Financial Architecture to Address Needs of the Most Vulnerable Countries

Financial Architecture to Address Needs of the Most Vulnerable Countries

A global economic turmoil calls for a modernised financial Architecture to address the needs of the most vulnerable countries if we all intend to leave something to our respective kids.  

The image above is of Esteban Mora

Global Economic Turmoil Calls for a Modernized Global Financial Architecture to Address Needs of the Most Vulnerable Countries - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Source: Getty

Global Economic Turmoil Calls for a Modernized Global Financial Architecture to Address Needs of the Most Vulnerable Countries

 

In October, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published what is perhaps its most bleak economic outlook in a decade, forecasting that the world economy will grow by only 2.7 percent in 2023 and warning that “the worst is yet to come.” Not since the global financial crisis of 2007–2008 have we seen such pressure on vulnerable countries grappling with what Carnegie scholar Adam Tooze describes as “polycrisis.” Climate change, food and energy price inflation, debt distress, and an ongoing pandemic have created a dynamic where, in Tooze’s view, “the whole is even more dangerous than the sum of the parts.”

This constellation of crises demands that G20 leaders design a new global financial architecture that delivers urgent liquidity for vulnerable countries, a solution for countries facing debt distress, and long-term financing at an order of magnitude greater than currently available—all while giving those vulnerable countries a more meaningful voice in the design of that architecture.

This polycrisis comes to its most acute head within the twenty-five countries that, according to Bloomberg, are most vulnerable to debt distress. Home to 1.5 billion people, they range from middle-income countries like Pakistan and Egypt to low-income countries like Ethiopia. And while the UN’s Food Price Index has retreated from the all-time highs that appeared immediately in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, food prices remain higher than they were during the crises in 2008 and 2010—the latter of which precipitated unrest in more than forty countries as well as contributing to the Arab Spring protests. This is happening against a backdrop of increasing extreme weather events—from historic drought in the Horn of Africa to devastating floods in Pakistan that displaced 33 million people. In the first half of this year, extreme weather events cost an estimated $65 billion in damages globally.

Such an unprecedented cocktail of volatility is systemic in nature and is, in part, created by the collective inability of the world’s most powerful governments to build a multilateral system more resilient to these shocks. At a minimum, it warrants an unprecedented response from the international community. Unfortunately, those Western governments with decisionmaking power and resources to help vulnerable countries respond to the polycrisis are not inclined to use it, given domestic cost-of-living crises in G7 countries, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and limited domestic political appetite for international initiatives.

A DANGEROUS MYOPIA ON THE PART OF WESTERN LEADERS

Taking a step back, if leaders from Europe and North America have thus far been reluctant to meet the current crisis moment, this is myopic for two reasons.

First, helping vulnerable countries avoid widespread hunger, mitigate debt distress, and build resilience to climate shocks is not charity but enlightened self-interest. It will contribute to stability in those nations and help avert the challenges created when large populations migrate to flee conflict and famine in search of economic opportunity. Europe’s so-called migration crisis in 2016, which helped fuel a wave of populism on the continent, was catalyzed in part by instability in Libya and Syria.

Second, Western countries are increasingly aware that their relationships with countries in the Global South are not what they assumed. A succession of UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine, most recently on October 12, 2022, saw many African countries abstain (see figure 1). While there are a number of reasons for such nonalignment, it is clear that some African countries want to be free to chart their own path and choose their own partnerships—and that the choice of partners depends in part on what the partner country can bring to the table.

Financial Architecture to Address Needs of the Most Vulnerable Countries

In this regard, the West risks falling behind. Russia, the largest supplier of weapons to Africa, now provides 44 percent of major arms to the region. China committed about $160 billion in infrastructure financing in Africa between 2000 and 2020 in comparison with $153.4 billion in official development assistance from the United States1. In June, China announced a restructuring of some African countries’ debts amid concerns of debt sustainability and agreed to co-chair Zambia’s creditor committee to address the restructuring of the country’s debt.

In contrast, leaders from the Global South at UN General Assembly meetings both in public and private have disparaged European countries for stepping back from their role as custodians of the multilateral system, for their lack of support during the coronavirus pandemic, and for a litany of promises that remain unfulfilled. While they are more positive that the United States is in listening mode, as reflected in the recently published U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, they remain wary that U.S. domestic politics could see a shift of administration in two years’ time.

A study of developing countries’ attitudes compiled by Rosa Balfour, Lizza Bomassi, and Marta Martinelli at Carnegie Europe demonstrated the disconnect between how Europe thinks it is perceived and how it is actually perceived in key countries of the Global South. In many cases, the role of Europe’s development programming remains invisible to citizens of these countries, while steps to use the EU’s market access to enforce human rights and environmental standards, viewed at home as a positive impact of Europe in the world, are perceived elsewhere as simple market protectionism.

Likewise, a large-scale survey of African youth conducted by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation shows that in 2022, China overtook the United States as the geopolitical superpower viewed most favorably—in part because its actions on the continent are so visible. Analysis from Afrobarometer (see figure 2) presents a similar trend.

Financial Architecture to Address Needs of the Most Vulnerable Countries

THE WEST’S CRISIS RESPONSE IS FUELING MISTRUST IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH

There is a growing perception among Africans that African countries are victims of crises created in and by other regions. This view is rooted in fact: the global financial crisis began in the U.S. housing market, the coronavirus pandemic began in China, and industrialized countries in the Global North caused the climate crisis (Africa has contributed just 4 percent to historical carbon emissions). In each case, Western countries’ policy responses to these crises further disadvantage African countries.

During the pandemic, Western countries have monopolized vaccine supply, and the current response to the climate crisis sees some Western governments seek to limit the ability of African countries to exploit natural gas to support economic and social development—while those Western countries continue to use natural gas themselves.

The cost-of-living crisis is the latest case in point. In advanced countries, the average inflation forecast is 6.6 percent. In emerging and developing countries the figure is 9.5 percent. Headline inflation in Africa has tripled from 3.5 percent in January 2020 to 10.6 percent in June 2022.

Not only is inflation greater in African countries, but it also has a more devastating impact on ordinary people. Analysis in a new data portal from the ONE Campaign, where the author is executive director for global policy, shows that, in comparison to higher-income countries, a larger proportion of Africans’ income is spent on food and other essential goods, leaving them more vulnerable to inflation (see figure 3).

Financial Architecture to Address Needs of the Most Vulnerable Countries

Yet the current inflationary challenges illustrate the failure of global economic governance institutions to prevent macroeconomic policy decisions by major powers from spilling over to the wider world and harming vulnerable nations

The U.S. Federal Reserve’s steep interest rate hikes in recent months to quell inflation in the United States will greatly impact other countries, particularly those with heavy debt burdens. The U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency. About half of international trade is invoiced in dollars, about half of all international loans and global debt securities are denominated in dollars, and dollars are involved in 90 percent of foreign exchange transactions. As a result, increases in interest rates are hitting vulnerable countries in a number of ways.

First, a stronger U.S. dollar increases the cost of servicing U.S. dollar–denominated debt as well as of importing food and energy—and these imports are estimated to have increased by $9 billion in low-income countries this year. International investors have also pulled $70 billion from emerging market bond funds in 2022, making finance more costly and harder to come by. At the same time, China is tightening its lending to Africa as it weathers its own domestic economic challenges. As a result, analysts are warning of a “historic cascade of defaults” by developing countries.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development has warned that efforts to calm inflation in the form of fiscal tightening, particularly in the United States, could precipitate a recession in developing countries on a scale greater than the global financial crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, the latter of which saw global GDP growth fall by 6.3 percentage points. Many of the impacts will fall heaviest on Africa’s low-income countries, 60 percent of which are in or at high risk of debt distress.

AN ARCHITECTURE FIT FOR A BYGONE ERA

But while African countries’ fortunes are shaped by these global events, they have limited agency over the response, thanks in part to an outmoded global economic architecture created after the Second World War—before most African countries gained independence.

The Bretton Woods institutions—the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (now part of the World Bank Group)—were established in 1944 to safeguard the stability of the international financial system and finance postwar reconstruction. But their governance remains archaic.

Under a long-standing “gentleman’s agreement,” Europe gets to choose the managing director of the IMF and the United States chooses the World Bank president. The voting shares of these institutions are highly unequal, since they are pegged to the size of shareholders’ economies. As a result, the United States, with a population of 330 million people, controls roughly 16 percent of the voting power at the IMF and World Bank, while Africa’s fifty-four countries—accounting for 1.4 billion people—collectively have a voting share of roughly 7 percent. Per capita, an American’s vote is worth twenty times as much as a Nigerian’s at the IMF, and sixty-four times that of an Ethiopian. And even on its own terms, current quota shares disproportionately benefit wealthy countries—particularly Europe—at the expense of emerging economies.

Increasingly, countries in the Global South are demanding a meaningful seat at the table of international institutions. These calls were particularly prominent at this year’s UN General Assembly. Indian Minister for External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar described the current architecture as “anachronistic and ineffective.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres went further, saying:

We need to reform a morally bankrupt global financial system. This system was created by rich countries to benefit rich countries. Practically no African country was sitting at the table of the Bretton Woods Agreement; and in many other parts of the world, decolonization had not yet taken place. It perpetuates poverty and inequalities. We need to balance the scales between developed and developing countries and create a new global financial system that benefits all.

These increasingly emphatic statements are no longer general calls for reform. Instead, leaders from the Global South have an agenda and are putting specific proposals on the table.

In April, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, members of the Africa High-Level Working Group on the Global Financial Architecture, coordinated by the UN Economic Commission for Africa, proposed a specific set of measures to create fiscal space to help them respond to the invasion, including the recycling of $100 billion in special drawing rights, a renewed debt service suspension initiative, and a liquidity and sustainability facility to reduce the cost of African borrowing on capital markets.

Since then, Barbados’s Prime Minister Mia Mottley has proposed the Bridgetown Initiative, which seeks to address immediate fiscal concerns and proposes a more structural set of reforms to help vulnerable countries become resilient to economic, climate, and pandemic shocks.

A number of G7 countries have signaled a responsiveness to these calls for reform. In August, Japan lent its support to a proposal for a permanent African seat at the UN Security Council—a sentiment echoed by U.S. President Joe Biden in his speech to the UN General Assembly.

Yet debates about Bretton Woods reform risk becoming fragmented in a political environment in which achieving the necessary consensus for reform is challenging. Furthermore, in an era of great power competition, G20 countries are unlikely to voluntarily give up some of their power in these institutions.

AS A RESULT, A FOCUSED AGENDA IS MORE LIKELY TO GAIN TRACTION.

Firstly, G20 countries should urgently take steps to provide the necessary liquidity to help vulnerable countries weather the economic storm and build resilience for the future. They should reinstate the debt service suspension initiative, which helped free up fiscal space during the coronavirus pandemic, and make good on their promise, made in October 2021, to provide emergency liquidity in the form of $100 billion in special drawing rights. To date, $81 billion has been pledged (including $21bn from the US that is yet to be appropriated by Congress) to this target but very little has been disbursed. These funds should be urgently committed to the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust, the IMF’s newly established Resilience and Sustainability Trust, and multilateral development banks (MDBs), enabling vulnerable countries to draw down these resources.

Second, the polycrisis requires long-term resourcing that is an order of magnitude greater that what is currently on the table. There is hope on this front. In October, ahead of the IMF and World Bank annual meetings, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen signaled U.S. government support for the reform of MDBs relating both to how they lend and to how much they lend. Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States then announced an “evolution roadmap” for the World Bank to address its investment in cross-border challenges such as pandemic preparedness and climate change (in addition to its current model of bilateral lending to countries), and support for more risk-taking to more effectively leverage the World Bank’s balance sheet.

According to a G20-commissioned expert group, MDBs (including the World Bank) could mobilize up to an additional $1 trillion without risking their AAA credit ratings. The boards of the MDBs (largely composed of G7 finance ministers) should lay out a roadmap for implementing these recommendations and increasing the speed and flexibility of lending to vulnerable countries.

Finally, there are increasing calls for Global South countries to have a meaningful seat at the decisionmaking table. Establishing a permanent African Union seat at the G20 would send an important signal, and the IMF’s 2023 quota review could provide an opportunity for the creation of a new African chair on the IMF’s board as well as an increase in quota or a change in quota distribution in favor of African countries.

These specific steps would signal that Western countries are listening to countries in the Global South, provide urgent finance at a scale needed to address the current challenges, and catalyze a broader debate about the kinds of international institutions needed in the twenty-first century.

All of this could be accomplished without significant investments of domestic budgets or political capital. In this respect the usual explanations for inaction do not stand.

NOTES

1 Author’s calculations of statistics from the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. See Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Query Wizard for International Development Statistics (accessed October 18, 2022), https://stats.oecd.org/qwids/.

.Read the original article of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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Life in the firing zone in Masafer Yatta

Life in the firing zone in Masafer Yatta

Life in the firing zone in Masafer Yatta, the Palestinian territory where people have lived in caves for generations

Life in the firing zone in Masafer Yatta
Hajja Nuzha Al-Najjar in her cave-home in Masafer Yatta. In an oral history interview, she describes being shot in the leg by an Israeli settler in 2005.
Mahmoud Makhamra, Author provided

Aurélie Bröckerhoff, Coventry University and Mahmoud Soliman, Coventry University

The people of Masafer Yatta are determined to hold on to their cave-dwelling lifestyle. “I was born in this cave and gave birth to all 12 of my children here,” says Hajja Halima Abu Younis, an 82-year-old woman from Jinba, one of 33 villages in this semi-desert region at the southern tip of the occupied West Bank.

Masafer Yatta is the only Palestinian territory where many caves are used as homes – some 200 of the 800 caves in this area are still inhabited. Abu Younis says she would never accept another home even if the Israeli government offered her a house with two floors. She can trace her family’s history in this cave back almost two centuries:

Mahmoud Ahmad, the grandfather of my husband, was born in this cave back in 1840. My husband’s father was born here in 1906, then my husband and now my sons. We were two families sleeping here: my husband and me on this side, my brother-in-law on the other. All our children were sleeping in the middle.

In 1980, Israel ruled that a large section of Masafer Yatta including 12 villages was, in fact, uninhabited. It designated the land Firing Zone 918 – an area for its military to practise with live ammunition. The residents of these villages remained until 1999, when the military attempted to evict more than 700 Palestinians on the grounds that they were “illegally living in a firing zone”. These families have been fighting a legal battle for their communities’ right to remain ever since, which was finally rejected by Israel’s Supreme Court in May 2022.

Since that ruling, the Israeli military has carried out regular live ammunition practices in and around eight villages within the zone. It has also escalated the forced evictions of local residents including those living in caves. Virtually all structures within Firing Zone 918 are now without legal protection against demolition.

Abu Younis says the most significant threat to the locals comes on the three days each week, Monday to Wednesday, when military training takes place:

In these days we are jailed in our caves, we cannot move. We are afraid the Israeli army will kill someone while they are conducting military training. The army trains tanks around our village. The sound of the bombs and shots scare the children and the flocks of animals. My son Issa cannot graze his 150 sheep during the military training. How can a shepherd be a shepherd if he cannot graze his sheep?

Life in the firing zone in Masafer Yatta A boy sitting in front of two tanks and a soldier
A Palestinian boy watches an Israeli military exercise in Masafer Yatta, June 2022.
Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA-EFE

‘We feared nothing but the wolves’

The different styles of cave in Masafer Yatta reflect changing lifestyles from one generation to the next. Some possess water wells and tunnels so that residents could keep, feed and wash their farm animals inside the caves. Others have moats around them for external feeding.

Mohammed Abu Sabha, an 84-year-old farmer and shepherd originally from Al Quarytein village, is taking a younger generation of Palestinians aged 19 to 29 to see the cave in which he was born. Down narrow, crumbling stone steps, the group enters a large underground area with a low, domed ceiling. Abu Sabha is overcome with the emotion of his childhood memories as he steps into the cave:

Oh my god, it has changed. Why is it destroyed like this? I need to come back and renovate it. This cave means everything to me – I was born in it and I want to die in it too.

Abu Sabha’s family was evicted from the cave in 1951 when he was 13 years old. He has not been back in many years (he now lives in Yatta city, the urban centre north of Masafer Yatta). When he was a child, it was home to four families who all slept in the same room. Cows and camels lived inside the cave too to keep them safe; the cows were used to plough the surrounding land that provided the families with their main source of income. As one of the young visitors puts it: “Camels and sheep back then were like the Mercedes cars of today.”

Since 2017, researchers at Coventry University have been working with a younger generation of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta to gather stories from their elders. The On Our Land project was established to build oral histories of what everyday life was, and remains, like for the semi-nomadic people who call this part of the occupied West Bank home. We have been given access to historical documents, testimonials, historical maps and photographs to support these oral histories.

Life in the firing zone in Masafer Yatta A woman and donkey in the parched landscape
Many residents still live a semi-nomadic lifestyle amid this parched landscape.
Mahmoud Makhamra, Author provided

Abu Ashraf Hamamda, a 60-year-old farmer who still lives in a cave in Al Mufaqara, one of the villages inside Firing Zone 918, explains how people used to move around Masafer Yatta following annual cycles of harvest, livestock grazing and rest:

We used to live from October to July in the lower parts of Masafer Yatta. In summer, we would move to the hills to harvest our rain-fed produce of grapes and figs … The whole family participated in harvesting, everyone who could carry a sickle – old and young, men and women. We took food with us, grapes and milk from the sheep. We worked all day, morning to evening … We stayed in the fields for two weeks without coming back to the village.

At this point, he starts singing the song they would all sing while cutting the wheat: “Oh my sickle with the sharp teeth. Oh my sickle that is made in Gaza.”

According to Ali Na’ameen, a 73-year-old shepherd from Al Majaz village, the sheep’s milk they produce is unique because of the area’s particular geography:

In Masafer Yatta, we do not have as much rain as in the north [of the West Bank]. But the grass here is the best because it is salty; it strengthens the sheep’s immune systems. This gives their milk a creamier texture and makes it more nutritious.

Na’ameen is usually a happy soul, but as he talks he grows nostalgic for a more carefree time:

My favourite moments in summer were when shepherds gathered in the middle of the day around the water well. From late morning until early afternoon, the sheep had naps because of the hot weather. We took this time as an opportunity to chat. Sometimes, we played games such as the “seven stones and fence” game, which is a bit like chess. We were happy and had peace of mind. We feared nothing but the wolves coming for our sheep.

‘A piece of paradise’

Masafer Yatta sits at the southern tip of the West Bank’s South Hebron Hills. Its craggy mountains and hills resemble walnut shells in summer, connected by more fertile pastures in the valleys below. About 3,000 people live here, mostly working as shepherds and farmers growing wheat, barley, beans and olives.

The locals tell us different stories about the name of the area. Some say Masafer comes from the Arabic word for “zero”, referring to the belief that life could not thrive in this hot and harsh landscape. However Nidal Younis, the current mayor of Masafer Yatta, tells us it refers to the last period of the Ottoman Empire, when locals were freed from paying taxes for agricultural products in order to win their loyalty to the weak Ottoman rulers.

Yet another version suggests Masafer means “travelling”, referring to the journeys people have long been making through this area – including traders and pilgrims travelling between Africa, Asia and Europe. Abu Younis describes how the villagers used to give these travellers food and fresh water from a pond, filled by an ancient clay pipe running down from a spring in the hills.

People have lived on this land for many generations, grazing sheep and goats and selling dairy and livestock products. According to the mayor, however, many feel they cannot sustain themselves and their families solely through subsistence farming and shepherding any more. “In the past,” Younis says, “we were cultivating huge areas so you did not need to think of alternative [sources of income], despite the hardship of this life.”

In recent decades, many younger Palestinians have gravitated away from the rural lifestyle to Yatta city and beyond. Ibrahim Nawaja, who is from the village of Susya and splits his time between Susya and Yatta city, says rural Masafer Yatta is “like a piece of paradise for me, with its fresh air, calm atmosphere and rich nature – green in spring, yellow in summer. I come here to get away from the traffic and noise of the city.”

But the land designation changes applied by Israel since 1980 have disrupted the traditional lives of farmers and shepherds here. Nawaja suggests that while this semi-nomadic lifestyle was never easy, the additional barriers imposed have made it much harder – and residents’ testimonies have repeatedly alleged that Israeli settlers have exacerbated tensions by interfering with water supplies and through other attacks.

People’s lives have become difficult and complicated because of the occupation’s restrictions. There are many injustices, including when our water wells and pastures have been contaminated.

A ‘misunderstanding’ that changed everything

Many residents tell us the declaration of Firing Zone 918 rests on a misunderstanding. They say the Israeli government did not recognise that the people of Masafer Yatta live a semi-nomadic lifestyle when it first deemed the area uninhabited in 1980. More than four decades later, this position was endorsed by Israel’s Supreme Court in its May 2022 final ruling, which found that Masafer Yatta residents had no right to the land because they were not permanent residents at the time of its declaration as a firing zone.

In August, the Supreme Court rejected a further appeal from residents against the demolition of two schools and other Palestinian buildings within the firing zone. Yesterday (October 2), the court rejected a request for a further hearing on its May 4 verdict, and Israel’s government confirmed it would not grant any more court hearings.

When the Oslo Accords were signed in the early 1990s as a step towards fulfilling the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, Masafer Yatta was categorised as “Area C”, meaning it still fell under full Israeli administrative and military control. Prior to 2022, the biggest displacement of residents took place in 1999. Abu Ashraf Hamamda recalls how he reacted to that eviction:

After they collected our belongings and threw them to the other side of the road, I snuck through the mountains back to my village. I contacted Israeli activists and lawyers. I went to the Israeli parliament, and gave a speech about the right of my people to stay in our villages and that we had been living there for a long time. After four months, we had a court decision that allowed us to return and to stay temporarily. And we repaired our communities.

More than two decades on from the eviction, they are still living there – and, says his wife Um Ashraf Hamamda, their determination to remain is stronger than ever:

We are eight big families in this village. Our grandparents and our parents lived here … The occupation expelled us to Al-Tuwani village. They threw away our belongings, they dispersed us [but] we persevered. We sued them and kept striving until we reached the Supreme Court … Then when we returned to our village, the occupation continued oppressing us because they failed to expel us the first time. They poisoned our cattle so we would lose hope and leave the village. But we stayed – we did not leave! We were born here and we have to stay here.

Most of the 700-odd residents evicted in 1999 returned to their caves and other buildings after the court’s decision in March 2000. The ruling allowed the residents to return temporarily – and they have been fighting a legal battle with Israel ever since.

In recent months, however, the Israeli military has stepped up the demolition of buildings within the firing zone on the grounds that Palestinians have no permits for them. Such permits are extremely hard to obtain from Israel’s government.

Residents say they are prevented from having electricity with any solar panels they erect soon being destroyed. They have also described the authorities cutting water pipes, demolishing wells and confiscating water tanks in order to deprive them and their animals of water.

The threat of settler attacks

The threat to the livelihoods – and existence – of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta also comes from the building of Israeli settlements on land at the edge of Firing Zone 918. This land was previously used by Palestinian farmers and shepherds, who now find themselves “boxed in” between military training and the new settlements.

The settlers are all Israeli citizens of Jewish descent who have moved into gated communities in this occupied Palestinian territory. Housing in such settlements is often subsidised by Israel’s government, and different laws apply to these settlers than their Palestinian neighbours.

Settlers are widely reported to have inflicted harm on Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta, including by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Some residents tell us that on occasions, they have seen their water supplies being contaminated by settlers living close by. According to Abu Ashraf Hamamda:

Since Israel started building the settlements, we now live less than one mile from them. Settlers chop our trees, burn our crops and poison our water wells … In the past when we were herding our sheep, we moved freely in our land and slept wherever we wanted. But today we do everything very quickly because we want to avoid settler attacks.

Experiences of settler-instigated violence come up regularly in the oral histories we have recorded. Hajja Nuzha Al-Najjar describes how, in 2005, she was in a field with her daughters-in-law when she was shot in the back of her leg by some Israeli settlers. Her leg is stretched out in front of her as she recalls that “my son was on the other side of the valley. When he tried to join me, he also became a target so had to crouch down and hide.”

Al-Najjar limped back to her cave and only then realised the blood was streaming down her leg. An ambulance was called but the settlers would not let it pass, she recalls, so she had to be bundled into a car and driven some way before she could be transferred to the ambulance.

The level of livestock in Masafer Yatta is now just a third of what it was in 1980 when the firing zone was first declared. Abu Ashraf Hamamda explains the reasons for this decline:

On the one hand, we cannot reach the places we used to herd in. On the other, since Oslo [the signing of the Oslo Accords], the price of animal food has increased. In less than six months, barley and wheat prices increased by 80% – I could not afford that for my sheep … We were forced to sell part of our livestock because we were unable to feed them.

While our interviewees acknowledge the support they receive from many international and national humanitarian aid organisations – including being supplied with animal food – they say this is not a desirable solution. As Ali Na’meen explains:

Today we are receiving barley from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, a UN agency, instead of producing our own crops as in the past. We graze our sheep in groups, accompanied by international volunteers to protect us … This is not the kind of life we used to have when we moved freely and produced our own food. Despite that hard life, we were still in a much better situation than we are now.

‘I need to see my future’

The traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle of this area is also threatened by societal and cultural changes from one generation to the next. Most of the elders here say that young Palestinians want to live in houses, have smartphones and secure jobs rather than following the tough path of farming and shepherding. As a result, many have moved to Yatta city in the north-west of Masafer Yatta. Others have moved to cities such as Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah to study or work. Somia Al-Omour, one of the project’s young researchers, explains:

I need to see my future and live a normal life. I decided to continue my education in Ramallah as a nurse and to work there. I would not have the same opportunity if I stayed in Masafer Yatta.

In contrast, the elders of Masafer Yatta are more determined than ever to remain living in their caves and maintain their lifestyles as farmers and shepherds. But Abu Ashraf Hamamda accepts it is difficult to convince young people to carry on with this lifestyle:

Some of them are fed up living in the caves. They want to sleep in bedrooms, and they want a shower. They dream of having a closet for their clothes, not just a bag to put them in.

The unique traditions associated with life in the caves of Masafer Yatta may have lost some of their significance for the younger generation. Yet through our oral histories, we have seen bonds strengthen between the different generations. Khalil Makhamrah from Jinba village describes the profound impact of interviewing his grandmother:

That interview changed my perspective about the elderly people here, about the importance of their stories and lives. Ploughing the land was difficult for them but [I learnt] how much they enjoyed it. This is really important. When we can bring a tangible item from our past forward, it proves we own this land and it brings us closer to it. We need to protect this land that has been inherited to us, because this is the life of our parents and grandparents.

Such discussions may demonstrate to the next generation of Palestinians the value of “sumud” – steadfastness – in an area that is increasingly at risk. Ironically, the current threat of military practice within Firing Zone 918 is making young people return to the caves with their parents in greater numbers, as Taha Al-Omour, another of our young researchers, explains:

I am coming every day to stay with my father here in Al Majaz village, especially after the army started practising military training here. I cannot leave my parents in such conditions and stay in my home in Yatta city, even though I am looking for a more comfortable life that is unlike my parents’ hard life.

More than 200 young people now live permanently in the 12 Masafer Yatta villages within Firing Zone 918 – a significant increase from the recent past. Spaces have been created in each village to gather and sleep each night, in order to protect villagers from the threat of forced evictions and other harassment.

For generations, caves were the only homes for the people of Masafer Yatta, which is why there is such a strong connection to them. But these days, the caves play a further role as “safe spaces” – places to pass the traditions of the past to a new generation and to challenge the Israeli policy of expulsion. More than 200 caves in Masafer Yatta are still inhabited today, including by Abu Younis and her family:

Through the years, caves have enabled us to maintain life in Masafer Yatta’s villages and protected us from the occupation. Now, again, as our buildings and communities are being demolished, it is the last safe space for us. Not only do they protect us from the hot and cold weather, they protect us from harassment – so we will keep preserving them.


This story is part of Conversation Insights

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Aurélie Bröckerhoff, Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University and Mahmoud Soliman, Nonviolent activist and a remote visiting research fellow at the Center for Trust, peace and Social Relations, Coventry University

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Evidence of Prehistoric Hunting across Arabian Desert

Evidence of Prehistoric Hunting across Arabian Desert

Oxford archaeologists discover monumental evidence of prehistoric hunting across the Arabian desert. 

They have found over 350 Monumental Hunting Structures labelled and since then known as ‘Kites’ In Northern Saudi Arabia And Southern Iraq Using Satellite Imagery.

Evidence of Prehistoric Hunting across Arabian Desert

Evidence of Prehistoric Hunting across Arabian Desert

Distribution of kite structures in the Levant and in northern Arabia. White: previously documented kites. Red: kites recorded by EAMENA.

 

Archaeologists at the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology have used satellite imagery to identify and map over 350 monumental hunting structures known as ‘kites’ across northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq – most of which had never been previously documented.

Led by Dr Michael Fradley, a team of researchers in the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project used a range of open-source satellite imagery to carefully study the region around the eastern Nafud desert, an area little studied in the past. The surprising results, published in the journal The Holocene, have the potential to change our understanding of prehistoric connections and climate change across the Middle East.

Termed kites by early aircraft pilots, these structures consist of low stone walls making up a head enclosure and a number of guiding walls, sometimes kilometres long. They are believed to have been used to guide game such as gazelles into an area where they could be captured or killed. There is evidence that these structures may date back as far as 8,000 BCE in the Neolithic period.

Kites cannot be observed easily from the ground, however the advent of commercial satellite imagery and platforms such as Google Earth have enabled recent discoveries of new distributions. While these structures were already well-known from eastern Jordan and adjoining areas in southern Syria, these latest results take the known distribution over 400km further east across northern Saudi Arabia, with some also identified in southern Iraq for the first time.

Dr Fradley said: ‘The structures we found displayed evidence of complex, careful design. In terms of size, the ‘heads’ of the kites can be over 100 metres wide, but the guiding walls (the ’strings’ of the kite) which we currently think gazelle and other game would follow to the kite heads can be incredibly long. In some of these new examples, the surviving portion of walls run in almost straight lines for over 4 kilometres, often over very varied topography. This shows an incredible level of ability in how these structures were designed and built.’

 

 

 

Evidence suggests considerable resources would have had to be coordinated to build, maintain, and rebuild the kites over generations, combined with hunting and returning butchered remains to settlements or camps for further preservation. The researchers suggest that their exaggerated scale and form may be an expression of status, identity and territoriality. Appearances of the kites in rock art found in Jordan suggests they had an important place within the symbolic and ritual spheres of Neolithic peoples in the region.

 

 

 

From the design of the kite heads to the careful runs of guiding walls over long distances, these structures contrast markedly in scale with any other evidence of architecture from the early Holocene period. The researchers suggest that the builders of these kites dwelt in temporary structures made from organic materials that have left no trace visible on current satellite imagery data.

Desert kite research is a very active field just now – Michael and colleagues explore a significant extension to their distribution pattern, which has major implications for our understanding of the relationship of the kite builders with new mobile pastoralists and the occupation of the region.

Bill Finlayson, Director of EAMENA and Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Oxford 

 

These new sites suggest a previously unknown level of connection right across northern Arabia at the time they were built. They raise exciting questions about who built these structures, who the hunted game were intended to feed, and how the people were able to not only survive, but also invest in these monumental structures.

In the context of this new connectedness, the distribution of the star-shaped kites now provides the first direct evidence of contact through, rather than around, the Nafud desert. This underlines the importance areas that are now desert had under more favourable climatic conditions in enabling the movement of humans and wildlife. It is thought the kites were built during a wetter, greener climatic period known as the Holocene Humid Period (between around 9000 and 4000 BCE).

The largest number of kites were built on the Al Labbah plateau in the Nafud desert, where the absence of later Bronze Age burial monuments suggests that a shift into a drier period meant some of these areas became too marginal to support the communities once using these landscapes, with game species also potentially displaced by climate change.

Whether the patterns of kite construction over space and time represent the movement of ideas or people, or even the direction of that movement, remain questions to be answered.

The project, supported by the Arcadia Fund, is now extending its survey work across these now arid zones to further develop our understanding of these landscapes and the effect of climate change.

The study Following the herds? A new distribution of hunting kites in Southwest Asia is published in The Holocene.

Read University of Oxford News & Events

 

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What is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?

What is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?

From Morocco to Oman, apart from the obvious official language and religion, there is history.  In effect, it is the movement of people from the outer edges of the MENA that was always throughout millennia a common carrier upon which carriages would transport migrants away from danger and bad life.  So, what is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?

Recent examples of mass movements of Syrians into Jordan, Turkey, and the European Union would be the most edifying sample.  More recently, Yemen despite its status as a poorer country compared to other Gulf ones went nevertheless through conflict with its neighbours and its populations had to flee away to its immediate adjacent countries.  Before that, there was the Libyan case where a large desert country with a small population did produce as it were some migrants mostly to Europe for the well offs and the neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt for the masses.

After more than half a century of migratory movements between the two shores of the Mediterranean, the North African migration system was definitively “formatted” as it still stands today: organically linked to France first, and then to Western Europe.

The Levant conflict and civil wars, and finally the crises and successive wars here and there since the 80s, have consequently forced the exodus of millions.  North African countries have in turn been affected, directly or indirectly, by these Middle Eastern crises.

But geopolitical issues are also not the only differentiator of these countries and apart from armed conflicts and/or civil unrest, oil and conflict are felt like the main drivers of migration to and from or within the MENA.

Climate change and its subsequent life deregulations are affecting its inhabitants.  Would this, despite all the goodwill of all the COPs and SDGs, affect the numbers and the flows?

Would all countries be subject to this culturally well-established custom since the Exodus from Egypt, to run away to search for better climes?

The above-featured image is of Wilson Center.

PArtition, now !

PArtition, now !

PArtition, now ! by fadymozaya, posted on 25, 2021, could teach us a lot about how not to share an area of land despite all different and differing aspects of everyday life has direct consequences beyond any description.

The Levant

Some expressions rhyme and flow as if they were a cluster of a hymn or the words of a Renaissance poet.
In my middle eastern mountain area, some words suppress many others and hint at ideas and events that seem to flourish around distinct communities and not others as if they are parasites feeding on an organic scheme.

The invasion of the capital of Phoenicia Libanesis started in the 7th century, it is said that it only took less than a year to take over the “byzantined” capital of Phoenicia Libanesis, some claim that Jeb’El took that role at that time!

The invading herds filled the buffer zone that the sad events of the cataclysmic event of 551-553 A.D caused in the Lebanese littoral, survivors managed to reach the Highlands at that time through the straits of Mount Lebanon, mentioning here Bisri valley, Lycus surrounding, Fidar straits, Madfoun valley, Turza alleys, Kadisha/kalamus sea gate, and Terbol pathways.

The theory that a vacant Mount Lebanon was occupied by oppressed communities of the Syrian inner lands and further has been thoroughly examined by Historians and scribes of the “higher authorities” for centuries.



In the time of emergence of accurate sciences like Anthropology, Geophysics, demography and more .. it is the simple-minded way of thinking to believe any of these texts, clearly controversial in the spectrum of scientificity, and Truth!

Modern scholars have proved continuity of life since the 2nd millennium BC in the cities of Phoenicia Libanesis, and other studies identified clearly a 5000 years of sustainability of Human life in the northern mountains of Lbnn , the way it seems indicates a larger and deeper ancestry! (1)

The culture of Mount Lebanon has been remained untapped and undisturbed unless for brief times of political turbulence, since the Assyrian times and up until the Ottoman period, with slight changes in demographic maps, like the Sharkass implantation on the maritime edge of the river of Kadisha valley, and some others in the Jbeil Kesserwan district.

The invader mindset remained clearly non-homogenous to the native cults and habits, this can clearly be seen in socio-ethnic studies about the Lebanese maze of population, one can clearly identify differences (and minor similarities) between the communities of today’s fragile matrix .

The hard economics, the fragile agreements, the hint-backs to origins and roots still seem to widen the gap between these social components, now it is clearly seen that the self-identification terminology has turned into a complete narrative in the lives of the Lebanese communities, I would like to label it the “Ento-Nehna” speech!

What will come is only the fruit of what we have been doing for years, and we have not changed a bit, since the 7th century onwards.

Making it clear, we require a new socio-political system, and why not, partition.
We have one life to live, and it is precious enough to say what we need, to claim what we earn!

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