Monday, May 14, 2007

Sea of tears

PALESTINIANS not allowed to go down to Dead Sea shore, although northern part is undeniably in what remains of their Palestine.

WHAT a marvellous thing is the State! It can put a gun in the hands of an 18 year old and, when they're not required to kill or be killed, encourage him and his mates to beat and bully, oppress and humiliate, anyone unfortunate enough to be under their sway. It is the lad who refuses to take part in this game who gets punished as an anti-social delinquent

It can enjoin its servants to use pen or computer to inflict just as much, if not more human misery, but quietly. Two stories which reached me at the weekend, but might not make it into your newspaper, or on television:

First, from Israel, my friend Adam Keller reports that the Peace Bloc, Gush Shalom, has written to the Defence Minister protesting at a new policy whereby army roadblocks in the North Dead Sea region completely deny West Bank Palestinians from having access to the Dead Sea shore. "Many Palestinian families and groups of school children, on their way to bath in the sea, were turned back by the soldiers. This is the latest in the acts of petty tyranny by the army against the Occupied Territories’ population".

I've been to the Dead Sea. It's on most tourist itineraries. Deep in the Great Rift Valley at 418m. (1,7371 ft) below sea level and with 8.6 times the concentration of salt, increasing due to irrigation up the river Jordan and evaporation in the desert heat. You just float on the surface. Last time I was there, there were floating white masses of salt like icebergs. It's a place to experience, and since ancient times it has been regarded as having therapeutic benefits. Perhaps not the most obvious holiday beach, and certainly not for a swim, but for Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank there is not that much choice.

As Gush Shalom point out: "It should be noted that the Dead Sea is the last sea shore which was hitherto open for bathing to West Bank inhabitants, to whom access to the Mediterranean had been denied long since. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that the North Dead Sea region is an inseparable part of the West Bank, occupied in 1967, and that in the Oslo Agreements the State of Israel took the specific obligation to let Palestinians have access to the Dead Sea. This is, however, far from the first obligation to be simply trodden underfoot.

"Some months ago, when the Olmert Government wanted to avoid responding to the peace proposals of Syrian President Bashar Assad, it claimed that 'the Americans don’t allow us to talk to the Syrians'. Now, when the United States made a formal appeal to Israel to remove roadblocks and ease the Palestinians freedom of movement, the government and army suddenly display independence and sovereignty. Instead of the existing roadblocks being removed, they are added to, imprisoning the Palestinians in ever-shrinking enclaves.

"The prohibition on Palestinian entry to the North Dead Sea region might be connected with the recent campaign conducted by settlers in this area, organized in the 'Megilot Regional Council', to attract new settlers to the area ( It is well-known that in many policy decisions it is the settler tail which is wagging the army and government – most especially in times of weak and spineless governments, such as the present."

The British government, which claimed it could act as a moderating influence on George W.Bush, might try having a word with "the only democracy in the Middle East" about its treatment of the Palestinians. It could put on pressure either directly or through the European Union, with which the Israeli government enjoys trade privileges and is seeking closer association. But Britain used its presidency of the EU to suppress its own diplomats' reports on the West Bank, and considering the way the Blair government colluded in the Israeli raid on Jericho and opposed a cease fire in Lebanon, I would not hold out much hope. Gordon Brown has assured Zionists that his policy won't change.

Besides, the British government's foreign policy is consistent with what it is doing at home. My next story is from members of the public service union Unison in Camden, north London. You may remember that the British government went to war, and bombed Belgrade, because it supposedly cared about what was being done to the people of Kosova. You may also occasionally have heard politicians tell us how much they believe in the family.

Camden couple not allowed their child

A Camden family is suffering terrible distress as a result of the Immigration Service’s refusal to allow their youngest son to enter the United Kingdom. Camden UNISON, the borough’s largest union branch, is supporting the Azemi family from Kosovo in their fight to unite their family. The Azemi parents and two of their sons were given indefinite leave to remain in Britain in 1999 amid ethnic cleansing and war in their native country.

When Mrs Azemi’s mother became very ill, she visited her in Kosovo. While she was there, Mrs Azemi gave birth prematurely to a third son. When she had to return, her young baby was refused entry to the United Kingdom on the grounds that he ‘did not form part of the family unit at the time they were granted permanent residence’.

In spite of the baby’s age and vulnerability, the immigration officer dealing with the case pronounced himself satisfied that the refusal was ‘justified and proportionate’. The Azemis submitted to DNA tests which proved the baby’s parentage, but the Immigration Service continues to oppose the child’s right to enter this country. They are maintaining this indefensible position despite an immigration appeal tribunal finding in favour of the family. The Azemi’s youngest son is now two years old and increasingly upset about being separated from his family. He lives in Kosovo with an aunt.

‘Everyone who hears about this case is appalled’, Liz Leicester, Camden Branch Unison chair, said. ‘The Azemis’ baby was born outside of this country purelyarising out of chance circumstances - no doubt a contributing factor was the stress caused by the serious illness of his grandmother. We are demanding that he be allowed to join his brothers, mother and father in London'.

The lead news item on British TV just now is about the British couple whose two-year old daughter was snatched from their holiday chalet in Portugal. We are all concerned and in sympathy.

A well-known tabloid has distributed posters of little Madeleine, at events here where she is unlikely to be found. The posters prominently bore the paper's name logo, but who are we to cynically suggest they just saw this as an opportunity to advertise themselves and sell more papers? Perhaps we will see some mention that here in London, though of course the circumstances are not so awful, another couple is begging for their two year old child to be re-united swith his mother.

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