Monday, February 25, 2008

Supporting my sisters in Southall

SOMETIMES it's tears, sometimes
triumph! But Southall Black Sisters'
hard work and bravery has brought an all-too rare success story we ought to support.

SOME years ago, at the height of the row about Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses'. a group of brave women stood holding placards on a road island in central London. Across the road from them on one side were angry young Muslim men whipped up by religious leaders to clamour for the burning of books, and death to whoever they were told had blasphemed against the prophet.

On the other side of the road, a bunch of white racists bellowed their hatred of the Muslims, the liberal Asian writer, and the women, who stood their vigil for their freedom and ours, against fascists and fundamentalists. I think the women's demonstration may have been organised by Women Against Fundamentalism. I was not there. But I was told that among them were several prominent members of Southall Black Sisters.

If so, their presence was appropriate and symbolic. Based in an outer west London area with a large Asian population and a history of social and anti-racist struggle, the Southall Black Sisters have grown up taking their stand against the prejudices of British society and the reactionary, patriarchal and backward forces in their own communities.

Formed in 1979, their choice of name may reflect a now no longer fashionable identity by "colour" label put upon them by enemies, but it remains a valid assertion of unity, no matter whether your family roots are in Gujarat or Punjab, East African or Afro-Caribbean, and whatever your religious background. This has renewed importance today, when street gangs and 'respectable' politicians alike foment and exploit sectarian division.

I've met some Southall Black Sisters at various meetings, demonstrations and social occasions. But along with campaigning, their main work to change things and challenge outmoded authority has taken the practical form of providing help, advice and support to women who come reporting problems, domestic abuse and violence.

Their work has been the subject of academic theses, and sometimes news headlines. Their success in helping free Kiranjit Ahluwalia, jailed for murdering her husband after suffering ten years of his abuse and violence, set a precedent, and inspired a movie, "Provoked". This has also been made into a book.

Deputy prime minister Harriet Harman MP referred to the Southall Black Sisters by name in a speech last July, as to what sort of organisations deserved support. Already honoured with an award by the civil rights group Liberty, last week Southall Black Sisters were at Westminster to recieve the Asian Voice Lifetime Achievement Award for service to the community.

Yet ironically, amid such recognitions, comes the news that the future work of Southall Black Sisters, if not their existence, is threatened. In a letter sent out recently, Pragna Patel warns : " We are currently facing threat of closure as a result of our local authority's (Ealing) decision to withdraw our funding as of April 2008.

Since the mid eighties our 'core' funding has been provided by Ealing. Over the years we have on average received £100,000 per annum from the local authority and this is utilised to provide advice, advocacy, counselling and support services to black and minority women in the borough who experience violence and abuse. The experience and insights gained through this work has led us to become a strategically important service, providing advice on policy and legal developments to government, and international, national and local organisations and
professionals. The Ealing grant has, of course, had to be supplemented by funds raised elsewhere.

The local authority's decision is based on the view that there is no need for specialist services for black and minority women and that services to abused women in the borough need to be streamlined. This view fails to take account of the unequal social, economic and cultural context which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for black and minority women to
access outside help or seek information about their rights. In effect the council proposes to take away essential life saving services provided by SBS. Ealing council suggests that we either extend our service to cover the needs of all women in the borough or that we set up a
consortium of groups to provide such a service for the same sum of money. The amount of funds available to the voluntary sector in Ealing has shrunk year in, year out, but the withdrawal of funds to SBS will have a number of far reaching consequences.'

Southall Black Sisters say they have never denied their services to any women who came to them for help. But pretending as the council seems to do that all women are equally in need of their services only ignores reality and strengthens inequalities. Problems such as forced marriages, about which some politicians have pontificated lately, 'honour' killings, and immigration difficulties, are bound to affect Asian women more than others, and Southall's ethnic make-up gives it an obvious emphasis. Women from a particular background or 'traditional family are bound to feel more confident approaching a friendly face with their troubles, and talking to someone who understands because they have been there.

We have already read of the tragedies in the child welfare and protection field, elsewhere in London, caused by the uncertainty of professional social workers faced with what seemed like a different culture.

If Southall Black Sisters are forced to reduce their services, or diffuse the expertise they have acquired and been able to offer other parts of the country, the consequences could be just as serious. As they point out: "The suicide rates of Asian women for example, are already three times the national average and homicides - where abusive men and families kill their wives, daughters or daughters-in-law - are also high within some black and minority communities. In all likelihood, any reduction in our services will see a rise in suicide and homicide rates amongst black and minority women".

Ealing's pretence to be cutting support in order to back more generalised services is undermined anyway by the news that amid all the talk of cohesion and "integration", the council has not only chosen to undermine a group that cuts across religious and ethnic divides and bridges differences, but is seeking to set up Muslim women only groups!
Southall Black Sisters say there is no demand for such groups, so I wonder whose idea was it? What are the chances, I wonder, that a young Muslim woman who goes to religious counsel will be encouraged if she wants to resist religious and patriarchal authority, whether on dress code, choice of partner, or escape from an oppressive marriage? How will separate groups counter the hostility which some persons have tried to incite between Sikhs and Muslims in Southall?

Southall Black Sisters have asked supporters to write to the leader of Ealing Council, Jason Stacey, and to send them a copy, as well as messages of support. They are also calling a demonstration tomorrow evening, 6pm -7pm at Ealing Town Hall. This time I think I will be there.



26th February 2008
6pm to 7pm

7pm onwards: we need to pack out public gallery
in the Liz Cantell Room (Ealing Town Hall) on the
Ground Floor to support Southall Black Sisters

Ealing Town Hall, Uxbridge Road, Ealing W5 2BY
Bus: 65, 83, 207, 297, 607, 112, E1, E2, 37, E8, E9, E10, N23, N2
British Rail & Underground - Ealing Broadway
Other transport: nearest major roads, A406, M4, M40, M25
Parking at rear after 5pm Mon-Fri. A Small charge
applies between 8am and 6pm at weekends. Large
multi-storey car parks within a five-minute walk
at Springbridge Road and Ealing Broadway Centre.


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Friday, February 22, 2008

This week's lessons in how government works

HM government has announced new rules making it more difficult for people from outside the European Union to come here, or once here, to acquire British citizenship and access to services. It is seen as placating "middle England" - Daily Mail readers - and those who think immigrants are to blame for our welfare problems - Sun readers and these days it seems BBC viewers.

It is nothing to do with race or colour, of course. Oh no. That it won't impose restrictions on fair-skinned people coming from Poland is just a coincidence. And anyone who comes here well-loaded, from wherever, can buy whatever they like, no questions asked. Just as wealthy Brits have been taking their loot abroad, without worrying about having to "integrate".

Besides learning to speak good English (fat lot of good that will do trying to communicate with the natives), obviously not a problem with east Europeans, those who aspire to citizenship will apparently have to pass tests on their understanding of British history and civics. Maybe they can then teach some of our politicians and journalists.

Understanding our unwritten constitution is tricky, but with current events in mind, I have thought of a few suggestions for questions.

One, if a foreign airliner lands on British soil, are police allowed to board it for law enforcement? Answer: it all depends. In 2005, British police had an arrest warrant for Israeli General Almog who was charged with a breach of the Geneva Convention in ordering the destruction of Palestinian homes. Almog had arrived in Britain for speaking engagements, but was tipped off and did not leave the El Al plane. Documents obtained by lawyers Hickman and Rose show anti-terrorist police were unsure of their rights, and decided not to board the plane for fear of a clash with armed Israeli guards and/or political consequences.

Two: If a department of HM government, e.g. the Foreign Office, is told to release official documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act, can it remove and conceal items for reasons other than national security, e.g. if they might reveal criticism of a foreign government? Answer: it seems it thinks it can. Once again, the example concerns Israel.
A dossier concerned with Iraqi weapons, drafted by then Foreign Office chief information officer John Williams in preparation for the Iraq war, was requested by a researcher. The Foreign Office did not want to release it. When they were eventually told to do so, they removed a marginal note which referred to Israel's possession of nuclear weapons and flouting of the UN.

Three: can a foreign power use British territory for flying prisoners to places where they might be tortured, with or without bothering to inform the British government let alone require its permission? Answer: if the power in question is the United States, and providing nothing comes out their end, the British government will say nothing.

Four: If police receive documents which cast doubts on an accused person's conviction, are they obliged to disclose these to defence lawyers? Answer: No. In fact, even a senior prosecutor such as Scotland's lord advocate can be told not to release these documents, if the Foreign Secretary thinks it impolitic. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is appealing against conviction for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. In 1996 a foreign government gave Scottish police secret documents which might show the Libyan has been wrongly convicted.
(There have been plausible suggestions from the start that responsibility for the airliner bombing might lie in a quite different direction. But looking there became undiplomatic as Middle East requirements changed). It was reported last week that the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband signed a public interest immunity certificate to prevent disclosure of the documents. What's a possible miscarriage of justice when weighed against a foreign policy manoeuvre? (That's not a question to answer).

Let's hope that people applying for British citizenship can show a proper understanding of our values, like justice, truth, honesty, and democracy. It would be too much to expect that our politicians do, and attaching too much importance to them would be a distinct disqualification for anyone expecting high office in state.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gaza's 'Robbie Fowler moment' lightened up dark days

ALTHOUGH not much of a football fan, I have enjoyed a few matches, or at least their endings, lately on TV. I watched "my" team hammering Arsenal 4-0 in the FA cup on February 16.

Then I saw the last half of Liverpool v Inter-Milan the other evening, and shared some of my scouse mates' joy.

Earlier, on February 9, I just happened to turn on the telly and found myself watching Egypt defeat Cameroon in the last fifteen minutes of the final of the African Nations Cup. You didn't have to be a supporter to enjoy the excitement , the exuberance, the infectious atmosphere emanating joy, even over the box.

Yet I'm sorry now I missed an earlier game, when they beat Sudan 3-0. Because that's when Mohammed Abu Trika, the midfielder who scored in both matches, raised his shirt to reveal a tee shirt underneath with the simple words, in English and Arabic, "Sympathy for Gaza". It earned him a yellow card, and a warning from FIFA, which has apparently had a rule against showing messages on under-shirts since 2002. But as much as his winning goal it has also earned him a place in the hearts of his countrymen and fellow Arabs; and I think he deserves our congratulations too.

Reading about it reminded me of course of that other magic moment, in 1997, when Robbie Fowler scored his second goal in Liverpool's 3-0 win over Bran Bergen in the European Cup Winners Cup, then raised his shirt to reveal a tee shirt supporting the 500 sacked Liverpool dockers. He was fined by UEFA, and bitterly denounced by those media heroes who had been doing their best to keep the British public in the dark about what was happening in Liverpool.

While Abu Trika, like Fowler before him, was showing that footballers can remember their humanity and sense of decency after governments and media hacks forget theirs, the Egyptian government was responding to Condeleezza Rice's bidding to help cut off Gaza again. For almost a fortnight the barriers between the Gaza strip and Egypt had been down. Some Egyptians and Palestinians living in Egypt had tried to travel to El Arish with supplies to break the blockade and show support, -and Egypt's doctors' committees sent a convoy with 50 tons of food and medical supplies.

But despite President Mubarak having initially urged civil society to send aid to Gaza, the Egyptian authorities began impeding deliveries, and clamping down on any organised show of support for the people of Gaza.

On February 4, Egyptian security forces resealed the border, even preventing Palestinians in northern Sinai and Egyptians in Gaza from returning to their own side of the fence. Palestinian civilians seeing the gates close on them again clashed with the Egyptian troops, throwing stones. Eventually shots were fired, leaving one Palestinian dead, and six wounded, and 38 Egyptians were wounded.

As their police arrested Muslim Brotherhood supporters and others who might be supporting Gaza, Egypt's leaders struck a patriotic pose. "Anyone who breaches the border will have their legs broken," declared Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit on February 7. On board an airplane en route to the United Arab Emirates, President Mubarak told newspaper editors, "Egypt's borders are sacred and we will not allow any assault against them." Not even by mothers with empty shopping bags, and hungry children to feed. No wonder Egyptians would rather take their pride in Mohammed Abu Trika.

There was better news from the Sufa border crossing between Gaza and Israel a few days ago. After two and a half weeks of obstruction and delay by the Israeli military, supplies brought by the people's peace convoy finally got through. Here is the report from the Coalition Against the Gaza Siege:

Press Release February 18, 2008

At Noon today, there at last arrived in their Gaza destination the goods carried in the supply convoy of the Israeli Peace and Human Rights organizations, two and a half weeks ago. After the authorization was given after long negotiations with the military authorities, some fifteen activists arrived this morning at the warehouses in Kibbutz Kerem Shalom and the Bedouin town of Rahat, where the goods had been stored, loaded them and decorated the cargo with enormous banners reading End the Blockade of Gaza!

The Israeli activists accompanied the cargo until the entrance of the Sufa Compound on the Gaza Strip border, where it was unloaded and transferred to Palestinian trucks and delivered to members of the Palestinian-International Campaign to End the Siege, based at Gaza City. The cargo consisted of five tons of basic foodstuffs purchased by the organizers from donations collected from Israel and all over the world, as well as water purification filters for the highly polluted water in the Strip.

To these were added two tons of personal aid
packages, prepared by many Israeli families
as a a goodwill gesture to the Gaza inhabitants.

Members of the Palestinian Campaign intend to give the highest priority in distribution of the water filters received today to the Gaza Strip hospitals,where the need for clean water is particularly acute. The entry of water filters today follows many months when the Israeli siege caused a severe shortage of this item, indispensable for basic health,as of many other vital goods. The organizers hope that from now on,inhabitants of the Gaza Strip would be able to use the precedent created and import as many water filters as needed, without restrictions.

“Under conditions of the strangling siege of Gaza, the simple act of transporting a few tons of cargo some dozens of kilometres required two months of intensive effort by dozens of people in Israel and the Gaza Strip,with considerable help from peace seekers all over the world. This siege should be terminated forthwith. It is a manifestly immoral, gross violation of International Law which causes Israel nothing but damage. The suffering caused to the inhabitants of Gaza in no way benefits the inhabitants of Sderot.

There is only one way to bring about the end of the shooting of Quassam Missiles at Israeli communities: a positive response to the many offers by Hamas leaders, to a complete and mutual ceasefire on both sides of the Gaza Strip border" said former Knesset Member Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom, who was among the activists accompanying the aid cargo to the Sufa Crossing. Dr. Eyad Sarraj of the Palestinian campaign spoke with the Israeli organizers on the phone and warmly thanked them.

He said that the stores of goods brought into
the Gaza Strip during the two weeks when the
Egyptian border was open are in the process of
running out, and that the feeling of siege and
suffocation is reasserting itself.

"We in Gaza greatly appreciate the manifestation
of solidarity in the convoy of today. We hope
that this is the start of a common struggle by
the two peoples, to ensure peace and liberty
to both."

Convoy news and Joel Beinin report from Cairo: 

For more news see:

For more on Egyptian side -Muslim Brotherhood site has factual news reports:

And now some news from the European Parliament:


EP re-calls for the end of the blockade in Gaza :

the policy of isolation and collective punishment has failed

Strasbourg 21st February 2008

Today the European Parliament approved a resolution that calls once again, after a previous resolution already voted on 11th October 2007, for the lift of the Israeli blockade on Gaza Strip.

"Now, European Union has no more excuses - declared Luisa Morgantini- We must immediately take effective actions to implement these resolutions and stop the illegal and collective punishment of civilians in the Strip, where 98 Palestinian patients, including 17 children, already died for the lack of medicines and treatments due to the siege: the MEPs delegation visited the Shifa Hospital in Gaza and saw at least 30 premature babies still alive thanks to the incubators but that will die if generators would stop for the lack of fuel due to the cut off of refuelling supplies and to the closure decided by the Israeli Government. That’s unlawful and inhuman”.

“The resolution voted today, calling on Israel for an end to the blockade, for a controlled re-opening of the crossings in and out of Gaza, for guaranteeing the movement of people and goods at Rafah, Karni and other crossings, clearly affirms that “the policy of isolation of Gaza Strip has failed both at the political and at the humanitarian level"- she added. “Reminding that “civilian population should be exempt from any military action and any collective punishment” through this resolution, the EP strongly urges Israel to fulfil its international obligations, as an occupying power, guaranteeing “a continuous and sufficient flow of humanitarian aid, humanitarian assistance and essential goods and services, including fuel and power supplies” condemning at the same time the Israel's decision to introduce progressive five per cent per week cuts in power supplies to the Strip not enough for a minimum humanitarian needs and welcoming the petition from 10 Israeli human rights organisations against fuel and electricity cuts in the Gaza Strip”.

“Finally- concluded Luisa Morgantini- today resolution reminds to Europe that it must be able to be more effective not only in condemning all violence, all military actions killing and endangering civilians and extrajudicial targeted killings actuated by Israel, as well as all Qassam rockets fired on civilians of the Israeli town of Sderot, perpetrated by some extremist Palestinian groups, but also through its deeds and commitments. The time of empty words and of betrayed promises is ended: all the Palestinians and the Israelis who want the peace deserve our support and efforts to work concretely for guaranteeing the respect of the international humanitarian law, for the resumption of all inclusive peace negotiations, including also the Arab League, based on the freezing of all illegal Israeli settlements in West Bank and in East Jerusalem, the end of the military occupation and for the establishment of a free, sovereign, united Palestinian State, composed by the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on ‘67 borders in coexistence , security and peace with the Israeli State”.

Yesterday 20th February Luisa Morgantini, Vice President of the European Parliament (GUE/NGL), and General Philippe Morillon (ALDE) organized a press conference titled “Coming Back from Gaza and Sderot” with the participation of Members from different political groups of the European Parliament who took part to the fact finding mission to Israel and Palestine, 2-7 February 2008, in order to expose the results of their mission and report the situation found on the ground, in particular focusing on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza Strip. MEP Jill Evans (GREEN), who participated to the mission in Gaza and Sderot affirmed that "The situation in Palestine is reaching breaking point. The siege is an inhuman and illegal collective punishment of the people in Gaza and is causing huge suffering. It has to be stopped. There has to be international action to lift the siege, end the occupation and resume peace negotiations". MEP Richard Howitt, Vice-President of the European Parliament's Human Rights Sub-Committee and also in the delegation who went to Israel and Palestine added: "This is a state of siege imposing medieval conditions on the people of Gaza, and is today identified by the European Parliament as a clear breach of human rights. European countries should take the lead to secure support from all sides in their UN Human Rights Council to seek enforcement of international humanitarian law".

“In Gaza, there is a humanitarian crisis building and an economic breakdown happening which can only benefit the violent, the lawless and the zealots on all sides: we have to support those who want to live "normal", peaceful lives before that becomes impossible” - declared MEP Jean Lambert (GREEN) who also visited with the delegation Gaza and Sderot- “Both sides are hostages of their own extremists. That's why the International Community should enforce a sustainable peace both on Israel and Palestine: it's the basic interest of the peace-loving Israelis and Palestinians as well”- added MEP Gyula Hegyi (PSE) another participant to the mission.

Further information Luisa Morgantini 0039 348 39 21 465 or Rome Office 0039 06 69 95 02 17

Another international day of demonstrations for Gaza

There's another international day of solidarity with the people of Gaza, against the siege, with actions planned in London, Washington DC and other cities.
LONDON DEMO Tomorrow, Saturday February 23,
WHITEHALL opposite Downing Street 5pm-7pm

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

GI views on KBR-Halliburton

Kellogg Towers in Greenford,
West London. With US vice -president Dick Cheney kept on the payroll after he stepped down as boss, it's maybe not surprising Kellogg-Brown Root/ Halliburton, has done well out of war contracts. The company has also been favoured in Britain. But GIs serving in Iraq are not so fond of it.

(NB -Halliburton announced last year, to uproar from US congressmen and commentators, that it was moving its headquarters from Houston to Dubai. It followed up by separating from its KBR contracting subsidiary).

Thanks to Mike Marqusee and Iraq Occupation Focus for this extract from the soldiers' publication:

From: [XXXX, Soldier Iraq]
To: GI Special,
Traveling Soldier’s

sister publication
Subject: thank you

My name is [XXXXXX],

I’m a [XXXXXX] with
currently deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq.

I just wanted to thank you for putting out
GI Special. Its nice to know that a lot of
other people who are deployed, or have
previously deployed think being in Iraq
is completely counter-productive.

I, personally, don’t believe in fighting for
the profit of a handful of people. I also
don’t believe in fighting for a government
that is willing, if not eager, to fuck its own
people over.

KBR [Kellogg, Brown, and Root] is a
perfect example. KBR handles just
about everything on our FOB.
I was talking to a KBR maintenance
guy named [xxxxxx] about what
exactly KBR did. He told me about how
he had been in Iraq for the past
4 years working, and how
sheisty KBR is.

They had a lot of civilian Americans working
for them, and from what I’ve been told by a
few of them, they got paid pretty well considering
the shit-hole conditions they have to work in.

But now what’s happening is, KBR is actively
seeking reasons to fire these people, and starting
to hire people from other countries, who do the
same job, for a fraction of the money.
Putting people like [xxxxxx] out of a job
for even the slightest fuckup.
At the time I just thought, “hey, that’s not right “.

But then I was reading through Traveling Soldier
and I noticed that KBR was one of Halliburton’s
entities, and that Cheney has some major say in
what’s going on with that company. Maybe this
information isn’t fully correct, but that’s just what
I got out of it all.
The shit is really piling up on this administration.

I fully support all the men and women deployed to
Iraq and Afghanistan but, I’m already at the
“fuck the army” point, I’ve never been a supporter
of this war, and I thank you for doing what you do.

Keep it up.


Dear Soldier,

First of all, I want to thank you for reading
GI Special and Traveling Soldier
and writing us.

On KBR, Halliburton, and Cheney: KBR is a
subsidiary of Halliburton. Cheney was
Halliburton’s CEO for five years, and
stepped down in August of 2000.
Since leaving, he has received
$250,000-$300,000 every year in deferred
compensation and his stock options are worth
an estimated $8 million.

for the story.)

The scandal is that KBR got no-bid
ontracts worth billions to “rebuild” in Iraq.

No-bid means there was no competitive
bidding, the Pentagon simply handed them
the contract and wrote them the checks.
This is in addition to the logistical
support they provide at the many
permanent military installations
that are being built in Iraq which you know
of first hand.
KBR also got no-bid contracts to rebuild in
New Orleans after Katrina.

Did KBR get these lucrative deals
because Cheney is the #2 man in
the White House? The answer is obvious.

When Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont
confronted Cheney about this issue
on the floor of the Senate, Cheney told him
to “go fuck yourself.”

If that’s how Cheney thinks about
his colleagues in the Senate who dare
to raise the issue, I can only imagine
what he thinks of rank-and-file
anti-war soldiers reading
Traveling Soldier and GI Special!

Hope that clarifies things.

An increasing number of people
working in the anti-war
movement, including organizations
like Iraq Veterans Against the War
are behind you 100%, doing our best
to bring you and all your friends
home safe and sound.

Keep writing, stay safe.
– Pham Binh
Traveling Soldier Editorial Board

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Unholy row over sharia and multiculturalism

FIRST it was the Archbishop of Canterbury talking about how Muslim sharia law might have a place in the British legal system, now we have a report from the Royal United Services Institution(RUSI) telling us Britain has become a 'soft touch' for terrorists, and all because of pandering to multiculturalism.

What with record numbers of home repossessions, jittery banks and worrying inflation, I suspect some of our media will have turned with relief to anything that promises to divert middle class insecurity and fears away from the economy.

They have been trying to sustain the sharia controversy for a week, leaving many of us little the wiser about what recognising Muslim law entails (no I don't think Rowan Williams was advocating amputation of hands, though that might prove a vote winner in some areas); but aware now that some Anglicans feel it was a mistake to abandon the Crusades.

The 'soft touch' report - actually an article in the RUSI Journal - filled the front-page of the Daily Mail, as we might expect in a paper that has been campaigning against immigrants and asylum seekers just as it once did against refugees from Nazi Germany. Only then it thought we might need a strong man to take charge, and thought it had found one in Sir Oswald Mosley.

Now we are supposed to believe that young people turn to "extremism" and terrorism because they were not taught to salute the Union Jack and understand this is a Christian country. The "experts" who are latest to offer this diagnosis, complaining that authorities had not laid down the line to immigrant communities", turn out to be Gwyn Prins, a professor at the London School of Economics, and Lord Salisbury, a relic of the Tory imperialist family. I bet these two really know what gives in Birmingham and Bradford. Mind you, they say they have been talking with army officers and people from the intelligence services. I can imagine.

"The United Kingdom presents itself as a target, as a fragmenting, post-Christian society, increasingly divided about interpretations of its history, about its national aims, its values and in its political identity," say the authors.

Ah, history. The Salisburys have long played a distinguished part in it. A previous Marquess wanted to carry on war for the Suez canal. This one was involved in backing the Afghan mujahaddin, so you can't say he is prejudiced against Muslims. He could teach imperial history just by talking about his family. But what makes these upper-class twits think it is only "immigrant communities" that don't share their so-called values? Or that they have the right to brainwash the rest of us, or our kids?
Of course they love "the country" . They own it.

Incidentally, the LSE gives the RUSI article top spot on its website under the heading UK suffering crisis of confidence over security.

Talking of standing up to extremists, reminds me of the time the LSE authorities told some Iranian students they could not hold a cultural evening including readings from Salman Rushdie. The event was moved to Conway Hall, and passed without undue incident. I wondered whether the college was worried about its security, or about securing funding from Middle Eastern sources.

Perhaps we'll hear from the RUSI experts what they think of the report this week that investigation of the British Aerospace bribery and Saudi arms deals was stopped after the Saudis warned of terror on London streets when they withdrew intelligence co-operation. But then, an extremist regime becomes a "moderate" regime when it opens its chequebook for arms deals.

Getting back to the Archbishop, being neither an Anglican nor a Muslim, nor a believer of any kind, I could not get worked up enough to follow the controversy. So far as I can see what Rowan Williams advocated was not that sharia be introduced as British law, but that people be given the option of using sharia law to settle civil and marital disputes. Some already turn to Muslim religious counsel for marital issues. Channel Four looked at this earlier this month, before Rowan Williams had spoken.

I can understand many people, particularly from Muslim backgrounds, being alarmed at the thought of religious courts being recognised and given more authority. I can remember Jewish women demonstrating over the issue of rabbinical courts' reluctance to free them from agunot, chains binding them to an unhappy or broken marriage. Without a get from their husbands they could not divorce, or remarry in an Orthodox synagogue. There was even a famous case in Israel when some women whose husbands had gone down with a stricken submarine could not obtain release, as widows, and it went on for years. I'm not sure if Muslim courts are likely to be worse or better. (There are four or five different schools of sharia anyway). I'm not a Muslim woman.

Under the 1996 Arbitration Act, rabbinical courts are recognised in Britain, to settle civil disputes, providing both parties agree. Some say it is cheaper and more discreet than civil courts. But that part about both sides agreeing, which might suit Stamford Hill businessmen, may be less reassuring in family cases. It is up to couples to decide whether they want or need a religious decision on their marriage and divorces, just as it is up to a woman to decide if she wears a scarf. But does that take account of pressure from family, parents, communities? Giving religious authority legal recognition may mean removing safeguards and reinforcing oppression.

Not that such worries are what concerns some of those who have been shouting for Williams' head, or at least his job. Some are the kind of Christians who think Jesus Christ was an Englishman and are all for religious oppression providing they do the oppressing. They regard the archbishop's ideas as but the latest reprehensible concession to liberalism.

I'm grateful to Richard Bartholomew's excellent and informative blog 'Bartholomew's Notes on Religion ' for drawing attention to another voice raised in execration of the archbishop. That of Irene Lancaster who says: "Of course I've read the original speech, plus the amended material…I don't care how erudite, numerous or conciliatory the audience was. To me it sounds like a Hitler rally, in which Hitler also received standing ovations from the learned academics, lawyers and clerics of the day…"
Really? I've seen old clips of Hitler ranting to well-drilled Nuremburg rallies, and somehow old beardie from Canterbury diffidently voicing his thoughts on the BBC or explaining them to a synod does not quite fill the bill.
Irene Lancaster: Williams Speech "Like a Hitler Rally"

We've met Dr.Lancaster before, mind. She it was who denounced veteran Jewish community figure Henry Guterman as "unfit to hold any position", after he had shared a platform with Ken Livingstone at a Unite Against Fascism conference on stopping the BNP, and denied that Livingstone was an antisemite. Guterman, who came to this country as a young refugee from Germany, after witnessing Kristallnacht, knew a bit more than Irene Lancaster about Nazi rallies and what an antisemite looks like.

There was a further shock for the anti-Williams crusaders this week on the front-page of the Jewish Chronicle. Top rabbi backs Williams on sharia, it said.
Not Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sachs, who is apparently hedging his bets on the issue, but Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, head of the Federation Beth Din, which is a court. (Beth Din means house of judgement, and a Dayan is literally a judge). Inside the paper is some balanced discussion. Professor Geoffrey Alderman, who besides his academic career has represented Orthodox federation synagogues on the Board of Deputies, argues that Jewish courts function in London and Manchester, forming "a legal 'state within a state' -with no harm done". But Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips will have none of it. "The state does not recognise the authority of Jewish law. Why should it recognise Muslim law?"

How much 'Mad Mel' actually knows about either tradition, I wonder. But we can count on her to oppose any concessions to multiculturalism, or Muslims, and to be 'holier than the Pope' with regard to Anglicanism. Whereas for my part, opposed to religious authority in general, I look forward to the day when the opinions of an archbishop, as of a chief rabbi or imam, will be of slight interest to anyone not of what should be their dwindling flocks. And the same goes for the imperial museum pieces in the Royal United Services Institute.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Don't believe everything you hear

A friend has e-mailed me and others asking whether we knew anything about this:

Middle East
> Date: Tue Feb 12, 2008 2:39:14 PM Europe/London
> To: Resonance FM admin
> Cc: Richard
> Subject: This week on Resonance FM
> Wednesday between 9pm and 10pm (GMT)
> Sunday between noon and 1pm 104.4 FM (London)
> or
> "Can Hamas Liberate Palestine?". Views from the President of the > British Muslim Initiative, the Jewish Socialist Group, Azzam Tamimi > (historian and supporter of Hamas ), Gilbert Achcar, professor at the > School of Oriental and African Studies, London...
My friend on the Jewish Socialists' Group(JSG) national committee was puzzled because nobody had asked the Jewish Socialists' Group to participate in any programme on Resonance FM. If the Group had been approached to take part in a radio panel debate on Hamas or any other subject we'd have discussed it in the committee, and if we decided to accept the invitation, we would have decided who should go. We might also have wanted to discuss what our representative ought to say, or at least any points they should make.

Some while ago we were asked to help provide Ramadan Radio with a Jewish speaker for a listeners 'phone in discussion. We decided to ask writer Mike Marqusee if he would do it, since he is a good communicator and anti-war activist, gets along well with people, and has travelled in Asian Muslim lands. Sure enough Mike took part in the programme, discussing relations between Jews and Muslims and how they were affected by Israel, and fielding listeners questions (he is a cricket fan after all). Since it was a general discussion, and he was not billed as a spokesperson, we did not worry whether he stuck to any "party line". In a programme lating nearly two hours Mike seems to have gone down well ( see his article in Jewish Socialist No.53, Spring 2007, and also his book 'If I am not for myself').

This latest venture on air is different.

Having heard nothing about it, and seeing no name of who was purportedly speaking for the Jewish Socialists Group, my friend on the national committee, herself an experienced journalist and researcher for broadcasting, was not just bemused, but worried the whole thing might be fabricated, or we might even have been the victims of identity theft.

As it happens, I was able to put her mind at rest. To an extent. But not without incurring my own worries. Here is what really happened.

Late on Saturday afternoon, February 9, I went to Whitehall to join a demonstration against Israel's siege of Gaza, show solidarity with the Palestinian people and demand the British government stop supporting Israel's policy. While I was there I was approached by a young man whom I'd seen around before, who asked where the organisers were, then engaged me in conversation about the demonstration. When he produced a little mike and tape recorder I asked who it was for and he said Resonance FM and gave me a card. I'd never heard of the station before, but then I'm not up to date with the latest radio channels. I only recently started listening to old favourites on BBC7 and following Treasure Quest on Three Counties Radio. The guy assured me it was kosher, so to speak, and that he was a socialist himself.

I answered the questions, told him the siege of Gaza was inhuman and a war crime. He then turned to asking me what I thought of the slogan "Free Palestine!", and I said that of course I agreed though we might understand different things by it, but in my opinion if Israel did not wish to be part of one state it must at least withdraw to its own pre-1967 borders so the Palestinian people could be free to set up their own state. Then he started asking me how Palestine could be freed, and whether I thought Hamas could do this. In the course of our discussion I referred to Palestinian struggle not just since 1948, but going back to 1936-9, when they fought courageously but were defeated not just by the ruthlessness of the British but by the fact that the Zionists could establish themselves in their place. Now even more so the situation was not like South Africa, where the whole economy rested on the Black working class. The Palestinian people needed international support and they needed allies within Israel itself.

I argued that the Palestians who had voted Hamas did not do so because they wanted a religious state necessarily, nor because they didn't want peace, but because they were disillusioned with what had come from the so-called 'peace process' so far, and with corruption in Fatah. I thought Hamas would negotiate with Israel, and compromise on its aims, if it were given the chance. But then the interviewer pressed me; would a Hamas-run Palestine in the West Bank or Gaza be liberated and free, since it was what the Muslim majority want? I said there was more to democracy than this, since minorities must also be respected, and many Palestinians are Christians or non-religious, and people can also change. I also observed that, as we saw with the religious Jewish settlers in the West Bank, who do not respect democracy or recognise women's rights, those who believe in a higher authority may disregard human rights.

This was me giving my off the cuff answers to questions in the street. Not participating in a panel discussion nor giving the considered views of the Jewish Socialists' Group or anyone else. I suspect the other persons promised in the Middle East Panorama discussion for Resonancde FM may have been in a similar position, since the young man who interviewed me was asking for them to be pointed out.

Had the JSG been asked to participate in a discussion about whether Hamas could liberate Palestine, we might have been flattered, as I was. but we'd also have been inclined to ask why?
We are not Palestinians, nor even Israelis.

The debate about Hamas and who can liberate Palestine is after all a debate primarily for Palestinians, and one in which they have been engaged, at the same time as they have rightly insisted on their choice of leadership being respected, and as they have all, regardless of party or belief, been suffering from Israeli occupation and siege.

Of course, as socialists, we may have our opinions and sympathies, just as we would when viewing elections in America, Poland, Argentina or France. But it is up to the Palestinian people to determine who leads them, and up to the Israeli government to negotiate with whoever they elect. If they had treated the Palestinian leadership with more respect before it might not have lost respect of the Palestinian masses and Hamas would not have risen to replace it. Our first job is not to play at offering solutions from afar, but to cease being part of the problem, by raising our voices against the Zionist Lobby, helping to educate the public about the realities of the conflict, and demanding different policies from the British government

if the programme maker was serious about a discussion on Palestininian perspectives, why not invite a cross section of Palestinians? Picking up whoever he happened to see on a demonstration, when we assumed he wanted voices on what it was about, the terrible siege of Gaza, is no way to proceed. There were other Palestinians in Whitehall, and even an Israeli or two if he wanted to bring another perspective in.

The Palestinian represestatives in Britain, such as envoy Manuel Hassassian, are devoting themselves to alerting the British public about the siege and to making their people's cause and aspirations better known and understood. Next month sees a Palestine Trade Fair opening in London which will aim to break the stereotypes of Palestinians as refugees or terrorists, and show them as producers, who want to be free to build a better life. They know that just as Palestinian workers and farmers face roadblocks and an apartheid wall, so the truth and especially anything positive about them often faces a media blockade.

It is a difficult enough job without having to face diversions, or attempts to import divisions into the Palestinian communities and supporters of their cause here. We don't want to be used as part of any diversion, or be misrepresented as such.

Hopefully the progranme maker Nadim Mahjoub was guilty of inexperience and being over-ambitious in the way he presented what he had, and nothing worse. So far as I can gather, Resonance is asically a music station, and Nadim' (Middle East Panorama) an enthusiastic freelance. We need journalists and media workers who will do everything to help the struggle for peace with justice, and not just see the struggle as an opportunity to advance their own careers. The "alternative media" should be better than the bourgeois media, not just cutting corners with the rules.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Honouring Howard Andrews, at 101!

THANKS to Dave Chapple in Somerset for sending this photograph, taken over seventy years ago in Spain. It is not a holiday snap.
The civil war was raging, and this was a mobile clinic on the Teruel front, 1937. The man in the picture is Howard Andrews, from Kilburn in North West London, and he is handing down a pressure cooker containing sterilised bandages and surgical instruments to nurse Dorothy Rutter from Southampton.

Despite the heroism and determination of the Spanish people and those who went out to help them, Franco's fascists won, with the backing of the Axis powers. Franco remained in power after the defeat of Mussolini and Hitler, in which Howard Andrews also did his bit, thanks to the Western powers' willingness to work with dictatorship in Spain.

Today the fascist dictators have gone, but those who would like to resume their bloody work have crawled out of the woodwork to spread the poison of race hatred again. Imperialism, too, in its "democratic" form, is readier than ever to plunge us into war for the sake of dominance.

Fortunately there are still people prepared to stand up to the fascists and warmongers, and among them, still setting an example to the young, is Howard Andrews, 'Andy' as he is known to his friends, here seen turning up on his buggy to protest against Trident missiles.

Since moving to the West Country in the 1950s, working - and organising - in the NHS, Andy has been a familiar and respected old campaigner long after lesser mortals have retired from the field. Last year he was there with his buggy to encourage striking civil servants on the picket line in Taunton. That was less than a month before his 100th birthday, which he celebrated with friends and comrades. Then a few months later someone sent me an extract from the Glastonbury rock festival programme:

"Last minute announcement for the Left Field stage - we've just confirmed that a veteran of the Spanish Civil War will be opening the Love Music Hate Racism night on Saturday. Howard Andrews, known as Andy is 100 years old, and worked as a medic in field hospitals as a member of international brigades.He'll be opening the Love Music Hate Racism night with a few words about his experiences of fighting fascism in Spain, and why he supports the campaign against the BNP."

Now Andy is going to be centre stage at another event.
On Friday, February 15, to celebrate his 101st birthday, he will be guest of honour in Taunton at what Somerset trades unionists are billing as a "A Somerset celebration of international workers’ solidarity against capitalism, racism and fascism".

Ken Keable will also pay tribute to Archie Doran of Weston-super-mare, Sidcot School and Morlands Glastonbury, who was killed fighting in the defence of Madrid in 1937. Robert Brinkworth of the Fire Brigades Union is MC, and there'll be speakers from other trade unions, as well as from the International Brigade Memorial Trust, Searchlight magazine, peace groups and migrant workers' organisations. There's going to be music from the Red Notes Choir and
Red Shadow Sound System, as well as food and a licensed bar.

Sounds like a good night, and one for pride in a fine old comrade. The event is organised by the Somerset Association of Trades Union Councils, with the financial support of Taunton TUC and Somerset County UNISON (Andy's union).

Dave Chapple of the Somerset Association of Trades Union Councils says all are welcome, though if you want to come and need more information it's best to contact advance. Likewise, if you can't make it but would like to send a message of birthday greetings and support he will make sure it is passed on - E-mail:

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Any hook will do to show subservience to the Americans


I MET that Abu Hamza once. Took tea with him, in fact. I'm taking a risk telling you this. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has decided to extradite the one-time club bouncer turned Muslim cleric to the United States to face terrorism charges, and if they can do that to one British citizen, which of us is safe?

(Apart from the suited gents of the far Right, of course, who can stroll out free in triumph for the kind of hate speech, or worse, that lands a Muslim brother in Belmarsh).

At least I don't have to worry about the job blacklist now, having reached pension age before New Labour raises it in fulfilment of its pledge to "Keep Britain working".

It is some years since I was faced with the dilemma of how to honestly answer the question on an application form, as to whether I had ever associated with any person who had belonged to an organisation prepared to "use violence for political ends". I could surely claim Maxim Ghilan's membership of the Stern gang was long spent, and I had no idea what some of my Irish friends had been up to at nights, but what about my Dad? As an impressionable 17-year old he had enlisted with a organisation reknowned around the world for using violence for political ends, just so he could get off the dole, cease being a burden on his widowed mother, and eat regularly. It also offered foreign travel. It was called the British Army. What my Dad had to say about serving the Empire, and what he thought of the officer class, certainly had its influence on me.

But I digress.

My encounter with Abu Hamza was only brief, and it was before he became famous. I'd gone to visit an Algerian fellow in Finsbury Park, and arrived to find the imam was also visiting. No different to having the vicar or rabbi to tea. While I listened and took notes on what our host had to tell me about the state of affairs in Algeria, I can't recall Abu Hamza in his easy chair having anything to say. Perhaps he was there to listen. Did my host seem a bit nervous, or is that media enhancing my memory? I was impressed by the cleric's deft balancing between hook and knee of his cup and saucer and biscuits. Some of us klutzes have more trouble with both hands.

I next saw Abu Hamza in person a couple of years ago, when I was taking part in a small demonstration at the Egyptian embassy, off South Audley Street, over the way Egyptian police had violently broken up a camp of Sudanese refugees. It was a Muslim-led demonstration - those at the front kneeled to say their Friday prayers - but non-sectarian. As one of those leading it said "They found Bibles as well as Korans on the ground after they cleared the people from the Cairo park".

It was towards the end of the demo that I saw Abu Hamza al Misri emerging from a side street and having a quiet word with some of the organisers. He is originally Egyptian, hence that "al Misri". I might just have imagined a smile of recognition when he saw me. Not very significant, but I thought I'd recount it just so as to keep the spooks busy filling in their files, or at least the amateur Mossadniks drawing "connections" on charts with their felt-tips.

It must be about ten years ago, when Abu Hamza had become notorious that I read a comment from former Tory MP and Minister David Mellor in the Sunday People denouncing the dangerous fanatic, and demnding to know "Who let him in the country?" I did some checking and realised that Abu Hamza, who trained as an engineer, and went to Afghanistan, as well as doing some work at Sandhurst, had acquired British residence and indeed citizenship in 1980. We had a Tory government then, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was full of praise for the Muslim guerrillas in Afghanistan, and the Home Secretary was none other than ...David Mellor. So I could write and answer his question, saying "You did!" My letter did not get published but then Private Eye took up the point, and Mellor was stung into replying that he had not been consulted on every detail. I can't see a Labour Home Secretary getting away with such arguments -"nowt to do with me, guv" - but then, come to think of it Mellor had been given a hard time over his toe-sucking exploits, allegedly in a Chelsea shirt, and who paid for the ice creams on his holiday, so I guess the media decided he was no longer worth bothering about.

Abu Hamza has been serving a sentence in Belmarsh on charges of incitement to hatred and murder, but it is four years since the United States asked for his extradition, and almost ten years since he was accused of having a real hand, or if you prefer hook, in terrorism and faced demands for extradition - to Yemen.

In December 1998, sixteen tourists were kidapped in Yemen. There was also evidence of a bomb plot there. It was reported that the group responsible was in telephone contact with Abu Hamza, and that he was running training courses for terror at the Finsbury Park mosque. Three British tourists and one Australian were killed when they were used as human shields during a shoot-out with the Yemeni rescuers, it was claimed.

In 1999, Abu Hamza’s son Mohammed Mustafa Kamel was sentenced to three years in prison in Yemen for his involvement in a terrorist bombing campaign when he was 17. He returned to Britain after completing his sentence in 2002. The Yemeni authorities had meanwhile made repeated requests to the British government for the extradition of Abu Hamza himself to face trial. The British government refused, it is said because he might face the death penalty in Yemen if convicted. It has also refused past requests from his native Egypt.

It is touching to see the consideration given to endangered species like Abu Hamza compared with that for failed asylum seekers who are sent back to whatever fate awaits them in countries far more repressive or violence-torn than Yemen. Or is there some other reason?

Abu Hamza, who lost both hands and an eye while working in Afghanistan, will probably be held in a “supermax” prison in the U.S., where inmates are locked up 23 hours a day in cells measuring between 48 square feet and 80 square feet with no natural light, no control over electricity in their cells and no view outside their cells, according to American press. They have no contact with other prisoners and no meaningful contact with prison staff.

I don't know what kind of life this is that he is being spared for, or how it can be justified. I guess it is shutting him up in more than one sense. Could it be that he has something to say which someone in power might be afraid of?

I can think of more deserving, as well as more prepossessing, causes for our concern than Abu Hamza. I am sure a lot of Muslims in Britain, and not least regulars at Finsbury Park mosque, will be glad to see the back of him, just as the tabloid press will miss the hook-waving bogeyman.

All the same, let us not forget that those who are now so keen to lock him away have more than once employed men just like him for their purposes, and are probably enlisting worse ones. But more generally, Iooking at how the British government was so reluctant to accept requests from Yemen for extradition, but is so ready to collaborate with the United States in handing over a citizen, we must ask whether this is more to do with the international pecking order than any reaI system of justice. It seems we know our place when America gives the orders. It's nothing to be proud of.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Small steps forward, against bloody slide back

THE Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened this week, despite - or more likely, because of - the supposed "peace process" backed by the great powers, and in spite of some positive developments.

Seven Palestinian policemen were killed, and ten injured on Tuesday when Israeli 'planes fired missiles at the Abasan police station near Khan Yunis, in the south of the Gaza Strip. Earlier, Israeli tanks and bulldozers had invaded areas in Rafeah, clashing with Palestinian fighters before withdrawing.

On Monday, a woman in Dimona was killed and eleven people injured, in the first suicide bombing carried out inside Israel in over a year. The attack was in a shopping centre in the northern Negev town which is the site of Israel's nuclear reactor and weapon production. The first bomber was killed when his belt packed with explosives and ball bearings went off, the other, whose bomb had failed to detonate was shot dead as he lay injured by an Israeli policeman.

Supporters of Israel's "security" measures like the annexation wall and checkpoints had kept chanting "suicide bombers" as their pretext, and when anyone pointed out there had been no bombings for a year, that this proved the policy was effective. Now after all the repression and war they are back at square one.

If the latest Gaza attacks were intended as a reprisal they were both futile and dishonest. We have been here before. Israel blames the Palestinian authorities for failing to control guerrillas and bombers operating from their territory (or not, in some cases), then attacks targets like police stations to make sure they have neither the authority nor the means to assert control. They did it when Arafat was alive, pretending the Palestinian leader who had taken their hand was the "terrorist" bogeyman.

It is especially dishonest now because, though the two Dimona attackers were reported to be from Gaza, where Hamas retains control of the police, the attack was claimed by an element within the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, stemming from Fatah. It is Fatah leader and President Mahmoud Abbas with whom the Israeli government is entering a new round of peace talks encouraged by its Western backers. Meanwhile, it declares the entire Gaza area "enemy territory", claiming the right to impose siege conditions on its inhabitants - and undoubtedly thus fostering a new generation of bombers.

Not that the Israeli military has desisted from raids on Palestinians in the West Bank. In the past week they have seized several people from their homes in Ramallah and Nablus. To further complicate the picture, after statements that the two bombers came from Gaza and entered Israel through the Sinai border with Egypt, Hamas issued its own statement on Wednesday, complete with video, claiming the two were its men, had belonged to the al Qassam Brigades, and came from the West Bank town of Hebron. At dawn today, Thursday, the Israeli army raided the home of one of the bombers, Mohammad al Herbawi, in Hebron, following with attacks on several other homes in the area.

Meanwhile the Palestinian Prisoners Society had issued a report that during January the Israeli forces had kidnapped no less than 60 people from the Hebron area, eleven of them children. Armed Israeli settlers who have frequently rampaged through Hebron attacking shops and market stalls were reported attacking Palestinian shepherds in the countryside nearby.

On the Monday that the Dimona raid took place Hamas security men were reported to be assisting Egyptian forces by holding back crowds of Palestinians as the border with Egypt was resealed with barbed wire and metal barricades. For two weeks people from Gaza had been taking advantage of a breach in the border to stream into Egypt to buy food and essentials that were being denied them because of the siege. The UN estimated some 750,000 people -half the Gaza strip's population - had gone into Egypt, most of them returning with their shopping. Not all have the money. And now Israel is reportedly planning to cut electricity and fuel supplies again.

The UN special coordinator for the Middle East, Robert Serry, said he was concerned about an Israeli high court ruling last week that rejected challenges to an Israeli government decision to reduce fuel and electricity supplies to Gazans. "We ... reiterate the secretary general's call on Israel to reconsider and cease its policy of pressuring the civilian population of Gaza for the unacceptable actions of militants and extremists," he said in a statement. "Collective penalties are prohibited under international law."

So, is there any good news to report?
Two small steps that offer faint hope. There is another way.

As we reported, the Israeli military refused to allow food and other goods collected by Israeli citizens for the convoy to Gaza to be taken through. On Wednesday this message came from Gush Shalom:

The week after Jan. 26 – day after day intense lobbying in the Knesset, towards ministries, by phone, fax and in person & a lot of protest mails from all streaks of the globe.

And … it worked: today Adv. Orna Cohen of Adallah received by fax a permit for the convoy goods to enter Gaza. Yakov Manor is now coordinating on behalf of the Convoy Coalition with the army day and hour..

A small victory for humanity, though after the other events we are keeping our fingers crossed.

The other message, from Italian MEP Luisa Morgantini is a tad optimistic perhaps, but at least she and those with her have tried to do something, when governments like ours connive at the siege.


Jerusalem, 7th February 2008

A delegation composed of 10 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs)
from different political groups (see the list of participants below)
and led by Luisa Morgantini, Vice-President of the European Parliament,
broke the Israeli siege and travelled to the Gaza Strip on 5th February
During a press conference, MEPs reaffirmed the need and the urgency to
lift the blockade that represents “an illegal collective punishment on
the civil population”.
Visiting the Al-Shifa Hospital, the delegation expressed its deep
concern and worry about the extreme difficulties under which the main
hospital in the Gaza Strip is obliged to operate, where patients with
cancer, but not only with cancer, do not avail of the necessary medical
drugs or treatments and at least 30 premature babies, still alive
thanks to incubators, risk dying if generators stop because of the lack
of fuel due to cuts in refuelling supplies and to the closure decided
by the Israeli Government.
In its mission to Gaza, the delegation also met many Palestinian
businessmen who reaffirmed the impossibility for them to carry out
their commercial activities because of the Israeli blockade, with
disastrous consequences for the economy and the daily life of
civilians: 80% of workers are currently unemployed without any
Refusing the idea of resorting to smuggling, currently the only channel
open to access and trade goods in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian
businessmen have on the contrary reiterated to MEPs their will and
their right to free and honest trade. Palestinian businessmen also
repeated that the siege does not affect Hamas’ political and religious
movement but that, on the contrary, the heaviest price is being paid by
the civil population, as many Palestinian intellectuals and activists
have been claiming for a long time and as they also claimed in a
meeting with the MEPs in the offices of the “End the Siege" campaign
(;, with the
participation, among others, of the doctor and human rights activist,
Eyad Sarraj, one of the promoters of the demonstration for the
International Day for the End of Gaza siege, on 26th January, held
simultaneously in the Gaza Strip, at the Eretz Crossing, by Israeli
peace activists, and all around the world.
The different organizations supporting the Campaign, but also many
women from Gaza, meeting the delegation, reaffirmed the need for
independence, freedom and peace for Palestinians, appealed for the
lifting of the blockade and also for the right to security for all
civilians, both Israelis and Palestinians. They restated at the same
time that “Qassam rockets are fired not by the people of Gaza, but only
by some groups of extremist Palestinians, and this must be condemned as
well as all the bloodshed of civilians due to Israeli raids perpetuated
by the army of occupation”.
In the press conference, broadcast by major Arab television channels,
the MEPs, expressing their solidarity, declared they were “deeply
impressed by the dignity and the resistance of the Palestinian people
and wished that Palestinian political parties could find unity so that
the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would not be separated."
MEPs also urged an intervention to put a stop to the ecological
disaster in Beitlaya area; that the Rafah border and all Gaza crossings
be opened thereby allowing free movement of people and goods; that the
violent spiral of action-reaction be immediately stopped. They also
called for concrete deeds for the resumption of peace negotiations
based on the freezing of all illegal Israeli settlements in the West
Bank and in East Jerusalem, the end to the military occupation and for
the establishment of a free and sovereign Palestinian State based on
the ‘67 borders in coexistence with the Israeli State.
The delegation also urged effective action by the International
Community to secure the freedom of all political prisoners and
Palestinian Parliamentarians who have been arrested, to improve living
conditions in all the Occupied Palestinian Territory and, in
particular, in the Gaza Strip, to encourage Israel to show a concrete
will for peace, that has not existed up until now and that is denied
every day through the raids, check points, roadblocks, the wall and
closures not only in Gaza but in the entire West Bank, such as in
Hebron - which the MEPs visited on 4th February - a ghost town,
occupied by hundreds of Israeli soldiers defending 400 fanatic
During the fact-finding mission, from 2nd – 7th February, the Members
of the European Parliament with 8 officials, assistants and some
journalists also visited the town of Sderot, in Israel, under daily
attack by Qassam rockets, as a sign of solidarity with the civil
population, where they met, among others, Zvi Shuldiner, director of a
Department of Safir College and peace activist.
The delegation also met the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad,
the Minister in charge of Prisoners' Affairs, Ashraf al- Ajami, Members
of the Palestinian Legislative Council of different political parties -
Fatah, Al Mubadarah, Third Way, Peoples' Party, Popular Front,
Independents and Change and Reform List (Hamas), some Members of the
Knesset- Kadima Party and Labour Party, General Pietro Pistoiese, Head
of the EUBAM mission in Rafah, EU and UNRWA Representatives, but also
peace and human rights organizations from Israeli and Palestinian civil

More info.

LONDON DEMO THIS WEEKEND: Lift the siege of Gaza!
Saturday, February 9, 4pm in Whitehall, opposite 10 Downing Street.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bash the Poor. It's still New Labour's way

PEOPLE who live in council houses should be made to "actively seek work" as a condition of their tenancy, according to Labour's Housing Minister Caroline Flint, who claims there is a culture of "no one works around here" on some council estates.

Labour: if you want a council house, find a job
Housing minister Flint's plan to make tenants actively seek work
Patrick Wintour, political editor, Tuesday February 5, 2008
The Guardian

Anyone who is on unemployment benefit is already required to show evidence that they are trying to get work, and if you refuse to take suitable work your dole can be stopped. The government has been saying it will extend this to those registered for disability - at the same time as presiding over plans to close Remploy and other sheltered workshops. This seeming inconsistency can be explained if we forget the talk of "helping people back to work" and realise it is about creating a bigger pool of desperate people for wage-cutting employers to exploit.

Now by blaming people on poor estates for their own plight, and stigmatising them as idlers living off the state, Flint is fostering prejudice and divisions in the working class (one reason people can't get jobs is employers stigmatising entire areas). Her threat to people's homes takes us back to Victorian days when employers could have workers and thir families evicted from their cottages.

It also means councils strapped for cash and staff struggling to maintain services would be expected to take on a policing role, spying on tenants. Or does Flint perhaps have it in mind , as per New Labour's way of doing things, that some outside firm of "consultants" should be given a juicy contract doing that job?

The minister's pronouncement in an interview with the Guardian comes ironically in a week when the public has been hearing how MPs find employment - or rather well-paid sinecures - for members of their own families. We are also hearing how they claim big expenses without having to show a receipt, and get the public to pay for expensive second homes even when their constituency homes are within easy reach.

Caroline Flint has only just taken over the housing ministry. She was moved from employment in the reshuffle set off when Peter Hain resigned, saying he would "clear his name" over failing to declare thousands of pounds from wealthy businessmen which was paid into a "think tank" that did nothing. The money was used to fund his deputy leadership campaign which proved a dead duck.

People who fail to declare income when claiming council housing benefit can be suspended immediately, and if caught fiddling they can face more serious consequences than MPs who absent-mindedly forget to mention patrons' generosity. Maybe New Labour's bright sparks think we are too thick to notice, or that we'll gratefully clutch the chance to denounce someone lower down the scale and forget what our 'betters' are up to? Or maybe their smartness doesn't extend to a sense of irony

For Flint story see:,,2252563,00.html

Flint's big idea has been challenged by other MPs, including Tories who want to know whether she is serious, and by housing professionals and charities.

'Grant Shapps, the shadow housing minister, said: "Ministers and local councils have a statutory duty to house homeless families with children and so they can't boot them out of their houses without then providing alternative accommodation.
"What we've heard is classic Labour spin - designed to sound tough, but is in reality meaningless."

His view was echoed by David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation. He said: "Such a policy would be unfair and impossible to enforce.
"Many of the jobs open to people, especially at the lower skills end, are insecure or temporary. Also, people with health problems, such as mental health issues, may find there are periods when they cannot keep up their job."
The chief executive of Shelter, the housing charity, said Flint's ideas would send Britain back to the Victorian era. '

Flint accused of 'stigmatising' council estates

Rosalind Ryan and agencies Tuesday February 5, 2008 Guardian Unlimited,,2252761,00.html

With local government elections coming, Labour's remaining campaigners at grass roots and in the unions are desperately hoping to play down the funding scandals, and telling us to get out and vote to stop the racists and the Tories. It is a pity that a Labour minister thinks the way to win is to bash the poor and try to show you can be better at this than the Tories.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Freedoms in Afghanistan and Iraq? You having a laugh?

REMEMBER the 'Four Freedoms'? Not a vocal group, nor a pizza topping, as I recall they were enunciated by a US president as " Freedom of Speech, and Religion. Freedom from Want, and from from Fear". Guess I'm showing my age. It was Roosevelt speaking a year before I was born, but it sounded fresh and good when I was growing up in post-war years.

Still, we keep hearing about freedom from time to time, Mrs. Thatcher once told us Afghan mujahaddin were "batting for freedom", and more recent rulers who praise the batty old dame assure us British and US forces are bombing and bashing for freedom and democracy, would you believe. So do pro-war liberal media hacks .
So how are these freedoms faring in the lands which Uncle Sam and John Bull have delivered from evil dictatorship?

I've had two appeals for support for campaigns this week. First from Iraq, once among the most developed and prosperous countries in the Middle East, where sanctions and war drove millions into poverty and hunger, and child malnutrition doubled within two years of the invasion.

Now it seems the pro-occupier regime which has kept Saddam Hussein's anti-union laws handy is dispensing with its predecesor's food rationing system. Yes, freedom is precious, and must be rationed, but people will be free to buy as much food as they can afford, or go hungry. Children won't have any choice, because they don't have money.

Here's an appeal from an Iraqi exile desperate at the news he gets from home:

Dear Comrades,

please find below a link to the online petition against the planned elimination of the ration system in Iraq, which the US/UK protected Iraqi government want to end by June.

If this ends, then millions of people are going to be left in absolute poverty and it will undoubtedly mean that millions of people are going to be left to literally starve to death.

As British and American troops are currently occupying Iraq, this means that people in the UK and US have both a legal and moral responsibility to voice your objections to this!

If this is allowed to happen, Iraq will surely be turned from a concentration camp, into a death camp!

Please also help by spreading the word!


Hussein Al-alak
The Iraq Solidarity Campaign

That's freedom from want.

And now freeom from fear, in Afghanistan.
We start with a report from the Independent.

Sentenced to death: Afghan who dared to read about women's rights

Read more »

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