Palestinian civil society is an industry unto itself. There has been foreign aid pumped into it for so many years now that NGOs have become like commercial businesses. This means the competition can be fierce and one has to be wary of those who may try and ruin one’s reputation. Ever since the LAW scandal, in which it was found that money was being stolen, donors have been even more cautious to whom they give funding. Complete transparency is a must and if donors get a whiff of dishonesty or even inefficiency, they’ll move on to the next proposal. This means that reputations can be ruined fairly easily and that infighting has caused large rifts within the civil society here.
This was all a shock to me. I still had the idealistic notion that all the NGOs here were working only for the common good. Sure, I knew they had their own self-interests, but I didn’t realize how far that could supercede the work being done. Of course not everyone in Palestinian civil society is a bloodthirsty capitalist who is looking for an easy dollar, but the idea that there were those who would lie to their funders or purposely try and ruin the reputation of another NGO came as a surprise to me. What surprised me even more, however, is how quickly gossip goes around, statements get misinterpreted, and feuds arise with no malicious intent. At the workshop in Gaza we did an exercise, sort of like the telephone game, that showed how easily stories get changed the more times they are told, but it did not prepare me for the way in which a molehill can grow into a mountain in this environment.
I have recently been informally mediating between two people who are having some disagreements. They run two separate projects in the same area of nonviolent resistance and have, until now, been amicable and even worked well together. Their largest problem, in my opinion, is a lack of good communication. This means there have been misunderstandings on both sides about responsibilities, about each other’s functions and about each other’s projects. These misunderstandings have ballooned into conspiracy theories and imagined attacks while battle lines have been drawn on both sides. If left to go on, I suspect those attacks would no longer be imagined and the conspiracies would not just be theories. What I find saddest about it all is that if they worked together, their projects could be complementary, enhance each other and help many more Palestinians.
A friend of mine said to me last night, with the slightest hint of sarcasm, “We think that the Israelis and their occupation of our land is the biggest challenge facing us…wait until they leave and we have to found our own state!” I’m beginning to see what she means.
Posted By Caitlin Williams
Posted Aug 7th, 2003