Once again the full murderous force of Israel’s military machine is unleashed against defenceless Palestinians in Gaza, while world leaders just watch the genocide of a nation in real time and do nothing. When I started writing this article the death toll was well above 100 Palestinians (over half women and children) and zero Israeli civilian casualties or even major injuries, despite extensive coverage by western media of the deadly rocket attacks from Gaza. Sadly by the time I had finished writing the article the Palestinian death toll had gone over 1000 and by the time you read this it would have probably more than doubled. As Israeli Professor, Ilan Pappé says, “Israel, in 2014, made a decision that it prefers to be a racist apartheid state and not a democracy.”
Israel’s aggression violates the UN Charter and fundamental international laws and principles, but this is not new and past commissions have found numerous war atrocities and violations carried out by Israel during past attacks that have not resulted in any concrete actions by the UN or our world leaders. The international reaction to this latest crisis confirms that neither law nor justice dominate the diplomacy of leading western states and the UN, but geopolitical alignments.
One just needs a quick look at the history of the conflict to confirm this bias and lack of action in the face of undeniable facts. The UN has defined Israel’s occupation as illegal and numerous UN resolutions have demanded the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the occupied territories. UN resolution 3379 from 1975 even went on to declare Israeli Zionism ideology as a form of racism, stating “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being.” Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kasrils, and other ANC members that fought against apartheid, clearly see the parallels and define the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a form of apartheid. Yet the world denounced and ended apartheid in one place, but is allowing the other to continue. Even when Nelson Mandela stated that “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.
Photo: Grabbing of Palestinian land by Israel
Numerous leaders and public figures have spoken out in support of Palestine, from Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, to civil society groups around the world representing millions of people, such as Friends of the Earth, La Via Campesina, and many more. This criticism is not new, during the early days of the creation of Israel numerous influential individuals, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein, raised concerns and criticism. Today even celebrities that are not known to be political have voiced their support of the Palestinian cause, such as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. For anyone that doesn’t have the time to look into the details or considers the history too complicated, there is an easier way to decide on which side you should belong, simply look at the people you admire, your moral leaders.
Here in Mozambique, Samora Machel was a strong supporter of the Palestinian peoples’ struggles, and Yasser Arafat was a close ally and even attended Samora’s funeral. In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda was an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian struggle. Many more moral leaders have already done the homework for you. If we claim to be people that are guided by justice and morals it’s now time for us to show solidarity towards the Palestinian people and their struggle.
Photo: Friends of the Earth International solidarity mission to Palestine, October 2013
I was part of Friends of the Earth International’s latest solidarity mission to Palestine at the end of last year. Even though we were invited by Palestinians, they do not have the authority to invite us into their own country. Instead we had to get an Israeli visa. On arrival the first question asked by Israeli authorities is whether you plan on visiting the West Bank. If you answer yes you most likely will not be allowed entry at all. So we had to enter Palestine ‘unofficially’.
Heavy army presence is evident everywhere, there are road blocks and check points at the entrances to all cities in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers check everyone who passes, always and independent of the prevailing political tensions. This control has prevented over 11 million Palestinian refugees from returning home, even though they are entitled under the Geneva Convention on Refugees to return, which Israel continues to deny. Based on current borders only 17.7% of Palestine (all in the cities) is under Palestinian control, while the rest is controlled by the Israeli army. However, even in the areas under Palestinian control have numerous restrictions imposed by the Israeli army.
The Israeli occupation doesn´t stop with the control of land and movement, but an attack on all the fundamentals of human rights such as water, heath, education, childhood, labour, culture, etc. It is a total structured suppression of a nation to the point where it is a process of colonisation and ethnic cleansing.
During our visit, we realised that given the desert type of environment, water is a very valuable and vital resource for existence. All Palestinian water resources are under the complete control of the Israeli army, which regularly destroy Palestinian bore-holes and block construction of new ones. They impose inhumane water restrictions on Palestinians, while allowing excessive and unstainable use by Israeli settlers. The double standards and water grab by Israelis are impossible to hide. At present Isreali settlers consume daily almost 400 litres per person (more than double of London’s average use) and have swimming pools, exotic gardens and extensive agricultural lands with water-intensive crops that should never be planted in the desert. Meanwhile Palestinians don’t even come close to receiving the World Health Organisation’s daily recommended 100 litres per person and many survive on a little as 10 litres per day.
Water is just one of the fundamental pillars of life that is consistently being used by Israel to break the Palestinian nation and spirit, but it’s the same story for all sectors.
In health, Israel sends its waste to get dumped in Palestine and all high-polluting industries that were in Israel in the 1970s and were ordered by Courts to close due to risks to human health, were instead moved right next to Palestinian cities, like the Geshuri factories near Tulkarem. Israel is very aware of the health risks because, even today, if the wind starts blowing towards Israel, these factories have to halt production. But Palestinians have to just endure the toxins and cancer rates have increased significantly in the area.
The more time we spent in Palestine the more facts and details are continually exposed about the inhumane, unjust, illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel. We heard numerous accounts that the Israeli military arrests Palestinian children as young as 5 years old, a high number of whom are subjected to physical and verbal abuse and are threatened with sexual assault and death to themselves or their families. This abuse is confirmed by UN reports which also add that, in the last decade, over 7000 children are have been arrested and tortured.
Palestinian children in a village where water & electricity access has been harmed by Israel (Daniel Ribeiro)
Everywhere we went, we saw the Israeli military abuse. In Zbeidat the military blocked the construction of a water and sewage system. Jobet Adeeb near Bethlehem has no electricity or water sewage system, and is barred from installing solar panels, electrical wiring, borehole or almost any structure that would improve the standard of living but the nearby Israeli settlement has all the modern luxuries and services. We visited a village that has been completely demolished, even though Israeli courts have recognised the rights to the land. Many more Palestinians that we met talked about the constant demolition notices they receive, that sometime are carried out immediately while others stay hanging over the family’s head for over a year, never knowing when the military would come to demolish their home. But just like in Gaza today, they know it will happen that one day they arrive home to a pile of rubble.
These experiences are all too common and regular that anyone that want to know the truth has to just spend some time in Palestine. I could carryon for pages and pages of the injustices and abuse by Israel. The evidence is clear. I often hear today’s younger generation asking our elders how did they let it happen – slavery, apartheid in South Africa, 2 World Wars, genocides and many other atrocities. I am sure that our children and grandchildren will ask us the same question. How and why did you allow the Palestinian genocide to happen? And in truth we have no excuses. As the saying goes: all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.
There are easy ways that all of us can help, such as supporting the Boycott, Disinvest and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The campaign is non-violent and is inspired by the civil rights movement against segregation in the US and by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. It is based on three basic pillars or principles:
All these demands have a basis in UN resolutions on Palestine and they are simply requesting implementation of international law. They are basic rights and first steps in the struggle for justice. I call on all of us to join.
Tomorrow, December 3, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks are to begin in Bali. More information about the WTO talks in Bali can be found here. Today, on the eve of these talks, Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) launched a new report exposing how trade and investment strategies, including WTO negotiations, act as economic drivers of water financialization. The report is available online here.
Justiça Ambiental (JA, FoE Mozambique) provided a case study, and was joined by cases from Argentina, Australia, Colombia, El Salvador, England, Mexico, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, United States, and Uruguay.
The cases show the crimes of many corporations, financial institutions, trade agreements and cooperation strategies which are paving the way for water privatisation and financialisation.
A shocking case study in this report exposes the major water injustices faced by Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip). Highly unequal distribution of water and structural barriers to water was also witnessed by Daniel of JA who joined a solidarity trip to the West bank last month. Most water resources are concentrated in the hands of Israel and this is leading to structural environmental racism.
JA’s case study called “Do not damage our life” exposes how the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam will further devastate the Zambezi valley. The beautiful Zambezi River, one of Africa’s most important rivers, has been dammed in 2 places already: the Kariba dam in Zimbabwe/ Zambia and the colonial day Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique. Now the Mozambican government wants to build a new dam just 70kms downstream from Cahora Bassa. This dam will further devastate the Zambezi delta ecology and will displace communities from their homes, villages and livelihoods. JA has been opposing this dam for over 12 years now.
Senhor Morais and his family, which will be affected by the proposed dam. Photo credit: Anabela Lemos
But yet this destructive dam continues to be planned. Recently it was revealed that there are significant conflicts of interest and involvement at the highest levels: with the Presidents of South Africa (Zuma) and Mozambique (Guebuza). A recent article by Oxford scholar and JA member, James Morrissey in the Mail and Guardian exposes how personal self-interest and corporate interest are outweighing lives and livelihoods in the Zambezi valley.
Traditional boat-making in the Zambezi valley. Photo credit: Daniel Ribeiro
A few weeks ago, Justiça Ambiental (JA!) was invited to make a presentation at the Human Rights Cities Forum in Gwangju, South Korea, by the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements (KFEM)/ Friends of the Earth Korea.
Gwangju city has historically been a symbol of democracy and Korean opposition to authoritarianism. In 1980, there was a huge uprising and peoples’ movement against the coup and dictatorship of General Chun Doo-Hwan. Gwangju citizens, especially students, rose up to oppose the fascist government. What followed was unmitigated violence from the army and the police, leading to the massacre of pro-democracy activists. Official sources of the dictatorship in 1980 put the total casualties at 144 civilians but the actual number may be between 1000 and 2000 deaths.
But the May 1980 protests in Gwangju slowly spread to other places and started to turn the tide against dictatorship. For the rest of the 1980s, Koreans continued to struggle for democracy and eventually ended authoritarian rule. To commemorate the strength of this powerful city, its citizens and its past, every year Gwangju city hosts this Human Rights Forum. The mayor of the city, Kan Un-tae, himself was present at the Forum.
The conference was held at the Kim Dae-Jung Convention Centre, named after Kim Dae-Jung, a politician from the Gwangju region who was one of the people arrested in the mobilisations. It is interesting to note that this region of South Korea is rich in natural resources, hence became a target for extraction and suppression of people.
JA was invited to speak on ‘environment and human rights’ and to share stories of the brutality of natural resource extraction in Mozambique. Prakash Sharma from Friends of the Earth Nepal also attended and spoke about climate change threats to the Himalayas and the Nepali people.
We also attended a prize ceremony where young people from across the world were awarded prizes for writing essays on human rights situations in their own cities and countries. Among the prize-winners was our neighbour, a young South African student called Zama Lehlogonolo.
After the end of the Forum, all the participants were taken to the main street where the Gwangju massacre had taken place in 1980. Gwangju citizens commemorated the occasion with a parade, celebrating Korean culture, dances, etc. The atmosphere was so positive. People remember the massacre but they use the memory to celebrate their lives instead.
The next day, we attended the May 18 ceremony at the cemetery where many of the massacred citizens were buried. There were speeches and Korean songs of protest. People lifted their fists the whole time the songs were being sung. It was very powerful.
Later that afternoon, our KFEM hosts took us back to Seoul city by train. The next day we spent a bit of time walking around and getting to know Seoul and its history. We saw Changdeok-gung Palace, quite a modest palace from the Joseon dynasty of Korea, from the time before the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula. We also saw a magnificent
Buddhist temple called Jogye-sa. Interestingly, about 22% of Koreans are Buddhist and 18% Christian but the biggest chunk, almost 50% are atheist.
On May 20, we meet the local staff of KFEM office. Then we went to the Congress building of Seoul city, to support a hearing of farmers and community members who were impacted by the 4 Rivers project. This is a project involving about 16 dams on 4 rivers, and has already caused destruction of livelihoods and ecology, so similar to the situation in Mozambique. There was also a photo exhibition showing the destruction caused by the project. Local farmers, activists, professors and Congressmen gave testimonials, following which the Congressmen from the progressive Democracy Party, and pledged to investigate the inconsistencies with the project. JA was also interviewed by Ohmynews, Korea’s largest online newspaper, about the reality of dams in Korea and Mozambique.
Later that evening, KFEM organised an open event with local citizens and students, called the ‘Glocal Talk Concert’, with an aim to raise Korean people’s international awareness. JA showed 2 short films, one on the situation of Vale-displaced communities in Cateme and the other with testimonials from Mphanda Nkuwa dam affected people.
All in all, JA’s experience in South Korea was phenomenal. It was wonderful to make international links on issues of extraction, environment and livelihoods. We were able to increase the visibility of Mozambique’s situation.
On Thursday, 14 March, Justiça Ambiental (JA!) marked the occasion of the ‘International Day of Rivers’ by holding simultaneous events in Tete and in the capital Maputo.
In Tete, over 50 community people came together on the banks of the Zambezi River. These included communities that will be displaced
from their lands and homes if the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam is built across the Zambezi River. We were also joined by communities affected by Vale, Rio Tinto and Jindal, all carving out the earth to extract coal from their villages.
The meeting was organised by JA!, along with our partners Liga dos Direitos Humanos (Human Rights League), AAAJC (Association for Support and Legal Assistance for Communities), UNAC (National Farmers Union, Tete provincial chapter).
The all-day meeting was held at the Tete Provincial Centre of Agricultural Formation. JA supported the community members to come in the night before, since their homes are far and the transportation systems in Mozambique are very poor. The communities affected by Vale, for instance, used to live in Moatize, 19kms from Tete. Now they have been moved to
Cateme, 56kms away from Tete, and transport could easily cost 150 Meticais (US$ 5) each way! The Mphanda Nkuwa communities live over 70kms from Tete. The area is very remote and roads are almost non-existent.
The meeting on 14 March brought together these community people and organisations to talk about communities that live and thrive on rivers and other natural resources. When such communities are displaced from their resources, they usually lose their subsistence base and with that, their self-reliance. There were presentations on:
But in the most important part of the meeting, the community people were talking to each other and sharing their own experiences. The people that will be displaced by Mphanda Nkuwa heard directly from communities still struggling to
get their rights after being displaced by Brazilian mining giant, Vale. The ruthless Indian company, Jindal, has also started mining coal in the village of Mualadzi. However, they haven’t removed anyone yet, so people continue to live among the coal dust while the mining continues.
The stories shared by people were heart-breaking. They reveal the cruelty of the extractive model where self-reliant communities are robbed of their natural resources which are increasingly being commodified by the corporate-driven development model.
After the meeting the JA team took the communities back to their villages by the river. We went to visit Sr. Morais, an outspoken elder of the fisherfolk community, who was lived by the river his whole life. The secretary of the bairro (village) prevented him from joining our meeting, even though JA specifically asked for him to participate. If he is forced to move inland, far from the river, his livelihood and, with it, his culture and traditions will
be threatened. We believe this is a crime and a violation of his rights, as well as of all the fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the river.
Along with the meeting in Tete, JA also held an event in Maputo, where we challenged another actor who is actively pushing this damaging extractive model: the World Bank. In Maputo, we invited friends and colleagues to take to the streets. We congregated near the World Bank headquarters in Mozambique, on Kenneth Kaunda Avenue, where we distributed flyers and spoke with passers-by, even Bank workers, students from the neighbouring Faculty of Law of Eduardo Mondlane University and other interested citizens. The Bank was targeted to raise awareness about their role in pushing destructive large dams. The Bank’s stated goal is to reduce poverty but for most of its existence it has actively pushed projects that have
increased poverty especially of the most vulnerable communities.
Monoculture forest plantations are fast increasing in developing countries and although this growth is fuelled by low production and labour costs, carbon sequestration for the developed, and government incentives, these plantations have serious social and environmental impacts. Mozambique is no exception, here plantations are springing up rapidly and the government is keen to attract investment into these plantations for paper production.
On the 6th of August 2012 JA! participated in a seminar on ‘Forest Plantations and Industry in Niassa’. The seminar took place at the VIP Hotel, Maputo and included the presence of a large number of individuals of the Forestry and Agriculture sectors. The seminar was organised by the Niassa Forest Association together with the State Department of Land and Forestry and presided over by the Minister of Agriculture. Mozambique is being transformed into a major global producer and the successful examples of South Africa, Uruguay, and Chile were mentioned.
The first presentation of the seminar was the “Evaluation of the Forest Plantations in Niassa Province 2005-2012” wherein it was mentioned that prior to 2005 there was no investment in tree plantations and after 2005 investment into these plantations surged leading to the current occupation of 165.772.80 hectares of land by plantations of which 32.409.00 hectares constitutes Pine and Eucalyptus plantations. Some social and environmental problems experienced due to this type of investment were recognised as being caused by the enormous demand for land, waves of investment, poorly conducted community consults, and land grabbing cases. All these problems were treated as if they had either been resolved or were in the process of being resolved, however with every passing day more and more serious incidents of land grabbing continue to be reported here.
In other meetings the government’s desperate and blind desire to attract more and more investment into monoculture tree plantations has been clear. This is evidenced by the speed with which the Regulation of Forest Plantations was proposed and approved while other legal instruments await years and years for approval such as the Law of Popular Action and the Law of Conservation Areas to name only those related to the environment. The land for these plantations which is often described as ‘degraded’ is not degraded in the eyes of local populations who leave tracts of land fallow for revitalisation and future use nor is it degraded in the eyes of conservationists who see great importance in conserving the natural bush for biodiversity. However others, interested in the implantation of these fake forests, are quick to regard this land as degraded.
The seminar left us with more questions than answers. Who do the processes of community consult actually serve? The community does not have the right to veto any project, they could be against it, they could protest, but the state has the final word and the state has decided. What is the purpose of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study when the mitigation measures set out to address the impacts of a project are only in some cases possible or realistic? This kind of situation leaves countries like Mozambique in a very difficult position as they have no way of rectifying a situation made difficult by the plantations and the effect their implantation has on rural farming communities and their environment. The state gives the go ahead to projects that do not even have completed EIAs required by law.
At the end of the day, the issue is that there is no clear admittance of the distinction between a natural forest and a monoculture tree plantation or ‘forest plantation’. This is a serious problem because many would point to the idea that a tree plantation contributes to conservation but the impacts of monoculture tree plantations on the biodiversity of an ecosystem are large. Consider for a moment what a tree plantation looks like; it is densely planted with only one (or a couple) tree variety. This impacts the pollinators and other animals dependant on the natural vegetation for their survival (to read more about this research on Nature.com) and the sustainability of the natural forest. The diversity of tree species in natural forests aids this survival whereas monoculture tree plantations leave no room for it. It is also important to note that many of the tree monocultures like Pine and Eucalyptus are not indigenous to Mozambique and their impact on local species and water must be taken into consideration. In Mpumalanga, South Africa, Philip Owen founder of Geasphere describes how the Pine and Eucalyptus plantations have dried up the groundwater, streams and rivers there.
Tree plantations are a form of agriculture, they are not forests in any way as they have been shamefully described by companies in an attempt to take advantage of the growing concern of deforestation which is a current and ever-increasing issue. These tree plantations are food deserts, they yield nothing in terms of sustenance, and whatever species are able to survive in these plantations are eradicated as pests.
These plantations are green deserts. They offer no sustenance, they offer no reprieve from deforestation or the loss of natural forests and the species therein. They have been described as being void of life – that not one animal or bird can be heard within these fake forests. They emit the silence of lifelessness. They are quite simply wood farms of invasive tree species which dry up water sources and are implanted on community lands labelled as degraded. This cannot be regarded as a sustainable practise for our future.
For more information on plantations vs. natural forests please follow these links:
‘Green desert’ monoculture forests spreading in Africa and South America
Geasphere Mozambique – Information about the Mozambican experience
“Monoculture tree plantations are “green deserts” not forests, say activists.” http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0919-plantations_hance.html?menu=Select+a+News+Topic
Plantation vs. natural forest: Matrix quality determines pollinator abundance in crop fields (Scientific Report from Nature.com) http://www.nature.com/srep/2011/111028/srep00132/full/srep00132.html