Blog by Vanessa Kulick, Conflict Resolution Practitioner
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jan. 6, 1941
“Fears eat common space.
Violence tempts shackled hands.
Unbound breath deters.”
Rain can nourish and destroy. Today, it enlightened.
The tour bus picked us up at 8:30am. For safety reasons, I will call our Palestinian guide, Ziad. Ziad was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in West Bank. He is sharp looking and smart-witted. Ziad lost his father after Israeli soldiers shot him near a checkpoint in 2008. That same year Ziad joined a bereavement group alongside Israelis who also lost family members from the conflict. Ziad met our other tour guide, a Jewish Israeli whom I will call Amit, at a dialogue that same year. Amit is a long-standing peace activist. In the year they met, Israel had invaded the Gaza strip after several years of cross-border attacks and the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier. Many Palestinians died, as did Israelis. Both men, Amit recalls, joined the discussion to reflect on the crisis. The facilitator asked the group, “What are you doing about the situation?”. After five minutes of silence, “one by one people came up with ideas together. It was like magic”. Israelis and Palestinians developed an emergency plan to provide aid to Gaza. Within weeks, the group organized seven trucks to deliver much needed aid to the border.
Our class heard this story outside the Israeli government-constructed wall along and between the West Gaza border. When our bus approached, Ziad turned and visibly gasped. His shoulders sagged, “oh, the wall”. Staring at the graffiti-strewn construct through blurry bus windows, our class soon learned that the wall has many names. Most popular, we saw “apartheid wall” scribbled several times alongside, “I love Palestine”. Ziad provided a brief history of the logistical and humanitarian burden the wall bears on the Palestinian people. Amit, in turn, expressed that “lots of human rights [are] smashed by the wall, but also [the wall] gives lots of Israelis security,” which lends credence to the barrier’s other nickname, the “anti-terrorist wall”.
Ziad and Amit invite us outside to touch the wall. It was raining, hailing and windy. We file out. Our moods dim. I bee-line to the words, “I love you” graffitied in red. I don’t know how to feel. After 10 minutes, we re-enter the bus. Amit recalls his memories as an Israeli soldier in his late teens. Fear of Palestinians. Fear for the survival of Jews. Ziad returns to his frustration of the wall. Amit and Ziad soon noticeably turn to face each other. The bus tenses. “Only two types of people cross over that wall, peacebuilders and suicide bombers”. Our Palestinian and Israeli guides are in agreement. Their people must move together beyond victimization in order to achieve peace.
Several minutes pass by. A student recalls earlier. ”Ziad, I could see your pain” when you first saw the wall. She breaks into tears. Silence. Thuds of rain regain our attention. Something changes. In those moments, a new level of clarity engulfed our class. We became connected to the men before us and a conflict far removed from our daily lives.
Arrived yesterday evening with a fellow classmate in Tel Aviv. Taxied approx 45 minutes to the Palestinian-run hotel in Jerusalem. We are in a less developed area. It is extraordinary. The Gates of Damascus, main gates to the Old City, are a five minute walk. The hotel lobby showcases ornate holiday decor. Our rooms are small, but well furnished. Upon my late arrival (delayed flight, more on that below), I hurried down to the classroom located in the basement. The lights went out for several seconds before the generator kicked in. Electricity sharing is an issue here, particularly in this part of town.
As the news reports indicate, “Israel braces for stormiest week of the winter”. Straying slightly from my modus operendi for travel reporting, my trip depiction will largely be through blog posts versus photos. (Unless I can figure out a camera-safe means to take photos in rain and 60 mph winds.) Rain generally does not dampen my mood. Stormy weather only beckons for greater imagination and curiosity when exploring one of civilization’s oldest cities.
Before I left the U.S., several circumstances highlighted Israel and the State of Palestine’s unique history and political environment. At my gate at the Newark airport, TSA erected an extra security screening for passengers. I was intrigued. Surrounding me, nearly 20 ultra-orthodox (not sure if this is a Politically Correct label, I will find out in class) jews awaited in line. Tall, boxed black hats sat atop yamaka adorned heads. Black suited, many sporting 1920s style glasses, most of the men (although there were 2-3 women) had long curly beards with their hair wrapped around their ears. I was a bit surprised to see so many all in one place.
I sat next to a young, Israeli man named, Guy. This is a common Israeli name. Guy was similarly surprised by the large number of traditional jewish men on the plane. He was not pleased with the extra security. We spoke at length. Guy is worried about the upcoming Israeli elections at the end of this month. Unimpressed with his leadership on certain foreign policy issues, we both commiserated on frustration towards our governments (ahem, Congress). Mid-conversation, I realized that the orthodox jews had assembled in the back of the plane for prayer. This was totally new to me. I was slightly unnerved, but again, fairly intrigued. From my journal, “I have mixed feelings: admiration, fear, fascination”. Unsure where the fear came from, I became more settled with the prayer sessions as they continued periodically throughout the 10 hour flight.
Once we neared Tel Aviv, the PA came on, “due to additional Israeli security measures, no passengers are allowed out of their seats until landing”. Mischievous excitement overwhelmed a tiny seed of fear. Finally succumbing, I asked the flight attendant what was going on. ”Standard procedure”. Comforted enough, I began prodding Guy for restaurant and tourist suggestions.
Turns out, the ultra-conservatives are New York city-dwelling Americans on a mission to Israel. My initial biases were completely incorrect. I imagine that will be the first of many misperceptions that I will correct while here. Off to class. We will brave the rain later this afternoon.
להתראותn / اللقاء / Good bye
At the conclusion of a four-day ANC conference, party whip Mathole Motshekga said his party has a responsibility to rule South Africa “until Jesus pays another visit.” President Zuma made similar remarks in 2009 that received condemnation from religious groups.
The edge of chaos is the balance point where the components of a system never quite lock into place, and yet never quite dissolve into turbulence, either…The edge of chaos is the constantly shifting battle zone between stagnation and anarchy, the one place where a complex system can be spontaneous, adaptive and alive…
M. Mitchell Waldrop, Complexity.
Approximately 25% of Americans hold a Bachelor’s degree. Living in the Washington bubble, I was genuinely taken aback at this fact. At happy hour in Dupont, I can hear the sneers when I explain that I only hold an undergraduate’s degree. Then I thought a bit longer. I grew up in Wheaton, MD. By the time I reached middle school, my mother moved my sister and I a few towns over. The middle and high school in Wheaton had had a poor reputation for producing college-bound graduates. While I was no longer a minority, my new high school was undoubtedly diverse. I loved it, found my niche of girlfriends and every one of us graduated from high school, college, and some are headed to their Master’s.
From facebook, I have friended former classmates from Wheaton and I would ballpark that at least half do not have their Bachelor’s. Looking at my high school, even though it was new with great teachers, a good portion of old friends and acquaintances do not have a Bachelor’s either. Living in such close proximity to the Washington bubble, which let’s be honest, is an elitist city (at least the northwest quadrant), I can only imagine how slanted these “statistics” are. For those unaware, before Washington became a live-in city, the majority resided in surrounding Northern VA and MD - a ring of wealth that has in the past ten years seeped into the city. Gentrification in DC came at a cost to a sizeable, poor African American population, where rates of Bachelor’s degree attainment are astronomically low. Head 100 miles in any direction outside of DC and it is a similar scenario.
So what’s my point? Yesterday, House Majority leader Eric Cantor (VA-R) attempted to “kill” Obama’s Job Plan. For the majority of Americans that have no Bachelors, the job plan places priority on addressing unemployment through on-the-job-training, greater access to job counselors, extended unemployment insurence, and helps alleviate employers’ anxiety to hire in the current market. I am not trying to convince anyone of the plan, but there are certainly positive aspects. Yesterday’s threats to “kill” the initiative, however, heightened partisan identies and will likely instigate further obstacles to actively address unemployment. Check out below from Freakonomics on the Job Bill specifics. I will continue to follow this and post as necessary.
”- It’s reasonably well targeted. Unemployment insurance extensions will get spent. Infrastructure money gets spent and also builds stuff. As for the payroll tax: Who knows if it gets spent, but the point is to stimulate hiring, rather than spending.
- It’s reasonably well designed. The biggest problem with a payroll tax is that firms get it even for employees already on the books. But this time, the biggest payroll tax cut is only for firms raising their payrolls. This will yield a much bigger bang-for-each-buck. Early analyses have yet to realize how important this is.
- It’s reasonably timely. The usual argument against fiscal policy is that the spending only occurs by the time the economy is booming again. There’s no chance of that occurring. Perhaps this provides the confidence boost we need to counter double-dip concerns.
- It’s reasonably well focused. Tax credits for hiring the long-term unemployed will be very helpful in preventing the current recession doing long-term harm.
- It’s reasonably clever, removing the incentive to fire people, rather than reduce hours. (aka “Job sharing”)
- It’s reasonably evidence-based. Having the unemployed talk to a jobs counselor before extending benefits can have huge effects at minimal cost.
All told, it’s a very real plan and very specific. None of this is magic: Government gets more active when the market fails, and we pay it back when the market booms. This is all standard economics. There’s no gold-buggery, voodoo austerity or laughable Laffer-y. Obama’s not making up economics, he’s using simple tools to solve the obvious problems. And with long-term real interest rates close to zero, there’s no risk of this crowding out private investment.”
“The F Word: Famine is the Real Obscenity (US)” Please take a moment to read below from The One Campaign:
“Drought is inevitable, but famine is not. The current crisis in the Horn of Africa is the result of a tragic combination of factors that are man-made, including abnormally high food prices, lack of governance and security in Somalia, and a historic lack of investment in long-term agricultural development in the Horn. Over the past few years, we lost the political will and public support necessary to prevent the famine – and its causes. As a consequence, tens of thousands of children have died.
We have also missed the opportunity to help 200 million people from poor farming families lift themselves out of poverty. Communities in Africa can cope with droughts and natural disasters. But we need donors to put resources toward seeds, irrigation and teaching farmers new growing techniques. We need leaders to invest in early warning systems and national social safety net programs.
Congress can help keep our commitment to farmers in developing countries by fully funding Feed the Future— a life-changing USAID initiative that is investing in long-term agricultural development and could help put an end to famine for good.
Please sign our petition to Congress calling on them to fund this vital program:
Since Cameroon, Harmattan has gone through an identity crisis that mirrors changes in my personal, academic and professional life. I’ve given much thought on how to reflect the current “Vanessa-lens”: a fiesty 26-year old Washingtonian female with keen international awareness. Well, I thought for so long that I stopped writing. Upon friendly encouragement, I’m over that. I’m digging right back in and we’ll see where this all takes us.
Budget discussions strike an emotional cord for many Americans. Age old debates on cutting programs to create room for economic growth encircle media outlets, dinner tables and policy meetings. For the moment, I won’t take a stand on healthcare, the deficit, education or jobs. Not that I don’t care about these extremely important issues, but would instead like to focus on a topic that I have more experience on - Foreign Aid.
A NYT article today draws attention to the massive budget cut proposed for U.S. foriegn assistance. The slash in funds could have a debilitating impact on State, USAID and other respective agencies programmatic ability to affect change abroad.
There has been for too long an assumption that American assistance abroad severely impedes our government’s ability to deliver services and emergency relief at home. A recent poll by the University of Maryland suggests that an overwhelming number of Americans believe that foriegn assistance accounts for 25% of the budget. In reality, foreign assistance comprises 1% of the US budget. One percent. As Mercy Corps Director Of Policy explains, “The budget impact is negligible. The impact around the world is enormous.” Operationally speaking, budget money earmarked for foreign aid does not have a sizeable impact on domestic government functionability. To what purpose does cutting the foreign aid budget serve then?
Well it is certainly not for ensuring national security. Let’s look at the World Bank World Development Report for 2011. In a telling sign, this year the WDR focuses on Conflict, Stability and Development. Main point: Fragility and liklihood of violent conflict in a country directly correlates with poverty. States with violent conflict contain a host of security risks — terrorism, drug and weapon trafficking to name a few — for the United States. Foriegn assistance is one of our only vehicles to encourage development abroad through programs that both target instability (security sector reform, conflict resolution, governance) and poverty (education, development, reconstruction).
In the words of former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, “Where possible, what the military calls kinetic operations should be subordinated to measures aimed at promoting better governance, economic programs that spur development, and efforts to address the grievances among the discontented, from whom the terrorists recruit.” -2009