In the weeks after a disaster like the Haiti earthquake, journalists always search for an upbeat twist to the tale. You know it by now – the baby found alive after a week under wreckage. But this time, a shaft of light has parted the rubble and the corpses and the unshakeable grief that could last for years. In the middle of the Haitian people’s nightmare, a system that has kept hundreds of millions like them poor and broken might just have shown its first fracture.
To understand what has happened, you have to delve into a long-suppressed history – one you are not supposed to hear. Since the 1970s, we have been told that the gospel of the Free Market has rolled out across the world because the People demand it. We have been informed that free elections will lead ineluctably to people choosing to roll back the state, privatise the essentials of life, and leave the rich to work their magic for us all. We have seen these trends wash across the world because ordinary people believe they offer the best possible system.
There’s just one snag: it’s not true. In reality, this gospel has proved impossible to impose in any democracy. Few politicians have believed in its core tenets more than Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – yet at the end of their long terms, after bitter battles, the proportion of GDP spent by the state remained the same. Why? Because these doctrines are extremely unpopular, and wherever they are tried, they are fiercely resisted. There are majorities in every free country for a mixed economy, where markets are counter-balanced by a strong and active state.
The gospel spread across the poor world because their governments were given no choice. In her masterpiece The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein shows how these policies were forced on the world’s poor against their will. Sometimes rich governments did it simply by killing the elected leaders and installing a servile dictator, as in Chile. Usually the methods were more subtle.
One of the most marked came in the form of “loans” from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The IMF would approach poor countries and offer them desperately needed cash. But from the 1970s on, they would, in return, require the countries to introduce “structural adjustments” to their economy. The medicine was always the same: end all subsidies for the poor, slash state spending on health and education, deregulate your financial sector, throw your markets open.
Here’s a typical example of what happened next. In Malawi, the country’s soil had become badly depleted, so the government decided to subsidise fertiliser for farmers. When the IMF and World Bank came in, they called this “a market distortion”, and ordered Malawi to stop at once. They did. So the country’s crops failed, and famine scythed through the population. Tens of thousands starved to death. The Malawian government eventually listened to the cries of its people, kicked out the IMF, and reintroduced the subsidies – and the famine stopped that year. The country is now an exporter of food again.
When people are living so close to the edge, even small increases in prices can break them. The IMF systematically disregards the fact that every country that has lifted itself out of poverty has done the opposite of its commands. For example, South Korea went from poverty to plenty in just two generations by protecting and heavily subsiding its industries and jacking up state subsidies – to the IMF’s horror.
Even Professor Jeffrey Sachs – one of their former lackeys – calls the IMF “the Typhoid Mary of emerging markets, spreading recessions in country after country”. So why do they carry on like this? Primarily, it is because IMF programmes work very well – for the rich. They ensure that we get access to the cheapest possible labour and can help ourselves to the glistening resources that inexplicably ended up under their soil.
Haiti’s children, 45 percent of the population, are among the most disoriented and vulnerable of the survivors of the earthquake. By the many tens of thousands, they have lost their parents, their homes, their schools and their bearings. They have sustained head injuries and undergone amputations. They have slept on the street, foraged for food and suffered nightmares.
Two weeks after the earthquake, with the smell of death still fouling the air, children can be seen in every devastated corner resiliently kicking soccer balls, flying handmade kites, singing pop songs and ferreting out textbooks from the rubble of their schools. But as Haitian and international groups begin tending to the neediest among them, many children are clearly traumatized and at risk.
“There are health concerns, malnutrition concerns, psychosocial issues and, of course, we are concerned that unaccompanied children will be exploited by unscrupulous people who may wish to traffic them for adoption, for the sex trade or for domestic servitude,” said Kent Page, a spokesman for Unicef. [continued...]
Unfortunately, the response to the latest international disaster in Haiti has been no better, compounding the catastrophe.
On Tuesday, Jan. 12, a major earthquake overwhelmed a country one hour south of Miami whose inhabitants include American citizens and their relatives. Thanks to the Internet, pictures of the death and destruction were familiar to the world within hours, and the need for a massive influx of relief and specialized medical care was instantaneously apparent. While particular fatalities such as head injuries or massive blood loss are rarely treatable in mass casualty situations, delayed deaths from infection may be preventable.
On Wednesday, the day after the quake, we organized a relief team in cooperation with the U.S. State Department and Partners in Health (a Boston-based humanitarian organization) to provide emergency orthopedic and surgical care. We wanted to reach the local hospitals in Haiti immediately—but were only allowed by the U.S. military controlling the local airport to land in Port-au-Prince Saturday night. We were among the first groups there. [continued...]
The Israeli medical and rescue team in Haiti will finish operations on the devastated island nation in the next few days, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The team’s members are set to return to Israel by Thursday.
The decision to bring the team home came after the arrival of additional aid forces to Haiti, including military and civilian assistance from the United States that is now providing regular medical services, according to a statement released Monday by the IDF. Local hospitals also are functioning as well. [continued...]
When Amos Radian, Israel’s Dominican Republic-based ambassador to the nations of the eastern Caribbean, spoke to the Jerusalem Post last week, he was unequivocal in expressing appreciation towards the Bigio family.
Gilbert Bigio, a Syrian Jew and honorary consul for Israel in Haiti also happens to be among the wealthiest men in that impoverished nation. The day before Israel’s relief team was due to arrive in Haiti, Ambassador Radian spoke to Reuven Shalom Bigio, son of the business magnate.
“Tomorrow the Israel Air Force is coming with two jets and 250 people and I have no place to put them,” Radian told Bigio. The response was swift as the Israelis were provided with Bigio-owned land to set up a field hospital. Radian said that the assistance provided “made us look so good”.
The billionaire industrialist’s loyalty to Israel is unquestionable. As the Jerusalem Post report said:
Gilbert Bigio’s own father came to Haiti in 1925 and was active in the Jewish community. He played a role in Haiti’s support for Israeli statehood in the November 1947 vote at the United Nations.
“Being in a city where there’s no synagogue, prayers are done at our house, Israel to us is the motherland. It’s the rock. It’s how we identify ourselves,” said Reuven Bigio. His father’s support for Israel’s mission here was immediate: “His desire to help was unconditional.”
Does the Bigio family have an unconditional desire to help Haitians? Not as far as one can tell.
In 2004, the Miami Herald reported on Haiti’s tiny and wealthy Jewish community and spoke to its de facto leader. Bigio saw no reason why the huge disparity between his own wealth and the poverty of those around him should breed in them any resentment.
Bigio, 68, lives in a big, beautiful house in Petionville, one of the few upscale neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. Behind the well-guarded house is a luxurious swimming pool and a gazebo for outdoor parties.
Like most of the other Jews who remain in Haiti, Bigio is considered extremely wealthy in a country where 50 percent of the population is illiterate and 76 percent of children under 5 are underweight or suffer from stunted growth.
“I don’t think there’s resentment against people who are rich here,” says the retired businessman, who speaks English, French and Haitian Creole. “If you know how to manage success, people admire you instead of hate you.”
Cite Soleil, a seaside shantytown of more than 300,000 people residing in homes made of cinder blocks with tin roofs, has been described as poorer than India’s infamous slums of Calcutta. It is also the home of the Bigio business empire.
“Our purpose is to improve the quality of life of the communities we reach,” the GB Group says in its mission statement. A Haiti Information Project report from Cite Soleil published in January 2008 suggests otherwise.
While the surrounding residents of Cite Soleil are forced to literally eat dirt to stave off hunger, Bigio is a billionaire whose family supported the first coup against Aristide and reportedly helped to back the movement that forced his second ouster in 2004.
One need not look very far to see where Gilbert Bigio’s interests lie in relation to Cite Soleil. According to his own company’s web site his family maintains controlling interests in sixteen of Haiti’s largest companies. They are also the largest Haitian partner in the wireless communications giant Digicel, a mammoth company based in Ireland that has nearly cornered the cellular market in the Caribbean. Bigio’s family is not merely wealthy amidst a sea of poverty stricken residents in Haiti, his family represents the Über-wealthy who have benefited most since Aristide’s second ouster in 2004.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US government blocked all of the Bigio family’s holdings in US banks following the brutal military coup against Aristide in 1991. Since Aristide’s second ousting in 2004, the financial wealth of the Bigio family along with those of other well off Haitian clans such as the Mevs, Brandts, Acras and Madsens have nearly doubled according to a confidential source at a private accounting firm.
Meanwhile, Israel’s image-boosting relief effort in Haiti is about to wrap up its operations – its medical and rescue team is set to return home by Thursday.
Yesterday I called attention to an article in Hebrew (appearing on an Israeli website) with the extraordinary headline: “The painful truth: Haiti’s disaster is good for the Jews.” Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel has now translated the whole article which appears at Mondoweiss. It begins:
At a time when our country is under media attack on the basis of harsh and anti-Semitic reports, and we are forced to contend with terrorists who have assumed the winning image of victims of war, one could say that the Haiti disaster is the best thing that could have happened to us. So why are blood, destruction, poverty, hunger and orphans good for the Jewish State? First of all because global attention has been drawn elsewhere and the international media have a more interesting story to cover. Second, because every disaster-area needs a hero, and right now we are it. I must admit that I would not be surprised if the image aspect of setting up a hospital in Haiti, as well as the IDF rescue efforts, was given greater weight than humanitarian considerations. If I am right, then finally, someone in the Knesset has done the right thing, deciding to take advantage of the opportunity to prove to the world how kindhearted and capable we are. And if the Foreign Ministry manages to make further use of the Israeli success stories in Haiti and market them to the world, all the better. We can only hope that none of our talented politicians is caught in front of a camera saying “We showed the world. We were really awesome in Haiti,” or something like that – a distinct possibility considering the recent mess with the Turks. Better to be modest.
Those in Charge Don’t see Hasbara as Warfare
The tough question raised by our success in Haiti is why we do well in the media only when we have the opportunity to star in another country’s disaster, and not on a regular basis? After all, you can’t have a natural disaster every day. The answer to the question is a lack of concerted effort to garner sympathy from the countries of the world, alongside behaviour that actually creates antagonism, such as humiliating ambassadors on camera. Before criticizing current hasbara practice however, we must realize that our biggest problem lies in the way we approach the entire issue of image. First of all, our elected representatives see themselves as politicians rather than statesmen, and so prefer to focus on their own personal interests, rather than on those of the country. Every Israeli citizen is knows this, to the point that we can’t stand our own leaders, so why does it come as surprise that the rest of the world isn’t too crazy about us either? Second, those in charge of the country’s PR don’t see hasbara as warfare, just like any military operation, intended to safeguard and promote our national and security interests.
Depending on where you stand politically, hasbara is either Israel’s public diplomacy or pro-Israeli propaganda.
Let’s at this juncture set aside the issue of how obscene and self-defeating it is for some Israelis to turn a humanitarian relief effort in Haiti into a schmaltzy stage-show. What strikes me as particularly interesting in the argument that Tamir Haas is clumsily pressing is that once again we see how warfare has become the single lens through which Israelis see the world.
Hasbara is a form of warfare, Haas asserts, and I am reminded of Ariel Siegelman’s presentation of what he called a new kind of war as this American-Israeli reservist last year celebrated “victory” in Gaza:
After the Second Lebanon War, we learned some very valuable lessons. We learned that we had been living in an imaginary world and that the most dangerous type of war is the one that you call peace. We learned that we are not in fact in a “peace process” at all. We are at war…
The war is ongoing, with periods of more violence and periods of less violence, during which the enemy regroups and plans his next attack. When we feel the enemy is getting strong, we must be prepared to make preemptive strikes, hard and fast at key targets, with viciousness, as the enemy would do to us. Only then can we acquire, not peace, but sustained periods of relative calm.
If Tamir Haas and Ariel Siegelman happen to be two relatively unknown Israelis, what should concern those outside Israel is not whether their views exercise much influence but to what extent they reflect a generational mindset.
When war has become the principal force shaping life, there is indeed no peace process.
Dr Ariel Bar speaking from the Israeli field hospital in Haiti: “When we save the life of one person, we feel that we saved the world. So we saved the world several times in this mission.”
“No one but the Israeli’s have come to help any of our patients that are dying.”
One week after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, it’s now clear that the initial phase of the US-led relief operation has conformed to the three fundamental tendencies that have shaped the more general course of the island’s recent history. It has adopted military priorities and strategies. It has sidelined Haiti’s government and ignored the needs of the majority of its people. And it has proceeded in ways that reinforce the already harrowing gap between rich and poor. These three tendencies aren’t just connected, they are mutually reinforcing – and they look likely to continue to govern the imminent reconstruction effort unless determined political action is taken to avoid them.
Haiti is the only country where slaves won their own independence, in a war that left a third of the population dead and the economy in ruins. Today it is not only one of the poorest countries in the world, it is also one of the most polarised and unequal – in terms of wealth as well as access to political power. A small clique of rich and well-connected families continues to dominate the country and its economy, while the vast majority of the population live on less than $2 a day. [continued...]
Aid agencies continued to warn against adopting children from Haiti today, amid unconfirmed reports that a number of children who had gone missing from hospitals in the devastated country may have been trafficked.
An adviser for Unicef told reporters that about 15 children had disappeared from hospitals, presumed taken.
Jean Luc Legrand was quoted as saying: “Unicef has been working in Haiti for many years and we knew the problem with the trade of children in Haiti which existed before, and unfortunately many of these trade networks have links with the international adoption ‘market’.” [continued...]
Haiti’s government provided a preliminary assessment of the earthquake’s body count on Saturday, putting it at more than 150,000, and declared that the search for survivors trapped in the rubble would soon be coming to an end.
Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, Haiti’s culture and communications minister, said that 150,000 bodies from the streets had been collected and buried in the past 11 days.
She also said that there were at least 250,000 people homeless and that 200,000 residents of Port-au-Prince and its outskirts had moved to the provinces since the earthquake hit. [continued...]
Far from being the looting mobs that some media have portrayed them as, hardly anyone who has witnessed the response of the Haitians to this great catastrophe has not been moved by their incredible resilience and solidarity and their intact sense of humor in the face of an unimaginable tragedy.
As all the pillars of the Haitian state — a state that has often seemed only able to rouse itself to parasitically victimize its own people when it did make its presence felt — collapsed around them, the Haitians helped one another, dug through rubble, prayed, sang and showed everyone who has watched them what the meaning of true perseverance in the face of adversity looks like, even though the losses have been tremendous and irreplaceable.
Micha Gaillard, a university professor and son of one of Haiti’s eminent historians, was one of the first political leaders I met while traveling to Haiti, and I recall him greeting me in his modest home in the Turgeau neighborhood as his charming wife, Katy, prepared us coffee. Katy passed away far too early a few years ago, and Micha died after the Palais de Justice collapsed on him, dying in what must have been agony after having been trapped for many hours. Three of the country’s foremost feminist thinkers — Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin and Anne Marie Coriolan — also died that day. The damage to the country’s artistic heritage, from the almost-total collapse of the Episcopal Cathédrale Sainte Trinité, which boasted stunning indigenous murals by such eminent Haitian painters as Wilson Bigaud and Philome Obin, to the loss of much of the Nader art collection, probably the best private collection of Haitian art in the world, is incalculable.
Sometimes since I have returned to Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, I have felt as if I would be overcome by despair. Looking at block after block of ruins throughout the capital’s downtown, or seeing the terrible death and destruction caused by the collapse of the Université de Port-au-Prince, ringed by weeping, desperate relatives of those lost, one almost wants to turn away.
But the Haitians, always the Haitians, keep one going, and seeing their dignity in this moment has made me love them and their battered country as never before. [continued...]
Editor’s Comment — Dignity is perhaps the most precious human resource on the planet and its distribution bears no relationship with the distribution of material wealth. Indeed, it is so often to be found in greatest abundance among those who possess the least. That’s why at times such as these, hands reached out in help should also offer respect.
If I came up with a headline claiming the devastation in Haiti is “good for the Jews”, I could reasonably be accused of being anti-Semitic. But it’s not my headline. It comes from this report on a site run by Israel’s popular Hebrew daily, Maariv.
Every disaster needs a hero, the report says, and the heroes in Haiti are the Israelis.
The message that Israel is saving Haiti was likewise captured in an editorial cartoon in Yediot Aharonot which shows American soldiers digging for earthquake survivors. A voice from beneath the rubble calls out, “Would you mind checking to see if the Israelis are available?”
Bnei Akiva, the largest religious Zionist youth movement in the world, in partnership with Latet, an Israeli humanitarian aid organization, launched a Haiti appeal saying: “We are not only helping Haitians with their tragedy, but uniting the Jewish world and demonstrating the Jewish values of the State of Israel. We believe that it is a Jewish duty to help the people of Haiti. As the representative of the Jewish people, the State of Israel is leading the relief effort.”
An Associated Press article I linked to yesterday describing the exodus of Haitians fleeing from the ruins of Port-au-Prince, strangely was subsequently replaced by a report describing the rescue of a 22-year-old man by an Israeli search team 10 days after the earthquake leveled much of the capital.
In Haaretz, Bradley Burston writes:
Over the past week, the work of the Israeli medical team has become a kind of Rorschach for how people view Israel and Israelis. Most of the comment, it must be said, is supportive. Even on the part of those who cast the humanitarian misery in Gaza in contrast.
But for a shocking number of others, the bottom line is simple: Israel, and Israelis, can do no right.
In its most extreme form, there are those who have accused Israel of using the Haiti catastrophe as a new reservoir for harvesting organs.
But even many of those who shun blood libels, have seized on the Haiti mission to bash Israel, revealing in many cases a hatred – and a bigotry – that borders on the visceral.
Would Burston lump me in with the anti-Israel commentators? Maybe.
Do I think the Israeli doctors, nurses and rescue teams now working in Haiti are all toiling away purely in the service of Israel’s international image? I doubt it. I would expect that for most of these individuals, their response is like that of most of the other foreigners now providing relief to Haitians: it is above all a human response to human suffering.
Is there such a thing as an Israeli response or a Jewish response or an American response to human suffering? If so, it is laced with vanity.
To say this is what we do because this is who we are is to preen oneself in front of a mirror of self-praise. It is undignified. It spies a reward in someone else’s loss.
In this mirror, Israel now sees an image of itself as a big-hearted nation admired around the world for its humanitarian efforts in Haiti. But the self-satisfaction will be short-lived. Before long this glimmer of goodwill will once again be overshadowed by the enduring reality that in the minds of most Israelis the suffering of others seems just as likely to provoke callous indifference as it does an open heart.
The big Israeli heart shrivels at the sight of a Palestinian.
As Larry Derfner wrote in the Jerusalem Post:
… the IDF field hospital in Haiti is a reflection of something very deep in the national character.
But so is everything that’s summed up in the name “Gaza.” It’s the Haiti side of Israel that makes the Gaza side so inexpressibly tragic. And more and more, the Haiti part of the national character has been dwarfed by the Gaza part.
Gaza, too, is a matter of life and death – not just for the people who were trapped in the rubble there not long ago, but for Israel. When will this big-hearted nation stop being heartless to the people in Gaza?
Haitians are fleeing their quake-ravaged capital by the hundreds of thousands, aid officials said Friday, as their government promised to help nearly a half-million more move from squalid camps on curbsides and vacant lots into safer, cleaner tent cities.
Aid officials said some 200,000 people have crammed into buses, nearly swamped ferries and set out even on foot to escape the ruined capital. For those who stay, foreign engineers have started leveling land on the fringes of the city for tent cities, supposedly temporary, that are meant to house 400,000 people. [continued...]
Editor’s Comment — As the US is in the process of sending 20,000 troops to Haiti, one has to wonder how their mission has been conceived. Is this first and foremost what it purports to be, a humanitarian endeavor? Or is the highest priority in the minds of US government planners to prevent a massive exodus? Is this all about helping the Haitians over there so that we don’t have to help them here? Is the Obama administration afraid of being accused of being soft on refugees?
Before there were even any American marines’ boots on the ground, the message from the skies was unambiguous: “Listen, don’t rush on boats to leave the country,” said Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador in Washington, in a broadcast to homeless and destitute Haitians repeated for hours on end. “If you do that, we’ll all have even worse problems. Because, I’ll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.”
The sound of Haiti’s suffering is deafening now but behind it one can hear already a familiar music begin to play. Haiti must be made new. This kind of suffering so close to American shores cannot be countenanced. The other evening I watched a television correspondent shake his head over what he movingly described as a “stupid death” — a death that, but for the right medical care, could have been prevented. “It doesn’t have to happen,” he told viewers. “People died today who did not need to die.” He did not say what any Haitian could have told him: that the day before, and the day before that, Haiti had seen hundreds of such “stupid deaths,” and, over the centuries, thousands more. What has changed, once again, and only for a time, is the light shone on them, and the volume of the voices demanding that a “new Haiti” must now be built so they never happen again.
Whether they can read or not, Haiti’s people walk in history, and live in politics. They are independent, proud, fiercely aware of their own singularity. What distinguishes them is a tradition of heroism and a conviction that they are and will remain something distinct, apart — something you can hear in the Creole spoken in the countryside, or the voodoo practiced there, traces of the Africa that the first generation of revolutionaries brought with them on the middle passage.
Haitians have grown up in a certain kind of struggle for individuality and for power, and the country has proved itself able to absorb the ardent attentions of outsiders who, as often as not, remain blissfully unaware of their own contributions to what Haiti is. Like the ruined bridges strewn across the countryside — one of the few traces of the Marines and their occupation nearly a century ago — these attentions tend to begin in evangelical zeal and to leave little lasting behind.
What might, then? America could start by throwing open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008. Such a step would not be glamorous; it would not “remake Haiti.” But it would require a lasting commitment by American farmers and manufacturers and, as the country heals, it would actually bring permanent jobs, investment and income to Haiti.
Second, the United States and other donors could make a formal undertaking to ensure that the vast amounts that will soon pour into the country for reconstruction go not to foreigners but to Haitians — and not only to Haitian contractors and builders but to Haitian workers, at reasonable wages. This would put real money in the hands of many Haitians, not just a few, and begin to shift power away from both the rapacious government and the well-meaning and too often ineffectual charities that seek to circumvent it. The world’s greatest gift would be to make it possible, and necessary, for Haitians — all Haitians — to rebuild Haiti. [continued...]
There is no relief for the people of Haiti, it seems, even in their hour of promised salvation. More than a week after the earthquake that may have killed 200,000 people, most Haitians have seen nothing of the armada of aid they have been promised by the outside world. Instead, while the US military has commandeered Port-au-Prince’s airport to pour thousands of soldiers into the stricken Caribbean state, wounded and hungry survivors of the catastrophe have carried on dying.
Most scandalously, US commanders have repeatedly turned away flights bringing medical equipment and emergency supplies from organisations such as the World Food Programme and Médecins Sans Frontières, in order to give priority to landing troops. Despite the remarkable patience and solidarity on the streets and the relatively small scale of looting, the aim is said to be to ensure security and avoid “another Somalia” – a reference to the US military’s “Black Hawk Down” humiliation in 1993. It’s an approach that certainly chimes with well-established traditions of keeping Haiti under control.
In the last couple of days, another motivation has become clearer as the US has launched a full-scale naval blockade of Haiti to prevent a seaborne exodus by refugees seeking sanctuary in the United States from the desperate aftermath of disaster. So while Welsh firefighters and Cuban doctors have been getting on with the job of saving lives this week, the 82nd Airborne Division was busy parachuting into the ruins of Haiti’s presidential palace.
There’s no doubt that more Haitians have died as a result of these shockingly perverse priorities. As Patrick Elie, former defence minister in the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide – twice overthrown with US support – put it: “We don’t need soldiers, there’s no war here.” It’s hardly surprising if Haitians such as Elie, or French and Venezuelan leaders, have talked about the threat of a new US occupation, given the scale of the takeover.
Their criticisms have been dismissed as kneejerk anti-Americanism at a time when the US military is regarded as the only force that can provide the logistical backup for the relief effort. In the context of Haiti’s gruesome history of invasion and exploitation by the US and European colonial powers, though, that is a truly asinine response. For while last week’s earthquake was a natural disaster, the scale of the human catastrophe it has unleashed is man-made. [continued...]
Soon after almost every disaster the crimes begin: ruthless, selfish, indifferent to human suffering, and generating far more suffering. The perpetrators go unpunished and live to commit further crimes against humanity. They care less for human life than for property. They act without regard for consequences.
’m talking, of course, about those members of the mass media whose misrepresentation of what goes on in disaster often abets and justifies a second wave of disaster. I’m talking about the treatment of sufferers as criminals, both on the ground and in the news, and the endorsement of a shift of resources from rescue to property patrol. They still have blood on their hands from Hurricane Katrina, and they are staining themselves anew in Haiti.
Within days of the Haitian earthquake, for example, the Los Angeles Times ran a series of photographs with captions that kept deploying the word “looting.” One was of a man lying face down on the ground with this caption: “A Haitian police officer ties up a suspected looter who was carrying a bag of evaporated milk.” The man’s sweaty face looks up at the camera, beseeching, anguished. [continued...]
Where does the fault lie in Haiti? For geologists, it lies on the line between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates. For some, the earthquake is evidence of God’s wrath: the American evangelist Pat Robertson has even suggested that the horror is recompense for some voodoo pact made with the Devil at Haiti’s birth.
More sensible voices point to the procession of despots who have plundered Haiti over the years, depriving it of an effective infrastructure and rendering it uniquely vulnerable to natural disaster. But for many Haitians, the fault lies earlier — with Haiti’s colonial experience, the slavers and extortionists of empire who crippled it with debt and permanently stunted the economy. The fault line runs back 200 years, directly to France.
In the 18th century, Haiti was France’s imperial jewel, the Pearl of the Caribbean, the largest sugar exporter in the world. Even by colonial standards, the treatment of slaves working the Haitian plantations was truly vile. They died so fast that, at times, France was importing 50,000 slaves a year to keep up the numbers and the profits. [continued...]
Haiti isn’t impoverished because the devil got his due; it’s impoverished partly because of debts due. France imposed a huge debt that strangled Haiti. And when foreigners weren’t looting Haiti, its own rulers were.
The greatest predation was the deforestation of Haiti, so that only 2 percent of the country is forested today. Some trees have been — and continue to be — cut by local peasants, but many were destroyed either by foreigners or to pay off debts to foreigners. Last year, I drove across the island of Hispaniola, and it was surreal: You traverse what in places is a Haitian moonscape until you reach the border with the Dominican Republic — and jungle.
Without trees, Haiti lost its topsoil through erosion, crippling agriculture.
To visit Haiti is to know that its problem isn’t its people. They are its treasure — smart, industrious and hospitable — and Haitians tend to be successful in the United States (and everywhere but in Haiti). [continued...]
A massive aftershock jolted awake thousands of earthquake victims and relief workers in this ravaged capital early Wednesday, sparking new cries of fear and sorrow even as an enormous international aid effort continued. [continued...]
The U.S. Army arrived to Haiti’s capital in dramatic style on Tuesday, landing on the lawn of the crumpled presidential palace in Black Hawk helicopters to the cheers of Haitians eager for help and more security after last week’s earthquake. [continued...]
We saw this type of Iraq-style disaster profiteering in New Orleans, and you can expect to see a lot more of this in Haiti over the coming days, weeks and months. Private security companies are seeing big dollar signs in Haiti thanks in no small part to the media hype about “looters.” After Katrina, the number of private security companies registered (and unregistered) multiplied overnight. Banks, wealthy individuals, the US government all hired private security. I even encountered Israeli mercenaries operating an armed checkpoint outside of an elite gated community in New Orleans. They worked for a company called Instinctive Shooting International. (That is not a joke). [continued...]
“Tere are no security issues,” says Dr. Evan Lyon of Partners in Health, reporting from the General Hospital in Port-Au-Prince in Haiti, where 1,000 people are in need of operations. Lyon said the reports of violence in the city have been overblown by the media and have affected the delivery of aid and medical services. [continued...]
Every day, a United States Air Force cargo plane specially equipped with radio transmitters flies for five hours over the devastated country, broadcasting news and a recorded message from Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador in Washington.
“Listen, don’t rush on boats to leave the country,” Mr. Joseph says in Creole, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon. “If you do that, we’ll all have even worse problems. Because, I’ll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.”
Homeland Security and Defense Department officials say they are taking a hard line to avert a mass exodus from the island that could lead to deaths at sea or a refugee crisis in South Florida. Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, is about 700 miles from Miami.
So far, there has been no sign of Haitians trying to flee the island by boat, United States officials say. Nor has there been a mass exodus of Haitians into the neighboring Dominican Republic, except for about 3,000 injured people who are being treated at hospitals just over the Dominican border, officials there say.
But United States officials say they worry that in the coming weeks, worsening conditions in Haiti could spur an exodus. They have not only started a campaign to persuade Haitians to stay put, but they are also laying plans to scoop up any boats carrying illegal immigrants and send them to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Department of Homeland Security officials have also transferred 200 illegal immigrants from the Krome Service Processing Center here — a federal jail for people awaiting deportation — to make room for a possible influx of Haitian migrants.
The State Department has also been denying many seriously injured people in Port-au-Prince visas to be transferred to Miami for surgery and treatment, said Dr. William O’Neill, the dean of the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, which has erected a field hospital near the airport there.
“It’s beyond insane,” Dr. O’Neill said Saturday, having just returned to Miami from Haiti. “It’s bureaucracy at its worse.” [continued...]
Wharf Jérémie on this city’s edge was all chaos and destruction on Monday, with upturned shipping containers lying in the sea and pigs foraging on piles of refuse. But for a thousand or more seeking a ride on rickety boats away from the ruined capital, the wharf was a means to something hopeful: escape.
“Our home is destroyed,” said Yanique Verly, 33, who sells vegetables on the street. She waited for a boat to take her and her three children to her home on Haiti’s western coast. “My only hope is to return to my family’s arms.”
Ms. Verly joined thousands of others, as the exodus from the capital accelerated on Monday, by boat, bus, car and truck, in uncertain quest for shelter, fresh water and stability in the countryside. They sought to leave an anarchic city marked by acute shortages of basic goods and aid efforts hampered by bottlenecks and security fears. [continued...]
Referring to the Israeli aid delegation sent to Haiti, the prime minister said that “the moment the dimensions of the disaster became known, I instructed the immediate deployment of an aid delegation on behalf of the State of Israel, which has already reached the place.
“This includes supplies, medication, doctors, a field hospital, an x-ray machine and many other vital things.”
According to the prime minister: “This is the true heritage of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. This act joins similar action we have taken in the past in Mexico, Kenya, and Turkey. We may be a small country, but we are a country with a big heart. This is the expression of Jewish ethics and heritage – to help others.” [continued...]
Who said we are shut up inside our Tel Aviv bubble? How many small nations surrounded by enemies set up field hospitals on the other side of the world? Give us an earthquake in Haiti, a tsunami in Thailand or a terror attack in Kenya, and the IDF Spokesman’s Office will triumph. A cargo plane can always be found to fly in military journalists to report on our fine young men from the Home Front Command.
Everyone is truly doing a wonderful job: the rescuers, searching for survivors; the physicians, saving lives; and the reporters, too, who are rightfully patting them all on the back. After Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon became the face we show the world, the entire international community can now see Israel’s good side.
But the remarkable identification with the victims of the terrible tragedy in distant Haiti only underscores the indifference to the ongoing suffering of the people of Gaza. Only a little more than an hour’s drive from the offices of Israel’s major newspapers, 1.5 million people have been besieged on a desert island for two and a half years. Who cares that 80 percent of the men, women and children living in such proximity to us have fallen under the poverty line? How many Israelis know that half of all Gazans are dependent on charity, that Operation Cast Lead created hundreds of amputees, that raw sewage flows from the streets into the sea? [continued...]
Abdu opened the business about a year and a half ago, and employed Arab drivers. About a year later, a competitor opened a business about 200 meters away employing Jews and began making his life miserable, he said.
“They straight away began conspiring against me. They come every week, shouting ‘death to Arabs’, ‘we don’t want you here’, ‘we’ll murder you’.”
He added that only a month ago he was attacked by a “large group.” “They came with knives, clubs and stones, and caused a lot of damage. Many people were beaten. The attackers are all known to the police, but despite all the complaints against them, the police don’t do anything. They keep coming and damaging my business.”
Abdu added that he is certain that if it were Jews being attacked, the police would act differently. “In our village they bring investigators and police in response to the smallest incident, but here nothing happens. It makes me crazy. My drivers are scared. They don’t want to work here. It is destroying my business. I am a father of five – how else can I support them?”
Jerusalem city councilor Laura Wharton (Meretz) also criticized police behavior.
“I am shocked that pogroms are carried out in Jerusalem and the police don’t do anything,” she said. “I am concerned for the Arab residents, of course, but also for Jewish morality and the principles upon which the state should be based. It’s clear that the incidents are racist in nature, and if it was the other way round, everyone would call it a pogrom.” [continued...]
Walking along the beachfront street in Akko recently with a social activist from the town’s Arab community, I looked up at a sign and saw I was at the corner of Shlomo Ben-Yosef Street. Then I looked again just to make sure. Really, I’m embarrassed I was surprised. Naming the street after Ben-Yosef showed an entirely predictable blend of bad taste and flagrant educational incompetence.
Akko, on the northern Israeli coast, is an ethnically mixed city: Arab citizens of Israel make up a little more than a quarter of the town’s 53,000 residents. The rest are Jews. Today’s relations between the two communities are just short of explosive, but I’ll leave that story for another time. Akko was entirely Arab until May 1948, when the Haganah — the proto-army of Israel — conquered it. Afterward, those Arabs who stayed in the town lived in the walled Old City, later spreading to nearby neighborhoods. The beachfront thoroughfare, which runs into the Old City, is named after the Haganah. This must be painful for Arab residents, but it follows an old, unwritten principle: To the victors go the street names.
Shlomo Ben-Yosef Street, just outside the walls, is a more egregious insult. In 1938, Ben-Yosef and two comrades from the ultra-nationalist Irgun underground attacked a bus full of Arab civilians on a mountain road, seeking to kill them all. (Historian Avi Shlaim gives details). The attack failed; the British rulers of Palestine captured, tried, and hanged Ben-Yosef, turning him into a martyr of the Zionist right wing. A smaller, nearby street is called Shnei Eliahu, “Two Eliahus.” It commemorates Eliahu Hakim and Eliahu Bet Zouri, two members of the even more extreme Lehi (Stern Gang) underground. In 1944 they assassinated Lord Moyne, the British Minister Resident in Egypt. They, too, died by hanging and became martyrs of the right. The Comprehensive Arab High School of Akko is on the street of the assassins, and you’d take the street of the bus ambusher to get there. I doubt those who picked the names thought of all the possible lessons that their choice might teach. [continued...]
M agda Mughrabi, the Advocacy Officer at Addameer Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association, which represented Othman at some of his court hearings, argued Othman’s case exemplifies Israel’s use of administrative detention as a tactic to punish non-violent activism.
“Israeli is using detention as an arbitrary policy as opposed to something founded on strong evidence,” Magda Mughrabi, Advocacy Officer with Addameer Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association, told The Media Line. “Mohammad Othman wasn’t charged with anything.”
“Representatives of the British, Norwegian and German governments all attended the hearings and there was no substantiated evidence,” she claimed. “They issued an administrative detention order against him saying he posed a security threat to the area and his detention was necessary to neutralize the threat. Then later the judge said Mr Othman still poses a security threat but that there is no progress in his interrogation.”
“This is contradictory,” Mughrabi maintained. “Legally administrative detention can only be used for preventative purposes when there is information that there is an imminent threat to the security of the state. So if they say that his administrative detention should be shortened because there is no progress in the investigation that means they are not holding him for preventative purposes but as a substitute for prosecution because they don’t have evidence against him.”
“This is a war between the campaign and the Israeli authorities,” she added. “The human rights community has written a lot about the arbitrary use of administrative detention. It’s not used as a preventive measure but as a punitive measure when they don’t have enough evidence to prosecute someone.”
There are over 7,000 Palestinians currently held by Israel as ‘security prisoners’, around 290 of them administrative detainees and many of whom, Palestinians claim, have been arrested solely for political reasons.
Palestinian groups claim that Israel has arrested a number of non-violent activists in reprisal for their international advocacy efforts or involvement in demonstrations. Most notable has been the detention of dozens of Palestinian activists arrested in nighttime raids in the West Bank villages of Ni’ilin and Bil’in, the sites of weekly demonstrations against Israel’s separation barrier. Many of those arrested have been accused by Israel of incitement and put in administrative detention based on secret evidence. Very few have been charged. [continued...]
To prevent a deepening spiral of death, the United States will have to do things differently than in the past. American relief and development institutions do not function properly, and to believe otherwise would be to condemn Haiti’s poor and dying to our own mythology.
In Haiti, we are facing not only a horrific natural disaster but the tectonics of nature, poverty and politics. Even before last week’s earthquake, roughly half of the nation’s 10 million inhabitants lived in destitution, in squalid housing built of adobe or masonry without reinforcements, perched precariously on hillsides. The country is still trying to recover from the hurricanes of 2008 as well as longtime social and political traumas. The government’s inability to cope has been obvious, but those of us who have been around Haiti for many years also know about the lofty international promises that follow each disaster — and how ineffectual the response has been each time. [continued...]
… above all, we act for a very simple reason: in times of tragedy, the United States of America steps forward and helps. That is who we are. That is what we do. For decades, America’s leadership has been founded in part on the fact that we do not use our power to subjugate others, we use it to lift them up — whether it was rebuilding our former adversaries after World War II, dropping food and water to the people of Berlin, or helping the people of Bosnia and Kosovo rebuild their lives and their nations.
At no time is that more true than in moments of great peril and human suffering. It is why we have acted to help people combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Africa, or to recover from a catastrophic tsunami in Asia. When we show not just our power, but also our compassion, the world looks to us with a mixture of awe and admiration. That advances our leadership. That shows the character of our country. And it is why every American can look at this relief effort with the pride of knowing that America is acting on behalf of our common humanity. [continued...]
Editor’s Comment — When human misery is at its most extreme and acute, is this the time to start singing praise to America?
President Obama is sending the fleet, soldiers, and relief to Haiti because… because that’s what we do: we’re Americans.
Instead, why not because… the Haitians, dirt poor, are nevertheless just like us (even though they’re not Americans)?
Is it possible to offer help without turning the occasion into a demonstration of national sainthood?
Of course there is nothing uniquely American about seeing crude nationalistic PR opportunities riding on tragedy.
Israelis, acutely conscious of the extent to which their national reputation has been shredded in recent years, clearly see in Haiti a stage for demonstrating the depth of compassion that exists in the Jewish state.
If the devastation wrought on southern Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza a year ago and the ongoing merciless siege of Gaza all serve to reinforce an image of Zionist brutality, then sending teams of doctors to Haiti might go some way to counter that impression.
That at least seems to be the thinking behind Haaretz‘s headline story today, “Life amid death: Baby born in Israeli field hospital in Haiti” – a gripping narrative from the intrepid Natasha Mozgovaya.
Amid the tragedy and devastation encompassing the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince since Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake, a happy event took place Sunday inside the field hospital erected by the Israeli relief delegation in the city. Doctor Shir, who works at Hadassah, delivered the first healthy baby in the Israeli hospital.
The mother told Dr. Shir that she would name her son Israel. “Amid all the death around us,” the doctor said, “it is very symbolic.” He added that childbirth in Haiti doesn’t usually take place in a hospital in the impoverished country, and that this particular woman received the best care from the best doctors.
Oh my! Israeli doctors in an Israeli hospital delivering a baby called Israel! And who would have thought little Israel could do so much good so far away?
Here’s one Haitian who was dumb-founded:
One of the Israeli search and rescue teams on Saturday freed 69-year-old France Gilles from the rubble.
“We told him we were from Israel and he asked if we were mocking him,” one rescuer said.
As for the non-Israeli relief efforts, well, when non-Israelis try and rescue someone the victim doesn’t survive:
Elsewhere, a British team was able to make contact with a woman trapped beneath the debris but was unable to reach her. Before they could dig their way through, a Haitian bulldozer destroyed the remains of the building and the woman was recovered, dead.
Poor woman, that the Israelis couldn’t get there first. When they do, they heroically save lives:
At another site Israelis spoke with a trapped man, seemingly the only survivor after a building collapsed. Following several hours of excavation, rescuers had succeeded in injecting him with fluids, one worker said, and that the team hoped to extricate him within a few more hours.
“We’ve had to drill through a concrete girder, as he is trapped between pipes and planking,” said Liron Shapira, deputy commander of the Israeli delegation. “We have already removed most of the piping and have managed to attach intravenous drips to his torso. As far as we are concerned, as soon as the drips are attached we can proceed smoothly. Now we need to remove the debris from around his legs. Then we should be able to pull him free.”
And might there be a religious dimension in the league table of compassion?
Distress has clearly not bred solidarity and shouts and elbows fly as the needy jostle for food. Three young women from Wisconsin – Susan, Becky and Jamie, volunteers at a Catholic orphanage – are trying to board their flight. “Don’t tell her anything,” one of the girls warns her friend, pointing at me. “She’ll use it to take our place on the flight.” Only after I explain that I have no intention of stealing their seats do they calm down. “We were originally supposed to leave today but because there are no phones or communications we didn’t know if there was a flight, so we came anyway.”
OK, cynicism aside, Israel’s 220-strong relief team is impressive coming from a country of just 7.5 million. Mind you, Iceland, a country that’s bankrupt and has a population of just 320,000 has managed to send a 37-strong search and rescue team. Good on those plucky Icelanders!