Saturday, December 29, 2012

That Sinking Feeling: A Future of Submerged Cities

Sinking Cities: A Future with Rising Oceans

by Ray Grigg -

New York may be the environmental story of the year, not because of the 80 fatalities and the $50 billion in damages caused by so-called Superstorm Sandy, but because the city's misfortune has triggered a dawning awareness. In Norfolk, Virginia, where areas of the city of 250,000 now regularly flood from a combination of heavy rain storms and small tidal surges, the local Republican Tea Party activists are the brunt of jokes because they still refuse to use “sea level” and “climate change” in any discussions about their problem. Denial, of course, doesn't change reality. But other low-lying cities along America's coast — Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, and the Gulf and Pacific states — are anxiously watching Norfolk's unfolding misfortune because they are all confronting the same inevitability.

The cause is rising ocean levels. The few millimetres added every year have become a kind of thermometer registering the increase in the planet's temperature. Water expansion, gigatonnes of melting polar and glacial ice, and the billions of cubic metres of irrigation water pumped from aquifers all contribute to the rise. For Norfolk, the only temporary solution to its flooding problem is about $1 billion in dikes, tide gates, elevated roads and powerful pumping stations, all to be built within 30 years — not a pleasant option for a Tea Party that abhors taxes.

Fortunately for Norfolk, it was spared the devastation that befell New York, the latest version of the trauma suffered by New Orleans, and a foreshadowing of events as ocean levels rise and weather becomes more extreme. “We're going to see things like Sandy, where you get complex, extreme events that take us into damages that we've never even imagined could possibly happen,” says Deborah Harford of Simon Fraser University's Adapt to Climate Change Team (The Vancouver Sun, Dec. 8/12).

In the case of New York, 17th in the list of coastal cities at risk, its particular misfortune was a rare combination of an exceptionally high tide, a storm surge and a heavy rain front, precisely the circumstances that could occur in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. “In an OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report, (Metro) Vancouver is rated 15th (in the world) for exposed assets, with $55 billion at risk, and 32nd in terms of population at risk, with 320,000 people exposed” (Ibid.). Coastal Cities At Risk, another organization studying the threat of rising oceans, predicts that Vancouver would suffer heavy infrastructure damage to “highways, sewer systems, waste treatment facilities, shipping and ferry terminals, and the airport”, and to “farmland and residential and industrial areas” Ibid.).

If the New York disaster seems far away, consider that about 220,000 of the 320,000 of Vancouver's population live at or below sea level, protected by 127 km of dikes that will soon be incapable of fending off a combination of high tides, storm surges and rising sea levels. BC's government is already anticipating a 1.2 metre rise in sea levels in 100 years, an expectation that has doubled since 2009 and seems optimistic given the continuing uncontrolled emission of greenhouse gases worldwide. “If things go really badly,” says Harford, “and our emissions really take off — which quite honestly, they are taking off; we're way above the worst-case scenarios that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change based all its projections on — (the 1.2 metre sea level rise) could happen in 50 years. In the very worst-case scenario it could happen in 20 years” (Ibid.).

Since global temperature increases are already inevitable because of existing and continuing greenhouse gas emissions, ocean levels are going to rise. How much and how fast are the only two uncertainties. Unfortunately, in the past, worse-case scenarios of this kind have always been exceeded by realities.

Many coastal cities seem to have three options to address flooding: plan for an organized retreat to higher ground; elevate key infrastructure such as roads, sewage systems, generating stations, hospitals and homes to allow for regular inundations; or build dikes and other protective mechanisms.

For Vancouver, a recent study found that a necessary protective dike system of 150 km in length and 50 metres wide, with key floodgates at numerous strategic locations, would cost about $9.5 billion. It would have to be built by 2100 or earlier. But it would not stop ,saltwater seepage from contaminating the valuable Delta farmland that presently provides Vancouver with about one-third of its food. Even then, ocean levels would continue to rise, eventually rendering futile such an enormous expenditure of money for just just one city.

Many of the world's most significant cities are coastal, but many less significant ones are also located within the reach of rising ocean levels. And the world is littered with innumerable coastal communities, homes, resorts, infrastructure, and industries that are all potentially threatened. At first, the damage will be inflicted incrementally and irregularly, beginning with unusual combinations of rainfall, storms and tidal surges — more like Norfolk than New York. Then the damage will escalate in frequency, severity and scope. The predicted arrival of a 1.2 metre rise by 2100 is probably a best-case scenario. And the growing instability of Greenland's 3-kilometre-thick ice sheet and Antarctica's glaciers means that dramatic rises could occur relatively quickly. Deborah Harford's “very worst-case scenario” in 20 years is possible, if not probable.

Ocean levels are already rising; this is a fact, not a theoretical prospect. And the Tea Party's denial is not going to stop the process. Refusing to use words such as “sea level” and “climate change” is as futile as trying to stop the arrival of January 1st, 2013.

Syria's Vandal Liberators Trigger Humanitarian Catastrophe

Syria Faces Humanitarian Catastrophe

by Bill Van Auken WSWS

After two years of escalating civil war, the people of Syria confront a humanitarian catastrophe, with an estimated four million people—roughly 20 percent of the population—lacking adequate food and shelter. Hundreds of thousands have left for refugee camps in neighboring countries, and as many as three million are displaced within Syria itself.

The United Nations reported Tuesday that its relief operations have been compelled to cut food rations provided to 1.5 million Syrians because of dwindling resources and rising demand.

“The humanitarian community in Syria is struggling,” said UN relief official John Ging. “People are losing hope because they just see more violence on the horizon, they just see deterioration.”

“It’s becoming more and more difficult just to do the very basic things to help people to survive,” said Ging, who is director of operations at the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Conditions have grown increasingly desperate as the Syrian winter sets in, and many families are living in tents or unheated dwellings without adequate clothing.

“As the Syrian conflict drags on, shelters are filling up, support systems are breaking down, savings are running out and violence is engulfing an increasing number of communities,” the UN news service IRIN reported. “As a result refuge is increasingly hard to find for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence, some of them zigzagging across the country in search of safety—often in vain.”

The crisis of Syria’s health care system, which previously was one of the most effective in the region, is especially acute. According to the World Health Organization, the fighting has partly or completely destroyed half of the country’s 88 public hospitals and 186 of its 1,919 local health care centers.

Particularly devastating has been the attack on Syria’s pharmaceutical industry, which previously met 90 percent of the country’s need for drugs. The industry is now down to barely one third of its previous production, with factories in many cases having been targeted by the Western-backed rebels for attack and looting. “Other factories are struggling to import raw materials due to sanctions imposed on Syria by Western countries,” IRIN reports.

The British daily Guardian Thursday carried a report from a correspondent in Aleppo detailing the extent of the looting, which it said “has become a way of life” for the so-called rebels. “‘Spoils’ have now become the main drive for many units as battalion commanders seek to increase their power.”

The report quoted a pharmacist who explained why he was running out of penicillin. The “rebels” had seized a pharmaceutical company’s warehouse in Aleppo and then re-sold its contents, shipping all of the drugs out of the city.

“I went to the warehouse to tell them they had no right to the medicine and that it should be given to the people and not re-sold,” the pharmacist said. “They detained me and said they would break both my legs if I ever went back.”

Basic medicines have become unavailable, and the price for drugs that are available has risen so steeply as to place them out of the reach of most of the population. The result is that people are dying from chronic conditions that could otherwise be treated.

Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO’s representative in Syria, reported that insulin is no longer available in many areas and that insulin pens that public health centers previously provided to some 40,000 diabetic children have run out, forcing them to resort to more painful and difficult methods.

Meanwhile, as a result of the fighting, access to medical care has been sharply curtailed. “Many doctors have left the country,” a recent WHO report stated, noting that “over 50 percent of the medical doctors have left Homs.”

“In Damascus, Aleppo and Homs at least 70 percent of the health providers live in rural areas and therefore frequently cannot access their work place due to irregular public transportation, blocked and unsafe roads with an increasing number of military check points, snipers and the unpredictable occurrence of street fights,” the report added.

The UN recently announced that it is launching its biggest ever fundraising drive for relief in Syria, with a target of $1.5 billion. The problem, however, is that existing appeals have raised less than half of their targets.

The United States, Britain, France and the monarchical regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar are all stepping up their aid to the rebels.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that he will seek approval at an upcoming European Union meeting for a lifting of the arms embargo on Syria to allow the UK to directly arm the anti-Assad militias. While Washington has publicly claimed it is not providing weapons, it has set up a CIA station on the Turkish-Syrian border to coordinate the flow of arms from the reactionary Gulf states, the bulk of which have gone to Islamist forces, including those linked to Al Qaeda.

Washington and its allies routinely invoke supposed humanitarian and democratic concerns to justify their fomenting of a sectarian-based civil war and the devastation of Syrian society for the purpose of installing a regime more aligned with US geo-strategic interests. Yet none of them have shown any inclination to devote resources to aid the millions who have been left homeless, hungry, sick and wounded as a result of this predatory military intervention.

Copyright © 1998-2012 World Socialist Web Site

See also - Syrian rebels sidetracked by scramble for spoils of war: Looting, feuds and divided loyalties threaten to destroy unity of fighters as war enters new phase

Still Time to Help Haiti - Appeal


Urgent! Your Year-End Support Needed

by Kim Ives - Haïti Liberté

Dear Friend; You've likely received many year-end funding requests in your inbox. This one is different so please read on. We’ll get right to the point.

Haiti is now on the brink of a tumultuous year. President Michel Martelly’s government faces a growing popular uprising due to corruption, repression, and its moves to set up illegal institutions and fraudulent elections.

Meanwhile, the country remains militarily occupied by UN troops. They have been in the country, at the cost of some $800 million annually, for almost eight years now.

Haïti Liberté has been at the forefront of the fight for justice, democracy, and sovereignty in Haiti. Its journalists, already working under extremely difficult conditions, have been threatened, targeted and harassed. The destruction wrought by Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy have not helped. Our people on the ground need your help.

You can donate right now, online, by clicking here. That page provides options for a one-time contribution or monthly ones. Donations this way are not tax deductible, but they come directly, completely, and immediately to Haïti Liberté (no administrative bureaucracy or fees).

However, if you'd like to make a tax deductible donation in these last three days of 2012, you can make out a check to our fiscal sponsor, The Peoples Rights Fund, with "Haiti" written in the memo, and mail it to:

Haïti Liberté
1583 Albany Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11210

Please act now. Thank you for your support.

Berthony Dupont & Kim Ives
Haïti Liberté

2012's Top Carbon Exploitation Arenas


2012's Top 5 Oil & Gas Plays

by Jen Alic -

2012 has been a stellar year for oil and gas. From East Africa to North America, new technology, major new discoveries, an unparalleled appetite for exploration and a metamorphosing perception of risk have changed the playing field.

We're looking at potential rather than existing production, and here are our Top 5 picks for this year:

Turkana County, Kenya

We have to start with Kenya, the biggest success story of the year.

In March, the UK's Tullow Oil and Canada's Africa Oil Corp. discovered 100 meters of oil in the Ngamia-1 well. The euphoria was in part because this discovery was made on the very first try in the very first well. Stocks shot up to record highs as a result.

The euphoria has not abated. In late November, the same duo made another find of 30 meters of oil in the nearby Twiga-1 well.

September also saw Kenya strike 53 meters of natural gas in its first-ever offshore find in the Mbawa-1 well, off the coast of Malindi. US-based Apache Corp. owns 50% the well in a consortium with a handful of other companies. They're still digging, hoping that going deeper will reveal the oil.

The bigger picture, however, is that only the surface has been scratched in terms of exploration. The East Africa Rift is believed to hold over 70 billion barrels of untapped crude oil, while offshore Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique have a joint estimated 250 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. There may be offshore oil, too. The oil discoveries in Kenya so far have been confined to one massive basin, and there are six more.

In addition to the size of the prize here, Kenya is favorable for other reasons as well: It offers relative political stability in the midst of a rather restless Africa; it offers attractive fiscal terms; it offers easy access to export markets; and it has an appetite for infrastructure that is hard to beat.

While 2013 may see some changes in the regulatory environment that could be less favorable, as for 2012, Kenya remains THE number one East African play in terms of potential. Next year will give us a better idea of commercial viability.

Bakken, North Dakota

The Bakken shale play has placed North Dakota ahead of Alaska, making it the number two oil producer in the US for 2012, after Texas. Because of Bakken, the US has increased oil production this year to a level it hasn't seen in almost a decade and a half. In one month alone this year, North Dakota issued 370 drilling permits.

Stretching from Eastern Montana to Western North Dakota and across parts of Saskatchewa and Manitoba in the Williston Basin, the Bakken Shale Play could yield some 4.3 billion barrels of oil, according to the US Geological Survey. That's the modest estimate. Continental Resources—one of the major Bakken players—estimates as much as 40 billion barrels.

The clincher is that much of the vast Bakken Petroleum System has not even been tapped. So far, drilling has primarily targeted the Middle Bakken and the upper Three Forks Zones. The Three Forks Zones have not been fully tapped, and the Upper Bakken Shale hasn't really been tapped at all.

Eagle Ford, South Texas

Eagle Ford is potentially the next Bakken. It's one of the most ACTIVE plays in the US right now. And what the majors and juniors are playing with is 7,500 in total acreage, five producing wells, two more wells being drilled, and the potential for 100 wells. This year, oil production has increased to some 300,000 bpd (as of August).

Natural gas is also a major Eagle Ford offering. Last year, it produced 914 million cubic feet of natural gas, though that has dropped slightly for this year.

So far, drilling seems to have had even better results than in Bakken. And there is a great deal of confidence and optimism. Enough so that Marathon Oil is planning to shift its primary focus from Bakken to Eagle Ford and spend one-third of its operating budget there. Right now Marathon is producing around 40,000 net barrels of oil equivalent (boe) per day and plans to more than double this next year. It's already doubled production this year (and, incidentally, seen its profits jump 11% in the first quarter).

The biggest producer is EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG), putting out about 110,000 boe/day and holding reserves of around 1.6 billion boe.

Analysts think Eagle Ford could end up out-producing the Permian Basin in west Texas—and soon.

Mediterranean Plays

The Levant Basin in the Mediterranean has an estimated 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, and around 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. And the area has seen a flurry of activity recently.

Between 25 and 33 billion cubic feet of this gas is in Israeli waters. The rest is carved up between Greek-held Northern Cyprus (which is a bit problematic), Syria and Lebanon.

Of course, along with this potential comes some uncomfortable geopolitics; on one hand among Israel, Lebanon and Syria; on the other hand between Israel, Turkey and the Greek Cypriots.

The first new natural gas field in the region is expected to begin full-scale production this year, with two additional fields coming on-line over the next six years.

Specifically, we're talking about:

• The discovery to two offshore natural gas fields in northern Israel (Leviathan and Tamar) with an estimated 25 trillion cubic feet (about 100 years year of gas for Israeli domestic use)

• Estimates that Israel has a potential 1.9 billion barrels of untapped oil

• About 5-6 tcf of natural gas in the Aphrodite field claimed by Greek-held Northern Cyprus (just west of Israel's Leviathan field)

Exploitation will be a bit expensive, though. Israel's offshore fields are located 100 kilometers from the coast and in 6,000 feet of water. The natural gas is some 5,000 feet under the sea bed.

Offshore Tanzania & Mozambique

Tanzania has become a gas sensation in a very short time, with recent offshore discoveries of some 33 trillion cubic feet.

Sweetening the deal, we have political stability and low security risk, relatively speaking, as well as an existing 70-million-cubic-feet/day capacity for natural gas processing. More gas infrastructure is in the works.

Next door, Mozambique's 130 trillion cubic feet of gas in its offshore Rovuma Basin is eye candy for foreign investors, and officials believe there is double this amount still waiting to be discovered. It's not as attractive as Tanzania for one reason: There is no infrastructure.

Source: the No. 1 source for oil prices

Requiem for the Last Whale on Earth

Rutger Hauer and Sil van der Woerd Create Film as Gift for Sea Shepherd

Requiem 2019 - a short film denouncing whaling

Rutger Hauer meets the last whale on Earth in Requiem 2019

Photo: Sea ShepherdDutch actor and Sea Shepherd board member Rutger Hauer and filmmaker Sil van der Woerd have joined forces to create a moving short film denouncing whaling.

The film, Requiem 2019, premiered during the Playgrounds Audiovisual Arts Festival in Amsterdam on November 20, 2012 and debuts online today.

Requiem 2019 is a unique co-production between Rutger Hauer and the sculptor/filmmaker Sil van der Woerd. Through a blend of fiction, animation, and music the film chronicles the last whale on earth coming face-to-face with the source of its destruction- man, in the shape of actor Rutger Hauer.

The Dutch actor has been closely involved with Sea Shepherd for many years as an honorary board member and referred to this film as “a gift for Sea Shepherd.” In search of inspiration, Van der Woerd spent hours looking at Sea Shepherd’s raw footage, filmed during the annual Antarctic whale defense campaigns. Van der Woerd said:
“The images you normally get to see via the media are only short clips. It was extremely intense watching that awful, raw footage like that. I was enormously affected by it. The realization that the slaughtering just goes on …’

Rutger Hauer has been fascinated by whales ever since he was a boy and had this to say about the project:
“The slaughter of whales as a source of food is so outdated. Just because that is what they have always done? Tradition? Come on, now! People are the worst type of animal. One day, during a trip in a canoe, I literally looked straight into the eye of a whale. It is something that every man on Earth should experience. We must not be allowed to destroy these beautiful creatures. The consequences would be enormous. This is how we got around to the theme for Requiem 2019. Sil and I simply had to make something to stop people hunting down these wonderful creatures. I can’t go along with Sea Shepherd during their campaign. It’s better for me to do what I do best, and here it is!”
The result is an exciting, emotional and poetic short film. The relationship between Hauer and van der Woerd goes back to 2010 when they met at the I’ve Seen Films festival, organized annually by Hauer in Milan, Italy. At the festival, van der Woerd was awarded a prize for his short film White Swan. Shortly after that year’s festival, Hauer got in touch with van der Woerd in Los Angeles, where both men live. “We hit it off immediately when we first met and we soon started talking about the oceans, whales, and Sea Shepherd,” said van der Woerd.

By Their Deeds: Israeli Military Kidnaps, While Courts Sentence Child Victims to Prison

FIle - Arabs48

Three Children Sentenced To 4 Months Each

by Saed Bannoura - IMEMC & Agencies

The Palestinian Detainees Studies Center reported that the Israeli Salem military court sentenced three Palestinian children from Azzoun town near the northern West Bank city of Qalqilia, to four months imprisonment each.

The court also delayed deliberations in the case of another child from Jenin, and released his brother.

Lawyer Mustafa Azmouti told the Center that that Salem court sentenced Qais Waddah Shbeita, 16, Mohammad Adel Shbeita, 16, and Mohammad Abdul-Fattah Radwan, 15, to four months each. They were all kidnapped after the army broke into their homes in Azzoun on December 7, and are currently held at the Majeddo prison.

In related news, the Salem court postponed deliberations in the case of a detained child identified as Ihsaan Ayman Aabed, 14, until December 30 after ordering a psychological assessment, but refused to release him.

The court released his brother Osama, 13, after ordering his family to pay a NIS 3000 fine.

The two brothers were kidnapped by the army, on December 13, while in their family’s orchard, close to the Annexation Wall.

Furthermore, the court extended the remand of Palestinian Security Officer, Hamed Salim Badwan, 32, until January 10, 2013. Badwan, also from Azzoun, is currently held captive at the Majiddo prison; he was kidnapped by the army on December 17.

The court also decided to delay deliberations in the case of detainee Bahaa’ Mahmoud Marshoud, from the northern West Bank city of Nablus, to “grant the prosecution more time to prepare an indictment”. He is currently being held at the Al-Jalama interrogation facility.

Furthermore, the court ordered the release of Fadi Mohammad Abu Samra, 24, from Serees village, near Jenin, and ordered him to pay a 600 NIS fine; he was kidnapped by the army on November 2, 2012.

In a recent report, the Palestinian Ministry Of Detainees reported that this year witnessed a sharp increase in Israeli violations against Palestinian children, and that Israeli soldiers kidnapped 900 Palestinian children comparing to 700 kidnapped last year.

There are currently more than 140 Palestinian children who are currently under interrogation or awaiting trial, and a total of 200 who are held by Israel, including 32 who are under the age of 16.

Israel is currently holding captive at least 4600 Palestinians, including 200 children and 11 women, in addition to 1200 detainees who are ill, including 20 who are continuously held at prison clinics.

The ill detainees who suffering from different diseases and health conditions, including cancer, and are not receiving the adequate and specialized medical care they require.

20 of them are continuously staying at the Ramla Prison Clinic that lacks specialists, basic equipment and supplies, 18 detainees suffer from cancer, liver failure, or heart conditions, and 85 detainees who suffer from physical or mental conditions.

Israel is also holding captive 184 Administrative Detainees without charges or trial, in addition to 13 democratically-elected legislators, three former ministers, dozens of teachers, academics, political and social figures.

There are 530 detainees who have been sentenced to at least one life term,109 detainees have been imprisoned since before the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993, 70 have been imprisoned for more than 20 years, 23 detainees have been imprisoned for more than 25 years, and one detainee, Karim Younis, has been imprisoned since 30 years.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fares Al-Basyouni was 8 years old

Fares was the Generator

by Johnny Barber - Voices for Creative Nonviolence

November 10, 2012

Fares Al-Basyouni was 8 years old. At 10:30 pm on Fri. 16 Nov. 2012 an Israeli warplane bombarded an olive grove in the east of Beit Hanoun adjacent to Fares’ home. Shrapnel, traveling approximately 100 meters, went through the wall of the home and decapitated Fares as he slept with his brothers and sisters.

We visited with the family on 01 Dec 2012.

Dispatches from Evil Island

Notes From the “Evil Island”

by Andre Vltchek

It is all about barbed wire, warnings and checkpoints. And to make it worse, Futenma air force base is right in the middle of an extremely densely populated urban area.

Several middle-aged Japanese citizens are besieging the sedans and SUV’s driven by the US military personnel who are leaving their barracks for an outing. As cars are waiting at the intersection to join the traffic flow on the main road, elderly men and women, clench their fists, shouting slogans and waving their posters. There is a lone Japanese cop making sure that nothing goes wrong. But everything is orderly, a routine.

“Close down the base!” Scream the demonstrators. “US army – out of Okinawa!”

American GI’s and military pilots avert their eyes. It is all somehow embarrassing. It is not like these American bombers and top guns are facing some stone-throwing body builders or aces from the local karate club. These ageing people, vocal adversaries of the Empire, can do no harm to the soldiers or to their vehicles; they could probably not even be able to kill a fly.

I approach one of the leaders of this small group of protesters. The lady puts down her placard and listens to my questions, attentively. It is all so Japanese! I hand her my name card, with both hands; she, with both hands, accepts it. We bow to each other.

“Miyoko-san”, I begin. “What is it exactly that irks you about this base?”
“It is so noisy and so dangerous”, she replies. “There are all sorts of terribly treacherous airplanes flying from Futenma. We are never consulted. We are not informed.”

I drive a bit further from Naha, to the tall Matsuki Building. It hosts several nightclubs on its premises; probably whorehouses, too, that come to life at night. However, during the day this entire structure is quiet and empty. And, by Japanese standards, it is very dingy. I take the elevator to the top floor, and climb onto the roof, stopping next to an enormous Canon security camera. All of a sudden, the Futenma base is in front of me.

This place feels insane: nobody really cares what I am doing. No guards, no deterrence. I just take out my video and still cameras and begin working.

It is all so easy, so uneventful, that one feels almost ‘disappointed’. There is no security drama, no charade.

I hear the engines, and look up towards the sky. A four-engine Hercules turns abruptly towards the runway, then literally drops from the sky, levels up at the last moment, then touches down, rolls for a few seconds down the runway, then takes off again: ‘touch and go’ maneuver. I film it. Then I film another airplane, and then another.

I call my film editor in Tokyo.

“It all looks and feels weird”, I tell him.

“Like some Third World country?” he volunteers.
“Yes”, I confirm. “But that’s not all. It is all totally spooky. With this new administration and the passionate love boleros it sings to US… All this can of course, easily trigger WWIII. These bases are actually here, most likely, to trigger a conflict… to provoke China or North Korea, or both. Yet it is all so quiet and serene and in open.“

“That’s Okinawa”, my editor confirms. 

Futenma air base from the roof of brothel.

In his recent article, which appeared in the Australian magazine Arena, a leading Australian historian and Professor Emeritus at ANU, Gavan McCormack, calls Japan “The Servile State” and The US Marine Corps based in Okinawa “a force designed for attack deep within enemy territory.” He mentions one of the best-selling books in Japan- The Truth of Postwar History–written by Magosaki Ukeru, a former head of the Intelligence and Analysis Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

…Magosaki and I also agree in seeing Okinawa, the island prefecture off the China coast where US occupation has been unbroken for sixty-seven years and where three-quarters of US military installations in Japan are concentrated, as crucial. Nowhere else can be found such a concentrated expression of the US-Japan relationship. There, the fact that the Japanese national government is determinedly servile, and that all Okinawa policy is predicated on priority to US military interests, is the inescapable reality of everyday life. Required to serve as the arch upon which the Asia-Pacific security system as a whole can rest, Okinawa became something of an Achilles heel, because it is denied the very values the alliance is supposed to uphold. Its people feel threatened, not protected, by it, and discrimination against them in the name of ‘East Asian security’ has reached the point of being no longer tolerable.

* * *

While filming the Futenma Base from the roof of the Matsuki Building is somehow tolerated, to film the Kadena Base, a monster that brought so much grief to the rest of Northeast Asia during the Korean War, is something that is considered as thoroughly ordinary, even encouraged. The area is equipped with an open viewing terrace, which faces the runway, and comes complete with powerful coin-consuming binoculars, a coffee shop and spotless public bathrooms.

After working in India where one could not even film military ships openly docked at the Mumbai shore, Okinawa feels like other extreme: US military might here is converted into some violent tourist attraction. It draws entire groups of schoolchildren, as well as camera people and photographers, both amateur and those working for the various Japanese media outlets.

Ms. Kato is selling coffee and refreshments on the terrace. I point at the impenetrable bunkers protecting US fighter jets of the latest generation, from who knows whom, and ask her about what she thinks about all that, a horror show turned into entertainment. She replies with a pragmatic grin: “Business is great! But then, of course, as Okinawan, I despise the base.”

One has to wonder which the leading part of the sentence is.

As she speaks, a deafening thunderous sound erupts from somewhere inside the base. In anticipation of a tremendous flying monster ready to take to the air, I intuitively grab my cameras, ready to run towards the railings. But, Ms. Kato overpowers the roar, by her well-trained voice, as she shouts at me: “Relax, nothing is moving! They are just testing an engine.”

Do they do this every day? They do, as everyone in Okinawa tells me. Airplane engines are tested almost every day, sometimes until ten at night, until the eardrums of the people are ready to burst.

F-15 overflying Kadena air base.

Driving through Okinawa, one has to be ready for truly Kafkaesque images. There are endless perimeters consisting of barbed wire and concrete pillars. Division lines are everywhere. Little wonder, as the US bases cover some 18% of the territory of the main island.

There are literally hundreds of protected gates separating the civilian world from the universe of militarized zones. There are playgrounds for American children only, right behind the gridirons, there are small arcades with Baskin Robins and Subway’s, as if those fast food joints cannot be found on the Japanese mainland territory.

There are Japanese public buses converted into vehicles designated for bussing American children to, and back from their schools. And there are Japanese fire stations, as well as US fire stations built on Japanese territory, with North American trucks and emergency phone numbers.

And there are ‘American Villages’ – depressing theme parks with the lowest grade of architecture and yet more Red Lobster’s, KFC’s, seedy bars, and some of the tackiest souvenir shops on earth. These are actually not for GI’s, but for the Japanese tourists trying to catch the glimpse of enormous flesh-and-blood American soldiers.

Influenced by the occupation forces, Okinawa has the worst food in Japan – the country famed for the finest gastronomy in the world.

Apart of one monorail line, Okinawa has no mass public transportation, yet another anomaly in a country that relies on the most intensive and efficient train network on Earth. In and outside Naha, everything moves by roads, and overwhelmingly by private vehicles. As a result, roads in the cities are often congested, and the entire Main Island has the feel of an ethnic Asian suburb somewhere in the United States.

Countless advertisements for real estate agencies seduce those who are ready to do business with the devil: “If you want to buy or sell land for military purposes, please let us know.”

Sadly, all this bad taste and militarism can be found in the middle of what once was the great Ryukyu Kingdom, known for its glorious history of five hundred years, spanning between 12th and 17th centuries. UNESCO designated several ruins of the castles and sites as world heritage. Okinawa was famous all over Asia for its advanced social structure, for its economic structure and its culture.

David McNeill, professor at Sophia University in Tokyo and the coordinator of the academic Asia-Pacific Journal, explained for this report:

“Like many places that have become dependent on external largesse, Okinawa can seem schizophrenic. Polls consistently show that most people on the island oppose the presence of US bases, but thousands of people, including civilian base workers, bar and shop owners, depend on the bases for part or most of their income. US popular culture has filtered down over the last 60+ years giving the island a look, feel and even a diet closer to contemporary America than the Japanese mainland.”

Gate to Camp Foster.

The fate of Okinawa and Okinawans seems to be tightly linked to US-Japan relations, I asked Ms. Satoko Norimatsu, a Japan Focus Coordinator and Director of the Peace Philosophy Centre, what changes could be expected in Japan’s foreign policy, particularly in its relations with the United States, as it is expected that Japan will now move even ‘closer to US’?

“There won’t be much change, as the previous DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) Governments under Kan and Noda had already made concessions in the original DPJ agenda and the Party and the Government looked no different from the administrations led by LDP (Liberal Democratic Party). Those who attempted to initiate the change, namely Hatoyama and Ozawa, lost power and withdrew”.

Then Ms. Satoko Norimatsu summarized:

“The new LDP government will be as much US-leaning and US-subservient as the last-stage DPJ government was, if not more. One significant change will be their serious attempt to change Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution either nominally, or virtually, so that Japan can exercise its “right to collective self-defense,” i.e. to engage in aggressive wars in conjunction with the US. That was Abe’s unfinished business and long-sought after goal, from his previous term in 2006/2007.”

* * *

In modern history, Okinawans were made to suffer immensely.

In 1945 a quarter of the civilian population died during the Battle of Okinawa. 200,000 tons of bombs, according to NHK, were dropped on the island by the US army, in total disregard for lives of the local people.

Then this stunning archipelago consisting of hundreds of Ryukyu Islands fell under US occupation. During the 27-year colonial reign, called ’the trustee-ship rule’, the United States Air Force established numerous military bases all over the archipelago. From here, mainly using the Kadena Base, during the Korean War, B-29 Super Fortresses flew bombing missions, ravaging both Korea and China.

Thousands of Okinawan women were brutally raped, by the US army, after the Battle of Okinawa, and sexual violence continues until now.

In 1972, the islands were returned to Japan under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, but the United States Forces Japan (USFJ) has maintained a large military presence.

According to John Chan, since 1960, Japan has been honoring an agreement that “allows the U.S. to secretly bring nuclear weapons into Japanese ports, and there is speculation that some nuclear weapons may be located in Okinawa. Both tactical and strategic weapons have been maintained in Okinawa.”

Japanese military aircraft which is not military.

The Sakima Art Museum sits right on the perimeter of the Futenma Base. It even offers a view of it, from the roof.

The Museum houses some of the most politically charged paintings found on the archipelago, most notably some 50 works by husband and wife, Iri and Toshi Maruki, who are now both in their 90’s. On the walls, hang their famous “The Battle of Okinawa”.

Here, through art, the tragedy of the past is revealed, in all its brutality and force. The bodies are shown floating on the ocean surface, there are terrified faces of women, and mass suicide.

Kiyoko Sakima, Director of the Sakima Art Museum may often sound bitter, but she is also very active, full of determination to resist and struggle against injustice:

“We fought a legal battle to get this place back from the base and we won, but only 3 years ago. 800 farms and homes were taken away from the local people; taken by force, when the bases were being constructed. There was no compensation – something like what goes on in Palestine until now. Some people were forced to leave for Brazil, because they lost all that they had.”
Ms. Sakima continues: “They see us as the ‘Evil Island’; all over Asia, because everything that is dangerous and flies takes off from here. Only 1% of the population of Japan lives in Okinawa, but we have 75% of the US military bases on our territory.”

I recall the words of a veteran professor from Beijing, who educated hundreds of members of the Chinese diplomatic corps. He explained to me several years ago: 
“If China was attacked by the United States from its bases on Japanese territory, China would not hit back at the US, it will retaliate against Japan, as the attack would be coming from its soil.”
That would not be a very attractive prospect for Okinawa.

* * *

Ms Satoko Norimatsu and other leading experts on Japan believe that the new Japanese administration will now try to ‘maximize the perception of fear of China, while also maximizing the profits of the military-industrial complex’. The military ‘cooperation’ between the US and Japan will accelerate, including so called ‘co-basing’.

Bad news for Okinawa once again! In pre-election speeches, local politicians were making promises to scale down some military activities here, and move the bases, or at least part of their operations, to Guam, an ‘unincorporated territory of the United States’, located in the western Pacific Ocean, which is basically a colony.

But Ms. Sakima does not think that would be fair either: “These bases should be shut down, not to move anywhere. Poor Guam: Japan used to occupy it, now the US does. Why should they inherit what we want to get rid of?”

One of the plans both the US and Japan are pushing for, is eventual closure of the Futenma Base and opening a new, and enormous one – Henoko.

Gavan McCormack argues in his Servile State Japan, “The designated area is one classified by Okinawa as requiring the highest level of protection because of its unique and precious marine and forest environment, and the idea that a large military base could be imposed on it was inherently as impossible as if someone had suggested the same for the United States’ Grand Canyon or Australia’s Kakadu.”

* * *
“Okinawans are united, from left to right, in opposing the construction of a new base in Henoko, and the four newly elected LDP Lower House members of Okinawa, clarified that point too, after the recent elections”, said Ms Norimatsu. “The Okinawan political climate remains the same: resisting the construction of the Henoko base, closure of the Futenma air base, as well as the deployment of the Osprey aircraft.”

But it has been made clear to the people of Okinawa that even if they win; if any of the bases closed down, the Japanese Government and the US will pay absolutely nothing in compensation; the locals will have to rely on their own resources.

It is paradoxical, but the new Japanese ‘Nationalist’ Government is actually pro-American, as much as it is anti-Chinese. Is it a contradiction in terms? Most definitely, but in Japan, anything goes – nobody seems to care much about foreign policy.

Which may prove to be one tremendous blunder. Japan is betting on the most dangerous, aggressive and destabilizing force in the world. It is hosting the army and the air force of the country that is seen, all over the world, as the main threat; the army from which it suffered itself, in the past, immensely.

As my plane is ready to depart for Nagoya, I observe Japanese military jets ready for takeoff, jets landing; jets all over the sky. The US air force uses the Funtenma and Kadena; Japan’s air force shares the Naha International Airport with ANA, JAL and other civilian carriers.

Of course, ‘Japan does not have its own army or air force’. To have them would still be unconstitutional. Those latest and fully armed jets are nothing, just an illusion. And the US does not have any aggressive imperialist plans in this part of the world.

Let’s all keep pretending. Until it is too late!

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific – Oceania – is published by Lulu. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear” (Pluto). After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa.
He can be reached through his website.

All photos by Andre Vltchek

Middle East Democracy Death Watch: Israel Bans Only Palestinian Knesset Member Zoabi

Israeli Cmte Disqualifies Only Palestinian Woman in Parliament from Reelection 


Noam Sheizaf on the elections committee that disqualified Hanin Zoabi, the only Palestinian woman in the Israeli parliament from re-election.

Watch full multipart The Real News in the Middle East

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ding Dong: Stormin' Norman Dead

Gil Scott-Heron's Work for Peace - Psalm of Imprecation to Schwarzkopf et al

Republicans Filibuster Aid Package to Superstorm Sandy Victims

Congress Delays Aid Bill As Sandy Victims Suffer 


Joel Kuperfman: Increased funding and accountability needed for government's response to Superstorm Sandy

Ripples in the American Lake: What the "Asia Pivot" Means for World Power Balance

The Asian Pivot: Four More Years

by Conn Hallinan

In March 1990, Time Magazine titled an article “Ripples in The American Lake.” It was not about small waves in that body of water just north of Fort Lewis, Washington. It was talking about the Pacific Ocean, the largest on the planet, embracing over half of humanity and the three largest economies in the world. Time did not invent the term—it is generally attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Pacific commander during WW II—but its casual use by the publication was a reflection of more than 100 years of American policy in this immense area.

The Asia-Pacific region has hosted four American conflicts—the Spanish American War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—and is today the focus of a “strategic pivot,” although that is a bit of a misnomer, by the Obama administration. The Pacific basin has long been the U.S.’s number one trade partner, and Washington deploys more than 320,000 military personnel in the region, including 60 percent of its navy. The American flag flies over bases in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, the Marshall Islands, Guam and Wake.

It is one of the most perilous regions on earth right now, and, for the first since the collapse of the old Soviet Union, two major nuclear powers are bumping up against one another. As volatile as the Middle East is, one of the most dangerous pieces of real estate on the planet are a scatter of tiny islands in the East China Sea, where China, Japan and the U.S. find themselves in the kind of standoff that feels distressingly like the Cold War.

Tension over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, however, is just one of several foreign policy challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, each with its own characteristics and history. Japan and South Korea are in a faceoff over an island that Tokyo calls Takeshima and Seoul calls Dokdo. Moscow and Tokyo are at loggerheads over the Kurile islands, Beijing is throwing its weight around in the South China Sea, North Korea just launched a long-range ballistic missile (and is possibly considering a nuclear test), and Washington is recruiting allies against China, sometimes by turning a blind eye to serious human rights violations.

How the Obama administration responds to these issues over the next four years will go a long way toward determining whether the ocean lives up to its name—peaceful—or once again becomes an arena for tragedy. So far the record is not encouraging.

Washington has stumbled badly in the dangerous crisis over islands that China calls the Diaoyu and Japan calls the Senkaku. The dispute over these uninhabited specks in the East China Sea islands goes back to the Sino-Japan War of 1895 when Tokyo wrested them from Beijing. In 1971, the Americans—caught up in the Cold war and refusing to recognize China— made the whole matter a lot more complex by ignoring two WW II treaties requiring Japan to return its conquests to their original owners, and instead handed the islands over to Japan.

When China protested, Tokyo and Beijing agreed to kick the can down the road and delay any final decisions on sovereignty to some later date. That all changed when Japan—pressed by rightwing nationalists—purchased three of the islands this past summer and altered the status quo. To make matters worse, the U.S. declared that it would stand by Japan in any military conflict, thus raising the ante from a local confrontation between two Asians giants to a potential clash between nuclear powers.

China sees the islands as part of its defensive parameter, not an unusual point of view considering the country’s history. China has been the victim of invasion and exploitation by colonial powers, including Japan, dating back to the first Opium War in 1839. Beijing is convinced Washington is surrounding it with potentially hostile alliances, and that the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is part of a U.S. strategy to keep China down. There is an economic dimension to the issue as well. China would like to exploit oil and gas deposits, as well as fishing grounds, in the East China Sea.

Extending the U.S.-Japan mutual support treaty to the islands is a major mistake. China has no intention of attacking its main Asian trade and investment partner, and putting Tokyo under Washington’s nuclear umbrella around this issue has helped unleash a powerful current of nationalism in Japan. For instance, Tokyo is debating whether to put Japanese Self-Defense Forces on Yonaguni Island in the Okinawa or Ryukyu chain. That would put Japanese troops squarely in the middle of China’s first line of maritime defense. Yonaguni is a long way from Tokyo, but on a clear day you can see the mountains of Taiwan from its beaches. The island’s residents are opposed to the Self-Defense Force deployment.

The new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been particularly strident, openly talking of dumping Japan’s anti-war constitution and building nuclear weapons. He comes from a long line of military-minded nationalists. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was a member of Japan’s wartime cabinet and considered a war criminal. Rather than going to jail, however, Nobusuke was “rehabilitated” after the war and became a prime minister in 1957. Abe has stonewalled demands by China and other countries in the region to apologize for its brutal policies during WW II.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Abe was asked if there was a “possibility that the two Asian powers could go to war.” According to the Times, “Mr. Abe just smiled and walked away.”

If that exchange does not give Washington pause, it should.

China has a strong legal case for ownership of the islands, and rather than rattling sabers, Washington should encourage the UN and the International Court of Justice to get involved. What it should not do is green light the politics of people like Abe, who might draw Washington into a confrontation with China. In 1914 Austria attacked Serbia. Russia mobilized, and Germany, bound by treaty to Austria, followed suit. That ended very badly.

The disputes in the South China Sea are very different than those in the East China Sea, although some of the actors are the same. Beijing claims that it owns a vast expanse of the Sea, that includes the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and numerous reefs and shallows, also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, and the Philippines. At stake are rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas deposits, as well as a considerable portion of the world’s trade routes.

The Chinese have been rather heavy handed in the dispute, refusing to negotiate with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and insisting on bilateral talks instead. China vs. Brunei is hardly a level diplomatic playing field. The standoff has given the U.S. an opportunity to intervene as a “neutral broker,” a posture that has pushed every paranoid button in Beijing. China has responded by stepping up its patrols in the South China Sea, even sabotaging joint Indian-Vietnam oil exploration near the Paracels. New Delhi—which has its own tensions with China over its northern border—is threatening to send naval vessels into the disputed area.

The crisis is solvable, but a few things need to happen.

China must back off, because its current claim violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas. A place to start is for ASEAN and Beijing to work out a “code of conduct” to resolve disputes peacefully. But Washington should stay out of this fight. Given the strong military component of the “pivot,” one can hardly blame China for assuming that U.S. involvement is not aimed at resolving disputes.

“If you are a strategic thinker in China, you do not have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to think that the U.S. is trying to bandwagon Asia against China,” says Simon Tay, chair of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Washington has shifted naval forces into the Pacific and is in the process of putting 2,500 Marines in northern Australia. While 2,500 Marines are hardly likely to tip the balance of power in Asia, it seems an unnecessary provocation. The U.S. is moving air power into the region as well, including B-1 bombers, B-52s, and F-22 stealth fighters. In early November, 47,000 U.S. and Japanese forces carried out joint military exercises.

Washington is also re-negotiating its Mutual Support Treaty with Japan, which will include the deployment of an advanced anti-missile system (ABM). The ABM is ostensibly directed at North Korea, but China is unhappy because it could pose a threat to Beijing’s modest nuclear missile force. In general, ABM systems are destabilizing, which is why the ABM Treaty was negotiated between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1972. The Obama administration should repudiate the Bush administration’s 2002 scrapping of the ABM Treaty and instead focus on ridding the world of nuclear weapons, a promise made in 2008 but ignored ever since.

North Korea may be a threat to its own people, but it hardly poses a major danger to the U.S. or its allies, South Korea and Japan. Yes, the country has nuclear weapons, but any use of them would be tantamount to national suicide, and the North Koreans have always shown a strong streak of self-survival. What about the shelling of the South Korean island and the sinking of a South Korean warship? Certainly dangerous acts, but the North does have legitimate grievances over how its coastal waters were divided after the Korean War, and, while Pyongyang probably sunk the ship, there are some doubts. If North Korea seems paranoid, it is partly because each year the U.S., South Korea, and sometimes Japan, carry out war games aimed at intervening in the advent of “instability” in the north. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta threatened North Korea with nuclear weapons last year, hardly a strategy to get the Pyongyang regime to give them up.

North Korea mainly serves as an excuse for Japan and the U.S. to militarize the North Pacific and expand their ABM system. But it is a poor, backward country that has trouble feeding its own people. Hollywood’s latest version of the 1950s anti-communist classic, “Red Dawn,” features North Korean paratroopers invading Alaska. Really.

The White House should take a big deep breath, ignore the bombast, stop threatening North Korea with nuclear weapons, retire the war games, and restart aid programs. The only people hurt by the aid cutoffs are poor North Koreans.

Washington sees Indonesia is a potentially valuable ally in the alliance against China, as well as a source of valuable raw materials, and has thus given Jakarta a free pass on its human rights record. But for an administration that trumpets its support for democracy and says it has a moral view of the world, that real politique is unacceptable. The U.S. should finally own up to its role in the 1965 Indonesian coup that killed up to a million communists, leftists, trade unionists, and progressives. It should also halt all military aid to the Jakarta regime until the Indonesians prosecute those who committed atrocities in East Timor and West Papua. The U.S. should have nothing to do with training Kopassus, the Indonesian Special Forces unit that organized many of the East Timor massacres and is currently trying to crush an independence movement in West Papua.

Some of the White House’s actions have bordered on the petty. The U.S. is organizing an 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact that was designed to exclude China, the big dog on the Asian-pacific block. In retaliation, China is encouraging the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that will exclude the U.S.

The U.S. is a Pacific power, but Asia is a very different place than it was two hundred years ago. You can’t dispatch “Chinese” Gordon and a couple of gunboats and get your way anymore. Nor can you deal with rivals by building alliances a’ la Cold War and threatening to use force. The world is too small, Asia is too big, and war would be catastrophic. The Pacific is no one’s “lake,” but an ocean vast enough for all.

Conn Hallinan can be read at and

Non-Agricultural Coops Grow Too in Cuba

Cuba passes five new laws to create non-ag coops...

Non-agricultural cooperatives: Progress in the updating of Cuba's economic model

by O. Fonticoba Gener  

New laws create legal framework for non-agricultural cooperatives

Cuba is moving strongly ahead in its commitment to open its economy to cooperative control. Below an article from Gramna.

"...As part of the updating of Cuba's socio-economic model, and the implementation of Policy Guidelines approved at the 6th Party Congress - in particular numbers 25-29 - five new laws went into effect December 11, creating a legal framework for the gradual establishment of cooperatives for non-agricultural purposes, and providing provisional regulations which will govern the process.

The new laws allow for the initial establsihment of cooperative associations to undertake more than 200 different activities throughout the country, including transportation, restaurant services, fishing, personal and domestic services, recycling, production of construction materials, as well as construction services.

This new non-state management format offers promise given its more social nature and its development can benefit from the positive, a well as negative, experience of agricultural cooperatives.

The option of renting state facilities to these associations is also included in the newly enacted laws...."

To read more, download the full article at

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nakba Diaspora, Syria, and the Requisite Right of Return

Nakba Revisited: Tragedy of Syria’s Palestinians and Centrality of Right of Return

by Ramzy Baroud -

It must have been 2007, although I cannot remember the exact date. I do recall getting lost in what seemed like a futile search for the headquarters of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Rome. There was a meeting of NGOs and some General Assembly body, consisting of several UN ambassadors, dedicated to the ‘Question of Palestine’. I was asked to attend on behalf of one NGO. Timidly, I agreed.

Knowing in advance how such meetings often conclude – reiterating old statements, rehashing old text, reaffirming this and reasserting that – I still attended. The subject of the discussion was the Palestinian refugees, who, for most Palestinians, aside from Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, still represent the core of any just solution to a decades-long Palestinian struggle for freedom and rights. I was compelled by a greater sense of urgency than the need to restate and reconfirm official UN text.  A few days earlier in London, I had received a worrying call.

The caller was a young Palestinian man named Hossam who was stranded at the Jordan-Iraq border. Two of his brothers had been killed in Iraq in recent months. One was executed in the Baladiat neighborhood in Baghdad, which then hosted mostly Palestinian refugees. The other was killed by US forces.

Before the US invasion of 2003, a small community of 35,000 Palestinians resided in Iraq. They were intentionally shielded from any political involvement in the country and unlike Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were treated well. But when the US invaded, they became an easy target for various militias, US forces and criminal gangs. Many were killed, especially those who couldn’t afford paying heavy ransoms haphazardly imposed by gunmen. Most of the refugees fled, seeking safe havens in Iraq and when that was no longer possible, they sought shelter in neighboring countries.

Allowing Palestinians entry into Arab countries is not so simple. For this reason thousands were stranded in newly constructed refugee camps at the Jordanian and Syrian borders. They subsisted, some for years, fighting the elements in punishing deserts and surviving on UN handouts. Finally, many of them were sent to various non-Arab countries. It was a pitiful spectacle of an Arab betrayal of Palestinians. The more passionate Arab regimes seem to speak of Palestine, the more inconsiderate they actually are of the plight of Palestinians. History has been consistently cruel this way.

Hossam simply wanted to cross back to Jordan. He was born and raised there, but his residence was capriciously terminated as often is the case when Palestinian refugees grow in number to pose a demographic concern to the host country. He asked me to help, pleading that his mother was old and that he was the only remaining son.

Of course, I was, and remain powerless. However, when I was asked to attend the Rome meeting on the plight of Palestinian refugees, I thought it would be a suitable platform for Hossam’s hardship to be placed within an urgent political context. It turned out not to be because the old textbook prevailed over seemingly trivial present concerns.

Iraq’s Palestinian refugees belonged in Palestine. Those with the moral courage to say so, such as the UN ambassadors in Rome, have no power except for giving fervent speeches. Those capable of enacting long-neglected UN resolutions that insist on the Right for Return for Palestinian refugees are submissive before US domineering pressure and Israel’s resolve in denying entry to the land’s native population. UN Resolution 194 of Dec. 11, 1948 remains ink on paper.

As long as Israel continues to flout international law, millions of Palestinian refugees will remain captive in regional struggles that use them as political fodder or see them as a demographic problem, or even worse, a threat. And with the US ensuring that no meaningful action is ever taken to alleviate the suffering of the refugees, thousands will continue to find themselves at some border, queuing for food and pleading their cases to anyone willing to listen.

Syria is now the latest episode of that long drawn tragedy, which is being manifested in unprecedented ways since the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) and the Israeli invasions of Lebanon (1978 and 1982). There are twelve refugee camps in Syria. Nine of them are registered as official camps by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and have a population of more than 496,000 refugees. Yarmouk alone, near Damascus, hosts an estimated 150,000 refugees. This camp has been a recurring target for various militant groups and Syrian forces. Other camps have also been targeted in the brutal conflict, including Dera’a, Husseinieh and Neirab among others.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in Syria. They were either caught in the bloody conflict between the Syrian government and the opposition, or were purposely targeted for one pretext or another. The most recent violence, which nearly emptied Yarmouk, began on Dec. 14 when Islamist militants reportedly attacked Palestinian fighters loyal to the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad. A counterattack involving an airstrike left Yarmouk littered with many dead and wounded. An exodus followed and a new chapter of the Palestinian odyssey was being forcefully written, draped with blood and more atrocious memories. Tens of thousands fled. Some made it to the very crowded Palestinian camps in Lebanon. Others were refused entry, only to camp in Damascus parks, once more queuing for UN handouts. The World Food Programs seems to be in charge of feeding the refugees. According to a recent statement, the UN group is coordinating its effort with UNRWA, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), UN Children’s Agency UNICEF, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

No words can adequately describe the plight of millions of innocent Syrian refugees caught in a regional power play that has no regard whatsoever for three million refugees displaced internally or in neighboring countries. But the situation for Palestinians, in Syria and elsewhere, continues to be a sheer side note whenever conflicts ensue in Arab countries – as it was in Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Libya and now Syria. It is the same old story which is yet to be decisively dealt with as a political humanitarian crisis and not just a transitory one.

Palestinian leadership bears much responsibility, as it downgraded the urgency of the refugee crisis, thus The Right of Return, into something like an enigma that would be unraveled in one way or another during the final status talks between it and Israel. There were no such talks, of course, and per the leaked Palestine Papers, it appears that the PA had completely disowned the refugees in secret talks with Israeli officials.

Most of the Syrian Palestinian refugees were driven from their homes in Palestine in stages. The first wave arrived in 1948, mostly from Safad, Haifa and Yaffa. The second after Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights in 1967 and the third during Lebanon’s civil war and Israel’s wars on Lebanon. It is multilayered, protracted tragedy. True, it requires doubling efforts to protect and care for the refugees, but it also demands a serious reexamination of the international community’s dismissive attitude towards the refugees. Palestinian refugees are not simply fleeing multitudes caught in Arab conflicts, but they represent a grave political and moral crisis in their own right which requires immediate action guided by Palestinian rights as enshrined in international law.

Paradoxically, it was Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor who placed the Right of Return in a political context in his response to Security Council members’ disapproval of Israel’s planned expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in Jerusalem. On Dec. 20, Prosor argued that it was not the expansion of the illegal settlements that should be considered a hurdle to peace, but Palestinians’ insistent on their Right of Return. It was both odd and expectedly insensitive. While Israel continues to ethnically cleanse Palestinians to make room for Jewish settlers, refugees in Syria and Lebanon are fighting for survival as three generations of refugees have done in the last 64 years. Somehow, demanding the rights of frightened children and pleading mothers according to international law pose further threat to Israel’s version of ‘peace’.

If the tragedy of the refugees in Iraq seemed insufficient to iterate the centrality of the Palestinian refugee crisis, and the inalienable right of those refugees, the unfolding calamity that has befallen them in Syria should leave no doubt that the refugee issue is an integral part of the Palestinian narrative as it should in any serious political discourse.

The Right of Return is not simply a reminiscent discussion of sentimental history and memories of a dying generation. It deserves to be treated as an extremely urgent political priority with an equally pressing humanitarian dimension. Palestinians are once more dying and on the run and all sincere actions have to be geared towards helping those refugees cope with the conflict in Syria and return to their homeland in Palestine.

- Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press).

Gaza's Enduring Lone Fisherwoman Sails Yet


Gaza’s Only Fisherwoman Continues to Sail

by Joshua Brollier - Voices for Creative Nonviolence

The problems started for me at eighteen,” Madleen Kulab said quietly, sitting just meters from the shore of the Mediterranean. “The police and port authorities did not want me to sail as a woman.”

Though Madleen has emerged from this recent challenge, receiving a permanent permission to fish from the Gazan Interior Ministry, this is not the first hardship she has stared down and overcome in her lifetime.

Madleen Kulab - Photo: Maher Alaa 

As Gaza’s only professional fisherwoman, Madleen’s sailing career began at an early age. Her father, Mahrous Kulab, taught her how to fish from the time she was six years old. “I went with my father from six years to thirteen. Our boat had no engine at that time,” she remembered with a certain fondness.

At thirteen, Madleen personally made the decision to carry on fishing and support her family when her father’s legs were paralyzed from a form of palsy. Her father initially refused to allow her to go alone, but having no other viable means to support the family, he conceded.

While many children were focusing on the usual hassles of homework and finishing primary school, Madleen found it “easy and enjoyable” to sail due to her strong background on the sea. That is not to say that fishing off Gaza’s coast has been without the typical dangers associated with maritime work nor the specific challenges that Palestinian fishers face due to the Israeli blockade. There were frightening times, like the instance she fell overboard in rough waters or when the Israeli Navy fired on her with water cannons and live ammunition.

“They had to know who I was and that I was a woman. All the Gazan fishermen are forced to register with Israel so they even had my ID and picture,” said Madleen. She has intentionally limited herself to staying within the increasingly shrinking limits of the blockade imposed by the Israeli Navy to avoid troubles, but this has not spared her harassment. She says the prime area to fish is around 11 nautical miles, but the Gazans sometimes experience confrontations with the Navy even within the three nautical miles that Israel says is acceptable.

This three mile limit was supposedly reopened to six after the November 21st, 2012 ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, but Gazan fishermen have had little practical success with many having been shot, arrested, imprisoned and their boats confiscated. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 85% of the Gaza Strip's fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to these Israeli military measures.

Though Madleen’s fishing crew has grown to include her younger brothers and her little sister, Reem, Madleen is still the primary provider for the family and is also responsible for selling the fish in the market. With approximately 90% of Gazan fishermen living in poverty and the industry rapidly declining, Madleen hopes that she can continue to sail for at least another two years. “If my brothers can take over at that point, fine.” Madleen and the Kulab family have attracted considerable amount of international attention due to the uniqueness of their situation. They received a motorized boat as an Eid gift from the Welfare Association for Youth. Additionally, Al Jazeera, BBC and Press TV ran features about Madleen.

Two-thousand and twelve proved to be most challenging year for Madleen when she crossed the line into official womanhood in the eyes of the law. Her boat was confiscated by Hamas authorities and held for nearly six months. With the assistance of concerned Gazans and human rights organizations, Madleen challenged the impoundment in court and won. She is now the only permitted fisherwomen in Gaza, provided that she does not sail with any other adult males. This makes her work difficult, but she is eager to be on the water again and earning money for family. When asked about general acceptance from the other fishermen, Madleen replied, “I have no problems with the fishermen. They support me and treat me as a daughter or sister.” Without question, she deserves their respect.

Madleen is currently resuming school after taking a year’s break to work. She hopes to study sport in college, and she has recently passed an examination by the Civilian Defence Administration for swimming and diving.

Joshua Brollier is a co-coordinator with Voices for Creative Nonviolence in Chicago. He has just returned from an emergency delegation to the Gaza Strip. He can be reached at

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Reading the Names of the Gaza's Killed in Israel's November 2012 Attacks


Video: Commemoration of the Palestinian Martyrs of Gaza

video by Jase Tanner

A public reading of the names of the Gaza attack victims. More than 170 were killed during eight days of aerial and naval bombing by the IDF.

On December 8, 2012, the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign organized a commemoration of the victims of Israel’s war on Gaza, bringing together Vancouverites to read out the names of Palestinian martyrs – names unmentioned and unheard in the “mainstream” Canadian media, and remember those who fell in the assault.

Watch the video of the commemoration here (video by Jase Tanner)


Flattening Gaza, Leveling Palestine


Flattening Gaza

by Eva Bartlett - In Gaza

Dec 25 2012 (IPS)

On Nov. 17, four days into Israel’s eight-day assault on the Gaza Strip, deputy Israeli Prime Minister Eli Yishai publicly called for the Israeli army to “blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water”.

The following day, Gilad Sharon, son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, called for Israel to “flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing”, adding, “there is no middle path here – either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip.”

Now, nearly a month after the Israel-Hamas cease-fire, the government and international bodies in Gaza are still assessing the total damage caused by Israeli bombings on infrastructure throughout the Strip.

Preliminary estimates put direct damage at 250 million dollars, with another 700 million dollars in indirect damages, according to Hamas Government Spokesperson Taher al Nanu.

In more tangible terms, the vast destruction and varying levels of damage include: bridges, thousands of homes, hundreds of U.N. shelters, tens of mosques, many government buildings, media offices, financial institutions, hospitals and health centres, two stadiums, a training centre for disabled athletes, water and sewage and electricity networks, over 100 schools, Gaza’s “life-line” tunnels, and innumerable roads.

During the Israeli bombings, Al Jazeera reported that 400,000 people were without electricity after five different transformers were hit.

After the cease-fire, the extent of damage on the electrical network became clearer.

In addition to the five known damaged transformers, another 32 throughout the Strip were destroyed or damaged by Israeli bombings, according to the Gaza Electricity Distribution Corporation (GEDCo).

“We reconnected most of the damaged lines during the attacks. But we need to correct those temporary repairs because they were not done according to technical standards,” says Usama Dabbour, from GEDCo’s external relations department.

“There are still approximately 5,000 people without power throughout the border regions. We cannot reconnect them because it is still too dangerous to go there, despite the cease-fire,” he says.

Damages also include severed electrical wires, felled poles, GEDCo vehicles, and a tank-shelled company warehouse.

“We have $5.5 million in direct damages, and 7.7 billion Israeli shekels in indirect damages,” says Dabbour. [note: the latter, in shekels, was so-calculated by Dabbour as he referred to the currency used in Gaza; some of the indirect damage includes the inability to pay GEDCo for its emergency repairs during the Israeli attacks.]

This is not the first time the Israeli army has targeted Gaza’s electricity network.

“Every time the Israelis declare war on Gaza, they damage the electricity network,” says Dabbour.

According to the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP), the 2008-2009 Israeli bombings of Gaza inflicted 10.4 million dollars in damages to the electricity network.

Since the 2006 bombing of Gaza’s sole power plant, the entire Strip has been under scheduled and non-scheduled daily power outages, sometimes lasting longer than eighteen hours at a stretch.

The Strip’s water and sanitation networks were also hit by Israeli bombs.

Ibrahim al-Aleja, communications officer at Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), notes that damage to water and sanitation networks extends throughout the Strip.

Some of the most severe damage, from Beit Hanoun to Rafah, includes underground piping blasted apart by Israeli bombings of civilian streets, homes and in open areas. Reservoirs were targeted. “They destroyed a reservoir in Khoza’a, east of Khan Younis. It was no threat to the Israelis,” says al-Aleja.

Two waste water wells in the same village were also hit by bombs.

In Khan Younis, Israeli attacks damaged a storage facility holding 350,000 litres of water, as well as a major line in the Amal neighbourhood of Khan Younis, says al-Aleja.

Parts of central Gaza’s Nusseirat and Mughraqa towns are still without water.

“When the Israelis bombed a bridge between the two areas, they destroyed a water pipe underneath it. There are still 20,000 people without water in that area,” he says.

Bassam Abu Dahrouj (14) climbs down the steep slope of the severed bridge. The Nov. 21 Israeli bombing marked the fourth time this bridge has been destroyed, the teenager says.

“Over half of the families in Mughraqa use this bridge, and children use it to get to school,” says Abu Dahrouj. “Now, they have to use a long detour.” Some, however, don’t bother with the detour. As he speaks, two children climb up the cement wall of the valley the bridge crossed.

But “In winter, the Israelis open their dams and flood the valley. It gets very high and no one can cross the valley at that time,” he says.

Further west, the coastal road bridge linking central Gaza to the north is likewise severed. Tangles of concrete and metal rods, building materials hard to come by in Gaza under Israeli siege, lie in heaps, some of the metal being pounded out for re-sale in construction use.

On the south side of the demolished bridge, a line of shared taxis ventures onto the muddy valley floor, opting for a bumpy but shorter detour than that of Gaza’s north-south Salah el Din street many kilometres east. A temporary fix, it will be unusable during the winter months when heavy rains flood the valley.

Early estimates include 20 million dollars in agricultural damage, 136 schools and kindergartens damaged or destroyed, and 450 houses destroyed or severely damaged, leaving 3,000 people still displaced, according to the U.N.

Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai, who on Nov. 17 called for the annihilation of Gaza, said following the 2009 Israeli war on Gaza that “even if they fire at an open area or into the sea, we must damage their infrastructures and destroy 100 houses”.

The Hague Relations and the Geneva Conventions prohibit “the unnecessary destruction of the enemy’s property”, and the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Deck This! Israel's War on Christmas: Now It's Personal

Terror in a Christmas Tree

by Jonathan Cook

- Israel’s large Palestinian minority is often spoken of in terms of the threat it poses to the Jewish majority. Palestinian citizens’ reproductive rate constitutes a “demographic timebomb”, while their main political programme – Israel’s reform into “a state of all its citizens” – is proof for most Israeli Jews that their compatriots are really a “fifth column”.

But who would imagine that Israeli Jews could be so intimidated by the innocuous Christmas tree?

This issue first came to public attention two years ago when it was revealed that Shimon Gapso, the mayor of Upper Nazareth, had banned Christmas trees from all public buildings in his northern Israeli city.

“Upper Nazareth is a Jewish town and all its symbols are Jewish,” Gapso said. “As long as I hold office, no non-Jewish symbol will be presented in the city.”

The decision reflected in part his concern that Upper Nazareth, built in the 1950s as the centrepiece of the Israeli government’s “Judaisation of the Galilee” programme, was failing dismally in its mission.

Far from “swallowing up” the historic Palestinian city of Nazareth next door, as officials had intended, Upper Nazareth became over time a magnet for wealthier Nazarenes who could no longer find a place to build a home in their own city. That was because almost all Nazareth’s available green space had been confiscated for the benefit of Upper Nazareth.

Instead Nazarenes, many of them Palestinian Christians, have been buying homes in Upper Nazareth from Jews – often immigrants from the former Soviet Union – desperate to leave the Arab-dominated Galilee and head to the country’s centre, to be nearer Tel Aviv.

The exodus of Jews and influx of Palestinians have led the government to secretly designate Upper Nazareth as a “mixed city”, much to the embarrassment of Gapso. The mayor is a stalwart ally of far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman and regularly expresses virulently anti-Arab views, including recently calling Nazarenes “Israel-hating residents whose place is in Gaza” and their city “a nest of terror in the heart of the Galilee”.

Although neither Gapso nor the government has published census figures to clarify the city’s current demographic balance, most estimates suggest that at least a fifth of Upper Nazareth’s residents are Palestinian. The city’s council chamber also now includes Palestinian representatives.

But Gapso is not alone in his trenchant opposition to making even the most cursory nod towards multiculturalism. The city’s chief rabbi, Isaiah Herzl, has refused to countenance a single Christmas tree in Upper Nazareth, arguing that it would be “offensive to Jewish eyes”.

That view, it seems, reflects the official position of the country’s rabbinate. In so far as they are able, the rabbis have sought to ban Christmas celebrations in public buildings, including in the hundreds of hotels across the country.

A recent report in the Haaretz newspaper, on an Israeli Jew who grows Christmas trees commercially, noted in passing: “hotels – under threat of losing kashrut certificates – are prohibited by the rabbinate from decking their halls in boughs of holly or, heaven forbid, putting up even the smallest of small sparkly Christmas tree in the corner of the lobby.”

In other words, the rabbinate has been quietly terrorising Israeli hotel owners into ignoring Christmas by threatening to use its powers to put them out of business. Denying a hotel its kashrut (kosher) certificate would lose it most of its Israeli and foreign Jewish clientele.

Few mayors or rabbis find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing to go public with their views on the dangers of Christmas decorations. In Israel, segregation between Jews and Palestinians is almost complete. Even most of the handful of mixed cities are really Jewish cities with slum-like ghettoes of Palestinians living on the periphery.

Apart from Upper Nazareth, the only other “mixed” place where Palestinian Christians are to be found in significant numbers is Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. Haifa is often referred to as Israel’s most multicultural and tolerant city, a title for which it faces very little competition.

But the image hides a dirtier reality. A recent letter from Haifa’s rabbinate came to light in which the city’s hotels and events halls were reminded that they must not host New Year’s parties at the end of this month (the Jewish New Year happens at a different time of year). The hotels and halls were warned that they would be denied their kashrut licences if they did so.

“It is a seriously forbidden to hold any event at the end of the calendar year that is connected with or displays anything from the non-Jewish festivals,” the letter states.

After the letter was publicised on Facebook, Haifa’s mayor, Yona Yahav, moved into damage limitation mode, overruling the city’s rabbinical council on Sunday and insisting that parties would be allowed to go ahead. Whether Yahav has the power to enforce his decision on the notoriously independent-minded rabbinical authorities is still uncertain.

But what is clear is that there is plenty of religious intolerance verging on hatred being quietly exercised against non-Jews, mostly behind the scenes so as not to disturb Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” image or outrage the millions of Christian tourists and pilgrims who visit Israel each year.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is