Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Breaking the Blockade on Gaza

FREE GAZA boats have won wide admiration. Cover of Jewish Socialist magazine current issue depicts boat preparing to sail from Larnaca. The aid they carry is welcome, their defiance of blockade courageous, but their biggest significance is exposing the shameful position of governments.

ANOTHER boat has got through to the besieged Gaza strip, defying the blockade which Israeli forces are maintaining on land and sea with the assistance of the Egyptian authorities. A statement issued today by the Free Gaza Movement from the boat's port of sail, Larnaca in Cyprus, announced that their third boat, the SS Dignity carrying 27 crew and passengers "arrived in Gaza at 8:10 Gaza time, in spite of Israeli threats to stop them. In the pouring rain, the boat pulled into port amid cheers from the people of Gaza and tears from the passengers".

"David Schermerhorn, one of the crew members called an hour before the boat entered the waters of Gaza and said, 'There is a rainbow stretching across the Mediterranean from where we are right now'.

"Yesterday, The Israel Navy said they would stop the stop our vessel once it reached Israel's territorial waters. Apparently to save face, they said they would harm our boat, arrest us and tow us IF we entered Israeli waters. The problem for Israel is that the SS Dignity had no intention of getting anywhere near those waters.

"One of the organizers, Huwaida Arraf cheered, "Once again we've been able to defy an unjust and illegal policy while the rest of the world is too intimidated to do anything. Our small boat is a huge cry to the
international community to follow in our footsteps and open a lifeline to the people of Gaza."

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council added, "Despite the injustice against the Palestinian people, we believe in justice and will keep on trying to break Israel's siege. The occupation
has divided the Palestinians, but our non-violent resistance has united us."

The Dignity's voyage took place after a video was published showing the Israeli navy harassment of Palestinian fishermen from Gaza.

It also came as the International Committee of the Red Cross has appealed to Israel to allow badly needed medical supplies and equipment through for Gaza hospitals. Hussein Ashour, director general of the Shifa hospital, said the hospital's reserve of up to 90 kinds of drugs had run out, including those needed to treat cancer patients. Most of the hospital's medical scanning equipment was not functioning and patients were being asked to go to private health centres instead, he said.

"We even lack the paper -- the official forms -- so we sometimes write on the back of used paper or turn school copybooks into prescription pads," Ashour said. Doctors said Shifa had suspended heart operations for the past year because of a lack of spare parts to repair equipment needed for surgery.

There are reports indicating that the rivalry between Palestinian authorities which Israel and the Western powers have encouraged is leading to competition for scarce resources. Antoine Grand, the ICRC's chief representative in the Gaza Strip, urged Fatah and Hamas to co-operate and "make sure the health
sector does not suffer."

Eyad El-Sarraj, head of the Gaza Mental Health Programme, said Gazans' mental health also was suffering due to unemployment Doctors and mental health professionals from several countries were preparing to demonstrate at the Erez crossing point after the Israeli authorities refused to allow them to enter the Gaza strip to attend a mental health conference

The SS Dignity was carrying a half-ton of medical supplies and other aid. Among those on board was 1976 Nobel prize winner Mairead Corrigan McGuire. Some of the voyagers will stay in Gaza for a month, others are hoping to travel on to Ramallah. Although any aid is welcome, the amount carried on a boat like the SS Dignity is plainly insufficient to meet Gaza's needs. The real point is the contrast between what people like the Free Gaza volunteers are prepared to do and the couldn't-care-less inhumanity of governments which are backing Israel.

Italian Euro-MP Luisa Morgantini welcomed the news about the Dignity, and thanked all those who had helped, including the Greek and Cypriot authorities whom she said had resisted Israeli pressures to have them impede the boat's sailing. The Italian MEP condemned both the Israeli government's blockade and the disunity of Palestinian leadership. Referring to heavy rains and floods which have destroyed many homes in Gaza's refugee camps, she said "The European Union must immediately intervene in order to help the homeless and ask also the Egyptian Government for the freedom of movement for Palestinians".

Luisa Morgantini, who calls both for lifting the Gaza siege and ending the Israeli occupation in the West Bank is taking part in a European Parliamentary delegation due to leave for Palestine tomorrow, and she hopes to visit the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

Another voice raised in the European Union has been that of the city of Barcelona. It issued this statement this year:

Statement by the Barcelona City Council and its Municipal Council for International Cooperation against the Gaza Strip Blockade.

The Gaza Strip has been suffering an unprecedented humanitarian crisis since the month of June 2007. During these twelve months, the economic, social and humanitarian situation of the Gaza Strip’s population has worsened dramatically. The blockade of the Gaza Strip has been denounced by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, by such organisations as UNRWA and ECHO, and by a substantial part of the international, Palestinian and Israeli civil societies.

The blockading of basic supplies to an occupied population represents a collective punishment of civilians and it is illegal since it breaches the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949. This Convention, within the frame of International Humanitarian Law, establishes the rules and regulations applying to powers at war and/or the occupying powers of a territory, with respect to the civilian population.

The Israeli State’s policy of isolation and blockade of the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants breaches various articles of this convention and especially those contained in its Section III (Occupied Territories), from Article 55 to Article 61. Under International Humanitarian Law, Israel continues to be an occupying force and, consequently, it is responsible for assuring and filling the basic needs of the occupied population. Not to do so constitutes a grave breach of the most elementary human rights.

The distribution of fuel and electricity in Gaza has been seriously reduced in the last six months. The continuous interruptions in the supply of electricity have made it necessary to use emergency generators in such basic services as clinics and hospitals. The dependence on fuel and the Israeli refusal to supply the quantity required by the basic services has brought about the halt of basic medical equipment and services, jeopardising the lives of numerous patients and the provision of ongoing vital treatments for chronic and long-term patients, while preventing the correct provision of emergency services.

The shortage of fuel and of replacement parts has also made it impossible to carry out the correct management of the solid wastes of the cities and the refugee camps, as well as the correct operation of the water-purification plants of the Gaza Strip, generating a situation which seriously threatens the public health in the territory. Many of the replacement parts and basic supplies have been retained at the border since June 2007. It should be recalled that the Gaza Strip stands among the world’s 10 territories with the greatest density of population and the highest concentration of refugee population, a fact which aggravates the blockade’s consequences even more.

The city of Barcelona has maintained a friendship and cooperation agreement with the city of Gaza since 1998. Diverse projects have been carried out in Gaza, both directly between the city councils and with the cooperation and participation of diverse NGOs of Barcelona. We have worked together on projects for urban development and for the treatment of the public space, as well as on cultural animation projects, mental health projects and many others. Over twenty cooperation projects have been implemented jointly with Gaza in the last four years.

For all these reasons, the Municipal Council for Cooperation states that:
1. We express our concern for the present living conditions of the Gaza Strip’s civilian population, especially in terms of health.
2. We condemn the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel which, as an occupying power, shall comply with the obligations which are established by International Law, and we demand the immediate end of said blockade.
3. We condemn all acts of violence directed against the civilian population and we demand compliance with the provisions of International Humanitarian Law by all the actors in conflict.
4. We reiterate our support for a fair lasting solution based on dialogue and on the resolutions of the United Nations.

Labels: ,

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dame Pauline keeps raking the dosh

SHE has done it again! Surely David Cameron's shadow security minister and foreign policy adviser Dame Pauline Neville-Jones deserves a Queen's award for industry, or something, for her apparent ability to attract big money and win the confidence of important overseas contacts?

In these economically troubled times when local authorities have lost millions in collapsing Icelandic banks, and people face losing their jobs, homes and pensions, we need a good tonic in the shape of High Society news to remind us that politics can be fun, and life need not be hard. That is presumably why Gordon Brown brought back Peter, now Lord, Mandelson. No sooner is he installed as Business secretary than lines are buzzing about his meetings with Oleg Deripaska, Russia's billionaire aluminium king. Oh Lord! Mandy's old office in Brussels admits they met on "social occasions", but says they never talked business.

Meanwhile Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne was being asked to say more about his meetings with Mr.Deripaska, and to tell about his stay at the Corfu villa of Nathaniel Rothschild. David Cameron himself is being urged not to be shy about his trips to see Rupert Murdoch aboard his yacht in the eastern Mediterranean.

Well, why not? We all know the Murdoch media's interest and balanced coverage of affairs of the eastern Mediterranean, and for all we know the boy Dave could have been hoping to persuade the media monarch to express his patriotism by generously paying tax in the United Kingdom.

When it comes to remunerative links however, there is nothing like a Dame! We have commented before, as have others, on how Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who was chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, met interesting leaders like Slobodan Milosevic at the Dayton peace talks on Bosnia and former Yugoslavia, and then joined NatWest markets, where her old boss Lord Hurd also found a job. The two of them helped arrange the privatisation of Serbia's telecomms industry, for which NatWest took big bucks in consultancy and its star employees were accordingly rewarded.

Dame Pauline went on to help guide the BBC through stormy times, occasionally appearing before the cameras to explain world affairs and security matters, but more reticent and modest about her role as a governor when director general Greg Dyke was fired, over the Kelly affair. Some people remarked about her £133,000 a year as chair of military hardware contractors QinetiQ.

But the enterprising Dame Pauline was able to pack in the BBC job and make much more by exercising her share option before QinetiQ was taken over by the US-based Carlyle Group. The National Audit Office reported that the British taxpayer received a raw deal. QinetiQ had been the MoD's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency(DERA). But Dame Pauline got some top level US conference engagements for her diary, and David Cameron decided she was just the person to advise him on foreign affairs.

Now the Dame is in the news again with a report in today's Guardian linking her office indirectly to a Ukrainian oligarch called Dimitry Firtash.

"Pauline Neville-Jones, shadow security minister, former chair of the joint intelligence committee and a key Cameron foreign policy adviser, currently has her office sponsored by Robert Shetler-Jones, a close associate of the foreign billionaire Dmitry Firtash.A company linked to Shetler-Jones is also making payments to Conservative Central Office.. It is called Scythian Ltd. Shetler-Jones chairs and part owns it.

"So far, more than £70,000 has been paid in total.

"Under current laws and rules the arrangement is legitimate: the money is coming from a British individual and a UK-based company. But the Electoral Commission wrote to the Conservative party in July, querying the status of Scythian Ltd. The company had apparently always been dormant and was overdue with its accounts. Donations are only permissible under the rules if they come from a company that is genuinely "carrying on a business" in the UK.

"The Conservatives obtained a letter from a Scythian Ltd auditor, they say, claiming the company was no longer dormant. But its accounts, which are a year overdue, have still not appeared on the Companies House register. The most recent Scythian declaration to Companies House, made only last month, described it as a "non-trading company".

The commission said last night it had been satisfied by Tory reassurances at the time, but were keeping the situation "under review".

A Conservative party spokesman said: "These donations have been declared to the Electoral Commission and are entirely permissible under the rules. The party has received confirmation that this company is carrying on business in the UK and the Electoral Commission has written to us stating they have no issues. All of our donations are declared to the Electoral Commission and we always adhere to the rules rigidly."

Shetler-Jones said yesterday: "All donations have come from me personally or from my UK company, Scythian Ltd, of which I am a shareholder. These donations reflect my personal support for the Conservative party and were not made in consultation with Dmitry Firtash or at his request."

Shetler-Jones denies that Scythian is dormant. The company's premises are located in Mayfair. "On the door of No 25 Knightsbridge, a palatial office block close to the Harvey Nichols store, Scythian is the only occupant listed.The only entries on the official Companies House register for Scythian show that it has so far always been "dormant", has only £2 nominal capital, has never so far traded and is a year overdue with its accounts.

The same first floor at No 25 is listed on company records as simultaneously occupied by the DF Foundation. This is part of the Firtash group, according to the group's website, which also says Shetler-Jones represents the foundation. The charity began to fund Ukrainian language courses at Cambridge in February 2007.

A third listed phone number at the same first-floor address is the recently-founded British-Ukrainian Society, of which Shetler-Jones is also a director.

The Guardian says Firtash is a former meat trader and second-hand car dealer, who made his fortune trading with Turkmenistan, supplying food and other goods in exchange for gas that was then sold to Ukraine. In 2006 he was revealed as one of the men behind a company that controls Gazprom gas supplies from Russia to Europe, via Ukraine. Yulia Tymoshenko, then prime minister of Ukraine, alleged that the firm, RosUkrEnergo, was overcharging the country and had links to organised crime. There were allegations that Firtash had links with Semyon Mogilevich, an alleged mafia chief who had been arrested in Moscow, but the claims were strongly denied in statements issued on behalf of Firtash by Shetler-Jones.

Some of the Shetler-Jones donations are coming in as a £5,000 quarterly donation to Neville-Jones's office expenses. She declares it as money from him, provided through Conservative campaign headquarters. Another £30,000 has come in as individual donations from Shetler-Jones to Conservative central office.

Tymoshenko told the BBC in 2006: "We provided the president of the Ukraine with documented proof that some powerful criminal structures are behind the RosUkrEnergo company."

Now that they are experiencing the rougher side of capitalism, Ukrainians and Russians may want to know more about how these oligarchs managed to approprite the wealth of previously state-owned economies. As for the sums making their way into British accounts, whether those of parties or political leaders, we are sure Dame Pauline Neville-Jones has plenty of experience from her time with the Joint Intelligence Committee during the Balkan entnglements. Anyway, we know the public would not like to see poor Pauline out of pocket for her dedicated political work, and besides, all this money coming into the country must be good for the economy wherever it comes from, isn't it?

We take Peter Mandelson's word that when he supped with the Russian billionaire they didn't discuss the aluminium business, and it didn't influence EU trading policy. Similarly, we hope that cheques coming into Dame Pauline's office won't have any influence on Tory foreign policy or attitudes to energy deals.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 24, 2008

Des Warren died, but the case will not

MARCHING for Shrewsbury Two,
"Free Dennis Warren and
Eric Tomlinson," says placard.
The struggle for justice still goes on.

A meeting in London on Monday will raise issues that people in power, and in government, and we may guess, some people in the workers' movement too, hoped they had buried for ever, at least four years ago. Des Warren, the last of the Shrewsbury pickets to be released from jail, died in April 2004, aged only 66, same age as I've just reached myself. Jailed for his part in the 1972 building workers' strike, Des served his full three year sentence. He suffered illness ever since as a result of his treatment inside. Though he made it with the help of friends to Liverpool to receive a Robert Tessal award the year before he died, he was already in a wheelchair, and had been unable to campaign as he wished for justice and truth.

On Monday night, Des' fellow-picket Ricky Tomlinson, who served two years before going on to eventually become a successful actor, will be on the platform together with miners' leader Arthur Scargill at a public meeting organised by the London group of the Shrewsbury Defence Committee, to demand an inquiry into the convictions and a reversal of the "guilty" convictions.

Also speaking will be UCATT construction union officer Mick Dooley, and Terry Renshaw, who was one of the two dozen building workers arrested with Des and Ricky, and is now mayor of the North Wales town of Flint.

The building workers were not arrested for any alleged offences when they went to bring out sites in Shrewsbury. They were taken from their homes after the strike was over, and the charges against them were "conspiracy". As Des Warren said from the dock, there was a conspiracy alright - between Tory Home Secretary Robert Carr and his colleagues, the vengeful building employers, and the police. But Warren did not just see this as an injustice against himself and his mates, but as a move against the whole working class. And since it was then Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins who kept him in jail and refused to reopen the case, Des also began to question the culpability of people in the labour movement itself, from TUC leaders to those in the Communist Party from whom he had accepted advice.

In 1977, assisited by some loyal Communist Party comrades, Des Warren published a pamphlet called "Shrewsbury, Whose Conspiracy?" It quickly sold out Later he wrote his book, The Key to My Cell. But before this in 1980 he reissued the pamphlet with a new introduction:

"I believe this re-publication is very timely. The Shrewsbury trials and jailings were Act One in the ruling class onslaught against trade union rights throughout the 1970s and now into the 1980s with Thatcher’s Tory government giving huge pay rises to the judiciary, police, regular army and reservists, coinciding with proposals to outlaw secondary picketing, weaken the closed shop, cut social security to strikers’ families, and other measures.

"Deaths in police cells have risen alarmingly, SPG squads are used against pickets, the death of Blair Peach has been covered up, juries are being vetted — a step towards the no-jury Diplock courts in the north of Ireland where Republicans are incarcerated in H-Block and Armagh concentration camps. This police/military dictatorship in Ulster is a prototype for use against British workers.

"Shrewsbury and its aftermath plays a key role because it not only exposes the conspiracy of the ruling class against our movement. It also shows how the leadership of our movement measures up to the heat of the class confrontation. Perhaps this is why Shrewsbury is such an embarrassment to sections of our movement who would like to forget all about it. Even some leaders on the left claim it is a ‘dead issue’.

"It is largely unknown that as a result of ill-treatment and maladministration of drugs by the prison authorities during sentence, I am a diagnosed sufferer from Parkinson’s Disease. After consultations with specialists, my own doctor has recorded in writing that I am suffering from ‘Parkinsonism caused by therapy given in prison’.

"This has prevented me from campaigning in the movement with the vigour I would like. It is a condemnation of the movement’s leadership — both right and left — that the lessons of Shrewsbury are being ignored. Unfortunately, I also have to condemn the leadership of my own party, the Communist Party which I have belonged to for 16 years and am still a member of.

"I cannot be accused of rushing into print with these and other criticisms. I have remained silent on them ever since my release from Leicester Gaol in August 1976.

"A few examples I have encountered; a solicitor acting on my behalf approached the TUC for permission to see their files on Shrewsbury to help me with the private prosecution I am bringing against the Home Office. The TUC refused, saying they have a 30-year ban on information involving relations with the government. And this from a body mandated by the movement to fight for a Freedom of Information Act!

"The head office of my own union, UCATT, has recently written to me rejecting a request for copies of certain documents about the union’s position on Shrewsbury. However, most readers of this pamphlet will be aware that the backsliding and double-dealing of the TUC and various right wing leaderships is common day-to-day practice. Indeed it would come as a surprise if they were to act in any other manner, and I don’t feel it necessary logo into detail here about their behaviour.

"What is not so well known — and which I think it is necessary to examine — is the role of the CPGB leadership. I feel the Party at the moment is in a stranglehold of reformism. Advocates of-the ‘British Road to Socialism’ stick their heads in the sand. They do their best to ignore anything which is a contradiction of the ‘British Road’, and this includes Shrewsbury. This is a very dangerous game when the movement is under fierce Tory attack, and a game I’m not willing to play. I believe the interests of the working class can best be served by discussion of these issues. Here I list some examples involving Shrewsbury:

1. After my release from prison I was never de-briefed by the Party. Could it be this was because my experiences as a political prisoner would have shown that while the CPGB is committed to a peaceful road to socialism, the state is equally committed to using whatever weapons at its disposal and is already using inhuman and degrading methods in this country and in the north of Ireland (see Strasbourg Human Rights Court verdict).

2. My request for medical examination by Party doctors was not taken up by King Street. Was this because such medical examination would have found that inhuman and degrading treatment was indeed employed by the state in an attempt to make me accept the guilt of Shrewsbury?

3. The Party compounded its actions when the Morning Star refused to publish an article by Jim Arnison giving details about drugs abuse against the by the prison authorities. Jim Arnison wrote to the Star protesting at the failure to print the article.

(It is significant that in the Morning Star’s review of the past decade, on December 29th, 1979, the issue of Shrewsbury is dismissed in half a sentence. No mention is made of it being a political trial, nor even that we pleaded not guilty. Neither does the unprecedented building workers strike of 1972 even rate a mention. This is also an abrupt about-turn from the analysis by CPGB national industrial organiser Bert Ramelson who in 1974 described the Shrewsbury trial as ‘probably the most serious in its implications for the labour movement this century, and certainly since the jailing of the Communist leaders in preparation for the 1926 General Strike’.)

4. My requests for the Party to produce a pamphlet on Shrewsbury were rejected. Eventually, I was advised to write it myself. Later, I was told I had not been de-briefed because I had been considered too ill. Yet I was apparently not too ill to need examination by a Party doctor and not too ill to write an important pamphlet.

5. On completion of the pamphlet it took four months to persuade the Star to review it. At no time did the Party offer to help write, produce or distribute the pamphlet. Indeed I have evidence that steps were taken to discourage party members from reading it.

6. Two Morning Star journalists were contemplating writing a book on Shrewsbury and its lessons. It never transpired. Another party member — an author of some experience — did extensive research and wrote a detailed account of the Shrewsbury case. But was unable to find a publisher.

7. This left me the task of setting down the full facts of Shrewsbury in book form, and to find a publisher. It was during my research that hidden details and intrigue emerged, giving a greater insight into what Shrewsbury was really all about. The purpose of the book I am writing is to expose the full facts so that the movement can judge.

8. The research has uncovered many questions which have been bothering me — including, why the CPGB’s only advice to me while in prison was to co-operate with the prison regime, to wear prison uniform, etc, and submit applications for parole which would have meant recanting and accepting guilt from a political trial — apart from the fact that we were innocent of the charges against us — something I have never done because the Establishment would have used it to slander our movement and to underpin the deterrent effect which the Tories hoped the sentences would have".

Though things might not have worked out as Des Warren feared, Britain under New Labour still has the most restrictive anti-union laws of any country in Europe, and more on the way, and we have seen no let up in police powers, or violence. Des Warren outlived both the Communist Party, wound up by its leaders, and the Workers Revolutionary Party which he joined five years before it broke up in scandal. A new generation is finding ways to fight back against the system, and capitalism itself is not looking too good as we face global recession.

The working class which produced heroes like Des Warren still has not got a party worthy of its sacrifices. But the struggle for truth and justice for the Shrewsbury pickets, and the readiness to confront injustice and examine everything, including our own movement, as shown by Des Warren, are part of that wider struggle.

PUBLIC MEETING Justice for Pickets

7.30 Monday, October 27, at the Welsh Club,

157-163 Grays Inn Road, London WC1.

Mayor Of Flint Takes Fight For Justice For Shrewsbury Pickets To Jack Straw

Shrewsbury Pickets Campaign:

Chris Corrigan obituary for Des Warren:

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Belief on the buses

On a Sunday morning recently I was in Hackney, reckoned to be London's poorest borough, looking for an office among some old rundown factory and warehouse buildings beside the canal. I saw some African people, families in their Sunday best, entering a building down the street, and as I drew near I could hear singing from within.

I was not surprised. There are churches like this in all sorts of unexpected places in London, and I dare say other cities. There was one belonging to some exotic denomination tucked away behind factories by the canal in Alperton where I used to live.

There are also the more conventional locations, former cinemas full of happy clappers and old chapels that have taken on a new life with mainly immigrant congregations.

I thought of that old place in south Hackney, and the people who might go there, when I was invited this week to support a campaign behind an ad on London buses saying:"There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

I'm an atheist. And I am all for people enjoying life. Indeed, for making it possible for everyone to enjoy life. I can share the feelings of comedy writer Ariane Sherine, who appears to have inspired this campaign with an article she wrote in June about the Christian adverts running on London buses, which linked to a website saying non-believers would burn in hell for all eternity.

But urging people to "stop worrying" is a bit untimely and in bad taste right now, with people losing their homes and savings, local councils losing millions in banks that have folded, domestic fuel costs soaring and rising unemployment.

Even when the economy was booming lots of people found it difficult to enjoy life. Figures produced by the London Child Poverty Commission show that a quarter of children in London live below the poverty line, and that this rises to 41 per cent after the capital's housing costs are taken into account.

A report published last month from the Greater London Assembly's economics unit said: "Between 15-19% of London’s workforce is low paid (earning less than £7.05 an hour), that’s between 481,000 and 609,267 working poor. Low pay more frequently affects employees who are less well-qualified, young, and from black and minority ethnic communities".

Of course, money is not everything, but it is a good start. Even if you are earning good money stress caused by worrying over your job or the way you are treated at work, or your housing, contributes to alcoholism, dependence on drugs (prescribed or illegal), and thence or directly, to high levels of domestic as well as street violence.

Religion? "It is the sigh of an oppressed creature," wrote Karl Marx, "the heart of a heartless world...the opium of the masses". In some versions, the word is opiates. In Marx's day, opiates, or laudanum, were commonly used to alleviate pain, when people could not afford or obtain medicine.

If some with the wherewithal for selfish greed need an almighty Father figure to bid them respect the needs of others, I am not anxious to free their consciences. As for those other well-to-do believers who lie and cheat six days a week, then thank the Lord for his favours the seventh; and those with power who inflict pain on people whom they believe consigned to hell anyway; perhaps an appropriate poster should read: "There is NO God. Start worrying!"

But for many poor working people, suffering and treated like dirt week after week, the day they stand bowed in prayer is, paradoxically as it may seem, the one day they can hold their heads up high, confident that in His eyes, at least, they are human beings, and any one's equal.

What's more, If the idea of a world to come was meant to console the masses for the misery and injustice they endure in this one, it has not succeeded in dulling entirely the sense that we are entitled to something better in this life.

Some years ago I had the privilege of meeting Clara Buckley, a Black woman from Brixton, who waged what began as a one-woman campaign for the truth about the death of her son Orville in Broadmoor. Her quiet courage and dignity in taking on the powers that be impressed everyone. I was interested to learn that Clara was an elder of her little church, which probably helped give her that confidence.

More recently, in the fight for decent wages and conditions for cleaners on London Underground I learned that one of the cleaners organising with the RMT in our area doubled as a minister at weekends with some church in Docklands.

I don't believe there's a God. But who am I to take it away from these folk? I'm a materialist. So if I was to spend money on a poster (and I think we can all think of better uses)" it might read something like "Never mind if we disagree about the Next Life. Let's unite to achieve a better world for all in this one!"



Labels: ,

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Behind the ugly scenes in beautiful Acre

EL-JAZZAR 18th century mosque in Acre, built by Bosnian born Ahmed al-Jazzar, who also strengthened the port's fortifications, enabling it to withstand siege by Napoleon.

Call it Akka, Akko or Acre, this coastal city with its Crusader castle, beautiful mosque, and dramatic history is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is also a mixed city, Arab and Jewish, with modern industry and approximately 52,000 people, on the northern side of Haifa bay, in northern Israel.

An old Cana'anite town with affinity to the Phoenicians further north, Acre was built up and fortified under the Turks, and in 1799 it withstood siege by Napoleon. In 1947 under British rule it was the scene of a massive jail break organised by the Zionist Irgun Zvai Leumi, during which many Arab prisoners also escaped. The UN partition plan later that year designated Acre an Arab city, but on May 17, three days after the State of Israel was proclaimed its forces seized Acre, possibly assisted by a mysterious typhoid outbreak. Many of its people fled, becoming refugees in the Palestinian Nakba, though later other Palestinians driven from western Galilee entered the town.

The Israeli government encouraged Jewish people to move into some Palestinian homes, bulldozing others to make room for new Jewish neighbourhoods. Many of those who moved in were families from Arab countries who formed Israel's new working class, and needed housing, and the jobs in the area's factories. Today Acre's Arabs, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, comprise about 27 per cent of its population, mainly in the old centre and harbour area.

When I visited Acre years ago, admittedly only taking in the old-world touristy part, it seemed a peaceful sort of place. Fountains played in the mosque's gardened courtyard, and coppersmiths and other craftsmen were at work around the square, People in the old centre are anxious that it stays nice and peaceful.

But just before midnight on Wednesday, October 9, the beautiful city of Acre became the field for some ugly scenes. It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. A Palestinian resident drove his taxi into a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. According to some residents he was playing loud music and smoking, which is not permitted on Yom Kippur.

According to Tawfiq Jamal's own account, he drove with his son and a friend, at around 11pm in order to pick up his daughter from the home of relatives where she had been helping prepare baked sweets for a wedding. When they arrived, according to Jamal, "I asked my son to take the baking dishes out of the car and proceeded to walk [toward the house] when [the Jews] suddenly began hurling stones at us" (Sharon Roffe-Ophir, "Arab motorist: I narrowly escaped lynch in Akko," Ynet, 9 October 2008).

Jamal described how he and the two young men narrowly escaped a lynching. He strenuously denied accusations he had been drinking and deliberately started the incident by playing loud music. Acre police commander Avraham Edri confirmed much of Jamal's account, telling the Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee that:

"When my officers arrived at the scene, they had to handle 300-400 people who had already lifted the driver's car in the air. Our first mission was to prevent casualties. We released the driver from the mob and helped him into an apartment nearby ... My staff served as a barrier between him and the excited mob; the policemen were hurt but not one civilian was injured" ("Acre driver apologizes for incident," The Jerusalem Post, 12 October 2008).

Haaretz reported, "Police warded off hundreds of Jewish rioters, chanting 'death to the Arabs,' and trying to storm the city's main road" . As word spread of the attack, and rumours that the driver had been killed, Arab youths came to the scene.

Speaking before the Knesset committee on 12 October, Jamal apologized for driving into the Jewish area and said he had "made a mistake." Despite this, Israeli police arrested Jamal for "harming religious sensitivities, speeding and reckless endangerment," and remanded him in custody (Jack Khoury, "Police arrest driver who sparked Acre riots for 'harming religious sensitivities,'" Haaretz, 13 October 2008).

But fighting between Jewish and Palestinian residents continued for several nights. Police intervened with tear gas and water cannon. According to Israeli police, many Arab Palestinian families had to be evacuated and about a dozen of their homes were set on fire. In the end, 54 people -- Jews and Arabs -- were arrested, about 100 cars and several dozen shops were damaged. Several minor injuries were reported.

While Jews and Arabs took part in the violence, on 12 October, on the third day of the disturbances, Major-General Shimon Koren, commander of Israel's Northern District police, said the riots had been instigated by Jews ("Police official says instigators of Akko riots Jewish," Ynet, 12 October 2008), and, "The majority of rioters causing disturbances in [Acre] are Jews" (Sharon Roffe-Ofir, "Northern District police commander: Majority of Akko riots [sic] are Jews," Ynet, 12 October 2008).

How come a minor row over offended religious sensibilities, if that was the spark, should set off four days of serious rioting, or to put it in less neuteral terms, a pogrom? Cynics and reactionaries will say it proves people can't mix, but it seems people in Acre managed for sixty years (and in parts of Haifa for much longer). True the Jews from Arab lands, Misrachim, encountering discrimination and insult under Labour, became prey for the right-wing nationalist and religious parties, and their self-assertion has often taken the form of being anti-Arab (though less inclined to the aggressive expansionism of the settler right). They have also felt more vulnerable, being often shoved into exposed frontline positions, like Sderot in the south; or feared having to compete with Arabs for homes and jobs.

But some Palestinian Acre residents say the real trouble comes not from longstanding Acre Jews but from militant young right-wingers who have been moved into the town.
Baruch Marzel, a settler leader from near Hebron in the occupied West Bank, visited Acre during the riots and vowed to help Jews in the city to set up a "defense organization". Palestinians in Hebron area, and even visiting Israelis and foreigners(including British MPs) have experienced the violence that the settlers call "defence".

was leader of the banned Kach party founded by the late Meir Kahane which supports the expulsion of all Palestinians. Kahane of course began his career as a thug and demagogue in the United States.

In Acre there is a yeshiva, Yeshiva Hesder-Akko, founded in 2001, in the Wolfson neighbourhood, and run by Yossi Stern, a rabbi from the militant West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh. Stern is also on the Acre city council. Wolfson's Jewish residents largely moved out as they became more affluent. Yeshiva Hesder-Akko's own website states that "[f]rom a luxuriant Jewish neighborhood it [Wolfson] has turned into a decrepit Arab neighborhood." The school's purpose is "to try to return and strengthen the Jewish character of the city." Although the city was "almost lost" to Jews, the site states that "The long awaited salvation has begun."

The yeshiva was built with funds from a donor in New York. Volunteers have also raised funds from synagogues in the US, for the "special aim of the yeshiva [which] is to attract more young Jewish families by strengthening and maintaining the Zionist Jewish character of this ancient Jewish city" .

Besides rewriting ancient history, the rightists in the Knesset have their own version of the recent history of Acre. Knesset member, former cabinet minister, and settler Effie Eitam called the events "an anti-Semitic pogrom at the heart of Israel on the holiest days of the Jewish people." Esterina Tartman, a Knesset member of former deputy prime minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party, called for the removal of Palestinians citizens from Israel on the grounds that "the pogrom in [Acre] is yet another confirmation that Arab Israelis are the real danger threatening the state" .

So the little more than a quarter of Acre's population who are Palestinian are supposedly threatening the three quarters who are not? By sending a taxi down the wrong street on the wrong night? But so long as our obliging media can accept the pretence that Yeshiva Hesder-Akko is just a harmless religious seminary, and so long as obliging US tax authorities treat fund-raising for such institutions as charity, why should racist politicians worry about being called liars?

See also: Extremist West Bank settlers help stir Acre violence, by Ali Abunimah, 15 October 2008

Is Akko burning? by Uri Avnery.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cummings and Owens...

On the day Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by police at Stockwell underground station, the control room directing operations from the 16th floor at New Scotland Yard was crowded, "noisy", "lively", and "chaotic", we've been told, with officers coming and going, a co-ordinator having to call for quiet, and an officer taking messages from the surveillance team having to raise his arm and call for attention from those in charge.

A senior firearms officer who advised Commander Cressida Dick on the day has told the inquest that Scotland Yard had no specific plans for pursuit of failed suicide bombers.

But Chief Inspector Vince Esposito, who helped develop police tactics said these tactics, based on "information we had gleaned from around the world to be brought back to aid our own understanding", included the rule that a "critical shot" should only be fired if a suspect was identified and was carrying an explosive device.

Jean Charles de Menezes was shot seven times in the head, though neither identified nor carrying anything.

A Special Branch officer, identified only by the codename "Owen", referred to Commander Cressida Dick ordering a "hard stop" by SO 19 firearms officers. He explained that this meant an "aggressive stop" . "That is why a firearms team is there". "Owen" is to face investigation after admitting on Monday that he had altered evidence concerning discussions in the Scotland Yard Operations Room just before Jean Charles de Menezes was shot on July 22, 2005.

The inquest has heard how Jean Charles, a Brazilian electrician who was on his way to work that morning, had been followed by a police surveillance team detailed to pursue Hussein Osman, a bombing suspect, who had lived in the same block of flats as him. But though at times the pursuers thought he might be their man, at no point did they make a positive identification. Hussein Osman was no longer at the address.

When Jean Charles alighted from his bus at Stockwell at least two officers from the surveillance team were in position to intercept him before he reached the tube station. They made no effort to stop him. It now appears that according to "Pat", an officer who was receiving messages in the operations room, they did ask whether to intercept, but Commander Dick wanted the SO19 firearms team to do it.

According to Superintendent Bob Cummings, a Flying Squad officer whom Commander Dick had asked to join her in the control room, the order was given to the surveillance team, but this was altered, when Esposito indicated his firearms team were in position to affect it.. Asked by Michael Mansfield QC what he understood by "stop", Cummings said he took it to mean "stop and detain".

On Monday, the officer identified only as "Owen" gave evidence behind screens. He had been deputy co-ordinator in the operations room, which he said was "very noisy" that day, with people coming and going,, noisier than during any previous operations in which he had been involved.

"Owen" was asked about the point when the subject (Jean Charles) appeared to make a text call on his mobile. "Owen" went into the intelligence cell adjoining the operations room to report this. Could the police not have used available technology which would have told them this was not Hussein Osman's 'phone. (At this point counsel for the police intervened to object to this line of questioning, and I am not sure what answer if any we got).

"Owen" was also questioned about notes he had made as an 'aide memoir' in the weeks after the Stockwell shooting. In the original version he referred to a "management discussion" as Jean Charles approached Stockwell station, in which CD suggested the subject "can run to the tube as not carrying anything"; but was "persuaded" otherwise.
A subsequent statement only refers to a "management discussion on the appropriate course of action"..

'Owen' had not mentioned his notes during the Old Bailey trial of police officers last year on "Health and Safety" charges. But Scotland Yard computer records show that having filed his notes on July 31, 2005, the officer accessed them again on August 3, that year and then again on October 7, last week, when the inquest had already opened, and he was asked whether he had.any notes.

'Owen' admitted to having altered his notes about the "management discussion", claiming he had only done so to remove evidence he could not swear to. He denied having told a Metropolitan Police solicitor during telephone conversations on October 8 that management had asked him to make the amendment.

It was reported today that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is likely to order an investigation into 'Owen''s admission of altering evidence.

Justice For Jean Inquest blog:

Official transcripts of Inquest:

...and nasty Nick Cohen

ON the day the Jean Charles de Menezes inquest opened at the Oval a large banner was hung from the balconies of nearby flats demanding ""Inquest not cover-up — Justice for Jean". Clearly visible to people arriving and to passing traffic, it was a brilliant stroke for the Justice4Jean campaign, at the centre of which is the de Menezes family, except - though the campaigners were delighted and grateful, the banner had been made and hung out by residents on their own initiative.

The Justice4 Jean campaign organisers had not even known them.

Since the inquest began, besides the campaigners I knew, a variety of people have come to attend. Yesterday, for example, I was talking to a charming soft-spoken lady from Northern Ireland, who had come with her son. Judging from our conversation I would say her views were small "c" conservative, loyalist, and law-abiding, neither left-wing nor generally libertarian, but ...she obviously didn't like to think that an innocent person could be shot dead by armed police on a train, and nothing be done, or that senior police officers should be allowed to conceal the truth.

Two other people I've met had both attended the Diana inquest, and appeared to be fans of lawyer Mike Mansfield, though neither was particularly left-wing, and one - I'd love to have introduced her to the Ulster lady -was fervently Catholic, and upset that someone she considered a co-religionist had been killed.

Then there's the chap who came along with a tee shirt alleging corruption in the West Mercia police, and having listened to the evidence for a while, went out to join an old chap with a placard at the gate. I think it was the same old fellow whose previous placard had demanded the sacking of police commissioner Sir Ian Blair and deputy commissioner Cressida Dick Well, he has had half his wishes granted. And thanks apparently to Mayor Boris. For whatever reason.

What I'm suggesting is that not only do most people sympathise with Jean Charles de Menezes and his family at a human level, as we saw in the tributes at Stockwell, but there is now a widespread feeling, by no means confined to the radical Left, that our democratic rights and expectations of justice can not be entrusted to those in authority. People do not feel safe trusting the police.

There are exceptions, of course. I remember the Daily Express after Jean Charles was killed saying we should all be glad we were being protected from terrorists, and the Evening Standard had a piece by Nick Cohen on the eve of the inquest jeering "De Menezes -the Left's new excuse to beat up the police".

I gave up on former Leftie Cohen after neither he nor the Observer replied to nor published my criticism of his column alleging opponents of the Iraq war must all be suporters of Saddam Hussein. He said we should explain why we were demonstrating to left-wing Iraqis and Kurds. I said if he had bothered to come out to the big demonstrations he could have met plenty of left-wing Iraqis and Kurds.

Since then Cohen has sought my help with a book he was writing about the Left, and I declined to give it. I haven't seen the book but if he has quoted anything I've said he neither asked nor received my permission.

Anyway my fellow blogger Kevin Blowe has replied to Nasty Nick, and I'll leave it at that.

Except to say that all sorts of people are concerned over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, and the way we were lied to. When the truth is denied all sorts of confused attempts to understand reality can surface, and I've even seen a "conspiracy theory" touching on hidden forces in government and Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick's involvment, put forward by some retired naval officer on the wilder fringes of UKIP. But that's all the more reason for left-wing militants to seek the truth and support a genuine
campaign like that for Justice for Jean Charles de Menezes.

Indeed, it should be the duty of anyone who considers themselves a democrat. And pursuit of the truth should be the dedicated aim of anyone who considers themself a decent journalist. But clearly someone who tells his readers that the police are being beaten up by the Left has wandered well away from that aim. Whatever Nick Cohen is on, it's not a truth quest.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Perfidious Albion, or Troubled Eden

ALL SMILES. But this was in February 1955,
in Cairo. The following year Eden (right) made plans to invade Egypt and get rid of Nasser(left). In the event, Nasser held on to power, and it was Eden who went.

NEWLY released documents from the British official archives show that on the eve of the 1956 Suez war Prime Minister Anthony Eden was worried about Israeli intentions. Worried, that is, that the Israelis might not play their part by attacking Egypt as was expected of them.

The British government, fearing Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal would undermine British imperial power across Africa and Asia, had already mobilised reservists and begun loading vehicles on ships for an invasion, to seize the canal back. The French government, in addition to its interest in the canal, thought an assault on Egypt could halt support and encouragement to the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria. Both believed they could topple President Nasser.

The Israeli government, with Ben Gurion back in the saddle as PM, Shimon Peres as Defence Minister, and Moshe Dayan in command of the armed forces, had closed the backdoor on tentative contacts from Nasser, and relied on overwhelming force to stop cross-border fedayeen raids. It thought its interests, including shipping through the canal, might be served by helping the Anglo-French plan. Through France it became a partner in the alliance, even if one the British government, mindful of its Arab clients, would sooner not acknowledge.

In a Guildhall speech, Eden warned the Israelis that the RAF could hit them from its bases in Cyprus if they
dared attack Jordan. But all the time he knew plans were being made to attack Egypt. Still, at a cabinet meeting on July 27, 1956, discussing a statement on Egypt's takeover of the canal Eden advised: "Avoid reference to stopping traffic to Israel, because that would only bring other Arab states on to Egypt's side".
Later, after the Israelis had invaded, and Britain declared it was intervening to separate the warring sides, Eden denied indignantly that there had been any hidden "collusion".

But it had been a different Eden that spoke with his Cabinet on October 23, 1956, anxious in case the Israelis did not invade. This is revealed in newly-released minutes, hand-written by Sir Norman Brook, the Cabinet secretary. Here is the Prime Minister:
Now seems tht. I. won´t attack. We can´t hold our mil. prepns. for more than a week or so. Winter opn. wd. not be satisf. French are much concerned. They have had provn. over supply of arms by E. to Alg. rebels. They may wish to act alone - or even with I. - and ask for facilities in Cyprus. Best course : get Pineau over this p.m. & see how gravely they regard provocation. We mght support them in action over that.
If there were worries about what the Israelis might not do, it seems there were illusions about support Britain could expect from over the pond. Here is a note on discussions at Cabinet on August 14 about how to bring Nasser down:

Doubt if we shall bring him down, w´out force. M. U.S. attitude to force. U.S. will be heavily on our side. i) They understand effects, not only on Canal, but as M/E. ques. ii) They don´t want U.N. - intolerable delays. They will stand to a good positive resoln. iii) They are beginning to think of econ. sanctions. If U.S. will apply them hard, it tends to bring them on twds. force. They don´t want that now, a) because Election b) if they stand out of it, R. mght stand aside too. But, if strong resoln., followed by sharp econ. pressure (e.g. dues) - other measures may come in, for N.´s popularity may wane: if large line-up against (includg U.S.) & no revenue fr. Canal. Dictator´s stock, when it begins to fall, falls fast.

Favoured that in W´ton because imprtce. of getting U.S. thoroughly involved

As we know, on October 29, 1956, Israeli paras dropped on the Mitla Pass in Sinai, and the Israeli invasion began, sweeping towards the canal and south to Sharm el Shaikh at the tip of the peninsula. The British and French forces moved up their bombers and invasion craft, while their governments announced to an incredulous world that they wished to separate the two warring sides, ten miles either side of the canal.

As the warships massed off Port Said for what the British government insisted was a "police action", the UN met. Here is Moshe Dayan's account:

"Towards the end of the Assembly session, which was adjourned in the early hours of 4 November, there was renewed pressure on Britain, France and Israel to declare their acceptance of the UN resolutions. The Israel representative asked for the floor and he announced that 'Israel agrees to an immediate cease-fire provided that a similar answer is forthcoming from Egypt'. I imagine that our representative assumed that by the time the Egyptian reply came in, we would have succeeded in capturing Sharm e-Sheikh. And even if the cease-fire went into effect with a delay of a few hours, it would not be so bad. The main point was that in principle we had announced our readiness to carry out UN resolutions.

"The Governments of Britain and France, however, almost jumped out of their skins when they learned of the statement by the Israel representative. After all, they have repeatedly announced that the whole purpose of the entry of their forces into the Canal Zone is to separate the belligerent Israel and Egyptian Armies; now, if the two combatants cease fire, what justification is there for Anglo-French intervention? In this circumstance, the situation of the British Prime Minister is particularly difficult. Public opinion in his country is against the war in Egypt, and this opposition is mounting daily, erupting in demonstrations demanding that 'Eden must go!'.

"Britain therefore asked France to use the full weight of her influence to persuade us to retract our announcement agreeing to a cease-fire. France has done this, begging us to do nothing which may shake the tottering foundations underlying Eden's position on Suez. As our friends, the French, explained it, if we did not accede to Britain's request, Eden would be compelled to abandon completely his military plan on Suez.

"After reviewing and weighing up all the factors, Ben Gurion decided to respond to the French entreaties, and at noon on 4 November, our UN representative notified Hammarskjold that his announcement at the Assembly had not been properly understood.."
Moshe Dayan, Diary of the Sinai Campaign, 1956,

There could not be a cease fire without a series of conditions, BG insisted. So Eden had his excuse, even if no one believed it.
The demonstrations against Eden's war grew, as did adverse reaction to it in the US, as well as Moscow. The economic costs also became apparent.

On November 20, with Eden ill, the cabinet discussed "what line to take on collusion". Ian Macleod said such evidence as was around was "pretty shoddy" (Eden had taken steps to see it was removed, as we now know) They should say of course they had known of Israeli intentions, and taken precautionary steps, but there was "no prior agreement, no promises of territorial change, no incitement to Israel to attack".

On November 28 they discussed how to withdraw from Egypt, without losing face, how to restore the position with US opinion, and how to avoid economic collapse.

Nowadays what latter-day British imperialists regret is not the Suez aggression, but the circumstances that they did not get away with it.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Scoring a Try at Taybeh

Not content with confounding Western stereotypes by brewing good beer (as I can testify) and hosting a beer festival this month, the Palestinian town of Taybeh is also pioneering with a new sports fixture.

I'm grateful for this report from Iraq Solidarity News(al Thawra), forwarded by Hussein al-Alak, an Iraqi who opposes occupation of both his own country and Palestine., and has worked to draw attention to the desperate plight of Palestinian refugees from Iraq. Besides his writing, Hussein is a keen sportsman and youth worker, who taught boxing to youngsters in Baqaa refugee camp in Jordan.

People sometimes regard sports as a diversion from fighting oppression.
But the row over the British government's refusal of visas to a Palestinian under-19 football team reminded us that sport can be an important way oppressed people can assert their humanity, raising morale, and winning long overdue recognition from the outside world -reaching over the heads of governments to people.

Rugby Match at Taybeh

The community of Taybeh, in the West Bank is going to keep its leading role this year by continuing to make history in Palestine. Along with introducing the first Palestinian non-alcoholic beer at the 2008 Oktoberfest, Taybeh will also host the first time ever Tag Rugby Match in Palestine between the Ramallah Blue Snakes and Beit Jala Lions RFC at 1 pm on Sunday, October 12, 2008 at the Taybeh Soccer Field, North entrance of Taybeh. If you like to see amazing and extraordinary things just come to Taybeh. As a side note, October 12th was the first Oktoberfest ever held in the world in Bavaria in 1810.

The first Rugby Club in Palestine was founded in October 2007 in Beit Jala when a group of young men set up the first Palestinian Rugby Team with the help of Kevin Kelleher and Leam O’Brain who continue their current support from Ireland.The team consists of twelve official passionate players from the age of eighteen to twenty-eight.

On most days people can watch the Beit Jala Lions practice on Wednesday evenings at the Beit al-Liqa Playground and Sunday afternoons at Al Khader International Stadium. Martin Bisstrai, Coach and Dr. Nassar Khamis, Chairman of the Rugby Club have a dream to begin building a network of tab rugby in Palestine thereby encouraging youth, scouts groups, and sports clubs to organize their own teams. The Rugby Club was founded with the main goal of developing Rugby in Palestine with the great challenge of playgrounds being rare and equipment hardly available.

Tab Rugby sport contains the main elements of real rugby but does not contain the full contact tackles. It does not need special equipment or soft grass covered playground.Martin was asked how he feels being the first team established in this sport in Palestine under oppressed conditions: “At first we are very-very proud, because this is our team; this is the team of our society, a simple successful local initiative. Our conditions are incredible, but because we have incredible players we could survive. Hard work and the love of rugby overcome any kind of difficulty. I know it sounds very ideological, but this is the reality,” responded Martin.

Why should Palestinians care about Rugby?“ Rugby is a great sport and it’s a battle without weapons. That is what Palestinian (and any other) youth need. Do sports, and spend your unused energy,” said Martin.The Beit Jala Lions became capable of having their first rugby match in March 2007 and began looking around to connect with other teams in the Middle East. A group of volunteers in Ramallah facilitated setting up a second team in Palestine, the Ramallah Blue Snakes with Jason Lomax in charge. The two teams spent most of April and May in training sessions last spring.

Martin explains why this past month the Rugby Club travelled to Cyprus: “We reached the level where we are able to play our first full-contact match, and because we are the only team we have to travel abroad to have this experience. By the generous donations of the Irish Representative Office, Bethlehem University, and our society we could finance a rugby tour to Cyprus…three clubs invited us to play against their teams.”

When Martin was asked what he thinks of the Taybeh Oktoberfest, he said: “Simply love the idea.” All international and local media invited to Taybeh this 2008 Oktoberfest to watch the first tag rugby match in Palestine. The Taybeh Oktoberfest is a two days event, Oct 11th & 12th, promoting local products with music and dance groups preserving deep cultural roots in ancient Palestine.Pray for us that it passes in peace!

Support the Beit Jala Lions RFC

I was going to speculate on the Arabic for "Up and Under", but viewing the Irish part in promoting Palestinian rugby, how about "El Garryowen"

And for more about Taibeh beer:
and a couple of video items:

  2. - 66k -

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Voices that deserve to be heard

WITH Israel as far as ever from peace, let alone justice towards the Palestinians it wronged, an ever more strident Zionist far Right throwing its weight about, and American presidential candidates pledging their undying support for the Israeli military, it is indeed, as a new book out today says,
A Time to Speak Out.

Those speaking out here are Independent Jewish Voices, as they made themselves known by press adverts last year, when they declared:
“We hereby reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice. The lessons we have learned from our own history compel us to speak out.

It used to be that, horizons narrowed by ghetto walls, and battered and bruised by grim experiences, an older generation was inclined to ask of any new development "is it good or bad for the Jews?". The more enlightened, if not joking about their elders' limits would answer with reason, that what was good for Jews or anyone else would be a world without persecution, where people were protected from being trampled upon, and diverse cultures and traditions were seen as enriching rather than obstructing human fellowship.

Some purported to find a common thread expressing this human aspiration running through from the ancient prophets to modern fighters for social justice.

Be that as it may, came Zionism and it begat, with the assistance of the Great Powers, a modern State of Israel carved out at the expense of the Palestinian people, creating their Naqba. Then came a forty year long occupation in which the "democratic" State rules as colonizer, taking Palestinian land for "security" and settlement, and taking from the Bible what it needs to sanctify conquest and dispossession of others.

At the same time, having conquered also the Jewish Diaspora, Zionism installs a narrower, more oppressive outlook than ever before. The Jews of old could dream, and not all waited for Messiah. From the shtetls of the Old World to the slums of the New, they produced more than their share of thinkers and fighters, "for your freedom and ours", in the words of the Warsaw ghetto fighters.

"But is it good or bad for Israel?" became the sole criterion, and with no room for dissident Israeli voices from the peace camp, when the military establishment and religious Right determine what's good, backed by neo-cons and old cons. Gone were the days when it used to be said that "Two Jews = Three Opinions". If the Zionist Establishment had its way then any amount of Jews could only voice one opinion. Even if it meant supporting some strange and unsavoury alliances. Were Jewish leaders and liberal congressmen troubled by reports of antisemitism from the Argentine junta, or brutality in central America? They only had to be reminded that Israel was doing good business supplying weapons to the regimes.

Does an American preacher, supporting war with Iran, say a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East will be the Armageddon that brings the Second Coming? Right-wing Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu welcomes him. And Netanyahu, we may recall, was welcomed to London by the people who claim to speak for the Jewish community.

So it is good that so many dissenting Jewish voices have been moved to speak out, and good of publishers Verso to have provided a platform to some of them. As the publishers say, A Time to Speak Out explores challenging issues facing diaspora Jews today, notably in relation to the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine. Topics looked at include international law, the Holocaust, varieties of Zionism, self-hatred, antisemitism, the multiplicity of Jewish identities, and human rights.

Among contributors whose names I recognise, Brian Klug has been a leading intelligent critic of the official Jewish community establishment, both of blind support for Israel and its leadership in the community, and has spoken out against the acceptance in Europe of Zionist-inspired definitions of "antisemitism". Brian was guest speaker at the Jewish Socialists' Group conference this year, and we enjoyed continuing discussion over a beer afterwards. He was one of the main people bringing Independent Jewish Voices together.

Jacqueline Rose has been an outspoken critic of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. Anthony Rudolf is a poet and veteran peace advocate. Donald Sassoon, born in Cairo, is professor of Contemporary European History at Queen Mary College, and author of books on Italian history. I remember him joining a demonstration in Golders Green against the 1982 Lebanon war. Gillian Slovo, daughter of South African militants Ruth First and Joe Slovo, is a successful novelist and was involved in Jews Against Apartheid. Antony Loewenstein, to whose blog I have a link, is a young Aussie journalist who has upset the Zionist Establishment Down Under no end. Antony Lerman, whom I knew as a teenager in Habonim, is that valuable rarity, a community staffer and expert who put his career on the line - twice - by standing up to pressure from the ganzer machers (big shots) and saying what they did not want anyone to hear.

Geoffrey Bindman, knighted last year, is a well-known rights lawyer who was legal adviser to the Commission on Racial Equality; Sami Zubaida, emeritus professor of Politics and Sociology at Birkbeck, Iraqi-born I believe, and author of books on Islam and Politics in the Middle East; Anne Karpf, daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland, is a journalist and writer on health and family issues, and a Jewish Chronicle columnist. Eyal Weizman, an Israeli architect now teaching in London, raised a huge row when he exposed how Israel made planning and architecture serve the colonisation of the land; Bombay-born Abe Hayeem has done much to raise this issue here, founding Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine. Francesca Klug, OBE, professorial research fellow at LSE is author of Three Pillars of Freedom and Values in a Godless World. Sociologist Stan Cohen, was head of the Hebrew University's department of Criminology. Then there's feminist writer and psychology professor Lynne Segal, writer and journalist Mike Marqusee, whose latest book is If I am not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew; and last but not least Julia Bard, who worked as a scientist in Africa and Israel, but is nowadays a television and magazine journalist, with whom I have the honour of working on Jewish Socialist magazine.

Quite a selection. Of course they are not the kind of big money donors who carry weight with the Establishment, but nor are they the nobodies and uninformed outsiders that some sour grapes sufferers have tried to make out. I look forward to reading what each has to say, not because I expect to agree with everyone but because they are people who have thought about it, and will give us something to think about.
And no establishment, least of all one trying to regiment people into unthinking obedience, is going to like that..

For more info. about the book contact
For more about Independent Jewish Voices, visit their website at

• Title: A Time to Speak Out
• Author: Anne Karpf, Brian Klug, Jacqueline Rose, Barbara Rosenbaum (Editors)
• Publication: 6th October 2008
• Binding: Paperback
• ISBN: 978 1 84467 229 5
• Price: £9.99
• Extent: 320 pages

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 03, 2008

Strange timing for Commissioner's departure

IT could have seemed to a passing overseas visitor as though political protest in Britain had achieved a fantastically speedy result. For six days, entering the Oval cricket ground which is the incongruous setting for the Jean Charles de Menezes inquest, one was likely to encounter a couple with a placard saying Sir Ian Blair must Go!

And on the seventh day, it was the news vendors' placards which announced that Sir Ian, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had gone. Not as a result of the protests of course, nor of the inquest, which is expected to have another three months to run. Tory London mayor Boris Johnson, having become chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, had made clear he wanted Sir Ian out, and though it is properly speaking the Home Secretary's prerogative to tell Britain's top police chief to go, on the day Boris Johnson took his chair, the Commissioner announced his resignation. He has until December 1 to clear his desk, and his deputy will temporarily take over.

The news came through on the day after Detective Chief Inspector Jon Boutcher, a senior Anti-Terrorism squad officer in the control room at New Scotland Yard on July 22, 2005, the day Jean Charles de Menezes was killed, had given evidence. Answering questions from Michael Mansfield QC, acting for the de Menezes family, on how Jean Charles, wrongly identified as a terror suspect, was pursued into Stockwell umderground station by firearms officers, and shot dead, DCI Boutcher said the same thing could happen again.

One question hanging over this affair from the start has been why police made no attempt to detain the subject near his home, which was under surveillance, and why - particularly if they believed he might be a suicide bomber - he was allowed instead to travel on public transport, and go down to the tube. Another concerns the false claims that Jean Charles had behaved suspiciously, and the Met's initial unwillingness to even admit they had killed the wrong man.

Responding to questions from Michael Mansfield, DCI Boutcher claimed to have been told on the morning of the operation that surveillance officers had positively identified a "suspect" leaving flats in Scotia Road, Tulse Hill, although in fact the officer, "Frank" had only said the person leaving was worth a second look. Police records from the time show he was referred to only as an "unidentified male".

In fact the failed suicide bomber Hussein Osman whom the police were supposedly after was nowhere near Scotia Road, or Stockwell . He had gone to Brighton, later taking the Euro-star to Paris, and was eventually detained in Rome.

DCI Boutcher denied having known exactly where police units were during the operation. He also claimed not to have been aware that Jean Charles' wallet, containing his identification, was found on the seat next to which he was killed. With the TV news telling of Sir Ian Blair's resignation, we saw a clip of Sir Ian announcing at a press conference that day in 2005 that the police had killed a known terror suspect.

It was as if the police had decided to kill a "terrorist", and then having killed an innocent man, they decided that he would have to do.

People have been saying for some time that Blair, like his namesake in Downing Street at the time was a B-liar. That might have been good cause for the Commissioner to resign, despite the loyal backing he received from people in the Labour Party, and notably then Mayor, Ken Livingstone. But why now? Was his resignation anything to do with the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, or has that provided a misleading diversion from other causes?

Jean Charles' relatives have issued the following statement:
The Menezes family is shocked by the news of Sir Ian Blair's resignation, as it comes in the middle of the inquest into Jean's death. As head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair should have been ultimately accountable for the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. We believe he certainly bears responsibility for the lies told about Jean and the cover up by the police in the aftermath of the shooting. He even tried to stop the IPCC investigating our cousin's death. The lack of accountability of the country's most senior police officer is one of the most shocking aspects of this tragedy.

For Sir Ian Blair to state that he has resigned 'not because of any failures or pressures of the office' therefore reinforces our belief that he and the Metropolitan Police still refuse to accept full responsibility for Jean's death.

For the family, Sir Ian Blair resigning does not change anything. Our focus is on the inquest where we hope we can find out the whole truth about Jean's killing. We await the verdict and findings and hope it will bring us closer to justice and for steps to be taken to ensure that no other family has to suffer the anguish we have over the last three years.

Reactions to Blair's resignation show an unprecedented tangle of politics surrounding the Metropolitan Police command. Brian Paddick, a former deputy assistant commissioner who stood as Lib Dem candidate for mayor of London, said that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was also instrumental in Blair's departure. He told the BBC "On the day the mayor becomes the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority he says boo and the commissioner jumps.

"Not only that, it is actually only the Home Secretary that could force the commissioner to leave and therefore the Home Secretary could have turned round and said to Ian Blair and to the mayor: 'I'm sorry, you don't have the power, mayor, to do that. I want the commissioner to stay.' But she didn't; she allowed the commissioner to go."

Paddick made his name as the most senior openly gay police officer, and for promoting a liberal policy on drug use - particularly cannabis - along with with his efforts to gain trust from young black people when he was commander responsible for policing in Lambeth.

Ken Livingstone claimed that there had been a vendetta against Blair from the first day of his commissionership."The decisive voices were not those who criticised him from the left but those who want an end to what they call 'politically correct' - that is, non-racist – policing in London."

The Blair resignation follows rows in the police force itself over accusations by leading black and Asian officers that racialism is still endemic among white colleagues.

Meanwhile, back at the Oval, jury and observers were still mulling over responses by Detective Chief Inspector Boutcher to questions as to what went wrong in the operation which resulted in the death of Jean Charles de Meneses.

"I am not sure anything did actually go wrong", replied DCI Boutcher.

Asked then whether there was a real risk that it could happen again, the officer replied:
"There is, Sir, yes."

The inquest continues.

"Justice4Jean blog on the Inquest: