Here’s a sobering statistic: according to the Global Peace Index, only 10 countries worldwide are considered free from conflict. Iceland is ranked the most peaceful in the world due to its low level of militarization and its lack of domestic and international conflict. The country also has an elevated degree of security and pretty stable society. Unsurpisingly, Syria ranks as the least peaceful.
For the past five years, the world’s attentions have been trained on the escalating events that have led to an estimated 470,000 deaths, 1.9 million wounded, over 4 million Syrian refugees, and 7.6 million internally displaced people, to date. Regardless of the number of ongoing critical conflicts in the world today—from the civil war in Libya to territorial disputes in the South China Sea—all eyes are on Syria.
Given the Syrian war’s unmitigated path of destruction it’s no surprise that the crisis received the most private funding dollars in 2015, which amounted to six percent of total humanitarian funding that year. And while NGOs like Ikea, UPS, and Western Union foundations are stepping up to the plate here in a big way, most major U.S. funders remain MIA and multibillion funding shortfalls remain. Regardless, last year Syria was one of the five crises around the world that accounted for more than 50 percent of all humanitarian funding.
Overall, this is good news, at least for the conflicts happening in Syria Yemen, South Sudan, Iraq and Sudan. But donor dollars are scarce resources and if half of those resources are being directed to just five countries, it means fewer funding dollars are available to help other regions in conflict. For example, what's up with the funding lately to address the nearly 100-year long Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
We've been wondering the same thing ourselves, so we dug around a bit to shine the spotlight on a few funders, large and small, that remain resolutely on this case.
Founded by two “unrepentant liberals,” Sandor and Faye Straus, the Firedoll Foundation is quietly waging war against policies of both the governmental and religions kind. It’s Peace Process and Middle East program is based on the foundation’s ethos that “both Palestinian and Jewish people have a legitimate claim to their common homeland.” Firedoll awards grants to groups that share in its belief that the people of Palestine and Israel have the moral and legal right to “share their ancient homeland in peace and security.
Firedoll’s funding is largely focused on humanitarian assistance, economic development, and civil society in the West Bank and Gaza. The foundation also makes grants to groups that are defending the recognized rights of Palestinians living under occupation and supports outfits that are working to bring an end to the occupation.
This isn’t a big foundation, assets of $10 to $12 million and grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000. But this is a funder that largely favors local and grassroots groups like Anarchists Against the Wall and the Palestinian Solidarity Project, both of which are past grantees.
Foundation for Middle East Peace
The Foundation for Middle East Peace was established in the late-1970s by lawyer and philanthropist Merle Thorpe, who recognized that “the Israeli-Palestinian issue was at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” This is another funder that likes to support smaller organizations, specifically, those making significant contributions to a solution to the conflict.
The Foundation for Middle East Peace supports educational, humanitarian, public affairs, civil rights groups, and Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation activities. On a smaller scale, it awards grants to groups addressing the needs of victims of the current and ongoing conflict in the region.
Most grants coming out of this foundation range from $5,000 to $35,000 and go toward the general operating support of outfits like I Wage Peace, Healing Across the Divides, and Outward Bound Peacebuilding. While it’s true that the Foundation for Middle East Peace favors supporting smaller groups, a few larger organizations are also on the receiving end of the foundation’s grantmaking. In this regard, the Center for International Studies, ANERA, and Alliance for Middle East Peace, are past grantees.
Samuel Rubin Foundation
During his life, Samuel Rubin was well known for his leftist philosophies and his belief that peace would not come to the Middle East “without social and cultural interaction across religions and ethnicities.”
Of the three foundations highlighted here, Rubin’s grants are a bit less pointed in that it awards grants to groups working in relatively wide variety of matters related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the foundation’s grants are largely rights related, for example, it has supported Grassroots International’s work with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. It’s also the Gaza Community Health Programs.
Again, the asset size of Rubin, which is usually between $10 and $12 million, explains its favoritism toward supporting small groups. That’s not to say that this foundation doesn’t make grants to larger outfits, Human Rights Watch and the Tides Center are Rubin grantees.
Open Society Foundations
We always like reminding folks that OSF is bigger than they think, with a budget of nearly a billion dollars year and offices in 37 countries. And while George Soros's philanthropy is forever associated with the former communist world, it touches nearly all parts of the world, including the Middle East, where OSF has long been involved in work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We've described that work elsewhere, and how it has a few different pieces, including grants to pro-peace groups. In general, this is a funder that's seen as a quite sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, drawing a fair amount of fire as a result. Soros was also a key funder who helped create J Street, which has played an important role in broadening the voices in the U.S. debate over the Middle East.
Skoll Threats Fund
Jeff Skoll was another key backer who helped get J Street off the ground, and one of the few funders to come out of Silicon Valley who's interested in the Middle East. Like Soros, he's been interested in broadening out the voices in this debate and has been cast as (too) sympathetic to Palestinians. This conflict is one of the focus points of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, but it's tricky to track what exactly this entity does or where the money goes.
Ford, as we've written before, is another big global funder that, like OSF, has been involved in work around the Palestinian-Israel conflict as part of a much larger agenda. Ford is still working the Middle East and North Africa after its reorganization, and you can see more here. What you'll notice is that this is a funder with a broad set of interests in the region.