"American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera): Aid Activity Tarnished by Political Agenda"
American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) is a major NGO that claims to provide “direct financial assistance and/or gifts in kind to Palestinian-Arab refugees and other needy individuals in the Middle East.” With a budget of over $24 million (2005) provided by the US government and a range of private donors and organizations, most of ANERA’s focus is on development assistance and emergency relief, and the quality of these programs is considered to be very high. However, as the following report demonstrates, this NGO also engages in biased anti-Israeli political activities, and its publications erase the context of terrorism and promote the Palestinian narrative while falsely claiming to work with “all people living in impoverished communities”. Such activity is inconsistent with ANERA’s proclaimed objectives.
ANERA report and subsequent correspondence below.
American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) was founded in 1968 as a “non-profit corporation organized for the purposes of extending direct financial assistance and/or gifts in kind to Palestinian-Arab refugees and other needy individuals in the Middle East.” It operates in the Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan to “create opportunity and hope by improving health care and education and stimulating job creation.” In the fiscal year 2005 ANERA distributed $24 million for development assistance and emergency relief.
Funding for ANERA includes over $9m from the US government (via USAID) in 2005, which was designated for use towards a variety of projects in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jordan. Other sources of funding include the IMF, the UN World Food Program and a variety of NGOs, private companies and individuals. ANERA also lists Adalah – an Israeli NGO that uses human rights claims to pursue a pro-Palestinian political agenda – as one of its donor partners.
ANERA has been led by its Chairman, Les Janka and President, Dr. Peter Gubser, since 1977. Prior to joining ANERA, Dr. Gubser worked with the Ford Foundation in Lebanon and Jordan. Dr. Thomas Neu is the ANERA Middle East Representative based in Jerusalem. He has also worked with Save the Children, and the UNRWA in Central Europe, Africa and Latin America.
ANERA practices a high degree of transparency, particularly in comparison to other Palestinian NGOs, and the bulk of its resources are used to promote the stated objectives of assisting Palestinians in health, education, job creation and other areas, as detailed below. However, as noted in its financial reports, ANERA also allocates 1.3% of total spending to fundraising and public education. In 2005 this amounted to nearly $300,000, and the resources in this area may be considerably higher.
These aspects of its activities are highly political. In particular, ANERA’s reports and newsletters present a highly biased view of the conflict, ignoring any Palestinian responsibility for hardship and contributing to the demonization of Israel consistent with the 2001 Durban strategy. The Fall 2005 newsletter describes the Playgrounds for Palestine project as aiming to improve the “heartbreaking life of Palestinian children caught between military occupation and oppressive poverty” by providing a place “where children can find a reprieve from the unforgiving reality of occupation.” In this partisan and very misleading statement, there is no mention of the Palestinian corruption that has misappropriated vast amounts of public money. Once again Israel is portrayed as the single cause of poverty among the Palestinians. Furthermore, ANERA draws an immoral equivalence between victims of suicide bombings and the terrorists themselves, when it presents figures for the number of Palestinians or Israelis killed since the start of the intifada, with no explanation of how they died.
In field reports to the Board of Directors, written by the ANERA President Peter Gubser, the context of terrorism is erased as Israel is blamed for all Palestinian suffering. The April 2005 report describes how “shelling and missile attacks caused severe damage” during “[I]sraeli military incursions into the Northern Gaza Strip.” The report omits any mention of Palestinian rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, implying that Israel’s actions are unprovoked: “the preschool has lost a number of its children whose parents opt to keep them at home in fear of the children being harmed during an attack.” The security barrier is also described, along with the “700 checkpoints and other physical obstacles blocking travel on roads,” while the context of terrorist attacks is entirely absent. Gubser’s biannual reports repeat the standard Palestinian political slogans, such as referring to “Gaza [a]s a big prison.” Similarly, Thomas Neu makes false medical claims, including “Israel’s closure policy is responsible for malnutrition,” (see statement ). He also signed a petition that condemned the “daily terror and war that Israel is inflicting with impunity”.
These radical political contributions to incitement are the primary difficulty in ANERA’s activities. As noted, ANERA sponsors a large number of projects for economic, health and educational development in Palestinian areas. It supports a range of charitable and non-political project partners in their work including building community centers, sidewalks, refurbishing hospitals, providing medical supplies; educational scholarship programs and IT training. ANERA’s most recent project is a partnership with Intel to build an “Intel IT Center of Excellence” at the Islamic University of Gaza.
ANERA’s impact and credibility depend not only on these substantive activities, but also on the dialogue it creates about the causes of Palestinian suffering. ANERA claims that “[t]hrough community-building projects and efforts to increase understanding of the region, [it] strives to promote peace.” However, its current approach of demonizing Israel and erasing any Palestinian responsibility for their condition, perpetuates misunderstanding and undermines ANERA’s attempts to provide purely humanitarian aid to people in need in the Middle East.
The following correspondence between NGO Monitor and ANERA follows the NGO Monitor report “ANERA:
Aid Activity Tarnished by Political Agenda”.
28 November 2005
Dear Dr. Steinberg:
I am writing in response to your November 24, 2005 NGO Monitor article on ANERA.
Initially, let me thank you for the positive statements you make about our program, its quality and our transparency. We appreciate that our good work is recognized.
I would hope that you would take another look at the critical comments you make about what we say in public. I think it is helpful if one takes a broad look at what we say and puts it in that context. For example, you mention that I do not write about corruption and the problems corruption causes in one particular report. Actually, if you look at a number of my reports, you will find considerable discussion of corruption and the problems therefrom. In another comment, you state that “terrorism is erased” in one of our publications. Again, if one takes a broad look at what we write, and especially what I put in my reports, one will find many references to terrorism which we have always condemned.
ANERA’s mission is to create opportunity and hope for people in the Middle East by improving health care and education and stimulating job creation. We know as well as anyone that to realize the goals of our mission in a fundamental way, peace between Israel and the Palestinians must be realized. We think our projects help create the environment for this desired peace. And in this context, we implement projects not only with the Palestinians, but also we emphasize Israeli-Arab projects that bring Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians together to address mutual practical issues such as environmental concerns and the use of pesticides in agriculture.
In sum, while I certainly respect everyone’s right to their own opinion and their own interpretation of the words of another person or institution, I hope you would incorporate the broader context of what we say. Also, please note that what we say in our literature is very similar to what the World Bank and some United Nations offices write. They are often our source for data and some quotes.
Wishing you well, I remain
Subject: Response to your letter (ANERA)
Date: Mon, December 5, 2005
Dear Mr. Gubser,
Thank you very much for responding to NGO Monitor’s November report on ANERA. One of our central objectives is to promote informed analysis and debate on the role and activities of NGOs, and a dialogue with officials is an essential part of that process.
I was, however, disappointed in the generality of your letter, and the absence of a detailed response to the specific issues related to ANERA’s partisan political activities, as presented in our report. You argue that NGO Monitor did not cite a broad enough range of examples, and that “if you look at a number of my reports, you will find considerable discussion of corruption”. In our research, we have found only two references to corruption in your field reports since April 2002 (both in the April 2005 report, “Palestine in General” section), neither of which suggest any causal relationship between the widespread Palestinian corruption and the social and economic situation. Instead, the overwhelming emphasis in your reports is on repeating the standard one-sided and distorted attempt to blame Israeli policies. If there are other examples or instances in which you have mentioned corruption, please send the details so that we can amend our report.
You also argue that “if one takes a broad look at what we write, and especially what I put in my reports, one will find many references to terrorism which we have always condemned.” In a survey of your field reports currently on your website covering much of the period in which over 1000 Israelis were murdered in Palestinian attacks, only two out of seven mention terrorism (October 2003 and March 2004), and both citations are quotes from other organizations. Here again, we invite you to provide additional examples, which we will also include in the updated report.
ANERA’s important work in providing humanitarian and development assistance to Palestinians should not be muddied by the incitement against Israel that continues to fuel this terrible conflict. We hope to work with you and funding organizations such as USAID to promote positive contributions by NGOs, and ensuring that groups such as ANERA are not exploited for furthering counter-productive agendas.