Malala, where is your money?

The article first appeared in The Hill’s Congress Blog.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Youzzeffi announced a donation of $50,000 for the reconstruction of Gaza’s schools. That was in October, in the wake of Israel’s summer assault that affected some 113,500 homes in addition to schools, public buildings, hospitals, utilities and other essential infrastructure.

As part of an investigation into Palestine’s broken aid system, I set about tracking down where Malala’s money is. One month later, I have few answers and my list of questions is growing. UNRWA, the agency responsible for Palestinian refugees and the recipient of Malala’s donation, could not tell me when anticipated repairs would commence or if Israel’s complex restrictions on importation of cement and other building supplies would affect the timeline. It is already nearly four months since the ceasefire agreement, and two months since the donation was made.

I had expected to find out that a portion of Malala’s contribution would go to high overhead costs and that some would be pocketed by Israel in the form of import taxes, security fees, and corporate profits. I did not expect to be unable to get reliable information.

Problems with transparency and accountability are not unique to any one agency. Rather, it is a consequence of an entire aid system that has an interest in protecting itself from scrutiny to avoid being exposed as complicit in the ongoing denial of Palestinian rights.

US taxpayers give more than $400 million of their hard-earned money to Palestine annually. This supports dozens of aid organizations with noble mandates. But most US taxpayers would be saddened to learn that assistance delivered through the aid system may sometimes do more harm than good.

Off the record, everyone admits that real development in Gaza requires the siege to end and the occupation to cease. But why would Israel end the occupation when it’s so profitable? International donors pay to fulfill obligations that Israel has under International Humanitarian Law, and when Israel destroys donor-funded projects, the donors build again.

Instead of exerting political and economic pressure on Israel to recognize Palestinian rights, international governments offer aid to Palestinians as a sort of “consolation prize.” Then, when Israel makes the provision of aid difficult, the aid actors again fail to stand up for Palestinian rights. In trying to find ways around Israel’s siege, aid may actually entrench it further.

Rather than pointing the finger at particular aid agencies, the taxpayers in whose name aid is being given must demand accountability not only in terms of budget sheets but also in terms of impact.

This is not to say we should expect a quick fix. The urge for simple answers and fast spending is part of the problem. Our objective should not be to simply provide Palestinians with new schools. What we must demand is a bold plan that sees aid disentangled from Israel’s regime of siege and occupation. Rather than merely providing a stopgap until the next bombardment, the process of rebuilding must respect Palestinian rights. Moreover, the aid system must serve the interests of Palestinians in ways that are accountable to Palestinians, taxpayers around the world, and other stakeholders.

Aid actors have a hard job to do. They work in a highly politicized environment, with tremendous security risks, and often without political support from governments. Yet they are legally obligated as duty bearers and by ethical mandates that they must uphold, even in situations like Palestine where “pragmatism” suggests they compromise in order to deliver aid. By accepting billions of dollars in trust for the Palestinian people, aid actors agree to be held to these high standards.

If Malala really wants to help Gaza, she may want to do more than just give money. She may want to ask where it is. Asking for accountability doesn’t show lack of trust, nor does it undermine aid actors’ ability to perform. Asking for accountability is a way of ensuring that international aid doesn’t just do the best it can within a broken system, but that systems be built to ensure that aid actually helps not hurts.


Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 9.35.45 AM

How much is owed to Gaza? Does anyone know? This is not a rhetorical question. I’m really asking!

This article first appeared on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace.

On October 12, 2014, a bunch of donors met in Cairo with the Palestinian Authority to discuss and pledge support for Gaza. I can’t find any official statement press release from the conference, so it’s hard to know exactly who came and pledged, but media coverage after the event suggested thatQatar pledged $1 billion, while Kuwait and the UAE pledged $200 million each, as did Turkey, and the United States pledged 212 million dollars. One source reported that the European Union promised 450 million euros while another said EU member states will contribute $570 million including pledges of $63 million from Germany $13m from Norway (or $14.5m from Norway, according to a different source). I guess that the EU promise of 450 million Euros is the same as the promise of the EU member states for $570 million, but I can’t be sure. Also, it was reported that Saudi Arabia pledged $500 million, France $38 million, Algeria $25 million, Italy $22.7 million, and Japan $200 million, while theUK figure came in at a shockingly low $32 million.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 9.10.08 AM

I’m not good in math, so I use a calculator to add up these figures and I don’t get anywhere near the $5.4 billion that all media consistently reported as the amount pledged at that conference. So where can I find out who else pledged and how much? Or is money already missing?

I look at OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service and pull a report for the occupied Palestinian territories (dated November 18, 2014) and there is no $1 billion from Qatar either in the commitments or pledges. Maybe that’s because Qatar isn’t transparent? So I decided to look for a donor with a high transparency rating, like the UK. I go back to the FTS and yes, there are paid contributions that could approximate the pledged amount, but there’s no way to tell if those are the same funds because there’s no date of the payment on that report. Grumble, grumble. Or maybe that’s because OCHA tracks only humanitarian funding and these pledges are considered “development” funding? “Aha!” I say to myself. “I should be able to find that info in the International Aid Transparency Index.” I go to the development portal, filter by UK, scroll to Palestine, and, yes! There is 130,856,816 spent and another 171,802,469 budgeted. But how can I find the $32m pledged at the Cairo donor’s conference?

Surely, with all the hulabaloo about aid data transparency, I must be doing something wrong.

Moreover, there’s the question about what the money will be spent on. The PA’s plan, which was submitted to donors as the basis of their request, listed $4 billion for the reconstruction of Gaza; $4.5 billion to support the PA budget from 2015-17; and $7 billion to finance the rebuilding and operation of Gaza’s airport and seaport, building a large water desalination plant and taking advantage of gas fields in Gaza’s sea, among other projects. But if “only” $5.4 billion was pledged against the $16.5 billion requested, then some things will get funded and others won’t. Where is that listed and explained?

The Palestinian Authority did put out a clarification. They said that some of the pledges were re-pledges of earlier commitments and that some of the funding will go to Gaza and some of the funding to the West Bank will also go to Gaza. But shockingly, they too seemed to be piecing data together from other data sources to calculate what money is expected.

Grumble, grumble.

Although I never passed eighth grade math, there is one thing I can be absolutely sure of. The aid data system – even the initiatives designed to make aid transparent – make it impossible for anyone to hold anyone accountable for anything.

If any of you “out there” think that I’m wrong and that you can figure out how much money the 1.8 million devastated Palestinians in Gaza should expect to receive, do let me know. This is not a rhetorical question. I’m really asking.


During Gaza

This poem was originally published on Counterpunch.

There are periods of time during which there is only one place on earth and places for which one period of time changes history. These are my hearts’ thoughts about July 2014, which I will always think of as being “during Gaza.”

The front line obscured,
their troops had dispersed
to cafes in Haifa
till the flammable stench
of hope decomposing
ignited in Gaza,
wafted through the watan,
and woke up the poetry.
And an unlikely hero
neutralized the fear
that had shackled generations
by risking everything,
in time with the pounding
of the tabla.

Red lines, fault lines, electricity lines, bread lines
crossed and cut and bombed.
Complexity, like raw sewage, washed into the sea, a surprising relief.
Whispers at ftoor were unified by suhoor.
But till now
CNN still does not know
or refuses to report,
that the game has changed.

I am fine bang-bang, Mama.
No, bang-bang. There is no bang danger here.
I am far from bang-bang-bang.
That sound? Helicopters. I don’t know why.
The pope left, Ki-Moon left, Kerry left.
Nothing unusual is happening here now.
I am absolutely sure, Mama.
There is bang-bang-bang-bang absolutely no danger
in the West bang-bang-bang-bang Bank,

On Facebook I check
before I even spit the night’s bad taste into the drain
if she is alive
if he is alive
and the ones in the south and the ones near the coast
but most of them don’t answer my “how are you?”
because they are sleeping their half-rest,
or because they have no electricity,
or because they are dead.

They say I have lost perspective
because I can’t taste chocolate anymore,
because I feel walls tremble in my dreams,
because I scream “stop” into the wind.
They say I have lost perspective because I mourn children not mine
brains blown from skulls.
Meanwhile, they seek my professional recommendation through LinkedIn.
And I say,
it is not me
who has lost

There were ten thousand or twenty
and we waved flags,
little girls on shoulders and families in cars,
old men in wheechairs and so many, many women!
Women who had held decades together with their bare hands,
their husbands in prison,
and arrested themselves,
beside their daughters marched.
Those daughters, with international aspirations,
who had seen burning tires only from car windows as they passed,
cursing the traffic,
and who had not seen options, much less discussed them,
not even amongst themselves, over latte, all these years.
But now,
they chanted “udrub udrub Tel Abeeb
while skinny boys, faces covered, walked into bullets,
despite knowing
that no one can remember 108 names.

there is something
something precious
I pull it towards me
faith renewed
by that clarity
that unity
that surety
that when I say “Can you help me help Gaza?”
without exception
even those I do not like
and even those who do not like me
answer simply:
“Consider it done.”

When Gaza is over
When the mess of rubble and body parts is cleared away
When researchers have analyzed the op-eds and filed them
When Americans realize what they paid for and why no money is left for Detroit
When their children ask “how could that happen?” the way I asked about Auschwitz
When they let their minds go blank for ten minutes in lotus position at sunrise
Will they be haunted
by the Bakir boys
playing soccer
on the Gaza beach?

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 8.16.31 AM

Donor complicity in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights

“In this policy brief, Al-Shabaka Policy Member Nora Lester Murad examines aid through the lens of “complicity” and exposes shortcomings in current legal frameworks. She argues that regardless of the limitations of applicable law, international aid actors are fundamentally responsible to those they seek to assist and must be held accountable for the harm they cause or enable. She identifies the areas in which questions need to be asked and concludes with some of the steps that Palestinian civil society and the international solidarity movement should take.”

Download the full paper in English and Arabic on the Al-Shabaka site, and please share your comments here.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 8.17.00 AM