The passing of Israeli singing legend Arik Einstein has sparked an outpouring of appreciation for a man whose songs became the soundtrack for a nation, uniting Israelis of all stripes through the ups and downs of an adolescent country beset by social divisions, religious strife, and war.
"He was our Frank Sinatra, our Elvis Presley, our Bruce Springsteen all rolled into one," wrote Chemi Shalev in the daily newspaper Haaretz, calling Mr. Einstein the embodiment of the new, liberal, secular Israel. "He was unencumbered by history, unburdened by Jewish suffering, undaunted by the bombastic ideology of his elders and peers.... he sang of the mundane, day-to-day things that a normal Israeli would wish for, if he could only be normal."
While Einstein's songs are always on the radio, they have been playing nonstop since his passing Nov. 26 as everyone from secular leftists to ultra-Orthodox Jews commemorate the words that shaped an era of Israeliness that some say has now ended. Some 10,000 people came to bid him farewell in Tel Aviv, and at a time when the Iran nuclear deal was dominating headlines, Einstein's passing commanded the first 10 pages of one of Israel's most prominent daily newspapers, Yediot Aharonot.
“His songs accompanied us at all the stations of our lives — in our loves and disappointments, our ups and downs,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
When former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in this square by a Jewish ultra-nationalist two years after signing the 1993 Oslo peace accords, it was Einstein's rendition of “Cry for You” that became the unofficial funeral hymn.
But the jury is out on the anthem for Einstein's passing. Some have mourned it as the end of a kind of golden era for Israel. "It was as if a link in a chain to the Good Old Days had suddenly snapped, and we were left dangling," wrote Liat Collins for the Jerusalem Post.
Others say, however, that it would be a mistake to pigeonhole the modest Einstein as simply a symbol of good old Israeliness, when really he was a revolutionary figure in many ways, the quintessence of Israeli masculine cool who championed Zionism but also challenged it.
“They say that once there was a wonderful dream here, but when I came to look, I didn’t find a thing,” he sang in his hit, “Maybe it’s all over.”
He also challenged social mores, bringing a new voice in the 1960s, at a time when the government banned the Beatles fearing it would corrupt the country’s youth.
Israelis, aware of the freewheeling movements sweeping the rest of the world, were ready, says radio personality and music journalist Liron Teeni.
“With only one TV station, a few radio stations, we all gathered around the ‘campfire’ to see Arik … who came in bigger than anything, with songs that focused on the language, on the Israeli character,” Mr. Teeni says.
In the 1970s, Mr. Einstein forged a new sound for a generation disillusioned by the wars and conservatism of their “pioneering” parents. With new waves of Sephardi immigrants – Jews from Arab countries – often marginalized by the dominant Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, ethnic and social tensions boiled. While Einstein's roots were Ashkenazi, his music was highly critical of such social injustice.
He also sang of simpler things – family, relationships, and an indefinable love for the land and its people. One of his most popular hits, "Ouf Gozal" (Fly away, young chick) speaks of children leaving the nest – but perhaps also a young country growing up.
In the 1980s, as the country moved toward capitalism, and the right-wing and religious establishment would come to gain an unprecedented political influence, Einstein withdrew from the public eye but continued producing albums and was still the most widely played singer in Israel as of 2010, at age 71.
"... we sang along with him: 'You and I will change the world,'" wrote Ms. Collins for the Jerusalem Post. "And if he did not change the entire world, he certainly helped shape Israel and make it a better place."
America’s post-turkey shopping spree is taking off around the world, and Israel is one of the most enthusiastic adopters.
Last year, Israelis spent seven times more over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend than their daily average – second only to Colombians, who spent 11 times more, and tied with the Irish – according to a survey by FiftyOne, an international e-commerce solution provider.
After living here for a year, it’s easy to see why American deals would be so appealing for Israelis. Despite the fact that the average Israeli wage is significantly lower than the average American wage – 9,297 shekels a month ($2,640) compared to $3,084, according to the countries’ respective national statistics – almost all consumer products are more expensive in Israel than in the US.
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Gas costs roughly $8 per gallon, as does milk, despite the fact that you can almost see Saudi Arabia – one of the most oil-rich countries in the world – from southern Israel. Furniture at Ikea is about 30 percent more than in America. Clothes are so expensive that some people wait for their once-a-year trip to the US to shop, bringing home an extra suitcase full of Old Navy or Gap items.
Books are hard to find and similarly overpriced (though clever folks have developed work-arounds; I knew one young soldier whose dad traveled to the US frequently for work, so he joked that he had his own personal Amazon air courier service). And Israel imposes taxes of close to 100 percent on new cars, though there are deductions for greener cars.
Of course, Cyber Monday deals probably don’t extend to international car shipping. But when imports of all kinds put such a dent in your pocketbook, saving $20 on a pair of sneakers here and $50 on some electronic equipment can help keep the car full of gas.
Israeli websites such as Buy2USA, which enables Israelis to buy stuff at US e-commerce sites like Amazon or Zappos and then have it shipped to them, have offered special deals for this weekend, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Thanks to such arrangements, US retailers saw international sales triple last year, according to the FiftyOne survey.
But Israeli retails are standing to benefit as well, as they take a page out of the American playbook and offer their own Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, the Post reports.
I’ve grown used to the morning honking of the garbage truck since moving to my new Gaza City apartment three years ago.
But there has been no noise since Sunday.
The municipality has replaced its fleet of trucks with donkey carts because of an acute fuel shortage. It’s just one of many ways the living conditions here have deteriorated as the Hamas government find itself squeezed between its Palestinian rival, Fatah; Egypt’s new secular rulers; and Israel.
Earlier this week, I welcomed the new garbage collector from my balcony and went down to chat with him.
Abu Sabri, a father of five, said he had used his cart to transport vegetables and goods to the Old Market in Gaza City since 2009. But business in Gaza has been badly affected by the recent shut down of smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, which were used to bring in all kinds of goods, from cars to Kentucky Fried Chicken orders, since Israel tightened restrictions on which goods could be trucked in.
"One man's poison is another man's meat," Abu Sabri said, smiling, when I asked him how he managed to find the job.
Abu Sabri said the municipality had had to hire donkey carts to collect garbage from the streets after 70 percent of garbage trucks became idle due to the lack of fuel and the municipality’s inability to pay for expensive fuel coming from Israel.
Abu Sabri says he get $300 per month for the job he does for three hours, six days a week.
"Getting a fixed salary is much better than working in the market. Sometimes I make good money at the market, but most of the time I barely make some money enough to bring food to my kids," he told me as he threw plastic bags full of garbage on the cart.
Like every Gazan, Abu Sabri is sick of the unbearable living conditions. His home was flooded by sewage a few days ago, when the main Gaza City sewage plant stopped due to the fuel shortage, and he buys clothes for his kids from the junkyard. “I’m leading a second-hand life,” he says.
Actually Abu Sabri might be much better off than thousands of Gazans. At least he has a permanent job, especially after the municipality promised him – along with more than 250 other owners of donkey carts – that it will keep them employed even after the trucks get back to work.
But frustration in the war-torn Gaza is easily seen on the faces of the residents. It's not an easy life to live in a place with only six hours of electricity a day, no jobs, and almost no freedom of movement.
The political conflict between Hamas and its foes – Israel, the Palestinian government in Ramallah, and the new Egyptian regime – has negatively affected everyday life here.
The people of Gaza are paying the price of a political game and they are the only loser.
Abu Sabri wishes he could just leave Gaza and settle in a better country. "But I'm an uneducated person who does not master any craft."
But for now, he is at least helping to keep my neighborhood clean.
Exhausted, you’ve just finished a marathon round of nuclear negotiations that failed.
Everyone sitting around the negotiating table knows why: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius brought a host of last-minute concerns to the deal that had already been painstakingly negotiated between the US and Iran, which had been thought ready for signing.
The result was 20 changes to the text of the document, which were finally accepted after many hours of back-and-forth by all members of the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany).
You, as Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, are presented the revised document late, as talks are drawing to a close. But the changes mean that you must consult with Tehran, forcing another round of talks: Geneva III.
Later you are surprised to hear US Secretary of State John Kerry blame Iran for the breakdown, for not being able to accept the deal “at that particular moment,” despite “unity” by the P5+1 over their “fair proposal.”
How do you respond? In the old days – and if Iran and the US had not severed diplomatic ties 34 years ago – you might have issued a demarche to Washington, demanding a more accurate accounting.
But instead you turn to Twitter, as a member of Iran’s new presidential administration who has become adept as communicating directly with the outside world through Twitter and Facebook.
“Mr. Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of US draft Thursday night? and publicly commented against it Friday morning?” you tweet, referring to the French role as spoiler. Within minutes, your tweet has been picked up by the wire agencies, and Iran's complaint is "official."
You state in another tweet that Iran is “committed to constructive engagement,” and in another that “no amount of spinning can change what happened…but it can further erode confidence.”
Like other senior officials – including Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – you are active on social media.
Just the day before the Geneva III talks, you post a video on YouTube, to present Iran’s argument for a nuclear program in English, calling for “dignity” and a “leap” toward modern progress for your nation a reasoned tone.
But Twitter and Facebook are filtered and therefore illegal in Iran, and their extensive use by Iran’s new crop of tech-savvy officials has raised questions inside Iran about the obvious contradiction.
Just last week in a speech, Mr. Khamenei referred to the disputed election of 2009, and the mass street protests that were partly organized using social media. He said America had then “hoped to overthrow the Islamic Republic with the help of media activities and networks such as Facebook [and] Twitter….They had these foolish delusions.”
Iran’s centrist President Hassan Rouhani, who today marks 100 days since his first cabinet meeting, has promised to ease censorship and filtering, and tweets in both Persian and English.
So how did you, as Mr. Zarif, announce two days ago that a nuclear deal had finally been clinched after another marathon round of talks, Geneva III? With a tweet.
And your deputy Seyed Abbas Araghchi? He also tweeted the news that would launch euphoria across Iran: “Day Five. 3am. Talks. White smoke.”
He doesn’t exactly have the typical diplomat’s resumé: Overthrew father in a coup; travels with his own orchestra; and comes from a country that until relatively recently didn’t have newspapers.
But Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the monarch of Oman since 1970, reportedly played a key role in facilitating the secret US-Iran talks leading up to today’s “historic” nuclear deal, according to the Associated Press. His involvement offers a reminder of the colorful deal-making, sometimes by unlikely characters, that has long been an integral part of the Middle Eastern landscape.
Sultan Qaboos was educated first in India and then at Britian’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst – that venerable institution that claims among its diverse alumni Winston Churchill, King George Tupou V of Tonga, and Maj. Allan Cameron, a Scot who helped establish the International Curling Federation.
His worldly education may help explain how the sultan became something of a renaissance man. Not only does he play the organ and lute himself, but in 1985 he established what may be the Arab world’s only homegrown symphony orchestra.
He is also credited with gradually modernizing the country and improving education. Oman’s first newspaper was established a year after he took over, and while the country still has limited press freedom and the sultan has struggled to mollify a restive youth population, it’s generally seen as more liberal than some of its neighbors.
Robert Kaplan, a writer for the Atlantic who visited the country before the Arab upheavals of 2011, wrote that he had “never encountered a place in the Arab world so well-governed as Oman, and in such a quiet and understated way,” likening Sultan Qaboos to minimalist Scandinavian leaders.
Perhaps part of the difference stems from the fact that Oman is isolated from much of the rest of the Arabian peninsula by a formidable mountain range, while Iran is just across the narrow Strait of Hormuz, a critical waterway for global oil shipments that has at times raised tensions between the US and Iran.
As early as 2009, according to Wikileaks, the sultanate offered to arrange talks between the US and Iran – which hadn’t had diplomatic relations for 30 years – on condition that they were kept quiet to avoid “heated atmospherics.” But it was reportedly the hostage crisis of three American “hikers” that brought him into a mediating role between the two sides and helped win the release of Sarah Shroud, Shane Bauer, and Josh Fattal, who were arrested and accused of spying while hiking along the Iran-Iraq border.
With that success in his pocket, he offered to facilitate a US-Iran rapprochement, the AP reports. In March, US and Iranian officials met in Oman, Secretary of State John Kerry followed up in May, and the talks took on a momentum of their own after Hassan Rouhani replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran’s June elections.
Sultan Qaboos wasn’t in front of the cameras in Geneva, nor were there any missives from Oman today trumpeting his success. But he is no doubt enjoying the fruits of his work, perhaps over a cup of British tea with Mozart playing in the background.
The commute between Ramallah and Jerusalem has just become easier – or at least those enduring the daily ordeal now have company – thanks to a new Facebook page that provides drivers with live updates, advice, and jokes on the road conditions of one of the West Bank’s most notorious checkpoints.
The Arabic page titled, “Qalandia conditions,” with some 13,000 members, has become the go-to site to find out whether to go through the checkpoint right now, wait for a bit longer, or take one of several significantly longer roads to avoid the insane drivers who go over roundabouts and blithely speed ahead in the wrong lane to get to the front of the line.
“How’s Qalandia looking this morning?” asks one user. Split seconds later, several people jump in. "painful,” says one, while another offers more colorful advice: “You might as well take a mattress, you might be sleeping there.”
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Another user posted a picture of a car trying to cut the line, commenting: “Good job, smart pants.”
In 2000, after the second Palestinian intifada began, Israel built a permanent checkpoint at Qalandia, a Palestinian village and refugee camp located on the northern outskirts of Jerusalem. Over the years, it has been become a symbol of how the Israeli occupation disrupts Palestinian lives on a daily basis.
With a large container and a pedestrian crossing hemmed in by narrow metal bars and turnstiles, it looks more like a terminal. Manned by Israeli soldiers 24/7, it is the site of frequent confrontations between rock–throwing young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers shooting tear gas. Firebombs and live ammunition have been used, too, and the Israeli watchtower is scorched from firebombs and car oil hurled by Palestinian youth during protests. A large mural on Israel’s towering cement separation barrier features the late Yasser Arafat, who led the Palestinian national struggle for decades.
Locals and foreigners alike generally have plenty of time to gaze at the art or the chaos, since it can take up to three hours to get through the checkpoint, and it is unpredictable, too.
“It’s true it’s Friday,” a weekend day that should reduce the commuter traffic, “but here we are essentially parked,” one user says.
Another complains about the dozens of young children selling knickknacks or begging for money in exchange for wiping your car windshield with a dirty rag: “The boy selling [at] Qalandia has superglue on him, he sticks onto your window.”
Many have complained for years about such woes at Qalandia, but now they have a creative outlet for their frustrations and wisecracks.
One shows a man arriving home, and his elderly mother asks, “Where have you been all this time, your brother from the United States is already here.”
“Mom, I’ve been stuck in Qalandia traffic,” he answers, implying it takes longer to get home from Qalandia than the US.
A recent meme on the Facebook page shows a man standing in front of the judges of the “Arabs got talent” show and says, “I can queue in Qalandia for three hours without letting out a sound.”
When Ardie Geldman and his wife bought a car in Bethlehem, back when Israelis still flocked there to shop at lower prices, they struck up a friendship with the Palestinian car salesman that lasted a decade.
When the couple took their car back to service it, the salesman would return it to their home in the nearby settlement of Efrat – sometimes with a bouquet of flowers for Mrs. Geldman.
While such relationships have largely been suspended due to the Palestinian uprisings and Israel’s heightened restrictions on Palestinian movement, many Israeli settlers still interact with Palestinians who work on their homes or at supermarkets like the Rami Levi down the road. That may come as a surprise to foreigners who come to see the towering cement walls, covered in Palestinian graffiti about apartheid and oppression, that form part of the separation wall Israel built after the second Intifada began.
For such tourists, Israeli settlers may seem like faceless interlopers trespassing on justice. So Geldman carved out a niche for himself, first as a member of the Efrat municipality and now as an independent speaker, to explain the narrative of the more than 300,000 Israelis who live in the West Bank – or Judea and Samaria, the biblical names they prefer to use because they allude to the Jewish people’s 3,000-year-old ties to the land.
“I’ve always believed in what I considered to be fairness as a personal value that I uphold, and I think that these people – many of them – are not getting the whole story. They’re being told lies and half-lies,” he says, estimating that their itineraries are “97 percent biased in favor of the Palestinian narrative.”
Sometimes, when a group heads back to the bus after an hour or hour-and-a-half with Geldman, a few linger behind and thank him under their breath for telling a part of the story they’re not hearing from anybody else. “To me, that makes it worth it,” he says.
On a recent morning, he hosted a small group of Canadians at his home, explaining his story and answering their questions over coffee and tea.
He and his wife were raised in secular Jewish homes in the US, but both became religious as young adults and moved here in the early 1980s with their infant. They were one of the only homes on this dead-end road then (the population of Efrat has since grown from 1,000 to 10,000). He recounts the days when Palestinian laborers would come in and use their phone or their bathroom.
“But unfortunately those neighborly relations have come to an end,” he says, speaking the day after an 18-year-old Israeli soldier was fatally stabbed by a Palestinian teenager on a public bus in Israel. “Because we don't know if some strange Arab might have a knife in his hand and do to us what that guy from Jenin did to the Israeli soldier sleeping on the bus.”
One of the visitors asks: If Efrat became part of an eventual Palestinian state, would he and his wife stay?
“We wouldn't stay, we'd never want to live under Palestinian rule,” Geldman says, although he knows of a “leftist” settler who says he would remain. “That said, that's never going to happen, I don't think. It's like saying, what if Chicago went back to the Chippewa Indians?”
While some have drawn unfavorable parallels between Israel and America’s treatment of local populations, at least the Jewish people have an ancient tie to the land they are accused of illegally occupying, Geldman says.
“What is legitimate and illegitimate in world history?” he asks, mentioning the case of Australia as well. “People are calling us illegitimate whose entire continents were stolen.”
For 25 years, the Jewish feminist activists known as Women of the Wall have faced arrests, court battles, and allegations of upsetting public order for wrapping themselves in prayer shawls and carrying Torah scrolls – two accoutrements normally reserved for men – at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.
Though the WOW movement has gained momentum in recent months, it has largely failed to garner much mainstream support in Israel, where much of the population is secular and the more modern, gender-egalitarian Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism are fairly marginal among religious Jews.
But the women activists have caught the eye of designers at Comme Il Faut, one of Tel Aviv’s most cutting-edge fashion houses, and inspired their 2013-14 winter collection – entitled "There is none other besides her."
“We heard that the Women of the Wall wanted to pray out loud, which in Judaism is: Oi va voy, the responsibility is for men, and women have to shut up,” says the company's secular CEO and founder Sybil Goldfiner, who adds it's a perfect match given her company’s penchant for social commentary. “We saw their stand for women’s rights really admirable.”
Tapping into the styles worn by men in the most conservative and socially insulated Jewish community in Israel, the designers tailored elegant silhouettes that are still patently feminine. Starchy white button-down shirts, the fringed prayer shawl (or tallit), and the heavy coat were reinterpreted for pieces such as “Rachel,” which like all of the collection’s pieces is named after a biblical figure.
Beyond the aesthetics, both the designers and the activists hope to bring the controversy around religious pluralism and women’s rights to Israel’s mainstream. The world of Tel Aviv – considered the country’s commercial and cultural “bubble” – and Jerusalem, its religious and political center, "couldn't be farther apart," says WOW's PR director Shira Pruce. “But Jewish women in Israel are hungry for a way to be empowered religiously, without being stifled or silenced.”
The Comme Il Faut designers attended WOW's 25th anniversary gathering at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and proceeds from a T-shirt featuring the slogan, We lovingly give permission to one another will go to the organization.
Ms. Goldfiner, the CEO, acknowledges that her line is a political statement, but asserts that from challenging conventional images of beauty to supporting women’s prayer rights, the fashion industry has a social responsibility.
“We don’t want to just be provocative, but for us the personal is political,” she says.
For Auschwitz survivor Nahman Kahana, memories of the trains, the bodies, and the hunger were too much to bear once he arrived, “euphorically,” to Israel in 1948, he says. Plus, it wasn't a popular topic in the new state, where Jews were trying to carve out a new identity as strong and independent. (Editor's note: The original version misspelled Mr. Kahana's name.)
Holocaust survivors were known here by the derogatory moniker, “sabon,” or soap, in reference to the rumors that Nazis made soap from the skin of Jews in the camps. Mr. Kahana preferred to forget the shameful memory of being “sheep led to the slaughter.”
So only recently has he found the fortitude to remember the “day-to-day hell” of an adolescence spent in German Nazi death camps, so he winces at a new Israeli plan to start teaching the Holocaust as early as first grade.
“This story is even difficult for an adult,” he tells me over tea in his modest Jerusalem apartment. “How can a child understand it?”
But in recent years interest in the Holocaust has grown, and has increasingly been used by Israel as a siren call to warn new generations – and the world – of the dangers of not acting against existential threats facing the state of Israel.
Israeli schools formally teach the Holocaust beginning in the 11th grade, which is often followed by a class trip to the sites of former German Nazi camps in present-day Poland, and it is not uncommon for Israeli soldiers to tour Israel’s national Holocaust memorial museum, Yad Vashem, as they prepare to defend the country against its enemies.
Now, however, Israel is planning to introduce a new curriculum, designed in coordination with Yad Vashem, to teach the Holocaust to all students, beginning in first grade, Education Minister Shai Piron announced last month.
Supporters say the plan will provide a platform through which young Israelis can understand their people’s history, and Mr. Piron has promised it will be age-appropriate, but Kahana and others say it will scar children unnecessarily. Many are also calling the plan a political ploy meant to guilt and traumatize children into a certain kind of patriotism.
“In the first grade you learn how to read and write, not about Treblinka,” wrote columnist Uri Misgav in a blog for the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper. “As it is, the kids in the education system are being frightened by numerous memorial ceremonies and endless drills to prepare them for catastrophes…. Enough with this psychosis.”
A profusion of psychologists and teachers have also come out in the Israeli press, backing parents' fears that their 6-year-olds may simply be too young for such a demanding subject.
“Even if they only hear stories of the persecution and annihilation of Jews, they may think that others want to do similar acts to them. This could raise fears that young children are less able to manage,” Anat Zohar, an education professor at Hebrew University, told Channel 2 news.
Indeed, focus on the Holocaust is often linked to fear of enemies. Only in 1982, after successive wars with neighboring Arab countries had fostered the fear of an “existential threat,” to the state, did Israel mandate Holocaust education in high schools. And today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently invokes the Holocaust in urging the international community to crack down on Iran's nuclear program.
Kahana says Netanyahu's comparison may be an exaggeration, but admits that they resonate with mainstream Israeli mentality. And while he is ambivalent about the sense of survivalism as a reality of Israeli identity, he also hopes that "young children will not be brought into that war just yet, raised in that stress – the Holocaust."
“I see my children and they don’t feel safe in their country,” Kahana says. “When we’re at war, our fighters may think, my parents and grandparents fought here, we need to [do] everything in order not to be victimized.”
As representatives of the 700,000 Filipinos living in the United Arab Emirates prepared for a typhoon fundraising brunch this weekend, the UAE president promised to organize assistance programs worth 37 million dirhams ($10 million) to help the Philippines recover from typhoon Haiyan, Arab News has reported.
“It’s so heart-warming to know that other nationalities are also willing to help our compatriots back home,” said Matilyn Bagunu, the president of Filcom, which represents Filipino community groups in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
Meanwhile, Saudi Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz pledged $100,000 on behalf of the regional Arab Gulf Program for Development (AGFUND), and the Israeli government as well as the Israeli humanitarian organization IsraAID have sent preliminary teams to help with medical care and search and rescue missions.
With an estimated 2 million Filipinos living in the Middle East, these countries all have a very human link to the Philippines. But it is also a problematic one, since some Filipino migrant workers arrive illegally or stay on after their visas have expired, risking deportation of themselves and/or their children.
And even those with the proper documentation have – together with other migrant workers from Southeast Asia – faced inhumane conditions in the Gulf countries, including working in scorching temperatures without adequate water; living in unsanitary conditions; and being denied access to their passports by employers who force them to work extremely long days, sometimes without pay or days off. And they often enjoy very little legal protection, as illustrated by the execution of a 17-year-old Sri Lankan maid in Saudi Arabia last year, which sparked widespread criticism not only from human rights organizations but Saudis themselves.
Saudi Arabia is currently rounding up illegal workers, after an amnesty recently expired. So even as Prince Talal was pledging $100,000, hundreds of Filipino workers were being brought to a deportation center. And Israel, which for years had a relatively liberal policy of allowing family members to accompany migrant workers, also has been strongly criticized for a 2009 decision to deport immigrant children who do not meet strict criteria, inspiring the Filipino film “Transit” that came out this year.
While many migrant workers have lived in the region for years, and raised funds for previous disasters, typhoon Haiyan is on a far bigger scale.
Even for those whose families are safe, the destruction of their homes represents years of hard-earned remittances washed away in a moment. Though Filipino migrant workers’ remittances account for nearly 10 percent of the national GDP back home, according to The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, they have little influence over political decisions – such as how much to invest in disaster preparedness.
But Filipino ambassador to the UAE Grace Princesa says she plans to launch a disaster management education program for Filipinos in the Emirates. That way, she suggests, they will be able to send back not only remittances but also knowledge that could help save their families from future disasters.