Sunday, September 30, 2007

Freedom is not an academic question

BRADFORD student Khaled, 22, one of hundreds
prevented from leaving Gaza under Israeli siege.

LEADERS of the British academics' union, the Universities and Colleges Union(UCU) have reportedly decided to dump the union's resolution calling for a discussion on academic links with Israel, after taking advice from their lawyers that a boycott would be illegal, under laws against discrimination.

It is being reported as a climbdown by the academics, and hailed as a triumph for freedom.

It is neither. UCU leader Sally Hunt made it clear from the start that she disagreed with the "boycott Israel" resolution. Although it was passed by union conference, one looked in vain for the resolution on UCU's website,. Its opponents within and outside the union were thus allowed free rein to denounce it and campaign against it in the media -which also kept what the resolution actually said a mystery, shrouded in distortion. Tony Blair joined Israeli ministers in denouncing it. American academia's witchfinder general, Professor Alan Dershowitz found time from campaigning to oust anti-Zionists from their jobs (as witness Norman Finkelstein) to threaten costly legal action that would bankrupt the British union. All in the name of freedom, naturally.

The line peddled by pro-Zionists like David Hirsh of 'Engage' was that the UCU resolution meant banning Israelis from campus. Bit odd as several of the boycott supporters happen to be Israelis. But Hirsh and others have carried on with their invention after it was pointed out that the resolution only asked for a discussion about boycott, and if adopted this would be aimed against institutions, not individuals because of their nationality. Plainly today's Zionist propagandists believe that if you want to defend Israeli repression nothing beats pretending you are the victims of persecution; and as cynical old journalists used to say, "Why let the truth spoil a good story?".

We don't know what Sally Hunt and co. asked the lawyers, but the answer they got, referring to discrimination laws, makes one ask whether it gave the impression that individuals were to be boycotted. How else could a boycott be illegal? If I decide not to pick up an Israeli orange, as my Mum was once proud to reject South African fruit, will I risk being prosecuted? If a British university lecturer or scientist consulted his or her conscience (as the UCU resolution put it) before accepting an invitation to an Israeli-government backed conference, say, will they be compelled to go for fear of being accused of illegal boycotting?

There might be a danger to unions like my own if members decided not to handle Israeli goods or service Israeli planes, say. That is under Tory anti-union laws which Labour to its shame has kept, to prevent workers taking effective solidarity action, as seen during the Gate Gourmet dispute at Heathrow. I have pointed this out in meetings discussing solidarity with Palestine, but people seemed reluctant to talk about the matter. Which is one reason I have my doubts about how serious some of the campaigners are. (Ironically, it was Israel's Histadrut that was able to threaten to "black" British goods at the ports in retaliation for British union resolutions. How embarrassing!)

But meantime, before any action is taken let alone threatened with reaction, the UCU leadership has said that in view of the lawyers' advice it will not go ahead with a discussion in the union about boycotting, or a lecture tour of the colleges that would help inform members of the issues. Now, how is that for an example of academic debate or a victory for "freedom of speech"? Well, that's what Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni calls it, so how dare we argue?!

It appears some of the Left in the academic world have already been thrown into panicky retreat by this not unexpected setback, although a piece of lawyers' advice is hardly mass democracy in action. The Socialist Workers Party has been fanatically pro-boycott, to the point of stupidity. Members in the cultural line were advised not to perform or have their work translated for Israeli consumption, as though the Israeli military would collapse if soldiers could not read China Mieville's science fiction. This self-denying ordinance certainly beats waiting for a right-wing regime to ban you or your work as subversive to order! But last week leading SWP theoretician Alex Callenicos signalled the retreat even before the lawyers' advice was reported (he warned Sally Hunt was going to rush through a debate, and the Left could fall into a trap).

"We should make it clear now that we do not intend to propose an actual boycott of any Israeli academic institutions at the next union congress".

Callenicos says the boycott issue is divisive, and members should concentrate on raising the Palestine issue generally and asking boycott opponents what they are doing to help Palestinian students. Maybe they will ask SWPers the same.

But meanwhile here are some positive issues that people should be able to take up if they want to do something for academic freedom, and Palestine.

Here's an item from the Bradford Telegraph and Argus,
Wednesday September 26 :

Student trapped in siege of Gaza

A Bradford student is trapped in the Gaza Strip after the Israeli government laid siege to the territory. The 22-year-old has completed two years of a business management degree at the University of Bradford but can't return to finish his studies because of the blockade.
The Israelis have branded Gaza hostile territory and are preventing all movement in or out. Water, electricity and fuel supplies have been cut and there are growing fears the area could be invaded.
Now Khaled al-Mudallal, a Gaza native who is living in Great Horton, is to make a desperate plea to the Israeli Supreme Court to be allowed to resume his studies.
His case has been taken up by a human rights organisation and the University says it hopes his situation can be resolved "quickly and peacefully." Khaled had returned to Gaza to be with his wife, Duaa, when he became caught up in the political situation.
Speaking to the Telegraph & Argus from Rafah, he said: "I was supposed to start my third year this week, I am already missing my studies. I am being denied my human rights. I came back for a few days to collect my wife and I have been stuck here for three and a half months.
"Nothing can get in or out of Gaza. The Israelis have cut the water, electricity and fuel supplies and we fear they may invade any day now as they have threatened to do.
"The situation here in Gaza is very bad. It has been bad before but now they have closed the Rafah border it is impossible to leave. Every aspect of life has been affected here - aid, food, power.
"It is very difficult, I am renting a house in Great Horton and paying bills there but also have to rent a house in Rafah.
"I have no work here and I am worried I will lose my part-time job in Bradford as a result of being stuck here. That is my main source of income.
"The university has said it understands my situation but if I do not get back soon I could lose a whole year's work."
Professor Mark Cleary, vice-chancellor of the University of Bradford said: "This is clearly a very frustrating situation for Khaled and many other students like him.
"We hope it is resolved quickly and peacefully". newsindex/display.var.1714331.0.

The National Union of Students Black Students Campaign has joined Bradford University Student Union and others in a call to "Support Khaled al-Mudallal's Right to Education". Israeli human rights campaigners backing his plea to the Israeli Supreme Court say he is one of several hundred Palestinian students who are being prevented from leaving Gaza to return to courses abroad. They believe this is in breach of international law.

The University and Colleges Union has added its support, as has the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Islamic students. You can visit the website and sign the online petition here.

Campaigners are also urging letters to Gordon Brown, and asking supporters to raise the issue in student media etc. It is not a matter of asking for an exception, though Khaled's claim to justice and his right to education are clear. Showing how illegal occupation, oppression and siege hits one person just like themselves is a good way of getting people to face reality and understand what it's all about.

Books without Borders

Second, there's a call from Faculty for Israel-Palestinian Peace, which notes with dismay the effects of occupation on academic freedom in Palestine: "Universities have been closed for prolonged periods, students often unable to reach their studies because of delays or closure of checkpoints, or denied the right to travel to their universities at all. This has affected medical and physiotherapy students in Gaza in particular where no local courses are available and travel to the West Bank banned.. .

"Palestinian universities generally are starved of resources. In particular there is an acute shortage of books and other materials...."

FFIPP is chaired by Dr.Eyad Sarraj, head of Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and has an impressive international advisory board including Hanan Ashrawi, Zygmunt Bauman, Eric Hogsbawm, Tony Judt and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

It is appealing for money, and for books - especially introductory textbooks and up-to-date scientific, technical and nursing or medical texts, though English as-a -foreign language and IT textbooks are also in demand. It also wants volunteers to act as local agents collecting aid.

UCU offices in London at 27, Brittania Street, WC1 have been loaned as a collecting and sorting centre.

for more info. visit or e-mail

I hope the faculty peace campaigners will consider sending a delegation with its shipment of books; and that it will receive better treatment than the Birmingham delegation that was detained at Ben Gurion airport when taking children's books for Jenin refugee camp. But such obstruction is all the more reason to recognise the importance of positive aid initiatives like this one. And presumably government ministers and others who have had so much to say about academic freedom will be ready to offer their support.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Solidarity with Egyptian workers!

"WE don't hear much about Egypt", someone was saying at a social evening I was at last night. Well, here's a little contribution to remedying that gap. Thanks by the way to Brent Trades Union Council president Pete Firmin for passing me this.

Egypt's biggest factory occupied by striking workers

Fri Sep 28, 2007 3:41 pm (PST)

Thousands of workers at the biggest textile factory in the Middle East, Misr Spinning and Weaving in Mahalla al-Kubra north of Cairo have been occupying their plant since 23 September. The strikers are demanding wage rises to meet the spiraling cost of living, payment of bonuses and the impeachment of the factory management and the leaders of the factory's pro-government official union committee.

Thousands of workers across Egypt have already joined strikes and protests in solidarity with the Mahalla strikers. In December 2006 a successful strike by workers at the same company set off Egypt's biggest wave of industrial action for decades, involving strikes by textile workers, postal workers and teachers.

Independent trade union activists frequently face harassment and intimidation by the Egyptian authorities, while the official trade union movement is controlled by the government. The following appeal for international solidarity with the Mahalla strikers has been issued by the Centre for Socialist Studies in Cairo, which is part of a wider network of opposition and human rights groups campaigning for change in Egypt.

To add your name to the solidarity statement below, or to send a message of support to the strikers: email

To send condemnation letters to the Egyptian General Federation of Trade Unions Fax # (+202)25740308 or Ministry of Labour Fax # (+202)24037562(please email a copy of the letter to the address above).

Send protests to the Egyptian embassy in your country.

Read more about the strike here: BAN454477.html

Solidarity with the Mahalla Workers

We call upon all workers and fighters for justice to support Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company 27,000 workers currently on strike for their rights, which are basic and legitimate rights for all workers. We shall use all means to express our solidarity with the workers and their families for their courageous stand and their struggle to seize their rights.We also call upon all workers in all locations to act in solidarity with their colleagues at the Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company.

We salute the initiative of the Grain Mills workers for their symbolic solidarity sit in, which they organized on the 23rd of September 2007 and their release of solidarity statements together with their colleagues in Shebin El Kom Spinning and Weaving Company. We also salute the weaving workers in Kafr El Dawwar for their decision to organize solidarity sit in with their Mahalla colleagues on the 25th of September2007. We also salute the students, foremost the Tanta university students, for their release of several solidarity statements with the workers. We also salute all centres and movements who expressed solidarity with the workers.

We condemn the policy of terror and arrests which the regime is using in the face of the legitimate demands of the masses of workers.We condemn the policy of blockading the workers in the factory, which has failed to intimidate them and has increased their determination to continue their strike for their rights.

We condemn the yellow puppet General Federation of Trade Unions and the Ministry of Labor who stand against the will of the workers and against their interests.

We call upon workers around the world and their unions to show their support to their fellow workers in Mahalla in every way possible.

Center for Socialist Studies, Cairo


Textile workers have been in the vanguard of struggles for freedom, progress and workers' rights all through Egypt's modern history. A thread of continuity runs from today's strike and occupation back for instance more than half a century to when, having fought British occupation and the monarchy, Egyptian workers found their independence was feared as a threat by the new Free Officers' regime.
Hundreds were rounded up as the military crushed a strike. In a scene that must have resembled the film Spartacus they refused to surrender "ringleaders" for puishment. So the officers went ahead and hanged union activists anyway.

But here's an extract from Joel Beinin's history of the textile workers in Egypt:
" Workers at the Misr mills in Kafr al-Dawwar believed that the new regime empowered them to renew their campaign for representative trade unions. The 3,000 workers at Beida Dyers won this demand after a brief strike on August 9, 1952. At Misr Fine Spinning and Weaving there was a company-controlled union. A union reform movement led by Muhammad Mutawalli al-Sha`rawi and Ahmad al-Yabani, who were close to the DMNL, (Democratic Movement for National Liberation, a communist party - my note) had been active for some time. It did not initiate the sit-down strike of some 500 workers on August 12. The next day troops arriving from Alexandria fired on large demonstrations of workers as they shouted their support for the new regime and demanded the removal of abusive company officials and the formation of a freely elected union. Two soldiers, one policeman and four workers were killed in an exchange of shots. The military authorities arrested 545 workers and charged 29 of them with various offenses. A hastily convened military tribunal sentenced Mustafa Khamis and Muhammad Baqri to death, and they were executed on September 7. The government’s principal consideration in imposing this harsh penalty was its suspicion that they were members of Marxist organizations, although Baqri almost surely was not. Ten other workers including Muhammad Shihab, a Muslim Brother, received jail sentences".

The officers' regime went on to enact labour laws designed to ease workers' grievances while, particularly after Nasser confirmed its permanence, it repressed independent trade unionism and jailed communists and socialists. For a time most large companies were nationalised and corporate unionism instroduced. But working class consciousness clearly survived; and now when the Egyptian government has returned to letting "free market" capitalism loose it has been unable to keep the concomitant genie of working class struggle locked up in the bottle.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Who's doing business in Burma?

"Please use your liberty to promote ours"

Aung San Suu Kyi - Burmese leader whom the military placed under house arrest after her party won elections.

THOUSANDS have taken to the streets and defied the military in what its rulers and the UN call "Myanmar", but oppositionists and the rest of us still call Burma. Many people awakening to the issue around the world will readily identify with the Burmese people's struggle against poverty oppression, not because George W.Bush and Gordon Brown chose to focus away from their problems in the Middle East, but in spite of them.

Since the Burmese military seized power it has crushed opposition, locked up popular leaders, repressed trade union activity and driven thousands of Burmese people out as refugees across the borders. Village women have been press-ganged into serving as porters and rape objects for the soldiers. Peasants have been forced into slave labour on military-backed projects. Burma is rich in resources, but ordinary Burmese find it increasingly hard to afford essentials, while their country is among the world's 15 top military spenders, and its generals enjoy royal luxury.

Not since the Second World War, when it was fought over by British and Japanese imperialism, each enlisting local allies, has Burma been threatened or invaded by anyone. So what is its military spending for, except to repress the people and enrich the arms dealers and generals?

Who are the military regime's accomplices? The United States and European Union have both condemned the regime and adopted sanctions policies. 'Myanmar' has close relations with neighboring India and China with several Indian and Chinese companies operating in the country, and these governments have reportedly resisted further action. But sanctions or not (and we don't know whether these really hit the military or ordinary people, as we saw with Iraq), big Western companies have evidently found Burma's wealth too much of an attraction to care about its slavery, or let sanctions worry them.

And who do we find near the front of the queue - why it's our American friends from Chevron!

The French oil company Total SA is able to operate the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Myanmar to Thailand despite the European Union's sanctions on Myanmar. Total is currently the subject of a lawsuit in French and Belgian courts for the condoning and use of Burman civilian slavery to construct the named pipeline. Experts say that the human rights abuses along the gas pipeline are the direct responsibility of Total S.A. and its American partner Chevron with aid and implementation by the Tatmadaw. Prior to its acquisition by Chevron, Unocal settled a similar human rights lawsuit for a reported multi-million dollar amount.

The Burma campaign in the UK has drawn attention to the activities of these companies and it has also together with Amnesty International, reported how the regime continued to receive arms for repression, in spite of official sanctions.

The campaign has published a list of companies involved in Burma.

These include British companies, as the BBC reports:

Burma List 'shames' UK companies
Rolls-Royce and Lloyd's of London are among 37 global companies which have been added to the Burma Campaign's annual 'Dirty List'.
The revised list of 95 contains companies which the Burma Campaign claims directly or indirectly help finance Burma's military dictatorship. The Campaign describes the regime as one of the most brutal in the world. Firms including BAT, P&O, WPP, PwC and Ernst & Young have pulled out of Burma in the past year following pressure.

'Minimal' business
According to the Campaign, Rolls-Royce has a contract to supply and service aircraft engines for at least one Burmese airline. "We believe foreign policy is a matter for government, not companies," a spokesman for Rolls Royce said.
"Policy is set through export licensing regulations, and we adhere to those. If we were denied an export licence, we would not trade," he added.

The Campaign claims that Lloyd's of London provides insurance and reinsurance services through its members to companies investing in Burma.
It also insures Burmese companies such as Yangon Airways by working through regime-owned insurers. A spokesperson for Lloyd's of London said that Lloyd's did a "minimal amount" of business in Burma and that it always complied with international sanctions and international regulatory requirements.

Travel ban
Travel firm Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) was listed for continuing to offer tours to the region. A spokesperson for the company said that the UK branch no longer includes Burma in its list of holiday destinations. However, the US branch of A&K has several tours to Burma in its 2004-2005 brochure, according to the Dirty List.

The Burma campaign was founded in 1991 with the aim of establishing the restoration of human rights and democracy in Burma.
Story from BBC NEWS:

People are showing their solidarity with the Burmese people around the world. In London demonstrations are taking place every lunchtime outside the Myanmar Embassy. The TUC is asking trade unionists to join the pro-democracy group today from 12 noon to 1pm.
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar
Nearest tube: Green Park

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dan Gillerman: a Big Liar at the UN

A diplomat, the cynics say, is someone who lies for his country. If so, Israel's ambassador at the UN Dan Gillerman is an outstanding diplomat, that's to say he's a Big Liar, though whether his countrymen and women ought to be happy with him representing them is another matter.

Israeli governments like to pretend they are speaking not only for Israelis but in the name of Jewish people around the world, whether we like it or not. Well "Not in my Name", writes my friend John Bunzl:

'Dan Gillerman, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN is quoted in today's Haaretz as stating: "Ahmadinejad visiting Ground Zero is like Hitler visiting Auschwitz". You have to read this statement several times in order to realize how much it relies on a banalization, trivialization and exploitation of the Holocaust. People with conscience, esp. Jews, should reject it outright. Here we have a case, sadly among many others, of manipulating an almost sacred historical truth in the interest of "Realpolitik" and warmongering.

'Any semi-educated person would recognize the following:
1) There is no direct relationship between Ahmadinejad and Ground Zero; nothing comparable to the direct relationship between Hitler and Auschwitz.
2) Atrocity does not equal atrocity. There is a huge difference between 9/11 and the genocide perpetrated in Auschwitz between 1941 and 1945.
3) Ahmadinejad does not equal Hitler. It is an unacceptable distortion of history to designate any political figure not of your liking as Hitler. Remember Nasser, Saddam and Arafat? The latter was characterizes by Prime Minister Menahem Begin as even "worse than Hitler".
4) In order to object to Ahmadinejad's policies it is not required to sink into primitive polemics, to invent horror stories or repeat questionable "translations" ad nauseam. Only if you want to hide more sinister intentions. I urge you to protest Gillerman's infamous statement. As a Jew I would like to add: "Not in my name!"

John Bunzl
Political Scientist

John Bunzl, by the way, knows a bit about the real Hitler. He grew up in London as a child refugee from Nazism before being taken back to Austria with those of his family who had survived the Holocaust. Maybe that helped him sympathise with others who were made refugees. I met John in Paris in 1982 when we both were among those rallied by the late Maxim Ghilan to oppose Israel's war on Lebanon and support a just peace in Palestine. (Maxim was an unofficial diplomat, an Israeli who told the truth for his countrymen, and had been jailed to prove it.)

Apart from the lie of blaming the Iranian president for 9/11, when (as Mossad can tell the ambassador) those who carried it out were Saudis, and bitter rivals of the Iranian regime, what makes Gillerman's remark most outrageous is his evocation - and exploitation - of the Nazi

This comes after it was reported in both Israel and the United States that Iranian television is currently running a drama mini-series based on the true story of a wartime Iranian diplomat who rescued Jews from the Holocaust. This has raised popular awareness and sympathy with Hitler's Jewish victims and gone a long way to erase the impression created by Ahmedinajad's past remarks about the way Europe eased its conscience by supporting Israel, and Tehran's hosting of a Holocaust revisionist conference.

The other piece of news of course was that Israeli police had arrested a gang of neo-Nazi youth who had been active for some time, attacking religious Jews and Muslims, and desecrating synagogues with swastikas. One might have thought an Israeli government spokesperson, particularly one who wanted to lecture others about the Jewish tragedy, and how societies tackle racism, might have some explaining to do.

Or better they keep quiet.

Especially when Israel is walling off Palestinian centres and declaring collective punishment of the people it has surrounded in the Gaza Strip.

But Gillerman feels perfectly entitled to air his crudity and ignorance and tell New Yorkers whom they should allow to visit 'Ground Zero'. Perhaps he believes he knows his audience. More important, as John Bunzl suggests, the Israeli UN ambassador wants to hide more sinister intentions. Like getting people worked up into the state of irrational hatred where they are ready to applaud their governments going to war and bombing Iran.

And for that, as a certain cynic taught, the Big Lie always works.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

It was the oil, stupid!

CHEVRON tanker named after
Condoleeza Rice

IN case no one had guessed it, the man who was in charge of America's money when George Dubya decided to invade Iraq, confirmed last week what he had told people in private at the time: "the Iraq War is largely about oil".

As reported by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post:

"I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," saif former Federal Reserve bank head Alan Greenspan in a newspaper interview . "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."

Greenspan said that in his discussions with the President and Vice President Dick Cheney, "I have never heard them basically say, 'We've got to protect the oil supplies of the world,' but that would have been my motive." Greenspan said that he made his economic argument to White House officials and that one lower-level official, whom he declined to identify, told him, "Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil."

Asked if he had made his point to Cheney specifically, Greenspan said yes, then added, "I talked to everybody about that."Greenspan said he had backed Hussein's ouster, either through war or covert action. "I wasn't arguing for war per se," he said. But "to take [Hussein] out, in my judgment, it was something important for the West to do and essential, but I never saw Plan B" -- an alternative to war. Greenspan's reference in "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World" to what he calls the "politically inconvenient" fact that the war was "largely about oil" was reported by The Washington Post on Saturday and has proved controversial.

He says he agreed with Bush about the danger of Iraq possessing weaposs of mass destruction , but his main support for Saddam Hussein's ouster was economically motivated. "If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands," Greenspan said, "our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war. And the second gulf war is an extension of the first. My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day" passing through.Greenspan said disruption of even 3 to 4 million barrels a day could translate into oil prices as high as $120 a barrel -- far above even the recent highs of $80 set last week -- and the loss of anything more would mean "chaos" to the global economy.Given that, "I'm saying taking Saddam out was essential," he said. But he added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab."No, no, no," he said.

Getting rid of Hussein achieved the purpose of "making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will."

Greenspan's comparative honesty seemed refreshing, after hearing some of our politicians claiming the war was about everything except oil, or indeed listening to some of those critics of the war who claim it wasn't in American interests (The blame-it-on-Israel's Lobby conspiracy theorists who given time, may yet explain why the preceding century or more of US imperialism was similarly altruistic, or due to bad advisers).

But what Greenspan had to say was not the whole truth, and nor was it nothing-but-the-truth. After all, Saddam Hussein was not intent on cutting off the world's oil supplies. On the contrary, Iraq needed to sell all the oil it could to get around sanctions and try to rebuild its economy. It was when the Iraqi government announced that it would accept the Euro in place of the mighty dollar, that America decided to make its move. Washington already had plans to take over Iraqi oil, well before 9/11. But it did not just want the oil, it wanted to control the oil, and through it, along with its Saudi and other interests, to dictate to the world's economy.

When Greenspan talks about the the oil supplies "of the world", and its "importance to the West", he does not admit that maybe the rest of the world and even "the West" might not have identified their interests with those of the United States, let alone of big US oil companies; that French and German leaders might have had perfectly rational reasons for seeing things differently.

There have been quite a few articles and publications about Iraq and oil, here's two I chanced on while searching just now:,,2151588,00.html

As arguments continue over both causes and effects of the Iraq war, one American critic commented that for 'Big Oil' it was a "win/win situation" - if the war succeeded the US companies would be able to help themselves to Iraqi oil. If it failed the effect on the world oil price would still be to their profit. For the rest of us it was a no-win situation.

Continuing to push his book, Greenspan warned this week that effect of rising oil prices and other costs could help push America and the rest of the world into crisis and recession - or he reassured readers that the danger of America undergoing recession was not as great as he had predicted earlier this year (depending whether your news media report took a half-empty or half-full interpretation of what the former Federal Reserve boss had to say.
Greenspan was specific about one issue - as millions of Americans face losing their homes and savings the government must resist the temptation to increase social spending. That's a banker speaking.

'Greenspan said he expects more mortgage delinquencies and home foreclosures in store in U.S. and global housing markets.

"I think we're going to have to go through this adjustment, as indeed all the other countries are in the process of going through it. There are going to be a lot of people who will have very tragic stories," he said'.

Do YOU want RICE with THAT?

One item I seem to have missed in the British media, even after doing a search, so
though it is a few months old and has appeared on several American blogs I am recirculating it here:

A side of Rice in the oil-for-food scandal? By: Steve Benen on Wednesday, May 9th, 2007 at 9:00 AM - PDT url = '';

For many conservatives, the U.N.’s oil-for-food scandal was an assault on all that is good and holy. In a nutshell, Saddam Hussein took advantage of a U.N. program in which Iraq would sell oil and use the revenue for food, medicine, and humanitarian goods, as exceptions to a trade embargo imposed after the first Gulf War. Saddam, however, received illegal kickbacks on the oil sales, which he transferred to private accounts. And who was giving Saddam the illegal kickbacks? According to a New York Times report, Chevron is poised to announce that it should have known about the kickbacks that were being paid to Saddam. If only Chevron had some kind of internal policy committee, as part of the company’s board of directors, with a knowledgeable expert responsible for looking out for these kinds of problems. Oh wait, it did — and it was led by Condoleezza Rice.
According to the Volcker report, surcharges on Iraqi oil exports were introduced in August 2000 by the Iraqi state oil company, the State Oil Marketing Organization. At the time, Condoleezza Rice, now secretary of state, was a member of Chevron’s board and led its public policy committee, which oversaw areas of potential political concerns for the company. Ms. Rice resigned from Chevron’s board on Jan. 16, 2001, after being named national security advisor by President Bush.

George Galloway could have called her as a witness.

Incidentally, though Rice this week was quoted as saying there must be progress towards a Palestinian state, she did not go so far as to comment on Israel declaring the entire Gaza strip "hostile territory" and cutting its water, electricity and gas supplies. Causing more misery, death and suffering to old people, the sick and children - that'll learn them terrorists firing home-made rockets! Cutting essential supplies to civilians used to be called a war crime, but when you're Israel, you're America's favourite and don't have to listen to the UN.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Union says US forces killed engineer

IRAQI ol workers' unions say US occupation forces have ambushed a group of workers going about their work, and killed an engineer.

The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) says the attack on a work crew in the Rumala oilfield near Basra was carried out on the morning of Tuesday 18 September. As a result of the attack Chief Engineer Talib Naji Abboud was wounded and taken to hospital where he died on the following evening.

The attack on the workers came only a day after the US Blackwater "security" firm - Iraqis call them mercenaries - massacred civilians in Baghdad's Mansour district. Iraqi officials say 11 people were killed, but unofficial reports speak of up to 50 deaths, men, women and children. Blackwater claim their men were exchanging fire with "insurgents". .

The IFOU has called on the Iraqi government to take action to protect the lives of Iraqi citizens. The Federation held a protest rally at the Southern Oil Company headquarters in Basra this morning, to condemn the murders and the continuing occupation of Iraq.

Although the Iraqi government has asked the US to curb Blackwater, the oil unions complain that Oil Ministerl Hussain Al-Shahristani has remained silent about the latest criminal attack directed at workers who are under his direct remit and who were ambushed while going about their normal business of running the vital industry.

"Indeed, the latest attack seems to be designed to show that the occupation forces will act with impunity, and that there is going to be little distinction between mercenaries and regular US troops. The attack in the oilfields seems also to be designed to push the Iraqi Government to take further harsh and repressive measures against the oil workers at a time when they are resisting the privatization of the industry.

"The murder of Chief Engineer Talib Naji Abboud should also be laid at the door of the oil corporations that are trying to force their way into Iraq and to control its resources at any cost".

US Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice has repeatedly expressed her impatience with the Iraqi parliament over MP's failure to pass through the Hydrocarbon Law permitting foreign companies to move in and exploit Iraq's oil resources. After her visit to Baghdad earlier this year
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, said Rice “emphasized a great deal the issue of urgency.” Rice stressed to Iraqi leaders that “patience is not unlimited in the United States and that there’s a great deal of frustration,” Zebari added.

The press and the British government are claiming the law would ensure fair distribution of oil wealth. "By establishing a fair basis for the distribution of revenues the hydrocarbons law could boost confidence among Iraqis in the government of Iraq's national unity credentials and help promote national reconciliation", asserts a letter over Minister Kim Howell's name passed on to me. But those who have studied the bill before Iraqi MPs tell me it says nothing about distribution beyond postponing the issue till later.

Naftana (Our Oil) which acts as a support group for the Iraqi union and has relayed its statements is calling upon the Trade Union and anti-war movements in Britain to condemn this latest crime by occupation forces, and to send protest letters to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

For more information see the IFOU’s website

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ellen's Story: Nurse, Witness and Peace campaigner

MAKING A POINT in London, before she went on to make a name in Lebanon.

REMEMBERING the massacre at Sabra and Chatila which shocked us all twenty five years ago,
I mentioned Dr.Swee Chai Ang, who worked in the camps' Gaza hospital, and testified before the Kahan Commission in Israel. Swee, whose Singapore Christian background and beliefs had originally predisposed her to see Israel's side before she went to work in Lebanon, wrote about her experiences in "From Beirut to Jerusalem", published in 1989.

Today I'll introduce another witness, from a different background, who worked as a colleague of Swee's at the hospital.

In 1973, two women stood outside the Israeli embassy in London with placards drawing attention to the bizarre logic of Israel's Law of Return. One of them, Ellen Siegel, carried a sign pointing out that as an American Jew, born in the USA, she could "return" to Israel-Palestine. Her co-demonstrator, Palestinian-born Dr. Ghada Karmi bore a sign saying that as a Palestinian, born in Jerusalem she could not return. It was a telling point, when few people here had given thought to what Zionism entailed. It was also a striking little event, at that time for a Jewish woman, identifying herself as such, to protest outside an Israeli embassy.

Ellen Siegel was an unusual woman. But her background seemed usual enough, indeed more conservative than most. "I was born and raised in a conservative/orthodox Jewish household," she says. Her grandparents escaped pogroms in Eastern Europe by coming to America, where they spoke only Yiddish and strictly observed religious holidays. Ms. Siegel's parents followed suit. She attended Hebrew school twice a week, and went to an orthodox synagogue every Saturday, as well as a religious school every Sunday. "It was only when I went to high school that I learned there were people other than Jewish people," she recalls. After high school, Ms. Siegel went to a Jewish nursing school and then practiced in Jewish hospitals in New York and Washington, D.C.

But one thing Ellen seems to have got from her family and teachers is an understanding of what it means to be persecuted, and a sense that when you see people ill-treated it is your duty to speak out. Growing up at a time of America's civil rights struggles she learned to recognise and react against racism - even when she encountered it from fellow-Jews. During a trip to Europe in 1972 she decided to visit the Middle East and see things for herself. Hearing Israelis sound like Southern racists when they talked about "dirty Arabs" was one thing that upset her. But there was more. In Lebanon, Ellen visited the synagogue in Beirut and befriended people in the local Jewish community. She also met Palestinians, and as she said,. "I had been taught that there was no such thing as Palestinian people and I never knew about a land called Palestine. But then I went through the Borj El-Barajneh refugee camp and it was a real mind blower."

Ellen Siegel decided not just to speak but to act. By taking her nursing skills to work among the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon she would be doing something useful and, as being from a religious background she might put it, atoning for the sins of others. Thus it was that in September 1982, a "nice Jewish girl from Baltimore" (as she humorously described herself) found herself nursing amid the hell of Sabra and Chatila. Here is part of her account:

'Thursday, September 16, the hospital suddenly became very busy and very crowded. About 2,000 inhabitants of the camp rushed into the building seeking refuge. Another 2,000 could not get in; they huddled outside. The refugees were terrified and hysterical. Screaming, they kept repeating "Kataib, Israel, Haddad " and made a motion with their fingers and hand as if to show that someone was slitting their throat.

(Khataib is the Arabic for Phalange, the Christian rightist party, Major Said Haddad commanded the Israeli -backed South Lebanon Army and led forces which joined the Phalangist onslaiught on the refugee camps).

'Inside the hospital, the scene was chaotic. The morgue was overflowing. Wounded were streaming in; some had been shot in the elbows and legs as they tried to run away. I remember a dehydrated premature baby that was brought in; in all the excitement it had not received enough fluid. I do not know what happened to this baby once it was rehydrated. Refugees crouched in every corner. We tended to the wounded. We tried to feed those who had sought refuge. Both heavy and light artillery fire continued all day. I kept listening to BBC news on my tiny transistor radio. The main story was the death in a car crash of Princess Grace of Monaco. The reports said nothing at all about what was happening in the camps. At some point, late in the evening, the second news item did relay the fact that the Israeli army was occupying West Beirut.

'That evening, a few other health-care workers and I climbed to one of the top floors of the hospital; it had been unused since the recent invasion. Because most of the walls had been bombed out, the view was unobstructed. We watched for a time as flares were shot into the air, brightly illuminating different parts of the camp. After each flare, rounds of light artillery fire were heard. I thought people were trying to shoot down the flares. Not a sound was heard from the camps except the noise of the flares being projected and the shots that followed. No screaming, no cries for help, no human sound, nothing. Israeli planes continued to fly overhead as the night went on.

'The next morning, Friday, September 17, suddenly and with great urgency, all of the Palestinian and Lebanese staff left the hospital. The hospital administrator had told them it was no longer a safe area. The only staff members who remained were some twenty doctors, nurses and physical therapists from Great Britain, Norway, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Ireland and two of us from the United States, all volunteers. That afternoon, in great haste, the patients who could walk left. The refugees inside and outside the building also fled. They feared it was no longer a safe place. The refugees told us that the militias were making their way towards the hospital. The only patients who remained were those who could not move easily and those in critical condition -- altogether about 50 people.

'The sounds of high explosives, mortars and artillery fire, both light and heavy, continued almost non-stop, and they were getting closer. Smoke began pouring in through the windows. Doors and windows were shaking. We evacuated all our remaining patients to the lower floors. We taped up windows so that the glass would not shatter. The electricity kept going off; we were pumping oxygen by hand. The doctors operated by flashlight.

'Sometime Friday morning, in the midst of this bombardment, a film crew from Visnews came. They did some filming, then left. Late in the afternoon, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross appeared; they evacuated a half-dozen critically injured children, whom they placed in other hospitals around the city. They also left us oxygen, blood and other vital and much-needed supplies. Finally, the ambassador of Norway came by. Each of these visitors was given a list of names of all the foreign volunteers.

'That evening, as I was working in the Intensive Care Unit, two unfamiliar young men approached me. They looked different from the local population; well groomed and freshly shaven, with neatly ironed shirts and well-tailored trousers. One of them asked me, "Are the Kataib coming tomorrow morning to slit the throats of Palestinian children?" He asked me this twice. His eyelids appeared to be drooping. He wanted to know who was in the hospital. I answered, "All foreigners." I later learned that there were about 20 of these young men wandering around the hospital smoking hashish. To this day, I have no idea who these men were.

'By that evening, the heavy artillery had ceased. Only the sound of light artillery and gunshots could be heard. Sundown marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 5743. That night I managed to get a few hours' sleep. Very early on Saturday morning, September 18, I was awakened by one of the other nurses. On an ordinary morning, we awoke to the tinkling of the bell of the vendor selling Arab coffee from his colorful cart. This morning there was an eerie silence; even the familiar crowing of the roosters had ceased. My colleague said, "Get downstairs right away. The Lebanese Army wants all the health workers to assemble at the entrance." One of the soldiers had instructed her to tell others "not to be afraid," as they were the Lebanese Army.

'I looked out of a space that had once held a glass pane, blown out long ago by the force of a high explosive. In front of the hospital stood about a dozen men in uniform, wearing helmets and holding rifles. Others were herding away people who lived close by the hospital. I quickly put on my lab coat over the green hospital uniform that I had slept in, grabbed my passport, and made my way down eight flights of steps. In the bright morning sun the international health workers who had come to help stood together at the front door of our medical facility. The men and women waiting for us were clean, their uniforms starched and well-fitting -- but they bore the insignia not of the Lebanese Army, but of the Phalange. In contrast to them, we were a haggard and exhausted group; many of us had blood, pus and other human waste on our uniforms and lab coats. The militiamen spoke with each other in Arabic and French and to us in English. They told us they were taking us away for awhile, but that we would be coming back. A few of the doctors successfully negotiated with them to allow one doctor and one nurse to remain in the ICU.

'Our captors led us down the road in front of the hospital and on to Rue Sabra, the camp's main street. As we were marched along, I heard gunshots being fired on the right, then the left, then the right. After each one, I instinctively ducked. Someone told me, "Keep walking." The militiamen themselves did not react at all; they completely ignored the sound. It was as if they had not heard it.

'Some of the camp residents, including some of the cooks and cleaners who worked at Gaza, followed us. The militia stopped them. Along the way, a Palestinian had joined us; fearful, he begged for one of us to give him a lab coat. Someone did. He looked Arab, though, and was quickly confronted by a militiaman asking for his ID card. The Phalangist slapped his face with the card and made him take off the lab coat. I turned around and saw him on his knees begging. As before, someone told me, "Keep walking." The next thing I heard was a shot. I did not look back.

'As we continued marching down Rue Sabra, we saw dead bodies lying along the sides of the street; some were old men, shot point-blank in the temple. As we moved on, we approached a large group of camp residents, mainly women and children, huddled together, with men in uniform guarding them. They were very scared. We were worried about them, and they were frightened for us, seeing us led past them at rifle point. A few of them gave us the "V" sign. It seemed that with their eyes and their lips they wanted to reassure us and thank us for coming to help them. One young woman, fearing she would not survive, stepped out of the crowd and handed her infant to one of the female doctors. Dr. Swee Ang was able to walk a few feet with the baby before a Phalangist stopped her. He took the baby away from her and handed it back to the mother. For a few seconds, I thought about the Holocaust, about mothers being sent off to concentration camps. I had read much about Jewish women in Germany and Poland handing over their babies to others in order to save them from extermination.

'By now we were halfway down Rue Sabra into Shatila; the camps sit beside one another, with no visible line dividing them. The number of militiamen increased greatly; they were everywhere. These looked different from the ones who had escorted us out of the hospital. They were sloppy and unkempt; their uniforms were dirty and rumpled, without any identifying insignia. They seemed exhausted, edgy and ill-tempered. Throughout this ordeal, most of the uniformed men were in constant communication with someone. There were many walkie-talkies in use.

'Our group began to tighten up. It was dawning on us that we might not make it out of these camps alive. A few of us were crying softly. As we reached the end of the camps, our captors began harassing us. They yelled, "You are dirty people, you are not Christians -- Christians don't treat terrorists who kill Christians." The ranting continued, "You are communists, socialists, Baader-Meinhof." They were closing in and encircling us. They collected our passports, ordered us to keep walking. The crackling sound of their walkie-talkies became a familiar noise.

'As we reached the end of the camp, the landscape had changed dramatically. Where homes had stood were piles of rubble. A yellow bulldozer was moving earth back and forth in an area that had been dug up and greatly enlarged. The bulldozer was scooping up dirt, moving it, then dumping it back out. Back and forth. This spot was very busy, with lots of men in uniform. We had to stop many times in order to let the bulldozer go past and do its job. I noticed it had a large Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, stenciled on its side.

'When we turned the corner of Rue Sabra, our captors steered us out of the camps towards the Kuwaiti embassy. They asked those wearing white lab coats to remove them. They lined us up in a row in front of a bullet-ridden wall. Facing us were about 40 men in uniform: a firing squad. Their rifles were ready and aimed in our direction. Behind them was a pick-up truck carrying more militiamen and what looked like a piece of anti-aircraft equipment. After a short time, the men in the firing squad lowered their rifles and marched back into the camps.

'It is my understanding that someone from the IDF had been able to stop this imminent execution of foreigners. Members of the IDF stationed at the Israeli forward command post became aware of what was happening. An Israeli official had run to the spot and ordered the militia not to carry this out; he then left. Militiamen marched us past the embassy of Kuwait. Here another Israeli official appeared, spoke with one of the physicians, then left. The militia remained in control of us. They took us to the courtyard of a unused U.N. building for "interrogation."

'The courtyard was littered with Israeli army rations, empty food cans, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot from September 17 and a few discarded parts of IDF uniforms. The Phalangists called us up one by one for questioning. They asked me what nationality I was, why I had come to Lebanon, who sent me. One of them told the other American not to be afraid, "as you are an American," and bade him "welcome."

'Around 9:30 or 10 a.m., our "interrogation" suddenly stopped. Someone handed our passports back to us. The Phalangists led us across the street to a five-storey building overlooking the camps. The IDF had occupied the building and was using it as its forward command post. I noticed Israeli soldiers on the roof looking through binoculars. A jeep filled with Phalange militiamen was parked at the entrance to the command post. The occupants made it known that they wanted to take a pretty Norwegian nurse away with them. They seemed quite insistent. One of our doctors asked someone from the IDF to intercede. He did, and the jeep drove off without the nurse.

'Within minutes of our arrival, a crew from Israeli Television appeared. Bottled water, fresh fruit and bread were brought to us; the crew filmed us as we ate and drank. Our presence was of little interest to the Israelis. I was not aware that any of them asked what had happened to us.

'A number of Israeli soldiers wearing yarmulkas (skullcaps) and tallesim (Jewish prayer shawls) stood together, reading from their prayer books the morning service for Rosh Hashanah. A young, rather shy-looking soldier approached a few of us. He offered us a piece of honey cake, which had been neatly wrapped. Ever since I can remember, my mother would serve honey cake on this day. It is a Jewish tradition which ensures a "sweet year" ahead. I imagined this young man's mother carefully preparing this cake for her son so that he could commemorate this day according to custom.

'This day had great meaning both for me and for the members of the Israeli Defense Force. All of us were spending this High Holiday around the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. It did not matter if you were the minister of defense, Ariel Sharon, or the division commander, Brigadier General Amos Yaron, or the unidentified soldier who offered me honey cake. This day marks the start of a ten-day period of introspection and repentance in the Jewish year. The Book of Life is opened; we are to right any wrongs we may have committed and set our lives in order. At the end of this period our fate for the next year will be sealed.

After giving evidence to the Kahan commission, Ellen returned to the United States, but not to take it easy. Working part-time as a nurse, she devoted the rest of her time to campaigning, notably in Washington Area Jews for Israel-Palestinian Peace, as she told Rex B. Wingerter
"It is a group of Jews of all political persuasions who want a real peace in the Middle East," says Ms. Siegel. Its members support mutual recognition and negotiation between Israel and the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, including the PLO, as well as the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. They are seeking to make themselves an alternative voice to the Jewish establishment in Greater Washington.

When I saw Ellen at international conferences some years ago, she did not have time to talk about herself and what she had done, being more concerned with what needed to be done next. But she wrote to Sabra and Chatila survivors supporting their efforts to bring Ariel Sharon to justice, and offering to appear as a witness.

Making the right choice can be costly, even away from the shooting.
'Recently, she bumped into her "very dearest, best friend" from grammar school days: "When I went to say hello, she said 'I don't think what you did was so great' and then walked away. That hurt." Yet, continues Ms. Siegel, "I decided a long time ago that it didn't matter if I lost every friend I had because what I was doing was right and if I cared about my people I would have to keep on doing these things."

Never mind Ellen. You may have lost some old friends back home, but you gained new friends and admirers allover the world.

You can hear Ellen Siegel being interviewed a few years ago on the US Democracy Now radio at:

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Monday, September 17, 2007

25 years ago: Sabra and Chatila

INDOMITABLE. Children at Bourj el-Brajneh camp salute news of the first
Intifada. Behind them, in dark
sweater, Swee Chai Ang, witness of
Sabra and Chatila.
(from her book, "From Beirut to Jerusalem", 1989)

"DID you hear what's happened in Lebanon? The Christians have gone into this Palestinian camp and are killing all the Palestinians. And the Israelis stood and watched!" I'd not heard the news. The man greeting me with it as I came into work that evening was grinning with glee. Well, he did boast of National Front sympathies and use racist language, so I was not surprised, though I did not know yet whether what he was saying was true, or a wind-up.

You meet some obnoxious characters in the security business. Fortunately he only worked days. If we'd had to share a nightshift I might have ended up doing time for the fascist bastard. I contented myself with seeing him off the premises and hoping he had an accident on his way home.

It was not a wind up.

On the night of September 16, 1982, Lebanese Christian forces, mainly from the Phalangist party, moved in to two Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Chatila, which were surrounded by Israeli forced that had moved into West Beirut. Palestinian fighters had already withdrawn from the city under US-backed agreement. The fascists began a two-day massacre of civilians, which left at least 800 dead according to the BBC, more than a 1,000 according to Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliuk's estimate.

Israeli forces had invaded Lebanon that Summer, using the attempted assassination of London ambassador Shlomo Argov by one of Abu Nidal's gunmen as pretext, but also claiming they were defending northern settlements, by driving Palestinian guerrillas from southern Lebanon. They called it "Operation Peace for Galilee". Whether or not Prime Minister Menachem Begin believed it was to be a limited operation, as his son claims, Defence Minister Ariel Sharon had bigger plans.

Israeli leaders had long thought they could use the Christians of Lebanon as allies, which meant specifically an alliance with the right-wing, Maronite Christian Phalange (Khatib, in Arabic) founded by Pierre Gemayel, an admirer of European fascism, and possibly the rival National Liberals led by the Chamoun family. Not all Lebanese Christians supported these right-wing parties, and some, whether from the Left or minority Christian sects, stood alongside the Palestinians and Muslim Lebanese.

During the 1976-8 Lebanese civil war the Christian Right forces were supported by Israel and the CIA, and more directly assisted by Syrian forces (as in the siege of Tel al Zataar camp) but failed to crush the Palestinians or their Lebanese allies. Now Israel was intervening directly to back the Phalangists, though some Israeli officers viewed them with distrust and distaste, not least those with Druze units who found themselves having to wage war on their own people in Lebanon. In Israel itself there was to be a growing movement against what many saw as an unjustified and unnecessary war.

Menachem Begin met Bachir Gemayel in Nahariya, and urged him to sign a peace treaty with Israel. and take further action to oust the Palestinians. He also wanted the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army led by Major Said Haddad to stay in the south. Gemayel temporised, knowing many in his party favoured an alliance with Syria rather than risk isolation in the Arab world and further internal conflict. (There were rumours later that year that Ariel Sharon had his own contacts, with Syrian secret police chief Rifaat al Assad if not with his brother the president).

Gemayel was assassinated in bomb explosion at his headquarters on September 14. Palestinians and Muslims denied any involvement, and a supporter of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (based among Syrian Orthodox Christians) confessed; but Israeli and Phalangist forces ignored this, just as Begin had ignored the report by Mossad that the PLO had nothing to do with the attempt on ambassador Argov.

Within hours of Gemayel's assassination, Begin and Sharon ordered the occupation of West Beirut, informing Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir but not the Israeli cabinet. The move violated Israel's agreements with Syria and the United States, and US guarantees to protect West Beirut's Muslim population. By noon on September 15 Israel forces had surrounded Sabra and Chatila camps, and occupied high-rise buildings overlooking them.

Ariel Sharon and Chief of Staff Rafi Eitan met Phalangist commanders and told them they could go into the camps to root out PLO members. Some 1,500 Christian militiamen assembled at Beirut International Airport, which was under Israeli control, and began moving towards the camps. Many rode on Israeli jeeps. The mainly Phalangist force was commanded by Elie Hobeika.

Entering the camps at 6pm, they began their work with guns, hatchets and knives, raping and butchering Lebanese and Palestinian alike. Sometimes groups were led out then executed. Israeli forces fired flares over the camp to light it up for them. At 11pm the report reached Israeli army headquarters that over 300 people had been killed. Further reports came through the night, and were seen by the Israeli government. Begin later dismissed what was happening as "Arab killing Arab", and accused those blaming Israel of a "Blood Libel".

Later, Israel's Kahan Commission would hear how an Army lieutenant had witnessed five women and children being killed and told his commander, who replied "We know, it is not to our liking but don't interfere." A TV news crew filmed Israeli soldiers turning back people who were trying to flee the camps. The Israeli commanders told the Phalangists to leave the camps on Saturday morning, because of American concern, but having got their thirst for blood, these Christians carried on slaking it, marching some survivors out and either killing or sending for interrogation. It was the morning of September 18 when they finally pulled out, and journalists were able to go in and find hundreds of bodies scattered about.

There were demonstrations around the world as well as in Israel, where the Kahan Commission was to find Ariel Sharon culpable - though this did not prevent him going on to be prime minister, or his successors launching another war in Lebanon. In London, where the Jewish Socialists' Group had marched for the first time with Palestinians and Lebanese opposing Israel's action, I was able to help organise a protest meeting, and also proud to appear on a platform with Dr.Swee Chai Ang, the surgeon in Sabra camp who gave evidence to the Kahan Commission. Swee later spoke at a Jewish Socialists' Group meeting in London.

No one ever faced justice for the Sabra and Chatila massacres, at least not in a court of law. Eli Hobeika who commanded the Phalangist forces was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2000. There had been speculation he might go to Brussels to testify in a war crimes tribunal, but others doubt this. Survivors of the massacres tried to bring a case against Ariel Sharon under Belgian law, and some of us here wrote in support of this. But under pressure from the United States the Belgian authorities halted proceedings taking place. If I were a religious man I might think the Israelis were keeping Ariel Sharon "alive" to save him facing a higher judge.

There used to be commemorative events for Sabra and Chatila. Maybe amid so many atrocities and war crimes around the world since, including what's happened in Lebanon and Iraq, this memory has been overshadowed. But it was a horror we should not forget, and nor (whatever the Pope among others said) will it easily be forgiven.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wellies and Witch-hunts

I can resist anything except temptation, as Oscar Wilde says, and having read a story in this month's T&G Record headed "Dirty practices get the boot at Tulip", I can't resist telling you what it brought to mind.


"Imagine arriving for your daily shift at a meat factory and having to swap your own shoes for somebody else's Wellington boots, sweaty and smelly because they have just finished their day? Totally unpleasant and unhygienic, but that was the situation facing workers at Tulip's Coalville site"
(T&G Record, September 2007)

Unpleasant indeed, and I hope this picture of clean, modern industry has not put you off your sausages and bacon, or indeed school meals, which Tulip also provides. Anyway, having heard that workers at Tulip's unionised site at Tipton each had their own pair of boots, and what's more a locker to put them in, the workers at the Leicestershire factory have successfully demanded their own wellies, and are just waiting for management to install new racks so they can leave them when they go off shift.

"The union has made a big difference", according to activist Gary Griffiths, "Everyone's a lot more confident and management have had to treat us with more respect".

"Typical!", I can hear some middle-class Mail reader grousing, "those bloody union militants are always making these outrageous demands! I bet half of them are friggin' foreigners as well!" Indeed, several of the Coalville workers are migrants, but then so is Tulip, originally a Danish firm. But I digress.

It so happens I am an authority on provision of welly-boots.

Back in the mid-'Sixties I was working for Associated Electrical Industries(AEI) at their factory in Willesden. We were out in all weathers unloading lorries. I remember going up the other end of the factory to help the crane driver unload some big ceramic insulators, using rope slings, and guiding the tall columns into place on a snow-covered bank. The snow gave them a soft landing but was not so good for my shoes. It occurred to me that a big company like AEI, whose company paper boasted each month of massive power station contracts overseas, ought to be able to provide its labourers with waterproof boots.

"If we give you a pair they'll all want them," said George the foreman, with unbeatable logic.
"We should all have them," I replied. It was only two or three of us who went in the yard.
"There's a pair in the warehouse you could wear," said Eddie, his sidekick, who was actually the clerk, being helpful. There was an old pair of wellies under some coats and stuff. They were well-worn, and grimy, left by some predecessor, and probably housed enough athlete's foot to floor an Olympic village. But not wishing to be thought squeamish (i was young and wanted people to think I was 'hard' in those days), I contented myself with pointing out that they were size eights, and I took size eleven.

"Well, it's not our fault if you have got big feet!" came the reply from Eddie.

Dougie the inspector told me that foremen were paid bonuses to keep costs down in their department, and George was probably afraid the price of wellies would come off his pay.

When acid was delivered to the factory in big carboys contained in straw lined metal baskets, we were told to put on heavy rubber aprons which the firm provided to protect our clothes. It struck me that by the same token we should be provided with rubber boots. (What good they would be against spilled acids I'm glad to say I never had occasion to find out).

I went and spoke with the shop stewards committee. They introduced me to the firm's safety officer, a big distinguished-looking ex-firefighter, who listened to my case briefly and said "Of course you're entitled to gumboots".

Back at Goods In, George came out and berated me. "You're a shit-stirrer", he said. "You never said anything to me about wanting gumboots!" "George," I said, "I have been on about it for the past two months!"

Eddie came out of the office. "You know", he said in his soft Irish brogue, "We had a 'phone call about you last month, they said you were a communist, and wanted to know if you were causing any trouble here. We told them you were a good lad and did your job alright. I'm sorry we told them that now!"

"Oh yeah? Where was the phone call from?", I asked him. Much as I fancied being such a notorious 'Red', I suspected he was making it up.

"It was from Woolwich. You must have caused some trouble there". The main AEI factory was at Woolwich, over the other side of London.

"Eddie, I've never worked at Woolwich. I don't know anybody at Woolwich..." I smiled.

"Well they seem to know you!" He must have seen disbelief on my face. "I'm not making it up, honest".

The inspectors told me that AEI security was based at Woolwich. But I still thought maybe the call had originated with someone that did know me, someone local whom I'd offended. The two lads I'd put off a Young Socialists coach outing a few weeks back? I doubted this pair of herberts could manage a convincing 'phone call between them, chucking a bottle then running was more their style. Some right-winger in the local Labour Party? They had gone to some trouble to get me expelled, but having succeeded why would they bother carrying on pursuit? There was the ETU branch secretary I had crossed swords with at Kilburn, and I remembered hearing him say he was working at Woolwich, but as I was to become sure when I got to know him (we become political allies), he was not that type. Part of the purpose of witch-hunts and whispering campaigns is to make you paranoid and sow suspicion among comrades and friends.

Anyway, before I had time to worry about all this, George came back, all contrite, and asked me to come up the stores with him for my boots. He wasn't a bad chap really, and besides, as the boots were being issued as safety wear they would come off the central budget and his bonus would be safe.

As for the call "from Woolwich", I heard no more, but then if it had been made it probably should not have reached Eddie, and I would not have heard about it, except for that mistake.

Martin's experience was different. The young lad from Cricklewood was working in the AEI machine shop as a trainee. About this time a movement had sprung up among engineering apprentices, claiming better pay and union rights, and it was centred on the huge AEI factory in Manchester's Trafford Park, which employed thousands of them. (AEI Willesden also employed lost of trainees and apprentices, one suspects because they were cheap, but many left to go after better pay as soon as they had served their time). In London, Young Socialists held two meetings to raise support, and Martin was elected to a committee that was formed.

At one of the open meetings he had noticed an older man at the back taking some notes. Martin asked him where he was from, and the man said "Woolfs", which was a factory in Southall where there had been a big strike the year before. Young Socialists had joined the Indian Workers Association on a march in support of the Woolfs strikers. At the end of the meeting Martin went over to a couple of lads from Southall and said it was good they had got a trade unionist from Woolfs along. They looked puzzled, so he turned to point out the man at the back, but the man "from Woolfs" had gone.

The following Monday after he had been elected to the committee, Martin turned up for work to find his foreman waiting by the machine. "I'll have to take you off this job," the foreman said, " you're not getting up enough speed". Martin said he did not understand, as he had been earning the same piece bonus as the other lads, but the foreman just repeated "I've got to take you off". Martin noticed he kept looking down at the floor as he was speaking. He asked Martin to come up to the personnel office with him.

In the office the personnel manager said Martin would have to go. Martin asked if he could not try another job in the factory, but the personnel manager said there were no vacancies anywhere. (I knew this wasn't true, they were asking for workers to transfer to assembly work). Anyway, they had Martin's P45 and insurance card ready on the desk, and two security men were waiting to escort him to the gate. He was out on the pavement in Neasden Lane when he realised "I've been victimised!"

Perhaps the"man from Woolfs" was really a man from Woolwich, perhaps unlike my case where a new inexperienced personnel officer put a call through by mistake, this time they knew how to do it. We tried taking Martin's case up in the union, the branch were sympathetic, but to no avail. And then there was Bernard, who had just left school with a string of GCEs, and came tied and suited for a job in the accounts office. He was surprised to say the least when the interviewer asked him about his political views and his membership of schools CND, which he had not mentioned on his CV. He never got the job, and I don't know what happened to him.

Last time I saw Martin he had finished a stint as a printer in Runcorn and was going off to the 'States with an American women he married (hope their McCarthyism is not as stringent as our slier British variety). Last time I saw AEI Willesden it was a row of derelict buildings behind locked gates, and I hear some are being converted to flats. Other factories which once stood nearby have disappeared, Elliot Automation which made coin telephones has become lock-up garages and workshops, Mulliners which did work for Concorde has been replaced by a branch of Homebase.

The face of industry has changed. We live in a different society, so we are told. But they are still having to fight for the right to a pair of wellies in Coalville, and I bet somewhere - though not in Woolwich which has long gone - there's at least one computer generating lists of commies, Trots and troublesome works trainees (though not many have apprenticeships) about whom 'phone calls will have to be made.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Seasonal Greeting

שָׁנָה טוֹבָה


and Ramadan Kareem رمضان كريم
(picture, The Apple Pickers, by Camille Pissarro)


Northern Rock n' Roll


Northern Rock remains solid
Guardian, January 24, 2007
Between Rock and a hard place - savers besiege bank
Guardian, September 15, 2007

SOME of my friends on the Left are saying how much capitalism has changed and that we need to change our ideas because workers are enjoying prosperity. Having bought their own house they may not even think of themselves as workers any more (even if they have to work all the hours they can and take extra jobs, just trying to pay their mortgage). I hope friends are not about to follow in the path trodden by Gaitskellites, the Social Democrats, Marxism Today,New Labour and Living Marxism. (Incidentally the 'ultra-Left' Revolutionary Communist Group was also impressed by Thatcherite success, but decided to carve itself a niche by concentrating on "solidarity" -usually its own separate brand - and "marginal" groups). I'm sure it is just a phase brought on by middle age.

Meanwhile I turn nervously to the business pages where the picture isn't looking so rosy.

Yesterday, in scenes reminiscent of Frank Capra's 'Wonderful Life', we saw worried depositors queing outside the Northern Rock bank, a former building society after hearing that the Bank of England had stepped in to rescue it. Northern Rock shares had fallen more than 25 per cent in a day.,,2169786,00.html

Today the Guardian reports:

'Fears that another bank would be forced to follow Northern Rock and reveal huge losses resulting from the credit crunch in global money markets sent shares in the sector tumbling yesterday. Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley defended their lending strategies while the buy-to-let lender Paragon was forced to put out a statement to allay concerns that it was vulnerable to a combination of falling house prices and tighter rules on corporate borrowing.

'Shares in Alliance & Leicester and B&B were down by between 6% and 7%. The high-street banks HSBC, Lloyds TSB, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays also saw their share prices decline as investors took flight.

Barclays said at a meeting with shareholders that it would only press ahead with its planned merger with the Dutch bank ABN Amro if the deal worked for the bank, which many analysts understood to mean that the deal was unlikely in the current circumstances.

'Many brokers felt that, with Northern Rock's future assured, at least for now, the share price falls were overplayed. Darren Winder, equity strategist at Cazenove, said: "People probably have time to reflect on the Northern Rock situation and reflect on the bigger picture. People probably feel, maybe, it was a bit of over-reaction this morning. I guess it's not surprising in the circumstances."

'A&L was considered one of the more vulnerable to a fall in investor sentiment. It has often been bracketed with Northern Rock as a mid-sized operation that must punch above its weight to compete.

'However, it said in a statement that it was business as usual. "Alliance & Leicester's strategy is very different to that of Northern Rock ... Alliance & Leicester is far less reliant than Northern Rock for funding from the world financial markets, whose unusual trading conditions triggered Northern Rock's announcement."

'A&L pointed out the ratio of loans to deposits at Northern Rock was 314% compared with its own of 165%. The main deposit-taking banks - HSBC, Barclays, RBS/Natwest and Lloyds TSB - have ratios averaging 110%.
(By the way, what happened those adverts that used to say "You get a better class of investor, at the Alliance and Leicester"?)

'Paragon Group, one of yesterdays biggest fallers, was forced to bring forward a funding announcement that had been due next week in a bid to calm City nerves. The company, which is the UK's third-largest buy-to-let lender with £9bn of buy-to-let assets, saw its shares fall yesterday as dealers looked for other vulnerable lenders.

'Speaking last night, Nigel Terrington, Paragon's chief executive, said the company had had the foresight to borrow £1bn from Royal Bank of Scotland on July 19 - well ahead of the credit crunch - and at just "two basis points extra" above the inter-bank rate. "We have sufficient cash in our reserves to fund all our lending well into next year," he said.

'Adam Applegarth, Northern Rock's chief executive, said it had been forced to ditch its mortgage lending strategy until credit became more freely available. "The business model is not appropriate and we will have to evolve and change," he said. "Though we will not be the only ones."

'He said he expected to see a tightening of lending criteria and higher interest rates across all mortgage lenders. "Whatever the bank base rate is, you are going to see higher mortgage interest rates," he said.
Banking shares suffer amid fears of another Northern Rock,,2169847,00.html
For other effects, see e.g.

After experience with a 'Marxist' guru who was always foreseeing imminent slump and the final crisis of capitalism, not to mention claiming Britain had eneterd a "revolutionary situation" (soon after which Margaret Thatcher got in, and went on, and on...), some of us are naturally cautious about reading too much into this or that turn. But we should not go to the opposite extreme, and have to pretend nothing is happening. We don't need to have more faith in capitalism than the capitalists.

We have seen the effect in the United States of massive "irresponsible lending", creating debts on the basis of which fictitious capital was generated for investment. The US crisis has had international repercussions, but we could see a fresh shock detonated in Britain, where more people are in more debt than anywhere else in Europe., and there have been a record number of bankruptcies declared.

Yesterday's Daily Mail front-page, in a change from house prices or blaming immigrants, was largely taken up with a headline about the Bank of England being unable to control mortgage rates. It was Margaret Thatcher who claimed she was freeing the people to buy their own homes and also said "you can't buck the market". One day people woke from the property-owning dream to the nightmare of negative equityand repossessions. It was Gordon Brown who gave the Bank of England its independence, and invited private capital into running services, with a little help from the taxpayers.

We have just seen the effect of the latter in the collapse of Metronet, paying its directors then leaving the workers to worry about jobs and pensions, and the public to pick up the rest of the bills. Maybe those middle class commuters who were angrily complaining about the tube workers action, and bleating that "no one can have a job for life", will soon have something to really get angry about, and then I suspect they may get more militant than any tube workers.
The really worrying thought is not whether there will be a crisis, there could be several, but how unfit and unprepared the Left is to take advantage of it.