Yes, India, Israel uses water as a weapon

For the past couple of nights I’ve noticed a new commercial on English language television in India. It seems that Israel is currently promoting tourism on occupied land while hiding their reality of their almost 70-year long colonisation of the land. It seems that now that Indians no longer have a stamp in their passport preventing them from travelling to the world’s 2 apartheid states–South Africa and Israel–they’re pushing tourism, making it appear as if it were any European country. It was shocking to see such a commercial, knowing how many Indians will fall for it, travel there, and never even have a glimpse of what life is like for Palestinians in historic Palestine or the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (Here is my response to a similar piece in The Hindu a couple of years ago).

Of course, one would expect that an Israeli agency would promote its own tourism. But what’s even more shocking is that an Indian environmental organisation would fall for such propaganda. And that’s what seemed to happen with India Water Portal. Their piece was lazy–relying solely on the Israeli embassy for their misinformation. And the Indians who published this piece are too enamoured with the mythology of Israelis making the deserts bloom, they credit them with inventions like drip irrigation, which Indians were doing for hundreds–if not thousands–of years before the colony of Israel existed. They seem to be completely oblivious to the realities in Palestine, too, and the way that water is used as a tool of apartheid. Perhaps if they realised, Indian passports would once again be prohibited from entering Israel (wishful thinking, I know).

What bothers me about false reporting on water in India is that so many Indians–Indians who I expect to know better–will repeat this fib about Israel being some agricultural, water genius nation that India should look to as a model. And the Indian government is indeed stepping up its work in that area with collaborative ventures in the agricultural sector.

Israel’s water lies go far back to their early colonisation in the 1940s, but after they accelerated the colonisation of the West Bank, the theft quickened, as Charlotte Silver explains:

The Israeli military has governed all sources of water in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 and 1974, respectively. Originally gained by military conquest, its control has subsequently been affirmed through the Oslo Accords and, increasingly, the work of the Palestinian Authority and international NGOs. 

vp palestine water infographic

In Gaza, because of the ongoing siege of the world’s largest open air prison, the water situation is even worse than in the West Bank, which is why the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) has been actively involved in helping to create solutions to the lack of drinking water:

In the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli Occupation systematically denies Palestinian adequate quality and quantities of water. Palestinian communities inside the state of Israel have less access to water than their Jewish counterparts, as well. Water is diverted from Palestinian resources the West Bank (and previously in Gaza) to illegal Israeli settlements and into Israel. Israel denies materials, fuel, and permits to sustain and expand water systems. Military attacks predictably—and often deliberately—destroy wells, water tanks, pipes, treatment plants, and sewage systems. Widespread poverty prevents people from purchasing clean water or repairing their wells and plumbing. The health and well being of virtually every Palestinian child and adult is affected by the shortage of clean, safe water.

The water crisis in Gaza is extreme. When the state of Israel was established in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes in what is now southern Israel to the small and arid Gaza Strip. At the same time, Israel cut off access to water sources around Gaza. The only source available, the Gaza Aquifer, could not support the huge and sudden rise in population, and the water it generates has been steadily deteriorating for more than sixty years. It is currently estimated that 95% of water from the Gaza Aquifer is unfit for human consumption.

It’s pretty simple to surf the Internet and figure out the truth about water in Palestine and Israel’s role in siphoning it for their swimming pools when Palestinians barely get enough to drink, cook, and bathe with. Even Israel’s Ha’aretz has reported on the way Israel creates thirst in Palestinian communities as has the Economist. Amnesty International has published reports on Israel’s use of water as a tool of their apartheid regime.

What will it take for Indians to understand the truth, the reality of what really goes on with water in Palestine? Perhaps a trip, but not to Israel; one to the occupied territories where tourists also get first-hand experiences with inequity and water as well as all the other visible and less visible forms of apartheid.

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Tibet and Palestine

Last month I started the summer off with a vacation in Dharamsala, in the northern part of India. I went there for the same cliched reason many other foreigners go there–for yoga and meditation. I’ve been meditating and practicing yoga for about 17 years. But for the past several years, since I first went to Palestine, I’ve struggled with this practice a bit. It’s been hard for me to reconcile the idea that working on one’s own inner peace, as it were, could lead to any global kind of peace. Moreover, the pessimist in me doesn’t believe that anyone in power would ever commit to such a practice, which is what would have to happen for such a change to emerge. True, it has happened in history–most notably with Ashoka who changed quite radically after his conversion to Buddhism. And there are others, too. In spite of my reservations, I’ve returned to these practices little by little in the past few years.

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I recalled a demonstration against Israeli theft of Palestinian agricultural land for their settlements and apartheid wall, which I attended in Bil`in in 2005. There was a Buddhist monk who joined us, although I recalled him as Tibetan, looking at the photographs now he’s clearly not. Still, I found it striking watching him beating his drum while the soldiers began to open fire on us. I never had a chance to speak with him because I was arrested that day.

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I remembered this image, though I hadn’t seen it in some time, because the more I explored Dharamsala and Tibetan history, the more I saw lucid parallels to Palestinian struggles. Just one glimpse of the images around McLeod Ganj, the main area where Tibetans, especially Tibetan monks, reside shows clearly an ongoing struggle for freedom, and not only in the Buddhist sense of liberation. At the Tibet Museum this resonated even more because I learned of the Tibetan resistance movement–I had not known that there had ever been armed struggle against the Chinese. But there are many similarities I noticed:

1. The time frame: Palestinians commemorate the nakba (catastrophe) on 15 May 1948, although the ethnic cleansing of Palestine began long before that and continues until this day. A year later, in 1949, China invaded Tibet.

2. Palestinians began their armed resistance movement to get their land back in 1968; the infamous Battle of Karameh marked its introduction to the world. In 1958, according the the museum catalog:

the flag of a united Tibetan resistance movement, the Tensung Danglang Maggar (‘Volunteer Freedom Fighters for Tibet’), was hoisted for the first time in Driguthang, Lhoka. Andrug Gompo Tashi was nominated as our chief commander. Many recruits from all parts of Tibet joined us and we soon had more than 5,000 members. Fighting began soon after. At Nyemo we faced our biggest battle, Less than 1,000 of us successfully fought against a much bigger Chinese force. (25)

3. Both Israel and China have led ongoing campaigns to destroy cultural religious buildings, among other structures, in Palestine and Tibet respectively. Israel also regularly destroys Palestinian homes (often forcing Palestinians to destroy their own homes and/or pay the fees for that process) and does not permit them to build or rebuilt as the case may be.  In Tibet, according to the museum,

The systematic eradication of Tibetan culture and religion saw the destruction of over 6,000 monasteries and temples. The handful still standing today are used as tourist attractions, army barracks, or public toilets. Precious scriptures and sculptures were destroyed or sold in international art markets. The Chinese used scriptures as shoe soles and monks and nuns were forced to desecrate religious objects. (29)

4. Just as Israel practices Judaisation, China practices what Tibetans call Sinicisation, which is includes the erasure of Tibetan identity and the inculcation of a Chinese one–starting with language. The museum explains:

The Chinese language is given priority in education and administration, thus marginalizing Tibetans in every sphere of life. Even more worrying are the population transfers that are diluting our culture and are reducing Tibetans to a minority in our own country. China is actively engaged in denials of our history, culture–our very identity. (37)

5. As indicated above, China also practices transfer, a euphemism for ethnic cleansing that Zionists have used since their pre-state days. In both cases, the occupying nation moves its citizens into the areas or homes where Tibetans or Palestinians used to live. One example is the expulsion of people from Yaffa and another more recent example is the ongoing nakba affecting Bedouins in the Naqab desert known as the Prawer Plan.

6. Of course, when one is faced with forced expulsion one becomes a refugee. Approximately 750,000 Palestinian refugees were expelled in 1948 and many more since then including internally displaced people. Because this process is ongoing (and because of normal population growth) that number is 7.2 million today. In the case of Tibet:

Since 1959, about 100,000 Tibetans fled to neighboring countries. Many died on the way as a result of Chinese attacks and harsh conditions. Thousands continue to escape oppression and persecution in Tibet each year. (40)

7. Recent struggles for both Tibetans and Palestinians have included boycotting products made in China and Israel respectively. Additionally, Tibetans have resorted to self-immolation to call attention to their plight.

I lay out all of these comparisons here because while in Dharamsala I read a book called A Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz (1995). The book is not worth quoting, but essentially it is the tale of a variety of Jewish people–Orthodox, Conservative, Reform–primarily from the U.S. and Israel who come to Dharamsala to participate in a Buddhist-Jewish interfaith dialogue. From what I gleaned in the book, that dialogue was motivated by the Jewish delegation because of the great many Jews who leave their faith for Buddhism. There were so many odd concerns they held about joining this group and interacting with people who, for example, don’t keep kosher or who are formally addressed as “His Holiness.”

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In the book, there didn’t yet seem to be an Israeli colony in Dharamsala yet.  This is likely because relations between India and Israel were just beginning to publicly thaw in the early 1990s. But today there are many such colonies, (see here and here) most notably in this mountain top hill station and in Goa. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I went to explore these two areas, pretty far removed from each other–one on top of the mountain in Dharamkot and the other in a valley a few kilometres below, Bhagsu Naag. In Dharamkot there is a Chabad House (an Orthodox Jewish prayer house–the tall brick building, which is the tallest in the area). It’s a bit odd to see that here given that stories I hear and read about often detail the way in which Israelis come after their three (men) or two year (women) compulsory army service, trash the area, smoke a lot of hashish, and have a lot of sex. It doesn’t exactly seem like the type who would frequent an extremely religious space.  The photographs above are from Dharamkot and those below from Bhagsu Naag.

The most disturbing aspect of this Israeli take over of this previously Indian and Tibetan community is the inclusion of what restauranteurs call “Israeli cuisine” (hummus, felafel, etc.) with no sense of irony. There are several photographs of menus above that illustrate this. Unfortunately none of the restaurant owners (most seemed to be Indian, not Tibetan) are aware that what they are serving is Arabic cuisine originating in the Levantine countries of Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. This cultural theft is akin to what I listed above as one of the many ways Israel Judaises Palestine, often taking on Arabic or Palestinian culture and claiming it as its own. This would be akin to Chinese restaurants serving momos and tsampa and claiming it as their own. Of course, they do that too. Also, I find it odd that just because a group of foreigners frequents another country that “their” cuisine must be readily available. Why travel if you’re not going to eat local food. Seriously! Likewise why is there a need for all the signage to change from Tibetan, Hindi, and English to just two foreign languages: English and Hebrew?

Finally, Kamenetz’s book made it clear that through their interfaith exchange Tibetans and Israelis would begin working together towards a common cause. From their point of view, the Tibetan struggle mirrors the Jewish and Israeli one (he often conflates the two) and, not surprisingly, Palestine is barely mentioned at all. (See Gideon Levy on this.)  Indeed, there is an Israeli-Tibet society. And Israelis seem to be collaborating with Tibetans on agricultural projects. However, if the Tibetans want to know what will come of such a venture, they should look at what people did in Andhra Pradesh at Kuppam once they realised how they were being deceived by Israeli promises to improve the agricultural practices here.

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One final image: at my meditation centre there were only two languages used other than English and Hindi: Russian and Hebrew.
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“The Hindu” Promotes Tourism to Apartheid Israel

Yesterday morning I was enjoying reading the Sunday edition of The Hindu newspaper. That is, until I got to the final page of the paper where I saw an article by Lakshmi Anand entitled “Ten Things to do In Israel,” which  ahistorically, acontextually promotes Indian travel to a settler-colonial, racist, apartheid state.

Here is my response to that piece, which I just emailed to the newspaper’s editor:

9 September 2013

Dear Editor:

In yesterday’s The Hindu Magazine section, you published an article by Lakshmi Anand entitled “10 Things to do in Israel.” I found the article to be shocking and offensive. Since when did it become normal for Indians to promote travel to a settler-colonial apartheid state? I would suggest a more apt article for you to publish in your newspaper’s pages entitled, “Ten Reasons Not to go to Israel.” The list could include the following justifications:

  1. Israel practices apartheid and is a settler-colonial state. Just as the British were a settler-colonial state in India and just as South Africa was an apartheid regime, Israel is a combination of these two racist state systems of the past. Just as the British Empire created its settler-colonial state in India, they too enabled the set up of a colonial entity by partitioning the Levant after World War I. Since 2002, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has unequivocally compared the practices of apartheid by Israel with the former regime in South Africa.
  2. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 stipulates that Palestinian who were forcibly removed from their homes during the ethnic cleansing of 1948 (Israel’s premeditated “Plan Dalet” to eliminate the indigenous population), should be allowed to return to their homes and be compensated financially for the losses they incurred, much like Jews were offered compensation after World War II.
  3. The ethnic cleansing operations of 1948 have never ended: it is ongoing. For the most recent example of this, one need only look at the Negev desert where yet again the Bedouin community is being forcibly removed from their land. But this is also an ongoing project in places like Jaffa and Jerusalem, places that Anand seems to only see as tourist destinations.
  4. Israel likes to promote itself as an country that has “made the deserts bloom,” which, ignores the centuries of cultivation established by indigenous Palestinians. Israel’s ability to cultivate stolen Palestinian land comes from their ongoing theft of natural resources, like water, which they exploit for their settlement swimming pools while Palestinians are left with little to no water for bathing and drinking.
  5. Anand recommends tourists visit Israel’s Nazi holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, which is located on the land of the Palestinian village, Deir Yassin, which notably endured one of the most infamous massacres during Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations of 1948. The depopulated village ironically hosts this museum about the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Europe.
  6. The article also recommends that people spend time sampling food like felafel. Anand fails to mention that this is an Arab food not an Israeli one. Like most Israeli “culture,” felafel was studied and adopted by Zionist Jews who colonized Palestinian land. Likewise, the Jaffa oranges mentioned in the article were world renowned produce that Palestinians exported globally prior to their forced removal from their land. In addition to coopting Palestinian culture and branding it Israeli, Israel has consistently been on a mission to commit cultural genocide by imposing various laws—many of which date from the British Mandate era—to prevent Palestinian literature, music, dance, and theatre from being produced and shared publicly.
  7. Palestinian political prisoners, many of whom have been on ongoing hunger strikes for the past few years, and many of whom are children, are being held for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is resisting the ongoing colonization of their land. Just as Indians were political prisoners of the British during the Raj, Palestinians are also fighting to get their country back and those who work towards this end, regardless of age or gender, are often imprisoned.
  8. Since its formation, Israel has repeatedly promoted the ironic idea that it is always at risk of being thrown into the sea by its neighbors. The reality is that since its inception, Israel has been a belligerent regime and the fourth most powerful military in the world, propped up by the United States, of course. On a daily basis, Israel’s army fires at fishermen in Gaza; they regularly capture shepherds in Lebanon, and most recently they have bombed Syria and are pushing for the U.S. to invade Syria as well.
  9. Palestinians who live in Israel, who call themselves 1948 Palestinians because they are the people who managed to remain on their land against all odds are second-class citizens, just as Indians were under the British Raj. 1948 Palestinians do not have equal rights because they live in a state that defines itself as Jewish and Palestinians are either Christian, Druze, Baha’i, or Muslim.
  10. Don’t go to Israel. Go to Palestine. Show your solidarity with the Palestinian people. Join the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement inspired by India’s boycott movement and later South Africa’s. Join the Indian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Traveling to Israel promotes their economy and therefore enables it to continue its brutal and ruthless colonial system. India remembers all too well what colonialism means. Why would Indians want to promote its continuation in another location?

on orange & other adventures in normalization

i love orange. it’s my favorite color. i even painted my office at boise state university orange a few years ago. but in this region colors always take on new meanings that destroy colors and what they mean. for instance, when i first moved to palestine in the summer of 2005 i discovered that orange was the color that the zionist terrorist colonists in gaza were using to protest their removal from occupied gaza. you still see their orange ribbons on backpacks and and rear view mirrors. these are the same people who are building new colonies and expanding them in naqab, al quds, nasra and everywhere else.

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but why am i writing about orange? well, actually it’s not the color i’m speaking of. it’s the corporation. when i lived in jordan (2005-2006) i had a land line in my house from the jordanian national telecom company and i had internet from a company called wanadoo. it seems that in the time since i lived here last, both have been swallowed up by orange (which is why i won’t be having a land line or internet service or cell phone service from orange). for the land lines this is a huge issue: it means that jordan has privatized its telecommunications sector to a foreign company. apparently, this happened two years ago:

The Jordanian mobile operator, MobileCom – a subsidiary of Jordan Telecom Group (JTG) has rebranded under the Orange brand name. Jordan Telecom is 51% controlled by France Telecom which in turn, owns Orange.

“With this move, Orange becomes the sole commercial brand for JTG’s fixed, mobile, and internet services,” said Chairman of the Board of Directors of JTG Dr Shabib Ammari. “Our customers will be enjoying Orange’s competitive range of telecom solutions and top quality services, enjoying the premium offering that will meet their needs to full satisfaction through this single and reputable provider,” added Ammari.

The GSM arm of JTG was first registered on 21st September, 1999 and launched full public service across the Kingdom on 15th September, 2000. The infrastructure was provided by Ericsson.

Orange Jordan has around 1.7 million subscribers according to figures from the Mobile World, which gives the company a market share of 36%.

and orange has fully inserted itself and its brand into jordanian life. billboards are everywhere. there are orange ramadan placemats in restaurants and cafes. and they even have some magazine that i found in my hotel room when i was in amman on my way to the u.s. for a couple of days. it is inescapable. but it is also possible not to participate in this orange branding of jordan, which, according to the jordanian blogger black iris, they aren’t offering such hot service:

Since writing that open letter to Orange Telecom Jordan on their terrible service I’ve noticed the link really flying around the twittersphere. It’s gotten around 1,700 views in the past 48 hours, which, along with the comments and emails people left me, is a real indication that many are simply not happy with the Kingdom’s telecom giant and it’s level of service.

but i think there are other reasons, aside from crappy service, that people in jordan should be up in arms that their national telecom industry was handed over to orange. some of what i am about to say is speculative, but the facts will be backed up with reports. my suspicion about orange was first raised because i know it to be one of the main mobile phone companies in the zionist entity. for many years, it was the only mobile company that palestinians had access too before they created their own network, jawal. orange is not an israeli company, but i have been told it was started by two french jews. i have looked to find out more about the people who started and/or who run orange headquarters, but it has been difficult to find anything out on them. my curiosity is that is suspect they are like howard shultz, ceo of starbucks, who donates a significant amount of his profits to the zionist entity every year. i don’t have any such information yet (though if anyone out there knows the dirt on orange please send it my way! ), but here is what wikipedia has to say about it:

Microtel Communications Ltd. was formed in April 1990 as a consortium comprising Pactel Corporation, British Aerospace, Millicom and French company Matra (British Aerospace soon acquired full control of the company). In 1991 Microtel was awarded a license to develop a mobile network in the UK, and in July 1991 Hutchison Telecommunications (UK) Ltd acquired Microtel from BAe. BAe was paid in Hutchison Telecommunications (UK) Ltd. shares, giving the company a 30% share. Hutchison Whampoa held 65% and Barclays Bank the remaining 5%. Microtel was renamed Orange Personal Communications Services Ltd. in 1994. The Orange brand was created by an internal team at Microtel headed by Chris Moss (Marketing Director) and supported by Martin Keogh, Rob Furness and Ian Pond. The brand consultancy Wolff Olins was charged with designing the brand values and logo and advertising agency WCRS created the Orange slogan “The Future’s bright, the Future’s Orange” along with the now famous advertising. The logo is square because a round orange logo already existed for the reprographics company, Orange Communications Limited, designed by Neville Brody in 1993.

Orange plc was formed in 1995 as a holding company for the Orange group. France Telecom formed the present company in 2001 after acquiring Orange plc (which had been acquired by Mannesmann AG, itself purchased by Vodafone shortly after, leading Vodafone to divest Orange) and merging its existing mobile operations into the company. The company was initially 100% owned by France Telecom (although there were and still remain minority investors in some of the national operating companies). In 2001 15% was sold in an IPO, but in 2003 the outstanding shares were bought back by France Telecom.

so there is no proof or connection to the zionist entity in any way yet. but that is okay. there is proof that their hands are dirty any way. like all cell phone companies that exist in the zionist entity, they are a part of the colonial infrastructure. here is a report from who profits laying out how orange, along with the other cell phone companies participate in colonialism and occupation:

All Israeli cellular communication companies are commercially involved in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights. These companies build infrastructure, maintain property and equipment in illegal Israeli settlements, much of it on privately owned Palestinian lands. They all provide services to the Israeli military and to all Israeli settlers, and some provide specially designed services. They use the Israeli control of the Palestinian territory to exploit the Palestinian frequencies and to impose their services on the Palestinian captive market.

Currently there are four Israeli cellular communication service providers: Cellcom, Partner (Orange), Pelephone and MIRS. Cellcom is part of the IDB group, a conglomerate of Israeli and international companies, one of the major players in the Israeli market; Partner is a subsidiary of the Chinese Hutchison Telecommunications International (HTIL); Pelephone is fully owned by Bezeq, the Israeli Telecommunication Corporation; MIRS is a subsidiary of Motorola Israel.

All four have dozens of antennas, transmission stations and additional infrastructure erected on occupied Palestinian land: MIRS holds at least 86 antennas and communication facilities on occupied territory, Cellcom at least 191, Pelephone 195 and Partner 165. As a survey by Yesh Din reveals, many of these antennas and communication facilities were erected on confiscated privately owned Palestinian land. Often, these devices are guarded by Israeli guards, and at least in one occasion, they were used as seeds for a new settlement outpost. Using this infrastructure, the companies provide services to Israelis in these areas, both to the settlements and to the Israeli soldiers operating in the occupied West Bank.

All four, Cellcom, Partner, MIRS and Pelephone, operate service stores in West Bank settlements. Additionally, MIRS is the exclusive provider of cellular phone services to the Israeli army (since 2005 and at least until 2011). This company installs communication units in army vehicles and it builds communication facilities in army bases throughout the West Bank and Golan Heights. The company also offers special rates for service personnel and their family members.

Cellcom, Partner and Pelephone are also operating in the Palestinian market. The conditions of the occupation ensure several advantages for these companies over the Palestinian cellular communication providers. The Israeli authorities do not provide permits for Palestinian companies to install antennas and transmission infrastructure in area C, which is under full Israeli control and constitutes 59% of the entire West Bank, making it virtually impossible for Palestinians to provide cellular coverage in many areas of the West Bank. Additionally, the frequency allocation granted by the Israeli authorities to Palestinian providers is very limited, and the Israeli authorities impose significant limitations on the Palestinian providers when it comes to the import of devices or the on ground installation of communication transmission devices. Even when the Israeli authorities do allow equipment into the Palestinian territory – it is often delayed by months or years, and by the time it arrives to the Palestinian providers it is outdated. Together, these limitations restrict the reception ranges and the overall quality of service by Palestinian providers, and the Palestinians turn to services provided by the Israeli companies, especially when traveling outside of the major Palestinian cities.

The Israeli control of frequencies and the implications of this control have been evident in the case of Wataniya Palestine. In 2007 Wataniya Palestine, a joint venture of Palestine Investment Fund and Wataniya Telecom of Kuwait, was licensed to become the second Palestinian cellular communication provider. On July 28, 2008 an agreement was signed by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, allocating frequencies for Wataniya’s use. The frequencies were supposed to be released by April 1 of 2009. As of August of 2009, none were released due to ongoing delays from the Israeli government. Consequently, Wataniya Telecom announced that it would back out of its initiative to operate cellular communication services in the occupied Palestinian territory.

According to a World Bank report issued in January of 2008, 20% to 45% of the Palestinian cellular market at that time was in the hands of Israeli companies. In breach of the Oslo Agreements, the Israeli companies do not pay taxes to the Palestinian Authority (PA) for their commercial activity in the Palestinian market. The World Bank report estimated that the lost annual PA tax revenues due to unauthorized Israeli operations amounted to $60 million. Additionally, the PA claimed that these Israeli companies have been targeting West Bank clients and actively selling to the Palestinians in the West Bank although they were never licensed to do so by the PA.

Surprisingly, even when using Palestinian providers, Palestinian customers have to rely on the Israeli companies because of the restrictions on Palestinian construction of telecommunication infrastructure. The Israeli companies collect a percentage surcharge on all interconnection revenues from calls between Palestinian landlines and cellular phones as well as calls between cellular phones of Palestinian operators and Israeli operators. Similarly, Palestinian operators have to depend on the costly services of Israeli companies for any international call, for calls connecting the West Bank and Gaza and for calls between different areas in the West Bank.

For more information, see the Who Profits website at: www.whoprofits.org.

here is a brief summary on orange in the zionist entity by who profits as well (who i normally don’t link to because they are colonists who don’t see themselves as colonists merely because they don’t live in the west bank):

An Israeli provider of cellular phone services.

The company erected more than 160 antennas and telecommunication infrastructure facilities on occupied land in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

The company provides cellular communication services to the settlers and Israeli soldiers in the occupied territory. Additionally, the company enjoys the structural advantages of Israeli cellular services providers over Palestinian competitors in the Palestinian market.

Click here to read the full report about the involvement of the Israeli cellular companies in the occupation.

Involved in:

Palestinian Captive Market
Israeli Construction on Occupied Land
Services to the Settlements

51% of company shares are held by Scailex, which is controlled by Ilan Ben-Dov.

so this is why i am boycotting orange. i don’t need a land line. i have a cell phone from a kuwaiti company (zain) and internet (insha’allah soon) from a jordanian company (umniah). but what i see a lot of in jordan is heavy levels of consumption among a population who does not know, does not want to know, or does not want to sacrifice in the ways one must sacrifice in order to resist. part of this may be because i don’t have internet at my house yet and the only place near my house to get it (i.e., within walking distance) is a mall. so i’m being subjected to my least favorite sort of space with people participating in my least favorite activity all around me as i work in an internet cafe around people who eat and drink and smoke all day while i fast (it is ramadan, but there seem to be lots of jordanians who are not fasting). and i’m thinking a lot about sacrifice. not just because it is ramadan and i am fasting and my empty stomach makes me think about it, but also because i don’t understand why it consumption and globalization have turned the world numb and dumb. the divide between want and need is completely gone. and this is something i find so disturbing. i don’t know why people cannot just say no to so many things.

i also wonder why people cannot say no to normalization with the zionist entity. why they cannot say no on a personal or a collective level in places like jordan. for instance, there was a report in ha’aretz a few weeks ago about a sweatshop owned by zionist terrorist colonists in jordan:

If the term “sweatshop” used to be associated with Asian countries and global brands such as Nike, now such methods of production by exploiting workers have made aliyah. Two Israeli entrepreneurs run a sweatshop in Jordan that produces clothes for leading Israeli brands such as Irit, Bonita, Jump and Pashut, Haaretz has learned.

The National Labor Committee, a U.S.-based workers’ rights organization, has released a report accusing the Musa Garments factory in Jordan of employing workers under inhuman conditions, and charges the company with “human trafficking, abuse, forced overtime, primitive dorm conditions, imprisonment and forcible deportations of foreign guest workers.”

The report exposes what is said to be one of the biggest secrets of the Israeli fashion industry, saying the cheap production costs for Israeli labels is a very expensive price for workers’ rights at Musa Garments.

The report says Mr. Musa, the owner, is an Israeli. But the real owners are Jack Braun and Moshe Cohen from Tel Aviv. The factory is located in the Al Hassan industrial area in Irbid, Jordan. The two employ 132 people from Bangladesh, 49 from India and 27 Jordanians. Chinese, Sri Lankans and Nepalese have also worked there in the past. “They all come for one reason only: To earn as much money as they possibly can to pay off the debts they incurred to purchase their three-year work contracts in Jordan, and send money home to their families,” states the report.

The report explains how the “guest workers” face inhuman conditions from their first day. Management takes away their passports, sometimes for the entire three-year period. Workers who asked for their passports back – or at least a copy – were refused, an illegal act and serious human rights violation.

The conditions are close to slavery. Until December 2008, when the economic crisis hit the company, workers averaged shifts of between 12 and a half and 13 and half hours a day, seven days a week – even though their contracts give them Fridays off. They also had to work on Jordanian national holidays. Anyone who missed a shift was fined three days’ wages, the report claims.

After December last year, the pace of production was stepped up and instead of having to sew 30 pieces an hour, workers were made to sew 40 – for the same wages.

“The public must know that products have a heavy human cost too,” said Dr. Roi Wagner of the Kav LaOved (Worker’s Hotline) organization. “The pursuit of lower production [costs] is very often dependent on violating human rights. The price is paid by Israeli workers whose jobs disappear, and also by the ‘cheap’ workers who produce goods in places where it is easier to abuse them. The manufacturer is not the only one responsible, but also the companies [that buy the goods] and the consumers,” said Wagner.

The list of complaints is long, including subhuman living conditions such as 4-8 people in a tiny dormitory room, no showers and water for only an hour or two a night. There is no heat in the rooms in the winter, and the bathrooms are filthy. The roofs leak.

One of the owners, Jack Braun, claims the truth is completely different. “The report is a total lie,” he said. “The workers went on strike for a reason I don’t know. As a result, human rights organizations arrived and the workers lied – though every one of their claims was proved false. They attacked the Bangladeshi consul and police who tried to talk to them. The conditions we provide them, in terms of work and food and housing, are above and beyond. We always paid them as required – they earn tiny salaries, so why shouldn’t we pay them?” said Braun.

Bonita’s management said they do not work with the company.

Kobi Hayat, one of the owners of Pashut, said: “I do not know of the place since we work through a subcontractor who receives the material from us, manufactures in Jordan and returns the clothes. I have never been there, and I do not know who receives the work, so it is hard for me to discuss the claims.”

a few days later another article appeared saying it was not a sweatshop:

Jordan’s Ministry of Labor on Wednesday rejected accusations that a local factory supplying clothing to Israel was abusing its workers, saying there was no evidence of either human trafficking or forced work.

On Sunday The National Labor Committee, a U.S.-based workers’ rights organization, released a report accusing the Musa Garments factory in Jordan of employing workers under inhuman conditions, and charges the company with “human trafficking, abuse, forced overtime, primitive dorm conditions, imprisonment and forcible deportations of foreign guest workers.”

of course, it is great to see that the government in jordan is concerned about having a sweatshop or human trafficking in their midst. but whee is the outrage over having a zionist terrorist colonist business on their land and in their midst? given that official jordanian policy is that they are at “peace” with the enemy, it makes sense that the government isn’t outraged. but where are the people? compare this to how egyptians responded recently when the government was working on a gas deal with the zionist entity as reported by adam morrow and khaled moussa al-omrani in the electronic intifada:

Opposition figures and political activists have slammed a new deal to sell Egyptian liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Israel at what they say are vastly reduced prices.

“Egyptian gas is being sold to Israel at prices far below the international average,” Ibrahim Yosri, former head of legal affairs and treaties at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry told IPS. “This agreement is proof that the ruling regime is unconcerned with public opinion and is insistent on depriving the Egyptian public of its rightful national assets.”

On 28 July, Egypt formally agreed to sell between 12.5 billion and 16 billion cubic meters of LNG per year to Israel for a period of between 17 and 22 years. The Cairo-based Egyptian-Israeli energy consortium Egyptian Mediterranean Gas (EMG) will supply the gas to Israeli firm Dorad Energy for a total reported cost of between $2.1 billion and $3.3 billion.

Given longstanding popular condemnation of Israeli policies, particularly those relating to Palestinian populations in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, the deal also stirred political controversy.

“It is absolutely forbidden that we support a country currently at war with Islam and Muslims, and which occupies the land of Palestine,” Nasr Farid Wassil, former Grand Mufti of the republic, was quoted as saying in the independent press. “All economic relations with such a country should be severed.”

Despite its unpopularity, the deal is not the first: under an earlier energy accord, Egypt has been exporting LNG to Israel since May of last year. Extracted from fields in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, gas is pumped via submarine pipeline from the coastal town al-Arish to the Israeli port city Ashkelon.

The first accord, signed in 2005, allowed EMG to sell 1.7 billion cubic meters of LNG annually to the Israeli state-run Israel Electric Corporation for a period of 15 years. The sale price was never officially disclosed, fueling speculation by critics that gas was being sold to Israeli buyers at reduced prices.

Egypt is one of the few Arab states, along with Jordan and Mauritania, to have full diplomatic relations with Israel. Nevertheless, bilateral cooperation has remained severely hampered by popular disapproval of Israeli policies.

meanwhile the united states–and hillary clinton in particular–are pushing normalization among african countries with the zionist entity as ips reporters jerrold kessel and pierre klochendler explain:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been busy pursuing one aspect of the Obama Administration’s agenda – carrying to Africa the U.S. message of accountability. With a rather different agenda, Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Liberman also has Africa in his sights.

Whereas the U.S. is pressing a moral message hard – more democracy and less corruption, the Israeli approach is entirely pragmatic.

It’s not the first time Israel has been heavily involved in Africa.

Tanzanian freshmen at the University of Dar es Salaam will be excused for being unaware of the fact that their campus strikingly resembles facilities in Tel Aviv and Beersheba, two of Israel’s leading universities. That’s because the UDSM campus was designed by Israeli architects.

Nearly half a century ago, there was unexpected interaction between sub- Saharan Africa, just emerging from the dark years of colonial rule, and Israel – which had come into existence a decade-and-a-half earlier after ridding itself of a British presence – busily engaged in reaching out to other emerging nations.

Ever since, it’s been a relationship of ups and downs.

The aid to development programmes of Israeli experts, especially in the fields of irrigation, agriculture, communal rural development and medical training, won Israel considerable sympathy, and friends, in many of the newly- independent states. Hundreds of African students and experts underwent specialised training, tailor-made for their societies, in Israel.

But, as was the case in the Cold War era, the Israeli development projects were not entirely altruistic.

There was also the political motive of trying to break the ostracism in which Arab states and their allies in the Third World were encasing the fledgling new Middle Eastern state. This became especially acute following the 1955 conference of the non-aligned world in Bandung in Indonesia, where non- co-operation with Israel was adopted as policy.

There was a strategic dimension too. Israel’s legendary first prime minister David Ben-Gurion and his foreign minister Golda Meir foresaw a policy of encircling the circle of Israel’s regional isolation through alliances with non- Arab states on the periphery of the region – Turkey and Iran and, critically, Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa.

Just back from an extensive tour of South America, Liberman is soon to set out on a five-nation African tour. The Israeli foreign ministry calls it “an out- of-the-ordinary visit”, the most extensive ever by Israel’s top diplomat to the continent. He will criss-cross Africa to take in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Angola and Nigeria.

if you look at the website for the orange company, by the way, or its wikipedia page, you’ll notice that many of the above-listed countries in africa are also being subjected to orange telecom. just say no.

on why coca cola should be boycotted (and no pepsi, etc. is not any better)

there was a great article about bds by sousan hammad in counterpunch last month, which begins with a great fanon quote and engages in an important analysis of the psychological complications involved when trying to educate palestinians about bds:

“An underdeveloped people must prove, by its fighting power, its ability to set itself up as a nation, and by the purity of every one of its acts, that it is, even to the smallest detail, the most lucid, the most self-controlled people.”

–Frantz Fanon, “A Dying Colonialism”

There is an echoing sentiment here in Ramallah that Israeli milk is more “tasteful” and “nutritious” than Palestinian milk. The same goes for wine, apples, dates, juice, and just about everything else…except for maybe olives. In fact, Palestinian shopkeepers even stock Israeli-made milk at the front of their store while Palestinian milk sits in a far-to-reach crate collecting dust in the corner.

Palestinians do this for two reasons: one is they truly believe their senses, the other, and possibly more understanding, is because selling Israeli products yield a much higher profit.

A recent study by the Swiss Development Center, an organization that aims to promote Palestinian products, found that Palestinians within the higher socioeconomic strata tend to buy more Israeli goods than those in the lower strata. In French colonial-Martinique, mothers would sing to their children in French instead of their native language because it was more “civilized” to speak the colonizer’s language.

Appropriating the colonialist brand seems to imply prestige – a product, perhaps, of the inferiority complex – but if you push this aside as a psychological epiphenomenon that is a result of colonialism and consider the economic dependency Palestinians are forced to live with, one way to overcome the subjugation of the colonialist-settler (thus racist and discriminatory) policies would be to boycott Israeli products. Besides forcing Palestinians to consume their own products, it would promote and develop a domestic industry and manufactured goods. If it takes a pyramid to list all the nutritional benefits of Palestinian produce, then onward with the label! Whatever it may be, the Palestinians must ascertain that they can have a functioning society without being indebted to Israel.

This is, essentially, what the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement is about. Using Apartheid South Africa as a model, a coalition of Palestinian groups felt compelled to combat Israel’s economic power over Palestine, and, in 2005 the BDS movement was created.

Besides placing political pressure on corporations to divest from Israel, BDS focuses strongly on its consumer boycott efforts, which according to the BDS website, is to put “pressure on companies whose exports are linked to some of the most evident aspects of the Israeli occupation and apartheid.”

One of the many campaigns of BDS is to target stores that sell Israeli products and persuade them to stop stocking them. While much of the campaign is based on Israel’s exports to the West, activists here in the West Bank also try to deter Palestinian shopkeepers from selling produce that is grown in Israeli settlements. (Again, these yield more profit for Palestinians.) It is highly unlikely, though, that Palestinians will collectively and instantaneously dump their Israeli products for Palestinian manufactured goods and produce because an activist tells them so. They want to know if there is proof of sustainability.

A BDS Victory

Enter the story of Veolia and the light rail.

In 1902, Theodore Herzl wrote in his book, Altneuland, that the future of Jerusalem would be made of “modern neighborhoods with electric lines, tree-lined boulevards” and that Jerusalem would become “a metropolis of the 20th century”.

Materialized a century later as the Jerusalem light rail project, the father of Zionism’s idea of an electric-lined-boulevard is halfway in construction. When, and if, completed, the light rail will conveniently accommodate Jewish-Israelis, connecting West Jerusalem to Jewish settlements. The light rail travels through Palestinian neighborhoods, but makes no stops and as one Israeli blogger put it “…all the windows have been reinforced to be resistant to stones and Molotov cocktails.”

But officials are now facing a major setback: In June, Ha’aretz reported that Veolia, a French transportation company that was to operate the light rail post-construction, abandoned the project because of the “political pressure” it was facing: a direct implication of the BDS “Derail Veolia and Alstom Campaign”.

Said an exultant Omar Barghouti, a BDS founding member:

“Veolia’s reported intention to withdraw from the illegal JLR project gives the BDS movement an important victory: success in applying concerted, intensive pressure on a company that is complicit in the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, enough to compel it to withdraw from an illegal project. This may well usher in a new era of corporate accountability, whereby companies that are profiting from Israel’s illegal colonial and racist regime over the indigenous people of Palestine will start to pay a real price in profits and image for their collusion.”

The pressure from human rights activists and lawyers throughout Europe battered Veolia, costing it multiple contracts – a loss that amounted to more than $7 billion. From Stockholm to Bordeaux, companies dumped Veolia on account of its stake in a project that violates international law. Veolia, along with Alstom – the engineering enterprise behind the light rail – were taken to a French court by Association France-Palestine Solidarité along with attorneys from the PLO legal counsel. AFPS filed the complaint against Alstom and Veolia in 2007, arguing that the 8.3-mile project violates international law since East Jerusalem is not sovereign Israeli territory. “Our main argument is that the light rail project is intended to serve illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and thus it’s part of illegal settlement infrastructure and by being involved in project, the French companies are violating international law,” says Azem Bishara, an attorney with the Negotiation Support Unit in Ramallah.

When the Arab League organized a boycott of Israel after its colonization of Palestine in 1948, Arab countries refused to deal with Israel by boycotting their products, services and even refusing to allow Israelis into their country. Lebanon and Syria are the only countries that allegedly adhere to the boycott today, as they have yet to sign trade agreements with Israel. The Israeli Chamber of Commerce reported Israel was losing an average of 10 percent in export revenue per year when the boycott was in its prime. This spearheaded the fight by the American Jewish Committee to pressure Congress to pass an anti-boycott legislation. In 1977, then-President Jimmy Carter, who now advocates the window-dressing of Palestinian national independence, signed a law that would impose a fine on American companies that cooperated with the boycott.

It seems safe to assume that this legislative effort by AJC indicated that it, at least, believed the Arab League boycott was having some effect.

Although it was with similar calculations and campaigning that U.S. and European companies pulled out of South Africa over 20 years ago, how do we know companies like Veolia won’t be targeted by anti-boycott Israeli investors? Whether or not Veolia goes through with its withdrawal, the question remains: is it really a victory? And how can an effective boycott promote economic independence so that Palestinian milk will no longer have to be in the dustbin of stores? These are questions the boycott campaign has to confront.

one of the products that is not mentioned in the above article is coca cola, which many palestinians insist is palestinian because the owner of the franchise is palestinian (zahi khoury) and because they bottle it in al bireh, which i’ve written about before. coca cola is one of the most evil companies in the world for so many reasons. but i was delighted to discover a wonderful critique of sonallah ibrahim’s novel the committee. ever since i read his novel zaat i became enamored with his politics and his writing style. i have been dying to read this novel for a while now and finally got around to it this week. (my form of escapism and procrastination all rolled into one delightful novel.) the egyptian narrator of the novel, who is under investigation by an anonymous, foreign, non-Arabic speaking committee described as “consist[ing] entirely of officers, some of whom sometimes wear civilian clothes, or it consists of civilians, some of whom sometimes wear military uniforms,” (111) to whom he reveals the following:

Since its advent, Coca-Cola has been linked with the major trends of the age, sometimes sharing to a large extent in their formation. The American pharmacist Pemberton synthesized it in Atlanta, famous as the capital of Georgia, the birthplace of the American president Carter and of the notorious Ku Klux Klan. This was during 1886, the very year in which the famous Statue of Liberty, that symbol of the New World, was completed.

As for the bottle, it was one product of an American “war of liberation.” Having vanquished the Indians, the United States plunged into the Spanish-American War in Cuba, which ended in 1899, with the proclamation of “independence” for Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. An American soldier, who, coincidentally, had the same name as the great American philosopher of the preceding century, Benjamin Franklin, saw a bottle of a carbonated beverage made from banana syrup. On returning home, he obtained bottling rights for a new product. The bottle’s shape varied until it finally stabilized in the universally recognized form of “a girl with an hourglass figure.”

It may have been Coca-Cola that first shattered the traditional image of the ad, previously a mere description of a product. Thus it laid the cornerstone of that towering structure, that leading art of the age, namely, advertising. Certainly, it broke the long-standing illusion of a relationship between thirst and heat through the slogan: “Thirst knows no season.” It was ahead of its time in the use of radio and neon for advertisements. it sponsored television shows, produced films, and backed new international stars and idols such as actors, the Beatles, and the pioneers of rock and roll, the twist, and pop.

Coca-Cola went through two world wars and emerged from them victorious. It sold five billion bottles during the seven years of World War II. Then it slipped into Europe under the wing of the Marshall Plan, which backed the war-weakened European currencies by means of American products and loans.

It then took its place as a leading consumer product along with Ford cars, Parker pens, Ronson lighters, but still kept its finger on the pulse of today’s ever-changing world. With the advent of the great age of installment plans, and neighbor competing with neighbor for the newest model car with the largest trunk, capable of holding enough groceries to fill the largest fridge, Coca-Cola marketed the family-sized bottle, the “Maxi.”

When the United States cooperated in a new “war of liberation” in Korea, Coca-Cola created the tin can, in order to parachute Coke to the troops. The image of an American opening a can with his teeth has become a symbol of manhood and bravery. However, the can’s importance is not limited to this image or the way in which it displaced the bottle during the subsequent Vietnam War, but is outweighed by something more significant. It inaugurated the age of the “empty”: a container to be discarded after its contents have been consumed.

Without doubt, the success of Coca-Cola goes back primarily to the excellence of the organizational structure it pioneered: the pyramid. The original company comprises the tip, and the independent bottlers and distributors come below it, forming the base. At first, this unique structure enabled it to obtain the necessary financing to saturate the American market. Later, it helped the company avoid Roosevelt’s campaign against monopolies and finally allowed Coca-Cola to infiltrate the world. In opening world markets, the company relied on establishing independent franchises headed by well-known local capitalists in every country. This practice produced astounding results. Most strikingly, the American bottle came to symbolize indigenous nationalism. (19-22)

coca-cola is a metaphor for colonialism, corruption, and consumption in the novel. and he shows precisely how deviously coca-cola (like all foreign franchises of american products) works to make people think that it is somehow “indigenous” because the product is produced locally. even though that product always has to send proceeds home to the u.s., and then, of course, they send them directly back to the zionist entity for investment (see post i linked to earlier on this). ibrahim shows how coca-cola came to invade egypt later in the novel:

As you have learned, your honors, this bottle entered our country at the end of the ’40s and beginning of the ’50s under the aegis of the vast advertising campaign that facilitated its spread to even the most remote villages and hamlets. Coca-Cola became a household word.

After the revolution, Coca-Cola’s popularity soon began to wane. I found out that the Doctor, among other factors, was responsible. To wit, he tried to compete by using a local beverage destined to succeed only for a short while.

However, the crushing blow fell at the beginning of the ’60s, when the Arab governmental agencies boycotting Israel discovered that Coca-Cola had given the Israelis bottling rights. As a result, Coca-Cola was blacklisted and barred from Arab countries. The market was wide open for the Doctor. (73-74)

ibrahim’s narrator gets even more specific in his indictment of coca-cola towards the end of the novel:

Many obscure phenomena are linked to the evolution of this well-known beverage.

For example, I read of a far-reaching crusade launched in 1970 in the United States over the mis-treatment of a quarter million migrant workers on farms controlled by Coca-Cola. I mean farms, not factories. This crusade spread to television and from there to Congress. Senator Walter Mondale, at that time a member of the Committee for Migrant Workers, summoned the president of Coca-Cola to answer officially, before the United States Senate, the accusations leveled against Coca-Cola.

Not three years later, the president of Coca-Cola participated in selecting that same Mondale for membership in the Trilateral Commission I told you about in our first meeting. Then he selected him as vice president to President Carter.

At the same time as Coca-Cola was accused of the theft of a handful of dollars from its workers, we read that it dedicated vast sums for charitable and cultural works ranging from an entire university budget to an important prize for artistic and literary creativity. It also presented a huge grant to the Brooklyn Museum in 1977 to rescue Egyptian pharaonic antiquities from collapse.

Coca-Cola, according to statistics for 1978, distributes two hundred million bottles of soft drinks daily throughout the world, leaving tap water as its only rival. So, now we see it sponsoring projects for the desalinization of sea water, relying on the Aqua Chem Company that I bought a few years ago, in 1970 to be precise.

These contradictions confused me, so I did several studies on Coca-Cola. Its policy was to remain committed to the two basic principles set down by its great founders. The first principle was to make every participant in the Coca-Cola enterprise rich and happy. The second was to restrict its energies to creating a single commodity: the well-known bottle.

But the winds of change that blew in the early ’60s forced a choice between the principles. In order not to sacrifice the first, Coca-Cola preferred to diversify its products. It began by producing other types of carbonated beverages, then extended its interests to farming peanuts, coffee, and tea. It had extensive holdings int hat same state of Georgia where it was founded. its farms neighbored those of the American president Carter, which perhaps was behind its involvement in public affairs, both domestic and international, and thus its policy of diversification grew all out of proportion.

Obviously, this policy couldn’t help but be successful. In this regard, it is sufficient to mention the return of the familiar bottle to both China and Egypt through the initiative in both countries of brave patriots, who acted on their principles.

However, this success produced a strange phenomenon. With modern methods and lower production costs gained by relying on poorly paid migrant workers, Coca-Cola became the largest producer of fresh fruit in the Western world. But, sadly, it found itself forced to dump a large portion of the yield into the sea to keep the world market from collapsing.

There was no solution to this problem except to continue diversifying. Coca-Cola exploited its great assets and expertise in the field of agriculture by sponsoring many nutritional programs in underdeveloped countries, among them a project to farm legumes in Abou Dhabi, undertaken by its subsidiary, Aqua Chem. Likewise, it extensively researched the production of drinks rich in proteins and other nutrients, thereby compensating consumers for the surpluses it had been forced to dump in the ocean. (124-127)

there is so much more to the novel, but i especially love the extended commentary on the evil, insidious inner workings of coke. and, of course, which was one of the first companies to move into occupied iraq and occupied afghanistan? coca cola. here is an article on coca cola’s war profiteering in afghanistan from 2006:

Coca-Cola has returned to war-torn Afghanistan with a gleaming $25m factory, calling the country a ‘missing link’ in its international business.

Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai opened the 60,000sq-metre Coca-Cola bottling plant in capital city Kabul, more than a decade after civil war forced the soft drinks group out of the country.

It is a controversial and risky move for Coca-Cola at a time when violence directed against NATO forces in the country, including American soldiers, appears in danger of spiralling out of control.

Coca-Cola’s Kabul plant will be operated under franchise by local businessman Habib Gulzar, and is expected to focus on core carbonated soft drink brands such as Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite. Bottled water could be added in the future.

Selcuk Erden, president of Coca-Cola’s Southern Eurasia division, which will oversee Afghanistan, said: “Afghanistan was the missing link in our geography and we were following this country very carefully.”

The group said the country had the potential to be a strong emerging market for its drinks.

Critics have suggested Coca-Cola is not what Afghans really need right now.

Afghanistan is ranked as the fifth poorest country in the world by the United Nations. “The depth of poverty in Afghanistan is reflected consistently in all human development indicators, revealing a mosaic of a nation in need of sustained assistance,” a recent UN development report says.

and here is an article on coca cola’s war profiteering in iraq from the guardian by rory carroll:

Coca-Cola has returned to Iraq after an absence of nearly four decades, triggering a cola war in a lucrative but potentially hostile market.

Coke ended its 37-year exile last week by setting up a joint-venture bottling company to compete with Pepsi for 26 million consumers.

The upsides for Coke include a thirst-inducing climate and burgeoning Islamic conservatism which has banned beer and other alcoholic drinks in much of the country.

The downsides, besides Pepsi’s head start, are a raging insurgency and banditry which threaten supply routes, and a perception that Coca-Cola is linked to Israel and “American Zionists”.

Coke withdrew from Iraq in 1968 when the Arab League declared a boycott because of business ties to Israel, leaving Pepsi to dominate the Middle East market for soft drinks. The boycott ended in 1991, but sanctions and wars kept Coke out of Iraq.

After a trickle of Coca-Cola imports from neighbouring countries, the company is attempting a proper comeback by launching a joint venture with a Turkish company, Efes Invest, and its Iraqi partner HMBS, which will reportedly bottle the Coke in Dubai and distribute it across Iraq.

“A local bottling company will employ local people to do this,” a Coca-Cola spokesman said yesterday. “This happens in most of the 200 countries in which we operate around the world, despite the perception of us as an American company.”

The response in Baghdad yesterday was mixed. One drink wholesaler, Abbas Salih, said the initiative was doomed. “Coca-Cola does business with those who are shooting our brothers in Palestine,” he said. “How can we drink it?”

when i was searching for material on why coca cola is evil i stumbled upon this great article from 2004 that i had never found that encapsulates the numerous reasons why one should boycott coca cola by mohammed mesbahi, which is long, but well worth the read for its variety of issues (health, environmental, political, etc.):

Coca Cola was invented in the United States in 1886 as a medicine, rather than a drink, to stimulate the brain and the nervous system, from a mixture of coca leaves and kola nuts, sweetened with sugar, hence the name Coca Cola. It was not until 1893 that Coca Cola was sold and promoted as a drink. Gradually the cocaine was eliminated, but in order to maintain the stimulant effect caffeine was substituted.

Phosphoric acid (0.055%) is now added to increase the fizziness and zingy taste. This gives the drink a pH of 2.8, making it almost as acidic as lemon juice (pH 2.2), which is why more sugar has to be added in order for it to taste sweet. Weak acidic solutions will dissolve the calcium in teeth over a period of time and will also interfere with calcium metabolism. This is especially of concern to post-menopausal women, who are already have a tendency towards osteoporosis.

Stimulants and sugar are habit forming, and Coca Cola contains large quantities of both. It is now sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Fructose is a simple carbohydrate.

Carbohydrates are divided into two broad categories:

simple carbohydrates,

e.g. glucose,

fructose (fruit sugar),

lactose (milk sugar),

sucrose (table sugar) etc.

complex carbohydrates,

e.g. starch

cellulose

High fructose corn syrup is produced by processing corn starch to yield glucose and then processing the glucose to produce a high proportion (80%) of fructose. This is not natural fructose, as found in fruit, since fruit usually contains 50% fructose, 50% glucose and is absorbed into the blood stream slowly, because the fruit also contains high levels of fibre. The fructose in high fructose corn syrup is absorbed into the body rapidly and transformed into glucose by the liver. There is currently some concern surrounding the consumption of high levels of fructose because it seems to interfere with copper metabolism and with the formation of collagen and elastin, essential components of the growing body.

When we eat (or drink) a high dose of sugar (sucrose, glucose or fructose) our blood glucose level rises suddenly, producing a feeling of elation. However high blood glucose levels also stimulate the pancreas to release insulin, which causes the glucose to be removed from the blood stream and converted into fat. This results in low blood sugar, low energy, irritability and low mood. At this point, we crave the feeling of elation associated with the sugar. This is why soft drinks are habit forming.

When, on the other hand, we eat complex carbohydrates, such as potatoes, bread, pasta, rice etc., the body breaks down these complex molecules gradually, over a period of several hours, into molecules of glucose. This glucose is released into the blood stream gradually, thus maintaining blood glucose at the level required by the body and brain for proper functioning.

Putting high quantities of sugar into drinks is an insidious way of introducing calories into people. People eating a chocolate bar are aware that they are consuming something fattening. People, especially children, consuming the same amount of calories in a drink are not. Regular consumption of drinks containing high levels of sugar lead to a gradual build up of stored fat and contribute to the rising levels of obesity in the West. Over-consumption of sugar causes over-stimulation of the pancreas. Over a period of many years, the pancreas loses its ability to produce adequate quantities of insulin. This leads to late-onset diabetes. Levels of late-onset diabetes have been rising steadily in the West over the past century.

Coca Cola, one of the world’s largest corporations, worth about ninety five billion dollars, owes much of its success to the massive marketing and advertising used to promote the product. It became a corporation early in the twentieth century and immediately began an aggressive advertising campaign throughout the US. The corporation used some advertising techniques of dubious morality, including funding the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry and suppressing a World Health Organisation Report on healthy eating. The report stated that soft drink consumption contributed to obesity. But possibly the policy which caused the most public outrage was that of paying schools to sell Coca Cola in vending machines. The corporation realised that if they could sell Coca Cola to children, by the time they finished school they would become confirmed Coca Cola drinkers and would continue to buy the drink for the rest of their lives. This strategy was so successful that Coca Cola rapidly became the most popular drink in the US.

Long before the US market had become saturated, the corporation decided to target the next place with money to spend on drinks, i.e. Europe, where they now sell thirty percent of their product. Vending machines in schools soon became common place, despite opposition from concerned parents and teachers. Under-funded state schools found it difficult to refuse the money offered by Coca Cola.

The imposition of permanent advertising in schools, in the form of vending machines, certainly justifies a boycott, and indeed some schools have organised them, in protest against the Corporation’s monopoly of products sold in school vending machines. Groups at Universities in the US and the UK are also running boycotts in protest against Coke’s human rights abuses. Berkeley, New York University, Harvard, Yale, Rutgers, Macalister and University College Dublin all have ongoing boycotts.

Coca Cola has a history of human rights abuse. “It is a fact that the soft drinks giant from Atlanta, Georgia collaborated with the Nazi-regime throughout its reign from 1933 – 1945 and sold countless millions of bottled beverages to Hitler’s Germany.” From Coca-Cola Goes to War, Jones E and Ritzman F.

While the corporation, back in the USA, was promoting Coca Cola as a morale booster for the US troops, their German representative, Max Keith was sponsoring Nazi events, including the 1936 Olympics and situating advertisements close to Nazi leaders at rallies. Sales of Coke in Germany went from zero in 1929 to 4 million cases in 1939. Coke became the most popular drink in Germany and in 1944 the company sold 2 million cases. When the Nazis began their invasions of Italy, France, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Norway Walter Oppenhof, Coca Cola’s German company lawyer, and Max Keith were employed by the Nazis’ Office of Enemy Property. They travelled with Nazi troops and were responsible for setting up Nazi Coca-Cola factories in expropriated soft drinks plants in countries occupied by the Nazis. They staffed these factories with kidnapped civilians. (See: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CLASS/AM483_95/projects/coke/coke.html ).

But Coca Cola’s association with fascist regimes is not confined to world war history.

In the 1970s workers at Coca Cola bottling factories in Guatemala were killed, in the 1980s Coke supported the Apartheid system in South Africa and in the 1990s they supported the brutal Abacha regime in Nigeria.

Currently SINAL TRAINAL, the Colombian workers’ union is promoting a world wide boycott in order to raise awareness of the intimidation, torture, kidnapping, illegal detention and murder of workers in the Coca Cola bottling plants in Colombia.

On the other side of the world, in several South Indian states, including Kerala and Tamil Nadu, boycotts have been running for years, despite police repression, in protest against Coca Cola’s excessive water consumption, pollution of local wells and destruction of agriculture. The Corporation’s bottling factories have been pumping water from boreholes at such a rate that they have dried up the underground aquifers. They have also been distributing the sludge produced by the factory as fertilizer. It is true that this sludge does contain substances which fertilize the soil, but Exeter University analysed it for the Kerala Pollution Control Board and found that it contained dangerously high levels of toxic metals, including cadmium. These toxic metals leach into the ground water and are taken up by crops and therefore ingested by the local population. After the BBC aired a programme about this, Coca Cola was forced to stop dumping their toxic waste on the local population, but nothing was done to clean up the already polluted environment. The protest and boycott in India continue.

The Coca Cola Corporation owns four of the world’s most popular five soft drinks: Coca Cola, diet Coke, Fanta and Sprite.

Over the past five years, Coca Cola Corporation has realised that, as water resources dwindle worldwide, even more money can be made from selling bottled water. Their sales of water are growing exponentially. Brands include Bonaqua, Dasani (US) Kinley (India), Mount Franklin (Australia) Malvern (UK) and Ciel (Mexico), but soft drinks still account for 85% of their market (at the moment). They plan to expand massively in the bottled water market but most of their advertising will go into promotion of soft drinks. Soon Coca Cola, Pepsi and Nestle will be the three main corporations selling bottled water, an iniquitous market, often depriving people of their local source of spring water, and selling it back to them at unaffordable prices.

Max Keiser, investment activist, and Zak Goldsmith, editor of the Ecologist, have formed a partnership to target Coca Cola by bringing down the value of its shares. Keiser has developed a system for measuring a corporation’s vulnerability to a boycott. He calls it the Karmabanque (KbQ) Index. The KbQ index 2004 tracks the share price of high-performing but socially and environmentally irresponsible corporations, assuming their shares had been sold short on the 1 January 2004. A short sale is a bet that a trader makes that a company’s share price will fall. The further the company’s share price falls, the more money the trader makes. Selling short stocks hurts corporations because it deflates their share price. The KbQ rating determines where a company appears in the index, and combines the amount of dissent directed at a company and its boycott vulnerability ratio (BVR). A company’s BVR indicates how susceptible its stock price is to a consumer boycott. In order to work out a corporation’s vulnerability, its market capitalization should be divided by trailing annual sales. Currently, ExxonMobil’s BVR is close to $1, whereas Coca-Cola’s is closer to $5. In other words the Coca Cola Corporation is five times more vulnerable to a boycott than ExxonMobil.

Coca Cola’s appalling human rights record, combined with its high boycott vulnerability ratio make it the ideal target for a boycott. This is why Max Keiser and Zak Goldsmith have decided to launch a hedge fund, which will be used to buy Coca Cola shares. They will then sell the shares for less than they bought them for, which will bring down their value on the international stock market. They are relying on the continuing boycott of Coca Cola products to bring the share price down still further. They will then buy the shares at a lower price than they sold them for and sell them again for even less. All profits from this venture will be donated to the victims of Coca Cola in countries such as India and Colombia.

Max Keiser and Zak Goldsmith say that for every 1,000 new boycotters, they will increase the size of the hedge fund by £5000. Goldsmith’s Ecologist Magazine will publicize the boycott and audit, track and publish the results. Keiser recommends that pressure groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth should decide what to boycott according to their Boycott Vulnerability Ratio.

There has been a history of Coca Cola boycotts in many parts of the world. But this is the first time that an investor has become actively involved in a world wide Coca Cola boycott. Max Keiser and Zak Goldsmith deserve our support. There is every reason to hope that they will succeed in bringing down the market value of Coca Cola, but for that they need more people and organisations to join the boycott.

food for thought: on hollywood

there are so many reasons why i don’t live in the u.s. any more. why i can barely stand coming back here at all. but i do it to see my grandma because she is the one reason that it remains difficult for me to live abroad. i’ve spent the last couple of weeks cleaning up her house, cooking, grocery shopping, taking her to doctor appointments, and taking her to auditions. a few years ago my grandma was encouraged to start an acting career at age 85 and she’s had a few bit parts in short films and commercials since then. she’s had two since i’ve been here. one was some italian movie called “christmas in beverly hills” and the other was for an episode of some fox tv show called “house md,” which i’ve never seen. that audition was on the 20th century fox studio lot.

sound stage for "the simpsons"

we drove onto the lot and into the parking garage where my grandma’s agent told us to park. but he also gave us a map showing that we had to walk from there all the way across the studio lot in order to get to the building where the audition would be. i told the guard that it would be impossible for us to do that and asked him for to arrange for us to drive onto the lot so we could park next to the building. silly me: i thought that there would actually be handicapped parking spaces out front. but there were none. all the spaces outside building #52 were reserved for people who work on something called “bones” and “futurama.” so i parked in some other reserved space a bit closer to the building. the only handicapped spot i gleaned was in front of building #1, which was too far of a trek for my grandma and her walker. and i did not think that it would be a good idea to push her into an audition in her wheelchair.

where are the handicapped parking spots?
where are the handicapped parking spots?

when we got into the office building i saw a line of women my grandma’s age and then i saw photos on the wall about this “house md” show that stars someone called hugh laurie (also someone i’ve never heard of, but apparently he’s a big name in hollywood). we went through all this effort for my grandma to utter one line: “ooooooohhhh!” it was funny standing outside the door and listening to all the women go inside and utter this exclamation. i think the scene is a patient in bed and this is obviously a response to something the doctor does. well, it turns out that it was worth the effort because my grandma got the part. she’s going to be in an episode of “house md” this season in a scene with hugh laurie. and it is even a bigger deal because now she has enough credits to join the screen actors guild (sag), a union for actors. this means my grandma will have an easier time getting acting gigs. so tomorrow we are going to get her a sag card.

the acting thing is great for my grandma as it gets her out of the house and interacting with people. otherwise she stays at home too much, which is not good for her physical or mental health. but the whole hollywood thing is one reason i left los angeles way back in 1987. the individualistic and narcissistic attitudes that plague people in hollywood infect everything in the city. for the most part, everything and everyone strikes me as fake. and i’ve never liked this aspect of my home town.

but sometimes good things come out of hollywood. my grandma and i went to see the movie “food, inc.” last night. it featured two writers i really like a lot when it comes to food issues: eric schlosser and michael pollan. the film is important in the way it draws connections among labor, class, environment, health, nutrition, government control and censorship, and what we eat. here is a trailer for the film, which gives you an idea of the subjects it covers:

the film’s one main failing is its lack of attention to how u.s. food policy affects the rest of the world. rami’s blog addresses this issue on a daily basis. michael pollan’s open letter to then president-elect barack obama addressed these issues and showed how they are intertwined in crucial ways:

After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis — a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.

In addition to the problems of climate change and America’s oil addiction, you have spoken at length on the campaign trail of the health care crisis. Spending on health care has risen from 5 percent of national income in 1960 to 16 percent today, putting a significant drag on the economy. The goal of ensuring the health of all Americans depends on getting those costs under control. There are several reasons health care has gotten so expensive, but one of the biggest, and perhaps most tractable, is the cost to the system of preventable chronic diseases. Four of the top 10 killers in America today are chronic diseases linked to diet: heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and cancer. It is no coincidence that in the years national spending on health care went from 5 percent to 16 percent of national income, spending on food has fallen by a comparable amount — from 18 percent of household income to less than 10 percent. While the surfeit of cheap calories that the U.S. food system has produced since the late 1970s may have taken food prices off the political agenda, this has come at a steep cost to public health. You cannot expect to reform the health care system, much less expand coverage, without confronting the public-health catastrophe that is the modern American diet.

The impact of the American food system on the rest of the world will have implications for your foreign and trade policies as well. In the past several months more than 30 nations have experienced food riots, and so far one government has fallen. Should high grain prices persist and shortages develop, you can expect to see the pendulum shift decisively away from free trade, at least in food. Nations that opened their markets to the global flood of cheap grain (under pressure from previous administrations as well as the World Bank and the I.M.F.) lost so many farmers that they now find their ability to feed their own populations hinges on decisions made in Washington (like your predecessor’s precipitous embrace of biofuels) and on Wall Street. They will now rush to rebuild their own agricultural sectors and then seek to protect them by erecting trade barriers. Expect to hear the phrases “food sovereignty” and “food security” on the lips of every foreign leader you meet. Not only the Doha round, but the whole cause of free trade in agriculture is probably dead, the casualty of a cheap food policy that a scant two years ago seemed like a boon for everyone. It is one of the larger paradoxes of our time that the very same food policies that have contributed to overnutrition in the first world are now contributing to undernutrition in the third. But it turns out that too much food can be nearly as big a problem as too little — a lesson we should keep in mind as we set about designing a new approach to food policy.

Rich or poor, countries struggling with soaring food prices are being forcibly reminded that food is a national-security issue. When a nation loses the ability to substantially feed itself, it is not only at the mercy of global commodity markets but of other governments as well. At issue is not only the availability of food, which may be held hostage by a hostile state, but its safety: as recent scandals in China demonstrate, we have little control over the safety of imported foods. The deliberate contamination of our food presents another national-security threat. At his valedictory press conference in 2004, Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, offered a chilling warning, saying, “I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.”

if you click on the link at the beginning of the above-quoted text you’ll find that pollan goes a lot further–both historicizing these problems and offering solutions to them. the film, too, asks people to take action after viewing it as all the participant film productions do. the film people have a website where the update various items that encourage action on the part of their viewers. this is, of course, rare in hollywood. and not all of this film company’s productions on the various social issues are on the mark politically from where i stand. but i think this food film is important and raises issues. the question is if americans can get off their asses and do something about it. that remains to be seen.

there was another really great food documentary i saw last year called “king corn” which was an independent film about how the food industry is destroying agriculture, health, and the environment. it traced and tracked how and where corn travels across the united states and beyond (to a certain extent) in all of its various forms (“food, inc.” covers the subject, too). and they also have a link on their site where you can find out what to do to take action. you can get a good idea about the film from this extended clip (and the film is available for download on itunes):

but as much as i appreciate the various threads these filmmakers pull together to show us how damaging our eating practices are on a national scale, i think some further attention to the ways american agriculture is affecting the planet is necessary. one of the key evil mutli-national corporations featured in the film “food, inc.” is, of course, monsanto. and the film does a great job showing how monsanto bullies farmers into submission, compliance, and bankruptcy. but at the same time this is what is going on globally for the same reasons. just look at what nancy scola explains the u.s. and monsanto are doing in places like india and iraq:

In short, Order 81 was Bremer’s way of telling Monsanto that the same conditions had been created in Iraq that had led to the company’s stunning successes in India.

In issuing Order 81, Bremer didn’t order Iraqi farmers to march over to the closest Monsanto-supplied shop and stock up. But if Monsanto’s experience in India is any guide, he didn’t need to.

Here’s the way it works in India. In the central region of Vidarbha, for example, Monsanto salesmen travel from village to village touting the tremendous, game-changing benefits of Bt cotton, Monsanto’s genetically modified seed sold in India under the Bollgard® label. The salesmen tell farmers of the amazing yields other Vidarbha growers have enjoyed while using their products, plastering villages with posters detailing “True Stories of Farmers Who Have Sown Bt Cotton.” Old-fashioned cotton seeds pale in comparison to Monsanto’s patented wonder seeds, say the salesmen, as much as an average old steer is humbled by a fine Jersey cow.

Part of the trick to Bt cotton’s remarkable promise, say the salesmen, is that Bollgard® was genetically engineered in the lab to contain bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that the company claims drastically reduces the need for pesticides. When pesticides are needed, Bt cotton plants are Roundup® Ready — a Monsanto designation meaning that the plants can be drowned in the company’s signature herbicide, none the worse for wear. (Roundup® mercilessly kills nonengineered plants.)

Sounds great, right? The catch is that Bollgard® and Roundup® cost real money. And so Vidarbha’s farmers, somewhat desperate to grow the anemic profit margin that comes with raising cotton in that dry and dusty region, have rushed to both banks and local moneylenders to secure the cash needed to get on board with Monsanto. Of a $3,000 bank loan a Vidarbha farmer might take out, as much as half might go to purchasing a growing season’s worth of Bt seeds.

And the same goes the next season, and the next season after that. In traditional agricultural, farmers can recycle seeds from one harvest to plant the next, or swap seeds with their neighbors at little or no cost. But when it comes to engineered seeds like Bt cotton, Monsanto owns the tiny speck of intellectual property inside each hull, and thus controls the patent. And a farmer wishing to reuse seeds from a Monsanto plant must pay to relicense them from the company each and every growing season.

But farmers who chose to bet the farm, literally, on Bt cotton or other GM seeds aren’t necessarily crazy or deluded. Genetically modified agricultural does hold the tremendous promise of leading to increased yields — incredibly important for farmers feeding their families and communities from limited land and labor.

But when it comes to GM seeds, all’s well when all is well. Farming is a gamble, and the flip side of the great potential reward that genetically modified seeds offer is, of course, great risk. When all goes badly, farmers who have sunk money into Monsanto-driven farming find themselves at the bottom of a far deeper hole than farmers who stuck with traditional growing. Farmers who suffer a failed harvest may find it nearly impossible to secure a new loan from either a bank or local moneylender. With no money to dig him or herself out, that hole only gets deeper.

And that hole is exactly where farmers have found themselves in India’s Vidarbha region, where crop failure — especially the failure of Bt cotton crops — has reached the level of pandemic.

In may be that Bt cotton isn’t well-suited to central India’s rain-driven farming methods; Bollgard® and parched Vidarbha may be as ill-suited as Bremer’s combat boots and Brooks Brothers suits. It may be the unpredictable and unusually dry monsoon seasons that have plagued India of late. But in any case, the result is that more and more of India’s farmers are finding themselves in debt, and with little hope for finding their way out.

And the final way out that so many of them — thousands upon thousands — have chosen is death, and by their own hands. Firm statistics are difficult to come by, but even numbers on the low end of the scale are downright horrifying. The Indian government and NGOs have estimated that, so far this year, at last count more than a thousand farmers have killed themselves in the state of Maharashtra alone. The New York Times pinned it as 17,000 Indian farmers in 2003 alone. A PBS special that aired last month, called “The Dying Fields,” claimed that one farmer commits suicide in Vidarbha every eight hours.

But let’s not be so pessimistic for a moment, and say that Iraqi farmers see the risks of investing in unproven GM seeds. Let’s say they reject the idea that the intellectual property buried inside the seeds they plant is “owned” not by nature, but by Monsanto. Let’s say they decide to keep on keeping on with nonengineered, nonpatented agriculture.

The fact is, they may not have a choice.

Here is where Order 81 starts to look a lot like the forced and mandatory GM-driven agricultural system that cynics tagged it as when it was first announced. Read the letter of the law, and the impact of Order 81 seems limited to using public policy to construct an architecture that’s simply favorable to a company like Monsanto. The directive promotes a corporate agribusiness model a lot like the one we have in the United States today, but it doesn’t really and truly put Monsanto in the driver’s seat of that system.

Actually handing the keys to Monsanto is instead biology’s job.

Biology — how so? That’s a good question for Percy Schmeiser, the Saskatchewan farmer featured in the film The Future of Food, who found himself tangled with Monsanto in a heated lawsuit over the presence of Roundup® Ready canola plants on the margins of his fields.

The Canadian farmer argued that he had purchased no Monsanto canola seeds, had never planted Monsanto seeds, and was frankly horrified to find that the genetically modified crops had taken hold in his acreage. Perhaps, suggested Schmeiser, the plants in question were the product of a few rogue GM seeds blown from a truck passing by his land?

Monsanto was uninterested in Schmeiser’s theory on how the Roundup® Ready plants got there. As far as the company was concerned, Schmeiser was in possession of an agricultural product whose intellectual property belonged to Monsanto. And it didn’t matter much how that came to pass.

Monsanto’s interpretation of the impact of seed contamination is, of course, a good one if its goal is to eventually own the rights to the world’s seed supply. And that goal may well be in sight. In fact, a 2004 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that much of the U.S. seed pool is already contaminated by GM seeds. If that contamination continues unabated, eventually much of the world’s seeds could labor under patents controlled by one agribusiness or another.

In one agricultural realm like Iraq’s, GM contamination could in short order give a company like Monsanto a stranglehold over the market. Post-Order 81 Iraqi farmers who want to resist genetically modified seeds and stick to traditional farming methods may not have that choice. Future generations of Iraqi growers may find that one seed shop in Karbala is selling the same patented seeds as every other shop in town.

And when that happens, what had been a traditional farming community — where financial risk is divided and genetic diversity multiplied through the simple interactions between neighboring farmers — finds itself nothing more than the home to lone farmers caught up in the high-stakes world of international agribusiness.

It’s a world not unfamiliar to former CPA honcho Bremer, if the company he keeps is any indication. Robert Cohen, author of the book Milk A-Z, talks about the Bush administration as the “Monsanto Cabinet.”

Among the many connections between that company and the current White House: Former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman served on the board of directors of Calgene, a Monsanto subsidiary; one-time Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld had an eight-year stint as president of Searle, another Monsanto subsidiary; Clarence Thomas worked as an attorney in Monsanto’s pesticide and agriculture division before coming to the Supreme Court as a George H.W. Bush appointee.

Those connections, as much as anything else, might help to explain the impetus behind and timing of Order 81. Let’s suppose for a minute that GM-driven globalized agriculture is, indeed, in the long-term best interests of the new Iraq. Even in the best of circumstances, such a significant policy shift in so core an economic sector can be expected to cause short-term pain. When Bremer issued the directive, Iraq was hardly in a good place: It had recently been invaded, its government dismantled. Considering the desperate need for immediate stability in Iraq in April 2004, Order 81 begins to look like the triumph of connections and ideology over clear-headed policymaking.

vandana shiva, one of my favorite thinkers and activists, speaks about the danger of allowing multi-national corporations hold intellectual property rights for seeds:

so what is the point of all this? the point is to buy locally. to eat what’s in season. to buy from family farmers. to buy as little as possible from any corporation as much as possible. of course, living in palestine that is much easier to do, especially with food. though not with coffee. and this is one last thing i want to say on the subject. coffee is obviously not grown in the levant. so it is imported. and i have not seen much research on the facts about where it gets imported from and how or who works the coffee bean farms and what are the conditions of those workers? all of these things are really important to me when i buy food. when i buy anything for that matter. and one of the main things “food, inc.” was encouraging towards the end was better labeling. but there is no one who labels like groundwork coffee in los angeles. here is a photo of what the coffee and its label on the shelf of their shops looks like:

where my coffee comes from
where my coffee comes from

and here is their mission statement–if only all businesses could think and act in this manner:

groundwork coffee company dates back to 1990, when Richard Karno decided to expand his rare book & café business by roasting his own coffee. The demand from local restaurants became so great, he began roasting around the clock. groundwork then went on to become one of the very first certified organic coffee roasters in Southern California (as well as the largest organic coffee roaster in Los Angeles), while pioneering sustainable, relationship-based, and organic coffee sourcing.

Coffee is one of the earth’s great resources. In dollars it’s the world’s second most traded commodity. When it comes to pesticides it’s the world’s third most sprayed crop– that’s why we went organic.

Organic certification insures the coffee and the community that grew it are not exposed to harmful pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.

groundwork is committed to advancing both the economic and environmental sustainability of the Arabica coffee bean (it’s actually a “seed,” but bean sounds nicer!). Our goal is to purchase and roast the best organic coffees from around the world, while helping to improve the lives of farmers, processors, roaster operators, and café baristas.

on meddling and hypocrisy in iran

i’ve been reading the selected writings of eqbal ahmad this week. there are some excellent, insightful essays about palestinian politics and resistance strategies in this volume, which are especially interesting given ahmad’s history–as someone who lived in algeria and tunisia during the algerian revolution that kicked out the french colonists and although he was born in bihar, india his family had to move lahore after the 1947 partition of india and his family was split by the new border. so he has a particularly interesting take on things. but he also has an essay entitled “iran’s landmark revolution: fifteen years later.” the essay was published in 1994 and given the situation in iran right now and all the comparisons i see people making between the current situation in iran and previous events in iranian history i find the essay a useful read. ahmad starts by reminding us that it was “the first fully televised revolution in history” (81). He opens the essay by comparing the french and iranian revolutions in the sense that both marked a new era regionally. he says:

…the Iranian was like the French a unique and perhaps seminal revolution for the postcolonial era as the French had been for the industrial age. The uprising that began in January 1978 and ended successfully on February 11, 1979, was the first major break in the postcolonial world from the revolutionary model of protracted armed struggle experienced in China, Algeria, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau. Iran’s, by contrast, was a mass insurrection, by far the most popular, broad-based, and sustained agitation in recent history. During a single year–1978–some thirty thousand protestors were killed in Iran while its economic institutions and public services were intermittently shut down. The movement was quite unparalleled for its militant but nonviolent character and for its discipline and morale in the face of governmental violence. As such, it deserves to be studied for its lessons in mass mobilization and agitational politics.

The Iranian Revolution pointed toward a shift in the focus of revolutionary struggle in the so-called Third World from the rural to the urban sector. Until 1978, almost all Third World revolution had been primarily peasant revolutions, centered in rural areas and involving guerrilla warfare. Even in those countries (e.g., Algeria and Cuba) where support of the urban population held great importance in revolutionary strategy, the rural population was from the outset viewed as being central to the revolutionaries’ success.

The Iranian Revolution represented the first significant departure from this pattern. It was predominantly urban in composition and entirely so in its origin and initiation. Its cadres came from the middle, low middle, and working classes. Its following was swelled by the lumpenproletariat, mostly rural migrants driven to the cities by the shah’s “modernization” of agriculture. The capital-intensive commercial farm strategy of economic development which the shah initiated in the 1960s–and which Ms. Bhutto’s “agricultural task force” has now recommended for Pakistan–led to rapid urbanization, cultural dislocation, and grossly augmented and visible inequality. These conditions created the mass base for the uprising, and increasingly they are appearing in other Third World countries, especially in those which are seeking links with the commercial market as uncritically as they once sought to imitate socialism.

Iran yielded a textbook example of the general strike as a primary weapon in revolutionary seizure of power. The strike, which lasted nearly six months in Iran, was one of the longest and by far the most effective in history. The turning point in the struggle against the shah came during September and October 1978, when the oil workers in Abadan and Ahvaz proved the weapon of the general strike to be powerful beyond the dreams of the nineteenth-century Marxists and syndicalists, who had viewed it as the lynchpin of revolutionary strategy. Subsequently, events in South Korea, South Africa, Nicaragua, and Brazil, among others, suggested that what we witnessed in Iran was a trend….

The fall of the shah revealed that, in the Third World, deployment of advanced weapons promotes internal contradictions and subjects the state apparatus to unbearable strains. When confronted by a sustained popular uprising, Iran’s 450,000 strong, superequipped military establishment disintegrated. Significantly, the noncommissioned officers and technicians, whose numbers had swelled since 1972 as a result of large infusions of sophisticated arms, were the first to defect en masse; their defection proved crucial in the disintegration of Iran’s armed forces. The military’s open and mass defections, which began in December 1978, were spearheaded by technicians and cadets of the air force and armoured divisions. They sealed the Pahlavis’ fate.

Herein lies an extraordinary irony. In terms of intensity, scope, and the social forces which were involved in it, the Iranian was by far the most modern and objectively advanced revolution in the Third World. Yet revolutionary power in Iran was seized by a clerical leadership of theocratic outlook, medieval culture, and millenarian style. Most scholars have attributed this remarkable phenomenon to the shah’s repression (only in the mosque one found the freedom of association and speech…) and to Iran’s Shia traditions (of martyrdom and clerical power). (81-84)

the events of 1979 is, of course, one of the flashpoints being used as a point of comparison right now. so is the 1953 american coup which led to the overthrow of mohammed mossadgh, and the installment of the shah as the american puppet in iran, which of course led to the 1979 events that ahmad discusses above. here is chris hedges reminding of the american coup in 1953:

Iranians do not need or want us to teach them about liberty and representative government. They have long embodied this struggle. It is we who need to be taught. It was Washington that orchestrated the 1953 coup to topple Iran’s democratically elected government, the first in the Middle East, and install the compliant shah in power. It was Washington that forced Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, a man who cared as much for his country as he did for the rule of law and democracy, to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. We gave to the Iranian people the corrupt regime of the shah and his savage secret police and the primitive clerics that rose out of the swamp of the dictator’s Iran. Iranians know they once had a democracy until we took it away.

Picture 1

in all of the news going on in iran i have been thinking about one of the most insightful statements i read on as’ad abukhalil’s blog early on in relation to a statement barack obama made:

You need to read Obama’s statements on Iran carefully. There is one particular statement in which he said that the US (for historical reasons) can’t “appear to be meddling”. The statement does not say that the US is not meddling, but that it does not want to appear to be meddling. Similarly, the US in 1953 meddled but it did not appear to be meddling.

here is obama’s original quote from the los angeles times by paul richter:

“It’s not productive, given the history of the U.S.-Iranian relationship, to be seen as meddling,” Obama said Tuesday.

the image above is a screenshot i took of the white house website. if you click on the link you can watch a video of obama’s press conference and read a transcript in english, farsi, and arabic. if obama did not want to seem to be meddling last week, this week he is blatantly meddling. what i find most hypocritical about his remarks are on the subject of justice:

The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That’s precisely what’s happened in the last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests [sic] of justice. Despite the Iranian government’s efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers, and so we’ve watched what the Iranian people are doing.

This is what we’ve witnessed. We’ve seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands of Iranians marching in silence. We’ve seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and that their voices are heard. Above all, we’ve seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats, and we’ve experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and extraordinarily painful, we also know this: Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.

part of what has been unnerving about the situation in iran is the zionist entity’s press over the protests. they seem to be foaming at the mouth over the post-election protests. indeed, the majority of the articles in ha’aretz and ynet have been on iran, which is unusual. there have also been many rumors spread on the internet which are difficult to verify at this point with respect to zionists meddling in iran. in the guardian rory mccarthy, martin chulov, hugh macleod, and ian black report precisely why the zionist entity is up in arms about the protests:

In private, Israeli officials appeared to be hoping for an ­Ahmadinejad victory even before the polls opened, despite his vitriolic ­criticism of Israel, his denial of the ­Holocaust and his apparent eagerness for a nuclear weapons programme.

but there does appear to be evidence of the united states meddling in iran as jeremy scahill reported today:

As violence continues on the streets of Tehran, RebelReports has learned that former US National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft has confirmed that the US government has spies on the ground in Iran. Scowcroft made the assertion in an interview to be broadcast on the Al Jazeera program “Fault Lines.” When asked by journalist Avi Lewis if the US has “intelligence operatives on the ground in Iran,” Scowcroft replied, “Of course we do.”

While it is hardly surprising that the US has its operatives in Iran, it is unusual to see a figure in a position to know state this on the record. New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh and Former Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter both have claimed for years that the US has regularly engaged in covert operations inside of Iran aimed at destabilizing the government. In July 2008, Hersh reported, “the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded.”

In the Al Jazeera interview, Scowcroft defended President Obama’s position on Iran, which has been roundly criticized by Republicans as weak and ineffective with some characterizing Obama as a “de facto ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.”

Scowcroft tells Al Jazeera: “We don’t control Iran. We don’t control the government obviously. There is little we can do to change the situation domestically in Iran right now and I think an attempt to change it is more likely to be turned against us and against the people who are demonstrating for more freedom and, therefore, I think we need to look at what we can do best, which is to try to influence Iranian behavior in the region, and with nuclear weapons.”

the video footage of the interview can be seen here (though it is josh rushing and not avi lewis doing the interview as scahill claimed):

and why exactly might the u.s. be meddling? to what end? here is abukhalil’s “abcs of iranian developments”:

Let me explain the ABC of Iranian developments to you. Rafsanjani (the wealthiest and most corrupt man in Iran) represents reform, and Moussavi (who led one of the most repressive eras in the Iranian revolutionary era and who sponsored Hizbullah in its most horrific phases) represents democracy. Did you get that? Write that down NOW.

but it is not just the meddling that is disturbing. it is also the hypocrisy. obama goes off about people fighting for justice being on the right side of history. the palestinians have been doing this for over 61 years and yet where is obama when it comes to speaking about their rights and justice here? abukhalil’s takes this a step further with some important observations:

The hypocrite in speech is invoking an argument that he himself so blatantly ignores and will continue to ignore to the last day of his presidency. Does he really believe in that right for peoples? Yes, but only in countries where governments are not clients of the US. Will he invoke that argument, say, in Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Morocco or Tunisia or Libya or Jordan or Oman, etc? Of course not. This is only an attempt to justify US imperial policies. And even in Iran, the Empire is nervous because it can’t predict the outcome. But make no mistake about it: his earlier statement to the effect that the US can’t for historical reasons “appear to be meddling” sets the difference between the Bush and the Obama administration. The Bush administration meddled blatantly and crudely and visibly, while the Obama administration meddles more discreetly and not-so-visibly. Tens of thousands of pens equipped with cameras have been smuggled into Iran: I only wish that the American regime would dare to smuggle them into Saudi Arabia so that the entire world can watch the ritual of public executions around the country.

my friend matthew cassel also commented on the western media coverage of the protests in iran in electronic intifada today as compared to other parts of the world this week–namely georgia and peru–as well as to palestine to unveil this american hypocrisy:

However, Iran is different than both Georgia and Peru. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has probably overtaken Osama Bin Laden as the most hated individual in the US. Over the past several years, many officials in Washington have called for more aggressive actions to be taken against Iran. More recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave US President Barack Obama an ultimatum that the US president better take care of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, or else Israel would. It’s no coincidence then that the protests in Iran are receiving around-the-clock media coverage and are also one of the only examples in recent years where US government officials have showed support for demonstrators like Obama did when he called on Iran to “stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people.” They are certainly not the only protests that have been met with violent government repression.

For years, Palestinians have organized weekly nonviolent demonstrations against Israel’s wall in the West Bank. Each week protestors face the heavily-armed Israeli military and are beaten and shot at with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear-gas canisters, sometimes fatally. Yet, during his recent speech in Cairo to the Muslim world, Obama made no reference to these protests and instead called on Palestinians to “abandon violence” and adopt nonviolent means. Days after the speech a Palestinian was killed and a teenager wounded during the weekly protest, yet there has been no call by the US administration for Israel to “stop all violent and unjust actions” against the Palestinian people. And the media has followed and remained silent, even though covering the demonstrations would be as easy as a 30-minute drive from most Jerusalem-based news bureaus on any given Friday.

and here is another important moment of hypocrisy that abukhalil pointed out on his blog:

“(Editors’ note: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.)” Did Reuters use that disclaimer when reporting on the Israeli massacres in Gaza?

i do not claim to be an expert on iran. but post-1979 revolution i found my home town of los angeles suddenly populated with iranians. these iranians, many of whom i went to school with and some of whom i was friends with, were decidedly pro-shah. this community gave me a very distorted view of iran growing up. but as i got older and met other iranians in the u.s., and the later around the world, and then began reading more i started to understand more. in the u.s. i hear about media reports on the mainstream news that feature the shah’s family members as abukhalil noted:

The media coverage went from crazy to insane this week. Now, they are–KID YOU NOT–reporting on the reactions of the Shah’s family. Some of them at CNN in fact think that the Iranian people are demonstrating to restore the Shah’s son to power. I heard that the Shah’s widow–taking time from enjoying the wealth of the Iranian people which was embezzled with full American cooperation and complicity–was tearing up on national TV. The plight of the Shah’s family will be similar to that of the descendants of the Iraqi Hashemites after the overthrow of Saddam. The royal dude went back to London when he discovered–against Amerian neo-con assurances–that he has no chance on earth.

aside from this american media distortion machine there are a number of bloggers and scholars speaking about iran from a variety of perspectives. there are some good tweeters out there who are reporting responsibly, but the fact that new media is one of the vehicles for getting information out about iran means that there is all sorts of noise one must filter out. maximillian forte has a great long post on the use of twitter that is worth reading. forte offers some important analysis including on the subject of tweeters from the zionist entity:

It may be wrong to single out Americans here, since there is every likelihood, given the current geopolitical context, that Israeli Twitter users (among the heaviest Twitter users one can find) have a vested interest in manipulating the discussion to serve the ends of the Israeli state, as do many Americans. One thing to do is to try to foment a division between Iran and Hezbollah, thus one posted: “large number of armed forces are lebanese/arab hired to beat down the brave iranians” — completely without substance. Another Twitter user I spoke to chose to quote the Talmud to the Iranian protesters. Interestingly, the Jerusalem Post was immediately “aware” of three “Iranian” bloggers (who post only in English), almost as soon as they joined, claiming without support that their Twitter feeds were from Iran (see here and here).

That the U.S. government has an active interest in the unfolding of the “Twitter revolution” for Iran, is an established fact. The U.S. State Department intervened to ask Twitter to delay a scheduled maintenance break so as to not interrupt tweets about Iran — “Ian Kelly, a state department spokesman, told reporters at a briefing that he had recognized over the weekend the importance of social media ‘as a vital tool for citizens’ empowerment and as a way for people to get their messages out’. He said: ‘It was very clear to me that these kinds of social media played a very important role in democracy – spreading the word about what was going on’” (see “US urges Twitter to delay service break,” by Chris Nuttall and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, 17 June 2009, and “U.S. State Department speaks to Twitter over Iran,” Reuters, 16 June 2009). What the U.S. State Department is also doing, of course, is reinforcing the unproven claim that this is important to Iran, while careful not to specify whose citizens are being empowered, whose word is being spread, and “out” from where. At the same time, the Obama regime claims that it is not meddling in Iranian affairs.

forte also has a really important blog entry on the necessity of sharing accurate sources when using social media that i think is necessary reading for anyone active on the internet in general, not only in relation to iran. blogger mo-ha-med has a different take on the subject of sourcing that is equally important and interesting in the current climate.

scahill has been particularly annoyed by the discourse of the so-called “twitter revolution” that even al jazeera has used. here is his entertaining rant on the subject:

I’m really sick of people in the US talking about the “twitter revolution” in Iran. I especially hate when it’s US liberals who would NEVER get off their asses and away from their computers to protest anything in their own country. They’d never face down tear gas or baton-wielding thugs at home. Some of these liberals (you know who you are) were poo-pooing activists protesting at the Republican and Democratic Conventions and scorn activism in general. This whole commentary about the “twitter revolution” when it comes from these lizards is narcissistic crap.

but even more importantly, i love scahill’s short post on this phenomenon i’ve seen on facebook and twitter with people turning their avatar green to support iran:

Seeing some of these people online turning their profile pictures green “for Iran” makes me want to create a Facebook and Twitter application that turns profile pictures blood red, in solidarity with all of the Afghans and Iraqis and Pakistanis being killed by US wars today; wars that people in the US failed to stop and whose representatives continue to fund to the tune of $100s of billions.

the is the essential thing about bloggers: they point out the points that most journalists cannot or will not point out–the hypocrisies, the context (of course scahill is an exception to the rule). m. monalisa gharavi’s blog south/south has had a number of important observations and posts on post-election iran, including with the help of journalist alireza doostdar, a full breakdown of the iranian elections by the numbers. on the protests gharavi has this to say:

It is becoming clear that the events in Iran are no longer about actual behind-the-scenes political machinations but about manifestations of built-up (and real) public grievance and emotion, a Carnival in the best and most political use of that word. When I use the word ‘Carnival’ I am not talking about the naked, topless women in the Sambodramo, but about the Portuguese verb ‘desabafar’ for the venting of political anger about social and economic grievances that people exercise in sequins and costumes for three days a year. It is an affirmation, not a dismissal, of grievances.

On a personal angle, that the perception of fraud has become much more important than the actual existence of fraud has revealed some major complexities about solidarity. Now as ever I’m with the people of Iran: not only with cousins, friends, and fellow Tehranis facing enormous consequences to their protests and arrests, but also the people who voted for the incumbent, people who cannot butter their bread and face even graver livelihood injustices in other regions of Iran.

How could anyone dismiss the protests, especially in the past few days when there have been deaths? Who is not revolted by riot cops? (The majority of the violence against unarmed protesters–and many of them women, who are leading so many of the protests–are by the armed and plain-clothes Basiji militiamen.) The right of assembly got suspended (and again, the dance: reinstated) many times and in reactive and preventative fashion. I am extremely glad people are openly disobeying permit orders: they should be disobeyed anywhere in the world where they are illegitimate.

But in the U.S. almost every protest large and small requires a permit, and in my own participation at anti-capitalist demos like the World Economic Forum in New York or the FTAA meeting in Miami, military riot gear/tear gas/tanks/undercover officers were unleashed on ‘permitted’ protests to zero accountability. The Republican National Convention in New York in 2004, where I shot video for Steve Stasso’s film Situation Room #2, saw almost 2000 people arrested, beaten, and jailed (the highest number at a political convention to date) with the near-total silence of the favorite ‘non-governmental’ liberal newspaper, the New York Times.

on the monthly review zine website there is another interesting take on the protests by arshin adib-moghaddam which picks up where the ahmad bit i quoted at the beginning of this post left off:

Iran’s civil society is fighting; it is giving blood for a just cause. It is displaying its power, the power of the people. Today, Iran must be considered one of the most vibrant democracies in the world because it is the people who are speaking. The role of the supporters of the status quo has been reduced to reaction, which is why they are lashing out violently at those who question their legitimacy.

In all of this, the current civil unrest in Iran is historic, not only because it has already elicited compromises by the state, but also because it provides yet more evidence of the way societies can empower themselves against all odds. These brave men and women on the streets of Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, and other cities are moved by the same utopia that inspired their fathers and mothers three decades ago: the utopia of justice. They believe that change is possible, that protest is not futile. Confronting the arrogance of the establishment has been one of the main ideological planks of the Islamic revolution in 1979. It is now coming back to haunt those who have invented such slogans without necessarily adhering to them in the first place.

And yet the current situation in Iran is profoundly different from the situation in 1978 and 1979. First, the Islamic Republic has proven to be rather responsive to societal demands and rather flexible ideologically. I don’t mean to argue that the Iranian state is entirely reflective of the will of the people. I am saying that is it is not a totalitarian monolith that is pitted against a politically unified society. The fissures of Iranian politics run through all levers of power in the country, which is why the whole situation appears scattered to us. Whereas in 1979 the bad guy (the Shah) was easily identifiable to all revolutionaries, in today’s Iran such immediate identification is not entirely possible. Who is the villain in the unfolding drama? Ahmadinejad? Those who demonstrated in support of him would beg to differ. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei? I would argue that he commands even stronger loyalties within the country and beyond. The Revolutionary Guard or the Basij? Mohsen Rezai, one of the presidential candidates and an opponent of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is contesting the election results, used to be the head of the former institution.

The picture becomes even more complicated when we take into consideration that some institutions of the state such as the parliament — via its speaker, Ali Larijani — have called for a thorough investigation of the violence perpetrated by members of the Basij and the police forces in a raid of student dormitories of Tehran University earlier this week. “What does it mean that in the middle of the night students are attacked in their dormitory?” Larijani asked. The fact that he said that “the interior ministry . . . should answer for it” and that he stated that the “parliament is seriously following the issue” indicate that the good-vs-bad verdict in today’s Iran is more blurred than in 1979.

There is a second major difference to 1979. Today, the opposition to Ahmadinejad is fighting the establishment with the establishment. Mir Hossein Mousavi himself was the prime minister of Iran during the first decade of the revolution, during a period when the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, was president. Mohammad Khatami, one of the main supporters of Mousavi, was president between 1997 and 2005. Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, another political ally, is the head of the Assembly of Experts and another former president. They are the engineers of the Islamic revolution and would never devour their project. When some commentators say that what we are witnessing is a revolution they are at best naive and at worst following their own destructive agenda. The dispute is about the future path of the Islamic Republic and the meaning of the revolution — not about overthrowing the whole system. It is a game of politics and the people who are putting their lives at risk seem to be aware of that. They are aware, in other words, that they are the most important force in the hands of those who want to gain or retain power.

Thus far the Iranian establishment has shown itself to be cunningly adaptable to crisis situations. Those who have staged a revolution know how to sustain themselves. And this is exactly what is happening in Iran. The state is rescuing its political power through a mixture of incentives and pressure, compromise and detention, due process and systematic violence. Moreover, when push comes to shove, the oppositional leaders around Mousavi would never question the system they have built up. As Mousavi himself said in his fifth and most recent letter to the Iranian people: “We are not against our sacred regime and its legal structures; this structure guards our independence, freedom, and Islamic Republic.”

and an iranian reader of abukhalil’s blog had this to say about the reactions to the elections early on, which is also revealing on a number of levels:

Alexander sent me this (I cite with his permission): “As an Iranian and avid reader of your blog, I wanted to share my thoughts on your “Iranian developments” post with you. First of all, your point about Western coverage of Iranian democracy vis-a-vis other countries in the region is spot-on. I think you are right to criticize the impact of Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric on Palestine, and I would like to explain a little about that. In the past, Palestinian liberation was a cause championed by the Iranian secular left, but nowadays it is strongly associated with the religious right. This is not due only to Ahmadinejad (every Iranian leader since Khomeini has expressed the idea that Palestine is a “Muslim issue” that Iranians should be concerned about) but it has gotten worse under Ahmadinejad. It’s not just the statements he makes in international settings, but more importantly the way the issue is used domestically in order to distract people from their own issues. People are told not to protest economic stagnation, repressive government, etc. because they shouldn’t complain when Palestinians have it so much worse. “Pray for Gaza” is shoved down their throats in the same breath as “fix your hijab.” In addition, many people resent the fact that the Iranian state spends so much money on Palestinian and Lebanese affairs when there is such poverty and underdevelopment at home. Incidentally, one of the popular (and hyperbolic) chants at the protests that are going on right now is “mardom chera neshastin, Iran shode Felestin!” (People, why are you sitting down? Iran has become Palestine!”).

Finally, I am glad that you are defending neither Ahmadinejad nor Mousavi. It is frustrating that everyone I talk to from Pakistan to Egypt loves Ahmadinejad and is shocked to hear that many Iranians think he is ineffective and embarrassing. Meanwhile every Westerner seems to think that Mousavi is a great reformist or revolutionary, and some kind of saintly figure beloved by all. He’s an opportunist crook. That being said, I support the students and protesters in Iran, even the ones chanting Mousavi’s name. I believe they are putting their lives on the line to fight for greater freedom, accountability, and democracy within the Islamic Republic, and they have to couch that in the language of Islam and presidential politics in order to avoid even greater repression than that which they already face. A friend who is in Iran right now confirms: “half the kids throwing rocks at the police didn’t even vote.” To me, that means that they are not fighting for a Mousavi presidency, but for more freedom, which they must hide under a green Mousavi banner in order to have legitimacy in the eyes of the state.”

on democracy now! today amy goodman spoke with professor hamid dabashi about his take on the situation in iran, which he frames in a civil rights context:

It’s based on my reading of what I believe is happening in Iran. This, in my judgment, is a post-ideological generation. My generation was divided into third world socialists, anti-colonial nationalists and militant Islamists. These are the three dominant ideologies with which we grew up. But if you look at the composition of Iranian society today, 70 percent of it is under the age of thirty—namely, born after the Islamic Revolution. They no longer are divided along those ideological lines.

And if you read their newspapers, if you watch their movies, if you listen to the lyrics of their underground music, to their contemporary arts, etc., which we have been doing over the past thirty years, this, to me, is a civil rights movement. They are operating within the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. They don’t want to topple the regime. If you look—come outside, from the right of the right, in the US Senate to the left, is waiting for yet another revolution to happen. I don’t think this is another revolution. This is a civil rights movement. They’re demanding their civil rights that are being denied, even within the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. From their chants that they are doing in the streets to their newspapers, to their magazines, to their websites, to their Facebook, to their Twitters, everywhere that you look, this is a demand for civil liberties and not—

There are, of course, underlying economic factors, statistically. The unemployment in the age cohort of fifteen to twenty-nine is 70 percent. So this is not a class warfare. In other words, people that we see in the streets, 70 percent of them, that a majority of them are young—70 percent of them do not even have a job. They can’t even rent a room, let alone marry, let alone have a family. So the assumption that this is a upper-middle-class or middle-class, bourgeois, Gucci revolutionaries on the side of Mousavi and poor on the side of Ahmadinejad is completely false.

finally one of the most brilliant posts i’ve seen online over the last week or so comes from mo-ha-med’s blog in which he responds directly to meddlers who become “experts” overnight and begin to write about iran entitled “to you, the new iran expert”:

Yes, you.

Who, until this morning, thought that ‘Shiraz’ was just the name of a wine

Who’s beaming with pride you can now write ‘Ahmadinejad’ without copy-and-pasting it from a news website

Who only heard of Evin prison when Roxana Saberi was there (Roxana who?)

Who changed your Facebook profile picture to a green rectangle saying “Where’s my vote?” even though you don’t actually vote in Iran

Who actually thinks that Mir-Hossein Mousavi is a secular
And that his election means that Iran will give up its nuclear claims
And allow you to visit Tehran for Christmas

Who joyfully makes Azadi/Tiananmen square comparisons
Who first heard of Azadi square last Sunday

Who’s quick to link to articles you haven’t read, debunking other articles you’ve barely heard of

Who has just discovered that Iran has a (quasi-)democracy, and elections, and the like

Who blinked in disbelief at the images of women – oh, they have women! and they’re not in burkas! – demonstrating

Who has never heard of Rezai or Karroubi before (hint: they ran for election in a Middle-Eastern country last Friday)

Who staunchly believes that the elections have been stolen – either by ballot box stuffing, (14 million of them!) or by burning some ballots, or both (somehow?), regardless of the absence of any proof (yet)

… But who nevertheless

Has been tweeting, and re-tweeting, and polluting cyberspace with what is essentially hearsay, rumours, and unconfirmed truncated reports or falsification coming from people who actually know about the realities of Iran’s political world and have an agenda:….

I hear your objection though:

Yes, you are entitled to an opinion, to formulating it, to blog it, and to discuss it. I do that too. (this my blog after all).

But do everyone, and you first and foremost, a favour.
Learn from the people who know a thing or two about the issue at hand.
Be selective about you read, listen to, and watch. A simple way is to follow an Iranian friend’s updates and the links they put up.

(Even the State Dept is reading tweets from Iranians.)

Ask questions more than you volunteer answers.

And when you get a tweet that says UNCONF or ‘can anyone confirm?’, for Pete’s sake, that says “This is potentially bulls&^%”. Don’t spread nonsense. Don’t spread unconfirmed or unsourced information.

And rather that getting all excited following live some current events taking place in a country you probably cannot place on a map, read analysis of what it means, what the candidates actually stand for, and what the result will mean for the Iranians and the world.

Then, I would be delighted, truly, to read what you have to say.
Until then, please, pretty please – SHUT UP.

-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

As for what I think? I don’t know. I think the results could be fake – and they also could be real. We probably will never know.

And I don’t think we’re watching a Ukraine ’04 redux or a ‘Green revolution’.
And I think that the people on the street will tire of getting beaten up by a government that is currently revoking foreign media licenses and will forfeit. We’re – well, Iran is – likely stuck with Ahmadinejad for four more years.

And while the troubles on the street are unlikely to lead to a change of government, they’d have had the benefit of showing the Iranian people in a new light – they’re normal people, only with more courage than most of us have.