THE TRADITION OF COMMUNITY ORGANIZING IN PALESTINE
Like all other peoples and the places where they live, Palestine is unique. One component that tends to set Palestine apart is the level of community organizing that lies at the core of the culture. The country's chronic political instability that regularly shapes fundamental institutions such as education and human rights, has compelled the Palestinian people to most often turn to the grassroots to solve problems. Unlike in the West, where functioning central governments work to ensure stability and the public good, there has been no such centralized governmental presence throughout most of Palestine's history. Long ago, Palestinians realized that to meet the basic needs of life and beyond, they would depend on their ability to locally organize communities. As Palestine has moved inexorably toward nationhood, the long-missing central government has finally begun to emerge. Dynamic national leaders and, more importantly, national institutions are starting to take hold. Still, community organizing remains at the center of any policy decision and its implementation.
According to the Marin Institute, one leading think tank that focuses on grassroots movements, "Community organizing is a long-term approach where the people affected by an issue are supported in identifying problems and taking action to achieve solutions. The organizer challenges those he or she works with to change the way things are—it is a means of achieving social change through collective action by changing the balance of power. The tactics and strategies employed by the organizer are similar to the processes of leadership including timing the issue, deliberate planning, getting the attention of the populace, framing the issue in terms of the desired solution, and shaping the terms of the decision-making process."5
Community organizing brings voices to add collective power and strengthens an issue. It is a key part of an overall strategy to make changes in a community that are widely felt, and that reflects the wishes of the people. This requires the organizer to not only listen and be responsive to the community, but also to help community residents develop the skills necessary to address their own issues in a sustainable manner. At the heart of community organizing are inclusion, ownership, relationship building, and leadership development. Community organizing looks at collective solutions—large numbers of people who engage in solutions that impact even more people. These people usually live in the same neighborhood, town, or block.
Community organizing begins here, with the need to address the local need, through developing the local industry and enhancing the skills of the workforce in order to create firms that are capable of competing locally, growing larger, and entering new markets. In order to grow an industry and develop the capacity of its employees, massive investments are needed. The question remains whether the national economy of Palestine, or the government, which relies on foreign aid to cover its public needs and expenses, will be able to properly fund economic development. Community organizing in Palestine has always been at the forefront of political, economic, and social change. As a centralized government has taken root as a result of the Oslo agreement with the Israelis in 1996, the Palestinian economy became one of the major areas of focus for many community organizers.
To better understand the context of community organizing within Palestine, it is necessary to briefly explore environmental factors (economic, political, and social) of the area.