These Funders Haven't Given Up on the Palestinians, or Hopes of Peace

Chances for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians could hardly seem slimmer. Israel continues building settlements on Palestinian land, while surveys find that less than a third of Palestinians still favor a two-state solution. Oh, and wasn't there recently another war over there? 

Many American philanthropists sure aren't optimistic about the future, judging by how many give money to support the Israel Defense Forces, as we wrote not long ago.

And yet a few foundations in the U.S. and Israel cling to hopenot just the hope for peace, but the vision of a liberal and democratic Palestinian state. They include the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and the Sparkplug Foundations in the United States; and the Naomi & Nehemiah Foundation in Israel. Each one is sharing its wealth with Palestinian communities and Palestinian peace activists who work to end the violence on both sides and ultimately to bring about an independent Palestine. These funders are hanging in there against odds that, in just the past year, have become palpably longer. More on all of this below:

Ford Foundation

This funder is notably sympathetic to the cause of a free Palestinian state, so much so that it’s taken flak over the years from hawkish American and Israeli commentators who have called it “anti-Israel” and accused it of channeling too many grants to Palestinian groups that had “political agendas” geared toward “inciting hatred of Israel.” We’ll let you make your own judgment on that. What we do know for sure is that Ford’s Middle East and North Africa program has nine sub-programs, one of which is “Promoting Creativity and Change Through Education in the Palestinian Territories.”

This sub-program focuses on supporting creative arts and schools that teach art, not on political action. For example, it gave $450,000 in the last five years to the A.M. Quattan Foundation, a patron of many Palestinian artists and cultural organizations. Another $2.5 million in that time frame went out to Birzeit University, which used its grants to build up its arts education and music departments; a third sum total of $655,000 in Ford grants went to the performing-arts nonprofit Yabous Productions, which used the money to renovate its cultural center and to host a gamut of new arts exhibits and educational programs for youth.

Of course, art and music aren’t in themselves the cure for the violence. But they can be a key ingredient of the cure. Educators all across the globe agree that young people who participate in the arts grow mentally, emotionally and socially, and that those who face troubled home lives—which would certainly include the many Palestinian youth growing up amid border fences, gunfire, and aerial bombings—can find the arts to be deeply therapeutic. What’s more, as America’s 1960s rock-and-roll scene amply demonstrates, artists and musicians are often ringleaders of social change. Ford may be hoping that the young performers, painters and filmmakers that it supports will inspire more young people in the territories to, well, give peace a chance.

Open Society Foundations

Soros money is being spent in the Middle East to advance the same goals that OSF champions elsewhere in the world: human rights, the rule of law, and the free expression of ideas. While Soros is Jewish, this foundation, too, has weathered some heavy fire for being anti-Israel. 

Again, we'll leave such judgments to others, and simply note that OSF has backed various groups friendly to the Palestinian cause. One such group is Gisha, which promotes freedom of movement of Palestinian residents, and especially Gaza residents. Another Soros grantee is Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which advocates for the human rights of Palestinians living within Israel. As well, OSF money goes to Al-Haq, a group focused on promoting human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Territories. 

Speaking of the rule of law, OSF's Arab Regional Office is currently accepting applications for its Palestinian Rule of Law Awards, which provide scholarships for "one-year academic masters of law (LLM) programs for qualified applicants from the West Bank and Gaza for study at selected law schools in the United States and the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest." The awards program is typical of how OSF operates worldwide, seeking to foster new leaders who are fluent in ideas about human rights and democracy, and can serve as agents of positive change. 

OSF has also backed Israeli groups promoting peace, including Breaking the Silence, an organization of IDF veterans who've served in the cccupied territories and seeks to draw attention to what it says is the inhumane treatment of Palestinian residents.

Sparkplug Foundation

This foundation is a community organizers’ right-hand man, whether in the United States or abroad. It issues many awards each year to initiatives that mobilize action on key human-rights issues, or train and empower aspiring social activists to be leaders for change. And while it doesn’t formally label Palestine as a key issue area, some Palestine-focused nonprofits are to be found among its recent grant winners.   

The Palestine Solidarity Project, for example, once received a $7,000 grant to train Palestinian activists on nonviolent methods to oppose Israel’s occupation of the territories. Sparkplug also gave Zochrot, an Israeli group that speaks out for Palestinians’ rights, a grant of $7,837 to produce educational materials that Israeli teachers could use to teach their students about the “Naqba,” the mass displacement that millions of Palestinian Arabs suffered in 1948 when Jewish settlers forcibly annexed their lands. 

Naomi & Nehemiah Cohen Foundation

This foundation’s grantees are predominantly Jewish organizations. But they each work to cultivate empathy and understanding between Israel’s Jews and the Arabs in their midst—not only those living in the Palestinian territories, but also those living in Israel itself.

B’Tselem is one such organization. Naomi & Nehemiah Cohen has given it funding for its efforts to foster a “human rights culture” among Israel’s electorate and policymakers by documenting and publicizing of human-rights violations in the territories (Note: unlike the foundations above, this one doesn’t publish grant amounts; it states only what they were used for). Hagar, another grantee, is a joint Arab-Israeli operation. It runs a school in Negev in which Jewish and Arab students learn together in classes that are bilingual and emphasize multicultural understanding and mutual respect.

Not all grantees, by the way, are in Israel. This foundation gives awards to some organizations in the United States, too. The Alliance for Middle East Peace, which is based in Washington, DC, is a good example. Like Hagar, it also brings Arabs and Jews together under the same roof—the organization is a coalition of Jewish, Muslim, and totally nonsectarian organizations that are all collaborating on the challenge of building a lasting peace.