Gaza under siege: who cares?

As of now in Gaza, 105 Palestinians have been killed, at least 700 have been injured and more than 3,000 homes have been at least partially if not fully destroyed as a direct result from attacks issued by Israel (Al Jazeera 11 July 2014).

So, who cares?

As someone who is living in a country that borders three different, major conflicts in neighboring Iraq, Syria and now Israel/Gaza, it is easy even for people here to become desensitized to these issues, let alone people from outside this region. The Middle East has a long history of conflicts which stem from major issues including colonialism and religious conflicts. The amount of suffering caused by these conflicts is overwhelming to say the least. I am not writing this post to the people of the Middle East who are no strangers to the conflicts of this region. I am writing this to a Western audience who knows little about what is going on here and perhaps cares even less.

I have lived abroad now for the past two years, but I remember what the media was like in the US and how a majority of people received their news. The majority of people receive their news about the world through a nice, short 30 minute news broadcast which does not report on any one story for more than 2-3 minutes. Media around the world is subject to bias, some more than others, but much of the US media is well-known for its less than neutral viewpoints which of course favors the US government’s stance and in this case, the favoring of Israel over Palestine. In a recent report provided by ABC News on the current conflict in Gaza/Israel, the news channel showed devastating pictures of the conflict, reporting that it was Israelis who were the victims however, the news reported falsely as the destruction was caused by Israel and the victims were in fact Palestinians. This glaring error while unacceptable, perhaps reveals the larger issue of a general bias towards Israel overall within the US media.

The United States is not the only Western country guilty of bias particularly when it comes to this conflict. The BBC had a recent headline which stated that Israel was being attacked by Hamas. While it is true that Hamas is attacking Israel, the damage which has been done by Hamas towards Israel does not even begin to compare to the damage being caused by Israel towards Palestinians in Gaza. While there have been minimal injuries and no deaths in Israel, the amount of death, injuries and destruction in Gaza is overwhelming in comparison. Neutrality in reporting the news is an essential concept that must be upheld as the media can easily manipulate those who are not well-informed.

Aside from bias in the media, a larger problem is the issue of desensitization. Desensitization occurs over a long period of time and is a process which makes a person emotionally insensitive to something. When it comes to conflicts in foreign countries, particularly in the Middle East, many people in the West care less and less about what is happening in this region. I believe that desensitization occurs much more easily when ignorance is involved. If someone is ignorant about an issue, then they are less likely to be emotionally invested in it from the beginning, let alone as time goes by. It is a shame that in an age where knowledge is so easily accessible, people remain ignorant about many issues. A lot of harm has been caused by ignorance. Ignorance breeds hate, and hate breeds an array of consequences. In order for ignorance to be combatted, knowledge must be spread.

In the case of what is happening in Gaza, it is necessary to read more about it in order to better understand what is going on there. The first link is an interview with 15-year-old Tariq Abu Khieder, the cousin of Mohammad Abu Khieder, the Palestinian teenager who was kidnapped and murdered in light of the recent kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers. It was these events that sparked the current siege happening now in Gaza. The last two links help give some insights as to what the situation is like in Gaza now.

By being more informed about Gaza, it is my hope that more people will start to care about this issue. Rather than this just being another conflict in the Middle East, perhaps people will start to see the greater crisis of desensitization and a lack of understanding for people who are suffering from devastating conflicts.

“VIDEO: U.S. teen, cousin of slain Palestinian youth, says Israeli police beat him”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/07/06/video-u-s-teen-cousin-of-slain-palestinian-youth-says-israeli-police-beat-him/

“Interactive: Gaza, life under siege”

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2014/05/interactive-gaza-life-under-siege-2014518106623955.html

“Gaza toll passes 103 as Israel raids continue”

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/07/gaza-toll-passes-100-as-israel-raids-continue-2014711104221774156.html

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More than just a number: A closer look at individuals of the Syrian crisis

I’ve never lived this close to a war zone before. Amman is located approximately 70km (40 miles) away from the border with Syria but I have been as close to the border as 35km (21 miles). The conflict in Syria has been ongoing for three years with no end in sight. This has led to a mass exodus of Syrians into the neighboring region. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are over 2,700,000 Syrians currently registered as refugees, with tens of thousands said to be of concern to the agency and many waiting to be registered (http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php).

Jordan’s close proximity to Syria has made it one of the major havens for Syrians fleeing the conflict. Jordan is home to Zaatari refugee camp, the largest Syrian refugee camp and the second largest refugee camp in the world. However, the majority of Syrians residing in Jordan live outside of the camp. While refugees are afforded some measures of protection, there are many difficulties that a person faces as a refugee. For example in Jordan, Syrian refugees are not allowed to work. Refugees have access to meager social services at best, including housing and health services. Some Syrians have been more fortunate than others in being able to secure financial independence through obtaining jobs but many are not so lucky.

In my relatively short time here in Jordan, I have met a number of Syrians who come from different backgrounds. I have Syrian colleagues and my Arabic tutor is Syrian. Some Syrians have fared better than others. For all the Syrians I know who are doing well enough in these difficult circumstances, there are many more who have not been so fortunate. When hearing about this conflict, it is important to remember the impact it is having on the lives of individuals and how it has dramatically changed the course of their lives forever.

There is an elderly Syrian lady who lives nearby and comes to visit. Rather than spending her remaining years in the comfort of her home and her country, she tries to gather money from her neighbors in order to support her family. She talked about when she needed medicine from UNHCR services that she was treated poorly and humiliated; at the end of the day she left empty-handed and in tears. Fortunately this lady has had good fortune in meeting the manager of my organization who has helped her to obtain medicine in order to avoid another disheartening experience.

This conflict has spared no one; people from all generations are suffering. Children have been vulnerable to difficult circumstances that are beyond their years. Many children have had to stop their education for various reasons. Some children have to go to work to support their families while others are afraid to go to school after the traumatic experiences they encountered at their schools in Syria. Additionally, harassment from children in Jordan has posed threats to Syrian children in school, adding to the list of reasons not to attend.

Many girls and young women have fallen victim to sex trafficking, a trade which has taken advantage of people in a terrible situation. My organization has a shelter which offers a safe space for women who have been victims of a variety of crimes. A couple of weeks ago a group of young teenage girls, including many Syrians, were brought in by the police because they had been forced to work in a restaurant which doubled as a center for sex trafficking. In a society which views victims of sexual assault and rape with disdain and blames the victim for the crime, for these victims they face dire consequences.

While I may live relatively close to Syria, as an American living in Jordan I am afforded luxuries which many Syrians are not so fortunate to have. Outside of my job, in my free time it can be easy for me to forget about the conflict and all of the people who are suffering so close to me. However, I can be easily reminded of their plight when I least expect it. For example,  I went on a trip with some friends to the northern city of Jerash to explore the impressive roman ruins there. After having a fun day enjoying the ruins when driving through the city, we had numerous children and young women come up to our car at stop lights begging for money. This is not the first time I have encountered children and young women begging on the streets for money; sometimes it has been on trips to the Dead Sea or within Amman itself. These experiences are humbling, reminding me that poverty, particularly the poverty that many refugees are subject to is all around me here in Jordan.

My current experience has helped me to see a bit deeper into the effects of the Syrian crisis, particularly through the lives of Syrians themselves. When reading about a distant conflict in a place with which you have no connection, it can be easy to forget that the victims of the conflict are individuals just like you and me who were unfortunate to be put in a difficult situation which is out of their control. The consequences of these types of conflicts are as varied as the people affected by the crisis; sometimes it means that a child’s education is stopped or an elderly woman cannot get the medicine she needs, or perhaps it means the loss of a limb or a family member. Regardless, no matter how small a consequence may seem, for that individual their life has been changed forever.

 

Halfway around the world and back

In the past month and a half, I have traveled over 14,000 miles (22,000 kilometers), attended a conference at the UN, visited a city I have always wanted to see (NYC), returned home, hung out at the Dead Sea and the Pacific Ocean and most importantly, seen so many of my friends and family from all over the world. Here are some of the highlights of my travels.

New York City  

My first stop in my travels was to New York City. This was my first visit to New York as well as to the East Coast of the US. I was fortunate to stay in Midtown Manhattan, right next to the Chrysler Building and the United Nations Headquarters. New York stands true to its reputation as one of the great cities of the world. After having spent extensive amounts of time in other major cities such as London, Paris and Cairo, I have been lucky to add New York to my list of cities visited.

One of the highlights of my trip to New York was being able to participate in a United Nations conference, the Commission on the Status of Women. It was exciting to be around so many people from all over the world who were concerned with the welfare of women. I really enjoyed meeting accomplished and inspiring people in the human rights field. I especially enjoyed the event held by the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Ms. Rashida Manjoo.

In regards to the city itself, I have heard that New Yorkers are a bit cold, but I was pleasantly surprised in finding that the majority of them were extremely helpful and nice. New York is such a tall city; I was amazed at all of the impressive buildings in this city. The Chrysler Building has become one of my new favorite buildings. Central Park is beautiful with the New York skyline as a backdrop. I loved exploring Chinatown. One of my favorite things I did in New York was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Even in the rain it was beautiful and the views from the bridge were fantastic. If anyone has the chance to visit New York, I would definitely recommend it.

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Chrysler Building

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Empire State Building

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United Nations Headquarters

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Piece of the Berlin Wall at the UN

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Central Park

Oregon  

There’s nothing quite like home. The more I travel the more I have come to appreciate my amazing corner of the world, Oregon. This is a diverse state which prides itself on its nature, quirky but lovable inhabitants and delicious, local food. I was fortunate to be able to be home for a month, which was wonderful as I had not been home in the past 14 months. Oregon shows off one of its best sides in the spring with everything in bloom. During my time home, I was able to visit Portland (one of my all-time favorite cities), roam the Willamette Valley, Redmond and make a couple of trips to the Oregon Coast. I was also able to spend a lot of time with my lovely family and friends.

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Portland with a view of Mt. Hood

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Springtime in the city

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Willamette National Forest

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Tulips!

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Oregon Coast

Back to Amman

After many weeks of traveling, I arrived back in Amman.  It is so sunny and warm here, it already feels like summer. Overall my travels were fantastic. I am already looking forward to my next trip, wherever that may be.

The right place to be

So, what am I up to currently?
 It has taken me many years of working jobs which were less than enjoyable and multiple university degrees to finally be able to say I have a job that I like and I am passionate about. Over the years, the idea of what my dream job would be has changed as I have encountered new experiences. I am not sure I will ever figure out what my dream job looks like as my interests continue to change, but I can say I am fortunate to have the job I do now.
Jordanian Women’s Union
 I am currently a Project Coordinator at the Jordanian Women’s Union (JWU). JWU is a human rights organization whose goal is to achieve equality for women in Jordan and throughout the Arab world. JWU has 16 locations in Jordan, and operates throughout the Arab world working on regional projects such as human trafficking and domestic workers. As part of their mission to achieve gender equality, they have engaged in a variety of projects including: a hotline for essential social/psychological/legal services, a shelter for abused women, legal literacy courses and legislation reform. Their work has involved Jordanians along with refugees from many nationalities, including Syrians. They have implemented a variety of projects which complement one another, ensuring that women and their families receive the help they need. To read more about JWU, take a look at their website:
One thing I really like about JWU is that their experience working with people on the ground positively impacts their work on issues such as legislation reform. They were the first organization to establish a shelter for abused women in Jordan in the 1990s. Their projects on trafficking and domestic workers have introduced innovative legislation reform on these issues to governments in countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.
I am currently assisting on a project through UN Women providing support to survivors of SGBV (Sexual and Gender based Violence). The focus is on assisting Syrians in particular, however women from all nationalities are welcome to access these services. One of the unique aspects of this project is a play being implemented on the issue of early marriage. Of the Syrian refugees in Jordan, approximately 70% of women are married under the age of 18, an overwhelming amount. There are many issues which arise when girls are married under the age of 18; these issues pertain to mental, emotional and physical problems. The majority of these girls do not finish a basic education and begin to have children right away. This play helps in addressing the issues which come from early marriage in a manner which is accessible to the audience.
Arab Women’s Network
 Through JWU, the Arab Women’s Network (ROA’A) was established. ROA’A is a feminist Arab network. It is composed of an alliance of Arab women’s organizations whose goal is to eliminate discrimination and violence against women as well as address issues of poverty and suffering throughout the Arab world. The members of ROA’A are from throughout the Arab region, including: Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Bahrain. For more information on ROA’A, take a look at their website:
Commission on the Status of Women
 One of the many opportunities this position has created for me is the chance to attend a United Nations conference put on through the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York with JWU and ROA’A. As part of this event, I will attend events put on through governments, UN agencies and NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Our delegation will be putting on an event concerning the equality of women in the Arab world. After having spent so much time learning about the UN during my master’s degree, I am looking forward to participating in a UN conference. To learn more about the CSW, take a look at the following link:
Where I’m at now
 Through my position at JWU, I have been fortunate in learning first-hand about the operations of a human rights organization and the relationship between NGOs and UN agencies. I am looking forward to attending the CSW in addition to continuing to learn more about the human rights field and all of the different agencies/organizations which work within it. While it may have taken me awhile to get to where I’m at, I can finally say I’m in the right place.

Jordan so far

I have officially been in Jordan for three and a half months. People who have never been here are inevitably curious about Jordan, particularly since not many people know about this small, Middle Eastern country. Considering that the only other country I have been to within the Arab region is Egypt, I find myself endlessly comparing Jordan to Egypt. Being a Western female has also inevitably shaped my experiences in this country as well. So here is a bit about Jordan from my views and experiences so far.

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                Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Jordan is a great introduction to the Middle East and it has a lot to offer to visitors.

For those who have never been to the Middle East, it is a great place to start. Jordan is located in the heart of the Middle East. It is a small country which shares borders with Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The Dead Sea and the Red Sea also form part of this country’s borders. Many different cultures have lived in this country and they have all left their mark on it, including the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and the Ottomans. Jordan is full of fascinating archaeological sites from these different cultures, including the famous site of Petra, which is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Jordan is also part of the Christian Holy Lands and includes religious sites such as Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land and Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, where Jesus was baptized. It is easy to get around as many people speak English and are open to foreigners. Jordan has a lot of delicious food to serve a variety of appetites, even those of a vegetarian.

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                 View from Mount Nebo.

Jordan is welcoming to Westerners.

Overall my experience in Jordan has been very positive. Arab culture is well-known for its hospitality, and this has held true in my experience as the people here have been welcoming and helpful to me. My first experience abroad was in Paris during President Bush’s time in office; with the persistent harassment I received during my time there as an American, it has forever made me a bit hesitant to advertise my nationality. However, the government of Jordan has a good relationship with the US and with the popularity of American culture, this has led to an overall positive attitude in much of the population towards Americans. Being a foreign female has its benefits as well as its drawbacks. For example, I can get into restaurants/bars that are very exclusive. However, I am not sure that makes up for being stared at 24/7 by anyone and everyone who walks past me in the street.

Racism is pervasive everywhere and not all cultures receive such a warm welcome; in Jordan, Egyptians particularly suffer from mistreatment. The refugee populations, while they may be overall welcomed, have also received a lot of discrimination as well. Poverty contributes to rising tensions between the different populations living here, and this is evident through the blame placed on various nationalities for the problems found within this society.

Jordan is a place of refuge.

It’s unique in the region as it is a stable and relatively safe country. Due to these qualities, Jordan has continually served as a place of refuge for many people in need of safe haven. The country has long hosted Palestinian refugees, Iraqi refugees and increasingly Syrian refugees. Many refugees are able to find the assistance they need with housing, employment and other various needs here.

The Syrian crisis has led to a dramatic increase in Syrian refugees in the country in recent years, with mixed reviews from the host population. I had the opportunity to visit Khaldiyeh recently, which is a town in the desert east of Amman and closer to the Syrian border. I learned that the population there was at first happy to receive the Syrians fleeing their country as they had good relations with them in the past. However, the residents there believed the Syrians would only be staying for a short while and as the conflict continued, the spirit of welcoming then came to an end. This area is one of the poorest in Jordan, and with Syrian refugees receiving aid from donors and the Jordanians receiving nothing, it created tensions in the community. Additionally, Jordanian women felt threatened by Syrian women, fearing that they came to take their men away from them. Syrian children have experienced harassment from the local children, with some parents taking their children out of school altogether. However, efforts have been made to reconcile the differences between the Jordanian and Syrian communities, with Jordanians reaching out to Syrians, and with Syrians distributing their aid to other poor Jordanian families. These efforts to help one another are evident of the hospitable nature of the Arab communities, even in the most desperate of situations.

Jordan is worth a visit.

So far, I have been pleased with my time here in Jordan. I still have a lot to see and do here in this small, but diverse country. For those of you interested in visiting the Middle East, Jordan is a wonderful place to explore. I have been fortunate in being able to live here, and I am looking forward to learning more about what this country has to offer.

The F Word

I am a feminist. There, I said it. For those of you who think I just might be a crazy man hating kind of lady, first of all, you clearly don’t know anything about me. I actually like men quite a bit. What I don’t like is the idea that some people think women are less than men. I believe that all people should be treated equally no matter who they are. End of story.

In the West, feminism brings up images of crazy women who hate men. I remember having this conversation with a lot of women in the US in years past. Many women, while they may be feminists, are hesitant to call themselves such and do not wish to be associated with the feminist movement.

My question is this…why do people think feminism is such a bad thing?

My passion for feminism has grown stronger as a result of living in societies where it is clearly evident that women lack equality with men. While Jordan has made progress towards improving the rights of women through ratifying international conventions such as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, much remains to be done. For example, Jordanian legislation contains a law called the “Rape-Marriage” Law. This law stipulates that if a rapist marries his victim, then he will not be prosecuted for his crime by the court. Excuse me? Can you imagine anything worse? Basically the victim is punished for life while the rapist gets away with it and better yet, he gets a wife out of the deal. Disgusting. But wait, there’s more.

Violence against women is not limited to one country or culture. The violence which takes place against women throughout the world is appalling. Take for example India. In recent years, cases of rape there have made international headlines. In 2012, the “Delhi Bus Gang Rape” took place. This case involved the rape of a 23 year old student by a gang of men. This lady eventually died as a result of massive internal injuries incurred during the rape. The case sparked outrage across India and throughout the world. It led to amendments in India’s legislation with the introduction of tougher laws for rapists. Unfortunately rape is still a very common occurrence in India in spite of this new legislation. In 2013 another Indian rape case caught the world’s attention when a 16 year old girl was gang raped twice, once after informing the police about the initial rape, and then was set on fire. She died two months later on New Year’s Eve.

What will it take for this violence to stop?

It is necessary for legislation to be amended so that it protects women more in order to effectively fight this issue of violence against women. However, for change to truly become effective, something in society needs to change first. One of the major problems is the way in which the victim is viewed in the first place. Often times the victim is blamed for bringing the rape upon herself, by wearing a skirt that’s too short or by looking at a man in the wrong way. A parody video was made by All India Bakchod, an Indian comedy group, which addresses India’s rape culture, specifically the issue of blaming the victims for causing the rape in the first place.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hC0Ng_ajpY

Violence against women is pervasive. It is found everywhere. In order for this violence to stop, women need to have equal rights with men. Women should not be viewed as objects to be controlled, but as human beings worthy of something better. Women need to be treated with respect. Until women have truly achieved equality, they will continue to suffer from abuse.

Interested in learning more? Check out these following links:

1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/

India prayers for Delhi gang rape victim

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-25397849

India gang rape victim’s family meets president to seek justice

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-25636930

Third time’s the charm

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” 
― Eleanor Roosevelt

To say that I am bad at blogging would be a bit of an understatement. With multiple attempts never making it past their second or third entry, my blogs tend to be short-lived. I think my problem in the past was that I went about blogging the wrong way…my subject matter always consisted of things that I thought other people would want to read rather than what I was interested in actually talking about. I recently came to the realization that after extensive expat experience in four countries (France, Egypt, United Kingdom and Jordan) in addition to my various travels in between that with everything I have learned, what is the point in learning it if I keep this knowledge all to myself? Therefore, I have decided to try blogging once again and inshallah (god willing) this blog will last a bit longer than the others.

A little bit about myself…

I am a 25 year old American female living and working in Amman, Jordan. After completing my master’s degree in human rights at Kingston University in London in September 2013, I knew that I wanted to head back to the Arab world, a region which first ignited my passion for human rights.

Why human rights?

The responses I received about my interest in human rights have varied greatly, particularly by location. When I told people in the US about my interest in human rights, most people say, “What’s that?” When I told people in the UK, most people had at least heard of the concept of human rights, even if they didn’t know much about them. When I told people in Jordan, they said, “That’s great, we need that here.” Human rights are something which is not fully appreciated until they are gone. For people living in places where human rights are more respected than not, many people do not even realize how good their lives are as a result of their rights being respected and upheld.

In 2010 I began a master’s degree in International Relations at The American University in Cairo. Alongside my studies, I had an internship as a Legal Intern at St. Andrew’s Resettlement Legal Aid Project. At this internship I helped refugees prepare their cases in applying for resettlement in countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. During this internship I worked with refugees one on one, interviewing them about their lives. I learned about their past traumatic experiences which made them refugees in the first place and the continued harrowing experiences they encountered by living in Egypt. They told me about their experiences of receiving multiple death threats, having their businesses and homes destroyed, their disabled children being beaten in the street, their children kidnapped, their family members being murdered and of being raped themselves…all because they were being persecuted for various reasons.

This internship completely changed me. Up until that point, I had never given human rights much thought. But after this experience, I decided to pursue a degree in human rights in London. I could not have made a better choice…the education I received through my master’s degree was exactly what I was looking for. It equipped me with the skills and knowledge I needed in order to pursue a career within the human rights field.

So here I am, a human rights activist, feminist, traveler and lover of new experiences, living in the Middle East, all the time learning that I have much more to learn about well, everything. As part of this blog I want to write about human rights issues, my life as an expat and my thoughts on the Middle East. I hope this blog sheds some insights into my life and my experiences. From taking up belly dancing classes to never-ending cultural misunderstandings, I like to think of my life as a series of adventures which help to shape me for the better. Life is for living, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.