Saturday, June 30, 2007

Bombers who target civilians

TWO car bombs which could have killed and maimed any number of civilians have been found and disabled in London. Neither bomb was placed near any known military or governmental target. One was in a Mercedes left outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub in Haymarket, popular with city workers and tourists. The other bomb was found in a Merc that had been parked in Cockspur Street nearby.

The car outside the club contained gas cylinders, petrol and a large quantity of nails, so that besides damage to the building it was designed to cause maximum injury to people around.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for the two bombs, which sound improvised, the fact that two Mercedes were used points to organisation, and the media have been quick to point to al Qaida. In the past it was the IRA that brought car bombings to London, and the Haymarket attempt recalls the Ealing Broadway bombing in August 2001, when miraculously nobody was killed on a busy Friday night though extensive damage was caused. That was attributed to the breakaway "Real IRA", and three Irish people were arrested two years later, charged with conspiracy to launch a bombing campaign.

Two years before the west London bombs a British Nazi psychopath called David Copeland carried out his own nail bomb campaign, hitting Brixton, Brick Lane, and finally the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, where his bomb killed three people, one of them a pregnant woman, and injured 129 more, many of them seriously.

But the targeting of clubbers also recalls what a secret police bugging revealed of the mentality of some young Islamicist bomb-plotters tried last year. Here's one of them, Jawad Akbar, discussing possible targets:
"What about easy stuff where you don't need no experience and nothing and you could get a job, yeah, like for example the biggest nightclub in central London where no-one can even turn round and say "oh they were innocent" those slags dancing around?"

The latest incidents may have been timed to coincide with Gordon Brown's coming to office and Britain's ongoing war in Iraq. Media commentators compared the intended car bombings with those carried out by insurgents there, though at least some of those do aim for military targets. The Daily Mail today says the London bombs bore "all the hallmarks of al Qaida", as though no one else has ever carried out car bombings. The British state has had its expert hidden hand in a few from time to time, the best-known being the three that went off in Dublin in 1974, killing shoppers and rush-hour commuters.

Not all bombs are delivered by car, nor do all the killings in Iraq get reported in our media. Here's some news from Iraq that didn't make our British TV screens.

British Air Strikes Kill 11, Injure 34 in Amara
AMSI reports (June 18th.): Eleven citizens were killed and a further 34 were injured in a British air strike against Amara city, Majar and Qalat Saleh districts. Witnesses said that the British planes shelled some houses while the locals were sleeping on the roofs; a matter which led to the killing and injuring of 45 citizens including a woman and four policemen.

They added that the planes targeted also the civilian cars especially the trucks on the highway. They said, " Some houses in Mulimeen jadeed neighbourhood were burned because cluster bombs were used against them."

Al-Jazeera adds (June 19th): Jameel Mohammed, an Amara health department director, confirmed receiving at least 16 bodies and another 37 wounded people. Latif al-Tamimi, chief of the security committee on the Maysan council, called the operation a "catastrophe", accusing troops of firing randomly. Azzaman adds (June 19th): According to Dr. Zamel Shayyaa, head of the city's Health Department, those killed in the operation were civilians, among them women and children.

(Thanks to Iraq Occupation Focus, who carried this in their latest newsletter, available from

Britain has a tradition of using air power against Iraqis, going back to the 1920s mandate. The hypocrisy with which the British ruling class and media denounce "violence" and "terror" is nothing new, and needs little comment.
What's more, if the London bombing attempts and previous bombings are related to events in Iraq, then Bush and Blair (and Gordon Brown) have been responsible for the war, and for bringing death to innocent Londoners as well as Iraqis.

But that said, and while recognising the right of the Iraqi people to fight back against the occupiers of their country, there is no excuse for bombers targeting innocent civilians, whatever the means of delivery used, and whether those targeted are labourers and cleaners caught queueing for work in Iraq or office workers enjoying a night out with their friends in London. Whatever the religious, patriotic even moralising pretexts for murder adopted by some disturbed indivduals, or the reactionary forces using them, such attempts betray their affinity with the imperialist oppressors they may claim to fight against. They do nothing for liberation or justice.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

HM Government doesn't want us to hear voice of Iraqi oilworkers

IRAQI oil workers' leader Hassan Juma'a Awwad is due in London next week. He could expect a warm welcome from British trades unionists and anti-war campaigners, who will be keen to hear how the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions is maintaining workers' unity amidst the conflict and chaos of occupation, and resisting plans to carve up the Iraqi people's oil between Western oil companies.

Earlier this month the southern oil company workers around Basra came out on strike, only to find themselves surrounded by Iraqi government troops. Arrest warrants were out for Hassan and other union leaders.

Trades unionists in other countries were alerted, and made their protests. My local trades union council promptly e-mailed the Iraqi embassy, and so did larger bodies like the Trades Union Congress and the Italian Federation of Oil and Chemical Workers, as well as US trades unionists.

On Monday, June 11, 2007, Naftana(Our Oil), the UK support group for the Iraqi oil unions, thanked those who had protested, and reported that the Iraqi government had apparently turned about, agreeing to negotiate, and the union was claiming a tactical victory. Naftana relayed this message from Hassan Juma'a:

"Warm greetings,

We would like to inform you of the latest developments in the oil workers strike in the south.Finally the workers have won in demanding their legitimate rights. That is why an enlarged meeting was held with his excellency the Minister of State for the Parliament Affairs lasting five hours resulting in the cessation of all the failings resulting from the conduct of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and the irresponsible stance of the oil minister. Most of the issues within the remit of the prime minister were dealt with. The meeting was very successful, because the minister represented the prime minister. The activation of the committee formed by the prime minister to deal with the outstanding problems was affirmed. And after deliberations within our union, the two sides agreed to halt the strike and to use dialogue in dealings to resolve the outstanding issues.

On the other hand, all problems were presented to His Eminence Sayyid Sistani, and the Iraqi Ministry of Oil. Therefore, we would like to say to all that the workers will is indestructible . The workers can achieve what they want by the means available to them and their strength. And the oil workers are very strong, because they have a legitimate right. the workers have scored a third victory in demanding their rights.
Long live the Iraqi working class.

Regards, Hassan Juma'a Awwad'

As I said at the beginning, Hassan Juma'a should be in London next week.
He has been invited to speak at the Socialist Workers' Party's annual Marxism event, which usually attracts a large crowd, and he would also be meeting other trades unionists. Yesterday I was in touch with a couple of friends involved in preparing the founding conference on July 14th of a national Shop Stewards Network, which is backed by the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union RMT and drawing support from a wide range of trades unionists.

When I mentioned that Hassan Juma'a was due in town they readily agreed it would be good if he could speak at their conference. The organising committee is due to meet and finalise its plans on Saturday.

Unfortunately, as I also had to tell the brothers, it now looks as though Hassan Juma'a may not be able to come to London next week, thanks to the attitude of Her Britannic Majesty's Government and specifically, "our" embassy in Amman which has been refusing to give the oil workers' leader a visa. Two Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, attempted to intercede on his behalf, but it seems they couldn't budge the embassy.

Hassan has been to this country before. He received a rapturous response when he addressed Stop the War delegates. He took part in a conference at the TUC, and a teach-in arranged by Iraq Occupation Focus. There is no question of the British government's not knowing who this Iraqi is - we can be sure the Foreign and Commonwealth Office knows exactly who he is! Remember, Basra and its oilfields are in the British zone of occupation.

We can guess that besides British companies hoping to profit from Iraqi oil in future, the British government is not happy with meetings between Iraqi and British trades unionists, whether they are talking about ending the war and occupation, or discussing "tactical victories" against anti-union laws and privatisation. Hopefully, if Hassan Juma'a can't speak in London next week then we will have something to say about those preventing him. From protesting to the Iraqi embassy over the treatment of trades unionists, we (most of whose unions supported Gordon Brown for Labour leadership) must turn our fire on the British government.

Some useful places to visit:

Iraqi oil workers:
oil privatisation:
US Labor Against the War
Iraq Occupation Focus
Radical Activists' Network:
Iraq Union Solidarity Scotland
International Longshoremen's and Warehouse Union:
National Shop Stewards Network:

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Caught In the Act: Spying on Americans and the rest of us

SECURITY and INTELLIGENCE services are often officially divided, if they are officially admitted to exist. The British state quaintly pretended for a long while that it didn't have agents overseas, 'cos spying was something that beastly foreigners did. Nowadays they're pretty well in your face with a headquarters building that's the opposite of inconspicuous, and their own website at:

In the UK, MI5 deals with domestic stuff, snooping on citizens assisted by Scotland Yard's Special Branch, while MI6, aka the Secret Intelligence Service(SIS), gets up to spying and skulduggery abroad. They had a turf war (no puns, thanks) in Ireland for a bit and have trod on each other's toes occasionally in London as well, as when MI6 assets were temporarily safehoused, or came to check their assets in city banks before purchasing more bombs.

Israel has Mossad for spying, dirty tricks, and wet jobs abroad, and Shin Bet (or Shabak, from Sherut Bitakhon Klalit, General Security Service) for tapping citizens' phones and torturing Arabs. The Hebrew University showed how well it understands international criticism this month by announcing the appointment of former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon as director of external relations.

In the United States, as is well-known, the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) deals with internal security and criminal matters, and has kept an eye on such dangerous subversives as Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, and Lucille Ball, not to mention Martin Luther-King (Just 'cos they are watching you does not mean they'll stop you being assassinated). It also ran a cute little project called COINTELPRO, placing agents into various left-wing and/or black groups where they could stir up hostility and internecine conflict between organisations.

And then there's the CIA, combining intelligence and clandestine operations abroad but prevented by its charter from getting up to anything in the United States itself. Well, so it was said. Long-secret documents released this week show its theatre of operations extended back to bugging a Las Vegas hotel room and finding a lock picker for the Watergate caper.

The files' release is covered in an article published in the New York Times today, June 27, 2007: Files on Illegal Spying Show C.I.A. Skeletons From Cold War By MARK MAZZETTI and TIM WEINER.

Known inside the agency as the “family jewels,” the 702 pages of documents reveal wiretapping operations, failed assassination plots, mind-control experiments and spying on journalists from the early years of the Agency.

In a note to agency employees, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, said that Tuesday’s release of documents was part of the agency’s “social contract” with the American public, “to give those we serve a window into the complexities of intelligence.”

Even so, much of the material remains heavily censored. Issues and operations uncovered by journalists and political campaigners years ago are still not detailed, and though General Hayden tries to contrast illegal activities of the past with current C.I.A. practices, which he insists are lawful, critics pointing to the secret prisons and interrogation techniques used in the "war on terror" don't buy the distinction.

Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, the research group that filed the Freedom of Information request in 1992 that led to the documents’ becoming public, said he was initially underwhelmed by them because they contained little about the agency’s foreign operations. But Blanton says what was striking was the scope of the C.I.A’s domestic spying efforts — what he called the “C.I.A. doing its Stasi imitation” — and the “confessional” nature of so many of the documents.

“Reading these memos is like sitting in a confessional booth and having a string of former top C.I.A. officials say ‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.’ ”

Among the documents are humdrum letters concerning reimbursement for stamps and stationery, references to Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt's insurance benefits, and a document noting “the high degree of resentment” among C.I.A. officers who had to grow long hair to pose as hippie radicals when infiltrating the peace movement, in America and overseas.

Internal memorandums detail C.I.A. contacts with Mr. Hunt and James W. McCord Jr., a retired operative who was one of the Watergate burglars. One has the heading “Hunt Requests a Lockpicker” and reveals that in spring 1972, a C.I.A. official helped Hunt track someone “accomplished in picking locks.”

In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson became convinced that the American anti-war movement was controlled and financed by Communist governments, and he ordered the C.I.A. to produce evidence. His director of central intelligence, Richard Helms, reminded him that the C.I.A. was barred from spying on Americans. In his posthumous memoir, Helms said Johnson told him: “I’m quite aware of that. What I want for you is to pursue this matter, and to do what is necessary to track down the foreign Communists who are behind this intolerable interference in our domestic affairs.” Though it was a violation of the C.I.A.’s charter, Helms obeyed the president’s orders.

The C.I.A. undertook a domestic surveillance operation code-named Chaos that went on for almost seven years under Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Helms created a Special Operations Group to conduct the spying. A squad of C.I.A. officers grew their hair long, learned the jargon of the New Left, and went off to infiltrate peace groups in the United States and Europe.

The agency compiled a computer index of 300,000 names of American people and organizations, and extensive files on 7,200 citizens. It began working in secret with police departments all over the United States.

The documents released on Tuesday provided details. One said the agency “recruited, tested and dispatched” as foreign agents overseas “Americans with existing extremist credentials.” It also used “new and old Agency assets” — in other words, people and sources of information — who had worked against China, the Soviet Union, North Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea.

One document, entitled “Foreign Support for Activities Planned to Disrupt or Harass the Republican National Convention” in 1972, lists the Beatles singer John Lennon, “a British subject,” as someone who had given money to a protest group.

A rare gem among the documents for C.I.A. buffs is a pair of detailed reports signed by James J. Angleton, the chief of the agency’s counterintelligence staff from 1954 to 1974, describing an American program to create and exploit foreign police forces, internal-security services and counter-terrorism squads overseas. The documents explain that the C.I.A. and other American agencies trained and equipped foreigners to serve their countries — and, in secret, the United States. Once the Americans had set up a foreign service, it could help carry out American foreign policy by suppressing communists and leftists, and gather intelligence on behalf of the C.I.A.

The documents evidently were included in the “family jewels” because one part of the program in April 1973 included training of the foreigners by the bomb squad of the Dade County Police in Florida. One officer was worried however that America's involvement with so many police services in other countries might bring allegations of supporting "Gestapo tactics".

James Angleton, who was dismissed from the C.I.A. the following year, after disclosures that he had overseen the opening of first-class mail in the United States since the early 1950s, was the C.I.A.’s man in charge of the overseas training program.

Some anecdotes reveal how far outside the law some C.I.A. agents strayed. One technician was arrested in 1960 after trying to bug a Las Vegas hotel room. The operation had been requested by Sam Giancana, the Chicago mobster, who was then helping the C.I.A. in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. Giancana had been concerned that his girlfriend, the singer Phyllis McGuire, was having an affair with the comedian Dan Rowan, and surveillance was ordered to “determine the extent of his intimacy” with her.

For some people, evidently, friends in the CIA could be very helpful. One document revealed that John McCone, director of central intelligence during Kennedy’s presidency, authorized an Air Force plane to fly the Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis and the soprano Maria Callas from Rome to Athens, a favor that led to media inquiries.

On the less benevolent side, the documents show Richard M.Bissell inquiring whether Colonel Sheffield Edwards could recommend assets for a "sensitive mission requiring gangster-type action. The mission target is Fidel Castro". They reveal that mobster John Rosselli was approached for this work at the Hilton Plaza, New York on 14 September 1960. There were problems with Rosselli, and information reached columnist Jack Anderson. The CIA set people watching Anderson and his staff.

Another person who came under surveillance was Victor L.Marchetti, author of "The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence". The CIA also worked with police departments filming thousands of people who took part in anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in Washington.

One lot of people who may be dissappointed as they pour over the released material for evidence are those who as servicemen were unwitting subjects of experiments the CIA sponsored with chemical war and "mind-altering" substances; or whose relatives may have died after being victims of such experiments. A note from CIA Science and Technology Directorate Chief Carl Duckett on Dr.Sydney Gottlieb's report of his drug experiments "thinks the Director would be ill-advised to say he is acquainted with this program".

Elsewhere it is noted that Richard Bissel who figured in the anti-Castro plots also engaged Gottlieb's help for plans to poison Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, who was subsequently kidnapped and murdered anyway.


For view of originals:"FAMILY+JEWELS"&abstract=&no_pages=0702&pub_date=5/16/1973&release_date=6/18/2007&keywords=FAMILY+JEWELS&case_no=F-1992-00353&copyright=0&release_dec=RIPPUB&classification=U&showPage=0001

For New York Times article see:

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Chinese Wall Against Marx, Welcome Mat for Murdoch

"MAYBE the Party has to stop this sort of stuff getting into the wrong hands, you never know what might happen"

FOR those who have not tried it, the Marxist Internet Archive is a great resource to dip into. Whether you want to study classical texts by Marx and Engels, find out what Lenin or Gramsci really said, read articles by James Connolly (including his scathing critiicism of Hyndman), or enjoy the long out-of-print but still highly readable reminiscences of rank and file revolutionary worker Cecilia Bobrovskaya, this is the place.

This is no narrow-minded sectarian selection, nor history written by the "winners" of debates. You can delve back to the Tao of Lao Tzu (dialectics in 500 BC), move through the psychology of Vygotsky and Erich Fromm, and on to the ideas of situationist Guy Debord; or satisfy your curiosity about names you may have heard like Munis and Pablo. Just dip in for a casual browse and you can find such gems as Arthur Ransome ('Swallows and Amazons') reporting on Russia in 1919, or Louise Bryant's last memories of John Reed.

Mao Tse Tung is there of course, even if up a side aisle. But it seems his heirs in power in China today are not happy about the Marxist Internet Archive. Trouble is, you see, MIA makes material available in as many languages as it can, including Chinese. The internet is international. Imagine what Lenin, who attached such value to an all-Russian newspaper and later the cinema, and spoke about the electrification of the whole land, would have made of it! The Bolsheviks would have published those secret treaties even faster and more widely. Perhaps that's why bureaucrats, like press barons, are determined to bring the new media under control.

This morning I received a message via an old comrade who devotes much of his time these days to digging out old texts and making them available to new generations, by adding them to the Marxist archive. This e-mail said:

"The server MIA is under attack from China again. The newly-established Technical Troubleshooting Team is currently working on the problem and have some good leads, but it will take a little time. The server may come and go in the meantime".

Again? I tried to find out more, and found a report from the International Herald Tribune back in February:
Online Marxist archive blames China for electronic attacks
By Noam Cohen
Monday, February 5, 2007

If ever there was a believer in the power of the written word, it was a
best- selling author and former librarian, Mao Zedong. As Mao explained to an early chronicler of his life, Edgar Snow, "Three books especially deeply carved my mind, and built up in me a faith in Marxism, from which, once I had accepted it as the correct interpretation of history, I did not afterward waver."

Those books, he said, were a book about the history of socialism, a book about the history of class struggle and "The Communist Manifesto" by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

According to the Marxist Internet Archive at, an
online community that produces and organizes an ever-growing Marxist library, the wheel has turned full circle.

People at the site say they suspect the Chinese government is behind
computer attacks that are jeopardizing the site's ability to provide Marxist texts, and might force the library to stop providing material written in Chinese.
"We are not 100 percent sure this is the Chinese government; there
are a lot of possibilities," said Brian Basgen, who has worked on the archive since 1990. But he noted that the archive had been temporarily banned by the Chinese government before, about two years ago.

"There is a motive," he said. "They have done it to us in the past.
What they are doing is targeting just the Chinese files." Since January there have been hundreds of "denial of service attacks," Basgen said, 99 percent of which emanate from China. The attacks involve a computer trying to download the same document over and over again, until it prevents others from accessing the archive.

He said the site has managed to stay ahead of the attackers by creating "mirror sites" around the world, but the attacks have prevented the archive from updating its collection.

Since the Chinese government has banned the archive before, this raises the question of why it would use computer attacks. Also, security experts say that computers in China can be exploited by people outside the country, making the attacks appear to come from China, because those computers often lack sophisticated protections.

Basgen said the purpose of the attacks seemed to be to motivate the archive to sacrifice its Chinese-language material to keep the rest of the archive available. It is a move the archive may have to consider, he said.

While some might find it odd that the government created by Mao's
Communist Revolution would be behind an effort to deny access to the texts so important to its founding, Basgen said he did not.
"It is ironic for people who don't know what is going on in China," he said. "The Chinese so-called Communist government has nothing to do with communism. It has been going toward capitalism for a long time."

While noting that proviso about the possibility of others using China as a false-flag to stage a provocation, it seems odd they should only pick on Chinese language files if they wanted to hit the whole operation. And when I heard about the alleged Chinese moves I was reminded of a discussion with a Chinese academic who happened to be in England around the time of the Tienanmen Square events, in 1989. I forget what I'd said, but myself and a friend must have referred to something said by Marx or Lenin (not even Trotsky) because she replied:

"It's good that you people have studied these things, because we in China don't have the opportunity. We don't even get the chance to read Mao properly - we just get that Little Red Book!"

That surprised me because I had grown used to relying on Peking's Foreign Languages Publishing House for cheap paperback editions of classic Marxist writings which Moscow previously provided. (I'd visited a bookshop in Chinatown though they seemed surprised at me going for the political stuff).
But Marxism for export only may have made a certain amount of sense. And we might recall that an older repressive bureaucracy here in the West used to take a dim view of lay persons trying to read and interpret the supposed founding texts, back in the days when printing was the new media. The bishops had them burnt at the stake in fact.

Besides, China today has gone for capitalism, and welcomed Rupert Murdoch, who hates Marxists, to its shores. Combining freedom for capital with Stalinist repression of workers and intellectuals, it is a source of cheap labour for exploitation under the kind of conditions Marx wrote about, or worse, whether at home or internationally. Remember the poor workers who went to their cruel deaths in Morecambe Bay, and whose families are still in debt? In Israel when Chinese building workers dared go on strike, an official from the embassy in Tel Aviv came down to threaten that their families back home would suffer if they did not get back to work.

It was recently reported that more than 1,000 children may have been kidnapped and sold into slave labour in China. Children, some as young as 8, toiled in a brickworks for 16 hours a day, with little food. They were guarded by thugs with fierce dogs, and whipped as punishment if they did not work hard enough. The child slave racket involved negligent or corrupt officials in collusion with the bosses. The scandal has been exposed in the official press, and caused public outrage. But this glimpse of backwardness and brutality behind the images of absurd private wealth we get from booming China may suggest one reason why the authorities could fear too many people reading about Marxism.

Whoever is behind the interference it is good to know that someone thinks Marx's "old-fashioned" ideas, and those of his followers are dangerous. It also suggests we should read more, not just of the newly available, but of stuff we read and thought we understood before. We might need it to think again about China, for one thing, especially now that Chinese companies are buying into British industry and services. Now there's a dialectic!

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Battersea crane campaigners launch petition

SEEKING JUSTICE for her son and
safety for others. Liliana Alexa, seen here (with dark glasses) with Construction Safety Campaigners on Workers Memorial Day. Her son Michael was killed in Battersea crane collapse. Liliana and Doru Alexa's names are high on the petition to prime minister.

RESIDENTS of a Battersea estate where two men were killed by a tower crane collapse have launched a petition to the prime minister demanding safety improvements, including full outside inspection of crane safety. Their call comes two weeks after another crane, owned by Laing O'Rourke, collapsed on a site in Croydon.

It was on Tuesday 26th September 2006, that two young men lost their lives due to a crane collapse at a Barratts site on Thessally Road/Battersea Park Road. One was the crane driver, the other was Michael Alexa, the son of a local resident. Michael was taking care of his car outside the family home when the crane, which was more than 30 years old, crashed down on top of him, after the crane driver had landed in the windscreen of a nearby car.

For "safety" reasons, Michael Alexa was left at the site for five days before his body was removed. A nearby low rise block of flats was also badly damaged, resulting in the whole block being evacuated for at least a week. One end of the damaged block comprised of shops on the ground floor with flats directly above. The shops served the local community, which has a number of elderly members, a lot of who relied heavily on these shops. They have been closed ever since the disaster and the future of these shops is still not known.

The site previously housed John Milton Primary School, which was closed in August 2004, much to the anger of parents and local residents.

Since the crane disaster, no one has accepted responsibility for the deaths of the two men. Not Barratts, whose building site it was and not Falcon Cranes, who were the suppliers of the cranes. In fact, although they were invited to a public meeting, on 25 October, Barratts and Falcon Cranes did not send anyone along to represent them. Neither did Wandsworth Council.

It seems that having let Barratts have the site for luxury flats, the council no longer considers itself responsible, even though the building - and the disaster -took place amid an existing council estate.

Local people are fighting a twofold battle, against development which they see as neither for the benefit of the local community, nor safe (a high-rise block on marshland?) and over the crane disaster which killed Michael Alexa. For this they have linked up with trades unionists and families in the Construction Safety Campaign, and with Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council .

As a campaigner writes on their web page:

"We are also quite astonished to learn that it is not law for crane inspections to be carried out by independent bodies and that the developers are actually allowed to use someone from within the company. Surely that's like me M.O.T'ing my own car!!! This kind of incident is becoming increasingly common. We want to stamp it out so that more innocent people do not have to lose their lives for the sake of large companies making money".

Julia Brandreth from the Battersea and Wandsworth TUC has written to trades unionists saying:

Dear All

The Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group have launched a
petition to the Prime Minister to Stop Crane Deaths. The group's aim is to get 2000 online signatures, hopefully well before the 31 May 2008 deadline. You can sign up at the link below or by going to
In detail the petition is asking that all cranes:
1) be independently inspected and certified fit for use
2) stop being used beyond a certain age
3) be registered on a central register
4) have safety records readily available for all to see
and that
5) all construction companies have a duty to consult with residents in the local area on crane usage

Please sign up now and pass to all your contacts.
There was a similar crane collapse involving the same company, Falcon Cranes, in Liverpool in January this year, killing one worker on the site and leaving the operator trapped in his cab. The Health and Safety Executive announced after this that it was prohibiting operation of tower cranes owned by Falcon, while investigations continued.

But writing in the Contract Journal last month, Colin Sowman revealed that there had already been an order served on Falcon between the Battersea and Liverpool incidents.

Two men were injured when a crane malfunctioned during the Wembley stadium construction.

The Croydon collapse on June 4 was blamed on a possible error by untrained staff. Parts of the crane had not been properly bolted. Plant contractors say that there is a shortage of trained crane erectors and operators as building work expands. But who employs untrained staff on such potentially lethal work, who failed to train sufficient workers, and who takes responsibility for checking the cranes are properly erected?

Croydon crane collapse, view:

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

From Guadalajara to Glastonbury, Old Comrade, New Friends

SOMEBODY has sent a comment to my posting on Spanish civil war veteran, retired hospital worker and centenarian Howard Andrews. It's actually an extract from the programme for the Glastonbury Festival:

"Last minute announcement for the Left Field stage - we've just confirmed that a veteran of the Spanish Civil War will be opening the Love Music Hate Racism night on Saturday. Howard Andrews, known as Andy is 100 years old, and worked as a medic in field hospitals as a member of international brigades.He'll be opening the Love Music Hate Racism night with a few words about his experiences of fighting fascism in Spain, and why he supports the campaign against the BNP.

So all those of us who have slowed down a little since passing 50 had better sit up and pay attention. Not content with showing up on picket lines in his buggy, Andy, at twice that age, is taking the stage at an open air rock festival. Born in Kilburn, he has lived in Somerset for half a century. Must be the air down there. Koech (Strength) and Long Life, Andy! And let's hope people pay attention to your message.
(original posting -

Thanks by the way to whoever sent the information. It came anonymously, and about four times so maybe that's four different people, unless someone's computer is playing up! This might be good a time as any to catch up on some correspondence, and mention a few new bloggers on the blog and one not quite so new.

First, as the agony and chaos in Gaza shaped into civil war last week, and there was little that you could call good news, this message from a Palestinian woman reached me:

Dear Friends,

I have decided to start a blog:
It is nothing elaborate or as politically controversial as some of the others.
The reason why I started it is to show a different side of Palestine and Palestinians. Some of you might think it's not the time, that while battles rage in Gaza I should write about that and what's happening there and the state of affairs on Palestinian political life. But everyone else is already doing that, everyone is so consumed by it...
I wanted to write something different; just things about mundane life. I feel that because of the opportunities that I've had that it makes me all the more responsible to show that life here is not just about the conflict. That some aspects are surprisingly ordinary, even if the violence overshadows everything else. Yet, I always insist that there is more to Palestinians than just the conflict and I think more people need to realize that! So, I hope that this helps in some small way. We'll see how it develops and whether I will keep it up... So check it and if you feel so inclined, leave comments, I would love to hear what you think.

Best, Margo

I think, having visited the blog, that If you can keep your head while others, so-called leaders, around you are losing theirs, then you might be part of the answer that people need, my sister.

BTW, the message from Margo was passed on to me by Julia Bard, of the Jewish Socialists' Group, who says Margo was one of her students on a journalism course at Goldsmiths, and has just returned to Palestine after four months in the United States.

Then there's Mick Hall, with whom I've sometimes agreed and sometimes argued on the Labour Briefing Readers List. It was Mick who introduced us via that list to 'The Blanket' , an online magazine started by former Irish Republican POWs. Now Mick has started a blog called Organised Rage at and so far it has been taking a particular interest in Irish politics. His blog is subtitled "The View from The Tower Block", but his is no Ivory Tower viewpoint.

Next, I don't think I mentioned when reporting the Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) meeting in London last month that among the people who spoke from the floor was a young guy from Down Under who happened to be passing through. He told us how a group of them in Australia had got more attention than they expected when they started something similar to IJV out there.
I meanwhile had recognised his name as a fellow-blogger, Anthony Loewenstein, and having only previously met in cyberspace (or on the blogosphere, was pleased to go up afterwards and introduce myself and shake hands. His website/blog address is worth a visit, at

Last, but by no means of least interest, I was pleased to welcome a communication yesterday concerning a Manchester personage, about whom I'd previously written, from someone who calls themselves Meursalt, who I see has started a blog called Nothing to Put Here at
Beyond seeing that he is a shopworker in Manchester, I know nothing about Meursalt except that his politics are left-wing, but from looking at his links, hard to pigeonhole, which makes them more interesting, nu?

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Labour chooses a deputy leader

STILL PROUD with their banner on May Day, Ford workers from Dagenham. Numbers reduced, but then little is left of their once giant factory since the US company stopped car production at Dagenham. Can a change in Labour leadership halt industrial decline?
Can union leaders tied to New Labour and Gordon Brown's promises be trusted to lead our struggles?

SUPPOSE I might as well confess. I voted this week in the Labour Party's election for deputy leader. Thanks to my union's affiliation I was sent a ballot paper. My Number One went against Jon Cruddas' name, naturally. A former Downing Street political secretary, he has never been what you'd call a "left", but these things are relative.

As MP for Dagenham he has looked good standing by "Old Labour" values and working people's concerns, while millionaire's daughter and one-time "left" poseuse Margaret Hodge in neighbouring Barking seems to think the way to beat the British National Party is to echo its propaganda, blaming Labour's ill-winds on it caring too much for immigrants.

Interviewed in the May-June Transport and General Workers' Union Record, Jon Cruddas talks about the insecurity of traditional Labour voters and the exploitation of immigrants, and praises the union's work and historic role in organising and uniting workers. Talking about the way industries, like Ford in his own constituency, have been run down, he acknowledges the state could have done more.

Cruddas was at the Morning Star conference on the Left After Blair at the weekend, where he spoke about Old Labour stuff like Health and Housing, and promised to "bring class back into politics". After ten years of Blair telling us we're a "classless society", and Brown achieving a situation where city bosses with fabulous incomes pay less tax than their underpaid cleaners, that Cruddas pledge won our hearty applause, and my vote.

My second vote went to Harriet Harman, not because I was shaking hands with husband Jack Dromey the other week, but because she gave a prompt and decent response on a deportation issue I raised with her a while back. I did not give any vote to Alan Johnson, his own union the CWU has disowned him (despite support from genereal secretary Billy Hayes who surely should have known better?). Nor to Hazel Blears, notwithstanding my Salford patriotism. An MP who turns up on a hospital cuts protest and has to be reminded that she is the Health Minister responsible, has clearly got amnesia and identity problems.

In his election address John Cruddas says he is standing "because the party has lost its way". "From Iraq to Trident, from commercialisation on public services to workers' rights, I understand the concerns and frustrations of party members".

"Perhaps the biggest problem is that ordinary members do not feel they are listened to".

Cruddas says that he is determined to put that right. I wish him the best of luck.

Ordinary members might have felt there was more chance of being listened to, and effecting change through Labour Party democracy if they had been given the chance to vote for the Party leader of their choice, and not just the deputy leader. John McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington, announced that he was standing a year ago, and waged a lively barnstorming campaign with the slogan (unashamedly borrowed from the social forums movement) "Another World is Possible" .

Taking his message to the grassroots he aroused real enthusiasm among Labour Party members and trade unionists. McDonnell very nearly reversed the decline in Party membership. He faced a media blackout for much of the time, but his campaign revived the popularity of public meetings. His opposition to war and demand for withdrawal from Iraq won young people (and accorded with public opinion); and the fact that he is promoting a Trade Union Bill, restoring some of the rights taken away under the Tories, should have won him the support of the trade unions.

To get on the ballot paper for leader, John McDonnell needed to be nominated by 45 Labour MPs. By May 15, with brief rival Michael Meacher having stood down, he had 27. Enough has been said about the other MPs who should have supported John, but to a man or woman rallied to the Gordon Brown bandwagon and ensured there would be no contest. Hopefully, frustrated Labour Party members who wanted the chance to vote for John will have had words with their MPs by now, and one of these words ought to be "reselection".

But it was not just the MPs.

The day after Michael Meacher stood down to give John a clear field I was at a meeting discussing who should be invited to speak from the platform for the June 9 "Enough" rally on Palestine. Someone suggested George Galloway, others weren't happy at the suggestion. In the course of some placatory remarks I chanced to say I'd sooner hear John McDonnell but ... At this the person sitting beside me objected, saying his union was adamant, it could not support one of the candidates standing in the Labour leadership contest. "Well, we could invite both," I suggested (being as ever helpful), adding quietly "Gordon could always send his apologies"; but by then my remarks were lost as people calmed down the important union delegate. (I knew of course that Gordon Brown had already assured Zionists of Labour's continuing support for Israel).

It was the same in my own union. While there was enthusiastic support from rank and file activists for John McDonnell, the leadership kept things under wraps until Gordon Brown had the parliamentary party sewn up. The press which had kept quiet so long about John McDonnell had started carrying old anti-McDonnell trivia from the archives. Then out came the news that Gordon was the only candidate, and surprise, surprise, what do we find after the 380 nominations from MPs but the supporting nominations from Amicus, Unison, TGWU, CWU and so on.

We may wonder what this says about these unions' supposed willingness to challenge the Blair -and Brown -government on issues like Palestine, or Iraq. (Ironically, the Israeli union federation Histadrut, inseparable from Zionist political leaders, has threatened to answer British union boycotts by refusing to handle cargoes of British goods; a tactic British unions would find hard to use under the anti-union laws, and after the unions and Labour betrayed the workers on the Liverpool docks).

As for domestic policy, when the TGWU had an election banner on its headquarters saying "Keep Britain Working With Labour" I did not know whether this meant by resisting the EU's working hours directive or by raising the pension age. Perhaps the union leaders have already been promised a deal with Gordon. Next time New Labour kicks the unions in the teeth he won't wear steel toecaps? Well, you have got to be realistic.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Who really bombed Pan Am flight 103?

NEWSPAPERS have been trying to shock readers with the news that "Lockerbie bomber" Abdelbaset al Megrahi, currently serving a 27-year sentence in Scotland, may be allowed to return to Libya under a high-level prisoner deal.

But writing in the London Review of Books, Hugh Miles has questioned whether the prisoner was guilty at all.

Pan Am flight 103 was blown up at 31,000 feet on December 21, 1988. The nose of the aircraft was torn clean off. Within three seconds of the bomb detonating, the cockpit, fuselage and No. 3 engine were falling separately out of the sky. It happened so quickly that no distress call was sent out and no oxygen masks deployed. With the cockpit gone, the fuselage depressurised instantly and the passengers in the rear section of the aircraft found themselves staring out into the Scottish night air.

Anyone not strapped down was whipped out of the plane; the change in air pressure made the passengers’ lungs expand to four times their normal volume and everyone lost consciousness. As the fuselage plummeted and the air pressure began to return to normal, some passengers came round, including the captain. A few survived all the way down, until they hit the ground. Rescuers found them clutching crucifixes, or holding hands, still strapped into their seats.

The fuselage of the plane landed on a row of homes in Lockerbie. The wing section of the Boeing 747, loaded with enough fuel for a transatlantic flight, hit the ground at more than 500 miles an hour and exploded in a fireball that lit the sky. The cockpit, with the first-class section still attached, landed beside a church in the village of Tundergarth.

Altogether 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 people on the ground were killed. Bodies and debris were strewn across the Scottish countryside. Among items found were the remains of a Samsonite suitcase, which investigators later established had been used to transport the bomb. The suitcase had contained clothes that were subsequently traced to the shop of a Maltese man called Tony Gauci, who later became a key prosecution witness. Fragments of a circuit board and a Toshiba radio were also recovered and identified as parts of the bomb.

Twelve years later, on 31 January 2001, a panel of three Scottish judges convicted a former Libyan intelligence officer for mass murder at Lockerbie. Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was tried at a specially convened court on a former US air force base near the Dutch town of Zeist. Under a special international arrangement, the court, which sat without a jury, was temporarily declared sovereign territory of the United Kingdom, under the jurisdiction of Scottish law.

Al-Megrahi was sentenced to 27 years in jail. His co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, a fellow Libyan intelligence officer, was acquitted. Al-Megrahi was initially told that he would spend at least twenty years in prison, but the Crown, which was prosecuting, protested that this sentence was unduly lenient and petitioned the judges for a longer one. In 2003 the judges reconvened to rule that he must serve no less than 27 years before the parole board would consider his eligibility for release. Al-Megrahi’s defence team had already lodged an appeal against the conviction, but in March 2002 the guilty verdict was upheld.

The Lockerbie bombing was the deadliest terror attack on American civilians until 11 September 2001. Pan Am never recovered from the damage to its reputation. The trial at Camp Zeist was the longest and – at a cost of £75 million – the most expensive in Scottish legal history. The appeal hearing was the first Scottish trial to be broadcast live on both television and the internet.

But was Megrahi really guilty? Robert Black QC, an emeritus professor of Scottish law at Edinburgh University, and one of the architects of the original trial in Holland has closely followed developments since the disaster happened and in 2000 devised the non-jury trial system for the al-Megrahi case.

Even before the trial he was so sure the evidence against al-Megrahi would not stand up in court that he is on record as saying that a conviction would be impossible. He is still convinced that al-Megrahi should not have been convited on the evidence heard and that what the Scottish court did was an outrage.

Al-Megrahi lost his appeal in 2002, but under Scottish law he is entitled to a further legal review, to be conducted by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), an independent public body made up of senior police officers and lawyers. Its job is to re-examine cases where a miscarriage of justice may have occurred: it handles cases after the appeal process has been exhausted, and if it finds evidence that a miscarriage of justice may have taken place it refers the case to the High Court to be heard again. Al-Megrahi applied to the SCCRC for a review of his case in 2003 and the commission has been reinspecting evidence from the trial for the last four years. It will submit its findings at the end of June.

Miles thinks it likely that the SCCRC will find that there is enough evidence to refer al-Megrahi’s case back to the appeal court. The Crown Office has already begun reinforcing its Lockerbie legal team in anticipation of a referral. If al-Megrahi is granted a second appeal, it will take place in Scotland, and may not be heard before the summer of 2008. Al-Megrahi’s defence team would be ready to launch an appeal in a matter of weeks, but the prosecution would be likely to delay the hearing for as long as possible.

"If an appeal takes place, al-Megrahi’s defence team will produce important evidence that was not available at the time of the first appeal, evidence that seems likely not only to exonerate al-Megrahi but to do so by pointing the finger of blame at the real perpetrators of the Lockerbie bombing and revealing some inconvenient truths".

Even the judge who presided over the Lockerbie investigation and issued the 1991 arrest warrants for the two Libyans has cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. In an interview with the Sunday Times in October 2005, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Scotland’s lord advocate from 1989 to 1992, questioned the reliability of the shopkeeper Tony Gauci, the prosecution’s star witness. ‘Gauci was not quite the full shilling. I think even his family would say [that he] was an apple short of a picnic. He was quite a tricky guy, I don’t think he was deliberately lying but if you asked him the same question three times he would just get irritated and refuse to answer.’

Pages of reports, detailing freight and baggage movements in and out of Frankfurt airport, have been handed over to the defence. Largely in German and many handwritten, the papers were translated by the Crown at the taxpayer’s expense, but the Crown refused to share the translations with the defence and left it no time to commission its own. The Privy Council’s judicial committee, made up of law lords and senior judges, has declared that the Crown’s refusal to disclose this evidence is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

More damaging still, an unnamed senior British police officer – known to be a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS), which implies that his rank is assistant chief constable or higher – has testified to al-Megrahi’s defence team that crucial evidence at the trial was fabricated.

Many people believe that the US government had a hand in fixing the trial. Hans Köchler, the UN observer at Camp Zeist, reported at the time that the trial was politically charged and the verdict ‘totally incomprehensible’.
In his report Köchler wrote that he found the presence of US Justice Department representatives in the court ‘highly problematic’, because it gave the impression that they were ‘“supervisors” handling vital matters of the prosecution strategy and deciding . . . which documents . . . were to be released in open court and what parts of information contained in a certain document were to be withheld.’ ‘The alternative theory of the defence,’ he went on, ‘was never seriously investigated.

al-Megrahi may be free this summer, if the judge is persuaded he will come back from Libya for another round in court. If al-Megrahi is exonerated, the question arises, what about the $2.7 billion compensation paid by Libya to the relatives of the victims of the bombing? And who really bombed Flight 103?

In the first few years after the bombing, police, the FBI, and news reports figured they knew who carried out the Lockerbie bombing, and why. This relates to another airliner attacked that year, the Iran Air Airbus, shot down by the USS Vincennes while on a scheduled flight from Bandar Abbas to Dubai. Almost 300 passengers, including 66 children, were killed when the Vincennes' two missiles ripped through Iran Air Flight 655. US forces claimed they and their sophisticated radar had mistaken the big airbus for an F14 fighter. It was the day before the 4th of July, and Americans went ahead and celebrated. Nobody was ever put on trial for this attack. In fact, the captain of the Vincennes was later decorated.

Ayatollah Khomeini vowed the skies would ‘rain blood’ in revenge and offered a $10 million reward to anyone who ‘obtained justice’ for Iran. The Syrian government and intelligence services might have been able to cement relations with Iran by putting the Iranians in touch with a Syrian-based asset that could undertake the job. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command), led by a former Syrian army officer called Ahmed Jibril, and not to be confused with the bigger PFLP, has made up for lack of a popular movement and ideology by concentrating on technical skills. This is the group that tried using hang gliders to raid into Israel.

Evidence obtained by al-Megrahi’s defence shows that a member of the PFLP(Ahmed Jibril) called Abu Talb was in Malta when the Lockerbie bombing took place. The Maltese man whose testimony convicted al-Megrahi has also identified Abu Talb. During al-Megrahi’s trial Abu Talb was named as someone who – rather than the accused – might have carried out the bombing. At the time he was serving a life sentence in Sweden for the bombing of a synagogue, but he was summoned to Camp Zeist to give evidence. He ended up testifying as a prosecution witness, denying that he had anything to do with Lockerbie. In exchange for his testimony, he received lifelong immunity from prosecution.

Other evidence has emerged showing that the bomb could have been placed on the plane at Frankfurt airport, where the Ahmed Jibril group had an active cell. Most significantly, according to Hugh Miles, German federal police have provided financial records showing that on 23 December 1988, two days after the bombing, the Iranian government deposited £5.9 million into a Swiss bank account that belonged to the arrested members of the PFLP-GC.

Why would the US have turned attention away from the Ahmed Jibril gropup, Syria and Iran? In the run-up to the first US intervention against their erstwhile ally Iraq, US strategy required a coalition including Iran and Syria to back them over Kuwait. Syria subsequently joined the UN forces. "Quietly, the evidence incriminating Jibril, so painstakingly sifted from the debris, was binned", says Hugh Miles.

That wasn't all. Juval Aviv, head of a New York investigation company looking into the bombing for Pan Am was indicted for mail fraud. "Lester Coleman, a former Defense Intelligence Agency operative who was researching a book about the PFLP-GC and Lockerbie, was charged by the FBI with ‘falsely procuring a passport’. William Casey, a lobbyist who made similar allegations in 1995, found his bank accounts frozen and federal agents searching through his trash."

There were other stories that fuelled conspiracy theory and gave the US possible motives for a cover-up. It was said the CIA had a drugs-for-information operation which the PFLP-GC was able to penetrate so they found a way of getting explosives on board the plane unchecked. At least four US intelligence officers, including the CIA’s deputy station chief in Beirut, were on the Flight 103 passenger list.

CIA agents, some in Pan Am overalls, scoured the Scottish countryside after the plane came down. Mary Boylan, then a constable with Lothian and Borders police, has said that senior police officers told her not to make an official record of the CIA badge she recovered from the wreckage, asking her instead to hand it over to a senior colleague. Jim Wilson, a farmer from Tundergarth, reported shortly after the bombing that he had found in his field a suitcase packed with a powdery substance that looked ‘like drugs’. He last saw the suitcase when he handed it over to the police, he said; he was never asked about it again.

When Libya handed al-Megrahi over for trial, sanctions on Libya authorised by the Security Council were suspended and diplomatic relations with Britain restored. Gaddafi has always contested that al-Megrahi is not the Lockerbie bomber and that he should be allowed to return home. One of Tony Blair's last acts as prime minister was to drop in on the Libyan leader for confidential talks. There is speculation that Gaddafi might have asked for the prisoner back. If Libya claimed its compensation back too the British government rather than the relatives might be asked to pay.

Now that Libya has been brought back in from the cold, US hostility is focussed on Syria (to the extent that Condoleeza Rice told Israeli premier Olmert not to accept a Syrian approach for talks), and of course on Iran. It might be enough to give the quest for justice over Lockerbie another twist. But if the US authorities now support a turn to blaming Ian and Syria, will they also admit that it was the action of the USS Vincennes, approved by the US area command and rewarded with decoration, that was the first shot in this air war? Somehow I doubt it.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Death Trap Gaza?

ISRAEL'S former Sefardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu declared in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the end of last month that all civilians living in Gaza were collectively guilty for Kassam rocket attacks on Sderot, and that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians in a military onslaught.

The Rabbi's letter, citing Biblical precedents, was published in Olam Katan [Small World], for distribution in synagogues throughout the country. Eliyahu's son, Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, said his father opposed a ground troop incursion into Gaza that would endanger IDF soldiers. Rather, he advocated carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life."If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand," said Shmuel Eliyahu. "And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop."

In the past week it has seemed as though the Rabbi's call for massacre and destruction was superfluous, as Palestinian killed Palestinian and destroyed buildings in an area which had already seen massive suffering and widespread damage to its infrastructure as a result of Israeli blockade and incursions, as well as Western cutoff of aid.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported on June 12:
"Gaza drowns in Blood Because of the Conflict between Fatah and Hamas Movements"

"For the 3rd consecutive day, Gaza City has witnessed unjustifiable violent internal fighting, and an atmosphere of tension has spread over Gaza that is not less violent than that which has spread as a result of the offensive that has been launched by Israeli Occupation Forces for nearly a month. Since Monday evening, violence has extended to most areas in the Gaza Strip from the north to the south, and militants have deployed in the streets, at the entrances of towns and near governmental headquarters and security compounds.

"Militants from Hamas and Fatah movements have used various kinds of weapons and have occupied a number of official buildings belonging to the Palestinian presidency and government. The attacks have even targeted the house and the office of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and the presidential compound. Militants have been more violent than ever before as they have stormed hospitals and forced medical crews out. They even fired inside hospital and killed a number of persons. Moreover, mutual kidnappings and field executions have been reported. The two movements have even threatened to escalate the situation and extend the fighting to the West Bank.

"In this atmosphere of terror, approximately 67,000 students have attended the exams of the General Certificate of Education (Tawjihi), in addition to thousands of university students who have attended their final exams. The current situation threatens the overall educational process. PCHR strongly condemns such fighting which is not of the ethics, sacrifices and struggle of the Palestinian people, and warns that it threatens the overall national aspirations and lives of innocent Palestinian civilians, whose daily activities have been paralyzed. "

Apologising that it was unable to report fully because its own workers were unable to move freely and its office had been besieged in the exchange of fire, PCHR said its information then was that 21 Palestinians had been killed and at least 150 wounded in 72 hours. There had been a gun battle near the Beit Hanoun hospital between the Executive Force and members of the al-Masri clan, several of whom were killed. Fighting had gone on through the night in Gaza city, especially in al-Shati refugee camp, and al-Maqqousi housing project near security sites.

Armed groups had also set up road blocks. 'Amru Nabhan al-Rantissi, 21, a member of the 'Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades (the armed wing of Hamas) had been kidnapped, and his body was found later on the Khan YunisRafah road. Members of the 'Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades responded by driving security men from their sites in Khan Yunis, and seizing the governorate building.

The PCHR strongly condemned "the bloody internal fighting between Fatah and Hamas movements", and called upon the Palestinian President and Government to "fulfill their responsibilities, and to take immediate steps to restore order and security, and to protect civilians from the effects of these disgraceful clashes. "

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights29 Omer El Mukhtar St., El Remal, PO Box 1328 Gaza, Gaza Strip tel/fax: +972 (0)8 282 4776 – 282 5893

By the weekend, it was clear the Palestinian national unity government no longer existed, and that Palestine itself was now divided as surely by political rivalry as by Israeli border guards, with Hamas in control of the Gaza strip and Fatah supporters fleeing either to the West Bank or into Egypt.

Palestinian commentator Ali Abunimeh has blamed US and Israeli machinations behind President Mahmoud Abbas and more especially his security forces for the conflict.
"Mahmoud Abbas and his advisors have conspired with Israel, the United States and the intelligence services of several Arab states to overthrow and weaken Hamas. This support has included funneling weapons and tens of millions of dollars to unaccountable militias, particularly the "Preventive Security Force" headed by Gaza warlord Mohammad Dahlan, a close ally of Israel and the United States and the Abbas-affiliated "Presidential Guard." US Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams -- who helped divert money to the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s and who was convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal -- has spearheaded the effort to set up these Palestinian Contras".
A setback for the Bush doctrine in Gaza
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 14 June 2007

Abbas had declared a "state of emergency" and dismissed Ismail Haniyeh the Hamas prime minister as well as the "national unity government." But, Abumineh argued, 'the "state of emergency" is merely rhetorical. Whatever control he had in Gaza is gone and Israel is in complete control of the West Bank anyway'. Many elected Palestinian leaders are in Israeli jails, which may prevent them resisting Abbas but doesn't help his credibility.

Salam Fayyad, whom Abbas appointed as new prime minister, ran on an independent list which only got 1 per cent of the vote at the last election, as compared with 44 per cent for the Hamas list. US and British diplomats have reportedly promised to restore funding if his new government excludes Hamas.
It is hard to see this gaining respect and legitimacy for it, however desperate the Palestinian plight, even among those whom Hamas has tried to reassure that it will not impose religious coercion.

But even if Hamas holds on to power in Gaza, it remains besieged and deprived of resources. Besides, separation of the two halves of any Palestinian state -not to mention the further truncation of the West Bank by expanding Israeli settlements - fits in with an Israeli plan that could be seen emerging when Sharon decided to clear the Gaza settlements out (while encouraging settlers into the West Bank).

The danger is that with the two main Palestinian factions each playing a role of which they may be unaware, the Gaza strip is not only being turned into a miserable reservation-ghetto, but it could become a death-trap. Isolation, and the depiction of Gaza's people as something less than human, would be the first steps. Chief Rabbi Eliyahu could be voicing in religious terms what military men in Tel Aviv and Washington cold-bloodedly calculate.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Well, what fine defenders of freedom and democracy!

TWO institutions which enjoy far more reverence than they deserve are Britain's Chief Rabbi and America's Bnai Brith-Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Both probably rate more respect from the media than from their own flocks. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has denounced the University and Colleges Union(UCU) decision to discuss a boycott of Israeli institutions as a threat to "our liberal democracy".

Sacks goes on about alleged Islamic extremists in colleges, students, whom, according to the government and him , lecturers should be monitoring.
But as the Jewish Chronicle has reported, much of the impetus behind the boycott call comes from Jewish and Israeli campaigners concerned with Palestinian rights, nothing to do with Islamicists.

Sacks' predecessor, Lord Jacobowitz (that title says it) was conservative and too close to big "C" Conservative Margaret Thatcher for most of us, but he did venture some liberal criticism of Israeli expansionism, sufficient to force the cancellation of a Catskill lecture tour because of threats from the Kahanists. On arrival in the House of Lords he proposed a campaign against the international arms trade. Jewish Socialist magazine wondered whether he had considered what Baroness Thatcher and son might say. We have heard no more of the campaign.

Sacks is more predictable than his predecessor. At a Zionist rally in Kenton, north-west London last year, as the Israeli air force was scattering clsuter bombs on Lebanon this Chief Rabbi proclaimed "Israel, We Are Proud of You!"
Now he wants to tell us about terror and extremism, and condemn people for trying to find a way to support Palestinian rights. Contrary to the impression you might get from the mainstream media, Sacks has no authority to speak on behalf of all Jews in Britain, not even of all synagogue goers, nor make pronouncements on what is right or wrong for them.

He is merely the head of the United Synagogue, an Orthodox body which does not recognise equality for women and whose liberalism, not to say democracy, is highly dubious. But now he wants to tell academics their duties, and admonish a trade union because its conference democratically voted for an informed discussion of the boycott issue. The UCU resolution said that academics would have to consult their consciences. What a dreadful idea for some of them that is, I can imagine. But evidently it is not a thought our great religious leader approves of!

Talking of witch-hunts, I dare say we will hear from the Chief Rabbi what he thinks about De Paul University's denial of tenure to Professor Norman Finkelstein. The Anti-Defamation League has made its view clear, in a statement by its Chicago director Lonnie Nasatir:

"The Anti-Defamation League has long been troubled by Professor Norman Finkelstein's vitriolic and mean-spirited rhetoric in his written works and public speaking engagements. His career has been marked by hurtful attacks on those seeking to remember the Holocaust, an obsessive hatred of Zionism and Israel, and a penchant for distorting the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. To the extent that DePaul's decision to deny tenure to Prof. Finkelstein is intended as a repudiation of his hateful and bigoted ideas, we applaud the University for its actions in standing up for its principles. It should be noted that DePaul accepted Jewish students when other universities had strict quotas, and we look forward to continuing the close relationship between DePaul and the Jewish community that has done so much to benefit Chicago and Catholic-Jewish relations".

Finkelstein has not sought to attack "those seeking to remember the Holocaust". As the son of Holocaust survivors he has attacked the use made of the memory by Zionists and others, and the way that many survivors have been forgotten and left in the cold when compensation funds were allocated.
He has also attacked the way Israel treats the Palestinians. And for that he must be punished, and the commandment not to make false witness can be forgotten when institutions like the ADL are dealing with Israel's enemies.

Started as an offshoot of the Bnai Brith friendly society, ADL purports to be leading the fight against antisemitism and racism, but it is distinctly unfriendly to anyone who protests Israeli racism. So much so that some years ago its West Coast wing was caught employing two ex-cops to infiltrate and spy on a wide variety of labour movement, minority and peace campaigning organisations. The roll-call of organisations targetted, including the Bay Area chapter of the International Jewish Peace Union, was impressive; but the two police spies also moonlighted for the South African embassy.

Still, at least ADL is being honest and consistent now. Only a week after it placed advertisements in the press here condemning the UCU resolutions (a warning it intends interfering in British affairs over the heads of UK Jewish leaders). It could have kept quiet and pretended it really believes in academic freedom. But it was probably too arrogant to even consider what people might think about that.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Voices for Finkelstein

THE decision of De Paul University at Chicago to deny tenure to Professor Norman Finkelstein - plainly in response to outside complaints about his political views rather than any problem with his teaching or scholarship - has aroused numerous protests to the university authorities.

De Paul is a Roman Catholic university, but the anti-Finkelstein campaign came from Zionists such as Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who resented Norman Finkelstein's criticisms of Israel and the use it makes of the Nazi Holocaust. Professor Finkelstein's immediate colleagues had voted in favour of tenure but were overruled.

As reported, students at De Paul have occupied the university's administrative offices. People are also writing to De Paul's president, Reverend Fr. Dennis H. Holtschneider. Here are a few of the letters I have seen.

President Holtschneider
DePaul University
1 E. Jackson Boulevard.,
United States of America Thursday, 14 June 2007

Dear President Holtschneider:

Re: Denial of tenure to Dr Norman Finkelstein

I am deeply shocked and disturbed by the decision, unjust and unjustified, by your institution to deny tenure to Dr. Norman Finkelstein, one of the brightest, most original intellectuals in the US academia. But of course, you do not need me to tell you that - after all, as his direct employer, you must be well aware of this yourself. That the tenure was denied after a vicious and aggresive campaign against Dr. Finkelstein, by one of the better-known lawyers in the US, famous for his defence of an even more famous murder 'suspect', is making your decision a political, non-academic and non-scientific act - a mere surrender to the loudest voice in the neighbourhood.

May I say that as a Jew and Israeli, whose family was destroyed in the Holocaust, one who greatly values Finkelstein's work for its originality and courage, I am ashamed for you. I am ashamed that a president of a catholic university finds it possible to punish a Jewish intellectual of sterling quality for publishing original and highly necessary research on the nature of the Holocaust and its ideological use/abuse in the past decades. I would have thought that it behoves a catholic institution to be much more circumspect and professional on this issue, and not to capitulate to crude and aggressive Zionist propaganda of the kind voiced against Dr. Finkelstein.

I hope that the shock which your decision has created, may jolt the De Paul University into a realisation that a severe error has been committed, an error which needs addressing and correcting. I am sure that the academic community would be appreciative if you found the courage to admit your mistake, and revoke this decision without delay.

I am appealing to you to so do.

Prof. Haim Bresheeth
Chair of Cultural and Media Studies
University of East London

Dear President Holtschneider:

At the end of the day, evil is not about meaning it. Hanna Arendt, in her historical study of the Eichman trial, has taught us that evil is really quite banal. It is not about running evil campaigns. Rather, it is about following, blindly, the technicalities of a system without stopping for a minute to think about its meaning. And so, meaning it or not, it results in perpetrating and enforcing it. In Hebrew, which happens to be my native language, it has come to be known as 'small head'. It is the attitude many Israeli citizens and soldiers have explicitly adopted in the face of illegal and immoral system and orders. It consists of the approach that "we will do, thoughtlessly, that which is expected, literally, and we will refuse to let it touch us, thereby hoping that we will not be morally culpable."
They are, however, morally culpable. As is De Paul University and you as its president.
By denying Professor Finkelstein tenure, you have refused to face the central issue with any degree of moral courage, and opted, instead, to succumb to pressure masquerading as following technicalities, hoping that it will enable you to thereby assuage both responsibility and culpability. You have avoided none. You are responsible and you are culpable. What De Paul University, and you as its president, have done, will be neither forgotten, nor forgiven by history. We all know, academicians and others, that a precedent has been set which officially initiates the curtailing of academic freedoms and the freedom of speech so essential for academe in particular and for society in general. The purging of universities of any species of dissenting views has been the first step taken by dictatorial and undemocratic regimes throughout the 20th century, as well as prior to that, and history will hold you, personally, responsible for having carried it into the 21th .
By any and all criteria acceptable in US academe, Professor Finkelstein deserves to get tenure. Your statement, that you "find no compelling reasons here to overturn the University Board on Promotion and Tenure decision" is at the same time craven and contemptible. There is little for people like me to do or say, short of pointing this out, in the hope that this act alone will at least contribute to the emergence of the moral opposition which your actions deserve.

Hagit Borer
Professor of Linguistics, University of Southern California

Re: Denial of tenure to Dr Norman Finkelstein

It is rare indeed that individuals have an opportunity to make a difference and even rarer for someone in a position of power to stand up for principle.

By your own admission, as in your letter to Dr Finkelstein, it is accepted that he is a fine scholar and teacher. That should have been the end of the matter. Tenure granted. Instead you and the relevant committee succumbed to the pressure put upon you by Prof. Dershowitz and his cohorts. All the talk about Vincentian codes, collegiality etc. disguise one simple fact. That when it came to the crunch you took the path of least resistance.

As someone who is Jewish I am well aware that during the period about which Dr Finkelstein writes, i.e. the Holocaust, the Catholic Church remained silent about what was happening except for coded references in the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge. Nowhere, not once, was there an explicit condemnation of either anti-Semitism or luminaries of the church such as Cardonal Tiso. I am, of course, also aware of the hostility of the Catholic Church traditionally to free thought and expression, of which the Galileo affair was the most notable.

You had the opportunity to stand up for all these ideals, to reject the voices of McCarthyism which are prevalent in the United States today. Instead you hid behind bureaucratic excuses and a divided committee and acted as a functionary rather than the head of an academic institution.

I hope that even at this late hour you will reflect on your decision and decide to stand up for truth and justice rather than basking in the approval of those for whom truth is a matter of political convenience

Yours sincerely,

Tony Greenstein
Brighton, England.

It had occurred to me that in calling upon a Catholic institution to repress a Jewish scholar, the anti-Finkelstein campaigners had followed a historical precedent, albeit not a proud one. In the 13th century the Jewish authorities in Montpelier called upon the Christian authorities to ban and destroy the writings of Moses Maimonides (Moshe ben Maimon).
"From Moses unto Moses, there is none like unto Moses", so the latter's admirers have said, and I don't suggest Norman would claim such status, even if his persecutors do remind us of Medieval superstition and intolerance. But another writer has come up with a yet more exalted comparison.

Dear President Holtschneider:

I am an Israeli Jew. Your action in denying tenure to Dr Finkelstein has reminded me of another decision, made long ago regarding a compatriot of mine, Yeshua of Nazareth. Intervening in an inter-Jewish dispute, Pontius Pilate, acting out of cowardice, succumbed to the pressure of the more powerful Jewish faction against the powerless dissident Jew. Now you have done the same. Go, wash your hands.-

That one is from Professor Moshe Machover, of London University), and before either he or I find ourselves drawn into theological arguments, about what really happened at Easter, I should stress we are both atheists. But I think Moshe(another of the blighters) has found a witty and succinct way of piercing the bureaucratic armour of a Christian Catholic academic gentleman, if that's possible.

Finally, I wondered whether those proponents of "academic freedom" who strongly oppose any poposal to boycott Israeli institutions would raise their voices for Professor Finkelstein (and incidentally let's not forget his colleague Mehrene Larudee, less of a celebrity perhaps, but whom De Paul has also denied tenure). I said I was not holding my breath. Well, in all fairness, one of them, Professor Norman Geras, a stalwart of the Engage fraternity and not one of my favourites, has done so:

"The president of DePaul may be satisfied that 'academic freedom is alive and well' at his university, but it needs to demonstrate that its decision in this case hasn't betrayed that principle. You don't have either to agree with or to warm to Norman Finkelstein to find the decision suspect, at best".

Fair enough. And thanks to fellow-blogger Mark Elf, of Jews Sans Frontieres, who was fair enough to bring this to our attention.


AND NOW, CONCERNING THAT OTHER BOYCOTT.... the London Jewish Chronicle today has a


Top news stories: Named: boycott ringleaders

THE JC today identifies the key players in the escalating British campaign to boycott Israel. Our investigation shows that many are Jewish or Israeli, and that they justify their stance as part of the struggle for Palestinian rights and ending Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

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