For centuries, mosques in the West Bank have been running informal voluntary
committees charged with the administration of donations from local communities.
In the 1970s, the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf started to formally establish some of
these committees as ‘zakat committees’ under Jordanian zakat law. These voluntary zakat
committees continued to run charitable projects funded by the local community, and
gradually accessed funding from Muslim communities in the West and in Gulf states as
well. They thus remained independent from traditional North American and European
sources of funding, such as development agencies.
This working paper is the result of a short research project of the Centre on Conflict,
Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP). The objective of this paper is to provide a detailed
account of the zakat committees in the local context of the West Bank by relying mainly on
Palestinian sources and the internal political debate. The zakat committees have evolved
in a changing socio-political context under Israeli occupation and successive Jordanian and
Palestinian authority. This working paper explores how political shifts in recent years have
led in particular to the politicization of their role. Based on information gathered, the author
concludes that since their establishment, the West Bank zakat committees were, by and
large, tactful and efficient grassroots organizations that strengthened local response systems
and self-reliance while minimizing dependency and victimhood.
The political split between Fatah and Hamas, which politically separated the West Bank
from the Gaza Strip in 2007, influenced the governance of the zakat committees. In 2007,
the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) reformed the zakat system in the West Bank
and centralized the West Bank zakat committees under its tight control. Currently, Hamas’
Gaza government and the Fatah’s West Bank government maintain their respective positions
that the zakat committees in Gaza and the West Bank remain independent today. However,
official and media reports and anecdotal evidence have raised suspicions that this
independence has been compromised by political developments occurring since the Hamas
victory in the 2006 election of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), and especially after
the institutional separation of the West Bank and Gaza in June 2007. If this is indeed the
case in both territories, there are two possible outcomes. Either we may witness the
progressive politicization of the zakat committees under two separate administrations and
along party-political lines, or the emergence of new social coalitions whose common ground
would include the preservation and restoration of the independence of the zakat committees.