People who know me are aware of my reverence for Brazilian music—from the primal, unfettered samba, to the forward-looking, nationalistic compositions of Heitor Villa-Lobos, to the smooth bossa nova of Gilberto and Jobim. But recently, an even sweeter sound has emerged from South America’s largest and most populous nation: the whoosh of hunger rapidly receding into the past, at least in the city of Belo Horizonte.
Brazil’s third (or fourth) largest city, with a total metropolitan population of about 6 million, is the capital of Minas Gerais state in the country’s densely populated southeast. Portuguese for ‘beautiful horizon,’ Belo Horizonte rose quickly through the 20th Century to become one of Latin America’s major urban centers. The city hosts a wealth of industry and is currently the Latin American headquarters for Google. But in Brazil, a land of stark contrasts between affluence and poverty, many were left behind in the boom.
In 1993, Belo Horizonte enacted a policy of “food as a citizen’s right.” Working to creatively balance the interests of local farmers and consumers, the city administration brought family farmers into prime vending locations throughout town, where they could sell their products to the appreciative impoverished for well under market price. This move saw many farmers dramatically increase their livelihood against the broader national decline in agricultural revenues. The city also opened three large “People’s Restaurants” and a number of smaller eateries where homegrown food vendors could sell their wares to the public for something like 50 cents a meal.
Writing at CommonDreams.org, Frances Moore Lappé says:
What does a democracy look like that enables citizens to have a real voice in securing life’s essentials? Does it exist anywhere? Is it possible or a pipe dream? With hunger on the rise here in the United States-one in 10 of us is now turning to food stamps-these questions take on new urgency.
To begin to conceive of the possibility of a culture of empowered citizens making democracy work for them, real-life stories help-not models to adopt wholesale, but examples that capture key lessons. For me, the story of Brazil’s fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, is a rich trove of such lessons. Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The officials said, in effect: If you are too poor to buy food in the market-you are no less a citizen. I am still accountable to you.
Lappé goes on to remind us that, while the tenets of capitalism may render such concepts strange to our ears, food sharing is actually one of the fundamental social innovations which provided a competitive edge to the human species. When people can work together to solve large problems to the mutual benefit of all involved, we see the human spirit at its finest. Belo Horizonte has lived up to her name in more than one way.
Speaking to the United Kingdom’s 2009 Sustainable Development conference, top government scientist John Beddington projects that by 2030 the world as a whole will face critical shortages in food, water, and energy beyond anything yet experienced on a large scale.
According to Professor Beddington, the world of 2030 will be populated by about 8.3 billion people. Demand for food and energy will have increased by 50%, and fresh water demand will have jumped up 30%.
BBC News reports:
Prof Beddington said the concern now – when prices have dropped once again – was that the issues would slip back down the domestic and international agenda.
“We can’t afford to be complacent. Just because the high prices have dropped doesn’t mean we can relax,” he said.
Improving agricultural productivity globally was one way to tackle the problem, he added.
At present, 30-40% of all crops are lost due to pest and disease before they are harvested.
Professor Beddington said: “We have to address that. We need more disease-resistant and pest-resistant plants and better practices, better harvesting procedures.
“Genetically-modified food could also be part of the solution. We need plants that are resistant to drought and salinity – a mixture of genetic modification and conventional plant breeding.
Better water storage and cleaner energy supplies are also essential, he added.
Prof Beddington is chairing a subgroup of a new Cabinet Office task force set up to tackle food security.
While unstable geopolitics, environmental issues such as climate change and pollution, and financial mayhem all clamor for the attention of today’s busy technocrat, some scientists point out that this simple, potent mixture of rising demand for resources and an aggressively booming population is perhaps the biggest problem our global society has currently to address.
Citing that its objectives “and more” have been met over the course of its three-week offensive in Gaza, Israel has declared an end to military action in the Gaza strip which is currently thought to have claimed more than 1,000 Palestinian lives in addition to a much smaller number of Israeli casualties.
The BBC reports:
The Israeli prime minister’s announcement came in a televised address following a late-night cabinet meeting.
Israel’s “goals have been achieved, and even more”, Mr Olmert said, with Hamas badly damaged both militarily and in terms of infrastructure.
But the success of the ceasefire depended on Hamas, he said. If militant rocket fire into Israel continued, Israel would return to force, he said.
How Hamas responds remains to be seen.
The group says any ceasefire must involve Israeli troops withdrawing from Gaza and an immediate lifting of the Israeli blockade.
It has been widely speculated that Israel would halt its incursion before the inauguration of a new U.S. President, since it is roundly understood—and of course denied by the Israeli government—that the support of the White House is a crucial factor in such actions. And Israeli officials know all too well that, regardless of whether or not their stated objectives have been achieved, the appeal of Hamas as a retaliatory vehicle for disenfranchised, ravaged Palestinians has been no more than temporarily shaken and, on the long term, probably vastly deepened. In light of that basic reality, one must ask what the real objectives of the assault have been. It is likely that they had little if anything to do with sporadic rocket fire and much more to do with inflicting the maximum amount of pain and suffering while the time was ripe.
Or, “21st Century Colonialism: an Introduction”
Saturday, December 27, a day when many revelers in the west were still feeling too full to take down Christmas decorations and were perhaps solidifying plans for a joyous New Year’s, has been called the bloodiest day in the history of Gaza since the beginning of the Israeli occupation over forty years ago.
Israeli air assaults have killed dozens if not hundreds of Palestinians, and this amid a years-long embargo imposed by Israel which has emaciated the Gazan economy and citizenry on every imaginable level of existence. The embargo followed the free Palestinian election of a Hamas-led government. Israel roundly blames Hamas for sporadic rocket fire against civilian targets in Israel, but collectively punishes 1.5 million Gazans in retribution.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, told reporters that Israel is determined to “change realities on the ground.” There are fears that the air strikes may be a prelude to a ground offensive, as Israel has called forth large numbers of reservists. Israel has bombed tunnels which were being used to bring minimal amounts of food and humanitarian supplies into Gaza from Egypt, citing suspicions that weapons were also being imported.
The U.S. government insists that Hamas is responsible for the bloodshed on both sides of the border, much as it once insisted that Native Americans could have avoided much violence and misery had they only been a bit more reasonable.
Unfortunately, violence will only beget more violence. It is my feeling that, while the devastation on both sides is deplorable, Israel is using an iron fist to subjugate those whose lands and sovereignty it has molested, people with a fighting spirit and a sense of self-worth that no machinery of war can conquer—people who have been deliberately put into a position in which guerilla fighting in the face of F-16 jets and U.S. billions is, they feel, their only hope of resistance.
The BBC reports:
Israeli F-16 bombers have pounded key targets across the Gaza Strip, killing at least 225 people, local medics say.
Most of those killed were policemen in the Hamas militant movement, which controls Gaza, but women and children also died, the Gaza officials said.
About 700 others were wounded, as missiles struck security compounds and militant bases, the officials added.
Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said the operation “may take some time”- but he pledged to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
“It’s not going to last a few days,” he said in a televised statement, flanked by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Israel said it was responding to an escalation in rocket attacks from Gaza and would bomb “as long as necessary”.
Such comments from Israeli officials amply demonstrate that, if there is a Reign of Terror in Palestine today, it is Israel which wears the ugly crown.
The Heathlander recently posted links to annual reports by various human rights organizations to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review concerning the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The article which includes the links represents the views of Richard Falk, a UN human rights investigator recently relieved of his position because of his “hostile views” toward Israel. The findings of a few of these reports are summarized below.
The State of Israel was founded in 1948, carved chiefly out of what had been colonial possessions of the United Kingdom. While many support the existence of a Jewish homeland, particularly in the wake of the events of the Second World War, fewer agree that these particular lands should have been ceded to the control of relatively new Zionist immigrants rather than to the Palestinian ethnic groups which had resided there for centuries. The Zionist settlers believed that they enjoyed a religious “right of return” to the area according to scripture, a controversial notion which, even where accepted, is not generally held to entail such brutal disregard for the sovereignty and basic human dignity of Palestinians.
Since 1967, Israel has occupied lands which were ceded to the Palestinians under a U.N. agreement, pursuing what many feel are policies of expansion, oppression, and apartheid against Palestinians. Additionally, Israel, which possesses without acknowledgment the sole known nuclear arsenal in the region, continues to threaten other surrounding powers—particularly Iran—which have criticized its occupation of Palestinian lands and cruel treatment of Palestinians. At one point or another, it has occupied lands belonging to all of its Arab neighbors; yet the Israeli government continually represents itself as an innocent victim of anti-Semitic violence, refusing to acknowledge that such violence, while unfortunate and deplorable, represents desperate guerrilla-type self-defense on the part of the disenfranchised Palestinians.
In 2006, Hamas, frequently described as an “Islamic militant” or “terrorist” organization due to its sponsorship of guerrilla activities against the Israeli military and some civilians, won free elections in Gaza. Since then Israel has aggressively boycotted the government in Gaza using blockades, military incursions, and other harmful and violent means which amount to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million citizens. The West Bank, in contrast, is now presided over by a U.S.-backed government.
The United Nations has, on too many occasions to count, reprimanded Israel and called for an end to these atrocities. Such proceedings are routinely boycotted by Israel, the United States, and sometimes a few other member states, while being overwhelmingly supported by the majority of the international community. The United States provides billions of dollars in financial and military aid to Israel annually, and is characteristically quick to defend Israeli hegemony and expansionism in the region in the name of self-defense.
The following are direct or paraphrased excerpts of just a few of the many 2008 reports to the UNHRC concerning conditions in Palestine. For the full set of reports, visit this page. These documents represent merely the latest additions to a huge book detailing many of the atrocities visited against the Palestinian people according to a pattern of U.S.-sanctioned abuse which stretches back for decades.
Thanks to Monte Asbury’s blog, where I first caught wind of these courageous teenagers.
The Shministim are Israeli high school students who have been imprisoned for conscientiously objecting to service in the Israeli armed forces because of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories and its decades-running ill treatment and oppression of Palestinians. Here is a short (2 min.) video:
Click here to add your name and message to a letter to the Israeli Minister of Defense calling for the release of these principled young Israelis. The Shministim movement goes back for several years, and these young people need to be publicized and applauded for joining the cause of equality, for choosing peace over apartheid.
Click here to read Howard Zinn’s moving message about the Shministim.
From Counterpunch, an article by Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions which sums up nicely the need for Israel to take responsibility for the 60-year-old refugee situation, and what incoming U.S. President Obama could do to help bring peace to the region:
Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an urgent priority. It is a conflict with global ramifications in a part of the world crucial to Western, and especially American, political and economic interests. The Israeli Occupation fuels anger and alienation among Muslims – as well as among peoples beyond the Muslim world, including in Europe – towards the US and its European allies. And the Palestinians are the gatekeepers that cannot be by-passed. No matter what peace plan is devised or how much pressure is exerted on the Palestinian leadership to accept it, until the Palestinian people everywhere, including the refugee camps, say that the conflict is in fact over, it’s not over. This is their ultimate clout. Only when a just solution is reached that genuinely addresses their grievances and needs will they signal to the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds that the time has come to normalize relations with Israel and its American and Western patrons. This reality is obliquely acknowledged by Scowcroft and Brzezinski when they write: “Not everyone in the Middle East views the Palestinian issue as the greatest regional challenge, but the deep sense of injustice it stimulates is genuine and pervasive.”
Yet every peace initiative since 1967 has been stymied – let’s be honest – by Israel’s determination to make permanent its control of the land “between the river and the sea.” Why compromise if you can have it all? Israelis today enjoy a high degree of security (Gaza being little more than a nuisance), the settlement project proceeds unhindered, the economy (based on diamonds, arms and security) is sound and their country’s international status only rises. The status quo, far better, more predictable and more manageable than any “peace” might be, can be maintained indefinitely, especially given US support which, because of the bipartisan support Israel enjoys in Congress, does not seem threatened by the incoming Obama Administration. The problem is framing. However much Israel undermines what would otherwise be a straightforward negotiating process, it cannot be publicly criticized lest one appears to be “anti-Israel” – or worse. And non-critical engagement with Israel has never succeeded in eliciting a single meaningful concession.
For a year and a half now, the government of Israel has imposed a blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Despite the sporadic influx of foreign aid—chiefly from the UN—living conditions have steadily deterioriated in Gaza, with UN officials recently referring to them as simply “the worst ever” since the beginning of the illegal Israeli occupation in 1967.
Banks are experiencing cash shortages. There have been dire shortages of food and electricity; whole communities collectively totaling about 1.5 million residents are being punished for the retaliatory violence committed by a few. This, while outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush has the characteristic audacity to congratulate himself on his “bold” record of policy initiatives in the Middle East.
“The Middle East in 2008 is a freer, more hopeful and more promising place than it was in 2001,” Bush recently told reporters in a Washington forum.
Don’t make me barf. That, ladies and gentlemen, is called a g.d. lie.
With the appointment of a Zionist loyalist to the top West Wing position and having copiously fawned to organizations such as AIPAC during his campaign, it appears that President-Elect Barack Obama will be unlikely to meaningfully adjust U.S. policy toward Israel anytime soon.
That’s change you can believe in. Yes, we can.
It is largely through the diplomatic, fiscal, and military support of the U.S. government that Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian territories and brutally oppress their native inhabitants. For example, the UN Human Rights council has condemned the actions of Israel well over a dozen times in the past couple of years; these proceedings are routinely boycotted by Israel and the United States of America, continuing a pattern of diplomatic back-scratching that has persisted for decades as Israel continues to conduct exercises against other regional powers using US technology and logistical support.
This BBC news story highlights the plight of the family of Fazi Abu Gerada, a Gaza City man struggling to feed his family on meager supplies of bread and vegetable oil in a house with no electricity, scarce water, and a leaky roof:
It is dusk, a crescent moon was just visible overhead, and Fauzi has lit a fire. This is for cooking, heat, and light, as the electricity is still off in Gaza City.
Fauzi is 40 years old and has been unemployed since the intifada that started in 2000 prevented him from crossing into Israel to work as a labourer.
His wife and six children all live with him in a single-roomed house, scraping by on food aid from the United Nations and others.
“I have no income to feed my children. Sometimes I cannot even give them bread,” he told me. “We beg some food from here, and some food from there. Our life is begging.”
Looking despairingly at the breeze block and wood shack which was their home, he adds: “Eight people all live in this one room here. The water comes in in the winter but I don’t even have money for a plastic sheet to put on the roof.
“We are suffering. It’s like living underground. Once I thought I’d burn the house down with everybody in it just to escape this misery.”