GAZA CITY – The quality of life, the economy and food security for Palestinians living in Gaza have been severely impaired by Israel’s strict four-year blockade, according to the UN.
Israel says its closure regime is designed to protect Israeli citizens from attacks by militants in Gaza. Hamas, the ruling group in Gaza, says Israel’s blockade is aimed at undermining its rule.
IRIN asked three senior officials in the region – from the UN, the Israeli government and Hamas – what they considered to be the top five humanitarian needs of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Strip.
Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA) for the occupied Palestinian territory, defines the situation in Gaza as “a protracted human dignity crisis with important humanitarian elements”.
Lazzarini says Gaza is a man-made crisis. He uses the term “human dignity crisis” because he says the entire Gaza population is subject to collective punishment under the blockade, is unlawfully contained in Gaza, and denied the right to movement and access. The containment of the population was highlighted when people could not move during Israel’s 23-day offensive that ended in January 2009, he says.
“A humanitarian crisis is a situation where humanitarian intervention is seen as a life-saving operation,” says Lazzarini. “The massive intervention in Gaza – by UN agencies and other international partners – is justified by the humanitarian crisis and to address the needs of the population.”
The facts and figures indicate that if UN operations stopped, food insecurity and malnutrition rates in Gaza would double, he said. His top five Gaza humanitarian needs are:
One: food security
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says 70 percent of Gaza’s population is food insecure and 30 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land is inaccessible due to the Israeli-controlled buffer-zone, which is inside Gaza along its shared border with Israel, and comprises 15 percent of Gaza’s total area.
Two: unemployment and poverty
About 80 percent of the Gaza population depends on assistance from UN agencies, while unemployment has soared to 40 percent, says Lazzarini.
“In the last two years the number of those living in abject poverty in Gaza has risen from 100,000 to 300,000,” he says.
Some 86,000 new housing units are needed in Gaza as a result of population growth. A small proportion of these are needed to replace those damaged during military operations, according to UN estimates.
If the current Israeli approval procedures to bring construction material into Gaza remain in place, it will take years for the UN to implement its US$165 million-worth of stalled projects, says Lazzarini.
Four: water, sanitation and health care
The blockade has seriously affected these sectors in Gaza, says Lazzarini.
“The United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the education ministry cannot cover the needs of the number of children entering the education system in Gaza,” says Lazzarini, due to a lack of schools and investment.
Bassem Na’im, health minister under the Hamas-led government in Gaza, says the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is growing. His top five humanitarian needs are:
One: freedom of movement
Nai’im would like to see the complete freedom of movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza.
“The entry of goods and building materials for all sectors – health, shelter, water and sanitation – is the solution to the whole crisis,” says Na’im.
Two: health services
This would require medicine, medical supplies and equipment to enter Gaza freely, as well as spare parts and building materials for the repair of hospitals and healthcare facilities, according to Na’im.
“A hundred medications and over 150 disposable supplies, like needles and syringes, are at zero stock in the ministry’s central store,” he says.
More than 10,000 types of medical equipment, like CT scanners, are in need of spare parts in the 12 hospitals and 56 primary healthcare centres run by the ministry, says Na’im.
Three: water and sanitation
“Thousands of Gazans lack household water supplies,” says Na’im.
Four: fuel and electricity supplies
Most households have power cuts 8-12 hours per day due to the blockade, according to Na’im.
According to Na’im, the education sector has been hit hard by the blockade due to a lack of supplies, but the full impact will take years to materialize.
Rising malnutrition indicators – such as increased cases of stunting, wasting and underweight children – are also effecting child development, said Na’im.
Guy Inbar, spokesperson for the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories (COGAT) says “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and there never has been, even during Operation Cast Lead [2009 Israeli military operation in Gaza].”
“The only crisis in Gaza is the crisis of [captured Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit,” said Inbar, adding that Hamas has not enabled the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Shalit.
Israel recently increased the amount of goods allowed to enter Gaza, said Inbar.
“Today [29 July] about 150 trucks enter Gaza daily and next week we expect that number to reach 250,” said Inbar, adding that no food or hygiene items were prohibited.
According to Inbar, almost all medical supplies are allowed to enter.
“Parts for equipment – like X-ray machines, which are included on the two lists [of prohibited items] – are allowed to enter but under control,” he said.
When IRIN asked Inbar if the civilian population of Gaza would survive if UN operations ceased there, he declined to comment.
Inbar said Gaza’s problems were due to Hamas.
I obviously missed the momentous occasion when the mainstream media turned anti-war. But who can now deny that it is so when we see Wiki-leaks and the mainstream media joining forces to expose the ugly truth of the US invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and more recently, what the US state department thinks of world leaders? I mean, that is what is happening, right?
What is happening is that Wiki-leaks is being promoted by the media in order to sell the same old lies, except that now the lies are coming sugar-coated, with a ‘whistle-blower’ gloss to better enable digestion. The lies themselves don’t frustrate me so much anymore, and I can understand why the general public are fooled, but I have to admit to being disappointed at how effortlessly the Wiki-leaks poison is being swallowed by so many supposedly alternative news sites. Sites like Counterpunch, Global Research, Citizens for a Legitimate Government and Information Clearing House, to name but a few, are all disseminating the Wiki-leaks story without so much as a hint of critical thought it seems.
From day one, the Wiki-leaks Afghan – and then Iraq – war logs revealed little if anything that was not already publicly available:
That the US uses assassination squads in Iraq and Afghanistan? Old news. Seven years ago the Guardian informed us that not only were US ‘hit squads’ operating in Iraq, but that they were being trained by the Israelis! And in any case, is the idea that ‘hit squads’ are being used to track down the evil ‘Taliban’ in Afghanistan more appalling than the fact, splashed across American broadsheets earlier this year, that Obama signed a bill authorizing the assassination of American citizens by the CIA??
That the US pays the Iraqi and Afghan media for positive coverage is not only old news, it’s only half the story! Have we already forgotten the Lincoln Group and the precocious Christian Bailey? In 2005 the Lincoln group won (was awarded) a $100 Million contract to essentially control the entire Iraqi media via its own ‘Iraqi’ publications and the monopolization of the Iraqi advertising industry on an ongoing basis. All of these details have been carried in the mainstream press, yet they have done nothing to stop the bogus endless ‘war on terrorism’. Why then are we being encouraged to expect that the Wikileaks documents, which convey the same information, will fare any better? Is it because these details will soon be consigned to the memory hole (again) while other, more strategically important, details will be repeated ad-nauseum?
That the US has killed thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan? Old news. In fact, on this one, the Wiki-leaks documents offered support for the much lower estimation of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan by the discredited ‘Iraq Body Count’ rather than the much more realistic estimation of almost 1.5 million (in Iraq) by Just Foreign Policy
But quibbling over the number of dead Muslims is not important these days anyway, after all, they’re only Muslims, not real people, and the over-all exposure by the mainstream media of US misdeeds in Iraq and Afghanistan is, in itself, no bad thing. If Wiki-leaks left it at that, I would be more than happy to applaud the mysterious Mr Assange and the equally mysterious provenance of his documents. But the Wiki-leaks documents tell much more than arbitrary killing in wars of conquest, they also provide support for the continuation and expansion of those wars, most notably to Iran and Pakistan.
For example, the Afghan ‘war logs’ offered ‘evidence’ that Pakistan is helping the Taliban – that’s Pakistan, and not, as has been reported, the CIA:
Persistent accounts of western forces in Afghanistan using their helicopters to ferry Taleban fighters, strongly denied by the military, is feeding mistrust of the forces that are supposed to be bringing order to the country.
One such tale came from a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army, fighting against the growing insurgency in Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan. Over several months, he had taken part in several pitched battles against the armed opposition.
“Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taleban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he said. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.”
The UK Guardian’s summation of the Afghan war logs was this:
– How a secret “black” unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial.
– How the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.
– How NATO commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.
– How the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.
Are these the type of revelations that are going to cause serious problems for the US governments? Are they going to outrage the public? Having been conditioned for years to believe that the ‘Taliban’ are evil monsters, are people going to be angry or quietly proud that a ‘secret special forces unit’ is hunting the Taliban down ‘without trial’?
Does the ‘revelation’ that the Taliban acquired surface-to-air missiles damage or bolster the US government claim that they are fighting a war against a formidable foe in Afghanistan? Of what significance is it that the coalition covered up this alleged ‘fact’?
And the data that the Taliban ‘massively escalated their roadside bombing campaign, killing more than 2,000 civilians’; is this damaging to the US government, or ‘evidence’ that the US is fighting the good fight in Afghanistan?
The other English language paper that ran with the Afghan ‘war logs’ was the NY Times. Their headline summation told us:
Pakistan Spy Service Aids Insurgents, Reports Assert
The fate of Combat Outpost Keating illustrates many of the frustrations of the allied effort: low troop levels, unreliable Afghan partners and a growing insurgency.
The military and intelligence reports provide a real-time history of the Afghan war from the vantage point of American troops actually doing the fighting and reconstruction.
So, thanks to Wiki-leaks, the unlikely darling of the mainstream media, the world is being informed that the ‘enemy’ in Afghanistan is growing stronger, Pakistan and Iran are to blame, and brave US troops are engaged in ‘reconstruction’ there!
But Pakistan and the Taliban are not the main target of disinformation in these documents. As more documents are released, it becomes clear that, sitting square in the bulls-eye, is Iran. The initial round of leaks provided this sensational ‘revelation’, reported here by the UK Telegraph:
Iranian-backed forces supplied insurgents attacking coalition troops and devised new forms of suicide vests for al-Qaeda, according to assessments released by Wiki-leaks.
Only in their wildest dreams could the war-mongers in Washington and Tel Aviv have wished for a more on-message leak of ‘secret information’.
And so to the latest raft of documents, partially released just a few days ago. When I read their contents, to say that I was shocked would be to grossly over-state my reaction. I could have written them myself:
This one, I have to admit, is entirely believable because, after all, everyone knows Saddam had the same capability several years ago, remember? In fact, this ‘revelation’ about Iran’s capability to threaten Europe is even more believable than the ‘sexed-up’ Iraq dossier claim, because this revelation comes from Wiki-leaks, an honest-to-god whistle blower organization, right? I mean, there’s just no way that agents working on behalf of the US and Israeli governments could possibly use such an organization to spread propaganda, right?
Is there no one in the alternative news community that can see this for what it is? North Korea supplying missiles to Iran to attack Europe?! Right when the US and Israel are involved in a protracted effort to demonize Iran to the world and the US has an aircraft carrier sitting off the Korean Coast!? Is all of this meant to be so obvious, or did my reading of ‘psychological operations for dummies’ gift me with amazing insight into how political propaganda really works?
Does anyone truly believe that the fact that someone in the US State Department thinks that Sarkozy is an ‘Emperor with no clothes’ will do any real damage? Is this meant to be a secret? It is certainly no secret to over 60% of the French public who, years ago, openly stated as much. Likewise the ‘revelation’ about Berlusconi; ‘feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader’? What about ‘senile, megalomaniac, psychopath, pedophile’ this is what the Italians and most Europeans are saying, does the US State Department not read the papers before compiling ‘secret dossiers’ on foreign leaders?
And what of the the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il? He’s a ‘flabby old chap’ according to these ‘damaging reports’. Is this meant to cause some kind of diplomatic rift between North Korea and Washington before or after the USA and its client state of South Korea bombs Kim and a few million North Koreans back to the stone age? And Iranian President Ahmadinejad – ‘Hitler’?? Does anyone expect the Obama government to want to retract that one or hide it from the public? More to the point, are we all suffering from collective amnesia? Who has repeatedly referred to Iran and it’s democratically-elected leader as Nazi Germany and a new Hitler? Anyone? Ok, here’s a hint.
Ok, so I mentioned Israel a couple of times. Why? Here’s one reason, from the horse’s mouth:
In Israel the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that he felt vindicated by [Wiki-leaks] revelations about the extent of international and Arab concern about Iran and its nuclear programme. “Israel has not been damaged at all by the WikiLeaks publications,” Netayahu said.
“The documents show many sources backing Israel’s assessments, particularly of Iran. Our region has been hostage to a narrative that is the result of 60 years of propaganda, which paints Israel as the greatest threat. In reality leaders understand that that view is bankrupt. For the first time in history there is agreement that Iran is the threat,” he said.
In 2005 the FBI noted, for example, that Israel maintains “an active program to gather proprietary information within the United States.” A key Israeli method, said the FBI report, is computer intrusion.
In determining the origin of the Wiki-leaks documents, we need ask ourselves but one question: in whose interest is it to put pressure on the US government through the release of documents to the press (via Wiki-leaks) that force the US to do a certain amount of damage control, while simultaneously portraying Iran as the biggest threat to world peace? Because that, in the final analysis, is the overall effect of the Wiki-leaks documents. Wiki-leaks performs so poorly in the ‘smell test’ that I feel confident in suggesting that the documents may not even be original documents; and if they are, they have very likely been amended in such a way that they serve the Israeli/Zionist agenda.
Zbigniew Brzezinski doesn’t think all the leaked information coming out of Wikileaks is a result of Army PFC Bradley Manning, as a matter of fact he suspects a foreign intelligence service may be providing the more embarrassing leaks. In a PBS interview with Judy Woodruff, ZB lays out his thinking:
JUDY WOODRUFF: Dr. Brzezinski, what do you think the fallout is going to be?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, former adviser, U.S. National Security: …
The real issue is, who is feeding Wikipedia on this issue — Wiki — Wiki — WikiLeaks on this issue? They’re getting a lot of information which seems trivial, inconsequential, but some of it seems surprisingly pointed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what are you referring to?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, for example, there are references to a report by our officials that some Chinese leaders favor a reunified Korea under South Korea.
This is clearly designed to embarrass the Chinese and our relationship with them. The very pointed references to Arab leaders could have as their objective undermining their political credibility at home, because this kind of public identification of their hostility towards Iran could actually play against them at home…
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what is it — what are you worried about with regard to the knowledge that…
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: It’s not a question of worry. It’s, rather, a question of whether WikiLeaks are being manipulated by interested parties that want to either complicate our relationship with other governments or want to undermine some governments, because some of these items that are being emphasized and have surfaced are very pointed.
And I wonder whether, in fact, there aren’t some operations internationally, intelligence services, that are feeding stuff to WikiLeaks, because it is a unique opportunity to embarrass us, to embarrass our position, but also to undermine our relations with particular governments.
For example, leaving aside the personal gossip about Sarkozy or Berlusconi or Putin, the business about the Turks is clearly calculated in terms of its potential impact on disrupting the American-Turkish relationship.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Just criticizing the people around…
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: And the top leaders, Erdogan and Davutoglu and so forth, are using some really, really, very sharp language.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But this is 250 — it’s a quarter-of-a-million documents.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Precisely.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How easy would it be to seed this to make sure that it was slanted a certain way?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Seeding — seeding it is very easy.
I have no doubt that WikiLeaks is getting a lot of the stuff from sort of relatively unimportant sources, like the one that perhaps is identified on the air. But it may be getting stuff at the same time from interested intelligence parties who want to manipulate the process and achieve certain very specific objectives.
It should be noted that while ZB suspects foreign elements behind some of the leaks, it could very well be internal U.S. elements unhappy with the direction the President is taking things. Wikileaks may have both domestic and foreign sources. There could very well be more than one playing this game.
A group of military veterans are suing to get the CIA to come clean about allegedly implanting remote control devices in their brains.
It’s well known that the CIA began testing substances like LSD on soldiers beginning in the 1950s but less is known about allegations that the agency implanted electrodes in subjects.
A 2009 lawsuit (.pdf) claimed that the CIA intended to design and test septal electrodes that would enable them to control human behavior. The lawsuit said that because the government never disclosed the risks, the subjects were not able to give informed consent.
Bruce Price, one plaintiff in the lawsuit, believes that MRI scans confirm that the CIA placed a device in his brain in 1966.
At one point, Bruce was ordered to visit a building with a chain link fence that housed test animals, including dogs, cats, guinea pigs and monkeys. After reporting, Bruce was strapped across his chest, his wrists, and his ankles to a gurney. Bruce occasionally would regain consciousness for brief moments. On one such instance, he remembers being covered with a great deal of blood, and assumed it was his own, but did not really know the source. Also portions of his arms and the backs of his hand were blue. His wrist and ankles were bruised and sore at the points where he had been strapped to the gurney. Bruce believes that this is the time period during which a septal implant was placed in his brain.
DEFENDANTS placed some sort of an implant in Bruce’s right ethmoid sinus near the frontal lobe of his brain. The implant appears on CT scans as a “foreign body” of undetermined composition (perhaps plastic or some composite material) in Bruce’s right ethmoid, as confirmed in a radiology report dated June 30, 2004.
According to a 1979 book by former State Department intelligence officer John Marks, The CIA and the Search for the Manchurian Candidate, an internal 1961 memo by a top agency scientist reported that “the feasibility of remote control of activities in several species of animals has been demonstrated… Special investigations and evaluations will be conducted toward the application of selected elements of these techniques to man.”
“The CIA pursued such experiments because it was convinced the Soviets were doing the same,” The Washington Post‘s Jeff Stein noted.
In mid-November, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Larson ruled that the CIA must produce records and testimony regarding the experiments conducted on thousands of soldiers from 1950 through 1975.
“The CIA has already claimed that some documents are protected under the state-secrets privilege, but Larson said the agency needs to be more specific,” Courthouse News Service reported.
The CIA insisted discovery was unwarranted in its case, because it never funded or conducted drug research on military personnel.
Larson wasn’t convinced.
“[T]his court rejects the conclusion that the CIA necessarily lacks a nexus to Plaintiffs’ claims, and orders the CIA to respond in earnest” to the veterans’ requests, “particularly because defendants have presented evidence that would appear to cast doubt on that conclusion,” he wrote.
But Larson ruled that the CIA did not have to produce records about devices implanted in some of the subjects.
Gordon P. Erspamer, lead attorney for the veterans, told The Washington Post that he is still pursuing the CIA for implanting devices in his clients’ brains.
“There is no question that these experiments were done but defendants say that they used private researchers and test subjects drawn from prisons, hospitals and nursing homes as subjects, not active duty military [personnel],” Erspamer said. “CIA said it had no one knowledgeable on this topic.”
Erspamer noted that papers filed in the case describe “electrical devices implanted in brain tissue with electrodes in various regions, including the hippocampus, the hypothalamus, the frontal lobe (via the septum), the cortex and various other places.”
“A lot of this work was done out of Tulane University using a local state hospital and funding from a cut-out (front) organization called the Commonwealth Fund,” he said.
“We tried to get docs from Tulane, but they told us that they were destroyed in the hurricane flooding.”
The new documents released by WikiLeaks pave the way for the US to attack Iran over its nuclear program, a political commentator has told Press TV.
“I believe that this is an inside operation that is aimed not only at improving Israel’s image in the world at a time when she really looks quite bad but also as a means of blackmailing the United States government into going to war against Iran,” Mark Glenn said in an interview with Press TV.
Glenn, from the Crescent and Cross Solidarity Movement of Coeur d’Alene, added that the leaks are meant to “undermine solidarity in the Middle East between Iran and her neighbors.”
On Sunday, WikiLeaks website released 250,000 classified US documents, some of which touch on issues ranging from the US involvement in spying against the UN to the involvement of the US embassies across the world in espionage activities.
Part of the documents also claimed that Saudi Arabia “frequently” exhorted the US to attack Iran in order to diminish its nuclear program.
The apparently leaked documents suggest that the leaders of Persian Gulf states of Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, along with the Israeli regime considered Tehran’s peaceful nuclear program an existential threat, urging a US attack on Iran.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, described the published documents as part of a US “psychological warfare” against Iran.
“The US administration releases documents and makes a judgment based on them. They are mostly like a psychological warfare and lack legal basis,” Ahmadinejad said.
A veteran journalist and documentary film maker, known for asking difficult questions of climate scientists and politicians, has been denied press accreditation for the Cancun Climate Change Conference.
The UN has refused access to the Cancun Climate Change Conference to Phelim McAleer, who is well known for asking scientists and politicians difficult questions about Global Warming orthodoxy.
McAleer was notified of the UN’s refusal to accredit him just days before the international conference opening today.
McAleer produced and directed Not Evil Just Wrong, a documentary on Global Warming.
His reports from Copenhagen Climate Change Conference went viral on youtube, so much for that this time around.
“I sent them exactly the same documentation that was acceptable for Copenhagen last year, but it seems they did not like my coverage of Copenhagen and are now trying to silence me and the people who have questions about this process,” said McAleer.
“The message is clear—ask UN scientists and politicians difficult questions and you will be banned from any UN sponsored events. No difficult questions allowed,” he added.
McAleer is a 20 year veteran journalist who covered the Northern Ireland troubles. He has also worked for the UK Sunday Times and as a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and The Economist. He has worked as a journalist and film maker in countries as diverse as Ireland, Romania, Uzbekistan , Indonesia, Madagascar, Chile, Indonesia, Vietnam, and many other countries.
IMAGES OF DEVASTATED battlefields are all too familiar. A German officer in 1918 described ‘dumb, black stumps of shattered trees which still stick up where there used to be villages. Flayed by splinters of bursting shells, they stand like corpses upright. Not a blade of grass anywhere. Just miles of flat, empty, broken and tumbled stone.’ The ploughs in Flanders fields still turn up human bones every year.
But twentieth century technology, busily applied to the practice of war, has ensured a more lethal harvest. For example, landmines: planted in millions in war-torn countries across the world, killing and maiming long after wars are over, and denying agricultural use of the land in which they lurk. A Khmer Rouge general called them ‘the perfect soldier’: cheap, efficient, expendable, never hungry, never needing sleep. But eighty percent of landmine victims are civilians, not soldiers; and nearly a quarter of those are children.
Clearing mines is laborious, dangerous, and 30 times the cost of the weapon itself. So is clearing unexploded ordnance of all kinds (including worldwide munitions dumps which leak toxic wastes). The most severe UXO contamination in the world is in Laos. Bomb disposal teams have no records to work from. ‘It was America’s secret war and we can’t get the information,’ says a team leader. ‘All you can do is teach people to live with the bomb.’
But it’s the testing and manufacture of the nuclear bomb which has been responsible for some of the most profound and persistent environmental damage to life on earth. “The complex mixture of contaminants found on many military sites is dynamically moving through the environment,’ says a medical expert. Radiation problems affect people near nuclear plants in every country that has them. Repair and maintenance of many installations and equipment are dangerously inadequate.
Nuclear waste is a global problem that won’t go away, threatening environmental disaster on a vast scale: its poison, and toxic chemicals which accompany all weapon production, have travelled round the globe in the atmosphere and ocean currents; as well as water and air, they harm earth, plants that grow in it, and subsistent livestock and wildlife. Human exposure to nuclear and chemical tests and factories, or via the food chain, results in miscarriages, malformed foetuses, high infant mortality and congenital disorders, leukaemia and other cancers, tumours, thyroid disorders, and complex debilitating and life-shortening syndromes. The number of reports of such harmful effects on health, habitat and culture – always at risk in war – continues to grow.
Because war disrupts social structures, ecostructures are neglected and abused, with lasting and costly consequences.
All along the coast of Somalia huge sand dunes, 20 miles across, have crept from the sea towards the main coastal highway. ‘When the dunes hit the road, a new road will need to be built,’ says a Red Cross agronomist. ‘There used to be government plans to stop them. Now there’s nothing. The communication breakdown will be a social disaster.’ The ICRC, encouraging self-sufficiency and seawater fish in the conservative Somali diet, provided boats, nets, hooks and training – only to discover another of war’s ecological chain effects: the coastal waters off Somalia had become a free-for-all, all protocols for international fishing rights ignored. Resources are being fished unsustainably – ‘almost a mining operation,’ says a UN observer. Illegal fishermen now go armed, to protect what they perceive as their property rights.
It’s widely agreed that Sudan’s 1988 famine was caused by its protracted civil war. Southern Sudan has some of the most productive land in Africa; its people are hardworking farmers and herdsmen. If fighting stopped, they’d manage to survive. Instead, thousands have been forced out of their homes, thousands have died, and their land is uncared-for.
‘Most disasters are like this: a mess of war, displacement, hunger and ignorance,’ says Africa specialist John Ryle. ‘To feed the hungry and treat the sick in such circumstances is to become part of the war economy. Part of what aid workers do involves clearing up the chaos left by the global arms trade. They say they are saving lives – but for what? To be lost in endless wars that feed on aid?’
Meanwhile the worst outbreak of sleeping sickness this century has been spreading through the south-west; disease follows war everywhere.
The earth’s environment is battered by war, its preparation, practice and aftermath. It is destroyed as an act of war; it is used as a weapon of war; and its destruction is expensive and sometimes irreversible. Its integral involvement with war is often secret, widely ignored, and easily forgotten – until now.
Now, some people are beginning to talk and listen. Some people are beginning to act. There is a treaty to ban landmines now. There are moves towards tackling the problems of nuclear waste and weapon stockpiles. There is a growing global awareness – with charters to prove it – that war has created consequences which cross boundaries and ignore territories. Natural disasters are costly enough; the cost of war damage is much higher. Even if politics don’t achieve change, economics might.
It’s the natural tendency of governments to suppress or talk down bad news. So it’s the duty of the rest of us – to uncover and publicise it wherever possible. Without the facts, there can’t be informed public opinion, nor a corporate will to deal with the disasters that war creates – dangerous not only for combatants but for civilians, not only for the duration of the war but far into the future, not for warring countries alone but for the whole world.
In one way or another, everyone is already affected. In one way or another, the still-quickening rush to even greater disasters must be stopped.
And the first thing to go must be war.
Ameer Makhoul (Adri Nieuwhof)
The following is an excerpt from a letter by Palestinian political prisoner and civil society leader Ameer Makhoul, written in response to a postcard featuring an image of a lighthouse sent by The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof. A citizen of Israel, Makhoul was arrested in his home on 6 May 2010 and held in isolation and refused a meeting with his lawyers or family for 12 days following the arrest. The Israeli government indicted Makhoul with trumped-up charges of espionage and assistance to the enemy in a time of war, which carries a life sentence. According to Makhoul, during that time the Israeli authorities used severe interrogation methods that caused him both psychological and physical harm. Last month Makhoul agreed to a plea deal to avoid lengthy imprisonment and now faces a maximum sentence of seven to ten years.
The lighthouse, al-fanar in Arabic, is an inspiration. I have built a lighthouse here in jail. It has been built in my mind because I am not allowed to use the space, but my mind is totally mine. Al-fanar became part of my vision and dream for freedom and human dignity. The lighthouse is out of prison, while the role of the anchor is to be rooted and safe. In fact, I need both — al-fanar to give direction to my vision, while the role of the anchor is to understand where I currently am. I need to be balanced and realistic to act within a totally unbalanced reality. I need to challenge and to change. I need, and we need to change. The anchor is needed in order to act. The lighthouse shows how and where and for what.
It is not easy to have both elements, especially to “new” prisoners of freedom. It is defined as new but it is almost half a year that I have been in prison. Several prisoners have already been here 23 to 28 years. So I am relatively new here, but for me every day is a lot of time, with a lot of suffering and reflecting on the reality of being Palestinian in my homeland.
To be proven innocent is totally not accepted by the court. Thousands of cases show that both the rate and the number of Palestinians who have been released as innocents is zero. Palestinians are guilty, it is the only option. The Shabak [Israel’s internal intelligence agency, also known as the Shin Bet] monitored and recorded 30,000 of my telephone calls and those in relevant circles; in addition they surveilled all email, Skype, Internet and electronic media. Yet they declared in the court that they have no material evidence.
Based on my experience and on the findings regarding 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, the Shabak having no evidence does not mean the end of the game. They have their secret weapon, which is the so-called “secret evidence.” They present it to the judges, but neither me nor my lawyers are allowed to know what it is about. The Israeli system will never blame the state or the Shabak, but will blame their Palestinian victims.
Statistics and experience show that without a deal with the attorney general the sentence would be double the length! So the lack of evidence is not the road to freedom. Israel will never allow its court to declare me as innocent. On the other hand, every Palestinian refugee of Arab friend or partner in the Arab world is potentially considered a so-called “foreign agent.” The state’s role is to blame and the victim’s role is to explain, even to prove that he or she is innocent. I have so many friends and partners all around the Arab world and among people in the homeland and diaspora. I have no illusions, but I have a lot of energy to struggle for freedom and dignity.
Israeli soldiers detain Israeli and international activists in Saffa Valley, June 2009. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)
It was a bright, warm morning in the occupied West Bank’s Saffa Valley Thursday, 18 November when, without warning, the Israeli occupation forces were upon us. Within moments, five Israeli soldiers were shouting in Hebrew. “You have one minute to leave the area!” they said, before shooting stun grenades at our feet. Moments later, we were told to sit quietly and hand over our passports. A six-hour detention was to follow.
I was detained along with six other internationals, five Israelis and one Palestinian activist in the Saffa Valley, near the occupied West Bank village of Beit Ommar. We were there to accompany Palestinian farmers to their land, and uproot dead bushes and other plants in preparation for planting olive trees later this winter. The army and Israeli media accused us of arson. In reality, small, controlled fires were lit in order to clear the weeds in the Palestinian-owned fields.
Still, we spent the day at the Gush Etzion settlement police station, where Israeli interrogators repeatedly asked us why we had violated a closed military zone order and had committed arson, both untrue charges. We were never presented with a closed military zone order nor did any criminal activity take place that day, as the Israeli police were alleging.
We were released after agreeing to not participate in any demonstrations or visit Beit Ommar, the Saffa Valley and the entire southern West Bank area for a period of 14 days. Exhausted and overwhelmed by it all, I headed home only to read the disturbing Israeli media reports detailing what had happened that day.
We were called anarchist arsonists on Ynet, the online, English-language version of Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. Ynet quoted Yair Wolf, deputy head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, who said “The anarchists’ intolerable behavior must be stopped. The foreigners among them must be deported. They only fuel the conflict” (“Suspicion: Anarchists torched field near settlement,” 18 November 2010).
In Wolf’s opinion, it is peace and justice activists working for the self-determination and freedom of Palestinians who are fueling the conflict, not the violent behavior of Israeli settlers like himself who are illegally occupying Palestinian land. His statement would be funny if it didn’t reflect the opinion of such a large segment of Israeli society.
Having had a few days to reflect, I can now view what happened through the lens of the larger picture, no longer blinded by my anger or frustration at an Israeli system that values theft, discrimination and religious-based privilege, while holding human rights and international law in such low regard.
What happened to us is not exceptional. Similar incidents will happen again, week after week, and they need to be viewed in the context of a growing nonviolent Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid. Israeli occupation forces are clutching at straws, when they feel it necessary to spend millions of dollars on the man-power needed to arrest activists each week and indiscriminately use tear gas, sound grenades or rubber bullets to disperse nonviolent demonstrations.
What happened to us — no matter how unjust or enraging — is nothing compared to the arbitrary detentions, arrests and prison sentences Palestinians must deal with on a daily basis. More than 9,000 Palestinians are detained each year by Israel and today, more than 7,000 sit in Israeli jails.
And yet in the face of this ever-increasing level of state violence and danger, the steadfastness of Palestinians to fight against the occupation of their lands is strong. It serves as an indispensable model to follow in the struggle for justice in Palestine, and being aware of how each one of us — Palestinian, Israeli, international — can best join in that struggle is crucial.
Originally from Montreal, Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in occupied East Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at http://jilldamours.wordpress.com..