What do you want from us? Palestinians question NGOs aims
A visit to the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp reveals the Palestinians living there to be overwhelmingly skeptical of the motives and operations of non-government organizations (NGOs), especially efforts seen as attempts to normalize their resettlement abroad.
"What do they want from us?" a woman named Abeer asked angrily.
I met Abeer while conducting a study for a women's non-profit organization seeking to provide free mental health services in the camps.
Enough! What do you want from us? Why do you want to solve our psychological problems when you caused them?The prevalence of such reactions raises questions about whether NGOs as a whole have lost their credibility, or if there are still some organizations that have managed to maintain the mutual trust required to provide services to Palestinian communities.
Once, during a detailed presentation I gave on mental health, I was interrupted by an attendee named Mohammad.
"Enough! What do you want from us? Why do you want to solve our psychological problems when you caused them?" he said, angrily.
"Israel sent you and all these organizations that claim to do charity work," he continued. "You are all agents...so don't try to control our minds with your concepts."
Mohammad's reaction is understandable; his living conditions are appalling and his view is not uncommon.
"We don't want advice and guidance on how to adapt, and we don't want to get used to this situation," he said. "We want the right to work, housing, and education. We want our homeland and to live with an identity like all human societies."
Aisha, who was waiting her turn at the UN Relief and Works Agency clinic in the camp, was also wary of us, expressing concern about the risks of “settlement,” which she and others view as an attempt to make Palestinians complacent so that they give up their struggle to return home.
She insisted that most NGOs serve Israeli interests.
"Their only concern is to make us forget our home and our ancestors' land," Aisha said. "They don't want anything reminding us of our cause and stirring the revolutionary spirit within us."
“They try to brainwash us to give up the [Palestinian] cause for the idea of offering us citizenship, a life of luxury, free advice, and psychological well-being,” she went on.
Then, she said, after granting the Palestinians a few comforts, "we are asked, 'what more do you want?' Well, I'm a Palestinian and I say that our psychological well-being depends on resolving the Palestinian cause."
We don't want advice and guidance on how to adapt, and we don't want to get used to this situation, We want the right to work, housing, and education. We want our homeland and to live with an identity like all human societies.Khalid, another camp resident, said he was outraged by the medical NGOs, which he accused of giving the Palestinians “leftovers.”
"Most NGOs say they are here to serve the Palestinians, but give us the cheapest equipment and the bare minimum in terms of specializations, while ignoring the most important specialties, such as cardiovascular diseases," explained Khalid.
Rana, a social worker for an international organization, offered a different perspective, saying there are still "clean, free, faithful and independent humanitarian organizations doing real philanthropy without expecting anything in return."
These organizations, she said, raise private funds to provide medical, psychological, and social assistance, in addition to recreational activities for Palestinian and non-Palestinian communities alike.
"At the same time, these organizations try to serve the Palestinians by employing them, and the local community by hiring those who know their community well," Rana said.
While it may be useful to conduct a more comprehensive scientific study into how NGOs are viewed by the communities they serve, these anecdotes help to indicate how many Palestinians living in exile view such organizations. They are determined to remain in control of their thoughts and true to their principles until their return to their homeland.
Tell us what you think. What do you think of NGOs in Palestine? Are they serving Israel's interests? Or are they doing doing good work?