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Good news fix
I enjoyed reading about Salman (Letter from Lebanon NI 334). The NI is hard to read because it includes more than its fair share of bad news. It made a refreshing change to read about somebody doing something worthwhile. Could you start a regular column on Worldsavers? That would be excellent.

Siegrun Macgilchrist
Maybole, Scotland

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Natural fluoride
Bernard Seward (Letters NI 334) is mistaken. Oxygen is a minor component of the atmosphere, but without it we would suffocate. Fluoride is a minor and natural component of the water in many parts of the world. Without it the people who live in those parts would not have such good teeth. It is fluorideless water that is poisonous: it causes tooth decay. Putting fluoride into the water is like taking oxygen with you to places where there is not enough.

Alasdair Livingston
Mitcham, Australia

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Cover of the NI issue 333 Global war
Empires of the Senseless’ (Keynote NI 333) is an excellent summary of the stranglehold Global Media Giants have on information and commerce; and how they are but a few mega-mergers away from total domination of global commerce and information distribution. I have a problem with the last two paragraphs of the article, however.

Instead of a stirring call to action urging We the Consumer to develop local grassroots activism and alternative media outlets (and help on finding them), the article spirals into a pap of politically correct buzzwords such as ‘ecosystem’ and ‘cultural diversity’.

The Transnationals are waging global war against culture and environment. Their scorched-earth policy uses the profit motive and the lure of Western affluence to undermine belief in anything not approved by Armani-tailored warlords in teak-paneled boardrooms. While it may not be possible to completely dismantle the corporate Ministry of Information and Culture, local awareness and education is the first step toward lessening its impact.

Karl Koons
Washington DC, US

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Cover of the NI issue 334 Damage limitation
I commend Paul Donovan for drawing attention to new types of landmine which bypass the Ottawa Treaty (Currents NI 334). They should be strongly resisted. I think, however, that he misses the point about the Taser Area Denial Device, which immobilizes the victim. He also mentions other weapons such as tranquillizing chemicals. Unpleasant they may be and we should not encourage the use of any weapons – however, one feature of this technology is that it is designed to avoid, if possible, killing or injuring the enemy. Certainly it can be misused or deliberately abused but this so-called ‘non-lethal’ weaponry does offer some glimmer of hope in reducing the carnage of war.

Andrew Greig
Avalon Beach, Australia

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It takes two
You correctly speak of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as Islam’s third holiest site (Worldbeaters NI 334) but omit to mention that it is Israel’s holiest site of all – and was so for many centuries before Muhammad’s birth! The Muslims, in fact, ruthlessly seized the land from its original occupants and should hardly complain at getting a dose of their own medicine. Mutual recriminations get nowhere, of course, and only result in increasing mutual resentment. Negotiation and compromise is, in the end, the only way to peace and stability – and although you point the finger at Ariel Sharon for his ‘provocative’ act of visiting his religion’s holiest site, the Palestinians, or more properly Hizbollah, must accept their share of the blame for the breakdown of peace talks.

cries for vengeance had to be reined in before progress could be made

The experience of Northern Ireland shows how much can be accomplished when the bombs are silenced. Many people have suffered on both sides and their cries for vengeance had to be reined in before progress could be made. I suggest it is much the same between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Charles Phillips
Bromley, England

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In Ritalin’s defence...
I gather Mark McDougall (Letters NI 333) has not had to teach children who have ‘abundant energy’. He has not seen that it is not so much ‘abundant’ as ‘uncontrollable’ where the child concerned seems to have no social conscience or be able to control their actions.

I agree that Ritalin can be used out of hand. However, for many students it is a saver in that it helps them come to terms with life so that they can use their energies in a constructive rather than destructive way. I suggest Mark McDougall investigates the needs for Ritalin and works with those who need it but do not have it. I suggest that he finds out the difference between ‘abundant energy’ and ‘uncontrollable energy’.

Jane Giffould
Halstead, England

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...and again
I have worked with many children with attention-deficit disorders before and after receiving Ritalin. All the children I know taking this drug are very lively, energetic, enthusiastic young people with loads of ideas and energy. They are full of fun and not drugged-up zombies. Before Ritalin they were unable to control any impulse they had. They had no concentration to sit down and do anything, so no way of harnessing their creativity. They constantly flew off the handle getting into fights, making it impossible to make friends. None of the children I knew liked being forced to live this life. Giving them Ritalin has allowed them control over their life, so that they can live and enjoy it rather than its being out of their control.

Rose Wilsher
Bushey, England

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Spheres of influence
Congratulations on Megalomedia (NI 333). The greatest phenomenon of modern times is the skill with which a relatively small number of people exert enormous influence over the economy, politics and lifestyle of most of the world’s people. Of similar importance are the role played by the West’s major universities in establishing elitism and the very simple, but very massive, swindle that is private banking.

Laurie Phillips
Western Australia

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Lapdog unleashed
Tika Jankovic’s letter (‘Contested versionNI 334) on the Serbian revolution talks about a ‘coup d’état’ carried out on the behest of NATO, but neglects to point out those who really drove the revolution. The anti-Milosevic, anti-NATO student movement Otpor! as well as the Zastava car workers, Kolubara miners, Pancevo refinery workers and transport workers of Belgrade were key in the overthrow of Milosevic.

Milosevic has never been a bulwark for ‘socialism’ against NATO – his regime benefited a small clique of politicians, trade-union leaders, generals and factory managers (and of course his own family) while the mass of the population suffered hardship and poverty. After the Dayton accords in 1995 he was accorded the role of ‘our man in the Balkans’ who would defend an iniquitous colonial settlement to the Bosnian war. After late 1998 it became clear that the low-intensity war he was conducting against the Kosovar Albanians was going to blow apart the security system imposed on the region at the Dayton talks. When NATO’s lapdogs escape from the proverbial leash they never dare risk unleashing mass resistance from below but seek to impose a new order at the top, hence their tendency to conduct long, costly and drawn-out bombing campaigns.

Perhaps Tika Jankovic should listen to Noam Chomsky, a man who can hardly be accused of supporting Western imperialism: ‘The mass movement in Serbia merits great admiration, and provides an inspiring example of what united and dedicated people can achieve. What has taken place, and where it will go, is in the hands of the people of Serbia, though as always, international solidarity and support can make a substantial difference.’

Jonathan Maunder
Exeter, England

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Wanted: Sharon
The world should be frequently reminded that Israel, the cat’s paw of the US in the Middle East, is currently run by a butcher and thug whose record is no different, in principle, to that of the European fascist dictators of the last century. He should never be allowed to believe that the international public will forget his complicity in the torture and massacre of thousands in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982 (Letter from Lebanon NI 333). If we want to prosecute Milosevic and his cronies for crimes against humanity, where is the warrant for Sharon? The bulk of decent Israelis must be wondering now what they have done in putting him back into power.

Les MacDonald
Balmain, Australia

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Letter from Lebanon

When memory is a village
Ibrahim Othman’s curious – and inspired – enterprise has Reem Haddad entranced.

The first time I saw the book, I had been talking to refugees in the Palestinian camps in Beirut, Sabra and Chatila. Abu Youssef, a man I had come to see, was reading it out loud to his eight children.

‘You come from a village in northern Palestine called Deir al-Qassi,’ he was telling them. ‘I am going to read to you the names of every person who lived in the village. You must memorize every detail in this book.’

Intrigued, I sat among the children and listened intently. Abu Youssef turned to a map and showed it around. It was hand-drawn and marked every house and tree. The lesson over and the children dispersed, I scrutinized the book. It was about 255 pages and contained an amazing amount of detail.

Like most Palestinian villages, Deir al-Qassi was destroyed in 1948 when the Jewish state was created. But in the book, it was still very much alive. I felt myself transported to Deir al-Qassi, observing villagers going about their daily chores. I learned of the clothes they wore, the food they ate, the crops they sowed and how they constructed their homes. I felt I was accompanying them to their mosques and cemeteries and later to picnics in the woods.

Illustration by Sarah John I learned of their customs, traditions, beliefs, and superstitions – their religious commemorations, their ways of welcoming strangers, proverbs, folk dances, poetry and songs. I even learned how to relate with passing Bedouins. Every inhabitant, shop owner, proprietor and shepherd was listed.

‘Who did all this?’ I asked.

The writer’s name was Ibrahim Othman, I was told, and he lived in the southern Lebanese town of Tyre. I set off to meet him.

No sooner had I introduced myself to the 60-year-old schoolteacher than he pointed to a rough painting on the wall. It showed a few houses scattered among some hills in a picturesque village. He had painted it himself and it was how he remembered his village.

‘Do you know that my village is closer to Tyre than Sidon is?’ he said. Sidon, another Lebanese town, was less than an hour away.

He began to write the book, he said, when he noticed that he was agonizing at the passing away of the elderly. ‘They have the memories and evidence that once there was a village called Deir al-Qassi,’ he said. ‘That once there was a people living there, farming the land and leading simple honest lives.’ Three years ago, he suddenly felt compelled to track down the elderly and get their stories.

‘I felt I had a mission. And that is to write every detail I could get and write a book about Deir al-Qassi.’ And so Othman travelled throughout Lebanon going from village to village asking if Palestinians above the age of 70 resided in them – specifically Palestinians from Deir al-Qassi. Altogether, he located 51 elderly villagers – the oldest was 102 years old. It was often a race against time. ‘Some passed away a few days after the interview and others died before I could get to them,’ he remembers.

Othman spent hours with each person. ‘I wanted to know everything,’ he said. ‘From customs, to who owned what shops, to the games children played.’

Othman was also able to depend on his own memories. He clearly remembers that day in 1948 when as a six-year-old he was playing in a street with some friends. In only three days, he was to go to school for the first time and he was excited about it. He also recalls that his parents were especially pleased that season as the harvesting – which was to begin in the next few days – looked exceptionally good that year.

‘It was a Thursday afternoon when the (Israeli) planes came and began to bomb the village. I ran in panic along with everyone else. On the way, some children were blown to pieces.’

Joining up with his family, he hid in fields. But the attacks didn’t cease and villagers fled to nearby Lebanon. A few days later, some of the villagers sneaked back into Palestine and made their way to the village to retrieve their belongings from their homes.

Some never made it back. Among them was the mother of a man Othman located and interviewed. The last thing Mohamed Maarouf, now 77, heard was his mother calling out to him as Israeli soldiers riddled her body with bullets. His story is one of those included in the book.

Othman spared no details – from statistics to the name of the coffee seller down the road. ‘They’re all in the book. Everything has been reconstructed just as it was.’

Finally, last year, the book went to print. Othman put all of his savings into producing over 1,000 copies and distributed them free of charge to the offspring of Deir al-Qassi. Fifty copies were kept aside for ‘my children, their children and grandchildren,’ he said. ‘This is my legacy to them.’

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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New Internationalist issue 336 magazine cover This article is from the July 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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