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Newsletter:

Bethlehem cancels Christmas

For 80 days, Israel has been conducting an unprecedented offensive in the Gaza Strip. Almost the entire population of the strip has been displaced, more than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed, and the humanitarian situation throughout the strip is more dire than ever. According to the World Food Program’s chief economist, the danger of acute famine is greater than ever. This danger stems directly from the siege imposed by Israel on Gaza, a form of collective punishment that goes against international law.

 

 

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Under this same international law of armed asymmetrical struggle, there is overwhelming evidence that Hamas and the IDF have committed war crimes since Oct. 7, and strong indications that the IDF is currently carrying out a genocide in Gaza. The IDF has abandoned all restraint. On Oct. 10, their spokesman Daniel Hagari let it be known that the emphasis is on damage, not precision. This is reflected in an analysis by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Dec. 9, showing that the civilian casualty rate is 61 percent, about 20 percent higher than in previous operations. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the rate is even higher: 70 percent. That is not to mention the Palestinians who are missing and likely lying under the rubble, or those who are now starving and vulnerable to the infectious diseases that are breaking out. Hospitals and cultural sites such as libraries, universities and mosques are also being destroyed by Israeli missiles. Nowhere is currently safe for Palestinians in Gaza, and also in the West Bank many Palestinians are being killed by settlers and the IDF, or arrested for no reason.

A dark winter, in other words. Christian leaders from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, therefore decided not to have Christmas this year. No lights, no decorations. They are calling on everyone to cancel Christmas and demand an end to the war and genocide.

We at Het Actiefonds are deeply moved by the latest developments in this long history of Palestinian cleansing. We continue to support activists working for a true decolonization of Palestine, in which every person between the river and the sea can enjoy equal rights. Now is the time to reflect on European nationalism and colonialism, which hoped to solve the “Jewish question” through ethnic cleansing, genocide and relocation to the Middle East. Now is the time to exert ourselves so that the Palestinian question is not answered in similar ways. And now is the time to speak out against Europe’s continuing export of its own problems to its periphery, including migration deals with Turkey and North African countries, and the supplying of arms to the IDF in times of mass murder.

In 2024, we will be there again. Hopeful. Determined. Combative. You too?

Image: Hanneke Vollbehr

 

“Peace is not the goal” — A letter from a Palestinian activist

Real peace will come as a byproduct of real equality for everyone, freedom for everyone, and safety for everyone. Without those elements, no peace will be achieved. And if we don’t remember that it’s about those rights that Palestinians are fighting for, we’re misreading reality.

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    Peace is not the goal; it’s a result!

Like many, I have been following the news coming from around Gaza since Saturday morning. In my network, I’m exposed to Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals. The ones that get me irritated the most are the internationals who call for peace and sometimes attach a picture of a child with Kofyeh hugging a child with Kippa, or a Sheikh and a Rabbi smiling in the same picture.

Those pictures, or the statements calling for peace, are making me angry as they flatten and misinform the narrative around the real story—a story of occupation, oppression, and inequality. In addition, it frames the situation as a religious war, which it is not. The Zionist movement was secular all along. The Palestinian Liberation Movement has also been secular since its early days. The Zionist movement has been mostly Jewish; however, they have been supported by some Arabs (those could be Muslims, Druze, or Christians). The same goes for the Palestinian resistance, which would include all of the above. Needless to say, both sides have atheists in their camps as well.

This is important to note as this “conflict” is not a religious one going back to medieval times. It’s relatively new. It started when Hertzl and other Jews in Europe felt their safety and aspirations were always questioned, so they wanted a place of their own, their national state. Unfortunately for Palestinians, the choice of the Zionist movement was to colonize Palestine in 1948, kick out the indigenous population (75% of them), and treat the others who stayed and became mostly internally displaced as a cheap workforce while denying them any collective rights.

Since 1948, Palestinians have fought Israel in many ways, but militia attacks against a highly militarized state with one of the most advanced systems in the world clearly aim “at best” to hurt. Unlikely to achieve liberation or any real change in power dynamics, the maximum you can do as a resistance is to make the Israelis taste a little bit of what the Palestinians go through. This realization led Arafat and the Palestinian leadership to sign a “peace” agreement with Israel in 1993. That peace was mostly peace of mind for the Israelis, and it was in no way a peace that the Palestinians felt. For many, especially now, 30 years later, that wasn’t a peace agreement; it was a surrender agreement.

During the same time and for many other regional reasons, the Islamic movement Hamas was on the rise. That coincided with the rise of a new stream in Israel, the national-religious one. Nowadays, the latter constitutes the majority in the Israeli government, calling for more land and fewer Palestinians to get a “pure Jewish state”. On the other side of the fence, Hamas, within their narrative, describes this as a religious conflict centered around Al-Aqsa. This narrative works well for Israel too, as they can easily gain the support of the western allies by appealing to the Jewish-Christian connection (the right-wing) or portraying themselves as the liberals against the Islamic group (the left-wing). This has been good for Hamas as they can appeal to Muslims outside Palestine, hence the support from Iran.

And by the way: Hamas was created by Israel to disempower Arafat in the 70’s and 80’s. It was around the same time that the U.S. supported the establishment of Al-Qaida to fight the Soviets. And in both cases, that was a fatal error for them.

Anyway, the essence of the problem for Palestinians is not religious. It’s about being equal to the Israelis. And of course, before that equality talk can start, an earlier one about the freedom and liberation of the Palestinians inside and outside of Israeli control should be the cornerstone.

So, for anyone calling for “peace”: an agreement was signed 30 years ago. Things just went from bad to worse for Palestinians since that agreement. Real peace will come as a byproduct of real equality for everyone, freedom for everyone, and safety for everyone. Without those elements, no peace will be achieved. And if we don’t remember that it’s about those rights that Palestinians are fighting for, we’re misreading reality.

 

    How could you defend “terrorists”?

Let’s start with what makes a person a “terrorist”. For that, let’s look at the one you don’t call a terrorist, the Israeli soldier. Is the Israeli soldier exempt from being called such because they wear a uniform? If you compare the actions of both: killing civilians, taking hostages, and spreading fear, they both do those things. Is it the ideology? Both believe it’s their land, and they should defend their land and their people. What is it that makes one of them a terrorist and not the other, if we’re examining the actions they take?

If you’re denying that the Israeli army is doing this too, then you are not even aware that they are much more professional terrorists compared to Hamas, by any measure you want to use: the number of children killed and taken hostage, the number of killings, the number of destroyed buildings, the number of displacements they created, or any other scale you may use.

I wouldn’t defend a terrorist act. Both of them are making many people suffer. The main difference, for me, though, is that Israel is a state that created this whole situation by running an apartheid regime.

Join me on a though experiment; we take Hamas out of the picture. We put instead of them another organization we call Lamas. The only condition for this scenario to work is realizing that Lamas can’t be like the Palestinian Authority. Why? Because the Palestinian Authority was voted out by Palestinians due to its corruption and collaborating with Israel against Palestinians, so Lamas needs to be a resistance movement, and that’s the only condition. We can make them a socialist leftist resistance movement (even though those were actually the roots of the PA, but we can ignore that for now).

Ok, player, now what can Lamas do to resist? I’m saying to resist, as they can’t negotiate with Israel. That’s the main condition for this game. Negotiating and reaching an agreement with Israel have been tried out before.

How would you resist? You don’t have an army, and you don’t have open borders to get weapons into, and among your troops, the main reason people are joining your fighting units is revenge, as almost all of them have lost some or all family members to Israel.

How would you resist? And you have no choice except to resist, because if you don’t, a more extreme organization will take over, because the people got you in power only because you said you would resist. They tried the ones that didn’t resist, and it didn’t work out.

How would you resist, Lamas? It can’t be a normal war, as you don’t have tanks, planes, or even armed cars. It can be done only through militia tactics. You are fighting one of the most advanced armies in the world; it’s selling its technology that was tested on you, and their monthly budget is much higher than your yearly one.

How would you resist? Lamas?

 

Important to note: this text was written to explain, not to justify.

 

    To my Israeli friends

I feel your pain. I really do. It is hard to live in fear; it is hard to hear sirens and wake up to gunshots and the possibility that your life or the lives of your loved ones will end. It is horrible just to consider that maybe when things have calmed down a bit, you need to move somewhere else safer—if you have the choice.

For those who have some of their loved ones being taken as hostages or prisoners, it’s even more scary, especially if they were kids. When someone dies, you can grieve. But when the uncertainty is floating above your head, it makes the heart pump too much, and in your weakness, you just want to know. Hoping for a hug sooner than later, knowing a message of death can be delivered anytime but also, knowing this uncertainty can take years.

Some of you, my friends, share videos of “imagine having a calm morning and then waking up to rockets and armed men roaming in your town and in your streets”; others share videos of “the fear in our children’s faces and our tears”.

You know who really and fondly feels your pain as well? Palestinians. The previous three paragraphs can describe the lives of Palestinians; some images are more applicable to Gaza, and others to the West Bank. I’m not even including Palestinians living to this day, for 75 years, in refugee camps.

I’m not writing this to tell you what happened is your fault. I could easily go down that tempting path. I’m also not writing this to compare “who suffers more”, which is another tempting path. I’m writing this to tell you that it’s hard to live such a life, regardless of whether it’s for a day or a lifetime. I’m writing this to tell you to please think of the others behind the fence as you feel the pain.

Try to extend your empathy to others outside your group, to others who are suffering due to the choices of your group. It’s easy, for you and for me, to think only of our own people. It’s easy to be blinded by anger and to want the uncertainty to end but remember as well that the status quo as we knew it is not an option. Things need to change, and we must believe in the importance of the safety of everyone, or we will be in this cycle again.

 

Sobhi is an activist and regional specialist at Het Actiefonds from Palestine.

EU pays Tunisia to let migrants die in the desert instead of European waters

For the first six months of 2023, the collective Alarm Phone had contact with as many as 539 boats in emergencies – roughly four per day.  Alarm Phone tracks the territorial waters these boats are in, and then alert the Coast Guard to their responsibility to rescue people in distress.

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CW: (Sexual) violence, death

Distress call during a celebration

On July 18, a day after Mark Rutte, Giorgia Meloni, Ursula von der Leyen and Kais Said clinked glasses in Tunis over their brand-new migration deal, Alarm Phone received the following report:

“We are not doing well. We were attacked by armed soldiers. Libyan troops shot at us, beat us up, and raped the women at night. I almost ran out of battery.”

The EU promised President Said as much as a billion euros as long as he ensured that people would no longer cross the Mediterranean illegally from Tunisia. The EU is happy to cooperate with a man who seized power only two years ago, and since then has accused black migrants of demografically replacing Tunisians in his speeches.

Meloni’s Migration Deal

After all, it does not look good for the EU if hundreds of people a year drown in the Mediterranean Sea because of European regulations. Hence the deal with Tunisia. Couldn’t Said be so nice as to let migrants die in the desert instead of at sea? At least then it won’t be Europe’s responsibility anymore. If this deals result in fewer migrants on the Mediterranean, it should serve as a blueprint for similar deals with Morocco and Algeria. A situation that would greatly benefit the European right. They can then portray North Africans as vicious racists a few years from now without getting their hands dirty themselves. Indeed, they will once again present their own asylum policy as the epitome of humanism and civilisation.

Perhaps most blatantly, the deal is phrased as a humanitarian landmark. Tunisia will guarantee the human rights of migrants, European leaders vow, despite all evidence to the contrary. The report above is just one of many that Alarm Phone received this summer: and news of the hundreds of black migrants chased into the desert in July after a pogrom in Sfax reached every major European newspaper. Rutte and Meloni know who they are entering in business with.

Proponents of the deal nevertheless claim it is necessary to combat illegal human smuggling. It would all be for the safety of that migrant being whisked away by smugglers for a life-threatening boat trip. That the EU contributes to life-threatening escape routes by carrying out illegal push-backs is an uncomfortable but necessary side effect, according to proponents. After all, the Union prefers not to have drowning deaths in its own waters. How considerate.

If the EU is so concerned about migrant safety, why doesn’t it build a bridge?

Alarm Phone

For years, Het Actiefonds has supported the collective Alarm Phone, a group of volunteers documenting the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. Migrants call Alarm Phone to relay their situation and location, upon which the collective verifies the waters they are in and thus who is responsible for their safety. In this way, Alarm Phone puts pressure on the relevant authorities to rescue migrants in mortal danger. In the first six months of 2023, Alarm Phone was in contact with as many as 539 boats in distress – roughly four per day.

Alarm Phone has since become a regular part of reporting on disasters in the Mediterranean Sea (and North Sea). For example, the organization was in contact several times with the overcrowded fishing vessel that sank off the coast of Greece in July, leaving hundreds dead and missing. Despite attempts by Greek authorities to cover up the affair or blame it on human smugglers, it seems that it was the Coast Guard itself that caused the ship to capsize. Apparently, Greek authorities tried to use a tow rope to drag the boat into Italian waters.

In the Mediterranean, truth is often an afterthought. Hence the importance of organizations like Alarm Phone, which record the facts while the are still happening. Whether European countries do anything with those facts in time is another matter. 90 percent of the emails that Alarm Phone sends to coast guards, detailing the location and status of boats in danger, go unanswered.

Read-in at the European Parliament

As a protest against the EU’s frosty attitude, Alarm Phone therefore read out 1338 emails to the European Parliament in late June with reports of boats in danger. There was also an Alarm Box present at the protest: an alarm that went off live whenever a new emergency was reported to Alarm Phone.

Alarm Phone is one of the few organizations that understands what is going on at the borders of Fortress Europe and identifies its crimes. Therefore, we are proud to once again support this group.

Image: Watch the Med – Alarm Phone

 

‘Crazy for this Democracy’ — On the protests against the new Israeli government

For years, Het Actiefonds has supported various actions on the occupied territories between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea: from conscientious objectors to the recording and disseminating of colonial violence. Just as the most right-wing government in Israel’s history takes office, Het Actiefonds will continue to support those working for freedom and equality in occupied Palestine.

 

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More protests, more violence

Since the COVID pandemic, Israeli anti-government protests have been a recurring phenomenon. First the protests were about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption scandals or draconian pandemic policies. Netanyahu risks 10 years in prison for corruption charges, so he is desperately trying to stay in power to retain immunity. To save his own skin, he even decided to form a coalition with Israel’s far-right parties after the last election.

This monster coalition is the target of the current protests in ’48 territory (which does not include the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem). Many note the dangers of making so many concessions to the far-right religious parties. For example, far-right provocateur Itamar Ben-Gvir has been appointed head of the Israeli police in the West Bank. Multiple human rights organizations already describe the situation in the West Bank and Gaza as apartheid, but if it is up to Ben-Gvir, the colonization of the West Bank is not moving fast enough. He is regularly seen at such sensitive sites as the Temple Mount and Hebron, holy sites for the religions of Abraham, declaring that the area belongs only to Jews.

Additionally, 2022 made for an especially deadly year in the region. 144 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli state in the West Bank alone, the highest number since the Second Intifada of 2004. Meanwhile, 31 Israelis lost their lives to Palestinian resistance fighters, the largest number in seven years.

Illiberal democracy

But increasing violence in the West Bank is not the sole cause for protest. Current demonstrations in the ’48 territory are largely about the attack on the rule of law. The new government wants to make the weak separation of powers in the Israeli state a thing of the past.

The new government’s most controversial plan is to give a minimum majority in parliament the power to override Supreme Court rulings. In practice, this means that the government no longer has to listen to the court, and can introduce laws that go against Israel’s constitutions. The result is unbridled power for the government, which no longer has to answer to anyone. In addition, the government wants the exclusive right to appoint lawmakers and judges, further subordinating the legal branch of the state to politics. Israel risks becoming an illiberal democracy because of the government’s new plans, following the example of Poland and Hungary. The destruction of the justice system may keep Netanyahu out of jail, but it will certainly further isolate the state.

As such, tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities. Most of the protesters are doing so out of nationalist sentiment. For example, one lawyer told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “my late grandmother came to Israel in 1922 to establish a state. These days they are trying to destroy her life’s work, and I am trying to not let them succeed.”

What democracy?

Still, the demonstrations to protect Israeli democracy must be a strange sight for Palestinians. Those with Israeli passports have endured a tyranny of the majority for decades. Their interests do not align with the vast Jewish majority in ’48, giving them little political power. In East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians do not even have the opportunity to vote.

In 1945, Black American author Zora Neale Hurston wrote the essay “Crazy for this Democracy,” whose opening lines must still sound painfully relevant to Palestinians:

“They tell me this democracy form of government is a wonderful thing. It has freedom, equality, justice, in short, everything! Since 1937 nobody has talked about anything else (…) The radio, the news papers, and the columnists inside the newspapers, have said how lovely it was. All this talk and praise-giving has got me in the notion to try some of the stuff. All I want to do is to get hold of a sample of the thing, and I declare, I sure will try it. I don’t know for myself, but I have been told that it is really wonderful.”

Decolonization

Maybe Israeli democracy will survive this government. But the country’s fundamental problem remains untouched. A colonial situation is unsustainable, and sooner or later, whether peacefully or violently, it must come to an end.

Jewish-Tunisian author Albert Memmi described the unsustainable colonial situation in The colonizer and the colonized (1957). According to him, the colonial system robs both the colonizer and colonized of their humanity. The colonizer becomes ruthless and racist because of the system. He/she/they must humiliate the colonized, deprive him/her/them of their past and future and deny them their culture and right to life. The colonized, on the other hand, has no chance to become a full human being in a system that stifles their agency as much as possible.

It is on behalf of both Israelis and Palestinians that the colonial system must be dismantled. Any peace process is a joke as long as it does not meet this first fundamental demand: an end to apartheid, an end to the colonial system.

 

Image: Haggai Matar / +972 Magazine

 

 

UPDATE • Lützerath stays!

More than a year ago, Het Actiefonds supported the occupation of Lützerath. The German village was in danger of being wiped off the map so that coal giant RWE could continue digging for lignite in the Rhineland. Sixteen months later, Lützerath is still on the map, but excavators are approaching the village again.

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Anyone who traverses the German Rhineland by car can marvel at the huge craters that dominate the landscape. The holes are so deep and large that for a moment you imagine yourself on another planet. The driver sees only dust and stone as far as her gaze reaches. The Garzweiler mine, for example, has an area of 48 square kilometers, twice the size of the municipality of Leiden. And that’s not even the largest. Right next door is the Hambach mine, with its 85 square kilometers one of the largest lignite mines in Europe.

Together, these two mines are already responsible for 75 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. By comparison, that’s about half of the Netherlands’ annual emissions. Half. And if it’s up to the energy company RWE, that number won’t go down any time soon.

Lützerath bleibt

Eckhardt Heukamp was already the last resident of Lützerath in September 2021: the other residents had been bought out or left. Yet Heukamp refused to leave the land on which he had grown up. Through a long campaign by climate activists, Heukamp and hundreds of activists managed to postpone the destruction of the village for more than a year!

But today, German police began evacuating the village. Let that sink in for a moment: the German state sends police to remove citizens from their own land so that an energy company can make even more profit from outdated fossil fuels. A police force, which, by the way, is funded by the taxes of German citizens and not those of the tax-dodging RWE. Last night the police have already cleared 200 activists. An equal number is still at the scene.

Nigerian climate activist Peter Donatus sees the same politics in the Rhineland as in the Niger Delta: “It is the same methods and the same multinationals working to destroy the environment around the world.” He advocates climate justice. Donatus: “Climate justice is a concept from the Global South, born of necessity. I am happy to see young European activists adopting our concept, but then they must also be able to see from our perspective.” Racism in the climate movement remains, he observes, “we still have a long way to go.”

RWE and the Greens

The renewed interest in the ground below Lützerath comes from the energy crisis Germany has been in since the Ukraine war. More than half of Germany’s natural gas was imported from Russia. To become more energy independent, the government has pledged to keep some nuclear power plants running longer, as well as to mine more lignite. The Greens, one of the current ruling parties, defend the end of Lützerath by pointing out that in exchange for this area, the Garzweiler mine must close eight years earlier, in 2030.

But climate activists are not impressed by this argument. They claim that the Greens have been guided by erroneous calculations by RWE itself. Politicians should have commissioned independent research into the costs and benefits of Lützerath earlier. That would have shown that it makes little sense to destroy a large area of land for a few years of coal extraction. That is, if it stays at just a few years: the history of climate goals teaches us not to take promises from energy giants so seriously. It’s about the first thing polluting companies ask for: pollute more now, in order to suddenly be completely sustainable in the future. So far, no one has successfully performed this magic trick.

The end of Lützerath might be near, but the climate battle in the Rhineland has proven effective time and again against RWE. Like the Hambach Forest before, Lützerath has quickly become a symbol of the struggle against energy companies, profit-oriented thinking, and disastrous geopolitical games. Hambi stayed! Lützi stays too!

 

Rheinmetall Entwaffnen action video!

In August last year, Het Actiefonds supported a mass action by Bündnis Rheinmetall Entwaffnen to block the war industry in Kassel, Germany.

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Activists from environmentalist, antifascist, queer, feminist and peace movements all participated in the blockades against a large arms factory in Kassel.

“The blockades of the arms factories of Rheinmetall and Kraus-Maffei-Wegman  in Kassel started in the early morning. Production came to a standstill. It was communicated to the workers that the blockades were not directed against the employees, but against arms production. The demand to stop arms production in Germany and elsewhere includes the demand to create equal and meaningful jobs.”

After the successful blockade, the different groups then formed a spontaneous demonstration. A recap of the successful, disruptive day of protests has been made, watch it below!

Malawi: public debate on legalizing abortion while government postpones voting

Malawian organization Zenith for Young Women Achievers campaigned with to legalize abortion. Although public debate was sparked in on- and offline media, the government indefinitely postponed to vote on new abortion laws.

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The majority of abortion procedures in Malawi are performed under clandestine and unsafe conditions. Complications from abortions have been estimated to account for between 6% and 18% of maternal deaths in Malawi. Abortion is only legal in Malawi to save a woman’s life. A national debate is currently being held on whether or not to liberalize Malawi’s abortion law by providing more exceptions under which an abortion could be legally obtained.

Zenith for Young Women Achievers, together with other organizations, organized a public campaign to discuss and pass the new Termination of Pregnancy Bill. More than 3000 young women and girls in Blantyre and other cities in Malawi participated. The campaign included a solidarity walk in support of members of Parliament, so that the bill can be discussed and passed before the sitting of parliament on October 23rd, 2020.

The organization reflected that the campaign has been successful in igniting a conversation to change the public debate around the bill. The campaign captured the media attention it deserved and members of the general public discussed the bill on social media platforms, radio and television programs. Consequently, many Malawi are aware of the need to deal with unsafe abortion by having legislative and policy reforms. It has not been a complete success, however, because Parliament did not deliberate the bill and the National Assembly has been indefinitely adjourned.

Zenith commented that there is a strong need for mindset change of Malawians on the effects of unsafe abortion. Currently, religion is being used to curtail discussions around the topic, on the back of ideas such as that those dying from unsafe abortion are sinners. This frame of thought is directly resulting in deaths, but on top of that, a lot of resources are being lost treating post abortion complications. The proposed legislative reform will thus protect girls and women directly, but also prevent complications and release pressure on the health care system.

 

RAINBOW MARCH – Stop forced encampment policy LGBTQIA+ refugees

Following earlier actions against the unsafe living conditions for the LGBTQIA + community in the Kenyan refugee camps, action group Community Support Initiative for Refugees (CoSIR) once again took action to ensure the safety of the group.

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Unsafe situation

“The police had failed to guarantee the safety of the refugees and had therefore decided to move them elsewhere. But the camps where the refugees were taken were the same ones they had fled a few months earlier. After a few extremely violent incidents, the organization had indicated once again that they could not guarantee their safety.”

CoSIR once again organised a protest to force UNHCR Kenya and the government of Kenya to end the inhumane encampment policy for all LGBTQIA + refugees. After the protest, a petition was filed with the Commissioner Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) and the Head of Protection and Asylum at UNHCR. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent government security measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, communication with RAS and UNHCR has been rather difficult. Nevertheless, CoSIR expects a definite answer soon about the measures to be taken to improve the situation in the camps.

The threat of COVID-19 to the green agenda: an interview with Malaysian climate activist Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar

Ili is a member of Klima Action Malaysia, a group of young activists fighting for a sustainable world. This interview is based on her contribution to our series “New activist perspectives on COVID-19”. Curious for more? Check our social media for new content! Also: consider becoming a donor, and support activists and social movements in these dangerous times.

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“The past three months have been quite difficult for us young climate activists in Malaysia. We had massive plans in the pipeline for this year to push the climate agenda in the Malaysian parliament. But those plans are now put on hold.”

 

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected Malaysia? How are you coping?

Right now, we’re working with our partners to send aid to indigenous communities in peninsular Malaysia. Having suffered decades of human rights’ and environmental violations, the indigenous community is among those hardest hit by the pandemic. Depending on where they live they have little access to quality healthcare, education, clean water, and Internet, and therefore to information about COVID-19. The [government-issued] “movement control order” has limited their ability to sell commodities or food crops. Some were hit the hardest. One village told us that their crops were destroyed by elephants. Living so closely to degraded forests, and encircled by plantations, some indigenous communities living in the interior face mounting human-animal conflict. Moreover, the rivers are polluted by fertilisers from nearby industrial monoculture plantations. So the situation is quite bad.

What is the impact of the pandemic on your climate activism?

We hope to continuously support our friends until the “movement control order” is eased, and move forward building the resilience of these communities that safeguard our forests. On the policy level, however, we are afraid that the climate change agenda is taking backseat again. Right in the middle of COVID-19 Malaysia is embroiled in a political power-play between two old parties, which resulted in a change of government, coup d’état-style. The current government, which is not mandated by the people, has rearranged many of the portfolios, including climate change. However, the extent of this rearrangement is not made public, because parliament has refused to divulge specific information. Thus, we have no parliamentary presence to discuss the recovery stimulus, which probably will side-line the issue of climate change and environmental degradation. Again, we are at a crossroads here.

Do you think this situation will change in the future?

We hope that the fight to protect our natural world, and the risk of not doing so, will open the eyes of our people and the politicians. We simply cannot go on ignoring the degradation of nature.

This system is untenable and indefensible: beyond the pandemic, beyond capitalism

Bram Ieven is a philosopher and cultural theorist whose research centers on art, politics, and literature in times of globalisation. He is an assistant professor at Leiden University. This article is based on his contribution to our series “New activist perspectives on COVID-19”. Curious for more? Check our social media for new content! Also: consider becoming a donor, and support activists and social movements in these dangerous times.

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Relations between global capitalism and the COVID-19 pandemic

I believe that there are four ways in which the emergence of COVID-19 and the unfolding of the pandemic are related to global capitalism in general and to neoliberalism in specific.

First, the way it has entered human society. Like Ebola and Sika before it, COVID-19 entered our society as an indirect result of human invasion and destruction of age-old ecosystems. The marketization of wildlife consumption, which likely caused COVID-19 to enter society, is only one aspect of this. In the past few decades we have seen massive landgrabbing and deforestation taking place. This is done by multinational agriculture companies that buy up forest land in debt-ridden countries and then proceed to repurpose the land for agriculture. We are now starting to realize that massive deforestation and marketization of wildlife is a structural aspect of global capitalism that has led to far reaching and largely irreversible climate disruption, but also to the entrance of deadly pathogens in society.

Secondly, the fact that COVID-19 spread like a wildfire throughout the globe has everything to do with the global flows of capital. Air traffic has increased immensely over the last couple of decades. In as far as human interaction is concerned we are living in a truly globalized world. But that interaction is mostly driven by marketization: a global network of economic exchange and an experience economy that has facilitated an explosive growth in tourism.

Thirdly, the neoliberal character of global capitalism is revealed in the way governments throughout the world initially responded to the virus and in the way they are now already searching for an economically viable exist strategy. In their initial reaction, most Western countries tried to downplay the virus, quite simply because of the impact it would have on the economy.

Fourth and finally, COVID-19 tells us something about the neoliberal nature of global capitalism because it has shown us the extent to which most Western countries have cut down on health services and social care. Recent events have really driven home the complaint that we have been hearing from people working in the health care industry for years now: we are massively understaffed, wages have frozen or have been declining, and the number of hospital beds is spiralling downwards in the name of so-called efficiency.

This system is both untenable and indefensible

I believe it shows us that the current model of society is untenable and indefensible.

It is untenable: we cannot go back to the global capitalism that we have had up until now. If we keep things like they are – if we continue the aggressive deforestation, marketization of animals and wildlife, air pollution and the structural racism and global inequality – then the future is going to be an endless repetition of our current situation. Over the next 100 to 500 years we will slowly but certainly destroy the entire ecosystem, while the racism and global inequality that are needed to keep the structural exploitation of global capitalism alive will only increase.

It’s not only certain death for the planet, it will devoid us of our humanity. In that sense, we have learned that the current system is not only untenable, but also indefensible.

That’s why we cannot wait until this crisis is over to advocate for change. Right now, governments throughout the world are forced to act and anticipate upon the social and economic changes global society is undergoing. It is absolutely pivotal that the policies that are now being developed and that will determine the aftermath of this crisis are focused on human care and a different treatment of our ecosystem.

In as far as change is concerned it means that we need people to understand the structural interwovenness of global inequality, bio-industrial killing and ecocide, and racism that are endemic to global capitalism. On the basis of that awareness we can advocate for a society that has an eco-motived ideal of care as its starting point; a society that looks for ‘the good life’ not just for the 1% and not just for humanity – but for the earth in all its inhumane otherness.