In recent days, I have been in mourning for Palestine. First, during Ramadan and still in the midst of COVID, Israel proceeded to expel Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. And in the midst of that, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank began, yet again, to experience extreme levels of violence. Meanwhile, the mainstream media focused in on Palestinians defending themselves to craft a narrative distorting the reality. As someone living in the US, by far the largest backer of Israel and its military, I was not surprised by any of this. But I was outraged and pained by it.
Now that a ceasefire has thankfully been called, Palestine will once again begin to fade from the headlines, and, unless we are vigilant, it will begin to fade from the collective consciousness until the next round of heightened attacks come. If we’re to break this cycle, Palestinians will need our sustained solidarity, and they will also need sustained resources as they rebuild and continue to resist. Here I offer some reflections on Grassroots International’s Donor-Activist Engagement Group on Palestine that took place last year, in the hope of encouraging the ongoing support and solidarity that Palestine so urgently needs.
Donor-Activism as a Tool for Palestine Solidarity
Donor-Activist Engagement Groups are a form of political organizing. They bring together multi-ethnic, multi-generational, and cross-class individuals who are dedicated to social change. Together we explore solidarity philanthropy as an important aspect of social justice, unpacking the ways that humanitarian initiatives are all too often entrenched in the precise structures we seek to eliminate – like racialized capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy.
Therefore, while raising funds is imperative to the work that social movements and grassroots organizations do worldwide, so is building solidarity. At Grassroots International, we articulate this balancing act as solidarity philanthropy; our donor-activist cohorts put it into action through radical internationalism in fundraising. In the context of the United States, these global connections can be hard to come by.
Early last year, the Trump Administration announced its so-called “peace plan” for the Middle East. This plan laid out a path to advance Israeli territorial theft throughout the West Bank, including 90 percent of the Jordan Valley and more than 75 villages. Basically, with the full endorsement of the U.S., Israel is engaging in massive land grabs and settler colonialism despite an audible outcry from human rights activists worldwide. Having witnessed the Israeli occupation of Palestine personally just two years ago, I knew the situation would worsen for Palestinians. It urged me to lead a Donor-Activist Engagement Group to raise funds for Palestinian organizations working at the intersection of food sovereignty, environmental justice, and human rights to defend their territory. And I knew I was in the right place to run this group.
Grassroots International was founded in the early 80s out of a deep commitment to Palestinian refugees. Since then, countless donor-activists have become involved in our work, either through Palestine-focused solidarity work, or as a result of learning about our work in the region and wanting to get involved.
The Donor-Activist Engagement Group is an extension of this legacy. It represents a transformational process in which donors, political allies and social movements come together to decolonize our minds, relearn, and move critical resources to those who need them the most. For me personally, organizing last year’s group was a way of doing my part to support Palestine and staying aware of how philanthropy has largely abandoned Palestinian organizations.
The Donor-Activist Engagement Group launched in March 2020 – exactly the time that the coronavirus hit. “We are now living under two occupations: the Israeli occupation and COVID-19,” a Palestinian Grassroots International partner lamented to the group over videoconference. It was clear from the moment the pandemic hit the region that it would impact Israelis and Palestinians in a lopsided way that worsened an already tenuous situation in Palestine.
Our cohort understood that now was the time to make bold asks for Palestinian groups working on the frontlines of both the Israeli occupation and a global pandemic. Given the fact that our tax dollars fund this militarized settler colonial project at $10 million per day, we felt a responsibility to try our hardest. It wasn’t easy. On one side, there was palpable emotional exhaustion from videoconferences and isolation, not to mention donor fatigue. And on the flip side, progressive activists in the U.S. understandably felt an urgency to support initiatives such as Black Lives Matter and even local food banks. We spoke together about how it doesn’t have to be either/or but is rather the moment for both/and. The issues that affect Black and Indigenous people globally are intertwined. In fact, the Movement for Black Lives explicitly stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people and draws comparisons between their struggles. This political moment calls for courageous connections and meaningful giving for system change.
Despite these obstacles, we met and exceeded our goals. Some of the 12 members of our Donor Engagement Group gave the most generous financial gifts of their lifetimes. Some collected numerous smaller gifts from family and friends. Numbers add up quickly! Because of this cohort, more than 100 people contributed $75,000 for Palestine in 2020. These funds supported vital work led by movements on the front lines, such as mobilizing resources and information to COVID-impacted communities; providing mental health support to families; organizing local and transnational campaigns to stop the occupation; and pressuring the International Criminal Court to move forward in its investigation of human rights abuses committed against the Palestinian people.
The fact that COVID and the “peace plan” happened during our Donor-Activist Engagement Group presented us with a uniquely historical moment in which to understand the impacts of colonialism and the importance of organizing toward justice in our communities.
First, donor organizing is an integral part of political organizing; these processes cannot be separated. By mobilizing donors to push past the limits of their comfort zones, others will follow in a cycle that resources social movements and allows them to grow. The active redistribution of wealth is a way of cutting off systems of oppression, and understanding how race, class, and gender contribute to inequality. This occurs from the local to the international levels.
A second learning point for our group was that political education – alongside community support – is key to building donor allyship. It is important for us to create spaces to explore racism, classism, patriarchy, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia across multiple spectrums. Personal transformation can act as a starting point for liberation.
Third, moving money is inherently political. This is tied to the way in which land, labor and wealth were and continue to be extracted from Black and Indigenous communities in order to feed the colonial and capitalist power systems. It is only by getting closer to understanding the true nature of this brutality that we can begin to comprehend the political work that we engage in as donors and the responsibility that comes with it.
And finally, fundraising cannot be disconnected from relationship-building. It takes time to build trust and create safe spaces to tackle complex issues and political causes like Palestine head-on. Conversations with family can be hard, because they involve deconstructing narratives that have been central to our childhoods – and our parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods too! Approaching these topics is a process of personal reflection and patience.
I like to think of this work as planting seeds of relationships, hope, and love. This is what community is about, and solidarity is the bridge that connects our communities regardless of circumstances or geography. Our Palestine Donor-Activist Engagement Group is just one manifestation of this ongoing work.