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20 October 2005:
Analysis of NGO Funding: Swiss Agency for Development & Cooperation (SDC)

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SUMMARY: The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), a department within the Swiss Foreign Ministry, is very active in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone. While its mission is to provide humanitarian assistance, SDC also provides funding for a number of NGOs with strong political agendas, such as Al Mezan, ARIJ, and "Dev.tv". These groups emphasize external issues including the justification of violence, rather than contributing to internal norms of good governance and civil society. The political emphasis on SDC's website and the indirect funding of other NGOs via Swisspeace are also inconsistent with and undermine central development goals.

The SDC was established "to foster transformation processes with regard to democratization, participation of the local population and improvements in living conditions. To achieve this, it supports the political, economic, social and institutional efforts of these countries. (Development) cooperation is directed primarily at reducing poverty and empowering disadvantaged groups, as well as eliminating structural inequalities."

On this basis, and like many other government development agencies (see previous NGO Monitor reports on CIDA, EU, and USAID), the SDC has been particularly active in projects providing assistance to Palestinians. In Gaza and the West Bank, the SDC's strategic objectives are to"enhance the prospects for peace, improve living conditions, and promote viable and sustainable institutions." In 2005 the budget of CHF 28.24m (approximately $U.S. 22 million) for this region is designated explicitly for activities that "contribute to the development of a pluralist and democratic Palestinian society, to respect for constitutionality and to the creation of public institutions capable of assuming their responsibilities in a future Palestinian state."

However, the department's funding of some NGOs that emphasize radical anti-Israel political positions, in contrast to promoting structural change within the Palestinian framework, undermines these objectives and often promotes violence and its consequences.

These political groups include al Mezan, which has been supported by the SDC since 1999 and received $0.6m (2003-2005). The evidence indicates that Al Mezan is primarily involved in promoting the political attacks against Israel (including allegations of "war crimes") that contribute to conflict via the United Nations, the media, and many other frameworks. In contrast to this NGO's formal title as a "Center for Human Rights", its reports do not include criticism of Palestinian abuses of human rights, both internally, and through terror attacks against Israelis. In parallel, the SDC has provided $0.8m to the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) since August 2002, in the form of a "core contribution to the general programme" - allowing this highly political organization to promote its campaigns on the "apartheid wall" and anti-Israel divestment. ARIJ's activities, instead of promoting Palestinian governance and institutional development, are inconsistent with and interfere with the SDC's mission.

The SDC also funds Dev.tv, an NGO whose claimed "goal is to promote the production and distribution of television coverage of issues related to human, economic and environmental crises." However, an analysis of Dev.tv's documentaries such as "Bedouin Ghetto" and "Everyday Violence in Gaza" also demonstrate the primary goal of attacking Israel, rather than promoting Palestinian development in, for example, the areas of democracy, accountability, and sound economic policies.

In "Bedouin Ghetto", Dev.tv claims that the Israeli government has a "policy of destroying the Bedouin way of life" and that Israel is motivated by a need to "Judaize and Zionize" the country by impoverishing the Bedouins and polluting their culture. And in "Everyday Violence in Gaza," the film seems to justify terrorism by claiming that "a symbol of power for a Palestinian child is a martyr." The producers of this film assert that the need for such a "symbol" emerged from the Palestinians' attempt to overcome the image of the 'father' as "helpless" against the "Israeli soldier [who] represent[s] power." Thus, Israel is held responsible for fostering a Palestinian culture of terror. The bias and absence of any Israeli perspectives in the documentaries help to promote the conflict, rather than assisting in achieving development goals.

In 2004 the SDC also provided CHF 1.2m to Swiss Peace, an "action-oriented peace-research institute in the area of conflict analysis and peace-building". Swisspeace is a major partner in the Center for Peacebuilding, which organizes events to "bring together representatives from government, development cooperation, peace movement and economic and scientific circles for the methodical sharing of experiences and knowledge". However, in contrast to its claims of neutrality and promotion of peace, this organization works closely with highly politicized NGOs such as World Vision and Caritas. In its links and resources page, Swisspeace provides connections and endorses the Alternative Information Center, Badil, PNGO, and many others. Their externally directed and radical political agendas have been analyzed in detail by other NGO-monitor reports, and shown to be part of the conflict process, rather than useful in promoting good governance.

Questions regarding the political emphasis in the SDC's activities were reinforced by a July 2004 conference held in Geneva on 'Meeting the Humanitarian Need of Palestinian Refugees', chaired by Walter Fust, the Director of the SDC. This conference, which was cosponsored by UNRWA, presented a biased political discussion based exclusively on the Palestinian "narrative". The conference program also promoted the controversial political claims regarding the "right of return" and similar issues that maintain the conflict and hinder Palestinian assumption of political and economic responsibility.

The SDC website's background summary on the West Bank and Gaza is also based entirely on the Palestinian "narrative" and its interpretation. For example, while Israel is condemned for imposing "blanket curfews in many West Bank cities sometimes lasting for weeks", the context of terrorism is absent. The report also blames "Israeli attacks" for the destruction of Palestinian "[s]tate structures which had been developed in recent years." Furthermore the SDC's special website for 'Gaza and the West Bank' displays pictures of the IDF and security barrier with the title "humiliation, home demolition, right of access" - all reflecting this one-sided political perspective. By failing to provide any mention of Palestinian corruption and leadership malfunction that have contributed to the economic and social situation, the reports lacks credibility and cannot be a basis for a successful development programme.

Additional SDC funds for projects outside the area are also problematic. In 2004 the SDC awarded CHF 12.9m to Caritas Switzerland and CHF3.4m to Medicines Sans Frontieres, both of which have been involved in externally directed political campaigning, despite their humanitarian remits. Although the SDC does not directly fund these organizations' activities in the Middle East, the large sums provide overhead costs, and administrative and personnel expenses that subsidize other activities.

In summary, the evidence in this report demonstrates use of SDC funding for activities and groups that focus primarily on the political conflict with Israel, rather than on promoting development and good governance. This agenda has also filtered through to the SDC's own literature on the region, undermining the efforts to promote economic and social progress. In order to achieve results, and foster conditions that allow for cooperation, stability and growth, SDC should insure that funding for Palestinian NGOs that claim to promote development and civil society is actually used for this purpose.

Researched by Judith Heistein (Summer 2005)

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