One take on how to do microcredit for women in Guatemala from Namaste Direct based in California. There are many organisations running microcredit intiatives in Guatemala, amongst others Rights Action and the Instituto para la SuperaciÃ³n de la Miseria Urbana (ISMUGUA) were two I learnt about. For more information on microfinance, check out the UN's work in this area.
Archive for August, 2006
There have recently been a number of attacks against the press. For anyone trying to make sense of the repressive and intimidatory forces at work in Guatemala the picture is a confused one. In this morning's Guardian (AP source) was a story about various attacks on journalists in Guatemala. In particular the article mentioned:
AP reported as part of background to this incident that: “The radio station has been threatened repeatedly for reporting on a tax evasion lawsuit involving Avicola Villalobos, one of Central America's largest agricultural conglomerates”. (not mentioned in Prensa Libre's article) Avicola Villalobos (poultry production) is another venture, one of the many of the Multi Inversiones holding company controlled by Dionisio Gutierrez”grandson of the founder”and Juan Luis Bosch, his cousin.
Bosch and Gutierrez have been legally challenged for tax evasion and money laundering by their uncle (Arturo Gutierrez) in a long running battle for influence (explained by Albedrio) in one of the wealthiest and most influential holding companies in Central America. In such a poisoned atmosphere, indisputable facts are few, and accusations many. Who's knows who was behind this shooting? And with impunity still widespread who knows whether Aguilar's attackers will be brought to justice?
Radio has long played a vital role in communications in Guatemala given widespread illiteracy and weak infrastructure across the country. This blog has highlighted recent intimidatory behaviour towards community radio stations, allegedly by Government and major commercial radio players.
Despite this difficult context project's do exist that support the vital role that community radio can play for local communities across Guatemala, for example Cultural Survival's Guatemala Radio Project and Instituto Guatemalteco de EducaciÃ³n RadiofÃ³nica (IGER).
For a better idea of the vast range of radio available in Guatemala (many of which are available online) click here for more information.
The Guatemalan army and police, along with members of the US Drugs Enforcement Agency conducted a surprise anti-drugs operation in the Ixcan, El Quiche recently (21-08-2006). With the details emerging, local groups and human rights organisations have denounced the heavy handed nature of the operation given the history of the military's repressive record in the region in the recent past. Any inappropriate behaviour from the military has been denied by the Government, including President Oscar Berger.
Guatemalan newspaper El Periodico has been covering the story with an intial report about the DEA involvement and then another describing the local reaction to it. The role of the DEA has also been a point of controversy with the Carlos Vielman, Interior Minister, not specifying how many DEA agents there are in the country.
The following is a statement in Spanish released by local groups from Playa Grande, IxcÃ¡n, El QuichÃ© (21-08-2006).
A los organismos internacionales que velan por los Derechos Humanos
A la opiniÃ³n pÃºblica
El Concejo Municipal, organizaciones sociales y la sociedad civil en general del Municipio de Playa Grande, IxcÃ¡n, El QuichÃ©, denunciamos la ocupaciÃ³n militar de la comunidad de retornados IxtahuacÃ¡n Chiquito, de este municipio, de las 11:00 de la maÃ±ana hasta las 15:00 horas, y expresamos nuestro rechazo a la manera sorpresiva y prepotente como se realizÃ³ este operativo militar, en el que participaron 7 helicÃ³pteros y tres aviones del ejÃ©rcito.
El dÃa de hoy aproximadamente a las 11:00 de la maÃ±ana siete helicÃ³pteros militares aterrizaron en el centro de IxtahuacÃ¡n Chiquito y desembarcaron miembros del ejÃ©rcito fuertemente armados y con la cara pintada de negro.
Seguidamente ocuparon el campo de fÃºtbol y rodearon la escuela, impidiendo la salida de los niÃ±os y niÃ±as que se encontraban en clases. Miembros del ejÃ©rcito de manera violenta ingresaron a humildes viviendas, encaÃ±onando a las mujeres y se apoderaron de herramientas de trabajo. Acto seguido iniciaron con estas herramientas excavaciones en un centro arqueolÃ³gico ubicado cerca del Ã¡rea de esta comunidad, supuestamente en busca de armas. Hasta las tres de la tarde aviones y helicÃ³pteros del ejÃ©rcito sobrevolaron las comunidades de Fronterizo 10 de Mayo, Los Ãngeles y Cuarto Pueblo, colindantes con el estado de Chiapas, MÃ©xico.
Estos hechos provocaron gran alarma en las familias, quienes durante el conflicto armado interno fueron vÃctimas de la polÃtica de tierra arrasada. Mujeres y niÃ±os huyeron despavoridos de sus casas buscando refugio en las montaÃ±as, al recordar lo que habÃan vivido durante el conflicto armado interno. Hasta el momento se reportan tres jÃ³venes
desaparecidos. De la misma manera pobladores de la aldea Fronterizo 10 de Mayo huyeron a las montaÃ±as, y algunos cruzaron la frontera mexicana, abandonando sus pertenencias y animales.
Este operativo fue similar al realizado el dÃa 10 de agosto en la Finca ChailÃ¡, de este mismo municipio, donde, de acuerdo al informe que vecinos del lugar dieron a la autoridad municipal, helicÃ³pteros del ejÃ©rcito aterrizaron en el lugar, acto seguido soldados y personas encapuchadas irrumpieron en las viviendas de los trabajadores de la finca.
SeÃ±alaron los afectados que sus casas fueron allanadas y saqueadas por miembros del ejÃ©rcito. Ante estos hechos los abajo firmantes expresamos nuestro rechazo a estos hechos violentos que atentan contra la tranquilidad de las familias y sus derechos civiles, poniendo en peligro la vida e integridad fÃsica de los habitantes de la comunidad especialmente de mujeres, ancianos, niÃ±os y niÃ±as. No estamos en contra de la lucha contra el crimen organizado, pero sÃ rechazamos las acciones intimidatorios y violentas contra la poblaciÃ³n mÃ¡s vulnerable.
Hacemos un llamado a la ProcuradurÃa de Derechos Humanos a que realice una investigaciÃ³n sobre estos hechos, y que mantenga la vigilancia sobre el respeto a los derechos humanos, velando porque el ejÃ©rcito no ejerza funciones que le corresponden al poder judicial y la policÃa nacional civil, tal como lo establece el Acuerdo sobre el Fortalecimiento del Poder Civil y FunciÃ³n del EjÃ©rcito en una Sociedad DemocrÃ¡tica.
Marcos RamÃrez, Alcalde Municipal
Pastoral Social del IxcÃ¡n
AsociaciÃ³n Centro de Apoyo en Justicia Penal y ResoluciÃ³n de Conflictos
Proyecto de Salud Mental Puente de Paz
AsociaciÃ³n de Mujeres MamÃ¡ MaquÃn
Servicios JurÃdicos y Sociales (SERJUS)
FundaciÃ³n Guillermo Toriello
ComitÃ© Europeo FormaciÃ³n y Agricultura (CEFA)
AsociaciÃ³n Integral de Productores OrgÃ¡nicos de IxcÃ¡n (ASIPOI)
The following is a statement released by CALDH denoucing the military operation:
Para CALDH, los operativos militares realizados en forma ilegal, con prepotencia y abuso de poder en las comunidades del QuichÃ©, recuerdan los efectuados en esa regiÃ³n en los ochenta y que dejaron un saldo de 344 masacres comprobadas y denunciadas por la ComisiÃ³n del Esclarecimiento HistÃ³rico. Nuevamente el terror y la incertidumbre se adueÃ±aron de las comunidades, interrumpiendo la vida cotidiana de hombres y mujeres.
CALDH se solidariza con las comunidades de retornados de IxtahuacÃ¡n Chiquito y Fronterizo 10 de Mayo, Los Ãngeles y Cuarto Pueblo y expresa su rechazo a la manera sorpresiva y prepotente como se realizÃ³ este operativo militar, en el que participaron 7 helicÃ³pteros, 3 aviones del ejÃ©rcito y cientos de efectivos que provocaron pÃ¡nico y zozobra en niÃ±os, niÃ±as, mujeres, hombres y ancianos. Los mismos hechos han acontecido en la finca ChailÃ¡, donde de acuerdo al testimonio que vecinos dieron a la autoridad municipal, helicÃ³pteros del ejÃ©rcito aterrizaron en el lugar seguido por el actuar de soldados y personas encapuchadas que irrumpieron y saquearon las viviendas.
Es sintomÃ¡tico que este tipo de operativos se realicen en la regiÃ³n de IxcÃ¡n, que fue una de las mÃ¡s golpeadas durante la guerra y donde millares de personas estÃ¡n pendientes de que se haga justicia por el Genocidio ocurrido en el paÃs.
Las comunidades no tienen por quÃ© sufrir las consecuencias de operativos militares que responden a la necesidad de este gobierno de presentar resultados positivos ante el gobierno de Estados Unidos en su supuesta lucha contra el crimen organizado y narcotrÃ¡fico y que sÃ³lo consiguen intimidar y generar terror en una poblaciÃ³n que intenta sobrevivir diariamente a los altos Ãndices de pobreza, desigualdad y exclusiÃ³n.
Ante estos hechos, CALDH EXIGE:
¢ Que el gobierno cese inmediatamente este tipo de operativos militares y que realice una investigaciÃ³n seria sobre las violaciones a los derechos humanos que se han cometido en los Ãºltimos dÃas en contra de las comunidades.
¢ La depuraciÃ³n de las fuerzas de seguridad que siguen actuando al margen de la legalidad que dicta el Estado de Derecho en una sociedad democrÃ¡tica.
¢ Que no se siga poniendo de pretexto el combate al crimen organizado y al narcotrÃ¡fico para pasar por sobre la dignidad de las personas que habitan las comunidades, que siguen sufriendo el abandono de las supuestas polÃticas sociales de los gobiernos y que sÃ³lo tienen de tiempo en tiempo la presencia de un Estado militarizado.
Episode 7 of documentary series 'Entremosle a Guate' entitled 'La justicia con rostro de mujer' has just been posted on the internet. This focuses on the work of two women working in the Guatemalan criminal justice system. Glenda Monroy works in the Fiscalia de la Mujer and Carmela Curup, the first indigenous woman to qualify as a lawyer. Cast against a background of rising violence against women, the programme manages to illuminate the issue with the courageous example of these two women.
Violence against women continues to get sporadic publicity in the Guatemalan press some less, some more insightful. There's also a clip of the BBC documentary 'Killer's Paradise' showing Norma Cruz, a Guatemalan activist for women's rights posted on the internet recently. Last month Amnesty International produced another report on the issue reiterating the fact that the violence is continuing to rise.
An article in today's Guardian continues the discussion on adoption from overseas. Kate Hilpern talks to the families who have adopted transnationally, in particular to the children themselves who've now grown up. The article starts with the following question:
But as her three daughters start to grow up, she's not so sure that “rescuing” children, and bringing them up thousands of miles from their roots, is always the answer. “It's not that I'm anti-adoption or that I regret adopting. But I believe more and more that we need to improve the situation for people – for women in particular – in developing countries like Guatemala,” says Aldridge, who supports a number of community projects there.”
Usually this debate on transnational adoption is not led by those who've been adopted themselves. It's interesting to hear how important it is to be able to share experiences with others who've been through a similar situation. For information on the Transnational and Transracial Adoption Group, visit www.ttag.org.uk
Those who underestimate Guatemala's love of fried chicken do so at their peril. It's led to the hard-wiring of the custom of taking fried chicken with you when visiting loved-ones abroad. It explains why Guatemala consumes more chicken than any other Central American neighbour. Now this love of chicken is partly the cause of the bad taste CAFTA is currently leaving in the mouth of Guatemalan officials.
There's an interesting post from El Blogador in El Blog Diabloglico on the latest reactions to the introduction of CAFTA in Guatemala with President Oscar Berger accusing the US of dumping chicken on the country's market. Cuba's Press Agency Prensa Latina has the article with the quote from Oscar Berger in English. While the story rumbles on in the Guatemala Press- see for example El Periodico. In an editorial piece, Prensa Libre's message to the Guatemalan government was: get used to the new CAFTA reality- oh and cheap chicken is great for consumers.
It will be interesting to see how Guatemalans in positions of power react to CAFTA who currently believe they can gain from the much lauded opportunities of CAFTA. Prensa Libre's CAFTA special (still pushed from it's home page) is a case in point, and is actually a striking example of the incredibly biased reporting on CAFTA in the Guatemalan press up to now. In a wholely unscientific estimation, I'd guess 98% of the content of the publication is strongly in favour of CAFTA.
El Blogador's article also refers to the long running Pollo Campero* case involving a law suit between cousins and Guatemalan business magnates, Dionisio GutiÃ©rrez Mayorga (who also dabbles in television) and Juan Luis Bosch and their uncle Juan Arturo Gutierrez. The long running case has been largely avoided by the Guatemalan press. A couple of weeks ago a Miami judge threw out the case after more than seven years pending. Juan Arturo Gutierrez's lawyers say they'll take the case to Guatemala.
* The case has nothing to do with Polo Campero though aparently as they got the following apology from the Washington Post recently: “Pollo Campero is not a defendant in the federal litigation, and there was no intent to imply that Bosch and Gutierrez had been charged with any crimes. No criminal proceedings have been filed in the United States against Bosch and Gutierrez.”
Written by Alan Mendelsohn and Nadine Pequeneza, aired on Canadian television's series Turning Points of History in 2001- “A Coup: Made In America” (Barna-Alper) is a documentary made about the CIA's involvement in the downfall of Jacobo Arbenz's government in Guatemala in 1954. You can now watch it on Google Video as it has just been posted in the last couple of days by Quintus (read this article on the documentary from Quintus's blog Hunahpu Ixbalanque in Spanish).
Quintus makes the point that the significance of 1954 is still not widely enough understood in Guatemala in its true historical context. If you take a book like 'Breve Historia ContemporÃ¡nea de Guatemala' by Jorge LujÃ¡n MuÃ±oz, part of the academic establishment in Guatemala you can see Quintus's point. LujÃ¡n MuÃ±oz only refers to the CIA involvement in a footnote in his chapter on the downfall of Arbenz. And finishes the piece implying that the Arbenz government failed due to internal factors:
Interesting to see Stephen Schlesinger interviewed in the documentary. Schlesinger co-wrote with Stephen Kinzer one of the widely considered classics on the CIA intervention in Guatemala in 1954 – Bitter Fruit – The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. You can see Stephen Kinzer talking about Guatemala in 1954 and his latest book “Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.” on Democracy Now! (May 2006).
Those words from Vice President Richard Nixon to Carlos Castillo Armas, then President of Guatemala, are still striking for their duplicity and hypocrisy. What happened in Guatemala over 50 years ago, still resonates with students of U.S. foreign policy in the interceding years. This example of the U.S. government deposing a democratically elected government for straight-forward economic self-interest finds echoes in many, many other parts of the world since -right up to the present day. The big difference with the US role in Guatemala in 1954 is that the 'American coup' is a matter of public record and can no longer be spun in any other way.
Yes, it's official: the US does not always promote democracy and liberty beyond its borders.
A few days ago we were approached by Antony Melville from UK pressure group Rainforest Saver. They are promoting a groundbreaking method developed with farmers in areas of Central America affected by slash and burn. The technique was established by British ecologist Mike Hands over a period of more than 20 years working in Honduras and Costa Rica. The technique is alley cropping using Inga trees and provides the nutrients necessary to rejuvenate land rendered unproductive from slash and burn.
One of the many advantages of alley cropping with inga trees over alternatives is that it's a totally organic method. The Inga trees produce a mulch that smothers weeds, but allows stronger plant species such as maize to break through. With less weeds, the amount of land a farmer can cultivate is increased. The trees themselves are pruned producing firewood for farmers.
The story of how this has come about is told in a recent article (Feb 2005) in The Ecologist by Daniel Elkan. There has also been an article in the Guardian in April 2004. So far, more than 4,000 farmers have been shown plots of Inga alley-cropping at demonstration farms in Honduras and Rainforest Saver are keen to involve farmers from further afield including Guatemala to see for themselves the benefits of working with Inga trees in this way. We will be helping to spread greater awareness of this technique in Guatemala in the coming months.
Photo to the left shows Rueben Mendoza on the edge of his Inga alley plot in front of his second maize crop in succeeding years on a previously unproductive site.
Most impressive of all are the comments from farmers whose lives have been changed by this new way of farming the land. As quoted from The Ecologist article: “Victor Coronado from Atlantida in northern Honduras was one of the first [farmers to get involved]. His initial response was sceptical. 'The first thing I thought was that it doesn't make sense to plant corn or beans under the trees,' Coronado recalls. However, as Hands was only asking him to give up a small part of his land, not large enough to risk his livelihood, he agreed to give it a try.
Six years on, Coronado stands surrounded by proof that Hands' technique works. Where there used to be grass and weeds, tall, leafy maize plants now rise above his head. In a field nearby, alley-cropped pepper plants are flourishing, while in Coronado's kitchen there is plenty of the vanilla that he grew last year.
More than 30 farmers have adopted the scheme, each with a plot of Inga alley-cropping located only metres from their home. With the crops so close by, they can be more easily guarded from wild animals, and the rest of the family members are more easily able to help in the field. 'When I go out it does not worry me now, because my wife, my daughter or a neighbour can look after the crops,' says Coronado. In fact, Coronado's wife took over the running of the pepper crop completely. After harvesting and grinding, she mixed it with cumin and sold it in the town square. 'She has made $900 for the family selling pepper,' Coronado beams. 'All of us can produce crops that are 100 per cent organic. If more farmers get involved, between us we could even sell some of the crops abroad.'”
The above picture from Google Earth shows the depletion of the rainforest around Lake Peten Itza in northern Guatemala. In Honduras, gradually alley cropping is growing in popularity. However, extra resources need to be found to make sure there are enough Inga seeds to meet the growing demand. Extra resources could also help publicise this incredibly simple, yet effective technique which can impact on so many people's lives.
For more information
You can download Mike Hands final report to the European Union on alley cropping from June 2002
Post by Helen Pearson (you can read the first
article – 'Exile' here)
This is the second of a
series of articles comparing Palestine/Israel and Guatemala written by
GSN member, Helen Pearson, a Jewish activist from Leicester, UK, who
has a long association with Guatemala and who visited Israel and the
Occupied Palestinian Territories in April 2006.
In the house with Mary and her family, as they talked about how they were unable to move around their own country, I had the sense of a set of people having their lifeblood squeezed from them. Mary’s husband, George, and son, Sami, have a small workshop where they make olivewood carvings which they sell to pilgrims and tourists via shops in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Except there are hardly any tourists arriving in Bethlehem these days because travel is difficult, and people are put off by the checkpoints and the perception that violence could break out. Neither George nor any of his family members can travel to Jerusalem so any business in the capital is impossible: their livelihood is now at stake. Mary and George’s daughter, Agnes, is only 20 but already bitter: I can’t even travel to my own capital city, she said; we can’t go anywhere, I can’t do anything. The family exuded a sense of being trapped. There was a sadness in their eyes which was not disguised by their hospitality and their smiles; it was a look I had seen before in Guatemalans who had endured countless troubles not of their making.
One day we went on a tour of East Jerusalem with ICAHD where we saw one of the most inhumane aspects of ˜the matrix of control’ in operation. The policy of house demolitions is, in effect, used by Israel as a punishment for being Palestinian and is also motivated by the desire to control the population balance so that Jerusalem never becomes a majority Arab city. Hand in hand with this is the push to expand Jewish settlements within East Jerusalem, the Palestinian area of the city according to the internationally recognised Green Line (pre-1967 borders). As a Jew I find this demographically motivated abuse of another people completely abhorrent: how can the Israelis who organise and carry out these demolitions have lost their collective Jewish memories of centuries of forced removal, harassment and racial hatred?
Israeli regulations demand that Palestinians living in areas which it controls need a permit to build new houses or expand their existing ones. The penalty for construction without a permit is demolition: often there is very little warning that a demolition will happen and no compensation when it does. This practice is illegal under international law: Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that occupying powers are prohibited from destroying property belonging individually or collectively to private persons. According to our ICAHD guide, the only way a Palestinian can get a permit is by paying a huge fee or becoming an informer for the Israelis. Between 1967 and 2004, over 2,000 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem have been destroyed by Israeli occupation forces (6) and the demolitions are continuing. By contrast, since the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, 70,000 government sponsored housing units have been built for Israelis and none have been built for Palestinians.(7)
We visited a neighbourhood where families had had their houses demolished several times over. One house had been allowed to stand after it had been re-built four times only if no-one lived in it: the local people have made it into a community centre with support from ICAHD. Beside it are the remains of several other houses, squashed like huge sandwiches: rubble fill between thick slabs of concrete. I was staggered by the unfairness of these demolitions and could barely imagine how they must devastate the mental and physical wellbeing of the families dispossessed in this way.
Israel does not only punish the Palestinian population; it also punishes people who dare to challenge its actions from within. Mordechai Vanunu was a technician working in an Israeli nuclear plant when in 1986 he decided that his conscience would not allow him to be silent any longer about Israel’s advanced nuclear capability. His story was published by the Sunday Times but he was captured in Italy by Mossad, the Israeli secret service, and imprisoned for 18 years. Most of his sentence was spent in solitary confinement, where he endured maltreatment, such as sleep deprivation, designed to break his will. For years on end he was not allowed to receive any prison visits and all his applications for parole were refused.
We met Mordechai Vanunu in Jerusalem and after all he has suffered it is remarkable how lucid he is and how determined he continues to be to campaign against nuclear weapons. He is still subject to court orders which prevent him from travelling outside Jerusalem and speaking to foreigners, although with regard to the latter he goes out of his way to flout the restriction as he refuses to accept this curtailment of his free speech. Mordechai has been punished over and over again. His head has been symbolically cut off and displayed on a spike, for all to see what will happen to anyone who betrays the Israeli state so publicly, in spite of the fact that Israel has admitted that the information Mordechai revealed posed no threat to its security.
Another former prisoner we met in Jerusalem was Rotem Mor, a young man who had been imprisoned for refusing to serve in the Israeli Army and who now works with New Profile, an Israeli anti-militarisation campaign (8). In Israel, there is no recognition of conscientious objection, only for unqualified pacifism, which is rarely accepted. Those who declare their refusal to serve in the armed forces, either altogether or in the Occupied Territories, are likely to be sent to a military prison. New Profile’s charter clearly expresses the context which exacts this punishment: ˜Attitudes casting doubts on “security” related decisions, questioning the state's enormous military budgets, or its ongoing policies of military confrontation, are branded “naive,” “hysterical,” “ignorant.” An attitude that dares question the fundamental principle of willing enlistment, is almost incomprehensible in a soldiers' state. It is rejected as illegitimate’.
In Guatemala, although democracy was restored in 1986 and peace accords signed in 1996, people who seek to expose and demand justice for the crimes of the past are severely punished. The structures, and in some cases the people, that perpetrated the gross human rights violations of the early 1980s still operate with impunity behind the faÃ§ade of democratisation. Bishop Juan Gerardi led the Catholic Church’s Recovery of Historical Memory Project (REMHI) (9), which documents thousands of cases of killings, rapes, and torture. The REMHI report was published in April 1998: two days later Bishop Gerardi was battered to death with a concrete block in his house in Guatemala City. It took years, and innumerable threats against prosecution lawyers and the Archdiocese’s human rights office, but eventually two former army officers were convicted of committing the murder, along with a priest who had worked with the bishop. The intellectual authors of this crime, however, remain at large and will likely never receive their punishment.
The killing of Bishop Gerardi cast a long shadow forwards, presaging the difficulties ahead in calling to account those responsible for genocide and other atrocities In 2005 the Guatemalan Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit recorded 224 attacks against human rights activists and organisations and so far this year the Unit has registered 65 such attacks.(10).
Since my trip to Palestine and Israel, and since I started writing this piece, the situation in the Middle East has exploded. The causes of the conflict are hugely complex, as are the solutions, but I for one am clear that the punitive action being taken against civilians in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon is indefensible and has to stop before more lives are devastated. Apart from legal and ethical objections, punishment, whether collective or selective, does not work: it is not forcing Palestinians to give up their right to self-determination; it is not stopping the Israeli refuser movement; and it is not stopping Guatemalan human rights defenders from seeking justice. State sponsored punishment which is disproportionate and unjustified embeds violence and mistrust within society and makes it harder to achieve what all Palestinians, Israelis and Guatemalans say they want: to live in peace and with dignity.
Correction: In From Meso America to the Middle East. I: Exile I mistakenly referred to the Golan Heights as part of historical Palestine, when it was, in fact, part of Syria until occupied by Israel in 1967.
6) www.palestinemonitor.org/updates/israel_emptying_jerusalem_of_palestinians.htm (5.5.04)
7) www.icahd.org (Q&A section) (18.4.04)
9) Guatemala: Never Again! Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, 1998
10) www.amnesty.org – AI Index: AMR/34/021/2006, 13 June 2006
You can read the full article here
Post by Helen Pearson (you can read the first article here – 'Exile')
This is the second of a series of articles comparing Palestine/Israel and Guatemala written by GSN member, Helen Pearson, a Jewish activist from Leicester, UK, who has a long association with Guatemala and who visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in April 2006.
II : Punishment
Early one morning some five years ago in the town of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem a young man is getting ready to go to work. He stands in front of the dressing table mirror combing his hair, his back to the window. Suddenly he hears a crack and instinctively ducks, a second before the bullet smashes into the mirror exactly where his head has been only a moment before.
This incident, which happened to her son, was the first thing that Mary (1) told me about when I arrived in her house. As part of our trip (2) we had requested an overnight stay with families so we could meet Palestinians in a more informal setting, away from the main tour programme. The house was right on the edge of town. As I walked into the large open space that was the family’s kitchen, dining room and lounge rolled into one, I was struck by the beautiful green hills and fields which could be seen from the back of the house.
I commented on the lovely view and Mary said, but look, look. I couldn’t see what she was pointing at. They are watching us from that lookout all the time, the settlers. And then I made out a kind of dugout on the hillside opposite the house, which Mary explained to me was part of an illegal Israeli settlement. Then she told me about her son being shot at soon after the second Intifada started. She was still asking: Why did they do that? What did he do to them? There is absolutely nothing between that dugout and Mary’s house, nothing to fire at but the silhouette of a young man combing his hair. If the aim of the settler who fired the shot had been slightly truer, and the bullet hadn’t gone through the window frame first, Mary would be one son down. What she saw when she looked out the back of her house was not a beautiful view of hills and fields but a constant, threatening presence which targeted her and her family as a punishment, not for anything they had done personally to Israelis, but for Palestinian rebellion against the Occupation.
I found this a truly chilling introduction to Mary’s warm and welcoming home and I couldn’t stop wondering how that one act of violence had affected her son and the whole family, their sense of security shattered like the mirror, which still had the bullet embedded in it.
This one incident can be multiplied thousands of times over all across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A phrase which came up time and time again when we talked to Palestinians was ˜collective punishment’. By this the speakers meant retribution dealt out to the whole population, irrespective of involvement in any direct threat to Israel. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention covers the conduct of occupying powers and forbids collective punishment, stating that a person shall not be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. The Israeli state clearly feels no obligation to abide by Article 33, nor by numerous other stipulations of International Humanitarian Law and United Nations resolutions, which clearly establish the illegaility of the Occupation itself and the strategies used to maintain and extend it.
The purpose of collective punishment is to demoralise and humiliate, to devalue daily life, denigrate the culture of the population being punished and wear down resistance. Blaming and then punishing the Palestinians for hindering the Zionist ideal of a state for the Jews has blinded Israel to its own ruthlessness and to the only solution possible: that the land must be shared with full respect and equality accorded to all peoples who live there.
The questions, Why us? and what did we do to deserve this? were ones I heard over and over again from survivors of the violence in Guatemala, where during the early 1980s the infliction of collective punishment reached grotesque proportions. The civilian population was directly targeted by the military as part of a strategy to eliminate the social base of the guerrilla movements which operated in rural areas inhabited by Mayan subsistence farmers. Massacres, torture, rape, burning of villages and ˜scorching’ the earth with chemicals were perpetrated not because the people or communities at the receiving end were fighting the army, but because they might be sympathetic to the insurgents’ cause, and to provide an example of what would happen to people who did collaborate with the guerrillas.
In the region where I worked in Guatemala during the mid-1990s, the PetÃ©n, I had heard plenty of stories of the atrocities committed by the army. As part of my work supporting a grassroots Guatemalan refugee organisation, I accompanied several preparatory brigades to a piece of land on which a group of refugees were to return from Mexico to establish a new community. The land was deep in isolated sub-tropical forests on the site of a former agricultural co-operative, called El Quetzal, which had been abandoned in 1981. One day, as the work brigade set about clearing some of the undergrowth, a cry went up: bomba! The men had come across an unexploded aerial bomb about a metre across which bore a label written in English. This is right where the village centre used to be, said Gabriel, who had known the area before, and for a moment we were all thinking the same: maybe beneath our feet are the charred bones and houses of the previous inhabitants of El Quetzal. UN specialists were called in to dismantle the device which turned out to be of US manufacture and a type used for blanket bombardment in Vietnam.
In Guatemala, collective punishment became a sophisticated strategy developed by the armed forces which drew on psychology, sociology and political analysis as well as military theory. In Palestine, although collective punishment has not reached the barbarity it did in Guatemala, it is operated in a deliberate and systematic way. As the Israeli human rights organisation, B’tselem, puts it: ˜Since the beginning of the occupation Israel has made extensive use of means that constitute collective punishment [¦.] Israel currently employs these means as an integral part of its policy in the Occupied Territories’.(3)
Jeff Halper, Co-ordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICADH), has coined a phrase, ˜the matrix of control’, to describe the complex web which is strangling the Palestinian population. He says that this matrix ˜conceals behind a faÃ§ade of seemingly innocuous administrative devices and ostensibly justified military and physical constraints a repressive regime intended to permanently deny the Palestinians self-determination, citizenship, and basic human and civil rights’.(4)
One key element of ˜the matrix of control’ is what Israel calls the ˜separation barrier’ but which is more generally known as the Wall. The first time we passed through it in our minibus, going from Israel to Beit Sahour in the West Bank, I shivered at the ugly, towering concrete walls topped by barbed wire and flanked by watch towers, as we went from the smooth Israeli tarmac to the potholed Palestinian streets on the other side. As foreigners we sailed through, but Palestinians can wait for hours at checkpoints, often enduring extensive questioning and intimidation, sometimes not being allowed through, even if they have the correct paperwork or a medical emergency. So persistent is harassment and other human rights violations at checkpoints that Israeli women have set up an organisation, Checkpoint Watch, to monitor and report on abuses.(5)
The wall in turn is part of a wider policy of ˜closure’, started in 1993 and getting ever worse, which stops people travelling outside the areas where they live, effectively preventing or severely hampering family contact, employment, business operations, college attendance and numerous other activities. A complicated system of permits exists which restricts where Palestinians can travel to, which roads they can use and how they can travel. [to be continued tomorrow]
1) Not her real name: the names of some Palestinians in my articles have been changed.
2) I travelled to the West Bank and Israel with Olive Co-operative – www.olivecoop.com
4) Obstacles to Peace: A Re-Framing of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Jeff Halper, Jerusalem 2005, 3rd Edition
You can read the full article here attached.