Tag Archives social justice

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | How social accountability initiatives are helping pursue social justice aims

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | How social accountability initiatives are helping pursue social justice aims

Achieving social justice in service delivery in the health, social welfare, and humanitarian sectors is still a formidable challenge in most developing countries. Poor and marginalised people generally lack the ...

Tearing down the walls that colonise Palestine, a thousand bricks at a time

Tearing down the walls that colonise Palestine, a thousand bricks at a time

Palestinians are showing enormous bravery during this moment of horror. The walls of intimidation and despair that Israel has erected in the minds of Palestinians to prevent resistance are being ...

What can we do as Palestine burns?

It is May 2021. Once again, Palestine is burning. Again, the US- and EU-funded Israeli military machine is in full throttle and again, the US – now led by Joe Biden – persistently blocks a UN Security Council Resolution, even to call for a cessation of violence. I am again writing, the latest of dozens of articles, feeling hopeless as people are killed and most of the world remains silent. I ask myself, again … what can I do?

Picasso’s painting of Guernica 1(937) with Palestine colours

In the weeks leading up to the violence that is now shaking Palestine, there has been “fear and fury” in Jerusalem. The pro-settler group Nahalat Shimon has been using lawfare to try and evict Palestinians from their homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah (at the time of writing, the case was on appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court). And the violence has spread across the country. Jewish-Israeli mobs have roamed the streets of the “multicultural” towns of Acre, Haifa and Lod, searching for those who are Palestinian – or who look “Arab” – dragging them from their cars and homes, and in one case beating an Arab man on live television. A smaller, but totally unacceptable number of Jewish civilians have also been killed in the mob violence.

Other mobs of Jewish-Israelis roamed through streets, chanting “death to Arabs” and smashing up storefront windows of Palestinian-owned shops in scenes that the organisation Jewish Voices for Peace described as reminiscent of the Nazi-led Kristallnacht.

Also in May, a massive crowd of Jewish-Israelis celebrated in the square outside the Western Wall, celebrating Jerusalem Day, gazing above the square as Palestinians fled a violent police raid of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, one of the holiest places in Islam, during Eid-al-Fitr.

Netanyahu has firmly declared that he would “bring back sovereignty to Israel’s cities with an iron fist, if necessary”. The latest round of violence is no doubt a welcome distraction for the Israeli strongman who has been on trial in Israel for corruption and continually unable to form a government, leading to the country’s fourth election in two years.

And as if that were not horrifying enough, Gaza, too, is in flames – again. The territory is already struggling with a humanitarian crisis in the midst of a 15-year-long Israel siege of the territory. Enraged by the violence in Jerusalem at one of Islam’s holiest places, Hamas militants began launching mostly homemade rockets into sparsely populated Israeli towns. While the majority of the bombs were destroyed by sophisticated missile defence systems provided by the US government, some have managed to make it through. As of 13 May this year, a total of seven people – six Israelis and an Indian national – had reportedly been killed, including an Israeli child. There have been reports of Israelis fleeing with their terrified children to bomb shelters and safe rooms.

The Israeli military – the most technologically advanced on Earth – responded with its usual, brutally terrifying force, which Netanyahu vowed to continue. Once again, Israel’s massively well-armed military has targeted densely-populated civilian areas. By 13 May, the numbers of dead Palestinians was reported to be 113, the large majority of whom were civilians. According to the United Nations relief agency OCHA, these numbers include 14 Palestinian children.

So how did this all start?

To understand how this latest bout of violence started, one needs to face what facilitates these kinds of eruptions of violence, time and again. There are four points we need to understand, two of which squarely point to Israel, and two that point to the rest of the world.

First, Israel is a settler-colonial regime and the majority of Palestinians living in Gaza are refugees and their descendants. Some regard this regime as having started in 1967 when Israel occupied the territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem; others see this as having begun in 1948 when Israel unilaterally declared its independence after ethnically cleansing the territory of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and refusing them to return to their homes and livelihoods. One could go back even further than that, and certainly to the end of the first World War, when Ottoman Rule ended and Britain was designated to administer Palestine and prepare the territory for independence. This never happened. Regardless of when one considers this regime to have started, the main point is that it continues and expands until this day.

Second, Israel is an apartheid regime, both in the Palestinian territories that it continues to belligerently occupy and administer in a grossly unequal way that Al Haq, B’tselem, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations in a difficult-to-find report all describe as a situation of apartheid. Apartheid also exists in Israel itself, as affirmed in 2018 with a racist Nation-State Law that affirmed Israel as a homeland for Jews and Hebrew as the only official language (Arabic used to be included); it is described as a system of exclusionary constitutionalism.

Third, Israel is persistently supported, particularly by the European Union and the United States. Despite an International Criminal Court investigation of reported war crimes and crimes against humanity now taking place, US and EU support remains unwavering, including USD 3.8 billion of military aid that the US provides every year, which is more than its entire combined aid budget for every other country in the world.

Finally, there is widespread ignorance, with citizens and politicians confused by media reporting that – in its well-intended, but misguided efforts at “balance” – ends up favouring an Israeli perspective.

So, what can we do?

Hopelessness tends to lead to inaction. It is the human condition to turn a blind eye when the situation is just too awful, confusing, or far away. However, as Angela Davis powerfully reminded us in a statement posted on 17 May, people in the United States did not remain silent when George Floyd was killed from a police officer putting his knee in Floyd’s neck. And people should not remain silent now as Palestinians – and Israelis – have their lives cut short by yet another wave of violence. Davis condemned not only the violence in Israel and Palestine, but condemned the Biden-Harris administration for their complicity in it.

Clearly, the violence should stop immediately, and there should be justice, but what can those of us in The Hague, New York, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Karachi or Kuala Lumpur do?

First of all, recognise that this is not an even-sided conflict. It is massively asymmetrical.  Unlike Israelis, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have no bomb shelters or sophisticated missile defence systems. They have no drones or fighter aircraft. In Gaza especially, which has been described as an open-air prison, people not only have nowhere to go; they rarely even have electricity, potable water or food nowadays due to the Israeli siege of Gaza that has been going on, and deepening, since 2016.

Second:  voice your anger and concern to family, friends, neighbours, and elected representatives. Let Palestinians tell their own story. Share the music of Shai Zaqtan of Nai Barghouti and others. Post your outrage on social media and make it visible in street protests. As the corona lockdown eases in many parts of the world, speak to others, including at community centres and in places of worship.

Finally, do what you can in your individual and professional capacity to support the Palestinian call for #BDS = Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

Update: Since the article was initially drafted, the United Nations and Save the Children reported that “58 children[i] in Gaza and two children in southern Israel have been killed in the last week. More than a thousand people in Gaza, including 366 children, have also been injured.” Source, OCHA. At the time of the “ceasefire” on 20 May 2021, this figure was revised to “at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, who have been killed in the Israeli bombardment. On the Israeli side, 12 people, including two children have been killed.”

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Jeff Handmaker

Jeff Handmaker is a senior researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) and focuses on legal mobilisation.

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COVID-19 | Driving transformative social change through an internationalist response to COVID-19 by Lize Swartz

COVID-19 | Driving transformative social change through an internationalist response to COVID-19 by Lize Swartz

A recent webinar organized by the Transnational Institute and partners brought together activists from all over the world to brainstorm how to make social justice central to our responses to ...

Epistemic Diversity| Understanding epistemic diversity: decoloniality as research strategy by Olivia U. Rutazibwa

Epistemic Diversity| Understanding epistemic diversity: decoloniality as research strategy by Olivia U. Rutazibwa

How do we make sure that our efforts to diversify knowledge production go beyond a window-dressing/Benetton operation? How can we move beyond merely adding some colour and other markers of ...

Epistemic Diversity | From ‘do no harm’ to making research useful: a conversation on ethics in development research by Karin Astrid Siegmann

Ethical dilemmas are part and parcel of the research processes that researchers are engaged in. This article details a recent conversation between ISS students and staff in which they tried to make sense of some of the ethical issues that researchers face. While the ‘do no harm’ principle was emphasised as an overall yardstick, the discussion went beyond that, raising broader questions about epistemic and social justice.


With thanks to Andrea Tauta Hurtado, Zhiren Ye, Kristen Cheney, Roy Huijsmans and Andrew Fischer.


Scholars in Development Studies are quick to brag about how relevant their research is for the underdogs of society. The reality is that representatives of marginalised groups rarely knock at our office doors to ask for scholarly support. In fact, development research often does harm by justifying economic and social inequalities, reproducing stereotypes and stigma, and misrepresenting or even erasing knowledge about the lives of marginalised people.

How can scholars prevent such harm from being done through their research? This question was discussed by ISS students majoring in Social Policy for Development and staff members in a workshop on “ethical, integrity, and security challenges”. The discussion aimed to prepare ISS students for their fieldwork. While in our conversation the ‘do no harm’ principle was emphasised as an overall yardstick for our research, the discussion went beyond that, raising broader questions about epistemic and social justice.

Challenges to informed consent and ensuring anonymity

Roy Huijsmans’ example from his masters’ research on Dutch school-going children’s employment experiences illustrated that research participants’ informed consent is crucial, but also complicated by the power relations structuring the research arena. Teachers in his former school had facilitated meetings with their students. Several of these students, in turn, had expressed interest in and consented to participating in Roy’s study. When conducting telephone interviews with these children, however, in some cases parents became suspicious: who is that adult male calling their child? Roy’s experience raises the issue of whether it is adequate to understand informed consent individually. If not, what role do we give to the—in this case generational—power relations wherein consent is embedded? Can ethics protocols that require consent from parents or other gatekeepers alongside children’s own answer these questions?

In my own research, class-based power relations motivate special attention to research participants’ anonymity. Referring to a recent study on working conditions in South Asian tea plantations, I flagged that if workers’ and unionists’ statements could be identified, this could lead to their dismissal or worse outcomes. Our research team addressed this concern by not providing names—neither of people, nor of research locations. Andrew Fischer challenged me: would that really prevent identification? It is likely that few people are probably willing to stick their necks out as labour leaders, making those that do more easily recognisable.

One student followed up and asked how she could protect the identity of chemsex users— people having sex while using hard drugs—whose experiences she plans to investigate. Referring to the do no harm principle, Roy encouraged her to reflect on the consequences of research participants’ names leaking out: the Dutch government tolerates illegal drug consumption. Hence, in the current scenario, enforcement agencies are unlikely to arrest users. However, such political priorities can easily change over time. Andrew therefore recommended the anonymisation of transcripts, with their key to be stored outside the computer.

The quest for epistemic justice and diversity

In recent years, I have become increasingly concerned with the responsible representation of the lives, concerns and demands of the people who participate in my research, or, put differently, with epistemic justice. For instance, how will I represent the plantation workers who generously shared their experiences in our tea study? In a way that responds to the academic pressure to publish in highly-ranked journals with specific theoretical fancies? Or do research participants’ concerns guide my writing? This relates to questions that Marina Cadaval and Rosalba Icaza raise in their earlier post on this blog: ‘who generates and distributes knowledge, for which purposes, and how?’

Other participants in the discussion shared this concern for a fair representation. The student who engages with chemsex users’ experiences was acutely aware of the role of race in her research. In exploratory interviews, she learned how race shapes the exercise of power in chemsex users’ sexual relationships and how it either enables them to get support from or bars their access to the healthcare system. How to do justice to participants’ narratives without simultaneously repeating and reinforcing the underlying stereotypes?

For me, one way to deal with this quest for epistemic justice has been to engage in processes of activist scholarship, i.e. in collaboration and joint knowledge production with people who struggle for recognition and redistribution. Activist scholarship involves moves towards epistemic diversity, challenging the widely assumed supremacy of scientific knowledge heavily produced in Northern academic institutions. For instance, I have been involved in the campaign of a Florida-based farmworker organisation for making the Dutch retailer Ahold sign on to their programme for better working conditions in US agriculture. In dialogue with that organisation, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), I have written about lessons from that campaign for how precarious workers can effectively organise. Sruti Bala points out that this implies ‘to listen to articulations radically different from the frameworks that I may be trained in, but more than good listening is required in order for those articulations and insights to translate themselves into what we might call knowledge’. These processes of listening, dialoguing and learning didn’t lead to “consensus-based writing”, though. We had disagreements and I tried to make them visible in my writing.

Besides, there may be internal power hierarchies within the movements with which we collaborate. My colleague Silke Heumann earlier warned that through our decision of who participates in our research and who doesn’t, we run the risk of reinforcing existing power relations and of legitimising an elite’s perspective of a movement.

This approach may not be feasible for a masters’ thesis. What is possible in most cases, though, is to get research participants’ feedback on, critique and validation of how they understood our conversations or my wider observations about their lives. Time is a key resource in this effort to respect their knowledge as experts on their own lives. Taking time for research participants—rather than racing from one respondent to the next—enables us to conduct research in a more responsible manner. I want to integrate this principle more and more in my research due to the belief that this not only helps to prevent harm. Over and above that, it enables me to treat my research participants and their concerns with care. The more time I plan and spend for engagement with those who participate in my research, the greater the likelihood that it will embody epistemic justice.


 

This article forms part of a series on Epistemic Diversity. You can read the other articles here and here

csm_5abd70057687ec5e3741252630d8cc66-karin-siegmann_60d4db99baAbout the author: 

Holding a PhD in Agricultural Economics, Dr Karin Astrid Siegmann works as a Senior Lecturer in Labour and Gender Economics at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam in The Hague, the Netherlands. She is the convenor of the ISS Major in Social Policy for Development (SPD).

(How) should scholars say what humanitarians can’t? by Roanne van Voorst and Isabelle Desportes

In January this year, a long day of interviewing aid workers involved in the Myanmar Rohingya crisis revealed that these aid workers often refrain from talking about the human rights ...

Toward ‘fisheries justice’?: the global ‘fisheries crisis’ and how small-scale fishers are fighting back by Elyse Mills

The global ‘fisheries crisis’—in which fish stocks are depleted, environmental destruction has reached an apex, and small-scale fisheries are disappearing—is causing irreversible damage to both the fisheries sector and communities ...

Resistance and persecution: fighting the politics of control by Salena Tramel

Social justice movements from around the world are pushing back against a shift toward nationalism, extraction and environmental destruction. Those who resist increasingly do so at risk of great personal harm, arrest and indefinite jailing as political prisoners, or the criminalisation of their movements as a whole. Even so, the resistance not only remains steadfast, but is also steadily gaining strength.


Introduction

The rise of destructive and reactionary political power impacts people and ecosystems across many global settings. These shifts in control, characterised by a resurgence of racist and nationalistic rhetoric and policies, a redoubling of environmental exploitation and even climate change denial, and a renewed expansion into and pillaging of indigenous territory, represent urgent challenges for social movements and activists. Although these contemporary pressing issues have some distinctive new features, they are rooted in past forms of injustice, whether that be borrowing from the colonial playbook or amplifying the privatisation schemes of the more recent neoliberalism, such as free trade and deregulation.

At the same time, these are precisely the dynamics that cultivate resistance. Social justice movements from around the world are pushing back against this shift toward nationalism, extraction and environmental destruction. Those who resist increasingly do so at risk of great personal harm, arrest and indefinite jailing as political prisoners, or the criminalisation of their movements as a whole. Even so, the resistance not only remains steadfast, but is also gaining strength, in places as diverse as Brazil, Honduras, and Palestine—countries featuring violent, conservative, reactionary and acquisitive governments.

Power grabs in Brazil

Gaining political control starts with power grabbing—a concept to which the sprawling country of Brazil is no stranger. Power grabbing in the form of smashing intricate peasant leagues occurred during the military dictatorship, and it continues to this day. Most recently, the parliamentary coup that ousted a democratically elected president and relegated authority to an unelected and corrupt right wing was the ultimate seizure of power.

Under such corruption and disregard for democratic processes, social movements suffer even more intense criminalisation. This has often included the pre-emptive imprisonment and even assassination of peasant and indigenous leaders, most notably those connected to the Landless Workers Movement (MST) that is arguably the largest and most important state-level peoples’ movement in the Americas.

Nearly twenty-two years ago in April 1996, 19 activists from the MST were killed by the Brazilian military police in what would come to be known as the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre. Now, more than two decades after the massacre, the Brazilian government tends to treat activism—especially that which takes place in the countryside—as a criminal activity. Mining in Brazil, much like logging, is strongly opposed by peasant and indigenous movements as one of the greatest threats to the world’s largest rainforest while championed by the powerful nexus of state, business, and lobbies.

These massive power grabs contextualised within a definitive push for right-wing exclusionary populism have spelled trouble for seekers of social justice. The MST as a whole is increasingly criminalised and its members imprisoned. This is due in large part to the peasant movement’s relentless efforts towards agrarian reform, for which its activists can be arrested without evidence.

Resource grabs in Honduras

Power grabbing is indeed oftentimes connected to resource grabbing, yet another piece of the overall political dynamics of control. Although resource grabbing, in the form of taking away peoples’ rights to water and land, have been fixtures of injustice for centuries, this phenomenon has recently taken new shapes under globalisation. More specifically, powerful states and their militaries tend to prey on the weak points of former colonies for their own financial and political gains. As the case of Honduras warns us, when intertwined with power grabs, resource grabs become even more deadly—especially for those who resist.

Honduras, however, has vast alliances—peasant, environmental, feminist, LGBTQ, indigenous, Garífuna (Afro-indigenous), and labour struggles that engage in multiple forms of resistance, from land occupations to human rights documentation to interfacing with the state. The criminalisation of these movements and imprisonment of activists is routine.

In Garífuna communities along Central America’s Caribbean coast, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) has been at the forefront of resistance to what has become an attack on their ancestral resources and cultural identity from all sides: sea, water, land, and forest. OFRANEH uses organizing tactics from community radio broadcasts to land occupations, all of which the government has noted and responded to with violence. The group’s leaders face threats or instances of imprisonment on falsified charges on a daily basis. OFRANEH’s vice president Alfredo López spent six years in prison before finally being released for ‘lack of evidence’ and intense international pressure in 2015.

Control grabs in Palestine

In Palestine, power grabs and resource grabs have resulted in the ultimate manifestation of enclosure—control grabbing. First by British Empire, and then by Israeli occupation, Palestinians have been continually squeezed out of their homeland, and those who remain are subject to various forms of violence and discrimination.

The current hard-line political climate in Israel has increased the Israeli government’s stronghold on Palestinian lands. This amounts to territorial restructuring in the forms of illegal settlement expansion and transfer of Israeli citizens into occupied Palestinian territory, in the case of the West Bank, and increasing restricted access zones and militarised attacks, in the case of the Gaza Strip. These and other forms of control perpetrated by the Israeli occupation are likewise made possible and maintained through outside military and financial support.

Palestinian human rights defenders and social movements pose one of the biggest threats to maintaining and proliferating the occupation, a fact that has not been lost on the Israeli government. The result has been a trend of mass incarceration, including administrative detention, where people are held in prison for months or even years without charge or trial, supposedly because of ‘secret evidence.’ The Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association in Palestine, Addameer found that as of July 2017, 449 Palestinians were being held without trial or even charge.

One such political prisoner held without charge is Abdul-Razeq Farraj, a leader in the Union of Agricultural Works Committees (UAWC). Farraj has spent more than 16 combined years in Israeli prisons, most of them under administrative detention. Most recently, he was wrested from his home and family at midnight on May 24, 2017, and has been held without cause ever since. Abdul-Razeq’s work with UAWC has been focused on improving the lives of Palestinian farmers, whose suffering is in large part due to confiscation of land and water resources and repression under Israeli occupation.

Grabbing back

The struggles in Brazil, Honduras, and Palestine are indicative of politics of control—and resistance—that are happening all over the world. In Brazil, the coup government has chosen corporate-driven economic growth, privatisation, and corrupt politics through power grabbing rather than respect for democratic processes and the well-being of its low-income populations, particularly peasants and indigenous peoples. Honduras, a fragile state in the wake of a coup, bears the scars of external influence, and these wounds are most pronounced in the form of unchecked natural resource grabbing.

And in occupied Palestine, one of the world’s few remaining colonial projects continues with no end in sight; in the absence of statehood or any meaningful form of political sovereignty, the Israeli occupation has become the extreme expression of control grabbing. In each of these cases, oppressive states and business interests use a variety of tools of repression, from criminalisation and the creation of political prisoners, to physical threats and assassinations.

Winning back sovereignty and achieving justice are the political tasks at hand in these and other cases around the world, and ones that movements and activists take seriously—no matter how high the stakes. From Brazilian mass movement building to pinpoint alternatives and retain the countryside, to Honduran reclamation of natural resources through food sovereignty, agroecology, and climate justice, to relentless Palestinian efforts of upholding international law and defending human rights, people are challenging destructive political orders. Doing so is a collective act of resilience and resistance, ‘grabbing back’ in order to move forward in uncertain times.

What you can do

Grassroots International, a U.S.-based non-profit, supports small farmers and producers, Indigenous Peoples and women working around the world to win resource rights: the human rights to land, water and food. Grassroots works through grant-making, education, and advocacy. The Landless Workers Movement (MST), Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), and Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) are among its global network of partners.


The unabridged article originally appeared in Huffington Post and can be read here


picture_2Salena Tramel is a PhD researcher at the ISS, where her work is centered on the intersections of resource grabs and climate change mitigation, and the intertwining of (trans)national agrarian/social justice movements. In addition to her research at ISS, Salena draws on her global experience with social movements and grassroots organisations to inform her work as a policy and communications consultant and freelance journalist. Prior to joining the academic community at ISS, Salena served as the program coordinator for the Middle East and Haiti at Grassroots International, where she oversaw two key geographical areas while developing pro-poor advocacy strategies at the US/UN levels.

The Hague Peace Projects: practicing peace and justice by Helen Hintjens

The Hague Peace Projects: practicing peace and justice by Helen Hintjens

How can peace and justice be embodied? How can we move from thinking about societal problems to taking concrete action to bring about change? The Hague Peace Projects, a program ...