Kingston Peace News - September 2014

Tutu tells them

It requires a … mind-set shift that stops regarding legitimate criticism of a state’s policies as an attack on Judaism.”

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu calling on Israeli citizens to visualise a world in which Israel and Palestine can coexist with mutual dignity and respect

Gaza slaughter brought home to Vince Cable

Protest calls for arms sale ban

KPC joined TRAKNAT and other campaigners
outside Cable’s constituency office
Members of Kingston Peace Council/CND joined with colleagues from TRAKNAT and Amnesty International to protest outside the Twickenham office of Business Secretary Vince Cable, drawing attention to the UK’s continuing supply of arms and military equipment to Israel.

The protest, which was covered by the local press, called for a ban on arms sales to the regime in the wake of its slaughter of Palestinian civilians during the latest military action against Gaza.

Spokesperson Wendy Hatto, secretary of Twickenham and Richmond Amnesty Group, said “As Business Secretary, Vince Cable is responsible for both controlling and promoting the export of UK weapons, some of which go to some of the most repressive regimes in the world and regions of conflict. He has to personally approve any arms exports … since taking office he has granted export licences worth £42m to UK companies to supply Israel with arms ranging from weapons control and targeting systems to ammunition, drones and armoured vehicles.”

The protesters handed in an open letter to Dr Cable and copies were sent to all local churches and local Liberal Democrat councillors. The text of the open letter is reproduced below.

Hampton resident and well known actor, singer and TV star John Altman, best known for his part as “Nasty” Nick Cotton in EastEnders, handed the letter in to Dr Cable’s constituency office. Mr Altman commented: “I have been sickened by the extreme brutality of the Israeli regime in killing so many innocent civilians in Gaza and their destruction of homes, schools and medical facilities. It is shocking to learn that local MP Vince Cable is actually responsible for sanctioning UK weapons exports to Israel, which may well have been used in this current conflict.”

The open letter reads:

Dear Dr Cable

We are writing to you as concerned local residents to urge you to stop all arms exports to Israel. We are horrified that UK weapons have been used to kill large numbers of civilians in Gaza, many of them children. We want to see a total embargo on all UK weapons to Israel. As Business Secretary, in your Trade and Industry and Export Control role, you are responsible for both controlling and promoting the export of UK weapons, some of which go to the most repressive regimes in the world and regions of conflict.

The Independent newspaper (August 2nd) has revealed that since you took office you have granted export licences worth £42m to UK companies to supply Israel with arms ranging from weapons control and targeting systems to ammunition, drones and armoured vehicles. Among the manufacturers given permission to make sales were two UK companies supplying components for the Hermes drone, described by the Israeli air force as the “backbone” of its targeting and reconnaissance missions. The Hermes drone has been widely used during Operation Protective Edge, the ongoing Israeli military action in Gaza, to monitor Palestinians, pinpoint targets and guide in missile and smart bomb strikes.

Operation Protective Edge, the ongoing Israeli military action in Gaza, to monitor Palestinians, pinpoint targets and guide in missile and smart bomb strikes.

Yet you remain silent while in Gaza nearly two thousand civilians are killed and thousands more horribly injured. The BBC has reported that over 25% of the dead are children. Very large numbers of homes, schools and medical facilities have been destroyed. Decent people round the world have been sickened by the extreme brutality of the Israeli regime (which you have helped to make possible) with its wanton slaughter of civilians including children, and the targeting of schools, hospitals and mosques.

It is time for you to take a stand. You cannot continue to ignore the plight of innocent residents of Gaza under attack from Israeli aggressors reportedly having used over 50,000 sophisticated weapons including high explosive ‘smart’ bombs, missiles and tank shells, some of these guided by drones that your exports have helped to build.

We urge you to immediately speak out against the disproportionate use of force by Israel and their killing of innocent civilians and to use your powers under the 2002 Export Control act to impose an immediate ban on UK weapons and components to Israel. You must revoke all weapons licences for Israel.

Twickenham, Richmond and Kingston Network Against the Arms Trade -TRAKNAT

Since the letter was handed in the Lib Dems have said they are in favour of withholding further arms sales to Israel in the event that the Israeli Government launches further military action against Gaza. (At the time of writing the latest ceasefire had just broken down.)

This undertaking is considered insufficient and members of KPC have already told Kingston and Surbiton MP Ed Davey that a ban on arms sales should take immediate effect and not be made conditional.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that White House and US State Department officials had discovered that the Israeli military had been quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without obtaining official US government approval. A senior official for the Obama administration was subsequently quoted as saying: “It’s not OK anymore” and that future sales of missiles to Israel would be put on hold and other weapons transfers scrutinized.

Gaza assault puts spokespeople in a spin

Phil Cooper looks at how Israel is fighting the war of words

Palestinians in Gaza. Credit:UNICEF/El Baba
The war being waged by the Israeli military against, ostensibly, Hamas but, more accurately against the entire population – men, women and children – of Gaza has been matched by a war of words.

While news reports have been filled to capacity with scenes of devastation, loss and mourning on the Palestinian side, Israeli politicians and spokespeople have been carefully schooled in what to say and how to say it in an effort to sanitise the reality of what the rest of the world is witnessing.

The Independent carried a story (July 27th) on what it termed ‘the secret report that helps Israel hide the facts’. This referred to a guide for the regime’s spokespeople written by US Republican political strategist Dr Frank Luntz. It was commissioned, The Independent reported, five years ago by a group called The Israel Project, with offices in the US and Israel for use by people ‘who are on the front lines of fighting the media war for Israel’.

Despite the fact that the 112-page guidebook of spin was marked ‘not for distribution or publication’ the details have found their way to Newsweek and thence to other western media. The main emphasis is, not surprisingly, aimed at American audiences.

The booklet is full of helpful advice about how Israeli spokespeople should shape their answers for different audiences. For example, the study says, "Americans agree that Israel 'has a right to defensible borders'. But it does you no good to define exactly what those borders should be. Avoid talking about borders in terms of pre- or post-1967, because it only serves to remind Americans of Israel's military history. Particularly on the left this does you harm. For instance, support for Israel's right to defensible borders drops from a heady 89 per cent to under 60 per cent when you talk about it in terms of 1967."

Tough issue

Turning to the right of return for Palestinian refugees who were expelled or fled in 1948 and afterward, and who are prevented from going back to their homes. Dr Luntz’s advice is: "the right of return is a tough issue for Israelis to communicate effectively because much of Israeli language sounds like the 'separate but equal' words of the 1950s segregationists and the 1980s advocates of Apartheid.”

Instead, Israeli spokespeople should always refer to Palestinian ‘demands’ on the grounds that Americans don’t like people that make demands. And the book adds: "Then say 'Palestinians aren't content with their own state. Now they're demanding territory inside Israel'."

And he goes on to note that Americans as a whole are fearful of mass immigration into the US. “ So mention of ‘mass Palestinian immigration into Israel will not go down well with them. If nothing else works, say that the return of Palestinians would ‘derail the effort to achieve peace’ ".

Dr Luntz cites as an example of an "effective Israeli sound bite" one which reads: "I particularly want to reach out to Palestinian mothers who have lost their children. No parent should have to bury their child." This is a bit rich coming from a regime whose missiles and bombs have, since July, claimed the lives of an estimated 540 Palestinian children.

On every occasion, argues The Independent, the presentation of events by Israeli spokesmen is geared to giving Americans and Europeans the impression that Israel wants peace with the Palestinians and is prepared to compromise to achieve this, when all the evidence is that it does not.

A further look at language appeared in The Guardian on August 8th. Journalist Steven Poole investigated the “political and misleading use of such terms as ‘human shields’ and ‘tragedy.’” In the former case, wrote the journalist, the accusation that Hamas was using Gazans as ‘human shields’ was only remotely accurate if they deterred an attacker and, given the death toll among civilians Israel was clearly not deterred. Also, the term is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary has holding persons “against their will near a military target.” The article asks: were Gazans staying in their “houses or going to school against their will?”

All this slaughter has been routinely described as a "tragedy". Hamas rocket attacks on Israel were inexcusable, according to President Obama and British PM David Cameron while the death and injury of Palestinian civilians was a "tragedy". As usual, the term "tragedy" works as a way to avoid apportioning blame. Comments Steven Poole: “A tragedy is a literary work in which the hero comes to a sticky end through a combination of character flaw and circumstance. Alternatively, it is a disco lament for the disappearance of loving feelings. But when children and their parents die in a bombing, it is because someone has bombed them!”

A powerful voice that cannot go unheeded

Worldwide criticism and outrage at the Israeli assault on Gaza has been countered in some quarters with accusations that it amounts to anti-semitism. This accusation is in some instances a deliberate, cynical means of silencing opposition but, in other cases, it arises from a genuine fear that legitimate criticism of the State of Israel’s actions will be hijacked to further the aims of those deplorable people and groups who specialise in anti-Jewish propaganda.

It is important to be clear that criticism of the Israeli government’s actions against the Palestinians is not anti-Jewish or anti-semitic. (see Desmond Tutu’s quote above) It is rather, akin to the outrage that motivated so many countries to enforce sanctions against Apartheid South Africa. It is what motivates peace campaigners to call for arms sales bans against the repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. If one is right to criticise Hamas for firing rockets into densely populated parts of Israel, one is equally entitled to lambast the Israeli regime’s utterly disproportionate response that has claimed several hundred Palestinian civilian lives for each of the Israeli civilians killed.

But the most powerful condemnation of Israel’s actions in this latest conflict comes from the one source against which no-one can raise an accusation of anti-semitism. A letter, published in The Guardian on August 16th, was signed by more than 30 Jewish survivors of the Nazi deathcamps and 260 children, great grandchildren and other relatives of genocide survivors.

The letter stated: “As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide, we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonisation of historic Palestine. We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.”

The letter goes on to state the writers’ alarm at what it calls the “racist dehumanisation of Palestinians in Israeli society” where “politicians and pundits in the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and rightwing Israelis are adopting neo-Nazi insignia.”

Tackling a controversial full-page advertisement that appeared in The Guardian under the name of Jewish-American Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel the letter says “we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history to promote blatant falsehood used to justify the unjustifiable,” adding: “ Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.”

The letter writers then call for an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government backed by a full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. The letter ends with the clear and concise demand: “ ‘Never again’ must mean ‘Never again for anyone.’”

All the world’s a battlefield

Noel Hamel discusses the way in which politicians have placed us all in the Front Line

To many, a battlefield is the place where opposing armies fight, like Wellington and Napoleon at Waterloo. Now “battlefield” crops up repeatedly in reports, in the news, and in warmongering presidents’, prime ministers’ and military speeches. Secure in our own homes it may not immediately occur to us that the “battlefield” should include schools, nurseries, shops and cafes, hospitals, villages and farming communities, and people, lots of them, simply going about their everyday lives or celebrating weddings, burying the dead, attending their place of worship.

Battlefields are for soldiers; warriors with helmets and thick jackets, a gun slung over the arm and bullets and grenades hanging from a belt; but the battlefield is no place for women and children or grandparents. However thousands of miles from our armchairs, in modern wars, battlefields include people’s homes and neighbourhoods. In many cases that is all that the battlefield is. The battle of Fallujah was fought in Fallujah; and in Vietnam the whole country was the battlefield.

Extending the definition

After 9/11 the USA declared war on international terrorism, till it is eliminated. Their argument is that, since international terrorism threatens to kill Americans anywhere, the entire world may be considered a battlefield where military law and force applies. Obama extended drone strikes making war everywhere official. Drones bomb suspects, including in Pakistan, Yemen and Sudan where the USA is not ‘at war’. This extends the definition of battlefield making thousands of innocent civilians killed by drones collaterals in combat zones.

$5000 bounties were offered for alleged terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks so they could be rounded up without evidence and sent to Guantanamo as “the worst of the worst”. All were said to be captured on the battlefield though they came from diverse locations such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Italy, Macedonia, Yemen and The Gambia. Wherever anyone branded an “enemy combatant” is becomes a battlefield. Objections to releases from Guantanamo, after many years without incriminating evidence, frequently cite risk of “return to the battlefield”. Italian courts convicted CIA agents of kidnap on Italian streets for seizing a “suspect” and rendering him to Guantanamo; essentially denying Italy’s streets were the battlefield. The USA refused to hand over its CIA convicts; essentially confirming its view Italian streets were the battlefield.

Rules of engagement

In the so-called humanitarian wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the undefined battlefield the only recognizable people were the foreign occupiers who were sitting targets for “insurgents”. Rules of engagement allowed US soldiers under attack to kill “every motherf****r on the street”. Retaliation was essentially a war against an indistinguishable whole population, the population that inhabited the battlefield. All non-combatants killed on the battlefield shouldn’t have been there; their deaths were just “unavoidable collaterals” in a war zone.

In Vietnam civilian deaths were possibly four million compared to 58,000 US soldiers. Civilians accounted for 77% of Vietnamese deaths. Today’s drones kill 98% civilians. The US army does not differentiate between combatants and civilians but the law does, and killing them is a war crime.

Unmoved by reason

Murdering, harassing and persecuting civilians creates more active combatants. The USA, unmoved by reasoned argument, does not investigate. After all, if the world is the battlefield you can do as you wish, with Presidential approval, including mass civilian slaughter in bombing raids. Hiroshima was a battlefield and Gaza is today. Israel said there are no civilians in war and is doing its best to prove it. Gaza and the West Bank are battlefields; Israel is not. Woe betide anyone disagreeing, whatever the provocation.

A day in the life of …

Rosemary Addington describes a busy day’s campaigning

remember the women who held a rally at the Kingsway HallAugust 4th 2014 - 100 years since the start of WW1. Many events took place - official government and religious events were well publicised and covered in the mass media, peace movement events less so. I had heard of four taking place in London, and managed to attend them all.

First I got up early (not my favourite thing to do!) and set off for Woolwich where a demonstration was organised around the Woolwich ferry terminus. Why? Because one of the boats is named after John Burns, a local councillor and trade unionist, and the first working man ever to become a government minister, in 1906. He resigned from his position with the Board of Trade because he could not support the war. He said "Why four great powers should fight over Serbia no fellow can understand. This I know, there is one fellow who will have nothing to do with such a criminal folly, the effects of which will be appalling to the welter of nations who will be involved. It must be averted by all the means in our is my especial duty to dissociate myself and the principles I hold and the trusteeship for the working classes I carry from such a universal crime as the contemplated war will be."

You can read more about John Burns in KPC News May 2014.

We had banners, posters and postcards, these were not easy to hand out as most vehicles drove past and we were not allowed onto the ferry boarding area. But we were seen by many and received some appreciative waves and toots.

silent vigil outside St. Martin's in the FieldsNext I went to Holborn Kingsway where members of WILPF (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) held an event to celebrate and remember the women who held a rally at the Kingsway Hall, now demolished, to speak against and attempt to stop the war. They displayed large banners of four women, including Chrystal Mcmillan (pictured), who organised and spoke at the rally. Also many women were dressed in the costumes of the time. One of the speeches given at the rally was read out. This event attracted lots of attention, and many leaflets were handed out.

Then on to the silent vigil on the steps of St. Martin's in the Fields organised by Pax Christi and others (pictured left). This was an excellent visual protest, and many leaflets were taken by the mostly appreciative passers-by.

Last I went in the evening to Parliament Square for readings, poems and music, organised by Stop the War and No Glory In War campaign. Among those participating were Kiki Markham, AL Kennedy, Kate Hudson, and Jeremy Corbyn, who read Keir Hardy's 1914 anti-war speech. Sam West concluded by reading Wilfred Owen's poem Dulce et Decorum Est. A well-attended and moving event.

August 6th witnessed KPC/CND’s annual commemoration of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The vigil, at Kingston riverside, included floating lighted candles on the water. We were pleased to welcome the deputy mayor of Kingston, Cllr Cathy Roberts, whose father served in the Royal Engineers and was stationed on Christmas Island during the UK’s nuclear testing in the 50s and 60s.

The Ministry of Defence decided that some families of serving personnel should be brought out to the Pacific to show that radioactive fallout was not dangerous. So the young Cathy played on the beach with her sisters and younger brother. Very sadly, though a non-smoker, her brother developed lung cancer and died aged 42. Lung cancer is recognised as one of the cancers associated with radioactive fallout.

At last the lamps have gone out …

but, asks Phil Cooper, are we still in the dark?

So the actual Centenary of Britain’s entry into the First World War has come and gone, although we are still faced with four years of commemorations – The First Battle of the Somme, Jutland, Gallipoli, the Armistice and so forth.

An estimated three million people, according to the National Grid, followed the suggestion that they should switch off their lights at 11pm on August 4th so as to mark the wartime Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey’s prescient comment that ‘the lamps are going out all over Europe.’ More than 21,000 in one month responded to the suggestion that they might write a letter to an unknown soldier as part of the 14-18 Now campaign.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has, to date, provided grant aid totalling £58 million to more than 900 projects throughout the country marking the Centenary of the First World War. A few of these are huge prestigious national events, such as the £11.5 million towards the new ( and by all accounts excellent) WW1 galleries at the Imperial War Museum, but many are small community based affairs where schoolchildren, or local residents, try to learn more about the stories behind the faded names on village war memorials.

Conscientious objectors including, seated far left,
middle row, a young Herbert Morrison
Writing in The Daily Telegraph recently Professor Sir Hew Strachan, Oxford University’s leading authority on WW1, complained that the many and varied commemorations failed to give a strategic overview of the sheer scale of the conflict.

It’s difficult to see the sense of such criticism

The sheer enormity of a war in which some 16 million people from 100 nations perished is outside the grasp of most people. Far more potent are the little local projects that literally bring home to the current generation the fact the people that lived in their town, their village, attended their school, played for their football club, went off to fight and never came back.

Newspapers throughout the country have been reporting on these local histories and almost equal attention has been paid to the privations felt on the home front, as well as change in the role of women, the vast number of hospitals that had to be created to deal with the injured, the extent of the transportation system needed - the hospital ships and ambulance trains - to bring the millions of maimed and wounded home. Also recalled, the courage of conscientious objectors who spoke out against the war.

There is little triumphalism evident in these many projects, no jingoistic flag waving. It is the deadly effects of the conflict that is being discovered. This cannot but create a lasting impression in so many young minds that war is something best avoided. It won’t stop politicians trying to whip up enthusiasm for future military incursions but it will, hopefully, contribute to making their task that much harder.

These Dangerous Women …

One of the projects given Heritage Lottery grant aid is researching the story of the British women who attempted to attend the International Congress of Women in The Hague in April 1915 to discuss peace moves to stop World War One. Only three British women, who were among the congress organisers, managed to attend because the British government either denied passports to remaining 162, or prevented them from using ferry services. Some 1300 women from other warring and neutral European countries did succeed in meeting. The delegates were referred to as ‘these dangerous women’ by Winston Churchill.

World Orchestra for Peace

Classical music buffs will have been listening to the BBC Proms over the past two months. One of the orchestras taking part has been the World Orchestra for Peace. The orchestra’s founder, the late Sir George Solti, once said: ‘All my life I have grown up in war, in revolution, both fascist and communist. It taught me to believe in peace. I wanted to prove - which I prove now so brilliantly – we are about 40 nations in the orchestra together. We’re living in such harmony, playing so beautifully, we prove that we can live in peace. I wish politicians, left and right, could do the same.’

Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND