Monday, July 18, 2011

Sky News highlights foreign aid ‘industry’ in Palestinian territories


Mon. 18 Jul. 2011 @ 17.31 –
Sky News correspondent highlights negative effect of foreign aid ‘industry’ in Palestinian territories, including role played by UN body for refugees.
Tim Marshall, foreign affairs editor for Sky News, highlights the role played by NGOs in the Palestinian territories in his latest blog piece for the Sky News website. ‘Palestine – ‘Occupation Incorporated’, discusses some of the negative side-effects of the proliferation of aid agencies, including over 200 NGOs, which operate in the Palestinian territories and account for 30 per cent of the territories’ GDP.
According to Marshall, ‘Palestinians are among the most foreign aid funded people in the world and the place is awash with money.’ However, he argues that the sheer level of foreign aid often serves to undermine both the quality of government and  the private sector. In particular, he states that the ‘billions that pour in’ mean that the Palestinian Authority is not fully responsible for delivering services. As well as this, NGOs cause an internal ‘brain drain’:
‘The NGOs do fine work alleviating suffering, helping projects with expertise etc, but they also recruit the best of the local talent and take advantage of their charitable status to get tax breaks.
‘No Palestinian business can compete with NGOs which routinely triple what a local firm would pay. Many NGOs fork out ‘danger money’ and even ‘hardship payments’ to both local and international staff which further undermines the local private businesses. So the NGOs get the brightest and the highest paid, and the private firms get the rest but without the tax exemptions.’
Marshall specifically draws attention to the role played by UNRWA, the UN body responsible for Palestinian refugees:
‘This underlying economic problem is further complicated by the fact that UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees stipulates that not only are the Palestinians who fled their homes in 1948 refugees, but so are their sons and daughters grandsons and granddaughters, great grandsons and granddaughters and so on into the future. In Palestine many people are born refugees. There are people who have a vested interest in this continuing.’
The blog suggests that the reason for the heavy NGO presence is that, contrary to public perception, the Palestinian territories are relatively safe and comfortable:
“Palestine is the best-kept secret in the aid industry,” a medical NGO worker recently told This Week In Palestine, “People need field experience and Palestine sounds cool and dangerous because it can be described as a war zone, but in reality it’s quite safe and has all the comforts that internationals want’
He notes that journalists also take advantage of the material comforts that sometimes run contrary to what might be expected – including expensive fine dining in Gaza:
‘At any moment the West Bank could explode, indeed there are scenarios you can paint which suggest violence this September after the declaration, or non declaration, of statehood. But Palestine remains a friendly place, welcoming, hospitable, full of air con, hi-fi, wi-fi and wine. Journalists also take advantage of this state of affairs, writing of the poverty and suffering of Gaza for example, before retiring to very expensive sea front hotels after an excellent dinner in one of the expensive fish restaurants.’