Friday, September 26, 2014

Scotland the Brave (well 45 per cent)

UNITED in Maryhill!  Enthusiasm for Independence vote in working class Glasgow enough to overcome even long cherished differences, such as "whit team d' ye support".

IT'S over a week since the referendum in Scotland, and though I've seen and taken part in several discussions online, I still feel reminded of what the Chinese prime minister Zhou en Lai is said to have replied when asked what he thought had been  the impact of the French Revolution on western civilisation. Zhou, who was reputed to be a keen student of history, said that it was too soon to tell.

It's a nice little story, even though an American interpreter has rather spoilt the tale of inscrutable Oriental wisdom and reserve by saying that Zhou had not realised his guests were talking about the bourgeois revolution of 1789; he was thinking about the more recent student and worker upheaval of May-June 1968, which, though it did not result in a change of power, did shake up politics a bit.

Scotland has not had a revolution, nor even a wave of occupations and strikes. Its people have not even voted for independence, unless one believes the wildest allegations that the vote was rigged. But, despite all the thunder of establishment politicians and media, - maybe even to some extent because of it - some 45 per cent of Scottish voters defied warnings about jobs and pensions, and ignored appeals for the pound,  "our boys" and the Union Jack, and said YES to independence.

There was a time when that would have seemed a wild dream. Indeed when I first spent some time in Scotland, back in 1969, we on the Left still sneered that the Scottish National Party(SNP) were "Tartan Tories". A man in a Bathgate pub who, rather oddly I thought, mistook me for a Nationalist, said "Go and tell Wullie Wolfe that if he thinks he should run Scotland he had better start by paying his workers decent wages!"

Wullie, or William Wolfe was the owner of a local factory which made shovels. He had just become national convenor of the SNP, and he also stood as candidate for West Lothian that year, coming second to Labour's Tam Dalyell. That in itself was quite an achievement, and Wolfe is credited with helping his party acquire a modern image, and "social democratic" ideas. I don't know whether his workers' wages saw commensurate improvement.

But what is obvious from this referendum, and the upsurge in support for the SNP and other pro-independence parties that followed, is that the "YES" campaign did not depend on flag-waving demagogy and sentimentality, and nor was its appeal solely or even chiefly to the middle class.

On the contrary, the areas where the majority voted "YES" were Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbarton and Dundee.  All places hard hit by austerity, and places Labour would have normally counted on for electoral support. In Keir Hardie's North Ayrshire cradle it was close, 49% yes against 51 per cent

In contrast, the SNP was let down by many of its own voters
in places where working class consciousness is normally outweighed by patriotism, and profit.   (Though I notice also the YES vote was not high in West Lothian -that man in a Bathgate pub must have had his say!)

As for the idea - put around by some Lefties far from the scene who don't seem to have ventured north of the Border, nor much outside the M25 -that the nationalist appeal was anti-"foreigner" and akin to far Right parties scapegoating immigrants and minorities, I did not see any sign of this in the varied complexions of "Yes" campaigners or SNP representatives.  The first Scots-Asian to become a member of the Scottish parliament was Humza Yousef, the SNP MSP for the Glasgow region.

Though I'm no fan of Alec Salmond, I was interested to hear him criticise the last Labour government for decreeing that non-EU medical students who graduate here should not be allowed to work in the NHS, which was the only way many could pay for their studies. He promised to reverse this. I've not heard much said about this on the "Left", though it is obvious that in practice "non-EU" means non-white. Now which of the Parties is racialist?

A Scots friend who returned to his country after some years for the campaign was struck by the cheerful optimism he found in working class Glasgow neighborhoods, even bringing together traditional foes with allegiance to different football teams (see the photo he posted above). 

 A friend-of-a-friend whom I do not know but who, to judge from her surname was one of the YES campaign's more cosmopolitan supporters, writes: 
      " If you would have been on the ground here in Glasgow you would have seen a campaign of hope, of people actively thinking together about what type of world they want to live in believing that they can make it happen. Some of my favorite experiences were having conversations with 13 year old girls at our stall outside of Lidl, where they spoke insightfully about trident, defense policy, socialism and immigration - where they thought for themselves and refused to accept the status quo. At the polling station as people emerged so many of the yes voters were joyful, hopeful, voting for the first time, feeling a collective energy. The no voters as they came out were frequently angry, embittered, surly".

The one outburst of Far-Right hooliganism and violence (though it had been preceded by individual incidents and threats) came from "NO" supporters who flooded into Glasgow's St.George's Square on the Friday night. Though not all may have realised what was afoot, this crowd included supporters of the National Front and Britain First, as well as hardline Loyalists outraged that the previous week's Orange Order march in Edinburgh had failed to do the trick of provoking sectarian strife.  In contrast to the carnival atmosphere of the YES celebrations the evidence was not of people celebrating the NO vote but of thugs out for revenge. 

"Nazi salutes and taunting and jeering a much smaller and more peaceful group of Yes supporters,  fighting, terrorising ordinary people and spreading disorder in a city which until Friday night had been a carnival of fun and hope, not a carnival of hate. "
Two men set fire to a generator belonging to the Glasgow Herald, the only paper that had supported the YES vote. 
Of course, this was not typical of the ordinary voters who rejected independence. But it did happen, and it was real, unlike the imaginary threats of fear and hatred which some of our "Lefts" opposed to independence had been dreaming up. Yet for some reason they did not notice it, or regard it as significant, and some seemed to resent me mentioning it.  

Unlike Ireland, which was England's oldest colony, Scotland has been a full, if not equal, partner in British imperialism. Although the 1707 Act of Union was described as a political "job" by critics, it gave Scottish landowners the chance to export black cattle, coal and other goods to the English market, and Glasgow merchants access to colonial trade. It was the Edinburgh bourgeois then who resented the loss of parliamentary patronage and their profitable trade in luxury imports from France, against which Britain waged economic war. Glasgow, centre of Clydeside shipbuilding and textiles industries, became the wealthy second city of Empire, for all its now notorious slums. Scottish settlers, soldiers, engineers, missionaries and bankers fanned out around the world.

For several decades now Scotland has not just seen the loss of empire, and the once strong industries of which its people were justly proud, but suffered - as have regions of England, - neglect by Westminster governments for whom the City of London's financial speculation and money-laundering activity are all that counts. Scots wondering what happened to oil wealth only had to look to Norway, not some faraway utopia, but another small country, where different policies prevailed.

Adding insult to injury, the Scottish people who contributed so much blood and sweat, as well as intellect, to Britain's greatness, have to listen to ignorant gibes from southern English airheads like Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who asked "why are we paying them to eat deep-fried mars bars"  when Britain could not get decent health care? Not that health care deficiencies are anything to do with her government, of course.

So it is not really surprising that in Scotland, social resentment of neo-liberal economics and austerity policies has taken on, at least temporarily, a national form. Besides, the opportunity to aim a kick at the Old Etonians' cabinet and coalition was too good to miss.   

Cameron's Tories, who only had one MP left in Scotland, can feel relieved that the Union has survived the vote. It is Labour, which devoted months to the 'Better Together' campaign,  drafting in members from south of the border, and even wheeling out the much-abused Gordon Brown as an authority figure, which has taken a well-deserved kick in the pants.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, told the party's annual conference in Manchester that the main lesson of the referendum  was that "working people matter". The working class and especially young people had shown their interest in politics and how they had been "electrified" by the engagement.

Workers had turned their backs on Labour's advice in Scotland,  McCluskey, continued: "We can't say we weren't warned. Even after the SNP started winning Scottish parliament seats in the east end of Glasgow, some in the Scottish Labour Party clung to the mantra of wooing the middle classes. It took a referendum campaign to remind us that you ignore the hopes of the working people at your political peril."

We might add that when the boss of a Swiss-based company was threatening to close Grangemouth oil refinery and much of  Scotland with it, the Labour leadership was with the media pack attacking the union. McCluskey has taken stick for signing a climb-down agreement, but one wonders whether things might have gone differently had the workers been given strong labour movement backing, or boosted by the prospect of an independent government under pressure to back them taking the refinery over.

That might be too much to expect from an SNP funded by the likes of the Souters, of Stagecoach fame. But that's not the issue now.

 Defeated or not, pro-independence parties have received a huge wave of new members after the referendum. The SNP reports a 66 per cent increase in membership, and says those joining include not just newcomers to politics but former Labour activists who have had enough.

The Scottish Socialist Party, at a low ebb since the Tommy Sheridan scandal contrived by the Murdock press, and the Sheridan split encouraged by the English sects, has gained around 2,000 new recruits. This might tempt back some older stalwarts who had felt worn out, and be enough for the SSP to regain some Holyrood seats.

The Socialist Party in Scotland, not to be confused, nor subject of 'Life of Brian' jokes please, has emerged calling for a new "mass workers party" in Scotland. Sounds familiar? This is  the extension north of the border of the Socialist Party in England and Wales. True to previous lack of interest in the national question it interprets the YES vote in flat, economist terms, and true to previous SP involvement in Scotland it makes a call for unity specifically inviting Tommy Sheridan and his Solidarity group, and not mentioning the Scottish Socialist Party at all.

Unfortunately for this courtship, Sheridan has already called on his supporters to vote for the SNP next year, and may even be thinking of joining. Unfortunately for Sheridan, word is the SNP leadership and existing membership don't like Sheridan and would sooner do without his support. The course of true love never did run smooth.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

TUC avoids encouraging us

FULL SQUARE for the NHS. Full marks for initiative.

WE seem to be seeing off the celebrity ice bucket craze, touch wood, but an older tradition persists, of pouring cold water on anyone who shows enthusiasm for getting involved and changing things.

Some 15,000 people turned out in Trafalgar Square on September 7 for a demonstration in defence of the National Health Service that began with a group of women in the North East of England deciding to march to London following the route of the pre-war unemployed Hunger Marches. About 5,000 joined them on the final leg of their march into central London.

Next month the TUC is holding its own demonstration on October 18, which should hopefully attract much larger support, particularly with big unions and their resources to back it.  In the week leading up to it important groups of public sector workers particularly are due to take industrial action. But many trade unionists are critical of the way the TUC seems to have retreated from calls for confrontation with the government to almost ritual annual parades.

They also question the decision taken some time back by top officials that the sole theme of the October 18 demo should be "Britain Needs A Pay Rise". Some Brits, the rich and the overpaid bankers, don't need anything of the sort, they are wealthier than ever; whereas the workers who produce the wealth and provide essential services, some of them having to claim benefits even though working, don't think they are going to win a decent rise merely by walking through town asking for it.
That's not why they joined a trade union.

As the TUC leaflet for October 18 states, real wages of full-time workers in the South East of England were £2,500 a year lower in 2013 than in 2010; and in London £3,151 a year lower.  But many have also lost jobs and homes, they are being driven from the capital by soaring rents and benefit capping, they are being deprived of health services, and disabled people are facing the inquisition to try and keep their benefits.

It is necessary to defend all parts of our life, and trade unions must reach out to the unemployed and unorganised, those forced to take casual work and zero hours contacts, those struggling to get and keep a roof over their heads, the young, the old, and the disabled, some of whose own battles with callous authority have been an example in courage and audacity.

Unite community branches are one way of broadening out, and giving more people the chance to get involved, another are good old-fashioned trades councils, linking members of different unions to pursue trade unionism in the community.  In the west London borough of Ealing both Unite Community and the trades council have been active against NHS cuts, and supported protests against the closure of A&E departments at the Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals. 

In preparation for the TUC's October 18 demonstration, Ealing trades council has called a public meeting at the town hall on September 29, with speakers including John McDonnell MP, and Linda Kaucher, a campaigner against the TTIP agreements. Ealing submitted the motion adopted by this year's conference of trades union councils concerning the dangers of TTIP for the NHS.      
 (see also:

Trades union councils, trades councils to use their original and easier name, have been around since the 19th century. Though beginning with modest aims like maintaining area wage rates, their bringing together workers from different trades and workplaces also brought a broader, class outlook. It was in 1868, a year after the Second Reform Act first extended the franchise to working men, that the Manchester and Salford Trades Council called a conference at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester which  became the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Though rapidly outgrown by their offspring, the trades councils did not shrivel or become obsolete. In the 1926 General Strike, the General Council of the TUC confronted the government.  But it was the trades councils in the localities, often with constituency Labour Parties and co-ops, which became Councils of Action, conducting the struggle, sending out despatch riders, maintaining pickets and strike newspapers, and sometimes coming near to taking on the functions of government.
When it is necessary to obtain written permits from the workers' council to take a lorry across Sheffield, or when a 'workers' defence corps' is entrusted with keeping order, we have the beginnings of what historians call dual power.  

While remaining essentially rank-and-file, grass roots bodies, trades councils have not confined themselves to the parochial. Two members of the London Trades Council, George Odgar and George Howells, helped Marx start the First International, though it was Manchester and Salford Trades Council and Birmingham Trades Council which affiliated.

In 1939 it was Stepney trades council (now in Tower Hamlets) which arranged the first exhibition in Britain of Picasso's Guernica, opened by Clem Attlee, as part of its efforts to raise aid for Republican Spain.

In June 1962, Tom Durkin, secretary of Willesden Trades Council (later merged with Wembley to form Brent TUC) arranged for a young South African militant about to return home to address a trades council public meeting in the Anson Hall. It was Nelson Mandela's first big meeting here , his last before returning to capture.

Best known for its support to the Grunwick strikers, Brent trades council is much reduced in strength nowadays, as is its industrial base, but remains aware of its international responsibility, in one of the most diverse areas of Britain. Together with Asian groups we protested Brent North Labour MP Barry Gardiner's invitation of right-wing Indian politician Narendra Modi, (the visit was cancelled). Discovering we had an embassy, that of Cambodia, in our borough, we have also joined War on Want and others campaigning over the treatment of Cambodian textile workers. The adage "Think globally, act locally" might have been invented for trades councils.

Yet trades councils remain the Cindarellas of the trade union movement, short of funds and access to resources, and treated with disdain and suspicion by some full-time union officials, who do not encourage their branches to affiliate. Their attitude permeates down by stealthy whispers and asides, rather than open argument. Campaigning against cuts in west London, a colleague asked one public service branch secretary whether they'd considered affiliating. "Oh no," replied the brother, who'd evidently been briefed. "We don't want anything to do with trades councils, they are all run by Trots!"

Each year the trades councils conference is entitled to submit one motion to the TUC, and to send one fraternal, or sororal, delegate. But the delegate is not allowed to speak or vote on this or anything else, being only there in a honorary capacity. If there at all. A couple of years ago the honour fell on me to atend the TUC in Brighton.  When the chair, Paul Kenny, of the GMB, welcomed the fraternal delegate Bro.Pottins, there was slight applause, but Bro.Pottins was nowhere to be seen, having been relegated to the outer darkness of a distant balcony because I'd only been given a visitor's credential. This might have been simply an administrative mistake, but it was not remedied through the week.

I hear this year's fraternal delegate, Bridgwater postman Dave Chapple of the CWU, was slightly more fortunate,  only managing a seat in the hall because a member of the RMT delegation had not shown up.

It was the late Bob Crow of the RMT union who moved the resolution last year on behalf of the trades union councils, calling for us to be given bigger material support for  campaigning, unions to encourage their branches' affiliations, and our proper representation in the TUC.  This was passed, although TUC officials had "reservations" about the last bit, and one year later it appeared nothing had been done. So this year's trades union councils conference in Cardiff, after hearing from the TUC's Paul Nowak without quite grasping what his "reservations" were, adopted a motion essentially reiterating the call for unions' support and for the right of our delegate to participate properly, and be able to move our own motion at Congress.

Once again, after the tragic loss of Bob Crow,  it fell to the RMT to move this at the TUC, and it was seconded by Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union and supported by my own union, Unite.  Only a couple of smaller unions' delegates spoke against, and they appear to have been misinformed that trades council delegates are not answerable to anyone (we most certainly are) and under the misapprehension that they might somehow be overwhelmed by what is, after all, but one trades council delegate.

I'm sorry to hear that the ship's officers union Nautilus and the Society of Physiotherapists were worried this way, because from what I've seen of their campaigning I think we'd be glad to welcome any members they could send to our trades councils, and they might be pleasantly surprised by how much they have in common with us.

When it came to a vote it looked as though our motion might be carried, I'm told, but then TUC President Muhammad Taj decided to have a card vote, which means that unions are awarded votes according to their paid membership. This time the motion was defeated. It appears that one or two big unions whose delegations had remained shy during the debate, and even abstained on the show of hands, decided to make sure it was defeated.

Unlike the smaller unions whom they had hidden behind, these bigger organisations know the score. They can hardly fear being pushed around or elbowed aside by the puny weight of a trades councils' delegate. Their leaders know, and maybe resent, the fact that trades council activists aren't in it for their careers or privileges.

With many of their members finding themselves in the frontline of local government and NHS cuts these unions  ought to be welcoming and reinforcing the trades councils in every area as allies in the fight, able to unite public service workers with those who depend upon  their services.
Unless of course they are not too sure they want any fight, and would sooner see their members isolated and demoralised,  than encourage unity with other workers in the trades councils, whose enthusiasm and outlook might prove infectious. 


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Sunday, September 14, 2014

It's not just 'Nasty Nick'

THE BBC's claims to fair and objective news coverage took a couple of knocks this week, along with the notion by supporters that it is "our" BBC, a voice for the people, and the Right's complaint of "left-wing bias".

Citing what should have been 'privileged' information which just happened to have come into the BBC's possession, a report that a UK Treasury source said Royal Bank of Scotland(RBS) would move its headquarters to London if Scots voted for independence,  the Beeb's political editor "Nasty Nick" Robinson asked the SNP's Alec Salmond how Scots taxpayers would make up for loss of revenue from this and other firms. 

Robinson said:
“Why should a Scottish voter believe you, a politician, against men who are responsible for billions of pounds of profits?”

Indeed he might have said men who lost billions from other people's money, and were recouped by the taxpayers. Why should voters listen to someone they elected, instead?
Robinson went on to claim in his report that the SNP leader had failed to answer his questions. In fact, Salmond had answered, and in front of international media, also raising concerns about the BBC's role in a potential breach of financial regulations. He was heckled by Robinson, the BBC's supposedly unbiased reporter.  And the part of the press conference where the SNP leader  answered was edited out so as to make it look as though he could not answer.

Some reports have sided with Robinson, media people sticking together, but a less Establishment view observes:
Robinson is hard to beat when it comes to qualifications for the Westminster establishment. He was a chum of Boris Johnson at Oxford University, where he was the President of the Conservative Association. This followed his founding of Macclesfield Young Conservatives and a stint as the UK Chairman of the Young Conservatives.

Robinson does seem to have problems with opposition.

Only it is not just 'Nasty Nick' that's the problem.

Last week the Trades Union Congress met in Liverpool. Over the years, trades unions have been weakened, not just by government legislation curbing their ability to fight for their members, but by Britain's loss of jobs and industries, unemployment, privatisation and spreading casualisation and insecurity. But they still have over five million members, and some unions at least are growing. Union leaders like the late Bob Crow,  my own union's Len McCluskey, and the civil servants' union PCS's Mark Serwotka (who I'm sorry to hear is seriously ill) regularly address bigger audiences than most politicians, and are listened to with more respect.

With so many families affected by austerity and debt, no one can say that trade unionists are discussing obscure issues of no interest to the general public. Whether they represent seafarers or railway workers, airline pilots or nurses, firefighters or teachers, the delegates who speak at the TUC generally know what they are talking about, and listening to them you can get a better picture of what is happening in society than you would relying on politicians or the media.

As a trade unionist myself I have got my own criticisms of the union leaders and TUC officialdom, and I know I'm not alone. Of that more to come. Meanwhile I think the BBC should be giving the TUC more coverage, rather than less.

The TUC's general secretary is Frances O'Grady, a popular figure, very different from the old stereotypes of union leaders as boringly grey bureaucrats or grumpy old men. 

Addressing the TUC, Frances O'Grady spoke of the need to defend public services and trade union rights, and also warned that the Tories were dragging the country backward to a class-ridden "Downton Abbey-style society, in which the living standards of the vast majority are sacrificed to protect the high living of the well to do? Where the blame is heaped on the most vulnerable – migrants and claimants – while the powerful and the privileged sit pretty"

BBC viewers did not get to hear the rest of what she had to say. Whether to shut her up, or to underline her point, 'Auntie' Beeb decided that the representative of five million trade unionists should be cut off to announce that the Duchess of Cambridge was expecting another child.

Well, that's us put in our place. Let's tug our forelocks and bless the Duchess. And be thankful we can pay our license fees.

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Papuans Struggle for Freedom, but Big Business Scrambles for Profits

  BURNING VILLAGE. Indonesian troops bringing 'order' to West Papua.

The late Billie Holiday sang about the racism and lynchings in America's South,  in Abel Meeropol's song Strange Fruit. Maybe some West Papuan singer will yet record a song about the strange things fished from the sea off their brutally occupied country.

The body of Martinus Yohame was found in a sack floating in the sea near the city of Sorong, West Papua on August 26. Yohame, head of the Sorong branch of the West Papua National Committee, KNPB, had been mising since August 20.
See Report by Amy McQuire in Australia.

It's not hard to guess who might have been responsible his disappearance and death. The island of Papua/ New Guinea was carved up in colonial times.  The eastern side, having been under British and German rule, became an Australian-administered territory, but today is the officially independent state of Papua New Guinea.  Though its people remain poor and their country undeveloped, the mineral wealth beneath it have made it one of the world's fastest-growing economies in recent years. 

West Papua remained under Dutch control until Indonesian troops invaded it in 1961. With UN connivance the people's right to self-determination was ignored, in favour of a rigged plebiscite of  tribal elders selected by the Indonesian military. West Papua became a province of Indonesia, initially as West Irian Jaya. With US and British arms, the Suharto dictatorship suppressed the people, and brought in settlers from Java. 

An estimated 500, 000 Papuans were killed by Indonesian forces.  But then that's about the same as the number of Indonesian worker and peasant communists slaughtered after the CIA-backed coup which brought Suharto to power in Indonesia.

The end of Suharto's rule brought some easing of political tyranny in Indonesia proper, and West Papua regained its own name, but the Indonesian occupation remains, and Papuans can be severely punished simply for raising the flag of independence. Indonesia's rulers are intent on developing and exploiting west Papua's resources in partnership with Western business corporations.

Martinus Yohame was one of those opposing Indonesian rule of his country. Amnesty International  said his disappeance coincided with the detention of another independence activist in the lead-up to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s visit to the region. Yudhoyono was to attend a sailing event in Sorong.Yohame had reportedly staged a press conference in Sorong the day before he disappeared, opposing the President’s visit and raising the issue of illegal logging.

The KNPB were reportedly planning demonstrations, including the raising of the banned “Morning Star” flag, an act for which others have been jailed by the Indonesian government. Two school students were arrested earlier this month for painting pro-independence slogans. Amnesty says Robert Yelemaken, 16 and Oni Wea, 21, were beaten by the arresting police officers, and forced to roll in dirty water and drink paint. Yelemaken has been released but Wea is still incarcerated and facing charges of “incitement”.

Villages Burned
A new video sent out by West Papuans from the Pirime District of the Lanny Jaya Regency in West Papua shows scores of West Papuan villagers in hiding after the Indonesian military burned down their houses in a military operation.

Foreign journalists are banned from reporting from West Papua, and two French journalists are being held by the Indonesians, accused of "espionage".

This can hardly excuse the kind of fawning report published in one Australian newspaper:
"Indonesian president-elect Joko Widodo has promised to build a presidential palace on the shores of West Papua's picturesque Lake Sentani as a sign he will pay more attention to the resource-rich but troubled region.

The plan, which includes regular meetings for dialogue with Papuan leaders, has met a mixed reception from senior local figures.

A low-level armed separatist movement has racked West Papua since the 1960s, prompting a huge security presence in the province. Foreign journalists are virtually banned from going there, ostensibly for security reasons, and rampant corruption and discrimination impoverishes the Melanesian-Christian ethnic majority.

Read more:
That's from the Fairfax-owned Sydney Morning Herald.

And Tory Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said West Papuan freedom campaigners are not welcome in Australia.

But then as one Aussie comments:
"The Federal Government on behalf of all of us Australian taxpayers (which does not incidentally include the super-rich, for whom tax paying is an optional activity) gives Indonesia (read the Javanese Empire) something between $600M and $605M per year, labelled as 'aid'."

And it would seem the government and business interests are less interested in attaching human rights strings to that 'aid' than in making sure they get their money's worth (even if it is not their money) in the shape of business deals, contracts and mining concessions in Indonesia and its colony of west Papua.  

Fortunately, many Australians, and many people in Pacific island states, are taking a different kind of interest in West Papua, and supporting its people's rights.

See also:

Benny Wenda’s Statement on murder of Papuan leader Martinus Yohame

September 1, 2014
Free West Papua Campaign founder Benny Wenda in Vanuatu, 2013 Photo: Humans of Vanuatu
Free West Papua Campaign founder Benny Wenda in Port Vila, Vanuatu, 2013  Photo: Humans of Vanuatu
A public statement from Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Free West Papua Campaign founder, Benny Wenda

Dear friends, supporters and fellow Papuans.

It brings me great sadness to learn that last week, our dear friend and brother, Martinus Yohame was found murdered after being kidnapped by the Indonesian security forces in West Papua.
It is an act of extreme evil to abduct and kill someone just because they are peacefully speaking out for their human rights to self-determination and on behalf of the Free West Papua Campaign I fully condemn his murder and demand that those responsible be brought to justice.
I would like to thank Amnesty International for joining the call in demanding justice for his case and in helping to further defend the rights of our people.
Martinus Yohame was a true freedom fighter of the West Papuan people who died not for himself but for the whole nation. He will be missed by us all.
Martinus was the Chairman of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) in Sorong and always mobilised the Papuan people to resist Indonesian State oppression.
On 20th August 2014, he gave a press conference, declaring that the people of West Papua refused the Indonesian president (who was arriving near the Sorong Region).
Martinus always called publicly for a Free West Papua and strongly condemned Indonesia’s destruction of our natural environment.
Just for making such comments, Martinus was kidnapped by suspected members of the Indonesian security forces the next day.
His body was found on 25th August, floating in the sea after he was tied up and shot several times, with his face smashed in.
How can the Indonesian government claim to be a democracy when they commit such evil brutality against peaceful activists?
When I hear about the murders of more and more of my people, I am always full of sadness and grief.
How can they do this to human beings?
Tomorrow, the Free West Papua Campaign will be holding a protest outside the Indonesian Embassy in London, United Kingdom to demand justice for the murder of Martinus Yohame and an end to all the killings of our people.
We will meet at 12:00 outside the Indonesian Embassy at 38 Grosvenor Square and call for a Free West Papua.
I urge all supporters around the world to also hold similar demonstrations against the killings and in support of justice and freedom for West Papua, in memory of the life and vision of Martinus Yohame.
We lost a great freedom fighter and our hearts are full of grief but we remember that his death was never in vain and that his vision will continue to inspire the new generation of young West Papuans to stand up and struggle for freedom as he did.
On behalf of the campaign, I give my sincerest and deepest condolences to the family of Martinus Yohame, who never got to see him in a Free West Papua.
In your hearts and our hearts, he lives on today and his dream is the dream of all our people.
It was not fulfilled in his lifetime but with his spirit, and the spirit of every Papuan; we will continue to struggle on until the dream of a Free West Papua becomes a reality.
Today we cry, but I am certain that one day we will celebrate together in a Free West Papua and remember the sacrifices of the brave martyrs like Martinus, who died for our freedom.
Farewell Martinus Yohame, you have given the ultimate sacrifice for our people, dying for the freedom of West Papua.
May you rest in peace. Your struggle is our struggle and we will always remember you as we continue this campaign for a Free and Independent West Papua, once and for all.

Benny Wenda

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

How much independence can you have with TTIP?

LOTS of discussion as the date draws near for Scots to vote on independence. We hear Alec Salmond of the Scottish National Party trounced Labour's former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling in debate, the latter of course heading up the 'No' campaign.

I say "of course", though Labour's founder James Keir Hardie was in favour of Home Rule, and is being claimed by 'Yes' campaigners, even those in the SNP itself. Whereas Darling in the 'Better Together' campaign is together with the Tories whom Keir Hardie despised, as he would the war and privatisation policies of New Labour in government, of which Darling was a part.

Whatever his attitude to Scottish independence might have been, what Keir Hardie stood for, whether in his Ayrshire coalfield beginnings, campaigning in West Ham South, or entering the House of Commons with his cloth cap, was the political independence of the working class, which was why his Independent Labour Party was formed.

Friends of mine are divided on which way to vote on independence. From a working class point of view I can see arguments for and against. Having been able to boast there are fewer Tory MPs in Scotland than pandas in the Edinburgh zoo (and its no question which the public loves and prefers to see, it aint Tories!) , Scottish people smart at having to remain subject to a Tory government at Westminster elected by southern English votes. They want to defend their health services and education, and wish their country's oil wealth could have been put to better use than boosting the City of London speculators.

Far from being mere nationalists, some are internationalist; enough to want to see Scotland free to pursue its own foreign policy, establishing new friendships, while ceasing to be used as a nuclear submarine base or source of regiments for imperialist ventures around the world.

On the other hand, it is hard to see Alec Salmond and his party going that far, when he has been at pains to pledge Scotland's continued contribution to NATO and stress that the Queen, and not he or any other prime minister, would remain head of "our" armed forces.

Meanwhile, Scotland's departure would leave us weakened in England and Wales, removing more than forty Labour MPs from facing the Tories at Westminster. Not all those Scottish MPs are like Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, some of them are socialists.

All the same, I can't begrudge my Scottish comrades, who have already experienced having Scottish Socialist MSPs, the chance to give this government a kick up the jaxy and break for freedom, while they wait for us to catch up.

Looking at some of those urging a 'No' vote would be enough to persuade me to vote 'Yes'.  Who wants to stay "together" with Cameron and Boris, or Darling and Gordon?  Do Scots have to listen to no longer Gorgeous Georgie paying a return to Dundee to denounce what he called "Reds in Kilts", or to the Orange Order banging its big drums in Edinburgh on September 13 demanding a 'No' vote?
(According to blogging ex-diplomat and 'Yes' supporter Craig Murray the BBC has decided not to cover this in case it gives the 'No' campaign a bad image. Too late, Beeb, we'll do our best to spread it.)

 Something that's been interesting me since the Grangemouth dispute last year is whether an independent Scottish government elected on a mood of confidence in a better future could sit back while a private company headquartered in Switzerland threatened to close Scotland's only oil refinery and much of Scottish industry?  The SNP could not stand up to this, and the Labour Party leadership preferred to bite the hand that feeds by joining the Tory attack on my trade union.

The SNP has also backed away from re-regulating public transport, let alone restoring public ownership, and this month Sir Brian Souter boss of Stagecoach  coughed up another £1 million to party funds.  On the other hand, the Better Together campaign received a £500,000 donation from businessman Ian Taylor, chief executive of the oil trading firm Vitol, to help secure a "no" vote in the referendum.

This starts to sound almost like the 1707 Act of Union, which a Scottish historian dubbed the "job" of the century, but now as then, there's more to this than private interests, the public are not as easily bought as MPs or  parties, and a vote for independence  does not necessarily mean  a vote for Alex Salmond's party. Like the referendum in 1997 which led to reopening a Scottish parliament, it could open up all sorts of new possibilities.

"But", asks a doubter, "in what sense can either Scotland or the rest of Great Britain ever be said to be independent when we are all controlled by the banks, the EU, and the IMF etc.? " Good question. To which, without going into whether it makes any difference whether we're talking about banks on Wall Street, in the City of London, or Edinburgh, I can only say these things are relative; and that we may as well find out.

One set of initials I've not seen mentioned in this debate, nor almost any other, is TTIP, standing for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The United States and European Union have been negotiating this since July 2013, and talks could be concluded by next year.

The annual conference of trades union councils held in Cardiff on June 14-15 adopted a resolution  from Ealing trades council warning that this agreement could enable big US and multinational companies which have already penetrated the National Health Service to complete their takeover.
"If the EU and the US agree to TTIP without excluding the NHS from its provisions, the result could mean the end of the NHS as a public service. Corporations could permanently have the legal right to run health services with or without approval of the British Government. The marketisation of the NHS under the Health and Social Care Act means that the NHS will no longer be categorised as a ‘public service’ and would therefore be included in the provisions of the TTIP wich restrict or prevent national governments from determining how industries are run. TTIP can override not only health and safety, but pay arrangements, union agreements and other basic standards. The markets take legal priority".
There were assurances afterwards that the NHS would be protected ("Safe in Our Hands"?) but the negotiations have been conducted largely in secrecy, and David Cameron sacked the minister who was supposed to be safeguardung the service.

The magazine New Internationalist reported earlier this year that the TTIP and its equivalent in the Pacific would "swing the power balance away from states in favour of big business". Giving '10 Reasons to be worried about the trojan treaties',  Hazel Healy instanced US firms wanting to remove EU food-labelling laws and restrictions; US tobacco giant Philip Morris suing governments which tried to combat smoking; US investors wanting to take away workers' right to organise in unions; and moves affecting both health services and the environment. As a sign of things to come, under the North Atlantic Free Trade Area (NAFTA) agreement a US company was suing Canada for $250 million because Quebec province banned fracking.

The development charity War on Want has also warned that TTIP could endanger decades of campaigning  and legislation on issues from food safety and hygiene to banking laws and labour rights. War on Want executive director John Hilary has written a  book about it.

What is noticeable is that while trade unionists have raised concerns about this secret treaty  and campaigners have sought to make us aware of the dangers, we hear little on the media or from political parties, including those bold patriots in UKIP. It seems Farage's fighters want to defend our freedom from "Brussels Bureaucrats" and Polish plumbers, but would not dream of saying a word against big corporations.

Would an independent Scotland defend its independence against big business, or will whatever we vote for be ignored, and whatever is passed by parliaments in Westminster or Holyrood be torn to shreds by big companies and their lawyers,  under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? We might as well find out now. And demand that governments we elect should not be bound by agreements we have not seen or had a say in.  

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

International campaign for Palestinian MP's freedom

KHALIDA JARRAR campaigns for rights by democratic means - so banned by occupiers.

WHILE keeping fingers crossed that the cease fire over Gaza lasts, enabling people there to rebuild and bringing an end to the siege, we must not lose sight of the wider ongoing struggle for Palestinian rights and freedom, without which there cannot be true peace with justice for either Israelis or Palestinians.

It was on the occupied Palestinian West Bank that Israeli forces used the disappearence of three teenagers as pretext to launch a pre-planned campaign of arrests and raids on homes, before they turned on Gaza, and the repression there continues. Now an international campaign has been launched focussing on the case of one particular Palestinian political leader, Khalida Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who has been served with an expulsion order: 

"On August 20 at 1:30 AM, Ms. Jarrar’s Ramallah home was raided by 50 Israeli occupation soldiers who presented her with a “special supervision order,” written in Hebrew and read aloud in Arabic. This military order, signed off by an Israeli military court on the basis of unspecified and secret evidence, orders Jarrar expelled from her Ramallah home and forcibly transferred and confined within the city limits of Jericho for an initial period of six months; it was deemed effective within 24 hours.

"This order is a blatant injustice and is part and parcel of the ongoing Israeli occupation attempt to silence the voices of Palestinian political leaders and to confine and expel Palestinians. From the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948 – including members of Khalida Jarrar’s family – and the denial of their right to return for over 66 years; to the attempted deportation of Palestinian mayors outside Palestine; to the stripping of the Jerusalem ID’s of elected PLC members Mohammad Abu Tir, Ahmad Atoun, Mohammed Totah and Khaled Abu Arafah; to this expulsion order, there is a long line of Israeli attempts to threaten Palestinian life through displacement and expulsion.

"Khalida Jarrar has refused to sign the expulsion order, saying 'you, the occupation, are killing our Palestinian people. You practice mass arests, demolish homes, kidnap people from their homes and deport them. It is you who must leave our home.'

"She has moved to stay in a “protest tent” outside the legislative council building in Ramallah. She announced that she is going to stay and continue her work from there until the decision is revoked."

Khalida Jarrar is a political  leader in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has evolved as a campaigning left-wing party from its past as a guerrilla factions in the Palestinian national movements. Besides being an elected MP she frequently takes part in popular demonstrations, and is a former executive director of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association and member of its board. She chairs the Prisoners’ Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Khalida Jarrar has been active recently in public protests on the West Bank against the Israeli onslaught on her people in Gaza, protests which have been forcibly repressed by the Israeli occupation forces.  

Unlike Hamas, the secular PFLP has always been noted for supporting women's rights and place in the struggle, and Khalida's supporters say she has been active in the Palestinian women’s movement since her student days.  "A feminist and prominent voice for the defense and expansion of women’s rights, she is a leading organizer of International Women’s Day events in Palestine".

 “Palestinian women are full partners in the Palestinian struggle,” she emphasizes.

Since 1998, she has been forbidden to travel outside occupied Palestine. When she needed medical treatment in Jordan in 2010, she struggled for months in a public campaign before finally receiving her treatment.

Pending the restoration of  Palestinian rights to East Jerusalem, Ramallah serves as the seat of Palestinian institutions including the Legislative Assembly. Telling an elected member they cannot reside there is like banning a British MP from Westminster.

Along with the detention of many MPs and restrictions on travel it is one more way in which "the only democracy in the Middle East", as Israel likes to boast itself, makes sure Palestinian democracy cannot function, and makes a mockery of its supposed agreement towards "two states". 

On the legal aspect, campaigners say : "The forced transfer of Khalida Jarrar violates international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits so-called 'assigned residence' unless it is “absolutely necessary” and forbids forced collective or individual transfer of protected persons from one area of occupied territory to another. The military order for Jarrar’s forced expulsion contains only vaguely worded references to 'intelligence information' and 'protecting the security of the region.'"

They also note: "The invasion of Jarrar’s home and the delivery of the expulsion “special supervision order” took place within so-called “Area A,” allegedly under the complete security control of the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Agreements. Despite this, Israeli occupying forces were allowed to enter Ramallah and invade Jarrar’s home; as Addameer notes, “the so-called ‘security co-ordination’ between Palestinian Authority security forces and Israeli occupying forces allowed for the expulsion of an elected representative of the Palestinian people, an elected representative who has continuously called for an end to such ‘coordination.’”

Launched by the North American-based Samidoun network for Palestinian political prisoners, the campaign in solidarity with Khalida Jarrar claims support from over 1,000 organisations worldwide, and is winning a wide range of supporters.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Humanitarian Mission Obstructed: Detention, Interrogation, Deportation of two London surgeons

SWEE CHAI ANG was the Singapore-born surgeon who was working in Beirut, and the Palestinian Sabra camp, in 1982, when the Israeli invasion took place. Later she went to Jerusalem to testify before the Kahane Commission about the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

I was proud to share a platform with Swee at a Palestinian demonstration in south London, and she also spoke at a Jewish Socialists' Group meeting, describing how she came to be working in Lebanon, as well as her experience there.

Swee Chai Ang's parents, practising Christians, had resisted Japanese occupation during World War II. Swee and her late partner Francis Khoo, both of whom had experienced political repression in Singapore, were among the founders of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

A week ago Swee and another surgeon flew to Israel in response to an urgent call for surgeons to work in Gaza.
They were not allowed to proceed on this humanitarian mission. Here is an account of what happened:


On Monday 18 August 2014, Dr Swee Chai Ang, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Patron of Medical Aid for Palestinians was accompanied by Dr Asif Chaudry, an Oesophagogastric/ Upper GI Surgeon working at Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital and Chelsea & Westminster Hospitals, to leave for Israel. Both had responded to the call for surgeons to go to Gaza to help treat the wounded a few weeks earlier on behalf of a MAP initiative. At the time of their departure, fifteen London consultants had already applied to work in Gaza.

This initiative was broadly in line though not directly accepted as part of a broader platform supported by DFID and the UK Government in terms of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza. The overall initiative also had the personal support of the Prime Minister, David Cameron as reported by the national media. Whilst applications for Gaza entry permits had been made prior to governmental support, confirmation of approval had not been forthcoming. As both surgeons had arranged for leave from their NHS commitments as the first team, they left as scheduled with the intention of supporting the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza either through direct clinical work or the support of medical training of the doctors in Gaza. Both doctors are Specialist fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

As there have been widespread reports of the Immigration authorities at Ben Gurion airport obstructing the entry of humanitarian workers to the occupied territories in general and Gaza in particular, and driven by the overwhelming imperative to assist the people of Gaza, the doctors proceeded to Tel Aviv with the intention of travelling to Jerusalem and remaining on standby to enter Gaza through the Erez checkpoint as soon as the permits were made available. The two doctors agreed among themselves that if permits were granted prior to arrival they would declare this at immigration, expecting this to trigger a thorough interrogation; on the other hand If there were no permits granted, they would simply ask for entry to Jerusalem and spend their week’s leave as “tourists” while on standby..

As the doctors boarded an Easyjet flight from London, Luton Airport bound for Tel Aviv, Israel, it was confirmed by Medical Aid for Palestinians that entry permits for Gaza had still not been granted, but the field staff of Medical Aid for Palestinians in Gaza were in negotiation with the Israeli Authorities. The flight departed at 11:10 am. The atmosphere on the plane was very pleasant and jovial, many of the doctors’ fellow passengers on-board were from Jewish families from north London, Eruv areas, and most had children and were in a holiday mood to spend the summer break in Israel.

1. The plane landed 17:40 18 August 2014 at Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv.

2. Dr Asif Chaudry and Dr Swee Chai Ang approached the Israeli passport control, a large open area with a high ‘modern terminal’ ceiling. Asif proceeded to the desk prior to Swee arriving at the border/passport control before 18:00.

3. From behind him in the queue, Swee could see that Asif was asked almost immediately to go to the security waiting hall for further assessment.

4. The officer at the first security desk, was young, presumably in her early 20s, she was polite, smiling throughout with an engaging manner: a little chatty. Her questions covered preliminary background information and the intended purpose of the visit: Name, Father’s, Grandfather’s name. Where are you going to go, which places will you visit? Asif mentioned various historical sites in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv/ Jaffa. Where are you staying? All questions were fairly brief and polite. Who are you travelling with? The officer seemed to scroll through details on a computer terminal and entered additional details. After a short period she asked Asif to go to a security waiting area/hall and he was told his name would be called. The waiting area was at the rear of the immigration hall, a small secluded enclosure with a few seats and a couple of drinks machines, this felt relatively open but had three uniformed security officers hovering around the entry point, all were relatively young possibly of Yemenite Sephardic background, all also wore IDF identity toggles. There were three offices along an adjoining open corridor. The one to the right had the most junior officers with the seniority of interrogators increasing as one sequentially progressed to the left. The general attitude also became somewhat more aggressive and restrictive as the person progresses towards the left office. There were bathroom facilities around the corner, with a water fountain, at the initial stage of the interrogation process it was possible to access this without any impedance, as matters progressed this was restricted.

5. Swee followed Asif in the queue and travelling as Mrs Khoo was given a B2 visa on a separate piece of paper in under 3 minutes. Swee then asked the passport officer for permission to join Asif in the security waiting hall since both were travelling together. It was granted by the passport officer who remained polite and friendly.

6. Asif returned to the waiting area to join Swee. Whilst waiting they both met two young American TEFL teachers who had intended to travel to teach in Nablus (African American man and White woman, both were subsequently deported). They also met two Italian young men who were questioned for over 4 hours as they had a single UAE stamp. There was also a Palestinian man originally from East Jerusalem who now resides with his Dutch family in the Netherlands. He had travelled to Tel Aviv with a Dutch passport and was desperate to visit his elder brother in his 80s who had recently been hospitalised in Jerusalem with a brain haemorrhage and had a terminal outlook. He had been held for 4 hours, and sobbing at his predicament that despite being in his own land, possessing a Jerusalem ID and a EU passport from the Netherlands he could not enter Jerusalem for just an hour to say farewell to his brother who had raised him. He had not visited Jerusalem for 12 years, and he just wanted to hold his 85 year old brother before he died. Asif later met him again in detention as he replaced him in his bunk later that night. He was being deported back to the Netherlands and had been told by the Israeli authorities he could try fly out to Amman from the Netherlands and cross the Allenby Bridge to get to Jerusalem. This alternative exercise would take at least 24 hours and his brother might have died by the time he made it.

7. After waiting for around an hour Asif was called in for a second interview: On this occasion he was asked to enter the first room on the right where he was met by a stocky young woman in her mid-20s, somewhat dishevelled, who essentially re-entered the same data he had been asked at the first Immigration counter. In addition he was asked to write his email address and mobile phone number in capitals on a pro-forma. This was all fairly brief, less engaging and matter of fact with no real cross examination. He was asked to write down the name of his ‘colleague’. Interestingly, no mention had hitherto been made about a professional connection between the two.

8. Asif returned to Swee in the waiting area. The two waited together for another hour.

9. Asif was asked to enter the third room from the right. He was met by a male security officer, in his early 30s, accompanied by a younger man in his early 20s, both looked tired, were in plain clothes wearing Chinos and casual shirts left untucked. The room looked a little rough, with a principle desk and a smaller desk in the back left corner for the younger officer. There were two separate desktop computers, both looking fairly old. On the wall to the right of the main desk there was a large picture bearing the official emblem of the State of Israel between a photo of ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and Shimon Peres. The approach in this room was much more akin to a Police interview/ interrogation. The younger assistant took notes, subsequently looked through devices and cross referenced points on the internet.

10. Asif was questioned: So what’s this all about? Why are you here? Why now? Just tourism to Jerusalem? Which places are you going to visit? Why? What interest do you have in them? Are you married? Do you have children? Who are you travelling with? Write her name in capitals on this sheet of paper. Call her in, call her in now! Get out! Get out of this room!

11. Asif asked Swee to enter the interrogation room. The male officer repeated his questions about where the two doctors had intended to go. He knew that Swee already had a B2 visa. He referred to both as colleagues assuming that they were not friends. Asif mentioned that it was his colleague in the previous room who had used the term ‘colleague’, this made him somewhat irate shouting ‘I don’t give a damn about the woman in the other room!’.

12. The focus moved almost entirely to Swee and her activities during her last visit in May. Swee told them that she was mainly in Jerusalem visiting Christian churches, but she also visited the al-Makassed Hospital and a handicapped children’s school. This became a major thread that they probed extensively. He continued to question why Swee had become interested in Makassed, why should a tourist visit a hospital. She told them that she had stayed at the Meridien hotel during the last visit and bumped into some Doctors in the lobby who had suggested she might want to visit their hospital in the Old City, in any case her visit had only been for an hour or so and she had not conducted any clinical work. The interrogator appeared to get increasingly irate and said this was not ‘normal’ tourism, visiting a hospital. The presumption was that a one hour visit to Makassed hospital disqualified Swee as a tourist. Asif tried to explain that as doctors we often like to see hospitals and explore healthcare in countries we visit out of professional curiosity. They became suspicious and asked if the two wanted to volunteer to work Israel. Swee denied this by saying that she had no work visa, and Asif would really like to see the Old City and Jerusalem, this being his first visit. At this point Swee also remembered that she had attended a Thalassemia Conference in Ramallah and met the orthodox Archbishop then but they were not interested. At this point they were angry and shouted that we should make up our minds whether we were colleagues or friends. We tried to explain that we are colleagues but also friends. At this point they got really loud and angry and asked Asif to get out, and Swee asked them if they wanted her out too, and they said yes. They thought people who do not know the difference between friends and colleagues are liars.

13. Asif and Swee sat in the waiting hall, not knowing what to expect. Swee decided to go back in to the interrogators and apologise to them for making them so angry. They told Swee curiously at this point that Asif ”will have to calm down”.

14. Swee came out to the security waiting hall and told Asif that they wanted him to calm down though she did not think Asif was wound up at all. After some time and following discussion Asif suggested it might be worthwhile returning to apologise to the interrogator, he approached the office and asked if he could enter the response was ‘no!’ he suggested he just wanted to apologise, the Officer said ‘nothing happened, we are all fine!’

15. Asif was called in again. As soon as he went in he was asked to place his phone and wallet on the table. He was then asked in detail about the places they intended to visit, he suggested he was very keen to visit the old city, Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the quarters, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Hebron for the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Masada and if time permitted Tel Aviv itself. They repeated the same question a number of times and sought further elaboration. They asked which hotel the two were going to stay in and whether he knew anyone in Israel, the West Bank or Gaza. He told them that he did not know anyone but his friend Mrs Khoo (Swee Ang) had made the arrangements as she knew Israel and Jerusalem in particular very well. They asked briefly about his previous visit in 2009 to Syria and family visit to Pakistan 4 years earlier, they didn’t seem particularly interested in this. The focus seemed to be on potential Humanitarian activities. Asif was told to ‘get out’ once again.

16. Swee was called in and they asked the name of her father and grandfather, and how did she book the flight ticket and how are they going to St George’s Hostel. She said they had a taxi and she knew the St George’s from before and it was not difficult to find it. The two of them told Swee that they needed to verify a few things and that everything would be alright.
She was told to go out to take a seat.

17. Whilst waiting for the next phase of questioning, Swee received a text from Mark McGuiness (a MAP fieldworker) who asked about progress through immigration. Swee replied with a text saying there had been some security delays and while pressing send, she was called back in and asked abruptly who she was she texting. The officers demanded her phone and her wallet. They were upset that she only had one visa debit card in her wallet. The next question was shocking as they asked if Swee had been imprisoned and detained before. This took Swee by surprise and she replied, ‘definitely not!’ as she assumed they were referring to Israel. The next question was if she ever worked in Beirut, Swee said ‘yes a long time ago‘. They then called her a liar and turned the computer over with 2 pictures of her with a caption below saying “I was arrested, and detained without trial”. Swee recognised that immediately and realised that it referred to her arrest and detention in Singapore in 1977. Amidst accusations of lying and insults Swee explained that her late husband was a Singapore human rights lawyer and they wanted to detain him, he escaped and a few weeks later they detained her for questioning about him and his whereabouts, and that episode was 37 years ago in Singapore and nothing to do with Israel. They then examined Swee’s phone and found Mark’s text and two missed calls from the driver waiting outside and asked who these people were. Swee said Mark works for MAP and they can call him to verify the fact. Instead they spoke to the driver in Hebrew. Swee does not understand Hebrew but picked up the words St George’s. Swee understood from this that they had figured out that Swee Khoo is Swee Ang and had Googled her, finding a plethora of information on the internet about her. They also asked about the cash she was carrying for the children of Gaza and asked where the cash was since it was not in her wallet. Swee insisted that she would not allow them to confiscate the money for the children and if she cannot get into Gaza, she will give the money to MAP. They then asked Swee, where was the third doctor? Swee told them there were only the two doctors. Swee told them she understood on the morning of departure that they had still not received formal confirmation for permits to enter Gaza, but since they had taken their leave to go to work in Gaza, they would still leave and since Swee had previously been to Jerusalem she could guide Asif and they should allow them entry to visit Jerusalem. At this part of the interrogation they were joined by a third person: a female who seemed to be their senior and they reported to her in Hebrew. The only question she asked Swee was her age. They then told Swee to get out and it was then Asif’s turn to be interrogated again.

18. Asif returned to the room, he encountered the original two male interrogators and a senior female officer who he had not seen before. After repeating the preliminary questions about his father’s name, grandfather’s name and the places he wanted to visit they asked about where he intended to stay, who owned the St George’s hotel, did Asif know anyone in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Iran, and Pakistan? He said no to the first four and said he knew many people in Pakistan; they didn’t seem very interested in that per se.

19. The female interrogator asked ‘how much money are you carrying’ Asif said £1240’ she
responded ‘just for a few days?’ Why are you travelling to Israel now? Why with Ms Khoo, there is a large age gap, are you married, do you have children? Asif said he was divorced and had children who lived predominantly with their mother but he had a week off from work and wanted to spend his annual leave exploring Jerusalem as he knew a lot about it from reading and friends, Roman, Byzantine history and Islamic history but had never visited and Swee would be a great guide. They asked who Mark is. Asif was surprised by this question and said that he had never met him and he was someone Swee knew. Asif was told to fill out another pro-forma listing all of his email addresses, home and mobile phone numbers. As this was happening, the younger male interrogator started to flick through Asif’s Smartphone; He looked up and said ‘who is Ayub?’ Asif said it was his younger brother, ‘why is his WhatsApp profile picture a Palestinian flag?!’ he shook his head with disdain! There was then a series of question, referring to anyone in the WhatApp contacts who might have a connection with activities in support of the Palestinians, ‘who is Monir’: a friend involved with a Muslim Professional Organisation called City Circle. ‘Who is Nizar?’: a friend who is the CEO of Kuwait Petroleum Company. They then interjected, ‘you know, we love good doctors who help, but we hate liars! Mark has already told us you have a permit for Gaza and that is where you are going tomorrow! We have no problem at all with that! Many Israeli doctors are there now, you would have been very welcome but you ‘fucked it up’ if you need any help knowing why you are here look at these messages to your work colleagues in London!’ Asif said that whilst there had been an interest in going to Gaza for humanitarian purposes and an application had been made for a Gaza permit, as this had not been granted and he had a week off work what he wanted to do now was to visit Jerusalem, something he had wanted to do for a long time. The summary response was: ‘You cannot enter Israel!’

20. Asif returned to Swee and told her of the decision to deny entry, but also that the Gaza permits had apparently been granted. Swee was called in yet again and was told by both interrogators that had she not lied they would have happily supported the two doctors to help children. Swee reiterated that she had not lied and as they had not received confirmation for permits the intention was to visit Jerusalem. One of the interrogators then said they have their permits. Swee told him it was not possible and she would check with Mark immediately. She picked up her mobile phone where it was positioned in front of the interrogator and dialled Mark and thankfully he picked up immediately. Swee told Mark they were being deported, and asked whether he actually got their permits. Mark said ‘not yet but he was pushing hard’ and ‘they might come through tomorrow (Tuesday) or the day after (Wednesday)”, At this point the interrogator became infuriated and told Swee to stop the call. Swee felt that she may have provoked him when she said Mark had denied the permits had been granted but might hopefully be available in a day or two and therefore she did not lie. By implication the interrogator was lying about the permits being granted. Of course he would also be angry that Mark was informed of the intended deportation. If Mark had not been informed there would be anxiety and confusion for the entire period until the doctors arrived back at UK and could call him. He then switched the subject and told her to provide personal details: home phone, mobile, and all of her email addresses. By this time Swee asked why she should do this since they were going to deport her anyway. He told Swee in no uncertain terms that if she did not comply he was empowered to put her in jail indefinitely until she changed her mind!.Swee complied thinking to herself, how futile since they already knew everything. They then asked about Lebanon, and she told them about the Sabra and Shatilla massacres of 1982 which took place before they were born. She also explained that the Israeli government of that era was somewhat different to the present time and had set up commission of enquiry into the behaviour of the Israeli Defence Force during massacre for which Swee was a witness. 

The interrogators suggested that they were good people and would happily facilitate doctors going to Gaza to help children, but they demanded people be upfront about their intentions. They accused Swee of humiliating and insulting the chief interrogator by making him spend “more than two hours” finding out about her. Swee asked, ‘if other doctors arrived should they simply announce their intention to proceed to assist Palestinians in Gaza at the passport counter? Would they be granted entry?’. He said ‘yes’ and if it was his shift he would definitely help. “Israelis are good people, and we want to help children”. Swee explained that she was not in a position to have said that since she had not received a permit, and would have been deported immediately. He then said that she could have said she was going to Jerusalem to wait for her permit but it is too late now because the deportation order cannot be cancelled and that she should return to London and ask MAP to speak with the Israeli Embassy. His last sentence to Swee was -“I think you still do not trust me!” Swee nearly said ‘of course I don’t! Why should I?’ She was glad she kept her mouth shut.


The two were then asked to return to the waiting area again where they were now guarded more closely and had to be escorted to the bathrooms and to access the water fountain. The exact nature of the deportation was never clarified, for instance it remained unclear at that point as to whether they had been given an exclusion order rather than a simple denial of entry. Both Asif and Swee repeatedly asked the junior security staff (all were in a simple civilian uniform but wore IDF army metal tags around their necks, under their shirts) to see the interrogators for clarification but this was denied. Their passports remained with those officers throughout. At around 22:00 they were asked to provide their boarding cards for the outbound flight. Nobody clarified when their return flight would be or if they were at liberty to book a flight with an alternative airline or to another port to avoid a prolonged stay in detention. They were told that they would soon go to the ‘Motel’ where they would have a place to sleep, be provided with food and be able to shower. They were repeatedly told “We are Israelis, we are nice to people”.

After a very long wait, at about 23:00 they were escorted to an enclosed security room occupied by 5 security officers. All were relatively polite but it was clear that they were entirely under guard with no freedom of movement. They were not allowed to sit next to each other or talk to each other. The terminal was largely deserted at this time. Their luggage was taken away for some time. All of their personal items in their checked in luggage and hand baggage were removed, smears were taken for a mass spectrometer and passed through an X-ray machine. Asif was taken to a separate room and strip searched and both were frisked with a hand held detector. The two doctors were then returned to the waiting area again. Whilst in the waiting area they met a 23 year old TEFL teacher of Dutch origin from Washington also facing deportation. She had told the interrogators very clearly that she intended to go to Nablus to teach English, to the same school as the Americans mentioned previously. They insisted on flying her to Istanbul and she could sort herself out from there. The young lady was really upset since she lives in Washington and had no friends in Turkey and how would she find her way home from Turkey! They also met a British Pakistani Christian girl who had been held apart from her Christian pilgrimage group. She was very tearful as she saw no reason for what she described as a humiliating interrogation. She said that they made her feel degraded and treated her like an animal. One of the security guards sat with her and looked through her Bible.

After a further wait under guard they were told they were going to the ‘Motel’. They were escorted to a side exit of the Terminal by two guards in police type uniforms who had arrived from elsewhere. They were led to a heavily armoured van, the back door had been left open, and they were asked to leave their luggage including hand baggage in the rear hold that also had two seats. Additionally, they were told to remove their telephones and cameras and to place them with their baggage. They then found themselves being forced into a fully secure central holding area of a vehicle with two layers of heavy black steel armour plating completely encaging the area in which they were forced to sit. There was no lighting in the vehicle and as dark in the caged area of the van as outside. The atmosphere felt somewhat intimidating. Asif thought that they might now face further ‘enhanced’ questioning, long term detention, rendition or even torture ran through his mind.

After around 15 minutes of being driven away from the airport on Tel Aviv roads they arrived at a place they called the facility. In retrospect they found out that this was the detention centre in Ramle. This was a shabby two storey compound surrounded by high metal fencing, cameras and barbed wires. The area was also patrolled by dogs. They were led to a holding area where they could see lots of luggage. They were stripped of all their personal belongings. Asif insisted they should be allowed to take overnight clothes and reading material. A request to take any writing material was flatly rejected. They were told to take any money they have with them, lockers were available for other items of value such as mobile phones. Swee was not allowed her handbag and told toiletries such as toothbrushes will be supplied. Having been stripped of their belongings they were taken to a waiting area, a more senior guard was behind a glass screen in a room watching ‘American Jihadi’ on Youtube and ‘Suits’ on a flat screen TV on the wall. Next to this there was another LED panel with a listing of each of the individuals detained, name, destination etc in Hebrew and some English. The guard had their passports with multiple inserts that looked like notes from the interrogators. They were asked if they wanted to eat and were each handed a cold salami roll and given tepid water in an old worn plastic cup. Swee was told ‘your embassy representative is on the phone’. 

An on duty Consular Officer who manned the appropriate desk in London was on the phone, she identified herself as Joanne and asked if they were being treated well and said that she could not do anything for them, and told Swee to phone Mark. Swee then explained to her that they were detained in some kind of facility and all their belongings including mobile phones were taken away, and asked her to please call Mark to let him know. Swee told her that they would be likely to be on the next Easyjet flight back to London hopefully the following day. They were told that they would be in separate parts of the building until the end of their detention.
They were then escorted to their respective areas.
The male section had 4 cells, each with 2 metal double-decker bunk beds, with the bed poles screwed into the wall. This was covered with a thin, hard pad with used sheets and a used blanket, no pillow. Each individual was given a toothbrush and toothpaste but no soap on entry. Upon entry the heavy steel cell door was slammed shut and it was clear that the two of them were formally under detention and they were not in a ‘motel’! The cells had a small window with two layers of heavy steel protection to prevent escape. There was a small toilet, shower and sink area that also functioned as the place where meal packages were placed. There was toilet paper in the toilet but no soap. There were three Georgian men in their mid to late 20s in Asif’s cell. Each had been there for two to three days and clad in the same outdoor clothes in which they entered. One of them was a professional footballer who had played for Israel. All seemed to spend most of their time lying in their bunks asleep. The sink area was covered in food detritus. There was no drinking water in the cell. The armoured lights were kept on until around 1AM and then switched off centrally. Asif performed his prayers and slept. There was no way of communicating with the captors and getting their attention other than banging on the glass portal in the heavy steel cell door. The back of the toothbrush proved to be useful for this. Unfortunately a request for soap and drinking water was met by an angry response from the middle aged, portly guard who shouted through the glass portal that ‘this is not a hotel’ and he better not bang on the door again!

The women’s cell had 5 double-decker beds screwed into the wall. Each bed had a thin pad, and an unwashed sheet. Swee had no blanket and it was very cold. Lights were controlled by the guards outside and on until 1 am. There was one toilet permanently lit and the window had security glass, heavy metal guards, no curtains so that that the security camera could see everyone sitting on the loo clearly all hours. The shower room was separate and also permanently lit but thankfully there were no windows for the cameras to watch. The toilet and the shower doors could not close and also had no locks. There was a separate sink with one mixer tap. The area around the sink was wet and food and half eaten sandwiches were around the sink, some soaking with water. Heavy steel cell doors ensured confinement.

Asif and Swee were held in this detention centre for 14 hours overnight while waiting for the next flight. The women’s side saw 7 Ukrainian women and Swee detained and deported. There were more from the men’s side.

The items Swee desperately needed but not there were ear-plugs since her lady fellow inmates snored loudly. They all slept in their outdoor clothes and from the odour had probably been there for some days. They probably could not shower since there were no towels, despite a few bits of dried half used bars of soap lying next to the sink! But the group were well dressed and polite though they spoke no English. They were taken out of the cell separately throughout the night - ?

Deported on different flights? After the Ukrainian women left Swee was in solitary confinement. Interestingly, following the departure of the Ukrainians she looked around and noticed the names and messages written by many previous detainees, with messages of solidarity. Some of the messages were written in tooth-paste, others with regular biro and there was one particular message that stood out as it was written in marker pen. It said “You are in good company. Signed Cynthia McKinney, US Congresswoman, 29 -30 June 2009; Mairead Maquire, Nobel Peace Prize winner, 29 - 30 June 2009 Free Gaza 21.” Swee thought if only she had her camera to photograph these writings. Swee had met Cynthia McKinney on several occasions and would like to send her a picture of her cell. There was also a heart wrenching message from another “You can prevent me crossing your borders, but you cannot prevent me loving and marrying a Palestinian ...signature illegible”. Did she try to enter to marry him? It must have been so painful for the doomed couple. Swee thought of what the woman security officer told her “we are Israelis, we are nice people”.

Food was in the form of cold sandwiches and a single ready meal. Swee recalled her detention in 1977 in Singapore, and agreed with the female Israeli guard that the current detention facility in Israel was definitely an improvement. She felt the ordeal must be a sanitised, “five star” version for foreign nationals, compared to the detention for ordinary Palestinians that would certainly include physical abuse and torture.

Swee and Asif were woken at 07:30, salami rolls and black tea in the same old plastic jugs was left in the sink area. After 2 hours a shabby, ill-kempt female guard in her 30s opened the door and saw Asif pacing, she shouted some commands in Arabic and seemed surprised when he responded in English asking if she would repeat that in English! She said ‘you, all of you must leave so we can clean!’ Asif and his cellmates were escorted out to exercise in the yard area. He encountered the other detainees, 8 Georgians and 6 Ethiopians, the Ethiopians had been detained for some time. Both groups sat in separate areas and smoked, as did the 5 security guards lounging and chatting, looking fairly bored next to the fence that enclosed the area, separating the yard from a cluster of old Palestinian date palms, their height declaring they predate the State of Israel and its war of ‘independence’, Asif wondered if the area might have been the site of a razed Palestinian village, perhaps one of the many mapped out for transfer (Palestinian ethnic cleansing) under the orders of David Ben Gurion.

Following the return to their cells after an hour or so Swee and Asif were called out to be examined by a Doctor, a man in his late 50s wearing a white coat in a small room next to the counter with the detainees information screen. The doctor was uninterested, had a vagueness about him, he asked if Asif had any allergies and how he was feeling. Asif said ‘thirsty’ as his previous requests for water had been rejected. The doctor replied, ’oh, sign here!’ Asif refused to sign the Hebrew form. Swee signed hers.


Asif and Swee were removed from their cells at 14:10 on 19 August, encaged in the same armoured
vehicle to Ben Gurion airport. The vehicle stopped at the plane and they were escorted directly on to the Easyjet A320 to Luton. They were asked to move their luggage that was put into the aircraft hold by the security guards which at this point also allowed them to take possession of their hand luggage. The security guards entered the plane with Asif and Swee and handed their passports to the pilot to be held on the flight deck. All of this was in front of a cabin load of Israeli passengers, many of whom took careful note of the humiliation. They were told their passports would only be returned on arrival. The Israeli security guards waited with their armoured deportation vehicle at the side of the plane until it took off. The cabin crew seemed blasé about the manner of deportation suggesting deportation is probably a routine procedure at Tel Aviv airport.

They arrived at Luton Airport to overhear one of their fellow passengers saying loudly “Oh they are firing rockets again. How I wish I had stayed another day in Ashkelon to experience the sirens, the bomb shelters and watch the rockets being intercepted”. They were to learn subsequently that 22 Palestinians were killed in Gaza while they were on the Easyjet plane, with 50 wounded. There were no Israeli casualties.

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