Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sustainability in Palestine

Salam alaikom!  I am back in the Middle East after a magical summer in Central America.  I have moved on from Latin American culture to Middle Eastern, but the coffee and sustainability study continues.  I am now on another scientific and academic exploration seminar through my university in the state of Israel, this one focusing more on political science although we are learning so much more every day in addition to political issues in the region.   When I signed up for it, I did so because I wanted to gain a better, more educated understanding of the conflict, relations, and context there, and see what sustainable actions are being taken to address the problems.  So far I have seen that there is a lot of development taking place, some sustainable and some totally unsustainable to the point where it is clearly a flagrant violation of human rights.  On the lighter side, I have been taking note of the coffee culture here and see that the Ethiopian Jews, Muslims and Christians have introduced their coffee culture to Israel.  My first cup of coffee here was actually what they call Bunna and is served in a little handle-less cup like Arabic coffee.  I hope to find a place that sells the traditional Ethiopian coffee pot and accessories so I can take it back with me to the Burke Museum for the exhibit on coffee coming up this winter.  I also had the best latte ever this afternoon along with my favorite chocolate souffle cake at a cute cafe that serves Guatemalan coffee.  It is interesting to note that Guatemala was the first country to announce its recognition of Israel, by Jorge Garcia Granados in the United Nations immediately after the proclamation of the state.  There are about 1,200 documented Jews living in Guatemala.  A lot of them are of German descent.  Notably, the coffee and cardamom I am planning to sell comes from a region that was first cultivated by the German immigrants to Guatemala.  I wonder out of simple curiosity if any of them were Jewish.   While the coffee industry is very complex, I have a very good feeling about my vision and I am eager to get to Kuwait to talk to my potential investors abut my plan.  
For now, I am just focused on this learning experience and I will be posting a lot about what I have learned so far every time I get the chance.  It was fun to watch my classmates try Arabic coffee and sweets for the first time when we were in the Israeli Arab Women's College, which will hopefully become the first University in the Israeli Arab sector.  
I had a cup of Arab joe in the Druze community we visited today.  We ate my favorite lentils dish at the restaurant there too.  It was fascinating to finally learn more about the Druze religion and great to meet some Druze in the community as well.  We also went to another NGO that is dedicated to changing the system through legal action.  It is called Adalah.  I think it would be cool to work with this organization.  They are attempting through presedence to make a difference.  Israel has no constitution and the parliament committees don't seem to have much sway in tackling discrimination and human rights issues when it comes to the Israeli Arab minority especially with regards to human rights and land and property rights issues.  One particular issue that especially touched me was that regarding family unification. Apparently there is an Israeli law that states that if an Israeli Arab marries any person of Arab descent who is not Israeli, even an Arab in Palestinian territory, he can no longer live in Israel.  Another issue is that while Israeli law does not outrightly have discriminatory phrasing in its laws, there is room for people to abuse it and interpret it in such ways, which creates a challenge for Israeli Arab society and this NGO attempts to analyze the law so as to find more socially equitable solutions from within.  

After this visit, we went for a visit to a mosque, and for many of my classmates it was their first time inside one, and the Imam was very educated and friendly and welcoming, and we had a great talk with him.  After the mosque, we took a lovely hike in the mountainous part of Haifa and crossed a long suspension bridge before we headed home and crashed for the day.  Our days start around 730am and end around 8pm every day.  It is about as energy demanding as my exploration seminar in Central America but just as educational and dynamic.  Looking forward to the Kibbutz tomorrow.

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How Can Sustainability and Social Responsibility Contribute to the Future of the Middle East?

With their potential for economic growth and their financial wealth, Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf countries have the potential to become front runners in the Middle East in considering the environment and social responsibility, and I hope to help them to start that foundation.
The Middle East is a fascinating place with so much cultural richness and financial prosperity. People of the region are increasingly growing aware of the changing climate of business and of the world as a result of globalization and as such there is growing potential for development here. We can see already a substantial amount of growth and innovation in a very short period of time through the example of Dubai. Unfortunately, one area that still lacks a greater awareness is the environment and how it is being impacted by the current practices of companies and individuals. This problem affects all aspects of life from physical health to the natural beauty of the region. This problem however can also be viewed as a treasure box of opportunity for those who have vision and initiative and wish to consider sustainable concepts and how they can adopt them in their businesses.

I chose this cause because I love the Middle East. I am originally from Latin America and study in the University of Washington and I am studying abroad in Kuwait. I had so much success here and fell in love with the region so much that I was looking for a way I could give back to a place that had given me so much. I realized quickly that the region overall had great issues with regards to the environment. The beautiful beaches of the gulf were littered with garbage, there were little if any recycling programs, no awareness campaigns and lesson plans for the schools with regards to the environment, all of the landfills were unplanned and unlined and the waste seeping into the soil and polluting the storm water drains. Yet I could not understand how such a wealthy country with the financial means to take care of this issue and with a government committee assigned to the environment was allowing this to be this way. I decided I would try to see how I can help make a change for the better just as many countries have also done with regards to such issues as waste management such as the UK.