Category Archives: Activism

“Living above our means”: Macri, the IMF, and Other Victims of Austerity

Argentinian president Mauricio Macri speaking on September 3rd, 2018 (Youtube screenshot).

After a hectic weekend with speculation aplenty, Argentina woke up on September 3rd waiting for the announcements of president Mauricio Macri. After accomplishing the feat of being late in delivering a recorded video, the message of more than 20 minutes was finally broadcast, with Macri announcing new austerity measures to try and get an earlier disbursement of the funds contemplated in the agreement with the IMF that was signed in May.

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Argentina’s current context is one of economic contraction, inflation, an increase in interest rates and a strong devaluation of the currency, which has lost 50% of its value with respect to the US dollar so far in 2018. For all these woes the Argentinian president found the solution in resorting to the IMF. But he did manage to find a multitude of parties responsible for the current situation: the rise of oil prices, drought, the commercial “war” between the United States and China, troubles in Turkey and Brazil, and above all the corruption and bad policies of previous governments.

But while the Argentinian president did his best to assign blame to his enemies, near and far, the explanation for the crisis – the failure of neoliberalism – was right in the middle of the screen, since nobody embodies noeliberalism better than Mauricio Macri himself.

Finance minister Nicolás Dujovne later presented more details of the measures that the government wishes to implement, before departing to meet the IMF in order to secure an early release of funds. These measures include a tax on exports and a promise to reduce the 2019 deficit to 0. In the agreement with the IMF the goal was 1.3%, so this reduction will hinge on bigger cuts to public spending and hikes in energy and transportation prices.

It should be stressed that these measures do not represent a shift, but rather a doubling-down on the policies that have been implemented since the Cambiemos coalition took power. The past two years have seen brutal increases in electricity and gas prices, a pension reform, massive layoffs in the public sector, major cuts in areas such as science, education or healthcare, attacks against labour rights, etc., with disastrous consequences for the population.

The Argentinian government, who was represented by Dujovne in the US, hopes that this latest round of sacrifices to the almighty markets will slow down the currency devaluation and secure the blessing of the high priests of the IMF and Wall Street. Nevertheless, prophecies about market uncertainties do have a tendency to self-fulfil. Not only that, the Argentinian executive, now slashed in less than half, is a team of businessmen that will know which interests to protect when push comes to shove.1

Macri and Dujovne meeting with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on March 16, 2018 (Photo: Casa Rosada)

Discursive platitudes

Macri’s speech was littered with elements that would have sounded extremely familiar to anyone who followed the austerity programmes that were implemented since 2010 in countries like Portugal or Greece. When the Argentinian president said that “we have been living above our means”, any Portuguese person could have recalled listening to their own president in 2011 – Cavaco Silva – say exactly the same thing.

Along the same lines, this was also the verdict reached by the Greek prime minister – Georgios Papandreou – who signed the first bailout agreement, and the all-powerful German finance minister – Wolfgang Schäuble – has always harped on this string to justify the austerity imposed on Greece. In truth the sanctimonious discourse of “living within our means” is no modern invention, but rather something that has always closely followed the neoliberal doctrine, even going back to Thatcher.

Another common element was the admission, with dishonest concern, that these measures will result in increased poverty. In 2011, the Portuguese prime minister went even further, saying that only by getting poorer would the crisis be overcome. In exchange, there is always a pledge that “the most vulnerable will be looked after”, and that those with more resources will be called upon to make bigger sacrifices, when it is well known that, almost by definition, the purpose is quite the opposite.

The cases of Greece and Portugal

Keeping in mind the distances between the examples we discuss, the similarities in the official discourse demand that we at least examine what took place in Greece and Portugal. In these cases the IMF was not the only creditor institution: it was joined by the European Central Bank and the European Union to form the fearsome “troika”. These were perhaps the most extreme cases of the austerity that was imposed throughout the continent in response to the crisis that broke out in 2008.

Greek GDP contracted by more than 40% since 2008. After the implementation of the memoranda of agreement with the troika, unemployment has consistently topped 20%, and youth unemployment has been around 40%. More than that, 4 out of 10 children are at risk of poverty. These are but a few indicators, among many others, that showcase the devastation that was unleashed upon the Greek people, while billions of euros of bailout money ended up directly in the hands of foreign banks.

As for the stated goal of the austerity packages, Greek public debt grew from 146% of GDP at the time of the first “structural reform” programme (2010) to 180% of GDP in 2018. Although officially Greece has exited the bailout programmes, the debt remains absolutely unpayable, and the idea that Greece can go on for decades balancing budgets under this weight is an illusion.

The Portuguese case is slightly less tragic. The 2015 elections resulted in a defeat for the right-wing coalition – which had implemented the deal signed with the troika in 2011 – and the emergence of a new government solution, which from afar might seem like it is on the left. The new government put an end to austerity and managed to revert the economic tendency and register economic growth once more.

The mere action of putting an end to austerity, while slowly reverting salaries and pensions to their 2011 levels, was a demonstration that the path of harsh budget cuts and tax increases was not the only choice. However, Portuguese public debt remains unpayable and an obstacle, among others, which will have to be confronted sooner or later.

Carlos Latuff depicts austerity in Greece

Where austerity leads to

This small transatlantic detour is useful to illustrate that, despite some declaring them as successful, the bailout plans did not manage to bring debt under control in Europe’s peripheral countries. But that goal, as well as the sacred budgetary targets, are simply argumentative artefacts.

Austerity packages, which are often more eloquently branded as “structural reforms”, are nothing but mechanisms to transfer wealth from labour to capital, with an underlying logic that profits are private and losses are socialised. When salaries and pensions are cut, when healthcare and education budgets are shrunk, when public services are dismantled, when thousands of workers are laid off, in order to pay back creditors, the people are being sacrificed to safeguard the interests of a handful of shareholders, be they national or foreign.

This transfer of wealth also occurs under the form of privatisations. These can be blatant or hidden under the pretext of the inefficiency of public management, but bailouts and structural adjustment plans have always been tremendous opportunities for capitalists. In the Greek case, important state assets, such as airports or the port of Piraeus, one of the biggest in the Mediterranean, ended up in private hands.

In truth, the Macri government has already made its position quite clear on the issue of privatizations; for example, in the energy sector, where the state is looking to sell its stake in several projects. In addition, the Argentinian company that produced satellites, ARSAT, was sold to an American company. The agreement with the IMF, and especially the version on steroids that will allow for an early release of funds, is sure to bring a new wave of privatisations, much to the delight of investors, and reviving ghosts of a not-so-distant past in Argentina.2

But it is not just through privatisation that room is opened up for private companies, especially multinational corporations, to flourish. The mere reduction of the reach of the state and public services leaves an open space to be filled by the whims of the market. In this context, the suppression of the health ministry, now reduced to a secretariat in the new ministry for health and social development, is quite symbolic. That this happened at a time when the implementation of the Universal Healthcare Coverage (CUS), a programme with a mercantile view of healthcare, is being discussed, is not a good omen for public healthcare in Argentina.

At this point we should go back to the issue of “living within our means”. The evolution of capitalism, even in times of crisis, has seen an ever growing concentration of wealth. It is estimated that 8 men own about as much wealth as the poorest half of the planet’s population. Therefore there are people living above what should be their means. But these are not pensioners, or public workers, or trade unionists, etc., as some would have us believe.

Resistance and repression

The Cambiemos government offensive, which will be intensified in the coming months, has been met with resistance from the Argentinian people in the streets. For example, a faculty strike in the university system, in protest against cutbacks in higher education and reforms in the pension system, was joined in August by a strong student mobilization in support, with several universities throughout the country temporarily occupied.

Trade unions, contradictions notwithstanding, also look to resist, and have called a general strike which is taking place on September 24-25. And perhaps there has been nothing more surprising and inspiring than the mobilisation of several hundred thousand people to defend the legalisation of abortion. Despite the goal not having been achieved for now, the awakening of consciences and the scale of the street mobilisations are building blocks for the upcoming struggles. The challenge is to turn all these struggles into attractor poles of a single, unified battle front.

Demonstration in Buenos Aires during a National Day of Protest, September 12 (Photo: Resumen Latinoamericano)

While it is fair to say that the rapid development of the crisis has caught the Argentinian government by surprise, the fact is that preparations to contain and repress any resistance to austerity had long been on the march. The decree which allows the armed forces to intervene in internal security matters, something which had not happened since end of the dictatorship, is particularly significant, not to mention the installation of US military bases in Argentinian territory.

The government and its talking heads have put forward a fallacious argument; namely, that with a tremendous sense of duty, those in charge are doing what needs to be done with no concern for upcoming elections. In reality what they are doing is ensuring that the interests of capitalists are shielded for decades, way beyond next year’s elections. It is the purest defence of class interests. Because at the end of the day power is not confined to the presidential palace or to legislative chambers.

An important difference with respect to cases such as Portugal or Greece is that in Argentina, thanks to the hegemony of media conglomerates such as the Clarín group, a scapegoat to which attention can be diverted has been put in place. This is the (alleged) corruption of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and members of her government, which is presented as the root of all evils that befall Argentina. Similarly to what has happened in cases such as Lula’s in Brazil, the goal is to have the trial in the media for short-term political gain.3

The cases of Portugal and Greece, alongside many other recent examples of “rescue plans”, give an idea of what is to come. Under the excuse of “having lived above our means”, different mechanisms to transfer wealth to capital, brazen or hidden, will be implemented. And faced with the difficulty of meeting unrealistic budgetary targets that are imposed from the outside there will be no solution other than imposing more and more sacrifices on the majority of the people.

After its failure and exhaustion as a political project, neoliberalism resurfaced in Latin America essentially leaning on the media and on the (politicisation of the) judicial system. It now looks to contain any alternative, in the case of Argentina, by mortgaging the country’s future and reactivating repression mechanisms. All of this places Argentina in the front line of a battle that is not just about next year’s presidential elections. The task ahead is to resist, every day and in every way, against this renewed offensive, and at the same time to construct a true, and radical, alternative.

• Thanks to Luciana Daffra for her comments and corrections.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. On September 17 Dujovne presented the 2019 budget before the Argentinian Congress. It is, in his words, an “austere budget”, with a 7% cut on public spending, a prediction of economic contraction of 2.4%, and a zero deficit goal.
  2. It is worth recalling that this is no pure ideological matter for Macri, since the Macri Group is one of the largest business conglomerates in Argentina, with activities over a range of sectors, and having directly benefited from privatisation of state assets in the past.
  3. Our goal is not to vouch for anyone’s innocence, rather to point out the clear manipulation of justice for political ends and the double standards (or lack of standards) of the media. In Argentina, for example, a large circus has been set up surrounding the famous “notebooks” which detail the corruption of a former official during the Kirchner governments. The notebooks came from a remorseful driver, but up until now only photocopies of the smoking gun have been presented. In exchange, Macri featuring in the Panama Papers did not seem to merit the same level of scrutiny from the media, and the same can be said about the “fake contributions” and money laundering in the campaign of Maria Eugenia Vidal, governor of the province of Buenos Aires and one of the main figures of Cambiemos.

Rocinha Favela and the Future of Urbanism

During a recent tour in Brazil, I visited the Rocinha Favela in Rio de Janeiro. Rocinha is the largest favela in Brazil and runs up a very steep hill near the centre of Rio. It is believed at least 70,000 people live in Rocinha (some estimates suggest more than double that number), living in houses made from concrete and brick. It is officially described as a neighbourhood and has very basic sanitation, plumbing and electricity. Rocinha also has shops, hairdressers, banks, art galleries and many other businesses. The word favela itself is derived from a skin-irritating plant of the spurge family: removing these plants to live in these areas was not easy so the people called the hills after the plant.

View of sea from top of Rocinha favela (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

History

The favelas go back to the late 1800s when soldiers, brought in for a local war, had no place to live and so settled in the hills. After the end of slavery and the growth of city life many people moved to the cities and the favelas spread. A later industrialisation drive in the 1940s brought many more people to the cities and the favelas expanded dramatically. In the 1970s there were public housing projects but these too disintegrated into new favelas. As the drugs trade increased in the 1980s so too did the growth of gangs and gang warfare. In Rocinha, like many slums, it also has an ongoing conflict between police and drug dealers.

Locals perform samba drumming, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

UPP and BOPE

The state began a war on the drug gangs in 2008 with the Pacifying Police Units (UPP) moving in, usually after an initial operation by BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) who scour the area for heavy weapons and drug caches. The main purpose of the UPP is to stop armed men from ruling the streets and end drug trafficking. However, there seems to be an uneasy peace between the UPP and the drug gangs. While walking through the narrow ‘streets’ of Rocinha, a man with a revolver pointed in the air walked through our group and twice we were asked to refrain from taking photographs as we walked past armed groups of men.

Cemented-over bullet holes, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Cinema

If you look at any listicle of Brazil’s best films you will probably see two films, Elite Squad (2007) and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010) contained within. These films follow the actions of a BOPE squad in a favelas and does so without pulling any punches. Different, conflicting elements of society are portrayed in both Elite Squad films. The BOPE and police are shown to have corrupt elements, ultimately manipulated by political figures. The middle class are shown in the discussions about the nature of power in university lectures (with particular emphasis on Michel Foucault) and the students are shown working in charitable organisations in the favelas with the nod from drug gang leaders. The main narrative of the films is the idea of corrupt police making financial deals with the drugs gangs – Elite Squad (2007), and changing to corrupt politicians making money by taxing the whole community after the drug gangs have been pushed out – Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010).

Overhanging wires on telegraph poles, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Tourism

The global success of these two films has probably been one of the factors in encouraging tourism in the favelas While the drug gangs generally do not appear to target tourists there have been incidents where tourists have been injured or killed by both the police and the drug gangs usually as the result of some accident or misunderstanding. In general, tourism, like in many other places, is a quick-fix solution for local businesses but does little in the way of any real social or economic development of the favela neighbourhoods.

Local store, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Whither the favelas?

While slums became common in Europe and the USA in the 19th and 20th centuries they are predominantly found in developing countries today. The Little Ireland slum in Manchester, for example, became a source for social scientist Friedrich Engels’ book titled The Condition of the Working Class in England published in Germany in 1845. According to the UN World Cities Report 2016: Urbanization and Development – Emerging Futures:

The percentage of slum dwellers in urban areas across all developing regions has reduced considerably since 1990, but the numbers have increased gradually since 2000 except for a steep rise of 72 million new slum dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Also, according to one article on the world’s five biggest slums:

Around a quarter of the world’s urban population lives in slums. And this figure is rising fast. The number of slum dwellers in developing countries increased from 689 million in 1990 to 880 million in 2014, according to the United Nations World Cities Report 2016.

The biggest slums in the world today are: Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa (Population: 400,000); Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya (Population: 700,000); Dharavi, Mumbai, India (Population: 1 million); Ciudad Neza, Mexico City, Mexico (Population: 12 million); and Orangi Town, Karachi, Pakistan (Population: 2.4 million).

Favela mural, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Urbanisation and the flight from the land

The development of industrialised farming has been one of the major reasons for the the flight from the land.  There is also the perceived view that economic opportunities are greater in the cities. Governments invest less in rural communities because of lower population densities and this creates a vicious cycle. In Ireland today, for example, friends of mine in rural areas still can’t get broadband speeds fast enough to play video clips on their computers and in August the government announced the closure of over 160 post offices nationwide. Meanwhile the urbanisation of Dublin has extended into neighbouring counties while pubs and shops in the rural areas close due to a lack of footfall. While the pressure on Dublin has not produced slums it has created huge increases in rents and a growing homelessness problem.

So what can be done about slums? There appears to be three main approaches to the question of the future of slums around the world today: (1) Renovation: top-down and bottom-up approaches, (2) Demolition for rehousing and rebuilding, and (3) Demolition for parkland.

Local bakery, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Renovation: top-down and bottom-up approaches

Around the world slum upgrading has consisted of concrete paths, sanitation, safe drinking water, water drainage systems and public transport. The Brazilian state has done some top-down upgrading in the favelas, putting in basic sanitation and social services but much more needs to be done with masses of wires on telegraph poles and cabling bundled along the side of the paths. However, with the global neo-liberal move towards privatisation of public housing there doesn’t seem to be much hope for governments doing serious renovation of slums in the near future. More importantly, in my opinion, has been the bottom-up slum upgrading, for example, in Orangi Town, Karachi in Pakistan where the residents installed sewers in 90% of 8,000 streets and lanes, digging them by hand themselves. This kind of community spirit builds solidarity which is more important for the residents in the long run in their struggle against uncaring states:

In 1980, the development expert and entrepreneur, Akhtar Hameed Khan, observed how many communities were self-organising to fill the gap in services – from building homes and schools to water delivery – and launched the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP). Now globally renowned, the project has not only led the DIY sewerage projects which continue to expand to this day, but has built a network to manage a plethora of programmes that range from micro credit to water supply, to women’s savings schemes. OPP’s director Saleem Aleemuddin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that when activists began working in the area in 1980, the lack of sanitation was the most “obvious” and “problematic” area for residents. While it took the OPP around six months to convince local residents to invest and pay for the installation of the first sewerage line on their street, it was not long before people were taking their lead and organising themselves. “Since the government gets almost nothing in revenue from the slum, it therefore pays the least interest to its [slum] developments too,” Aleemuddin said. “In fact, people in the town now consider the streets as part of their homes because they have invested in them and that’s why they maintain and clean the sewers too.”

Favela houses, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Others argue that the slums should be seen as similar to the medieval towns and parts of cities preserved all over Europe:

The tight-knit structure of settlements built in the Middle Ages serves as an important lesson on making modern developments compact and keeping key services easily accessible to the people using them.

Thus, they argue, slums could be converted into a form of green, eco-friendly living areas such as Cambridge where people walk everywhere now instead of driving. However, it is more likely to become a form of gentrification as usually it is wealthier people who can afford to do the extensive and detailed building and repairs (not to mention the demands of state preservation policies in the case of medieval buildings).

Government plans for Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Demolition for rehousing and rebuilding

The demolition of slums for rehousing projects does not have a great history. It tended to shift the social problems of the slums to other parts of the city. In Ireland in the 1960s, Dublin’s slums had reached a breaking point as urbanisation and the collapse of slum houses put pressure on the government to move people out to suburban Ballymun into high-rise 15-storey flat complexes. However, by the 1980s Ballymun was seen as a social sink and had to be regenerated itself in the 2000s and the blocks demolished. Also, this strategy can be a cynical ploy as the flats built on the sites of the former slums are sold as properties on high-value city-centre land

Local kindergarten, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Demolition for parkland

A prime example of a slum demolition is the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong which eventually became the Kowloon Walled City Park. What started off as a Chinese military fort in the 1800s became one of the most densely populated slums in the world. It was extended upwards in the 1960s to become a city of over 30,000 people in 300 buildings occupying little more than 7 acres (2.8 ha). The residents were compensated (with some being forcibly evicted) and demolition was concluded in 1994. Today it is a 31,000 m2 (330,000 sq ft) park which was completed in August 1995.

In Brazil, this is always a possible future for the favelas in Rio. Not many realise that the sculpture of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado mountain is in the middle of the Tijuca Forest – a massive reclamation project of land which had suffered from erosion and deforestation caused by intensive farming of sugar and coffee in the nineteenth century. The whole area was replanted with plants and trees of the rainforest and is one of the biggest urban forests in the world today.

Cabling on streets, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

Climate change and the future of urbanism

The future of slums around the world seems tied to a kind of trendy belief in the necessity of planning for an urban future. However, there are those that believe that an alternative to the constant growing urbanisation is to create a model that would attract a part of the urban population back to the rural environment. The potential for creating jobs in the agricultural sector in the future must be seen in the context of sustainable soil management and the difficulties that will be facing food production in future projected changes in temperature, ultraviolet radiation, soil moisture and pests which are expected to decrease food production.

Governments would be better off to develop projects to modernise the rural areas with the type of facilities and services that can be obtained in the cities to attract people back to the land. Collapses in various crops or crop destruction around the world due to unexpected frosts, drought, hurricanes, floods, etc can only be expected to increase, leading to food insecurity and the potential for global food price increases and food riots.

Malcolm X mural, Rocinha (Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin 2018)

The very existence of a slum shows a government’s inability or reluctance to deal with mass population shifts. It reveals a fundamental structural problem in democratic processes and redistribution of tax wealth. For a government to allow a section its own citizens to live a Hobbesian existence exposes the rhetoric of a government for all. How can this be changed and slum issues be resolved? As the Orangi Town example above shows, solidarity and activism can solve practical problems efficiently even if it is letting the government off the hook of responsibility. As has been seen in the past, the social contract only operates when both government and people keep their sides of the bargain. When, or if, it breaks down the anger constantly bubbling underneath can spill over. While revolutionary changes around the world in the past, in general, are often attributed to their great leaders, the fact is that it is usually down to the most expropriated and alienated people in society to get the great social change juggernaut moving in the first place.

• All images in this article are from the author.

All Wars Are Illegal, So What Do We Do About It?

Photo by Getty Images

Every war being fought today is illegal. Every action taken to carry out these wars is a war crime.

In 1928, the Kellogg-Briand Pact or Pact of Paris was signed and ratified by the United States and other major nations that renounced war as a way to resolve conflicts, calling instead for peaceful ways of handling disputes.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact was the basis for the Nuremberg Tribunal, in which 24 leaders of the Third Reich were tried and convicted for war crimes, and for the Tokyo Tribunal, in which 28 leaders of the Japanese Empire were tried and convicted for war crimes, following World War II.

Such prosecutions should have prevented further wars, but they have not. David Swanson of World Beyond War argues that a fundamental task of the antiwar movement is to enforce the rule of law. What good are new treaties, he asks, if we can’t uphold the ones that already exist?

Photo by Ellen Davidson

The United States is violating international law, and escalating its aggression

All wars and acts of aggression by the United States since 1928 have violated the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the United Nations Charter since it was signed in 1945. The UN Charter states, in Article 2:

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

Yet, the United States has a long history of threatening aggression and using military force to remove governments it opposed and install friendly ones. Illegal attacks by the US since World War II have resulted in 20 million people being killed in 37 nations. For example, as we outline in “North Korea and the United States: Will the Real Aggressor Please Stand Down,” the United States used violence to install Syngman Rhee in power in the 1940’s and subsequently killed millions of Koreans, in both the South and the North, in the Korean War, which has not ended. Under international law, the “war games” practicing to attack North Korea with conventional and nuclear weapons are illegal threats of military action.

The list of interventions by the United States is too long to list here. Basically, the US has been interfering in and attacking other countries almost continuously since its inception. Currently the US is involved directly in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. The US is threatening Iran and Venezuela with attack.

The United States has 883 military bases in 183 countries and has hundreds of outposts scattered throughout the world. Lynn Petrovich recently examined the new defense budget. With regard to the Pentagon’s 2019 budget report, she writes:

If the planet is our community, America is the bully in the neighborhood.  Reference to the word ‘lethal’ is sprinkled no less than 3 dozen times throughout The Report (‘more lethal force’ p. 2-6, ‘technology innovation for increased lethality’ p.1-1, ‘increasing the lethality of new and existing weapons systems’ p. 3-2).

and

Were it not for The Report’s dire (yet, fully funded) predictions for world domination, one would think this budget request was satire by The Onion.

Included in the new budget are funds to recruit 26,000 more of our youth into the military, purchase ten more “combat ships,” build more F-35s, even though they don’t work, and “modernize” our nuclear weapons. At a time when the United States is losing power in the world and falling behind in wealth, the government voted nearly unanimously to provide $74 billion more than last year to be more aggressive. Imagine what that money could do if it were applied instead to improving public education, transitioning to a clean energy economy and a public works program to restore our failing infrastructure.

The United States empire is falling and blindly taking all of us down with it as it tries to assert its power.

Photo by Margaret Flowers

What to do about it

The peace movement in the United States is being revived and building alliances with peace activists in many countries, and it can’t happen fast enough. There are many opportunities for action this fall, the “Antiwar Autumn.”

The World Beyond War conference, #NoWar2018, just concluded in Toronto. The focus of the conference was legalizing peace. Among the topics discussed was how to use courts to prevent wars, stop the escalation of militarism and investigate war crimes. Professor Daniel Turp of the University of Montreal and his students have sued the Canadian government over participating in extraditing prisoners to Guantanamo, potential intervention in Iraq and providing weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Turp recommends that activists who are considering legal action first look to domestic courts for a remedy. If none exists or domestic action is unsuccessful, then it is possible to turn to international bodies such as the International Criminal Court or the United Nations. Any people or organizations can file a report or complaint with these bodies. Before doing so, it is important to gather as much evidence as possible, first hand accounts are strong but even hearsay can be grounds to trigger an investigation.

Currently, Popular Resistance is supporting an effort to ask the International Criminal Court to launch a full investigation of Israel for its war crimes. People and organizations are invited to sign on to the letter, which will be delivered by a delegation, including us, to the Hague in November.

Click here to read and sign onto the letter (please share it).

Click here to donate towards the delegation to the ICC

William Curtis Edstrom of Nicaragua wrote a letter to the United Nations in advance of Trump’s visit to serve as the chair of the Security Council meeting. He is requesting “hearings, debate and vote on an effective plan of action against various crimes that have been committed by people working for the government of the US that are of significance to the global community.”

This week, Medea Benjamin confronted a Trump administration official, the head of the new “Iran Action Group,” at the Hudson Institute. President Trump is planning to advocate for more aggression against Iran at the United Nations. When the US tried this in the past, it has received push back from other nations. Now it is clear it is the US, not Iran, that has violated the nuclear agreement and is conducting an economic war against Iran while threatening military action. The world is likely to stand up to Trump and US threats.

Recent progress towards peace by North and South Korea show that activism is effective. Sarah Freeman-Woolpert reports on efforts by activists in South Korea and the United States to build coalitions and organize strategic actions that create the political space for peace.

Leaders of both countries met this week to discuss improving relations and finding a compromise between North Korea and the United States. President Moon will meet with President Trump at the United Nations this month. Korean activists say that their greatest concern is that Koreans finally having “the ability to shape the future of [their] country.”

When we understand that war is illegal, our task becomes clear. We need to make sure that all nations, especially the United States, obey the law. We can replace war with mediation, conflict resolution and adjudication. We can legalize peace.

From Pinterest

Here are more actions this Antiwar Autumn:

September 30-October 6 – Shut Down Creech – week of actions to protest the use of drones. More information and register here.

October 6-13 – Keep Space for Peace Week. Many actions planned in the US and UK. Click here for details.

October 20-21 – Women’s March on the Pentagon. More information here.

November 3 – Black is Back Coalition march to the White House for peace in Africa. More information here.

November 10 – Peace Congress to End U.S. Wars at Home and Abroad. This will be a full day conference to define next steps for collaboration by activists and organizations in the US. More information and registration here.

November 11 – March to Reclaim Armistice Day. This will be a solemn march led by veterans and military families on the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which ended World War I, to call for celebrating Armistice Day instead of Veterans Day in the US. Click here for more information.

November 16-18 – School of Americas Watch Border Encuentro. This will include workshops and actions at the border between the US and Mexico. More information here.

November 16-18 – No US NATO Bases International Conference in Dublin, Ireland. This is the first international conference of the new coalition to close US foreign military bases. Click here for more details.

Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia

Due to the approach of Hurricane Florence, today marked the end of the Disarm Trident Peace Walk. Some 50 people in all took part in the walk from Savannah to Kings Bay, Georgia, in support of the 7 Catholic peace activists of the Kings Bay Plowshares.

On April 4th, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the seven entered Naval Station Kings Bay, home to six Trident ballistic missile submarines. Each Trident can carry the explosive power of some 1825 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs—if they are ever used it will mean the end of the world. The activists carried hammers and bottles of their own blood into the base to “beat swords into plowshares,” as the Hebrew Prophets envisioned. Finding no subs in port, they poured blood on the base logo, hammered on a concrete model of a Trident D5 missile, crisscrossed the administration building with yellow crime scene tape, and hung banners on the fence surrounding the nuclear weapons bunkers reading “The Ultimate Logic of Racism is Genocide~MLK” and “The Ultimate Logic of Trident is Omnicide.” Two of the activists remain in the Glynn County Detention Center and five are out on house arrest. All await a hearing on their motion to argue the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in their defense, and then a trial date.

Organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence and friends, the peace walk began in the rain at Forsythe Park in Savannah and continued for eight more days down coastal Georgia route 17. We hoped to walk all 126 miles to Kings Bay, but Florence had other plans and two days were shaved off. It ended this morning with a short walk and a two hour vigil calling for nuclear disarmament at the main gate to the sub base.

Most of the walk was through the rural coastal Georgia landscape which seeped into my bones as I walked through it mile after mile after mile—the ancient live oaks and the loblolly pines, the grasses and reeds and tannic colored water in the swamps and wetlands, the egrets quietly hunting or startled and taking wing, the ubiquitous Spanish moss cloaking the area in mystery. In several places wide, lazy rivers spanned by old concrete bridges seemed timeless, and huge, vertical, billowing clouds plastered the sky between us and the unseen ocean to the east made it feel like we were walking inside a giant oil painting.

Amid the hauntingly beautiful landscape were markers hinting at the area’s history. The matter of fact descriptions of prominent land holding families, governorships, military positions held, shipping facilities and rice, indigo, and cotton plantations, largely ignored the blood, sweat, and tears of enslaved blacks that soaked the land we trod. We were glad to be educated near Midway, Georgia by a Gullah Gee Chee descendent at a small DIY slavery museum as well as by a couple of local activists.

Our walking days included the 9th of September, the 38th anniversary of the first Plowshares action. Of the eight people who acted at the General Electric plant in King of Prussia, PA, which built nose cones for nuclear warheads, most were Catholic. The Kings Bay Plowshares community is all Catholic; Liz McAllister (long of Jonah House), Jesuit Fr. Steve Kelly, and Catholic Workers Martha Hennessy (a granddaughter of Dorothy Day), Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Patrick O’Neill, and Carmen Trotta.

This is especially poignant as the Holy See was one of only three United Nations members to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on the very first day it was open for ratification, last September 20th. Then in November, Pope Francis declared that the possession or the threat of use of nuclear weapons was to be “firmly condemned,” signaling the end of the road for the Catholic Church’s sanction of nuclear deterrence and the existence of nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, all of the nuclear weapons states boycotted the Treaty negotiations, and in the United States, politicians, the media, as well as the Church are completely silent about it. So, the message of the Plowshares movement continues to move through the land—if governments won’t disarm, the people must. Molly Rush, one of the original Plowshares 8, later wrote that as she hammered on the warhead nose cone she “put a hole in one and a dent in another. And, I thought, these things are as vulnerable as we are, and we can undo what has been done.”

This is the faith of the Kings Bay Plowshares and the hope of those of us who walked the Georgia coast up to this morning.

Tenth Anniversary Of Financial Collapse, Preparing For The Next Crash

Jail Bankers Not Protesters, Occupy Wall Street, 2011 (Photo by Stan Honda for AFP-Getty Images)

Ten years ago, there was panic in Washington, DC, New York City and financial centers around the world as the United States was in the midst of an economic collapse. The crash became the focus of the presidential campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain and was followed by protests that created a popular movement, which continues to this day.

Banks: Bailed Out; The People: Sold Out

On the campaign trail, in March 2008, Obama blamed mismanagement of the economy on both Democrats and Republicans for rewarding financial manipulation rather than economic productivity. He called for funds to protect homeowners from foreclosure and to stabilize local governments and urged a 21st Century regulation of the financial system. John McCain opposed federal intervention, saying the country should not bail out banks or homeowners who knowingly took financial risks.

By September 2008, McCain and Obama met with President George W. Bush and together they called for a $700 billion bailout of the banks, not the people. Obama and McCain issued a joint statement that called the bank bailout plan “flawed,” but said, “the effort to protect the American economy must not fail.” Obama expressed “outrage” at the “crisis,” which was “a direct result of the greed and irresponsibility that has dominated Washington and Wall Street for years.”

By October 2008, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), or bank bailout, had recapitalized the banks, the Treasury had stabilized money market mutual funds and the FDIC had guaranteed the bank debts. The Federal Reserve began flowing money to banks, which would ultimately total almost twice the $16 trillion claimed in a federal audit. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that the Federal Reserve gave over $29 trillion to the banks.

This did not stop the loss of nine million jobs, more than four million foreclosures and the deep reduction in wealth among the poor, working and middle classes. A complete banking collapse was averted, but a deep recession for most people was not.

The New Yorker described the 2008 crash as years in the making, writing:

…the crisis took years to emerge. It was caused by reckless lending practices, Wall Street greed, outright fraud, lax government oversight in the George W. Bush years, and deregulation of the financial sector in the Bill Clinton years. The deepest source, going back decades, was rising inequality. In good times and bad, no matter which party held power, the squeezed middle class sank ever further into debt.

Before his inauguration, Obama proposed an economic stimulus plan, but, as Paul Krugman wrote:

Obama’s prescription doesn’t live up to his diagnosis. The economic plan he’s offering isn’t as strong as his language about the economic threat.

In the end, the stimulus was even smaller than what Obama proposed. Economist Dean Baker explained that it may have created 2 million jobs, but we needed 12 million. It was $300 billion in 2009, about the same in 2010, and the remaining $100 billion followed over several years — too small to offset the $1.4 trillion in annual lost spending.

New York Magazine reports the stimulus was “a spending stimulus bigger, by some measures than the entire New Deal.” But unlike the New Deal, which benefited people at the bottom and built a foundation for a long-term economy, the bi-partisan post-2008 stimulus bailed out Wall Street and left Main Street behind.

Wall Street executives were not prosecuted even though the financial crisis was in large part caused by their fraud. Bankers were given fines costing dimes on the dollar without being required to admit guilt or having their cases referred for prosecution. The fines were paid by shareholders, not the perpetrators.

Protest near Union Square in New York, April, 2010. Popular Resistance.

Still at Risk

Many of the root causes of the crisis remain today, making another economic downturn or collapse possible. The New Yorker reports that little has changed since 2008, with Wall Street banks returning to risky behavior and the inadequate regulation of Dodd-Frank being weakened. Big finance is more concentrated and dominant than it was before the crash. Inequality and debt have expanded, and despite the capital class getting wealthier in a record stock market with corporate profits soaring, real wages are stuck at pre-crisis levels.

People are economically insecure in the US and live with growing despair, as measured by reports on well-being. The Federal Reserve reported in 2017 that “two in five Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense.” Further, “more than one in five said they weren’t able to pay the current month’s bills in full, and more than one in four said they skipped necessary medical care last year because they couldn’t afford it.”

Positive Money writes:

Ten years on, big banks are still behaving in reckless, unfair and neglectful ways. The structural problems with our money and banking system still haven’t been fixed. And many experts fear that if we don’t change things soon, we’re going to sleepwalk into another crash.

William Cohen, a former mergers and acquisitions banker on Wall Street, writes that the fundamentals of US economy are still flawed. The Economist describes the current situation: “The patient is in remission, not cured.”

From Occupy Washington DC at Freedom Plaza

The Response Of the Popular Movement

Larry Eliott wrote in the Guardian: “Capitalism’s near-death experience with the banking crisis was a golden opportunity for progressives.” But the movement in the United States was not yet in a position to take advantage of it.

There were immediate protests. Democratic Party-aligned groups such as USAction, True Majority and others organized nationwide actions. Over 1,000 people demonstrated on Wall Street and phones in Congress were ringing wildly. While there was opposition to the bailout, there was a lack of national consensus over what to do.

Protests continued to grow. In late 2009, a “Move Your Money” campaign was started that urged people to take their money out of the big banks and put it in community banks and credit unions. The most visible anti-establishment rage in response to the bailout arose later in the Tea Party and Occupy movements. Both groups shared a consensus that we live in a rigged economy created by a corrupt political establishment. It was evident that the US is an oligarchy, which serves the interests of the wealthy while ignoring the necessities of the people.

The anti-establishment consensus continues to grow and showed itself in the 2016 presidential campaigns of Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. They were two sides of the same coin of populist anger that defeated Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. Across the political spectrum, there is a political crisis with both mainstream, Wall Street-funded political parties being unpopular but staying in power due to a calcified political system that protects the duopoly of Democrats and Republicans.

Occupy Wall Street 2011

Preparing for the Next Collapse

When the next financial crisis arrives, the movement is in a much stronger position to take advantage of the opportunity for significant changes that benefit people over Wall Street. The Occupy movement and other efforts since then have changed the national dialogue so that more people are aware of wealth inequality, the corruption of big banks and the failure of the political elites to represent the people’s interests.

There is also greater awareness of alternatives to the current economy. The Public Banking movement has grown significantly since 2008. Banks that need to be bailed out could be transformed into public banks that serve the people and are democratically controlled. And there are multiple platforms, including our People’s Agenda, that outline alternative solutions.

We also know the government can afford almost $30 trillion to bail out the banks. One sixth of this could provide a $12,000 annual basic income, which would cost $3.8 trillion annually, doubling Social Security payments to $22,000 annually, which would cost $662 billion, a $10,000 bonus for all US public school teachers, which would cost $11 billion, free college for all high school graduates, which would cost $318 billion, and universal preschool, which would cost $38 billion. National improved Medicare for all would actually save the nation trillions of dollars over a decade. We can afford to provide for the necessities of the people.

We can look to Iceland for an example of how to handle the next crisis. In 2008, they jailed the bankers, let the banks fail without taking on their debt and put controls in place to protect the economy. They recovered more quickly than other countries and with less pain.

How did they do it? In part, through protest. They held sustained and noisy protests, banging pots and pans outside their parliament building for five months. The number of people participating in the protests grew over time. They created democratized platforms for gathering public input and sharing information widely. And they created new political parties, the Pirate Party and the Best Party, which offered agendas informed by that popular input.

So, when the next crash comes. Let’s put forward a People’s Agenda. Let’s be like Iceland and mobilize for policies that put people first. Collectively, we have the power to overcome the political elites and their donor class.

When Illness is a ‘Death Sentence’: The Victimization of Gaza Women

Hanan al-Khoudari resorted to Facebook in a cry for help when Israeli authorities rejected her request to accompany her three-year-old son, Louay, to his chemotherapy treatment in East Jerusalem.

The boy is suffering from an ‘aggressive soft tissue sarcoma’. Israeli authorities then justified their decision based on a vague claim that one of Hanan’s relatives is a ‘Hamas operative.”

The rights group, Gisha reported that the state remains unwilling to define precisely what it means to be a ‘Hamas operative.’ Even if an explanation is offered, denying gravely ill Palestinians from receiving life-saving treatment remains an immoral and illegal act.

“The state is sentencing the petitioners to death or a lifetime of suffering,” said Muna Haddad, an advocate with Gisha. By ‘petitioners’, she was referring to seven Gaza women who were denied access to urgent medical treatment by Israel, which required them to leave the besieged Gaza Strip.

The suffering of Gaza women rarely makes headlines. When Palestinian women are not invisible in Western media coverage, they are seen as hapless victims of circumstances beyond their control.

The fact that a woman from Gaza is ‘sentenced to death’ simply because a male relative is shunned by Israel is quite typical behavior from a country that oddly presents itself internationally as an oasis for equality and women rights.

It feeds into the false notion that Palestinian women are trapped in a “conflict” in which they play no part. Such misrepresentations undermine the political and humanitarian urgency of the plight of Palestinian women and the Palestinian people, as a whole.

In truth, Palestinian women are hardly bystanders in the collective victimization. They deserve to be made visible and understood within the larger context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The seven women who petitioned the Israeli court, and the story of Hanan al-Khoudari, are but a small representation of thousands of women who are suffering in Gaza without legal advocates or media coverage.

I spoke to several of these women – whose suffering is only matched by their incredible resilience – who deserve more than mere recognition, but an urgent remedy as well.

Shaima Tayseer Ibrahim, 19, from the town of Rafah in southern Gaza, can hardly speak. Her brain tumor has affected her mobility and her ability to express herself. Yet, she is determined to pursue her degree in Basic Education at Al-Quds Open University in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

The pain that this 19-year-old is enduring is extraordinary even by the standards of poor, isolated Gaza. She is the oldest of five children in a family that fell into poverty following the Israeli siege. Her father is retired and the family has been struggling but, nevertheless, Shaima has been determined to get an education.

She was engaged to be married after her graduation from university. Hope still has a way of making it into the hearts of the Palestinians of Gaza and Shaima was hoping for a brighter future for herself and her family.

But March 12 changed all of that.

On that day, Shaima was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. Just before her first surgery at Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem on April 4, her fiancé broke off the engagement.

The surgery left Shaima with partial paralysis. She speaks and moves with great difficulty. But there was more bad news; further tests in a Gaza hospital showed that the tumor was not fully removed and it must be quickly extracted before it spreads any further.

To make matters worse, on August 12, the Ministry of Health in Gaza announced that it would no longer be able to treat cancer patients in the Israel-besieged enclave.

Shaima is now fighting for her life as she awaits Israeli permission to cross the Beit Hanoun checkpoint (called the Erez Crossing by Israel) to the West Bank, through Israel, for an urgent surgery.

Many Gazans have perished that way, waiting for pieces of paper, a permission, that never materialized. Shaima, however, remains hopeful, while her whole family constantly prays that their eldest daughter prevails in her fight against cancer and resumes her pursuit of a university degree.

On the other side of Gaza, Dwlat Fawzi Younis, 33, from Beit Hanoun is living a similar experience. Dwlat, however, also looks after a family of 11, including her nephews and her gravely ill father.

She had to become the main breadwinner of her family when her father, 55, suffered kidney failure and was unable to work.

She would look after the entire family with the money she earned as a hairdresser. Her brothers and sisters are all unemployed. She used to help them, too, whenever she could.

Dwlat is a strong person; she has always been that way. Perhaps it was her experience on November 3, 2006, that strengthened her resolve. An Israeli soldier shot her while she was protesting with a group of women against the Israeli attack and destruction of the historic Umm Al-Nasr mosque in Beit Hanoun. Two women were killed that day. Dwlat was hit by a bullet in her pelvis, but she survived.

After months of treatment, she recovered and resumed her daily struggle. She also never missed a chance to raise her voice in solidarity with her people at protests.

On May 14, 2018, when the United States officially transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 60 Palestinian protesters were killed and nearly 3,000 were wounded at the Gaza-Israel fence. Dwlat was shot in her right thigh, the bullet penetrating the bone and cutting through the artery.

Her health has deteriorated quickly since then, and she is now unable to work. But Israel still has not approved her application to be transferred to Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem to receive treatment.

Yet, Dwlat insists she will continue to be an active and empowered member of the Gaza community, even if it means joining the protests along the Gaza fence on crutches.

In truth, these women embody the remarkable spirit and courage of every Palestinian woman living under Israeli Occupation and siege in the West Bank and Gaza.

They endure and persist, despite the massive price they pay, and continue the struggle of generations of courageous Palestinian women who came before them.

In Afghanistan, Our Need to Rethink the Institution of War

It’s frustrating that whereas all human beings wish to live meaningful lives, we seem helpless in the face of a few individuals waging wars and exploiting our world.

But we can each do something about this insensible status quo, as ordinary folk of the People’s Peace Movement ( PPM) show us by taking one barefoot-step at a time, traveling to the Northern areas of Afghanistan to persuade fellow Afghans, whether they’re with ‘insurgent groups’ or with the U.S./NATO/Afghan forces, to stop fighting.

The People’s Peace Movement (PPM) walking barefoot to the Northern provinces of Afghanistan, led by a blind member of their group, Zindani (Photo taken from PPM’s Facebook Page)

Their action of walking without shoes suggest to us that, for us to survive today’s militarized and profit-driven norms, we have to live each day differently, and with clarity and compassion.

We’ve been thinking that we need armies to stop ‘terrorists’, but armies don’t stop ‘terrorists’. Instead, they give ‘terrorists’ reason to keep fighting.

We need to think anew.

Moreover, the roots of ‘terrorism’ lie within ourselves. We are our own source of wars.

Iqbal Khyber, a representative of PPM, told the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) about how violence has taken root in all of us. “A blind member of our group, Zindani (a name he gave himself after he was blinded by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb, meaning ‘imprisoned’ ) had so much pain in him that one evening when we were camped outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, he pleaded with me, ‘Can I throw a pebble at the fence?’ ”

“I advised Zindani, ‘No, we need to end the anger inside us.’” Iqbal continued.

Zindani is rightfully angry because he has been hurt by all sides of the Afghan conflict, like all civilians in all wars. His father literally disappeared from his life when he was just seven, as a bomb from a U.S. airstrike in Helmand left ‘a crater so large that no trace of his father and uncle could be found’. Years later, another bomb, this time a Taliban device, killed his sister and blinded him. He not only lost his sight, but he also lost the chance to marry the teenage love of his life.

The crowd at the PPM’s meeting in Kabul on the 9th of August 2018. Zindani is determined to end war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

At a large gathering in Kabul, Zindani sat in front of a crowd of Afghans who were shouting, “We want peace! Enough war! ” He had a brown turban wrapped over his head and eyes, and a Borderfree blue scarf of the Afghan Peace Volunteers draped around his neck.

Zindani is determined to end war (Photo by Dr. Hakim)

He was quiet.

But his stand was clear. He had already walked more than 700 km from Helmand to Kabul, and he was ready to persist.

He couldn’t see the crowd before him, but he could hear them, and understand their intense desire to end the war.

What makes us think that ordinary people like Zindani, or we ourselves, cannot end ‘terrorism’ and wars through nonviolent methods? Misinformation has infected us with doubts.

One way to work through those doubts is to emulate Zindani, members of the PPM and the APVs: relate person-to-person, ask, “How can we live better?”, listen, love.

And to take courage in not doubting love when we encounter it.

“I was suspicious of their intentions. Politicians and leaders have misused the people so much we can no longer trust one another. But, when I met and conversed with these people from Helmand, I knew we could work together,” Masuma testified to the other Volunteers who had gathered on another occasion to hear from four members of the Movement.

How about fear? How do we deal with legitimate fears?

The Volunteers were grappling with multiple concerns before they went to the big meeting organized by the PPM, held just next to Ghazi Stadium, where the Taliban used to execute people publicly.

Surely, Zindani, with his past trauma of losing eight family members to war, has been afraid all through his dark journey. Fear is an emotion we can work with, like our experience of fear even in love, like Zindani did in creating two poetic lines for his teenage girl-friend:

I am too scared to even drink water
It may fade my beloved’s name on my heart.

Love triumphs over fear.

“We’ll go together, come what may,” Khalid, an Afghan Peace Volunteer who is a university undergraduate, had said. At the large gathering, Khalid was so ‘fired up’ that he overcame his usual shyness for 30 seconds on stage, delivering two lines of a Pashto poem which meant:

Whatever you destroy,
don’t destroy my thoughts and my mind.

The young want an end to war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

 

The old want an end to war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

 

The APVs, the PPM and the people want an end to war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

That’s how we can overcome fear, and end the obsolete human institution of war.

We can love.

We can think anew.

We can turn up together.

In Afghanistan, Our Need to Rethink the Institution of War

It’s frustrating that whereas all human beings wish to live meaningful lives, we seem helpless in the face of a few individuals waging wars and exploiting our world.

But we can each do something about this insensible status quo, as ordinary folk of the People’s Peace Movement ( PPM) show us by taking one barefoot-step at a time, traveling to the Northern areas of Afghanistan to persuade fellow Afghans, whether they’re with ‘insurgent groups’ or with the U.S./NATO/Afghan forces, to stop fighting.

The People’s Peace Movement (PPM) walking barefoot to the Northern provinces of Afghanistan, led by a blind member of their group, Zindani (Photo taken from PPM’s Facebook Page)

Their action of walking without shoes suggest to us that, for us to survive today’s militarized and profit-driven norms, we have to live each day differently, and with clarity and compassion.

We’ve been thinking that we need armies to stop ‘terrorists’, but armies don’t stop ‘terrorists’. Instead, they give ‘terrorists’ reason to keep fighting.

We need to think anew.

Moreover, the roots of ‘terrorism’ lie within ourselves. We are our own source of wars.

Iqbal Khyber, a representative of PPM, told the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) about how violence has taken root in all of us. “A blind member of our group, Zindani (a name he gave himself after he was blinded by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb, meaning ‘imprisoned’ ) had so much pain in him that one evening when we were camped outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, he pleaded with me, ‘Can I throw a pebble at the fence?’ ”

“I advised Zindani, ‘No, we need to end the anger inside us.’” Iqbal continued.

Zindani is rightfully angry because he has been hurt by all sides of the Afghan conflict, like all civilians in all wars. His father literally disappeared from his life when he was just seven, as a bomb from a U.S. airstrike in Helmand left ‘a crater so large that no trace of his father and uncle could be found’. Years later, another bomb, this time a Taliban device, killed his sister and blinded him. He not only lost his sight, but he also lost the chance to marry the teenage love of his life.

The crowd at the PPM’s meeting in Kabul on the 9th of August 2018. Zindani is determined to end war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

At a large gathering in Kabul, Zindani sat in front of a crowd of Afghans who were shouting, “We want peace! Enough war! ” He had a brown turban wrapped over his head and eyes, and a Borderfree blue scarf of the Afghan Peace Volunteers draped around his neck.

Zindani is determined to end war (Photo by Dr. Hakim)

He was quiet.

But his stand was clear. He had already walked more than 700 km from Helmand to Kabul, and he was ready to persist.

He couldn’t see the crowd before him, but he could hear them, and understand their intense desire to end the war.

What makes us think that ordinary people like Zindani, or we ourselves, cannot end ‘terrorism’ and wars through nonviolent methods? Misinformation has infected us with doubts.

One way to work through those doubts is to emulate Zindani, members of the PPM and the APVs: relate person-to-person, ask, “How can we live better?”, listen, love.

And to take courage in not doubting love when we encounter it.

“I was suspicious of their intentions. Politicians and leaders have misused the people so much we can no longer trust one another. But, when I met and conversed with these people from Helmand, I knew we could work together,” Masuma testified to the other Volunteers who had gathered on another occasion to hear from four members of the Movement.

How about fear? How do we deal with legitimate fears?

The Volunteers were grappling with multiple concerns before they went to the big meeting organized by the PPM, held just next to Ghazi Stadium, where the Taliban used to execute people publicly.

Surely, Zindani, with his past trauma of losing eight family members to war, has been afraid all through his dark journey. Fear is an emotion we can work with, like our experience of fear even in love, like Zindani did in creating two poetic lines for his teenage girl-friend:

I am too scared to even drink water
It may fade my beloved’s name on my heart.

Love triumphs over fear.

“We’ll go together, come what may,” Khalid, an Afghan Peace Volunteer who is a university undergraduate, had said. At the large gathering, Khalid was so ‘fired up’ that he overcame his usual shyness for 30 seconds on stage, delivering two lines of a Pashto poem which meant:

Whatever you destroy,
don’t destroy my thoughts and my mind.

The young want an end to war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

 

The old want an end to war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

 

The APVs, the PPM and the people want an end to war (Photo by Dr Hakim)

That’s how we can overcome fear, and end the obsolete human institution of war.

We can love.

We can think anew.

We can turn up together.

Uri Avnery, Israeli Activist for a Palestinian State, Dead at 94

Uri Avnery, a self-confessed former “Jewish terrorist” who went on to become Israel’s best-known peace activist, died in Tel Aviv on Monday, following a stroke. He was 94.

As one of Israel’s founding generation, Avnery was able to gain the ear of prime ministers, even while he spent decades editing an anti-establishment magazine that was a thorn in their side.

He came to wider attention in 1982 as the first Israeli to meet Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. At the time, Arafat and the PLO were reviled in Israel and much of the west as terrorists.

Famously, Avnery smuggled himself past the Israeli army’s siege lines around Beirut to reach Arafat. The pair were reported to have maintained close ties until the Palestinian leader’s much speculated upon death in 2004.

Avnery founded Israel’s only significant – if small – peace movement, Gush Shalom, in 1993.

He and his followers tried to build political pressure in Israel and abroad, seeking to convert the lip service paid to a two-state solution in the Oslo peace process into a concrete Palestinian state.

A harsh critic of Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government until the end, Avnery filed his final weekly column two weeks ago, lambasting Israel’s new Nation-State Basic Law as “semi-fascist”.

For Israel’s currently besieged peace bloc, Avnery’s passing is a significant blow.

Despite tributes from Israeli opposition politicians on Monday, his voice had long ago become marginalised at home. He was the last major public figure still visibly fighting to bring about a two-state solution.

His unyielding positions in support of an Oslo-style peace had begun to appear to many on the Israeli right and left as obsolete, especially after Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the White House. Since then, Israel has barely veiled its intention to annex parts of the West Bank, destroying any hope of a Palestinian state.

Avnery publicly rejected a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a shared, single state for Israelis and Palestinians.

He also opposed a general boycott of Israel, as advocated by the growing international BDS movement. Gush Shalom, however, did support boycotts restricted to the settlements.

Avnery arrived in what was then British-ruled Palestine in 1933, aged 10, emigrating with his family from Germany as the Nazis rose to power.

At 15, he was an young recruit to the Irgun, an underground Jewish militia the British classified as a terrorist organisation. But increasingly disenchanted with its attacks on Palestinian civilians, he quit a few years later.

Avnery fought with the Haganah – later to become the Israel Defence Forces – during the 1948 war that founded a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. In later books and articles, he referred to his unit’s role in committing war crimes against Palestinians in the Negev region, in modern Israel’s south.

During the fighting, he was seriously wounded. His dispatches from the battlefront, later compiled as a book, briefly made him a national hero.

But his popularity soon waned. In his memoir, he described his convalescence as a period of dramatic change in his thinking: “The war totally convinced me there is a Palestinian people, and that peace must be forged first and foremost with them.”

It was then, he added, that he became a committed advocate for a Palestinian state.

Through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Avnery was best known for publishing his weekly magazine Haolam Hazeh (This World). Its mix of ground-breaking investigations, political muckraking and dissident opinion made him many enemies in the ruling Labour party.

The head of Israel’s domestic intelligence service of the time described Avnery as “Government Enemy No 1”. The magazine’s offices were bombed several times, and Avnery was seriously assaulted. The publication only closed when Avnery started Gush Shalom. The movement on Monday described him as “a far-seeing visionary who pointed to a way which others failed to see”.

Though a dissident figure, Avnery had been popular enough on the left to launch a separate political career, winning seats in Israel’s parliament in the 1965, 1969 and 1977 elections.

When he made a speech in the parliament to relinquish his seat in 1981, he caused an uproar by being the first legislator to wave the Palestinian and Israeli flags alongside each other.

But it was in 1982 that he established a reputation outside Israel. He was smuggled into Beirut to meet Arafat, as Israeli forces encircled the city in an effort to remove the PLO from Lebanon.

It later emerged that Israeli soldiers had been tracking Avnery in a bid to locate Arafat’s hideout and assassinate him. Avnery’s Palestinian escorts managed to elude them.

In his columns, Avnery often credited himself with using the trust he built with Arafat over the next few years to persuade the Palestinian leader to change the PLO’s political direction.

In 1988 Arafat renounced a long-standing Palestinian commitment to a single secular democratic state in historic Palestine, and formally accepted the idea of partitioning the territory into two states.

It was a concession that paved the way to the Oslo accords, signed between Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn in 1993.

That same year Avnery founded Gush Shalom, or “peace bloc”, to build on that momentum as Arafat and the PLO were allowed to return to parts of the occupied territories from which Israel had withdrawn.

As well as believing in the right of Palestinians to freedom, Avnery argued strongly that Israel’s Jewish demographic majority would be under threat unless it separated from the large Palestinian population in the occupied territories.

There were suspicions that some of Arafat’s more misguided assumptions about Israeli society – especially regarding the strength of the peace bloc and the public’s receptivity to the Oslo process – were informed by Avnery.

When the peace process effectively collapsed with the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000 and the eruption of a Palestinian uprising, Avnery again found his message of reconciliation out of favour in Israel.

But in his late seventies, he found a new international audience, as his translated columns were disseminated online.

Avnery hoped through his writings to resurrect what was left of his political legacy. But more often his columns were sought out for the light he could shed on current controversies, drawing on insights gained from his knowledge of historical episodes now largely overlooked.

At the height of the second intifada, Avnery and Gush Shalom were often alongside Palestinians protesting against abuses by the Israeli military or the settlers. They also demonstrated to stop Israel’s building of a “separation barrier” that subsequently ate up large chunks of Palestinian land in the West Bank.

In 2003, Avnery joined Arafat in his besieged presidential compound in Ramallah, serving as a “human shield” – to foil an expected Israeli assassination attempt. After Arafat died in mysterious circumstances a year later, Avnery was among those arguing that Israel was behind his poisoning.

His last column explored one of his enduring concerns: Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. It was provoked by the recent passage of the Nation-State Basic Law, which confers on Jews around the world privileges in Israel that are denied to the country’s large minority of Palestinian citizens.

For many years Avnery had been among those warning that Israel could not be a democracy if it did not treat all citizens as equal, but instead allocated key rights based on differing Jewish and Arab nationalities.

In 2013 he and other Israelis appealed to the supreme court to recognise for the first time an Israeli nationality shared by all citizens. The judges rejected their arguments.

• First published in The National

Uri Avnery, Israeli Activist for a Palestinian State, Dead at 94

Uri Avnery, a self-confessed former “Jewish terrorist” who went on to become Israel’s best-known peace activist, died in Tel Aviv on Monday, following a stroke. He was 94.

As one of Israel’s founding generation, Avnery was able to gain the ear of prime ministers, even while he spent decades editing an anti-establishment magazine that was a thorn in their side.

He came to wider attention in 1982 as the first Israeli to meet Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. At the time, Arafat and the PLO were reviled in Israel and much of the west as terrorists.

Famously, Avnery smuggled himself past the Israeli army’s siege lines around Beirut to reach Arafat. The pair were reported to have maintained close ties until the Palestinian leader’s much speculated upon death in 2004.

Avnery founded Israel’s only significant – if small – peace movement, Gush Shalom, in 1993.

He and his followers tried to build political pressure in Israel and abroad, seeking to convert the lip service paid to a two-state solution in the Oslo peace process into a concrete Palestinian state.

A harsh critic of Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government until the end, Avnery filed his final weekly column two weeks ago, lambasting Israel’s new Nation-State Basic Law as “semi-fascist”.

For Israel’s currently besieged peace bloc, Avnery’s passing is a significant blow.

Despite tributes from Israeli opposition politicians on Monday, his voice had long ago become marginalised at home. He was the last major public figure still visibly fighting to bring about a two-state solution.

His unyielding positions in support of an Oslo-style peace had begun to appear to many on the Israeli right and left as obsolete, especially after Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the White House. Since then, Israel has barely veiled its intention to annex parts of the West Bank, destroying any hope of a Palestinian state.

Avnery publicly rejected a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a shared, single state for Israelis and Palestinians.

He also opposed a general boycott of Israel, as advocated by the growing international BDS movement. Gush Shalom, however, did support boycotts restricted to the settlements.

Avnery arrived in what was then British-ruled Palestine in 1933, aged 10, emigrating with his family from Germany as the Nazis rose to power.

At 15, he was an young recruit to the Irgun, an underground Jewish militia the British classified as a terrorist organisation. But increasingly disenchanted with its attacks on Palestinian civilians, he quit a few years later.

Avnery fought with the Haganah – later to become the Israel Defence Forces – during the 1948 war that founded a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. In later books and articles, he referred to his unit’s role in committing war crimes against Palestinians in the Negev region, in modern Israel’s south.

During the fighting, he was seriously wounded. His dispatches from the battlefront, later compiled as a book, briefly made him a national hero.

But his popularity soon waned. In his memoir, he described his convalescence as a period of dramatic change in his thinking: “The war totally convinced me there is a Palestinian people, and that peace must be forged first and foremost with them.”

It was then, he added, that he became a committed advocate for a Palestinian state.

Through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Avnery was best known for publishing his weekly magazine Haolam Hazeh (This World). Its mix of ground-breaking investigations, political muckraking and dissident opinion made him many enemies in the ruling Labour party.

The head of Israel’s domestic intelligence service of the time described Avnery as “Government Enemy No 1”. The magazine’s offices were bombed several times, and Avnery was seriously assaulted. The publication only closed when Avnery started Gush Shalom. The movement on Monday described him as “a far-seeing visionary who pointed to a way which others failed to see”.

Though a dissident figure, Avnery had been popular enough on the left to launch a separate political career, winning seats in Israel’s parliament in the 1965, 1969 and 1977 elections.

When he made a speech in the parliament to relinquish his seat in 1981, he caused an uproar by being the first legislator to wave the Palestinian and Israeli flags alongside each other.

But it was in 1982 that he established a reputation outside Israel. He was smuggled into Beirut to meet Arafat, as Israeli forces encircled the city in an effort to remove the PLO from Lebanon.

It later emerged that Israeli soldiers had been tracking Avnery in a bid to locate Arafat’s hideout and assassinate him. Avnery’s Palestinian escorts managed to elude them.

In his columns, Avnery often credited himself with using the trust he built with Arafat over the next few years to persuade the Palestinian leader to change the PLO’s political direction.

In 1988 Arafat renounced a long-standing Palestinian commitment to a single secular democratic state in historic Palestine, and formally accepted the idea of partitioning the territory into two states.

It was a concession that paved the way to the Oslo accords, signed between Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn in 1993.

That same year Avnery founded Gush Shalom, or “peace bloc”, to build on that momentum as Arafat and the PLO were allowed to return to parts of the occupied territories from which Israel had withdrawn.

As well as believing in the right of Palestinians to freedom, Avnery argued strongly that Israel’s Jewish demographic majority would be under threat unless it separated from the large Palestinian population in the occupied territories.

There were suspicions that some of Arafat’s more misguided assumptions about Israeli society – especially regarding the strength of the peace bloc and the public’s receptivity to the Oslo process – were informed by Avnery.

When the peace process effectively collapsed with the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000 and the eruption of a Palestinian uprising, Avnery again found his message of reconciliation out of favour in Israel.

But in his late seventies, he found a new international audience, as his translated columns were disseminated online.

Avnery hoped through his writings to resurrect what was left of his political legacy. But more often his columns were sought out for the light he could shed on current controversies, drawing on insights gained from his knowledge of historical episodes now largely overlooked.

At the height of the second intifada, Avnery and Gush Shalom were often alongside Palestinians protesting against abuses by the Israeli military or the settlers. They also demonstrated to stop Israel’s building of a “separation barrier” that subsequently ate up large chunks of Palestinian land in the West Bank.

In 2003, Avnery joined Arafat in his besieged presidential compound in Ramallah, serving as a “human shield” – to foil an expected Israeli assassination attempt. After Arafat died in mysterious circumstances a year later, Avnery was among those arguing that Israel was behind his poisoning.

His last column explored one of his enduring concerns: Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. It was provoked by the recent passage of the Nation-State Basic Law, which confers on Jews around the world privileges in Israel that are denied to the country’s large minority of Palestinian citizens.

For many years Avnery had been among those warning that Israel could not be a democracy if it did not treat all citizens as equal, but instead allocated key rights based on differing Jewish and Arab nationalities.

In 2013 he and other Israelis appealed to the supreme court to recognise for the first time an Israeli nationality shared by all citizens. The judges rejected their arguments.

• First published in The National