Guantanamo Hunger Strikes – Peace, Violence, and Food

On this blog, we usually explore the power to promote peace through food. The recent situation in Guantanamo Bay, however, illustrates how food can be used as a tool for both nonviolence and violence.

While we can cultivate peace through food, food can also be used as a tool for nonviolent protest as it is by the hunger striking detainees. The refusal of food is one way the detainees can exercise their free will, and in refusing food, they take on suffering which may have the power to humanize themselves in the eyes of their captors. This is the power of nonviolence, and Gandhi used hunger strikes numerous times throughout his life as strategies for nonviolent change.

In this case, food also becomes a torture device, as the detainees’ wish to refuse food – one of the few choices and freedoms they can make in their conditions – is denied, and they are dehumanized and degraded in the process. Food actually becomes a form of violence, as you can read from the above linked article from the Guardian that describes in detail how the detainees are being force fed.

Right now, 100 out of 166 detainees are participating in the hunger strike. 

According to a Washington Post article:

The American Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross have said they oppose force-feeding. They cite a declaration by the World Medical Association that states that “where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.”

Obama defended the practice Tuesday, saying, “I don’t want these individuals to die.”

It would seem that are alternatives to force feeding, if the above statement by Obama is true.

The intersections of peace and food continue to abound….

Music to Spread the Word on Peace Through Food

It’s amazing just how many popular education tools are being created to spread the word about the importance of healthy eating, citizen engagement, and food systems these days.  Here are just a sampling of some of the latest (and oldies but goodies):

Mufaqarah Part 13: Exit

I came to this region of the world not knowing what to expect. I had very little knowledge of the area, rather on purpose. I came with an open mind as much as possible. I came to see.

There is a cartoon character whose name is Handala. The reader never sees his face because he is always watching, looking into the cartoon. He does other things sometimes but mostly he just watches, with his hands behind his back. In Palestine, mostly, I watched and listened to see what was happening.

A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus.
A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus. Continue reading

Creature Comforts: Feeding Time

Creature Comforts was originally a short film produced by Nick Park and Aardman Animations showcasing animals in the zoo in a documentary-style series of interviews about their living conditions.  The actual interviews were conducted with residents of a senior’s home and a housing estate, offering poignant, unscripted views on life and space, which were then complemented by stop-motion claymation, giving each interviewee an animal persona.

This later spin-off is an episode of the TV series Creature Comforts, in which interviewees discuss their eating habits.  It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at the way we carry out our lives and the thoughts we have about our own behaviours. Enjoy!

If you just can’t get enough, here’s a seasonal Creature Comforts clip Continue reading

The Artichoke

by Pablo Neruda
translation by Jodey Bateman

IMG_8729The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
Unshakeable,
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Uncurled
Their tendrills and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red mustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
Artichoke
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Burnished
Like a proud
Pomegranate.

IMG_8722

And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
Were
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.IMG_7984

But
Then
Maria
Comes
With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She’s not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Bottle
Of vinegar
Until
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

IMG_8719

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Then
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

Mufaqarah Part 12: Paradise lost

The grain harvest continues in the South Hebron Hills. It meanders along week after week as people take their time, harvesting the grain by hand, grazing fields with sheep and pass around the threshing machine. There is no rain or cold coming soon so there is no hurry. The situation here is in sharp contrast to the Canadian harvest in which a chance bit of rain can cost a farmer a great deal of money and deadly cold of winter is approaching.

The neighbor across the valley is threshing square bales of grain. People in Canada don’t use square bales much anymore, and if they do then it is for hay, not for grain. It seems funny to me that you would make and transport bales of grain rather than threshing the grain immediately, shipping the seed and putting the chaff back in the field or feeding it to an animal nearby. But suppose you wanted to ship the straw somewhere as well? It makes sense to use a square bale. People here don’t seem to grow hay.

On this side of the valley we’ve purchased some wheat to eat. I mentioned earlier, way back in the 6th article of this series, that Mahmoud’s family purchases their wheat instead of growing it. It is purchased as animal feed, presumably because that is the cheapest way. The chopped straw, which is actually added after threshing because animals appreciate some straw in their grain, has to be removed by hand. The grain is submerged in a tub of water and the straw, which tends to float to the top, is taken off. There is a little bit of corn mixed in and I wonder where it comes from since I haven’t seen much corn growing here. After taking the straw out, the grain is dried and inspected by hand to look for rocks and other debris. This intimate and labour intensive process for preparing grain is almost unimaginable in Canada, where grain is planted and harvested by huge machines then purchased by most people with it’s germ and skin removed, pre-ground, preserved and bleached.

Drying the grain
Laying the grain out to dry. Continue reading

Happy Thanksgiving!

For those in the US, today is a time to come together for a big meal with family and friends and give thanks for the abundance in our lives.

As you sit down to your Thanksgiving meal this year, take a moment to reflect on where your food came from, for the many hands the food passed through, for the bounty that nature provides for us, for the hard work and love that went into the meal.

YES! Magazine has put together a beautiful poster called A World of Thanks, which provides pre-meal sayings from various cultural traditions. Perhaps these prayers and phrases can provide you with some inspiration for today’s meal and throughout the year.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with gratitude, food, love, and peace!

Mufaqara: Reflections and Gifts

Living the resistance in Susya.
After the excitement of the last entry, I think it’s time for some quieter agrarian observations. I’m entering the last quarter of my time here so I’ve been able to see a little bit and can make some comments on some issues that will interest farmers and permaculturalists. Apologies to those of you who aren’t as interested in the technical side of peace and agriculture.

The farming system here has three major crops: grain, olives and sheep/goats. There are some auxiliary things as well like vegetables such as cucumber, tomato and zucchini. Some people in the village keep turkeys, and there are young fruit trees around. Let’s take a look at the major crops, just as a way to examine the system.

I love the olives. From a Permaculture point of view, they are wonderful. They are a native plant, which means they are well used to the area, including the climate, and resistant to local would-be pests. The olives are fairly easy to harvest by shaking the tree. Their oil is really healthy and tasty. The olive while it is on the tree is quite bitter, and therefore resistant to things that would like to eat it. But soaking it in water leaches the bitter substance and the olive becomes good to eat. In other words, the olive is uniquely well suited to human use because none of the other life out there is really able to process the olives into tasty food. This makes it easy to grow because there aren’t a whole lot of others trying to eat it before we do. The farmer here get about one tenth of the harvest per area as US growers do which suggests room for improvement as far as a cash-strapped farmer is concerned. However, olive growing nevertheless seems a popular occupation.
Settlers swim in the cistern of a Palestinian orchardist in order to provoke him while he watches.
Settlers swim in the cistern of a Palestinian orchardist in order to provoke him while he watches.
Olive tree destroyed by settlers.
Olive tree destroyed by settlers.

The grain in this area is often wheat, meant for human consumption. In Mufaqara it is mostly barley, meant for the livestock. In any case, Palestine is part of the Fertile Crescent and grain is, although domesticated and therefore genetically changed, a native crop. There is no doubt that the centuries of breeding have heavily modified the plants but they nevertheless remain deeply suited to this climate. Grains are well matched to the rain cycle; they grow up during the rainy season, and ripen during the dry season. In a place like south eastern Ontario, Canada, there are constant problems with rain during the harvest time, and often lack of rain during the growing period. Not so much in Palestine, although I suppose the yield of both straw and grain could be raised by careful water management. Such management wouldn’t be difficult if the people here could secure sovereignty over their cisterns and water table. Continue reading

Mufaqara 10: Avigail

When I return from Bethlehem there is a neighboring shepherd who has decided that it’s time to graze his fields right next to the outpost known as Avigail. Outposts are small Israeli settlements inside the West Bank, unrecognized by Israeli law.

Avigail is only a few years old, in contrast to Mufaqara’s considerable age. Yet Avigail has a normal electrical system, running water and plenty of above ground buildings. There is even a pizzeria. None of this is allowed for Palestinians. The campaign that Mufaqara is running to build their own above-ground houses and infrastructure brings this point in frequently; they are simply trying to implement the same systems that they see their neighbors building. Throughout the history of the Palestinian village’s struggle, they have timed their efforts to coincide with their neighbors in order to highlight this point. For example, when the Israeli neighbors got electricity, Mufaqara saw this and subsequently built their own power pylons with clear public statements that if the colonizing Israelis are allowed to install electricity, native Palestinians should be able to do so also. The Israeli military destroyed Mufaqara’s power pylons and left Avigail’s alone.

It’s this sort of treatment, where Israelis are allowed to do things that Palestinians aren’t, that results in the term “Israeli Apartheid”. There are all sorts of rules like this, even streets that Israelis can walk down but Palestinians can’t, roads that only Israelis can use. Normally only Israelis are allowed to build wells, have water towers, have a normal electrical system, leave Palestine without permission and last, but not least, own guns.
Some people don’t like the term “Israeli Apartheid” because it implies that Israel is a legitimate state. I see their point but at least I think the second part is very apt, and I might mention that this is affirmed by the government of South Africa.

In this context, Avigail is sitting on the hill next to Mufaqara, a technically illegal settlement which is left alone because it is populated by Israelis rather than Palestinians. As we are about to see, it is not only left alone but supported and helped to expand by a willing Israeli military.

As I previously described, but am happy to repeat, the way outposts like Avigail expand and take over more land is by scaring farmers away from their borders with intimidation or direct violence. Then, when the shepherds or olive orchardists have been unable to access their land for three years, the land is declared abandoned. The government then takes it and hands it over to the settlers. The process iterates with new borders. Emphasis is laid on areas that will amalgamate existing colonies and cut the Palestinian territory up into isolated sections which have difficulty coordinating and resisting the advancing colonization. You can recognize this as the old tactic of Divide and Conquer manifested in a physical way (as opposed to the also common psychological divide and conquer techniques). I’ve written previously how this is happening to Bethlehem, which is being prepared for an economic siege by surrounding it with settlements, and how Mufaqara is in between two colonies which are trying to amalgamate.

The shepherd we are with today is foiling this process of land appropriation by using his land and documenting it, despite intimidation from one of the strongest armies in the world. He is a non-violent resistance fighter.
Operation Dove with the shepherd, to the right you can see a building of Avigail.Operation Dove with the shepherd, to the right you can see a building of Avigail.

Two people from Operation Dove and myself are accompanying the shepherd to document the process. Continue reading