Sunday, October 11, 2009

Power to the People!

I WAS sorry I could not make it to Highbury magistrates court last Tuesday. A friend, Jewish peace activist Deborah Fink, faced charges of using threatening behaviour and abusive language and assaulting a police officer. The charges arose because Debbie tried to hold her ground, and her banner, when police forcibly moved demonstrators against Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was attending a garden party at the Hampstead home of Jewish National Fund chairman Samuel Hayak, during his visit to Britain last May.

Debbie was arrested, handcuffed, thrown in the back of a police van, and held in the cells overnight.

But dismissing the charges against her, District Judge Baker ruled that the demonstrators had been within their rights to protest peacefully ausing the occasion of Lieberman's visit to express their support for Palestinian human rights and disapproval of events in Gaza. They had not sought to stop anyone from attending the garden party, and did not constitute a threat to public order. In preventing Fink and her fellow protesters from exercising their fundamental right to protest, the police had not been acting in the execution of their duty.

I understand Debbie Fink is now considering legal action against the police.

I did make it to a demonstration in support of Mohammad Othman on Thursday. Mohammad is the West Bank campaigner against Israel's annexation fence cutting off his village's land, who was arrested last month on his way home from a speaking visit to Norway. Mohammad's "crime" appears to have been that he spoke in favour of a strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions to help his people against Israeli occupation and land-grabbing.

Norway's state pension fund decided last month on ethical grounds to disinvest from the Israeli company Elbit, which produces military and surveillance electronics. The Israeli government took a dim view of this and summoned the Norwegian ambassador, but as they can't do much to Norway, perhaps they are taking it out on Mohammad Othman.

Mohammad is currently held in solitary confinement, in a small cell, which measures only 2 square meters. The cell includes a mattress, and a Turkish bathroom (hole in the floor). The cell does not contain a window, which means that there is no natural sunlight or fresh air. Upon his transfer to Kishon (Jalameh) detention centre, he was searched and taken to a doctor for a medical examination, as he got sick in Huwwara provisional detention centre due to poor conditions there. He was given r a medical examination, as he got sick in Huwwara provisional detention centre due to poor conditions there. He was given clothes and slippers, but was allowed to take clean underwear and socks from his own luggage. During the first days following his arrest however, Mohammad suffered from especially hard detention conditions in Huwwara provisional centre, where bathrooms are located outside of the cell. Detainees are only allowed to use them freely during short recreation breaks (35 minutes), only three times a day. When the detainee wishes to use the toilet outside of these hours, he or she must call out for a guard and wait until one agrees to take the prisoner out.”

As a break from solitary, the young man has been subjected to lengthy interrogations, to turn up what from a public campaigner?

Anyway on Thursday, October 8, when Mohammad was due to face a military court, demonstrators from War on Want took their placards saying "Free Mohammad" up to the Israeli embassy, and as surprised police tried to escort us away - Kensington Palace Gardens is a private road - a little crowd of students came to join us and unfurled their banner. The demonstration continued outside the gates, in bright sunshine, and leadletted passers-by, while more police officers came up, and grew more agitated (having called their superiors for instructions), till we obliged them and crossed the road to the place designated "by convention" (they said) for the last five minutes or so. It was the first time in forty years that I've known a demonstration allowed (at first, anway) on the right side of the road, so near to the embassy, and the police were quite polite. Nobody was pushed, and nobody arrested. I couldn't help wondering if they had heard the news from Highbury.

Not that the news from Kishon detention centre was so good. Mohammad Othman has had his dtention without trial extended for another fourteen days. So expect more actions.

At the weekend, friends who had understandably condemned Palestinian Authority chair Mahmoud Abbas for apparently helping the Israeli, British and US governments to bury the Goldstone report on Gaza were asking what President Obama had done to deserve the Nobel peace prize. Uri Avnery, kinder than most, suggested it was a "down payment" on future expectations.

For my part, rather than rest my hopes on presidents and statespersons, then curse and weep when they disappoint me, I like to turn to what less famous people lower down the ranks are doing, without waiting for their governments. Here's a heartening tale that might give fresh meaning to the expression once heard in some corners of the Left, "Do It Yourself Demands"

Tia Goldenberg
Associated Press

SUSYA, West Bank — Residents of a West Bank village with no electricity have been helped out of the darkness by unlikely benefactors — a group of Israelis who installed solar panels and wind turbines to illuminate the Palestinians` makeshift homes.

The villagers of Susya live in tents and caves with power lines darting right above their dwellings, connecting a nearby Jewish settlement to the power grid while bypassing them entirely.

It was this lack of basic services that drew the physicists from Comet-ME, a group of pro-peace Israeli scientists and activists, to this dusty, desolate area. Now the entire village of 300 people has access to power that is reliable, free and green.

At night, rudimentary streetlights dot the otherwise pitch-black village and each home is lit by an energy-saving bulb. Villagers have no access to phone lines, but the power allows them to charge their cell phones.

`Life is easier now,` said Susya villagers Widad Nawaja, standing below the solar panel that powers her home. `We have light. Children can do their homework at night if they couldn`t finish it during the day.`

The residents also hope the new amenities will help them make more money: an electric butter churner means they can produce butter faster than by hand, and two green-powered refrigerators can preserve their produce until it can be sold.

`The communities here are in deep poverty. The project is targeted to help them make more revenue from their own work,` said Noam Dotan, an activist and physicist with Comet-ME.

Comet-ME says it seeks to use renewable energy to empower Palestinian communities like this one, which is among the poorest in the West Bank.

The West Bank, home to some 2.5 million Palestinians, is controlled by the Israeli military, with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority governing some areas. Some 300,000 Israeli settlers also live in the territory. The Palestinians want to make the West Bank part of their future state.

Israel provides power to Jewish settlements and military facilities in the West Bank, as well as to most Palestinian cities and towns.

But Comet-ME says some 500 Palestinian families in communities not officially recognized by the Israeli military authorities in this part of the southern West Bank are forced to live off the grid. The Israeli military said it never received a request for power from the community and if it did, the army would study it `in accordance with the relevant laws.`

Susya villagers used to depend on diesel generators which were costly and polluted the air.

The community has faced a series of evictions by the military and has clashed with Jewish settlers in the past. But the villagers and the activists say the work to set up the new power system — done by both Israelis and Palestinians — helped temper mistrust.

`This is an example of the coexistence between Arabs and Jews, and this is a very important thing,` said Mohammad Ahmed Nasser Nawaja, wearing a traditional Arab robe and carrying the cell phone he charged thanks to the new power system.

Meanwhile, word has spread to other villages lacking electricity. Comet-ME hopes to power up the remaining off-grid families in this area over the next four years.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

It so happens that before I read that report, republished on the Kibbush site,

I'd heard a bit about Comet-ME from supporter Mike Cushman, who also went on one of the peace boats to Gaza, and spoke at a Hyde Park anti-war rally.

COMET on BBC World Competition
Comet-ME Needs YOUR Vote – Today! Comet-ME proudly announces it is one of 12 finalists in the BBC World Challenge 2009. This global competition focuses on grassroots projects and small businesses worldwide that are taking effective, innovative action in environmental and socio-economic issues. In November, the winning project receives an award of $20,000! Comet-ME would use this prize to expand our project and to provide sustainable energy to another community. The winning project will be determined by online voting between 28 September 2009 and 13 November 2009, at

Comet-ME, a group of Israelis, Palestinians, and international volunteers, works closely with very poor communities in the occupied areas of Palestine. Under Israeli military occupation for 42 years, these people have no access (for political reasons) to the electricity grid. Our common goal is to help these people build sustainable energy systems using solar and wind power. Illumination, communication, and refrigeration increase their potential for generating revenue and reducing chronic poverty. We work with mutual interest and mutual respect, in the conviction that what we build together can begin to heal what has been destroyed. Each community owns its own project, and its local committee makes all relevant decisions; we provide materials and knowledge for building the energy systems. We foster pro-activity in these weak communities: teaching and encouraging them to maintain their energy systems leads them toward economic empowerment. All of us believe that working together on such projects weakens the barriers of suspicion and hostility, ultimately facilitating the end of racism and segregation in the Middle East. Building energy systems in the occupied territories, we face daily danger to our work, both from Israeli settlers and from the Israeli army. It’s critical, therefore, that we become internationally recognized. International public opinion has significant impact in Israel. For this reason, we ask you to cast your vote for Comet-ME in the BBC World Challenge 2009. Please visit the website noted above during the voting period of 28 September through 13 November 2009, and vote for Comet-ME. And then, please visit our website at to learn more about the work we are doing with communities in the South Hebron Hills of Palestine. We hope you will forward this e-mail to all your friends, encouraging them to join you in casting a vote for Comet-ME.

Hear hear! This really is about bringing power to the people!

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