Tag Archive | open ed

Sandy’s unacknowledged victims

Hurricane Sandy flooding Haiti once again and the need to raise houses up: Disaster Housing Alternatives By Tjebbe van Tijen / Imaginary Museum Projects | cc: flickr

Hurricane Sandy flooding Haiti once again and the need to raise houses up: Disaster Housing Alternatives By Tjebbe van Tijen / Imaginary Museum Projects | cc: flickr

The night that Hurricane Sandy struck the Caribbean coast, CNN described how the storm hit New Jersey. Only a few sharp-eyed people noticed the small line at the bottom of the screen that mentioned fatalities in the Caribbean islands. None of the reporters in the studio spoke of the destruction there.

The hurricane once again revealed what goes on behind the scenes of the media’s coverage. As it turns out, the hurricane did not skip over the Caribbean Islands on its way to the United States.

The number of known fatalities in the islands currently stands at 70, of which 54 occurred in Haiti, 11 in Cuba, and several in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. The combined population of the islands is around 40 million people who are exceptionally exposed to natural disasters such as Sandy.

Haiti was devastated by the hurricane. Agricultural crops, those in storage and those under preparation for the winter, as well as the warehouses in which they were stored, were destroyed. In Cuba, more than 200,000 homes were damaged and only a small portion of the country’s renowned coffee beans were saved. In other islands, crops were ruined when the people who harvest them were forced to wait until the storm ended. Throughout the Caribbean there is widespread fear of potential disease from contaminated waters.

In Jamaica, authorities imposed a two-day curfew, which was promptly violated by people who looted shops. More than 70 percent of the people who relied on electricity from the country’s only provider were left without power for days.

Damage to private homes and public infrastructure in the Bahamas was assessed at around $300 million.

Why didn’t the media cover the tremendous tragedy that befell the Caribbean? Was it too hard for people to fathom the damages? Of course not. Are the Caribbean Islanders unimportant? They too are people, but apparently reality proves otherwise.

The destruction in the Caribbean caused by Sandy was a double-edged sword. Not only was there damage to both people and property, but the destitute survivors who reside on the islands now face starvation (supply routes were damaged), endemic diseases (Haitians fear an outbreak of cholera) and rising costs of food products.

The media, which is supposed to take a balanced approach to reporting events around the world, focused on the U.S. and relegated the Caribbean tragedy to a mere footnote, and in so doing possibly denied the islands much-needed world aid.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who went from the storm straight into the elections, symbolizes the upward mobility of the downtrodden. But like other politicians, he too gives precedence to Americans suffering from the results of the hurricane, despite his promises of aid to the weaker elements in society. Take, for example, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, which is still in operation despite Obama’s promise to shut it down during his previous election campaign. Although electricity was also reportedly down in the prison due to the storm, no media outlet cared to cover the conditions of the prisoners there.

What will happen now in the Caribbean? Who will hear their voices? At the moment, there are no clear answers to those questions. There will be no aid for people living in countries that are not reported as suffering. When the world media and politicians consider problems in the Third World a low priority, helpless people have nowhere to turn.

This article was first published on Israel Hayom

Salt in the wound

The iconic illustration of a woman sprinkling a pinch of salt was recently removed from Salit’s salt packaging. The company claimed the drawing was removed so as to specifically mark the products for Passover. But do we even really need a picture of a woman on a product like house salt? Why has this question not been asked during the public debate that followed the illustration’s removal? Why does a salt company need a depiction of a housewife sprinkling a pinch of salt?

Throughout history, women were considered home-makers, while men dominated the public sphere. Women were meant for the kitchen, and men were meant to use their strength to run all other matters. Let’s assume, as has been reported, that it was the ultra-Orthodox who pressured the company to remove the female logo from the product. Also, let’s assume Salit became much more conservative and decided to remove the logo itself. Is it really necessary to fight against exclusion of women? Well, the answer is no, because we don’t want the picture of a woman on the product in the first place. Women should be equal to men and not objects for advertising.

The majority shareholder of Salit salt is wealthy Israeli businesswoman Shari Arison. Why didn’t Arison ever wonder, as a thinking woman, why the company she owned relegated the woman to the kitchen? Arison in her position could have changed the modus operandi of the companies she owned, and this step could have been a stepping stone in changing gender perceptions in Israel (changing the image in foods, culture and overall). So why didn’t Salit remove the female logo from its products earlier? It seems there are some parts of the male outlook that are hard to part with, because of tradition, and also as a result of women entering the male-run world of business.

The media immediately responded with banter, outrage, and slandering of the ultra-Orthodox lobby that allegedly caused the image to be removed. But a quick verification proved that there was no threat of boycott by any haredi companies of any kind. On the contrary, it was Salit that called for the change in labeling specifically to differentiate the product for Passover. The banter in the media was based on the assumption that the ultra-Orthodox caused the logo to be removed itself revealed the media’s conservative outlook. It is very easy to jump to conclusions during a time when women are removed from billboards in haredi areas, ordered not to sing at army ceremonies, and told to sit in the back of the bus.

We could have found ourselves in agreement with feminists wishing to disrupt the gender association of women in the kitchen, and with conservatives who want to preserve gender exclusion in the public.

But it was the secular leftists who pushed for the image to remain on the label, the historic icon that symbolized the exclusion of women, while the haredi community did not weigh in on the issue. We need to stop shunning those who are different from us. It is easy to rally a public into hating the other, in this case the haredim, but taking a deeper look shows us that when it comes to the housewife on salt products, we need to be more like the ultra-Orthodox.

This opinion was first published on Israel Hayom newspaper.

The unraveling of society

cc: flickr By brizzle born and bred

cc: flickr By brizzle born and bred

The horrific rape in Gan Haair, in central Tel Aviv over the weekend, comes to us on the heels of the gruesome murder in Beersheba, stabbings in Netanya and across the country and senior municipality officials allegedly involved in a sex scandal in Kiryat Malachi. One incident follows another, at a rate that seems to be increasing. Israeli society has suddenly revealed its neglected, dilapidated backyard, and it’s open for all to see. Personal safety is slipping away.

In the face of all this violence, there is a communication breakdown. The language is violent. Reactions are violent. Instead of speaking to one another, people are killing and raping. Dialogue is lost, and with it man’s hope for reaching understanding with his fellow man.

What’s scary about the violence is that it is beginning at such a young age. Gadi Vichman was murdered by a group of teenagers because he asked for quiet and consideration for his sleeping children. We mustn’t assume this can’t happen in our neighborhoods. It could happen in any neighborhood in Israel, and it’s not only related to poverty and social frustrations. We are lacking the ability to listen, to be tolerant, and to open our ears to the distress of the person standing before us. The army can’t be solely to blame for this, nor can the occupation or the social welfare authorities.

What is required is social responsibility on a wider scale than simply blaming one governmental authority or another. We are in the midst of a tumult that doesn’t allow us to listen and hear our brothers — and we are witnesses to where things can deteriorate: murder, stabbings, sexual assault and rape.

It starts at home, with the manner of discourse between a child and his parents. When the parents are powerless against their own child, the result is a child who is powerless against himself and his friends. This dynamic of paralysis leads to unreceptiveness, anger and rage. The lack of ability to speak and communicate leads to using violence as a solution.

I read the newspaper headlines and feel helpless. I ask myself where the boiling point is. What else needs to happen before we wake up? The answer isn’t a simple one. Every moment brings with it a new record for the cruelty running rampant in the streets. But I don’t think the violence is meaningless and can’t receive proper treatment.

These random encounters with violence — one time in a parking garage in Gan Meir in Tel Aviv, the next in a residential neighborhood in Beersheba or the market in Netanya — won’t be solved only by the police, the use of force or imposing the public order. The streets are not a fight club. The streets must be a common place where we can meet one another.

We can, of course, walk around wearing heavy armor, like knights in medieval times, but what would we gain by that? It would only widen the detachment between us. We must bring a new energy to the street, with a shared vision.

The violence spreading among us shows that some of the seams of our society aren’t woven properly and have come undone. Where they have unraveled, we find ourselves in Sodom and Gomorrah. We must mend Israeli society, based on an ethos of dialogue, tolerance and listening. We must give our children hope. We have mouths and ears, so let’s use them.

This article was published on Israel Hayom newspaper, 14.5.2012

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