Libby Powell won the Guardian International Development Journalism prize in 2010. She has worked for several years in Palestine and the refugee camps of Lebanon, on humanitarian aid and health. Her work documents the human stories behind military occupation and displacement through film, photography and print.

Libby Powell won the Guardian International Development Journalism prize in 2010. She has worked for several years in Palestine and the refugee camps of Lebanon, on humanitarian aid and health. Her work documents the human stories behind military occupation and displacement through film, photography and print.
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Jon Snow - 'Twitter is a sensational medium'

You have spent much of your career travelling – do you ever find it hard to leave home?

Once the plane door shuts, I am just hungry to go. But I do sometimes dread leaving. I may have things planned and then suddenly I’m off to Egypt. Part of me is thrilled and part of me is depressed. My sense of home returns at acute moments when times are very tough.

Matt Crossick / EMPICS Entertainment

What is the crisis most neglected by the media today?

You never hear about Central America any more – El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, or Guatemala – but times are very hard there. The wars have given way to gangs fuelled by deportations from the US. The Eritrean/Ethiopian border and Somaliland are also neglected considering the scale of the crises there.

Has the rise of social media changed the way you work?

I am very active on Twitter [@jonsnowC4]. I think it is a sensational medium. We haven’t even begun to explore its potential. The Arab Spring has certainly changed the way I have approached work. In a way you are more connected but there are still black holes. I don’t know of any Tuaregs who are tweeting at the moment.

Have you ever shaken someone’s hand and regretted it?

I have shaken Qadafi’s hand. I have shaken [1970s Ugandan dictator] Idi Amin’s hand. I have shaken the hands of a lot of people who are hated and disgraced. But I feel that my capacity to report has been enriched by having shaken their hands. That is a terrible thing to say but it is important. I had a relationship with Idi Amin. He was a repulsive killer but my access enabled me to report much better.

Is it important to stay detached when reporting on crises?

It is a good rule not to look too physically engaged with people. But sometimes there’s no option. In New Orleans, during Hurricane Katrina, we got there with a boat before any of the help-vessels. We couldn’t go round just filming because people were pleading with us from their rooftops. There was an 85-year-old man haemorrhaging in his bed clothes. We had no option other than to rescue him. But that sapped most of our filming time so we ended up filming the rescue.

In June 2011 and March 2012 you presented the two-part documentary series Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields for [British broadcaster] Channel 4. The footage shown was disturbing and graphic – did you have any doubts about airing it?

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields really was a total breakthrough. Srebrenica, Rwanda – neither of those massacres were documented. In Sri Lanka you had footage shot by the victims of their own suffering and you also had trophy footage from the perpetrators filming the rapes and the attacks they were conducting.

It seemed to us that once this mobile-phone footage was verified by the UN, we had a human rights obligation to air it. The power of the film was in the pictures, even though they were grainy and horrible. I don’t think anything worse has ever been transmitted in current affairs.

How does it make you feel that the act of airing that footage has given so much momentum to the call for the war crimes to be addressed?

I think I feel queasy about it. On the one hand you want to advance understanding and on the other you don’t want to ruin the chance of reconciliation. But I believe that you can’t have reconciliation without truth first. And we have contributed to that truth.

What is the story that you most hope to cover that hasn’t happened yet?

I would love to report on the last person being treated for guinea worm. They have reduced the incidences from 3.5 million across 26 countries in 1986 to 1,000 in two countries now, and they say that by 2015 it will be eradicated. It is an appalling affliction from drinking organisms in bad water, which become 35-centimetre-long white worms that then spring out of the body at the breast, the tummy, arms, legs. Very few people in the West know about it.

Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

I am one of the most ambitious people I know but I am never quite sure what that ambition is. I would love one day to be of service, to do something that affects people’s lives. I don’t think I have done that yet. I think the best is yet to come.

Libby Powell is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to New Internationalist.

Swazi boys win science prize

Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe MahlalelaTwo 14-year-old boys from Swaziland have won a major award at Google’s International Science Fair this week for their innovative plan to provide affordable hydroponics to poor subsistence farmers.

Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe Mahlalela came up with the idea in response to the issues in their rural community.  The two high-school friends know first hand the difficulties facing subsistence farmers; Bonkhe has lived on food aid for most of his life. Food shortage is a major problem in Swaziland. Over 70 per cent of the country is undeveloped and 80 per cent of vegetables are imported.

Sakhiwe and Bonkhe won the Science in Action award in July for developing a ‘unique simplified hydroponics method to grow vegetables using local waste organic matter and used waste cartons as garden containers.’ This twist on traditional hydroponics doesn’t rely on fertile soil or expensive chemicals. The simplified method uses chicken manure as a readily available nutrient. Controlled tests have shown that the method increased the crop yield by 32 per cent.

Sakhiwe said: ‘We believe that Swaziland neither needs the tons of food aid coming from Western and Eastern countries, nor complicated expensive strategies beyond the budget of the country to solve low food productivity. Rather Swaziland needs education; innovation; creativity and the use of simple science strategies, using what can be easily available to produce enough for consumption and export, creating wealth for the country.’

More information about their project can be found here.

Photo copyright Andrew Federman

Justice catches up with Argentina’s baby-snatchers

Mothers and grandmothers of the disappeared gather at the Plaza de Mayo.

blmurch under a CC Licence

Every Thursday afternoon they gathered in Plaza de Mayo. Even in the heaviest April downpours, when the Argentinian square was almost deserted and the pavements reflected the gaudy pink of the Presidential Palace, hundreds of women gathered in protest. White headscarfs covered their heads, and in their hands and on their chests were faint photographs of young men and women: their children that were taken. There are no photographs of the grandchildren they still hope to find. These grandchildren are in their thirties now, the babies of the Dirty War.

At least 30,000 people deemed left-wing ‘radicals’ by the Argentinian government were abducted between 1976 and 1983. Justified by the government as a ‘National Reorganization Process’, it was a period marked by widespread political repression, torture, forced disappearance and extra-judicial killing, including ‘death flights’, where victims were bound and dropped from planes into the Atlantic. Most of the victims were young activists, union members or students, a third of them women.

The grandmothers have never stopped searching for this lost generation. Nor have they stopped calling for justice for those behind the abductions

The sexual and gender-based violence inflicted by the junta has since been deemed by activists as genocidal, aimed at destroying the reproductive capacity of female ‘dissidents’. In designated camps and wards, women were subjected to rape, the mutilation of reproductive organs, forced abortion and the systematic abduction of infants and babies born inside the detention camps. An estimated 200 children were born in captivity and pregnant women forced to give birth while gagged, blindfolded and bound. As many as 500 children are thought to have been taken and given to families with close ties to the government or the military to raise as their own.

The grandmothers, many of whose only memory of their grandchildren is the swell of their daughter’s stomach before they disappeared, have never stopped searching for this lost generation. Nor have they stopped calling for justice for those behind the abductions.

A powerful voice against impunity

Beginning as a group of just 14 women, their weekly vigil outside the Presidential Palace was joined by thousands of ordinary women, whose shared bereavement and loss transformed them into the single most powerful voice against the impunity of those responsible for the seven years of violence. Their vocal, public, female-led action shattered the oppressive silence of the government at the time. In the years that followed, they struggled hard against a series of governmental pardons that sought to offer amnesty to those involved in the name of reconciliation.

In 1997, they set up a DNA-testing programme with the National Bank of Genetic Data, banking their own blood so that anyone born between 1976 and 1983 who doubted their parentage could come for screening. One hundred and five of those children, now all in their thirties, have since been found.

The Grandmothers have left their mark.

Chupacabras under a CC Licence

And now there is some justice for those lost years. On 6 July 2012, the man responsible for masterminding the systematic abduction of the babies more than 30 years ago, former president Jorge Rafael Videla, was given a 50-year sentence for his role.

Eight co-defendants, including the dictator Reynaldo Bignone and former navy officer Jorge Acosta, were also convicted.

The courtroom, packed with the families of the victims, heard testimonies from 20 young adults, many of whom had recently been forced to confront the fact that they had been brought up by people who had been complicit in their parents’ death and disappearances.

Videla, now 86 years old, is already serving life sentences for crimes against humanity. Given that he will not live to see out this most recent sentence, nor suffer any additional years in prison, the ruling may seem to some as little more than symbolic justice.

Recognizing responsibility

The mothers and grandmothers of those that were murdered or disappeared, however, have always maintained that there is both a personal and national value in the legal recognition of responsibility. In response to the judgments, Estela de Carlotto, President of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, said: ‘It’s healing for all society to know that they are being judged, condemned, and they will continue to be judged and condemned until the last crime that can be attributed to them.’

‘It’s healing for all society to know that [the perpetrators] are being judged, and will continue to be judged and condemned until the last crime that can be attributed to them’

The final collective march of the women in Plaza de Mayo was held in 2006; their focus turned to the evidence gathering that contributed so much to the convictions last week. While the historic square is left to tourists and business people, the women, once dubbed as ‘Las Locos’ [the Crazies] by Videla’s military, have shown that they can hold their ground.

To those who doubt and those who are yet to be found, their website sends a message: ‘Our grandchildren have not been abandoned. They have the right to recover their roots and their history; they have relatives who are constantly engaged in searching for them.’

Suffer little children: five years of Gaza's blockade

A Palestinian girl looks out of her home that was damaged by the Israeli military in Operation Cast Lead in 2008. Photo by Libby Powell.

Thick brown liquid squeezes up between Ali’s toes as he crouches behind a wall, poised to run. His big grin is gappy with missing teeth. As his friend whirls round the corner, he shrieks and flees. Two sets of footprints in the stinking soil. For the boys, the dense maze of urban alleyways of Gaza’s Khan Younis camp may offer a fine warren for hide and seek but, after half a decade of being sealed off, their home has become a perilous and polluted playground.

As the Israeli blockade that began in 2007 passes the five-year mark this month, a report by Medical Aid for Palestinians and Save the Children highlights the impact of the border closures on the health and wellbeing of Gaza’s 819,000 children.

Of these children, more than 50,000 will, like Ali, turn 5 this year along with the blockade. Having lived their whole lives under military control, very few of them will have seen the world beyond the wall that encloses the Gaza Strip.

For most, the outside is represented only by the hulking shapes of Israeli gun ships off their coastline, the tormenting streaks of fighter jets over their heads and the fleeting presence of humanitarian workers who pass with relative ease through the steel doors of the Erez crossing, the hi-tech Israeli checkpoint which controls and completes Gaza’s isolation.

Inside the walls, Gaza’s environment is festering and its children, who make up over 50 per cent of the population, are suffering the worst of the consequences.

A sister and a brother from Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo by Libby Powell.

Israel’s military assault on Gaza in late 2008 destroyed over 30 km of water networks and an embargo on construction materials has prevented the restoration of a clean water supply. Airstrikes in 2011 destroyed a further $1.3 million worth of water and sanitation infrastructure.

Only 10 per cent of children in Gaza City have access to water every day and a survey in 2010 found bacteriological contamination in 63 per cent of homes. Diseases related to dirty water and poor sanitation have increased steadily. The report shows a 70 per cent rise in acute diarrhoea since 2005 and overstretched UN clinics are reporting a spread of typhoid fever.

Against this backdrop, the report delivers the urgent warning that Gaza’s sole water source, its depleted aquifer, will stop producing water fit for human consumption within five to ten years.

Israel’s ban on building materials going into Gaza has also prevented authorities from constructing and repairing sewers to deal with the 80 million-plus litres of raw sewage that is produced each day in one of the most densely populated areas of the world. This waste is pumped furiously into the Mediterranean Sea and gathers in vast cesspits alongside residential areas. In the first half of 2012, three children drowned in pools of open sewage, two of them in Ali’s neighbourhood of the Khan Younis refugee camp.

Kids play in a damaged playground in Gaza. Photo by Libby Powell.

While the tunnels in Rafah continue to pull up basic food supplies, power cuts of up to eight hours a day hinder the storage and preparation of fresh food. Sugary drinks stand in for clean water and cheap packaged food lasts longer in Gaza’s stiffling summers.

Seventy per cent of families remain reliant on food aid from the UN: a meagre diet of flour, sugar, oil and rice. As a result, stunting and chronic malnutrition now affects 10 per cent of the under-fives and anaemia, caused by a lack of iron-rich food, affects over half of Gaza’s school children. If left untreated, anaemia can have an irreversible impact on a child’s development.

This time next year, Israel will open its borders to young people from across the world as it hosts the 2013 UEFA Under 21 Football Championship. As $75 million worth of building materials for water and sanitation projects in Gaza gather dust in warehouses on the Erez border, construction plows ahead on two new stadiums in Petah Tikva and Netanya to host the games. While the state prepares to welcome the young footballers, Gaza’s children will not be among the crowds.

Despite protests that are gathering momentum across social networking sites, it is likely that the games will go ahead just miles from where hundreds and thousands of children wait for an end to a man-made health crisis.

The forgotten 15 per cent – why has disability dropped off the world’s agenda?

Over the last decade, international development has hinged on the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Launched by the UN back in 2000, they were designed as unifying goals to prioritize resources for poverty reduction and international development over a 15-year period.

Schoolchildren in the Bahamas take part in their annual summer play.

obi1323 under a CC Licence.

They include an ambitious set of targets: reduce by half the number of people living on less than a $1.25 a day; ensure every child has a primary education; reduce child mortality by two-thirds; reduce maternal death by three-quarters; and halt and reverse the spread of AIDS and HIV.

But at an international summit in Bangkok this month, senior development advisors said the MDGs have ignored the issue of disability and, in doing so, have neglected the needs of 15 per cent of the world’s population.

‘The 1 billion people with disabilities are just not in the mix,’ said Professor Nora Groce, chair of the Leonard Cheshire Inclusive Development Centre at University College London. ‘They are not mentioned in the 8 goals, the 21 targets or the 60 indicators that we use as a global community to address the most pressing problems in international development.’

The lack of any explicit mention of disability in the MDGs has reinforced a major blind-spot within international development. While organizations and governments tend to acknowledge the need for specific disability support services, there is a lack of recognition that persons with disabilities also need access to the same resources as everyone else, including education, employment, healthcare and social and legal support systems.

Rendered invisible

Advising the conference were members of Leonard Cheshire Disability’s Young Voices campaign. These youth campaigners with disabilities from over 20 countries have direct experience of being rendered invisible.

Today, 80 to 90 per cent of persons with disabilities of working age in developing countries are unemployed. Yet the MDGs make no reference to inclusive and accessible employment. Seray Bangura, 21, from Sierra Leone highlighted the issue of irrelevant and poor-quality training offered to young people with disabilities: ‘We are still being given training in crafts and skills that have no market value, like gara tie-dying. These outdated skills will not help us into employment.’

98 per cent of children with disabilities are still out of school across the world

Last World AIDS Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reinforced the UN’s vision of ‘zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.’ But there is no drive for accessible testing or information, despite a growing body of research that shows that people with disabilities face a disproportionately high risk of contracting HIV.

Josephine Namirimu, a 23 year old from Uganda, is frustrated with the lack of action around sexual health and disability: ‘As women with disabilities we are regularly abused and raped. First of all we are marginalized as women, and secondly due to our disability. There is a constant risk of sexual harassment and exploitation and there has been no voice or response to that.’

MDG 2, which focuses on universal education, is the only goal where significant steps have been taken to improve inclusion. Yet speaking at the conference, Bob Prouty of the Global Education Partnership said 98 per cent of children with disabilities are still out of school across the world: ‘While we now know how many are out of school, it is a scandal that we do not know who these children are, where they are or why they are not in school.’

Disability rights

The most significant milestone for disability rights was the adoption of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. Since it came into force, it has been ratified by over 100 countries. But there is still a disconnect between what is pledged on paper and the efforts on the ground.

As we move closer to 2015 and the deadline for the MDGs, global disability networks are determined to see disability included in the next wave of international development targets. Their shared agenda includes addressing the lack of research and data on disability and development, often cited as an excuse for inaction. It also involves encouraging funding imperatives that would commit donor recipients to include people with disabilities as beneficiaries and within management and decision-making levels.

‘This is not just an agenda for people with disabilities,’ says Akiko Ito of the UN’s Department of Economic & Social Affairs. ‘We are promoting human rights for all and therefore advancing the goal of the international community as a whole. Lasting peace and security is only possible if economic and social wellbeing of people everywhere is assured.’

Libby Powell is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to New Internationalist magazine.

Clear Sri Lankan landmines now!

More than 554 square kilometres in the north and east of Sri Lanka have been cleared of mines and UXO (unexploded ordnance) since 1 January 2009, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

But by the end of 2011, about 126 sqkm of land still remained to be cleared. Children and youth remain at particularly high risk of mine injuries and death owing to the presence of mines around schools, homes and playing fields.

To mark International Day for Mine Awareness on April 4, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has been running a week of action called 'Clear Landmines Now'.

In Sri Lanka, the team visited Sinnapandivirichchan School in the Mannar District. The school was reopened after the village was successfully cleared of mines. The whole school took part in a day of celebration and awareness activities, including making their own campaign t-shirts and role-playing with visiting de-miners.

‘We wanted to do something high impact and creative and at the same time give them an experience they would remember and associate with landmine clearance,’ said Aarthi Dharmadasa, MAG Programme Officer. ‘Painting t-shirts was a novel idea as the school didn’t have an art programme. Students as young as 5 and 6 were drawing landmines.’

Former war reporter turned UNICEF Ambassador, Martin Bell OBE, is a patron of MAG. He said: ‘MAG operates in 16 countries in which the most important subject a child will learn is mine awareness. Get that wrong and you don’t have a life. The need for this work has never been greater than it is now.’

All photos by Aarthi Dharmadasa.

Blue bras and mettle: Egypt's women stand their ground

A small group of female activists returned to Tahrir Square on 8 March last year, calling for women’s rights within the new political order. Men taunted them, jeering: ‘Go back to your homes where you belong!’ But women have refused to step back from an Egyptian revolution that they say is far from over.

After the resignation of President Mubarak on 11 February 2011, the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) quickly filled the power vacuum. In their shadow, the tussle for parliament began. Despite the critical role played by female activists in ousting Mubarak, the transitional committee chosen to develop a new constitution did not include a single woman.

Women gather outside Cairo’s State Council court to protest against virginity tests.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters

The streets are still restless, and the SCAF has reacted with a systematic crackdown on demonstrations, particularly targeting women. While violence against women is nothing new, it is only since the revolution that women have faced the authorities on the streets in such numbers.

In November, a demonstration outside the cabinet headquarters was attacked by SCAF officers who assaulted protesters, dragging women across the ground to waiting vans. In the attack, one woman’s clothes were ripped off, exposing her underwear. Footage of the abuse, posted on YouTube, sparked a 10,000 strong march in downtown Cairo, which was mobilized using the Twitter hash tag #bluebra.

The largest female march in Egypt’s modern history, it was accompanied by crowds of men who formed a ring of solidarity to ward off police brutality.

‘The attack on the girl was so unfortunate, but it has given the cause momentum,’ says Yara Sallam, lawyer and programme manager for Nazra for Feminist Studies. ‘The army thinks that they humiliated her, but instead they have shown everyone how cheap they are.’

Reports have also emerged of detained women being subjected to ‘virginity testing’, a crude physical examination justified as a way to stop false claims of rape. But women have pushed back with some success: Samira Ibrahim, a 25-year-old protester who was forced to undergo such a test, launched a civil action against the SCAF last December.

‘The Army denied the tests,’ said Yara. ‘Only Samira agreed to testify. People were shocked that anyone was prepared to talk publicly about their virginity.’ Against the odds, Samira won her case in a landmark ruling.

However, as the political landscape shifts, it could be one step forward, two steps back. The success in the elections of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafis’ al-Nour party already threatens some small gains.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for reforms to laws they say violate sharia. In the Islamist stronghold of Alexandria, al-Nour supporters recently distributed posters criticizing unveiled women.

Yara says women will have to work hard to hold their place in the drive for democratic change: ‘The momentum will continue to grow. It is time to push, and it’s time to push harder.’

Foreign Beggars

You both have international backgrounds – do you carry them with you?

E. I’m London born and bred but I lived in Ghana, where my parents came from, from the age of seven to eleven. I definitely feel like a Londoner, but when I go to Ghana I feel at home. I don’t feel I particularly fit 100 per cent in either place. But a lot of the values I learnt in Ghana are reflected in my music and how I carry myself.

P. I’m an Indian boy born in Dubai and I’ve been living in England for about 15 years. In Dubai there are all these ‘bubblesque’ sub-cultures so you can grow up without an Arabic identity. Because I speak English and Hindi, I got by without having to learn Arabic, which is a real shame as it’s my dad’s first language. I guess not being born in the UK, I’m less of a Londoner, but I definitely feel an affinity with the city. It’s inspiring. I was brought here in the first place because of the energy and the arts.

From left to right: Metropolis, Orifice Vulgatron, Nonames.

Hip hop is rooted in street culture, which is often demonized by older generations, especially since the London riots. But have the kids really gone mad?

P. When kids are behaving well, that isn’t publicized. Moments like the riots are glorified by people for their own agenda. Kids are a lot smarter these days but they are faced with different challenges. The game has completely changed.

E. When jazz first came out a lot of parents were, like, ‘what is this crazy music?’ Different generations come with different cultural values and different stories. We are entering a new phase symbolized by moments like the Arab uprisings. Information is spreading like wildfire – most people are just more exposed to knowledge and in a better position to say ‘I don’t like this; this isn’t right for me’.

Do you see yourselves as storytellers?

E. Hip hop has always given people an insight into a lifestyle or a culture that might not be understood otherwise. It is carrying on a tradition of storytelling through poetry. I guess we are just the modern incarnation of that. When you listen to artists from South Africa or Zimbabwe, where there are real social problems and real repression, it’s really powerful to hear how their music is developing.

P. Growing up in Dubai you come across certain types of oppression. Seeing people stuck in a situation that they had no way to get out of really messed with me. They couldn’t even speak about it because if they did their livelihood could be taken away from them. By 13 I’d learnt that not being able to say anything or just having to accept the status quo was something that really got to me, so in my earlier music those sentiments came across a lot.

But it’s also important for people to understand that hip hop can be humorous. Certain elements are provocative but I think just the fact that they exist in the hip hop sphere, rather than in a theatrical sphere or in high art, means that these elements are amplified. Of course, we shouldn’t underestimate how influential our medium is for communication. But at the same time, we believe our audience is discerning and so we don’t dumb down our music for the masses.

The idea of making money from making music is a dream for many. With youth unemployment at an alltime high, do you have any advice?

E. Previously you were told that if you got to university, you were guaranteed a job. That has not been the case in the UK for a while now. A lot of the people I know who are doing really well are the guys who just went off and did their own thing and focused on that talent or passion that they had. The circumstances under which people can succeed are really changing.

P. Collaboration is a way to crossfertilize and make something nobody could make alone. Musically speaking, artists from different genres and different places are now willing to collaborate. Once again, it’s down to technology, because it makes the world shrink.

And Finally... Juliet Stevenson

Mark Cuthbert/UK Press/Press Association Images

As the daughter of an army officer, you moved around a lot as a young girl – what was the impact of having such an international childhood?

Of course, all children think their childhood is normal. But with hindsight, it was strange because every two years we moved cultures and climates and geology. School and friendships were constantly cauterized. I felt very rootless, with no sense of permanence. Every home was just a temporary stay.

For a long time as an adult, until I had children, I continued to move around a lot. I had no trouble with moving and I could make a home in a couple of hours: move into a room, unpack my stuff and think: ‘Now, this is absolutely where I live.’ If people ask me now where I’m from I say: ‘I’m a Londoner.’ But it took me a long time to feel that. I think I grew up without any sense that I had an identity that was defined in any way by place.

If you hadn’t become an actor, what would you have been?

I think it would be impossible for me to do a job that meant I had to be in the same place every day. I think I would get very restless. I like to think I might have been a writer. But locking myself away for months on end writing is not something I ever would have done. I’m a bit too active and sociable for that. I really would have liked to have been a human rights lawyer. At 18, I don’t think I’d have made that choice. I wouldn’t have even recognized it as a possibility. But now I think that’s what I would like to have been.

Human rights have clearly always been important to you. In particular, you have spoken out about the detention of asylum-seeking families in Britain – why has this issue been so significant for you?

Locking up children brings together a combination of things, each of which in their own right is so outrageous. And it was a concentration of outrage that I felt when I went to Yarlswood Detention Centre and saw refugee children incarcerated.

Locking up children brings together a combination of things, each of which in their own right is so outrageous.

Even children who have committed a crime should not be locked up, and of course these children hadn’t. Yet we had locked them up without education, without fresh air, without space, without dignity, without privacy, without play, and without community.

These are families who come to Britain seeking sanctuary from the most horrific experiences; experiences that are so often born of British interference and imperial legacy. They come here to seek sanctuary and we lock them up and compound their original trauma.

I want this to be a country that I can bear to live in. It’s like being in a relationship with someone: I have got to be able to respect them. If not, I would be out like a shot, and I feel the same way about my country.

Why do you think theatre has always been so important to communities through the ages and across the world?

Storytelling is something that unites all people and all cultures. Great plays will always tell a human story. Theatre is a place where we come to recognize who we are. Why are we interested in the story of a black general in 16th-century Venice in Shakespeare’s Othello? Because what we have in common is so infinitely more than what we don’t.

In the course of our daily lives we experience our profound complexities and contradictions: getting cross, falling in love, not being loved back. But we don’t understand them a lot of the time.

In the theatre, you find characters that have been explored by good writers and actors. You can recognize the complexities and contradictions and see yourself there.

Hopefully, you leave being able to forgive yourself and be more tolerant of others. I do believe that, in this way, theatre is a great force for tolerance and compassion.

Israel evicts Bedouin villagers

A community under siege: Bedouin face threats of evacuation, house demolition, travel restrictions and harassment on a daily basis.

Ammar Awad/Reuters

The Israeli government plans to clear hundreds of Bedouin villages in the Negev desert, to make way for new settlements and industry. The area is home to over 30,000 Bedouin, who have lived here since before the foundation of the state of Israel. But the government calls them ‘squatters’, and plans to relocate families over the next six years to purpose-built townships. These indigenous communities have access to just three per cent of the land, despite representing a quarter of the Negev population. Around half the population lives in 46 villages, which Israel has dubbed illegal. The unauthorized villages have no running water or electricity, making them unbearable in the arid desert. Many children have no schooling, and access to healthcare is sporadic.

Villages are being demolished without reprieve. Israel issued 1,000 demolition orders between 2004 and 2006, despite the fact that the Bedouin should be offered protection under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Bulldozers have destroyed one village, al-Araqib, more than 20 times. ‘One way Israel gets away with the demolitions is by classifying the Bedouin homes as garbage,’ says Jeff Halper, co-founder of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions. He describes the eradication of these villages as ‘cultural warfare’.

While the Bedouin are denied permits to build homes or shelters, the government has granted planning permission for the construction of vast Israeli settlements, a nuclear reactor, a toxic-waste incinerator, 22 agro- and petrochemical factories, an oil terminal and a prison. Mansour Nsasra, who was born in one of the unrecognized villages and now lectures at Exeter University, says generations have repeatedly seen their cultural and territorial integrity compromised: ‘The policy is to destroy the indigenous way of life by forcing them to live in urban areas. Even the children know that they have land elsewhere: they are taken to gaze at it on public holidays.’

The assault on the Bedouin way of life is not confined to the Negev. The policy of forced migration affects Bedouin tribes living across Israel and the West Bank. Israel has recently issued eviction orders to some 2,300 Bedouin from the Jahalin ethnic group in the hills east of Jerusalem – where they settled after being driven from the Negev in the 1950s.

Now they face displacement to the impoverished township of al- Azariya, which lies just 300 metres from Jerusalem’s municipal rubbish dump and has the highest crime and unemployment rates in Israel. A 2004 study by Ben Gurion University reported alarming rates of cancer, birth defects and respiratory disease among those living around the dump.

The relocation of the Jahalin Bedouin would constitute a grave breach of international law, which strictly prohibits the forced transfer of members of an occupied population.

But Jeff Halper says there is no legal remedy. ‘There is nothing they can argue in the courts that hasn’t already been struck down. There is nowhere left for the Bedouin to go now – except, of course, to the court of public opinion.’


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