Thursday, August 28, 2014

How much independence can you have with TTIP?

LOTS of discussion as the date draws near for Scots to vote on independence. We hear Alec Salmond of the Scottish National Party trounced Labour's former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling in debate, the latter of course heading up the 'No' campaign.

I say "of course", though Labour's founder James Keir Hardie was in favour of Home Rule, and is being claimed by 'Yes' campaigners, even those in the SNP itself. Whereas Darling in the 'Better Together' campaign is together with the Tories whom Keir Hardie despised, as he would the war and privatisation policies of New Labour in government, of which Darling was a part.

Whatever his attitude to Scottish independence might have been, what Keir Hardie stood for, whether in his Ayrshire coalfield beginnings, campaigning in West Ham South, or entering the House of Commons with his cloth cap, was the political independence of the working class, which was why his Independent Labour Party was formed.

Friends of mine are divided on which way to vote on independence. From a working class point of view I can see arguments for and against. Having been able to boast there are fewer Tory MPs in Scotland than pandas in the Edinburgh zoo (and its no question which the public loves and prefers to see, it aint Tories!) , Scottish people smart at having to remain subject to a Tory government at Westminster elected by southern English votes. They want to defend their health services and education, and wish their country's oil wealth could have been put to better use than boosting the City of London speculators.

Far from being mere nationalists, some are internationalist; enough to want to see Scotland free to pursue its own foreign policy, establishing new friendships, while ceasing to be used as a nuclear submarine base or source of regiments for imperialist ventures around the world.

On the other hand, it is hard to see Alec Salmond and his party going that far, when he has been at pains to pledge Scotland's continued contribution to NATO and stress that the Queen, and not he or any other prime minister, would remain head of "our" armed forces.

Meanwhile, Scotland's departure would leave us weakened in England and Wales, removing more than forty Labour MPs from facing the Tories at Westminster. Not all those Scottish MPs are like Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, some of them are socialists.

All the same, I can't begrudge my Scottish comrades, who have already experienced having Scottish Socialist MSPs, the chance to give this government a kick up the jaxy and break for freedom, while they wait for us to catch up.

Looking at some of those urging a 'No' vote would be enough to persuade me to vote 'Yes'.  Who wants to stay "together" with Cameron and Boris, or Darling and Gordon?  Do Scots have to listen to no longer Gorgeous Georgie paying a return to Dundee to denounce what he called "Reds in Kilts", or to the Orange Order banging its big drums in Edinburgh on September 13 demanding a 'No' vote?
(According to blogging ex-diplomat and 'Yes' supporter Craig Murray the BBC has decided not to cover this in case it gives the 'No' campaign a bad image. Too late, Beeb, we'll do our best to spread it.)

 Something that's been interesting me since the Grangemouth dispute last year is whether an independent Scottish government elected on a mood of confidence in a better future could sit back while a private company headquartered in Switzerland threatened to close Scotland's only oil refinery and much of Scottish industry?  The SNP could not stand up to this, and the Labour Party leadership preferred to bite the hand that feeds by joining the Tory attack on my trade union.

The SNP has also backed away from re-regulating public transport, let alone restoring public ownership, and this month Sir Brian Souter boss of Stagecoach  coughed up another £1 million to party funds.  On the other hand, the Better Together campaign received a £500,000 donation from businessman Ian Taylor, chief executive of the oil trading firm Vitol, to help secure a "no" vote in the referendum.

This starts to sound almost like the 1707 Act of Union, which a Scottish historian dubbed the "job" of the century, but now as then, there's more to this than private interests, the public are not as easily bought as MPs or  parties, and a vote for independence  does not necessarily mean  a vote for Alex Salmond's party. Like the referendum in 1997 which led to reopening a Scottish parliament, it could open up all sorts of new possibilities.

"But", asks a doubter, "in what sense can either Scotland or the rest of Great Britain ever be said to be independent when we are all controlled by the banks, the EU, and the IMF etc.? " Good question. To which, without going into whether it makes any difference whether we're talking about banks on Wall Street, in the City of London, or Edinburgh, I can only say these things are relative; and that we may as well find out.

One set of initials I've not seen mentioned in this debate, nor almost any other, is TTIP, standing for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The United States and European Union have been negotiating this since July 2013, and talks could be concluded by next year.

The annual conference of trades union councils held in Cardiff on June 14-15 adopted a resolution  from Ealing trades council warning that this agreement could enable big US and multinational companies which have already penetrated the National Health Service to complete their takeover.
"If the EU and the US agree to TTIP without excluding the NHS from its provisions, the result could mean the end of the NHS as a public service. Corporations could permanently have the legal right to run health services with or without approval of the British Government. The marketisation of the NHS under the Health and Social Care Act means that the NHS will no longer be categorised as a ‘public service’ and would therefore be included in the provisions of the TTIP wich restrict or prevent national governments from determining how industries are run. TTIP can override not only health and safety, but pay arrangements, union agreements and other basic standards. The markets take legal priority".
There were assurances afterwards that the NHS would be protected ("Safe in Our Hands"?) but the negotiations have been conducted largely in secrecy, and David Cameron sacked the minister who was supposed to be safeguardung the service.

The magazine New Internationalist reported earlier this year that the TTIP and its equivalent in the Pacific would "swing the power balance away from states in favour of big business". Giving '10 Reasons to be worried about the trojan treaties',  Hazel Healy instanced US firms wanting to remove EU food-labelling laws and restrictions; US tobacco giant Philip Morris suing governments which tried to combat smoking; US investors wanting to take away workers' right to organise in unions; and moves affecting both health services and the environment. As a sign of things to come, under the North Atlantic Free Trade Area (NAFTA) agreement a US company was suing Canada for $250 million because Quebec province banned fracking.

The development charity War on Want has also warned that TTIP could endanger decades of campaigning  and legislation on issues from food safety and hygiene to banking laws and labour rights. War on Want executive director John Hilary has written a  book about it.

What is noticeable is that while trade unionists have raised concerns about this secret treaty  and campaigners have sought to make us aware of the dangers, we hear little on the media or from political parties, including those bold patriots in UKIP. It seems Farage's fighters want to defend our freedom from "Brussels Bureaucrats" and Polish plumbers, but would not dream of saying a word against big corporations.

Would an independent Scotland defend its independence against big business, or will whatever we vote for be ignored, and whatever is passed by parliaments in Westminster or Holyrood be torn to shreds by big companies and their lawyers,  under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? We might as well find out now. And demand that governments we elect should not be bound by agreements we have not seen or had a say in.  

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

International campaign for Palestinian MP's freedom

KHALIDA JARRAR campaigns for rights by democratic means - so banned by occupiers.

WHILE keeping fingers crossed that the cease fire over Gaza lasts, enabling people there to rebuild and bringing an end to the siege, we must not lose sight of the wider ongoing struggle for Palestinian rights and freedom, without which there cannot be true peace with justice for either Israelis or Palestinians.

It was on the occupied Palestinian West Bank that Israeli forces used the disappearence of three teenagers as pretext to launch a pre-planned campaign of arrests and raids on homes, before they turned on Gaza, and the repression there continues. Now an international campaign has been launched focussing on the case of one particular Palestinian political leader, Khalida Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who has been served with an expulsion order: 

"On August 20 at 1:30 AM, Ms. Jarrar’s Ramallah home was raided by 50 Israeli occupation soldiers who presented her with a “special supervision order,” written in Hebrew and read aloud in Arabic. This military order, signed off by an Israeli military court on the basis of unspecified and secret evidence, orders Jarrar expelled from her Ramallah home and forcibly transferred and confined within the city limits of Jericho for an initial period of six months; it was deemed effective within 24 hours.

"This order is a blatant injustice and is part and parcel of the ongoing Israeli occupation attempt to silence the voices of Palestinian political leaders and to confine and expel Palestinians. From the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948 – including members of Khalida Jarrar’s family – and the denial of their right to return for over 66 years; to the attempted deportation of Palestinian mayors outside Palestine; to the stripping of the Jerusalem ID’s of elected PLC members Mohammad Abu Tir, Ahmad Atoun, Mohammed Totah and Khaled Abu Arafah; to this expulsion order, there is a long line of Israeli attempts to threaten Palestinian life through displacement and expulsion.

"Khalida Jarrar has refused to sign the expulsion order, saying 'you, the occupation, are killing our Palestinian people. You practice mass arests, demolish homes, kidnap people from their homes and deport them. It is you who must leave our home.'

"She has moved to stay in a “protest tent” outside the legislative council building in Ramallah. She announced that she is going to stay and continue her work from there until the decision is revoked."

Khalida Jarrar is a political  leader in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has evolved as a campaigning left-wing party from its past as a guerrilla factions in the Palestinian national movements. Besides being an elected MP she frequently takes part in popular demonstrations, and is a former executive director of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association and member of its board. She chairs the Prisoners’ Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Khalida Jarrar has been active recently in public protests on the West Bank against the Israeli onslaught on her people in Gaza, protests which have been forcibly repressed by the Israeli occupation forces.  

Unlike Hamas, the secular PFLP has always been noted for supporting women's rights and place in the struggle, and Khalida's supporters say she has been active in the Palestinian women’s movement since her student days.  "A feminist and prominent voice for the defense and expansion of women’s rights, she is a leading organizer of International Women’s Day events in Palestine".

 “Palestinian women are full partners in the Palestinian struggle,” she emphasizes.

Since 1998, she has been forbidden to travel outside occupied Palestine. When she needed medical treatment in Jordan in 2010, she struggled for months in a public campaign before finally receiving her treatment.

Pending the restoration of  Palestinian rights to East Jerusalem, Ramallah serves as the seat of Palestinian institutions including the Legislative Assembly. Telling an elected member they cannot reside there is like banning a British MP from Westminster.

Along with the detention of many MPs and restrictions on travel it is one more way in which "the only democracy in the Middle East", as Israel likes to boast itself, makes sure Palestinian democracy cannot function, and makes a mockery of its supposed agreement towards "two states". 

On the legal aspect, campaigners say : "The forced transfer of Khalida Jarrar violates international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits so-called 'assigned residence' unless it is “absolutely necessary” and forbids forced collective or individual transfer of protected persons from one area of occupied territory to another. The military order for Jarrar’s forced expulsion contains only vaguely worded references to 'intelligence information' and 'protecting the security of the region.'"

They also note: "The invasion of Jarrar’s home and the delivery of the expulsion “special supervision order” took place within so-called “Area A,” allegedly under the complete security control of the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Agreements. Despite this, Israeli occupying forces were allowed to enter Ramallah and invade Jarrar’s home; as Addameer notes, “the so-called ‘security co-ordination’ between Palestinian Authority security forces and Israeli occupying forces allowed for the expulsion of an elected representative of the Palestinian people, an elected representative who has continuously called for an end to such ‘coordination.’”

Launched by the North American-based Samidoun network for Palestinian political prisoners, the campaign in solidarity with Khalida Jarrar claims support from over 1,000 organisations worldwide, and is winning a wide range of supporters.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Humanitarian Mission Obstructed: Detention, Interrogation, Deportation of two London surgeons

SWEE CHAI ANG was the Singapore-born surgeon who was working in Beirut, and the Palestinian Sabra camp, in 1982, when the Israeli invasion took place. Later she went to Jerusalem to testify before the Kahane Commission about the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

I was proud to share a platform with Swee at a Palestinian demonstration in south London, and she also spoke at a Jewish Socialists' Group meeting, describing how she came to be working in Lebanon, as well as her experience there.

Swee Chai Ang's parents, practising Christians, had resisted Japanese occupation during World War II. Swee and her late partner Francis Khoo, both of whom had experienced political repression in Singapore, were among the founders of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

A week ago Swee and another surgeon flew to Israel in response to an urgent call for surgeons to work in Gaza.
They were not allowed to proceed on this humanitarian mission. Here is an account of what happened:


On Monday 18 August 2014, Dr Swee Chai Ang, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Patron of Medical Aid for Palestinians was accompanied by Dr Asif Chaudry, an Oesophagogastric/ Upper GI Surgeon working at Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital and Chelsea & Westminster Hospitals, to leave for Israel. Both had responded to the call for surgeons to go to Gaza to help treat the wounded a few weeks earlier on behalf of a MAP initiative. At the time of their departure, fifteen London consultants had already applied to work in Gaza.

This initiative was broadly in line though not directly accepted as part of a broader platform supported by DFID and the UK Government in terms of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza. The overall initiative also had the personal support of the Prime Minister, David Cameron as reported by the national media. Whilst applications for Gaza entry permits had been made prior to governmental support, confirmation of approval had not been forthcoming. As both surgeons had arranged for leave from their NHS commitments as the first team, they left as scheduled with the intention of supporting the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza either through direct clinical work or the support of medical training of the doctors in Gaza. Both doctors are Specialist fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

As there have been widespread reports of the Immigration authorities at Ben Gurion airport obstructing the entry of humanitarian workers to the occupied territories in general and Gaza in particular, and driven by the overwhelming imperative to assist the people of Gaza, the doctors proceeded to Tel Aviv with the intention of travelling to Jerusalem and remaining on standby to enter Gaza through the Erez checkpoint as soon as the permits were made available. The two doctors agreed among themselves that if permits were granted prior to arrival they would declare this at immigration, expecting this to trigger a thorough interrogation; on the other hand If there were no permits granted, they would simply ask for entry to Jerusalem and spend their week’s leave as “tourists” while on standby..

As the doctors boarded an Easyjet flight from London, Luton Airport bound for Tel Aviv, Israel, it was confirmed by Medical Aid for Palestinians that entry permits for Gaza had still not been granted, but the field staff of Medical Aid for Palestinians in Gaza were in negotiation with the Israeli Authorities. The flight departed at 11:10 am. The atmosphere on the plane was very pleasant and jovial, many of the doctors’ fellow passengers on-board were from Jewish families from north London, Eruv areas, and most had children and were in a holiday mood to spend the summer break in Israel.

1. The plane landed 17:40 18 August 2014 at Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv.

2. Dr Asif Chaudry and Dr Swee Chai Ang approached the Israeli passport control, a large open area with a high ‘modern terminal’ ceiling. Asif proceeded to the desk prior to Swee arriving at the border/passport control before 18:00.

3. From behind him in the queue, Swee could see that Asif was asked almost immediately to go to the security waiting hall for further assessment.

4. The officer at the first security desk, was young, presumably in her early 20s, she was polite, smiling throughout with an engaging manner: a little chatty. Her questions covered preliminary background information and the intended purpose of the visit: Name, Father’s, Grandfather’s name. Where are you going to go, which places will you visit? Asif mentioned various historical sites in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv/ Jaffa. Where are you staying? All questions were fairly brief and polite. Who are you travelling with? The officer seemed to scroll through details on a computer terminal and entered additional details. After a short period she asked Asif to go to a security waiting area/hall and he was told his name would be called. The waiting area was at the rear of the immigration hall, a small secluded enclosure with a few seats and a couple of drinks machines, this felt relatively open but had three uniformed security officers hovering around the entry point, all were relatively young possibly of Yemenite Sephardic background, all also wore IDF identity toggles. There were three offices along an adjoining open corridor. The one to the right had the most junior officers with the seniority of interrogators increasing as one sequentially progressed to the left. The general attitude also became somewhat more aggressive and restrictive as the person progresses towards the left office. There were bathroom facilities around the corner, with a water fountain, at the initial stage of the interrogation process it was possible to access this without any impedance, as matters progressed this was restricted.

5. Swee followed Asif in the queue and travelling as Mrs Khoo was given a B2 visa on a separate piece of paper in under 3 minutes. Swee then asked the passport officer for permission to join Asif in the security waiting hall since both were travelling together. It was granted by the passport officer who remained polite and friendly.

6. Asif returned to the waiting area to join Swee. Whilst waiting they both met two young American TEFL teachers who had intended to travel to teach in Nablus (African American man and White woman, both were subsequently deported). They also met two Italian young men who were questioned for over 4 hours as they had a single UAE stamp. There was also a Palestinian man originally from East Jerusalem who now resides with his Dutch family in the Netherlands. He had travelled to Tel Aviv with a Dutch passport and was desperate to visit his elder brother in his 80s who had recently been hospitalised in Jerusalem with a brain haemorrhage and had a terminal outlook. He had been held for 4 hours, and sobbing at his predicament that despite being in his own land, possessing a Jerusalem ID and a EU passport from the Netherlands he could not enter Jerusalem for just an hour to say farewell to his brother who had raised him. He had not visited Jerusalem for 12 years, and he just wanted to hold his 85 year old brother before he died. Asif later met him again in detention as he replaced him in his bunk later that night. He was being deported back to the Netherlands and had been told by the Israeli authorities he could try fly out to Amman from the Netherlands and cross the Allenby Bridge to get to Jerusalem. This alternative exercise would take at least 24 hours and his brother might have died by the time he made it.

7. After waiting for around an hour Asif was called in for a second interview: On this occasion he was asked to enter the first room on the right where he was met by a stocky young woman in her mid-20s, somewhat dishevelled, who essentially re-entered the same data he had been asked at the first Immigration counter. In addition he was asked to write his email address and mobile phone number in capitals on a pro-forma. This was all fairly brief, less engaging and matter of fact with no real cross examination. He was asked to write down the name of his ‘colleague’. Interestingly, no mention had hitherto been made about a professional connection between the two.

8. Asif returned to Swee in the waiting area. The two waited together for another hour.

9. Asif was asked to enter the third room from the right. He was met by a male security officer, in his early 30s, accompanied by a younger man in his early 20s, both looked tired, were in plain clothes wearing Chinos and casual shirts left untucked. The room looked a little rough, with a principle desk and a smaller desk in the back left corner for the younger officer. There were two separate desktop computers, both looking fairly old. On the wall to the right of the main desk there was a large picture bearing the official emblem of the State of Israel between a photo of ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and Shimon Peres. The approach in this room was much more akin to a Police interview/ interrogation. The younger assistant took notes, subsequently looked through devices and cross referenced points on the internet.

10. Asif was questioned: So what’s this all about? Why are you here? Why now? Just tourism to Jerusalem? Which places are you going to visit? Why? What interest do you have in them? Are you married? Do you have children? Who are you travelling with? Write her name in capitals on this sheet of paper. Call her in, call her in now! Get out! Get out of this room!

11. Asif asked Swee to enter the interrogation room. The male officer repeated his questions about where the two doctors had intended to go. He knew that Swee already had a B2 visa. He referred to both as colleagues assuming that they were not friends. Asif mentioned that it was his colleague in the previous room who had used the term ‘colleague’, this made him somewhat irate shouting ‘I don’t give a damn about the woman in the other room!’.

12. The focus moved almost entirely to Swee and her activities during her last visit in May. Swee told them that she was mainly in Jerusalem visiting Christian churches, but she also visited the al-Makassed Hospital and a handicapped children’s school. This became a major thread that they probed extensively. He continued to question why Swee had become interested in Makassed, why should a tourist visit a hospital. She told them that she had stayed at the Meridien hotel during the last visit and bumped into some Doctors in the lobby who had suggested she might want to visit their hospital in the Old City, in any case her visit had only been for an hour or so and she had not conducted any clinical work. The interrogator appeared to get increasingly irate and said this was not ‘normal’ tourism, visiting a hospital. The presumption was that a one hour visit to Makassed hospital disqualified Swee as a tourist. Asif tried to explain that as doctors we often like to see hospitals and explore healthcare in countries we visit out of professional curiosity. They became suspicious and asked if the two wanted to volunteer to work Israel. Swee denied this by saying that she had no work visa, and Asif would really like to see the Old City and Jerusalem, this being his first visit. At this point Swee also remembered that she had attended a Thalassemia Conference in Ramallah and met the orthodox Archbishop then but they were not interested. At this point they were angry and shouted that we should make up our minds whether we were colleagues or friends. We tried to explain that we are colleagues but also friends. At this point they got really loud and angry and asked Asif to get out, and Swee asked them if they wanted her out too, and they said yes. They thought people who do not know the difference between friends and colleagues are liars.

13. Asif and Swee sat in the waiting hall, not knowing what to expect. Swee decided to go back in to the interrogators and apologise to them for making them so angry. They told Swee curiously at this point that Asif ”will have to calm down”.

14. Swee came out to the security waiting hall and told Asif that they wanted him to calm down though she did not think Asif was wound up at all. After some time and following discussion Asif suggested it might be worthwhile returning to apologise to the interrogator, he approached the office and asked if he could enter the response was ‘no!’ he suggested he just wanted to apologise, the Officer said ‘nothing happened, we are all fine!’

15. Asif was called in again. As soon as he went in he was asked to place his phone and wallet on the table. He was then asked in detail about the places they intended to visit, he suggested he was very keen to visit the old city, Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the quarters, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Hebron for the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Masada and if time permitted Tel Aviv itself. They repeated the same question a number of times and sought further elaboration. They asked which hotel the two were going to stay in and whether he knew anyone in Israel, the West Bank or Gaza. He told them that he did not know anyone but his friend Mrs Khoo (Swee Ang) had made the arrangements as she knew Israel and Jerusalem in particular very well. They asked briefly about his previous visit in 2009 to Syria and family visit to Pakistan 4 years earlier, they didn’t seem particularly interested in this. The focus seemed to be on potential Humanitarian activities. Asif was told to ‘get out’ once again.

16. Swee was called in and they asked the name of her father and grandfather, and how did she book the flight ticket and how are they going to St George’s Hostel. She said they had a taxi and she knew the St George’s from before and it was not difficult to find it. The two of them told Swee that they needed to verify a few things and that everything would be alright.
She was told to go out to take a seat.

17. Whilst waiting for the next phase of questioning, Swee received a text from Mark McGuiness (a MAP fieldworker) who asked about progress through immigration. Swee replied with a text saying there had been some security delays and while pressing send, she was called back in and asked abruptly who she was she texting. The officers demanded her phone and her wallet. They were upset that she only had one visa debit card in her wallet. The next question was shocking as they asked if Swee had been imprisoned and detained before. This took Swee by surprise and she replied, ‘definitely not!’ as she assumed they were referring to Israel. The next question was if she ever worked in Beirut, Swee said ‘yes a long time ago‘. They then called her a liar and turned the computer over with 2 pictures of her with a caption below saying “I was arrested, and detained without trial”. Swee recognised that immediately and realised that it referred to her arrest and detention in Singapore in 1977. Amidst accusations of lying and insults Swee explained that her late husband was a Singapore human rights lawyer and they wanted to detain him, he escaped and a few weeks later they detained her for questioning about him and his whereabouts, and that episode was 37 years ago in Singapore and nothing to do with Israel. They then examined Swee’s phone and found Mark’s text and two missed calls from the driver waiting outside and asked who these people were. Swee said Mark works for MAP and they can call him to verify the fact. Instead they spoke to the driver in Hebrew. Swee does not understand Hebrew but picked up the words St George’s. Swee understood from this that they had figured out that Swee Khoo is Swee Ang and had Googled her, finding a plethora of information on the internet about her. They also asked about the cash she was carrying for the children of Gaza and asked where the cash was since it was not in her wallet. Swee insisted that she would not allow them to confiscate the money for the children and if she cannot get into Gaza, she will give the money to MAP. They then asked Swee, where was the third doctor? Swee told them there were only the two doctors. Swee told them she understood on the morning of departure that they had still not received formal confirmation for permits to enter Gaza, but since they had taken their leave to go to work in Gaza, they would still leave and since Swee had previously been to Jerusalem she could guide Asif and they should allow them entry to visit Jerusalem. At this part of the interrogation they were joined by a third person: a female who seemed to be their senior and they reported to her in Hebrew. The only question she asked Swee was her age. They then told Swee to get out and it was then Asif’s turn to be interrogated again.

18. Asif returned to the room, he encountered the original two male interrogators and a senior female officer who he had not seen before. After repeating the preliminary questions about his father’s name, grandfather’s name and the places he wanted to visit they asked about where he intended to stay, who owned the St George’s hotel, did Asif know anyone in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Iran, and Pakistan? He said no to the first four and said he knew many people in Pakistan; they didn’t seem very interested in that per se.

19. The female interrogator asked ‘how much money are you carrying’ Asif said £1240’ she
responded ‘just for a few days?’ Why are you travelling to Israel now? Why with Ms Khoo, there is a large age gap, are you married, do you have children? Asif said he was divorced and had children who lived predominantly with their mother but he had a week off from work and wanted to spend his annual leave exploring Jerusalem as he knew a lot about it from reading and friends, Roman, Byzantine history and Islamic history but had never visited and Swee would be a great guide. They asked who Mark is. Asif was surprised by this question and said that he had never met him and he was someone Swee knew. Asif was told to fill out another pro-forma listing all of his email addresses, home and mobile phone numbers. As this was happening, the younger male interrogator started to flick through Asif’s Smartphone; He looked up and said ‘who is Ayub?’ Asif said it was his younger brother, ‘why is his WhatsApp profile picture a Palestinian flag?!’ he shook his head with disdain! There was then a series of question, referring to anyone in the WhatApp contacts who might have a connection with activities in support of the Palestinians, ‘who is Monir’: a friend involved with a Muslim Professional Organisation called City Circle. ‘Who is Nizar?’: a friend who is the CEO of Kuwait Petroleum Company. They then interjected, ‘you know, we love good doctors who help, but we hate liars! Mark has already told us you have a permit for Gaza and that is where you are going tomorrow! We have no problem at all with that! Many Israeli doctors are there now, you would have been very welcome but you ‘fucked it up’ if you need any help knowing why you are here look at these messages to your work colleagues in London!’ Asif said that whilst there had been an interest in going to Gaza for humanitarian purposes and an application had been made for a Gaza permit, as this had not been granted and he had a week off work what he wanted to do now was to visit Jerusalem, something he had wanted to do for a long time. The summary response was: ‘You cannot enter Israel!’

20. Asif returned to Swee and told her of the decision to deny entry, but also that the Gaza permits had apparently been granted. Swee was called in yet again and was told by both interrogators that had she not lied they would have happily supported the two doctors to help children. Swee reiterated that she had not lied and as they had not received confirmation for permits the intention was to visit Jerusalem. One of the interrogators then said they have their permits. Swee told him it was not possible and she would check with Mark immediately. She picked up her mobile phone where it was positioned in front of the interrogator and dialled Mark and thankfully he picked up immediately. Swee told Mark they were being deported, and asked whether he actually got their permits. Mark said ‘not yet but he was pushing hard’ and ‘they might come through tomorrow (Tuesday) or the day after (Wednesday)”, At this point the interrogator became infuriated and told Swee to stop the call. Swee felt that she may have provoked him when she said Mark had denied the permits had been granted but might hopefully be available in a day or two and therefore she did not lie. By implication the interrogator was lying about the permits being granted. Of course he would also be angry that Mark was informed of the intended deportation. If Mark had not been informed there would be anxiety and confusion for the entire period until the doctors arrived back at UK and could call him. He then switched the subject and told her to provide personal details: home phone, mobile, and all of her email addresses. By this time Swee asked why she should do this since they were going to deport her anyway. He told Swee in no uncertain terms that if she did not comply he was empowered to put her in jail indefinitely until she changed her mind!.Swee complied thinking to herself, how futile since they already knew everything. They then asked about Lebanon, and she told them about the Sabra and Shatilla massacres of 1982 which took place before they were born. She also explained that the Israeli government of that era was somewhat different to the present time and had set up commission of enquiry into the behaviour of the Israeli Defence Force during massacre for which Swee was a witness. 

The interrogators suggested that they were good people and would happily facilitate doctors going to Gaza to help children, but they demanded people be upfront about their intentions. They accused Swee of humiliating and insulting the chief interrogator by making him spend “more than two hours” finding out about her. Swee asked, ‘if other doctors arrived should they simply announce their intention to proceed to assist Palestinians in Gaza at the passport counter? Would they be granted entry?’. He said ‘yes’ and if it was his shift he would definitely help. “Israelis are good people, and we want to help children”. Swee explained that she was not in a position to have said that since she had not received a permit, and would have been deported immediately. He then said that she could have said she was going to Jerusalem to wait for her permit but it is too late now because the deportation order cannot be cancelled and that she should return to London and ask MAP to speak with the Israeli Embassy. His last sentence to Swee was -“I think you still do not trust me!” Swee nearly said ‘of course I don’t! Why should I?’ She was glad she kept her mouth shut.


The two were then asked to return to the waiting area again where they were now guarded more closely and had to be escorted to the bathrooms and to access the water fountain. The exact nature of the deportation was never clarified, for instance it remained unclear at that point as to whether they had been given an exclusion order rather than a simple denial of entry. Both Asif and Swee repeatedly asked the junior security staff (all were in a simple civilian uniform but wore IDF army metal tags around their necks, under their shirts) to see the interrogators for clarification but this was denied. Their passports remained with those officers throughout. At around 22:00 they were asked to provide their boarding cards for the outbound flight. Nobody clarified when their return flight would be or if they were at liberty to book a flight with an alternative airline or to another port to avoid a prolonged stay in detention. They were told that they would soon go to the ‘Motel’ where they would have a place to sleep, be provided with food and be able to shower. They were repeatedly told “We are Israelis, we are nice to people”.

After a very long wait, at about 23:00 they were escorted to an enclosed security room occupied by 5 security officers. All were relatively polite but it was clear that they were entirely under guard with no freedom of movement. They were not allowed to sit next to each other or talk to each other. The terminal was largely deserted at this time. Their luggage was taken away for some time. All of their personal items in their checked in luggage and hand baggage were removed, smears were taken for a mass spectrometer and passed through an X-ray machine. Asif was taken to a separate room and strip searched and both were frisked with a hand held detector. The two doctors were then returned to the waiting area again. Whilst in the waiting area they met a 23 year old TEFL teacher of Dutch origin from Washington also facing deportation. She had told the interrogators very clearly that she intended to go to Nablus to teach English, to the same school as the Americans mentioned previously. They insisted on flying her to Istanbul and she could sort herself out from there. The young lady was really upset since she lives in Washington and had no friends in Turkey and how would she find her way home from Turkey! They also met a British Pakistani Christian girl who had been held apart from her Christian pilgrimage group. She was very tearful as she saw no reason for what she described as a humiliating interrogation. She said that they made her feel degraded and treated her like an animal. One of the security guards sat with her and looked through her Bible.

After a further wait under guard they were told they were going to the ‘Motel’. They were escorted to a side exit of the Terminal by two guards in police type uniforms who had arrived from elsewhere. They were led to a heavily armoured van, the back door had been left open, and they were asked to leave their luggage including hand baggage in the rear hold that also had two seats. Additionally, they were told to remove their telephones and cameras and to place them with their baggage. They then found themselves being forced into a fully secure central holding area of a vehicle with two layers of heavy black steel armour plating completely encaging the area in which they were forced to sit. There was no lighting in the vehicle and as dark in the caged area of the van as outside. The atmosphere felt somewhat intimidating. Asif thought that they might now face further ‘enhanced’ questioning, long term detention, rendition or even torture ran through his mind.

After around 15 minutes of being driven away from the airport on Tel Aviv roads they arrived at a place they called the facility. In retrospect they found out that this was the detention centre in Ramle. This was a shabby two storey compound surrounded by high metal fencing, cameras and barbed wires. The area was also patrolled by dogs. They were led to a holding area where they could see lots of luggage. They were stripped of all their personal belongings. Asif insisted they should be allowed to take overnight clothes and reading material. A request to take any writing material was flatly rejected. They were told to take any money they have with them, lockers were available for other items of value such as mobile phones. Swee was not allowed her handbag and told toiletries such as toothbrushes will be supplied. Having been stripped of their belongings they were taken to a waiting area, a more senior guard was behind a glass screen in a room watching ‘American Jihadi’ on Youtube and ‘Suits’ on a flat screen TV on the wall. Next to this there was another LED panel with a listing of each of the individuals detained, name, destination etc in Hebrew and some English. The guard had their passports with multiple inserts that looked like notes from the interrogators. They were asked if they wanted to eat and were each handed a cold salami roll and given tepid water in an old worn plastic cup. Swee was told ‘your embassy representative is on the phone’. 

An on duty Consular Officer who manned the appropriate desk in London was on the phone, she identified herself as Joanne and asked if they were being treated well and said that she could not do anything for them, and told Swee to phone Mark. Swee then explained to her that they were detained in some kind of facility and all their belongings including mobile phones were taken away, and asked her to please call Mark to let him know. Swee told her that they would be likely to be on the next Easyjet flight back to London hopefully the following day. They were told that they would be in separate parts of the building until the end of their detention.
They were then escorted to their respective areas.
The male section had 4 cells, each with 2 metal double-decker bunk beds, with the bed poles screwed into the wall. This was covered with a thin, hard pad with used sheets and a used blanket, no pillow. Each individual was given a toothbrush and toothpaste but no soap on entry. Upon entry the heavy steel cell door was slammed shut and it was clear that the two of them were formally under detention and they were not in a ‘motel’! The cells had a small window with two layers of heavy steel protection to prevent escape. There was a small toilet, shower and sink area that also functioned as the place where meal packages were placed. There was toilet paper in the toilet but no soap. There were three Georgian men in their mid to late 20s in Asif’s cell. Each had been there for two to three days and clad in the same outdoor clothes in which they entered. One of them was a professional footballer who had played for Israel. All seemed to spend most of their time lying in their bunks asleep. The sink area was covered in food detritus. There was no drinking water in the cell. The armoured lights were kept on until around 1AM and then switched off centrally. Asif performed his prayers and slept. There was no way of communicating with the captors and getting their attention other than banging on the glass portal in the heavy steel cell door. The back of the toothbrush proved to be useful for this. Unfortunately a request for soap and drinking water was met by an angry response from the middle aged, portly guard who shouted through the glass portal that ‘this is not a hotel’ and he better not bang on the door again!

The women’s cell had 5 double-decker beds screwed into the wall. Each bed had a thin pad, and an unwashed sheet. Swee had no blanket and it was very cold. Lights were controlled by the guards outside and on until 1 am. There was one toilet permanently lit and the window had security glass, heavy metal guards, no curtains so that that the security camera could see everyone sitting on the loo clearly all hours. The shower room was separate and also permanently lit but thankfully there were no windows for the cameras to watch. The toilet and the shower doors could not close and also had no locks. There was a separate sink with one mixer tap. The area around the sink was wet and food and half eaten sandwiches were around the sink, some soaking with water. Heavy steel cell doors ensured confinement.

Asif and Swee were held in this detention centre for 14 hours overnight while waiting for the next flight. The women’s side saw 7 Ukrainian women and Swee detained and deported. There were more from the men’s side.

The items Swee desperately needed but not there were ear-plugs since her lady fellow inmates snored loudly. They all slept in their outdoor clothes and from the odour had probably been there for some days. They probably could not shower since there were no towels, despite a few bits of dried half used bars of soap lying next to the sink! But the group were well dressed and polite though they spoke no English. They were taken out of the cell separately throughout the night - ?

Deported on different flights? After the Ukrainian women left Swee was in solitary confinement. Interestingly, following the departure of the Ukrainians she looked around and noticed the names and messages written by many previous detainees, with messages of solidarity. Some of the messages were written in tooth-paste, others with regular biro and there was one particular message that stood out as it was written in marker pen. It said “You are in good company. Signed Cynthia McKinney, US Congresswoman, 29 -30 June 2009; Mairead Maquire, Nobel Peace Prize winner, 29 - 30 June 2009 Free Gaza 21.” Swee thought if only she had her camera to photograph these writings. Swee had met Cynthia McKinney on several occasions and would like to send her a picture of her cell. There was also a heart wrenching message from another “You can prevent me crossing your borders, but you cannot prevent me loving and marrying a Palestinian ...signature illegible”. Did she try to enter to marry him? It must have been so painful for the doomed couple. Swee thought of what the woman security officer told her “we are Israelis, we are nice people”.

Food was in the form of cold sandwiches and a single ready meal. Swee recalled her detention in 1977 in Singapore, and agreed with the female Israeli guard that the current detention facility in Israel was definitely an improvement. She felt the ordeal must be a sanitised, “five star” version for foreign nationals, compared to the detention for ordinary Palestinians that would certainly include physical abuse and torture.

Swee and Asif were woken at 07:30, salami rolls and black tea in the same old plastic jugs was left in the sink area. After 2 hours a shabby, ill-kempt female guard in her 30s opened the door and saw Asif pacing, she shouted some commands in Arabic and seemed surprised when he responded in English asking if she would repeat that in English! She said ‘you, all of you must leave so we can clean!’ Asif and his cellmates were escorted out to exercise in the yard area. He encountered the other detainees, 8 Georgians and 6 Ethiopians, the Ethiopians had been detained for some time. Both groups sat in separate areas and smoked, as did the 5 security guards lounging and chatting, looking fairly bored next to the fence that enclosed the area, separating the yard from a cluster of old Palestinian date palms, their height declaring they predate the State of Israel and its war of ‘independence’, Asif wondered if the area might have been the site of a razed Palestinian village, perhaps one of the many mapped out for transfer (Palestinian ethnic cleansing) under the orders of David Ben Gurion.

Following the return to their cells after an hour or so Swee and Asif were called out to be examined by a Doctor, a man in his late 50s wearing a white coat in a small room next to the counter with the detainees information screen. The doctor was uninterested, had a vagueness about him, he asked if Asif had any allergies and how he was feeling. Asif said ‘thirsty’ as his previous requests for water had been rejected. The doctor replied, ’oh, sign here!’ Asif refused to sign the Hebrew form. Swee signed hers.


Asif and Swee were removed from their cells at 14:10 on 19 August, encaged in the same armoured
vehicle to Ben Gurion airport. The vehicle stopped at the plane and they were escorted directly on to the Easyjet A320 to Luton. They were asked to move their luggage that was put into the aircraft hold by the security guards which at this point also allowed them to take possession of their hand luggage. The security guards entered the plane with Asif and Swee and handed their passports to the pilot to be held on the flight deck. All of this was in front of a cabin load of Israeli passengers, many of whom took careful note of the humiliation. They were told their passports would only be returned on arrival. The Israeli security guards waited with their armoured deportation vehicle at the side of the plane until it took off. The cabin crew seemed blasé about the manner of deportation suggesting deportation is probably a routine procedure at Tel Aviv airport.

They arrived at Luton Airport to overhear one of their fellow passengers saying loudly “Oh they are firing rockets again. How I wish I had stayed another day in Ashkelon to experience the sirens, the bomb shelters and watch the rockets being intercepted”. They were to learn subsequently that 22 Palestinians were killed in Gaza while they were on the Easyjet plane, with 50 wounded. There were no Israeli casualties.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Woman of Worth and Distinction

HELEN BAMBER, who has just died aged 89 in London, was a little woman who stood head and shoulders above politicians and governments. A woman of worth, who worked to help the survivors of persecution and suffering, and was not afraid to stand up to their oppressors.

Helen grew up, Helen Balmuth, in an ordinary, lower middle class Jewish family in Amhurst Park, north-east London; 'ordinary' except that her parents took an interest in ideas and the world around them, and her father, an accountant by day, worked with others at night, Jews, Quakers or whoever, finding ways to help refugees from Nazi Germany.

Helen heard their stories, and also heard the ranting voice of Hitler on the radio. She was also aware of the activities of Mosley's British fascists -an aunt was among those fighting them in London's East End. During the Second World War, she did not have to think too hard to imagine what would happen to her happy family if the Nazis won and conquered these islands. "We knew about the concentration camps", she said. Then as the war turned, she decided to do something, despite her own childhood illnesses which had necessitated a stay in a sanitarium.

Training as a nurse, she volunteered to work with a relief committee, and at the age of 19, went into the newly liberated Belsen concentration camp.

For some years after the war, survivors remained in the camp, many unfit to travel, and with nowhere to go as they recovered. Young Helen Bamber learned not only to care for people who had suffered all sorts of horrors, but to listen to their stories, as part of the healing. She carried on listening and thinking about what she saw and heard, while the rest of the world learned to turn a deaf ear as it turned to other business.

For most people, the experience of a stint like that might have been enough to satisfy conscience and recount in later life. But not for Helen Bamber. Returning to England she married a Jewish refugee, and worked with children in hospitals, as well as raising two of her own. She was one of the founers of the National Association for Children in Hospitals, which introduced the idea of letting mothers stay with a sick child.

In 1961, Helen Bamber was one of the first people to join the new Amnesty International, and became chair of the British group. In 1974, she helped establish the Medical Group within the organization and went on to do research on torture in Chile, the Soviet Union, South Africa and Northern Ireland.

In 1985 the Medical Group members left Amnesty, and set up the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. They acquired premises in Kentish Town a couple of years later, and as time went on they worked with thousands of patients, from over 90 countries. Such is the world we live in.

By 1995 the Medical Foundation had 42 staff, including a psychiatrist, a woman physician who worked mainly with women who had been sexually tortured or raped, a child psychotherapist, a family therapist, caseworkers, a lawyer and fundraisers. It also had the service of over 75 volunteer health professionals - physicians, surgeons, medical specialists, psychotherapists, osteopaths, art therapists and children's art teacher. It was able to give help and advice to people working in other countries. But as Helen Bamber told me, it also took advice and help itself, from refugees and immigrant community groups, familiar with the conditions and cultures from which people had come. .
Helen, who had qualified as a psychotherapist, was director. Sometimes she found that, as with the Belsen survivors, having someone to listen was as much part of their successful tretment as any specialist medical care. Then there were needs for after-care, and advocacy. A couple I knew from Iraq Kurdistan were delighted when they were found an alottment to work, in Alperton.  In 1995 when I visited the Medical Foundation one Saturday afternoon there were mothers arriving with toddlers, and a children's art class beginning. 

After the madness of war and state prisons, and the desperate flight, a gentle easing into 'normal' life. But governments are not so understanding.  As Helen Bamber told me when I interviewed her in 1995:
 'The Medical Foundation documents cases of torture, sometimes in support of an asylum claim. We have become increasingly concerned about the Government's restrictive measures in dealing with asylum seekers. We are concerned that people who have been tortured may be hindered in their attempts to reach safety and, once here, will face procedures which could result in their being returned to face further torture and persecution.

'We know that this has happened in some cases, with grave consequences, and we are deeply concerned for our clients. We have made our views known to the Government, the media and the public, and we will continue to do so.

'Sometimes when I read headlines I'm reminded of the 1930s. "Lock up camps for migrant cheats"; "Bogus refugees"; "Illegal immigrants". All these terms are created to confuse the public so people no longer understand that refugees are entitled under international law to seek asylum if they have a well-founded fear of persecution."
When Helen Bamber was awarded an OBE in 1997 she accepted the honour, not so much for herself as for the work she and her colleagues were doing. If nothing else such recognition might assist the Medical Foundation in fundraising.

Helen also received other awards, including honorary degrees from a dozen universities, and in 2008 she was declared Jewish Care's Woman of Distinction.  By then she had stepped down from the Medical Foundation and then, at the age of 80, in response to changing patterns of global violence and an increasingly hostile political landscape, set up the Helen Bamber Foundation, to expand from work with torture victims to helping those who had suffered other forms of human rights violations, such as human trafficking and gender-based violence. (Wikipedia)

Whatever the necessities of winning support from those with "respectability" and resources, Helen Bamber never abandoned the mission she had given herself in Belsen, of supporting all who suffered injustice and ill-treatment, against torture, by whomsoever it was inflicted. That included reporting on torture by the Israeli military and security services of Palestinians, supporting the Mordechai Vanunu campaign, and lending her name to both the Jewish Socialists' Group and Jes for Justice for Palestinians.

Truly a woman of worth and distinction.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Luke the Lobbyist Takes A Fall

Could it have been the Curse of Veolia?


ELECTION results came out today for the Labour Party's National Executive Committee. Former London mayor Ken Livingstone has topped the poll for constituency representatives, with 39,548 votes, and my left-wing Labour friends seem pleased with the other names that are joining him.

I was pleased to note that one of the unsuccessful candidates, with only 21,115 votes, was former Hackney councillor Luke Akehurst..

  I first came across his name a couple of years ago, when the campaign was on to persuade local authorities not to award contracts to the French-owned company Veolia, because of its involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. A local woman campaigner in Hackney wanted to address the council to explain the issues,  but the Tories consulted a group called Lawyers for Israel, and the Veolia campaigner was not allowed to speak. It was reported that Luke Akehurst, himself a professional Israel lobbyist, made sure the refusal had Labour support.    

Luke Akehurst resigned as a councillor in May this year. There was talk of his moving from Hackney but not out of politics.  In his statement setting out his bid for election to Labour's NEC, the lobbyist and ex-councillor had nothing to say about his views on the Middle East, or indeed on local government, or experience of cuts in what is already the poorest borough in London and said to be one of the most deprived areas in Britain.

He did talk about his experience as a "grass roots campaigner" and knowing what kind of policies could win elections.
It does not seem to have worked for him this time.

Maybe he has been struck by the Curse of Veolia,  just as befell Barnet Tory Brian Coleman, no longer a Greater London Assembly member nor even a Barnet councillor?  Admittedly Coleman had far more exposure in this and other blogs. Time to bring on the next act.

"Grass roots campaigner" is a bit of a modest self-description.

A  site which follows such matters tells us "Luke Akehurst is Director of We Believe in Israel,  a project of the pro Israel campaign group BICOM. Akehurst has been a Labour Party activist since 1988, and a staunch Blairite." 

BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, is the central and highly professional lobbying outfit for Israel, founded and largely funded by Chaim 'Poju' Zabludowicz, the heir to an Israeli arms fortune, who also financed David Cameron's campaign to become leader of the Tory party. .

According to former British diplomat Craig Murray , "It was BICOM mouthpiece Denis MacShane who attacked Paul Flynn as “antisemitic” for querying the purpose of the long series of meetings between Matthew Gould, Adam Werritty and Liam Fox, some of which included Mossad. In doing so, MacShane did not mention his own role in setting up the first of those meetings, on 8 September 2009, and that he had been present at the start of that meeting. The FCO tried to hide that fact by deleting the entire diary entry for the meeting – but that very act prompted an old colleague to tell me.

Denis' Little Difficulties. And Being Economical with the Werrity

Denis McShane is the former Labour MP for Rotherham who has had to step out of public affairs for a while due to some difficulties over his parliamentary expenses.

Liam Fox is still Tory MP for North Dorset, though he had to stand down as Secretary of Defence in October 2011, over the trips and meetings accompanied by lobbyist Adam Werrity. He was at the founding conference of We Believe In Israel, though he has also taken lobbying for the Bahrain government.

Like former BICOM chief executive Lorna Fitsimmons, who had been NUS president and went on to be Labour MP for Rochdale, Akehurst took his first steps into politics as a student, working for the NUS in Bristol and becoming national secretary of the Labour students.

Employed for five months as a Press Officer in the London Borough of Lewisham (June 2000 – October 2000) he moved on to global lobbying firm Weber Shandwick Public Affairs, best-known for representing big companies in the weapons and aerospace industries. He became a director of Weber Shndwick in 2007. He has continued to serve firms like Balfour Beatty, Finmeccanica and GKN plc and acquired new clients like SERCO. "Luke is often found offering counsel and tactical and strategic insight at the heart of some of the key issues in Whitehall and Westminster. "

"When he was both a lobbyist for the arms industry and a London Councillor Akehurst still found time to write to the press about Israel, complaining to the New Statesman in July 2006 that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign 'shows an outline map of "Palestine" that includes the entire territory of Israel. One wonders what the PSC wants to happen to the 5.5 million Jews in Israel under this "one-state solution".' Akehurst did not reveal either affiliation in his letter signing it only 'Luke Akehurst London N16'

Of course if  Luke Akehurst had bothered to ask anyone from PSC, instead of merely "wondering" to himself what might happen to the Jews in Israel, they could have explained to him that the PLO had developed the formula of a "secular democratic state for Muslims, Christians and Jews", before deciding to accept a state alongside the state of Israel. (which need not rule out any future federation between two states, accepted by two peoples sharing the land as equals). 

I could have suggested to him that the outline map of historic Palestine was no different to the one I remember on Jewish National Fund collecting tins, and no more ominous than the Israeli Ministry of Tourism maps which show an Israel unrestricted by any borders.  I could also point out that it is Israeli politicians, including government ministers, who both insist on inequality and exclusivity for their own state and do everything to obstruct the building of  s state for the Palestinians.

But when lobbyists ask rhetorical questions they are not interested in answers, any more than in allowing opposing campaigners five minutes to explain their case to a local council.

Luke Akehurst even attacked the dear old co-op for taking the enrirely reasonable and moderate step of attempting to ban products from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. This was the policy adopted by Israeli peace campaigners, both to make the point of a distinction and avoid being accomplices in conquest, yet according to Akehurst it is a piece of antisemitism, evoking the Nazi Holocaust.

It is worth reading what another Labour Party member, Jon Lansman, has to say about this:

We might also remember how often we have heard the charge that such comparisons trivialise Jewish suffering and the Nazi genocide.

But Akeman's readiness to attack an important section of the Labour movement in this way goes with his willingness to denounce Labour MPs like Michael Meacher as "hard left", and his accusation that Tony Benn only damaged Labour's chances. He claims that Blairism offers Labour's only hope of winning elections.  Evidently oblivious to what happened to it last time, he now has time to reflect on what it did for his own electoral prospects. Maybe he will go away and think. Labour should tell him to go away, full stop.

  • Chaim "Poju" Zabludowicz (born 6 April 1953), owner of the Lichtenstein-registered Tamares Group, is a Finnish-British business magnate, art collector and philanthropist based in London, England.[1][2][3] The Sunday Times Rich List 2014 of the wealthiest people in the United Kingdom ranked him 57th with a personal net worth of £1,500 million.[4] Zabludowicz is the founder and former Chairman of BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, an organization founded in 2001 which lobbies the UK government on behalf of Israel. He is reported to have given the pressure group more than £2 million in three years.[20][21] He is also a Member of the Advisory Boards of CST (Community Security Trust) and UJIA (United Jewish Israel Appeal), and is a Trustee of Jewish Leadership Council.[5] He has given donations to David Cameron's leadership campaign in 2005 and to the Conservative Party in 2010,[22] and to Alexander Stubb's election campaign in 2014.[23]

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

From Gaza to Glenrothes

INHUMAN WEAPONS, PILOTLESS DRONE. This one in Brazilian colours, though as tested by Israel against Gaza.  

SOME of the suffering and steadfast resolve of the Palestinian people will be brought home to Glenrothes, in Fife, today, when supporters of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and allies march through the town to the Raytheon factory, which manufactures some of the electronic components for Israeli weapons systems that have brought death and destruction to Gaza.

I don't always agree with Scottish PSC (which is separate from the PSC in England) about tactics, timing or targets, but this time I think they are spot on in choosing to go after those who make their profits as merchants of death, helping to murder Palestinians.

The way was lit for such campaigning earlier this month when a bold group of protesters climbed on the roof of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) plant at  Lyn Lane, Shenstone, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire,   The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms manufacturer, and produces the engines for the unmanned drones used in surveillance and bombing of Palestinians. 

Only days before the protest one such drone had fired a missile at a school gate in Rafah, killing 10 people who had been queuing to buy sweets and biscuits from a vendor.

The Shenstone protestors, nine of them,  managed to close the plant for two days, assisted perhaps by someone having chained the factory gates shut, and police closing the lane outside before bringing them down from the roof.

I'm not too good at climbing on to roofs these days, in fact the last time I was asked to speak at a Palestine rally in Trafalgar Square I had to be helped to climb on to the platform. But taking a break in the Shropshire hills, I was pleased to see the Shenstone protest covered on West Midland TV, and the local MP obliged to make a statement. Recognising a friend taking part in the protest, I could have told the reporters that she is well qualified to speak about Gaza, having ridden with an ambulance crew there during the previous onslaught.

Hopefully the Shenstone Nine will get the chance to talk about things like that when they appear in court on Wednesday. Or better still the charges against them will be dropped. They are accused of Aggravated Trespass, which could bring cutodial sentences, but surely that would have been a more fitting description of the Israeli tanks rumbling into Gaza, with the UAV factory managers aiding and abetting?. There's to be a demonstration outside the court on Wednesday morning, to show solidarity with the protesters, and call for the charges to be dropped. I'm pleased to hear a branch of my  union is hoping to fill a coach from West Bromwich. The call for the demo says  Please Assemble from 9am at The Court House, Wolverhampton Road, Cannock, Staffordshire WS11 1AT. All Welcome.

People who turn to  initiatives like the Shenstone protest sometimes point to their success in gaining and focussing attention, rattling authority, compared to the same old "marches from A-B" (or B-A?) which can seem to get us nowhere. Those who stick to the more conventional demonstrations like those recently over Gaza can point to the huge numbers involved, of all ages, and many of them taking their first steps into political action. I think both types of demonstration are useful and complementary.

One of the advantages of a boycott, too, is that anyone can take part, and there is nothing those in power can do about it.  But what we really need, to take on governments and interfere with the trade in death, is industrial action. It was done in the past, perhaps so long ago people have forgotten , and younger people have never heard of it. Nowadays, besides requiring rebuilt union strength, we'll probably be told it is illegal. But unjust laws were made to be broken, especially when they protect injustice.

The Spring 2014 issue of Jewish Socialist magazine went to press well before the latest Gaza war, but it contains a prescient article by Colin Green looking at the relationship between Western arms manufacturers and their governments and the Israeli state and its wars. Listing some of the munitions and weaponry which the Israel Defence(sic) Forces have tried in Gaza - white phosphorus, depleted uranium, unmanned drones, flechette shells -which scatter deadly arrows - or the Keshet rapid-fire automated mortar, Colin says that besides asserting Western hegemony over Middle East peoples and resources, Israel's wars offer arms companies the chance to promote their wares as "combat-tested".
(Asymmetric Warfare - Is Gaza a Testing Ground?,  JS67, Spring 2014) 

Home from my holiday, I just had time to help draft a letter to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, supporting its stand against Israeli embassy sponsorship of a Jewish film festival (the theatre offered to provide alternative funding) and defending it against unjust accusations of "antisemitism", before I was off again. This time carrying a bundle of Jewish Socialist with me, to Edinburgh where, in the middle of a busy festival fringe where he is performing his own shtik, comic and Jewish Socialists' Group member Ivor Dembina compered a 'Free Gaza' benefit.

Ably assisted by fellow artists Josie Long, Andy Zaltzman,Daniel Kitson and Chris Coltrane, Ivor brought some warmth and humanity to a wet and windy Edinburgh afternoon, as well as delighting a packed 300-strong audience at the Gilded Balloon with humour. They in turn delighted us with their generosity, Besides enjoying the show I was there to help with a bucket collection, and though I did not stay for the count, I can testify that thousands of pounds were raised, mainly for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), though as we explained -to applause from the audience - we also intend sending something to Gush Shalom in Israel, in appreciation of their principled stand opposed to the war on Gaza, and their courage in defying right-wing violence.

Laughter might not stand much chance against slaughter, but we too have our secret weapons.    .

IVOR on stage in Edinburgh.

PS   - 
Just thought I'd mention that this was not the only show for Gaza and MAP held in Edinburgh last week. Under Arts News, the Herald reported on August 12:

Stars support concert for Gaza medical aid fund
A LINE-UP of comedians, musicians and Fringe acts are holding a show to raise money for medical aid for Gaza tonight.
The show at the Assembly Rooms venue includes Elaine C Smith - who is compering the event - Frankie Boyle, Shappi Khorsandi, Shooglenifty, The Poozies, The Bevvy Sisters, Dean Owens, Playtime and Black Diamond Express
This one-off concert is taking place to raise money in aid of Medical Aid For Palestinians (MAP).
The benefit night has been put together by Edinburgh-based collective Artists For Gaza.

I hope this too was a success. Behind the music, irreverence and jokes, some artists care more seriously for humanity than our country's political leaders do.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Look Behind the Barbarity in northern Iraq

AS the US and British governments appear to dither about how to help the victims of ISIS barbarity in Iraq and Syria, and whether to step in to the conflict, many people are remarking on the bitter irony that this bloody mess is a result of the West's previous intervention, that is the invasion of Iraq.

They may be right, as far as this goes, but I would ask whether ISIS and the sectarian war it brings to a horrific head is the entirely unintended result of a war and occupation that went wrong, or part of an imperialist policy that succeeded all too well?

We know now that the Iraq war was not aimed at destroying Saddam Hussein's supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction, about which Tony Blair went to such lying lengths. It was not aimed either at stopping a sectarian war in Iraq, which scarcely existed before the invasion and occupation. It was not about "War on Terror", for which Iraq was not the base (aside from the terrorist Mojahideen e Khalq operations against neighbouring Iran, which the US supported). That would seem to leave the popularly believed assumption that it was a war about oil, though not in the sense that the Iraqis were sitting on scarce oil and refusing to sell it (quite the contrary) or even big oil companies had their eye on Iraqi oilfields for profits (though of course they do).

It was the overall US strategy of maintaining its supremacy by controlling as much as possible of the world's energy supplies, and for this destroying any kind of independent development by countries like Iraq.

From the outset there were warnings that the occupiers would follow a divide-and-rule policy, carving up Iraq. To the physical destruction wrought by "Shock and awe" was added the destruction of Iraq as a modern state and the imposition of a confessional constitution modeled on that bequeathed to Lebanon by France, so that religious divisions are given permanence, and scramble for privilege and supremacy. Secular Iraqis, those for whom religious belief or not took second place to progress or patriotism, lost out, as did minorities. As for women, mothers who had been used to their mode of dress being a matter of choice learned from their daughters that going out unveiled could be a fatal risk.

Sectarian gangs could be a cover for death squads targeting not just political opponents but educated Iraqis, thousands of whom - including doctors, teachers, geologists and engineers - were killed or driven into exile, or 'disappeared'. Many Palestinian families in Iraq found themselves refugees for a second time (and since the Syrian war, a third). But would the invaders of Iraq deliberately foment, rather than attempt to contain, sectarian strife?

Watchers had noticed the move to Iraq of British officers with special experience in Northern Ireland. On September 19, 2005, two British Special Forces soldiers dressed in Arab clothes and driving an unmarked car, were captured in Basra. They were reportedly members of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR, and according to British accounts were on a surveillence mission. But the equipment they had with them suggested a more offensive role, and the suspicion raised by Iraqis, and nasty-minded people like me, was that they were posing as terrorists and acting as agent provocateurs, on a mission to plant bombs in a mainly Shi'ite area, a 'false-flag' terrorist attack.

Whatever the truth, the army and the SAS launched an operation to forcibly free its men from the Iraqi police hands, so that they would not give anything away under interrogation or before any court.

On April 1, 2005, the top of the Malwiya minaret in Samarra had been damaged by a bomb. Built in about 850 AD as part of the caliph Al-Mutawakkil's Great Mosque, this minaret is unique, its name 'malwiya' means "snail shell", because it is a hollow conical spiral, looking like some of the pictures one sees of the Biblical Tower of Babel.

Some reports said innsurgents had attacked the tower because U.S. troops had been using it as a lookout position. But Tony Blair in his January 21, 2011 Iraq Inquiry testimony said insurgents had attacked the mosque to incite Sunni-Shiite violence and further destabilize the country.

Another Samarra mosque, al-Askari, was severely damaged by explosives on February 22, 2006 at about 6:44 a.m. The mosque, and shrine of the two imams, Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Askari, was one of the holiest sites for Iraqi Shia, and blame focussed immediately on Sunni militants, although as one man from Samarra told me, the city's historic mosques and shrines had long been a source of pride to local people no matter what their religious affiliation or lack of it.

There were also questions such as, how any mere amateurs with home made bombs could have caused such damage to the mosque's thick walls; and how they could have got their explosives into place for what seemed like a skilled demolition job, while evading the US occupiers curfew and patrols.

Nevertheless, the mosque's bombing sparked off violence against Sunnis , with 168 mosques attacked, ten imams killed, and well over 1,000 people killed all told. The normal daily patrols of US coalition forces and Iraqi security forces were temporarily suspended in Baghdad during the few days following the bombing.

Discussing whether outside forces could have been responsible for attacks like those on the Samarra mosques or the many car bombings that have taken civilian lives in Iraq, an Iraqi friend Munir shook his head. " The CIA does not have suicide bombers". I replied: "Maybe not. But the Saudis have". I was not referring to the Saudis' own personnel so much as to those recruited and trained by organisations set up with Saudi money, such as Taliban and al Qaeda.

Even while Tony Blair was warning the Iranian regime against interferance in Iraq (where its influence over the Shia-dominated Iraqi government was an unintended consequence of the US-led invasion), we were seeing reports that most of the armed infiltrators entering Iraq came over the Saudi border. The Saudi ruling family are the allies of our own and US imperialism, and certainly good customers for armaments, as well as generous with backhanders for politicians. But they are also waging their own war for hegemony in the Muslim world, mainly but not exclusively against Iran and Shi'ites. It was with this in mind that Saudi backing propelled the Taliban into power in Afghanistan, But we should not forget either that the 9/11 hijackers were mostly Saudis, like Osama Bin Laden, and according to CIA reports received Saudi money from not just private but government sources.

If there was any doubt whether al Qaeda was involved in the attack on al Askhari mosque, as the Iraqi government alleged, there was no need to question their connection with the outrage on Sunday, October 31,2010, when more than 100 people were taken hostage in an attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad,during Sunday evening Mass, and at least 58 people, including children, were killed. The attackers referred to their victims as "infidels", and shouted out allegations about supposed offences committed against Muslims by Christians in Egypt. Witnesses reported that though the gunmen spoke Arabic, they spoke with non-Iraqi accents, even foreign dialect.

The then al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility.

It may be that the ISIS eruption has got out of hand and has gone further than any of its backers intended

But there are a few questions I would ask, for which I claim no originality or ingenuity:

One, how come that after seeing events like that attack on the Baghdad christian Mass four years ago, the CIA and MI6 and other agencies, with all their experts, and sources of intelligence - human and electronic - were so taken by surprise by what has happened in Mosul and northern Iraq - or at least, their governments were?

Two, remembering all we heard after 9/11 about tracking down sources of aid and weapons to al Qaida etc, how come these governments and agencies, with all their surveillance and hacking into communications and transactions by companies,trade unions, and ordinary individuals like you and me, have seemed unable - or unwilling - to touch the flow of money and resources to the real terrorist groups?

Three, how is it that volunteers from as far afield as Britain, the United States and as I heard the other day,Indonesia, have been able to reach ISIS in landlocked northern Iraq, without its own airport, and not traveling by magic carpet so far as I am aware.

Four - assuming that the ISIS forces' heavy modern military equipment, unusual for a supposed rebel guerrilla force, was all captured (what with, catapults?) who trained them to use it?

It is traditional for the youngest child of the family to ask four questions as part of the Passover ceremony, but if my four seem too simple and obvious to bother answering, I'll add a fifth. Why have they been passed over without being asked, let alone answered, by those clever people we see on TV?

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Bloody Games They Play

 TEL AVIV, Saturday night July 26. (photo by Dov Khenin). But Netanyahu and IDF carry on, and last night mounted police were out to thwart another demonstration. 

SO, Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin was dead anyway

According to Israel Radio, Goldin, an officer in the Givati Brigade, was part of a group of soldiers who had found a Hamas tunnel in a rural area near Rafah overnight Thursday-Friday, and they were working on decommissioning it when they were attacked on Friday morning.
Goldin’s group was targeted, and two other soldiers close to him, Benaya Sarel and Liel Gidoni, were killed in an explosion, apparently detonated by a Hamas suicide bomber.
Goldin was seized by other gunmen, and other soldiers who reached the scene tried to chase after the kidnappers, into the tunnel, but they were unable to thwart the kidnapping.
IDF troops had been searching throughout Friday and Saturday for Goldin in the Rafah area.
Hamas denied it had any information on a kidnapped soldier.

Read more: Soldier Hadar Goldin is dead, not kidnapped, IDF tells family | The Times of Israel
Note, that whereas other armies, and especially the IDF, are allowed to capture their enemies, take prisoners, detain or even "arrest" them in their own homes in occupied land, Palestinian forces can only "abduct" or "kidnap" those they seize in action invading their country. Keep repeating this till you've got the language right and - like many not just in Israel, but more important, Western media, you can become accustomed to the racialism without really trying.

If the IDF had not been sure whether Goldin was dead, their response to his reported capture was to send tanks in to the area around Rafeah, in the southern Gaza strip, shelling it ferociously to flatten an entire neighbourhood, destroying dozens of houses and killing an estimated 50 Palestinians. So while Lieutenant Goldin's father was loyally saying in front of the cameras that he was sure the army would do everything it could to rescue his son, it looked like the Israeli military chiefs were more concerned with saving face than with saving the soldier. If Goldin was still live the barrage of shelling would most likely have finished both him and his captors. Some reports say this was the intention, that the military had adopted what has been called the "Hannibal doctrine", to kill your own  man rather than let him be used as a hostage.  

The report that Goldin was being held prisoner had sufficed to end the ceasefire (for which Obama blamed Hamas, as though the Israeli unit had not been engaged in a military operation when it clashed with the Palestinians), brought calls from both the US and UN Secretary General Ban Ky Moon for the Palestinians to release him, and even awoke the Board of Deputies of British Jews to call on Prime Minister Cameron to help secure his release. (Not to help put pressure on Israel to end the war, although thankfully the Board which used to back Israel whatever it did has been fairly quiet this time).   

By the time the IDF announced that Goldin was dead, late on Saturday, the numbers of Palestinian dead, during what had been supposed to be a three day ceasefire, gad more than doubled. Another UN school had been hit, and the Israeli air force has joined the attack on Rafeah, which is sealed off by the army. Ambulances have been targeted as they tried to reach the injured, and what hospitals are left in Gaza after attack are overwhelmed by the number of casualties coming in.

It seems unclear after the bombardment whether enough bits of Goldin have been found and identified for burial next week. The peace talks that were supposed to open in Cairo could be in the same state. Netanyahu says Israel will continue till it has "achieved its objectives". Some of his supporters are not ashamed to advocate genocide.

While the Israeli prime minister may prefer to wrap his aims in coded language, it is not too difficult to discern a pattern in the way the Israeli military plays its own public, contrary to suggestions that "Bibi" had "lost it". An Israeli friend of mine with long experience and a sense if history remarked some time ago that his country had come to resemble Prussia - not so much a state with an army as an army with a state.   

 We could go back to 1982, when the shooting of Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov in London, by the Iraqi-backed Abu Nidal group which was hostile to the PLO and Yasser Arafat, was used as an excuse for the invasion of Lebanon with the aim of destroying the PLO and its Lebanese allies. According to then Prime Minister Menachem Begin's son, his father thought he had authorised a limited croos-border operation, but Ariel Sharon had other plans.That the Israelis ended up years later with Hizbollah on its northern border does not seem to taught them anything.

Nor did the Kahane Commission's finding that Sharon was culpable for the Sabra and Shatila massacres prevent him going on to be Israeli prime minister. 

When the three Israeli teenagers were reported kidnapped, from an Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank near Hebron, the Israeli military may have known from early on that they had been killed, and it knew their kidnapping had not been ordered by Hamas; but it suited the military to keep the Israeli public in suspense, hoping the boys might be found alive, while carrying on what was reportedly a pre-planned operation, at least in part, supposedly targeting Hamas. Palestinian homes were raided, many ransacked, people were taken away, and some shot. A Palestinian boy was kidnapped and murdered by settlers in a "revenge" attack.  Tension escalated on the Gaza front and the present war started.

And despite all... Although to judge from reports the Israeli military and the government may have succeeded in large part in manipulating Israeli public opinion, and Hamas or Islamic Jihad missiles have probably helped Netanyahu rather than hindering his offensive, this might not last.

What the BBC and other Western media have been less keen to report is that some Israeli Jews and Arab citizens have defied the pressure, and attacks by right-wing thugs, to demonstrate against the war in Gaza. Protest rallies have taken place in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. A demonstration in Galilee was joined by some kibbutzniks and Palestinian villagers. Mounted police were out last night in Tel Aviv to stop protestors rallying in Rabin Square,

A few days ago I heard that a bus was on its way to the Gaza border carrying volunteers with medical supplies, and scheduled to halt briefly at Sderot for a meeting with local people who reject the war which the IDF is supposedly waging to defend them. These are the people who never catch the eye of visiting reporters, and of course the IDF press officers do not introduce them. I don't know whether that bus will make it past the army, and be able to deliver its messages of peace and solidarity along with practical aid. But I hope so, and salute their courage for trying.

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