Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israeli navy rams mercy boat

ISRAELI gunboats have rammed a boat carrying medical experts on a mercy mission to Gaza. Among those on board were British surgeon Dqvid Halpin, and US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.The boat was in international waters when it was attacked, and clearly flying the flag of Gibralter.

Here is a press release from the Free Gaza movement which had arranged this latest voyage.

Larnaca, Cyprus, 10:00 am)

On Tuesday, December 30, at 5 a.m., several Israeli gunboats intercepted the Dignity as she was heading on a mission of mercy to Gaza. One gunboat rammed into the boat on the port bow side, heavily damaging her. The reports from the passengers and journalists on board is that she is taking on water and appears to have engine problems.

When attacked, the Dignity was clearly in international waters, 90 miles off the coast of Gaza. The gunboats also fired their machine guns into the water in an attempt to stop the mercy ship from getting to Gaza.

As the boat limps toward Lebanon, passengers have been in contact with the Lebanese government who have said the captain has permission to dock and are willing lend assistance if needed. Cyprus sea rescue has also been in touch, and has offered assistance as well.

The Dignity clearly flies the flag of Gibraltar, is piloted by an English captain and has a passenger manifest that includes Representative Cynthia McKinney from the U.S. The attack was filmed by the journalists, and the crew and passengers will report on Israel's crime at sea once they arrive in Lebanon.

On board the boat are doctors travelling to this impoverished slice of the Mediterranean to provide badly-needed relief at the hospitals there. The crew and passengers were also hoping to take wounded out for treatment, since the hospitals are not coping. In addition, the Dignity was carrying 3 tons of medical supplies at the request of the doctors in Gaza.

The three physicans on board who were sailing to Gaza are: Dr.David Halpin (UK), an experienced orthopaedic surgeon, medical professor, and ship's captain. He has organized humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza on several occasions with the Dove and Dolphin. He is travelling to Gaza to volunteer in hospitals and clinics.

Dr.Mohamed Issa (Germany), a pediatric surgeon from Germany is traveling to Gaza to volunteer in hospitals and clinics.

Dr.Elena Theoharous (Cyprus),MP Dr. Theoharous is a surgeon and a Member of the Cypriot Parliament. She is traveling to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict, assist with humanitarian relief efforts, and volunteer in hospitals.

Yet Israel thumbs its nose in the face of maritime law by attacking a human rights boat in international waters and has put all of these human rights observers at risk. At no time was the Dignity ever close to Israeli waters. They clearly identified themselves and the Israeli attack was wilful and criminal.

The Dignity is still in international waters, 40 miles off Haifa.
Everybody on board is safe at the moment as the boat slowly makes its way to safety in Lebanon.

The answers you've been waiting for.


BEIT SAKHOUR still has its shepherds, and though
Christian denominations disagree as to which is the "Shepherds Field"
in the Bible story, local people know and are proud of their part in modern history.

ON the night before Xmas, all through the house, not a sound could be heard except my keyboard and mouse. "Sad bastard", I hear you say, but I hope some of you had as much fun with my Quiz, as I had setting it. And now here are the answers, as promised:


1) Saint Nicholas was born in the Third Century at Patara, in what is now Turkey.

2) January 6, Epiphany, is the Feast of the Three Wise Kings, who were said to have brought gifts to the baby Jesus, and in Spain, and some other countries, children traditionally hope Los Tres Reyos Magos, three wise kings, will bring gifts on that date.

3) Nollaig na mBan, or Women's Little Christmas, is traditionally celebrated in Ireland, particularly Cork, on January 6. It is a day when husbands are supposed to cook and perform domestic chores more usually done by their wives, who may take it easy or go out for a drink with their mates. Apparently Irish women don't mind this one enjoying a bit of a revival.

4) Who come to town in Iceland in the fortnight before Xmas? If you said British local government leaders with their collecting tins you were out by a week. The correct answer, as per tradition, is the Yule Lads, sons of mountain trolls, who used to inflict mischievous pranks on people, but nowadays are expected to leave presents for children.

5) St.Nicholas is patron saint of, inter alia, children, sailors, prostitutes and Liverpool (any connection?) , but also of the Palestinian town of Beit Jalla, where he is said to have stayed during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, as Bishop of Myra. The town has a festival in his honour, and it is reasonable that as protector he would assist the Beit Jalla Lions rugby team. .

Moving on to some SEASONAL FARE:

6) 'Stir-up Sunday', the last Sunday before Advent, took its name from the words Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people, in the Book of Common Prayer. That families mixed and stirred up their Christmas puddings that day was sheer coincidence.

7) Norwegians (and other Scandinavians, though they may spell it differently) drink gløgg at Christmas. It is mulled wine.

8) Persimmons are often in puddings eaten in the United States, though pecan pie is also popular.

9) hallachas, are eaten on Christmas Day in Venezuela.

10) Burtugal, from Portugal, is an Arabic word for an orange, popular at Christmas not only in Arab countries but in Britain and the USA, where Santa may pop a tangerine or clementine down the toe of the children's Christmas stockings.


11) Miners in Bosnia, then part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, or Yugoslavia, went on strike strike in December 1920, and fought government troops.

12) The Russian revolutionary writer Stepniak was knocked down and killed by a train on a level crossing in Bedford Park, Chiswick, on December 23, 1895.

13) Libya became independent on December 24, 1951, under King Idris. Idris, as in Cader Idris, is Welsh for Arthur, but so far as I know this was purely coincidental.

14) John Stonehouse, MP, a former Postmaster General in Harold Wilson's Labour government, faked his own death by leaving a pile of clothes, Reggie Perrin-style, on a beach at Miami. He was discovered by police in Melbourne on Christmas Eve 1974, and eventually served time for fraud in Wormwood Scrubs.

15) Home Secretary Jack Straw's son William, aged 17, was arrested on December 24, 1997, for supplying cannabis to a newspaper reporter.


16) Camille Pissarro, the artist, was born on St.Thomas - in the Virgin Islands.

17) Natal, the city and resort is in Brazil.

18) Beit Jalla is near Bethlehem, where both King David and Jesus were born, so the Bible says.

19) The Shepherds' Fields, where an Angel supposedly announced an important birth to night workers are at Beit Sakhour, a village near Bethlehem. Franciscans and Greek Orthodox each have their own claims as to the correct site, but neither will confirm whether the shepherds wore socks, let alone that they were darning them that night. Beit Sakhour does mean the home of the Night Watch. Besides being a Christian tourism spot, the village is proud of its part in non-violent resistance in the first and second Intifada.

20) Kirimati, or Christmas Island in the Pacific, was used by the British government for nuclear weapons tests. Nowadays, having been officially placed just west of the International Date Line it is the first place in the world to celebrate New Years Day each year.

I'm sorry to hear some blog readers thought these questions a bit obscure or difficult. Vicky in Manchester says she and her boyfriend, both students, could only answer the first two. Anna in London, aka Madam Miaow, reputedly a quiz wizz, also managed but a couple. It was not my intention to show off, and in fact I'd not have been able to put the quiz together without looking everything up on the Internet, where most if not all the answers can be found. Stll, Madame Miaow said she was intrigued to know what the answers were, and could not wait till December 30. If you were similarly intrigued, and it got you talking, fine.

If, on the other hand, you were having too much fun over Xmas to chew over a quiz or look up stuff on the Internet, then ... Nu, what are you complaining about?

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spreading condemnation of Israeli murder spree

ABOVE - demonstration in Israel (photo from Eva Ferrero),
BELOW - and in New York (photo ©2008 Ronda Hauben)

More photos from New York demonstration:

AS the Israeli military continues its murderous attack on Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, protest and anger is spreading. More than 300 people had been killed by today, and hundreds more injured, in the Israeli air raids which have hit refugee camps and streets crowded with children coming from school, and destroyed the Gaza university.

Besides the F16s and helicopter gunships, Israeli tanks were today reported on the border, ready for all-out war on what is after all a largely defenceless civilian population, already suffering the effects of 18 months siege. In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert announced the call-up of reservists.

Not only is the scale of the Israeli aggression well out of proportion to the rocket attacks by small Palestinian groups which were given as pretext; it reflects the fact that all through the Gaza truce which Hamas had with Israel the Israeli Defence Forces (sic) were preparing war. The rocket attacks on Sderot were simply used to psyche up the Israeli public for war, and try to con a gullible world - with the help of politicians like Barack Obama, all too willing to be 'gulled'.
"Six months of secret planning - then Israel moves against Hamas"

The Israeli leaders have plainly counted on continued backing from the Western powers and acquiescence from Arab regimes, including Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Israel's siege of Gaza was maintained with Egyptian participation on Gaza's southern border.

Despite the plan, demonstrations against the latest attack have taken place in Tel Aviv, where protestors marched on the Defence Ministry, and in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. A big demonstration is planned in Amman, Jordan's capital.

In London, police attacked demonstrators who had blocked Kensington High Street outside the well-guarded Israeli embassy on Sunday. There have also been demonstrations in Rome and Milan, with a further demonstration planned in Naples .

Even in New York, a small group of Israelis, supporters of groups like Anarchists Against the Wall, Breaking the Silence, and Combattants for Peace, managed to get together a demonstration which grew to 2,000 outside their country's consulate in downtown Manhattan, on Sunday. Now they are joining with Palestinians, Arab Americans and others for a bigger demonstration this weekend.

Here are some details of more demonstrations due in Britain and North America, starting today:

Monday 29 December 4.00pm ­ 6.00pm
Protest opposite Israeli Embassy W8 - Kensington High Street. Nearest tube:
High Street Kensington. From station turn right. Organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign with support from both Muslim and Jewish groups.

Monday 29 December, 5.00 pm, outside Zavvi, Waterstones, High Street,
Birminham City Centre (near the bull in the Bull Ring Centre)

Monday 29 December 4-5pm, outside Central Library

Monday 29 December 12 - 2pm St Sampsons Square, please come for all or part
of our vigil

Monday 29 December, 4pm, outside Town Hall

Monday 29 December 2pm, Centenary Square. We will provide leaflets please
bring placards, banners etc or bring with you marker pens and large size

Tuesday 30 Dec CARDIFF
12 to 1pm. Nye Bevan Statue, Queen Street

Saturday 3 Jan PORTSMOUTH
11am, Guildhall Square.
Organised by Portsmouth Network for a Just Settlement of the Arab-Israeli
Conflict, and Portsmouth Stop the War Coalition

Los Angeles
Tuesday, December 30
4:30 pm
Israeli Consulate: 6380 Wilshire Blvd.
Contact: 213-251-1025, answerla@answerla. org

Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, December 30
4:30 pm
State Department: 22nd St & C St NW
Contact: 202-544-3389 x14, dc@answercoalition. org

San Francisco
Tuesday, December 30
5:00 pm
Israeli Consulate:456 Montgomery St.
Contact: 415-821-6545, answer@answersf. org

New York City
Tuesday, December 30
5:00 pm
Israeli Consulate: 800 2nd Ave (b/w 42nd and 43rd Sts)
Contact: 212-694-8720, nyc@answercoalition .org
* * * * *
Sunday, December 28
2:00-4:00 pm
Gather at Rockefeller Center
March to the Israeli Consulate: 800 2nd Ave (b/w 42nd and 43rd Sts)
Initiated by Al-Awda New York

Fort Lauderdale, FL
Tuesday, December 30
5:00 pm
Federal Building: 299 E. Broward Blvd.
Contact: 954-707-0155, FtLauderdale@ answerfl. org

Details to be announced
Contact: 773-463-0311, answer@chicagoanswe r.net

Details to be announced
Contact: 857-334-5084, boston@answercoalit ion.org

Saturday, January 3
12:00 noon - 2:00 pm
Westlake Park: 4th and Pine
Initiated by Voices of Palestine
Contact: general@voicesofpal estine.org

There was a demonstration in Toronto yesterday, and more are expected there and in Vancouver and other Canadian cities.

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Witnesses to Murder

Palestinians carry the body of a victim of an Israeli air strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip,
27 December 2008. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

(taken from Electronic Intiada site,

INTERNATIONAL human rights activists and aid workers in Gaza have been witnessing and recording the current Israeli attacks, which have left over 250 dead, including children.

The air attacks, hitting Gaza city, refugee camps in Rafeah, and other populous areas, come after months of siege which has hit food supplies, employment and essential services. Israel stepped up the siege last month.

Some of the witnesses came into the besieged Gaza strip with the blockade-busting Free Gaza boats bringing in aid while Israeli forces denied access to reporters as well as essential supplies.

(see http://www.freegaza.org/ for continuing information)

Their witness testifies that Israeli forces are targeting civilian areas. Here are some of them:

"At the time of the attacks I was on Omar Mukhtar street and witnessed a last rocket hit the street 150 meters away where crowds had already gathered to try to extract the dead bodies. Ambulances, trucks, cars - anything that can move is bringing injured to the hospitals. Hospitals have had to evacuate sick patients to make room for the injured. I have been told that there is not enough room in the morgues for the bodies and that there is a great lack of blood in the blood banks. I have just learned that among the civilians killed today was the mother of my good friends in Jabalya camp."

- Eva Bartlett (Canada) International Solidarity Movement

"Israeli missles tore through a children's playground and busy market in Diere Balah, we saw the aftermath - many were injured and some reportedly killed. Every Hospital in the Gaza strip is already overwhelmed with injured people and does not have the medicine or the capacity to treat them. Israel is committing crimes against humanity, it is violating international and human rights law, ignoring the United Nations and planning even bigger attacks. The world must act now and intensify the calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel; governments need to move beyond words of condemnation into an active and immediate restraint of Israel and a lifting of the siege of Gaza"

- Ewa Jasiewicz (Polish and British) Free Gaza Movement

"The morgue at the Shifa hospital has no more room for dead bodies, so bodies and body parts are strewn all over the hospital."

- Dr. Haidar Eid, (Palestinian, South African) Professor of Social and Cultural Studies, Al Aqsa University Gaza

"The bombs began to fall just as the children were on the streets walking back from school. I went out onto the stairs and a terrified 5 year old girl ran sobbing into my arms."

- Sharon Lock (Australian) International Solidarity Movement

"This is incredibly sad. This massacre is not going to bring security for the State of Israel or allow it to be part of the Middle East. Now calls of revenge are everywhere."

- Dr. Eyad Sarraj - President of the Gaza Community Mental Health Centre

"The home I am staying in is across from the preventive security compound. All the glass of the house shattered. The home has been severely damaged. Due to the siege there is no glass or building materials to repair this damage. One little boy in our house fainted. An eight year little boy was trembling on the ground for an hour. In front of our house we found the bodies of two little girls under a car, completely burnt. They were coming home from school. This is more than just collective punishment. We are being treated like laboratory animals. I have lived through the Israeli bombardment of Beirut and the Israel's message is the same in Gaza as it was in Beirut- The killing of civilians. There was just another explosion outside!"

- Natalie Abou Shakra (Lebanon) International Solidarity Movement

he reports clearly expose the Israeli government's claims, repeated by the media, that it is only retaliating for rocket attacks or that its planes are just hitting Hamas "security compounds". In Israel itself peace campaigners had already warned beforehand that political leaders like defence minister Ehud Barak wanted to take military action to enhance their macho image in competition before elections. In contrast to this sickness of a militarist society , and in protest at the Gaza bombing, estimated 1,000 demonstrators marched through Tel Aviv on Saturday night to demonstrate outside the Defence Ministry. Mounted police stood guard, as prime minister Ehud Olmert met with minsiters then held a press conference inside Five young demonstrators were arrested.

There is a demonstration this afternoon in Bethlehem. Christians, Muslims, and people of whatever religious or political affiliation are being urged to assmble outside the Church of the Nativity and Omar's Mosque to join in condemning "the massacre in Gaza", and ending the siege on the Gaza territory..

Protests have also been called in Rome, and in some British cities. Scottish demonstrators will gather this afternoon at 4.30pm in George Square, Glasgow, and at the Foot of the Mound, Princess Street, Edinburgh. Two members of the Scottish Parliament, Pauline McNeill and Sandra White, are supporting the demonstrations called by Scottish Friends of Palestine, Scotland Stop the War, and Glasgow Central Mosque.

In London, there are emergency demonstrations today and tomorrow opposite the Israeli embassy.

Sunday 28 December 2.00 pm - 4.00 pm and
Monday 29 December 4.00pm – 6.00pm
Both protests opposite Israeli Embassy - Kensington High Street
Nearest tube: High Street Kensington

Letters/messages of protest can also be sent to

 David Miliband-Secretary of State- Foreign and Commonwealth Office
 You can write to the PM at the following address:
10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA 
You can fax the Prime Minister on 020 7925 0918.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Tel. +972 2 530 3111
The British Embassy in Tel Aviv
+972 3 725 1222
Write to: Ron Prosor, Israeli ambassador to Britain, Embassy of Israel, 2 Palace Green, London, W8 4QB
email: info-assist@london.mfa.gov.il

British Consulate, Jerusalem

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Uncle Charlie's Yuletide Quiz

BY way of a break from the usual fare, a bit of intellectual fun to go with the nuts you crack, help pass the time and test your erudition. If you've got company, you are allowed to talk and confer.

First, by way of acknowledgment to the Xmas time, here's a round:

1) Father Christmas is variously said to live at the North Pole, or in Lapland; but in what country was the real St.Nicholas - Santa Klaus - born?

2) Children in England and many other countries hope Santa will bring good presents for Xmas, but from whom do children in Spain look forward to presents, and when?

3 What is the significance of Nollaig na mBan, traditionally celebrated in Ireland on January 6? (easy if you know Irish!)

4) Who come to town in Iceland in the fortnight before Xmas?

5) Beit Jalla Lions celebrated their first anniversary in October.
How can this rugby team claim St.Nicholas as defender?

Moving on to some SEASONAL FARE:

6) When, traditionally in England is 'Stir-up Sunday', and what might be stirred up then?

7) What would Norwegians do with gløgg at Christmas?

8) What fruit, known as "fruit of the gods" to ancient Greeks, takes its modern name from an Algonquin Indian word "powhatan", meaning 'dried fruit', and is often in puddings eaten in the United States at Christmas?

9) In what country are hallachas, sometimes spelt hayachas, meat with raisins and olives, wrapped in maize dough and plantain leaves then boiled or steamed, commonly eaten on Christmas Day?

10) Commonly eaten at Christmas by Syrian Christians, this fruit is called burtugal, in Arabic, from a country whence many were brought. But where especially might children in Britain and the USA traditionally find them?


11) In what modern-day country, then part of a larger kingdom, did a miners' strike break out on December 21, 1920, and turn into an uprising when Royal troops were sent to crush the strike and deport "foreign" miners?.

12) The train in our picture above was leaving the no longer existing Chiswick station to steam through Bedford Park, in west London. It was painted by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), who is himself depicted in a mural at Angel Alley, off the Whitechapel Road. The Russian revolutionary known as Serge Stepniak appears in the same mural, but what happened on December 23, 1895 to connect Stepniak with the railway in this painting?

13) What country became independent on December 24, 1951, as a kingdom under a monarch whose name might make you think he had Welsh connections?

14) Who disappeared from England in November 1974, and was thought dead, but was discovered in Melbourne on December 24, 1974 by Australian police who thought they had found Lord Lucan!?

15) Whose son William, aged 17, was arrested on December 24, 1997, and later cautioned, for supplying cannabis?


16) Where in the world was artist Camille Pissarro, mentioned above, born? (clue: there is a connection of sorts with the Christmas story, but it was not Christmas Island!)

17) Kwazulu-Natal is in South Africa, but in what country could you visit the city resort of Natal founded as a village on Christmas Day 1599?

18) Beit Jala, home of the rugby club mentioned in our first round, is near a more famous city, particularly associated with this time of the year. What is it called, and who are the two most famous figures reputedly born there?

19) Next to which town nearby are the Shepherds' Fields?

20) There are several Christmas Islands in the world, including an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean and an island in the Pacific now called Kiritimati. For what was the latter used by British governments in the 1950s? And what is this island first to celebrate each year?

Well, hope these are not too difficult or obscure. They should give something to talk about and pass the time, you can always use the Internet (like me)! Answers on December 30, and any comment should be saved for then so as not to give the game away.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Latest Gaza boat brings food for babies and shame on governments

The United Nations shut up shop in the Gaza Strip last week, explaining that it was halting distribution of food aid because its stocks of wheat flour ran out. The politicians and governments responsible for this desperate situation won't shut up, assuring us how much they share our concern, and deploring the lack of progress towards peace in the region. But it's time they did, because a couple of days after the UN Relief and Works Agency said that "irregular border access" meant deliveries had been unable to reach the impoverished territory, a bunch of amateur campaigners landed in Gaza by sea with badly needed baby foods.

Driven into the Gaza area as refugees from what is now Israel, and increasingly prevented from earning their living by closures, war and blockade, Palestinian refugees and their children have been forced back into dependence on aid in larger numbers. About 750,000 people depend on food assistance.

Israeli forces closed the crossing into Gaza on November 5, blaming Palestinian fighters for carrying out a number of cross-border rocket attacks. The blockade has prevented the delivery of humanitarian supplies, fuel and other basic commodities.

"Wheat supplies scheduled to arrive in Gaza on the 9-10 December were unable to enter due to rocket fire, hence the mills have run out of flour and UNRWA has been forced to suspend food distribution," the agency said in a statement. "Food distribution for both emergency and regular programs will be suspended from Thursday 18th December until further notice."

On average, the agency distributes food to about 20,000 Palestinians every day. Dozens of people were turned away from a distribution centre in Gaza city after the hand-outs were halted.

A six-month truce brokered by Egypt has neared its end with each side blaming the other for its breakdown. Palestinians say it was undermined by Israeli raids, Israel claims it is responding to rocker attacks (though Israeli peace campaigners accuse the IDF of provoking the resumprion of such attacks). On Wednesday a Palestinian man was killed and two others injured in an Israeli air raid on the town of Beit Lahiya. Witnesses said 47-year-old Falak Okel, who died in the attack, did not belong to any armed group. Earlier two Israelis had been injured by a rocket exploding in a supermarket car park at Sderot..

Hamas which, as an elected government still runs the Gaza Strip said it would not renew the truce until Israel ends its attacks and the blockade. Meanwhile an opinion poll on Tuesday indicated that 74 per cent of Palestinians and 51 per cent of Israelis backed the truce. The Israeli blockade has continued on land and sea, with the Israeli navy seizing Palestinian fishermen and their boats, and turning away a Libyan cargo ship that was trying to deliver food to Gaza. .

Today, we heard some good news. The Free Gaza Movement announced that one of its boats had made the fifth voyage from Larnaca in Cyprus to Gaza. Yael Kahn, an Israeli woman living in London said:
On this fifth voyage was another cargo of high protein baby
formula from Islington (sent by IFY) to Yibna refugee camp
in Rafah.
Also was a cargo of baby food from Newham (NFoS) to Shabura
refugee camp in Rafah.

Yael Kahn, Chair of Islington Friends of Yibna [IFY]

Yael has previously visited Yibna camp, in which she began to take a special interest when she realised that the town where she grew up, Yavne, was built on land that had been that of Yibna village, from where the refugees came.

Saturday's boat carried a mixed crew and delegation including Qataris from a Qatar People's Initiative, Lebanese, and Israelis, as well as a Spanish journalist. They defied orders from an Israeli gunboat to stop because they had Israelis on board.

One of the Israelis, writer and activist Neta Golan, a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, said: "Countries that commit crimes against humanity often hide those crimes from their own people. Israel is doing exactly that, by not allowing Israelis to come in to witness what they are doing in our name."

Earlier this month two Jewish academics from Britain arrived in the Gaza strip on the Free Gaza movement's fourth trip. Emeritus Professor Jonathan Rosenhead and Professor Mike Cushman from London School of Economics, both members of British Committee for Universities of Palestine(BRICUP), sailed from Larnaca aboard the Dignity. Jonathan Rosenhead was one of a small Jewish delegation that visited Beirut after Israel's 1982 war in Lebanon, to see the effects on civilians. Mike Cushman is active in Jews for Justice for Palestinians. On this voyage their main aim was to meet Palestinian students who have been prevented from leaving Gaza to take up college places. The boat was able to take a number of students out to Cyprus to begin their journeys to study.

Professsor Rosenhead said: “Our government has failed to uphold international law and defend the human rights of the Palestinians, including the right to study and the right to teach. On the 60th anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights, we are proud to join the ‘Dignity’ on its fourth blockade-breaking trip to Gaza. We hope that by the end of this week we will have liberated these Palestinian students, in accordance with international law, and enabled them to take up the places awarded them by universities around the world in recognition of their academic merit.”

Mike Cushman said: “As academics we are particularly pleased to be travelling on the Dignity on this mission to enable at least some of the hundreds of students trapped in Gaza by the Israeli siege to get out and take up their places at universities round the world. This siege is an affront to any idea of academic freedom or human rights. We, working for a British university, have the freedom to teach and study. This must be a universal right, not at the discretion of an occupying power. How can anyone justify preventing young people from fulfilling their potential and learning how to serve their community more fully?”

As Jonathan Rosenhead indicates, these exemplary actions by ordinary citizens and concerned professionals are not just giving what practical aid they can to those who so desperately need it, but are exposing the inactivity, indeed collusion, of governments, leaders and institutions who are either doing nothing to help the Palestinian people in Gaza or consciously assisting the blockade which has turned the Gaza Strip into something like a giant prison camp.

Film of latest Free Gaza voyage:: http://www.youtube.com:80/watch?v=P2pBlFcIrss
Continuing news and details on Free Gaza voyages; http://www.freegaza.org

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Solidarity with the Shministim!

AT an age, and a time of the year, when most young people here, including the politically active, are thinking about partying and prezzies, a group of Israelis not long out of school are facing up to repeated prison stretches for their principles. These are the shministim, from the Hebrew word for eighth-grade, equivalent to our Sixth-form, who signed a letter opposing Israel's continued military occupation of Palestinian lands, and refusing to serve in the forces.

While the 'respectable' Israeli authorities and Zionist leaders permit and encourage right-wing settlers and thugs like the Kahanists to rampage and terrorise civilians, they are clamping down hard on the decent young people who dare to be Israel's conscience.

Here are a few of these resisters:

Tamar Katz

Age: 19
Location: Tel-Aviv
Why I am one of the Shministim:

“I refuse to enlist in the Israeli military on conscientious grounds. I am not willing to become part of an occupying army, that has been an invader of foreign lands for decades, which perpetuates a racist regime of robbery in these lands, tyrannizes civilians and makes life difficult for millions under a false pretext of security.”
First Sentence: 28th Sept. - 10th Oct. 2008 (12 days)
Second Sentence:
12th - 30th Oct. 2008 (18 days)
Third Sentence: 1st - 22nd Dec. 2008 (21 days)

Read more…

Omer Goldman

Name: Omer Goldman
Age: 19
Why I am one of the Shministim:
“I believe in service to the society I am part of, and that is precisely why I refuse to take part in the war crimes committed by my country. Violence will not bring any kind of solution, and I shall not commit violence, come what may.”
First Sentence: 22nd Sept. - 10th Oct. 2008 (18 days)
Second Sentence:
12th - 24th Oct. 2008 (10 days)

Read more…

Yuval Ophir-Auron

Name: Yuval Ophir-Auron
Age: 19
Why I am one of the Shministim:
“I am convinced that it is no one but ourselves who determines that it is our fate to live by the sword. There is another way, which is not the way of war. This is the path of dialogue, of understanding, of concession, forgiveness, of peace.
I believe that a person should take responsibility and feel reconciled to the way he chooses. This is why I shall not join an army behind whose actions I cannot stand and whose behavior I cannot justify.”
First Sentence: 24th Nov. - 5th Dec. 2008
Second Sentence: 7th - 14th December 2008

Read more…

The information from and about the Shministim is being spread by the US group Jewish Voice for Peace, which is urging protests to Israeli embassies and consulates today, demanding these young people be freed.


Among those supporting the 19-year old's stand is a 79-year old, actor and former Screen Actors' Guild leader Ed Asner, whom oldies like me remember as tough but decent news editor Lou Grant,in the TV series. Asner, who served in the US army signal corps in Europe, has supported the Democratic Socialists of America, and opposed both US and Israeli wars and occupations. Writing about the Israeli army refuseniks in the online Huffington Post he says:

"This new generation of young Israeli kids is standing up to the government - they call 'em "Shministim." The Shministim- all about ages 17, 18, 19 and in the 12th grade - are taking a stand. They believe in a better, more peaceful future for themselves and for Israelis and Palestinians, and they are refusing to join the Israeli army. They're in jail, holding strong against immense pressure from family, friends and the Israeli government. "They need our support and they need it today".


Amen to that.

See also:


Original Shministim letter:


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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Local battles are part of wider war

COUNCIL workers, local residents and trades unionists lobbied Barnet council's meeting on December 3, in Whetstone. The night was cold, but the turn out was high, and so, with the help of hot coffee, mince pies and suitably topical words sung to familiar carols, were the spirits of everyone taking part. The singing gave way to boos when leading councillors arrived.

Fresh from its experience losing £27 million in Icelandic banks, Tory-controlled Barnet is intent on handing over as much as it can of local services to private business.
Despite the protest outside, the council's cabinet committee rubber stamped the latest Future Shape report. At a cost of £250,000, for the next six months the administration will look at the feasibility of privatising large parts of the council services. They had claimed that they would look at all the options for improving council services but they have really only had in mind one option: large-scale outsourcing.
Barnet UNISON: Barnet Trades Council Newsletter.......

Tory councillors rubbished the unions, painting them as dinosaurs, only interested in protecting well-paid jobs and privileges. But everyone knows that unlike some of the affluent councillors, council workers are not highly-paid, and though they do want to defend what conditions they have won, they also want to defend the services in which they work and on which they and theri families may also depend.

They, and the people they serve, also know that dedicated in-house staff with good morale are more likely to provide decent services than are private profiteers, using casual workers under pressure to cut corners.

The public has seen the results of privatisation - from unsafe railways to dirty hospitals. Private companies are responsible to shareholders. They are used to wrapping their affairs in business confidentiality. Public bodies like local councils are meant to be accountable to the public. But many people in Barnet are saying they only found out about the council's privatisation plans through the local unions' campaigning. Barnet Trades Union Council, relaunched this year, has held street stalls and a 300-strong public meeting to alert and mobilise people.

Tory council leader Mike Freer said he did not know how many members of public knew about the December 3 meeting. Mind you, Cllr.Freer has also said he did not know the council had money in Icelandic banks till he read about them collapsing. Maybe this hands-off approach is in preparation for handing over contracts and local services. But Barnet Tories are not short of chutzpah, from Brian Gordon's famous fancy-dress performance as "Nelson Mandela" to Brian Coleman, accusing unions of protecting privilege, while as Greater London Assembly member he claimed £10,334 taxi expenses in one year.

Barnet Tories are not special, though. If they are exuding an unseemly confidence, it could be because what they are doing in Barnet is part of a wider pattern, amounting to a nationwide campaign. Like a military campaign it is proceeding by stealth, with people other than top level being kept in the dark or only informed at the last minute on a "need to know" basis. But, as you might expect, big business interests are in on the action.

In Somerset, IBM set up a company called Southwest One, to take over services within Somerset County Council, Taunton Borough Council, and the Avon and Somerset Police Authority. Some 1,400 staff found themselves employed by Southwest One, initially on the same terms and conditions as before, but the company has undertaken to make savings of tens of millions of pounds. How will this be done without hitting jobs and services?

Trade unionists watching this front believe the name Southwest One is an indication that something like this in intended to unfold across other areas.

Besides Barnet, another Tory borough which has sallied into action against its workers was Hammersmith and Fulham, which has already privatised some services. The council issued dismissal notices to 4,200 staff, requiring them to reapply for their jobs under new terms and conditions. It wanted to push through cuts in maternity leave, bereavement leave and compassionate leave and introduces compulsory Saturday, Sunday and evening working without any extra pay. Following union opposition the council withdrew its sacking notice at the end of November, but if this attack was halted, the intention behind it has not vanished

The latest battleground is Essex. Here it appears it is not even elected councillors who are leading the way. A report from the Essex county branch of public service union Unison warns
"A secret group of Essex County Council officers has put its services up for sale. All services have been included, and the council is prepared to pay a private company £5.4 billion of Essex taxpayer’s money to do so. Neither councillors nor the cabinet have ever voted on these proposals.

The official notice advertising the contract asks private companies to provide “any and all council services”, and is likely to start from August 2009. They have said that “these services will include but are not limited to corporate and back office functions, environmental services, social care and school related services.”

The union says: "The Audit Commission (which regulates councils) states that they should only use this type of contracting if they have already looked at improving services in-house and a range of other options. Essex have failed to do so, and this suggests that this policy is being driven by dogma and political ambition. It is rumoured that council leader Lord Hanningfield is looking to make his name, so he will be a minister for Local Government if the Conservatives win the next general election.

"UNISON believes that the council has broken the law and is in breach of a number of statutory regulations. UNISON has not been consulted about this process, and we are deeply concerned that this will be a repeat of the disaster of Excelcare. In that privatisation, Essex had to intervene shortly after the start of the contract when the lives of vulnerable service users were put at risk in Greenways.

"The contract will run for at least 8 years, and possibly up to 12 years, and is part of an attempt to save £200 million over 3 years, although Essex already has £200 million in their own reserves. These savings can only be achieved by cutting jobs and putting services at risk".

UNISON is setting up a campaign committee in Essex consisting of union activists and other representatives of the local community, including church groups. It says it has called in expert consultants to do a detailed analysis of the proposals, and has submitted a Freedom of Information request demanding the secret plans be made public. The union has also alerted government ministers to what it describes as " potentially unlawful proposals".


Trade unionists and anyone else who wants to get involved in publicity and campaigning are invited to contact the union:
Email: info@unisonessex.org.uk
or unison@essexcc.gov.uk

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

From Cable Street to Umm el Fahm(2) "They shall not pass!"

ISRAELI police have told a far-Right "Jewish National Front" outfit which had planned a provocative march through the Arab town of Umm el Fahm on Monday, December 15 that they cannot go ahead. The police said they were acting to prevent violence and bloodshed.

But the Israeli Peace Bloc, Gush Shalom, greeted the ban, saying "The cancellation of the racist provocation in Umm el Fahm is a victory for common sense and for solidarity between Jews and Arabs in Israel"..

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled back in September that the right-wing march, planned by followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane whose fascist Kach party was banned, was legal and could be permitted. The Kahanists said they would march through Umm el Fahm with Israeli flags to give local people the chance to prove their loyalty to the state. These are the same racists who encouraged settlers to resist evacuation from Gaza, and who have turned up wherever they see the opportunity for starting anti-Arab pogroms, from Akko to Hebron.

The mayor of Umm el Fahm said Jewish people were welcome to visit Umm el Fahm, but if the Kahanists came they would be met with a human wall of resistance. By this weekend left-wing Israelis in Tel Aviv and Haifa had transport booked to come and join Umm el Fahm's townspeople in blocking the way to the fascists.

Gush Shalom said at the weekend: "The municipality of Umm el Fahm and the leaders of the Arab public in Israel deserve praise for their response to the planned Kahanist "procession" : the immediate issuing of a public call upon Jewish Israelis to arrive en masse in Umm el Fahm, as welcome guests, and face the racists shoulder to shoulder with the townspeople. The police assertion that there had been a danger of violence and even of bloodshed is wrong. Had the Kahanists arrived at the entrance to Umm el Fahm, they would have found there a human chain formed by thousands of Arabs and Jews holding hands and barring their way, with no need of violence of any kind – and the same is what will happen if a new date is set for this provocation.

"In order to block the entry of the Kahanists into Umm el Fahm, the police needed no further justification than the fact that these are members of a violent racist movement which was formally outlawed already 14 years ago, following the massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron. The time is long overdue to actually implement that ban. But even if the police felt the need to resort to false pretexts, it is good that the racist provocation was prevented. Hopefully, this is the end of a shameful affair".




In London, the call to halt the Kahanists was echoed on the Jewish Chronicle's blogsite in a posting today from the East End Walks guide whose conducted tours of the onetime Jewish neighbourhoods include an "Anti-Fascist Footprints" walk taking in Gardiners Corner and Cable Street, where the famous battles took place on October 4, 1936 to prevent police clearing a way for Sir Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts. Echoing also what I said in this blog at the time of the Israeli court decision, the JC blogger headed his posting "From Cable Street to Umm el Fahm: they shall not pass!"

" Umm el-Fahm is a large Palestinian city within Israel. Its mayor Khaled Hamdan is proud that Israeli Jews always come there and are welcome to Umm el-Fahm: 'They walk around Umm el-Fahm. They eat in the restaurants of Umm el-Fahm... This happens every day.' Only tomorrow, Jews and Palestinians, will be standing together, shoulder to shoulder, to keep a certain unsavoury group of Jews well away who intend to hold a provocative march through the city.

"In a December 7th press release, the municipality of Umm el-Fahm called on all 'peace and co-existence seeking people in Israeli society' to stand with them at the entrances of the city on Monday December 15th to protest and "to block the racists.' This call has been enthusiastically backed by Gush Shalom (the Peace Bloc), who are organising transport for people to join the protest

"The group they are trying to keep out are the 'Jewish National Front' - followers of the late and unlamented Rabbi Meir Kahane - led today by Baruch Marzel. According to the Jerusalem Post, Marzel is 'a former spokesman of the Kach movement, which was outlawed in 1994 and is considered a terrorist movement by Israel, the United States and the European Union.'"

Marzel had boasted defiantly "The land of Israel is ours. And Umm el-Fahm is ours... we won't think twice about going there. We will arrive and we will march."

East End Walks comments "I suppose it is a timely reminder that no group of people on Earth are immune to the poisonous ideologies of racism and fascism, and a group calling itself the 'National Front' doesn't become kosher just by putting the word 'Jewish' in front of it. Like the National Front or British National Party here, they should be treated as being as treyf as pork.

"Let's hope that after this day Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel will be able to look back with pride and say, 'They did not pass' just as Jewish and non-Jewish East Enders could say about Cable Street in 1936."

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Labour in government, and rights on the Rock

EVERY timed I walk into the headquarters of my trade union, the TGWU-Unite, I pass the bust of a former British Foreign Secretary. No, it is not the late Robin Cook, whom the union once sponsored, and who will be remembered for his talk of a "moral dimension" to foreign policy and for resigning Tony Liar Blair's cabinet rather than support the Iraq war.

It is former TGWU general secretary Ernest Bevin, who became Churchill's wartime Labour Minister, then Attlee's Foreign Minister, supporting NATO and Cold War, and expecting the US to back British Empire in return for bases against the Soviet Union.

Bevin still has his devotees. Besides the bust you pass in the TGWU's foyer, another was ordered by Robin Cook when he moved into the Foreign Office. A couple of years ago TGWU officials wanted a Workers Memorial Day march, heading for the statue of the unknown building worker at Tower Hill, to pay homage en route to Bevin's statue in Tooley Street, Southwark. (This may have been a matter of prestige, because the building worker's statue is regarded as a UCATT property, rather than anything to do with Bevin's contribution to workplace safety. Union officials are like that). There's even an Ernest Bevin Society, though I'm not sure what relationship its curious politics have to the man himself, let alone the union .

That aside, one episode in Bevin's career, the former union leader's treatment 60 years ago of a fellow-trade unionist, has been brought to light in recently-released government files in Britain and Gibraltar. The Shameful Deportation of a Trade Union Leader, the story of Albert Fava", is the title of a pamphlet on this subject by Jonathan Jeffries and Dr. Tom Sibley, and I'm glad to note that my union, the T&G Unite, is sponsoring it.

Writing in the Morning Star on November 27, Tom Sibley says: "IT WAS a shameful attack on trade union and human rights. It was carried out by a British Labour government whose foreign secretary was the legendary ex-trade union leader Ernest Bevin. The victim was Gibraltarian Albert Fava".

In the immediate post-war years, Gibraltar became an important centre of trade union and anti-colonial struggle, but it was also of course of key strategic importance to Britain and the United States.

Like many Gibraltarians, Albert Fava had been evacuated to Britain during the second world war, when the colony was full of forces personnel. Working in this country he became active in the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU), and joined the Communist Party.

In July 1948 he returned to Gibralter to take up the post of general secretary of the Gibraltar Confederation of Labour (GCL). Within three months, he had reorganised and revitalised the organisation.

The British authorities were watching closely.

A colonial minister wrote to the then TUC general secretary: "As a result of Fava's personality, energy and knowledge of trade unions, the membership has increased and members began to pay their subs more regularly ... great activity was set on foot and Fava attempted to introduce many trade union practices employed in the UK."

This might have seemed all in his favour. Gibraltar workers may have thought so. But the British government - a Labour government - feared that the growing confidence of Gibraltar labour, combined with aspirations to democratic rights and self-determination, would endanger the security of fortress Gibraltar.

Following consultation with British ministers, the governor decided to use his powers to eject Fava as "an undesirable." The authorities moved quickly, so as not to give the workers movement in Britain or Gibraltar time to build up a campaign against deportation. "On October 9 1948, within a week of the order being issued, Fava was sent packing with his wife and three children on the first available ship to Britain".

The British authorities were anxious to stress that Fava had been exiled, not because of his trade union role but because of his activities as a Communist. The governor wrote to British colonial secretary Creech Jones.

"There is adequate evidence that he is maintaining a political correspondence with communistic elements abroad and I am satisfied that, under cover of genuine trade union activity and in accordance with the usual communist infiltration into local labour organisations, is endeavouring to sow the seeds of discord and to make mischief in local industrial circles."

The governor never published his "evidence," even when challenged by the GCL leadership to do so, and he refused to allow any independent scrutiny of the sources for his allegation.

Secret service files reveal a letter from the Communist Party's London offices at King Street wishing Fava well in his new job and a letter to the Fire Brigades Union, then under Communist Party leadership, asking for technical trade union advice. This is the only evidence of correspondence with "communistic elements abroad."

"It is hard to see how Fava could have been accused of infiltrating the GCL after being appointed general secretary. Meanwhile, sowing discord and making mischief is what trade union leaders in the colonies were always accused of simply for doing their job by raising demands on behalf of members.

"But Jones, a minister with long experience in the labour movement and a record of supporting colonial workers' rights when in opposition, apparently accepted this nonsense, presumably because he wanted to keep Bevin sweet in a period of anti-communist hysteria.

It seems the British TUC leadership went along with Labour ministers in the attack on trade union rights in the colonies. There is probably more to come out on how the security services were involved, and on the way some unions have provided a conduit for them in the guise of international work.

Gibraltar politics has followed a difficult course, on the one hand striving for democratic rights and better treatment from Britain; on the other hand anxious not to be handed back to Spain, especially during the long years of the Franco dictatorship - which British and US authorities were too ready to appease and proclaim part of the "Free World". Now Gibraltar is still classified by the UN as a colony, and yet it has gained EU membership.

On December 2003, to mark the 55th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group announced it was launching the annual Gibraltar Awards, for "people who have contributed significantly to the emancipation or political development of the Gibraltarians or to the democratisation of Gibraltar".

The first awards went posthumously to "the Gibraltarian who returned from the UK to Gibraltar to take up the post of General Secretary of the Gibraltar Confederation of Labour in 1948 at the request of the GCL. Mr. Fava was exiled from Gibraltar for the rest of his life on October the 9 th 1948, being given 48 hours to leave Gibraltar. No charge was ever brought against him to justify the Expulsion Order served upon him by the Governor supported by the UK Colonial Office, the predecessor of our Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the F&CO". The Gibraltar Award to Albert Fava bore the date October the 9 th 2003, to commemorate the date of his expulsion.

During the 1960s, the Gibraltar Confederation of Labour amalgamated with the TGWU. To commemorate the 60th anniversary of Fava's deportation, the TGWU section of Unite, Gibraltar, has launched a campaign to demand that all the government papers concerning this shameful act be released so that the full story can be told. British ministers have been asked to make public all the relevant evidence.

The booklet The Shameful Deportation Of A Trade Union Leader: The Story Of Albert Fava is available for £3 (post free) from Tom Sibley, 156 St Stephens Road, Hounslow, TW3 2BW or from T&GWU Unite, Town Range, Gibraltar. Make cheques payable to Unite TGWU section, Gibraltar.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Still no justice for Jean Charles

ON July 22, the anniversary of Jean Charles' death at the hands of the Metropolitan Police,
his relatives and friends took their message to Westminster, to make sure neither Jean , nor their call for Justice for Jean, were forgotten.

ON September 22, 1999, a Scots-born painter and decorator called Harry Stanley was on his way home to his family in Hackney when he was shot dead by two policemen, apparently acting on a false tip-off that "an Irishman carrying a gun" had left the pub. Harry was carrying a table-leg that his brother had repaired, wrapped in a plastic bag. .

In November 2004 an inquest jury returned a verdict of "unlawful killing". The two officers were suspended. But the verdict was overturned in the High Court after protests by police firearms officers handing in their weapons, and the suspension being lifted.

As campaigners said, this meant no family could feel safe. But though the two officers were arrested on fresh forensic evidence in 2005, the police complaints commission recommended that no further action be taken against them.

On September 22 this year, a special court opened in the unusual setting of the Oval cricket ground for an inquest into the death of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead by police on a tube train at Stockwell underground station on July 22, 2005. With both police and a private security firm on duty each day, screens erected to conceal many police witnesses from the public, and individual senior officers represented by their own lawyers, the inquest has lasted almost three months, and cost £3 million.

We heard that the commander who sent surveillance officers to an address in south London had not realised it was not a house but one flat in a block. That the suspect bomber they were supposed to be watching had not in fact returned there after a failed bombing the day before. That the control room at Scotland Yard was crowded and noisy, so the officer receiving messages from the team following Jean Charles de Menezes who were not sure if this was their man, had a job being heard over the hubbub. We saw that Jean Charles was able to take a bus to Stockwell, and to pass two officers before he entered the tube station. That he was not wearing bulky clothing, as police claimed, suggesting they thought he was concealing explosives, but a thin denim jacket.

Jean Charles mother and relatives sat in court hearing how their loved one was held down while police officers poured bullets into his head at close range. And we all heard a senior police officer, asked to give his opinion as to what went wrong that day, answer twice that so far as he could see, nothing went wrong.

Last week, the jury were sent to consider their verdict. But before this the coroner, former High Court judge, Sir Michael Wright, began summing up seven weeks of evidence by telling jurors they will only be allowed to return a verdict of lawful killing or an open verdict. Having considered all the evidence, a verdict of unlawful killing was "not justified", he said.

Throughout this case, people had born the grisly evidence, the casual confidence of police witnesses, and the cheerful bonhomie of legal professionals and court officials with quiet decorum, though Jean Charles' mother was understandably grief-stricken. But as the inquest reached its closing stages on Thursday, after hearing what the coroner had said, people evidently felt they had heard enough, and had nothing to lose by protest. As an observer reported:

"Five members of the de Menezes family unzipped their coats to reveal t-shirts with the slogans 'Your Legal Right to Decide' and 'Unlawful Killing Verdict' in full view of the jury.

"The relatives then walked from their seats towards the jury box. Court ushers and security guards hurried forward, intercepted them and ushered the group out of the courtroom through a side door".


Later that day they issued this Statement: 4.12.08

Today the family both here and in Brazil instructed our lawyers to withdraw from the inquest proceedings. We do this with deep regret and frustration but we feel we have been left with no alternative.

For three and a half years we have had one simple request, that all the evidence be put in front of the jury and for them to be allowed to decide.

We have faced a system which has repeatedly blocked, silenced and stopped all the avenues we have tried in order to get justice. And now we face the situation that after three months, 100 witnesses and a cost of £3 million pounds, the jury is being restricted from considering all the options. We have full confidence in the jury to return a verdict that will deliver justice for Jean. The jury have the legal right to return any verdict they want to and we hope that these 11 ordinary members of the public will do the right thing.

Jean loved living in Britain. One of the reasons he would tell me why liked this country was because it was the home of justice and fairness. We would like to thank the British public for all their support, especially over the last few days.

We do not want any other family to go through what we have gone through. Unless there is justice, the tragic death of Jean could so easily be repeated. Our campaign for justice continues and we hope the jury will do the right thing.

Vivien Figuerdo on behalf of the Menezes Family.

Sir Iain Blair - out of office, but not yet out of pocket

Sir Ian Blair was criticised by senior colleagues at New Scotland Yard after he sought a £25,000 performance bonus during criminal proceedings over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, while on a salary of £228,000 and with rank-and-file officers facing the prospect of pay cuts. Blair wrote an angry letter to his deputy, Paul Stephenson, effectively accusing him of disloyalty after discovering that he had formally waived his own bonus.

Sir Ian had been under fire from both within and without the police over a number of issues, but was defended by his prime minister namesake and, on the Menezes shooting, by Mayor Ken Livingstone. Then on October 2, with the Menezes inquest under way, he announced he would resign as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, with effect from 1 December. He blamed a lack of support from London mayor Boris Johnson, saying that "without the mayor's backing I do not think I can continue". Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to Blair's service. Sir Paul Stephenson took over on the 28th of November .

With allegations that he covered up discrimination and corruption in the Met, besides upsetting City police by proposing a merger, and lobbied MPs to support the government's detention policies, it is perhaps not surprising that London's top cop decided to spend money on public relations. It was reported in October that Blair had used public money to pay an estimated £15,000 to Impact Plus, owned by a skiing partner and close friend of his for 30 years Andy Miller No other firm had been invited to bid for the contract. The company already enjoyed IT consultancy contracts with the Met, but in addition, Martin Samphire of Impact Plus became Blair's 'image consultant'. Impact Plus received more than £3 million of police work from Scotland Yard over the six-year period of Ian Blair's rule.

Blair is entitled to a full police pension, estimated to be worth about £160,000 per year, based on his £240,000 commissioner’s salary. Blair could receive his £234,000-a-year salary until his contract expires in February 2010. However, Sir Ian will lose his chauffeur-driven car and use of a £1 million flat in south-west London.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Klansmen who wear kipot

ETHIOPIAN Jews serving in the Israeli armed forces have tasted the real character of the Zionist settlers on the West Bank and their supporters this week. It was not very pleasant.

"Niggers don't expel Jews! This isn't what we brought you to Israel for!" was just one of things shouted at them by masked settlers resisting an order to move out of disputed houses.

During violent clashes in Hebron on Tuesday "a bunch of veiled people started yelling at us: Who are you to expel us from our home? An Ethiopian does not expel a Jew! A nigger does not expel a Jew!" one Border Guard officer of Ethiopian descent recounted.

"I just didn't know what to do with myself," he said.

Another officer reported that while arriving to make an arrest about a week and-a-half ago, a group of youths verbally attacked him saying, "Who told you to come and evacuate us? You Ethiopians. What are you, this State's niggers? Olmert's niggers?"

The officers said they were deeply offended by these remarks, but stressed that those making them were youths coming from outside the area. Border Guard sources reported that racist remarks were also made against Druze soldiers. "We knew that this would happen so we instructed our officers in advance," said a source.

The Ethiopians faced discrimination from Israel's religious authorities when they first came, and prejudice from some mayors who did not want them sent to their town. They still suffer in the jobs market and for housing. So it is perhaps not surprising to find them serving in the Border Guard, which though an option for conscript soldiers is also a professional, career force.

As an armed police force the Border Guard's main job has been suppressing Palestinian people in the occupied territories and occasionally within Israel's bounds, a task in which they have been more trigger-happy than the IDF itself; and guarding the very settlers from whom they are now taking abuse.

What has been happening in the Hebron area for some time has been violent harassment of Palestinians by the armed settlers, while Israeli forces only intervened if the Palestinians fought back. International observers and Israelis opposed to the occupation have also been attacked, or kept out by the military. On British TV we have had just a glimpse of soldiers having to remove some settlers from a house. But what has been happening just recently prompted the Israeli daily Ha'aretz correspondent Avi Issacharoff to state:

"Hebron settler riots were out and out pogroms".

"An innocent Palestinian family, numbering close to 20 people. All of them women and children, save for three men. Surrounding them are a few dozen masked Jews seeking to lynch them. A pogrom. This isn't a play on words or a double meaning. It is a pogrom in the worst sense of the word. First the masked men set fire to their laundry in the front yard and then they tried to set fire to one of the rooms in the house. The women cry for help, "Allahu Akhbar." Yet the neighbors are too scared to approach the house, frightened of the security guards from Kiryat Arba who have sealed off the home and who are cursing the journalists who wish to document the events unfolding there.

The cries rain down, much like the hail of stones the masked men hurled at the Abu Sa'afan family in the house. A few seconds tick by before a group of journalists, long accustomed to witnessing these difficult moments, decide not to stand on the sidelines. They break into the home and save the lives of the people inside. The brain requires a minute or two to digest what is taking place. Women and children crying bitterly, their faces giving off an expression of horror, sensing their imminent deaths, begging the journalists to save their lives. Stones land on the roof of the home, the windows and the doors. Flames engulf the southern entrance to the home. The front yard is littered with stones thrown by the masked men. The windows are shattered and the children are frightened. All around, as if they were watching a rock concert, are hundreds of Jewish witnesses, observing the events with great interest, even offering suggestions to the Jewish wayward youth as to the most effective way to harm the family. And the police are not to be seen. Nor is the army.

Ten minutes prior, while the security forces were preoccupied with dispersing the rioters near the House of Contention, black smoke billowed from the wadi separating Kiryat Arba and Hebron. For some reason, none of the senior officers of the police or the army were particularly disturbed by what was transpiring at the foot of Kiryat Arba. Anyone standing hundreds of meters away could notice the dozens of rioters climbing atop the roof of the Abu Sa'afan family home, hurling stones. Only moments later did it become apparent that there were people inside the home.

I quickly descend to the wadi and accost three soldiers. "What do you want from me? The three of us are responsible for the entire sector here," one said, his hand gesturing towards the entire wadi.

"Use your radio to request help," I said. He replies that he is not equipped with a radio.

A group of journalists approach the house. A dilemma. What to do? There are no security forces in the vicinity and now the Jewish troublemakers decided to put the journalists in their crosshairs. We call for the security guards from Kiryat Arba to intervene and put a halt to the lynch. But they surround the home to prevent the arrival of "Palestinian aid."

The home is destroyed and the fear is palpable on the faces of the children. One of the women, Jihad, is sprawled on the floor, half-unconscious. The son, who is gripping a large stick, prepares for the moment he will be forced to face the rioters. Tahana, one of the daughters, refuses to calm down. "Look at what they did to the house, look."

At 5:05 P.M., a little over an hour after the incident commenced, a unit belonging to the Yassam special police forces arrives to disperse the crowd of masked men. The family members refuse to calm down. Leaving the home, one can hear a settler yell at a police officer: "Nazis, shame on you." Indeed. Shame on you".

The only people behaving like Nazis that I can see from this account were the right-wing settlers. They and the youth sent to stir things, most likely from the Kach movement started by American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane. Even their racist epithets against the Border Guards who normally protect them are the language of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

Another commentator on recent West Bank settler violence poses some qusestions.
"First, since some of the pogrom apparently is in Area A, why aren't Palestinian officers arresting settlers? Second, why was the area declared a closed military zone so late? Third, why are the IDF and the police so ineffectual in preventing the settler rampage? Fourth, why aren't the police using the same tactics against the settlers that the IDF uses against the protestors in Bil'in. After all, the settlers are much more violent than the Bil'in protestors".


This is from a blogger evoking the name of Dr.Yehudah Magnes, first president of the Hebrew University, who sought a humane version of Zionism, and a binational state in Palestine.

I would say that the idea of another kind of Zionism, liberal and progressive, has been left behind by history, although some way of sharing the land between two peoples must be found. The right-wing settler movements regard even Israel's present democracy with open contempt, though they have been happy enough to take subsidies from its governments, resources diverted from the poor in Israel's cities and amusingly named "development towns". From people like the Ethiopians.

But arguments about 'Zionism' in theory must take second place to the need for unity in action against the fascist settlers, the militarists, and the klansmen in kipot who are the current manifestation of Zionism in practice. Against them and against their backers, whether in Israel or the West. This is the struggle for peace. And no, it will not be peaceful - how could it be? They killed an Israeli prime minister, remember?

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Folk und Kinder

I'D been planning to go to Liverpool Street station today to see an unusual Suitcase. It's a drama commemorating the arrival at the station seventy-years ago of a special train - the first of the Kindertransport trains which were to bring almost 10,000 mainly Jewish children out of Nazi Germany and Austria and occupied Czechoslovakia.

The site-specific work has been developed by Ros and Jane Merkin from the memories of their mother Johanna who was one of the children on that train, from Vienna, in December 1938.

The audience will not be seated comfortably in a theatre, but conducted around the station to come upon scenes telling the story, with bewildered children, waiting foster parents, bemused railway workers and bystanders. The performance also incorporates music, seasonal carols and tunes from the Old Country, provided by Max Reinhardt and the Trans-Siberian Marching Band.

There's to be three one-hour performances, numbers have had to be restricted so as not to cause too much disruption to a busy station, and the good news is that the reason I could not go is I received a message at the weekend regretting to tell me the event was fully booked, indeed over-subscribed.

At least I can think of those who never made it to those trains.

It was after the Nazi 'Kristallnacht' pogroms in November 1938 that a delegation prevailed upon Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his government to allow up to 10,000 child refugees into Britain. It was not easy. Homes had to be found for the children, and a £200 bond paid for each child. The children had to leave their parents behind, and few ever saw their parents or relatives again after the Nazi genocide. In all, some 9,500 children came to Britain this way including some 2,000 whose parents though not Jewish were persecuted by the Nazis as political opponents.

The last train came as war broke out between Britain and Germany. The Refugee Children Movement committee which had organised the trains had already run out of funds in August 1939. Meanwhile in the United States, though some children were brought in informally, the Wagner-Rogers Bill to admit 20,000 Jewish refugees under the age of 14, co-sponsored by Senator Robert F. Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Representative Edith Rogers (R-Mass.), had failed to get Congressional approval in February 1939.

By sheer coincidence, though I could not attend the Liverpool Street performance of 'Suitcase', I happened to borrow a David Roberts novel from the library the other day, it's called 'The Quality of Mercy', and features his period gentleman sleuth and agent Lord Edward Corinth and intrepid communist journalist Verity Browne as well as such unlikely characters as Lord Louis Mountbatten and Lady Edwina, and Hitler-admiring Unity Mitford. But apart from the country house polo playing set and London art scene this book brings its heroine and hero into Vienna as the Nazis take over Austria, and to the rescue efforta of the kindertransport.

Among the real-life figures who stand out for such efforts, we think of Nicholas Winton. the young British businessman who made it his business to organise the rescuse of children from Czechoslovakia as the Nazi jaws closed on that country following Munich. He apparently never considered he had done anything special, and it was not till half a century later that his wife Greta was going through an old scrapbook in the attic and found out the story. He was knighted at the end of 2002, and the Czech government nominated him for a Nobel peace prize.

Among various individuals and organisations which helped receive the children in Britain, one which has been quite modest about its part is the Woodcraft Folk. Emerging from efforts to form a non-militaristic alternative to the Scouts, following World War I, this youth movement, founded in 1925, drew its name from the outdoor, nature-loving "woodcraft" ideas of American Edward Thompson Seton, looking to the Native American tribes; but combined with the democratic and egalitarian comradeship ideals of the labour, and more especially co-operative movement. On the Continent, particularly Germany and central Europe, its links are with the social-democratic Red Falcon youth movement.

It was not till looking at some letters from Kindertransport children that I noticed references to the Woodcraft Folk, and started discovering more about its part. But here is one witness, Zusana Medusova, writing in a Prague magazine in 1998:
"My father was already in hiding from the Gestapo...an Austrian socialist, political editor of Vorwarts
, the daily paper of the Social democratic party...Of course he had to flee at once. ..the paper was forbidden and its editors were enemies of the new state! So, together iwth many other anti-nazi refugees, both Jewish and non-Jewish, Czechoslovakia was their first place of exile...Very soon the children of these refugees were formed into a youth group called Die Rote Falken...Some of us Rote Falken had attended an International youth camp in the summer of 1937. It was held in England, near Brighton. ..None of us could guess that two years later Britain would beome our new homeland.

"The organiser of this large camp - the head of the Woodcraft Folk - was a young married man, an idealist, keen trade unionist, humanitarian - we all love this man. He was eager to know from our youth leaders what was then the situation in Czechoslovakia and he kept in touch with them after ourreturn from this wonderful holiday. When it became obvious that the Germans had their eye on their Czech neighbours Henry fair wrote a pleading letter to all members of the Woodcraft Folk, asking them to volunteer to take some of the children whose parents were once again threatened by the Nazis. It must be said that these were working-class families and that, by taking a refugee child, they would certainly have to make financial sacrifices... none of us could imagine that we would neevr see our parents agin - in my case out of 52 members of my mother's extended family, only eight survived two returned from the horrors of Auschwitz and Belsen."

(Article from Rosh Chodesh magazine, quoted in Fashioning a New World: A History of the Woodcraft Folk, by Mary Davis).

Susanna Pearson, was born Susanne Ehrmann on 11 April 1928 in Moravska Ostrava, a town in Czechoslovakia… The family moved to Prague when she was four years old, for her father’s job

"My mother had many friends, loved parties and nice clothes. We were both members of the Rote Falcons, an international youth movement which had links with the Woodcraft Folk in Britain, Mother as a helper. I have happy memories of the camps we went to. At that time, we little knew that it was probably the membership of this organization that would save my life"

As the Nazis closed in, Susanne's parents and their Jewish friends were seeking ways to leave the country. "This was proving impossible as the world had closed its doors to Jewish refugees. However there were efforts made to bring out children, particularly by a British stockbroker called Nicholas Winton who was on holiday in Prague. He realized the plight of the Jews and resolved to do something. He gained permission from the British government to bring out children, providing he could find families to care for them and a guarantee of £50 per child for re-immigration. In this way he made it possible for 1,000 children to come to Britain. The start of the Second World War prevented the last transport train leaving, but nevertheless he was able to rescue about 680 children.

"The demand for places was very high, but I was probably given one because the Woodcraft Folk in England were able to offer 20 homes for Rote Falcons. They were prompted to do so having met up with some of us at a camp in Brighton in 1938. It is difficult to know how my parents felt when they learned that they had been successful in their application for me to be one of these children. I have often wondered, particularly when my own daughters were the age I was then. The decision my parents made to send me must have been a very brave and difficult one, because they knew they could not come with me. Nor did they know whether they would ever be able to join me".

"My transport left Prague on 29 June 1939 with about 241 children aged 2-15. I find it difficult to remember how I felt on that day when my parents took me to the railway station, and I became one of the children on one of the last trains to safety before the war started. Perhaps it seemed an adventure, and I certainly did not realize that I would never see my parents again…"

Susan concludes her account thus: "My own beliefs remain intact. My Jewishness is a positive part of myself, although I am not observant. I am on the left of politics, and like to think of myself as tolerant and anti-racist. My hope is that by telling my story, it will help young people to begin to understand what can happen to ordinary people when they become the victims of racism, discrimination and prejudice".

(extracts from Susanne Pearson’s account in Survival: Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Story, published by The Quill Press, in association with The Aegis Trust.

I've been struck by the fact that not only do these one time child refugees pay tribute to those who helped them, but often they, and their children in turn, rather than dwell exclusively on their own experiences, as well they might, show ready sympathy, understanding, and support for today's refugees and victims of oppressive regimes. I might return to that.

Meantime, from those of us who have been fortunate enough not to go through such experiences, and are sometimes inclined to sneer at organisations like the Woodcraft Folk as twee, or neglect the importance of practical help to people in deperate need, let's hear it for the aptly-named Henry Fair, for Sir Nicholas Winton, and the Woodcraft Folk! Without them some of our friends would not be here.

For a Kindertransport memory on Czech radio:

Also, Nicholas Winton

Susan(na) Pearson and Somali refugee on community TV

after not making a fuss of their part in helping the child refugees, Woodcraft Folk is making it part of their educational work on refuge problems then and now:

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