Monday, 17 December 2007

Bethlehem blues

Aside from hopes of yuletide snow and Wii computer games - climate change and looming recession, notwithstanding - Christmas, for many western kids, is still somewhat synonymous with the Little Town of Bethlehem.

Well, it was for me. And, even as I grew older and shed those infant - and most of my religious - illusions, that charming little association held. Perhaps it was the pleasing memory of getting a part in the Nativity play at primary school - alright, so I was 'just' a shepherd, but carried the role, I thought, with a certain 'pastoral presence' - yes, another happy childhood - or, maybe still, adult -illusion.

How odd, this Christmas, to reflect on my recent visit to the Little Town, and for the now predominant association to be the monstrous Apartheid Wall surrounding it. Not Manger Square. Not even the intimate Church of the Nativity, with its special symbolism. Just that faceless expanse of concrete inhumanity. How the Israeli Occupation deprives us even of our childish reverie.

Indeed, most of my mental images of Bethlehem are now of jarring, oppressive things: the queues of humiliated Palestinians lined-up beneath the towering wall waiting to be processed; the brutal checkpoint installation with its panopticon surveillance; the anonymous poverty just a few minutes walk from Manger Square; the sight of a nearby Israeli settlement, all affluent, coy and self-contained while the besieged Palestinains struggle to maintain essential services.

Palestinian existence. A people walled-in, their history and landmarks stolen. A topography of hidden, shameful purges and cultural vandalism which, as Ilan Pappe reminds us, extends across this Zionist-cleansed land:

"All over Israel many new settlements and national parks have become part of the country's collective memory without any reference to the Palestinian villages that once stood there, even where there are vestiges, such as an isolated house or a mosque, which visibly attest to the fact that people used to live there as recently as 1948." (1)
And shamefully hidden, too, by Zionist historiography, the crushing truth of how that erasure of people and their ordinary, simple lives came about.

Pappe describes in vivid and forensic detail how Ben-Gurion's Consultancy - the inner cabal of Zionist elites - met, planned and approved their own version of a final solution for the mass removal and murder of the Palestinian population. With the British Mandate coming to a close, Hagana, Irgun and Stern Gang forces had already used multiple "retaliatory" pretexts for extinguishing Palestinian villages. And from the infamous Long Seminar (31 January 1948) came Ben-Gurion's "green light" and execution of a policy intended to "cause optimal damage and kill as many villagers as possible." (2).

Under Plan Dalet, villages like Deir Yassin witnessed the ruthless reality of the Consultancy's ethnic cleansing policy, as recounted here by Fahim Zaydan, a twelve year old Palestinian at the time, who saw his entire family murdered before his eyes:

"They took us out one after the other, shot an old man and when one of his daughters cried, she was shot too. Then they called my brother Muhammad, and shot him in front of us, and when my mother yelled, bending over him - carrying my little sister Hudra in her hands, still breastfeeding her - they shot her too." (3)
The pain of such experiences are written on every Palestinian face. And that daily pain goes on. In the ritual humiliation of the West Bank people. In the wicked Israeli and international starvation of Gaza, a siege the 'civilized' European Union has wilfully served to enforce while knowing all-too-well the extent of Israel's own terrorist agenda and extra-judicial murder of Palestinians.

Exiled Palestinians, the world over, are also marked by the ongoing catastrophe. At our Palestinian support stall, some ethnic Palestinians, their families now many-generational parts of the mass exclusion, cannot even bear to look at the piles of photos we keep of the West Bank. One fine man, whose family fled in '48, recently stood reflecting with us, his quiet, dignified eyes filling-up as we talked of our own time in the refugee camps, of the routine dehumanisation and how he and his family remain lost among that discarded diaspora.

Up the street, amid the festive shoppers, a Salvation Army band played Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. And it occurred to me that no amount of Western refuge, new-land 'belonging' or consumer 'well-being' can compensate for the loss of one's home and right of return to that homeland. And I understood how only the exiled can understand the psychology and pain of exile.

And, again, those lingering thoughts and images of Bethlehem. Of oppressive security towers and trapped people. Little Town. Enclosed and humbled. Dusty, sad streets. Ragged kids kicking around, their tiny frames and paltry lives dwarfed by the wall.

Yet, something else. Something very particular and much more redeeming, a somehow defining association of resistance and hope: the wonderful spirit and generosity of those people we met and spent our time with in the town's Azeh and Aida Refugee Camps. Of all those smiling children. Of all those parents struggling, quietly, valiantly, to raise and protect them. Of our resilient friends running the little projects helping to keep their hopes alive. And of a kind man and his family who took us into his and other homes in one of the camps, to witness and share, in happy empathy, a little part of their lives.

To them and all our other Palestinian friends this Eid-ul-Adha and Christmas, my own humblest expressions of thanks and love.


1. Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld: 2006), p 89.

2. Ibid, p 64.

3. Ibid, p 90.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Courting defiance: defending Aamer Anwar

Glasgow Sheriff Court (an apparent exchange)

Sheriff: Have you anything to say before sentencing?
Accused: As sure as God's my judge, your honour, I'm not guilty.
Sheriff: He's not, I am, you are, six months.

An amusing line, if I recall, from the fine film on Jimmy Boyle, A Sense of Freedom, no doubt typical of the many theatrical exchanges that have graced Scotland's courtrooms. Maybe the guy in the dock just needed a decent lawyer.

The Scottish judiciary have shown little hesitation over the years in locking-up the 'men of violence' - with little social regard for how such violence comes about. These days, they seem as efficient in curbing the freedoms of not only those who merely imagine acts of violence, but also their legal representatives.

An impressive campaign is presently underway to defend Glasgow-based human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, who is facing a serious contempt of court action following post-trial comments he made on the conviction of his client Mohammed Atif Siddiqui. Jailed for eight years, Atif is the first person to be convicted in Scotland under the Terrorism Act 2006.

The severity of the sentence handed-down in this case is ready-evidence of how the Muslim community in the UK is being monitored and demonised. Atif was punished for accessing 'subversive' internet sites, illustrating the state's new understanding and application of 'thought control'. Now the establishment is going after those who defend those 'errant' surfers.

But the effort to silence Aamer has only heightened his political and legal profile. During a recent meeting (on Palestine and Resistance) at Glasgow University, Aamer recounted the time when, as a student there, he had his mouth kicked-in by police in nearby Ashton Lane after being chased for putting up campaign flyposters. When a bloodied Aamer asked one of the officers why they had resorted to such brutality, he replied: "That's what happens to black boys with big mouths".

As a fellow Glasgow student at the time, I recall the subsequent meeting, with Aamer, broken teeth in hand, declaring that he wouldn't be silenced. Aamer and campus others had organised a large occupation of the Principal's office (which, with limited persuasion, I found myself part of) in protest at the incoming abolition of student grants. The boot in Aamer's mouth was, no doubt, meant as a timely warning to this up-and-coming activist.

Sixteen years later, a more 'respectable' boot is being used to effect Aamer's 'compliance'. But, as with the cruder methods noted, the present efforts of the state have only served to embolden Aamer, while giving voice to an expansive network of support, now including leading lawyers, MPs and MSPs.

Listening to Aamer speak made me reflect on just how more focused those forces of compliance have become in seeking to punish the "black boys with big mouths" - or, "Muslims and others with legitimate political concerns", as we may more reasonably call them.

As ever, populist media demonology has played its dutiful part. The Daily Record, for example - Scotland's 'very own' exponent of homely, dumb-the-mind hubris - predictably had Aamer down as an "out of order" "firebrand lawyer" daring to question the tariff handed-down on this "wanabee suicide bomber".

This ugly branding of lawyers as 'friends of terrorists' is being conflated - again, through perverse media language - with the growing vilification of immigrants. The assaults on asylum seekers' rights is consistent with the government's push-and-shove determination to secure increased emergency powers of arrest and detention.

The ongoing Home Office persecution of Palestinian refugee and political activist Fatima Helow here in Glasgow is one such disturbing example of the 'asylum-seeker-terrorist-suspect' agenda. Fatima is currently living in a state of demeaning limbo after losing her leave-to-stay appeal. Witness to the brutal massacre at Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, Fatima has also seen a contentious judicial review of her case refused.

The attack on Aamer Anwar is an evident part of that same process: in this case, a denial of the right to speak on behalf of Atif and his family; a creeping erosion of the lawyer-client relationship.

This mood of state-judicial intolerance is apparent elsewhere, too. In Ireland, the government is trying to pass legislation making lawyers financially liable for the court costs of failed immigration cases undertaken, thus undermining the fundamental rights of non-nationals to legal representation.

These attacks are a new front in the climate of state-imposed fear, a way of warning human-rights-minded lawyers like Aamer Anwar to 'consider their careers' before 'opening their mouths'.

Meanwhile, as Aamer awaits a date for the contempt hearing, he has accepted a well-backed nomination to run for Rector of Glasgow University. A nice irony - and indication of a principled lawyer unlikely to keep his mouth shut.
Defend Aamer Anwar

Sunday, 18 November 2007

The cancer of Israeli apartheid

It's not always easy making the case for basic political justice, human rights and an end to Israel's apartheid treatment of the Palestinian people. But we try.

Three young Israeli men appeared recently at our Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign stall, with, quite obviously, more than a passing interest in what we were doing. One, in particular, spoke in dismissive tones about the Palestinians, asking me, rather mockingly, if I'd ever actually been to Israel and whether I knew anything about how the Palestinians live. I replied that, no, I'd never been to Israel, only to Palestine, quite recently, in fact, and that, yes, my colleagues and I had been able to see first-hand the shocking ways in which the Palestinians are being forced to live under an illegal occupation.

A little annoyed, he asked whether I, at least, accepted that, being "a democracy," Israel has the right to exist and defend itself. But Israel is not a democracy, I corrected him. It's an apartheid state. Two contradictory entities. He seemed genuinely puzzled by this possibility, apparently struggling to understand that a state with a discriminatory polity akin to apartheid South Africa is not a functioning democracy even in the conventional liberal sense of the term.

Apartheid state, he demanded. Says who? Well, Desmond Tutu, who knows a bit about such matters, and ex-US President Jimmy Carter, for starters. He gave up on me at this point and moved-on to one of my friends.

The walk-away-with-shaking-head routine is usually reasonable evidence of a bankrupt argument. And, when making sure to maintain one's own calm demeanour, it's always helpful to remember that the Palestinians' case is actually fixed in international law. In short, it has legal, as well as moral, right on it's side.

But, such exchanges also reaffirm to me that these young people are themselves products of a siege-mentality state with no actual concern for the legalities and moralities of the issue. More basically, they see themselves as upholders of something which they already have and fully intend to keep. In effect, right and wrong doesn't actually feature in their comprehension of the problem. The more revealing point, rather, is their own incomprehension at the thought of having to relinquish what they've taken and now assume to be their own.

Ask such people how they can justify the illegal settlements pock-marking the West Bank? They can't. Certainly not in any legally-convincing way, given all the UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw. So, they evade or dismiss the question.

What about the illegality of the 'separation' wall, as decreed by the International Court? Again, there's no rational argument offered, only standard, convenient rationalisations, such as, 'the wall is there to keep terrorists out.' No mention of its primary purpose in annexing yet more Palestinian land. It's the same shrugging evasions and denials acutely evident in the body language and responses of young conscripts at Israeli checkpoints.

Another seemingly obvious question, thus, arises: how can a person or group acting in a human rights capacity ever hope to persuade such people to observe others' rights when those people have no functioning interest in human rights? If nothing else, there's useful lessons to be learned here in observing the psychology of denial and capacity of people to remain locked-into such a defensive mindset.

Yet, that psychology is itself deeply-informed by Israel's state apartheid policies - de jure and de facto. And from this comes a naturalised language of casual racism, a rooted indifference to others' pain; a socialised grooming in doctrinaire-speak which allows and validates the dehumanisation of an entire people.

The Palestinians, thus, become socially framed as 'a problem' - not a people - to be contained, managed, corralled, humiliated, ground-down and demoralised until they themselves have no reasonable expectation of being treated as human equals.

The courageous Jewish writer/academic Ilan Pappe has documented the historical origins of this discriminatory treatment in his fine tome, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Here, and in other definitive writings, Pappe records how the removal and brutalisation of a people since the Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948 became a vital and accepted narrative for Israelis, part of their 'national duty' to 'defend the homeland'. Thus, the racist treatment of Palestinians is still largely unrecognised:
"The plan decided upon on 10 March 1948, and above all its systematic implementation in the following months, was a clear-cut case of an ethic cleansing operation, regarded under international law today as a crime against humanity." (1)
The subsequent denial and hiding of this mass crime has been facilitated by official Israeli historiography, such as the concocted story of Palestinian "voluntary transfers". (2) This, Pappe reminds us, is part of "the cognitive system that allowed the world to forget, and enabled the perpetrators to deny, the crime the Zionist movement committed against the Palestinian people in 1948...I have no doubt that the absence so far of a paradigm of ethnic cleansing is part of the reason why the denial of the catastrophe has been able to go on for so long." (3)

And from this flows a message of ethnic superiority and refusal to admit culpability which permeates Israeli society today.

Here's a particularly shocking illustration of that "cognitive system", revealing such discriminatory indifference even in the area of critical health-care for Palestinian children.

Farah's story

Jamal Harma and his family eke-out a living in Balata refugee camp, Nablus. In January 2005, Jamal's daughter Farah, then ten, was diagnosed with bone cancer in her right knee. Through an arrangement between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv, she was permitted to be seen by doctors there instead of the rudimentary clinics in the West Bank. Jamal was prohibited from accompanying her as he didn't have a travel permit. Instead, Farah made the arduous daily journeys from Nablus with her grandmother.

At the initial consultation, Farah received the most cursory of examinations and was sent home with an ink mark around the tumour indicating the area to be treated with radiation. No interdisciplinary team saw Farah, as standard practice, and no effort was made by an oncologist to determine the precise form of cancer. Her 'case notes' amounted to a paltry two pages.

In March 2005, increasingly anxious about his daughter's condition, Jamal took Farah to Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv, where they saw Dr. Yehuda Kollender, deputy head of orthopaedic oncology. Here's Jamal's painful recollection of that meeting:

"When we met Kollender," says Jamal, "he asked me: 'Why did you come to us so late?' I told him: 'She's being treated at Assuta.' He asked me: 'What are you doing there at Assuta?' I said: 'What do you mean? Radiation.' Kollender took off his glasses, looked at me and clutched his head in his hands. He told his secretary not to let anyone else in the room. 'We're in big trouble,' he told me. I didn't understand what was happening. He called Assuta Hospital, while I was sitting there. I don't know whom he spoke to there. 'How could such a thing happen?' he asked them. 'You'll be responsible. This wouldn't happen to a child from Israel.'"
Dr. Kollender later recalled:
"A little girl came to me with an advanced and neglected tumor, and when her father told me that the girl was getting radiation at Assuta, my hair stood on end. Every expert in oncology, actually every specialist in oncology or orthopedics, knows that the standard treatment all over the world for such a case is chemotherapy, followed by limb-preserving surgery, and then another round of chemotherapy."
But the damage to Farah had been done. The case is now subject to a civil suit against Assuta. The lawsuit papers show that Farah was also treated with a long-outdated Cobalt 60 radiation machine, reserved only for Palestinian patients. Two investigators were subsequently told by Assuta's medical director that the machine did not fulfil the necessary requirements for treating Israelis and was being used only to meet the 'needs' of the PA. The investigators confirmed the director's admission that the machine was being used just to make money, noting, with shock, her concluding remark: "It's not my problem".

The human rights-based attorney Michael Sfard who filed the case describes it as a "constitutional lawsuit"; "a suit about constitutional injustices when an organization or individual infringes on the rights of another person". Safrd's indictment comes with this scathing conclusion: "when Assuta was asked to clarify its numerous faults, what was uncovered was an indifferent and racist system motivated by financial considerations".

That "indifferent and racist system" is beyond Jamal's comprehension, and was, tragically, the difference between life and death for Farah:

"Eventually, the doctors said they had done all they could. Farah was very sick. The tumor had spread to her lungs. She had trouble breathing and had to rely on an oxygen tank. "I'm a devout man. As a Muslim, I believe that everything is in God's hands. At that point I understood that her fate was in God's hands, and we came back home." "
Little Farah died. But her death is not only due to medical negligence. It's rooted in a system of state discrimination.

Hayah's story

Farah's story is connected with the case of Hayah Abu-Qabatya, another Palestinian child discarded by the system. Hayah also died never having received proper treatment. Her case is party to the lawsuit:
"As in the case of Farah Harma, [the same doctor] looked at her leg and drew with a marker to designate the area meant to receive radiation. The lawsuit says that he subsequently sent her for radiation treatment without doing any medical tests to obtain a more precise diagnosis of the type of cancer and of the girl`s medical condition. In this case, too, he failed to go through standard treatment planning or consult with a pediatric oncologist...No physical examination was performed and she also received radiation from the Cobalt 60 machine."
Hayah's father recalls how the true extent of the problem, as with Farah, was discovered too late:

"When my daughter finished the treatments, they asked us to come back in two months,` says the father. `A week later, my daughter said that her stomach hurt. I took her to Al-Husseini Hospital. She had an X-ray. When the doctor saw the film he went nuts. He said: 'I don`t understand, I don`t understand! How did the disease spread like this?'...Further examination found that the cancer had spread into the girl`s abdominal cavity and lungs. Hayah began chemotherapy at Al-Husseini Hospital, but her condition rapidly deteriorated, and the treatments were halted. `At the hospital they told me, 'Take her home, it will be better that way,' says Abu-Qabatya."
There's the pain of losing a child. The knowledge of medical mistreatment is a terrible added burden. But how more awful to know that such loss is symptomatic of a state's racist treatment of an entire people?

"Hayah Abu-Qabatya died at home in the village of Yata, on Thursday, October 13, 2005. She was just 12 years old. In the last days of her life, she slept because of the strong painkillers she was given. "The whole time she was being treated at Assuta, I tried to hide from her that it was cancer, so as not to break her," says her father. "But she quickly understood what was going on. A few days after we came back from the hospital, she asked me, 'Daddy, am I going to die?' and I didn't know what to answer. On the Friday of the Ramadan holiday, I came back from prayers and sat beside her. It was 12 noon. She opened her eyes for a moment, looked at me and then closed them."
But, as the responses of some Israeli doctors and officials in this report shows, there is also a strong and enduring capacity for those on the dominant side to care about their fellow human beings.

Hayah's father retains kind praise for the human rights volunteers who were always there to help his daughter through the checkpoints en route to hospital and to offer stay-over accommodation.

This aspect of the story is a ray of hope, a reminder of how people are ever-capable of acting in a spirit of humanity, able to contemplate the possibility of a just political system and equitable society.

Ilan Pappe and other key anti-Zionist campaigners participated in a major conference recently on the case for a one-state solution, the most alarming of all scenarios for Israel's apartheid state and its adherents. For it would not only force a post-apartheid structure of equal political and civil rights. It would necessitate the humane treatment of Palestinians as equal people.

Alas, all that's too late for Farah and Hayah. One can only hope for a day when their brothers and sisters can live in a land of open justice, equal health-care and common dignity.



(1) Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, p x111 (2006, Oneworld Pub.).
(2) Ibid, p xiv.
(3) Ibid, p xvi.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Victims, voices and celluloid dissent

In a recent speech on media and cultural propaganda, John Pilger commented that The Deerhunter is the only movie that ever caused him to shout out in protest inside a cinema.

Pilger was objecting to its selective indulgence of American suffering, a theme all the harder to challenge given that the film was so "brilliantly made". Likewise, notes Pilger, Oliver Stone's Platoon may have offered graphic images of the ugly war in Vietnam, but - like the rest of his Vietnam trilogy (Heaven and Earth, and Born on the Fourth of July) - it's primarily concerned with the angst of American soldiers, offering no meaningful Vietnamese voice or experience. In short, it's about seeing America as the principal victim.

Stone made 'amends' for his 'radical output' with the more recent World Trade Center and is now embarking on the fourth of his Vietnam films, Pinkville , examining the cover-up of the My Lai massacre. It stars the arch-conservative Bruce Willis.

But, if Hollywood is still to make a convincing Vietnamese-sided film, do other current cinematic and theatrical war dramas, including the 'war on terror', give appropriate voice and experience to the main victims?

Hollywood would have us believe it's 're-found' it's own 'critical' voice. But, even for the more independent film companies, anti-war doesn't mean giving a 'lead role' to the Iraqi, or any other conquered, people.

Producers like Robert Redford, 'speaking for' liberal America at large, may be getting a little more room these days to shout-down Bush's lies about Iraq and challenge the neo-cons' 'extra-judicial 'practices. Yet, this is still a safe distance from allowing a voice to those in Fallujah, Kabul and Gaza who actually experience the crushing impact of the Pentagon's and its associates' corporate-driven warfare.

Ah well, at least there's even more parts available for Arabs to play terrorists these days.

The current crop of 'leftfield' US films, such as Rendition and Lions for Lambs, are a kind of zeitgeist expression of the discomfort America is feeling over its warmongering foreign policy and use of authorised torture around the globe. Similar liberal-minded output from George Clooney (Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck) overhangs this mood. Yet, on closer inspection, much of this is really a cry for the 'lost American ideal', illustrating the safe boundaries of liberal America's celluloid dissent. Redford et al may be a welcome alternative to the Bruce Willis-type gush of US heroes in hostile foreign places (Willis is still, apparently, planning an Iraq-based action thriller championing the US combat unit Deuce Four). But, as with Pilger's 'reviews' of The Deerhunter and Platoon, US cinema, 'big box' or 'indie', still offers little true experience of the victimised other.

Brit-side voices

A more promising contender, this side of the Atlantic, is the recent TV drama, Britz (Channel 4, 31 October, 1 November 2007). Despite a little artistic licence here and there, Peter Kosminsky's absorbing film carries a number of thought-provoking devices serving to outline the fuller context of the 'war on terrorism'. We have, for example, one of the lead characters, Sohail, Riz Ahmed (of The Road to Guantanamo), surveying the complex landscape for British Muslims while being drawn-into the service of MI5. In one scene, we see how the police's racist treatment of Sohail's friends conflicts with his decision to spy on them and his community. In another chilling sequence, the other main character, Nasima, Sohail's sister, offers a very profound statement on our collective "responsibility" for allowing Blair to act in this criminal way, thus provoking and raising the potential for violent Islamic responses.

Britz was, at least, a welcome respite from the facile Spooks, with its risible take on the 'dark underbelly' of British intelligence. In it's attempt to play the 'sophisticated' plot line of dark-but-still-decent MI5 good guys, the US is currently being portrayed as a malignant agent provocateur seeking to implicate Iran and up the war on terror ante, while our all-action heroes rush around trying to stop fanatical Algerians blowing-up London. Another recent episode had the intrepid MI5ers cutting through a garden fence-like wire to enter a supposedly top-security installation hiding America's most secret nuclear weapon. Yet, behind all the racy plot lines, 'self-examination' and 'admitting' of dirty deeds, the predominant voice remains that of our vigilant spymasters protecting us from renegade insiders and demonic outsiders.

Staged voices

As Edward Said shows in Culture and Imperialism, populist narrative has always played a vital role in helping to demonise, omit or remove the non-Western other. It's as though the colonised and occupied have no valid part in their own historical drama.

Alas, I had that uneasy feeling of the 'absent other' watching the finely-produced and performed (TV screening of) Black Watch. This play is assuredly not war propaganda. It's, in a certain 'unstated' and, thus, nuanced sense, an anti-war production. But it's also acutely lacking in any Iraqi voice or experience. And I don't just mean the inserted testimony of a victimised Iraqi.

It's almost impossible to fault John Tiffany's brilliant direction. Writer Gregory Burke has also allowed the play to have 'its own voice' through the gathered accounts of serving soldiers. It's more a 'pain of war' statement, rather than agitprop theatre, resulting in a poignant human story of brutalised young fighting men in an alienating land far from home.

But it's also a disappointingly one-sided representation of that pain and alienation.

Burke is, essentially, against the war, but unwilling to castigate the men or regiments who participate in it. This couples with his opposition to the MoD-imposed break-up of the Black Watch and reformation of it and other units into a single Scottish regiment.

In this spirit, Burke argues that Black Watch is first-and-foremost about the Black Watch and the psychology of soldiers being sent to, and returning from, war. And, yes, the piece can stand as a singular perspective on the war - the soldiers' story.

But does that story have moral validity without reference to those who are on the principal end of the Black Watch's actions? Indeed, to what extent should we 'elevate' those soldiers' stories in this form while their regiments help perpetuate the occupation and mass suffering in Iraq?

The related problem of Black Watch is its underlying endorsement of militarism, a theme which, while artistically displayed in the unfolding history of the regiment, too-readily 'celebrates' its esprit de corps. Black Watch may help us reflect on the horrors of war. But it also reinforces populist sentiments of 'benign militarism'.

At a time when the BBC and other elite-upholding media are serving to convey the idea of the 'mistaken war' - rather than the illegal and genocidal one that's actually happening - such output, arguably, serves to distract attention from the part UK forces have played in the invasion and killing.

There is a standard legal principle in such matters, still relevant from Nuremberg: the higher up the chain of command, the more culpable one is of war crimes. Blair, Brown and the generals should, thus, be standing at a dock in the Hague. But this doesn't entirely absolve those on the ground. Soldiers, though obeying orders and doing their job, are also responsible, legally and morally, for their actions.

Black Watch is not the jingoistic 'our boys at war' which an obedient media rallied-around from day one of the invasion. But it's still a troubling version of it. These soldiers are, of course, 'our boys'. But so also, to my way of thinking, are young Iraqis. They're all 'our boys' in a more inclusive, humanitarian sense. The principle, quite obviously, should extend to all suffering beings, male and female, young and old, caught-up in this wicked war and other conflicts.

In the week that saw the resilient Rose Gentle finally get judicial recognition for the loss of her Fusilier son Gordon in Iraq, Black Watch is a ready-reminder of the ways in which the state has, effectively, 'press-ganged' economically-fragile young people and sacrificed them in the supposed name of 'benign intervention'. But the play and the ruling might also cause us to reflect again on how we extend our understanding of human empathy with the forgotten of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and other oppressed lands.

Penn is mightier than the sword

With good timing, this week also saw the actor Sean Penn give an impressive BBC interview in which he talked of his travels to Iran (to report the 2005 elections), his opposition to Bush, and how he sees the need for such a common politics of humanity. Alongside his warnings of how Bush will continue to "lie" on Iran, Penn's admirable words help illustrate the kind of mutual regard we must feel for the presently suffering and imminently threatened other.

Interviewer: "You're known also for your politics, you're known for your strong views [on the Iraq war and US policy towards Iran...] Why have you not chosen to use your films in a more overtly political way?"

Sean Penn: "Well, I don't know that there's anything more overtly political than to be proactively human... I'm not interested in the word politics as an academic notion. I think that it's got to be [about]quality of life for people...for one individual...for everybody. And that's what politics ought to be about. It's really a one issue world. It's quality of life."

Penn added, in relation to Iran:

“My project is to cut through to some of the meaningless kind of spin that has numbed people from understanding that people are people everywhere, and to be able to go there and to report back some of the kind of very shared humanity that we all have, no matter where we are coming from.”

Penn shows that there are also other ways of acting. And the key motivation of his assumed role is a rejection of mainstream politics for a true politics of compassion. In his efforts to expose the "spin of fear" and how the powerful seek to "make life so much cheaper", Penn reminds us that, on-screen and off, we have a duty to consider and reflect the voice and experience of the victimised other.


Tuesday, 30 October 2007

No Plan, No Peace in Iraq – beWare BBC version

In an incisive inside story, BBC reporter John Ware takes us behind the political and diplomatic scenes to reveal that the US/UK had no effective plan to realise the peace in Iraq, and that the neo-con “crazies” should shoulder considerable blame for that set of mistakes.

Or does he?

At a surface level, this is the reading of No Plan, No Peace – the Inside Story of Iraq's Descent into Chaos (BBC, 28, 29 October 2007) that much of the public and even many anti-war adherents will, no doubt, have seen and accepted.

And if they do, it would be testament to Ware's capacity for crafted distortion and the BBC's willingness to make ever-refined excuses for the illegal and immoral actions of its political masters. Indeed, even among its finest catalogue of whitewashed output, we may struggle to find a better example of the BBC's 'good-warmonger – bad-warmonger' version of US/UK 'intervention' in Iraq.

Ware's film is actually the classic liberal version of the 'mistaken war': the 'mistake' of not having a pre-planned strategy for 'state-building' and formalisation of 'democratic structures'; the 'mistake' of extreme de-Ba'thification and disbanding of the Iraqi security services; the 'mistakes' of failing to anticipate the alienation of displaced Iraqis; and the 'mistaken' belief that the surge might still break the insurgency.

Completely absent from this version of the 'mistaken war' is any acknowledgment of its actual illegality or immorality. Nor, in Part 1 of this 'cutting-edge' exposé, does Ware deem it necessary to discuss the actual extent of the Iraqi death toll. A “few hundred thousand” may have died, he permits, in vague admission, as though the tragedy and suffering of so many people can be treated as a passing comment. Ware never thinks it appropriate to mention the Lancet and (complementary) ORB studies which reliably estimate in excess of 1.2 million people now dead as a direct consequence of the invasion.

The cast of goodfellas

Ware, instead, proceeds to introduce an extensive cast of the 'good-guy' warmongers. First-up is Colin Powell's ex-Chief of Staff, Colonel Larry Wilkerson, who confirms Ware's enquiry about Powell and his circle referring to Cheney and their neo-con cohorts as “the crazies”. Douglas Feith is also singled-out as being a particular “idiot”. Such statements are presented as a journalistic coup for Ware who seems unconcerned at the passé nature of these 'great revelations'. But they suit his purpose in building an apparent foundation for his 'shocking' thesis: that a cavalier-and-uncaring bunch of US neo-cons and a careless-but-dutiful UK had no serious understanding of how to plan and maintain an occupation.

It's instructive to see such a 'distinguished' cast of diplomatic, political and military elite eagerly participating in Ware's film. And why not, for it serves their purposes of being star players in this gentlemanly re-writing of history. In Ware's liberal revisionist treatise, Powell and his State Department people are feted as some kind of wronged and maligned faction, unable to realise their 'diplomatic' efforts and 'benign' planning policies. That, of course, didn't stop Powell himself going to the UN to sell Bush's war agenda. Nor did he or any of his 'concerned' coterie stand-up and declare their worries or abhorrence of the invasion at the time.

The cast of good-warmonger denialists keep on coming. In a telling 'cameo', US Ambassador and ex-Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) figure, Barbara Bodine talks of the neo-cons' antagonism towards the State Department, telling us, in sombre tones, that:

“This [Bush's] is the first truly ideological administration that we've ever had.”

Ware: “Ever, in the history of the United States?”

Bodine: “Ever, ever.”

Astonishingly, Ware accepts this assertion at face value, allowing it to sit in the pregnant silence as some kind of major disclosure.

I immediately thought of what Pilger recently said about it all being the fault of the “Bush gang”:

“And, yes, the Bush gang are extreme. But my experience is that they are no more than an extreme version of what has gone before. In my lifetime, more wars have been started by liberal Democrats than by Republicans. Ignoring this truth is a guarantee that the propaganda system and the war-making system will continue.”

(This, incidentally, is the same Bodine who obstructed the FBI's investigation into Bin Laden prior to 9/11.)

Ware continues with a standard re-hash of the false “45 minutes” claim, coupled with more mitigation from Powell's ex-aide that he really wanted “diplomacy and inspections”. Ware sees no contradiction either in Powell's other 'difference of opinion' in seeking double the number of US troops allowed by Rumsfeld. Powell's man infers that this was to help build and maintain the 'peace'. Yet, Ware has nothing to say about Powell's key role in prosecuting the war or his case for troop deployment. He's conspicuously quiet too on Wilkerson's claim that Jack Straw, Powell's UK cohort, was also a man of diplomacy.

The 'good Brits'

By this point, the other key theme in Ware's distorting film is unfolding: Bush, Cheney and the US high-command were 'fundamentally uncaring', while 'we' Brits were only 'incautious and misled'.

Sir Christopher Meyer, ex-UK Ambassador to Washington, affects his usual all-knowing manner in recounting his worries about the post-invasion aftermath and proclaimed efforts to:

“...above all, get them [Blair and his government] thinking about what's next.”

Never does it seemingly occur to Meyer that “above all” he should have been at the door of Downing Street, rushing round media studios, even taking to the streets with the millions of others, to denounce the invasion itself.

We also have an account of Condoleezza Rice 'ticking-off ' Meyer about his 'concerns', reminding him that the Iraqis were actually capable of planning their own reconstruction. We get more Whitehall mandarins talking reflectively about their “warnings” to Washington and, for good measure, Claire Short's 'searching' testimony on the inadequacy of the international aid and development efforts.

The UK's Foreign Office head, Lord Jay (2000-2006), offers varying 'diplomatic asides' on Washington's “dysfunctional administration”, asking, in rhetorical admission “...should we have had a better understanding?” Britain's other ex-ambassador to the US, Sir David Manning, claims that the UK had little sense of the imposing role the Department of Defense had in mind for the running of Iraq.

General Sir Mike Jackson is invited to add weight to Ware's 'mistaken war' thesis, while Britain's Major General Tim Cross (Senior Logistics Planner ) records his apparent “unease” over Rumsfeld's lack of military and civil planning. The 'academic' evidence of Professor Charles Tripp (School of Oriental and African Studies ) is, likewise, invoked to illustrate how ill-prepared the UK was even days before the invasion. Relating how the Department for International Development (DfID) had asked him to do “desk-based research on government structures in Iraq”, Tripp describes the lack of preparation as “surreal”.

Yet, more-tellingly, none of these people have a solitary word to say here about the fundamental illegality and immorality of the invasion itself.

While Ware is lining-up his eager cast of 'disillusioned insiders' on the UK side, his examinations of Jay Garner, Director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), and Robert Bremer, head of the subsequent CPA, are of a more hostile nature. Not, an unreasonable view to take, of course. Both were arch-participants in the murderous brutality. However, Ware is more concerned here in highlighting their 'mistaken strategies' - rather than their criminality – and how their actions largely 'differed' from the UK's more 'pragmatic assessments'.

But there's still the 'goodfellas' on the US side to consider. ORHA official, Colonel Paul Hughes, for example, recounts how another of Rumsfeld's appointees to ORHA, Lawrence Di Rita, had made loud-soundings about the US having already given the Iraqis 'their freedom' and, thus, refusing to acknowledge their right to actual reconstruction. Hughes recalls his own reaction to Di Rita's belligerence:

“...holy hell, what are we here for, then? Why don't we all just go home?”

Di Rita's zealous thoughts need no further comment. More revealing is how Ware sees Hughes's response as some sort of honourable, good-guy remonstration. The impression is, thus, conveyed of a 'good war 'being hampered by 'bad-war' neo-cons. What Ware refuses to admit is that ALL these people were/are there as part of an illegal and - contrary to the fine-sounding ORHA title - inhumanitarian occupation.

Part 1 of No Plan, No Peace ends with this pre-summary from Ware:

“In Baghdad, the heat was burning-up what Iraqi goodwill there was from being liberated. The failure to provide electricity and water was stoking anti-American feeling.”

Ware has Colonel Tim Cross amplify this selective version of the invasion. It was like “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

More 'mistakes' and 'good-guy' 'regrets'

The 'mistaken war' line is developed in Part 2 with Ware proceeding to question the lack of planning to deal with the insurgency. Bremer's 'new brush' approach is scrutinised, with Ware introducing old Washington favourite Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, to question Bremer's handling of the situation.

Deeply-absorbed in this claim and counter-claim about securing an 'effective strategy', one is easily-led into Ware's false agenda on 'the problems' of reconstruction and securing of a 'pluralist democracy'. Other UK-sided 'good guys' are invited to sum-up the catalogue of incompetence, but never to comment on the illegal occupation or their own participation in it. We even have the tragi-comic utterances of Sir Hilary Synnott (attached to the CPA) bemoaning his lack of funds to entertain and co-opt the Iraqi tribal leaders. How very old-colonial. In similar vein, Ware thinks that we should consider the snubbing of UK Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock by the US in Iraq as a further troubling indication of the good-guy-bad-guy relations.

In particular, Bremer is taken-to-task for pursuing an extreme form of de-Ba'thification, serving to drive alienated Iraqis over to the insurgency. As Ware, in his gravitas-laden voice reminds us: “The Americans were trying to spread freedom.” But they were going about it the wrong way.

While Bremer talks-up General Petraeus's surge “strategy”, Greenstock expresses “regret” over the suffering of the Iraqi people. There's footage of UK troops, portrayed as some kind of benevolent force, training-up a proto-Iraqi army. Even the damning footage of British soldiers ruthlessly beating-up Iraqi civilians is passed-over as a “shocking” but atypical incident.

Alas, Ware has to concede, “Basra is not the showcase for democracy that London and Washington had hoped.” But why does Ware assume that either the UK or US were ever seriously interested in democracy?

Ware leaves us with this final thought:

“Somehow, with all our shared history, a Prime Minister and a President abandoned a principle that's been an iron law of warfare since Napoleon. Never take the first step to war without planning every bit as carefully for what comes afterwards.”

So, the dark story is now safely contextualised by Ware: the war itself was noble, only the war plan, or lack of, was at fault.

And there we have it, an 'inside account' of disregard and incompetence which, together, serves to separate the good-warmongers from the bad warmongers. While the 'bad guys' have pursued a 'thoughtless war', the 'good guys' have opened-up, in 'candid', 'concerned' fashion, about their part in this disastrous but, still, honourable invasion to remove Saddam.

Again, one shouldn't be surprised to see such output lauded as 'cutting-edge' reportage, with the general public expected to be in thrall to Ware and his 'vigilant' BBC peers for bringing us these 'vital insights'. In actual truth, we have here a classic exercise in gate-keeping liberal propaganda, with a lavish cast of denialists and apologists permitted open-forum to register and record their own personal and political 'authentications'. At Ware's careful discretion, they have been eulogised as moral players in a 'benevolent occupation'.

Maybe they'll see Ware's film as a timely 'lesson learned', and that all we need is a little 'fine policy-tuning' for our next big adventure in Iran.


Monday, 22 October 2007

Trident, the SNP summit and Brian's braces

It's been illuminating this week to observe the varying admonitions of New Labour, their political stable-mates and much of the media over the Scottish Government's summit on Trident and its proposed replacement (Glasgow, 22 October 2007). What some lack in the standard practice of demonisation, others make-up for in 'blethering' trivialisation.

Here, for example, is MP Eric Joyce, that dutifully-alert sergeant of New Labour militarism, castigating First Minister Alex Salmond for daring to contact the world's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) signatories - including, 'the shame of it all', Iran and Zimbabwe - asking for their help in removing Trident:

"Alex Salmond simply cannot know whether he is making damaging assertions or not because he does not know the nature of our relationships with many of these complex and difficult countries...He has written to some very despotic and dangerous individuals, which we have very sensitive and complex relationships with, and treated it like a weekly political football. It is potentially very damaging to our national security."

Ah, "national security". That oldest of chestnuts. Oh, for something, at least, more originally mendacious. Nor can we have our 'little parliament' exchanging thoughts with these 'dark foe' states - particularly while our 'big parliament' pursues its 'noble' work in Iraq and Afghanistan. Joyce and his political suits conveniently forget that Iran and Zimbabwe are still party to the NNPT, and were written-to on that inclusive basis. Moreover, unlike the UK, Iran hasn't blatantly ignored the NNPT.

Among the other usual suspects attacking the purpose and cost of the summit was Scottish Liberal Democrats leader, Nicol Stephen:

"Once again the SNP will spend government time and money squabbling with Westminster rather than getting on with the job they were elected to do. Ministers can't tell us how many extra teachers they will need to meet their promises to cut class sizes, yet they are happy to spend time, money and effort on a summit working out how to pick yet another fight with Westminster."

Yes, Nicol. Maybe it's just possible to do all these things, and more, at the same time. The 'irresponsible allocation of time and money' argument is, of course, another familiar complement to the 'national interest' trope.

The summit, attended by the Green Party's Patrick Harvie, but none of the other invited opposition, also heard Ministry of Defence spokesman Neil Smith warn of the 7000 job losses and cost to the local economy should Faslane close.

There are always, to invoke Wilde, those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. And, I'm sure, in perverse logic, that such utterings include denying the £76 billion price of Trident's replacement for the 'value' it supposedly brings to the economy.

Actually, I find it offensive to engage in such cost-benefit analyses. The case for re-training workers and economic diversification is all there. But, the fundamental immorality of Trident and mass threat to human life should be a sufficient imperative for disarmament in itself.

Media cover

The main outcome of the summit was the setting-up of a special advisory group, backed by the Scottish Government, to consider practical ways of blocking the MoD's Trident replacement plans, very possibly on environmental and planning grounds.

But, again, should our elected leaders be 'wasting time' indulging in these 'idealistic' gatherings?

Ever-the-voice of 'cautious practicality' (maybe his trademark, on-screen trouser braces are symbolic of such), here's our very own - that is, BBC Scotland's - Brian Taylor with a few 'blethering' reminders of what 'really matters' to the electorate and why Salmond's little devolved band have no real cause to be 'bothering' these important international ministers:

"Can this summit decide anything on Trident itself? No, defence policy is reserved. That is why this was a convocation of the modest and the good in a posh Glasgow pub-cum-theatre at the top of Byres Road rather than a full-scale governmental gathering."

A neat and quick put-down from Brian. But, maybe, he thinks, a little too quick, remembering that all-important need for BBC 'balance':

"Does that mean it’s a complete waste of time? That’s where opinion divides. SNP Ministers say it’s part of their National Conversation – and they’re entitled to examine options within devolved powers for thwarting the practical implementation of the Trident upgrade. Critics say that those same Ministers should start delivering on the promises in their manifesto which dealt with substantive devolved issues such as policing, schools and housing. They say this is another example of SNP Ministers indulging in gesture politics while neglecting their own in-tray. Are the Nationalists out to gain political capital? Unquestionably. They are presenting a direct political challenge to Labour, particularly Labour in Scotland. They are after votes."

The "critics say" part is, of course, a convenient way of imparting Taylor's own thoughts on the matter. Again, though, in the spirit of BBC 'fairness', 'objectivity' and token-gesture caveats, Brian allows that:

"...perhaps there is a balance to be struck. Arguably, it would be somewhat strange if the SNP offered no resistance whatsoever to Trident. Their opposition to the nuclear deterrent is of long-standing. Further, as the elected administration at Holyrood, they have a right, if not a duty, to consider wider issues of concern to the Scottish people."

A high sentiment, indeed - alas, tempered by our Brian's more immediate suspicions of voters' priorities:

"I suspect most neutral observers would concede that Trident is of passing interest to Scotland."

That would be the kind of "neutral observer" Taylor sees in himself, no doubt, with the same kind of "passing interest" in the issue. And just to round-off a polished performance in "neutral" BBC comment, we're left with this last little chiding of uppity politicians and those 'parochial' anti-nuclear crusaders:

"Against that, though, there is some substance, is there not, in the Labour complaint that the SNP initiative in contacting the 189 countries who are members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty risks running across the UK’s diplomatic remit. Don’t think we can push that one too far, though. I cannot see the bells ringing at the UN when the news breaks that Bruce Crawford is on his feet in Byres Road giving it laldy to an audience of unions, church leaders, Greenpeace et al. In general, SNP Ministers will be judged as a Scottish government not by their stance on Trident – but by their success or otherwise on those very devolved issues advance [sic] by their critics today."

Right enough, the "risks" of crossing "the UK's diplomatic remit" can't be ignored. I wonder how Brian rates those "risks" in relation to what lurks in the sub silos at Faslane. Or maybe such thoughts don't arise very much in the life of Brian.

Unlike Taylor, the Herald's Iain MacWhirter had, to his credit, the good grace to state some of the more obvious, inconvenient, truths about the UK's violation of the NNPT and the Scottish Government's legitimate interest in the issue:

"...David Cairns, the Scotland Office minister, says that Alex Salmond should be sorting out the free personal care instead of "cavorting across the world stage with his discredited loony-left policies" and giving comfort to our enemies. Well, they are also his loony policies, since Labour is still formally committed to pursuing "multilateral nuclear disarmament" under a defence policy which dates from the late 1980s. If he is saying that the presence of an anti-nuclear Scottish Government representative at the NNPT talks might be an embarrassment, then fair enough. But Britain has every cause to be embarrassed, since we've driven a coach and horses through the NNPT by renewing the Trident missile system. Article VI of the NNPT requires signatory nations to work toward "cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament". The government insists that developing a new generation of Trident does not run counter to this commitment, but many disagree, including Matrix Chambers, Cherie Blair's own law firm."

Ah well, these are all little incidentals that shouldn't detain Holyrood, the public or our vigilant media. Best let Westminster get on with applying its "remit". Know your place, Mr Salmond and all you bothersome peaceniks.

As I sign-off here, the metaphor of Brian's braces properly formulates in my mind. They serve a kind of back-up function - belt and braces - suggesting that where Eric's and Nicol's Trident-upholding efforts aren't enough to keep the political trousers up, Brian's dependable BBC braces will help ensure they don't fall around their political ankles, thus fully-exposing the bare truth beneath.

I hope that isn't a too-disturbing image for you, dear readers.


Monday, 15 October 2007

Quartet bias: the UN's pro-Israel leanings

The United Nations is “siding too much with Israel” and “failing to take account of the violation of Palestinian human rights”.
(Channel 4 News, 15 October 2007.)

That's the considered opinion of leading UN human rights envoy Professor John Dugard.

Dugard believes that the Middle East Quartet (the US, European Union, Russia and the UN) has “ignored the human rights aspect of the dispute”, and that at the forthcoming 'peace conference' in the US “full attention should be given to” the illegalities of the Wall, West Bank settlements, military checkpoints and continuing incursions.

Dugard alleges that “the UN is no longer seen as an impartial and even-handed mediator in the dispute” and that “by siding too much with Israel and by failing to take account of the violation of Palestinian human rights, the United Nations has lost that image of impartiality.”

He further declares that the UN's participation in the Quartet is merely serving to disguise the latter's pro-Israeli agenda, and that the UN's own 'integrity' is being compromised in the process: “There's no doubt that the United Nations is being used to legitimise the Quartet and if that is its sole purpose, I believe the United Nations should reconsider its position.”

Elsewhere, the UN Human Rights Council's Israeli-Palestinian investigator said that there must be real "considerations of fairness" behind the work of the Quartet.

Dugard now proposes to write to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging that the UN withdraw from the Quartet until it demonstrates a meaningful resolve to observe and defend Palestinian human rights.


It's another damning indictment of the UN's back-room adherence to US foreign policy, and all the more biting as it comes from a key UN insider. I'm reminded here of how former UN humanitarian envoy to Iraq, Denis Halliday, resigned in protest at the UN's failure to challenge the West's murderous sanctions policy in Iraq.

Professor Dugard's admirable disclosures also give indication of the UN's slavish appointment of Tony Blair as their Quartet envoy. In the Channel 4 News interview with Dugard, Jon Snow repeated media reports which claimed that Blair “has expressed shock and surprise at some of the damage that has been done to the Palestinian territories by the wall.” Snow asked Dugard: “Do you think that, perhaps, the West is at last waking up to what's going on over there?” Dugan replied: “Well, I'm surprised that Mr Blair was not aware of this when he was prime minister...after all there was a 2004 decision/advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice holding that the construction of the wall is illegal, and Mr Blair distanced himself from that finding.”

Dugard's comments on the UN's co-opted participation in the Quartet is yet more proof of its ongoing genuflection to the US. How can a body which declared Blair's actions over Iraq illegal now consider him a 'dove' to be sent to the Middle East? As they say, you couldn't make it up.

We should pay very close attention to what Professor Dugard is saying here. For his words contain a prescient message of what kind of placatory offerings are being hatched for the upcoming talks. Blair may be, apparently, "shocked" by what he's seen in the West Bank. But not shocked enough to call for the complete removal of the West Bank settlements and deconstruction of the Apartheid Wall. Rather, his real task, as implicitly exposed by Dugard, is to help sell an Israeli-US defined 'peace package', with all of Olmert's substantive demands realised.

Again, Dugard sees all-too-clearly the stark imbalance of such priorities in his reminder that Palestinian human rights must be the determining issue for any just and peaceful settlement. Despite the recent Abbas-Olmert meetings and Rice's affirmations that the US “mean business” this time, it's clear that another post-Oslo stitch-up is in the offing. And, of course, how can there be any legitimate deal at Annapolis without the presence of Hamas, the democratically-elected administration? That would have been like excluding Sinn Fein or the ANC from the political table in Northern Ireland and South Africa.

As the Quartet and an obedient media play-along with Rice's "time for a Palestinian state" charade, it's heartening to see and hear this kind of truthful insight and moral statement on the real processes of Western-UN 'diplomacy'.


Friday, 12 October 2007

Witness in the West Bank: doctor's letter to BMJ

Places of foreign conflict exist for many as a kind of abstract reality. We sort of know that there's pain and misery for the people involved. But we don't really see or comprehend the suffering and causes. It all gets seemingly lost or confused in the morass of events, the mists of time. Years and decades elapse, with no prospective resolution. The mainstream media assume nominal reporting duties, treating the situation as another outpost conflict. What should be regarded as remarkable violations of human rights become just unremarkable incidents. Those at the receiving end despair of their plight and the world's seeming indifference. Trapped and under siege, they get branded and demonised as fanatical terrorists, a threat to be contained. The same media do little or nothing to correct the lie, even helping to promote the distortion.

Such is the situation for the people of Palestine, now approaching sixty years, the world's longest contemporary occupation.

We can't all personally witness the truth of such daily oppression. But it sometimes helps to have others bear witness on our behalf to what's really happening on the ground. Here's the compelling statement of one such witness, Asad Khan, a specialist respiratory registrar at Manchester Hospital, in response to a debate at the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on the case for a boycott and sanctions against Israel.

In Go and see the truth for yourself, I did , Asad tells of his recent visit to the West Bank (with a party of fellow observers) and how he saw for himself the kind of daily brutality and humiliations not being dutifully reported by the media. He made his trip around the same time as our GPHRC party, and my own observations are in close keeping with his findings.

As Mahmoud Abbas and other self-selected parties prepare to gather for next month's ill-fated 'summit' in the US, it's worth remembering that no true peace can ever be realised without full and proper recognition of such inhumanity and the serious resolve of the 'international community' to challenge Israel's rejectionist positions on full Palestinian sovereignty, Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

(Asad's letter also posted here.)


Thursday, 4 October 2007

With all your power: Faslane 365

The Big Blockade
Faslane 365
1 October 2007

Isn't it funny how we associate particular tunes with significant events?

We're at Faslane North gate, early morning, gathered together in a spirit of solidarity and carnivalesque resolve. And the tune going through my head is The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song by the Flaming Lips, with it's whimsical verses and challenging refrain:

"With all your power, what would you do?"

And I'm thinking how apt that little lyrical question is on this uplifting day, both as an interrogation of the political elite with their fingers on the nuclear button and as an active demonstration of our own inner and collective capacities for resisting their policies of mass destruction.

Consider, in the first regard, the staggering scale of this deathly enterprise and what actually lurks behind those fortified gates.

Each of the 200 nuclear warheads, carried on four submarines, carries 8 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb.

Trident's replacement will cost £76 billion (including 30 year running costs). Just think, to state the obvious, what kind of social benefits that colossal sum could deliver.

72% of the British public don't want Trident replaced.

The International Court of Justice has ruled (1996) that "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be generally contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law." The replacing of Trident is, in effect, illegal rearmament.

In breaching the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the UK, along with America and Israel, is serving to encourage a new arms race in the Middle East. This is the dual economics of geopolitical control and corporate militarism. From Faslane to Dimona, it's the same concocted story of "necessary deterrence" and privatised warmongering.

Trident has also locked Britain into America's military agenda of global dominance and 'pre-emption', thus encouraging nuclear upgrading by other countries. But, in seeking to protect its place within the nuclear club, and in its role as a leading global arms trader, the UK is itself a willing and mendacious party to this destabilisation.

As Greenpeace note: "The disposition of the US and UK Trident fleets, and the extraordinary range of the Trident D5 missile, mean that every day the USA and the UK project massive nuclear force into the Middle East – providing states such as Iran with an argument for acquiring their own nuclear weapons."

Again, the question is posed: with all those powers, what might they do? Annihilate countries like Iran for daring to think about protecting themselves in similar ways?

But, then we have the other facet of our lyric:

With all your power, what would you do?

And this opens up another line of uplifting thought on our own powers of human persuasion. 1149 people have been arrested during the 365 campaign, 180 on the Big Blockade day alone (including, in humble spirit, yours truly). 131 groups have blockaded throughout the campaign, covering 188 days of protest. From all walks of life, people have come to express their opposition to WMD. And that display of collective dedication has helped keep Trident firmly in the public domain as a political, financial and, of course, moral issue to be resolved.

This combination of civil disobedience and vigilant action has helped delineate how the Scottish Government itself must now act to oppose and obstruct the UK's Trident replacement policy. While encouraging to hear First Minister Alex Salmond openly endorse Faslane 365 and the Big Blockade, even greater pressure must be applied to make Holyrood act decisively.

Meanwhile, we can take great heart from the display of collective power here. As the police busied themselves sawing through iron lock-ons and un-supergluing the hands of demonstrators, there's the reassuring thought that all their considerable powers will never match the simple ingenuity of those driven by such humanitarian ideals.

And, hopefully, this gives out a message of support and solidarity to others engaged in resisting state violence and oppression around the world. From the gates of Faslane to the checkpoints of Palestine, crass militarism will never outlive the desire for true peace and justice.

So, in tribute to all of those principled, resilient and peace-caring people, here's a little burst of The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song with pictures of this memorable day. (Many thanks to Alan Pacetta for the video.) Turn up loud, dance along and keep asking that vital question:

With all your power, what would you do?

Peace, love and tuneful thoughts.


Friday, 28 September 2007

Shame and the semantics of soft Zionism

I recently watched BBC 4's moving production of Primo Levi, with Anthony Sher in the one man title role. It's an astonishing performance, drawing out Levi's attempts to relate this almost unrelatable set of inhuman experiences in Auschwitz concentration camp, while grappling with the darkest of questions: how was it possible for the Nazis to exercise this cruelty in so casual a manner?Levi also talks of the “shame” that the Russian liberators seemed to feel on discovering him and his few surviving inmates at Auschwitz. It wasn't, of course, the shame of what these young soldiers, personally, or as an army, had done. Rather, it was the more reflective shame of actually realising that one man could do this to another.

It got me thinking about Levi’s use of the word “shame” in this context. And it occurs that his profound observation holds in similar principle to the shame one feels when standing in front of Israel’s ‘separation wall’, or when watching the ritual humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints, or in staring at the pictures of broken bodies being pulled from homes demolished by Israeli Apache helicopters. How, one asks, can they do these things in such a cold and wilful manner? And if they have no shame in their actions, is there a sense in which we, in ways similar to Levi’s use of the term, should feel shameful about their very absence of shame?

This feeling of 'humanitarian shame' - the shame we might feel for what oppressors do in the name of freedom and democracy – can, and should, of course, apply to many other inhuman situations around the world. But, another thought arises: what kind of compounded shame must a Jew with sincere consideration of the Palestinians’ plight feel when witnessing such brutality? How, they, might ask, did it come to this? A people themselves murdered in their millions, their suffering seared into Jewish consciousness. How could fellow Jews, in turn, use the memory of that suffering to inflict and justify this suffering on the Palestinian people?

In a recent Guardian article, the acclaimed author Howard Jacobson argued that the Holocaust, in itself, is, effectively, all that needs to be said in defence of the Zionist cause. It’s not a particulary original argument, flowing from the same use and abuse of what Chomsky and others have called the “Holocaust industry”. But Jacobson has managed to clothe this attempt in some new semantic adornments. The title piece, “There seems to be a pecking order among the dispossessed, and the Jews come last ”, gives notice of the sleight of hand to come.

One is immediately struck here, or should be if it were not secreted in such an emotive sentence, by the word "dispossessed". In what immediate sense can we call the Jews a dispossessed people? Yes, we may reasonably use that term to describe, at least, the terror and dispossession of the Jews by the Nazis. But, Jacobson is stretching the word from its historical context to convey "dispossession" in its more current idiom. While entitled to remind us of the appalling persecution of the Jews, Jacobson abuses that truth in seeking to equate the contemporary standing of Jews in general with the gross dispossession of the Palestinians in particular.

Indeed, with perverse irony, he has actually managed to violate the memory even of those Holocaust Jews. Jacobson has appropriated a particular term of oppression and sought to include within that category a state founded on the dispossession of another people.

The author Ben White captures the deceit very ably in his article Shoot and cry: Liberal Zionism's dilemma:

But Jacobson is a liberal Zionist, not a Likudnik, a Sharon or a Netanyahu. He thus finds himself in a fix -- how to render the horrors of colonialism more palatable? This is done in two ways (aside from appealing to the standard Zionist frameworks already discussed): firstly, Jacobson sows a seed of doubt that all this talk of "ethnic cleansing" is even true -- "Jews are now held to be dispossessors themselves" (my emphasis). At the risk of repetition, it is worth noting that once again, Jacobson talks of "Jews," a mirror-claim of the anti-Semites who see world Jewry as one and the same as the Zionist colonizers.

In his follow-up column, he positively layers on the ambiguities, diverting the reader's gaze from the columns of Palestinians forced from their homes in 1948, or the farmers robbed of their land in 2007, to a less queasy exchange of claim and counter-claim. It is impossible to "understand" a situation, Jacobson urges, if you "refuse to see its contradictions and intractabilities." Apparently, you don't aid peace by denying the "competing claims" of a "complex situation." It is the naggingly familiar liberal lullaby of the "circle of violence" and "two sides," which sends us to sleep while Palestine shrinks.

The second approach, and one beloved by Zionist liberals from Tel Aviv to London, is to move from the material horror of Palestine's colonization to the vaporous world of existential rumination and "feelings." Jacobson states for the record that he is "one of those who believe that Jewish experience of exile obliges Israel actively to comprehend the sorrows of Palestinian exile." That, of course, is as far as it goes. It's similar to one of the correspondents who wrote to the paper in Jacobson's defense, who acknowledges that the Palestinians might "feel" badly treated, as if all that was needed was a good dose of navel-gazing therapy. Jacobson was even more categorical in the second column. The dispossession of the Palestinians is not a "moral" issue, he wrote, but rather an unfortunate afterthought, a "tragic political consequence" of the Jews' "return."

With billions of dollars in guaranteed aid coming from the US every year, in what economic sense can Jacobson speak of Jewish dispossession? With America continuing to back Olmert's plans for expanding settlements in the West Bank, in what political sense does he witness Jewish dispossession? And, in a land where Palestinians are even marked-out by their very car registration plates, in what humanitarian sense can he talk of Jewish dispossession?

What Jacobson refuses to acknowledge is the apartheid dispossesson of the Palestinians and the massive gulf separating them from Israeli Jews. It's a shameful state of affairs when such supposed people of conscience and high intellect seek to hide behind the pain and language of the truly dispossessed.


Thursday, 27 September 2007

Singin' and dancin' in the rain: GPHRC at Faslane

Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign's bloc protest

16 September 2007

Sunday morning at the Peace Camp, the waft of burning wood from a kindling fire welcoming us as the rain batters down on the makeshift canvas above. That useful Scottish word “dreich” about sums it up.

But, hey, what's a little precipitation when we're all so full of good feeling and a desire to register our objection to these obscene weapons and the economy of death that's keeping it all going.
And what more can we say about the all-weather commitment and 'operational ingenuity' of those living here at the camp? The effort and determination of all the organisers and bloc protesters this past year has been truly inspiring [1].

We set off from the camp in resilient mood along with our fellow contingent of teachers, the ugly base and razor-wire fence soon appearing like a demonic presence among these magnificent lochs and hills. Though few in numbers, there's no shortage of songs, chants and happy banter to keep us all motivated. From somewhere behind the GPHRC [2] banner, our 'dear leaderene' Margaret's resounding tones seem to rise, as usual, several octaves above the rest. What a lady!

On arrival at the gate, the chief of police operations is courteous and welcoming. We, quite naturally, reciprocate. He seems interested in the work of GPHRC and listens thoughtfully to an account of our recent visit to Palestine. The procedural matters of the day are, likewise, explained by him to us. He is, of course, doing his job.

But, it's worth remembering, too, that this pleasant man is still helping to protect and uphold a 'system of deterrence' predicated on mass murder. Indeed, as the recent letter from the lawyers' bloc to the base commander [3] reminds us, Britain's nuclear capability and declared replacement of Trident violates international humanitarian law and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The UK, in short, is acting illegally.

The case for nuclear disarmament is also underwritten by a range of legal and political opinion at Holyrood now opposing WMD in Scotland [4]. The new Scottish Government's declared opposition to Trident raises the stakes considerably. But, even with a substantial majority of MSPs now against its replacement, there's the need for increased pressure on Holyrood to, in turn, up-the-ante at Westminster. However small, GPHRC's lively presence here is part of that gathering effort.

The gazebos erected, falafel, zatar bread and other Palestinian staples happily devoured, it's dabke time, that wonderfully rhythmic, expressive and perfectly choreographed Palestinian dance form. Or, at least, that's how it's supposed to look. Lined up along the pavement, our bemused constabulary keeping a wary eye, it's more dabke meets ad hoc Glasgow line dancing to the laughing assembly. Fortunately, we have among us a fine young Palestinian and exponent of the art. And with his leading instruction, we're soon all tapping and turning, some even in step, to the dulcet dabke beats.

Oddly, the police in the vans and at the gates seem rather less amused as our happy keffiyeh-waving troupe dance off the pavement and onto the roundabout, ringing around it, hand-in-hand, to the turned-up music. A few rush over to call a halt to the reverie, giving stern warnings about our 'dangerous obstruction' of the road. Ah well, happiness is a form of dissent. Some of the teachers carry on the mood of musical resistance with some great old guitar-led protest songs, our collective group all joining in.

Thereafter, a number of us head around to the Coulport base for an additional spot of protest. Again, looking down over Faslane and reaching Coulport, one is reminded of the crass violation of this rolling landscape.

On arrival, our entourage is 'encouraged' back from the main gate by the waiting police. A little jollity and chiding ensues. But, again, we use the opportunity to speak candidly with them about the politics of Trident, pointing out that around two thirds of people in Scotland don't want it or its replacement [5], a view which the UK government is continuing to ignore. So much for the notion of political accountability some of the officers seem to believe prevails in this country.

GHPRC is also concerned to highlight the political alliances and mercenary profiteers behind the same UK/US arms industry that's supplying Israel with the mass weaponry to murder Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank [6]. From Trident and its offspring to parts for Apache killer helicopters and F-16s, it's all part of the same corporate-driven arms market.

As with our recent efforts to explain the illegality and immorality of Israel's occupation to soldiers at West Bank checkpoints, it's important for those guarding this arsenal of annihilation to be reminded of such basic truths.

It's been another good day of 365 protest; a day of dancing, singing dissent. Despite gesturing hostility from some coming in and out of Faslane base, there's the reminder that we speak for the majority who want this affront to humanity removed.

The sun is finally shining as we depart, stopping back at the camp to thank our kindly hosts for all their assistance. Some of the young Belgian activists are 'preparing' for their upcoming blockade, and we all enjoy a last bit of comradely chit-chat. There's something morally uplifting being among such people.

Now for the Big Blockade on 1st October.

Peace and love.

John Hilley

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Keeping your mouth shut in the 'land of the free'

Here's a little reminder of how tolerant America is these days in responding to peaceful dissenters. Shocking as this incident is to view, it’s all too typical of the ruthless deployment of US police and penal brutality that belies even the homely patriotic notions of American liberals. In the Youtube video, A student tasered at Kerry speech, we get a good snapshot of America's continuing drift towards political authoritarianism. It rather reminded me of James Kelman's fine book and admonitory title, You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free.

Aside from its wider global atrocities, here's a further sample of America's internal record of shame, from the 2007 Amnesty International report on the US:

Ill-treatment in jails and police custody

There were reports of ill-treatment of suspects in jails and police custody, involving abusive use of restraints and electro-shock weapons. More than 70 people died after being shocked with tasers (dart-firing electro-shock weapons), bringing to more than 230 the number of such deaths since 2001.

In June the Justice Department announced that a two-year study of taser deaths would be undertaken by the National Institute of Justice. Meanwhile many police departments continued to use tasers in situations that fell far below any threat of deadly force. The UN Committee against Torture called on the USA to deploy tasers only as a non-lethal alternative to using firearms.

• In August, Raul Gallegos-Reyes died in Arapahoe County Jail, Colorado, after being repeatedly tasered and strapped into a restraint chair for screaming and banging on his cell door. The coroner concluded he had died from "positional asphyxia" due to restraint and ruled the death a homicide.

• A lawsuit filed against Garfield County Jail, Colorado, in July, alleged that prisoners were frequently strapped into restraint chairs and left for hours in painful positions after being tasered or drenched with pepper spray. Guards were also alleged to have taunted and threatened to shock prisoners wearing remote-controlled electro-shock belts while being transported to court. The jail reportedly had no clear policies governing use of restraints.There were reports of police ill-treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and of a failure to respond adequately to identity-based crimes against them.

• Mariah López, a transgender woman, was allegedly subjected to verbal and physical abuse by New York Police Department officers and city jail employees after she was arrested. She reportedly sustained a broken cartilage in her nose, a broken tooth and numerous abrasions after being beaten by officers. She was also subjected to humiliating strip searches.

• Christina Sforza, a transgender woman, was reportedly assaulted in a New York restaurant. Police responding to the scene arrested her and refused to accept her complaint against her assailant. Assault charges filed against her were eventually dropped.

'Supermax' prisons

Thousands of prisoners continued to be held in long-term isolation in "supermaximum" security facilities in conditions that sometimes amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In November a federal appeals court condemned as unconstitutional alleged conditions in a "Behavioral Modification Program" in a Wisconsin "supermax" prison. A lawsuit brought on behalf of an inmate confined under the programme in 2002 claimed he was stripped of clothes and bedding, confined to a small bare cell and fed only ground-up food formed into a "loaf". The conditions were alleged to have had a severe adverse effect on his mental health. The case was referred to a lower court for a ruling on the facts, some of which were in dispute.

The dark practices of US torture and ritual humiliation, it seems, is not just confined to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.


Monday, 17 September 2007

ORB: 1.2 million now dead in Iraq

The carnage in Iraq continues. So, what's new? Well, actually, a new study which clearly shows the immense scale of death and misery in this ravaged, blood-soaked land.

In 2006, the esteemed Lancet study put the number of violent deaths in Iraq since 2003 at over 655,000. The latest reputable survey from ORB has now raised that to over 1.2 million.

The loss and suffering can only be imagined. And imagined without the aid of a media which, in its varying servitude to power, thinks that this new evidence need not concern us too much. Which is why it's either been ignored or buried by editors and reporters since its publication last week. Was there ever a more graphic example of how the media regards the pain of the non-Western other?

Never mind. The tabloids and mainstream news channels might retain their casual disregard for human life beyond these 'civilized' shores, but thank goodness, at least, for the gallant liberal media serving to keep us all updated and morally abreast.

Or perhaps not. The ORB findings, like the Lancet study before it, have been conspicuously absent, or given only token attention, in the Guardian, Independent and on Newsnight.

This telling little exchange with Jon Snow of Ch 4 News gives a flavour of how the liberal media gate-keepers are a key part of the problem.


Thursday, 13 September 2007

The architecture of oppression

The infrastructure of oppresssion across the West Bank is not just a physical set of barriers and constraints. It's also a psychological strategy, designed to demoralise and break the Palestinian people emotionally and spiritually. Here are some images of that daily trauma and the enduring spirit of the people, as captured by GPHRC members during our recent visit.*

Posted by Picasa

* GPHRC visit to the West Bank, July-August 2007.
Thanks to the campaign members for these images.
More photos of our visit, here.

See also: 10 days in the West Bank.


Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Making the imaginative leap

From Scotland to Palestine,
all change is possible

On May 8 2007, a smiling Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness stood together on the steps of Stormont, Northern Ireland’s imposing parliament, ready to enact a power-sharing agreement. Many an observer, worldwide, gawped at the actual, culminating reality. Here, after all, was the personal manifestation of two seemingly intractable forces, Unionism and Republicanism, preparing for the daily diet of parliamentary business.

None of this changes the ultimate aims of the main parties behind the rapprochement: for Paisley’s Democratic Unionists, the ‘safe-keeping’ of Ulster’s position within the UK; for Adams and Sinn Fein, the eventual realisation of a 32-county united Ireland. Who knows where all this will lead. The peace barriers across Northern Ireland remain as visible proof of the ongoing sectarian enmities. Yet, despite all those physical and ideological divisions, people have, somehow, managed to make bridges for the practical purposes of peace and co-operation.

More recently, Paisley and McGuinness received a courtesy visit from Scotland’s newly-elected First Minister, Alex Salmond. Again, watching the smiling handshakes, one could be forgiven for questioning the actuality of this event.

The Scottish National Party’s historic termination of Labour’s 50-year rein in Scotland did not, alas, end graciously. Outgoing-FM Jack McConnell initially refused to endorse the result or congratulate the new FM. Gordon Brown somehow managed to avoid making the same courtesy phone call for weeks after the election. And Tony Blair, now comfying into his new Jerusalem residence as the Quartet’s Middle East ‘peace envoy’, will likely never acknowledge the man who led the Westminster campaign for his impeachment over Iraq. As with the Quartet’s own refusal to engage Hamas – more of which, in a moment - the New Labour elite have shown an arrogant contempt for political outcomes they deem ‘unsuitable’. The actual process of ‘democracy’ really can be such a bothersome inconvenience.

Despite holding-out as a minority government (the true-to-form Lib Dems having rejected Salmond’s coalition offer), the SNP is pushing-on with a raft of nominally progressive policies, such as reversing hospital closures and enacting public-based alternatives to New Labour’s prized PFI policy. Salmond has also pledged every constitutional effort to remove Trident weapons of mass destruction from Faslane.

Needless to say – but I will, anyway - we shouldn’t be overawed by party leaders or place unrealistic hopes in their promises. But, we can, at least, enjoy the moment of New Labour’s ousting and the refreshing look of the SNP’s ‘leftish’ manifesto. Any more serious shift towards an independent socialistic Scotland will be incremental and stubbornly resisted by the usual forces of big business and the political establishment. Nor should we forget the SNP’s own pro-business inclinations and base-building as its seeks to court support for independence.

Yet, one also senses a more sanguine desire for change in Scotland, driven, largely, by an anti-Blairist mood comparable to the anti-Thatcherism that preceded it. If not quite a zeitgeist moment, the SNP mandate might, usefully, be read as a practical vocalisation of that shift. But, again, this all comes with the standard caveat that the willingness of parliamentarians to act radically will only show fruition through the radical mobilisation of people outside those seemingly select chambers.


The rejection of New Labourism here in Scotland may not be borne of revolutionary fervour. But it is a useful example of the anti-globalisation maxim that “another world is possible”. And not only possible, but, in a more fluid and dynamic set of contestations than the elite would have us believe, highly probable.

Consider, most obviously, the break-up of the Soviet system. The cold-bath of neoliberal ‘restructuring’ has seen severe social disaggregation and economic impoverishment for those new ‘non-entrepreneurial’ citizens. Washington’s embrace also includes US/NATO overtures to states like Poland, which now acts as host for CIA rendition flights and torture of detainees. It’s an object case of how the world changes, yet finds new opportunities and locations for capitalist exploitation and elite repression.

But, beyond the developmental hype, it also pushes the system towards new contradictions and hegemonic crises. One only has to consider the economic impoverishment in former East Germany, the spiralling suicide rate across Eastern Europe and Putin’s proxy war with his nouveau-riche adversaries as they carve-up, mob-like, the spoils of Russia’s privatised economy.

The predictable social crises across Russia and Eastern Europe has also fuelled the desire for serious alternatives from ‘market liberation’ around the globe. Thus, in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is heading a popular economic, political and social revolution against all the usual odds of a CIA coup, inspiring new counter-hegemonic alliances and initiatives across Latin America.

But, of course, while Chavez was recently able to end Venezuela’s dependence on the IMF/World Bank mandarins, this and other regions, most notably Africa, remain locked-into such blackmail economics - or “Washington consensus”, as the neoliberal spinners like to call it. Again, it’s easy to succumb to the view that this all-powerful, all-consuming, monolith cannot be challenged. And yet, as John Pilger admirably documents in War on Democracy, the practical accomplishments of real people-led socialist democracy in the barrios of Venezuela and Bolivia have shown that it can, helping to lay down a practical template for other nations of the South to follow.

Which calls to mind South Africa’s ongoing enslavement. With its co-opted integration into the ‘new economic order’, the chains of inequality and international servitude still remain to be unlocked for the still massive black under-majority. As the enduring presence of De Beers and other corporate giants shows, Thabo Mbeki is the compliant face of a country still in thrall to global market forces. No new black middle classness can disguise the gross poverty, attacks on health care and political corruption that has marked Mbeki’s administration. Despite certain advances and infrastructural improvements, notes Pilger:
...some people in the black townships actually [speak] nostalgically of the last years of official apartheid. Then, they didn’t have to pay for their water, their electricity [The] new black elite--- known rather sardonically in South Africa as the “wabenzie”, because they prefer big silver Mercedes Benz to drive around in…are a cover for the continuation of white economic power in South Africa.

And yet, Mandela’s historic victory over the apartheid system remains a vital example of how to effect change through internal resistance and external pressure. In a perverse sense, Mbeki’s denialist stance on poverty, corruption and, of course, AIDS has also helped highlight the contradictions of the ANC project, thus intensifying the case, and demand, for a true post-apartheid society.

The mirrors of apartheid

The painful lessons of South Africa have, at the same time, become a kind of benchmark reference for other oppressive conflicts. Thus, South Africa’s ever-campaigning Desmond Tutu - who has also taken a close and practical interest in Northern Ireland’s fragile peace process and reconciliations - believes that Israel’s occupation and persecution of the Palestinian Territories is akin to apartheid South Africa. While the world witnessed an end to the bantustanisation of his country, Palestine becomes an evermore ugly reflection of that apartheid system. Indeed, Israeli apartheid is worse than South Africa’s, according to ex-US President Jimmy Carter:

And the word “apartheid” is exactly accurate. You know, this is an area that’s occupied by two powers. They are now completely separated. Palestinians can't even ride on the same roads that the Israelis have created or built in Palestinian territory. The Israelis never see a Palestinian, except the Israeli soldiers. The Palestinians never see an Israeli, except at a distance, except the Israeli soldiers. So within Palestinian territory, they are absolutely and totally separated, much worse than they were in South Africa, by the way. And the other thing is, the other definition of “apartheid” is, one side dominates the other. And the Israelis completely dominate the life of the Palestinian people.

We shouldn’t pass here without recalling Carter’s own dirty dealings with repressive regimes during his presidency, most notably his support for Indonesia as it sought to murder East Timor. Yet, it’s instructive to witness the organised criticism, mostly from the US Zionist-neo-con alliance, that has greeted Carter’s book and statements on Palestine.

As Israel expands the West Bank settlements, erects its ‘security’ wall through more Palestinian olive groves and wields its daily killing and humiliation of an impoverished people, one might despairingly ask if there’s a scintilla of hope for a comprehensive peace deal and just solution for the Palestinians? That question has taken on even greater resonance in the wake of the Hamas-Fatah conflict, a process which, as its siege/starvation tactics towards Gaza shows, Israel is doing its utmost to promote.

Where now, many ask, for the ‘peace process’ and any, already forlorn, hope of a two-state solution? Why, many increasingly wonder, do Olmert and Bush continue to pledge their ‘joint support’ for such an ‘option’? Could it be that their continuing ‘commitment’ to such an ‘ideal’ is really a convenient posture serving to effect their already-determined ‘solution’: the ongoing encirclement of Gaza and pocketisation of the West Bank territory.

Lofty proclamations about a two-state settlement, with ultimate Palestinian sovereignty, are, of course, a good hint of Israeli/US malfeasance, in itself. But what more particular reasons can we have for doubting such a commonly-asserted ‘aim’?

The core arguments for a one solution have been broadly set-out by Ilan Pappe and Omar Barghouti, who has this blunt reminder that the “demise of the two-state solution should not be mourned”:

Besides having passed its expiry date, it was never a moral solution to start with…It is now clearer than ever that the two-state solution -- other than being only a disguise for continued Israeli occupation and a mechanism to permanently divide the people of Palestine into three disconnected segments -- was primarily intended to induce Palestinians to give up the inalienable right of their refugees to return to their homes and lands from which they were ethnically cleansed by Zionists during the 1948 Nakba.
Electronic Intifada Editor/founder Ali Abunimah is also among a growing set of key Palestinian academics and activists who now see the futility of any two state ‘option’.

Three basic reasons for this conclusion can be noted. Firstly, it is abundantly evident that Israel, firmly backed by the US – and, indirectly, by the EU – has no actual intention of relinquishing its West Bank settlements, dismantling the wall or offering the Palestinians any serious form of sovereign nationhood.

Secondly, any peace deal premised on Israel’s hypothetical withdrawal from the West Bank (and ending the siege of Gaza) – a kind of ‘Oslo plus’ – would still leave the Palestinians with a disjointed 22 per cent set of their geographical entities.

Thirdly, and perhaps more fundamentally, there remains the problem of Israel as an apartheid state in itself. Endorsing the one-state view, Jonathan Cook has noted, in a number of fine commentaries the centrality of Israel’s deep dilemma over what to do about its Palestinian/Arab ‘citizens’, a scenario which Cook sees as, in many way, a more difficult and threatening problem for the Israeli state to resolve.

Such perceptions of the internal Palestinian ‘problem’ are not exclusive to the Israeli political elite. They run deep within Israeli society, a mood racism which ultra right-wing politicians have been all-too-willing to exploit in their calls for “transfers”, expulsions and other ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

As Cook reminds us, Uri Avnery and Peace Now can only fall-back on the same redundant two state arguments. Cook traces this to the base Zionist principles underlying Peace Now’s view of Israel and the right to a Jewish homeland. In contrast, one state advocates point out that no peaceable and just solution can evolve without the transformation of Israel itself into a fully democratic and secular – that is, non-Zionist - state.

And here we return to those seemingly impossible scenarios of radical political change. Precisely how, sceptics of the one-state case might reasonably ask, could such an entity ever come to supplant the status quo. One thinks depressingly here of the vanguard belief in the Zionist ‘cause’, the bloody history of that ‘project’ and its sheer ‘righteousness’ in Israeli consciousness.

Yet, it’s worth reiterating that there is no essential interface between Judaism and Zionism. Many Jews, orthodox and otherwise, have consistently opposed what the Israeli state has done in the name of Judaism. Indeed, Jews for Justice in Palestine and the orthodox Neturei Karta recently marched in the ‘Enough’ demonstration in London alongside thousands of Palestinian supporters to mark the 40th anniversary of Israel’s 1967 war of expansion.

Amid the Palestinians’ despair, we see small and significant victories, as in the recent Israeli Supreme Court decision in favour of Bil’in village. This, of course, has to be tempered by the reality that while parts of the Israeli state may give way here and there, it has multiple other ways of maintaining its oppressive control. For example, the same court also ruled against the removal of Israeli settlement houses around Bil’in. As with the illegality and immorality of the wall itself, let’s not lose sight of Israel’s larger agenda of oppression. Yet, the decision over the wall’s route, after years of weekly demonstrating, is testament to the power of sustained dissent, part of the often hidden, yet gathering, solidarity serving to pressurise the Israeli state.

Again, the principal lesson here is that actual change is more likely than we might sometimes believe. The combination of collective consideration and individual concern for oppressed peoples is a more powerful force than even we might often realise. And, despite what power and a servile media want us to believe, the push and desire for those alternatives - a more kind and equitable society, an end to corporate-driven wars, the removal of mass weaponry, the dismantling of neoliberal policies, privatised services and market rules – is a worryingly constant for the elite. Indeed, the extent of that concern is inversely related to the sheer weight of propaganda used to maintain the illusion that there is no alternative.

On the anniversary of 9/11, a day that supposedly “changed the world”, it’s worth remembering, in tribute to all the people who have lost their lives to state terrorists, corporate warmongers and other political fanatics, that we inhabit an ever-changing world, where all actions have consequences. Thus, an important part of the resistance to such greed, hate and violence lies in our own ability to cultivate an inner political mindfulness of rational dissent, human engagement and care for others. A politics of justice, love and compassion? Now, there’s an uncomfortable set of ideals for Bush, Blair, Olmert and their fellow war criminals to contemplate.