Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan might now be pondering on his own advice to Syrian President Bashar Assad, to listen to his people, before he finds himself and his government similarly beset.
There are three main issues here – the short-sighted sacrifice of one of the few green public spaces in Istanbul to private enterprise, the use of the state apparatus to repress legitimate protest by the use of excessively disproportionate force, and the certain loss of government legitimacy through the loss of popular support, and confidence.
In a world facing ecological disaster caused by the irresponsible abuse and degradation of the environment by corporate interests, in communities facing social disaster caused by the irresponsible destruction of the social fabric by ill-conceived town-planning that places profits before the needs of current and future generations, there is little the ordinary citizen can do to defend what few leaves remain to cover them BUT protest, and occupy the public spaces which, by definition, belong to THEM, the public.
This park in the middle of Istanbul may not completely suffice as the lungs of the city, but it is one of the few that serve as such, and its loss will be significant, both ecologically and socially.
Prime Minister Erdogan has the opportunity to demonstrate his environmentally- and socially-friendly credentials as a president with a commitment not only to today’s citizens, but also to those of the future. He could begin by ensuring policies such as the mall construction have had a rigorous environmental impact report – which includes social AND ecological impact – and by listening to the people affected, through consultative processes.
Use of Force
The use of state force to respond to popular protests against a government policy, especially given events in the region over the last two years, is little short of suicidal. If there is one lesson to be learnt from the so-called Arab Spring, it is that such a response usually has only two outcomes for a government – rule by force not favour, or falling.
While it is commendable that Erdogan has pledged to investigate the use of excessive force, the question must be asked – why use force at all? Surely consultation, rather than repression, has more potential for an outcome acceptable to all? Witness the governance style of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who put all contentious policies to public referendum – cumbersome, perhaps, but a recipe that produced constructive social participation rather than protest.
Again, given events in the region in the last two years, it is incomprehensible that any government that wishes to remain in power with the support and confidence of the people would respond to an incident such as the park protests in such an oppressive fashion.
As the escalation shows, it takes little to ignite an uprising from a relatively minor incident, particularly when there are undoubtedly many outside of Turkey who would like nothing more than to see Erdogan and his government fall, and who will be doing their best to capitalise on these protests for their own agendas, as is unfolding in Syria.
There is a vast difference between maintaining public order and repression, between a peaceful protest and a violent unruly mob. A statesman can tell the difference, and knows when force is needed and how much – a politician doesn’t much care.
Erdogan must decide which he will be – a statesman with the best interests of his country at heart, or a politician with an eye only for electoral success.
This morning I called UNRWA Headquarters for an update on the situation regarding the suspension of their services in Gaza.
I have not yet been able to confirm that food distribution will continue, if and when relief and distribution centres in Gaza will reopen – or even if they already have.
Unlikely – only two out of eight UNRWA numbers called were answered, and one was to the mobile of a person who informed me they were on leave in London.
The other, to a Public Information Officer requesting information on the current situation, received the response that they will “get back to me.”
by Julie Webb-Pullman
UNRWA’s response to protests in Gaza against the cutting of ‘services’ which saw a few dozen people enter the UNRWA regional headquarters has been to suspend all food deliveries to Gaza refugees.
A more clear-cut example of collective punishment would be hard to find. Punishing more than 25,000 people for the actions of a few dozen by with-holding such a basic necessity as food is a grossly disproportionate response, and completely indefensible under any circumstances.
If individuals break the law, punish the individuals – not the entire population.
Hamas security forces have guaranteed that UNRWA staff and facilities will be protected, and have assigned personnel to ensure the conditions exist for them to safely perform their functions.
This is apparently not enough for UNRWA. Following the invasion of the regional headquarters by a few dozen people during protests on Thursday, they announced the suspension of all food deliveries.
The protests were in response to an UNRWA announcement that they would be cutting the 40 shekels a month (a little over USD $10) allowance each refugee registered for assistance receives. Not every refugee in Gaza is registered for assistance, only the most needy – but even this is questionable, as many agencies report that many of the most needy are not registered because of barriers to do so.
The paltry 40 shekels is essential to buy cooking gas, clothing, school books and uniforms, and food to meet the shortfall in the meagre UNRWA rations – which now have been completely stopped.
For a United Nations agency to withdraw food from the people the UN was responsible for displacing in the first place is nothing short of scandalous – and indicative of a gross lack of respect for human rights, when supposedly the fundamental purpose of the entire UN system being to uphold both individual and collective rights.
I repeat, if individuals break the law, punish the individuals – not the entire population.
Questions should be being asked at the highest level, if this is how UNRWA, the agency with responsibility for the well-being of Palestinian refugees, is choosing to conduct its business – by starving them.
No wonder the refugees are protesting – so should every person with any compassion, or commitment to fundamental human rights.
by Julie Webb-Pullman
Palestinian refugees from two of the most impoverished refugee camps in Gaza, Jabaliya and Shatti camps, today launched their own siege – of the UNRWA field office in Gaza City. Hundreds and men, women and children arrived around noon to protest at the cutting of ‘services.’
In reality, such ‘services’ are the bare essentials for survival – cooking oil, sugar, flour, rice, milk, clothing – in fact, just about everything.
As one woman pointed out, there are no jobs and they are trapped in Gaza by the siege so where else can they go to earn a living?
These are the people who were driven from their homes by Israel in 1948, and yet more in 1967. They have been living in some of the most overcrowded and unsanitary conditions on the planet ever since, in an artificially-created dependency on UNRWA handouts which are almost as difficult for them to swallow as the fact of their forced displacement.
Now, even those crumbs are being taken from them.
“We just can not survive on what they are now giving us,” one man told me. “There are 13 people living in our household. What are we to do? Where else can we get food? We can’t get jobs because there are none, we can’t leave, we can’t even grow food because Israel forces Gazans off the agricultural land to create buffer zones, and shoots us if we try to fish. They are just slowly killing us.”
As their frustration grew, some began banging on the doors and shaking the gates, using whatever was at hand – rocks, Palestinian flags – one woman even took to the door with her umbrella.
Suddenly a cheer went up – some men had climbed the gate, pulled the barbed wire away, and hoisted a Palestinian flag on the UNRWA roof, accompanied by loud applause from the crowd.
Palestinian security then arrived and asked the men to get down, which they did peacefully.
They may have left, but their problems haven’t.
The United Nations cannot just divvy up a country and give it away to someone else, without shouldering the responsibility for the effects on the original indigenous inhabitants – threat to their very survival.
As Maslow identified, warmth, food and shelter are the very basics in the hierarchy of human needs.
The United Nations has the responsibility to ensure these needs are met for every Palestinian refugee and their descendants, and in accordance with its own instruments, to ensure that they live with dignity, and self-determination, until such time as the UN meets its other pressing obligations – the right of return for every single Palestinian refugee that wants to, to their own independent state – without occupation, without a siege.
Then, and only then, can UNRWA cut its services, and this time, permanently.
23 November 2012
Given his role in the Gaza-Israeli ceasefire, it was only a matter of time before Egypt’s President Morsi found himself in the sights.
Few expected it to be quite so fast.
Protests across Egypt are underway, both in support of, and against Morsi’s ‘surprise Constitutional Declaration’ on Thursday.
The inability of those screaming for democracy to actually accept its results is staggering. One of their major complaints was that the Constituent Assembly formed to draft the new Constitution was ‘unrepresentative’ – and despite a new agreement on its composition being reached in June 2012, non-Islamists continue to complain.
The Egyptain election results were clear – the Islamists won power, by a clear majority. Non-Islamists, especially those espousing democracy, should have no trouble in accepting this outcome, ie that they are in a minority, and are subject the decisions of the majority.
Most have withdrawn from the Constituent Assembly – but even then, they only constitute 25%, leaving a weighty 75% still in there. Which bit of ‘majority’ do they not understand?
That is what democracy is. That is what they have been, and continue, screaming for at the barricades.
The outcome of the Constituent Assembly, the proposed new Constitution, will go to referendum, and the people will get to vote for – or against – it. What is ‘undemocratic’ about this?
And the Constitutional Declaration – why should it concern them, for instance, that the Constituent Assembly and Shura Council (upper house of parliament) will be immune to dissolution by a judicial body? These bodies were elected by, or on behalf of, the people, not appointed by the judiciary, and in a real democracy, they should be dissolved by the people, not by any other authority, judicial or otherwise.
Does the US judiciary have the power to dissolve the Senate? Does the British judiciary have the power to dissolve the House of Lords? Why should the Egyptian judiciary have such powers?
Who appoints the Attorney General in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada? The Prime Minister! Who appoints the Attorney General in the United States? The President! Is this the type of ‘separation of powers’ they are calling for in Egypt?
The purpose of the Declaration is to speed up the transition to a new Constitution, and a newly-elected Parliament under the new Constitution – something the ‘revolutionaries’ all desired, but also something some in the current judiciary have been doing their best to prevent.
Morsi’s move has been praised by the spokesperson for the ‘Coalition of Judges for Egypt’, Justice Walid Sharabi, who particularly praised the dismissal of the Public Prosecutor, saying “Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, the Public Prosecutor, has long defended the toppled regime, sought to corrupt the judiciary and to create a justice system rotten to the core.”
So is this latest round just a front for the massive destabilisation attempt we have been expecting since Morsi’s election, and more especially, since the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza brokered by Egypt this week?
As leading Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) member Essam El-Erian said in Al Ahram Online today when condemning reported attacks on FJP offices in several governates, “They are acts of thuggery hiding behind [opposition] political forces.”
With its role as mediator and guarantor of the ceasefire agreement, and Israel’s killing of at least one Palestinian and the injuring of nine more in a clear breach of the agreement before the ink has even dried, Egypt’s position is both pivotal, and vulnerable to destabilisation by those with the most to gain from distracting Egypt at best, and bringing down the Morsi regime at worst.
No prizes for guessing the identity of who is paying these ‘pipers’ of dissent in Egypt, and whose fingers will be as sticky with Egyptian blood as they already are with the blood of Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, Libyans and Iranians, if they are allowed to prevail.