Perhaps the most important work I’ve ever done…

Over years of work in Palestine, I’ve spoken with hundreds of people about their experiences with international aid. I’ve written articles and delivered presentations and worked on committees, but I don’t see any real changes happening. Most recently, meetings and discussions with Palestinians led to this draft document — criteria for distinguishing aid that should be accepted from aid that should be rejected. It’s perhaps the most important work I’ve ever done. Why? Because it shifts our entire focus away from what we want “them” (donors) to do, which is not in our control, to a focus on what “we” (the Palestinian community) agree to participate in, which is something in our control. It is a draft document intended as a discussion starter. Please, read it carefully and share your thoughts.


International assistance that advances Palestinian self-determination:

•     consistently and explicitly opposes occupation and colonization and puts into practice policies that challenge structural inequality;

•     complies with international law and prosecutes those who break it;

•     actively challenges Israeli impunity through sanctions and political pressure;

•     is actively committed to real democracy, including the right of all Palestinians to choose their own leaders, participate in political life, and receive benefits – regardless of political opinion or affiliation;

•     recognizes the unity of the Palestinian community as a whole and aligns policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank (including Jerusalem and Area C), Gaza, Israel, refugee camps, and the Diaspora toward the goal of self-determination;

•     respects Palestinians’ right to resist oppression including through means such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions;

•     leverages coherent political, economic and cultural policies to protect Palestinians, Palestinian rights and Palestinian resources;

•     conceptualizes “development” as a way of realizing rights, and respects the right and responsibility of Palestinians to lead the process;

•     implements Palestinians’ rights to allocate their own development resources including resources spent on their behalf; and

•     provides information about its activities, including budgets, and engages in mechanisms whereby it can be held accountable by local people.


Moreover, international assistance that advances Palestinian self-determination seeks to:

•     eliminate the diversion of Palestinian aid funds to international NGOs or international private sector vendors;

•     intervene only when local actors cannot, and avoid duplication of or competition with local actors;

•     stop the payment of any aid funds to Israeli governmental organizations or to Israeli private sector organizations when there is a Palestinian or international alternative;

•     prevent waste of resources on experts that do not add to local knowledge, are overpaid, and are not selected by locals; and

•     refrain from unethical practices including corruption, breaking commitments, paying beneficiaries for training, favoritism, double standards, stealing projects, etc.



International assistance that undermines Palestinian self-determination:

•     enables Israel to avoid paying costs for which it is responsible as occupier according to international law;

•     is not accompanied by active political support for Palestinian self-determination;

•     is palliative, “humanitarian,” short-term, or in the form of loans

•     demands that Palestinians police one another;

•     requires activities that benefit Israel or that decrease pressure on Israel to change its policies;

•     supports economic or cultural “solutions” that do not include political rights;

•     is based on priorities or strategies developed by non-Palestinians;

•     relies on foreign-chosen or installed Palestinians to speak on behalf of the community as a whole;

•     wastes funds on “capacity building” that isn’t requested and tied to self-determination;

•     requires Palestinians to use foreign languages, frameworks and waste money; and

•     disrespects local traditions and beliefs.


  1. Carl Zaisser says

    In the list of international assistance that undermines Palestinian self-determination and should be REJECTED, how about this ammendment?


  2. Miriam Kader says


    I’m affraid I have nothing but questions…and perhaps you can answer them.

    From your listing of requirements, I find the following one most interesting.
    • provides information about its activities, including budgets, and engages in mechanisms whereby it can be held accountable by local people.

    From this point I gather that at this time the NGO community is not required to report their activities to the local government? And that as well there is no institutional oversight evaluating the success of these activities (as evaluated by the local population which is receiving them)?

    Is there an institution which is able to report on the total Dollars or Euros which are spent by the various NGOs in the WBG?

    I would very much appreciate it if you could answer these basic questions.

    • admin says

      Good questions, Miriam. I’ll try to answer clearly. Reporting for accountability is a little complex. If an international NGO publishes an annual report, they can claim to be transparent, however a) is the annual report available in Arabic? If not, local Palestinians don’t really have access to it? b) is the budget consolidated so that salaries, for example, are a lump sum? If so, then local people can’t tell if staff are overpaid. I could go on. As for reporting to the Palestinian Authority, there are two problems: 1) they just report the lump sum of the project (so in one case I investigated, the PA only knew that USAID had given $18 million to Catholic Relief Services, but they didn’t say what it was for). When I went to get the budget breakdown from Catholic Relief Services, it was consolidated, not broken down. 2) The second problem is that the Palestinian Authority isn’t accountable to the the Palestinian people (it is not de jure), so even if the PA gets the info, it doesn’t mean the people get the info). NOBODY has the big picture about what various NGOs bring in or spend in Palestine, on what, or how it is decided.

  3. Ben says

    It would have been more useful, and less agonizingly boring to read, if you had boiled down your list of complaints into two basic points:
    1. “We” will accept any aid that involves kissing our ass and pretending we are perfect in every way.
    2. “We” will not accept any aid that does not kiss our ass and faces the fact that we created the situation where we need the very support we’re currently bitching about.
    Keep up the work.

    • admin says

      Hum. Well. How do I respond constructively? I’m going to try, because I really think it’s useful for me to understand your perspective, and you mine. I certainly don’t think Palestinians are perfect in every way. Let’s get that straight. But I also don’t think that being imperfect means Palestinians aren’t entitled to real assistance. Do you? Or are you saying that Palestinians just aren’t entitled to assistance period? If so, I’d like to know if you think anyone is entitled to assistance, and if so, on what basis?

    • Carl Zaisser says

      If it was “agonizingly boring” for Ben to read less than two pages of carefully worded ideas written after even more careful long term consultation and cooperation with Palestinian community activists, I’d love to see the actual reading list on the history and nature of the conflict. It might be quite revealing. There are some people out there who happen to think that just because of who they are, their understanding of all this is substantive. Good response to him, Nora.

      • admin says

        I’d like to try to engage people like Ben constructively. Am doing my best. Am open to (constructive) suggestions.

  4. says

    Nora, your philosophy (with which I totally agree) is one reason why I have pushed for an entirely new approach to activist efforts to break Israeli strangulation of the Gaza Strip. As you are probably aware, there have been numerous ships that have set sail to Gaza from Europe, often loaded with “aid.” When Israel let its megalomania replace common sense and actually killed 9 passengers on board one of those ships (the Mavi Marmara), the resulting hoopla in the media (which would never have resulted if “just” Palestinians had been killed) actually led to some concrete changes that eased the siege on Gaza a bit. However, since then, Israel got smart and instead of killing the activists on board the ships, it merely detained and deported them before they could get to Gaza. The latest such escapade — the Estelle — generated very little media coverage.

    For this reason, as well as the fact that the flotillas placed too much emphasis (IMHO) on internationals getting out than on Palestinians and the goods they produce getting out, I am supporting a new resistance effort called Gaza’s Ark ( Once sufficient money is raised, Palestinian workers in Gaza will be paid to build or refurbish an existing boat, which then will be stocked with exportable goods we purchase. (Currently, Israel allows very few exports out of Gaza, effectively strangling its economy.) The local crew, supplemented by internationals, then will try to sail the boat out.

    We know Israel will likely try to stop the boat from sailing — and that it likely will succeed, given the lack of support from international bodies. However, we are hopeful that the publicity we generate during the course of the project will serve to highlight the desire and ability of Palestinians in Gaza to support themselves, and the Israeli policies that are keeping them in servitude.

    I’d love your feedback and opinions on this project, Nora!


  5. says

    Hello Ms Nora

    I guess that you are so right, you wrote honestly about your experience in Occupied Palestine,I see that as long as foreign aid is spent in accordance with priority of USA and Europe imperialism, it will never ever help Palestinian people in their struggle to build his independent economic, politician and social identity on the basis of justice and freedom, Please let me tell you some thing about Tanweer experience in this field (Tanweer is a cultural NGO in Nablus), 2 years ago, Tanweer sent a proposal on educating Palestinian youth about right of return of Palestinian refugees to foreign financial NGO According to its announcement and to the discussion with its representative, till now Tanweer is waiting for a reply!!! I am sure that you have hundreds of examples on this point.
    Also it is so important not to forget that Palestinian officials and advisors are unfortunately mired in corruption with the knowledge and encourage of foreign and financial NGO’s and Palestinian government.

    This means that to correct the way of international aid to become a crane to support the Palestinian people in their struggle for development, justice and freedom, justice, we really need first,to spend international aid according to Palestinian priorities, and second to rebuild our Palestinian authority on the basis of transparency and responsibility in economic, political and social aspects.
    Best regards and stay humanized

    • admin says

      Dr. Yousef, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m interested in your project to educate youth about the right of return. Is it a project that you can do now with volunteers and other existing resources and perhaps in cooperation with other local organizations interested in the same issues? Even if you need to go more slowly or do things differently than you would with funding, I think it’s worth doing. If this is a good project — and it sounds like it is — don’t let lack of external funding hold you back. We can do most of what we need to do with local resources!


  1. […] This is where there was a strategic shift in the discussion. Whereas previous meetings had always ended with an agreement to compromise with donors, these participants advocated rejection of false “development” projects that are, at best, distractions, and at worst, harmful to Palestinian dignity, independence and sustainability. More specifically, they drafted criteria by which acceptable international assistance can be distinguished from assistance that shou… […]

  2. […] This is where there was a strategic shift in the discussion. Whereas previous meetings had always ended with an agreement to compromise with donors, these participants advocated rejection of false “development” projects that are, at best, distractions, and at worst, harmful to Palestinian dignity, independence and sustainability. More specifically, they drafted criteria by which acceptable international assistance can be distinguished from assistance that shou… […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *