Category Archives: Refugees

The Sentencing of Brenton Tarrant: Jailing the Man, not the Great Replacement

Brenton Tarrant was sentenced last week.  The Australian national who butchered, with relish, 51 individuals in Christchurch at Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre, found himself facing something unique in New Zealand: jail for life without parole.  He pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one of terrorism.  He also faced a tsunami of victim impact statements – over 200 in all.

The High Court Justice Cameron Mander was not too willing to delve into the substance of Tarrant’s ideas that saw noxious fruition on March 15, 2019.  They constituted merely a “warped and malignant ideology” with moorings “in religious and ethnic antipathy and intolerance.”  What concerned him most was the method. “You slaughtered unarmed and defenceless people.”  Tarrant “maimed and wounded and crippled many others, your victims included the young, and the old, men, women and children.”

It is true enough.  Tarrant was unsparing, pitiless and relentless.  He had hoped to kill more worshippers, intending to strike a note of fear among “non-Europeans.”  He had also prepared for the slaughter well in advance, having undertaken a reconnaissance mission to Al Noor Mosque two months before, sending a drone to identify points of entry and exit.  Such readiness went back as far as 2017, when the Australian had settled in New Zealand with nefarious purpose.  “You came to this country to murder.”

The sentencing of Tarrant served a sequestering purpose.  According to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, “he deserves to be a lifetime of complete and utter silence.”  Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison echoed the sentiment.  “It is right that we will never see or hear from him ever again.”  New Zealand authorities are not merely content on keeping him in permanent incarceration on home soil.  They insist that he be returned to Australia.

No one got to receive a full airing of the mindset of Tarrant the ideologue, his own views about the inundation, expunging and racial deletion of white Christians at the hands of the followers of Allah.  There has, in fact, been a concerted effort across social media platforms and publications to expurgate and limit discussion on Tarrant’s cock-eyed view of the world, scribbled out in the rambling manifesto The Great Replacement.  The intention is to avoid the dissemination of hate and incitement; the consequence is its concealment, bowdlerising the views of a mass murderer and limiting its dangerously broader appeal.

The plagiarised title of Tarrant’s tract is itself loosely based on Renaud Camus’s self-published book of the same title from 2012, though Camus himself had little time for the methods of Tarrant, the efforts of “someone who had failed to understand my work.”  But had he?  Both Camus and Tarrant are, at first blush, striking juxtapositions: the former, an ardent, confessional homosexual aesthete and laureate of the Académie Française; the latter, a personal trainer from Grafton, New South Wales who had travelled to Europe on his father’s inheritance money to bear personal witness to immigrant “invasion”.

While not having the cast iron stomach for Tarrant’s bloodiness, Camus was delighted by the notoriety his ideas were getting.  As to whether he resented “the fact that people take notice of ethnic substitution that is in progress in my country?” he posed rhetorically to James McAuley writing for The Washington Post, he was unequivocal.  “No.  To the contrary.”

Tarrant’s language, as expressed in the manifesto, clings to the raft of European identity.  “The origins of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European, my philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European.”  He sees himself, incoherently and ramblingly, as “an Ethno-nationalist Eco-fascist.  Ethnic autonomy for all peoples with a focus on preservation of nature, and the natural order”.  He sees enemies everywhere: German chancellor Angela Merkel as “mother of all things anti-white and anti-Germanic”; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as “the leader of one of the oldest enemies of our people, and the leader of the largest Islamic group within Europe.”

This streakily misguided, not to mention linguistically and culturally deluded reading, is something that finds voice across the White Supremacist family.  It made an appearance in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 with chants of “Jews will not replace us.”  Ditto in October, 2018 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, were 11 were slain by Robert Bowers claiming to be targeting those who “bring invaders in that kill our people.”  But Tarrant’s preferred target of hatred was not some fabled international Jewish conspiracy but Islam.

These are not the isolated mutterings of a noisy fringe.  They are also entertained by certain political leaders not averse to teasing out the race, culture and even religious card, if it advances a cause.  In Europe, Geert Wilders of the Netherlands’ far-right Freedom Party rallies with the cry that, “Our population is being replaced.  No more.”

The notion of a great replacement has found freight in the views of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.  Orbán’s fear is demographic inundation by swarthy, non-Christian outsiders.  Christianity, he explained last September at the Third Demographic Summit in Budapest, needed to “regain its strength in Europe.”  Population decline was “a general European phenomenon” that arose from the First and Second World Wars, both of which he regards as “brutal civil wars”. To arrest such population decline by accepting non-Europeans would be “effectively … consenting to population replacement: to a process in which the European population is replaced.”

Such views are heartily shared by former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who wrote adoringly of Orbán last year as “the first European leader to cry ‘stop’ to the peaceful invasion of 2015 and is now trying to boost Hungary’s flagging birth rate.”  At the centre, then, of this cultural and racial cosmos lie a set of ideas that share a threat with Tarrant’s own form of murderous retribution.  They are all concerned with existential replacement.

The trial, however, left those watching it with a sense of simplicity: wickedness confined to the dock; victims seeking spiritual and emotional compensation through various forms of anger, sadness, forgiveness or lack of.  It was procedural, formulaic and decidedly clear: Tarrant had butchered and must pay the bill.  But there was little stomach for confronting his central contention, less than his method, which has found an audience not merely in the White Supremacist fold, but in public offices from Washington to Budapest.

How Israel wages War on Palestinian History

When the Palestinian actor Mohammed Bakri made a documentary about Jenin in 2002 – filming immediately after the Israeli army had completed rampaging through the West Bank city, leaving death and destruction in its wake – he chose an unusual narrator for the opening scene: a mute Palestinian youth.

Jenin had been sealed off from the world for nearly three weeks as the Israeli army razed the neighbouring refugee camp and terrorised its population.

Bakri’s film Jenin, Jenin shows the young man hurrying silently between wrecked buildings, using his nervous body to illustrate where Israeli soldiers shot Palestinians and where bulldozers collapsed homes, sometimes on their inhabitants.

It was not hard to infer Bakri’s larger meaning: when it comes to their own story, Palestinians are denied a voice. They are silent witnesses to their own and their people’s suffering and abuse.

The irony is that Bakri has faced just such a fate himself since Jenin, Jenin was released 18 years ago. Today, little is remembered of his film, or the shocking crimes it recorded, except for the endless legal battles to keep it off screens.

Bakri has been tied up in Israel’s courts ever since, accused of defaming the soldiers who carried out the attack. He has paid a high personal price. Deaths threats, loss of work and endless legal bills that have near-bankrupted him. A verdict in the latest suit against him – this time backed by the Israeli attorney general – is expected in the next few weeks.

Bakri is a particularly prominent victim of Israel’s long-running war on Palestinian history. But there are innumerable other examples.

For decades many hundreds of Palestinian residents in the southern West Bank have been fighting their expulsion as Israeli officials characterise them as “squatters”. According to Israel, the Palestinians are nomads who recklessly built homes on land they seized inside an army firing zone.

The villagers’ counter-claims were ignored until the truth was unearthed recently in Israel’s archives.

These Palestinian communities are, in fact, marked on maps predating Israel. Official Israeli documents presented in court last month show that Ariel Sharon, a general-turned-politician, devised a policy of establishing firing zones in the occupied territories to justify mass evictions of Palestinians like these communities in the Hebron Hills.

The residents are fortunate that their claims have been officially verified, even if they still depend on uncertain justice from an Israeli occupiers’ court.

Israel’s archives are being hurriedly sealed up precisely to prevent any danger that records might confirm long-sidelined and discounted Palestinian history.

Last month Israel’s state comptroller, a watchdog body, revealed that more than one million archived documents were still inaccessible, even though they had passed their declassification date. Nonetheless, some have slipped through the net.

The archives have, for example, confirmed some of the large-scale massacres of Palestinian civilians carried out in 1948 – the year Israel was established by dispossessing Palestinians of their homeland.

In one such massacre at Dawaymeh, near where Palestinians are today fighting against their expulsion from the firing zone, hundreds were executed, even as they offered no resistance, to encourage the wider population to flee.

Other files have corroborated Palestinian claims that Israel destroyed more than 500 Palestinian villages during a wave of mass expulsions that same year to dissuade the refugees from trying to return.

Official documents have disproved, too, Israel’s claim that it pleaded with the 750,000 Palestinian refugees to return home. In fact, as the archives reveal, Israel obscured its role in the ethnic cleansing of 1948 by inventing a cover story that it was Arab leaders who commanded Palestinians to leave.

The battle to eradicate Palestinian history does not just take place in the courts and archives. It begins in Israeli schools.

A new study by Avner Ben-Amos, a history professor at Tel Aviv University, shows that Israeli pupils learn almost nothing truthful about the occupation, even though many will soon enforce it as soldiers in a supposedly “moral” army that rules over Palestinians.

Maps in geography textbooks strip out the so-called “Green Line” – the borders demarcating the occupied territories – to present a Greater Israel long desired by the settlers. History and civics classes evade all discussion of the occupation, human rights violations, the role of international law, or apartheid-like local laws that treat Palestinians differently from Jewish settlers living illegally next door.

Instead, the West Bank is known by the Biblical names of “Judea and Samaria”, and its occupation in 1967 is referred to as a “liberation”.

Sadly, Israel’s erasure of Palestinians and their history is echoed outside by digital behemoths such as Google and Apple.

Palestinian solidarity activists have spent years battling to get both platforms to include hundreds of Palestinian communities in the West Bank missed off their maps, under the hashtag #HeresMyVillage. Illegal Jewish settlements, meanwhile, are prioritised on these digital maps.

Another campaign, #ShowTheWall, has lobbied the tech giants to mark on their maps the path of Israel’s 700-kilometre-long steel and concrete barrier, effectively used by Israel to annex occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law.

And last month Palestinian groups launched yet another campaign, #GoogleMapsPalestine, demanding that the occupied territories be labelled “Palestine”, not just the West Bank and Gaza. The UN recognised the state of Palestine back in 2012, but Google and Apple refused to follow suit.

Palestinians rightly argue that these firms are replicating the kind of disappearance of Palestinians familiar from Israeli textbooks, and that they uphold “mapping segregation” that mirrors Israel’s apartheid laws in the occupied territories.

Today’s crimes of occupation – house demolitions, arrests of activists and children, violence from soldiers, and settlement expansion – are being documented by Israel, just as its earlier crimes were.

Future historians may one day unearth those papers from the Israeli archives and learn the truth. That Israeli policies were not driven, as Israel claims now, by security concerns, but by a colonial desire to destroy Palestinian society and pressure Palestinians to leave their homeland, to be replaced by Jews.

The lessons for future researchers will be no different from the lessons learnt by their predecessors, who discovered the 1948 documents.

But in truth, we do not need to wait all those years hence. We can understand what is happening to Palestinians right now – simply by refusing to conspire in their silencing. It is time to listen.

• First published in The National

The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid

In a world where nationalism and social division is increasing, bigotry growing, are the words refugee, asylum seeker, migrant worker, derogatory labels triggering prejudice and intolerance? Such terms create an image of ‘the other’, separate and different, strengthening tribalism, feeding suspicion, our common humanity denied.

Under the shadow of Covid-19 those living on the margins of society have been further isolated; the refugees and migrants of the world, those displaced internally or in a foreign land, people living in war zones, and the migrant workers in the Gulf States, India, Singapore and elsewhere.

Refugees/migrants and migrant workers are among those most at risk from Covd-19, the economic impact of the pandemic as well as xenophobic abuse linked to the virus. Migrant workers (who universally have few or no labor rights) from Qatar to India have been discriminated against, discarded and ignored. Migrants, particularly those of Chinese or Japanese appearance in the US and elsewhere subjected to violence and abuse, and in refugee camps across Europe and the Middle East, including Gaza, thousands have been left in unsafe camps without medical support.

Homeless, hungry and at risk

Even before the pandemic erupted, to be a refugee, migrant, or migrant worker was commonly to be mistrusted, marginalized and in danger. Whether working as a maid in one of the Gulf States, an internal migrant worker in their homeland or living inside an overcrowded refugee camp these men, women and children are amongst the most vulnerable people in the world. In Europe, where thousands of refugees (many from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan) are packed into camps, their lives already swamped by uncertainty, the fear of the virus hangs heavy. Lacking sanitation and essential services these overcrowded tarpaulin cities are unsafe; the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, for example, was designed to accommodate 2,840, but now has 19,000 people; 40% are under 18, self-harming and attempted suicides are widespread. Compounding the heightened risks Covid has created, since July 2019 asylum seekers throughout Greece no longer have free access to the healthcare system, other than emergency support.

Meanwhile, in countries with large populations of migrant workers Covid-19 and the economic impact of the pandemic is adding additional layers of suffering to already arduous lives, not just of workers, but the families migrant workers support. According to the UN, round 800 million people globally are supported by funds sent home by migrant workers. Families depend on such payments to pay rent and buy food; when this flow stops, as is the case for many now, poverty and the risk of starvation is made more acute. The World Bank is warning of huge drops in global remittance payments of around 20%, resulting from the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic, which they say has impacted on migrant communities particularly hard.

In the Gulf States, which depend on millions of workers from Africa and Southeast Asia, Covid-19 is intensifying discrimination and increasing abuse against migrant domestic workers, including abrupt termination of their contracts. In Kuwait suicide among migrant workers has surged; Saudi Arabia has deported thousands of Ethiopian workers (A total of 2,968 migrants were returned in the first 10 days of April, UN state), without any medical screening, which the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Ethiopia said, is “likely to exacerbate the spread of Covid-19 to the region and beyond.” And in Lebanon (where the majority of migrant workers are Ethiopian) and elsewhere across the region, lower income families unable to cover salaries, cover food costs or provide accommodation have laid off domestic staff; resulting in migrant workers being at high risk of forced labor, including prostitution.

Worse still is the case of freelance (‘live out’) workers, whose work has stopped, leaving them with no income, no food and nowhere to go. In Qatar, (one of the richest countries in the world, with over two million migrant workers) which has one of the highest rates of infections per capita, many of those suffering from the disease are migrant workers. Foreign workers from Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines are being laid off or remain unpaid, as the economic impact of the virus hits. Some domestic workers (women) have been made destitute. In Singapore, widely thought to have responded well to the pandemic, migrant workers, employed mainly in the construction industry, were thrown to the wolves. And in India following the hasty decision by Prime Minister Mahendra Modi to lock the country down on 25th March, (giving people four hours warning!) tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of internal migrants working in cities were forced by their landlords to vacate their homes and had no choice but to head back to their native village. Without funds and with transportation suspended, huge numbers were forced to walk the hundreds or thousands of miles home.

Homeless, hungry and at risk of contracting coronavirus, migrant workers were ignored by the Modi regime. Reacting to this wholesale neglect, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to housing and on extreme poverty said (4th June), “we are appalled at the disregard shown by the Indian Government towards internal migrant laborers, especially those who belong to marginalized minorities and lower castes…..the Government has failed to address their dire humanitarian situation and further exacerbated their vulnerability with police brutality [which is commonplace in India] and by failing to stop their stigmatization as ‘virus carriers’.”

Contemporary Slavery

Covid-19 has highlighted a raft of social inequalities and destructive practices throughout the world. As such issues float to the murky surface of human affairs an opportunity presents itself for reform, for changes in attitudes and practices.

There needs to be a fundamental overhaul of employment rights for migrant workers throughout the world, with migrant workers receiving the same protections as native employees, including access to health care, limits on the hours of work, rates of pay, days off etc.

The Kafala System is used throughout the Gulf States, where the UN estimates there to be “35 million international migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Jordan and Lebanon, of whom 31 per cent were women.” Under Kafala a migrant worker, many of whom are domestic staff and therefore out of sight, cannot resign if an employer is abusive, the work exploitative or the conditions unacceptable. Amnesty International relates, that it “ties the legal residency of the worker to the contractual relationship with the employer.” The system enables employers to essentially own workers, giving them total control of workers’ movements. This legitimization of modern-day slavery must be brought to an end immediately.

Refugees and migrants are human beings fleeing violent conflict (are often traumatized), persecution and economic hardship. The journey into an unknown future is often treacherous, always uncertain. In the vacuum left by governments and regional authorities like the EU, that should be processing asylum applications in designated centers and offering safe passage, criminal gangs control migration routes and methods of travel, which are unsafe and extortionately expensive. Deaths are commonplace, abuse and exploitation widespread. If they survive the dangers and arrive in their destination country, all too often they are viewed with distrust and antagonism, instead of being warmly welcomed. They are pushed into the shadows, the margins of society, offered little or no state support and made to feel unwanted.

This must change; all should be embraced, not only those with skills in short supply.  The idea of judging who can and cannot enter a country based on some discriminatory points system related to national need (the Australian way – a country with a shameful immigration record), as the UK government is proposing, reduces human beings to commodities, some of which are more valuable on the ‘open market of immigration’ than others – and is completely abhorrent.

Deal with the causes of migration, help construct a world at peace by cooperating, sharing and building relationships; reject competition and nationalism in favor of unity and tolerance and see a dramatic fall in the numbers of people forced to leave their homeland, whether in search of safety or opportunity.

The Threat of Annexation is far from Over

Annexation by Israel of occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank was never likely to happen on July 1, as many observers assumed. The date was not a deadline; it was a window opened by the Israeli government to carry out annexation before US President Donald Trump leaves office.

Unhappily for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that window could slam shut in a matter of months, if current polling trends continue and Trump loses the presidential election in November.

Certainly, the fact that no dramatic move took place last week does not indicate that annexation is off the table. Indeed, following meetings in Israel with US officials last week, Netanyahu’s office suggested that a US announcement on annexation could happen within days.

The dithering, according to the Israeli media, reflects divisions inside the US administration – despite the fact that its so-called Middle East “peace plan”, published earlier in the year, approved Israel’s annexation of as much as a third of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and the architect of that plan, has reportedly been at loggerheads with David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, over the timing and scale of annexation.

Both are fervent supporters of the settlements. But while Friedman’s circle of intimates is dominated by Netanyahu and settler leaders, Kushner has had to weigh wider pressures. It is Kushner who is fielding anxious calls from Arab and European leaders about annexation.

Trump’s attention, meanwhile, is focused on other pressing matters, such as how to stop a dangerous fall in his popularity as the pandemic runs wild with potentially catastrophic consequences for the US economy.

Nonetheless, according to a report on the weekend in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, Netanyahu and Friedman’s position may slowly be winning out. Kushner is reportedly less in Trump’s favour after recent disagreements on domestic policy matters.

Annexation has already served Netanyahu’s immediate needs. It was a large carrot that incentivised his voting base to keep turning out in three inconclusive elections over the course of a year. It has distracted from his current corruption trial, as well as from his failure to maintain a grip on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some have speculated that he may no longer feel the need to go through with annexation. Although backed by many Israelis, it is low on their list of priorities as they grapple with disease and recession.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu would struggle to forego it.

This is in part because he made too much of it – and of his special relationship with Trump – during the election campaigns. He will not be forgiven by many on the right should he fail to capitalise on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grab the title deeds to occupied Palestinian land with US blessing.

Furthermore, Netanyahu’s own vanity should not be discounted. This is his chance to take his place in Israel’s history books – not as Israel’s first prime minister to stand trial while in office, but as the leader who secured recognition of the settlements and killed off any chance of a viable Palestinian state.

The question for Netanyahu is how much of a concession he seeks to extract from the White House. The answer may depend on whether Trump looks likely to win a second term.

Israeli media reports suggest that Netanyahu may settle for a two-stage annexation. In this view, Israel would quickly annex the larger settlements around Jerusalem, cementing the loss to the Palestinians of their future capital.

That would be the effective sequel to Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem two years ago. It would also presumably play well once again with the Christian evangelicals on whose vote Trump relies.

The more remote settlements and the Jordan Valley might follow, but possibly only if Trump wins in November, when he can protect Netanyahu from the likely backlash.

There are advantages – for the Israeli government – to a staged annexation.

It would diminish the threat of destabilising neighbouring Jordan, which has a large population of Palestinian refugees.

It may also mitigate the danger of the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, effectively Israel’s security contractor in the West Bank. The Israeli army is reportedly worried about whether it can absorb the burden of again policing the West Bank’s cities directly, especially if they are in foment.

It would let the Europeans cling a little longer to the fig leaf of a moribund peace process, one that has provided a pretext for inaction against Israel for so long.

It has been revelatory watching European governments, even that of Britain’s go-it-alone Boris Johnson, suddenly rediscover the importance of international law when faced with annexation and the formal death of the two-state solution.

But whether Netanyahu gets his annexation – all of it or some of it – the Israeli right will emerge strengthened once again in their battle against the Palestinian national movement.

Since the Oslo accords were signed more than a quarter of a century ago, there has been a continual erosion of language and principles, to the detriment of the Palestinian cause.

In those days, the international community’s focus was on ending the occupation, dismantling Israel’s settlements and developing a Palestinian state in the territories vacated by Israel. In his first term as prime minister, in the late 1990s, Netanyahu was forced to cede control of small parts of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority.

Later, the debate shifted: to where the borders of a future state should be drawn and which settlement “blocs” were too indispensable for Israel to be expected to give them up.

Now a conceptual shift is occurring again. The diplomatic conversation is about how to stop annexation, or at least which parts of annexation cannot be allowed to proceed.

The occupation and the settlements – and the terrible toll they have inflicted on the lives of Palestinians – are no longer the international community’s red line. Annexation is.

As international observers try to stop Israel’s formal annexation of the West Bank, they are again losing sight of the incremental thefts of land and displacements of Palestinians taking place on a daily basis.

This kind of concrete annexation – that slowly eats away at Palestinian hopes of dignity and self-determination – will continue apace whatever President Trump decides over the coming days.

• First published in The National

My Beit Daras, My Nakba: Two Palestinian Intellectuals Reminiscing about Their Destroyed Village

Dr. Ghada Ageel and Dr. Ramzy Baroud have more in common than their scholarly research on Palestinian history and politics. They are both refugees, and the direct descendants of Palestinian refugees who have been expelled from their historic village of Beit Daras at gunpoint during the catastrophic events that led to the Palestinian Nakba of May 15, 1948.

Starting on March 27, 1948, a small Palestinian village, called Beit Daras, came under Zionist militias’ attacks. With little means – a few old rifles and kitchen knives – the Badrasawis fought back, repelling the first raid and the second.

The final attack on the peaceful village followed a scorched-earth military strategy, leaving in its wake scores of dead and wounded, and the entirety of the village on the run.

Among the thousands of ethnically-cleansed Palestinians in Beit Daras, two families, Ageel and Baroud salvaged a few belongings and went searching for a safe place, with the hope that they would return home in a few days.

Hundreds of their descendants are yet to return to Beit Daras, 72 years later.

“I always say that my body is here in shatat (diaspora), my heart is in Gaza, particularly in Khan Younis refugee camp, where I was born and raised, but my soul is in Beit Daras, my village that is no longer on the map,” Dr. Ageel said.

“I have never been to Beit Daras but I carry it in my heart. I feel immense love and connection, and a sense of belonging. This is thanks to my grandmother Khadija who instilled in us the memory of the land and the desire for freedom. She instilled that memory and that love.”

Dr. Ageel added, “Today when we are commemorating the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba, of course it is a very sad day, because that day represents the destruction of Palestine, the destruction of Beit Daras and the eviction of over 800,000 Palestinians.”

“Among them, there was my family, my parents and my grandparents. So, I consider myself a third generation of Palestinian refugees and then my children have inherited this.”

For his part, Dr. Baroud contended that that generation of Palestinian refugees has never embraced a sense of victimhood. “Our grandparents were not victims, they weren’t prepared to be victims,” Baroud said, emphasizing that Palestinian Resistance was an immediate response to the Nakba.

“In our village, pretty much everybody knew each other. Imagine what it must have been when the villagers found themselves mixed among hundreds of thousands of people, new faces, new tribes, new families, new clans. It’s almost like death and rebirth in your own lifetime.”

“My original family didn’t own much land, and this is a key for me. Because my Right of Return is not attached to an actual material wealth or entity, it is because it is my right and it has been so embedded in my identity as a Palestinian, and my understanding of myself and my being can only be complete when I am back there, whether I have a small plot of land or a massive one.”

Dr. Ageel insisted that “the Right of Return is possible.”

“It’s not only a dream, I would say this is the magic wand. If we mention it, in front of any generation (of Palestinians), their eyes would light up, because this is the return to your homeland. And in fact, it is not only a physical return, it is a return to dignity, it is a return to freedom, it is a return to where you belong.”

Baroud and Ageel discussed the importance of reclaiming the Palestinian narrative by Palestinians.

“The story that we are communicating right now (that of ordinary Palestinians) is not the dominant narrative. It is important to go to the Israeli archives or to the British archives and dig out some testimonies of soldiers about killing and raping; yes, it is important, but what about our version of that story? Why is it that Palestinian history must be always centralized around an Israeli point of view and an Israeli narrative? How do your grandmother Khadija and my grandmother Zeinab fit into this trajectory of historical narratives?” Baroud asked.

“It is so essential that we, Palestinians, unconditionally reclaim our history and retell it from the beginning, not only for the others, but for ourselves and for our children as well,” Baroud concluded.

• Dr. Ghada Ageel is a visiting professor at the University of Alberta Political Science Department (Edmonton, Canada). Her latest book is Apartheid in Palestine: Hard Laws and Harder Experiences.

• Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. His latest is These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University.  

Arabs, UN Must Move to Swiftly Protect the Status of Palestinian Refugees

‘Heinous racism,’ is how the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor described a recent decision by Lebanese authorities to bar Palestinian refugee expats from returning to Lebanon.

Lebanon’s restrictions on its ever-diminishing population of Palestinian refugees is nothing new. However, this event is particularly alarming as it may be linked to a long-term official policy regarding the residency status of Palestinian refugees in this Arab country.

Many were taken aback by a recent Lebanese government’s order to its embassy in the United Arab Emirates, instructing it to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes in Lebanon.

Tariq Hajjar, a legal advisor to the Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement that “the circular includes heinous racial discrimination against Palestinian refugees holding Lebanese travel documents.”

Hajjar rightly insisted that “the holder of this document should receive similar treatment to the Lebanese citizen.”

Indeed they should, as has been the practice for many years. Otherwise, there is no other place where these refugees can possibly go, considering that Lebanon has been their home for decades, starting in 1948 when Israel forcefully expelled nearly a million Palestinians from their historic homeland.

Refugees, regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion, should be treated with respect and dignity, no matter the political complexity of their host countries. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon cannot be made an exception.

Last April, the Palestinian Association for Human Rights called on the United Nations to provide financial assistance to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees, indicating that due to the coronavirus pandemic, a whopping 90 percent of all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have lost their jobs.

Under discriminatory Lebanese laws, Palestinian refugees are not allowed to practice 72 types of jobs that are available to Lebanese nationals. This is merely one of many other such restrictions. Thus, employed Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (the vast majority of whom are now unemployed) have been competing within a very limited work market.

A large number of those refugees have been employed at the various projects operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Many of those who were lucky enough to receive university degrees opted to leave the country altogether, mostly working in the teaching, engineering, banking, and medical sectors in Arab Gulf countries.

However, due to the coronavirus, the severe financial hardship suffered by UNRWA and to new Lebanese government regulations, all doors are now being shut in the face of Palestinian refugees.

For thousands of those refugees, the only remaining option is sailing the high seas in search for a better refugee status in Europe. Yet, sadly, tens of thousands of those refugees are now living a miserable life in European camps, or stranded in Turkey. Hundreds drowned while undertaking these perilous journeys.

According to a recent survey by  the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics, conducted jointly with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, only 175,000 (from nearly half a million) Palestinian refugees still reside in Lebanon.

That said, the Palestinian refugee tragedy in Lebanon is only a facet in a much larger ailment that is unique to the Palestinian refugee experience.

Syria’s Palestinian refugees arrived in the country in waves, starting with the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine during the ‘Nakba’, or Catastrophe. Others fled the Golan Heights after the Israeli invasion in 1967. Many more fled Lebanon during the Israeli 1982 invasion.

The relatively safe Syrian haven was ruptured during the ongoing Syria war started in 2011. UNRWA’s mission, which allowed it to provide the nearly half a million Palestinian refugees in Syria with direct support was made nearly impossible because of the destructive war, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled the country or became internally displaced.

The devastating impact of the Syrian war on Palestinian refugees was almost an exact copy of what had transpired earlier during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the case of Iraq, where most of the country’s 35,000 refugees fled, the Palestinian refugee crisis was particularly compounded. While Palestinians enjoyed a permanent residence status (though no ownership rights) in Iraq before the war, they were still not recognized as refugees as per international standards, since UNRWA does not operate in Iraq. Post-2003 Iraqi governments exploited this fact to the fullest, leading to the displacement of the country’s Palestinian population.

Since its advent, the US Administration of President Donald Trump has waged a financial war on the Palestinians, including the cutting of all aids to UNRWA. This infamous act has added layers of suffering to the existing hardships of refugees.

On May 5, UNRWA, somberly declared that it only has enough cash to sustain its operations until the end of the month.

The truth is that, long before Trump targeted the UN agency, UNRWA has functioned for over 70 years with an inherent vulnerability.

UNRWA was established exclusively with a UN mandate that provided the organization with a “separate and special status” to assist Palestinian refugees.

Arab governments, at the time, were keen for UNRWA to maintain this ‘special status’ based on their belief that lumping Palestinian refugees with the burgeoning world refugee crisis (resulting mostly from War World II) would downgrade the urgency of the Palestinian plight.

However, while that logic may have applied successfully in the immediate years following the ‘Nakba’, it proved costly in later years, as the status and definition of what constitute a Palestinian refugee remained historically linked to UNRWA’s scope of operations.

This became clear during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, but, especially, since the start of political upheavals and subsequent wars in the Middle East in the last decade.

This is precisely why the US and Israel are keen on dismantling UNRWA, because, according to their logic, if UNRWA ceases to operate, the Palestinian refugee ceases to exist with any status that makes him/her unique.

Such precarious reality calls for an urgent and creative solution that should be spearheaded by Arab countries, UN-registered NGOs, and friends of Palestine everywhere.

What is needed today is a UN-adopted formula that would allow the legal status of Palestinian refugees under international law to remain active regardless of  UNRWA’s scope of operation, while providing Palestinian refugees with the material and financial support required for them to live with dignity until the Right of Return, in accordance to UN Resolution 194 of 1948, is finally enforced.

For the rights of Palestinian refugees to be maintained and for the Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria scenarios not to be repeated, the Arab League must work within the framework of international law – as determined by the UN General Assembly – to safeguard the Palestinian refugees’ legal status which is currently under an unprecedented attack.

Palestinian refugees must not have to choose between forfeiting their legal and unalienable right in their own homeland and accepting a life of perpetual degradation and uncertainty.

Corona Tyranny and Death by Famine

By the end of 2020 more people will have died from hunger, despair and suicide than from the corona disease. We, the world, is facing a famine-pandemic of biblical proportions. This real pandemic will overtake the fake COVID-19 pandemic by a long shot. The hunger pandemic reminds of the movie the Hunger Games, as it is premised on similar circumstances of a dominant few commanding who can eat and who will die – by competition.

This hunger pandemic will be under-reported or not reported at all in the mainstream media. In fact, it has started already. In the west the attention focuses on the chaos created by the privatized for-profit mismanagement of the health system. It slowly brings to light the gross manipulation in the US of COVID-19 infections and death rates – how hospitals are encouraged to declare deaths as COVID19-deaths – for every COVID19 death-certificate the hospital receives a US$13,000 “subsidy”, and if the patient dies on a ventilator, the “bonus” amounts to US$ 39,000.

In real life, poor people cannot live under confinement, under lockdown. Not only have many or most already lost their meager living quarters because they can no longer pay the rent – but they need to scrape together in the outside world whatever they can find to feed their families and themselves. They have to go out and work for food and if there is no work, no income – they may resort to ransacking supermarkets in the city or farms in the country side. Food to sustain life is essential. Taking the opportunity to buy food away from people is sheer and outright murder.

Every child who dies from famine in the world – is a murder

– Jean Ziegler, former UN-Rapporteur on Food in Africa.

Yes, the diabolical Masters of Darkness, who invented and launched this COVID-19 pandemic, are nothing less than murderers. Mass-murderers, that is. They are committing mass genocide on a worldwide scale in proportions unknown in recent history of human kind. And this to dominate a world under a New World Order, aiming at a massively reduced world population.

The self-imposed new rulers decide who will live and who will die. Their self-promoting do-gooder agenda – à la Bill Gates and Co. – professes to reduce world poverty; yes, by killing the poor, by, for example, tainted toxic vaccinations, rendering African women infertile. (The Gates Foundation with support of WHO and UNICEF have a track record of doing so in Kenya and elsewhere, see here  Kenya carried out a massive tetanus vaccination program, sponsored by WHO and UNICEF); or letting the “under-developed”, the already destitute, die by famine – preventing them from access to sufficient food and drinking water. Privatizing water, privatizing even emergency food supplies is a crime that leads exactly to this: lack of access due to unaffordable pricing.

Should this not be enough, “Lock Step” has other solutions to enhance starvation. HAARP can help. HAARP (HAARP = High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) has been perfected and weaponized. According to US Air Force document AF 2025 Final Report, weather modification can be used defensively and offensively; i.e., to create droughts or floods, both of which have the potential of destroying crops – destroying the livelihood of the poor.

And if that is not enough, the 2010 Rockefeller Report also foresees food rationing, selectively, of course, as we are talking about eugenics. Let’s not forget Henry Kissinger’s infamous words he uttered in 1970: “Who controls the food supply controls the people – the quote goes on saying, “Who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.”  ((See also: “The Farce and Diabolical Agenda of a Universal Lockdown“, Global Research, April 27, 2020.))

A recent Facebook entry (name and location not revealed for personal protection) reads as follows:

….. In the poorer country, where I live, the entire village is on lockdown since March 16. Here the people having nothing to eat…… The wife of my main worker was raped and beaten to death. She was of Chinese descent. In spite of not being allowed to go outside, the people were starving and rampaged walking miles from farm to farm destroying everything. I have lost my entire livestock, fruits, vegetables. The houses were burned and the vehicles, tools etc. stolen. I am bankrupt with nobody around who can give money to rebuild. My workers cannot be paid. Their families are also starving. More malnutrition and undernourishment which will lead to a higher starvation rate or death from other diseases. How many will commit suicide through landing on the streets completely impoverished? – How many died in India trying to walk literally up to thousands of miles to get back home in the hope of finding refuge, after all public transportation was shut down and all had to go into lockdown. I am sure that these numbers will be a lot higher than the number who have died from the virus as well as will increase the numbers for those dying of next year’s flue due to a weakened immune system.

And as an afterthought ….

Maybe the elite are planning depopulation. It sure looks like it.

This happened somewhere in the Global South. But the example is representative for much of the Global South, and developing countries in general. And probably much worse is to come, as we are seeing so far only a tiny tip of the iceberg.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that worldwide unemployment is reaching never-seen mammoth proportions, that about half of the world’s workforce – 1.6 billion people -may be out of work. That means no income to pay for shelter, food, medication. It means starvation and death. For millions. Especially in the Global South which has basically no social safety nets. People are left to themselves.

The New York Times (NYT) reports (1 May 2020) that in the US millions of unemployed go uncounted, as the system cannot cope with the influx of claims. Add these millions to the already reported more than 27 million unemployed, the tally becomes astronomical. The same NYT concludes that the millions who have risen out of poverty since the turn of the century, are likely to fall back into destitution along with millions more.

Dying of famine – mostly in the Global South, but not exclusively – is an atrocious death for millions, maybe hundreds of millions. Dying in the gutters of mega-cities, forgotten by society, by the authorities, too weak to even beg, infested with parasites due to lack of hygiene – rotting away alive. This is already happening today in many metropolises, even without the corona disaster. These people are not picked up by any statistics. They are non-people. Period.

Imagine such situations in large cities as well as in rural areas, under plan “Lock Step” (Rockefeller, Kissinger, Gates et al), the death toll would be orders of magnitude higher.

The current lockdown brings everything to halt. Practically worldwide. The longer it lasts the more devastating the social and economic impact will be. Irretrievable. Not only production of goods, services and food comes to a halt, but vital supply chains to bring products from A to B, are interrupted. Workers are not allowed to work. Security. For your own protection. The virus, the invisible enemy, could hit you. It could kill you and your loved-ones too. Fear-Fear-Fear – that’s the moto that works best.  It works so well that people start screaming – gimmi, gimmi, gimmi- gimmi a vaccine! – which brings a happy grin on Bill Gates’ face. As he sees the billions rolling and his power rising.

Bill Gates, along with WHO he bought, will become famous. They will save the world from new pandemics – never mind, their side effects – 7 billion people vaccinated (Bill Gates’ wet dream) and nobody has time to care or report about side effects, no matter how deadly they may be. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) may be slated for the Peace Nobel Prize and, who knows, Bill Gates may become one of the next Presidents of the dying empire. Wouldn’t that be an appropriate reward for the world?

Meanwhile the rather cold-blooded IMF maintains its awfully unrealistic prediction of a slight “economic contraction” of the world economy of a mere 3% in 2020, and a slight growth in the second half of 2021. The IMF’s approach to world economics and human development to social crisis, is fully monetized and lacks any compassion, and thus, becomes utterly irrelevant in the age of corona. Institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, mere extensions of the US treasury, they are passé in the face of an economic collapse for which they are also, in part, responsible.

What they should do – perhaps IMF and WB combined – is call for a capital increase of up to 4 trillion SDRs (as was suggested by some of the IMF Board Members) and use the funds as a special debt relieve fund, a “Debt Jubilee Fund” for Global South Nations. Handed out as grants. This would allow these nations to get back on their feet, back to their sovereign national monetary and economic policies, recovering their internal economy, with a national currency, public banking and a government-owned central bank, creating jobs and internal autonomy in food, health and education.

Why is this not happening? It would require a change in their constitution and a redistribution of voting rights according to new economic strength of nations. China would become a much more important player with a more important share and decision-making role. Of course, that’s what the US does not want to happen. But the unwillingness to adapt to new realities makes these institutions irrelevant to the point that they should and might fade away.

Interestingly, though, two of the three economic projection scenarios of the IMF, foresee another pandemic, or a new wave of the old pandemic in 2021. What does the IMF know that we don’t?

Juxtaposed to the insensitive approach of the global financial institutions and the globalized private banking system, the World Food Program warns (25 April 2020) that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause “famines of biblical proportions”; that without urgent action and funding, hundreds of millions of people will face starvation and millions could die as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As it is, every year about 9 million people die from famine in the world.

The WFP Executive Director, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council that in addition to the threat to health posed by the virus, the world faces “multiple famines within a few short months,” which could result in 300,000 deaths per day—a “hunger pandemic.”

Beasley added that even before the outbreak, the world was “facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II” this year due to many factors. He cited the wars in Syria and Yemen, the crisis in South Sudan and locust swarms across East Africa. He said that coupled with the coronavirus outbreak, famine threatened about three dozen nations.

According to the WFP’s “2020 Global Report on Food Crises” released Monday (20 April ),135 million people around the world were already threatened with starvation. Beasley said that as the virus spreads, “an additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020. That’s a total of 265 million people.”

The famine pandemic is further exacerbated by the ongoing refugee crisis – which is also a catastrophe of misery – hunger, disease, lack of shelter, total lack of hygiene in most of the refugee camps.

Professor Jean Ziegler, Sociologist (Universities Geneva and Sorbonne, Paris), Vice-President of the UN Human Rights Committee, recently visited the refugee camp of Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos. He described a situation where 24,000 refugees are cramped into military barracks that were built for 2,800 soldiers, live under calamitous circumstances – lack of potable water, insufficient and often inedible food, clogged and much too few stinking toilets…. diseases no end. COVID19 would just be a sideline.

These people who fled Europe-and-western-caused warzones, destroyed livelihoods are being pushed back by the very European Union, as most countries do not want to host them and give them a chance for a new life. This atrocious xenophobic behavior of Europe is against Human Rights all EU countries signed and against internal EU rules. They are a sad reminder of what Europe really is – a conglomerate of countries with a history of hundreds of years of colonization, of merciless exploitation, plundering and raping of the Global South.

This abjectly atrocious characteristic, shamelessly continuing to this day, seems to have become an integral part of the European DNA. These wars and conflicts are willfully US-NATO made, for power, greed – to maintain the US military industrial complex alive and profitable – and as a stepping stone towards total world hegemony.

The refugees emanating from these conflict zones, their fate and famine will be added to those starving from the also man-imposed corona crisis. The death toll from sheer hunger and famine-related causes, may become astronomical by the end of 2020, way-way outweighing and dwarfing the doctored and manipulated COVID-19 figures.

Is there hope? Yes, there is hope, as long as we live. The world has to wake up. Seven billion people under lockdown — wake up! Realize what is happening to you, all under false pretenses to control humanity, to digitize and robotize your very lives. What better way to do this than under the pretext of locking you away “for your own safety”?  Defy these rules, stand up against these invisible omni-powerful self-appointed rulers, who only have the power, we, the People, give them, or allow them to take from us. Because all they have is money, and corrupted media that spread fear and more fear to keep locking you down.

My final words: follow you heart. Open your heart to love and beyond your five given and media-manipulated senses and enter a higher consciousness. Get out of FEAR, get out of the lockdown, stand up for your rights, for your freedom. Because freedom and liberty cannot be bought with money, nor trampled by the media. They are inherently within us all. If enough of us open our hearts to LOVE, to an all-englobing love, we will overcome this small psychopathic elite.

Portugal Leads the Way: How European Countries Fared in Their Treatment of Refugees

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading its tentacles throughout China and eventually to the rest of the world, the World Health Organization (WHO), along with other international groups, sounded the alarm that refugees and migrants are particularly vulnerable to the deadly disease.

“We strongly emphasize the need for inclusive national public health measures to ensure migrants and refugees have the same access to services as the resident population, in a culturally sensitive way,” Dr. Santino Severoni, Special Adviser on Health and Migration at WHO/Europe implored governments throughout the continent.

More than 120,000 ‘irregular’ migrants and refugees have landed on European shores in 2019 alone, a large percentage from war-torn Syria.

Having hundreds of thousands of people navigate dangerous terrains or held under inhumane conditions in various camps and detention centers without proper medical care is already bad enough. It is far worse, however, that these vulnerable groups are now enduring the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic without much government attention, a centralized strategy or even safe shelters.

Euronews reported last month on the story of 56 people arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos, coming mostly from Afghanistan and various African countries.

Just as the coronavirus was peaking in Europe, these unfortunate escapees of war and poverty arrived to find that they have no protection, no assistance, and no prospect of any help arriving any time soon.

One Afghan refugee said that the group was left fending for itself, for fourteen days without any support, not even gloves or masks.

But not all European countries neglected the refugees, partially or entirely. Although one of the poorest European countries, Portugal has decided to legalize all of its undocumented refugees and migrants, therefore, providing them with the same medical attention and support as its own citizens.

Below, is a quick look at how European countries treated refugees and migrants since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Spain

Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and other Council of Europe member states suspended deportation of refugees to their own countries.

For its part, Spain has finally emptied its Centros de Enternamiento de Extranjeros (CIE), the notorious detention and deportation centers that have been criticized by various human rights groups in the past.

59% of all refugees and migrants to Spain were reportedly held in the CIE. By early April, however, that percentage had gone down to zero, according to Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera.

It remains unclear, however, if and when CIE will resume their activities or if Spain will review the status of refugees and migrants who have been slated for deportation prior to the outbreak of the virus.

Portugal

Spain’s precautionary measures are different from those of its neighbor, Portugal. The latter will treat all refugees and migrants, who have pending applications as permanent residents, starting July 1.

The government decision was meant to secure refugees’ and migrants’ access to public services during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Applicants including asylum seekers need only provide evidence of an ongoing request to qualify – granting them access to the national health service, welfare benefits, bank accounts, and work and rental contracts,” Reuters reported.

A spokesman for Portugal’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Claudia Veloso, summed up the logic behind her government’s decision in a language that is, sadly, quite alien to the pervading European political discourse on refugees: “People should not be deprived of their rights to health and public service just because their application has not yet been processed. In these exceptional times, the rights of migrants must be guaranteed.”

Italy

One of the countries that has suffered most as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Italy has a significant population of refugees and asylum seekers, numbering 300,000 by the end of 2018.

On March 12, due to the closure of courts across the country, the Italian government suspended all hearings and appeals relevant to asylum seekers. It remains unclear when the pending status of refugees will be reviewed, considering the high death toll and the degree of economic devastation that have afflicted Italy in recent months.

Although, by law, all foreigners in Italy have access to the country’s healthcare system, “many asylum seekers fear going to hospitals if undocumented, or face discrimination or language barriers,” Refugees International said last March.

“All this will make it harder to detect the virus in a highly vulnerable population,” the refugee advocacy organization added.

France

The fate of France’s refugees and undocumented migrants has worsened, not only because of the spread of the coronavirus but also because of the government’s haphazard and uncaring response.

A sizable number of France’s refugee and migrant communities are minors who arrived to the country without being accompanied by adults. The French government has been criticized repeatedly in the past for failing to address the issue of child refugees and migrants. Shockingly, the government’s behavior was hardly altered by the spread of the coronavirus, leaving children in a legal limbo during the world’s worst healthcare crisis since the Spanish flu in 1918.

“The treatment of these children by the authorities was already unacceptable before the epidemic, and today it is not only intolerable but also dangerous,” Benedicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch warned in March.

“The authorities should urgently address this and provide these children with shelter and access to essential services to stop the spread of coronavirus in this already vulnerable group,” he added.

Germany

In the Ellwangen camp in Southwest Germany, the EU Observer reported that “nearly half of the roughly 600 people at (the) refugee camp … have tested positive for Covid-19, but are being forced to share facilities with everyone else.”

“We stayed in the same building and flat as people who had been tested positive for two days. We used the same kitchens and had meals with them. Because of this neglect, we will also get corona,” a refugee at the camp told The Guardian.

The refugees’ biggest concern in Germany is not pertaining to their legal status and potential deportation, but to medical neglect as well, as detention camps are overcrowded and refugees are getting infected with the virus in droves.

While some European governments speak of human solidarity, and, as in the case of Portugal, back their words with actions, others remain as unbenevolent and as unkind as ever.

That said, neglecting the refugees while fighting to halt the spread of the coronavirus is as foolish as it is inhumane. The last few months have taught us that provisional and self-centered strategies do not apply in the cases of global healthcare crises.

The mistreatment of refugees by some European countries, however, should not come as a complete surprise, for vulnerable refugees have suffered immense hardship while seeking a safe haven on the continent for many years.

In fact, Europe seems to have run out of solidarity for its own so-called ‘European community’, leaving poor EU members, such as Italy and Spain battling the deadly virus alone, without extending a helping hand or, at times, even mere words of sympathy.

When Homeless Means Homelandless: Guatemalans in Lincoln County

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

It doesn’t take a lockdown to pull from some of us humanists the universality of how deep the emotional, cultural, societal, economic and spiritual divide is between the have’s and have’s not.

As we move from “top” to “bottom” in the daily stories of how these forced social distancing measures, draconian business closures, far-reaching travel bans and the like are affecting lives, we need to have more humanistic ways of parsing out the realities of the homeless, or in the case of people from Guatemala, the homelandless.

There are many reasons Guatemalans have come to this county, crossing that borderline without the proper Gestapo paperwork and billets for the own lives.

After tragedy, Oregon Christmas tree industry buoyed by bill | KOMO

The stem of the immigration tide to an area usually starts with one family or one group of cohorts ending up in a place like Newport and loving it as a new promise, a new start, maybe a new homeland. For a time, there were seasonal jobs in the fishing, hospitality and salal harvesting arenas.

Most Guatemalans get here with very little. Some have children in schools. Many do not speak Spanish, let alone English.

In many ways, coming from Huehuetenango and other places where violence is prolific,  Guatemalans thought they’d be happy with the chance “to make it” in the USA since back in their native land the per capita annual income for lower economic groups is  $1,619. Add to this challenge of more than two dozen Mayan languages spoken in that part of Mesoamerica and none spoken here.

A Tales of Two Cities, Many Cultures, Infinite Mentalities

For many, watching daily TV-YouTube-Facebook antics of Trump and Company, Hollywood perversions, other rich and famous, and  even run of the mill policy makers “deal” with their seclusion and isolation makes the blood boil. Lovely gardens, three triple-wide fridge/freezer combos full of Whole Foods delectables; manicured lawns for croquet surrounding terra cotta pools; superfood smoothies laced with plethora of vitamins and herbs; soaking in Clorox-laced bathtubs and tips on how to dose one’s body with ultraviolet showers.

As we go further and further down the food chain and feeding trough, one more week of lock-down can parlay into more than ennui and cabin fever: for millions, one more week is less food, more anxiety, fear of the unknown, downright depression and suicidal tendencies.

Being homeless in a Time of Covid highlights how unhealthy, psychologically-stressing, and legally-precarious these days are. There is no social distancing when six or seven people share a campfire, a can of beans and smokes.

Now imagine that homelessness is coupled with the state of being homelandness.

Lighting Up Latin America – Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Assn

There should not be a question of legal or illegal immigration. People came and immigrated to this country from the time of the Indians. No one’s illegal. They should just be able to come.

— Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt has come a long way from home | Music | tucson.com

Guatemalans might be staying four-families-to-a-beat-up-RV on the Oregon Coast, but not speaking English, appearing like “the other” and having not only no cash reserves but also zero confidence in accessing local (and governmental) food and financial aid add up to be literal hunger.

Social Justice Starts with Who You Associate With!

Ironically, I use singer Linda Ronstadt’s quote “declaring there are no illegal aliens” because after my family moved to the US from stints in the Azores, Germany, France and UK, we ended up in Tucson, Arizona of all places.

I learned how to make tamales and mole from aunts and cousins of Linda’s. She even swept into one of these kitchen forays and planted a kiss on my forehead. Que lindo. Un chico hippie blanco haciendo tamales con mis tías (How cute. A white hippy boy making tamales with my aunties.)

Her brother Peter was Tucson’s Police Chief when I was a reporter there and in southern Arizona. His policies were virtually hands-off on immigrants, with or without papers.

I’ve been on this battle line for social justice in Latin America since age 19, when I was active as a student journalist and activist against US military aid to El Salvador and Guatemala. Then, a few years later, I was working in Southern Arizona as a reporter for a small newspaper group owned by a family. The two dailies — Bisbee Review &  Sierra Vista Dispatch — and a few other weeklies were run by two quirky brothers. My stories often times were front page doozies.

Tombstone Epitaph Newspaper Building, 1927 | Special Collections

It was a crazy time for a young newspaper journalist:  In the morning covering the Bisbee rose club, and then five hours later, on the scene covering the drug tunnel found connecting Agua Prieta with Douglas. Funky stories about fence-jumping turquoise pirates getting into abandoned mine shafts at the Copper Queen open pit, to covering one of the deepest exploratory oil wells our near Tombstone. Drug-running, gunrunning, and nuts and bolts county planning and zoning. I interviewed Jesse Jackson when he came out to our neck of the desert to help settle down the Cochise County Sheriff Department going after a group of African Americans they were serving papers on.

Google: The Miracle Valley shootout and a confrontation between members of the Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church (CMHCC) and Cochise County law enforcement and Miracle Valley, Arizona.

Kick-ass stuff for a reporter, having just gotten back from a year in Scotland and Europe, part of a trip to be a writer after spending four years at the University of Arizona, the college daily, and the school’s lab newspaper in Tombstone (The Epitaph).

Just a few months after Europe, I was part of the news-gathering brethren penning these sorts of headlines: “Salvadorans Fight Over Urine . . .  14 Border Crossers Die in Arizona Desert, Organ Pipe National Monument.”

That was July 5, 1980. I was 23 years old.

Crossing Borders, Crossing Philosophical Lines

I was in the thick of things journalistically, working with literally homeless-homelandless people, some individuals spending thousands of dollars to coyotes to get them across that bullshit borderline. Earlier, in my senior year of high school, I had met Chileans living in Tucson who were here through the good graces of activist miniseries. Because of these adults’ leftist college activities, union membership and outspoken positions against right-wing despotism and violence — the Pinochet years – many were imprisoned, and some lost loved ones and comrades to the general’s death squads.

Eventually, I ended up in the Highlands of Guatemala, and along the US-Guatemala border. More than 200,000 Guatemalans were murdered in the dirty wars, a system of genocide fed by the USA and its “foreign” policies and School of the Americas at Fort Benning.

Then, in El Paso two years later, I was a graduate student at the University, I worked with refugees at Ruben Garcia’s Annunciation House and wrote some stories for both the El Paso Times and the now defunct El Paso Herald-Post on the good work at Ruben’s sanctuary.

Guatemala - Why Are So Many Guatemalans Migrating to the U.S. ...

I taught college classes in prisons and also part of a college program for children of migrant workers.

Ruben Garcia Opens The Door To Humanity | The City Magazine

My tutelage in covering varying levels of homeless and homelandless was fast and furious!

Fast-forward, and I skim through many years in activism — revolutionary social work, education, environmental journalism, more. I worked with adults living with developmental disabilities for United Cerebral Palsy of Southern Washington and Oregon, with Foster Youth teens as case manager for Life Works NW, and with homeless veterans and their families for the Salvation Army.

Oh yeah, I was with Portland’s Big Kahuna of homeless and addiction services —  Central City Concern — as an employment counselor.

I was working with people I consider to be brothers/sisters/comrades – “detritus” the rich, the beautiful people, mainstream and even social services folk might call them. Or I’ve heard “the dregs of society,” “bottom of the barrel,” and from those a bit more evolved on the human scale, “those disenfranchised humans.”

In every case over the decades, I worked with people who either had no home (prison, transitional housing, foster homes are not homes) or who were looking for a better home than their dangerous and precarious situations beheld.

Many moons have passed, and, lo and behold, I have been on the Oregon Coast with my spouse since December 2018, after going toe-to-toe with the “Starvation Army” in Beaverton on some really corrupt leadership decisions and dangerous situations in which these poverty pimps put both the clients and staff.

One thing led to another. I was quickly working as a substitute K12 teacher in Lincoln County; I created my own column in the arts and entertainment rag, Oregon Coast Today; wrote for the Newport News Times (now it’s pro bono because of dropped ad revenues); and, now, going on one year, manage for both Lincoln and Jefferson counties an anti-poverty program for Family Independence Initiative.

I am working with low income households in a state-supported social capital research project. Families or individuals living in Lincoln and Jefferson counties receive $840 each for a year to do monthly 10-minute “journaling.”

Guatemala - Why Are So Many Guatemalans Migrating to the U.S. ...

Love and Death in a Time of Panic-Demic!

Things have changed since the SARS-CV-2, as the non-profit I work for as a 1099 contractor is now distributing (and helping other non-profits distribute) $32 million in places like Chicago, Boston, Seattle and Detroit. These are cash assistance lump sums: so-called unconditional cash transfers. Starbucks a la Schulz has thrown in with a $500-per-person Covid fund ($6 million total) for King County; and other cities like Boston, Chicago and Detroit are having FII move millions of bucks for each household to receive a $2,400 cash transfer.

My months working with families, face to face, at various places like the housing authority’s Ocean Spray Family Center in Newport, and the libraries throughout the county, as well as Homeless Education Literacy Project, have put me front and center close to my roots in Mexico and Central America.

I have talked to many immigrants who have come from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

There is an underground labor network, shadow economy, cash under the table mode of work. There are people who are supporting Guatemalans with translators and help navigating the school systems for their children.

Chapina Express - Los Angeles Food Trucks - Roaming Hunger

Earth Day 2020 Zoomed

I am also involved in the American Cetacean Society and other movements in the county tied to Surfrider beach clean-ups and the legal process of banning aerial spraying of agent orange-like herbicides onto clear-cuts. I was asked to be a speaker on the Zoom Earth Day 2020, and in that planning, it was obvious to me I was back with what I term Greenie Weenies/Meanies.

I was told that “putting a downer” on the Zoom Earth Day event would be a no-no. This is the sort of group-think silliness and reckless false hope I have been dealing with since, err, I was 13 living in Paris with my mom and sister while my US Army old man was in Vietnam shooting brown people.

Then, a day after that April 22 event, I end up talking to Ginger Gouveia, who is working with Guatemalans, who are homeless and precarious, AND starving in Lincoln County. Thanks to the deadly combination of Obama-Trump-ICE-Racism-Lockdown.

This is really what ecological social justice is about. Nothing in the current mainstream and big green environmental movement in the USA gets the class divide, the power of poverty to tear at the soul of a country, the globe.

And to cut into our Guatemalan neighbors.

Trump threatens Guatemala after its court blocks asylum deal with ...

Here’s Ginger’s letter to me:

I am writing to you as a member the group, Acompañar Relief Fund.  We are concerned citizens who are seeking donations on behalf of immigrants who have lost their jobs and do not qualify for any assistance.  All of whom have been hard working asylum seekers with families.  Our focus is on providing as many families as we can with some food assistance.

Since starting this fundraiser, we have been grateful for the generosity of our community, friends and families. The need is GREAT and our goal is to be able to include as many families as possible.  This population will not recover for many months and will not receive any financial assistance, no stimulus check and no unemployment. We are looking for ways to continue providing some support for as long as this financial disaster continues.

This week we were able to give $60, or gift cards, as well as rice and beans and some Masa to 20 families.  The families with the greatest need are being referred by agencies working with them.

Sincerely, Ginger Gouveia, Acompañar Coordinator

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” – Karl Marx

Marx’s quote is taken out of context. He did see religion like opium which, of course, benefits for the sick and ailing —  it reduces people’s immediate suffering and provides them with pleasant illusions giving them the strength to carry on.

Almost all Guatemalans coming to USA, Oregon and Lincoln county place religion as both panacea and strength, community and spiritual sustenance.  In the past few years many unaccompanied minors and women with children from Central America have been crossing the border (at a rate of 180,000 per year). These are Mayans. Not the gringo Latin Americans. These are the Native Americans.

University of Oregon Professor Lynn Stephen has documented threats of violence, extortion, and torture against children and indigenous Guatemalan women whose husbands leave to go north:

“They’re leaving them in vulnerable, unprotected positions in communities. If you don’t have a male protector, women and children may become marks.”  Hundreds have ended up in Lane County and many others are in the Portland area.

“This is when it’s most amazing when it’s young people who are 15, 16, 14, deciding on their own to leave. My youngest son is 16. I can’t imagine what it would be like for him to make the journey,” Stephen said.

Rising hate drives Latinos and immigrants into silence | Cronkite News

These are cautious people, and the people working with refugees do not want to be named or identified in this anti-immigrant climate.

Gangs in Guatemala keep tabs on the new arrivals: harassment and extortion are common for the families back home when the gangs find out money is being sent to Guatemala by those working and living in the US.

Living close by, worshiping together, and being part of the shadow economy is how Guatemalans in Oregon survive, and thrive. Forming their own churches and then creating that kind of community is commonplace.

Right now, in Lincoln County, there isn’t enough support coming in to support Guatemalans. Churches are asking for help, per Ginger’s plea for donations.

No proporciona ningun beneficio en EUA….

That was the public service announcement mantra under the Obama Administration – USA does not provide any benefits.

U.S. pressure on Mexico to interdict refugees was pulled back for a few years and so many refugee workers have seen a new wave of Central Americans coming to Oregon. Many of those that got political asylum are still in Oregon.

They set down roots, enroll kids in schools, become part of the fabric of our towns and cities. With the lockdown and pandemic hitting the world and here in Lincoln County, our Central American homelandless brothers and sisters are struggling. These are valuable humans on their own accord, but invaluable as part of our community.

A while back, I read a letter to the editor of the Newport News Times railing against Oregon Coast Community College nominating an undocumented as Student of the Year. He was Guatemalan. He spoke eloquently at the podium why he came here and how he wanted to better his life.

The letter writer bashed this young person’s character. He brought up the old canard of having no papers is breaking the law. He called it a slap in the face to all the students who go to the college who were here “legally.” He felt the Guatemalan college graduate should not have been recognized!

In the end, we all are so-called illegal aliens – those with no Native American roots. That includes all the slaves forcefully brought to these shores. All those Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English armies and any number of people who immigrated here, either with paperwork or without.

All uninvited guests with no preapproval and passports given to them by the great First Nations tribes.

No one asked the Confederated Tribes of Siletz if the pioneers could come rushing into Oregon to steal their ancestral land.

It is 2020, a year that beguiles us all. Certainly, many of us five decades ago had 2020 vision about what would happen under predatory-parasitic-casino-disaster-neoliberal-neocon capitalism.  Yet now, in this 21st Century, there is obvious myopia and, worse, enabled blindness when it comes to really deal with this pandemic fairly, justly: it takes a village, state and country to raise a community, and the same to deal with pandemics.

I learn everyday from Guatemalans, including one of the country’s poets.

  • First, here are some Guatemala proverbs that say it all in a few words each –
  • Better to eat beans in peace than to eat meat in distress.
  • Do not bear ill will toward those who tell you the truth.
  • Everyone is the age of their heart.
  • It’s not the fault of the parrot, but of the one who teaches him to talk.
  • There’s no ill that doesn’t turn out for the better.
  • Your true enemy lives in your own house.

Better yet, a poem by Guatemala’s most famous poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1967: Miguel Angel Asturias. According to The Review of Contemporary Fiction, “Asturia was a man who believed deeply in maintaining Native American culture in Guatemala, and who championed those who were persecuted. His literature was critically acclaimed, but perhaps not always appreciated. As an artist, his complexity is such that readers and critics often shy away from his elegant beauty.

Caudal (The Fortune)

To give is to love,
To give prodigiously:
For every drop of water
To return a torrent.

We were made that way,
Made to scatter
Seeds in the furrow
And stars in the ocean.

Woe to him, Lord,
who doesn’t exhaust his supply,
And, on returning, tells you:
“Like an empty satchel

Is my heart.”

Miguel Ángel Asturias - Pueblo e Historia de Guatemala

Can Racism not Beget Racism?

Paul Craig Roberts, a former official in the Ronald Reagan government, has his own popular website and his articles are frequently published at the progressive Information Clearing House. I like much of what Paul Craig Roberts has to say, but liking some of the positions staked out by a person does not necessitate that a person agree with all that another person states. One can accept what seems reasonable, logical, and moral and reject that which is illogical or immoral. This is a sine qua non of a critical and morally centered thinker.

Sometimes the sources and positions recommended by someone, even high-profile personalities, call for a public rebuke. This is the case with the email sent out by Roberts today (5 April 2020) that he captioned: “The Criminal Anti-Swede Government of Sweden Brought the Joys of Diversity to the Swedish People.”

A url takes us from Roberts’ site to the site of the Gatestone Institute. The title of the article is “F***ing Swede” by Judith Bergman. An overview of the writings by Bergman reveals her to be far-Right and anti-the Other.

In her article, she writes of a new type of crime in Sweden: förnedringsrån, which combines the Swedish words for “humiliation” and “robbery.” It speaks to an outbreak of name-calling, forcing victims to strip, urinating on victims, forcing victims to kiss the feet of their tormentors, etc: in one word, humiliation. And a large chunk of the förnedringsrån, according to Bergman, is committed by non-Swedes. To support this, Bergman cites a 2017 report by the Swedish media network Expressen on the 49 criminal networks in Sweden’s capital, Stockholm.

The report showed the networks consisted of between 500 and 700 gang members: 40.6% of the gang members that Expressen surveyed were foreign-born; 82.2% had two parents who were foreign-born. Their main country of origin was Iraq, followed by Bosnia, Lebanon, Somalia, Syria and Turkey.

Bergman also cites a 2007 book — Exit Folkhemssverige (Exit the Swedish Welfare State) — by four academics (Ingrid Björkman, Jan Elfverson, Jonathan Friedman, and Åke Wedin) who wrote:

80 – 90% of robbers have an immigrant background. The majority are 15 – 17 years…The victims are Swedish children and young people, primarily ‘Swedish guys from rich men’s schools’, as one robber put it…. The robberies usually follow a certain pattern: A group of immigrant boys approach a selected victim and convey a clear threat with their actions. A common scenario is that one of the robbers holds a knife pressed against the victim, while the others rob him of mobile phone, bank card, money. The victim… is frightened and dare not [do anything] but give up the requested items… If he doesn’t give up, he’ll be beaten, often very brutally. Humiliation of the victim is not infrequently included in the picture. If it is a boy, it is about breaking his self-esteem. He is forced to cry, give up his shoes, even undress naked, kneel and plead for his life, etc. For the girl victims, sexual humiliation applies. They get their clothes ripped off, the robbers grab them and call them “whores”.

Unequivocally, the criminal acts described in Bergman’s article are heinous and must be condemned. However, also heinous is the attempt by Bergman and, seemingly, Paul Craig Roberts to scapegoat people of other ethicities for crimes without any consideration for why people of these ethnicities came to be found in Sweden, and without asking why they committed these inexcusable crimes.

Do crimes occur in a vacuum? Should one not try and understand the etiology of the crimes? If one understands the causes, then it is theoretically possible to deal with the causes so as to eliminate the precipitating factors of the crimes.

All the countries cited in the Expressen report (Iraq, Bosnia, Lebanon, Somalia, Syria, and Turkey) are countries where western nations have militarily inserted themselves. Let’s leave Turkey out of this for the moment because it is a NATO member and a host of western military.1 Sweden has been militarily involved in all these aforementioned countries, as well as in other countries. Restricting ourselves to just the 21st century, Sweden has been militarily involved in the debellation of Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.

When a country becomes militarily involved in a country that is not attacking it, especially when the casus belli that is demonstrably illegal, how should citizens of the attacked country regard the attacking nation? Illegal or not, it is morally questionable whatever reasons are proffered to explain such militarism.2 Thus when violence causes an efflux of refugees that seek asylum in the attacking country, how should the refugees feel about being in a country that contributed to creating the fear-evoking conditions that led them to leave their homeland?

Nonetheless, whatever the antecedents are, this does not excuse or exculpate the alleged actions of the miscreants detailed in the Bergman article. But it provides an elucidation. If Swedes are participating in foreign adverturism, what might that indicate about racist attitudes held by some Swedes?

Leila Ali Elmi is a Somali-born, raised in Sweden, hijab-wearing Swedish MP who has pointed to a structural racism embedded in Swedish society. Elmi is engaged in fighting rising support for the far right.

Returning to Bergman’s article: before emailing an article to one’s email list, doesn’t it behoove the emailer to ascertain the media source of the article?

A brief sampling of fare at Gatestone Institute led me to conclude that it is a right-wing, anti-China, Islamophobic website. Even Wikipedia states: “Gatestone Institute is a far-right think tank known for publishing anti-Muslim articles.” Researching a little deeper revealed that the notorious warmonger John Bolton was Gatestone Institute’s chairman from 2013 to March 2018. Wikipedia adds, “The [Gatestone Institute] organization has attracted attention for publishing false articles and being a source of viral falsehoods.”

It seems extreme caution is warranted for information emanating from Gatestone Institute.

Open-minded skepticism guards us from too readily accepting the word of whoever or whatever3 the source is. We all have the capacity for fallibility. Whenever one advocates a perspective or takes a position that upon further reflection strikes one as incorrect, then right-minded thinking demands that one adjust one’s perspective or shift one’s position accordingly.

If racism is to be understood and combatted, it must not be analyzed in isolation. Racism must be considered not just from the perspective of the victim but also of the perpetrator. After all, it may well be that it was the racism of the victim that filliped the racism of the perpetrator. Racism may often be a vicious, self-perpetuating victim-cum-perpetrator circle.

Pointing fingers at an ethnicity is myopic and strongly suggests an unrecognized, latent if not overt racist tendency. Therefore, an all-encompassing lens is needed to understand and defeat the scourge of racism.

We must deplore acts borne of racism, deplore the milieu that gives rise to racism, and deplore the very mindset of racism. Racism must be unambiguously held to be anathema.

After all, we are all human beings.

  1. But the fact that the average Turkish person is recognizably different than the prototypical blonde-haired, blue-eyed Swede makes for easy identification as the Other.
  2. E.g., the Swedish Communist media, Proletären, said Sweden played a “dirty role” in Syria.
  3. And behind every what is always at least one who.