Care about being a researcher for your community. You have to document your ancestors and their lives here in this village from before the occupation. You have the right and you must prove that the occupation doesn’t have the right to be here – the occupiers want to displace you. Defend your rights to be here by giving evidence that documents your heritage.
Sharing stories in the South Hebron Hills. On Our Land Project, Author provided (No reuse)
These are the words of a 21-year-old youth researcher from the South Hebron Hills – and they herald a new form of resistance, a form of resistance that may help to protect vulnerable communities.
The Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank, is currently at risk of demolition by Israeli bulldozers. The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, called on the Israeli authorities in September 2018 to halt the proposed demolition, while the UN human rights office has also denounced its planned destruction as breaching international humanitarian law. The Israeli supreme court, however, has defied the UN and twice ruled in favour of demolishing the village. Its fate is now on a knife edge.
The crisis in Khan al-Ahmar, has once again highlighted the precarious lives faced by Bedouin communities in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Marginalised within both Palestinian and Israeli society, and repeatedly displaced from their lands – the Bedouins in Khan al-Ahmar, for example, originally were expelled from the Nakab desert in 1948 – these communities are fighting for their very survival.
An act of remembering
But perhaps all is not lost. Against this backdrop, some young researchers working in the oPt have been developing creative and non-violent ways to help their communities survive by restoring their cultural heritage.
As academic and author Edward Said said: “It is what one remembers of the past and how one remembers it that determine how one sees the future.”
Now, these researchers hope that by taking care of their communities’ heritage they will be better placed to resist displacement from their lands. Aged between 18 and 26, they have been documenting the often intangible cultural heritage of their communities – Bedouin-populated villages sometimes so small that even Palestinian civil servants in nearby Hebron haven’t heard of them.
This heritage is at risk of disappearing under the stresses of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Communities such as At-Tuwani, Susya, Al Mufagara and Tuba, in the South Hebron Hills, face eviction as illegal Israeli settlements, guarded by Israeli military forces, continue to encroach on them. Life is hard; residents are restricted from accessing basic services due to the constraints placed on them by the Israeli military.
Given the daily hardships they face, preserving cultural heritage has, perhaps unsurprisingly, long taken a back seat in communities like these. But the young researchers have now collected evidence of songs sung during ploughing or at weddings, and traditional place names, farming practices, crafts, stories, recipes and much more, all tied to their communities and the land. They have used these histories to develop heritage trails, exhibitions and guides in their communities.
While many of these young people previously have been active in initiatives to support their communities, this is the first time they have engaged in a cultural heritage-based approach. And as one researcher from At-Tuwani put it:
The importance of heritage on a political level is that it helps us prove that this is our land and that we own it and we lived on it.
Bedouin communities in the oPt are all too aware of the risks of losing their cultural heritage. They fear that as it is lost, the Israeli government will have more pretexts to displace them from their land. They understand the value of this heritage as both economic, with the potential to provide valuable income in vulnerable communities, and social, sustaining links between communities stretched to breaking point.
Bedouin communities in the oPt find themselves disconnected as a result of the conflict. They are prevented from practising traditional cultural practices or from sharing this knowledge with future generations. Old and young have become divided.
By carrying out more than 75 interviews with the oldest community members, the researchers have helped to reestablish these lost connections, revitalising relationships between young and old community members. Sameeha, a youth researcher from At-Tuwani, explained how this process has affected her:
When you speak to an older man or woman in your area and they tell you a story you never heard before … for me that was an amazing feeling.
To feel pride in your past, to share in the joy of your community’s heritage, is surely an act of resistance in itself. But the youth researchers have also started to forge ties with Bedouin communities in other parts of the oPt and Israel. They are sharing their findings and research methods, and learning how these communities have used heritage-based approaches to support their own social and economic development. Together, they are becoming stronger.
Could this approach now help the people of Khan al-Ahmar? The youth researchers have shown how cultural heritage can strengthen communities and their ties to the land they live on. The researchers repeatedly talked about putting their villages on the map, and making them part of a wider Bedouin community which extends through both time (to previous and future generations) and space. They have become visible to local, national and international audiences.
All this provides a platform for solidarity from which oppression can be resisted without violence. Cultural heritage, and the actions taken to protect it, become a resource both to encourage equality and to share a different vision of what life could be in these embattled communities.
ANCIENT WIPEOUT Preliminary evidence indicates that a low-altitude meteor explosion around 3,700 years ago destroyed cities, villages and farmland north of the Dead Sea (shown in the background above) rendering the region uninhabitable for 600 to 700 years. Fightbegin/istock.com
DENVER — A superheated blast from the skies obliterated cities and farming settlements north of the Dead Sea around 3,700 years ago, preliminary findings suggest.
Radiocarbon dating and unearthed minerals that instantly crystallized at high temperatures indicate that a massive airburst caused by a meteor that exploded in the atmosphere instantaneously destroyed civilization in a 25-kilometer-wide circular plain called Middle Ghor, said archaeologist Phillip Silvia. The event also pushed a bubbling brine of Dead Sea salts over once-fertile farm land, Silvia and his colleagues suspect.
People did not return to the region for 600 to 700 years, said Silvia, of Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque. He reported these findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on November 17.
Excavations at five large Middle Ghor sites, in what’s now Jordan, indicate that all were continuously occupied for at least 2,500 years until a sudden, collective collapse toward the end of the Bronze Age. Ground surveys have located 120 additional, smaller settlements in the region that the researchers suspect were also exposed to extreme, collapse-inducing heat and wind. An estimated 40,000 to 65,000 people inhabited Middle Ghor when the cosmic calamity hit, Silvia said.
The most comprehensive evidence of destruction caused by a low-altitude meteor explosion comes from the Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hammam, where a team that includes Silvia has been excavating for the last 13 years. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the mud-brick walls of nearly all structures suddenly disappeared around 3,700 years ago, leaving only stone foundations.
What’s more, the outer layers of many pieces of pottery from same time period show signs of having melted into glass. Zircon crystals in those glassy coats formed within one second at extremely high temperatures, perhaps as hot as the surface of the sun, Silvia said.
High-force winds created tiny, spherical mineral grains that apparently rained down on Tall el-Hammam, he said. The research team has identified these minuscule bits of rock on pottery fragments at the site.
Examples exist of exploding space rocks that have wreaked havoc on Earth (SN: 5/13/17, p. 12). An apparent meteor blast over a sparsely populated Siberian region in 1908, known as the Tunguska event, killed no one but flattened 2,000 square kilometers of forest. And a meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 injured more than 1,600 people, mainly due to broken glass from windows that were blown out.
For those of us of an age to have known only peace in Western Europe, the centenary of the end of World War I is a an opportunity to learn something of the extreme consequences of the failure to solve political differences peacefully. And when the world marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, millions fell silent to remember the pain and sacrifice of that conflict.
But another anniversary that fell this year – that of the end of the British Mandate for Palestine in 1948, a seminal moment in a conflict that continues to this day – has been largely ignored. It should not be. Britain’s role was pivotal – and, if it is forgotten in the UK, it is remembered in Middle East.
Palestine and Britain: forgotten legacy of World War I that devastated the Middle East
For one of the consequences of the end of World War I was the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The December before the Armistice in November 1918, troops under the command of General Sir Edmund Allenby (nicknamed “The Bull”) captured Jerusalem. After the end of the war, The League of Nations “mandated” (handed over) what was then Palestine to British rule. That rule lasted until 1948. Then the British withdrew. The region’s Jewish and Arab populations were left to to fight it out. The Jewish forces prevailed and, in May 1948, the State of Israel was declared.
The conflict is remembered by Israelis as the War of Independence; by the Palestinians as “al-nakba” (the catastrophe). In Britain – whose retreat after a period during which “the purpose of the mandate was never entirely clear to most of those serving in Palestine”, as Naomi Shepherd put it in her 1999 book Ploughing Sand: British Rule in Palestine – it is barely remembered at all.
In another sense, it is not. The task faced by the mandate authorities was not easy. They left the region riven by conflict which continues to this day. Seeking international Jewish support during World War I, Britain had – in the words of the late historian Eric Hobsbawm – “incautiously and ambiguously promised to establish a ‘national home for the Jews’ in Palestine”.
The Balfour Declaration – as that pledge was known – was made in 1917. Its centenary in 2017 was barely noticeable compared to the attention the Armistice has generated. Like the end of the mandate, the Balfour Declaration is an anniversary Britain has mostly preferred to forget. The same cannot be said in the land that was Mandate Palestine.
As a correspondent newly arrived in Gaza to take up a posting during the second Palestinian intifada, or the uprising against Israel, I was soon welcomed by an elderly resident of a refugee camp – and then chastised by the same gentleman for the Balfour Declaration. The year was 2002, but he traced his wretched fate – his breeze-block house had just been demolished by the Israeli Army – to that document from 1917.
In his memoir, Ever the Diplomat, the former British ambassador to Israel, Sherard Cowper-Coles, recalled an encounter he witnessed between the then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the British Middle East envoy, Lord Levy. An increasingly undiplomatic exchange ended when Sharon’s “massive fist came thumping down on the desk”, as he shouted: “The British Mandate is over.”
It is hard to imagine now, but when the mandate did end in 1948, it was a huge story in the British press. Research for my book, Headlines from the Holy Land: Reporting the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, led me to archived newspaper articles where the first draft of the history of that era was written. The morning that British rule ended, May 14 1948, the Daily Mirror did its best to rouse patriotic pride:
When British rule began, says the Colonial Office, Palestine was primitive and underdeveloped. The population of 750,000 were disease-ridden and poor. But new methods of farming were introduced, medical services provided, roads and railways built, water supplies improved, malaria wiped out.
The next day’s Daily Mail painted the stirring picture of the “weather-beaten, sun-dried Union Jack” which had flown over British Headquarters in Jerusalem being brought back to “the airways terminal building at Victoria” in central London.
Where the story has found its way into contemporary newspapers it has had a fraction of the attention granted to the end of World War I in Europe – a lack of public commemoration which suggests a combination of ignorance and shame.
“There were no brass bands playing when they came back. They were treated as if they’d been involved in something dirty”, the organiser of the Palestine Veterans Association told the Sunday Times recently.
Ignoring anniversaries such as these – especially at a time when the poppy appeal is given ever greater public prominence – amounts to selective commemoration, which acts against learning from military and diplomatic mistakes.
The most recent economic results in Morocco show a deceleration from last year. The north African country grew by 2.4% in the second quarter of 2018, down from 4.5% in the same period last year, according to the High Commission for Planning. The agriculture sector has been cited as the main reason for the decline; its output slowed from just over 18% last year to around 3%.
Oxford Business Group published this article dated October 29th, 2018, written by Jaime Perez-Seoane de Zunzunegui, Regional Editor for North Africa and The Americas.
The bigger picture looks fairly stable, though. The central bank expects the country to end 2018 with growth of 3.5%, a substantial figure despite having registered 4.1% in 2017. Figures remain strong enough to keep up optimism, as indicated by the local business community in Oxford Business Group’s latest Business Barometer: Morocco CEO Survey.
Of the 106 CEOs surveyed between November 2017 and September 2018, almost three-quarters say they have positive or very positive expectations of local business conditions in the coming 12 months.
This sentiment is further strengthened by the number of business leaders indicating the likelihood of future investments: 77% say it is likely or very likely that their company will make a significant capital investment within the next 12 months.
Obstacles to becoming a regional hub
Of course, challenges to economic expansion remain. In fact, they are inevitable when a country is working to maintain considerable growth levels. There are a number of responses to the question of Morocco’s economic slowdown. Undoubtedly, diversification of productive sectors and partnering markets will be key, and government efforts to transform Morocco into a regional hub have long been under way.
In order to consolidate its position as a regional power, one area Morocco could enhance is its tax environment. With individual income tax capped at 38% and corporate tax at a maximum of 31%, coupled with a relatively complex local and national tax system, Morocco ranks 109th out of 137 countries in the total tax rate competitiveness category of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index 2017-18. Accordingly, 55% of survey respondents say that Morocco’s current tax environment (business and personal) is uncompetitive or very uncompetitive on a global scale.
In addition, access to credit remains challenging, at least for some companies. While 40% of business leaders characterise the ease of access to credit as easy or very easy, 38% find it difficult or very difficult. Opinions on financing are always difficult to capture in surveys, as each firm’s profile – including its size, expertise, access to market and needs – influences its response.
A third challenge worth mentioning – and one that is largely acknowledged by CEOs in our survey – is the lack of leadership. Leadership is identified by 47% of respondents as the type of skill in greatest need in Morocco. I’ve met with many business leaders during my visits to the country, and the absence of soft skills among the country’s institutions seems to be affecting the public and private sectors; nobody knows that better than the men and women running companies on a daily basis.
Estimates for 2019 forecast Morocco will grow less than in 2018, which is a reasonable prediction given the country’s recent performance. However, if trade with old and new partners continues to develop, opportunities are expected to be generated for local investors and companies. Determination from Morocco’s business leaders is there, and the challenges have been identified, which is an important first step to tackling them.
A report by the WWF published on October 30 reveals how our actions are degrading the natural world – the very basis on which our livelihood depends. The Living Planet Report 2018 shows that between 1970 and 2014, vertebrate – mammal, fish, bird, amphibian and reptile – population sizes have been reduced by 60%. South and Central America have been hit particularly hard, suffering population declines of 89%.
The report is one of the most comprehensive global analyses of biodiversity, yet it does have its limitations. It only tracks vertebrates, sampling is not standardised across different biomes, and it ignores genetic diversity.
It’s also worth noting that other global studies have reported different figures for biomass decline. A study in Nature looking at plant and insect species, estimates declines in species abundance of around 11%, and a study from Germany found a 75% decline in flying insect biomass in the 27 years up to 2016.
These are large discrepancies and clearly this topic needs further exploration. However, all these studies support the conclusion that we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate.
The big debate
There are two main strands of argument when it comes to the loss of wildlife. The first is that the loss of nature is a necessary and acceptable consequence of human progress. Historically, our wealth has increased through exploiting the natural environment, and it has allowed us to live richer lives with more freedom of opportunity.
Counter to this, the argument runs that we can only push biodiversity loss so far before we threaten the life support systems of our small planet – the capacity of the biosphere to regulate our climate, pollinate our crops, purify our water and decompose our waste. The biologist Paul Ehrlich once made the analogy that losing species in an ecosystem is like progressively removing rivets from an aeroplane: the plane may fly on for a while, but eventually it will fall out of the sky.
Such concerns have led to attempts to quantify “safe limits” of biodiversity loss, or so-called planetary boundaries that we must not cross else we risk a catastrophic tipping point. Although a compelling concept, there remains serious issues in implementing it. One is the uncertainty in the extent of biodiversity loss, the other is in the impact these losses will have on human livelihoods.
To make a comparison with climate change, many governments only committed to action after the likely economic impacts were quantified through meticulous analysis combining climate science and economics. Therefore, new approaches to more precisely quantify risk are urgently needed in order to galvanise action.
But even if we can ascertain the risks, will we actually be able to stop biodiversity loss?
I was recently involved in an interdisciplinary analysis of the global food system (one of the major culprits of biodiversity loss), which identified a range of mechanisms that keep our food system “locked” into an unsustainable trajectory.
People often feel powerless to change such global systems and point to factors at the level of government policy, such as the upcoming extension and renewal of the Convention for Biological Diversity.
Although wise governance is essential, many factors that contribute to a decline in biodiversity operate at the individual level, such as our dietary and consumer choices. Also, the structure of our institutions ultimately reflects our individual mindsets, so we have the opportunity to initiate positive change by acknowledging our dependency on nature. Rising levels of individualism, however, have encouraged an economy that provides for private interests at the expense of nature.
Through our purchases we can destroy the environment on the other side of the world, which is why the WWF report calls for better data to connect consumers to the consequences of their actions. On the positive side, our increasingly connected world could allow for social contagion of positive and responsible ways of acting. Small individual changes can cascade and cause a different kind of “tipping point” towards a more sustainable way of life.
If we really want to halt biodiversity loss and ensure a safe course for current and future generations on Spaceship Earth, we need to think beyond government, and forget the selfish “I” – the solutions start with “us”.
Siemens chief, Joe Kaeser has pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, dubbed “Davos in the Desert”, amid outrage at the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Speaking on CNN, he said: “We are the ones who need to fix the issues … We are the ones who have the responsibility to show our people the way and find a win-win solution.”
It was a tough decision. Siemens employs more than 2,000 people in Saudi Arabia and has significant business interests in the country. You do not easily break away from important clients. Yet, like others including the chief executives of big investment companies such as JP Morgan, Blackstone and Blackrock, as well as tech companies such as Uber and ABB, and many others, Kaeser decided that the taint of association with Saudi Arabia, following Khashoggi’s murder, would be worse.
Although this sort of thing is not very common, similar incidents have happened before. Several heads of US businesses protested against the travel ban that was levelled against many majority Muslim countries by the US president, Donald Trump, in January 2017. In August 2017, several resigned from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council in protest at the president’s morally inadequate response to the deadly violence by white supremacists at Charlottesville. Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier put it best at the time when he said: “As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”
Taking a stand
In the years to come expect to see more business leaders compelled to take a moral stance, whether it’s about the murder of a foreign dissident, the insensitive behaviour of a sitting president, or the persecution of religious or ethnic minorities. It will be increasingly difficult to avoid.
There are two main reasons for this: moral and social.
First, it is often assumed that business transactions are separate from the rest of our daily lives. For example, I do not need to approve of my greengrocer’s lifestyle in order to buy from him. As long as he serves me what I want, at prices I find reasonable, the rest of his life is not my concern.
Much of the time this may be true. But if I learn that he has, say, racist views or he mistreats his staff, I do not want to condone his behaviour, even indirectly, by giving him my money. As a consumer I have not stopped being a moral being. My sense of responsibility does not stop when I spend my money – on the contrary, it is magnified by having a choice in how I spend my money.
It is not very different for companies. Most of the time you may not care, or even stop to think about, the values or morality of those you deal with. At some critical point, however, you may well. A president who fails to unequivocally condemn a racist killing makes you wonder whether you want to sit on his business advisory board. A crown prince who throws his critics in jail or is suspected to have ordered the mafia-style killing of a dissident is not one whose hand you may want to shake. Your intuitive morality does not allow you to stomach it. How would you explain your actions to your children, your employees and your customers? Your own moral reputation is at stake.
Secondly, society’s expectations of corporate behaviour have changed. A survey by large public relations firm Edelman found that more than half of consumers said they chose to buy from brands whose beliefs they shared (and nearly a quarter are willing to pay more for this). To add value you need to show you have values. A company that does not appear to distance itself from inappropriate behaviour risks tarnishing its reputation.
The rise of 24/7 communications has created a global public forum in which events in distant places are beamed into everyone’s living room. Business leaders cannot pretend they don’t know about the barbaric murder of a journalist or the racist killing of a protester – and that knowledge creates a sense of responsibility.
Does this mean that business leaders will always need to take a stance in response to all the world’s problems? Not at all. Morally principled pragmatism is required – not utopian idealism. A CEO need not be a moral crusader with a mission to save the world in order to act as a moral leader.
Companies can decide which issues on which to take a stance. Human affairs, as Aristotle noted, are inherently variable – so much so that there cannot be general rules for how a leader should act. Details, history and context matter. The important thing is to have good judgment – to want to do the right thing in a way that is most effective in the circumstances you face. For that you need a moral compass, not a moral manual.