United Nations

In a lecture Monday, Teófilo Altamirano, visiting professor in social science from the Catholic University of Peru, emphasized the relationship between climate change and forced human migration.

At the event, hosted by The Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, Altamirano listed three forms of forced migration — seasonal, temporary and permanent — that occur as a result of climate change. He also said global warming affects those who are not migrating.

“Any type of professional will be touched by these global warming situations”, Altamirano said.

Altamirano said 80 percent of displaced people prefer to go to cities, and 20 percent relocate to refugee camps. He said the pressures cities will face in the future as a result of forced migration include water and housing shortages.

June Gunaratne, an international relations and global studies senior, said there is a lack of attention regarding global warming in America. According to Gunaratne, global warming does not simply apply to one region or population, but rather all regions and populations.

“Global warming affects people much more in other regions of the world than in America,” Gunaratne said. “[But] global warming is huge and impacts everyone and everything.”  

Business freshman Darrell Sung said he thinks global warming is not yet a cause for concern.

“Global warming is an issue for the future,” Sung said. “As of now, people shouldn’t be too worried about it.”

Altamirano also spoke about last month’s United Nations Conference of Partners in Lima, Peru, which provided a forum for countries to discuss climate change.

In his recap of the conference in Lima, Altamirano discussed the United Nations’ lack of assistance to the forced migrants of global warming.

“The United Nations recognizes victims of war in Syria, but why don’t they recognize environmental migrants?” Altamirano said. “That is a fault of the United Nations.”

According to Altamirano, United Nations officials’ promotion of this year’s UN Summit on Climate Change in Paris is a positive step toward climate change reform. Altamirano said governments would need to meet certain requirements before attending the summit. 

What constitutes a classroom? For Archer Fellows, the classroom is the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian and the top of the Washington Monument. The classroom transcends physical spaces — the classroom is 2 a.m. conversations on living room floors and it is a vibrant GroupMe that is abuzz with political (and non-political) insights and jokes. Education that transcends the traditional classroom facilitates constant curiosity and learning. The Archer Fellowship Program, founded in 2001 by former Congressman Bill Archer, creates a space for experiential learning by bringing together UT students for a semester of living, learning and interning in Washington, DC. Each semester, 40 students are selected from across the nine participating UT System schools for a semester in the nation’s capitol. I am grateful to have served as an Archer Fellow last fall where I constantly had the opportunity to learn from my peers in the program, from my work with the United Nations and from the city itself.

The Archer Fellowship Program houses students in historic townhouses minutes away from the Supreme Court and U.S. Capitol. The opportunity to live and take classes with students from attending different UT System schools is a unique one. Despite attending schools within the same University system, students from across the various UT campuses typically have little academic interaction. As an Archer Fellow, I got to hear perspectives from students attending UT Pan American and UT-Brownsville on the merging of the two schools and learn about the culture and traditions of nine different UT System schools that were represented.  

The Archer houses quickly become a microcosm of D.C. itself, with students interning at the White House, the Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol, government agencies, think tanks, NGOs, IGOS and in the private sector. Household and traditional classroom conversations with Fellows interning at these various organizations served as a model for understanding how different stakeholders in DC work together to examine issues and solve problems. 

During my semester as an Archer Fellow, I worked at the United Nations Information Center, one of 63 United Nations Information Centers around the world, each dedicated to serving as a resource to the country within which it is located. The mission of the United Nations Information Center in Washington is to serve as a focal point for UN news and information for the US government, NGOs, civil-society organizations and the American people. I was specifically working on outreach by developing a pilot project that frames the world’s news through the lens of the UN and consolidates various UN initiatives into one easy-to-read email product. I also designed and delivered presentations on the UN’s work to colleges in and around D.C. and performed research on issues like South Sudan and the Post-2015 Goals. 

The city of Washington served as a space for learning in itself. One Archer course, “Historical Memory and the Building of Washington,” took us to the very spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech and had students deliver lines from that speech to the class. In this course, we visited memorials and museums across the city and learned how to examine our own humanity in the context of the political and social realities that we (and the monuments) reside within. 

Like many programs where students spend time away from their home universities, participation in the Archer Fellowship Program comes with a certain level of privilege. Many students in the program expressed frustration with the higher cost of living in D.C. (in terms of food, housing and transportation) and noted that there was a subtle divide between those who could more easily afford to live in D.C. and pursue primarily unpaid fulltime internships and those who could not. An explicit acknowledgement of this divide, along with an increase in financial support for students hoping to pursue learning away from their home universities, can help mitigate this issue going forward. 

The Archer Fellowship Program reconceptualizes traditional notions of classrooms by emphasizing the opportunity for learning that is contained within each moment. As I begin my spring semester back on the 40 Acres, I will remember that classrooms can be created within all of the spaces that I occupy and that it is important to contextualize my learning in the real world. 

Kumar is a Plan II junior from Austin.

Editor's Note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this letter left out a paragraph. It has been added to the bottom. 

Patrick Higgins and Kelly Houck believe they are correcting the record by responding to my article, but they are doing nothing of the sort. To begin with, Higgins and Houck claim that Gaza is so small, that any warnings Israel gives before bombing a target are irrelevant. This ignores the fact that Gaza is far from as densely populated as alleged. Moreover, Israel's bombs are precision in nature. If someone receives a roof knock and a text message, they need only leave the house. There are numerous photos and plenty of video across the Internet of the targeted nature of Israeli bombs, including its targeted bombing of a Hamas terrorist on a motorcycle.

Higgins and Houck are correct that Israel has bombed hospitals, schools, and shelters. However what is not mentioned is that Hamas has used Shifa Hospital as its headquarters and sent bombs from hospitalsschoolsshelters and mosques.

Contrary to what Higgins and Houck say, Israel does not target entire villages for the hell of it, no matter what Wikileaks says. What Higgins and Houck cited was one military commander's opinion and has not been actual IDF policy. And as far as the UN document that was cited  this was a biased report that has since been disavowed by the author of the report, Judge Richard Goldstone. He claims essentially that if he had known then what he knows now, he would not have written the report as it was. 

Now, the one accurate statement in the entire article that I could find from Higgins and Houck is that the video I linked to was inaccurate, as it "merely" showed Hamas beating members of Fatah. Mea culpa (the video was inaccurately labeled). But it does not change the fact that Hamas has fired from shelters that Gaza civilians flee to (thereby turning them into a target), has urged its own civilians to be human shields and proudly even has a manual on how to use human shields.

Higgins and Houck cite casualty figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, which the UN relies upon. This agency is run by Hamas. And this same UN has three times been caught with Hamas rockets in UNRWA schools and then later returned the rockets to Hamas. They are hardly neutral. And moreover, this ministry claims that all the dead are civilians due to the obvious PR benefit. This story has been played out before, during Cast Lead, the 2008 Gaza War. And later it was proven that the Israeli casualty figures were accurate and Hamas casualty figures inaccurate.

Higgins and Houck claim that Israel is a "colonialist expansionist settler" regime and Hamas is engaging in "self defense." I assume that the nearly 8,000 Jews who were forced from their homes in 2005 would beg to differ. They further claim that there is a "siege" on Gaza. I am sure that the hundreds of truck drivers daily delivering aid from the Kerem Shalom crossing (thousands of tons of aid just this week, despite Hamas firing at the Kerem crossing) would take issue with this.

Finally, it was alleged that I somehow read my points from a handbook  this is false and libelous. I could equally ask Higgins and Houck where they found their points. Instead of engaging in an honest discussion, Higgins and Houck have decided to engage in the false Zionist conspiracy argument. I don't know perhaps it just is beyond their comprehension that every day citizens who read the news would want to defend the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, under fire every day.

Higgins and Houck claim that Hamas has disavowed its charter and would accept a two-state solution. It never said anything of the sort. It only has said they are okay with a "hudna." This is an Islamic term and it means a temporary truce to rearm and reload. On "Charlie Rose," Khaled Mashaal admitted that even as Hamas could temporarily accept a "two-state solution," it would never give up its demand for 100 percent of Israel.

Raquel Reinstein, New York City, in response to "Response to Texas Stands with Gaza piece offers up shoddy talking points in defense of Israel."

Editor's Note: Due to an editing error, a number of links were excluded from the original version of this firing line. They have been added to the parenthetical sentence discussing the bombings carried out by Israel on Gaza in the run-up to Operation Protective Edge.

In a letter in response to Dania Hussein’s recent op-ed on the Texas Stands with Gaza protest, Raquel Reinstein makes apparent her conviction that there is not a single horror that cannot be rationalized by mere mention of the word “Hamas.”

In attempting to paint a portrait of a “democracy” defending itself from “terrorists” — the thousands of Palestinians bombed into dismemberment, post-traumatic stress and death are the necessary collateral for such a task, you see — Reinstein makes several assertions. Each assertion contains wild disinformation.

We will address them in turn.

Reinstein claims that the Israeli Defense Forces send “leaflets and text messages in addition to performing roof knocks to prevent civilian deaths.” She leaves out the geographic realities of Gaza that render escape impossible. Gaza comprises 139 square miles and hosts a population of roughly 1.8 million; each of its borders is closed to them, by the Israelis to the north, east and west (where Israel patrols the seas), and by Israel in coordination with Egypt in the south.

During Operation Protective Edge, the name of Israel’s latest bombing campaign and land invasion, the entirety of the territory has been under fire. (Those who do escape death have to attempt life amid destroyed infrastructure.) As The Washington Post reported, the kinds of spaces bombed by Israel have included “an evacuation shelter, cemeteries, a school, mosques and al-Aqsa Hospital…” Under such conditions, Israel’s leaflets amount to a PR move, and a particularly sadistic one at that.

But communiqués leaked by Wikileaks reveal that Israeli commanders themselves do not observe strict differences between civilians and combatants, rendering each of Reinstein’s claims pertaining to the matter irrelevant. In one document, Major-General Gadi Eizenkot is described as referring to Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine, “an already approved plan” to “use disproportionate force upon any village that fires upon Israel,” treating them not as “civilian villages,” but as “military bases.” In other words, Israel targets entire villages and justifies it by labeling civilians “militants.”

In another leaked document, a mentioned UN report, investigating nine cases involving UN sites in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead of 2008 and 2009, details Israel’s history of blatant disregard for human life. The report found that “the IDF breached the inviolability and immunity of UN premises, that such inviolability and immunity cannot be overridden by demands of military expediency, and that the IDF did not take sufficient precautions to fulfill its responsibilities to protect UN property and personnel and civilians taking shelter therein.” So here is a case, investigated by the UN, in which Israel did not even take the most basic of precautions to avoid civilian deaths.

Reinstein insists there exists footage of Hamas beating Palestinians attempting to flee a warzone. The description for the video to which she links says the footage depicts Palestinians attempting to leave an area after receiving warnings from the IDF. In fact, the clip is taken from a 2009 German documentary about Hamas and the footage depicts moments from the 2007 inter-Palestinian conflict between Hamas and Fatah. This conflict involved acts of brutality from both sides, but we suggest readers consult “The Gaza Bombshell,” an article published in Vanity Fair, to get an idea of the role played by Israel and its allies, particularly the United States, in creating and fueling that conflict in an attempt to divide Palestinian leadership. The Bush administration funded and helped to plan Fatah’s armed coup attempt against Hamas in order to undermine Palestinian democracy after Hamas gained an electoral advantage through peaceful means.

In Reinstein’s warped logic, Israel’s 2005 “withdrawal” from Gaza was a showing of peace, even though it marked the beginning of Israel’s brutal siege policy. A popular phrase to describe the condition of Gaza under the siege is “open-air prison”; this descriptor is accurate. To us the transformation of Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison does not much sound like peace; it sounds like a form of terror.

Reinstein’s letter brings up the worn-out talking point that Hamas in its charter incites anti-Jewish sentiment. We see no need to discuss the 1988 Hamas Charter here, as it is not politically operative. Hamas official Khaled Meshaal has stated as much. He has also stated that Hamas would accept a two-state solution along the 1967 borders. We do not necessarily endorse this solution and accept that it is a matter for Palestinians to decide. Nonetheless, we would like the facts of Hamas’ political program to be known.

The video clip provided by Reinstein to bolster the claim that Hamas wants to destroy Jews, featuring Hamas official Osama Hamdan, does not contradict the policy outlined above. In the clip, Hamdan makes clear that Hamas does not have any problem whatsoever with Jews. Hamas takes issue with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, he says.

Apparently, the terror facing Gazans is, according to Reinstein, a “blockade” rather than a “siege.” Both words in fact apply. The blockade keeps goods out of Gaza; the policy accelerates into siege routinely, as Israel swoops into Gaza and drops bombs upon it at will. (Israel had bombed Gaza just about every month of this year, before Protective Edge began, in January, at least three times in February, March, April and June.) But we will not press the matter too far — we are happy to leave Reinstein to split hairs about whatever word for collective torment fits her propaganda best.

Reinstein says Hamas shoots at aid trucks coming in through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. No evidence for this claim is provided other than IDF testimony. Some materials make it into Gaza, and Gazans are, we suppose, expected to jump for joy, for their imprisoners weaken them by starvation rather than outright kill them by starvation. (As the past weeks have shown, Israel has plenty of other means to kill Palestinians outright.) Still, documents obtained by the BBC show the extent of the cruelty of Israel’s policy, including commissioning reports to find out the absolute minimum of calories possible to keep Palestinians in Gaza alive.

Finally, on the casualty numbers. They are provided to international media by the UN, which works with the Palestinian Ministry of Health (obviously), and also has representatives in Gaza. Reinstein’s source, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center, is located in Israel. It determines the “occupation” of the deceased by running Internet searches. Its reports do not provide links to the exact pages it uses as sources. We wonder why, as this would have provided us with the opportunity to examine them and make our own judgments.

Reinstein’s “arguments” are not even arguments; they are talking points, astonishingly easy to take down. There was leaked a handbook, published by The Israel Project, advising Israel supporters on the most effective language to use—in other words, a PR guide. Reinstein parrots these guidelines to parodic levels, from her opening display of empathy (page 4 of the handbook: “Show Empathy for BOTH sides!”) to her insistence that the beginning of Israel’s siege policy was a showing of peace (page 9 of the handbook: “Despite making an overture for peace by withdrawing from Gaza…”).

We are happy to have addressed Reinstein’s points in order to expose their extreme shoddiness. But we reject more than Reinstein’s points; we reject the very premises on which they were forwarded. The assumption undergirding Reinstein’s letter is that if it can be shown that there are weapons in Gaza, and some Palestinians operating them, the destruction of Gaza and the mass slaughter of its population can be justified.

The population in Gaza is comprised of refugees, created by the establishment of the State of Israel, and their progeny. As targets of an expansionist settler-colonialist campaign, removing them to make way for a growing population of Israeli settlers, they have yet to be granted a homeland. As a population of refugees, they lack a formal military to protect them. Those Palestinians who have taken up arms to protect their families in (illegally, to be redundant) occupied land have been labeled “terrorists” by Israel, the United States (Israel’s chief funder) and much of the international media. In this paradigm, the Palestinian right to self-defense has been assumed impossible. We do not only think the Palestinian right to self-defense possible — we insist that recent events prove more than ever its necessity.

We reject the idea that so long as Palestinians do not passively accept their fate and stage themselves as eternal victims, their cause for self-determination cannot be defended. We simply refuse to affirm the premise that Palestinians are subhuman.

Higgins and Houck are graduate students in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. They are both from Austin.    

Horns Up: Why would the UN want the Alamo, anyway?

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson had the correct reaction to the recent outbreak of Internet indignation over the prospect that the United Nations might declare the Alamo a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some conservative commentators have frantically accused the UN of trying to “take over” the ill-fated rebel fortress from the Texas Revolution. The UN’s policies “follow Santa Ana’s [sic] dictatorial rule rather than the values the Alamo defenders died for,” one website, infowars.com, wailed. “Bureaucrats from China or France could oversee and influence the Alamo’s operation.” 

“Horse hockey,” declared Patterson in response to the backlash. “It’s a tourism designation indicating it’s a place of historic significance. That is all.”


Horns Down: Perry laments drama, lacks any self-awareness

Gov. Rick Perry says he’s had enough of a House special committee on transparency’s investigation of UT System Regent Wallace Hall. According to the Texas Tribune on Wednesday, Perry called the heat on Hall “extraordinary political theater.” We find it rich that a legislative committee is being accused of theatrics by a man who goes barnstorming around the country with doom-and-gloom ads about their states’ real or imagined economic turmoil and who in March urged his regents to stand up to the “charlatans and peacocks” criticizing them at the time. Go ahead, Perry. Defend your appointee, but don’t be surprised if your past drama ends up taking center stage instead.

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote on what would be the first U.N. treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar international arms trade after Iran, North Korea and Syria blocked its adoption by consensus.

Assembly spokesman Nikola Jovanovic told the Associated Press on Monday that the resolution to adopt the treaty requires support from a majority of the 193 U.N. member states.

Since the treaty had strong support when it was brought before U.N. members last Thursday its approval is virtually certain — unless there are attempts to amend it.

For more than a decade, activists and some governments have been pushing for international rules to regulate the estimated $60 billion global arms trade and try to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters and organized crime.

—Compiled from Associated Press reports

This December 2012 file photo shows Syrian refugees who fled their home in Idlib due to a government airstrike from Syria to Turkey, in Cilvegozu, Turkey.  Turkey is home to nearly 200,000 Syrian refugees in camps and has been funding and managing the refugees, whom they have sheltered in 17 camps.

BEIRUT — Syria’s accelerating humanitarian crisis hit a grim milestone Wednesday: The number of U.N.-registered refugees topped 1 million — half of them children — described by an aid worker as a “human river” of thousands spilling out of the war-ravaged country every day.

Nearly 4 million of Syria’s 22 million people have been driven from their homes by the civil war. Of the displaced, 2 million have sought cover in camps and makeshift shelters across Syria, 1 million have registered as refugees in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, and several hundred thousand more fled the country but haven’t signed up with the U.N. refugee agency.

The West has refrained from military intervention in the two-year-old battle to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, a conflict that has claimed more than 70,000 lives, and many Syrians hold the international community responsible for their misery.

“The refugee numbers swelled because the world community is sitting idly, watching the tyrant Assad killing innocent people,” said Mohammed Ammari, a 32-year-old refugee in the Zaatari camp straddling Jordan’s border with Syria. “Shame, shame, shame. The world should be ashamed.”

Despite an overall deadlock on the battlefield, the rebels have made recent gains, especially in northern Syria. On Wednesday, they completed their capture of Raqqa, the first major city to fall completely into rebel hands, activists said.

But with no quick end to the conflict in sight, the refugee problem is bound to worsen, said Panos Moumtzis of the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR. The number of uprooted Syrians is still lower than those displaced in other conflicts, including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans, but the Syria crisis will likely be protracted, and widespread devastation will make quick repatriation unlikely.

“We fear that the worst may not have come yet,” Moumtzis said.

The exodus from Syria picked up significantly in recent months, turning into a “human river flowing in, day and night,” he added. The number of registered refugees doubled since December, he said, with some 7,000 fleeing Syria every day.

Many refugees moved from shelter to shelter in Syria first before deciding to leave the country, while others were driven out by the increasing lack of basic resources, such as bread and fuel, in their hometowns. In the hardest-hit areas, entire villages have emptied out and families spanning several generations cross the border together.

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — The U.N. and African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan says more than 100 people have been killed and other 70,000 displaced from their homes because of recent tribal warfare in Darfur.

The United Nation-African Union Mission in Darfur says in a report issued Thursday that the deaths and displacement resulted from clashes between the Abbala and Beni Hussein tribes in Jabel Amir, the site of gold mines in North Darfur state in western Sudan.

Darfur has been in turmoil since 2003, when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. Rights groups charge the regime retaliated by unleashing Arab militias on civilians.

The U.N. estimates that 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been displaced in the long-running conflict.

Palestinians celebrate as they watch a screen showing the U.N. General Assembly votes on a resolution to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority to a nonmember observer state, In the west bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012. The U.N. General Assembly has voted by a more than two-thirds majority to recognize the state of Palestine. The resolution upgrading the Palestinians’ status to a nonmember observer state at the United Nations was approved by the 193-member world body late Thursday by a vote of 138-9 with 41 abstentions. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinians erupted in wild cheers Thursday, hugging each other, setting off fireworks and chanting “God is great” after the United Nations granted them, at least formally, what they have long yearned for — a state of their own.

The historic General Assembly decision to accept “Palestine” as a non-member observer state won’t immediately change lives here, since much of the territory of that state — the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — remains under Israeli control.

Yet many Palestinians savored the massive global recognition — 138 of 193 General Assembly members voted “yes” — following decades of setbacks in the quest for Palestinian independence in lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

“It’s a great feeling to have a state, even if in name only,” civil servant Mohammed Srour said standing in a flag-waving a crowd of more than 2,000 packed into a square in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “The most beautiful dream of any man is to have an independent state, particularly for us Palestinians who have lived under occupation for a long time.”

After the euphoria over the vote, Palestinians will return to their harsh reality. They lack most trappings of statehood, including control over borders, airspace or trade. In a further complication, they are ruled by rival governments, one run by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and the other by the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Yet, Palestinians say the recognition isn’t just symbolic and that U.N. recognition will strengthen their hand in future talks with Israel, which has lambasted the the Palestinian move as an attempt to bypas such negotiations.

The warm embrace by the international community could also help Abbas restore some of his domestic standing, which has been eroded by years of standstill in peace efforts. Hamas, entrenched in Gaza, has seen its popularity rise after holding its own during an Israeli offensive on targets linked to the Islamists there earlier this month.

After initially criticizing the U.N. bid as an empty gesture, Hamas has come around to supporting the popular move, with reservations.

Palestinians in the coastal strip also celebrated the vote, though on a smaller scale than after the massive eruption of joy in the streets after last week’s cease-fire deal with Israel.

DOHA, Qatar — An area of Arctic sea ice bigger than the United States melted this year, according the U.N. weather agency, which said the dramatic decline illustrates that climate change is happening “before our eyes.”

In a report released at U.N. climate talks in the Qatari capital of Doha, the World Meteorological Organization said the Arctic ice melt was one of a myriad of extreme and record-breaking weather events to hit the planet in 2012. Droughts devastated nearly two-thirds of the United States as well western Russia and southern Europe. Floods swamped west Africa and heat waves left much of the Northern Hemisphere sweltering.

The dire climate news — following on the heels of a report Tuesday that found melting permafrost could significantly amplify global warming — comes as delegates from nearly 200 countries struggled for a third day to lay the groundwork for a deal that would cut emissions in an attempt to ensure that temperatures don’t rise more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) over what they were in preindustrial times. Temperatures have already risen about 0.8 degrees C (1.4 degrees F), according to the latest report by the IPCC.

MICHAEL CASEY,AP Environment Writer
Karl Ritter contributed to this report.