Expat peace group studies embattled Okinawa ecology

by Jon Mitchell

The Japan Times

US for Okinawa tour covers harmful impact of U.S. bases, both existing and planned

At first glance, the group of 15 young Japanese and foreigners gathered together in the arrival lounge at Naha airport look like just another package tour for a week of fun on Okinawa's tropical beaches.

Drawing close enough to overhear their talk of nerve gas, land mines and unexploded bombs, however, it becomes clear that instead of working on their tans, they are more concerned about world peace.

These English teachers, interior designers and university students are taking part in a study trip organized by the group US for Okinawa to teach people about the environmental impact of American military bases on the islands.

"The name US for Okinawa has two meanings," explains Emilie McGlone, the group's cofounder and international coordinator for the nongovernmental organization Peace Boat.

"On one hand, it reflects the support of American citizens living in Japan for a base-free Okinawa. On the other hand, it shows that 'all of us' are dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers caused by the bases.

"We believe the best way to achieve that is to come here and talk firsthand to local residents about the problems they face."

Over the next four days, the participants will meet with a diverse range of Okinawan people — each with a different environmental horror story to share. In Ginowan, they will listen to a resident recount the 2004 crash of a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter and the subsequent scramble by the authorities to recover radioactive strontium-90 from sensors attached to the rotor blades.

Farther north, they will learn about the military mishap that strafed 1,500 depleted uranium shells across tiny Torishima Island — rendering its once bountiful fish stocks inedible for human consumption.

One of the most affecting encounters will occur in the village of Takae, where soft-spoken Ikuko Isa will describe her fellow residents' three-year campaign to block the construction of six new military helipads in the area.

As she discusses the daily stress of living next to the world's largest jungle warfare training center, she doesn't raise her voice in anger. Even when she describes recent revelations that, in the 1960s, the military likely tested the defoliant Agent Orange near rivers that supply the rest of the island with more than half of its drinking water, she remains calm.

"We're just ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives."

Belying the myths of a politically apathetic younger generation, the tour's participants fill their notebooks with the stories they hear. They pepper the local residents with countless questions, and back on the bus they compare notes to fill in any blanks they missed.

"I first came to Okinawa on a package tour three years ago," explains a young Japanese woman. "All we did was visit beaches and souvenir shops. I didn't know about these (environmental) problems. This trip is a real eye-opener for me."

On the third day, the group's devotion is put to the test. McGlone wakes them up at dawn, herds them onto the bus and then leads them on a 15-minute hike through thick jungle. From a hilltop overlooking Oura Bay, local resident Takuma Higashionna talks about the dugong — a relative of the manatee — that feeds on the sea grass in the waters below.

The dugong was once revered by Okinawans as a messenger of the gods, but now their numbers have dwindled to fewer than a dozen.

Higashionna is campaigning to establish a sanctuary in the area. He faces heavy opposition — Oura Bay is the proposed site for the relocation of U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma, and current plans call for two 1,500-meter runways to be built over the beds of sea grass.

In 2008, Higashionna sued the U.S. Department of Defense, arguing that the runway plans violate American laws protecting "natural monuments" (such as the dugong) wherever they live. Higashionna won the case, but Washington has failed to abandon the project.

"If this were the United States, it wouldn't be allowed to go ahead," Higashionna tells the group. "So why do they let it happen here?"

Following Higashionna's talk, the tour climbs aboard boats and heads out for a closer view of the area threatened by the new base. Half of the participants don scuba tanks to search for the telltale furrows of foraging dugong, while the rest snorkel among the bay's rare blue and "walking" coral.

Despite their failure to spot the elusive dugong, they bring back to shore a newfound sense of Oura Bay's fragile beauty. Nao Sokei, a native of Naha, was particularly impressed.

"Seeing all of that sea life made my love for this island deeper. Now I realize I need to think more about how to protect Okinawa."

On the final day, the tour participants meet with local campaigners dedicated to achieving precisely that. For the past 6 1/2 years, Inochi o Mamoru-kai (Association for the Protection of Life) has been staging a sit-in near Oura Bay to prevent the construction of the new base.

In 2007, elderly residents, fishermen and environmental activists waged a campaign of disruption against construction crews attempting to bore pylons into the seabed. They chained themselves to scaffolding, maneuvered kayaks in front of massive barges and wore down the laborers with a combination of heated negotiation and good humor.

Faced by the campaign and negative media coverage, the government called off the construction. However, with the May acceptance by then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to the relocation of the Futenma base to the area, the association expects the return of the construction crews at any time.

While Hiroshi Ashitomi, one of the campaign's leaders, is touched by US for Okinawa's support, the 64-year-old retiree has a word of caution: "If younger activists are arrested, they'll lose their jobs or the police record will prevent them from being hired in the future."

He gestures around the campaign tent to the elderly protesters sipping jasmine tea. "That's why there are so many retired people here. We're not afraid. We have our pensions. They can't take those away no matter what we do."

On their way back to the bus, some members of US for Okinawa review what they have witnessed over the past four days, and they wonder aloud why anybody would want to sign up for the military in the first place.

As if on cue, two young American soldiers emerge from the sea and sit on the harbor wall, peeling off their fins and snorkels. Some of the tour participants look startled to be suddenly confronted with the object of their antipathy, but as the Americans excitedly describe the coral and multicolored tropical fish they just saw in the bay, it appears that they share a common appreciation of the nature here.

One of the group tactfully steers the conversation toward why they joined the army and both men cite the lack of employment opportunities in their impoverished hometowns, combined with the lure of a free university education.

Bemoaning the lack of information they received when they first arrived on Okinawa, they say they're keen to learn more about the island. One of the group hands them his business card and invites them for a drink when they're next in Tokyo. The soldiers say they'll be in touch.

Back on the bus, the group fills their notebooks with details of the meeting. They say it was one of the most illuminating discussions of the trip in that it helped to dispel some stereotypes about American servicemen.

McGlone, too, seems pleased at the chance encounter. "When people talk to each other, you can see the wheels start turning on both sides. It's a great thing to watch. People learn best through face-to-face communication. That's what US for Okinawa is all about."
For information about upcoming US for Okinawa study tours, contact Emilie McGlone at us.for.okinawa@gmail.com


Southern Africa: Britain will not concede the Chagos plateau

African Bulletin

The British Deputy High Commissioner in Mauritius, Ewan Ormiston said after a meeting with Mauritian Foreign Minister, Henry Bellingham that Great Britain has no intention to cede the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius. Chargos is an overseas territory of Britain composed of 55 small islands located in the central Indian Ocean, East of the Seychelles and South of the Maldives. The archipelago was detached in 1965 from Mauritius, which has not ceased to claim sovereignty since. The British authorities are strongly disputing the lawsuit filed by the Chagos’s Refugees Group to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and Ewan Ormiston regretted that previous governments weren’t able to take the necessary decisions to give, at that time, the Chagossians the right of returning back to their lands. It is unfortunate that no adequate measures have been implemented in the 1970s, measures that would have easily changed the positively the situation, the British diplomat said. Now and because of security measures, we cannot allow the Chagossians to join permanently their native islands. However, we will continue to allow some of them to visit the archipelago, but in right time and right places, he argued.


Guamanians Fight Plan for U.S. Firing Ranges

by Purna Nemani

Courthouse News Service

HONOLULU (CN) - The Pentagon is preparing to destroy cultural and environmental treasures of Guam by building five firing ranges on more than 1,000 acres, citizens and cultural groups claim. The shooting grounds for machineguns and other weapons will trash Guam's only bay as the Pentagon moves 80,000 soldiers and contractors there from Okinawa, due to pressure from Japan, according to the federal complaint.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Guam Preservation Trust and other groups and citizens say Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his minions will violate the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Guam Coastal Management Program as they occupy land in and around Pagat Village.
Rapes and other crimes committed by U.S. sailors in Okinawa forced the Pentagon to do something to assuage the public outcry. As part of its effort to reduce the U.S. military profile there, the Defense Department agreed to move about 80,000 service members, dependents and contractors to Guam from Okinawa by 2017.
The Guamanian plaintiffs say the Pentagon never conducted a full and fair environmental assessment of what the massive troop transfers would do to Guam's land and waters. Nor did the Pentagon consider alternative sites such as the neighboring island of Tinian, according to the complaint.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation says the village of Pagat is "one of the 11 most endangered historic places in America." It is a popular fishing area, surrounded by forests and caves, and is sacred to the indigenous Chamorro people who make up half of Guam's population of 175,000.
The Guamanians say the Pentagon's environmental analysis of terrestrial biological resources at Pagat is "fundamentally flawed," because, among other things, it "ignores the National Marine Fisheries Service's comments indicating that the Pagat area may be habitat for sensitive turtle species."
According to the military's own newspaper, Stars & Stripes, "both the EPA and local marine experts complained that the military's plan did little to explore other options in the island's only harbor to avoid dredging as much as 25 acres of coral." Stars & Stripes reported Teri Weaver reported, "In its final environmental statement, the Navy stuck to its plans to put the firing range near the Pagat village site, a move that some local leaders have said will force the military to take the land by legal force. It's a tactic the military has pledged to avoid."
The 24,000-page draft EIS was made available for public comment in November 2009. The plaintiff Guam Preservation Trust, established in 1990 to "preserve and protect Guam's historic sites, culture, and perspectives for the benefit of its people and its future," says that its mission "is significantly impeded by the decision to build a live-fire range complex at Pagat."
"Plaintiffs do not contest in this lawsuit the larger relocation of Marines and other forces to Guam, nor do they take issue in this lawsuit with the foreign and defense policy considerations that have caused the Government to seek a base for the Marines other than Okinawa, where controversy has attended their continued presence," the complaint states. "What plaintiffs do contest is Defendants' decision to choose Pagat Village and its surrounds as the site of the firing range complex (described antiseptically by the Department of the Navy as the 'Route 15' area, named after the road which transects the forests surrounding Pagat, and which would have to be moved."
The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief. They are represented by Carl Christensen of Honolulu and Nicholas Yost of San Francisco.


New Yorkers Protest Fundraising Cruise for Illegal Hebron Settlements

by Adam Keller

Gush Shalom

New York, NY, November 16 – 120 New Yorkers silently picketed at the entrance to Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers this evening to protest against the Brooklyn-based Hebron Fund’s fundraising event to expand Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Hebron. The protesters held signs saying “End the Siege of Hebron,” “Remove the Settlers,” “Return the Land,” “Hebron is in Palestine,” “US Dollars Feed Israeli War Crimes,” and other signs with large photos depicting violence by Israeli settlers and soldiers against Palestinian residents of Hebron. The protest was endorsed by sixteen US human rights and peace groups, three of which are Jewish (see groups below).

About forty people held a separate protest organized by J Street U also at Chelsea Piers criticizing the Hebron Fund fundraising event and Israeli settlements. Some Hebron Fund attendees were forced to walk past the two protests in order to reach the Hebron Fund event.

Riham Barghouti from Adalah-NY commented, “On top of the US government’s $3 billion in annual aid to the Israeli government, the Hebron Fund is in New York City raising tax-free money to support some of the most violent and racist Israeli settlers. All Israeli settlements violate international law. We need to end the use of US tax dollars to support Israeli human rights abuses, and stop groups like the Hebron Fund.”

The fundraising dinner for Israeli settlements came as the Obama Administration is pushing the Israeli government to commit to a temporary freeze of the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In Hebron, a West Bank city with over 160,000 Palestinian residents, around 600 Jewish settlers, guarded by thousands of Israeli soldiers, regularly employ violence to expand their control over the city by taking over Palestinian homes and shops, and driving out Palestinian residents, according to the Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

The Hebron Fund event was organized as a Hudson River cruise and entitled the “Hebron Aid Flotilla” in an apparent attempt to mock the international Freedom Flotilla that sailed last spring to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. The Israeli military attacked the flotilla in international waters, killing nine passengers, including an American citizen, and injuring an additional 58 passengers. The Hebron Fund announcement for the event stated that “settlements are legal,” and claimed that “the tax deductible status of the meager donations to Hebron’s Jews comes under repeated scrutiny - for no good reason except for racism and anti-Semitism.” The Hebron Fund’s keynote speaker, Caroline Glick, a former adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, has written in the Jerusalem Post that President Obama is “treating Israel like an enemy.”

According to all major human rights organizations, the UN, the International Court of Justice, and governments worldwide, all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. In 1979, the US State Department’s legal adviser also issued a legal opinion that has never been revised stating that the establishment of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories "is inconsistent with international law," according to The Washington Post.

This is the third consecutive year in which the Brooklyn-based Hebron Fund’s annual fundraising dinner in New York has faced protests. The Hebron Fund is one of a number of US nonprofits that fund Israeli settlements. Others include Friends of Ir David, American Friends of the Ateret Cohanim, and The Central Fund for Israel. According to the Washington Post, “A search of IRS records identified 28 U.S. charitable groups that made a total of $33.4 million in tax-exempt contributions to settlements and related organizations between 2004 and 2007.” A recent New York Times report on these US settlement nonprofits quoted a senior US State Department official saying, “It’s a problem. It’s unhelpful to the efforts that we’re trying to make.”

In 2007, Hebron Fund Executive Director Yossi Baumol told The American Prospect that "[d]emocracy is poison to Arabs," "Israel must not give Arabs a say in how the country is run," and "[y]ou'll never get the truth out of an Arab." Noam Arnon, a 2009 Hebron Fund fundraiser honoree, called Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein “an extraordinary person'' in 1995, according to the Associated Press. In 1994 Goldstein massacred 29 unarmed Palestinians who were praying in a Hebron mosque, and wounded over 100 more.

For Downloadable Protest Photos See: http://adalahny.org/photo-galleries/demo-against-the-hebron-fund-nov-16-2010

Protest Endorsers: Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, Al-Awda NY, American Jews for a Just Peace, Brooklyn For Peace, Code Pink, Columbia University Students for Justice in Palestine, Delaware Valley Veterans for Peace, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA, Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Say No!, Middle East Crisis Response, Siege Busters working group, War Resisters League, WESPAC, Women in Black – Union Square, Women of a Certain Age, Woodstock Veterans for Peace

U.S. Hospital of Horrors — Dr. Aafia's new home

by Yvonne Ridley

Tehran Times

When Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years by New York judge Richard Berman it sent shock waves around the world. Many of her supporters felt that it was just one step down from the death penalty… sadly, this could be closer to the truth than they imagine.

For not only did the New York judge expose his vindictive pursuit of the defendant by imposing the unprecedented sentence he also personally intervened to make sure she would serve it in one of America’s most brutal institutions.

In short he probably HAS sentenced Dr. Aafia Siddiqui to death because if she remains in the innocuous sounding Federal Medical Facility in Carswell, Texas, like many others who have gone before her, she may not survive the experience.

Carswell is the only mental institution of its kind in the USA, and despite the fact that Judge Berman refused to accept Dr. Siddiqui was not mentally fit to stand trial he subjected her to a judicial farce in which she was found guilty of attempted murder of U.S. soldiers.

So if he refused to accept Dr. Siddiqui was unstable why would he then insist on sending her to Carswell which is known across the USA as the Hospital of Horrors?

Let me tell you how Carswell -- or CarsHELL which houses 1500 female prisoners, earned its reputation.

In the last 10 years…

· COUNTLESS young women -- more than 100 -- have died under “questionable circumstances” with families unable to obtain autopsy reports

· NUMEROUS cases of sex abuse, including sodomy and rape, were carried out by prison chaplain Vincent Bassie Inametti whose reign of terror lasted eight years until he was finally convicted in 2008

· RAMPANT sex abuse of prisoners was reported by prison doctor Roger Guthrie who was fired for whistle-blowing

· PRISON doctor was convicted of sexually abusing inmates while another doctor was allowed to leave without charge after being caught sexually abusing a woman patient

· GROSS medical negligence has been reported including lack of care for several cancer patients -- one went untreated for a year and died

· SERIAL sexual predator and prison guard Michael Miller was convicted of raping a detainee

· FORCED psychotropic medication on reluctant detainees

· INFESTATION of ants went unchecked even when one patient in a coma was covered by the biting creatures as was the corpse of another.

To quote one local newspaper, The Fort Worth Weekly, time served in Carswell “can be a death sentence for women prisoners”.

In a different report about Carswell earlier this year the same newspaper said: “It has a troubling history of medical misconduct and sexual abuse of prisoners. Inametti is the eighth man to be convicted of or fired for sexual abuse, including rape, of female prisoners at the facility since 1997. But women there say that sexual abuse is much more rampant than that; the eight cases only became known when women overcame their fears of retribution and reported their attackers.”

And renowned lawyer Elizabeth Fink said in a statement: “One of my clients was transferred to Carswell to receive chemotherapy. She did not receive it for one full year after the therapy was prescribed. She died of classic Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a cancer with a low mortality rate -- when treated.”

There are a string of court cases outstanding against the institution from those who have survived the Carswell experience and there are families of those who died in custody who are still fighting for justice, demanding to know the truth.

The catalogue of crimes against the female detainees reads like something from a third world country and such an institution would have certainly been closed down by now or overhauled if it existed in Europe.

In fact Dr. Siddiqui should be removed from the U.S. prison system altogether pending her repatriation.

All of this will, of course, make uncomfortable reading for Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who promised Dr. Siddiqui’s family that wherever she was sent she would be treated with respect.

“I will make sure Aafia’s living conditions are humane and respecting Islamic ideology and she be provided full access to family and lawyers without strip searches,” he assured Dr. Siddiqui’s sister Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui recently.

Well if he really wants to make good his promise he should now move heaven and earth to get the Daughter of the Nation out of this vile hell-hole before she becomes another of Carswell’s grim statistics.

Once again the U.S. has shown its contempt towards the wishes of the Pakistan Government and its vindictive persecution of a woman who has been renditioned, raped, tortured and abused since March 2003 when she and her family were kidnapped in Karachi during a joint U.S.-Pakistani-led operation.

The move to repatriate Dr. Siddiqui must now take on a new sense of urgency… before it is too late.
Journalist Yvonne Ridley is also a patron of Cageprisoners, a London-based NGO concerned with human rights of those caught up in the War on Terror. Photo: Federal Medical Facility in Carswell, Texas,USA


Debate on Chagos heats up

by Sobhanund Seeparsad


Now they say, loud and clear, enough is enough. They want concrete action.
To this effect, a high-level Conference on Diego Garcia & Chagos held at Grande Riviere, in Port Louis, in the first week of this month, has issued the Declaration of Grande Rivière on Chagos where a consensus has been reached to “ keep the struggles firmly bound together, never bartering one against the other.”

These are:

- the struggle for the complete decolonization of the Republic of Mauritius, the dismantling of the British Indian Ocean Territories colony, and the re-unification of the country,

- the struggle for the closing down of the US military base on Diego Garcia, and its ecological clean-up by the US,

- the struggle for the right of return and full reparations for all Chagossians,

And that to advance these aims, and given that there are some actions that can be set in motion only by the State of Mauritius, we commit ourselves to putting pressure on the Mauritian State towards its acting in practice so as:

- To organise a formal State visit on the Trochetia ship to Diego Garcia and the whole of Chagos, which is part of Mauritian territory defined as such by the Constitution, and that the State delegation should include the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition;

- To enter a case in the UN International Court of Justice at the Hague through at once inscribing a Resolution to this precise effect on the agenda for the next UN General Assembly due in 2011, and continuing to ensure that the Resolution is not later withdrawn from the agenda;

- To make a formal demand for UN inspections under the Pelindaba Treaty, as soon as the mechanism for doing so comes into force later this year,

- To use all other UN bodies and procedures possible for actions that indicate a clear statement of Mauritian sovereignty over Chagos, and that expose the danger the military base represents.

And, at the same time, in the context of the present debate on electoral reform and Constitutional amendment, and in response to imperialist and private capitalist interests clearly targeting Mauritian Islands and land, to work towards giving concrete expression to the Chagossians’ participation in the democratic set-up of the country; and to amend the Constitution so as to outlaw the setting up of any military bases on any Mauritian territory in future;

That we will work towards the setting up of a Scientific Centre that gathers testimony about Chagos, collects documentation on Chagos, so that the history and culture of Chagos are kept alive;

And that, in the context of these demands, we call on the President of the Republic, the last living witness to the pre-Independence negotiations held at Lancaster House to come forward to give public testimony;

And that in order to advance the three causes stated just following the first paragraph above, as well as the specific demands then enumerated in this Declaration, we commit ourselves to building up broad support on a national and international level.

The Declaration of Grande Rivière has been presented to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Six persons--Kishore Mundil;Ragini Kistnasamy;Alain Ah-Vee;Rela Andre;Vishnu Jugdhurry; and Lindsey Collen—were delegated to present it to the minister and to make the Declaration public.

Focus on Diego base

Lindsey Collen, one of the leaders of Lalit feels that the Diego Garcia military is a trump card for Mauritius in its struggle for sovereignty over the Chagos. She points out that the British have repeatedly trapped Mauritius on the use of Diego Garcia.

At the outset, she says, they spoke of a simple weather station, and communication. Subsequently, they found pretext to justify a military base.

Collen says that there is a treaty that prohibits the presence of nuclear weapons on the African continent. This explains the decision of Nelson Mandela to dismantle the nuclear arsenal in South Africa. For her, Mauritius needs to focus its attack on the Diego Garcia base and seek allies. "For the first time the story forces us to look for allies," she says.

Right to return

For Olivier Bancoult, the main battle of the Chagos Refugees Group remains the right of return of Chagossians to their native islands. "Our struggle is based primarily on the human rights declaration, which stipulates that every human being has the right to live on the land from where he originated," he says. This explains the struggle of the Chagos Refugees Group against the British Ordinance 1971, which prohibits access to these islands to the Chagossians, while allowing the British and Americans to do what they want .

He says the Chagossians are still living in Mauritius despite the fact they are British passport holders.

Unilateral decision

Former Foreign Minister Anil Gayan asks: What is the Mauritian government doing about the American lease on Diego Garcia if it is not renewed in 2016? He invites the Mauritian government to set up, now, a team to "prepare the ground so that we do not find ourselves in a difficult situation once that deadline arrives."

Anil Gayan says that the Chagos issue affects two important aspects: the sovereignty of Mauritius and Human Rights because, he says, the Chagossians were brutally expelled from their native islands. It is a serious matter that the British have not respected the commitments made with the Mauritian government by declaring, unilaterally, the Chagos a marine protected area.

The former minister says that the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos has been a priority for all governments. He recalls that, in 2000, the MSM/MMM government had launched negotiations with the British and Americans. "The negotiations were going in the right direction. But the situation changed after the September 11 attack, " he says.

Dr Arvin Boolell: We will fight

Like the Prime Minister, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam, the Minister of Foreign affairs, Dr Arvin Boolell, is disappointed and does not mince his words or beat about the bush in saying that the British government has failed to meet its commitments and that the government of Mauritius has been cheated. The British had agreed to discuss the Marine Protected Area project around the Chagos with the Mauritian government at bilateral meetings, and that , in accordance with what was decided at the Kampala Conference in July 2009. However, the British haven't kept their promise. At the end of November 2009 , they published a Consultation Paper on Marine Protected Area, which clearly outlined their intentions.

To recall, the Chagos Archipelago became a marine protected area on October 31 in spite of the British Government's promise not to go ahead with it.

Boolell told Radio Plus this week that Mauritius has already initiated political and diplomatic action with the European Union, among others, on the issue. The Mauritian government, he added, would also fight on the legal front—hence, the recruitment of renowned lawyers, including Philippe Sands.


Robert Fisk: How Lebanon can't escape the shadow of Hariri's murder

by Robert Fisk

The Independent

Five years after the former prime minister was killed, rising sectarian tensions and a teetering government are threatening a new conflict

I guess that you have to live here to feel the vibrations. Take last week, when I instinctively ducked on my balcony – so did the strollers on the Corniche – at the supersonic sound of an F-16 fighter aircraft flashing over the seafront and the streets of Beirut.

What message were the Israelis sending this time? That they do not fear the Hezbollah?

That they can humiliate Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri?

Heaven knows, they hardly need to do that, when Hariri has several times taken the desolate road to Damascus for a friendly chat with the man he believes murdered his father Rafiq, President Bashar al-Assad.

But who cares about the Israeli plane? Supposing a Syrian MiG had buzzed Tel Aviv during a busy shopping day last week? Hillary Clinton would be shrieking condemnation from the State Department, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon would have solemnly warned Syria of the consequences and the Israelis would be pondering an air strike on Syria to teach President Assad a lesson. But no.

The Israeli overflight was a clear contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 – Israel breaks 1701 every day with overflights, but not at this low level – and I could find not a single report of the incident in the American press. The Israelis are the good guys. The rest are bad.

Then came the story of the priest who died at the Maronite archdiocese at Sarba last week, overcome by smoke. Poor Father Pierre Khoueiry had fallen two floors off a balcony after his building caught fire – two other priests had made it safely out of the house – and the church explained that the cause was an electrical fault.

It was obviously true: I saw the junction box that had burned out.

But OTV brazenly led its nightly local news by suggesting that this could be the continuation of fundamentalist attacks on churches in Iraq and Egypt. Beirut's outraged information minister, Tark Mitri, complained bitterly of the "irresponsible coverage" of the church tragedy.

In Lebanon these days, just a hint of sectarianism can set the political petrol alight. Of course, we can dismiss this nonsense. Didn't 20,000 young Beirutis run a marathon round the entire city on Sunday, beating drums and clashing symbols and dancing the "dabka" in the streets? Sure. But why has my landlord welded a new steel door over his French windows? And why has he installed a security light at the back which illuminates my kitchen all night?

Maybe it's the sulphurous language of Lebanon's hopeless politicians. Ever since Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Shia Muslim Hezbollah chairman who handed over an Israeli assault rifle to Iran's president in Beirut, urged Lebanese to reject the Hague Tribunal investigating Rafiq Hariri's death – Nasrallah believes leading Hezbollah members will be accused – we've been waiting for the cabinet to fall.

The French ambassador believes Prime Minister Hariri will not last this week. I think he's wrong, but I worried about my predications when Hezbollah and the largely Shiite opposition refused to join President Michel Sleiman's reconciliation conference nine days ago. Under a crafty arrangement engineered by the Emir of Qatar, the Christian-Sunni majority in the Lebanese cabinet can make decisions. But the opposition and the Hezbollah have veto rights. Yet when the opposition won't come to the president for talks with the rest of the government, it seems they don't even care about their veto.

Christian politicians flocked up to their Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, thus once again turning the Maronite Church into a political party – though that's not surprising when the other Nasrallah (the Hezbollah one) has turned the Shiites into proxies for the Iranians.

Others (please read Hezbollah, the Shiites and Iran) were trying "to impose on the Lebanese an impossible and unjust formula – deny justice in order to preserve civil peace, or sacrifice civil peace for the sake of justice".

Michel Aoun, a cracked Christian ex-general whose own party supports the Hezbollah in the vain hope they will make him president – Nasrallah enjoys telling the world this alliance gives him cross-sectarian support – would also be happy to see the tribunal abandoned. Even Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, whose politics perform a windmill cycle every three or four years, now says that its existence is not as important as "the serenity of Lebanon". Needless to say, Madame Clinton has been on the phone to Hariri, nagging him to disarm Hezbollah and to stick to the tribunal. In Washington, this makes sense. In Lebanon, she sounds as if she is mad.

Why? Shiites are the largest community in Lebanon, yet their sons and brothers make up a majority of the Lebanese national army.

It's not that the Hezbollah have infiltrated the ranks. It's just that since the Christian and Sunni elites have maintained the Shiites in comparative poverty, the youngest sons need a job and are sent off to the army. Think Manchester or Glasgow between the wars.

Furthermore, the Lebanese army is top heavy with generals and colonels. As Carnegie scholar Nadim Hasbani pointed out, the minister of national defence tried vainly to open an account with the Central Bank, to which private citizens could donate money to support the army's weapons procurements. There is, in reality, no account because by law the cabinet must organise any such budgetary arrangement. Anyway, how can a national army organise its weapons purchases on the basis of charitable donations?

But back to the Shiite soldiers. If they were indeed ordered to march south Grand Old Duke of York-style, does anyone believe that these young men are going to bash their way into their own Shiite homes to shoot their Hezbollah brothers, fathers and cousins to a chorus of White House cheers?

No, they would refuse and the Christian-Sunni soldiers would be tasked to attack the armed Shiites. The army would split. That's how the civil war started in 1975.

Does Madame Clinton – and France's foppish foreign minister, the saintly Bernard Kouchner who has turned up in Beirut to support the tribunal – want another civil war in Lebanon?

There's another problem. Given their numbers, the Shiites are grossly under-represented in the Lebanese parliament and government. And there's been an unspoken – certainly unwritten – agreement in Beirut that to compensate for their lack of political power, the Shiites can have a militia.

If God was to tell Nasrallah to disarm the Hezbollah – he would surely obey, for no-one else in the region would dare to make such a request – then Nasrallah would immediately demand an increase in Shiite numbers in government, commensurate with his perhaps 42 per cent of the population.

There would, therefore, in effect, be a Shiite government in Lebanon.

Is that what Clinton and poor old Obama want? Another Shiite Arab state to add to the creation of the Shiite Iraqi state which they have bestowed upon the Saudis and the rest of the Arab Sunnis as a neighbour?

Hezbollah risk, of course, getting what the Lebanese call "big noses". In other words, if the Hezbollah's noses get too big, someone will cut them off.

It's one thing for Nasrallah and his armed militia – along with the gentleman from Tehran – to spit at the Americans. But the UN is a legitimate international body; the place of recourse – however hopelessly – of the oppressed and benighted of the world.

Indeed, there was a time when the Hezbollah hung religiously – or almost religiously – on every UN resolution remotely critical of Israel.

Yet does Mr Ban really want to take on the Hezbollah? For he knows all too well that if the Hezbollah have "big noses", the Hezbollah have the UN, so to speak, by the balls (always supposing the UN has any).

For down along the Lebanese border are 13,000 UN soldiers, including NATO armoured units from France, Germany and Belgium – and China, while we're at it – with a clutch of NATO generals in command. They are supposed to be keeping Hezbollah weapons out of the area between the Litani river and the border, but for the first time last week the UN commander admitted that without the power of entering civilian homes – he needs Lebanese military permission for that (no laughter) – he cannot be sure there are no arms in his operational area.

All this goes back to a massive explosion earlier this year when a vast store of weapons exploded east of Tyre. A slightly unhinged French UN colonel – mercifully now back in Paris – ordered French and German soldiers to go pushing through front doors of the locals to look for guns. He had been warned by Lebanese army intelligence officers not to insult civilians. He paid no attention.

Then French peacekeepers on patrol in southern Lebanon found themselves pelted with stones. The Hezbollah said that the explosion was of old Israeli munitions left over from the 2006 war. (Hollow laughter here).

The Israelis then cashed in on the whole affair, producing aerial photographs – taken from a pilot-less drone, the principal weapon in the next Hezbollah-Israel war – with a claim that they showed an unexploded missile being loaded onto the back of a truck in the same village, watched by three Hezbollah gunmen. Quick as a flash, the Hezbollah came up with a videotape showing the same truck. But the "missile" was a damaged roll-up garage door and – alas for Israel – the three "gunmen" were clearly identifiable as members of the UN's French battalion.

Then last week came further humiliation, when a gang of unarmed Hezbollah housewives grabbed a briefcase of secret documents from two hapless UN tribunal investigators as they tried to find telephone records in a south Beirut gynaecological clinic.

Even several anti-Nasrallah and pro-government supporters in Beirut could scarcely suppress their laughter when the Hezbollah duly paraded two donkeys through the streets, each bearing a perfect replica of the blue UN shield beneath their furry necks. But again, do not laugh too easily. In the Arab world, the donkey is regarded as the most humiliating of beasts, worthy of execution. So watch out the UN. And back to the Israelis, who roar as much about "world terror" as Nasrallah does about the inevitable doom of Israel. This time it was the head of Israeli military intelligence Amos Yaldin – never regarded in Lebanon as the brightest of men – who told the Knesset foreign affairs committee in Jerusalem that Hezbollah could take over the whole of Lebanon "in a few hours".

Israeli defences were being undermined by Hezbollah's missiles and increasing the likelihood of conflict, he said – he was right there – but then he went into the same apocalyptic mode as all the other Israeli generals who have come to grief in Lebanon.

The next war, he said, will be far more devastating than any other in Lebanon – this is difficult to imagine – and "it will not be similar to anything we have grown accustomed to during the Second Lebanon War or (the) Cast Lead (operation in Gaza)."

Now this is very odd stuff, because the third Lebanon war – which Yaldin was predicting – took place in 1993, a massive bombardment that emptied southern Lebanon of almost a million people.

The first Israel-Lebanon war was the invasion of 1978 – Operation Litani, which Yaldin obviously forgot – and then came the second Lebanon war in 1982 (Operation Peace for Galilee), which Yaldin weirdly thinks was the first conflagration.

Then came the 1993 conflict, and then the 1996 war (Operation Grapes of Wrath) and then the 2006 Hezbollah war. So the next war – after the past five failures – will be Israel's sixth.

So what does all this mean?

Well, what we are seeing is an horizon of foreign powers all longing to interfere in Lebanon as they did during the country's merciless 1975-90 civil war. Washington is ranting about the tribunal's importance, so is France – the Brits, whose diplomats talk to the Hezbollah, are quietly and wisely asking if there might be a postponement of the tribunal's accusation – while the Syrians and Iranians are crowing at the UN's crisis.

The Israelis are, as usual, threatening semi-Armageddon.

The Saudis, who back the Sunnis – Hariri holds a Saudi passport – have been trying to mediate.

So, in a backward way, have the Syrians. A week ago, Syria's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul-Karim Ali, invited to lunch both the Saudi ambassador, Ali Awad al-Assiri, and his opposite number in the Iranian embassy, Ghadanfar Rokon Abadi, an old Beirut hand who was here during the 1996 war. All of which suggests the Muslim nations of the region don't particularly want a civil war.

And the Lebanese? My driver Abed, as good a weather vane as any, used to have a small black sticker attached to his car mirror. "Haqiqa", it said.

The Truth. He expected the tribunal would tell him the truth about who killed Rafiq Hariri.

While I was away this summer, with great sadness, he tore it down.


LALIT’s International Conference on the Chagos Archipelago

Noor Adam Essack

Le Défi Media Group

The political party LALIT hosted a four-day international conference on the Chagos Archipelago from 30 October to 2 November 2010 at its Port Louis headquarters in GRNW. A national forum on ‘Political Strategy about Chagos and Diego Garcia’, a component part of the conference, was held on Monday 1 November at the Municipality of Port Louis. Chaired by the lawyer Jean-Claude Bibi, the forum was attended by two guest speakers, Dr Arvind Boolell, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Lindsey Collen, a prominent member of LALIT. The Leader of the Opposition Paul Bérenger was also invited to participate in the forum, but he later informed LALIT that he would not attend it. A number of international speakers (Wilbert van der Zeijden from Holland, John Percy from Australia, Penny Duggan from the UK...) lent their voices to the conference. LALIT also received several messages of support from various overseas organisations, including seven messages from Japanese NGOs based in Okinawa. The conference was well attended by a cross-section of people from all walks of life, including young and more elderly Chagossians as well as veterans of the Chagossians’ struggle like Kishore Mundil and Roland Latour. LALIT also benefited from the participation of local artists and singers, from Jean-Claude Baissac and Nirmal Hurry to Menwar, Daniella Bastien and Richard Beaugendre. The latter sang a very powerful song “Twa avan mwa” (You before me) about the wide chasm between the privileged and the underdog. Three films, produced by Peadar King, John Pilger and David Constantin respectively, were also shown at the conference where 11-year old Ryan Kistnasamy, a budding documentary-maker, was a true revelation.


Recovery of the territorial sovereignty of the Republic of Mauritius, closure of the US military base on Diego Garcia, ‘reparations’ for the people of the Chagos Archipelago (right to return to their islands and adequate compensation for their re-settlement) were the three main objectives around which the conference revolved.

In her welcome speech, Lindsey Collen said that the issue of the Chagos and Diego Garcia is now at a crossroads. The Chagos Refugee Group’s case before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has put the Chagos back on the international agenda. The US giant is now economically weaker than it was ten years ago. There are US bases in the world which have been closed. The Pelindaba Treaty, which Mauritius has ratified along with some 30 African countries, calls for a nuclear-free zone and is in force since 15 July 2009. The Diego Garcia lease agreement (between the UK & the US initially for a period of fifty years) will expire in 2016 and negotiations for an extension of the lease for another twenty years will begin in earnest in 2014.

Cassam Uteem, ex-President of the Republic, spoke at length about the stratagems used by the British Government since the illegal excision of the Chagos and the callous and inhumane expulsion of the Chagossians to Mauritius and the Seychelles. For example, with mounting national and international pressure about the plight of the Chagossians, there were talks of a possible return to the “outer islands” (Peros Banhos, Salomon...), leaving intact the US military base on Diego Garcia... He said the US and the UK claim that they need to keep Diego Garcia as a military base to safeguard the security of the West, “but why don’t they build and use a military base in the West! Why do they have to use part of our territory for their security interests”! He went on to say that “the UK Government backed by several environmental groups has now put us in front of another fait accompli with their decision to create a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Archipelago.” Cassam Uteem added that we must know how they had planned to excise the Chagos from Mauritius and expel the Chagossians in the years prior to the independence of Mauritius in 1968. He appealed to the current President, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, to reveal what he saw and heard during the Constitutional Conference which took place in 1964 at Lancaster House in London given that SAJ is the only surviving delegate who attended that Conference.

‘Declaration of GRNW’?

A number of resolutions and action plans (which may or may not be formalised in a ‘Declaration of GRNW’) were voted at the close of the conference. These will be widely disseminated by LALIT across its national and international networks. A small committee of six individuals (three from LALIT and three volunteers from the audience) will work on a set of key recommendations which they will hand over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office. LALIT will be looking at how the Mauritian Government might take the Chagos case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Marine Protected Area

Before he started his talk about the UK Government’s decision to create a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Archipelago, Vinesh Hookoomsing paid tribute to the singer Menwar who preceded him and sang a poignant song about Diego Garcia. He said that Menwar reminded him of how in the 1970s “committed singers” supported the struggle for a better Mauritius and said that “we need singers like Menwar”. Then, he thanked LALIT, “enn ti-larme, me ek enn gran kuraz” (a small army, but a hugely courageous one).

Vinesh Hookoomsing said that the concept of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) is not new. MPAs exist elsewhere, and one of their characteristics is that they do not exist without people to look after them. The difference between all these MPAs and the one which the British Government has set out to create around the Chagos Archipelago is that people are banned from the area! Travel writers have highlighted this nexus between man and the sea. Vinesh Hookoomsing quoted one British writer, Robert Scott who, in his 1961 book entitled ‘LIMURIA, The Lesser Dependencies of Mauritius’ spoke of the harmony he witnessed between the Chagossian people and their natural environment. Towards the end of his book, Scott warned that technology must not disturb this harmony between people and the environment. For Vinesh Hookoomsing, Scott must have known that “dezord pe vini” (trouble was in the pipeline). “Who can be the best custodians and natural guardians of the Chagos than the Chagossians themselves?” he said. But, sadly, he went on to add, “as from midnight tonight (31 October), there will be a ban on all commercial fishing in Chagossian waters”.

Ryan Kistnasamy, the budding film producer

His T-shirt says: ‘Been there. Done that’. Indeed he has. This schoolboy has a keen interest in filming, and he attended one of LALIT’s marches last year and filmed the whole march until the protesters arrived in front of the British High Commission. He then caught on camera the moment when two members of LALIT, Lindsey Collen and Alain Ah-Vee, handed over a petition about Diego Garcia/Chagos to the British High Commissioner. The whole thing happened very quickly. Ryan Kistnasamy was only ten when he made this short documentary film. Ram Seegobin called him the “Mauritian Kurosawa”. Perhaps one day, this boy will make epic, Kurosawa-esque films. But the sense of trepidation and drama in his film reminded me more of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers. In view of his age, there is no doubt that Ryan Kistnasamy, perhaps unwittingly, was a true revelation at LALIT’s International Conference on the Chagos.