Information and news on israel

Eritrean Refugees
Refugees are fleeing Sub-Saharan Africa’s poverty in search for job opportunities, political freedoms and basic human rights. The sad reality of this situation is many of these opportunities are few and far in-between, and their lives rarely improve above the dire situation they were leaving.

Eritrea is one of the nations many have been fleeing from. Isayais Aferwerki, the despotic dictator who’s ruled Eritrea since its 1994 independence from Ethiopia, is a main reason. The nation is home to rampant poverty, media repression and political oppression. Adult-aged males are regularly conscripted into military service with no definite end-date, and the President was quoted as saying the nation was not ready for free elections for at least another 20-30 years. The constitution has been suspended and Eritrea remains single-party state, with opposition political groups regularly rounded up and jailed.

Around 200,000 Eritreans have left the nation in search of freedom, but it has resulted in a human rights crisis. Eritreans regularly flee to Sudan, Egypt and Israel only to be subjected to discrimination, and in some cases, have fallen into human trafficking. Israel has prevented refugees from entering by building a fence, which has resulted in asylum seekers slowing “to a trickle” of their original amount.

Human Rights Watch published a report detailing the crisis in early February stating that “refugees are commonly kidnapped, and their families extorted to pay for their release.” Those who manage to avoid kidnapping are usually deported back. HRW has focused on the culpability of Egyptian and Sudanese officials in the kidnapping crisis. The allegation has been made that corrupt officials have been benefiting financially from the situation and are actively cooperating with kidnappers.

Physicians for Human Rights released a damning report on the conditions many Eritrean refugees face on the trek to asylum. The imprisonment rate of those interviewed was around 59%, while 52% claimed they were violently abused at some point on their way to the Sinai Peninsula. Slave camps are prevalent in Egypt. In El-Arish, there are camps reported throughout the area, populated with “slave traders” who “demand ransoms” for the release of African refugees.

The report detailed that many of these refugees were tricked through “promises of being led to Israel” but rather held against their will, while other’s detailed “severe abuse.” Twenty percent of those interviewed also described witnessing murders. Israel can be considered culpable in this situation. With the building of the fence, the average of 1,500 refugees gaining asylum each month decreased to only 25 entering “between January and April 2013.”

Israel has also mounted a political campaign to defend their actions, decrying the Eritrean refugees as a “threat to Israeli society.” The public response to these accusations helped allow the government to enact stricter immigration legislation, allowing for slave traders to flourish in the wake.

The Anti-Infiltration Law was passed in January of 2012 by the Israeli Legislature of Knesset, and allowed the Israeli Government to detain any people found crossing the border. The law even prevents many of these refugees from receiving a speedy trail, allowing the Israeli state to detain undocumented immigrants for “minimum of three years.” If a undocumented immigrant is from a state considered belligerent to Israel, such as Sudan, they can be “detained indefinitely.”

It was a crushing defeat for many Africans in search of a new life free of oppression. With no options, many still flee, but they may not find the salvation they are in search of.

– Joseph Abay

Sources: Turkish Weekly, US State Department, Haaretz, The Voice, Sudan Tribune, DW, Physicians for Human Rights, Haaretz

Since 1997, Israel has received $3.1 billion annually in foreign aid from the United States. The agreement began almost two decades ago, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before a join session of congress to establish a goal for economic independence.

“Israel’s gross domestic product is at about $250 billion a year, and its per capita income is about $33,000 a year.”

Considering the nation’s level of economic development, the aid could be much more beneficial in other areas. The United Nations Human Development Index currently ranks Israel at 16th in the world and life expectancy at birth is at 81 years—two years higher than the United States itself. Israel has also been the top recipient of United States foreign aid for over the past 30 years.

The question therefore arises, how does a developed nation with per capita gross domestic product on the same level as the European Union average, receive the most amount of aid from the United States?

The answer is riddled with politics and is primarily concerned with influence in the Middle East region. The vast majority of U.S. aid to Israel actually goes to supporting Israel’s military.

The U.S. presently funds about one quarter of Israel’s defense budget.

Much of this aid ends up going to the Israel’s weapons industries. Accordingly, it is not the people of Israel who receive the majority of the aid. In fact, “replacing all American aid would cost Israelis about 1 percent of their income per year,” which is a modest figure considering that the funds could be going to developing nations.

Recent polls show that when asked about the U.S. federal budget, U.S. citizens believe that 28 percent of the budget goes to foreign aid and that the percentage ought to be reduced to 10%. In actuality, less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid.

Considering that much of that 1 percent goes to the economically stable nation of Israel, other programs or nations could use the money much more efficiently.

The U.S. and Israel have had a longstanding alliance, which has contributed to their agreement in military funding. However, considering the purpose of foreign aid, contemporary third world nations facing popular suffering and instability have a far greater need for the help.

Jugal Patel

Sources: Economonitor, Le Monde
Photo: IMEMC

Poverty in Israel
Poverty in Israel? Yes. Israel has one of the world’s more advanced economies. It has a vibrant service industry and the recent discovery of immense natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, which have been estimated to hold billions of dollars of natural gas make Israel’s economic future look quite bright and prosperous.

Given all of this, one would not expect Israel to have the highest poverty rate among developed countries.

The Israeli National Central Bureau of Statistics published a study in which it noted that Israel’s poverty rate stands at 20.9 percent among countries who are members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD.) This places Israel as the country with the highest rate of poverty of the member countries. Israel also placed fifth out of all member countries in terms of income inequality.

While many countries have been hit hard by the global financial crisis, according to the OECD’s report, one of the reasons for Israel abnormally high poverty rate is due to the fact that a large majority of those of the working age in Israel do not in fact work.

The numbers are surprising: about 40 percent of Israeli’s between the ages of 15 and 64 are not working. By comparison, 33 percent of those in other OECD countries are not working.

The number of those in poverty is also expected to rise as Israel plans to cut benefits for child allowances as well. According to the OECD report, 30,000 to 40,000 more children will be placed under the poverty line. This all come on the heels of criticisms of the Benjamin Netanyahu administration due to lavish spending on various items. One particular example given by the Huffington Post is Netanyahu’s spending $127,000 of public funds on a sleeping cabin while visiting London.

The Netanyahu administration has also shot up spending by 80 percent since taking office in 2009, according to the Huffington Post.

The natural gas reserves that have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean are likely to give Israel a boost in both its overall economic rank and the number of jobs it creates.

According to Forbes, it will likely bring over $60 billion in the next 20 years.

Israel is one of the more wealthy countries in the world, and with its natural gas fields in the works, it stands to fundamentally change the shape of both Middle Eastern economics and politics the world over. However, as Israel moves forward with this significant improvement in its countries, it cannot forget its citizens who are falling under the poverty line.

Arthur Fuller

Sources: Forbes, Haaretz, OECD, The Times of Israel, Forbes, CIA World Factbook, New York Times, Huffington Post
Photo: Two Rivers

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians continue as settlement laws are disregarded and violence intensifies. According to the United Nations, the number of attacks on Palestinians by Israelis has quadrupled in eight years.

As per figures recorded by the U.N., the drastic increase in number of attacks jumped from 115 in 2006 to 399  in 2013. Besides attacks on people, there has also been a significant increase in the number of defacing and/or demolishing of buildings. This epidemic seems to be unresolvable with police forces on both sides remaining more loyal to the advancement of their own people rather than the adherence to laws and protection of all from violence.

The settlement of Israelis in the West Bank is against international law, but 500,000 settlers remain there. More needs to be done in order to cease fighting, and while leaders denounce the violence, they tend to be lax on the issue of settlements. As Gadi Zohar, a former Israeli army commander, puts it, “There is not enough pressure from the prime minister, the defense minister, the interior minister to prevent this.”

The Israeli police force, or the IDF, has a duty to interfere and stop any attack by one person on another, regardless of nationality. With such strong negative sentiments toward each other from the Six-Day War in 1967 and conflicts ever since, the judgments of the IDF seem to be clouded as they lean towards protecting Israeli settlers on Palestinian territory.

One of the most recent acts of violence started with Palestinians beating and holding Israeli settlers in the village Qusra, located in the northern region of the West Bank. This provoked and led Israelis to defacing a mosque, writing, “Arabs Out” and “Revenge for blood spilled in Qusra” in Hebrew. The mosque was also set on fire, along with several olive trees and cars.

This violence has been rumored to be a part of what Palestinians call the “price tag” campaign. This name was coined to describe a string of violent actions committed by Israelis against Palestinians, which are carried out with the ultimate goal of seizing the West Bank. So far, the campaign has reportedly gotten half of the land back to Israeli villagers, as soldiers do not really try and stop attacks.

With both Israelis and Palestinians resorting to violence to try to gain control of or keep what land they believe to be their own, a resolution seems far-reaching until strict actions are taken in order to end violence and draw concrete borders. It is rumored that Israel plans to build 1,400 homes in the West Bank in 2014, but Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman states that Israel is ready to negotiate and “Israel is making great effort to allow the dialogue with the Palestinians to continue.”

– Danielle Warren

Sources: Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, RT News

A group of 20,000 people gathered in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel on January 5 to protest Israeli migrant laws. Most, if not all, of the protesters are African refugees attempting to draw attention to their desire for asylum and end the laws that could put them in detention or erase their right to work.

Al Jazeera reports that this is the largest such rally by migrants in Israel’s history. The rally transpired after a mass walk-out from a detention facility in December by hundreds of asylum seekers from Africa. These people had been detained there for a night and the following day were banned from work.

The Voice of America News states that, “Israel’s parliament passed a new law last month allowing authorities to indefinitely detain migrants who lack valid documents and ban them from jobs.” Most of the African protesters have come from Eritrea and Sudan and are seeking asylum because of poverty, violence and political chaos.

Haaretz quotes one of the protesters explaining that, “We didn’t come here to stay our whole lives; we want to return to our home countries once the situation improves.” Eli Yishai, former Interior Minister of Israel advised that the Jewish people should be sympathetic to the suffering of others as long as it would not put the state in danger. This is because he firmly believes that the African refugees want to change Israel, despite their claims against his belief.

There are currently 38,000 refugees from Eritrea and 15,000 refugees from Sudan living in Israel. In total 60,000 migrants have, according to Israeli authorities, crossed into Israeli territory from the border they share with Egypt since 2006.

Due to the sheer volume of people entering the country, Israel spent $377 million dollars on a border fence to stem the flow of immigrants in 2013, reports Al Jazeera. This fence evidently did its job because though 10,000 people crossed the border in 2012, only 36 were able to enter in 2013.

Legislation was passed on December 10 allowing authorities to detain illegal immigrants entering the country for up to a year without trial. This did not go over well with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) as they, as well as other groups have already filed petitions against the new law. Despite all of the issues, the new bill had passed by 30 votes in favor and only 15 against out of the 120-member Knesset.

– Lindsey Lerner

Sources: VOA, Times of Israel, Al Jazeera
Photo: Al Jazeera

Over the last several years, Israel has enjoyed economic growth and low unemployment. Unfortunately, that is not all good news. A report recently released by Israel’s National Insurance Institute and the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate that over 1.7 million people, or 23.5 percent of the population, live below the poverty line. Of the 1.7 million people living in poverty, 817,000 of them are children and 180,000 of them are elderly. In addition, one in five households is living at or below the poverty line.

In recent years, Israel has been seen as up and coming in the high-tech sector, drawing international attention. Even though Israel is seeing significant progress, The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a statement saying, “Israel’s output growth remains relatively strong, unemployment is at historically low levels…However, average living standards remain well below those of top-ranking OECD countries, the rate of relative poverty is the highest in the OECD area.” The report also adds that the poverty problem is affecting some groups more than others, “Among Arabs and in the rapidly growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish community poverty is over one in two, mainly due to low employment rates among Arab women and ultra-Orthodox men”

The OECD indicated that Israel surpassed some of the average measures of other OCED members; it ranked far below average in similar social themed categories. These categories included housing, education and skills, social connections, work life balance, environment quality, personal security, and civic engagement. Fixing some of these social problems could help alleviate poverty in Israel. Action that should be taken should target groups that are endemic with poverty and other related problems such as Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

The OECD did offer several options for different solutions that could help alleviate poverty in Israel. One major suggestion was to improve education, especially in areas with severe levels of poverty. Another suggestion was to begin the process of pension and welfare reform to ensure that it is capable of coping with an aging population. Finally, the OECD favored sales tax increases over income tax increases so the tax does not become more of a burden on already cash-strapped families.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Your Middle East, JTA
Photo: Ivarfjeld

Rather than considering himself an advocate for Israel, Neil Lazarus considers himself to be “fighting the de-legitimization of Israel.” Since Israel became a state in 1948, groups of people have made it their lives work to not acknowledge its existence, but according to the Times of Israel, Lazarus will not stand for it.

There are a myriad of questions that are extremely difficult to answer in regards to what it means to be pro-Israel, especially for Americans. Is it good or bad for Israel that more American Jews are questioning its policies? Should a person’s support for Israel be limited by the needs of non-Israelis affected by the conflict? Both questions as well as many others are hardly even approached by scholars or professionals, thus making it rather difficult to determine advocacy for Israel.

The editor-in-chief of the Jewish Daily Forward, Jane Eisner, explained that, “It is hard not to view this lopsided scene as an incredibly sad commentary on the difficulty of engaging Jews with vastly different views on Israel in civil dialogue.” How does an American Jew balance the occasionally competing interests of Israel, the United States and Palestine?

Neil Lazarus has put it simply by saying, “If we could do for Israel what McDonald’s did for the hamburger, we’d be in a good place. They don’t do hasbara, but they do sell in the language of the people: In China the burger comes with rice; in Italy, pasta; in Germany, beer. But they’re all buying the burger.” Even in Israel the McDonald’s are kosher.

The ability to advocate for Israel lies in the ability to understand that when asking questions about it, issues of identity, politics and personal responsibility all come into play. Different perspectives and sets of facts are hurdles that need to be address to determine the impacts of advocacy on Israel.

Lindsey Lerner

Sources: The Times of Israel, The Washington Post
Photo: Vintage 3D

Disclaimer: This article does not serve to criticize the spending habits and decisions of Benjamin Netanyahu as much as it does to illuminate people’s materialistic spending habits. The fact of the matter is, a price tag has effectively been put on poverty, and with $35 billion, global poverty can be ended. Here is one example of how money could be better spent to work towards the eradication of poverty.

The culprit: Scented candles. Some people love them, others can’t stand them. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently can’t get enough of them. His residence in Jerusalem burned through $1,700 of scented candles in the last year, according to Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv. Netanyahu is often accused of excess as Israel’s middle class struggles financially.

A couple of Israeli non-profits may have spent that $1,700 better elsewhere.  Café Galeria is a small-scale Israeli business employing people coping with psychological and emotional issues. Says one long-time employee, “It is fun to get up in the morning with a purpose, to see friends, to go to work, and to learn new things.” This routine might seem ordinary, but for people coping with psychological and emotional disabilities, there are times when a routine can be straining and challenging.

Café Galeria enables people to overcome these difficulties, to develop the self-confidence for employment, and to acquire the skills that will help them to build a foundation for future employment, to earn a living, and to contribute to community life. The café also serves as a gallery, displaying wall paintings and sculptures created by artists who are coping with psychological and emotional illnesses and possess talents in the arts.

Another growing and effective Israeli non-profit is Supportive Community: Women’s Development Center. The center serves thousands of women across Israel — new immigrants from the FSU and Ethiopia, native born Israelis (Jews and Arabs) from low income neighborhoods, women from agricultural settlements, Orthodox Jewish women, and multicultural groups.

A staff of seven professionals and more than 20 counselors and moderators help recently migrated women in Israel establish micro-businesses. This is often the only way for women in Israel with limited job prospects to achieve economic independence and mobilize themselves socially and personally.

For thousands of women who recently immigrated or come from less advantaged backgrounds, owning and operating a business opens the door to fuller integration into the Israeli society. The benefits of their newfound competence extends also to their families and their communities. To date, the organization has helped over 1,600 women. A donation of $1,700 to Supportive Community would enable multitudes of Israeli women to gain their own businesses and power.

As people make purchasing decisions this holiday season, consumers might keep in mind that they have purchasing power. Instead of ordering that two pack of cookie-scented candles for $35.99, try donating to an impactful poverty-addressing organization. Check out Crowdrise or Kickstarter to find the change-makers that speak to you.

– Paige Veidenheimer

Sources: World Time, Israel Non-Profit News, Kickstarter, Crowdrise
Photo: CP24

With global economic hegemony, many believe it is the inherent responsibility of the United States to project its wealth out unto those who are less fortunate. As the purported “City upon the Hill”, the United States has employed various forms of foreign aid aimed at bringing up less fortunate global actors. As we will see, foreign aid takes on many forms and is directed towards not only the poorer nations. More often than not, foreign aid is funneled to promote American interests, rather than humanitarian ones. The earliest incantation of foreign aid, the 1948 Marshall Plan, is largely responsible for bringing Europe out of the destruction of World War II, yet its inspiration was to stem the spread of communism throughout Europe. Today, foreign aid has proven to be a valuable arrow in our diplomatic quiver in both humanitarian and geopolitical senses. The following list represents the top three recipients of U.S. foreign aid in 2012, and, perhaps, provides some insight into the varying purposive goals of U.S. foreign aid.

1. Israel ($3.075 Billion)

If you pay any attention whatsoever to American politics, it is no secret that the subject of Israel is a weighty one when it comes to U.S. international and domestic political considerations. Moreover, Israel’s yearly position as the top recipient of U.S foreign aid sheds light on the nature of foreign aid. Israel is by no means a developing nation. In fact, the private Israeli sector is spearheading a new age of scientific and technological advancements. Without any doubt, the lion’s share of this aid goes towards beefing up defense and military resources. For example, Israel’s Iron Dome technology, aimed at intercepting incoming missiles, comes with an exceedingly high price tag. The position of Israel on this list sheds light on the subject and nature of USAID. It is clear that the abundance of aid towards Israel serves as a means of protecting US interests in the Middle East and against increasingly aggressive posturing from Russia and Iran.

2. Afghanistan ($2.327 Billion)

Not surprisingly, Afghanistan has come in second on this list. After years of war attempting to stem the tide of terrorism in the region, the U.S. has directed foreign aid to the region to fund both the Afghan military as well as for the purposes of General Chrystal’s Counterinsurgency (COIN) ideology. After funding the Afghan military and police, the remaining aid is funneled towards aspects of soft power. Through building schools and hospitals, the United States hopes to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, which in turn, is hoped to be effective in preventing further insurgency.

3. Pakistan ($2.102 Billion)

Aid channeled towards Pakistan represents a unique form of Foreign Aid. It is no secret that Pakistan is one of the most potentially volatile regions on the planet. With a seemingly never ending dispute with India and rising Islamic extremism, the prospect of instability is one that must be avoided at all costs. Unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan has nuclear weapons; the prospect of these falling into the hands of the wrong people is something the global community cannot allow. With this understanding the brunt of USAID to Pakistan has gone towards building up a governmental infrastructure suited to international cooperation. With the ever-present possibility of corruption, foreign aid is the proverbial “carrot”, as opposed to the “stick” levied against Afghanistan. After sustained efforts to battle extremism, it is entirely against US foreign interests for the Taliban to gain a political foothold in Pakistan. Through creating an infrastructure not suitable to their political ideology, foreign aid dollars can go much further than they would battling symptoms of terrorism and extremism.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Washington Post, USAID, ABC News
Photo: The National