Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Bananafish might not get it

JD SALINGER IN 1951. His famous novel. From Quixote's nag to carousel horse?

J.D.SALINGER, who died last week, aged 91, is one of the few serious modern authors I have read. That does not say much for me as a literary critic, and I'd hesitate to enter the fray. On the other hand, some of the "tributes" I've seen from successful hacks and literary sorts sound like they are happy to see him go, or at least have not forgiven him for declining to do the round of interviews, lectures and chat shows, in fact becoming known as a bit of a recluse.

So, especially after hearing Salinger belittled by a panel on TV last night, I've decided to have my say. I was probably about the last of my mates to read The Catcher in the Rye(1951), Salinger's novel of teenager Holden Caulfield's three days on the lam from school, attempting to be an adult. But not just any adult. With a prostitute he only wants to talk. He dreams of some great role, standing in the rye field to catch kids before they go over the cliff. His plans to escape are cut short not by adult admonitions but by kid sister Phoebe who awakens his sense of responsibility when she wants to join him, and whom he takes for a day at the zoo, and a ride on the carousel.

Like Huckleberry Finn, the Catcher is written in the first person and in the vernacular, so vernacular (all those goddams) many American colleges and libraries wanted to ban it or put it on the top shelf out of reach, and even some of today's critics seem to think there are too many "fucks" in it (7). Have they listened to their daughters lately? Caulfield was a teenager, and there may have been an element of autobiography in the book, but of course Salinger had left his teenage years behind, and the book was not necessarily written for teenagers. It is humorous after all, appreciated when looking a little back.

Some of those who read it as young rebels became teachers making it a set book. Anyway, it has been translated into numerous languages, and named among the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Around 250,000 copies are sold each year, with total sales of more than sixty-five million.

Though I may have reached Catcher late, I had already made the acquaintance of J.D. Salinger. On a holiday by the sea my parents had picked up a second-hand copy of "55 short stories from the New Yorker". When I got to dip into it, one story in particular made an impression on me. It was called "A Perfect Day for Bananafish". By J. D. Salinger, and first published in 1948. You can read it now online. I've just been refreshing my memory.

It starts off with a Florida hotel full of New York advertising men monopolising the 'phone lines. Then a woman called Murial who has filled time removing a stain, and seeing to her nails, gets through to her mother, who is worried about her, and more especially about her husband, Seymour, who has apparently been behaving oddly. Muriel's father has spoken to the doctor about it. "Well. In the first place, he said it was a perfect crime the Army released him from the hospital--my word of honor. He very definitely told your father there's a chance--a very great chance, he said--that Seymour may completely lose control of himself. My word of honor."

Seymour meanwhile is down the beach. He keeps on his bathrobe, worries about someone looking at his feet, but relaxes with children, amusing them with his nonsensical story about bananafish, which swim into a hole for bananas, eat too many, and can't get out. Back at the hotel, Muriel is asleep. I won't tell you how this ends.

Was there anything of Salinger in Seymour Glass? Well, Muriel says he had been asking about a book of German poetry he had brought her as a present. And there was that release from army hospital, evidently with psychological rather than physical scars.

Jerome David Salinger was born in Manhattan on New Years day, 1919. His father was a Polish-Jewish kosher foods seller, his mother of Ulster Protestant origin, though she passed as Jewish. Salinger went to local schools and later to Valley Forge Military Academy. Sent to work and learn about the meat business in Vienna, the young New Yorker got out of there just ahead of the Nazi Anschluss. on March 12 1938 He must have seen something of the build-up to that, but so far as I know he did not write about it. His interest was in short stories, not journalism.

Called up to the US forces during the War, Salinger was to see action in Normandy and in the Battle of the Bulge. He was assigned to field intelligence, using his proficiency in French and German to interrogate prisoners of war. He was also among the first soldiers to enter a liberated concentration camp. Salinger's experiences in the war affected him emotionally. He was hospitalized for a few weeks for combat stress reaction after Germany was defeated. He married a German woman, but this marriage did not last.

In later years Salinger told Margaret, his daughter by second marriage, : "You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live." She acknowledged that "the few men who lived through 'Bloody Mortain', were left with much to sicken them, body and soul,". (this battle was a desperate attempt by German forces to break through the advancing allies and regain the coast at Arromanches). But she said her father remained proud of his service record, keeping his old army jacket and a jeep.

For all that, in A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Salinger had depicted a sensitive and troubled man back from the war, and unable to fit in or feel comfortable in middle class civvy street with its conformity. He can talk to children because they recall his own pre-war innocence. I suppose in recent years this will have set people speculating about paedophilia, just as they might have done about Lewis Carol and his relationships. Honi soit...

As for the bananafish, I don't want to attach a significance which may not have been intended to this tale. When I first read the story as a youngster myself I just thought it was a bit of light-hearted nonsense which made the ending even more of a shock. But reading it again, I am reminded of something in Leo Huberman's Marxist classic Man's Worldly Goods, published ten years before Salinger's short story. It is a parable taken from Arthur Morgan's account of how people in the East Indies caught monkeys. Hollowing out a coconut shell, they would put sugar cubes inside, then hang it from a tree. The monkey would come along and insert a paw to grasp the sugar, but then it could not remove its clenched fist from the hole without releasing the sugar cubes. Huberman drew an analogy with the capitalists in crisis. Would they let go of the sugar?

Salinger had seen some of the lengths capitalism would go to. Would the bananafish be able to swim out of the hole? Do the bananafish get his story? I don't know whether he intended anything like that interpretation. He gave us enough to puzzle over before he became "reclusive".

For Esme...

For Esme - With Love and Squalor was a short story Salinger had published in 1950, and it became the title story of a book of short stories by him when it was published in this country. It is a warm lttle story about an army sergeant who befriends a young girl called Esme before he goes off to war. She asks him to write letters when he gets the chance, "with love and squalour".

I used to know an Esme, from Glasgow, when we were teenagers, and it impressed me as an unusual name, adding to my attraction to the book.

While Hollywood still has its eyes on Salinger, I read in the paper that his books are being republished. "There are strict rules about JD Salinger's covers. The only copy allowed on the books, back or front, is the author name and the title. Nothing else at all: no quotes, no cover blurb, no biography. We're not really sure why this is, but it gives you definite guidelines. ..."

Whatever the reason, I'm glad to hear it. The paperback I purchased here many years ago had a blonde in a flimsy negligee draped across the cover, nothing like the sweet Esme I knew or how I imagined the one in Salinger's story. Seeing that and the title For Esme -With Love and Squalour, my Mum, who was emptying my coat pockets, the way they do said "Oh, I did not realised you read that sort of book!" I had to assure her it was not "that sort of book", and point out the author whom she must have heard of. You can call me an old fogey if you like, but it is about time that publishers stopped making assumptions as to what will sell paperback books, and started sparing teenagers from embarrassment.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

As Blair faces questions and answers for outrageous fortune, doctors challenge Kelly death secrecy

ANTI-WAR demonstrators called him "Tony B Liar", but Tony Blair's income seems to grow faster than Pinnocchio's nose. The former prime minister who took Britain to war in Iraq is due to face questions from the Chilcott inquiry into the war on Friday. The news meanwhile is that hedge fund Lansdowne Holdings is to pay Blair to lecture staff on world affairs.

Lansdowne made a fortune betting on the fall of Barclays and Northern Rock shares at the height of the credit crunch, with an estimated £100m from the demise of the now nationalised Northern Rock. One of the firm's founders, former Goldman Sachs banker Paul Ruddock has donated about £260,000 to the Conservative party.

A reminder then that all that guff about class being brought into the election campaign is not going to come between friends.

A spokesman for the former prime minister would not comment on fees, but Blair will reportedly be paid as much as £180,000 for 90 minutes for his thoughts on geopolitics. That works out at about £2,000 a minute. But hey! he's just an ordinary guy, y'know, and we should be proud that he's showing the way for us pensioners and people seeking a second career in the recession, with the estimated £10 million he has made since leaving office on top of the £63,000 pension that the taxpayer provides.

We don't know whether Lansdowne staff with reports to prepare will be able to call on Blair's expertise in making use of dodgy dossiers, or if the Chilcot inquiry will go for the lowdown on this, but a group of doctors are challenging Lord Hutton's decision, reported at the weekend, to classify information about the death of government scientist and weapons inspector Dr.David Kelly.

Dr.Kelly's body was found in woodland on Harrowdown hill, near his Oxfordshire home, on the morning of July 17, 2003. He had said he was going for a walk the previous afternoon, and his wife reported him missing after he failed to return that night. This was shortly after it was revealed that he was the weapons inspector who rejected claims that Iraqi trucks housed germ warfare labs, and the source of the BBC report casting doubt on the Government's claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction capable of being fired within 45 minutes.

An inquest into David Kelly's death was suspended by then Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, who ruled that Lord Hutton's inquiry could take its place. But in the event, the inquiry focused more on the question of how the BBC report came to be broadcast than on the medical explanation for Dr Kelly's death.

Lord Hutton's report in 2004 concluded that Dr Kelly killed himself by cutting an artery in his wrist. He had supposedly taken a large quantity of painkillers first. But Dave Bartlett and Vanessa Hunt, the paramedics who were called to the scene of his death, have gone public with their view that there was not enough blood there to show someone died from cutting an artery. Doctors also say david Kelly's stated injuries were not serious enough.

A report in the Mail on Sunday at the weekend said Lord Hutton has ruled that medical records including the post-mortem report will remain classified until after all those with a direct interest in the case are dead.
A 30-year secrecy order would be placed on written records provided to the inquiry which were not produced as evidence. The Ministry of Justice said decisions on the evidence were a matter for Lord Hutton. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who has conducted his own investigations into Dr Kelly's death, described the order as "astonishing".

How this news has come out also seems irregular. No official announcement appeared. But former assistant coroner Michael Powers, QC, said had seen a letter from the legal team of Oxfordshire County Council explaining the unusual restrictions. The letter states: "Lord Hutton made a request for the records provided to the inquiry, not produced in evidence, to be closed for 30 years, and that medical (including post-mortem) reports and photographs be closed for 70 years."

The five doctors who made an application to the Oxford coroner to have the inquest reopened were told Lord Hutton made his ruling in 2003 . But it was not mentioned in his report. The doctors are trauma surgeon David Halpin, epidemiologist Andrew Rouse, surgeon Martin Birnstingl, radiologist Stephen Frost and Chris Burns-Cox, who specialises in internal general medicine. They applied for the documents with a view to applying to the attorney general to have the inquest reopened.

But a response from the coroner's legal advisers rejected the doctors' request, and revealed that the documents had been classified. "It is truly remarkable that they should be kept secret for twice as long as the other documents. I'm sure that they will meet with their legal advisers and consider the most appropriate way to deal with this," Michael Powers said.

"If these secret reports support the suicide finding, what could they contain that could be so sensitive? ..."There should be a full inquiry. We need a proper answer," said Powers. "The medical evidence doesn't add up. I have yet to meet a doctor that will say it was even possible, let alone likely."

Former surgeon David Halpin, told the Morning Star: "This is an attempt to subvert due process. Dr David Kelly never had an inquest in the accepted meaning of the term and now the evidence of the pseudo-inquest has been quarantined for 30 years for non-medical evidence and 70 years for medical evidence."

News of the decision to keep the documents classified has come as a surprise to lawyers. There is no mention of the decision on the Hutton inquiry website. "If a matter as sensitive as this was not made public … it raises questions as to what else was withheld," said Powers. "You can't help but suspect that the legal advisers to the Oxfordshire coroner disclosed it inadvertently, thinking that it was already known that this material was being kept secret for such a long period."

Questions have remained around the death of Dr Kelly after an initial inquest into his death was never resumed. Instead, the Hutton findings were said to be sufficient. But the inquiry applied a less stringent test than would have used in an inquest, where a coroner has to be sure "beyond reasonable doubt" that a person intended to kill themselves.

The doctors are thought to be considering a challenge to the coroner's decision not to allow them to be "interested parties". Freedom of information experts say there appear to be strong grounds for the legal challenges. "If Lord Hutton was not carrying out a statutory inquiry, I can't immediately see what power he had to order that these records be closed," said Maurice Frankel, Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

There's a Facebook group now saying "I want to see the details of the report on the death of Dr David Kelly".


And thanks to friend and fellow-blogger Madame Miaow for hat's up and comments:


Saturday, January 23, 2010

New inquest may be step towards justice for Jeremiah

THE family of a British student who died in mysterious circumstances seven years ago in Germany have been heartened to hear from Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, that she supports their case for a fresh inquest.

Jeremiah Duggan, 22, was found dead by a motorway outside Wiesbaden, on March 27, 2003 . German police concluded that he had run out into the road, and been struck by two vehicles. Jeremiah's family have never accepted that his death was either a road accident or "suicide", as the police said.

Jerry Duggan, studying in Paris, had been persuaded to go to Wiesbaden to attend what was supposed to be a youth anti-war conference, hosted by the Schiller Institute. He probably did not realise this respectable-sounding body was a front for the notorious political cult led by the American Lyndon LaRouche. But he was apparently disturbed by some delegates seeming to blame the war on Iraq on Jewish influence. So much that he rose to tell people he was Jewish.

On the night before he died Jeremiah 'phoned his girfriend and his mother, telling them he was scared.
When his body was found it was some distance from the place where he was staying. How had he got there in the early hours of the morning? And why had he run out in the road? How come his bloodstained passport was in the hands of people associated with the LaRouchites? The German police did not investigate further, and did not probe the Schiller Institute.

The Duggan family did. A former Metropolitan Police investigator working for them discovered that remarkably, Jeremiah's body had left no traces on the vehicles, nor vice versa. But there was sand on their tires and on Jerry's jeans which was not from the motorway, but might have been in somewhere like a builders' yard. There were defensive wounds to his arms, such as might be found if someone was not hit by a vehicle, but attempting to shield themselves from blows or kicks to the head.

In her letter to the family, apologising for mistakes that were made in the way they were treated, Baroness Scotland says:
“I am of the view on reconsidering your application that there is an unanswered question from the inquest into Jeremiah' s death as to whether the fatal injuries he suffered are in fact attributable to a car accident.”

The Duggan family say they will go to court seeking a further inquest to bring out the truth. " Why did our son die? The first step towards Justice has been taken. Click here for 21 Jan 2010 Press release issued by our solicitors"

Considering that Jeremiah Duggan was attending their conference when he met his death, the Schiller Institute appears to have taken no interest in investigating what happened to the young man. On the contrary, the LaRouchites put it about that Jeremiah had taken drugs, and told German police that he had been clinically depressed and attending therapy with his parents at the Tavistock Clinic in London. Together with the Tavistock Institute this often figures in American conspiracy theories about British 'brainwashing', and Jeremiah's notes from the Wiesbaden conference indicate that speakers referred to it there.

The LaRouchites have condemned attempts to investigate Jeremiah Duggan's death as a conspiracy against them, orchestrated by Tony Blair, ex-US vice president Dick Cheney and others, including no doubt Baroness Scotland.

Lyndon LaRouche began his political career on the Left. Known for a time as Lyn Marcus,he was one of the young dissidents who emerged in opposition to the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. Others, like Jim Robertson (of the Spartacus League) and Tim Wohlforth remained part of the Left, but LaRouche went through a bizarre evolution, ending up on what most regard as the far Right. It was in the 1970s that his band of followers acquired notoriety for violent attacks on other left-wing organisations, somehow escaping attention from the law.

Next LaRouche moved into Europe, setting up organisations in Sweden, Germany, and France. One of his supporters in Sweden was arrested as a suspect in the 1986 murder of Social Democrat Prime Minister Olaf Palme, but then released and went to the United States. Besides the culturally prestigious-sounding Schiller Institute, the LaRouchites assets include the Executive Inteligence Review(EIR).

Back in the United States, La Rouche was released from prison in 1999 after serving time for conspiracy and fraud. A dab hand at constructing conspiracy theories, his most famous placing the British Royal Family at the head of international drug trafficking, while a more recent EIR article declared "Obama's Nazi Health Bill Is British Assault on the USA". Beside the familiar charge that airline terror comes from "Londonistan", EIR is now claiming that the Duggan case was an attempt to distract attention from claims that weapons expert David Kelly was murdered to prevent him exposing the truth about Iraq and Tony Blair. Which he may well have been, though why investigating one death should prevent you investigating another, we must not ask. If a conpiracy theory requires two things be connected in a peculiar way, then don't bring logic into it, you must accept they are!

The way the LaRouchites have suddenly clutched at the David Kelly case to point the finger at Blair and away from themselves does suggest they are worried. The case for justice for Jeremiah Duggan has not gone away, and now it looks as though the family and friends might be a step closer to bringing out the truth about his death. Let's hope so. And if there are any parties with cause to worry in case the truth comes out, let us hope they are given plenty to worry about before very long.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

The Colonel and his sympathy, on the Beeb

IT'S a year since the BBC shocked people by refusing to broadcast a charities emergency appeal for the people of Gaza, and once again the corporation has shown its peculiar notion of "balanced" coverage, with a Newsnight report on Tuesday, January 19, of a visit to the besieged and battered area by British Iraq war veteran Colonel Tim Collins.

It could almost have been a sponsored broadcast, produced by an IDF television unit, but of course the BBC would not take anything like that. Still, to set the tone we got the Ulster-born Colonel being received by an Israeli police officer who happened to hail from north London, and was naturally a Spurs supporter. Nice touch, whoever arranged it, reassuring for UK viewers, they won't have to stretch their stereotypes too much to sympathise, we all like football, unlike those nasty Palestinians -whose Gaza stadium was targeted by the Israelis, and whose under-19 team were denied visas to play and train in Britain.

Colonel Collins had made the obligatory visit to Sderot, the Israeli town on once-Palestinian land that was most in range of improvised kassem rockets. The IDF set up a media office there before the Gaza war, so no need to meet those Sderot residents who said Israel's blockade and bombing of Gaza was hitting innocent people, and not protecting them, let alone making peace any likelier.

While the Colonel could sympathise with the Israelis, for 'responding' to rocket attacks, he did not find much time for people in the Gaza strip, many of them refugees from what is now Israel, who had four decades of occupation, then nearly four years of blockade. He was shown the tunnels that people had dug, and some weapons said to have been brought through them. That people have had to use the tunnels to smuggle food and other essentials was not considered important.

By way of refuting the Goldstone report, which said weapons were not stored in the mosques which the IDF destroyed, Colonel Collins gave his professional opinion that one of the mosques showed signs of secondary explosions, suggesting munitions had been stored inside.

As for an Israeli tank shelling a doctor's home, in which some young women were killed, Colonel Collins was understanding. The squadron of tanks “may have felt threatened” from their position on high ground in broad daylight

Well, Colonel Tim Collins is a military man himself. He made his name with an eloquent speech to troops going into Iraq, though before that he had served in his native northern Ireland, and for part of this time with the elite Special Air Services operating in border areas.

Accused by a US Army reservist of mistreating Iraqi civilians and prisoners of war, Collins was cleared after an investigation by the Army's Special Investigation Branch(SIB), and he successfully sued two newspapers for libel. What comes out in his book "Rules of Engagement" however is how he trained his men for tough house to house fighting, and using white phosphorus grenades. The allies had initially denied using white phosphorus other than for lighting an area. The Israelis denied dropping white phosphorus on built up areas in Gaza, even though this could be seen on television.

Promoted to colonel in Iraq, Collins was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire for his service there, in October 2003. But in January 2004 he resigned his commission, accusing the Ministry of Defence of bureaucracy, underfunding, and lack of support over the mistreatment allegations. Leaving the army in August that year, he was soon involved in politics, supporting David Davies' bid to lead the Tories, and himself tipped as a potential leader for the Ulster Unionists. Besides giving his criticisms of the Iraq war he has complained that police in northern Ireland are being constrained from a tough enough response to terrorism.

The colonel is not all talk. He is the Chief Executive Officer of a security company, New Century Consulting, offering governments advice and help in intelligence-led counter-insurgency. "New Century offers solutions that disrupts security threats emanating from the destructive activities of insurgent, criminal, narcotic and other networks which undermine a stable environment. Our aim is to enhance the capabilities of governments and their agencies to penetrate and dislocate these networks through the introduction of training and mentoring techniques and practices proven in other conflict and challenging environments".

Tim Collins' fellow-countryman Viscount Montgomery put down Palestinian rebels in the 1930s only to find himself ten years later having to deal with the Jewish variety. For Colonel Collins, it is not so complicated, Israelis have a state and government, recognised by Britain, Palestinians do not, therefore they are the insurgents, and with his background and business, the colonel can't have had too much difficulty deciding where his sympathies lay.

But what about the BBC? Do they feel they have fulfilled their mandate giving this Ulster colonel's views such space, to balance against what Justice Goldstone had said? True, they can point to a good Panorama programme by Jane Corbyn the night before Tim Collins was on. This concerned the way Palestinian families are being evicted from their homes in Jerusalem, and replaced by settlers. But what about Gaza? Viewers may wonder why we had to wait until the Egyptian government deported George Galloway, before the news announcer mentioned as a hurried afterthought that the MP had been leading an aid convoy which had finally made it through into Gaza.

Last week a delegation of 60 parliamentarians from 12 European countries, including Britain, went to Gaza to see the devastation caused by the Israeli attack, and the continuing blockade which is keeping out materials for rebuilding. (A writer in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz commented on the irony that Israel was getting good publicity by sending a mission across the world to Haiti, when it could do at least as much good by sending a hospital into Gaza, to help those injured by its own actions). Leading the MPs was Labour's Gerald Kaufman, who is of course Jewish. Kaufman condemned the Israeli siege as "evil", and said that Israeli commanders who had used white phosphorus ought to charged with war crimes.

Not a word of that on the BBC.

Celebrated Iraq war veteran's view of the Gaza conflict

Ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem - blogger on Jane Corbyn's report

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

His spirit goes marching on

GHETTO fighter, doctor, socialist, a man who believed in freedom and justice for all, and stuck stubbornly to his faith in humanity through terrible times. Marek Edelman, who died in Poland on October 2, 2009, rightly figures big in the latest issue of Jewish Socialist magazine, which came out this week.

The son of socialist parents who died while he was still young, Edelman joined the Tzukunft, (Future), the youth movement of the Jewish workers' Bund, which did not believe in waiting for the Messiah to end oppression, nor in moving Jews to Palestine to become oppressors in their turn. Its watchword was "zoikeit", to fight for your rights and a better future, alongside others, where you are, in the here and now.

When the Nazis invaded Poland and herded the Jews of Warsaw into a ghetto, the Bund organised underground, - eventually quite literally, with the digging of underground bunkers and tunnels. With the help of Polish railway workers it ascertained the grim reality about the camps to which Jews were being sent. Together with Zionist youth movements and Communists, the Jewish Fighting Organisation was formed to resist. The uprising began at Passover, in April 1943. After the commander, Mordechai Anilewicz of Hashomer Hatzair, perished with his comrades in the bunker at Mila 18, Marek Edelman took his place.

Later, with other surviving ghetto fighters, Edelman fought in the general Warsaw uprising of 1944.

After the war, Marek Edelman turned to saving lives. His mother had been a hospital worker. He studied medicine, and was to become a cardiologist. But he also wrote his account of the wartime struggle, 'The Ghetto Fights'. Published in Polish in 1945, and the following year in English and Yiddish editions by the Bund, it did not appear in Hebrew until 55 years later. This "typifies the attitude of the Israeli state towards Edelman and the movement he represented", writes David Rosenberg, in Jewish Socialist.

Marek Edelman upset the Zionists, as an obstacle to their appropriation of the ghetto struggle for themselves, and by stubbornly remaining in Poland, and seeking a future and freedom in what they called "a graveyard for the Jews". This did not prevent Israeli leaders coming for official commemorations of the ghetto revolt, whoever was in charge. In 1983, having been detained as a supporter of the dissident Workers Defence Committee, Edelman declined to attend the official event, telling Jaruzelski "Don't use me to cover you shame". Ten years later, when Lech Walesa invited Edelman, it was the Israeli government which told Walesa that its delegation could not take part if Marek Edelman was present.

Knesset member Shulamit Aloni managed to arrange a private meeting between Yitzhak Rabin and Edelman, who surprised the Israeli prime minister by telling him he had a Bundist uncle from Vilna; and also told Rabin that he must make a proper peace with the Palestinians.

We know the fate of Rabin, and the 'peace process'. But Edelman had not finished. In 2002, as Palestinian resistance leader Marwan Barghouti went on trial, the Warsaw ghetto veteran addressed a letter to the "Commanders of the Palestinian military , paramilitary and partisan organisations" and all the soldiers. It was critical of Palestinian tactics which hit civilians, contrasting this with the ghetto fighters' actions. But what outraged the Zionists was that Edelman addressed the Palestinians as fellow-fighters, whose cause was comparable to that of the ghetto, rather than the evil continuation of its enemies depicted by Zionist propaganda. Significant as it was, this letter was not a one-off, as Edelman began corresponding with Dr.Mustafa Barghouti, director of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.

Besides David Rosenberg's article - originally a talk he was invited to give by the Palestine Society at SOAS - and a report from Barry Smerin who attended Edelman's funeral in Warsaw, Jewish Socialist has personal memories by Wlodka Blit-Robertson, herself rescued from the Warsaw ghetto, who knew the young Edelman and his wife, and Mike Shatzkin, whose family took in a young girl whom Edelman and the Bund had gelped get to the United States.

Memory is one of the things that makes us human, and among the most precious things that can be handed down over generations. The Jewish Chronicle, which claims to reflect "What the Jewish world is talking about", failed to even report Marek Edelman's death, and then took five weeks before it got around to publishing an obituary. As Jewish Socialist notes in its editorial, this is the same weekly organ whose editor Stephen Pollard refuses to believe ill of right-wing Polish politician Michal Kaminski, leading Tories in the European Parliament, though widely condemned for his attitudes to minorities. Kaminski can't be an antisemite, because he is a friend of Israel, so the argument goes. Edelman would have remembered how right-wing Zionists valued support from the antisemitic Polish colonels.

Not that this Jewish Socialist is focused on the past, or only on Jewish experience. "For your freedom and for ours", as the Warsaw ghetto fighters' banner said. There are updates on Goldstone and Gaza, as well as an interesting account of a visit to an Najah university in Nablus, articles on Palestinian art as well as London Jewish music hall. Two papers from last year's East End rising conference take us from the East India Company to current Bangladeshi community politics, and Mike Gerber -whose book Jazz Jews is to be launched next month - looks at how Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess' has been given fresh life with the Cape Town Opera.

I gave up my place on Jewish Socialist's elected -and unpaid - editorial board last year, giving myself a break and someone else a chance. I am happy to say the comrades are still making a good job of it, indeed it has got better, if anything!



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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blackwater - CIA's dirty work and wet jobs

BLACKWATER-Xe's Erik D. Prince - CIA's "Christian crusader"?

DID five American mercenaries walk free from justice for killing unarmed Iraqi civilians because the US authorities feared their links with the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) might be brought out into the glare of publicity by a court case?

The five men employed by Blackwater Worldwide - now known as Xe - were accused of killing at least 14 people when they opened fire at close range in a busy Baghdad street two years ago. Altogether 17 people were killed, and twenty wounded. The Blackwater men, who hd been escorting American VIPs to the airport, claimed they were acting in self-defence. But none of those killed were armed.

The trial on manslaughter and fiearms charges was due next month. But in a 90-page memorandum opinion published late on New Year’s Eve, Judge Ricardo Urbina, of the Washington Federal District Court, dismissed the charges and condemned the prosecution for “reckless violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights”.

Survivors of the shooting were shocked, and the Iraqi authorities said they would pursue their own prosecution. They have barred Blackwater - which changed its name to Xe last year - from working in Iraq. Many people here too have understandably commented that the US judge's decision shows up a racialist attitude in which the lives of Iraqis and other 'lesser breeds' are not considered of value, or at least not compared to the 'rights' of gun-toting Americans.

But there is more to it than that.

Blackwater-Xe is not just any old firm, and it does not just provide "security guards", as our media pretend, making them sound like doorkeepers and night-watchmen. Based in Moyock, North Carolina, not far from the Fort Bragg home of the 'Green Berets', the company gets 90 per cent of its work from government, two-thirds of it in no-bid contracts. It provides training for army and police personnel, it provides "security guards", and it also provides a cover for illegal operations which the US government and even the CIA would not want to claim.

This could include actions in 'friendly' countries, like Germany, with or without the host government admitting it knows what is going on.

A court case might also have drawn attention to what is behind widespread killings in Iraq, and more. As in an earlier hearing last year:

'Guards employed by Blackwater, the US security company, shot Iraqis and killed victims in allegedly unprovoked and random attacks, it was claimed yesterday.

A Virginia court also received sworn statements from former Blackwater employees yesterday alleging that Erik Prince, the company’s founder, “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”.

They also accused the company of following a policy of deliberate killings and arms dealing and of employing people unfit or improperly trained to handle lethal weaponry.

In Baghdad yesterday, some Iraqis said they believed that the case was a last chance for justice and an opportunity for America to divorce the behaviour of its military from the private guards.

Farid Walid, who was shot in Nisour Square two years ago during a massacre that killed 17 Iraqis, said: “Everybody here knows of cases where Blackwater guards shot innocent people without a second thought. They are a symbol of the occupation. Nobody will forget. But Iraqis might think at least a little differently of America if the killers are put in prison.”

Far from being put in prison, they have not even gone into the dock.

As for their boss Erik Prince, whatever his private status as a businessman or beliefs as a "crusader" he also claims to be a CIA operative, a “vetted asset”, with a mission to build “a unilateral, unattributable capability” to hunt down and kill al-Qaeda militants for the US Government. Presumably he would have said so under oath if necessary in court.

Now a story appearing in the magazine Vanity Fair says that in 2004 the CIA sent a team from Blackwater to Hamburg to kill a Syrian-born German citizen suspected of helping fund al Qaeda. The mission was kept secret from the German government, which had been investigating the man for years.

"Among the team's targets, according to a source familiar with the program, was Mamoun Darkazanli, an al Qaeda financier living in Hamburg who had been on the agency's radar for years because of his ties to three of the 9/11 hijackers and to operatives convicted of the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa," writes Vanity Fair's Adam Ciralsky.
"The CIA team supposedly went in 'dark,'' meaning they did not notify their own station -- much less the German government -- of their presence; they then followed Darkazanli for weeks and worked through the logistics of how and where they would take him down,"
reports the magazine.

It says the Bush administration had a list of assassination targets, and the CIA wanted to include A Q Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist.Iranian nuclear scientist
Massoud Ali-Mohammadi was killed by a bomb outside his home as he left for work at the university on January 12, and the Iranian government is blaming US and/or Israeli intelligence of being behind the attack, though oppositionists claimed the scientist as a supporter, putting suspicion in the government's direction.

Although the attempt on Darkazanli was called off, German MPs are asking what their government did or did not know, and prosecutors in Hamburg have reportedly begun an investigation into the alleged assassination plot.

German authorities had investigated Darkazanli but never charged him. In 2004 he was arrested to meet a Spanish extradition request, but released nine months later.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel has now taken up the story, although a former CIA man insists they only planned to kidnap and interrogate their "suspect", not to kill him.

German politicians either side of the Bundestag are unhappy with the idea that a foreign agency, supposedly a friendly one, could plan an operation on their soil, without bothering to inform their government, and aimed at killing or kidnapping a German citizen, whoever it was. The CIA station officers said it might have been allright in South America, but not in a west European country. Presumably that is why the Agency planned to do it behind a company like Blackwater. And if they contemplated such action in Germany, who is to say they would not do it anywhere else?

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Closing the road to fascism, opening discussion in UAF?

NEW LABOUR minister John Denham upset some liberals and anti-racists when he claimed that being from an ethnic minority in Britain no longer automatically meant you were disadvantaged, whereas inequality now had more to do with class, and this must be tackled next.

Some made the tritely obvious point that Denham must be worried about votes, others pointed out that though educated and talented individuals may no longer be denied opportunities by blatant discrimination, and some Asian businessmen are doing well, we still see poverty in black and Asian areas, and nothing to justify complacency.

What seems to get left out by agreement from this discussion is that class has always determined what you get and where you stand in British society, that immigrant workers from Asia and the Caribbean were brought in to fill low-paid, menial jobs in the boom years, and expected to remain down the bottom of the heap. Those Asians who had risen to be a middle class in East Africa had to take a step down when they came to this country. Meanwhile, though some have worked hard and managed to get on, the overall decline of British industry has had a devastating effect on whole areas, and communities, hitting the prospects of young people in Bradford or Oldham as surely as in the mining villages, on outlying housing estates as in inner city ghettos. Insofar as many have realised they were in the same boat you do get the ebbing of old-style racialism and the beginning of wisdom.

But New Labour, trusted to reverse the Thatcher years, has embraced her dogma of privatisation, and even as the gap between rich and poor grew wider, Tony Blair insisted the class struggle was over, indeed that we had a classless society. Coming up against shortages in housing and health provision, while authorities only seemed concerned with tinkering and ethnic monitoring, some poor white people asked bitterly whether anyone cared about them. Seeing the media pundits only discussing trivia and personalities, and MPs apparently busy grabbing perks and privileges, some have fallen for the wide boys and suited thugs of the British National Party, who mix prejudice and popularism by appealing to "the white working class", while also benefiting from the media's constant theme of blaming everything on "asylum seekers" and immigrants.

The fascists have not had it all their own way. They did well in some Euro and council elections, and have tried stirring anti-Islamic hysteria into their anti-immigrant propaganda. But twice now the anti-Islam campaigners have promised to march on the mosque in Harrow, which John Denham rightly compared with to Mosley's pre-war marches, and yet unlike Mosley's blackshirt columns, they could only manage about fifteen people. Still, across London in Barking and Dagenham, Nick Griffin is planning to challenge Labour's Margaret Hodge for her seat, and the BNP thinks it can take over the council.

Unite Against Fascism(UAF), which deserves credit for mobilising people to oppose the far Right in Harrow, is holding its national conference in London on February 13, and a leaflet I've been handed promises speeches from Margaret Hodge MP, Peter Hain MP, Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union, Edie Friedman of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, and other distinguished people.

While warning of the BNP's rise in the current economic conditions, the leaflet boasts that "Unite Against Fascism has organised dozens of high-profile protests, rallies and campaigns against the Nazis. We helped disrupt Griffin's pres conferences, blockade the BNP's annual rally in Derbyshire ...organised a huge protest outside the BBC studios when Griffin appeared on Question Time."

I had the feeling that chucking eggs at Griffin was poor consolation after he had just gained his Euro seat. It seems a waste of good eggs (unless they were rotten), and though I have no objection to increasing the BNP leader's dry cleaning bills, I wonder how it went down in Burnley, or Barking and Dagenham? I know that UAF is encouraging supporters to go down there campaigning soon, but there are already other activists working there, under the Hope not Hate logo.

Accepting that the Left can never organise on any issue without at least two competing organisations being set up, I originally thought the establishment of Unite Against Fascism was going to change all that. I was pleased by the united turn out soon after it was formed when we packed the pavements outside the NUJ in solidarity against a threatened fascist anti-union demonstration. Alas it was not to last, and I am not going to apportion blame. When Searchlight and some union branches demonstrated at an east London tube where the fascists were gathering, there was no one from UAF. And I did not see anyone from Searchlight (promotor of Hope not Hate) when I joined UAF supporters at a demo outside Newham cemetery over antisemitic grave desecrations. Though, come to think of it there were local friends who do sometimes work with Searchlight. Perhaps these divisions owe more to old rivalries and suspicions than to grass-roots differences.

There are different ideas being argued now, though they do not neatly correspond with organisational divisions. Nor need differences on policy or approach divide and weaken the movement. On the contrary, if openly discussed they can clear away misunderstandings, clarify issues and raise consciousness of what we're doing.

The UAF conference might be the obvious place for discussion, except that friends who have tried to present resolutions or papers before say there was no opportunity to do so. Nor can I find anything on UAF's leaflet or website suggesting that it is inviting motions or discussion. Once again, it seems, people are being asked to attend a rally of the faithful, listen to speakers including one ex- and one current ministers and two leading SWP members; and go away satisfied they know what they are doing and we have done something against fascism.

Undeterred, but inspired by experience particularly in north-west London this year, long-standing activist Alf Filer has been circulating papers for discussion, and has come up with a set of proposals for UAF to be democratically run, and have its policies decided, by its supporters, including affiliated trade unions, local groups, and activists. I hear Cambridgeshire branch of the National Union of Teachers has adopted a resolution on these lines and is submitting it to the local trades union council. Trades unionists are after all experienced with management calling meetings called "consultation" where we are told what to do. We may also have the odd idea that fighting against fascism is not unconnected with restoring confidence in democracy.

Anyway, Alf asked me to help spread word of his proposals, which look reasonable and constructive to me, so here is what he wrote:

The UAF has played a key role in providing support, resources and leadership in the various anti-fascist campaigns. In ensuring that the BNP and others are defeated in the General Election and challenged effectively where ever they raise their message of hatred, we call on the UAF to:

a. To continue to mobilise mass action on the streets and elsewhere in denying the fascists and racists any opportunity to spread their message of hatred and division.

b Organise a representative delegate based conference open to all who are actively supporting the struggle against fascism and racism.

c. Adopt a democratic national and regional structure which is made up of elected delegates and representatives from the whole of the movement.

d. Encourage UAF groups to be established within unions, workplaces, campuses and community groups.

e. To arrange regional and national conferences with workshops to discuss wider issues related to the fight against fascism and racism.

f. To jointly sponsor an international conference uniting the wider international struggles against fascism both in the UK and elsewhere. ‘

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti needs help, against natural disaster and against rich neighbours out to help themselves

EMERGENCY aid supplies are reportedly reaching the people of Haiti at last. But it has been taking time. A doctor friend in the United States was desperately trying to get across there last thing I heard, while on TV we saw British firefighters frustratedly waiting for the go-ahead to start rescue work. A Cuban medical team is in Haiti, and Chinese aid workers have started arriving. The airport has been handed to Americans to run.

Accepting that the earthquake wrecked roads and port facilities as well as damaging the airport, one can still regret that states seem able to move troops and munitions round the globe more quickly than they can bring relief to people one hour's flight from Florida. That said, let's salute those going to help, and hope that common humanity and international co-operation continue to guide their missions, and inspire us to what could be achieved if nations continued working together.

Unfortunately the will to help fellow-human beings is not all that is at work. America seems to be giving priority to getting its troops into Haiti. A French hospital plane was refused permission to land.

It takes a special kind of psycho to rejoice at a disaster such as has befallen the people of Haiti, and declare it "a blessing in disguise". But one does not have to look far to find one in America, where "evil bastard" is often spelt "evangelist", or especially, TV evangelist. Pastor John Hagee was one of several who told people that Hurricane Katrina was God's judgement on "sinful" New Oreleans, and he also says Hitler was sent by the Almighty to hunt out the Jews (as he adds that this was to make them go to Israel, and backs that up with big donations, the Israeli government thinks he's swell).

Now it is TV evangelist Pat Robertson who says Haitians were "cursed" by a "pact to the devil."

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," he said on Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club." "They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal. .. ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other" "

Haitians fought for their freedom during France's revolutionary wars, and obtained independence in 1803, five years before Napolean III (Louis Bonaparte) was born. The nearest Toussaint L'Ouverture came to a pact with the devil was a secret agreement with the British, followed later by commercial agreements with Britain and the United States. I guess they don't teach a lot of history at Reverend Pat Robertson's Sunday school, but I'm wondering what kind of Bible they use to teach his brand of religion. That right, Reverend, the Plagues were sent to punish Moses and the Israelites. for asking Pharaoh to let them go?

Poor people in New Orleans, like those in Haiti, may have wondered how come the Almighty's wrath fell most heavily on them, considering someone said "blessed are the poor", and how His blessing in disguise mostly benefited those with big contracts, and the developers of real estate. Because while we may only wonder at the ways of "the Lord" we have a right to ask questions of governments.

As Peter Hallward says, writing in the Guardian, " Any large city in the world would have suffered extensive damage from an earthquake on the scale of the one that ravaged Haiti's capital city on Tuesday afternoon, but it's no accident that so much of Port-au-Prince now looks like a war zone. Much of the devastation wreaked by this latest and most calamitous disaster to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence". (If we are serious about assisting this devastated land we must stop trying to control and exploit it. Guardian Comment is Free, January 13)

"The country has faced more than its fair share of catastrophes. Hundreds died in Port-au-Prince in an earthquake back in June 1770, and the huge earthquake of 7 May 1842 may have killed 10,000 in the northern city of Cap ­Haitien alone. Hurricanes batter the island on a regular basis, mostly recently in 2004 and again in 2008; the storms of September 2008 flooded the town of Gonaïves and swept away much of its flimsy infrastructure, killing more than a thousand people and destroying many thousands of homes. The full scale of the destruction resulting from this earthquake may not become clear for several weeks. Even minimal repairs will take years to complete, and the long-term impact is incalculable".

But it is not natural disasters alone that have made Haiti the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Rather, the country's poverty and political history have made it so vulnerable and incapable of coping with the calamities.

As Ted Rall puts it:

"How did Haiti get so poor? Despite a century of American colonialism, occupation, and propping up corrupt dictators? Even though the CIA staged coups d'état against every democratically elected president they ever had? It's an important question. An earthquake isn't just an earthquake. The same 7.0 tremor hitting San Francisco wouldn't kill nearly as many people as in Port-au-Prince.

"Looking at the pictures, essentially it looks as if (the buildings are of) breezeblock or cinderblock construction, and what you need in an earthquake zone is metal bars that connect the blocks so that they stay together when they get shaken," he quotes Sandy Steacey, director of the Environmental Science Research Institute at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. "In a wealthy country with good seismic building codes that are enforced, you would have some damage, but not very much."

We've seen Haitians struggling to dig people out by hand, and the Haitian Red Cross tring to cope, but there were neither the equipment, the ambulances, or the medical staff to treat people. That's not due to tectonic plates. "Ninety-nine percent of the death toll is attributable to poverty", says Rall.

How did Haiti become so poor?

"The story begins in 1910, when a U.S. State Department-National City Bank of New York (now called Citibank) consortium bought the Banque National d'Haïti--Haiti's only commercial bank and its national treasury--in effect transferring Haiti's debts to the Americans. Five years later, President Woodrow Wilson ordered troops to occupy the country in order to keep tabs on 'our' investment.

"From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. Marines imposed harsh military occupation, murdered Haitians patriots and diverted 40 percent of Haiti's gross domestic product to U.S. bankers. Haitians were banned from government jobs. Ambitious Haitians were shunted into the puppet military, setting the stage for a half-century of U.S.-backed military dictatorship.

"The U.S. kept control of Haiti's finances until 1947. Still--why should Haitians complain? Sure, we stole 40 percent of Haiti's national wealth for 32 years. But we let them keep 60 percent.

"Despite having been bled dry by American bankers and generals, civil disorder prevailed until 1957, when the CIA installed President-for-Life François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier. Duvalier's brutal Tonton Macoutes paramilitary goon squads murdered at least 30,000 Haitians and drove educated people to flee into exile.

"Upon Papa Doc's death in 1971, the torch passed to his even more dissolute 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier. The U.S., cool to Papa Doc in his later years, quickly warmed back up to his kleptomaniacal playboy heir. As the U.S. poured in arms and trained his army as a supposed anti-communist bulwark against Castro's Cuba, Baby Doc stole an estimated $300 to $800 million from the national treasury, according to Transparency International. The money was placed in personal accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere.

"Under U.S. influence, Baby Doc virtually eliminated import tariffs for U.S. goods. Soon Haiti was awash predatory agricultural imports dumped by American firms. Domestic rice farmers went bankrupt. A nation that had been agriculturally self-sustaining collapsed. Farms were abandoned. Hundreds of thousands of farmers migrated to the teeming slums of Port-au-Prince.

"The Duvalier era, 29 years in all, came to an end in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan ordered U.S. forces to whisk Baby Doc to exile in France, saving him from a popular uprising. Once again, Haitians should thank Americans. Duvalierism was 'tough love.' Forcing Haitians to make do without their national treasury was our nice way or encouraging them to work harder, to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Or, in this case, flipflops.

"The U.S. has been all about tough love ever since. We twice deposed the populist and popular democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The second time, in 2004, we even gave him a free flight to the Central African Republic! (He says the CIA kidnapped him, but whatever.) Hey, he needed a rest. And it was kind of us to support a new government formed by former Tonton Macoutes.

"Yet, despite everything we've done for Haiti, they're still a fourth-world failed state on a fault line. And still, we haven't given up. American companies like Disney generously pay wages to their sweatshop workers of 28 cents an hour. What more do these ingrates want?"

Peter Hallward again:

The noble "international community" which is currently scrambling to send its "humanitarian aid" to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti's people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's phrase) "from absolute misery to a dignified poverty" has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies. Aristide's own government (elected by some 75% of the electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country. Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population "lives on less than $2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day". Decades of neoliberal "adjustment" and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future. It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti's agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more "natural" or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered. As Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, points out: "Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses." Meanwhile the city's basic infrastructure – running water, electricity, roads, etc – remains woefully inadequate, often non-existent. The government's ability to mobilise any sort of disaster relief is next to nil. The international community has been effectively ruling Haiti since the 2004 coup. The same countries scrambling to send emergency help to Haiti now, however, have during the last five years consistently voted against any extension of the UN mission's mandate beyond its immediate military purpose. Proposals to divert some of this "investment" towards poverty reduction or agrarian development have been blocked, in keeping with the long-term patterns that continue to shape the ­distribution of international "aid". The same storms that killed so many in 2008 hit Cuba just as hard but killed only four people. Cuba has escaped the worst effects of neoliberal "reform", and its government retains a capacity to defend its people from disaster. If we are serious about helping Haiti through this latest crisis then we should take this comparative point on board. Along with sending emergency relief, we should ask what we can do to facilitate the self-empowerment of Haiti's people and public institutions. If we are serious about helping we need to stop ­trying to control Haiti's government, to pacify its citizens, and to exploit its economy. And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we've already done.

Many people are raising concern that like New Orleans and Iraq, Haiti will be a victim of what Naomi Klein calls "Shock Doctrine" - that wars and natural disasters can be used to smash a people's will to resist, opening the way for big capitalist corporations and right-wing governments to go in and do as they please.

A Facebook group, "NO SHOCK DOCTRINE FOR HAITI" says:
'The people of Haiti need help. We must dig them out of the rubble. We must feed and clothe them, and then we must work with them to re-build their country.

Yet some see this as an excuse to strip their economy of what assets it has left. Some see the shock of the earthquake as an opportunity to impose unpopular policies on a grieving people.

America's radical right have long seen disasters as a chance to push devastating policies on the distracted poor. They know it is the only way people will accept their economies being plundered.

This "Shock Doctrine" which brought us General Pinochet and Russian oligarchs is now moving swiftly on Haiti. These are the people who forced through the privatisation of social housing after Katrina - pushing the poor out of their homes without their consent. They used the Asian Tsunami as an excuse to take coasts out of the possession of poor fisherman, and hand them to western hotel conglomerates.

And now, one of the most influential American think tanks - the Heritage Foundation - is already suggesting they do the same to Haiti. The IMF are alleged to have demanded pay freezes and energy price hikes in exchange for a help.

We must help the people of Haiti build a country they want, not one which is forced on them by the people who brought us the credit crunch, South Americas generation of dictators, and George W Bush.

See here, for example:

On Thursday, a number of progressive organisations in the United States, including the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti(IJDH), called for the different aid missions arriving in Haiti to make sure their work was co-ordinated and that it respected the dignity of Haitians, involving them in decision-making, and ensuring accoutability. Otherwise they would cause more suffering, warned IJDH director Brian Concannon.

At present the signs are not too hopeful.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Congratulations to Berlanty! Welcome out, Mohammad and Jamal!

IT is not often we have good news to report from Palestine, so here is some.

First, let's hear it for Berlanty Azzam, who has got her degree in Business Studies from the University of Bethlehem. "What's special about that?", you might think, if you didn't read about her case in the news - I wrote about it back in November. If you did, you will understand why, instead of Berlanty going to the uni to receive her degree, the university's Vice Chancellor and other senior figures travelled to present it to her in Gaza. Here's the report from the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency:

BETHLEHEM/GAZA - Ma'an - “I never imagined that my graduation ceremony would be held in a Church in Gaza with no one from my classmates attending,” said fresh BU graduate Berlanty Azzam on Sunday. Bethlehem University officials traveled to Gaza to confer Berlanty's degree at the Holy Family Church in Gaza. Berlanty completed her degree online after she was pulled from a car at a Bethlehem checkpoint by Israeli soldiers, was blindfolded, handcuffed and deported to Gaza on 28 October 2009. BU Vice Chancellor Brother Peter Bray, Papal Nuncio H E Archbishop Antonio Franco, Chancellor Brother Joe, Vice Chancellor Emeritus, and Trappist Abbott Thomas traveled to Gaza for the 10am Mass at the Holy Family Church where they met Berlanty, her family and friends as well as some other BU students awaiting permission from the Israeli military authorities to come to Bethlehem to pursue their education at the Vatican-sponsored Bethlehem University. “But I am so happy and grateful to my teachers and all of the friends of Bethlehem University who came forward to help me. I really worked hard and prayed for this moment and will do my best to help others who seek to study at my university!” Berlanty was forced to finish classes over the phone and e-mail after the Israeli High Court issued a ruling on 9 December declaring that she could not return to Bethlehem to complete her studies. A court battle saw Israeli rights group Gisha defend the young woman. The appeal was rejected despite the Israeli army's admission that Berlanty posed no security threat to Israel, that she had no record to speak of, that she was targeted only because her ID card indicated she was a Gaza resident and that she was removed from the West Bank without having the opportunity to consult a lawyer. The military rationale for her forcible deportation was that as a Gaza resident, family and friends in the Strip could use their influence over her for the purpose of attacks against Israel. Arriving in Gaza to present Berlanty with her certificate, Vice-Chancellor of the Bethlehem University Brother Peter Bray said “the University has a commitment to help Berlanty – and all our students in good academic standing – to graduate and succeed in life.” HE Archbishop Antonio Franco, Papal Nuncio and the highest ranking representative of the Pope to Israeli and occupied Palestinian territories, also traveled to Gaza to award Berlanty her degree in Business Administration and to celebrate Mass at Holy Family Church in Gaza. Brother Joe, Vice-Chancellor Emeritus and Trappist Abbott Thomas Davis accompanied Brother Peter to Gaza for meetings with some of the more than 400 graduates of BU from Gaza as well as some of the current students who continue to await for permission from the Israeli military to study at the university. “I really wanted to be among my colleagues on such a day ... I still don't know why I was taken from Bethlehem and moved to Gaza while being handcuffed and blindfolded,” she said. "I am sad because I was not able to graduate with my colleagues in Bethlehem, but I was able to challenge the occupation and today I am graduating from Bethlehem University."
Gaza students accepted to the BU

Though upon the conference of her degree all appeals to get Berlanty back to Bethlehem for the completion of her studies will be dropped, an additonal 12 Palestinians living in Gaza, who were accepted to BU in the fall, are stuck in the Strip awaiting permits to travel to Bethlehem for study.

BU spokesman Brother Jack Curran said the fight over the issue of freedom of education for Palestinians would not end with the conference of the degree.


So good luck to Berlanty, who deserves an extra award surely for persevering with her work under such testing circumstances - an example of Palestinian steadfastness. Well done, too, to the University of Bethlehem authorities for not letting either unusual circumstances or routine procedures prevent them responding fittingly to their student's needs and determination. In this human act, and in affirming the right of students from Gaza to study in Bethlehem, they have set an example for other officialdom -and affirmed the unity of Palestinians.

No marks, of course, to the Israeli authorities, who once again showed what utter mamsers they can be, by their brutal treatment of a young woman who simply wanted to complete her university education.

But then, maintaining a military occupation for more than forty years, and telling yourself and anyone you think will listen, that ruling over another people, if not expelling them, is right and normal, is bound to produce a certain type of mentality, and a certain type of official.

Welcome back, Mohammed and Jamal!

OUR second piece of good news is that two leading West Bank campaigners against Israeli occupation and the so-called security wall have been released, one of them particularly associated with the international movement to bring pressure on Israel by means of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Mohammad Othman, 34, from the West Bank village of Jayyous, was released Wednesday after 113 days in Israeli custody. Mohammad had been detained by Israeli security police on September 22 as he crossed Allenby Bridge on his return from a speaking tour.

Well-known for showing visitors the effects of the Wall, which cuts across land belonging to his village, Othman took Norwegian officials on a tour of the West Bank, travelled to Norway and helped convince a Norwegian state pension fund to divest the $5.4 million it had invested in Elbit, the mushrooming Israeli military electronics firm whose exports include drones used in Afghanistan and other wars. Minister Halvorsen announced the decision early last month.

Though held without charges, Mohammad Othman was thought to be the first person locked up for advocating boycotts and divestment.

"I was interrogated every single day for 75 days from 8am until 6.30pm and sometimes until midnight," Othman told reporters. "The entire time I was held in isolation. Physically they did not touch me, but it really damages a person to be in isolation. They also played all kinds of games, telling me they will arrest my brother, my friends and the journalists writing about me."

"They are trying to put a lot of pressure on the boycott movement," Othman said. "They realized how much pressure it is putting on them."

"I was interrogated by ten different commanders, nine from the Shin Bet and one from the Mossad," he said, referring to the Israel Security Agency and Israel's national intelligence agency, respectively. "They asked me about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, my work, why I'm traveling around the world and why I have the contacts of ministers, prime ministers and embassies."

Othman was held for interrogation for two months, after which he was put into administrative detention.

"After about 50 days they came up with this charge that I'm in contact with Hezbollah," Othman said. "It's crazy. I told them I am involved in a peaceful fight and dealing with international human rights organizations."

"They had nothing against me but I was really worried when I was put into administrative detention," he said. "It can be a few months or up to seven years."

"I was often put in court without a lawyer and had to represent myself," Othman said. "Two days ago I was sent to court again and I got the papers that I was going to be freed."

"I couldn't believe it," he continued. "The judge said 'Why aren't you reacting?' I said 'Because it's administrative detention so you can arrest me two minutes after releasing me'."

While he was released without charge, Othman was required to pay 10,000 shekels ($2,716) bail for his release, an administrative technicality related to his initial detention for interrogation prior to his placement in administrative detention.

Othman's release came one day after that of Jamal Juma, a leader of the Stop the Wall campaign, who had been detained by the Israel Security Agency for 27 days without charge. Juma was arrested on December 16 . Despite being a legal resident of Jerusalem entitled to legal rights similar to those afforded to Israeli citizens, he was processed in Israel's military court system in the same legal procedures used against West Bank Palestinians like Mohammad Othman.

"This experience made it much clearer to me how much the non-violent Palestinian movement freaks them out," Juma told reporters. "They see how our movement is opening the eyes of the world to the oppression of the Palestinians and they are determined to stop it but they don't know what to do. They can't call us terrorists so they bring people like me into jail without any real legal way to charge us."

"They accused me of incitement and contact with terrorist organizations," he said. "It's so silly they even accused me of contact with the Zapatistas [laughing]. I told them 'Do you think that when I meet 60,000 people at conferences I ask everyone there 'Do you have a problem with Israel? Are you part of a terrorist organization?' In the end they dropped it of course and didn't charge me with anything at all because none of it made any sense."

"I am only out of prison today because of international pressure, both official pressure from consulates and official bodies, as well as organizations around the world that don't understand why Israel would arrest someone like me," Juma said of the massive campaign launched by Palestinian activists for his release. "I really appreciate this level of solidarity."

"You can't imagine how much dehumanization there is in these jails," he said of his detention. "I was interrogated constantly, put into isolation, put in a cell in which my head was in the door and my feet in the toilet. I was handcuffed for many hours, the cells are lit up 24 hours a day and the food is so bad you wouldn't even give it to dogs."

"They didn't beat me or anyone I saw," Juma added. "But this is a form of torture and the worst face of the occupation. Many prisoners almost lose their minds and all of this is done in shadow and nobody knows about it."

Abdullah Abu Rahma, a leader of the Popular Committees Against the Wall, involved in dismantling part of it in Bil'in last year on the anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down, is still being detained. He was one of a number of Bil'in activists whose homes were raided. Abdullah is a cousin of Bassam Abu Rahma, killed last year by a tear gas grenade fired ar his chest. Bassam's brother Ashraf was the man seen on TV, having a rubber bullet fired at his leg point blank, while he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and held by an Israeli officer. Ashraf had been taking food and medical suplies to a neighbouring village. The attack on him was filmed by a young Palestinian girl using one of the handheld webcams which an Israeli women's group has distributed so that incidents like this can be recorded.

Undeterred by such attacks on his own family, Abdullah Abu Rahma has carried on campaigning, and went to Canada to meet supporters and ask two Canadian companies to pull out of contracts for the settlements and the wall. He says the Israeli authorities do not know what to do about non-violent resistance which is winning international support.

Israeli policy may have fenced off Palestinians from their land, but it has also walled off some Israeli minds from reality. Dr Gerald Steinberg, Chair of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University, has called for stronger measures. "Whether it's through this so called boycott and sanctions campaign, or attempts to have Israeli leaders like Former Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni arrested in Britain, or International Criminal Court related activites, this kind of incitement is political warfare on par with military warfare in that the goal is to destroy the state of Israel. As Prime Minister Netanyahu recently stated, demonization is as dangerous to the State of Israel as the Iranian nuclear threat," he added. "That's the broad view of the majority of Israelis."

Dr Ron Breiman, the former chairman of Professors for a Strong Israel, "Israel needs to defend itself and should arrest people like this," he said at the time of Othman's arrest. "In any normal country when someone is doing harm to his own state he would be punished for that. I don't think a European country would allow such activities within her borders and we are too forgiving of it. I want democracy and I want free speech," Dr Breiman said. "But there are limits to free speech and even in a democratic country you cannot say anything that you want, especially in a state of war."

It may have escaped Dr. Breiman's attention, but whatever Mohammad Othman was saying, and whatever "harm" he was doing, it was not to "his own state". As a Palestinian living under occupation Mohammad Othman does not have a state. But if we follow where arguments like those of Breiman and Dr. Steinberg are leading, it is that Israelis too - like those who have joined the demonstrations at Bil'in, or those who have helped seek the arrest of their country's war criminals - must also be repressed as enemies of the state.

Recent raids on the premises of some organisations, and demands to stop their funds, suggest the authorities may be heading down that road. If this brings Palestinians and left-wing Israelis closer to declaring common cause it will mean the non-violent resistance has achieved a major success. And because the Israeli state has taken their support for granted, it may face another revolt, from Diaspora Jews. "State of war", Dr.Breiman? You aint seen nothing yet.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How the good tailor became a statistic

BOUBACAR BAH was a tailor from Guinea, who came to the United States hoping for a better life, following in the steps of a seafaring relative who had arrived in New York in World War II.

With his skills, Boubacar obtained work sewing dresses for a posh clothes store called L'Impasse. He shared an apartment with other immigrants, in Flatbush, Brooklyn. People liked him. On Sundays he would go and visit cousins who had a house in the Bronx. He was able to send money home to his ailing mother and other family members back in Guinea.

After living and working in America for eight years, Boubacar thought he would go back to Guinea for a holiday, and see the folks he had left behind. It was when he returned from this three months trip, in May 2006, that he ran into trouble with the immigration officers at Kennedy Airport. They told him his green card application had been rejected while he was away, and that he no longer had permission to re-enter the United States.

While an immigration officer hired by his friends tried to re-open the application, Boubacar Bah spent nine months in detention. Then one morning in the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey, at about 8am, according to the records, Mr.Bah fell near a toilet, hitting the back of his head on the floor.

He was taken to the facility's medical service, where he became incoherent and agitated, textbook signs of an intracranial injury. He was handcuffed and shackled, and he began yelling in his native language. He was ordered to calm down, and when he did not, was written up for disobeying orders and was taken into solitary confinement in shackles. As this was taking place, Mr. Bah uttered his last known words in his native tongue: "Help! They are killing me!"

Shortly after this, the video record ends (guards claimed the camera's battery failed). Mr. Bah was taken to an isolation cell and locked in at 9 AM. According to the guards, he appeared to be sleeping for the next ten hours, but at 7:10 PM, he appeared to be breathing heavily and foaming at the mouth. The nurse on duty at that time refused to come see Mr. Bah. More than fourteen hours after the initial incident, while on rounds, an ICE nurse found Bah unconscious with vomit around his mouth. The nurse attempted to revive Bah with smelling salts and failed, and brought Bah back to the medical unit on a stretcher. At 11 PM, someone at the ICE detention facility called 911.

When Mr. Bah arrived at the hospital, it was quickly determined that he had a fractured skull and hemorrhages at all sides of his swelling brain, and he was rushed into surgery. Back at the ICE center, the coverup began.

The following day, the ICE center at Elizabeth reported the cause of Mr. Bah's injury as "brain aneurysms" - corrected a week later to "hemorrhages" with no mention of the skull fracture or fall. Meanwhile, Mr. Bah's friends and family were ignorant that Bah had been injured for four days after the incident, only learning of it when another inmate at the facility called Mr. Bah's roommate to inform him.

It was another day before the facility disclosed Bah's location to the family, where a guard told them: "This guy, you have to fight for him. This guy was neglected."

Alerted by a lawyer, a New York Times reporter began making inquiries.

Michael Gilhooly, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told the Times that without the inmate's full name and eight digit Alien Registration Number, he could not check the information. But according to records obtained now by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Times, Gilhooly instead notified his superiors at the agency about the reporter's inquiry, and Gilhooly and other managers in Washington and New Jersey conferred repeatedly on how to conceal the circumstances of Mr. Bah's injuries, as well as how to avoid having the agency responsible for paying for Mr. Bah's continued care. Among the conspirators was Capt. Nina Dozoretz, CEO of Correctcare Consultants LLC and formerly the Division of Immigration Health Service’s Associate Director, which put her in charge of the over 20,000 inmates in ICE custody.

They considered sending the dying man back to Guinea to avoid responsibilities. Then they decided to release him to his relatives on "humanitarian", compassionate grounds. Boubacar Bah died in a coma on May 30, 2007, a few days before he was due to be sent home.

Boubacar Bah was just a tailor. Just an immigrant. Just another statistic.

The New York Times says its investigations over two years have uncovered wholesale cover-ups by officials. "Documents, obtained over recent months by The Times and the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act, concern most of the 107 deaths in detention counted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement since October 2003, after the agency was created within the Department of Homeland Security.

They do say that if you want to know the truth about any society you must go into its prisons.

Thanks to Sue Pashkoff for drawing my attention to the Daily Kos blog with Boubacar Bah's story

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