Lighting up the World of the Bedouin

- by Fred Schlomka -

Last year (2015) my wife Sunita and I spent 5 months cycling around Europe, taking a sabbatical, and raising money for various causes. Some of you reading this article may have helped sponsor our trip. We thank everyone for their generosity.

One of the funded projects came to fruition last week (Sept 2016) with the first pilot distribution of solar lighting to 50 Bedouin families in the Judean Desert.

Sunita and I used this lamp almost every day for camping during our bicycle trip. It’s a well well designed product made with sturdy materials for long lasting use.

These ingeniously designed inflatable solar lights are completely self contained with a built-in solar panel, battery, and an array of LED lights that can light up an entire room for 6-7 hours. During the day the lights are placed outdoors for charging, even when there is cloud cover.

The Green Olive Delegation arrived in the village of Khan al Ahkmar as the sun was setting. A perfect time to showcase the lamps. The lights were distributed at dusk to the children of each family, along with instructions on charging them. The families were delighted, and several days later by the village Mukhtar, Sheikh Eid Muhammad Khamis, who asked for more lights for the rest of the families. So we distributed another 30 lights and now need to order more.

Our goal is to distribute lights to every Bedouin community in the Judean Desert and the Jordan Valley - about 37,000 people spread over about 250 square kilometres of some of the most Arid areas of the country.

Order one now. If you buy one light then we give one to a Bedouin family. Your help can bring light to dark side of the Holy Land. And you get a useful lamp for use in your home or camp. Tell your friends. Post on FaceBook. See the light :-)

Our goal is to sell 1,000 lights this coming holiday season, which will help subsidise another 1,000 lights for the Bedouin families.

The Bedouin are the least among us, both those in Israel and in the Occupied West Bank.

The Jahalin Tribe of Bedouin originated in the Negev Desert near Tel Arad and were displaced by the Israeli government in the early 1950s and forced to relocate to the West Bank, then under Jordanian jurisdiction. The tribe leased land from Palestinian landowners east of Jerusalem on the fringe of the Judean Desert next to the town of Al Azariya.

In 1967 Israel conquered the West Bank, and expropriated the land where the Jahalin were living in order to build the settlement city of Ma’ale Adumim. In the aftermath of the expulsions,The tribespeople continued to be semi-nomadic, roaming the region with their flocks of sheep and goats.

However the Israelis increasingly restricted their movements which resulted in permanent encampments in various parts of the desert. Israel plans to move the Bedouin against their will into reservation-style locations near Jericho.

The life of the Bedouin is grim. Since they are no longer nomadic, the tribe has long given up on tents yet the Israeli authorities allow no construction of permanent homes, and no assistance. As a result their communities are shantytowns with no village roads, no electricity or running water, and no security. Their scarce money is often spent on fuel for generators so that they can have lighting and refrigeration. Home-size solar array’s with their attendant battery storage, inverters and wiring systems are expensive, costing about $7-10,000 per home. Poor people just do not have this kind of money.

The lights provided through this program brings a little light and a little hope to an impoverished and oppressed community that someone out there still cares about them. Please help.

Buy one light and we’ll donate another light to the Bedouin. Your help will make a difference.


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PayPal and Palestine

 - Sam Bahour -
First published at Linkedin

As a Palestinian-American management consultant in Ramallah, Palestine, I advise my Palestinian clients living under Israeli military occupation to use world-class software and online services, assuring them that it will help them enter global markets. Some of these clients are not-for-profit outfits, like the Palestinian Circus School and Birzeit University; others are tech start-ups, many of which are funded by U.S. tax dollars via USAID. Time and again, I regretfully must explain to clients that the most popular worldwide online payment system, PayPal, is unavailable to them.

As an American from Youngstown, Ohio, trying to contribute to building a modern Palestinian economy, and a former software developer who worked all over the U.S., I can never offer a satisfactory answer to those who ask why PayPal refuses to follow the lead of technology giants like Google, Cisco, HP, Oracle, and many others, that all operate in Palestine.

Palestine has a thriving banking sector and all Palestinian banks have corresponding U.S. banks that make money transfers daily. The U.S. Treasury Department is also active in Palestine and has praised the level of Palestinian banking compliance. Considering these financial ties, it is a mystery why PayPal, which is widely considered the most trustworthy company in its sphere, continues to ignores this market. While it’s available to users in Israel and to Israeli settlers living illegally on occupied Palestinian land, PayPal does not extend its services to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

Many of these illegal Israeli settlers live literally a few minutes walk from my home, yet they have access to PayPal, but Palestinians do not. This is doubly unfortunate since Palestinians who live in other parts of the world and are regular users of PayPal cannot use the platform to conduct business with Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel has continuously placed suffocating limitations on the Palestinian economy, many which have been directly challenged by successive U.S. presidents, such as Israel’s refusal to release the needed frequencies for Palestinians to have 3G services. The Internet age has brought with it a bit of relief from these physical limitations, and the Palestinian tech sector is a key area of the economy that has potential to grow, especially considering the population is so young. Palestine produces roughly 2,000 IT graduates per year that are well-positioned to address the huge gap between growing demand for online Arabic content and the current lack of supply. Currently, however, only one-third of these graduates find work in their field. Without access to the needed services that facilitate businesses to grow, more Palestinian youth will fall into the despair of unemployment and all that it carries with it.

In order to meet these market needs and generate employment opportunities, Palestinian startups and entrepreneurs need equal access to services like PayPal for business and charitable services. In December, the President of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy (AVPE), Edward Thompson, and myself, as Chairman of AVPE, wrote to inform PayPal CEO Daniel Schulman of the company’s shortcomings in Palestine, but our request for a meeting went unheeded. Now, a group of 40 prominent Palestinian organizations have penned a public letter asking Mr. Schulman to reconsider.

Among the signatories are the Palestinian Telecommunications Group (Paltel) the largest private-sector company in Palestine and one that I assisted in establishing, the renowned startup incubator Gaza Sky Geeks, and Palestine’s National Beverage Company, whose CEO Zahi Khouri is an early stage startup investor through another signatory, the Ibtikar Fund. And these are just a few examples -- those in tech, business and finance have come together from across the span of the struggling Palestinian economy to make this request. Seemingly small but poignant indignities like this one block the road toward freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians, and we hope to methodically clear them from our path.

In the letter, my co-signers and I explain that while other payment portals are available, there is no replacement for the trust and familiarity that PayPal inspires among potential users, particularly those that are unfamiliar with Palestine-based companies. Without access to PayPal, Palestinian entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and others face routine difficulties in receiving payments for business and charitable purposes.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about PayPal’s presence in Israel-Palestine, however, is that access to it depends on ethnicity. Again, while Israeli settlers living in the West Bank are completely integrated into the Israeli system and have access to PayPal and other technologies, the Palestinians they live among do not. These are settlements that are considered illegal under U.S. foreign policy and international law, and the settlers who live in them enjoy access to resources that are regularly denied to the Palestinians next door. In fact, Human Rights Watch released a report earlier this year stated that businesses should withdraw from the settlements entirely to end their complicity in "an inherently unlawful and abusive system that violates the rights of Palestinians.”

This is not just about access to PayPal. It is about PayPal’s role in empowering entrepreneurs, small businesses, and individuals to make a living and conduct commerce, particularly in parts of the world where physical barriers and limitations are established by governments. We would be doing ourselves, as Americans and Palestinians, a disservice by allowing any company to deny their service based on ethnicity, heritage or because of Israeli pressure to enforce a clear suppression of the Palestinian economy via the limitations of occupation.

It is our sincere hope that our latest attempt to right this wrong will not fall on deaf ears. For the Palestinian people, breaking free from Israeli military occupation will mean carving out a meaningful space for ourselves in the global economy, and we cannot do that without equal access to indispensable tools like PayPal.

To complain to PayPal please contact:
Martha Cass, 416-860-6213
Director, Corporate Communications

Bahour is chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy, managing partner of Applied Information Management, and a board member of a leading national bank in Palestine. Sam Bahour blogs at ePalestine.


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Biking 2016 - Shetland - Day 2 & 3

- by Fred Schlomka - 

Day 2 & 3 • 9th & 10th August
55 km. North Sea - Lerwick - Yell
76km. Total biked

Bit of a quiet day today.
I’m up early on the ferry and am greeted by a full rainbow starting the southern tip of Shetland, arching over the sky to some distant point out at sea. A good omen. I forego the greasy expensive breakfast on the ship and munch on some more of Sunita’s granola/fruit bars.

Soon we are docked and I’m on the bike heading up to Lerwick hostel. The town feels familiar since I was there a year ago. The scale of the roads and buildings are smaller than back in Israel. There’s a compact orderliness among the neat sandstone homes and clean narrow streets. After a ten-minute ride I am back at the world’s best hostel, as they bill themselves - with good reason.

It’s too early to check in but I dump the baggage and head off into town with a couple of other cyclists for a decent coffee. Then a visit to the Shetland Community Bike projects which trains youngsters for responsibility through upcycling old bikes in a community workshop.

Next a tour of Lerwick’s hardware stores to find some plastic sheeting for the return airplane trip. After visiting several shops, I find a store that has some sheeting on order and will have it in stock when I return to town next week. They also have ‘gorilla tape’ in stock which will be useful to bind the bike to the plastic.

It’s a blustery day in Lerwick, but dry for the most part. It’s 8 degrees celsius. A wee bit cooler than Jaffa.

I spend some time with David. He’s a kindred spirit, an artist who lives in ‘Fair Isle’, a tiny island between Orkney and Shetland. Population 40 people.
David is also a cyclist, so we get deep in conversation about the nuances of bike trekking.
I cook dinner. We share dinner and wine, and two other cyclists join us for lively conversation about politics, religion, and the state of the world.

All in all a relaxing day which is what I had planned.

Next morning the sun is streaming in the windows and I regret not planning to depart today. Tomorrow is my planned departure to the north This fine weather may be a one-off since tomorrow is slated for rain. I am mulling over leaving today. Then I decide. The fine weather is a rarity in Shetland. I’d be a fool not to take advantage of it. So I quickly pack and say goodbye to David and the others in the dorm. I promise David that on a future trip I’ll visit him on Fair Isle.

On the way out of town I stop at the Co-op and pick up some supplies. I’m planning two days to reach Saxa Vord in the north and carry sufficient food to last. It’s a hilly ride all day. From the coast the road turns sharply upwards and I’m pushing for a bit. However for the rest of the day I manage all the hills without pushing.

The weather gets better, reinforcing my decision. Although the sun is shining, the air is cool and the wind is gusting a bit. So I have on three layers plus a muffler around my neck. I pass the Lerwick brewery whose brew I sampled yesterday evening. Pretty good stuff.

Just after leaving town, I see a family of Shetland Ponies at the edge of a field. When I stop they com ambling over and we have a nice conversation. They like people and are treated well by their owner. For the first 15 kilometres or so all the hills seem to be peat bogs, and are covered with purple heather. Peat is early stage coal, ancient decomposing fauna. The crofters cut and dry it and use it for fuel. The hills are full of the cuts that have been made over the ages. Crofters have practices land conservation for generation after generation. Their cutting of the peat through the centuries has made few scars on the hills. They generally cut a section for a few years then leave it to regenerate and move on the another section.

Cows and sheep are also in evidence. Croft farming has been a way of life in Shetland for a long time.

I pause for a chat with a couple of German cyclists going the other way. They are from Rostock in East Germany. Sunita and I were there during our grand tour of Europe in 1989 in our Volkswagen campervan, just before the Wall came down. I remember the strangeness of the town under the Communists. We took the ferry to Copenhagen from Rostok. However these 2 young people grew up mostly after the reunification of Germany and had no direct experience of that era. We chat about the route to the north then part ways.

During the middle of the day the wind slackens and I start to sweat so a layer comes off. The road undulates up and down through a treeless landscape that somehow is not monotonous despite a certain sameness to each hill. There’s a elegant and pleasant rhythm to the hills and the occasional croft or hamlet. Finally the road descends to the ferry to the Island of Yell. I arrive just in time for the 20-minute boat ride over the quiet inlet.

Once on the other side I start looking immediately for a campsite. It’s evening and I’m ready to relax. At the top of the first rise I spy a nice level spot just outside a fenced field. It has a perfect view over the water for the approaching sunset. I pitch camp. The farmer drives by with his tractor and gives me a nod. There’s no problem with wild camping in Scotland. It’s in the culture, and there’s a law prohibiting private landowners from forbidding camping on their land. All land is open for camping within reason. In other words you can’t camp on someone’s front lawn, but anywhere else on their property is fair game. Of course the common rules apply. Leave no trash. Clean up everything.

I wander over to the farm house and fill up my water bottles. The farmer is jolly and plump and has a huge red bushy beard. He and his wife Sandra are obviously natives with a strong dialect. My Scottish heritage comes to the fore and I slide easily into broad Scots. No problem communicating. They subsist on sheep farming and Sandra’s income from knitting woollen clothing. Lovely people. Salt of the earth.

Not much dry wood around so I leverage all my skills in order to cook dinner on my wood burning camp stove. I sit back and watch the sun descend to the horizon, fortified with a good stir fry and couscous, and a fine local brew. Then a 30-minute stroll to the waterfront and back and I retire to the tent to write this essay and watch the sunset through the tent window. Life is very very good.

Fred Schlomka is the CEO of the Green Olive Collective. He spends months adventuring on the road with his bicycle each year, while managing the organisation via phone and laptop. If you are interested in joining Fred on one of his adventures, please contact him through this link.


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