Saturday, December 24, 2011

Who peed in my pants?

Watching this report I must see in it another example of Palestinian specialty: "somebody peed in my pants". It is much easier to blame others than reflecting on one own mistakes.

Even if I didn't have experience in trying to launch large-scale grassroots projects in Palestine, I wouldn't have been convinced by the film. The main problem is incorrect policy on the part of the so-called Palestinian civil society as well as the PA and Hamas and only afterwards come the donors, the World Bank and Israel. The problem is not new and did not start with Oslo "peace" process as claimed in the report.
With the Israeli occupation in 1967 agriculture actually became less attractive as the income from working in Israel was much higher; this despite the exploitation, the racist attitude of the Israeli employers and the poor working conditions. The first Intifada wanted to break this dependence on the Israeli economy on the one hand, and the so called UNRWA mentality (dependence on donations) on the other. But the aim remained mostly a slogan as most of the money and energy were invested in information centers and social facilities and very little in the productive area.
There was already a large donor industry in Palestine before Oslo
"peace" process and the available funds could have been used for building sustainable and viable non-profit economic endeavors instead of leaving the field just for private entrepreneurs. The PLO leadership, which was obviously afraid of an economically independent West Bank and Gaza strip, coined a policy according to which economic development would come only after political liberation.
In 1991 I developed non-profit projects that could be implemented on a large scale with relatively small investments. What was needed was another social attitude and the revival of old modes of productions along with modern methods of organic farming and food processing along the lines of fair trade.  
The main problems I confronted were getting a real cooperation from Palestinians organizations and competent persons. At the beginning I could half convinced some members of the "Marxist" Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees  (UAWC). But it turned out that not only this was mainly an organization of arrogant academics with a disdain towards the farmers, central activists refused to work seriously on the project. I tried not to be too hard on them while writing this article (New Agenda for NGOs), as I still hoped to be able to convince them.
It is not that they had good counter-arguments; it was mainly incompetence paired with selfishness, intrigues and shortsightedness. The fact that I am an Israeli Jew, even though I live in Switzerland and am anti-Zionist, was not considered an asset and did not make things easier for the UAWC. I actually received some significant support from Israeli experts, and even some big chains in Switzerland were interested in the project, though they were not ready to invest. We also received donations from private individuals in Switzerland (not a huge sum, but still there was a lot of goodwill).
After giving up on the UAWC I tried to re-launch the project with friends in a small village in the Jenin area. But it soon became clear that we needed support from some more experienced people, although our pilot-project demonstrated a lot of potential. I remembered begging my old close friends in Nazareth including Azmi Bishara to help, but to no avail. It was like talking to a wall.
I travelled from Switzerland especially to participate in a pompous "development" conference on June 9-12 1996 at Bir-Zeit University, The AEA conference called "The Palestine Economy: Towards a Vision", organized in conjunction with the Economic Development Institute (EDI) and the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ). A Brit-Palestinian called Clare Woodcraft tried to help and published in May a feature about my proposal in the newsletter Palestinian Economic Pulse . But that did not help either as most of the Palestinians experts present were still dreaming of a high-tech paradise and my realistic low-tech proposal was perceived almost as an insult.  Soon afterwards I gave it up...

Edited by George Malent

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