The problem with international aid to Palestine

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Palestinians take part in a protest against aid cuts, outside the UN offices in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Jan 28, 2018. (photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90)

The Palestinian people have become dependent on foreign humanitarian aid to survive, but its adverse effects are strangling their economy.

By Liora Sion | +972 Magazine | Mar 20, 2018


Since the end of the Cold War, states have preferred humanitarian aid over development funds as a means of influencing international politics. Humanitarian aid is not an end in and of itself, but a tool to solve conflicts and promote state building. As such, it is dependent on the interests of the donor countries.


International aid to the Palestinians is very generous. The United Nations is aiming to raise approximately $540 million per year for the five million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. That’s a lot of money when compared to sums raised for other countries in crisis. For example, take Afghanistan, where the UN hopes to raise $437 million for the 34 million citizens of the country, despite the enormous difficulties it faces. In Iraq, a country in desperate need of rehabilitation, the UN seeks to raise $550 million for a population of 37 million. When compared to African countries such as Burundi ($113 million in aid for 10 million people) or Cameroon ($304.5 million for 23 million people), the gap is even more alarming.

Ironically, despite the vast sums, humanitarian aid doesn’t just help the Palestinians — it also harms them. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the occupied territories have seen a steady economic decline and a rise in unemployment. These phenomena are tied, of course, largely due to the IDF’s closures and checkpoints, which have dismembered the West Bank and prevent both people and goods from moving about freely. Humanitarian organizations, however, also play a role.

Most humanitarian aid is not invested in developing the Palestinian economy. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), $289 million out of $539.7 million is earmarked for food security for Palestinian residents of the occupied territories. Another $20 million is earmarked for education, $26.9 million for health, $89.9 million is for temporary shelters for Palestinians whose homes have been demolished, $27 million for coordination, $41 million for protection, and $45.5 million for hygiene and drinking water sanitation. Most of the money is earmarked for the residents of Gaza, who face the greatest hardships.

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