The Do Gooders

Uncovering the dark side of Western aid in Palestine.

The Do Gooders Chloe and Lubna set out to uncover the dark side of foreign aid in Palestine. Has the aid given to Palestinians actually helped to maintain the status quo of their occupation by Israel? They observe that altruism can sometimes be cynical.
"Forty five million dollars was spent on this pumping station, we knew this was going to fail", explains a Palestinian engineer working for USAID. Although USAID spends close to a billion dollars on Palestine, "Palestinians are left with only one aquifer, while Israel has the rest", divulges the engineer. As he expands, a facade is arguably in action, for "the aquifers of Palestine are being used more by Israel, than the Palestinians", despite the funding.

"Palestinians don't need aid to enable them to live under occupation, they need the occupation to end". Chloe's guide Lubna insists. She believes aid to be "institutionalised, de-politicised, and used as a shackle to maintain the status quo".

Aid nevertheless comes in many forms to Palestine. Chloe visits 'gap year' volunteers. These "internationals", deal not with challenging occupation, but in giving other forms of aid, including "dance classes", "spiritual gardening", and "women's conversation classes". With more volunteers in Palestine than anywhere else in the world, Chloe asserts "it all looks like a summer camp for gap year students looking for an adventure"; not a struggle for freedom.

"Give me water for my land, not flour and lentils," a farmer says, as he gazes at his UN food aid teeming with weevils. Visiting the farmer whose land is now dust, the gap between intention and result is apparent. In an Israeli settlement only a few hundred metres away, water is abundant. Chloe is left wondering, that although aid can be altruistic, it can conversely be a cynical piece of PR; more about perceptions than actually doing good.


Laurel Official Selection: BFI London Film Festival 2013

The Producers

Chloe Ruthven’s first feature, Mario and Nini, followed two nine-year-old boys over five years, as she struggled to help them find alternatives to a life of crime. The film premiered at Sheffield Documentary Festival in 2008, and bought by Sky 1, where it was widely reviewed. Her second feature, Death of a Hedgefund Salesman, which looked at the banking crisis through her oldest friend turned chancer, won the Best Newcomer Award at Open City Docs in 2011. The Do Gooders is her third feature. When not making films, Chloe works with disadvantaged young people across London schools. In 2011 she started The Quadrangle Film Festival with a group of fellow filmmakers.

Making The Film

Chloe Ruthven’s grandparents were aid workers in Palestine. Growing up, she had avoided getting too involved in the subject, recalling how mention of the country made all the adults in her life angry. In her forties, after revisiting her grandmother’s book on the subject, she starts to research a documentary on the effects of foreign aid in the area and is shocked at the continued reliance on it there. Along the way she meets Lubna, a Palestinian woman who acts as her driver and fixer, and who is fiercely critical of Western aid efforts in her country. What begins as a quest to better understand her family history turns into a deeply emotional account of two women trying to understand one another. Ruthven’s determination to focus her film on deeply subjective analysis results in a unique joining of the acutely personal and complexly political.

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