On the 20th anniversary of the founding of the charity Interpal, which focuses on helping Palestinians in need, Interpal’s Yasmin Khan documents the challenges it has faced to deliver its mission.
After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, a spirit of optimism developed among many Palestinians eager to build a more secure future for the people of Palestine.
Among them were a group of Palestinian refugees who in 1994 joined together to form the British registered charity, Interpal. Their vision was simple enough- to provide humanitarian relief in the Occupied Territories, Lebanon and Jordan to those experiencing poverty and deprivation.
The air of hope among aid agencies at this time brought about ambitions to go beyond immediate relief to help develop a safer and more prosperous Palestinian society. There were even somewhat ambitious whispers of Palestine becoming the next Singapore, which truly reflects the positive drive felt by many of those working in Palestine.
Sadly, it didn’t take long for this to change.
The series of catastrophic events faced by Palestinians that followed over the next 20 years was something that no charity could fully prepare for.
Getting from point A (the donor) to point B (the beneficiary) involved taking a tedious detour through almost every other alphabetical point: ever-increasing movement restrictions, checkpoints, borders and a system of permits continue to seriously delay aid agencies reaching those in desperate need.
In particularly volatile situations during times of conflict, these delays can have life-threatening consequences for Palestinians.
Our recent attempts to ensure the delivery of a new X-ray machine desperately needed by a charitable hospital in Gaza were unsuccessful for almost a full year. The risk this posed to patients in the hospital was immeasurable.
And in 2011, we began a shelter project in Gaza to house up to forty Palestinian families. Not only is the project hugely important for supporting refugees, it also helps improve the local economy through the employment of Gazan construction workers, surveyors, engineers and architects.
Due to Israeli restrictions on importing building materials in to Gaza, however, construction has been seriously delayed, leaving forty families still without homes and dozens of employees at an even greater risk of insecurity.
The sad truth is that the on-going restrictions many charities face in the Occupied Territories are severely affecting the most vulnerable. But despite the difficulties, our field offices and partners in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria have continued to reach thousands of families.
On this day twenty years ago, a group of Palestinian refugees founded Interpal with a simple vision. Interpal has now grown from helping a few hundred Palestinians to ten thousand a year.
And through local ownership of projects, multi-dimensional relief and private sector investment, we are able to help combat the lack of social mobility faced by thousands of Palestinians. Even if this does not fully address the root cause of poverty, we hope that these projects can further build on the resilience that pervades Palestinian society.
Although it may seem that the initial burst of hope Palestinian society felt in 1994 has faded, in fact it remains the driving force behind our determination to expand the humanitarian projects we began twenty years ago.
We look forward to the day when Palestinians are no longer dependent on emergency aid and their human and civil rights are restored.