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WATCH: The Do Gooders
Wrong Kind of Green
February 4, 2015
by Lisa Intee
‘NGOs are increasingly motivated by self interest, they need money, they need to pay themselves in their jobs and in order to get those contracts they have to keep quiet about what’s going on and that’s really shitty to see. What they are doing is talking about it as a humanitarian crisis, when in fact what we have is a people where every aspect of their lives is being militarily and economically controlled and oppressed,’ said Ruthven.
This documentary was worth watching. The film maker, Chloe Ruthven, seems unclear about her aims in the documentary, nonetheless it is revealing. As one review put it: “As an investigative documentary, The Do Gooders is a failure. As a depiction of an interfering foreigner failing to help anyone, it’s a curiously honest account of the state of the world. The possibility that it doesn’t mean to be is even more revealing.”
Chloe begins by discussing the work her grandparents did as aid workers in Palestine and it seems that she is making a film about retracing their steps and examining the aid workers in Palestine today. It shows a place saturated with ‘internationals’, ranging from gap year style youths to bloggers and journalists, imposing either their ideas or cameras on people. It seems there is a whole industry set up to manage all this- from organisations to manage volunteers to bars and restaurants for foreigners to meet and mingle in after a day’s voluntourism. On a whole other level, there are the large ‘aid’ groups like USAID driving around in fancy cars funding dubious projects.
The direction then changes as the film maker hires Lubna, a Palestinian woman, to drive her and translate for her. Chloe stays in Lubna’s home in her bed, leaving Lubna to sleep on a mat on the floor whilst continually pointing her camera at Lubna. We then get to see the situation from the point of view of a Palestinian. Lubna makes a lot of remarks to Chloe that are insightful. She tells her “You are always interviewing white people” and takes her to interview Palestinian people. Lubna’s insight and comments and Chloe’s reactions are what make this documentary so revealing. Whilst Chloe shows the aid industry to be a self-serving sham for the most part, her own sense of entitlement is also revealing. When Lubna meets other Palestinian people and speaks to them in Arabic, Chloe feels left out and has a temper tantrum and storms off in tears. The comments Lubna has made along the lines of (paraphrasing) “why don’t you learn Arabic if you want to spend time here?” and (again paraphrasing) “I don’t think you see your white privilege” seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
Towards the end, there is more questioning regarding the aquifers and road-building, showing the absolute injustices that Palestinians face. Lubna and Chloe then visit a community organisation run by Palestinian women who have refused funding as the funding comes with ties to it. This appears to be a rare example of a grassroots organisation. One reviewer (see below for link) points out: “At the moment there are 144 humanitarian organisations working in Palestine, of which 51 are UN agencies, 78 international NGOs and only 15 local organisations. Any local organisations require a number of internationals on their board to be deemed legit and get funding.”
What particularly stood out for me were two comments Lubna made. The first was along the lines of “Why do you come here to help, we don’t need help – we need Israel to stop occupying our land, why don’t you become activists in your own countries?” The second and most poignant was when Lubna sees a settlement for the first time and the contrast between the dry land and the irrigated and watered land in the settlement is acute. They are in a park in a settlement and the grass is green, there are trees and the houses look like expensive villas. Lubna is clearly in shock, biting back tears and says very simply: “This is apartheid”.