Information and news on israel

UNRWA
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was specifically created to help Palestinian refugees after the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. The Palestinian refugee problem has only grown since its formation, so the U.N. has allowed the agency to continue operating.

Palestinian refugees are unique. Every person who was a resident or a resident’s descendant of what is now Israel all have a legal designation as ‘refugees.’ UNRWA now serves four generations of Palestinian refugees, having grown from serving 750,000 to 5.6 million.

The United States Pulls Funding

The United States pulled its funding from UNRWA in 2018. President Trump cited the reason behind the defunding as the agency’s incompetency. The United States had previously been contributing about $355,000 million of UNWRA’s budget.

The United States’ decision affected refugees who rely on UNRWA’s aid for education, health care, protection and basic human needs like food security. In 2017, reports determined that 39% of Palestinian refugees lived in poverty, and very little effort has occurred to assimilate Palestinians into host communities.

Palestine, Israel and the international community, in general, see the United States’ choice as an effort to delegitimize UNRWA and the 5.6 billion Palestinian refugees it serves. Revoking these generations of Palestinians’ refugee status would take away their right to return to their homeland.

Aftermath of Funding Removal

In 2020, the U.N. extended UNRWA’s mandate to the year 2023. However, UNRWA is still struggling financially. Not only did it appeal to the international community to donate a minimum of $1.4 billion for the yearly budget, but it requested another $14 million for COVID-19 emergency aid.

The UNRWA reported that it can only sustain operations until May 2020 with the added health crisis that COVID-19 brought on. It has only raised one-third of its budget. UNRWA’s director stated that the UNRWA must run on a “month to month basis” enduring the biggest financial instability since its creation.

Pleas for Help

The United States made the suggestion to transition the UNRWA’s responsibilities into the hands of the Arab countries that host Palestinian refugees. However, these nations are struggling to fill their own funding gap. Arab countries are suffering from high poverty rates and an influx of refugees from the ongoing conflict in Syria.

UNRWA has also sought the help of NGOs, such as Islamic Relief USA, to fill the funding gap. This is a faith-based organization that works to raise funds and mobilize volunteers for a range of initiatives including UNRWA. It has been helping Palestinian refugees since 1994. Islamic Relief USA has served 1,077,000 people from 2017 to 2019.

The United States government might have cut off funding to UNRWA as a result of flaws within the agency. It might have hoped to delegitimize the Palestinian right of return. Either way, Palestine’s impoverished people need UNRWA’s support. If UNRWA is not successful in gaining new donors, they will lose their access to education, health care and other necessary securities that are human rights.

Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Israel
Israel is a country known for its wide ethics and religious diversity. However, it has one of the highest rates of poverty among developed countries. In fact, about 1.8 million people in Israel live in poverty, and that number rose from 19.4% of the population in 2017 to 20.4% in 2018. Of the 1.8 million people, 874,000 are children. Child poverty grew by 50% between 2008 and 2005 in Israel, and while the poverty rate has remained largely the same since 2005, Israel still has one of the highest rates of poverty in the developed world. With the amount of Israelites in poverty steadily increasing over the years, there are many ways to address the growing number of families and children living in poverty in Israel through various organizations and targeted relief efforts.

Statistics about Poverty in Israel

The socioeconomic divide is steadily increasing in Israel, with the divide between wealthy and low-income neighborhoods becoming more drastic. Additionally, previous legislative measures did not address poverty in the long-term, and focused more on tax cuts rather than implementing social welfare programs that help poverty on a systemic level. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Anna Rajagopal, a student at Austin University and a Jewish and multiethnic educator, pointed out that “getting diaspora jews involved in donations, involved in monetary programs, involved in helping with financial aid and financial needs” is the best way to address poverty within smaller groups.

Rajagopal works to spread awareness about various issues plaguing Israelites and the Jewish community, such as anti-semitism and poverty. She noted that Orthodox Jews and Arabs are the ones poverty most disproportionately affects, and keeping their interests in mind is important for poverty alleviation efforts. In fact, 47% of the Arab population in Israel live in poverty, along with 45% of Orthodox households. Rajagopal also noted that poverty in Israel most often affects minorities and communities of color.

Movements and NGOs Targeting Poverty

Alongside these points, grassroots work has occurred to alleviate poverty in Israel by providing medical care, proper housing and other basic needs. One such organization working to provide aid is the Latet organization, which works to combat food insecurity among vulnerable groups, like the elderly, through a food bank and various financial assistance programs. Alongside these efforts, Latet has created youth programs to foster a sense of community. Its advocacy efforts are helping many poor people in Israel find support while spreading awareness of this issue to other countries.

Lastly, Rajagopal mentioned a more grassroots form of aid through a woman named Bracha Kappach, an Israelite woman who has worked towards poverty reduction efforts in Israel for the past 40 years. She operates on a small scale and opens her home to anybody who needs food or other financial assistance.

With this increasing awareness of Israel’s precarious situation, the government is working to increase the employment rate and make changes to the existing welfare program so that laborers can find jobs. Rajagopal’s insight into how the Israeli government can properly address poverty also includes involving multiethnic Jews in the conversation, because others often forget and villainize them when it comes to their portrayal in the media. “In fitting needs, there are ways to do it in which alienation wouldn’t be the forefront,” Rajagopal says. She believes that incorporating religious efforts will provide unity and highlight more poverty reduction efforts.

Conclusion

Israel remains entangled in a conflict with Palestine, which has shifted the focus away from poverty reduction for the time being. As such, organizations and grassroots movements like Haverim and Latet, and the work of individuals such as Kappach are primarily focusing on redirecting efforts towards helping the poor, and are especially important for providing essential aid and supplies for the most vulnerable parts of the population. These efforts in Israel prove that targeted aid and addressing the sociopolitical and religious identities of the Israeli and Jewish populations are essential to mitigating poverty in Israel in the long run.

– Xenia Gonikberg
Photo: Flickr

Tzedakah
“Tzedakah” (pronounced suh-dack-uh) is the Hebrew word for “righteousness” or “justice.” The word relates to “tzaddik,” the name for a righteous Chasidic spiritual leader. Both words come from the Hebrew root word “tzedek,” meaning justice. Tzedakah is an ethical obligation that the Torah mandates, also known as a “mitzvah,” or law. Many Jews give tzedakah before Shabbat (the sabbath) and festivals (such as Purim and Shavuot). Its intention is to show the Jewish people’s determination to improve the world.

What Does it Mean to Do Tzedakah?

Though many Jews typically perform tzedakah by giving money, many Jews do volunteer work to pay their dues. Examples include volunteering at a soup kitchen, participating as a school field trip chaperone or visiting the elderly or sick. The Jewish sages of the Mishnah taught that every Jew has something to contribute, whether it be money, time or attention.

Jews who give money for tzedakah usually give it to organizations that help the poor, Jewish institutions and charities, humanitarian causes or Torah schools. The Shulchan Aruch (a legal code in Orthodox Judaism) gives some guidelines as to where donated money should go to first. For example, a Jew with a struggling family member should give money to them before they give it to an organization outside the family. Similarly, local charities and organizations take priority over ones that are farther away.

Many Jews give tzedakah in multiples of 18 because the Hebrew word “chai” (pronounced hai), meaning “life,” has a numerical value of 18. For example, one may give $18 to a Torah school or $360 to a local Jewish organization. Alternatively, they may volunteer at a school field trip for 540 minutes (9 hours).

The Pushke (Tzedakah Box)

Before the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples in 586 BC and 70 AD respectively, there was a designated chamber where people could deposit donation money in a box. Poor people would then enter the temple in a respectful manner and receive the money that people had left for them. The tradition of a tzedakah box persists in many Jewish homes today. Only now, instead of poor people entering strangers’ homes and taking the money themselves, Jews simply go to the charities they wish to support and drop off money there.

Jewish Charities Associated with Tzedakah

The following organizations are specifically Jewish or Israel-focused. Not all Jews donate to these charities, and there are many who donate to organizations that have nothing to do with Judaism. They also commonly give donations to schools, synagogues and halfway houses.

  • ALEH (founded in 2003) is an organization that has an association with Aleh Negev in Israel, a village that gives rehabilitation, medical care and education to disabled Israelis.
  • Yad Sarah in New York primarily gives home and healthcare services to the elderly and the disabled.
  • The LIBI Fund (founded in 1980) combines a body of donations to helps fund Israeli Defense Forces.
  • American Friends of Magen David Adom (founded in 1940) helps American Jews donate to Israel’s national emergency medical service.
  • Regional Bikur Cholim (founded in 2013) is a nonprofit organization from New York that gives food and care packages to people in need.
  • Yad Eliezer (founded in 1980) distributes care packages and food stamps to people living in poverty.

While not comprehensive, this list helps illustrate the many organizations that help Jews engage in tzedakah. Through these charitable contributions, Jewish people have the power to make significant progress in the fight against poverty in their communities and around the world.

Kia Wallace
Photo: Flickr

children in palestine
Palestine is a country located in the Middle East, off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Its boundaries are disputed but include the major territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestine has a population of over five million people, with almost two million living in the over-populated Gaza Strip and three million in the West Bank.

The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has played a detrimental part in the livelihoods of 2.4 million Palestinians, denying them access to necessities such as health care, stable housing and education. The 13-year blockade on Gaza has restricted freedom of movement for inhabitants in Gaza, limiting one million children of Palestine access to basic commodities found in Israel. Children are subject to shocking levels of violence on the way to and from school, during school and even in their own homes. Every year, the Israeli military detains and prosecutes around 700 Palestinian children, many of whom commit mild crimes, such as throwing rocks during demonstrations.

Much of Palestine consists of young people, about 53% of its population is made up of children under the age of 18. In every society, including Palestine’s, the children are the most valued members; dreams are built with the hopes of manifesting a better future for the youth who have a potential that is yet to be realized. Here are four ways to invest in the children of Palestine to help them attain the right to a safe and just future.

4 Ways to Invest in the Children of Palestine

  1. Participate in Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) – The Palestinian BDS is a movement for freedom, justice and equality, protecting the principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of the world. It endorses nonviolent protest on Israel until the state complies with international law, which includes ending the violence on and detainment of Palestinian children. BDS entails boycotting goods from well-known companies, such as HP, Puma and Sabra, all of which are complicit in violations of Palestinian children’s’ rights. Divestment and sanctions campaigns urge banks, churches, universities, local councils and governments to withdraw aid and investments from Israel and all companies that uphold the state’s noncompliance with international law.
  2. Sponsor a child – There are a number of nonprofits that give people the opportunity to sponsor one of many Palestinian children and invest in their futures. Organizations such as Humanium and SOS Children’s Villages look to provide children with a safe living environment, education, emotional and mental support, as well as access to healthcare services. These organizations also fight injustices aimed specifically at Palestinian children, such as child labor and marriage.
  3. Support legislation – Much good work comes from initiatives such as the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (H.R.2407). This bill, proposed by Minnesota Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum, prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds to support the military detainment, interrogation, and ill-treatment of children in violation of international law. It also prohibits funds from being used to support certain practices against children, including sensory deprivation, solitary confinement and torture. It is important for U.S. citizens to speak up on behalf of Palestinian children, to let their voices be heard by urging Congress to take action against these injustices via phone calls, emails, and lobbying meetings.
  4. Stay informed –  Several initiatives aim to improve conditions for the children of Palestine. UNICEF, for example, plans to work closely with partners to provide children with safe drinking water, solar power, improved latrines, sanitation services and access to school WASH facilities. The nonprofit will continue to prioritize strengthening child protection systems, addressing negative coping mechanisms and supporting neonatal and postnatal care. The organization will also ensure that children benefit from improved access to quality learning in safe and inclusive environments, and are empowered to contribute to their society’s development.

Youths are not only the future, but they are also the present. The children of Palestine have a right to a safe and just life, where persisting conflict and a lack of human rights do not define their potential. It is important that citizens of the developed world play an active role in investing in these young people and helping empower them so that they can graduate from a life riddled with conflict and violence, to a fulfilling, more sustainable one.

– Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr

 

 

palestinian children
Palestine is a Middle Eastern state that borders the Mediterranean Sea and primarily consists of the Gaza Strip and West Bank regions. Over five million people make up the population of both regions combined. Decades of conflict with Israel have left the land, especially Gaza, in a precarious state, with 80% of the population in Gaza needing some form of external aid to survive. Thus, Palestinian children face unique challenges and experiences.

Two-thirds of Palestinian families live above the poverty line, leaving almost one-third below the line, defined as having a monthly income of less than $640.

Children in Palestine, who make up about half of the population, are the most affected by these conditions. In both regions, more than one million children are in need of humanitarian assistance. Here are seven facts about the lives of Palestinian children.

7 Facts about Children in Palestine

  1. Infant mortality in Palestine is among the lowest in the Middle East. Infant mortality rates in the Middle Eastern region average to 18.3 deaths per 1,000 births, which is greater than Palestine’s alone. On average, there are 18 deaths per 1,000 births in Palestine between the West Bank and Gaza regions. As restrictions in movement confine Palestinians to their homes, the accessibility of adequate health care services may deprive children of their right to obtain necessary medical care.
  2. 70 percent of Palestinian children attend primary school. However, nearly 25 percent of boys and seven percent of girls drop out by age 15. These numbers are much larger for children with disabilities, who have a more difficult time accessing education. This is, in part, due to movement restrictions, as children and teachers need to cross at least one checkpoint to attend school. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, over 8,000 children and 400 teachers are in need of protective presence to obtain safe access to schooling in the West Bank.
  3. More than 80 new school buildings and 1,000 new classrooms are needed in Gaza over the next five years. The lack of sufficient classrooms has reduced learning hours for Palestinian students to 4.5 hours a day and has forced two-thirds of schools to operate on multiple shifts per day to prevent overcrowding. A lack of resources, materials, and willing teachers makes it difficult for children to attend school.
  4. Since 2000, over 10,000 Palestinian children in the West Bank have been detained by Israeli military forces in the Israeli military detention system. Defense for Children International — Palestine (DCIP) took the testimonies of 739 children, between 12 and 17 years old. Based on these testimonies, the organization found that 73 percent faced physical violence following their arrest, 64 percent faced verbal abuse and intimidation tactics by Israeli interrogators, 74 percent were not informed of their rights and 96 percent were interrogated without a family member present.
  5. The joint American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and DCIP led the No Way to Treat a Child campaign that exposes the systematic ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention facilities. The campaign challenges Israel’s extended military occupation of Palestine by creating a sizeable network of people demanding immediate safeguarding of Palestinian children. As such, the proposed Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (H.R.2407) follows these protocols and calls for U.S. citizens and policy-makers to take measures against unlawful detention.
  6. Conflict-related violence significantly impacts the physical and mental health of Palestinian children. Violent discipline in Palestinian homes and schools is widespread, where 91.5 percent of children have experienced psychological aggression or physical violence. The Israeli occupation has increased stress-levels and dysfunctionality within Palestinian families. The most vulnerable population— children— experience violence from both their families and Israeli soldiers alike. They are traumatized, confronting “flashbacks, nightmares, agoraphobia,” according to a UNICEF study involving children in the Gaza Strip.
  7. Coping mechanisms are eroding. Palestinian children and families are resorting to unhealthy coping strategies, such as school dropout, early marriage and child labor. Socio-economic difficulties, poverty and violence from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict have forced children to mature early in life, with one in 10 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years old getting married. Checkpoints have contributed to significant dropout rates. Some children are even referred to as “One Shekel Kids”, moving into the labor sector to support their families.

Poverty and conflict greatly affect children in Palestine, leading to high dropout rates and negative mental and physical health impacts. More than one million children in Palestine are in need of humanitarian assistance. Despite these conditions and traumas, Palestinian children still present inspiring stories of hardiness and hope. 

Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in Israel
Israel’s healthcare advances have been successful globally as well as nationally. Due to constant and careful reforms in both the healthcare system and technology, healthcare in Israel excels in many areas.

Healthcare Plans

In 1995, Israel enacted universal health coverage to all of its permanent residents and citizens. The Ministry of Health is responsible for governing the healthcare system while the local government has limited involvement. Within the ministry are various bodies focused on specific aspects within that system. The Benefits Package Committee, for example, zones in on new health technology to add to the National Health Insurance Benefits Package. The committee also assesses the development of new medications. The benefits package within each plan must include hospital, primary, specialty, mental health, maternity care and prescriptions.

Israel has a higher percentage of young citizens compared to the number of elderly residents. This percentage factors well into its health statistics, but the nation has recognized that those governing healthcare in Israel must be more appropriately committed when it comes to the elderly and long-term care. Recent measures are meant to improve conditions for long-term care. Such measures include providing means-tested government subsidies for informal caregivers and better access to clinicians through in-home care and telemedicine.

While every citizen has the right to the universal healthcare plan, not every citizen has suitable access. Important barricades that keep those living in poverty from receiving proper care are the social, economic, and technological necessities needed to acquire health services. As present times generate larger limitations, crucial services are only attainable by those who are equipped with the essential resources. For example, some may face challenges like accessing care during lockdowns and receiving crucial health information such as data and guidance concerning COVID-19.

Recent Major Reforms

The Ministry of Health is carefully examining and gradually improving healthcare in Israel. Some of the most recent changes include:

  • Communication: Those working in healthcare facilities are prioritizing Electronic Health Records for better information exchange between care centers.

  • Diet: The Ministry of Health is mandating food labeling, restricting unhealthy food advertisements, and placing a higher value on nutrition served in schools and other public institutions.

  • Expanding the roles of nurses: Nurses’ responsibilities are growing to allow doctors to better balance their highly demanding tasks. Treatment, diagnosis, and prescriptions in cases that are considered simple to treat have been placed in the capability of specialist nurses.

  • Healthcare extending beyond the insured: Free clinics that concentrate on both physical and mental health are rising in number for asylum seekers and refugees. The need for these clinics was based on severe physical injuries and deeply rooted PTSD that many suffer after surviving realities such as torture camps and kidnapping.

Startup Central

Israel excels in medical innovations and research, making it one of the most technologically advanced nations. Some of the areas the country has proved transformative in are computer, agricultural and medical technology.

Elevated venture capital investment mainly contributes to Israel’s prosperity. The country fosters entrepreneurship and through strong government support, the country thrives on creativity. Multinational companies such as IBM and Philips have organized research and development centers in Israel. These multinational companies are supporting the country’s economy to a great extent and aid the government in major funding towards developing medical technology. The country’s focus on new technology has already served them well. Current revolutionary technologies include:

  •  The SniffPhone system: Quickly diagnosing cancer by simply breathing into a device the size of a smartphone.

  • The tuberculosis patch: The working development is a skin patch that can diagnose and monitor TB.

Facing and Fighting COVID-19

Israel has a much lower aggregate of mortality when it comes to COVID-19. Some of the major contributing factors include:

  • Early and strict quarantine rules: These rules include general lockdowns, social distancing, mask requirements and entry into Israel being restricted to one location

  • The high number of doctors: The more trained professionals, the better the aid and response to those infected with COVID-19. Israel has six medical schools, and the government largely supports the yearly tuition. Each school is a public, nonprofit university.

  • The low rate of cardiovascular disease: This condition is one of the major risks of mortality once infected with Covid-19.

While the impoverished lack access to Israel’s healthcare system, the nation itself has the potential to make innovative adaptations and improvements to overcome the obstacles to access.

Amy Schlagel
Photo: U.N.

Hunger in Israel
Despite being a high-income country, Israel has one of the highest rates of hunger and poverty in the developed world. Many citizens experience hunger and have relied on NGOs to provide food. They are also asking for the government to take further action, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Israel is a small country located in the Middle East with an estimated population of 8.7 million people. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt border it. Established as an independent country in 1948, its gross domestic product (GDP) has grown significantly over time. This has made Israel a high-income country.

Food Insecurity in Israel

Despite Israel having the categorization of a high-income country, about 25% of individuals living in Israel experience food insecurity, and up to 40% are living with extreme hunger. According to the Poverty and Social Gaps Annual Report by the National Insurance Institute of Israel, Israel has one of the highest rates of hunger in the developed world. In particular, food insecurity and poverty tend to disproportionately affect:

  1. Orthodox Jewish communities
  2. Arab communities
  3. Single mothers
  4. Elderly individuals
  5. Families
  6. Children

There is adequate food available in the country as a whole. However, there is a notable discrepancy between income levels and nutritious food available. The risk of hunger in Arab and Orthodox Jewish families attributes to potentially larger families and lower employment levels. For ultra-Orthodox Jews, 50% of men and 73% of women do not have employment. Additionally, more than 800,000 children were living in poverty as of 2016. This has resulted in almost one-third of Israeli children experiencing hunger on a regular basis.

The Response of the Israeli Government

In response to hunger in Israel, nonprofit organizations have taken the large responsibility to provide for people in the country. On the other hand, the response of the Israeli government in regard to this issue has left many dissatisfied.

In an interview with Channel 12 in Israel, Minister Tzachi Hanegbi made controversial remarks. He said people in Israel who claim to struggle with food insecurity are talking “nonsense” and are not actually starving. He has since apologized, stating that he intended to convey that “[his interviewers’] extreme and gross criticism of the government creates fear amongst the public, instead of hope,” and that “the government that I am part of works day and night to put Israel back on the track of a healthy and flourishing economy.” Hanegbi’s initial comments have caused public disbelief and outrage in Israel and around the world.

Response of NGOs

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new economic hardships that further complicate efforts to reduce inequality and provide adequate food. Many expect that a major food crisis will occur as a result of the pandemic. GDP in the country has fallen 1.7% in the first quarter of 2020, while it had previously been rising.

As a result, there has been an increasing reliance on NGOs. Leket Israel, the largest food rescue program in the country, fed over 175,000 people in need before the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic and resulting economic situation, it began a new program that delivers food directly to homes. With this program, it sent over 700,000 meals to people, many of whom never needed food assistance before the pandemic.

Other NGOs like Latet and Mazon made significant impacts regarding combating hunger in Israel and providing food to lower-income citizens. Latet is a large NGO that fights food insecurity in Israel and is partnered with 180 other local organizations in the country. It provides monthly assistance to 60,000 families, according to its website.

Policies and Government Efforts

The amount of policies toward the reduction of poverty has increased by 3.4% in 2016 in comparison to the previous year. This demonstrates the importance of continued governmental support.

The Israeli Forum for Sustainable Nutrition has been campaigning for changes toward better nutrition, improved health and environmental sustainability. Some of its projects include creating a data center for public use about nutrition and the environment, counseling municipalities, advancing research and holding the government accountable for advertising misinformation about food and the environment. It holds annual conferences and has had over 60 professional seminars with government officials, policymakers, academic experts and others.

In 2017, there was an increase in the minimum wage. It went from NIS 5,000 per month at the beginning of the year to NIS 5,300 by the end. In addition, in 2016, 80% of households had employment. This has resulted in a reduction in poverty and hunger for elderly individuals, Arab communities and immigrants in Israel. However, since COVID-19, unemployment has again increased within a month from under 4% to nearly 25% in April 2020 and leaving more than 1 million people without jobs. While there is continual progress, the government still relies mostly on NGOs and third-party organizations. Overall, more change must occur to improve the issue of hunger in Israel and support a more balanced world.

– Sydney Bazilian
Photo: Unsplash

Theater of the Oppressed
Amidst all the papers, meetings and phone calls that make up nonprofit work, one can forget that drama and emotion are at the center of social justice work. Is tending to drama and emotion really necessary to push the social justice needle further towards progress, though? The Theater of the Oppressed argues that it is and it can be the fuel vital to creating change.

What is the Theater of the Oppressed?

The Theater of the Oppressed is equal parts performance, activism practice and educational forum. It is a rising form of activism that refugees, homeless, minority groups and other populations are using to fight issues of oppression that can cause poverty. The Theater of the Oppressed is definitely not like a typical play or musical where the cast rehearses for weeks on end to create a perfect show. It is very improvisational and involves audience participation, thus transforming a passive audience into an active one.

The Theater of the Oppressed is an umbrella term for many different techniques such as forum theater, image theater and legislative theater. Brazilian visionary, Augusto Boyal, invented these techniques during the late 1950s. The application of these techniques initially happened with workers and peasant worker populations in Latin America. Forum theater is the most popular theater of the oppressed technique around the world. In the forum theater technique, a story plays out in front of an audience that discusses one of the issues of poverty and human rights at hand. After actors perform the story, they perform the story again. When the actors perform the story again, individual audience members can then say, “stop!” to interrupt the scene. Once someone has interrupted a scene, they can then replace an actor in the scene and improvise how they could change the situation in the story for the better.

Fighting for Human Rights

Combatants for Peace is an egalitarian, bi-national, grassroots organization in Israel and Palestine. It is also just one of the many nonprofits using the forum theater technique to fight for human rights. When it started in 2005, this theater group helped mitigate violence between Israeli and Palestinian civilians and it has performed in cities such as Tel Aviv. Israeli fighters and Palestinian freedom fighters decided that there was a better way to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict than violence, causing the organization’s start.

The forum theater includes stories such as those about mothers dealing with the despair of their sons living in war zones. Other stories include one from the Palestinian side about a 12-year-old little boy who formerly took part in the theater group. He and his friends were playing on the playground one day when some rock-throwing began suddenly in the background. Someone fired a shot and it accidentally hit the friend, causing his death. Through forum theater, audience members had a chance to interrupt these scenes after the actors performed them and were able to fill in for the actors to try and solve the issues in a more peaceful way.

The Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed

The Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theater of the Oppressed is the longest-running forum theater company in world history. This group started in 1985 in the small village in Sunderbans, India. Now, the theater company has grown greatly and there are 36 satellite theater groups in districts such as West Bengal and New Delhi. Its theater teams reach many spectators every year and it has a bi-annual forum theater festival called Muktadhara, which has been going on since 2004, and noted Indian theater personalities visit.

Alongside forum theater, it uses image theater, where actors recreate images of their own reality through consensus. It views the reality objectively and analyzes it through “real image.” Actors proceed to make the image of a situation they desire (the ideal image) that does not include oppression. Participants then turn back to the “real image” and come up with different scenes to represent transitions from the “real image” to the “ideal image.” The image technique, like the forum technique, allows participants to introspect on how social change can happen.

In an interview with The Borgen Project on Jan 15, 2020, Theater of the Oppressed organizers like Ann Admon from Combatants for Peace discussed how these programs truly give people hope, something that can be hard to come by in war-torn zones. As she says, this form of activism “opens the door to have a glimpse into seeing that everybody’s a human being and everybody has a story and everybody is suffering,” amidst all the continual separation and stereotyping.

The Cardboard Citizen’s Theater Group

The Cardboard Citizen’s theater group, a London-based theater group working with homeless populations that is one of the leading practitioners of forum theater in the world, has helped empower the homeless through forum theater as well. Donovan, a participant of the group, stated that they “turned his life around” after he received a release from jail and lived in a hostel. The group helped him stay out of trouble by keeping him busy with going to drama practices and he has since become a member of the board of directors for the group.

Practices of Theater of the Oppressed show no signs of stopping any time soon. Continuing practices of this form of activism are sure to further strengthen communities at the grassroots level. Theater of the Oppressed brings to light how people are not alone in their oppression and can work as an empowered collective to spark the fire of change in a form like no other.

Emily Joy Oomen
Photo: Pixabay

IsraAID Responds to Global Crises
Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, the nonprofit organization IsraAID responds to global crises, such as natural disasters and poverty, and sends teams of volunteers to help those in need. After its founding in 2001, IsraAID responded to crises in over 50 different countries. Its expertise in crisis relief includes emergency aid distributions, pinpoint trauma support and prevention training for local government and non-government professionals. These are some of the global crises IsraAID has responded to:

Typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines

IsraAID sent its first mission to the Philippines after Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. Working in collaboration with local partner Operation Blessing International, IsraAID dispatched a team of nurses and doctors to assist in the emergency medical operations. In 2013, another typhoon devastated the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people, injuring more than 28,000 and affecting over 16 million people overall. IsraAID responded within 48 hours with its medical team on the ground less than four days after the event. It spent the first three days of its efforts assisting the local health workers in one of the many hospitals the typhoon had destroyed. After that, IsraAID spent the next two years operating with the local government, instigating programs in medical support, psychotherapy and the rebuilding of the fallen cities.

Earthquake in Nepal

After a major earthquake left Nepal in ruins back in 2015, IsraAID sent a team to help the local police force locate survivors and provide emergency medical treatment. This was a relief to the local authorities and medical personnel outnumbered by the number of injuries and the chaos that ensued. Working alongside the authorities and an emergency response from the Israeli Defense Forces, IsraAID volunteers risked their lives to save and treat the survivors who the rubble had trapped. IsraAID not only provided the immediate essentials of food, water, shelter and medical aid to the Nepalese but also focused its efforts on long-term recovery via farming, fishing and a new supply of clean water. It also provided psychosocial services to the victims, helping them cope with and build resilience in the wake of the tragedy.

The Dadaab Refugee Camp and Famine in Kenya

Since 2007, IsraAID has been sending emergency relief teams to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya—the largest refugee camp in the world—to aid the victims running from violence and famine. Later in 2011, when a drought caused one of the worst famines to ever strike the Horn of Africa, IsraAID returned to Kenya with a distribution of food and relief items for the refugees and locals still suffering from hunger and chaos. It also offered that same assistance to the people of Turkana, Kenya’s poorest county. IsraAID has maintained a steady presence in Kenya since 2013, helping those in poverty and the refugee camp with medical treatment, water management and psychosocial support.

Refugee Crisis in Greece

During the refugee crisis in 2015, IsraAID responded by sending a team of volunteers to Greece. Special mobile units provided immediate medical and psychosocial aid, distributed supplies and identified particularly vulnerable groups, such as children. IsraAID volunteers also rescued refugees whose boats had capsized and provided sleeping bags to anyone who had to sleep on the ground. Throughout the crisis, the volunteers provided food, clothing, medicine and hygiene kits to the refugees, as well as psychotherapy training to the local government and non-government professionals so that it could better care for the traumatized population.

Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria devastated the Puerto Rican population in 2017, IsraAID responded with a Spanish-fluent team of psychosocial and medical support, as well as experts in water and sanitation. At the time, the country’s poverty rate was 43.5 percent and the unemployment rate at 10.3 percent, on top of 95 percent of the populace losing electricity as a result of the storm. IsraAID provided emergency relief programs in the distribution of food, water and basic supplies, medical treatment and mental support. The team then shifted focus to long-term recovery and implemented a system to provide water and sanitation to the people of Puerto Rico.

The aforementioned countries and many others have benefitted greatly from IsraAID’s support, and IsraAID responds to global crises to this day. The organization has even established ongoing training programs for water management, psychosocial services and other relief efforts in the countries listed above, as well as in Japan, South Korea, Haiti, Jordan and South Sudan. As IsraAID responds to global crises, those in need have a chance to lead better lives.

– Yael Litenatsky
Photo: Flickr

Five Israeli Charities
Despite its successful economy, Israel’s poverty rate is higher than average at 21 percent of the population below the poverty line. Many families in this percentage struggle for food and basic necessities, even with Israel’s government programs meant to assist the underprivileged. Fortunately, several nonprofit organizations within Israel devote themselves to helping the poor. Here are five Israeli charities that break the poverty cycle.

Yad Eliezer

One of Israel’s top poverty-relief charities, Yad Eliezer has provided for Israel’s poor for almost 30 years. At its founding, it intended only to deliver monthly baskets of food to families in need. Since then, the organization has grown to encompass 19 social service and economic programs devoted to aiding over 18,000 Israeli families per year. These programs include the distribution of food, clothing and household items, as well as job training and child education. Its efforts for economic recovery and social welfare have broken the poverty cycle for over 20,000 families living in Israel permanently.

Yad Ezra V’Shulamit

Another well-known charity among Israelis is Yad Ezra V’Shulamit and it also began as a hunger-relief charity in 1998. Today, it provides food to thousands of Israel’s poor. While food delivery remains a focus of the organization, it has since expanded its efforts towards humanitarian services, focusing on individual empowerment through tailored rehabilitation as well. These services include academic tutoring, after school educational programs, professional guidance and activities for at-risk teenagers. The extracurricular programs offer assistance in building self-confidence and ultimately future success, subsequently bringing these individuals out of poverty for good.

Leket Israel

Leket Israel is the country’s leading food rescue organization. Emerging in 2003 under the precursor name Table to Table, Leket Israel saves and collects the surplus of agricultural harvests and cooked meals, then distributes them to families in need. In doing so, it ensures that excess food does not go to waste and removes the problem of food insecurity. Members of its staff make sure that hungry families in Israel receive healthy, nutritious produce and meals and that the food is up to par with safety regulations. Today, Leket Israel is the largest food distribution network in the State of Israel.

Lev Lalev

Based in Netanya, Israel, Lev Lalev focuses on feeding and sheltering disadvantaged Israeli children. Primarily a Girls Orphanage and Children’s Home, the Lev Lalev Charity Fund provides the girls with not only food and shelter, but also individualized therapy, mentoring, tutoring, clothing and summer camp activities. The organization also supports the girls through adolescence and adulthood, arranging religious and cultural events for them, such as Bat Mitzvahs, graduations, weddings and meals for religious holidays.

Meir Panim

Meir Panim is a relief organization that runs multiple projects to ensure that no Israeli suffers from hunger and existential distress. Meir Panim runs soup kitchens, restaurant chains, children’s programs that offer academic assistance as well as food, activities to promote distressed youths and food packaging programs. In addition, it provides food cards and redistributes furniture and second-hand equipment to people in need.

In short, these Israeli charities have helped and saved thousands of people from poverty. Donation funds from Israeli citizens, as well as some of the organizations’ international branches, allow these charities to continue their good work and break the poverty cycle for yet more individuals and families in need.

– Yael Litenatsky
Photo: Flickr