Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Voice They Could Not Silence

Why Rae Abileah says she disrupted Benjamin Netanyahu's Tuesday address to Congress
TEN MEN AROUND HER, AND NOT ONE MENSCH. Peace activist Rae Abileah needed hospital treatment after raising her voice against Netanyahu in Washington DC. Five other protesters were also injured.

IT wasn't all standing ovations for Binyamin Netanyahu in Washington, though with almost thirty of these the supposed representatives of the American people gave a performance that said more for their physical agility than their political sense or morality.

Here is America's Democracy Now radio station commenting:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech was warmly received by Democrats and Republicans in Congress on Tuesday. According to ABC News, he received 29 standing ovations during his address—four more than President Obama received during his State of the Union address earlier in the year. However, there was at least one dissenting voice inside the halls of Congress on Tuesday. Rae Abileah, a Jewish-American activist of Israeli descent with the peace group CodePink, disrupted Netanyahu’s speech. Standing in the congressional gallery, she yelled, “No more occupation! Stop Israel war crimes! Equal rights for Palestinians! Occupation is indefensible!” As she screamed, members in the audience tackled her to the ground, and undercover security forces later dragged her outside. She was taken to George Washington University Hospital where she was treated for neck and shoulder injuries. At the hospital, police arrested Abileah and charged her with disorderly conduct for disrupting Congress.

“Netanyahu is the Main Obstacle to Peace”: CodePink Activist Disrupts Israeli PM Speech to Congress

The campaigning group Jewish Voice for Peace has condemned the violent way Rae Abileah was treated, though if anything JVP was less shocked over this behaviour than over the enthusiasm with which congress applauded Netanyahu.

Five of the Jewish peace campaign's members were attacked the night before when they protested at a meeting of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee(AIPAC), Israel's main lobbying organisation in Washington, reports JVP deputy director Cecilie Surasky.

Declaring it "unbelievable" that US politicians greeted the Israeli premier's speech so warmly, Cecilie Surasky says: "To put it simply, Netanyahu proved yet again that he prefers settlement expansion and Jewish domination of Palestinians to any kind of true peace agreement that would benefit both peoples. He claimed that Israel isn’t occupying anyone—ignoring nearly 44 years of increasingly brutal Israeli control over the lives of millions of Palestinians".

Going through some of Netanyahu's assertions and answering them, the JVP leader urges fellow-Americans to protest to their political representatives over what happened, and says people outside America should write to President Obama about it.

Calling for an end to America's $3 billion annual military aid to Israel,Rae Abileah is a member of both the women's group Codepink, and Young, Jewish and Proud, formed by young JVP supporters. Interviewed from hospital on al Jazeera she said some of the people who attacked her were not Congress security, but visitors, members of AIPAC.

For more on this see:

And for more pictures of the incident, see:

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Wowing them in Washington, but not the West Bank - or West Dunbartonshire.

PRESIDENT Obama says a solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict must be based on Palestinian statehood within the pre-1967 borders. A neutered, "demilitarised" version of statehood neither the United States, Israel nor anyone else would accept, of course. Then Benyamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington and says there is no question of Israel withdrawing to those borders.

While Obama is away meeting the Queen of England and David Cameron before attending the G8 summit, Netanyahu is wowing the US Congress. It doesn't take much. As the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom commented:

Moon is made of green cheese
In the US Congress,
Netanyahu can declare that
The Moon is made of green cheese
And get a standing ovation.

Nevertheless, the whole world
Accepts the 1967 lines
As the basis for the
Border of peace
Between Israel and Palestine.

Ad published in Ha'aretz, May 27, 2011

"Two States"? Why, Israel is offering two enclaves, to be surrounded by Israel-held territory, right up to the Jordan, so it will control access, just as with Gaza. But Israel cannot talk to the Palestinians, because they won't "recognise" it, meaning not they will not talk, obviously, but they will not concede its legitimacy or agree to everything ahead of talks. And anyway, whereas before there was no point in talks because the Palestinians were divided (touch wood), now they are not, and therefore we cannot talk to terrorists! Besides, we have not finished locking up their elected representatives. In conclusion, the obstacle to peace is the Palestinians. (But with your help we can set about removing them).

Whatever it was Netanyahu said, he had the congressmen and senators jumping up and down for standing ovations so much, with genuine signs of enthusiasm for the TV cameras, veteran Israeli campaigner Uri Avnery called his piece "Bibi and the Yo Yos".

This is the Israeli prime minister whose own party says it will never accept a Palestinian state west of the river Jordan, and who reassured allies that they need not worry because Obama would not remain president for long. Damn that success with Bin Laden, a setback for the Tea Party friends!

Not that the Palestinians, or even those in the United States who sympathise with them, are attaching much hope to the US president, who let Netanyahu cock a snook by ignoring him on expanding settlements, and now follows his fine words about '67 borders by saying "with due regard for post 1967 demographic change".

But while reinforcing its troops on the West Bank, and consolidating its forces on Capitol Hill, the Zionist state is not ignoring what opponents are up to in West Dunbartonshire. What, you have not heard? Neither had I until this week when I received a communication from a bunch of people with whose approach I often disagree (but never mind), the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. (West Dunbartonshire is a county area west of Glasgow, containing many of the city's commuter towns and villages):

On Friday 21 May 2011 Marcus Dysch wrote in the Jewish Chronicle that "Books by Israeli authors could be removed from Scottish libraries" as part of an elected Scottish Council's BDS campaign. Dysch claimed "the ban is enforceable in libraries run by West Dunbartonshire Council" and referred to un-named "Israel supporters" who claimed that this ban "aligned the council with Iran and Saudi Arabia".

The following day, the Scottish Daily Express claimed that West Dunbartonshire Council is "launching a boycott of Israeli books" and favourably quoted the Israeli Embassy's Amir Oftek, who compared the Council to Joseph Goebbels burning books by Jewish authors.

Under the heading "Scottish Council Launches Ban on Israeli Books", one
Israeli website called for an email campaign against "the latest sick chapter in the BDS campaign". The Jerusalem Post told Israeli readers three days later that the censorship wave had spread across the whole of Scotland, in an article headlined, "Israeli book ban may be imposed in Scottish libraries".

Not to be left behind in the frenzy, the Israeli
YNet News Service claimed that even Scottish bookshops were being subject to the censorship, since "several districts in southwest Scotland expands boycott on Israeli products, bar stores from carrying English translations of Israeli books"(sic). Israeli Ambassador Prosor expressed official Israeli fears that the cultural level in Scotland, a country which has had relatively high levels of literacy since the Protestant Reformation, was such that a wave of book burning could erupt: "A place that boycotts books isn't far from a place that burns them".

A day earlier Jeffrey Goldberg had shared with the 400,000 readers of
The Atlantic (aimed at 'thought leaders') his assessment that he detected "in Scotland, a hint of Goebbels". The claims only became more and more bizarre, when the World Jewish Congress tapped into dark Jewish memories by claiming that the City Council of Scotland's third largest city, Dundee, planned to "place a special sticker on products that are made in Israel".

Building on this, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor condemned Israeli products being "distinctively marked in Scotland. These acts are eerily reminiscent of darker times and perhaps there is a level of hatred that connects them".

After such cranking up of the Nazi theme by propagandists for Israel, came the insane emails, such as the one suggesting the Council might want to "appoint a guard to patrol around the library and his snarling trained Alsatian to sniff out any Jewish books written in Israel which may have slipped through the net and polluted the glorious and proud shelves of the Judenfrei library in West Dumbartonshire."

The only problem with the hysteria is that the entire story was a fabrication from start to finish – from the West Dunbartonshire Libraries' ban on authors to the Scottish-wide censoring of bookshops, to Dundee City Council's plan to put special stickers on Israeli products. It was a complete invention, whose aim was simply to distract attention away from Israel's ongoing crimes in Palestine and to smear and intimidate those decent men and women who voted to support Palestine against the Israeli crimes.

During the Israeli mass killings of Operation Cast Lead, West Dunbartonshire Council passed a motion to support the appeal from Palestinian civil society for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel, and institutions supporting that state, until Israel respects all its obligations under international law. All Israeli companies fall within the scope of BDS. Individual Israelis do not. That is why Israeli publishing companies are included in the boycott. West Dunbartonshire Council's statement can be read

The hysteria ratcheted up with each new invention was phoney. A pity none of the 'journalists' took the trouble to check the catalogue of the well-run libraries of West Dunbartonshire to see the range of books by Israeli authors on the shelves.

Israeli Ambassador Prosor knows a thing or two about book burning. He still defends the bombing and burning of the library of the Al Aqsa University in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, as do Israeli authors such as Amos Oz, whose books will sit unmolested on the library shelves in West Dunbartonshire.

The barbarians are accusing those who take a stand for human rights of censorship. Those whom the UN's Goldstone Report accuses of war crimes and crimes against humanity are lashing out at those who stand up to power and defend justice.

Which side are you on?

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
24 May 2011

They suggest you e-mail West Dunbartonshire councillors to express your support. and supply a list of councillors' e-mail contacts.

I don't know whether it is necessary, or useful, to mail each councillor individually, and they are probably having enough trouble with hate mail from the usual suspects across the Atlantic, but there you go.

I have not seen any reports of unusual bonfires in Scottish towns and cities, indeed apart from the sources mentioned by Scottish PSC and one or two Pavlov-trained bloggers there seems to be nothing out there on the internet about West Dunbartonshire's supposed ban. Even the Jewish Chronicle this week does not seem to be keeping up the issue - no reports of Board of Deputies' emergency meetings, nor Jewish students hastening northwards.

They did much better than this thirty years ago when Dundee twinned with Nablus.

I have passed this matter on to Israeli friends and shall also await news from people like Scottish Jews for Just Peace. My pal comedian Ivor Dembina, who has performed in places as diverse as Jenin refugee camp and the Houses of Parliament is preparing another show for Edinburgh, where he was very successful last year.

Incidentally, while scouring the 'JC' for anything about a book ban I found the news that Tesco has finally decided to stop selling the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I and others commented on this peculiar item years ago. Pity more "mainstream" media were too busy commenting on its availability in some Arab countries and Muslim bookshops to focus on the big firm.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Real Voices of Tunisia

Here is another report by Amanda Sebestyen, who visited Tunisia and spoke to some of the young people at the heart of its revolution. Since it was written there have been reports of "security" concerns leading to suspension of the pilgrimage to a synagogue on Gherba island, and today came news of violence at a refugee camp. No social upheaval takes place without counter-currents, and these should not distract us from the courage and sincerity of those whom Amanda met.

'Every single moment of this revolution has been full of emotions. Sometimes glorious, other times complicated, sometimes full of sadness because you've lost someone shot in front of your eyes.' Ramy Sghayer is the one of one of Tunisia's youth organisers who always makes time for foreign visitors, explaining the successive waves of protest needed to dislodge not only the old dictator Zine Ben Ali but a whole structure of dictatorship and the systems that shored it up internationally.

'Our revolution overcomes the borders of Tunisia', he continues. 'It is a revolution for dignity and freedom in which every single human being is affected. We flew the Egyptian flag for Tahrir, and danced in the streets when Mubarak fell. We're waiting for Libya, watching Yemen and Syria. It's not only Tunisia's struggle but the struggle of the whole South under colonialism.

'I also joined a team at Ras Ajdir frontier camp, helping the refugees from Libya. I went with my friend Samir from Togo, we had the chance to serve food but sometimes felt it was even more important to listen and understand them. I'm co-ordinator of the youth commission for Amnesty, but I didn't go there officially but as a human rights defender and activist. '

I mentioned to Ramy my dismay at seeing bread and water sold at double the normal prices inside the refugee camps. He explained that the neighbouring border town Ben Guerdane had always lived by smuggling with Libya, and was now grabbing back some lost revenue. ' But many of my own friends are working here as volunteers without asking for a thing except somewhere to stay, living on a sandwich, just helping on principle'. On my own visit to the camp, UNHCR officials confirmed the unprecedented generosity not only of their 200 Tunisian volunteers , but the daily relief trips from ordinary people and the unusual co-operation in keeping the camp safe and running the hospital.

Two days later the people of Ben Guerdane taught us all a lesson by holding a demonstration of their own, demanding their right to be considered for jobs in the camp and to help the refugees themselves. Their offer is being accepted - one example of ways that the new wave of direct action includes entirely unexpected groups of people.

The safety of Jews and minorities inside Tunisia has become one touchstone for the democratic revolution. There have been suspicions that elements of the old regime's security forces were behind synagogue arson, and whoever was responsible the people I met were determined to prevent such attacks. As with the rights of women, the fight to end political impunity and prosecute those who killed unarmed demonstrators, the desperate need for employment, this issue too has sparked off multitudinous debates and a real sense that talking is a political good in itself.

When I visited in April, hosted by the General Union of Tunisian Workers and the Tunisian League of Human Rights, I and my fellow guest Rita Freire from Brazil's online news network Ciranda walked along the grand avenues of Tunis, moving from markets of crowded shoppers to equally crowded political discussions swirling into different small groups and coming together again. One of the Tunisians said to us then: ''We talk, we discuss things publicly for the first time in our lives, and in the end the bad gets driven out and the good comes to the top.'

Tunisians are massively enjoying the thrill of political discussion. 'Sixty percent of Tunisians have told a poll that they want to be involved in politics! Before, it was only football' said Fabio, an Italian who has lived in Tunisia for eight years and wants to start up a new kind of travel, not insulating visitors in zones touristiques but taking them to meet people and see 'the real Tunisia'.

That Tunisie profonde is the interior where the revolutions began.

The revolution in Tunisia is seen as bloodless, but not when you reach small towns where almost everyone knows someone who died, or was injured, or mentally traumatised. This was a war zone.

In Sidi Bouzid , Nejib Beyoui of the teacher's union told us how teachers, lawyers and doctors formed a Support Committee after Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself, at first just to get him to a proper hospital 'and to ask for work and dignity'. The trade unionists stood in the streets for 13 days being teargassed and beaten, while the town's young people stayed up all night and were shot with live ammunition. Then the uprising spread to nearby Kasserine, where a local factory owner posted snipers on the roof of his building: 52 people were killed and 600 wounded. Hunger strikes and self-immolation continue, alongside tremendous achievements in self-organisation. These towns feel they have been left alone.

We need to change that. Munira Thibia, a young homeless woman who became famous for her bravery in the uprising , asked us: 'Please let our stories be known'. They need twinning, solidarity actions, and keeping communications open. Nasri Charfeddine of the new unemployed graduates' organisation Elkarama wants to start up community radio so the region can speak for itself: email: Facebook: Nasricharfi@live.Fr

Wael Karaffi, who has lost a leg at only 19, spoke with the dignity which Tunisia expects from all its revolutionaries: 'Those who killed, one wants to see judged not killed. We sacrificed for this nation so we want our voices to be heard. If not, we will go back on the streets to remake the revolution. We don't want money, we want to be seen and heard. I've made a big sacrifice - I hope you won't forget my message.'

British soldiers returning wounded from wars of empire are getting the best surgery, prosthetics and rehab, but these who overthrew a dictator and 'fought only with their voices' are being left disabled and without redress against the police who killed their friends.

To join the appeal to bring specialist medical and legal help to the survivors and activists, contact: or

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Would you accept an insurance claim from this Mayor?

HIS PORKIES WEREN'T FROM FORTNUMS, but Mayor Boris Johnson had fun whipping up the media outrage.

NO, surely not? A lady on my bus was saying the other morning how privileged she had felt at meeting Boris Johnson, and how friendly he was ,"no side at all", she assured her neighbour. So surely a proper gent like our Boris, who represents London to the world, wouldn't be caught telling porkies?

Afraid he has.

On March 26, hundreds of thousands of trades unionists and community campaigners marched through London at the call of the TUC, to show their opposition to cuts in public services. A band of masked anarchists tried trashing a few banks and causing a disturbance outside the Ritz, but the more subtle and careful group UK Uncut, which makes the link between spending cuts and upper class tax avoidance, took their protest to top people's nosh shop Fortnum and Mason.

They occupied the shop, and er - took tea and cakes and read poetry there. Fortnum's is reckoned among the tax dodgers. After a while the police came, and an officer persuaded the protesters that if they left quietly there would be no arrests made. No sooner were they outside on the pavement than the snatch squads started plunging among them to make arrests. Perhaps they'd not heard what the officer had promised.

Not content with that, Mayor Boris Johnson claimed in remarks on Question Time and elsewhere that the occupation by UK Uncut resulted in substantial damage to the store: "They did tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage”.

Friends of mine suggested that this was because "Somebody trod on a tube of pate", or "Some fool knocked over a jar of olives", but not everyone took it so lightly. Boris and co. even seemed to be accusing poor Ed Milliband and Labour of responsibility because he had addressed the TUC crowd up in the park. Others seemed ready to accept that the entire crowd, if not personally rampaging through Fortnums, had merely been in town to provide a cover for this outrage.

But hang on.

A spokesperson for Fortnum and Mason has confirmed that any damage during the occupation was minimal. So Labour's London Assembly member Navin Shah from Brent and Harrow asked Boris what evidence he had to support his his claim. Boris replied:

“The point that I was making was that the occupation of Fortnum and Mason was pure vandalism … The fact that Fortnum and Mason is owned by a charitable foundation, provides many jobs and pays its taxes was clearly lost on these ‘activists’.”

That’s the same body that was exposed by the Charity Commission as a vehicle to channel donations to the Conservative Party, says a Labour blogger:

Perhaps an exuberant Boris was confusedly recalling his days with the Bullingdon Club? This elite young group, to which Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne also belonged, had a traditional reputation for getting very drunk, making a nuisance of themselves and smashing up restaurants. It did not matter because if necessary Daddy could pay, or you would not have been invited to join their select company. They knew they were superior.

And now they are intent on wrecking what's left of the Welfare State and the educational aspirations of the common herd, it's for our own good, you understand, even if they have to find others to accuse of damaging things, by showing disrespect for the property and status symbols of the rich.

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Coach Trip to the 'Arab Spring' (2) Democracy in a Tunisian town

PEOPLE are raising specific demands

AS Tunisians prepare for elections in July, here is the second of AMANDA SEBESTYEN' s reports:

We stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere. High on a hill was a message in Arabic spelled out in white stones: ''WELCOME TO REGUEB, THE LAND OF FREE PEOPLE". Around the next corner we came to Regueb itself, a town of only 8,000 people.

Its tiny hall was filled with the spirit of early trade unionism. You could imagine Chartists and Jacobins speaking like this, as the speakers launched poetic internationalist visions under the linked-hands red-crescent logo of the UGTT, the General Union of Tunisian Workers which had brought us here.

Two young women and three young men were killed by police bullets in these streets."The tragic force of this uprising belongs to all humanity . That's why we gave our kids. Your visit shows that the revolution continues, it isn't just for Regueb and it doesn't stop there. In this little hall you see pictures of martyrs of 1952 , people from here who died in the anti-colonial struggle; then you see our hand-painted Palestinian banner. This small hall is part of our daily life, home for our activists whether from Palestine or Regueb.'

The trade unionists spoke beneath portraits of past labour heroes, while over the ceiling and walls were dotted far more recent images, CGI-inspired by the Palestinian intifada and increasingly the Tunisians' own. When young people left the meeting it was only to go outside and sing 'songs of the revolution'. We came out to find them under a magnificent photocollage of their lost friends, joined by Senegalese guest Cheikh Tidiane Dieye to perform a scurrilous number about the kleptocrats of the old regime.

As we walked out through Regueb an elderly woman in traditional dress came up, embraced me,and asked me to stay. She was speaking Arabic but we understood each other. So she saw that now - with a jolt - we all had to get on the bus again. It is my final memory of the unique political space in Regueb, 'the land of free people' where every single person seems to be finding a new voice.

It came as no surprise to hear that one week later Regueb's citizens came together and created a new town council to represent them in this dangerous gap between the fall of the old dictatorship in January and contested new elections in July. Nor to see pictures on You Tube of Regueb women from all ages and backgrounds filling their streets at the start of the Arab Spring,under banners spelling 'Je suis Femme, ne touche pas ma Liberte'.

But what could we do as solidarity visitors? All sorts of ideas and actions have already started and can be seen and joined through the links below. It took another guest from Dakar, Demba Moussa Dembele, to add 'We witnessed'. This is what the people we met are expecting from us: ' a proof that you care about the Tunisian revolution and the weaponless people who faced a criminal dictatorship, and sacrificed their lives and were injured, so that we can raise our voices today and say what we think should be said.'

These are the words of Mohamed Salah Abidi, whose son Shadi was at the heart of the 'internet revolution' in Regueb and was disabled by bullets from a police sniper.

Those of us who visited from Europe have another obligation, to keep the gates of the fortress open. Leading trade unionist Alessandra Mecozzi from the radical Italian union, FIOM told our hosts in Regueb: 'We thank you and have great, great trust in you. We'll push our governments to freeze bank accounts and repatriate the money stolen from you. We don't want a closed Europe - we're ashamed of our government saying it wants to deport young Tunisians. Europe must welcome all these people.'

Here are some of the voices of the Tunisian revolution. We must keep our ears open as well as our borders.


People from Regueb who know that you are doing a lot for their cause would like you to write something in one or several papers in London.

Here is the news:

On Tuesday morning a group of the representatives of the inhabitants of Regueb attended a meeting in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid. Several ministers supervised the meeting ( the Ministers of Regional Development, of Health, of Social Affairs, Higher Education...)

Given the fact that not one developmental project, or health or industrial project, is being brought to the town of Regueb, the representatives have called for a popular peaceful demonstration in the streets of the town followed by an information meeting .

The inhabitants decided that their town will be independent from the governorate of Sidi Bouzid till the government satisfies the urgent needs of the area:

- A regional hospital for the population of 7,3000;

- A local covered market square for the fruits and vegetables produced in Regueb;

- The removal from power of all the groups of people connected to the regime of Ben Ali.

You can read more of Amanda Sebestyen's dispatches from Tunisia in RED PEPPER magazine.

Brent Trades Union Council has invited a speaker from Tunisia to its meeting tomorrow night, WEDNESDAY, May 25 at Willesden Trades and Labour Hall, 375 Willesden High Road, NW10 2JR. 7.30pm

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Coach trip to the 'Arab Spring' :(1) In the Beginning
TUNISIANS remember those who died,
and demand justice for the living. April 27 demo.

WHILE a lot of people seem to be arguing the significance of the upheavals in the Arab world, AMANDA SEBESTYEN took a trip to Tunisia, where things started, to see for herself. Amanda, who went with a delegation from the World Social Forum,has been kind enough to let us take excerpts from her reports.

In Tunisia, the makers of the first Arab democratic revolution are organising for elections. It is not a passive process. Protests are called almost daily and have kept up momentum towards transforming a country rather than 'just' evicting a dictator who ruled for 23 years. On the sidelines, the old regime and its angry secret policeman are waiting; on the other side, well-financed religious parties will rise if the hopes of a generation are disappointed. Amanda found a country of dedicated organisers, heights of suffering and generosity, and a dangerous neglect of the deprived heartlands where the uprising was born. Here is the first of her reports:

AN OLD WOMAN in traditional country dress was sitting with her basket on the kerb of the grand Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis, offering me something I couldn't identify. It looked like a bunch of cotton buds, or maybe a rare form of miniature garlic.

'Qu'est-ce que c'est?', I asked in my school French.

'Meshmoum', she said, and again more urgently, 'meshmoum', offering the bunch to my nose.
Jasmine! Tunisians take the buds and fix them to dried grasses to make the scent last a long time. I was smelling the Tunisian revolution.

Next door the Interior Ministry - prime site for the mass movements of January - was ringed with razor wire. But the protest meetings had simply moved a few yards. On the steps of a Belle Epoque theatre, newly released political prisoners were addressing a crowd of men and women constantly breaking into small discussion circles. The chief demand was justice for those who had been killed in the uprising; an end to police impunity; arrest and trial not only for those who pulled the triggers but those who gave the orders. It was a demand I heard voiced with increasing desperation as we reached the heartlands of the interior.

Our solidarity tour - organised for the World Social Forum and hosted by the Tunisian League of Human Rights and the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) - arrived in Tunisia midway between Stephen Twigg and Angelina Jolie. The MP was travelling (tourist class, I was pleased to note) with a delegation from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy; the actor, with her entourage, went to the refugee camps on the Libyan border, of which the Tunisian people are immensely - and so justly - proud.

' We thought that the regime had eradicated every good quality we had', said student organiser Yousef Tlili. 'But when they had taken everything , we found there was one thing left - solidarity... When refugees from Libya arrived in the south of Tunisia there was such an immense burst of solidarity that there are still shortages of medicines and staple foods because people bought them to send south when they heard the refugees needed them. Each refugee that arrived - and there were 140,000 in the first week - was greeted by local people with a bottle of water, some bread and some coffee , giving them dignity. The International Red Cross said they had never seen anything like it.'

In return, when Tunisians travel to Europe (not fleeing their revolution but taking up one of its new freedoms, escaping the draconian restrictions imposed by Ben Ali and Ghaddafi in return for bribes from Fortress Europe), the response of the EU is to threaten repatriation.

The fabled hospitality and orderliness of the Tunisians - often mocked in the past by their more explosive North African neighbours, who now find themselves struggling to keep up - was much in evidence on our tour. Half the delegates were paid for by our hosts, who refused to take anything from us.

Saida Garrachi, of Tunisia's main feminist organisation, the Association of Democratic Women, told us: 'We are inventing ourselves from moment to moment. Unexpectedly, this is "the first revolution of the 21st century". If we succeed we will encourage the rest - if we fail, the opposite. Islamists are active in the regions that were disadvantaged by the old regime, banking on their advanced organisation for the coming elections. This is a very fragile process. We need your international connections and solidarity to stop us skidding off track'. A new Tunisian Party of Labour aims to build democracy without falling into neoliberalism or religious bigotry. Its dedication to legality is amazing .

As we approached Sidi Bou Zid, the town where the wave of revolution first gathered, I learned that the local union head had been so close to the regime that he'd called on police to arrest our host Fethi Ben Dbek of the UGTT as a dangerous agitator. Now the same man remains in office, though hopefully not in power; his members are waiting till the elections to get rid of him. His sidekick attempted to filibuster our meeting, but could not stand against the extraordinary intensity of feeling in the hall.

Nejib Beyoui of the teachers' union told us how the revolution began when Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed graduate, set fire to himself on 17 December. 'But this was not the first time a young Tunisian had immolated himself. It happened earlier in Monastir [a developed coastal resort], but did not have the same results. Sidi Bou Zid has a long history of oppression. For years there had been different trade union struggles, and peasant farmers also rose up when a promised road was never built by the governor.
'When Bouazizi burned, there was nowhere to treat his wounds properly. There's only one specialist burns unit, near Tunis. The next day we in the teachers', lawyers' and doctors' unions organised a Support Committee with demands for work and dignity, and for Bouazizi to be transferred to our nearest large hospital at Sfax .

'We approached the administration which refused to answer. It was market day, and the town was full of people. The police unleashed unbearable clouds of tear gas; the canisters we collected were labelled "Made in USA". For the first two days, we teachers, doctors and lawyers stood in the streets getting gassed and beaten. The Tunisian media were banned from reporting anything, so we contacted France 24 TV and Al-Arabiya.

'On the second night, young people initiated rolling protests though the different parts of town. A new tactic was to use mobile phones to call on their friends to make a distraction, and draw police away when they got too heavy in any one place. On the third day the governor fled. For 13 days the uprising was in Sidi Bou Zid alone, then it spread through the region via our union branches: Bouzeyen, Regueb, Jilma; and then over to the town of Kasserine.'

This raises the question of how this revolution actually started. Tunis-based youth activist Ramy Sghaier - one of the main organisers of the Kasbah sit-in which ousted the dictator's party and started to set up a new constitution - was definite on this point: ' I don't actually agree that the Internet was the heart of the revolution. The heart of the revolution was the willpower of all the Tunisian people, not just the young.'

In Kasserine, known as ' the capital of martyrs' , the square is festooned with desperate demands from unemployed graduates on hunger strike. As these - so often veterans of the uprising across the country - lie behind us with their PhDs, MAs and college diplomas laid out beside them, local lawyer Salma Abassi explains:

'Fifty-two people were killed in Kasserine, 13 in this square. A local factory owner hosted snipers on his roof. We chose non-violence; the government ordered the army to shoot on the young people.

'We invented the first political slogan of the Arab revolutions: "Ben Ali, degage!". There were no real parties here, the revolution was made by ordinary people and lawyers standing up. I took my three children on all the demonstrations, so they could get the political education I never had the chance to have at their age.
'But from January till April nothing has happened in Kasserine. The revolution has brought no benefits for us. The National Assembly finally sent us a local representative, but living in Tunis! I am very angry still. '

In the trade union hall of Kasserine - under pictures of past labour heroes Farhat Hached, assassinated by French settlers, and Habib Achour, twice imprisoned under Bourguiba's regime - a row of families and activists held up photos of young people who were killed. One family after another took the platform. ''The snipers who murdered my child are still not in prison'. 'We have had no compensation' . 'I don't want money, I want justice'. 'There is still no reply from the minister.' A mother, in tears: 'Every time I'm alone, every time I do the housework, I remember'.

A young man called Nizar Ferchichi read a Manifesto for the unemployed graduates, ending: 'C'est l'agonie, le desespoir, Nous voulons l'espoir, la dignite.
This is agony and despair - we want hope and dignity.
Our symbol is solidarity. The revolution will continue, right to the end.'

Munira Thibia, a small young woman from the poorest quarter, now famous for her bravery:, said: ' Guests, please take our stories and make them be seen all over the world'. Nizar's friend Nasri Charfeddine wants to start a local radio here , so that at last Kasserine can speak for itself instead of only being spoken about.

Someone looking like an El Greco painting, tall and thin with huge eyes, makes his way with grace on crutches to the stage. His leg has been lost....Why are British soldiers being given the best prosthetics and medical help , when these nonviolent heroes - of a democracy we all claim to support - are being left to cope on their own? At our next meeting, I find myself standing up and promising to help. Either to bring a medical team here or to bring the injured to good hospitals in England.

In the week after our visit , Ministers visited both Sidi Bou Zid and Kasserine for the first time. (Flattering to imagine that our witnessing might have had any influence). Importantly, 80% of development funds for this year are now to be allocated to the long-forgotten interior regions. Unfortunately at Kasserine the ministers stayed for only three hours, spending part of their time with officials from the former regime. Nasri is facing eviction, as rents rise and promised jobs don't arrive in time or in numbers.

Meanwhile at Sidi Bou Zid, the unpopular Interior Minister was shouted down by striking policemen, demanding that the few officers arrested for implication in the killings should be released. Police have been have been in a menacing sulk for much of the time since Ben Ali left.

At the seaside resort of Hammamet, policemen have virtually disappeared since local people stopped paying bribes. Yet I walked around many times at night and the town was utterly safe; a taxi driver explained how everyone looks out for everyone else. People are more philosophical here. 'The new policemen we can trust are still in the barracks being trained, and it takes time to track down the bad old ones and put them in prison.'

I enjoyed the glorious beaches almost alone, many holiday companies having foolishly cancelled. A local bather taught me the words of Tunisia's republican Hymne Nationale, the stirring Risorgimento march I'd heard so often in buses and halls the length of the country.

When the people want life,
Destiny must surely respond -
(a sentiment disliked by the fundamentalist 'integristes', some of whom are even shopkeepers in this most unlikely of towns) -
The night must end,
And the chains be broken!

On my last day, the Tunisians slowly came out to play. Elderly women in white scarves, boys turning handstands, men selling melons and prickly pears, a female couple walking hand in hand along the sands; they came politely, in dozens rather than hundreds, and we're mad if we don't come back and join them soon.

This was what Yousef Tlili meant, then , when he concluded his speech on the first day : 'In the course of this revolution I've discovered my country. I've travelled from the mountains to the desert, I've seen parts of my own home town Tunis which I never knew existed....We're discovering our culture; we're discovering the picturesque beaches and extraordinary landscapes which were reserved either for tourists or for "a certain person"....'

That certain person. Ben Ali's old estate at Hammamet is so huge that you can't even see the palace from the gateway. Now it belongs to the army - or officially to the people. After the elections on July 24 we'll see who really is in charge.

To help bring community radio to Kasserine: or
To help bring medical help to Tunisians wounded and disabled in the revolution: or

To see international accounts and images of the WSF 'Tour of solidarity with the Tunisian revolution':

Thanks to Amanda Sebestyen for giving permision to use this material. You can also read her article in Tribune magazine:

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Iraqi Oil: Munir goes through the contracts

THE war on Iraq was not about OIL, right? That nice Mr. Blair ridiculed the idea, and we know Mr.Blair would NEVER lie. Besides, the big oil companies said they were not interested. At least, not until the war and occupation were on, and then - well, if there were any concessions going, it would be foolish not to grab their share. wouldn't it?

Of course there is more to it than that. But let's catch up with help of Munir Chalabi, an Iraqi who knows the industry. Munir has written before on how oil deals will affect Iraq's position in OPEC, and last moth he examined clauses in the contracts, in an article on Z net from which we republish excerpts. They show how the companies are meant to profit, and the Iraqi people to pay, whatever happens.
"Over eleven months have passed since the signing of the oil contracts between the Federal Ministry of Oil in Baghdad and the International oil companies (IOCs) resulting from the first and second bid rounds. However, to this date none of these contracts have been publicly released or published in any foreign language. Amazingly
all the contracts are written in English and none of them have even been translated into Arabic by the oil ministry in Baghdad, for the Iraqi people or even their representatives in the Federal parliament in Baghdad to look at and to see how their future is going to be shaped.

I have now obtained access to some of the contracts. My sources have specified that I cannot publish them in full, but I can discuss several aspects of them, which I shall do here. ..I will only examine two aspects of the contracts here: article 12 -- Approval of developments, plans and work programs and article 37 -- Governing law, conciliation and arbitration.

"It should be noted that the contracts awarded so far will cover about 60% of Iraq's proven oil reserves [3]. These are standard contracts with the seven IOCs that will benefit from the 1st bid round (BP/CNPC, which have been awarded the 17.8 billion barrels [BB] Rumaila oil field; Eni/Occidental/Kogas awarded the 4 BB [updated estimation puts it at 6.5BB] Zubair oil field; and Exxon Mobil/Shell awarded the 8.7 BB West Qurna-1) and the nine IOCs in the 2nd bid round, including Shell/Petronas who were awarded the 12.6 BB Majnoon field; Lukoil/Statoil awarded the 13 BB West Qurna-2; and CNPC/Total/Petronas awarded the 4 BB Halfaya field.

Article 12 -- Approval of developments plans and work programs,

Article 12.2(e) states "If line items of an annual work program or budget remain unresolved after submission to senior management the parties agree that the operator will be authorised to act as though the most recent submission by the Contractor has been approved until such time as final resolution of disputed items has occurred. This will allow the contractor to put forward major claims and the SOC/NOC will then have to pay for the time period that the claim stays unresolved and such claims could take years through international courts to be concluded.
(Iraq's two state oil companies, Southern Oil Company and Northern Oil Company)

Article 12.5 in the 1st bid round contracts and article 12.6 in the 2nd bid round contracts reveal that the "Contractors" will be fully compensated if the SOC/NOC should require contractor and operator to increase or decrease the rate of production from the contract area when it states: "During the periods when the rate of production is decreased, production curtailment imposed under article 12.5(e) or article 12.5(f), the remuneration fee bid adjustment under article 19.5(e) shall cease to apply and immediately after such SOC [or NOC] notice and the parties shall agree in good faith a mechanism to fully compensate contractors as soon as practicable, which may include, among other things a revised field production schedule or an extension to the term or payment of the lost income to contractor in respect of the estimated volumes not produced during the period for which the production levels are curtailed under article 12.5(e) or article 12.5(f)."

12.5(f) For curtailments due to failure of Transporter to receive net production at the transfer point "through no fault of contractor or operator."

This clearly specifies that if Iraq was instructed by any regular future OPEC production adjustments decision to reduce production in order to keep the price of oil in the international oil market at a reasonable level, then in accordance with article 12.5(e), the Iraqi Ministry of Oil will compensate the contractors for the quantity of oil that they do not produce, which will represent a penalty on the Iraqi people, while the IOCs will receive profits for doing nothing.

In addition, Iraq will pay the IOCs more money for not producing oil in accordance with article 12.5(f), as the majority of Iraqi oil experts are signifying in their studies that the Iraqi oil transporting infrastructure for transporting oil from the IOCs' transfer points to the main oil sea terminals in the Arabian/Persian Gulf or through oil transporting pipelines to new sea terminals in the Mediterranean are so inadequate that they can not see how Iraq will be able within the next 6 to 7 years, to increase its upstream and downstream transporting facilities from the existing capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to 10 to 12 million bpd while the Federal Ministry of Oil was unable in the past 8 years to even keep the transporting capacity at the 2.5 million bpd level.

Article 12.5 further states: "In case reduction of production of crude oil is applied as per article 12.5(e), SOC/NOC shall apply such reduction in a non-discriminatory manner to all of its Affiliates' production from the Republic of Iraq." This is another big restriction on Iraq's economy and sovereignty, as it is very likely that for economic reasons oil production from certain fields will be reduced, whilst production is kept to its maximum capacity in other fields.

Article 37 -- Governing law, conciliation and arbitration

Article 37.4
will allow foreign commercial courts to decide the future of the Iraqi people -- the Iraqi people will have no say when it comes to their national interests, as the Iraqi laws will not even be considered. This section "all the contracts are written in English and none of them have even been translated into Arabic by the oil ministry in Baghdad, for the Iraqi people or even their representatives in the Federal parliament in Baghdad to look at and to see how their future is going to be shaped.
All Disputes arising out of or in connection with this Contract, other than those Disputes that have been finally settled by reference to either senior management or Expert, shall be finally settled under the Rules of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce by three arbitrators appointed in accordance with the said Rules."

Article 37.5 specifies the seat of arbitration is to be Paris, France. It is been established from past experience that this Paris arbitration will only recognize contracts as being accepted as commercial contracts and does not acknowledge any sovereign rights in their judgments.

Article 37.6 states "The language of arbitration shall be the English language. The award of arbitration shall be in English and shall be final and binding on the Parties to the Dispute. Judgment on the award rendered may be entered and enforced in any court having jurisdiction in recognition and enforcement thereof. Any right to appeal or challenge any arbitral decision or award, or to oppose enforcement of any such decision or award before a court or any governmental authority is hereby waived by the Parties except with respect to the limited grounds for modification or non-enforcement provided by the applicable arbitration Rules."

It should be noted that all the contracts are for twenty years and contain provisions to extend them for an additional five years, thus, enabling the IOCs to control Iraq's economy and therefore its independence and sovereignty for 20-25 years. In this clause, the Federal oil ministry which is not an elected organization, has taken the decision on behalf of all the Iraqi people to waive their rights to any future modifications to the contracts even if Iraq's future economic independence necessitated such modifications.[4]


1. Articles 12 and 37 explain the reasons for the secrecy surrounding the 1st and 2nd bid round oil contracts and the lack of real transparency by the Federal Ministry in Baghdad. Not only have the contracts not been made public, but they have not even been translated into Arabic, which should make every Iraqi suspicious of the motives behind all the secrecy covering the contracts to this date.

2. Article 12 shows that the margin of profits which were agreed on officially with the IOCs' contractors does not represent the only profit that the IOCs will receive from the Iraqi Ministry of Oil, as the Ministry of Oil will compensate the contractors for the quantity of oil that they do not produce, which will in itself represent a penalty on the Iraqi people, whilst the IOC will receive additional profits for doing nothing.

3. Article 37 is a very significant article in terms of setting up the economic future of the Iraqi people and their future sovereignty. Therefore it is not wise to leave these vital decisions in the hands of bureaucrats in the Ministry of Oil or, for that matter, in the hands of a very weak government, without allowing the Iraqi people to have their say on their future by ensuring that such laws can only turn into lawful contracts if they are at least passed by an elected parliament, as required by existing Law number 97 dated 1967 which is still in force, or by a public referendum.

4. There are some analysts who believe that the US oil companies lost out from the awarded contracts, since only two of them, Exxon Mobil and Occidental have been awarded contracts. In my judgment this was not the case, as today what we call the International Oil Companies are really no longer national oil companies operating in the international market, as was the case up to the 1970s. In today's market, what we call IOCs are in fact multinational oil companies (MOC), owned by the multinational financial institutions (mostly US), with share holders from around the globe, and not by one nation's share holders. It is more likely today that the external size of operations and profits of theses companies comes from projects from all over the globe rather than from one nation, as shown by the cases of BP, Shell and most others including CNPC.

5. The contracts awarded in the 1st and 2nd bid rounds confirm that the US occupation of Iraq which started in 2003 did achieve some of its targets. In particular the occupation succeeded in ensuring that the future control of Iraqi oil stayed in the hands of the multinational oil companies and not in the hands of the Iraqi people and their legislative body.

Munir Chalabi is an Iraqi political and oil analyst living in the UK.

To read Munir's article in full see:

Greg Muttitt's book Fuel on the Fire published recently looks at what part oil interests played in the Iraq war, and how the occupiers' plans to sell off the existing Iraqi oil industry ran into opposition and resistance from Iraqis, notably the Southern Oil Workers Union.

There's a launch for this book tomorrow night at SOAS, 6.30pm at Khalili Theatre, SOAS, Thornaugh Street, WC1H 0XG. (nearest tubes Russel Square or Tottenham Court Rd)., hosted jointly by War on Want and PLATFORM.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

People's Strruggle, Public Enemy, Private Army

It was a costly victory for the Palestinians, with at least fifteen people reported killed and dozens more seriously injured, as Israeli forces opened fire at demonstrators on the Gaza and Lebanon borders and failed to prevent people getting into the occupied Golan Heights area. There were more demonstrations in the West Bank.

It was a victory, because while the State of Israel and its supporters were officially celebrating its independence at the weekend, millions of people around the world were seeing Israeli troops trying to stop people returning to their country, and hearing the word Nakba - catastrophe, by which Palestinians designate the loss of their homeland, and mention of which the Israeli authorities have tried to ban in media and schools.

Yesterday, Israeli forces were conducting house to house searches in the Druze town of Majd el Shams in the Golan amid reports that hundreds of infiltrators had got through the unrecognised "border" there and were still around. (Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan from Syria without international agreement). One man gave himself up to Israeli police after saying he had caught a bus to Tel Aviv, in the company of uniformed soldiers, and gone to visit his father's old house which the family had to leave in 1948.

Israeli officers were facing questions as to how they failed to anticipate the Palestinian mass action, or prevent the successful infiltration. "Israeli leaders believe that the simultaneous appearance of thousands of civilians marching towards three sensitive borders in different parts of the country suggested a co-ordinated campaign", reports Matthew Kalman in The Independent.

This brings to mind the observation attributed to Groucho Marx that "Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms".

The upsurge in mass struggle was heralded by the agreement between Hamas and Fatah, itself a response to popular demand particularly from younger Palestinians who are impatient to take their place in the "Arab Spring". The idea of an unarmed march to the borders was discussed and planned in publications and on Facebook. The May 15 anniversary of the Israeli state's declaration was an obvious date for timing the action. As is the prospect of even bigger action in September, when the Palestinians intend to make the long overdue proclamation of their own state and expect international recognition.

Kalman continues:

Acknowledging that Sunday's events were "not good", Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of Israel's armed forces, praised his troops for not inflicting higher casualties in what rapidly developed into an impossible situation.

Alex Fishman, a commentator at the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, said: "What we witnessed yesterday on the Syrian border was a failure." He warned of "more attempted mass marches into Israeli territory... Marches and flotillas to implement the right of return will gather more and more momentum."

"The state of Israel has a systemic problem," Mr Fishman said. "Except for deterrence, it has no means to prevent tens and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians – who succeed in getting organised and in realising the dream of return with their own feet – from breaking across its borders."

What both Palestinians and historically-minded Israelis know is that sixty-five years ago it was British forces that were the bad guys as they tried to prevent shiploads of Jews disembarking on the shores of Palestine in another "co-ordinated campaign". The Brits had law and the force of the British Empire behind them, but within a year they were on their way out of Palestine. The Israeli state is not going to go sailing away. But it will sooner or later be forced to make room for a Palestinian state and recognise the rights of the Palestinians. Prolonging the agony by refusing to recognise this only increases misery and bloodshed on both sides, even if it is the Palestinians who are suffering most of them.

Still Public Enemy

For now, the Israeli government with typical chutzpah intends to answer complaints filed at the UN with its own complaints against both Lebanon and Syria. It feels encouraged to adopt this stance because, unlike the British in the 1940s, it can still count for now on support from Washington.

" The White House on Monday accused Syria of inciting deadly border clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian demonstrators, saying Damascus was trying to distract attention from its own violent crackdown on protests. White House spokesman Jay Carney expressed regret for the loss of life in confrontations on Israel's frontiers with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on Sunday but said Israel "has the right to prevent unauthorized crossing at its borders."

"We urge maximum restraint on all sides," Carney told reporters on Air Force One as President Barack Obama flew to Tennessee. Israeli troops opened fire at three separate border locations to prevent crowds of demonstrators from crossing, killing at least 13 people.

Syrian media reports said Israeli gunfire killed two people after dozens of Palestinians infiltrated the Golan Heights from Syria, along a front line that has been largely tranquil for decadeshe White House put the onus on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the violence that broke out on the Israeli-Syrian border. Carney said the administration was "strongly opposed to the Syrian government's involvement in inciting yesterday's protests in the Golan Heights."

"Such behavior is unacceptable and does not serve as a distraction from the Syrian government's ongoing repression of demonstrators in its own country," he said. "It seems apparent to us that this is an effort to distract attention from the legitimate expressions of protest by the Syrian people, and from the harsh crackdown that the Syrian government has perpetrated against its own people," he added.

But with the upheavals taking place in the Arab world, expressed also in the Palestinian upsurge and pressure on leaders to show unity, America may have to decide before long whether it can really afford to keep indulging Israeli leaders' intransigance.

...With Private Army

MEANWHILE in another part of the Middle East, as Mark Mazzetti and Emily B.Hager have reported in the New York Times, a notorious American figure has reappeared

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand.

The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.

The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said. The training camp, located on a sprawling Emirati base called Zayed Military City, is hidden behind concrete walls laced with barbed wire. Photographs show rows of identical yellow temporary buildings, used for barracks and mess halls, and a motor pool, which houses Humvees and fuel trucks. The Colombians, along with South African and other foreign troops, are trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion, according to the former employees and American officials.

In outsourcing critical parts of their defense to mercenaries — the soldiers of choice for medieval kings, Italian Renaissance dukes and African dictators — the Emiratis have begun a new era in the boom in wartime contracting that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And by relying on a force largely created by Americans, they have introduced a volatile element in an already combustible region where the United States is widely viewed with suspicion.

The United Arab Emirates — an autocracy with the sheen of a progressive, modern state — are closely allied with the United States, and American officials indicated that the battalion program had some support in Washington.

“The Gulf countries, and the U.A.E. in particular, don’t have a lot of military experience. It would make sense if they looked outside their borders for help,” said one Obama administration official who knew of the operation. “They might want to show that they are not to be messed with.”

(It is not clear whether the US government wants to be officially associated with Blackwater's mercenaries. There are supposed to be restrictions on US companies training foreign nationals. Blackwater, now R2, has been paying fines for its activities in Jordan. But perhaps it is handy to have a US force for which the Obama administration does not feel obliged to answer to the UN or Congress).

For Mr. Prince, the foreign battalion is a bold attempt at reinvention. He is hoping to build an empire in the desert, far from the trial lawyers, Congressional investigators and Justice Department officials he is convinced worked in league to portray Blackwater as reckless. He sold the company last year, but in April, a federal appeals court reopened the case against four Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

To help fulfill his ambitions, Mr. Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, obtained another multimillion-dollar contract to protect a string of planned nuclear power plants and to provide cybersecurity. He hopes to earn billions more, the former employees said, by assembling additional battalions of Latin American troops for the Emiratis and opening a giant complex where his company can train troops for other governments.

Knowing that his ventures are magnets for controversy, Mr. Prince has masked his involvement with the mercenary battalion. His name is not included on contracts and most other corporate documents, and company insiders have at times tried to hide his identity by referring to him by the code name “Kingfish.” But three former employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements, and two people involved in security contracting described Mr. Prince’s central role.

The former employees said that in recruiting the Colombians and others from halfway around the world, Mr. Prince’s subordinates were following his strict rule: hire no Muslims. Muslim soldiers, Mr. Prince warned, could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.


Mr. Prince made the deal with Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The two men had known each other for several years, and it was the prince’s idea to build a foreign commando force for his country.

Savvy and pro-Western, the prince was educated at the Sandhurst military academy in Britain and formed close ties with American military officials. He is also one of the region’s staunchest hawks on Iran and is skeptical that his giant neighbor across the Strait of Hormuz will give up its nuclear program.

“He sees the logic of war dominating the region, and this thinking explains his near-obsessive efforts to build up his armed forces,” said a November 2009 cable from the American Embassy in Abu Dhabi that was obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

For Mr. Prince, a 41-year-old former member of the Navy Seals, the battalion was an opportunity to turn vision into reality. At Blackwater, which had collected billions of dollars in security contracts from the United States government, he had hoped to build an army for hire that could be deployed to crisis zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. He even had proposed that the Central Intelligence Agency use his company for special operations missions around the globe, but to no avail. In Abu Dhabi, which he praised in an Emirati newspaper interview last year for its “pro-business” climate, he got another chance.


People involved in the project and American officials said that the Emiratis were interested in deploying the battalion to respond to terrorist attacks and put down uprisings inside the country’s sprawling labor camps, which house the Pakistanis, Filipinos and other foreigners who make up the bulk of the country’s work force. The foreign military force was planned months before the so-called Arab Spring revolts that many experts believe are unlikely to spread to the U.A.E. Iran was a particular concern.

(my emphasis - Charlie Pottins)

An Eye on Iran

Although there was no expectation that the mercenary troops would be used for a stealth attack on Iran, Emirati officials talked of using them for a possible maritime and air assault to reclaim a chain of islands, mostly uninhabited, in the Persian Gulf that are the subject of a dispute between Iran and the U.A.E., the former employees said. Iran has sent military forces to at least one of the islands, Abu Musa, and Emirati officials have long been eager to retake the islands and tap their potential oil reserves.

The Emirates have a small military that includes army, air force and naval units as well as a small special operations contingent, which served in Afghanistan, but over all, their forces are considered inexperienced.

In recent years, the Emirati government has showered American defense companies with billions of dollars to help strengthen the country’s security. A company run by Richard A. Clarke, a former counterterrorism adviser during the Clinton and Bush administrations, has won several lucrative contracts to advise the U.A.E. on how to protect its infrastructure.

Some security consultants believe that Mr. Prince’s efforts to bolster the Emirates’ defenses against an Iranian threat might yield some benefits for the American government, which shares the U.A.E.’s concern about creeping Iranian influence in the region.

“As much as Erik Prince is a pariah in the United States, he may be just what the doctor ordered in the U.A.E.,” said an American security consultant with knowledge of R2’s work.

full report:

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Past Tragic, Present Tense but Left Unites for better Future in Abraham's city.


"HAPPY is the nation without history", it's been said, and if we apply the saying to cities, Hebron, the largest city in the occupied Palestinian West Bank has had plenty. Originally a Cana'anite city it is mentioned in the Bible as the place where Abraham settled with his family, and is said to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs, considered special to both Jews and Muslims. It is from this Abrahamic association that the city's Arabic name al-Khalil, the friend of God, was derived.

Apart from a period when they were expelled by the Crusaders, there was an almost continuous Jewish presence in Hebron since Biblical times, and their numbers were reinforced in the nineteenth century by religious Jews coming under rabbinical rather than Zionist leadership. Many rented homes from Muslims.

In 1929, when a wave of riots swept through Palestine, fueled as much by agrarian distress as religious agitation, Arab rioters, mainly from the surrounding countryside, ransacked Jewish homes and synagogues in Hebron, killing 67 Jews and wounding 60. Some 435 Jews survived, having been sheltered and helped by their Arab neighbours. People might have rebuilt their community, as some tried, but in April 1936, on the eve of the Palestinian Arab general strike and national revolt, the British authorities decided to move the Jews out of Hebron. One family stayed on, running a dairy, until the 1947 partition decision.

After the 1967 war brought Hebron under Israeli occupation,some of the most committed and bellicose Zionist settlers, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger and his wife Miriam, headed for Hebron and surrounding area. They were backed by Labour, partly because it wanted to keep the increasingly chauvinist National Religious Party in its government, partly from the fanaticism of some of its own leaders, with Ben Gurion claiming quite falsely that Hebron had always been a Jewish city.

In reply to those who evoked the 1929 massacre and its aftermath to claim Jews were merely "returning" legitimately, Haim HaNegbi,one of the founders of the left-wing Matzpen group, pointed out that he was a descendant of the old Hebron families. (His grandfather was a rabbi in pre-1929 Hebron). He would be happy to return peaceably to Hebron, he said, when his Palestinian Arab brothers could return just as peacefully to Jaffa.

Alas, voices like those of HaNegbi were drowned out by the clamour of the militant Zionist Right, and the settlers going to Hebron have had no intention of peaceful co-existence or respect for the rights or lives of Palestinian neighbours. On February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American-born physician and resident of Kiryat Arba, opened fire on Muslims at prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque, killing 29, before the survivors overcame and killed him. The Israeli government condemned the massacre, and banned the far-Right Kach party (founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane), but the Party is still going, and right-wing settlers venerate Golstein as a hero. Hebron's main shopping street, Shuhadeh, was closed by the Israeli military because of protests, and they have kept it blocked.

Israeli organization B'Tselem reports "grave violations" of Palestinian human rights in Hebron because of the "presence of the settlers within the city." It cites regular incidents of "almost daily physical violence and property damage by settlers in the city", curfews and restrictions of movement that are "among the harshest in the Occupied Territories", and violence by Israeli border policemen and the IDF against Palestinians. According to Human Rights Watch, Palestinian areas of Hebron are frequently subject to indiscriminate firing by the IDF, leading to many casualties.

There has been a growing movement of civil resistance in Hebron in the last few years, and some groups from with Israel have gone to the area to show solidarity against the occupation forces and settlers. But our big news from Hebron now has much wider significance. It comes via the Alternative Information Centre in Jerusalem.

Over 300 Palestinians, Israelis Meet in Historic Conference in Hebron

Over 300 Palestinians and Israelis met in Hebron on Saturday (7 May) in the first ever public conference between Israeli socio-political activists and the Palestinian political parties.

The conference, entitled A Joint Struggle for an End to the Israeli Occupation and Racism, was jointly conducted by the Palestinian Left in Hebron, the Alternative Information Center (AIC) and Tarabut-Hithabrut, a social political movement in Israel.

“This is a historic occasion and a milestone in Palestinian-Israeli relations,” notes Nassar Ibrahim, co-Director of the Alternative Information Center (AIC). “This is the first time in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the Palestinian political and social movements invite Israeli social movement activists to jointly conduct a public conference based on a clear political understanding,” Ibrahim adds. “This was not a conference of NGOs but of Palestinian and Israeli activists who wish to build a peace together that is forged from justice and shared values.”

“Hebron is a microcosm of Israeli colonialism and racism, so the decision to invite Israeli activists here is a most significant one,” said Fahmi Shahin, Coordinator of the Permanent Bureau of the National and Political Forces in the Hebron Governate.

Governor of the Hebron District, Kamal Hmeid (second from left) sits with Hebron Mayor Khaled Osaily (third from left) at the opening of the conference (photo courtesy of Yousef Katalo)

Kamal Hmeid, Governor of the Hebron District, welcomed conference participants, greeting the Israeli activists to Hebron and outlining Israeli colonial policies in the city that include settlements in the heart of Hebron, the Separation Wall, ongoing military presence, by-pass roads, checkpoints and closures. Governor Hmeid received strong applause when he noted the hope rendered by the recent Palestinian reconciliation agreement, and when he commended the steadfastness of all Hebron residents who withstand direct, daily attacks on their personal and national rights.

“We were excited and moved to create a joint space of discussion and action together with Palestinian activists from the national movement,” said Marcello Weksler of Tarabut-Hithabrut’s Executive Committee. “We are planning a joint evaluation meeting for next week, during which we will discuss next steps – this conference was the beginning and not the end.”

Israeli activists attending the conference are active in a number of social-political struggles within Israel, fighting for education, culture, work and labour rights, housing, Palestinian minority/national rights, feminism, environment, animal rights and economic justice, amongst others.

Tarabut-Hithabrut representative Johayna Saifi spoke at the opening of the conference (photo courtesy of Yousef Katalo)

“The international community and international solidarity movement should be promoting meetings such as this,” added Ahmad Jaradat from the AIC, a resident of the Hebron district and one of the main forces behind this conference. “Western attempts at normalization through the Oslo process are a proven failure. After so many wasted years of so-called peace talks, isn’t it time to promote a real, sustainable peace between Palestinians and Israelis?”

Conference participants issued a joint statement at the end of the day which emphasized the rights necessary for a just and sustainable peace, the importance of Palestinian unity, support for the Palestinian popular struggle and creation of a democratic Middle East through democratic and popular struggles, the necessity of the democratic and progressive forces within Israel and the importance of a joint Palestinian-Israeli struggle for justice.

The complete final statement from the conference may be see in English here:

See also:

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Criminology - study or participation in crime?

IF international guests want to understand what's happening on the West Bank they are welcome to join demonstrations like those Bil'in.

ACADEMICS invited to participate in an international criminology conference later this month are being warned that by going along to take part they will actually be complicit in a crime.

The warning comes from the Israeli peace bloc, Gush Shalom.

The conference scheduled on May 30 is being held in the Israeli settlement of Ariel, in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

In a letter to participants, Gush Shalom says "the conference itself is complicity in the violation of International Law".

Many Israeli academics and artistes, including leading theatre companies, have been defying government pressure to go to Ariel, saying that the establishment of a settlers' university there and attempts to hold cultural events are aimed at 'normalising' occupation, and securing their complicity.

The conference on May 30 is entitled "
Pink Crime - Women, Crime and Punishment".

Among the lecturers mentioned as due to speak at the conference, and to whom Gush Shalom sent its letters. are criminologists from universities and colleges within Israel as well as guest lecturers from Britain and the United States. The latter include Jean-Pierre Gauci, and Isla Masson of King's College, London., Breea C. Willingham, State University of New York and Dr. Stephen J. Tripodi, Florida State University

In the letter, signed by Gush Shalom spokesperson Adam Keller, and sent out on May 8, the participants at the conference are reminded that the conference is due to take place at a settlement established in Occupied Territory in flagrant violation of International Law, and which constitutes a major obstacle to achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Therefore, says Keller, the holding a conference in Ariel in itself constitutes complicy in the breach of International Law.

Keller stats that "Criminology is an academic discipline designed to scientifically and systematically investigate the effects of crime (crime by women in this specific case). There is great irony and an inherent contradiction between these aims of Criminology and the holding a criminologists' conference in circumstances where the conference itself became complicity in the commission of a crime."

Following is the letter in full.


I am writing to you because your name appears on the list of lecturers at a conference due on May 30 this year, entitled " Pink Crime" and dealing with the phenomenon of crimes committed by women. Definitely a serious issue, well deserving of being seriously discussed by the practitioners of criminology. I would like, however, to draw your attention to the fact that the conference will take place at the institute known as the "University Center of Samaria", located at the Israeli settlement of Ariel on the West Bank.

It is important to note that deliberations taking place at such a location, under the auspices of such an institution, are not – and cannot be – a "purely academic" event, free of political connotations. The settlement of Ariel is in an Occupied Territory under the rule of a military governor. It is not part of Israel - not according to Israeli law, since no government has ever annexed it, and certainly not under International Law. The creation and maintenance of the settlements, including Ariel, is a grave violation of International Law, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens to the Occupied Territory. This, in addition to the settlements being the main obstacle blocking Israel from reaching peace with its Palestinian neighbors.

Criminology is an academic discipline designed to systematically and scientifically investigate phenomena of crime (crime by women in this specific case.) There is a great irony and an irresolvable contradiction involved in the holding of a Criminology conference at a location and under circumstances which make the conference itself an accessory to crime.

The settlers in general, and those at Ariel in particular, make great efforts to provide for themselves a "respectable" and "legitimate" image. The creation of an academic institution in Ariel, and the inviting of lecturers such as yourself to speak at academic conferences, is a significant part of this effort.

Should you go through with lecturing at the Ariel conference, in spite of the above arguments, may I suggest that you devote a few words at the beginning of your lecture to the contradiction between the goals of the conference, designed to reduce the effects of crime in human society, and the severe violation of International Law constituted by the conference's location.

Sincerely Yours

Adam Keller

Gush Shalom

(The Israeli Peace Bloc)
PO Box 2542
Holon, Israel

Today I received a copy of this letter which Gush Shalom is sending to supporters and friends abroad:

Dear Friends:

As we let you know Gush Shalom has sent letters to Israeli and international criminologists due to take part in a May 30 conference at the West Bank settlement of Ariel, pointing out that participation in such a conference amounts to complicity in the violation of International Law (see link):
look here for the conference's program

We ask you to take part in this campaign. You can either re-send Gush Shalom's letter, with your endorsement, or compose a text of your own. You can look up the participants' web links in the ed of this mail.

When writing to Jean-Pierre Gauci it might be worthwhile to mention his being a board member and national coordinator for Malta of the European Network Against Racism, and with Breea C. Willingham - that she has extensively dealt with issues of ethnicity and race relations in the US, and with various issues dealing with the situation of Afro-Americans. This would seem incompatible with the two speaking at a settlement in an Occupied Territory.

It might also be worthwhile to mention the call for boycotting Ariel by Israeli lecturers and Israeli artists.,7340,L-4011006,00.html

Email addresses - international participants:

Jean-Pierre Gauci, King's College, London

<> or <>

Dr. Jean-Pierre Gauci is Malta’s representative in the European Integration Forum and a He is director of the People for Change Foundation where his work is mainly research, advocacy and capacity building on migration, integration, asylum and human trafficking.
Race relations race and ethnicity issues.

Web links:

Isla Masson, King's College, London


Web links

Breea C. Willingham, State University of New York

Dr. Stephen J. Tripodi, Florida State University

כתובות מייל - משתתפים ישראלים
Email addresses - Israeli participants

Prof. Sarah ben David <> פרופ' שרה בן דוד
Dr. Gila Chen <> ד"ר גילה חן
Dr. Keren Gueta <> ד"ר קרן גואטה
Dr. Gabi (Gabriel) Cavaglion <> ד"ר גבי קבליון
Gil Ronen <> גיל רונן
MK. Julia Shamalov- Berkovitz < > ח"כ יוליה שמאלוב ברקוביץ`
Dr. Yael Wilchek-Aviad <> ד"ר יעל וילצ'ק אביעד
Dr. Brenda Geiger <> ד"ר ברנדה גייגר
Dr. Tali Shimkin <> ד"ר טלי שימקין
Dr. Mally Shechory <> ד"ר מלי שחורי
Dr. Inna Levy <> or <> ד"ר אינה לוי
Adv. Avi Himi <> עו"ד אבי חימי
Dr. Sharon Aharony-Goldenberg <> ד"ר שרון אהרוני גולדנברג
Dr. Judith Abulafia <>
or <> ד"ר יהודית אבולעפיה

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