Friday, August 16, 2002

To give or not to give
Last summer I went on a guided tour of Yaffo at night. I grew up in Haifa, and I know a lot of stories and quite a bit of local history of that area from school and Scouts. But I only had very basic knowledge of life in Yaffo in the pre-Zionist era. At one point, the guide, in order to explain what the tourist, or Jewish pioneer met with when he got off the boat in Yaffo Port in days of old, he asked me, being the best English reader available, to read out loud a passage from the introduction to Thomas Cook’s tour book to the Holy Land, written in the 1870’s. In those days, apparently, sending your kids to beg from the foreign tourists was a major income source. Foreigners were literally pounced on by dirty urchins at every turn. If they gave them anything, they were likely to attract tens more.

It’s nothing like that nowadays, anywhere in Israel, but some things don’t change. If you encounter people begging in Israel, in areas frequented by tourists, I’d say they’re likely to be pros. I suppose times are tough for them at the moment, as they are for all those who make their living from tourists. Remember, however, that beggars in Jerusalem will be East Jerusalem dwellers, who are Israeli citizens and entitled to all the welfare that that entails. The idea suggested by this naive tourist, that a Palestinian beggar wouldn’t want to take money from Jews is quite amusing. Money has no smell, after all. Janice (from Where to by Israeli Products) sent me this, along with a similar story I had already read on Middle East Realities, suggesting it was the same woman and maybe a con job.

That’s the eternal question isn’t it? Are beggars for real?

I know there are hungry Palestinians, although the army insists enough food is getting through to areas that we’re holding. Of course, you have to have money to buy the food, and the rich corrupt Palestinian Authority isn’t sharing. It probably is worst for women who have no male provider, in the fiercely patriarchal Muslim society. The main problem seems to be in Gaza, where people have always been especially dependant on work in Israel, and now they just can’t get out.

Are the ones you see begging on the street in East Jerusalem, the worst off? I doubt it. And I wouldn’t necessarily believe anything they tell you. Am I right, Tal?

But who knows? I am not in their shoes, and I don’t feel I can judge them. I often give money to beggars, and regularly to street musicians (who I don’t see as beggars but as old-fashioned entertainers). However, I live in a Jewish area with no tourists and I rarely see Arab beggars.

Am I doing the right thing? Am I not encouraging them?

One woman who regularly begs near where I live is particularly aggressive and has been known to scare children into giving her their allowance. Needless to say, she never sees a penny from me, and I have nearly called the Police, a few times. She has an endless repertoire of hard luck stories, and no memory for faces.

I also refuse to give anything to the emaciated men who regularly beg at traffic lights. A. Because they are endangering themselves and the drivers, and B. Because they scare the hell out of me. I always imagine one of them sticking his hand into the car and strangling me.

So why do I give? I don’t know, guilt maybe, and compassion; maybe the hope that some of it will go to people who really need it, who really aren’t able to work and who are not entitled to any welfare, for some reason. It’s not as if I can’t do without the small amounts I give, after all. I suppose the fear that one day I will be in their shoes, plays a large part in it.

Elana, I don’t think you need to worry about the few shekels you give going to finance terrorists. I doubt if this could be a serious source of finance for a terrorist organization.


Ali Salem
LGF mentions a humorous article by Egyptian playwright Ali Salem, translated by MEMRI. Ali Salem visited Israel in 1994, bravely violating a boycott by Egyptian intellectuals and writers and wrote a book about his visit. I read the Hebrew translation of this book (which doesn’t seem to be available online) while in hospital after giving birth to my younger daughter in 1995 (I remember this because one of the doctors seemed more interested in the book than in my welfare). I found it exciting to read an account of what Israel looks like through Arab (non-Palestinian) eyes.

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