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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Monday, March 02, 2009 

From Gaza to Fallujah.

Nice to see that when he isn't being paid incredible amounts for speeches and other assorted things Tony Blair does occasionally have time for his other line of work, as Middle East peace envoy for the Quartet. Yesterday he finally found the time to visit Gaza, as well as Sderot, as everyone now has to so as not to be accused of sickening bias. He said that anyone visiting would be appalled by the destruction, which is something of an understatement.

That said, only around 1,300 Palestinians died as a result of the Gaza war, compared to the over 150,000 estimated to have died as a result of Blair's final war of his own choosing, Iraq. Somehow I can't quite see Blair choosing to visit say Fallujah, of his own volition, any time soon.

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Monday, January 26, 2009 

Objectivity is a lie which the DEC appeal proves.

Watching the DEC's appeal for aid donations, it's apparent why both the BBC and Sky refused to show it: it puts their own reporting to shame. In three short minutes it clearly and astutely summarises how the Palestinians in Gaza were living even before the 22-day onslaught began, without making so much as a political point throughout. It does however at the same time evocatively suggest that someone, ultimately, is responsible for this very man-made disaster, and that, without a shadow of doubt, is Israel, not Hamas.

Objectivity is, and always has been, a lie. There is no such thing as complete impartiality; there is however trying to be as neutral as you possibly can be. When a state is pounding a tiny, cut-off piece of territory where half the population are classified as children, to be completely impartial is a nonsense, just as when the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was so woeful as to be useless the reporters there noticeably became angrier at the richest nation on Earth abandoning some of its poorest citizens to their fate. That quite possibly marked the true turning point in the Bush presidency. Likewise, that the BBC (we can safely disregard Sky's decision, as Murdoch has made clear in the past that if he could he'd turn Sky News into a British version of Fox he would) somehow thinks that broadcasting an appeal for help for Gaza would damage its impartiality when its own reporters have reported on the devastation and its obvious causes is equivalent to someone who leads you on all night then slams the door in your face after taking you home. It's a snub, and a completely petty one at that. The BBC may as well, as others have done, equate all Palestinians, or all Gazans, as Hamas, and therefore not worthy of aid or trusted enough not to spend it on weapons. Its own behaviour has breached its impartiality far more than screening the ad would have done.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009 

The Palestinians of Gaza - not human enough, obviously.

This is shocking:

The BBC has refused to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, leaving aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella organisation for 13 aid charities, launched its appealtoday saying the devastation in Gaza was “so huge that British aid agencies were compelled to act”.

But the BBC made a rare breach of an agreement dating back to 1963 when it announced it would not give free airtime to the appeal. Other broadcasters then followed suit. Previously, broadcasters have agreed on the video and script to be used with the DEC, with each station choosing a presenter to front the appeal, shown after primetime news bulletins.

The BBC said it was not the first time broadcasters had refused to show a DEC appeal.

The corporation said it had been concerned about the difficulties of getting aid through to victims in a volatile situation. The BBC, which has faced criticism in the past over alleged bias in its coverage of the Middle East, said it did not want to risk public confidence in its impartiality.

The DEC’s chief executive, Brendan Gormley, said the decision could have a big impact on its appeal. “We are used to our appeal getting into every household and offering a safe and necessary way for people to respond. This time we will have to work a lot harder because we won’t have the free airtime or the powerful impact of appearing on every TV and radio station.”


A BBC spokesperson said: “Along with other broadcasters, the BBC has decided not to broadcast the DEC’s public appeal to raise funds for Gaza. The BBC decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story. However, the BBC will of course continue to report the humanitarian story in Gaza.”

In other words, the BBC have given in to those just waiting to grasp at the slightest hint of bias before they'd even had a chance to. It wasn't as if this was just going to be on the BBC; the other channels would have carried it as well. They've in effect decided that the Palestinians of Gaza are not as human or as equal as those who have been victims of natural disasters; it seems it would take something far worse than the man-made carnage Israel visited upon Gaza for the impoverished and hungry citizens of a tiny, cut off piece of land to be treated the same as everyone else.

I didn't think that the BBC's coverage of the assault on Gaza was that bad, or certainly not as terrible as some of those on the fringes of the left thought, judging by there being another protest outside the BBC this Saturday before the march heads to Downing Street. You get the feeling that if the BBC doesn't change its minds about this tomorrow that they'll be a hell of a lot more there than there otherwise would have been.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009 

War crimes and the second revenge of Hamas.

It's always morbidly amusing the way that Israel announces it's investigating what may or may not have happened during its latest military escapade to have unfortunately resulted in the premature evacuation of souls. The reality is that it knows full well in almost all of the cases exactly what happened without any need to investigate further - hence the very quick indeed discovery that at least 200 white phosphorus shells were fired into Gaza over the 3-week period, with the likewise by no means whatsoever doubtful claim that 180 of them hit their target, which was naturally either Hamas fighters or rocket launchers. 20 of these shells, again if we are to believe the Israelis, seem to have either gone missing or been potentially used for purposes other than targeting of the "enemy", with apparently conclusive evidence that at least three hit the UNRWA's compound, destroying the food and medicine in their warehouses.

The use of white phosphorus, which international law explicitly states has to be used with great caution around civilians, seems to only be the tip of the iceberg of the breaching of the Geneva conventions in Gaza. Numerous stories of children being shot dead by Israeli troops are beginning to emerge, as are reports of the summary demolition of houses that had dared to get in the way of the IDF's advance, regardless of whether or not they had any civilians in them. It's little wonder that the media were until Friday when Egypt began letting in some journalists from their side of the border deliberately kept out - the Western, more respected media would have been forced into broadcasting the same reports which al-Jazeera and the other outlets with Palestinians on the ground carried, potentially further raising the anger and putting more pressure on politicians to demand an end to the conflict.

As could have been predicted, the tunnels which Israel were trying to destroy are already back up and running, if indeed they had been closed during the bombardment itself. The troops may now have withdrawn back to the border, but the crossings into Gaza remain closed; even with more aid now being allowed in, the tunnels will still be helping to keep the impoverished and cut-off citizens off the territory from suffering too badly from the shortages. With the food, livestock and cigarettes will doubtless also come the rockets, the other part of the justification for the murderous assault on the territory.

At the beginning of the week it looked as if this could have been a decisive blow against Hamas, and yesterday's puerile victory rallies were a sign of weakness, not strength, but the hours are already beginning to show the events in a different light. Negotiation with Hamas looks more and more unavoidable, especially as Obama is apparently living up to his pledge to talk to Iran without pre-conditions. When Israel assassinted Sheikh Yassin, the almost blind, disabled spiritual leader of Hamas in a truly cowardly Hellfire missile strike, the organisation had its revenge in their victory in the elections. Their revenge this time round may well turn out to be that "Operation Cast Lead" has not even began to destroy them - but instead left them as the de facto Palestinian group to which both Israel and the US will eventually have to deal with.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009 

Ceasefire, weekend links and an extended worst tabloid article of the weekend.

As expected, Israel has announced a "unilateral" ceasefire. The thinking behind this is clear: never again will Israel accept a humiliating peace like that two years ago in Lebanon, making deals and coming out looking the loser. Instead they'll hold their head up high, having done what any other country under 8 years of rocket fire would, treating civilians with silk gloves and Hamas with an iron first. What's more, if Hamas then breaches this kind ceasefire, they'll be the ones betraying their own citizens when Israel has to respond.

The cynicism of this is obvious. This was always a war of Israel's choosing, and now it's ended it in the same way. It leaves Gaza devastated, 1,200 of its citizens killed and over 5,000 injured, and Israel has to all intents and purposes completely got away with it. It's thumbed its nose at the UN, mocked world opinion and made the world's media seethe, even while they reported all of the Israeli government's open propaganda and treated it as gospel. The siege seems unlikely to be lifted, Gaza's tunnels which helped those trapped in the territory to live have been destroyed, and all the funding to rebuild will once again have to come from international donors. How much more does it have to take before we declare Israel to be a rogue state, which is what it has quite clearly become?

On that thought, we may as well keep the theme and go with other comment on Israel and Gaza. A piece a couple of days old but still superb is Flying Rodent's channelling of the spirit of Ehud Olmert, Back Towards the Locus reports on a local protest, while Robert Fisk, Deborah Orr and DD Guttenplan on his reluctance to join last Saturday's march provide the MSM comment.

Elsewhere, Mr E, the Heresiarch and Jennie Rigg all mourn John Mortimer, Derek Draper rather ruins any pretence that LabourList is anything other than a stitch-up by his attitude towards Tim, the Bleeding Heart Show comments on the Tories' Low Carbon Economy green paper and Laurie Penny relates another meeting with our glorious Work and Pensions minister, James Purnell. In the papers, there's little of note other than Matthew Parris on speaking out before it's too late, and Howard Jacobson ruminating on the difference between a silly lad and a murderous racist.

As for the worst tabloid piece of the weekend, we truly are spoilt for choice. There's the Mail's charming description of the murder trial of Meredith Kercher, which it calls the "Foxy Knoxy show" on its front page, despite Kercher's own parents' attempts to have the trial held behind closed doors to prevent sensitive evidence being published and to retain their dead daughter's dignity. It seems remarkable the difference between the Mail's attitudes to trials in this country, which it seems hardly likely to have described in such terms even if someone as supposedly "glamourous" as the always referred to by nickname Amanda Knox was in the dock, and ones taking place abroad. It's almost as if it seems to imagine that because it's happening in Italy that Kercher's parents either have no feelings or inclination to see what the media at home is saying, let alone what Kercher's friends think about the way the media has reported her death.

The Mail though is notorious for not caring about things like intruding into grief. Any paper that was would surely have not published today's truly revolting comment by Amanda Platell, who of out all the other things she could have written about chose to focus her main energy on the tragic death of Rachel Ward, who died of hypothermia after apparently falling into a river. According to Platell, rather than this being a tragic accident, it's instead indicative "of the lives of many middle-class young women". Variously, her death seems to have been down to the following facts: firstly, that she was middle class, and therefore should have known better than to have been taking part in such working class pursuits as going on a skiing holiday and drinking whilst on it; secondly, that her friends abandoned her when she decided to go back to where she was staying on her own, therefore it's their fault too; and finally, that it's actually neither her own fault nor her friends' fault, but rather the fault of equality:

Sadly, in a world where women have fought for generations for equality, where they insist on their independence, where drunkenness and debauchery are actively encouraged, you can’t really blame a young man for failing to act chivalrously.

Yes, Rachel’s death was tragedy — but it was an accident waiting to happen.

There you are then girls - you weren't fighting for equal rights, you were in fact fighting for the right to die alone in a freezing river, because Amanda Platell says so. What a despicable cunt.

Amazingly, that isn't the worst tabloid piece of the weekend. Peter Hitchens has a reasonable effort too, claiming that "poverty is a lie the left uses to destroy the middle class". Good, but no cigar. No, the award must instead go to Julie Burchill, who writes a quite wonderful defence of George W. Bush in the Sun. Strangely, in her case for what a brilliant president he's been, the words "Iraq", "Afghanistan", "Abu Ghraib", "Guantanamo", "rendition" and many others which you can fill in yourselves don't make an appearance. No, instead Burchill concentrates on how he brilliant he's been for Africa (half-true, he has massively increased aid but also insisted on abstinence programmes to deal with AIDS), how brilliant he's been for black people, thanks to his promotion of first Colin Powell (who was ignored and sidelined and so enamoured with the Republicans that he endorsed Obama) and then Condoleezza Rice, doing so much that apparently without those two Obama couldn't have won the presidency, and finally how he signed "the Worker, Retiree and Employer Act which allows the rollover of pensions from a dead gay person to a partner without tax consequences — as has always been the case for straights". No mention of how he opposes gay marriage and how when asked whether he thought homosexuality was a choice answered that "he didn't know". With friends like Julie, who exactly needs enemies?

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Friday, January 16, 2009 

An end in sight?

If it wasn't for all the reports informing us that Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni wanted a ceasefire long ago, honestly, really, you could cynically imagine that from the very beginning there was a plan for the Israeli assault on Gaza. We already know that even prior to the six-month ceasefire with Hamas which even the Israelis admit they were first to breach, Israel was planning for the attack on Gaza which has filled so many with horror over the past three weeks. Why not then that the plan was to start the assault on the 27th of December, while the West is still caught up in its own post-Christmas feculence, blame it on Hamas ending the truce by goading them to fire barrages of rockets into Israel, and then spend the three weeks leading up to Obama's inauguration trying your hardest to annihilate Hamas and force them into a humiliating further ceasefire, ensuring that no longer can they smuggle weapons while also hopefully keeping up the siege?

Things haven't of course gone entirely to plan. Israel perhaps didn't plan on the ferocity of the response from Europe and other countries around the world, but it's managed to get by regardless. It perhaps hasn't done as much damage to Hamas as it would have liked, but it's probably destroyed the vast majority of the tunnels, killed two of their senior leaders, and Hamas hasn't put up anywhere near the sort of fight which Hizbullah managed in Lebanon in 2006, although whether this is because, as we've seen, the Israeli plan this time round has been overwhelming force and taking no prisoners, but regardless, it must still be tremendously pleased with the very low civilian and military casualties, especially when compared to the 1,100 Palestinians killed and over 5,000 injured. Where it has triumphed beyond doubt is with the United States in the very last days of the Bush administration. Not only did Olmert successfully intervene with Bush to stop Condi Rice from ending her monstrous period as secretary of state by voting for a security council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, but they've got just the sort of agreement they want which binds the US to help with the monitoring of the Egypt-Gaza border, and all without apparently so much as consulting the incoming administration. Not a bad last day's work by any means.

Where this leaves Israel's standing in the world at large remains to be seen. The anger which the attack on an impoverished, prison like tiny territory has inspired not just on the streets of the Arab world but on western Europe's as well is quite possibly unprecedented in recent times. There were riots in Oslo, huge demonstrations in all of the major capital cities and dozens of the smaller ones as well, and also, sadly and frighteningly, a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. That was always to be expected when there are individuals that cannot differentiate between a people and a state, just as some cannot between Muslims and terrorists, but nonetheless all such violence, abuse and vandalism has to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Smashing Starbucks' windows, let alone attacking a synagogue, is not going to change one thing in Gaza, let alone Israel, quite the reverse. Likewise, the overreaction of those who want to deflect attention from the carnage in Gaza has been as self-serving as always: witness Harry's Place, perennial defenders of Israeli aggression who have been vocal in their denouncing of protesters linking Israel to the Nazis, comparing the tiny number of smashed windows to... the Nazis and especially Kristallnacht, a photoshopped site banner conflating the two explicitly. Not only is this ahistorical in the extreme, it also demeans and debases the real suffering which those who lived in Nazi Germany during that period went through. A state organised and executed pogrom and an idiot with a brick shutting down a single bourgeois coffee shop from hell for a day are incomparable.

It's easy to see why some have been so quick to change the subject from Gaza itself to those on protests though; even the majority of them must recognise just how indefensible the attack on Gaza has been. Never before has the Zionist trick of screaming anti-Semitism at those criticising Israel been shown up to be so shallow and futile, Elizabeth Wurtzel's attempt to do just that on CiF completely monstered. For all Israel's attempts to win the PR battle, their single decision not to allow journalists into the Gaza strip itself produced a vacuum that could be filled only by the Palestinians on the ground themselves, the likes of al-Jazeera and the other Arab media profiting, the images of the hundreds of children injured filling the screens and newspapers every day now for nigh on 3 weeks.

It will however be the savagery of the Israeli assault which will live long in the memory. Most people might have given them the benefit of the doubt if they'd only managed to hit the one UN building, and believed the story of there being fire from within the compound; when you hit another school where people are sheltering and then finally hit the UNRWA headquarters itself, apparently with phosphorus shells which quickly turn the aid and food stored there into an inferno, it starts to look like it's either deliberate or that the IDF doesn't care what it hits. It's not just the phosphorus shells, which when used as a weapon as they apparently have been are illegal under international law, but also the apparent use of one of the newer discoveries in the world of armaments, DIME, or Dense Inert Metal Explosives. These bombs have the advantage of being more accurate and covering only a small radius, but the downside of completely eviscerating those that they come into contact with. Whether the Israelis are definitively using these weapons or not is difficult to know for sure, but the injuries that some of the doctors in Gaza have been seeing, where limbs have been effectively ripped off without suffering the shrapnel wounds associated with conventional shelling suggests that this might well be the case. Gaza may well be a testing lab for new weapons, being tried on a human and overwhelming civilian population. This is without considering the hospital that was hit, ambulances which have been targeted, the paramedics that have been killed trying to save others and the estimated $1.4 billion damage done to the infrastructure of the territory, not to mention the accusations of war crimes from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the demands for investigations into them by the UN and other governments.

What Israel will have achieved at the end of all this is difficult to know for sure. It probably won't save the Labour-Kadima coalition from being defeated, even if the spilling of Palestinian blood, which always seems to a vote-winner, has been taken to extremes. It might be able to win a "victory", by stopping the weapon smuggling into Gaza, not lifting the siege, declaring a unilateral ceasefire so they look like the good guys after all, and even turn a few Gazan minds against Hamas once the dust has settled and they see the devastation and decide that the sacrifice may not have been worth it. That however seems unlikely. In the worst case scenario for Israel, it could well end up having the opposite effect, showing the world that the real aggressors are not the terrorists of Hamas but those that don't apologise for killing hundreds of children, inspiring boycotts and continued protests, showing that Hamas are going to have to be dealt with if a peace settlement is ever going to be reached, and further establishing the spirit of resistance in a people that have been resisting now for over 60 years. Furthermore, they look set to have to deal with an Obama administration that at the moment is suggesting that it is willing to negotiate with Hamas, and that is also likely to be far tougher on Israel than the Bush administration has ever been, even if that isn't saying much. It's unwise to suggest that this might be one of the last gasps of a nation that has tried to enforce peace without a settlement and has failed, and one of the first of a nation that will have to do the opposite if it is ever to have complete security, but we can live in hope. Whatever happens, those killed in this latest senseless conflict will most certainly not be forgotten.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009 

Scum-watch: More idiotic blaming of British Muslims

You would have thought that after relying on the dubious claims of Glen Jenvey for a front page lead story, only for it to have been withdrawn less than a week later might have made the Sun's journalists slightly more circumspect in accusing British Muslims of stirring up hate or targeting Jews.

Then you of course remember that you're dealing with the Sun, where few of the journalists in the first place have enough brains or probably the time to make a Google search before taking to slamming their keyboard and banging out another idiotic piece. So it is with today's banner boosting, potentially baseless claim, that "menacing texts sent ... by Hamas supporters" originated in this country:

MENACING texts sent to Israeli soldiers’ families by Hamas supporters were traced to Britain yesterday.

Scores of messages have been sent — warning that Israeli sons fighting in Gaza face slaughter.

Checks of the code from the sender’s number revealed the texts originated in the UK.

British supporters of the Islamic fanatics in the besieged Gaza Strip were assumed to be responsible for the scare tactics last night.

As is usual, the Sun's own story appears to based on one elsewhere, this report from Ynetnews:

After Hamas sent a text message in broken Hebrew to a number of Israeli cellular phones during the first days of Operation Cast Lead, the organization ahs now decided to try its luck in an English message.

"Come on into Gaza. A number of surprises waiting for your sons, the least of which is death. Hamas," read the SMS message received Wednesday by a number of Israelis on their cellular phones.

Attempts to call the phone number from which the message was sent, that appeared to have an British country code, was met with an automated message the number had been disconnected.

Helpfully, Ynetnews provides a grab from the mobile, giving the number from which the message originated, +447624803777, which does indeed appear to be a British number, the +44 being our country code. A simple Google search however quickly reveals that this is not as simple as someone sending out mass messages from a phone which they've then quickly disconnected:

hi all
i am from indonesia,everybody can use that number for sms, pls your try from here

for free sms pls visit my sites
free sms for all

Another site that offered free SMS messages originating from that number was, currently down, as set out here. It seems that the number is just a generic one, meant to confuse people into thinking it's a legitimate number, but is instead just a front, mainly used for mass spamming, as was the case here. A whois for only identifies that the domain is registered with Godaddy, and might well no longer be used. In the comments on the Ynetnews article someone claims to have traced it as an Isle of Man network number, which further distinguishes it as not necessarily being connected with the mainland itself.

In fact, the Sun might well have been cleverer here than first imagined. Their screen grab of a phone with the message has been conveniently cropped so that phone number itself isn't visible, nor the Hebrew lettering underneath it, although it is almost certainly the same source image. It might just have been cropped for space, or for another reason, but the fact that anyone can quickly Google the number and find out that it's been used for spam in the past and debunk the article suggests if not the hack, then a sub-editor might well have looked deeper into it.

The work done, the article goes on, first reporting bin Laden's latest predictable audio message, then reporting the similarly ludicrous claims that Jewish schools are recruiting extra security guards because of the rhetoric from one Hamas leader:

Meanwhile, Jewish schools across Britain are hiring squads of elite security guards after Hamas declared children to be legitimate targets.

Guards are sweeping classrooms for bombs and searching visitors for weapons.

The head of security at North West London Jewish Day School said: “Many of the security staff have served in armies around the world.”

What he in fact said was that as long as Palestinian children were being targeted that Jewish children were legitimate targets also. It was simply the familiar tit-for-tat nonsense which often erupts from leaders in times of war, and about as likely to be acted upon in this country as Kate Winslet giving a short, calm acceptance speech. It's only after all this information about the evil of Hamas and al-Qaida that the Sun finally reports what actually happened in Gaza yesterday:

The Israeli onslaught in Gaza continued yesterday as the Palestinian death toll in the 19-day war soared over the 1,000 mark.

More than 300 victims were children. Thirteen Israelis have died.

The comments on the story tell their own tale too:

This is truly scary stuff- there are Hamas terrorists in Britain drawing up hit lists of British citizens on British soil. Hamas are animals, and any of their representatives anywhere in the world deserve condemnation in the strongest possible terms.

Israel is fighting our war, a war against extremism and filthy civilian-targeting terrorist groups all over the world. The shocking truth is that nobody in the UK can see that, as they are too busy supporting the most 'fashionable' cause.

The story has now been twisted beyond simply domestic "hate-filled extremists" into Hamas terrorists. The Sun and Glen Jenvey should be congratulated on their spreading of such nonsense.

what do you expected? the UK is not for the British any more. look at what New Labor has done to that place!! I wouldn't live in the UK now if you paid me, and watch everyone leave!!!

We can be grateful for the small mercy that electropleb already has.

Also worth noting this disgusting racism from the Ynetnews comments:

To quote one of the posts in the Hebrew ynet: There is no way an ordinary Palestinian can write without any spelling errors, and certainly not manufacture a phrase like "the least of which", even after many years of studying English. No doubt a native Brit is involved here. But is anyone really surprised of this?

Yeah, Palestinians are obviously so fucking backward that they couldn't possibly master simple English sentence structure; it's simply beyond their grasp.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009 

Over 1,000 dead and still they go and watch.

Israel should be proud: it took the IDF exactly a month to kill nearly 1,000 people in Lebanon during the 2006 war with Hizbullah; this time it has taken them only 18 days. Lebanon however had a population of roughly 4 million; Gaza has a population of 1.25 million. All while the IDF has been pummelling Gaza, Israelis have been travelling to Parash Hill, near Sderot, to have an overview of what their military is inflicting on a population that it first sealed off, then attempted to starve, and is now finally trying to bomb into submission. We've already seen smiles and laughter, stories of picnics and ghouls saying that more could be done, now we have a CNN reporter smiling and laughing with two women as they discuss the carnage going on only miles from where they're sitting. There's the others openly celebrating as they look through binoculars as the air strikes rain down and the phosphorous lights up the sky. And then there's the mealy-mouthed others, those who've had their own homes hit by Palestinian rockets, offering insincere concern for the innocents that might also be suffering in Gaza, the ones whose homes will be unrepairable and the others that will never recover from their injuries.

The reports continue to come in of suspected atrocities, of deliberate targeting of civilians. The Times speaks to a soldier that says everything is being treated as hostile, that this is the most "aggressive line" that has ever been taken with the Palestinians, that even he is shocked by the devastation that they are discovering and which Israel has tried as hard as possible to stop being glimpsed by too many Western eyes. The BBC reports that women responding to an Israeli call to leave, additionally carrying white flags, were shot and one was killed, while others trying to find water were similarly shot and apparently killed. From a less reputable source is an even more shocking, upsetting story, of an 92-year-old man injured on the first day of the Israeli bombardment, only reached today, found decomposing with a white flag in his hand. If substantiated, it is such accounts that remain on people's minds for years to come.

So brutal has the assault on Gaza been that even those supposedly on the Israeli left, such as Yossi Alpher, co-editor of Bitter Lemons, are left looking for comparisons which play down the carnage which has been unleashed. Alpher alighted upon the final battle for Fallujah in Iraq at the end of 2004, where similar accusations of war crimes were made, but which reflects better on the IDF as there were suggestions that up to 6,000 civilians were killed, out of an insurgent force estimated at being between 3,000 and 6,000. Israel claims there are around 20,000 Hamas fighters in Gaza. Alpher fails to mention that even if it did calm Fallujah somewhat, all that it achieved was a dispersal of the insurgency from the city into Anbar province itself, with it only eventually being tackled by the rise of the Awakening programme, when the tribal sheikhs tired of the tyranny and bloodshed brought by their alliance with the likes of al-Qaida in Iraq. Furthermore, there's a rather larger inconvenient fact which Alpher strangely omitted from his analogy: the US army allowed a large majority of the population of Fallujah to flee the city before the attack. In Gaza no one has been allowed to leave, except for those holding foreign passports who wanted to, and the very few that have been transferred to Egyptian hospitals for treatment. If we accept the Israeli figures of 20,000 Hamas fighters, and add another 10,000 to account for the militants of Islamic Jihad and other groups, that leaves 995,000 civilians directly in the line of fire, with hardly anywhere to run to, far above the numbers that were left in Fallujah to face the US military at its most destructive.

As alluded to yesterday, it is indeed telling that it's Iraq that Israelis are pointing towards, for it's quite true that the war on Iraq now has even less justification than Israel's assault on Gaza. They talked of the "shock and awe" of the initial "surprise" attacks on the police and Hamas security officials, and doubtless they would like Hamas to be seen as the Islamic State of Iraq is in that country. You could at least however see the motives for attacking Iraq, whether it was to remove the supposed threat from WMD, to overthrow a tyrant that had been subjugating his people for decades, or to gain control of the country's oil, as being either somewhat noble or at the very least either defensible or achievable, as indeed the initial removal of Saddam Hussein was. The same cannot be said for the attack on Gaza. It won't stop the rocket fire without agreeing to the lifting of the siege, it won't turn the people of Gaza against Hamas, and it probably won't help either Ehud Barak or Tzipi Livni to win the election and keep the Labour/Kadima coalition in power. Just as we are now horrified by the spilling of blood in Iraq, it has to be hoped that eventually both sides in the conflict on Gaza will come to feel the same nausea, and reject the hate that both sides push. Before that though, the killing has to first stop.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009 

Time to boycott Israel.

The above is what the Palestinians of Gaza have now been living with for 17 days. Presumably a "bunker busting" bomb, which the United States only very recently sold Israel, the ostensible target is supposedly the smuggling tunnels out of Gaza into Egypt. Those tunnels, which do smuggle weapons, were also helping to keep Gazans alive by bringing in fuel, food and other essential products which were either in short supply or blocked from entering the Strip by the Israelis. If the blockade is not lifted and the tunnels are successfully destroyed, the people of Gaza will suffer more once this is over than before.

There were around 60 air-strikes on the Strip on Monday night/Tuesday morning, not all probably of the same horrifying, shocking power as that one but undoubtedly more than enough to utterly destroy countless buildings and the humans that may well have been inside them. One such strike targeted a Christian Aid health clinic that contained hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of medical equipment, desperately needed in Gaza. The attack was not a mistake, but completely deliberate: the owners were telephoned 15 minutes before and told to get out, along with the family that lived above it. Why an ordinary home and clinic were methodically chosen and given the OK to be destroyed is a question that will probably never be answered.

What is becoming clear is that as Israel repeatedly ignores calls for a ceasefire, the anger and reaction to the offensive in Gaza continues to grow. Perhaps most indicative of the realisation by many that first isolating a population, starving them and then finally subjecting them to a "shock and awe" style bombing for over two weeks is not how civilised democracies behave is that even the mainstream US press is beginning, however cautiously, to give space to those criticising Israel. The Wall Street Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch, even gave over column space in its notoriously right-wing comment pages to a piece by George Bisharat which had the headline "Israel is committing war crimes". In a session only an hour-long after a statement by David Miliband, in which he seemed to have mixed up Hamas and Israel, having said that "Hamas have shown themselves over a number of years to be murderous in word and deed", whilst Israel was "a thriving democratic state with an independent judiciary", apparently having missed that two of the three Arab political parties were banned yesterday, while under the cover of the war on Gaza hundreds of protesters have been arrested and many of them indicted for expressing their views, MPs beyond the usual suspects spoke out against the attacks, with Sir Patrick Cormack declaring himself "ashamed of Israel" after previously being one of its friends, while Ming Campbell asked if "any other democratic state were behaving in that way, would we not by now be considering what other economic and diplomatic steps were available to us?"

Previously, the talk of boycotts, arms embargoes and other measures were made either by trade unions that wanted academic boycotts, boycotts I would have opposed as counter-productive and unlikely to have any real effect, or by left-wing groups that likewise have been repeatedly condemned and ignored. These are though, and now should be start to be considered as real, legitimate options that can be used against what is incredibly close to becoming a rogue state, completely unconcerned by and apparently beyond international opinion. Let's be clear: it is only by an absolute miracle and the almost unbelievable work of the otherwise collapsing health infrastructure in Gaza that only around 970 have been killed so far, with over 4,000 injured. Of that 4,000, hundreds if not more are going to have suffered amputations and other horrific injuries, to the extent where they will be disabled for the rest of their lives, if indeed they manage to survive. The boy in the top image was blinded, apparently by white phosphorus. 40% of the 970 are women and children, with a good percentage of the rest non-fighters or police officers who were deliberately targeted in the first couple of days of attacks. As Gerald Kaufman said in parliament, if Hamas had killed 970 Israelis in just over two weeks, the response of the international community and our own government would have been rather more damning that it has been up till now, even considering that our response has been more biting and quicker than it was during the Lebanon war when we openly colluded with the US and Israel in delaying talks for a ceasefire.

Tomorrow's Guardian leader considers the issue head on, another sign of just how seriously thoughts of potential boycotts and other direct action are being considered by the mainstream. Its main suggestion is that Israel's ambassador's presence should be requested by David Miliband, to show just how high feeling is running within government vis-a-vis his country's Gaza policy. It concludes by mentioning the other options, describing them as "not all appealing, nor should they be yet necessary", which is far from suggesting that they should be immediately dismissed. We know of course that hardly any of these things, even a request to see Ron Prosor, are likely to be taken. After all, if what Israel is doing in Gaza constitute war crimes, or a crime of aggression, where would that leave what we ourselves, in partnership with the United States, have visited on Iraq for what's now approaching 6 years, a war which Miliband and Brown both voted for? We don't even have the justification that Iraq had been firing rudimentary rockets into our territory; the best we could come up with, ignoring the fatuous argument regarding the prior UN resolutions, would be that Iraq did have some missiles that breached their agreements regarding weapons, but which were being destroyed by the UN weapons inspectors. That is almost certainly partly the reason why the criticism of Israel has not been as harsh as it was towards Russia over last summer's war with Georgia, where it was apparently felt we had more of a free ride, regarding Russia's authoritarian turn and rigged elections.

If however the government is unwilling to act, not even for instance imposing an arms embargo on Israel as suggested by Nick Clegg at the very least temporarily, then individually we should be prepared to either boycott Israeli produce or repeatedly demonstrate against what is being done by a supposed democratic state against a people as a whole. We need to be clear that Israel is not an apartheid state, although it is certainly approaching it, that it is not yet instituting a genocide on Gaza, and that comparing Israel to the Nazis is both ahistorical and deeply insulting, even if understandable in the circumstances. We should however be equally clear that as a country its treatment of the Palestinians is now so unbearable that it has placed itself outside the boundaries of civilised nations, and that until it changes its behaviour, we will impose personal sanctions upon it. Israel needs to know that even if other governments are not turning away from it as a result of such murderous cynicism, individuals and their businesses will.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009 

Over 50,000 protest against Israel's murderous cynicism.

Today's was a huge demonstration. By my entirely unscientific method of pure guesswork, I would estimate 50,000+ at the least, possibly even the 100,000 which the Stop the War Coalition are claiming. It was certainly bigger than the second Lebanon march two years ago, which again at max may well have been 50,000.

Unlike then, the planning behind today's march seems to have been the main problem behind some of the trouble which took place, combined with a small minority of hot-heads whom were out to cause trouble. Clearly the StWC and the others behind it weren't expecting the numbers which came, and as also suggested by their appeals for stewards, there simply weren't enough of them to keep it under control or to help those unfamiliar with London with where to go. I got to Speaker's Corner about 12:05, and the park was still continuing to fill when the march finally got under way at around 13:45, although it may have been later. It was all well and good having speakers both before and after the march, but hardly any of those prior to it getting under way had anything beyond platitudes to offer, with the exception of the rapper whose name I missed who spoke/rhymed last. Getting the march under way first, then holding the speeches over for the rally afterwards would have been a better idea.

The anger was however palpable throughout. One thing I'm more than happy to report is that I did not hear one chant throughout the day in support of Hamas; although, on the other hand, there was little criticism of them either. There was as reported last week a few Hizbullah flags, and also some black flags with Arabic script (a couple of white ones also), which I'm always uncertain about regarding what they're supporting or representing. Hopefully some of the shitty photographs I took while clambering on various things give some idea of the numbers of the crowd and just how far back they stretched, especially considering I was some way back from the front. Most amusing here was a hastily parked police motorbike which was quickly draped with a couple of banners and placards, with dozens taking photos of it.

While the news reports are focusing on the trouble outside the Israeli embassy itself, some also flared outside a building that some of us were under the impression was the Israeli embassy or at least something connected with it. A couple of people had clambered onto the walls and were busy waving flags, while the police had congregated underneath. Whether it was simply those spoiling for a fight taking it upon themselves to start trouble, or those with the impression that it was the embassy and so started throwing broken placards and shoes, the police quickly called in their colleagues in riot gear, but not before a couple of officers at least had been hit square in the face with eggs, with others flecked with what looked like red paint. If anything they were very restrained, but they did rush us on a couple of occasions, while a couple of firecrackers/fireworks were also thrown. I was uncertain whether it was the embassy, until a steward did finally turn up with a megaphone telling everyone that the embassy was further on and things broke up.

As the BBC have reported, some of the trouble outside the embassy itself was purely because of the crush, with it getting distinctly uncomfortable, the side streets blocked off and riot police from the beginning throughout the area, the pavement itself apparently off limits. Again there were some hot-heads pushing the barriers back from the beginning, but for the most part things were far more jovial up here, with shoes thrown inside the embassy to great cheers. The biggest though went to the person who attached a Palestinian flag to a number of balloons, which swiftly flew into the grounds before getting trapped in a nearby tree, blowing in the slight breeze and which will hopefully be stuck there for quite some time, a permanent reminder that as was chanted throughout, we will never let Gaza die. Things were only then slightly spoiled by the great moron Galloway, who said that parliament should be turned into a battlefield and that Israeli shops in the bigging shopping malls should be picketed and potentially closed down by protesters at the rally afterwards, but for the most part it was an incredibly encouraging day with only minor scuffles and idiots marring it. You somehow doubt that tomorrow's demonstration by the Board of Deputies of British Jews will be even a tenth of today's size, as it should be. It will have also hopefully have shown the strength of feeling to our own politicians, who have been almost entirely muted in their criticism.

Complete directory of all photographs taken, many very shitty, full res, is here.

Also see Lenin's various posts.

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Friday, January 09, 2009 

Plea for peace.

From the second that the United States abstained from voting on the UN security council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, Israel knew that it had a completely free ride to continue with its onslaught in the Gaza Strip. Forget that according to Ehud Olmert, Hamas's firing of rockets this morning, when Israel had been bombing the strip all through the night, showed that the UN ceasefire was "unworkable"; the unavoidable message sent from the United States was that its surrogate could continue to hammer the Palestinians for at least a few more days yet.

All the messages coming from the US at the UN was that it was going to vote for the resolution and had overcome its objections to the various drafts which had been circulated. It's impossible to know exactly why they decided at the last moment to abstain, although Reuters suggest it was because Condoleezza Rice made the mistake of calling Bush prior to the vote. Their excuse was that they first wanted to see what happened vis-a-vis the Egyptian mediation efforts, but after a day of continuing carnage and further apparent polarisation it's difficult to see what can be achieved there.

Neither Hamas nor Israel seem to have an apparent end game in sight. Israel's actions so far, despite killing over 800 Palestinians, destroying countless supposed smuggling tunnels, and turning a distinct minority of the Gaza strip into rubble, has not even began to break the back of Hamas, who continue to fire dozens of rockets into Israel every day. Hamas is calculating that the longer it manages to hold out, the more likely that it claim to have successfully resisted the IDF, and potentially extract the ceasefire conditions which it wants, which is the lifting of the effective Israeli blockade which stayed in place despite the previous agreement between the two. For the moment the people of Gaza, despite bearing the brunt of the assault, have not blamed Hamas, or at least have not publicly. The longer the bombardment continues however, the more likely it will be that the civilians themselves will, if not now, perhaps later decide that Hamas has paid not with its own blood but with the blood of its people instead.

In launching the assault on Gaza, it was apparent from the beginning that the thinking of the Labour-Kadima coalition was firmly on upcoming election, now less than 5 weeks away. While the poll ratings for both have at least temporarily increased, they cannot depend on them staying at those levels, especially if they are forced into a ceasefire with Hamas still able to fire rockets into Sderot, even if not able to reach the bigger cities which it has managed during the conflict. It's apparent that Hamas cannot inflict the sort of casualties on the IDF which Hizbullah managed during the 2006 war, and so there's likely to be little pressure on the human cost score, the majority of the Israeli public more than apparently not caring a jot for the Palestinian death toll. The cynicism with which the attack was decided upon, where life is considered expendable for the goal of staying in power, says much about the real attitude towards the civilians that Israel claims time and again not to be targeting.

Two weeks on, and the complete futility of the whole exercise seems more alarming than before. Hamas talks tough but can't even begin to follow through on its promises, while Israel knows full well that even if it does succeed in disarming Hamas or destroying the organisation in Gaza, which is most unlikely, that another, potentially even more radical group or party will emerge in its place. The only solution is direct negotiations with Hamas, where both sides will have to make painful concessions, but for the moment the indiscriminate slaughter and the crushing tyranny of the occupation, combined with the casual confiscation of land and building of illegal settlements looks set to continue. Such intransigence only encourages protest, however potentially pointless, which is why tomorrow's protest outside the Israeli embassy needs to be as large as possible. Peace is possible, but not while both sides bomb and rocket in the supposed name of it.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009 

Defending the indefensible.

It takes a lot for the Red Cross to criticise anyone; they generally don't because they know that doing so makes it less likely that will be allowed to work unhindered. It's therefore out of character for them to directly accuse of Israel of failing to meet their obligations under international humanitarian law, but from the truly shocking story they tell you can understand why:

On the afternoon of 7 January, four Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) ambulances and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) managed to obtain access for the first time to several houses in the Zaytun neighbourhood of Gaza City that had been affected by Israeli shelling.
The ICRC had requested safe passage for ambulances to access this neighbourhood since 3 January but it only received permission to do so from the Israel Defense Forces during the afternoon of 7 January.

The ICRC/PRCS team found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses.

In another house, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team found 15 other survivors of this attack including several wounded. In yet another house, they found an additional three corpses. Israeli soldiers posted at a military position some 80 meters away from this house ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do. There were several other positions of the Israel Defense Forces nearby as well as two tanks.

"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

Large earth walls erected by the Israeli army had made it impossible to bring ambulances into the neighbourhood. Therefore, the children and the wounded had to be taken to the ambulances on a donkey cart. In total, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team evacuated 18 wounded and 12 others who were extremely exhausted. Two corpses were also evacuated. The ICRC/PRCS will recover the remaining corpses on Thursday.

The ICRC was informed that there are more wounded sheltering in other destroyed houses in this neighbourhood. It demands that the Israeli military grant it and PRCS ambulances safe passage and access immediately to search for any other wounded. Until now, the ICRC has still not received confirmation from the Israeli authorities that this will be allowed.

Coincidentally, today CiF gave Alan Dershowitz house room to blame Hamas for absolutely everything that has happened in Gaza. According to him, not just are the deaths at the UN school Hamas's fault and Hamas's only, but also we can't trust the numbers of women and children killed, because Hamas has used both in the past as terrorists. Here then are some more terrorists that Israel was completely right to take no chances with:

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