Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gaza's writing on the wall

by Toufic Haddad
In the Gaza Strip graffiti is not only tolerated but encouraged For years, law enforcement agencies throughout the world have engaged in local crusades against what they regard as the scourge of graffiti. New South Wales in Australia recently passed an anti-graffiti law that could see juvenile offenders jailed for up to 12 months. New York state has made it illegal to sell spray paint to anyone under 18, and Singapore has even physically canned graffiti artists as punishment. But when it comes to the Israeli occupied and blockaded Gaza Strip, local government not only tolerates graffiti, but actually provides workshops on how artists can improve their technique.

Part propaganda, part art

Hamas facilitates the work of its graffiti artists - even purchasing spray paint for them.

The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, fully facilitates the work of its graffiti artists - from purchasing spray paint, to inviting artists to work on choice locations. Elaborate, colourful calligraphy brightens the drab streets and alleys of the Gaza Strip's densely populated towns and refugee camps. Most is political in nature, inscribing slogans of defiance against the Israeli occupation, or commemorating fallen martyrs. Some is apolitical, congratulating newly weds on their marriage, or pilgrims who have completed the Muslim obligation of Hajj.

Graffiti in Gaza is by no means the sole domain of Hamas. All political factions control crews of artists to prop up their influence and credibility. Part propaganda, part free-standing works of art, Gaza's graffiti is deeply ingrained in the local society's historical and political fabric. "During the first Intifada we had no internet or newspapers that were free of control from the Israeli occupation," explains Ayman Muslih, a 36-year-old Gaza graffiti artist from the Fatah party who started painting when he was 14 years old.

"Graffiti was a means for the leadership of the Intifada to communicate with the people, announcing strike days, the conducting of a military operation, or the falling of a martyr."

The graffiti Muslih and others put up on Gaza's walls was strictly controlled by each political party and their respective communications wings. Select individuals were delegated to hide their identities by covering their faces with scarves and to brave the Israeli military-patrolled streets to put up specific slogans.

"Writing on the walls was dangerous," recalls Muslih. "I had good friends who were killed by Israeli soldiers who caught them." Spray paint colours became associated with each political group, with green preferred by Hamas, black by Fatah, and red for leftist groups.

The competition for popular support and leadership of the first Intifada was visually expressed in the amount of real estate each political party's graffiti was able to capture. First Intifada graffiti never developed too much artistically however because by nature it needed to be produced in as short a period of time as possible, to avoid detection.

Public gallery
The graffiti of the second Intifada developed more artistically than that of the first

After the Palestinian Authority (PA) established itself in Gaza in 1994, more traditional means of communication with the local population took root, including national newspapers, radio and television stations and mobile phones. While the more relaxed political atmosphere during the peace process was indeed more conducive to the retreat of political graffiti, the phenomenon never fully disappeared, perhaps because its function could not be so easily replaced by the traditional means and boundaries of political commentary.

The PA's arrival also created the conditions for graffiti to evolve qualitatively. The Israeli army's re-deployment outside most of the main Palestinian towns and refugee camps gave artists the time and space to better prepare and deliver their work. Thanks to a $5mn Japanese donation to the PA to white wash miles of Gaza's graffiti strewn roadways, a graffiti artist's perfect canvas and public gallery emerged. With the eruption of the second Intifada in 2000, Gaza's graffiti culture re-emerged in full force.

Arsenal of tools

The factional competition between Fatah and Hamas and the steady flow of Palestinians killed by the Israeli occupation, created limitless material for graffiti artists who experimented with large murals commemorating the dead, or much smaller, but reproducible stencils.

Hamas particularly sought to take the discipline of graffiti art to new levels, seeing it as a part of the organisation's arsenal of tools to propagate its world view, including promoting a resistance agenda against Israel (as opposed to the negotiations approach of the PA), and propagating the Islamisation of Palestinian society. Hamas began offering courses for graffiti artists that trained them in the six main Arabic calligraphic scripts, known as al Aqlam aSitta: Kufi, Diwan, Thulth, Naksh, Ruq'a and Farsi. Delivery of high-quality calligraphy graffiti was part of the religious movements' more general reverence for the Arabic language, the sacred language of the Quran.

Tagging for the partyGaza's graffiti culture has just been documented in a new book by Swedish radio and photo-journalist Mia Grondhal, who has been visiting and reporting on the region for more than 30 years.

Although never previously the focus of her news reporting, Grondahl began paying closer attention to Gaza's graffiti during the second Intifada when she became increasingly impressed with its evolving quality.

"It was some of the best graffiti I've seen, especially the calligraphy," notes Grondahl. "This is mainly the work of Hamas who are very careful about how they write the Arabic language. Fatah artists do not feel the same because they are a secular party, and to them it's not so important how you write, but what you write." For Grondahl, Gaza's graffiti tells a story that goes beyond the typical catchphrases that tend to be repeated about the Strip and its people.

"Gaza's graffiti is so integrated into the society which makes it very interesting. You're not out there tagging just for yourself. You are tagging for the party you belong to, the block you belong to, for a friend who is getting married, or a friend who was killed. It's an expression of the whole range covering life to death."

All photographs by Mia Grondahl.Mia Grondahl is a Swedish radio and photo-journalist based in Cairo. She is the author of Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics (University of Cairo Press, 2009).
Toufic Haddad is a Palestinian-American journalist based in Jerusalem, and the author of Between the Lines: Israel the Palestinians and the US 'War on Terror' (Haymarket Books, 2007).
Source: Al Jazeera

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Radio Victoria Threatened Once Again

Radio Victoria received a new threat today by email sent out to 17 different people including the priest Padre Luis. The sender's email address is: and it says the sender is exterminio pacificrim.

The threat:
"we sent 2 into the hole, now the question is, who will be the third, maybe Father Luis or one from the radio, not a bad idea to continue with one of those big mouths at radio victoria, we are not playing around we demonstrated that we have the logistic capacity and financing to deal with whoever, it doesn't matter if you have a battalion of police taking care of you like dogs, we will do it when we like, the deaths will continue and no one can stop the vengeance that's begun, we prefer that the 3rd be someone at the "pinche" radio, we are not playing around, this is the new wave of warnings after taking care of Ramiro"

The Ramiro is Ramiro Rivera from the region near Radio Victoria. He was murdered on December 20, 2009.

Written by Hector Berríos
Monday, 21 December 2009

[Note: UDW first reported on Ramiro Rivera in August, when he miraculously survived an attack where he was shot eight times in the legs and back. A Real News report released at the time aired footage of a Rivera interview. The attack occurred weeks after the assassination of Marcelo Rivera (no relation) in Cabañas, El Salvador and marked the beginning of an open season on activists opposed to mining in the area. Here we re-print the testimony of Hector Berríos of MUFRAS-32, an organization that has accompanied many of the anti-mining groups in their struggle for justice. A longer article on the assassination of R. Rivera and its significance in light of the ongoing struggle against Pacific Rim's mining efforts is forthcoming. --ed.

December 20, 4:00pm - Hitmen gunned down and killed our compañero Ramiro Rivera Gomez, Vice president of the Comité Ambiental de Cabañas, [Cabañas Environmental Committee], in the Canton of Trinidad, city of Ilobasco, Cabañas. Rivera was a leader in the resistance against the Pacific Rim Mining Company.

He was active in raising consciousness about the company’s actions, and was one of the first persons who suffered attacks by Pacific Rim employees. On August 7th, 2009 Rivera was victim of an assassination attempt in which he was shot in the back eight times. It was a miracle, thanks to G-d, that he survived. This latest event can be added to the assassination of Marcelo Rivera, ASIC member, the threats to our colleagues at Radio Victoria, the kidnapping and assassination attempt of Father Luis Alberto Quintanilla, threats made against the director of ADES as well as those against the fellow members of CACA and MUFRAS-32.

It is most striking that two security guards, members of the Witnesses and Victims Protection Unit of the National Civil Police, were accompanying compañero Ramiro Rivera Gomez, and were unable to do anything to evade the death of our colleague.

Furthermore, neither suffered injuries and the assassins injured a fourteen year-old girl that was with Ramiro Rivera. We must remember that earlier this year, on Thursday, June 18, at the “El Molino”cut-off, in the municipality of Ilobasco, Department of Cabañas, environmental activist Gustavo Marcelo Rivera Moreno, was seen for the last time. His lifeless body was rescued from a well on June 30th, with clear signs of torture.

The forced disappearance, followed by torture and assassination of Marcelo Rivera, as well as that of Ramiro Rivera Gomez, is part of an increase in violence in the municipalities in Cabañas, ranging from death threats and kidnapping attempts against the men and women that have organized to halt the Pacific Rim mining project.

The violence that has fallen upon the communities is worrisome, but equally worrisome and outrageous is the disfunctionality of the State institutions that are charged with directing and carrying out criminal investigations, of which we can affirm by the response of the Organized Crime Unit of the Attorney General and the Sub-director of the National Civil Police, Officer Mauricio Landaverde, who in our meeting with him told us that we should stop speaking out and that these were all just common crimes.

The gravest thing that this Officer on various occasions has expressed, including in the presence of the head of the Organized Crime Unit of the FGR, Rodolfo Delgado, in an irresponsible and rushed manner, and without any investigation, was when he stated “that the [Marcelo Rivera murder] was the result of common violence and that there is no indication of intellectual authorship”. These statements have been made without following any other lines of investigation that would establish a true motive for the [Rivera’s] assassination, while the community has turned over sufficient evidence that points to intellectual authorship.

It is essential that we raise our voices to denounce these violent acts against our compañeros who oppose the death project that Pacific Rim is directing. At the same time, we must join in solidarity with the accompaniment actions of the communities that are struggling against Pacific Rim’s mining project, which is backed by various ARENA mayors across Cabañas, and who act with complete impunity as permitted by the authorities.

It is important to state that we have denounced to the PNC and the FGR the increasingly violent terror and harassment campaign that activists in Cabanas have suffered. So much so that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in a recent resolution called on the Salvadoran government to provide protection for the lives of the involved environmentalists. In the public event when the Chancellor’s Office was notified of this, I had the chance to observe the unwillingness of the PNC and the Technical Unit, who justified their unwillingness to provide protection.

I want to add here that the FGR last week sent notification to the Radio Victoria reporters that the security measures implemented to protect them were being withdrawn. These journalists have also been subject to threats, just like Ramiro Rivera, who had received public death threats… that were carried out. There is enormous indignation among the various grassroots organizations in Cabañas. The Pacific Rim Mining Company is currently suing the government of El Salvador for 100 million dollars and is initiating a terror campaign against those who oppose the mining project.[ed. Note: the correct amount is $77 million. However, a suit by the US-based mining corp Commerce Group against El Salvador is for $100 million.]

Will the assassinations of Ramiro Rivera Gomez and Marcelo Rivera Moreno go unpunished? Are we going to watch idly as they kill our compañeros and continue to get away with it? And when will the authorities of the “government of change” decide to take action to stop to these attacks?

Héctor Berrios
Movimiento Unificado Francisco Sánchez-1932 MUFRAS-3

This testimony was translated and adapted from the Spanish original by Jason Wallach.

HI EVERYONE, here is information on how to send an email or fax, and CISPES has asked that you send copies to them, PLEASE ADD ON THAT RADIO VICTORIA IS AGAIN BEING THREATENED, we have received 2 email threats and some text messages, so please add that on to this letter or include it in whatever you like, do it as an individual or your organization or both.
keep the pressure on. also a friend in chiapas is suggesting we start a Peace Camp, something they are doing in Chiapas to help protect the autonomous communities, international and national delegations coming and staying with the groups and organizations under threat, something like the old Peace Brigades, something to think about, but more international pressure and presence is needed!!!
thanks for all you support and efforts, take care, c*.

FAX: +503 2523 7170 - Attorney General Romeo Barahona's office
Señor Rodolfo Delgado, director of the Organized Crime Unit of the Attorney General´s office:
AND please send a copy to the Human Rights Defense Office to Señor Oscar Luna:
AND IF YOU CAN a copy to the CISPES office:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Community Radio in Guatemala

The indigenous peoples of Guatemala have kept their culture through 500 years of colonization, brutal repression, and, most recently, 36 years of genocide that killed 200,000 Maya. But where brute force failed, globalization is succeeding. Mainstream Western entertainment is now flooding Guatemala‘s airwaves, hammering home the 24-hour-a-day message that Mayans should abandon their languages, their clothing, their spirituality, and their identities. And the only thing holding back this tidal wave of homogeneity is a network of tiny 500-watt radio stations.
Cultural Survival is partnering with Guatemalan nongovernmental organizations to strengthen this network of 140 community radio stations across the country, many of which broadcast in one or more of the country’s 23 indigenous languages. The stations provide news, educational programming, health information, and traditional music, all reinforcing pride in Mayan heritage. We provide the equipment and organizational expertise; they provide the people and the passion. And it’s working: languages on the brink of extinction have come back into common use; marimba music that was being replaced with top-40 songs is being played again; and people are wearing the distinctive traje that defines where they come from and who they are. But the job has only begun. A loophole in Guatemalan laws allows the police to shut down stations and confiscate equipment, and they are doing this with increasing frequency. We need your help to shore up this fragile network of protection for Mayan communities and cultures.The project has five primary objectives:
•Pressing for reform of Guatemala’s telecommunications law.
•Strengthening community radio stations’ ability to produce quality content for broadcast to Indigenous peoples throughout the country.
•Training community radio volunteers with skills in journalism, lobbying, content creation, radionovela script-writing, and Internet use.
•Assisting the radio stations and the five radio associations to build a viable network to aid in the acquisition of needed news gathering, communication, and broadcast equipment.
•Building local capacity to sustain the project beyond Cultural Survival’s five-year involvement.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Abre Tus Ojos

Abre Tus Ojos is a weekly series on Nicaragua television, made by teenagers and for teenagers. In the past the series has addressed such issues as child labor and exploitation, teen health, AIDS and youth violence.

This is a report about the series and their award from UNICEF.