Well, Turkey Day has come and gone, so it must be time to sharpen my elbows and fight my way through the bargain-seeking hordes intent on Christmas shopping. It’s always difficult deciding what to get for the men, isn’t it? Whether to go for a novelty tie, or socks (again), or some gimmicky piece of seasonal tat thrown together for gullible U.S. consumers by incredulous Chinese production-line operatives in a Shanghai factory…
Not this year. This year I solved the problem of the difficult-to-buy-for-peripheral-male-relatives by deciding not to bother. Instead, I blew my money on art supplies from the overstock sales that took place this fall, after the back-to-school frenzy had passed. For pennies on the dollar I bought a metric buttload of colored pencils, erasers and sharpeners, etc. More than my children could get through in 10 years – but probably just enough to keep the kids I sent it to - the Mandarins, Lemons and Bananas at the Jericho Kids’ Club - busy coloring for a month or two.
So instead of going for the seasonal crap that looks good on the 25th but is in the back of the closet by the 26th, I opted for a gift that lots of people will actually use! Add to that the fact that I only had to make up a single parcel, and make one trip to the Post Office, and you can’t beat it.
Anyone who can’t face the line in the Post Office even once can still send worthwhile gifts that people will actually use, right from the comfort of their computer. Bir Zeit University in Ramallah is the premier university in the Occupied Territories, and its university library has an online wishlist of books it needs in order to continue providing students in the Ramallah area with the kind of first-rate education they would otherwise have to seek overseas. Make a purchase for Bir Zeit online, and you don’t even have to brave the Post Office. Have it sent direct to:
Rabbis for Human Rights,
42 Gaza Road
with the message “a gift for Bir Zeit University Library”, and Rabbis for Human Rights will hand over your purchase directly to a Bir Zeit representative at the Surda checkpoint. (Having your gift delivered through an Israeli organisation ensures that it avoids the inexplicable delays or mystery taxes that donations to Palestinian groups sometimes attract as they pass through the Israeli postal system).
For the cost of that novelty silk Cat-in-the-Hat tie that you know he’ll never wear again, you could give the Bir Zeit class of 2004 access to Genescapes: The Ecology of Genetic Engineering. Or, instead of succumbing to the allure of the all-in-one laserpointer/ruler/Phillips head screwdriver that the salesman in Radio Shack tried to interest me in yesterday (really, I’m not making this up), you could make Distributed .NET Programming in VB .NET available to a new generation of programmers.
The Jericho Kids’ Club (c/o Jericho Municipality, P.O Box 15, Jericho, Palestine) and Bir Zeit University Library appeal happen to be the causes that my Christmas money will be going to this year. If you are interested in doing something similar, a quick Google search will show just how many worthwhile grassroots initiatives there are in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, which would benefit from your support – artistic, educational, medical and cultural programs to give a normal childhood to children in the most abnormal of situations; womens’ cooperative enterprises to encourage economic independence; feeding programs for children in Israel’s neediest families, hard hit by Israel’s recession, etc etc.
Despite the ubiquitous stories and images of violence, corruption and dysfunction that we see from the Occupied Territories, the fact is that Palestinians have built for themselves the most developed civil society in the Arab world, as Timothy Rothermel (the United Nations Development Program's special representative in Jerusalem) pointed out in today’s International Herald Tribune:
[S]omething quite phenomenal is taking place in Palestinian society, despite the photographs and statistics. There is a vibrant, talented, peaceful and very resolute society that is determined, in spite of suffering, to forge a peaceful, democratic and pluralistic state with institutions that are fully prepared for Palestinians to take their rightful place among the society of nations.
Since the inception of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994, governmental institutions that are second to none in the Middle East have emerged…Likewise, in civil society and in the private sector Palestinians have in recent years developed or improved highly respectable organizations dealing with human rights, transparency in governance and institutions dealing with youth, public health and community participation…The international community, including the United Nations Development Program, has lent a nurturing hand whenever possible, but the intellectual spark and the drive for institutional excellence has come from within the Palestinian society.
In a world in which there is now a search for a democratic, secular and progressive state in the Middle East, the seeds have already been sown and are ready to blossom in the occupied Palestinian territories - if only given the opportunity.
As a nation, we invest plenty in weapons that feed the cycle of war in the Middle East. This holiday season perhaps we, individually, can contribute a little of our holiday spending to those largely unheralded groups that are striving to build instead of destroy. You don't need to go to any trouble, you don't need to be politically active: all you need is Internet access, and if you're reading this, you've got that already. And, when you think about it, how many handkerchiefs with the monogrammed “G” in the corner does your Uncle George need this Christmas anyhow?