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Ramadan meditations: Palestine needs our support

  • Published at 01:54 am May 31st, 2018
  • Last updated at 03:55 pm May 31st, 2018
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This Ramadan, let us keep the plight of the Palestinians in mind REUTERS

We need to lobby around the world for smart, strategic, and long-term support

When Susan V Berresford, former president of The Ford Foundation, retired, I naturally assumed that the next president would lead a campaign to end the apartheid that oppresses Palestinians.

The Ford Foundation has a track record of being at the forefront of social justice movements. The foundation worked to establish and strengthen civil rights in the US and helped to end apartheid in South Africa. 

According to former Ford Foundation Program Officer David Bonbright: “At a time when the progressive voice in America was advocating a total boycott (of South Africa) and the establishment landed on ‘constructive engagement,’ the Ford Foundation pursued an aggressive grant-making program pointed explicitly at social and political justice questions.

The road was sometimes bumpy, but in the end, I think that even those critical at the time would say that Ford was uniquely effective.”

In addition to mentoring and strengthening leaders in civic society “Ford simply created venues where South Africans who were elsewhere literally killing each other could begin to meet and talk privately and confidentially.”

According to Bonbright, Ford’s plan to end apartheid in South Africa supported the following: 


• A diverse set of human rights activists ranging from community “advice officers” and church-based “social justice workers” to trade union support groups, and the country’s first national public interest law firm and its first national mediation service. Upon independence, the founder of the Legal Resources Centre, Arthur Chaskalson, became the head of the new Constitutional Court, and the Independent Mediation Service of South Africa provided the basis for the new statutory labour mediation system

• A uniquely South African set of “support organizations” made up mainly of young professionals -- often academics -- that aligned themselves explicitly with the liberation struggle and provided technical assistance to black-led grassroots mobilization on issues like access to housing, land, health and welfare services, and schooling. The direct and indirect contributions of these organizations to post-apartheid South Africa have been well documented

• The beginning of the transformation of the elite, historically white universities, through the creation of units which affirmatively prepared young, black social scientists for careers in academia and public service. The alumni of these programs now populate the senior leadership of government and business

• A series of off-the-record, high-level dialogue meetings designed to inform key influencers in the US of the reality of black resistance to apartheid and to begin to enable South Africans from the different camps to speak directly. It is not unfair to claim that these meetings helped to legitimize liberation struggle leadership in the eyes of conservative Americans and apartheid-supporting South Africans. There is no doubt in my mind that these meetings contributed to the passage of the US Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 and enabled the more progressive elements in the apartheid government to advance their case for a negotiated settlement with the ANC

A program for Palestine

Can you imagine the positive impact of such a program designed for Palestinians?

According to The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2016, American individuals, estates, foundations, and corporations contributed an estimated $390.05 billion to US charities -- a 4.2% increase from 2015.

Money is not a problem. Identifying the humanitarian crisis in Palestine is also not a problem. The problem is abandonment. 

Palestine has been abandoned by its own neighbours, even wealthy stewards of Islam (Saudia Arabia) shy away from the poverty and desperation of Palestinians. Palestine does not have anyone to share their story.

America’s Fox News airs a picture of a young Palestinian in a ski mask with the aim of frightening and alienating audiences. Audiences don’t know that the young man or woman is throwing a stone with a ski mask because he or she doesn’t want to be identified and picked up for torture. Throwing stones, wearing ski masks -- these decisions arise from a lack of mentorship. If you take these same young men and women and address them with dignity, invite them to leadership courses on how to diplomatically state something along the lines of “Israel cannot bulldoze my house in the middle of the night because there are international laws against it,” you will build an entirely new force of leadership for the Palestinians. No longer will they have to settle for the insanity of Hamas or any foreign power that wants to use them as cheap puppets to keep a lucrative weapons game alive.

Whether it is The Ford Foundation, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, or a combination of foundations, I hope presidents and program officers will come forward with a plan (co-authored with Palestinians) to end this horrific apartheid and establish the state of Palestine.

This Ramadan, and afterward, let us go through our address books, find our contacts in philanthropies around the world and lobby them for smart, strategic, and long-term support for Palestine.

To read Israeli practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid Report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), 2017, please see: https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/israeli-practices-palestinian-people-apartheid-occupation-english.pdf

To read David Bonbright’s article, “The Ford Foundation in apartheid South Africa -- Soft solutions to hard problems,” please see: http://www.alliancemagazine.org/feature/the-ford-foundation-in-apartheid-south-africa-soft-solutions-to-hard-problems/

Shireen Pasha is the former Associate Program Officer for The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

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