Starving Gaza

Killing Sheikh Yassin and a half-dozen innocent bystanders was not enough for Israel, which is also intensifying its efforts to starve the population of Gaza. After the UN Special Rapporteur for food last year warned that a fifth of the children in Gaza are malnourished and that the situation is getting worse, a BBC story of a few days ago describes how “the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) said an Israeli ban on moving empty containers out of Gaza had forced it to suspend delivering 11,000 tons of food.” Why? Because, according to an (unnamed) Israeli spokesman, suicide bombers might be hiding in the food containers… this after UNRWA had already cut rations from 60% to 40%, where unemployment is total, 2/3 of the families are below poverty, and the town of Rafah is being razed to the ground. And that’s not all…

The UNRWA spokesperson, Peter Hansen, said “If the new restrictions in Gaza continue, I fear we could see real hunger emerge for the first time in two generations”. The Israeli spokesman said that “At the moment we cannot trust anything, especially since the death of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.”

To clarify: because Israel engaged in a major attack against Gaza, killing civilians by dropping a bomb in the middle of a city, Israel is now forced to starve the population of Gaza.

An Israeli professor, Lev Greenberg of Ben Gurion University, has accused the state of Israel of genocide. Greenberg was imprisoned as a refusenik. The Minister of Education for Israel, Limor Livnat, was not impressed: “I am not authorized to interfere in academic affairs”, she said, “but I call on the president of the university and the academic community to take issue with and denounce anyone who attacks and opposes the government of Israel”.

And last, while we’re on the topic, it turns out that Israel believes that the BBC is biased — against Israel!

“Natan Sharansky, Israel’s minister for diaspora affairs, complained that Guerin had portrayed the army’s handling of the arrest of Hussam Abdu, who was captured with explosives strapped to his chest, as “cynical manipulation of a Palestinian youngster for propaganda purposes”. He said this revealed “a deep-seated bias against Israel”.”

ZNet published an article by Tim Llewellyn a few months back on the BBC’s coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict that rather disagrees with Sharansky.

The pieces on Gaza and Greenberg came via the News Insider, an indispensable source for any blogger.

Haiti’s Killing Fields

Anthony Fenton, a Canadian who has been writing some of the best stuff on Haiti since the coup (see Haiti Watch for some of it) has just returned from a delegation in the country. He will be publishing a lot over the next few days, I believe. But what he reports already is truly chilling, the more so because of the inadequacy of the responses by even principled people outside the country to the crisis..

First, a sneak preview of what Fenton has to say. I had a chance to ask him a few questions over email about a week ago.

Have you learned anything about the people behind the coup?

We met with Lavalas today, solid meeting. We have confirmed that the military is executing Lavalas supporters nightly. Over one thousand corpses were seen by Haitian journalists the night after the coup [March 1st], photographed by a Reuters photographer who will not however go on record, fearing for his/her life. We are arranging to meet with victims of the recent atrocities in Bel Air in the next couple of days, where at least 70 people were slaughtered by the US. We hear gunfire nightly, incidentally, from where we are staying. This is how the US does it, nightly carrying out murders of Aristide supporters. As far as people behind the coup go, they defend their position with the typical rhetoric that you are familiar with as I said in the previous message. They deflect all questions that challenge this. We have yet to meet with the OAS, the US and Canadian embassies, and another group of elites.

Now, on to the provocative comment about the inadequacy of the response. I went to a public forum in Toronto just days after the coup. There were very knowledgeable people speaking — these were clearly Haitians, people who had a real commitment to the country, people who had opposed Aristide from the left. What struck me about the forum, though, was that not one of the speakers called what happened in Haiti a ‘coup’. Not one of them called for the restoration of Aristide. Not one of them mentioned the Canadian role in the coup and very little was mentioned of the American role. What was said was imperialism — ‘now that we’re in Haiti, I hope we stay for the long haul’, type stuff. We being the Canadian state, presumably.

Well, *we* are there and people are, apparently, being slaughtered under *our* watch, rather silently because *our* media has left, no longer needed now that the coup has already taken place.

Grassroots International, a good international solidarity organization, was circulating this, in my opinion horrible, call from four people on the Haitian left.

The idea was to prevent Aristide from going to Jamaica, to inform public opinion about the true nature of Aristide’s ‘anti-popular and anti-national regime’, and… as almost an afterthought, to help the Haitian people fight the current military occupation and regime.

Suppose Aristide was everything that they say he was — anti-national, anti-popular, etc. — would that mean that the thing for popular forces and movements to do would be support paramilitaries who spent the previous ten years slaughtering popular forces and movements get into power where they would be in a better position to slaughter… and deliver the country and economy more firmly into the hands of those multinationals that have even a vague interest in super-exploited sweatshop labour… and overthrow the constitution… and bring the US Marines and other colonizing forces back into the country, and this on the 200th anniversary of independence?

It all seems bizarre. But it seems that there have been a few better responses in recent days. I saw a petition that had a sense of proportion and priority yesterday. It calls for: “the unconditional and immediate return of President Aristide to Haiti in order to serve out his term of office until 2006. Respect the vote of the Haitian people.” You can get the petition at .

Bill Fletcher’s article on Haiti’s coup also hit the right notes, I think.

Another interesting development for Colombian Democracy

Just got this from an important human rights group in Colombia, the ‘Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyer’s Collective’. Apparently on March 30, a ‘technical commission’ from the Attorney General’s office made what amounts to a raid on the Colombian Senate’s Human Rights offices. The ‘technical commission’ looked up information on individuals — basically activists, unionists, human rights defenders, very sensitive information about people under threat that you’d find in a government human rights office; and took the information on them away…

Remember that this is in a context where, under Uribe, thousands of people have been rounded up all over Colombia, most on quite bogus charges of ‘terrorism’. Remember too that this is a context where the government and paramilitary death squads work hand-in-hand; the real danger is that this information will fall into the hands of killers.

This is all doubly ironic for another reason. An article in the Colombian magazine CAMBIO presented a transcription of a recording of a Colombian general named Jaime Alberto Uscategui who reveals links between the army and paramilitaries and talks about the Mapiripan massacre. The recording talks about an archive of 300 documents that are in the general’s possession. He says that the pamphlets taken by the paramilitaries to Mapiripan, where they murdered peasants, were created on a computer at the Paris Battalion of the Colombian army. That same computer had documents on the paramilitary organization (AUC) pay schedules, the names of the entire Guaviare front of AUC…

Small wonder that very battalion, posted 8 kilometers from the massacre’s site, ‘failed to act’ when the massacre was underway.

THAT archive of documents is safely sealed away from public view. Meanwhile information on human rights defenders that could get them killed is raided by ‘technical commissions’ of the Fiscalia…

Luz Perly Cordoba wins Peace Prize

One odd thing about some parts of Colombia’s social movement is that while they are being savagely repressed, they also win various international prizes from mainstream institutions. The Nasa of Northern Cauca, for example (described in the ‘indigenous autonomy’ post in the ‘goodbye maggie’ zblog), particularly in Toribio, are experiencing the occupation of the national security forces who have detained some members of their community arbitrarily and, at the end of 2003, shot others, and were in the same situation in February when I visited. They also won a UNDP prize for sustainable development on February 19…

Luz Perly Cordoba, president of Accion Campesina de Arauca, was arbitrarily detained and has been since February 18 of this year, in Bogota — imprisoning social leaders is part of Colombian President Uribe’s noble struggle against ‘terrorism’ — and on March 31, she won a Peace Prize in Denmark. The prize was awarded in Copenhagen by the mayor Per Bregengaard. She was selected for her defense of human rights in the country — for both the award and the repression, no doubt.

Luz Perly could not be at the ceremony, of course.

Reports from the Ground…

If anyone was shocked by the horrific attacks in Fallujah recently, I would recommend Tim Wise’s blog as well as the UTS blog for some context. What I want to present, though, are some other reports…

here is a site I run in Toronto, with others, that I would like to serve as a kind of regional ZNet — helping organizations with similar politics link up with each other, give people opportunities to share information and analysis, and so on. The other thing we want to do at this site is some critique of Canadian media, and Canadian foreign policy. The last thing we want to do is present translations and reports from the ground, from places like Colombia, Palestine, Iraq. It’s ambitious, yes, but I’d like to call your attention to it. The site is called En Camino. That means ‘on the way’, in Spanish (I didn’t come up with the name, of course — I never come up with names or titles). ?A donde, one might ask? I’ll leave that one for now.

The things I wanted to present in this entry are two such types of reports, which we’ve arranged at En Camino in the form of — you guessed it — blogs. They are not as technologically advanced as these blogs here, lacking the brilliance of a Brian, but perhaps they will be, in time, and meanwhile they do have the graphical grace of Tyson — who will be helping me with a graphic for this blog. The one you see to the right is a photo I took in the zone of total destruction in Jenin in 2002.

So the first blog is by an activist named Misha Laban, who’s from Toronto, and who has been doing some very nice blogging from the Occupied Territories (As I said, please forgive the ‘retro’ format — I promise to improve it when I get a minute away from my shiny new blog). The last entry is a couple of weeks old, but there is more on the way.

The second blog is by an activist named Andrea Schmidt, who I know as a tireless organizer and radio journalist based in Montreal, but who is now in Iraq with the Iraq Solidarity Project. Her reports are here.

And finally, what this blog is about…

Last entry for the night, to explain, as promised, what the blog is about. It’s pretty simple. My process of writing articles involves receiving a lot of information, usually from friends in Latin America, in Spanish, and to a lesser extent from friends in other places, about what is going on. I collect all these things, and try to put them together in articles. But there is usually a great deal more material than can be put into articles…

So the blog will contain a lot of these kinds of things. Quick notes from the Latin American press, or reports from the International Solidarity Movement, or something noteworthy I saw on a fine site like the News Insider, or some other kind of report that would otherwise not see the light of day. Occasionally, I might add some commentary on something in the mainstream/corporate press (perhaps the Canadian press, since I have the (mis)fortune of being exposed to it here), although I expect there will be fantastic blogging on that here in the Z Blogging area — by Wise, Street, Petersen, UTS, Chomsky — and of course just outside of the Z Blogging area in Rahul Mahajan’s Empire Notes.

New York Taxi Drivers…

Here’s a nice story — the New York Taxi Worker’s Alliance, a really impressive initiative of immigrant worker organizing (described in Vijay Prashad’s ‘Karma of Brown Folk’, and an important organizer of which is Biju Mathew who recently had a very interesting article on ZNet) has won a pay raise, that will come from a fare increase. Bhairavi Desai of the Alliance said that most of the increase will go to the workers, which is nice…

Venezuela’s petition problem

The ZNet blogging tradition (brief as it is) seems to be that we answer questions put to us in our forums on our blogs. I was just asked this question:

Is there any credible evidence that “hundreds” of workers who signed the petition to recall Chavez are being fired for signing the petition and that pro-Chavezist legislators are posting the names of signers on their internet sites which are linked to by the government’s official webpages?

And in fact, I don’t have the answer.

I haven’t seen anything on this from sources that I think are credible, no. The most credible source in English in Venezuela is Actually, there is very little that I find better than that site even in Spanish.

But there is a larger point to be made here, and that is this: the Venezuelan elite, and those who would like to see that elite regain its grip on the government of the country (the US media and so on) seem to have a strategy — the strategy is to present tons and tons of ‘factual’ and ‘pseudofactual’ claims about what Chavez, or Chavistas, are doing. They are stealing babies to indoctrinate them in communism; they are funneling arms to FARC in Colombia; they are housing Al-Qaeda training camps. Or the National Guard beat up unarmed demonstrators. Or Chavistas were sniping at protesters from crowds. Or Chavistas are firing workers who signed the petition (remember that most employers are anti-Chavez and most workers, probably pro-Chavez, so it’s not clear how many Chavez supporters are in a position to fire anybody). Claims range from the fantastic to the plausible. But the point is to bog Chavez supporters down in the details, obscure the bigger picture, and confuse anyone who is unsure what side they are on.

The bigger picture is this: there is a class conflict going on in Venezuela. A lot of the poor feel that they have found a voice in the Chavez administration. The elite and parts of the middle class, and of course the US, virulently hate this situation. If that elite, with US help, replaces Chavez’s regime in power, you can expect a situation that resembles Colombia’s, I suspect — the unleashing of a murderous repression against the population, accompanied by propaganda, in order to try to destroy any possibility of a decent future.

I started working on Venezuela, rightly or wrongly, not so much because I believe in what Chavez is doing, but because and I feel that Venezuela is perched on a knife-edge right now. I would much rather see Colombia’s social movements drag their country out of the abyss than to see Venezuela’s elites plunge their country into that same one.

Welcome Aboard…

Hello all. I apologize in advance for the gruesome name of the blog. The name comes from an essay by Michael Albert, that dates back to Operation Desert Storm, I think, written when I was just a little too young to have found or read it. I came across it years later though, and I thought it would make an appropriate image. I was able to find a re-published version in 1999. This is what it says:

Suppose a hypothetical god got tired of what we humans do to one another and decided that from January 1, 1999 onward all corpses unnaturally created anywhere in the “free world” would cease to decompose. Anyone dying for want of food or medicine, anyone hung or garroted to death, shot or beaten to death, raped or bombed to death, anyone dying unjustly and inhumanely would, as a corpse, persist without decomposing. And the permanent corpse would then automatically enter a glass-walled cattle car attached to an ethereal train traveling monotonously across the U.S., state by state, never stopping.

One by one the corpses would be loaded onto the cattle cars and after every thousand corpses piled in a new car would hitch up and begin filling too. Mile after mile the killing train would roll along, each corpse viewed through its transparent walls, 200 new corpses a minute, one new car every five minutes, day and night, without pause.

By the end of 1999, on its first birthday, the first day of the new millennium, the killing train would measure over 2,000 miles long. Traveling at 20 miles an hour it would take about five days to pass any intersection. By the year 2009, assuming no dramatic change in institutions and behavior, the train would stretch from coast to coast about seven times. It would take about six weeks from the time its engine passed the Statue of Liberty to when its caboose would go by. God still wondering when pitiful, aspiring humanity would get the message.

Think how a young child sometimes points to a picture in a book or magazine and asks for an explanation, “Tell me about a tree?” A car? A boat? Or a train? A big train? The killing train?” Go ahead, answer that one.

I have, in the past, been accused of ‘overquoting’ in my writing. But blogs are supposed to reflect their authors. So I think I shall have to finish this first blog entry with more quotes. These are all by people I admire, similar to the tone of Mike Albert’s ‘Killing Train’, and I suspect that they will provide some idea of the motivation behind the postings here (they don’t, however, provide a preview of what the postings will be — the next message will describe what I want to accomplish in the blog).

A recent quote by Robert Fisk, on the Iraq War:

Well as a matter of fact this afternoon, I took several roles of filmreel film, not digitized camera film into my film development shop here, and was looking again at the film of children whod been hit by American cluster bombs in Hilla and Babylon whom I took photographs of. Im rather shocked at myself for taking pictures of people in such suffering. I would have to say, and one must be fair as a correspondent, that I think that the Iraqis did position military tanks and missiles in civilian areas. They did so deliberately; they did so in order to try and preserve their military apparatus in the hope that the Americans would not bomb civilian areas. The Americans did bomb civilian areas. They may or may not have destroyed the military targets; they certainly destroyed human beings and innocent civilians.

War is a disgusting, cruel, vicious affair. You know, I say to people over and over again: war is not about primarily victory or defeat, its primarily about human suffering and death. And if you look through the pictures, which I have beside me now as I speak to you, of little girls with huge wounds in the side of their faces made by the pieces of metal from cluster bombs, American cluster bombs, its degoutant, as the French say, disgusting to even look at. But I have to look at them. I took these pictures.

An interview with Subcomandante Marcos, interviewed in the Mexican journal, ‘Proceso’:

Poverty is much more than an emaciated body. It’s the child Heberto Castillo saw clutching a stone, her daughter, it’s the fifty girls of a refugee camp sharing the remaining shreds of a doll. And you, Marcos, what’s your picture of poverty?

Also a child. A girl who died in my arms, less than five years old, of fever, in the community of Las Tazas, because there was no remedy to lower her temperature, and she died in my hands. We tried to lower the temperature with water, with wet rags, we bathed her and everything, her father and I. She died on us. She didn’t require surgery, nor a hospital. She needed a pill, a little remedy… It’s ridiculous, because that girl was not even born, there was no birth certificate. What is there more miserable than being born and dying and nobody knows you?

And you, what did you feel?

Impotence, rage. The whole world falls in on you, that everything you believed and everything you did before is useless if I can’t prevent this death, this unjust, absurd, irrational, stupid…

And if these terrible emotions are multiplied over a wide area, do I sense, brewing in the background, although they’re not declaring it, a fight to get even?

That’s the danger. If that general bitterness doesn’t find a social voice, revenge is bound to follow. And in the case of indigenous groups it can tend toward essentialism, and there’s certainly no worthwhile dialog in that… That’s why we say it’s preferable that the discontent get organized. In any case, let the movement in its wisdom or knowledge make the choice.

Marcos, how many victims lived without knowing what life was?

That’s what we don’t want repeated any more. We don’t want any more people who aren’t born and don’t die, who don’t exist, who don’t exist for you, for the public, for Fox or for anybody. Beyond their families, they didn’t exist for anybody. Now, with indigenous communities taking a stand, we lowered the mortality rate to between two and three hundred per year. We used to have, before 1994, fifteen thousand per year, mostly under five who never had any birth certificate (…)

The last one is by Arundhati Roy, about India:

Unfortunately there’s no quick fix. Fascism itself can only be turned away if all those who are outraged by it show a commitment to social justice that equals the intensity of their indignation.”

“Are we ready to get off our starting blocks? Are we ready, many millions of us, to rally not just on the streets, but at work and in schools and in our homes, in every decision we take, and every choice we make?

“Or not just yet…

If not, then years from now, when the rest of the world has shunned us (as it should), like the ordinary citizens of Hitler’s Germany, we too will learn to recognise revulsion in the gaze of our fellow human beings. We too will find ourselves unable to look our own children in the eye, for the shame of what we did and did not do. For the shame of what we allowed to happen.

I suppose these quotes function as a personal statement of motivation — so you, dear reader, know something about the person whose blog you’re reading. As to what you’ll find in the blog — that’s for the next post.