Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Gap Between 'Us' and 'Them'

Politicians spend an inordinate amount of time these days trying to reconnect with ‘real people’ and bemoaning the gap between politicians and the real world. While these sycophantic quasi-democratic unrepresentative fools may like paying lip service to building bridges with ‘the real world’, the recent G20 meeting in London served to highlight once again the chasm that exists between ‘us’ and ‘them’. For whilst the Metropolitan Police were busy beating peaceful protestors and battering innocent newspaper vendors to death our barely elected leaders were demonstrating how firmly their feet are planted in the ‘real world’.

A request under the Freedom of Information Act this week has revealed that the food and drink bill for the G20 quango ran to over half a million pounds. And guess who’s paying for this? Is it the over paid, expenses-draining representatives of ‘we the people’? Er, no, it’s just ‘we the people’. Once again the tax payer is left to foot the bill for a bunch of rich white middle class buffoons getting together in a totally unaccountable and un-transparent meeting to determine our fate. While the people’s liberties were being attacked on the streets, behind the police, armed guards, private security and bodyguards, world leaders, their wives, their secretaries, their assistants, their PAs, and practically anyone else who could secure a seat on the gravy train, were tucking into £66,000 pounds worth of fine wines, and munching their way through £435,000 pounds worth of food. The irony of these people meeting to discuss the global economic crisis and poverty and debt in the developing world whilst indulging in a Romanesque orgy of gluttony was no doubt lost on them.

(Prices taken from

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Police, the Media, and the Errosion of Liberty

It is readily apparent that in the UK today our civil liberties are not merely under attack, but are already rapidly disappearing, and are doing so with seemingly little reaction from the majority of the British public. And why is this? One has to conclude that a large part of the reason for this state of affairs is the collusion between the government, their politicised anti-libertarian anti-protest stance, the supposed terrorist threat, and the mainstream media.

In order to continue to keep the general population supine, docile and malleable, the government, through the media, must maintain fear and present examples of the ‘threat’ which we now face. Coupled with this they must continually seek to discredit those who raise questions about this state of affairs, and who exercise their democratic rights to voice their opposition through protest.

The main way of maintaining the status quo of fear and suspicion has been through the media’s continuous reporting of the terror threat, and their role in regurgitating without critical enquiry or questioning, the government spin on this issue. If you were to believe everything you hear spouting forth from the mouths of government and the media, you would be forgiven for believing that we are living in unprecedented times, where a large number of radicalised UK muslims, supported by a huge number of foreigners and other undesirables who have infiltrated this country in order to sponge off our benefits and visit terror upon us, have placed each and every one of us in clear and present danger of being blown up in some horrific terror plot.

In order to maintain this clearly preposterous position the government continually give more power to our police – supposedly the thin blue line between us and the ever present threat of terror. The police are then encouraged to use these increased powers (not that they require any encouragement) to create spectacles – flagship events designed to ram home to the populous the sheer scale of the terror-threat that lurks just around the corner.

As an example, in recent times, we have witnessed the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes (and subsequent attempts to deny or avoid blame or responsibility by the Metropolitan Police), and the Forest Gate raids where two local residents were shot and wounded in their own home in a high profile terror raid, only to be released without charge on the quiet a few weeks later.

And it is this pattern that concerns me – the high profile public terror raids and arrests, the much publicised ‘items of suspicion’ found in these peoples homes, the 24 hour media focus on the arrest of ‘home grown terrorists’, then days or weeks later the quiet release without charge of these people, which is never seemingly reported by the media so keen to slander them in the first place, and so happy to regurgitate without question or criticism the words of the police and government ministers (and of course when the information is too laughable to even attribute to a specific police officer or government minister there is always the recourse to “an unnamed government spokesman”).

Another example: four weeks ago a convoy of aid from the UK to Gaza was attacked in a high profile public policing operation – I keep repeating ‘high profile public policing’ as it is entirely deliberate that the media are always ‘embedded’ during these operations. So, ten muslim men were arrested at gun point on the M48, with the country’s media watching on in glee. The headlines the next day spoke of links between UK supporters of Palestine and unspecified ‘terrorists’. By extension the entire UK population who had supported the Palestinians during the Israelis brutal assault on Gaza were implicated as having ‘supported terrorism’. The message was clear – be more careful what causes you support and where you give your money to’. Of course what was not reported was that while this was happening the convoy continued through Europe, into north Africa, and finally through Egypt to Gaza where they successfully delivered many tonnes of much needed humanitarian aid to the besieged people of Gaza. What was also not reported was that two weeks later all ten men were released without charge. How is it now possible, yet alone permissible, in this country for the police to be allowed to arrest ten men, hold them without charge for two weeks, then release them on the basis of ‘lack of evidence’. Two alarming thoughts follow from this – do we still have habeas corpus in this country, the presumption of innocence until PROOF of guilt is established through supporting evidence? And even if these men were a terrorist threat (which they never were), is the most sensible way to defuse that threat to let them wander around under observation for weeks on end, then let them board a convoy of heavy goods vehicles, before having half of Manchester’s police force pull them over at gun point on part of the UK’s motorway network? Does this sound like sensible policing, or politicised actions by the police planned for, and played out for, the watching UK media.

Yet another example. Over Easter there was series of high profile police operations in the northwest of England which claimed to have uncovered a major UK terror plot. Newspapers spoke of plans to bomb Old Trafford, Anfield and the Trafford Shopping Centre. Twelve muslim men were arrested. Eleven of the twelve currently remain in custody. Under Britain’s draconian anti-terror laws terror these men have another week to wait before they are likely to be released. But you can bet your bottom dollar they will all be released without charge. And you can bet the media won’t report that. After all, the less sensationalist media are already reporting that “security sources” (i.e. government spokespeople too embarrassed to put their name against this ridiculous story) have stated that they expect few, if any, terror-related charges to result from the arrests. Raids on the men’s homes and business premises in the northwest of England have so far failed to turn up any evidence of bombs, chemical explosives, weapons or ammunition. They did find a quantity of table sugar at one property, in the kitchen. For more on that read on….. One “senior security source” was cited in the Guardian as stating that “nothing of huge significance” had been uncovered. This is a far cry from the hysterical claims that originally attended the arrests. Then police sources claimed that they had thwarted a massive Al Qaeda-directed operation to launch large-scale suicide bomb attacks over the Easter holiday. Citing information from “MI6 operations targeted on Pakistan”, “anonymous security officials” claimed there had been a high risk of an “imminent attack” that would cause “mass casualties.” Prime Minister Gordon Brown described the apparent terror plot as “very big.” Wow, “very big” – is that a technical term? And who are these ‘unnamed sources’? Is it any more newsworthy than me reporting that I heard a man down the pub tell his friend over a glass of strong cider that Elvis is alive and well and living in Glasgow? Such is the subsequent backpedalling over this alleged terrorist conspiracy that the Guardian stated, “A central mystery remains how counterterrorism officials could believe such a serious plot existed when they were unsure of seemingly basic elements of the alleged conspiracy, such as the targets.” Indeed. The “evidence” now being presented for the existence of a terror threat appears to centre on reports that several of those detained—most of whom were in the UK on student visas—had been seen taking photographs near a Manchester shopping centre and other public venues. This behaviour, it is argued, is consistent with terrorist reconnaissance. A surveillance team also reportedly heard discussions about certain dates over the Easter holiday, prompting the arrests. So, it is now enough to prove ‘reasonable suspicion’ to the forces of law and order in the UK for someone to be ‘muslim with a camera’ or to discuss dates over a public holiday with their friends. Does this seem strong enough evidence to stage a series of ‘high profile anti-terror operations’? Ask yourself the question – are we under more of a threat now than during the Irish Troubles? I believe not. The Troubles lasted over fifty years, and saw organised guerilla armies (the IRA amongst others) arm themselves with a range of modern weaponry and explosives, receive widespread financial and political backing across the globe as well as in Ireland and parts of England, and engage in a prolonged campaign of bombings in mainland Britain that lasted for well over thirty years. During this time police and security forces learned some valuable lessons. One, the less voice you give to terrorists the better. Two, the more you play down the threat and underestimate the risk of terrorism, the better the reaction amongst the general populous and the greater the likelihood they will grit their teeth and persevere. Three, rounding up suspects willy-nilly, interring them without trial, and locking them up for prolonged periods of time on the flimsiest grounds and most questionable legal evidence is counter-productive and only helps their recruitment drive.

And yet, in the years since 9/11 more than 1,000 people have been arrested under anti-terrorism laws in the UK, of which less than 50 have been convicted. I can think of no other area of policing that would accept a 5% conviction rate as normal. However, so sweeping are the anti-terrorism powers that people have been detained on the flimsiest of pretexts. Earlier this month, five people in Plymouth were detained under the Terrorism Act after a young man was seen spraying graffiti. “Political literature” was reportedly found in one of the homes raided and it was claimed at the time that the five had been planning to join the G20 protests in London. Furthermore, the press reported ‘unnamed police sources’ as reporting that the police had found explosives and firearms during the raid and believed the ‘terror suspects’ were planning an act of ‘terrorism’ during the G20 protests. All five men were held for several days, before they were all released without charge. Begging the question, just what had the police found in their homes? Well, the political literature turned out to be some Karl Marx (the police would have a field day in my home that’s for sure), the ‘explosives’ turned out to be a safety flare (two of the men were keen sailors, hardly surprising considering they lived in Plymouth), and the ‘firearm’ turned out to be the flare gun necessary to launch the flare they found. But was any of this subsequent information reported by the media who had taken such a keen interest in the story initially? No. The lies were allowed to stand, and the people who had read and been alarmed by the initial report were left to assume it had all been true. And yet if a newspaper makes a mistake in its daily edition, for instance mislabeling a picture alongside an article, there is guaranteed to be a correction and apology in the following day’s paper. All the while, the hysterical atmosphere generated by such high profile police operations and arrests has been used to further strengthen police powers and undermine democratic rights. The brutal shooting of innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005 by undercover anti-terrorist officers exposed that police had covertly adopted a shoot-to-kill policy. Less than one year later another innocent man, Mohammed Abdul Kahar, was shot by anti-terror police in a raid on his home in Forest Gate. In the latest police operations over Easter, Muhammad Adil, a 27-year-old Pakistani student, told how he had been eating lunch outside Liverpool John Moores University when he and a friend were surrounded by armed officers. Special Forces Officers with telescopic machine guns instructed them to raise their hands, and forced them to the floor. Adil’s hands were tied behind his back as he lay on the ground for over an hour, while police kept their guns trained on him. Taken to a police station, he was released after several hours without charge. What could possibly necessitate being arrested by police armed with machine guns if within hours you have been released without charge? Was this man presumed innocent on his arrest? Simultaneously, police were carrying out similarly spectacular arrests in other locations. Two people were detained while working as security guards at a DIY store. A worker at the store told how 80 officers had swooped on the building, and armed police had rushed into the shop, emerging 10 minutes later with the two men. Does it take 80 police to arrest two men working at a DIY store? If the police wanted to legitimately talk to these men would it not have been easier to send two police to their home and ask them to come down to the station for a chat? If you or I were of interest to the police, they wouldn’t send 80 police to arrest us at our work, they’d pop round, knock on the door, and ask us to accompany them to the station. This seems an entirely more sensible way of going about your business without getting the backs of an entire community up, causing fear and panic in the population, disrupting a DIY stores business, and traumatising two innocent men. In the Wavertree district of Liverpool, residents described how unmarked black cars had sped down the street, stopping outside a flat, and a number of men wearing black combat gear had stormed the building. Three men were brought out handcuffed from the building. In a residential area in Manchester, meanwhile, a woman told how she had heard a lot of noise and opened her door to see “four or five policemen were on top of a man. They were dragging him along the street and he had no shoes on. They shouted at me ‘get inside, get inside’. There was a policeman on each corner of the street, with machine guns.”
Do these actions seem designed to:
a) efficiently and quietly bring some men in to answer questions you may have about any criminal activities they may have been involved in or plan to commit in future, or
b) create a climate of fear and panic, reinforcing stated government and police lies about the level of terror we are facing, simultaneously justifying the actions themselves, and any past or future actions by the government or police, who are working so hard t keep us safe.

It looks increasingly likely that the lack of evidence of terror-related activities in the latest arrests will be attributed to the fact that the police operation had to be moved forward at the last moment after Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick of the Metropolitan Police was photographed the previous day entering Downing Street carrying a briefing paper—marked top secret—with details of the intended raids visible to the watching media. Fearing the cat was out the bag, hundreds of police officers were quickly scrambled for the northwest raids. Quick’s “gaffe” is now being blamed for compromising an otherwise promising operation. The Times speculated April 14th that indications that no terror charges would ultimately be laid against those arrested posed “questions about how real this threat was and whether the police were trying to cover their embarrassment over Mr. Quick.” More pertinently, it should be noted that warnings of imminent suicide bombings on a major city came just as the government and Metropolitan Police faced mounting condemnation of police actions during the G20 summit of world leaders in London, which ended April 3. During the protests, more than 200 people were arrested, houses were raided, and thousands of people detained for hours by police in London side streets in a practice known as “kettling.” The vast majority of those arrested were released with out charge. The police policed this protest just as they have every other protest I have attended in the last ten years. They were violent, unaccountable, deliberately provoked the crowd, seemed intent on engaging in a physical confrontation, and most were illegally not displaying their ID numbers. During the protest there were a large number of assaults on protestors by police, and subsequently one man was found to have died during the protests. As usual the police and media kicked into action side by side. The media reported ‘unnamed police spokesmen’, the police denied facts, made claims and counter claims, and so it seemed the event would play out like any other. The media, after all, had their story – violent protestors had once again instigated trouble in the City, run amok, fought police, and generally engaged in anarchy. Those raids in Plymouth must have been on to something, because there was a lot of violence.

However, the presence of alternative media – namely individual protests armed with cameras, camcorders, mobile phones – meant that gradually another version leaked out. Footage emerged of police assaulting the man who later died. Footage emerged of police striking men, women and children in unprovoked attacks. Footage surfaced that showed police routinely hiding their ID numbers to prevent identification after the fact. Suddenly the media had a new story. Had ‘one bad egg’ spoiled things? Were there one or two policemen prone to violence? Had police tactics been wrong? Had police provoked protestors? Were the police going to change tactics in future? Suddenly, the media weren’t interested in the usual story of unwashed hoody-wearing anarchists attacking the police and Starbucks. The media had an exclusive! Stop press…. Stop press….. police engage in mindless violence to protect the interests of big business and reify the political will of their masters. Well, my heartfelt thanks to the mainstream media for reporting what those of us who protest have known for years. The police are not there to protect us, or even protect public order. The police are there to implement the will of the government. In collusion with the media they need to maintain the story that protesting is dangerous, violent, and likely to lead to trouble. They need to maintain the perception that the police need more power. They need to maintain the notion that police and government encourage and assist peaceful protest, while ensuring that all protest is met with enough violence to put protestors off continuing with their actions. And so, of course, we are offered up the sacrificial lamb of ‘a couple of bad eggs’. The police and media will work together to ensure that a few heads roll, then back to business as usual. But, we can’t maintain this constant barrage of criticism against the police in case it undermines public confidence. And so, less than 24 hours later, Britain was faced with another ‘alleged’ terrorist plot, and the media had their next story. And yet the story wasn’t ‘civil liberties under further attack as police stage terror raids that lead to all men being release without charge’ the story was ‘huge easter plot to blow up football stadiums in the northwest’. You may think I’m labouring a point, but these sorts of actions are insidious and have knock on effects. At the weekend it was announced that plainclothes armed police units are to be deployed on the streets of Scotland for the first time in its history. No official statement or justification, let alone discussion, accompanied this unprecedented move. But the Scotsman newspaper editorialised in support of the deployment, citing the alleged northwest terror plot, which it said could have led to “blood and suffering” on the streets of Manchester. So now a wholly fictitious plot in the northwest is used to justify having armed plainclothes police on Scotland’s streets. One more civil liberty gone without so much as a whimper of protest. Because people these days are scared to protest. And in case the media were getting board of the northwest terror plot story, or heavens forbid starting to think about publishing the fact that no weapons, explosives or plot have been uncovered, police staged an Army Bomb Squad raid on a flat in Liverpool yesterday to give the media a chance to revive the story. The peculiar thing is that the address raided had been under search and cordoned off five days before the bomb squad was called in. Indeed, last Wednesday 50 (yes, 50) policemen swooped on the flat and searched it for six hours. It is therefore remarkable that the "Bomb" wasn't found for a further five days. The official description of the Bomb Squad raid was "precautionary". That is "Precautionary" in the sense of "Publicity stunt". What the mainstream media fail to report is that the bomb squad experts were able to tell the police that the suspicious substance was - table sugar. Whether cane or beet, doubtless intense forensic examination will tell us.
And so the cycle of propaganda continues. There is a terror threat. There must be. Look at all those terror raids. All those terrorists arrested. The police need more powers in order to stay one step ahead of these crazy terrorists. And yet for the communities directly affected, or those that value our civil liberties over the police’s right to act with impunity, these actions simply stem to stir the flame of protest, calling us to defend our liberties before it is too late. In engaging in this legal right to voice our opinions and protest the actions of the police state we now live in, we are met with unprecedented levels of surveillance, control and police brutality. This justifies for the media the needs of the police to have more powers. And so the police stage more raids, to capture more phony terrorists, further enhancing the need for protest in defence of our liberties, which only further provoke the police to violence in defence of the powers they so desperately want. If they can get away with it they will pin the blame firmly on the protestors or on the terrorists. When they get caught out and even the media turn on them, they will hang a couple of sacrificial lambs out for slaughter, the media will be appeased, normality will be restored, and no one will think to report on the innocence of the men arrested or the protestors assaulted.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Israel lurch to the right

Israel today stooped to a new low, yet at the same time gave perhaps its truest insight in recent years into the pervading mind set of its politics. Having failed to return a majority party in the recent general elections (you remember, the ones where leaders of the different parties fell over themselves to see how glad they could appear at the slaughter of innocent lives in Gaza), Benjamin Netanyahu (leader of the ‘winning’ Likud party) is now scouting round for prospective coalition partners. Although the situation may yet change, as it stands today part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling collation would be the Yisrael Beiteinu party, with the notable appointment being it’s leader Avigdor Lieberman becoming foreign minister. Even within Israeli politics Yisrael Beiteniu are considered very right wing, and Lieberman is widely considered to be one of the most extremist and reactionary politicians in the country. Amongst his past utterances have been a call for Israel to redraw its borders to hand over Arab areas to the Palestinians while retaining major settlement blocs (a form of forced transfer, an illegal land grab, and the sort of ghettoisation old Adolf would have been fond of), and his suggestion for all Arabs remaining in Israel to be forced to sign loyalty oaths or lose their right to vote (a policy that is both racist and fascist). Other notable occurrences in Lieberman’s politic career have been his conviction for assaulting a twelve year old Arab boy, and his call for any Arab member of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) who meets any representative of Hamas to be executed (note his call only extends to Arab members of parliament, and that his call is for people meeting the democratically elected government of a neighboring country to be executed). Indeed this latter action so upset fellow Knesset members that two resigned, including Labour minister Ophir Pines-Paz, who resigned stating that Lieberman was tainted "by racist declarations and declarations that harm the democratic character of Israel”.

Other notable utterances by Lieberman have included his reflection on how to deal with Palestinian resistance: “if it were up to me I would notify the Palestinian Authority that tomorrow at ten in the morning we would bomb all their places of business in Ramallah, for example.” (which is a premeditated statement of intent to commit war crimes as both the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, and the use of excessive force, and the targeting of civilians are illegal in law). Even more blood-chilling than this was his later statement in July 2003, when reacting to a proposal to give an amnesty to approximately 350 Palestinian prisoners including members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, when Lieberman commented "It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that's the lowest point in the world," Lieberman continued, stating his willingness, as Minister of Transport, to supply buses to take the prisoners there”.

Interestingly, this won’t be the first time Lieberman has been in a coalition government – he walked out of the last one he was in in protest at the peace process. So here you have a country that claims to be a beacon of peaceful democracy, surrounded on all sides by barbaric Arab terrorists, and yet repeatedly votes for people that make statements of mind-boggling cruelty, who are anti-Arab, anti a two state solution, anti dialogue, anti peace, pro war and ultimately racist and fascist. Nowhere else in the world, not even in America, would politicians with such right wing views get elected to office, let alone invited to join the ruling government, let alone be offered the job of Foreign Minister.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Perfect Husband

We all remember the wonderful Tessa Jowell – the woman who signs her mortgage agreements over the breakfast table without asking her husband what it is she is signing - *cough* allegedly! Whilst many of us may well have hoped she had disappeared from politics for good, it turns out that she is actually holding down two jobs currently - Minister for the Olympics and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. However, it is fair to say that Tessa will always be remembered as the woman who divorced her husband to save her political career, after they had accepted £400,000 from Silvio Berlusconi following Mr Mills giving evidence in a court case in defence of the corrupt Italian former PM. Today Judges in Milan have sentenced David Mills to 4 and a half years in prison for bribery and corruption, and ordered him to pay £250,000 damages to the Italian State. Mr Berlusconi himself can not be prosecute after he passed a law while in power exempting him from prosecution (interestingly very swiftly after Mr Mills had lied for him in court to protect him from prosecution for bribery and corruption!).
I’m sure Tessa Jowell will have little or nothing to say on this subject, and play heavily on her separation from Mr Mills, but one has to wonder about the endemic corruption in politics and query whether dearest Tessa was really unaware that the nearly half a million pounds she and her husband had used to pay off their mortgage stemmed from Mr Mills knowingly lying in court in defence of the then PM of Italy. In fact, Tessa claimed at the time she not only had no idea where the money came from, as she didn’t think to ask her husband where he’d found a little under half a million pounds from, but that she was also unaware they had used it to pay their mortgage off, as she had simply signed some paper work over breakfast one morning. What a marriage! The type where your husband comes home from work one day with half a million quid, doesn’t tell you, then uses it to pay your mortgage off without telling you that either.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lord Blair Champion of the Free World

I spotted this today:,_Former_Prime_Minister,_Wins_Million_Dollar_Prize_For_Achievements_That_Shape_SocietyWhich

In short, Tony Blair has been ‘awarded’ £697,000 from the Dan David Foundation in Tel Aviv for being “one of the most outstanding statesmen of our era”. Notwithstanding the utter ridiculousness of that sentiment, and the amazing amnesia as concerns Iraq and Afghanistan, does it not strike anyone else as a possible conflict of interests to be employed as the “Middle East Peace Envoy” whilst accepting a million dollars from one of the most eminent charitable bodies in Israel? OK, so Blair is ‘donating’ the money to his own “Faith Foundation” but nevertheless it seems to me that someone who wines, dines and courts the favours of one side to the point where they pay him a million pounds, yet has never had the courage or moral fortitude to even set foot on the Gaza Strip, may just, possibly, be a little biased in their outlook.

As for the Award, the Dan David Foundation has recognised Blair’s” achievements that shape and enrich society today". Although they conveniently forgot to mention the millions of dead innocent Iraqi and Afghan men, women and children who were murdered due to Blair’s desire to enter into a modern day crusade alongside his pal Bush. They did mention Kosovo, claiming "From the time he assumed leadership of the British Labour Party in 1994 until he stepped down as prime minister in 2007, he showed exceptional intelligence and foresight, and demonstrated moral courage and leadership. It was the Kosovo crisis in particular that transformed Tony Blair into an international leader on the basis of his steadfast determination and morally courageous leadership." Which is some of the best historic revisionism I have seen in a long time (you would have thought Israelis more than most would shy away from historic revisionism, but apparently not). The statement is also laughable.

Because as anyone that observed the situation with their own eyes and not via the auspices of Murdoch’s news empire remembers, Kosovo was a bloody tragedy where Blair managed to get himself dragged in as poodle to the US President (Clinton not Bush as it happened), then exacerbated the situation though inaction, then finally decide to react with a show of force that directly led to the deaths of tens of thousands. During the conflict our ‘protection’ of the Kosovans led to over a million ethnic Kosovars being internally displaced, of which a quarter of a million remain as internal refugees today, and ethnic tensions still continue to cause intermittent bloodshed. So a good job well done by Blair. Give the man an award. It is also interesting to note that in the Kosovo intervention which Blair is here lauded for, Blair and his chums intervened to protect Kosovans who had fought a bloody and brutal armed guerrilla war against the occupying powers of the Serbo-Croat alliance. And yet Blair refuses to accept that the Palestinians are engaged in a guerrilla war against an occupying power. Strange. Also interesting to note that both the situation in the Balkans and the situation in the Middle East are direct results of British nation building after the First World War where we arrogantly assumed that we could draw lines on maps, create countries, and force different peoples to live together despite thousands of years of bloody conflicts suggesting otherwise.

What perhaps upsets me more however is that this award continues our ‘civilised’ societies determination to honour, reward and make heroes of the men who lead us to war. If Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terror, and the situation in Israel today teach us anything, surely it is that armed conflict only begets more armed conflict, more pain, bloodshed and suffering, which the people on the street always bear the brunt of, while the war makers, the arrogant men with their delusions of grandeur, are decorated with awards and pieces of gold.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Blatancy of Lies

Just a few short words to highlight the absolute supremacy of the victors discourse in the hell of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It seems that such is the mendacity of the world’s media, the governments of the West (and indeed plenty of our puppet-regimes and receivers of military aid amongst the leaders of the Arab world) and the state of Israel itself, that lies and crimes are now reported as fact, and the facts remain unreported.

Example one: a seemingly innocuous article about an archaeological dig, picked up, amongst others, on the BBC news website and Sky news. Both reports detailed how The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) had discovered a rare Roman-era marble statuette in Jerusalem. Both reports note, without any further comment, that the 1,800-year-old figurine made of marble and depicting a miniature image of a bearded man's head was discovered in an archaeological excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority in occupied east Jerusalem (my emphasis). Now, on the one hand you could argue that the word occupied is included in the articles, and that proves that the BBC and Sky are reporting impartially. Frankly, that’s bollocks. It doesn’t explain who is occupying East Jerusalem (the state of Israel), who it is that is being occupied (Palestinians), how long this has been going on (since 1967), the context for the land being occupied (naked aggressive military expansionism and religious zealotry by the state of Israel), or the legal consequences (that occupying east Jerusalem is illegal in international law and that in so occupying the area Israel are in material breach of UN resolutions Furthermore that Jerusalem as a whole is a ‘corpus separatum’ which is supposed to be under a special international regime administered by the UN). All in all the article fails to highlight that Israel has no legal right to be in east Jerusalem, and that it therefore has no right to be conducting archaeological excavations there and keeping any antiquities it finds.

Example two: an article that appeared in some mainstream media (the BBC, Independent, Reuters, Haaeratz, Irish Times and Guardian for example) of a Rabbi for the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) who had been handing out questionable religious guidance leaflets to troops entering Gaza. All of the articles were small and crammed in the ‘other news’ column inches. All simply stated that a controversy was brewing over Rabbi Avichai Rontzki (the army chief chaplain) giving out these leaflets for their alleged incitement against Palestinians. Ah, ‘alleged’, there’s that conditional word, that safety net for the media. Now, the leaflet itself was considered so extreme in its intolerant and fundamentalist religious views that many within Israel have been uncomfortable with it (Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group said the booklet's contents could be "interpreted as a call to act outside the confines of international laws of war"). It called on the IDF soldiers to ‘show no mercy’ (not only a statement born of hatred and a refusal to differentiate one Palestinian form another, but also a call for IDF soldiers to avoid the usual ‘rules of war’ which explicitly call for mercy and humanity, especially towards civilians, women, children, the elderly and the wounded). The leaflet went on to claim the IDF’s "cruel enemy" was "terribly immoral" and advised soldiers they were fighting "murderers." The booklet, it transpired was written by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a main figure in the Jewish settler movement in the occupied West Bank – and thus a proponent of an act which is illegal in law and at the heart of the ongoing conflict – illegal settlement. Now, consider for one moment if news had emerged that the chief Imam to Hamas had distributed a comparable leaflet – we’d have heard once again that Hamas are a terrorist organisation dedicated to wiping Israel off the map and who exhibit all the signs of religious fundamentalism and extremism that threaten to eradicate the very fabric of civilisation. This may well be true. But why would one side elicit one reaction and the other side none?

Finally, consider the declaration reported today by the leader of Israel's right-wing Likud party, Binyamin Netanyahu. In the run up to the forthcoming general election in Israel Netanyahu informed Tony Blair, the Middle East Peace Envoy (setting aside the cynicism and hypocrisy of that appointment for one moment to allow us to consider the point), that if elected Prime Minister (which seems likely) he will continue to expand existing settlements on the West Bank. Now, how was this reported in most western media? Why, of course, it was reported as “Netanyahu vows, No New Settlements”. How cynically disingenuous. Of course no one is denying that Netanyahu did indeed make that promise (whether to believe him is another matter entirely). But the angle that was most definitely NOT reported was “Netanyahu vows to continue illegally expanding illegal settlements in illegally occupied land belonging to Palestinians, taken from them by force, and illegally occupied in breach of a number of UN resolutions for over 40 years”. Because of course that might help people understand a little more about this conflict. We are of course told, and supposed to believe, that this conflict is so complex, so long standing, that it defies human comprehension. Utter bollocks. For those with time (say half a day), and the ability to read (at above, say, a Key Stage Three level), the situation is easily understandable. As is the reason for the current impasse. No lasting, viable settlement is going to be reached without a viable Palestinian state being established. To be viable you need to not be occupied by a foreign ,military power. You need to not have checkpoints manned by said foreign military power hindering the free movement of people within your territory, you need to have control over your natural resources, access to water, aquifers and farmland, and you need to not have expanding illegal settlements, separated from you by barbed wire, fences and trenches, serviced by separate roads and defended by an illegal occupying army and armed religious extremists. And yet Netanyahu can come out and brazenly boast about his intention to continue to expand existing settlements on the west Bank – an act illegal in law and preventing any hope of lasting peace between Israel and Palestine – without censure. Let us consider for a moment the scale of his boast. Since 1967 Israel has built 120 illegal settlements on the west Bank, housing 261,879 people. A further 102 ‘Outposts’ have been built. An ‘Outpost’ is an illegal illegal settlement; often no more than a couple of caravans on a hill top they are usually home to the most extremist settlers, and despite not being formally recognised by the Israeli government, enjoy the same protection from the Israeli military, the same funding from Israeli nationals and the same special treatment from Israeli authorities, such as roads, utilities and schools for the exclusive use of settlers, as the settlements themselves. The “outposts” are, in fact, settlements by another name, as a report on the “outposts” commissioned in 2005 by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pointed out. Further more, there are illegal settlements in East Jerusalem too. As noted above this is illegal, a breach of a UN Resolution (446), and a flagrant attempt to alter ‘the facts on the ground’ prior to any negotiated deal with the Palestinians. In just 12 settlements in East Jerusalem 182,460 illegal settlers live, protected as usual by the might of the worlds fourth largest army. In total therefore, there are currently 417,723 Israelis living illegally on the West Bank. And yet no one talks about this, no one censures this fragrant breach of law and morality, this barest of thefts and ongoing provocation to the Palestinians who are supposed to be constructing a viable state on the 58% of their country which is not illegally settled by an occupying army. And Netanyahu and the rest can openly boast of their support for expanding existing settler communities and still be reported as moderates.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


An election is coming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry. T. S Eliot

I have been unable to write anything about the situation in Gaza while the Israelis were caring out their wanton slaughter, too numb and horrified by what was unfolding before my eyes to respond coherently. Now that, for the Israelis at least, Operation Cast Lead is now over, people have begun to seek answers and analyse the motives and objectives of the Israeli military and government in entering into this bloody operation.

The quote above I think captures a lot of people’s reasoning for the timing of operation cast lead - a vicious military assault slipped into the dying days of a lame duck president and timed to maximise the seeming humanitarian impact of Barack Obama. But I'm not sure I buy that. Sure, the timing suited Israel, it suited Bush, and it suited Obama. But I think that's just by the by.

Whilst others will claim it is related to the Israeli's mentality of victimhood, seeing the abused become the abuser, and others will claim it is the clear and single minded desire to 'solve' the Palestinian problem once and for all, I am not so sure. I certainly don’t buy the Israeli argument that it is all the fault of Hamas. And for a number of reasons. Yes, there are some on the Israeli side (especially amongst the ultra orthodox and ultra zionist) who see it is a question of military might combined with god given right to obliterate the Palestinians, and others who worry that if not tightly controlled the 'Palestinian question' could, in time, lead to a resumption of blatant anti-semitism and attacks on a country that sees itself as surrounded by enemies. But I am no psychologist and do not want to fall into the trap of using cod-psychology and wild generalisations to explain the actions of a government and its army. Indeed, actions such as Operation Cast Lead are far too clinical, too meticulously planned, to be the result simply of some psychological driver. Indeed the operation must have been planned months in advance, and the sudden increase in shipments of weaponry, notably ‘bunker busting’ bombs, by the US military in the months leading up to this operation suggest that it was not only the Israelis who had been planning this for months.

Far more interesting I think to assess Operation Cast Lead in terms of an action located within the nexus of standard capitalist-imperialist territorial expansionism. Removing the religio-ethnic strata from any analysis (which is not to say these are not factors, for both sides) is also helpful if one wishes to look at the situation without getting dragged into 100 years of recent history, and indeed the entire history of a people and their god.

But first, let us start by assessing the stated aims of operation cast lead, as laid out by the IDF:
1. To halt the fire of rockets by Hamas from Gaza into Israel
2. To prevent the smuggling of weapons from Egypt into Gaza via a network of underground tunnels.
3. To teach Hamas, and by extension Gazans, a valuable lesson about the consequences of breaching an Israeli ceasefire (indeed one Israeli politician talked of visiting a holocaust on the Gazans – not, one would imagine, an accidental choice of words).

Well, objective one is easily dismissed - throughout the operation Hamas rocket fire into Israel continued unabated and there is no question that Hamas still retain the capability to begin the barrages if they so choose. Secondly, news has emerged today that the smuggling tunnels are already back in use and providing valuable and vital diesel into Rafah and the rest of Gaza. Finally, it is essential to note that it was actually Israel who broke the Hamas declared ceasefire and precipitated this entire crisis.

So, it is clear that the objectives above do not ring true (and indeed many Israeli military analysts have lined up to question the sense of these stated objectives as militarily unachievable). I very much wonder whether the actions in Gaza don't in fact mask a rather more mundane (in one sense of the word) set of motives. I consider Israel to be a prime example of the development of a capitalist nation state - one which exists almost perfectly as a microcosm of the different stages of capitalism, and its inherent logics and rules. From a country that did not exist 100 years ago, the state of Israel has developed perhaps more rapidly than any other nation state. First it experienced rapid industrialisation and economic development, as the deserts were greened, and an economy developed (initially predominantly agricultural, but now encompassing manufacturing, military-industrial development, and financial and service industries). In part this was driven by the massive influx of immigration from across Europe and the wider world. Next was a phase of blatant and aggressive imperialist expansionism, as the state militarily and unilaterally re-defined its borders by occupying parts of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza.

Coupled with this imperialism came the standard othering of subservient populations (in this case the Arabs - both Israeli Arabs and Palestinians) to create a pool of affordable and readily available cheap labour. In this way the state of Israel has grown in a little under one hundred years to a position as a dominant developed nation state, a noted military force and an economic powerhouse, both within its region, and also vis-à-vis Europe and the US.

The importance of the Israeli economy to other developed economics can not be underestimated. To the UK, French, and US in particular, Israel is a vital source of economic fluidity - both as an investment opportunity for surplus capital, and as a key purchaser of military technologies (and recipient of military aid - a financial deal which benefits both the western arms manufacturers and the Israeli economy). So perhaps operation cast lead should be looked at not in relation to its timing regarding the US presidency, but rather its timing in relation to the world economy. The world economy is currently in crisis, predominantly due to the inherent crisis tendencies that are the central logic of the system itself. These crises - always painted as being unforeseeable and unique, are in fact as predictable as night following day, or the Met undercounting demonstrators on marches in London. This time, there is a failure in monetary circulation - the cyclical process of creative destruction has slowed, and there is seemingly no available capital to grease the wheels of greed. However, it is the case that there is no actual shortage of money, just a shortage of investment opportunities seen as risk-free enough to entice the big investors of the global capitalist market who are recovering form having their fingers burnt by Enron, Lehman Brothers, Northern Rock, sub prime securities, and the like.

Those who until recently would have gambled on hedge funds and short selling need another outlet for their surplus capital, and quick, before the economic 'downturn' begins to affect them, and not just the ordinary schmuck on the street. Seen in that light, the bombardment of Gaza takes on a new complexion. Witness the clamour to talk about aid and reconstruction, witness the huge sums of money being promised. Even better than a normal investment opportunity, with its attendant risk, this situation is like manna from heaven to the global capitalist class. Huge redevelopment grants, with contracts underpinned by governments and international aid agencies. You simply can't loose. And the picture gets rosier and rosier for these purveyors of destruction in the name of development - the absolute crisis of leadership in government in Gaza (and indeed in the West Bank - one led by an Israeli stooge and supported tacitly by billions of dollars of Israeli money, the other ruled by a democratically elected organisation who the world has made clear will not be allowed to rule much longer) presents an excellent opportunity for the capitalist class to operate without checks or balances, exactly as they see fit, making partnerships and soliciting support with the simple persuasive power of hard currency. It is no coincidence that large reserves of gas have been found off the shores of the Gaza strip, in Palestinian waters. These resources want exploiting (apparently, at least according to British Gas who are eager to get their hands on it) and you can bet your last dollar that Hamas and the mass of the Palestinian populous will not be allowed to profit from this.

And don't think this war on Gaza is only about Gaza: while the Israelis continue to crow about their unilateral withdrawal from Gaza (in actual fact a forced retreat under the pressure of legitimate resistance by Gazans) more settlers have settled on the West Bank than were pulled out of Gaza in the intervening years. The West Bank remains the critical objective for Israeli expansionism. Whether you believe that to be religiously driven expansionism to occupy and own biblical greater Israel, or economic expansionism based on the material wealth to be found on the West Bank (aquifers, fertile land, habitable space for an expanding population), Gaza is a mere smoke screen. The creation of 'facts on the ground' remains Israel’s objective - to occupy and retain the areas of the West Bank so vital to their long-term economic security.

And finally, in closing, let us remember that, macro and micro objectives, analysis and reasons aside, some very stark facts were hammered home in Gaza these past few weeks. The Israelis committed war crimes (targeting of civilian areas, populations and infrastructure; the use of white phosphorous in civilian areas; disproportionate response to violence; collective punishment of an entire population), the West sat by and cheered them on, and the civilians of Gaza paid the price. The media were central too, continuing the uneven discourse that seeks to portray every Israeli action as an equal and measured response to a Palestinian provocation. For the record then:

  • Israel broke the ceasefire
  • Over the last 7 years – 22 Israeli deaths have resulted from Palestinian violence
  • In the same time period Palestinian deaths through Israeli violence have numbered over 5000
  • During Operation Cast Lead more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed and 5,000+ wounded, half of them women and children
  • In the same period 13 Israelis were killed – 4 by IDF ‘Friendly Fire’, a further 6 IDF soldiers killed within Gaza
  • Thus the ratio of death in this asymmetric warfare is 1300 Palestinian to 9 Israelis
  • More than 4,000 buildings have been destroyed in Gaza, and more than 20,000 severely damaged
  • 50,000 Gazans are now homeless and 400,000 without running water