Friday, June 24, 2005
GREEN-'HOUSING' GAZANS James S. Henry and Andrew Hellman
The US government, the Palestinians, and indeed most Israelis are delighted that the Sharon Government has finally stood up to some settler extremists, and is still on track to pull out of the Gaza Strip by mid-August.
However, we should all pay closer attention to the precise way that the Israelis are leaving. There appear to be several missed opportunities to leave a much healthier economic base for Gaza's 1.4 million Palestinians when the Israelis leave-- a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for eventual peace.
In particular, Israel is now on a path to dismantle or destroy over 1500 homes and 1000 acres of greenhouses, which already provide thousands of jobs for Palestinians, and might provide thousands more....
At current course and speed, Israel may be missing a huge opportunity to help Gaza become something more than – in the words of Muhammad Dahlan, the Palestinian disengagement coordinator – "a giant prison camp," with 35 percent unemployment, 77 percent poverty, a youthful population whose median age is 16, no seaport, a unusable airport, and few visible means of support other than foreign aid, rock-throwing, and amateur rocket-building.
No wonder that Hamas has been able to recruit a huge base of
supporters there. It won seven out of ten local council seats in Gaza's municipal elections last December, and would likely have soundly defeated Mahmoud
Abbas' Fatah Party in the Palestinian parliamentary elections that were
originally scheduled for July 17th, but were postponed by Abbas indefinitely in
One missed opportunity is housing. At a recent press conference, Secretary of State Rice stated that 1,600 Israeli settler’s houses will be destroyed. The official rationale is that such single-family homes are not economically viable for the Palestinians in Gaza.
In reality, however, that rationale was just for public consumption, insisted upon by the Sharon Government for PR purposes. With more than 1 million Gazans to consider, surely there are of course quite a few elderly couples, young couples, and smaller families who might have used the houses. They also have other potential uses -- business and government offices, clinics, even guest houses for visiting tourists, if the area ever stabilized.
The truth is that the houses will be destroyed for much less defensible reasons. First, it is widely viewed as one of the easiest ways to insure that the 8,500 Israeli settlers actually leave once and for all.
Only 284 families had signed up for compensation under the Evacuation Compensation Law, and officials are expecting more violence between Israelis and Palestinians as the August 15th disengagement approaches.
From Israeli's standpoint, the destruction also prevents the politically dangerous image of victorious Palestinians waving Hamas flags on the roofs of former settler's homes, celebrating another Lebanon-like eviction.
Greenhouses could be an even more important missed opportunity. Currently, there are about 1000 acres of Israeli-owned state-of-the-art greenhouses in Gaza. They are worth up to $80 million and employ about 3,500 Palestinians. The fruits and vegetables that they produce account for 15% of Israel’s agricultural exports, mainly to Europe. According to agricultural experts, they might potentially provide as many as 7,000 regular jobs, supporting, in turn, up to 30,000, and perhaps stimulating the growth of related industries.
In short, figuring out a way to keep the greenhouses going could provide stable jobs and incomes for tens of thousands of Gazans, continued good business for Israel, and also offer an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to show a little badly-needed cooperative spirit.
However, while the fate of these greenhouses is still being negotiated, and the idea of preserving them has some advocates, the outlook for them at this late date is grim.
According to two Israeli sources in a position to know, the most likely scenario is for the greenhouses to be dismantled and relocated elsewhere, or just demolished and replaced with new greenhouses at new settlements in Nitzanim, just 12 miles from Gaza.
These sources mentioned several key obstacles to a Gaza greenhouse idea.
First, with no seaport and Israel unwilling to permit Gaza to have air rights, and no highway to the West Bank, the perishable goods produced in these greenhouses could not reach the international market unless other transport arrangements are made.
Second, Israel's settler certainly have no good will toward the Gazans, and Israel's agro-businesses don't want to, in effect, put the Palestinians into business to compete with them. A deal would have to be worked out for joint marketing and profit sharing, as well as compensation for the value of the greenhouses. Presumably the World Bank or USAID might be willing to finance such a solution, as they've indicated. Indeed, James Wolfensohn, former World Bank President and Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement, has evidently been trying to work out such a solution. The Dutch Government has also offered to buy them for the Palestinians.
More generally, there is no question that Israelis and Palestinians have little love lost for each other. Right now the Israeli Government is focused on leaving as quickly and safely as possible, and the Palestinians are focused on just having them go. Left to their own devices, there will be no "win-win" solution.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
SO-CALLED "NATURAL" DISASTERS III. The Aftershocks to Our Religious Beliefs James S. Henry
Unhappy mortals! Dark and mourning earth!
Affrighted gathering of human kind!
Eternal lingering of useless pain!
-- Voltaire, Poem on the Lisbon Disaster, 1755
(T)housands of pilgrims to a Marian shrine (on India's coast) were washed away as they attended mass….(A) divinity student.. said she watched one man shout: ‘There is nothing! There is nothing! Where is God? What is God?’
-- Chicago Tribune, 12/31/04
They also shook our world views to the core, and placed a tremendous PR burden on the more than 100 competing members of the global “non-profit” religion industry.
This is partly because of the sheer scale of the disaster. But it is also because this was surely one of the most ecumenical "natural" catastrophes in history.
While at least half the victims are Muslim, there are also substantial numbers from most of the world's other major religions, including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Jains, and Sikhs, as well as many non-believers.
This has posed an interesting explanatory challenge to all these different religious perspectives at once, and has allowed us to compare their responses. When we do so, as discussed below, we find that many of them have been unhelpful, anti-humanitarian, and even downright loony.
Indeed, the aftershocks that the tsunami has caused to religious mythology, especially to the curious views held by true believers, fundamentalists and extremists of all persuasions, may be among its few benefits.
Meanwhile, of course, the crisis has also permitted those of us who are perhaps a little less certain about Divine Will to join together in what has become an unprecedented, salutary transnational effort to help some of the world's least well off.
We truly hope that the Gods are watching -- They may learn something.A Wave of Skepticism?
On the one hand, many of the world's faithful are now questioning their religious beliefs – a logical reaction that parallels the wave of skepticism that swept across Europe after the devastating Lisbon tsunami of 1755.
According to these new skeptics, recent events in South Asia have demonstrated that our modern gods may not be quite as powerful, helpful, or attentive as we had hoped.As a former head of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum put it, we may be dealing with a real "nebbish" here.
Certainly the notion of “praying for the victims,” as one Protestant minister blithely suggested that we do at a memorial service that I attended this week, seems a little odd in this situation.
After all, if Poseidon were willing or able to help the innocent victims of this disaster, presumably He would have done so several weeks ago.
The fact is that we may just have to rely upon each other. That leaves precious little extra time and energy to pay homage to diffident bystanders, no matter how immortal.
Sending Us a Message?
On the other hand, some true believers are stubbornly digging in.
Under the gun to explain how the mass suffering produced by the tsunami is consistent with the existence of Supernatural Powers that deserve our respect, they have reverted to variations on the age-old theme of "blaming the victim."
As these fundamentalists would have it, Poseidon (or Allah or God or Shiva or karma or...) is just “angry” with some or all of us, and is trying to send a message.
According to this anti-empathetic view, the millions of people who have suffered from this tsunami -- and presumably all other disaster victims from the Genesis Flood on down -- richly deserved what they got, or were sacrificed to teach the rest of us "lessons."The precise messages sent and the lessons to be learned are a bit murky, but there is no shortage of proposed alternatives:
For example, Godhatessweden.org, a website owned by the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, has suggested that the suffering of “filthy, faggot Swedes” in the tsunami disaster was punishment from God for Sweden's tolerance toward homosexuality.
This particular church has also sponsored another website that features a rather tasteless proposed design for a monument to tsunami victims.
Meanwhile, Sheik Fawzan Al-Fawzan, who is Imam of Prince Mitaeb Mosque in Riyadh, a professor at Imam Mohamed Bin Saud Islamic University, and a member of Saudi Arabia's Senior Council of Clerics, its highest religious body, sugggested in a recent interview on Saudi television that the tsunami was "sent by God" to punish South Asian countries for immoral sexual activity, and for letting gay people into their countries
The illustrious Sheik has also argued that "slavery is part of Islam," and that those who deny this are "infidels" who deserve to be beheaded.
One leading American fundamentalist commentator, Bill Koenig, has suggested that a disproportionate number of Christians miraculously survived the tsunami, compared with their Muslim or Hindu brethren. (Presumably Bill does know that there were more Muslims and Hindus than Christians in the region to begin with...)
Similarly, a Salvation Army officer in Sri Lanka commented that it was indeed very odd that "All of our officers (clergy) survived.... God spared their lives."(...Although he admitted that some of them also had SA flotation devices....)
Another proto-Christian website argues that disasters like the recent tsunami and the Flood in Genesis don't make God a "mass murderer" because "there is no such thing as an innocent human." (....and unless you are absolutely innocent, or can swim really well, you deserve to drown......)
Korean "scientists" have demonstrated conclusively that Noah's ark was strong enough to have withstood a tsunami and floods even larger than the Sumatran one -- like those produced by the Genesis Flood. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who recently described himself as "the Messiah" at an event held in his honor at the US Congress, is evidently planning to enter the shipping industry.
Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, the President of its High Rabbinical Court, also saw fit to blame the tsunami victims, asserting that God was punishing people who failed to fulfill the seven "Noahide commandments," those that G_d supposedly gave to Adam and Noah. (He also promised to tell folks around the planet what the "Noahide commandments" are.)
Pandit Harikrishna Shastri, a Hindu priest at New Delhi's Birla temple, claims that the tsunami was caused by a "huge amount of pent-up man-made evil on earth" and by the positions of the planets. (He did not resolve the perplexing question of whether we should deal first with the stockpile of evil or the planets' positions.)
To Buddhist Ananda Guruge, a former Sri Lankan ambassador who teaches at California's Buddhist-affiliated University of the West, "Buddhism makes people responsible for their own fate," and the region's "bad collective karma" explains the disaster. (He did not clarify whether regions that have never experienced destructive tsunamis necessarily have terrific collective karma.)
To Ruth Barrett, a Wiccan high priestess who heads a Wisconsin temple dedicated to the goddess Diana, the disaster was simply a chiropractic problem. It was caused by "Mother Nature stretching — she had a kink in her back and stretched."Interestingly, the religious extremists who advocatethese hard-shelled positions take a different view when the victims of a disaster are closer to home -- in New York, Oklahoma City, or Jerusalem. But not all -- recall the Reverend Jerry Falwell's conclusion that that 9/11 was also part of God's vengeance for gay rights and abortion.
The secular humanists in the audience also have to ask: Were the sixty thousand children who have died in this tsunami disaster so far, and the 400,000+ other children who have lost their parents really old enough to understand, much less deserve, such punishment? Precisely what lessons are we supposed to draw from their capricious fates, other than that we have to prepare more carefully for such disasters,
These extreme fundamentalist interpretations also remind us of J.L. Mackie's conundrum“If God is Good, he’s not God. But if God is God, He's not Good." In other words, if it just so happens that an arbitrary, vindictive, brutal Satan now rules the world, does that necessarily mean that we are obligated to worship Him?
As the 19th century poet John Todhunter put it:
No Cell Phones in Hell?
From the standpoint of “sending us a message,” surely Poseidon must also understand that many of us have cell phones and email. Personally, I have preset my spam filter to let all messages from Absolute Deities pass right on through.
For that matter -- a point that should be of particular interest to the dozens of seismologists and tsunami experts around the globe who received almost instantaneous warnings of the December 26 undersea earthquake's severity, but now say they "just didn't know who to call" -- there are also online telephone directories for all these places – including Banda Aceh, Sri Lanka,numbers of Phuket, Thailand, and TamilNadu, on the southeast coast of India.
Starting from scratch, it recently took two SubmergingMarkets journalists just 15 minutes to locate hundreds of long-distance numbers and Internet addresses for dozens of hospitals, schools, hotels, lawyers, doctors, local businesses, and government offices on the frontlines of the tsunami – not to mention US Embassies, consulates, and military bases.
Evidently all these phone numbers and Internet connections just happened to be busyprecisely when the earthquake struck. That must have prevented all the international experts from getting through.
Perhaps Poseidon was trying to send us a message after all!
© James S. Henry, Submerging Markets™, January 05
Friday, December 10, 2004
Global Growth, Poverty, and Inequality Part I. A Little Christmas Cheer? James S. Henry and Andrew Hellman
The Christmas season is a very special time of year, when Americans, in particular, engage in a veritable month-long orgy of holiday revels and festivities, including eggnog sipping, Santa sitting, package wrapping, neighborhood caroling, tree decorating, menorah lighting, turkey stuffing, and generally speaking, spending, getting, and giving as much as possible, at least with respect to their immediate friends and family.
We certainly don’t wish to question the legitimacy of all these festivities. After all, as this November’s Presidential election has reminded us, ours is surely one of the most powerful, vehement, unapologetic Judeo-Christian empires in world history. Like all other such empires, it has every right to celebrate its triumph while it lasts.
According to the latest opinion surveys, this is indeed an incredibly religious nation, at least if we take Americans at their word. More than 85% of Americans adults consider themselves “Christians,” another 1.5% consider themselves “Jews," 84% pray every week, 81% believe in life after death, 60% believe the Bible is “totally accurate in all its teachings,” 59% support teaching creationism in public schools, and fully 32% -- 70 million people, including 66% of all evangelicals -- would even support a Constitutional Amendment to make Christianity the official US national religion.
In light of all this apparent religious fervor, it is disturbing to read several recent analyses by OXFAM and the UN of certain persistent, grim social realities around the world – and our paltry efforts to redress them. Is the intensity of our religious rhetoric and this season's celebrations just a way of escaping these unpleasant realities?
· According to the UN’s International Labor Organization (December 2004), among those still waiting for economic justice are nearly three-quarters of the world’s population – 4.7 billion people -- who somehow manage to survive on less than $2.50 per day. These include 1.4 billion working poor, half of the 2.8 billion people on the planet who are employed.
· According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (December 2004), the world’s poor now include at least 852 million people who go to bed hungry each night – an increase of 20 million since 1997. The continuing problem of mass famine has many side-effects – including an estimated 20 million low-birth-rate babies that are born in developing countries each year, and another 5 million children who simply die of malnutrition each year. In some countries, like Bangladesh, half of all children under the age of six are malnourished.
· Overall, for the 5.1 billion residents of low- and middle-income countries, average life expectancy remains about 20-30 percent shorter than the 78 year average that those who live in First World countries now enjoy. By 2015, this will produce a shortfall of some 50 million poor children and several hundred million poor adults. But at least this will help us realize the perhaps otherwise-unachievable “Millennium Development Goals” for poverty reduction.
· According to UNICEF (December 2004), more than 1 billion children – half of all children in the world -- are now growing up hungry, in unhealthy places that are suffering from severe poverty, war, and diseases like HIV/AIDs.
· According to Oxfam (December 2004), First World countries have basically reneged on their 1970 promise to commit .7 percent of national income to aid to poor countries. Last year such aid amounted to just .24 percent of national income among OECD nations, half the 1960s average. And the US commitment level was just .14 percent, the lowest of any First World country, and less than a tenth of the Iraq War’s cost to date.
· This month’s 10th UN Conference on Climate Change (COP-10) in Johannesburg reviewed a growing body of evidence that suggests that climate change is accelerating, and that the world’s poor will be among its worst victims. Among the effects that are already becoming evident are widespread droughts, rising sea levels, increasingly severe tropical storms, coastal flooding and wetlands damage, tropical diseases, the destruction of coral reefs and arctic ecosystems, and, God forbid, a reversal of the ocean’s “thermohaline” currents.
Overall, as the conference concluded, for world’s poorest countries – and many island economies – the threat of such effects is much more threatening than “global terrorism.”
So far, however, the US – which with less than one-twentieth of the world’s population, still produces over a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases -- seems determined to do nothing but stand by and watch while energy-intensive “economic growth” continues. This year’s oil price increases have slowed the sales of gas-guzzling SUVs somewhat, yet more than 2.75 million Navigators, Hummers, Land Rovers, Suburbans, and Expeditions have already been sold. The US stock of passenger cars and light trucks, which accounts for more than 60 percent of all US oil consumption, is fast approaching 220 million -- almost 1 per person of driving age.
Meanwhile, leading neoconservative economists and their fellow-travelers in the Anglo-American media continue to tout conventional measures of “growth” and “poverty.” Indeed, according to the most corybantic analysts, a free-market-induced “end to poverty as we have defined it” has either already arrived, or will only require the poor to hold their breath just a little bit longer – until, say, 2015.
As we will see in Part II of this series, this claim turns out to be -- like so many other elements of modern neoconservative dogma – a preposterous falsehood. But it does help to shelter our favorite dogmas – religious and otherwise -- from a day of reckoning with the truth.
Sunday, May 09, 2004
04509.US Brutilitarianism Comes to Iraq - Part II: The Roots of Brutality
In the midst of all the hoopla and finger-pointing over Secretary Rumsfeld’s apology for the Iraqi prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, we seem to have avoided getting to the bottom of the fundamental question begged by all those ugly photos: why did it happen?
In other words, how could young American soldiers, raised in a nominally democratic, civilized “Judeo-Christian” society, and members of the world's most advanced military, which has no business being in Iraq if not to “liberate” it from precisely this kind of oppression, come to act in this way?
From this angle, whether or not Rumsfeld or a few military commanders resign is beside the point – a juicy chance for Senator Kerry and his supporters to make political hay, perhaps, but largely irrelevant to our understanding of these disturbing events and the prevention of their recurrence.
This is especially true if, as we will argue here, they may have been part and parcel of the very nature of this ethnically-divisive dirty little urban guerilla war.
At this point, the official US investigation, as well as press accounts, of the recent abuses at Abu Ghraib prison are incomplete. Already, however, there are several conflicting explanations.
“Exceptional Evil-Doers.” As noted in Part I of this series, the prevailing view of US officials is the “bad apple” theory -- in President Bush's words, "the wrongdoing of a few." This explanation -- which has deep roots in American culture, dating as least as far back as the Salem Witch trials, and is also at the heart of our conventional view of "terrorists" -- attributes the problem to brutal, distinctly “un-American” misbehavior by handful of “bad” people. In this view, this tiny group is clearly distinct from the vast majority of decent, Geneva Convention-abiding US military personnel. This explanation has been adopted by a wide variety of political and military leaders, from President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, and General Myers to Senators MeCain, Kerry, and Clinton. It also appears to be the predominant view in the mainstream press, perhaps because it lends itself to the kind of lengthy profiles of soldiers that, for example, the New York Times and the Washington Post have both front-paged several times this week. It is also necessarily more comforting to supporters of the Iraq War -- including all the leaders and newspapers just mentioned -- who view this scandal as an embarrassing, unhelpful distraction from the immediate task at hand, which is to get on with "stabilizing" the security situation in Iraq (e.g., crushing the resistance).
This kind of explanation is a standard one for individual criminal conduct in general. Typically it locates the roots of abusive behavior in the supposed predispositions of particular abusers to commit them. The contributing dispositive factors may vary -- pathological or "authoritarian" personalities, genetic defects, retributions for perceived injustices, inadequate schooling, too much TV, weak role models, or Salem witchery, for all we know. Whatever these underlying, the indicated prescription focuses on identifying and and handling these “bad seeds,” and in this case, any individual commanders who may have also “failed” to supervise them.
(to be continued....)