Thursday, November 26, 2009

Zivela Bosna! - and a bit of history

JAJCE, capital of old kingdom, birthplace of republic, and below, Partisans of the Second Proletarian Brigade and Third Dalmatian Division being reviewed somewhere in Bosnia, 1943.

YESTERDAY, November 25, was Bosnia's national day, Dan državnosti, or Republic Day, and Bosnians celebrating will have been pleased that it was recognised by US President Barack Obama.

"On behalf of the American people, I extend my best wishes to all those who are celebrating the National Day of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our Nation stands with Bosnia and Herzegovina as it continues its journey from a war-torn past to a peaceful and stable future. I especially offer my congratulations to those in America that can trace their origins back to Bosnia and Herzegovina".

Only a small paragraph from a busy president, but then sometimes, little things mean a lot.

We may not normally make a big deal over particular days, as witness the way I missed this one till it and Obama's message were brought to my attention by a proud Bosnian friend in the United States. 'National' is not a word we like when it is used to pretend common interest between us and the boss, or we see corrupt politicians and lumpen thugs wrap themselves in the national flag. It is another matter however if your nationality, including you and your family, has had to fight for very existence.

Then again, sympathies apart, the independent republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina is barely 18 years old, its sovereignty restricted by foreign troops and the Dayton agreement, as well as the chunk carved out as Republika Srpska, and even its flag designed by a UN committee. What's so special about one day, anyway?

Well, it is important to realise that the full title of the national day is November 25, 1943.

It was late in 1943 that Yugoslav partisans established themselves in Jajce, amid the mountains of central Bosnia, and here they set up the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia, AVNOJ. Jajce had been the capital of the kingdom of Bosnia in the 14th century, but such sentimental considerations played less part than more pressing recent concerns in what the partisan leadership decided.

Bosnia and Hercegovina had been broken up into parts by the pre-war Yugoslav monarchy, and then mostly swallowed by the so-called independent Croatian state, NDH, set up by the Axis-backed Ustashe. These Croat fascists outdid the Nazis in savage murder of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, while in those parts of Bosnia where Serb Chetniks were active in 'ethnic cleansing', Muslims and Croats were massacred. The Nazis recruited a Muslim 'Handjar' division which also gained a reputation for atrocities. But in September 1942 there was a mutiny among Croat and Muslim soldiers whom the Wehrmacht had stationed in France. In Bosnia and Hercegovina people who wished neither to murder or be murdered by their neighbours were turning to the Communist partisans, as the one force that united different nationalities and did not engage in 'ethnic cleansing', concentrating, as Churchill noticed, on killing Nazis.

On November 25, 1943, the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia, with Tito at its helm announced that Bosnia and Herzegovina was to be a republic, with equality for its nationalities within a federal Yugoslavia. Interestingly enough, the Muslims were not yet recognised as a nationality, of which there were deemed to be five in Yugoslavia- Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Montenegrins and Macedonians (Kosovars were to be another problem!) - although there were Muslim partisan units. But Bosnia and Hercegovina was to be the sixth republic, shared equally. The conference's conclusions were later confirmed by the Yugoslavian constitution, and much later it became possible for Bosniacs to enter "Muslim" as their nationality if they so wished.

The Ustashe were outraged, declaring that Croatian territory was being taken from them by "Soviet imperialism"! Ironically, Stalin was not pleased either. He had warned the Yugoslav communists against turning AVNOJ into a government. The Soviet Union had raised and equipped a force of emigre Yugoslavs on its soil - and given them uniforms bearing the Royal Yugoslav crest! It was slower than the British to recognise and assist Tito's partisans.

But there it was, the logic of war had proved stronger than Stalinist bureaucracy in pushing the Yugoslav communists towards revolutionary actions for which they had not been theoretically prepared; and their effort to cope with the national conflicts led to them proclaiming Bosnia a state again, not to be fought over by its neighbours but shared by its peoples - in some ways a model for the future of Yugoslavia itself.

Alas as we know, with the fall of 'communism' , Bosnia was torn apart again, with the return of Ustashe and Chetniks, ethnic cleansing and genocide. We cannot pretend that the Bosnian government was blameless, let alone socialistic in its aims. But nor can we accept the attitude which ran from Tory Douglas Hurd through to the Socialist Workers Party, dismissing "all sides" in the Bosnian war as equally to blame. Hurd went from rejecting what he called an "equal killing field" , i.e. arms for Bosnia-Hercegovina, to doing business for NatWest Markets with Slobodan Milosevic. The SWP has gone from refusing to support Workers Aid for Bosnia('Muslims') to discovering something 'progressive' in political Islam. Still less can we forgive those who accepted the "socialism" of Slobodan Milosevic as reason to support Serb reactionaries, and pretended to honour the partisan tradition while collaborating with supporters of Radovan Karadzic and Vojtslav Seselj.

What did survive of the partisans' vision was in those Bosnians of whatever background who fought, like the Tuzla miners, or the Bosnian general Zivjak, an ethnic Serb, not for a Muslim Bosnia, let alone an Islamic state (which few Muslims would want) but for the multi-cultural Bosnia which they had known and in which they believed.

So what's in a day? Well, as we see in the discussion below, a week, or even four days, can be a long time in politics, especially if the events they commemorate were half a century, and two wars, apart.

"In the Federation (the Bosniak-Croat entity), 25 November is celebrated as Statehood Day. On this day in 1943, the Anti-Fascist Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ZAVNOBiH) adopted a resolution declaring Bosnia and Herzegovina an equal community of Serbs, Muslims and Croats. The Serbs deny the historical importance of this event, instead choosing to celebrate 21 November, the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995, when the Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, was established."

Zivela Bosna!

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No "security" issue - but Berlanty still not allowed to complete her studies

BERLANTY AZZAM No 'security risk' , but this Palestinian student is accused of "living illegally" in the Palestinian West Bank - unlike thousands of Israeli settlers?

THE man on the television the other evening was telling us things on the West Bank were getting better, that the Israeli army roadblocks have been reduced, and more tourists and pilgrims are going to Bethlehem. I imagine that will bring a wry smile to one young woman. The road to Bethlehem has been firmly closed to 22-year old student Berlanty Azzam, two months before she was due to complete her degree in business studies at Bethlehem University.

Berlanty was detained on October 28, as she returned to Bethlehem from Ramallah. Because her identity card still gave her place of residence as Gaza, she was forcibly taken there, in blindfold and handcuffs, even though she had lived in Bethlehem for four years and was about to complete her BA degree.

Yesterday, Tuesday, November 24, the Israeli State Attorney's Office confirmed to the High Court of Justice that the Israeli army is maintaining its refusal to let Berlanty return to her studies. Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, had petitioned on her behalf, and Berlanty had asked for legal representation . The State's update was submitted following a military hearing at the Erez Crossing in the presence of Gisha attorney, Advocate Yadin Elam.

The Israeli authorities admit that Berlanty Azzam is not guilty of any offence, nor is she a "security" risk

But in their statement they continue to claim that Berlanty was present in the West Bank "illegally”, despite the fact that Berlanty herself clarified in her military hearing that she travelled from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank legally – using an entry permit to Israel issued to her by the military commander. This permit was issued to her after she passed a rigorous security investigation. Moreover, after she entered the West Bank, Berlanty did everything she could to change her address as listed on her identity card to her new place of residence, Bethlehem. Over the past four years, she and her parents submitted numerous applications to change her address but all were summarily rejected – they were told that Israel, which controls the Palestinian population registry, refuses to register changes in address from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.

After she heard about the army’s refusal to let her finish her studies, Berlanty Azzam said: “I’m extremely disappointed. All I want is to be able to return to my studies in Bethlehem. I need the court to deliver justice”.

Advocate Yadin Elam said: “The army’s decision not to allow a promising student to complete her studies is a sign of severe myopia. It is also a symptom of broad-ranging Israeli policy that does not perceive students for who they really are – young people with the desire and potential to build a better future – but rather as a homogenous group that constitutes a threat. I hope that the Court will acknowledge Berlanty's right to education”.

Since 2000, Israel has enforced a sweeping ban preventing Palestinians from Gaza from studying at Palestinian universities in the West Bank. In 2007, a High Court decision determined that students from Gaza wishing to study in the West Bank should be allowed to do so “in cases where positive humanitarian implications are known”, However, to the best of Gisha’s knowledge, since this judgment was handed down in 2007, Israel has not issued a single entry permit for the purpose of traveling to study in the West Bank to a student from Gaza. Just last summer, Israel refused to allow 12 students from Gaza to study at Bethlehem University. In the late 1990s, about 1,000 students from Gaza studied in the West Bank, most of them in disciplines that are not offered in the Gaza Strip.

An estimated 25,000 people live in the West Bank but have Gaza addresses listed on their identity cards. Like Berlanty, due to this fact alone they are at risk of being removed from their homes and separated from their families, jobs and studies. These people, some of whom have lived in the West Bank for decades, are extremely limited in their daily movements due to the fear that they will be detained and removed. This is due to the fact that Israel does not recognize their right to live in the West Bank and, since 2000, has not allowed addresses to be changed from Gaza to the West Bank. As a result, they have limited opportunities for employment, business and studies. These policies are not only a breach of Israel’s obligations under international accords to treat the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a “single territorial entity” but they also inhibit the healthy development of Palestinian society.

To read a position paper addressing Israeli policies regarding Gaza Strip residents residing in the West Bank, see:

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cat and mouse order locks Mohammad up again

AFTER being held for 61 days, so he could be interrogated by Israeli security officers, Palestinian rights campaigner Mohammad Othman has still not been tried, or even charged with any offence. A court on Sunday ordered his release. But he is back in a cell, under an administrative detention order, his first, handed out by a military commander.

The administrative detention order against Mohammad came just one day after a hearing on November 22 at the Military Court of Appeals ended his interrogation period. In the Appeals Court hearing, the judge decided to release Mohammad because no measurable progress had been made during the two months he had been held in interrogation, no external evidence had been brought to the attention of the court and the military prosecution had been unable to formulate substantiated allegations or charges against him.

The judge ordered Mohammad’s release on 10,000 NIS bail (about $2,500 USD) and with the conditions that he not travel outside the occupied Palestinian territory, and that he regularly reports to the Israeli police. However, the military judge also gave the military prosecutor 24 hours to issue an administrative detention order against Mohammad, and remanded Mohammad to detention during this period.

At 6:30 p.m. on November 23, the civil rights and prisoners' aid society Addameer, which had appealed against Mohammad's continued detention, confirmed with the Israeli Security Agency that an administrative detention order had been issued against Mohammad, and that he would not be released. This could come under judicial review on November 25.

Mohammad Othman is an activist with the grassroots campaigning group 'Stop the Wall', opposing the Israeli "security fence"/ annexation wall which cuts his village, Jayyous, off from the villagers' lands. His current troubles started on September 22, when he was arrested as he crossed the Allenby bridge from Jordan, on his way home from a speaking tour in Norway.

Norway's state pension fund recently announced that it was divesting from Elbit Systems, the Israeli company which produces unmanned drones for the military and security systems for the Wall. While supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel were hailing this as a victory (surely for well-targeted rather than general action) it looks like Israeli authorities are taking it out on Mohammad, who met with senior Nowegian officials including Finance Minister Kristen Halvorsen during his trip. In fact, a delegation from the Norwegian fund's Ethics Council had met with Palestinian and Israeli human rights activists, including Mohammad, who accompanied them on a tour of Jayyous and other West Bank villages affected by the Wall.

Addameer is alarmed by reports from Mohammad that he was repeatedly threatened with administrative detention during his two-month long interrogation period. Addameer believes that with these repeated threats, the Israeli interrogation police aimed to coerce Mohammad into giving a false confession to crimes he did not commit. Most recently, on November 19, after Mohammad was transferred back to Kishon detention center from Ohalei Keidar prison in Beersheba where he had been held in a so-called “collaborators’ cell”, he was told by one of the Israeli interrogators that his detention would not be extended again and that he would be placed under administrative detention if he failed to confess.

'Addameer therefore contends that Mohammad’s arrest and administrative detention are completely arbitrary and are a prime example of Israel’s use of administrative detention as a substitute for prosecution, rather than as a preventative measure allowed by international humanitarian law for “imperative reasons of security” or “if the security of the Detaining Power makes it absolutely necessary” (Fourth Geneva Convention, Articles 42 and 78).

'Further, Addameer reiterates the position that Mohammad’s arrest constitutes a violation of a number of international human rights instruments, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Considering that, sixty days after Mohammad’s arrest Israeli authorities have been unable to cite any legitimate suspicions or allegations to justify his detention, and that the Court of Appeals judge directed that Mohammad should be released, Addameer believes that Mohammad is being detained administratively as a punishment for his human rights activism. In addition, there is reason to believe that the Israeli military authorities use Mohammad’s continuous detention as an example to deter other activists, including those active against the occupation and the Annexation Wall in particular, from continuing their human rights work'.


Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold detainees indefinitely on secret evidence without charging them or allowing them to stand trial. In the occupied Palestinian West Bank, the Israeli army is authorized to issue administrative detention orders against Palestinian civilians on the basis of Military Order 1591. This order empowers military commanders to detain an individual for up to six months renewable periods if they have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” On or just before the expiry date, the detention order is frequently renewed. This process can be continued indefinitely.

There is no explicit limit to the maximum amount of time an individual may be administratively detained, leaving room for indefinite legal detention. The grounds on which someone can be detained under Military Order 1591 are also unclear, leaving it up to the military commanders to decide what constitutes “public security” and “security of the area”. Detainees subject to administrative detention orders are rarely informed of the reasons for their detention; neither are their lawyers. At the judicial review of a detention order, which is held in a closed hearing before a military judge, the judge can uphold, cancel or shorten the order. In most cases, however, administrative detention orders are confirmed for the same periods as those requested by the military commander. Although the detainee can appeal the decision at the judicial review, in practice, the vast majority of appeals are rejected.

For more information about administrative detention and Addameer’s Campaign to Stop Administrative Detention please visit our website: For more information about Mohammad’s arrest, please refer to previous statements and updates on the case issued by Addameer and “Stop the Wall”, or directly contact:

Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
Tel: +972 (0)2 296 0446 / (0)2 297 0136

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tea and Sugar -give the workers a break!

TWO reports from the international federation of food workers' trade unions, IUF tell us that two commodities we may associate with a welcome break and a touch of sweetness are linked with hunger, blood, sweat and tears at the producing end.

First from India, we learn that nearly 1,000 workers have been locked out at the Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate in West Bengal. If, like me, you had never heard of it, think Tetley tea bags. Because the workers are employed by the giant Tata group which makes the world-famous Tetley teas.

The workers and their dependants are always on the edge of hunger,IUF says, and now some 6,500 people are being pushed towards starvation. They have been deprived of wages for all but two days since the beginning of August.

The first lockout came on August 10, when workers protested the abusive treatment of a 22 year-old tea garden worker who was denied maternity leave and forced to continue work as a tea plucker despite being eight months pregnant. On August 9, Mrs Arti Oraon collapsed in the field and was brought to the hospital, on a tractor normally used for garbage, after the medical officer refused to make an ambulance available (he had proposed she be brought by bicycle). She was initially refused treatment, and only after her co-workers protested did she receive minimal care. Her treatment was inadequate and she had to be taken, in the same garbage tractor, to the local government hospital one hour away.

As news of her treatment spread, some 500 mostly female estate workers gathered in protest at the medical facility, demanding sanctions against the medical officer. Local management promised to meet with the workers, but on August 11 the management, along with the medical officer, left the estate and declared a lockout.

On August 27 an agreement was signed with three trade unions, representing some workers on the estate but not a majority, on reopening the garden. In the agreement, all workers' wages for the lockout period were withheld. The agreement included a clause that a 'domestic inquiry' (an internal, company-controlled investigation) would be conducted. The agreement was written in English, a language few if any of the workers understand.

The garden was reopened the following day, although workers were not informed of the conditions of the reopening. On September 8, management issued letters of suspension and ordered a domestic inquiry against eight workers. None of the eight workers received a letter of notification. None of the eight had committed any act of violence or were involved in any illegal practice. These eight workers have been targeted because they are active in the garden campaigning for workers' rights.

At a September 10 meeting, management told the workers that suspension letters had been issued in accordance with the August 27 agreement and that opening the garden depended on compliance with that agreement. In other words: agree to the suspensions or you'll be locked-out again. Workers requested six days to respond to this ultimatum.

The ultimatum was a powerful one: tea garden wages are just 62.50 Indian rupees per day - the equivalent of USD 1.35 daily. One kilogram of the cheapest, poorest quality rice in the local market costs 20% of a worker's daily wage. Tea workers permanently live on the edge of hunger. The loss of wages for even a few weeks can tip them into starvation.

Although wielding the weapon of hunger - with workers' lives in the balance and the deadline to respond not yet expired - management on September 14 again left the plantation and implemented a lockout. This was the day workers were meant to receive their annual festival bonus, amounting to roughly two months wages. No bonus payments were made. Prior to the lockout, since the beginning of August workers have only received a wage payment amounting to two days work.

Following the closure, workers have sought to communicate with the management, requesting it to reopen the garden. The company has insisted that the garden will not be reopened and wages paid unless all workers accept the September 10 ultimatum to effectively sign off their right to protest abuses.

Tata Tea is a powerful global company; it's wholly owned Tetley Tea is one of the world's biggest-selling tea brands. Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate is owned by Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, a company 49.98% owned by Tata Tea. Tata and Amalgamated share the same office in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. According to the Tata Tea 2009 annual report, Tata Tea Managing Director Percy T. Siganporia earns in a single day roughly 1,000 times the daily wage of a Nowera Nuddy worker assuming that worker is paid .

Tea from Amalgamated Plantations' tea estates goes into the famous Tetley Tea bags.

Tetley Tea is a member of the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), whose standard commits member companies to, among other requirements, ensure that there is no "harsh or inhumane treatment" of plantation workers and that "Workers should be paid at least monthly and should receive their pay on time." The actual conditions on the Nowera Nuddy estate, where workers are being subjected to brutal collective punishment, could not be more remote from this CSR wish list.

Workers at the Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate have formed an Action Committee which has called for the immediate reopening of the garden, the withdrawal of the suspension letters and no recriminations against workers, back payment of wages and rations since 14 September, immediate payment of the annual festival bonus and a management apology to Mrs Arti Oraon.

You can support their struggle CLICK HERE to tell Tata and Tetley Tea to stop starving workers now! You can also use the features provided on the Tetley Tea website to send the company a message, or use the freephone number provided to give them a call!

Meanwhile in Iran...

Though media interest in struggles in Iran seemed to start and finish with this Summer's election clashes, the workers and some of the minorities in Iran were battling the regime before and are still struggling against repression now.

Leaders of an independent sugarworkers union are in prison in the city of Dezful, because of their trade union activity. In a drive to destroy the union established last year by workers at the giant Haft Tapeh plantation/refining sugar complex, a court on October 12 sentenced 5 union leaders to immediate prison terms on charges stemming from October 2007. Three leaders convicted for their union activity last year for "endangering national security" in connection with worker action in 2008 had their sentences overturned on appeal in September. Two union officers, president Ali Nejati and communications officer Reza Rakhshan, both of whom face lengthy prison sentences, were still awaiting the outcome of their appeal when the court in the city of Dezful sentenced them on the similar 2007 charges.

Ghorban Alipour, Feridoun Nikoufard, Jalil Ahmadi, and Ali Nejati were all sentenced to six months' immediate imprisonment and six months suspended sentences over five years; during which time they are barred from union activity. Mohammad Heydari Mehr received a four-month term, eight months suspended. Ali Nejati must serve his suspended sentence as prison time, meaning he faces an immediate one-year prison term. Should he lose his appeal on the 2008 conviction, his sentence could stretch to over two years. Reza Rakhshan is still awaiting the final sentencing in his case.

Haft Tapeh workers in recent years have repeatedly had to resort to strikes and other actions to claim huge wage arrears and protest deteriorating working conditions. The union was officially founded in June 2008 following a 42-day strike to demand long-standing arrears. The Haft Tapeh union is an IUF affiliate.

The IUF says the fate of imprisoned transport and teachers' union activists in Iran shows that the Haft Tapeh prisoners risk prolonged physical and psychological abuse. The IUF is urging all defenders of democratic and trade union rights to mobilize in their defense. It says:

"Act Now! - CLICK HERE to send a message to the Iranian state and judicial authorities, calling on them to immediately and unconditionally release the jailed unionists and annul their sentences, and drop all charges against Reza Rakhshan. Please note that some messages may bounce back - do not be discouraged! Server overload is a common condition in Iran - some messages will get through, making the point that the persecuted trade unionists enjoy international support. The Haft Tapeh union leaders are also supported by Amnesty International.

"You can also send a message to the Iranian embassy or diplomatic representation in your country - or pay them a visit! A complete list of embassies/consulates is available here, and you can generally find e-mail addresses by searching the internet for the individual representation in your country".

...And here's something else you can do about Iran.

IRAN'S President Ahmadinejad likes playing on hostility, threats and sanctions from his country's enemies to divert attention, and keep people behind him at home. Some Western liberals and even union people talk as though Iran has the only repressive regime in the region, while some people in the anti-war movement pretend there is nothing wrong in Iran, and even attack anyone, including left-wing Iranian refugees, who says there is.

Hands Off the People of Iran(HOPI) rejects the hypocrisy of the Western powers, which support Israel's nuclear arsenal and occupation, and the reactionary Saudi regime, and have unleashed terror and destruction on the people of Iraq whom they claimed to "liberate". But we also reject the notion that Iranians must face a grim choice between enduring Islamicist dictatorship or suffering imperialist war.

HOPI takes part in the anti-war movement, and maintains links with Iranian exiles, students and trade unionists, enabling them to have a voice. HOPI has raised support in British trade unions, and raised material support for our sisters and brothers struggling in Iran.

You can join HOPI, get your union to affiliate, and come to the HOPI AGM in London on November 28.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Light on the Lobby

LAST night's Channel Four Dispatches programme investigated what the makers described as " one of the most powerful and influential political lobbies in Britain" - the lobby working for the State of Israel. "Despite wielding great influence among the highest realms of British politics and media, little is known about the individuals and groups which collectively are known as the pro-Israel lobby, " said the blurb.

"Political commentator Peter Oborne sets out to establish who they are, how they are funded, how they work and what influence they have, from the key groups to the wealthy individuals who help bankroll the lobbying".

Time was, we knew that Israel had its supporters, often on the Left of the parliamentary Labour Party, where besides Jewish MPs like the late Ian Mikardo, they included people like Tony Benn, Richard Crossman and Aneurin Bevan, motivated by a mixture of sentiments - sympathy for what Jewish people had suffered in Europe, admiration for the pioneering achievements of the kibbutz, respect for Israeli Labour as fellow-social democrats, who seemed firmly in control of their economy and government for their first decades.

The Tories, on the other hand, despite a pro-Zionist tradition going back through Churchill and Balfour (not necessarily the same as liking Jews -as witness his Aliens Act), were seen as listening to Foreign Office Arabists and oil interests. Even when Eden took Britain to war at Suez, with France and Israel as allies, he pretended the Israeli aggression was nothing to do with Britain.

The Six Day War of 1967, followed as it has been by 42 years of occupation, showed Israel acting as a colonial power, losing much of the support it had held when its very existence seemed threatened, but beginning to gain the support of different allies, the kind not previously known for over-fondness for Jews, but grudgingly conceding admiration for a state that can knock around Arabs.

Meanwhile the Zionists had formalised their support in the Labour Party by setting up Labour Friends of Israel, to supplement the work of Poale Zion (now calling itself the Jewish Labour Movement); and a group of businessmen had come together, orchestrated by property developer Eric Miller of Poale Zion and banker Arieh Handler (who had links with Israel's right-wing National Religious Party) to channel funding directly to Harold Wilson. The spooks at MI5 who fed information to Private Eye about Wilson made out the foreign power links that worried them were with the Soviet Union.

Last night's TV programme by Peter Oborne and James Jones focussed on overt lobbying, and particularly the Conservative Friends of Israel, founded in 1974, which because it is not registered as a charity or incorporated association does not have to publish details of its membership or funding; and the British Israel Research and Communication Centre, or BICOM, which is fronted by former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons, but bankrolled by Poju Zabludowicz, a former arms dealer and now a Finnish citizen. Apparently few people that Peter Osbore spoke to had heard of Poju Zabludowicz, but this generous Finn contributed £15,000 to David Cameron's campaign to become leader of the Tory party. To avoid any difficulties with British electoral law this money was channeled through a British subsidiary, Tamares Real Estate Improvements. Zabludowicz is a major investor in Ma'aleh Adumim, the town built on occupied land to help split the West Bank, so he is unlikely to favour returning the territory to the Palestinians in any real 'peace process'.

Labour Friends of Israel has sent more MPs on trips to Israel, which has had more MPs overseas visits than anywhere. Conservative Friends has more members, including more than half the shadow cabinet. Those standing against MPs regarded as pro-Palestinian get campaign subsidies from CFI member's businesses.

Those of us who have paid our own way to Israel/Palestine on fact-finding or olive-picking trips, or have lobbied our MPs armed with nothing but facts and arguments, and folders full of leaflets, know we are up against professional lobbyists, and loads of money. All the same, it is an eye-opener for us, not to mention the general public, to see what we are up against, how much is involved, where it comes from, and how it works. But does it work? As Peter Oborne - incidentally a columnist for the usually pro-Israel Daily Mail - admits, it is hard to prove a connection between the money and policy positions. Donations usually come via individuals and the companies they own, rather than the lobbying organisation (or the embassy). Would the donors support a different party, or recipients a different policy? Hard to prove the money makes such a difference, but I guess it helps.

When William Hague became shadow foreign secretary, tens of thousands of pounds flowed his way. But within months he was in trouble with CFI for calling Israel's onslaught on Lebanon "disproportionate".
Lord Kalms (of Dixons and Curry's), a former Tory party treasurer, called Hague an "ignorant armchair critic", and threatened to withdraw funding. More recently it seems CFI can take credit for Cameron and Hague taking a firm line of rejecting the UN resolution based on the Goldstone Report.

I was glad the programme interviewed some witnesses who object to the lobbyists' claim to speak for Jewish people, among them the respected Rabbi David Goldberg, from St.John's Wood Liberal Synagogue, and Anthony Lerman, former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, who told how the Zionist lobby deliberately confuses opposition with "antisemitism" to silence critics. Though he did not mention it, Tony Lerman has more than once had his own career threatened for stepping out of line with the lobbyists, and a couple of years ago it was Stanley Kalms who called for his dismissal, urging withdrawal of funds if he was not removed from his job.

Last night's programme also looked at the pressures on the BBC, reminding us of its shameful refusal to broadcast the humanitarian appeal for Gaza, and the campaigns against individual journalists like Orla Guerin and Jeremy Bowen. When Ariel Sharon came to London the BBC was not even allowed into his press conference! Since the corporation does not depend on advertising it is not susceptible to obvious financial inducements, but it does come under sustained pressures from Zionists, both here and in the United States, accusing it of "bias", even when many of us think it is leaning the other way.

Effective lobbying depends not just on resources but on a semblance of public support. The charge of "antisemitism" has been used not just to smear and intimidate critics but to keep the Jewish community in line, using the Board of Deputies, its supposedly representative voice, to make complaints and when necessary, round up the troops. That's why the Zionists are angry with anyone raising dissent in the ranks.
But many Jewish people, without even considering themselves "anti-Zionist" or unsympathetic to Israel, will not feel happy about the professional lobbyists, particularly from abroad, purporting to speak in their name when purchasing influence, or bullying journalists and dissidents.

There is another side to this too, which the programme brought out when it showed what the lobbyists and some Jewish leaders deliver to politicians, apart from money. We saw a gentleman from the Conservative Friends getting very undiplomatic as he shooed away cameras from an affair where Polish politician Michal Kaminski was guest. Kaminski, former member of a far-Right "National Renewal" movement, has been criticised for refusing to apologise for a wartime massacre of Jews, and for his reactionary views on gay rights and other issues. But today Kaminski leads the Conservative group in the European Parliament, and the Tory-Zionist alliance has been set to work telling everyone that the Polish politician can't possibly be described as an antisemite, because he is a big supporter of Israel. The BNP's Holocaust-denier Nick Griffin may be too optimistic if he thinks his declared support for Israel will bring similar absolution. But for those of us aware of Polish Jewish history, the Kaminski case evokes some unpleasant memories. There is a price to be paid for this kind of leadership.

For this insight, as well as its exposure of the lobby, we owe some gratitude to this programme, whatever shortcomings others may find in it.

If you did not see the programme, or want to watch it again, it is online:

There is also a pamphlet available:

For a glimpse of the 2007 row involving Lord Kalms versus Tony Lerman:

Labels: , , ,

Friday, November 13, 2009

Apartheid labour laws for Britain? The European dimension

"NON-EUROPEANS SHUT OUT FROM ANOTHER 250,000 SKILLED JOBS", No, not a report from the early days of Apartheid laws in South Africa, but how Friday's Guardian headlined a story arising from a keynote speech by Gordon Brown, our Labour prime minister.

Earlier reports had given the impression that immigrants would only be allowed to take jobs for which local workers were unavailable - a form of discrimination which is ruled out by Britain's membership of the European Union.

For the Daily Express, on the other hand, still trying to find a niche to the right of the Mail , with readers who imagine themselves a cut above Murdoch's Sun, the front-page story on Friday was:


Friday November 13,2009 By Macer Hall GORDON Brown faced furious accusations of being “in denial” last night after claiming to have grasped the depth of public anger over Labour’s open-door immigration policy. "

This was illustrated with a picture captioned: "Asylum seekers waiting for their chance to come to Britain receive sleeping bags and warm clothes", to keep mean-spirited Express readers' indignation on the boil; and somehow the prime minister's speech, paying lip-service to liberal cliches about "diversity" while pandering to the notion that immigrants are causing a shortage of jobs, got mixed up with a tale about "criminals" being freed from a detention centre at Dover.

Britain has not had an 'open door' to immigrants for over a century, and besides not repealing Tory legislation like the 1961 Commonwealth Immigration Act, and 1971 Immigration Act, Labour governments have introduced their own. The draft immigration bill announced yesterday by the Home Office after Gordon Brown's speech - made in Southall of all places - will be the eighth piece of immigration and asylum legislation since Labour took office in 1997. Asylum seekers, regardless of their education or skills, have been forbidden to work since 2002.

Besides "simplifying" existing legislation, making life harder for students and asylum seekers, and devising quicker and easier ways to expel people from the country, the government wants to tighten the work permit restrictions. They have already closed the door on workers from outside the European Economic area for jobs classed as unskilled , and now a further 290,000 skilled jobs in engineering, catering and care would be added.

This is not really about "British jobs for British workers", the slogan used by fascists and racists like the National Front and BNP, borrowed by Gordon Brown when promising help for training, then quoted back to him with irony by East Linsey oil refinery workers who saw employers using European legislation and Italian contract workers to default on national agreements. Notice that no one in government or opposition proposes interfering with the freedom of capitalists to invest overseas; that not only multinationals like Ford or General Motors, but household British names like Burberry and Wedgwood have been allowed to move production and therefore jobs out of this country. Government itself has sent work abroad, from uniforms that used to be made by skilled Remploy staff to confidential data handling, call centres to Ministry of Defence shipping.

It is about dividing workers, insisting we must compete for a limited number of jobs, and be grateful to our employers for picking us over the rest. I can't help noticing the addition of care jobs - which are often filled by immigrants and usually women - at a time when local authorities are outsourcing and looking for ways to shed staff.

Employers will continue seeking the cheapest and most pliable labour, and banning wider sections of people is also a way of increasing the supply of "illegals", hopefully ready to put up with poor conditions and low pay and acquiesce in illegal practices by their employers, and keep quiet. It suits the traffickers, the gangmasters, and those cleaning firms who co-incidentally have a visit from the police and border officials whenever their staff have joined the union or put in for higher pay.

There is another aspect to current policies, which some liberals and 'anti-racist' campaigners seem slow to grasp. We saw it in the move to deny medical professionals who have trained in Britain employment in the NHS. All of a sudden, from being short of doctors and dentists, Britain has a shortage of jobs, and must look after its own graduates, so we're told. But the ban applies to non-European professionals, such as those Asian doctors whom working people have been used to. Not those from Europe. So much for the government's obsession with better English tests (raised again in the new proposals). Still, the racialists can feel reassured that the person who treats you is more likely to have lilywhite hands, even if they don't understand what you say.

At Gate Gourmet, airport catering workers, who may have held their jobs since before British Airways outsourced the job, and who were mainly Asian, and union members -were got rid of, after their American-owned employer turned to recruiting casual, agency labour - often east European. In Sweden, Asian seafarers who had crewed some ferries long enough to have joined the union and obtained Swedish rates and conditions, found themselves laid off because the firm considered it could exploit crews from the other side of the Baltic more cheaply, and collect a European subsidy too. In east London, firms working on the Olympic sites are employing mainly agency labour. Local people can rightly ask what happened to the jobs and prosperity they were promised, and apprenticeships for local youth -black or white?

Workers should be free to come and go wherever they like for work and decent pay. But we should not confuse that with the freedom of employers to employ whoever they like and pay as little as they can. It is right to demand more jobs and training for all, and to organise workers together for better conditions and pay. But it is not easy. The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has had to contend with ship owners who were exempt from either the Race Relations Act or Minimum Wage, free to hire where they liked, and pay what they could get away with. "How are we, as British seafarers, expected to compete for jobs when we see foreign crews being paid less than £2 an hour?", asked delegate Lee McDowell at this year's TUC.

In the past, unions including the RMT have gone to European courts or the European Commission seeking redress that was not afforded them by British authorities. But now the dangers are seen as coming from Europe. Two years ago the European Court of Justice ruled against Finnish seafarers’ right to take strike action, and for the right of Finnish ferry operator Viking Line to "freedom of establishment", to ignore collective agreements made with Finnish unions, re-flag its vessels to Estonia and recruit local crews on lower pay.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow warned that the ruling would be used by employers to impose lower wages across the EU on the basis that any action, such as against flags of convenience, ‘restricts the right of freedom of establishment’. “This unaccountable EU court has ruled that the right to strike, supposedly enshrined in EU law, is now ‘subject to certain restrictions’ and is only subject to ‘national law and practices’".

European court judgements have also gone against Swedish union's right to organise migrant workers, and told local authorities that union agreements setting pay and conditions for contracts were an interference with free competition. We wonder what this will do to promises made about union rights, safety and conditions on the Olympic sites? A firm can bring in its own workers, paid at the going rate in their country of origin, not the rate of pay where they are working. British employers have not missed the opportunities being presented them. British Airways threatened to bankrupt the pilots' union BALPA when it planned industrial action to prevent jobs being exported. Remember 'Fly the Flag'?

These issues will be discussed at a conference in London on November 28. Titled "The New Spectre Haunting Europe: the ECJ, Trade Union rights, and the British government", it is organised jointly by the Southern and Eastern Region of the TUC (SERTUC) and the Institute for Employment Rights. Speakers will include Professor Keith Ewing, Bob Crow of the RMT, Barry Camfield who was formerly assistant general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union and is now on the board of the Olympic Development Agency, Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union, John Monks of the European TUC, and John Hendy, QC.
More information from your own union, or e-mail

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mohammad Othman: Still not charged, still in detention

Free Mohammad Othman!
say demonstrators at Israeli embassy in London

MOHAMMAD OTHMAN, a young Palestinian from Jayyous, on the West Bank, is not a bomber, nor a criminal. In fact, the Israeli authorities who arrested Mohammad as he crossed the Allenby bridge on his way home on September 22 seem to be having difficulty finding any law under which they can charge him with anything.

So in the meantime they are keeping him in jail.

Mohammad's only "crimes" appear to be that he joined a committee opposing the Israeli annexation wall striding across his village's land, that he acted as a spokesperson explaining his people's case to visitors, and that he went to Norway to speak at meetings calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions as a way to put pressure on Israel to end its occupation. During his visit he was also able to speak with the Norwegian Finance Minister, and there are signs that the campaign has had some success.

Now there are concerns for Mohammad's safety and welfare. Neither his family nor his lawyers have been allowed to see him. International supporters have demonstrated and sent letters to the Israeli authorities and embassies, and are starting to raise the issue with their own governments, particularly those which back Israel while supposedly trying to broker a Middle East peace.

Here is a message sent out to supporters by Sydney Levy, of Jewish Voice for Peace, in the United States:

'Fifty days have passed since his detention, but Mohammad Othman is still in prison. The Israeli government has given no reason for his arrest. And things are getting worse. We've learned that Mohammad is now incommunicado -- even from his own lawyers. Under these circumstances, there is reason to be seriously concerned about his well-being.
Thanks to you, we have generated about 10,000 emails of support, asking President Obama to demand that Israel release Mohammad. So far the President that could not deliver a settlement freeze has not delivered Mohammad's freedom either. Only Israel holds the key to his jail cell. But you and I hold the key to keeping his name in the public eye.
The more people talk about Mohammad Othman, the sooner his unjust detention will be over. That's why I am asking you to keep up the pressure. Pick up the phone and call US Secretary Hillary Clinton.

Mohammad was detained on September 22 by Israeli authorities when returning to the West Bank after a trip to Norway, where he advocated for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel to abide by international law. Since his detention, he has endured long interrogations and solitary confinement.

Israeli authorities have transferred him to a different prison and forbidden him from seeing his lawyer. According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, there is reason to believe that Mohammad Othman's transfer to the Ohalei Keidar prison in Beersheba was intended to exert further pressure on him. They may be placing him in so-called "collaborators' cells," where detainees are often beaten, punched, threatened and exposed to psychological pressure if they refuse to talk to other prisoners who are detained in the same cells and who are typically collaborating with Israeli military authorities.

Mohammad should be set free right now.

Mohammad Othman went to jail for advocating for BDS. If you are in the US, you can do it without paying such a heavy price. Join the Campus BDS Conference at Hampshire College (Nov 20-22). There's more info here:


Sydney Levy

Sydney Levy
Jewish Voice for Peace

PS: If you want to keep updated on his case, please go to:'

We also heard from Hindi Mesleh, via Facebook, that two appeal hearings were scheduled for Mohammad today. The first appeal to be heard at the High Court regards the ban on visits from his lawyers, the second appeal held at Ofar military court has been filed by Addameer attorneys against the extension of the interrogation period until November 18 . It is confirmed that Mohammad is NOT allowed to attend these hearings.

Hindi writes: "What is most important, is that you all reactive your support for Mohammad!!
The protection of human rights defenders is not only a moral obligation, but has been recognized by the United Nations as a social, individual and collective right and responsibility. Addameer and Stop the Wall thus urge foreign government officials, including members of foreign representative offices to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and foreign Consulates in East Jerusalem, as well as representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament, human rights organizations and United Nations bodies to:

• Raise Mohammad Othman’s case in their official meetings with Israeli officials;
•Demand clarifications regarding the reason for Mohammad’s arrest and extended detention in official letters addressed to Israeli authorities;
•Demand Mohammad’s immediate release and pressure Israel to put an end to its policy of arbitrary detention".

See also:


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

State Murder in Iran


The Iranian authorities have reportedly executed a Kurdish militant whom they charged with being an "enemy of God". Ehsan Fattahian, 27, was hanged yesterday in the western city of Sanandaj, according to Ali Akbar Gharoussi, head of the judiciary in Kurdistan province.

Ehsan Fattahian's executioners ignored pleas from international human rights organisations, and petitions signed by many thousands of people, appealing against the death sentence.

Ehsan had admitted membership of the banned Kurdish movement Komeleh, which has a long history of fighting for Kurdish rights and self-determination. He denied involvement in killings, and said he was tortured for three months. His initial 10-year jail sentence was changed to death by a higher court.

Ezzatollah Fattahian, the defendant's father, told Human Rights Watch that prison officials had prevented the family from visiting his son in prison for the past three months.

Amnesty International, which appealed on Tuesday for Ehsan Fattahian's life to be spared, has warned that two other Iranian Kurdish men are at risk of execution, and at leastleast 10 other men and one woman are believed to be on death row in connection with membership of and activities in support of proscribed Kurdish organizations.

Oppositionists say the Iranian regime is using incidents like last month's explosion in Baluchistan, in which 41 people including senior Revolutionary Guard officers were killed, to come down hard on minorities. A Baluchi group called Jundullah claimed responsibility for the attack. The regime accused US, British and Israeli intelligence agencies of supporting separatists.

"The Iranian regime is trying to intimidate ethnic minorities from joining the Green Wave," Komeleh leader Abdullah Mohtadi told al-Arabiyya TV, referring to the movement led by Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims to have beaten Ahmadinejad in the elections. "One of the methods to deter people is stricter sentencing in ethnic provinces such as Kurdistan, Baluchestan and Ahwaz."

The Komaleh, and Kurdish aspirations, go back much further than the present Iranian regime and its troubles at home or abroad. Like neighbouring Iraq and Turkey, Iran has a chunk of Kurdish lands, with around four million Kurdish people. Sanandaj, the capital of Iran- Kurdistan province, is in an area where Kurdish guerrillas have clashed with Iranian security forces. In September there were a number of attacks, often targetting religious leaders and judges. No group claimed responsibility. The authorities variously blamed a Kurdish Independent Life Party and "hard-line Sunni fundamentalists" linked with outside powers. But Komaleh is a secular organisation, which some even see as Marxist.

Amnesty International condemned the September killings, but opposed the use of the death penalty against political prisoners. Amnesty lists Iran as the world's second most prolific executioner in 2008 after China, and says it put to death at least 346 people last year.

Ehsan Fattahian was detained on 20 July 2008 and said in a letter smuggled from prison that he was regularly beaten in detention. Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj sentenced him to ten years imprisonment, to be served in exile, after a trial in which he was denied access to a lawyer. Both Ehsan and the prosecutor appealed this verdict, and in January this year the Appeal Court overturned the first sentence. Instead he was sentenced to death for "emnity to God". He said the new sentence was passed because he refused to confess, or to renounce his beliefs.

Here are the concluding paragraphs of Ehsan Fattahian's letter from the condemned cell:

"... shortly before my sentence was changed to the death sentence, I was taken from Sanandaj prison to the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center, where I was asked to make a false confession on camera, show remorse for the actions I had not committed and reject my beliefs. I did not give in to their illegitimate demands, so I was told that my prison sentence would be changed to the death sentence. They were fast to keep their promise and prove to me how courts always concede to the demands of intelligence and non-judicial authorities. How can one criticize the courts then?

All judges take an oath to remain impartial at all times and in all cases, to rule according to the law and nothing but the law. How many of the judges of this country can say that they have not broken their oath and have remained fair and impartial? In my opinion the number is countable with the fingers on my hand. When the entire justice system in Iran orders arrests, trials, imprisonments and death sentences with the simple hand gesture of an uneducated interrogator, what is to be expected from a few minor judges in a province that has always been discriminated against? Yes, in my view, it is the foundation of the house which is in ruins.

Last time I met in prison with the prosecutor who had issued the initial indictment, he admitted that the ruling was illegal. Yet, for the second time, it has been ruled that my execution should be carried out. It goes without saying that the insistence to carry out the execution at any cost is a result of pressures exercised by political and intelligence groups outside the Judiciary. People who are part of these groups look at the question of life and death of a prisoner only based on their own political and financial interests. They cannot see anything but their own illegitimate objectives, even when it is the question of a person’s right to life - the most basic of all human rights. How pointless is it to expect them to respect international treaties when they don’t even respect their own laws?

Last word: if the rulers and oppressors think that, with my death, the Kurdish question will go away, they are wrong. My death and the deaths of thousands of others like me will not cure the pain; they will only add to the flames of this fire. There is no doubt that every death is the beginning of a new life.

Ehsan Fattahian,

Sanandaj Central Prison


I hope that Ehsan Fattahian's death
does breath new life into the struggle against the Iranian regime, and that his brave stand will both inspire the young and remind us all that Kurds too are a people, with rights and aspirations, however inconvenient these may be, whether for Middle Eastern regimes or great power diplomacy.

I hope it will also increase the determination - expressed here by Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) - to separate our opposition to the Ayatollah's regime firmly from those who want to wage war on Iran and its peoples; and, at the same time, to separate the anti-war movement from those who are willing to be stooges of the Islamicist regime and accomplices of the hangman.

As someone who sympathises instinctively with anyone deemed "an enemy of God", I am certainly not religious. But I think the Old Testament suggests certain ideas about justice. So let us promise that wherever the working people and oppressed of this world take power from reactionary regimes like that in Iran, we will give our enemies a fair trial before we do whatever they deserve doing to them.

Labels: ,

Monday, November 09, 2009

Bringing Down Walls, Not Breaking Glass

NOVEMBER 9, 1989 is the 20th anniversary of people bringing down the Berlin Wall, and various political leaders have gathered in Berlin today to celebrate. The Wall, the barrier between peoples came down, and with it crashed down the edifice of tyrannical Stalinism, and for that we give thanks, even if it was not exactly the "political revolution" leading to genuine freedom and social justice that some of our theoretical leaders acclaimed it to be.

Many Germans,not just Westerners grumbling about the cost of incorporating "poor relations", but Ostis adding words like "arbeitslos" back to their vocabulary, have taken a more nuanced, thoughtful, view of the benefits, and downside, of re-unification.

The biggest Left-wing party represented in Europe today is the Linkspartei, uniting left social democrats from the West with the reformed former Socialist Unity party in the East, which is where it gets the major part of its vote. Whatever we think of its leadership, this Left party is a space for those who want to rebuild a working-class, socialist Left. But nobody is proposing to rebuild the Wall.

Stalinism as a regime may have collapsed, but Stalinism as a delusion persists in some places. The November newsletter of the Socialist History Society has a young man called Tom Bailey complaining that the editor, Mike Squires (a long-standing Communist Party member incidentally) had said "the East European states were not Socialist". Bailey insists that despite shortcomings "they were Socialist", and in case you think he is just arguing about names and labels, he goes on to say the rot set in with Soviet leadership after the death of Stalin. "Aside from negating 30 years of Socialism by denouncing Stalin, a number of 'reforms' were implemented.."

So not only were the gulags and crimes of Stalin correct, denouncing them was a negation of socialism, which was apparently achieved in one country far earlier than the leaders of the October Revolution envisaged possible. What a pity that Stalin's pursuit of what Tom Bailey calls "the class struggle against bourgeois influences" necessitated killing most leaders of the Bolshevik party before they could appreciate this achievement.

Or that, despite its riding to power after a workers' revolution (albeit one besieged by imperialism and imprisoned in Russian backwardness), the Soviet bureaucracy, obliged to extend its "socialism" to eastern Europe, did so by its own methods, keeping the working class out of exercising real power in these deformed "workers' states", mockingly titled "people's democracies".

This does not mean that nothing was gained from the changes, or that there was nothing to defend in the Soviet Union or eastern Europe. But was it socialism? Bailey is within a step of stronger ground when he argues "the working class in the socialist countries did not take to the streets demanding an end to Socialism. Rather, the protests, discontent and apathy to capitalist restoration was due to issues such as party corruption, comparatively low living standards, and shortages.. This popular discontent was exploited by a new bourgeois class, arising from within the Party..."

So what kind of 'socialism' leaves the workers 'apathetic' about defending what should have been their own gains, and permits a new bourgeoisie to turn state, or socially-owned wealth and means of production, into its own property? The working class did take to the streets in eastern Europe, and it started in East Berlin -not in 1989, but much earlier, in 1953. Giving rise to Brecht's quip, "Some party hack decreed that the people had lost the government's confidence and could only regain it with redoubled effort. If that is the case, would it not be be simpler,
If the government simply dissolved the people and elected another?"

What the workers rebelled against was not socialism. Calling it such only maintains the confusion which left workers in eastern Europe unable to step forward as a class to take power for itself, and left millions of workers in the West at best half-hearted, if not actually hostile, to those seen as advocating such "actually-existing socialism" as our goal.

It has suited people like Margaret Thatcher to misidentify "socialism" with the Berlin wall. Its designation by the East German authorities as "the anti-fascist rampart" did not convince anyone who only had to observe the direction in which people were trying to flee, from what, and prepared to risk being shot. "If that is your socialism, you can keep it!" people thought. Now the Wall has gone, working people either side can compare notes, and the young who tore it down can measure the results against their hopes.

Some people in eastern Germany, alienated under Stalinist rule and quickly disillusioned with liberal capitalism, have become easy fodder for those who see reunification as but a step in reviving Hitler fascism. We cannot commemorate the end of the wall without remembering the six days of racist violence in Rostock in 1992. A thousand-strong mob attacked immigrants, while thousands more stood and watched. This was one among many such ugly reminders of Germany's past. But Germany's revived Left and particularly anti-fascist young people have shown themselves ready to turn out against the new Nazis and show they mean it when they say 'Never Again!'. They deserve our respect, and support, and this solidarity against the racist Big Lie will only be served by engaging with truth, not clinging to discredited myths of our own.

By an unfortunate coincidence, November 9 is also the anniversary of Hitler's 1938 state-organised pogroms against the Jews, what became known as the Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht. The ostensible pretext was a desperate act by one 17-year old refugee, Herschel Grynszpan, who had shot a German diplomat,in Paris, on November 7. Grynszpan was driven to this by hearing how his parents and thousands of other stateless Polish Jews had been inhumanly deported by the Nazis. The night of co-ordinated violence that swept across Germany had clearly taken more than two days to prepare.

While 'respectable' community leaders and politicians - not least the French Communist Party - sought to distance themselves from and denounce Grynszpan, Leon Trotsky - who knew what it was to be hounded from country to country and accused of all sorts of crimes - wrote an article "For Grynszpan", solidarising, if not with the youth's misguided action, with the spirit and motivation it showed. Gynszpan's case also inspired left-wing composer Michael Tippet's work, "A Child of Our Time".

on Grynszpan's fate:

The Kristallnacht pogroms did not incidentally diminish the admiration of some people in this country for Nazi Germany, nor did they lead countries like the United States to ease their immigration restrictions for Jewish refugees. Quite the contrary. Still, after the war and the Holocaust they were able to ease their consciences by backing immigration to, and partition of Palestine. So a new refugee problem was created.

I was impressed when Daniel Barenboim brought his West-Eastern Divan orchestra to London that they ambitiously and meaningfully performed A Child of Our Time. For though Herschel Grynszpan perished with millions in the Holocaust, he remains to haunt us when governments continue to kick refugees from pillar to post, and reactionaries, as we see again, continue to regard the acts of small groups or individuals as legitimising collective punishment of entire communities or civil populations.

Though the Berlin wall has come down, and so too did South African Apartheid, fresh walls are being erected to keep out the poor and the persecuted, and what some call Israel's "apartheid wall" and others an annexation wall, has gone up on Palestinian territory. But this symbol of oppression is also a target for resistance. As witness these two messages:
"..during today's demonstration, demonstrators managed to take down a concrete slab AGAIN of the Wall using a hydraulic car jack. VICTORY FOR NI'LIN!!! If they can tear down the Berlin Wall in two days, for sure it can happen in Palestine too, and it's already starting in Ni'lin.

see this video:

and see this article:

The section of the Wall in Ni’lin is the only place along the route of the barrier where a concrete wall has been erected in an attempt to deal with the civic, unarmed campaign waged by the village in protest of the massive land theft that will enable the expansion of the illegal settlements of Modi’in Il’it and Hashmonaim.

Since Israel began its construction in the year 2002, This is the first time demonstrators succeed in toppling a part of Israel’s barrier which is a concrete wall. One of the demonstrators, Moheeb Khawaja, said during the protest: “Twenty years ago no one had thought the monster that divided Berlin into two could be brought down, but in only two days in November, it did. Today we have proven that this can also be done here and now. It is our land beyond this wall, and we will not give up on it. We will win for a simple reason – justice is on our side.”

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The right to study, and the right to know

THIS report appeared in The Independent a week ago:

A Palestinian student has been handcuffed, blindfolded and forcibly expelled to the Gaza Strip by Israeli troops just two months before she was due to graduate from university.

Berlanty Azzam, 21, who was studying for a business degree at Bethlehem University, said she was coming home in a shared taxi from a job interview in Ramallah on Wednesday when soldiers at the "Container" checkpoint took her identity card and that of another passenger with a Gaza address.

After six hours of waiting, soldiers told her she would be taken to a detention centre in the southern West Bank, and she was handcuffed and blindfolded, she said.

"The driving took longer than it should have and I started to think something was wrong. I started to wonder, what are they doing to me?" After the car stopped and the blindfold was lifted, Ms Azzam saw she was at the Erez crossing to Gaza.

It was the sixth known forced return to Gaza of Palestinians stopped at the "Container" checkpoint – which is between Bethlehem and Abu Dis – in 10 days, according to the Israeli human rights group Gisha. Israel has also been preventing family reunifications in the West Bank for Palestinians with relatives living in Gaza, in effect forcing people to relocate to the Strip.

The steps are part of an Israeli policy of treating Gaza and the West Bank as two separate entities, thereby undermining the coherence of Palestinian claims for a state encompassing both territories. The 1993 Oslo agreement stipulates that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are to be treated as one territorial unit.

Major Guy Inbar, an Israeli defense ministry official, said the reason for Ms Azzam's deportation was that she was "staying illegally" in the West Bank.

"We are talking about a Gaza citizen who requested permission to study in the area of Judea and Samaria and received a negative answer," he said.

"In 2005, she was given a permit to visit Jerusalem for four days and she remained afterwards [in the West Bank] without any permit. Her entire period as a student was based on deceit and was against the law."

Sari Bashi, head of the Israeli Gisha human rights group, who tried to intervene on Ms Azzam's behalf, said she was assured by military lawyers on Wednesday that the student would not be deported to Gaza and that the rights group could seek a judicial review in the morning.

"The military misled us," Ms Bashi said. "There is a violation here of the right to access education, the right to freedom of movement and the right to choose one's place of residence within one's own territory."

The army did not respond to a request for comment.

While some people here still talk as though the biggest danger facing Palestinians is the prospect of "two states" in Israel/Palestine, others still seek to persuade us that a peace based on two states would be just around the corner if only it were accepted by those awful Palestinians. Whenever they feel confident of winning on the other hand, many Zionists assure Jewish audiences at least that there are "no such people as Palestinians", just Arabs with no claim to the land who can be 'ethnically cleansed' whenever Israel can get away with it. Meantime the reality experienced by Palestinians is that Israel claims for itself the right to two states - one which it presents as "the only democracy in the Middle East" and the other, its rule over the Palestinians. Only that too is divided into two - so you have one state, Israel, and two reservations, to which access is controlled, and people can be confined or sent back, by Israel.

There have been some protests to the Israeli authorities over Berlanty Azzam's case, by Bethlehem University and by some civil rights campaigners in Israel. It has been taken up by someone as far away as Australia, and by those campaigning within British academia for a boycott of Israel.

But I would hope those who argue that a boycott is not the way to help, and insisting it infringes academic freedom, will also be raising their voices in this case.

While they are at it, they might also consider this news reported last week by Robyn Rosen in the Jewish Chronicle:

Lectures cancelled after Zionist campaign
report by Robyn Rosen, Jewish Chronicle October 29,

Two lectures by Israeli-based charity Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) were cancelled after a Zionist organisation told hospitals holding the talks that they were “anti-Israel”.

Miri Weingarten from PHR-I was due to give a lecture, entitled The Right to Health in a Conflict Zone, to three hospitals in Manchester, Liverpool and Bury last week. But just hours before the lecture, the Manchester Royal Infirmary and Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool cancelled the event.

Karen Solomon, director of the Zionist Central Council in Manchester, sent more than 200 emails to members urging them to contact the hospitals.
Ms Solomon said that the original plan was to send members to the meeting to dispute some of the topics.

She said: “We felt the talk was political and hospitals should not be seen to be political or hold political events. The group is blatantly anti-Israel and so we asked people to write in to say what we felt.”

A spokeswoman from the Manchester Royal Infirmary said that they had received complaints from the Jewish community and that the event was cancelled for security reasons. She said: “It was gaining quite a lot of negative feeling and it was felt that it might attract people turning up that would be against the meeting.”

Louise Shepherd, chief executive at Alder Hey Hospital, said: “It came to our attention that what was intended as a private meeting had in fact become public knowledge and was being trailed on various websites as a political issue. “This was augmented by accompanying display boards which arrived earlier that week and which contained explicit political content. “Alder Hey is, and will continue to be, apolitical and has a proud heritage of actively promoting a culture of equality and diversity. For these reasons a decision was taken to cancel Ms Weingarten’s visit to the Trust.”

Ms Weingarten, PHR-I’s director of advocacy, said she was “shocked” at the decision and surprised to be called anti-Israel. She vehemently denied that PHR-I was anti-Zionist. She said: “My organisation finds it shocking that communities that are so outspoken against the growing calls for a boycott of Israeli bodies could use the same tactics themselves in order to stifle debate.

“If the people behind this had come to the debate and challenged the content of my talk that would have been an important contribution. The decision to silence us — and the debate — completely is incomprehensible to us, and unacceptable.”

A consultant at Fairfield Hospital in Bury, where the lecture went ahead, said: “The whole idea that PHR-I is antisemitic or even anti-Israel is ludicrous given that the organisation is overwhelmingly comprised of Jewish Israelis, of whom Miri is one.”

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Denial of the first Holocaust

IT was Winston Churchill who used the word "Holocaust" to describe the killing of Armenians in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire. But it was Adolf Hitler who reputedly reassured his generals, on the eve of the invasion of Poland, that they would get away with war crimes, with the remark "Who today remembers the Armenians?"

It seems the British Foreign Office has been more inclined to follow Hitler's cynical advice in this respect.

Back in July I noted in this blog that BAE Systems (ex-British Aerospace) was among big companies lobbying the US Congress against recognition of the Armenian genocide. Looking at the kind of contracts these companies might be bidding for, it seemed fairly obvious why they might want to butter up the Turkish military and government.

A report this week suggests there has been no need for lobbying in Britain, because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has engaged in what QC Geoffrey Robertson calls "genocide denial", under both Tory and Labour governments. Robertson, who was commissioned by Armenian groups in London to review the official files, said in his report that "Parliament has been routinely misinformed by ministers who have recited FCO briefs without questioning their accuracy".

The report says there is no doubt that "in 1915 the Ottoman government ordered the deportation of up to two million Armenians - hundreds of thousands died en route from starvation, disease and armed attack".

But despite agreement among scholars and most European parliaments that what happened was genocide, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has stuck to the line that there is "insufficiently unequivocal evidence".

More honestly, a 1999 briefing acknowledged that the British government "is open to criticism in terms of the ethical dimension", but explained: "The current line is the only feasible option", owing to "the importance of our relations(political, strategic and commercial) with Turkey." It said "Recognising the genocide would provide no practical benefit to the UK".

Whatever the reasons for modern Turkish governments to remain in denial over a crime almost a century ago, some Turks have been braver than the British Foreign Office in standing for truth. Nobel prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk was charged with "insulting Turkishness" for referring to the genocide, in 2005, though the trial was stopped. Several scholars and journalists have signed a petition referring to "the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915".

The Armenian issue could be used by those European Union governments which want to block Turkish entry. But right-wing elements in Turkey and among diaspora Turks are belligerently against anything which might weaken chauvinist attitudes today.

As for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, its respect for truth, and which Turks it chooses to support, business is business. Who today remembers the late Robin Cook and his idea that there should be an "ethical dimension" to foreign policy?

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Hands off Heaton Park!

MANY of the happiest memories of my childhood are located on Heaton Park, to the north of Manchester.
I remember the hot summer afternoon when a bunch of us backstreet kids were taken by our mums to discover the joys of paddling in cool water that flowed over a gentle series of steps.

The Sunday mornings, when my Dad taught me to row on Heaton Park lake.

The ascent to the Observatory on the hill, around which you could walk in a circle looking at the view. Then the descent into a quiet area of woods, long grass and green weed-covered pond beyond.

The grotto-like rocky tunnel that gave onto the olde worlde formal gardens. Or walking through the grand millstone grit pillars that stood like a mysteriously isolated remnant of Classical antiquity above the path behind the boating lake. I later learned this had once been the facade of the old Manchester town hall.

I remember the commando games with my mates, for which the Park's varied scenery played backcloth, including the time we made our way up a long culvert for concealment, and after storming the Observatory, we crawled under a barbed-wire fence into the "enemy base" to plant sticks, supposedly dynamite, at the base of their radio mast. That was before the Manchester Police radio station acquired a concrete-clad telecomms tower (obviously they were not going to give us a second chance).

I remember the first time me and my pal took refuge from a shower in Heaton Hall, with its 18th century drawing rooms, old musical instruments, and - nude ladies in stone! This was well before page 3 days. We returned with I-Spy Antiques, learning to tell a Sheraton from a Chippendale, and a spinet from a harpsichord. Barry's dad was a furniture craftsman, so he took pride in becoming knowledgable even though he was to become a chemist.

If anyone took more delight than me in Heaton Park it was Our Dog. Besides participating in our games, he had his own trick, disappearing suddenly into dense bush to nose around among dead leaves and emerge triumphantly with a golf or tennis ball that someone had lost. I don't think I ever had to buy a ball while Rover was alive.

I also remember the Winter day when, dodging school, I went into Heaton Park, crossing it from Middleton Road to Heaton Park village, tramping through clean white snow and admiring its tracery on the branches. If you grew up like me in sooty streets without a tree in sight you'll understand.

I may as well also recall the Sunday morning football game, near St.Margaret's Gate, when our side lost 11-2, and my own role was so distinguished that in the second half the other side was shouting "Give the ball to Charlie!"

On my last visit to Heaton Park, when I had been living away from Manchester for some time, I was pleased to see the council had made some innovations, such as introducing Highlnnd Cattle. Behind the thick wild red hair and fierce horns the one I passed the time of day with seemed quite amiable, and I dare say might have vouched the same for me (I didn't have horns, but did have red hair). They had some foxes too, behind a wire enclosure. The one who greeted me hopefully, playing arond a post, might have thought I'd come to help him escape, but I suppose they got their food, and were not hunted, and in those days as a city kid you might not get to see a fox otherwise.

Anyway, by now you are wondering what brought on this flood of reminiscence, and the answer is another threatened innovation, and it has to do with balls, again, and goals, though not like those scored or conceded in the fairly innocent days of my youth. Rover won't be able to find balls in the undergrowth, and kids won't have so many opportunities to get mud on their knees if the council proceeds with plans drawn up with Goals Soccer Centres which wants to place a large chunk of parkland under 12 synthetic surface soccer pitches, six tennis and netball courts, a skate park and climbing wall, a cage for "extreme football", and a licensed bar.

The quiet area where I strolled one pleasant evening after work with my Mum, and we sat and read our library books, will be turned into a floodlit complex behind a high wire fence. OK, Heaton Park is a big park, and maybe there'll still be space for kids and parents to enjoy freely. But Manchester has owned this park since 1902, we grew up enjoying and appreciating its space to play and explore, not expecting to see yet more of our public space fenced off as private, our pleasures something to pay for. "Sanctuary from the city" is what an official website promises.

Are there no more areas of waste land and dereliction in Greater Manchester which Goals could purchase and develop if it wants to provide claimed benefits to the public? Or would that be less profitable than taking park land off a hard-up council?

The move began under the Tories to introduce children young to the Wonderful World of Money, that nothing was worth having unless it cost you plenty, nobody worth respect unless they had plenty to spend (how they acquired it was another issue), and that without it you were enitled to nothing. We had the attempt to turn museums into money-making businesses, the swimming pools that had once been a cheap place for the kids to spend school holidays turned into pricey "leisure complexes". Football -well. The national game evolved into something else. It's astronomical sums make it a world of its own.

Commercialised pitches are an offshoot, and artificial surfaces an improvement on those we used to know, made of cinders. But what happens when the keenness goes into decline, and what is now profitable becomes no longer so? What are you left with?

If I am being sentimental about keeping the park and the grass, it seems I am not alone. There is a campaign to save Heaton Park from this development, and I hope the campaigners succeed, for future generations to enjoy at least the free space we did.

Labels: , ,