Tag Archives: COVID-19

The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian

ICRC building on the hill

International Committee for the Red Cross in Geneva

There’s a saying in Gaza (at least among some) that the Palestinians are living under THREE occupations.

The first, of course, is the Israeli military occupation. The United Nations and nearly the entire international community recognize this occupation. It’s been going on for so many decades that at least one scholar prefers to call it colonization, not an occupation. It’s perhaps the best documented occupation in world history.

The second is the internal political occupation.  Palestinians in Gaza are living under Hamas, and Palestinians in the West Bank are living under the Palestinian Authority (PA). “Living under” is the correct terminology in both cases because there haven’t been elections in more than a decade (no concept of “term limits” in the Arab world as far as I can tell) and both Hamas and the PA rule with an iron fist.

I learned about the third type of occupation when I was in Gaza in 2012-2013 and met with local city officials to discuss planning issues in the community. They told me bluntly, “What plans? It’s whatever the NGOs are willing to fund. Their plans get implemented, ours stay on the shelf.” So I call this the NGO occupation. Donors’ good intentions can actually backfire because they disempower the local communities they’re meant to serve. US-AID projects are a good example.

Amid the turmoil and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are new challenges and opportunities for both nation-states and the private sector attempting to address the serious needs of the most vulnerable. Things are changing rapidly.

ICRC Museum

ICRC Museum Entrance — Geneva

Focusing on humanitarian action, as it has since its beginning in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) asked the following question in this new COVID-19 world we’re entering:

How then should aid organizations anticipate and prepare for this new reality, still opaque in many ways, and balance it against the expected overwhelming needs? Better yet, rather than adapting and anticipating to this new reality, how can aid organizations lean in and embrace the present crisis as a conduit for radical change, proactively reshaping and repositioning an aid sector that is fit for purpose to protect and address the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized?

The question is important, the answers that follow may profoundly change the way NGOs address the needs of the most vulnerable.

This 18 minute audio of a blog posted by Raphael Gorgeu provides a good explanation of how the NGO landscape may be changing. The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian.  Have a listen.

A public health crisis to begin with, the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly metastasized to nearly all fronts of society. Considered one of the biggest crises in modern history, the pandemic’s effects will deeply impact the lives of billions of people, shake the foundations of our solidarity models and redesign parts of the international humanitarian sector. The way aid actors move forward now will shape the future of the humanitarian landscape: pre-existing trends are speeding up as new ones are brought into play, all while the overall balance is placed under scrutiny. In a myriad of ways, many still unforeseeable, the intensity of the present period is accelerating change.

 

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Filed under COVID-19, Occupation, Politics, United Nations, Video

Prisoners are COVID-19 sitting ducks

A fact of life in this COVID-19 world is that prisoners sitting behind bars are some of the most vulnerable potential victims of this deadly virus.  In the U.S., the highest number of COVID-19 related cases in the courts today are petitions by prisoners seeking release from confinement. Prisons are Super-Spreaders of the coronavirus. In response, some states and local governments have released prisoners, (check the status of these actions).

Israeli prisons house both Israeli and Palestinian prisoners.  “Over the past month, Israel has released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It has not applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners. This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” human rights experts say.

I’m sending the following U.N. press release to Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Representative Debra Haaland (D-NM) because McCollum has demonstrated her concern about Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons (see, H.R. 2407) and Haaland is my Congresswoman from New Mexico. I want them both to know what the human rights experts are warning.

GENEVA (24 April 2020) – A group of UN human rights experts* urged Israel not to discriminate against thousands of Palestinian prisoners facing high-risk exposure to COVID-19 and to release the most vulnerable – particularly women, children, older persons and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

“There are currently more than 4,520 Palestinian prisoners, including 183 children, 43 women and 700 detainees with pre-existing medical conditions in Israeli jails. They remain dangerously vulnerable in the context of the current pandemic and the relative increase in the number of transmission rates in Israel,” said the experts.

“Over the past month, Israel has released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It has not applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners. This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” they added.

The experts said prisoner releases should also include those in administrative and pre-trial detention. “Israel should be taking steps to release those facing arbitrary measures as well as vulnerable groups in its prisons to reduce overcrowding and ensure the minimum conditions to prevent the spread of the virus.”

They noted that family visits have been banned since the COVID-19 outbreak and access to lawyers restricted for Palestinian detainees. “It is critical that any such measures are medically justified and, if so, alternative means for communication, such as video conferencing, should be made available. Special and more relaxed measures should also apply to children and women for visits.”

The experts also expressed serious concerns over reports that Israeli authorities are impeding efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem. In one reported incident, Israeli authorities recently raided a testing clinic in the densely populated Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan under the pretext that its testing kits were provided by the Palestinian Authority. Israel has also arrested doctors.

“It is inconceivable that, in the current conditions, especially in light of the lack of testing kits and other equipment, Israel would undermine existing efforts to ensure that a larger portion of the Palestinian population is tested. Such efforts are especially needed when recent data suggests that rates of COVID-19 have significantly increased in occupied East Jerusalem,” they noted.

Palestinians under occupation, as a protected population under international humanitarian law, should have equal access to treatment and testing without discrimination. “Cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians to ensure protection, prevention and treatment of all is critical. Such acts as raiding Palestinian clinics can only undermine such efforts,” the expert said.

(*) The UN experts: Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Chair), Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Seong-Phil Hong and Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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Filed under COVID-19, Israel, People, United Nations

Michael Sorkin – planning Jerusalem

COVID-19 is an equal opportunity grim reaper, claiming many lives — famous and not so famous. As of this writing, there are more than 1,170,000 infected and nearly 64,000 dead worldwide.  Last week, architect Michael Sorkin fell victim to the Coronavirus in New York City.

The thoughtful obituaries here, here and here won’t be repeated but please honor Michael Sorkin and read them.  (Dammit, obits have become a new normal for me, like wedding announcements many decades ago.)

Michael Sorkin

If we need labels to understand who this man was, then Sorkin was an architect, urbanist, writer, teacher, humanitarian, rabble-rouser, non-conformist, community organizer, anti-fascist, fearless and he probably disdained any such labels.

In Jacobin, David Madden captured the point I suspect Sorkin would want the public to remember.

Sorkin’s columns and books will remain relevant and readable because he started from a position anathema to mainstream architectural culture: that, as he put it in All Over the Map, “All architecture is political.” Sorkin relentlessly highlighted the politics of urban space and the social functions of architecture. “All architecture distributes: mass, space, materials, privilege, access, meaning, shelter, rights,” he wrote in a column collected in the 2018’s What Goes Up“In the main, architecture only abets the transparency of capital’s inequities.”

It was precisely this architectural complicity in capitalist inequality and social violence that Sorkin spent his career attempting to change.

Sorkin participated in the preparation of the first comprehensive plan for Jerusalem  which included the entire city, both the West and East sides. He must have been very knowledgeable about the simultaneous policies that Israel has promoted: Judaization (building and supporting the expansion of Jewish only settlements and neighborhoods) and de-Arabization (squeezing natural growth into tighter and denser blocs and forcing Palestinians out of the city to maintain the magical 70-30 demographic split in the city). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything that Sorkin wrote about that master plan.

All Ovder The Map

I did find a short piece that Sorkin wrote nearly 20 years ago about planning in Israel. I’m going to keep looking, and hope to find his more current thoughts on the topic.

Urbanism is Politics – by Michael Sorkin (2002)

During their recent “incursion” into the West Bank, Israeli forces were sent on a search-and-destroy mission to the Jenin refugee camp. Confronted with a labyrinth of streets far too narrow to permit tanks and armored vehicles, the Israelis elected to adopt a house-to-house approach. When a number of Israeli troops were ambushed and killed, bulldozers were introduced to topple houses and clear the site for safer access. The destruction of the refugee settlement was, among other things, an act of urbanism, Haussmannization raised to a flash-point. Although the consequences of the great boulevardization of Paris in the nineteenth century were not immediately lethal to those whose houses were destroyed to make way for Napoleon III’s great axialities, the impetus to demolish was motivated in part by military needs. The broad boulevards were meant to expedite troop movements around town and provide clear fields of fire in case of insurrection. 

Nowhere today is the political use of urbanism more glaring than in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This is true of the Palestinian suicide attacks on the benign settings of urban conviviality–the murder of Israelis as they sit in the cafes or shop in markets–and of the more bureaucratic styles of apartheid and occupation engineered by the Israelis. Both sides clearly understand the relationship of the patterns of the city and urban life to the politics of struggle for rights and privilege. And both clearly understand how to make cities into places of fear.

In this supercharged atmosphere, no urbanism can be spoken of outside its political dimension. Here in the U.S., our most pressing urban issue is sprawl, which we largely understand as an environmental question. In Jerusalem, sprawl has a different flavor. Israeli policy to “Judaize” has resulted in the construction of a ring of settlements–housing close to 200,000 people–that a more growth-sensitive approach would never countenance. By building beyond the boundaries of the existing conurbation, however, a ring of population has been imposed–like a wall–both to control the city and to thwart any potential division. Sitting in their arrogance on the tops of hills, the settlements represent an almost medieval style of planning, prompted by aggression and machismo.

The suburban sprawl of the West Bank settlements has been produced by the same means that generated our own suburbs. Like the cheap loans for returning veterans, the construction of the interstates, the accelerated depreciation of suburban commercial development, and the disproportionate subsidies for infrastructure, the Israeli settlements are the direct outgrowth of government policies meant to create a particular environment for particular people. In the settlements, the tools of planning produce their usual product: benign-looking clusters of Mediterranean-style, white-washed houses with red-tiled roofs, backyards, and pools. Here, too, is the idyllic atmosphere of suburbia, a rankling obliviousness that surely drives Palestinian villagers below to distraction. 

But the picturesque view can only be sustained until the frame is slightly enlarged. This picture shows the barbed wire, soldiers on patrol, and a striking contrast with more indigenous styles of building and of life. In this view, nearby Palestinian villages and towns come to constitute–in their morphological and economic difference–a kind of dispersed “inner city.” The familiar contrast between the city and its suburbs is played out in a tiny territory as the Israelis pursue simultaneous policies of urban renewal and ghettoization–urban renewal in the sense of the demolition and devaluation of the original inhabitants, and ghettoization not only for the Palestinians, but also for the Israelis, electively ensconced in their pleasant but beleaguered settlements. 

The political sprawl of the settlements–and the murderous rage of the Palestinians–reflect the impossible physics of a situation in which two hostile populations attempt to occupy the same space at the same time. Even nominally shared space–streets and highways– becomes a battleground.  The horrendous bus bombings are both murder clear and simple and an assault of the most fundamental freedom of the city, just as the construction by the Israelis of their private road networks on the West Bank are designed both to allow settlers to commute to Israel proper without passing through Palestinian towns and to divide the West Bank into a series of cantonments. Thus the traffic planner’s language of convenience and speed takes on an oppressive dimension that cannot be escaped.

On a visit a few years ago to the school of architecture at Bir Zeit University outside Ramallah, I was wandering the corridor of the civil engineering department when I came across a plan for a “bypass road” around a village. My immediate thought was that this was a part of the Israeli road network in the West Bank. Closer inspection revealed, however, that it was simply a traffic management scheme designed to avoid slow going in town for Palestinian motorists. The alternative road, in itself, is a somewhat questionable enterprise: witness the number of American towns that, bypassed by through traffic, have seen their economies whither.  While the bypass may be a foolish piece of modernization, it lacks the sinister dimension of the Israeli network, which has strong parallels with the historic effect of American inner-city highways in isolating and destroying poor communities of color.

The extreme politics of planning in Israel and Palestine results in a situation that is separate and unequal at many levels. Systems of water supply, sanitation, energy, transportation, greenspace, and other elements of infrastructure are–despite many decades of pieties on the part of the municipal administration in Jerusalem about equalizing services–totally skewed to Israeli benefit.  While Israeli Jerusalem has a reasonably integrated system of transportation, including highways, bus lines, airports, a train to the coast, and a good collective taxi system, the Palestinians are highly constrained in their ability to move, a product of both draconian and humiliating security arrangements that can extend a twenty-minute commute to hours and of a fundamental lack of transport services.

To get around, Palestinians must rely either on the Israeli systems–when available to them–or on their own network of cars, buses, and a collective taxi system of great potential efficiency, thwarted only by oppressive security delays. What is frustrating about all of this from the point of view of planning is that an efficient system for both Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalem is easy to imagine in purely technical terms. Jerusalem is a node on a linear urban system that runs from Nablus in the north through Ramallah, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, to Hebron in the south–a classic linear city, considered in purely physical terms. 

For transportation planners, the logic of a north-south system would seem clear-cut. Given the density of settlement and the relatively small distances, such a system might be highly efficient and profitable, and an instrument of accommodation, convenience, and peace. Unfortunately, politics stands in the way.

Still, there are precedents for cooperation. There is one part of the urban infrastructure where all of Jerusalem works together: the municipal sewerage system is joined. Perhaps this is an earthly harbinger of greater possibilities should justice and reason ever prevail.

2002 – excerpted from ALL OVER THE MAP: Writing on Buildings and Cities, by Michael Sorkin (2011)

 

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Filed under COVID-19, Israel, People, Politics, Settlers