The West’s arrogant foreign aid has fuelled tensions

Published by The i paper (16th October, 2023)

The Government is tying itself in knots to show firm support for Israel after terrorist atrocities while avoiding condemnation of possible breaches of international law. So the foreign secretary James Cleverly looked uncomfortable when BBC presenter Victoria Derbyshire showed him quotes by diplomats saying imposition of a siege on Gaza and forcing innocent people to flee from homes amounted to war crimes. But he stuck to his line that the plight of Palestinians was caused by Hamas and although Britain backed the global rules, Jerusalem had the right to respond to brutal attacks on its soil.

Cleverly was following the lead set by his boss Rishi Sunak, who insists Britain is standing with Israel “unequivocally” – effectively telling them they can do what they want – while saying he is working to ensure the world speaks in one voice. Yet even our closest neighbour has called for restraint. Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned last week “any response must be proportionate”, saying international support would “fall apart if Israel goes too far” in Gaza.

He is right: the key issue is not whether Jerusalem has the right to hit back at Hamas, which it does, but how to end the sickening cycle of violence and stop terrible events spiralling further out of control.

Yet while Cleverly heaped blame on Hamas, perhaps he should consider the role of his own department in fanning the deadly hostilities bedevilling this region. Britain has sought to support Palestinians for many years, said the Foreign Secretary – and this was done largely by pumping rivers of aid into Gaza and the West Bank.

The latest payment – another £10m given to the UN Relief and Works Agency that runs schools and social services – was made last month after he visited a refugee camp near Ramallah on his first visit to the occupied territories. But these latest horrors provoke a hard question: do such torrents of foreign cash intensify the problems in trouble spots instead of solving them?

Certainly it is hard to argue at this point that all the huge sums spent in Palestine by donors on conflict resolution and development were well spent as Israel reels from shocking bloodshed and Gaza suffers bombardment, reducing homes and shops to rubble. Bear in mind, incidentally, that for all the fuss over UK aid reductions, global spending on official development assistance soared 14 per cent last year to a record $204bn. And we have just seen in Afghanistan how our efforts to build a shining liberal society based on mountains of aid failed disastrously by stoking corruption, inflaming divisions and boosting a mafia state, thus assisting the Taliban’s return to power as infuriated citizens turned to their insurgency.

Sadly, foreign handouts can fuel corruption, foster fighting and corrode democracy in weak states and conflict zones by freeing up funds for malign actors to steal or spend on weapons rather than respond to the daily needs of citizens.

Yet arrogant donors poured funds into Palestine, despite blatant theft and overt extremism, as in some other parts of the planet. Bear in mind Hamas won surprise control of Gaza in 2007, after Israel’s withdrawal, by campaigning against corruption by officials in the Palestinian Authority (PA) under rivals Fatah – then having taken power, funnelled substantial sums to its military wing and influential figures tied to the movement.

Yet a decade later, four million Palestinians stuck under Israeli occupation received the highest aid support per capita in the world. The cash-strapped PA relied on foreign funds for almost half its budget. This was supposed to support development – yet as I found during one investigation there, it passed substantial sums on to convicted terrorists and the families of suicide bombers in both Gaza and the West Bank.

At least £100,000 went to a jailed Hamas leader whose attacks included a restaurant bombing that slaughtered 15 diners. Another man told me he killed two “informerd” – and was being paid £605 a month. A debt-laden terrorist attacker even claimed to have attempted a lethal attack to ensure his family could live comfortably.

It was another disturbing display of grotesque Western hypocrisy. In Gaza, I found European aid – heavily-backed by Britain before Brexit – still paying the salaries of thousands of civil servants who had not worked in their posts for eight years due to internal Palestinian feuding. One man, drawing £6,000-a-year salary as a teacher, had run a dairy. Others studied, drove taxis and ran shops. A policeman admitted it was “crazy” they were paid not to work – yet even a demand from EU auditors to stop such absurd payments had been ignored.

My subsequent inquiries two years later found British and European aid worth £300m a year going into an education system that named schools and sporting events after terrorists – even the man who planned the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics – while pictures of “martyrs” were posted on school walls and pupils in plays celebrated murder and shootings. Such findings are supported by scores of other reports over the years – including one presented to US Congress earlier this year alleging that aid-funded UN schools “create teaching materials that glorify terrorism, encourage martyrdom and incite antisemitism.”

It is difficult to defuse festering hatreds and destroy fanaticism when there is wilful appeasement of terrorists and thieves. At least the EU, unlike our foreign office, has initiated a review of development financing worth £600m for Palestine following the Hamas attacks, although this will probably prove as shallow as previous inquiries.

Western politicians, cheered on by a self-serving aid industry, love to pose as good guys fighting poverty and violence, despite evidence their naive actions can harm those they claim to help. Once again we see there are no simple answers to historic complexities – and that glibly spraying cash around the planet does not lead automatically to peace and love.

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