Summary: We survey several children’s NGOs revealing how many blend politics and ideology into human rights but how one maintains universal human rights standards and avoids politicization. While it may be difficult for Palestinian children’s NGO’s to maintain neutrality in a politically charged environment, Zeina has illustrated that such conduct is possible.
Although numerous NGO’s dedicated to assisting Palestinian children claim to be apolitical, few actually meet this criterion. Indeed, the purported political neutrality of Palestinian children’s NGO’s is often tainted by their sources of funding, the dissemination of virulent anti-Israel propaganda and the controversial activities of their staff.
Palestinian Children’s Welfare Fund (PCWF), an NGO "whose goals are to improve the living standards of the children of Palestine," provides a classic example of the blatant politicization of certain Palestinian children’s NGO’s.
The PCWF mission statement proclaims "the group is a non-political, non-religious enterprise whose aspirations are purely humanitarian." Yet, the children’s charity recently held a drawing contest for young children entitled, Why I love Palestine. The judged rewarded, almost without exception, entries that featured disturbing and vehement anti-Israel themes.
The PCWF website also promotes a call for papers and encourages the recruitment of volunteers to the "First National Convention of American Jews for a Free Palestine." According to the PCWF, "Members of the steering committee are academics, professionals, political and social activists who intend to form a national committee to confront AIPAC and its monopoly in the media over the representation of the Jewish community in the United States."
In addition, the PCWF website prominently features the political and violently charged lyrics of a song entitled "Olive Tree", (Link has expired) performed by the Iron Sheikh, a Palestinian rapper. In his song, the Iron Sheikh declares that, "Trouble began before 1948, when Zionists founded the Israeli state." The Palestinian rapper also accuses of Israel of practicing "apartheid," and graphically describes how he would like to physically assault Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Clearly, the promotion of the above-mentioned convention, contest and musical lyrics are inconsistent with the PCWF’s apolitical mission statement, and casts a negative pall over legitimate humanitarian activities carried out by the organization.
Similarly, a virulent anti-Israel political agenda overshadows the important humanitarian services offered by the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), "established in 1991 by concerned people in the U.S. to address the medical and humanitarian crisis facing Palestinian youths in the Middle East." While the PCRF mission statement declares the NGO to be "a registered non-political organization," it is headed by journalist Stephen Sosebee who, in an article published in the Akron Beacon, http://www.ohio.com/mld/beaconjournal/news/editorial/3228073.htm, urged the Bush administration to "pressure Prime Minister Ariel Sharon" to accede to the Saudi peace plan. Sosebee also speaks extensively at universities and other political "solidarity meetings" where he expounds on classic anti-Semitic, anti-Israel statements. During a lecture at the Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up (ZCCF), Sosebee charged that a "Zionist lobby and Zionist influence" manipulated the U.S. government, its citizens and media.
In addition, the PCRF received assistance from The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Global Relief Foundation, and The International [Islamic] Relief Organization – all of which were closed down by the U.S. government for funding terrorist groups.
In sharp contrast to the PCRF and PCWF, Zeina, a Jerusalem based Palestinian NGO established to aid children suffering from cancer, can be described as a truly humanitarian and apolitical organization. According to its website, Zeina was "founded in mid-2001 by a group of parents of children inflicted with cancer, who were undergoing therapy at Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital." The organization is "concerned with providing psychological and emotional support to the children suffering from cancer and their families. The center aims at helping and counseling their families to face the disease and its side effects and to help ease its effects and to overcome it."
Although Zeina was only founded in 2001, it has already obtained an operation registration from the Israeli Ministry of Interior as a Jerusalem based charitable society, "developed a professional relationship with Hadassah Ein Karem and Sha’reh Tzedek Hospitals," and received "a grant from the French Consulate General in Jerusalem, to fund for the set up of a new center infrastructure, and to cover expenses for practical activities and counseling."
Unlike the PCRF and PCWF, the staff at Zeina has chosen to form a positive relationship with their Israeli counterparts. Rather than engage in counter-productive anti-Israel propaganda via questionable contests, hateful music, and vehement diatribes, the Zeina website offers only a summary of their apolitical accomplishments and goals.
While it may be difficult for Palestinian children’s NGO’s to maintain neutrality in a politically charged environment, Zeina has illustrated that such conduct is possible.
The PCRF and the PCWF would do well to follow Zeina’s example. Advancing a partisan and ideological cause under the guise of children’s education and medical care only contributes to the cycle of hatred dominating the Middle East.