Robin Young
WBUR
December 15, 2008 - 12:00am
http://www.here-now.org/shows/2008/12/20081215_13.asp


American Charities for Palestine founder Dr. Ziad Asali was interviewed by host Robin Young on WBUR’s “Here and Now” program, December 15, 2008.

WBUR: The temporary truce between Hamas and Israel runs out this week so there is suddenly more tension in the Middle East, and many American Muslims are watching closely. Muslims have a religious obligation to help the less fortunate, but that got more complicated last month when the leaders of the Holy Land Foundation, once the largest Muslim charity in the US, were convicted in their second trial of acting as a front for Palestinian terrorists like Hamas. So now, many American Muslims wonder how they can be sure that their charity donations don't fall into the wrong hands.

Well, Dr. Ziad Asali, a retired physician who founded the American Task Force on Palestine, has been working for several years on a solution. He recently signed an agreement with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) so that Muslims can safely donate to Palestinian educational and health institutions in the West Bank. Dr Asali joins on the phone from Washington, D.C.

Dr Asali, Welcome.

Asali: Thank you, Thank you for having me.

WBUR: How does the new relationship work and how do you think it will help Muslims safely donate to institutions in the Palestinian Occupied Territories?

Asali: We had to solve two problems together at the same time with the same vehicle. We had to assure the donors in this country that their donation is safe, and it has to go through a respected official and formal body like the United States or one of its agencies. That's one. The other is that we really had to deliver the level of vetting and security that is needed to be done on the ground by USAID officials in the West Bank and Gaza.

WBUR: Well for instance, we know that you just returned from taking your first donation to Palestinian students, of a 1,000 laptop computers. Where do the computers go? The West Bank?

Asali: To the West Bank. To five different schools in the West Bank. The Ministry of Education for the Palestinians worked very closely with us to choose the recipient schools and students.

WBUR: I'm guessing in this instance that, for instance, Doctor, if you wanted to bring the computers to Gaza, to where Hamas is based, it would have been more problematic.

Asali: It would have been much more problematic, because actually USAID presently does not work in Gaza.

WBUR: USAID has told us that money from Muslim charities will go to programs already underway and well known. For instance, you've told us that there's a Palestinian-American businessman in Texas who wants to donate $100,000 for street lights in the town that he was born. Is this something that will be happening?

Asali: Yes, yes, it's happening. I have already contacted USAID. They are very excited about this. This is the essence of what we are trying to do, to give a secure vehicle for donors to have a sense that this is legitimate and that it is okay.

WBUR: Well, you've said that, and others have said that, the Muslim community is divided over the fairness of the conviction of the Dallas-based charity and its leaders. But how are your donors feeling now knowing that the American government is going to have to vet and okay their donations?

Asali: Well, we'll find out. We'll find out. Clearly this gentleman from Texas feels very comforted that he really wants to help his village and he hs $100,000 to give, and this is a more or less headache-free vehicle for him. I'm sure there are people who would object. I think that there is a sense in general that the community, the Arab American and Muslim community in the United States, has been painted with a very wide brush when it comes to suspicion and questions of bias and prejudice. So they feel on the defensive, and the general system here, including official policies, have not been very favorable to these communities. But now we are in a situation where we are anxious to help the Palestinian people in their present economic depression.

WBUR: Well, we should mention that in the Holy Land Foundation case, again the Dallas case, the government publically named more than 300 people and organizations, American Muslim organizations, as unindicted co-conspirators. They were not allowed to hear the evidence against them or defend themselves in court.

Asali: That's the sort of thing that scares and spooks the community, of course. What we need to do is to give an assurance, without guarantees. People have to see this for what it is and evaluate whether they really want to help and donate, or not. Time will tell.

WBUR: Dr Ziad Asali, the founder and President of the American Task Force on Palestine and now the American Charities for Palestine. For more information go to our website here-now.org. Dr Asali, thank you very much.

Asali: Thank you.




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