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Letters

Issue 350

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Letters

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Click here to read this magazine. Sharon's stratagem
I would like to congratulate you on Israel & Palestine (NI 348) highlighting the dreadful situation in Palestine and its obvious solution: the end of Israeli occupation and settlements.

From personal experience as a visitor, I know it was hard enough being in Palestine before the latest uprising. To be there now, as many of my friends are, is to live a daily nightmare which Sharon started by entering the Haram al Sharif (or Temple Mount) with the Israeli army when peace talks looked as though they might succeed - a performance he repeated recently by bombing Gaza at a time when Palestine was about to declare a ceasefire. He doesn't want peace, he wants Palestine.

I marvel at the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their often-stated and genuine desire to live in peace with Israel. I fear for a world now seemingly controlled by US power, greed and ignorance.

Tony Howard
Yorkshire, England

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Arab aggression
Israel & Palestine (NI 348) was thoughtprovoking and came, as expected, with a pro- Palestinian bias. The Israeli settlement programme in Gaza and the West Bank, with its appropriation of scarce resources, must be an obstacle to peace. Nevertheless it may be argued that this colonization would never have happened if the surrounding countries had not tried to destroy the pre-1967 Israel on several occasions. I suspect that had the Arab countries succeeded, their 'settlement programme' would have been markedly more brutal than the worst excesses of the Israelis. Witness the Egyptian governance of Gaza in the 1950s.

David Galbraith
Brisbane, Australia

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Establishing guilt
I am somewhat confused by your blissful disregard of the old-established legal principle of an accused being innocent unless proven guilty. You write (Worldbeaters, NI 348) that we live 'in an era where high-ranking politicians like the Serb assassin Slobodan Milosovic have been brought to book for crimes against humanity'. The judges at The Hague reckon that it will take them another two years to establish his guilt - if indeed he is guilty.

Reiner Luyken
Achiltibuie, Scotland

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Jerusalem
Richard Swift's Keynote article (Israel & Palestine, NI 348) referred to 230,000 settlers in the occupied territories, but placed in parenthesis the figure of 400,000 if one includes the Jerusalem area. For Palestinians, the Jerusalem region is one that includes dozens of villages and suburbs, for which urban East Jerusalem was the market, service and communications centre until Israel's settlement policy cut the city off from its hinterland and the rest of the West Bank. This was done by the building of settlements in the West Bank in rings around Jerusalem and building roads to connect settlements to Israeli West Jerusalem. For Palestinians, their exclusion from Jerusalem is manifested in a range of measures, from roadblocks and residency and citizenship restrictions to house demolitions and land appropriation.

By creating a 'Greater Jerusalem', expanding out beyond the area illegally annexed in 1967, Israel has three aims. First, it splits the West Bank in two, thereby in geopolitical terms preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Second, it shifts the centre of its settler population further east. Third, it separates urban East Jerusalem from the surrounding West Bank of which it is a part, preventing it from becoming the capital of a Palestinian state. Illegal settlement in and around Jerusalem should not be treated as an aside and placed in parentheses. It is the cornerstone of Israeli settlement policy.

Alison Brown
Stirling, Scotland

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Credit and consumption
Is it any wonder that there is a distressing sameness to the 'solutions' to social and economic problems proffered by our political and business leaders when their cross membership of exclusive clubs (Inside Business, NI 347) means little opportunity for real solutions can be presented?

On a related issue, I do find it rather incredible that large corporations are not demanding that banks provide debt-free credit to the citizens of Third World countries so that corporations may sell their products to a growing market. But then again, when CEOs rub shoulders with international bankers (who seem unable to comprehend that it is the shortage of an invented commodity called money that causes great misery) in cozy clubs, it is little wonder that ideas involving the creation of a new consumer class through the creation of debt-free credit get little chance to be aired. Invincible stupidity? You betcha.

Michael Turner
Brisbane, Australia

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Click here to read this magazine. Cough up!
Inside Business is comforting in a paradoxical sort of way, because we've known it all along in this part of the world. We, the people of Argentina, are definitely the victims of corporations that, in cahoots with our corrupt governments and greedy local and international bankers, have robbed us of our honestly won savings. Pensioners, the unemployed, workers, everybody, have been stripped of their rightful earnings. I honestly don't understand why the IMF and the World Bank deal with corrupt officials and corporations. Our economy would be set back on track by simply returning people's money directly to their pockets. Doesn't anybody understand this?

Sylvia Maclagan
Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Rubber up
Rosamund Russell is right to point out (Letters, NI 348) that money could be well spent on improving nutrition and sanitation in countries where AIDS is highly prevalent. The main killer in these areas is still childhood diarrhoeal infections which are cheaply prevented and treated with such measures. As regards HIV infection rates, however, the only effective prevention between sexual partners is still condom use. Diverting resources away from promotion of safer sex could increase the scale of the disaster.

HIV is an infectious disease and a simple calculation confirms that the vast difference in prevalence between sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and rich countries (250 times greater) does not imply a similar difference in unsafe sex practice. HIV probably originated over 50 years ago, and if over this time the amount of unsafe sex was the only variable accounting for the difference in prevalences, unsafe sex in SSA would have to be slightly less than twice that in rich countries. Moral judgements of Africans are irrelevant. Condom use in SSA has to be way above condom use in the West to minimize loss of life there.

Claire Risley
Macclesfield, England

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this company has an atrocious record on environmental and human rights

Making a difference
The spotlight your reporters cast on US mining company Freeport McMoRan is bang on target. NI 344 (West Papua) identified this company as having an atrocious record on environmental and human-rights issues. Inside Business (NI 347) highlights that Freeport and Rio Tinto are corporate sponsors of the UN Earth Summit held in Johannesburg. Since these magazines came out, we have made further discoveries about how inappropriate this corporate sponsorship is. The Jakarta Post (1 August 2002) reports that the company has been asked by the Indonesian Government to deal immediately with pollution emanating from its mines near the West Papuan towns of Tembagapura and Timika which could affect thousands of locals living along rivers where the company dumps its waste water. A Jakarta court has found Freeport guilty of violating environmental law, following loss of life at its collapsed waste heap at Lake Wanagon in 2000.

Photo: Dennis Guild NI's brilliant investigative journalism encouraged students from James Cook University (JCU) into action, both here in Cairns and internationally. After an investigation of Freeport's operations, we contacted students from Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University so that they could use this information during the Earth Summit. JCU students and other concerned Cairns residents have since established the Cairns Association for West Papua Support (CAWPS). CAWPS president, Flo Pondrilei, a Melanesian political activist with a vision for a free West Papua, says the time has come for the world to learn of the wrongs committed against her people by the Indonesian colonizers and multinational mining corporations. I say let's all stand behind her. Together, united, we can make a difference.

Dennis Guild
Cairns, Australia

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Letter from Lebanon

Across the divide
Reem Haddad travels to Syria to meet a teacher on a mission.

The teacher quickly agreed to meet me. I was in Syria for a few days and had heard quite a lot about him. Hamid Halabi, a simple schoolteacher, had decided to fight the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights in his own way: by giving lessons via television to children residing in the occupied area.

He showed up at my hotel carrying documents and maps showing every village in the Golan. Born in one of those villages, Halabi has become passionate about 'keeping the memory of the Golan Heights alive', as he puts it.

The Israelis have set up their own schools for our (Syrian) children and they are teaching them pure propaganda,' he said, outraged.

Halabi produced his maps and pointed to all the Arab names of the villages. 'The Israelis have given them Hebrew names, Hebrew!' he continued. 'But they have proper Arab names.'

The villages are now long gone. They were demolished in 1967 by the invading Israeli army. Over 150,000 residents fled the area and 244 villages and farms were subsequently destroyed. Today, Jewish settlers dot the area. Only five villages remained in the northern tip of the Golan Heights. The residents of four of them - members of the Druze faith, an offshoot of Islam - refused to leave. Halabi was born in the village of Massaada - one of those four villages. The fifth village, Ghajar, is populated by Alawites, a branch of Shi'a Islam.

'I know the families in these villages,' he said. 'And I want their children to know that they are Syrian. The Israelis are teaching them Hebrew and their own version of history, so we have to counteract that.'

Along with several other teachers, Halabi appears on television in a daily half-hour programme pointing out the Arab names of the villages and teaching the Arabic language, history and geography.

His family still reside in the occupied Golan Heights. It was by pure chance that he happened to be in Damascus sitting for a teacher certificate examination when Israel invaded. He was trapped.

'My father, my family and the rest of the villagers stayed,' said Halabi. 'They made a pact to die in their homes rather than leave. And there they still remain.'

Illustration: Sarah John
Illustration: Sarah John

Halabi hasn't been able to return home since. For years, the only way to communicate with his ageing parents and his eight siblings was to stand at the edge of the free Golan Heights and look across the few hundred metres at the occupied village of Majdal Shams. Through a loudspeaker he would yell across to passers-by to telephone and summon his family from the next village. Once facing each other, the separated family would exchange their news. Near them would be hundreds of other Syrians doing the same. Seven years ago, however, people in Israel were able to place telephone calls to neighbouring Arab countries, allowing the separated Golan families to talk to each other.

'But we still go and stand at the edge of the Golan Heights every once in a while so we can see each other,' he said.

The only chance he got to embrace his mother again was in 1980 - 13 years after their enforced separation. The United Nations arranged a meeting in tents set up between the occupied and the free Golan Heights. An overwhelmed Halabi took photographs of his mother. But the film was confiscated by UN peacekeeping troops after Israeli soldiers objected to the photographs being taken.

At the memory, Halabi's tears began to flow. After a few awkward moments, he regained his composure and apologized. 'You see, I never saw my mother again,' he said. 'She died three years later.'

Halabi began a teaching career in Damascus. But an increasing feeling of frustration at his inability to help out the residents of the occupied Golan was gnawing at him. In 1985, when the Syrian Government announced its intention of funding a television teaching programme for the children of the Golan, Halabi jumped at the chance. 'This was something I could do,' he said. 'I know the people there. I know their parents. They know my family. It's one way I can help out.'

Settling for this much lower-paid job, Halabi threw himself into the project.

Every once in a while, he would travel to the free Golan to within a few hundred metres of his 95-year-old father. The men would wave at each other.

'What else can I do? I am desperate to embrace my father. But until Israel returns the Golan Heights to Syria, I cannot be with my family.'

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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