Friday, August 31, 2007

Danny spoke in Brussels, so they've cancelled his invitation to London

THE United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israel Palestinian Peace opened in Brussels on Thursday, with an address from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, read for him by Angela Kane, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

Praising the work of civil society actors, (i.e. non-governmental), the UN secretary said they were helping build bridges between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, strengthening institutions and providing critical humanitarian and other assistance. In every aspect of their work, they were contributing towards a just solution to the decades-old conflict.

The continued occupation of the Palestinian Territory prolonged hardship and injustice for millions of Palestinians, yet it had also failed to ensure the security of Israeli civilians, he said. While recent efforts to get the Palestinians and Israelis back on the negotiating track were encouraging, movement on the political front could not obscure the dire humanitarian situation on the ground. The unsustainable division of the West Bank and Gaza had grave humanitarian and political implications.

Opening the Conference, Paul Badji ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, recalled that June marked 40 years of the Israeli occupation, noting that civil society organizations had helped attract public and media attention to the reality of the longest military occupation in modern history. That effort should not be abandoned, considering that Israel's expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank continued in violation of international law, often neglected by major media organizations and rarely noticed by the public. Israel had failed to fulfil its obligation to dismantle settlement outposts as required in the very first phase of the "Road Map". It had further expanded existing settlements, while constantly demanding that the Palestinian side fulfil its obligations as a precondition for even starting negotiations. The Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice concerning the separation wall in the occupied West Bank and around East Jerusalem had never been heeded since it was issued nearly three years ago and, for the past four decades, the occupying Power had essentially disregarded its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The human rights of the civilian Palestinian population were routinely violated as they frequently became victims of Israeli military operations in their towns and villages.

The Committee strongly condemned any activities indiscriminately targeting civilians, either by the Israeli army or by Palestinian groups firing rockets at Israeli towns, he said. The Committee had called upon the parties to resume without delay the political process aimed at establishing a viable and contiguous Palestinian State in the Territory occupied since 1967, comprising the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Civil society, for its part, continued to help the Palestinian people cope with the daily hardships, and bring to the forefront of world attention the urgent need to resolve the conflict.

The conference also heard a message from Palestinian Austhority president Mahmoud Abbas, who has been in talks with Israeli prime minister Olmert.

Edward McMillan Scott, Vice-President of the European Parliament, said it was regrettable that some news organizations had published reports labelling the event as anti-Israel. “Today marks the opening of my inquiry into the role of parliaments in the Middle East peace process. I am not anti-Israel or anti-Palestine, but I am pro-democracy and pro-dialogue,” he added. “A Palestinian State with sustainable borders would also bring Israeli citizens greater security and stability. The fact that their barrier now almost encircles Bethlehem and Jerusalem is not propitious for peace,” he added.

Danny Rubinstein, of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, said that, even if the wall followed strictly the line of the pre-1967 border, it would still not be justified. The two peoples needed cooperation rather than walls because they must be neighbours. The principle of two States for two peoples was the only alternative to one State for two peoples. Israel today was an apartheid State with four different Palestinian groups: those in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israeli Palestinians, each of which had a different status.
He said since the disengagement from Gaza and the dismantling of its settlements, it was clear that Israel could survive without the settlements and without East Jerusalem because it had done so even before 1967. However, it could not survive the right of return because there were about 4 million Palestine refugees wishing to return to their property. The right of return was a “red line” for Israelis just as the denial of Jerusalem was a red line for the Palestinians, who could otherwise even the wall.

Labour MP and ex-Overseas Aid minister Clare Short spoke about her recent visit to the Occupied Territories with a delegation from War on Want, which had included a briefing from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on the way the wall, closures, settlements and separate roads were imprisoning the Palestinians.

More on conference speakers at:

The UN conference has been held in the European Parliament building in Brussels, despite a well-publicised campaign by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and its friends protesting that by allowing it to take place there the parliament was "legitimising" an "anti-Israel" movement. It was claimed the conference would be "one sided", and that the committee calling it was a continuation of the UN "Zionism is Racism" resolution from 1975. For some American Zionists it was yet another manifestation of the antisemitism and anti-Americanism of both the UN and Europe.

The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.

Having failed to stop it, the Zionists - at any rate the Zionist Federation of Great Britain - have had to make do with retribution against one of the participants, Danny Rubinstein.
" Haaretz columnist Danny Rubinstein's participation in this weekend's Zionist Federation (ZF) conference in London has been cancelled by mutual agreement.On Thursday evening,the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Rubinstein, who has taught at HebrewUniversity in Jerusalem and Ben Gurion University in the Negev, told a UN conference in Brussels: 'Today Israel is an apartheid state with different status for different communities.'.

"In a meeting on Friday with ZF officials, Rubinstein confirmed he made the statement. The ZF said in its statement that it regularly holds meetings where a wide variety of views are expressed, and while there is no question that Rubinstein has every right to express his views about Israel, it was mutually agreed that his participation in the Zionist Federation conference became untenable.

"ZF Chairman Andrew Balcombe said, "Criticism of Israeli policy is acceptable. However, by using the word 'apartheid' in a UN conference held at the EuropeanParliament, Danny Rubinstein encourages the demonization of Israel and the Jewish people. I believe he was naïve to attend the UN conference. Indeed, his own newspaper had earlier reported that Israeli and EU lawmakers had attacked the UN meeting for having a completely one-sided, anti-Israeli agenda."

The ZF conference, entitled "Israel at 60", is being held from 31 August to 2 September in London. I hope Danny Rubinstein will manage to get over his disappointment at being left out of this august gathering as he reflects on the admonishment from Andrew Balcombe. Note how Balcombe manages to drag "the Jewish people" into his argument, when nobody else has mentioned us. When there's no antisemitism about the issue the Zionist has to invent it. By taking part as an Israeli in a reasoned debate about peace, Rubinstein was letting the side down, irrespective of what he said.

The man from Ha'aretz is billed to speak at a public meeting in London on Monday, and I hope the withdrawal of the ZF invitation will not prevent this going ahead:

Monday, 3 September 2007, 8.00 pm
Can Israel Make Peace with the Palestinians?
A talk by Danny Rubinstein followed by Q & A’s Danny Rubinstein is a renowned Israeli journalist, columnist
and Editorial Board member at Haaretz, specialising in Arab Affairs. He is also a teacher at Hebrew University and Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva in Communications and Middle Eastern Studies.

The Manor House, New North London Synagogue, 80 East End Road, London, N3 2SY
Tickets: Free but for security reasons you must register in advance at
New Israel Fund, the Spiro Ark, the Zionist Federation (?)

Thanks are due to Paula, of European Jews for Just Peace, for sending me information from the UN conference, and to Mark Elf for drawing attention to the ZF decision to cancel its invitation to Danny Rubinstein. See "Well Really! What do Israelis know about Israel?" in his blog

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ten Years After the Death of a Princess

TEN years ago, at about 3.30 on a Sunday morning, I was standing on a corner on Chase Road, north Acton in west London, waiting for a minicab to take me to work when some folk would be starting back from their nights out. While I was waiting I turned on my little radio, and that's when I heard the news coming in of a motor accident in Paris.

I got the rest of the news over the minicab's radio. Diana, Princess of Wales, had been taken to hospital but after two hours' efforts to save her was pronounced dead, as was her companion Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul the driver. The only survivor of the crash was Trevor Rees-Jones, the ex-SAS bodyguard.

My first thought, as soon as I heard the car had hit a wall, was to wonder if it had been fixed. No particular reason. Maybe I had read too many spy stories. True ones. I'm not sure, but I seem to remember my cab driver was thinking along similar lines.

I was running a paper stall outside a station. That morning the Express was late. It had been recalled so they could change the front page for news of Diana's crash death. But they did not have time to change the inside pages. When I had a chance to look through the papers later, I found the Express had page after page of adverse comment about the princess, her interests, her relationship with Dodi El Fayed. One charming lady columnist remarked that the pair might be happier dead.

Most of my customers were shocked and saddened by the news, though not showing the kind of unrestrained emotion that was to be worked up as the weeks went on. A fellow who ran a garage round the corner showed a different side, saying he was glad the princess and her boyfriend (only he referred to them in obscene terms) were dead. Somehow I don't think his bitterness stemmed from class resentment of royalty and wealthy store heirs. Maybe he was an Express reader.

Not being a royalist, nor fan of High Society celebs, I had not paid much attention to the affairs of the Windsors or their partners, the most expensive soap opera. My interest had peaked early, during the Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II when we were given free souvenir mugs at school, and a morning trip to see the film of the conquest of Everest, and accumulated all sorts of Coronation tat from the toy shops. Our street was decorated with flags and bunting for a party. Along with the Union flags and stars-and-stripes, one of the neighbouring streets had a big Red Soviet flag, I don't know whether it was a political statement or just something they had saved from VE Day. Either way, full marks to Fylde Street!

Maybe there was something different about Diana, that people had noticed before the last tragedy. I remember seeing her picture proudly displayed in the window of a curry house in Pimlico which she had apparently patronised. (My old favourite restaurant in Lancaster made do with a picture of Klondyke Bill the wrestler sitting in the ring with his belly hanging out, saying "I always eat here!" He did too, and drank occasionally in the same pub as me - so don't think I've not rubbed shoulders with celebrities). I also saw her signed picture displayed in a cafe near Notting Hill, I think she may have dropped in when working at a kindergarten or whatever in her younger days. I can't imagine the princess slipping up from Kensington Palace for a bacon roll and coffee. But unlike the Family into which she married, Diana had, after a privileged but troubled childhood, tried her hand working at proper jobs, and moved in the same world as the rest of us. It may have influenced her attempts to give her sons an element of normality.

Diana's marriage to Charles may have been made in some Royal PR department rather than heaven. I'd cynically assumed her visits to AIDS patients and homeless persons were part of an effort to give the monarchy a modern image. But besides that west London garage boss with his disapproval of interlopers, once Diana split from Charles and also took up politically contentious issues like landmines -one of Britain's profitable exports -the no longer predictable princess may have earned herself more powerful enemies.

The following week's Express had forgotten its complaints, however, and obviously hoped we had. It editorialised about the princess "we all loved", and in competition with the other papers, offered a special picture supplement in tribute. Nowadays, as though expiating past guilt, it is famous for running ongoing front-page stories claiming new information about Diana's death, and taking every excuse to feature her picture for the cultists.

Over the weeks after the crash I kept wondering if the car's steering column was being checked for evidence of interference, or if it was too badly damaged. The papers did not say. There were suggestions the driver had drunk on top of medication but I did not see any mention of his doctor being asked about what pills he was taking.

Some of the emotion aroused by the death seemed genuine. I remember a black lady crying on the bus, and another at Shepherds Bush station.

On the Saturday morning of the funeral it was a fine day and I decided to go out for a walk. I went up by Perivale where the shops were shut, and over Horsenden hill, stopping to admire its view over London . I took a bus home, but got off at the pub, the Grand Junction. There were a few guys in playing pool. Nobody was talking about the funeral. But on the way out I met Seamus, the old boy who was normally at the corner of the bar, but had been at home watching the funeral on television. In conversation, I remarked that I thought the crash might not have been an accident, that the princess could have been murdered. Seamus looked nervously over his shoulder, frightened, then confided that he agreed, but advised me "don't let people hear you say that".

It seemed we were supposed to have a national consensus not only about "the people's princess" but about the tragedy of her death, and not even a suggestion that anyone might have been happier with her dead than they had been when she was alive. Quite a lot of media commentators seemed anxious to dispel any "conspiracy theories", not by arguing over facts or suggestions, but simply classifying anyone of us who raised suspicions as cranks and nutters.

Ten years later, there are probably as many people prepared to suspect some kind of conspiracy as to believe it was an accident. You can hear people talking about it on the bus, as well as encounter a wide range of ideas on the web, from the plausible to the obviously loopy. "Conspiracy theory" seems to go with pilgrimages to Diana-associated shrines for some visitors to London.

I've seen MI6 mentioned and heard the Duke of Edinburgh accused, but I feel we are being guided hurriedly past what might be more real paths for enquiry. Perhaps the way it is considered safe to keep to a supposed intrigue within the Palace suggests how high the real stakes are.

Whatever the truth, about Diana or about her death, it would seem that a large section of the public needs to believe the best about the "people's princess", and to suspect the worst about the rest of the ruling class and its workings. I think that tells us something new about British society. I am not sure what. But I suspect it is different to what was predicted by the experts.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Better news from Brussels, it seems

IT looks like the United Nations Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, UNISPAL, will be able to go ahead with its conference in Brussels this week after all.

The Israeli government had called on the European parliament not to allow the conference to be held on its premises. An international campaign was reportedly being mobilised.
Israel expects European Parliament to do as it is told

But apart from giving some nutty North American websites something to get excited over, it does not seem to have got very far. We don't know what strings Israel's diplomats and assets were pulling behind the scenes, but meanwhile some quite different Jewish voices made themselves heard:

European Jews for a just Peace
P.O. Box 59506 1040 LA Amsterdam The Netherlands

To the President of the European Parliament
Mr. Hans-Gert Pöttering
Rue Wiertz 60
PHS 11B11
B-1047 Brussels
22 August 2007

Mr. President of the European Parliament,

As has been widely reported the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (UNISPAL), founded in 1975, is to hold an International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace at the European Parliament in Brussels on 30 and 31 August 2007.

Various important topics are to be discussed at the Conference, among them
reports on the effects of the Israeli occupation on the population of East
Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the findings of a delegation of the European Parliament which visited the region, several workshops and the
strengthening of campaigns to end the occupation, including the grassroots
campaign against the Wall, nonviolent demonstrations in Bil’in and elsewhere in the West Bank and the improvement of the European contribution to
international attempts to end the Israeli occupation and thus create an
atmosphere for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

We are aware that for several weeks the Delegation of Israel has been trying to
persuade the European Parliament not to provide rooms for this Conference by
saying that the purpose of the Conference is to adopt one-sided judgments
against Israel.

The European Jews for a Just Peace, a European federation of Jews in 10
countries, citizens of Europe and members of civil society, believe that outside
interference concerning the holding of this Conference on the premises of the
European Parliament by a State which is not a member of the European Union is untenable. We hold that the United Nations Committee, which has existed for decades, has every right to hold the meeting in the rooms of the European

Furthermore, as concerned EU citizens and as Jews, we support any and all
efforts made by the European Parliament to end the Israeli occupation of
Palestinian land, which would bring a just solution to this terrible conflict and
further the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Accept, Sir, the assurances of our highest consideration.
Executive Committee
European Jews for a Just Peace
European Jews for a Just Peace is a federation of Jewish Peace groups working and campaigning in 11 European countries.

An old friend in Glasgow, Ruth, (incidentally an Israeli), forwarded my blog on this issue (as well as on the Palestinian under-19 football team) to her MEP, David Martin, and has forwarded me his reply:
Hi Ruth
Thanks for that, yes I was aware of this seminar and as far as I know it is going ahead.
All the best

I have not been able to find anything more definite, but nor have I seen anything saying the conference was off. Best wishes to those who have spoken up for this conference, and I hope it is a success. I don't know how much good will come from it, but if it is happening in a rebuff to the Israeli government and its lobbyists that is good in itself. Seems they were less successful than in having the Palestinian football players banned from Britain. On which I gather more will be yet heard.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

"There is a tide in the affairs of men....

which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar


IN the same week the British government showed what mean bastards they can be by denying visas to the Palestinian under-19 football team who had been invited to this country, here's some more heartening news.

Jewish-Hawaiian surfing guru donates surfboards to Gazans
‘I hope this gesture will get Israelis and Palestinians to catch the same peace wave,’ 86-year-old Dorian Paskowitz says

Associated Press

An 86-year-old Jewish surfing guru from Hawaii donated on Tuesday 12 surfboards to Gaza's small surfing community, in a gesture he hoped would get Israelis and Palestinians “catching the same peace wave", Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday.

"God will surf with the devil, if the waves are good," retired doctor Dorian Paskowitz said Tuesday. "When a surfer sees another surfer with a board, he can't help but say something that brings them together."

Paskowitz emerged shirtless at the Israel-Gaza crossing after handing over the dozen boards to Gazan surfers waiting on the other side. He said he was spurred into action after reading a story about two Gaza surfers who couldn't enjoy the wild waves off the coast because they had only one board to share between them.

Arthur Rashkovan, a 28-year-old surfer from Tel Aviv, said Paskowitz's project was part of a larger effort called Surfing for Peace, aimed at bringing Middle East surfers closer together. He said eight-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater, who is of Syrian descent, is expected to arrive in Israel in October to take part in the drive.

Paskowitz, whom Rashkovan called a 'guru' to Israeli surfers, has surfed in Israel several times over the past five decades.

Paskowitz, a father of nine, served in the Navy during World War II, practiced family medicine for more than half a century and has published books on surfing and health. He said he's surfed for 75 years, in locations all over the world, and ranks the waves off the coasts of Israel and Gaza as among the world's best.

"It's really quite remarkable how good they are for modern surfing," he said.

It's a while since I leapt in the rolling breakers along that coast (come to think of it, a while since I leapt anywhere), and the only surfing I've ever done is on the Internet. Handing over a dozen surfboards may seem incongruously like a drop in the ocean of what Gaza people need these days. But besides its help to the surfers, it is a human gesture between peoples; and who is to say it is less important than the meagre efforts that we politicos make, with our postings and petitions, articles we circulate among ourselves, endless meetings, and demonstrations that can go unnoticed?

It's certainly a more creditable and generous action, and more credible gesture for peace, than anything our leaders and governments are doing. Let's hope it is part of a wave that is rising in spite of them.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Footballers banned from Britain: MPs demand answers from Miliband

Comic MARK STEEL wonders what's behind funny business at the FCO. and can make an intelligent guess.

PALESTINIAN under 19 footballers who were due to visit Britain for a three-week training tour with matches against Chester, Tranmere and Blackburn Rovers youth side have been prevented from coming to this country. Why? We're waiting to know.

We could make some guesses, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office might not like them. They would cast doubt on Britain's ability - currently in the shape of "peace envoy" Tony Blair - to play honest broker for peace in the Middle East.

The excuse has been offered that because things are so bad in Gaza, some of the Palestinians might not want to go back. It's an insult to their patriotism, albeit a belated acknowledgment of the dire situation to which Britain has contributed. But what next? If sports players are kept out this way how about Palestinian musicians or dancers? Not that Labour believes in cultural boycott. you understand. And why stop at the Palestinians? Could the Pakistan test side be excluded next?

Or does it depend on the instructions given British consulates? And what instructions have been given to our new Foreign Secretary David Miliband?
I wonder what his Dad would have said? MPs alerted by ourselves and others are demanding answers from Miliband. Popular Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn has written as follows:

23 August 2007
Rt Hon David Milliband MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
King Charles St

Dear David
I write to inquire about the recent refusal to allow the Palestinian youngsters into the UK for a football training camp in Chester.
Information which has reached my office from individuals closely involved in the above application (who are, not surprisingly, outraged), leaves me wondering what could possibly be the rationale for such a harsh stance. I would therefore be pleased if you could outline the reasons for this refusal.

As a result of the ongoing sanctions by the UK and others, against the democratically elected government of Palestine, the Palestinians are suffering horrendously, particularly in Gaza where many of these youngsters live. As well as this, what shreds of faith they still have in the so-called peace process are further diluted by small but significant actions such as this visa refusal.

I think it is fair to say that much of the public are aware of two very relevant factors here: the first is that Israel is soon to play England at Wembley, and the second is that the government has focussed much in the past on a so called “even handed approach” when it comes to Israeli/Palestinian issues. In view of these two factors alone, many will not be able to comprehend this decision.
I would be pleased to hear that you have decided to review this application as a matter of urgency and I look forward to hearing from you
Yours sincerely
Jeremy Corbyn MP Islington North

My friend Brian in Milton Keynes has forwarded me a note from MP Phyllis Starkey to say that she shares his astonishment at the visa refusal and has written to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to complain.
I'm waiting to hear from some other MPs. One question that organisers of the tour might ask is what Chester MP Christine Russel has to say. This Labourite lists the Middle East as one of her special interests, and I'm told she l has been to Palestine once if not twice and been supportive. But judging from her voting record she has also been loyally supportive of the government (for instance on Trident and on the war in Iraq) and now she is Beverley Hughes' PPS, at the Department for Children. Still, perhaps she will remember the young people of Palestine and those who want to help them in her constituency?

Besides MPs, other voices have been raised. Comedian and columnist Mark Steel had this to say in the Independent:

Mark Steel: Oi! Referee! That footballer's Palestinian!
What are we doing banning a touring team from Gaza because it is 'too poor'?
Published: 22 August 2007

We're used to stories about footballers' excessive wages, in which a star insists he won't sign a new contract unless he's given a planet. And then when the club backs down, he complains he's only been given Venus, which isn't fair as Didier Drogba got the much bigger Saturn.

But this week the trend reached a new depth. Because the Palestinian youth team, mostly from Gaza, was due to begin a three-week tour, playing against teams such as Blackburn Rovers, Tranmere and Chester. But on the day they were due to arrive, the British Foreign Office announced none of them would be granted a visa, the reason given that they were "too poor".

Too poor? Has the Foreign Office replaced immigration officials with doormen from a gentlemen's club? So instead of asking people at customs to show their passport, they look you up and down, then say, "I'm afraid sir, there is no admission into Britain without a tailored suit."

The Foreign Office originally backed the tour, saying it would "help to keep young men out of the hands of gunmen". Still, if only the footballers were rich Arab gunmen, sent by Saudi Arabia, they'd not only be allowed to play Blackburn, they'd probably buy it.

There will inevitably be suggestions from the Israeli government that the tour was a propaganda exercise for terrorists, despite the places they were due to play at. But you can imagine an Israeli statement claiming, "We have evidence that Blackburn Rovers is a front for terrorist activity, and we understand the half-time team talk by Mark Hughes goes 'We need to battle hard in midfield, and we can get the winner if we launch a merciless Holy Jihad against the infidel Arsenal flat-back-four'. And as for Chester, they might as well call themselves Hizbollah Wanderers and be done with it."

But it might be harder to explain why the tour was also backed by an organisation called Truce International, whose chair is Nancy Dell'Olio, the glamorous partner of Sven. Or Nancy Dell'Al-Zaqari HamasIntifadaOlio as she's probably known by Mossad. She said, "To refuse admission solely on the grounds they are too poor to be trusted will do Britain no good abroad."
How rancid do you have to be to make Nancy Dell'Olio sound like a campaigner from Liberty or Amnesty International? Perhaps it's a game, and their next test is to get Rolf Harris to say, "Gaw blimey, I've seen some imperialist running dogs of oppression but this Foreign Office takes the biscuit."

Or maybe this is all just practise for the English strategy to win the next World Cup. Within a couple of years almost every decent foreign footballer in the world will be playing here in the Premier League, then just before the tournament starts we'll refuse visas to all of them and give ourselves a chance. But most likely is simply that the Foreign Office has been leaned on by the Israeli government to refuse entry to the team. Because the Israelis do have a record here. In March last year they bombed the only football stadium in Gaza. And it wouldn't be surprising if, just for extra nastiness they contracted Multiplex to rebuild it.

And during the Asia Cup, which the Palestinian national team had started with an 8-0 win, the Israelis detained the five players who came from Gaza so they couldn't get to their match against Uzbekistan. This suggests the latest incident is simply part of the process of petty vindictiveness that occupying forces often dish out. Even if there's no obvious military or political advantage to be gained, you can imagine them passing a law that no one in Gaza is allowed to hum, or on Mondays everyone has to speak in a Geordie accent.

Even more annoying for the residents of Gaza, for over a year they've been under siege, the hospitals have run out of essential medicines, there's no electricity and hundreds of thousands are trapped there, unable to visit family or complete their education if it means leaving the occupied area. The justification offered often comes down to how Palestinian organisations refuse to recognise Israel's right to exist.

Yet the Israelis seem so determined to refuse Palestine's right to exist that they won't even allow them a football team. So what will they allow? Would they let them take part in the Eurovision Song Contest, or would they get the Foreign Office to refuse them entry on the grounds they were "too loud"? Would they let a Palestinian puppy enter Crufts, or would it be refused a visa for being "too frisky"?

So the Palestinian footballers are left with two options. The first is they're calling on people to send a message to the Foreign Office, at King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH, asking for the decision to be reversed. Or they could organise their next tour to play against Scotland. Then even if they're not allowed to turn up they'll still win three-nil.


LATEST news from Chester:
The players can't come but the ball goes on!
They were looking forward to hosting the Palestinian team in Chester, and have decided to carry on efforts to help Palestinian football by going ahead with the Ball at Chester Town Hall on September 1,
with guest of honour comedian Alexei Sayle, a four course dinner and dancing to the Zoot Serious band.

Also going on sale - copies of the Palestinian strip!

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How about fair play for Palestine?

A planned three-week visit to Britain by an under-19 football team from Palestine has been thwarted by the British government refusing to allow them in. In a respite from the troubles and tension of their occupied, battered and besieged home, the young players, mostly from Gaza, were to have enjoyed a three-week training camp with Chester, and played matches at Chester, Tranmere and Blackburn Rovers.

Many people here were looking forward to welcoming the visitors, and several organisations here were supporting the visit. But news came yesterday that the British consulate in Jerusalem had refused to issue the players or their coaches with visas.

The initiative of a Chester man, Rod Cox, - Chester's mayor was due to have welcomed the Palestinians to the city - and with stars like Alexei Sayle and Mark Steel helping fundraising -the youth tour would have been a well-deserved breakthrough for Palestinian sport, and football especially, whose players' toughest battle starts before they reach the venue. With no grass pitches to play or practice on, and their stadium in Gaza bombed by the Israelis, Palestinian footballers are unable to form a national league because of Israeli travel restrictions. The senior side's chances of entering the Asian championship were thwarted when they were prevented from leaving Gaza in time for the qualifying game against Uzbekistan.

It seems unlikely that the British consulate in Jerusalem would have acted on a high-profile application like this without instructions from the government in London. So far no explanation has come from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But two reasons have been offered verbally for the refusal. First it was said that if the young Palestinians were allowed out the Israeli authorities might prevent them returning. I wonder if even Israel would risk the adverse world publicity such a mean act would bring. But anyway, it seems this argument was withdrawn. The second claim made was that given the poverty in Gaza right now, Britain was afraid the young men might use the soccer trip as an opportunity to run away and try their chances here.

Heaven and the Home Office forbid that we might have some more immigrants here, and from a country which Britain so coveted that ninety years ago it issued the famous Balfour Declaration that is so responsible for its problems.
But everyone, including the consul in Jerusalem and presumably the Foreign Office, knows the tenacity with which patriotic young Palestinians hold on to their hopes of freedom in their own homeland. To suggest that young men keen to represent their people in sport would simply use this as an escape route is a disgusting insult. In fact, it is adding insult to injury, since it was the British government's withholding of funds and support for Israeli blockade that have contributed to the poverty and misery in Gaza.

While bomber Blair is supposed to have morphed into a Middle East "Peace envoy" his former colleagues are helping Israel maintain its blockade against the Palestinians. So much for Britain's reputation as honest broker for peace.

There is a further, special and bitter, irony to forcing the cancellation of this football trip. On the same day, September 8, that the Palestine under-19s were to have had their big day at Blackburn Rovers, Israel is playing England at Wembley in their European cup qualifier.
No problems with permission here. No suggestion there is anything odd about a nation settled in Asia being "in Europe" for sporting occasions, or untoward
about its teams being able to travel freely while Palestinians are prevented from doing so, or Israel taking time from the business of waging war and occupation to enjoy itself in international sporting evcnts. Everything normal.

I have argued elsewhere that the call for a sports boycott of Israel is inappropriate, since the form racism and repression takes there is not the same as it was in Apartheid South Africa. Sport is not segregated. There are Palestinian players ("Israeli Arabs") in the Israel soccer side, much to the anger of racialists and fascists such as those supporting Betar Jerusalem. It is right to use sporting occasions to raise the issue of how Israeli forces and the Israeli authorities have hit Palestinian sport (bombing the stadium and even shooting youngsters on the pitch) but these are not the responsibility of the Israeli football team. I don't believe in collective guilt.

A contribution I made on this issue to the Just Peace UK discussion list was lifted by the dishonest crew at the "Engage" site, either because they were sniffing around for signs of dissent (I had been a bit sharp in taking up some of my friends) or simply too bereft of arguments themselves they had to try and use someone else's. When they are not accusing anyone who opposes Israel of "antisemitism" the Engage crowd occasionally don their liberal mask to tell us how important free exchanges are for peace and understanding. So I assume they will make their protests heard against the British government's banning Palestinian footballers? Not that I'm holding my breath.

Palestinian solidarity campaigners are taking this ban as further reason to protest at the Israel game at Wembley. I share their feeling, but am still inclined to disagree with the sports boycott call as a tactic. The Israeli soccer players are not keeping out the Palestinian team. The British government is. It is British politicians and the Foreign Office who should be targeted.
In particular, since the high point of the Palestinian trip was to have been a match at Blackburn Rovers, perhaps a well-known Blackburn supporter, the MP Jack Straw, ought to be tackled on the subject.


I have written to my MP urging him to ask the Foreign Office for an explanation of its action.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign is recommending people write directly to the FCO:
Demand to know the reason for the U19 teams visa refusals.
Request that the decision made be reversed.
FCO, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH
Tel: 020 7008 1500
Perhaps people abroad could also ask the UK government's diplomatic and cultural representatives why Britain is barring a soccer team from Palestine.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Miners martyrs of China's "miracle"

ANGUISHED relatives of trapped Chinese miners toppled a security fence and fought with police on Sunday, as it appeared that a rescue operation was being called off, and hope for the 172 men underground faded.

Flash floods caused by torrential rains had breached a levee and poured into an old shaft, engulfing the mine in the city of Xintai in Shandong Province on Friday. It was the latest of a number of tragedies that have befallen miners in China. China has been the world's biggest coal producer in recent years, and coal provides two-thirds of the electricity powering China's much-famed economic growth. But China's mining industry has one of the poorest safety records in the world.

A crowd of 200 people, angry at the lack of information, toppled an iron fence and broke into the compound of the Zhangzhuang mine, clashing with security officers. Some people threw stones at administration windows and fought police. But later officials insisted that the rescue operation was continuing, though the head of the Work Safety administration, Li Yizhong, said rescue teams had to proceed with caution because of the dangers of further flooding and gas leaks in the pit.

CCTV state television reported that high speed drills had been brought to the site to cut through the rock to accelerate the pumping operation, while Xinhua said 11 pumps had been installed by more than 6,700 rescue workers.

China's coal mines are some of the most dangerous in the world and fatal accidents happen almost every day. More than 4,700 workers died last year, according to official figures, but independent labour groups say the real toll is nearer 20,000 annually, because many accidents are covered up.

China's leaders have sought to speed up coal output to meet growing energy needs and avoid power cuts which hit many provinces a few years ago. But while the government promised to improve safety, the price has been high.
After 166 workers died in the Chenjiashan explosion in November, 2004 the State Council ordered an inquiry and newspaper editorials called for a more humane and balanced view of economic progress. An editorial in China Daily said the authorities should pursue "more serious actions for safety despite an energy shortage".

The Chenjiashan mine had reportedly failed a safety test days before the explosion, and had frequent fires. Relatives of the dead blamed managers' pursuit of a 400,000 yuan bonus for beating output targets.

In 2005 a gas explosion at the Shinjawan mine in north-east China killed 214 miners.

China has two kinds of mines: big, state-run mines, which are generally thought to be safer, and smaller private mines where the majority of deaths occur. "They're technically illegal, but they also have certificates. They pay money and get a licence," says film-director Li Yang, who spent 18 months making a film, Blind Shaft, set in small, private mines.

During filming, he lived in half a dozen mines and spent 50 hours underground. He counts himself "lucky" to have been asleep in the pithead dormitories when a roof collapse killed two miners. The response was matter-of-fact. "They cleared up the debris, cleared the shaft, treated it no differently from a traffic accident."

Miners had helmets and lamps, but most wore soft rubber boots. He never saw steel toe-caps. Ear mufflers? He laughs at the question. "They had no training."
Miners worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week, earning roughly 1000 yuan ($120; £62) a month. Pay was linked to how much coal they cut. Gas is the biggest killer, but miners often carried on working "even when it's close to the warning level", says Li Yang.

Increased demand for coal has kept the private mines running profitably alongside the sped up state ones. Miners lives have been sacrificed to "growth", but then, not theirs alone. China's record of factory fires, in which the victims are often women workers, recalls some of the worst history of unregulated capitalism.

Capitalists from abroad, as well as home-bred, find the state bureaucracy a helpful partner in exploitation. Earlier this year almost 500 slave workers, including children, were freed from brick kilns in Henan and Shanxi provinces, north China, where they had been put to work, with the connivance of local Communist Party officials. This was an extreme case, and the authorities intervened. But the way Chinese embassy officials reacted to a strike by ill-treated Chinese building workers in Israel, ordering them back to work, underlined the irony of thinking the People's Republic a "workers' state"; and the terrible fate of Chinese migrant workers drowned in Morecambe bay in England while picking winkles, exposed the desperation that had driven them to pay for the privilege of working abroad.

Only the day before the Xintai disaster, it was reported that striking miners at the Tanjiashan Coal Mine in Hubei Province had suddenly been surrounded by more than 200 part-time security guards hired by management to break the strike. According to a report by Radio Free Asia, the security guards set about the workers and in the ensuing clash at least one worker and one security guard died. The conflict lasted about two hours. Workers vented their anger by attacking company offices and two nearby police vehicles they believed had been used to transport management's hired security guards to the mine. The dispute arose over allegations that management were diverting money allocated by central government for redundancy payments.

The Chinese government says it wants to make the mines safer by bringing them all under central control. But what is really needed is the right of working people in China to organise freely so they can assert some control over their conditions and working lives, as well as their environment, and press political leaders for the laws they need, and for these to be enforced. Workers' rights and democracy are not a luxury extra for socialism. They are a matter of life and death.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Miners and rescue heroes buried in mine owners' scramble for profit

THE search for six coal miners trapped underground at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah was halted on Friday after two rescue workers and a federal mine inspector were killed by crumbling tunnel walls. Six more rescuers were injured.

After eleven days of efforts to get through to the six men, trapped 1,800 feet below ground, it was time to tell their families and friends that they might never be found. “People here are just sick in the stomach about all of this,” said Joanne Carpenter, whose son was good friends with the son of Dale Black, a killed rescuer. Joanne had been with other local people, waiting for news.

Dale Black was a cousin of one of the trapped miners, Kerry Aldred.

About 130 people had been involved in the rescue. When some requested to reassigned from inside the mine because it was too dangerous, other volunteers offered to help. Hopes had been raised in the town by news that sounds could be heard from inside the mine, but then at 6.55pm on Thursday an entire rib, or wall, of the mine collapsed on the rescuers.

Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, issued a statement saying the deaths at the Utah mine were “needless and preventable.”
A union spokesman, Phil Smith, said that the plan to mine the mountain should not have been approved by the federal government, and that the rescue effort “should not have moved forward because the mountain was in the process of collapsing and was clearly dangerous.”

The director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, Richard E. Stickler, said that the strongest available support structure had been put in place to protect the rescuers, including fencing and steel buttresses, but that “obviously it was not adequate.”

The governor of Utah has promised to conduct an “unprecedented and comprehensive” investigation of the disaster and rescue work and to seek to improve mine conditions in Utah and throughout the country.

The mountain has been experiencing seismic jolts since the start of the assignment. Seismic specialists at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City have recorded 22 readings of earth movement at the site since the original magnitude 3.9 shock.

"These events seem to be related to ongoing settling of the rock mass following the main event," Lee Siegel, a spokesman for the University of Utah seismographic station, told the Associated Press. "I don't think I'm going too far to say that this mountain is collapsing in slow motion."

Mine owner Robert E. Murray had promised the trapped miners would be brought out within a few days. "We’re going to get them,” he said after the mine collapse, “There is nothing on my mind right now except getting those miners out". Murray, whose Murray Energy Corp., based in Cleveland, Ohio, part-owns and manages the mine, claimed the original mine collapse was caused by an earthquake and that dangerous mining procedures were not to blame. But seismologists said that what their instruments had recorded as an initial quake was the mine collapse.

Murray has been an outspoken opponent of mine safety legislation as well as environnmental laws. After last year's Sago mine disaster in which 12 men were trapped and killed in West Virginia, he opposed legislation by lawmakers there and in his home state of Ohio that would require miners to wear emergency tracking devices. Murray called the proposed legislation "extremely misguided" and accused politicians of "playing politics with my employees' safety. "

Before the mine collapse, the mine owner was well known as a staunch detractor of global warming. "The science of global warming is suspect," Murray told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in June.
"Climate change or the so-called global warming issue is a human one," he said. "Reducing carbon emissions will impact our poorest families worst. All you are doing with this Draconian legislation is destroying American families' standard of living, their ability to have jobs, and export jobs to China."

This boss who is so concerned about protecting jobs is not so keen on protecting miners, whether by law or unions. He made his earthquake claim to deny reports that the mine accident was a result of a dangerous procedure called "retreat mining", in which pillars of coal are left holding up the roof while the coal around them is removed, before the pillars themselves are excavated. "Retreat mining had nothing to do with the disaster," Murray said, . … There are eight solid pillars where the men are right now. … I'm not going to respond to retreat mining anymore. It was invented by people with motives to damage the coal industry."

"The UMWA is trying to organize the mine," Murray said by way of explanation.

Workers at the Crandall Canyon mine do not belong to a union.
The UMWA said it represented workers at six mines owned by Murray, but now only represents one. "He is a difficult guy to deal with on a rational basis," Phil Smith, the union's spokesman, told reporters. According to the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration, the mine had a record of 300 safety violations, of which 118 resulted in injury. There had only been one death at the mine in the last 12 years.

For more on this disaster from a union angle see:

Here's another union response:
Former Mine Workers Head Calls for More Worker Safety Attention After Utah Disaster
By Pat Kinney, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

Aug. 16--WATERLOO -- Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO national secretary-treasurer and former president of the United Mine Workers of America, called the federal mining safety regulatory agency a cadaver Wednesday and accused President Bush's administration of inattentiveness to all worker safety issues in the wake of a Utah mine collapse.

Trumka, UMWA president from 1982 to 1995, when he was elected to his current post with the AFL-CIO, made his comments following a keynote address to the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO state convention in Waterloo Wednesday.

"You know, honestly, MSHA, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, has become basically a cadaver under George Bush," said Trumka, who mined alongside his father in Pennsylvania before becoming a labor leader. "It's not about enforcing the laws or making them better, how they can get by. MSHA inspectors are good quality people, but they don't get the support from the leadership in MSHA. They put people in who have no identity with miners."

"We were strengthening the laws under (President Bill) Clinton, getting some regulations passed" Trumka said, but those initiatives died or fell by the wayside when Bush took office.

Of the Aug. 6 Huntington, Utah mine collapse, where the search continues for six trapped miners, Trumka said, "Here's one thing: It wasn't an act of God. It was an act of man. One of two things are inevitably true. Either they weren't following the laws or the laws weren't strong enough to protect them. In either case, there's got to be changes made to protect workers.

"Now here's the real travesty," Trumka continued. "Workers in this country die in ones and twos every day. Miners die in ones and twos every day. And no one pays any attention. Thousands and thousands of workers are injured and crippled every day and no one pays attention. It's only when there's a mass major disaster that it gets the attention. Each day is a tragedy when you lose a worker or cripple a worker or rob a worker of his or her health.
"This administration is not enforcing the mining laws in this country as they should. I think it applies to every area of workers' safety," Trumka said. "I think it applies to OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration) as well as MSHA."

A report from West Virginia public radio says mine owner Roberts' methods have attracted attention before in that neck of the woods, along with his boasts that with his influence he could fend off any interference from safety inspectors:

In 2001, a belt foreman named Tom Ciszewski had his arm ripped off by a conveyor belt at Ohio Valley Coal’s Powhatan No. 6 mine in Belmont County, Ohio. He bled to death.Later, a belt repairman testified that Robert Murray pressured miners not to shut down the belt, "unless there’s a man it," and that he would fire them on the spot. A judge ruled the company was not negligent. But problems at the mine continued. Eventually, MSHA ordered the mine to shut down after repeated violations. Murray had enough. He was upset at MSHA’s action, and met with Tim Thompson, then the head of MSHA’s District 3 office that covers a portion of Ohio and northern West Virginia. Back in 2003, Jeff Young of West Virginia Public Broadcasting obtained the notes from the meeting: Jeff Young 2003 report: Those notes show Murray repeatedly threatening to have MSHA employees fired. ‘I will have your jobs. They are gone. The clock is ticking," Murray said at various points. And he stressed his political influence with the agency, saying, "I talked to Laresky (former MSHA director) personally," and again, quoting, "Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and last I checked he was sleeping with your boss.’ Sen. McConnell of KY is married to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who oversees MSHA.

See also: Utah Mine Owner Used Repub Political Clout To Get Rid Of MHSA

It seems this Roberts has been a big donor to the Republican Party, and expects to get his money's worth. Here in Britain, though all three main parties have been competing to find ways of soliciting big money from business, he'd most surely find a home-from-home with the Tories, now David Cameron's bike riding greenery has given way to John Redwood once more raising the banner of deregulated capitalist "free-for-all" (but not free trade unionism of course).

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

MP who trusted people, took chances, and got burned

SEVERAL hundred people attended the funeral in Edinburgh last week of the former Labour MP Ron Brown, who died aged 69 after being ill with liver failure. Well-liked by many people even if they didn't always agree with him, Ron Brown could perhaps have been better appreciated, as well as better advised, by some of us on the Left.

Ron earned the vituperation of the capitalist press and doubtless the bitter anger of the secret services, as well as the dismay of Labour leaders, by paying visits to the then pariah states of North Korea and Libya and the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan which was overthrown by the CIA-backed mujaheddin. Considering that the British government has made up with Gaddafi (it was left to the Scotsman to thank Brown for assisting Scots-Libyan trade) and seeing what has happened in Afghanistan, perhaps we can look on Ron Brown's initiatives with a kinder eye.

Ron's performance in grabbing the Mace during a 1988 parliamentary debate about supplementary benefits paid the unemployed did not trouble his Scottish constituents as much as it did his colleagues and the media hacks affecting outrage. "If that bauble or ornament is more important than all the struggle then there is something wrong with this party." he said, when Labour MPs took away the party whip from him for three months.

Though he paid the £1,500 bill for having dropped and damaged the baubie, he endeared himself to Leith folk by saying the unemployed in his constituency could have fixed it just as well and more cheaply. Further respect and popularity came when he and his wife May went to the sheriff court for defying the poll tax.

What did damage Ron's standing and support was the incident which led to an appearance in court charged with theft and damage to the flat of a former researcher and girlfriend at St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex. The newspapers made hay with headlines about him allegedly stealing the woman's knickers. He was cleared of theft, though found guilty of causing criminal damage. Those who did not know Ron chortled about the story, then might have forgotten it. (Julie Burchill, in her first column for the Times, managed to dig up the story but get the "culprit" wrong, accusing George Galloway, who promptly threatened to sue and got an apology).,12123,1170342,00.html

Those who did know Ron might have suspected a set-up, and certainly accepted his story that he had gone to her flat to retrieve some tapes, angrily confronted her, and in reaching to grab the cassettes from the sideboard, inadvertently picked up some items of underwear that happened to be next to them. These things happen, but it's not everyday they are given in a story to the police and the papers.

What upset friends and Labour Party supporters was that Ron had so fallen into Westminster ways as to make a fool of himself, letting down himself and his faithful wife and comrade May, who was a well-loved militant and party activist. Deselected by Labour, Ron soldiered on as MP till 1992, when he was defeated by the official candidate Malcolm Chisholm, though he still kept 4,000 votes. In 1999 he stood for the Holyrood parliament as a Scottish Socialist Party candidate.

I never knew Ron Brown well, more's the pity, but we met when I was in Scotland in 1968-9. He was a skilled engineer, and member of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers(AUEW), working in the Electricity Supply industry. He was a friend of a couple with whom I stayed, also called Brown, in Edinburgh. One Saturday evening me and Ron set off together with a Young Socialist comrade to sell our Workers Press paper around the pubs in Falkirk. About 10pm we were almost finished when the local constabulary intercepted us.

They were not sure whether to accuse us of taking the young lad into licensed premises or (since we swore he had remained on the doorstep with a collecting tin) of doing an unauthorised street collection. We were held in a cell while they deliberated and asked Edinburgh colleagues to check the addresses we had given (I gather Marie Brown, my "landlady", gave them a right fierce telling off for disturbing respectable folk after midnight). Rventually we were released without charge but so we didn't get back till the wee small hours of the morning. I particularly remember how Ron Brown was worried, indeed scared, as to what May would say when he got home.

A less amusing incident occurred about the time I was leaving Edinburgh. Ron had been sent to do some work at an electricity sub-station. Finding the gate locked but thinking the power had been turned off, he threw his tool bag over and was climbing over to join it when there was a flash. Severely burned, Ron spent some time in hospital, where even his children could not recognise him. Despite plastic surgery he remained scarred for life.

As a Leith councillor, Ron not only campaigned for local residents but caused a stir by asking that Edinburgh city council erect a plaque to honour the birthplace of the great Irish socialist James Connolly. The area has more than its share of Orangemen, but Connolly has been commemorated.

Due to a misunderstood remark in conversation with a colleague, I did not realise at first that the Ron Brown in parliament was the one I knew; but about 1986 we did meet, during a gathering at the Commons about Palestine, and Ron asked me to join him afterwards for a drink in the Members Bar. When we arrived there a young woman who seemed in a merry mood insisted on helping us off with our coats. Ron explained that she was his secretary. Something about her performance seemed incongruous and artificial. It made me feel uneasy, and Ron seemed slightly ill at ease introducing her.

Still we had our drink, and another MP said hello, then moved on. Ron wtold me he was staying in Stockwell, south London and would be more than than willing to speak at any public meetings if Workers Press invited him. I reported this back to the comrades, but nobody seemed interested. Looking back, I think the rebel MP was feeling isolated and wanted the opportunity to get out of Westmininster and back among left-wing activists for an evening.
Maybe we could have helped him get his feet back on the ground, politically and socially.

The last time I bumped into Ron Brown must have been towards the end of his parliamentary career. It was on a Summer evening, outside the Red Lion on Whitehall, where MPs sneak off to get a drink away from Parliament. We had a pint, and Ron spoke sadly, almost sympathetically about his ex-researcher/ girlfriend/ nemesis, saying other MPs told him she was a plant, but he thought she was a just a silly girl who did not realise what she was getting into. I don't know about that, but I think Ron Brown was a good working class socialist, and probably not the first or last who went adrift in the alien atmosphere at Westminster, not realising what they had got into.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Israel expects European Parliament to do as it is told

ANTI-WALL demonstrators hit ground
under attack from tear gas and water cannon (Bil'in, February 2007). The white-haired man at back is veteran campaigner Uri Avnery.
Brussels seminar due to discuss such issues, Israel complains.

HAS Israel extended its occupation from the West Bank to Western Europe? Not yet. But Israel has been an occupying power for forty years - two years longer than the British military's recently retracted presence on the streets of northern Ireland (which is at least legally part of the United Kingdom, even if should be part of a united Ireland). Maybe dealing with people this way becomes a habit.

Or maybe it's because of the backing Israel gets from the United States, which also expects Europe to do its bidding. Along with its major arms deal to the Saudi outpost of "democracy" the world's capitalist superpower has announced a big increase in the $1.8 billion military aid it gives Israel each year. Olmert has asked for this to be changed from four percent annually over ten years, to a yearly sum so that instead of a $105 million addition the first year, it would already be the fixed $600 million.

Meanwhile Ha'aretz reports that the Israeli government is to launch a public campaign to have an international seminar on Palestinian rights, due to be held in the European Parliament later this month, called off. The Israeli Foreign Ministry is not appealing to the organisers, the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, established in 1975. It is demanding that the European Parliament ban the event.

Israeli government sources quoted by Ha'aretz say the conference is geared toward "passing unilateral condemnations against Israel." To back their diplomatic approaches, they intend to launch a public campaign with support from Zionist organisations, lobbyists, and pro-Israel MEPs and media.

The Israeli newspaper explains:
"The seminar is expected to deal with subjects such as human rights in the West Bank and the Israeli response to demonstrations against the separation fence. The event will include a workshop on 'increasing the resistance to the Israeli occupation.' One government source in Jerusalem said the event was being 'conducted under the guise of promoting the peace process, but in fact, under this banner we are seeing organizations that promote anti-Israel boycotts and are working to defame Israel.'

"After sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry contacted the European Parliament to request clarification about the seminar, scheduled to begin on August 30, they were told the parliament 'was not sponsoring the event, but merely making its facilities available for the participants.' The explanations failed to impress Jerusalem because the seminar is supported by many European Parliament members, some of whom plan to attend and take part'. "

Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik has asked her counterpart at the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering, to reconsider the plan to allow the seminar to take place at the parliament seat in the Espace Leopold complex in Brussels. "In her letter to Pottering, Itzik said that by allowing the seminar to take place, the European Parliament would be legitimizing an anti-Israeli organization".

Gov't campaign in works to block anti-Israel seminar in Brussels
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correpondent

There is not even an allegation of anything violent or illegal being planned by the Brussels conference organisers. As Ha'aretz correspondent Barak Ravid says, they will discuss human rights and Israeli treatment of anti-Wall demonstrators. Evidently this is enough for the Israeli government and its supporters to denounce the conference as "anti-Israel", and therefore not legitimate.

I believe European Jews for Just Peace(EJJP) and its Belgian affiliate Union des Progressistes Juifs de Belgique(UPJB) may be intending to attend the Brussels seminar. But we have grown used to seeing these campaigners described as "anti-Israel" in the Jewish Chronicle, so I doubt whether a Jewish presence will stop the Israeli government's friends in the media and politics from denouncing the conference and demanding that it be stopped.

Having been to a couple of UN-sponsored international gatherings on Palestine, I am sometimes cynical about whether they serve much use. I am not especially keen on the European Union and its parliament, maybe because here in Britain we seldom hear from our MEPs. (Though that's at least partly the British media's fault). But whatever their limitations, I'm damned if I want to see these institutions being pushed around from Jerusalem, or Washington. Or we might wake up and start to understand how the Palestinians feel.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Segregated Road to Ruin

IMAGINE a road divided down its length by a barrier imposing racial segregation. South Africa and the Southern USA only managed segregated transport, but Israel (which we mustn't dub 'Apartheid'!) has gone a step further.

Sounds crazy. But there's a method in their madness. Though madness it still is. Anyway, here's a report in the New York Times from Steven Erlanger (extracts):

August 11, 2007
A Segregated Road in an Already Divided Land
JERUSALEM, Aug. 10 — Israel is constructing a road through the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, that will allow both Israelis and Palestinians to travel along it — separately.
There are two pairs of lanes, one for each tribe, separated by a tall wall of concrete patterned to look like Jerusalem stones, an effort at beautification indicating that the road is meant to be permanent. The Israeli side has various exits; the Palestinian side has few.
The point of the road, according to those who planned it under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is to permit Israel to build more settlements around East Jerusalem, cutting the city off from the West Bank, but allowing Palestinians to travel unimpeded north and south through Israeli-held land.
“The Americans demanded from Sharon contiguity for a Palestinian state,” said Shaul Arieli, a reserve colonel in the army who participated in the 2000 Camp David negotiations and specializes in maps. “This road was Sharon’s answer, to build a road for Palestinians between Ramallah and Bethlehem but not to Jerusalem. This was how to connect the West Bank while keeping Jerusalem united and not giving Palestinians any blanket permission to enter East Jerusalem.”
Mr. Sharon talked of “transportational contiguity” for Palestinians in a future Palestinian state, meaning that although Israeli settlements would jut into the area, Palestinian cars on the road would pass unimpeded through Israeli-controlled territory and even cross through areas enclosed by the Israeli separation barrier.
The vast majority of Palestinians, unlike Israeli settlers, will not be able to exit in areas surrounded by the barrier or travel into Jerusalem, even into the eastern part of the city, which Israel took over in 1967.
The road does that by having Palestinian traffic continue through underpasses and over bridges, while Israeli traffic will have interchanges allowing turns onto access roads. Palestinians with Israeli identity cards or special permits for Jerusalem will be able to use the Israeli side of the road.
The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has recently made conciliatory gestures to the Palestinians and says it wants to do what it can to ease the creation of a Palestinian state. But Mr. Olmert, like Mr. Sharon, has said that Israel intends to keep the land to the east of Jerusalem.
To Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer who advises an Israeli advocacy group called Ir Amim, which works for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in Jerusalem, the road suggests an ominous map of the future. It is one in which Israel keeps nearly all of East Jerusalem and a ring of Israeli settlements surrounding it, providing a cordon of Israelis between largely Arab East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, which will become part of a future Palestinian state.
In a final settlement, Israel is expected to offer the Palestinians land swaps elsewhere to compensate.
The road will allow Israeli settlers living in the north, near Ramallah, to move quickly into Jerusalem, protected from the Palestinians who surround them. It also helps ensure that the large settlement of Maale Adumim — a suburb of 32,000 people east of Jerusalem, where most of its residents work — will remain under Israeli control, along with the currently empty area of 4.6 square miles known as E1, between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem, which Israel also intends to keep.

For the Palestinians, the road will connect the northern and southern parts of the West Bank. In a future that may have fewer checkpoints, they could travel directly from Ramallah north of Jerusalem to Bethlehem south of it — but without being allowed to enter either Jerusalem or the Maale Adumim settlement bloc.
“To me, this road is a move to create borders, to change final status,” Mr. Seidemann said, referring to unresolved issues regarding borders, refugees and the fate of Jerusalem. “It’s to allow Maale Adumim and E1 into Jerusalem but be able to say, ‘See, we’re treating the Palestinians well — there’s geographical contiguity.’ ”

Khalil Tufakji, a prominent Palestinian geographer, says the road “is part of Sharon’s plan: two states in one state, so the Israelis and the Palestinians each have their own roads.” The Palestinians, Mr. Tufakji said, “will have no connection with the Israelis, but travel through tunnels and over bridges, while the Israelis will travel through Palestinian land without seeing an Arab.”
In the end, he said, “there is no Palestinian state, even though the Israelis speak of one.” Instead, he said, “there will be a settler state and a Palestinian built-up area, divided into three sectors, cut by fingers of Israeli settlement and connected only by narrow roads.”
Mr. Tufakji said he had become cynical about the way Israel builds for the future it defines, no matter what it promises Washington. He sees a West Bank divided into three parts by Israeli settlement blocs, the most important of which are Maale Adumim and E1, around the capital that both peoples claim as their own. “Israel is building the infrastructure to keep E1, to surround Jerusalem,” he said. “They are working to have an area of minimum Palestinians and maximum Israelis
Read full article, with illustration:

While the talk about "peace" and "two states" goes back and forth, we are told that a reasonable offer may be possible if only Palestinians are prepared to "recognise Israel" (but they are required to recognise it was right all along, thus abandoning their own struggle's claim to legitimacy, rather than merely accept it as a fact). But meanwhile Israel goes ahead creating facts on the ground, taking measures designed to establish for all time its own supremacy.

It's ironic that British and American governments still talk about a "road map for peace". The real road map that is emerging, with separate roads and now a road that is segregated, is headed somewhere else. There is method in the Israeli authorities' madness. Very clever use of topography and now topology too, -what a wonderful exercise for students to make their project. But with the perpective that one nation can just displace or rule over another, for ever, while its defenders still inist it only wants peace, madness it certainly is.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

The Sound of Free Market Fundamentalism

WAITING to hear the worst on Wall Street, October 1929.

HE'S said it. As shares plunged on markets around the world this week and banks both sides of the Atlantic poured in billions to cool things, but only spurred more panic, President George W.Bush almost echoed the famous phrase once used by predecessor Herbert Hoover.

"The economy is fundamentally sound" is what Hoover is supposed to have said. "The fundamentals of our economy are strong", George Dubya assures us.

The words have an ominous resonance. Hoover's assertion of faith was made in 1929 as the Credit Anstalt's crash set off the Great Depression. People who had been persuaded they could get rich investing their savings found themselves penniless. Millions found themselves out of work.

Just as the workings of the big capitalist economy can bring crisis, hardship, tragedy to inviduals and families, so the problem of thousands losing their homes, unable to pay their mortgages, is a major factor in the present economic crisis. The long extended paper chain of credit - fortunes built on faith in the system, far removed from the business of producing material wealth - may only relay the shock. Yip Harburg's "Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?" may not be due for a revival yet, as the world's richest capitalist superpower finds ways to pass its difficulties on to poorer countries.

But it's time to sit up and take notice. Get out some of the old books and theory to see how it applies to today's problems. If things get worse, watch out for those who sold us on the system's infallibility finding scapegoats to blame. And watch out for some of those who fell for post-modern, post-Marxist versions of the capitalist faith falling back on primitive conspiracy-theories. Meanwhile here is the report from today's Guardian:

Credit fears hit global markets
David Teather and Andrew Clark in New YorkThursday August 9, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Central banks on both sides of the Atlantic pumped billions into the financial system to calm nerves over an impending credit crunch today - but their actions only served to heighten alarm, prompting a fresh plunge in global share prices.

The European Central Bank injected an emergency €95bn (£64.5bn) into the markets in its first intervention since the turmoil triggered by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC in 2001.

In America, the Federal Reserve added $24bn (£12bn) in temporary reserves to the US banking system to shore up liquidity and bring down short-term interest rates, while the Bank of Canada mounted a similar operation.
The moves, however, seemed to fuel a sense of crisis over defaults in America's mortgage lending industry which are causing a ripple effect through the banking industry as much of the debt is bundled up and sold on.

On Wall Street, blue chip shares suffered their worst day for four months as the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted by 387 points to 13,270. Stock prices swung wildly and trading volumes hit an all-time record with 2.8bn shares changing hands. Of the Dow's 30 component stocks, 29 ended the day lower.
Bourses across Europe fell, with the FTSE 100 in London finishing down 122.7 at 6271.2. The nervousness spread to all assets that appeared risky, including commodities.

The fresh sell-off was sparked by an announcement from the French bank, BNP Paribas, that it had blocked withdrawals from three investment funds worth €2bn owing to the "complete evaporation" of liquidity. A spokesman for the bank described it as a technical issue and said he hoped it would be a temporary situation.

There were also reports that the US bank, Goldman Sachs, has suffered losses in two of its hedge funds. Goldman is said to have sold down positions at its North American Equity Opportunities and Global Alpha funds, both of which rely on computer models rumoured to have struggled with recent volatility.

Nick Parsons, head of markets strategy at nabCapital, said one of the reasons investors are so nervous is the sheer complexity of today's financial markets with the growth of instruments such as securitisiation and credit derivatives.
"The problem for the markets is they don't know where this is heading. It is like walking blindfold through a minefield. There is no way of knowing who owns this stuff. But what is clear is that this is not just a US problem. This debt is owned by a huge variety of institutions, some you've heard of, some you've never heard of and some you are probably going to hear of soon."

The ECB's intervention was the largest one-day amount ever stumped up by the institution. It lent the cash to banks at a bargain rate of 4%. The last time the ECB took this kind of measure was when it pumped €100bn into the markets over two days following the September 11 attacks. It described the intervention as a "fine-tuning operation" to ensure "orderly conditions in the euro money market".

US president George Bush tried to calm the situation, telling reporters that the problems in sub-prime mortgages were unlikely to spread to the wider credit market. "The fundamentals of our economy are strong," he said, although he accepted that there was a need for better financial education on the part of mortgage borrowers whose struggle to keep up repayments is at the root of the crisis.

"Anyone who loses their house is someone we've got to show enormous empathy for," he said. "A lot of people have signed up for things when they've not been sure what they're agreeing to."

Earlier this week, America's 10th biggest home lender, American Home Mortgage, filed for bankruptcy, while Bear Stearns co-president Warren Spector resigned following the meltdown of two mortgage hedge funds that his department ran. The world's biggest insurer, AIG, felt obliged to reassure investors that it had ample cash today, saying it did not need to sell any of its securities to raise cash in a "chaotic market".

Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, went against the prevailing winds yesterday, when he maintained that there was no international financial crisis.

The Bundesbank meanwhile hosted a meeting with banks involved in the rescue of Europe's highest profile sub-prime victim, the lender IKB, to arrange details of its €3.5bn bailout. The market in Germany was rife with rumours of particular banks being in trouble. West LB was forced to deny that it was heavily exposed to the sub-prime market. The US Treasury said it "remains vigilant".

Dutch bank NIBC called off a planned initial public offering, blaming exposure to the US credit markets. Market sources suggested last night that Britain's hedge fund operator Man Group was delaying plans for a flotation of one of its funds because of deteriorating market conditions.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007,,2145366,00.html

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

From Russia with Hatred

THERE's been an interesting response to Labour's appointment of David Miliband as Foreign Secretary, from the conspiracy theorists of the far Right, and the revisionist historian David Irving, through to a Russian commentator said to be close to Putin -not that this is such a wide traverse these days, it seems.

Some people are suggesting Miliband's ethnic background as a Jew, or "Zionist" (the categories are abused as interchangeable) should make him unacceptable to Arabs. I'd say it is the policies of the British government, like invading Iraq, and backing Israel's war in Lebanon, which are unacceptable regardless of who represents them. Given a choice, Palestinians and their allies might have felt more confident talking to the Jew Gerald Kaufman (who was Labour's shadow Foreign Secretary when in opposition) rather than trying to talk to Jack Straw or Margaret Beckett. But some Western commentators can't help projecting their own ignorance and prejudices on to those they consider inferior peoples.

Miliband's politics are another matter. It is often said that father Ralph Miliband (author of Parliamentary Socialism and other works) spent his life arguing that the Labour Party had nothing to do with socialism, and his two sons Dave and Ed have loyally helped to prove the old man right. Another version of the jibe is quoted by Dave Osler in his blog:

The occasion for this discussion was provided by a Russian commentator reported in, of all places, the Daily Mail :
… Russian political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, who is close to the Russian President, has claimed Mr Miliband inherited anti-Russian sentiments from his family.
The comments were last night being viewed as a sign of Moscow's bitterness towards Britain over the Litvinenko affair and the UK Government's refusal to extradite tycoon Boris Berezovsky to Moscow.
The attack came in Russian nationalist newspaper Tvoi Den. Mr Pavlovsky said: "David Miliband's hatred for Russia was inherited from his grandfather."
The newspaper said that in the Twenties the Foreign Secretary's grandfather, Samuel, then Shimon, Miliband, a native of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, had fought under the command of Trotsky 'eliminating' white Russians opposed to Communism.
He later came to England with his son Ralph, who became a Marxist academic, and whose sons David and Ed now serve in the Cabinet.
"David absorbed anti-Sovietism, as the saying goes, with his mother's milk," said Mr Pavlovsky".

I'm hesitant to trust anything that appears in the Mail, a Tory paper that once backed Oswald Mosley's fascists, and in recent years has been notorious for attacking minorities and immigrants. This is the paper, that hosts columnists Melanie Philips (the neo-con admiring latter-day Zionist and preacher of her own narrow-minded and uncharitable morality, "Mad Mel" as she is known to many of my friends), and Richard Littlejohn, who took time recently from abusing Muslims, Gypsies and other minorities to produce a Channel Four TV programme blaming the Left for antisemitism.

But unless the Mail has invented its story and attributed things which Gleb Pavlovsky never said, then the Russian's rant is worth dissecting. Yes, it is apparently true that old Sam Miliband came from Warsaw (whether one can accurately describe that city's Jewish quarters as a "ghetto" before the Nazis set one up is another question), and that he joined forces under the overall command of Leon Trotsky in 1920. They were called the Red Army! Trotsky was Soviet Commissar for War at the time. So it seems peculiar to say the least for Pavlovsky to describe such a background as evidence of "anti-Sovietism".
Polish reactionaries attacked the Jews as pro-Soviet and "Bolshevists".

But then if Pavlovsky was writing in a Russian nationalist newspaper, it's not surprising that he should write this way. We have seen demonstrators bearing Stalin's portrait take to the streets of Moscow and St.Petersburg along with admirers of Hitler and the Czar, and what better way is there to cement such a bizarre and obnoxious alliance than with antisemitism and denunciation of Trotsky? Didn't "the Jews" (such as Yacov Sverdlov) kill the Czar and family? (for a view from the far Right see Didn't some Nazi observers interpret the Stalin purges as Russia liberating itself from the Jews?
(Though Hitler quietly expressed appreciation of the good turn done him in more practical ways by Stalin decimating the Red Army command).

The Pavlovsky interpretation of history sounds not dissimilar, incidentally, to some of the things we've read from the notorious Israel Shamir, one-time BBC Russian service contributor and writer for the Russian nationalist press, who tried to act as go-between offering a collection of Nazi documents from Russian associates to David Irving. Shamir, who doubles as a Swedish antisemite under a different name, has also rewritten Russian history when attacking some Jewish left-wing anti-Zionists.

Ralph Miliband, born in Brussels but brought to England as a refugee when young, was never "anti-Soviet". He did consider joining the Communist Party when young, but disagreed with the Soviet Union's treatment of Yugoslavia. His decision to join the Labour Party has been attributed to the influence of Harold Laski, who taught him at LSE, but may also have owed something to Konni Zilliacus and other left-wing Labour MPs. Zilliacus, who sympathised with Tito, managed to be denounced as an "imperialist agent" by the Stalinists(during the Prague trials) and denied the Labour whip because of his opposition to Labour's Cold War policies. Perhaps this is the kind of "anti-Sovietism" that Pavlovsky had in mind.

I never met Ralph Miliband (such was the sectarianism in my corner of the Left that we were not even encouraged to read his books, though I did get his Parliamentary Socialism from the library while I was a Young Socialist, and it is certainly not New Labourite!). But some time in 1982-3 I was helping to steward a big public meeting in County Hall against the Lebanon war, and someone told me after that Miliband had been there with Marcel Liebman, from Belgium. Liebman, the author of Leninism under Lenin, was a member of the Union des Progressistes Juifs de Belgique(UPJB) and a founder with Naim Khader of the Association Belgo-Palestiniennes. That about takes care of the "Zionism" slur.

I met Ralph Miliband's widow briefly during a gathering in Brussels a few years ago of the European Jews for Just Peace, hosted by UPJB, the Belgian affiliate. We discussed her late husband's books, and neither of us thought to mention Ed or David somehow.

Politics is not passed on genetically nor "imbibed with the mother's milk" as Pavlovsky suggests. (Sometimes even a good socialist upringing fails to do the trick, unfortunately). We choose what to inherit, according to inclination and circumstance, and if a Russian writer reported to be close to Putin prefers the inheritance of the Black Hundred reactionaries to that of Lenin's Bolsheviks, that is part of his country's decline, though it is not surprising if the Daily Mail should recognise and welcome it.

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