Empirical data collected in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (last summer, so far unpublished) reveal that (at least) two “aid industries” exist in parallel. As expressed by one of our respondents (leader of an Islamic charity, Sept 21, 2015, Gaza Strip):

“We don’t get any support from European and American donors, these donors don’t deal with us, they are ashamed to deal with us. While they know the we are association providing services for wounded people, they think that the wounded people are military personnel; on the contrary, all the wounded people are civilians. They have been injured during the years of the Intifada and during the wars or the bombing of the Israeli army for many places and houses in Gaza. There are is a very sensitivity to the word ‘wounded’ or ‘injured’ or ‘prisoner’ by those donors (European and American), these donors are boycotting all the Palestinian associations dealing with these category of people wounded or prisoners.”

The one which is “ashamed” to deal with the other has also been accused of promoting neoliberal ideas at the expense of local, Palestinian national (nation-building) interests.

With reference to this complex world (of opinions and realities) two recent publications deserve attention:

Marie Juul Petersen (2015): For Humanity Or For The Umma?: Aid and Islam in Transnational Muslim NGOs. London: Hurst and Co

The book explores how Muslim NGOs conceptualise their provision of aid and the role Islam plays in this and offers insights into a new kind of NGO in the global field of aid provision. It also contributes more broadly to understanding ‘public Islam’ as something beyond political Islam. The book is based on empirical case studies of four of the biggest transnational Muslim NGOs, and draws on extensive research in Britain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Bangladesh.

Linda Tabar and Omar Jabary Salamanca, eds (2015): Critical Readings of Development under Colonialism. Towards a Political Economy for Liberation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Ramallah: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and Birzeit University’s Center for Development Studies

The point of departure of this latter publication is to elaborate on “the critical development discourse in Palestine” that has “become part of the overall debate of development under colonial settings.”


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…

Al-Monitor published an article – authored by Uri Savir (Aug 30, 2015) – stating, among others, that “waiting for the international community has become synonymous with “waiting for Godot”, mostly because the peace process looks hopeless. It may be the case from a diplomat’s perspective, but researcher find this subject increasingly interested (if measured by the number of publications published in academic journals recently).
Two pieces from the Journal of Peacebuilding and Development (August 2015) – both are concerned with impacts and context of peacebuilding in Palestine:

Joanna Springer: Assessing Donor-driven Reforms in the Palestinian Authority: Building the State or Sustaining Status Quo

[Abstract] “Official development assistance for statebuilding provided to the Palestinian Authority (PA) has increasingly been focused on technocratic governance reforms that fail to address the root causes of conflict between Israel and Palestinians. A prime example is an emphasis on preparing mediumterm development plans despite the fact that the ongoing occupation prevents their effective implementation. The donor community is bound by the Fragile States Principles to strengthen state capacity to help prevent recurrence of conflict. Drawing on publicly available data and government documents, as well as interviews with stakeholders in PA development policy, this article identifies shortfalls in statebuilding strategy benchmarked against the Fragile States Principles. In order to fulfil their peacebuilding mandate, it is crucial for the donor community to address the role of the Government of Israel in governance failures in the occupied Palestinian territory and engage civil society more effectively.”

Ned Lazarus & Michelle I. Gawerc: The Unintended Impacts of ‘Material Support’: Us Anti-terrorism Regulations and Israeli/Palestinian Peacebuilding

“This briefing illustrates the problematic impacts of MSC regulations on peacebuilding through the examples of US-funded NGOs working in the Israeli-
Palestinian context. Drawing on testimonies from dozens of Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding initiatives, the briefing highlights local NGO experiences with MSC regulations such as the Partner Vetting System (PVS) and the Anti-Terror Certification (ATC). As emphasised herein, the MSC regulatory regime complicates the struggles of peacebuilding organisations to attain legitimacy in their societies, affecting their ability to recruit participants, to build partnerships, and to achieve the impacts envisioned by donors and practitioners alike.”

Source and link: Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 10 (2),


There is an unbridgeable, but largely unappreciated gap between the neat rationality of development agencies’ representations which imagine the world as ordered and manageable and the actualities of situated social practice” – Mark Hobart, 1993, ‘Introduction: The Growth of Ignorance?’ in M. Hobart (ed.) An Anthropological Critique of Development: The Growth of Ignorance. London: Routledge, p.16.

Equally, there is a(n) (un)bridgeable gap between the ‘humanitarian’ and the ‘development’ (policies, practices, assistance, aid, agencies, etc). In many parts of the world they just can not be separated. In preparing for the World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, 2016), the organizers have held regional consultations, workshops and various other events (in the Middle East as well) to map the regional and global (humanitarian) needs, problems, views and priorities. Within this framework organizers of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) – in preparing for a consultation for the Middle East and North Africa – commissioned a research on local stakeholders’ and people’s views. Not only a summary of the regional consultation (Amman, March 2015, see Scoping Paper) is available, but an illustrative ‘whiteboard animation‘ can be accessed too.

As far as the interviews are concerned  they were conducted with a mix of men, women, youth and community leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen between November 2014 and February 2015. Majority of the focus group interviews were conducted face-to-face (bits of them were recorded and posted on youtube), but an online questionnaire was also applied. Quite a bit part of the published WHS/Mena report (Preparatory Stakeholder Analysis) is about how and what respondents think about aid agencies and the (non-)existing (?) differences between the humanitarian and political dimensions of problems in the region.

According to the report – as summarized by IRINNews – aid agencies are partial, unaccountable and potentially corrupt, and they fail to meet refugees’ most pressing needs; there is a systematic lack of consultation about people’s needs, a failure to protect the most vulnerable, confusion over which agency was responsible for what, duplicated aid, as well as instances where help was perceived to be withheld or prioritized due to political or religious affiliation.

To be con’t…


… Donor Aid in Occupied Palestine in the aftermath of the Arab Uprisings

It is not really “donor aid” rather perceptions (local opinion) on it (data was collected during Summer 2013), but a very interesting reading from two PhD-candidates at UK universities (Jeremy Wildeman and Alaa Tartir), not only the abstract:

Since 1993 the international community has invested more than $24 billion in ‘peace and development’ in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). That aid was meant originally to support the Oslo Peace Process through economic development. However, neither peace nor development has been realized, and both seem increasingly unlikely. While examining donor operations, priorities and the ‘aid-for-peace’ agenda, this article investigates whether patterns in oPt donor aid have changed following the Arab uprisings of 2011. Building on 28 original interviews with Palestine aid actors, it was found that patterns remain unchanged and that donors remain transfixed on a long failed ‘Investment in Peace’ framework that was designed for economic development by the World Bank back in 1993. By comparing these research findings with the literature on aid to Palestine, this article argues that donors are not ready to alter a framework dominated by policy instrumentalists who emphasize pre-determined normative values over actual results, quietly trading financial inducements to Palestinians to forgo political rights within a ‘peace dividends’ model. Meanwhile, critics of the existing aid framework remain largely ignored and have little influence on aid policy, in spite of two decades of instrumentalist failure to produce peace or economic growth using the existing model.

Mediterranean Politics, Volume 19, Issue 3, 2014


The European Union welcomed the demonstrators’ demands wholeheartedly during the Arab Spring, trying to maximize the assistance that it could offer to support genuine democratic transition, at least at a rhetorical level. This article reflects on the changes in the neighborhood policy by focusing on public perceptions measured in Europe and in countries in close proximity to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. European views on solidarity are compared to local public opinion on EU involvement in the region. Recipient views in Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, and Israel are explored by analyzing relevant results of the Arab Barometer and Neighborhood Barometer surveys. Findings indicate that the Middle Eastern public opinion tends to appreciate the EU’s gestures with the exception of Egypt, but conditionality is more in line with European public opinion.

The (my) article was published at Democracy and Security, Volume 11, Issue 1, 2015.

Egyptians are known about their hostility towards foreign (mostly US) aid.  Various survey results show that somewhere between 55-85% percent of the Egyptian population is against US aid. Egyptians’ attitudes about U.S. economic aid – channeled in form of budgetary support or direct assistance to NGOs – became increasingly negative, while NGO employees faced charges of illegally accepting foreign funds and stirring unrest (Azeem 2013; Sabry 2014). Other foreign donors (Arab governments, international financial organizations) ‘perform’ better, still sentiments against them similarly increased from the first part of 2011 to the beginning of 2012 (Younis and Younis 2012). Assessing the positive and negative aspects of foreign funding provided (to civil society organizations) in Egypt, Mohammed Elagati collected countless arguments for and against aid mainly from various stakeholders within the Egyptian civil society (Elagati 2013).

As indicated by the Neighbourhood Barometer data (the survey was carried out by REACH Egypt), Egyptians are much less knowledgeable about the details of European involvement and development cooperation than people living in the neighbouring countries. Still, the high rate of ‘do not knows’ vis-à-vis the EU (50-70% depending on the question and date of NB survey) is even more interesting, since Egypt is seen as one of the key partners in the region. Looking at the extent to which Egyptian respondents agreed with various statements formulated on the EU’s involvement in Egypt, the rate of agreement (approval) is very low:

NB, Egypt, qAB8, 2012-2014

The deepest point (‘Spring 2013’ denotes the period between 6 June and 8 July 2013) may well be explained by a specific event, namely the military takeover (3 July 2013) and the preceding mass demonstrations demanding change, which was highly criticized and denounced by the Western powers and public opinion as well. Neither this, nor following steps taken by the EU (the West in general) were welcomed warmly in Egypt. But perhaps the Egyptian results lead to further questions on the reliability of public opinion in non-democratic countries. As long as public opinion is not truly ‘free’ in most countries in the region, one has to interpret ‘local voices’, results of public opinion polls included, cautiously.

Sources: Z. Azeem (2013) ‘NGO Workers Sentenced by Egyptian Court’ Al-Monitor, 10 June, 2013; M. Elagati, M. (2013) Foreign Funding in Egypt After the Revolution. FRIDE, Arab Forum for Alternatives & HIVOS; M. Younis and A. Younis (2012) Egyptian Opposition to US and other foreign aid increases. Gallup, 29 March 2012; M. Sabry (2014) ‘How Egypt’s protest law brought down the revolution’ Al-Monitor, 9 September, 2014; A. Taylor (2013) ‘Millions March in Egyptian Protests’, The Atlantic (In Focus), 1 July 2013; and Neighborhood Barometer analytical reports, wave 1-5 (2012-2014):