New Zealand economist works with Palestinian entrepreneur on Middle East peace

Hoping to alleviate some of the misery of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a New Zealand-based organization and a Palestinian tech entrepreneur want to develop the first tool to accurately measure human rights in the region.

Bassma Ali came to New Zealand in 2019 on the Edmund Hillary Fellowship when she met Anne-Marie Brook, co-founder of the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI).

Ali had co-founded GGateway to provide tech jobs for young people in Gaza, a company that was featured in Time magazine as a solution to the high unemployment rate there.

When she returned home to Gaza from New Zealand, and was surrounded by escalating conflict, she wondered what she could do to help.

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Ali approached Brook, offering to help expand the HRMI – which measures civil and political rights in 39 countries, including Aotearoa – to a part of the world relegated to the basket too difficult at that time, in part due to the complexity of dealing with three governments. regional authorities.

Many people are surprised that the United Nations, an intergovernmental body, doesn’t already collect key human rights data, Brook said.

Bassma Ali, who lives in Gaza, is working with HRMI to develop a survey measuring human rights in Palestine-Israel.


Bassma Ali, who lives in Gaza, is working with HRMI to develop a survey measuring human rights in Palestine-Israel.

“It’s the kind of information that governments don’t collect themselves, and the UN doesn’t collect because it’s politically sensitive.

“Governments generally don’t want to tell you how many people have been mistreated by the police, for example, what qualifies as torture and ill-treatment, and even if they want to, there will be under-reporting.”

Ali hoped that accurately measuring human rights and telling stories about the experiences of people in Israel and Palestine would make a difference in the face of a very complex issue.

“The idea is to get people to agree from other angles, because in the current situation with the current exchange of information between the two parties, we have been stuck in conflicts [with a] very miserable human rights status for Palestinians and sometimes also for Israelis,” Ali said.

“For too long this has been dehumanizing for each other. Maybe more information from both sides who really want to see peace happen will make things easier. Maybe that won’t 100% resolve , but I think it’s one step on a journey of a thousand miles that we should begin.

Ali said it was something that had never been done before, despite the huge impact the conflict had on civilians who had no access to resources like clean water, whose movement was restricted and who were denied other human rights.

“It has caused illegal immigration, many casualties or many deaths, or lives taken during these armed conflicts, and many disabilities in the community,” she said.

“Always the news [features] the politics, the conflicts, the victims in the army or in the resistance in Palestine, but no one talks about human rights – why the Palestinians are doing this, and why the Israelis are doing this, what their lives are like.

“No organization has identified the framework and agrees that Israelis and Palestinians work together to measure human rights performance, so that the perceptions of both parties are reflected in the same platform, based on qualitative data.”


“One of the things we’re saying is that what gets measured gets better,” says Anne-Marie Brook, co-founder of HRMI.

With the help of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship, they hoped to raise $38,000 through the Open Collective platform in the first step towards developing a survey specifically developed for the region. The first survey should take place in 2024, if all goes as planned.

“In the Palestinian-Israeli region you have three government authorities – you have one in Israel, one in Gaza, one in the West Bank, so our normal investigation, we can’t just deploy it in Palestine-Israel like we can in the rest of the world,” Brook said.

Ali would be the Palestinian co-lead of the project, with an Israeli co-lead, and the two would facilitate the design of the survey along with other representatives from Palestine and Israel.

“The goal, as with all of our work, is to produce really robust, nuanced data that people on both sides of the border, so to speak, can agree to accurately capture the situation,” Brook said.

Launched about five years ago, HRMI tracks countries’ performance on 13 different rights as defined by international human rights law. It was gradually spreading across the world and will cover more than half of the world’s population by next year, she said.

“One of the things we’re saying is what gets measured gets better, and I think having HRMI independent of governments is really key,” Brook said.

“Everyone is surprised that the UN doesn’t do something like this. I think the UN is very well intentioned, but it’s an intergovernmental organization, so anything the UN does becomes very politicized.