Friday, October 21, 2011

Sheikh Jarrah to Dale Farm ...and the perils of "crossfire"

IT'S been that kind of week. Not hard to join up the dots, but not necessarily in ways expected.

ON MONDAY, in the wake of Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox''s resignation and the continuing inquiry, friends were talking about the Israeli connection. Three of the names linked to Fox and his best man Werrity were lobbyists, Mick Davis, Michael Lewis, and Poju Zabludowicz. On the Jewish Socialists' Group national committee that evening we discussed how ordinary people feel about these big shots, and how to counteract their influence.

Tuesday evening I was in the House of Lords attending a meeting hosted by Lord Hylton, about housing rights and planning laws in occupied East Jerusalem, as viewed by delegates of a new body called Advocats Sans Frontieres who had specifically been invited to observe the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah district, to the north of the Old City.

Professor Bill Bowring of the Haldane Society said that evey time he has visited the city he sees new gaping holes where there used to be houses and people, and new places going up for settlers and surrounding the city. He said you could tell which were Israeli and which Palestinian blocks by the water tanks on roofs, because the Israelis enjoyed a constant supply while Palestinians were only supplied two or three times a day.

Bill went through some of the international law and pronouncements from the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice, concerning status of occupied territory, discrimination, and human rights, which Israeli authorities ignore even though Israel has ratified international treaties.

According to international law no one should face interference in their home or private life, and eviction is only justified in exceptional circumstances. Israel says such laws do not apply to it. When an Israeli genral who had ordered demolition of homes at Rafeah came to Britain in 2005 he was tipped off so as to avoid arrest, otherwise he might have faced a privately-initiated prosecution. Now there were changes in the law so any attempt to bring charges against Tzippi Livneh during her visit would have to go through the Director of Public Prosecutions. (Foreign Secretary) "William Hague has issued retrosepective immunity."

Hannah Rought Brooks spoke about the way urban space has been affected in east Jerusalem under occupation and annexation - 35 per cent expropriated, 22 per cent designated "green areas" where people could not build, 30 per cent "unplanned areas" likewise, thus leaving just 13 per cent for Palestinians, though they were a majority. In this shrinking space they faced restrictive plans, a shortfall of 1,100 housing units a year, and a restrictive permits regime.

No wonder then that people wound up building homes without waiting for permission, and then could be given a choice - either demolish your own home, or pay the cost of it being demolished by the authorities. So families are not only made homeless but landed with a large bill.

Hannah praised the activity of some Israeli groups like the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and Bimkom, which oppose the evictions. But their efforts and the tenacity of Arab families were up against the attitude of Jerusalem municipality which only allocates 5-10% of its budget to Palestinian areas, though they are 35 % of the population. The Israeli state, with its settlements, its wall, seperate transport system and checkpoints was doing everything to wrest East Jerusalem from the West Bank, already reduced to just three points of access, at Qalandiya, Olives and Gilo.

Palestinian families, some of whom found themselves in Sheikh Jarrah having fled or been forced out of other areas in 1948, had been told by the UN refugee administration that if they stayed there three years the homes would be theirs. But the properties were not given them in name. Then after Israel took the area in the 1967 war it went on to pass the 1970 Administration Law under which Jewish families who had left in 1948 could claim ownership, bringing forth Ottoman title deeds which were recognised - unlike the Palestinian refugees who have been accorded no right of return, and those like the Bedouin within Israel whose claims to property are seldom recognised.

Since then the properties claimed have paassed via two Israeli committees to the Nahalat Shimon company, and Palestinians are being harassed and forced out not by returness but by settlers, including right-wing religious groups who have fortified themselves in a seven-story building dominating the area. This too was built without planning permission, but instead of demolition it is being defended by armed soldiers.

Marina Sergides showed the presentation about Sheikh Jarah, and told us about three families who had lost their homes, like the El Ghawis, whose nine-year old son was taken away in plastic handcuffs during the eviction, and whose mother found him later in a police cell, injured and not given medical attention.

Over the last three years, more than 60 Palestinians have been forcibly evicted in this area and at least another 500 are at risk of dispossession and displacement, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

We discussed how to get more international media attention to this situation, to make sure that British officials visit Sheikh Jarrah, and to urge the British government to use its influence in the European Union in support of people like the Sheikh Jarrah residents.

I noted the irony that while the British consulate's location in Sheikh Jarah had been seen as watching over the territory, it was the British government which using its presidency over the EU had tried to suppress a report on what was happening to East Jerusalem. No wonder Palestinians are up in arms over Tony Blair the "Middle East Peace Envoy" having his new headquarters built in Sheikh Jarrah.

That day there had been a report about Givat Hamatos, another Israeli development designed to drive a nail into the prospect for two states by cutting off the West Bank from its capital, East Jerusalem. Illegal flats plan to cut off Arab east Jerusalem

WEDNESDAY morning, we saw hundreds of riot police storming into Dale Farm, in Essex, so the bailiffs would be able to evict those traveller families they haven't been able to intimidate. Like the Bedouin facing clearance under Israeli plans, these people are no longer free to move around, nor tolerated when they try to settle. The council says they were on greenfield land, the former owner who sold it to them says it was a brownfield site which the council itself had tarmacked for a scrap yard. The council which had denied or kept them waiting for planning permission says they were illegal for setting up home without a permit.

Having tried negotiations and the courts, those who have been driven out by this show of force, and given nowhere else to go, are homeless. Even some of the news coverage reminds me of the Middle East, with an ITN reporter going straight from the police action to interview an Essex man who had complained about people from Dale Farm allegedly throwing beer bottles over the fence into his garden. That's it, then, evict the whole community!

I've clocked the Beeb before purveying what I saw as porkies about a smaller scale eviction exercise against Gypsy families camped on land they had bought near Broxborne, so I guess the media toeing the line on this are showing consistency.

Anyway, we watched the police storm in, and in later footage five of them appeared to ram a woman against a fence. We were told that one woman had been injured, "caught up in the violence" apparently. Nothing deliberate then? She had been taken to hospital with what sounded like serious back injury, and said she had been attacked by police, but I suppose you can't believe everything you hear from those people.

I shouldn't imagine an operation like this was carried out solely at the Tory council's request and without at least a nod and a wink from the Home Office, and perhaps the prime minister. And on Wednesday evening I went to a meeting about public service pension rights, where leading trade unionists told us the Con-Dem government is waging class war, and negotiations are a waste of time, because the government is not even listening. I can't help thinking the Dale Farm operation, tasers and all, is also a rehearsal for dealing with workplae occupations and community cuts protests too.

When we are hearing about senior Tories pocketing large sums from the Zionists and other lobbyists, maybe what should impress is not the latters' readiness to bribe, as the formers' greed in augmeng their already large incomes by accepting financial inducements to support the kind of policies that they are inclined to follow anyway.

And so to THURSDAY, when having heard what US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had to say earlier in the week about Gaddafi, I very much doubted suggestions that he had been captured alive and might live to stand trial and give his side, as well as testify about relations with Western business interests and governments.

Sure enough, it appears he was wounded in the legs, but later died from two shots in the head, having been taken from his car, or from a culvet where he was hiding -with a gold-plated pistol, they add, - having taken shelter from NATO attack. The details seem to vary, but as someone said we had to be shown the sewage pipe just as we were shown Saddam Hussein being taken from a hole in the ground, though it now seems that too was a bit of fakery for the camera.

Today we learn that according to Mr.Mahmoud Jibril of the National Transitional Council, whom papers are already dubbing Libyan Prime Minister, Muammar Gaddafi was captured alive, but then he was "killed in crossfire".

Some say the Libyan rebels are not ready for our lind of democracy, but it sounds like they are soon picking up the language.

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