“The land and sea isn’t something you bought,” explained Kang Ae-Shim. “Why are you selling something that was there long before you were born?”
Kang Ae Shim is a haenyo, one of the legendary Korean women sea divers from Jeju Island who can hold their breath for up to two minutes while foraging the ocean floor for seafood. But today Kang and others are fighting to save their island from the pending construction of a South Korean naval base in Gangjeong village, which threatens to tear apart the age-old sisterhood of the haenyo and destroy the pristine ecology of Jeju’s shores. The government and construction contractors are attempting to stamp out the outcry by arresting, beating, fining, and threatening villagers and activists.
In April, renowned South Korean film critic Yang Yoon Mo was arrested for erecting and living in a tent on the coast for years to impede construction. Yang subsequently went on hunger strike for 71 days, 57 of which were spent in prison. In May, Choi Sung-hee, an artist and peace activist living with the villagers, was arrested for demonstrating and standing in the way of cement trucks to prevent them from pouring concrete over lava rock along the coastline. In June, Gangjeong village chief Kang Dong-kyun and peace activist Song Kang-ho confronted a large Samsung construction vessel in a small tugboat. When Song attempted to board the vessel, he was beaten and thrown back into the tugboat.
In July, I traveled to Gangjeong to witness the courageous fishing and farming community fight to keep their beautiful coastline from becoming the site of a naval base.
During my five days there I interviewed the villagers, including farmers, haenyo, and the village chief, as well as others from Jeju Island supporting the resistance. I learned three things: the process that led to Gangjeong becoming the base site was grossly undemocratic; the community fabric is being torn apart; and the Korean War is still playing out in this struggle on Jeju Island.
The morning after my nighttime arrival, I was stunned to see an approximately 30-foot tall fence surrounding the massive area of the proposed base. According to the villagers, the navy seized 160,000 pyong or 130 acres of farmland — equivalent to 169 football fields — from the port to the river. Inside the fenced-in area are remnants of greenhouses, torn-up farmland, huge cement planks, and abandoned tractors and other large machinery. The farm road to the coastline where the anti-base resistance has established a camp is bordered by amazingly rich and fertile soil, which during the Japanese occupation was allegedly the only soil on the volcanic island that could grow rice.
But the base’s impact isn’t limited to land. Off the coast of Jeju is the absolutely stunning Tiger Island and its sparkling surrounding waters, a UNESCO ecological reserve. According to Koh Yoo-Ki, an environmental policy analyst from Jeju, the planned naval base construction would destroy 98 acres of ocean floor inhabited by soft coral reef and nine endangered species.
The Jeju Island government had designated the coastline as a preservation area in 1991, but in December of 2009 then-Jeju Governor Kim Tae Hwan nullified the 1991 designation to make way for the naval base. “I cannot understand how there was five different protections for this area,” says Koh. “Before this naval base project, the state invested tons of money to preserve this area. Scholars used to come from the mainland to research corals. Now all of this has been undone.”
According to an August 7 letter to the editor in The New York Times, the South Korean embassy in Washington wrote, “The construction site was selected after accommodating opinions of local residents in a legitimate process, including town hall meetings.” The villagers say it was far from legitimate, democratic, or just.
On April 24, 2007, former village chief Yoon Tae Jun announced his approval of the planned base and said that an application to the Jeju governor, would be made. Typically a meeting to discuss similar civic action is held after a one-week waiting period, but this time it was scheduled for only three days later. On April 26, only 87 of the 1,050 Gangjeong residents – less than 10 percent – were present. Approximately half of those present were elderly haenyo, which according to Gangjeong farmer Jung Young-hee was strange since these women rarely, if ever, participated in village committee meetings. In an unprecedented manner, a vote to endorse the base was held by clapping. Never before in Gangjeong history had a vote been conducted this way. Yoon said he would hold another village committee meeting within 10 days and promised that if more people opposed the base, he would revoke his approval. But he never followed through.
On May 14, Jeju governor Kim Tae Hwan announced that Gangjeong village would be the site. The outraged villagers mobilized, forced the village chief out of power, and held a referendum on the proposed base in August 2007. According to Gangjeong village chief Kang Dong-Kyun, “On Aug 20 we held another referendum. 94 percent opposed the base. 725 people participated. 680 voted against, only 36 for, and nine votes were defective. The central government only recognized the first vote by the villagers committee; the second one wasn’t recognized.”
In January 2009, the Ministry of Defense approved the construction plan, and in April Gangjeong village filed a lawsuit in response, arguing that the nullification of the preservation area should be recalled, which the judge denied. The villagers appealed, and the case is now pending in the Supreme Court. A decision is likely due sometime this winter.
Bribing the Elderly
According to a 65-year-old haenyo from Gangjeong who opposes the base, the former village chief Yoon and a representative from the fishermen’s cooperative convened a meeting of haenyo before the April vote, and claimed they would be compensated if they supported the base project. When I asked her why she thought the haenyo supported the base, she said, “If there was no money, they would all protest the base.”
She went on to describe a deliberate effort by government and naval officials to bribe several haenyo. She said that the gentlemen were waiting to take the elderly haenyo out for meals after they had just returned from diving for several hours. The men told the haenyo that the navy would build a hospital for the elder haenyo. Her husband chimed in, “These elderly women didn’t know. [The Navy] used money to lure them. This is unethical and wrong to take advantage of them.”
Before Gangjeong was selected as the designated naval site, the Korean authorities approached two other villages –Hwasoon and Wimi –as early as 2002, but the residents, largely haenyo and fishermen who militantly opposed the base, blocked the initiative.
By round three, the Navy had become more sophisticated. “With the experience they had, the government went after the haenyo first in Gangjeong,” explains Lee Kyung-Sun, the general secretary of the Jeju Women’s Association. “They were cowardly for going after them,” says Lee, who insists that the haenyo should not be blamed if they supported the base, and that the focus ought to be on the government’s tactics. “Haenyo are victims too. They were tricked,” she said. “I still respect the haenyo. They have supported their family and the village, and they have preserved this area.”
Community Torn Apart
The row over the naval base has cleaved the community of Gangjeong haenyo who have worked together for over 40 years into two opposing groups. The 65-year-old haenyo from Gangjeong says that a few haenyo in opposition to the base refuse to enter the water with base supporters. “Now there is no conversation between the two groups,” she laments.
Kang Ae-Shim, a 56-year old haenyo from the neighboring village of Bopan explained, “The money that the haenyo was given is what you can make in one year.” She described how the haenyo from Gangjeong and Bopan physically fought in the water — the very same women who for years ate dinner and sang together at noraebang (karaoke). But the Gangjeong base decision changed that dynamic. The haenyo from Gangjeong “don’t have much to say because they are ashamed,” says Kang. There is a saying that it’s better to go into the ocean rather than go to one’s own mother’s home to borrow money. “All the things that come from the ocean, the abalone, the snails — these are not just a matter of life, they are medicine that strengthens the life spirit.” Kang argues that pollution from the naval base will threaten the haenyo’s livelihood.
Gangjeong villagers told me of a recent survey revealing that 50 percent of haenyo were suicidal and 70 percent are extremely psychologically stressed. Hyun Ae-Ja, the former Jeju representative to the National Assembly who has chained herself to a tree blocking police and construction trucks from entering the farm road believes that “ultimately the Jeju naval base will bring the destruction of the community and life.”
The Never-ending Korean War
The unresolved Korean War has served as justification for the continued militarism of the Korean peninsula, including the build-up of nuclear weapons in North Korea, massive military spending on both sides of the DMZ, intensified U.S.-ROK military exercises, and the expansion of military bases, like the one under construction on Jeju. The irony here is that South Korea is forcibly destroying the livelihoods of farmers, fishermen, women sea divers, and the rich marine ecosystems –on which we all depend for our human security –in the name of “national security.”
According to the South Korean embassy, “The Jeju base was built solely for the defense of the Republic of Korea and has no connections to American military installations. There are no plans to use the base for American missile defense, nor have Korea and the United States had any discussion regarding this issue.”
But many defense analysts challenge this claim. According to the Monterey Institute’s arm control specialist Jeffrey Lewis in an article in The New York Times, “the new Aegis destroyers to be based in Jeju would help defend South Korea against Chinese missiles and help defend Japan against missiles from both China and North Korea, [but they] won’t provide much defense for South Korea against North Korean missiles… Very few North Korean missiles would rise high enough on their way toward South Korea to give South Korean destroyers a shot.” Also in a rejoinder to the Embassy’s New York Times letter, Matt Hoey, a missile defense analyst at the Military Space Transparency Project, argues, “The Aegis sea-based missile defense system planned for Jeju is networked to United States space systems and ground-based X-band radar.”
Furthermore, earlier this spring, when I and several other Americans called the Korean Embassy in Washington to register our concerns, we all received similar versions of the same prepared response, “Don’t call us; call the U.S. State or Defense Departments; they are the ones who are pressuring us to build this base.” And it’s not just ordinary Americans who have been told that the United States is involved with the Jeju base. Even former U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings wrote in a June 15, 2011 op-ed in the Huffington Post that the Obama administration is “establishing a naval base with South Korea on Jeju Island.”
At a time of severe economic recession, the global community can no longer afford to spend billions of dollars daily on a misguided notion of military security that only increases the threat of military action, loss of human life, environmental contamination, and the loss of precious biodiversity.
On the morning we departed the mayor of Seogwipo announced that the police could seal off access to the public agricultural road to the coastline, blocking off primary access to anti-base protesters. National Defense Minister Cho Hyun-oh promised Jeju’s police commissioner as many resources as was needed to remove the base resistance camp. Police and undercover vans now monitor the three entrances to the base site 24 hours a day.
Since I left Gangjeong there has been an intense stand-off. Hundreds of police attempted to come through the farm road where several women chained themselves to trees to block their access. Thanks to the increasing pressure by civil society on the South Korean government to release the villagers and activists from prison, all have now been released, including the artist and activist Choi Sung-hee.
But as the global community’s awareness of the issue rises, so has Seoul’s crackdown on the peaceful protestors. On August 15th a reported 700 riot police from the mainland landed on Jeju with three water cannons, 16 large buses, and 10 riot control vehicles. Nevertheless, the villagers and activists have remained courageous and resolved to resist through nonviolent disobedience for their village, land, and sea. We must not relent as long as the villagers don’t.
Congressman Russ Carnahan joined nearly 20 percent of the United States House of Representatives in a trip to Israel this month. Paid for by an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, these 81 representatives are supposed to represent our interests but are choosing to spend their recess in Israel — and briefly in the occupied West Bank — at a time when Americans are suffering and scared from high unemployment, a tanking stock market and a downgrade of our national bond rating.
I also recently traveled to the Holy Land, although I paid my own way. I was part of the “Welcome to Palestine” delegation. I was lucky. Most of my colleagues on the delegation were not allowed to join me. On July 8 over 120 people from Europe, North America and Australia were detained at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. They were then imprisoned by the State of Israel, most for over a week. Their only crime was that when Israeli custom officials asked what they were doing in Israel, they responded that they were planning to visit Palestinian friends in the Aida Refugee camp in Bethlehem. Three hundred other delegates who planned to visit Bethlehem and other places in the occupied West Bank were forced off their flights in Europe due to Israeli pressure.
During my time in the Holy Land, I had an opportunity to meet and talk with many Palestinians and Israelis. I learned about a system in Israel that discriminates against Palestinians on the basis of their ethnicity. In the West Bank, things are far worse. I observed an explicit system of racial segregation and ethnic cleansing, where Palestinians are separated from their own lands and water by walls, barbed-wire fences and machine-gun-wielding soldiers and Jewish settlers.
I saw the remains of an entire demolished Bedouin village, destroyed in order to expand an illegal Jewish settlement in the Jordan Valley. The settlement uses what used to be the wells of the Bedouin village in order to provide water for its swimming pools.
I witnessed a Palestinian farmer coming under fire from projectiles merely for trying to farm his own land. The excuse? His land is too close to a Jewish-only settlement. A European with me did not leave the vicinity as quickly as Israeli soldiers wanted and had his face smashed into the ground. He was detained for approximately one week and then deported.
I observed how Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is being economically and socially stunted by a giant wall that separates it from Jerusalem. It is a wall that Israelis can cross freely to travel between settlements and the rest of Israel. For Palestinians living in the West Bank, it is quite difficult to get a pass to go to Jerusalem, and if they do they must go through a humiliating inspection procedure at the checkpoint.
Israel systematically abuses the human rights of Palestinians who live within the territory it controls. In fact, what I saw can most accurately be described as apartheid.
Israel is certainly not the only country in the world that discriminates on the basis of ethnicity. It is not the only country that abuses fundamental human rights.
But it is the only country of this nature that receives over $3 billion a year in American aid money. It is the only foreign nation to which American politicians routinely offer their “unwavering support,” as Rep. Carnahan’s sister Robin did in her recent campaign for United States Senate.
And it is the only foreign nation that is receiving 81 American congressional delegates in three delegations, split among 55 Republicans and 26 Democrats, during a time of great difficulty for our own country.
Unfortunately, members of these delegations did not see the same reality that I did. This is not the goal of AIPAC, which calls itself “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” or its affiliate leading the junkets. In an interview in Israel, Congressman and tour leader Steny Hoyer stated that the American economic crisis will have no impact on our financial assistance to Israel.
I hope that Rep. Carnahan sees something that Rep. Hoyer did not. Rep. Carnahan has an opportunity to promote human rights over repression and the economic well-being of the United States over that of an apartheid state.
GAZA CITY — A physiotherapy clinic, sewerage pump, civil society organizations and government buildings have been damaged in Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip since Thursday, witnesses and officials said.
Israeli warplanes have bombarded the coastal enclave for three days in what the military says is a response to a deadly attack in southern Israel on Thursday.
Fourteen Palestinians were killed and more than 40 wounded in a series of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip.
A specialist physiotherapy clinic in Gaza City funded by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries was amongst the buildings seriously damaged in the assault, witnesses said.
The clinic was the first of its kind in Gaza and run by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.
An electricity generator and four water pumps for the sewerage system in An-Nuseirat refugee camp were destroyed on Friday, causing power cuts in central Gaza.
The offices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation sustained damages in air raids at dawn on Friday. The Gaza City office was opened to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza residents in the wake of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead offensive in December 2008.
The same building was also bombed in July 2010. Officials said the damage would affect the organization ability to provide humanitarian services.
Israeli forces also shelled a library located in a residential area and among government buildings, the Gaza government said.
The Hamas-run Ministry of Justice, civil servants’ bureau and government media office were severely damaged, the ministry said.
In a statement, the justice ministry said Israeli forces deliberately targeted civil institutions in what it described as a war crime.
IOF troops accompanied by more than a hundred military vehicles in addition to undercover forces began raiding the city midnight Sunday and deployed throughout its neighborhoods, local and security sources said.
A number of arrests have also been made in towns outside of the city, as the operation, one of the largest since 2003, continues.
Violent clashes broke out in several areas and civilians have been left injured.
Among those taken into custody was Palestinian MP Mohammed Mutlaq Abu Juheisha.
Also on Sunday morning, Israeli forces arrested Palestinian reporter Oseid Abdul-Majid Amarina, 26, after a violent raid on his home in Dheisha refugee camp east of Bethlehem.
BETHLEHEM — Israeli forces assaulted and detained a Palestinian man during a raid on the home of the Mufti of Bethlehem overnight Saturday, the sheikh said.
Sheikh Abdul-Majid Ata Amarna said troops raided his home in Duheisha refugee camp shortly before dawn prayers searching for his son Usayd, a journalist for Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV.
“When the soldiers raided my home, I asked them to wait before entering the different rooms so women could put on their head scarves and change their sleeping clothes, but instead of waiting they started firing inside the house injuring my brother-in-law, 27-year-old Bakr Badarin” the cleric told Ma’an.
He said Badarin was hit by a live bullet to his thigh, but soldiers refused to allow Palestinian Red Crescent medics to treat him and detained the injured man and the sheikh’s son Usayd Amarna.
The family learned later that Badarin was taken to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem for treatment.
The BBC Persian TV channel has at last acknowledged the role of the BBC Persian radio in the toppling of the democratically elected government of Iran in the 1953 coup.
The coup overthrew the government of the then Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh leading to the restoration of absolute monarchy under dictator Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi who was later toppled in the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
In a documentary aired on August 18 on the anniversary of the coup, BBC Persian channel admitted for the first time to the role of the BBC Persian radio as the propaganda arm of the British government in Iran.
After repeated denials of the BBC Persian radio’s role in helping London oust Mosaddegh, the program entitled Cinematograph detailed how the radio network broadcast anti- Mosaddegh programs to undermine his government.
“The British government used the BBC Persian radio for advancing its propaganda against Mosaddegh and anti-Mosaddegh material were repeatedly aired on the radio channel to the extent that Iranian staff at the BBC Persian radio went on strike to protest the move,” the Cinematograph narrator said.
Britain had lost its power as a world empire after the World War II and Mosaddegh’s efforts to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, which bore fruit on March 19, 1951, meant Britain lost one of the most important resources it formerly fully controlled under the guise of the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company due to subservience of the Pahlavi regime.
This comes after the BBC Persian channel aired another documentary on March 19, 2010 that categorically dismissed the broadcaster’s Persian radio role in the 1953 coup claiming the radio channel even went against the policies of the British government.
The Cinematograph also quoted a classified document going back to July 21, 1951 in which a Foreign Office official thanked the British ambassador for his proposals that were followed to the word by the BBC Persian radio to strengthen its propaganda against Mosaddegh.
“The BBC had already made most of the points which you listed, but they were very glad to have an indication from you of what was likely to be most effective and will arrange their programme accordingly,” the document shown in part on the program read.
“We should also avoid direct attacks on the ‘ruling classes’ since it seems probable that we may want to deal with a government drawn from those classes should Mosaddegh fall,” it added.
The document further stressed that the Foreign Office “shall be grateful for [the ambassador's] comments on the propaganda line we have proposed”.