Archive | May 26th, 2020

Stop the $2 Billion Arms Sale to the Philippines

Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte is using the pandemic to crush his opposition—and the U.S. is poised to arm him to the teeth.

by: Amee Chew

A street under quarantine in Iriga City, Philippines (Photo: Shutterstock)

A street under quarantine in Iriga City, Philippines (Photo: Shutterstock)

On April 30, the U.S. State Department announced two pending arms sales to the Philippines totaling nearly $2 billion. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Bell Helicopter, and General Electric are the main weapons manufacturers contracted to profit from the deal.

Following this announcement, a 30-day window for Congress to review and voice opposition to the sale commenced. It is imperative that we stop this avalanche of military aid for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime.

Duterte is infamous for launching a “War on Drugs” that, since 2016, has claimed the lives of as many as 27,000 souls, mostly low-income people summarily executed by police and vigilantes.

Duterte’s human rights record is atrocious. If the arms sale goes through, it will escalate a worsening crackdown on human rights defenders and on dissent — while fomenting an ongoing bloodbath. Duterte is infamous for launching a “War on Drugs” that, since 2016, has claimed the lives of as many as 27,000 souls, mostly low-income people summarily executed by police and vigilantes.

In Duterte’s first three years of office, nearly 300 journalists, human rights lawyers, environmentalists, peasant leaders, trade unionists, and human rights defenders were assassinated. The Philippines has been ranked the deadliest country for environmentalists in the world, after Brazil. Many of these slayings are linked to military personnel.

Now, Duterte is using COVID-19 as a pretext for further militarization and repression, despite the dire consequences for public health.

Around the world, and particularly for the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the contradiction between military capacity and human well-being. This arms deal is yet another example of the U.S. government’s gross misallocation of resources towards war profiteering and militarization, rather than health services and human needs. The Pentagon’s bloated budget of trillions has done nothing to protect us from a public health catastrophe, and has failed to create true security.

Only a complete realignment of federal priorities away from militarization, here and abroad, and towards strengthening infrastructures of care will.

Duterte’s Militarized Response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a pretext for Duterte to impose military checkpoints, mass arrests, and de facto martial law throughout the Philippines.

As of late April, over 120,000 people have been cited for quarantine violations, and over 30,000 arrested — despite the severe overcrowding in Philippine jails, already exacerbated by the drug war. “Stay at home” orders are ruthlessly enforced by the police, even as in many urban poor communities, people live hand-to-mouth.

Without daily earnings, millions are desperate for food. By late April, a majority of indigent households had still not received any government relief. A thousand residents in Pasay were forced into homelessness when their informal settlement was destroyed in the name of slum clearance at the beginning of the lockdown, even as the homeless are arrested and thrown in jail.

Duterte has placed the military in charge of COVID-19 response. On April 1, he ordered troops to “shoot dead” quarantine violators, causing human rights abuses to immediately surge. The next day, a farmer, Junie Dugog Piñar, was shot and killed by police for violating the COVID-19 lockdown in Agusan del Norte, Mindanao.

Police have locked curfew violators in dog cages, used torture and sexual humiliation as punishment against LGBTQ people, and beaten and arrested urban poor people protesting for foodBeatings and killings to enforce “enhanced community quarantine” continue. Meanwhile, a teacher was arrested simply for posting “provoking” comments on social media that decried the lack of government relief, while a filmmaker was detained two nights without a warrant for a sarcastic post on COVID-19.

Mutual Aid, Solidarity, and Resistance

In the face of widespread hunger, inadequate health care, and lethal repression, vibrant grassroots social movement organizations have created mutual aid and relief initiatives providing food, masks, and medical supplies to the poor.

Cure Covid, a network of volunteers across myriad organizations in the greater Metro Manila region, has organized relief packs and community kitchens for thousands, while engaging in community organizing to strengthen mutual aid. Movement organizers are calling for mass testing, basic services, and an end to the militarized COVID-19 response.

KADAMAY is a mass-based organization of 200,000 urban poor people across the Philippines that has been at the forefront of resisting Duterte’s drug war and reclaiming vacant housing for homeless people. In 2017, KADAMAY led 12,000 homeless people in occupying 6,000 vacant homes that had been set aside for the police and military in Pandi, Bulacan. Despite repression and intimidation, #OccupyBulacan continues to this day.

With COVID-19, KADAMAY has led mutual aid efforts and #ProtestFromHome pot-banging actions, with video disseminated on social media, to demand relief and health services, not militarization. In immediate reprisal for voicing dissent after one pot-banging, the national spokesperson of KADAMAY, Mimi Doringo, was threatened with arrest. In Bulacan, a community leader was taken to a military encampment and told to cease all political activity and “surrender” to the government or he would get no relief aid.

Efforts at mutual aid are being criminalized and targeted for repression. Since late April, police have carried out mass arrests of relief volunteers, alongside street vendors and those seeking food. On April 19, seven relief volunteers from Sagip Kanayunan were detained while on their way to distribute food in Bulacan, and later charged with inciting “sedition.” On April 24, 50 urban poor residents in Quezon City, including a relief volunteer, were detained for not carrying quarantine passes or wearing face masks. On May 1, ten volunteers conducting relief with the women’s organization GABRIELA were arrested while conducting a community feeding in Marikina City.

This targeting is no accident. Since 2018, an executive order by Duterte has authorized a “whole-of-nation approach” to counter-insurgency, through a broad array of government agencies, resulting in increased repression against community organizers and human rights defenders generally.

The crackdowns against mutual aid and survival have prompted campaigns on social media to “stop criminalizing care and community.” Save San Roque, a network supporting the resistance of urban poor residents against demolition, has started a petition to immediately release relief volunteers and all low-level quarantine violators. Human rights organizations are also petitioning for the release of political prisoners, many of them low-income farmers, trade unionists, and human rights defenders facing trumped up charges, including the elderly and ill.

As a direct result of the government response focused on militarization, rather than adequate health care, food, and services, the Philippines has among the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, and the pandemic is quickly worsening.

Colonial Roots

Today’s U.S.-Philippine military alliance has its roots in the U.S. colonization and occupation of the Philippines over a hundred years ago.

Despite granting the Philippines independence in 1946, the U.S. has used unequal trade agreements and its military presence to maintain the Philippines’ neocolonial status ever since. For decades, propping up oligarchic rulers and preventing land reform guaranteed the U.S. cheap agricultural exports. The U.S. military assisted with countering a string of continual rebellions.

U.S. military aid still continues to facilitate corporate extraction of Philippine natural resources, real estate monopoly, and repression of indigenous and peasant struggles for land rights — particularly in Mindanao, a hotbed of communist, indigenous, and Muslim separatist resistance and the recent center of military operations.

The Philippine armed forces are focused on domestic counter-insurgency, overwhelmingly directing violence against poor and marginalized people within the country’s own borders. Philippine military and police operations are closely intertwined. In fact, historically the Philippine police developed out of counter-insurgency operations during U.S. colonial rule.

The U.S. military itself maintains a troop presence in the Philippines through its Operation Pacific Eagle and other exercises.

In the name of “counterterrorism,” U.S. military aid is helping Duterte wage war on Philippine soil and repress civilian dissent. Since 2017, Duterte has imposed martial law on Mindanao, where he has repeatedly dropped bombs. Military attacks have displaced over 450,000 civilians.

Carried out with U.S. backing and even joint activities, Duterte’s military operations are shoring up the corporate land-grabbing of indigenous lands and massacres of farmers organizing for their land rights. Paramilitaries backed by the armed forces are terrorizing indigenous communities, targeting schools and teachers.

In February, prior to the announced arms deal, Duterte nominally rescinded the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows U.S. troops to be stationed in the Philippines for “joint exercises.” On the surface, this was in response to the U.S. denying a visa to former drug war police chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa. However, Duterte’s revocation of the VFA is not immediately effective, and only begins a 6-month process of renegotiation.

The proposed arms sale signals that Trump intends to strengthen his military backing for Duterte. The Pentagon seeks to maintain a close military “partnership.”

End U.S. Military Aid

A growing international movement, in solidarity with indigenous and Filipino communities, is calling for an end to military aid to the Philippines. U.S. direct military aid to Duterte’s regime totaled over $193.5 million in 2018, not counting pre-allocated amounts and donated weapons of unreported worth. Military aid also consists of grants to purchase arms, usually from U.S. contractors.

Relatedly, the U.S. government regulates the flow of private arms sales abroad — such as the current proposed sale. Sales brokered by the U.S. government are often a public subsidy to private contractors, using our U.S. tax dollars to complete the purchase. Congress must use its power to cut the pending sale off.

The latest proposed $2 billion arms sale includes 12 attack helicopters, hundreds of missiles and warheads, guidance and detection systems, machine guns, and over 80,000 rounds of ammunition. The State Department says these, too, would be used for “counterterrorism” — i.e., repression in the Philippines. Due to lack of transparency and Duterte’s deliberate efforts to obscure aid flows, U.S. military aid may well end up providing ammunition to the armed forces waging Duterte’s drug war, to vigilantes, or to paramilitaries, all without public scrutiny.

Duterte is using the pandemic as a pretext to continue crushing political opposition. He has now assumed special emergency powers. Even prior to the pandemic, in October 2019, police and military raided the offices of GABRIELA, opposition party Bayan Muna, and the National Federation of Sugar Workers, arresting over 57 people in Bacolod City and Metro Manila in one sweep.

Tragically, repression is quickly escalating.

On April 30, after weeks of police intimidation for conducting feeding programs, Jory Porquia, a founding member of Bayan Muna, was assassinated inside his home in Iloilo. Over 76 protesters and relief workers were illegally arrested on May Day, including four youth feeding program volunteers in Quezon City, four residents who posted online photos of their “protesting from home” in Valenzuela, two unionists holding placards in Rizal, and 42 people conducting a vigil for slain human rights defender Porquia in Iloilo. Sixteen workers in a Coca-Cola factory in Laguna were abducted and forced by the military to “surrender” posing as armed insurgents.

The U.S.’s war machine profits its private contractors at our expense. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Boeing relied on the Pentagon for a third of its income. In April, Boeing received a bailout of $882 million to restart a paused Air Force contract — for refueling aircraft that are in fact, defective. But for-profit weapons manufacturers and other war profiteers should have no place steering our foreign policy.

Congress has the power to dissent but must act swiftly. Rep. Ilhan Omar has introduced a bill to stop arming human rights abusers such as Duterte. This month, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, Communications Workers of America, and others, will launch a bill specifically to end military aid to the Philippines. In the meantime, we must urge Congress to stop the proposed arms sales to the Philippines: please sign this petition to do so.

The COVID-19 pandemic is baring the need for global solidarity against militarization and austerity. In taking up the fight against the deep footprint of U.S. imperialism, here and abroad, our movements will make each other stronger.

Posted in USA, C.I.A, PhilippineComments Off on Stop the $2 Billion Arms Sale to the Philippines

Who Is “Essential” to Our Covid-19 World

A military spouse’s perspective on fighting this pandemic.

by: Andrea Mazzarino

If so much of our money hadn’t gone into the military-industrial complex, perhaps there would have been enough health-care workers to weather this crisis better. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If so much of our money hadn’t gone into the military-industrial complex, perhaps there would have been enough health-care workers to weather this crisis better. (Photo: Shutterstock)

“When he first came home, it was tough.” So Aleha, the wife of an airman in Colorado, told me. She was describing her family’s life since her husband, who lives with chronic depression, completed a partial hospitalization program and, in March, along with other members of his unit, entered a pandemic lockdown. He was now spending full days at home with her and their four children, which offered needed family time and rest from the daily rigors of training. Yet the military’s pandemic lockdown had its challenges as well. Aside from weekly online sessions with his therapist (the third the military had assigned him in so many weeks), Aleha was left to provide her husband with needed emotional support, while homeschooling their older children and caring for their toddler.

Her husband, like the other 1.3 million active-duty service members in the United States, faces what most of the rest of the country is facing: orders to stay at home and distance themselves from those outside their households to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 82,000 Americans and more than 295,000 people worldwide.

It’s striking how little effort our military’s high command has put into understanding the effects of national crises on the health of military families.

Yet there’s something distinctive about what members of the American military (whose suicide rates now surpass civilian ones) face: the stress posed by the threat of the most literal “front-line service” in these times of endless war and pandemic. They find themselves in uniform in an era of more frequent deployments and longer training days. Even in pre-pandemic times, they needed the support of psychiatrists and therapists like me and of their military community, including commanders whose default approach to mental-health problems has often been to coach them on what not to say to avoid being medically disqualified from duty.

Troops and their families have needed access to supportive social groups, including religious ones, antidepressants and other mood medications, and off-base mental-health providers who can counsel them in a more unbiased way. In many cases, they also need access to inpatient facilities for when the going gets really rough.

In the past months, daily life for our troops and their families has been transformed in previously almost unimaginable ways. For example, many new recruits are now quarantined when they arrive at military bases. Physical training is staggered and conducted in smaller groups. Given bans on movement, military spouses and kids scheduled to relocate (a common enough phenomenon in such a life) or families with a member deployed elsewhere in the world are living in striking states of isolation and uncertainty.  They are increasingly unsure when they will see loved ones again or where they will live or study in the months to come. How starkly Covid-19 restrictions can affect already vulnerable members of the military was highlighted by the suicides of two students at the U.S. Air Force Academy last month. Those deaths came after that school’s leadership decided to place the 1,000 seniors still on campus in single rooms, the equivalent of solitary confinement, for weeks on end to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

It’s striking how little effort our military’s high command has put into understanding the effects of national crises on the health of military families. After all, though it’s seldom mentioned, such spouses and other family members have been subject to the same job losses, homeschooling issues, and lack of childcare as other Americans amid a spreading pandemic—and all of this has only been heightened by the loss of local social connections due to frequent moves.

In addition, as in the society at large, within military communities inequalities abound. The government has deemed both my husband, a naval officer, and Aleha’s husband “essential workers.” That means my husband must go into the Pentagon a few days a month right now to handle mysterious—to me, at least—matters related to our country’s nuclear arsenal. In return for this modest risk to his own and our family’s health, my “essential” husband is otherwise able to watch our kids almost full time while I pursue my work as a mental-health therapist from home. Our privilege in rank and pay places me in a very different position from the spouses of enlisted troops.

Social Distancing in a Mental-Health Crisis

Despite that position of privilege, given my work, I have a strong sense of how this national crisis has deepened existing social inequalities. In 2011, along with Catherine Lutz and Neta Crawford, I co-founded the Costs of War Project, a nonpartisan, multidisciplinary team of academic, health care, and legal experts who continue to analyze the costs of the U.S. decision to respond to the 9/11 attacks with full-scale military action, including the opportunities missed to invest in critical domestic areas like health care. I’m also a therapist who specializes in trauma-focused care for military veterans and their families, refugees, and immigrants to the United States, many of whom have been affected by armed conflicts in their homelands.

In addition, as a Navy spouse and mother of two young children who has completed four military-related moves in the course of my husband’s career as a submariner, I know what social isolation and uncertainty can feel like and how they can affect the human psyche. I’m aware as well that, as the Covid-19 crisis drags on and more troops fall ill, my spouse could be sent back to sea or to one of the many increasingly Covid-19-destabilized places where our military has a presence or is fighting what are increasingly pandemic wars.

And believe me, when you’re alone during a spouse’s deployment, even in the best of times, which these aren’t, the shit can hit the fan remarkably fast. In 2017, for instance, while my husband was at sea and out of contact, I contracted a nasty, vaccine-resistant version of the flu. I was single-parenting two toddlers and found myself Ubering with my children to the ER at three in the morning because I had a fast-rising fever that made walking, let alone lifting a baby, difficult.

A neighbor, the divorced wife of a Navy veteran, left Campbell’s soup on our doorstep but shied away from taking my children long enough for me to get care. This was at a moment when my husband’s ship commander (who could only be described as a “toxic leader”) threatened spouses who frequented anything but command-sanctioned Family Readiness Groups, formed to support troops during deployments. This made it that much less likely that wives like me in that military community would establish friendships strong enough to lead someone to take a chance on helping a sick friend.

If an experience as fleeting and minor as mine felt as trying as it did, then what have the family members of the crew of the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Theodore Rooseveltmore than 1,000 of whom tested positive for Covid-19 recently, experienced in their moments of need? During my own mini-drama with the flu, I continued to receive emails from the command’s volunteer ombudsperson, herself the wife of an enlisted sailor, reminding me of my “essential role” in national security. Spouses like me were not to even think about writing our husbands concerning our own problems, including illnesses, lest we distress them and so endanger national security. I wonder if the spouses of the infected crew members of the Roosevelt felt similarly “protected” by a naval leadership that refuses to disclose significant information about the well-being of their loved ones, even as they no doubt struggle with the spread of this virus, too.

In our gender- and class-stratified society, you are usually deemed “essential” only when those in power feel they truly need you. The rest of us non-essentials are seldom sufficiently protected, valued, or seen, and in truth that turns out to be the reality for most essentials as well. (If you don’t believe me, just check out the conditions in any meat-processingplant still open in your state.)

It’s no secret anymore that one casualty of our national “war” against this pandemic is a mental-health crisis on a staggering scale. Among therapists like myself, it’s widely known that being in a community where you feel you’re a contributor offers genuine protection when it comes to suicidal urges. Among people I know who work in low-paid staff jobs where social distancing is impossible, the difference between feeling depressed and hopeless and having the energy to get to the next day is often the conviction that you’re appreciated by coworkers and those you are helping.

One way of getting recognition for your struggles at work and elsewhere today is through group therapy and support. I’ve seen this firsthand at the community mental health clinic where I work, while also dealing with veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Speaking in face-to-face groups gives you the opportunity to feel supported even as you support others. And in the social-distancing era of Covid-19, because so much communication is nonverbal and Zoom therapy captures only talking heads, such methods may be losing their power.

This makes military spouses, as well as janitors, medical aides, nurses, doctors, and care workers of every sort who must encounter people with health crises on a daily basis, so vital to our current struggle against this virus. They provide medical help, of course, but also deeply needed support at a moment when social distancing has placed on pause many other outlets for it.

The Essential, the Vulnerable, and the Unseen

Much ink has been spilled recently on the heroic nature of such care workers, and for good reason. They’re up against an invisible pathogen and a president who empowers his supporters to shun the advice of medical professionals and scientists—including his own. A recent image of a masked retired surgeon with a homemade sign (“You have no ‘right’ to put us all at risk. Go home!”) standing in front of a car to register his disagreement with last month’s (largely white) anti-lockdown pro-Trump protests in Richmond, Virginia, catches the essence of this conflict.

Many of the tasks most vital to stemming this epidemic are going to be performed by low-paid workers with the least access to decent housing in which to socially distance themselves and to the money and social connections that would link them to the best medical advice.

I recently spoke with a young woman of color who cried when she saw that very image, because a family member of hers is a cafeteria worker in a military hospital ward treating Covid-19 patients. “People don’t realize how their protests affect my family,” she told me, explaining that they could be susceptible to any wave of Covid-19 infection resulting from such thoughtless protests. Yet none of her family members had either the knowledge, money, or connections to get the best health care, if infected. In an age of growing division between hospitals with ample funding, supplies, and staffing, and those where doctors, driven by a manufactured scarcity, are making arbitrary and discriminatory decisions about who deserves life-saving care, I understand her anguish.

As anti-poverty activist Liz Theoharis has pointed out, many of the tasks most vital to stemming this epidemic are going to be performed by low-paid workers with the least access to decent housing in which to socially distance themselves and to the money and social connections that would link them to the best medical advice. How can this country care for those the powers-that-be deem “essential,” like doctors and military personnel, when we don’t care for those who care for them? Similarly, you would have to include not just therapists like me, who find ourselves supporting an ever-more-isolated, stir-crazy, and stressed-out populace, but also the staff members and janitors who help us and clean our offices.

In the military, you would also have to include spouses homeschooling their kids (including those with special needs) while working or struggling to figure out how to pay their bills. Caring for all such people is important not just because the value of a human being should be absolute, whether you’re essential or not, but because, in this pandemic world of ours, devaluing anyone’s life will have consequences for us all.

The Costs of War, Pandemic-Version

In a recent op-ed, Costs of War Project co-directors Catherine Lutz and Neta Crawford argued that, no matter what President Trump says, we’re not in a “war” against the coronavirus. War did, however, play a crucial role in getting us into this mess.

As this invisible pathogen spreads across much of the world, what families like mine worry about is that our nation’s ever-expanding global conflicts will only continue to grow in scope and intensity, threatening food and medical supply chains.

Congress has allocated an average of $230 billion dollars annually to waging our hopeless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while only a microscopic fraction of such moneys have been going into health care and education at home. Costs of War Project economist Heidi Garrett-Peltier showed that, had this country invested the same amount of money in health care rather than its forever wars, twice the number of jobs would have been created and that’s no small thing at a moment when the U.S. faces a dire shortage of doctors—more than 9,000 health-care workers have already been infected by Covid-19 — and physicians are being called out of retirement in order to serve.

If there’s one thing the Costs of War Project has made clear, it’s this: war is about the destruction of the very institutions it purports to protect. At a time when health care, education, and other social services, including food aid, are so badly needed, why is the military still being funded at astronomical levels, while other agencies are gutted?

My husband and I sometimes argue about the designation “essential” worker. How can he be called “essential” when we spend most of our days together on our Maryland farm as he collects his Department of Defense salary? He always reminds me that redundancy in government allows us to function under the worst of circumstances. If, for instance, Pentagon officials responsible for dealing with threats to our nuclear arsenal were to fall ill en masse or be killed in a sudden attack, others would be available to take their place.

Yet the obvious corollary to that argument has certainly not been applied to our health care infrastructure in these years and we’re paying for that today. If the president had not gutted the Department of Health and Human Services, perhaps there would have been enough people to ensure that our federal stockpiles of ventilators were properly maintained in preparation for a crisis we knew was coming. If the pandemic task force created under President Obama hadn’t been disbanded, perhaps we would have been better prepared for the spread of Covid-19. And if so much of our money hadn’t gone into the military-industrial complex, perhaps there would have been enough health-care workers to weather this crisis better. 

As this invisible pathogen spreads across much of the world, what families like mine worry about is that our nation’s ever-expanding global conflicts will only continue to grow in scope and intensity, threatening food and medical supply chains. Then, in the worst of times, with our military infrastructure in increasing disarray, many more families, including possibly mine, could once again be called into armed conflict.

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Trump Accused of ‘Weaponizing’ Pandemic as Administration Weighs Extending Ban on Border Asylum Claims Indefinitely

“This ban was never about the pandemic, and it was never about public health.”

by: Eoin Higgins,

As seen through fencing, migrants—including a young child—stand while being detained by Department of Homeland Security police after crossing to the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, on June 27, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.

As seen through fencing, migrants—including a young child—stand while being detained by Department of Homeland Security police after crossing to the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, on June 27, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A reported move by the White House to indefinitely extend restrictions on crossing the border is generating accusations that President Donald Trump is “weaponizing” the coronavirus pandemic crisis to pursue the most radical elements of his anti-immigration agenda. 

An order under review by the administration would extend Centers for Disease Control (CDC) restrictions on nonessential travel between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada, a move that would cut off migrants seeking asylum from making their claims to the humanitarian protection.

“The Trump administration must end this racist and hateful policy, which has already sent thousands of people into danger and attacked the fundamental right to seek safety,” Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Americas Charanya Krishnaswami said in a statement. “Racism, xenophobia, and discrimination won’t make people in this country safe from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The proposed order’s existence was first reported on Wednesday evening by the New York Times, which noted the plan was “part of a broad effort, led by Stephen Miller, the architect of President Trump’s immigration agenda, to aggressively use public health laws to reduce immigration as the government battles the virus.”

According to the Times:

Once issued by Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the CDC, the border restrictions would stay in effect until he decides the virus no longer poses a threat. The indefinite extension comes even as Mr. Trump has repeatedly pushed for states to reopen their economies, arguing that the threat from the virus will quickly recede.

[…]

While C.D.C. officials will review the dangers posed by the virus to the American public every 30 days, the new order essentially means that the border will be closed to immigrants until Mr. Redfield explicitly says otherwise—not the other way around.

The news of the proposed order, said Krishnaswami, proves that the “ban was never about the pandemic, and it was never about public health.”

“The Trump administration is weaponizing Covid-19 to achieve the policy objective it’s sought from day one: shutting the border to people seeking safety,” she added.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that only two people seeking humanitarian asylum have been allowed to do so since the initial order on March 21. 

The administration justified the restrictions to the Post as being based in concerns for public health:

Department of Homeland Security officials say the emergency protocols are needed to protect Americans — and migrants — by reducing the number of detainees in U.S. Border Patrol holding cells and immigration jails where infection spreads easily. But the administration has yet to publish statistics showing the impact of the measures on the thousands of migrants who arrive in the United States each year as they flee religious, political or ethnic persecution, gang violence or other urgent threats.

Immigrant rights advocates like immigration law scholar Lucas Guttentag, however, were not buying the White House argument.

“The whole purpose of asylum law is to give exhausted, traumatized, and uninformed individuals a chance to get to a full hearing in U.S. immigration courts, and this makes that almost impossible,” Guttentag told the Post. “It’s a shameful farce.”

Bottom line, said Amnesty’s Krishnaswami, is that upholding human rights shouldn’t be subject to the whims of the president and his hardline advisors.

“Every person has the right to seek safety, especially during a pandemic,” said Krishnaswami. “Attempts by this administration to dismantle that basic right won’t fix the administration’s failures in responding to the pandemic early and efficiently.”

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140+ Global Leaders Call for Free “People’s Vaccine” to Put Human Lives Above Corporate Greed in Fight Against Covid-19

“Diplomatic platitudes are not enough—we need legal guarantees, and we need them now.”

byAndrea Germanos,

Larissa Vuitika, biologist, works during the virus inactivation process on March 24, 2020 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Larissa Vuitika, biologist, works during the virus inactivation process on March 24, 2020 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo: Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)

Over 140 global leaders and experts on Thursday issued an open letter urging world powers to guarantee that both a coronavirus vaccine and any treatment for Covid-19, when available, be free for everyone in order to put the “the interests of all humanity” ahead of those of the wealthiest corporations and governments.

The new letter, “Uniting Behind a People’s Vaccine Against Covid-19,” is signed by current and former heads of state including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and former Irish President Mary Robinson as well as other notable figures including former United Nations special rapporteur Philip Alston and economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

“Faced with this crisis, we cannot carry on business as usual,” Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, said in a statement. “Diplomatic platitudes are not enough—we need legal guarantees, and we need them now.”

The global call comes days ahead of the World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly. At that virtual meeting, scheduled for Monday, the letter signatories say health ministers must remember the WHO’s founding principle to help achieve “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.”

The letter calls on the World Health Assembly to “forge a global agreement that ensures rapid universal access to quality-assured vaccines and treatments with need prioritized above the ability to pay.” 

“Now is not the time to allow the interests of the wealthiest corporations and governments to be placed before the universal need to save lives, or to leave this massive and moral task to market forces,” says the letter. “Access to vaccines and treatments as global public goods are in the interests of all humanity. We cannot afford for monopolies, crude competition, and near-sighted nationalism to stand in the way.”

The letter says that health ministers should learn from the successes and failures in global efforts to tackle HIV, Ebola, and AIDS and hammer out an agreement with three key pillars: mandate worldwide sharing of Covid-19 information and technologies; roll out a rich nation-funded vaccine and technologies distribution plan; and guarantee free vaccine, treatment, and diagnostics with priority going towards front-line workers and the most vulnerable communities.

“Only a people’s vaccine—with equality and solidarity at its core—can protect all of humanity and get our societies safely running again,” the letter says. “A bold international agreement cannot wait.”

Posted in USA, HealthComments Off on 140+ Global Leaders Call for Free “People’s Vaccine” to Put Human Lives Above Corporate Greed in Fight Against Covid-19

In Just Two Months, More Than 33 Million Americans Have Filed for Unemployment

Congress must act.

byHeidi Shierholz

Many of the jobs that have been lost in this recession are low-wage service, retail sales, and office jobs.

Many of the jobs that have been lost in this recession are low-wage service, retail sales, and office jobs. (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

In the last eight weeks, more than 33 million people—more than one in five workers—have applied for unemployment insurance (UI) through regular state UI programs. That is more than five times the worst eight-week stretch of the Great Recession.

Some good news is that regular state UI claims have declined in each of the last five weeks. Though last week’s number is still close to three times the worst week of the Great Recession, the improvement is welcome. However, regular state UI claims do not include people who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the federal program that extends unemployment compensation coverage to many workers who are out of work because of the coronavirus but are not eligible for regular UI—people like independent contractors, gig workers, and people who had to leave their job to take care of a child whose school closed. It took quite some time for the PUA programs to get set up in most states, but they are now largely operational. The Department of Labor (DOL) reports that 3.4 million people had had PUA claims processed by April 25th, and another 2.6 million have filed initial PUA claims on top of that.

Last Friday, the monthly employment situation report showed that the U.S. labor market saw a net decline of 20.5 million jobs between mid-March and Mid-April. (Note, that number is not just layoffs where people filed for UI—it also accounts for a drop in hires, job losses where people didn’t file for UI, quits, and worker deaths.) The monthly employment numbers are from a survey that is taken mid-month. Today’s weekly UI claims numbers show that things have further deteriorated—drastically—since mid-April. An additional roughly 9.0 million people have applied for regular UI and 2.6 million have applied for PUA since that time. The May jobs number is going to be grim. And of course, workers aren’t just losing their jobs. Our health care system ties health insurance to work, so millions of workers have likely already lost their employer-provided health insurance.

It is worth noting that DOL reports that 36.5 million workers applied for regular state unemployment compensation during the last eight weeks on a “seasonally adjusted” basis, compared to 33.4 million on an unadjusted basis. Seasonal adjustments are usually helpful—they are used to even out seasonal changes in claims that have nothing to do with the underlying strength or weakness of the labor market, typically providing a clearer picture of underlying trends. However, the way DOL does seasonal adjustments is distortionary at a time like this, so I focus on unadjusted numbers here.

Because of things like occupational segregation, discrimination, and other labor market disparities, women and black and Hispanic workers are more concentrated in these jobs and as a result are facing greater job loss.

Many of the jobs that have been lost in this recession are low-wage service, retail sales, and office jobs. Because of things like occupational segregation, discrimination, and other labor market disparities, women and black and Hispanic workers are more concentrated in these jobs and as a result are facing greater job loss.

Goldman Sachs is now projecting that the unemployment rate will average 25% in the second quarter of this year. Given that the unemployment rate was 14.7% in April, that means they are projecting the unemployment rate will average 30.15% in May and June. Further, the Congressional Budget Office projects that without additional relief, the unemployment rate will average 10.1% for the calendar year of 2021. Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced a bill on Tuesday that would provide critical relief and recovery and is an essential step forward. It includes substantial aid to state and local governments, an extension of the UI provisions in prior packages, and other key provisions such as investments in coronavirus testing and contact tracing, which is necessary to reopen the economy. However, an enormous concern with the legislation is that it will be negotiated down. This should not be allowed to happen since the bill is the bare minimum of what is needed to address the scale of the crisis. For example, we project that state and local governments will need up to $1 trillion by the end of 2021.

Another grave concern with the legislation is the lack of automatic triggers for the expiration of the bill’s provisions. Arbitrary end dates for provisions to sustain the economy make little sense given how much uncertainty there is about how the impact of the virus will unfold. Provisions should phase out as key labor market indicators (like the unemployment rate or the employment-to-population ratio for prime-age workers) are restored to near pre-virus levels. Using automatic stabilizers would not be any more expensive than the cumulative cost of multiple extensions of the programs in the bill—but it would prevent destructive lapses in critical programs like PUA and it would alleviate corrosive uncertainty by giving businesses, states, and households the ability to plan.

Posted in USAComments Off on In Just Two Months, More Than 33 Million Americans Have Filed for Unemployment

Iranian Women Squeezed By US Sanctions, COVID-19 and Their Government

“The Iranian women’s movement is more isolated today than it has ever been in all my years of activism.”

byMedea BenjaminSussan Tahmasebi

While the administration claims that sanctions are targeting those in power, the sanctions really impact the ordinary people, especially women, children, minorities, refugees, the disabled and the sick. (Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA via Shutterstock)

While the administration claims that sanctions are targeting those in power, the sanctions really impact the ordinary people, especially women, children, minorities, refugees, the disabled and the sick. (Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA via Shutterstock)

Two years ago, on May 8, 2018,  President Trump manufactured a crisis with Iran by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and reimposing brutal sanctions. This interview with Sussan Tahmasebi, director of FEMENA, an organization that supports women human rights defenders, reveals how the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign,” along with the terrible spread of coronavirus in Iran, have impacted Iranian women.

Medea: How did the Iranian government first deal with the outbreak of coronavirus and why did it spread so fast, making Iran the epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East?

Sussan: Just like here in the United States, people in Iran are really suffering from the inability of the government to act in a timely manner. When the virus first hit Iran, the government was slow to respond and did not warn the public in a timely manner. State and government officials wanted a strong showing for the marches on the anniversary of the Revolution in February and the Parliamentary elections in March, so it delayed warning the public. The nation was shocked when Iranians living in Qom started dying as a result of COVID19. The Member of Parliament from the religious city of Qom broke the silence and criticized state and government authorities for failing to warn the public and take appropriate action to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Medea: What was the original source of COVID19 in Iran?

Sussan: It is believed that initially the source of the virus was Chinese students living in the religious city of Qom, the first epicenter of the virus. Initial calls to quarantine the city were refused by religious leaders and dismissed by government officials.  Efforts to stop travel between Iran and China were also not successful. In fact, over the past few months it has become painfully clear that because of the sanctions and the devastating economic situation of the country, Iran has become over reliant on China and as such is not in a position to limit its relationship. Even hints at limiting travel in the earlier days and later minor criticisms of how the Chinese have handled the spread of the virus have been swiftly rebutted by the Chinese ambassador in Iran, with Iranian authorities backtracking on statements.

Medea: How has this pandemic, together with sanctions, affected the economy?

The Obama sanctions implemented in 2010 were devastating for Iranians because they sanctioned Iran’s central bank.

Long before this pandemic, the Iranian economy has been hard hit by the sanctions, as well as corruption and mismanagement. The Obama sanctions implemented in 2010 were devastating for Iranians because they sanctioned Iran’s central bank. Basically, this meant that Iran could have any financial transactions with any country, it could not transfer funds or receive funds. In essence, an entire nation is treated like terrorists. 

The signed of the Nuclear Deal in 2015 offered some reprieve from the devastation of the sanctions, but the sanctions were never fully lifted.  The imposition of even stronger sanctions by the Trump administration as part of its “maximum pressure campaign” has impacted poor and vulnerable communities even further. The rapid economic decline that has resulted from these sanctions has meant that Iranians have been getting poorer and poorer and the value of their currency has dropped with every round of sanctions.

So for some time now, poor and vulnerable communities have been suffering from poor diets and malnutrition, lack of access to health care due to financial constraints, and this has weakened their immune systems. A strong immune system is critical in fighting COVID19.  One of the activists I talked to said something that really struck me. She said, “It isn’t strange to me that so many Iranians have been getting sick and dying from coronavirus because by the time the virus hit, Iranians were already depleted in every aspect of life.” 

Medea: The administration claims that sanctions are targeting the Iranian rulers, not the people. How do you respond to that?

Sussan: While the administration claims that sanctions are targeting those in power, the sanctions really impact the ordinary people, especially women, children, minorities, refugees, the disabled and the sick. Sanctions have become a method of warfare, denying life-saving medicines to sick people, destroying livelihoods and plunging millions into poverty. The local currency, the rial, has lost over half its value. Most of those who have lost employment or who have suffered economically were already working in the economic margins. They were employed as day laborers or street peddlers, or providers of services. They were women-headed households, who despite low wages are responsible for entire families .

But the middle class is also suffering. Our friends who have businesses have had to shut them down. The middle class is being squeezed and the independent business sector is being decimated, while unaccountable, corrupt groups, who can evade sanctions because of their connection to those in power, grow wealthier and more powerful. 

We need an honest and concerted effort toward a diplomatic solution to the current standoff.  The last thing we need is another senseless war in the Middle East, which has been experiencing conflict for decades.  We can’t allow Iran to be the next Iraq, where US intervention led to so much death and destruction,  increased instability, violence and terrorism across the region.

Medea: You started a feminist organization, FEMENA, and you work with Iranian women’s groups. What’s the status of that movement now?

Sussan: At FEMENA we try to elevate the perspectives of activists in the MENA region [Middle East and North Africa], including Iran. In Iran, women have been particularly hurt as a result of the economic downturn. It’s hard to have gender disaggregated data on who has lost their jobs, but based on reports from women activists, women are the first to lose jobs. In fact, hardliners in government use the economic problems as an excuse to push women out of work. They often claim that given the poor economic situation, it is better for men to have jobs since, by law, they are recognized as the head of the households. Women are already economically disadvantaged by the reality of life in Iran. They are discriminated against in terms of the law; they have little access to the job market. Now, with the pandemic, women also have to take care of children who stay home from school and take care of family members as they become sick. So the burden on women has been tremendous. 

I have worked with the women’s movement in Iran for years. I have seen how the economic disaster has hurt their ability to organize, but we have to remember however that the Iranian women’s movement is a very sophisticated movement with a long history of creatively advocating for rights. Over the last decade, activists have advocated for all kinds of issues: the inclusion of women in decision-making roles, their election to Parliament or even to run for President, the reform of discriminatory laws in order to ensure women’s legal equality, and an end to sexual harassment in the public sphere. But when people are in survival mode, they lose interest in pushing for human rights. Rights issues become secondary. The most important issues are the economy and how people will feed their families. The women’s movement also has to respond to these primary needs, and has to shift its focus to provision of life-saving services, instead of rights advocacy.

During hard economic times and times of potential conflict, which basically describes the better part of the last decade, the government tends to adopt more repressive approaches, to quiet dissent. It actively cracks down on civil society groups. We are already witnessing an increased backlash and security pressures against Iranian civil society, including women’s groups. 

The sanctions make it almost impossible for Iranian women to engage with their counterparts internationally. In fact, because of a combination of sanctions and repression, activists inside the country are almost completely excluded from international gatherings and even debates.

For all of these reasons, I think the Iranian women’s movement is more isolated today than it has ever been in all my years of activism.

Medea: In addition to sanctions, the Trump administration has taken military actions against Iran, and Iran has responded in kind. How dangerous is the conflict between Iran and the US now?

Sussan: Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the imposition of these draconian sanctions have led to a dangerous standoff—oil tankers seized, drones shot down, US sending more battleships and troops to the region, confrontations in the Persian Gulf, attacks on each others’ forces in Iraq. The situation is so tense that any day now, one more incident could ignite a conflict that could engulf the entire region. Both sides claim that they don’t want war, but tensions are so thick that war is a very possible outcome.

Medea: What should we in the US be calling for? 

Sussan: We need an honest and concerted effort toward a diplomatic solution to the current standoff.  The last thing we need is another senseless war in the Middle East, which has been experiencing conflict for decades.  We can’t allow Iran to be the next Iraq, where US intervention led to so much death and destruction,  increased instability, violence and terrorism across the region.  The tragic consequences of the Iraq war continue to be felt nearly two decades later. The idea of repeating such a colossal mistake, on an even bigger scale, with zero justification and no plan for what could come next, is terrifying.   That is why we need serious diplomacy and dialogue in order to end this standoff. 

As a first step, the US should lift the sanctions that it has imposed on Iran, in line with agreements reached through the Iran Deal. It needs to end its maximum pressure campaign, which mostly hurts the Iranian people. Together, we have to create an environment where Iranian people thrive and can hold their own government accountable on a range of issues, including on human rights issues. This can only happen in an atmosphere of peace.

Posted in USA, C.I.A, Human Rights, IranComments Off on Iranian Women Squeezed By US Sanctions, COVID-19 and Their Government

Gender Equality Out of Reach During COVID-19?

We don’t buy it.

byJess TomlinJessica HoussianNicolette Naylor

Those of us who have been marching, protesting and advocating for gender equality for years have already (pre-pandemic) been seeking a faster track to gender equality. If we do it right, the pandemic can be a turning point, an opportunity to truly move the dial. (Photo: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Those of us who have been marching, protesting and advocating for gender equality for years have already (pre-pandemic) been seeking a faster track to gender equality. If we do it right, the pandemic can be a turning point, an opportunity to truly move the dial. (Photo: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The world has changed at a head-spinning pace. COVID-19 arrived with force and speed, throwing our lives, our work, our structures and our economies in disarray.

The issues facing women in today’s crisis are the same as they were before the pandemic. Unfortunately, experience and history show us that in times like this, things usually get exponentially worse for those who are the most vulnerable.

But what if, in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, there is an opportunity for dramatic and significant change? 

The global pandemic has shown how truly precarious our systems are, especially for service workers, single parents, healthcare workers, domestic abuse survivors, sex workers and labor rights champions — and particularly those of color. Crises like COVID-19 bring into focus society’s most glaring inequalities, whether based on gender, race, ability, health status, nationality or any combination of these.

Considering such inequalities in policymaking and our emergency responses to the crisis is paramount: understanding how the virus impacts women differently, addressing the potential impact strict lockdowns and “stay at home” orders have on violence against women, calling out groups that use COVID-19 as an excuse to deny women reproductive health care, and mitigating the effects of the crisis on low wage, precarious and informal types of work such as domestic work or street market traders.

Several countries have addressed the issue of domestic violence and orders to stay at home. The Government of Canada’s economic aid package announced on March 18 includes $50M for shelters and sexual assault centers to support people fleeing gender-based violence. They recognized the dangers of asking people to stay in an unsafe home and strengthened support for institutions offering safe havens in an uncertain world.

Those of us who have been marching, protesting and advocating for gender equality for years have already (pre-pandemic) been seeking a faster track to gender equality. If we do it right, the pandemic can be a turning point, an opportunity to truly move the dial.

France plans to relocate domestic abuse survivors into hotels and announced that victims could alert pharmacists if they’re in danger. Spain, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay have all shored up their emergency 24/7 phone lines with more staff and social media campaigns. South Africa has similarly identified additional shelters for survivors of violence along with banning the sale of alcohol during the lockdown, and monitoring for incidents of femicide and gender-based violence during its rollout of community level health testing.

These are hopeful signs. Yet, there is so much more work to do.

Feminist communities often talk about power and how to shift it more equitably in our societies. For us, we know shifting power will ultimately mean shifting resources into the hands of those doing the work for equality on the ground.

Money is often seen as the biggest barrier to swift change. And while equality cannot be bought, per se, money does play a vital role in fueling the next milestones in the fight for women’s rights. Because with money we can fund changemakers.

Through our work at philanthropic and non-profit organizations, we know firsthand the power of money to leverage resources and create a more equal world. Our grant-making at the Equality Fund and the Ford Foundation has supported women, girls and non-binary people to receive reproductive healthcare in Nigeria, run for political office in rural Colombia and launch start-ups in Kenya’s “Silicon Savannah.” This is the work that is changing harmful behaviors and norms around gender, providing access to vital services and creating policies that protect those most vulnerable to discrimination and violence.

Yet, the very organizations around the globe that are doing the heaviest lifting to help advance rights for women and girls are often the ones with the fewest resources — from money to access to networks and policymakers. The average women’s rights organization has an annual operating budget of only $20,000. In Sub-Saharan Africa, that number drops to $12,000.

“Feminist communities often talk about power and how to shift it more equitably in our societies. For us, we know shifting power will ultimately mean shifting resources into the hands of those doing the work for equality on the ground.

Made thoughtfully, an investment in a grassroots organization supports and accelerates on-the-ground knowledge, local trust and an ability to scale-up more quickly to benefit the lives of entire communities.”

We are already seeing organizations like this shift their work quickly and effectively to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. They know how to stem the tide and ensure hard-won gains are not clawed back in this emergency.  But in order to do this, their funding requires multi-year, flexible and significant investments to see them through the crests and valleys ahead.

To really achieve lasting equality – particularly in a crisis — we have to activate the power of people and movements, like labour movements, reproductive justice movements, LGBTQ movements, Black Lives Matter movements, and yes, feminist movements connecting people across regions and around the world, fighting for immediate needs and long-term change. This work, when well-funded and working toward shared objectives, can take on the Goliath corporations and the naysayers.

The fight for gender equality is slow, hard work. But if we do it right, this pandemic can be a jolt that takes already-broken systems and turns them into something that works for all of us. 

The pandemic only makes our work more urgent, and we at the Equality Fund and the Ford Foundation will keep working to support transformational change. If we invest now, in this time of upheaval, in the grassroots feminist organizations and movements we know can make change happen, maybe the world will realize that equality is truly good for everyone. 

Gender equality shouldn’t have to wait until after the pandemic – it’s an essential part of the solution, now.

Posted in USAComments Off on Gender Equality Out of Reach During COVID-19?

Palestinian Al-Nakba

Palestinians take to the streets for Nakba Day

A series on the Palestinian ‘catastrophe’ of 1948 that led to dispossession and conflict that still endures.

Special series

“The Nakba did not begin in 1948. Its origins lie over two centuries ago….”

So begins this four-part series on the ‘nakba’, meaning the ‘catastrophe’, about the history of the Palestinian exodus that led to the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and the establishment of the state of Israel.

This sweeping history starts back in 1799 with Napoleon’s attempted advance into Palestine to check British expansion and his appeal to the Jews of the world to reclaim their land in league with France.

The narrative moves through the 19th century and into the 20th century with the British Mandate in Palestine and comes right up to date in the 21st century and the ongoing ‘nakba’ on the ground.

Arab, Israeli and Western intellectuals, historians and eye-witnesses provide the central narrative which is accompanied by archive material and documents, many only recently released for the first time.

Editor’s note: Since first running on Al Jazeera Arabic in 2008, this series has won Arab and international awards and has been well received at festivals throughout the world.


EPISODE ONE:

For Palestinians, 1948 marks the ‘nakba’ or the ‘catastrophe’, when hundreds of thousands were forced out of their homes.

The tragedy in Palestine is not just a local one; it is a tragedy for the world, because it is an injustice that is a menace to the world’s peace.Arnold Toynbee, British historian

But for Israelis, the same year marks the creation of their own state.

This series attempts to present an understanding of the events of the past that are still shaping the present.

This story starts in 1799, outside the walls of Acre in Ottoman-controlled Palestine, when an army under Napoleon Bonaparte besieged the city. It was all part of a campaign to defeat the Ottomans and establish a French presence in the region.

In search of allies, Napoleon issued a letter offering Palestine as a homeland to the Jews under French protection. He called on the Jews to ‘rise up’ against what he called their oppressors.

Napoleon’s appeal was widely publicised. But he was ultimately defeated. In Acre today, the only memory of him is a statue atop a hill overlooking the city.

Yet Napoleon’s project for a Jewish homeland in the region under a colonial protectorate did not die, 40  years later, the plan was revived but by the British. 


EPISODE TWO:

On 19 April 1936, the Palestinians launched a national strike to protest against mass Jewish immigration and what they saw as Britain’s alliance with the Zionist movement.

The British responded with force. During the six months of the strike, over 190 Palestinians were killed and more than 800 wounded.Wary of popular revolt, Arab leaders advised the Palestinians to end the strike. 

Palestinian leaders bowed to pressure from the Arab heads of state and agreed to meet the British Royal Commission of Inquiry headed by Lord Peel.

In its report of July 1937, the Peel Commission recommended the partition of Palestine. Its report drew the frontiers of a Jewish state in one-third of Palestine, and an Arab state in the remaining two-thirds, to be merged with Transjordan.

A corridor of land from Jerusalem to Jaffa would remain under British mandate. The Commission also recommended transferring where necessary Palestinians from the lands allocated to the new Jewish state.

The Commission’s proposals were widely published and provoked heated debate.

As the Palestinian revolt continued, Britain’s response hardened. Between 1936 and 1937, the British killed over 1,000 Palestinians; 37 British military police and 69 Jews also died.


EPISODE THREE:

Few Palestinians, if any, could have imagined they were to become victims of what would later be called “ethnic cleansing”.

When the British were preparing to leave Palestine, we didn’t have weapons. My father gave me money and I bought a gun with only three bullets for 100 Palestinian liras.Sami Kamal Abdul Razek, palestinian refugee

After 30 years of British rule, the question of Palestine was referred to the United Nations, which had become the forum for conflict.

On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly met to devise a plan for the partition of Palestine. UN Resolution 181 divided Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem as an internationalised city.

The Jewish state was granted 56 percent of the land; the city of Jaffa was included as an enclave of the Arab state; and the land known today as the Gaza Strip was split from its surrounding agricultural regions.

But making the proposed Arab state all but proved impractical in the eyes of many Palestinians.

When the draft resolution was presented for voting, Arab newspapers ran a ‘name and shame’ list of the countries that voted for the UN partition plan, and Arab protesters took to the streets.

Following the partition resolution, Britain announced it would end its mandate in Palestine on 14 May 1948.


EPISODE FOUR:

In early 1948, Jewish paramilitary forces began to seize more land in Palestine. By the end of July, more than 400,000 Palestinians had been forced to flee their homes, and their plight as refugees had just begun.

I swear to God, we tasted it; we tasted starvation like no one else did.Hosni Mohammad Smada, Palestinian refugee

In May of that year, Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte had been appointed as the UN Mediator in Palestine. His mission was to seek a peaceful settlement.

The Count surveyed devastated Palestinian villages and visited refugee camps in both Palestine and Jordan. The scale of the humanitarian disaster became apparent, as he witnessed cramp living conditions, long queues for basic food and scarce medical aid.

Count Bernadotte was no stranger to human disaster; with the Red Cross he had rescued over 30,000 prisoners of war from Nazi concentration camps. Now he advocated the Palestinian’s right to return to their homes.

In a report dated 16 September 1948, he wrote:

“It would be an offence against the principles of elementary justice if these innocent victims were denied the right to return to their homes, while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.”

The Count’s first proposal argued for fixed boundaries through negotiation, an economic union between both states, and the return of Palestinian refugees – the proposal was turned down.

On 17 September, the day following his UN report, Count Bernadotte’s motorcade was ambushed in Jerusalem. He was shot at point blank range by members of the Jewish Stern gang.


Al Nakba Debate:

The historic struggle for Palestine is characterised as the claims and counter-claims of Arabs and Jews, but one factor that is often overlooked behind the Palestinian ‘nakba’ or ‘catastrophe’ of 1948, is the part played by an old imperial power, Britain.

So, whose interests were best served by the British in Palestine? How did it honour its mandated duty of care? and what were the calculations and miscalculations it made in redrawing the map of Palestine, and reshaping its history?

The 65 years of the Israeli statehood, continue to cause conflict and controversy.

The history is written by the victors, who are the rewriters of history as new information, new documents, and new historians, come to light. It is time to examine how history itself is the battleground for the hearts and minds of new generations today.

To discuss the historic events that led to the ‘nakba’, the birth of Israel, and the making of history, we are joined by Rosemary Hollis, former head of the Middle East programme at the Royal Insitute of International Affairs; James Renton, senior lecturer in History at Edge Hill University and author of The Zionist Masquerade: The birth of the Anglo-Zionist alliance 1914-1918 ; and Avi Shalam, a professor of International Relations at Oxford University and author of the Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, The Zionist Movement, and the Partition Of Palestine.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Human RightsComments Off on Palestinian Al-Nakba

Solidarity means insisting on Palestinian right of return

Kristian Davis Bailey 

The Electronic Intifada 

Murals painted by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon stress their right to go home. (Black for Palestine) 

Palestine solidarity activism has made significant gains in the US over the last decade.

national student movement has been built, cross-movement solidarity has been reinvigorated and a series of victories have been achieved in the push for boycott, divestment and sanctions. These victories have ranged from churches and universities supporting BDS measures to the blocking of Israeli cargo ships.

For a moment it felt like the Palestine solidarity movement was on the offensive.

But Zionist groups and officials fought back through anonymous websites that dox activists, the proliferation of anti-BDS laws and, most recently, Donald Trump’s executive order.

Because of Trump’s order, a student or teacher who states “Israel is a racist endeavor” – or words to that effect – can be investigated for allegedly violating the civil rights of Jewish people. This is exactly where the Zionist movement wants us: on the defensive, exhausting our energy and resources.

Combating these attacks is work for groups like Palestine Legal (where I am currently employed). This defensive work should not be the primary focus of people building towards the complete liberation of Palestine.

It is 72 years since the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, when approximately 800,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes by Zionist forces.

That period is known as the Nakba or catastrophe. And as long as the right of return is denied, this catastrophe will continue.

We should concentrate now and in the months ahead on advocating one democratic, decolonized state in all of historic Palestine and on the core issue of justice for Palestine – the right of return.

Defending our beliefs

The right of return for Palestinians uprooted by Zionist forces in 1948 – including their children and grandchildren – is the central issue of justice for Palestine. Yet it often remains an afterthought for solidarity activists.

There are a few main reasons why that is the case.

First, the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is the most visible form of Zionist aggression against Palestine and is how most of the world understands the Palestinian issue. The right of return complicates this narrative.

Second, it is difficult to incorporate the right of return into campaigns that focus almost entirely on the occupation.

And, third, Zionist opposition to the right of return is intense, often coming with false and distracting accusations of anti-Jewish bigotry.

The first two barriers are a matter of strengthening our own internal education and public-facing work to reflect that all of historic Palestine – including present-day Israel – is “occupied Palestinian territory.”

The third barrier is a matter of pushing through and transcending Zionist noise: Implementing the right of return is a just, moral, anti-racist and anti-colonial practice.

Opposition to the right of return for Palestinians is itself racist. Activists should not be distracted by Israel’s smears.

If avoiding the return of Palestinians is one of the ultimate goals of the Zionists’ project, why would we ever organize on their terms?

If we believe in the right of return, we must defend our beliefs over and beyond efforts to silence us.

As the anti-colonial philosopher Frantz Fanon asserted: “We are powerful in our own right and the justness of our positions.”

BDS campaigns should apply to all of Israel over its ethnic cleansing and refusal of the right to return, rather than only boycotting companies complicit in the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Maximal justice requires maximal solidarity.

Digging up a toxic tree

Palestinians living under forced exile and refugeehood, occupation and siege are enduring far more than noise for us to be frightened by Zionist scare tactics. Palestinians’ material lives, homes and families are on the frontlines of destruction each second of every day.

The very threats Zionists claim Palestinian liberation represents form the very core of Zionist policy in Palestine over the last 100 years: eliminating the fundamental culture of a society, mass expulsions, subjecting a minority population to discrimination and denying the right to self-determination.

We must firmly resist these policies.

Focusing only on anti-occupation work serves to bolster Israel’s larger colonial project and is a disservice to the plurality of Palestinians who do not live under direct occupation.

Advocating for Palestinian liberation in its fullness means placing the right of return at the center.

It means our understanding of Palestine cannot stop at the West Bank, Gaza or even present-day Israel. It must extend to refugees in exile who have borne the brunt of Zionist dispossession – especially to Palestinians living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria or fleeing across the Mediterranean to Greece and other parts of Europe.

There is no Palestine without the return of Palestinian refugees to the entirety of their land.

Without the right of return, if Israel somehow says “OK – you can have a real state in all of the West Bank and Gaza,” Israel still walks away having stolen 78 percent of historic Palestine and denying a majority of Palestinians their right to live on the land they’re originally from.

Israel continues to lay a unilateral claim to an ethnocratic colony built on stolen land.

So it is incredibly convenient for Israel if we waste our energy trying to reach the lowest hanging fruit on the tree, instead of digging up the entire toxic tree from its roots.

It is also incredibly convenient for Israel to distract us from even that task by forcing us to spend time explaining “criticism of Israel is different from anti-Jewish hatred” and arguing “we have a right to boycott.” It takes the center of the conversation away from Palestine and instead focuses it on debates about “rights” in the West.

Understanding injustice

There are a number of fundamental Zionist injustices. They include the 1917 Balfour Declaration, when Britain – then a dominant colonial power – effectively approved the establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine, the Nakba of 1948 and the 1967 seizure of the West Bank and Gaza (as well as parts of Egypt and Syria).

If we understand these injustices – and how they endure in 2020 – we need to put the Zionist project on the defensive for being a racist, violent, colonial regime.

In the aftermath of Trump’s “Deal of the Century” – “Steal of the Century” would, of course, be more accurate – and in the face of Israeli annexation in the West Bank, the solidarity movement can aspire to much bolder demands that transcend the political constraints surrounding us. We are still stuck in the frameworks set by colonizing forces: the Oslo accords, “peace” talks, settlements, security coordination, the Palestinian Authority.

We need to use language that describes a future with freedom and justice. Fortunately, Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine each gave us this language in the 1960s.

Fatah spoke of “fighting to create the new Palestine of tomorrow – a democratic, non-sectarian Palestine where Jews, Muslims and Christians will work, worship and live peacefully together while enjoying equal rights and obligations.”

The PFLP shared this objective of a secular state and clarified that “Israel has insisted on portraying our war against it as a racial war aiming at eliminating every Jewish citizen and throwing him into the sea.” A basic strategy therefore “must aim at unveiling this misrepresentation.”

These Palestinian revolutionary organizations presented an incredibly clear vision for one shared, democratic state – which Zionists have sought to sabotage and obscure ever since.

It is our responsibility to help unveil these misrepresentations.

Beyond exile

In 2018, I led a Black for Palestine (B4P) delegation of African, Arab and Indigenous organizers from Turtle Island (what Indigenous people and their allies call North America) and Southern Africa to visit Palestinians and their comrades in Lebanon.

B4P understood the right of return as central to justice for Palestine. It held that effectively advocating for the right of return required cultivating direct relationships with Palestine’s refugees.

Lebanon was one of the last sites of historic engagement between African and Palestinian revolutionaries.

Prominent Black activists such as Huey NewtonMuhammad Ali and June Jordan all visited Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. And Palestinian revolutionaries in Lebanon trained African anti-colonial fighters, including those struggling against apartheid in South Africa.

A Black for Palestine delegation visited Lebanon in 2018. (Black for Palestine) 

A few of our B4P delegates visited Palestine and Jordan, where we also met Palestinian refugees. Almost every Palestinian we encountered in Lebanon and Jordan had never set foot in Palestine, while some of us – with US passports – had been to all three places in the span of two weeks.

This marks the fundamental injustice of Zionism: People who have no roots in Palestine can visit and live on the land, while the people with actual roots are subjugated and barred from entering.

In Lebanon, younger Palestinians are growing evermore desperate – unsure of how to build a future for themselves in the camps.

They are navigating an immense amount of stress and depression and other impacts of physical and economic war. Some are risking their lives to flee from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza to seek refuge in the West and dying along the way.

None of this suffering is necessary when there is a clear place for Palestinians to live in dignity.

In the same way that visiting Palestine and seeing the occupation firsthand has a catalyzing effect on solidarity work outside, visiting the camps in Lebanon transformed me. Some of the people I now care most about in this world are Palestinians living in exile in Lebanon who have more right to any inch of land in historic Palestine than any Zionist colonizer.

For me, what’s at stake in the right of return is the old man who could see where his original village was from the border of southern Lebanon but has not set foot there in 72 years. Or the old woman who hosted me in her family home in a refugee camp and recalled with great detail how she and her family were displaced during the Nakba.

I had hoped we could build towards the day that she could return home, but she died shortly after I met her in 2017.

What’s at stake in the right of return is meeting the generation who lived through the Palestinian revolution and through a moment where victory, and the possibility of return, seemed much closer than they are now.

It’s the current generation of young organizers at Al Naqab Center and the Palestinian Cultural Club in Lebanon who are working so hard to build infrastructure for the generations after them to preserve their heritage and continue their struggle. And it’s the young generation before them who yearn for a future outside of the chokehold of the refugee camps and outside of exile and forced impoverishment.

What’s also at stake is the comrade whose conversations with me informed this article being able to have the future he deserves. His family is originally from Deir Aban in Jerusalem but has been exiled to Dheisheh, one of the refugee camps in the Bethlehem area, because of the Nakba.

Thorn in Zionists’ side

We are now in the last generation of Palestinian refugees who can say “my grandmother was born in Akka, in Lifta, in Safad” and the last generation of Israeli settlers who must acknowledge “my grandmother was born in Poland, in Germany, in Morocco, in Brooklyn.” We are entering a new paradigm where the colonizers assert a claim to the land through contemporary roots, while the colonized seem to be rooted in exile.

Those of us who believe in Palestinian liberation must ask ourselves: How will we create a new paradigm? How will our work shift when we name the right of return as the first justification for BDS and not the last?

How will our work shift when we prioritize refugees and their right to return as our main focus?

To get there we have to ask: What relationships do we have with Palestinians living in exile and do we even know what their conditions of struggle are? How can we support the development of a strong refugee population?

Which groups are making these efforts and how can we support them?

The right of return is related to a process that is central to justice for all colonized people in the world: reparations.

The right of return is a thorn in the side of Zionists in the same way that reparations for colonialism and slavery are thorns in the side of the imperial West. The same states cast the right of return and reparations as “unrealistic” because the entire existence of these states is predicated on our oppression.

Returning one inch of land or paying even one dollar to the colonized exposes every colonial power to material liability for their crimes. It exposes to the colonized that justice is possible.

Realizing the right to return of the world’s most recent victims of colonialism gives hope and inspiration to those of us who have been denied reparations for much longer.

So my own commitment to the right of return is in deep alignment with the insistence by the Mozambican revolutionary Samora Machel that “solidarity is not an act of charity but mutual aid between forces fighting for the same objective.”

The world we inhabit today is the result of the dreams and nightmares of Europe’s imagination. Our task as colonized people and the task of our comrades is to imagine and create a new world that saves us from the nightmare we are currently caught in.

If we accept the limited scraps offered to us by our colonizers, we will get nothing. But if we demand the moon, we may – in our endeavors – reach the stars.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, CampaignsComments Off on Solidarity means insisting on Palestinian right of return

How COVID-19 is destroying Africa’s tourism industry

Africa’s tourism industry has been hard hit by coronavirus lockdowns. Overnight, hotel bookings were canceled, safaris postponed and cultural tours abandoned. DW meets operators struggling to stay afloat.

An open-topped Land Rover with tourists in the Serengeti National Park (picture-alliance/dpa/F. von Poser)

Scenes of open-topped safari vehicles have disappeared from the Serengeti National Park as daily visitors have plummeted from the thousands to the a few dozen

At the beginning of 2020, Africa’s tourism sector looked set for a lucrative year. The continent had the world’s second fastest growing tourism industry and was projected to rake in billions of dollars. But when COVID-19 struck, tourists stopped coming and the industry ground to a sudden halt.

Tourism across the continent has always relied on international travelers. But now, a dangerous combination of national lockdowns, a tiny local tourism customer base, and an industry aimed at high-paying foreign visitors means Africa’s tourism industry may not adapt quickly enough to avoid collapse.

Tours along Ghana’s forts and castles have ceased, the safari vehicles that normally prowl East Africa’s Serengeti in the hunt for the perfect wildlife photograph are standing still, and luxury camps in Botswana’s Okavango Delta are gathering dust.

Small businesses suddenly without an income

In 2019, Ghana raked in $1.9 billion (€1.75 billion) from tourism, which contributed over 5.5% of GDP in the West African nation.

  • GHANA’S CRUMBLING CASTLES ARE A GRIM REMINDER OF ITS SLAVE TRADE PASTMonuments of shameCape Coast Castle – now a World Heritage Site – is one of about forty forts in Ghana where slaves from as far away as Burkina Faso and Niger were imprisoned. This former slave fortress could hold about 1,500 slaves at a time before they were loaded onto ships and sold into slavery in the New World in the Americas and the Caribbean.

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Ghanaian tour operator Moses Femi Gbeku has been stuck in neutral for weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I had my last tour just before COVID-19 actually became a pandemic, and after that I had about six tours canceled. For these tours, people came from the US, Canada and European countries,” said Gbeku, who runs the Accra-based Mofeg Travel and Tours.

The company normally operates seven tours a year in several West African countries – the cancellation of six tours means his agency is out of business for the rest of the year and at least 20 tour guides and other staff are jobless.

“Directly, you have affected twenty people, indirectly you can multiply that. You are going into 200 if they are feeding at least ten people at a time,” Gbeku told DW.

Read more: Lifting Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown measures poses problems

Moses Gbeka from Afrika Mofeg Travel and Tour (DW/I. Kaledzi)

Moses Femi Gbeku from Mofeg Travel and Tours fears for his company after six of his seven annual tours were cancelled as a result of fears surrounding the coronavirus

It’s a similar story at N8tive Restaurant and Bar located not far from Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport in Accra. The vast majority of the bar’s clientele is usually foreigners made up of a mix of tourists, business visitors or foreigners working in Ghana.

Now these customers are mostly gone. Bar owner Kwame Bekoe says revenue has been hard-hit.

“The number of travelers started to reduce, especially those coming into Ghana but also because those working around [the area] have begun to work from home,” Bekoe said.

To remain afloat, Bekoe is now focusing on gaining local customers. Home and office deliveries are top priority, he told DW.

Surprisingly, Bekoe has not sacked any of his workers yet. One of his employees, Samuel Kwaku Yeboah, is grateful for the job.

“It has rekindled our love towards the company. When you see your friends are losing their jobs and you still can keep yours, it is a blessing, so you need to make it work,” Yeboah told DW.

Conservation in peril

Conservation efforts across Africa are also suffering. On the shores of Lake Victoria, the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Center traditionally draws visitors eager to see its lions, giraffes, white rhinos and chimpanzees. The facility holds more than 291 individual animals from 52 species, all of which need feeding and veterinary care.

Read more: Wangari Maathai: The outspoken conservationist

But Uganda’s lockdown measures have forced the center to close to visitors. The consequences are serious: the center’s revenue from tourists has dwindled to a shortfall of about $50,000. The wildlife center could close for good if funding isn’t found quickly.

“The foreign guests would come for research, they could come for specialized programs, long stay volunteering, internships… They are no longer coming. The tourists were paying 10 dollars and in some cases 70 dollars,” Executive Director James Musinguzi said.

Chimpanzees play in the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Center

The chimpanzees of the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Center near Kampala still need feeding and veterinary care, despite no visitors paying to see them

Musinguzi also worries visitors will stay away from the center even after the lockdown is lifted because of fears that the center’s animals could carry viruses similar to the novel coronavirus, which scientists believe originated with wild animals.

“Remember, they have developed some phobias towards wild animals. There is going to be a phobia and distancing from wild animals by people,” he said.

Prolonged low season

Across Lake Victoria, Tanzania is famous for its safari industry – from lions lounging in the Serengeti to elephants ambling through the Ngorongoro Crater and flamingos on Lake Manyara.

Except now, there are no safari vehicles brimming with Western tourists to see them. For safari operator Elia Richard from Into Africa, the coronavirus has hit hard – 99% of his clients are international.    

  • ON SAFARI IN AFRICA’S NATIONAL PARKSSerengeti National Park, TanzaniaAt nearly 15,000 square kilometers, this is one of the world’s largest and most famous national parks. What’s special here: nowhere else do so many animals migrate at the same time. When the rainy season starts in March and April, millions of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles make their way northwards to new feeding grounds.

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“The difference with this pandemic in comparison to what we have seen before, like Ebola or terrorism in Kenya, it’s highly dependent on international tourists. Our source markets have been affected,” Richard said.

Operators like Richard are also caught between clients wanting their money back, and accommodation not wanting to give up deposits. This has caused serious cash flow problems.

“You come back to tell the client: ‘Can we give you a credit for the future?’ They tell you: ‘we are not sure about the future anymore so I want my money back’,” he said.

Into Africa attracts between 1,000 and 2,000 clients a year with some paying up to $7,000 per person for a safari. That’s before tourists pump money into the local economies when they buy souvenirs, give tips or pay park fees.

Because Tanzania has not imposed a lockdown, and continues with a ‘business as usual’ approach, local tourism operators aren’t eligible for government assistance.

Coronavirus Special Podcast #11 | How COVID-19 has destroyed Africa’s tourism industry

For now, without tourists or income on the horizon, Into Africa must somehow survive.

“I don’t see us recovering this year. We are talking more about 2021, and only if the economies in the source markets [US and Europe] don’t go into a recession,” Richard said.

Guides, meanwhile, have had an easier time adjusting, since Tanzania’s tourism numbers naturally fluctuate dramatically between high and low seasons. Many have a second business or are involved in farming.

But the car mechanics, hotels or local aviation companies that rely on tourism companies like Into Africa for business are affected, said Richard.

Tour guides wait for clients in Tanzania in front of safari vehicles

With implosion of the safari industry due to COVID-19, many tour guides have had to resort to alternative jobs for an income

Over-reliance on foreign tourists

For Kobby Mensah at the University of Ghana Business School, this pandemic highlights the real weakness of Africa’s tourism industry.

“We are overly dependent on the West, and that in itself is a disaster, as COVID has actually shown. Now there is an increasing call for building tourism, not even just domestic tourism, but across African countries,” Mensah said.

That many of the tourism companies are small businesses makes it even more difficult for them to survive a global crisis.

“A lot of big corporations have credit facilities that they can rely on. If we look at small and medium enterprises [operating in the tourism sector], the majority of them may be hand to mouth or one-man operations,” Mensah said. 

“When it comes to Africa, most governments pay little attention to small businesses,” he added.

Posted in AfricaComments Off on How COVID-19 is destroying Africa’s tourism industry

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