Guest Post

Though you’ve never heard of Red-Dead, you should care

One advantage of living here in Palestine is that I often hear about problems or trends long before they hit the news. For example, one full year ago I proposed (unsuccessfully) to a fellowship program that I do a series of articles about Sudanese workers who live in Palestinian villages inside Israel. Few people knew about the phenomenon, but I saw them every time I visited my in-laws: young men selling themselves as day laborers, isolated and without support, their stories untold. Nowadays, coverage of asylum seekers in Israel and their poor treatment is front page news. I still haven’t seen anyone cover the Palestinian connection, though.

Today I want to raise a different issue that is similarly under-reported. Red-Dead is the nickname for the project, “Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance Project (RSDSCP),” a $10 billion World Bank project that will carry water from the Red Sea to refill the disappearing Dead Sea. The World Bank claims the project will solve many regional water and environmental problems; Palestinian water and environmental experts disagree. I learned about this project when I worked with EWASH, a coalition of international and local NGOs working on Palestinian water rights. And I found it shocking to learn that such a costly, region-changing, risky project is moving forward with so little global scrutiny.

It might sound technical and boring, but it’s important! The World Bank pushed this through in a very non-transparent way, and the Palestinian Authority signed on without the approval of the Palestinian community. Besides being a huge waste of money–unacceptable in world where there is no much need–the long-term consequences of Red-Dead on Palestinian rights and prospects for a just peace are huge. Rather than tell you myself, I asked a friend and expert, Ziyaad Yusef, to explain Red-Dead in a straightforward way.

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The interview is 30 minutes and at the end he suggests you can get more information from these sites.

Please share your comments here, and please spread the word widely. We can still stop this harmful project. And we must.




NGOs and INGOs can work well together by working intentionally (co-author Renee Black)

This article appeared on, an excellent blog that is building a community of critical development practitioners.

In our previous post on WhyDev, “Is anything going right in NGO-INGO relations?” we acknowledged that relations between local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) are often strained by power dynamics. Given these tensions, it is useful to explore how things sometimes go right when the two come together to do development work.

In this post we reflect on the relationship between Dalia Association, a Palestinian community foundation, and PeaceGeeks, a Canadian NGO providing technical assistance in the developing world, and the finished project — an online competition to identify and celebrate innovative examples of Palestinian philanthropy.

Nora Lester Murad on behalf of Dalia Association:

Dalia Association’s collaboration with PeaceGeeks was among the most worthwhile that I can remember. There are at least three reasons.

1. We both focused on the goal.

Too often, international partners focus on activities or outputs. There is such emphasis on implementing the plan, there isn’t enough room for adjustment when realities on the ground change. Dalia and PeaceGeeks, however, stayed focused on the ultimate goal of promoting philanthropy, and this enabled the project design, activities and outputs to develop as we learned together.

2. Internationals pushed forward but did not take over.

PeaceGeeks moved faster and more fluidly than Dalia, which, like many small and struggling NGOs, gets distracted by political, social and economic problems in the society and the organization. PeaceGeeks’ enthusiasm did push the Palestinian volunteers to get more involved, but PeaceGeeks never moved faster than the locals would go, and when the locals turned down the internationals’ advice, no feathers were ruffled.

 3. The result was better than it could have been with only one organisation.

Dalia Association could not have run a global online competition without help. We didn’t have the technological expertise or the breadth of knowledge about what was possible. PeaceGeeks could not have run the online competition without help either. They didn’t have the local knowledge to make it relevant.

With PeaceGeeks, however, Dalia Association was able to reach Palestinians around the world for the  Momentum for Philanthropy competition, which inspired youth to share their experiences giving, with the message “we are givers, not just receivers”. Three excellent initiatives were awarded cash prizes and visibility.

Nonetheless, there were aspects of the project that could have gone better. First, language and cultural differences made interaction clunky and sometimes downright frustrating. Even after PeaceGeeks recruited an Arabic-speaking volunteer, misunderstandings continued, and the two organizations’ approaches to dealing with the misunderstandings differed.

Second, missed opportunities left an echo of regret for some. Specifically, the project was meant to improve Dalia Association’s capacity to use social media. PeaceGeeks provided a strategy and mentor, but Dalia Association was unable to recruit someone locally to absorb the full benefit.

Still, without question, the project was a success. Dalia, with a small grant from the Global Fund for Community Foundations, leveraged thousands of dollars worth of technical assistance from PeaceGeeks, and developed a long-term ally in its quest to mobilize local resources through philanthropy as an alternative to dependence on international aid.


Participants in Dalia Association’s Momentum for Philanthropy Competition

Renee Black, PeaceGeeks:

As a new organization, PeaceGeeks is still coming into its own. We are sorting out what we do, how we do it and what makes us different. Our work with Dalia on its philanthropy competition helped us to identify a few principles that will help us be successful going forward.

1. Choose good partners and stay focused on their needs.

To date, we have operated with no money, just the commitment of our volunteers. While not sustainable forever, having this experience has been a blessing in many ways. We have been able to more carefully choose the partners we want to work with and remain focused on their priorities, without getting distracted by the mandates of donors.

But in fact we do have donors – our volunteers. Without their time, talents and commitment, we cannot do our work. For us to be successful, we need to choose the right partners and volunteers. We need to build relationships based on respect and trust and we need to set realistic expectations.

Overall, Dalia was a great partner to work with, and while some of our volunteer’s work did not get used, causing some frustration, the project was largely a success that we can celebrate.

2. Develop a clear purpose and plan.

We treat our partners like clients. That means that we work closely with them to understand the goals, define the scope of the project, develop a plan and recruit a qualified team. Our role isn’t just to deliver a solution or tell partners what to do; it is to help partners understand the options available to them so they can make informed decisions, now and in the future. When challenges arise, we recognize that these problems are a small part of a bigger picture and move past them constructively.

3. Develop meaningful relationships and ensure partners have skin in the game.

We are committed to choosing good partners and working with them as equals, avoiding the hierarchical relationships that characterize so many development projects. Yet we know from experience that our model carries some inherent risks.

One risk is that because our work is often pro bono, our partners can walk away from a project with little to lose, despite a significant risk to our credibility if past donors and volunteers feel their time and money was not well used.

This means it is important for us to build meaningful relationships based on understanding, respect and trust, but this alone is not enough. We need to construct a way for our partners to have skin in the game so they are as committed to project success as we are, especially during challenging moments.

We don’t yet know how to do this. Dalia’s team remained committed to the project, and our mutual commitment helped us to navigate misunderstandings and challenges when they came up. But they also had something to lose – the project was based on a grant. If that had not been the case, the project might have been at higher risk of failure.

4. Ensure a mutual focus on building capacities.

We focus on building capacities, which means helping our partners learn from our experience, ask better questions and make better decisions. It is not just about delivering solutions.

Neither is it just about our partners’ learning. We also have an opportunity to learn about challenges facing groups like Dalia, how these groups work to address these challenges, and how we can support them. While we have expertise on certain matters, our partners’ knowledge is essential to understanding context, and that helps minimize the risk of failure, which is a significant risk for all technology even without barriers like language, time difference, cultural differences and war.

A final thought. PeaceGeeks treats partners the same way that we treat clients in the private sector. This approach allowed us to develop a shared vision of project success and accountability to one another. It allowed us to remain focused on the partner’s definition of success. And it has allowed us to make better decisions around who we work with and how.

From our work with Dalia, we learned how we can be successful with our projects and how we should respond to failure when it occurs. It also helped us reaffirm some of our core values, and helped us to define some useful principles to apply going forward.

While all relationships require work, the relationship between Dalia Association and PeaceGeeks shows that yes, NGOs and INGOs can work together well. We would not have been able to accomplish as much independently as we did together.

What are your experiences cultivating NGO-INGO relationships that work well?

Nora Lester Murad, PhD, writes fiction and commentary from Jerusalem, Palestine. Her blog, “The View from My Window in Palestine” addresses issues of international development and life under military occupation. She is a life-long social justice activist and a founder of Dalia Association, Palestines first community foundation, with whom she now volunteers. She tweets from @NoraInPalestine.

Renee Black is an IT project manager, policy analyst and founder of PeaceGeeks, a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to building the capacities of grassroots non-profits in conflict-affected areas working on peace, accountability and human rights. She tweets under @reneeontheroad and @peacegeeks. 


Guest post: Donor Interventions in Palestinian Agriculture: Helping Hand? Or Slap on the Face? by Aisha Mansour

Aisha Mansour is co-founder of Sharaka-Community Supported Agriculture. Sharaka is a volunteer run initiative working towards food sovereignty in Palestine. Sharaka activities include a seasonal farmers market, school garden program, education and awareness, and an underground seasonal restaurant called, Majhoul. In her free time, Aisha experiments with seasonal food production in an effort to achieve self-sufficiency, and she blogs at Seasonal Palestinian.

One of the main principles that guides international development is “Do No Harm.” A bright-eyed, enthusiastic development specialist in Palestine may think agricultural interventions are doing no harm. But does a longer-term, broader view of the situation, from a local’s perspective, see donor intervention as benign?

cabdallah kofr malik

Although the Palestinian agricultural sector receives less than 1% of the “aid” funding that comes into Palestine, the total amount is still significant.  Between 2006-2011, over $658 million USD was injected into the Palestinian agricultural sector through over 22,000 interventions, according to the Agricultural Project Information System.  Most of the funds are allocated towards capacity building, plant production, livestock production, and water resources.  Sounds great, right?  When I asked the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) for a summary of the projects, I received a long list organized by project title, donor, and total dollar amount. The MoA does not conduct regular assessments of the interventions and their impact. But a few interviews with locally-based donors and recipients showed me that the general purpose of donor interventions was to transform Palestinian agriculture into a cog in the overall global economy.

Capacity building efforts focus on teaching farmers to follow international standards such as Global Gap that regulate the types of plants that may be grown, and methods for use of chemical pesticide and fertilizer. Plant and animal production efforts concentrate on the use of foreign inputs that meet international standards and industrialize Palestinian agriculture, ensuring a ready supply of food for the global market.  Farmers are taught to produce cash crops that will provide them a higher income.  Cash crops are items that are in demand by the Western and global market and include products such as cherry tomatoes and majdool dates.  The traditional Palestinian farmer who once produced seasonal varieties of vegetables, fruits, and grains using environmentally friendly techniques for the local market is being transformed into a modernized agribusiness using foreign seeds and chemical pesticides and fertilizers to produce one or two items that are in high demand in foreign markets.

eherb agribiz

Donors have decided to address Palestinian food insecurity by improving the income of farmers so that they can purchase food for their families from the local market.  Meanwhile, most of the foods on the local market, as a result of the imposed free trade policies, are cheap imports from the West.  In other words, this new system of modernized food production is usurping the traditional mode of seasonal and varietal food production using local heirloom seeds and zero chemicals to feed the local population. Isn’t that doing harm? Yes! The negative impacts of the donor interventions are numerous and include the following:

  • Reducing the human capabilities of the Palestinian farmer/peasant:  The traditional Palestinian farmer was highly independent with regard to food production and methods for selling the end product on the local market.  Today’s modernized farmer has been transformed into a wage worker punching his card at the agribusiness. The modernized farmer does not choose what to grow, nor possess any leverage on the marketing of the product.  Items produced are based on Western demand and sales prices are fixed by the global economy.
  • Increasing food insecurity among Palestinians: Linking the Palestinian economy to the global economy has not reduced food insecurity among Palestinian farmers. Traditionally, Palestinian farmers never experienced food insecurity. A variety of food staples were produced for the household and other items were obtained through barter and exchange.  However, the free trade policies imposed on the Palestinians by the donor community have tied local food prices to the global market, making ‘good’ food too expensive and inaccessible to the poor.
  • Institutionalizing market linkages and dependence on Israel:  Donor interventions in Palestinian agriculture have also forced a stronger attachment to the Israeli economy, despite the fact that Palestinians are trying to achieve independence in their homeland.  Donor interventions support Palestinian farmers to produce for export.  But in Occupied Palestine, the only way to export is through Israel, or through an “intermediary” that, of course, must go through Israel.  Further, the required inputs as outlined by international standards systems such as Global Gap are all acquired through Israel.
  • Environmental destruction: The attention to the production of a few select cash crops, many of them being genetically modified, means that we have lost the bounty within Palestine.  Prior to the Oslo-period donor interventions, Palestinian agricultural production consisted of varieties of heirloom vegetables and fruits.  This rich biodiversity has been lost as the donor interventions have introduced a few genetically modified seeds.  These manufactured seeds require the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that weaken the soil, and render it less productive.   Further, our diet has become bland and boring as we consume the same four or five vegetables all year long, which negatively impacts our health, and so the downward spiral persists.
  • Food assistance instead of food sovereignty:  The donor community does not seem able to grasp the connection.  And so agricultural interventions remain isolated from food assistance.  International agricultural experts work within the Palestinian agricultural sector to support farmers to increase their incomes and decrease their vulnerability to food insecurity, while the international humanitarian relief folks are busy collecting leftovers from the West to feed the hungry and needy in the South, including Palestine.  Nowhere in this multi-million dollar industry do the two meet to bridge agriculture and food assistance to develop a sustainable food sovereign system within the recipient country.  Or perhaps that is not the aim of the game?
  • Northern Occupation of Palestinian land:  It’s not enough that Israel keeps grabbing Palestinian land and natural resources.  Now the West would like the small bit of land remaining under Palestinian cultivation to feed the rest of the Northern world.  This land grab has meant that less and less food produced in Palestine feeds Palestinians, while more and more of the second-rate processed products are dumped in the Palestinian market.
  • Accept Israel as status quo:  And finally, all of these projects that are meant to support the Palestinian farmers work around and within the Israeli Occupation. Aid interventions ignore the impact of the Occupation, and Israel’s illegal practices of land grabbing and stealing natural resources.  Instead, donor projects focus on increasing the income of farmers within the existing Occupation, without challenging the essence of the Israeli Occupation.   It is important to note that Palestinian agriculture flourished prior to the Israeli Occupation of 1948 and 1967.  Prior to the Occupation, Palestinians produced abundantly and fed the local market, and exported the excess to the Arab world.

Fortunately, the traditional small-scale Palestinian farmer still exists, however, in diminishing numbers.  These farmers continue to produce healthy, baladi (local) food for their communities.  But they struggle to survive in this aggressive environment.  Palestinians are becoming aware and rising against this hijacking of their food system.  Local foodies, activists, peasants and farmers are organizing to develop alternatives to the imposed global and modernized food system that has been forced on them.  Palestinian interventions include local women serving a healthy lunch at a school, door-to-door local produce delivery, a traditional culinary school, and a farmers market.  It is time to be honest with ourselves and take responsibility for what is happening in our country.  Donor interventions and imposed policies that are harmful must be stopped.  Alternatives to development must be sought from within.


Guest post: “Northern Jerusalem or North of Jerusalem? Israel’s Land Grab in Process” by Muna Dajani

Kufr Aqab is a unique neighborhood of Jerusalem because it lies on the West Bank side of the Annexation Wall. This means that Palestinians living in Kufr Aqab can keep their rights as residents of Jerusalem but have access to Ramallah without passing through a checkpoint. It also means that the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality is responsible for all municipal functions in Kufr Aqab, although it is separated from the rest of Jerusalem by the Qalandia checkpoint. Kufr Aqab is not the only anomaly—where the legal status and geographic realities conflict—but it’s among the most important. Palestinians are fighting to keep Kufr Aqab part of Jerusalem and to keep Jerusalem part of Palestine. Nura Alkalili (Lund University), Muna Dajani (Birzeit University) and Daniela De Leo (Sapienza University Rome) conducted research to voice the realities and concerns of the voiceless Palestinians in Jerusalem, including in Kufr Aqab. Their research findings have been presented in conferences in Turkey, Argentina and Italy. In this guest post,environmental researcher and activist, Muna Dajani explains some of the complexities of life in Kufr Aqab and how residents are responding.

Israeli Sanctioned Chaos

I set out with two friends, Nura AlKhalili, an urban planner, and Daniela De Leo, an Italian professor, to research the construction boom and chaos of Kufr Aqab. Agno” between Jerusalem and Ramallah, there are shocking urban transformations in the neighborhood.


Photo credit: Nura Alkhalili

Photo credit: Nura Alkhalili

Kufr Aqab is easily identified by endless rows of towering buildings averaging ten stories high. Most are apartment blocks with commercial shops on the street level. Adjacent to each other, they threaten to fall over like dominos. The streets of Kufr Aqab are full of signs announcing vacancies and apartments for sale despite visible deficiencies: air contamination from the daily burning of garbage (because it is hardly ever collected), lack of proper water and electrical infrastructure, and streets that are not even asphalted.

The streets are overrun with cars with yellow Israeli license plates, yet none of the strict Israeli traffic laws seem to apply in Kufr Aqab. Cars drive in the opposite direction on the high-speed road and cars and trucks are parked in every direction possible. Other Israeli laws aren’t enforced either. For example, construction is booming without building permits and sometimes without the landowners’ knowledge and consent!

Despite this dark and distorted “development,” Kufr Aqab has become the temporary living solution for more than 60,000 inhabitants. Apartments in Kufr Aqab are much cheaper than a few kilometers south, thus making the area attractive to Jerusalemites who must remain within the Jerusalem municipality borders and pay taxes to Israel in order to keep their legal status. Most importantly, Jerusalemites who live in Kufr Aqab can live under the same roof with their spouses who, because they carry a Palestinian identity card, are prohibited from living in Jerusalem and can only enter by obtaining an Israeli military permit.

Being a daily traveler on the road from Jerusalem to Ramallah, and after passing the Qalandia checkpoint, I have often entered this zone where people appear so idle and passive. How can they live in Kufr Aqab under such unacceptable conditions with no sign of either opposition or civic engagement? Do they not see Israel’s systematic push of Palestinian Jerusalemites to the periphery thus disconnecting them from their center, Al Quds, and emptying the city of its residents, weakening its Arab character?

Community Activism in No Man’s Land

In our quest for answers, we met with Abu Zakariya Al Sous, an elected representative to the Jerusalem North Committee (JNC). Looking out from the window of his home, not even two meters away, lies a construction site so big that it dwarfs the old two-story building we’re in. The Jerusalem North Committee replaced the Israeli-run community center, one of those that are inserted in every Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem and which slowly but steadily impose their own ‘Israelization’ agendas on Palestinian residents, adding to their identity crisis.

Abu Zakariya has been an active resident of Kufr Aqab since long before the construction boom that infected the area one decade ago. Abu Zakariya stressed that “Jerusalem North” is symbolically and strategically important because Israel has relentlessly tried to label Kufr Aqab as an area North of Jerusalem (that is, an area that does not belong to the municipal boundaries of the city of Jerusalem)thus disconnecting it from its historical significance as a suburb of Jerusalem. By doing so, the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality tries to create new facts on the ground, implying that its responsibilities stop at the first cement section of the Annexation Wall, leaving Kufr Aqab and its 60,000 Jerusalemite residents to fend for themselves in terms of acquiring rights to proper infrastructure, education, health services, public facilities, and their own security.

The JNC is composed of 12 volunteer members and its main objectives are advocating for and reclaiming full rights for Palestinians in the North of Jerusalem from the Jerusalem Municipality to whom they pay taxes. Abu Zakariya explained the complexity of mobilizing Kufr Aqab residents to challenge the political, social, health and environmental problems that haunt them. JNC decided to use legal means to fight against the problems that most affect people’s daily lives and to build momentum for positive change. For example, in June 2011, the JNC filed a lawsuit against the waste collection department at the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Environmental Protection. They demanded a clean environment free from diseases that have emerged recently due to the continuous burning of uncollected garbage. In 2012, the court ruled that the Municipality must submit a plan to improve services in Kufr Aqab. Since then, seventy new large garbage bins have been delivered to the neighborhood with an additional 110 smaller bins distributed on the side roads and thirty additional collection trucks operate on a weekly basis.

This is a success on all levels for the Jerusalem North Committee and the Palestinian communities of Jerusalem, as it sets a precedent and encourages use of legal measures for Jerusalemites to reclaim their rights as residents of the city. The JNC is now demanding proper infrastructure from the Israeli phone company, Bezeq, and advocating for more schools and public spaces.

Abu Zakariya added: “We are not asking for charity. We have lived for generations in this city and we have rights. We will not stop demanding our rights—from the basic demand for garbage-free neighborhoods to our biggest demand: equality, stability and prosperity for Palestinian Jerusalemites in Al Quds.”


Guest post: “Holy Innocents” by Vicki Tamoush

In these days after Christmas, there is a sharp difference between life in Palestine and life in the U.S.  Unlike most of the world, Christians in the U.S. often return to work, to life as usual, the very day after Christmas.  I myself had to do this, and it just feels strange.  In Palestine and elsewhere, Christmas is not just a day but a season.  It is celebrated with joy, visiting, and general cheerfulness through Epiphany on January 6 and, for some, even beyond.

While our churches here are beautifully candlelit and meaningful, meditative services are held, there is nothing quite like the churches of Palestine where candles have burned brightly not for years but for centuries; where prayers have ascended in every language through war, peace, cold war, and some very cold peace.  Today, it is so easy to look at Palestine at Christmas and slip into hopelessness.  The hunger strikers are perilously close to collapse.  The Apartheid Wall has sliced up the tiny enclaves of Palestinian life that had managed to survive under occupation.  Gaza is, again, decimated by a military machine rivaled by only one larger nation on the planet.

It’s hard not to be afraid, isn’t it?

The news of the horrific shooting at the school in Connecticut reached Palestine quickly.  On the day after the shooting, pictures circulated the internet showing Palestinian children standing in vigil for the child victims in Newtown, Connecticut.  I had to blink and look again: did I just see kids who live under occupation, all of whom are well familiar with the sound of gunfire on their own streets standing in solidarity with kids in an American suburb?  I’ve come to the conclusion that the world is not a safe place for children.

Very hard not to be afraid.

Yet the shepherds—the ones for whom Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem is named—heard the angel whisper, “Do not be afraid…”  I can only imagine how frightened these lowly, uneducated men would feel at the sudden appearance of an angel.  Of course they’d be afraid!

Credit: ActiveStills

Credit: Activestills

I don’t know how Palestinian mothers do it.  It’s easy to rock your kids to sleep with just a few words of a lullaby if the world around you is calm and serene.  How do you coax your child to sleep when she has been roused in the middle of the night by soldiers bursting through the door?  How do you remember the words to a lullaby when your husband has been missing for six days after walking in a funeral procession?

Maybe it’s faith that enables these mothers to function.  Or maybe they’re numb.  Maybe years and years and years of occupation have turned their faith from a dynamic, organic expression of the soul into a concrete cocoon inside which they can feel nothing, not even fear.

While Epiphany is still a few days away, the Feast of the Holy Innocents is almost upon us (December 28).  All over the world, Christians will solemnly remember the children who were slain by order of King Herod in an attempt to avert the loss of his reign to “the newborn king”—the Christ child—about whom the Magi had told him.  Our world is still a fearful place for children from Connecticut to Bethlehem, now more than ever.

VickiPhotoVicki Tamoush is a second-generation Arab American who lives in Tustin, California.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Irvine and is founder of Interfaith Witnesses. Vicki writes regularly for The View from My Window in Palestine.