Comparable conflicts?

- by Alexander Jones - 

Two weeks ago, the Green Olive Collective welcomed a crew from Apple Daily newspaper – one of Hong Kong’s largest and most well-known broadsheets. They were on a two-and-a-half-week trip throughout the region conducting interviews and filming in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Over two days Green Olive showed journalist Phoebe and cameraman Mark some of the most important and challenging areas in the Greater Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron regions. We visited checkpoints, discussed the impact of the separation wall/security barrier and chatted with local people on both sides of the divide. As well as exploring the situation here in the Middle East, we also talked about the Far East a bit as well.

Green Olive's very own Fred Schlomka poses for the Apple Daily crew

The paper is staunchly pro-democratic and operates in an often-challenging political environment. Since 1997 Hong Kong is a ‘special administrative region’ of China, governed by the ‘one country, two systems’ model. This means Hong Kong has autonomy in all issues except foreign relations and military defence, that the people of Hong Kong can – in theory – vote for their own governmental representatives in democratic elections, and that citizens travel on Hong Kong passports which usually simplifies international trips. However, the strong arm of Beijing is never far away. A nominating committee is increasingly important in preselecting candidates and critics claim those chosen are inevitably loyal to the central government in Beijing.

Phoebe told us how government censorship impacts her work and how her paper was instrumental in the peaceful, pro-democracy ‘umbrella protests’ in 2014. We also discussed the lack of coverage of the brutal Uighur ‘re-education camps’ in China’s north-western Xinjiang province and inevitably comparisons were made between the occupation of Palestine with China’s occupation of Tibet. There is certainly a lot of language that someone familiar with the situation here (or who has been on a Green Olive tour!) would recognise in Tibet’s case.

The second point of the Dalai Lama’s 1987 five-point peace plan calls for “the abandonment of China's population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people”. Even back in the 1980s, he claimed that “in the whole of Tibet 7.5 million Chinese settlers have already been sent, outnumbering the Tibetan population of 6 million.” The official line from Beijing, however, is that 90% of Tibet’s population are ethnic Tibetans. Earlier this year, UNPO, the Unrecognised Nations and Peoples Organisation, repeated an identical population breakdown to that provided by the Dalai Lama in the 1980s. Freedom House, the respected political and human rights monitoring organisation, have this to say; 

“The Chinese government’s economic development programs in Tibet have strongly encouraged ethnic Chinese migration to the region, disproportionately benefited ethnic Chinese residents, and exacerbated the marginalization of ethnic Tibetans, who have also been displaced by mass resettlement campaigns within Tibet. Ethnic Tibetans account for some 90 percent of the permanently registered population of the TAR, but many ethnic Chinese migrants have moved to the region without changing permanent residency. In recent years, officials have announced major new urbanization projects that risk further diluting the region’s Tibetan population; one such plan aims to increase the “permanent urban population” of Tibet by approximately 30 percent by 2020, with many new settlers likely to be ethnic Chinese.”

Do you think the situations in Tibet and Palestine can be compared? Let us know what you think in the comments below or on our Facebook page. Whether or not you agree with the Palestine-Tibet comparison specifically, for those who are deal with a tense political situation every day it is often difficult to realise that there may be other people experiencing similar conditions around the world. A few examples spring to mind.

Since 1988, Azerbaijan has held almost no real power over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. It is largely ethnically Armenian but officially still part of Azerbaijan, and since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994, both parties have been variously holding peace talks or engaging in border skirmishes. Each side accuses the other of ethnic cleansing and have displaced peoples living in camps as the occupation continues.

A political wall covered in graffiti - but we're not in Bethlehem!
In 1998 the Good Friday agreement ended what seemed like an intractable conflict in Northern Ireland. In a typically understated way, the conflict was known simply as ‘the Troubles’, and for decades it saw Catholics and Protestants sharply divided in frequent violence. However, to this day, huge ‘peace walls’ separate neighbourhoods in cities like Belfast and Derry/Londonderry and important historic dates to each side are often commemorated with provocative marches and bonfires. 

Elements of these conflicts probably sound familiar to many readers of our blog! It should be stressed that raising the possibility of comparing these cases is in no way meant to rank the suffering of oppressed people or to trivialise the experience of any one group. It can however be a useful tool for politicians, activists and ordinary people involved in any of these conflicts to see what has and hasn’t worked elsewhere and to better understand their own problems and what their potential solutions may be. Travelling may be the best way to learn about other perspectives and see how different people deal with what are often the same challenges.

We also hope to be able to share some of the great footage Mark took with his professional cameras and drones with you all soon!


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