The New Year saw a bloodier start than usual in the endless saga of suffering inflicted on the Palestinians by the Israelis and their patrons in Washington. The carnage wrought on the population of Gaza goes on even as I write this. Day 19 of unceasing bombardment by land, sea and air - and all this against a population already suffering collective punishment at the hands of their tormentors. Israel's immoral 18 month siege of Gaza was in the words of Dov Weisglass, advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, designed to "put the Palestinians on a diet".
It was heart warming to see the tens of thousands who turned out on two bitterly cold Saturdays (3rd and 10th January) to show solidarity with the Palestinians and to protest against Israel's barbarism and our own government's mealy mouthed pronouncements on the issue. All of us in KPC know why we feel it is important to make our views heard in these loud expressions of "Not In My Name". I would like to mention an additional reason. During the other recent Israeli massacre of innocents - the invasion of Lebanon in 2006, I was approached by a young woman at Waterloo station who saw my placard. She had literally just arrived back in the UK from Lebanon and was on her way home. She wanted me to know just how much it had meant to herself and her Lebanese and Palestinian colleagues to see the solidarity shown by the demonstrations around the world. Her words "even as the bombs rained down, it brought us a huge sense of comfort to know that we had not been abandoned and forgotten". I did not feel deserving of such gratitude for such a small gesture on my part - but it does matter.
Although the raising of our voices in times of crisis is of vital importance, perhaps even more important is the continuing campaign that needs to be carried out when the situation is less volatile.
On 29th November last year, several KPC members turned out at SOAS to attend a weekend of activities in support of Palestine. Some of us made it to a riveting afternoon lecture where the main speakers were Dr Karma Nabulsi, Illan Pape and Gideon Levy. This meeting left me with feelings of hope and despair in equal measure. Despair because the forces marshalled against the Palestinians are so formidable and hope because it was impossible to sit in front of three such brave people without being inspired to go forth and work on behalf of a people who have seen neither justice nor peace for the last six decades.
Illan Pape the Israeli historian who was forced to leave Haifa university for his uncompromisingly honest conclusion that Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, spoke of:
1. IMPUNITY: Western society has dictated the information on the situation and it was most important to challenge the Zionist narrative that has prevailed. This should not be restricted to present events, but to 1948 and beyond. It is important that we liberate ourselves from the fear of causing offense to the Jews (in light of what they suffered in Europe) and use accurate terminology like "ethnic cleansing" for what has happened to the Palestinians. Academics and journalists have a vital role in re-shaping this narrative, nowhere more so than in the US, which of course will be the most up-hill battle of all.
2.IMMUNITY: Time has frozen for western policy makers, beginning with 1948 when they made the conscious decision that the Palestinians would pay so that Europe could resume normality. This resulted in the brutalization of Palestinians at the hands of the Zionists. Atonement for the holocaust, the Europeans decided, would happen in Palestine. The Germans never offered the Jews a state. Since the world did nothing when the Zionists massacred and dispossessed over 1/2 the Palestinian population in 1948, it gave the Zionists immunity to carry on with their policy and build a mega prison - to keep millions of people without an identity and with no future, punishing them when they revolted. This immunity however was severely challenged by the mere suggestion of an academic boycott, and it was felt that this crack in their security wall of immunity may result in a domino effect of boycotts.
3.VISION FOR THE FUTURE: Even if points one and two were achieved, it was not enough to complete the Palestinian Project. It would be incomplete without formulating a future reality for the Jewish community that existed there and the Palestinian community that had a right to be there.
Dr Karma Nabulsi, Palestinian lecturer in International relations at Oxford University since 2005, and PLO representative at the UN between 1977 and 1990, followed. She stressed that "not giving up" the struggle is the cornerstone for it to work. She reeled off a depressing list of statistics which highlighted the dramatic effects of occupation on education. She ended with a reminder of the traditional importance that Palestinian society has placed on education when even under the Ottomans every village and town has its centers of education and after the Nakba Palestinian teachers were sought all over the regions of the middle east. The community was always aware that whereas land can be stolen, knowledge could not.
Gideon Levy is a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. An amazing speaker, he combined self depreciating wit with a razor sharp uncompromising analysis of the sins of his own country. But he began with his own "sins" - confessing that he grew up as the ultimate good Tel Aviv boy i.e. believing that the Israeli side was the only just side, that Israelis always sought peace (after all do we not greet you with "Shalom"?!), little Israel was the victim, the David, fighting the Arab Goliath. He even blushingly confessed to the "ultimate sin" of having served as an aide to Shimon Peres for four years ("may God forgive me for that").
On joining Haaretz as a reporter he visited the occupied territories knowing as much as any average Israeli -namely "nothing". Nothing was reported on these places in the Israeli media, and he described his "find" as every journalist's dream, as a guaranteed exclusive on every piece he wrote! The Israelis he said did not want to speak or report on what was going on. Occupation was not on the Israeli agenda, it was not discussed and the IDF's actions were never criticised, and society at large was ready with their shield of anti-Semitism and the perceived status of themselves as the ultimate victim to counteract such criticisms.
Levy recounted an experience he had in Jenin. He was passing through a checkpoint, and was stuck behind an ambulance with its lights on, and he waited for 1/2 an hour before he approached the driver to ask what was going on, and was shocked and angered at the reply that the soldiers always made them wait for an hour before they dealt with them. He challenged the soldiers, who proceeded to put guns to his head, and freaked them out with his question "what if your mother was in the ambulance?". He concluded from this that occupation can only survive through the dehumanization of the Palestinians. He expounded on the issue of dehumanization as a tool of occupation accusing the Israeli media as being an active participant in this.
He suggested that Israeli governments love negotiations, which allow them to pose as peace seekers while at the same time continuing to create facts on the ground. Since Annapolis, one year ago, 500 Palestinians have died including 65 children, new apartments in East Jerusalem have increased 6 fold since the previous year and there are over 100 more checkpoints.
He had no expectations of Obama, and believes that Europe has been neutralised through Zionist manipulation of anti-Semitism. He wants Israelis to feel "less comfortable" with their actions and hopes that his articles will not allow any reader of Haaretz the comfort of the excuse "I did not know". He cautioned against the use of comparisons with the Nazi regime as it shuts down the minds of Israelis and was hence counterproductive. He joked about how South Africans were insulted that apartheid was compared to the Zionist regime since they never went as far as sending tanks into refugee camps.
A final crucial point made by Illan Pappe and agreed by all is well worth remembering. He said the media is not equipped or paid to report on cumulative events like the daily grinding oppression of Palestinians, even though the end result over a period of time of this drip drip drip of oppression is just as great as the dramatic casualties of an armed conflict.
Roshan Pedder 13/01/09
Historic Palestine is located in the Middle East, in a region bordering Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. Part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire until 1918, it was then occupied by Britain until 1948. The Palestinians refused the UN plan to partition their homeland into a Jewish and a Palestinian state, but in 1948 the establishment of the state of Israel was unilaterally declared. By 1949, the Nakba ("catastrophe") had resulted in the ethnic cleansing of two thirds of the Palestinian population and the Israeli occupation of 78 per cent of the land.
The West Bank and Gaza Strip have been under an illegal Israeli military rule since they were occupied in the 1967 war, and today are referred to as the "Palestinian Occupied Territories". East Jerusalem was also annexed illegally by Israel in 1967. For 60 years the Palestinians have been denied the right to self-determination and statehood.
About 800,000 Palestinians were forced into exile in 1948-9 and during the June 1967 war a further 325,000 Palestinians became refugees. Under UN Resolution 194, the Palestinians have the right to return to their homes, but Israel has always refused to implement the Resolution. Today over 6 million Palestinians live as refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom still live in overcrowded refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
The past 40 years have seen the establishment of over 200 illegal Israeli settlements, housing nearly 500,000 settlers, within the Occupied Territories. The "Separation barrier" in the West Bank, construction of which was started in 2002, cuts deep into Palestinian land and, along with the "settler only" roads, cuts off many communities from water supplies, hospitals and their agricultural land. The residents face severe travel restrictions and for many it is impossible to enter Jerusalem or to travel abroad. This treatment of the Palestinians, both within Israel and in the Occupied Territories, is widely recognised as a system akin to the Apartheid regime of South Africa.
Palestinians are continually under attack from the Israeli occupying forces and are increasingly harassed by settlers, who attack farmers and steal their land. Collective punishments, such as prolonged curfews and house demolitons are frequently imposed. The Palestinians who remained in what is today the state of Israel, as non-Jewish members of a Jewish country, also face discrimation in all areas of Palestine and are considered to be second class citizens.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
For more information on the historical background and the situation today, visit the website www.palestinecampaign.org , or contact PSC on 020 7700 6192.
On Thursday 15th January Israel Navy ships forced a boat, the "Spirit of Humanity", trying to deliver food and medical supplies to Gaza, to return to Cyprus. Israeli naval vessels surrounded the 66-foot (20-meter) Greek-flagged boat, which was carrying five tons of supplies and 21 passengers, including three surgeons, off the coast of southern Lebanon and threatened to open fire if it did not turn back. One of the trip's organizers, Vangelis Pisias, said "They told us that it was forbidden to go to our destination. We replied that we were carrying humanitarian supplies and continued on our course. About half an hour later, they returned with a threat, telling us they were obliged to stop the boat with all means possible... They said if we did not stop they would shoot." The Israel Defense Forces said navy ships warned the boat to turn back because it was entering a war zone subject to a naval blockade. The ship turned back without incident, the military said. It was the second failed bid to try to reach Gaza since Israel launched its assault on the Palestinian territory at the end of December. In a statement, Free Gaza said the incident occurred in international waters and described the incident as shocking. In Athens, the Greek Foreign Ministry said it had sent a strong protest to the Israeli Foreign Ministry that emphasized and asked for the Israeli authorities to pay particular attention to the protection of the lives and security of those on board the boat.
At the time of going to press, there is a ceasefire, but things could flare up again at any time, so the following advice may be out of date by the time you read this.
Vigils and protests in solidarity with the people of Palestine: Members of Kingston Peace Council have attended the various rallies and demonstrations that have been held, outside the Israeli Embassy and elsewhere in London, since the start of Israel's onslaught on Gaza. We have also held vigils outside the Bentall Centre in Kingston, and these might be repeated depending on the situation at the time. If you would be interested in joining a vigil or demonstration, please 'phone Hilary (020 8898 4850) to check the latest information.
|Members of KPC marching past BBC Broadcasting House on 24th January|
Stop Arming Israel: The crisis in Gaza has again highlighted the UK's complicity in arming Israel. Some weaponry is supplied directly - military equipment valued at £24 million in the first two quarters of 2008 was licensed for export from the UK. However, UK arms are also supplied via the US as components and subsystems of weaponry such as F-16 aircraft and Apache helicopters. More information is available on the Campaign Against the Arms Trade website www.caat.org.uk. From there, you can link through to the Stop Arming Israel site, which is a collaboration between several organisations including CAAT, War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and also link to a petition on the No.10 website calling on Gordon Brown to impose an arms embargo. See also Early Day motion 400 below.
Early Day Motions: Ask your MP to sign the following (his/her address can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/contact/contact_us.cfm ) :
EDM 370 Israeli Settlements & Settlement Goods, which "welcomes the Government's actions on the mislabelling of settlement produce as `Produce of Israel'; and calls upon the Government to call for the dismantling of illegal settlements and to ensure that companies in the UK are not breaking the law by selling settlement goods".
EDM 400 British Arms Sales To Israel, which notes the increasing number of licences for and value of arms sales to Israel; requests the Government to state the value of British arms sold to Israel from April to December 2008 and to list the types of weapons sold; calls on the Government to halt delivery of further weapons; and to investigate whether any of the weapons exported to Israel during 2008 have been used in the attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
EDM 423 Terror In Gaza, which deplores the concentration of violence, degradation and hardship suffered by the Palestinian people; condemns terrorist attacks on Israelis by Hamas or other armed factions........and the Israeli Defence Force's onslaught of terror in Gaza; ....... and regrets the failure of the Government and the international community to unequivocally condemn the outrageous actions of Israel's government or threaten any sanction in response to escalating humanitarian transgressions, flagrant breaches of international law, continuous flouting of UN resolutions and possible war crimes.
Political relations between Israel and the EU: Caroline Lucas MEP is recommending that one of the most effective things British voters can do is lobby the Foreign Secretary (email firstname.lastname@example.org) about the European Council of Ministers' decision to upgrade relations with Israel. There are signs of movement on this and pressure from the public would certainly help. Caroline is demanding that it does not happen until Israel upholds international law. She is also calling for a suspension of the EU/Israel Trade Agreement and at present the Parliament has agreed to delay any upgrade of the agreement. However, the Council of Ministers' approach to political upgrade is just as important and may influence the way some MEPs vote in future on the association agreement.
You could get involved in the campaign around Lloyds TSB's efforts to stop the Palestinian charity Interpal from transferring funds directly to Gaza and the West Bank. You can read more about it here - http://www.interpal.info/archives/1432#more-1432
Make a donation: Kingston Peace Council is forwarding any donations received to Medical Aid for Palestinians, or you can donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee's appeal for the people of Gaza.
A public meeting on 6th January in Richmond's St Mary Magdalene's Church was shown a photographic record of the appalling Israeli disimprovements to Bethlehem, one of the most sensitive and important historical sites in Christendom. It can not be protected as a World Heritage site as that protection can only be granted to a state that makes application - and Palestine isn't a state!
Open Bethlehem is an international public relations campaign set up to address the ongoing emergency in Bethlehem under Israeli occupation. It is a non-violent attempt to save a city that belongs to the world, and which is slowly being strangled.
Leila Sansour, a Palestinian film maker and director of Open Bethlehem explained through a series of giant graphic images just how barbaric is the treatment of the city and its environment with the outrageously intrusive erection of concrete walls as high as houses slicing through areas of the city, demolishing buildings, inches away from others, cutting through roads and communities. Other insensitive Israeli development in the vicinity makes the area resemble a prison camp. Movement of military vehicles and heavy construction equipment seriously risks damage to historic buildings. Land has been confiscated for ugly settlements and local inhabitants can no longer enjoy freedom of movement and access to their city, their businesses, and the vital tourist trade (although access problems and damage to the environment have made the area very unattractive for tourism). These restrictions, plus the familiar Israeli harassment, are causing a breakdown of the local economy and an exodus of many long-standing residents.
Cannon Julian Reindorp hosted the meeting, partly as a result of the concerns of the Team Ministry who visited Bethlehem recently and were aghast at the changes. He said that, as someone from South Africa, he understood afresh the need to oppose apartheid wherever it occurs. The meeting was very well supported and a number of our group attended. Afterwards there were searching questions from the audience and it was concluded that the best way to help Bethlehem was to visit. Some of us thought we should like to go. How about a group visit from Kingston Peace Council?
Senior military figures want to get rid of Britain's nuclear weapons. Revealed on Newsnight on 15th January, we heard practical common sense from General Lord Ramsbotham. He and two other military top brass find that Britain's nuclear weapons serve no military purpose, are not independent, do not secure our standing in the world, and divert scarce resources from more useful spending. It was wonderful to hear.
This position goes beyond the calls in recent months - from former UK foreign and defence secretaries and other leading figures around the world - for progress on multilateral initiatives towards nuclear disarmament. While this has been a welcome development, these politicians have scrupulously avoided giving any ground to a unilteral disarmament position - as if they would be tainted by the vile notions of CND and others opposed to weapons of mass destruction.
But the generals have made a clear statement that irrespective of what other countries do, nuclear weapons do not meet Britain's defence needs and their opportunity cost is actually detrimental to our security. This statement completely debunks the myth that nuclear weapons are necessary for our security. These generals are no pacifists - they are purely practical about Britain's needs and have concluded that we are better off without them.
The first report on the replacement progress is due in September 2009 - the so-called 'Initial Gate'. This must be debated fully in Parliament, taking into account the new economic and global security situation - and the views of these military experts. We do not want a behind the scenes decision by the government, flying in the face of both public (majority against) and expert opinion. This is what we will be campaigning for in the months ahead.
Kate Hudson (chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament)
Just before Christmas the Independent published a list of the 100 most effective environmental activists in the UK during the previous year. In my view the greatest threat to the environment is the danger from the existence of nuclear weapons. So I wrote to each of these individuals making this point and asking them to use their media access to make this threat much better known. I did not receive replies from all of them by any means but I did get some encouraging responses - e.g.
Carrying this activity forward
The more people who write to influential individuals who have the ear of the media, the more chance of changing attitudes. It is much more difficult for unknown people or organisations to get published. If KPC were to set up a letter-writing campaign, perhaps we could jointly compose a number of letters targeted at particular groups. I suggest below a number of categories of individuals that could be contacted by KPC members and their supporters. A letter is more likely to be read and taken seriously than an email, but an email is a viable alternative, especially if a postal address cannot be found (although it is almost always possible to find some address from which a letter can be forwarded (e.g. book publisher, magazine editor, institution or university).
Environmental activists - The more people who write to the same individuals the more chance of the message getting across. So you can write to the same people that I did and there are many other environmental activists who can be contacted.
Celebrities - There is a web site http://www.looktothestars.org/about devoted to those celebrities who are interested in environmental and other issues, describing what they are doing to make a positive difference in the world and including interviews and a database. They are in an excellent position to get the message across so, since they have the ear of the media, so we can urge them too to publicise the nuclear weapons threat.
Religious Leaders - The manufacture and threat of using nuclear weapons is a great evil and crime against people and nature. This is a blasphemous activity and consequently, in my opinion, we have a right to expect religious leaders to publicise what is happening and condemn it. There are churches, synagogues, temples and mosques all over the country. They all have pulpits or lecterns from which their leaders preach and are ideally suited for informing the public at large. We have every right to contact them and urge them to expose the evil of nuclear weapons.
Politicians - I have written to Vincent Cable on a number of occasions telling him that, in my opinion, the Liberal Democratic Party's stance on nuclear weapons is wrong. Instead of condemning Trident Renewal outright they were saying it is not the correct time to make a decision. His latest letter dated 8th December includes '..we strongly support complete multilateral nuclear disarmament as in the Obama statement which you quote. Furthermore we opposed the decision to upgrade the Trident programme which is supported by both the Conservative and Labour parties'. However, this is not the same as condemning the decision. We need to keep on writing to all the MPs telling them we want to be rid of these weapons once and for all. Your MP's address can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/contact/contact_us.cfm.
Jim has provided a list of the Independent's '100 most effective environmental activists' together with added addresses - those that he has used to contact them; also a copy of the letter that he used, but he rightly says that if we were writing to the same people it would be best if we did not all use the same letter, and if we were writing to celebrities or church leaders, or contacts from other faith groups, we should probably make changes or additions. So if anyone is interested in joining this letter writing campaign, please contact Hilary on 020 8898 4850 or email@example.com and we can decide on the best strategy for taking it forward.
Dorothy Bridgeland, who died in December, aged 95, was a stalwart of KPC/CND for many years and was particularly active in fundraising - organising jumble sales and stalls at fairs (especially the Kingston Green Fair) and taking better-than-jumble items to the nearly new shop. A large contingent from KPC attended her funeral and heard a very interesting tribute from her nephew. Several individual members donated to Medical Aid for Palestinians in her memory, and have been joined in this by Dorothy's nephews and families. Donations were also made by friends and family to the Surrey Wildlife Trust, another of Dorothy's great interests.
Douglas Holdstock, chair of Woking CND, a voice for peace and sanity in a war-like world, died on Sunday 30th November after a prolonged battle with lymphoma. Douglas was also editor of the journal Medicine, Conflict and Survival, the author of a book on Britain's nuclear weapon, and was an executive member of Medact and of World Disarmament Campaign. He was proud to be a member of 'the awkward squad', as he described the high-profile group who were a recognised thorn in the side of the pro-nuclear, militarist establishment who are today in charge of Britain's foreign policy.
He had to endure several courses of chemotherapy over many years. When recently describing how his doctors had given him only a 30% chance of living beyond three months after one of his chemo courses eight years ago, he added, 'That's eight years of working for peace!' This was said with a grin and a mischievous twinkle in the eye, as if working for peace were some kind of illicit pleasure.
Douglas was an expert in the field of radiology, and became concerned that the peace movement was making too much of the danger posed by using depleted uranium on the battlefield. His concern was based on the need for perfect honesty - the case for peace was too powerful to need exaggeration. He recently offered to write an article for KPN on DU, but became too ill to do so.
Douglas was a gentle intellectual, moved to work unstintingly for peace out of a conviction that peace and justice really are achievable. His life was an inspiration, and will continue to be an inspiration for all those who knew him.
Our thoughts are with Mary and his family. They can perhaps take some comfort from the fact that far beyond the family circle Douglas' life was such a valuable one.
FAN (Friends and Neighbours) groups were devised in Cardiff as a way to allow people living in our communities, but not feeling part of them, to meet other local people. They have proved popular, particularly with immigrant and refugee groups. Kingston Quakers support the initiative in Kingston.
FAN groups bring our community closer together and offer spiritual hospitality to the lonely and isolated. People from every country, of all religions or those who have no religion, are welcome. and will meet friends and neighbours, talk about their daily lives and feel more hopeful for the world. It is an opportunity for local British people to meet those who have come to live here from other countries.
The meetings are held 11am - noon every Saturday at Kingston Quaker Meeting House, 78 Eden Street, Kingston KT1 1DJ
Contact for more information: Fred Ashmore 07976 299721
Newsletter editor for this issue was Gill Hurle.
Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.