Pushing Philanthropy Towards Palestine

I visited Palestine for the first time in April 2023 at the end of Ramadan. Honestly, I hesitated to go for myself because I was afraid the next time a conflict arose, I couldn’t be silent. So here I am now, using my voice to share more about what I heard on the ground and saw with my own eyes.

Upon arrival in Tel Aviv, I was questioned at the airport: who my grandfather was, where in the Middle East I had visited, and what I did for a living. Just a few days before I arrived, the occupying Israel Defense Force cleared out the Al-Aqsa compound with tear gas and rubber bullets.

When I visited, I had to share my identification at an IDF checkpoint and then enter Al-Aqsa. I visited Bethlehem and my taxi driver was only allowed to drive to the next checkpoint. My U.S. passport allowed me the freedom to move more easily than the local Palestinians.

History is repeating itself

Once I passed the checkpoints, I could see surveillance cameras, IDF walking around with rifles, and of course, a wall that restricts the movement of Palestinians to freely roam their own country. Through this difficulty, there were still moments of a serene and electric atmosphere of praying at Masjid al Aqsa. That’s because Palestinians still have their faith. It’s what connects all Muslims to Palestine.

I stopped by the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Nativity. As I walked through Jerusalem to the Old City, it wasn’t lost on me that Palestinians who were born in the West Bank and Gaza cannot travel outside of their occupied territories. Many liken Gaza to an open air prison, however, Palestinians in Gaza are innocent prisoners, much like Jews who were placed in the Warsaw Ghettos by the Nazi Schutzstaffel. Don’t turn your eye on Palestinians stuck in a concentration camp, waiting for their impending death in their very own Holocaust.

A Voice for Palestine!

Throughout my life, I have always been curious and learned about Palestine. I cannot speak for Palestinians or Arabs and I cannot stay silent about the genocide of Palestinians.

I welcome my Palestinian and Jewish colleagues in the philanthropic space to share their stories so it may authentically land in the hearts of readers. Palestine needs non-Palestinian, non-Arab, and non-Muslim allies to speak up against the Zionist policies in the Israeli government. There are program officers working at foundations across the country who are Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim, and can better speak to this. However, I’m sharing my voice in solidarity in case they fear losing their jobs.

I think of my Palestinian friends and colleagues, whose voice should be uplifted. Bassim Elkarra, the Executive Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Sacramento Valley, has lost 20+ direct family members in Palestine. I think of former U.S. Representative from Michigan, Justin Amash, a Christian Palestinian who lost family during the bombing of Saint Porphyrius Orthodox Church in Gaza.

I don’t have to look beyond the atrocious scenes all over social media to see how it has affected my social circle. Perhaps you don’t have to look too far to know of someone affected in this uprising.

My activism started from an early age near Detroit, MI, seeing my youth group and community raise funds for issues like Kosovo, Sudan, and Palestine through Islamic Relief USA in the 1990s. The first rally I ever attended was for Palestine in 2000, taking a bus from Detroit to Washington, D.C.

In my family, my siblings and I were never allowed to sleep over at a friend's house or go out past curfew, but social justice was the exception. A few years later while in college at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, our Student Government requested and signed petitions for the University to divest from Israel for its apartheid policies.

Where is humanity?

Much of the same sentiments I felt growing up in the 9/11 era are coming back. The Orwellian news cycle continuously asks for the condemnation of terrorist groups, the constant dehumanization of Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians, and U.S. Congressman brazenly sharing to turn Gaza into a parking lot, world leaders calling Palestinians animals.

Our empathy should be stronger than our hatred. What did this lead to? The result is the loss of 6 year old Palestinian American Muslim Wadea Al-Fayoumi in Illinois, with his 71 year old attacker stabbing him 26 times and brutally injuring Wadea’s mother.

Our empathy shouldn’t stop at the color of someone’s skin or the religion they choose or who they love. The U.S. foreign policy agenda of providing nearly $4 billion in taxpayer money aiding Israel is responsible for the war crimes (killing UN employees, journalists, cutting off electricity, water, etc.) being committed in occupied Palestine.

The Islamophobic attacks at home all while denying the United Nations resolution for a ceasefire for humanitarian aid to enter into Palestine.

Tupac said it best,

“They got money for war, but can’t feed the poor'',

or cancel student debt, provide free education or healthcare.

Concerns over giving to Muslim-led humanitarian efforts entering into Palestine cause pause.

National Interest over Human Life?

This demonization fits well with geopolitical interest in arms and oil and is primarily done for the West's intervention in the Middle East and Israel is their perfect ally for regional proximity. Muslims are still wary of giving to international relief because of what happened after 9/11 with the Holy Land Foundation and other charities being shut down by the U.S. government.

And there are current false allegations against Muslim-led humanitarian causes and crowdfunding sites that further fuel this mistrust. In speaking with my friend, Amany Killawi, Co-Founder of Launchgood, she said “it’s quite sad to see humanitarian aid stuck at the crossroads of a political crisis.”

Philanthropy has shown up for the Black Lives Matter movement, for Ukraine, for so many important causes. It has stood up for what is right. At this moment, though, Philanthropy is quiet. Why is it that there has been what seems to be radio silence for the genocide of Palestinians?

The innocent need the support!

Celebrities, influencers, and workers who speak up against Israel and calling for a ceasefire are at risk of losing their jobs. I applaud Ford Foundation’s President Darren Walker, on his statement committing humanitarian relief resources to the crisis in Gaza. Allies like Jewish Voice for Peace give me hope and show me how to stand in solidarity with Palestinians without being antisemitic. And Vu Le from Nonprofit AF showcasing humanity. It’s upon all of us to be pushing philanthropy towards Palestine.

Questions that cross my mind: if Israel is concerned about eradicating Hamas, why are they disrupting the West Bank where Hamas doesn’t exist? If Israel really wants their hostages back, why are they carpet bombing Gaza? You want to talk about hostages, what about the 1,000’s imprisoned without any representation in the last few weeks?

The media labels this as the Israel-Hamas war but we need to stop calling it a war. Israel has occupied Palestine. Palestine does not have an army, Hamas is a resistance movement. It is widely recognized that a right to self-determination arises in situations of colonial domination, foreign occupation, and racist regimes. The government of Israel is a settler colony and I’m worried Gaza will be made available for a new influx of settlers claiming their birthright.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably irate with me or you’re nodding along or simply curious. The reason I share my opinion with you is so that you have some context into the situation.

Can we really call it a war in Israel, when social media geotags of Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem feeds showcase life as normal, heading to the beach, going out to restaurants, and traveling to the grocery store to find gluten free dough? On social media, Israeli influencers mock Palestinians with the fact that they have free flowing water, electricity, and an abundance of food. Israeli PR firms are paying influencers to Stand With Israel.

As a student of philanthropy, I believe in the love of humankind. As a Muslim, I believe in compassion for humankind. I have had conversations with my Jewish friends and colleagues who also believe in Tikkun olam - repairing the world. But what Israel, a nuclear power, is doing, is destroying Palestine.

They are participating in an ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people all through collective punishment for the actions of a selected few who are responding to a 75 year Israeli occupation. This did not start on October 7, 2023, yet since then, Israel has bombed hospitals, Christian and Muslim holy sites, evacuation routes, humanitarian efforts, and residential buildings.

Israel is getting away with the genocide of Palestinians. False claims of babies being beheaded stirred pandemonium and justification for killing over 8,000 innocent Palestinians. When in truth, the hostages released have spoken highly of their captors. There is no justification for the loss of innocent lives, ever. However it is also hard to compare a military regime like Israel to a liberation movement.

Malcolm X once stated, “You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”

Similar social justice leaders like Nelson Mandela were on Terrorist watch lists. That should tell you the power that colonizers have over their oppressed.

Call to Action!

Here is my call to action. Contact your elected officials, call for a ceasefire, ask to end the blockade, and allow for humanitarian aid to enter Palestine. With that, I would imagine whatever hostages haven’t been killed by Israeli airstrikes and U.S. manufactured bombs, will certainly be returned. Israel denied the return of 50 hostages in exchange for fuel in Gaza so hospitals could operate generators. And the situation will only get worse for everyone involved the longer this goes on.

how do we get aid to where it needs to go?

First, by allowing it to enter. Since 2017 I have been blessed to work with the American Muslim Community Foundation, which hosts over 175 Donor Advised Funds with currently $8.5 million of assets under management and has distributed more than $11 million since 2017. AMCF partners with GivingUSA and the DAF Research Collaborative to showcase the impact faith and philanthropy has and more importantly how Muslims are part of the philanthropic landscape. Nearly half of our distributions have gone to help U.S. registered humanitarian charities that operate internationally.

Now, before your concern gets you thinking about funding terrorist groups. I want you to know about the nonprofit industrial complex and its control over the narrative. Large businesses, foundations, and executives heavily donate to certain agendas that nonprofits implement and social justice causes are less adequately funded. In Solidaire Action’s Funding Freedom report they showcase just how over $75 million in donations to U.S. based nonprofits are used to help Israeli settlers kick out native Palestinians.

In the wake of Donald Trump's presidency, Islamophobia was on the rise again. In 2019, AMCF worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center and CAIR to present a report on how philanthropic organizations are helping fund Islamophobia. Partnering with the Amalgamated Foundation on their Hate is Not Charitable campaign, the Hijacked by Hate report indicated that over 1,096 organizations were responsible for funding 39 groups promoting Islamophobia between 2014 and 2016 with revenue capacity of at least $1.5 billion.

American Muslim Community Foundation

In response to this, AMCF launched the national Interfaith Giving Circle Confronting Hate, which works to promote understanding and denounce xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. Last month, AMCF penned a Statement on Palestine which highlights resources for individuals and nonprofit organizations. I’m personally committing financial resources to the nonprofit organizations listed in the statement and as a lifelong fundraiser, I couldn’t ask you to do something that I haven’t done myself.

As a reader and human, I’m asking you to put your money where your heart is. I humbly submit this to you as someone who believes in the power of philanthropy, especially where our governments have failed us. Don’t let Palestine be annihilated in front of us by Israel. If you have a conscience, the power of influence, or the financial means to give. I plead with you to support Palestine. Give directly to the causes mentioned in the statement or through a Donor Advised Fund with AMCF.

Muhi Khwaja
Co-Founder, American Muslim Community Foundation

About AMCF

Founded in 2016, American Muslim Community Foundation (AMCF) is an innovative and award-winning national community foundation dedicated to creating Donor Advised Funds, Giving Circles, distributing grants, partnering on fiscal sponsorships, & building endowments for the American Muslim community. AMCF has committed to social basic needs, racial justice, and health equity initiatives by distributing more than $10,000,000 to over 600 nonprofits.

AMCF is hosting their Annual Symposium & Muslim Philanthropy Awards on Saturday November 18, 2023 from 2-4 PM Eastern. You can register at amuslimcf.org/awards.

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