When Montgomery comes to Nabi Saleh By Mark Perry On March 24, the Israeli government arrested Bassem Tamimi, a 44-year-old resident of the small Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, which is just west of Ramallah. Tamimi was arrested for leading a group of his neighbors in protest marches on a settlement that had “expropriated” the village’s spring – the symbolic center of Nabi Saleh’s life. Tamimi was brought before the Ofer military court and charged with “incitement, organizing unpermitted marches, disobeying the duty to report to questioning” and “obstruction of justice” – for giving young Palestinians advice on how to act under Israeli police interrogation. He was remanded to an Israeli military prison to await a hearing and a trial. The detention of Tamimi is not a formality: under Israeli military decree 101 he is being charged with attempting “verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order.” As in Syria, this is an “emergency decree” disguised as protecting public security. It carries a sentence of 10 years. The arrest of Tamimi marked only the most recent escalation in Israel’s campaign to suffocate the Nabi Saleh movement: in the two months prior to his arrest, Israeli officials detained more than 18 Nabi Saleh youths; over the last two years, nearly 15% of Nabi Saleh’s population has spent time in Israeli jails; half of those arrested have been under the age of 18 and the youngest of them was 11. But what is extraordinary about the Nabi Saleh campaign is its effectiveness. The protesters are trained in non-violent tactics. “Our strategic choice of a popular struggle – as a means to fight the occupation taking over our lands, lives, and future – is a declaration that we do not harm human lives,” Tamimi has said. “The very essence of our activity opposes killing.” Tamimi’s arrest has not stopped the movement. On the morning of April 8, about 80 villagers marched from Nabi Saleh’s main street towards the settlement. As they crossed into some nearby fields, they were attacked by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers with teargas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades. The villagers fled, but then reorganized themselves, defiantly linking arms in front of the soldiers. Again, the IDF responded harshly and, by that evening, had arrested six villagers. But these are small incidents in a continuing battle. The protests go on day after day, week after week – and have over the course of the last four years. Nabi Saleh does not stand alone. The non-violent protests actually began eight years ago in small communities near Israel’s security wall, then took root in the villages of Mas’ha and Budrus; the protests have now spread to towns and villages across the West Bank, encompassing mass rural movements from Hebron in the south to Nablus in the north. The protests have involved dozens to hundreds, and on rare occasions, thousands of villagers. But pride of place for this widespread non-violent resistance movement belongs to Bil’in, a village that (like Nabi Saleh) has seen much of its land taken over by a settlement. The leader of the Bil’in protests is Abdallah Abu Rahmah, the head of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall. Like Tamimi, Abu Rahmah has trained his young activists in the principles of non-violence, sparking movable protests that the IDF has found impossible to suppress. Abu Rahmah, a high school teacher at the Latin Patriarch School in Ramallah, began organizing Bil’in’s protests in 2004, even as the violence of the Second Intifada was beginning to wane. Every Friday after prayers, Abu Rahmah would lead a group of Bil’in residents on a protest march towards a local settlement – and every Friday his march would be intercepted by the IDF. In one demonstration, an IDF sniper used a .22 caliber rifle to disburse the protesters, killing a Palestinian boy. Twenty-one unarmed demonstrators, among them five children, have been killed in non-violent West Bank demonstrations since the beginnings of the movement. In the village of Nil’in in 2008, American activist Tristan Anderson was paralyzed after an IDF soldier fired a high velocity tear gas canister at his head from a distance of 15 meters. In December of 2009, IDF soldiers raided Abu Rahmah’s home, arrested him for incitement, and sentenced him to 12 months in prison. At the end of his sentence, the IDF asked his sentence to be extended for another four months, describing Abu Rahmah as “dangerous”. The court agreed. Abu Rahmah has become a symbol of the protests. While in prison, he smuggled letters to his supporters, including one written this last February that has become a kind of “Letter from Birmingham Jail” – an famous letter written in 1963 by Martin Luther King Jr – of the movement. “Ofer is an Israeli military base inside the occupied territories that serves as a prison and military court,” he wrote. “The prison is a collection of tents enclosed by razor wire and an electrical fence, each unit containing four tents, 22 prisoners per tent. Now, in winter, wind and rain comes through the cracks in the tent and we don’t have sufficient blankets, clothes, and other basic necessities. Food is a critical issue here in Ofer, there’s not enough. We survive by buying ingredients from the prison canteen that we prepare for our tent. We have one small hot plate, and this is also our only source of warmth.” One month after penning this letter, Abu Rahmah was released, but it’s only a matter of time before he’s arrested again – and shut inside one of the half-dozen Israeli military prisons and administrative facilities that dot the West Bank. Israeli tactics, the mass arrests, and the use of live fire have been condemned by a long list of human-rights organization. But not by the United States. Just how much do the Bil’in-Nabi Saleh protests worry Israel? One widely circulated article from the popular Israeli political daily Yediot Ahronot described Naji Tamimi, who helped his cousin Bassem organize the Nabi Saleh movement, as “a pied piper” who “fans the flames of violence”. (Despite the fact that not one Israeli has died as a result of the protests.) The article went further: “Even though it hasn’t been proven, it seems that sources connected to the Palestinian Authority are directing the activities and that the funds paid out to the youths is coming from donations from organizations registered abroad.” Not proven – because it’s not true. In fact, while Fatah and Hamas officials monitor the protests (PA officials have come to Nabi Saleh – before scuttling back to their offices in Ramallah), they have been careful not to interfere in them. They view the protests as a credible and powerful movement that is better left alone. Hamas leaders agree. “We wish them well. We hope they succeed. We support them. We are staying away,” a senior Hamas official says. A group of international activists have been helping the Nabi Saleh protests. Jonathan Pollak, a 29-year-old native of Tel Aviv, has found himself at the center of the protests – and has written about them extensively. “I grew up in a progressive home,” he says, “but I don’t think that anyone in my family could be described as a radical. I came to Nabi Saleh and realized I had to help. What’s happening here is just wrong.” Joseph Dana, a New York native and journalist, works alongside Pollak. He came to Israel to find his Jewish identity. “I haven’t found it,” he says. “What I found instead was an army that arrests children.” Pollak, Dana, and other international activists are working to bring attention to the Nabi Saleh movement and have escorted diplomats from Europe through the village. A few low-level American diplomats from Jerusalem have come to Nabi Saleh, but no senior American officials have visited. “The international community has been asking for years where the Palestinian non-violent movement is,” Joseph Dana says from his home in Jerusalem. “Well, here it is. And the Americans are nowhere to be found.” Pollak and Dana are being modest. While the events at Nabi Saleh and Bil’in have been largely ignored in the US, they have sparked a simmering conflict between Palestinian villagers and Israeli settlers. The IDF has taken the side of the settlers, arresting hundreds of young Palestinians (many of them minors) and using (in one case) the testimony of a 14-year-old boy to condemn the movement’s leadership. “They kept him up all night, shouting at him,” Dana says. “He was frightened, alone. Finally, he did what they wanted. If you can imagine, Israeli soldiers subjecting a child to mental torture.” While the world’s attention has been diverted by the events in Tahrir Square, Israeli officials have struck back against what may well be the greatest threat to their settlement project – condemning non-violent protesters as “terrorists” and standing aside while settlers have taken more and more land from unarmed and defenseless people. Israel has poured increased funds into countering the protests, deployed more and more soldiers to stop them, and escalated the arrest of its leaders – breaking down the doors of their homes in pre-dawn raids designed to frighten and intimidate them. Nothing has worked. Unfunded and unnoticed, Bassem Tamimi, his cousin Naji, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, and a handful of others have organized and trained battalions of young men and women in the art of non-violent resistance. Bassem Tamimi’s arrest has not stopped the protests. They are growing, and spreading. The movement is now in the hands of Bassem’s wife, Nariman, who vows to fight on. She has already spent time in an Israeli jail, but remains undeterred. “There is no knowing what the future holds,” she says from her home in Nabi Saleh, “but our path is clear and so is our goal. We know well that it is possible to achieve it, and we will continue to fight for it. To a great extent, the question of our victory is also one that should be directed to the American people and their government – are you on the side of justice and victory, or on the side of continued oppression?” The Arab Spring has seen revolutions come to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. In each revolution, US President Barack Obama has praised the crowds seeking democracy and freedom. Again and again he has talked of the need to fight extremist violence. He has paid homage to the young men and women who have brought freedom to Egypt and Tunisia. He has supported those defending themselves in the streets of Benghazi, Sanaa, and Damascus. His talisman has been non-violence, his pole star the American civil rights movement. In Cairo, in June of 2009, Obama linked the Palestinian quest for freedom to the American civil rights movement. “Palestinians must abandon violence,” he said. “Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed.” He was right. So why is it that now – when finally, actions like the Montgomery Bus Boycott have come to Nabi Saleh – he chooses to remain silent? Mark Perry is a military and political analyst and author of eight books, including Partners In Command, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace and most recently Talking To Terrorists. (This article first appeared in Foreign Policy. Used with permission.)
Archive for April, 2011
The planet strikes back
By Michael T Klare
Introduction by Tom Engelhardt
On Monday, Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary, defended the Japanese government’s response to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, insisting that the plant complex was in “a stable situation, relatively speaking”. That’s somewhat like the official description of 11,500 tonnes of water purposely dumped into the ocean waters off Fukushima as “low-level radioactive” or “lightly radioactive”.
It is only “lightly” so in comparison to the even more radioactive water being stored at the plant in its place. But that’s the thing
On Tuesday, the government finally raised the Fukushima alert level on the International Nuclear Event scale from 5 to 7 – “a major accident” – the highest category possible, only previously used for the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster (which resulted in a 15,000-square-mile (3,884,982 hectares) “dead zone” in the Ukraine). Though government officials rushed to play down the Chernobyl comparison, a TEPCO official offered this ominously bet-hedging comment: “Our concern is that the amount of leakage could eventually reach that of Chernobyl or exceed it.”
In fact, on our punch-drunk planet, we’ve never seen anything like what’s underway at Fukushima – not one, but four adjacent nuclear reactors, three of which seem to have suffered partial meltdowns, and several containment pools for “spent” fuel (which, in terms of radioactivity, is anything but spent) in various states of distress.
Meanwhile, talk about the weeks needed to bring the situation under control has faded into perilous months, years, decades, even a century of cleanup and recovery. There is speculation that some of the core of at least one reactor has already “leaked from its steel pressure vessel into the bottom of [its] containment structure” – and every action to bring the complex under some kind of control only seems to create, or threatens to create, other unexpected problems (like that “lightly radioactive” water).
Meanwhile, amid further giant aftershocks from the 9.0 earthquake of March 11 (with possibly years more of them to come), the Japanese government has been slowly widening the 20-kilometer “evacuation zone” (recently described by a visitor as an eerie “death zone … like an episode of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone crossed with The Day After – an apocalyptic vision of life in the nuclear age”) around the complex.
Just this week, it began warning pregnant women and children to stay out of certain areas up to 30 kilometers away from the plant. That’s not surprising, considering that in a small number of soil tests taken outside that 30-kilometer zone – in one case 40 kilometers from Fukushima – cesium-137 (half-life 30 years) has been found at levels that exceed those which, at Chernobyl, forced residents to move away. Many of the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who once lived in these areas (and if things get worse, beyond them) may never go home.
Whatever happens at Fukushima, could there be a more striking warning that we humans have been overreaching and that our planet has a way of offering penalties for such hubris? And keep in mind, the Japanese are hardly in this alone. After all, in the United States, at least five nuclear reactors are situated in “in earthquake-prone seismic zones”, according to a recent report, which doesn’t even include the Indian Point nuclear reactor built on an earthquake fault only 30 miles from downtown New York City, my hometown.
Perhaps, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, suggests in the article that follows, it’s time to recalibrate when it comes to the way we’re treating planet Earth – before it’s too late.
In his 2010 book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, environmental scholar and activist Bill McKibben writes of a planet so devastated by global warming that it’s no longer recognizable as the Earth we once inhabited. This is a planet, he predicts, of “melting poles and dying forests and a heaving, corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat”. Altered as it is from the world in which human civilization was born and thrived, it needs a new name – so he gave it that extra “a” in “Eaarth”.
The Eaarth that McKibben describes is a victim, a casualty of humankind’s unrestrained consumption of resources and its heedless emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases. True, this Eaarth will cause pain and suffering to humans as sea levels rise and croplands wither, but as he portrays it, it is essentially a victim of human rapaciousness.
With all due respect to McKibben’s vision, let me offer another perspective on his (and our) Eaarth: as a powerful actor in its own right and as an avenger, rather than simply victim.
It’s not enough to think of Eaarth as an impotent casualty of humanity’s predations. It is also a complex organic system with many potent defenses against alien intervention – defenses it is already wielding to devastating effect when it comes to human societies. And keep this in mind: we are only at the beginning of this process.
To grasp our present situation, however, it’s necessary to distinguish between naturally recurring planetary disturbances and the planetary responses to human intervention. Both need a fresh look, so let’s start with what Earth has always been capable of before we turn to the responses of Eaarth, the avenger.
Our predecessors on the planet were deeply aware of this reality. After all, ancient civilizations were repeatedly shaken, and in some cases shattered, by such disturbances. For example, it is widely believed that the ancient Minoan civilization of the eastern Mediterranean collapsed following a powerful volcanic eruption on the island of Thera (also called Santorini) in the mid-second millennium BCE.
Archaeological evidence suggests that many other ancient civilizations were weakened or destroyed by intense earthquake activity. In Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archaeology, and the Wrath of God, Stanford geophysicist Amos Nur and his co-author Dawn Burgess argue that Troy, Mycenae, ancient Jericho, Tenochtitlan and the Hittite empire may have fallen in this manner.
Faced with recurring threats of earthquakes and volcanoes, many ancient religions personified the forces of nature as gods and goddesses and called for elaborate human rituals and sacrificial offerings to appease these powerful deities. The ancient Greek sea-god Poseidon (Neptune to the Romans), also called “Earth-Shaker”, was thought to cause earthquakes when provoked or angry.
In more recent times, thinkers have tended to scoff at such primitive notions and the gestures that went with them, suggesting instead that science and technology – the fruits of civilization – offer more than enough help to allow us to triumph over the Earth’s destructive forces. This shift in consciousness has been impressively documented in Clive Ponting’s 2007 volume, A New Green History of the World.
Quoting from influential thinkers of the post-Medieval world, he shows how Europeans acquired a powerful conviction that humanity should and would rule nature, not the other way around. The 17th century French mathematician Rene Descartes, for example, wrote of employing science and human knowledge so that “we can … render ourselves the masters and possessors of nature”.
It’s possible that this growing sense of human control over nature was enhanced by a period of a few hundred years in which there may have been less than the usual number of civilization-threatening natural disturbances. Over those centuries, modern Europe and North America, the two centers of the Industrial Revolution, experienced nothing like the Thera eruption of the Minoan era – or, for that matter, anything akin to the double whammy of the 9.0 earthquake and 50-foot-high tsunami that struck Japan on March 11.
This relative immunity from such perils was the context within which we created a highly complex, technologically sophisticated civilization that largely takes for granted human supremacy over nature on a seemingly quiescent planet.
But is this assessment accurate? Recent events, ranging from the floods that covered 20% of Pakistan and put huge swathes of Australia underwater to the drought-induced fires that burned vast areas of Russia, suggest otherwise. In the past few years, the planet has been struck by a spate of major natural disturbances, including the recent earthquake-tsunami disaster in Japan (and its many powerful aftershocks), the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the February 2010 earthquake in Chile, the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, the March 2011 earthquake in Myanmar, and the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake-tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries, as well as a series of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions in and around Indonesia.
If nothing else, these events remind us that the Earth is an ever-evolving natural system; that the past few hundred years are not necessarily predictive of the next few hundred; and that we may, in the last century in particular, have lulled ourselves into a sense of complacency about our planet that is ill-deserved. More important, they suggest that we may – and I emphasize may – be returning to an era in which the frequency of the incidence of such events is on the rise.
In this context, the folly and hubris with which we’ve treated natural forces comes strongly into focus. Take what’s happening at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex in northern Japan, where at least four nuclear reactors and their adjoining containment pools for “spent” nuclear fuel remain dangerously out of control.
The designers and owners of the plant obviously did not cause the earthquake and tsunami that have created the present peril. This was a result of the planet’s natural evolution – in this case, of the sudden movement of continental plates. But they do bear responsibility for failing to anticipate the potential for catastrophe – for building a reactor on the site of frequent past tsunamis and assuming that a human-made concrete platform could withstand the worst that nature has to offer.
Much has been said about flaws in design at the Fukushima plant and its inadequate backup systems. All this, no doubt, is vital, but the ultimate cause of the disaster was never a simple design flaw. It was hubris: an overestimation of the power of human ingenuity and an underestimation of the power of nature.
What future disasters await us as a result of such hubris? No one, at this point, can say with certainty, but the Fukushima facility is not the only reactor built near active earthquake zones, or at risk from other natural disturbances. And don’t just stop with nuclear plants.
Consider, for instance, all those oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico at risk from increasingly powerful hurricanes or, if cyclones increase in power and frequency, the deep-sea ones Brazil is planning to construct up to 290 kilometers off its coast in the Atlantic Ocean. And with recent events in Japan in mind, who knows what damage might be inflicted by a major earthquake in California? After all, California, too, has nuclear plants sited ominously near earthquake faults.
The more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we dump into the atmosphere, the more we alter the planet’s natural climatic systems and damage other vital ecological assets, including oceans, forests and glaciers. These are all components of the planet’s integral makeup, and when damaged in this way, they will trigger defensive feedback mechanisms: rising temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, and increased sea levels, among other reactions.
The notion of the Earth as a complex natural system with multiple feedback loops was first proposed by environmental scientist James Lovelock in the 1960s and propounded in his 1979 book, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. (Lovelock appropriated the name of the ancient Greek goddess Gaia, the personification of Mother Earth, for his version of our planet.)
In this and other works, Lovelock and his collaborators argue that all biological organisms and their inorganic surroundings on the planet are closely integrated to form a complex and self-regulating system, maintaining the necessary conditions for life – a concept they termed “the Gaia Hypothesis”. When any parts of this system are damaged or altered, they contend, the others respond by attempting to repair, or compensate for, the damage in order to restore the essential balance.
Think of our own bodies when attacked by virulent microorganisms: our temperature rises; we produce more white blood cells and other fluids, sleep a lot, and deploy other defense mechanisms. When successful, our bodies’ defenses first neutralize and eventually exterminate the invading germs. This is not a conscious act, but a natural, life-saving process.
Eaarth is now responding to humanity’s depredations in a similar way: by warming the atmosphere, taking carbon from the air and depositing it in the ocean, increasing rainfall in some areas and decreasing it elsewhere, and in other ways compensating for the massive atmospheric infusion of harmful human emissions.
But what Eaarth does to protect itself from human intervention is unlikely to prove beneficial for human societies. As the planet warms and glaciers melt, sea levels will rise, inundating coastal areas, destroying cities, and flooding low-lying croplands. Drought will become endemic in many once-productive farming areas, reducing food supplies for hundreds of millions of people.
Many plant and animal species that are key to human livelihoods, including various species of trees, food crops and fish, will prove incapable of adjusting to these climate changes and so cease to exist. Humans may – and again I emphasize that may – prove more successful at adapting to the crisis of global warming than such species, but in the process, multitudes are likely to die of starvation, disease, and attendant warfare.
McKibben is right: we no longer live on the “cozy, taken-for-granted” planet formerly known as Earth. We inhabit a new place, already changed dramatically by the intervention of humankind. But we are not acting upon a passive, impotent entity unable to defend itself against human transgression. Sad to say, we will learn to our dismay of the immense powers available to Eaarth, the Avenger.
Michael T Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet. A documentary movie version of his previous book, Blood and Oil, is available from the Media Education Foundation.
(Copyright 2011 Michael T Klare.)
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books),
(Used by permission Tomdispatch)