By Leila Abdelrazaq, Palestinian artist, author, organizer, and Development Manager at Allied Media Projects.
I have long witnessed the creativity and ingenuity of Palestinian youth organizers working for the liberation of our people with little to no money. Today, this phenomenon continues amidst the nightmarish Israeli genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.
I’m a Palestinian with an organizing background, and I’m also a fundraising professional whose role for the past three years has been to support resource mobilizing efforts for BIPOC-led grassroots groups making media for liberation. I have long witnessed the creativity and ingenuity of Palestinian youth organizers working for the liberation of our people with little to no money. Today, this phenomenon continues amidst the nightmarish Israeli genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.
During this time, many have been asking what they can do to support Palestinians. My answer has been that folks should think about where their own individual capacity can be maximized and then do that thing—for example, writers or artists can focus their energies on engaging their audiences through their creative work, organizations can mobilize their constituents to call in, activists can plan actions, and so on.
Statements of support are useful, but they work best as a starting point for further action and are not to be confused with action in and of itself.
One recent statement, issued by the newly-formed Funders4Ceasefire, points to the “importance of providing immediate funding for emergency response, as well as flexible core funding (without donor-imposed restrictions) to support Palestinian civil society for the long-term.” But how many of the funders, individual donors, and philanthropy professionals who signed the statement have put their money where their mouth is? And what of Palestinians who are organizing for justice in these funders’ own communities?
More importantly, what good does a statement on the importance of providing funding do without building any mechanisms to distribute it?
Move money to impacted communities doing grassroots organizing justice
To North American funders who work to financially sustain our movements for justice in the US: There is an urgent need for you to maximize your capacity and actively work to ensure that funds can reach Palestinian-led, especially Palestinian youth-led, organizing in the diaspora.
The imperative to fund organizing work is clear. We have heard calls from people in Gaza that putting major energies into fundraising for aid is, at best, misguided and, at worst, detrimental when those energies could be better used towards mobilizing for tangible change.
Although aid is absolutely needed, due to Israel’s siege only a tiny fraction of the aid donated has entered the Gaza Strip, and often, what makes it in is not distributed properly or able to be used (reports of United Nations Relief and Works Agency hoarding supplies that are desperately needed or distributing flour with no way for people to bake with it, abound).
These critiques parallel growing dialogue from Palestinian civil society to reshape funding paradigms, fighting for a shift away from reliance on foreign conditional, restricted, and aid-based giving towards unrestricted funding mechanisms to support Palestinians as they resist the occupation and build power. Groups like BuildPalestine (whose international conference on the topic was originally scheduled for October 7 and 8) have begun to ideate and organize toward longer-term shifts in the funding landscape for Palestinians in Palestine and move away from reliance on international funding.
With all of this in mind, it is clear that North American funders who are serious about achieving a permanent ceasefire, an end to Israel’s siege and occupation, and ultimately an end to this genocide have a clear way they can maximize their capacity for support in this moment that goes beyond aid (though they should continue to be attentive to directives from Gazan and other Palestinian communities on how people on the ground would like to receive financial support). They must do what we all know they have the capacity to do, what we all saw them do in 2020 and 2021: Find ways to move unrestricted funds to the most impacted communities who are doing grassroots organizing for justice in their own backyards, to Palestinians fighting for justice from within the North American diaspora.
I don’t mean to romanticize the 2020-21 period, as it’s well documented that while we saw an increase in this type of giving generally, the majority of the funds distributed during this time period did not, in fact, go to BIPOC-led racial justice organizing.
It also didn’t last—today, in 2023, funding of this type has largely dried up, leaving difficult budget gaps for racial justice organizers to navigate. But what this time period demonstrated to us is that funders do have the capacity to make unrestricted funds available to impacted front-line organizers quickly and to center their work and leadership in their giving priorities.
Diaspora Palestinian youth organizers have long faced serious barriers to accessing funding for their work. Palestinian youth have found themselves here in the US because they or their families, at some point, have experienced genocidal violence at the hands of the Israeli state. Like other youth organizers, they often struggle with overstretched capacities and limited fundraising experience, and their work and processes are often emergent and not professionalized.
But there is also a more significant barrier to funding for Palestinian youth: rampant racism and Islamophobia from funders (both institutional and individual) who might feel more comfortable funding white- or Jewish-led anti-Zionist organizing rather than organizing led by a group of majority Arabs and Muslims, especially youth. (Consider that funding for the largest Jewish-led group organizing towards justice in Palestine outpaced funding to the largest Palestinian-led organization by a factor of three in 2021, with other Palestinian-led groups that are leading this work on a national level operating on even slimmer budgets—though to be sure none of the budgets of organizations in our movement begin to approach the funding available to Zionist lobbyists!)
During my time as a student Palestine organizer, we put together massive national and regional conferences on shoestring budgets, bringing hundreds of anti-Zionist students of all backgrounds together and housing everyone in rows of sleeping bags on dorm room floors. We paid for our divestment campaign using bake sale money, flipping grocery store cupcakes and Zaatar-infused Pillsbury rolls in the student center (what student organizer has the time to bake enough cookies to bankroll a divestment campaign?!), and were forced to work against paid, professional Zionist campaigners from outside of our university who were giving away free food to anyone who would vote against our referendum. (We still won.)
It was a microcosm of the larger landscape, where those organizing for Palestinian justice work on meager budgets in the face of Israeli lobby groups that are spending upwards of $100 million to sway Democratic Party leaders in their favor. This leads to burnout and a revolving door of dedicated students and youth who constantly need to reinvent the wheel.
Doing this work was frightening then when Zionists would show up at all of our events to stand in the corner taking grainy closeups of our faces using digital zoom; a week later, maybe a smear piece would pop up on a shady website. It is infinitely more frightening and dangerous now amidst an active genocide.
The thing about genocide is the world allows it to happen because the powers that be produce significant support for it—there are logics at play that work to justify the mass killing of people in the service of settler colonialism and war profiteering under the pretext of “security.” We must remember that those global logics are, in large part, being manufactured right here in the United States, whether through biased and inaccurate media reporting, through lies and racist rhetoric peddled by politicians, including the president, or through university hearings peddling baseless claims that widespread “calls for genocide” are being made against Jewish students in order to detract from the actual, genocidal violence that is actively being perpetrated against Palestinians, especially Gazans, on a global scale.
As a result, diaspora Palestinians—particularly youth organizers—are being targeted with severe and life-threatening violence or being arrested en masse on their own university campuses. This happens because that’s how genocide works: it fabricates logics of violence and dehumanization against the target population, wherever they are.
For these reasons, the voices and leadership of Palestinian youth, including diaspora youth, are crucial at this moment. Youth organizers are always the most visionary and the most vulnerable. And they need funds to help sustain their work and livelihoods amidst the current crisis and in the aftermath. It feels absurd to need to explain all of this after all the lessons of the past few years and to see how the same people who so diligently attended anti-racist book clubs are suddenly incapable of applying any of those logics to Palestinians. But again, I suppose that’s how genocide works.
With all of this in mind, I would like to humbly offer a few suggestions for our sector:
Funders, very simply: Give Palestinian organizers your money.
- Funders4Ceasefire would be a great jumping-off point for a series of accessible rapid response funds, or a pooled fund, to support Palestinian youth-led organizing.
- A proactive outreach strategy, including an open call and an easy-to-navigate/low-barrier application process without any reporting requirements, are both necessary.
- Do not make publicly identifying grantees a prerequisite to receiving funds, as this can further endanger already vulnerable Palestinian youth.
- It would be useful to have a trustworthy, anti-Zionist fiscal sponsor on deck who can help set people up quickly if needed, as many are working in grassroots coalitions or networks.
- Ensure your review panels for this initiative are majority (or entirely) Palestinian.
- Take lessons from 2021 and start planning from the beginning to help ensure that funding continues to be accessible to sustainably support these groups beyond this moment of crisis. Note that support for emergent, youth-led organizing is vastly overlooked and urgently requires funding, but long-term support for Palestinian-led organizations of all sizes is needed.
Allied non-profits who are fighting for Palestinian liberation (especially those that are led by or center white and Jewish anti-Zionist allies) who have strong fundraising programs: Do some funder organizing!
- Work from an “abundance mindset” to direct individual donations to Palestinian youth organizers. Encourage your donors to match their gifts to you with a donation of equal or greater value to local Palestinian youth organizing groups in their areas. (Most major Universities have a student organization that could probably use some funding.)
- Guide the foundations that support your efforts towards supporting Palestinian-led work as well, if they aren’t already.
- Strategize internally about how you might redistribute some of your own funds to Palestinian-led organizing.
As this article is aimed at North American funders, I would like to offer the below list of vetted Palestinian-led organizations working for justice in the United States. The list is in no way exhaustive, and support for groups outside of this list is crucial as well. Many smaller local coalitions, grassroots organizing pods, or chapters of the below larger groups have been working for years or have recently emerged and are doing brilliant rapid-response work in their own communities, and I urge readers to do what they can to support those efforts, to say nothing of Palestinian organizing abroad. Still, this is a list of trusted organizations with a long track record of doing essential work in this movement nationally.
Leila Abdelrazaq (she/her) is a Chicago-born Palestinian author, artist, organizer, and a Development Manager at Allied Media Projects. Her debut graphic novel, Baddawi (Just World Books, 2015), was shortlisted for the 2015 Palestine Book Awards and has been translated into three languages, and she has exhibited and published her work around the world. As Development Manager at AMP, Leila works to help direct resources to movements and media for liberation, using her skills as a storyteller to provide support to over 120 fiscally sponsored projects on their grant proposals and fundraising strategies. She was president of her chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul University from 2012-2014, and has been involved in Palestine, abolitionist, and cultural organizing in various formal and informal capacities since 2011. Leila earned her MA in Modern Middle Eastern & North African Studies from the University of Michigan in 2020, where her research focused on Palestinian futurist art and post-national imaginaries.