January 26, 2011
The good news that seems to be escaping the attention of the mainstream media is that more countries around the world are recognising the State of Palestine.
South America is currently at the forefront of this wave of recognition. The Arab world has ( along with the Chinese) been making a concerted push to improve trade and strengthen cultural ties and it is culminating in recognition for Palestine ahead of the third Arab/South American Summit (ASPA), hosted in Peru in February.
Israel warned that South America’s rush to recognition was “highly damaging interference” by countries that were never part of the Middle East peace process.
The US has lobbied the region to say recognition is premature. That argument has fallen flat with conservative and left-wing governments but Washington will be pleased that Peru, like Chile, hedged its position on Palestinian claims for borders that existed before 1967, encompassing the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The US seems to be concerned enough about the encroachment of the Chinese and the Arabs into their “sphere of influence” that they’re taking steps to try to neutralise it. It even warranted recognition in the State of the Union speech by President Obama on 25 Jan 2011.
This is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favours peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO, and increased our cooperation on everything from counter-terrorism to missile defence. We have reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new partnerships with nations like India. This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas.
The release of the documents by Al Jazeera, which confirms that Israel has been mainly responsible for the stalling of the peace process and just how much the US favours Israel in the negotiations, combined with the recognition of the State of Palestine will strengthen the Palestinian position and enable some headway to be made.
I haven’t been so optimistic in years.
January 19, 2009
Israel called a ceasefire on Saturday, saying it had met its war aims
Anonymous Israeli officials, quoted by AP news agency, said the withdrawal would be completed before US President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday.
UN official John Ging said half a million people had been without water since the conflict began, and huge numbers of people were without power.
Four thousand homes are ruined and tens of thousands of people are homeless.
Unrwa was keen to reopen its schools, Mr Ging said, where 50,000 people were sheltering. Tens of thousands have been made homeless by the bombardment.
At least 1,300 Palestinians, according to Palestinian sources, and 13 Israelis have been killed since Israel launched its offensive on 27 December. Palestinian medical sources say at least 95 bodies have been pulled from the rubble since Israel halted its assault.
Some 400,000 Gazans still do not have running water.
During the Israeli attacks, about two-thirds of Gaza’s 1.5m people were without power, the UN says.
Gaza’s only power plant shut down on 30 December because it ran out of fuel.
On 18 January the plant received 90,000 litres of fuel from the filling depot at Nahal Oz in southern Israel, says the UN.
Since then most Gazans have had intermittent electricity, although some households are still without power due to damage to the grid.
However, the plant is still short of fuel. It needs 450,000 litres of industrial fuel per day to produce its full capacity.
Although most main power lines have been repaired, two lines are still damaged in northern Gaza.
Since 18 January an extra 100,000 people received running water when the electricity supply was reconnected.
Some wells have been refilled and several NGOs, including Save the Children, have distributed drinking water in the Gaza Strip. The UN says supplies could be improved if workers are given safe passage to repair three damaged water mains.
One water main east of Khan Younis has been damaged, cutting supplies to 25,000 people.
Officials have confirmed that all two million litres of wastewater at Gaza City’s treatment plant, bombed on 10 January, leaked into surrounding agricultural land. Pumps at the plant are out of action due to lack of fuel.
A pump that sends sewage from Beit Hanoun to the Beit Lahia wastewater treatment plant is still damaged. According to officials, 30 cubic metres of sewage are flowing into the streets of Beit Hanoun every hour.
Unrwa says it is operating 50 emergency shelters for 50,896 displaced people in Gaza.
The shelters, many of them schools, are overcrowded with only basic levels of support, including food and water.
The shelters, especially those in the north, are in urgent need of non-food items and there is a shortage of more than 23,000 blankets and mattresses.
The UN says construction materials needed to repair and rebuild homes also need to be brought into Gaza.
So what were it’s aims? To destroy the civillian infrastructure? To make yet more people homeless, some for the fourth or more time? To terrorise a population already under stress from the siege of the last 18 months?
Certainly to make all the people in the suburbs of Brazil and Yibna homeless and finally complete the sterile area they wanted between the people of Rafah and the wall they have built around them.
here’s the current position of the Red Cross on the use of phosphorous weapons: http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/weapons-interview-170109
If you wish to help, these are some of the aid agencies running appeals:
Save the Children Fund: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/en/32_7306.htm
Red Cross/Red Crescent: http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/palestine-update-180109?opendocument
Médecins Sans Frontières: http://www.msf.org.uk/articledetail.aspx?fId=a_paltry_response_20090108&gclid=COnu8qKGm5gCFQtOQgodOwlImg
January 18, 2009
all pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/34264483@N03/
The diversity of the crowd was amazing – yet again.
There’s another demo next weekend. If you can make it please do. We have to keep the pressure up. The ceasefire is just the beginning of the next phase.
We have to take advantage of this and push for accountability for Israel and more freedom for Gaza. The blockade must be lifted and the siege ended.
This is not over by any stretch of the imagination.
January 15, 2009
I keep getting a lot of comments on my various postings about how stressful it has been to live in Sderot down the last few years. They get around 10 of the home made rockets fired into their town each day.
After spending time in Gaza in 2002-3 and seeing their weaponry then I’m surprised those things actually work, let alone hit anything.
Turns out that no one lives in the town has actually been killed by those rockets.
None of the four people killed by rockets in the past three weeks have been in Sderot, but three people in the town have been injured and about 100 Qassams have caused serious damage.
I remember while I was in Gaza SIX years ago there were serious mental health issues affecting the residents. I still need to do some digging to find a decent article, but I have found this.
It’s an extract from an academic paper. The extract is so short I’ll quote it here:
Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety among Gaza Strip adolescents in the wake of the second Uprising (Intifada).
Department of Human Development and Psychoeducational Studies, School of Education, Howard University, 2441 Fourth Street NW, Washington, DC 20059, USA.
OBJECTIVE: Children and adolescents of the Gaza Strip have been subjected to continuous violence since the eruption of the second Intifada (Uprising). Little is known, however, about the psychological effects of this violence on children and adolescents of Gaza. Thus, the purpose of the present investigation was to evaluate and describe the psychological effects of exposure of war-like circumstances on this population.
METHOD: Participants for this study were 229 Palestinian adolescents living in the Gaza Strip who were administered measures of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and coping.
RESULTS: Of the 229 participants, 68.9% were classified as having developed PTSD, 40.0% reported moderate or severe levels of depression, 94.9% were classified as having severe anxiety levels, and 69.9% demonstrated undesirable coping responses. A canonical discriminant analysis revealed that adolescents diagnosed with PTSD tended to be those who reported the highest levels of depression, anxiety, and positive reappraisal coping, and the lowest levels of seeking guidance and support coping.
CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate that a significant proportion of Palestinian adolescents living in the Gaza Strip are experiencing serious psychological distress.
Whilst I feel sorry for anyone who is caught up in violence, this attempt at moral equivalence and justification for the wholesale destruction of Gaza is distasteful.
This has just been published on the BBC website. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7829912.stm
I’ll quote some salient points
Speaking to reporters on the Israel-Gaza border, Unrwa spokesman Christopher Gunness said three of the agency’s employees were hurt in the attack.
He said the compound was hit by what Unrwa believed to be three white phosphorus shells, which are incendiary weapons used as a smoke screen.
This is despite calls for Israel to be charged with war crimes over its use of white phosphorous shells in Gaza.
There’s a reason why the UN person is so concerned: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/01/10/israel-stop-unlawful-use-white-phosphorus-gaza
However, white phosphorus has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect that can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire. The potential for harm to civilians is magnified by Gaza’s high population density, among the highest in the world.
“White phosphorous can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. “Israel should not use it in Gaza’s densely populated areas.”
This reminds me of the beginning of the occupation of Iraq when Rageh Omar was reporting from the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad and the US started shelling it. The US were very well aware of the hotel being used by news agencies and I don’t think they’ve ever managed to come up with a convincing excuse.
But I digress. Rageh was live on air when it started and he stated it was the americans doing the firing. The presenter back in London refused to accept what Rageh said and insisted during the interview that he was wrong.
Rageh no longer works for the BBC. I don’t blame him.
Israel has admitted it broke the ceasefire and has been planning this for months.
They were afraid the change of government in the US may constrain their actions so timed the attack to occur in the final days of Bush’s tenure.
The UN says around 40+% of the dead and wounded are women and children. Since almost half of the population of Gaza is under 15 years old, this isn’t difficult to imagine and I’m surprised it’s not higher.
The Palestinians were there long before the State of Israel was declared. Most Israeli families have arrived in the last 100 years. Israel has taken the Palestinians land, water and livelihoods – all without recompense -and finally penned 1.5 million of them in a patch of land 8 x 25 miles, built a wall around them and for the last 18 months has locked them in there and deliberately denied them access to sufficient food, fuel and medical supplies. By refusing passage for Palestinian goods the whole economy has collapsed as the farmers couldn’t get the supplies they needed to grow the crops in and couldn’t get the produce out. Prior to the attack by Israel, 80% of the people relied on UN food aid.
Remember, this happened in the 18 months prior to the attack by Israel.
Hamas is the democratically elected government of the Gaza Strip. The election was clean according to international observers. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/hamas-shocks-world-with-clear-victory-524607.html
Palestinians are predominantly Muslim but are also Christians and Jews. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_Jew This has very little to do with religion and a lot to do with a land grab. The initial reasons were sound, after all Jews have been on the receiving end of a lot of violence for thousands of years. The problem is that this desire for security at all costs has disenfranchised and imperilled the people who were actually living on the land prior to the declaration of the State of Israel.
Palestinians are Semites too. What is actually being claimed is anti-Zionism. There are more than enough Jews around who don’t support the Israeli approach. There are also some orthodox Jews who don’t support Israel.
Whenever you read Israeli justifications, remember this post and ask yourself if their claims sound realistic.
January 13, 2009
The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time
The marchers were the most diverse I’ve ever seen. All nationalities and races. Men, women and children. Jews, Muslims, Christians, anarchists – all flavours of religious and political beliefs.
They came from everywhere around Britain. I met people from Wales to Lancashire and all points in between.
The majority of the march had been peaceful. We’d been held up a few times, initially because when we went past the Russian Embassy some people mistook it for the Israeli Embassy and staged a sit down protest and then when the march did reach the Israeli embassy we were delayed again while people burnt flags and placards and generally showed their disapproval.
There had been some violence during the march, but rather than tackling the violence that occurred when it occurred, the police chose to wait until the last of the marchers were close to the Israeli Embassy before they decided to lock down the area.
Then, for the next 4 hours we were trapped on the street outside the Israeli Embassy in freezing temperatures. We were denied access to water, food, shelter from the freezing conditions and sanitation. All because we were there when the police finally decided to do something about those who were causing trouble.
The First Lesson
A lot of the damage done to property occurred after we were detained. Despite the violence and the real risk of a further escalation and knowing that the rioters were young men, the police refused to allow the women and children to leave. Their bewilderment as they confronted the inconceivable refusal and their fear as they realised that they and their children were in danger from a situation they were forcibly detained in with no way to escape was sobering.
It�s easy to forget that most people in Britain have no concept of the heavy hand of the law and that the majority of people trust their government and the various arms of government to behave in an honourable and just way. It�s painful to see the reality of present day Britain being visited upon those who only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What Were We Told When We Were Detained? Nothing, Well, Nothing True Anyway.
There was no explanation given of what we were to expect or the timeframes. The initial actions by the police were designed to intimidate and to incite. Initially there was the threat that the police would attack if the rioting escalated yet they moved the innocents closer to the rioters.
These people would have been injured as the police approach in these situations does not discriminate between women, children, non-violent men or rioters.
By pushing those not involved in the violence closer to those who were, they deliberately placed the non participants in the violence in physical danger, both from the rioters and by the police if they had chosen to move forward to quell it.
Our main focus was to get the women and children to safety. At one stage we were told that the women and children would be allowed to leave if they went to the cordon furthest away from the violence, so we sent them there. They were soon back and told us they had been refused exit.
Later we were told that people would be allowed to leave from the other end if they approached with their faces uncovered and their palms on display. That turned out to be untrue as well.
The Law and the Bits They Forgot About
Supposedly we were held under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, also known as Stop and Search. Yet the procedures outlined in the Act were not followed nor did there appear to be even a token acknowledgement of the requirements of the Act.
When we were originally detained, we were not advised of the reason why. Voice amplification devices have been around for a while now, so it’s not inconceivable that the police have them. The final time we were told that we were to be released, it would be in groups of 10 and that we would all be required to produce our drivers licence, be searched and photographed and the procedure would take around 3 hours to process everyone. This included the stewards because, the police claimed, they had witnessed stewards involved in the violence.
Later we were told that the police had agreed that the stewards would just be required to provide their name and address and be photographed and if we refused it would be �difficult� for us. So, after 4 hours of being held in deliberately uncomfortable circumstances we were told that the only way out was to give them the information that they wanted. As we were not advised of our rights and in fact were threatened with unspecified police action if we did not comply, we were effectively compelled to give the information under duress.
When I was finally processed the police officers completely failed to follow the procedure outlined in section 60. I was video recorded from head to foot as I was asked for my name, address and date of birth. I was not given any of the information required by the act nor was I advised that I could obtain a copy of the written record.
The length of time we were held there was not due to the inefficiency of the police but was a deliberate tactic to demoralise and punish those caught up in this. I can see no other plausible explanation.
Section 60 has been used countless times down the years and inexperience in administering it or logistical issues cannot be used as a reason for the actions of the Metropolitan Police. With at least 100 police in attendance at the start of our detention, there was no justification for the slow processing particularly in light of the adverse weather conditions and the composition of the crowd detained.
For the innocents detained, it will be a deterrent in exercising their right to public protest and is just another step in the alienation and radicalisation process that occurs when collective punishment is visited on those who have nothing to do with the “crime” they are being held accountable for.
The Final Lesson of the Day
When I was finally released and was walking away, a group of police strolled passed me and one said to the group in a disappointed voice “no rough today” and the others echoed his disappointment.
It tallies with the some of the behaviour and attitude exhibited by a tiny minority of the officers on duty. Just as some of those who participated in the march were looking forward to confrontation, there was an equal element of police who were also looking forward to a fun day out.
That was the final lesson I learned that day. No area of society is immune to the siren call of violence but when it is manifest in those who we task with administering the law dispassionately, it raises questions over whether the recruitment and ongoing management policies of the police are appropriate.
Britain in the 21st Century
How can we expect the British government to protest against collective punishment occurring in the rest of the world when they condone the same thing on our soil? The only difference is the degree.
I certainly expect better from those who are tasked with creating and administering the laws on my behalf and am extremely disappointed with what I see. It’s time for some explanations.
January 11, 2009
I started to write this last night – I didn’t get home from the demonstration until around 10.30pm, thanks to some heavy handed policing that meant I got to relive the not-so-joys of collective punishment, only this time UK style. Everything hurt and my ankles, knees, hips and back had all seized up from being forced to stand in the bitter cold for 4 hours.
I was one of the stewards at the London Gaza demonstration. Apart from a very small minority of youths who decided to hijack the event for their own immature and unthinking reasons, the demonstration was peaceful and sent a strong message of support to those in Gaza.
This post is the first of a quick trip through my highlights of the day. I’ll address the violence that ended the demonstration in another post. I have loaded my flickr pics here though there’s not that many and they are not that good, as I had to focus on my job as steward. It didn’t help that it was so cold that the camera battery died pretty quickly and sometimes just point blank refused to work.
The stewards arrived at 10.30 to begin the preparation for the demo. Hyde Park was blanketed in a freezing mist when we arrived and it was a beautiful scene as we wandered through the park to where we were to collect the bundles of placards that needed to be distributed around the entrances for people to carry. Out of the mist came a group of skiers on roller skis. That is one picture I missed as I was carrying a bundle of placards at the time but the sight remains in my minds eye.
As the crowds began to arrive, so did the Hare Krishnas bearing music and free hot food and ginger cake.
The food was most welcome on such a wintry day and certainly helped stave off the hunger when we were trapped by the police outside the Israeli Embassy.
During the stewards briefing we were given fluorescent jackets to wear and for a moment it brought back memories of discussions that I had while in Gaza all those years ago. At that time the aggression by the Israeli military towards the internationals in Gaza was becoming more overt and there was a suggestion that members of the ISM should be wearing fluorescent jackets to ensure the military were aware of who we were. It was hard to know whether they would make us more of an attractive target to the military or would afford us some protection and in the end it was given as an option to those who were participating. The answer possibly came less than two months later when two members of ISM, Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, were killed by the military while wearing the jackets.
Sad thoughts on an otherwise uplifting day – and it was uplifting, I have been to some Gaza demonstrations where it appeared that there were more organisers than supporters. This demo was different, the protesters just kept coming. Even when we began the march, they were still flooding into Hyde Park. Primarily because the buses bringing the protesters in from around the country had been delayed in arriving in London. For the first hour after we set off there were still people rushing from the park to catch us up.
I met people from Wales to Lancashire and all points in between. These people spent more time travelling than they did in London, but it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm or their need to particpate in the protest.
The most remarkable thing about the demonstration was the diversity of people there. Normally protesters are very white, not this time. We had a large contingent of Muslims in the crowd. They have a reputation for being hard to mobilise because they want to keep their heads down and avoid drawing attention to themselves. On Saturday they were out and proud. They were assuming their rightful place as British people supporting Palestine. To feel secure enough in your society to be able to do this is a positive sign of a healthy society.
Yet I confess doubt. There is a part of me that thinks that these people are just so incensed by what is happening that they just had to come to the demonstrations, despite their reservations. Only time will tell I suppose.
The police claim 12,000 people were there. One of the guest speakers before the march, the musican Brian Eno agrees with the organisers who claim over 100,000 people attended:
“Musician Brian Eno condemned the police and BBC for underestimating the size of the protest.
“I know what 20,000 looks like. I’ve played often enough in front of 20,000. The size of the demonstration was at the very least four times that size and 100,000 is an accurate assessment. I have complained to the BBC about their absurd figure of 20,000,” he said.”
Brian Eno should know, he’s seen more large crowds in his musical career than the police and the BBC have seen large demonstrations.
Over the next few days I’ll post the rest of my experiences from the march. It’s been a long day and I’m still feeling very creaky after yesterday’s little adventure. For the first time ever I think I may actually be getting too old for this.