Q&A - Funding for Gaza

15 March 2024
Following the vicious attack on Israel on 7th October 2023, and the subsequent invasion of Gaza, a serious humanitarian emergency has developed in the Gaza Strip. This Q+A explains what Jersey is doing in response, including how we try to ensure that our aid only benefits those who most need it.

What’s the situation in Gaza?

At the time of writing (mid-March), over 31,000 Gaza residents have been reported killed and 73,000 injured. That’s approximately one person in 20, of whom about 70% are women and children. Meanwhile over 75% the population has been displaced, and half the housing stock destroyed. There appears to be a real risk of famine, with insufficient food aid reaching people who are now severely malnourished. A good source of information for readers who want to know the latest on the ground is ReliefWeb (https://reliefweb.int/country/pse), which has maps and updates from all the main humanitarian agencies.

What has Jersey done about the unfolding crisis?

JOA made two grants in 2023, to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (£200,000) and International Health Partners (£80,000). We have just agreed two more: UN World Food Programme (£150,000) and International Health Partners again (£100,000), which will help address critical food and medical needs.

How do you know the aid will end up in the right place?

This question goes to the heart of why JOA exists as an organisation, and why the government doesn’t just write cheques every year to aid agencies. We have to know how our money is spent, and that it is making the biggest possible difference, or we are letting down both the people we should have helped better and the people who gave the money (you!). This applies to all our grants, but it’s even more important in conflict zones, where aid can be stolen or used to support one side. In Gaza, where the territory is controlled by Hamas, we have to take additional care that none of our aid is diverted to terrorist organisations. The moral and reputational implications for Jersey would be incalculable.

So, can you give some specifics about how you avoid terrorist financing (TF)?

Here’s a short, non-exhaustive summary, rendered as best as possible into jargon-free English. Starting with our own risk appetite statement, and applying our TF policy, we try to ensure that the risk of Jersey money being sent or diverted to proscribed organisations or individuals is acceptable. Our considerations include jurisdictional risk, fiduciary risk, payment methods, partner charities, donors and beneficiaries.

We maintain a closed list of humanitarian partners, which we have examined and got to know in some detail before making a grant. We obtain lots of information from them, including their own policies and procedures on terrorist financing.  In most cases we conduct visits to HQs and/or key country offices. We look at who regulates them, we screen against sanctions lists, and we look at which other donors fund them. We also of course examine the specific project we are being asked to fund, and where the risk is higher, provide items like food and medicine rather than cash or cement.

All our grants are governed by grant agreements, which stipulate that none of a grant recipient’s staff members has been involved in terrorism, that it will not promote or engage in terrorism, nor make grants to any entity that does, and that any sub-grants by the recipient will include equivalent obligations. We require narrative and financial reports on how JOA funds are used, and maintain the right to review their books and accounts or to send in our own auditors. Where we can we conduct monitoring visits ourselves – not always possible somewhere like Syria, but JOA staff were in Gaza in 2022 to follow up one particular partner.

We don’t publish all the tools and procedures we use to ensure we don’t fund terrorists, but we do make sure they are reviewed by people who know about such things. We comply with the JFSC’s ‘Prescribed NPO Order and Codes of Practice’ on Terrorist Financing, and as some of you will remember, we helped train some Jersey Charities on what to do. We were also evaluated by MONEYVAL’s assessors last autumn, with a specific focus on this issue. Our control environment has a clean bill of health from Internal Audit, as does our Governance from Treasury (which makes all our payments). We’re also really lucky to be overseen by a Commission of six independent professionals, who examine every grant we make as well as the procedures we follow.

Why don’t you fund Israeli charities too?

The answer to this one is simple: we would do if it were a poorer country. Following the abhorrent attack of 7th of October, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, in both the South and the North, and they need help. However, Jersey only allocates its international development budget to the poorest places in the world. Not only is this the right thing to do in terms of maximising the effectiveness of our aid, but it also means we comply with the international definition of Official Development Assistance, and it can therefore be counted towards Jersey’s official figures. The OECD maintains a list of eligible recipient countries, which are essentially all the low and middle-income territories in the world. Israel, ranking 18th in the world, with a per-capita GDP of well over $50,000, is not on this list. We would not give aid to countries with similar levels of domestic resources, and in fact in recent years we have not supported appeals for funds in Greece (Med migrants) or Portugal (forest fires) for the same reason. Israel is definitely not being singled out here; it’s a reasonable policy we are pursuing, and one followed by most donor countries.

You were attacked in the press last year for the first grant you made to Gaza. Is your work divisive?

We understand that the situation in Israel and Palestine is highly emotive, and JOA does not want to take sides. The accusations of poor risk management and partisanship really stung: we’re geekily proud of our perfect score at Internal Audit, and hold the humanitarian principles of Neutrality, Impartiality and Independence dear to our hearts. We are now engaged with some of these critics, most of whom I think now appreciate that we are doing our best in quite difficult circumstances. Nobody wants to see innocent people suffer – and the Jewish Congregation has made it very clear to us how supportive they are of aid being sent to the civilians in Gaza who need it. We in turn very much take on board why the UN is seen in Israel as partisan, and why people with relatives in the firing line are so insistent that no aid benefits Hamas. The only ‘side’ we’re on is that of the people who need our help.

Photo credit: UN OCHA