Monday, November 28, 2005

Don't Ask the Rabbi!

"Private Eye" once carried a little story saying ex-Liverpool council leader Derek Hatton, of Militant Tendency fame, had managed to place a niece and/nephew in a private fee-paying school, to wit the King David school in Liverpool.
Where do they get these stories? The tales people tell sometimes tell you more about the teller than the person they are supposed to be about. I can imagine someone telling this one while stroking the side of their nose and nudge-nudge,wink-wink, "King David, you know what I mean..."

The then head of Liverpool's biggest Jewish school, Clive Lawton, wrote to the "Eye" pointing out that his school was neither private not fee-paying, but in the state sector. He said that he had been unable to find any little Hattons in the school's registers, but added that of course they would be as welcome as any other kids if their family wished to send them there.

I can't see Rabbi Chaim Simons being happy with that.

Rabbi Simons hails from Edgware,and nowadays lives in Kiryat Arba, the settlement overshadowing Hebron, established by Gush Emunim (religious Zionists) with the help of the Israeli army. From there he shares his views with us whether Baruch Goldstein massacred innocent people in their mosque, and how Arabs should be "transferred" from Palestine. But back in the 1970s Rabbi Simons was employed to impart his wisdom to pupils at Liverpool's King David, and he recounts his exploits as: .

"My Fight for Yiddishkeit:
Reminiscences of a Director of Jewish Studies at the King David High School, Liverpool, in the 1970s"

To his horor, the Rabbi discovered that King David was accepting children of "mixed marriages", or whose mothers had only been converted to Judaism in Reform or Liberal synagogues, or who could not prove their Jewishness to his Orthodox satisfaction. What was worse, the King David's headmaster insisted that such children could be taught "Jewish Studies" and should not even be segregated at the back of the class, as someone proposed. (and there we were thinking the "ghetto benches" were a reprehensible feature of pre-war Poland).

Let Rabbi Simons explain:
"There were two major problems in the school’s accepting these pupils as Jews. The more serious was that other people, including pupils of the school, would think they were Jews. This could even lead to intermarriage. Only, when a few weeks before the intended marriage, they applied to the Chief Rabbi’s Office for a marriage license, would they discover that their intended partner was in fact non-Jewish. At that stage it would require great strength of character to break off the relationship. In fact, whilst I was at the school, a potential case like this arose. One boy had a girl-friend who was registered in the school as Jewish but in fact was non-Jewish. I called this boy into my study and told him that this girl was non-Jewish.
The second problem is whether it is permissible to teach non-Jews Torah. There is much Religious literature on this question. Many authorities allow the teaching of Bible to non-Jews but forbid teaching the Oral Law. However, even teaching non-Jews the Oral Law is permitted on an occasional basis and is also permitted if it could be dangerous if one did not teach them.
However, these problems should not need to arise in a Jewish School. They should only accept pupils who are Jewish according to Halachah. In a school which needs to take in non-Jewish pupils to make up the numbers required by the Local Education Authority, they should only take non-Jews who will not claim they are Jewish. With such pupils there can be no confusion"

Rabbi Simons knew his duty. He not only went over the Head to report to the rabbinical authorities, and seek backing, and to the Zionist Federation Educational Trust (ZFET; note the way a political organisation has acquired authority in schools).

The rabbi interrogated schoolchildren about their parents, and what synagogue their father attended, he examined Jewish marriage certificates (ketuvot), in one case having to ask for a document to be translated from Arabic by a Liverpool University scholar (just because Rabbi Simons lives in a settlement surrounded by Arabs doesn't mean he must learn their language - he seeks their "transfer" elsewhere, remember)

Where he had to teach a class containing those he did not consider Jews, he contrived to ignore such students, refused them Bar Mitzvah tuition, refused to assist one lad with his tefilim (worn by males when saying the morning prayer) and made sure the others in the class knew why their fellows were singled out. That was not all.

"In the top streams in each year, the pupils learned more Oral Law, and even before the Beth Din ruling, I would "arrange it" that none of these pupils could be in a top stream. Usually this could easily be done, since such pupils were generally uninterested in Jewish Studies. Occasionally they were interested in Jewish Studies but they were still not put in a top stream. On no occasion did a pupil or even his parents make a fuss about this. There was one occasion when the Headmaster asked me why one of these pupils was in the top stream for Modern Hebrew but in a lower stream for Jewish Studies. I explained that this pupil was good at languages but had no interest in Religious Knowledge!
A problem did in fact arise in putting such a pupil in a lower stream, whereas had he been Jewish would have been in the top stream. When it came to the examinations at the end of the year, he might well come top in his class. It was traditional that the top pupil would be presented with a prize at the annual speech day. I felt it would be very wrong for such a pupil to receive a prize for Jewish Studies. I therefore did some "mark manipulation." The Jewish pupil who had the highest mark would have his marks raised, whereas this non-Jewish pupil would have his mark lowered. In this way, a Jewish pupil would have the highest mark in his stream and would thus receive the prize. I felt this manipulation to be perfectly legitimate, since this non-Jewish pupil was not entitled to be in any Jewish Studies class. If he had been awarded the prize, he would have deprived a Jewish pupil from receiving it.

Such courage! Such ingenuity! Had the good rabbi been a non-Jewish teacher applying his methods to, say, Jews or other minorities he would surely have been promoted and decorated for his fight - in South Africa or Nazi Germany say. The head who opposed him would have been sacked and probably incarcerated somewhere. But though Israel may have its racialism, against Palestinians and some Jewish communities, it is far too liberal and secular for a man like Rabbi Chaim Simons. Still, while trying to turn Israeli Occupation and settlement of "Judea and Samaria" into settler domnation over Israel, as well as Palestine, such stalwarts can practice in some British schools.

People may say that nasty a piece of work as this Rabbi may be, he is just one man, and no more typical than say, the racists and antisemites who occasionally crop up teaching in our schools. We remember Ray Honeyford, the Bradford head who expressed his views on racial superiority in right-wing publications, and was eventually removed after a big campaign, in which my late comrade Reuben Goldberg, then a local Labour councillor, took part along with Asian youth.

Let me say that looking back, though I never attended a Jewish school, but went to ordinary state schools and cheder (pre-Barmitzvah claases), two of my favourite teachers were Rabbis, who so far as I was aware, taught fairly and well. I have also known two young rabbis who were good members of the Jewish Socialists' Group, though they were not Orthodox, and whether Rabbi Simons would have accepted them as Rabbis, or even Jews, I very much doubt. Both had to return to the United States, anyway. I know one of them had tried to get suitable employment in this country, and would have been a good teacher. But though we hear about a shortage of such qualified people, there were suddenly no openings when my rabbi friend applied. Could that be anything to do with his political views or the company he chose?

So was, or is, Rabbi Chaim Simons unique, or could he claim backing from those in authority in the schools? "What was the situation at other Jewish schools? I asked several of the Jewish schools in England about their policy in this matter. The JFS in London wrote in their prospectus that the school was open to anyone 'recognised as Jewish by the London Board of Jewish Religious Education.' This London Board (which administers the school together with ZFET) is part of the United Synagogue, whose religious head is the Chief Rabbi. Thus the JFS only takes in pupils Halachically Jewish. The Head of Jewish Studies there told me that they make a check on the Jewishness of each pupil that applies. The Headmaster of the Avigdor Primary School in London asks to see the Ketuvah of any parents he doesn’t know personally. In doubtful cases he asks the Rabbi of the school for his ruling. When I inquired what is meant by doubtful cases, I was told people coming from abroad".

Here's an item from the "Totally Jewish" website:

Sagal's Status Not Recognised
by Justin Cohen - Friday 8th of July 2005
The Chief Rabbi this week ruled he could not recognise the mother at the centre of the controversial JFS conversion case as Jewish.
Helen Sagal was told of the decision during a 90-minute meeting with Sir Jonathan Sacks on Tuesday, three months after she appealed to him over concerns raised by the London Beth Din over the legitimacy of her Israeli conversion, 15 years ago.

In a statement, the Chief Rabbi stated Mrs Sagal had been unable to provide evidence that when she went through the process in 1990 she "maintained even the most basic observance of Jewish law essential to the validity of a conversion." The ruling, which means Mrs Sagal’s son Guy will not be able to attend JFS this September, follows an earlier meeting between her, Sir Jonathan and members of the Beth Din last month. A spokesman for Sir Jonathan’s office said: "The focus of the Chief Rabbi and Beth Din was the lady’s state of mind, her level of acceptance and understanding of mitzvot at time of the conversion."

And to bring the story up to date:
From the Hendon and Finchley Times, November 16.

Convert's daughter turned away

A Finchley schoolgirl has been refused entry to a Jewish school because the Chief Rabbi does not recognise her mother who is a senior teacher at the school as being Jewish.The girl's parents, David and Kate Lightman, of Grosvenor Road, were married in 1988 after Mrs Lightman spent two years in Israel converting to Judaism, yet the United Synagogue does not recognise her conversion as sincere.In their eyes, her 11-year-old daughter is not Jewish, and therefore cannot attend Jews' Free School (JFS) in Kenton. Mr Lightman said: "We are being persecuted for no reason. We are just a family trying to get on with our lives."The London Beth Din (LBD), the Chief Rabbi's religious court, has rejected Mrs Lightman's conversion and the family's appeals against the decision. Judaism expert Professor Geoffrey Alderman, who attended a meeting with the Lightmans and the LBD, said: "The Lightman case is extraordinary. The Chief Rabbi has intepreted the situation perversely. The Lightmans were married by an orthodox rabbi in New York and Mrs Lightman's conversion is recognised by the Chief Rabbi of Israel."JFS have said they will accept the Lightmans' daughter, but only if Mrs Lightman's conversion is recognised. Mrs Lightman holds the senior teaching position of Head of English at the school, and has in the past taught a number of religious education classes.Mr Lightman said: "They JFS have behaved in an exemplary manner. Kate has had a lot of support at work."A spokesman for the London Beth Din (LBD) said Mr and Mrs Lightman were told of the decision in 1991, but nothing more was heard from them until this year, after appeals for their daughter's admission to Jewish schools had been heard. "No relevant new facts were brought to the attention of the Beth Din, who have reiterated that they are not able to recognise Mrs Lightman's conversion," he said.

Should this be of political concern? Well, we might well want to look critically at the government's policy on "faith schools" (an issue on which some people on the Left have softened considerably as they court religious allies), and ask whether discriminatory practices and indoctrination should be tolerated in schools recognised and subsidised by the state. Not to mention the way this government is happily shifting education from local authorities to private interests that, regardless of their prejudices, can do, and teach, as they please.

As for parents who, without necessarily being all that religious, think faith schools are good for their kids, or would simply like them to learn something of their own tradition, which is fair enough, perhaps they should ask whether Jewish schools which employ the likes of Rabbi Simons and his rules are the way? According to my Bible, a woman called Ruth, a Moabite, once said "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God" (or "my G-d" if you prefer), marrying a man call Boaz. Now according to Halacha, Jewish religious custom, descent is traced from the Mother's side. And though the Book of Ruth makes no mention of anyone checking Ruth's ketuba, or what school her son Obed went to, it goes on to say he was father to Jesse, father of David - that is who became King David, and has given his name to schools, though he might not have been accepted in the JFS.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Our Mark

When I was a kid we used to visit relatives in Leeds, and in particular a grand old lady called Auntie Ada. She was my mother's aunt, a widow living on her own in Mexborough Avenue. Auntie Ada used to sit in her living room, facing the broad back alley, greeting passing neighbours and visitors. The front seemed rarely used, unless someone came by car.

One day, leaving the grown-ups to their conversation I wandered into the front room. There were some photographs framed on the wall. Two men in military uniform, one of them my mother's cousin Gerry. The other soldier reappeared in another photograph, as a smiling young student in gown and mortar board collecting a rolled up scroll - his graduation from medical school.

There was a toy dinky aircraft on the mantlepiece, I think it was a twin-tailed Lockheed in camouflage. There was even a skeleton, hanging on a stand! After playing with the plane and looking at the skeleton, I turned to the bookcase. I was browsing through a medical book, with some curious pictures, when my Mum came in and said I should not be in there. But Auntie Ada said "It's alright Gertie, he's not doing any harm". So I obtained the privilege of going into this room sometimes and looking at the books and photographs.

I may even have got to take home the aeroplane. Along with a curiosity about this man we never met, my mother's cousin Mark whose books and study room were left intact, and who had been both a doctor and a soldier.

Captain Mark Gordon Braham, son of Peter and Ada, probably the first of any of our relations to go through higher education, and obtain a qualification, certainly the only one to be commissioned as an officer, served in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was captured by the Japanese at Singapore. He never came back.

According to the story I heard, a man who had been incarcerated with Mark in a Japanese POW camp came and visited Auntie Ada after the war. He told her how Mark had been trying to treat fellow POWs in the camp, but could not get the Japanese captors to give him medical supplies. So he organised a team to steal items from the Japanese own stores. They were caught, and Mark was executed.

It was an impressive story, about our family hero, and for years I would proudly retell it whenever given a chance. I remember when articles and books like Russel Braddon's appeared, describing the awful treatment and conditions endured by prisoners of the Japanese. The picture was later softened and prettified somewhat to suit commercial and diplomatic relations, as when the surviving prisoners became an embarassment as the Japanese Emperor was welcomed at Buckingham Palace.

There's also the cultural relativist excuse, that Japanese forces mistreated their prisoners because their code despised those who surrendered. This seems to have come along with admiration for Japanese industrial success. But bushido, the Japanese warrior code is as much a modern invention as Japanese workers' supposed lifetime commitment, shushin koyo, to paternal employers. Both were adopted to suit the zaibitsu, big capitalist corporations. Anyway the "cultural" excuse could presumably be made for Southern white racists (who also created their feudal myth in plantation days), and Nazi antisemites, and probably has. But in every national culture or tradition there are differant, opposed traditions, and we have to judge and choose.

A few years ago, coming upon Mark Braham's name in a book of Commonwealth war dead, listed as having died at sea, I thought it must be a mistake. But seeing that former prisoners of war had an organisation, I wrote asking if they had any information. It was thus I learned that Mark had been captured by the Japanese, and that apparently he was killed at sea - by the Americans. He died with other prisoners of war on board the Hofuku Maru, a Japanese ship which was taking the prisoners away to work as slave labour, when it put into Manila harbour for repairs, and was among several such ships bombed and sunk by US planes, on orders from General Douglas McArthur.

To be fair, the Japanese prison ships were unmarked. These were the "Hell Ships", old freighters into which were forced as many prisoners as could be crammed, in tropical heat. Conditions and sickness must have been horrendous.There were 1,289 men crammed on to the Hofuku Maru when it was hit, on 21 September 1944, and 1,047 were killed. Perhaps the man who came to visit Auntie Ada was being kinder telling her his version.

So now, I've no longer got the tale to tell of Mark's heroic death. But I have had the satisfaction of knowing he will be remembered, thanks to a man called Ron Taylor who has created an online roll of honour at .

It is quite beautifully presented and well-researched, and from it I learned that Captain Mark Gordon Braham of 1st Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, son of Peter and Ada Braham and husband of Sonia, was killed aged 26 when the Hofuku Maru was sunk by planes from a US aircraft carrier.

I have written to Ron Taylor to thank him for his work, but also to express one quibble. Above each name in this roll of honour is a large Christian cross, adorned with a red poppy. But Mark Gordon Braham was Jewish, as I'm sure were some of the others, such as Alexander Szarkow from Cheetham, serving with the Manchester Regiment, or Abraham Roumania from Stepney, who was with the Cambridgeshires. Family members would have been gratified that their loved ones were honoured, but less comfortable about their seeming posthumous conversions.

Ron Taylor has reassured me that he did not intend to claim the men, or cause offence. The cross he used is the "Changi Cross", representing one crafted from brass by Staff Seargeant Harry Stogden, of REME, for the chapel he and fellow prisoners set up in Changi prison. This cross was later taken north by a padre with the men sent to work on the "Railway of Death" in Thailand. So its use here can be said to represent not aggressive crusading Christianity, but the spirit of dogged resistance and solidarity with which the prisoners strove to maintain their humanity.

Abashed by my own ignorance, I have accepted Ron's explanation. Unable to come up with an alternative graphic, and considering that separating the men on that roll out by assumed religion might be tricky as well as unseemly, I have suggested that a note would suffice, saying that the men came from various backgrounds, and use of the cross should not be taken as indicating anything about their affiliations.


So why, since I'm not religious at all, should I worry whether some relative I never met is remembered with a Christian cross? I don't know whether Mark Braham would have cared, and even if Auntie Ada might, she has not lived to see it.

Well, for one thing because there are still ignorant or malicious people around (though I'm satisfied Ron Taylor is neither), who like to say that Jews never fought in the war, and only got others to do their fighting. For another, many otherwise well-intentioned people in Britain seem to think they are doing minorities a favour by pretending we don't exist, or taking it for granted we're all Christians.

We've just seen Remembrance Sunday, and there have been several TV programmes commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Second World War. A wide number of people, quite unconsciously, make stereotype assumptions about who the British soldier, sailor or aircrew was. Times of Remembrance can be times of forgetting.

I was reminded of this by reading John Tyrrell's weblog at He went to a ceremony in Birmingham honouring the Sikh contribution to Britain's war effort, and was pleased to meet young Sikh drummers.

John retells by contrast how a party of Afro-Caribbean youth experienced the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. "During the proceedings the M.C. asked who was there from Australia. There was a huge response of shouting and cheering. Who's from Canada? New Zealand? South Africa? They waited to hear who was from the Caribbean. It didn't happen so they cheered themselves. Neither was India mentioned".

(This reminds me of an incident concerned with peacetime efforts in France, which is topical in the light of recent burning suburbs. After the big oil spillage which spoiled France's north west coasts, a large organised party of youth from the poor Paris banlieus went out to help the clear-up efforts. People in the coastal resorts and villages were very pleased by these young volunteers and said they deserved a civic reception. What met the mainly black and Arab youth when they returned off the train to Paris was a solid line of well-armed riot police, "just in case" they forgot their place, presumably.)

John draws attention to an incident in Canada on Remembrance Day in 1993 which "illustrates clearly how discrimination overrides any wish to honour service". Five elderly Sikhs who had been decorated for service in Allied armed forces were invited to join Royal Canadian Legion veterans on their Rembrance Day parade, in Newton, British Columbia. When the parade reached the Legion Hall to hear speeches from dignitaries, the five Sikhs were refused entry, on the grounds that they wore turbans. They were told that wearing any kind of headgear was "disrespectful" to the war dead.

It apparently never occurred to the officious persons responsible that asking a Sikh to remove his turban was disrespectful to his religion and to all the Sikhs who had been permited to wear their turbans when serving and going to their deaths for the British Empire.

Reflecting on the way people in authority deny institutional racism and put the onus on minorities to become invisible and "integrate", John Tyrrell thought of how many people from different countries and backgrounds had served this country, like the Muslim woman Noor Inyat Khan who went to France as a wireless operator, like Odette, and was murdered by the Gestapo.

John's story has a happy ending. As he came down the town hall steps, the dhol players continued their drumming. " I spoke to the piper who had been playing upstairs saying stupidly 'you've got opposition'. Next I knew bagpiper and dhol players had got together. The combination was convincing and highly effective. My supposition of cultures in conflict was rudely banished into oblivion. Here was two way traffic indeed!"


Sunday, November 20, 2005

A fine old Bundist militant

MAJER BOGDANSKI, above, speaking at a Warsaw ghetto revolt commemoration meeting held by the Jewish Socialists' Group;
and below, seated left of chair at a JSG conference in 2004.
Unfortunately Majer was taken ill during this conference, and it was the last one he managed to attend.

COMRADES and friends of a fine old Bundist militant from Poland will pay tribute to him at a meeting in London on Sunday, November 27.
Majer (pronounced Mayer) Bogdanski, tailor, singer and lifelong socialist, died at the beginning of September, aged 93 . Majer was born near Lodz, in Poland, the oldest of five children. His dad was a cabinet maker. Having to leave school young due to circumstances, Majer never lost his appetite for culture and learning.

Joining the youth movement of the Jewish socialist Bund, Majer entered a life of struggle. Called up to the Polish army, he was captured by the Russians when they invaded eastern Poland during the Nazi-Soviet pact, and taken to an Arctic labour camp where they told him "you'll die like a rat". But after the Soviet Union was invaded, Poles like Majer were freed to join General Anders' Polish army. Arguing with those influenced by Zionism who thought they should try and get away to Palestine, Majer served with distinction in Italy, taking part in the fierce fighting around Monte Cassino alongside British forces.His wife Esther, also a Bundist, and other family members, perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Majer settled in the East End of London, working as a tailor, and joining the Labour Party. He also became a founder of the Friends of Yiddish, keeping alive the language of the Jewish workers' movement and ghetto fighters. He wrote poems and stories, and having taken singing lessons, as well as playing the violin, in later life he recorded both Yiddish and Polish songs.

By then Majer had also become a member of the Jewish Socialists' Group, providing the younger generations of activists with a living link to the pre-war culture and labour movement of Eastern Europe. You could count on Majer to attend conferences; and to tell you if he thought you were wrong.

Majer had a genial sense of humour, but he countered any frivolity on serious issues. He had been there, seen where things lead, and though you might not always agree with him you could not dismiss where he was coming from. He did not go on about his experiences, but you knew. Despite, or perhaps because of his strong background and life history, he had time for all sorts of people and age-groups.

A few things I remember:
Majer's surprisingly strong, cantorial voice from such a small, sparse frame, rendering the Internationale in Yiddish at a May Day meeting in Toynbee Hall;
Meeting Majer near Victoria one evening with his violin case. He was off to Scotland to play some music for a friend who was ill. He had not been so well himself but he laughed when I asked how he was.
Majer in hospital towards the end, seriously ill and tired, short of breath,but discussing Tolstoy, Dosteyevsky and Shakespeare with some young visitors.

At Majer's funeral in Essex, there were Jews of all shades of religious adherance, from Orthodox Federation synagogue to atheists like myself, and non-Jews of all skin colours. We won't see his like again, and must hope we won't have to go through anything like he experienced. But as an inspiration and example he lives on.
This was takeh a mensch.

With songs, refreshments, time for people to reminisce, and a
short film about the Workers' Bund in which Majer appears.
Organised by the Jewish Socialists' Group.

(London Friends of Yiddish are also holding an event to commemorate Majer, it's in Toynbee Hall, near Aldgate East, on Sunday December 11).

BTW, the Jewish Socialists' Group website has sprung back to life at:
Mazel Tov to Julia, Cliff and Simon!


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Ninety Years On, still with us in song

NINETY years ago, Joe Hill - an immigrant, working-class organiser, and songwriter whose songs have gone round the world - was killed by firing squad in the State of Utah, after what most people regarded as a frame-up trial.
He was born Joel Hägglund on Oct. 7, 1879, to a devout Lutheran family in Gävle, Sweden. His father, Olaf, worked on the railways Both his parents enjoyed music and often led the family in song. As a young man, Hill composed songs about members of his family, attended concerts at the workers' association hall in Gävle and played piano in a local café.
In 1887, Joel's father died from an injury at work, and the kids had to quit school to support themselves. Nine-year old Joel worked in a rope factory and later as a fireman on a steam-powered crane. Stricken with skin and joint tuberculosis in 1900, he moved to Stockholm in search of a cure and worked odd jobs while receiving radiation treatment and enduring a series of disfiguring operations on his face and neck. Two years later, his mother Margareta Katarina Hägglund, died after also undergoing a series of operations to cure a persistent back ailment.
With her death, the six surviving children sold the family home and set out on their own. Four of them settled elsewhere in Sweden, but the future Joe Hill and his younger brother, Paul, booked passage to the United States in 1902. He worked at odd jobs in New York before striking out for Chicago, where he worked in a machine shop, got fired and was blacklisted for trying to organize a union. He went to Cleveland, and was in San Francisco during the Great Earthquake of April 1906.
He was working on the docks in San Pedro in 1910 when he joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and became secretary for the San Pedro local. He also began writing songs like "The Preacher and the Slave" and "Casey Jones—A Union Scab." These appeared in the IWW's "Little Red Song Book". Joe Hill had a song for every working man or woman.
In 1911, Joe was in Tijuana, Mexico, part of an army of several hundred wanderin hoboes and radicals who sought to overthrow the Mexican dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, seize Baja California, emancipate the working class and declare industrial freedom. They held out six months before, divided and weakened, the last 100 rebels were driven back across the border by the Mexican army.
In 1912, he was active in a "Free Speech" coalition in San Diego resisting a police decision to close the downtown area to street meetings. He also turned up to support railway construction workers on strike in Brritish Columbia, writing more songs, before returning to San Pedro to assist a strike of Italian dockworkers.
The San Pedro dockers' strike brought Joe's first recorded trouble with the police. Arrested in June 1913 he was held for 30 days on a vagrancy charge. He said he had been "a little too active to suit the chief of the burg".
On Jan. 10, 1914, Joe showed up at a Salt Lake City doctor's at 11:30 p.m. asking to be treated for a gunshot wound. He said an angry husband had accused him of insulting his wife. But earlier that evening, in another part of town, a grocer and his son had been killed. One of the assailants was wounded in the chest by the younger victim before he died. Joe's injury therefore tied him to the incident. The uncertain testimony of two eyewitnesses and the lack of any corroboration of Joe's alibi convinced a local jury of his guilt, though neither witness was able to identify him conclusively and the gun used in the murders was never found.
The campaign to exonerate and save Joe Hill drew in prominent trade unionists and was supported by millions of people around the world. Even President Wilson appealed. But powerful copper mining interests were determined to stop union organising in the state of Utah. The Utah Supreme Court, refused to overturn the verdict and the Utah Board of Pardons refused to commute Joe Hill's death sentence.
In a last letter to former miners' union president and famous IWW leade Big Bill Haywood, Joe Hill wrote:

"Goodbye Bill:
I die like a true rebel. Don't waste any time mourning, organize!

It is a hundred miles from here to Wyoming. Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried?
I don't want to be found dead in Utah."

It seems Joe Hill did die like true rebel. A member of the firing squad testified that Joe himself had shouted the order to "Fire!"

But Joe Hill's body didn't lie mouldering in the grave. It was sent to Chicago where it was cremated. Joe had written a poem asking that his ashes be scattered around the world, that flowers might blossom. They were purportedly sent to every IWW local. In 1988 it was discovered that one envelope had been seized by the US Postal Service in 1917 because of its "subversive potential." The envelope, with a photo affixed captioned: "Joe Hill murdered by the capitalist class, Nov. 19, 1915," as well as its contents, was deposited at the National Archives. After some negotiations, the last of Hill's ashes was turned over to the I. W. W. in 1988.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

The Ballad of Joe Hill

On November 19, 1915, as working men were being sent to slaughter each other for rival imperial powers, working class hero and songwriter Joe Hill was executed by firing squad in the state of Utah.

In 1925, Alfred Hayes wrote a poem about Joe Hill entitled "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night", but sometimes just called "Joe Hill". Hayes's lyrics were turned into a song in 1936 by Earl Robinson.
It has been sung by Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger, and by the Irish singer Luke Kelly. Probably the best known version today was sung and recorded by Joan Baez in 1969, and featured in the film by Joe's fellow-Swede Bo Widerborg in 1971. Bob Dylan has said that Joe Hill's story helped inspire him to write his own songs.

But the lyrics as sung have sometimes varied, as the ballad was passed down over the years, sung at benefit concerts, and meetings, around campfires or in pubs.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.
"In Salt Lake, Joe," says I to him,
him standing by my bed,
"They framed you on a murder charge,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead."

"The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
they shot you Joe" says I.
"Takes more than guns to kill a man"
Says Joe "I didn't die"
Says Joe "I didn't die"

And standing there as big as life
and smiling with his eyes.
Says Joe "What they can never kill
went on to organize,
went on to organize"

From San Diego up to Maine,
in every mine and mill,
where workers fight,
to defend their rights,
That's where you find Joe Hill,
it's there you find Joe Hill!

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.


And now, below, a poem that seems as relevant today as in 1915. On a personal note, my great-grandfather as a boy was an unwilling conscript for the Czar, and my Dad was driven by poverty and unemployment as a lad to become a soldier for the British Raj. So, should I ever be a soldier....

Should I Ever Be a Soldier
By Joe Hill


We're spending billions every year
For guns and ammunition.
"Our Army" and "our Navy" dear,
To keep in good condition;
While millions live in misery
And millions died before us,
Don't sing "My Country 'tis of thee,"
But sing this little chorus.

Should I ever be a soldier,
'Neath the Red Flag I would fight;
Should the gun I ever shoulder,
It's to crush the tyrant's might.
Join the army of the toilers,
Men and women fall in line,
Wage slave of the world! Arouse!
Do your duty for the cause,
For Land and Liberty.

And many a maiden, pure and fair,
Her love and pride must offer
On Mammon's altar in despair,
To fill the master's coffer.
The gold that pays the mighty fleet,
From tender youth he squeezes,
While brawny men must walk the street
And face the wintry breezes.

Why do they mount their gatling gun
A thousand miles from ocean,
Where hostile fleet could never run
-- Ain't that a funny notion?
If you don't know the reason why,
Just strike for better wages,
And then, my friends -- if you don't die
-- You'll sing this song for ages.

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Guantanamera and Gate Gourmet: Going for a Song?

PAULINE BRADLEY(left) at Robert Tressal
("Ragged Trousered Philanthropists")
event in Hastings

Capitalism takes what we produce, spoils or diminishes it, and sells it back to us, if we can afford the price. Not just cars and houses, but our dreams, our culture and, once it has disposed of them, our heroes (look at all those Che tee shirts).

North London singer-songwriter and trade unionist Pauline Bradley has come upon a particularly galling little injustice. Pauline writes:

"Have you seen that stupid advert for Burger King where the (quiet) voice sings '£1.99, they're only £1.99' to the tune of GUANTANAMERA? I expect you know the history of that song, and that torture and imprisonment now happens "Where the Palm Trees grow" in Jose Marti's beautiful part of Cuba.

"The song is copyrighted. I’ll read you what a songbook says
'Guantanamera, Words by Jose Marti, Music Adaptation by Hector Angulo and Pete Seeger, copywright 1963 and 1965 by Full River Music Incorporated, New York, USA. All rights for the British Commonwealth of nations excluding Canada and Australasia and the Republic of Eire controlled by Harvey Music Ltd, In Form Place, London, W8. All rights reserved, International Copyright Secured.'

"I know this because I wanted to record my communist spirited version but when I saw the copyright I gave up! Re my music see I wear many hats but (for better or for worse) I always have the same name. So it looks as though Burger King have pinched it, and aren’t they part of Texas Pacific who fund Gate Gourmet?".

Indeed they are, Pauline.

And I think the authors and adaptors of Guantanamera would be as scathing about the way that US-owned firm has treated its workers as about the US tyrants' torture cages. Why should these capitalists be allowed to use the tune to sell their burgers, when a singer like Pauline can't bring its spirit up to date?

OK, so whatever creative genius came up with the "only £1.99" line probably thought only of the well-used football chant "There's only one......" etc, rather than remembering it had an original. But they should be told. I mean, the football crowds only "sang" for their own pleasure (if no one else's), whereas the commercial is after all, for ...commercial gain.

Maybe it's not too late for someone to have a word with the copywright holders, and the advertisers And meanwhile I hope I'm not breaking any confidences or copywrights by revealing Pauline Bradley and Cristina Roe's version:

Words by Jose Marti – Music and original song words adapted by Hector Angula and Pete Seeger.
Adapted in 2005 by Pauline Bradley and Cristina Roe
guajira Guantantamera,
Guajira Guantanamera
Yo soy en hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma (x2)
Y antes de morir me quiero Echarmis versos del alma
I am a sincere man from where the palm trees grow (x2)
And before I die my heartfelt verses I’ll throw

George Bush is not so sincere,
And neither is Tony Blair
For they have turned Guantanamo
Into a living nightmare
It’s Cuban sands have been sullied
Only the dammed now go there.
I see the prisoners lying

Shackled in chains
I hear them screaming from torture
The barbed wire strains
Without their lawyers or families
Their cries are in vain
Chorus x2


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hope from Tragedy in Jenin

SOMETIMES it feels that no news from the Middle East, or Israel-Palestine, is good news. But last week, besides the choice of Amir Peretz, there was a more moving story, of hope out of tragedy, reported in Ha'aretz, and more fully by Chris McGreal of the Guardian, Friday November 11.,2763,1640148,00.html

Apologies if you've read it already, but I felt it deserves retelling. It's about a boy called Ahmed Khatib, and his parents Ismail and Abla, who turned their family tragedy into hope for the future.

Ahmed Khatib was just another 12 -year old lad in Jenin. He'd had run-ins with Israeli patrols before. Then one morning, the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the most important Muslim holiday, Ahmed went out with his mates to visit Jenin's Martyr's graveyard. Some Israeli soldiers who'd earlier had stones thrown at their vehicle saw one of the boys touting what they thought might be a real gun. It was just a toy made to look like an Uzi. They opened fire, shooting Ahmed. One bullet hit him in the pelvis, the other in the back of the head.

"Some boys arrived at the house and said Ahmed was shot and was taken to the hospital," said Ahmed's mother, Abla. "When I got there, all his clothes were covered with blood. I realised immediately he was dying. He was not moving at all. He was taken to the operating theatre and they decided he had to be transferred to Israel because his situation was so critical."

The doctors told her that both bullets exploded inside her son, causing considerable damage to his brain and body. It is one of the issues she returns to in anger and suspicion. "His body was full of fragments. Part of his brain was on his clothes," she says. "Did they have to shoot him twice? Couldn't they just have shot him in the leg?"

Ahmed was taken to the Rambam hospital in Haifa. By then his mother had given up hope. "I told the doctor that Ahmed was dead but the doctor would not declare him dead. He tried to do more tests. They kept his heart beating but I knew he was not alive," she says.

When Ahmed died two days later, his father Ismail had already decided what to do. Ismail's brother, Shokat, died in 1983 at the age of 22 of kidney failure. "I saw my brother in the flesh of my own son. My brother had kidney failure and since we didn't have the proper treatment for him, his situation deteriorated and it affected the second kidney and that lasted for 15 years," he says.

"I donated blood to my brother every time he needed it. I lived the whole ordeal and I wanted to stop others suffering like that. I told the doctors I wanted to donate Ahmed but first I had to consult from a religious point of view, and my family and my society."

Ismail first asked his wife. Her wait in the hospital left her in no doubt. "We saw a lot of painful scenes in the hospital. I have seen children in deep need of organs, in deep pain. It doesn't matter who they are. We didn't specify that his organs would go to Arabs, Christians or Jews. I didn't want my son to suffer, I didn't want other children to suffer regardless of who they are," she says.
"My son was dead but at the same time maybe he could provide life to others and maybe he could reduce their pain. Of course my son was martyred and they were the criminals and they took his life away but we are the ones who could give life back to them. And maybe my son is still alive in someone else.

"It was a message from us to them, a message of peace for them. We are the ones who want peace and love and they are the ones who break their promises and who don't want peace."

"To give away his organs was a different kind of resistance," says Abla. "Violence against violence is worthless. Maybe this will reach the ears of the whole world so they can distinguish between just and unjust. Maybe the Israelis will think of us differently. Maybe just one Israeli will decide not to shoot."
It is not the first time victims of the conflict have given life to people on "the other side".. Three years ago, Yoni Jesner, a 19- year-old Jewish religious student from Scotland, was killed in the bombing of a Tel Aviv bus. Part of his body went to save the life of a Palestinian girl from East Jerusalem.

Ismail sought an assurance from the mufti of Jenin, whoi said he saw no obstacle to donating Ahmed's organs or to them going to Israelis and Jews. Then there was local feeling to consider. "When we heard Ahmed's father decided to donate the organs, we blessed the step," said Zakaria Zubeidi, 29, of the Al Aksa Martyrs' Brigade. "Despite Jenin's reputation for the suicide bomber and the bomb belt, the people of Jenin camp love life and granted life to five or six children and didn't distinguish whether they were Jewish or Muslim or Christian because our problem is not with the Jewish people as the Jewish people, but with the occupation."

Ahmed's heart was transplanted into Samaah Gadban, a 12-year-old Druze Arab girl from the Golan, who had a genetic heart condition which rendered her too weak to walk, and had waited five years for a donor. Her older brother had died of the same condtion. Ahmed's lungs went into a Jewish teenager suffering from cystic fibrosis and his liver was divided between a seven-month-old Jewish girl and a 58-year-old mother of two suffering from chronic hepatitis. The kidneys were divided between a three-year-old Jewish girl and a five-year-old Bedouin.

Samaah's father, Riad, called the donation "a gesture of love". Her mother, Yusra, was overwhelmed as she waited at her daughter's bedside. "It was shocking to know that young boy died like that so Samaah could live," she says. "I have lost a son and it is impossible to describe the suffering I know Ahmed's mother is feeling. But I am also happy that my daughter has the chance to live. I am very grateful that in their pain they thought of our pain."

The orthodox Jewish parents of one of the recipients who did not wish to be identified said that once their child recovers from the transplant they intend to travel to Jenin to thank Ismail and Abla.

"The hope is that those people will learn the lesson from what I have done,, says Ismail Khatib, "Those six people will learn the lesson that we are human beings; their families, even if they were serving in the army, will consider what I have done," he says.

Ismail spent many years working as a motor mechanic in Israel. He was able to get to know his Israeli Jewish workmates, and so distinguishes between Israelis as people and the Israeli government and military. This helped him decide there was nothing wrong in helping the people whose army had killed his son. But today there are ever more barriers and checkpoints to make it difficult if not impossible for Palestinians like Ismail to go to work, even sometimes on their own land.

Afula is only 10-minutes' drive from Jenin, but for Ismail it takes a five hour journey via Jerusalem to reach his old workplace within sight of home. Soon, as the Wall goes up, and Palestinians are excluded, it will be an impossible journey. Ahmed worries that for the younger geneneration, the kind of contacts and knowledge he gained are also being made impossible. "Take a boy like my son, who was 12 years old. He was born between two intifadas. What does he know but tanks and soldiers and jet fighters? He only meets Israelis who are soldiers. He thinks all Israelis are soldiers. This does not help us. Seeing each other as human beings helps us."

Rebuilding Arna's Theatre

Ahmed Khatib grew up not far from the Jenin refugee camp, and witnessed its destruction. I've written before about the late Arna Mer Khamis and the theatre she set up for the children of Jenin. Some people are hoping to rebuild it.
Among them her son, Juliano.

Rebuilding Hope
By Juliano Mer Khamis
(October 26, 2005)

In 1993 Arna Mer Khamis received the The Right Livelihood Award for her work with the children in the refugee camp of Jenin.
In her acceptance speech she said :
"Yes, we owe them (the children) something. These children are the hope of tomorrow. It is imperative that we reveal the hypocrisy, which leaves these children wounded on the battlefield without first aid.
Their wounds are deep although they are not bleeding, their souls and spirits are wounded, their development handicapped. They are children beaten and shocked, who have witnessed their parents and siblings being humiliated by soldiers. They are children who have experienced long interrogation in prison. Children who have been prevented from studying, when their schools, kindergartens were closed down. These children who know the Jew, the Israeli, only as a soldier shooting to kill and who beats and humiliates."

Today in 2005 we are facing the same circumstances that brought Arna to establish her project "Care and Learning" in Jenin. In my last recent visit to Jenin I observed hundreds of children playing in the alleys of the camp. Their main toy was a gun made out of wood. The playground was the ruined and dusty neighborhood.
It seemed like time had stopped still since I was here 10 years ago. But it didn't. Hope turned into despair and with it brought the most devastating struggle for liberation. The resounding cries of the children in Jenin echoes again.

This gloomy reality was mixed together with the memories of "Arna's children" and brought us to decide to rebuild the "Arna Free Theatre".

"They (the children) shouted their passion for liberty, for an end to oppression and humiliation and for the hope of a better life, the hope of the Intifada. This is were our paths met - a small group of us joined up with and for these children in order to put an end to the crimes and reduce the mental and psychological damage caused by the years of oppression". Arna mer Khamis-1993.

The "Arna Free Theatre" will provide the children of the camp a tranquil environment to express them selves and create. Along with putting on plays we are intending to establish workshops for speech therapy, dancing and music. But the most important thing is to empower and strengthen the children to face their harsh reality of daily life. As Ashraf expressed in the film "Arna's Children" :
"When I am on stage I feel like I am throwing stones. We wont let the occupation keep us in the gutter. To me acting is like throwing a Molotov cocktail. On stage I feel strong, alive and proud".

To all our friends, we say today, that we still have a long way to go, but with your helping hand we shall give these children a chance for a better life.

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Small Upheaval in Israel

Eyes on Peretz. Can he do it?

ISRAELI politics have experienced a little upheaval in what veteran journalist, former knesset member and still active peace campaigner Uri Avnery has greeted as "a great miracle".

Given a choice between a tired old Establishment figure, the Nobel peace prize-winning so-called technocrat who took Israel down the (everybody)dead-end nuclear road, Shimon Peres; and a Moroccan-born outsider who led workers' strikes, and calls for peace with the Palestinians, members of the Labour Party have voted for the latter.

Avnery says the choice of Amir Peretz goes beyond party politics. "It may well change the future of the country". He recalls a gathering shortly after the 1982 Lebanon war when peaceniks discussed creating a new political party.

"I said that we would not succeed in effecting a real change if we did not reach the Eastern Jewish public. To this community, the peace camp looks like an Ashkenazi affair, belonging to the upper socio-economic strata. In our demonstrations, one hardly sees any Eastern faces. We have failed to reach half the Israeli population. As long as this situation prevails, there will be no peace".

To the unenlightened in Israeli ethno-geography, it should be explained that easterners, Misrahim, refers to Jews from non-European, chiefly Arab backgrounds, previously often referred to inaccurately as Sefardim (i.e. of Spanish background. There is some overlap, but they're not the same). So though Morocco is of course west of Israel, and most Israeli leaders' families hail like mine from eastern Europe, a Jew from the Maghreb (west in Arabic), i.e.North Africa in English, is an Easterner. You got that?

When people like the Peretz family arrived in the new State of Israel in the 1950s, they were welcomed as the miraculously ingathered exiles, or as a source of cheap labour to replace the Arabs. Regardless of what they had done before -and many were skilled craftsmen or professionals - they must be knocked into shape and know their place. My friend Naim Giladi recalled Jews from Iraq who had bathed and donned their best clothes for this great alyah (going up to Israel, or to an honour in the synagogue), stepping off the plane and being sprayed with DDT by waiting Jewish Agency officials.

(Naim, a one-time Zionist youth underground worker in Iraq who went on to help form Israel's radical Black Panthers has also given a lot of thought and research to how the Iraqi Jews were got to Israel, but that is another matter).

Others tell of the time some Moroccan immigrants were driven out to the desert in the back of a lorry and told to get out and build themselves a new town. When they refused, the driver operated his tipper mechanism and dumped them like a load of sand, or worse.

For masses of immigrants in the early years, there were ma'aborot, tented camps, followed by decades in inner city slums or so-called "development towns" - like "developing countries" a euphemism. Meanwhile in the schools their kids were taught that Arab culture, and therefore their parents, were inferior and to be despised. (By way of comparison, it soon emerged that there were more Jews of Maghrebi origin in the Sorbonne than in all of Israel's universities).

During most of the years, Labour was in government, and identified with the Ashkenazi (European) Establishment. The Ashkenazim seemed to have all the best jobs and privileges, even as they used the language and symbols of idealism and egalitarianism. You could see the Red Flag or May day posters on a kibbutz-owned factory where you were only hired labour. And "Hyeh Meturgan", get organised, which sounds like a union slogan, had come to mean "look after number one", which might also mean have the right friends and contacts -"protektzia". Meanwhile Labour leaders and the cultural establishment made little secret of their distaste for the Easterners and wish to see more European immigrants.

The result was twofold. The Misrahim, feeling outsiders even as they became a majority, voted largely for the right-wing Likud, whose demagogues posed as rebels even after taking government.(Another party to gain their support later was Shas, which combined religious orthodoxy with affected social welfare concern - not unlike Hamas). Like poor whites elsewhere the eastern Jews became keenest in affirming their national status - "I may be poor but at least I'm not an Arab".

Some of these social underdogs were able to raise themselves,with Arab and then migrant labour replacing them on the lower rungs, and changes in government. David Levi made it from building worker to contractor and Likud Housing Minister. But such advances for individuals were less real than some commentators suggested for the whole social category. Most of the Misrahim remain working class, many live below the poverty line, and they are over-represented in the prisons. David Levi had a shock when he went to open a new settlement in the occupied West Bank and was mobbed by demonstrating workers who'd travelled from Israeli "development towns" to protest unemployment.

Nor was the chauvinism always as deep and strong as appeared. When Sadat came to Jerusalem, thousands of mainly misrahi, working-class Jews came out in enthusiasm. As one remarked "Now we don't have to turn down the radio when listening to Um Khaltoum". (popular singer on Radio Cairo).
There has not been great enthusiasm from the Misrahi Jews for the right-wing settler movements. But when bombs go off in a market place or crowded bus, people may not be in the mood to listen to arguments about the occupation, or against the Wall, they support the Strong Man who will "teach them a lesson".

Some have striven against the current. The Black Panther party, in the 1970s, deliberately choosing a name to upset Golda Meir, mobilised slum youth in demonstrations and eventually returned Charlie Biton to the Knesset. In its train came campaigning groups linking social and cultural equality with peace. They remained small, and received little attention from the mainly Ashkenazi, and comfortably middle class peace camp. I've heard even socialist Israelis, educated people, remark almost complacently that "In Israel the working class is with the Right",not seeming to reflect that if so, their own political existence had little point. (On the other hand there have been a few who pretended Israel was just another capitalist country, as though its role as oppressor and internal complexities were not their concern. Not a way of tackling reality or relating to people).

But meanwhile new figures, representing dissatisfied workers,often from Misrahi background, were appearing in the Histadrut, Israel's once powerful but tame labour federation, combining unions, co-operatives and welfare institutions. As the movement lost its privileges to political changes, economic "liberalism", privatisation and attacks on workers' welfare and conditions, it has been forced to start behaving like a workers' movement, no longer a "partner" to government or career ladder for bureaucracy. Many would say it is still not effective as a fighting force (not that our unions here are much better).

Not restricting himself to an "economist" agenda, Peretz sought ways to help the poor as consumers. As mayor of Sderot, a development town in the northern Negev, he brought new work and construction. As Histadrut leader he promoted Arab members and also signed the first agreement with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, including their right to represent and receive dues from Palestinians working in Israel. Above all, he called for an end to the occupation, and for Palestinian statehood.

Invited to the rally commemorating murdered Labour leader Yitzhak Rabin (at the behest of Rabin's daughter, and to the displeasure of defeated rival Peres), Peretz declared: "Ten years on, and the violence is still very much with us, Yitzhak. The country is full of violence. We have not succeeded in isolating it. It has spread beyond the areas of confrontation with the Palestinians, it has become rooted among us. (...) If we had left the Territories, stopped the violence which issues from there at its source, we would have also overcome the violence in our midst".

Peretz is certainly no revolutionary. His previous venture into politics was called the One Nation party. But by linking the social needs of Israel's working people, and the malaise of Israeli society, to the need for a real peace with the Palestinians; and by bringing the real voice of the "Easterners" to front-stage of politics, he may turn over Israel's upside-down politics on to its feet. Even if he fails, he may encourage others to follow.

His first job, if he sticks to what he promised, will be to pull Labour out of Ariel Sharon's government and hopefully bring down the Likud government. As Uri Avnery says, it is not yet time for dancing in the streets. But it is a step in the right direction. He rejoices "Six weeks before Hanukkah, the Jewish festival with the ancient adage 'A Great Miracle Has Happened Here', we have some reason to be happy". Let us hope so.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Watch your water

Some companies are very persistent when after your money. At the beginning of this year I received what looked like a water bill, complete with a form at the bottom authorising Direct Debit. It came in an envelope with the water company's logo, and there was a similar looking envelope enclosed to send your payment form in.

Looking closer I saw the words "THIS DOES NOT FORM PART OF YOUR WATER BILL" at the top of the letter. But its main burden seemed a bit worrying. Dealing with the underground external water supply pipe into my home, it warned in block capitals:





On top of the mess and inconveniance of a water supply leak, it said the repair job would usually involve some digging, with the "correct equipment" (not calling a spade a spade) and it might be hard to find a specialist engineer in an emergency. For just £15.99 the company offered to cover me for repairs, give me access to a specialised engineer , even put £200 towards hotel accomodation if my place was uninhabitable for more than 48 hours. Sounds reasonable.

To be honest, I wasn't that worried by the letter. For a start it was not addressed to me, by name, probably because I don't pay the water bill directly, and I'm not a homeowner. I did wonder about the older people on my block, and how many had been anxiously reaching for their pens to pay without putting on their glasses to read the small print. "No, we just binned it", a neighbour reassured me.

But instead of binning mine, I'd posted a copy to my MP. He made enquiries. From these I learned that although the letter resembled a water bill, and was headed with the water company's logo, the company anxious to provide people with insurance cover is Home Service(GB) Ltd, an independent company that has an arrangement with a number of water companies.

Apparently the water regulator OFWAT had a number of complaints about Home Service's advertising. An OFWAT spokesperson said:

"Technically the leaflets are correect in that there isn't a statutory responsibility on the water companies to repair these pipes, but the figures show that in an overwhelming number of cases last year the water company did just that.

"There were almost 53,000 repairs last year - when you think that there are more than 20m households connected to a water main, this is not a lot. More than 6,000 pipes were replaced and in half of those cases the water company picked up the bill.

"One of the things we are very concerned about is the fact that these leaflets are designed to look like water bills. We recently wrote to Home Service to demand they are all redesigned so they don't look like bills in future".

OFWAT and the Adertising Standards Authority had received an assurance from Home Service that it would redesign its flyers not to look like bills.

That was on 16 February.

In June I received another communication not unlike the first, still bearing the water company's logo, but this time instead of the disclaimer about not being part of my water bill, it had the water company's address as well.

Entitled "PLUMBING AND DRAINS; ADVICE ABOUT YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES". the leaflet warned "PLUMBERS MAY GO AWAY IN SUMMER -PLUMBING EMERGENCIES DON'T". It was signed by someone called Lisa Bridge, Customer Relations Manager for Homeserve. Judging from code numbers this is the same company as Home Service.

In her anxiety as to what would happen to my water supply and home in an emergency, Ms. Bridge has not been put off by my ignoring this communication, for this month I have heard from her again. "Dear homeowner", she begins, though that is something I've never been, telling me that I'm reponsible for all plumbing and drainage within my home, and "all drainage within the boundary of your property".

The cost of cover seems to have fluctuated. The first letter offered a deal working out £3.99 a quarter, by June it had risen to £5.99 a month, and now it is slightly down at £5.40 a month.
Not that I'm worried. But I note that the latest letter has a PS: "Although Homeserve is not regulated by OFWAT there are guaranteed standards of service which are rigorously adhered to and which are available on request".

I guess I'm a bit of a fusspot going on about something that does not even apply to me, but if you have had one of these letters and you are a homeowner you might be pleased to hear that according to OFWAT you probably need not really worry about it. More generally, we might remark the benevolence of this company that is so worried about us it is sending out invitations to all and sundry, whether or not we need them, to pay for its services. I don't remember getting such loving care and attention before our water was privatised.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Gun Law and the Devil's Advocate

Arkan's associate, Giovanni Di Stefano

Law n'Order

LAW in "liberated" Iraq is reaching Western standards. Sure, wasn't Gun Law a Western?. Lawyer Adel al-Zubeidi was to represent former Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan in the forthcoming trial of Saddam Hussein and henchmen. But he was killed and another attorney wounded when gunmen shot up their vehicle on Tuesday.

This was the second killing of a defence lawyer. Saadoun al-Janabi was abducted by masked gunmen the day after the opening session. His body was found later with bullets in his head.

Holding the US-led occupation forces and the Iraqi government responsible for failing to maintain order, defence team head Khalil al-Dulaimi said if their security could not be guaranteed the November 28 trial would be rendered "null and void" because of the "very dangerous circumstances that prevent the presence" of the lawyers.

Abdel-Haq Alani, a key coordinator on the defense team, told Associated Presse from London that the Americans were obliged to protect defense lawyers as "the occupying power." The United States maintains that status ended when the coalition returned sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 28, 2004.

So US forces can carry on besieging and bombing Iraqi towns to get rid of "insurgents, and British tanks can smash their way through Basra to free SAS men who shot their way through a checkpoint with a carload of explosives. But we are not to call it an "occupation" any more, because Iraqis now enjoy "sovereignty"?!

OK, so I'm no lawyer. It would not surprise me if this time next year we'll be asked to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Russian tanks going to the assistance of the civil power in Hungary (with a little regime change); and the Egyptian people's welcome for Anglo-French forces coming to help keep the Suez canal running smoothly. (They tried to topple Nasser too, only on that occasion Washington put a block on things).

Getting back to these attacks, they do rather go against the idea that all the killings and ambushes in Iraq are carried out by Saddam Hussein supporters. Including the many killings of educated Iraqis, union and community activists, and professionals, that might suggest a systematic campaign, but largely go unreported. And the way foreign aid workers or journalists who don't toe the US line are the ones who get kidnapped.

I'm not awfully worried what happens to Saddam Hussein, except for what it shows about what's happening to many decent Iraqis. All the same, it would be nice for him to get a fair and proper trial - just think of all those past arms suppliers and friendly heads of government he could call as his witnesses. Can you hear me, Maggie?

Devil's Advocate

Like I say, I'm no lawyer. Nor according to the Law Society, is Giovanni Di Stefano. But recognised or not he is one of Saddam Hussein's defence team. Now if Di Stefanno had been shot I'd not be shedding tears except from laughter, but we must wait. Apparently the Anglo-Italian wheeler-dealer's departure for Baghdad was delayed by more pressing business.

As noted in "Private Eye" (28 October) he has been speaking on behalf of Nadine Milroy-Sloane, imprisoned for perverting the course of justice after falsely accusing Neil and Christine Hamilton of rape. (it couldn't happen to a nicer couple). Di Stefano told the "Daily Star" he believes "we have strong ground for appeal".

Miss Milroy-Sloane is certainly more appealing than a lot of his clients.
Giovanni Di Stefano first gained notice as a customer rather than provider of legal services. He appeared on six counts of fraudulent trading in 1984, and spent three years inside before being freed, he says on appeal, though others dispute this. Whatever the circumstances he turned up in Yugoslavia in 1991, and soon had Yugoslav citizenship granted by Milosevic.

He became an associate -political and business - of Zelijko Raznjatovic, better-known as Arkan, leader of the so-called Serb Volunteer Guard, or "Tigers", irregulars operating for the Serb Interior Ministry, whose opponents they removed or silenced. Along with ruthless ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, they enjoyed rape and pillage, robbing fellow-Serbs when they had run out of "enemy" civilians.

In 1997 Di Stefano wrote warning British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook that British soldiers would be killed if they made any attempt to bring in Arkan as a war criminal. The businessman-"lawyer" also boasted to the Sunday Times that he had met John Major several times, and that he had donated £10,000 to the Tory party before his conviction and another £20,000 after release. He insisted there was nothing irregular about this.

"I am a Conservative. I'm the epitome of conservative.
It is not an offence to give money to politicians for their services" (Sunday Times, July 27, 1997)

As Arkan expanded into various businesses in Serbia, from flowers to a football club, Di Stefano too began popping up as fairy godfather offering to invest money in cash-strapped British soccer clubs - Dundee, Norwich, Northampton Town, - and even a doomed Northumberland colliery. Somehow, while still abroad, he knew where to dangle his carrot.

Arkan, took to boasting that he would go to the Hague if wanted, and bring down all sorts of people. He was gunned down himself in a Belgrade hotel. His threats and his business activity had got up the nose of the bigger gangsters, both state and private. Then Di Stefano came under investigation in Italy in connection with business affairs. But somehow he survived to fight another day.
Tony Clarke, the Labour MP for Northampton South, who fought attempts by di Stefano to take over Northampton Town football club, said: "Everything about this man is shrouded in mystery. The authorities need to take a very close look at his legal qualifications, because if he is not legally qualified, heaven knows how that affects the cases he has been involved in."

Somehow, qualified, disqualified, or whatever, Di Stefano claimed some big name clients, big bad name that is - time-share racketeer John Palmer, road-rage killer and bullion robber Kenneth Noye, Dr.Harold Shipman, property tycoon and thug-employer Nicholas "tenants are scum" van Hoogstraten.

Some of these might just have been chosen for publicity-value, like his claims to have met Osama Bin Laden. But the "mystery man" seems to have been able to wave his magic wand for not only Palmer, but Hoogstraten. The latter has been restored to his Sussex mansion even though two of his associates are serving life for the murder of a business rival who got in the way.

Could Giovanni di Stefano yet pull it off for Saddam Hussein?
I doubt it. But then like I said, I'm no lawyer..



Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Iraqi Oil Union Leader visits UK on anti-privatisation mission

Basra oil worker

Hassan Juma'a Awad, President of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) formerly known as the General Union of Oil Employees, Basra (GUOE) will be touring the UK next month. Hassan has been invited to the UK for Iraq Occupation Focus’ ‘Voices from Occupied Iraq’ Teach-In on November 26th and the Stop The War Coalition’s International Peace Conference on December 10th

The Union has stated that ‘The privatisation of the oil and industrial sectors is the objective of all in the Iraqi state/government. We will stand firm against this imperialist plan that would hand over Iraq's wealth to international capitalism such that the deprived Iraqi people would not benefit from it…we are taking this path for the sake of Iraq's glory even if it costs us our lives.’

It was announced last month that the General Union of Oil Employees in Basra was being joined by other local based oil unions.

"In accordance with present experiences of Iraqis as part of embodying the practice of democracy for the new phase, we announce with God's blessing the formation of theFederation of Oil Unions in Iraq, with its centre in Basra, composed of unions representing the oil sector in Basra, Meisan, and DhiQar, as aFederation specialised in all aspects of the oil sector and part of themovement of Iraqi labour unions. At this moment as we announce the establishment of the Federation, its doors are open to all workers in the oil sector throughout Iraq from the north to the south and we welcome the support of all civil society organisations to this federation which is in the service of the publicinterest.God disposes,
The Executive Committee of the Federation of Oil Unions in Iraq, Basra 12/10/2005"

If the invocation of the Almighty strikes us as strange for a modern trade union, we might recall that the Durham Miners Gala always includes a service in the cathedral. Trade unionists acknowledging religious beliefs need not necessarily mean letting the religious Establishment hold sway in the union, and having union leaders who pray to the Almighty is arguably better than having leaders who think they are the Supreme Being. Anyway, we have enough agreement on what needs doing in this world to agree to differ about the next one.

The call to unite oil workers north and south is plainly against the sectarianism and division which imperialism hoped would ennable it to carve up Iraq and its oil industry. It is reported that oilworkers at Kirkuk in the north are holding discussions with a view to joining the federated union. Already the IFOU claims to be the most powerful trade union in Iraq, with over 23,000 oil workers across 3 provinces in nine state oil and gas companies. It is independent of all current trade union federations in Iraq.

Those hacks who have flocked behind Blair's war with the excuse that British troops are Iraq's "liberators" from Saddam Hussein, and that those resisting occupation are all Ba'athists, will not like to get their head round statements from the oil union's supporters:
"The Union has consistently held a ‘Troops Out Now’ policy, calling for an immediate withdrawal of all occupation forces from Iraq. Many of the Union’s executive committee were persecuted by the Baath dictatorship. Awad himself was jailed three times by the regime.

It goes on:

"The Union has on two separate occasions halted oil exports through strike action over unpaid wages, repressive Baathist managers and officials in the Ministry of Oil and land allocations for employees. It has successfully reconstructed infrastructure, port equipment, drilling rigs and pipelines without the help of foreign companies. It also succeeded in cancelling the last two tiers of the Occupation’s Order 30 wage-table and raising the minimum wage for Iraqi oil workers from 69,000 Iraqi Dinar (£20) per month to 102,000 ID (£35) per month. It has also negotiated the return of 1000 foreign workers in favour of the employment of local Iraqi workers".

With mass unemployment in Iraq because of war and sanctions, these foreign workers were brought in by Halliburton, the US octopus, trying to replace regular staff with non-union, contract labour, and to make out that Iraqis could not run their own industry.

When Hassan Juma'a Awad came here before, I attended a TUC-run conference at Congress House where he was one of the speakers. Unfortunately much of the time in our workshop was taken up by some Communist Party members and allies challenging the right of another Iraqi union representative to be there, and wanting to know why Iraqi trade unionists had more than one federation. But in the afternoon session, which they did not attend, Hassan Juma'a managed to tell us about his union's battles with both old regime management and firms like Halliburtons, and their determination to oppose privatisation.

Pointing out that some of the same companies invading Iraq had already moved into British public services, I said we were all in the same struggle, and that instead of us telling Iraqi trade unionists how to do things, maybe when it came to chasing out the corporate invaders they could teach us a few things! In the final plenary Hassan Juma'a did not get to speak, and the privatisation issue was not mentioned.

I guess it had been an achievement getting the TUC to invite Hassan Juma'a. There was an election coming in Britain, and Labour needed the unions back in line. We heard from Harry Barnes of the Labour Friends of Iraq, which together with the Iraq Federation of Trade Unions has provided a cover for union leaders making their peace with Blair and the occupation. Any enthusiasm at the conference was provided with a safe outlet in union fundraising.

But Hassan Juma'a was able to meet a number of trade unionists on that visit, and made a rousing speech at the Stop the War Conference which helped wake the anti-war movement to pay more positive attention to trade unions. Iraq Occupation Focus, which hosted Hassan Juma'a's first visit has him lined up to speak at its "Voices from Iraq" teach in on 26 July at University of London Union. He will stay on for the big international peace conference in December.

Ewa Jasiewicz, Co-Convenor of the IFOU Support Committee ‘Naftana’ (meaning ‘Our Oil’) said, ‘Hassan’s second visit to the UK is a wake-up call. Iraq’s oil has not yet been privatised, and the IFOU are in a position, physically, strategically and historically to make sure that it never will be. This union needs our maximum support’.

Finally, whenever controversial speakers come from somewhere like Iraq, you can usually count on some opponent wanting to know "who is paying their fare, where is the money coming from for all this?" The organisers of course have to worry more seriously about the same questions! A number of left-wing or peace groups and trade union branches are sponsoring the IOF Teach In, but more sponsorship and donations will be welcomed. Meanwhile it is possible Hassan Juma'a will be available while he is here for other meetings.


Ewa Jasiewicz or Sabah Jawad, Naftana, UK Support Committee for the IFOU or

See for more information and background on the union.

For information on the Iraq Occupation Focus teach in, how to register and/ or make a donation, see or e-mail

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

For a handful of dollars

After picking up that story on coolie labour imported to build US bases in Iraq, we heard news of another way global enterprise is providing opportunities for the world's poor.

This is from Ángel Páez on Inter Press (IPS):

PERU:Veteran Soldiers, Police Recruited for Iraq by U.S. Contractors

from Ángel Páez

LIMA, Oct 31 (IPS) - "Piraña", a former Peruvian army sergeant who fought the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist guerrillas in the jungles of Peru in the 1990s, decided at the last minute not to travel to Iraq with around 200 former members of the military and police recruited by the U.S.-based private security firm Triple Canopy. "My mom convinced me not to go," Piraña told IPS on condition of anonymity. "She told me she would prefer to see me poor but alive rather than dead for a handful of dollars." Complaints from the families of former soldiers and police officers hired to work as security personnel in Iraq by private military contractors triggered a scandal in Peru. "There is no work here, and when you do find a job, you earn pathetically low wages. I'm a factory watchman, and I earn the equivalent of eight dollars for a 12-hour day. To work in Iraq they were going to pay me 35 dollars a day, plus other benefits. It was really tempting, despite the risks," said Piraña, 29. "I have three kids, and my wife helps out selling food in the street, but we just don't earn enough. I saw the ad in the newspaper and applied. They quickly accepted me because of my combat experience in the army. I went through the training and everything, but my mom found out and persuaded me to change my mind," he added. Ads seeking former members of the armed forces and police officers interested in working as security personnel in exchange for "excellent wages" began to appear in newspapers in Lima last August. Hundreds of people applied. The ads were run by Triple Canopy, a private security and special operations firm founded in 2003 in the state of Illinois by former members of the U.S. army's elite Delta Force. Thanks to the company's contacts in the George W. Bush administration, it quickly won lucrative contracts with the State Department. The firm provides bodyguard and site security services to U.S. infrastructure and personnel involved in the reconstruction of Iraq, which has been occupied by the United States since March 2003. The growth of Triple Canopy reflects the boom currently enjoyed by "private armies" and the outsourcing of war. One of Triple Canopy's first contracts was a six-month 90-million dollar deal to protect a dozen offices of the Iraqi interim government, which are frequent targets of attacks by the resistance to the U.S. invasion and occupation. "We don't hire mercenaries," said Jorge Mendoza, manager of the local company Gun Supply, which provided the training to 200 Peruvians on behalf of Triple Canopy. "These are people with experience in security missions, who know how to handle weapons, but they aren't going to fight in Iraq. Of course it's very dangerous work, but no one forced them to take the job. Triple Canopy guarantees them insurance and indemnification in case of accidents, attacks or death," he told IPS. "They are paid in accordance with the job they are going to do. The salaries go up to 50 dollars a day," added Mendoza. Triple Canopy has also hired former soldiers and police officers in El Salvador, Colombia and Chile, although they are paid more than the wages promised the Peruvians. That did not deter the 380 Peruvians who have already flown to Iraq, however. Families of Peruvians recruited by Triple Canopy complained about the terms under which their husbands, sons or brothers were hired. For example, anyone wanting to sue the firm would have to do so in a court in Virginia, because the new recruits' contracts were signed under the laws of that state, where the company relocated its headquarters in June, "to be closer to our main customer, the U.S. government," according to a press release on the Triple Canopy web site. A copy of the contract, obtained by IPS, shows that the Peruvians are being hired for one year, from Oct. 15, 2005 to Oct. 14, 2006. It also stipulates that neither Triple Canopy nor the U.S. government are responsible in case the employees are injured or killed in the line of duty.


Saturday, November 05, 2005

Moving Pictures

Sorting out a procedural wrangle with the chairman at a UN conference of NGOs in Vienna, some time in the late 1980s.
In the foreground is Meir Vanunu, Mordechai's brother, who did a lot of campaigning for him back when not so many people were.
Next to him, the thinker resting jaw on elbow is Black Panther leader and Knesset member Charlie Biton. Behind him, the woman in white with glasses is Simone Bitton. Like Charlie and Meir, Simone's family too hails from Morocco, though she lives in Paris.

The woman on the end of the group is Amira Hass, then just a socialist militant, now better known as the Ha'aretz journalist who went to live in Gaza and then Ramallah, from which places her despatches have won wide respect - and opprobium from her country's right-wing Establishment.

This group, all more or less non-Ashkenazim (Amira's mother was a Sefardi from Sarajevo) had just come buoyed from a very succesful meeting with Palestinians in Toledo, Spain, and they didn't want any bureaucratic tangles at Vienna to clog up further progress.

Anyway, my excuse for showing off my snaps is that Simone Biton's highly-acclaimed 2004 film Mur (Wall) is showing in the London Jewish Film Festival. The blurb says "Wall explores the physical and psychological dimensions of the controversial barrier being built to divide Israel and the Palestinian territories. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Simone Bitton, travels along the new construction of this long barrier, interviewing both Israelis and Palestinians who live and work beside the wall. The film effectively visualises the meaning of an impermeable barrier to the local communities while the interviews produce a contemporary and poignant account of the conflict. Wall, winner of numerous prestigious awards, is a contemplative journey into the politics of everyday lives in Israel and Palestine, alongside the extended wall of separation".

From another source (London Socialist Film Co-op) I learn that Simone has said that in her film "space is essential; the sky, the earth, the landscapes are fully fledged characters".

The film is being shown at the Phoenix in Finchley on Sunday 13 November in a 2.00pm double bill, and at The Tricycle, Kilburn on Monday 14 November 6.45pm And if you can't make either screening there'll be another chance, though you'll have to wait. The London Socialist Film Co-op has booked it to show at the Renoir in Brunswick Square on Sunday morning 12 March next year.

I might as well mention a few other films in the Festival that look intersting. Hiding From Hitler, director Sue Read, made this year, looks at how, though 1.5 million children perished in the Holocaust, a few thousand children survived in hiding. The director and Holocaust survivors appearing in the film will attend the screening and panel discussion.The Screen on the Hill on Wednesday 9 November 5.20pm

Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, is an American film by Daniel Anker, narrated by Gene Hackman. It looks at American ambivalence and denial during the heyday of Nazism, through the silence of the postwar years, and into the end of the twentieth century. Followed by a discussion with Dr Mikel J Koven, Lecturer in Film and Television Studies, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.,that's at The Screen on the Hill, Thursday 10 November 4.15pm

Men On The Edge - A Fishermen's Diary (Gvarim Al Hakatze-Yoman Dayagim)directed by Avner Faingulernt and Macabit Abramzon, is described as "A gripping observation of the lives of Palestinian and Israeli fishermen working and living together on an abandoned Mediterranean shoreline between Israel and Gaza". It suggests their life and thoughts have lessons for the Middle East and beyond. It's on at the.Clapham Picturehouse, Monday 14 November 6.30pm

On The Objection Front (Ratsiti Lihiyot Gibor), directed by Shiri Tsur, and having its UK Premiere, is in Hebrew with English subtitles. In 2002, at the height of the Palestinian uprising, 614 Israeli combat soldiers signed a petition in which they declared their refusal to serve in the occupied territories. The letter opened up a public controversy and a private battle for each of these men. Tomer Inbar, who is featured in the film, will attend the screening which will be followed by a Q&A. It's at the Phoenix, Sunday 13 November 2pm double bill


Thursday, November 03, 2005

One State, Two State, E8

From Bili'in to Hackney

Bili'in is a Palestinian village which faces the loss of its lands to the Israeli "security barrier" - what protestors have called the Apartheid wall, though Annexation wall might be more to the point. Snaking through the West Bank the "separation fence" is separating Palestinians from their lands and livelihoods.
Why don't the villagers protest? They have been protesting, and they have been joined on their protests by some Israelis opposed to what their government is doing. These have ranged from teenagers in Anarchists Against the Wall to veterans like Uri Avneri, who came on his 80th birthday, when the troops opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas at protestors.

As Steve Marks was saying at the Hackney Empire concert on Tuesday, after we listened to "The Singer of Wind and Rain", about Palestinians refusing to be uprooted, when people ask why the Palestinians don't try non-violent resistance, he asks if they have never heard of Bil'in. But then he realises that they probably haven't, because the news media here never reports what's happening at places like Bili'in.

I've just seen a message passed on by Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, calling people to another demonstration in Bili'in, this Friday. Local people and their supporters "will hold another creative non-violent march to the construction site of the Apartheid Barrier. The main theme of this week's demonstration will be prisoner solidarity. Due to the recent night-time raids by the Israeli military, seventeen non-violent protestors from the village currently remain in Israeli detention. These arrestees are being accused by the Israeli authorities of damaging the foundations of the barrier and throwing stones.Over the past eleven days, the Israeli military has conducted a series of arrest raids during the night in Bil'in. Going house to house, they have been rounding up activists known to participate in the non-violent demonstrations, keeping the entire village sleepless and distressed in the process. International Human Rights Observers last Monday night witnessed and filmed the illegal (under Israeli law) use of a Palestinian civilian as a "human shield" by the Israeli military (footage available upon request). One on occasion, the Israeli military distributed a leaflet in Arabic warning the villagers that although they have "allowed the people of the village to conduct non-violent protests against the construction of the wall on their lands" they consider the damaging of the barrier "violence against security property" and warned them that "the daily lives of the villagers will be disrupted as a result of such acts".Among the Palestinian non-violent activists arrested are a 14 year old child, a 16 year old child and three brothers from one family. Only one of those arrested -who was taken by the soldiers in order to pressure his brother to turn himself in- has been released so far. Mohammed al Katib, a member of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Bil'in said: "they go after the young and vulnerable in order to intimidate them into giving information about otheractivists in the village".In response to the latest invasion on Monday night, Bil'in residents together with a few Israeli and International volunteers again poured out of their houses and confronted the military, singing and chanting.The Israeli force subsequently withdrew from the village."

Steve mentioned that turn-out on Tuesday. But we've seen nothing like it on telly.

"Balance" at the Beeb

The BBC is conducting a "survey" to find out whether people consider its coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict fair and impartial. The usual professional lobbying outfits like BIPAC (British-Israel Public Affairs Committee) have weighed in, and I expect the Beeb will set what they and some pro-Arab voices say either side, before concluding with a smug grin that it is "balanced". Meanwhile editors and reporters will be put on their toes....

The BBC overseas service is closing some of its European language programmes in order to expand Arabic broadcasts at the behest of the Foreign Office, but the Corporation is independent of government, of course.

Remember the nightly teatime coverage we had of the Gaza settlers protests? It might have been scripted by the right-wing settlers it was so slanted (interviews with dutifully tearful settlers, barely a mention that they were being given alternative homes and handsome compensation, not a thought for the people driven from Jaffa and Majdal-Askalon who fill the refugee camps in Gaza).. Well, if the BBC wants "balance", how about just a fraction of that publicity for the people protesting at Bil'in? It does not have to be every evening, just now and then, on peaktime news, instead of waiting for some documentary spot late on Sunday night?

It's not only the West Bank that gets under-reported.

On Wednesday evening, BBC South East viewers were treated to an item about the concert premiere of The Skies Are Weeping. (Only 24 hours after the concert. Aren't modern news media marvellous). We got a shot of what looked like the choir rehearsing (at least I couldn't see the audience), a glimpse of Cindy Corrie who had flown in from the 'States, and a few words from composer Philip Munger, saying he wished more young people would stand up for what they believed in.
So far, so good.

But then after telling us that the premiere in Alaska (where Munger lives) had to be cancelled because of threats to performers, the BBC reporter told us from across the road that "three Jewish groups" (no use of the word "Zionist", though it was the Zionist Federation and allies) were protesting. Shot of people giving out leaflets, who happened to be Jews Against Zionism, not protesting the concert but opposing the Zionist protest. That wasn't mentioned.

More important, as I've pointed out to the BBC, their report did not mention that the concert organiser and soprano was Debbie Fink, who is of course Jewish, or that the sponsors included several prominent Jewish people in the arts, such as Harold Pinter, Miriam Margolyes, Morris Farhi MBE, and Susie Orbach. Plus the Jewish Socialists' Group, and Jews for Justice for Palestinians. A large part of the audience was Jewish, certainly outnumbering the Zionist protestors, and the evening included an Israeli-led group, the Tsivi Sharrett Ensemble, introduced by compere Steve Marks, who is also Jewish.

The BBC report gave a Mr.Hoffman of the Zionist protestors a soundbite about ""the other Rachels killed by suicide bombers", as though Rachel Corrie was responsible for killing anyone, but last night's concert was specifically dedicated for ALL the people lost to the Occupation.

I have pointed out some of these facts in a complaint to the BBC, suggesting that their report gave a distorted picture. I might have accepted that this was just down to poor reporting by an uninformed BBC correspondent, but I have now heard from Debbie Fink, who fresh from her concert triumph was busy teaching yesterday (even activists have to earn a living). Debbie had been interviewed by the BBC report, but ... "They omitted my interview, in which I did say I'm Jewish, ...I was more annoyed about that than them not mentioning that I organised it....."

Debbie will make her annoyance known to the BBC, and I hope others do so too.

"Totally" reported the protest but not the concert, which is not unexpected from them; but surely the BBC allowing the protestor to speak but censoring out the star sets a new low standard in show reporting! This would be bad enough if it was just down to inexperienced reporters and inefficiency. But with 24 hours between recording and broadcasting the item we must assume it was deliberate editing, in line with policy.

This then, is BBC "balance": on the one side you have Palestinians and peace protestors, on the other side Jews, but don't mention that the Jews are Zionists or that far more Jews are on the other side with the peace concert, let alone organising and participating in it.

This suits the Zionists, of course (though to judge from the pathetic dozen or so they managed on Tuesday, not many of them were happy about this unseemly protest). The more extreme and thuggish the Zionist, the more he insists on speaking for all Jews, and you can't be a Jew if you're not a Zionist.

But it also fits an all-too common Establishment way of thinking (or avoiding thought) which I imagine is rooted in Britain's colonial history. People are divided into tribes, under recognised chiefs, and neatly pigonholed for the conveniance of bureaucracy. Your views are supposed to be predictable from your ethnicity, part of your inherited "identity". Try to think for yourself, step out of line, or unite across the boundaries, and you're a nuisance.

If you're not going to conform with what your leaders say, how will you be controlled? How can you talk about peace, you'd all be cutting each other's throats if you did not have the great White Master supervising you! Besides, if you lot don't conform to rule, what about the others, look at the example you're setting!

We all know the saying divide et impera, divide and rule, but I'm not saying there's a conspiracy. When you have a habit that has persisted over so many years, it does not require consciousness to continue it, but it would to break from it. I may be attaching too much significance to one small example from the BBC, but I could cite others. Don't take my word, just watch and listen, and see if you can't detect similar patterns in politics and the media.

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