As a follow-up to my last post, I just watched a documentary on a girl held as a sex slave in a rural Pennsylvanian town for ten years. “Captive: The Sex Slave Girl” is a film that interviews many of the people involved in a case of grooming and sexual abuse in a small town and presents the facts in a very unbiased manner. As the story progresses, we meet the parents of the young woman, the neighbors and associates of her captor, the social worker who helped her and the lawyer who represented her in court and later co-authored her book: “Memoir of a Milk Carton Kid.” While watching the film and listening to the people involved, one can easily pick sides and find support for their beliefs both in the words of the people speaking and their actions, or lack of, with respect to the events that occurred.
In my opinion, this is the sad story of yet another young woman let down by society in every way. A 13 and 14 years old, children are still very vulnerable and easily manipulated. They are still learning who they are and where they fit into society. What happened to Tanya is a cumulation of unfortunate events and sadly, it still seems like she is being manipulated by those people whom she trusts; for example, the lawyer who saw dollar signs and co-wrote her book, but then insists he won’t go down with it if they get sued.
What we need to learn as a society is to look out for the warning signs and to put aside our own selfish needs and recognize when a person is looking for help. It is wrong to sell a young girl into marriage and it is wrong to allow a relationship to develop between a minor and an adult. Just because a girl is married to a man does not mean he has the right to abuse her, and just because Tanya went willingly with her abuser does not mean that he had the right to groom her and take advantage of her vulnerability. Sadly, her story is not the only one, and there are thousands of young women and children in situations like hers and even worse. Hopefully, by presenting her story, people will learn to recognize the signs of abuse and will not hesitate to act on it.
“I Was Worth 50 Sheep” is an hour-long documentary film about the dire conditions for women and young girls in Afghanistan. In a country torn by war, women have few rights and most are tucked away into the corners of society, hidden from view by their blue burqas and tall mud walls of their prison homes. This documentary follows one family’s struggles to protect their daughters while trying to beat poverty. What begins as their struggle to save the elder daughter from an abusive marriage to a much older man, ends with the younger daughter being handed over to face a similar situation. The younger daughter’s reply when asked how she felt before being handed over, “I was worth 50 sheep.” She was twelve years old.
With the Arab Spring, many women are joining the revolution in the Middle East and Central Asia to demand equal rights and equal treatment, but change does not come over night. It was not so long ago that our “Western” society was also denying women their equal rights. However, with modern technology and globalization, we are becoming more aware of the events in other regions of the world. Places we might not know about if it weren’t for television and the internet (and even with them, I am sure there are a large number of people who couldn’t place a single Middle Eastern or Central Asian country on a map). Rather than continue to allow this systematic abuse of women around the world, we must act to change the underlying reasons for the abuse. It is apparent in the movie that although the girl’s father wishes to help her, he is poor and seems unsure of how to resolve his agreement with the man to whom he promised his young daughter. He is uneducated and incapable of seeing beyond the traditions that have told him that it’s ok to sell your daughter. While viewing from afar it is easy to point fingers, but we must recognize that to help women around the world to have a better future requires changing centuries old traditions. It requires the education of both the men and the women. It requires providing the families with opportunities to enhance their lives and helping them find a way to get out of poverty without selling their daughters.
For people interested in women’s rights, I recommend watching this film. With a journalistic approach, the film shows viewers the poverty and difficult circumstances which many Afghan families face. With little education and the inability to find an alternative solution, many fall back on their traditions and sell their daughters. It is a depressing documentary, but hopefully it will help to spread awareness of the situation and to bring some positive change to the region.
The film ends with the haunting message that neither her family nor the women’s shelter know where Farzaneh (the youngest daughter) is. Sold to a husband and moved to a Taliban controlled region of Afghanistan, the younger sister has fatefully followed in her older sister’s footsteps. Perhaps this film can raise enough awareness of her plight that she too can be rescued from a life of servitude and abuse.
I visited Susiya in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank of Palestine one weekend last November. The purpose of the visit was not only to increase awareness of the living conditions of the Palestinians in Susiya and other regions of Area C in Palestine, but also to learn how the restrictions placed on the communities has led them to become incredibly self-sufficient and eco-friendly.
To fully comprehend the situation in Susiya and other Palestinian villages in Area C of the West Bank of Palestine requires actually visiting these sites, speaking to the people and listening to their stories. Only by listening to their words and placing yourself in their shoes, can you see how important it is that the construction of more illegal Jewish settlements needs to end and at the same time, existing Palestinian villages need to be given equal treatment – water and electricity access and financial retribution for forced evacuations – as the Jewish settlements.
Imagine, that one day, after living for generations without hassle, someone comes along and tells you that you have to move, that this location has been deemed an area of historical significance and that you are living there illegally. Never mind that you were born there and that your family has called this place home for several generations. Never mind that your grandfather and his family lived there before the State of Israel even existed.
But, what can you do when an army of soldiers and a mob of angry settlers surround you and demand that you leave? So, you leave. You and the other families pack up your few belongings and move to another location several hundred meters from the newly discovered archaeological site. You receive no compensation for your loss. No financial assistance to build a permanent home for your family or school for your children. Nearby, another settlement is being evacuated, but this one is an illegal Jewish outpost. The inhabitants of this settlement are being rewarded for their efforts, although their outpost was, even by their own government’s laws, illegal.
You watch as yet another settlement is built, this time with government assistance, on the top of the hill on the other side of a valley. You watch as the building materials are unloaded and the houses begin to rise up. You watch as the electricity poles are erected and the water pipes are laid down. While the settlement on the other side of the valley has a swimming pool, you are denied even a single drop of water. Never mind that the electric lines and water pipes run across your land or that you offer to pay a higher premium for the utilities. Since your new village has also been deemed illegal, the government will do whatever they can to force you to evacuate once again, even if that means denying you access to the most basic human need: water.
On the other side of the valley, you watch as the people move in and the presence of the army grows larger. You notice that the boundaries are changing. Several your water cisterns in the valley below are destroyed and a newly created buffer zone, to protect the illegal settlement on the other side of the valley, now limits your access to several of your remaining water cisterns and even to some of your fields. Now, you have to buy water from the city at much higher rate than the settlers pay for their stolen water on the other side of the valley.
You’re a simple farmer, how can you afford to buy enough water for drinking, let alone irrigation for your farm? And as if the situation was not bad enough, thanks to an old Ottoman law, you will also lose part of your land if you are not able to farm the fields and plow the land. Soldiers are sent to ensure that this happens. They deny you access to your own land, and in three years, if you have not managed to plow it, the settlers will take that from you as well.
In your region, nature is not kind. In the winter it is freezing and without a permanent home, you and your family struggle to stay warm in a canvas tent with a metal frame. Your animals live in a shelter created from discarded materials and plastic sheeting. An environmentalist would reward your for your ability to reuse material previous marked for disposal.
The two most prevalent elements that nature sends, wind and sun, are harnessed to bring some relief. An Israeli scientist arrives with a plan and, with time, he manages to bring electricity to your village by using an intricate network of batteries powered by windmills and solar panels. Some of the families even receive cooking gas through a bio-fuel converter set up by an international group of environmental students. It’s slowly evolving into an environmental scientist’s dream village. But, with constant threat of demolition, even these small improvements cannot bring peace.
I am writing this article, because these are real people, their suffering is real and it is preventable. We must continue to raise awareness of the situation in Area C of the West Bank. The international community cannot ignore the plight of the villagers in this region. This is where the foundations for peace without politics can be constructed. I am pro-Israel and pro-Palestine because I am pro-peace. Just as not every Isreali is an anti-Palestininan zionist, not every Palestinian is an anti-Jewish/anti-Israel terrorist. It’s time to stop labeling people and grouping them into categories. It’s time to for the people of this region to get to know their neighbors and recognize them as equals and hopefully also as friends. People who deserve equal treatment and equal access to water, electricity, employment and education.
If you would like more information on the region, please visit these websites:
It’s been awhile since I wrote in this blog. But, now after three months living in Israel, I feel the need to write about the current situation with Gaza.
I guess that now, living through this current situation is like a true welcome to life as an Israeli (I am not an Israeli, I am here because my boyfriend is). I am not scared when the air sirens go off or the loud explosions rattle my ear drums. Why? Because Israel has the Iron Dome defense system and the rockets from Gaza are not terribly accurate or destructive – even the 3 Israelis that were killed could have been safe if they had been in the hallway and not on the balcony watching the rockets. On the other hand, what protection do the Gazans have?
I wonder, do they have reliable air sirens? Do they have safe bunkers? Are they really given enough advance notice before a missile attack and are Israel’s missiles really that accurate?
And even if the missiles are accurate, Hamas and the other organizations firing rockets often plant them in civilian locations. The fact that Israel knows this makes me wonder, why then do they bomb them? Israeli is able to withstand a continuous rocket attack with minimal damage thanks to its defense system, so why go ahead with full-scale missile attacks? Why do they continue to take the bait and in doing so continue to draw the wrath of the international community? When will they learn?
Another part of my welcome to Israel is the hypocrisy of this whole situation. Last weekend we were in the West Bank talking to Palestinians and learning about their lives and talking about what it would take to have peace. And this weekend. Well, two days ago my boyfriend was called up for the reserves. Now he’s gone to “fight” the Palestinians.
In reality, the situation in the West Bank is very different from the situation in Gaza. In the West Bank, there is a chance for peace. If only Israel would stop the ridiculous land grabs, stop planting radical, racist settlers in illegal settlements and start prosecuting the settlers when they attack the Palestinians rather than arrest the Palestinians when they complain. If Jewish people want to live in Palestine, it should only be with the invitation of the Palestinian community.
On the other side of Israel, Gaza is a different story. A few years ago, the settlers there were finally removed as well as the soldiers. So Gaza is not technically “occupied territory”. But, Israel blocks access to Gaza, so the people there have very limited supplies, unreliable electricity, few jobs and no room to grow with their exploding population (nearly half of the people in Gaza are under 18). What do you get when you have a large youthful population with nothing to do? Anyone can tell you. A lot of disenchanted, bored, people with a lot of pent-up frustration and aggression and seemingly nothing to live for. In essence, trouble.
The problem with Gaza is also that no one really wants to help them. If the Egyptians really cared about the people in Gaza, why don’t they provide them with land in Sinai and more access to supplies through the border crossing at Sinai? And with all of the enemies of Israel using Gaza as a front, Israel is not likely to loosen their blockade given the number of trojan horses that attempt to enter Gaza every day with weapons hidden amongst medical supplies and humanitarian aid. If these other countries actually felt any remorse for the Palestinians, they would stop exacerbating the situation with Israel by providing more weapons and instead find ways to help the Palestinians living there to actually improve their lives. The sad reality is that the Palestinians of Gaza are pawns caught in a never-ending war between two opposing governments and their respective allies.
Not to be a bible quoter, but maybe what the people in this region need is a lesson or two from Jesus, like Matthew 5:38 – 42 and Luke 6:27-31. (I remember learning these in Sunday school)
Several days ago I returned to civilization having just spent six weeks on a kibbutz in the middle of the desert. It was a harsh return. Back to the honking cars, pushing and shoving, and general stress of city life. I watched TV, something I generally prefer not to do, and indulged myself in the current events around the world. Or at least what the news channel decided were the most important events currently happening. No matter where you go, the news always seems to focus on crime, human suffering, and pro sports. Is this our replacement for gladiator games and public punishment for accused criminals? If so, has human nature really evolved in the past 2000 years or have we just become more technologically advanced?
Snow covered mountains, glaciers that end near rainforests, rivers that carve through steep gorges, and endless pastures full of sheep, that’s what most people think about when someone mentions New Zealand’s South Island. But all that beautiful nature that brings people to the South Island is about to change. That same beauty for which thousands of tourists come to see each year, is now threatened to be destroyed by those same tourists. One of the largest tour operators on the South Island has proposed to build a tunnel in order to reduce the amount of travel time that tours take to reach Milford Sound. What does this mean? Well, it means that thousands more tourists will infiltrate the Sound, which will likely drive up the amount of ecological and environmental damage already done by the many boats that operate on the sounds. The roads in the region will be widened to accommodate the tourists, which means many ancient trees will be cut down indiscriminately. The loss of these trees will also lead to the loss of habitat for the many native bird species that are already struggling due to modern environmental damage and an encroaching human population. There is also the considerable amount of environmental damage that will be done by the construction of the tunnel itself. Essentially, this tunnel, done for the benefit of tourists who wish to visit a country that promotes itself as clean and green, will be exactly the opposite. The World Heritage site that the tunnel would connect to could no longer possible be considered as such since to be World Heritage is to promote preservation and protection of natural wonders for the benefit of all, including future generations.
If you have visited New Zealand or have longed to go, please sign the petition, save Milford Sound and the surrounding environment for the trees, the native wildlife, the locals, and the tourists.
Sadly I have already begun to neglect my blog as I spend my days volunteering on a kibbutz in the middle of the desert. I am happy to be here though, waking up in the morning and watching the sun rise over the red Jordan mountains and walking back to my room at night under the stars. The only negative is the constant army practice with machine guns, tanks, and small artillery. It is a little ironic that this peaceful little kibbutz is nearly entirely surrounded by the army’s firing zone. It is also sad that those who are doing most of the firing are only just out of high school and would probably benefit themselves and their country a lot more if they were to come to the kibbutz and learn organic farming rather than spend three years learning to fight.