During his time in the Philippines, one boy’s reaction really stuck with Mark:
“My most vivid memory of one particular child’s reaction was a simple smile… He was 12 years old, and so shy, and rarely made eye contact with anybody. He had no shoes on his feet and looked extremely rough and callused.
“During his haircut, he looked upset the entire time and didn’t look up once, until the cut was complete. One man in the shop said, ‘Now you look like you’re from NYC!’ He looked up and cracked the most unforgettable smile.”
This experience stuck with Mark, who decided to continue the tradition when he returned home to NYC.
As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on, much of the focus lately has been on Hamas.
Critics say the group is a terrorist organization that wants nothing but to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.
Supporters say Hamas, which represents the only organized Palestinian military force, is a coalition of freedom fighters and liberators defending the Palestinian people.
But where did the organization even come from? And how has is it become what it is today?
Thinking you can understand the current conflict by looking at only the past few years of its history is like thinking you understand calculus because you passed freshman algebra.
Hopefully, this quick piece can be a pre-cal of sorts for people wanting to really understand the history between Israel and Palestine.
In 1917, Great Britain occupied Palestine during a period of British expansionism. Assisting in the conquest of Palestine was a Jewish military volunteer group known as the Jewish Legion.
This group was comprised primarily of Zionists, Jews who believed that it was God’s will for them to one day return to their ancient homeland (Mt. Zion is located in the heart of Jerusalem).
In 1920, Palestinian riots led to the formation of a Jewish militia known as the Haganah. The militia was formed by Jews who felt that Britain had no interest in confronting the Arab populations in the region who were expressing their disapproval for the ongoing British occupation.
Between 1919 and 1929, 100,000 more Jews migrated to Palestine. This led to an Arab revolt in the late 1930s, which prompted Britain to pass legislation limiting Jewish migration to the territory.
But World War II and the Holocaust displaced millions of Jews in Europe, and many of them sought a new life in the primarily Jewish British-held areas of Palestine.
Britain found itself in a conflict with the Haganah, who wanted to establish an independent Jewish state, while also trying to deal with the Arabs and Palestinians who were still upset that their traditional lands had been occupied in the first place.
So Britain basically gave up. They said they couldn’t solve any of the problems between the Jews and the Arab Palestinians and pulled out of the area in 1947.
Later that year, the UN passed UN Resolution 181, splitting up the Palestinian territory into separate Jewish and Palestinian states.
The resolution was signed without the agreement of the Palestinian Arabs in the region. The United States had promised the Palestinian Arabs that they would be consulted before any decision was reached, but that promise was broken.
So as soon as the resolution was passed, fighting began, with Arab forces attacking Israeli territories that had formerly been part of Palestine before UN Resolution 181.
Israel won that war, thanks in part to weapons acquired secretly from western countries like the United States and France who were sympathetic to the Jewish cause but didn’t want to become publicly involved.
Not only did they hold onto their own territory, they captured 50% of the territory that had been given to the Palestinians under the UN resolution.
In 1964, a number of Arab countries sent representatives to Cairo for the Arab League Summit. The goal of the summit was to resolve inter-Arab conflicts in the region so that the Arab countries could unite in their struggle against what they saw as western imperialism and Israeli aggression.
It was at this summit that the idea for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, was born. The stated goal of the PLO was to “liberate Palestine through armed struggle”.
Although the dominant religion in these Arab countries was Islam, the PLO was comprised mainly of secular Palestinian factions (the largest being the Fatah party), who were actually wary of the rise of Islamic extremism.
Historically, Palestinians have been a religiously tolerant people. For hundreds of years, Muslims, Jews and Christians alike lived peacefully together as fellow Palestinians. The PLO wanted to make sure that this tolerance was preserved.
In fact, the Islamic extremism which is now considered the backbone of Hamas was actually encouraged by Israel itself.
In 1967, Israel fought the Six-Day War against an Arab federation led by Egypt. At that time, the PLO was quickly becoming popular among Arabs in the region, and this worried Israel.
So using PLO guerilla activity as a pretext, Israel took over the Palestinian territory of Gaza and began systematically hunting down members of the PLO and the Fatah party.
To combat the PLO’s secular influence in the region, Israel began encouraging Islamic activism in Palestine. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this Israeli policy was a man named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza at the time.
In 1973, Yassin established the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya. The organization was officially recognized as a charity by Israel in 1979.
Yassin used the organization to establish mosques and Islamic schools in Gaza, as well as a library. But Yitzhak Segev, an Israeli official who served as governor of Gaza in 1979, says that he had no illusions about Yassin’s real intentions.
Segev had personally witnessed an Islamist movement in Iran which eventually led to a military coup that toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. The coup cleared the way for the Shah of Iran (the country’s highest-ranking Muslim cleric) to take power.
He and other Israeli officials worried that the same would soon happen in Gaza, but because of the tensions in the region at the time, they were reluctant to speak out, fearing they would be accused of being enemies of Islam.
So Segev said nothing. In 1984, Israeli intelligence got word that Yassin’s group was stockpiling weapons in a Gaza mosque. They raided the mosque and arrested Yassin, who claimed the weapons were meant for use against secular Palestinian groups like the PLO, not for use against Israel.
He was released from jail a year later, and continued to spread Mujama’s influence in Gaza. Then, in 1987, he established Hamas with six other Palestinians as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The first leaflet they distributed blamed Israeli intelligence for undermining the social fabric of young Palestinians in order to recruit Palestinian “collaborators”.
But despite this harsh language, Israel continued to focus on the Fatah party and the PLO, even meeting with senior Hamas officials as part of “regular consultations” that they held with Palestinian officials not linked to the PLO.
It wasn’t until Hamas kidnapped and murdered two Israeli soldiers in 1989 that Israel started to pay attention to the group.
In response to the kidnappings, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) arrested Yassin and deported 400 Hamas activists to an Israeli-occupied region of South Lebanon.
During its time in South Lebanon in the early 90s, Hamas built a relationship with the Lebanese jihadist group Hezbollah and established its military division, the al-Qassam Brigades.
Throughout the early 90s, the al-Qassam Brigades carried out numerous attacks and suicide bombings on Israel. However, Hamas was centered in Lebanon and Jordan at the time, making it hard for Israel to eliminate them.
In 1993, Israel and the PLO agreed to the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority as a governmental body to represent the Palestinians. This helped stem some of the violence the region experienced in the early 90s.
Then, in 1997, a failed Israeli assassination attempt on a Hamas leader in Jordan and the resulting political fallout led to the release of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who had been put in jail for life for the murders of the Israeli soldiers in 1989.
2000 brought about a renewal of the bloody conflict, with a surge in Hamas suicide bombings prompted by the growing number of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian-controlled territory of the West Bank.
In 2004, Yassin offered a military truce to Israel, asking for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in exchange. Israel turned down the truce, and Yassin was killed by a targeted air strike two months later.
In 2006, Hamas became entrenched in the Palestinian government. Though the group had boycotted the Palestinian presidential election a year before, they decided to take part in the legislative elections in 2006. They did remarkably well, wining 76 of the 132 available seats (Fatah won 43).
The relationship between Hamas and Fatah has always been rocky. Skirmishes have broken out between the two factions on countless occasions. At one point, Israeli intelligence even informed Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas was planning to assassinate him.
Despite their past differences, however, Abbas announced in March of 2012 that Fatah and Hamas were on the same page. He told Al-Jazeera,
“We agreed that the period of calm would be not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank… We also agreed on a peaceful popular resistance [against Israel], the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and that the peace talks would continue if Israel halted settlement construction and accepted our conditions.”
But this declaration of unity is seeming pretty hollow now.
Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah have proposed a number of ceasefires between Israel and Palestine during this latest flare-up of the conflict, but Hamas has refused the deals, demanding that Israel move its citizens out of settlements in Palestine if they want a ceasefire.
One of the reasons that Hamas was able to gain so much political power in the mid-2000s was that Palestinians had become fed up with the corruption of the Palestinian Authority (led by the Fatah party) by the time the 2006 elections rolled around.
Unfortunately, the added political power that Hamas gained when they took over Palestinian politics that year led to the same corruption that the Palestinian people had tried to get rid of by voting the Palestinian Authority out of power.
Dorothy Peskin is an Israeli analyst who recently released a detailed report about Hamas corruption in Gaza. She put it this way:
“With multi-million land deals, luxury villas and black market fuel from Egypt, Gaza’s (Hamas) rulers made billions while the rest of the population struggles with a 39 percent poverty level and 40 percent unemployment.”
The average Hamas fighter today may truly believe in the Palestinian liberation cause, but power and influence almost always lead to corruption.
In my opinion, the leaders of Hamas have shown that they are more interested in maintaining their own power, influence and wealth than in actually helping the Palestinian people. Their strategy of maximizing civilian casualties by firing rockets from heavily-populated areas is just one example.
However, we must also recognize that Israel played a big role in establishing Hamas in the first place because of their fear of the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization.
An American intelligence report discussing relations between Israel and Hamas was recently published by the news leak website Wikileaks.
In the leaked document, dated September 23, 1988, U.S. intelligence officials say,
“Many in the West Bank believe that Israel actively supports Hamas, in its effort to split the Palestinian nation and weaken the Intifada.”
The document also notes that although Israel was arresting a number of Palestinians at the time, very few were members of Hamas. The document went so far as to say,
“We believe that not only does Israel turn a blind eye on Hamas activity, but even supports it.”
You reap what you sow. There are countless examples of countries supporting groups that end up coming back to bite them in the ass (the U.S.-trained mujahideen are a good example).
The bottom line is that there are no clear cut good guys or bad guys in this conflict, just lots of historical wounds that are still festering today. I just hope this history helped you make a little more sense of it all.
In a recent interview with the Argentine publication Viva, Pope Francis issued a list of 10 tips to be a happier person, based on his own life experiences.
The Pope encouraged people to be more positive and generous, to turn off the TV and find healthier forms of leisure, and even to stop trying to convert people to one’s own religion.
But his number one piece of advice came in the form of a somewhat cliche Italian phrase that means, “move forward and let others do the same.” It’s basically the Italian equivalent of, “live and let live.” You can check out the full list below.
The Pope’s 10 Tips for a Happier Life
1. “Live and let live.” Everyone should be guided by this principle, he said, which has a similar expression in Rome with the saying, “Move forward and let others do the same.”
2. “Be giving of yourself to others.” People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”
3. “Proceed calmly” in life. The pope, who used to teach high school literature, used an image from an Argentine novel by Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the protagonist — gaucho Don Segundo Sombra — looks back on how he lived his life.
4. A healthy sense of leisure. The Pope said “consumerism has brought us anxiety”, and told parents to set aside time to play with their children and turn off the TV when they sit down to eat.
5. Sundays should be holidays. Workers should have Sundays off because “Sunday is for family,” he said.
6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. “We need to be creative with young people. If they have no opportunities they will get into drugs” and be more vulnerable to suicide, he said.
7. Respect and take care of nature. Environmental degradation “is one of the biggest challenges we have,” he said. “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?’”
8. Stop being negative. “Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down,’” the Pope said. “Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”
9. Don’t proselytise; respect others’ beliefs. “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyses: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytising,” the Pope said.
10. Work for peace. “We are living in a time of many wars,” he said, and “the call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive” and dynamic.
As a boy, Bart Weetjens loved to play with his pet rats. One thing that always stuck in his memory was the rat’s strong sense of smell and the ease at which they could be trained.
Bart recalled these skills years later as a student at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, where he was working on an analysis of the global land-mine detection problem (ie. how to find all of the unexploded mines left over from countless wars around the world).
Bart felt that rats could provide a cheaper, more efficient and more locally available solution to the land-mine problem, so he began to do early research on this concept in 1997.
Bart called his project APOPO, which stands for Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling (English translation: Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development).
The organization moved to Mozambique in 2000, where they partnered with the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force to help mine-clearing operations in that country.
By 2006, APOPO’s HeroRATS were also fully integrated into land-mine detection programs in Tanzania. In 2010, APOPO began operations in Thailand as well.
Check out below to learn more about the HeroRAT’s mine-detection skills:
The reason that these rats are so good at detecting land-mines is that they have an extremely acute sense of smell, which allows them to easily identify the scent of TNT (after being trained to recognize it).
Early on, Bart realized that the HeroRATS’ amazing sense of smell wasn’t being fully utilized. In 2003, he entered APOPO in the Development Marketplace Global Competition sponsored by the World Bank.
His idea: using the rats to help detect tuberculosis as well as land-mines. APOPO won the competition, and in doing so received the necessary funding for their research into training TB-detecting HeroRATS.
TB is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. About 9 million new cases are reported annually, and the disease kills nearly 2 million people each year.
The HeroRATS give health workers a huge advantage over humans when it comes to detection of the disease.
A human lab tech can only process about 40 samples in a day; the HeroRATS can do that same amount of work in only seven minutes, and they often find TB-positive samples that the human technicians missed.
Check out the video below to learn more about he HeroRATS’ work in tuberculosis detection:
To learn more about the APOPO organization’s land-mine and tuberculosis detection programs, you can visit their website here.
But the mood has become a bit more somber with the end of the Cup and the resurgence of the conflict in the Middle East.
In a blog post he wrote for the European Space Agency’s website, Gerst gave insight into the astronauts’ perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His introduction is very powerful:
“Some things that on Earth we see in the news every day and thus almost tend to accept as a ‘given,’ appear very different from our perspective. We do not see any borders from space.
We just see a unique planet with a thin, fragile atmosphere, suspended in a vast and hostile darkness. From up here it is crystal clear that on Earth we are one humanity, we eventually all share the same fate.
What came to my mind at the time of this photo was, if we ever will be visited by another species from somewhere in the universe, how would we explain to them what they might see as the very first thing when they look at our planet?”
How would we explain to them the way we humans treat not only each other but also our fragile blue planet, the only home we have? I do not have an answer for that.”
A group of Danish researchers recently made an interesting discovery about the relationship between our education level and how fast we age.
The researchers were led by Eigil Rostrup, who works as a doctor at Denmark’s Glostrup Hospital.
The study, published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, was based off of data from a group of 2,400 boys who had been born in the Greater Copenhagen area in 1953. The boys were tested both physically and mentally at the age of 20, and again when they were 57.
The testing gathered data on the participants general state of health, as well as their weights, smoking habits and IQs.
After the second round of testing at age 57, the researchers invited 200 men to the Glostrup Hospital for additional research: the 100 men with the best scores compared to their first test (at age 20), and the 100 men with the worst scores compared to their first test.
“We asked the participants to lie completely still in the MR-scanner without doing anything. Once in a while a light would flash in the scanner and at the same time the participant had to move his fingers,”
said Rostrup. This allowed the researchers to see how fast the men’s brains were able to switch from “default mode” (ie. when our brain is relaxed) to problem solving mode. Moving your fingers when a light comes on may not seem like a complex problem, but problem solving (even for the most basic problems) all happens in one region of the brain.
Rostrup and his team found that the men who had received a better education were able to more quickly and efficiently switch from default mode to problem solving mode than those with the least amount of education.
The findings suggest that an education or job that challenges you regularly can actually stave off diseases related to brain aging like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Here’s Rostrup again:
“In young people the brain quickly and efficiently switches from the default mode to problem-solving activity. But in elderly people, and especially those who are demented or suffer from Alzheimer’s, this change is slow and inefficient…
The better our brains manage this change from rest to problem-solving when we are 60, the better equipped we will be at the age of 80 when it comes to handling the tasks of daily life and avoiding the symptoms that are especially common in patients with dementia, including Alzheimer’s.”
Researchers and neuroscientists alike hope that this new study can help doctors predict conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s ahead of time.
One thing is for sure though: mental exercise keeps the mind young just like physical exercise does for our bodies. Keep that mind sharp!
It was a very depressing experience. But then, I thought to myself: are things really that bad? And I realized, the answer is undoubtedly NO.
What we must realize here is that it’s only in the last 10 years or so that the average person has really had unlimited access to news and information with the emergence of the internet. And it’s only in the last five or so years that social media emerged as a platform to share news.
It may seem like more bad things are going on, but really we are just more aware of world events than we have ever been in the past.
Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.
And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better– much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.
First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.
A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.
The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:
And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:
So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:
We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.