Palestinian Israel Tax Freeze
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to end a tax transfer freeze on the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Israeli government collects and transfers about $125 million each month to the PA, but cut them off last December after the PA was accepted into the International Criminal Court. Israel now plans to release the several months’ worth of revenue that it had previously withheld.

The freeze in tax transfers hit the Palestinian Territories hard. The economy was already in a recession, with unemployment at 25 percent and a budget deficit of 15 percent of GDP. The PA was then forced to cut public sector wages by 40 percent. Tax transfers account for 70 percent of the Palestinian Authority’s revenue and the freeze pushed the region to the brink of collapse.

Palestine’s stock market has contracted by 10 percent since this time last year. The Palestinian Central Bank had warned there was an imminent risk of a major financial crash. Hospitals reported a shortage of medicine and equipment.

The Israeli government cited the humanitarian crisis and the threat of increased instability in the West Bank as its primary reasons for resuming tax transfers. The Palestinian Authority had warned it was unlikely to survive for much longer without tax revenue. Israeli military officials had also warned that the Palestinian Authority was at risk of collapsing and disbanding.

The Israeli military also warned that the freeze was fueling instability and extremism and was a threat to Israel’s national security. Officials had previously recommended that the government end the freeze to prevent the spread of instability in the already unstable region.

This is good news for the West Bank, which has long struggled with high rates of poverty. The resumption of tax revenue will help to alleviate this and lesson the effects of the ongoing economic crisis. But since the Palestinian Authority is set to officially join the ICC on April 1, relations with Israel will remain strained and the threat of a future transfer freeze still remains.

– Matt Lesso

Sources: BBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Wall Street Journal

Israeli teens
Rachel Frankel, mother of one of the kidnapped Israeli teens, victim Naftali Frankel, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council this week in an appeal to bring increased international attention to her son’s kidnapping. Frankel was one of three boys to have been kidnapped near Gush Etzion, Israel, on their way home from school on June 12. All three mothers, who have been actively voicing their support for increased attention to the case, have pleaded to the 47-nation council to do everything they can to bring back their boys. Yet, so far, the Council has remained silent.

U.N. Watch, an active NGO for human rights issues, invited Mrs. Frankel and the other two mothers, whom Frankel spoke on behalf of, to present in lieu of their slot at the council. “It is wrong to take children — innocent boys and girls — and use them as instruments in any struggle,” she said. In fact, as tensions over the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories rise, U.N. Watch hopes to bring more overall focus to the rising number of child and adolescent victims in these areas.

The mothers have received some support from officials. During her address, Mrs. Frankel publicly thanked the U.N. Secretary-General “for condemning the abduction of our boys” and the International Red Cross “for stating clearly that international humanitarian law prohibits the taking of hostages.” Comparatively, U.N. Watch has taken the most active role in the plight for returning the boys to safety, making the case the organization’s top priority.

While the boys have still yet to be found, security forces have informed the family that the boys are in fact still alive. As Israeli authorities continue searching for the boys (the investigation is about to hit its third week), two suspects have been named. Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha, both Hamas Islamists and former convicts, are currently being actively pursued.

Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the two men in question are only a small part of the boys’ kidnappings. Hamas, the Islamist group that holds power in the Gaza strip of Palestine and the group behind the boys’ kidnappings, has continuously called for Israel’s “destruction.”  Meanwhile, the mothers of the victims — and the rest of the world — continue to anticipate the return of their boys.

To watch Mrs. Frankel’s speech at the U.N. Human Rights Council, click here.

— Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Algemeiner, Cleveland Jewish News, Canada Free Press, The Guardian, Huffington Post
Photo: The Guardian

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