Saturday, August 16, 2014

From Gaza to Glenrothes

INHUMAN WEAPONS, PILOTLESS DRONE. This one in Brazilian colours, though as tested by Israel against Gaza.  

SOME of the suffering and steadfast resolve of the Palestinian people will be brought home to Glenrothes, in Fife, today, when supporters of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and allies march through the town to the Raytheon factory, which manufactures some of the electronic components for Israeli weapons systems that have brought death and destruction to Gaza.

I don't always agree with Scottish PSC (which is separate from the PSC in England) about tactics, timing or targets, but this time I think they are spot on in choosing to go after those who make their profits as merchants of death, helping to murder Palestinians.

The way was lit for such campaigning earlier this month when a bold group of protesters climbed on the roof of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) plant at  Lyn Lane, Shenstone, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire,   The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms manufacturer, and produces the engines for the unmanned drones used in surveillance and bombing of Palestinians. 

Only days before the protest one such drone had fired a missile at a school gate in Rafah, killing 10 people who had been queuing to buy sweets and biscuits from a vendor.

The Shenstone protestors, nine of them,  managed to close the plant for two days, assisted perhaps by someone having chained the factory gates shut, and police closing the lane outside before bringing them down from the roof.

I'm not too good at climbing on to roofs these days, in fact the last time I was asked to speak at a Palestine rally in Trafalgar Square I had to be helped to climb on to the platform. But taking a break in the Shropshire hills, I was pleased to see the Shenstone protest covered on West Midland TV, and the local MP obliged to make a statement. Recognising a friend taking part in the protest, I could have told the reporters that she is well qualified to speak about Gaza, having ridden with an ambulance crew there during the previous onslaught.

Hopefully the Shenstone Nine will get the chance to talk about things like that when they appear in court on Wednesday. Or better still the charges against them will be dropped. They are accused of Aggravated Trespass, which could bring cutodial sentences, but surely that would have been a more fitting description of the Israeli tanks rumbling into Gaza, with the UAV factory managers aiding and abetting?. There's to be a demonstration outside the court on Wednesday morning, to show solidarity with the protesters, and call for the charges to be dropped. I'm pleased to hear a branch of my  union is hoping to fill a coach from West Bromwich. The call for the demo says  Please Assemble from 9am at The Court House, Wolverhampton Road, Cannock, Staffordshire WS11 1AT. All Welcome.

People who turn to  initiatives like the Shenstone protest sometimes point to their success in gaining and focussing attention, rattling authority, compared to the same old "marches from A-B" (or B-A?) which can seem to get us nowhere. Those who stick to the more conventional demonstrations like those recently over Gaza can point to the huge numbers involved, of all ages, and many of them taking their first steps into political action. I think both types of demonstration are useful and complementary.

One of the advantages of a boycott, too, is that anyone can take part, and there is nothing those in power can do about it.  But what we really need, to take on governments and interfere with the trade in death, is industrial action. It was done in the past, perhaps so long ago people have forgotten , and younger people have never heard of it. Nowadays, besides requiring rebuilt union strength, we'll probably be told it is illegal. But unjust laws were made to be broken, especially when they protect injustice.

The Spring 2014 issue of Jewish Socialist magazine went to press well before the latest Gaza war, but it contains a prescient article by Colin Green looking at the relationship between Western arms manufacturers and their governments and the Israeli state and its wars. Listing some of the munitions and weaponry which the Israel Defence(sic) Forces have tried in Gaza - white phosphorus, depleted uranium, unmanned drones, flechette shells -which scatter deadly arrows - or the Keshet rapid-fire automated mortar, Colin says that besides asserting Western hegemony over Middle East peoples and resources, Israel's wars offer arms companies the chance to promote their wares as "combat-tested".
(Asymmetric Warfare - Is Gaza a Testing Ground?,  JS67, Spring 2014) 

Home from my holiday, I just had time to help draft a letter to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, supporting its stand against Israeli embassy sponsorship of a Jewish film festival (the theatre offered to provide alternative funding) and defending it against unjust accusations of "antisemitism", before I was off again. This time carrying a bundle of Jewish Socialist with me, to Edinburgh where, in the middle of a busy festival fringe where he is performing his own shtik, comic and Jewish Socialists' Group member Ivor Dembina compered a 'Free Gaza' benefit.

Ably assisted by fellow artists Josie Long, Andy Zaltzman,Daniel Kitson and Chris Coltrane, Ivor brought some warmth and humanity to a wet and windy Edinburgh afternoon, as well as delighting a packed 300-strong audience at the Gilded Balloon with humour. They in turn delighted us with their generosity, Besides enjoying the show I was there to help with a bucket collection, and though I did not stay for the count, I can testify that thousands of pounds were raised, mainly for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), though as we explained -to applause from the audience - we also intend sending something to Gush Shalom in Israel, in appreciation of their principled stand opposed to the war on Gaza, and their courage in defying right-wing violence.

Laughter might not stand much chance against slaughter, but we too have our secret weapons.    .

IVOR on stage in Edinburgh.

PS   - 
Just thought I'd mention that this was not the only show for Gaza and MAP held in Edinburgh last week. Under Arts News, the Herald reported on August 12:

Stars support concert for Gaza medical aid fund
A LINE-UP of comedians, musicians and Fringe acts are holding a show to raise money for medical aid for Gaza tonight.
The show at the Assembly Rooms venue includes Elaine C Smith - who is compering the event - Frankie Boyle, Shappi Khorsandi, Shooglenifty, The Poozies, The Bevvy Sisters, Dean Owens, Playtime and Black Diamond Express
This one-off concert is taking place to raise money in aid of Medical Aid For Palestinians (MAP).
The benefit night has been put together by Edinburgh-based collective Artists For Gaza.

I hope this too was a success. Behind the music, irreverence and jokes, some artists care more seriously for humanity than our country's political leaders do.

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