"UK parliamentary select committee on International Development discusses NGO Monitor’s evidence on Christian Aid and UK funding for NGOs that work in Israel and with Palestinians," Parliamentlive.tv, October 31, 2006.
Uncorrected Transcript – Minutes of Evidence Taken Before International Committee, on Development assistance and the "occupied palestinian territories "
Chairman: We are left with a situation where, in any case, the Palestinian Authority is now controlled by Hamas but the Government of Israel and, at the moment, the international community will not recognise it, for reasons we know. The problem we are then left with is where is the civil society, which is the normal fallback position in any developing situation, whether it is for development or building democracy, or what have you; strengthening civil society is one of the standards. One of the problems we have is that DFID does have a civil society programme and does give support. We have had evidence from NGO Monitor that is concerned that money is going, effectively, to civil society organisations that (and I quote): "DFID funds are … filtering through to radical Palestinian NGOs whose primary goals are to demonise Israel". That is their perspective. I think the question we are really working is where are the moderate democratic civil society organisations or how can the international institutions work to try and create these? Apparently, on the information we have, they do not really exist.
Mr Bell (short portion of response): …We, as Christian Aid, as a partner organisation, engage a great deal with civil society. Many of the organisations with which we engage, both Palestinian and Israeli, are indeed critical of Israel. The reason that they are critical of Israel is because they see that the actions of the Israeli Government – successive Israeli Governments – have been to undermine and frustrate Palestinian development and the development of a viable Palestinian economy. That has been as a result of Israel’s settlement programme, the route of the separation barrier, or wall, through the West Bank and frequent closures and frustration of movement within the territories. …. I think DFID has a very important role to play in terms of civil society, and the way in which it engages in a democratic future, which need go far beyond purely elections.
Q150 Chairman: I can accept that entirely, and I have read the NGO Monitor’s evidence in full and I did not agree with all of it or indeed where they were coming from. Nevertheless, they make one or two quite acerbic points which need to be addressed, one of which you may discount. They say, first of all, that occasionally (and they identify Christian Aid explicitly) they lack sensitivity in the complexities of the situation and that, in addition to that (and this is a quote) " … lack the necessary language and access to work independently. Instead, they rely on local teams to show them around and to ‘find’ the right people to ‘confirm’ particular versions of events." The question which then arises – whether it is Christian Aid, Oxfam or DFID for that matter – is: what steps are you taking to ensure that the people you are working with on the ground are people who have what you might call a constructive engagement in civil society rather than (to put it in the language of the Israeli Government) potential agents of terror? In other words, how rigorous are you in trying to ensure that the people you are working with, who may be frustrated, dissatisfied and attacking the policies but, nevertheless, have a positive, civic objective as opposed to being potentially or actually engaged in planning acts of terror? It is a serious point, and for us if DFID money is going into organisations of that kind it is important that we know that the checks are there.
Q151 Chairman:DFID tell us that in spite of the funding for civil society, which implies a difference of view as to what they think the role of civil society is, a moderate, democratic and secular political alternative to Hamas and Fatah has not emerged. …is it actually realistic to assume that a viable Palestinian secular society, civic society, can function – allowing for the difficulties? …..My instincts are you cannot use civil society as a substitute for government, which makes me wonder whether DFID are down the wrong track.