Edition 2: No. 38
Crafting illusions about the occupation – the myths of aid to Palestine
The myth that external aid has the capacity to produce positive results in the Palestinian territories are not only faulty but one which that is counter productive. As Palestinians have noted, development aid under occupation is merely a ploy to pull over the eyes – a kind of opium! Rather than being liberative in scope, it undertakes the role of creating illusions about social engineering. Worse, it also manages to distract attention from the core issues – in this case the struggle for freedom and justice.
Not too long back, a seemingly well informed Palestinian young intellectual said to me: “You know Fayyad is the best PM we could have ever found”. I asked why and his answer was a very simplistic one: “The World bank and IMF have said so. Who is better qualified to certify his competence and the performance levels of our government and the economy?” This kind of obfuscated approach to the occupation – making it as comfortable as possible- is the “opium development” economic paradigm being propped up by the US-Israel combine with the World Bank and IMF being the compliant accomplice.
The PA suffers a credibility gap in any case and the way in which they try to camouflage their malfunctioning is by creating illusions about development and progress even in the face of the brutal occupation and its own incompetence. Because of that, they also end up being mere accomplices.
Aid to Palestine is at exceptional heights and yet the people have not come even remotely close to achieving security, economic rights. By all indicators, Palestinians undergo a tortured existence. According to a study carried out by a research group: “Using the consumption-based definition of poverty, 26%2 of the Palestinians lived in poverty in 2009 and 2010 (19% in the West Bank, but 38% in Gaza). However, using the income-based definition of poverty, 50% of the Palestinians lived in poverty in 2009 and 2010 (38% in the West Bank, but 70% in Gaza).
The World food programme has pointed out that “Palestinians are experiencing a dramatic decline in their living standards and a regression of the economy due to internal and external movement restrictions. The civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territory continues to bear the brunt of the ongoing conflict which resulted in serious humanitarian consequences. The closure regime applied in the West Bank, combined with the blockade of the Gaza Strip, continues to seriously hamper access and movement of goods, services and people throughout the occupied Palestinian territory. These restrictions affect Palestinians’ access to local and international markets and to employment as well as their control over natural resources. The West Bank barrier isolates thousands of people from their land, communities and basic services”.
The World Food Programme (2011) has pointed that “the huge amount of money spent on aid wouldn’t be needed if the international community pressed Israel to lift the blockade and respect international law, and pushed for a political solution (..) Another example of the multiple restrictions are the procedures demanded by the Israelis for the delivery of food supplies to Gaza, which cost the World Food Programme and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) $4m per year.”
The World food programme also shows that some 50% of Palestinian households were impacted by food insecurity (33% food-insecure, 17% vulnerable to food insecurity). Unemployment has remained at around 30% since 2009, with 47% in Gaza in 2010, compared to 20% in the West Bank. Unemployment rate for Palestinian youth under 30 is particularly alarming standing at 43%. The income and opportunities inequality gap continues to widen not only between the West Bank and Gaza, but also within the West Bank.
The international group of aid givers – ‘the opium club’ whose goal is to disguise the evil effects of the occupation with tantalising offers of aid with the assurance to Palestinians that aid will liberate your cities, towns, and villages from the horrific suffering that the occupation otherwise imposes on you. The occupation is another matter!
This cynical western manipulation is not only disastrous; it is virtually criminal in intent and impact. In an unpublished study, the authors argue thus: “Ramallah, the new Paris of the Middle East, with its bubbled economy and the Jenin refugee camp, southern Hebron, or even the villages outside Ramallah, not to mention areas C, can give a taste of the ‘new’ inequality phenomenon. The manufacturing and production capacities continue to erode, while the agriculture sector remains neglected. Public debt doubled, while the private debts, thanks to the easier credit facilities, expanded to extraordinary rates. Real income per capita needs a proper deconstruction noticing the unbearable increase in the cost of living and the consumer price index.”
For aid to have its desired results, its bases must be reconstructed on foundations of the political realities. The occupation has its human and economic costs. Funds that can be used for development go to the occupation authorities reach Israel – the quantifiable cost of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian economy was $6.897 billion, a staggering 84.9% of the total Palestinian GDP in 2010 (ARIJ 2011).
What really reaches Palestinians of the total aid after the deductions of donor’s administrative costs, foreign consultant’s fees and likewise, is far from the announced figures, since good portion (range between 30-45%) of that aid return back directly or indirectly to the donor’s countries or to the Israeli economy (UNCATD 2003).
Aid to Palestine is a moral obligation for western countries simply because they have countenanced the occupation for 45 long years and have even reaped the circuitous benefits of it. Palestinians do not need ameliorative measures that make the occupation palatable and create a false sense of hope. If development must have a function and aid becomes its conduit, then both must serve as instruments of political liberation from g which Palestinians will be determinants of their own selfhood – political and economic, social, and cultural.
Naomi Zeveloff, a writer, blogger, and editor, has written an admirable analysis of what development should not be in her article: “The Five-Star Occupation: Is Ramallah’s economic boom a sign of progress or surrender? It is a ‘must read’ and can be found at: http://www.guernicamag.com/features/the-five-star-occupation/