Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Effluent of the Affluent

Now that the damage to the people of Flint, Michigan from their contaminated water supply has been exposed, Americans are rightly outraged. The New York Times called Governor Snyder’s attitude toward residents who complained “depraved indifference.”

Time Magazine published a photo essay on an impoverished black child, two year old Sincere Smith, who is suffering the effects of his bath water. Public health officials announced that drinking water in some areas of the city had tested at more than twice the level of toxic waste, and that all of Flint’s children should be treated as if they had been poisoned.

Astute commentators are calling what happened in Flint environmental racism, pointing out that the poorest and most vulnerable communities, almost always of color, are the ones that serve as dumping grounds for the waste of the affluent. Whether it’s polluted water, pesticides, toxic smoke from incinerators, pig farm refuse, or factory toxins, environmental pollutants are more likely to be located in poor communities of color where complaints are ridiculed, disparaged, and ignored as they were in Flint, where forty percent of the population live below the poverty line and more than half are African American.

Despite assurances from Governor Snyder that his failure to respond to the water crisis in a timely manner had “nothing to do with race,” many Michigan Quakers are not convinced. We are quite sure of what would happen if Ann Arbor residents turned up at City Council meetings with jugs of foul-smelling tap water rife with floating bits of “organic matter.” Indeed, Ann Arbor Mayor Chris Taylor pointed out that the water crisis in Flint was not simply the result of a few poor official decisions, but can be traced to “decades of state neglect . . . decades of broken promises, decades of disinvestment in our communities." That’s another component of environmental racism: a political culture of ignoring poor people’s problems.

Six thousand miles away, in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians are facing a similar crisis – for similar reasons. As journalist Ben Lorber writes: Israel has historically used Palestinian land as a dumping ground, covertly transporting waste products into the occupied west Bank, polluting the Palestinian earth and water supply, while Israeli settlers deliberately poison the water, land, and livestock of nearby Palestinian villages. Solid wastes from Israeli settlements and military camps throughout the West Bank are dumped without restriction on Palestinian land, fields, and side roads, and industry regularly moves from Israel to the West Bank, where labor is cheaper, environmental regularions are lenient and wast products can flow freely down to Palestinian villages in surrounding valleys. 

Today, says Lorber, as Israel portrays itself as a "green democracy," an eco-friendly pioneer in agricultural techniques such as drip irrigation, dairy farming, desert ecology, water management and solar energy, Israeli factories 
drain toxic waste and industrial pollutants down from occupied West Bank hilltops into Palestinian villages, and over-pumping of groundwater aquifers denies Palestinians access to vital water scources in a context of increasing water scarcity and pollution. 

Environmental racism is not just an American problem, It is a problem of "depraved indifference" of those who see themselves as dominant, entitled, and superior to others, wherever they may live. As people of conscience, our response to institutionalized racism and injustice should be worldwide, as well.

Friday, January 22, 2016

What if Vermont were Conquired, Occupied, and Colonized by Israel?

It's hard to get accurate information: Seven Days has been shut down; two editors have been replaced at the Burlingon Free Press; Kevin Kelley has suffered a questionable bicycle accident trying to cover the situation at the checkpoints. Power has been shut off from Sovernet,, and Burlington Telecom.

Movement is severely restricted. Passports are required at the Main Street, Riverside Avenue, Route 7, and I89 checkpoints, and there are mile-long backups on all routes. Within city limits, all major east-west streets are restricted to permitted drivers and vehicles, and many businesses have been severely affected. To control movement in and out of a particularly troublesome area, razor-wire now surrounds the Old North End. 
What If Israel Occupied Vermont?
Life is hard in occupied Burlington. More than 400 homes have been bulldozed or claimed via eminent domain to be used for other purposes, leaving many homeless. All public schools are closed for use as detention centers. There have been sporadic reports of torture in these facilities, but no contact is allowed with families, so details are scarce. Burlingtonians out-of-city will not be allowed to return to their homes, as these dwellings are needed for a selected out-of-state population. Though schools are closed, no day care is available; many have lost jobs taking time off to care for their families. Running water and electric power are limited to 3 hours/day and all telephone service has been suspended. Police stand by as the more affluent attempt to appropriate by force goods and services from their less well-off neighbors. Those with extensive bank holdings have watched money and valuables taken from vaults by armed officials to support the expenses of the occupation and the construction of the South End hotel and government theme park complex.

Not surprisingly, public health has precipitously declined. All community and backyard gardens have been poisoned by occupiers and the Intervale shut down; a food emergency is fast approaching as City Market and Rite Aid have closed, and the Food Shelf sees no more donations. Burlington water is being diverted to Shelburne and Williston.

Health care has not been able to keep up. At least 40 people have died at checkpoints in the last month, unable to reach Fletcher Allen. Both BFD and St. Mike’s ambulances have been fired upon, and two EMTs have been killed insisting on getting their patients through checkpoints. Hospital supplies are running low, and the destruction of its water tower by F16s has severely affected operations. Medicine is increasingly unavailable, and its importation into the city restricted.

There is little hope for political relief. All Independent and Progressive city councilors have been arrested, and Council meetings are being held without them. Mayor Weinberger has been targeted for assassination if necessary. All city paychecks are on hold until further notice. The Peace & Justice Center has been shut down, its staff arrested, and demonstrations have been met with violent responses from the authorities, using of illegal gases and live ammunition. The curfew has been extended, and people on the street or at their windows have been shot. Landmines surround the lake to prevent escape by water. All calls from other state, national and foreign governments have been rebuffed, as authorities assert that this is not the time to discuss key issues. It is promised that some of these restrictions will be lifted, pending correct results of the next election.

An unimaginable dystopian fantasy for Vermonters, but a compendium of real daily experience for Palestinians, with all mechanics and ammunition funded by US tax dollars. Is this really how we want to spend our money and our moral and political capital?  

With thanks to: Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine Israel

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Writing Letters to the Media

Mainstream media in the United States often slants its coverage in favor of Israel. Even media that are progressive on other issues tend to allow right wing Israeli politicians to go unchallenged, omit a Palestinian point of view, and ignore the historical context of emotionally charged events. 

PIAG has begun a letter writing campaign, using facts, examples, recommendations, and questions to counter biased reporting. Please join us!  Email is quickest, but don't forget the power of a hand-written note. 

Here are some sample letters PIAG members have sent recently, followed by the contact information for several media outlets:

The "headlines" today include a biased statement about Israel-Palestine.  It is biased because seriously incomplete.  The announcer tells that the EU has adopted a new rule, insisting that many West Bank exports NOT be labeled as from "Israel."  Then comes the bias: the announcer only states Israel's protest: that this West Bank label on exports will hurt Israel and will block peace with Palestine.  BUT there is NO statement about WHY the EU is taking this step, which is that under international law, the West Bank is NOT part of Israel; it is militarily occupied territory.  This information is crucial in helping listeners understand the actual status of Palestine and the growing worldwide protest of Israel's occupation and repression of Palestinians.


To CNN:  The interview with Mark Regev re: violence in Israel-West Bank was hugely biased and incomplete.  The Palestinian toll of wounded and dead was totally omitted, as was the reason for Palestinians' attacks--Israel's repressive colonial military occupation.  Palestinians have no rights; their children are jailed brutally; their trees and cattle are destroyed by "settlers" who are taking over their land acre by acre.  PLEASE give the Palestinians' reality to the uninformed US population. Furthermore, Ambassador Regev's description of the verbal response of Palestinian leadership was false. Surely you can couple such false claims with a response from Palestinians and their leaders. Thank you!


To NPR: Emily Harris's description of why Palestinian Muslims see Jewish visitors to the mosque as provocative omits a key factor.  She focuses on "covert praying" by Jews who stand near the mosque.  She omits the fact that these Jewish visitors often shout cruel, racist, and disrespectful epithets at the Muslims who are there to pray at the mosque.  Please do a story on the "racism" problem.  Many Israeli Jews are ever more vocal in angry racist actions toward Palestinians. "Arabs to the ovens" is printed on a wall.  "Death to Arabs" is shouted in mass demonstrations. Some American and Israeli Jews are speaking with great concern about the runaway racism that afflicts the Israeli government, its soldiers, and many citizens.  It's dangerous.  Please cover it.

Media Contact info:
National Public Radio
Diane Rehm Show
4401 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20008  (Use this page to obtain transcripts of current news programs so you can cite chapter and verse)