Tuesday, January 14, 2014 

Small mercies.

This septic isle can at times seem exactly that.  Whether it's politicians competing as to who can be the meanest to newcomers over a non-existent problem, documentary makers trying their hardest to portray benefit claimants in the least flattering light possible, the succession of aged celebrities currently standing trial on sexual assault charges, chief police officers (allegedly) threatening to use the Official Secrets Act against whistleblowers, or newspapers only able to discuss "difficult" topics if a fucking soap opera tackles one, things can get a bit grim.

We don't however live in a country where this passes as authoritative, informed comment: a place where black, despite looking really quite dark from whichever angle you look at it, is in fact white; and where you don't just mourn the passing of one war criminal at a time but also defend the honour of another, George W. Bush having been so cruelly misunderstood, only now regarded more favourably in comparison to the treacherous Obama.  Thank heavens for small mercies, eh?

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Monday, January 13, 2014 

The anti-Mandela.

Ariel Sharon was, in many ways, the anti-Mandela.  Whereas Mandela took up the gun relatively briefly and then spent the rest of his life pursuing a peaceful end to apartheid, Sharon never let a rifle or more accurately later, a Hellfire missile, slip from his grasp.  Not that you would necessarily know this from some of the obituaries on the man or from the state funeral he was given, attended by both the US vice president and our very own Tony Blair.  Never has a politician who was simply complying with international law when he ordered the evacuation of settlers from the Gaza strip, the one act in a long life of war that can be even vaguely described as peaceful, been so fêted and eulogised.

You could perhaps understand the coverage or the tributes if Sharon's disregard for civilian life or breaches of international law were one-offs in a career that spanned 60 years.  "Arik" however started as he meant to go on: he led the attack on the village of Qibya in the West Bank in 1953 in which at least 69 of the residents, two-thirds women and children, were killed.  Not that he was particularly concerned with the lives of his own men, either: always knowing better, in the 1956 Sinai campaign he ignored orders and drove his paratroop into the Mitla pass, where Egyptian forces were lying in wait.  38 under his command died.

The architect of the war in Lebanon, a war which failed in every single one of its aims, Sharon is most notorious for having been in command when the Phalangist militia carried out the massacres in Sabira and Shatila in retaliation for the assassination of Bachir Gemayel, wrongly believing Palestinian militants to have been responsible.  Around 2,000 are believed to have been killed in what was later regarded as an act of genocide, the aftermath filmed and reported on by numerous journalists.  Sharon was found "indirectly responsible" by the Kahan commission, yet still refused to resign as defence minister, eventually compromising by becoming minister without portfolio.

Sharon was also one of the biggest supporters of the settler movement, being completely open in his justification for the grabbing of land in the occupied territories: whatever they took he believed would stay theirs forever.  After helping to spark the second intifada with his deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount, declaring that the site would always remain under Israeli control, he became prime minister six months later, tying the "disengagement" from Gaza with the construction of the West Bank barrier, a policy he had previously opposed.  For all the surmising from some that the abandonment of Gaza, or rather what has become the perpetual siege of the territory would lead to dismantlement of settlements in the West Bank, the building of the wall, far from the 1967 border, was designed to become the de facto border for any eventual Palestinian state.  Not that this would be a state we would recognise: Sharon's vision was of a completely demilitarised series of statelets, the settlements that split and divide the West Bank remaining in place.

For all his failings however, Sharon the politician was a pioneer.  The evacuation of Gaza was a masterstroke, as the tributes have proved.  At the cost of a minuscule number of settlements, Sharon was reinvented as a mythical man of peace.  He was never anything of the kind.  Ever since his incapacitation the settlements in the West Bank have gone on growing, the Palestinians left with an ever dwindling amount of land that is barely even connected.  Israeli politicians, when they've so much as bothered to go through the motions, have rejected even the most generous offers from the negotiators of the Palestinian Authority, knowing full well that the longer they delay and prevaricate the lesser the chance that a Palestinian state will ever be established.

What better a sign of his creation of this new reality than Tony Blair's tribute?  Easy as it is to forget, Blair is the head of the Quartet of states and organisations meant to be pushing the two sides towards a settlement.  Palestinians watching today will see the envoy of pretty much the rest of the world eulogising a man who, as Blair himself said, often left "considerable debris in his wake".  Those who express warranted distaste when Palestinian prisoners released under goodwill gestures are welcomed home as heroes regardless of their crimes should bear today in mind: a state founded on terrorism giving a war criminal the very highest honour it can bestow.  And we wonder why the Arab street remains suspicious of the West and its double standards.

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Monday, November 25, 2013 

A rare moment of optimism.

There is something of a danger in overstating what was achieved at Geneva between Iran and much of the rest of the world (excluding Israel and the Gulf states, as we'll come to) early on Sunday morning.  Much can still happen over the next six months to scupper the agreement, not least that Obama has to convince some of those in Congress that not bombing another Middle Eastern state is a good idea, so twisted has foreign policy in the US become.  If the sanctions against Iran are slow to be lifted, as they may well be, the current goodwill in which Mohammad Javad Zarif and Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian foreign minister and president respectively are held by both liberals and hardliners in the country could soon dissipate.  There's also no guarantee that an interim deal where both sides have claimed victory will inevitably lead to a permanent one all can abide by.

Those caveats out of the way, there's also little reason to underplay the significance of the delicately brokered agreement, apparently overseen with great dexterity by Baroness Ashton, who was widely mocked and patronised when named as the EU's foreign policy representative four years ago.  It is almost certainly the most significant agreement between Iran and the "great Satan" since the overthrow of the Shah, far outweighing the short-lived months of detente after 9/11 when Iran co-operated with the invasion of Afghanistan, before the country was named by President Bush as a member of the "axis of evil".  The potential is clearly there if both sides really want it for a wider understanding and de-escalation, including in Syria, where the US and other Western countries have become involved in a proxy war between the Sunni and Shia Muslim states.

How much responsibility for the past decade of what often seemed like a gradual drift towards a strike on Iran's nuclear program can be placed on that Bush speech and the following war on Iraq is difficult to pinpoint precisely.  The previous period of moderation under President Khatami was rewarded with what was seen by the clerical conservatives as the suggestion they were next on the list.  In fact, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein gave Iran further influence, as still manifested through Nouri al-Maliki.  It's only been a result of the ratcheting up of sanctions against the country over the nuclear program that it was seemingly decided by the highest authority in the land for moderation to be given another try through Rouhani, after reasonably free elections (if elections in which dozens of candidates were disqualified from running can be called free) resulted in his victory.

Also crucial it seems, alongside the secret meetings between the US and Iran dating back to March, was the deal on Syria's chemical weapons.  The agreement on their destruction made clear how the US was prepared to step back from the brink when it seemed to be half-heartedly edging towards another conflagration.  If John Kerry and Barack Obama were able to handle the embarrassment and brickbats of not going through on what looked to be a certain attack on Bashar al-Assad, drawing back from sleepwalking to striking Iran was always going to be far easier.  The deal agreed upon also, as alluded to above, allows all sides to look the victor.  Iran has effectively agreed to freeze its program in exchange for being allowed to exercise its rights under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, to have a power capability but nothing more.  The US is denying that's the case, but that's almost certainly the basis for the deal.

Perhaps just as important is how the deal appears to mark what could be the first sign of both Israel and Saudi Arabia having their bluff called. Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly overplayed his hand since once again becoming prime minister, at times treating the Obama administration as though the US was the minor partner in the relationship.  Rather than tone down the rhetoric with the ascent to power of Rouhani, the Israelis have carried on as though nothing has changed, only to find Obama in his second term determined to take full advantage of the shift in Iranian leadership.  Saudi Arabia meanwhile, still smarting from the US backing down over Syria, now finds its sworn enemy apparently having its role in the Middle East if not accepted, then at least recognised.  It would be lovely to think this was down to the US finally realising that much of the funding for jihadists can be traced back to the country, as has been proved beyond any doubt in Syria, but one suspects it's more that drawing back from the threat of a strike was in everyone's interests.

This isn't to underestimate how solving the stand-off between the West and Iran is just one part of the current crisis in the Middle East.  Regardless of how Assad now seems to have the upper hand in the civil war in Syria, the war there signifies how intractable and dangerous the Sunni-Shia conflict is, while the always with us issue of Palestine remains a problem for the world.  The deal in Geneva does however give cause for optimism, the merest suggestion that the second decade of the 21st century won't be as disastrous or self-defeating as the first was.  There's still a long way to go, but it's a start.

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Monday, December 03, 2012 

Ah, consistency.

Is there even the slightest logic to the coalition's policy on Israel-Palestine?  Last week William Hague, his mojo restored, stood up in the Commons and outlined how we would be abstaining on the recognition vote at the UN unless the Palestinians provided us with "assurances".  Requested "assurances" were duly not provided, and so we abstained while a mere 138 voted in favour, including some of our major European allies.

Israel has since responded in the only way she knows how, by declaring that a further 3,000 new homes will be built, illegally, on the occupied West Bank.  As a result, Foreign Office minister Alastair Burt summoned the Israeli ambassador to let him know our deep displeasure.  Here's a thought: considering that one of the assurances we required from the Palestinians was that they drop preconditions to talks, their only one being that the Israelis declare a halt to all settlement building in the occupied territories, wouldn't it have made sense to vote in favour of their first step towards statehood when the threatened Israeli response was to, err, accelerate settlement building even further?  Just who is it here that's in breach of international law?  When are we finally going to recognise that there isn't going to be a negotiated peace when Israel has no intention of evacuating the West Bank settlements, the presence of which make a Palestinian state unviable?  When, in short, are we going to start treating Israel as the rogue state it is?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012 

I'd like to give William Hague a few assurances as well.

How times change.  In Tony Blair's dog days, his refusal to push for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war was in contrast to the stance of David Cameron's newly detoxified Conservative party, with William Hague denouncing the destruction of much of southern Lebanon as "disproportionate".  To begin with, it looked as though the Conservatives allied with the Liberal Democrats would continue with this more critical stance on Israel now they were in power: Cameron, visiting Turkey in the aftermath of the raid on the Gaza flotilla, described the impoverished and cut-off territory as a "prison camp".

It couldn't last.  After Hague decided that Hamas had "principal responsibility" for the week long slaughter fest in Gaza, ignoring entirely the timeline of events leading up to the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabar, and how this was by no means the first time Israel has launched an attack on the Palestinians with an election fact approaching, we now have the truly pitiful decision to abstain on the application for non-member observer status at the UN.  In the first place, to demand assurances from the Palestinian Authority in itself shows the disparity between what we ask of Israel, whom we merely chastise when they steal the identities of British citizens to kill a minor Hamas figure, and the recognised representatives of a people we helped put in this mess.

It's also that at least the first of the "assurances" demanded is so outrageous.  Just what exactly is the point of requiring the PA to return to peace talks without conditions when it's so abundantly clear that Israel is not prepared to make even the slightest of concessions, even as a gesture of goodwill?  If there is ever going to be a negotiated peace and a two-state solution, then the building of settlements in the occupied West Bank has to end.  It really is that simple.  Requesting that the PA set aside this most basic of requirements, one which it has to be remembered the Obama administration also demanded from the Israelis and was ignored over is ridiculous.

Indeed, this refusal by the Israelis to put even a temporary halt to settlement building is exactly what led to the process at the UN from the PA in the first place: they recognised, sadly, that the talks were going nowhere due to consistent Israeli intransigence, often backed by the US.  The Palestine papers revealed that Condoleezza Rice told them they would never have a state if they didn't accept that the settlements of Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim would remain Israeli territory, regardless of the illegality of both under international law.  The PA by contrast offered what even Tzipi Livni recognised was the "biggest Jerusalem in history", and yet was still rebuffed.

Easier to understand is Hague's second required "assurance", that should the PA gain non-member observer status they won't attempt to pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court.  Just as we were embarrassed by the attempt to have Livni arrested when she visited the UK, so we would be forever in the US's bad books should their true foremost ally find itself in trouble at the ICC.  The US of course refused to join lest its own overseas adventures come under scrutiny, leading Israel to make the same decision despite initially signing the Rome statute, most "moral military" on the planet or otherwise.

Hague's claim then that the PA's attempt to gain recognition could set back the peace process is a nonsense.  There is no peace process to be set back, for the reason that the situation on the ground has changed, both in Israel and Palestine.  Never has it been so clear that Israel's aim is to make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible, such is the continued colonisation of the West Bank and the near to completion construction of the wall separating the occupied territory from Israel.  Anything less than something approaching the 1967 borders will be unacceptable to the Palestinian people, and Israel has no intention of repeating the evacuation of Gaza, even if it were to lead to peace.  At the same time, the PA has become almost an irrelevance, weakened both by Israel's emasculation of the West Bank and the rise of Hamas.  Rightly or not, the Palestinian and the Arab street see the resistance of Hamas as achieving results, while the PA's recognition of Israel has led to 20 years of unrelenting occupation.

If anything, the reluctance of some western states to support the Palestinian bid is likely to further weaken the PA and so the merest chance of a return to negotiations than it being the other way around.  They have after all tried renouncing violence, recognising Israel, face-to-face talks under successive American administrations, and applying for full recognition from the UN Security Council, all so far for nowt.  Non-member observer status would provide a moment of respite.  By not supporting even this slight move towards statehood for Palestine, it just further highlights the utter hypocrisy of our support for some liberation movements while stymieing the baby steps of others.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012 

Already looking forward to the next.

The news coming through this evening that a ceasefire has been agreed between Israel and Hamas is undoubtedly welcome.  Any halt to the violence, however short-lived, is to be applauded.  In practice however, the agreement brokered by Egypt has done little more than return us to the situation prior to the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari last Wednesday.  While in theory the deal calls for the opening of the crossings into Gaza, the implementation of the lifting of the economic blockade of the strip is only to be discussed after 24 hours of "de-escalation", more than suggesting that as has happened before, further progress is highly unlikely.  Dubious as it always was that Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak would have countenanced any loosening of the blockade when the whole point of "Operation Pillar of Defense" was to show themselves as strong, decisive military leaders before a waiting electorate, the deal seems to have merely set up the next assault on a terrorised territory and its imprisoned people.

The deal seems to have achieved little for Hamas either.  Once again, their infrastructure in Gaza has been either destroyed or substantially damaged, and the people that both support and oppose them have suffered terribly in the process.  They may have shown they've acquired longer range missiles, yet the ability to fire rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem serves little purpose when they either fail to hit their targets (if there is one in the first place) or are intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.  The initial sounding of raid alarms in those cities might have a psychological effect in the short term and lead a few Israelis to wonder whether they really are being wisely led by their politicians, especially seeing as it was only after the assault on Gaza began that the Fajr-5s were fired, but it's liable to be fleeting in the extreme.

Also overstated has been the impact of the Arab spring.  Apart from visits to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister, the Turkish foreign minister and a slight increase in the number of (newly elected) politicians denouncing Israel in no uncertain terms, hardly anything has really changed.  Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have picked up where Mubarak left off, acting as intermediaries for ceasefire deals while refusing to open the crossing into Gaza that would have let some of the population escape the bombing.  When the far-right Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman praises Mohamed Morsi for his role, then it's clear that while the faces have changed the same old alliances remain.

Nor have our leaders altered their tune one iota.  Who knows whether behind the scenes pressure was put on Netanyahu not to launch a ground offensive as his predecessors did; what we do know is that there's been barely a word of public criticism for how the offensive was conducted.  Israel has once again got away with targeting ambulances, journalists, and targets that simply can't be in any way construed as connected with Hamas, while the deaths of innocents alongside alleged militants are no longer even "collateral damage", rather "operational failures".  

Look at the difference when it comes to an attack within Israel: the explosion on the bus in Tel Aviv happened directly outside the building where the IDF has been conducting its media operations from.  For all we know, the person who apparently threw the bomb onto the bus may well have been specifically targeting someone who works there and had just left the building.  Instantly however, both the wider media and politicians referred to it as a terrorist attack.  If that's a terrorist attack, and it's a description I wouldn't demur from, then what was the extra-judicial killing of Ahmed al-Jabari, a man who Israel had long worked with to contain the situation in Gaza, an attack that also killed innocent bystanders?

As so often in the past, this difference in approach is then reinforced by reporting that at worst actively dehumanises the Palestinians.  Jodi Rudoren's report for the New York Times of the Dalu family's funerals seemed determined to emphasise these apparent differences: they don't so much mourn as accept their fate, such is the "culture of martyrdom that pervades this place", nor are they "overcome with emotion nor fed up, perhaps because the current casualty count pales in comparison to the 1,400 lost four years ago".  Rudoren's inference seems clear: only when so many are killed does their numbness and anger get overwhelmed by sadness.  In posts on her Facebook page, Rudoren went further, saying the reaction from some of those who had lost relatives was "ho-hum".  Even the usually excellent Jeremy Bowen made similar references on his 10 O'Clock News broadcast last night.

It's true that some of the most hardline figures in Gaza do put martyrdom and resistance above everything else, and this is always going to be most evident when the international media are around.  That this is anything approaching universal however is utter nonsense, as countless photographs from Gaza show.  Whether it's the death of family members or the loss of their home, Palestinians, amazingly, do have emotions.  Cut them and they bleed.  

Remarkably, it's also the case as was shown during Operation Cast Lead that a minority of Israelis positively delight in the bombing of Gaza, when hundreds travelled to a hill overlooking the territory to get a better view of the assault.  We don't though tend to hear about how Israel has a militaristic culture, and that Arabs are too often treated as second-class citizens, as the former would be a generalisation much too far which would only ever feature, if at all, in a comment piece.  Rudoren it should be noted later clarified her comments after she was criticised by the Mondoweiss blog, but her piece in the Times has not been altered to reflect that.  Where she was right is this is a conflict that no one in the world actually wants to seem to solve, and today's events have not taken us closer to any sort of resolution.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012 

Neither one thing nor the other.

I realise it's a motif I've been over-dependent on recently, but such has been the scale of bullshit of late that it's been difficult not to feel like we've been mysteriously plunged into a parallel universe.  A couple of months back David Cameron appeared before the UN general assembly, and reaching for the most emotive imagery he could muster, he said the UN had been stained by the blood of children killed in Syria.  Not, you'll note, that China and Russia had the deaths of protesters on their consciences through their blocking of security council resolutions, but that the UN itself was in some way responsible for the impasse.  As for our own role, we naturally couldn't be blamed for having abused the doctrine of the responsibility to protect in Libya, overthrowing Gaddafi when the UN resolution which authorised the no-fly zone called for a ceasefire between the two sides, and so setting Russia and China dead against any repeat.

The use of language similar to Cameron's could of course never be countenanced in relation to Israel.  It doesn't matter how many minors are accidentally killed, or even deliberately targeted, of which there have been 1,338 since September 2000 in both the West Bank and Gaza, their blood simply isn't worth as much.  The closest our politicians have ever come to denouncing Israeli tactics is debating whether or not reducing much of Lebanon and Gaza to rubble is "disproportionate".  Those with exceptional memories might recall that during the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war William Hague went so far as to use the D word, much to the outrage of Stephen Pollard.  Once in power, the Tories have returned to type, with Hague declaring Hamas "bears principal responsibility" for the latest murderous assault on an tiny, impoverished, cut-off territory.

Imagine my lack of surprise then when Hague stood up in the Commons today and announced that we would recognise the newly formed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.  This is a group formed out of the ashes of the Syrian National Council, the previous attempt by exiles to rally support for the Syrian opposition, and one which had next to no support from within Syria itself, reminiscent of the exile groups which had a major hand in pushing for the invasion of Iraq.  Despite claims that this new formation is more representative and appealing to those actually fighting Assad's forces, rebels in Aleppo have already rejected its imposition on them.

Our vote of confidence in the national coalition is also in spite of how its leader, described almost universally as a moderate in our press, has some views that would doubtless sit comfortably with the more fundamentalist fighters.  Angry Arab notes that Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, in a series of posts on his blog, variously describes one of Saddam Hussein's positives as he "terrified the Jews" (amongst other anti-Semitic remarks), Shiites as "rejectionists" and Facebook as a possible US-Israeli intelligence ploy.  He also believes masturbation causes TB, and praises Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian cleric the Tories took such a disliking to when Ken Livingstone brought him to London.

Isn't this almost irrelevant when the most important thing is to get rid of Assad?  Well yes, but clearly we have different standards when it comes to the Palestinians.  By any measure Hamas has far more popular support than this latest Syrian concoction, and yet we refuse to recognise it and its right to defend the people of Gaza against Israeli aggression.  Leaving aside Hamas, William Hague also made clear today that the government is yet to make its mind up as to whether support the move by the Palestinian Authority to apply for recognition at the UN general assembly.  If we won't even support the move by the Fatah leadership when we supposedly still want two states, why pursue such similarly futile gestures when it comes to Syria?

It's fairly apparent that despite the whisperings in the ear of Nick Robinson we have little to no intention of arming the Syrian opposition, let alone going further and actively intervening.  The most we seem willing to provide is communications equipment, and frankly, that's one thing the Syrian fighters on the ground seem to have plenty of.  I'm incidentally all for the arming of the Syrian opposition if the anti-aircraft missiles the rebels are desperate for head straight afterwards to Gaza to be used in self-defence against fighter jets, but not if they're soon being used to target passenger planes, something al-Qaida has previous in.

Our position is ultimately neither one thing nor the other.  We support the Saudis in wanting to maintain the Sunni domination of the Middle East while weakening Iran, not so much as mentioning the unpleasantness in Qatif, Bahrain or indeed in Jordan, and yet we leave the actual arming of those pursuing what has turned into a sectarian war in Syria to other people.  This peeves the Saudis and Qataris, and also peeves those like me who see the hypocrisy in our position of wanting a free Middle East except in those places where we always have and always will support despots.  Meanwhile, we ignore those who've yearned for their own state for over 60 years, while recognising a group which was created last Tuesday and has no real support whatsoever as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.  Once upon a time, we were colonalists.  Now we simply act as though we still are.

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Monday, November 19, 2012 

The cynicism of a terrorist state, exacerbated by the uselessness of the media.

There seems to be only one constant when it comes to Israel and Palestine: media coverage becomes more and more unbalanced.  Every separate assault by the Israelis on Gaza is treated as though it occurs in a vacuum, and is only launched with great reluctance in response to rocket fire from the territory Israel so bravely disengaged from.  At the end of last week the BBC news website made it look as though it was Hamas attacking Israel, and not the other way round.  There is very little, if any examination of the difference between the missiles launched from Gaza by resistance groups, often home-made, antiquated and weak, and the finest weaponry money can buy as used by the Israelis, and yet these attacks are reported as though they are all but identical.

Away from the accounts provided by sites such as Electronic Intifada, which notes this latest outbreak of violence effectively began when a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by the IDF while he was playing football, sparking a wave of retaliatory rocket attacks, the most honest piece to feature in a British newspaper was in the Graun, written by the deputy head of Hamas's political bureau.  This is how skewed reporting on Gaza has become: while the IDF tweets incessantly and Israeli politicians and spokesmen use almost the exact same formulations as they did four years previous, all of which is lapped up by the mainstream media and barely questioned, those associated with Hamas, a supposed terrorist organisation dedicated to the destruction of Israel, are the ones telling the closest to the truth.

We shouldn't be in the slightest bit surprised then at the specific targeting of buildings used by Hamas's TV station (as well as foreign journalists) to try and get their side of the story across.  One such strike today killed three members of Islamic Jihad, with the IDF tweeting soon after that the men were hiding there and "not to be interviewed".  How they knew all of this is anyone's guess; what's clear is that their intelligence isn't always so good, as shown by yesterday's strike on the home of the Dalou family.  Believing that a Hamas target was inside the house, the IDF apparently wasn't aware or more likely didn't care that a strike on him would also kill innocents.  As it was, 10 members of the Dalou family were massacred, including 4 children.  The target wasn't among them.

Then again, in the eyes of Israeli politicians, the IDF and indeed much of the media, there is no such thing as an innocent Gazan citizen.  Anyone and anything can be targeted as long as they can be linked with Hamas, however tenuously.  Buildings struck are Hamas buildings; schools are Hamas-run, as are hospitals.  During Operation Cast Lead, the wholesale murder of police officers was justified on the basis they were Hamas police officers, and the argument has since been taken to its logical conclusion.  Israel is of course perfectly prepared to make long-standing agreements with Hamas, whereby Hamas pledges to do the best it can to keep rocket fire from other militant groups to a minimum in return for a cessation of air strikes, but when it's election time and there are votes to be won from an ever more hardline public, Hamas once again becomes the implacable genocidal foe that must be put out of commission once and for all.

It's this murderous cynicism that sickens more than anything.  It's not just Palestinians whose lives are put in the balance by this most vile form of electioneering, although they are overwhelming those most at risk; it's the Israelis in the path of the rockets who face uncertainty too.  As pathetic as the rockets fired from Gaza mostly are, 3 Israelis were killed directly as a consequence of the policies pursued by Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, believing that they can succeed where Kadima failed before.  They are backed to the hilt by our own leaders, who while condemning the bloodshed in Syria and say something must be done about Assad wring their hands over the carnage in Gaza, putting the blame almost wholly on Hamas.  In the US, one of the senators urging the arming of the Syrian rebels threatened Egypt with the cutting off of aid if they "kept inciting violence between the Israelis and Palestinians".   This same man would like the Islamists in Syria to get their hands on modern anti-air missiles, weapons which would almost inevitably find their way straight afterwards to Gaza.

As little as possible then is explained, lest it alter the narrative that Israel is the victim rather than the aggressor.  Electoral cynicism is skirted over, as is the blockade of Gaza that prevents civilians from escaping from what is effectively a free fire zone.  At least in Syria those in the firing line between rebels and the regime can for the most part escape should they choose; those in Gaza have no such option, unless they have a medical complaint so urgent that even the Israelis can't refuse them access to hospitals outside of the Strip.  The history of the occupation, the Oslo accords, the setting up of the Palestinian authority and the lack of progress ever since, overwhelmingly the result of Israeli intransigence, goes by unmentioned.  That the settlements in the West Bank continue to be expanded, with ever more Palestinian land seized and cut off isn't relevant.  Palestinian resistance is condemned, whether it's through rockets or stone throwing, while the attempt to gain statehood through the UN is blocked.  Despite all this injustice, the Palestinian cause only grows stronger, and the strength and belief of the people remains undimmed.  They will one day have a state, and one day Israel's crimes will be brought to account.  That day cannot come soon enough.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012 

Meanwhile, in bizarro world...

The UK is considering whether to officially recognise the Palestinian opposition, sources say.

Foreign Secretary William Hague is to meet leaders of Hamas and Fatah in London on Friday to discuss the "grave and worsening" situation in Gaza.

Although high profile US figures such as John McCain have long been calling for the arming of the Palestinians, up until now Britain has only offered "non-military" aid to the opposition.  According to BBC political editor Nick Robinson, David Cameron believes the bloody conflict in Gaza is reaching what one of his advisers calls "the something must be done stage" - the moment when the public will demand action to save the lives of ordinary Gazans unable to escape from the blockaded strip.

This new tone was reflected in a statement from William Hague:

"Israel bears principal responsibility for the current crisis.  It is crystal clear this is merely the latest shamefully cynical move by politicians desperate to show themselves as the toughest on the Palestinians ahead of an election, just as Operation Cast Lead was four years ago.  The extra-judicial killing of Ahmed al-Jabari shows the depths to which Israel is prepared to sink - killing a man who had long worked with them towards keeping the peace, and then posting a video of the attack on the internet.

"As has happened before, Israel broke a truce it signed up to, only to then claim to the world at large that rocket fire from Gaza had forced their hand.  Whilst we condemn the launching of missiles from Gaza that are impossible to aim accurately, we recognise that the bombing of the territory makes an already difficult life there intolerable.  Palestinians have the right to live without fear of attack from Israel.  The deaths of innocent children are especially difficult to take - as the father of 11-month old Omar al-Masharawi asked, what had his son possibly done to deserve his fate?

"We have long supported a two-state solution, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Israel is not prepared to be a partner for peace.  Ignoring international law, it continues to build settlements in the West Bank, and has made life ever more difficult for ordinary Palestinians.  Much as we support an urgent resumption of negotiations, we have little faith they would be successful.  As such, we are considering whether the time has come to arm the Palestinian opposition so they can adequately defend themselves."

Asked for a response, the Israeli government gave the exact same statement as it has after past attacks on Gaza:

"Terrorists human shields Hamas terrorists rocket fire terrorists deliberately target terrorists other side will have to pay intolerable nothing to do with election terrorists Hamas human shields escalation that will exact a price terrorists."

Bashar al-Assad is understandably delighted at all this.

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Monday, July 23, 2012 

Quote of the decade.

In an interview on Fox News in the US, Netanyahu said Israel had not considered specifically trying to cross the border to seize the weapons but added: "There are other possibilities."

"Could you imagine Hezbollah, the people who are conducting with Iran all these terror attacks around the world – could you imagine them having chemical weapons? It would be like al-Qaida having chemical weapons," he said. "It's something that is not acceptable to us, not acceptable to the United States and to any peaceable country in the world."

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Thursday, April 12, 2012 

"It is unrealistic, in my opinion..."

Not in doubt is that some Arab newspapers, both state and privately owned, print articles and cartoons which are vehemently anti-Semitic and racist. Not as well known is that Israeli newspapers, in this case the biggest selling tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth publish material which is just as vile (via Angry Arab):

For all whose goal is to bring stability to this region, it is important to understand the rhetoric of those who oppose Israel as part of their religion. Understand that we are dealing with people who celebrate being detached from reality as part of their worship of Allah.

It is unrealistic, in my opinion, to believe that we can turn the Arabs into a society that truly embraces western concepts and values - like facts and sticking to truth. It makes much more sense to understand that fantasy and stretching the truth are very deeply embedded in the mindset of the Muslim and Arab culture. I do not mean to say this as an insult, but to suggest that we accept it as a fact, take it as it is and move on.

You won't be surprised to learn that the author, David Ha'ivri, opposed the Gaza pullout and advocates the annexing of the West Bank.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011 

Raed Salah and the impossibility of making up our minds.

One of the sad certainties of becoming involved in the Israel/Palestine debate is that whichever side you're the more sympathetic towards you'll quickly find yourself in the company of those with deeply unpleasant conspiratorial or political opinions. Whether it's Melanie Phillips, confident a second genocide is just around the corner and this country is going through the period before a pogrom, or any of the innumerable pro-Palestinian activists that give a highly misleading impression of Israel as an apartheid state, not to mention those who think that giving complete support to Hizbullah or Hamas is going to bring a political settlement nearer, trying to remain above the gutter is a difficult task.

It's fair to say then that Sheikh Raed Salah doesn't exactly have the cleanest of hands. To the great embarrassment of the home secretary, if not the UK Borders Agency, Salah despite being banned from entering the country, his presence deemed by to be "not conducive to the public good" managed to sail through security at Heathrow and apparently completely unaware of how he wasn't meant to be here, went on to attend the various meetings he'd been invited to.

Whether Salah's feat was related to how almost no one had heard of him two weeks ago is difficult to tell. The leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel and former mayor of a small city on the border of the West Bank, it's probably best to start with the undisputed facts. In 2005 he admitted to "security offences", having been held on remand for 2 years charged with "membership in and support for a terrorist organization, contact with a foreign agent and money laundering" and was sentenced to three years in prison. In 2009 he was arrested, accused of inciting a riot during protests at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. While there doesn't appear to be any verbatim accounts of what he said, a judge agreed that "his presence could be inciting" and excluded him from the Israeli capital for 30 days. Finally, last year he served a further five months in prison after being convicted of spitting in a police officer's face in 2007 during a protest against excavations near Jerusalem's Mugrabi Gate.

It doesn't seem to be any of these offences though that led to the Home Office deciding he couldn't visit this country. It was almost certainly down to the far more contentious claims on what he's said in the past and which his supporters and he vehemently deny. Easy to verify is that in an interview with Ha'aretz in 2003 he declared that martyrs do indeed receive 70 virgins in paradise (along with the less reported 70 chosen members of his family and friends) and that homosexuality is a crime, although he doesn't elaborate on what the punishment should be. Harry's Place among others have also quoted from Memri's report on anti-Semitism and the myths surrounding 9/11 (PDF), which has Salah repeating the conspiracy theory regarding the "4,000 Jews" who were somehow forewarned of the attacks and didn't go into work at the WTC that day, although he's hardly unique in giving credence to that particular lie.

Most serious of all the accusations made against Saleh is that he invoked the ancient anti-Semitic blood libel slur during a speech in 2007. It also seems to be the one least likely to be accurate. Harry's Place sourced it to a Ha'aretz report which suggested he had been charged with incitement to racism and violence following a speech given during the 2007 protests at the Mugrabi gate. The problem for those claiming this proves Saleh's latent racism is that there doesn't appear to have been any follow-up, either correcting the original or reporting on Saleh's conviction/acquittal. Indeed, considering that Saleh was jailed for his assault on a police officer which occurred around the same time, it more than suggests that the press release issued on behalf of Saleh by the Middle East Monitor, claiming that he was only questioned about the speech at the time and never charged could be nearer the truth. This obviously doesn't mean Saleh definitively didn't make such a statement; it does however cast major doubt on it, doubts which Harry's Place and the journalists who seem to have based their reports on their posts don't seem to have even considered.

Exactly what it was that tipped the balance against Saleh we'll almost certainly never know. In previous cases, like that of Geert Wilders, whose presence back in 2009 was also deemed non-conducive having been invited to show his laughable film Fitna to the House of Lords, the given justification was that his mere being here would "threaten community harmony and therefore public security". As his visit following a successful appeal later in the year showed, such fears were ungrounded. Apart from the change of government, the other key difference between then and now has been the publication of the new Prevent strategy, much welcomed by the anti-Islamists on Harry's Place for its "muscular" stance on no longer working with or funding those who espouse "extremist" causes non-violently.

It is admittedly a relatively thankless task attempting to work out just which unpleasant ideologue might inflame public opinion enough for their mere being here to threaten community harmony and security, and when an issue is as polarised as it is on Israel/Palestine, those responsible are always going to get a kicking from one side. Nonetheless, Saleh's brief stay here was unbelievably predictable in its dullness: he attended a couple of meetings, said what those who invited him expected him to elucidate, and would have almost certainly returned home with the 99.99% of the population unaware he had ever been here. He didn't incite anything approaching hatred, although he hardly lived up to the laughable styling of him as a "Palestinian Gandhi" either. The real questions ought to be for those who invited him in the first place: did they know about the allegations against him and what he truly stands for? It certainly seems like the MPs who invited him didn't. If it's a sad reflection on our society that politicians believe those with views like Saleh are so dangerous that we can't even make our minds up for ourselves by hearing them speak, then those on the opposite side should at least know what those views are before welcoming them with open arms.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 

The depressing adventures of Melanie Phillips, pt 94.

Those with long memories for the rhetorical ticks of prominent political columnists might recall that Melanie Phillips had taken to referring to criticism of both herself and Israel as "verbal pogroms", as though by daring to take a different view to hers you were essentially perpetuating violence against her.

A Google search suggests that while Mel has cut back on her usage of that specific term, she's still as certain as ever that a concerted campaign of violence against Jewish people in this country, seemingly one which could be sponsored even by this government, is just around the corner. From a recent post on a incident at the School for Oriental and African Studies:

The pre-pogrom atmosphere in the UK against Israel and its supporters turned into outright thuggery at the weekend.

Yes, although you might not have personally noticed it, the atmosphere in this country is now so poisonous against Israel and its supporters that we're at the stage immediately prior to an widespread outburst of racially motivated murder and vandalism. It's one thing to be fearful that under certain circumstances such an atmosphere could arise; it's quite another to actively suggest it's already been reached. What a frightening, angry and incredibly sad place the inside of Phillips' mind must be.

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Monday, January 24, 2011 

The brutal clarity of the Palestine papers.

When nations have standard, open diplomatic relations with each other, there may be the occasional bust-up or misunderstanding, but for the most part seemingly cordial exchanges of views are maintained at all costs. It's only, as the Wikileaks cables have shown, when those in charge go and report back to their paymasters that honesty begins to come into play. The written record can often be brutal in its contempt for those being summarily dismissed, especially when there's no one to fight their corner: the inhabitants of the Chagos islands were witheringly referred to as their home was about to be turned over to the United States as "a few Tarzans and Man Fridays whose origins are obscure". Much the same was in evidence in a more recent cable, when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Colin Roberts stated baldly that it was thanks to the Chagossians no longer being around that the surrounding islands and seawaters were in such "pristine condition". He would presumably describe the US military base which now sits on Diego Garcia as greatly improving the archipelago's ecology on the same basis.

You can't help but be reminded of such hostility, open contempt and even outright imperial arrogance when you take a glance at the Palestine papers. The difference is that views such as the one expressed by Condoleezza Rice, apparently referring to the nakba, that "bad things happen to people all around the world all the time" were made to the faces of those she was supposedly meant to be negotiating or cooperating with. Rice, a specialist on the Soviet Union, may well have been thinking of the Ukranian famine or dekulakisation and the devastating effects of both; the difference surely is that the Palestinians have now been waiting for a state for over 60 years when one could be established in a matter of months if the likes of Rice were prepared to put the necessary pressure on Israel to accept a deal.

Instead, as the logs of the negotiations between the representatives of Fatah, Israel and the US show, the connivance between the two nations is almost total. Neither it seems is even approaching serious when it comes to continuing to regard the two state solution as a viable option, despite so many fine words being expressed on so many occasions. Rice couldn't have been much more blunt than when she told Saab Erekat that the Palestinians simply wouldn't have a state if they objected to the settlements of Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim, both in the West Bank and both illegal under international law remaining Israeli. Tzipi Livni, for her part, was completely honest about the policy Israel has been pursuing, while claiming personally that her party was not:

At a west Jerusalem meeting in November 2007, she told Qureia that she believed Palestinians saw settlement building as meaning "Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible"; that "the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we'll say that is impossible, we already have the land and we cannot create the state". She conceded that it had been "the policy of the government for a really long time".

At the end of 2007, though, "it is still the policy of some of the parties but not the government".

Like someone desperately trying to win over the favour of a prospective partner, the Fatah negotiators are shown to be willing to debase themselves and engage in the most pathetic of flattery, all to no avail. Abu Ala told Livni that he would vote for her, Mahmoud Abbas considered Ariel Sharon to be a friend, and said that "every bullet that is aimed in the direction of Israel is a bullet aimed at the Palestinians as well", while Condoleezza Rice was vomit-inducingly told that she brought "life to the region" every time she came. The only sign of anything even resembling a reciprocation in kind was from Livni, whom on being offered the best terms the Palestinians had ever put across the negotiating table, including the "biggest Yerushalayim in history", said she "appreciate[d] it" even as she rejected them out of hand.

Livni and the Bush administration were simply going through the necessary motions. With Likud and other smaller right-wing parties now in power, even the motions have been abandoned. As Saab Erekat put it so elegantly, the Palestinians are no longer even being offered a fig leaf, and this from the president so risibly described as "completely committed to achieving the objective you want". The Israelis have the equivalent of the entire pack of cards in their hands: it simply isn't in their interests to accept a peace settlement when they are able to create reality on the ground. Despite all their protestations, they can quite happily put up with the irritant of Gaza and the occasional home-made missile landing on surrounding towns and cities if it means they can annex ever more land in the West Bank and carry on building up the settlements as they are at an alarming pace. They also know that the longer they stall and the longer the US continues to fail to force the issue, the more support Hamas gains, ever increasing the chances of a coup in the West Bank to follow the earlier one in Gaza, and therefore forever removing the "partner for peace" it currently doesn't have in Fatah.

Either way, the end result is the same: an entire people effectively impoverished and imprisoned, their demands for justice denied while the Arab world either actively colludes with Israel or watches from afar powerless. And all the while, the festering grievance which motivates so many Islamists and puts so many others on the path towards radicalisation only continues to grow.

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Friday, August 20, 2010 

New entries in the Oxford Dictionary of English.

prosor n. To present an issue as fantastically simple when it is anything but. Also to put all the onus on the other side when in a dispute. "You know Gaza mate? All Hamas has to do is stop firing rockets and Israel will end the blockade. Simples". "That's a load of prosor, Ron. During the ceasefire prior to the December-January 2008-2009 war, which Israel broke, a grand total of 15 missiles were launched into Israel from Gaza, none of which it was accepted were fired by Hamas. The Israeli reward for this all but end to missile fire was to allow an extra 20 trucks into Gaza a day, while increasing the fuel supply from 55MW to 65MW. Does that sound anything like an end to the blockade?"

Ron Prosor n. prop. rhyming slang. "Have you seen the article by the Israeli ambassador in the Guardian? What a Ron Prosor."

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Monday, June 07, 2010 

There is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip.

Just something quick. Via Craig Murray, the incredibly arbitrary list of what has and what hasn't been allowed through the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of Gaza in the last month, based on the partial information Gisha has been able to compile (PDF):

This is of course the same territory which the Israelis claim isn't suffering from a humanitarian catastrophe. If it isn't, it's thanks to the tunnels if not run by then certainly controlled by Hamas, forcing the population into the group's hands, just the sort of tactic guaranteed to make them reject the militants and which is illustrative of so much Israeli policy.

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Monday, May 31, 2010 

The suicide of Israel.

I can't really put it much better than Flying Rodent already has, yet it's still worth dwelling on for a moment longer. Commentators like Melanie Phillips ("'Peace convoy'? This was an Islamist terror ambush" is her verdict) often write about the "suicide of the West", despairing of our apparent submission to Islamic extremists, our loss of faith in our Judeo-Christian heritage, and also, of course, our moral decadence. What though, is Israel's latest act of belligerence but yet further proof of the suicidal idiocy of the country's political and ruling class?

The only conclusion that can be reached is that Israel seems to imagine that it no longer needs allies, that it no longer needs friends, except for those that can be relied upon to repeatedly defend the indefensible, for which see the above. It's true that the country has acted this way in the past, such as when it attacked the USS Liberty, but that was during the Six Day War, or when it destroyed a Libyan passenger airline that had gone off course, but then no one cares about the Libyans and that was put down as another in Israel's long line of military "mistakes". The boarding of the Mavi Marmara is however the third such act of apparently shocking stupidity in 18 months: first the murderous assault on Gaza, having provoked Hamas into breaching a ceasefire which the Israelis openly admitted they had broken first, apparently purely for electoral benefit; next the almost comically inept if successful assassination of very minor player Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, earning rebukes and diplomatic expulsions from countries which didn't take kindly to Mossad yet again forging and stealing the passports of their civilians; and now a mindbogglingly foolish assault on a peace flotilla trying to deliver aid to the impoverished and long-suffering open-air prison which is the tiny strip of land known as Gaza.

It doesn't really matter whose side of the story is the most accurate, although it's instructive that the videos released by the IDF of the commandos coming aboard the Mavi Marmara show nothing of the arrival of the helicopters that delivered them, or of the boats involved in surrounding the vessels, when the people on the boats and indeed an al-Jazeera reporter on board one claimed that they were first fired upon. All the people around the world will see is the Israelis intercepting boats with an entirely peaceful purpose out in international waters, which means they were committing an act of piracy simply by attempting to get on board. And honestly, how did they think they were going to react to commandos apparently storming their vessel? Welcome them with open arms and sit down to discuss the rights and wrongs of the siege of Gaza? It's almost as if they were actively hoping that they were going to be mobbed, record it for the world to see and then claim that their motives were far from benign after all. It seems they weren't counting on the response being so unequivocal, but again it's notable that the worst that seems to have happened to those who went on board is that one suffered "serious head injuries" after he was thrown over a rail. Accounts still differ but at least 9 on the other side are known to have been killed. Again, that all communications with the vessels were successfully severed shortly after the assault began is instructive of how the Israelis only wanted their side of the attack to be seen.

As if relations between Turkey and Israel were not stretched as they were, the only Muslim country with which Israel has anything approaching diplomatic friendship with, they've now attacked a ship carrying the Turkish flag and also it seems killed mainly Turks. After royally pissing off the Americans earlier in the year by snubbing Joe Biden during a visit to the country, they've now once again showed how they can't be relied upon to act with anything even approaching civility towards those with honourable intentions, even if they disagree profusely with them on their methods and overriding philosophy. After first responding with the usual amount of biliousness and demagoguery we've come to expect from the Israeli government PR machine, that Benjamin Netanyahu has "expressed regret", as the prime ministers of Israel always do after they've committed yet another outrage, perhaps suggests that they've realised that they've gone too far this time. The Guardian today reports that the US has been making secret overtures to Hamas, over the heads of the Israelis, fed up with impasse between Israel and Fatah. After helping to create Hamas, Israel has strained every sinew to not recognise the Islamic faction; through its apparent determination to lose friends and alienate everyone, including its closest ally, it might yet be forced to deal with those who continue to refuse to so much as recognise the Jewish state. And if they are, they will only have themselves to blame.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010 

The Gaza protest prosecutions and assorted thoughts.

The dropping of the prosecution case against Jake Smith, charged with two counts of violent disorder after taking part in the protests outside the Israeli embassy in January of last year, only hints at the potential mendacity of the Metropolitan police and the collusion of the Crown Prosecution Service in the out of all proportion criminal crackdown on those alleged to have taken part in the confrontation late into the Saturday evening. Smith's lawyers happened by chance to find footage of their client being beaten by riot police on YouTube, video which the police denied they had until the very last working day before his trial, when they suddenly discovered they had a full seven and a half hours of footage from the day which might be of use to Smith's defence.

Quite why the police decided to arrest Smith after the event is unclear from the footage, especially when there are almost certainly others who on the day took part in far worse confrontations with the police. Smith is clearly seen pushing the barriers to protect himself from the riot police, being bated by other protesters. Despite this attempt at blocking the police from being able to get to him, when the police next charge the protesters Smith is seen by hit by at least one officer with both a riot shield and a baton, despite posing no apparent threat to the officers. This all happened after the "kettle" had been put into place, preventing any of the protesters from being able to leave; Smith it seems was trapped and not involved with the group of other protesters who were set on confrontation. Perhaps he was picked on because he, unlike some of the others, was positively identified or gave accurate information to the police when the protesters were finally allowed to leave, albeit only after they were photographed and their details were demanded.

Smith is undoubtedly one of the lucky ones: others who took part in the protests that day have been given custodial sentences for the heinous crimes of throwing sticks (broken parts of the many placards) or empty plastic bottles in the general direction of the Israeli embassy, the police often claiming that they were thrown at them. The police presumably felt threatened by these flimsy bits of balsa wood coming towards them, being fully equipped in riot gear as they were and therefore completely unable to defend themselves.

As you might recall, I was on the protest and march that day, although I left before the "kettle" was put in place outside the embassy. What was clear then and is even more apparent now is that there was a fundamental lack of preparation by both sides. Both the Stop the War Coalition and the police themselves were not expecting the sheer number of people who turned out, and as a direct result from the moment the march itself started there were small groups who had turned up looking for trouble who were out of control, as shown by the video which featured a group all but rampaging along at the very front of the march (which I can't incidentally find at the moment). Much of the trouble which occurred later could have been prevented if they had either been arrested then or separated away from the rest of the march. The confrontation which I did personally witness outside the North Gate into Kensington Gardens, where eggs and paint were thrown at police officers who were not yet in riot gear was probably far more frightening for those in uniform than it was those who were deployed later, and yet probably because there were no specific FIT officers there from what I could see monitoring the crowd, none of those who attacked them, almost certainly unprovoked, are likely to have been prosecuted.

I can far more understand the reactions and fighting which occurred in Kensington High Street, outside the embassy's main gates as even while I was there it was becoming difficult to move, a crush developing, a direct result of the police shutting off all the other roads and leaving only one exit, which to get to you had to push past everyone else. Even then though the mood for the most part was jovial, apart from the few idiots at the very front who were pushing the barriers towards the police who were guarding the embassy's gates. Undoubtedly why some who at this point threw items towards the embassy have since been picked up was because a FIT team was set-up on the roof of a building to the right of the embassy's gates, filming the entire protest.

Once the riot police had fully moved in, kettling those remaining and not letting anyone leave even if they had done nothing except continue to peacefully protest, it's not surprising that sticks or worse was thrown at them; for Judge John Denniss, who has been passing sentences on those brought before the court for what have mainly been trivial offences, many of whom have pleaded guilty after being advised that they would receive either community sentences or fines, to then claim that he's doing so to "deter others" is ridiculous. Firstly because those who were determined to cause trouble from the outset will not be deterred from doing so, just as there is a minority of police officers who enjoy such occasions as an opportunity to hit people have not been deterred by the pathetic response from the Met to G20 protests, and secondly because those trapped in the "kettles" are always going to express their discontent, potentially in a physical way when the police themselves are acting in a completely unreasonable and violent manner, as shown in the video featuring Jake Smith.

Equally clear is that the police take protesters taking them on in such a way as a personal affront: there is no other explanation for the early morning raids on the family homes which some who took part in the demonstration have suffered. These are ostensibly justified on the grounds that they are most likely to find those they're looking for by calling early in the morning, but handcuffing the entire family and taking computers and mobile phones for evidence is out of all proportion to the offences allegedly committed. Even if it isn't intended, these are the tactics of humiliation and act as far more of a warning to those potentially willing to protest than any sentence a judge could give. While there is some hyperbole involved, there is the danger that this only encourages the view amongst Muslims already inclined towards a radical viewpoint that the British state is determined that they not be allowed to put their point across, and with that the path to full radicalisation follows. What shouldn't be obscured by all this is that despite the battles, the day's protests was angry, inclusive but overwhelmingly peaceful, unlike the target of the protests which were at the time, according to the United Nations, committing war crimes. Protests are messy, but they are also cathartic, and the police, CPS and the courts would do well to recognise that. The alternative is unthinkable.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010 

American foreign policy explained.

It tells you something about the moral compass of America and Israel that what is being described as the biggest crisis in relations between the two in 35 years has not occurred over say, a war in which nearly 1,2000 Lebanese civilians were killed, or the attack on Gaza last year in which almost 1,000 civilians were killed, but instead over the snub given to vice-president Joe Biden on his visit to Israel last week, which was the perfect day to announce that another 1,600 households would be built in East Jerusalem, exactly the policy of continuing to build settlements which the US has called for an end to. It's hardly the first time which Israel has acted in such a fashion, despite it supposedly being the the lesser partner in the relationship, and while the response of the US in this case has been the angriest and most forceful in recent memory, it will doubtless be forgotten as usual in a couple of months.

Equally instructive is what happens when a war which America urged an ally to fight suddenly comes back and hits too close to home. Obama is "outraged" that three people associated with the US consulate in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez were murdered, a direct result of the war launched by the Mexican government on the drug cartels which attempt to satisfy the insatiable American hunger, mainly for cocaine but also for other narcotics. Mexico itself has somewhat seen the light, realised that the war against drugs itself cannot possibly be won and ostensibly legalised the possession of small amounts of almost all soft and hard drugs. The war against the cartels however continues, with horrific results: more than 6,500 drug-related killings last year, and barbarity which has come close to that of the likes of al-Qaida in Iraq. While Foreign Policy puts this somewhat into context, only Colombia is fighting a comparable drug war with the complete support, or indeed at least partially on the behalf of the United States. The difference is clear: it's only when those killed are Americans that there is the possibility of any change. The only thing that comes close is when the vice-president is made to look a fool.

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