Panos Journalism Fellowships

Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)

The fellowships are being offered by Panos South Asia as part of a Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) project for enhancing climate change awareness and understanding among journalists in South Asia. Applications are invited from print, television, radio and web journalists writing / reporting on climate change and environment issues from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The fellowships will support writing / reporting stories on climate change from the region. The fellows will also have the opportunity to participate in a training workshop and field trip that will link them with their peers from the neighbouring countries and understand climate-related issues from a South Asian perspective. Applicants should have a strong motivation for working on climate change related issues in South Asia and should have worked on climate-related stories in their media. The application, by e-mail, would need to include the following:
1.?A covering letter, in which the applicant explains his/her motivation for applying for the fellowship, and how he/she would use the fellowship to build on previous experience (two to three pages).
2.?A detailed CV with the names and contact details of two references.
3.?Copies of two stories published on climate change or environment. TV/radio journalists can also provide the link to the programme.
4.?A copy of a scanned letter from the editor of the applicant?s publication, TV or radio channel supporting the application. Please write ?Application for the SACCA Fellowships 2013? in the subject line of your e-mail application.

Applications need to be received by Friday, 8th March 2013 to?psa@panossouthasia.org.
Only successful applicants will be contacted.

PUBLIC HEALTH GLOBALISATION CONFLICT MEDIA PLURALISM ENVIRONMENT
PUBLIC HEALTH GLOBALISATION CONFLICT MEDIA DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT

 

New humility for the hegemon

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India and its near-abroad

Too slowly, India is realising that poor relations with its South Asian neighbours hold back its global ambitions

Jul 30th 2011 | from the print edition of the Economist

NO ONE loves a huge neighbour. For all that, India?s relations with the countries that ring it are abysmal. Of the eight with which it shares a land or maritime boundary, only two can be said to be happy with India: tiny Maldives, where India has the only foreign embassy and dispenses much largesse, and Bhutan, which has a policy of being happy about everything. Among its other South Asian neighbours, the world?s biggest democracy is incredible mainly because of its amazing ability to generate wariness and resentment.
Until recently it operated a shoot-to-kill policy towards migrant workers and cattle rustlers along its long border with Bangladesh. Over the years it has meddled madly in Nepal?s internal affairs. In Myanmar India snuggles up to the country?s thuggish dictators, leaving the beleaguered opposition to wonder what happened to India?s championing of democracy. Relations with Sri Lanka are conflicted. It treats China with more respect, but feuds with it about its border.
As for Pakistan, relations are defined by their animosity. One former Indian diplomat likened reconciling the two nuclear-tipped powers to treating two patients whose only disease is an allergy to each other. The observation underscores the fact that it takes two to have bad relations, and to be fair to India plenty of problems press in on it?many of them with their roots in India?s bloody partition in 1947. Pakistan has used a long-running territorial dispute over Kashmir as a reason to launch wars. It also exports terrorism to India, sometimes with the connivance of parts of the Pakistani state. India thinks Bangladesh also harbours India-hating terrorists.
With the notable exception of India?s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who has heroically persisted in dialogue with Pakistan in the face of provocations and domestic resistance, India?s dealings with its neighbours are mostly driven by arrogance and neglect. It has shared shockingly little of its economic dynamism and new-found prosperity with those around it. Just 5% of South Asia?s trade is within the region.

Too little and too late, the neglect is starting to be replaced by engagement (see?article). This week Sonia Gandhi, dynastic leader of India?s ruling Congress Party, visited Bangladesh?a first. And on July 27th India?s foreign minister hosted his Pakistani counterpart, the first such meeting in a year. He promised a ?comprehensive, serious and sustained? dialogue.
A new regional engagement is prodded by two things. China?s rapid and increasingly assertive rise challenges India?s own regional dominance. As a foundation for its rise, China pursued a vigorous ?smile diplomacy? towards its neighbours that stands in contrast to slothful Indian energies. The smile has sometimes turned to snarl of late (see?Banyan). Even so, China?s engagement with its neighbours has allowed it both to prosper and to spread influence.

 interactive map displays the various territorial claims of India, Pakistan and China from each country’s perspective

Second, dynamic India can hardly soar globally while mired in its own backyard. Promoting regional prosperity is surely the best way to persuade neighbours that its own rise is more of an opportunity than a threat. Yet India lacks any kind of vision. A region-wide energy market using northern neighbours? hydropower would transform South Asian economies. Vision, too, could go a long way to restoring ties that history has cut asunder, such as those between Karachi and Mumbai, once sister commercial cities but now as good as on different planets; and Kolkata and its huge former hinterland in Bangladesh. Without development and deeper integration, other resentments will be hard to soothe. It falls on the huge unloved neighbour to make the running.
BBC Documentary on Sino-Indian Rivalry and Bangladesh


http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/docarchive/docarchive_20100630-1227a.mp3

An Assassination?s Long Shadow

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By Adam Hochschild

Published: January 16, 2011 in the New York Times

TODAY, millions of people on another continent are observing the 50th anniversary of an event few Americans remember, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. A slight, goateed man with black, half-framed glasses, the 35-year-old Lumumba was the first democratically chosen leader of the vast country, nearly as large as the United States east of the Mississippi, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This treasure house of natural resources had been a colony of Belgium, which for decades had made no plans for independence. But after clashes with Congolese nationalists, the Belgians hastily arranged the first national election in 1960, and in June of that year King Baudouin arrived to formally give the territory its freedom.
?It is now up to you, gentlemen,? he arrogantly told Congolese dignitaries, ?to show that you are worthy of our confidence.?
The Belgians, and their European and American fellow investors, expected to continue collecting profits from Congo?s factories, plantations and lucrative mines, which produced diamonds, gold, uranium, copper and more. But they had not planned on Lumumba.

Lumumba. The first democratically chosen leader of Congo. Illustration: Riccardo Vecchio

A dramatic, angry speech he gave in reply to Baudouin brought Congolese legislators to their feet cheering, left the king startled and frowning and caught the world?s attention. Lumumba spoke forcefully of the violence and humiliations of colonialism, from the ruthless theft of African land to the way that French-speaking colonists talked to Africans as adults do to children, using the familiar ?tu? instead of the formal ?vous.? Political independence was not enough, he said; Africans had to also benefit from the great wealth in their soil.
Continue reading “An Assassination?s Long Shadow”

Blasting war, hoping for peace

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An inspiring soliloquy by Chris Hedges to those preparing for arrest in front of the White House protesting the continuous wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, intercut with interviews with Daniel Ellsberg and returning war veterans

Anti-semitism, and the 9/11, Israel-Mossad Connection Part II

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By Rahnuma Ahmed

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,”
an unnamed Bush official told reporter Ron Suskind,
quoted by Eric Alterman, Bush’s War on the Press, The Nation (2005)

Even when the US hadn’t been the only empire around, powerful members of the American administration had collectively attempted to create their “own reality.” One such plan, Operation Northwoods, consisted of staging terror attacks. To justify the launching of a war against Cuba. To (of course) defend America.
The secret plan was drafted by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1962, signed by its Chairman, and sent to Robert McNamara, secretary of defense. Declassified in 1997 by a federal agency overseeing records relating to president John F Kennedy’s assassination, the plan proposed real or simulated actions against various US military and civilian targets: landing `friendly’ Cubans to attack US base (Guantanamo). Sinking a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida. Building a Soviet MIG aircraft to be flown by an American pilot, which would attack and destroy a US military drone aircraft. Launching a wave of violent terrorism (bombings, hijackings) in Washington D.C. In Miami. Elsewhere, too. The desired result? To convince Americans and the larger western public that the Cuban government was not only “rash and irresponsible” but a threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere. That America had no option but to `retaliate.’
Operation Northwoods was not implemented because, as the story goes, Kennedy had rejected it. But other false flag operations designed to create America’s own reality?to deceive the public, to manufacture support?have been successfully conducted. Of course, America is not the only culprit, as history attests. The Japanese blew up a section of the railway to annex Manchuria in 1931; kidnapped one of their own soldiers to invade China proper, 1937. The Soviets shelled their own village near the Finnish border, 1939. The Israelis secretly sponsored bombings of US/British interests in Cairo to sour relations between Egypt and the West, 1954.
Central to America’s “our own reality” story are two myths: it is America’s enemies who are `sneaky.’ The government goes to war only to `save the lives’ of US soldiers. Historical research proves otherwise: president Roosevelt let the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor (1941). Nearly three thousand American service men including civilians were killed which by fuelling public outrage at Japan’s so-called sneak attack, enabled FDR to overcome massive opposition to war.
According to America’s ideologues, if Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not been bombed?still described in official history as the “least abhorrent choice”?the lives of 500,000 American soldiers would have been at risk. But in reality, as people connected to history know, Japan was ready to surrender.
Dissenting opinion did exist, and in powerful circles, too: Japan was already defeated, dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary (Dwight Eisenhower). The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare are frightening (Admiral Leahy, chief of staff to presidents Roosevelt and Truman). The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul. (Herbert Hoover, 31st US president). There was no military justification. I was not consulted (General Douglas MacArthur).
More than 103,000 people died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There were unrecorded deaths. There were slower deaths, caused by radiation.
But surely, just because previous US administrations have committed false flag operations, it doesn’t mean that 9/11 too, is an inside job? Granted. True. Except that when one looks at the mass of evidence, including oral testimonies, diligently gathered by physicists, pilots, architects, structural engineers and a host of other professionals (firefighters, whistle-blowers) over these last couple of years, also by grassroots people, under the rubric of what has come to be known as the 9/11 truth movement, even the blind are bound to be convinced.
What persuaded me most was the strange response of the Bush administration. Why was the government reluctant, why should family members of 9/11 victims have to insist that a commission be established to investigate the failures that made 9/11 possible? Why did Bush want someone as disreputable as Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state (who should be tried for war crimes in Bangladesh and Cambodia for starters), to head the Commission? Why should Bush and vice-president Cheney agree to testify before the Commission on the condition that they should not have to take the oath, that their testimony should not be electronically recorded nor transcribed, nor made public? Why did the Commission co-chairmen allege later that the CIA had not cooperated with the Commission? Why did NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) officials provide inaccurate information in their testimony to the Commission, and in media appearances? Why should the Commission have to use subpoenas and force NORAD and FAA to release evidence? Why did the Commission chairmen say that the Commission was “set up” to fail? Why did the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) not hold enquiries into any of the 4 plane crashes, which is required by law?
Another thing that I find odd, like many others, were the words blurted out by Bob Kerrey, a 9/11 Commission member. Several months ago he was pressed by a member of We Are Change who said, according to the constitution, a cover-up of an act of war is treasonous, the Pentagon continually changed its story, the country needs to get to the bottom of 9/11 etc., etc.,
Bob Kerrey: It’s a.. the problem is that it’s a 30 year old conspiracy.
Jeremy Rothe-Kushel: No, I’m talking about 9/11.
Bob Kerrey: That’s what I’m talking about too. Well anyway, I gotta go.

Listening to Kerrey reminded me of what the Bush official, who I quote at the head of the column, had gone on to tell Suskind, “And while you’re studying that reality?judiciously, as you will?we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
General Leonid Ivashov, former joint chief of staff of the Russian Armed Forces did just that. Having found the free-fall collapse of the towers disturbing, he instructed his staff to search for answers. Three days later he came to the conclusion that the 9/11 attack was the result of “a clash of interests among US leaders.”
While more recently, a Vietnam war veteran, former director of studies of the US Army War College, Dr Alan Sabrosky, has come out with the bold statement that 9/11 was not only `an inside job,’ but more specifically, a CIA-Mossad job. Nine-eleven would have been impossible to stage without the full resources of the CIA and the Mossad. Its Building 7, he says. It was not hit by a plane but still went down. “If one of the buildings was wired for demolition, all of them were wired for demolition.”
And it was my column on Sabrosky that yielded me accusations of being anti-Semitic. I wonder whether part of the problem lies in the strong western belief, an indissoluble one, that `the government loves them.’ Despite the history of false flag operations.
May be the Bush official, utterly contemptuous and disdainful as he was, knew what he was talking about. We create our own reality. And our people fall for it.
First published in New Age

Land and people. De-colonising the national imagination

By Rahnuma Ahmed

I see no reason not to be worried.
For we have, over the years, begun mimicking our erstwhile Pakistani rulers when it comes to explaining what went wrong in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The `tribals’ want to secede. They want to breakup the nation. The loyalty of the `tribals’ has always been suspect, in 1947, they didn’t want to join Pakistan, they had wanted to be part of India. The Shanti Bahini was aided and abetted by anti-Bangladesh forces outside. It is an Indian conspiracy to destabilise the country. Agreeing to the `tribal’ demand for autonomy diminishes the sovereignty of the Bangladesh state.
And what had our Pakistani rulers said, both before, and during, 1971?
The Bengalis want to secede. It’s an Indian conspiracy. Our mortal enemy India, wants to break up Pakistan. These Bengalis began agitating from the word go, first they wanted their own language, 1949, 1952, and then, from 60s onwards, they began demanding regional autonomy. Those in the Mukti Bahini are India’s paid agents. The Bengali Muslims are Hindus, anyway. They listen to Rabindra sangeet, the women wear saris, they put teep on their forehead. Agreeing to the Bengali demand for autonomy will be a threat to the sovereignty of the state of Pakistan.
There are other reasons to be worried, too.
There are some similarities in the responses of both sets of rulers: a militaristic response. In the case of ekattur (our liberation war), this was accompanied by Lieutenant General Tikka Khan’s declaration, `I want the land, not its people.’ Tikka was the architect of Operation Searchlight, launched on the night of 25th March 1971. We will always remember him as the Butcher of Bengal. A military commander, deluded into thinking that his efforts would save the nation.
The Awami League government had initiated and eventually signed a peace treaty with the PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti) in 1997. A few weeks after the signing of the Treaty, Khaleda Zia, as leader of the opposition, had declared: it will lead to the setting up of a parallel government. Others said, it was signed to please the Indian government. Writ petitions have been filed since, challenging the validity of the Peace Treaty. During a recent court hearing, the petitioners listed some of the reasons: the former chief whip of Parliament had no authority to sign the Treaty. He was not authorised by the President. A treaty can only be signed between two governments, the CHT people are not only not a government (!), they are “controlled by an Indian intelligence agency.” They are not indigenous to the land, “they” are settlers etc., etc. (New Age, 17 March 2010).
As things stand, some may think that the Awami League, by virtue of having initiated and signed the Peace Treaty, want peace in the hills, while the BNP (and its bed-fellow, the Jamaat), doesn’t want peace in the hills. There may be some truth in it.
But there’s more truth in what Bhumitra Chakma, a Jumma academic who teaches politics at the university of Hull, says: the recent attacks, on 19 and 20 February 2010, carried out by Bengali settlers in Baghaichari, backed by the armed forces prove yet again that unless the Bangladesh state addresses the structural roots of violence, the “cycle of violence” will continue (Economic and Political Weekly, 20 March 2010).
“At the core of the problem,” writes Chakma, is the Bangladesh government?s “politically-motivated Bengali settlement policy” aimed at changing the “demographic character of the CHT, which inevitably leads to clashes over land.”
The Bengali settlement policy, in my mind, was diabolical. By selecting “landless” Bengalis, it seemed that the military government was concerned about the futures of those who are poor, it helped hide the fact that their landlessness and abject poverty made them more amenable to military direction and control; that, as far as the military leadership was concerned, they were civilian subalterns/canon fodder. The settlement policy whipped up populist sentiments in the rest of Bangladesh: `If someone from the CHT can settle in Rangpur, if he can buy land there, why can’t someone from Rangpur go and live and work in the CHT? It’s one country, after all.’
The settlement policy seeped into public discourse, it helped re-define Bengali nationalism on territorial lines?as all nationalism is, is bound to be?but the new sense of territory/ nationalism was not of the resisting kind, of the kind that grows out of an urge for self-defense (like 1971), but one which encroached.
I am persuaded that this newly developing form of nationalism was distinct to the nationalism of the Mujib era (1972-1975). When Sheikh Mujib had exhorted the indigenous peoples “to forget their ethnic identities,” to merge with “Bengali nationalism,” what lay behind his words was a heady cultural arrogance, deeply entwined with feelings of racial superiority.
Bengali nationalism as encroaching, in a territorial sense, one which could be implemented through the planned deployment of coercive power, came later. After 1975.
I am inclined to think that it was at this historical moment that we i.e., the Bengalis as a nation?began to sound like our erstwhile rulers.
The latter, according to us, were colonisers.

Colonial orientation to land, and its people

One of the greatest liberal philosophers John Locke, analysed English colonialism in America in terms of his theory of man and society. I present Locke’s arguments below, based on a discussion by Bhikhu Parekh (The Decolonization of Imagination, 1995).
Locke had argued that since the American Indians roamed freely over the land and did not enclose it, since they used it as one would use a common land, but without any property in it, it was not `their’ land. That the land was free, empty, vacant, wild. It could be taken over without their consent. The Indians of course knew which land was theirs and which was their neighbours, but this was not acceptable to Locke who only recognised the European sense of enclosure.
However, there were native Indians living by the coastline, who did enclose their land. English settlers were covetous of these lands, they wanted these lands for themselves as it would help them avoid the hard labour of clearing the land. They argued that the native Indian practice of letting the soil regenerate its fertility, to let the compost rot for three years, meant that the natives did not make “rational use” of it. Locke agreed with them. Even enclosed land, he said, if it lay without being gathered, was to be “looked on as Waste, and might be the Possession of any other.”
Some Indians, however, not only enclosed the land, they also cultivated it. But they were still considered guilty of wasting the land because they produced not even one-hundredth of what the English could produce. The trouble with Indians was, according to Locke, they had “very few desires,” they were “easily contented.” Since the English could exploit the land better, “they had a much better claim to the land.” It was the duty and the right of the English to replace the natives, and, as long as the principle of equality was adhered to, no native should starve, nor should she or he be denied their share of the earth’s proceeds, English colonisation was infinitely more preferable. It increased the inconveniences of life. It lowered prices. It created employment.
The culture of indigenous peoples the world over, as has been noted by many political theorists, is inextricable from their culture. Take away their land, and you take away their culture.
Land in the Chittagong Hill Tracts belongs to the paharis. It is their land. A refusal to understand this means opening us to the allegation of whether our nationalism is their colonisation.
Bhumitra Chakma speaks of the “cycle of violence.” It is a cycle that is embedded in larger cycles. Nationalism. Colonialism.
My Bengali sense of freedom surely cannot be paid for by the blood of others?

A genuine leap of the national imagination

George Manuel, Secwepemc chief from the interior of British Columbia (Canada), indigenous activist and political visionary whose work on behalf of indigenous peoples spans the globe, writes:
When we come to a new fork in an old road we continue to follow the route with which we are familiar, even though wholly different, even better avenues might open up before us. The failure to heed (the) plea for a new approach to ..[Bengali-pahari] relations is a failure of imagination. The greatest barrier to recognition of aboriginal rights does not lie with the courts, the law, or even the present administration. Such recognition necessitates the re-evaluation of assumptions, both about [Bangladesh] and its history and about [Jumma] people and our culture-?Real recognition of our presence and humanity would require a genuine reconsideration of so many people?s role in [Bangladeshi] society that it would amount to a genuine leap of imagination. (Cited by Paulette Regan, Canada, 20 January 2005, by making the replacements in square brackets I have taken a liberty for which I hope I’ll be forgiven).
Are Bengalis capable of making a genuine leap of imagination? However hard, however difficult, we must. For the sake of the nation. For the sake of ekattur.
First published in New Age 26th March 2010

A Night To Remember

By Jeevani Fernando

Heading to my flat. It will be a night to reminisce.
10 years ago this time, I was lying on a hospital bed, being prepared for a C-Section, in a cold and sterile surgical unit.? Waiting for my son to be taken out. I didnt know it was going to be a boy. I only knew it was going to be hard on the finances. Hard on my time with my daughter who was only 1.8 yrs. So many thoughts running in my head. A lone tear ran the side of my face. I couldn’t brush it off as my hands were strapped on the side. A woman could never feel more vulnerable than when on strapped down on a surgical table, with a swollen belly and a surgical blouse that doesn’t meet at the front. No pins allowed in the OT.? Cold and shivering and and not just because of the airconditioner. Wishing hard for the anesthesia mask to be placed quickly over my face so that I just go into oblivion. But the nursing staff was taking their time.? It was a teaching hospital and I didnt have to pay for the theatre. Only for the medicines. Care is expensive.
Then I heard a woman sobbing on the other side of the curtain. She sounded young and she was crying asking for a man, in Sinhalese. I mentally wiped away my own tears and fears and started talking to her. It was her first pregnancy. She was 23.? I said you should be happy and proud that you have come all this way with no problems. No pressure, no diabetes, baby’s reports were good and I could hear the radio monitoring the heartbeat of the baby strong and rythmic. Maybe she was scared of the procedure. I told her men are not allowed in these hospitals as the surgical rooms have more than one at a time.? What she told me next stopped me dead.? She said the baby’s father will never come, not to this room, he wasn’t even standing outside, he wasn’t even waiting anxiously at home. He just wasn’t anywhere near.? At 26 years, he was buried somewhere in the north of country. Died only knowing he was going to be a father.? He had joined the army only a year ago before their marriage. They thought it will end.? This was 1999.? Caught in crossfire. She hated Tamils.
Dear God, I thought. Here we are two women lying in the same room with not just a curtain separating us and our lives and the lives of our children to be born, but a world of man-made differences.? She went into labour.? I was weeping.? Not for myself anymore.? The nurse chided me. How little she knew of what was happening at that moment.? She went into panic and stopped pushing. They gave her sedatives and baby was delivered by forceps. Swarna gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, fathered by a soldier who, perhaps died in vain.? Life for a life. I saw the bloodstained baby being taken away to be cleaned up. I prayed God help her to forget the hatred and pain by just holding that baby.? I never saw Swarna again because she had a normal birth and in a different section.? I was the woman whose pelvic bones never budge, said doctor. Hence the slice and cut open procedure.

My son and me? Terryll Fernando

Although I was tempted to ask the anesthetist if she was Sinhalese, I was happy to be knocked out. That’s the good thing about C-Sections. There is a baby next to you when you wake up. Hopefully it is yours!!? He was taken out a little after midnight. The moment I saw his big coconut head, I thanked God for whoever discovered c-sections.? He was such a good baby. Slept soundly all morning while the other brats were screaming for nothing.? But he is always like that.? Happy to cuddle up to me. All day and night.? Even till he was seven.? A very affectionate and concerned fellow.? Never likes to see me cry or be alone.? He would assure me a hundred times, ‘don’t worry mummy, I am just here’.? Always warned me of pending danger.??? He would check out the house before I could walk in. A dinasour could be behind every door. One day I opened my notebook in the boardroom while at a meeting with old cronies and a dinasour stared at me from my notebook and a caution ‘be careful mummy’ left by my son. Very timely.
He has promised not to marry but instead take care of me. But that was at 6 years. I said wait till you are 16 years and check again.? He is superman, he-man, batman, iron-man all rolled into one jumping off washing machines and table tops with an old cot sheet for a cape. Broke his heart when the sister quipped, ‘you look like a peacock’. Even Superman needs his mummy to rescue him at times like these.? To him, I am a star.
Every year my thoughts go back to Swarna. Wonder what her son must be like.? Maybe one day I could trace her from the hospital records.

Home and the architecture of occupation

Rahnuma Ahmed

Homes, sweet homes

WHAT does home mean for Palestinians driven away from their land in recurring waves of Israeli onslaught ? 1948, 1949 to 1956, and again in 1967, due to the six-day war? What does home mean for first generation Palestinian refugees, and for their descendants, for people who ?yearn for Palestine??
It is a yearning that permeates, in the words of David McDowall, the ?whole refugee community?, one that stretches from 986,034 in the Gaza Strip, 699,817 in the West Bank, 1,827,877 in Jordan, 404,170 in Lebanon and 432,048 in Syria (2005 figures). What does home ? something that ?exists only in the imagination? ? mean for Palestinians who are subject to Israel?s ongoing colonisation of Palestine?
?What, for you, is home?? ?How would you represent it?? ?How would you represent it if you were to take one single photograph?? Florence Aigner, a Belgian photographer, put these three questions to Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. She gave them time to think and returned with her camera and notebook the next day to take two photographs: a portrait of the person, and a representation of what home meant for that person, both visually, and through words. Personal narratives are often lost in collective narratives, and Aigner says she wanted to explore both diversity and particularity through the experiences of daily living. Her approach, she says, allows her to create a dialogue between the person and her or his idea of a home, between the photograph and the photographer, and also, between photography and writing. And thus we find images of home in exile interspersed with images of home in Palestine, images where one home is often projected on the other. These images form her exhibition, Homes, sweet homes.
I had always felt homeless, says Eman, and had refused to cook, `to practise home?. But now, even though our house in Ramallah is temporary, I have started to cook, cooking for me is ?an act of love?. For Oum Mahmoud, home is her husband who was killed in a Mossad air attack. Her house in Ramallah was destroyed in a recent Israeli missile attack, the new flat has ?no memories?, ?no furniture?, it is like living in a hotel. For Wisam Suleiman, home is orange trees and lemon trees, and the faces of martyrs who have given their lives to assert their right to return. The way home, says Suleiman, is ?sweeter than home itself?. For Abu Majdi, forced to flee in 1948, home is the ?key of our house in Jerusalem.?

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Photographs and interviews by Florence Aigner

Iman Florence Aigner
Eman from Jerusalem. She lives in Ramallah, West Bank. ? Florence Aigner

Being on the margin, following my own footsteps, I always felt homeless. It made me develop a sense of rejection mainly for the kitchen, the heart of practising home. So I refused psychologically and practically to cook.
Last year, I had to move with my husband and our two children to Ramallah when passing back and forth between Ramallah and Jerusalem became an Odyssey trip due to the Calandia checkpoint and the harsh siege imposed on the city. Our house in Ramallah is temporary, I started to cook and feel good about it, cooking became an act of love I dedicate to my family. Is this home?
Oum Mahmoud from Hebron. She lives in Ramallah, West Bank.
Oum Mahmoud from Hebron. She lives in Ramallah, West Bank. ? Florence Aigner

My home is my husband. I have only a few photos of him left. He was killed during an air attack by Mossad on the office of the PLO in Tunis in 1986. In the 90?s I could return to Palestine with the Palestinian Authority. Since then I live in Ramallah.
I have recently lost everything, my house burned when an Israeli missile hit it. I could only rescue some books and photos from the flames. Now I live in a new flat, but I have no memories or furniture left. I buy little by little some stuff to furnish it. I have the feeling to live in a hotel.
Wisam Suleiman, from Haifa. He lives in the refugee camp.
Wisam Suleiman, from Haifa. He lives in the refugee camp. ? Florence Aigner

When I hear the word ?home? orange trees and lemon trees come to my mind as well as faces of hundreds of martyrs who have given their life for the right of return. For me, the way of return has to go through education, education, education…and books.
As Palestinian refugees we have to prepare the new generation to return to Palestine in a human way. We have to carry our culture and science with us, and work hard. The way home is more beautiful than home itself.
Abu Majid
Abu Majdi, from Malha. He lives in Beit Jala in the West Bank. ? Florence Aigner

My home is my house in Malha near Jerusalem that we had to flee in 1948. I hope to return there one day, but I am not very optimistic, because Israel wants a land without its inhabitants. Sometimes I don?t understand anything. Before 1948 we had Jewish friends, we were living together. In 1948 we had to leave everything behind and we became refugees in Aida camp, Bethlehem.
An Iraqi Jewish family, the Rajwan moved then into our house in Jerusalem. We were friends and were giving gifts to each other. We saw them until 1967. I remember the grandfather used to say that he wanted to return to Iraq and to give us back our house. He said that they were keeping it for the day we could return. Eventually the old man died without having been able to return to Iraq. Me, I have kept the keys of our house in Jerusalem all my life.
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The architecture of occupation

Migron in occupied West Bank is a fully-fledged illegal settlement of Israelis, comprising 60 trailers on a hilltop that overlooks Palestinian lands below. In 1999, several Israeli settlers complained to the mobile phone company Orange about a bend in the road from Jerusalem to their settlements that caused disruption to their phone service. The company agreed to put up an antenna on a hill situated above the bend. The hill was owned by Palestinian farmers, but their permission was not required since mobile phone reception is a ?security? issue. Mast construction began, while other companies agreed to supply electricity and water to the construction site on the hill. In May 2001, an Israeli security guard, soon followed by his wife and children, moved to the site and connected his cabin to the main water and electricity supply. Less than a year later, five other families joined him. This is how the settler outpost of Migron was created. Soon, the Israeli ministry for construction and housing helped build a nursery, while a synagogue was built from donations from abroad.

The Migron settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Migron settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. ? Milutin Labudovic/Peace Now

Eyal Weizman, dissident Israeli architect and architectural theorist of the relationships and exchanges between architectural and military planning, documents the processes of illegal Israeli settlement ? in his words, ?a civilian occupation?. His book Hollow Land: Israel?s Architecture of Occupation provides a detailed and exact account of ?how occupation works in practice?. Weizman had, at the invitation of the Palestinian authority, also been involved in planning houses for Palestinians, in re-using settlements after the Israeli evacuation of August 2005. What is to be done with settlements after evacuation? Are they to be abandoned, reused, converted, or recycled? The Palestinians, he says, had rejected these single family homes as suburbs. After intense discussions, it was finally agreed that the evacuated shells of settlement would be spatialised into a set of public institutions: an agricultural university, a cultural centre, a clinic for the Red Cross, etc. But the project of re-using the illegal settlements collapsed after the Israelis destroyed them.
Settlement planning and building of the Israelis, says Weizman, emerges out of ?organisational chaos?. The very nature of Israeli occupation is one of ?uncoordinated coordination? where the government allows ?degrees of freedom? to rough elements, to a whole host of actors ? Israeli settlers, mobile phone companies, utility firms, state institutions, the army, etc ? and then denies its involvement. Micro-processes, such as that of an Israeli civilian moving a cabin to an illegal site, settling down, home-building, foreign donations pouring in to build a synagogue become wheels in larger processes of occupation of Palestinian lands. In the Israeli government?s colonial policies.
And as these occur, home-building for Palestinians ? even in the sixtieth year of their mass exodus ? remains something that exists ?only in the imagination?.

Paradise Found

Madanjeet Singh UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and Founder, South Asia Foundation passed away on Sunday the 6th January.

In 1995, the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence was initiated to honour his lifelong devotion to communal harmony and peace. The creation of the prize coincided with the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi.

Madanjeet Singh Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Madanjeet Singh ?Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Continue reading “Paradise Found”

Flowers on a Grave

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He had been quietly playing by himself as his grandmother talked to the strangers. But we had made eye contact. He wanted to make friends, and a smile spread over his face as I approached. Suddenly he ran. I knew kids well enough to recognise that this was not a hide and seek game. There was fear in his eyes. He had seen the camera in my hands.
One of the witnesses, a grandmother in Sisak, who did not want to be recognisable. April 9, 2008. Sisak. ? Shahidul Alam/Amnesty Internatioanl/Drik/Majority World
His grandmother had told us that she must not be recognisable in the photographs. Others we were interviewing had agreed to be photographed, but she didn’t feel safe. Her grandson also knew the danger of being recognisable in this war torn land.
Jasna Borojevic talking to Irene Khan in Sisak, She was a Croat. Her husband had been Servian. April 9. 2008. ? Shahidul Alam/Amnesty Internatioanl/Drik/Majority World

Irene Khan talking to Jasna Borojevic. ? Shahidul Alam/Amnesty Internatioanl/Drik/Majority World
It was my first trip to Croatia, and while I was hoping to meet my old friend Sasa, I hadn’t quite expected someone to sneak up on me at the main square in Zagreb. It was a long warm hug. We hadn’t seen each other for a very long time. Excusing myself from my colleagues at Amnesty International, Sasa and I went out walking into the cool spring night. He had found love in Iraq, and she had followed him to Croatia. I had heard of Cyrille, but we had never met. She soon joined us at the restaurant, dragging two other friends along. “You two look like lovers” she told us with a disarming smile. Sasa and I had known each other for many years. We first met in Jakarta where I was running a workshop for World Press Photo. We had later met in Kuala Lumpur and Geneva, and he had even come over to teach at Pathshala, but we had never met in his home town. He had offered to drive me over when I had gone for a short trip to Belgrade, but visas for Bangladeshis were never easy to get. Even on this trip, Irene Khan the secretary general of Amnesty International had visa problems because of her ‘green’ passport. It had taken Sasa and I many years to find a way to walk together on the cobbled streets of Zagreb.
The conversation took us to his island where he now raised goats. To China where the two of them were going to teach photography. To his war wounds, and how his body was failing him. I had an early start for Sisak the following day and we parted reluctantly.
Vjera Solar in Sisak, with portraits of her Croatian daughter and her Serbian boyfriend. Her daughter was killed. April 9. 2008. ? Shahidul Alam/Amnesty Internatioanl/Drik/Majority World
Sisak brought the memories of “1971” flooding back. The disappearances, the not knowing, the guilt. Croat Jasna Borojevik would always wonder whether she should have asked her Serbian husband to leave her, knowing that he was in danger. Perhaps she should have risked losing him, knowing that he might have lived. Viera Solar moved the photograph of her daughter and her Serbian boyfriend to the wall where she was sitting. She wanted the photograph of the handsome dancing couple to be included in my photograph. She broke down in tears as she spoke to Irene, but steeled herself to serve us bread and cheese. The grandmother of the scared boy had lost a son. She had her grandson to look after, and while she was eager to tell her story, she was still scared. Being photographed was dangerous.
Stjepan Mesi? president of Republic of Croatia. ? Shahidul Alam/Amnesty Internatioanl/Drik/Majority World
Peacock in the gardens of the presidential palace. ? Shahidul Alam/Amnesty Internatioanl/Drik/Majority World
The trip through the wooded lanes to the President’s office in the morning and photographing him and the peacocks in his manicured garden, turned out to be more interesting than expected, but I rushed to go online to check if the Guardian piece on our “1971” exhibition, on war of liberation, had come out. That too had it’s share of killings, disappearances, de-humanisation. Dodi and Diana had bumped us off on Tuesday when it had been scheduled to come out. The mail from Mark at Autograph confirmed that we had four pages in the printed version. As I explained this to my Amnesty colleagues they asked me about the history of our war. David constantly asked what the motive had been. As we had dinner at Sasa’s parent’s house, I asked Sasa the same question. Yes he said. Some politicians won. Some opportunists made money. But the atrocities on both sides, meant homes were shattered. Lives broken. Nations destroyed. Minds fractured. I recall the woman who wanted to know what had happened to her husband “So I can place flowers on a grave and mourn”, she had said. I remember the fear on the little child’s face as he saw my camera, and wonder if one ever really wins a war.