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As USAID shutters operations in Palestine, local organizations will suffer the most

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In late December, dozens of humanitarian organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and local municipalities across the West Bank and Gaza were faced with a harsh reality: they would only have a few weeks, one month maximum, to come up with thousands of dollars if they wanted to keep running their respective programs.

They had just learned that the grants they had been promised for 2019 from USAID, one of the largest and most important humanitarian agencies in the region, would not be coming.

“We were shocked, all of a sudden with no prior warning, we were told the money was gone,” Waleed Khatib, an official with the Beit Jala municipality told Mondoweiss, speaking on a USAID-funded project the municipality had been anxiously waiting on.

In November 2018, USAID announced that by early 2019, their operations will be completely shut down, leaving thousands of local institutions, like the Beit Jala municipality, that benefit from USAID funding empty handed.

Following the decision, a USAID official told Mondoweiss “we will assess future U.S. assistance in the West Bank and Gaza in a global context, with a focus on areas in which we can best advance U.S. national interests and ensure value to the U.S. taxpayer.”

Ambitious plans brought to a halt

For over 20 years, USAID has provided some $5.5 billion for infrastructure, education, health, and economic projects in the occupied Palestinian territory.

When traveling through the West Bank, it is difficult to find a village or city that does not have a large billboard with a USAID logo, whether it be outside a new road, water facility, clinic, or school.

In most places in the West Bank, whether due to lack of financial resources or restrictions on building imposed by the Israeli occupation, roads that were paved decades ago have been left unkept, leading to unsafe and uncomfortable traveling conditions for Palestinians in the territory.

In bigger cities, where populations have rapidly outgrown the existing infrastructures, traffic congestion has reached near unbearable heights.

So when the municipality of the Beit Jala town, located adjacent to the bustling tourist hub of Bethlehem, came up with a plan to alleviate congestion, boost the local economy, and reclaim spaces for pedestrians, they were thrilled that there was someone willing to help them see their vision come to life.

“We were very excited when USAID said they wanted to fund our project to rehabilitate the main road in Beit Jala and turn it into a pedestrian boulevard,” 48-year-old Samia Zeit, the head of the municipality’s engineering unit told Mondoweiss.

“The project is very ambitious, and is the first of its kind in Palestine,” she said. “In big cities like Bethlehem and Beit Jala there are very few green spaces and areas for the people to just walk around and enjoy themselves.”

The municipality was set to receive an estimated $4.5 million from USAID for the costs of widening and paving the road, as well as re-working the existing network of surrounding smaller streets in order to alleviate the current traffic congestion in the town.

“This main road in Beit Jala is the center of economic life in the town, with many restaurants, shops, and hotels,” Zeit said.

“So by turning it into a pedestrian boulevard, not only would we be offering something new and enjoyable for the residents and tourists, but we would also be promoting economic growth and supporting these local business,” she continued.

The municipality was forced to halt its ambitious plans when the announcement was made that USAID would be shutting down all its operations and rerouting funding elsewhere.

“The municipality cannot pay for a project like this on our own,” Zeit told Mondoweiss, adding that despite no news from USAID, she is still holding out hope for the funding.

“The local people and economy would really benefit from something like this, but now we are stuck back where we started.”

Impact on grassroots organizations

The decision to shut down USAID in the West Bank and Gaza was the latest in a series of efforts over 2018 by the Trump administration to force President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to the negotiating table — something the PA has refused to do ever since Trump’s 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

As long as the PA would boycott US “peace efforts,” Trump would see that the Palestinian leadership and people would no longer see the millions of US dollars that they so heavily relied upon for years.

For some Palestinians, like 43-year-old Mazen Faraj of The Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF), Trump’s motivations behind the cuts were particularly ironic.

“We are a grassroots peacebuilding organization lead by Palestinians and Israelis ,” Faraj, a resident of Bethlehem’s Deheishe refugee camp, told Mondoweiss. “But because of these cuts, we will have to shut down some of our most successful programs and workshops.”

Faraj, whose father was killed by Israeli soldiers in the Second Intifada, is co-director of the PCFF, an organization made up of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost relatives to the conflict.

Mazen Faraj of The Parents Circle-Families Forum (Photo courtesy of Mazen Faraj)

The group, according to its website, “operates under the principle that a process of reconciliation is a prerequisite for achieving a sustained peace,” and has partnered with USAID for 10 years on various projects.

Annually, USAID funds make up approximately 30% of the organization’s budget, including the payroll of 18 full-time employees.

In the wake of the cuts, PCFF has been scrambling to make up for the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds that helped sustained several programs, including workshops educating Israeli high school students about the occupation before they conscript in the army, women’s dialogues, etc.

“Our organization is actively working to promote peace and combat violence and the worsening political situation we see on the ground,” Faraj said, adding that the group is now being forced to  shut down programs that have produced over 1,000 alumni throughout the years.

“Now there will be no such groups, fewer dialogues, and no more alumni from these peace building workshops,” he said.

In addition to closing out some of the organization’s program for the new year, Faraj has been charged with the impossible task of reducing salaries and laying off employees.

“These decisions by the US to shut down USAID, UNRWA, the PLO office in Washington, etc. not only affect organizations like ours, but it will inevitably affect the public even more,” Faraj said.

In the long run, Faraj says, without financial and humanitarian aid, “we will see an increase in the lack of hope on the Palestinian side, and increased radicalism in Israeli society.”

“Without hope for the future, we will see the continuation of the cycle of violence that has been going on now for 70 years.”

yumnapatel
About Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is a multimedia journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine. Follow her on Twitter at @yumna_patel

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6 Responses

  1. amigo
    amigo on January 8, 2019, 2:46 pm

    Today , (Jan 8th 2019 )in the house of Commons , Joan Ryan , member of LFI (Labour Friends of Israel) was a signatory on a motion to discuss the cancellation of British AID to the PA .Much of this aid is used to provide education for Palestinian Children.

    Joan Ryan featured prominently in the Al Jazzera investigation into Israel,s interference in British political affairs.She was later drummed out of her local Labour party committee.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-mp-vote-no-confidence-joan-ryan-enfield-north-trots-stalinists-communists-a8527326.html

    I guess Miss Ryan has her gander up and is out for revenge.

    Hell hath no fury like a zionist shill , scorned.

    I have no link to the actual event on BBC Parliament which I watched earlier today but will provide when available.The debate is due to take place sometime in March.

    • Bumblebye
      Bumblebye on January 8, 2019, 3:28 pm

      Ugh. Grump. My wifi only came back around 3pm after being down since yesterday, so i listened to bbcR4 news – which decided to promote margaret hodge calling JC and the Labour Party antisemitic again (after they spent excessive time focussing on the barracking of anti-Brexit MPs outside Parliament).

      • amigo
        amigo on January 8, 2019, 4:46 pm

        “Ugh. Grump. My wifi only came back around 3pm after being down since yesterday,”.Bumblebye

        Not to worry , Teresa May has that all covered in “The Deal ” and you will have taken back control over your Sovereign Wifi after March 29th.

        “so i listened to bbcR4 news – which decided to promote margaret hodge calling JC and the Labour Party antisemitic again ” Bumblebye.

        Those names keep popping up again and again.They are the equivalent of the neo cons in the USA.

  2. Citizen
    Citizen on January 8, 2019, 5:18 pm

    Trump & Jared always treat the opposition like rich landlords treat poor tenants easy to pressure.

  3. Misterioso
    Misterioso on January 9, 2019, 10:12 am

    Meanwhile:

    “Congressional Research Service, U.S. Foreign aid to Israel, Jeremy M. Sharpe, Specialist in Middle East Affairs, April 10, 2018.”
    “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $134.7 billion (current, or non inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance, although in the past Israel also received significant economic assistance. At a signing ceremony at the State Department on September 14, 2016, representatives of the U.S. and Israeli governments signed a new 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on military aid covering FY2019 to FY2028. Under the terms of the MOU, the United States pledges to provide $38 billion in military aid ($33 billion in Foreign Military Financing grants plus $5 billion in missile defense appropriations) to Israel. This MOU replaces a previous $30 billion 10-year agreement, which runs through FY2018.”

    Also:
    https://israelpalestinenews
    “Media Ignore Largest Foreign Military Aid Package in US History” If Americans Knew Blog, Nov. 29/18 By Alison Weir
    EXCERPT:
    “Congress is about to legislate the largest military aid package to a foreign country in U.S. history, but U.S. media aren’t telling the American public.

    “Israelis know about the money, and Israel partisans are pressuring the one lone Senator opposing it, but apparently U.S. news organizations don’t think the general public needs to know…”

    “In an astounding case of media negligence, U.S. news media are failing to tell Americans that Congress is about to enact legislation for the largest military aid package to a foreign country in U.S. history.

    “This aid package would likely be of interest to Americans, many of whom are cutting back their own personal spending.

    “The package is $38 billion to Israel over the next ten years, which amounts to $7,230 per minute to Israel, or $120 per second, and equals about $23,000 for each Jewish Israeli family of four. A stack of 38 billion one-dollar bills would reach ten times higher than the International Space Station as it orbits the earth.

    “And that’s the minimum – the amount of aid will likely go up in future years.

    “The package was originally negotiated by the Obama administration in 2016 as a ‘memorandum of understanding (MOU),’ which is an agreement between two parties that is not legally binding.

    “The current legislation cements a version of that package into law – and this version is even more beneficial to Israel. Among other things, it makes the $38 billion a floor rather than a ceiling as the MOU had directed.”

    Nor, along with the massive tax deductible sums given to the entity known as “Israel” by American Zionist organizations and individuals (e.g., Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban), should we forget huge contributions from American Evangelical groups:

    https://www.haaretz.com/isr
    “Inside the Evangelical Money Flowing Into the West Bank”
    EXCERPT:
    “A Haaretz investigation reveals that Christian groups have invested up to $65 million in projects in the ‘Biblical Heartland’ over the past decade. That doesn’t include services they provide free of charge, like volunteer laborers.” by Judy Maltz, Haaretz, Dec. 9/18

  4. Pdxmuscle@comcast.net
    [email protected] on January 9, 2019, 4:11 pm

    Israel occupies and through occupation destroys the possibility of a viable economy in the West Bank. Then USAID comes in and gives money to Palestinians who are willing to assist in the status quo of Israeli occupation as the people are so desperate. Let’s look at the example given in article. Parents Circle. Parents Circle is does not support BDS and promotes normalization with Israel under the false guise of “reconciliation”. When Faraj says his organization “combats violence” he is talking about Pacification to oppression. not in support of non-violent resistance. And who funds this pacification, the US congress which sees these projects as serving Israel’s interests.

    I would have to agree that the removal of funds will destabilize the region meaning the PA in Ramallah. Though this withdrawal of funding will be very painful for citizens of the occupied territories, it is perhaps a good thing as this funding comes with huge strings attached. These strings are highly encouraged by liberal zionists as it allows swaths of Palestinians to financially depend on the good graces of liberal zionists for their economic sustenance. It is much like a child who needs food from a parent who is also abusing them. Trump’s actions will be awful on a humanitarian level but at the same time remove the umbilicle cord that links Israeli occupation through US AID that forms the underpinning of the current Palestinian government, the PA.

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