Summary: The ‘Eye to Eye’ project, an educational project launched to draw attention to the humanitarian issues of the millions of Palestinian refugees languishing in poverty in the West Bank, Gaza and many Arab states presents a highly misleading picture.
SCF (UK) along with the International SCF Alliance have an annual income of almost $700m and are active in over 100 countries, including the Palestinian Authority.
The SCF movement promotes themselves as an educational resource center for teachers and educators who often lack an in-depth knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In this context, the NGO launched the ‘Eye to Eye’ project on Palestinian refugees. The project displays several cases of factual and contextual inaccuracies, including critical omissions that promote a pro-Palestinian narrative.
As a humanitarian organization and not a legal or political body, SCF should concentrate on humanitarian issues such as providing the means of improving the quality of life of children, and not advocate partisan ideological agendas outside of its mandate, even if such agendas are supported in international treaties.
An organization such as SCF, along with its funders, including American Express and the Safra Foundation, should reconsider the implications of their role in the politicization of this humanitarian issue.
The British NGO, Save the Children Fund UK (SCF UK), www.savethechildren.org.uk, together with its international alliance, the International Save the Children Alliance, make up one of the world’s largest and most well resourced humanitarian NGOs. The International Save the Children Alliance raises some $500 million annually and is active in over 100 countries. The international alliance defines itself as a ‘children’s rights organization’ and works mainly in education, health and trauma counseling. It has also set up a number of campaigns and resource centers. The international alliance bases its ideals and goals on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Eye-to-Eye Project
These goals, however, are not reflected in SCF’s the Eye-to-Eye project, analyzed in detail below. There are several cases of factual and contextual inaccuracies, including critical omissions. This results in an incomplete presentation that departs from SCF’s stated principles.
The project was launched to draw attention to the humanitarian issues of the millions of Palestinian refugees languishing in poverty in the West Bank, Gaza and many Arab states. SCF also markets its material principally for teachers with little knowledge of the issues. Any inaccuracies or distortions in its educational material are therefore passed on to impressionable children and students. This creates a cycle of disinformation. Many schools have used SCF’s educational materials, trusting their reliability because of the organization’s perceived neutral and apolitical mission statement.
Whether or not the misrepresentations are deliberate, no humanitarian NGO, particularly of SCF’s standing, should be producing such biased educational material.
1. Use of International Treaties
SCF lists a series of UN resolutions, some of which grant legitimacy to Palestinians returning to the homes that their ancestors left over fifty years ago. The report, however, does not take into account the impact of the demographic and geographic realities that have overtaken these outdated resolutions. The Palestinian population has doubled several times since 1948, as SCF itself points out, fifty per cent of Palestinians who claim refugee status are under the age of fifteen, and many of the original homes and villages of the Palestinian refugees no longer exist. Many were destroyed in the war of 1948, and a comparable number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and elsewhere have been absorbed in the population exchange.
As a humanitarian organization and not a legal or political body, SCF should concentrate on humanitarian issues such as providing the means of improving the quality of life of children, and not advocate partisan agendas, even if such agendas are supported in international treaties. This is especially true if this agenda will almost certainly precipitate further humanitarian crises. If a sizeable section of the Palestinian refugee population suddenly relocated to Israel, it is fair to assume that both Israeli and Palestinian children would be plunged into a more difficult and tense humanitarian, economic and political situation, leading to even more misery and suffering. Throughout this particular section, SCF emphasizes on what it presents as Israeli policy of blocking implementing international treaties. However, an analysis of the implications of the violent rejection of the 1947 UN Partition Resolution by the Arab states, and of the requirement to negotiate "secure and recognized borders" with Israel (UNSCR 242 1967) is absent from this history. Such a simplistic and highly selective approach is neither in the interests of education nor in the interests of human rights.
2. Palestinian Refugees in the West Bank and Gaza and the present Intifada
The project confuses the current violence ("Intifada") with the issue of the refugees. Israel has been facing for three years a prolonged security crisis in the form of daily terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, against its civilian population. See the report of Medecins du Monde; (Link has expired)
This is a portion of the SCF version, which follows the Palestinian perspective very closely: Since the second Intifada began in September 2000, roads have been closed and dug up by the Israeli authorities to make them permanently impassable, schools have been closed and factories destroyed. Before the second Intifada, 110,000 Palestinian workers (more than 20 per cent of the workforce) were working in Israel. The prolonged border closures by the Israeli authorities have prevented the flow of workers and goods in and out of the Palestinian Territories. This has created large-scale unemployment in an economy that is already impoverished. In March 2001, the Palestinian Ministry of Finance put the unemployment rate at 40 per cent.
Closing roads, schools and factories undeniably has caused immense suffering among the refugees living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, the economic and psychological damage is not limited to the Palestinian areas. The Israeli population has taken a severe economic blow and sustained an immense amount of loss of human life too. That argument is omitted. Moreover, the effort to blame Israel for this suffering is misplaced. The legitimate defensive measures taken by the Israeli authorities served the purpose of restricting the infiltration of the borders of Israel by terrorists. SCF fails to mention any of these important points of context and instead mixes the results of this violence with the issue of the Palestinian refugees.
Furthermore, SCF omits important information in the following quote, which reflects the simplistic narrative of the Palestinian Authority;
For seven years, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the Israeli government tried to reach a peaceful agreement. These discussions began in 1993, and were called the Oslo Accords. The discussions broke down when the two sides could not agree. The latest Intifada began on 28 September 2000, when Ariel Sharon, who was head of the Israeli Likud party, visited a site in East Jerusalem that houses two of the most sacred mosques in Islam, the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque.
Source (Link has expired)
Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount was highly controversial, both in Israeli and Palestinian society. However, Sharon did not enter the Temple Mount in order to tour the Muslim holy places, as implied in the above quote. The Muslim holy places are built on the remains of the Jewish Temple and are considered the most holy place for Jews in the world. Israelis and Jews should not be prevented from visiting the Temple Mount, and Sharon’s action was designed to highlight this in the face of Palestinian pressure to restrict such access. Moreover, certain Palestinian leaders have conceded that the Palestinian uprising was planned in advance. From an educational point of view, SCF has a responsibility to include this context, so often omitted by the international media.
Palestinian refugees in Other Arab Countries
SCF makes comparisons with the fate of the Palestinian refugees in Arab countries and in the State of Israel but leaves out important context;
The Arab countries that have offered asylum to Palestinians have each adopted their own policy towards the refugees. More than 50 per cent of Jordan’s population is made up of Palestinian refugees. …In Lebanon, refugees are treated neither as foreigners nor nationals and have few civil rights. ….Within the Palestinian Territories, Palestinians continue to be denied their human rights under Israeli occupation. Source (Link has expired)
While it is true that Jordan, Syria and Lebanon have severely restricted the rights of Palestinians, in the West Bank and Gaza, it is the Palestinian political leadership that has torpedoed every initiative by international agencies and the Israeli government to replace the Palestinian refugee camps with proper housing and integrate the refugees fully into society.
There is a continuum throughout the history of the Palestinian refugee population that the SCF has chosen to ignore. The refugees continue to languish in camps throughout the Arab world, and not only in the West Bank and Gaza, because they are a convenient political pawn in the struggle of the regional Arab leadership against Israel’s rights to exist. From a humanitarian perspective, however, this cannot justify the high levels of poverty and suffering that the unfortunate residents of these camps endure because of their lack of civil rights. The attitude of ‘waiting until the Zionist entity is destroyed’ fuels a cycle of hatred and plunges Palestinians further into poverty. SCF omitted this critical dimension of the crisis.
Moreover, the ethical and moral dilemma reflected in the vulnerability of of how humanitarian crises to exploitation for political goals is illustrates the complexities of international conflict. SCF’s approach, however, merely propagates a false narrative.
4. Omissions in the Save the Children Project on the refugee issue
SCF also omitted two important points of historical context necessary to complete background of the continuing crisis; 1) Despite the fact that there are a many of Arab citizens of Israel who regard themselves as refugees from their original villages and towns, none live in refugee camps and there is no appreciable difference in their socio-economic status nor civil rights. 2) The Palestinian refugee crisis in 1948 coincided with a wave of Jewish refugees who were forced to flee Arab lands. These Jewish refugees, whose numbers roughly equal the population of the Palestinian refugees, were absorbed and integrated into Israeli society (despite immense financial and cultural difficulties). Refugees from this community today include several prominent politicians, diplomats and other public figures.
Israel’s solution to the refugee crisis, both among its Arab and Jewish population should serve as a model for the solution of the crisis in the Arab world too. From an educational perspective, it is important to look forward and not to engage in political-historical arguments.
Save the Children Fund timeline
Finally, SCF offers a timeline (Link has expired) as part of its educational resource for teachers. The historical overview presented in the chronology undermines the urgency of the Jewish refugee crises in the 1930s and 1940s and fails to acknowledge the opportunities that the Arab states deliberately avoided for settling the refugee issue.
NGO Monitor believes it is beyond the mission statement of an apolitical humanitarian NGO to be producing tendentious chronologies. It is one matter producing general educational material, but another to start engaging in controversial, emotional and non-clear-cut political issues.
SCF has a sophisticated funding structure and has succeeding in securing global fundraising relationships with American Express, from whom SCF has received more than $1m from card members who have donated points from the American Express loyalty program. This international fundraising campaign currently runs in Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States as well as in the UK. Other members of the global alliance include Serco Group plc, an international service provider company, that dedicated its yacht under the Save the Children banner as well as the Boston Consulting Group, Ikea, Diner’s Club, Royal Doulton and the SAS group,
The Edmond J Safra Philanthropic Foundation donated $1.5 million. The rest of SCF’s funding comes from appeals and donations, legacies, volunteer branches, retail income and trusts and legacies.
NGO Monitor believes that these funding have the responsibility of insuring that SCF stops the ideologically and politically biased reporting and it’s the practice of overlooking vital issues of context in its educational material.
Save the Children Fund and its funding organizations bear an enormous degree of responsibility and authority. It promotes itself as an educational resource center for teachers and educators who often lack an in-depth knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It has also attracted multi-million dollar partnerships with international companies thanks to its perceived moral uprightness. These partnerships add to the organization’s legitimacy and authority. The inaccuracies and distortions in the educational material are passed onto impressionable children and students, as well as to journalists and policy makers who make use of the material of humanitarian and "neutral" NGOs. The size and status of SCF means both teachers and policy makers are unlikely to question the accuracy and relevancy of its materials.
The urgent humanitarian issues of the Palestinian refugee crisis do not excuse the practice of confusing the political and humanitarian dimensions of this crisis. As a humanitarian NGO, SCF should be acting in exactly the opposite direction and should be seeking an end to the human suffering in the refugee camps by distancing itself from any ideological or political motivations.