issue 205 - March 1990
Home to a hornet's nest
Kibbutzniks face the Intifada
Photo: Sue Shaw
Cover the last two decades many South African Jews have emigrated to Israel to start a new life on the kibbutz away from the oppression of apartheid. The Intifada - the popular uprising by Palestinians in Israel's occupied territories - poses these people a dilemma.
David Goldberg explains it this way: 'Being a Jew I thought of coming to Israel as a home-coming, a place of my own in the world'. Ten years ago he settled with his family on the kibbutz. 'It seemed to offer a high quality of life and matched my expectations of the way I wanted to live.'
Eli Helman goes further. He and his family left South Africa for political reasons. 'We couldn't see ourselves having a future there within the system of apartheid... We settled on the kibbutz because we liked the way of life, its ideology and practicalities.'
But recently both families have felt a growing disappointment with Israel. 'The situation has turned very sour in Israel at the moment,' says David. 'We haven't been wise enough in the past to settle the problems of the Occupied Territories. Ten years ago we were in a good position to cut a deal that would have been good both for Israel and the Arabs.'
Both Eli and David express strong disapproval of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 'They are a mistake. They are making things worse and creating a real hornet's nest,' David believes.
As his eldest son comes closer to the age when he will have to do national service. David is starting to think about leaving Israel. He believes the young boys and girls going into the army now have become political pawns - and live bait for the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. 'It wasn't the most enjoyable situation of my life,' he says of his own army reserve duty in the Territories. 'When I came over I thought that I'd be living and fighting for a cause that I believed in. But over the last few years I've become disillusioned. Instead of initiatives towards a more peaceful existence, things are going in the opposite direction. It's getting scary.
That decision about leaving has already been made by Eli and his family. Now they are just waiting for visas before heading for Australia. I asked him if he has any regrets. 'I am sorry to be leaving Israel, especially the kibbutz. I didn't come with any great hopes but I feel now that things aren't going the way I want them to. The Intifada was the final straw. There's no future here now.' And what was he looking forward to in their new home? 'The end of day-to-day confrontation,' he replies.
Ivory Coast's aged leader clings to power
Despite the omnipresence of security personnel and informants, it is not uncommon in the slum areas of Treichville, Abobo Gare and Adjame to hear people praying over their drinks for the death of Ivory Coast's 85-year-old President Houphouet-Boigny. In the popular night club, Boule Noire, a young unemployed graduate gave me two tracts which read: 'Down with Houphouetocracy' (an expression that has come to replace autocracy) and 'A senile President is a danger'.
Despite mass arrests of dissidents, open condemnation of the Government's corruption and ineptitude is on the increase. By reducing the price paid to farmers of cocoa and coffee by almost a half, the President has alienated farmers. Between them, cocoa and coffee account for over 80 per cent of Ivory Coast's foreign-exchange earnings.
In the city of Yamoussoukro stands a 300-bed luxury hotel, a championship golf course and an international airport which deals with one local flight a day. Looming above the city is the dome of the newly-built Our Lady of Peace, the largest basilica outside St. Peter's in Rome.
Ivory Coast is one of the world's most heavily indebted countries. It owes $14 billion. It has just made a new rescheduling agreement with the Paris Club. But President Houphouet-Boigny, whose sixth five-year tem expires early this year, is politically embattled. Social and economic conditions are worsening.
The President has the prop of a detachment of French troops whose duty is to protect the status quo in line with the Franco-Ivorian military pact. The national army still maintains its seemingly apolitical stance but sources close to the armed forces say tribal sentiments are rife. Although the President has been playing this down, he is apparently deeply worried about ethnic divisions and so will not relent in his call for national union in the name of a one-party state.
Niyi Alabi / Gemini
One law for the rich...
Banned drugs exported to Third World
The health of people in poor countries is more likely to be improved by combatting poverty, poor sanitation and the most basic diseases than by sophisticated drug cocktails. Yet Western pharmaceutical companies continue to reap profits from selling drugs to the Third World that are not only inappropriate but have also been banned in the companies' home countries.
Among the biggest offenders are the Swiss companies Hoffman La Roche and Ciba Geigy. The Declaration of Bern, the Swiss development action group which played a leading part in the campaign against Nestle's overpromotion of baby-milk, has published an assessment of the medicines which Swiss drug firms export to the Third World.
Of 1084 products sold by Swiss companies in 51 Third World countries, 48 per cent are considered inappropriate. Only 17 per cent are included in the World Health Organization's Model List of Essential Drugs. Almost one third of products exported are not even registered in Switzerland: 59 per cent of these are categorized as nonsense preparations and many of them are dangerous.
Bundesrat Cotti, the Minister for Internal Affairs, whose responsibilities include the Federal Health Office, said recently that Switzerland wanted no double standards: 'What we don't want to tolerate in our country, we cannot tolerate on the soil of other states'. He was talking about the export of toxic waste, but the same should surely apply to the export of medicines.
The Declaration of Bern, together with the charity Medicus Mundi, are asking for a federal law to control drug exports.
Genocide threatens indigenous peoples
Tens of thousands of the Mayan peoples of Guatemala are prisoners in their own land. A recent Minority Rights Group report highlights their brutal treatment in some 30 'model villages' run by the Guatemalan army as part of a vicious counter-insurgency war.
In these 'villages', Mayans are mixed together irrespective of their language groups, and forced to speak Spanish. They are denied access to hereditary lands and their traditional mayoral government is replaced by army-appointed commissioners. Consciousness-raising' classes are designed to destroy indigenous culture.
After a fraudulent election and a military coup in 1982-3, scores of remote Indian villages were razed to the ground because of their actual or alleged support for left-wing guerilla groups. Since 'democratic' government was restored, the picture has been little better. Some estimates put the death toll at 20,000 to date. More than 180,000 Mayans fled over the northern border into Mexico. Another half million or more became internal refugees in provincial towns or in the capital, Guatemala City. Others hid in the tropical forest and mountains in the extreme north of the country. Thousands have been forced to surrender to the army after further 'scorched earth' and 'search and destroy' missions.
Mayan peoples are found throughout Central America and are the direct descendents of the great Mayan civilization. They form a majority of the population of Guatemala. Language and dress are obvious distinctions, but just as important are Mayan values - real status comes from the recognition accorded to service to the community.
Life expectancy for indigenous people is 16 years lower than for the mixed-blood 'ladinos' of the cities. Expropriation of Mayan land began in the colonial period and continues today, largely to make way for agro-industrial mechanization. Now some 95 per cent of Indian families are landless or farming smallholdings of less than the minimum seven hectares needed to support a family. This forces thousands of highland Indians to work in the terrible conditions of the coastal plantation areas.
The Minority Rights Group is calling for urgent action to stop the killings, 'disappearances', detentions, torture and forced relocation of the native peoples of Guatemala.
To give practical support join the Rapid Response Network of the Guatemala Human Rights Committee, 22 Margaret Street, London W1N 7HB.
1 The Maya of Guatemala by Philip Wearne is available from bookshops or from the Minority Rights Group. 369 Brixton Road, London SW9 7DE, UK at £3.00 or US£6.00 including postage.
Nepal and India at odds
'Unless we receive more kerosene soon to fuel our lamps, we shall have to close our class,' says Phul Maya, the adult-literacy teacher in Mulpani village. 'It's a pity because the women are very motivated. They meet at night when their work is finished.'
Lightless evenings are just one result of the current trade dispute between Nepal and India which has crippled Nepal's transportation system and small industries. Rural areas have so far been less affected than the towns, since 80 per cent of the population are subsistence farmers living beyond the reach of roads. But now they too are beginning to feel the effects. Most goods are channelled to Kathmandu, and freight trips to outlying roadheads for portering into the mountain districts have been severely curtailed. Even goods manufactured in Nepal are now in short supply.
In Baglung, a mountain district more than two days' walk from the road, kerosene supplies have been rationed since May 1989. Ran Singh Thapa, who chairs the District Panchayat (Council), says supplies are down to a quarter of what is needed. The household ration has been cut from two litres per month to one. Most of it is used to light small wick lamps called tuki. 'If you burn a tuki just long enough to do the cooking each evening, one litre will last two weeks,' says Som Bahadur Khadka, a local farmer. Some villagers are now using wood chips or clarified butter instead of kerosene.
In Baglung Bazaar, a town of 10,000 people, the price of a porter-load of firewood has shot up. One neighbouring village, alarmed at the deforestation of its slopes, has organized a sentry system. Anyone crossing the bridge to sell firewood in Baglung Bazaar is fined and turned back.
Questions are now being raised as to why the kerosene ration is three litres per week in Kathmandu (where they also have electricity) and only one litre per month in mountain districts. Sugar is only available on the black market and there are rumours that the price of tea, the national beverage, is going to double. For the time being the villagers are not unduly concerned. The harvest is in and grain stores are still full. But when spring comes with its usual food shortages the situation is bound to worsen.
Adult-literacy classes are very important to Nepal's rural women. In Baglung District there are about 80 classes with over 2.000 women participating. With the shortage of kerosene the villagers are looking at new ways to keep the classes running. In one village the women have donated their own kerosene rations, and in another village the men agreed that women should be spared from work for two hours each morning to attend classes - something unheard of formerly. If more follow their example the trade dispute with India could make an unexpected contribution to changing social attitudes in rural Nepal.