chapter  7
23 Pages

Zakat and Islamic charities in the West Bank

In view of the complexity framework, what happens at the lowest level is of great significance as it is here where the most effective patterns for sustainable interaction will occur (Rihani, 2002: 136). Societal interaction over time creates knowledge which induces adaptability to the circumstances confronting them. A natural and somewhat successful part of this process of self-organisation has been the setting up of charities, welfare systems and the design of social policies, all emerging from within a locality and providing socioeconomic protection within their given environment. As previously noted, Muslim societies throughout history have attempted to instil ethical and charitable values through a variety of processes revolving around the meanings of khayr, sadaqa and particularly zakat. Considering the conditions in the oPt, charitable mechanisms are most welcome given the levels of poverty that exist. Nevertheless, as asserted, the oPt suffers from a continuation of restrictive policies that has placed it within a stable but rigid framework. This is particularly evident in regards to the highly politicised and securitised nature in which regulations (from the macro and through local levels) have targeted Islamic charities in the oPt. Without the autonomy or even flexibility obtained by government and non-government actors in Iran and Lebanon for example, it has impacted upon the ability of local communities to attend to local needs and also caused an implantation of development schemes designed to replace the Islamic models, many of which have a distinct lack of local knowledge. In Chapter 4, attention was drawn to the emergence of both secular and Islamic political movements in the oPt, reflecting upon their social role under occupation. However, the roots of Palestinian Islamic charity can be traced back to the establishing of waqf in the post-Crusade period where land obtained by sultans was given religious status in order to raise revenues to finance their upkeep (see Assi, 2008: 380-385). During the Ottoman period both private and public1 waqf gained in both size and status, and were developed in cities and towns such as Jerusalem, Gaza, Nablus and in places that are now part of Israel like Ramla and Lydda (Peri, 1992: 167). The awqaf built and maintained mosques, developed education and provided charity, essentially offering the functions of what would now be a municipality in the territories. Over the centuries they accumulated land, property and assets, but towards the end of Ottoman

rule a general lack of regulation led to a number of them becoming overburdened by a lack of control over the amount of entitlements and therefore beneficiaries, which significantly diminished financial resources.2 Under British mandate the British government supervised the Palestinian waqf, initially through the Supreme Muslim Council (SMC) and after 1937 via an official waqf committee (see Reiter, 1996). Beyond 1967, charitable organisations in the West Bank were governed by the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf, which after 1977 began to register the larger ones as ‘zakat committees’ under Jordanian law (Schäublin, 2009: 8). Beginning with the First Intifada, Islamic charities and zakat committees in particular established themselves as a vital means to sourcing international finance, which enabled them to ‘diversify their activities’ and establish ‘nurseries, schools, childcare centres, hospitals, medical centres, specialized clinics, and job-generating projects’ (Schäublin, 2009: 16). After Oslo (1993) the PNA assumed responsibility for the Islamic charity network, and although it still adhered to the Jordanian legal formula it sought to embrace it as part of the nationalist project. By 2009 ‘effective and efficient management of zakat funds and Waqf property’ was being advocated (PNA, 2009: 21). What makes the oPt distinctive from the other examples is that attempts to implement local welfare or charitable systems (public and private) based on the Islamic ethos have succumbed to periods of intervention, war and occupation. It is because of this that their scope and ability to improve development have been affected. Although there is no evidence to suggest that what was active during the Ottoman period would have provided sufficient support to adapt to the everglobalising economy, it is important to emphasise that stemming from the aforementioned periods and ending with Israeli occupation, rigid policies have been enforced at the macro and micro level and impeded the ability of Palestinians to self-organise. Since the onset of the occupation in 1967, then, Palestinian waqf, zakat and Islamic charities have suffered numerous restrictive policies that have led to reductions in funding,3 the loss of influence and outreach through security containment, plus land seizures and cumulatively the loss of resources. Despite this, Islamic charitable mechanisms have become increasingly popular, bolstered by their relative efficiency and worsening socioeconomic conditions in the oPt.4 For example, the Hebron Charitable Association, considered one of the largest of such organisations in the West Bank,5 had an approximate expenditure of US$7 million in 2006 (Benthall, 2008: 7). As of 2008 it supported 2,500 orphans and other children affected by poverty. It has also run schools (20 per cent of the students of which paid fees) and computer labs in addition to dairy farms and a bakery (Lundblad, 2008: 208). Nevertheless, with financial resources shrinking due to the securitised situation it has taken to renting out housing and shops to raise revenue for its charitable ventures. Under current circumstances, then, Islamic charities face the task of deposing a label that restricts their interaction with Palestinian society. The securitization and politicisation of the sector, which has been propagated externally by Israel, the US and the EU, has blurred the boundaries of charitable activity by

connecting a number of zakat committees and general Islamic charities to a terrorist support network, organised by the Islamist movement Hamas.6 Hamas since its creation has emphasised charity as an integral mechanism but, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hizballah in Lebanon, it has also sought to gain political influence within the conditions in which it exists, not unlike its rival non-Islamic Palestinian organisations, such as Fatah and other actors within the PLO and PNA. However, there has been an overplaying of its influence in the charity sector, which does not reflect the complicated nature in which Islamic organisations operate within the territories and West Bank in particular. In order to understand the potential of Islamic charities within a process of selforganisation, this chapter will assess the relationship between security and the Islamic charities themselves, promoting a detailed understanding of how they have become an important part of society but continue to suffer because of the highly rigid framework in which they operate. To emphasise this point, I will provide a case study on the nature of Islamic charities in Nablus, a city in the West Bank of Palestine that witnessed an upsurge in support of Hamas during the Second Intifada.