Friday, August 31, 2012

Rachel and the Miners

Photo: Carlos Latuff sums up the verdict in the Rachel Corrie case.

"Only thing missing is Cat(erpillar) logo on the dozer". Otherwise, Carlos Latuff's cartoon sums up how judgment is widely seen.

ISRAEL and South Africa are supposed to be opponents.
Leaders who claim credit for triumphing over Apartheid have rightly taken stands against what some - including some Israelis -dub "Apartheid Israel". But this week, for all their differences, South Africa and Israel appeared less like principled opponents, more like competitors in injustice.

Nine years after the death of American human rights activist Rachel Corrie, who stood in the path of an Israeli bulldozer in the southern Gaza Strip, an Israeli judge has delivered his considered verdict that the young American was responsible for her own death.

In South Africa, even before an inquiry set up by President Jacob Zuma had met to commence its work, the 270 miners arrested during the strike at the Marikana platinum mine have been charged with the murder of 34 colleagues who were shot dead by police.

The murder charge – and associated charges for the attempted murder of 78 miners injured at the Marikana mine near Johannesburg – was brought by the national prosecuting authority under an obscure Roman-Dutch common law previously used by the Apartheid regimr. .

The move came as the men appeared in court charged with public violence over the clashes at the Lonmin platinum mine on 16 August.

According to a police spokesperson the officers who opened fire were defending themselves after coming under fire themselves from a charging mob, who were armed and had already killed two officers and some strikebreakers earlier that week. But on TV we clearly saw police standing and firing automatic weapons, not attempting to take cover, while the crowd supposely advancing on them could not be seen.

In fact, post-mortem examinations revealed that most of the 34 victims of the police action on August 16 were shot in the back while a smaller number were shot while facing forward, Johannesburg's Star newspaper reported citing sources close to the investigation.

Over 150 complaints have been filed with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate over the alleged torture and assault in police custody of miners who were arrested following the violence.

Rachel Corrie was killed on March 16, 2003, in an area where Israeli forces were clearing a widening corridor between Palestinian homes and the Egyptian border, so their patrols could operate without interference. Earlier in the week she and other ISM volunteers had tried to shield Palestinian workers who were trying to repair a well. On the day she was killed the Israeli bulldozers were advancing on homes and vegetable gardens, destroying glasshouses.

The Israeki military said the bulldozer which killed Rachel Corrie was only clearing "vegetation and rubble", and that the driver, with limited visibility through a narrow armoured window could not see her over the pile of earth in front of his blade.

Eye-witness Joe Carr, another of the volunteers, described it differently:
"Still wearing her fluorescent jacket, she knelt down at least 15 meters in front of the bulldozer, and began waving her arms and shouting, just as activists had successfully done dozens of times that day.... When it got so close that it was moving the earth beneath her, she climbed onto the pile of rubble being pushed by the bulldozer.... Her head and upper torso were above the bulldozer's blade, and the bulldozer operator and co-operator could clearly see her. Despite this, the operator continued forward, which caused her to fall back, out of view of the driver. [sic] He continued forward, and she tried to scoot back, but was quickly pulled underneath the bulldozer. We ran towards him, and waved our arms and shouted; one activist with the megaphone. But the bulldozer operator continued forward, until Rachel was all the way underneath the central section of the bulldozer".

The driver said that if he had to do it again he would.

Nine Palestinians were killed that week. Because Rachel was an American, US officials said there should be a full inquiry, and Rachel's parents sought legal action.

Nine years later, Judge Oded Gershon of the Haifa District Court has produced a 162 page report from which my friend and fellow-blogger Adam Keller quotes a sample:

"The Philadelphi Route was the arena of constant war, of ongoing sniper fire, rocket fire and explosive charges. None other than combat soldiers ventured there... The bulldozer crew was conducting a clearing operation under fire. The late Rachel Corrie chose to take a risk, which ultimately led to her death... The deceased had gotten herself into a dangerous situation... She did not stay away, as any sensible person would have done. The deceased's death was caused by an accident which the deceased brought on herself, despite the attempts of the IDF troops to remove her and her friends from there... Under the circumstances, the IDF unit's conduct was impeccable."

Adam himself served in the IDF (and spent some time in the stockade after tanks he was guarding were mysteriously daubed overnight with the words "Down With the Occupation!"). He acknowledges that the corridor where Rachel Corrie was killed was indeed a battle zone, where Palestinians had vented their rage at Israeli forces maintaining the siege of Gaza, and men were killed on both sides.

'Still, Judge Gershon was certainly not accurate when he wrote that combat soldiers were the only people there, in the hell of the battlefield called The Philadelphi Route. Very many, civilians were there, too - men and women, elderly and children – in their thousands and tens of thousands. The civilians were there because it was their home, the only home they had - even if it was quite miserable. They had lived there before it became the scene of battle and before it came to be called Philadelphi. Many of them had come to live there because their original homes had become a battle zone in a previous war, the one which convulsed this country in 1948. And they stayed there, even when it had become the Philadelphi battle zone and the Philadelphi corridor became an arena of battle, even when some them got killed by the bullets of snipers and the explosion of explosive devices, because they literally had nowhere else to go.

'And then somebody conceived a brilliant idea. The man's name was Yom Tov Samia, and he was an outstanding officer in the Israel Defense Forces who climbed fast through the ranks until he became Commanding General South. And General Samia had an idea how to win the lost war along the Route. To take up "clearing" - a word invented by the Israel Defense Forces, the kind of word which armies make up to hide horrors behind neutral words - on a truly grand scale. To create a "sterile" space, completely sterile and without life, a kilometer or two wide. A completely flattened area with no houses and no people and no animals and no plants, nothing but soldiers and weapons of war moving in safety, as they could notice from far any possible threat and take action to neutralize that threat. In purely military terms, it must be said, there was some logic to this idea. Only, it implied the destruction of thousands of houses in which tens of thousands of people lived, half or three quarters of a city called Rafah.

'Probably General Yom Tov Samia would have liked to do it all at once, in one blow, to erase "shave off" all these thousands of houses in a single day and by the next complete the sterilization of the area. But this might have caused a bit too much of an international stir, become an instant item of "Breaking News" on CNN and other networks, and the political echelon did not give its approval. So the Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers were set to working by the good old method of creating "facts on the ground" bit by bit, acre by acre. Each time they erased and "shaved off" another row of houses, sometimes twenty, sometimes thirty. Usually the residents of these houses managed to jump out and run at the last minute, but some were not quick enough and were buried under the ruins of what had been their homes. In the city of Rafah, photos of those victims were printed and pasted on the walls, but media outlets in the wider world were not really interested.

'That was the time when volunteers started arriving on the scene, the people of the International Solidarity Movement, ISM. Yes, that organization to which Judge Gershon paid much attention in his verdict, stating that it was "abusing the discourse of Human Rights and morality" and that its acts are "violent in essence". Activists from Europe and America and all over the world came to the Gaza Strip and asked where Palestinians were most suffering from the occupation's harshness and were in greatest need of assistance and international solidarity. And they were told that Rafah was such a place. And they came to Rafah and were hosted by families on the very front line, where their hosts already knew that they were next in line for the D-9's.

'And there were activists who after months in besieged Rafah went to rest and freshen up in their own quiet and safe homes at Copenhagen or Barcelona or Sydney - or Olympia in the State of Washington in the United States - and when they returned to Rafah they found that the house where they had stayed the last time no longer existed, not a trace of it left, and the plot on which it had stood had become part of the sterile space. Another house, which had been further back, was now the new front line.

And then they decided to do what a person who cares, who cares very very much, could to do in such a situation. To go unarmed into the battlefield and arena of war called the Philadelphi Route. To stand with empty hands against tanks and bulldozers, and to scream and cry out towards those who did not really want to hear. To face empty-handed and unarmed the might of the Israel Defense Forces. To interpose with their bodies and interfere with implementation of the brilliant strategic plan of General Yom Tov Samia.

Maybe there is something in what Judge Oded Gershon wrote. A sensible person – the kind of sensible person which Judge Gershon himself is, and his friends and acquaintances - would not have done it. Judge Oded Gershon would certainly not have seriously considered facing with his bare hands a giant bulldozer, nearly as big as a house. "The deceased had knowingly gotten herself into a dangerous situation." There is no doubt that she did. A very dangerous situation. Jewish and world history marks a young boy named David, who knowingly placed himself in a very dangerous situation, facing a fearsome giant called Goliath. It might be that he was not a very sensible person, either.

'"The bulldozer driver and his commander had a very limited field of view. They could not notice the deceased" wrote Judge Gershon. One might add that also the commander of the commander had a very limited field of view, and even the commander of the commander of the commander. A very limited field of view, in which only the immediate military considerations and objectives could be seen. A very limited field of view in which human beings could not be seen, a living city could not been as it was being destroyed and razed and erazed and made into a sterile zone. A very limited field of view where it was not possible to see a young woman who followed the dicates of her conscience and came all the way from the West Coast of the United States to Rafah in the Gaza Strip, to risk her life in a desperate act of protest.

'At the exit from the Haifa District Court, Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, spoke to the journalists. Hurt and shaken by the verdict she said "In that home which Rachel was trying to protect there were children. All of us should have been there, to stand with her."'

But from Rachel Corrie, apparently responsible for her own death because, being a member of the ISM, whose actions though unarmed were "violent in essence", she chose to place herself in the wromg place and in the path of a bulldozer, we now move on to the higher case; of the striking miners who were guilty of charging away from the police, and placing their backs in the path of gunfire.

"The law is an ass", said Mr.Bumble. But in some cases, of the two, the ass is a much more worthy beast.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Well fancy that....

BUSINESS AS USUAL for Cameron and friends. Well customers, anyway.

I'VE not commented on the current row over Julian Assange's "diplomatic asylum" or extradition, which has bitterly divided friends, and led cleverer men than me to make fools of themselves.

I don't intend to now.

But moving back from what used to be News of the World territory to world news, I see a friend has posted this item suggesting it is "Why the US intelligence community would like to get its hands on Julian Assange".

I'm not sure if he's right, and anyway it is not news, being almost two years old. But it may remind us that while the US and its allies bombed and invaded two countries killing masses of innocent people in the name of "war on terror", before they ever got to Osama Bin Laden, we heard little about promises to cut off funds to Al Qaida, made after 9/11.

It also underlines the ridiculousness of a US court deciding to blame Iran, itself a target of Al Qaida and its backers, for the attack on the World Trade Centre.

But I am mainly putting it up because of the relevance to more recent attacks on which we have commented, from Mumbai to Mali, and to events in Libya and Syria.

Shocking cable: US says Saudi donors are chief financiers of al Qaeda (via Raw Story

A quick aside in a New York Times article about leaked diplomatic cables is sure to spark renewed interest about the role of the US’ biggest ally in the Gulf supporting terrorism.

In their wide-ranging précis of the leaked cables, Times reporters Scott Shane and Andrew Lehren mention in passing a key detail from one of the diplomatic dispatches: “Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda.”

No other details about the cable are provided by the Times. The referenced cable is not linked, and Raw Story has been unable to locate the specific language among additional cables published by The Guardian. (If you find the cable, please email

The admission is stunning, though it has been largely kept from public view, and hasn’t been admitted previously at such a high level. The “Blue Ribbon” Sept. 11, 2001 report noted that al Qaeda had raised money in Saudi Arabia but that no senior officials had provided material support.

Charges that Saudi donors have provided material support for terrorist groups — including Iraqi insurgents — are not new. A detailed Congressional Research Service report in 2007 highlighted repeated instances where Saudis were accused of supporting terrorist groups. The report was titled, “Saudi Arabia: Terrorist Financing Issues.”

“According to the U.S. State Department 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, ‘Saudi donors and unregulated charities have been a major source of financing to extremist and terrorist groups over the past 25 years,’” the report’s authors wrote. “The September 11, 2001 attacks fueled criticisms within the United States of alleged Saudi involvement in terrorism or of Saudi laxity in acting against terrorist groups. The final report released by the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission) indicates that the Commission ‘found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded [Al Qaeda].’ The report also states, however, that Saudi Arabia ‘was a place where Al Qaeda raised money directly from individuals and through charities’ and indicates that ‘charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship’ may have diverted funding to Al Qaeda. U.S. officials remain concerned that Saudis continue to fund Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.”

The Congressional Research Service report cautions against concluding that the Saudi monarchy had any direct role in al Qaeda’s financing. It notes that the Saudi government has made “numerous official statements” saying that they are “committed to cooperating with the United States in fighting terrorist financing, pointing out that Saudi Arabia itself is a victim of terrorism and shares the U.S. interest in combating it.”

But it also goes on to lay out claims that individuals in Saudi Arabia have underwritten Iraqi insurgents.

“In October 2004, an unidentified Defense Department official told the press that private Saudi individuals and charities were channeling funds to insurgent groups in Iraq,” the researchers wrote. “Saudi officials vigorously denied the claims and appealed for U.S. officials to provide concrete information in support of the charges so that Saudi authorities could investigate and prosecute any individuals or entities that may have been involved. In December 2004, press reports cited intelligence gathered following U.S. military operations, including the November 2004 assault on Fallujah, which indicated that ‘a handful of senior Iraqi Baathists operating in Syria are collecting money from private sources in Saudi Arabia and Europe’ and are channeling it to insurgent groups. In addition, news accounts have quoted insurgent facilitators stating that Saudi young men are particularly valuable to insurgent groups because Saudis provide for their own expenses and often personally finance insurgent operations.”

“A senior U.S. Treasury Department official testified in July 2005 that Saudi individuals may be ‘a significant source’ of financing for the Iraq insurgency,” they add. “The Iraq Study Group report stated that ‘funding for the Sunni insurgency [in Iraq] comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.’ Iraqi officials have called on Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries to do more to restrict financial networks operating in their countries from supporting insurgents in Iraq.”

Muqtedar Khan, Associate Professor of Islam and Global Affairs at the University of Delaware, criticized the Saudi government on the revelation at The Huffington Post, saying that the cables exposed Muslim governments’ hypocrisy.

“The… cables also reveal that even now the main financiers of al Qaeda are Saudi donors,” Khan writes. “American presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama have identified al Qaeda as the biggest threat to the U.S., and yet they collude with the nation whose citizens are its biggest financiers. Why don’t the Saudis cut off the head of the real snake by arresting and imprisoning al Qaeda’s financiers? Most Americans know that fifteen of the nineteen terrorists that attacked the US on September 11, 2001, were Saudis. None were Iranians. A significant number of foreign fighters who joined al Qaeda in Iraq were Saudis. This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.”

Raw Story (

Here is how the Guardian reported it:

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton.

"More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups," says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide," she said.

Three other Arab countries are listed as sources of militant money: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The cables highlight an often ignored factor in the Pakistani and Afghan conflicts: that the violence is partly bankrolled by rich, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them.

The problem is particularly acute in Saudi Arabia, where militants soliciting funds slip into the country disguised as holy pilgrims, set up front companies to launder funds and receive money from government-sanctioned charities.

One cable details how the Pakistani militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, used a Saudi-based front company to fund its activities in 2005.

Meanwhile officials with the LeT's charity wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, travelled to Saudi Arabia seeking donations for new schools at vastly inflated costs – then siphoned off the excess money to fund militant operations.

Militants seeking donations often come during the hajj pilgrimage – "a major security loophole since pilgrims often travel with large amounts of cash and the Saudis cannot refuse them entry into Saudi Arabia". Even a small donation can go far: LeT operates on a budget of just $5.25m (£3.25m) a year, according to American estimates.

Saudi officials are often painted as reluctant partners. Clinton complained of the "ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist funds emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority".

A couple of footnotes on the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs

MoD drawn into Saudi deal inquiry

TELEGRAPH, August 14

The Ministry of Defence will face questions from the Serious Fraud Office about what it knew of alleged illegal payments made by defence group EADS to smooth the passage of a £2bn contract in Saudi Arabia.

U.S. Arms Sales Make Up Most of Global Market

August 27, 2012 1:03 pm

WASHINGTON -- Weapons sales by the United States tripled in 2011 to a record high, driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies concerned about Iran's regional ambitions, according to a new study for Congress.

Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.

The American weapons sales total was an "extraordinary increase" over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.

A worldwide economic decline had suppressed arms sales over recent years. But increasing tensions with Iran drove a set of Persian Gulf nations -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman -- to purchase American weapons at record levels.

And another angle,

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Destroying mosques in Africa, murdering bus passengers in Pakistan

ISLAM used to be known among the world's religions for civilisation, tolerance and progress. From Cordoba in the west to Baghdad and further East, the society developed trade routes, irrigation, agriculture, medicine and great architecture. Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars found a place, to study Classical knowledge, and make a bridge between the ancients and modern society.
If some Western leaders and writers today profess ignorance of this debt, in proclaiming their ill-founded assumptions of superiority, that is their contribution to the world's darkness and intellectual poverty.

That said, not only are some Islamic countries today afflicted with oppressive and reactionary tyrranies, but there is a spreading worldwide malignancy in the name of Islam which, far from evoking a past "Golden Age", is inflicting suffering, destruction and barbarism. In 2001 the world could only look on in horror when the Taliban destroyed 6th century statues of Buddha carved into rock at Bamyan, in central Afghanistan.

This kind of vandalism, spectacular as it was, and symbolic of what was being done to people, had echoes of the dynamiting of minarets and bulldozing of Muslim graves by Serb and Croat nationalist forces in Bosnia. To complete your conquest, destroy the people's past, and consciousness of themselves. It is plainly not unique to Islamicist fanatics. Nor is it in the slightest way progressive, or "anti-imperialist". On the contrary, it can arrive riding with the imperialists.

LIBYA -ultra-conservative Islamists used bombs and a bulldozer to level the tomb of a 15th-century Sufi scholar, Abdel Salam al Asmar, in the town of Zlitan, 100 miles east of Tripoli. They also destroyed thousands of historical books when they burned a library in a nearby mosque to the ground. Rather than interfere, security forces assaulted and arrested people who tried to protest destruction of mosques and shrines in other places, though in some local militias stopped these attacks.
On Sunday, the ruling General National Congress summoned Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel Al, Defense Minister Osama Jweili and several other military and intelligence officers for questioning after the Sufi shrines were attacked Friday and Saturday. General National Congress speaker Muhammed Magarief slammed the desecrations as “disgraceful acts.” Magarief went as far as to suggest that there may have been official collusion in the attacks, saying that those responsible “are unfortunately aligned with some in the Supreme Security Committee (SCC) and ex-revolutionaries.” The security committee is responsible for organizing Libya’s armed forces.
read more here:

MALI As many as half a million refugees may have fled the north of the country after Salafi purists destroyed Sufi shrines in the fabled city of Timbuktu and said they would impose strict Sharia law on the people. In three days at the beginning of July, the members of an Al Qaida offshoot called Ansar Dine which had displaced both government forces and Tuareg separatists, destroyed at least eight Timbuktu mausoleums and several tombs, centuries-old shrines reflecting the local Sufi version of Islam in what is known as the "City of 333 Saints". UNESCO which had earlier put Timbuktu on a list of threatened world heritage sites, said "We consider this action to be a crime against history."
Thousands of people have fled either to the south or across the borders into neighbouring Mauretania and Niger. They say the Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) have forced women to veil, stopped them trading in the market, and forbidden music and television. Some 90 per cent of Mali's people are Muslims, but they say this intolerant and repressive strain comes from outside and is completely alien to them. They have begun organising to fight back, but say they need weapons, whereas the Ansar Dine, despite their supposed rejection of Western ways, are well-armed.

PAKISTAN, officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, whose name means "Land of the Pure", was born from partition and bloody conflict, and served as the base for CIA-backed mojahaddin in Afghanistan and later the Taliban. It is suffering the war spilling over, in the shape of US drones which have killed innocent civilians, and in the latest refinement reported, targetted rescue parties.
But not all the violence comes from outside.

In the province of Gilgit-Baltistan, as people prepared to celebrate the festival of Eid al Fitr which ends Ramadan, they found themselves instead with a day of mourning, and of anger, after 25 people were pulled from four buses returning from Rawalpindi, and murdered.

According to an eye witnesses of the horrific incident, on August 16 some buses on way from Rawalpindi to Astore were intercepted at Babusar by about 14 terrorists wearing commando uniforms and carrying walkie-talkies while dozens of their fellow terrorists stood on the nearby hills.
They ordered the passengers to step down and started enquiring about their sect. Those who belonged to Shia sect were taken aside and later shot dead in cold blood.

Four Sunni Muslims were also killed, after they protested and tried to tell the gunmen not to kill innocent Shia Muslims. One Shia man who survived the massacre said he had been saved because Sunni fellow passengers asked to identify Shia refused to help the killers, despite being beaten themselves.
This was the second such incident. In March a Gilgit bound bus was intercepted and 18 Shia passengers were slaughtered by terrorists wearing army uniforms.

The Ulema of Gilgit, Baltistan and from all schools of thought condemned the incident and termed it a heinous crime and declared that terrorists are not Muslim, rather they are anti Muslim and anti-Islam.

Although persecution of minorities is quite common in Pakistan, these organised killings, which have been claimed by a Taliban organisation, stand out, and may have a more than religious significance. Historically linked to Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit was separated from it by the British, who saw the region as strategically important because it borders on China and Afghanistan, and might stand in the path of any Russian advance. They stationed a mercenary force there under British command.

With partition in 1947 the Indian government intended to return Gilgit to Kashmir, but while most of Kashmir has been taken over by India, Gilgit Baltistan is closer to the Pakistan-occupied Azad (supposedly "free") Kashmir. As Shi'ites the people in Gilgit fear that transfer from Pakistan to Azad Kashmir would be stepping from the frying pan into the fire of Sunni domination.

Pakistani human rights groups accuse the country's security agencies of backing Sunni militants and failing to protect the minority groups of the country. "The killings are doubtless the work of those who want to destroy Pakistan, but a failure to nab and punish the killers is also contributing to the same end ... the Taliban (are) nobody's friends and those who created this monster have taken Pakistan down the road to annihilation," said Pakistan's non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a statement, directly holding the Taliban and state agencies responsible for the massacre.

The Taliban, whose militant Wahabbi brand of Islam hailed like much of their material backing, from Saudi Arabia, may wage war on the Gilgit Shi'ites not just from sectarian motoves but to strengthen their power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, what used to be North West Frontier
province. Likewise the armed groups which Pakistan military intelligence has supported in Kashmir, turning what should be an independence strugle into a sectarian jihad, may resent having an autonomous mainly-Shi'ite region in their rear.

Some Pakisatanis see a wider conflict in the background. "It is somehow linked to the 'war on terror' and US policies in the region, especially its policy towards Iran," Sartaj Khan, an editor in Karachi, told DW. "I think the US and Pakistani agencies, with the backing of Saudi Arabia, are arming militant Sunni groups to suppress the Shias in the region to kill any possible support for Iran."

Khan added that the Pakistani agencies had given a "free hand" to militant organizations like the Sipah-e-Sahaba, a Sunni organization believed to be responsible for various attacks on Pakistani Shias in the past, to operate in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Karachi-based Shia activist Syed Ali Mujtaba Zaidi also blamed US policies in the region for the instability in Pakistan's northern areas and the conflict between the Shias and Sunnis. "The US intends to demoralize us, make us feel hopeless and helpless, so that it can continue to play its politics in the region. Its main motive is to counter China and Iran." Zaidi told DW, adding that he believed extremists Sunni groups like the Taliban were working for the US' interests in the region.

Hameed Satti, a development consultant in Islamabad, said Pakistanis had a habit of blaming foreign countries for their problems, and that it was not surprising for him that the massacre of the Shias, which he believed was a result of state policies, was blamed on the US.,,16188813,00.html

To someone waiting to see if they might be pointed out, to be dragged off a bus, and killed, it must seem like a discussion on who is to blame, the master or his dangerous dog - even if the latter is out of control and has persuaded himself that he is killing for God.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

"Entry Denied" : Israeli forces lock out visitors to West Bank

AS the Swedish boat Estelle heads on its way to Gaza, aiming to challenge the Israeli blockade, Israeli forces have reminded us that they are also controlling access to the Palestinian West Bank.

Last year people coming from abroad were stopped at Ben Gurion airport. The Israeli government's influence even extended to stopping some individuals in Europe boarding planes.

"Reasonable" people suggested helpflly that those who wanted to visit the West Bank should travel via Jordan and present themselves at the Jordan bridge crossings. That's what some have just tried. Here's what happened:

About 7.30 pm, more than a hundred activists from all over the world arrived from Jordan to the Israeli border crossings at the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, telling that they on their way to Bethlehem at the invitation of its Palestinian governor and of civil society organizations there, and that they were carrying with them notebooks and school equipment for Palestinian pupils about to begin their school year.

However, their entry into the West Bank was denied. In the Israeli-controlled area of the Allenby Bridge was seen a major alert of military forces, and journalists there were told that the area had been declared "a closed military zone".

"They did not even let us get off the bus," said Olivia Zemor of Paris, one of the organizers of the visit. "They collected our passports and a few minutes later returned them with each and every passport stamped 'Entry denied'. The soldiers refused to give any explanation, they just said - that's it, your entry is denied, go back to Jordan."

Zemour noted that last year, when she and her fellows tried to reach the Palestinian Territories through Ben Gurion Airport, they were told, "Why don't you come through the Jordan bridges?". "So we did try to get through the Jordan bridges, and now we got a definite answer from the government of Israel."

"Violent settlers, those who under the name of 'price tag' set olive trees and mosques on fire, are all the time getting reinforcements from abroad. For the settlers' friends, Jews and Christians, Israel's border crossings are wide open. From the airport they go to the settlements" says Adam Keller, Gush Shalom Spokesperson.

"When the Palestinians living under Israel's rule try to invite guests to come and visit them, the government of Israel instructs the army and police to block their way. The government has the power and the ability to act in such a belligerent and arbitrary way. But by so doing, the government ends up emphasizing and demonstrating to the entire world that – despite the so- called 'judicial report' which the government commissioned from Judge Edmond Levy - the territory is indeed under an oppressive occupation".

I expect that as with the Gaza blockade, we will hear those for whom Israel can do no wrong repeating like an endless tape or record with the needle stuck that the IDF is acting purely defensively to prevent "terrorist attacks....rockets....missiles....rocket attacks".

Well, you never know, those pencils could be used to poke soldiers' eyes out if the children-who -are- all- raised -as - terrorists can stand on each others' shoulders, and pages from notebooks can easily be fashioned into pellets to be fired as missiles, if we let them get hold of elastic bands.

Of course others more nasty-minded may malevolently suggest that the object of the Israeli occupiers (if we are permitted to call them that) is to make the lives of Palestinians as unpleasant as possible, prevent development, and deny anything which might help their morale, such as visits from abroad, so as better to break their spirit and encourage them to emigrate.

Meanwhile, besides stopping legitimate access and goods just to show that it can, the IDF is facilitating the invasion of the West Bank by hundreds of other foreigners, not only to join the settlers, but by recruiting them to its ranks. Using the war hysteria built up over Iran, it is enlisting young American Jews who will probably end up reinforcing the occupation, and asserting dominance over people whose language they do not understand and whose rights they do not respect.

Israeli soldiers, at least those critical of the occupation, say these extra numbers are not needed, and could find better things to do. But for the Israeli government, giving young Americans the opportunity to strut around with guns is not just about strengthening the occupation of the West Bank. Drawing them into this dirty work is a way of reinforcing the Zionist grip over American Jews, which is also insecure.,,16195059,00.html

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Guardian does the right thing but is it the right way?

TEXAS "TRIGGER" must hit the trail

THIS is Joshua Trevino, whom the Guardian newspaper had lined up recently to reinforce its US political coverage, tweeting on 31 May 2011: 'Today is the one-year anniversary of the Gaza flotilla, on which I salute the IDF for doing the right thing, the right way.'

Here is a reminder, from the Guardian itself, June 4, 2010, of what he was talking about:

Nine Turkish men on board the Mavi Marmara were shot a total of 30 times and five were killed by gunshot wounds to the head, according to the vice-chairman of the Turkish council of forensic medicine, which carried out the autopsies for the Turkish ministry of justice today.

The results revealed that a 60-year-old man, Ibrahim Bilgen, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. A 19-year-old, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also has US citizenship, was shot five times from less that 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Two other men were shot four times, and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back, said Yalcin Buyuk, vice-chairman of the council of forensic medicine.

Furkan Dogan had been armed with a video camera when he was shot.

Over in Texas, Joshua Trevino tweeted on June 3 2010:
“There are some Americans we’re better off without. Furkan Dogan is one of them'.

Then to make sure we -and the Israeli military - got the message, in June 2011, as several dozen Americans, including author Alice Walker and Kindertransport refugee Hedy Epstein attempted to set sail from Greece to Gaza, to break Israel’s blockade along with boats from other countries, Treviño tweeted, “Dear IDF: If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla – well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.” Joshua Treviño @jstrevino

Well now, after a boatload of protests about Trevino's appointment, which the Guardian had "explained" was to reflect the rise of the Republican right in US politics, the liberal newspaper has apparently realised that this is one American it could do without. It has decided to drop Trevino. You might say that it is doing the right thing; but is it doing it the right way?

Here, in contrast to the background we have described, is the official explanation:

Joint statement from the Guardian and Joshua Treviño

Joshua Treviño wrote a piece for the Guardian on February 28, 2011 titled "Peter King has hearings, but is he listening?" The Guardian recently learned that shortly before writing this article the author was a consultant for an agency that had Malaysian business interests and that he ran a website called Malaysia Matters. In keeping with the Guardian's editorial code this should have been disclosed.

"Under our guidelines, the relationship between Joshua and the agency should have been disclosed before the piece was published in order to give full clarity to our readers," said Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief, Guardian US."

I vigorously affirm that nothing unethical was done and I have been open with the Guardian in this matter. Nevertheless, the Guardian’s guidelines are necessarily broad, and I agree that they must be respected as such," said Joshua Treviño.

We have therefore mutually agreed to go our separate ways and wish each other the best of luck.

So, Trevino has to go, but it's nothing to do with his enthusiasm for seeing people murdered when they are trying to take aid to Gaza! Ironically, it seems this cheerleader for the Israeli forces had a daytime job working for the business interests of the government of Malaysia, which likes to keep its Muslim credentials and does not recognise the State of Israel. It was Malaysia in fact which wanted Israel taken to the International Court of Justice for its criminal action on the Mavi Marmara.

Oh well, that is journalism for you!

Perhaps like the US authorities jailing Al Capone on charges of tax evasion, or conversely, the British government digging up the Official Solicitor to provide a legal formula by which the Pentonville Five dockers could be freed, the Guardian wanted to do the right thing but felt it had to find a face-saving method for doing so.

This way it can ease some of the pain and protest from readers and Palestinian supporters, without admitting they were right, and try to assure the Zionist Lobby that it is not giving in to the protesters. I suspect that trying to avoid the issues this way is only at best postponing them. One might almost sympathise if the newspaper had not been responsible in the first place for getting itself into the mess.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Life and Death is Not a Game

AS the torch is lit and the media geared for the Paralympic Games due to open next week, let's not forget the sick and disabled people throughout the country who might never make the front-page but do find themselves thrust into the front line fighting this government's determination to make the poorest and weakest in society pay for the wealthy bankers' crisis.

They face the government, determined to slash benefits even if it means spending millions hiring companies to "assess" and advise on claims (and incidentally remove civil servants' jobs by transferring their work to the profit-making private sector). As if they were not ill enough already, they face the worry and ordeal of assessments supposedly to see if they are fit for work, as though there were that many suitable jobs out there even for the able-bodied. (To be fair, this started under the New Labour government. But this lot have happily inherited it).

They also increasingly face harassment and violence from the ignorant lumpen, for whom attacks from the media and government on supposed "benefit cheats" are , like the attacks on "bogus asylum seekers" before, a green light to go ahead with cowardly attacks on the most vulnerable victims they can find.

But these, as we shall see, are not their only enemies.

The top firm making money out of making these "assessments" is ATOS, which just to rub it in is trying to improve its PR image by sponsoring the Paralympics. But the struggle which sick and disabled people are having to go through is not a game. It is a matter of life and death.

Here's an extract from Hansard on a question asked in Parliament in December:

Tom Greatrex: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people have been found fit for work under the work capability assessment who had submitted an appeal against that decision and subsequently died prior to the appeal being heard. [87678]

Chris Grayling: The Department for Work and Pensions does not record the information requested. However, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) management information indicates that between October 2008 and October 2011, the most recent reported period, 31 appeals against decisions relating to work capability assessments have been withdrawn following the notification of death of the appellant. HMCTS cannot identify which of these appeals were against decisions where the appellant was assessed as fit for work.

Fortunately not everybody in the press is covering for the government. Chris Sommerlad and Andrew Penman reported in the Mirror on April 12 that people were dying at the rate of 32 per week after being found "fit" for work and denied incapacity benefit.

"We've used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that, between January and August last year, 1,100 claimants died after they were put in the 'work-related activity group'. "

While the government might not want to even look at the grim statistics, others are not only clocking them but looking further, into the stories behind them. Stories like that of Elaine Christian, whose body was found laying in a drainage stream after she had been reported missing.

"A post mortem revealed she had died from drowning, despite having more than ten self-inflicted cuts on her wrists. The inquest in Hull was told Mrs Christian had been worrying about a meeting she was due to have to discuss her entitlement to disability benefits.

Her spiralling health problems meant she had to give up her job at Cooplands bakery in Greenwich Avenue, where she was described as a cheerful, hardworking and trusted staff member.

George, from Chesterfield, Derbyshire, worked all his life, first as a miner and foundry worker, then as a communications engineer, until a heart attack in 2006 when he was 53.

After a brief stint working self-employed his doctor told him to stop and George applied for ESA. It's worth £91 to £97 a week but like everyone else George got £65 a week - the equivalent to Jobseeker's Allowance - for three months while he waited for his "work capability assessment".

These tests, carried out under a £100million a year contract by private firm Atos Origin, were introduced by the last government. They've been finding up to two in three applicants are "fit to work" - but many appeal and 40% are successful.

In George's 39-minute exam, the "disability analyst" noted that George had angina, heart disease and chest pain, even when resting. But this wasn't "uncontrollable or life-threatening" and George "should be able to walk at least 200 metres".

Atos's report went to the Department for Work and Pensions, where George's heart problems were ignored and he got six sick "points", as he could only stand up for less than half an hour due to pain.

Short of the 15 points needed to get ESA, George was put on Jobseeker's Allowance and told to find work. He appealed, waiting eight months for his case to go to an independent tribunal. There George got nine more points, as he could only walk 100 metres before stopping.

He was put on the "work related activity" group where he got the lower rate of benefit and special help finding a suitable job. But months later George collapsed and died of a heart attack, the day before another Atos medical. His widow is convinced the stress of claiming killed him.

Atos Healthcare has a £110m-a-year contract with the Department of Work and Pensions to assess whether disabled and sick people are entitled to claim the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or whether they are fit for work.

The contract has been the subject of an adverse report from the National Audit Office (NAO) which comes after numerous thwarted attempts by MPs to find out more about the performance targets and financial penalties in place. The government has refused to answer these questions claiming the information is “commercially confidential”.

Secret filming of training given to doctors recruited by Atos suggests that staff are monitored to ensure they do not find excessive numbers of claimants eligible for benefit. Both the government and the company have consistently denied there were fixed targets.

The film also showed some trainers employed by Atos to teach new recruits how to carry out the tests felt uneasy about revised criteria introduced, making it harder for some very severely disabled claimants to qualify for support. No matter how serious claimants problems are with their arms, for example, "as long as you've got one finger, and you can press a button," they would be found fit for work.

Dr Steve Bick, a GP with 20 years' experience, applied for a job as an assessor with Atos to carry out the work capability assessment (WCA), and secretly filmed his training for Channel 4's Dispatches programme. Bick was told by his trainer that he would be watched carefully over the number of applicants he found eligible for the highest rate of disability payments. The trainer tells trainee assessors: "If it's more than I think 12% or 13%, you will be fed back 'your rate is too high.'" When Bick questioned how the company could know in advance the precise proportion of people who needed to be put in this category, the trainer replied: "How do we know? I don't know who set the criteria but that's what we are being told."

One of the trainers admits during a session that the auditing process makes her feel uncomfortable. "It's terrible sometimes, people having [problems with] both hips and both knees, but good hands. Terrible. And you know, we talk about modern work adaptations, but we know how it looks from the other side – there's no jobs for normal people, healthy people. But we have to think this way and sometimes you feel awful because you can't do anything for people. You can't feel sorry and give them the money just because you feel sorry for them ... you will go on targeted audit," she says. (Channel Four Despatches, July 30)

Large numbers of people found ineligible for the benefit are appealing against the decision to find them fit for work; about 41% of those refused support go to tribunal and 30% are subsequently granted the benefit. There have been more than 600,000 appeals since the WCA started, costing about £60m a year.

But clearly many people are either unable to appeal or don't make it through their torment and tribulations to see it through. In the case of Elaine Christian, above, taken from a site called Calum's List, which records such tragedies, the threat of testing and destiution was enough to drive her to her death. Here is another case from Calum's List:

Karen Sherlock – DWP/ATOS Say ”Fit For Work.”

In the midst of ill health and a kidney transplant, Karen spent two years fighting the DWP and ATOS for help.

Her husband Nigel said it was a disgrace she was refused benefits and said her battle finally took its toll on her health. Although she struggled to get out of bed, it was deemed she could work by officials at Atos Healthcare, which assesses benefits claimants on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions. Karen lost an appeal against the decision. In April her £96-a-week benefits were stopped, plunging her into despair as her health deteriorated. Karen died on 8th June.

The Express – Karen Sherlock – Rest In Peace

As I've said, the disabled face more than one kind of assailant.

An interesting one, brought to our attention by a blogger called Reuben on The Third Estate, is Brendan O'Neill, writing in the Daily Telegraph.

"On Tuesday he took the opportunity to smear Calum’s List, a website dedicated to compiling information about those deaths, particularly suicides, where welfare reform has been “alleged to have had some culpability”.

O’Neill used Calum’s List to exemplify what he called the “highly patronising… victorian-style pity-politics” of the campaign against welfare reform. Such campaigners, he said, lack “any constituency of grassroots support, any backing from ordinary people, and so must try to raise an army of dead people instead”. He contrasted such “pity politics” with what he saw as the much better “politics of solidarity”. Calum’s List he said were “exploiting” suicide victims.

The response from Calum’s List illustrated, with absolute clarity, the sheer baselessness of these assertions:

Calum’s List is written by the disabled, and by people who are bereft… a group of disabled people, widows, widowers, bereaved parents and orphans trying to find a voice

This website isn’t exploiting people. It has been put together by FRIENDS, RELATIVES & THOSE DIRECTLY AFFECTED

You may not be suprised to find a writer in the Torygraph picking on people whose exposure of what is happening to claimants and the Welfare State is an embarassment to the government. After all, the newspaper's poor but honest owners, the Barclay brothers, though they also own the Ritz, were reduced to building a £60 million mansion on the Channel isle of Brecqhou so they could get some peace and quiet from the Inland Revenue. They have also had to make cuts of their own. When they took over Littlewoods they stopped the firm's tradition of donating 1 per cent of its profits to charity.

But Mr.O'Neill, who specialises in exposing lefties and people campaigning against austerity, yet evidently failed to do his homework before he made his ill-informed attack on Calum's List, is not just any old right-wing hack.

He began his career at Living Marxism, the journal of the late Revolutionary Communist Party(RCP) (1984-97), which metamorphosed by way of economically rebranding itself "LM" and losing a libel action brought by ITN jounalists whom it accused of inventing atrocities in Bosnia, into something called "Spiked", of which Brendan O'Neill succeeded Mick Hume as editor. O'Neill has written for, among others, The Guardian. The New Statesman, The Australian, the Christian Science Monitor and The American Conservative.

Led by academic Frank Furedi, the RCP/LM was not unique in producing graduates who crossed to the other side. But it distinguished itself by evolving collectively to the Right, shedding those who still thought Marxism had something to do with the working class, so Furedi's high fliers did not need to depart the flock. Besides Brendan O'Neill, and Mick Hume at the Times, there's Claire Fox, founder of the Institute of Ideas, as a regular guest on the BBC's Moral Maze. Her younger sister Fiona, who used to write in LM as Fiona Foster and headed the RCP's front Irish Freedom Movement, was appointed to the Science Media Centre in December 2001, and despite having no scientific background became an "expert" on science and how it was presented.

I've written before about Joan Hoey, who used to write in LM expressing her doubts about the Srebrenica massacre, and was secretary of another RCP front, the Campaign Against Militarism, before going by way of the Centre for Defence & International Security Studies to the Economist Intelligence Unit, and is now the Economist Balkan specialist.

Kate Davies, who as Kate Marshall was general secretary of the RCP, is now well-paid CEO of the Notting Hill Housing Trust, married to a senior officer of Hammersmith and Fulham's armslength Hammesmith Homes, which is divesting the borough of council housing, and has written for London Tories on how local councils can encourage home ownership.

It was a three hour Channel Four programme in which Frank Furedi appeared, challenging global warming fears, that aroused environmentalists' interest in its RCP/LM background and the possible links with business lobbyists. Some time before this I'd been alerted to the RCP guru's evolution by an article he wrote in the Guardian, while still wearing his radical hat, arguing that trade unions and others in this country were far too obsessed with health and safety concerns.

It struck me at the time that in a bourgeois democracy at least, there are fewer occupational hazards and risks for journalists and sociology professors than for say, building workers or quarrymen. (Though those academics who take sides with us on safety may find themselves on blacklists). The assault on health and safety "obsession" became the stuff of tabloid media tales and jokes and now it is the policy of David Cameron's government.

Brendan O'Neill and "Spiked Online" have continued the libertarian campaign against supposed hand-wringing middle class liberals interfering with the responsibility of individuals to look after themselves, though he has plainly come a cropper trying to impose this false picture on the Calum's List initiative.

In line with the same Tory theme, protecting the right to exploit by supposedly defending our "freedom" to be exploited, I see that as someone on the Third Estate has pointed out, O'Neill rejected suggestions there was anything wrong with the treatment of unemployed people used as unpaid "volunteers" for the Jubilee events.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Something rotten at the Guardian
FURKAN DOGAN , 19-year old student wanted to be doctor, shot dead by Israeli troops as he tried to video them storming aid flotilla. Trevino said "better off without" him.

THERE'S something rotten at the Guardian. And its name is Joshua Trevino. The fanous liberal newspaper has somehow persaded itself, or been persuaded, that its US political coverage would be improved by the recruitment of a Texan, formerly with the Texas Public Policy Forum, who went on record last year saying that if Israeli forces intercepted an aid boat for Gaza and shot Americans on board, "well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me."

Apparently this was not the first time. He had said the same about a young American-born student who was shot and killed in the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla. As Sarah Colbourne of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign tells us:
On 3 June 2010, Treviño tweeted, “There are some Americans we’re better off without. Furkan Dogan is one of them'.

The UN Human Rights Council report found that 19-year-old Furkan was filming the attack with a small video camera when he was shot five times by Israeli commandos - including a shot to the back of his head.

Sarah is one of a number of people who've signed a lettter to the Guardian expressing "shock and dismay" at the paper's bringing in Trevino:tion.

"In what way does publishing a man who clearly has no regard for the rule of law, and who advocates the killing of his fellow citizens by a foreign army, enhance the Guardian's reputation as a serious newspaper? The extremist views of people like Treviño, who have no hesitation in wishing death upon those who disagree with them, can be found on countless sensationalist, racist and hate-speech websites. They have no place in a reputable publication."

Among other signatories are CND vice president Bruce Kent, Diana Neslen of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, Professors Stephen Rose of the Open University and Hilary Rose of LSE, Canon Garth Hewitt, St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, and Victoria Brittain, former associate foreign editor at the Guardian.

An attempt by Trevino to supposedly "clarify" what he said by surrounding it with waffle brought this response:

Trevino's Risible Clarification

As some one who might also have been a target of his lethal opinion, I find Travino
's "clarification" a desperate and mealy mouthed attempt to salvage his image. What he said, "Dear IDF: If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla – well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me." was unequivocal, it clearly expressed his beliefs. To try to excuse it as “badly marred by its lack of rhetorical integrity” is risible.

That he “actively urged the IDF to shoot Americans, that (he) welcomed their death, or that (he) hoped for that outcome” was his categorical statement. The current meaning of “cool” is ‘approval’,‘great’, ‘well done’ When he says, “Nothing could be further from the truth” he is, having run into a storm, attempting to turn his own unpalatable conviction on its head.

He says, “Above all, I have worked for policies and a society that I believe gives the most hope to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized”. Perhaps he should pay more attention to the 77% of Israeli Palestinian children who live below the poverty line, to the 24,000 Palestinian families made homeless by the demolition of their homes, to the 30-40,000 Bedouin due to be cleared from 45 villages under the Prawer Plan, to the statement by an Israeli general that no one in Gaza now dies of old age, to the reports by Israeli Human Rights groups which detail the maltreatment and torture of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

By his own admission he says, “I was quick, intemperate, and too clever-by-half. I failed as a writer. And that is not the fault of my readers, but of myself.”

What on earth is the Guardian doing to its reputation by employing such a journalist? You have made a serious error of judgment and should have the courage to divest yourselves of this ranter.

Glyn Secker

Captain of the Jewish Boat To Gaza, 2010

Jews For Justice For Palestinians

Another person who has commented is Dror Feiler, on Facebook:

The Guardian is hiring Joshua Treviño who was endorsing the killing of unarmed civilians (among them myself)

"In June 2011, as several boats carrying unarmed civilian activists attempted to set sail from ports in southern Europe to break the blockade of Gaza, Treviño tweeted out a message to the Israeli army: "Dear IDF: If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla - well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me."

When another Twitter user called on Israel to "sink the flotilla", Treviño chimed in that the effort to reach Gaza was "not morally different from a Nazi convoy". A third Twitter user asked Treviño point blank if he was "Endorsing killing Americans overseas," and Treviño left no room for doubt: "Sure, if they adhere to our enemies. Flotilla participants do."

Among the passengers, whose killing by Israel Treviño endorsed, were poet and author Alice Walker, elderly Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and several journalists, including Joseph Dana on assignment for The Nation.

I'll lay my cards on the table. I had many friends and colleagues who travelled on these and previous boats, and I do take calls for their murder personally. And Treviño knew that a year earlier, Israeli forces had shot dead nine unarmed civilians attempting the same journey aboard the Mavi Marmara".

Dror Feiler was aboard one of the ships in the Gaza flotilla stormed by Israeli commandoes on May 31, 2010 and in 2011, he was involved in the Freedom Flotilla II, and among the 15 activists arrested by Israeli authorities aboard the boat Dignité. He was deported from Israel, and I understand he was banned from re-entering, though he was Israeli born and his parents still live there.

Incidentally, I see the animals down at "CiF Watch" , (dedicated to "monitoring and confronting antisemitism and the assault on Israel's legitimacy at the Guardian and its blog Comment is Free") have correctly identified Dror as among other things chairman of the Swedish organization Jews for Israeli–Palestinian Peace (JIPF) and of the European organization European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP), but they nevertheless refer to him as a "terrorist".
I presume they are not referring to his military service with the Israeli paratroops, when he declined to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Dror has been the target of unknown assailants while he was working for the current Swedish ship to Gaza.

It was at the founding conference of European Jews for Just Peace in Amsterdam that I first met Dror, and his fellow Swedish activist Henry Ascher. The son of refugees from Germany, Henry spent over a year working as a children's physician in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. He too was on the 2010 Gaza flotilla.

I was there as one of the representatives of the Jewish Socialists' Group from Britain, which was also a founder member of European Jews for Just Peace. So I guess for CiF's watchdogs that makes us all "terrorists".

We're not of course.

All the same, should anything unpleasant happen to Joshua Trevino and/or to his friends at CiF, particularly if it followed further Israeli attacks on those taking part in aid flotillas, then speaking personally, I might be "cool" with that.

But what I'd much rather see right now, not just for the Guardian's reputation but considering the resolutions passed by NUJ conferences on Palestine and boycotts to help human rights, would be for action to be taken over Mr. Trevino by that newspaper's contributors and staff. It should be a matter of conscience and their self-respect.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Massacre at Marikana

AS distraught wives and relatives of missing miners waited in vain outside the morgue to see if their loved one was among those shot by South African police, the Lonmin bosses of the Marikana platinum mine issued an ultimatum to strikers to return to work today or be sacked.
"The final ultimatum provides rock drill operators with a last opportunity to return to work or face possible dismissal," said spokeswoman Gillian Findlay. "Employees could therefore be dismissed if they fail to heed it."

At least 34 workers were killed when police opened fire at strikers at the mine. The police said later that they had come under fire themselves, and two policemen had been killed in an earlier clash with miners said to be armed with machetes. In the scene we saw on television though the police show no sign of taking cover from gunfire but stand calmly in a row emptying automatic weapons at the crowd.

Workers at the mine about 60 miles north west of Johannesburg said they will press on with wage demands and slammed a return to work as "an insult" to their colleagues who were gunned down after police failed to disperse strikers on Thursday.

British-owned Lonmin is the world's third biggest platinum producer, but workers at Marikana mine and their families say it is time they saw some of the wealth that they bring out of the ground.

Thousands of miners and their families welcomed former African National Congress youth leader Julius Malema yesterday. He told the thousands who gathered at the mine that South African police "had no right to shoot."

Malema, who was expelled from the ANC in April for sowing division, said top-ranking ANC members had shares in the Lonmin company that owns the platinum mine and no interest in seeing miners earn higher wages. He called for President Jacob Zuma and his police minister to either resign or back the striking miners' wage demands.

Earlier Zuma had condemned the killings but made no reference to the handling of the situation by the police. "We are shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence," he said. "We believe there is enough space in our democratic order for any dispute to be resolved through dialogue without any breaches of the law or violence.

"We call upon the labour movement and business to work with government to arrest the situation before it deteriorates any further. I have instructed law enforcement agencies to do everything possible to bring the situation under control and to bring the perpetrators of violence to book." Zuma added: "We extend our deepest condolences to the families of all who have lost their lives since the beginning of this violent action."

"The British are owning this mine," he said. "The British are making money out of this mine ... It is not the British who were killed. It is our black brothers. But it is not these brothers who are mourned by the president. Instead he goes to meet capitalists in air-conditioned offices."

"President Zuma said to the police they must act with maximum force. He did not say act with restraint. He presided over the murder of our people and therefore he must step down. "

The South African Communist Party welcomed President Zuma's commitment to a full inquiry and warned that it must include analysis of the company's role in the tragedy, in its use of contract labour and sowing division among its workforce.

"It is not possible to understand the tragedy without understanding how profit-maximising corporate greed has deliberately sought to undercut an established trade union and collective bargaining by conniving with demagogic forces," it warned.

It looks as though the massacre at Marikana was planned and deliberate, rather than police panicking. In a widely shown TV clip a South African police spokesperson indicated that “We are going to end this today”. What they were planning to end was the encampment outside the mine, organised by the strike leaders the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Unions.

This has been presented as a clash between different unions, but what that ignores is the nature of the difference. The union which is accused of muscling in on the Marikana mine by "taking advantage" of workers' discontent is the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). His voice shaking with anger, its leader Joseph Mathunjwa accused the Lonmin management of colluding with a rival union to orchestrate the massacre. Mathunjwa told the eNews channel: "We have to send condolences to those families whose members were brutally murdered by a lack of co-operation from management. We have done our bit. If the management had changed their commitment, surely lives could have been saved."

The union which management nave preferred to deal with is the more established National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa. Its founder and former president Cyril Ramaphosa, played a leading role in the negotiations which brought about the present regime to replace apartheid. He also persuaded the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) to shelve calls for a Workers Charter, which would have included workers rights, public ownership and land reform, in favour of adopting the ANC's so-called Freedom Charter. The ANC, in which Ramaphosa became a leading figure, adopted its calls for racial equality into the new South African constitution, but not calls for land redistribution or nationalisation of industry

Ramaphosa turned from trade unions and politics to business. He is an executive chairman of Shanduka Group, which has investments in the resources Sector, energy, banking and real estate. He is chairman of the Bidwest group and has directorships in Standard Bank, AngloAmerican and other companies. Ramaphosa is a member of the Coca Cola company's international board, and Unilever'Africa Advisory Council.

If he can find the time, someone has proposed him this year to take over as ANC Secretary General.

The former NUM leader is also on the board of Lonmin.

Julus Malema told his audience at Marikana:

"Lonmin had a high political connection that is why our people were killed. They were killed to protect the shares of Cyril Ramaphosa." He said that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was no longer a union that represented the interests of the workers but was interested in making more money. "NUM is not a union, it's a company. They hold shares in mining companies, that is why when there are problems in the mines they are the first to sell out the workers."

People listened intently to Maloma's speech, cheering his attacks on the government and his call for Lonmin to be taken into public ownership.

Aubrey Matshiqi, a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation, said: "I think the people of Marikana, particularly the miners, see themselves as the manifestation of the gap between mineral wealth and socioeconomic conditions. The death of so many miners has amplified the extent to which Julius Malema's views on mine nationalisation resonate with the people in the area."

The massacre at Marikana is not the first time the South African state has clashed with workers. All the same its scale has shocked working people in South Africa and their friends around the world, who invested so much faith and hope in the new South Africa that would emerge from the anti-Apartheid struggle.

What has disgusted as well as opened the eyes of a lot of people on the left is the way the supposedly communist Morning Star went out of its way to blame the militant union for the killing, with a report on Friday

NUM: Rival union 'may have planned' mine violence

and quoting Frank Baleni of the NUM and a police spokesperson saying strikers had opened fire first.

Since then the Star has tried to adjust its line, with an editorial saying nothing could justify the killing.

But the Communist Party here and in South Africa has invested a lot of support in the current balance of the South African regime, which includes CP members. Cyril Ramaphosa has ben at least an ally of the Party, and Jacob Zuma was on the Central Committee for some years. Only last month the President spoke of the important part the Communist Party still has to play.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

A great life if you don't weaken

WE often hear that "America Leads the Way", which can be a worrying thought in several contexts. And here is one of them. In the world's richest country - and sure, we don't deny that people from poorer places desperately try to get in there to work for a piece of that wealth - millions of people cannot afford to go sick, or take time off to take care of their children.

That's on top of the fact that millions - possibly the same folks by and large - have no healthcare provision nor access to treatment.

For anyone who thinks it does not matter, because they are covered, here's a thought from Brooklyn councilman Brad Lander, taken from his election address:
Today, over a million working New Yorkers have no paid so sick days. Many work in places where disease is most likely to spread -- one survey showed that 84% of restaurant workers have no paid sick days, and more than half report going to work sick. Its bad for workers, bad for families, and bad for public health.

Brad was taking up the issue at city level, but of course it is a nationwide question.

Civic Engagement campaigners who are campaigning for paid sick leave say:

According to a "recent report" by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, the United States is the only industrial nation that does not guarantee paid sick leave for workers suffering from either short-term or long-term illnesses. This shocking finding means that forty million Americans – 40% of private-sector workers and more than 80% of low-wage workers — do not get paid sick days to care for their own health or that of a loved one. Not only does this injustice force caregivers to choose between their work lives and their family's well-being – it also poses a threat to public health. The same study revealed that adults without paid sick days are more likely than their counterparts with paid sick days to report going to work with a contagious illness (like the flu or a viral infection), risking infecting others.

Paid sick days would benefit the 66 million American adults who are unpaid caregivers for family members or friends, allowing them to manage both their caregiving responsibilities and the jobs they need to support their families. Furthermore, it would also save employers money. The cost of replacing workers - including advertising positions, interviewing, and training replacements - are in many cases greater than the cost of granting paid sick time in order to keep existing workers.

In 2009, Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced The Healthy Families Act - a measure that would require employers with 15 or more workers to grant their employees up to seven paid sick days a year to care for a child, a parent, a spouse or someone else close who became ill. A coalition of approximately 150 women's, civil rights, health, faith-based, and labor organizations (including the AFL-CIO, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Economic Policy Institute, Families USA and many others) has since formed to support the bill's passage. However, corporate lobbyists have taken great strides to block the legislation, causing the Healthy Families Initiative to languish in committee for the past three years.

We need your help to pressure our elected Representatives to salvage this crucial bill! In order to strengthen jobs and the economy, protect public health and give working families a helping hand - support the passage of paid sick days for all!

And here are some facts about US health care provision and the affects of lack of it:

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 49.9 million residents, 16.3% of the population, were uninsured in 2010 (up from 49.0 million residents, 16.1% of the population, in 2009).[1][2]

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States spent more on health care per capita ($7,146), and more on health care as percentage of its GDP (15.2%), than any other nation in 2008.[3] The United States had the fourth highest level of government health care spending per capita ($3,426), behind three countries with higher levels of GDP per capita: Monaco, Luxembourg, and Norway.[3]

A 2001 study in five states found that medical debt contributed to 46.2% of all personal bankruptcies and in 2007, 62.1% of filers for bankruptcies claimed high medical expenses.[4] Since then, health costs and the numbers of uninsured and underinsured have increased.[5]

Active debate about health care reform in the United States concerns questions of a right to health care, access, fairness, efficiency, cost, choice, value, and quality. Some have argued that the system does not deliver equivalent value for the money spent. The USA pays twice as much yet lags behind other wealthy nations in such measures as infant mortality and life expectancy.

Currently, the USA has a higher infant mortality rate than most of the world's industrialized nations.[nb 1][6] In the United States life expectancy is 42nd in the world, after some other industrialized nations, lagging the other nations of the G5 (Japan, France, Germany, UK, USA) and just after Chile (35th) and Cuba (37th).[7]

Life expectancy at birth in the USA, 78.49, is 50th in the world, below most developed nations and some developing nations.

That's extracted from the Wikipedia article on US health care provision which also tells us that:

In the United States, ownership of the health care system is mainly in private hands, though federal, state, county, and city governments also own certain facilities.

And of course:

As in most other countries, the manufacture and production of pharmaceuticals and medical devices is carried out by private companies.

So when Republican Mitt Romney boasts that the United States spends more of its GDP on health care than most other countries, you need not be a genius to figure out possible reasons why there's a wide gap between what is spent and what is provided, besides the difference between the care you can get if you are rich and what others receive, if they are lucky.

US Republicans, neo cons and Tea Party nutters have been trying to terrify Americans with horror stories about Britain's NHS, socialised health care and supposed "rationing". Sometimes the scare stories may be boosted by British hacks who are in the pocket of private health insurers or providers.

Having worked in, as well as used, our National Health Service, I do think it has rooms for improvement.

But what we are scared of here is that our government admires the American way, and is intent on privatising as well as attacking benefits.

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