Thoughts filed in: Morality

18
Jun

Israel's new Law of Return

Until a few days ago, I had no idea that Israel is home to an estimated 60,000 African refugees, the vast majority of whom come from South Sudan or from Eritrea, and almost all of whom have arrived within the past five years or so. I was startled as it was, to hear that so many refugees have arrived in Israel in such a short period; but I was positively shocked, when I then discovered that Israel plans to deport them, commencing immediately. The first plane to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, left last night.

South Sudan is the world's newest nation – it declared its independence on 9 Jul 2011. Israel was one of the first foreign nations to establish formal diplomatic ties with the fledgling Republic. Subsequently, Israel wasted no time in announcing publicly that all South Sudanese refugees would soon be required to leave; they were given a deadline of 31 Mar 2012, and were informed that they would be forcibly deported if still in Israel after that date.

Israel claims that, since having gained independence, it is now safe for South Sudanese nationals to return home. However, independent critics rebuke this, saying that there is still significant armed conflict between Sudan, South Sudan, and numerous rebel groups in the region. Aside from the ongoing security concerns, South Sudan is also one of the world's poorest and least-developed countries; claiming that South Sudan is ready to repatriate its people, is a ridiculous notion at best.

Israel helped formulate the UN Refugee Convention of 1951. This was in the aftermath of the Holocaust, an event in which millions of Jewish lives could have been saved, had the rest of the world accepted more European Jews as refugees. Israel, of course, is itself one of the world's most famous "refugee nations", as the majority of the nation's founders were survivors of Nazi persecution in Europe, seeking to establish a permanent homeland where Jews could forevermore seek shelter from oppression elsewhere.

It's ironic, therefore, that Israel – of all nations – until recently had no formal policy regarding asylum seekers, nor any formal system for managing an influx of asylum seekers. (And I thought Australia's handling of asylum seekers was bad!) To this day, Israel's immigration policy consists almost entirely of the Law of Return, which allows any Jew to immigrate to the country hassle-free.

Well, it seems to me that this law has recently been amended. For Jewish refugees, the Law is that you can Return to Israel (no matter what). For non-Jews, the Law is that you're forced to Return from Israel, back to wherever you fled from. Couldn't get much more double standards than that!

01
Jun

On the Torah and the Word of G-d

The Torah — also known as the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, or the Five Books of Moses — is the foundation document of the Jewish religion (among others), and it's regarded by Orthodox Jews (among others) as the infallible Word of G-d. It's generally believed that the Torah in its entirety was conveyed orally to Moses on Mount Sinai, approximately 3,300 years ago; and that Moses transcribed the Torah exactly as it was revealed to him.

Most of the Torah is rock solid: sensible laws; moralistic stories; clear presentation of history; and other important information, such as geneaologies, rituals, and territorial boundaries. However, sometimes them five books throw some serious curve balls. I've selected here a few sections from the wonderful O.T, that in my opinion are so outrageously messed up, that they cannot possibly be the Divine Word. I believe in G-d, one hundred percent. But I see no reason to believe that these particular passages have a Divine source.

11
Mar

Haiti coverage in OpenStreetMap vs Google Maps

I was recently reading about how OpenStreetMap has been helping the Haiti relief effort, in the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti's capital back in January. Being one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, Haiti's map coverage is very poor. However, a group of volunteers have radically changed that, and this has directly helped the aid effort on the ground in Haiti.

To see just how effective this volunteer mapping effort has been, I decided to do a quick visual comparison experiment. As of today, here's what downtown Port-au-Prince looks like in Google Maps:

Port-au-Prince in Google Maps

Port-au-Prince in Google Maps

And here it is in OpenStreetMap:

Port-au-Prince in OpenStreetMap

Port-au-Prince in OpenStreetMap

14
May

Busker bigotry

One of life's greatest dilemnas is that you can't drop a coin to every busker that you pass in the street. So how do you decide which ones are worthy of your charity? Those with the least money? Those with the most talent? How can busker bigotry be minimised?