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Middle EastKavitha Dispatch

Tidings of Comfort and Joy...and Exploitation: The Buck Stops With You
December 22, 1999

'Tis the season of laughter and joy--A time when families come together; a time to reconnect with loved ones and really appreciate all that you have and all that is to come. But come on, let's face it: more and more, 'tis the season... to shop!!! Buying presents for those you love, taking advantage of big sales, looking for that perfect outfit for the New Year's Eve party...

This holiday season is particularly special, as we're heading into a new millennium. It's an extraordinary time, a time when the mind ponders the great unknowns of the future even more than usual. Just what will the future hold?

There are the immediate worries about Y2K of course: Will our computers work? Will communications break down?

But more important are more far-reaching questions about the future: How many children will be born into poverty? How long will our rainforests survive the increasing threat of deforestation? How many people will die in war, or be imprisoned by an unjust system? Will we ever find a cure for AIDS, or cancer? How many people will die of malnutrition, or poor water?

Vocabulary Box

degradation - lowering in quality
free trade - international business that isn't restrained by government interference or regulation
exploitation - selfish use for profit
biodiversity - variety of plants and animals in an environment
agri-chemical - relating to chemicals used in agriculture
alleviating - lessening, making easier to endure
In a world full of so much poverty, injustice, environmental degradation and war, it seems impossible to do anything to bring about change. What could "little old me" do up against the "great forces that be" in this often cruel world?

Well, funny you should ask. You can do a lot, merely by thinking twice about your own actions. Take shopping, for instance. NO, I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy yourselves and buy things for the ones you love, but when you do, be conscious of the power you have. That's right: you may not realize it, but you have a tremendous amount of power right there in your little piggy bank. Whether we like it or not, money talks. And when money talks, people are forced to listen...and sometimes change.

As we talked about in last week's Making a Difference , organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO) are creating an atmosphere where large multi-national corporations have free rein over almost everything. Any law or regulation seen as an obstacle to free trade can be declared void, including ones on issues concerning the environment, unfair labor practices and the very food we eat. As individuals we can't vote on the rules being made for us in the realm of free trade and the new global economy. So what can we do? We can stop buying products harmful to our planet and/or the people and animals that live upon it!

A boycott is a non-violent act that anyone can participate in. You don't need to organize, register to vote, or align yourself with a political party. By yourself you can make a difference, and express your views. The corporations and governments in charge may make you feel powerless, but, on the contrary, you have the power to make or break these companies that seem to care about little besides making more money.

Look at what the bus boycott sparked by Rosa Parks was able to achieve for the Civil Rights movement in America. And the apartheid regime in South Africa didn't stand a chance at survival when the entire world joined together in boycotting products made by the racist regime. Poor Mexican laborers and fruit pickers finally received respect and rights after Americans united to boycott grapes grown in California. Gandhi, one of the founders of non-violent protest, successfully rallied Indians to boycott English products, and through means like these India was able to achieve independence after more than 200 years of colonial rule and exploitation--without ever having to raise arms in a bloody battle! As you can see, boycotts speak loudly.

Become an educated shopper and think twice before you buy. Where was this pair of jeans made? How many hours a day did children put in to make these shoes, and how much were they paid? What kind of tree was cut down to make this journal or that bookcase? On what lands were these bananas grown? How many toxins polluted the water and soil which grew those potatoes? How many rabbits were used to test this shampoo?

"But," you say, "how can we possibly know everything about the products we buy and the companies which made them?" It is difficult to know the whole truth behind the things we buy. The best we can do is try to remain informed, and be conscious of the labor and materials that go into the things we buy. When you discover something that troubles you about a company or a product, tell your friends and family, spread the word and share your views.

During the past year, the Odyssey has journeyed to many different countries. We've met a lot of wonderful people and seen a lot of beautiful places, but we've also seen a lot of poverty, injustice and destruction. In many cases, unfortunately, the sad situations were created merely so that someone somewhere could make a profit or have an exotic product. They were situations that could have been avoided and could possibly still be stopped. This holiday season, when it's time to buy that perfect present or spend the money you got from relatives, remember some of the things we've learned about during the past year:

-landless peasants in Central America, forced to work long hours for miniscule wages on banana or coffee plantations just to survive, because all the land is owned by foreign companies like Dole and Chiquita, leaving the peasants no other means of subsistence

-villagers in a supposedly protected rainforest (the Mayan Biosphere, one of the last in North America), under threat of losing their homeland because oil companies like Union Pacific and Texaco want to drill for oil, destroying the fragile ecosystem in the process

-modern-day corporate "conquistadors" trying to rob Peruvian locals of their natural resources by mining for gold or drilling for oil

-our planet's rich biodiversity diminishing as large agri-chemical companies like Monsanto promote genetically-engineered seeds and pesticides all over the world, and get government support to keep these issues secret from us, the consumers!

-cotton farmers and their fields in Zimbabwe, threatened and powerless against the onslaught of genetically-engineered seeds that Monsanto (protected by the WTO) is determined to test on their soils...resorting to secrecy and deceit if necessary!

-Nigerian activists hung for speaking out against environmental destruction caused in their own villages by oil companies like Shell

-babies growing up malnourished as Nestle gives new mothers its baby formula right after birth, so the mothers no longer can produce their own milk and are forced to continue buying from Nestle

-children and adults working extremely long hours in unsafe conditions to make the latest moneymaker for Nike-but making close to nothing themselves

I'm not here to put a damper on your holiday joys: go ahead and indulge. But while you do, think of how your indulgence may be at the expense of someone else. Be conscious of the power you have merely by where you put your money. You'd be surprised at just how much of a difference you--I mean we--really can make.
"A penny to the settlements is a penny against peace."

Map
As you know, we are now in Israel and the Palestinian Territories where the future is of great concern to everybody. Peace is an important goal that needs to be achieved, but people see different things standing in the way of that peace. A small percentage of Israelis have settled in what's known as the West Bank (of the Jordan River), which is Arab land that was conquered during the 1967 war, in this case, along the Jordanian front. The settlers for the most partbelieve that it is their right as Jews to settle in all parts of "Greater Israel" which in biblical times existed on both sides of the Jordan River. However, this view clearly antagonizes Israel's Palestinian neighbors living in the West Bank and even many Israelis view this settlement to be a harmful block towards achieving peace. It is unlikely that Palestinians who were forced from their land will be satisfied by a peace agreement that doesn't involve the return of their lands to them. Until an agreement is reached, however, these settlements continue to be protected by the Israeli government which has deployed thousands of soldiers to the West Bank. Soldiers serving in these controversial posts are there by conscription and so this, along with the spending of major financial resources to maintain these settlements, have become hotly debated issues over the past couple of decades in Israel.

Gush Shalom is one of many groups here working toward reaching peace with Palestine, and does it by organizing consumers in a boycott against products made in the settlements. As their Web page explains, "The boycott shall give voice to the objection of the Israeli majority to the settlements. It will serve as a barrier against further (government) investments in the settlements... The boycott will be a major tool for alleviating the frustration and sense of helplessness, plaguing so many Israelis. The boycott conveys a general message: You are not helpless. You can act. Your duty is not done at the polls once every four years. You must act every day to save the state and its values."

For every product made in the settlements there is an alternative product, so Gush Shalom actively encourages people to boycott settlement products. It provides lists of items made in the settlements and gives advice on other ways to be effective. Contact Gush Shalom directly for more information:

    The Boycott Committee
    c/o Gush Shalom (the Israeli Peace Bloc)
    P.O. Box 3322
    Tel Aviv 61033
    ISRAEL
    Phone: 03-5221732 (from abroad: 972-3-5221732)
    Internet: http://www.gush-shalom.org


Kavitha

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kavitharao@bigfoot.com
 

Abeja - Bethlehem: May the Millennium Bring Peace
Abeja - Nazareth: Trouble Brewing in Jesus' Hometown
Kevin - Theodore Herzl: A Jewish Visionary
Christine - A Little Town Called Bethlehem
Nancy - St. Helena Hits the Spot
Kavitha - The Facts of Fasts
Team - The New Millennium: All Dressed Up and Nowhere To Go

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