issue 192 - February 1989
Seventeen-year-old Issa is still recovering from an abdominal bullet wound inflicted by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) - he has had to have a colostomy (removal of part of the bowel). He lives in Al-Ama'ari - a refugee camp 10 miles north of Jerusalem occupied by 5,000 Palestinians. It is just one of the 27 refugee camps on the West Bank and Gaza Strip - home to 1.5 million Palestinians.
'I was talking to a group of people following a stoning incident, when an IDF patrol returned without warning and fired live ammunition indiscriminately into the camp,' he says. 'I was running away when I was shot from a distance of 30 feet.' Despite Issa's serious injuries, IDF soldiers tried to prevent him leaving the camp, Finally he was able to get word to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) who took him to hospital where he underwent emergency surgery.
Issa is one of 13 people to have been shot with live bullets in this camp since the uprising in December 1987. They include a youth who was deaf and dumb and a 12-year-old girl who subsequently died. Another 14 people aged from 4 to 57 have been injured with rubber bullets including a ten-year-old girl who lost an eye and a man shot 12 times in the back. The camp has endured nearly two months of tear-gassing with four instances of tear-gas mortars being dropped into the camp from helicopters. One man died from tear gas and a small girl suffered a fractured skull after being hit by a tear-gas canister.
The gas is frequently fired into people's homes regardless of who occupies them; many people have been hospitalized as a result. On one occasion the gas was shot into the UNRWA clinic whilst patients were waiting to see their doctors. In addition countless residents from seven years upwards have been beaten so badly they required hospitalization. Over 250 have been arrested.
The most frequent form of collective punishment is the curfew, when all camp residents are confined to their homes for days at a time. Al-Ama'ari has undergone 101 days of curfew since December 1987, the longest of these being 27 days. The refugees have witnessed the vandalism of their homes - there are some houses without a pane of glass intact - and numerous incidents of IDF soldiers throwing stones and bottles at children. In March 1988, three visiting Italian MPs were so appalled at the conditions imposed on these people, that they chained themselves to a fence in protest. Since then conditions have worsened.
China's new problem
The cost of living is not the only thing on the way up in China: juvenile delinquency statistics are also showing alarming increases. In the countryside as well as urban areas, minor offences such as pick-pocketing, brawling and petty swindling are becoming common. Juvenile delinquency now accounts for over 65 per cent of the total number of recorded offences - double the rates of previous decades, excluding the chaotic years of the Cultural Revolution. What is going down is the age at which youngsters start to break the rules: in the 1960s it was around 16. Now it is 12 or younger.
With China's new open-door policy to the capitalist world has come an influx of liberal ideas which have been blamed for the crime wave. Unsavoury films and videos, pornographic magazines and books are becoming easier to obtain. Yet the policy has also resulted in an increased frankness on the part of the Chinese authorities, who concede that economic analyses alone are not sufficient to explain the country's wayward youth. The recent revival of the social sciences is also partly due to the recognition of juvenile delinquency as a social problem which orthodox Marxist-Leninist theory cannot solve.
Meanwhile several measures adopted since 1978 - when economic reforms began under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping - have been strengthened to cope with the unruly youngsters. The Labour and Education Reform School is one. Such institutions are found in most urban areas, providing guidance for youngsters who are considered 'out of control'. In an attempt to reduce the social stigma caused by negative labels, the youths are treated as 'flowers damaged by insects' who can be reformed through tender care and proper guidance. This means a disciplined rather than punitive regime, with persuasion rather than scare tactics being used. Such places resemble strict boarding schools.
Truancy is the main 'crime' that brings children here. And about one third of the occupants are likely to have been admitted for under-age sexual activity - especially the girls, in whom such activity is seen as especially abhorrent. All pupils learn practical skills which it is hoped will mould them into useful members of society.
'No-one told me it was dangerous,' says Selvam, a 20-year-old estate worker as he lies in his hospital bed surveying his semi-paralysed arms and legs. And he is not the only one. Fifty-two patients during the past year were in one small district coastal hospital in Selangor, Malaysia for the same reason - poisoning by agricultural pesticides.
As nations like Malaysia desperately seek to increase agricultural productivity, massive amounts of pesticides are used to destroy the weeds and diseases that can ruin crops. Malaysians are striving for self-sufficiency in rice production and double-cropping has become common. A recent survey of farmers in rice-growing areas revealed dozens of farmers who had been poisoned after spraying fields. One third of tobacco farmers had suffered similar experiences.
Selvam used to inject an insecticide - monocrotophos - into oil-palms. The fumes poisoned him, destroying nerves in his arms and legs. Now he is jobless. The Selangor victims fell ill after the Department of Agriculture ordered the fields to be sprayed during the last rice-growing season. More than 1300 different pesticides - many banned in other countries - are sold in Malaysia, There is no classification according to toxicity. Once a product is registered it can be used by anyone without restriction. Regulation is in the hands of the Pesticides Board - but as part of the Department of Agriculture, its priority is productivity rather than health.
The pesticides industry - turning over $100 million annually and including local subsidiaries of multinationals like ICI and Shell - is a powerful lobby against regulation. So are the government-owned companies who own most of the estates on which docile, semi-educated workforces work without protective clothing routinely used by farm workers involved in spraying in wealthier countries.
Among products used routinely are DDT - employed in malaria control, and Lindane - banned in 20 countries including Japan. Aldrin and Dieldrin, both classified by the World Health Organization as hazardous and linked to birth defects in animals, are commonly used on fruit and vegetable crops. Chlordane and Heptachlor, which are banned in 17 countries because of links with leukaemia, are used to protect homes from termites.
Most common is Paraquat weedkiller. Nearly all farmers have a bottle in their kitchen, yet a teaspoonful swallowed or absorbed through the skin kills slowly and horribly, burning through lung and liver tissues. In 1986 there were 368 deaths from this chemical, including many suicides.
Such tragedies have prompted changes in the law. Paraquat sales are to be restricted. Retailers will need licenses so that the storage and sale of pesticides are controlled. And estate workers are to be issued with proper clothing, and benefit from shorter spraying hours and regular medical attention.
The move towards regularizaton also follows the realization that overuse of pesticides can be counterproductive. Pesticide-resistant insects have started to appear, prompting increased research into other forms of control such as the biological enemies of major pests. But the reality remains that more pesticides are being used every year. And watchdog groups fear that the laws - expensive for employers and government regulators - may be watered down or delayed.
Hannah Todd / Third World Network Features
Militarizing native people's lands
The original inhabitants of the Quebec-Labrador peninsular - the Innu - are protesting at the militarization of their homeland and the Government's refusal to negotiate over their claim to the land. The Canadian Government is allowing NATO Air Forces to use the area for low-flying aircraft which seriously disturbs the wildlife - especially the caribou on which the Innu economy depends.
Plans by NATO to increase military exercises, including the building of a $500 million (US) NATO Tactical Fighter Weapons Training Centre, are being investigated by an environmental assessment panel. But local people have become increasingly angry at the military flight training. Last September some Innu, together with local priest Father Jim Roche, occupied a bombing range and forced a halt to NATO exercises. It was the first of a number of occupations in which a total of 78 people were arrested for creating a disturbance. A protest camp was set up at the end of the runway. Weight was added to the Innu cause when the Roman Catholic Bishop for Northern Quebec and Labrador visited the camp.
Support for the Innu from other native groups across Canada is growing and Innu Chief, Daniel Ashine, recently flew to British Columbia to confer with the Union of British Columbian chiefs. The national umbrella group for Canada's native people, the Assembly of First Nations, has been actively lobbying on behalf of the Innu. International support is also expanding. A protest by European support groups outside NATO headquarters in The Hague last November, was timed to coincide with an Innu demonstration outside the Canadian Department of National Defence in Ottawa.