Post #6 – When Aid Hurts

All over the world, people need help. There’s civil war in Syria, drought in Somalia, and  famine in South Sudan.

Luckily, all over the world, people willing to help. International Non-Govenmental Organizations, companies, and individuals each give their time, money, and belongings to help improve the lives of others.

We like the idea of supplying aid and assisting people in need, but what if it doesn’t help? What if it can actually make a situation worse?

The Crisis Caravan

Linda Polman is critical of the current humanitarian system in place. She doesn’t believe aid should never be given, but she does raise important questions of what our aid does and where it goes.

The title of her book, The Crisis Caravan, paints an image of the thousand aid organization that come in droves during some crisis. Throughout the book Polman argues a few things: that aid doesn’t always go to the right people, aid that is given is often not needed, and aid organizations aren’t held accountable enough.

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Linda Polman, author of The Crisis Caravan

Aid doesn’t always go to the right people

Most people view humanitarian groups as flawless, life-saving projects that bring peace and hope to every country they visit. NGOs do have the capability of saving lives, but they’re also bureaucracies that can also inadvertently prolong a conflict that puts lives in danger. Polman even describes aid organizations as “businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa.” This may seem harsh, but consider the following.

When a country is undergoing conflict, warlords, rebels, or even governments will often demand payment from humanitarian groups in exchange for access to war zones. This payment can be made in supplies or cash and can range from 15-80% of the overall worth of what you’re bringing into the country. Instead of going to the afflicted population, these large amounts on money and goods go to the “bad guys” which helps them fund and fuel further conflict.

Governments also create red-tape for organizations that won’t benefit them and sparks competition between the ones that will. With the free-market, if one government or donor says no, there will be others to say yes. Groups get “contract fever” and rush to obtain access to countries despite the potential conflicts that may arise.

NGOs aren’t proud of their potential conflicts of interests and inadvertent fundings to enemy groups because they affect the group’s image. Yet, as hard as they try to cover up their short-comings, people have caught on and are critical.

Aid given is often not needed

The people aware of the flaws in the NGO system have responded by creating their own aid organizations. MONGOs (“My Own NGO”) have become a way for the average citizen to handle a crisis in a more efficient, cost-effective way. While these groups mean well, they, like NGOs, have faults.

The biggest problems with MONGOs is that they’re often not fully aware of the needs of an area and that they’re not always qualified to help. Polman gives countless examples in her book.

Out-dated pharmaceuticals, used or unusable (winter coats in a dessert country) clothing, and expired food have not only sent, but have been sent in surplus. This is due in part to the fact that there are 150,000 registered, licensed MONGOs in the US alone and even more across the world that we have no idea about. When disaster strikes, there is almost always an army of groups ready to give: for better or worse.

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A city in the Ukraine declared a surplus of aid and asked convoys to stop sending goods

People and MONGOs that actually go out of their way and visit the afflicted location do just as much damage. Many countries don’t require documents to do work in a country; they can simply show up and get to work with a tourist visa. This can encourage unqualified work.

Most notorious is the frequent, unlicensed medical work performed by school nurses, retired hospital administrators, and med-school residents. Often times, these people go into countries thinking, “Unless we do something, no one will.” They view the little medical knowledge they have as a gift and a potential way out for those in crisis. If it goes well, great! If it doesn’t, they were probably going to die anyway, but at least we tried.

They also forget that they’re plenty of other people out there doing the exact same thing they are, and often with more professional experience. Visiting physicians might mis-diagnose a patient because they’re unfamiliar with local disease and in some regions, an afflicted individual could be seen by three separate “doctors,” each not knowing what the previous one had diagnosed or prescribed.

Overall, MONGOs mean well, but should we really assume that they’re better than establish organizations?

Aid organizations aren’t held accountable enough

NGOs and MONGOs each have their faults and we need to start pointing them out. Not to publicly shame, but to encourage progress. Journalists, the public, and governments need to be willing to ask the tough questions.

First, we much ask if aid is needed. That might sound harsh, but, in some situations, not intruding or giving aid might be the best option if it prevents becoming an involuntary collaborator to the wrong side.

If we decide aid is needed, we need to ask even more questions: what was done, why was it done, how much money was given and to whom, what is required of the workers, who’s being helped, what’s the maximum amount of missing aid an organization regards as acceptable, and what are they doing to follow up with the crisis.

Polman ends her book with a note of encouragement and a shift of focus:

If we don’t ask these questions for our own benefit, then we should ask them for the sake of the people who’ll see our next caravan move in.

 

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Post #5 – Handling Human Rights

Almost everyone has heard of “human rights” but few can define exactly what they are. When surveyed, students at the University of Missouri identified them as,

“Things that everyone is entitled to.”

“Something every single human being is entitled to at birth.”

“Rights that all humans should have.”

“The rights to be able to be happy in the life that you’re living.”

These responses, while lacking specifics, each identify the fundamental components of human rights: that everyone on earth is entitled to them and that nothing, not ethnicity, sex, or religion, can disqualify someone from having them. They’re a lovely concept and they’re nice to have, but who enforces them? According to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner,

“Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.”

If governments are in charge of upholding laws and treaties that protect human rights, what happens if a government fails to do so?

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Israel and Human Rights

Violations of

Israel’s biggest struggle with upholding human rights has to do with Palestinian relations.  As mentioned in a previous post, Israel’s government has done little to stop the building of settlements in the West Bank which the majority of the world views as Palestinian land. By supporting the construction of settlements, the Israeli government violates international law and multiple Palestinian rights including, but not limited to, the right to life, liberty, and personal security (Article 3), the right to own property (Article 17), and the freedom of belief and religion (Article 18). Because the government has not taken action against the settlements, other organizations continue to mistreat Palestinians. One of these groups are businesses. From real estate to utility suppliers, these businesses serve the settlements and contribute to the continued violation of Palestinian rights. See the Human Rights Watch video below to learn more about the relationship between businesses, Israeli settlements and the West Bank.

What about within Israel’s borders? Is there less discrimination in lands that Israel isn’t in conflict over? According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2015 Report of Human Rights Practices, Israel struggles with treating Arab citizens, women, refugees, and non-Orthodox  Jews equally. Some organizations argue that Israel is in denial of the way it treats certain groups of people living in and around its country. In fact, the Human Rights Watch issued a statement after one of their workers was denied a working permit. In the rejection letter, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that,

“[The Human Rights Watch’s] public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of “human rights”

A director at the Human Rights Watch responded by saying that Israel is either unwilling or unable to distinguish between political propaganda and justified criticism.

Defense for

Everything up to this point has made Israel seem like an evil country that robs fundamental rights away from anyone that disagrees with them. This, however, is not the case. In the same statement put out by Human Rights Watch, they stated that Israel officials frequently meet with members of the organization.

Israel also has laws that protect the rights of prisoners, the freedom of religion, and the freedom of speech and press. LGBT rights in Israel are also considered the most tolerant in the Middle East.

In general, Israel has laws in place to protect rights of citizens and other people living in the country. Yet, like many countries in the world, how well the laws are enforced and executed are a different story.

Going Beyond Eurocentrism

Farish Noor defines eurocentrism as a form of ethnocentrism, a form of cultural superiority. In our global network, the dominate culture is often Western: McDonald’s golden arches are on almost every continent, English is the main language used in international interactions, and many countries are now experimenting with democracy and capitalism.

Western culture isn’t inherently bad, but problems begin to occur when we view “European identity as good and all other forms as less good or less advanced” (51).

The title of Noor’s chapter, “Beyond Eurocentrism, the need for a multicultural understanding of human rights,” suggests that, to truly understand the world and what rights people are entitled to, we need to stop using European ideals and values as our standard for comparison.

Non-European countries may have different values and morals, but that doesn’t make them worse. By some scholar’s standards, they may even be better. For example, most Asian countries value community over self unlike the self-centered drive of Western countries. Noor argues that getting rid of our Eurocentric mindset will increase our understanding of why people do things, where each of us is coming from, and possible help us establish better, more inclusive, human rights.

 

Post #4 – Environmental Challenges and Progress

Earth is big. It has a volume of approximately 260 billion cubic miles and a surface area of around 197 million square miles. Seventy-one percent of the planet is covered by water and 29 percent by land.

Earth is also small. Planes fly across continents, ships transport products across oceans and technology connects people from different nations. Almost everyone and everything is interconnected.

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Earth is a shared planet. Interconnectedness drives up the standard of living, educates citizens and results in a happier and healthier population. While these beneficial things are capable of transcending borders, so are the unfavorable. Examples of the latter is global climate change, mass extinction, the depletion of clean water and the overall decline of our planet.

Since Earth is a small, big-planet, things that affect one country affects all others, and Israel is not exempt.

Environmental Concerns

Its small size and lack of resources puts Israel at a high risk for environmental crisis. One of the biggest issues in the area is access to water. The arid climate of the region led to the construction of the “National Water Carrier,” a pipeline that runs water from Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and the mountains into cities and supplies Israel with 73% of its water. Because of this technology, Israel is considered a global super-power when it comes to water innovation.

The above video highlights the positives of Israel’s current system, but it ignores the negative, long-term environmental effects. First, in order for the pipeline to work, the southern outlet of Lake Kinneret had to be dammed off. This has resulted in the southern Jordan River and the Dead Sea receiving less fresh water which has increased the salinity of both bodies. It has also caused a drastic change in the Dead Sea’s water level, which is declining at the rate of 1.2 meters a year. Second, since the transported Kinneret water is saltier than the groundwater it is replacing, crop production has suffered. Finally, counter to what the video says, Israeli’s overuse water by one billion cubic meters a year. All of these factors are quickly making the National Water Carrier, and all the progress Israel has made, obsolete.

Another environmental issue facing Israel is air pollution. In recent decades, the number of Israeli citizens who own and drive cars has increased, and as a result, so has air pollution.

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Air pollution in the Israel’s industrial region of Haifa Bay

Environmental Progress

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry is the main authority on the country’s environmental issues and policies, but there are other groups and initiatives in the country making a difference.

First, to try and combat the air pollution epidemic, the bay city of Haifa has declared a “Clean Air Zone” in the center of the city. This zone prohibits high-polluting vehicles like diesel trucks from driving in more densely populated areas. In response, Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry has urged other cities to do the same.

Another group in the country is the Jewish National Fund. The JNF has planted over 240 million trees in Israel and built dams and reservoirs to collect the little rain water the country does get. And while the progress these groups are making in Israel is fantastic, its only a start. In order for stable, global change and a better world, Israel and other countries need to do more.

More could mean better regulations, higher standards or even just simple attempts to reduce waste. A step in the right direction is progress. This can be achieved through international cooperation and through organizations like the UN. In general, more developed countries aren’t willing to make changes which therefore discourages even less developed countries from doing the same. What we need is for countries like the United States to follow through with what they say they’re going to do about climate change and set the precedent in our big, small world.

Post #3 – Nationalism and Inequality

Nationalism is defined by pride in one’s country. You can show your love of country by attending sporting matches, celebrating national holidays or even wearing patriotic clothing. It can be buying local to help the economy or even as simple as voting. When taken to the extreme, it can be treating certain groups of people unfairly because they don’t fit your archetype of people that helped build your country. It can also be acts of terror on other nations. Fareed Zakaria argues in The Post-American World that as nationalism increases, states will be “less willing to come together and solve common problems” (32). However, even small amounts of nationalism can cause problems in a country.

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A political cartoon depicting radical nationalism (Thiwawat “Mor” Pattaragulwanit, Bangkok Post, June 30, 2008)

In many ways, one could argue that nationalism and inequality go hand in hand. One group’s feeling of nationalist superiority over another can lead to discrimination: something Israel is familiar with.

Nationalism

The most traditional form of nationalism in Israel is Zionism. Zionism was originally a movement for Jewish people to relocate and reclaim the historic Land Of Israel, but since Israel became a state again in 1948, Zionists have primarily focused on the protection and preservation of Israel. At their core, Zionist Jews aren’t much different than Indigenous groups across the world.

In Indigenous culture, place is more than a possession, place is a relationship (Coulthard). Losing land is more than dispossession, it’s a feeling of displacement. Many Jews have the same feeling and connection to the area around Jerusalem. However, these feelings have been the driving force behind actions that most of the word looks down upon. As mentioned in Post #1, Israel has started building settlements in areas that do not belong to them.

Nationalism is not inherently a bad thing; it can rally a country together and accomplish some really great things. The issue with nationalism is the inherent exclusivity of it. Besides the building of settlements, what are some other affects and consequences of nationalism in Israel?

Inequality

Economic

In general, Israel has seen a decline in poverty and income inequality. Each year from 2007 to 2013, the country’s Gini coefficient declined and so did the percent of people living in poverty. These accomplishments are great, but Israel is still the most unequal of the 34 nations studied by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

According to the study, Israel’s top 10% made 14.9 times more than its bottom 10, an increase from previous year and much higher than the average 9.6 of the other countries studied. Also, while Israel’s Gini coefficient decreased between 2007 and 2013, it’s 2013 figure (0.360) is 0.045 points higher than the OECD average of 0.315 and, as mentioned in the previous post, Israel’s current coefficient is even higher at 42.8.

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Chart of the wealth distribution in Israel
Ethnic

There are different types of ethnic inequality and discrimination in Israel, including Palestinian conflict, but I’m going to focus on a lesser known type of inequality within Judaism.

Because of the Zionist movement mentioned above, the bulk of Israel’s population is made up of immigrants and the diversity has caused social problems. Karen Amit, an Israeli Jew of Moroccan descent, said, 

There’s a gap in Israeli society… They support the arrival of immigrants in theory and love them but, in practice, the ordinary Israeli doesn’t open his arms to welcome them.

There are three main ethnic distinctions made: the Ashkenazi (from Eastern Europe, France and Germany), the Sephardi (from Spain and Portugal) and the Mizrahi (from North Africa and the Middle East). Historically, the Mizrahi have been treated the worst while the Ashkenazi have obtained the highest educations and received the best jobs.

Israeli’s that have lived in the country their whole lives argue that the problem has gotten worse over time. Yehouda Shenhav, an Israeli of Iraqi descent, shares that sentiment;

In the Seventies, there was one Mizrahi with a baccalaureate diploma to three Ashkenazis. Four percent of Mizrahi got the baccalaureate compared with 16 percent of Ashkenazim. Today, the gap has widened to about 12 percent against 50 percent

I re-invented myself as Israeli rather than Arab. The more you distance yourself from Arabness, the more chance you have of integrating into Israeli society. It’s sad.

In order to succeed, the Mizrahi have abandon their heritage in couture. They have almost no choice but to assimilate.

If you’d like to know more about the struggle between the Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi, check out this documentary produced by Al Jazeera.

Gender

Much like its economic inequality, Israel has seen some improvements in recent years. Yet, to many, it’s still not enough.

In Israel, women make 68% of what men make. Part of the reason for the disparity is that more women work part time and that more men (69.4%) than women (58.2%) in the workforce. Which could be a problem in and of itself.

While some women might choose to work part time or not at all, other might have no choice. In 2012, there were 148,000 homes head by a single mom compared to only 8,000 with a single dad.

In politics, women now occupy a record number of 28 of 120 seats in the Knesset but that figure is still less than one-fourth of total seats.

Each of these inequalities do not simply affect on group and one group only. In many cases, they overlap. Hanna Herzog, one of the co-directors of “equality” in the Knesset, has acknowledged the intersectional aspect of inequality,

The consequences of an action plan, of laws, of various policies, and the distribution of resources must be examined in light of the different needs women from different groups have in order to ensure that gender justice and equality will not be restricted to women of a particular level alone.

Post #2 – Digging Deeper

لغة | שפה | Language

Language shapes how people think and view the world around them. Therefore, to understand how Israel functions within itself and how it relates to other countries, it’s important to know what and how they speak.

Ancient Hebrew was a language that was  primarily used for Jewish prayer and worship, it wasn’t for daily, conversational use. However, in the 19th and 20th century, Eliezer ben Yehuda revived the once “dead” language. Now, it’s one of Israel’s official languages along with Arabic. Besides the official ones, there are 35 different languages and dialects spoken in Israel. The most common ones are Russian, due to a large immigration population, and English. Israeli students learn English and the national languages in school and many street signs in the region are also written in English. English is also the language most commonly used in world affairs, so it benefits Israeli’s to know how to speak it since they’re a member of multiple international organizations.

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Road signs in Israel feature English alongside its two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic.

منظمات دولية |ארגונים בינלאומיים | International Organizations

Once Israel was recognized as its own state on May 14th, 1948 it immediately became involved in world affairs. They joined their first organization in early 1949: the International Wheat Council, now the International Grains Council. Shortly after, on May 11th, 1949, the UN voted Israel in as a member with a 37 Yes, 12 No, and 9 abstention vote.

Through the UN, Israel is part of organizations such as Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Within UNESCO, Israel is a member of five more organizations. To list all the other groups the country is a member of would be exhaustive, but Israel’s general focus is on education and science.

The next major group Israel joined was the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on July 12th, 1954. The IMF gives loans to countries and aims to improve global economy by monitoring exchange rates. Countries in the IMF have access to financial information, assistance with banking and increased opportunities for trade.

Israel became a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) on July 5th, 1962. When GATT was succeeded by the World Trade Organization (WTO), which had the same goals of promoting international trade and reducing tariffs and quotas, Israel became a member as well.

Despite being a member of these organizations, Israel still has complicated relations with other members. In the UN,  31 of the 192 members do not recognize Israel as a country. Within the Arab League, 18 of the 22 countries do not. Even the states that do recognize Israel have reprimanded the country for settlement building. Israel is also an associated state of the European Union which has also made a statement about the settlements mentioned in my previous post.

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A map showing the current status of Israel’s foreign relations.

 | معامل جيني | מדד ג’יני | Gini Coefficient

The Gini Coefficient is a statistical model that shows how equally or unequally distributed the wealth or income of a country is. According to the CIA, Israel is ranked 50th out of 145 countries when it comes to wealth distribution. That might sound like a good thing, but the higher a country on the list, the more unequal it is; Israel is in the top third.

The country’s Gini coefficient used to be lower. In 1986, Israel’s score was 36.5 and in just 27 years, it raised 6.3 points to 42.8: almost 0.25 points a year (a relatively high number when the lowest and highest Gini score are only separated by 39.5 points).

This score does not automatically mean Israel is worse off than the countries below it on the list, it just indicates a larger gap in wealth distribution. It is also important to keep in mind that the math behind the Gini coefficient has limitations. Regardless, the Gini numbers gives us a better look into a countries economic status when compared to its relationships with other countries.  

Post #1 -Getting Familiar with Israel

A brief introduction

Before writing this post, I thought I knew quite a bit about world news. I frequent BBC and NPR’s websites and Israel was a country I had seen in numerous headlines. I had heard of the two-state conflict with Palestine and I recognized the name Netanyahu. Surely a simple post about current affairs wouldn’t be too hard!

As I read news from Israeli sites like The Jerusalem Post, Hareetz, and Hamodia, I realized how wrong I was.

The articles threw information at me about Israel’s politics and culture. All without context. I had no idea why settlements were a big deal, why their Prime Minister was being investigated or what the cultural dynamic was like.

If you are anything like me and think you know a little more than you actually do, I offer you a brief overview of Israel:

Politics

West Bank settlements

Between 1948 and 1967, Palestinians occupied the Gaza Strip and Israel’s West Bank. However, after the Six Day War, Israel reclaimed the West Bank and other areas and began to resettle. These settlements inhibit peace being made between Israel and Palestine: Palestinians want land and a viable state and Israel wants to keep the West Bank area for its religious significance and for their safety.

Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has authorized the advancement of more settlements being established in the West Bank. Many countries see these settlements as an obstacle to peace and consider them to be illegal. In fact, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution in December urging Israel to pull out of the settlements.

Peace Now, a local and global opposition group, accused Netanyahu of, “[T]aking advantage of the presidential transition in the United States in order to appease the settlers, a small minority of the Israeli public, and score political points with his right flank.

Despite the unanimous UN resolution and pressure from opposition, Israel is moving forward with the settlements. The country claims the West Bank was captured from Jordan and that they’re settling it for self defense. Settlements began as civilian migration and have transitioned into government promoted, and funded, residences.

Still confused? Check out the brief NPR video below!

Netanyahu Under Criminal Investigation

After a nine month police inquiry, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu is formally being investigated on the charges of bribery and fraud. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit approved the investigation and said that “there was no other choice but to open an investigation” given the information presented to him by investigators. Netanyahu is primarily suspect in accepting expensive gifts, taking money and having conflicting interests in a recent Defense Ministry deal. Most of the details regarding the cases are being kept secret until a verdict has been reached. Reports say, however, that there are tens of thousands of pages of information and witness reports. Netanyahu has maintained that there is nothing substantial in the claims against him. The results could affect whether or not he runs for Prime Minister a 4th time, and if he does, whether or not he’ll win.

Culture

Music

Ariella Zeitlin-Hoffman, an America-Israeli, was chosen to appear on the latest season of The Voice Israel. Hoffman grew up in Baltimore and, on top of singing, plays the violin. She was hesitant to audition because of religious conflicts regarding Jewish men listening to women sing, but, after a lot of thought and debate, she decided to go for it and has used The Voice as a platform to encourage others to be involved in music.

Movies

For the first time in a long time, Israeli films are performing better at the box office than Hollywood films. Historically, Israeli’s have not been interested in movies filmed in Israel or by other Israeli’s. Now, we see more movies being filmed in the country and in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Regionally made movies are now grossing higher than US movies.