Thursday, March 28, 2013

Haitian Americans Lead Fight Against UN Cholera Outbreak

Haitians are still stinging from the dismissal last February by the United Nations of their claim for justice on behalf of hundreds of thousands of people who have fallen ill and 8,000 who have died and continue to die since UN peacekeeping troops leaked raw sewage into the Artibonite River.

Within days of renewed UN presence in Haiti after the earthquake in January 2010, a disease never before seen on the island suddenly became a raging epidemic: Cholera. 

The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) held an event last week in Boston to raise awareness about Haiti’s cholera crisis and to gain support for their legal case against the UN, in conjunction with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Haiti, as they continue to demand water sanitation, compensation for victims, and a public apology from the UN.
The IJDH event featured the award-winning movie “Baseball in the Time of Cholera,” followed by a panel discussion moderated by Haitian journalist Charlot Lucien and which featured local community leaders Marie St. Fleur, Esq., Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s chief of advocacy and strategic investments; state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry; Jean Ford Figaro, MD, health education coordinator at Boston Medical Center; and Brian Concannon, Jr., Esq., director of IJDH.
In November 2011, IJDH filed a petition at the UN headquarters in New York seeking $100,000 for the families or next-of-kin of each person killed by cholera and $50,000 for each victim who suffered illness or injury from cholera. After a 15 month delay and after 3,000 additional deaths, the UN announced that Haitian claims for compensation “weren’t receivable” under article 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.
The Guardian reports, “This is not the first time that the UN has invoked its own immunity, but it is a highly unusual move made more controversial by the extreme distress in Haiti to which it relates.” 

Award-winning journalist Jonathan Katz describes in his book, “The Big Truck that Went By” how the UN actively discouraged and even impeded journalists and public health investigators attempting to trace the source of the disease. The UN never admitted responsibility, even as a UN-commissioned report left little doubt. Adrian Walker reports in the Boston Globe:
“Among the peacekeepers dispatched in the wake of the Haiti earthquake was a team from Nepal, a country that was then suffering an outbreak of cholera. They brought the disease with them, and it spread when raw sewage from their camp found its way to a major river… A few months after that, tests confirmed that it matched the strain afflicting the Nepalese.”
On November 15, 2010 a riot broke out in Cap-Haïtien. Protesters demanded that the Nepalese brigade of the UN leave the country. At least 5 people were killed in the second day of riots, including one UN personnel. During the third day of riots UN personnel were accused of shooting at least 5 protestors but denied responsibility. On the fourth day of demonstrations against the UN presence, police fired tear gas into a camp for Internally Displaced Persons in the capital.
Given the UN’s assertion of immunity in Haiti, finding a court willing to sue the UN will be a major challenge.
“If we can get them into a courtroom, the case itself is easy,”
Concannon insists. “Their liability is so obvious.”
Armin Rosen writes in the Atlantic, “If a multinational corporation behaved the way the UN did in Haiti, it would be sued for stratospheric amounts of money. And that’s just for starters: Were Unilever or Coca-Cola responsible for a cholera outbreak that killed 8,000 people and infected 640,000 more, and for subsequently covering up its employees’ failure to adhere to basic sanitation standards, it is likely their executives would have difficulty visiting countries claiming universal legal jurisdiction.”
Nicole Philips, speaking in IJDH’s office in Haiti, noted that almost three times as many people had died in the continuing crisis as in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Cholera is projected to kill as many as 1,000 people a year until it is eradicated. Haiti’s health ministry reported a spike in cases nationwide in December 2012 and January 2013, with active outbreaks continuing. Hospitalizations (2,300 per week) and deaths (40 per week) have tripled since Hurricane Sandy struck the island, causing more deaths than the cyclone took in all countries combined.
The cost of building the long overdue water sanitation system Haiti needs in order to stop the spread of cholera is estimated at $2.2 billion.
Concannon argued, “They have a peacekeeping force in Haiti that costs $650 million a year, even though there hasn’t been a war in Haiti in our lifetime. If they cut that force in half, that would free up $325 million to fight cholera… $325 million a year would solve the problem.”
Alok Pokharel, a legal fellow at IJDH told the Dorchester Reporter:
“Cholera remains a threat to the lives of most Haitians and a key challenge to the government of Haiti. Victims need immediate attention from the government of Haiti and the international community, including the Haitian community in the US, to speak out against the UN’s injustice. Standing up against the UN is an utmost necessity if victims are to get justice and Haiti is to get protection from future death and sickness… We urge every Haitian in Boston and stakeholders to help create momentum in pushing the UN to accept its liabilities.”
“No one should have to die from a disease that can be avoided with soap and water, and the collective will to make them available,” writes Curt Welling, President of AmeriCares in a letter to the New York Times.
“Cholera, which spreads through contamination of food or water, can be prevented with good sanitation. It’s even easier to treat: Medicine is usually not required, just the speedy replacement of lost fluids,” notes Katz.
The Guardian reports, “While rebuffing the compensation claims, the UN has vowed to continue its efforts to contain the epidemic. So far the UN has spent $118m on medical equipment, health networks, water and sewerage improvements, health education at schools and other programs designed to stem the crisis.”
A Haitian man, who lost his 5-year-old daughter to cholera, told Al Jazeera, “When you lose a child, you never know what the child might have become. Maybe he or she may have saved this family from this misery.”

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Patience Is Struggle



It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the first day of Spring, I think as I trudge through slippery snow and slush. It seems almost like time has stalled, as the world waits for hope. This week marks ten years since Rachel Corrie inspired the world with her act of selfless martyrdom to (unsuccessfully) defend the home of a Palestinian doctor.
Since then, the news of the day continues to be painfully frustrating.
Palestinian hunger striker Ayman Sharawna has been released but deported to Gaza. He is banned from visiting with his family in the West Bank for the next ten years. 

Meanwhile, Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi waits for death. He stopped taking liquids on the 241st day of his hunger strike. He refused the Israeli offer to deport him to Gaza: 

“We are fighting for the sake of freedom of our land and return of our refugees in Palestine and diaspora, not to add more deportees to them.
This systematic practice through which Israel aims to empty Palestine from Palestinians and bring strangers in their place is but a crime.
Therefore, I refuse being deported and I will only agree to be released to Jerusalem as I know that the Israeli Occupation is aiming to empty Jerusalem of its people and turn Arabs to become a minority group of its population. The issue of deportation is no longer a personal decision, it is rather a national principle. If every detainee agrees to be deported outside Jerusalem under pressure, Jerusalem will eventually be emptied of its people. I would prefer to die on my hospital bed to being deported from Jerusalem.”
The Israeli Magistrate Court of Jerusalem issued a sentence of 20 months in prison for Medhat Issawi, the brother of Samer Issawi, on charges of organizing solidarity activities with prisoners inside Jerusalem and being a member of the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine).
Their mother wrote a moving plea for help to President Obama on the occasion of his visit to the Holy Land:
“I am a Palestinian mother. Like thousands of other Palestinian mothers I ache and suffer. I am the mother of Fadi who was assassinated by Israel in 1994 in the spring of his life, and the mother of Medhat who is now in Israeli prison and the mother of Ra’fat whose home Israel demolished and left his family homeless; I am the mother of Shireen, Firas and Shadi who could not avoid the repeated detention and torture. We are a family that Israel deprives from water and would have deprived us food and medicine if they could.
“You, who comes to the land of Peace after being crowned with a Nobel Peace Prize and whom through his long four years of presidency failed to accomplish a single pursuant for peace or lift the grievances off a person, this is your chance to save Samer from the canines of this brutal occupation. So as not to wonder with millions of others in the world (I ask): Why did you come to us?”
To her earnest plea, there is no response, just bitter news that the US is planning on boycotting the UN Human Rights Council’s debate on illegal Israeli settlements.
Two young sisters, Sawsan and Nasim Shaheen began hunger striking together on February 20 in a tent in front of the United Nations building in Ramallah. They have joined the Palestinian hunger striking prisoners in order to demand the liberation of political prisoners incarcerated by Israel, reports Palestine Monitor.
While westerners debate the pros and cons of boycotting Israel, the mother of Ibrahim Baroud protests alone on a road in Gaza. Traffic drives around her but a message is sent by her eyes: “Please dear world, feel for a mother whose son is in prison for more than 25 years, what is still left in my life but to hug him, tell me?”
Israel has suspended family visits to prisoners from Gaza for three weeks for Jewish holidays, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday.
“Verily, with hardship, there is relief” (Quran 94:6).
A British convoy to Gaza, named after the Turkish humanitarian aid ship sank by Israeli gunships in 2010, is now stranded. Activist filmmaker Iara Lee reports:
“Mavi Marmara is sailing on wheels from UK to Gaza. Our convoy’s members are stuck at this moment at Libya/Egypt border, suffering extreme heat during the day, extreme cold at night, with no food nor water… They left London and drove south through France and Spain, crossed to North Africa and travelled through Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and finally tried to cross Egypt to reach the Rafah crossing into Gaza. The whole trip was expected to take about two weeks, but as past experiences, we have been encountering a lot of delay!”
“Libya has granted the UK aid convoy exit and no return, but Egypt doesn’t want to grant them entry!!! After traveling over 4,000 miles so far, there are neither toilets nor shower facilities… only a cafe nearby… Convoy crew is stuck in no man’s land since they can’t return to Libya nor proceed to Cairo/Rafah in Egypt. The saga continues…”
Ten years ago, Rachel Corrie demonstrated that there is no power in the world greater than Patience. When the Israeli bulldozer came towards her, she did not flinch. She stood there like a beautiful flower facing a lawnmower.
The late Edward Said explained in 2003 that “the Meaning of Rachel Corrie” is that victory comes to those who maintain their dignity.
“Palestinians have refused to capitulate or surrender even under the collective punishment meted out to them by the combined might of the US and Israel… Under the worst possible circumstances, Palestinian society has neither been defeated nor has it crumbled completely.”
And so we wait, and we wait for freedom. The silent endless nothingness of the stalled life, the isolation, that cramped feeling, needing to stretch, wanting to explode, wishing to wake up in a life that we could enjoy, but not knowing how to escape the pressures closing in, the darkness, the damp cold. Hopes and dreams postponed for a future time when we might find a way forward. One might feel like one is being crushed to the point of disintegrating. One might feel like one is about to crack! Yet this must also be the feeling the seed goes through as it comes to life, pushing through the cold mud.
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose.
(Bette Midler)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Poor But Smart? Aim High, Say Researchers

Most American high school students from poor families, who earn excellent grades, are not aware that top notch colleges and universities want them, says a recent study.
“The vast majority of very high-achieving students who are low-income do not apply to any selective college or university. This is despite the fact that selective institutions would often cost them less, owing to generous financial aid, than the resource-poor two-year and non-selective four-year institutions to which they actually apply,”
researchers Caroline Hoxby of Stanford’s economics department and Christopher Avery from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government have discovered. Their findings are reported in an exciting research paper called “The Missing “One-Offs”: The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low Income Students,” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The study shows that high-achieving, low income high school students who come from school districts too small or underfunded to support selective public high schools (where students must pass an exam to attend advanced level classes), usually go unnoticed. Recruiters from top-notch universities are especially unlikely to target poor but smart students in rural areas. These students are also much less likely to encounter an adult who has ever attended a selective college. As a result, high achievers from low income families, who do not live in an urban center near high class universities, are most likely to apply to nearby community colleges, even when they could have been admitted to a highly selective university.
The research study “adds to our understanding of structural inequality in America and the striking barriers to social mobility. But in a sense it’s an optimistic story,” writes Matthew Yglesias in an article entitled “Smart, Poor Kids Are Applying to the Wrong Colleges” on
The biggest determining factor for whether or not a low-income high achiever will apply to a high class college is whether or not the child has a mentor. In most cases this mentor is a parent, but it can also be another adult, who leads the child through the process of applying for colleges and financial aid, as well as giving the child the confidence to want to embark on a learning adventure.
Upper and middle class families typically help their children shop around for colleges, often visiting college campuses and optimistically submitting several applications to different schools, only deciding where to go after hopefully having received several acceptance letters, and after carefully researching the schools’ qualities and the availability of financial aid. In this way, the student’s academic abilities are closely matched with the academic offerings of the school they choose. However, the researchers found that poor high achievers who are not personally recruited by a high class college will usually not even bother applying.
The bright side is that “high-achieving, low-income students who do apply to selective institutions are admitted and graduate at high rates.”
Most students with SAT or ACT scores in the top 10 percent come from high-income families. “Just 17 percent of high-achieving students are from families estimated to be in the bottom quartile of the income distribution. But while low-income students are underrepresented among high achievers, 17 percent is still a lot of people—something like 25,000 to 35,000 per year. Of those, about 70 percent are white, 15 percent Asian, and 15 percent black or Hispanic.”
Only 8% of these poor but smart kids ever apply to selective universities.
“Each year, 10,000 or 20,000 of America’s brightest high-school graduates don’t go to a great college not because they can’t afford one but because they don’t realize they should apply,” writes Yglesias.
The best solution? Go ahead and apply for dream colleges that seem out of reach, while assuming that financial aid will be made available.
Every university website has a “Financial Aid” section. Under the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, for example, families with incomes below $65,000 are not even expected to contribute to college costs.
All you have to do is get admitted. The Financial Aid webpage for Harvard University states:
“Harvard College has provided assistance to students who need help in meeting their education expenses for over 350 years, enabling us to seek out the most outstanding scholars in the world and open our doors to students of exceptional ability and promise, regardless of their financial circumstances. Over 60% of undergraduates will receive an estimated $172 million in need-based Harvard Scholarship aid in 2012-13… A typical student may receive over $150,000 in Harvard scholarship assistance over four years and the majority of students receiving scholarship are able to graduate debt-free.”
The dark cloud inside the silver lining is that not everyone who goes to college, even the best of colleges, will automatically get a good job when they graduate. The skills that help you earn good grades:  being quiet, following instructions, memorization and regurgitation, etc. are not the skills that will help you succeed in the “real world.” Real world success also involves social popularity, a strong background of meaningful experiences leading to deep emotional reservoirs, calculated risk-taking, idealism, creativity and even sometimes more than a bit of aggressive self-seeking.
Susan Adams writes in Forbes magazine that “the old-fashioned idea of spending your time at college exploring intellectual pursuits and putting off entry into the real world of work is no longer relevant.
If you haven’t started networking, putting together a LinkedIn profile and doing internships in high school, you should start your freshman year.”
Dan Shawbel, author of “Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future,” insists: “The longer you wait, the worse off you are.”
While the majority of young people look to their parents for advice and mentoring, Shawbel advises against over-relying on parental guidance.
“Unless your parents work in the field you want to pursue, they are not going to be able to help you most effectively. You’ve got to find someone who is doing what you want to do.” He recommends using your school’s career resource center, accessing the alumni association, and joining a professional development or industry-specific group or club.
In this author’s experience, joining the Muslim Students’ Association email list of the school you attend or wish to attend is highly recommended as a tool of communication for making friends. It is also extremely useful as a tool for locating roommates, which is especially important when seeking accommodations far from home.
Having a career goal is probably the most important aspect of success.
Visualizing what you wish to achieve is essential to staying motivated and focused on your education as a path to an interesting life.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Egypt Sentences Israeli to 2 Years

On Monday, March 4, 2013 an Egyptian court sentenced an Israeli to two years in prison for sneaking into the Sinai in an alleged attempt to enter Gaza. Andre Pshenichnikov, 24, was detained on Dec. 31, Egyptian security sources said.
The family of Andre Pshenichnikov told Israeli website Walla News they were surprised by the verdict, noting the maximum penalty for infiltration is normally six months. Egyptian security officials claim Pshenichnikov was filming security installations in Sinai and asking drivers for information.
The 23-year-old Jewish immigrant from Tajikistan already made headlines last summer when he was detained by Israeli police for residing illegally in the Deheishe Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. There he told police that he wants to break all ties with Israel, give up his Israeli citizenship and obtain a Palestinian one instead. “I hate Zionism,” he told the Associated Press in June 2012. “I want to be part of the Palestinian resistance.”
According to Pshenichnikov’s girlfriend, when he attempted to enter Egypt, Israeli authorities detained him for three days for no reason. After his release from Israeli detention, he crossed into Egypt and was then arrested by the Egyptian police. Svetlana Pshenichnikov, Andre’s mother, told Army Radio that he’d received a visa to enter Egypt last week, but that he’d encountered “a problem with his documents.”
Pshenichnikov was held in an Egyptian prison for over a month until he was ordered to be released and deported. However, he was back behind bars the very next day, after the Sharm al-Sheikh public prosecutor ordered a retrial of the left-wing activist. An appeal of his two year sentence is planned for later in the week. Meanwhile, his case arouses a great deal of speculation. Is he an Israeli spy? Commentator Israel Shamir believes the young man is rather an innocent idealist:
“Andre did the impossible. He crossed the biggest chasm there is. Imagine a white boy from Philly, picking cotton and living with blacks in a cabin on a Mississippi plantation in the days of Jim Crow. No Freedom Rider went that far. He broke an important taboo: so many Israelis are convinced that the Palestinians would kill them on sight, at first occasion. By his example he refuted this fantasy. He renounced apartheid personally by living with Palestinians… He did not go there to explore Palestinian way of life, or to write for a newspaper; he was not looking for publicity, he did not hide nor emphasize his Israeli identity. He did not act as an activist, marching at demos and enjoying popularity. He just rented a room, worked at a building site or waited tables in a tourist restaurant just like any Palestinian youth of his age in Deheishe, lived with ordinary people on his salary.”
“Though his actions were reckless, his intentions were noble, and we need such people,” Shamir concludes.
Shamir has advocated for a long time in favor of a One State Solution for Israel and Palestine. He does not believe people should wait for governments to decide their fate. Israelis themselves should go make friends with Palestinians and voluntarily dissolve the Jewish State.
“I signed a separate peace treaty with all my neighbors in the Middle East. As for me, Syrian children may come and swim in the Sea of Galilee, and children of Palestine are welcome to amusement parks of Tel Aviv, while I shall sip Lebanese arak at Bardaouni in Ramallah. The refugees of Gaza may come back to the fields they owned before 1948, and deal directly with the few old Polish Jews who “privatized” the lands. Keep me out of it.”
However, this recent incident shows that at this point in time, Arabs are not yet willing to protect a Jew who renounces Zionism and comes to live with them without official invitation or permission. Each time Pshenichnikov was arrested, it was the Palestinians or the Egyptians that handed him over to the authorities. Because of his openness in supporting the Palestinian cause, he was instantly mistrusted and considered to be stirring up trouble.
Former Israeli jazz musician Gilad Atzmon has also received a lot of opposition from Diaspora Palestinians, who have excluded him from the debate about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel, at the request of Jews in the BDS movement who feel threatened by Atzmon’s views on Jewish identity politics. Many other deep thinkers have been told that they are not welcome to hold hands with the Palestinians. Even this author has at times been alienated by those who fear that my outspoken support could cause them more problems.
Obviously, it’s a control issue. People who renounce their country, or their religion, or their social and political brainwashing, are free radicals, anarchists. If society accepts their right to question the status quo, other people will start questioning the status quo too. But each person will do it in their own unique way, without any organizational goal or structure. Peace is very dangerous in the sense that no one can control it, just like no parent can control a son who fell in love. In medical terms, a “free radical” is an agent that causes cancer. It infects a living organism and if it is not neutralized, it will disrupt the system and eventually cause it to die. If peace were to erupt, existing governments would no longer be needed.
Of course, there is also the very real problem of infiltration and instigation by spies posing as free radicals, who are actually agents of the enemy, as we have seen time and time again with FBI informants trying to set people up for fake terrorist plots.
Pshenichnikov, whose mother is a Christian, will not receive much sympathy from any Palestinians or Egyptians simply because he is an Israeli immigrant and therefore not to be trusted. He will not receive much sympathy from Israelis, since he is an enemy of Zionism. The Russian government has reportedly taken interest in his case. It will be interesting to see if they decide to negotiate his release.