Paying for Peace

Why Jews should help rebuild palestine

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North American Jews such as myself donate a total of $1 billion U.S. each year to Israel and its institutions. Yet if we Jews genuinely care about the quality of life in Israel, we should also start investing in Palestinian villages and neighbourhoods. Jews hope that ordinary Palestinians who live on the same streets as suicide bombers will support compromise-minded leaders. Others are paying money to see that they don’t. Saddam Hussein rewards the families of the Palestinians most willing to die. For the sake of Israel, North American Jewish funders should be supporting those Palestinians most willing to live in peace.

Palestinians will not likely change their attitudes without financial aid to alleviate the squalor that surrounds them. Currently, half the Palestinians live on less than $2 a day. Years may pass before many have access to materials that are psychologically important for moving forward: medicine, textbooks, playgrounds, computer and accounting classes and business supplies.

Palestinian terror has already cost North American Jews a great sum, beyond our sorrows. In just the past five months, Canadian Jews have raised $53 million through the United Jewish Appeal. U.S. Jews have sent $222 million (U.S.) over the same period, collected on an emergency basis separate from all our annual contributions.

In brighter days this wave of charity would have paid for new parks and housing for immigrants. This year it has bought funerals for bomb victims and extra ambulances.

Unfortunately, North American Arabs won’t be the ones to build up West Bank and Gaza communities. Disorganization and fear of retaliation after September 11 limit the North American community’s fundraising to approximately $1 million a year, says Laila al-Marayati, a board member at the charity Kinder USA: “People will give cash because they don’t want any cheques traced to their names,” she says.

In Canada there have been virtually no major fundraising campaigns by either the Canadian Arab Federation or Palestine House.

Nor will much aid from the World Bank or foreign governments help advance life among poor Palestinians any time soon.

Donor governments choose who gets their charity, and they usually choose other governments, no matter how hobbled.

“Look at this as a form of marketing,” says Nigel Roberts, director of the World Bank’s West Bank and Gaza operations.

The most generous contributors, the Arab League countries, have earmarked their funds for salaries for Yasser Arafat’s thieving regime. Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union have designated much of their money to build central banks and infrastructure like highways and airports, which support trade. Only then do funds go to job training or other social assistance — if the bank collects enough money. Right now, all major governments have pledged, but the World Bank still remains over $500 million short of its fundraising goal.

If North American Jews don’t foster the contentment of Palestinians in their homes, it’s probable that no one will. Which will leave the situation to stagnate. Until it gets worse.

But so far the notion of Jewish groups like UJA raising money for Palestinian communities is considered outside their mandate, according to UJA spokesperson Howard English.

Jewish philanthropies are capable of changing. In April, the board of United Jewish Communities, the UJA’s counterpart in the U.S., decided to alter longstanding policy and started sending relief money to the controversial Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Those Jews are more likely to remain safe — and those settlements more apt to persist, as some Jews in the U.S. and Canada desire — if neighbouring Palestinians can live in material comfort.

Palestinians will welcome conditional grants from Jews, says Peter Gubser, the director of Americans for Near East Refugee Aid in Washington. Once, in the mid-1980s, 500,000 Palestinians accepted paycheques from Israelis. Over several years, the American Jewish World Service’s revolving loan fund for women in Gaza has helped start dozens of home businesses.

Money doesn’t buy happiness. But who said the Israelis and the Palestinians need to be happy? Most simply want to stop fighting. Palestinians may tell their pollsters they believe the intifada’s purpose is to recoup every inch of historical Palestine, but talk is cheap it’s all most Palestinians can afford.

If young Palestinians had more economic activity to busy themselves with, they might not absorb the bitterness in the old folks’ tales about lost houses. Mothers would scold children for playing with neighbourhood kids who talk about killing themselves. People who eat, sleep and work comfortably don’t tolerate terrorists living on their blocks — accidental explosions cause property damage.

This year’s bombing deaths, as it happens, come exactly 100 years after the Jewish National Fund began purchasing land in the British territory of Palestine. JNF’s leaders had hoped that 2002 would be a time to broaden their philanthropy.

“The first 50 years were spent purchasing the land that would become the state of Israel,” spokesman Craig Goldstein told me this spring. “The next 50 years were used to develop Israel. And the next 50 years are dedicated to conserving and improving the quality of life in Israel.”

We who care about life in Israel should add moderate Palestinians to our list of grant recipients as soon as possible.

Matt Fleischer-Black has written on Jewish topics for the Forward, the Jerusalem Report and New York Magazine.

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