Monday, March 29, 2004

Peace School in Palestine threatened with demolition

Hope Flowers Peace School is the only school in Israel and the Palestinian Territories where Muslims, Jews, and Christians study Hebrew and Arabic together.

On 29th March 2004, Ibrahim Issa wrote:


Special Newsletter to Friends of the School and of Middle East

Dear Friends.
Warm greetings from Bethlehem at this time of continued
uncertainty at the Hope Flowers School.

Once again, we find ourselves faced with yet another demolition
threat, as we did in our last newsletter to you, dated 14th
February 2004. Despite your efforts and the efforts of US
Secretary of State Assistant Mr. William Burns in his
consultation with the Israeli authorities, we have still
received no confirmation from the Israeli authorities that the
demolition threat relating to the school cafeteria will be

Once again, we ask for your assistance.

At this time, the school cafeteria building does not have a
building permit. This is due to two reasons. Firstly, in
reality, the Israeli authorities do not issue building permits
to Palestinians in this area. However, we fully intend to
proceed with the application process as we did in 1999 and we
are currently trying to find out how best to do this. Secondly,
we simply could not afford an Israeli building permit in 1999.
The cost charged to Palestinians for such a permit is
exorbitant. Can you please apply pressure to the contacts below
through letter, fax, e mail or phone. Ask them to do whatever
they can to overturn the demolition order, to provide the
school with documented confirmation of this, and consequently
allow us to proceed with the formal application process.
Emphasize to them the unique operating principles and ethos of
the Hope Flowers School in that we are the only school in the
Palestinian West Bank and Gaza areas to focus on peace and
democracy education, teaching our students to look for a non
violent solution to the ongoing situation.

a) Commander Israeli Civil Administration (Sub Committee for
Supervision of Building Activity in Beth El)
fax (Israel) 2 997 7326

b) Mr. Aril Sharon, Israeli Prime Minister:
e-mail: webmaster@pmo.gov.il
fax (Israel) 2 566 4838 or (Israel) 2 267 5475

c) The Israeli Embassy / Consulate in your home country.

d) Mr. Colin L. Powell, U.S Secretary of State:
address: U.S Department of State, 2210 C Street N.W,
Washington D.C 20520, USA. tel: (USA) 202 647 4000
e mail: go to
l then type in your message, then “send”.

Also, if you can draw attention to this situation in your local
and wider communities, through various methods, therefore
resulting in greater awareness of our situation, it would
further help the cause.

We are also in need of financial assistance to apply for the
required Israeli building permission (which is several times
more expensive that the Palestinian building permit that we
already have). Again, any assistance in this area would be
greatly appreciated. Donations in the USA can be sent to:
Chase Manhattan Bank - New York (Correspondent Bank), A/C Arab
Jordan Investment Bank, Amman – Jordan (Correspondent Bank),
Chips ID 136008, SWIFT AJIBJOAX, A/C Palestine Investment Bank
(Beneficiary Bank) For Further Credit of "the Hope Flowers
School", A/C NO. 73535, Bethlehem Branch 76-411, Palestine. Or
(tax deductible) to the Orange County Peace Fund at the
following address: Orange County Middle East Peace Fund, P.O.
Box 5891, Orange, California 92863 – 5891, USA Donations in
Europe can be sent to:
Deutsche Bank Ag, Frankfurt – Germany (Correspondent Bank), A/C
Arab Jordan Investment Bank, Amman – Jordan (Correspondent
Bank), Chips ID 136008, SWIFT AJIBJOAX , A/C Palestine
Investment Bank(Beneficiary Bank), For Further Credit of "the
Hope Flowers School", A/C NO. 73535, Bethlehem Branch 76-411,
Palestine Donations can also be sent directly to the school's
address (registered mail) at: The Hope Flowers School,
Bethlehem, P.O. Box 732, West Bank. Via Israel Below, we have
outlined some background information that may help in your
understanding of the overall situation here. If you require any
further details please don’t hesitate to contact us at the
school. We will keep you informed about our progress. In the
meantime, thank you for all of your assistance and support. We
are feeling the connections with you and grateful for them at
this time. All the best wishes to you.

Ibrahim Issa

Some background information:

Most of you may well know that the school is in the part of the
West Bank still designated as Area C, where there is exclusive
Israeli control and administration of most aspects of organized
life. The categories of Areas A, B and C, which came into
existence with the Oslo Accords, resulted in Areas A being
designated as areas under full Palestinian control whilst Areas
B came under joint Israeli and Palestinian control. Because the
school area has been traditionally Palestinian for generations,
and because it is within 2 kilometers of portions of Area B and
Area A, it had seemed likely that this area would be
reclassified as an Area A. However, as a result of the latest
Intifada, and other factors, this has not happened, and we
remain fully under the control of the Israeli military and
civil authorities. This directly affects the school buildings
in the following way: Although all of the school buildings have
Palestinian building permits, the permits are not recognized by
the Israeli authorities. As we are in an Area C, we need to be
in possession of an Israeli building permit. In1999, when we
were issued with a demolition notification, the Hope Flowers
School was in the same predicament. After submitting reports,
attending meetings of the Civil Administration (the Israeli
body that administers the Occupied Palestinian Territories),
attending the hearing of our case in an Israeli military court,
and continuous international pressure, the order to demolish
was rescinded. We applied in 1999 for an Israeli building
permit and were successful in our application. However, the fee
that the Israeli Authorities were charging for the issue and
validation of the permit was deliberately beyond the financial
capabilities of the school, hence we were unable to proceed and
obtain the permit.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Microcredit for all

We like to say that the Simputer was designed to meet the requirements of villages with no electricity, no phones, and no money. The first two problems have technological solutions. Simputer batteries can be recharged from local renewable power, such as solar, and they replace phones using wireless connections and Voice over IP.

The problem of money does not have a solution in technology alone. We can't create a device that makes money out of nothing. (Well, OK, color copiers come close, but governments object strenuously.) So we need an acceptable economic and financial solution that quite conveniently is ready to hand--microcredit.

The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh was the first microbank, but the practice has spread to many countries in a great diversity of forms. The Grameen Bank is largely owned by its customers, like a credit union in the U.S., but there are purely commercial microbanks, microbanks run by NGOs, and microbanks run by governments. Sri Lanka has more than 2,000 village banks, funded by members of more than 5,000 communities. Regular commercial banks in India have expanded into microcredit. The Microcredit Summit database lists more than 3,000 Practitioners of microcredit, that is, those that administer lending programs or conduct training for lenders and borrowers. In addition, there is a multitude of NGOs, commercial banks, other commercial companies, UN agencies, and other kinds of partner organization listed.

The World bank has analyzed Grameen Bank programs, and concluded that about 5% of Grameen customers move out of poverty each year, with a greater impact on those in extreme rather than moderate poverty. The Grameen Bank itself has figures showing that 42% of borrowers overall have moved out of poverty over a period of years. Microcredit is particularly beneficial in dealing with natural disasters.

In 1997, the microcredit movemen set a goal of extending microcredit programs worldwide to 100 million families by 2005. More than 50 million families were reached in 2001. This goal means reaching more than 50% of the poorest families in the developing countries. Clearly, then, we need a target of 200 million and a target date to go with it, for the next phase after this. The Millennium Development Goal target date of 2015 might seem like a reasonable starting point for this discussion, but I don't like it.

Actually, just doubling coverage isn't enough. Estimates are that less than a quarter of the poor in Asia have access to microcredit, and less than a tenth in the other developing regions. We need to reach not just the most desperate 200 million families, but somewhere between 500 million and a billion families, and we need to do it in short order. I consider it inexcusable that this process is taking so long.

What do we need in order to achieve the real goal, of microcredit availability to everybody in poverty, or from another angle, credit available to all? Obviously we need money, but that isn't the obstacle. The problems, according to Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus, lie in regulations and in people's attitudes. Many countries to not give proper legal status to microbanks. In particular, many are not allowed to take deposits from the public, but only from customers. The most troublesome attitude is the notion that the poor are not creditworthy, even though this has been amply disproved by the repayment rate on Grameen Bank loans and by repayment rates for many other microcredit organizations. Similarly, it is widely believed that microcredit loans do not help people to escape poverty, again contrary to the facts.

Then there is the problem of communication and access. That's where Simputers come in (and also for the bookkeeping, of course.) Villagers have to be able to hear that microcredit exists, is available to them, and can help them, and then they need to be able to apply. Face-to-face contact in the villages is somewhat effective for making these initial contacts, but it will be much more effective to enable villagers to access information on the Web, by e-mail, or by voice phone calls, and then to contact the microbank in the same ways. Not that computers can replace face-to-face contact. Their function should be complementary.

And besides that, there are opportunities for the poor, and even the poorest, to use the Internet to make more money, whether by access to market information, by enabling cooperatives to form, or by putting up a Web site for local products and services.

If all of this is correct, then microcredit can be expanded faster than previously planned, and have greater impact than in the past. I'm looking forward to finding out.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Linux Your Way

One of the most important features of Free Software in general and Linux in particular is that anybody, including user groups, governments, educational institutions, commercial software companies, or NGOs, can make changes and distribute the new version. This is particularly important for language communities that commercial vendors ignore, on the theory that the market for users of the language is too small to give a good return on the investment needed. The Linux community looks at these things differently. Localizing Linux into a language is profitable for the language community, and doesn't have to be profitable for a vendor to be worthwhile and to attract the needed effort.

The most notorious case was Icelandic. Although the government of Iceland offered to pay the costs for localizing Windows 98 into Icelandic, Microsoft refused.

"Spokeswoman Erin Brewer notes that while the company has translated the popular program into 'at least 30 languages,' including such rarities as Slovenian and Catalan, it won't be doing Icelandic. 'We are not localizing Windows 98 into Icelandic due to the size of the market,' she said."

Of course, it was possible to use a non-Icelandic version of Windows and MS Office to create, view, and print documents in Icelandic and at least 100 other languages, most not supported by Microsoft. With specialized software from the linguists at SIL.org it is possible to work in about 2,000 languages on English Windows. But that only works for those who have learned English or some other language supported in the user interface.

Since then, Microsoft has decided that Iceland, with only 230,000 inhabitants, is big enough, and recent versions of Windows are available in Icelandic. But not in several languages of India with tens of millions of speakers, not in Swahili, the lingua franca of much of Africa, and not in dozens of other languages vital to whole countries and regions.

On the other hand, Ankur, a Linux User Group in Bengal State, India, has released Bengalinux, a Linux distribution entirely localized into Bangla (Bengali). A group in Rwanda is localizing Open Office into their language, Kinyarwanda, while university students in Tanzania are working on a Swahili version, and so on for a number of other languages.

In many cases, only a portion of Linux has been localized in the current release, and more remains to be done. This is the case for a Berber-language distribution from France for populations mainly in several North African countries, on a base of Mandrake Linux.

Mandrake has had significantly better language support than other commercial Linux distributions, with versions in 63 languages in varying degrees, and itself is headquartered in France. Some of the notable localizations of Mandrake Linux are in Albanian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Basque, Esperanto, Estonian, Georgian, Icelandic, Irish Gaelic, Kurdish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Mongolian, Malay, Maltese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Tajik, Uzbek, Walloon French, and Welsh.

Some projects turn the problem around. Instead of localizing all of Linux into one language, they work on localizing a particular function into a number of languages. A notable example is MailAfrica, which plans to make e-mail practical in 257 languages of Africa, out of about out of about 2,000. It currently has: Afrikaans, Dholuo, Hausa, Kalenjin, Kamba, Kikuyu, Kisii, Luhya, Oromoo, SiSwati, Swahili, IsiXhosa, Yoruba, and IsiZulu, as well as English, French, and Portuguese.

It is not only small, poor countries and minority groups without Windows language support that are creating their own distributions of Linux. China, Korea, and Japan have gotten together on a plan to create a distribution with good support for all three languages, all of which use Chinese characters in their writing. This goes well beyond existing distributions, such as Chinese 2000 Linux, (中文 2000) which supports only Chinese, and others for Korea or Japan only.

The first obstacle in localizing Linux to a new language is usually creating the computer vocabulary. Once this is done, a few hundred people can translate a major piece of software, such as Open Office, with more than 21,000 text strings, in a few days to produce a version suitable for Beta testing. Some refinement of the translations is usually needed so that they are not only linguistically correct but culturally appropriate, and to deal with ambiguities in the original. Translating a complete Linux distribution takes proportionally longer, but is well within the scope of any university's Computer Science, Engineering, and Linguistics departments.

Complete language support goes far beyond localization. It means not only the ability to create, view, and print data in a language, within localized software. It also should include OCR, text-to-speech conversion, handwriting recognition, speech recognition, a spelling checker, and a grammar checker. There is Free Software for most of these functions, adaptable to any language and writing system, and people are working on the rest. For example, the Dhvani text-to-speech software project is hosted at SourceForge, where anybody can join in the effort, either to work on the software or to apply it to a particular language. The handwriting recognition system used on the Simputer uses text files to define character geometry. The format is public; in fact it is explained in the files. Again anybody can write a file for a particular writing system, or a variant of a writing system for a particular language, adding the extra Cyrillic letters for Ukrainian, or the extra Arabic letters for Urdu, or the extra Latin letters for the Pan-African Alphabet. Speech recognition and grammar checking require specific linguistic expertise, of course, but there is probably adequate information on record to handle the thousand most-used languages in the world, and a good start on the other 5,000 odd.

Language support is essential for helping the poor in general, and in particular for recording the oral traditions of more than 6,000 cultures that have not had much access to printing and publishing in the past.

The Free Software Foundation and UNESCO have put together a directory of Free Software, including a page of language and localization tools.

As far as I can tell, nobody is specifically tracking all of the Linux localization projects, although many of them are listed at DistroWatch. Here are some more.

South Africa, the 11 official national languages Afrikaans, English, Ndebele (isiNdebele), Northern Sotho (Sepedi), Southern Sotho (Sesotho), Swati (siSwati), Tsonga (Xitsonga), Tswana (Setswana), Venda (Tshivena), Xhosa (isiXhosa), Zulu (isiZulu): IMPI Linux
Nigeria, Yoruba: Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
North Africa and Middle East, Arabic: Arabbix
North Africa and Middle East, Arabic: Hancom Linux
North Africa and Middle East, Arabic: Haydar Linux

Turkey, Turkish: Gelecek Linux (site in Turkish)
Israel, Hebrew: GNU/Linux Kinneret
Iran, Farsi: Shabdix GNU/Linux (In Farsi)

India, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Oriya, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu: the Indian Linux Project
India, Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Oriya, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu: IndiX II
India, various: Free Software i18n and l10n Projects
India, Punjabi: PunLinux
China, Chinese: Cosix Linux (site in Chinese), Lineox Enterprise Linux, Linpus Linux, Magic Linux (site in Chinese), Red Flag Linux, ThizLinux
Xteam Linux (site in Chinese)
Korea, Korean: Hancom Linux, NuxOne Linux (site in Korean), WOWLinux (site in Korean)
Japan, Japanese: Happy MacLinux for 68000 and PPC Macintosh,
Holon Linux for X86 and PPC (site in Japanese), Linux Media Lab Distribution (site in Japanese), ARMA aka Omoikane GNU/Linux (site in Japanese), Vine Linux, Laos, Laotian: Laonux; Jhai IT
Vietnam, Vietnamese: VietKey Linux (site in Vietnamese), vnlinux (site in Vietnamese)
Thailand, Thai: Burapha Linux, Linux TLE (site in Thai), Phayoune Linux
Malaysia, Malay: PIKOM people's computer
Mongolia, Mongolian: Soyombo Mongolian Linux

Philippines, Tagalog: Bayanihan Linux 3.0
Indonesian, Bahasa Indonesia: WinBi, Bijax (Bina Nusantara Bluejackets Linux), Trustix Merdeka

Russian Federation, Russian: ASP Linux, Linux XP Professional Edition (site in Russian)
Ukraine, Ukrainian:ASP Linux
Bulgaria, Bulgarian: Tilix Linux (site in Bulgarian)
Languages written in Cyrillic: Blin Linux (site in Russian)
Spain, Aragonese: Augustux
Spain, Catalan: Biadix (site in Catalan)
Latvia, Latvian: LIIS Linux (site in Latvian)
Nordic and Baltic languages, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Faroese, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Northern sami, Norwegian bokmål, Norwegian nynorsk, Swedish and US English: NordisKnoppix
Slovenia, Slovenian: Slix (site in Slovenian)
Greece, Greek: Zeus Linux

Multilingual Braille and speech: BrlSpeak
Audio for the blind: Oralux

This list is certainly not complete. It leaves out large numbers of projects to enable text entry, viewing and printing in various languages without localizing the user interface, and many more that aim to localize some subset of Linux or a specific application, but not a complete distribution.

We obviously need a lot more such projects. This ties in with the idea of getting Linux into universities, and getting them and the Linux User Groups to do the work, thus providing their members with employment opportunities and experience.

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