to a changing Neighbourhood. Joint Communication to the Parliament, the Council, The European  Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. May 25, 2011, Brussels: European Commission

Khalifeh, Sahar (2011): Who is Hidden Beneath the Burqa? An Appeal to the West., Goethe Institute.

The way how people in recipient countries think about and reflect on the meaning, roles and efficiency of foreign aid has received little attention with the exception of a memoirs of former aid workers (such as, for example, The Road to Hell written by Michael Maren), Oren Ginzburg’s illustrative graphics (The Hungry Man books) or a recently published collection of recipient views, titled Time to Listen and edited by M. B. Anderson et al).

In terms of the Middle East, much has been written on the objectives, roles, functions and measures of foreign aid and international (mainly Western) assistance devoted to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Diwan – Shaban 1999; Hooper 1999; Brynen 2000; Nakhleh 2004; Keating et al. 2005; Le More 2008, Nakhleh 2011). Only one survey conducted by the Development Studies Program at Bir Zeit University (DSP) in 2004 can be cited which measured local views on international assistance; its results were summarized by Nader Said (2005). Indeed, one way of answering the question ‘how foreign support relates to domestic phenomena’ is to ask people living on the recipient side of the development story.

To capture and measure local perceptions on Western assistance, a series of individual in-depth interviews and a few focus group interviews were conducted in the Palestinian territories in July and August 2010. The research was partly based on a series of surveys and opinion polls carried out earlier by Fafo in the period of 2005 to 2010 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; quantitative and qualitative data equally prompted that the function and effects of international assistance were quite controversial (Fafo 2008; Fafo 2010a; Fafo 2010b).

To learn more about the Palestinian perceptions, 21 in-depth individual and 3 mini focus group semi-structured interviews were conducted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in July and August 2010. Qualitative data were collected through direct encounters with Palestinian individuals. All interviews were semi-structured containing a series of open-ended questions concentrating on three main areas: (i) basic concepts and local interpretations of international assistance; (ii) past and present experiences with foreign aid and future expectations regarding its role and impact; and (iii) the perceived priorities of Western foreign assistance with reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The interviewers both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip had the opportunity to engage the respondents in an “informal” conversation as well as to urge them to elaborate on their original response in order to encourage them to reflect further on the question or topic at hand. Transcripts of the interviews were processed by the means of manual content (discourse) analysis. The qualitative interviews confirmed some of the findings of the previous polls but found that Palestinians attributed additional functions to foreign aid too. Foreign aid was seen as (i) external help easing sufferings, (ii) a way of control, (iii) a means to achieve certain related and various distant political goals, (iv) a reward for good performance, (v) compensation deserved by Palestinians, and (vi) a means to maintain the Israeli occupation.

Impressions and sentiments as well as roles and functions of foreign aid as perceived by the recipient were among the novel findings of the research. It must be emphasized that Palestinians were at a loss to explain and assess the advantages and disadvantages of foreign aid. On the one hand it was emphasized that Palestinians were simply forced to betray their most important national goals and dreams by accepting foreign aid. Access to Western aid was seen as conditional on their ‘unconditional’ support for the overall goal, namely the Oslo peace process and a two-state solution. As long as Palestinian recipients shared the donors’ norms and values and/or their understanding of peace process, they received aid. When compliance with Western conditions was refused, as the case of Hamas proved, access to aid was denied. Due to this conditionality, foreign aid was perceived to bolster the intra-Palestinian conflict between Hamas and Fatah. On the other hand they did not really know what else to expect from the donors except receiving more aid. Although foreign aid officially aimed at supporting the peace process, it was perceived widely as a means for maintaining in practice what should be eliminated in principle, namely the Israeli occupation. Since donors were perceived as being aware of it, Palestinians could not but conclude that Western donors provided foreign aid either for realizing alternative political goals or for their conscience’s sake. Research results were summarized in form of two papers (Paragi 2012a, Paragi 2012b).