Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good news of the day: Quebec students protest, Indonesian workers win

As we've seen from the unfolding revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, or the struggle in Wisconsin that has gripped America, good news is infectious. It's medicine for the heart and soul. It's for this reason that it's often kept out of the media, lest other people feel inspired and confident to stand up for justice. While many of my blog posts concern what's wrong with the world, I've decided to balance it out by looking at what's right. So I'm starting a new series on my blog called "Good news of the day", where I'll post inspiring stories I've come across that day. Feel free to share others on my blog, or send me tweets.

Today I'm happy to write about two inspiring and underreported stories.

Quebec stands up against austerity
Firstly, a mass student protest in Quebec. Though you wouldn't know if from the complete media blackout in English Canada, tens of thousands of students in French Canada are taking to the streets right now against government plans to increase tuition. A strong student movement, which this demonstration is building upon and continuing, has made Quebec the province with the lowest tuition and (as a result) highest accessibility, as spokesperson for the Quebec student group ASSE explained:
"We're the province where tuition fees are the lowest, but also the province where the attendance of post-secondary institutions is the highest. We're talking about 9%  higher than the Canadian average. We should be proud because the results for accessibility are clear."
The student movement is part of a broader fightback against the austerity agenda of the ruling Liberals. The protest today follows on an equally ignored mobilization two weeks ago that saw 55,000 people march through Montreal demanding tuition fee freeze, accessible public healthcare, and a moratoium on shale gas drilling. As a spokesperson for one of the major trade unions declared at the time, "We're in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin." While the Parti Quebecois governments have had the same record in office, the people of Quebec have an alternative party that is campaigning against austerity: Quebec solidaire. As their Member of the National Assembly, Amir Khadir said, "there is a need to unite people, there is a growing capacity in our society to say no to government policies and government decisions."

Indonesia workers smell the sweet aroma of a freshly-brewed cup o' victory
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Indonesian workers have claimed victory in a long year battle against Nestle--the multibillion dollar food and nutrition company whose motto is "Good Food, Good Life".  (Thanks to Labour Start for the alert). For more than a decade, the Union of NestlĂ© Indonesia Workers in the NescafĂ© factory in Panjang (SBNIP, an affiliate of the International Union of Foodworkers) has represented workers at the country's only factory that produces the Nescafe coffee. For 3 years the union has demanded basic democratic rights of collective bargaining and freedom of association, but Nestle has refused and even created a fake union that it pressured workers to join. But after a 3 year battle--which received internationally solidarity under the banner of Nespressure, including last year's solidarity picket outside Nespresso shops in New York City--the workers today claimed victory. According to the Indonesian trade union SBNIP, affiliate of the representing the workers:
"This victory is not for IUF and affiliated SBNIP only, this is a real victory for all Indonesian workers. This is a very historic victory that from now on the Indonesian workers will have rights to determine their own wages through CBA negotiation."
 It's nice to wake up and smell the sweet aroma of victory!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Harp-natieff: corporate Canada's coalition

In the upcoming federal election, Canadians face the threat of a coalition: the unofficial alliance between the Liberals and the Conservatives that for years has promoted inequality and social program cuts, civil liberty violations, environmental destruction, weapons and war. Campaigning on these issues can help expose the real coalition threat, and promote alternatives at the ballot box and in the streets.

     Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff are increasingly merging. Ignatieff has even allowed Harper to defeat his own party's initiatives, from Bob Rae's maternal health motion in the lead up to the G20 protest, to John McKay's Bill C-300 that would hold mining companies accountable for human rights and environmental abuses. In fact, Ignatieff is so similar to Harper that he doesn't feel the need to even show up to Parliament: Ignatieff has the worst attendance record of any Member of Parliament, having missed 182 votes between 2008 and 2010.
     But the Liberal-Tory coalition is not based on the personalities of its leaders, but the composition of its base. While the NDP is based in the trade unions and social movements, the Liberals and the Conservatives represent the twin parties of corporate Canada (like the twin parties of corporate America, the Democrats and Republicans). They depend on, and enact policies to benefit Canadian corporations and elites (for more on this check out this article by Stephen James Kerr). It's for this reason that the Liberals and Conservatives have formed such a stable coalition for so many years, to the detriment of Canadians.

     By opposing Harper's corporate tax cuts, the Liberals are trying to appeal to the majority of Canadians while hiding their own history. The Liberals under Paul Martin gave a $100 billion tax cut, while Ignatieff states on the Liberals' own website that "Liberal governments brought the corporate tax rate down from 28% to 19%". The accompanying graph shows a decade of corporate tax cuts by both Liberals and Conservatives, the Liberals only temporarily objecting to further cuts. Who paid for all this? According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives,
"The Liberal government balanced the books in the late 1990s thanks to swift and savage cuts to social programs. Program cuts allowed the government to balance its books, but also left a trail of growing poverty, widening income disparities, and deteriorating public services."  
After 12 years in power, the Liberals left Canada's child poverty rate the same as they found it, despite a boom in the economy. According to Statscan, "Between 1999 and 2005, the median net worth of families in the top fifth of the wealth distribution increased by 19%, while the net worth of their counterparts in the bottom fifth remained virtually unchanged." The Liberal-Tory coalition have continued their policies of serving the rich over the rest, giving, wiping out the $57 billion Employment Insurance surplus, and then defeating a bill to strengthen Employment Insurance.

     Harper is rightly being criticized for spending $1 billion on the G20 summit, including the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. This follows a trend set by the Liberals, from the 1997 APEC summit where Jean Chretien joked about pepper-spraying demonstrators in the face, to the 2001 mass arrests at the FTAA summit, to Bill C-35 and C-36 that criminalized protesters, to the half-billion dollar militarized G8 summit in Kananaskis. As members of the "opposition", the Liberals have joined the Conservatives in passing Bill C-3 to continue secret trials in Canada.

     From his promotion of Tar Sands to his contempt for Kyoto, Harper is rightly considered one of the most environmentally destructive leaders Canada has had. But as Environment Canada indicates, there is a smooth continuity in the dramatic escalation of greenhouse gas emissions over the past twenty years, from Liberal to Tory governments. According to Statscan,
"In 2004, Canada was 35% above the Kyoto target...The 27% increase in total greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2004 outpaced the increase in population (15%). This means that emissions per capita rose 10% from 1990 to reach 24 tonnes per person in 2004, making Canada one of the highest per capita emitters in the world."
In 2009 Ignatieff said opposing the Tar Sands was "the stupidest thing you can do". Later that year, on the eve of the climate talks in Copenhagen, Greenpeace members dropped a banner off of Parliament targeting both Harper and Ignatieff for their collective failure to promote targets to reduce carbon emissions. Last year, Liberal senators voted with their feet and helped Harper kill a climate bill that had already been passed by Parliament.

     As Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade documents,

"For decades, Canadian governments -- Conservative and Liberal alike -- have preached peace and human rights, while facilitating the steady flow of weapons, ammunition, tear gas, armoured vehicles and many other military and so-called 'security' products to repressive, undemocratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa...According to official reports published annually by DFAIT  -- which unfortunately only document some of Canada's military exports -- the Canadian government permitted military sales valued at over $1.99 Billion to 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa between 1990 and 2006."

Official government foreign policy has had the same degree of unity between Conservatives and Liberals--like the foreign policy continuity between Republicans and Democrats. While the Conservatives (with the support of the Liberals) joined the 1991 Gulf War and 1993 "humanitarian intervention" in Somalia--where soldiers tortured a teenager to death--the Liberals (with the support of the Conservatives) joined the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia and the 2001 war in Afghanistan. A mass anti-war movement stopped the Liberals from taking part in the 2003 Iraq War (but didn't stop Ignatieff from supporting it in the press), but in 2004 Liberals Prime Minister Paul Martin praised Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi while overthrowing Haiti's democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand-Aristide. Then it was back to the Conservatives (with the support of the Liberals) to support Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon and its 2009 war on Gaza, the militarization of aid to Haiti following its 2010 earthquake, and the current war in Libya. While the majority of Canadians want the troops home from Afghanistan--as position the NDP has officially had since 2006--the Liberals have joined the Tories in extending Canada's presence in Afghanistan three times.
     In an attempt to appeal to the anti-war majority and hide their own complicity, the Liberals are claiming they oppose Harper's $30 billion fighter jet deal. But it is not the jets themselves to which the Liberals are opposed, but the way in which they're procured. According to a Liberal press release,
"Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said that to prevent further abuse, a future Liberal government will cancel the F-35 stealth fighter deal and hold an open competition to replace Canada’s CF-18s...'We need an open debate about whether these are the right planes, and to make sure we’re getting them for the right price,' he stated." 
Furthermore, it's meaningless to oppose fighter jet deals while supporting their continual use, most recently in Libya. It's only a matter of time before Harper uses the war in Libya to justify the fighter jets, exposing the contradictory position of the opposition parties who support the war.

     The majority of Canadians are against war and corporate tax cuts, and support environmental sustainability and social programs. But the coalition between Conservatives and Liberals, and the lack of an alternative, is keeping Harper in power. As an analysis of the last election pointed out:
"In the wake of the election, Harper claims that he has won a 'strong mandate.' But the figures don’t support him. A clear majority of 62 percent voted against Harper. The Conservatives’ vote only increased by one percent, and their total vote actually dropped by almost 170,000 votes since 2006. That fewer Conservative votes translated into 16 more seats was only possible because of a large collapse of Liberal support. Conservative gains are more a reflection of Liberal losses than a shift to the right. Seen through the lens of “Anybody but Conservative” (ABC), the election results seem to indicate a rise in Conservative voters. But the real story of the election is not a 16 seat gain for the Conservatives. The real story is a dramatic drop in votes for the twin parties of corporate Canada—the Conservatives and the Liberals.
In 2000, the combined corporate vote was 78 percent. In 2004—after the anti-capitalist mobilization against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec City in 2001, the G8 protests in Calgary in 2002, and the historic demonstrations against the war in Iraq in 2003—the combined corporate vote fell to 66 percent. It stayed the same in 2006, but with growing anger over the war and the economic crisis, it has fallen again, now down to 63.8 percent. Though the Conservatives gained seats, the combined number of Conservative and Liberal seats actually decreased, from 227 in 2006 to 219 in 2008. Most significantly, one million fewer people voted for corporate Canada, a drop of 10 per cent...
Ultimately, the ABC approach counter-poses parliamentary politics with grassroots struggles. The record-low voter turn-out seems to suggest that the public is increasingly frustrated with the electoral process and the lack of real alternatives in federal politics. While the past few years have seen widespread mobilizations on issues including the war in Afghanistan, the environment, Native rights, tuition fees and access to post-secondary education, a women’s right to choose, war resisters, health care, funding for the arts, and others, voter turn-out reached an historic low. Falling below 60 percent, it reflects not apathy, but a crisis in federal politics, when no party campaigns on the issues that affect ordinary people on a daily basis, and that mobilize them to fight back. Voters felt that the parties offered no real solutions. As a result, the $300 million-reconfiguration of a minority government was achieved largely based on who lost the highest number of votes. One million people left the two corporate parties. The resulting Liberal collapse—their worst ever results—allowed the Conservatives to pick up seats, while winning fewer votes. The Liberals also hemorrhaged to the left, allowing the NDP to pick up seats, while also winning fewer votes. The only party to gain votes was the Greens, who successfully portrayed themselves as a real alternative to the mainstream parties—despite the reality of their platform."
     But later that year the NDP appeared prepared to enter a coalition with the Liberals, by dropping their two key platforms: opposition to $50 billion in tax cuts and demanding an end to the war in Afghanistan. By driving a wedge between the ballot box and the social movements the NDP demobilized their supporters, and Harper rode the polls on a backlash, which he's trying to recreate this election.
     The real way to oppose Harper is not by building illusions in Ignatieff and the Liberals but by building the social movements that protect against their policies, injecting them into the campaign, and having the only party linked with these movements--the NDP--campaign on these issues. So it's great timing that there are rallies across the country on  April 9 against the war in Afghanistan, which will give us the chance to expose the corporate coalition while strengthening the campaigns that are crucial to confronting it during and after the election.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

From Afghanistan to Libya, 10 years of imperialism and resistance

On the centenary of Italy's invasion of Libya, ten years into the war on Afghanistan, and exactly 8 years after the Iraq War, the West has launched yet another "humanitarian intervention", again in Libya. These have been justified on the basis of tyrants slaughtering their people, the West having a “responsibility to protect”, sections of the resistance calling for or supporting intervention, and support by the United Nations Security Council (except for the Iraq War). The past decade of experience shows the limits of these justifications, while exposing the real context of these various interventions: growing inter-imperialist rivalry, sharpened by the economic crisis, and threatened by popular movements.

2001 Contradictions of US imperialism, and complicity of the UN
     Since the end of the Cold War, the US has retained overwhelming military power but has seen its share of the world economy decline, with rivals in Europe and Asia emerging to compete for Middle East and African resources. As a consequence US imperialism has projected its military power to make up for economic decline; with a smaller carrot it relies on a bigger stick. In 2000, strategists with the Project for a New American Century put the case like this: 
“There are potentially powerful states dissatisfied with the current situation and eager to change it, if they can, in directions that endanger the relatively peaceful, prosperous and free condition the world enjoys today. Up to now, they have been deterred from doing so by the capability and global presence of American military power. But, as that power declines, relatively and absolutely, the happy conditions that follow from it will be inevitably undermined. Preserving the desirable strategic situation in which the United States now finds itself requires a globally preeminent military capability both today and in the future.”
Just 9 days after the 9/11 tragedy, this group called for war against Afghanistan and Iraq, attacks on resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine and threats to Syria and Iran--outlining the next 5 years of US foreign policy. But it was dressed up as humanitarian intervention with arguments that sound rather familiar:
“The United States must provide full military and financial support to the Iraqi opposition. American military force should be used to provide a 'safe zone' in Iraq from which the opposition can operate. And American forces must be prepared to back up our commitment to the Iraqi opposition by all necessary means.” 
Through the 1990s the US supported the Taliban for oil pipelines, but turned against them when they couldn't maintain stability. The war in Afghanistan was then justified by the horrible record of the Taliban and by appealing to women's rights and democracy (both of which had been ignored, and neither of which have materialized after 10 years of occupation). Meanwhile others supported the war for more traditional reasons. As Michael Ignatieff argued,
"Imperialism used to be the white man's burden. This gave it a bad reputation. But imperialism doesn't stop being necessary just because it becomes politically incorrect...[Afghans] understand that their best hope lies in a temporary experience of imperial rule."
     The distinction between a US and UN intervention has been irrelevant to the experience of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. For more than a decade, Iraq was under UN sanctions and a US/UK "no-fly zone", which British Prime Minister Tony Blair described at the time as "performing vital humanitarian tasks". This twin intervention killed half a million Iraqi children, strengthened the grip of Saddam Hussein, and spread cancer through depleted uranium (which is currently being used on Libya). Meanwhile the war and occupation in Afghanistan has been administered through a combination of US, UN and NATO.

2003 Iraq War, imperial rivals, anti-war movement
     Through 2002 and 2003 the case was built for another war against another former Western ally, where "no-fly zones" paved the way for "shock and awe". The war was justified not only with the lies of WMDs and links to 9/11, but also the true record of Saddam Hussein gasing the Kurds (when he was ally of the West) and appeals by opposition forces. But the anti-war movement knew--and has been tragically vindicated--that military intervention would only make things worse, and that the best way to show support for Iraqis was to stop our own government’s from attacking. There were huge demonstrations peaking on February 15, 2003: the largest mobilization in human history.
     In Canada the anti-war movement won the NDP to a position of no war with or without the UN (after its initial position of supporting a UN war) and split the ruling Liberals—forcing Prime Minister Chretien to say no to the US-led invasion. The global anti-war movement also exposed inter-imperialist rivalry, as Russia, Germany, France, and China refused to support the war. Whereas the US was able to marshal a huge UN coalition to participate and pay for the Gulf War, growing inter-imperialist rivalry and the global anti-war movement reduced the Iraq War to a small “coalition of the willing” that was further eroded when the anti-war movements in Spain and Italy forced the withdrawal of their troops.

2004 Support for Gaddafi, coup against Aristide
     The year 2004 showed the commitment to freedom and democracy by those currently intervening in Libya. On the one hand, Gaddafi was brought back into the "international community", and the West sold the Libyan dictator weapons with which to oppress his own people. The same year the US, France and Canada overthrew Haiti’s democratically-elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, for trying to improve the standard of living of his people. The occupation became a UN mission headed by Brazil to give it a veneer of international and regional support, while ignoring Haitians.

2006 Proxy wars and a return to multilateralism
     By 2006 the Iraq and Afghan resistance movements and the global anti-war movement had turned these occupations into trillion dollar quagmires. Americans gave the Bush administration a beating in the midterm elections, largely seen as a referendum on the Iraq War, while “regime change” abroad was being turned on its head in the Middle East (with electoral gains for Hamas in Gaza, the Muslims Broterhood in Egypt, and Hizbullah in Lebanon) and Latin America (from the re-election of Chavez to the election of Morales). Bogged down in quagmire, the US resorted to proxy wars—backing Israel’s war on Lebanon and Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia (during which there wasn’t a peep in the press calling for “no-fly zones” to protect innocent civilians there), while the "international community" imposed an economic siege on Gaza after their democratic elections. While Canada extended its occupation of Afghanistan for the first time, the US establishment was working on a way to extricate itself from Iraq while maintaining control of the region. As Zbigniew Brzezinszki argued, fearing the revolutions that are now unfolding:
“The president, and America’s political leadership, must recognise that the US role in the world is being gravely undermined by the policies launched more than three years ago. The destructive war in Iraq, the hypocritical indifference to the human dimensions of the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations, the lack of diplomatic initiative in dealing with Iran and the frequent use of Islamophobic rhetoric are setting in motion forces that threaten to push America out of the Middle East, with dire consequences for itself and its friends in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.”
2008 Economic crisis, rivalry, and militarization
     In 2008 Barack Obama was catapulted to the White House by two contradictory forces demanding change: on the one hand the anti-war, anti-racist, labour and other progressive movements fighting against what Bush had done at home and abroad, and on the other hand the US establishment eager to rehabilitate US imperialism. While Obama spoke out against the Iraq War, in foreign policy circles he reflected Brzezinsky's analysis--saying to a AIPAC what he meant by "change":
“We will redeploy our troops to other locations in the region, reassuring our allies that we will stay engaged in the Middle East… a consequence of the Administration's failed strategy in Iraq has been to strengthen Iran's strategic position; reduce U.S. credibility and influence in the region; and place Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril. These are not the signs of a well-paved road. It is time for profound change. As the U.S. redeploys from Iraq, we can recapture lost influence in the Middle East. We can refocus our efforts to critical, yet neglected priorities, such as combating international terrorism and winning the war in Afghanistan. And we can, then, more effectively deal with one of the greatest threats to the United States, Israel and world peace: Iran.” 
In 2008 the start of the economic crisis heightened the contradiction between America’s economy and its military power, and sharpened inter-imperialist rivalry, while growing anti-war movements won a majority of people against the Afghanistan war. General Jim Jones, former NATO commander and current US National Security Advisor, authored the Afghan Study Group, noting with alarm that 
“strong public opposition to the Afghan war has grown in Canada, the Netherlands, and Germany, among others, threatening to fray the coalition. An increasingly unilateral mission will be politically vulnerable in Afghanistan, the US, and NATO. A failure of the NATO mission in Afghanistan would also damage the future prospects of the organization itself.”
In response the Canadian government ignored the anti-war majority, extended its presence in Afghanistan for the second time and quietly launched the $490 billion Canada First Defense Strategy). The US sparred with Russia in the  proxy war between Georgia and South Ossetia over Caspian oil, and developed an African Command (Africom) to compete with China and others over the continent’s resources. As J Pham from the American thinktank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies explained, one of the goals of Africom is:
“protecting access to hydrocarbons and other strategic resources which Africa has in abundance and promoting the integration of African nations into the global economy – a task which includes assuring against the vulnerability of those natural riches as well as ensuring that no other interested third parties, including China, India, Japan, and Russia, obtains monopolies or preferential treatment.”
2009-2010: Palestine, Tamil Eelam, Pakistan, Haiti
     These years brutally clarified the role of Western "humanitarian intervention", or lack thereof. There were no "no-fly zones" when Israel launched air strikes including chemical weapons on Gaza, when Sri Lanka carried out war crimes on Tamils, or when the US launched drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There was intervention in Haiti after the earthquake, but it was a very specific kind. While Haitians looked for help and ordinary people around the world opened their hearts and their pocket books, the same powers that had overthrown Haitian democracy used the cover of humanitarianism to further their control of the country and the region. Camille Chalmers from the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development, described the role of "humanitarian intervention" in ways that could be applied to current intervention in Libya:
“What the US is doing, the militarisation of Haiti with the pathetic excuse of humanitarian aid, is unacceptable. This is part of a strategy to militarise the Caribbean region, as a way to confront the people’s awakening in Latin America and to also threat the Bolivarian Venezuela Republic. This is no isolated action. There is the military base set up by US imperialism in Curacao, with the complicity of the Dutch government. There are the military bases in Colombia. And now we have this military response to a fundamentally humanitarian problem.”
In 2009 Europe sold Gaddafi the weapons he's currently using against the Libyan people: aircrafts from Italy, electronic jamming equipment from Germany, anti-personnnel chemicals from Belgium. Last year, as Britain sold sniper riffles to Gaddafi, Obama sold $500 million of military equipment to Egypt, Tunisia and Oman, $60 billion worth to Saudi Arabia. When there was a genuine humanitarian intervention to break the illegal siege of Gaza, Israel attacked the aid flotilla killing many of those aboard. Meanwhile Obama added 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and Harper and Ignatieff extended Canada's involvement in Afghanistan for the third time--against the vocal protest of some military families.
2011 Revolution and Counter-revolution
     This year began with inspiring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled Western-backed dictators and triggered revolts across the region from Algeria to Yemen and even Saudia Arabia. People in Iraq protested against the US-backed regime, while continued attacks on Afghan civilians (and emerging horrific photos of troops posing with dead civilians) finally caused president Karzai to ask NATO to leave. This is the context for the war on Libya: a decade of growing inter-imperialist rivalry over other people's resources, sharpened by the economic crisis, and threatened by popular movements. There is a people's awakening across Africa and the Middle East that “threaten to push America out of the Middle East, with dire consequences for itself and its friends in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia”. Our dream is their nightmare. 
     So a week into the Libyan revolution, when Gaddafi was on the defense and there were not yet calls from some rebels for a “no-fly zone”, some of the same strategists behind Project for a New American Century issued another call for war, against another former Western ally,  again under the guise of humanitarianism. Declaring that “we may be on the threshold of a moral and humanitarian catastrophe” the open letter called on Obama to ask NATO to “establish a presence in Libyan airspace to prevent the continued use of fighter jets and helicopter gunships against civilians and carry out other missions as required”. The Brookings Institute described how a "no-fly zone" would actually play out in Libya:
“There is a very considerable danger of escalation or mission creep from a NFZ.  The imposition of a NFZ is not going to prevent Qaddafi’s ground forces from continuing to kill people and, especially if the opposition is unable to hold off his counteroffensives, there could be tremendous pressure to turn the No-FLY Zone into a No-DRIVE Zone—to go after his tanks and other armored vehicles.  That is a much, much more demanding mission for U.S. and NATO air forces. Moreover, we should remember that most of the killing is likely to be done by infantry—guys on foot with rifles.  They are always the ones who inflict the most casualties in civil wars, and it is effectively impossible to prevent them from doing so with only air power.  If you are serious about that, you need boots on the ground.”
We are already at this point, as the “no-fly zone” has destroyed Gaddafi’s small air force but ground attacks are continuing. Obviously the "no-fly zone" has not removed Gaddafi; if anything it has strengthened him, as it strenghtened Hussein and Milosovic, by giving the dictator the chance to portray himself as the defender of the nation. This wasn't helped by the first encounter between US troops and Libyans: when a US jet crashed and Libyan civilians including children went to help the pilots, Americans opened fire on civilians. Meanwhile, the narrow focus on military intervention has silenced the demands of Libyan revolutionaries. While some sections of the Libyan revolution called for “no-fly zones”, it was qualified with opposition to military intervention, and was not the only demand. As Simon Assaf points out:
“Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC), the body that grew out of the revolution, made a series of simple demands in the first crucial days of the uprising. It asked for the recognition of the TNC, access to the billions in sequestrated regime funds in order to buy weapons and other crucial supplies, and an immediate halt to the ‘mercenary flights’ that provided Gaddafi’s regime with its foot soldiers. Western governments refused to accept even one of these demands. They even objected to weapons sales as they said these could fall into the hands of ‘Islamist terrorists.’”
Not only is the West ignoring demands but they are imposing their own, with talk of partitioning Libya--against the expressed wishes of Libyans.  This is not surprising if you consider those who are actually enforcing the "no-fly zone": the UN Security Council is made of the same powers that armed Gaddafi and are competing for Libyan resources, and the Arab League is made of the Western-armed dictatorships trying to contain the revolutionary wave. There are also local politics at play. France is looking for lucrative oil contracts and it’s President Sarkosy is using military invasion to boost his sagging popularity in the lead up to an election. Canada has billions invested in oil and prisons, Prime Minister Harper is facing opposition to $30 billion earmarked for fighter jets, and is eager to join the war to defend both while distracting from the war in Afghanistan. Britain’s David Cameron has been boosting arms sales and oil contracts abroad (including a contract for BP to drill off the Libyan coast) and attacks on multiculturalism at home, and has framed his opposition to Gaddafi in anti-immigrant terms:  
“If Gaddafi's attacks on his own people succeed, Libya will become once again a pariah state, festering on Europe's border, a source of instability, exporting strife beyond her borders. A state from which literally hundreds of thousands of citizens could seek to escape, putting huge pressure on us in Europe.”
If the West supports Libyans so much, why isn't it opening its borders to refugees and war resisters, which would save civilians and undermine Gaddafi's forces? Why was it so eager to arm Gaddafi but so timid to allow the revolutionaries access to weapons? Meanwhile Obama is trying to chart a multilateral approach to US imperialism, provide a cover for the militarization of Africa (Africom has seized on the war in Libya as its first test), distract from the decade-long war in Afghanistan, and bury the memory of the Iraq. While facing criticism from within his own administration over the torture of whistleblower Bradley Manning and denying the visa to Afghan women's rights advocate Malalai Joya, Obama chose the anniversary of the Iraq War itself to launch air attacks on Libya—hiding any mention in the press of his failed promise to end the Iraq War. The war in Libya is also providing a cover for counter-revolution in the region, as Bahrain (along with Saudi troops), Yemen, Syria and Egypt's military rulers lashed out at demonstrators, while Israel launched an air attack that killed children in Gaza.

In the contradiction lies the hope
     But  the new “coalition of the willing” is proving even more unstable that the last one, and revolution can't easily be contained. The African Union refused to participate from the start, and Turkey and the Arab League have vacillated. Inter-imperialist tensions, sharpened by the economic crisis, are rapidly provoking a crisis in the coalition: German abstained from the vote and has now pulled out (under pressure from the anti-war movement, though Merkel shifted more troop to Afghanistan), Italy has accused France of trying to secure oil contracts, and the US has for the second time had to tone down British Prime Minister David Cameron’s aggressive words. At the same time the people of Libya, inspired by their own courage, will not let their revolution be hijacked so easily, and could be get fresh wind if other regional tyrants topple.
     It should be obvious from the past 10 years, let alone the past 100, that Western powers are a band of warring brothers competing for the resources of the region, who armed Taliban/Hussein/Gaddafi and are then used military intervention to reassert control. The past decade, especially the past few months, also shows that only the people of the region are willing and capable of liberating themselves from Western-backed dictators. The best way for those in the West to show solidarity with those in the region is to keep depleted uranium bombs and Western corporations off their land and let them determine their own future. That means joining the many Libya solidarity rallies, demanding an end to military intervention in Libya, and building the April 9 demonstrations in Canada and the US against the war in Afghanistan. As Malalai Joya reminds us:
"No nation can bring liberation to another nation. These are nations that can liberate themselves. The nations that pose themselves as liberators to others will lead them into slavery. What we have experienced in Afghanistan and in Iraq prove this point.
If the US and its allies let us have a little bit of space and peace, then we know what to do with our destiny. The people of Afghanistan don’t want occupation. They need honest support, they need educational support, they need your powerful voice—which means, first of all, international solidarity against the warmongers of your government."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nuclear meltdown is not an alternative to global warming

Whereas the 2010 Gulf Oil spill showed the inherent dangers of the oil economy, the current nuclear crisis in Japan shows that nuclear power is not a solution. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, it’s time to shift away from both oil and nuclear and towards good green jobs for all.

     Japan has been hit by the worst crisis since 1945, as an earthquake and tsunami have killed 10,000,  destroyed tens of thousands of buildings, displaced hundreds of thousands, and left millions without power or water. As the nation braces for more aftershocks, people have resorted to using sea water in an attempt to prevent a nuclear meltdown from adding a third catastrophe, which has already leaked and caused a mass evacuation. According to Greenpeace
"We are told by the nuclear industry that things like this cannot happen with modern reactors, yet Japan is in the middle of a nuclear crisis with potentially devastating consequences…The evolving situation at Fukushima remains far from clear, but what we do know is that contamination from the release of Cesium-137 poses a significant health risk to anyone exposed. Cesium-137 has been one if the isotopes causing the greatest health impacts following the Chernobyl disaster, because it can remain in the environment and food chain for 300 years.”
Whereas the first two catastrophe’s were natural and unpredictable, a nuclear meltdown is entirely unnatural and entirely predictable. According to the local anti-nuclear group, Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre,
"A nuclear disaster which the promoters of nuclear power in Japan said wouldn’t happen is in progress. It is occurring as a result of an earthquake that they said would not happen…and we warned that Japan's nuclear power plants could be subjected to much stronger earthquakes and much bigger tsunamis than they were designed to withstand.”
     The nuclear crisis comes a month before the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the largest nuclear meltdown in history, which showered Europe in a radioactive cloud causing a quarter of a million cancers, 100,000 of them fatal. As of this writing the disaster in Japan is already the third worst in history, behind Chernobyl and the Three Mile Island partial meltdown in 1979, and comes only 12 years after a fatal overexposure of workers at a nuclear plant in Tokaimura, Japan. Even without the inherent risk of a meltdown, nuclear power is a threat to health. The problem is not just the few terrible times when they don't work, but the daily experience of when they do work. As climate campaigner George Monbiot wrote more than a decade ago, 
“The children of women who have worked in nuclear installations, according to a study by the National Radiological Protection Board, are eleven times more likely to contract cancer than the children of workers in non-radioactive industries. You can tell how close to [the nuclear plant in] Sellafield children live by the amount of plutonium in their teeth.”
Add to this the morbidity and mortality or working in uranium mines and the dangers of disposing of radioactive waste, and you have negative health impacts at every stage of nuclear power (for a summary see the UK’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). Despite this, governments have invested massively in the nuclear industry and globalized the risk. Canada has exported nuclear reactors while building seven of its own, and despite concerns about safety the Ontario government plans on investing $36 billion into nuclear power at the same time as its backing off wind power.

     While nuclear power is a clear and present danger to the health of the planet and its people, it is a thriving industry driven by economic and military competition. Vandana Shiva—who studied nuclear physics and now leads the climate justice movement in India—has exposed the hypocrisy of US hostility to Iranian nuclear power when it is doing the same thing to promote nuclear power and weapons in India as a bulwark against China:
“the nuclear deal with India, in fact, shows the double standards of US nuclear policy, because for the same things that Iran does—Iran is "axis of evil"—but India here, through this nuclear agreement, is being told, we will separate civilian use and military use. Military use will be India’s sovereign decision. I don’t think it will be India’s sovereign decision, because I think in this deal is a strategic use of India for Asia, for a containment for China. But in addition to that, there is turning India into a nuclear market: a sale of nuclear technologies, of nuclear fuel…Not only will it spread nuclear risks and hazards in India, it will also allow corporations, like General Electric and others who pollute with carbon dioxide, as well as them, get quotas through emissions trading and markets for nuclear technology.”
As Shiva summarized in her book Soil Not Oil, “nuclear winter is not an alternative to global warming”, and it is a tragedy that Japan has become the test case against both military and civilian arms of the nuclear industry--from the atomic bomb 65 years ago to the nuclear meltdown today.  But instead of admitting the problems of nuclear power, the nuclear industry and its supporters have greenwashed it and presented it as a solution to global warming. Some environmentalists, such as Gaia theorist James Lovelock, have fallen prey to these claims. Lovelock, whose ideas are driven by apocalyptic predictions and an extreme pessimism, has gone so far as to claim that  “nuclear power is the only green solution”.
     While former US president George Bush defended his country’s 103 nuclear power plants as not producing "a single pound of air pollution or greenhouses gases”, Dr. Helen Caldicott has refuted the claim in her important book Nuclear Power is Not the Answer, which proves that even without meltdowns nuclear power is a threat to the planet:
“Nuclear power is not ‘clean and green,’ as the industry claims, because large amounts of traditional fossil fuels are required to mine and refine the uranium needed to run nuclear power reactors, to construct the massive concrete reactor buildings, and to transport and store the toxic radioactive waste created by the nuclear process. Burning of this fossil fuel emits significant quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2)—the primary “greenhouse gas”—into the atmosphere. In addition, large amounts of the now-banned chlorofluorocarbon gas (CFC) are emitted during the enrichment of uranium. CFC gas is not only 10,000 to 20,000 times more efficient as an atmospheric heat trapper (‘greenhouse gas’) than CO2, but it is a classic ‘pollutant’ and a potent destroyer of the ozone layer. While currently the creation of nuclear electricity produces only one-third the amount of CO2 emitted from a similar-sized, conventional gas generator, this is a transitory statistic. Over several decades, as the concentration of available uranium ore declines, more fossil fuels will be required to extract the ore from less concentrated ore veins. Within ten to twenty years, nuclear reactors will produce no net energy because of the massive amounts of fossil fuel that will be necessary to mine and to enrich the remaining poor grades of uranium.”
The false dichotomy between carbon emissions and nuclear power is also refuted by those developing the Tar Sands, who have proposed using nuclear power to pump Tar Sands oil.
     Fortunately there are growing anti-nuclear campaigns uniting indigenous groups, NGOs and the broader climate justice movement to challenge nuclear power in all its stages—from mining to use to waste disporal. As Vandana Shiva writes in Soil Not Oil, 
“in 2005, the Navajo banned mining on their reservations, which covers 27,000 square miles across part of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. In Australia, where the world’s largest deposits of uranium are located, movements have forced companies to restrict mining to 10 percent of the reserves and the Australian government has recognized the aboriginal owners’ right to veto mining on their land.”
Meanwhile in Canada indigenous groups are leading opposition to transportation of nuclear waste through the Great Lakes and their surrounding communities, declaring “what we do to the land, we do to ourselves.” Last year the German government extended nuclear power against the will of the majority but after news of the leak in Japan, 50,000 people formed a human chain from a nuclear reactor to Stuttgart demanding an end to nuclear power. 
     Uniting these campaigns with the labour movement raises the demands of good green jobs for all, to transform our oil and nuclear economy into one based on ecological and social sustainability and justice. Instead of the billions in subsidies for the nuclear industry, governments could be investing in solar, wind and clean electricity, while retrofitting buildings, which could solve the economic and climate crises without the inherent dangers of nuclear power. As Greenpeace wrote,
"Our thoughts continue to be with the Japanese people as they face the threat of a nuclear disaster, following already devastating earthquake and tsunami. The authorities must focus on keeping people safe, and avoiding any further releases of radioactivity...Greenpeace is calling for the phase out of existing reactors, and no construction of new commercial nuclear reactors. Governments should invest in renewable energy resources that are not only environmentally sound but also affordable and reliable.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

5 reasons to oppose "no-fly zones" in Libya

There's a growing chorus demanding "no-fly zones" in Libya under the pretext of stopping Libyan dictator from killing civilians. While some are motivated by humanitarian concern or desperation, the actual practice of enforcing a "no-fly zone" would create further disaster while undermining the Libyan people's own capacity to shape their future. Here are 5 reasons to oppose "no-fly zones".

1. "No-fly zones" would kill Libyans
     According to the head of US Central Command, General James Mattis, "You would have to remove the air defense capability in order to establish the no-fly zone so it -- no illusions here, it would be a military operation. It wouldn't simply be telling people not to fly airplanes." The intelligence film Stratfor goes into more details about what a "no fly zone" would actually entail:
“It has been pointed out that a no-fly zone is not an antiseptic act. In order to protect the aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone, one must begin by suppressing enemy air defenses…Therefore a no-fly zone would begin with airstrikes on known air defense sites. But it would likely continue with sustained patrols by SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) aircraft armed with anti-radiation missiles poised to rapidly confront any subsequent threat that pops up. Keeping those aircraft on station for an extended period of time would be necessary, along with an unknown number of strikes. It is uncertain where the radars and missiles are located, and those airstrikes would not be without error. When search radars and especially targeting radars are turned on, the response must be instantaneous, while the radar is radiating (and therefore vulnerable) and before it can engage. That means there will be no opportunity to determine whether the sites are located in residential areas or close to public facilities such as schools or hospitals…Indeed, attacks on air defenses could cause substantial casualties, turning a humanitarian action into one of considerable consequence in both humanitarian and political terms."
2. "No-fly zones" would strengthen Gaddafi
     The threat of foreign intervention is allowing Gaddafi to portray himself as an anti-colonial defender of Libya. While he continues to kill Libyans in practice, his rhetoric has shifted from attacking the resistance to attacking the West. As he stated recently,
"If they take such a decision [of imposing a "no-fly zone"] it will be useful for Libya, because the Libyan people will see the truth, that what they want is to take control of Libya and to steal their oil. They want to take your petrol. This is what America, this is what the French, those colonialists, want. The Libyan people will take up arms against them."
This is of course pure hypocrisy from a tyrant who until two weeks ago was the darling of the West and who has sold the immense wealth of Libya to Western corporations. But Gaddafi is outnumbered and guns alone are not enough to defeat the resistance. He is desperate for an ideological assault on the revolution, and Western intervention gives him the perfect wedge to drive into the resistance in order to break its unity.

3. "No-fly zones" would undermine the Libyan revolution
     Foreign intervention, ostensibly to prevent civil war, would in fact raise the threat of civil war by dividing Libyans on their attitudes to outside interference instead of uniting them in isolating and overthrowing Gaddafi's regime. The revolution has caused a split in the military, including pilots who deserted to Malta rather than bomb civilians. Generalizing this process--including international solidarity like the petition calling on the Maltese government to grant asylum to Libyan pilots--would create a true "no-fly zone".
     Instead of a Libyan "no-fly zone" from below, the West is threatening a "US-fly zone" from above, which would undermine the confidence of pilots to resist and make them more likely to stay loyal to Gaddafi's call to defend Libya. The so-called "no-fly zone" would therefore undermine Libyans' own capacity to take over Gaddafi's army, while giving control of the country to his former supporters. Gaddafi and the West both want to crush the Libyan revolution, for slightly different reasons, and "no-fly zones" provide them both with a tool to do so.

4. "No-fly zones" would provide a cover for Western imperialism.
     For decades the West has armed dictators across North Africa and the Middle East in order to secure control over the region's vast oil supply. But in two short months a revolutionary wave has already toppled Western-backed dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, while protests are building in Libya, Jordan, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The West is desperate to stop this revolutionary process that threatens its control of the region, to whitewash its history in the region by presenting itself as a humanitarian, and to regain control.
     There is also a new scramble for Africa, with the US trying to further militarize the continent with a command station in Africa, AFRICOM. "No-fly zones" would justify this imperial control of the region, and Libya is quite consciously being used as a first test case.
     But the West is already bogged down in quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the economic crisis has heightened inter-imperial competition, so there is a debate amongst elites on how to proceed. The right-wing of the US establishment was first out of the gate in calling for intervention, with none other than Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz leading the charge. The US hardly gets any oil from Libya so intervention would give it greater access to the oil of its competitors while intimidating resistance movements in the region. But others in the administration are more cautious, realizing the exhorbitant costs of current occupations and the impact another Western intervention could have on what little stability remains in the region. In Europe the same splits that emerged during the Iraq War are once again evident, with Britain eagerly pressing for war (and already sending its own special forces, who were captured by the resistance), while Germany is hesitant and Russia opposed. Italy is one of the top importers of Libyan oil--and Berlusconi a close friend of Gaddafi--and was initially opposed, but as oil production is getting shut down anyways it would go along. China is competing with the US over African oil so it is also opposed, so without UN Security Council approval any intervention will be NATO (especially Britain and US) driven.
     All this inter-imperialist rivalry goes to show that those leaders who are calling for, and would enfrorce, a "no-fly zone" are purely motivated by profit and their desire to access Libyan oil.

5. "No-fly zones" provide a cover for other Western wars
     The other context is is the increasing opposition to the occupations of Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Where were calls for "no-fly zones" when Israel bombed Lebanon in 2006 or Gaza in 2008-2009? Where are calls for "no-fly zones" when NATO bombs civilians in Afghanistan, US drones kill civilians in Pakistan, or US Apache helicopters kill Iraqis? The US and Britain had "no-fly zones" in Iraq, which did nothing against Saddam Hussein but was part of a sanctions regime that killed a million people, and a prelude to war that killed another million people. "No-fly zones" are an act of war, and distract from other wars.
     As growing numbers of people oppose these occupations--including American and British war resisters--the West is desperate to take advantage of crises to distract from its past and current crimes and look out for its future profit. When the Haitian earthquake hit in 2010, Canada militarized aid to the country to further its control, and used the humanitarian cover to hide its history of intervention (including its part in the 2004 coup against Haiti's democratically elected Prime Minster Aristide) and to build its humanitarian case for continuing the occupation of Afghanistan. Intervention in Libya would serve a similar role, masking the West's history in Libya, giving it further control over its resources, and providing a humanitarian cover for other disastrous interventions. At the same time "no-fly zones" undermine the capacity of Libyans to shape their own future. As the Canadian Peace Alliance states:
"The people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have done more to bring peace and democracy to their countries than years of US-led military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The west needs to learn the lessons from those failed invasions and not compound the crisis in Libya."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Health apartheid: Israel, Canadian complicity, and hope for the future

Health indicators in Palestine provide an objective measurement of Israeli Apartheid. This health differential is imposed through  policies in which the Harper Government of Canada is complicit. But growing movements are raising hope for freedom and health across the region.

     On the Human Development Index (a standard of wellbeing including life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living), Palestine ranks 110th while Israel ranks 15th. According UNICEF, Palestinians live 7 years less than Israelis (74 vs 81 years), Palestinian infants have a mortality rate more than 8 times greater (25 vs 3) and a rate of anemia more than 3 times greater (50% vs 15%). Palestinian mothers have a maternal mortality rate more than 5 times Israeli mothers (38 vs 7). This vast health differential parallels economic determinants of health: Palestinians have a GDP per capita of one tenth that of Israelis ($2,900 vs $29,000).
     Significant health discrepancies also exist within Israel between the Jewish and Arab populations. As the journal Pediatrics found, “the prevalence of anemia among Israeli infants is 15.5%. The prevalence is significantly higher in the non-Jewish population (22.5%) as compared with the Jewish population (10.5%).” According to the newspaper Ha’aretz, “Despite Israel's national health law, various mechanisms still prevent Arab citizens from achieving full health equality. The Arab infant mortality rate is more than double that of Jews, Arab life expectancy is significantly lower, and some of the gaps are actually increasing.” This also parallels economic indicators within Israel, where GDP per capita for Jewish citizens is three times that of Arab citizens. 
     There’s a common word that describes such stark segregation and discrimination maintained along racial lines: apartheid. 

     The same Western powers who refused boats of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust used this horror to justify their colonial project in Palestine, driving Palestinians off their land and into refugee camps. Canada's Lester Pearson played a leading role in the partition of Palestine. While the US didn't bother to destroy Auschwitz during WWII, it has armed Israel and Arab dictatorships to maintain control over the oil-rich region. This has produced a health catastrophe for Palestinians and the broader Arab population.
     Within Israel health differentials are maintained through conscious policies, from the 2003 targeted layoff of nurses in the Arab sector,  to the 2005 mapping of cancer rates that ignored the Arab sector, to the 2009 cuts to toddler health programs for an Arab neighbourhood while approving funding to the same program for a Jewish neighbourhood. Similar discrimination exists in other sectors, from education to jobs to land distribution. Apartheid conditions are even more obvious in Gaza and the West Bank. According to the UN Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Report:
The State of Israel has systematically segregated Palestinians communities into a series of fragmented archipelagos (referred to variously as isolated islands, enclaves, cantons, and Bantustans) under a system that has been deemed 'one of the most intensively territorialized control systems ever created'. Israel controls Palestinian air space, territorial waters, natural resources, movement and the macro-economic instruments that enable economic autonomy.”
In addition to undermining social determinants of health, the military occupation of Palestine targets health by direct attacks on civilians, and by delaying, denying or attacking health care services. The Palestinian Red Crescent compiles a list of daily attacks on civilians—including ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas and shrapnel—and delays or denials of access to service. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, since 2000, 68 pregnant women have had to give birth at checkpoints—resulting in 35 miscarriages and 5 maternal deaths. B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, has compiled a long list of Palestinians—from infants to octogenarians—who died following denials of medical treatment.  Meanwhile, a report by the Health, Development and Policy Institute found that:
Israeli soldiers stopping a Palestinian ambulance
“Between the 29th of September 2000 and the 14th of October 2003, the Israeli occupying forces carried out the following attacks on Palestinian medical services: 121 ambulances were attacked and damaged 36 ambulances were damaged beyond repair, 991 cases of ambulances being denied access to the injured, 25 medical personnel were killed by Israeli soldiers, 425 medical personnel were injured, 71 emergency personnel were arrested, 290 counts of hospitals and clinics attacked & damaged.” 
The scale of everyday violence against Palestinians is such that many Israeli soldiers refuse to serve in the occupied territories. As one refusenik explained, "you are forced to commit war crimes, and to expel and starve and humiliate an innocent population. This is not a democratic act."

     The daily experience of occupation and its impact of health has escalated during the past decade with the Wall, and the siege and war on Gaza. In addition to its destruction of agriculture and annexation of land, the wall isolates more than 70 primary health clinics from communities. According to a 2009 report in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals: 
“Israeli control of movement and travel has severe repercussions on access to and quality of health care for Palestinians. In 2005, 18% of those seeking treatment at emergency departments in the West Bank were delayed by checkpoints or occupation related detours. In 2007, 36% of health-care facilities reported that many of their patients were no longer able to access services, with more than half reporting delays in service delivery by mobile teams and difficulty accessing medicines for chronic disease.”

     For the past five years an illegal siege has put a stranglehold on the economy and health of Gaza and its 1.5 million inhabitants. A 2008 survey by the Gaza Community Mental Health Program  found: 
“most common impact of siege of Gaza items were:  prices are sharply increased (90.8%), I feel I am in a big prison (88.5%), I can not find things I need in the market (91.70%),  I was not able to get specific medicine for me or for one of the family member due to shortage of fuel and absence of transportation (73.4%), and I was not able to get specific medicine for me or for one of the family member due to shortage of physicians and nurses (62.58).” 
The Mubarak regime has been complicit by sealing off the Rafah border, which has continued despite Mubarak’s departure as a sign of the incompleteness of the Egyptian revolution. In 2008-2009 Israel launched a war on Gaza, free from sanctions or no-fly zones, which caused widespread death and destruction. According to the UNDP,
In the three weeks of this military incursion, approximately 1400 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,320 were wounded; 350 of them seriously. Large areas were reduced to rubble with approximately 15,000 houses damaged or destroyed, and extensive disruption was caused to water and sanitation networks, energy supplies and facilities, roads and bridges, and the telecommunications system. There was also widespread destruction of cultivated land, greenhouses, livestock and poultry farms, water wells, irrigation networks and other productive assets, and approximately 14.6% of the total cultivated area was completely destroyed. This Operation raised widespread allegations of war crimes including the use of white phosphorous.”

Then last year Israeli troops boarded a flotilla in international waters and killed humanitarian workers bringing medical supplies to Gaza. 

     While there is a growing global movement against Israeli Apartheid, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been complicit--continuing Canadian foreign policy in the region since Pearson. In order to bolster US imperialism in the region, and the benefits for Canadian corporations that flow from this, Harper has supported Israel militarily, politically, economically and ideologically. 
     Militarily, Harper has continued a Canadian tradition of selling weapons to Israel, Egypt and other repressive regimes in the region. Politically, Harper supported Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon that killed hundreds of civilians (including several Canadians) as a “measured response”. In 2009 Canada was the only country among 47 to vote against the UN Human Rights Council resolution to condemn the war on Gaza. In 2010 Harper welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu as Israel was killing people on the aid flotilla, and in 2011 Harper and Netanyahu were the last to support Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak before he was overthrown.
     Economically, Harper has undermined health in Gaza directly and indirectly. In 2006 he made Canada the first country to cut humanitarian aid. In 2009 he cut funding to humanitarian NGOs Kairos and Alternatives, who support human rights in Palestine and elsewhere, while creating a crisis in the NGO Rights and Democracy. In 2010 Harper cut funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides food and health services to 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and occupied Palestine.
     These cuts have accompanied increasing ideological attacks at home on anyone who criticizes Israel, eroding the freedom of speech of Canadians. In 2009 Harper cut funding to the Canadian Arab Federation (who help newcomers settle in Canada) for criticizing his support of Israel. In 2009 Immigration Minister Jason Kenney labeled British MP George Galloway a supporter of terrorism for bringing medical supplies to Gaza, and banned him from the country. In 2010 the government delayed the visa—resulting in the cancellation of a speaking tour—for Palestinian physician, MP and Nobel peace prize nominee Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, while a Conservative MP put forward a motion to condemn Israeli Apartheid Week on campuses across the country. Finally, both Conservatives and Liberals have formed the so-called Canadian Parliamentary Committee to Combat Anti-semitism (CPCCA) to smear those who criticize Israel as anti-semitic. 
     But there are three international movements emerging to build solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. The first--heeding the 2005 call by 170 Palestinian organizations representing those living under occupation, within Israel and refugees--is the international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.
     Secondly, campaigns are opposing its Western backers and their attempts to silence the Palestine solidarity movement. In Canada a campaign defeated the ban against Galloway and a scandal is brewing around the government minister who cut funding to Kairos. There is growing opposition to the McCarthyism of the CPCCA (including opposition within the Jewish community: watch the video made by Independent Jewish Voices). Meanwhile there is growing international criticism of Canada’s support for Israel, which—along with criticism of Harper’s occupation of Afghanistan and obstruction of climate talks—cost Canada a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.
     In 2011 we’re seeing the emergence of a third front: liberation movements across the Arab world. This is crucial to address an important difference between South African Apartheid and Israeli Apartheid: while the former was based on exploitation, the latter is based on expulsion and exclusion. In South Africa the black population was the majority and was exploited for their labour, so mass strikes were able to combine with an international solidarity movement to overthrow the regime. But under Israeli Apartheid, Palestinians are artificially kept to a minority within Israel, while the occupied territories are peripheral to the Israeli economy—with unemployment at 45%  in Gaza. On their own Palestinians cannot use strikes to bring down Israeli Apartheid the way South African workers did, but their brave resistance can inspire movements in Egypt and the broader Arab world to bring down complicit dictators, break open the Rafah border, and raise the hope of a democratic secular state where Jews and Arabs can once again live in peace. 
     These are exciting times. As Ali Abunimah recently wrote after the Egyptian revolution:
“Two months ago, few could have imagined that the decades old regimes of Tunisia's Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak would fall -- but fall they did under the weight of massive, broad-based popular protests. Indeed, such movements hold much greater promise to end Israel's apartheid regime and produce a genuine, representative and democratic Palestinian leadership than the kinds of cumbersome institutions created by the Oslo Accords. The end of the peace process is only the beginning.”
 This will be good for all our health.