August 26, 2008
posted by Jimmy Higgins
My brother Steve recently laid a copy of a book on me that I hadn't seen in almost 40 years, A Panther Is A Black Cat by Reginald Majors. Thumbing through it, I found a description of a "Free Huey" rally where Baby D read a poem by Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter (gunned down by members of the US organization in L.A., January 17, 1969). Struck by the excerpt Majors included, I dug up the whole thing here, as printed in the Black Panther newspaper, January 3, 1970.
In Nigger Town
In Nigger Town
The streets are made of mud
Infested with rats and bats and bugs
In Nigger Town
In Nigger Town
The streets are made of brick
Ask any swinging dick that happens past
Why won't he get off his big, fat, black, funky ass
A grumbling snitch
A shot of shit for a dope fiend bitch
Hid behind the cemetery in the fog
A leg, a hog, a short dog of Elderberry
Misery spreads and brothers dead
Cause Charlie's runnin' in the reds
In Nigger Town one day
Four little children kneeled to pray
in Jesus name
Four little children gone
And Jesus never came
Now you say, you're tired of all this shit
You suck-a-pawed son-of-a-bitch
If you was, you'd ball you mitt
DO SOMETHING nigger! if you only spit
Tell the truth snaggle-tooth
I know you're scared you mother goose
With niggers in Nigger Town
I'm fed up to my neck
About a drunk, a thief, a punk
I wouldn't give a husky heck
In Nigger Town.
Check the language, the attitude, the rhymes. If this ain't hip hop, I'm Barry Manilow.
August 25, 2008
posted by Jimmy Higgins
Before I left New York, I made plans to see two feminist and left activists, friends of friends: one an Israeli Palestinian woman in Nazareth, the other an Israeli Jew in Haifa. Unfortunately, only the woman in Haifa was available when I could make it, so I took the bus from Jerusalem to Haifa, with a young soldier as my seatmate. Perhaps I should have tried, but this was the only time I could not bring myself to start talking with the person I was with for two hours.
I talked with Dahlia, along with her partner Chana, extensively over a wonderful meal in an Arab restaurant in an upscale area of Haifa that featured a dozen similar places to eat. They are active in the Coalition of Women for Peace and they participate in the Women in Black vigil in Haifa. Two of the long-term projects of the Coalition are:
Re-framing Security: In Israel, the concept of "security" is a powerful one. It is used to justify all military activity and the occupation of Palestinian territories. "National Security" is a phrase invoked not just to increase military budgets, but also to silence criticism and prevent transparency. The "Re-framing Security" Project explores this term from the broadest feminist-civil perspective, thus challenging the narrow militaristic understanding of security. Security in its civil forms includes aspects such as economic security (having a job, a roof over one's head, access to health care), security in the family and the community (safety from gender-related violence, protection from crime, having one's children safe in schools), environmental security (clean tap water, clean air), etc. The project generates critical discourse through lecture series, workshops and tours for groups of formal and informal educators, young leaders, social activists and other agents for change.Our discussion ranged over many topics, from Barack Obama to the one-state vs. two-state solution to feminism within the left. Following is an excerpt of our discussion. Despite, or perhaps due to, the tone that comes across, they remain and will continue to be committed activists.
The occupation industry research project: “Who profits from the occupation?” In addition to various political, religious and national interests, the occupation is also fueled by corporate interests. Civilian companies and transnational corporations are increasingly involved in real estate deals, the development of settlements, the construction of fences and walls on Palestinian land, the paving of a separate road system for settlers, and the sale of equipment used for human rights violations and the repression of the civilian population. This project began in 2006 and involves systematic research about Israeli and international companies which directly profit from investments in the occupied Palestinian Territories and the Golan Heights. After rigorous research, the results are posted on the whoprofits.org website, which provides the public in Israel and internationally with accurate information about business interests invested in maintaining the occupation.
Beth: Haifa is a city with many Palestinians in its population. At the same time, in the Jerusalem municipality, there appear to be serious attempts to reduce the number and percentage of Palestinians. What is your take on these plans?
Dahlia and Chana: In 1948, they did it and that’s it. It was a period where the world didn’t react. Like Benny Morris (Righteous Victims, 1999 and The Birth of the Palestinian, 2004) said, they missed the opportunity and didn’t do ethnic cleansing altogether in ’48. But what do they say? Do it now. Let’s do whatever we can.
But they cannot do it.
(Then ensued disagreement over what the Western powers would ultimately allow)
C: Why? Europe supports Israel. United States supports Israel.
D: They cannot do it because the US is supporting Israel, because Europe is supporting Israel.
C: Everything that has been done since ’48, who supported these things? Germany, Europe, the United States. Without the support of those countries, Israel could not have become a state in ’48.
D: But not now. Not any more. This is also why she cannot wipe out all the Palestinians that are here.
C: Okay. But she can oppress them, change the landscape, erase every memory of what happened here. And look at what happened in the last forty years. With the support of the US and Europe and Germany.
D: In Jaffa, there is a museum. Jaffa is a Palestinian city. So they have a city museum there and in the museum they have the story of all the history of Jaffa, the Ottoman, the Crusades, the Romans, everybody, so on – no Palestinians, no Palestinians whatsoever are mentioned in the history of Jaffa. Jaffa was an Arab city. I saw this book about the history of Jaffa, From A Major City to a Poverty-Stricken Neighborhood, this is the name of the book about the history of Jaffa. Whole neighborhoods were wiped out. The whole piece of land between Tel Aviv and Jaffa is now hotels and so on. There were hundreds and hundreds of houses. Jaffa itself, all the old city of Jaffa, there are no Palestinians, only Jews.
C and D: There are 5 million Jews in Israel. There are 5 million Palestinians in greater Palestine. They will not get rid of these 5 million people. Their intention is one big Israel. They will kill many, as many as they can. They will break their spirit. Anyone who can go will leave. The poorest will stay, those with no power of resistance, no ability to fight, depressed.
B: And if you ask them, if I could sit down with a bunch of the religious, what would come out of their mouths about the Palestinians?
C and D: You don’t have to be religious to be racist. The whole public. You can sit with a group of left-wing people, labor, Meretz and it’s amazing the racism you will hear and you think okay, if a racist is a racist, then okay, but if a leftwing person is a racist, then where is hope? If you have a place based on support of one people, from one ethnic group, one religion, it has to be racist. In 2000, at the university, it was the first time we heard people say aloud racist things against Arabs. And now it’s PC to be racist.
Back in Jerusalem, my friend R got a text message from Rabbis for Human Rights asking for help the next day to paint the home of a Palestinian family that had been firebombed two weeks previously by settlers. She was busy at the office but I decided to go, meeting up with Rabbi G at 7 the next morning.
The house was on the outskirts of the village of Burin, just south of the checkpoint into Nablus. Two weeks previously, the family had been away for a few nights. Settlers from one of the two nearby settlements, either Yitzhar or Bracha, smashed the bedroom window, lit an oil soaked rag and threw it into the room. The baby’s crib was incinerated. Smoke filled the house, and once the fire was put out by people from the village, soot covered the walls.
This was not the first problem with these settlers. Two months ago, they set fire to the olive trees along an entire hillside, damaging years of growth. The hill was in flames. Another human rights group, B’tselem, has been giving cameras to Palestinian villagers. If photos document abuses like burning a hillside of olive trees, there is a chance that perpetrators could be prosecuted. The following is from the B’Tselem website:
In January 2007, B'Tselem launched "Shooting Back," a video advocacy project focusing on the Occupied Territories. We provide Palestinians living in high-conflict areas with video cameras, with the goal of bringing the reality of their lives under occupation to the attention of the Israeli and international public, exposing and seeking redress for violations of human rights. "Shooting Back" works with families who live in close proximity to settlements, to military bases, or at the sites of frequent army incursions. Settlers daily harassing a family in Hebron or attacking farmers in the South Hebron Hills, soldiers invading Qalqilya, …these are just some examples of the material filmed by over 100 cameras that we have distributed to families throughout the Occupied Territories. B'Tselem has succeeded in airing this material on major Israeli and international news networks, exposing global audiences to the previously unseen.There were more of us than were necessary to do the painting but that gave us time to interact and take stock of the situation. The family and the young men from the village who helped out and the young boys who hung around expressed their thanks with gestures and a few words of English and a few of Hebrew. They fed us figs and grapes fresh from the trees.
Rabbis for Human Rights formed in 1988 to be the rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel with the purpose of giving voice to the Jewish religious tradition of human rights. Current membership is about 100 – 12 orthodox, the rest a mix of Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal. At first, they involved themselves in interfaith work relating to the Muslim community, including condolence visits to families of Palestinians killed by the army. They had no money in the beginning. Now, with contributions from individuals and congregations around the world, they have eight employees. Their education department is the largest part of the budget. It provides for seminars on human rights for Israelis, a hotline number for soldiers who are facing dilemmas regarding what they are being told to do at the checkpoints and in the defense of settlers, and literature given out at employment agencies to let immigrant workers, as well as Israelis, know their rights.
In recent years, RHR has become a more activist organization, doing a great deal of work against abuses of human rights in the territories. They get involved with Bedouin rights, women’s rights, building permits, home demolitions, and access to agricultural land, harvesting crops for Palestinians where they are cut off by the wall/fence from their land.
As an American Jew, raised in the religious traditions, I was encouraged by my talk with Rabbi G, originally from Melbourne, and Rabbi A, a woman from Philadelphia, both of whom decided to make Israel their home in the mid-70’s. The RHR website clarifies their overview:
Alongside efforts to prevent human rights abuses, Rabbis for Human Rights endeavors to introduce an authentic and humanistic understanding of Jewish tradition and sources into Israel’s public discourse. While the increasingly dominant nationalistic and particularistic understanding of Judaism echoes loudly, Rabbis for Human Rights gives voice to the tradition’s concern for the stranger and others vulnerable within society.They have not abandoned the principles that drew them to become rabbis. I grew up learning, in addition to all the rules of behavior, that I was to look out for those less fortunate, that giving charity was a crucial part of life and that what I did not want my neighbors to do to me, I should not do to them. These rabbis look at the scriptures from that perspective.
Would that such a perspective could take hold throughout the Jewish community, especially in its two major centers, Israel and the United States. Insh'Allah. Read more!
August 24, 2008
posted by Jimmy Higgins
[Fire on the Mountain is proud to able to post the latest video produced by Iraq Veterans Against the War member Casey J. Porter from the frontlines in Iraq. Previous installments can be found here and here.
I'm not going to try to better Casey's description:
The latest film, Deconstructed, continues to show the realities of war. Featuring statements from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Former President Bill Clinton, The O'Reilly Factor host Bill O'Reilly, amongst many others, this is a look into the arrogance and lies of those who promoted, and continue to promote this war interlaced with combat footage straight from Iraq. Included are scenes of Soldiers not only speaking their minds, but speaking the truth about the continued occupation of Iraq.
Also featured are some of the harsh realities of combat and in the midst of that combat, good Soldiers continuing to make the best out of it by helping their "adopted" child at their combat outpost. This is an honest look into the minds of Soldiers, and an honest look into their lives during a deployment.
This is Deconstructed.
[The usual hat tip to Jeri Reed.] Read more!
August 20, 2008
posted by Jimmy Higgins
We walk to the East Jerusalem bus terminal and get the local Arab minibus to Ramallah, making sure to carry our non-Israeli passports to show at the checkpoint. (Israelis, by law, are not allowed in Ramallah.) After an uneventful 40 minute drive, we come to the outskirts of this city of about 50,000 people where, one after another, new apartment buildings are under construction. It appears to be a booming metropolis, with hundreds of new apartments soon to be available, all of white or pinkish white stone, pleasing to the eye.
Yet unemployment is high and getting higher as people move there from villages where the apartheid wall separates them from their land and they can no longer make an adequate living. Palestinians from the educated middle class from the smaller cities and towns are also moving there because it is easier to move around, do research, meet with colleagues, to simply enjoy life. According to the World Fact Book put out by the CIA, West Bank unemployment in 2006 was 18.6%. I’m certain it’s higher now.
We met up with Z, a 23 year-old Jewish-American graduate student in Middle East Studies who is living there while studying Arabic at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. The previous day he had gone to Bilin, where Palestinians have combined civil disobedience with legal petitions to fight Israeli policies. An Israeli court decision said that the wall should be moved back, which would allow farmers access to their land, but this has not been done.
Every Friday, for more than three years, there have been non-violent protests against the wall. That Friday, the Israeli military dispersed the protesters with toilet water, that is, water from the toilet. I’ve heard the same story from three people, though one said it was chicken, not human, feces in the spray of water.
At a café on the top floor of a huge shopping center overlooking the main square where we go for a glass of juice, we are the only women. As tourists, we are welcomed. Luckily, I take pictures of the central square before being told not to. Watching from above, I was struck that there were no traffic lights or stop signs despite streets converging on the center of town filled with cars and trucks. Somehow, the traffic managed to flow as local people went about their routine. The souk, much more tightly packed with people and stalls than the one in Jerusalem, had an abundance of produce and clothing. Women shopped, almost all of them with their hair covered, many in brightly colored hijabs, children trailing behind.
The center of political activism in Ramallah is at the university, where young men and women participate in many different political groups, demonstrations and other activities. As recently as ten years ago, Z has been told, almost none of the women at the university wore the hijab; now at least half do. Z tells us that there is also a thriving night life which he is a part of, with young men and women coming together for various cultural activities – art, music, dance and poetry.
The Israeli army can come into town whenever they want. The police from the Palestinian Authority do not have much authority but they are in the street carrying rifles. There was recently a demonstration in the City Center which was dispersed by Palestinian Authority police in riot gear.
As it has been every day, it is 90 degrees or more. As we walk around downtown Ramallah, we try to stay on the shadier side of the street. We look for actual shade, maybe a park, but there is none to be found. We see trees up a hill but when we get there realize that they are behind the walls of a police station.
Everywhere, young boys approached the three of us, especially Z, to buy chewing gum, “one shekel, one shekel.” The currency in Ramallah, and throughout the territories. is the Israeli shekel. Many of the items we see for sale on the street--hardware, toys, clothing--are brought from Israel to be sold there. As we pull away from four 8 to 10 year old boys who surround us, and keep walking, I see a large Palestinian flag and a skeleton key (symbol of the Palestinian people’s desire to return to the homes they fled or were forced out of in 1948), painted on a wall, but in general, I am surprised to find little graffiti and only a few Palestinian flags atop buildings.
For us, leaving Ramallah is no big deal, but for the Palestinians on our minivan, it is a different story. My friend R writes:
Minivan from Ramallah back to Jerusalem--entering the van I hardly notice anyone--the seats are deep and I go sit by the window, hiding; Beth, next to me, snaps pictures. At the Kalandia checkpoint the van stops, young guys and older men go off and young women too--all with hijabs--I look around me and see an elderly man, a woman with a baby, and to my surprise, since I hadn't noticed before, some Western-looking people sitting in the back, and behind me, two young women who could be Palestinians but clearly have foreign passports--segregation in action--from passengers in a van we were 'profiled', categorized, privileged and co-opted. Next time we ought to step out and walk through the prison-like "terminal'"/checkpoint.The next day, we go to the Dead Sea to relax. Before 1967, and when I was there right after the war, this trip would have taken three to four hours, traveling west from Jerusalem, then south to Beersheva, then around the southern land of the (prior to June, 1967) Jordanian-controlled West Bank, back east and north up the edge of the Dead Sea.
But Israel has built a highway, Route 1, straight across the West Bank, from Jerusalem to just south of Jericho; from there another highway travels south along the Dead Sea. An hour after we leave Jerusalem’s central bus station, we are at the public beach at Ein Gedi. It’s the polar opposite of travel for Palestinians living in the West Bank, which in the same period has devolved from simple and direct hour-long trips into convoluted day-long projects.
The Dead Sea is 1,378 ft below sea level; its shores are the lowest point on the surface of the Earth on dry land and it is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. Because of the lake’s buoyancy, you lie back in the water and float for as long as you want, which for me was more than an hour. Or you just stand there in the water, perhaps talking with people around you. I got to talking with a young man from Burma. He called it Myanmar. His government sent him and eleven other young men to study agriculture and veterinary science at the university in Netanya. Despite the recent cyclone and political upheaval he said that everything is going well in his country.
I met another woman, from Mauritius, a nanny for the children of a well-to-do Parisian Jewish family on vacation (thousands of French Jews own vacation homes in Israel). The nanny knew about the occupation, and when I talked about home demolitions and checkpoints, she wanted to know more. She said that the family she works for, like those Burmese kids, preferred not to pay attention to what was really going on. Turns out keeping one’s head in the stand is not exclusively an American trait--or, to put it another way, where you stand depends on where you sit.
Taking a break from relaxing in the hot water under the hot sun, I came out of the water and found R sitting at a bench in the shade with two Israeli men from Tel Aviv, traders in spices from Iran and Turkey. They offered us home-made falafel and a type of delicious peanut I had never seen before. I asked how many people there are in Israel. One of them said: about 5 million. With the Arabs? I asked. No, just Jews, he said. To him, the Palestinians, even those living within the borders of the state of Israel, were not worth counting.
In reality, according to the CIA Fact Book , there are 7,112,359 people in Israel. This count includes about 187,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, about 20,000 in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and 177,000 in East Jerusalem (7/08 est). Of these, 76.4% are Jewish and 23.6% are non-Jewish (16% Muslim, 1.7% Arab Christian, l.4% other Christian, 1.6% Druze and 3.9% unspecified).
This Israeli blind spot to the existence of The Other in their midst is perhaps the major obstacle to the achievement of peace with justice in the area.
[The fifth and last of Beth's reports can be read here.]
posted by Jimmy Higgins
[Last week FotM reported on the seizure by police in Orissa, India of U.S. educator Dave Pugh and his Indian travel companions and we joined with several other blogs in encouraging our readers to bombard Indian government headquarters on his behalf. Well, something worked!
Fire on the Mountain is delighted to publish the following statement by Dave on his return to the U.S. and we hope that you will read it and the accompanying article from yesterday's flagship paper The Statesman on how Orissa authorities are lightning fast to brand as Maoist terrorists anyone and everyone who helps or even spreads the word about the rural poor facing displacement by huge mining and industrial firms.]
Statement by Dave Pugh on his Detention during his Fact-Finding Trip to India
August 16, 2008
Yesterday I returned to the U.S. after spending three and a half weeks gathering information about the anti-displacement movement in India. I traveled across five states in central and eastern India to the sites of projected industrial and mining projects and real estate developments. I spoke with hundreds of villagers who are threatened with displacement and with many dedicated activists who are helping to organize the people’s resistance.
On the evening of August 12, I was returning to the state capital of Orissa, Bhubaneswar, after spending a day in the area of Kalinganagar. This was the site of a massacre of 15 tribal farmers in January 2006 by Orissa police who were protecting the construction site of a large steel plant owned by the Tatas, one of the biggest industrial houses in India. Since then the farmers and their allies have stopped construction in its tracks, much to the consternation of Tata Steel and the Orissa government.
At approximately 8 pm, the car transporting us was pulled over by local police for a traffic-related reason. My translator Pratima Das, my guide Pradeep, our driver and I were taken to a police station for questioning. For the next eight hours, all of us were interrogated, first by the local police, and then by the chief police official of the state of Orissa. The latter was particularly hostile, accusing me of being an “anti-government agitator.” When I insisted that I was a teacher researching the issue of forced displacement in India, he insisted that only “communists” would be interested in speaking with villagers.
After a night of harassment by the Orissa police, I was dropped off at my hotel at 4 am and told to stay there while they “verified” my story with U.S. Homeland Security and Interpol. I was questioned once more in my hotel room the following day. Whether due to the efforts of my local friends, or the police leaking the story to the press, or both, I was interviewed by two TV stations and a local newspaper in my hotel room. A press release issued by Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (the nationwide Anti-Displacement and People’s Development Movement) produced many phone calls and emails to government officials in Orissa and New Delhi. In addition, supporters of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle called Indian embassies and consulates in many countries. These calls undoubtedly made it more difficult for the Indian authorities to detain me any longer.
Shortly before I left Bhubaneswar, I heard that Pratima and Pradeep had been arrested and charged with serious political crimes that can keep them behind bars for many years. This is an outrage which has to be vigorously protested. Pratima and Pradeep are guilty only of being anti-displacement activists and introducing a foreign friend to the realities of India’s villages and the devastating impact that capitalist “development” will have on tens of millions of people in India in the coming years. As soon as I hear from friends in India, I will send you information on how to support the immediate release of Pratima and Pradeep from jail.
'Suspected Maoists' arrest sparks debate
Statesman News Service
JAGATSINGHPUR, Aug 17- The recent arrests of 'suspected Maoists' particularly Pratima Das and Debendra Dash who were moving in broad daylight drawing attention of one and all by accompanying a foreign national David Pugh has inevitably triggered a debate on whether anti-displacement activists were being dubbed and booked as 'suspected Maoists.'
A section of human rights and social activists, poets and journalists raised questions on the recent police action here today. While a local Oriya daily newspaper had a front page editorial captioned 'I am a Maoist' another magazine editor held a meeting at Bhubaneswar to decry state repression. The Oriya daily newspaper which carried a front page editorial claimed that Debendra Dash was a reporter working for the paper in Jagatsinghpur district. Human rights activist and lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo contested the police claim that Dash had been arrested as a suspected Maoist and he was linked to an arms loot case of Sambalpur district. Kanungo noted pointed out that the Sambalpur district police authorities had written to the Orissa Human Rights Commission in 2007 stating that they had no criminal case against Dash. This was after Dash had moved the Commission questioning his detention in 2006.
Several other social and people’s movement leaders like Prafulla Samantray, poet Asutosh Parida took part at a meeting convened by editor of quarterly magazine Nishan at Bhubaneswar today and raised doubts over the recent police action.
Mr Lenin Kumar, editor of the magazine took serious exception to police versions appearing in a section of the media here that the arrested suspects had named his magazine. Nishan is not a mouthpiece or publication of any political party, he said.
He alleged that of late voice of protest against government policy or system in Orissa has been branded as an act of treason or terrorism. He referred to the Dr Binayak Sen case and noted Orissa may soon witness many more Binayak Sen’s being put behind bars.Prafulla Samantray expressed concern over the increasing trend of foisting false cases against social activists who lead movements against displacement and mindless industrialization or SEZ.
Both Dash and Pratima have been arrested under section 121, 121 (A), 124 Indian Penal code, under section 17 of Criminal Law Amendment Act 1908 and under section 10 & 13 of theUnlawful Activities (prevention) Act 1967. Read more!
August 14, 2008
posted by Jimmy Higgins
The next morning, I went to walk around in the Old City. The streets are narrow; shops line either side. Tourists and local people are everywhere. I can't imagine finding my own way around. A guide approached me, asking, in English, if I wanted a tour, including a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the plaza of the Dome of the Rock, open for tourists for an hour that afternoon. The Dome of the Rock plaza is magnificent. I was not moved in a religious or spiritual way but by the splendor of the structure. Walking all around the plaza for the full time allotted, taking pictures from many angles, I just soaked in the beauty and historical significance of the place.
Yusef, my guide, was born and still lives in Silwan, a neighborhood of about 5,000 Palestinians, legal residents of Israel since 1967 as they are in the part of Jerusalem that is now occupied, or annexed, depending on who you ask. He was surprised by my concerns and more openly expressed his own as we walked. He said that thirty Jewish families have moved into Silwan. "We get along o.k., they are not the problem, the problem is the Palestinians who sold their homes to the Jews and moved away. Sadly, there will be more."
He was apparently not aware that in another part of his town, I learned later, a Palestinian home was recently exploded. The streets are so narrow that they could not fit a bulldozer so, because the Jerusalem master plan had that spot designated as "green" where a park would be built, a family's home was destroyed. He tells me he feels much more comfortable in the Jewish Quarter than in the Arab Quarter because, there, he can be who he is, a forty-year old unmarried Arab, formerly a teacher who now makes his living showing the tourists around, an alcoholic two years in recovery, who thinks politics is "a zero."
He likes all people, he says, but it becomes clear that he does not like what he calls the nudniks, Arab and Jew, who mess in each other's business and want to tell other people how to live their lives. As he showed me the religious sites and showed me the many beautiful crafts available in the Arab Quarter, he taught me a few words of Arabic. Now I know the words for: my name is, grandparent, water, butcher, vegetarian, respect and congratulations. I bought Palestinian pastry and beautiful glasses from the factory in Hebron.
I needed a break. We went to Tel Aviv to hang out with another friend who had lived in NY for a while. I wanted to see the beach. But first, I found my way to the office of the Hotline for Migrant Workers. Thousands of people have come to Israel from Eritrea and the Sudan, from the Philippines, Romania, Nepal and many other countries since Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza are no longer allowed to work in Israel. The Africans are usually fleeing war in their countries; others come to find work to feed their families back home. Others are under a form of indentured servitude: they are allowed to work for five years for the specific employer who brought them to Israel. If that employer treats them unfairly or even abusively, they have no legal recourse. If they leave the job, they can be arrested and deported. This organization works with all of them, as refugees, and then as workers.
Two attorneys are employed by the group, trying to get the government to change rules and to enforce existing legislation. In one recent case, a Filipina was taking care of an elderly Israeli Jewish woman until she died. The woman had not paid everything that was owed and when she died, 13,000 Israeli shekels (about $3,500) was owed to the home care worker but the son refused to pay, saying he didn't have the money. The lawyers are still working on the case.
There is sex trafficking in Israel, women with no legal status are confined in houses by their pimps servicing 30-40 clients a day. These women, mostly from Eastern Europe, are also clients of the Hotline, seeking help to get out of their desperate situations.
I met with N, a volunteer for the organization for nine years. She is an upscale secular woman, with fashionable clothes, jewelry and make-up. She used to employ a woman from Ghana to clean her house. She paid her well and "even" paid into the Israeli social security and health care funds on her behalf. One day, the woman called frantically from jail. She was picked up by the immigration police and someone had given her a card with the Hotline number. N called, got help to get her Ghanaian domestic worker out of jail and then went to find out more about the group.
She says, "How could I just keep living my life knowing there is such important work being done?" She has been involved ever since. She visits immigrant workers in jail when they are picked up for being in the country illegally. She lets them know what there rights are and finds donations of clothing and toys for when they are let out of jail after 6 or 8 or 10 months.
N explains that the country as a whole does nothing for the 150,000 migrant workers. While Israel initially took in many thousands of refugees after the Second World War, there has been no policies or programs put in place to deal with these refugees from the Sudan and Eritrea. The Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality does assume some responsibility for the estimated 35,000 foreign workers in the area. It is the first city in Israel that does not completely ignore the problems of its foreign residents, providing a center with staff to assist with employment problems, treat children at risk, and raise awareness among policymakers on a national level of the needs of these residents of Israel.
I reconnected with my friends and we went to the beach. We sat, drinking, looking out at the magnificent sunset, relaxing. And the next morning, Friday, we did it again, swimming and resting.
Friday and Saturday are the weekend here so Women In Black, which started in Israel in 1988, holds its vigils on Fridays, usually 1-2. I found my way to the Tel Aviv vigil in a busy shopping area. It looked similar to the one in Union Square where I stand every Thursday – a dozen women and a few men, dressed in black. But the signs, of course, were all in Hebrew. I stood with the group and watched passers-by. One young woman kneeled down to read 3 or 4 paragraphs on a poster headlined "Is this what we want for our country?"
I wondered what was going through her head. Most people, like in New York, ignored us. The women that day were in their 40's and 40's but I was told that two young women have recently gotten involved, having just refused military service. One woman, an academic, is writing a book about Women In Black vigils around the world. We will stay in touch so that she can ask questions about our group in New York.
While the people on the street in Jerusalem are overwhelmingly many varieties of religious, in Tel Aviv, in 24 hours, I only saw a dozen men with skull caps, (cipot), and one or two with earlocks, (payes). And yet, amid the din of throngs of shoppers, the vast majority of them secular Jews, across the street from the vigil, there were two ultra-Orthodox young men, missionaries to the non-religious, getting teenage boys to put on the prayer straps, (t'fillin), and say a few prayers.
One of the Women In Black, a native of Cleveland, offered to drive me back to my friend's apartment. She moved here from the States in 1958, part of the Habonim Zionist youth movement. She says that she has always been a fighter for human rights. When I ask if she is still a Zionist, she says "I'm not an anti-Zionist, I don't like how it's interpreted today. My interpretation is to strengthen Israel as a democratic state I can be proud of where human rights are maintained, where it is not controlling other human beings. A lot of mistakes were made in the name of Zionism. I'd like to see these mistakes rectified. At this point I am ashamed of my government, of my country as a whole. I want to live in a place I am not ashamed of."
As an American activist, I express that I, too, am ashamed of what my country has been doing. She says that the majority of Jews in Israel are so scared and this is fed by the religious community. And many people are angry that the ultra-Orthodox have too much power. When I ask if she feels hopeful, she says, "Sometimes, yes, but most of the time, no. What we do as women, the small things, the day-to-day meetings with Palestinian women, lays the groundwork for coexistence at the personal level but we really cannot influence policy."
Back to Jerusalem on Friday night, R explained that our best bet for the next day, Shabbat, would be to go to one of the Palestinian cities so we made plans to visit Ramallah.
[Beth's next report, Part 4, is here.] Read more!
August 13, 2008
posted by Jimmy Higgins
I just received word that an old friend and fine activist, Bay Area teacher Dave Pugh, has been detained by the Indian police while investigating struggles of Indian peasants and tribal people in Orissa who are protesting displacement resulting from rapacious mining and industrial development. His guide and translator were also detained.
We don't do this much at FotM, but I urgently request that folks read the press release after the fold, which has information on how to contact the Indian government to demand the release of the trio. There is an Orissa government email address, and fax and phone numbers for Orissa and for the central government. Please help let these these officials know that Dave's friends and the broader progressive community in the US are watching.
Also, when you do take action, please let us know so we can track and coordinate the protest and let folks in India who are defending those detained know what's up here. Also please cc any email protests or announcements to GN Saibaba, who is working actively on their defense. His email is janadolan(at)gmail(dot)com.
UPDATE: Some of the phone and fax numbers in the original press release did not work. We have retained those we believe are correct. Keep an eye on this space for further updates.
THE PRESS RELEASE
Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan
The Orissa police detained Mr. David Pugh, a teacher from US on 12th August along with advocate Miss Protima Das and an anti-displacement activist Mr.Pradeep who accompanied him assisting in translation and showing the area in Kalinganagar and Sukinda on their way back to Bhubaneswar.
They were taken to Badchan Police station near Chandikhol. Mr. David Pugh was kept for 5 hours in the police custody from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. in night. He was mentally tortured illegally. After that they released him and asked to stay back for interrogation again on 13th August in the afternoon. Miss Pratima and Mr. Pradeep are being kept under detention.
Mr. David Pugh visited Kaliganagar and Sukinda to see the Industrialization and its effects on the People and the movement against industrialization and mining. Miss. Protima Das was requested to help Mr. David Pugh as translator and Mr. Pradeep as guide as he belongs to the Sukinda. They all had gone to Kalinganagar after attending a People's Tribunal on Displacement, Sez and Corporate Violence in Orissa organized in Bhubaneswar by Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, an anti-displacement front of movements from various parts of India including that of Orissa. Activists from all areas in Orissa had come to explain their conditions of destitution and destruction at the People's Tribunal.
Amin Maharana, a Central Council member of Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan is also suspected to be detained by the Police from Bhubaneswar. He is an Environmental and anti-Displacement activist working in Sukinda area for many years now. He is a cultural performer. He has written many songs about people's devastation due to displacement and also released an audio CD on the issue.
The Government of Orissa has been unleashing brutal repression on the anti-displacement movement for the last two years. The detentions are part of the larger plans of the Government to coerce the people to accept the displacement and give up their lands.
We appeal to all democrats to immediately intervene and put pressure on the Govermenent of Orissa to release Miss. Pratima, Mr. Pradeep and Mr. Amin Maharan, (if he is also arrested) without subjecting them to any kind of harassment.
We demand the Government of Orissa to immediately release Miss Pratima Das, Mr. Pradeep and Mr. Amin Maharana and stop harassing Mr. David Pugh.
Mr. David Pugh is again taken into custody at 2 pm now and being interrogated at Bhubaneswar hotel in Bhubaneswar by the police officials.
NOTE: All numbers are as dialed from outside of India.
Chief Secretary & Chief Development Commissioner of Orissa: 011-91-674 - 2536700 Phone,
Chief Secretary & Chief Development Commissioner of Orissa: 011-91-674 - 2536700 (Fax)
FOR THE INDIAN NATIONAL GOVERNMENT
The Prime Minister's Office
South Block, Raisina Hill,
New Delhi, India-110 011.
Fax: 011-91-11-23019545 / 011-91-11-23016857.
(This is not a template and identical letters will not help Dave much, but it suggests one approach that you might take to get these folks sprung. The most important thing is that a stream of faxes, emails and phone calls be directed at the Indian authorities.)
Subject: The Matter of David Pugh
Dear Chief Secretary & Chief Development Commissioner
As an acquaintance of Dave Pugh for many years, I was shocked to get notice that he has been detained--evidently without charges--in Orissa.
The press release forwarded to me indicated that he was "mentally tortured illegally." I do not know what this consisted of, but I am extremely alarmed. Were drugs given him or needed medications withheld?
The government of United States, where I am a citizen, has brought lasting shame on itself by torturing detainees. One would hope that India has not stooped to such a level.
Further I understand that Dave's guide and translator--a Miss Pratima Das and a Mr. Pradeep--have been detained for helping him to understand the situation and struggles of Indians protesting displacement resulting from mining and manufacturing,
Surely in a country like India, which prides itself on its democratic traditions, helping foreign visitors understand even complex and awkward social reality is not considered a crime.
I urge you in the strongest possible terms to cease hounding David Pugh and to release those who were helping him immediately. I request reassurance that this is being dealt with without delay.
I will be communicating with other friends of Dave and, if necessary, with elected officials here, to see that this matter is resolved.
With great concern,