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Labour Logic

“Oh Labour, if you were only clearly more right wing, pandered even more to business and loudly and proudly boasted about your appalling record in the middle east then I would definitely vote for you” is probably not an inner monologue that many had to battle with when not ticking the Labour box on their ballot paper last Thursday. Yet for some astonishing reason top ranking Labour members seem to think that returning to the good old days of Blairiteism (is that a real word?) is the answer to all the parties problems. Really Alan Johnson? REALLY? You think those of us who have stopped voting Labour have done so because your just not quite like the Tory party enough these days?

I speak only for myself here and possibly for the few people I have discussed this topic with who hold similar sentiments to myself, but the Labour government’s actions and narratives under Blair and the continuing narratives of austerity and cuts are exactly the reason I don’t see myself ever voting Labour ever again and I would imagine that many feel the same. The promises of returning (would it actually be returning, how much real change has the party gone through since Blair?) to a position that drove me and possibly many others away from the party would hardly seem to be the sensible answer. Whether Labour will ever win back the many seats they have lost in Scotland for instance is to be seen, however it would seem very unlikely that a dedication to austerity, pandering to big business and carrying out policies that Thatcher would be proud of will be the way to win those Scottish votes back from people who have chosen to put their faith in a party that campaigned on the grounds of being “progressive” and anti-austerity.

That said, I don’t think there is much Labour could do to win back my vote and I know some others feel the same.  For me, Labour has lost its significance, it no longer serves its purpose. Myself and others may be wrong, but the party has managed to project its self as a party that is far more comfortable having meetings with wealthy lobbyists than it is engaging in dialogue with ordinary people. It seems a party that serves the interest of the few, it seems a party that is happy to open the doors of privatization to education and the NHS, it seems a party that is happy to ignore millions of people protesting an illegal war, it seems a party that is happy to engage in the current anti-immigration, xenophobic and Islamaphobic narratives of UK politics, it seems a party that fails to offer an alternative to austerity, ultimately it seems a party that fails to be significantly different from the other mostly poor options currently on offer.

I suppose what I am saying here is, whilst the idea of ‘returning’ to the days of New Labour is ridiculous enough, whatever you lot decide to do as a party will probably never persuade me and many others like me to vote for you again. But the engagement and dialogue that smaller parties like the SNP, the Greens (and regrettably some far right parties like UKIP) and others are managing to do excites many of us and whilst they may not provide all the answers and may yet disappoint, you already have.


Brand – Not Part of the Club

Brand imageThe inevitable has happened, the media have lined up in their droves in order to lambaste and undermine Russell Brand and the ideas he discussed in his essay for the New Statesman and within his entertaining interview with Paxman – who’d of thought it?

The reaction of some in the media was to be completely expected, however something that I had not considered (how, I have no idea) was the fervent attacks he has received from the so called ‘left’. Now, I completely understand Russell Brand is problematic. His record of misogyny is a monumental obstacle to his progressive credentials in its self. However, that does not completely undermine the radical ideas he has discussed of late. And that is what he has done, discussed them. He hasn’t imposed them, he hasn’t forced them down the throats of progressives, he hasn’t kicked teenagers up and down the country until they yield to his Stalinist inspired might. He has used his influential platform to project ideas and discussions that have been taking place in the workplaces, homes, rallies, meetings, pubs, cafes across the country and around the globe. He has shone a light on these discussions and given them much needed publicity.

Now, you would think this would be something that would please those who have been discussing them. You would think that those so called progressives who work in the media, who work in places of influence and who may have been working hard in order to further the discussion and eventual realisation of a society in which people are put before profit would be happy with Brand’s highlighted exchanges. But you see there lies the problem, Brand got the credit, they never.

The left has long been the vanguard of truth and as I said in a discussion on twitter last week, the truth is not for public discussion, unless that is – you’re the one getting the credit for saying it. It all reminds me of the great Tony Benn’s famous speech about a boy falling down the well and people in the village throwing a piece of rope down for him to climb back up, each one not quite being long enough – resulting in the boy shouting back up ‘tie your ropes together’. We’ve all probably heard it, we’ve all probably cheered as he said it. But we also knew straight away that the likely hood of ‘prominent lefts’ or many of the factions that make up ‘the left’, changing their approach of waving their ropes in the air as high as they fucking can in the blind hope that one day someone will notice theirs (whilst lambasting everybody else for being so crass as to do the same) was about as likely as that boy getting out of the well before you heard Tony’s next speech.

As I said in my last article, I don’t think Russell Brand is trying to be some sort of leader of the left or the next Che Guevara (although it would make the T-shirt sales easy given his likeness). Brand’s intentions for me were to force these issues into the mainstream for  people to be inspired by. Left wing politics has been completely missing from mainstream discussion for far too long and this opportunity should be pounced on and fostered in a progressive and dialectic way. Those involved in progressive movements should be out engaging people and discussing these ideas, transforming them with people within their own contexts.

Apparently though, Brand does not have all the answers, so we should completely dismiss him. But I would worry if he did. Brand offers a rallying point, somewhere for discussion to begin on a much larger and public scale. What these so called progressive thinkers and writers offer is more of the same, ‘keep calm carry on’ – voting works apparently, look at all those who voted for minimum wage in the UK and Obama care in the US – but what about all those who voted for the closure of Guantanamo, all those who voted for the scrapping of University fees (never mind the problems with minimum wage and the fact ‘Obama Care’ still can’t be accessed)? Yes, existing elites may offer scraps from the table and their mechanisms of power such as the media will continue to remind us of their great generosity. But the truth is, people are going hungry in a world full of wealth and the current system is what supports that reality. Great change is needed and taking opportunities to discuss how to achieve that should be taken with both hands.

Yes, we should ‘discuss’ progressively the difficulties of some of his arguments in the process of transformation and yes we should be highlighting the problems of ignoring Brands well documented misogyny. But, we should also be using whatever platforms we have to continue to push these issues into mainstream discussion, not using our influence as a supposedly progressive columnist to cut them down in order to appeal to the populist thought that Brand does not have the right because ‘he’s not part of the club’.

Russell Brand, the media and the desire to discredit

BrandSo, it was bound to happen. After Russell Brand’s excellent and entertaining interview following his superb editorial in the New Statesman, including his entertaining and thought provoking essay, the media is clambering to discuss him in the light of some sort of ‘new leader of the left’ e.g. “Could Russell Brand stop Clowning around and be Britain’s Beppe Grillo” blah blah etc. etc.

This was to be completely expected. In a world in which personality politics is the norm, Brand’s radical utopian vision of a world shaped by its whole population through a mixture of chaos, dialectical relationships and a new real and contextual ethos of spirituality in order to create a reality in which the existence of people and the whole planet can be salvaged from the dire consequences it faces now, has been reduced to the endeavours of one man. One man who readily admits (as any sane man should) that he does not have all the answers.

How convenient it is then, for the existing elite and their mechanisms of power that the radical ideas that Brand has formed, through his own intellectual endeavours and the realities in which he has lived, can be condensed to only carry significance with him. As a celebrity, Brand will probably understand more than most that the good and bad times can come and go as quick as the each other and that todays media darlings are almost assured to be dropped and smeared tomorrow taking all meaning and significance for what they stood for and believed with them.

These utopian, radical ideas that Brand has discussed (non of them intrinsically new, but still yet relevant and beautifully executed) do not belong exclusively to Brand as the media will endeavour to portray. Nor do they belong only to the radical scholars, supposed leaders of the left, or the kids of London, Liverpool etc who rioted in 2011 (who Brand discusses within his essay), the student demonstrators who took to the streets in their tens of thousands or to me or to you. They belong to every disenchanted individual on the planet, every person who struggles and who has become disillusioned with the status quo of global politics. These are our ideas, these are our grievances and dreams for the future, to be discussed, shared and transformed and I believe that is how Brand intended them to be.

The political elite and the media will be happy to run with Brand as the ‘new messiah’ of the left for as long as it suits them, then will seek to discredit him when they feel it bests suits and with that they will hope the progressive ideas that he shares. The only way of stopping that is through the ownership of ideas being taken by us all so that they can not be homogenised and controlled in the way the political powers wish.

But to the question of whether Brand could be the new leader of the revolution? Possibly I suppose, but probably not, but I don’t think he’s trying to be either.


The journey from Nablus in the north of the West Bank to Hebron can be breathtaking. The rolling hills, mountains and valleys filled with Olive trees seem to go on and on at times and are truly beautiful. The journey however is seen to take much longer than it should. When driving through the valleys it becomes quickly apparent the reason for why this is the case. Perched on the top of what seems almost every hill and mountain between Nablus and Hebron are Israeli settlements, settlements which under International Law are deemed illegal.

The larger settlements such as Ma’ael Adummim which rest on the hilltops surrounding East Jerusalem are the reason why the journey takes so long. As the so called ‘security wall’ or ‘apartheid wall’ surrounds these settlements cutting deep inside the West Bank territories, denying Palestinians access and forcing any movement to divert around the settlements and wall for long distances. These settlements are worrying enough in terms of size, imposing nature and their negative contribution to the ‘negotiations’. However during the drive south it was the continuing sight of both smaller established settlements and outposts that provided the greater feeling of a bleak future. These small settlements and outposts (seen as illegal by Israeli government, however provided with logistical and military support from it) surround the hilltops of villages and towns and gather close to the larger settlements. Contributing to the web like makeup of a West Bank map, in which groups of settlements are established close to each other and begin to expand, eventually joining together and cutting off swathes of land denying Palestinians access to their homes, agricultural land and freedom of movement.

I have written about the violent effects of settlements within the West Bank in past blogs and I wish to convey that not all settlers are violent. However settlements as an ideology and a practice themselves can be seen to be so. They take away land once owned, worked and lived on by others and are often taken by force. Once established they take up elevated positions high on hilltops overlooking Palestinian villages and towns and often surrounding Palestinian cities. Coupled with the constant Israeli military jet ‘fly overs’ which often create sonic booms over the cities (also illegal under International Law), and the checkpoints throughout the West bank, they play a significant role in the psychological warfare that is carried out daily in these territories. They are a constant physical reminder of the occupation and a source of contention between Palestinians and Israelis. Whilst I felt I had come to understand the reality of settlements well over the last six months, I was duly reminded of how little I know and understand when finally arriving in Hebron.

It is difficult to speak of anything in this region without historical context. In Hebron as in much of the Palestinian territories there has been a presence of Jewish and other faith communities amongst the majority Muslim community for centuries. The narrative of the Zionist community in Hebron now speaks of this historical reality being played out within the context of discrimination and abuse towards the Jewish communities. The polar narrative of this from some in the Muslim community in the city describes of a time when both communities lived together in complete harmony. However Incidents of brutality and murder towards the other can be heard from both sides historically. In the early 20th century tensions between the two communities were growing, during a time of increased immigration of European Jews led by the Zionist movement. These tensions came to a horrific end, when rumours spread that Jews had killed Palestinians and took over the religious sites in Jerusalem. Sixty seven people were killed by a crowd of Palestinians in Hebron with the survivors being evacuated by the British.

After the 1967 war however Hebron along with the rest of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan heights was occupied by Israel. This saw Jewish settlers move ‘back’ to the city, the majority of whom where American born. The settler’s historical accounts speak of ‘returning’ to the city after being driven out by the Palestinian Muslims. What is often missing from this historical account however are the stories of members of the Jewish community being hidden in Palestinian homes by Arab families in order to save them from the mob. What is also often missing from the Zionist accounts are atrocities carried out by themselves. Such as In 1994 a settler named Goldstein entered the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron and murdered 39 Palestinians and injured 100 during Friday prayers, his massacre only coming to an end when he ran out of ammunition and was over powered by survivors.

Historical context as said is important in this region, but it also must not be used as a tool to justify continued suffering. The historical narrative portrays competiveness for the ‘side’ who can best apply to themselves the tag of the victim. However this does not seem to suit the realities on the ground. As may be seen in the rest of this article, the daily events Hebron speak for themselves and can be seen to better represent the realities of suffering here and now within the city.

Hebron is a city split into two areas that of H1 which is under Palestinian Authority control and H2 which is under Israeli control. Walking around much of H1 except for the old city has a similar feeling of walking around any other Palestinian city such as Nablus except maybe for its size (Hebron is the biggest city in the West Bank). However entering H2 and the old city has a very different feel. A group of us had arranged to meet our guide at the start of Shuhadda Street. This street was once the main thoroughfare through the city connecting east and west, but is now the heart of H2 and is where many of the 400 settlers who are protected by around 4,000 Israeli military live. On the wall is sprayed ‘Welcome To Apartheid Street’. A row of concrete blocks across what was once the entrance to the street now mark the border between areas H1 and H2. The street is then again blocked with an Israeli checkpoint consisting of a prefabricated cabin with automated doors and a metal detector inside, with the whole structure surrounded by barbed wire. Behind stand a number of armed Israeli soldiers who check the ID’s of those passing through and a large imposing military vehicle parked right behind it. This blocked road causes diversions of up to 20km around the settlement inside H2.

After passing through the checkpoint and having our ID’s checked we were greeted with what can only be described as some kind of post apocalyptic scene. In which a long row of what was once houses and businesses lay empty and derelict. Our guide is Hashem Azzeh, a Palestinian man who still lives within H2. Throughout the course of the day it becomes increasingly clear that his life and indeed his family’s lives are continually intertwined with the effects of the breakup of the city, settlers and the wider occupation, giving him no time to consider little else. He informs us that H2 used to house up to around 160,000 Palestinians but that now that number has dwindled to around 45,000 with 1,800 shops now closed both in the H2 and the Old city. These numbers seem to be different to other conflicting sources which provide differing statistics with some being as low as only 30,000 residents in the first place, however regardless of the exact numbers the evidence of a once densely populated area now being deserted is incredibly apparent with the street leaving you with a feeling of standing in the middle of a mid western ghost town. The windows of the buildings are almost all smashed and the structures themselves severely damaged. Hashem explains how this once bustling street became the wasteland it is now after families and business owners where hounded and harassed by the settlers and the military, often facing threats and violence. Bussiness’s and service buildings where closed down by the military and bordered up, leaving many without work, amenities and access to health and education, forcing them to move.

Moving further down Shuhadda Street we quickly come to a military post at the side of the road. In front of us stands the Israeli settlement Beit Hadassah. To the right of us are a set of stairs that lead up the side of a hill to a walkway that pass’s the settlement from a distance. On the bottom of these stairs are blue and white markings. We are informed by our guide that this marks the point to which Palestinians can walk. All Palestinians who wish to gain access to their homes further down this street must climb the steep steps and divert around the settlement as they are not permitted to walk on the same street where the Israeli settlers live. Once up there Hashem begins to describe to us how Palestinian residents regularly suffer from violent attacks, abuse and harassment from settlers in the full view of Israeli military soldiers. Soldiers he says who are provided with weapons as ‘gifts’ from the settlers. He points out below a white van, with silhouettes of soldiers, tanks and military hardware on it. He explains that this van is not a military vehicle, but that it is in fact a settler vehicle with the words ‘Hebron Hospitality’ written on the side of the door. These vans are given to soldiers, used to transport their gifts and for whatever other purpose they may need them for.

As we continue to walk along the elevated walkway, diverting past the settlement. Hashem points out a tall building further down Shuhada Street. He explains to us that this building is a Beth Midrash – a Jewish teaching institute, however the building is actually built on top of what used to be a Palestinian school. He claims that many of the extreme settlers in the West Bank have studied there. As we walk on further we come to a primary school. Originally a girls only school, it is now a mixed school for around 170 students. It used to have around 300 girls in attendance but once families where hounded out of the area those numbers dropped to around 70. Teachers at the school are regularly stopped at the checkpoints and denied access to their place of work, in turn denying the pupils of their education. The main access to the school is now the walkway as the other stairs that lead from Shuhadda Street to the main entrance have now been blocked with large amounts of barbed wire. In order to protect the pupils and staff, the school has built large walls around to surround the building, which then had to be extended even higher with meshed wire as stones and other objects were still thrown over the wall.

Later on in the day we are shown a video of the young pupil’s, teachers and International observers being confronted outside the school on the elevated walkway by a group of young settler girls. In the full view of military and settler adults, these girls  shout verbal abuse at the teachers and pupils and then proceed to physically assault them, kicking and pushing both pupils and teachers alike. The group of teachers are then forced to hurriedly lead the school children away from the group along the walkway and down the stairs back onto Shuhadda Street. As they attempt to flee the pupils, teachers and observers are followed by the girls and also met by another group of youths at the bottom of the stairs who throw stones and other projectiles at them as they attempt to escape. When shown the video Hashem explains to us how this was not some ‘special’ occasion, but that these types of events happen regularly.

We continue walking around the diversion and come to the back of the school where below is a military base. Hasheem explains to us that the base used to be the Hebron main Bus station, he then looks to the bottom of the street we are standing on and begins to say how we should not go much further as settlers may attempt to cause trouble with us. As he says that an Israeli settler family walks across the T junction at the bottom of the street. I, and I assume the rest of the group don’t think much of it, but Hashem instantly says ‘see watch this’. The family then stopped, looked up the street and decided to come walking up towards us. A strange unnerving feeling could then be felt amongst the group (or at least I thought so). In which we where now caught in some sort of ‘standoff’ with a group of settlers consisting of what seemed to be parents and their young children (between around 8 & 18 maybe). Nothing happened, except the group starring at us and a few comments in Hebrew being muttered. However it seemed evident that the change in direction and the hostile glares where carried out just for our groups benefit. It was really unnerving, not because I exactly feared for my safety but that parents had purposefully sought out a confrontational situation in which their children would be involved. It must be said that Hashem and members of our group (including myself most probably) also played a part in this ‘standoff’. As ‘sides’ felt like they was taken and an ‘us against them’ situation arouse under such strange circumstances. I also got the unnerving feeling that our guide had somewhat relished the opportunity to show us such an event occurring too.

We then head back to the way we came and met a man at the bottom of the stairs whose house stands around 10 yards away from the military post and settlement. As we walk past the military post a young settler male in around his early 20’s is standing with 2 fully armed soldiers. All three stare at the group as we walk past. Walking at the back with a young Palestinian man from Nablus we are both spat at by the young settler. Realising we are about to stop outside the man’s house who we have come to meet, I tell my Palestinian friend to keep walking and ignore him. As we stand outside the man’s house shaking hands. The settler continues to abuse the group aiming most of his tirade at our Palestinian friend. With his middle finger raised high he continues to spit towards the group and shouts ‘fuck you’. As one of the group attempt to take a photograph of his actions he raises his hands in a mocking fashion as if to be holding a gun and repeatedly shouts ‘I will fucking kill you’. This happened whilst the two soldiers he is standing with do nothing except laugh and shake his hand.

The man who Hashem brought us to meet invites us into his house for tea and we are all glad to get off the street and away from the tirade of abuse and threats. Inside his house, we discover that our host is a member of the ‘Committee of National Justice’ and the ‘Equal Rights Association’ along with Hashem and other activists. The committee is currently working on a plan to occupy and fill the empty buildings in Shuhadda Street with Palestinians and is working on offering incentives to families to come back and re populate the area. The equal rights association works towards teaching children and parents about their civil rights in order to be better prepared to deal with their current situation.

Whilst sitting in the house and discussing these matters however I was beginning to struggle to fully take in the conversations that were going on around me. I felt stuck sitting there with my head in my hands struggling to grasp what I had seen and heard already, with question after question in my head seeming to be unanswerable and only leading on to more questions. How does this happen? How does it continue to happen? How do you live like this, whether a Palestinian or a settler? How do you bring your kids up in this environment? How do you put an end to what seems unavoidable hatred? Why stay here? Why wouldn’t you just move and forget it? I am very much of the mind of struggling and fighting for what you believe in, however how do you continue under these circumstances? But if you don’t what is the consequence for those who do stay and for the rest of the city/ territory? My head continued to spin, until our hosts little girl came into the room and brightened things up with a big smile, handshakes and a ‘marhaba’ (hello) for everybody. This small relief however was quickly taken away as it is explained by Hashem and our host’s friend (who is blind in one eye from an attack by a settler which resulted in a stone striking him in the eye) that the young girl was recently almost kidnapped by settlers. Standing outside the house she was snatched by a settler woman and was only not taken due to the efforts of Palestinian residents who intervened and managed to pull the girl back. Is there ever a day of ‘normality’ for these children and families?

We thank our host for his hospitality and for sharing his stories and tea with us and say our goodbyes. We then head back towards the checkpoint and up a side street on the left which climbs up the hill. At the top is another settlement and some Palestinian houses. At the foot of the settlement is Hashem’s house. The original access to his house has been blocked off by the building of the settlement. In order for Hashem and his family to access their house, they must scramble over walls and gardens of abandoned houses. As we stand at the back of his property looking up at what used to be the only access he had up until relatively recently, Hashem tells us the story of when his father died. The access at the back of the house was a small hole high up in his back wall that he and his brother had to climb down carrying his father’s body. They then had to scramble over the dirt track, over walls and gardens down onto the main road. There is no Ambulance access to H2 so they attempted to make their way out of the area, however they was stopped by Israeli soldiers on the road and detained for more than an 1 ½ hours. Hashem then informs us that whilst being detained on the road, the soldiers saw that his father had a watch on his wrist. One of the soldiers using the butt of his gun smashed the watch, breaking bones in his dead father’s hand. In return for promising to not place a formal complaint Hashem was provided with slightly better access to his home, which still consists of scrambling over walls however the climb is now somewhat more gradual. Hasheem says he still submitted a formal complaint but to no avail.

We make our way to Hashem’s house where the settlement behind rises high above his property provided an unnerving imposing feeling. He points out to us the small part of his garden in which grows several olive trees. He informs us that this land was taken from him by the settlement in 2003. He won the rights to harvest his olives on this land in 2007, however fails to do so due to fear of violence. He later shows us a video in which he is seen to attempt to harvest his olives along with international observers. He is quickly confronted by settlers and verbally and then physically abused by a particularly aggressive female settler with the support of her male community members. Above us hang grape vines, however the grapes and leaves are of a brown and yellow colour and are evidentially dying or dead. Hashem accuses his settler neighbours of spraying his grapes  with poison.

Before we enter the house Hashem explains to us that the Israeli military regularly enter his house by force. He tells us how his wife, he and other members of the family have been attacked during these raids as well as raids from settlers. He explains how on two occasions his wife was beaten when pregnant, and as a result of her injuries and trauma tragically lost her unborn infants. He tells how in 2008 settlers raided houses across the H2 area in retaliation to a settler girl being shot, something Hashem questions. Settlers rioted through the H2 area and in full view of Israeli soldiers who stood by and watched, smashed windows, kicked down doors, destroyed property and violently assaulted Palestinian residents. This included a 97 year old man whose arms were broken whilst attempting to take refuge in his house, Hashem’s wife who lost her unborn child and Hashem who lost his teeth when hit in the face with the butt of a gun. On a separate occasion Hashem explains how his nephew was attacked by settlers outside their house. He was apparently captured, had rocks forced into his mouth which were then violently thrashed around inside smashing his teeth.

We spend a little time in his house and meet his amazing wife and children. He shows us the many videos he has of the atrocities that he has managed to film in H2 and speaks of his dealings with Israeli military, settlers and some NGO’s (Non Governmental Organisations) with whom he has grievances with for as he sees it not properly portraying the realities of life for Palestinians living in H2 and the Old city. His wife is a local artist and paints some great images of Palestinian life, which the family sell to support themselves. Hashem then takes us to his brother’s house which is still on his property. We scramble our way over the back wall up a ladder and around some trees. We quickly notice standing on top of the house however is an Israeli soldier. On the roof of the house there is a small military post complete with a look out post and military camouflage netting. The soldier attempts to deny Hashem and the rest of us access to the house proclaiming that the property is not Hashm’s and he must leave. Hashem explains to him that he has the key to the house and that it is his property. The soldier threatens to call the police and Hashem suggests to him that he may not have seen him before because he (the soldier) must be new and that he ‘can ask anybody who I am and whether I own this house’. The soldier replies ‘I will’ and goes off to presumably call a senior on his radio. Hashem shows us into the house and points out how all of the windows are protected by metal shutters to keep out projectiles thrown by settlers.

We make our way to the old city, leaving Shuhadda Street by the checkpoint we entered through. Upon leaving, the soldiers wish us a good day and say goodbye followed by a ‘fuck you’ as we finally pass. Upon getting to the other side of the checkpoint I am over whelmed with a strange feeling of relief, as the tension of being in H2 is lifted and a feeling of relative safety returns. We make our way through the beautiful old city of Hebron. It is a Friday so is not bustling with the busy shoppers it would normally which is a shame however it is a great opportunity to admire the amazing old buildings, coved shops and narrow streets. As had been the case through our short Hebron experience any admiration or feeling of normality is quickly taken away when we notice the famous metal caging above the old city main walkway. This net was put in place to protect the Palestinian residents using the old city from the relentless barrage of projectiles thrown down upon them from the settlements which lurk over the old city streets from the back of Shuhadda Street. On top of the metal cage, lay countless amounts of large rocks, furniture, bottles, garbage and pretty much anything you can think of that have been thrown down and thankfully been caught on the net. Despite this the residents of Hebron who use the Old city continue to be at risk as settlers have taken to throwing ‘dirty water’ (urine and other filthy liquids such as dishwater) down on the people as this will not be stopped by the metal netting.

The old city has had many of its shops forcefully closed by Israeli military. With those that have been closed being clearly marked with a red dot of paint on their doors and a metal bar welded across them. The streets are filled with CCTV cameras hanging from the settlement above. Military posts and soldiers stand guard fully armed on top of the settlements looking down on the Old city and the people who walk along its streets. At the end of the main street in the Old city past the old main square which is now cut off by a heavily armed Israeli checkpoint, is a large metal turnstile checkpoint much like the one at Qalandia. The large imposing turnstiles when the light turns green lead to the Ibrahimi mosque (the scene of the massacre in 1994). The mosque has been sub divided into two parts with half of the mosque now a Jewish synagogue. The mosque itself is heavily guarded with a checkpoint, with only so many Palestinian Muslims permitted to enter the mosque for prayers. The road to the right leads down to Shuhadda Street and is guarded by an Israeli checkpoint. The road splits into two, the smaller side for Arab Palestinians and the larger side for non Arab Palestinians. This segregation is evident throughout the whole of H2 and the old city, as Palestinians are denied their rights of movement in and around the settlement area. Large metal structures block off streets and markets that business’s once prospered on and people lived. Behind the structures lay mounds of scrap metal, garbage and disposed furniture. Largely out of view from the settlements but providing an imposing scar on the beauty of the Old city. Palestinians are told where they can and cannot walk and often have curfews forced upon them when the settlers decide to walk through the Old city. Resulting in Palestinians being forced into their homes and off the streets in order to provide ‘security’ for the settlers who then enter the city under heavy armed military gaurd.

We visit the Women’s Cooperative before leaving which is a group of amazing local women who hand make souvenirs of all sorts in order to support the families of Hebron. We then make our way back through the Old City after leaving the mosque area, back through the checkpoint and pass the military posts, blocked roads, Israeli soldiers, settlement and metal guarding above. We say our goodbyes to our guide and host and make promises in relation to his request to pass on the stories he has told us. We make our way to the Service station and board our taxi back to north to Nablus.

On leaving the city we pass the Israeli checkpoints one of which we are later stopped at and made to wait whilst all of our passports are checked. Living in Nablus I had been made aware of the suffering that had been inflicted on the people of the city during invasions at the times of the first and second intifada. Suffering that still continues to a relatively smaller degree in the villages and parts of the city (Israeli invasions to arrest Palestinians in the city including academics has been on a sharp increase since the prisoner swap a month ago). However Hebron is a startling reminder of the true horrors of a continued occupation. Throughout the journey home and days preceding I continued struggling to comprehend what I had witnessed, How does this happen? Where is the world’s media? Where is the International community? Who/what is going to put an end to this? What is to stop the Israeli military imposing these powers and conditions on the rest of the West Bank when the media’s attention continues to shift to Iran?

What worries me most however is the inhumanity of the situation and the horrific conditions in which children are being raised. How can the children from either communities growing up under these conditions grow to have compasion for others and reject hate, and what is the consequences of this for the next generation and the future of the city and region?


It is olive harvest season in Palestine and fears of not being able to carry out the collecting due to land seizures, road closures, violence and arrest are high. It would seem that these fears are well founded. In the months, weeks and days leading to the harvest hundreds of olive trees have been uprooted and dunams of land set a blaze by illegal Israeli settlers aided by the Israeli occupying forces in the areas surrounding Nablus and throughout the West Bank.

But it is not just the direct destruction of the agricultural land that is halting the harvest of the olives and denying many Palestinians of their only source of income. The village of Kafr Qaddum is a small village situated around 13 Kilometres outside Nablus. The village depends heavily on the agriculture industry and its links to Nablus and other cities for trade. However since 2004 the direct road to Nablus which has existed for over 300 years was closed by Israeli military due to so called ‘security reasons’. The road runs directly past one of the three illegal Israeli settlements that surround the village. Villagers explain however that the road ran close to the settlements for almost 20 years with very little incident. They continue to say how the villagers and settlers have never had much interaction and that the closing of the road was decided and enforced by the Israeli military. The road closure has seen the distance to reach Nablus from the village more than double. The village has no hospital or Doctor and relies very much on Nablus for health and emergencies. The village also depends on Nablus for schooling and work. The extra cost of the journey to Nablus is a huge burden on a village that already suffers the financial implications of an occupation. After the second intifada and construction of the Apartheid Wall and the restriction of Palestinian workers in Israel, Kafr Qaddum saw a rise of 75% in unemployment. In a bid to have the road opened again the village council has lodged a legal complaint and is attempting to fight the closure through the courts. However for the last 4 months the villagers have also held demonstrations on the road in order to collectively express their concerns and call for the road to be once again opened.

These demonstrations are often met with armed force from the Israeli military who stop the villagers from crossing the ‘red zone’ (a security buffer zone around the illegal settlements) through the means of firing tear gas and bullets at the villagers. In the first days of the Olive harvest Friday 7/10/11 after attempted negotiations with the Israeli military, farmers in the village of  Kafr Qaddum were told under no circumstances was they permitted to enter their fields to harvest their crop that day. The villagers were told that anyone entering the fields ‘would be shot at’ and that the villagers would not be able to return to their fields again if this order was not adhered too. The villagers decided to hold a small demonstration in protest to this decision. The demonstration on the part of the villagers was very peaceful from the start, with the elders of the village taking great care to ensure this. The demonstration was met by a large number of armed Israeli military who were situated around 100 yards behind a barbed wire fence they had erected in the middle of the road. The military, all wearing gas masks looked at any moment ready to fire tear gas and other weapons on the villagers often pointing these weapons towards the demonstration. The military also began to flank the village, appearing over the hilltops to the side of the protest again fully armed. The demonstrators took it upon themselves to attempt to defuse the situation by sitting on the floor of the road and expressing their demands of opening the road and allowing them to harvest through a megaphone. After a short while the villagers decided to end the demonstration in the hope that this would result in the Israeli military allowing them to harvest on the coming Sunday.

Orders to not harvest the olive trees in the last week have not been exclusive to Kafr Qaddum other villages around Nablus such as Qaryut and Azmut were blocked from harvesting on Friday 14/10/11. Other villages around Nablus and throughout the West Bank have suffered the same fate on different days. Attacks from settlers have also brought a halt to harvesting throughout the week. On Sunday 9/10/11 settlers attacked farmers from the village of Awarta with sticks and stones as they attempted to harvest their olives, with farming equipment also being stolen by the settlers. The following day Monday 10/10/11 settlers from the Elon Moreh settlement attacked villages from Azmut whilst attempting to harvest their olives. These two incidents are certainly not isolated as cases of settler violence since the harvesting has begun can be found throughout the West Bank.

In the last week the mainstream western media has seen fit to attribute some of its valuable airtime to the situation in this region. The prisoner swap of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who have been detained in Israeli jails for years for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been portrayed by the Israeli PR as the homecoming of a national hero, with little mention of the lives, conditions and reasons for detainment of the Palestinian prisoners discussed. The mainstream western media has been complicate in framing the story in this manner. The return of anyone who has been forcibly detained should be celebrated but context is needed in order to properly represent the story. Little has been said of the hundreds who are to be released with most media outlets framing the swap as between the Israeli government and ‘Hamas’. This is unsurprising as this is a formula typically followed. The portrayal of Hamas as nothing but a terrorist organisation and not the democratically elected political party that it is sees mainstream media outlets discuss attacks on Palestine, in this case the arrest and detention of hundreds of Palestinians, as somehow attacks on an organisation that is separate from its people. Under no terms would an attack on the UK ever be described as for example ‘airstrikes on Tory targets ’ or prisoner swap agreed with ‘Tory party’. This type of rhetoric, taken straight from Israeli PR, allows for the story to be framed in a humanitarian sense on the side of the Israeli soldier but not for the soon to be released Palestinian people. What is also missing from this story is the over 5,000 Palestinian prisoners that still remain languishing in Israeli prisons. Many of which are kept in solitary confinement. These prisoners for the last number of weeks have been on hunger strike, in protest to their status and the terrible conditions under which they are detained. These protests again have been largely ignored by mainstream media.

As already said, the release of any prisoner who has been detained under the circumstances that the people in this region find themselves is worthy of celebration. However the rate at which Palestinian people are being arrested and replacing those soon to be released can be seen as alarming. In just over a week in and around Nablus at least 11 people have been arrested and detained by Israeli military. At least one of these detained was a minor, a 17 year old medical student named Abbas, from the village of Kafr Qaddum. The young man was taken from his home in the early hours of Wednesday 5/10/2011, after Israeli military entered the family property unannounced. The soldiers after waking the family demanded everyone left the house and present their ID’s outside. After taking all ID’s and handing them back to Abbass’s parents and six younger siblings the soldiers kept Abbass’s and detained him. He was taken from the family home with no reason for the minor’s detention given. The family knew nothing of where Abbas was being kept for nearly six days. His father explained how Abbass had no political affiliation and that he had no time for such activities due to his studies. Much to the relief of Abbass and his family the 17 year old student was released a week after his detention. Another four men were taken from the village on the same night, another four men were taken from the village of Beita near Nablus on Saturday 8/10/11 and another two from Beita today 16/10/11. Many others just in the last week have been detained throughout the West Bank. Reasons given for these detentions usually consist of ‘…the men were taken for routine security questioning’.

This pattern of violence, land seizures, road closings, destroying of agricultural land, violence and arrest has seen the olive harvest become another factor in the hardship of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people who attempt to make a living for their families are faced with the economic difficulties of little job opportunities due to travel restrictions and permits, the cost of travel being hiked up due to road closures and diversions and the health risk of longer journeys to hospitals, violence from settlers and Israeli military and the daily risk of arrest. This all beggars the question, how does the Israeli government and its forces expect the Palestinian people to survive and live under these conditions and create a platform for stability and peace?

This suffering discussed coupled with the anti climax of the UN bid and the subsequent halting of a third of US aid to Palestine by the US congress (a punitive measure in retaliation to the Palestinian bid for statehood) which has already resulted in large numbers of job losses and will continue to do so in the future. Would seem to suggest that there is little consideration or care being attributed to how the Palestinian people are to make a living or live a life consisting of any sort of stability. Instead it would seem that they are expected to continue to live in such hardship and then be punished and condemned for any attempts to change and improve their situation.

UN Bid & Misplaced Rhetoric of Violence

This week the Palestinian Authority will take their bid to the UN Security Council to seek full membership of the UN for a recognised Palestinian state. Israel and its allies of course have opposed this, with the common line taken by Israel, the US and Israel’s other allies that it is not the right course of action and that direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials should take president (with Israeli allies presiding over the negotiations of course). Little is being discussed regarding Palestinian willingness to take part in such negotiations and how recent attempts to engage in such have been scuppered by Israel’s refusal to bring a halt to the expansion of their illegal settlements in the West Bank. However what is being discussed within mainstream media is the Israeli rhetoric of expected Palestinian violence in the coming days and months.

Israeli officials and spokespeople’s talk of violence towards Israel and its citizens can be seen to be designed to set an agenda of expectation amongst the international community and to provide further rhetoric for the move to full membership for Palestine to be denied. Being out here it would seem that the predictions are based on very little except maybe the expectation that eventually retaliation will occur. Speaking to locals their seems to be very little to no appetite for armed resistance to the oppressive and illegal occupation, but people do seem to have a great belief that the increase in settler and occupying forces violence towards the Palestinian people in recent months has been designed to invoke such a reaction.

My last Blog discussed the increase in settler and military violence within the West Bank. How agricultural land was being set alight by settlers with military support of the Israeli occupying forces, how water wells and homes were being destroyed by Israeli military – leaving thousands without water and hundreds homeless and how 3 young men had been killed within the space of two weeks in two separate incidents by Israeli military whilst invading the refugee camps of Al – Fara’a and Qalandia. This pattern of violence has in the time since my last blog continued and settler violence has actually increased. This could possibly be attributed to the Israeli governments ‘response’ to their own assumptions of Palestinian violence, being to train and arm settlers to ‘defend’ against and fight Palestinians in the coming days and months (See article: Providing the settlers with weapons and military training, who as I wrote in my last blog in recent months have burned agricultural land, attacked shepherds and beat international observers with metal crowbars and attacked villagers with stones, could be seen to not be a measure taken by a government who wishes to avoid violence. As can the response by the Israeli military after the tragic attack on a bus in Eilat in the south of Israel last month.

The attack on a bus near the Egyptian border resulted in the tragic death of at least 7 Israeli’s and many more injured. The attack however was quickly assumed to be the work of Palestinian militants from Gaza. With no group claiming responsibility and the alleged assailants followed illegally over the border into Egypt and gunned down along with reportedly 5 Egyptian Police by Israeli forces, no investigation into the attack to discover who was responsible was carried out. Instead within hours Israeli airstrikes were carried out on the Gaza strip, with the Israeli government and military acting outs its promise to retaliate with “full force”.  The airstrikes on the world’s most densely populated strip of land are reported to have killed at least 6 Palestinians including a leader of the popular committee and a 3 year old child. A coordinated raid on the cities of Hebron and Bethlehem and their surrounding towns and villages also took place the next day, with reports of up to 300 people being arrested. It was reported that this number included over 60 from one family and a 60 year old man who was arrested due to his son who was the target of the arrest not being home.

Settler and Israeli military violence around Nablus has increased and become geographically closer to the Palestinian Authority controlled city in recent weeks. The violence has consisted but not exclusively of; an unannounced invasion of Israeli military into the city of Nablus to ‘escort’ Israeli’s in the dead of night to a contested religious site, the destroying of at least 3 water wells,  the uprooting of over 500 Olive trees, the burning of agricultural land, a number of Palestinians being injured in numerous assaults by settlers, two Mosques being attacked with anti –Islamic slogans and Stars of David graffiti being sprayed across the walls inside and tyres being set alight inside one of the mosques effectively burning it out. Palestinian cars were also set alight in the same attacks and others.  The people of Qusra village were subjected to Israeli military storming the village on Friday (16/09/2011) injuring 11 Palestinians after settlers had assaulted the village and shot at least one Palestinian resident. Settlers also shot at a home in the village of Burin south of Nablus late on Sunday afternoon and in a separate incident on the same day settlers also attempted to raid the village of Awarta south of Nablus. Other incidents of harassment and violence can be seen to have taken place across the West Bank.

On the eve of the Palestinian Authority called demonstrations within the cities of the West Bank thoughts of the Palestinian people, certainly within Nablus, do not seem to be with the prospect of  Palestinian militant violence but with the prospect of violence from illegal Israeli settlers. This fear could be viewed as a legitimate one, not only because of the Israeli Governments policy of arming and training these settlers or the upsurge in violence already spoke of, but also because of the plans that armed settlers have to march on Palestinian cities tonight and over the coming days (See Article: Tomorrow thousands of Palestinians are expected to gather in the centre of Nablus and other cities after the Palestinian Authority called for its people to demonstrate peacefully in support of the UN bid.  The numbers that turn out tomorrow may provide an indicator for Palestinian peoples support for the move. However it may also be an indicator of the level of people’s fear of violence or indeed their defiance in the face of the threats they are faced with.

There would seem to be elements of scepticism of the bid from some Palestinians, however the issue of the bids pros and cons and its suitability for providing a more even platform for negotiations, or the possibility of it just solidifying the Palestinian Authorities control over the West Bank without much progress seem to be largely missing from media and public debate and are instead replaced with Israeli and US assumed rhetoric of Palestinian violence. The people of Nablus and the rest of the oPt whilst being concerned with the threat of violence from Israeli settlers and military also seem to be fearful as stated above, that the upsurge in violence against them may at some point evoke the reaction that Israel, with its metaphorical ‘poking of Palestinians with a stick’ seems to be seeking. As already said, there is very little appetite for a reaction to the violence and little means in which to carry it out. However there is also a feeling of, for how much longer can a largely unarmed population continue to live in such circumstances without some form of reaction. The danger of any such reaction however is that without the context of the incessant harassment, violence and humiliation that the Palestinian people suffer at the hands of Israeli settlers and military, which is clearly missing within mainstream media, it will be packaged as the evidence which Israel and its allies will use to show to the world that they were right all along. That Palestine is not ready for full UN membership and that its people must continue to live in servitude to an illegal Israeli occupation and its only hope of statehood can only come through direct negotiations in which it is to continue to have little leverage on which to negotiate favourable terms for its people. The coming days and weeks may be very important for the future of the region, it is hoped by many here that Israel’s step up in violence does not result in what seems to be its aim of escalation in order to scupper the Palestinian peoples chances of future self determination. Whilst the International community is busy considering whether or not to recognise Palestine as a state it could do well to not forget its responsibility to ensure that the people of Palestine are not forced to ponder such scenarios.
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Football, Finances and Everton F.C

So the whole world now knows it…Everton fans are at war with their board!

Last weekend saw the first ‘Blue Union’ meeting take place in Liverpool City centre. The Union, consisting of a number of different fan groups met in order to discuss their concerns with the Everton board, the financial constraints and what they see as the stagnation of the clubs ambitions. The meeting was deemed a great success, with such a big turnout at the meeting that many were turned away. As a result of the meeting public demonstrations outside Goodison Park have been arranged for the coming home games in order to further emphasise their demands. A statement from the Blue Union reads;

“In order to allow the CEO to concentrate on reducing costs, developing our own revenue streams and repairing relations with the fan-base, the board must now appoint a fully autonomous group of professionals who can effectively develop and implement a strategy to identify and sell the club to a buyer who can demonstrate an ability and desire to take the club forward on both a commercial and football level”

Whilst the turnout for those demonstrations may provide a more accurate indication to the size of this movement and also the discontent amongst the rest of supporters, it would seem that those involved with the Blue Union are at least very well organised. The amount of media coverage this week can be seen to demonstrate the group’s ability to organise themselves in such a way that has resulted in large amounts of column and air time space being attributed to their cause (also owing to the fact that there was no domestic football, something the group admittedly intended to exploit). To read comment sections on news feeds, also demonstrates how dedicated, determined and organised the people involved in this campaign are. Whilst this can be greatly admired and the dire financial situation at Goodison Park cannot be denied, the Blue Unions objectives do give me some cause for concern.

It is no secret that football has turned into a business, a business that has sky rocketed over the past 20 years since Rupert Murdoch’s ‘Sky’ has become involved with the sport and the creation of the Premier League. Many changes have taken place since then and also before to further push the game and indeed wider society to a more wealth accumulating machine. Changes to transfer regulations, new formulations of European competitions and changes to the makeup of the domestic competition as well as massive sponsorship deals and TV rights money being pumped into the game, has resulted in unimaginable wealth being accumulated by the sport. But where is it?

Popular consensus on this question tends to lead to players being paid too much money and the involvement of agents being the root cause of the financial downfall of many clubs certainly within the English game. A ‘documentary’ aired on BBC and hosted by ‘Sir’ Alan Sugar, saw much of the focus of the program being attributed to this very thing. Now it is obvious that in the context of society football players do get paid far too much, the average person will struggle to ever earn a salary of £40,000 or even £30,000 a year. However these players are earning that in a week and in many cases now much, much more than that. Nevertheless it would seem unrealistic to attribute all the blame to the pay rise phenomena, especially considering the huge amounts of revenue being accumulated by the English FA, other football associations and some clubs.

As is the case with all capital enterprises the wealth accumulation race will always inevitably result in monopolies, which will then dominate the markets and dictate its rules and direction (e.g. setting the standards for transfer fees, wages and lobbying football association for changes). The business of football is no different and the monopoly of the ‘the big four’ within the English game can be viewed as a shining example of that. Those who have benefited most from the changes within the game are those who where best prepared at the time of change and who were able to adapt in order to take advantage. Good governance of these clubs has also played a factor, however even when this governance has faulted (e.g. Liverpool under the stewardship of Gillet and Hicks) their global capital and marketing potential has seen them being ‘rescued’ by other shrewd business men who know how to make money.

These changes and the monopolisation of football have resulted in most clubs falling into huge amounts of debt in an attempt to try and compete. Debts so huge, that many have faulted on them and have been accordingly punished by the football association for doing so. A tumble down the leagues has consequently followed for many. Clubs such as Portsmouth, Nottingham Forrest and Leeds can play great testament to this. Whilst Manchester City and Chelsea would seem to be the exception to the rule, the task of competing with the monopolies without the help of a Russian Billionaire or an Arab Sheik would seem a mammoth task and one that is as realistic as your local newsagent owner becoming a competitor of Tesco’s.

Now I know most of this information is ‘teaching your granny how to suck eggs’ so to speak, however it is important in the context of what is being raised by Blue Union. Whilst the issue of the effective stewardship of Everton FC can obviously be called into question, especially when considering the lack of transparency at the club; a factor that raises suspicions of what is being hidden. What worries me is the measures being sought. In demanding that the club hires a group of autonomous professionals in order to ‘identify and sell the club to a buyer who can demonstrate an ability and desire to take the club forward on both a commercial and football level’ what is actually being requested?

Of course every football fan wish’s for their club to be moving in a forward direction and to be able to compete on the field, but in order for any football club in this country and many others to genuinely compete then a similar circumstance to what has happened at Manchester City will need to happen. Is this what we seek at Everton?  Now I’m sure people will point to Tottenham’s success in breaking into the Champions League two seasons ago, however as was seen with Everton’s own success after  finishing 4th 2005 , it is completely unsustainable unless you have the spending power of the monopolies. Sustainability and the lack of it can also be attributed to clubs like Stoke, who many have looked to in order to demonstrate the dire state of Everton’s summer transfer window. Without the revenue or success to counter that type of spending Stoke run the risk as does any club outside of the monopolies of descending into financial ruin and suffering the same fate as the for mentioned teams of Nottingham Forrest etc.

There is no room within the modern game for a well run club who have little financial clout. A big money spender who is happy to splash their cash on his new hobby is the only source of change for Everton and clubs like it within the current climate. Now even in the unlikely event that this autonomous group of professionals can find such a billionaire or sheik, is this something that Everton fans as a whole actually want? I obviously speak for just myself here but I’m not sure I do. Watching the team I have loved all my life and followed around the country and beyond, last season felt like a chore enough as the preposterous amounts of money being thrown around football and the financial demands on fans became more apparent to me when the ever increasing burden of austerity measures were being felt around the country.  Whilst people are being put out of work and their vital services being taken away from them, football fans are being increasingly pressured to not only burden the brunt of the consequences of the greed of a few within their everyday life but also whilst supporting their clubs, greed that has resulted in the state of football today. I honestly don’t think I could stomach watching my beloved Everton being ran as some foreign investors play toy.

The current alternatives seem no better though; try to compete by lending (something which Barclays bank don’t seem too happy about Everton doing anyway) and run the risk of following in the footsteps of other fallen giants or languish in the stale state of affairs we are in now. So what is to be done? As has already been mentioned, Blue Unions organisation and determination is something that is to be greatly admired and whilst the type of change that is being sought concerns me, at least they are seeking to find a better future for Everton F.C.

Their organisation and determination however could possibly be better placed within the framework of demanding a change to the structure of football as a whole and a breakup of the monopolisation of the game. Only when the race to the bottom of capital is removed from football will a true competitiveness be returned to the sport. Only when people such as Rupert Murdoch and others are denied the opportunities to exploit the game will fans have their game returned to them. It sounds like a pipe dream, but it’s not unrealistic. Football depends on fans, regardless of what we are continually told by media outlets. What Blue Union have demonstrated in their short existence is that fan bases can shake those in power in football, as can be seen by Bill Kenwrights’ poor attempt at discrediting Blue Union last week,  in a failed bid to deflect attention away from the damming information provided by the Union in relation to the clubs finances.

Football fans count for millions across the country and abroad and could be a very powerful force for change. A network of football Unions and groups as determined and organised as Blue Union, working together could make significant headway in changing football for the better and let the powers of the game know that we want our football back. Simply requesting for a change of stewardship or for the club to move forward financially, could quite possibly result in our great club becoming another piece of the monopoly jigsaw that has become so detrimental to the game.