Monday, August 31, 2009

Ashraf: from armed camp to haven, to trap

AN unusual demonstration has been taking place outside the American embassy, in Grosvenor Square. In the middle of London's prosperous Mayfair, a dozen determined Iranian men and women are now into the second month of their hunger strike. On Saturday evening, while most people were enjoying the bank holiday weekend, or celebrating football and Rugby League (or even GCSE) results, the hunger strikers were joined by about 150 supporters for a political rally.

Unlike the Cuban missile crisis when I first demonstrated at the embassy, 37 years ago, or the later Vietnam protests, the crowd I joined on Saturday were not demonstrating against US military action, but rather against failure to act.

Camp Ashraf , north-east of the Iraqi town of Khalia, and about 60 kilometres north of Baghdad, is home to refugees who came over the border from Iran. It is named after Ashraf Rajavi, a heroine who was a political prisoner of the Shah but met her death at the hands of the Islamic "Revolutionary Guard". Ashraf was a training base for the People's Mujihaddeen, or Mujihaddeen-e Khalq, who initially waged guerrilla war against the Shah's regime, but resumed it against the Ayatollah's Iran.

Many Iranian left-wingers disagreed with the Mujihaddeen-e Khalq, not only over its attempt to blend Islam with progressive ideas, or later claim to "Marxist-Leninism" but even more with its methods and alignments, which they say turned it against the people it claimed to represent. Bombings in Iranian cities killed innocent civilians. The camp at Ashraf was clearly under Saddam Hussein's patronage, and he was able to use the Mujihaddeen against Kurdish fighters and disssidents in Iraq.

According to the US State Department, the Mujihaddien were classed as a "terrorist" organisation, and although their political fronts were accepted in the United States, an FBI operation caught fundraisers who were accused of raising money for arms. But Mehrdad, one of the demonstrators I spoke to on Saturday assured me they ceased armed operations from 2001. "We are an opposition movement. We say it is only the Iranian people who can liberate Iran."

What is certain is that after the invasion of Iraq, the US government announced on April 22, 2003 that it had reached a ceasefire with the Mujahaddeen. The guerrillas claimed at first that they could carry on actions going into Iran, but in June 2003 the US Military Police took control of Camp Ashraf , and all weapons were to handed in. From September 2003, with Mujahaddeen fighters disarmed and detained for 'screening', Ashraf effectively became a refugee camp under US "protection".

Until January 1, this year, when it was announced that the US forces would no longer have responsibility for Ashraf, that the Iraqi government was in charge. With both Iranian refugees and Iraqi opposition concerned at this "independent", "democratic" government's dependence on undemocratic Iran, as well as Western backing, the disarmed people in Ashraf feared what might come.

The Iranian regime was keen to pin this Summer's post-election unrest on 'foreign agents' and "hooligans instigated by the Mujihaddeen-e Khalq.

On July 28, a large force of Iraqi troops and riot police were sent to Ashraf, to force their way in, ostensibly to set up a police post in the camp. On video shown at Saturday's demonstration, the soldiers seem a bit unsure and hesitant, confronted by a crowd of women. But soon they get their orders, and we see big riot clubs raining blows on people's heads. By the end of the day, eleven people were reportedly killed, and hundreds injured. Ashraf's food and water supplies were cut off. The Iraqi police took away 36 men from the camp. These men are still being held although a local Iraqi court said they should be released. There are fears the captives could be handed over to Iran.

As Mehrdad pointed out, besides the promises it made to the Ashrafis who surrendered their arms, the United States as an occupying power is responsible under the 4th Geneva Convention for the safety of the civilian population in the area it controls.

Passers by in Grosvenor Square who stopped, open-mouthed, at the scenes of violence on the screen, also paused to read the posters, which blamed Iraqi prime minister Nour al-Maliki responsible for the attack. They heard Lady Slim, a guest speaker, accuse the Iraqi authorities of acting on orders from Iran's supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had wanted as many prisoners as they could deliver. These might be taken to Iran, or used as hostages to bring pressure on the Mujihaddeen.

Lady Slim asked rhetorically whether this was why the American and British governments had gone to war in Iraq, and people had sacrificed their sons and daughters? . She called on the United States as an occupying power to exercise its responsibility to under article 45 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect the people of Ashraf, and obtain the release of the hostages.

John Cowan, Labour prospective candidate for South East Cambridgeshire, said he was urging the Foreign Secretary to make sure the British and US governents exercised their "legal and moral duty" to protect the people of Ashraf.

Whatever we think of the People's Mujihaddeen, or the way they have been used, we cannot accept the collective punishment of thousands of people, whether in Gaza or Iraq, nor can we be silent over the handing over of hostages to the regime in Iran.

Those of us who were against the invasiuon of Iraq and want the troops withdrawn are still entitled to demand that they carry out their obligations to the people while they are there. Those liberals and Labourites who argued that this was a "liberation", talk of "solidarity" without opposing the occupation, or say this is "not the time" to withdraw, have a duty to make demands of their governments and the "democracy" they established in Iraq. It would also help if the media did not leave it to to videos screened at street protests to let the people know what is going on in our name..

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Behnam Askari: " Decision soon" . Let's hope it's the right one.

WOMAN KNITTING, by Behnam Askari

BRILLIANT young artist Behnam Askari and his family, and their many friends, are waiting anxiously for news from the British Home Office, and if this government wants to do anything for its reputation and standing it had better be good news.

Behnam, 22, a student at University of the Arts London, has lived here since 2002, when his father who was working here brought the family over from Iran. Behnam was still at school in north-west London when the family heard two lots of bad news.

First, Behnam's father, who had gone back to Iran on a visit was arrested on political charges.

Then when he managed to contact Behnam's mother from Tehran it was to warn the family not to return to Iran or they too would be facing arrest and punishment. The charges all relate to two high school students who m the Askaris had let stay at their Tehran flat while the family were in England. The two had been caught in possession of anti-government leaflets, and police found printing equipment at the flat. For this, the Iranian regime decided that they must all be part of a conspiracy. Behnam is accused of "jeapordising Iran's national security".

Since Behnam's father's arrest in 2005, Behnam and his mother have been sentenced in absentia to 5 and 7 years' imprisonment, respectively. Behnam has been told he will receive 70 lashes, a barbaric punishment which constitiutes torture. His mother has been told she will receive 100 lashes. Their lives are in danger.

Despite the threat facing Behnam and his mother and younger brother if they returned to Iran, the British authorities hive been unsympathetic to the Askari family. Pupils at Behnam's school held a demonstration in his support, and one of his then teachers, Pauline Levis, took up a campaign on the family's behalf.

The Home Office turned down an asylum claim. A fresh claim for asylum, based on substantial new evidence, was submitted in April 2008. After an anxious wait of almost 17 months, Behnam has finally been informed that the fresh claim will be considered "soon".

The recent demonstrations after Iran's presidential election, the state violence, arrests and show trials, as well as reported deaths in prison, have drawn worldwide attention to the repressive character of the regime. The British government has criticised Ahmadinejad's regime. Now it has the chance to show some real support for freedom and human rights, and to show its compassion to a gifted young artist and a decent family.

Over 10,700 people, including many prominent figures, have so far signed a petition to the Home Secretary on the family's behalf calling for them to have the right to remain in the safety in the UK.
Following an agonizing wait of almost 17 months, a caseworker has finally told the family's solicitor that the Home Office will be considering the family's fresh claim "soon".

Let it be soon, and let the decision be the right one.
Behnam and his family must be given the right to remain in Britain. .


Contact Details


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Friday, August 28, 2009

Organ harvest, or planted story?

IT was a good sensational story, or so the Swedish daily paper Aftonbladet seems to have thought. "Our sons' organs are being plundered", was the headline, on August 17, photographer-journalist Donald Bostrom quoting a distraught Palestinian mother, for a report claiming Israeli soldiers were hunting young Palestinians for their body parts, so these could be sold for transplants.

Trouble is, while many Israeli atrocities have been witnessed and documented, and some Israeli soldiers (Breaking the Silence) have made it their responsibility to expose their compatriots' wrongdoing, Blostrom offered no real evidence for this blood-curdling tale. What he relied on was something he heard in 1992 about unauthorised removal of parts from corpses for medical labs, and a topical item about a man in New Jersey, Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, arrested in July, and accused of dealing in black-market kidneys.

Swedish firm IKEA could not get away with selling a piece of furniture like this. It just does not fit together. There was a scandal in Israel over pathologist Yehudah Hiss, who would have been practising in 1992 when Bostrom says he heard about unauthorised bit removals. Rosenbaum apparently got into the organ trade in 1999. But organs removed on the battlefield or even in the morgue would not do for transplants. The American broker bought his kidneys from live donors, some from Israel, poor people desperate for the money.

Bostrom and his defenders say "well, he was only asking for an investigation". But that's a feeble excuse. Would a reputable newspaper print a story linking somebody with a series of murders say, then hope to keep its reputation, not to say libel damages, by saying it was "only asking"?

It seems no Palestinian, Israeli or international human rights organisation was prepared to take up the investigation, whether because they didn't take the story seriously or because they have enough genuine issues to be getting on with. Bostrom was debated on the Iranian-sponsored Press TV by Matthew Cassel, who says ill-founded stories like this do the Palestinian cause a disservice.
Baseless organ theft accusations will not bring Israel to justice.

In the Jewish daily Forward, Rebecca Dube points out the gaps in Bostrom's story, while not being complacent about either the wider issue of trafficking body-parts or the even wider fear this arouses.

Illicit Body-Part Sales Present Widespread Problem, by Rebecca Dube

Thanks to Ali Abumineh of the Electronic Intifada for bringing my attention to both these items.

Unfortunately, there are atrocity-junkies on either side of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, and especially among the remote "supporters", for whom any story of the other side's alleged offences will do, the gorier the better, and any request for evidence be viewed as traitorous. They can psyche themselves up, if that's what is needed, but cannot understand why nobody else is aroused.

I expect the body part snatchers story will be all round the internet, complete with videos, and it will not occur to those spreading it that by adulterating the amount of good evidence available against the Zionists, they actually weaken the Palestinian cause, as surely as if they had supplied duff ammunition to Palestinian fighters.

Imagine a court case in which the prosecution has enough evidence for a conviction, but someone plants false material in it, seemingly pointing to a more serious charge, but actually sabotaging the case. The defence has no trouble refuting the false accusations, so focusses on them, to win the jury, or for the whole case to be thrown out of court. I have seen something like that happen in disputes among people I knew. I am sure it can happen in world politics too, where unlike the many amateurs who think they are assisting the Palestinians, the Israeli government has experienced professionals at the game.

I don't know whether anything like that happened in this case. Bostrom and his editors are also professionals, and presumably honest ones, and should have known to take extra care. What we do know is that the Israeli government has made the most of this story, for more than one reason, blowing it up into a major issue with Sweden. The head of the main Swedish Jewish community body has complained that Israel has blown the issue out of all proportion. Israelis have been told the Swedes are guilty of a "blood libel", in other words comparing it to medieval antisemitism, and there are calls to boycott Swedish goods.

Here is what Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, a regular critic of his government and its treatment of the Palestinians, has to say:
"Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman should have sent a big bouquet to Donald Bostrom, the Swedish photographer and journalist who wrote the article claiming that the Israel Defense Forces harvested organs from dead Palestinians. And the Foreign Ministry should write a letter of thanks to the editors of his paper, Aftonbladet. It has been a long time since such a propaganda asset has fallen into the hands of the friends of the occupation. It has been a long time since such damage has been caused to people seriously attempting to document its horrors.

The bizarre Swedish report led to a no-less-bizarre Israeli response. Bad and irresponsible journalism crossed paths with bad and irresponsible diplomacy. Instead of simply denying the report, Lieberman, true to form, acted like a bully... However, the article's damage to the fight against the occupation cannot be ignored.

Serious journalism's task is to document, investigate and prove - not to call on others to investigate, as the Swedish tabloid did. One may, for example, accuse the Swedish reporter of a crime, writing that he rapes little boys or girls, all based on suspicions and rumors, and call on the Swedish police to investigate. That's what the reporter did with his claims of trafficking in Palestinian organs.

There were cases in which the organs of Palestinians who had been killed were harvested without permission, something the Institute of Forensic Medicine has done to others in Israel, for research purposes. But it's a long way from that to suspicion of trafficking in organs based only on the fact that in 1992 a dead Palestinian was found whose organs had been removed and his body sewn back up. And 17 years later a few Jews were arrested on suspicion of trafficking in human organs. That's not professional journalism, that's cheap and harmful journalism.

The Israeli occupation is ugly enough without the contribution of Nordic fairy tales. Its wrongs are abominable even without exaggerations and inventions. We, a small group of Israeli journalists trying to document the occupation, always knew that we must not publish an unfounded report. One mistake and the whole journalistic enterprise would fall into the hands of official propaganda, which automatically denies all suspicions and is just waiting for a mistake....

Over the years, the IDF has killed thousands of innocent civilians, among them women and children. The Shin Bet security service has tortured hundreds of people under interrogation, sometimes to death. Israel prevents food and medicine from reaching Gaza. Sick people are extorted by the Shin Bet to become collaborators in return for medical treatment. Thousands of homes in the territories have been demolished for nothing. Dozens of people have been killed by special units when they could have been arrested instead. Thousands of detainees have sat in jail for months or years without trial. Is that not enough to draw a reliable portrait of the occupation? Is that not shocking enough?

The Coalition of Women for Peace see a method in their government's madness.

They have written to the Swedish Prime Minister:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mr. Fredrik Reinfeldt
Prime Minister
The Parliament of Sweden

Your Excellency,

We, citizens of Israel, Palestinian and Jewish members of the Coalition of Women for Peace (Israel), turn to you in order to express our concern in light of the attack of the Israeli government on Sweden, and on the Swedish government in particular.

It is not by chance that the Israeli government has chosen to attack the Swedish government and create a clash between the two countries over an unfounded newspaper article, while exploiting the history of the Jewish people and the Holocaust.

In our understanding, the Israeli government has chosen to attack the Swedish government due to its current term of presidency of the European Union, aiming to undermine the capacity of Sweden to lead a European-wide political move to stop the Israeli policy of occupation and settlements in the Palestinian Territories.

In February 2008 representatives of the Coalition of Women for Peace were invited to the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. We were deeply impressed by the commitment of Sweden to promote peace. We hope that this attack will not discourage the Swedish government from acting towards peace and justice in the Middle East.

We, citizens of Israel committed to promoting a just Israeli-Palestinian peace, turn to you with request that by the power of your position and the position of Sweden as the president of the European Union, you will take action to generate a European political move with the aim to remove the obstacles for a just peace: dismantlement of all settlements, end to the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian Territories, realization of the Right of Return according to the UN General Assembly Resolution 194, guaranty of full civil and social equality for all residents of the region, and guaranty of representation to the Israeli civil society in the Peace Processes, including Palestinian citizens and women from diversity of ethnic identities in Israel.

Kind Regards,
Coalition of Women for Peace, Israel

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

While eyes were on Tripoli, what happened in Tehran?

WHILE the TV news, front-page headlines and hypocritical outrage were focussed on Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi's return to Tripoli this weekend, there was not so much media attention for an event in Tehran.
Triumphant for now after his police and thugs broke up opposition, and installed against a backdrop of torture and show trials, President Mohammed Ahmadinejad has appointed former Revolutionary Guard commander Ahmad Vahidi as Defence Minister.

Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds, but only after dropping his appeal against conviction for the Lockerbie bombing. Newspapers have kept calling him the Lockerbie "bomber", and politicians pretend to be shocked that he has had a "hero's welcome'; but if they are really convinced of his guilt they can surely not be pretending he acted alone, and without orders or a motive? If, on the other hand, Megrahi had succeeded in proving his innocence - and the Scottish review commission had found faults with the conviction - then the case of who did arrange the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 would again be open.

The longstanding alternative scenario put forward was that the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Commnd was involved in the airline bombing, under a contract to the secret service of Iran. The motive was retaliation for the downing of an Iranian ailiner with the loss of 300 lives, carried out by the US missile carrier Vincennes. The captain and crew of the US ship were decorated. So much for the hypocrisy of US protests about a "hero's welcome".

At least the Iranian explanation has some logic to it, even if the evidence has yet to be gathered and tested. It became impolitic to pursue an accusation against the Iranian or Syrian governments when their collaboration was needed for war on Iraq. Now, when we are hearing all about the feelings of relatives of the Lockerbie bomb victims it is probably impolite to remind ourselves that the Iranian airbus victims also left grieving relatives.

The significance of the Vahidi appointment relates to a different bombing. On July 18, 1994, a van loaded with with explosives was detonated outside the premises of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), Argentina's central Jewish welfare and cultural association, in a heavily built-up district of Buenos Aires. The bombing destroyed load-bearing walls, and brought down floors. Eighty-five people died,both service users and staff, and more than 300 were injured. The attack came two years after the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in which 29 people were killed.

The AMIA bombing was Argentina's worst ever terror attack, and there was a huge demonstration in Buenos Aires in sympathy with the victims and protest at the outrage. But Argentine authorities have been unable to establish with any certainty who was behind either bombing, and nobody has been convicted.

The Argentine police and military have a record of antisemitism, as well as corruption. A disproportionately large number of those arrested or 'disappeared' under the military junta's 'dirty war' in the 1970s were Jewish, although this did not prevent the junta shopping with Israel for arms and intelligence co-operation.

In 1997 four police officers were arrested. Police commander Juan Jose Ribelli was chargd with providing the van used in the AMIA attack. His father had received $2.5 million prior to the explosion. But it was difficult to prove what this was for, or where it came from, and though suspicions have continued of a local connection to the bombings, investigations have not got far.

In 2004 all suspects in the case of a "local connection" were found not guilty and released. Meanwhile US and Israeli authorities and intelligence services have been keen to claim Iranian responsibility, allegations about which have been made by an Iranian defector. They even named a Lebanese "suicide bomber", though the man's brother said he had been killed in Lebanon months after the bombing.

On October 25, 2006, Argentine prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martínez Burgos formally accused the Iranian government of directing the bombing, and said it had used Hezbollah militants to carry it out.

But what was the motive? Buenos Aires is a long way to go to find an Israeli target, let alone to bomb a Jewish community centre which is nothing to do with the Zionist state. The Lebanese and Syrian immigrants in Argentina, who found themselves being put in the frame (including immigrants' son President Carlos Menem) had generally good relations with the Argentine Jewish community. As for the Iranian regime, with perhaps the biggest Jewish community outside Israel in the Middle East, it would hardly need to go to the other side of the world if it was merely bent on attacking Jews, out of its supposed fanaticism.

According to the Argentine prosecutors, Argentina had been targeted by Iran after Buenos Aires' decision to suspend a nuclear technology transfer to Iran. This has been disputed, because this contract was never terminated, and Iran and Argentina were negotiating on restoration of full cooperation on all agreements from early 1992 till 1994, when the bombing occurred. That makes one think. Did whoever arranged this bombing in Buenos Aires intent to protest the nuclear deal's suspension, or to prevent the deal's resumption?

Judge Galeano issued warrants for the arrests of 12 Iranians, including Hade Soleimanpour, Iran's ambassador to Argentina in 1994. In 2003, at the request of the Argentine authorities, British police arrested Soleimanpour in Durham, where he had enrolled for a course at the university. He was later released because, according to the Home Office there was not enough prima face evidence to proceed with an extradition.

Judge Galeano also interviewed Abolghasem Mesbahi, an alleged former Iranian intelligence officer who reportedly said a former Argentine president accepted a $10 million payment from Tehran to block the investigation. Former President Carlos Menem denied the claims, but admitted he had a secret Swiss bank account. Menem said the attack had been related to his support to the US during the First Gulf War and to his visit to Israel. Abolghasem Mesbahi claimed to the Argentine court that Iran had planned the bombing, thinking the centre was a base for the Israeli secret service, Mossad.

Mesbahi had also warned accurately that London would be next for bombings. On July 26, 1994 a car bomb exploded outside the Israeli embassy in London, injuring 14 people, and later that day another explosion hit Balfour House, Zionist fundraising offices in Finchley. Apparently MI5 had ignored warnings about the embassy bombing, and Scotland Yard made no effort to interview Mesbahi. Two Palestinian, British university graduates with no connection to Iran, are serving time for "conspiracy" to bomb the embassy, though both denied it.

Interpol has had Ahmad Vahidi on its "red notice" list since November 2007, in connection with the AMIA bombing and an Argentine warrant. At the time of the bombing in Buenos Aires Vahidi headed the al Quds unit of the Revolutionary Guard which co-ordinated operations abroad, including those using Hizbollah members.

The Interpol notices are not in themselves warrants, but member countries can treat them as a request to apprehend the person. Evidently in Ahmadinejad's Iran they are a good thing to put on your CV.

Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman says Vahidi is accused of being "a key participant in the planning" of the attack. "It has been demonstrated that Vahidi participated in and approved of the decision to attack AMIA during a meeting in Iran on August 14, 1993. Iran has always protected terrorists, giving them government posts, but I think never one as high as this one," he told the Associated Press.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has said appointment of Vahidi will confirm the "terrorist" nature of the regime in Iraq. Barak is a fine one to talk, considering that Israel made Ariel Sharon prime minister after the Kahane commission had held him culpable for the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Israeli peace campaigners hare supporting calls for Barak himself to be declared a war criminal after the onslaught on Gaza.

But since Israeli war guilt in no way establishes Iranian innocence, we must continue raising questions and demanding answers about the Buenos Aires bombings. Besides Jews and Arabs, Argentina received another group of immigrants after World War II, welcomed by Peron for their import of know-how and capital. Some were just ahead of arrest warrants, but assisted to the New World by Franco Spain, the CIA, or friends in the Vatican. Israel found it easier to infringe Argentine sovereignty then go through extradition procedures when it took Adolf Eichmann. Croat Poglavnik(fuhrer) Ante Pavelic got away when the Yugoslavs sought to extradite him. The deputy whom Eichmann regarded as his "best man", Alois Brunner, was among the Nazis for whom the CIA found work in the Middle East, winding up in Damascus as a businessman and adviser to the security police.

President Carlos Menem must have upset quite a few important people in Argentina and elsewhere when, in 1992, he announced an investigation into the Peron regime and the haven it had provided for Nazis and their loot. all. An American document from April 1945 estimated that Nazis secretly sent more than $1 billion to be invested in Argentina. In December 1996, the Argentine Central Bank handed vital information on bank accounts to Jewish researchers, detailing funds transferred from banks in Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal between 1939 and 1949. In March 1997, President Menem ordered the Central Bank archives to be opened for investigation of Nazi funds.

Did some other agency sell the Iranians a pup, by getting them to believe Mossad was using the AMIA building? Or did someone believe, perhaps with more reason, that some of the files on Nazi wealth being gathered for investigation were housed in the building? Could the Iranian regime's agents have knowingly or unwittingly have provided a convenient 'false flag' for someone else's dirty work?

If the Iranian secret service and Hizbollah were involved in this atrocity they committed a crime not only agaisst Argentina and its Jewish community but against the many Arab Argentinians whose name has been besmirched by association, and who found themselves regarded as "suspects". If not, then Iran as much as anyone has an interest in full investigation and bringing to justice the real culprits. But as with his willingness previously to host a Holocaust deniers' conference (some of whose participants are incidentally as bitter enemies of Muslims as of Jews), Ahmadinejad's peformance is a liability to Iran.


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Monday, August 17, 2009

A Blast from the Past

ROBERTO FIORE finding his way in London (right). Tory Home Secretary Douglas Hurd had decided against extradition. June 1989 issue of Searchlight said the fascist fugitive had worked for MI6.
Now leading Forza Nuova, Fiore was with
old friend Nick Grffin on Saturday night.

SOME 19 anti-fascist protestors were arrested at the weekend as more than a thousand opposed the British National Party's 'Red, White, and Blue' festival taking place at Codnor, in Derbyshire. Despite the huge police operation the demonstrators managed to block roads leading to the Nazi event for several hours.

But one man who managed to get to the rally was a guest speaker who first came to Britain as a fugitive from police in his own country. As Italian fascist Roberto Fiore joined the BNP's Nick Griffin on the platform to denounce the "threat to Europe from Islamic extremism", it was not just a meeting of like minds, but a reunion of old friends and business associates. If anyone was reminded of the time Fiore's own name was linked to an extremist action they probably kept their thoughts to themselves.

It was the morning of August 2, 1980, the start of Italy's Summer holidays, and Bologna Centrale railway station was packed with holiday makers. Many were in the air-conditioned main waiting room. At 10:25 a.m., a timed explosive device contained in an unattended suitcase went off in that room, destroying the building and bringing down the roof on people. It also hit the Ancona-Chiasso train waiting at the first platform. Altogether 85 people were killed and hundreds injured. .

On that summer Saturday the station was full of tourists and the city was unprepared for such a massive incident. There were not enough ambulances, so buses and taxis were used to transport the injured to hospitals.

The next day, police investigators found metal fragments and scraps of plastics near the source of the explosion. The device had contained a mixture of explosives, including T4, an explosive used by NATO forces including the Italian army. But what sort of people would plant such a bomb, knowing it would kill ordinary citizens, families going on holiday, their own countrymen? Suspicions pointed to the Armed Revolutionary Nuclei, NAR, an outfit formed by hard-line fascists from groups like Ordine Nueva (New Order), Ordine Nero (Black Order), and Avanguardia Nazionale(National Vanguard). Prime Minister Francesco Cossiga supported the theory that neo-fascists were behind the attack, "unlike leftist terrorism, which strikes at the heart of the state through its representatives, black terrorism prefers the massacre because it promotes panic and impulsive reactions."

Italy had endured a whole series of terror attacks, some initially blamed on anarchists, but most openly or covertly the work of fascists. Sometimes their targets were obviously left-wing, but often they were indiscriminate, part of a "strategy of tension" backed by powerful elements within the state and abroad, aimed at terrorising ordinary Italians into submission to a "strong-arm" regime.

Soon a number of men were being sought in connection with the Bologna bombing. Some were traced to London, where they were being looked after by British fascists. In 1981 the Italian authorities requested extradition of six of them, including Roberto Fiore, but proceedings failed. Luciano Petrone was extradited in 1983. Alessandro Alibrandi returned to Italy secretly, and was killed in a gunfight with police. Alibrandi had been a regular visitor to Lebanon, and Christian Falangist camps. Another young man who went to Lebanon was Roberto Fiore. In 1985 an Italian court found him guilty of membership of the NAR, and sentenced him in absentia to five years in prison. But Home Secretary Douglas Hurd said in May 1989 that he had decided there were no grounds for sending Fiore back to Italy. The anti-fascist magazine Searchlight said Italian judges suspected Fiore had cut a deal with MI6, who apparently valued his information and contacts. (Fascist fugitive 'worked for MI6', Searchlight Jume 1989)

Whatever the reasons, Fiore seemed safe in London. For a time he lived in a flat in Warwick Square, SW1, with a Tory minister as neighbour, and worked as a travel guide. Politically he worked with a rising star of the National Front, Nick Griffin, and set up the so-called international Third Position. This might not have amounted to much, and Griffin eventually settled for the BNP, but their friendship prospered in other ways. Fiore was able to set up a business providing employment and accomodation for young people coming to London, and Nick Griffin's father became his accountant.

After Labour was returned in 1997 there were reports that the Italian government (then Socialist) would make a fresh bid for extradition. But nothing came of this. The Charity Commissioners did look into two Catholic charities, the St.George Educational Trust(SGET) and the Trust of St Michael the Archangel (TSMA), with which Fiore was linked, along with former National Front activist Colin Todd. They were concerned about a village in Spain and about Liss House in Hampshire, used by the International Third Position.

In August 2007 Fiore became sole director of CL English Language, a college for overseas students in West London.

Meanwhile he had returned to Italy, where Berlusconi has brought the more respectable fascists into government. Fiore is free to set up his own fascist party Forza Nuova and to succeed Allessandra Mussolini in the European Parliament. He has not succeeded in keeping the seat, but nor has his party lost the link with right-wing terror. At its student rally in Rome, two years ago, Fiore was followed on the platform by Andrea Insabatto, given early release from a sentence for throwing a bomb into the offices of the left-wing paper Il Manifesto.

Nick Griffin's post-election outbursts about sinking immigrant ships and using "chemotherapy" against Islam suggest it must have been a jolly reunion for him and Fiore. Having led his own supporters bearing iron bars and sticks on the march to open new headquarters in Bergamo, the Italian may have been dissappointed the BNP could not put on more force to start its rally. But the emergence of the so-called English Defence League hoologans has an echo of Forza Nuova's "sentries for the people".


Friday, August 14, 2009

Walking away from a Whitechapel wedding,. What is Jim Fitzpatrick's game?

IS Jim Fitzpatrick just an ill-mannered berk, or is this Labour MP and government minister playing a stupid and dodgy game?

Glasgow-born Fitzpatrick, the minister for food and farming, is MP for Poplar and Canning Town, in east London. Invited to a Muslim constituents' wedding in the hall next door to the East London Mosque, in Whitechapel, the MP accepted the invite, but then walked out after being told that male and female guests would be segregated.

Fitzpatrick said it was "strange" he could not sit with his GP wife Sheila at the ceremony on Sunday. "We've been attending [Muslim] weddings together for years but only recently has this strict line been taken. We left so as not to cause offence," he said.

In fact, Fitzpatrick has caused offence, both by his behaviour and his comments. The couple who had invited him to their big day were upset by his walk-out and making what was a family event into an occasion for political controversy.

A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said:"Segregation is a feature in religious, cultural and social occasions and is not specific to Muslims. It is a private matter and is up to families concerned, We cannot comment on the motives of Mr Fitzpatrick, but it would seem that the minister has sought to turn what was a kind, personal invitation from the families concerned into a political matter. Our best advice is that Mr Fitzpatrick would do well to brush up on his social skills."

A spokesman for the East London Mosque said: "We are saddened to read that Jim Fitzpatrick MP did not like the arrangements at a wedding he attended with his wife at the London Muslim Centre. Segregated weddings have always been popular in the Muslim community. The London Muslim Centre has facilitated them for over five years. It is part of the attraction for Muslim families so they can celebrate their happy day in a religious atmosphere, a custom which is also found in other religious traditions represented in Britain. We have always allowed non-Muslim guests to be seated together without segregation, but this is entirely at the discretion of the families who have hired the halls."

As the MCB spokesperson says, segregation is not specific to Muslims. I was brought up in the Jewish religion, and every synagogue I attended had its Ladies' Gallery. It is a long time since my bar mitzvah, but from what I remember my Mum had to sit up there with aunts, and the very unusual lady who'd schooled me through the texts, a "Rebbe" called Dora whom no Orthodox synagogue would recognise to this day, because however observant or learned she was the wrong sex. We did not have any MPs or celebrities present, but if we had, I doubt whether they would have been given special arrangements, or expected any.

It is almost as long since I pretended any religious belief, or attended a place of worship, except as a guest on special occasions, or as a tourist. Unlike my Royal namesake, I've never been to that Greek monastery where even a stray female cat would be forbidden, but I have been to more than one place where women were expectd to cover their arms, or head, and men to cover or uncover their heads according to the denomination of the premises. Why should this be objectionable? "When in Rome..." should do as a rule even for Labour ministers.

When I was in Jim Fitzpatrick's native Scotland thirty years ago the pubs in our region were closed on a Sunday - now there you have a case of the religious minority imposing its will on everybody. But I was soon introduced to the local club scene. A bunch of us enjoyed a pleasant convivial Sunday evening or two down the British Legion in the nearby pit village, and all of us - including three commies like me and two Irish Republicans - stood dutifully when at the end, as we'd been warned, they sang the national anthem. Calling upon an entity in whose existence I do not believe to "save" a personage I'd like to abolish. But as the local friend who had got us into the club put it, "we're not standing in respect for God or queen, but for the people who have welcomed us into their club".

In this Whitechapel wedding case it is reported that after the Fitzpatricks had left, a Labour councillor telephoned them, asking if they would come back, and promising they could sit on a mixed table with other non-Muslim guests. But apparently it was too late.

I know some Muslims say separation of men and women is not essential to Islam. Not all Muslim events are segregated. I once attended a memorial evening for someone at Regents Park mosque, it was mixed, and I was privileged to sit with the man's family. This makes questionable the way that some Muslim groups or individuals have imposed seclusion in secular events such as Stop the War meetings, making it an issue.

Jim Fitzpatrick claims some Muslims agree with him, and blames the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), an organisation that calls for Sharia law, for imposing a tough stance. The IFE is based in the same East London building. He told the BBC's Today: "This is a very exceptional occasion, it's a new ocurrence. It perhaps demonstrates that there is a degree of intolerance - certainly exclusion rather than inclusion which we are trying to build in the East End."

The bridegroom, Bodrul Islam, director of a training company, rejects Fitzpatrick's attempt to make it a political issue. : “I didn't let the IFE dictate to me or tell me what to do. Neither they, Mr Fitzpatrick, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia or the Pope has a right to tell me and my wife what to do. I am not part of the forum and neither is my wife. We liked the religious service, we paid for it, that's it.”

His bride, investment banker Mahbuba Kamali, 24, said they had chosen a segregated wedding to please elderly relatives, and it was solely a family issue.

Mr Islam, who is a Labour supporter, called on Mr Fitzpatrick to apologise for the embarrassment he has caused to the family. "Please apologise for the fact you have hijacked an innocent wedding,” he said.

Mr Fit

There are issues that ought to concern socialists (of which Mr.Fitzpatrick used to be one) around the East London mosque. Bengali socialists have alleged in the past that men wanted for crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh war were permitted to enter Britain and obtain teaching positions at the mosque. The right-wing Jamaat e Islami party has established itself in the local community.

But what on earth have such political issues, about which Labour has done nothing, got to do with telling a couple how to conduct their wedding? Why is a Labour MP, let alone a minister, interfering with matters of religious tradition and making a family event supposedly an obstacle to "integration" and "social cohesion"?

We can't help observing, incidentally, that in entering parliament and government, Jim Fitzpatrick, a former Socialist Workers Party member, must have encountered a few age old traditions himself...the oath of allegiance to a monarch, who also heads an Established Church, whose bishops sit in the House of Lords; and quaint customs involving men in wigs and knee-breeches, and titles like Black Rod, as well what used to be called "Spanish customs" in Fleet Street but have been accepted up till now where MP's. expenses were concerned. Some might see obstacles to social cohesion in that direction, but Jim Fitzpatrick has put up with them presumably not only for his career but for the 'common good'. For which we are all grateful.

Fitzpatrick's wedding walkout was condemned by Respect MP George Galloway, whose Bethnal Green seat is due to be merged with Poplar. Galloway was considering standing agaust Jack Straw in Blackburn, but he now intends battling Fitzpatrick in the new Poplar and Limehouse constituency.

Galloway said: "If he doesn't wish to attend an Islamic wedding and observe the religious customs preferred by the bride and groom, he should not go rather than insult them for perceived political gain. I am absolutely amazed and astonished that a government minister with a substantial Muslim minority in his constituency should have decided to give such a gratuitous insult to so many Muslims."

"If you don’t want to go to a Muslim wedding, don’t go. But don’t turn up and then carry out a wholly artificial politically motivated stunt. I am amazed and astounded by this behaviour by a Government minister who represents a very substantial Muslim minority in his constituency. I honestly did not think anyone could stoop so low. Fitzpatrick really has got down in the gutter in his increasingly desperate attempt to hold onto his Parliamentary seat.”
Prospective Tory candidate Tim Archer also suspected Fitzpatrick of trying to appeal to anti-Muslim feeling for political gain: “I can’t help but feel he’s playing a certain race card to save his skin at the next election. I think it’s a desperate strategy.”

Whatever we think of George Galloway's opportunism in counting on Muslim support (including, it has been said, that of Jamaat e Islam), Labour's Fitzpatrick is picking the wrong fight, on the wrong issue. It is not up to white christians to tell members of other religions how to interpret their traditions, especially when these neither harm them nor cause a problem for anyone else. Blaming the minority for lack of 'integration' or 'cohesion' is not just a cop-out by those in authority but a nod of encouragement to the racists.

Ironically, Fitzpatrick may have antagonised Asian Muslim voters in his constituency without gaining any renewal of support for Labour from working class whites. If you're going to blame the Muslims and play the race card, the benefit is likely to go to the far Right racists like the BNP, who don't bear the burden of being in government, and are so much better at the racist game.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Truth and justice not on offer, humanity must do

REMEMBERING another airliner destroyed. Iranian stamp commemorates Iran Air Flight 655, shot down by missiles from USS Vincennes, with loss of 290 passengers and crew on July 3, 1988. The US captain was decorated.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, sentenced to a minimum life term of 25 years in 2001 for his alleged part in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, could be released on compassionate grounds and home to his family before Ramadan. Megrahi, who has always insisted on his innocence, has terminal prostate cancer.

This news - as yet unconfirmed - comes after earlier reports that the prisoner, currently in a prison hospital bed, might be transferred to serve out his sentence in Libya. The Scottish Justice Secretary visited Megrahi last week.

Some 270 people lost their lives in the Lockerbie bombing, and the media are quoting US relatives outraged that the man they call a "mass murderer" should be considered worthy of compassion. It's a different story in Scotland where many people, including relatives, who have followed the case clearly, are not convinced Megrahi was even guilty as charged.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission last year re-examined the evidence - or lack of it - in this case, ruled that there had been a miscarriage of justice, and thus gave Megrahi the go-ahead for a second appeal. This could be delayed by a transfer, but a release on compassionate grounds need not prevent it continuing, . On the other hand we wonder what chance a seriously ill and dying man would have of conducting his case, which seems to have waited so long.

Talks have reportedly been held between British and Libyan officials over what would happen if Megrahi was allowed to go home.

While some people say the Libyan only played a small part in the bombing, for which no one else has been convicted, others believe that not only was he not responsible for the bombing, but Libya was not involved.

For two years after the Lockerbie bombing the widespread view was that a Syrian-based group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command-GC , had arranged the attack on the US airliner on behalf of the Iranian government, and its Syrian allies. The PFLP-GC, formed by a Syrian officer, Ahmed Jibreel, had a reputation for high-profile technically proficient operations. According to Scottish former MP Tam Dalziel there is evidence that the PFLP-GC received £10 million from the Iranians. The attack was seen as revenge for the shooting down by the US navy's missile cruiser Vincennes of an Iranian airbus, in which 290 people were killed.

But by 1990, with Iraqi tanks about to enter Kuwait, the US and British governments had to set their sights on Iraq, and needed Syria and Iran on side. So looking around for someone else to blame for Lockerbie, they found it convenient to make Libya the culprit.

It would be embarrassing for both governments, and their intelligence services, if a succesful appeal by Megrahi was to re-open the question of responsibility for the bombing. For the British government on the other hand the matter is complicated by the relative autonomy of the Scottish justice system and executive, which is not after all responsible for foreign policy. For the United States, ironically, Iran and to a lesser extent Syria, are back among the 'bad boys', though Obama may be more willing to try and improve relations than George Dubya was.

  • Meanwhile, to those Americans whom the BBC is deferentially broadcasting talking about "mass murder", one can sympathise with their feelings over lost relatives, but in their moral indignation against any compassion, might they consider what was handed out to the captain and crew of the USS Vincennes, after IR655 was brought down within Iranian airspace, by the US ship within Iranian waters? Some 290 people, mostly pilgrims going to Mecca, were killed, including 66 children. The American navy men were awarded Combat Action Ribbons, air warfare co-ordinator Lustig received the Navy Commendation Medal, citing his ability to "quickly and precisely complete the firing procedure."and Captain Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989."

  • If the Lockerbie case is re-opened, or even if people are only asking questions again, there is another case for compassion - and justice - that.I would like to make. Two young Palestinians, Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh, were sentenced and jailed for their alleged part in the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London. They were nowhere near the embassy at the time, but were charged with "conspiracy", on circumstantial evidence, much of it heard in secret. No fellow conspirators were produced, a third person named by the accused was not pursued by the authorities, nor did British police try to interview an Iranian diplomatic defector who had predicted the London bombings. Former MI5 man David Shayler and others say the security services knew an attack on the embassy was planned..
It would seem that where Middle East-related terror investigations cross the path of secret diplomacy, neither truth nor justice can be expected. If that is the case, humanity and compassion is the least we can demand.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

From Jerusalem goes forth the merchant of war - but don't forget the Other Israelis...

ISRAELI Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, elected on a racist platform of ethnic cleansing, is on safari
visiting countries in Latin America and Africa, and has so far managed to denounce Venezuela's Hugo Chavez accusing him of upsetting the region, and to warn that Iran - supposedly bidding to become the Middle East's second nuclear power, Israel being the first - could 'set off an arms race'(!).

In case black Africans had forgotten, Lieberman has boasted that Israel "started South Africa's arms industry". Yes, under Apartheid that was, when Israelis co-operated in the racist regime's efforts to develop nuclear weapons as well as conventional armaments. But if this reminder seems a strange way for the Israeli government to win friends and influence people, it had a reason. Lieberman is not going out to promote oranges and grapefruit. Along with Israeli foreign policy, still tuned to the neo-con Washington hawks, he is taking his arms salesmen on this mission.

That he senses what will go down well with his hosts surely also says something about the governments inviting him?

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, two Palestinian families were forcibly evicted from their homes, and Israeli police showed they can be brutal against Jews too, including rabbis, if they resist government policies, and especially if they show solidarity or even compassion, for Palestinians. The Religious Right has become one of the most reactionary and inhuman political forces in Israeli society, and most blame it not only for violence against Palestinians but the recent murderous attack on gay young people at a Tel Aviv centre. But there is group called Rabbis for Human Rights trying to counter-balance this. They say their Judaism leads them to protest oppression and injustice like the Sheikh Jarrah evictions.

Another of the Other Israelis, those who oppose opperession and racism, is Ezra Nawi, now facing a prison sentence because he allegedly assaulted a police officer. I'll let the international friends of Ezra Nawi explain:

"Ezra Nawi has been active for years in the area known as South Mt. Hebron. The Palestinians in this small desolate area in the very south of the West Bank have been under Israeli occupation for almost 42 years; they still live without electricity, running water and other basic services, and are continuously harassed by the Jewish settlers who constantly violate both Israeli and International law, and are backed by a variety of Israeli military occupation forces, all of which operate in an effort to cleanse the area from its Palestinian inhabitants and create a new demographic reality in it.

"Nawi's persistent non-violent activity in the area is aimed both at aiding the local population in its plight to stay on their lands, but also at exposing the situation in the area to both the Israeli and international public eye. The latter is very much not in the interest of the Israeli settlers who complain that Nawi is disturbing the "status quo" in the area. Nawi has received threats on his life from the settlers in the past. The chief of the investigations in the Hebron Israeli Police once admitted that what Nawi is doing in the area is "exposing the dirt laying under the rug..."

"Ezra Nawi's efforts have been fruitful in the sense that the attempt to cleanse the South Mt. Hebron from its Palestinian inhabitants has become a visible, internationally acknowledged issue.

"The settlers, military occupation forces and Israeli police have a strong interest to restrict his movement and ban him from the area. Therefore they constantly falsely accuse him of violating the law. Lately he has been pronounced guilty of assaulting a police officer who was demolishing a Palestinian house on July 22, 2007. He will be sentenced on August 16, 2009 at 8.30 AM, at the Jerusalem peace court.

"As chance would have it, the demolition and the resistance to it were captured on film and broadcasted on Israeli news. As depicted on the film (a must see), Nawi, the man dressed in a green jacket, not only courageously protests the demolition, but after the bulldozer destroys the buildings he also tells the border policemen what he thinks of their actions. Sitting handcuffed in a military vehicle following his arrest, he exclaims: "Yes, I was also a soldier, but I did not demolish houses... The only thing that will be left here is hatred..."

Nawi's case is not only about Nawi. It is also about Israel and Israeli society, if only because one can learn a great deal about a country from the way it treats its human rights and pro-democracy activists.

Please join this group to show your support for Ezra Nawi and your objection to his imminent imprisonment.

International Committee Supporting Ezra:
Noam Chomsky
Elle Flanders
Charles Glass
Naomi Klein
Sheldon Pollock
David Norris
Eliot Weinberger

See also:

Robert Hand also bears witness:
"Ezra Nawi is probably the most courageous person I have ever met. I have seen him in countless moments when settlers violently attacked him and other peace activists, Palestinians and Israelis; his presence of mind, steadfastness, and clarity always got us through such times.

He is that most unusual of human beings– a person of profound inner gentleness and moral principle, selfless and creative in finding ways to help the Palestinian shepherds and farmers of the South Hebron hills.

It is largely to Ezra’s unremitting efforts that these people are still living on their lands in the face of constant efforts by the Israeli state, the army, police, and rampaging settlers, to dispossess them. ...
Ezra is utterly committed to non-violent protest in the Gandhian mode; he is an inspired force for goodness and a reason not to lose hope in human potential to do the decent thing."

Supporters of Ezra Nawi are planning a demonstration:

"On Sunday, August 16, at 8.30 am, Ezra Nawi will receive the sentencing for his conviction of assaulting a police officer and participating in a riot. Ezra, the epitome of nonviolent resistance and human rights defender, pleaded not guilty on all charges, and refuses to accept a plea bargain.

On Sunday, Ezra might be sent to jail.

We will escort Ezra to the courthouse, and stand vigil outside to show our support and solidarity.

The Committee Supporting Ezra Nawi"

Last word to someone from the joint Palestinian-Israeli group Ta'ayush (Partnership), who evokes the Biblical story, of the ten just men that God sought if he was to spare a society: "If we had 20 Ezra Nawis, the Occupation would be already finished. Ezra is one of the righteous men, that thanks to them, we are not yet [d...estroyed like] Sodom and Gomorrah". (Yehuda Agus, Taayush Activist)

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Iraq and the Country House Party

DITCHLEY PARK, quiet setting for conferences on a stormy world.

THE British government's official inquiry into the Iraq war is due to start hearing from witnesses later this year. Could be the public has grown blase, what with many of the facts - and chiefly that Tony Blair and chums lied - being known, plus the army commander to be telling us the troops could be in Afghanistan for forty years. But while the corporate media are getting us ready for that, my fellow blogger Kevin Blowe has taken a look at just who is on the Iraq war inquiry, and what confidence can be placed upon it - not by us but by those in power.

" One of the pursuits that three of the five Inquiry members share is involvement in the Ditchley Foundation, an organisation that promotes Anglo-American relations and whose Director is Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations in the approach to the Iraq war and a likely witness at the Inquiry.

"According to his biography on the Iraq Inquiry website, former ambassador to Russia Sir Roderic Lyne is a governor of the Ditchley Foundation, as well as Deputy Chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). This places him right at the heart of the transatlantic defence establishment, a position he shares with Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King's College London and Official Historian of the Falklands Campaign.

"Freedman has spoken at events organised by the likes of the Royal United Services Institute and Chatham House (which he was a Council member of between 1984 and 1992) and at the Council on Foreign Relations and the World Affairs Council in Washington DC (see footage of an address to the WAC here). He was a participant at a Ditchley Foundation event in early May 2009, organised in conjunction with the RAND Corporation, on the “military’s role and function in the 21st century”, which was attended by a variety of Ministry of Defence and NATO officials".

And Kevin points out: "Crucially, Freedman was a regular government advisor and a key architect of the ‘Blair doctrine’ on the use of military action for ‘humanitarian’ intervention. He told the BBC’s Michael Crick that in 1999, a memo he wrote for Downing Street formed the basis of Blair's famous Chicago speech , which relied almost entirely on his proposals. John Kampfner’s book 'Blair’s Wars' confirms this, saying that Freedman was asked to provide "a philosophy that Blair could call his own", complete with benchmarks defining when countries should intervene in the affairs of other nations.

"Baroness Prashar is another Ditchley Foundation governor, along with Lyne and intriguingly, Peter Mandelson, David Miliband, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and… hang on a second, how did Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti end up on this list?!

"However, there is little to tell from the Baroness’ record as a cross bench peer what her views are on issues other than human rights and equalities, as she seldom votes or speaks in the Lords.

"Which leaves the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, who appears to have no connection to the Ditchley Foundation but is controversial for different reasons, notably claiming that TE Lawrence (‘of Arabia’) was a Zionist and importantly in the context of the Inquiry, his suggestion that Bush and Blair “may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill.” We can only look forward with exasperation to the quality of his questions to Blair!

"Finally, the chair of the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, has his own baggage. He is a career diplomat who has close links to the intelligence community and was a former Staff Counsellor to the Security and Intelligence Agencies and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. More importantly, he was a member of the Butler Inquiry that exonerated the government on the intelligence about on Weapons of Mass Destruction, effectively said that everyone seemed to be innocent and suggested that the ludicrous claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger was "credible".

For those who don't know, Ditchley may sound dull, but what many people don't realise is the part played in oBritain's political life not by mere Labour, Tory and Lib Dems, but by the small, but more select, Country House Party.

Ditchley is a fine and distinguished house and park near Charlbury in Oxfordshire, and not far from Chipping Norton Before the Second World War it was the country home of Ronald Tree, an American-born Tory MP, who cultivated good relations with Winston Churchill, and fomed a small group of Tory MPs opposed to the Chamberlain government's Appeasement of Nazi Germany. During the war Tree met ex-MI5 man and Chamberlain's dirty trickster Major Sir Joseeph Ball, who boasted that he had bugged Tree's London home and meetings.

It was also during the war that Ditchley acquired importance. Concerned that Churchill's country house at Chartwell in Kent was too easily in reach of German bombers, officials also feared that the Prime Minister's official residence at Chequers, with its long straight drive standing out in the moonlight like a pointer, could also prove a tempting target. Ronald Tree offered Ditchley Park, less well-known, and tucked away among the trees, and since Churchill already knew the house and its owner he accepted. Special phone lines with a scrambler were installed, accomodation made for staff, and billets for a company of the Oxdord and Bucks Light Infantry.Churchill could use Ditchley both for family weekends and top-level meetings, as with Roosevelt's emissary Harry Hopkins.

In 1953 Sir David Wills, an heir of the famous tobacco company, acquired Ditchley Park, and in 1958 he set up the Ditchley Foundation, which describes itself as "an Anglo-American educational trust which seeks to further transatlantic understanding through a programme of conferences and seminars". There are linked foundations in the United States and Canada.

The first chairman of the Ditchley Foundation council was Lord Sherfield, who as Roger Makins had assisted Harold Macmillan in North Africa during the War, and met with Eisenhower. Post-war he was British ambassador in Washington. His successor was Lord Caccia, whom Macmillan sent as envoy to Washington in the difficult period after Suez. Several of the original Foundation members from either side of the Atlantic had similar background ties. Big companies with Transatlantic interests also figured.

About a dozen or more conferences are held at Ditchley each year, on aspects of international affairs and US and British foreign policy. At each conference there are around forty invitees drawn from politics, business, the armed forces, media, and academia, with roughly a third of guests being American, a further third being British, with the remainder being of other nationalities. The director of the Foundation is usually a retired ambassador - the current director is Jeremy Greenstock

Discussion begins with all members present, before participants divide into three sub-groups, each having its own chairman and rapporteur to summarise proceedings. Proceedings end with one more conference-wide session. As with the Foreign Office's Chatham House, or, so we are told, the Bilderburg conferences that figure in conspiracy theory, and no doubt, real conspiracies, discussions are private and non-attributable. The American Ditchley Foundation helps to shape the conference program as well as select American participants.
The Chairman of American Ditchley is former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

Although a country house informality may be encouraged at Ditchley gatherings it is to assist, not detract from, the serious purpose. Sir Harry Hodson, when he was director, thought the conferences might do something to improve understanding with France. De Gaulle, opposed to US hegemony, gave the thumbs down to British entry to the Common Market, suspecting it would be a trojan horse for US interests. Hodson's proposals were rebuffed by the Ditchley Council, under Foreign Office influence, and when he tried to use his own contacts to sseek De Gaulle's approval of French delegates coming to Ditchley, he was hauled over the coals for sidestepping the Foreign Office.

I see that recent members of the Ditchley Foundation have included my own favourite 'pin-up' from the Foreign Office, Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee and now David Cameron's shadow Security minister. After sterling service for Nat West markets in Belograde, Dame Pauline was made a governor of the BBC, and was blamed by Greg Dyke for leading the Board of Governors against BBC's senior management following the David Kelly/Andrew Gilligan affair, concerning government lies and secrets behind the war in Iraq.

Meanwhile as chairman of QinetiQ, the privatised Defence research and procurement establishment which besides its Iraq war interests had enriched its directors as it passed into largely US hands, Neville-Jones was qualified to join the US lecture circuit and be a Ditchley council director.

But let's not leave out Labour. Among the other Ditchley names to note these days are Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw. Considering the way Labour Party conferences have gone, Labour Party members will be pleased to hear their leaders are doing something to promote discussion and help determioe international policy.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Hebron, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv; Hate crime is catching

HUNDREDS of people took part in a Tel Aviv protest yesterday after the murder of two young people and wounding of others at a Gay and Lesbian support centre. A gunman dressed in black walked into the centre on Saturday night when a social was being held, and opened fire with a handgun at random.

While police were still looking for the gunman yesterday, many of the protesters had little doubt of the political responsibility for the killing. As Labour knesset member Shelly Yachimovich told the crowd: "The pistol did not act on its own, the gunman did not act on his own - what stood behind him was incitement and hatred."

Demonstrators carried placards singling out the religious party Shas, whose leaders have a record of ever-more strident denunciations of gay people, whom they accuse of both defying the Almighty and his supposed Laws and undermining Israel.

But Shas is not alone in this, nor does its toxic mixture of backwardness and bile spray only in one direction. This party of the Misrahi (Eastern) wing of religious Orthodoxy originally gained support by association with welfare initiatives for the poor, but one of its leading rabbis recently hit the news with his explanation that Jews who were killed by the Nazis were being punished by the Almighty for sins in a previous life.

Shas has turned to inciting hatred because it is competing with other parties of prejudice and hate, in a country where the slum dwellers of Tel Aviv and other cities are taxed to subsidise the privileged lives of West Bank Settlers; where the Foreign Minister is an open advocate of ethnic cleansing; and where the liberal culture of Tel Aviv or Haifa is despised by the macho breed of fascists and religious fanatics, for whom some human beings are inferior and have no rights, whereas you have the right to expel or kill them.

The Tel Aviv shooting came on the same weeknd that Israeli forces evicted the Hanoun and al-Ghawe families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah district of Jerusalem. As a correspondent reports:
"At around 5:30 in the morning, Israeli police arrived at the Hannoun family home and broke into the house through the windows. They forcefully removed Maher Hanoun, his wife Nadia and their 3 children. The police violently separated the family from the international and Israeli solidarity activists that were staying in the home. Police then arrested the international and Israeli solidarity activists that were staying with the family. Similarly, Israeli police came into the al-Ghawe family home at 5:30am and removed the family and internationals staying in the home.

Settlers arrived with a truck and began to move the al-Gwahe and Hannoun family possessions out of their home. Everyone outside of the house was forced across the street, away from the house. According to eyewitnesses, Israeli forces beat a Palestinian male who was trying to intervene when police were yelling at an elderly Palestinian woman. Additionally, media personnel were pushed around by police when they were trying to get close to the evicted Sheikh Jarrah homes.

Amongst those arrested are at least 7 international activists and 1 Israeli activist. They are scheduled to be brought to court in Jerusalem at 11am.

Here's Maher Hannoun, Palestinian resident of Sheikh Jarrah:
"Despite condemnation from the international community about the evictions of my neighborhood, Sheikh Jarrah, the Israeli government continues to pursue the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem. My family were refugees from 1948 and now we have become refugees again. We were forced out of homes to make way for settlers, contrary to international law. The legal case that residents presented in court included an Ottoman-era document which discounts the settler associations claim of ownership over Sheikh Jarrah land and homes. But the unjust policies of Israel to judaize East Jerusalem render our legal proof of ownership irrelevant.

Jody McIntyre, a British solidarity activist says:
I woke up to the sound of a brick through the front window. By the time I could get up, I was being pushed out the door by Israeli forces. They wouldn’t allow me to take my wheelchair and were physically violent towards me and the others in the Hannoun house. The unjust policies of the Israeli government are not just written documents, they affect real families. The government has made the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families homeless, and their only crime is being Palestinian in a system that is racist against them.

The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem was built by the UN and Jordanian government in 1956 to house Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. However, with the the start of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, following the 1967 war, settlers began claiming ownership of the land the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was built on.

From Jerusalem to Hebron, in the southern West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory. Here's a report from the Palestinian Ma'an news agency:

'Hebron is a divided city. Around 500 Israeli settlers illegally occupy buildings in the city centre and to accommodate them the lives of over 180,000 Palestinians have been thrown into disorder.
Palestinians’ movement through their own city is severely restricted: thousands of Israeli soldiers man checkpoints along a line of segregation that cuts through the city; in order to pass Palestinians must present their ID cards and can be detained arbitrarily. Some roads and sidewalks are segregated – Palestinians have to walk on small divided sections. Local residents are forbidden from driving on many streets and what was until recently a bustling main market street is now forbidden to them.

Step-by-step, house-by-house the settlers plan to take over all of Hebron and expel the local Arab population. Settlers in Hebron are part of the most extreme Israeli right-wing movement. The leader of the Jewish National Front, Baruch Marzel, lives with his family and many supporters in the heart of the city. Still the residents, traders and shopkeepers at the core of the ancient Old City resist the encroaching settlers.

It is not easy. Each Saturday afternoon one of several military barriers separating the Old City from the illegal settlements swings open – no one knows which barrier will be opened from one week to the next – and an Israeli Army patrol sweeps in. Many shops close, streets are blocked off, residents cannot access their homes and normal life comes to a halt. The soldiers are there to escort groups of Israeli settlers who come to see buildings that they claim should only be occupied by Jews.

On Saturday 1 August settlers climbed over a roof onto the home of the Palestinian Al-E'wewi family in full view of Israeli soldiers and pushed a large metal water-tanker to the ground several floors below. During the hot summer in this dry region water is scarce and the Al-E'wewi’s are so poor they will struggle to replace the tank which has been vandalised by settlers many times before.

Settler boys took up positions on roof-tops which are designated as closed military zones under Israeli law and intimidated passers-by while Israeli soldiers looked on and happily chatted to them.

Later in the afternoon settlers attempted to assert their dominance over the local population. Young setter men decided to break away from the main group moving through the Old City. As they swaggered down the narrow streets of the Old City Israeli soldiers began to call them back. The settlers’ views are so extreme that despite all the restrictions the Israeli Army imposes on local people, soldiers are viewed by settlers as being too soft. Angry at not being able to run riot a settler attacked an Israeli soldier, punching and kicking him. However, rather than arresting the violent settler the soldiers told him to calm down and let him continue away from the main group. Settler leaders shouted at the soldiers that they should not interfere with the young man.

Quickly a group of young seller men rallied round their friend and made their way through the streets. They attacked a Palestinian’s car, breaking-off a wing mirror. As they passed local shops they cursed and screamed at shopkeepers who had dared to stay open.

The Israeli soldiers had lost control and decided to escort the settlers from the Old City. Angry at being unable to assert themselves in their usual manner the settlers decided to lash out. An innocent Palestinian man, Nizam Azazmeh (32), who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, was attacked by ten settlers. Using a blade, they slashed his forehead, arms and stabbed him in his chest. Israeli soldiers standing nearby refused to intervene to help the victim and he saved himself only by grabbing a police shield and defending himself.
Mr. Azazmeh a complaint to the Israeli police but, despite having security cameras covering the area of the attack, the police have yet to arrest any settlers.

The man survived and has submitted a complaint to the Israeli police. In the meantime the residents of Hebron hold their breath, waiting for the next time settlers lash out.'

In Palestinian protests and riots the following week, put down by Israeli forces, 25 Palestinians and five Israelis were lilled. Israel imposed a two-week curfew on the 120,000 Palestinian residents of Hebron, while the 400 Jewish settlers remained free to move around. The Israeli government condemned the massacre. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, later to be assassinated himself, telephoned Yasser Arafat, and described the mosque attack as a "loathsome, criminal act of murder".

But before very long tee shirts honouring Baruch Goldstein were on sale, and his grave site in the park named after fascist Meir Kahane has become a pilgrimage site for those with extreme right-wing views; a plaque near the grave reads "To the holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah and the nation of Israel."

I can't help wondering what will happen to the Tel Aviv gunman, and whether he too will be honoured as a hero.

A recent poll said the majority of Israelis supported the settlers. That's to say politically. We already knew they were supporting them economically, whether or not they realised it. Opinions can change. Besides the immorality of the occupation, its brutality feeds back into Israeli society. Israelis who value their freedom and democratic rights may come to realise that a people which oppresses another is forging its own chains. Those who want tolerance and progress within their own society had better face the fact that racialism, and hate crime of whatever kind, is contaminating.

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