This Thing Called Courage

Monday, December 29, 2008

Nightmare in Gaza

(This was forwarded by my dear friend Pam in Berlin.)


It was not possible to sleep here for two nights now. The events and the images of death and carnage of children, of policemen, of people that look like my mother and my son and my sister and my friends were simply too much. Gaza has run out of stretchers and many are now carried to hospitals (which are running out of supplies) and morgues on commercial street signs, in blankets or simply by their limp limbs. Three mosques were destroyed. I recalled the Israeli attacks on the Church of Nativity which was minor compared to this. I was watching Israel shell the University in Gaza city including its faculty of science and a residence dorm for female students and was thinking of my university and my lab and office at Bethlehem University. I was then shocked into more horrific scenes and news. In one house five young sisters killed. In another six family members including four children killed while eating breakfast. In a scene that haunted me where four children were killed with their mother, I saw rescue workers try frantically to pull the remaining surviving girl whose legs were crushed under a huge boulder from the roof. As some of them were calming her down and working hard, just next to them other workers pulled the dead body of her sister (looked like 3-4 year old). They quickly covered her but I think her sister noticed. Sometimes the dead are envied for their suffering has ended. Her suffering is just beginnig. I thought of all the thousands of relatives of all the victims and how they feel…..I thought of friends I lost and talks with people in Gaza...I thought of my mother who at 76 has seen so much suffering and still she cried at the new images of new atrocities…

My heart aches and struggles with my scientist brain. The latter wants to focus on facts and figures. The attack in its second day was in the words of Israeli leaders “the beginning” and is intended “to send Gaza back decades”. So far over 300 were killed and over 1000 injured (200 of those critically), 35% women, children and elderly. I examine numbers of homes, police stations, civil society building destroyed. I read the Al Mezan Center for human rights which rationally states that most Gaza victims are civilians [1]. But even my rational mind refuses to deal with these things. How could it handle just that one image of the young girl’s anguished pained look under the rubble of her house and so tears stream down again to to try to wash the image to no avail…..How could my mind examine rationally the statements of “leaders” saying this carnage is not the fault of the bombers and war criminals, but of Hamas!

Protests were organized around the world and more are being planned [2]. The demonstrations helped vent some frustration and we hope will herald a reawakening of the heart of humanity that has been sputtering. But we hope it will go much farther to changing the rotted system of elites in power ignoring people’s rights for political expediency and for profit.

In the Bethlehem demonstration, we pounded on the permanently closed gate of the apartheid wall with deafening sound and the soldiers in the tower started to through stun grenades and tear gas. Injuries were sustained for activists....Our lungs still ache but our hearts ache more for the criminality of the apartheid regime, and the collaboration of the world governments. The Israeli occupation army killed two protesters with live ammunition in other parts of the West Bank [3].

Can someone asks western media or the Wetsern governments ruled by elite racists who keep spouting the nonsense about "Hamas" and "rockets" (projectiles that are militarily of little use and have no explosives, killed one person this year), why targeting civilian police stations, mosques, homes with children, ports, fishing vessels, streets, and more in one of the most densely populated areas on earth murdering hundreds of civilians would be an acceptable action (I don’t say response because Israel was killing people and massacring them for 60 years before)? And what would they expect from a starving 1.5 million people to do? Especially when one million of those are refugees or displaced people denied their rights to return to their homes and lands for 60 years while settlers live across the borders on their lands in areas like “Sderot” and “Netviot”? Would they not expect some resistance from some of those? Isn’t that codified in International law for the right of occupied people to resist including violently? (note that I personally support civil forms of resistance). Even if one buys the US/Israeli government propaganda, would it be acceptable to bomb cities in Europe and the US for any perceived or actual crime of a portion of their society or even their leaders (Bush and Blair in Iraq?)?

But again I think it is not best for me to try and reason things through in such times of calamities and little sleep. I got so many letters of support but please redirect your letters and energies elsewhere. Redirect them to challenge the injustice directly [4]. Jesus made a statement directly relevant for us today:

"You are the earth's salt. But if the salt should become tasteless, what can make it salt again? It is completely useless and can only be thrown out of doors and stamped under foot. You are the world's light - it is impossible to hide a town built on the top of a hill. Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bucket. They put it on a lamp-stand and it gives light for everybody in the house.”

It is thus the time when people who claim they want peace and justice to stop talking about it and actually work for it. Put your lamp higher. It is time for real change...It is time for a world Intifada (uprising against injustice). It is time to do something concrete (like throwing our shoes at someone?)

Below are a press release from human rights organizations in Palestine (please circulate to media and politicians) and a poignant letter from a friend worth reading.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
In Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine

Urgent Release27 December 2008 Palestinian human rights community calls for international actionPalestinian human rights organizations strongly condemn the recent military attacks carried out by the Israeli occupying forces in the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008. The attacks began at approximately 11:30 am and lasted for approximately three hours. These attacks have destroyed most of the Gaza security offices including police stations, resulting in the deaths of over 200 Palestinians. More than 350 have been injured with over 120 critically. The number of deaths resulting from these attacks indicates a willful targeting of the civilian police forces in these locations and a clear violation of the prohibition against willful killings. Willful killings are a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention under Article 147 and therefore, a War Crime. Both the time and location of these attacks also indicate a malicious intent to inflict as many casualties as possible with many of the police stations located in civilian population centres and the time of the attacks coinciding with the end of the school day resulting in the deaths of numerous children.The ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip has left medical facilities in the Strip incapable of meeting the needs of the hundreds more who have been injured which will likely lead to an increase in the number of deaths. According to Israeli officials, these attacks are only the beginning of an open military campaign in Gaza. It is therefore imperative that the international community not stand in silence while Israel moves forward with impunity.Despite repeated calls from the Palestinian human rights community with regard to Gaza, the international community has failed to act. We are now on the brink of an explosion of violence as result of this failure and are pushed once again to call for action. In light of the above, Palestinian human rights organizations urge: * The UN Security Council to call an emergency session and adopt concrete measures, including the imposition of sanctions, in order to ensure Israel’s fulfilment of its obligations under international humanitarian law. * The High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to fulfil their obligation under common Article 1 to ensure respect for the provisions of the Conventions, taking appropriate measures to compel Israel to abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular placing pivotal importance on the respect and protection of civilians from the effects of the hostilities. * The High Contracting Parties to fulfil their legal obligation under Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to prosecute those responsible for grave breaches of the Convention. * EU institutions and member states to make effective use of the European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law (2005/C 327/04) to ensure Israel complies with international humanitarian law under paragraph 16 (b), (c) and (d) of these guidelines, including the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions, as well as cessation of all upgrade dialogue with Israel. Al-HaqAddameer Prisoners' Support & Human Rights AssociationAd-Dameer Association for Human RightsAl-Mezan Center for Human RightsDefence for Children InternationalEnsan Center for Democracy & Human RightsIndependent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR)Jerusalem Legal Aid & Human Rights Center (JLAC)Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession - MusawaPalestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People (PCR)Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies (RCHRS)Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC)Women's Studies CenterThe Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations' Network - PNGO ======================Letter From Jenka (US citizen married to a Palestinian who was paralyzed by an Israeli bullet in the back but continues to have hope and work for peace -- and also for our International Middle East Media Center) 12/27/08I sit in front of the computer, editing the article, trying, as always, to maintain objectivity, "Israeli airstrikes kill 205 Palestinians in Gaza" eyes begin to blur .....images of bodies, of wailing mamas screaming for their sons, of children missing limbs, hospital crews running, rushing....bodies everywhere......I can no longer see the computer screen through the tears. I think of our friends in Gaza -"Are they ok?" .....I try to think of an appropriate response: a protest at the Israeli consulate? A petition? A boycott campaign? They all seem so trivial, so ineffective. Send ANOTHER letter to my congressman, only to be rebuffed again with a form letter stating that the Congressman is in full support of Israel and their War on Terror? I'm thinking about an article I read yesterday, about Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush just last week. The article was by Ramzy Baroud, who said that the reality of the world outside the Green Zone had finally broken into the carefully-scripted press conferences of Bush lies and al-Maliki smiles.... "What also confused the script is that al-Zaidi was not al-Qaeda, or an al-Qaeda sympathizer, not a foreign fighter, not a member of the dissolved Ba’ath Party, nor was he affiliated with it in any way, and not even an Iraqi Sunni, for any such affiliation would fit perfectly in the political and media scripts that would demonize the man as an enemy of the Iraqi people, stability, democracy, freedom, and the rest of the redundant clichés. Al-Zaidi is simply an Iraqi man who has, as a journalist, highlighted the suffering of his people as politely, ‘objectively’ and ‘professionally’ as he could, and when he could no longer tolerate the lies told in the Green Zone’s ever malicious drama, he scrapped the script altogether, chucking his shoes at the main actor: This is a farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.” His words, although uttered for the first time in the Green Zone theater, echoed the voices of millions of Iraqis outside, who have chanted these words, for six long, tragic years." He was fed up! He tried to be objective, kept reporting the daily toll of deaths, the daily violence of the occupation, the never ending river of blood and bodies.....and finally, after nothing he reported changed anything, he risked his career, and his life, to break the script at the press conference and express the rage and fury of the millions of Iraqis suffering and dying in the daily brutality of Bush's war. He has been tortured and beaten senseless for his deed, by Iraqi security, who, Baroud says, "must’ve tried to impress their American security ‘counterparts’ by teaching the poor al-Zaidi a lesson in good manners, Abu Ghraib-style". here's that article: As I look again at the toll of today's Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, my eyes glance across a headline in one of the Israeli papers: "White House blames Hamas" .....and the fury and grief flow through me again. Israel drops 60 bombs on the Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of civilians, wounding and maiming many more, and the first thing the White House has to say is that it is Hamas' fault! For what? For having been elected as the Palestinian government in uncontested and fair elections? For taking the unprecedented step of engaging in a unilateral ceasefire against Israel for the last six months, which was never reciprocated or even recognized by the occupying Israeli army? For begging Israel for a ceasefire this last week, but being rebuffed at every turn? The truth is, it doesn't matter what Hamas does, it is their very existence that Israel is trying to eradicate, with full US support. The fact that there is an Islamic movement that stands in resistance to the Israeli occupation is something that Israel cannot stand, and it's clear from their targets in today's airstrikes: Hamas government buildings, police stations, municipal headquarters, offices of the bureaucrats of an elected government. And they struck during rush hour, when the streets were full, in one of the most crowded places on earth, so as to maximize casualties. And the US blames Hamas. What eventually becomes clear, to any Palestinian, or any Iraqi for that matter, is that their occupier can do anything they want, with impunity, and no matter what, they, the occupied, will be blamed. And the other thing that becomes clear, after day after day of this violence, month after month, year after year, is that the world, or at least those with the power to change anything, do not care. It's like Ward Churchill said in his post-9/11 speech that got him fired from the University of Colorado despite his tenure: if you are a person in the Arab world and you see Madeline Albright up there on 60 Minutes saying, "Yes, we know that 500,000 Iraqi children have died from the sanctions, but we think the price is worth it", well, what are you SUPPOSED to think??? There's no other conclusion that you can reach except that the piles and piles of corpses, the thousands of innocent children, do not matter to Madeline Albright, or to the American people! The American people DO NOT CARE! And no amount of objective journalism on the subject can make people care. And what now - Barack Obama is supposed to be some kind of savior and change everything? I don't think so. My email after his election was mainly just surprise that there was not another Supreme Court-decided debacle. But he's not going to change US policy toward Israel. He'snever said that he would. I think maybe people just hoped that he would, with no evidence in his record that he would - just because people want someone to save them. But his appointment of Rahm Emmanuel as his Chief of Staff, as his FIRST cabinet appointment, set the tone for what the Palestinians can expect from Barack Obama. Emmanuel's dad told an Israeli paper, "Of course my son will have a big influence on Obama regarding Israel - what, do you think he's going to be sweeping the floors of the White House? He's not an Arab!" This is the kind of outright racism that Obama's dear friend Rahm Israel Emmanuel was raised with. There's no chance whatsoever that he'll change US policy toward Israel. He's said so himself, many times. What can we do? Every day I edit articles coming out of the occupied Palestinian Territories, on the website .....will that really change anything? I don't know. But at least it's a record, documenting the daily Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people. Every week the Palestinian Center for Human Rights publishes a detailed record documenting the Israeli crimes for that week. The record of Israeli crimes is all there, verifiable and well-documented. But the US government does not, and will not, care. As far as I can tell, the State Dept. bureaucrat directing policytoward Israel is: Director of the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs Thomas Goldberger 202-647-3672 Maybe the least we can do is to flood his office with calls, demanding that the US stop supporting an illegal occupation that engages in daily violations of international human rights law and completely disregards the internationally-recognized rights of the Palestinian people. Right now, though, I kind of feel like throwing my shoes.
[3] see example here )
[4] Gaza Massacre must spur us to action (See article written even before three families were targeted killing 10 children)
[5] Videos
_______________________________________________HumanRights newsletter

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama's Choice for Invocation Causes Fury

this is from Newsday
Warren role at Obama inauguration under fire
Prop. 8 supporter Rick Warren of Saddleback Church will give the inaugural invocation, a choice that angers gay rights activists.
By Paloma Esquivel
The Los Angeles Times
December 18, 2008
Nationally known author and pastor Rick Warren has accepted an offer to deliver the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural swearing-in ceremony, drawing fury from gay rights activists and opponents of Proposition 8.Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, accepted the invitation to participate in the ceremony within the last few days, said Kristin Cole, a spokeswoman for the 20,000-member, four-campus mega-church. According to a program released by the Joint Inaugural Committee, Warren will give the invocation immediately after opening remarks by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D- California).Earlier this year, as the debate over same-sex marriage raged in California, Warren publicly endorsed Proposition 8, which amends the state Constitution to declare that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."Since the proposition passed in November, hundreds of protesters have gathered near his Orange County church to condemn the stance.Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a gay rights organization that worked against Proposition 8, called the decision to include Warren in the inauguration ceremony a "slap in the face to millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who donated for, worked for and helped elect Barack Obama president."The Human Rights Campaign, a nationwide gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, issued a letter calling the invitation a "genuine blow to LGBT Americans."In August, Warren made headlines when he interviewed Obama and Republican rival Sen. John McCain, asking about issues important to conservative voters, including abortion, same-sex marriage and stem cell research. The public interviews were televised.Earlier this month, in an interview with reporters from the Los Angeles Times, Obama answered a question about his current spiritual advisor by telling reporters he had found inspiration in a "prayer circle" of supportive clergy leaders who include Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Dallas-based mega-church the Potter's House, the Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and
Copyright © 2008, The Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Israel's Crimes Against Humjanity in Gaza

By Chris Hedges

Israel’s siege of Gaza, largely unseen by the outside world because of Jerusalem’s refusal to allow humanitarian aid workers, reporters and photographers access to Gaza, rivals the most egregious crimes carried out at the height of apartheid by the South African regime. It comes close to the horrors visited on Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serbs. It has disturbing echoes of the Nazi ghettos of Lodz and Warsaw.
“This is a stain on what is left of Israeli morality,” I was told by Richard N. Veits, the former U.S. ambassador to Jordan who led a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations to Gaza to meet Hamas leaders this past summer. “I am almost breathless discussing this subject. It is so myopic. Washington, of course, is a handmaiden to all this. The Israeli manipulation of a population in this manner is comparable to some of the crimes that took place against civilian populations fifty years ago.”
The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, calls what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza “a crime against humanity.” Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as “a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” He has asked for “the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law.”
Falk, while condemning the rocket attacks by the militant group Hamas, which he points out are also criminal violations of international law, goes on to say that “such Palestinian behavior does not legalize Israel’s imposition of a collective punishment of a life- and health-threatening character on the people of Gaza, and should not distract the U.N. or international society from discharging their fundamental moral and legal duty to render protection to the Palestinian people.”
“It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that each day poses the entire 1.5 million Gazans to an unspeakable ordeal, to a struggle to survive in terms of their health,” Falk said when I reached him by phone in California shortly before he left for Israel. “This is an increasingly precarious condition. A recent study reports that 46 percent of all Gazan children suffer from acute anemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with Israeli overflights have caused widespread deafness, especially among children. Gazan children need thousands of hearing aids. Malnutrition is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75 percent of Gazans. There are widespread mental disorders, especially among young people without the will to live. Over 50 percent of Gazan children under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live.”
Gaza now spends 12 hours a day without power, which can be a death sentence to the severely ill in hospitals. There are few drugs and little medicine, including no cancer or cystic fibrosis medication. Hospitals have generators but often lack fuel. Medical equipment, including one of Gaza’s three CT scanners, has been destroyed by power surges and fluctuations. Medical staff cannot control the temperature of incubators for newborns. And Israel has revoked most exit visas, meaning some of those who need specialized care, including cancer patients and those in need of kidney dialysis, have died. Of the 230 Gazans estimated to have died last year because they were denied proper medical care, several spent their final hours at Israeli crossing points where they were refused entry into Israel. The statistics gathered on children—half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 17—are increasingly grim. About 45 percent of children in Gaza have iron deficiency from a lack of fruit and vegetables, and 18 percent have stunted growth.
“It is macabre,” Falk said. “I don’t know of anything that exactly fits this situation. People have been referring to the Warsaw ghetto as the nearest analog in modern times.”
“There is no structure of an occupation that endured for decades and involved this kind of oppressive circumstances,” the rapporteur added. “The magnitude, the deliberateness, the violations of international humanitarian law, the impact on the health, lives and survival and the overall conditions warrant the characterization of a crime against humanity. This occupation is the direct intention by the Israeli military and civilian authorities. They are responsible and should be held accountable.”
The point of this Israeli siege, ostensibly, is to break Hamas, the radical Islamic group that was elected to power in 2007. But Hamas has repeatedly proposed long-term truces with Israel and offered to negotiate a permanent truce. During the last cease-fire, established through Egyptian intermediaries in July, Hamas upheld the truce although Israel refused to ease the blockade. It was Israel that, on Nov. 4, initiated an armed attack that violated the truce and killed six Palestinians. It was only then that Hamas resumed firing rockets at Israel. Palestinians have launched more than 200 rockets on Israel since the latest round of violence began. There have been no Israeli casualties.
“This is a crime of survival,” Falk said of the rocket attacks. “Israel has put the Gazans in a set of circumstances where they either have to accept whatever is imposed on them or resist in any way available to them. That is a horrible dilemma to impose upon a people. This does not alleviate the Palestinians, and Gazans in particular, for accountability for doing these acts involving rocket fire, but it also imposes some responsibility on Israel for creating these circumstances.”
Israel seeks to break the will of the Palestinians to resist. The Israeli government has demonstrated little interest in diplomacy or a peaceful solution. The rapid expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank is an effort to thwart the possibility of a two-state solution by gobbling up vast tracts of Palestinian real estate. Israel also appears to want to thrust the impoverished Gaza Strip onto Egypt. There are now dozens of tunnels, the principal means for food and goods, connecting Gaza to Egypt. Israel permits the tunnels to operate, most likely as part of an effort to further cut Gaza off from Israel.
“Israel, all along, has not been prepared to enter into diplomatic process that gives the Palestinians a viable state,” Falk said. “They [the Israelis] feel time is on their side. They feel they can create enough facts on the ground so people will come to the conclusion a viable state cannot emerge.”
The use of terror and hunger to break a hostile population is one of the oldest forms of warfare. I watched the Bosnian Serbs employ the same tactic in Sarajevo. Those who orchestrate such sieges do not grasp the terrible rage born of long humiliation, indiscriminate violence and abuse. A father or a mother whose child dies because of a lack of vaccines or proper medical care does not forget. A boy whose ill grandmother dies while detained at an Israel checkpoint does not forget. All who endure humiliation, abuse and the murder of family members do not forget. This rage becomes a virus within those who, eventually, stumble out into the daylight. Is it any wonder that 71 percent of children interviewed at a school in Gaza recently said they wanted to be a “martyr”?
The Israelis in Gaza, like the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, are foolishly breeding the next generation of militants and Islamic radicals. Jihadists, enraged by the injustices done by Israel and the United States, seek to carry out reciprocal acts of savagery, even at the cost of their own lives. The violence unleashed on Palestinian children will, one day, be the violence unleashed on Israeli children. This is the tragedy of Gaza. This is the tragedy of Israel.

See more stories tagged with: israel, palestine, gaza, humanitarian aid
Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, is a Senior Fellow at the Nation Institute. His latest book is Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Massachusetts' Wildlife Gets Help Crossing the Road

(We love this-- but people, keep out!!!! Wildlife tunnels are becoming increasingly popular across the country, though we still need many more. A recent trial run in Massachusetts yielded much higher use results than were expected. The photos here show a raccoon family, and a fisher cat with prey, using the tunnel. The article below is from Boston's WBUR-- click link below to hear the story and also see more pictures:

CONCORD, MASS. - September 11, 2008 - To get to the wildlife tunnels under Route 2 in Concord, you have to trudge through woods teeming with mosquitoes, ticks, and poison ivy. As you get closer, the roar of the four-lane highway gets louder."There's the entrance to the tunnel," says Lydia Rogers, who co-chairs a volunteer task force that's keeping track of how many animals use this passage."Let's go inside. See already how much the sound changes?"

The echoing tunnel is basically a concrete tube that stretches all the way under Route 2. At six feet high and even wider than that, it's easily big enough for people. In the center of the tunnel is a sandbox. When animals walk through it, they leave their tracks."We have an opossum going south, we have a chipmunk going south, a raccoon coming north, we've got a woodchuck going north. We have a frog coming north," Rogers says."This is another frog, it looks like going south. We have a mess of chipmunks, probably six or eight. Here's another woodchuck, that one's going south."Rogers checks the sandbox about twice a week to look for new tracks. She expected animals to go through the tunnels, but she's shocked by the number and types of animals that use them -- more than 30 different species."For instance, right over here -- oh, and a snake! A snake has used it," Rogers says. "Now that's so cool."

Minks, weasels, foxes, muskrats, beavers, doves, whitetail bucks. Even raccoon families and fisher cats carrying prey. All of them have used it. A lot of the animals have been photographed by infrared cameras that snap pictures when they sense heat or motion. In the three years they've been filming, the cameras have taken thousands of photos. Some of them show amazing scenes."Oh -- a deer went swimming through when the tunnel was flooded," Rogers says. "And that one to me is so remarkable because that means that deer was comfortable enough with that manmade structure that it would swim through to the other side."

The Massachusetts Highway Department built this tunnel, and three others like it in Concord, to help animals cross Route 2 safely.Fifty thousand cars a day race along this road, straight through woods and wetlands that are home to thousand of animals. If those animals can't cross Route 2, they can have trouble hunting, breeding, and raising their young. "Roadways are an obstacle to animals and the more you fragment their habitat," says Kevin Walsh, director of environmental services for the MassHighway, "you're preventing them from possibly expanding their diversity of species." Tunnels also benefit drivers by keeping animals off roads. The tunnels in Concord are monitored by a group of volunteers organized in part by the town and Sudbury Valley Trustees, a conservation group. Scott Jackson (read his papers), a wildlife biologist at the University of Massachusetts, says it's rare for wildlife tunnels to be studied as closely as this. "Often when these things are built there's very little effort put into monitoring them so you can't really tell how successful they are or are not," Jackson says. "In this case, thanks to the people in the area that came together to monitor this structure, we actually do have data." The cameras and sandbox show that Concord's tunnels are extremely effective, says Walsh of MassHighway. "It's been fantastic in that we actually have pictures of the animals using it, we have pictures of the tracks," Walsh says. "The quality of the data is fantastic. It's a success." Nature lovers such as Lydia Rogers hope that success will lead to more wildlife tunnels. Rogers wonders, though, if the tunnels could be getting even more animal traffic. That's because there's one species using them that shouldn't be."We have had people bike through, snowshoe through, walk through, some of the other tunnels they have boated through," Rogers says. Signs explain that wildlife monitoring is in progress, but some people use the tunnels anyway. And if people use them, animals might be afraid to. Because of that, Rogers prefers that not too many people know where the tunnels are. State and federal funds pay for them. In Concord, the four passages cost $400,000 out of a total road reconstruction cost of $5.4 million. Rogers says that's a deal when you consider the car accidents avoided and the benefits of reconnecting wildlife habitat."Wherever you do road construction, put in a tunnel. Okay, so you can't make it big enough for people to ride their bike through -- great!" Rogers says. "It is for animals. Just put them in." There are more than 500 wildlife tunnels nationwide and at least a dozen in Massachusetts. MassHighway says it's designing more tunnels for safe wildlife crossings.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Right Whales Gain Right-of-Way at Sea

By Beth Daley

Boston Globe Staff

For 10 years, scientists and environmentalists have fought to force large ships to slow down to avoid hitting any of the world's remaining 400 North Atlantic right whales. Starting today, ships will finally have to put on the brakes.
A new federal rule requires ships 65 feet or larger to slow to 11.5 miles per hour, or 10 knots, near East Coast ports when whales could be nearby. The lumbering, giant whales feed close to the sea surface and are at great risk of being struck by ships - especially because many shipping lanes slice across their migration routes. Whales are just now beginning their seasonal migration from New England waters to their calving grounds off Florida and Georgia.
"At long last, the ocean is going to be a little bit safer for right whales - cause for celebration among the many of us who have worked for the past decade to see this rule enacted," said Amy Knowlton, of the New England Aquarium's right whale research team.
The dark-colored whales - so named because they float when dead and thus were the "right" whale to kill for oil - have never made a comeback after being hunted nearly to extinction in the 1700s. Many of the creatures get tangled in fishing gear, but scientists say ships are now their major killer: At least one-third of all the right whales that died in the past decade were fatally injured by ship strikes. Since 2001, at least 12 right whales have been struck by ships.
While researchers have known for years that right whales were vulnerable to ship strikes, the shipping industry was loath to slow down maritime traffic, saying it would cost too much to do so.
But a growing body of evidence showed that the probability of right whales dying after being struck drops from more than 80 percent, if a vessel is traveling about 17 miles per hour or more, to just over 20 percent if the ship is moving at 11.5 miles per hour or less. The average speed of vessels in right whale habitats has been around 17 miles per hour.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent a marine speed limit rule to the White House to be finalized in early 2007, but it was held up in the federal Office of Management and Budget. It wasn't until environmentalists, Senator John Kerry, and others publicly urged its passage that the rule was released - although in slightly weaker form than many scientists wanted.
Still, few environmentalists or scientists are complaining today. They believe the rule will help save right whale lives. And that, Knowlton said, just may mean the survival of the species.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Some Nations Sign Cluster Bomb Ban

Nations sign cluster-bomb ban, U.S., Israel, and Russia refuse
Associated Press 3:17 PM PST, December 3, 2008
OSLO, NORWAY -- An Afghan teenager who lost both legs in a cluster bomb explosion helped persuade his country to change its stance and join nearly 100 nations in signing a treaty today banning the disputed weapons.Afghanistan was initially reluctant to join the pact -- which the United States and Russia have refused to support -- but agreed to after lobbying by victims maimed by cluster munitions, including 17-year-old Soraj Ghulan Habib. The teen, who uses a wheelchair, met with his country's ambassador to Norway, Jawed Ludin, at a two-day signing conference in Oslo.

OPINION: Ban the cluster bomb
"I explained to the ambassador my situation, and that the people of Afghanistan wanted a ban," Habib, who said he was crippled by a cluster bomb seven years ago, told The Associated Press.Speaking through an interpreter, Habib said the ambassador called Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who agreed to change his stance on the treaty."Today is a historic day," Habib declared.
Afghanistan's reversal even surprised the activists who are urging countries to join the pact against cluster munitions, which have been widely criticized for maiming and killing civilians."It is just so huge, to get this turnaround. Afghanistan was under a lot of pressure from the United States," said Thomas Nash, coordinator of The Cluster Bomb Coalition. "If Afghanistan can withstand the pressure, so can others."Australian activist Daniel Barty said the Afghan ambassador appeared to start changing his mind after meeting Habib at a reception Tuesday.The U.S., Russia and other countries refusing to sign the treaty say cluster bombs have legitimate military uses, such as repelling advancing troop columns.Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles, which scatter them over vast areas. Some fail to explode immediately. The unexploded bomblets can then lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children attracted by their small size and bright colors.The group Handicap International says 98 percent of cluster-bomb victims are civilians, and 27 percent are children.Organizers hoped that more than 100 of the 125 countries represented will have signed by the end of the conference on Thursday. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said 92 countries did so today.The treaty must be ratified by 30 countries before it takes effect.His country, which began the drive to ban cluster bombs 18 months ago, was the first to sign, followed by Laos and Lebanon, both hard-hit by the weapons.Britain, formerly a major stockpiler of cluster munitions, also signed the treaty, which Foreign Secretary David Miliband said showed that a NATO country can defend itself without cluster weapons.Miliband said he would urge President-elect Barack Obama's administration to reconsider the U.S. stance.The Bush administration says a comprehensive ban would hurt world security."Although we share the humanitarian concerns of states signing the (accord), we will not be joining them," the U.S. State Department said in a statement. "Such a general ban on cluster munitions will put the lives of our military men and women, and those of our coalition partners, at risk."In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said his government had decided not to join the treaty, and instead believes the issue of cluster bomb use should be addressed through the U.N. Convention on Conventional Weapons.The anti-cluster bomb campaign gathered momentum after Israel's monthlong war against Hezbollah in 2006, when it scattered up to 4 million bomblets across Lebanon, according to U.N. figures."In southern Lebanon, for more than two years, children and the elderly have been victimized (by cluster munitions)," Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Saloukh said.Activists hoped the treaty would pressure non-signers into shelving the weapons, as many did with land mines after a 1997 treaty banning them."The cluster bomb treaty will save countless lives by stigmatizing a weapon that kills civilians even after the fighting ends," said Steve Goose, arms director of Human Rights Watch.