From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Friday, January 02, 2004

An article in the always remarkable Arab News has this remarkable statement: “Being the largest users in the region of the Internet and e-mail, Gulf states are a melting pot for world cultures.” This is exceptionally ironic, coming as it is does in a paper publicized by Saudi Arabia, a country that blocks Internet access to websites promoting religious tolerance and websites that offer information about Christianity, Judaism, Bahaism; sexuality; women’s issues; popular culture and entertainment; and various other issues. It’s hard to see how any state that blocks access to information about Anne Frank (!) can be considered part of any sort of melting pot for world cultures. Perhaps the author was excluding Saudi Arabia from his discussion of Arab states.

In other news, The Jerusalem Report’s Back Page features an interview with Shahar Zahavi, 28, a Tel Aviv University student. Zahavi is the founder and coordinator of IsraAID, “a coordinating body of Israeli and Jewish organizations and other interested parties based in Israel who are active in development and relief work and are concerned about global issues.” “We want people to see the Israel that contributes to the world,” Zahavi says, in the course of this short but exceptionally interesting interview.

The Jerusalem Report: When did Israel begin aiding other countries?

It goes back to the early years of the state. In 1953 there was a severe earthquake in Greece, and an Israeli Navy patrol boat was one of the first on the scene. Since that time Israelis have been helping out, even when Israel was a very young country with enough troubles of its own. Organizations offering assistance to the developing world were founded early on -- MASHAV, the Foreign Ministry’s Center for International Cooperation, for instance [established in 1958].

What does Israel have to offer?

The Home Front Command has expert rescue teams which respond to disasters abroad; the Agriculture Ministry operates the Center for International Agricultural Development Cooperation (CINADCO), which trains people from developing countries in modern agriculture and irrigation methods. Hundreds of foreign students are in these programs.

And then there are the many non-government organizations that offer aid under the IsraAID umbrella. I had the idea in 2001, after an earthquake in Turkey. Many groups stepped forward to help, but there was no organization to coordinate their activities. A disaster would occur and various groups would respond, sometimes together, sometimes apart. Our idea was to get them together when they weren’t faced with an emergency.

Today more than 30 organizations are under our auspices, providing medical assistance, AIDS treatment, agricultural training. We hold classes for members every few months on topics like humanitarian law.

Our members include the humanitarian fund of the Kibbutz Artzi Movement, which donated a large amount of food, clothing, and other supplies after the earthquake in Turkey in 2001. Another is Magen David Adom, which of course is busy here in Israel, but also sends gear and personnel abroad in emergencies. We have an organ-ization called the Jerusalem AIDS Project, which does AIDS awareness courses all over Africa. And FIRST (Fast Israeli Rescue and Search Team) is an organization for rescue workers, which is active in Israel and also goes abroad in emergency. And we’re looking for more partners.

This is a remarkable organization; check them out. I’ve added their website to TBON’s links column. And, I must say, it’s a bloody shame, if not an affront to humanitarian sensibilities, that just a few days ago Iran, in the wake of an earthquake that killed over 30,000 people, rejected assistance from groups like IsraAID, simply because they were from Israel (god forbid any Iranian citizen should suffer the ignominy of having his or her life saved by an Israeli!). To their further credit, Israeli organizations have said they will contribute to relief efforts via third parties and other means. (A thought: How many relief organizations from Iran would rush to offer assistance if a massive earthquake struck Israel?)

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