Category Archives: Economic Development

Pull the Curtain Back

Samra boutique

The Samra boutique, before and after the strike. Photos by Samra Fashion – Gaza.

The politically correct message for the Israeli leaders to send to the world after any military operation in Gaza is:

“we’re defending ourselves” and

“the militants in Gaza started it” and

“we hit this and that military target.”

Decipher any news reports in the western media about the latest assault on Gaza and you’ll find versions of all three in every article.

But pull the curtain back and you’ll quickly find a very different story.

The goal of self-defense is a shallow proxy for the goal of systematically destroying the Gaza Strip and making it unlivable for the 2+ million Palestinians imprisoned there. “De-development” is the term coined by economist Sara Roy in her book about the political economy of de-development in the Gaza Strip. This real goal requires destruction of hospitals, utilities, infrastructure, libraries, universities and even retail businesses.  All of which Israel has been successfully accomplishing over the past 12 years or more.

The message of self-defense naturally requires Israel to convince the world that the Palestinians in Gaza are responsible for starting the hostilities. They accomplish this stealth maneuver by simply choosing the date and event which best suits their story. Don’t look too far back at the months of Israeli snipers shooting and killing peaceful protesters at the fence separating Israel and Gaza. Don’t look at Israel’s more recent targeted assassinations in Gaza. Begin the chronology of events when the Palestinian militants shoot rockets towards Israel — perfect for the self-defense narrative.

And finally, Israel is the most moral army of the world, or so it wants the world to believe. That explains the non-stop messaging about military targets. But pull the curtain back and we see a much different picture.

Gisha, the legal center for freedom of movement, reported today about Israel’s destruction of a successful retail business in the center of Gaza. This is the true target of Israel’s military operation — the de-development of Gaza.

“Years of work disappeared in one minute”
Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The latest round of hostilities between Israel and Gaza that erupted earlier this week took its toll on the lives, homes and dreams of individuals in Gaza and southern Israel. Media reports tend to focus on the stories of those killed or injured. This is the story of one Palestinian resident of Gaza who was “fortunate” enough not to suffer direct physical harm, but is one of countless people paying a different kind of price. Mahmoud Said Al Nakhaleh, 29-years-old from Gaza City, lost his life’s work in the blink of an eye when Israel bombed the six-story building that housed his women’s clothing boutique in central Gaza City.

Four years ago, Al Nakhaleh opened his boutique, Samra, on the city’s main street, and it became a successful retail business. On Saturday night, just ahead of the start of Ramadan and the holiday that marks its end, Eid Al-Fitr, when people tend to shop for new clothes, Al Nakhaleh lost his property, his investment, and his livelihood in one fell swoop.

“We were working in the store, getting ready for the holiday. I never once thought Mahmoud Said Al Nakhalehanything like this could happen,” Al Nakhaleh told Gisha’s field coordinator, Mohammad Azaiza. “No one contacted us to tell us to leave the store. We ran away when we heard the warning missile hit the building. We didn’t take anything with us. Within minutes the building turned into rubble. Years of work disappeared in a minute.”

Personal documents and cash that were in the store at the time were also destroyed. Al Nakhaleh estimates that merchandise worth tens of thousands of dollars, which was on the shop floor at the time of the bombing, was lost, along with $40,000 worth of brand new stock purchased for Eid Al-Fitr that was still in storage.

The boutique had been the sole source of income for both Al Nakhaleh and his two employees, all of whom are now unemployed. Other offices located in the same building were also demolished. “There are organizations that provide care for orphans, educational centers, media agencies. Why bomb them? Even the Red Cross told us no one had warned them that the building was going to be bombed,” said Al Nakhaleh.

Now Al Nakhaleh is trying to decide what to do next. “I was married recently and I live in a rental. Everything I had is gone and I can’t get it back. I don’t know what to do,” he admits. “I call on the world to take action to stop the firing on civilians in the Gaza Strip.”

There is no military solution that can usher in long-term quiet. Regional stability will only be made possible once Israel takes substantial, forthright steps to protect the human rights of Gaza’s two million residents and allow the Strip’s shattered economy to recover and develop. Ceasefire agreements, the “gestures” by Israel that come with them to “ease” the closure on Gaza, or more humanitarian aid from the international community cannot substitute the only long-term solution, which is an end to the occupation and resolution of the conflict.

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“עבודה של שנים הלכה בדקה”
יום ג’ 7 במאי, 2019
סבב האלימות האחרון גבה קורבנות. חייהם, רכושם ותקוותיהם של תושבים, בעזה ובדרום ישראל, נלקחו מהם באלימות בלתי נסבלת. מתפרסמים סיפוריהם של מי שחייהם קופחו, של מי שנפצעו. הסיפור הבא הוא של אדם שלמזלו לא נפגע בגופו, אך הוא נמנה עם הרבים שמשלמים מחיר אחר. פרנסתו ומפעלו המקצועי של מחמוד סעיד אל-נח’אלה, תושב העיר עזה בן 29, נלקחו ממנו אתמול ברגע כשבוטיק בגדי הנשים שבבעלותו נהרס כליל אתמול בהפצצה של ישראל על הבניין בן שש הקומות שבו נמצא העסק, במרכז עזה.

מאז פתח אל-נח’אלה את הבוטיק לפני ארבע שנים, ברחובה הראשי של העיר עזה, הפך “סמרא” לחנות מצליחה לייבוא ולממכר בגדי נשים. כעת, בשיא עונת הקניות, לקראת הרמדאן והחד שבסופו, איבד ברגע את כל רכושו והונו.

“עבדנו בחנות והתכוננו לחג, ולא עלה בדעתי לרגע שדבר כזה יקרה,” סיפר היום למוחמד עזאיזה, תחקירן “גישה”. “אף אחד לא יצר קשר לבקש שנצא מהחנות. ברחנו כששמענו את פגיעת טיל האזהרה. לא לקחנו איתנו דבר. בתוך דקות הבניין הפך לעיי חורבות. עבודה של שנים הלכה בדקה”.

כסף מזומן ומסמכים אישיים שנשארו בחנות, הושמדו. אל-נח’אלה מעריך כי בהפצצה נפגעו סחורות בשווי עשרת אלפים דולר שהיו בחנות, וסחורה חדשה בשווי 40 אלף דולר שנשמרה במחסן והיתה מיועדת לרמדאן ולקראת עיד אל-פיטר.

בחנות הועסקו גם שני עובדים, שהיא מקור פרנסתם היחיד, וכעת מחוסרי עבודה. בנוסף לבוטיק של מוחמד, נפגעו משרדים נוספים השוכנים בבניין שהופצץ. “יש כאן ארגונים לטיפול ביתומים, מרכזים חינוכיים, סוכנויות תקשורת. למה להפציץ? אפילו הצלב האדום מסרו לנו שאיש לא עדכן אותם בכוונה להפגיז את הבניין,” אמר אל-נח’אלה.

הוא מנסה כעת לחשב את צעדיו. “התחתנתי לאחרונה ואני גר בשכירות. כל מה שיש לי הלך ללא חזור. אני לא יודע מה לעשות,” הוא מודה. “אני קורא לעולם לפעול למען הפסקת הירי לעבר אזרחים ברצועה”.

כל עוד לא ייעשו צעדים כנים לקידום זכויות האדם של תושבי הרצועה, נדונו לחזרה מעגלית איומה של פרצי אלימות, לעוד ועוד סיפורים כשל מחמוד אל-נח’אלה. הסכמים קצרי טווח ו”מחוות” ישראליות שמבטיחות “להקל” על הסגר, כמו גם עוד סיוע הומניטרי מידי הקהילה הבינלאומית, אינם תחליף למהלכים ארוכי-טווח שיובילו לסיום הכיבוש ולפתרון לסכסוך.
העבירו לחברים | תרמו לגישה
“تعب السنين ضاع بلحظة”
‫الثلاثاء‬ 7 أيار، 2019

حصدت جولة التصعيد الحالية الكثير من الضحايا. السكان، الذين يعانون أصلاً وزر الحياة اليومية القاسية، يخسرون أرواحهم، ممتلكاتهم وأحلامهم بعنف لا يطاق. نسمع قصص الضحايا والجرحى، لكن السطور التالية مخصصة لشخص حالفه الحظ ولم يخسر حياته ولم يصب بجسده، لكنه ككثيرين آخرين، دفع ثمنًا من نوع آخر. محمود النخالة، من سكان غزة ويبلغ من العمر 29 عامًا، خسر مصدر رزقه ومشروعه التجاري، بعد ان تم هدم بوتيك الملابس النسائية التابع له جراء قصف إسرائيلي لعمارة في مركز مدينة غزة.

منذ ان افتتح النخالة هذا البوتيك قبل أربع سنوات، في شارع أحمد عبد العزيز في مدينة غزة، أصبح بوتيك سمرا، متجرًا ناجحًا ومتميزًا لاستيراد وتسويق الملابس النسائية. الآن، وفي ذروة موسم المبيعات، عشية شهر رمضان وعيد الفطر، خسر بلحظة كل ما يملك.

“عملنا في البوتيك وتحضرنا للعيد، ولم يخطر ببالي للحظة أن يحدث شيء من هذا القبيل،” قال النخالة للباحث الميداني في “ﭼيشاه – مسلك” محمد العزايزة. “لم يتصل بنا أحد ليخبرنا بأن نخرج من الدكان. هربنا عندما سمعنا انفجار صاروخ التحذير. لم نأخذ معنا أي شيء. خلال دقائق تحولت البناية لخرابة. تعب السنين ضاع بلحظة.”

الأموال والمستندات الشخصية التي ظلت في الدكان، أبيدت. ويقدر النخالة أن قيمة البضائع التي كانت في الدكان تبلغ نحو 10 آلاف دولار، بالإضافة إلى بضائع جديدة بقيمة 40 ألف دولار وصلت مؤخرًا وحفظت في المخزن لعرضها في رمضان وعيد الفطر.

كما عمل في البوتيك شخصان آخران، كان ذلك هو مصدر رزقهما الوحيد، والآن بقيا بلا عمل. بالإضافة إلى بوتيك محمد، ضمت العمارة مكاتب أخرى دمرها القصف. “يوجد هنا جمعيات لرعاية الأيتام، مراكز تربوية، مكاتب إعلامية. لماذا تم قصف المبنى؟ حتى الصليب الأحمر أخبرنا أن أحدًا لم يبلغهم عن النية بقصف المبنى” يقول النخالة.

يحاول محمد الآن دراسة خطواته. “تزوجت منذ فترة قصيرة وأسكن بشقة مستأجرة. كل ما أملكه ذهب بلا عودة. لا أعرف ما يمكنني فعله” يقول محمد ويضيف “أناشد كل العالم بالعمل من اجل وقف قصف المدنيين في غزة”.

طالما لم يتم اتخاذ اجراءات حقيقية وصادقة لتعزيز حقوق الإنسان لسكان قطاع غزة، سنبقى جميعنا نعاني من هذا الواقع المرير، الذي تحكمه جولات التصعيد المتكررة، ونشاهد المزيد من الحالات الشبيهة بحالة محمود النخالة. اتفاقيات قصيرة الأمد و”بوادر حسن نية” من قبل إسرائيل، التي بموجبها يتم “تخفيف” وطأة الإغلاق المفروض على القطاع، وحتى ضخ المزيد من المساعدات الإنسانية، جميعها ليست بديلات عن حلول جذرية تؤدي إلى إنهاء الاحتلال وحل الصراع.

ارسلوا للاصدقاء | تبرعوا لـمسلك

Copyright © 2019 Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement
Harakevet 42
Tel Aviv-Jaffa 67770
Israel

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Filed under Economic Development, Gaza, IDF, Israel Defense Forces, Media, People, Uncategorized, Video

A Livable Gaza

At the International Making Cities Livable Conference in Rome, I presented a paper about how to make Gaza a livable community. Two colleagues in Gaza and I collaborated on this paper earlier this year. They were not present in Rome because Israel would not allow Yaser (an environmental engineer) to leave the Gaza Strip, and Italy rejected Eman’s (an architect) request for a Visa.

So with a heavy heart, I began the presentation by telling the audience about these travel restrictions and reminding them how privileged we are to travel and sit together to talk about building livable communities. My presentation included five lessons.

Lesson #1 – Include the people from the community in building a livable community.

I shared some brief facts about the Gaza Strip. It’s relatively small, only 139 square miles or about the size of Detroit or twice the size of Washington, DC., with a rapidly growing population of 1.8 million people in 2014 and a density about equal to Boston. Unlike Detroit and Boston however, the Gaza Strip has been isolated from the rest of the world for nearly 10 years.

Gaza Strip

Travel in and out of Gaza is very restricted. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to return for the past 2+ years. There’s a “youth bulge” in Gaza with 51% of the population under the age of 18.  There’s a high literacy rate (96% in 2011) and the majority of the youth speak 2 languages, if not more. But 85% of the 677 schools in the Gaza Strip are running double shifts, and some are running triple shifts.

Unemployment in the Gaza Strip was 44% in 2014. Food insecurity is high (80% of households receive assistance) and 39% live below the poverty line. OCHA estimates that roughly 20% of Gaza’s population need treatment for mental health conditions.

Lesson #2 – Communities are not on a level playing field; they begin the path towards a livable future from very different baselines. 

I shared some caveats (warnings) about our paper because many of the reviewers have told us our recommendations are good but won’t succeed until some preconditions are met, including the end of the blockade and occupation of Gaza. We agree, of course. We believe Israel’s occupation will end, either by design or by default, but we must not wait until that day comes.

Our recommendations for a Livable Gaza are premised on the belief that Palestinians can plan and prepare today for a Livable Gaza, absent any resolution of the serious political challenges that exist.

Lesson #3 — Don’t wait until every impediment has been removed to begin building a livable community.

Then I discussed our methodology. The Gaza Strip has been studied and examined by NGOs, by the United Nations, by sociologists, and a whole plethora of professional disciplines.  The focus of most of the research has been how to prioritize projects to sustain the population and repair the damage caused by nearly 10 years of a brutal economic, political and cultural siege, as well as 3 military assaults. My colleagues and I decided to filter this research through a new lens — Kate Raworth’s economic doughnut.

doughnut_full_white400x400

Raworth’s economic doughnut situates a livable community in a safe and just place between the planetary boundaries and the social boundaries.

The planetary boundary is the environmental ceiling which humans must not exceed in order to maintain earth’s life support systems.  That includes such things as climate change, freshwater use, chemical pollution, biodiversity loss, and land use changes. The social boundary is the bedrock of human rights which we must not fall below. That includes such things as food, water, jobs, health, energy, voice, education, etc.

Where is Gaza within the economic doughnut?

The Gaza Strip has exceeded the environmental ceiling: (1) climate change vulnerability – rising sea levels and significant warming, (2) freshwater use is just a memory (UN predicted the aquifer would be unusable by 2016 and irreversibly damaged by 2020), (3) land use change – military operations have flattened entire neighborhoods, buffer zone policies restrict agricultural production, (4) pollution – more than 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage are dumped into the Mediterranean from Gaza every day. The Gaza Strip has fallen below the social foundation: (1) public health (2) education (3) energy (4) water (5) food (6) jobs (7) shelter (8) voice.

gaza-2020

Can a livable community be created from such a deficit?  Of course, the immediate needs must be addressed and met.  That is the focus of the international NGOs and many governments that are trying to keep the Gaza Strip functioning, but they are not focused on building a livable Gaza.  They are focused on survival.

Gaza Unsilenced

Yaser, Eman and I wrote about our potential vision for what a livable Gaza might look like, but I didn’t describe that during the presentation. I told the audience that the “process” of building a livable community is more important than our “vision”.

Lesson #4 – Process is more important than the vision or the goal.

The three biggest challenges to building a livable Gaza are:

  1. Lack of voice. A failure to hold elections in over a decade has neutered the Palestinians’ voice in a representative government in both the West Bank and Gaza. The donor community contributes to this problem. Even though donors oppose the occupation in principle, they are financing it; and they are indirectly implicated in a relation of domination that they were supposed to help dismantle. A Livable Gaza will empower the Palestinian to regain their personal agency and power.
  2. Lack of movement. The Israeli/Egyptian/US blockade and siege have resulted in Gaza’s de-development and political/economic/social strangulation. A Livable Gaza must have complete freedom of movement and this must be a top priority for both the international community and for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
  3. Finally, I mentioned the antiquated laws and regulatory framework. Palestinian legislation is extremely complex and contradictory, a hodge-podge of different traditions which lack coherency for the 21st century. Building a livable community will require a significant reform of the regulatory and legal framework in Palestine.

Picture4

There must be two tracks working simultaneously but separately towards building a livable community in Gaza.  One is already underway, and has been working for decades since the establishment of the State of Israel and the forced expulsion of many Palestinian refugees to Gaza in 1948.  This track includes 12 UN organizations, 36 international NGOs and 31 national NGOs working in the occupied Palestinian territories. They are monitoring the facts on the ground, distributing aid and resources, and financing development projects such as housing, schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. The express purpose of these organizations is to keep Gaza from falling below Raworth’s social foundation, but they are failing miserably.

The second track must address the three biggest challenges, unencumbered by the planning and actions occurring on the first track.

COMMUNITY DISCUSSION

Picture5

RESOURCES                                                                       PLAN

Building a livable community requires the active support and engagement of community leaders; but in the absence of political engagement and leadership, it’s important to remember that there are many different types of leaders, unelected and elected, at all levels (household, neighborhood, associations, districts and on up.) Many actions can be undertaken today at the local level to build a livable Gaza, regardless of what’s going on in the political sphere. We believe it involves three key components.

The youth are at the center leading a broad community discussion, gathering the resources, and preparing the plan. The youth should be acknowledged as the change-agents for this process. Most came of age after the last election, have experienced multiple wars and tragedies, and many have never left the Gaza Strip. The future belongs to them and to their children.

Lesson #5 – Recommendations must be sensitive to the challenges.

Our current concern for a livable community needs to be replaced with a new and broader concern for ‘environmental sustainability and justice’ in Arabic – ءدل

Justice is the cornerstone for good governance and a sustainable community. The Gaza Strip could be the turn-around example that shows the world by example, how to transition from the brink of collapse to a safe and just place for all life.

Please send me an email to request a copy of our paper.   LoraLucero3@gmail.com

 

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Filed under Climate Change, Economic Development, Environment, Gaza, People, Uncategorized

Sustainable, Healthy, Just Cities and Settlements (IMCL conference)

The International Making Cities Livable Conference in Rome spanned 4 days and was chock full of ideas, information and energy. I met people from Canada, the U.S., Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Italy, Turkey, England, Ireland, India, Slovakia …… and even someone from north of the Arctic Circle. Really!

There’s certainly a yearning for this type of information, but I wish there had been 3 or 4 times the attendance.

I summarized Day #1 here.  Here are a few of the key take-away messages for me from the rest of the conference:

A livable city must work well for children. Children don’t have the same opportunities to play, socialize and recreate as I did when growing up in Minnesota in the 1950s. Lamine Mahdjoubi from Bristol, UK pointed out how children have vanished from the public realm, living lives of isolation at home in front of their computers and TV. The children in the Mediterranean countries are particularly suffering from obesity because of this rise in sedentary lifestyles.

IMG_4638

Mayor James Brainard, City of Carmel, Indiana

A strong, healthy town knows how to leverage public-private partnerships. Mayor Brainard of Carmel, Indiana, USA, explained that when he ran for election, he knocked on many doors to ask people in the community what they wanted. When he synthesized all of their comments down, he realized they were all wishing for a livable community. So he’s succeeded in creating the Carmel Arts & Design District where he’s leveraged public-private partnerships to implement many of the design principles we know make livable communities. He shared amazing before-and-after photos, explaining how tax increment financing (TIFs) have succeeded in putting much of the parking underground. He’s a firm believer in the use of round-abouts too, so much so that the local newspaper made a cartoon of him. IMG_4639Carmel has added 187 miles of bike trails in the city, and between 14,000-15,000 people use them every day. Wow!  I was thinking of Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns as I listened to the Mayor.

Old people and the youth are the indicator species for a livable community. If it works for them, it works for everyone. I didn’t know much about the age-friendly movement, but was pleased to hear a panel discussion about it on Wednesday. Phillip Stafford from Bloomington, IN, USA shared some depressing statistics about our aging population in the US, and noted that our market economy has commodified old age. The disastrous planning of the past few decades, along with unbridled capitalism (the market economy), have actually put most of the aging population in homogeneous sprawling suburbs where they’re stuck, isolated and can’t remain independent. However, there’s a glimmer of hope with a recent APA publication on the topic.

Stafford recommends we focus on collaborative consumption where the aging population has many assets to share including: time, talent, and treasure. By treasure, he wasn’t suggesting their pocketbooks, but rather their community gardens, house share, tool share, car share. How do we make these shareable assets known and connected with others?

IMG_4692

Maxim Atayants, St. Petersburg, Russia

An architect from St. Petersburg, Russia discussed how to create a new classical urban fabric by sharing some of the projects he has worked on. In 1984, I visited St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad), Moscow, Alma Ata and Tashkent and recall the Soviet-era buildings that were such monstrosities. Retrofitting those ugly utilitarian blocks will require new ideas, and new architects, such as Maxim Atayants. What impressed me as much as his design ideas, was his talent as an artist and his obvious passion for his work. I Googled him and found some of his sketches here.

IMG_4688

Stefano Serafini, Italy

“Urban designers and architects are a big problem … creating machine-like cities, computer-like cities, Internet-like cities.” Stefano Serafini, a philosopher and psychologist, challenged us (me?) to think outside of our design silos about our communities. I found this interdiscplinary presentation was one of the strengths of the conference, but I’ll have to read some of his ideas here to try to grasp what biourbanism is all about. Honestly, alot of it was over my head.

I was very pleased that he referenced the work of my friend from Albuquerque, architect and planner Besim Hakim.

Besim’s book — Mediterranean Urbanism “brings together historic urban/building rules and codes for the geographic areas including Greece, Italy, and Spain. The author achieved his ambitious goal of finding pertinent rules and codes that were followed in previous societies for the processes that formed the built environment of their towns and cities, including building activities at the neighborhood level and the decision-making process that took place between proximate neighbors.”

Human health and the built environment — go hand in hand. I thought about the environmental engineers I’ve met in Gaza. Mariano Bizzarri from Rome shared alot of statistics showing the links between the built environment and health. It was all a bit overwhelming for me to absorb, but I hope to learn more about this topic if his paper is posted on the conference website. The bottomline is that we easily understand the relationship between the natural environment and human health & disease. There’s a direct corrollary between smog and air pollution and breathing problems. However, now there is more research being published about the impacts of the built environment and human health.

IMG_4685The most alarming fact shared at the conference came from Michael Mehaffy, Executive Director of Sustasis Foundation.  “At the current pace of development, we will build more urban fabric in the next 50 years than we have built in all of history.” OMG!  

Clearly, we’re doing a lousy job of building livable communities now. At this pace, do we have time to unlearn the bad lessons, repair the damage, and move forward on a better path? The Habitat III conference will be in Quito, Ecuador in October this year. “Habitat III” is shorthand for a major global summit, formally known as the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. I’m going to learn more about that and see if there’s an opportunity to participate.

Mehaffy talked about the need to change our models of global development, change the tools we use in this process, and also change the rules. What we’re building today is functionally segregated and resource inefficienct — the “crack cocaine” of economic development is the origin of sprawl. He mentioned the work of Christopher Alexander and The City is Not a Tree. I didn’t really understand it until I found this pdf.

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A selfie with my team working on the last day of the conference to distill some principles of sustainable, healthy, just cities and communities.

Many of the points Mehaffy made (rather, all of his points) resonated with me from my education and experience as a city planner, a land use lawyer, and an observer of urban life and politics. I’ve been talking for years about the professional silos and group think that pervades the planning and urban design professions. Mehaffy was speaking rapidly, and every point he made deserved some thoughtful elaboration. He ended by saying there’s no need for cynicism and despair that only serve the powerful. “We” need to take the power.

Yes! I want to be on his team.

(Caveat: There were other presenters who contributed dynamite presentations. My head is still swimming. I hope the conference organizers will share everyone’s papers and powerpoint presentations.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gaza in the Doughnut

Government leaders, a number of international NGOs, activists of all different stripes, and many more have been scratching their heads to figure out how to help Palestine and the Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Some focus on the politics vis-à-vis Israel, others focus on the economics (jobs, imports, exports), while others are trying to address the social challenges (such as food and shelter). Many of my friends focus on the deteriorating environmental conditions.

The typical response or solution I hear most often from Western politicians and the mainstream media is — “Address the security needs of Israel first and, miraculously, the remaining challenges will be solved.”

With all due respect, they have it backwards. Completely backwards.

No one will live in peace and security until everyone has the basic social foundation for life. No one will have a truly sustainable future until we live within our planetary boundaries.

Israelis may think they can avoid the consequences by building a large “security wall” but that is very short-sighted and they’re only condemning themselves to a future of growing insecurity and instability.

Kate Raworth’s doughnut captures my point. Or, more honestly, my thinking was directly influenced by her doughnut of social and planetary boundaries.

Watch her TedTalk and let me know if you agree. I’d like to hear some feedback.

 

 

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On Poverty and Climate Change

(This article was written by Gerard O’Connell, special correspondent in Rome, and originally published in America 4-29-15, and then reprinted in the Saint Ignatius Catholic church bulletin on May 17, 2015.)

“We are the first generation that can end poverty and the last generation that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change.” UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, told this to a conference of 60 scientists and academicians, political leaders (including the Presidents of Italy and Ecuador), business experts and representatives of the world’s major religions, at a summit in the Vatican on April 28.

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

He addressed the high-powered gathering after “a fruitful and wide-ranging conversation” with Pope Francis, during which the pontiff confirmed that his encyclical on protecting the environment is finished and being translated, and expected to be published in June.

“I am very much looking forward to the upcoming encyclical,” the UN chief said; “it will convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience.”

Indeed, he noted, “eradicating extreme poverty, ending social exclusion of the weak and marginalized, and protecting the environment are values that are fully consistent with the teachings of the great religions.” Listening to him were representatives from the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the World Council of Churches, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, all of whom expressed full support of the call for action.

The Korean-born UN leader commended Pope Francis, and the faith and scientific leaders present, “for raising awareness of the urgent need to promote sustainable development and address climate change.” He identified climate change as “the defining issue of our time” and emphasized that on this subject ”there is no divide whatsoever between religion and science.” He believes the leaders of the world’s major religions now have a key role to play in the quest to get the community of nations to truly embrace sustainable development and reach a global agreement to address climate change.

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Turkson

“2015 will be a defining year” in this regard, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told the conference. In a wide-ranging talk he recalled “the great achievements of the last two centuries,” marked by remarkable scientific, technological and economic progress that has led to “significant numbers enjoying lifespans, livelihoods and lifestyles unimaginable for our ancestors”; a progress “that has lifted hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty” and transformed transport and communications.

This progress, however, has come with “unacceptable costs” and “starkly rising disparities,” the cardinal stated. It has left “vast numbers of people excluded and discarded, their dignity trampled upon,” in what the Pope has branded as “the throwaway culture.” As a result of this, “at least three billion of the seven billion inhabitants of the planet are mired in poverty, a third of them in extreme poverty, while privileged global elite of about one billion people control the bulk of the wealth and consumes the bulk of the resources.” He recalled how “the world produces more than enough food to feed its 7.3 billion inhabitants, but over 800 million (over 11%) go hungry,” while each year “one third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted.”

“We have treated the natural world with the same indifference, abusive treatment and throwaway approach,” the cardinal stated. Thus today, “the ever-accelerating burning of fossil fuels that powers our economic engine is disrupting the earth’s delicate ecological balance on almost-unfathomable scale.”

“In our recklessness – he said – we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries. And the lesson from the Garden of Eden still rings true today – pride, hubris, self-centeredness are always perilous, indeed destructive. The very technology that has brought great reward is now poised to bring great ruin.” He mentioned the disasters that have happened already in the Philippines and elsewhere.

The Vatican cardinal concurred with the UN Secretary-General and the renowned scientists present including Nobel Laureates such as Paul Crutzen, as well as representatives of the major world religions, and leading authorities in the field like Jeffrey Sachs, that climate-related disasters are a reality both for poor countries on the margins of the modern economy and for those at its heart.”

Speakers concurred that all the evidence leads to one conclusion: “We must fundamentally change our ways” (Ban Ki-Moon); “We clearly need a fundamental change of course, to protect the earth and its people” (Turkson). Participants later gave voice to this in a joint statement at the end of the day-long conference, which was held in the Vatican at the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Science, whose president, Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chaired the meeting.

Both the UN chief and the cardinal explained that crucial agreements to ensure a safer future for the whole of humanity and greater social justice are within reach at the high-level international conferences that will be held in 2015, if there is the political will. In July, the third International Conference on Finance for Development will be held in Addis Ababa. In September, the UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development (and the goals to achieve this) will be held in New York, at which Pope Francis will give the opening address. Finally, government leaders will gather in Paris from 30 November to December 11 to forge a meaningful agreement on climate change.

An essential goal for a meaningful agreement on climate change requires states to sign onto an accord to prevent global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. But Ban Ki-Moon warned that this is imperative because “we are currently on course for a rise of 4-5 degrees Celsius, and this would alter life on earth as we know it.” To keep within the 2 degrees limit means moving to a low-carbon pathway and investing in clean energy that can power truly sustainable development.

Jeffrey Sachs

The technology exists to effect such a change, at a relatively low cost in global terms. Professor Jeffrey Sachs told the conference. “To stay below the 2 degrees Celsius limit we have to decarbonize the world’s energy system. It requires us to move to a very low-carbon electricity through the use of solar, geo-thermal and hydro-powers. This requires putting a price on carbon to create proper economic incentives so that utilities move to a clean system and away from fossil fuels.”

He explained later in interviews that “this means leaving ‘stranded assets’ such as oil, gas, coal, underground” but here, he noted, “the largest oil-producing countries and the major oil-companies are the ones that are most resistant to the changes that are needed to make the world safer.”

Asked about the minority who deny the scientific evidence that climate change is due to man and are against such a move to decarbonize the world’s energy system, Sachs said they ignore the fact that climatology is an established science for over a hundred years, and that the scientific evidence “is overwhelming.”

Professor Sachs said these people persist in a libertarian ideology that wants to operate freely without government interferences, whatever the cost. He said misinformation about climate change is disseminated by a smaller group that has a lot of political power in the USA right now: the very rich, the power of the oil and coal industries, and they pay politicians. Such misinformation is spread by the media linked to the fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – industries, such as that of the Koch brothers. That same propaganda is also very strong in Robert Murdoch’s media. Nevertheless, Sachs believes that about two-thirds of Americans understand the issue properly; they know that it’s dry in California and there are big storms, and they know things are changing.

He’s calmly optimistic that agreement on climate change can be reached in Paris. The signs are good as many leaders in the oil industry are taking personal responsibility and reflecting on the risks to the world, and saying we need to do something. But he’s waiting to see if, for example, Exxon-Mobil in the United States will come on board and take a moral stance too.

He noted with joy that shareholders around the world are saying we will not invest in irresponsible practices; they are calling for shareholder resolutions and divestment protests. Many universities and foundations have now divested and the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Norway, which is the world’s largest wealth fund at almost a trillion dollars, is going to scrutinize its investments through a moral framework.

Sachs said the call from scientists and religious leaders is very important in helping people understand the urgent need for change, and he believes that Pope Francis’ encyclical will have a big impact in supporting the dynamic for change at “this historical moment.”

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A bank for the people – an idea whose time has come!

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Should the City of Santa Fe establish a public bank? The State of New Mexico? Maybe a Bank of Gaza?

Not a very sexy topic, but I’m convinced it’s a red hot, super-charged, high-explosive subject that deserves a lot more attention here in New Mexico and around the rest of the country. Maybe even Gaza.

Approximately 300-350 people attended the Banking on New Mexico Symposium sponsored by the Public Banking Institute and We Are People Here! in Santa Fe (Sept. 27, 2014) but there should have been two or three times that many. The event’s livestream is archived here and here.

In a nutshell, a public bank is controlled by a state or the public under state control. It reinvests the public’s money in the community to meet public goals, rather than sending our money to Dubai in search of the greatest return for the shareholders. Think Main Street, not Wall Street. A public bank shifts the control of our wealth from the few to the many, challenging the concentration of power, and reinvigorates our democracy. (A good description is here.)

“I care not what puppet is placed upon the throne of England to rule the Empire on which the sun never sets. The man that controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire, and I control the British money supply.” Baron Nathan Mayer de Rothschild, 1840-1915

I first heard about North Dakota’s State Bank (the only one in the country) in my New Economy Book Club a few years ago.  All of the assets of the state of North Dakota are assets of its state bank which reinvests those assets back into the state. Is it a mere coincidence that North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country? . . . the lowest foreclosure rate? . . . and the only state with a budget that has remained in the black since the financial crisis of 2008?

Interesting factoid – 40% of the world’s banks are publicly-owned, and most of them are in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

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Ellen Brown

Ellen Brown, author of The Web of Debt and The Public Bank Solution, says there are two reasons to create a public bank. (1) Public deposits are at risk. The 2010 Dodd-Frank bill prevents future federal bail-outs. (2) The Federal Reserve just passed new rules that require banks to hold one month’s worth of high quality liquid assets. State & local bonds don’t qualify so banks will start dumping them and we may see more municipal bankruptcies.  Read Ellen Brown’s blog here.

Since 2010, 20 states have introduced bills re. state banks but none have passed . . . yet. City of Santa Fe has issued an RFQ to conduct a feasibility study of creating a city bank which will hold city assets and reinvest in city projects to meet public goals.

Mike Krauss is second from right

Mike Krauss is second from right

Why is a public bank important?  Mike Krauss says that “political power flows from wealth; wealth will seek to create more wealth with no thought of the public good.” A public bank breaks up this concentration of wealth and political power while encouraging stewardship for the public good.

Access to local capital is a big hurdle to opening new small businesses. 90% of all jobs come from small businesses. When people don’t have access to capital, predatory lending fills the gap with 700% … 1000% and higher interest rates, continuing the cycle of poverty. Check out the website of the Bank of North Dakota here and see what it’s doing for small businesses. Lending $25,000 with no collateral! Seriously!

Stephen Fischmann at the mic in the audience

Stephen Fischmann at the mic in the audience

Stephen Fischmann (former NM State Senator) is working to stop the exorbitant interest rates charged by payday loan companies. Santa Fe has just joined Dona Ana County, Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Mesilla, and The New Mexico Municipal League in passing a unanimous resolution asking the state to enact interest rate caps of 36% or less. Albuquerque City Councilors Diane Gibson and Ike Benton have a similar resolution which rumor has it will be on the October 6 agenda.

ABQ Councilor Ike Benton on left and Eric Griego (one of the symposium organizers) on the right. Whose the clown in the middle?

ABQ Councilor Ike Benton on left and Eric Griego (one of the symposium organizers) on the right. Whose the clown in the middle?

The Public Banking Institute is the place to go to learn more about setting up a state bank. Mike Krauss shares some key points:

  1. be clear about the mission of the public bank (community development finance institution; banking services for the Un/Underbanked; economic development partnership bank; student loan facilitator; internal infrastructure lending; lender of last resort for housing; or the North Dakota model)
  2. public banks drive down the costs of debt service
  3. public banks can be more aggressive in lending (for example, public banks in Germany lend 25% of their deposits to renewable energy projects and have taken nuclear projects out of the mix altogether)
  4. public banks can facilitate student loan consolidation and/or forgiveness. Two months ago, the Bank of North Dakota announced that all North Dakota students could bring any of their student loans to the bank and consolidate them into a single loan at 1.37% variable interest rate or 3.6% fixed. A public bank might offset student loans for students who go into public service.
Professor Richard D. Wolff

Professor Richard D. Wolff

Professor Richard D. Wolff has a “deep and abiding respect for the monster banks on Wall Street that shape our reality.” They have recovered but their exposure in this crisis has led many to ask some tough questions. These monster banks have admitted and paid large fines for (1) money-laundering, for (2) the LIBOR scandal (setting the world’s interest rates so banks could benefit), for (3) illegal fees and charges, and for (4) the mortgage fiasco created by the credit default swaps.

Wolff reminds us that banks are social institutions and make decisions about how to spend our money and we must live with their decisions. Private banks want to maximize profits. Public banks want to further public goals.

“Capitalism hit the fan in 2008. . . . Every bank in the U.S. was bankrupt” until the federal bail-out. This crisis resulted from actions of both political parties. Don’t forget that President Clinton signed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.

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I encourage you to watch these two short (12 minutes each) videos.

How does this all connect with Gaza? The conversations about a public bank and capitalism give me a few ideas:

  1. The American taxpayer is now fueling Israel’s occupation of Palestine and paying for much of the bloodshed in the Middle East. If capitalism collapses, or sinks into a serious recession/depression, maybe our unholy exploits in Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere will come to an end.
  2. Israel controls the money supply in Gaza, just as Rothschild controlled the money supply of the British Empire. Israel collects taxes from the Palestinians and then turns around and returns a portion of it to the Palestinians, if Israeli leaders are in the mood. Israel also keeps the people in Gaza a captive market for goods and services provided by Israel. Would a state bank (lets call it the Bank of Gaza) be able to break this deadly grip, at least a bit?
  3. Maybe Western countries should look at Islamic banking for examples of ethical investing and banking.  See here.
  4. At a minimum, Palestinians need to explore opportunities presented in a New Economy where there is greater local control.

Resources:

The Key to Sustainable Cities – Gwendolyn Hallsmith

Creating Wealth – Gwendolyn Hallsmith

Occupy the Economy – Richard D. Wolff

Democracy at Work – Richard D. Wolff

Capitalism Hits the Fan – Richard D. Wolff

Web of Debt – Ellen Brown

The Public Bank Solution – Ellen Brown

Rules of Thumb – Alan Webber

Life Reimagined – Alan Webber

Democracy at the Crossroads – Craig Barnes

In Search of the Lost Feminine – Craig Barnes

Capital – Thomas Piketty

 

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Israel tells EU delegation “Go Home!”

Israeli officials take great umbrage when anyone accuses them of occupying Gaza.

“We unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2005, removed our settlers and soldiers, what more do you want?  We are NOT occupying Gaza.”

Hamas apparently agrees that Gaza is not occupied, or so they said in 2011.

Netanyahu’s government is also trying to make the argument that the West Bank is not occupied, contrary to international law and world opinion.

A report by a committee formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to examine the legal aspects of West Bank land ownership rejects the claim that Israel’s presence in the territory is that of an occupying force and asserts that its settlements and settlement outposts there are legal.

Children in Gaza
Children in Gaza

So what should we make of Israel’s refusal this week to allow a delegation of EU Parliamentarians into Gaza?

Six members of an EU Parliament delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council were due to visit Gaza from Oct. 27-30 in a trip largely focused on social, economic and humanitarian issues, including visits to UNRWA health centers, schools, food distribution centers, rehabilitation centers and sports clubs.

The MEPs, from a cross-section of political parties representing six EU member states, were informed in an email by Israeli authorities that they would not be allowed into Gaza via the Erez crossing for the three-day visit, which also included trips to Christian schools, a sports clubs and the University of Palestine.

Israel asserts that the proposed visit by the EU delegation will strengthen Hamas, but I suspect this rejection might be a childish game of tit-for-tat following the EU’s proclamation this summer regarding trade with Israel.

Israel says who can enter and exit Gaza. Israel decides what food, goods and materials can pass through to Gaza, and lets virtually no exports out. Israeli soldiers shoot and kill Palestinian fishermen who exceed the arbitrary 3 km distance from shore. Palestinian farmers who tend their lands near the arbitrary buffer zone risk their lives as well. Israeli drones fly over the skies in Gaza night and day.

Street mural in Gaza
Street mural in Gaza

Is Israel occupying Gaza or not?  They can’t have it both ways.

The good thing about the ceasefire following the November 2012 bombardment was that “by agreeing to negotiate freedom of movement for Gazans, Israel admitted – with the whole world watching – that 1.7 million Gazans are not free. A victory for truth in the “information war.”

This week Israel proves once more who is the jailer and who is the prisoner. Apparently, the prisoner has no visitation rights in Gaza.

Street mural in Gaza
Street mural in Gaza

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