Kurdish Londoners March for Ocalan on His 23rd Year of Incarceration

On February 13th, the Kurdish Diaspora and their allies marched from the BBC building to the Kings Cross area to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the illegal capture and incarceration of Abdullah Ocalan (APO), Kurdish liberationist and co-founder of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). 

The Kurdish freedom movement has long deemed the kidnapping of Ocalan from Nairobi, Kenya in 1999 by Turkish military forces as an international conspiracy and a threat to a Kurdish people’s liberation everywhere, specifically the freedom of women and jineology (the principle that without the freedom of women within society and without a real consciousness surrounding women, no society can call itself free). 

While his sentence was reduced by the Turkish state from death penalty to life imprisonment in compliance with EU law, the conditions of his incarceration remain controversial. In an interview İbrahim Bilmez, Ocalan’s lawyer for the past 18 years, described the conditions of his incarceration in İmralı: from being denied visits with family and legal support from 2011 until 2019, to direct attacks and imprisonment of 40 lawyers connected to Ocalan’s representation. It took a series of hunger strikes to motion a break in his isolation, when his lawyers were finally permitted time-limited and restricted visits in 2019. Bilmez further stated: 

“The government has done whatever it wants with him since 1999. No law applies, there’s no transparency there.”

The conditions of Ocalan’s imprisonment demands the attention of global human rights organizations for the unfair court process, illegal capture, and inhumane treatment while in prison. Kurdish movements across the globe also require Ocalan’s immediate release as a prerequisite to any glimpse of a future peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish question in South West Asia. His imprisonment is symbolic torture for the Kurdish freedom movement, as well as a sign of hopelessness for the over 10,000 people who are charged with “membership of a terrorist organisation” in Turkey. These so-called “terrorists” are no more than local lawyers, journalists, MPs, co-op members, and human rights activists, risking their freedom to see the end of Turkish state-sanctioned terror.

During this year’s demonstrations in London, speakers recited Ocalan’s literary work, ideology and vision for a liberated future through speeches, chants, and music. 

A commonly known phrase used amongst Kurdish liberationists is “berxwedan jiyane” meaning “resistance is life.” The spirit of these words breathes hope into struggle, paints a vision in the midst of atrocity, and ignites a sense of justice and solidarity for international hevals (comrades) who are trying to build simultaneous and revolutionary movements across the world. This year, those who marched the streets of London on February 13th, chanted the words “berxwedan jiyane” at the top of their lungs, for hours, and in the pouring rain. 

The demonstration concluded with a speech in the Sorani dialect, first thanking those who came out to stand in solidarity despite the weather forecast, and further stating:

“We have Reber Ocalan, we will not give up, even if all guerrillas, all Kurds cease to exist, we have the freedom on our side. Many international countries stood up to demand the freedom of Reber Ocalan, so we must join to yell: Bji Reber APO, Freedom for Reber APO, Freedom for Reber APO” 

Image credit: Wikimedia

Toxic Waste Mountain: How The Occupation Also Harms Israelis

Israel is explicit about the objective of its supposedly sustainable projects: to achieve full sovereignty over “the lands of Judea and Samaria” by whatever means necessary, i.e. present-day Israel combined with its occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories. Let’s imagine this objective were to magically be achieved overnight: Israel would literally have a mountain of toxic waste on its hands. 

Israel uses the West Bank as a dumping ground for its own waste and the waste from illegal settlements. Israel also systematically denies Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza suitable access to resources and infrastructure for the responsible management of their own waste. This has led to the widespread adoption of unsafe waste disposal practices in the area. Israel is attempting to circumscribe both the Palestinian people and all of the waste in the region within its eight meter walls, and it will eventually fail on both counts. The ongoing imprisonment of the Palestinian people seems to thus entail the ongoing degredation of the lands by Israelis; both practices continue to harm their intended Palestinian victims as well as unintentionally backfiring on Israelis.

Let’s be clear– the occupation of Palestine is a war crime violating a seventy-three-year-long list of human rights; it is wholly inappropriate to compare the suffering of an Israeli to that of a Palestinian. In addition to our awareness about the myriad ways in which the Israeli occupation harms Palestinians, it is also important to pay attention to the ways that the occupation harms Israelis: when a bare foot in the grass crushes an unsuspecting bee, the bee is killed– but not before leaving a nasty sting. 

Israel and Palestine are enmeshed in a relationship of coloniser- colonised “stuckedness” as explained by Ghassan Hage: they are bound to one another, destined to be doomed or flourish collectively. Hage states that no matter what, they are in fact “stuck with each other.” Building on this concept of stuckedness, the June 2020 UN report illustrates that Palestinians and Israelis are stuck with their collective toxic waste as much as with each other.

Achille Mbembe’s conceptualization of the “racist affects” of borderwork explains that the Israeli borderworkers are expected to inflict injury on the Palestinian ‘other.’ The omnipresence of “racists affects” within Israeli society have not only perpetuated the ongoing genocide of the Palestinians, but has also led to widespread trauma and chronic mental illness among the Israeli population of indentured soldiers. But there is a third loser in this war: the ‘sacred’ land on which it’s waged. Mbembe shows us that Israelis are encouraged to undertake unsustainable environmental practices (like the mass dumping of toxic waste) as one of many tools for inflicting harm on the Palestinians. These practices are backfiring: poisoning the neighbours’ garden harms yours too, especially when you’re actively stealing their land.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett delivers a speech on stage during a meeting at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Obsessive anti-Israel bias': Erdan rips up human rights report at UN podium  | The Times of Israel

Two events last month encapsulate the hypocrisy of Israel’s greenwashing. Israeli PM Bennett was outspoken at COP26 about Israel’s green-tech ‘innovations’ and its self-declaration of ‘successfully’ having implemented the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). Elsewhere, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN tore up the annual human rights report on the podium at the UN General Assembly. By using the global stage at COP26 to greenwash Israel’s inherently unsustainable practices, the international community itself is not just greenwashing but also gaslighting the continuation of Israel’s human rights violations and war crimes. Israel’s allegedly “successful” implementation of the SDG’s serves as an offensive cover-up for their policy of genocide and environmental degradation, and also as state approval for the continuation of unsafe practices like toxic waste disposal in the West Bank. These Israeli efforts to destroy Palestinian land are destroying all the lands for all those in its midst, and eventually the toxic waste will be the last one standing.

Environmental Peacekeeping – the Future of Diplomacy?

We know that global warming is accelerating volatile weather and putting a strain on natural resources. But do we really know the true breadth of its implications? 

Environmental peacekeeping is a relatively nascent field, emerging at the start of the 21st century. It offers a new, ‘green’ lens for examining peacebuilding in conflict zones and is attracting the attention of practitioners and academics alike. This dynamic interdisciplinary field has huge practical value, exploring how environmental resources can empower and unite conflicting groups. Its exciting and inclusive approach is opening up new dialogues and fresh perspectives on conflict resolution. Although research into environmental peacekeeping still has further to go, it already implies that solving armed conflicts and the climate emergency go hand-in-hand and are by no means insurmountable. 

Extreme weather is particularly problematic in what is often referred to as the Global South. This is an appellation for some of the most economically poorer regions which were exploited by former colonial regimes and the neoliberalist systems persisting today. The countries which contribute the least to the Earth’s rising temperatures are disproportionately the most impacted by its effects. For instance, increasing drought frequency, water scarcity, illness and food insecurity; all threaten people’s livelihood and security, which in turn can cause disputes that become violent. 

Even if a conflict isn’t directly caused by the climate, it still disrupts humankind’s ability to depend on the natural world. The use of arms and weapons pollute the air, soil and water, often releasing hazardous substances. Failing to address these after-effects can aggravate human suffering for years after. During the gulf wars, Western forces used depleted uranium for their weapons. A by-product of this radioactive material was poisonous dust which, through wind, polluted agriculture and local waters. More recently it has been linked to rising cancer rates, highlighting how environmental justice is tied to human health. Meanwhile, Daesh has committed crimes against both humanity and the environment. It has targeted rural areas, including the irrigation wells of farmers. In Al-Faw, a city in Southern Iraq, many blame the water and farming problems on the felling of date trees by the military during the Iran-Iraq war. Society has to recognise the link between our environment and armed conflict, as well as how the climate emergency is increasingly influencing the nature of conflicts. Ecology is an inextricable aspect of our lives. It is not enough to alleviate the symptoms of conflict in the short-term, we need a diplomatic approach that is more durable, equitable and which tackles the root cause.

A peaceful and prosperous world can sometimes seem beyond reach. The recent failure of world leaders at COP26 to commit to keeping warming levels below 1.5C has further dampened hopes. Our survival, the future generation’s, and that of our planet are intertwined. It is dangerous for us to become complacent and dismiss the environmental challenges with which our planet is grappling. When it comes to mediating conflict, the environment isn’t usually at the top of peacebuilding agendas; instead, de-escalation, humanitarian relief, political reconciliation and economic redevelopment are prioritised. Without a shadow of a doubt, these are vital priorities. Nevertheless, conflict-resolution should additionally account for how our environment shapes our experiences and quality of life. There is a need for us to apply our understanding of the climate crisis to managing natural resources and post-conflict rebuilding. Long-lasting solutions which factor in our planet’s health can help us break cyclical patterns of violence. Enter: environmental peacekeeping. 

For example, in the Sundarbans forest, the largest mangrove forest in the world, we see nature can foster interreligious and interethnic harmony between India and Bangladesh. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on ‘Conservation of the Sundarbans’ to streamline cooperation on the management and conservation of resources, ecotourism and sustainable socio-economic development.

In southern Africa, Peace Parks integrate natural conservation, economics and politics. These parks help manage large protected areas and migratory species, as well as producing alternative sources of income. As such, they play an important role in addressing the conflicting economic interests of local inhabitants as well as environmental conservation. Cooperation in respect to shared natural resources can forge common bonds which prevent violence, especially in climate-vulnerable and conflict-sensitive areas.

Climate change ultimately fans the flames that can ignite conflicts. When ecological degradation disrupts people’s access to the basic necessities of life, it can push people to join terrorist or armed groups for an alternative source of income and ‘stability’. Recognising the causal role of the climate in certain conflicts will enable us to tackle it more effectively. Through environment-oriented diplomacy, we can heal our relationship with the natural world. By pushing for local, national and international governments and peacekeeping bodies to develop a conflict-resolution toolkit we can save lives and livelihoods. Some of us may be extraordinarily privileged not to be directly affected by Earth’s temperature rise at the moment, yet it would be wrong to dismiss the gravity of global heating. If we don’t act, our own children may end up waging wars for water, food and other commodities. While this may make grim reading, the principles of environmental peacekeeping give us much room for hope. 

Image credit : Unsplash

Policy Brief Issue 3: May 2021

Afghanistan Peace talks: addressing concerns over women’s rights and justice

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Save Sheikh Jarrah: Forced Expulsions of Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem

The Palestinian neighbourhood Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, north of the Old City, is yet again at the forefront of Israeli settler colonialism, as dozens of Palestinians are facing forced expulsion from their homes. Simultaneously, footage of Palestinian protests against the dispossession, Israeli border police firing skunk water at Palestinian sit-ins, and Israeli police assaulting unarmed Palestinian worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan have been shared (and partly censored) on social media globally. 

But why are Palestinian families who have lived in their houses for decades facing eviction to make way for Israeli settlers? And how is the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, which has triggered recent escalations, related to the general policies of Apartheid Israel? 

Why Palestinian families face eviction in Sheikh Jarrah

The decision made by the Jerusalem District Court to forcibly dispossess six Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in May and another seven families in August, is based on developments dating back to 1956. During that time, when the West Bank and East Jerusalem were still under the mandate of Jordan, a deal between Jordan, the UNRWA and Palestinian refugees from Yafa and Haifa displaced in the 1948 war was reached. With this deal, 28 Palestinian refugee families were promised deeds to houses they would receive as part of a humanitarian initiative in return for the revocation of their refugee status. However, the promise of property deeds has never materialised, and after the 1967 war East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel. Ever since, Israeli settler organisations have filed legal actions to claim the houses as their own (despite the fact that East Jerusalem is Palestinian land which is only occupied by Israel), leading Palestinian families to live in their homes with the constant fear of “if they steal our land”

Israeli settlers in front of the house of the Palestinian Ghawi family seized by the Israeli occupation

Ethnic cleansing vs. Real estate dispute

The most recent Jerusalem District Court decision and the impending evictions put Palestinian Jerusalemites at risk of not only losing their homes, but also one of their remaining neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, which is still resisting Israeli settler colonialism. At the same time, the court decision represents just one among a long history of legally sanctioned eviction and dispossession of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Following a policy dating back to the time of Prime Minister Golda Meir in the 1970s, the gradual expulsion and settler colonialism have successfully obscured the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

Accordingly, the Israeli government now tries yet again to hide its settler colonial project by preventing large parts of the press and society from entering the neighbourhood. Palestinians like Mohammed el-Kurd, a member of one of the families facing evictions, however, counteract that policy by sharing their struggle over social media.  

Mohammed el-Kurd, 7 May on Twitter

Mohammed el-Kurd, 7 May on Twitter

Mohammed el-Kurd, 7 May on Twitter

Rather than trying to save face in this situation, the Israeli Foreign Minister’s description of  the evictions as a “real estate dispute between private parties” underlines Israel’s open and systemic racism. 

While Palestinians, whose very existence is threatened, are still waiting for a final decision by the Jerusalem District Court on the appeal against the expulsions, a number of European governments are issuing statements calling “on both sides to […] resume a credible and meaningful dialogue”. The only question is how long it will take before the world finally realises that this is not about “two sides”, but about an Apartheid system which will continue to commit war crimes unless the international community finally recognises the systematic ethnic cleansing and takes actions. 

Note: This article has been written before the most recent escalations in Jerusalem and Gaza. For more information on the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, visit here:
Mohammed el-Kurd
Muna el-Kurd