Sunday, 27 July 2008

Khalil and Linda: Israel denying medical aid to Gaza

Another frustrating day at the Rafah crossing point to Gaza for Khalil and Linda as they wait to hear if the aid van they've driven all the way from Edinburgh will be allowed through.

The cruel siege and suffering inflicted on the people of Gaza has not been seriously abated by the ceasefire. Meanwhile, a nearby hospital waits desperately for delivery of these essential medical supplies.

And it begs these most obvious of compassionate questions (answers below):

How can Israel, in refusing delivery of such basic humanitarian items, call itself a civilised state?

Why is Egypt conniving in this cruelty?

Why is the British government doing or saying nothing in critical response?

Why aren't the mainstream media, notably the BBC, reporting this as another crime against humanity?


Because it's not civilised, it's a ruthless, apartheid state.

Because, as a client state of the US, it's beholden to Tel Aviv's dictat.

Because, as Mr Brown intimated to the Knesset last week, Britain will continue to back Israel unremittingly in its punishing actions.

Because, as Helen Boaden and her co-directors maintain, the BBC must always remain "impartial" - which, as has repeatedly been shown, means ignoring such stories.

The noun "a career of villians" comes to mind.


Thursday, 24 July 2008

And Brown spoke unto the land of apartheid

Two questions.

What 'modern' country maintains a system of social separation which most of the world struggled to end in South Africa? And what kind of 'moral ' leader would speak in open support of such a country?

This week, a British Prime Minister, the first ever, stood before the Knesset, a parliament founded on the same 'participatory' ideals as Westminster, and told its assembled members that Britain fully backs the state of Israel. Citing his biblical upbringing, Gordon Brown reaffirmed his commitments to a state which has, in any true religious or moral sense, Christian, Judaic or otherwise, transgressed the most basic values of human decency.

Brown's cursory 'criticism' of Israel's West Bank settlements was of paltry significance in a speech unambiguous in its endorsement of a state which practices institutional racism. No amount of biblical reference can disguise the literal truth of Israel's crimes, including its apartheid containment of the Palestinian people.

Apartheid is apartheid

The word "apartheid" carries powerful connotations. How, the uninitiated might wonder, could such a label be applied to Israel, a country whose people 'look and sound' just like 'us' democracy-loving Westerners.

Yet, imagine, if you will, a 'liberal democracy' where racist separation of that country's ethnic majority from its ethnic minority is routinely encouraged. A country where discrimination and transfer of 'Arab Israelis' is endemic. Might we have cause to wonder at the true 'democratic' and 'liberal' claims of such a state?

Much of this mindset derives from the formative ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. But it also sits rigidly today as a de facto civil policy; part of an ongoing project to rid Arabs from Israel.

While religious freedom is nominally protected (under the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty), organisations like Yad L'achim are given wide scope to practice their doctrines of religious exclusivism and 'racial purity'. More specifically, its Anti Assimilation Department is tasked with preventing inter-ethnic development between Jews and Arabs. This is going on just now in places like Kiryat Gat under the approving eye of its local authorities and police.

Such groups may be regarded by more progressive elements in Israel as anachronistic. Yet, the state permits such activities as a way of helping to enforce social and ethnic separation.

Beyond the dark variations of racist ideology here in Britain, from BNP to Daily Mail hatemongering, there remains, at least, a healthy respect for multicultural principles. The idea of promoting ethnic or/and religious segregation of this sort would be regarded as not just racist but illegal. Yet, Israel disseminates this kind of ideology across the society, most notably in schools and workplaces.

It's why even the liberal Israeli media is prompted to report the appalling levels of racist sentiment towards Arabs. In one recent poll by the Association of Civil Rights Israel (ACRI), over seventy percent of Israeli respondents said they thought Arabs were "unclean" and wouldn't want to live in the same building as them. Over half believed Arabs should be denied the same civil rights as Jews.

Again, much of this civil racism stems from state policy:
"The ACRI says that bills introduced in the Knesset contribute to delegitimize the country's Arab citizens, such as ones that would link the right to vote and receive state allowances to military or national service. They also include bills that require ministers and MKs to swear allegiance to a Jewish state and those that set aside 13 percent of all state lands owned by the Jewish National Fund for Jews only."
Similar discrimination is occurring across the academic field, yet another area of civil separation ignored by Gordon Brown:
"The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), the main organisation in the UK promoting the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, condemned the academic initiative announced by Gordon Brown in yesterday’s Knesset speech as “abject hypocrisy”. BRICUP called on British academics to refuse the “blood money” promised for Israeli-British collaboration through the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership (BIRAX) which Brown announced will provide grants for joint scientific research and exchanges between Israel and Britain.

BRICUP notes that Brown had nothing to say about the systematic sabotage of Palestinian centres of learning and research by the Israeli separation wall, by military incursions and checkpoints, and by the detention of tutors and students. Mr. Brown spoke of peace and collaborative endeavour; he turned his eyes away from the cultural and educational deprivation, imposed as a matter of policy, on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and from the Palestinians discriminated against in education and research inside Israel itself."
Little or nothing of this is being reported in the Western media. Which is why "Apartheid Israel" is also the great no-go label for the BBC and other obedient media.

Director of BBC News, Helen Boaden, recently dismissed as mere "opinion" the idea that Israel could be likened to apartheid South Africa. This despite the concise association being made by prominent international figures like Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and UN human rights rapporteur John Dugard.

Israel's apartheid system needs to be called precisely that. It's a term that should be used openly and consistently, a valid identifier that would help focus the world's attentions on its dark policies of segregation, institutional discrimination and murderous Occupation.

Suffering Palestinians will, of course, wait a long time in the wilderness before the prophet Gordon and his media disciples ever concede this unholy truth. But it's a truth that can't be hidden. Israel is, by any reasonable definition, an apartheid state.


Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Best of times, worst of Times: Murdoch goes after Media Lens

The Times, under Rupert Murdoch's News International, has threatened Media Lens with legal action, claiming that it had published an e-mail from Times journalist Bronwen Maddox without permission. It also alleges that Maddox had received intimidating letters from ML contributors.

Maddox had written a typical piece castigating Iran as a menacing threat to the West, part of the 'sensible' fearmongering output we've been seeing from the 'quality' press towards Tehran. ML had challenged Maddox's views and noted her reply as part of their exchange, a standard convention in any such correspondence. NI's legal manager, Alastair Brett, responded with the threat of legal proceedings, demanding that ML remove Maddox's e-mailed comments from their Alert piece. As a nominally-funded outfit, ML was forced to comply. Except for one outlandish e-mail from an unknown source, Brett has produced no evidence of these 'intimidating letters' to Maddox.

In a subsequent Alert , Media Lens detail the flimsy and malevolent nature of Brett's case:
"Brett claimed Times journalist Bronwen Maddox had been subject to “vexatious and threatening” emails from Media Lens readers, which constituted “harassment”. If this did not stop, Brett told us, he would notify the police who might wish to investigate the matter with a view to bringing a criminal prosecution. "

"Brett also claimed that we would be acting unlawfully by publishing an email from Maddox without permission. We sought advice and one legal expert told us:

“The Times has no case over the confidentiality of email correspondence. Email correspondence, in itself, is not considered confidential - unless the precise contents of an email are confidential.” "

"Douwe Korff, Professor of International Law at London Metropolitan University and an expert on the European Convention on Human Rights, commented:

"I find the stance of the Times appalling in moral terms and flimsy at best in law. Their legal position, if endorsed by the courts, would severely limit freedom of the press over issues of major public concern. Is that what they want? I have little doubt their arguments would be kicked out by the UK courts if they pursued them here; they would certainly not be upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This is simply an attempt by a heavy-weight corporation to brow-beat a small freelance news operation that dares to be critical of its editorial line. It is quite scandalous. The Times should be ashamed of itself." (Email to Media Lens, July 8, 2008)"
An impressive flow of support for Media Lens has followed, even from some often at the receiving end of ML's (always rationally-argued and polite) output. The Times, meanwhile, has fallen strangely silent, refusing, of course, to print a single letter in their organ in defence of Media Lens.

It's an encouraging sign of the times for an expanding alternative media that News International should concentrate its corporate wrath on a small, but highly effective, site like Media Lens. It shows the gathering impact ML is having in exposing slavish journalism, corporate control and the liberal media's servility to power.

In contrast, while an establishment organ, long-standing, this episode reveals the Times in its worst incarnation to date: that of a bullying attack dog using its corporate teeth to silence dissent.

The Times assault on Media Lens is but the latest exercise in Murdoch's instructions-to-purge. We also have the ongoing persecution of Tommy Sheridan, his family and his colleagues by News International. One strongly suspects that, when the dust settles on this case, formal inquiry-type questions will have to be asked about those, at the highest levels, who instructed and pursued this cruel and political vendetta.

Like the attack on the 'Sheridan 7', NI's efforts to intimidate Media Lens illustrates the kind of Orwellian times we're living in. While the government pursues unprecedented draconian legislation to silence and detain, its corporate intimates are using their muscle to pick-off those beyond easy reach.

While the prospect of further legal action, and possible closure, remains, the Media Lens editors can take great heart from News International's militant 'attentions'. It's a testament to their rational, forensic and humanitarian output that Murdoch and the elite he represents wish to see them cowed and silenced.

Of course, while his legal hench-persons may have selected the wrong grounds this time for pursuing their kill - as shown by the widespread support and sympathy for Media Lens - the Empire is unlikely to give up. As shown in the Sheridan case, Murdoch is not known for graceful retreat.

In the meantime, ML's stellar output is proving a considerable problem for those continuing to hide behind the veil of 'professional journalism'. Particularly those 'sensible liberals' with their 'worried readings' of the 'Iranian menace'. There's a certain irony here that it's taken someone like Murdoch to 'act on their behalf' in trying to muzzle Media Lens. They would, no doubt, disapprove of such censorship, proclaiming ideals of a free media. Yet, it's a sign of the times, nonetheless, that the bully tactics of News International are serving to protect their hallowed liberal status. Which goes to show that, in times of war and the 'menacing other', this broad media amalgam can be safely relied upon to promote the same essential message of support for the West's lies and aggressions.


Friday, 11 July 2008

The UK war regime and its merchants of death

First up, proud salutations to the courageous 'Raytheon 9', six of whom were recently acquitted of criminal damage charges following their occupation of Raytheon offices in Derry.

The action by the nine Derry Anti War Coalition members had taken place on 9 August 2006 while Israel was bombarding Lebanon with Raytheon-produced bombs, among them the infamous Bunker-Buster. Over 1000 Lebanese civilians were killed - while the countryside remains littered with deadly cluster bombs. Raytheon also list in their catalogue of death Cruise, Patriot, Sidewinder and Tomahawk missiles. The Derry activists succeeded in damaging much of the computer software and other Raytheon property, serving to highlight the company's own criminal activity. What we might call constructive destruction of destructive constructions.

Following the judgement, one of the 9, veteran writer Eamon McCann, made this admirable statement:
"The outcome of this case has profound implications.

The jury has accepted that we were reasonable in our belief that: the Israel Defence Forces were guilty of war crimes in Lebanon in the summer of 2006; that the Raytheon company, including its facility in Derry, was aiding and abetting the commission of these crimes; and that the action we took was intended to have, and did have, the effect of hampering or delaying the commission of war crimes.

We have been vindicated.

We reject entirely and with contempt the statement by Raytheon this evening suggesting that the result of the trial gives them concern about the safety of their employees. This is an abject attempt to divert attention from the significance of the outcome. Not a shed of evidence was produced that we presented the slightest danger to Raytheon workers. The charge of affray was thrown out by the court without waiting to hear defence evidence.

Our target has always been Raytheon as a corporate entity and its shareholders and directors who profit from misery and death.

There is now no hiding place for those who have said that they support the presence of Raytheon in Derry on the basis that the company is not involved in Derry in arms-related production. We have established that not only is the Derry plant involved in arms-related production, it is also, through its integration into Raytheon as a whole, involved in war crimes.

We call on all elected representatives in Derry, and on the citizens of Derry, to say now in unequivocal terms that the war criminal Raytheon is not welcome in our city.

We call on the office of the Attorney General and the Crown Prosecution Service, in light of this verdict, to institute an investigation into the activities of Raytheon at its various plants across the UK, with a view to determining whether Raytheon is, as we say it is, a criminal enterprise.

We believe that one day the world will look back on the arms trade as we look back today on the slave trade, and wonder how it came about that such evil could abound in respectable society. If we have advanced by a mere moment the day when the arms trade is put beyond the law, what we have done will have been worthwhile.

We took the action we did in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter of innocents in Qana on July 30th 2006. The people of Qana are our neighbours. Their children are the children of our neighbours. We trashed Raytheon to help protect our neighbours. The court has found that that was not a crime. This what the Raytheon case has been about.

We have not denied or apologised for what we did at the Raytheon plant in the summer of 2006. All of us believe that it was the best thing we ever did in our lives."
The trial, moved from Derry to Belfast, and subject to a gagging order preventing media coverage of Raytheon's dealings in the province, illustrates the deep sensitivities felt by the British state when the profits and interests of arms companies are threatened.

The decision of a people's jury against Raytheon is also a reminder to pliant politicians that procurers of WMD are not always welcome in one's locale - even if they are providing those 'much-needed jobs'. For those endorsing Raytheon at Glenrothes, Scotland, and other UK locations, take note: this is not just about economic livelihoods, it's about the economy of death and the taking of others' actual lives.

Ruling the waves - and the skies

On which note, by what stretch of the caring imagination should we condone the ongoing spending of vast sums on military hardware? The Ministry of Defence has just signed contracts for two new aircraft carriers worth £4 billion. The proposed HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, so we're told by captains of industry and unions, alike, are great news for the economy and local communities.

Defence Secretary, Des Browne, said:
“This is a historic day for everyone in defense. The two aircraft carriers will provide our forces with the world-class capabilities they will need over the coming decades. They will support peace-keeping and conflict prevention, as well as our strategic operational priorities. Today’s contract signing seals the future for thousands of jobs, and ensures that we will have a Royal Navy fit for the 21st century.”
But, what motivations really apply here? Forward defence thinking and the national economy in support of a peaceful world? Or backward power and cravings of imperial grandeur? Still burdened by delusions of the latter, Britain is really a war economy state driven by corporate interests and the need to make the world a more, not less, warmongering place.

There's also the more 'mundane' question of how these pieces of high-tech flotsam help prevent a lone Al Qaeda operative leaving a bomb on a train.

It's a sobering thought when we stop to ponder what exists behind the respectable facade and language of the 'defence economy'. This is a war regime dedicated to protecting and enabling its arms masters around the globe. It's why Gordon Brown takes his eager turn in the prime ministerial arms tour to Saudi Arabia. It's why the Ministry of Defence is a revolving door to BaE and other elite arms corporations. It's why my MP, and New Labour clone, Tom Harris, blanked all efforts to explain and oppose the safe passage of US-Israeli bombs for Lebanon through Prestwick and other UK airports.

The UK was recently 'elevated' to the highest position in world arms-sales ranking following the signing of a £10 billion deal to supply the Saudis with a new 'kill' (my collective noun) of Eurofighter/Typhoon jets and other military equipment. Without a hint of irony:
"The Ministry of Defence says the terms of the contract - called Salam, Arabic for peace - and the total expenditure involved are confidential."
Meanwhile, back in ethical blighty, £76 billion will be released from the New Labour Treasury over the next 30 years to replace Trident and maintain its successor - all in breach of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Alert to the 'menace'

All this while Gordon Brown, Des Browne and their war crimes syndicate ratchet-up the 'gathering menace' of Iran's 'nuclear ambitions'.

In sympathetic tones, the BBC have been eagerly repeating US 'concerns' about Tehran's "provocative" missile-testing exercise.

The BBC's own 'defence system' usually involves the claim that it's simply engaged in 'impartial' reporting of such 'worries', whereas, it's selective filtering and delineation of such stories forms a vital and offensive part of the propaganda armoury.

Likewise with 'studious' diplomatic editors across the liberal press, such as the Sunday Herald's Trevor Royle, who, for good measure, offers this gushing account of Israel's 'understandable' rationale for bombing the people of Iran:
“There is one other scenario no-one should ignore. The Israelis could act unilaterally, or at least with covert US support. They certainly have the motive. Not only has president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made unpleasant noises about removing Israel from the map, but a nuclear-armed Iran would be a very real threat to regional stability. During its 60 years of existence, the state of Israel has always obeyed the realistic military rule that it attacks if it feels threatened - just ask Egypt, Syria or Jordan - and there is no shortage of hawks to ram home that message. When former chief of staff Shaul Mofaz said an attack on Iran is "inevitable" he meant just what he said.”
Beyond the usual "from the map" distortion, Royle is positively flowing in his admirations for Israel, a commentary, we're encouraged to believe, to be 'balanced' by 'sober' reading of the 'military realities'. His, like the BBC's, is a voice typical of the 'sensible liberal' 'new world order' in which Britain, the US and Israel still have imperial prerogatives in 'responding' to the 'provocations' of dark-hued Others.

Britain's war regime

Thankfully, we still have voices of sane humanity like John Pilger and Mark Curtis to dig-deep into Britain's real murderous activities. In a ready-reminder of its ongoing crimes around the world, Pilger writes this week about the true, dark nature of Britain's military brutalities:
"A wall of silence has always surrounded the British military, its arcane rituals, rites and practices and, above all, its contempt for the law and natural justice in its various imperial pursuits...An even more imposing wall of silence ensures that the British public remains largely unaware of the industrial killing of civilians in Britain's modern colonial wars. In his landmark work Unpeople: Britain's Secret Human Rights Abuses, the historian Mark Curtis uses three main categories: direct responsibility, indirect responsibility and active inaction. "The overall figure [since 1945] is between 8.6 and 13.5 million," Curtis writes. "Of these, Britain bears direct responsibility for between four million and six million deaths. This figure is, if anything, likely to be an underestimate. Not all British interventions have been included, because of lack of data." Since his study was published, the Iraq death toll has reached, by reliable measure, a million men, women and children."
Across the globe, the pretence of 'ethical intervention' and concern for human rights is underwritten by the real business of warmongering:
"The militarising of how the British state perceives and treats other societies is vividly demonstrated in Africa, where ten out of 14 of the most impoverished and conflict-ridden countries are seduced into buying British arms and military equipment with "soft loans". Like the British royal family, the British Prime Minister simply follows the money. Having ritually condemned a despot in Zimbabwe for "human rights abuses" - in truth, for no longer serving as the west's business agent - and having obeyed the latest US dictum on Iran and Iraq, Brown set off recently for Saudi Arabia, exporter of Wahhabi fundamentalism and wheeler of fabulous arms deals."
With complementary intent, notes Pilger:
"the Brown government is spending £11bn of taxpayers' money on a huge, privatised military academy in Wales, which will train foreign soldiers and mercenaries recruited to the bogus "war on terror". With arms companies such as Raytheon profiting, this will become Britain's "School of the Americas", a centre for counter-insurgency (terrorist) training and the design of future colonial adventures. It has had almost no publicity."
Britain's playing of the modern Great Game in Afghanistan is treated, similarly, as some kind of benign and honourable sacrifice:
"The shabby, destructive colonial war in Afghanistan is now reported almost entirely through the British army, with squaddies always doing their Kipling best, and with the Afghan resistance routinely dismissed as "outsiders" and "invaders"."
Pilger's indictment and Curtis's investigations of Britain's war regime would, in a rational and compassionate society, be the subject of shameful reflection and progressive policy debate. Instead, we're regaled, courtesy of an obedient media, by a culture of respectable militarism, serving to maintain the noble charade of Britain's enlightened interventionism around the world.

Here's to more humanitarian 'invasions' and caring interventions against Raytheon and the offices of Britain's other corporate arms despots.


Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Israel and its thugs

News reaches us of award-winning Gazan journalist Mohammed Omer's detention and assault at Jordan's Allenby Bridge crossing to the West Bank. Unsurprisingly, there's been not a whisper of the crime from the BBC. Mohammed had been in London to receive the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for outstanding journalism, and was making his way back to Gaza for a family wedding.

As Mohammed later recounted from a hospital bed in Gaza:
"They behaved with unimaginable hatefulness and vindictiveness. They couldn’t accept the very idea of a Palestinian journalist winning a renowned journalism prize. They wanted to punish me for being a successful journalist and especially for exposing Israeli barbarianism to the people of Europe."
The Shin Bet officers who terrorised and hospitalised Mohammed seem blatantly unconcerned at the adverse publicity they must have known would follow. Which leads us to conclude that, as with the open murder of countless Palestinian children, Israel is engaged in a gratuitous policy of civil terrorism, using such incidents to threaten and induce fear in the Palestinian population.

A group of Mohammed's friends have written an open letter to Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the UK, requesting an urgent inquiry and explanation. As with the Shin Bet's unapologetic actions, we await his diplomatic 'response' with little confidence.

Mohammed's distressing experience is a stark reminder of the ruthless treatment being meted out to anyone found highlighting Israel's criminal behaviour. Norman Finkelstein was recently detained and deported by Israel for doing so.

Whether it's standing on a Palestinian's neck, as happened to Mohammed, or 'diplomatising' such crimes, all participants in this oppression are thugs.

Recently, we joined a protest, near Glasgow, against the Jewish National Fund's staging of a pro-am golf event. Behind its 'charitable' front, the JNF is a racist organisation engaged in appropriating Palestinian land and concealing evidence of the ethnic cleansing. One disturbing image of the fundraising golf day saw young Zionists shrugging their shoulders and laughing when told about the Israeli army's murder of Palestinian children. Complicit thugs, on this occasion, dressed-up in sporting clothes.

But it's the 'respectable' thugs in their political suits who must take the greatest blame for allowing such crimes to continue. Some, at least, are trying to come to terms with their past silences, such as former Dutch Prime minister Andreas Van Agt:
"I'm driven partly by my shame for not speaking up for the Palestinians when I was in power, and partly by some striking experiences I had when visiting the Occupied Territories in the recent past," he says. "People often ask me how come I'm so outspoken now, but did not speak up when I was in a position of power. And it's true, I never spoke up for the Palestinians, except for when Sabra and Shatila happened. And even that was in soft terms."

"In one of my visits to Bethlehem I heard a story, which now I know is just one of many," Van Agt recalls. "It was a story horrendous humiliation [sic] of a Palestinian student trying to get to university for a collective exam. His story, which the university president told me, struck me like lightening..[sic]"

At the last IDF checkpoint on the way, according to the story which Van Agt says he heard from the university president, the student was pulled over and ordered to climb out of the window. "Then the humiliation began. He fell down and was then ordered to walk on hands and feet and bark. Then the soldiers laughed about the Palestinians all being dogs."

"I began studying, figuring out what's going on there. I found one story after the other. Then I started thinking about the 39 United Nations resolutions begging, demanding and imploring Israel to vacate the Occupied Territories. All were dismissed by Israel. Saddam Hussein was attacked after four resolutions, but Israel got 39 and nobody talks about applying even the slightest pressure on Israel to comply with them," he complains.
For those in thrall to Israel as a bastion of 'freedom, democracy and tolerance' amid a region of 'despotic' Arabs, here's a useful reminder of its actual criminal standing. As these key UN resolutions on Palestine detail, no amount of public relations or official denials is ever going to conceal the wanton brutality of Israel's actions. Yet, whether openly flouting international law or publicly beating and murdering innocent civilians, this regime, it seems, is without shame or remorse in its capacity for arrogant thuggery.