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 the cypriot model

israeli terrorist avigdor lieberman is in rome meeting with franco frattini where he talked about the joys of being an illegal colonist in the west bank (let’s be clear whatever collaborator who actually speaks with him definitely does not speak for all palestinians!) as well as what a colossal waste of money the “peace process” (read: war process) has been (imagine something i actually agree with lieberman on!). but he also suggested his plan for ethnic cleansing (or “transfer” in his terms) in his meeting:

Lieberman told Frattini that between five and seven years are needed to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Israeli foreign minister was pessimistic about the prospects of establishing a Palestinian state. He repeated his assertion that “two states for two peoples” had become a clichéd slogan that was tailored for newspaper headlines.

During his talks with Frattini, Lieberman also recalled his experiences living in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

“I’m a settler and I live in the Judean desert,” Lieberman told Frattini. “I speak with Palestinians who work near us and I hear that what they want is to earn a living and lead a decent life.”

Lieberman added that the Palestinians are dismissive of their leaders’ efforts to reach a political solution. It was at this point that the foreign minister delved into what he called “the peace industry.”

“This is a process with no results,” Lieberman said. “Everyone is earning a living off of it. There are conferences and there are meetings in five-star hotels. Do you know how much money has been spent on this? And what has come of it?”

Lieberman spoke glowingly of the “Cypriot model” which includes an exchange of populations – as a possible template for a solution to the Middle East impasse. In the 1970s, the Mediterranean island was partitioned in two, with Turks in the north and Greeks in the south. “Since then, there has been security, economic prosperity, and stability,” Lieberman said of Cyprus. “When we have [such a solution] in our region then we can talk about a political solution. Everything before this will simply fail.”

clearly lieberman is smoking some serious crack cocaine if he thinks this is how cypriots feel. they feel a lot more like palestinians as you will see below. check out this recent article in the guardian by helena smith and consider its implications for palestinian refugees who continue to fight for their right of return to their homes in palestine:

Like so many Cypriots, Meletis Apostolides has long been haunted by memories of a lost past.

All his adult life he has yearned to return to his boyhood home – and this week, nearly 35 years after war left what should be an idlyllic corner of the Levant brutally divided, the European court of justice brought him one step closer to fulfilling that dream.

Even now, in late middle age, the architect can still recall the scent of the lemon trees, the smell of the sea, the dappled light that filtered through the citrus orchards of Lapithos, the village in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus where he and his ancestors were born.

“It’s never gone,” he says, homing in, with Google Earth, on the property his family was forced to flee when Turkey, in the name of protecting its minority on the island, invaded in 1974.

The Apostolides family – like 170,000 other Greek Cypriots forcibly displaced at the time – always thought they’d be back. Instead, with only minutes to gather their possessions, and with the Turkish military entrenching its positions in response to a coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece, they found themselves turned into refugees, and robbed of their past overnight.

“The only thing my mother, Andriani, managed to take were her threads and embroideries,” says Apostolides, 24 at the time. “We left photo albums, everything. People think that [my legal battle] has been all about money, when actually it is about roots, memory and culture. My family had lived in that part of the island since 1860.”

In Cyprus’ supercharged politics few issues excite more passion than that of properties lost during the conflict. In the war’s wake peace talks aimed at resolving the west’s longest-running diplomatic dispute have repeatedly collapsed on the matter of refugees’ rights and land exchange. Enraged by the European court’s decision to back Apostolides’s claim to property – since bought by a retired British couple – Turkish Cypriot politicians have threatened to walk out of reunification talks.

“Cypriots are very attached to their land. In England you had an industrial revolution, here we did not,” said Cyprus’s former president George Vasiliou. “Until fairly recently people lived from their land so it meant a lot to them, and before the invasion northern Cyprus was almost exclusively Greek. Then there is memory. That plays a role too.”

Like many on either side of the ethnic divide, Apostolides returned with his mother – and their title deeds – to see his home in 2003, the year that Turkish Cypriot authorities lifted restrictions on intercommunal travel. “It was the first, and only time, that my mother would see it after the war,” he recalls.

But it was a previous visit – one by a Turkish Cypriot colleague who had once lived in the island’s Greek-run south – that spurred the silver-haired architect into action. As an early proponent of interethnic contact in the 90s, Apostolides participated in an organised tour by Turkish Cypriot architects around the south. “One of them, who would go on to become a great friend, was desperate to revisit his family home in Limassol,” he said. “When the Greek Cypriots living in the house opened the door, he produced a framed picture from his rucksack and said ‘finally I have fulfilled my parents’ wish to return home’. The Greek Cypriots immediately put it on the mantelpiece. At that moment I identified with him so much. It was such a powerful thing.”

When Apostolides pressed charges against Linda and David Orams, the East Sussex couple who built their dream home on his land in 2002, he never envisaged the case would cause such a furore. “I decided to take legal action after a chance meeting with Mrs Orams on the plot in 2003,” he says. “She was out watering the plants and when I asked her who she was, she said ‘I am the owner of this villa’. I said ‘I am the owner of the land’ and she responded by saying ‘well that was a long time ago’.”

Five days after the European court pronounced that the UK judiciary should enforce the decision of a Nicosia court to return the property to its original owner, and demolish the villa to boot, the affair looks set to run and run – not least among the estimated 6,000 Britons who have also picked up properties at bargain prices in the territory that is only recognised by Ankara.

Yesterday despondent rosy-cheeked expats, living in the scenic villages above the picturesque port of Kyrenia, refused to comment, with one denouncing the case “as Greek Cypriot lies and bulls*&^”.

But, says Vasiliou: “Greek Cypriots may feel justice has been rendered, that property is sacrosanct. However, serious people on this island also know that the best way to solve this issue is through speeding up negotiations and reaching a settlement, not taking individual cases to court.”

Apostolides, the man of the moment, would agree. While his is a victory, he says, it springs from a lost past.

i just hope this bodes well for more cypriots and for palestinians in the near future.

diamonds are not this girl’s best friend

africa-diamonds-mapI don’t like diamonds. Or gem stones of any sort. I am reminded of this every day whenever I glance at my hand and see a diamond ring. I wear this only because it was my mother’s wedding ring and seeing it on my hand reminds me of when these rings were on her hand. Although I don’t need a visible reminder of her by way this ring or a photograph, it comforts me to think of her and to see her hand in/on mine when I wear this ring even as I wish there were no diamonds on it. It’s not just what they represent politically. I also don’t like ostentatious displays of wealth more generally. It always reminds me of what that money spent on a fancy car, outfit, house could otherwise be spent on: who could it have fed? How many others could it have housed?

The issue of diamonds–as well as so many other natural resources–is deeply connected to ongoing war and neocolonialism in places like Africa. If you connect the dots you can visibly see the relationship between diamonds (the theft of African natural resources), wars and conflicts in Africa, neocolonial control in the form of globalization, colonialism in Palestine, and the desperate need for a real boycott movement to work together in solidarity across these issues. For instance, in the past couple of weeks the Friends of the Congo and Adalah New York have worked to raise awareness and protest two seemingly separate issues: the war in the Congo and diamond trafficker/Israeli illegal settlement builder Lev Leviev. But in reality they are deeply connected and should be if a larger human rights, progressive, anti-racist movement is to be built.

The issue with Lev Leviev is three fold: his trafficking in blood diamonds, his continual financing of illegal settlements in Palestine, and his opening of a store in Dubai in spite of the fact that it is illegal for an Israeli business to function in the United Arab Emirates:

Adalah-NY has learned that the jewelry of Israeli billionaire and settlement-builder Lev Leviev will be on sale at this week’s gala opening of the luxury hotel Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai. Despite Leviev’s on-going construction of Israeli settlements and claims by United Arab Emirates officials that Leviev would receive no license to sell his jewelry there, the New York-based human rights coalition Adalah-NY has confirmed that Leviev’s jewelry will be on sale at the Atlantis branch of the Levant Jewelry chain on the fabled Palm Jumeirah island.

Adalah-NY has also heard from a Dubai source that Leviev will attend the grand opening events in person, but the group has been unable to corroborate this report. A press release on the Atlantis web site claims that the opening gala, set for November 20-21st, “will culminate in a giant fireworks display,” and that guests will include “prominent CEO’s, business leaders, politicians, actors and musicians and members of the Dubai Royal family.”

Adalah-NY has obtained photos of Leviev jewelry prominently displayed in the windows of the Levant store at the Atlantis, with Leviev’s name and logo prominently printed on display cases. Leviev’s jewelry and logo are featured at the Levant store at the Al Qasr Hotel. Leviev notes Dubai as a store location on the front of his Madison Avenue boutique in New York, and in recent Leviev ads in the New York Times.

Prior to an advocacy campaign by Adalah-NY and Jews Against the Occupation-NYC, Leviev had announced plans to open in Dubai two Leviev stores and sell his products in a third store in partnership with his local partner, Arif Ben-Khadra, who is of Palestinian-Moroccan origin. Subsequently, in an April 30 article in Dubai’s Gulf News, Ali Ebrahim, Deputy Director General for Executive Affairs in Dubai, said Leviev would not be able to do business in Dubai. “We are aware of these reports and have not granted a trade licence to any business of this name. If such an application does come to us we will deal with it accordingly,” said Ebrahim. Further, Ebrahim told the paper that Israeli citizens were not allowed to do business in Dubai, and that “precautionary measures” made sure of that. Ebrahim further implied Leviev would not be able to do business through a localpartner. “There are no loopholes,” he said. “We check backgrounds of businesses that apply.”

Leviev built his enormous fortune trading diamonds with Apartheid-era South Africa. His company mines diamonds in partnership with the repressive Angolan government. New York Magazine reported in 2007 that in Angola, “A security company contracted by Leviev was accused… of participating in practices of ‘humiliation, whipping, torture, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, assassinations.’” Also, according to the diamond industry watchdog Partnership Africa Canada, Angola and Leviev have failed to fully comply with the Kimberley Process.

In the West Bank, Leviev’s companies build Israeli-only settlements such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Mattityahu East and Zufim on stolen Palestinian land. According to Stop the Wall, Leviev is currently expanding Zufim settlement by 45 housing units on land owned by the village of Jayyous (see photo). Jayyous continues to hold non-violent protests against the confiscation of their land. All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. UNICEF and Oxfam have both rejected support from Leviev due to his human rights violations, and the British government is under pressure to pull put of a deal to rent their new Tel Aviv Embassy from him.

Daniel Lang/Levitsky of Adalah-NY stated that “Dubai claimed that it has closed all the loopholes, but we have seen that to be glaringly false. Leviev jewelry will be prominently displayed and sold at a major hotel in Dubai. By allowing such a blatant contravention of its own laws, Dubai has made a mockery of its promise to boycott Leviev. The villagers of Jayyous and Bil’in, on whose stolen land Leviev’s settlements sit, will be saddened and outraged, as will be human rights advocates worldwide.”

The issue with the Congo is multiple though the campaign last month focused on the lack of media coverage and the war over Coltan, yet another natural Congolese resource that various western corporations exploit, which has in turn fomented this war:

The Congo is the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today where nearly 6 million people have died since 1996, half of them children 5 yrs old or younger and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped all as a result of the scramble for Congo’s wealth. The United Nations said it is the deadliest conflict in the world since World War Two. However, hardly anything is said about it in the media. Can you imagine 45,000 people dying each month and hardly a peep from anyone in the age of the Internet? This is literally what has happened and continue to happen in the Congo. There is a media white-out about Congo and no worldwide resolution to end the conflict and carnage there.

There is a very exciting development among students throughout the globe. In October 2008, students from the US, Canada, England, Belgium, Germany, France, Brazil, Jamaica, Norway, Korea, Ghana, Mali, South Africa, Columbia, etc. etc will organize events (films, lectures, demonstrations, and more) on their respective campuses dealing with the Congo situation. We are calling it “Break the Silence” Congo Week where at least 100 countries and 1,000 university campuses will participate in a week of activities in solidarity with the students of the Congo.

The purpose of the Break the Silence Congo Week is to raise awareness about the devastating situation in the Congo and mobilize support on behalf of the people of the Congo.

The Cell OUT is an organized cell phone usage boycott from 12pm – 6pm on October 22nd to bring awareness of the Congo conflict over the natural resources. Coltan, used in many electronic devices has caused many Congolese people to be killed since 1996.

Why?

– Nearly 6 million people have died in the Congo since 1996 due to a scramble for Congo’s spectacular natural resources.

– Coltan is a key source of the conflict in the Congo. It is a mineral widely used in numerous electronic devices such as cell phones and game consoles (Microsoft X-Box and Sony Play Station) and is mined illegally in the Congo by rebel militia and foreign forces then sold to multinational corporations.

– The boycott is to bring awareness to the war in the Congo, which started in 1996 and continues to this day with 45,000 people dying each month till today. We would like to invite organizations on college campuses and in the community to support us in our endeavor to raise awareness about the atrocities taking place in the Congo.

The video below “Welcome to the Congo” by spoken word poet/hip hop artist Omekongo Dibinga shows that it is not just Coltan, however. It is diamonds, gold, and other natural resources that have led to this ongoing war and to the corporate media’s silence on the subject:

While all of these mineral resources and the continual raping of Africa by the West is a crime against humanity, I want to focus on diamonds here because I see the potential in a global solidarity/boycott campaign by linking the Zionist state and its complicity with the war, rape, and pillage that is ongoing in the Congo and bleeds into other parts of Africa as well. Here are some of those links between the Zionist state, it’s partner-in-crime the U.S., and their thirst for diamonds as it is connected to war in the Congo, Angola, and the region:

Artisanal diamond miners in Angola called artisanos or garimpeiros are forced into ‘illegal’ mining because Angola’s mining security companies push people off their own land. While agriculture and commerce in the region require the direct authorization of the Provincial Governor, not one artisano has been granted a license for diamond exploration or subsistence agriculture. The ‘legitimate’ government of Angola forces desperate people to resort to ‘illegal’ activities to survive but according to Rafael Marques, garimpeiros contribute more to the profits of some of the state diamond mining firms than big industrial operations.

Three private military companies (PMCs) have been targeting garimpeiros in Angola. The mercenary firms Alfa-5, Teleservices, and K&P Mineira defend Angola’s big name diamond firms like Sociedade de Desenvolvimento Mineiro (Sodiam), Sociedade Mineira de Cuango, and Sociedade Mineira Luminas. Human rights researcher Rafael Marques has recently documented more than 50 cases of PMCs arresting, beating and torturing garimpeiros. They stop garimpeiros from fishing in their rivers, growing their own food, or living traditional lives; they have forced sexual relations on family members, including same-sex rape and sodomy.

The PMCs operate behind Angola’s public diamond company, Endiama, and have exclusive rights to Angola’s diamonds. Endiama owns 99% of shares in Sodiam, which has a joint venture with Lazare Kaplan International (LKI) of the Israeli-American Maurice Tempelsman family.

Sodiam works with the Russo-Israeli Lev Leviev Group. Endiama owns part of Alfa-5, one of the PMCs that exploit and torture garimpeiros. Alfa-5 and K&P Mineira provide security for ASCORP—the Angola Selling Corporation—another Angolan monopoly.

One of ASCORP’s controlling investors, Lev Leviev, runs a global commercial empire that includes: Leviev Group of Companies; Lev Leviev Diamonds; Africa-Israel (commercial real estate in Prague and London); Gottex (swimwear) Company; 1,700 Fina gas stations in the Southwest U.S.; 173 7-Elevens in New Mexico and Texas; a 33% stake in Cross Israel Highway (Israel’s first toll road); and more. Leviev partner Arcady Gaydamak, an arms dealer, also reportedly works with Danny Yatom, a former MOSSAD (Israeli secret service) chief and security advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Leviev is connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to Sandline International, a U.K./South African mercenary firm operating in the war-torn areas of Eastern Congo and Uganda.

While participants in the Kimberley Process complained of the criminality of UNITA, the infamous rebels once supported by the CIA, but they gave the “legitimate” Dos Santos government a sparkling bill of health. Angola exemplifies the process whereby an international certification scheme enforced by the United Nations rubber stamps boxes of rough stones according to their ‘country of origin.’ Stamped ‘Angola’ the public is assured that these diamonds are now ‘conflict free,’ because these nations are members of the Kimberley certification.

The Kimberley Process was partially instituted through the work of Robert Rotberg at Harvard University. Maurice Tempelsman chairs the International Advisory Council at the Harvard AIDS Institute (HAI) of the School of Public Health. Rotberg and Tempelsman shared a panel at the Council on Foreign Relations with people like Walter Kansteiner, National Security under Bill Clinton and current director of a gold company involved in Congo’s bloody eastern zone.

Maurice Tempelsman was for decades the unofficial ambassador to Congo/Zaire; Dan Gertler has usurped that role. In 2000 Gertler was named Honorary Consul to the Congo. Beny Steinmetz may be the biggest De Beers “sightholder”. Africa Confidential called President Kabila’s 2003 visit to the Bush White House a “coup” for Gertler and Steinmetz. Gertler’s best friend is Brooklyn-born Chaim Leibowitz, a personal friend of Condoleeza Rice.

Tempelsman and Steinmetz bought diamonds from both sides during Angola’s thirty-year war. Israeli diamond tycoons Gertler and Leviev are reportedly jockeying for power with Isabel Dos Santos, the high-rolling diamond-studded daughter of the President of Angola.

The Israel Diamond Exchange in Tel Aviv, which today brings Israel $13 billion annually in commerce, and is the country’s second-largest industry. Israel buys some 50% of the world’s rough diamonds, and the U.S. buys two-thirds of these.


Diamonds are Israel’s top export.
In 2005 figures, exports to the EU totaled $10.7 billion in 2004, including $2.5 billion in diamonds (23.3%); exports to the US totaled $14.2 billion in 2004, including $7.3 billion in diamonds (51.4%); exports to Asia totaled $7.1 billion in 2004, including $3.2 billion in diamonds (45.0%); exports to the rest of the world totaled $6.6 billion in 2004, including $800 million in diamonds (12.1%).

Dan Gertler’s grandfather, Moshe Schnitzer, is known in Israel as “Mr. Diamond,” founder of the Israel Diamond Exchange in Tel Aviv. Moshe Schnitzer’s son and Dan Gertler’s uncle is Shmuel Schnitzer, Vice-Chairman of the Belgian-based World Diamond Council—the entity that promotes the false image of “clean” or “conflict-free” diamonds.

In June 2002, as the Kimberley Process was unfolding, Daniel Horowitz, CEO of IDH Diamonds, gave a speech at the 3rd World Diamond Conference titled “Rough Diamonds in a Brave New World.” IDH works with Endiama, BHP-Billiton and De Beers, another of the big diamond cartels.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it would be irresponsible to circumvent the fact that it is highly problematic, if not unfeasible, to work out a system in order to control the flow of rough diamonds around the world,” Horowitz said. “The reality is that once diamonds are mined there is almost nothing one can do in order to prevent them from reaching the market. No certification scheme can truly be reliable, not only because war-torn areas are by definition disorganized, but mainly because it is intrinsically impossible to distinguish between good and bad diamonds. Misguiding traders and consumers with untrustworthy guarantees would inevitably be demystified over time. As opposed to this, it is critical to publicize that the mainstream diamond trade is legitimate. It needs to be said again and again that conflict diamonds are an irrelevant portion of world production. And as far as humanitarian issues are concerned, the added value the industry generates worldwide particularly benefits the developing world.”

Angola remains a war-torn country selling billions of dollars worth of diamonds annually. In the past four years the government of Angola has waged a permanent war against poor people, destroying thousands of homes and taking the land in mass forced evictions. People were beaten, tortured and arbitrarily arrested. At least 1000 people die in eastern Congo every day.

Millions of blood diamonds from past and current wars remain locked in the vaults of the Belgian, Russian, New York, London and Israeli diamond bourses to insure the artificially high, monopoly-fixed, prices of diamonds.

Rafael Marques outlined cases torture, brutalization and assassinations—cases of personal brutality he investigated—that characterize diamond mining by state firms in Angola today.

“Should one, after this brief explanation,” Marques asked, “say that the extraction of diamonds in Angola is OK? What the Kimberley Process, which was designed to drive blood diamonds out of the market, is doing is to rinse the blood from the gems, extracted in [Angola] and certify them as clean.”

What is even more disturbing is that the Zionist state will be leading the Kimberley Process, a process which it clearly circumvents as the article above makes clear:

Israel was elected deputy chairman of the Kimberley Process for the coming year by the Sixth Plenary of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, currently being attended in New Delhi, India, by more than 70 member countries. This means that Israel will become chairman of the KP in 2010. This development comes in the wake of the recent election of two Israeli Diamond Industry leaders—Avi Paz and Moti Ganz—as presidents of the World Federation of Diamond Boursesand International Diamond Manufacturers Association, respectively.

Of course, the Zionist state is expert at avoiding, disrespecting, and violating international law. We see that here in Palestine every day. But what is useful is for people to understand that Israelis export this practice in their economic, political, and military dealings with other states as well. Consider UN Resolution 1803 from 1962, which says in part,

1. The right of peoples and nations to permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources must be exercised in the interest of their national development and of the well-being of the people of the State concerned.

2. The exploration, development and disposition of such resources, as well as the import of the foreign capital required for these purposes, should be in conformity with the rules and conditions which the peoples and nations freely consider to be necessary or desirable with regard to the authorization, restriction or prohibition of such activities.

3. In cases where authorization is granted, the capital imported and the earnings on that capital shall be governed by the terms thereof, by the national legislation in force, and by international law. The profits derived must be shared in the proportions freely agreed upon, in each case, between the investors and the recipient State, due care being taken to ensure that there is no impairment, for any reason, of that State’s sovereignty over its natural wealth and resources.

Those who care about the war in the Congo and neighboring states, the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Palestine should see these connections and find a way to work in solidarity. To build a significant boycott movement against these forms of colonialism. There is something lacking in this sort of solidarity, which Bill Fletcher makes clear in this tidbit of an talk on the relationship between South African apartheid and Israeli apartheid. Activists interested in building a solid pro-Palestinian movement in the U.S. would do well to listen to Fletcher’s words and heed his advice: