Unrest in Hong Kong

August 31, 2014

Hong Kong was promised universal suffrage by 2017 under the Basic Law, a mini-constitution in effect since the official handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The Chinese National People’s Congress is expected to endorse a framework for the first direct vote by a Chinese city to choose its leader. However, it is feared that Beijing will filter out any candidates deemed unacceptable. Only two or three nominated “patriotic” candidates, who are backed by at least 50% of the 1,200 elite “nominating committee” members, will stand for election. Pro-democracy activists and many locals are increasingly concerned about the growing influence of China on Hong Kong’s media – and in June, China published a “white paper” on Hong Kong which sparked concern by suggesting that Hong Kong judges needed to be “patriotic”, raising questions about judicial independence.

HONGKONG JULY PROTESTFormer head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen (centre), 82, took part in a ceremony urging people to vote

Thousands protested in Hong Kong on Sunday against a Chinese plan for electoral reform that would prevent critics of Beijing from running for chief executive in the former British colony.

The FT reported in July that pro-democracy group Occupy Central ran an unofficial 10-day poll offering three different options for how a candidate for chief executive might be chosen. Beijing described it as “illegal”. Organisers put the total number of votes cast just short of 800,000, 22% of Hong Kong’s registered voters.

Hong Kong geared up for street protests on July 1 – a national holiday; campaigners were pressing for the direct election of the next leader by the public. The organizers estimated that 510,000 people took part; the crowd was fluid, with a continuous stream from Victoria Park to the heart of downtown for nearly eight hours.

HONGKONG JULY PROTEST crowd

Earlier, the FT reported that the big four global accounting companies took out press advertisements in Hong Kong stating they are “opposed” to the territory’s democracy movement, warning that their multinational clients may quit the city if activists carry out threats to disrupt business with street protests.

After a devastating account of the misdeeds of the ‘Big Four’ all over the world, Prem Sikka, Professor of Accountancy at the University of Essex added: “these adverts show the length to which big accountancy firms go to cultivate profitable relationship with authoritarian regimes”.

Kenneth Leung, a Hong Kong lawmaker representing the accountancy profession, said that it was “not a tradition” for Hong Kong’s business people to involve themselves in politics: “I was shocked to see that advertisement. The big four’s partnership and management have no interest in local politics or political debate at all. It’s mainly about their commercial interest and operation in [mainland] China.” Ernst and Young, KPMG, Deloitte and PwC all declined to comment.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists plan to blockade the city’s Central business district in the coming weeks and public broadcaster RTHK said 5,000 police will be deployed for the “Occupy Central” protest; the city’s 28,000-strong police force is already on high alert. 

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Wrong, perverse, and fatal decision – Charles Kennedy: “The big fear that many of us have is that the action will simply breed further generations of suicide bombers.”

August 30, 2014

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In recent ‘state of the world’ conversations with friends it has been agreed that the escalation of conflict in so many areas dates from the invasion of Iraq.

NATOWatch_logoTo date we have not seen this dispassionately spelt out, but – with permission – NATO Watch has reproduced an article by John Gittings, former assistant foreign editor and chief foreign leader-writer at The Guardian, which first appeared on the author’s blog, on 26 August 2014:

Reckless Consequences of the Iraq War

As Iraq is falling apart or, more accurately, as Iraq is falling further apart, some politicians who supported the 2003 invasion are beginning to acknowledge that it might not have been the wisest decision. But they couch their regret in the most limited of terms. Asked in The Observer whether the current chaos made him regret supporting the war as a minister in Blair’s government, David Miliband says: “I regret it because I made a decision on the basis of upholding the norms of respect to weapons of mass destruction, and there were none.”

And Hillary Clinton has written in her new book Hard Choices: “I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had,” she wrote. “And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong.”

Strategic experts and commentators often talk in similar terms these days about the spread of Al Qaeda extremism as an “unintended consequence” of the war or, in the term favoured by the CIA, as “blowback”.

These are all dubious alibis for having made the wrong, perverse, and fatal decision back in 2003 to launch what the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan rightly called an illegal war.

They are dubious for two reasons:

First, the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction or, if he still had the remnants of ones previously made, or the precursors to making new ones, that this issue could not be dealt with by the UN inspectors, was widely challenged on good evidence by critics of the war. Their scepticism was bolstered by numerous signs that the case against Saddam was being dressed up, as in the notorious “dodgy dossier”.

We should recall what Robin Cook said in his resignation speech on the eve of the House of Commons (18 March 2003) debate:”Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term—namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target. It probably still has biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s…Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20 years? Only a couple of weeks ago, Hans Blix told the Security Council that the key remaining disarmament tasks could be completed within months….”

Second, there was no shortage of predictions at the time that unleashing a Western war on a key Middle Eastern country in the Muslim world would pour fuel on the flames. As Tam Dalyell said in the Iraq debate: “What could be more calculated to act as a recruiting sergeant for a young generation throughout the Islamic and Arab world than putting 600 cruise missiles—or whatever it is—on to Baghdad and Iraq?”And from Charles Kennedy, then leader of the LibDems: “The big fear that many of us have is that the action will simply breed further generations of suicide bombers.”

Critics of the war were derided then for suggesting, as the dissenting Conservative MP Douglas Hogg had in the debate, that “the probability is that thousands and maybe tens of thousands of people will be killed or injured on all sides.” But they have been proved disastrously right, and the correct phrase should not be tens but “hundreds of thousands”. We should regard these wrong decisions, taken in the teeth of reasoned doubt and opposition, as leading not to “unintended consequences” but to “reckless consequences”. It was wrong from the start — which means the original Afghan war against Soviet occupation – to support such armed insurgency, and we may reflect on the following tale.

In 1986 Margaret Thatcher welcomed to London the Afghan mujahidin leader Gulbadin Hekmatyar, a man with a reputation for savagery, praising him as a “fighter for freedom”. In 2002 the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, injured during the US invasion of Afghanistan, made his escape with the help of Hekmatyar, now an Afghan warlord. And in 2003 Al Zarqawi founded the extremist group which has become the “Islamic State” and is terrorising whole regions of Syria and Iraq.

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john gittingsJohn Gittings is the author of ‘The Glorious Art of Peace: From the Iliad to Iraq’ (Oxford University Press, 2012). After teaching at the University of Westminster he worked at The Guardian (UK) for twenty years as assistant foreign editor and chief foreign leader-writer (1983-2003). Having specialised for many years on China and East Asia, he is now doing research on the historical perception of peace, and is an Associate Editor of the Oxford International Encyclopaedia of Peace.  His website is www.johngittings.com: it includes links to his latest writings on the subject.

Celebrating the negotiation of a ceasefire announced yesterday

August 27, 2014

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge has seen more than 2,100 Palestinians killed, most of them civilians, and 69 people on the Israeli side, all but five of whom were soldiers. Many buildings and some neighbourhoods of Gaza are in ruins, and the UN last week estimated that physical damage from the war was three times that seen in Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s first war against Hamas in 2008-9.

On Tuesday, John Reed in Jerusalem reported in the FT that Israel and Hamas had agreed a truce. This has brought an open-ended ceasefire that began at 7pm. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, in a brief television address, thanked Egypt, Qatar and John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, for their role in arranging the ceasefire.

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There were street celebrations in some parts of Gaza on Tuesday evening, with residents cheering and raising green Hamas banners. In east Jerusalem, Palestinians set off fireworks above Damascus Gate, at the entrance to the Old City.

Deutsche Welle covered the news with an article and video (snapshot above), reporting that the Egyptian mediators who helped to broker the ceasefire announced that deal was official. Israel has agreed to ease some curbs on imports and to allow humanitarian aid and reconstruction materials into Gaza, but many other issues are still to be resolved. The Egyptian Foreign Minister said in his statement that indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were “to continue within the space of a month.”

Is Israeli policy beginning to lose support?

In Israel, the war has hurt the popularity of Mr Netanyahu; a poll commissioned by Israel’s Channel 2 found the prime minister’s support had fallen to 38%, down from 63% in a similar poll three weeks ago.

The FT reports “a creeping fear that Israel is beginning to lose the argument in the US about the wisdom of its military action in Gaza”. A new opinion poll by Gallup demonstrated a big generational gap in views about the situation in Israel/Palestine. Americans in the 18-29 group 51% said Israel’s current use of force current use of force was unjustified and 23% supported these actions, whereas in the 55-65+ agegroup, 54% believed its current use of force was justified and 30% said it was unjustified.

c3 logoOur logo, designed by Moseley Quaker artist, Sue McClure, expresses our hope that from the ashes of our barbarity a peaceful civilisation will arise - a new era of co-operation in the lifetime of our younger generation, helped by those working with them, including Peace Child International & the Asha Centre.

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Are US leaders choosing to cry wolf at the wrong time and for the wrong goals?

August 26, 2014

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Max Rayner, Palo Alto, CA, US, (this experienced Max?) thinks that this is a ‘galling tragedy’. A lightly abridged version of his FT message:

When there are so many areas where we actually might want to stand up and fight for freedom and human dignity, it is a galling tragedy that US leaders are choosing to cry wolf at the wrong time and for the wrong goals.

While others think of the Caucasus and Crimea as locations of appalling Russian genocides, Russians think of Crimea as the place that western powers stole from them.

To compound that, the Russian people think they made great sacrifices to help win the second world war and in their view those sacrifices were all the more enormous because western powers delayed engaging the Nazis in Europe . . .

A positive strategic outcome was secured when the Soviet Union began to show cracks because George Bush senior had the restraint to avoid triumphalism. But after that the US and western leaders then took every excuse to rub salt in the wound and over-reach rather than seek a stable post-Soviet order.

This has been in evidence everywhere where Russia had interests that could align with the west’s, and instead of reaching an accommodation the west has tried to run the board. Look at Libya, Syria, Iraq and so on.

In Europe as well, Nato acted as if we were setting things up to expand its sphere of influence with eastward installation of missile defence systems, and to eventually challenge Russia’s military presence in Crimea. What would we think of Russia installing missiles (even defensive) near the continental US?

The west has given substance to the charge that we never think about the long game and come to the party only long enough to break everything, enrage everybody and then leave.

Against this backdrop, the better move now might be to assure Russian leaders that their Crimean bases will be safe indefinitely and not subject to caprices of a new Ukrainian government or of Nato adventurism and eastward expansion.

There was a moment (and there may still be) a moment when the west could have recognised Russian interests and historical claims in Crimea and more broadly in its sphere of influence, and counselled the new Ukrainian leaders to promptly do the same. Freedom and dignity for Ukrainians could have been won in the bargain (and still may be) while giving up no more than what Russia already owned de facto or is prepared to take by brute force.

But that would require realism and a scintilla of strategic wisdom.

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Desmond Tutu’s plea to the people of Israel: Liberate yourselves by liberating Palestine.

August 20, 2014

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Alison Williams and Ricken Patel of Avaaz both sent a link to this Haaretz article by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.To read the whole article go to http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.610687

 

haaretz header

The past weeks have witnessed unprecedented action by members of civil society across the world against the injustice of Israel’s disproportionately brutal response to the firing of missiles from Palestine. If you add together all the people who gathered over the past weekend to demand justice in Israel and Palestine – in Cape Town, Washington, D.C., New York, New Delhi, London, Dublin and Sydney, and all the other cities – this was arguably the largest active outcry by citizens around a single cause ever in the history of the world . . .

I appealed to Israeli sisters and brothers present at a conference of the International Union of Architects, which was meeting in South Africa, to actively disassociate themselves and their profession from the design and construction of infrastructure related to perpetuating injustice, including the separation barrier, the security terminals and checkpoints, and the settlements built on occupied Palestinian land.

Over the past few weeks, more than 1.6 million people across the world have signed onto this movement by joining an Avaaz campaign calling on corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation and/or implicated in the abuse and repression of Palestinians to pull out. The campaign specifically targets Dutch pension fund ABP; Barclays Bank; security systems supplier G4S; French transport company Veolia; computer company Hewlett-Packard; and bulldozer supplier Caterpillar. . .

We have recently witnessed the withdrawal by Dutch pension fund PGGM of tens of millions of euros from Israeli banks; the divestment from G4S by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the U.S. Presbyterian Church divested an estimated $21 million from HP, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar.

It is a movement that is gathering pace.

 We know that (in post-apartheid South Africa) when our leaders began to speak to each other, the rationale for the violence that had wracked our society dissipated and disappeared. Acts of terrorism perpetrated after the talks began – such as attacks on a church and a pub – were almost universally condemned, and the party held responsible snubbed at the ballot box . . .

At a certain point – the tipping point – the then-government realized that the cost of attempting to preserve apartheid outweighed the benefits.

The withdrawal of trade with South Africa by multinational corporations with a conscience in the 1980s was ultimately one of the key levers that brought the apartheid state – bloodlessly – to its knees. Those corporations understood that by contributing to South Africa’s economy, they were contributing to the retention of an unjust status quo.

Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of “normalcy” in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo.

Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace.

My plea to the people of Israel: Liberate yourselves by liberating Palestine.

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Pro-peace Tel Aviv rally, postponed for a week by police

August 18, 2014

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pro peace rally Tel Aviv

Thousands gather at a pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv, on day 40 of Operation Protective

Ten thousand demonstrators gathered on Saturday evening for a pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv under the slogan, “Changing direction: toward peace, away from war.”

The rally in Rabin Square comes two days after another demonstration expressing solidarity with residents of communities along the Gaza border. Right-wing activists held a counter-demonstration nearby at the same time.

The event’s Facebook entry opens: “Following a painful month of war and death, in view of waves of incitement and hatred that are tearing apart Israeli society, we call for a demonstration for peace and democracy. The next round (of violence) can be avoided. We don’t have to sink into an abyss of ever-crueler wars, of extreme hatred and a destruction of our neighbors and ourselves”.

meretz galonSpeaking at the demonstration, Meretz party chairperson, Zahava Gal-On, who has consistently criticized Netanyahu, calling on him not to obey the warmongers, said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed miserably by refusing to take the diplomatic path to peace. She accused the prime minister of a “diplomatic freeze: refusing to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative; the breakdown of U.S.-Israel relations, the refusal to recognize the Palestinian unity government and the widely authorized building in the settlements, which destroyed any chances of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. She continued:

“You could have achieved the framework you’re willing to accept now without paying the price of 64 dead soldiers and civilians, the death of 2,000 Palestinians, and the horrible destruction in Gaza, including almost half a million people uprooted from their homes.”

The Facebook entry ended: “Only an agreement will ensure long-term security and quiet for residents of the south and of the entire country. There is another way – immediate dialogue with Palestinians to ensure a fair peace, the opening of Gaza and a determined stand of Arabs and Jews against racism and for life. Only a two-state political solution will guarantee independence, justice, security and hope for all people living in this land.”

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The full Haaretz article can no longer be read without subscription.

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Kibbutzim anger building against the Israeli government and military

August 14, 2014

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Will public feeling intensify and stop the military action?

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 John Reed writes from Ein HaShlosha, a kibbutz in Southern Israel.

israel border kibbutzEin HaShlosha is one of several border communities that have been on the front line in Israel’s military operation against Hamas and have suffered from its ground invasion of Gaza and the incoming mortars and rockets fired from the other side.

They have no protection from the Iron Dome missile defence system. The community was shocked shortly after the ground war started, when Hamas fighters emerged from a tunnel in a field 1.5km away and clashed with IDF soldiers, leaving one Palestinian and two Israelis dead.

The damage in Israel’s south is, however, minimal when compared with the deaths and destruction in Gaza, where large urban areas are in ruins and tens of thousands of residents have fled rural areas ahead of the IDF, with untended crops left to rot and animals left to starve.

Operation Protective Edge

damage done in southern israelThousands of people have left the area since Operation Protective Edge began on July 7, but some have stayed to keep their businesses going. At Ein HaShlosha, where there is a a factory making ring binders and a dairy, some started to wear flak jackets when milking. The kibbutz is so near Gaza that residents have only 15 seconds to take cover when an alarm sounds. The communities are counting the mounting damage:

  • lost working hours
  • and export contracts,
  • crops flattened
  • irrigation pipes crumpled under military vehicles,
  • and houses and buildings that took direct hits from incoming fire.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has labelled this as a military ‘operation’ – not a war – to avoid payng full compensation to southern residents for their losses, though a number of of tax breaks and subsidies have been given to southern communities.

The backlash

Dani Cohen, the head of the kibbutz’s emergency team said, “It was a catastrophe, the way the army handled this operation – fighting, then ceasefire. This left people not knowing what would happen to them.”

Benny Gantz, the Israel Defence Forces’ chief of staff, was widely criticised by Israelis in the south after telling them it was safe to return home during an earlier ceasefire which broke down when Hamas refused to extend the ceasefire and Islamic Jihad and other Gaza militants fired rockets and mortars into the south.

The backlash against the military operation inside Israel, though limited, is a rare in a conflict in which most Israelis support their government. Though on July 22nd we recorded that in Tel Aviv, about 250 Jewish peace protesters were punched and pushed by a well-organised group of rightwingers in an attack that left several people with bruises, black eyes, or other injuries. Another, which mustered about 1,000 people, was attacked by rightwing activists, who threw eggs and plastic bottles.

israel children banners demo

A large demonstration is planned in Tel Aviv today to express support for beleaguered southern communities . . . Thousands of Gaza border residents are expected to attend the rally, bussed to Tel Aviv in transport organized by their regional council heads. Will some spare a thought for the far greater suffering of the Gazans?

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Quakers urge recognition of Palestine

August 10, 2014

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Amid faltering ceasefires and talks, Quakers in Britain are calling for urgent action on Gaza.

They urge the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a nation state; they call for a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides in the conflict and for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestine.

The calls for action come in a statement made by the decision making body of Quakers in Britain, the Yearly Meeting, attended by 2,000 Quakers in Bath.  As part of their commitment to peacemaking, Quakers continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

QIB sends human rights monitors to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, but not Gaza.

EAPPI logoOn behalf of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and other Christian agencies Quakers in Britain runs the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Ecumenical accompaniers focus global attention on Israeli and Palestinian peace and human rights groups.

The Yearly Meeting: essential steps towards full and fair negotiations

  • Palestine to be recognised as a nation state
  • An end to indiscriminate fire by all sides
  • A comprehensive arms embargo
  • An end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and blockade of Gaza
  • Freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners
  • The use of international law to hold all parties to account for their actions.

Foreign Office ministers invited representatives from faith and secular agencies to share views and experience of the region on the crisis. Teresa Parker, programme manager for Israel and Palestine for Quakers in Britain attended.

The Yearly Meeting statement says:

“As we among other Nobel Peace Laureates have said, ‘The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis will only be resolved when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended and the inherent equality, worth, and dignity of all is realised.’  Peacebuilding is a long and demanding path to take… We long for – and will work for – a time when the fear experienced on all sides is replaced by a sense of security.”

A statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made by Quakers in Britain at their Yearly Meeting in Bath, 8 August 2014 may be read here.

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The Military and the Environment – 3

August 8, 2014
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First time readers: earlier posts on Louise Say’s thesis may be read in: http://civilisation3000.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/the-military-and-the-environment/ and: http://civilisation3000.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/military-and-the-environment-2/
 

Chapter 1 presents evidence indicating the substantial destructive impact of military operations on environmental conditions.

Caveat: we should bear in mind , as Ms Say stresses, that the main cause of environmental degradation is civilian activity and, in part, human economic activity. All environmental threats present an invisible threat to international security.

She refers to military forces’ manipulation of the natural habitat in which they operate in order to achieve their strategic objectives and gives two examples:

During the Vietnam War, the United States military engaged in three variants of this type of environmental warfare – leading to the coining of the term ecocide:

ecocide vietnam

  • They used defoliants (mainly Agent Orange and Agent White) on dense jungle in an attempt to destroy forest cover and expose the Vietcong guerrilla fighters.
  • They attempted to alter regional weather patterns by a process of cloud seeding. By manipulating cloud formations, the US forces hoped to enhance their target performance in air raids and to cause flooding.
  • Thirdly, they destroyed enemy food crops (mainly rice) using Agent Blue.

Military forces also engage in environmental warfare by destroying man-made structures such as dykes and dams, which indirectly cause massive environmental devastation. US military forces also bombed the dam-system in North-Vietnam causing widespread flooding in the area.

During the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait large quantities of crude oil were pumped into the Persian Gulf and as the Iraqi soldiers retreated, they set fire to around 700 well-heads in Kuwait. See more on the environmental consequences here.

 kuwait oil fires

During the first Gulf War the deployment of the Mass Air Delivery fuel-Air Explosive also caused environmental devastation over wide areas. Depleted uranium was used fir the first time, causing radioactive contamination in the battlefield – see Arkin, Durrant and Chernis.

state world 1991 coverSubstantial quantities of toxic and radioactive waste have, and continue to be, produced by the operation of military equipment. In the 1991 Worldwatch State of the World report, Michael Renner records that the Research Institute for Peace Policy in Starnberg, Germany, has estimated that 10-30% of all global environment degradation has been caused by military-related activities. He also noted that, in recent years, military activities in the US have generated between 400,000 and 500,000 tons of toxic waste annually. He stated that this pollution exceeds that emitted by the top five U.S. chemical companies and that a quarter of all jet fuel consumed is used for military purposes.

The development, maintenance, use and disposal of military weapons – conventional, chemical, biological or nuclear – has caused varying degrees of environmental degradation.

Louise Say advocates the lifting of military exemption from and compliance with environmental legislation, coupling this with undertaking the sort of good practice recorded by Brigadier Michael Harbottle in the annex to his 1991/2 study. He gave 135 examples of the new philosophy of military service in action in 21 countries: including recycling of kitchen and human waste, afforestation, development of alternative energy sources, protection of wildlife and flora, limiting of soil erosion, protection of coastal and inland waters from pollution, assistance in containing oil and chemical leaks & forest fires and control of poaching.

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Israel-Palestine: Noam Chomsky’s reflections

August 4, 2014

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chomsky israel

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