Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Zizek year

"What one should add here, moving beyond Kant, is that there is a privileged social group which, on account of its lacking a determinate place in the "private" order of social hierarchy, directly stands for universality: it is only the reference to those Excluded, to those who dwell in the blanks of the State space, that enables true universality. There is nothing more "private" than a State community which perceives the Excluded as a threat and worries how to keep the Excluded at a proper distance. In other words, in the series of the four antagonisms, the one between the Included and the Excluded is the crucial one, the point of reference for the others; without it, all others lose their subversive edge: ecology turns into a "problem of sustainable development," intellectual property into a "complex legal challenge," biogenetics into an "ethical" issue. One can sincerely fight for ecology, defend a broader notion of intellectual property, oppose the copyrighting of genes, while not questioning the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded - even more, one can even formulate some of these struggles in the terms of the Included threatened by the polluting Excluded. In this way, we get no true universality, only "private" concerns in the Kantian sense of the term. Corporations like Whole Foods and Starbucks continue to enjoy favor among liberals even though they both engage in anti-union activities; the trick is that they sell products that contain the claim of being politically progressive acts in and of themselves. One buys coffee made with beans bought at above fair-market value, one drives a hybrid vehicle, one buys from companies that provide good benefits for their customers (according to the corporation's own standards), etc. Political action and consumption become fully merged. In short, without the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded, we may well find ourselves in a world in which Bill Gates is the greatest humanitarian fighting against poverty and diseases, and Rupert Murdoch the greatest environmentalist mobilizing hundreds of millions through his media empire."

This is a small excerpt from a recent post by Slavoj Zizek on called: "Censorship today: violence or ecology as the new opium for the masses." A great article of strong relevance to understanding the World, Palestine and Gaza today:

"This is why the "de-structured" masses, poor and deprived of everything, situated in a non-proletarized urban environment, constitute one of the principal horizons of the politics to come. If the principal task of the emancipatory politics of the XIXth century was to break the monopoly of the bourgeois liberals by way of politicizing the working class, and if the task of the XXth century was to politically awaken the immense rural population of Asia and Africa, the principal task of the XXIth century is to politicize - organize and discipline - the "de-structured masses" of slum-dwellers. "

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gaza today

I have been in a state of war since I was 15. There may have been wars in my life earlier, but I cannot remember them. At around 15, war became the prime decision maker of my life. This is better than many other people. My children, for instance, have only known war, as has my brother who was born in 1973.

Mind you, having war decide the path of your life is not the worst thing that can happen to you. War is better, for instance, than poverty. That is, of course until you lose someone very dear, like a child, a partner or a parent. Or you are maimed. Or you die, but its doesn't really count because you don't really know it. It is a bad thing happening to your family.

And of course, the worst case is war and poverty. Just like Gaza.

Anyway, the reason I brought this up is that I have been watching "solidarity" and "support" movements and taking part in them for 35 years.

And while I acknowledge and thank all those who have participated in them, and who continue to do so, and while I continue to take part in solidarity action, I believe that their impact (if any) is minimal.

Hundreds of thousands demonstrated in London against Tony Blair's decision to join the US in the Iraq war. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi victims later, the UK is still in Iraq, Labor is still in government and they made Blair a special peace envoy. In Palestine no less.

We worked and worked and worked for Nahr el Bared since day one of the war on the camp in 2007. Hundreds of people offered food and clothes and money. We channeled all that to the 30,000 refugees. We organized vigils, campaigns, talks. We rallied international support.

The camp is still destroyed, and there is no money to rebuild it in spite of all the pledges. The refugees are refugees again. The houses are still without walls, windows or heat. Lebanon got Migs 29 to destroy more camps if need be. Except for a few people, everybody has forgotten about Nahr el Bared. But the people of Bared are quietly and persistently rebuilding it. Not because they are particularly resilient by design. Because they have no other choice than to be strong.

Israel kills 400 men, women and children in Gaza. Zionists (including Arabs) blame the people of Gaza for their own death. Please don't be appalled. Did anyone really expect self-blame? Or perhaps an auto-critique? These are neither the first hundreds nor the last hundreds of Palestinians killed by Zionism. And they wont be the last. Let's remember it.

But Gaza is not Tall al Zaatar. There is only that much that the Zionist (including the Arabs among them) can do.

From Helena

Dear friends--

I've been doing a bunch of blogging about Israel's latest war of choice against Gaza, looking primarily at its political-strategic dimensions in light of my lengthy familiarity with the records of the main actors on both sides (including the interviews and other material I've gathered on Hamas's leaders over the past 20 years.)

Three of the main posts I've done in the past couple of days are here:

Check them out. You can also find some of my earlier writings on Hamas here:

Let's all hope for speedy de-escalation and real peacemaking in Israel/Palestine.

Happy New Year.

~ Helena.

Helena Cobban
author, Re-engage! America and the World After Bush
Friend in Washington for FCNL
author and publisher,

Terror and power.

"Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism."

Excellent article by Nir Rosen in the Guardian.

Monday, December 29, 2008


As`ad (Angry Arab) and Marcy (Body on the Line, writing from Palestine) are covering the Israeli assault on Gaza more than adequately. There is little I can add to what they offer in terms of links, comments and analysis. I'll try to report news from Lebanon, if there is anything worth mentioning.

I really have nothing to add to my post of yesterday. I agree with As`ad's report on Nasrallah's speech: it offered very little in terms of substance. His calls to the Egyptian people to "open the Rafah crossing with their bodies" is, at best, symbolic. Yes he accused the Egyptian government of collusion with Israel, but this is very mild compared to what one reads in the Lebanese press (and to the reality). And his warnings of a possible Israeli war on Lebanon are of course realistic, but here too, this is not groundbreaking. There is a political void between the financial crisis, the transition between two US administrations and the end-of-the-year festivities. Israel may very well use this period to settle a few accounts with Hizbullah. A sort of "everyone is having their little party and is busy elsewhere, so lets grab this opportunity to kill a few Palestinians/Lebanese and their progeny". One wouldn't expect anything less from the great state of Israel. I mean even Obama understood that. And it gives some people in Israel so much pleasure, it would be hearltess to deny them this little treat. Especially during the festive season.

There is now a big demonstration for Gaza in Lebanon, but it is taking place in the Southern Suburbs and will be limited to Hizbullah's public. It is also coinciding with the second day of `Ashura, the Shi`a mourning period during which large meetings (majlis) are organized to remember the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn in 680 AD at Karbala. Those attending will hear a lot about Gaza, but they will also hear plenty about Husayn. Someone I know went there and they'll tell me about it and I'll blog it if it is interesting.

But then again, beyond showing solidarity, what can HA do? What can we or anyone else really do? At the end of the day, after the vigil, the demonstration, the blogging and the discussions, we all sit and contemplate the immensity of our powerlessness. We know, we must know that in spite of all our efforts and good will, the people in Gaza can only count on themselves.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gaza Beirut

I was on my way to South Lebanon yesterday when I heard the news of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. I stopped to get some food on my way, and there was already 100 dead. The response of the people of South Lebanon is overwhelmingly supportive of the plight of the Gazans: the memories of 2006 are still too fresh. and what is going on in Gaza looks like a deja vu of July 2006.

This morning we heard Israeli fighter planes in the south. The radio and tv news confirmed this. The people started to get worried. In the village bakery people were discussing the situation in Gaza. I could feel the mood had shifted and people had entered "war mode".

In Beirut, young men and women held a demostration in front of the Egyptian embassy. They were protesting Egypt's continuous closure of the Rafah border. They started throwing stones and shoes at the embassy, the army intervened with shields and batons and water jets and tear gas. The demonstrators retreated to stadium nearby and slosed the road with burning tires. I saw them on my way back form the South.

There are also vigils near the UN building in the city center and in Hamra.

For the notebook, the one Mahmood Darwish talks about, in which we record Israel's crimes: The UNRWA spokesman is on tv as I speak. His name is Guiness and he just told us that 7 schoolchildren were killed by the bombing in an UNRWA school in Gaza today.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I love carols

Alternative lyrics for the "Twelve Days of Christmas" included: "Twelve assassinations, Eleven homes demolished, Ten wells obstructed, Nine sniper towers…And an uprooted olive tree." Numerous NGOs participated in the event, at which War on Want was an official supporter.

Link to the carols from KABOBfest (Thanks Marcy)

Crisis? What crisis?

"Inward remittances into Lebanon from their working citizens reached $6 billion in 2008, up from $5.5 billion in 2007, making Lebanon the 18th largest recipient of remittances according to the World Bank. The remittances made up 24.4% of GDP in 2007, the fifth highest in the world behind Honduras, Lesotho, Moldova, and Tajikistan. A former adviser to Prime Minister Rafiq Harriri told me that despite Lebanon's conservative banking policies, as jobs are cut in the Gulf, Lebanese who return home, will be returning with less money and fewer job opportunities in Lebanon.

If oil prices remain as low as they are, Gulf Cooperation Council's economies will weaken and the World Bank estimates remittances from the region back to Lebanon could fall by 9% in 2009 compared to the recently rise of almost 40% in 2008."

From Gaza

"Mazen said, "We are under an organized Israeli media campaign. We are being starved and victimized by Israel. The world think we are besieging Israel, not the other way around. Israel is playing up the issue of rocket fire to besiege us more and more.""

Gaza Stone Age

"As electricity and cooking gas remain scarce in the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli blockade, Gazan families are turning to a technique from another time: cooking on makeshift fires, using any fuel available—even if it means burning 3-year-old Beisan's favorite sweater. For MENASSAT, Eman Mohammed documents Gaza's New Stone Age in this photo essay. Meanwhile, Ola Madhoun, another of our Gaza correspondents, takes a hard look at her profession after spending time at a journalism workshop in Sweden." (Thanks Marcy)


"AMMAN, 25 December 2008 (IRIN) - Jordan's plight with drought has been highlighted this year with almost no rain falling on the kingdom, prompting officials to call on citizens to pray for rain on Friday 26 December.

Fear is growing that if no rain falls in the coming few days, the agriculture season for vegetables, wheat and barley would be wasted."

It has been very dry this year, although it has rained for a couple of days in Beirut in the Bekaa, we are still far behind. Last year was a severe drought year, and we has received twice the amount of rainfall we got this year so far.

La Graine et le Mulet

"An entire family chronicle, along with four decades of French social and economic history, is recapitulated as a lavish, hectic dinner, complete with music and belly dancing. It will leave you stunned and sated, having savored an intimate and sumptuous epic of elation and defeat, jealousy and tenderness, life and death, grain and fish." (Thanks D.)


"Gifts are usually stored in government archives or with the GSA in accordance with federal law, which bars officials from accepting personal presents in almost all circumstances. They are then shipped off to the National Archives or given to charitable organizations. There are some exceptions. A century-old olive tree from Walid Joumblatt, chairman of Lebanon's Progressive Socialist Party, was transplanted to the Israeli embassy compound in Washington." (Thanks T.)

From the Washington Post

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Katibeh Khamseh

I posted before on Sling Shot Hip Hop, the excellent movie on Palestinian rap. Many people do not like hip hop, especially hip hop in Arabic. I will not argue that, but even if you dislike it, you must listen at least once to Katibeh 5 (Katibeh khamseh), a group of Palestinian youth from the Burj el Barajneh camp in Lebanon. Their new album: Ahla fik bil moukhayamat (welcome to the camps) is pretty good, but there is one song I particularily like. I'll let you guess why. It is called Jam`iyyat (it means organizations, but the term is used to refer to NGOs). My translation of extracts from the lyrics

We're burning them again
From inside Katibeh khamseh
So that they work better

They got the money of the nation
What they put in they take back
They're the pimps of our time
Oh yes pimps

People are dying
Even the wife
Made an organization of thieves
My brothers behind my back are smuggling my money
I am calling for resilience
A knife in my back is burying me in silence
How to make your organization to survive in these times:
First: read about human rights and memorize a bit of vocabulary
Second: Evaluate the sad situation and list the causes
Third: (I can really make out what he says here)
Fourth: Accept the offer without reading the goals
Fifth: kill your humanity and your conscience
... (more listing here)
and finally: (you'll get) the joy of treason and the martyrdom of the cause..."

Bedouin intifada

This in the (deceptive) title of this very long and comprehensive article by Afif Diab and Nicolas Abou Rjeily in Al Akhbar about the Lebanese Bedouin's of the West Bekaa, and their new "emancipation" movement. The sheikhs of the various tribes and sub tribes got together recently to agree on joint political action. Their ambition is to get one of their sheikhs elected to the Lebanese parliament in order to represent them and their demands and their needs. Usually, they are used during the elections and then the MPs forget about them. Their discourse is: "'Although we are close to Hariri, we are on good terms with all other Lebanese (sectarian) parties, we need someone in the parliament to represent us." Apparently, the Bedouins of Wadi Khaled in the Bekaa have 2 MPs, but they are Hariri backbenchers and we never hear about them.

There have also been accusations that this is a Syrian ploy to undermine the elections. What's interesting is that 2 major sheikhs attended the meeting. One is a Saudi Bedouin sheikh and the other is a Syrian sheikh, the Emir of many of the Lebanese sub tribes. He was an MP in the Syrian parliament but he lives part of the year in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Change the gardener

"“Americans were promised ‘change,’ not just another shill for Monsanto and corporate agribusiness,” wrote Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association, which has promised to fight the confirmation of Mr. Vilsack. Mr. Willis and Mr. Murphy immediately shook off the blow and sent out a new petition to have someone more like-minded placed as undersecretary." (Thanks D.)

Am I going to have to say: "I told you so"?

On the Left

Samah Idriss wrote a long and very good article in al akhbar today on the Lebanese Left. It is too long to translate here, but the article is very interesting. Samah says that the Left in Lebanon is navigating a minefield between the "ideologies" of March 14 and of March 8. He points to the shortfalls of Hizbullah on the social and economic and political agendas (except for the resistance), and to the serious shortcomings of the March 14 movement especially in relation to their affiliation to what I call the "party of money and power".

Reading Samah, I could not help realizing (again) how lamentable is the current state of the Lebanese Left. But I believe that much of this deplorable situation is the Left's own doing: how representative is the Left of people's interests? And even if people's interests are today misplaced, and if the Lebanese are too taken by confessionalism to think about anything else (and this is true) what has the Left REALLY done to counter that? I am not talking about sitting meetings and conferences and writing articles, or about symbolic demosntrations in Beirut. I am talking about action, about long term engagement. Samah reminds us that the Left had initially started the Resistance against the Israelis in South Lebanon. This is totally true. But when the Left was forced out of the Resistance, what did it do? What was its social involvement agenda? How did it serve the people? How many leftist organizations are today practicing what they preach and engaging in grass root development action? There is so much that can be done to strengthen livelihoods in the poor areas, where theoretically one should find the natural public of the Left.

Samah mentions the boycott campaign, and the absence of interest of HA in engaging in the boycott of companies which support Israel. He is again right, but one has also to look at the choices that people have, at awareness, education, options. What has the Left done about that at grassroot level, again? I have not studied or seen studies about who engages in the boycott campaign but my feeling is that it remains primarily limited to occasional engagement by bourgeois middle class. This, of course needs to change. But it won't change if the Left does not renew itself, consolidates from its disastrous atomization and individualization, and engage again in action where needed, in the rural and urban poverty zones.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

So unfair

"The Fair Food Foundation, which was established less than a year ago to improve food access and support urban agriculture in Detroit and the San Francisco Bay area, announced today that it was shutting down because its money was handled by Bernard L. Madoff, the respected investment manager who turned out to be running an alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme." (Thanks D.)


""In the first two weeks of December, the prices for wheat and coarse grains averaged respectively 40 percent and 20 percent less than the December average last year," the organisation said.

In Afghanistan, however, prices have remained relatively high, making it difficult for over eight million food-insecure people to eat properly.

The price of one kilogram of wheat in Kabul was about 40 Afghanis (about 80 US cents) in December, compared to 0.23 cents in the USA, the FAO report says. "

Fragile food

"This “marketization” of agriculture has not, to be sure, been fully carried through. Subsidies are still endemic in rich countries and poor, while developing countries often place tariffs on imported food, which benefit their farmers but drive up prices for consumers. And in extreme circumstances countries restrict exports, hoarding food for their own citizens. Nonetheless, we clearly have a leaner, more market-friendly agricultural system than before. It looks, in fact, a bit like global manufacturing, with low inventories (wheat stocks are at their lowest since 1977), concentrated production (three countries provide ninety per cent of corn exports, and five countries provide eighty per cent of rice exports), and fewer redundancies. Governments have a much smaller role, and public spending on agriculture has been cut sharply.

The problem is that, while this system is undeniably more efficient, it’s also much more fragile. "

Nice article in the New Yorker (Thanks Leila)

Monday, December 22, 2008


"The founder and chief executive of the Italian food group Parmalat was sentenced last night to 10 years in prison for his role in Europe's biggest-ever corporate bankruptcy. Calisto Tanzi was convicted of market-rigging, false accounting and obstructing market oversight."

And when we say the food corporations are corrupt people call us conspiratorial. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Samir Amen

An excellent interview with Samir Amin in Focus on the Global South. Here are some extracts, but well worth reading in full (Thanks Rania)

"What needs more research and more debate among us, people of the Left, is that the current breakdown is not the result of mistakes on regulation, etc. (which is the mainstream view), but a logic that is innate by the very centrality of the struggle for the redistribution of profits among the oligopolies. So the solution to this problem requires radical change, is long term and will come about when the oligopolies are nationalised with the objective of socialisation.
At a conceptual level we should distinguish trade from free trade. Being against free trade does not mean that you are against any kind of trade. Delinking from the free-trade paradigm does not mean moving to the moon. Unfortunately, for most Southern governments, speaking of trade has become synonymous with free trade. Free trade can be multilateral, regional or bilateral and it is undesirable in all three scenarios for the countries of the South. A third point is that the U.S. has been pro-free trade both at the multilateral and bilateral level, not for them but for their trading partners. The current U.S. Congress is opposed to free-trade rules being applied to the U.S. but it wants the same rules to access markets in the global South. This is very typical behaviour of a hegemonic power, that is, “you have to comply with international law, but I won’t”.
So the current crisis is also a very good opportunity to move out of the concept of free trade to regulated and negotiated trade. This negotiation must be asymmetric because there is an objective asymmetry between the North and the South. This reminds me of a joke about the fisheries agreement between France and Senegal. “The French fleets are allowed to fish in the Senegalese waters and vice versa.” [Laughs] This kind of hypocrisy is not acceptable.

This is what I am calling the liberal virus. The Left must get rid of this liberal virus. The liberal virus is the belief in two or three things. One – that there is something called a market system.

There is nothing which would qualify as a market economy. Markets exist, but there are capitalist markets, there could be socialist markets. There were markets even before capitalism as in India and elsewhere. There are market subsystems in an overall system, and we are dealing with capitalist markets, not markets. That is one dimension of the virus – accepting the language of the dominant powers that there are two types of economy, planned, that is, administratively managed, or market managed. There is nothing of the two. These are two ideological pictures of reality. Let us get rid of that and understand that there is nothing called the market economy. There is a capitalist economy, of course with markets, but markets are submitted to the logic of accumulation of capital. It’s not a market which produces, as a by-product, capitalist accumulation. Capital accumulation commands and controls the market.

The second belief is democracy separated from social questions. Today, democracy is being defined through parties, elections, fair elections more or less and some basic political rights. There is less concern about whether it is leading to social progress. What we need is democratisation of society, associated with social progress, not disassociated from it – associated with the task of giving full importance to social rights, to the right to food, to shelter, to employment, to education, to health, etc. This does not mean only putting them in the Constitution but creating the conditions where the exercise of those rights in order to achieve social progress limits the rights of property. The right of property can be recognised but [should be] submitted to the social rights.
Now, the World Social Forum came naturally as a result of that growing protest and resistance as a forum open to all movements of protest. I’m not negative about it. I’m considering that it is positive to the extent that we, the World Forum for Alternatives, existed before the World Social Forum and played a role in it and will continue to do so. But, we believe that this is not enough, and that the challenge is far more serious than many of the social movements believe. They believe that through their fragmented resistance they can change the balance of forces.

I feel that this is wrong. The balance of forces cannot be changed unless those fragmented movements forge a common platform based on some common grounds."

Great expectations

"It’s a very difficult situation,” said Heidi Fernandez, who advocates for land reform with Task Force Maplod, a non-governmental organisation. “We have a president who is landed, her husband comes from the landed class, our lawmakers – many of them own land. They are in power, so what could these farmers do against these big, powerful landowners?”"

This is the eternal problem: how can we expect the beneficiaries of an unjust system to work against it? I am reading a strange little book by a guy called Michael Awn, who appears to be a communist lawyer. I found it among the discarded books on the shelves of the Ras Beirut bookstore as it was closing down (very sad moment). The book is called: the History of Land Tenure in Lebanon, and it has a reasonably good class analysis of land ownership, and it also challenges private land property in Lebanon and seeks its roots. But I've never seen this book quoted in any of the numerous studies on land tenure I have collected, most of which are published by the UN and other similarly "objective" bodies who refuse to call things by their name.

Which brings me to the question of political sectarianism in Lebanon: are we really expecting that the same parliamentarians who are elected because of their sectarian affiliation will actually legislate to elliminate political sectarianism? Doesn't look very likely to me.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Land grab affects pastoralists first

"But seemingly unoccupied land is probably used for at least part of the year by someone, says Michael Taylor of the International Land Coalition (ILC), which groups 65 agencies, from local farm groups to the World Bank, concerned with land access. Nomadic herders, rarely a priority for governments, are being dispossessed by bioethanol developments in Kenya, he says, and they also depend on the "unused" land that Madagascar offered Daewoo. Ethiopia's communal lands, such as grazing areas, are being leased to private investors, says anthropologist Marco Bassi of the University of Oxford. "This will destroy shifting cultivators and pastoralists."" (Thanks Karin)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Texas against hunger

Further to my post on hunger in the US, Leila sent me this link to a blog called Texas Against Hunger

Stuff white people like

"All white people like hummus. In fact, if you find a white person who does not like hummus then they probably just haven’t tasted it or they are the wrong kind of white person. In either case, they are probably not someone that you want to know.

Putting out a plate of hummus and pita makes white people very comfortable. It reminds them of home since at any given time a white person has hummus in their fridge. Even the most barren white refrigerator will have a package of the stuff next to an empty Brita filter." (Thanks Marcy)

Ooh so that's why so many Lebanese think they're white... Funny blog Stuff white people like

Ave Cesar

"it's just that the Italians would rather go down saying "morituri te salutant" than know the infamy of giving up centuries of tradition to a 37-year-old American conglomerate claiming to be the true heir of the Italian passion for coffee."

No Starbucks for Italy...

Friday, December 19, 2008

The world's richest nation

"This month the number of Americans receiving food stamps is likely to surpass 30 million. That means more than one in 10 US citizens cannot secure the basic calorific intake to survive without government assistance.

The US in December 2008. The world’s richest nation."

Ed Pilkington, the Guardian


"Organizing," concludes Patel, "of the kind demonstrated by these movements, offers the road to a deeper choice than we have known. Reclaiming the food system, reclaiming our choices, isn't something to be done individually. The way we become singular is plural. That means coming together locally, regionally, and internationally, to better understand the choices we make and the food we eat in the places we make them. As the [Brazilian Landless Workers Movement] put it, 'Against barbarism, education. Against individualism, solidarity. '" (Thanks Marcy)


My editorial in Badael, Al Akhbar: Give us back our pine forest. Rana Hayek: towards a humane capitalism? Rana also wrote another article in the ABC of food: grains.

Brace yourself 2

Al Akhbar has a dossier today about the returnees from Dubai. A woman who lost her job in Dubai says in Rana Hayek's article: «إيه، ماكسيموم منرجع عالضيعة نزرع بندورة وخيار، المهم بس الإسرائيلية يرحمونا من الجهة التانية كمان»: "worst case, we will go back to the village and grow tomatoes and cucumber, but we'll need the Israelis to leave us in peace..."

But we don't care

"An Israeli patrol opened automatic rifle fire at a Lebanese farmer in the southern region of Blida on Thursday, but no casualties were reported."

Whopper virgins

"The modern colonizers currently have an ad campaign called "Whopper Virgins." Commercials are running during televised sports events, and the company has a nearly eight-minute video on its website. In a bizarre parody of an actual documentary, Burger King sent a crew out to remote Hmong parts of Thailand, Inuit parts of Greenland, and a village in Romania where people have both never seen a hamburger nor ever heard of one through advertising. The narration starts, "The hamburger is a culinary culture and it's actually an American phenomenon [as if we didn't know this]."

The first part of the video involved plucking some villagers to come to a modern office in local and native dress to compare Burger King's signature burger with a McDonald's Big Mac. Villagers are shown fumbling with the burger, with a patronizing narrator saying, "It's been very interesting to see their reaction to the hamburger because they've never seen such a foreign piece of food before and they didn't even quite know how to pick it up and they didn't know how to - from what end to eat. . . .It was really interesting. We were able to see these people's first bite of a hamburger."" (Thanks Akhuy fil mahjar)

Excellent oped by Derrick Jackson.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Al Horch

"After its landscape-rich (re)design in 1995 and in the name of protecting it from ‘uncivilized behavior’, the Municipality of Beirut controlled and restricted access to about two-thirds of Horch al-Sanawbar, based on certain frequenters’ social practices, employing strategies of fencing and regulating. Today, only about one-third of Horch is open to the public. However, Horch frequenters continue to manifest their practices and desires despite of fences and regulations, and disregarding landscape ‘museumification’.

This paper investigates the history of Horch al-Sanawbar and documents current social practices in its different parts; then, it attempts to correlate history and social practices of Horch to better understand it as a public space, based on literature from Sandercock and Cupers and Miessen. The main argument is that previous and current usages of Horch reveal the ability of people, through history, to negotiate their practices in controlled public spaces and under different types of control. Enacting public space becomes, then, a product of city residents’ desires throughout time." (Thanks Daniel)

Paper on the Beirut Pine Forest by Fadi Shayya, a former AUB student.

Brace yourself

Many of the Lebanese expatriates working in the Arabian Gulf, especially in Dubai, are being let go overnight because of the financial meltdown. A friend who works there has told me that half his 140 employees company have been released and given 3 months to find another job or return home. Here's an extensive article (Arabic) on the expected impact from the crisis on remittances to Lebanon (which have been declining). This is the time to look inside for solutions. There is urgency: I expect the impact on rural areas to be significant: many rural families survive only because of the remittances from abroad. This is the time to invest in an agricultural revival, aimed at the small and medium producers. And I say invest. Whoever will run this state or which ever party will run their small piece of the state (more likely) needs to know that they need to invest in farming for it to become a source of livelihood that can compensate for remittances (among other things. This is not the only role of farming, of course).

Food and citizenship

"Lebanon is in the middle of an election campaign. Who (among the parties) has placed food and agriculture on their political agenda? When was the last demonstration in support of agriculture in Lebanon?

There can be no citizenship without national sovereignty, and there can be no national sovereignty without food sovereignty. Those who beg for food can never be free."

From a long article (in Arabic) written by Milia Abu Jawdeh in Al Safir reporting on a talk I gave last Monday.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Will he?

"Several news organizations reported Tuesday evening that President-elect Barack Obama will nominate former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a big ethanol supporter, for Secretary of Agriculture.

Just three weeks ago, Vilsack, who withdrew early from the Democratic presidential race, told the Des Moines Register that he was not a candidate for the post. The Obama team had not contacted him, he said."

Will he "drill baby drill" in a couple of years?

We need a garden movement in Beirut

"The gardens on Alcatraz are so unlikely that half of us living here don't know they exist. To start them, early outposts on the island had to import soil because the place is natively a rock with a lot of bird droppings on it. Lichens, maybe mosses, grew there, and maybe there were a few tenacious succulents wedging themselves into cracks. The birds that have nested there for centuries probably brought seeds with them, on their bodies or in the nesting material some of them use." (Thanks Leila)

Cuban local

"Around 15 percent of the world's food is grown in urban areas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a figure experts expect to increase as food prices rise, urban populations grow and environmental concerns mount.

Since they sell directly to their communities, city farms don't depend on transportation and are relatively immune to the volatility of fuel prices, advantages that are only now gaining traction as "eat local" movements in rich countries.

In Cuba, urban gardens have bloomed in vacant lots, alongside parking lots, in the suburbs and even on city rooftops." (Thanks Marcy)

Its all about peace keeping

"Numbers of saw-mills and wood-fired brick kilns have rocketed in the region's main towns to keep up with rising demand for building materials for new peacekeeping bases, displacement shelters and accommodation for U.N. staff, the report added.

It said brick-making kilns alone were burning up an estimated 52,000 trees a year, which meant "the current form of brick-making is having a disastrous impact on Darfur's fragile environment"." (Thanks Rania)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


"Two hundred Israeli police raided the Bedouin village of Abdallah Al-Atrash in the Negev desert in Israel at 5:00am on Tuesday, demolished the entire community and forcibly expelled all 20 families living there." (Thanks Marcy)

Yes but did they throw shoes?

"The protesters were found guilty of criminal, and not political acts, he said.

Protesters tore down a giant poster of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, during the riots and shouted anti-government slogans."

They're angry and they're organizing

Bedouin warn 'traitors' in their midst

By Abdel-Rahman Hussein
First Published: December 12, 2008

CAIRO: Releasing a second statement in as many days, Bedouin tribes in Sinai sent a blunt warning to their own tribesmen working as informants for security forces, telling them in no uncertain terms to desist or pay the price.

“There is now a conspiracy against us from the security forces to split the tribes of Sinai,” the Bedouin statement read. Directing its ire to “the traitors amongst us,” the statement contained a threat that those working with the government against their own tribes will be dealt with harshly.

“Where is the state? It is like a mafia, implementing a strategy of divide and rule amongst us,” the statement continued, before calling for the release of Bedouin activist Mussad Abul Fajr.

“We love our country and we are not terrorists or smugglers as the state and media portray us,” the statement concluded.

Despite an announcement by the four main tribes in the area calling for a Bedouin conference on Dec. 15, other members from these very same tribes met Friday to reject the conference.

“Everyone has their own ambitions and in the void after the violence everyone is trying to set the agenda,” said Rafah-based journalist Mustapha Singer.

The freedoms committee of the Journalists’ Syndicate will also host a conference Dec.16 to discuss Sinai and, according to Singer, two human rights organizations are currently secretly negotiating to organize a conference in Sinai itself.

The four main tribes inhabiting Rafah near the Gaza border had announced their intention to hold a conference Dec. 15 to discuss their political and economic problems with the government.

The four tribes — Tarabin, Sawarka, Rumelat and Tahaya — released an earlier statement announcing their wish for a conference to be held as well as taking the government to task over its failure to contain these political and economic problems.

“It’s a result of the government asking the tribes to state their demands. The plan is for the government to take into account all these demands and then meet with tribes on the day of the conference to address them,” North Sinai Tagammu party member Hussein El Qayem previously said.

Referring to a recent report by the defense and national security committee of the People's Assembly, the tribes lamented these “falsities” about the danger they seem to pose to the country’s security.

They also bemoaned the treatment they suffered at the hands of security forces in Sinai, pointing out recent clashes between the two which resulted in the deaths of four Bedouins.

The tribes said that “the state deserted [the children of Sinai] to an enemy that is not governed by agreements or ethical or religious standards, without any consideration to their humanity or dignity or constitutional, civil and economic rights,” the statement read.

The defense and national security committee of the People's Assembly warned that the current situation in North Sinai constituted a threat to national security along the border with Israel.

From The Daily News Egypt

The conference was held yesterday. I need to get info on that.

Masai, Bedouins AND Touaregs

"A battle is unfolding on the stark mountains and scalloped dunes of northern Niger between a band of Tuareg nomads, who claim the riches beneath their homeland are being taken by a government that gives them little in return, and an army that calls the fighters drug traffickers and bandits.

It is a new front of an old war to control the vast wealth locked beneath African soil. Niger's northern desert caps one of the world's largest deposits of uranium, and demand for it has surged as global warming has increased interest in nuclear power. Growing economies like China and India are scouring the globe for the crumbly ore known as yellowcake. A French mining company is building the world's largest uranium mine in northern Niger, and a Chinese state company is building another mine nearby." (Thanks D.)

What do they all have against the nomads? What?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Age of reason

"Nations are gathering in Poznan, Poland under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). To meet their obligations towards developing countries and repay their climate debt, industrialized countries must agree to appropriately and adequately finance adaptation, mitigation, and technology development and transfer. The World Bank Group is positioning itself to control key financial mechanisms of the UNFCCC.

We, the undersigned organizations, oppose any World Bank role in an international climate change convention regime, for the following reasons:"

Tons of reasons here


"MUMBAI: Suicides by farmers of Maharashtra crossed the 4,000-mark in 2007, for the third time in four years, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

As many as 4,238 farmers of the State took their lives that year, the latest for which data are available, accounting for a fourth of 16,632 farmer suicides in the country.

The national total represents a slight fall, from 17,060 in 2006, but the broad trends of the past decade seem unshaken.

Farmer suicides in the country since 1997 is now 1,82,936." (Thanks Rania)

Read more about the despair of India's poor farmers here.

Masai and Bedouins

"Once these people were royalty, perhaps the most independent and proud of Africa's pastoral peoples. Now they were hawkers and beggars, dependent on the whims of the tourists who come here, in part, to see them and their lives." (Thanks Anna)

Masai, Bedouins, nomadic people around the world suffer the same fate. The chains and fences of the nation states do not become them.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

La Foret des Pins

This week my Landscape students were learning about Greenfields and Brownfields. In short, greenfields are the green spaces within a city (this can include natural green spaces as well as constructed gardens) and brownfields are the derelict spaces. Our job often includes turning BF into GF, although in Lebanon we have often done the opposite. Blame the war.

Beirut is one of the brownest cities in the world. There is something like one tree for every 30 plus inhabitants. There are very few maintained green spaces of any significant size. The notable exceptions are marked in green polygons in the photo: The campus of the American University of Beirut (near the sea) the Forest des Pins (to the right of the photo), and the Golf Club (the biggest space, to the south).

The 73 acres AUB campus is fascinating, because it has remained very close to what the original vegetation must have been: oaks, pines, carob and wild pistachios. However, entry is restricted to AUB students and alumni and cats. Cats receive special treatment at AUB, a situation that has not escaped some Beirutis who always ask the wrong questions.

The other large green space is the Golf club. It is situated smack in the middle of one of the poor areas of Beirut, the Southern Suburb. I didn't even know it existed (it is surrounded with walls), until I noticed it as my plane was about to land in Beirut's airport. The landing goes like this, coming from the north: sea-tall ugly rich buildings-tall ugly poor buildings-slums- super green space with beautifully manicured lawn-slums-landing strip. Needless to say the poor are only admitted to the Golf Club as caddies.

The third green space is the Forest des Pins, or the pine forest. This forest, which is located in what used to be the southern edge of Beirut has trees of Pinus pinea (the one with edible nuts) that are over 230 years old. It has the bad luck of being in the center of a demarcation zone between the predominantly Shi`a Gobeiry area, the predominantly Christian (mixed confessions) Badaro area and the predominantly Sunni Qasqas area. The forest itself is about 70 acres and belongs to the municipality of Beirut. Before the war, the tree cover was so dense that the sun would not pass through the canopy. The" villagers" of Gobeiry used to hunt wild pigeons there, and people were scared of passing through during the nighttime. Then the municipality rehabilitated it as a public garden with gates and fences. The park's rehabilitation was completed in 1973, right in time for its destruction. In 1991, the Ile de France municipality offered a grant to Lebanon to rehabilitate the Pine Forest Park. This was completed almost 10 years ago.

This is where I took my students today to learn about the rehabilitation of greenfields. The place is absolutely beautiful. It is green and lush and extremely well maintained. It has nearly a hundred tree varieties, many of which are native and edible like Arbustus unido, which looks like lychees and tastes kind of sweet. It even has a place named incongruously named "The Oasis" where, I am told, a charitable foundation teaches schoolchildren how to plant seeds.

But the place is a desert. It is fenced (but people can look in) and has never been officially opened. My students and I were able to get in, because the former curator, who is a very nice man, came with us to give us a sauf conduit and show us the grounds.

While walking, we encountered a few people who were walking fast, in this very concentrated manner people who are here for-sport-not-for-fun have. I was told they could come in because they obtained a special permit from the Governor of Beirut (the Muhafez). I asked if the permit was delivered to whoever applied, but the answer was unclear. It looks like you have to know someone, or be a "respected" person to get in there. We had a discussion with the students and the former curator about whether it was right to keep the place closed or if it should be opened to the public. All were in favor of opening it, although many voiced fears that it would quickly be downgraded if people came in. The issue of the park being surrounded by 2 "poor" neighborhood was not really raised, to my student's credit. But it was sometimes underlying. Some one suggested that there should be a fee for the entry, but we agreed that this would exclude the poor. The ex-curator wa extremely progressive: in his opinion, parks were for the people, and with proper management and rules (which are possible to implement as no one is actually forcing their way into the park although they could, the present security being minimal) it should be possible to establish a use-for-all mechanism. People had to be educated, he said, and it starts by them being allowed to use the facilities as long as they abide by rules. He told us that when they first started planting flower beds in the streets of Beirut before the wars, half the plants would disappear during the night, but that they kept replanting until those who were taking them were satiated.

Around the time of the discussion, I met 2 people who were power walking in the park. I knew one of them: a TV journalist who interviewed me once. Her partner used to be the adviser to the leader of one of the most racist and extremist right-wing sectarian militias in Lebanon. They stopped to talk to me briefly and told me that they come here everyday to walk, because it is so beautiful and convenient. They asked me if I usually come. I said that I will come when the park will be opened for the rich and the poor alike. The journalist's partner answered: "well I hope it will never be. They will come in and ruin it". He added that he did not like the poor anyway.

It is good to see that there are still people in this country whose politics are reflected in their everyday attitudes.

Friday, December 12, 2008


La Cocina
Cultivating Food Entrepreneurs
(Thanks Annie)
Welcome to La Cocina, San Francisco's first incubator kitchen. La Cocina was founded to serve as a platform for low-income entrepreneurs launching, formalizing or expanding their food businesses. La Cocina provides affordable commercial kitchen space and industry-specific technical assistance to low-income entrepreneurs in order to bring their businesses quickly to a point of self-sufficiency.

La Cocina (pronounced la co-see-nah, meaning "The Kitchen" in Spanish) was inspired by its current home, San Francisco's Mission District, an ethnically diverse and economically vulnerable neighborhood that thrives in part due to the many small informal businesses that serve the community. As is the case in many cities, food lies at the heart of this community, and you don't have to look far to find hidden entrepreneurs in the kitchens of many homes.


In Badael-Alternatives: My editorial "On Rural Education". Muhammad Muhsin: Food Sovereignty or Food Security? And Hani Naim on Souk el Tayyeb celebration of Armenian Food in Burj Hammoud.

Land and People: the story

"AITA AL-SHAAB: In August 2006, American University of Beirut (AUB) professor Rami Zurayk borrowed a motorbike and rode to South Lebanon to visit some of the villages hardest hit by the 2006 summer war with Israel. Many of the roadways heading south had been bombed so Zurayk often traveled through the mountains.

"There were no [passable] roads and I wanted to help immediately," he said.

Dozens of villages had been virtually destroyed in the fighting and fields were littered with unexploded cluster bombs. Zurayk quickly realized that many rural livelihoods, particularly those dependant on farming and agricultural production, were in desperate need of help."

Read the rest of the story in Nick Kimbrell's article for the Daily Star.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Small farmers victims of forest carbon trading

"Unfortunately, some local and international environmental NGOs established a company named PT Reki who asked the government the permit to use this area for ecosystem restauration. This consortium of NGOs consists of Yayasan Burung Indonesia, Royal Society for the Protection of Bird (RSPB), and Bird-Life International. They received the permit to manage this areas for 100 years.

When the company took control over the area, peasants and indigenous people where kicked out of their land, they were intimidated, arrested and interrogated. They were forced to sign a letter where they agree to leave the area and to never come back again. Some peasants were sent to jail and then released. One of them was detained for 6 months for defending hit community's land".

Via Campesina


"Change we can believe in?

The most powerful signal Mr. Obama could send would be to name a reformer to a renamed position. A former secretary of agriculture, John Block, said publicly the other day that the agency should be renamed “the Department of Food, Agriculture and Forestry.” And another, Ann Veneman, told me that she believes it should be renamed, “Department of Food and Agriculture.” I’d prefer to see simply “Department of Food,” giving primacy to America’s 300 million eaters.

As Mr. Pollan told me: “Even if you don’t think agriculture is a high priority, given all the other problems we face, we’re not going to make progress on the issues Obama campaigned on — health care, climate change and energy independence — unless we reform agriculture.”" (Thanks D.)

Kristof on food and Obama

The question

"WHY HAVE POLITICAL ELITES in Lebanon, not known for their public-mindedness, begun to show interest in questions of the environment? Certainly, their wartime activities provided no hint of an interest in 'green' politics. Indeed, save for the truly 'green line' that separated East and West Beirut, Lebanon suffered untold environmental devastation during the war."

Excellent article by Paul Kingston, old but not outdated (2001)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Land conflicts

Land conflicts: a practical guide to dealing with land disputes

Authors: Wehrmann,B.
Produced by: Deutsche Gessellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (2008)

Land conflicts often have extensive negative effects on economic, social, spatial and ecological development. This is especially true in developing countries and countries in transition, where land market institutions are weak, opportunities for economic gain by illegal action are widespread and many poor people lack access to land. Land conflicts can have disastrous effects on individuals as well as on groups and even entire nations. Many conflicts that are perceived to be clashes between different cultures are actually conflicts over land and related natural resources.

This guide aims to broaden the understanding of the complexity of causes that lead to land conflicts in order to provide for better-targeted ways of addressing such conflicts.It is intended for all those working in the land sector, in natural resource management and in urban and rural development.

A variety of options for settling ongoing land conflicts and for preventing new ones are discussed and a number of tools with which to analyse land conflicts are provided. In addition, the guide provides useful training material for educators and lecturers in courses in land administration and land management.

Chapters include:

  • Understanding land conflicts
  • Analysing land conflicts
  • Dealing with land conflicts
  • Preventing land conflicts
Available online at:


Everything you've always wanted to know about organic farming in the Mediterranean, the new CIHEAM dossier.

Welcome to the desert of the real

""We have got to decide whether we want cheap, unsustainable food or a sustainable food system," said Lang. "This is a new imperialism… we're using other people's land to feed ourselves, taking food out of the mouths of others."

In 2007 the UK produced 61% of the food it consumed, ranging from 100% of cereals to 10% of fruit."


Tannourine in December. Photo by Myrna Choueiry.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Another success story

"Agricultural experts, government officials and local communities in Hadramaut Governorate, southern Yemen, are urging the government to tackle an evergreen and fast-growing shrub which has been blocking waterways, with sometimes devastating consequences.

They say the shrub is responsible for exacerbating the late October floods by blocking watercourses and diverting floodwater into villages which might otherwise have been unscathed. At least 90 people were killed, and 20,000-25,000 were made homeless by the floods.

The governor of Hadramaut, Salem al-Khanbishi, told IRIN the shrub must be eradicated. "We must find a quick solution to the shrubs; they're one of the reasons for the recent disaster in the governorate. NGOs and the government must work together to uproot them," he said.

Prosopis juliflora - commonly known as Mesquite and introduced several decades ago to combat desertification and stabilise sand dunes - is native to the Americas, tolerates harsh, arid, saline conditions, and has spread throughout arable parts of Hadramaut." (Thanks Rania)

The tree of the Yemeni low altitude drylands. With its very deep root system, sometimes reaching over 20m deep, Prosopis can survive in the harshest environments. They are often the only green you see in the desert and animals and birds use them for shelter. You also find them in large numbers in bahrain and probably in other Arabian Gulf countries. A few years ago I was consulted on this issue in Yemen, and my recommendation was to turn them into charcoal, which would make people trim them regularly and kill the seeds. I still think we should try to manage them and use them instead of trying to eradicate them. Of course, it would have been better not to introduce them to start with.

Diet Lebanon

"Lisa was recently offered $30 to take part in a late-night, low-budget infomercial to say she had lost weight by taking the herbal supplement jojoba. Despite never having taken the supplement, Lisa was approached by the advertisers because she had an American accent that they thought would sound authoritative. She declined the offer.

With Lebanon facing a – literally – growing obesity problem that is being nourished by sedentary lifestyles and a proliferation of fatty fast food, having such advertisements promote misleading information to Lebanese who are eager to lose weight is problematic, and even dangerous, given the health risks associated with being overweight and taking pills without a doctor’s approval. With the diet industry in Lebanon expanding in tandem with waist sizes, aspects of it remain largely unregulated — raising the eyebrows of health professionals in the country."

Article by Megan Bainbridge

Food prices and nutrition

"In the past few months, the prices of major cereals have fallen by 30 percent to 40 percent as a result of the global economic slowdown and favourable weather conditions, but they remain high compared with three years ago, said IFPRI. "This short-term price relief is insufficient, however, to ensure that the poor have access to adequate amounts of nutritious food."

Food price hikes have also raised micronutrient deficiencies, with negative consequences such as impaired cognitive development, lower resistance to disease, and increased risks during childbirth for both mothers and children, according to IFPRI."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Al Akhbar Marx the Eid

For those who can read Arabic, Al Akhbar's special Eid supplement on Marx, with articles by Samir Amin, David Harvey, Khaled Saghieh, Hasan Shuqrani, Ernest Khoury and Slavoj Zizek. Recommended.

Droughts and conquests

"Since the Arab Muslims were from desiccated Western Arabia, they may have been better at dealing with a dry climate; Muslim water-management techniques were superior to those of other civilizations in that era. They may also have had advantages in logistics and fighting technique. The Bedouin tribesmen of Arabia that were the core of the Arab Muslim army had been used to raiding across arid territory. Camels need less water than horses and can cover more territory per day, so in dry conditions a camel cavalry has advantages over a horse cavalry. Bedouin had been probing Byzantine defenses in Syria all along; why were they suddenly able to over-run Damascus in 634 CE? Many historians have focused on the esprit de corps and unifying ideology they derived from the new religion of Islam, but other explanations should continue to be considered." (Thanks Leila)

Juan Cole suggests a climate-related explanation as an explanation of the success of the Arab Muslim conquests. My take is that we should steer away from simple, uni dimensional explanations of history, especially when they appear to fit current scientific and popular interests such as climate change. The most likely course of event probably falls into the "perfect storm" category, as has happened many times later in history, such as right after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and during the early days of the British mandate. This is when market forces, droughts, "modernizing" mandatory policies and the creation of regional nation states (mainly Ibn Saud's Arabia) together acted to start a chain reaction that will eventually culminate in massive exit from Bedouinism. Do not also underestimate the impact that single individuals can have: Mohammad for the Islamic conquests, Glubb and Ibn Saud in the early 20th century.

IPC and Food Sovereignty

Rasha abu Zeki provides the media coverage of the first day of the "Food Sovereignty or Free Trade" conference in Beirut (Arabic).

This was a particularly good meeting, with delegates from Lebanon, Iran, Tunisia, Algeria Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Italy and Germany. The first day and a half were devoted to discussions of the general conceptual framework of food sovereignty and its relationship with trade, with specific examples drawn from research and experience. The last day was the most interesting (to me) because it was a planning meeting of the regional branch of the International NGO/CSO Planning Committee (IPC). IPC is a civil society platform extremely involved in Food Sovereignty Action. IPC's work in our region has been relatively limited, but the meeting of the last 3 days appears to have energized it. Meanwhile, IPC has been extremely active at the global level, especially in its opposition to WTO, and also in influencing FAO reform. I have been asked to join the regional group as an observer, and I am extremely happy about this. The work through IPC may offer the opportunity to organize and consolidate our dispersed regional efforts towards a global social change agenda. I'll keep writing about this.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


If there anything worse than being a turkey on Thanksgiving, it must be being a sheep on Eid al Adha. (Reuters photo in Amman)

Under occupation

Farmers living under occupation: a great photo essay on the Bedouins of Palestine. Beautiful photos. (Thanks Muna)

Zizek moment

I'm reading (with difficulty) Slavoj Zizek's latest book: In Defense of Lost Causes for which I did not thank enough akhuy fil mahjar. From the introduction:

"... after one fails, one can go on and fail better, while indifference drowns us deeper and deeper into the morass of imbecilic Being."

Which I dedicate to all those who have abdicated the Cause.


I saw a movie today about how corporations used corporate mercenaries to overthrow the regime in Haiti because the Haitian president decreed an increase in the minimum wages from 30 cents to $1 a day, which increased the company's production costs. It also features a conspiracy by a mysterious organization of very rich people to control the water resources of Bolivia by helping a bloody dictator stage a coup with the CIA's blessings (in exchange for US control over oil). The film also exposes the image of the millionaire businessman philanthropist environmentalist who in reality is only trying to increase his and his organization's wealth through controlling vast expanses of land as "nature reserves".

And there was not a single Arab or Muslim bad guy, and one of the bad guys was ex-Mossad.

I got out of the movie shaken, but not stirred.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Financial crisis worsens food crisis

"The problem is playing out across the globe: food prices rose by 24 percent in 2007, pushing 75 million more people into chronic hunger, estimates the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). In 2008, food prices surged again by 51 percent, meaning that millions more are likely to join the 923 million people already suffering from malnutrition. World food prices have come down by a modest 6 percent since September, the FAO estimates, but that can't reverse the damage already wreaking its way across the globe.

The financial crisis is now adding its own plague of threats.

Here in Cambodia, rice millers tend to borrow money from banks to pay farmers and to mill their rice. As banks seize up credit due to global recession fears, some mills are having trouble paying farmers, explains Mr. Koma.

Farmers in turn, after borrowing heavily for fertilizer, are operating at a loss.

For farmers elsewhere in the world, the financial crisis is creating a similarly sobering equation: it costs more money for them to grow, but they receive a lower price for their products at market – making growing food a risky venture." (Thanks D.)

Thou shalt not steal

Marcy always sends me fabulous links. What would I do without Marcy????

Tough choice

"On Aug. 11 - Independence Day - the government was so happy to show off its war vehicles," said Mekombe, speaking at a conference on the EIB's activities held in the Belgian Senate Dec. 2. "This is not what the population expected from the exploitation of oil. They wanted the revenue to be invested in development projects and to help the Chadian population get out of extreme poverty." (Thanks Rania)

Letter to Obama

“From rising childhood and adult obesity to issues of food safety, global warming and air and water pollution, we believe our next Secretary of Agriculture must have a vision that calls for: recreating regional food systems, supporting the growth of humane, natural and organic farms, and protecting the environment, biodiversity and the health of our children while implementing policies that place conservation, soil health, animal welfare and worker’s rights as well as sustainable renewable energy near the top of their agenda.” (Thanks D.)

Buy Zaytoun

I have taken this from the Big campaign site. Click on Holyland to link.


Consumer boycott

As the annual season of goodwill approaches, many thoughtful people will look to Good Gifts from the Charities Advisory Trust (CAT) as a source of ethical gifts for family and friends.

As we did this time last year, we are obliged to point out that one of the products promoted by CAT sits oddly among the many items it sells on behalf of disadvantaged people around the world. We refer to Peace Oil – an Israeli product marketed with the claim that it helps peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. The conflict in Israel/Palestine has a particular resonance for most caring people at Christmas time, and the desire to contribute to a peaceful solution is extremely powerful. However, the conflict will only be resolved by Israel ending its occupation and settlement of Palestinian land, and ending the economic strangulation of Palestinians which results from its occupation policies.

Unfortunately, Peace Oil will not advance either goal. The three types of Peace Oil come from an Israeli Jewish-owned farm, whose olives are pressed by a Druze Sheikh, and whose workforce is Palestinian and Bedouin. The cooking blend contains 50% Palestinian content from the West Bank. While we welcome the employment of Palestinian and Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the inclusion of some Palestinian oil, Peace Oil is hardly the collaboration of equals that those who purchase the oil might assume it to be.

We urge you to consider purchasing Zaytoun olive oil, which is 100% produced by an independent cooperative of Palestinian farmers in the occupied West Bank. With no funds for marketing, these farmers have worked over the last few years, against the odds, to build up a customer base in Britain. They have to confront major obstacles created by the Israeli occupation and closure policies. They have slowly been making inroads into UKhealth food shops, charity outlets and the occasional supermarket. They depend mainly on groups of committed human rights activists, of all faiths and of none, personally canvassing potential outlets and selling bottles of oil to individual supporters. The list of suppliers can be found on their website (

Signed, Executive, Jews for Justice for Palestinians Linda Mead, Commitment for Life Stewart Hemsley, Pax Christi Garth Hewitt, Amos Trust Alun Morinan, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) Christian Network Ibrahim Hewitt, Interpal

For further information see:

Friday, December 5, 2008


Been at the Food Sovereignty-Free Trade conference all day. Too tired to blog, but not too tired to link to today's Badael in Al Akhbar. My editorial: Farmers to remain neglected until they learn belly dancing. Rana Hayek on why coops, and why not! And Muhammad Muhsin tries to answer my question: why is Lebanese freekeh so much more expensive than freekeh imported from Syria?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Business as usual

Social responsibility and social businesses ought to be really attractive options in poverty alleviation: bending capitalism and using it to right its own wrongs. I have used this approach when I created the Healthy Basket organic business, and I have published about this when the concept was still in its early stages. However, and for reasons I could not understand, I always cringe when the same concept is expressed by other players, especially by large corporations wanting to do good. Like last week, I was at this “Agribusiness Solutions” conference in Cairo, and I couldn't help feeling uncomfortable most of the time, especially when I was hearing representatives of large agribusinesses using the lingo of social development.

Part of the conference was held in the Sekem Farm. The whole Sekem operation is really…unexpected. This is a large scale (2000 employees) biodynamic farm with many other sidelines like consultancies and eco-products. It has everything to comply with social responsibility and it looks really impressive (look here for the Global Compact report here). The founder-owner of this mega organic company according to the Sekem site won the alternative Nobel prize in 2003 (what’s this? Do they give it on alternate years?). It looks like Sekem only produces export organic goods.

There were hundreds of participants from Peru to Sri Lanka, and many came from NGOs. But the big corporations were very much present. The purpose was to exchange knowledge and experiences and solutions to the eternal problem of linking farmers to markets. Everybody was very earnest, in an Obamesque way, and all the keynote speeches used “Yes We Can” at least once.

It was the widespread endorsement of Obama that opened my eyes: the mainstream corporate actors have internalized what was once considered a leftist discourse, and are using it to gain access and establish better hold on the system. The development rhetoric, inspired from countless UN publications, was impeccable: we heard about livelihoods, partnerships and integration. We also heard a lot about innovations and opportunities. But I heard mostly about exports-exports-exports.

It sounded as if development and livelihood amelioration were only contingent on providing the global north with year-round, clean, standardized specialty food from the global south. For example, the opening speech by the deputy head of UNIDO marveled at the infinite possibilities offered by globalization, such as being able to eat watermelon in Vienna in November. We also had the opportunity to be exposed to aberrations such as a project for improving the grapes export from India to Europe, which was hailed as a success. The person who was presenting proudly told the audience how all the products which pass the quality tests are exported, while the rest goes to the local market. Everybody applauded.

Standards and traceability, it appears, are only important if they are applied to export goods. The underlying creed was: the Market wants this, so We shall provide. And We shall also talk about global warming while promoting the shipment of refrigerated goods by air transfer across the globe, so that the Viennese can eat watermelon in the winter.

One of the main items of the agenda was the improvement of the value chain. I’m fully convinced of the need for a systematic analysis to better locate the rate limiting steps. But the “value chain” approach is too restrictive and restricted: it starts with farm operations and ends at the table. In reality, it should start with rural livelihoods (very broadly defined, see here) and end with nutrition and well being. The main interest appeared to be “how to better commodify food”. But food is much more: its production systems are enriched with culture and tradition and environment and resources. The market cannot deal with that.

Luckily for me, I happened to stumble on this great essay by Slavoj Žižek called "Nobody Has to be Vile", in which he, in his typical Žižek way, pokes fun and exposes the "liberal communists". It also helped me comprehend better my apparent contradictions. Here are some of the gems of the article:

"Where did the bright stars of Porto Alegre go?

Some of them, at least, moved to Davos. The tone of the Davos meetings is now predominantly set by the group of entrepreneurs who ironically refer to themselves as ‘liberal communists’ and who no longer accept the opposition between Davos and Porto Alegre: their claim is that we can have the global capitalist cake (thrive as entrepreneurs) and eat it (endorse the anti-capitalist causes of social responsibility, ecological concern etc). There is no need for Porto Alegre: instead, Davos can become Porto Davos.


There is a chocolate-flavoured laxative available on the shelves of US stores which is publicised with the paradoxical injunction: Do you have constipation? Eat more of this chocolate! – i.e. eat more of something that itself causes constipation. The structure of the chocolate laxative can be discerned throughout today’s ideological landscape..."

Read the rest here, it is really worth it.

Land use and climate change

"The Commission's purpose is to bring international attention to the two main problems caused by changes in land use: loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems.

In their first-ever deliberations, the members of the Commission studied the state of ecosystems and the causes of their degradation.

Mexico, for example, loses some 500,000 hectares of forest annually, and Nicaragua loses about 75,000 hectares. "

Indigenous people

""Indigenous peoples have for centuries adapted to changing environments and would be able to contribute substantially to adaptation strategies the U.N. is trying to include in a new climate change treaty," said Mark Lattimer of the London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

Ahead of the conference on climate change, which started Monday, MRG researchers released a new study concluding that a new climate change deal would be "seriously compromised" if governments continued to shut out the voices of those most affected by global warming." (Thanks Rania)

Will they have Bedouins in Poznan?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I don't think I have blogged the Manifesto on Climate Change and the Future of Food Security by The international commission on the future of food and agriculture. It was launched at the last Terra Madre event.

Terra Markets

"Zurayk described how in the aftermath of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in July 2006, the country received an aid package from Italy, some of which was used to rebuild livelihoods. This provided the impetus for setting up the Earth Markets in collaboration with the Tuscan-based non-government organization UCODEP. These markets are important economic multipliers, business incubators, he said, and importantly they also provide meeting places and a neutral space in a strife-riven country. “Not just good, clean and fair, but good, clean, fair and peace.”" (Thanks Myriam)

About my talk in Terra Madre.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


"Qatar has asked Kenya to lease it 40,000 hectares of land to grow crops as part of a proposed package that would also see the Gulf state fund a new £2.4bn port on the popular tourist island of Lamu off the east African country.
But the deal is likely to cause concern in Kenya where fertile land is unequally distributed. Several prominent political families own huge tracts of farmland, while millions of people live in densely packed slums.

The country is also experiencing a food crisis, with the government forced to introduce subsidies and price controls on maize this week after poor production and planning caused the price of the staple "ugali" flour to double in less than a year
Pastoralists, who regard the land as communal and rear up to 60,000 cattle to graze in the delta each dry season, are also opposed to the plan.

The Kenyan president, Mwai Kibaki, returned from a visit to Qatar on Monday. His spokesman said the request for land in the Tana river delta, south of Lamu, in north-east Kenya was being seriously considered.

"Nothing comes for free," said Isaiah Kabira. "If you want people to invest in your country then you have to make concessions."" (Thanks Anna)

OK so let me get this straight: The poor are hungry, but they will farm the land so that Qatar can eat. And the pastoralists will sacrifice their land so that the rich can make more money. Great plan.


Lebanon, the country of cultural diversity, where no one cares for minority groups unless they can be used in the sectarian fights. Did you know that there is a small Turkmene population, which has been in Lebanon for a very long time, is tribal and is neglected and marginalized? The Turkmene, who came to Lebanon during the Ottoman rule (ended 1918), are mostly found in `Akkar and in the Bekaa. They are now settled in small villages lacking services, after having been semi-nomadic pastoralists, tending sheep. They are not Bedouins or Roma (many confuse them). They have recently been granted Lebanese citizenship, but it did not come with not respect or recognition or integration or even basic services. In `Akkar, they still teach Turkish in some schools, and I am told they receive visits from the Turkish embassy. Here, a small news item about a visit by the Turkish ambassador to a small Turkmene settlement in the Bekaa. The ambassador apparently promised development aid: a primary school and some basic necessity. If the Lebanese state does not care for the small local ethnic groups of Lebanon, should it be surprised if they take their allegiance elsewhere?

Monday, December 1, 2008


James Petras' article answers my question from a previous post:

"The neo-colonized class structure, especially in largely agricultural economies are evolving into a four tier class system in which the foreign capitalists and their entourage are at the pinnacle of elite status representing less than 1% of the population. In the second tier, representing 10% of the population are the local political elite and their cronies and relatives as well as well placed bureaucrats and military officers, who enrich themselves, through partnerships (‘joint ventures’) with the neo-colonials and via bribes and land grabs. The local middle class represents almost 20% and is in constant danger of falling into poverty in the face of the world economic crises. The dispossessed peasants, rural workers, rural refugees, urban squatters and indebted subsistence peasants and farmers make up the fourth tier of the class structure with close to 70% of the population.

Within the emerging neo-colonial agro-export model, the ‘middle class’ is shrinking and changing in composition. The number of family farmers producing for the domestic market is declining in the face of state-supported foreign-owned farms producing for their own ‘home markets’. As a result market vendors and small retailers in the local markets are falling behind, squeezed out by the large foreign-owned supermarkets. The loss of employment for domestic producers of farm goods and services and the elimination of a host of ‘commercial’ intermediaries between town and country is sharpening the class polarization between top and bottom tiers of the class structure. The new colonial middle class is reconfigured to include a small stratum of lawyers, professionals, publicists and low-level functionaries of the foreign firms and public and private security forces. The auxiliary role of the ‘new middle class’ in servicing the axis of colonial economic and political power will make them less nation-oriented and more colonial in their allegiances and political outlook, more ‘free market’ consumerist in their life style and more prone to approve of repressive (including fascistic) domestic solutions to rural and urban unrest and popular struggles for justice." (Thanks Marcy)

For Christmas

Canaan Fair Trade - a Palestinian producer and supplier of olive oil and other delicacies produced by over 1,700 small farmers in the West Bank - recently hosted a festival marking the end of the harvest season, as well as the grand opening of its recently constructed factory and processing facility nestled on five acres of land in the heart of olive country in the village of Burqin, near Jenin.
Great project: a community seed bank in Nablus. Where is Slow Food when we need it?

Dr. NGO and Mr. Ministry

"Thus civil society associations in authoritarian states may act more as replicators of the existing political order than as promoters of increased democratization. However, this rather logical observation, backed up by Jamal's empirical findings, has far-reaching implications for the efficacy of Western and global democracy initiatives in the Arab world and elsewhere, especially if those initiatives are less informed by critical thought.
Indeed, relying on multiple donors and interacting with donor agendas, Palestinian Authority ministries often appear to act as NGOs. In turn, Palestinian NGOs have historically acted in place of the absent state, a practice that has continued to some extent in the interim period, supplying a substantial portion of health services, to cite but one example."

Review of Amaney Jamal's book: Barriers to Democracy: The Other Side of Social Capital in Palestine and the Arab World. (Thanks Daniel)

I have blogged profusely about this issue, but as Daniel said: "more ammunition".


"The sand excavated from the hundreds of tunnels snaking beneath the Gaza-Egypt border is being given a second life. The latest construction projects in Gaza are mud and sand stoves powered by firewood." (Thanks Marcy)