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Palestine – The Realities of Occupation

My understanding of the situation here has drastically changed over the last months. I think it would be fair to say that in my last blogg I may have gotten carried away with the whole excitement of living in Nablus, a city I was and still do find a great place to be. I stick with my assessment of the safe environment for tourists here and the truly great reasons to visit Palestine. However it may be said that due to my lack of understanding, experience and local knowledge, I may have been guilty of failing to properly emphasise the reality of what it means for Palestinians to live under occupation.

Many horrific events have unfolded in the past months, including the burning of village lands surrounding Nablus and other areas within the occupied West Bank carried out by Israeli settlers and aided by Israeli military, attacks on local farmers, the confiscation of agricultural equipment by Israeli military, demolitions of Palestinian homes and tragic killings of 3 young men in two separate incidents in Al Farraa and Qalandia refugee camps carried out again by Israeli military.

The burning of Palestinian agricultural land by Israeli settlers has become an almost daily occurrence in recent months. The settlers tend to set fire to dry grass land near the trees in order to spread the fire quickly across the agricultural land. The spreading of the fires is then aided by the Israeli military, who refuse Palestinian fire brigades access to the area in order to extinguish the fire. Live ammunition has been reported to have been fired at fire brigade vehicles and fire fighters as well as villagers, by both settlers and Israeli forces, when trying to extinguish these blazes.

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Video showing settler setting fire:

For those living in the villages around Nablus and throughout the rest of the occupied Palestinian Territories, harassment from settlers is not confined to the burning of fields. Within the last month at least four shepherds were attacked by settlers and a number of their sheep killed.

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Five separate incidents of settler violence on International observers have also been reported in the last 30 days, with one of the incidences reportedly consisting of two Internationals being beaten with metal crowbars as they attempted to protect a local shepherd.

A farmer in the Jordan Valley was victim to Israeli military harassment last month, when he was accused of ‘stealing water’ from a well. This ludicrous accusation resulted in the Israeli military confiscating the farmer’s tractor and water tank. The fact that the water tank was empty renders this accusation ridiculous enough. However that is only if you consider it possible for anyone to be able to ‘steal’ water in the first place. These wells are controlled by illegal Israeli settlements, ‘illegal’ being the important word here. How then is it possible for an illegal settlement to have legal control over the access to water in this area? After taking the farmers tractor and water tank, the Israeli military did not then take it to a designated military base or Police station as you might expect, they took this equipment to the nearby settlement. Why? Because these illegal settlements are often the places in which these military units are based.

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The issue of wells and access to the water they wield is one that affects many villages and refugee camps within the Palestinian Territories. Water wells essential to agriculture, amongst other needs in the region are constantly destroyed and pumping equipment confiscated by Israeli military forces. This affects thousands of Palestinians and often denies many of those who are affected of the only source of income available to them.

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House demolitions within the Jordan Valley and the Hebron hills have been on a sharp increase throughout 2011, with 103 residential structures being destroyed by Israeli forces, 33 of which were destroyed in the last month. Destroying these structures, which are predominantly made up of tin houses and tents has left 706 people homeless, 341 of which are children. The Israeli forces have deemed much of these areas as ‘firing zones’ and prohibited Palestinians from living in the area. However the Israeli government have not only failed to prevent illegal settler outposts and Israeli agricultural colonies in these areas, but have also provided them with much logistic and military support.

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In just the last six weeks, three young men have been killed by Israeli military within the West Bank. Ibrahim Serhan, a 21 year old student from Al Faraa refugee camp near Nablus, was shot in the early hours of 13th July as he left the mosque after morning prayers. The young student was on his way to meet his parents to say goodbye, as they were about to leave the camp on a trip to Mecca. Accompanied by his uncle, he made his way to the main street, walking approx 5-7 metres apart. On their way they encountered a group of Israeli soldiers in a narrow alley way. Not becoming aware of the soldiers presence until one of them shouted ‘stop’ in Hebrew, Ibrahim’s first reaction was to flee. His uncle being closer to the soldiers stopped and was arrested (he was released without charges approx 3 hours later). The soldiers pursued Ibrahim, who had turned left up a slightly wider street. The soldiers shot at Ibrahim reportedly missing; however another group of soldiers then engaged Ibrahim from a side street on his left hand side and shot Ibrahim in both legs with one bullet.

The bullet severed Ibrahim’s Femoral artery and he began to lose large amounts of blood. He managed to carry on running up the street, until due to his massive blood loss he collapsed outside a house. Israeli soldiers pursued Ibrahim and from one end of the street, reportedly began to fire at Ibrahim and other residents of the camp attempting to help him. He was then dragged around the corner, by other residents, out of the range of gunfire. Ibrahim was then carried to another house, where after following the blood trail the Israeli soldiers found Ibrahim and detained him. As he lay in a pool of blood, residents of the house pleaded with the Israeli soldiers to leave him where he lay until an ambulance arrived, however after providing ‘medical treatment’ in the form of breaking a leg from a wooden stool and tying it to his leg, they took Ibrahim from the house to another location in the camp. The ambulance arrived at the house to find Ibrahim had been moved and then had to divert to his new location with the military. The paramedics found Ibrahim in a semi conscious state, having suffered heavy blood loss. They report that Ibrahim’s leg had been tied with a bandage in an attempt to stem the blood but that he had not been supplied with the vital liquids he needed. Ibrahim tragically died shortly after arriving at the hospital. The paramedic reports that in his opinion, if Ibrahim had been provided with the appropriate medical assistance straight away he may have survived. Ibrahim’s family describe him as a caring person, who saw it his duty to help the family. His mother says that Ibrahim was the person who all of his sisters went to in order to tell their secrets. His Father describes him as ‘a real man.

The Israeli Military stated that Ibrahim had been shot during a ‘standard arrest procedure’. Within three weeks of Ibrahim’s killing, two more men were shot dead by Israeli soldiers when the military invaded Qalandia refugee camp near Ramallah. The day before the Holy month of Ramadan was to begin; local reports say that Mutasem Manasra a 22 year yeard old Law student and 23 year old Ali Khalifeh, were killed after Israeli soldiers began indiscriminately firing inside the confined streets of the refugee camp. Mutasem was reported to have been shot in the head and died instantly, whilst Khalifeh was shot three times in the chest as he sat in his car, he later tragically died in hospital. Another young man was seriously injured when he was shot by the Israeli military in the back. These killings were also said to have been carried out in what Israeli military describe as ‘standard arrest procedure’. However the Israeli military repeatedly refuse to publish its full engagement procedures, citing security concerns. These killings would seem to be direct violations of not only International and Human Rights law, but also Israeli rules of engagement. In the very little that has been published by Israel, it is seen that in 2006/2007 these guidelines explain that deadly force may only be used during an arrest if the suspect continues to pose a threat to soldiers after warning shots have been fired. The soldiers must also call for the suspect to stop both in Hebrew and Arabic. International law states that deadly force may be used against a person when they pose an imminent threat to life. How much of an imminent threat to life, did any of these 3 young men pose?

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This blog admittedly provides only a short summary of a small number of the horrors that Palestinians living in the occupied Territories face. Daily, outside the Palestinian Authority controlled cities, Palestinians face harassment, suffering and threat of violence and homelessness. An event I witnessed at Qalandia checkpoint which is the gate way for the few ‘lucky’ Palestinians who are permitted access to Jerusalem, for me summed up the daily humiliation and despair that must be felt by many. After being herded single file into tunnels made of metal bars, those who attempt to make the crossing are forced to wait for a ‘green light’ which then allows them to push the heavy metal turnstile in order to gain access to the next stage of the ‘security process’ which consists of emptying pockets and placing bags through a scanner, walking through a metal detector and then being interrogated by an often teenage Israeli soldier sitting behind security glass, whilst they have their ID’s checked. When the green light is illuminated it is often accompanied by these teenage soldiers shouting in Hebrew and Arabic for the person to hurry through the turnstiles.

When an elderly Palestinian woman, who was two places in front of me, started to make her way through these heavy turnstiles the teenage soldiers decided to stop the mechanics of the stile and render this elderly women stuck in between the bars for around 3 minutes. Standing their stuck in the middle of these bars holding her many bags of shopping the women made no attempt to struggle or shout for her release. It was as if this was all too common and she had an understanding that any protest would be in vain and could make matters worse. In the queue behind me, mumblings of distaste for what was happening rang out but again no one made a significant call for her release. I myself and my friend where instantly filled with anger and sympathy for the women but felt so intimidated by the environment and the fear of retribution evidently surrounding us, that we too felt helpless to do anything for the trapped women. Imagine just for one second that this was your mother or grandmother? Can you actually imagine what it would do to you not being able to put a stop to her humiliation? As a stranger it was completely agonising and filled you with a feeling of frustration and anger. However, still needing to assure your passage through the checkpoint you are forced to be at least civil if not pleasant to these soldiers who had just inflicted this humiliation on another human being right in front of you. This elderly woman being stuck was not an accident as instantly after she was released, my friend then attempted to walk through the turnstile with the soldiers again stopping the mechanics of the stile so that she would also become stuck. Luckily they left just about enough room for my friend to squeeze past and she was spared the same humiliation as the elderly women.

An incident such as this may possibly be viewed as ‘trivial’ when considered in the grand scheme of events that happen in the Occupied Territories. However for me it served to demonstrate the helplessness of Palestinian people when it comes to dealing with the occupying Israeli forces. Completely at their mercy, the course of a Palestinians day or indeed life can be determined simply on the mood, actions and feelings of a teenage man or women who happens to be a soldier in the Israeli military. Whether it be soldiers deciding to have a bit of ‘fun’ with a turnstile or firing live rounds upon unarmed civilians or demolishing the wells and homes of Palestinian families, the fate of the Palestinian people at this point in time would seem to rest firmly in the hands of their occupiers.


Panic on the streets of London, panic on the streets of Birmingham, I wonder to myself…

The reaction and news coverage of the recent and seemingly ongoing riots in the UK, have left me with a continued concern about the state of media coverage. Watching the events unfold on BBC news, it would seem that the whole affair had come as one big surprise and had begun because a man named Mark Duggan had been shot dead by police after he had opened fire on police officers, this resulted in a demonstration outside the local police station in Tottenham which then for some unknown reason turned into a full scale riot.  Sitting in their ivory towers, police and government officials had their statements read out and repeated continually throughout the coverage, condemning the ‘criminals’ who were seemingly only engaging in these acts in order to ‘spread chaos’ and take part in ‘looting’. However much seems to be missing from this story, why did a community react in the way it did to one man being shot who had apparently shot first anyway? Why did a small demonstration outside a police station result in a full scale riot? Why have the riots continued for 3 days and have gathered pace? And maybe most importantly why have these riots spread throughout the country when the people involved in them in Liverpool, Birmingham and Nottingham amongst others have no apparent connection to the dead man? Are all of these participants and community members opportunist thieves? Are they all participants in organised crime?

These questions can be seen to be left unanswered by main stream media such as the BBC, where the vast majority of the UK population gather their news and information from. This would seem important when considering public opinion on the matter. Social media sites and news comments can be seen to be awash with what can only be described as ignorant, fascist, right wing bile with racism playing a very central role in the structure of reactions to the news stories. This is hardly surprising though given the content of the news reporting. Studies such as Greg Philo’s ‘More Bad News from Israel’ (2011), have demonstrated a direct correlation with news content and public opinion. The gaps in people’s knowledge of an event and situation can be seen to directly correlate with the gaps in news reporting.

The question of why the community reacted in the way it did, can arguably be seen to be answered in the reports which suggest that Mark Duggan not only never shot at police officers first, but that he in fact did not shoot at them at all and that he may have not actually been armed. Rumours of what would seem to be an execution by police had apparently circled throughout the Tottenham community which resulted in a small demonstration outside the police station. Very little if any of this was actually reported within main stream media however, regardless of the fact that for the best part of a day the very same media outlets had been repeating the claimed details of Mr Duggan opening fire on police officers. It would also seem that very little if any was said about the claims that during the small protest outside the police station a young woman had apparently been the victim of a blow to the head from a police baton and that this had actually been one of the major contributors to the small demonstration turning into the full scale disturbances it did, but again this alternative description of events was missing from the news reports.

The reasons why these demonstrations have gathered pace and have continued and indeed now spread, can only be speculated at this point as it would seem very little is being done in order to go and actually speak with those who are involved with these actions, especially within the mainstream media. However, the social conditions in which the people of Tottenham and the other areas in which the riots have spread to, can be suggested to have played a significant role. Reports that Tottenham has been subjected to a 75% cut in youth services of late and that unemployment has reached such levels that over 50 people are fighting for every 1 job vacancy are worrying statistics enough. However statistics that 333 people have died in police custody since 1999 without one police officer being charged and prosecuted and that the black youths who live in these communities are still 6 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than a white person, can be seen to suggest a broader picture of why most of the animosity of these young people seems to be aimed towards the police. Statistics such as these are seldom known or discussed by the majority of the population, and are only discovered when searching for greater information on events such as these riots, but the people who live in these communities know and understand them very well. The young people involved in this rioting, live every day fully aware of the risk of themselves being stopped and searched and possibly arrested. They are also very aware that friends, family members and acquaintances have perished when in custody of the police. These types of statistics and social realisms however are also left out of the mainstream media, adding further to the distortion of the story and understanding of its audience.

I have read comments regarding the disturbances that have ultimately broken out in Liverpool, such as ‘this isn’t London, what are these idiots doing’ and ‘these scumbags don’t even know why they are rioting’. Well for the last year I lived in the area which last night witnessed rioting for the first time since the 1980’s and I can tell you, that it surprises me not one little bit that this spread to the area. Lawrence Road, Smithdown Road and Lodge Lane have been subjected to some of the worst social policies in Liverpool. The area has little to no quality youth services, a huge proportion of its young people attend schools like Shortfields in Dingle, a school that regardless of opposition in the form of student lead walkouts and staff strikes is to become an academy, essentially privatising their education and placing profit before their futures. These young people’s voices have been silenced by the authorities on that issue, as well as the wider school children’s voices in the city being silenced when they tried to demonstrate against education cuts and fees last year, and were subsequently treated to house visits and arrest by police. The area is a cultural melting pot and my time living there was very much enjoyed, however the demolition of a large number of the homes in the area have left the community in a state of despair. Streets of empty houses and flat land where communities once lived can be found right through the area and the community centres and youth clubs that once played a central role in keeping a poverty stricken population together are now also gone. This is an area where a huge majority of its residents, especially the youth can be seen to feel disenfranchised, forgotten and ignored. Couple these social problems and others with the same harassment that its ethnic minorities receive from police as those do in London and it can be argued to be no wonder that the young people of the area became inspired by the events happening around the country.

This piece is not an attempt to celebrate in the fact that buildings are being burnt and that violence is taking place on the streets of the UK, but what this piece attempts to do is stress the importance of understanding the reasons why events like this take place. There is of course some who will take advantage of the situations that are presented to them and looting will and has always taken place when events like this have arisen. However to suggest as ministers and police chiefs and the media outlets have tried to do, that these riots are simply a group of organised criminals who have orchestrated these events in order to carry out widespread thievery is at best ridiculous and ignorant. The once regular activity of stolen goods being sold on the door steps of communities has long gone and has been replaced by the much more profitable drugs trade, how many ‘organised criminals’ do you think are prepared to risk arrest by running into Curry’s to grab a couple of flat screen TV’s when they make huge profits from drugs?

It serves no purpose what so ever to provide only a short sighted and one sided narrative of an event, except of course to cover up the short comings of a political system. If politicians, police and business’s actually have an interest in putting an end to these riots and making sure they never happen again then a full analyse of why they happen must take place, starting with our media outlets doing their job and actually providing its audiences with a full and balanced account of the events. What its audiences may want to consider in the mean time however is taking its reports with a air of scepticism and actually searching for their own alternative news sources (BBC News Online does not count), instead of jumping the gun and spouting off the racist ignorant comments currently splashed across social media and news comments.

SIDE NOTE: Today I came across a group on a social media site which was called ‘Not smashing up Liverpool cause your a fucking decent scouser’, now I am not in a position to criticise grammatical or spelling errors so I will leave that point alone. However what I am concerned with are the reasons behind why people have first created and subsequently joined this group. Now the title seems fair enough, if you’re a decent scouser you wouldn’t smash up your own city. However my problem with the individuals, who have joined this, is their belief that being a decent scouser amounts to not smashing up your own city. Growing up in the city, I always got the impression and feeling that being a decent scouser was to have morals that transcended the norms of elite society, that a sense of community was central to the city, that working people stuck together in times of adversity, that when the city came under attack from those who wished to put us out of work, lower our standards of living and harass us that we banded together and fought those attacks off. In the 100th year anniversary of the transport strike in Liverpool that consequently resulted in the national general strike, the celebrations have been named Liverpool’s year of the Radicals. Features of the celebrations have consisted of talks and exhibitions looking at the Toxteth riots in the 80’s and the Dockers strikes amongst others. The city has a long history of militancy and has always stood side by side with other workers and the unemployed when needed, including bus loads of workers travelling out of the city to join the picket lines of the mining strikes during the 80’s. I wonder how many of these people who have joined this group where present at the student lead demonstrations in town? I wonder how many marched through the streets in order to support Public sector workers facing pay cuts and job losses? I wonder how many have stood on the many picket lines of working people facing the same fate? I even wonder how many of them have even walked down Lodge Lane? I am sure some of them have, but I wonder if they are raising any of the issues discussed in the above article in the forums of this group?

Being a decent scouser as far as I am concerned means looking out for your friends, family, colleagues and strangers who face similar and different struggles to you, in their time of need, not joining a self proclaimed ‘decent scouser’ facebook group condemning those who fight back against those who have disenfranchised and harassed them for years.

The Palestine You Don’t See

Taken at open air concert An Najah University, Nablus‘Your mad you!’ ‘What you going there for?’ ‘It’s a bit nuts out there isn’t it?’….Some of the many comments I received when I mentioned to people that I was planning on moving out to Nablus, Palestine and to be honest even though I had visited other countries in the region and had an amazing time I didn’t question these comments to much, only to say ‘I’ve always really wanted to visit there’.  I wish I had been more informed in order to dispel these comments and people’s worries before I had come out, but to be honest I had been exposed to the same TV reports and read the same news stories that my friends and family had been exposed. Even this week, western media outlets have gone to great lengths to demonise the Palestinian people by heavily reporting on the very serious plight of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was taken in 2006 and continues to be held as a political prisoner by the Palestinian government in Gaza, however the same media outlets would seem to have not seen the need to spend nearly as much time discussing the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently languishing in Israeli jails and military compounds. Whilst I try make a habit of questioning such stories, before I left for Palestine I found it difficult to imagine how such an apparent violent place would be, other than the war torn violent area that I had read about, with politics playing a central role in daily life. I could not have been more wrong!

As I have said in an earlier article, much on the surface seems normal here in Nablus, but that underneath there are serious problems which the people of this city and other areas within the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT) face on a daily basis. Such as the checkpoints, road blocks, trouble with Israeli settlers, military intimidation and violence, ID checks, threat of arrest, little job opportunities and general lack of civil and human rights. However in spite of this, the people of the oPT carry on with life as normal as possible. Yes, there is an underlying feeling of distaste for both their humanitarian and political situation and even maybe a desire to change it, but not necessarily the way in which our media outlets would like to have us believe. Reporting of the situation here would have you believing that political movements, militia, demonstrating, stone throwing is what dominates life within the region and that violence has become second nature to a people who for no apparent reason except for what must be religion, hate their neighbours. People do talk politics here, but mostly in the same capacity that it is spoken at home, with a general distaste for their situation and a desire to change it, but not necessarily knowing how. I am not trying to play down the desperate humanitarian situation here, but instead demonstrate that people who live in the oPT are not the ‘dangerous terrorists’ and ‘ideological extremists’ that our media try’s to portray and they do not live their lives out in continual crisis.

When sitting in a cafe in Nablus you are more likely to hear a conversation about football, cars, food and fashion than you are about politics. To return to the opening theme of this article, there is nothing to fear about visiting this region. Yes you may experience things that may make you feel uncomfortable, but it will not be the things you expected after watching and reading all those reports, it will more likely be the intimidation you may experience at the Israeli checkpoints and the Israeli Borders. Instead what you will receive from the people of the oPT is a hospitality like no other (except for maybe other Arab nations), you will find that most people in the street will say hello to you, people you meet will want to share a cup of tea or coffee with you (and probably share a conversation or quick joke, regardless of whether either of you speak the same language), they will want to talk about football, make sure you have somewhere to stay and even invite you around their house for food and shelter. Only yesterday I was sitting in a cafe and three local men joined me at my table as there was no other seats left, they spoke little English and my Arabic is still leaving much to be desired. However they immediately shared their snacks with me and ordered themselves a drink and also one for me. We spent over an hour communicating very badly but managed to have a really good time, laughing and somehow talking football and why I was here and what I was doing (they were very appreciative of internationals coming here in order to share their story with them). A couple of days before in the same cafe I met another local man who spoke pretty good English and we got talking about several things and somehow moved onto chatting about going the gym, I mentioned to him that I was looking for one and he immediately took my phone number and the next day rang me up after he finished work, met with me and took me to a gym and introduced me to the owner. What I am trying to say is that in spite of the trouble here, Nablus and the wider oPT is not somewhere people should be avoiding because of reasons such as ‘it being mad there’, on the contrary people should be visiting such a place because if they don’t they are hugely missing out on experiencing not only its great hospitality but also its rich history, culture and the amazing sights and available activities in the region. People should visit the oPT’s museums, go for walks in its beautiful mountains, eat the amazing food it has to offer, sit in its cafes, smoke some nagila, visit the bars in Ramallah, swim in the Dead Sea, attend its village cultural festivals, attend open air concerts at the universities, go to the Taybeh Beer Festival in October, but most of all come and see how different and amazing the country is compared to the what we are told by our media and return home to tell others. That is not to say the troubles the people here face are not real and are not a detrimental abuse of their human rights, they are, and they are also are a terrible scar on the international community who continue to support those who impose their plight. However by coming here and seeing how amazing its culture and people are and the reality of their situation and going home and sharing your experiences with others, you may play a small part in changing the fortunes of these great people.  

I suppose what I am really trying to say is… VISIT PALESTINE!

Observations of a week in Palestine

If you were to visit Nablus for a short time, you could be forgiven for forgetting about the illegal settlements, the checkpoints and the oppressive security you had dealt with and seen on your way here and having a feeling that things within the city have a sense of normality to it. To wander the streets of Nablus, eat and drink in its countless amounts of cafe’s and to shop in its vast markets, you get the sense that the people of the city go to work as they would anywhere and that the students attend classes and attend grand graduation ceremonies as they do in many cities around the world. This phenomenon can be attributed to the small amount of economic prosperity the Palestinian authority has been able to afford to the city, as a result of the easing of the checkpoints in 2008. During the intifada the world bank estimates the blockade of the city cost the local economy somewhere in the region of $361m, however local sources such as the Nablus Chamber of Commerce estimate the cost at nearer $1bn, with huge losses to agriculture, the cities market (the largest in the region before the intifada) suffering severe losses to trade, a loss in tourism revenue of around 99%, unemployment up to 42%, 1505 business establishments destroyed by Israeli military strikes and 645 people killed. The Nablus Chamber of Commerce estimates the economic cost to the city at $1.2m daily during the intifada. However with the easing of the blockade, trade goods are once again flowing into the city and have been doing so for the last 3 years, commodities can be afforded due to an increase in employment and a huge amount of investment from international aid has allowed the local government to fund building projects and help promote Palestinian Industry. A sense of prosperity and a bright future could easily be envisaged by those visiting the city.

However, dig a little deeper and only a little digging is needed and the true reality that faces the people of Nablus city and the rest of Palestinian territories can be realised. The building projects, funded by the government are halted repeatedly due to disputes over pay (workers not being paid for weeks on end); with one factor among many for this being attributed to the Israeli government freezing Palestinian tax revenue due to the reconciliation of the Fatah and Hamas political parties. People in the city continue to have severe restrictions of their movement imposed upon them, with access to Israel being denied unless work permits are issued, with an application for such a permit often taking months at a time to acquire and hassle, assaults, interrogation, arrest and denial of access often facing those who even have the paper work to cross into Israeli territory to earn a living. Those who wish to cross the border into Jordan as well face the same hardships in attempting to pass Israeli security as they would trying to enter Israel. The Palestinian authority it would seem, from discussions with locals, survives economically on a month to month basis founding its budgets upon the aid from the international community, aid that at any point, for any reason may or may not be retracted.

Civil liberties would also seem to still be a precious commodity, with night time Israeli military raids into the old city taking place on a regular basis under the cover of darkness to arrest on mass, mostly the young males of the city. A disturbingly large quantity of locals I have spoken with already in my one week here have disclosed that either they, or people they know have been arrested by either the Israeli military or the local Palestinian police and often later released without charge. The brutality of such places these people are held in can only be imagined. The vast majority of military presence around Nablus is found within the illegal settlements that surround the city and the nearby villages. It is in these Palestinian villages that I have been informed that much of the injustices of the Palestinian people can be witnessed, as they suffer the direct effects from the illegal settlements that are imposed on the hilltops of their communities. Nevertheless, the Israeli military mite can still be felt within the city itself, with only today a passing of a military jet over head being accompanied by the distinguishing sound of an explosion. In my ignorance I was under the impression that an ‘air to ground strike’ had taken place, very close to where I live within the city, however I was informed later by a local that these explosion sounds are all too common but that he did not fully understand in what capacity they were carried out. His understanding was that the explosions where taking place in the air and that they were dispersing ‘something’ above the city. I am not a military expert and have no idea whether this could be true or not and me and a friend discussed with the local the possible scenario that these explosions could be some sort of training exercise?  Regardless however, the direct or indirect effect of such events can be seen to add to the ever growing feeling within me that the economic and social prosperity of the residents of this city and the rest of the Palestinian territories are very much vulnerable to not just the actions of the Israeli authorities but also the international community. The proud, resourceful and generous people of this region have the ability and want to prosper and the progress made within the territories (with little resources) over the last 3 years shows that, however much must be done in order for the future of the Palestinian people to be determined not by the occupying military forces and the international community that supports it, but by themselves.

Entering Israel – and the apparent need to legitimise its security

Over the coming months I will attempt to portray as best I can the experiences I have here staying in the Occupied Territories and will try to provide a platform in which the events I witness and come to better understand by living here can be discussed. Firstly however I would like to discuss the difficulties that face Internationals like me and others who attempt to travel/ work in the Palestinian territories.

My Journey to Nablus began last Thursday morning and after reading all travel advice regarding passing through Israeli border security (as in order to travel to the Palestinian Territories, you have no choice but to do so) and seeking advice from those who had made similar journeys as me , I had a story prepared that I intended to make my way from Ben Gurion airport to Tel Aviv where I would start my travels around Israel and that the only time I planned on entering the Palestinian territories was to visit the holy sites of Bethlehem. Now this is a story that must have been told a thousand times, genuinely and of course falsely by those such as myself whose true purpose of entering Israel was not to actually spend time there but to make their way to The West Bank. However on this occasion as my passport had already been stamped with a Syrian and Lebanese stamp which indicated that I had spent a week in Syria two years ago and around 3 days in Lebanon, my story raised suspicion and I was kept at the border security office for around two hours. During this time I was interrogated, called a liar (which was technically true), circled by a Police man in an attempt (a successful one) to intimidate me and led to believe that my e-mails and facebook account had been read, as I was forced to write down my e-mail address. I was moved from the waiting area to the ‘interview’ room several times and after it was suggested that my e-mails had been read and that he ‘knew’ I was lying and that if I did not tell him ‘the truth…’ he would ‘have me arrested, deported…’ and would ‘make life very difficult…’ for me upon my return to the UK, I decided to come clean and inform him that I planned on travelling to the occupied territories where I would begin a post as an English teacher. After being sent back to the waiting room and around 25 minutes passing, my passport was returned to me with an Israeli stamp inside it and was allowed to continue with my journey.

Now I am sure, reading this that it may seem strange for me to have not told the truth in the first place and that it could be said that if I had just done so that I would have been allowed passage through, without having to go through the intimidating and threatening ordeal that I did. However on speaking to other internationals living and working here within the occupied territories, it is clear that this is not the case, the lying is often encouraged by the Israeli officials as it often makes life easier for them as it is not actually illegal in any sense to travel to the occupied territories. But this is not always the case as people who have passed through the border security on several occasions have been known to report being kept for over 6 hours, regardless of the reasons they provide for travelling within the region. Whilst at times, simply stating and also making up a story can gain you quick and easy, maybe ‘normal’ passage though the border controls, it can also see you being kept, interrogated, your bags searched and even your person strip searched and kept for varying times. I have spoken to those who regardless of the fact that they inform the border agency officers of their true intensions and have done so before and have even been recognised by the same officer who dealt with them last time who had kept them for a unnecessary amount of time and had subjected them to the intimidating scenarios already spoken of, which had resulted in them allowing the person to eventually pass through, had again subjected them to the same ritual.  If this is the case then what are these measures for?

Now it may seem that the issue of an international being inconvenienced in some way at a border within this region, is an issue that pales in significance to the suffering of a people who have lived under occupation now for over 40 years, and it really does. However it can still be seen as an important issue which arguably plays a role in painting the overall picture of how the Israeli state works. Whilst I was kept for 2 hours, around another 30 people were kept in the same position as me, with their passports taken from them and being subjected to interrogation. The other people there consisted of Internationals, Israelis and Palestinians. However not one person was detained whilst I was there, with all being handed back their passports and allowed to pass through into Israel. Except for inconveniencing these people and the others who I have already spoken of, it would seem as though little was achieved by this farcical situation. With a huge security presence at the airport, it felt as though this process was nothing more than an attempt to legitimise its existence. From the outside, the country which goes to great lengths to control the media outlets of the West, in order to portray it as a country under siege, this experience and the experience portrayed to me by others did little to allay my view of Israel being a paranoid nation, a paranoia that conveniently legitimises its spending of large amounts of its budget (a budget heavily subsidised by the US) on ‘security’ and developing some of the biggest security industries in the world.

This experience (a minor experience in the grand scheme of things), was quickly forgotten when I was greeted on the other side of the security by the driver whom the place I am to work for sent for me. A very warm and welcoming man, he was soon to give me a crash course in the situation within the region and was quick to tell me that ‘now you have a small experience of what it is to be Palestinian’. On our journey to Nablus he pointed out to me the great fortresses that are the illegal Israeli settlements and the checkpoints that need to be past through in order to leave the West Bank and explained to me the meaning of the different colours of car licence plates (those that are Yellow are Israeli plates and can drive anywhere throughout the region but cannot carry a Palestinian within them whilst in Israel, and those that are White are Palestinian, which can only travel within the Palestinian territories of the West Bank), he also explained to me the differing ID cards that Palestinians must carry in order to travel through the region and that those who manage to acquire a permit which allows them access to work within Israel only permits them to be in Israel between certain times. The realisation of where I was and the situation that the people who lived here face on a daily basis quickly came home to me and in the coming months I will endeavour to portray my experiences here as best I can.


PC Simon Harwood’s Prosecution…A Cause for Celebration?

The news that Pc Simon Harwood is to be charged with the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson is a welcomed one, especially for those who like the victim’s family, seeks justice and an example to be set that the Police are not above the law. However what are the wider consequences of focusing the attention of this unlawful act upon one officer? The director of prosecutions has decided that there is now a ‘realistic prospect’ of convicting Simon Harwood, something that at the last time of asking before the independent inquiry into the death of Mr. Ian Tomlinson was presumably not the case.

Mr. Tomlinson died after being struck by Simon Harwood, a police officer on duty at the G20 protests in London on the 1st April 2009, with a baton and then pushed to the ground. The original medical report on the cause of Mr. Tomlinson’s death deemed him to have died of natural causes of which could not have been directly connected with the baton strike and push that Simon Harwood inflicted upon him. However during the public inquiry, which was called for after the prosecution service failed to charge Harwood, this medical evidence was called into question when several other physicians after taking into account the evidence declared that internal bleeding was the cause of Mr. Tomlinson’s death, internal bleeding caused by the blow he had received from Simon Harwood.

The public enquiry found that Mr. Tomlinson’s death due to the actions of the Police officer was ‘unlawful’ and as a result of that and the ‘new’ medical evidence Simon Harwood is to be now charged and prosecuted with the manslaughter of Mr. Ian Tomlinson. As already asked however, what are the wider implications of these charges being brought on Simon Harwood and the focus of media attention on his individual actions? It can and would be argued by many, especially those who have attended demonstrations such as the G20, the education and public sector cuts protests and others, that the actions of the police officer in question is not an isolated case, with myself and many others having witnessed such brutal and violent force being carried out on a far wider scale than being suggested both in the media reports and it would seem within the justice system. Whilst deaths of this kind can be seen as rare, injuries and a feeling of intimidation can be found to be reported by many who express their democratic right to protest, as a result of Police violence at public demonstrations.

This article does not seek to condemn all Police officers nor does it attempt to tar all Police officers with the same brush. However the regularity of random violence directed at anyone who happens to be in reach of a Police line at demonstrations, as seen in the video evidence provided at the public inquiry into Mr. Tomlinson’s death, does suggest that at some level there is either an institutional disregard for the law regarding physical violence and intimidation or that there is some sort of feeling of non consequence, a sense of that no matter what sort of actions they take their will be no repercussions. It will be argued by many in the police and others that such claims are sensationalism, however the evidence would suggest not. The first call for Simon Harwood to be prosecuted was refused on the grounds of the medical evidence suggesting he died of natural causes, medical evidence provided by one man, however evidence that has since been very severely called into question. It took the insistence and determination of Mr. Tomlinson’s family and their supporters in order for a public enquiry to take place. Other Police tactics on the day have also been called into question, as undercover officers were deployed amongst the demonstrators effectively taking part in the protest, a claim that the Met originally denied but where forced to admit when contrary evidence was presented.

In order to witness the sporadic and what would seem random acts of violence on any who happens to be in reach of a Police line, one would only need to attend a demonstration, more so in London and Manchester. I myself have witnessed Police officers after being ‘pumped up’ after a huddle, consisting of a very aggressive banging together of shields and then the airy sound of the police war cry (a collective ‘Huuuugggh’ if you will), proceeding to push any who stand in their way with shield and swiping of batons towards individuals or crowds, regardless of whether they may or may not be part of the demonstration. Which brings me to another issue regarding the coverage of the case, throughout the medias reporting of the incident much of the outrage has been focused (maybe rightly) at the fact that Mr. Tomlinson was not part of the demonstration, but was just trying to make his way home from work. This is a very important point in the injustice of the actions carried out upon him, however it does also seem to attempt to add more credence to the apparent view of the Police and media outlets that anyone who is not part of a demonstration should not be a target of state violence but those who do are in some way ‘fair game’.

Countless acts of state violence towards un-armed members of the public who engage in their democratic right to demonstrate have been witnessed, reported and felt by many, whether that be being pushed by shields, hit with batons or sexually attacked be it verbally or physically. Activists however would argue that little has improved in how public demonstrations are policed, with many possibly arguing that in recent years it has become worse. Simon Harwood prosecution may provide the platform in which the tactics and attitudes of Police when dealing with public demonstrations can be discussed, however I and I am sure many others will fear that instead (as is often the case when the actions of any powerful institution are called into question) the result will be the man who was stupid/unfortunate enough to be the one who got caught will be hung out to dry and the brutal actions of many in the Met will live to intimidate and brutalise demonstrators another day, being swept under the carpet in exchange for the prosecution of Simon Harwood.

William Hague’s calls for financial backing of democratic movements should come with a ‘Neo-Liberal’ Warning!

William Hague’s address at the annual ‘Lord Mayor Easter Banquet’ in London, provided me with much cause for worry and scepticism of the intensions of the UK and the wider ‘international communities’  when it comes to its reaction to the recent so called ‘Arab Spring’. Hague made it clear that he saw an importance in the ‘international community financially backing the democracy movements in the Middle East’, such as in Egypt and Tunisia and one would imagine Libya and other Arab nations that are currently witnessing uprisings from its people, lead mostly by workers Unions (mostly illegal Unions) demanding human rights, jobs, healthcare, education and other freedoms. However Hague’s view that with political and economic reform would come the possibility of an area of free-trade and a customs Union (effectively in trade terms allowing these nations to become part of the EU), is what provided me with my sense of worry and scepticism. Why would financially backing newly democratic nations give you cause for scepticism I hear you ask (or maybe not)? Recent History has shown that the UK government and its fellow western governments attempts to ‘financially back’ and provide ‘assistance’ to newly formed democracies and old ones often leads to the oppression of its people and their demands and wants leading instead to huge profits for the corporations and organisations of those western powers.
The international community can be seen to have offered financial support in the past and present through the function of the ‘International Monetary Fund’ (IMF), whose central mandate when constructed was to provide stabilizing funds to prevent economic catastrophes. However since its creation in 1944, it can be seen to have been successfully infiltrated and now run by the graduates of Milton Freedman’s Chicago school of Economics, which teaches a school of thought which is accredited with the birth of neo-liberalism a political consensus which holds an unregulated free market at the core of its philosophy and sees that societies will only benefit from the pursuit of private enterprise and therefore seeks the abolition of state intervention and state ownership. In the context of where and what the consequences are of this sort of ‘financial backing’ then looking no further than the recent ‘bailout’ of Ireland and the plight of its people who are now suffering at the hands of the largest austerity measures the country has ever seen resulting in thousands out of work, could suffice enough. However if seeking the consequences of IMF intervention when considering a people that have fought off the shackles of dictatorship and oppression with the goals of achieving a true democratic nation with the right of ordinary workers to have access to work, human rights, food, housing, health and education, then the people of Poland after fighting for that freedom in 1988 is where to look. Fights such as these often arise during times of great financial difficulty, after a period which has seen those in power badly managing the country’s finances through both corruption and incompetence and Poland 1988 was no different. However the IMF and its member states including the USA and the UK, who at the time where fighting domestically against the very demands that the Polish ‘Solidarity’ campaign was fighting for, (whilst publicly praising the Polish workers for their achievements in ‘defeating Communism’) saw it that the debts incurred by the powers they had overthrown would still need to be paid by the new democratically elected ‘solidarity’ government. This debt, incurred by the same people who had imprisoned, tortured and killed the members of the campaign would see the new government crippled in its ambitions to achieve a vision of a country in which the existing state owned factories would be turned into workers cooperatives in order to make them more economically viable and a switch to a more Scandinavian social democracy.
The IMF and its members (who were demanding money from the newly formed democracy) however had other ideas and saw to it that the only way in which the newly democratic Polish nation could climb their way out of debt (something that needed to be achieved in order for the Polish government to be able to afford to put in place any of its socially democratic policies) was for it to borrow from the IMF huge sums of money agreed by the IMF and its members at a staggering interest rate, an interest rate that would see the only possible way of paying back the money being to sell off the state owned factories and services to the western capitalist companies, a move that would see masses of people plunged into poverty and out of work as these companies would demand layoffs and de regulation of labour laws in order for them to buy these factories and resources for a much lower rate than there worth. Nevertheless in order for the Polish government to agree to this ( as it would contradict everything they had fought for) it would take Poland’s financial stability to drop much further than when they took office and for the new democracy to be forced into a desperate situation, so the IMF and the rest of the international community held off any significant financial aid and lending’s until a deep financial crisis had occurred in Poland. When this time had come the IMF moved in to begin the great eastern Europe neo-liberal economic experiment, which saw Poland becoming one of the poorest states in Europe, resulting in mass unemployment and great numbers forced to emigrate in the search for work, all this whilst the IMF, its members and the western companies all made great profits from the misery of the Polish people.
The ‘financial backing’ from the ‘international community’ saw the social democratic changes that the Polish people fought for stolen from them and instead replaced with the neo-liberal philosophy of Milton Freedmans Chicago school, to the great benefit of the corporations who back the ‘leaders’ of the international community. Playing puppet master in other nations affairs in order to control the direction and outcomes of a peoples legitimate uprising and call for political change, to an end that benefits you most and suits your own ideology as opposed to the peoples, is as damaging to that movement as the oppression that it faces from the political elite of its own nation that it fought so hard to rid itself from and unfortunately now is a danger that the people of Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab nations face after fighting so hard and bravely in solidarity against their former western international community backed oppressors. Solidarity with the people of these nations, our own and others is the only way to stop the great neo-liberal agenda of ‘shock capitalism’ and financial ruin of nations in order to provide platforms for multi-national corporations to take over the functions of state and leave the non ruling classes of those states to the same fate as those in Poland, South America, Asia and South Africa!