Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2008, pages 60-61

Human Rights

ANERA Celebrates 40th Anniversary

  • Honored at the gala were (l-r) Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm, ANERA vice chair, Dr. Hadi Salem, Joseph Nahra, D. Joseph Asfour and chair Curtis Brand (along with Orin Parker, who was unable to attend) (Staff photo D. Hanley).

AMERICAN NEAR East Refugee Aid (ANERA) celebrated 40 years of commitment to Palestinians and the Middle East at its 2008 annual dinner and fund-raiser on Oct. 10 at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC. ANERA is a leading American non-governmental fund-raising organization active in the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza), Lebanon and Jordan. Its mission is to create opportunity and hope for people in the Middle East by improving health care and education, and stimulating job creation.

After the Six-Day War in 1967, attorney Jim Sams, now deceased, of the Arab Emergency Relief Committee, along with his wife, Betty (see photo), and American Friends of the Middle East’s (AFME) Executive Vice President Orin Parker realized there was a need to coordinate relief efforts for a new generation of Palestinian refugees. Gazing gratefully at the sea of 500 donors gathered in the ballroom, Betty recalled ANERA’s first dinner—in the Sams’ dining room.

  • ANERA president Bill Corcoran (l) and Betty Sams (Staff photo D. Hanley).

ANERA was launched to consolidate charities into a single fund-raising organization—tax-exempt, non-political and based in Washington, DC. Some of the individuals who helped from the beginning—a mix of Arab Americans and Americans with backgrounds in the corporate and non-governmental communities—were honored at the dinner (see photo).

Noted author and journalist Barbara Slavin, now Washington Times assistant managing editor for world and national security, served as mistress of ceremony and also “interviewed” Rabah Odeh, ANERA’s Nablus Area director, who described ANERA’s water projects.

ANERA works with local communities on both large-scale water projects, such as building reservoirs, as well as smaller projects, like installing roof tanks on top of homes. ANERA has built 177 water cisterns, Odeh said, and is building or repairing water networks and pipelines in the West Bank and Gaza. Salt water is seeping into Gaza’s fresh water, he warned, and Gazans can’t afford bottled water. In the West Bank, more than 225,000 homes are not connected to a water network. Palestinians pay a high price for water delivery ($9 per cubic foot) versus piped water ($1 per cubic foot), Odeh said. (Volunteers passed around red water buckets to collect funds to support more water projects.)

ANERA and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) signed a “Cooperative Agreement” making ANERA responsible for implementing the Emergency Water and Sanitation and Other Infrastructure Program in the West Bank and Gaza. The $50 million program, which began on Oct. 1, 2008, will span five years.

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader—who credits his Palestinian father, Omar Kader, and his Mormon mother, Nancy, with giving him so many reasons to become a comedian—provided hilarity. A wonderful film directed by Nisa Sinnokrot (who also directed “Palestine Blues”) documented ANERA’s work. All of ANERA’s projects, including building or repairing schools and hospitals, also provide badly needed employment to Palestinians. For more information or to make a donation visit ANERA’s Web site: <www.anera.org>.

Delinda C. Hanley