Thursday, November 29, 2012

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have prepared this Bulletin, following the end of mass hunger strikes amongst predominantly Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey's prisons, on 18 November. The BDP has 36 members of the Turkish Parliament, elected mainly with the support of Turkey's substantial Kurdish minority, which exceeds 20 million people. Ayse Berktay, long time activist in the Turkish peace movement and a good friend of the Russell Foundation, writes from her prison in Istanbul, where she has been held since October 2011.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Early bird special!

Thrillling double bill at the Renoir Cinema, WC1, Sunday 9 December, doors open 10.30am, courtesy of The London Socialist Film Co-op.

Sunday 9th December 2012


Eran Torbiner, Israel 2011 (U), 48 mins, Yiddish with EST

The Jewish Socialist Bund movement struggled for the right of the Jews to full equal rights. It was strong among Polish Jews on the eve of WWII and was the arch rival of the Zionist movement. Bund supporters who survived the war and chose to emigrate to Israel have tried to continue spreading Bund ideas for over 60 years. Bund activists alive today are over 80 years old but insist on speaking Yiddish and talking Socialism. Now more than ever they insist on dying as Bundists.
Eran Torbiner, July 2012

WHOSE IS THIS SONG? (Chia E Tazi Pesen?)

Adela Peeva, Belgium/ Bulgaria 2003 (PG) 70 mins, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Turkish with EST

Music has the power to evoke passion but how can one song spark so many? Adela Peeva exposes conflicting beliefs of love, religion, revolution and nationalism in her travels through the Balkan states of Macedonia, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria to discover the provenance of this song. Her journey reveals the shared tradition of Balkan nations passed down by what was the Ottoman Empire but also blurred and mixed national identities that give rise to powerful emotions.

Nashville Film Festival 2004; Ethnographic Festival, Paris 2004

Discussion led by David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group, Jonathan Silverman, writer, publisher and photographer and David Wilson, first director of the Pavarotti Music Centre in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Cinema information:
Renoir Cinema, Brunswick Square, London WC1

Nearest London tube: Russell Square
Overground: King’s Cross, Euston
Buses: 7, 17, 45, 46, 59, 68, 91, 168, 188
For updates on disabled access, please call the Renoir on 08717-033 991

Screenings are generally on the second Sunday of the month but please note our April date. Doors open at 10.30 for 11am. The order of screening may not be as shown in our programme pages. EST indicates the use of English subtitles. Further information: 020-7278 5764,

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


On 20 November 2012, the House of Commons debated the Middle East, at the request of backbenchers. We begin this selection from the debate with Andy Slaughter’s percipient remarks about the pending mass killing of many more innocents in Gaza, should Israel proceed with its ground invasion. Arbuthnot and Ottoway, Select Committee Chairmen, marked low points in the Debate. Hague rather distanced himself from the more partisan comments of the many Friends of Israel in the House. He knows Hamas won the 2006 elections in Gaza by a street, and that they are serious interlocutors. That’s why Michael Ancram talked with them at length after that victory. (see Spokesman 97)

House of Commons
Tuesday 20 November 2012
Middle East

Several hon. Members rose

Andy Slaughter Hammersmith) (Lab): Palestinian victims of Israeli atrocities are so many that they often go unnamed. I would like to name the four youngest members of the El Dallo family: Sara, 7; Jamal, 6; Yusef, 4; and Ibrahim, 2. They were four of nine family members and of 26 children killed in Israeli air strikes in the last week. Does the Secretary of State accept that hundreds more Palestinian children will die, as they did four years ago, if he and other western leaders do not put more pressure on Israel not to launch a ground assault?

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): Given that the experience of the past decade or more is that Israel pockets any concession made by the west to accommodate its position and then not only does nothing but makes the situation worse—by illegal settlement building, for example—will the Foreign Secretary please reconsider his position on the British Government’s refusal to vote for the United Nations General Assembly resolution? He is a man of great fluency, and he normally convinces the House with his arguments, but I find his reason for that refusal utterly incomprehensible. It is not that I disagree with it; I simply do not understand why our voting for the resolution would make the situation worse. Surely it would make it much better.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Israel has an unambiguous right to defend itself, but along with such rights go duties, and in this case the duty is to use only proportionate means to effect that defence. Does my right hon. Friend believe that targeted assassination, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the imposition of casualties on women and children is consistent with that duty?

Mr Hague: Of course all our efforts have to be directed to making sure there is a ceasefire, and only at a subsequent stage could one make the judgment that my right hon. and learned Friend is inviting me to make. I have not shied away from it in the past, as he knows; in fact, during the Lebanon war when we were in opposition, I was very clear about the disproportionality of what happened. In this case, we have to ask ourselves whether the current conflict in Gaza would be taking place without the increase in rocket attacks, which have gone up from 200 in 2010 to more than 1,300 before this conflict began and up to last week. That is clearly an intolerable situation in the south of Israel, so we have to bear that in mind as well.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): I draw the House’s attention to my interests as declared in the register. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a world of difference between Hamas, which specifically targets Israeli children, and Israel, which does its best to avoid killing Palestinian children, although both sometimes fail?

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): Over the weekend, Israel was widely condemned for a military strike on an international media centre in Gaza in breach of the Geneva convention. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that it was in fact a base for Islamic Jihad and that the only person who lost their life was its military commander?

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that his repeated claim that Hamas bears principal responsibility for the current crisis is gravely misleading, as it completely ignores the five-year blockade Israel has put on Gaza, which the UN has called a policy of collective punishment? It is illegal under international law. What more will he do to put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade?

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): In equally condemning terrorising violence against civilians, whether they are in southern Israel or in Gaza, we cannot all subscribe to the hierarchy of blame offered by the Foreign Secretary for the immediate crisis. On the UN resolution, which is a modest proposal from Palestine, does the Secretary of State not believe that if time is running out for a two-state solution, it is time that the international community took the chance to create more of a semblance of a two-state process?

Sarah Teather (Brent Central) (LD): I visited Gaza in early 2009 with other Members of the House in the weeks following Operation Cast Lead. The evidence of destruction and misery that I saw there was almost indescribable. May I urge the Foreign Secretary not just to warn Israel against a ground invasion but to condemn those plans in the strongest possible terms?

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree with me that there will be no solution to this appalling and tragic situation if any side feels that it can act with impunity? In particular, where Israel’s recent actions are found to have breached international law and fallen far, far short of the UN convention on the rights of the child, to which it is a signatory, what will he do to ensure that it is held accountable?

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): Surely the Foreign Secretary sees the double standards in his statements. The only way that the UK will be seen as an honest peacemaker in the middle east will be if we treat every life as equal, irrespective of religion or nationality—every British or American life as equal to every Iraqi life and every Israeli life as equal to every Palestinian life. Although I condemn the rocket attacks into southern Israel, surely the principal reason behind this ongoing conflict is an ongoing illegal occupation and an ongoing siege and blockade in Gaza. Twice the Foreign Secretary has been asked what the humanitarian response is from the UK Government and twice he has told us about the ongoing support that we give on an annual basis. What support have the Government given in this specific week to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): In his response to the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the Foreign Secretary declined to say what he felt was proportionate. When an organisation such as Hamas gets international sympathy and support, and unprecedented support in the region, does he not think Israel’s approach is a mistake, and if so, is he willing to say so?

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab): I would be grateful if the House would note my recent employment with Oxfam. The Foreign Secretary will no doubt be aware that in the Cast Lead operation four years ago, there was significant damage to UN facilities and the operations of other humanitarian agencies in Gaza. What conversations have he and the Secretary of State for International Development had with the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other humanitarian agencies in the past week about the continued functioning of their operations?

Mr Hague: May I be the first across the Floor of the House to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on arriving in the House of Commons? I speak as someone who won a by-election for the governing party many years ago, although in my case there were not very many at that time. I welcome him to the House and so quickly speaking in the House. The issue that he identifies is important and other hon. Members have raised it. Ministers at the Department for International Development are in constant touch with UNRWA and with this problem. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is in the region now, is forming his own assessment of the situation in Gaza, and I will make sure that those contacts are properly followed up over the coming days.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Yesterday, 38 aid agencies asked for the help of the international community to put pressure on to get the crossings into Gaza open so that essential humanitarian supplies—clean water, food and medical supplies—could get through. I acknowledge that the Foreign Secretary has acknowledged the role of the blockade in this conflict, but notwithstanding the responsibilities on both sides for the recent escalation, does he believe that the actions of Israel have had a disproportionate impact on civilians?

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): The civilian populations of southern Israel and Gaza desperately need an immediate and effective ceasefire: that means no rockets, no air strikes and no land invasion. What hopes does my right hon. Friend have of the US Secretary of State being able to broker that immediate and lasting ceasefire?

Mr Hague: There are some hopes. I do not want to overstate them, because of course these things can go wrong. Anything at any moment can go wrong, endangering the process through some event on the ground or breakdown in what either side seeks from a ceasefire, but the UN Secretary-General has put energy behind this; Egypt is playing a strong role, which the visit of Secretary Clinton will bolster; and all of us in the EU countries are determined—a lot of effort is being put behind the ceasefire proposal.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Mr Speaker, I will try to raise an issue that has not been raised so far. Has the Foreign Secretary been able to assess whether UK-made components are being used in Gaza, as part of Israeli equipment, and what implications do the actions of recent days have for UK military links with Israel?

Mr Hague: The hon. Lady has raised an issue that no one else raised, which is pretty good going after one hour and 40 minutes, so I thank her for that. As she knows, we have very tight export controls, through our and the EU’s consolidated guidance. We always evaluate any arms export licences against the risks of misuse, of intensifying conflict and of being used for internal repression. That leads us to refuse some export licences for Israel, but to grant others. Of course, any future grant or refusal of licences will be considered against the background of recent events.


Eyeless in Gaza

The liberation of Alan
Johnston and the
imprisonment of Gaza

Usamah Hamden
Michael Ancram MP
Jonathan Lehrle
Mark Perry

Daily in the common Prison
else enjoyn’d me,
Where I a Prisoner chain’d,
scarce freely draw
The air imprison’d also,
close and damp,
Unwholsom draught …

John Milton,
Samson Agonistes

(Spokesman 96)

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An Appeal for Gaza on Universal Children's Day

Stop Israeli Atrocities against Palestinian Children and People in Gaza!

On the occasion of the Universal Children's Day 20 November and - the 23rd Anniversary for the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) we, the International Board on Books for Young People-Palestinian Section appeal to all Children Rights advocates and defenders, to express solidarity with Palestinian children, and to pressure their governments and the International organizations to force Israel to end it aggression and war crimes against the Palestinian children and people in Gaza.

Palestinian children, civilians and whole families are being blatantly targeted by the Israeli military with bombs weighing up to one ton dropped by F-16 fighter jets (more than 1200 raids so far), knowing that Gaza has no safe place and no shelters. Moreover, Palestinians in Gaza have been enduring the shortage of basic human needs and the wrecked infrastructure because of the 6-years-long criminal siege and the criminal war of 2008/9. So far, and since the last six days, 108 civilians have been killed including 28 children, and more than 263 children have been wounded, and this is escalating every day! The world is alarmed as we are, at the call of Gilad Sharon. He said: “We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza”!

This horrific war is targeting people who live in a big prison with minimum human rights, and will definitely have a devastating effect on the 750.000 children of Gaza, who are being severely terrorized and traumatized and their scars will take long to heal. This enraging situation will impose further challenges to our ‘Children in Crisis Project’ in Gaza!

Act now, ‘silence is complicity’. Support the call to end Israeli aggression on Gaza, and the endeavour of Palestinian people to end Israeli atrocities, occupation and siege!

IBBY- Palestine
Palestine 20 November 2012

Link to the ‘Palestinian Civil Society Organizations Call on the International Community to Stop the Offensive on Gaza' -  

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Monday, November 19, 2012

The Latest Gaza Catastrophe

Professor Richard Falk is the UN's respected rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights. He is well worth reading.

The Latest Gaza Catastrophe: Will They Ever Learn?
by Richard Falk – TRANSCEND Media Service

[This post is an updated version of an article published in the online English edition of Al Jazeera, 17 Nov 2012, taking account of some further developments in the new horrifying unfolding of violence in Gaza.]

President Obama, upon his arrival today in Bangkok at the start of a state visit to several Asian countries, reminded the world of just how unconditional U.S. support for Israel remains. Obama was quoted as saying, “There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside of its borders. We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.” Much is missing from such a sentiment, most glaringly, the absence of any balancing statement along the following line: “and no country would tolerate the periodic assassination of its leaders by missiles fired by a neighboring country, especially during a lull achieved by a mutually agreed truce. It is time for both sides to end the violence, and establish an immediate ceasefire.”

But instead of such statesmanship from this newly elected leader what we hear from Ben Rhodes, his Deputy National Security Advisor, who is traveling with the president in Asia is the following: that the rockets from Gaza are “the precipitating factor for the conflict. We believe Israel has a right to defend itself, and they’ll make their own decisions about the tactics they use in that regard.” Of course, these tactics up to this point have involved attacking a densely urbanized population with advanced weaponry from air and sea, targeting media outlets, striking residential structures, and killing and wounding many civilians, including numerous children. Since when does ‘the right to defend oneself’ amount to a license to kill and wound without limit, without some clear demonstration that the means of violence are connected with the goals being sought, without a requirement that force be exclusively directed against military targets, without at least an expression of concern about the proportionality of the military response? To overlooks such caveats in the present context in which Gaza has no means whatsoever defend itself indicates just how unconditional is the moral/legal blindfold that impairs the political wisdom and the elemental human empathy of the American political establishment.

The statement by Rhodes signals a bright green light to the Netanyahu government to do whatever it wishes as far as Washington is concerned, and omits even a perfunctory mention of the relevance of international law. It presumes American exceptionalism, now generously shared with Israel, that doesn’t even have to bother justifying its behavior, conveying to the world an imperial directive that what would be treated as unspeakable crimes if committed by others are matters of discretion for the United States and its closest governmental associates.

And what Netanyahu proposes is as chilling as it is criminal: to “significantly expand” what he calls Israel’s “Gaza operation” and what I call “the killing fields of Gaza.” This idea that a state defends itself by such an all out attack on an undefended society is humanly unacceptable, as well as being a mandate for future retaliation and festering hatred. Operation Cast Lead was launched in December 2008 to contribute to Israeli security, but instead led Hamas to acquire the kind of longer range rockets that are now posing genuine threats to Israel’s major cities. The unfolding logic of the conflict is that in a few years, Israel will be confronted by more sophisticated rockets capable of eluding the Iron Dome and accurately pinpointing their intended targets. This deadly logic of the war system continues to guide strategists and military planners in Washington and Tel Aviv, and ignores the string of political failures that marks recent American history from Vietnam to Afghanistan. The world has changed since the good old colonial days of gunboat diplomacy, and the history-making reality of military superiority. Will they ever learn?

What should have been clear long ago is that Israeli security is not achieved by guns and missiles, nor incidentally are Hamas’ goals reached by rockets. The only clear path to security is to follow a ceasefire with some mutual assurances of nonviolent coexistence, a lifting of the blockade of Gaza, an acceptance by Israel (and the United States) of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority as political actors, freezing all settlement construction, and a revival of negotiations on the basis of a commitment to produce a sustainable and just peace in accordance with Palestinian and Israeli rights under international law, above all the Palestinian right of self-determination. Depicting such a moderate approach to security for these two peoples highlights just how pathological present patterns of ‘acceptable’ behavior have become.

Israel’s policies seemed almost calculated to increase future ‘insecurity’ for its people and the region. There is a slow ongoing mobilization of the region in support of Palestinian claims well expressed by the diplomatic re-positioning of Egypt and Turkey. It will be become much more difficult for the United States to insulate Israel from the consequences of its future aggressions against the Palestinians. This is partly because it is likely that the next time, militants hostile to Israel will be better armed, as was true for Hezbollah after the 2006 Lebanon War and for Hamas since the 2008-09 Gaza attacks, and partly because the balance of regional forces is tilting quickly against Israel.

These speculations make such obvious points that most Israeli strategists must be assumed to have appreciated them. It makes one wonder whether it is wrong to think of this latest surge of Israeli violence as primarily motivated by security considerations. Perhaps other motivations have greater weight: diverting attention from annexationist moves in the West Bank; reinforcing the Netanyahu claims to be the gallant protector of the nation; removing any pressure on Israel to uphold Palestinian rights; reminding Iran yet again of the militarized fury of an antagonized Israel assured of U.S. support.]

The Text of the AJ Article Is Reproduced Below

The media double standards in the West on the new and tragic Israeli escalation of violence directed at Gaza were epitomized by an absurdly partisan New York Times front page headline: “Rockets Target Jerusalem; Israel girds for Gaza Invasion.” (NYT, 16 Nov 2012) Decoded somewhat, the message is this: Hamas is the aggressor, and Israel when and if it launches a ground attack on Gaza must expect itself to be further attacked by rockets. This is a stunningly Orwellian re-phrasing of reality. The true situation is, of course, quite the opposite: namely, that the defenseless population of Gaza can be assumed now to be acutely fearful of an all out imminent Israeli assault, while it is also true, without minimizing the reality of a threat, that some rockets fired from Gaza fell harmlessly (although with admittedly menacing implications) on the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. There is such a gross disproportion in the capacity of the two sides to inflict damage and suffering due to Israeli total military dominance as to make perverse this reversal of concerns to what might befall Israeli society if the attack on Gaza further intensifies.

The reliance by Hamas and the various Gaza militias on indiscriminate, even if wildly inaccurate and generally harmless, rockets is a criminal violation of international humanitarian law, but the low number of casualties caused and the minor damage caused, needs to be assessed in the overall context of massive violence inflicted on the Palestinians. The widespread non-Western perception of the new cycle of violence involving Gaza is that it looks like a repetition of Israeli aggression against Gaza in late 2008, early 2009, that similarly fell between the end of American presidential elections and scheduled Israeli parliamentary elections.

There is the usual discussion over where to locate responsibility for the initial act in this renewed upsurge violence. Is it some shots fired from Gaza across the border and aimed at an armored Israeli jeep or was it the targeted killing by an Israeli missile of Ahmed al-Jabani, leader of the military wing of Hamas, a few days later? Or some other act by one side or the other? Or is it the continuous violence against the people of Gaza arising from the blockade that has been imposed since mid-2007? The assassination of al-Jabani came a few days after an informal truce that had been negotiated through the good offices of Egypt, and quite ironically agreed to by none other than al-Jabani acting on behalf of Hamas. Killing him was clearly intended as a major provocation, disrupting a carefully negotiated effort to avoid another tit-for-tat sequence of violence of the sort that has periodically taken place during the last several years. An assassination of such a high profile Palestinian political figure as al-Jahani is not a spontaneous act. It is based on elaborate surveillance over a long period, and is obviously planned well in advance partly with the hope of avoiding collateral damage, and thus limiting unfavorable publicity. Such an extra-judicial killing, although also part and parcel of the new American ethos of drone warfare, remains an unlawful tactic of conflict, denying adversary political leaders separated from combat any opportunity to defend themselves against accusations, and implies a rejection of any disposition to seek a peaceful resolution of a political conflict. It amounts to the imposition of capital punishment without due process, a denial of elementary rights to confront an accuser.

Putting aside the niceties of law, the Israeli leadership knew exactly what it was doing when it broke the truce and assassinated such a prominent Hamas leader, someone generally thought to be second only to the Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniya. There have been rumors, and veiled threats, for months that the Netanyahu government plans a major assault of Gaza, and the timing of the ongoing attacks seems to coincide with the dynamics of Israeli internal politics, especially the traditional Israeli practice of shoring up the image of toughness of the existing leadership in Tel Aviv as a way of inducing Israeli citizens to feel fearful, yet protected, before casting their ballots.

Beneath the horrific violence, which exposes the utter vulnerability, of all those living as captives in Gaza, which is one of the most crowded and impoverished communities on the planet, is a frightful structure of human abuse that the international community continues to turn its back upon, while preaching elsewhere adherence to the norm of ‘responsibility to protect’ whenever it suits NATO. More than half of the 1.6 million Gazans are refugees living in a total area of just over twice the size of the city of Washington, D.C.. The population has endured a punitive blockade since mid-2007 that makes daily life intolerable, and Gaza has been harshly occupied ever since 1967.

Israel has tried to fool the world by setting forth its narrative of a good faith withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which was exploited by Palestinian militants as the time as an opportunity to launch deadly rocket attacks. The counter-narrative, accepted by most independent observers, is that the Israeli removal of troops and settlements was little more than a mere redeployment to the borders of Gaza, with absolute control over what goes in and what leaves, maintaining an open season of a license to kill at will, with no accountability and no adverse consequences, backed without question by the U.S. Government. From an international law point of view, Israel’s purported ‘disengagement’ from Gaza didn’t end its responsibility as an Occupying Power under the Geneva Conventions, and thus its master plan of subjecting the entire population of Gaza to severe forms of collective punishment amounts to a continuing crime against humanity, as well as a flagrant violation of Article 33 of Geneva IV. It is not surprising that so many who have observed the plight of Gaza at close range have described it as ‘the largest open air prison in the world.’

The Netanyahu government pursues a policy that is best understood from the perspective of settler colonialism. What distinguishes settler colonialism from other forms of colonialism is the resolve of the colonialists not only to exploit and dominate, but to make the land their own and superimpose their own culture on that of indigenous population. In this respect, Israel is well served by the Hamas/Fatah split, and seeks to induce the oppressed Palestinian to give up their identity along with their resistance struggle even to the extent of asking Palestinians in Israel to take an oath of loyalty to Israel as ‘a Jewish state.’ Actually, unlike the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has no long-term territorial ambitions in Gaza. Israel’s short-term solution to its so-called ‘demographic problem’ (that is, worries about the increase in the population of Palestinians relative to Jews) could be greatly eased if Egypt would absorb Gaza, or if Gaza would become a permanently separate entity, provided it could be reliably demilitarized. What makes Gaza presently useful to the Israelis is their capacity to manage the level of violence, both as a distraction from other concerns (e.g. backing down in relation to Iran; accelerated expansion of the settlements) and as a way of convincing their own people that dangerous enemies remain and must be dealt with by the iron fist of Israeli militarism.

In the background, but not very far removed from the understanding of observers, are two closely related developments. The first is the degree to which the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements has made it unrealistic to suppose that a viable Palestinian state will ever emerge from direct negotiations. The second, underscored by the recent merger of Netanyahu and Lieberman forces, is the extent to which the Israeli governing process has indirectly itself irreversibly embraced the vision of Greater Israel encompassing all of Jerusalem and most of the West Bank. The fact that world leaders in the West keep repeating the mantra of peace through direct negotiations is either an expression of the grossest incompetence or totally bad faith. At minimum, Washington and the others calling for the resumption of direct negotiations owe it to all of us to explain how it will be possible to establish a Palestinian state within 1967 borders when it means the displacement of most of the 600,000 armed settlers now defended by the Israeli Defense Forces, and spread throughout occupied Palestine. Such an explanation would also have to show why Israel is being allowed to quietly legalize the 100 or so ‘outposts,’ settlements spread around the West Bank that had been previously unlawful even under Israeli law. Such moves toward legalization deserve the urgent attention of all those who continue to proclaim their faith in a two-state solution, but instead are ignored.

This brings us back to Gaza and Hamas. The top Hamas leaders have made it abundantly clear over and over again that they are open to permanent peace with Israel if there is a total withdrawal to the 1967 borders (22% of historic Palestine) and the arrangement is supported by a referendum of all Palestinians living under occupation. Israel, with the backing of Washington, takes the position that Hamas as ‘a terrorist organization’ that must be permanently excluded from the procedures of diplomacy, except of course when it is serves Israel’s purposes to negotiate with Hamas. It did this in 2011 when it negotiated the prisoner exchange in which several hundred Palestinians were released from Israeli prisons in exchange for the release of the Israel soldier captive, Gilad Shalit, or when it seems convenient to take advantage of Egyptian mediation to establish temporary ceasefires. As the celebrated Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member, Uri Avnery, reminds us a cease-fire in Arab culture, hudna in Arabic, is considered to be sanctified by Allah, has tended to be in use and faithfully observed ever since the time of the Crusades. Avnery also reports that up to the time be was assassinated al-Jabari was in contact with Gershon Baskin of Israel, seeking to explore prospects for a long-term ceasefire that was reported to Israeli leaders, who unsurprisingly showed no interest.

There is a further feature of this renewal of conflict involving attacks on Gaza. Israel sometimes insists that since it is no longer, according to its claims, an occupying power, it is in a state of war with a Hamas governed Gaza. But if this were to be taken as the proper legal description of the relationship between the two sides, then Gaza would have the rights of a combatant, including the option to use proportionate force against Israeli military targets. As earlier argued, such a legal description of the relationship between Israel and Gaza is unacceptable. Gaza remains occupied and essentially helpless, and Israel as occupier has no legal or ethical right to engage in war against the people and government of Gaza, which incidentally was elected in internationally monitored free elections in early 2006. On the contrary, its overriding obligation as Occupier is to protect the civilian population of Gaza. Even if casualty figures in the present violence are so far low as compared with Operation Cast Lead, the intensity of air and sea strikes against the helpless people of Gaza strikes terror in the hearts and minds of every person living in the strip, a form of indiscriminate violence against the spirit and mental health of an entire people that cannot be measured in blood and flesh, but by reference to the traumatizing fear that has been generated.

We hear many claims in the West as to a supposed decline in international warfare since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. Such claims are This is to some extent a welcome development, but the people of the Middle East have yet to benefit from this trend, least of all the people of Occupied Palestine, and of these, the people of Gaza are suffering the most acutely. This spectacle of one-sided war in which Israel decides how much violence to unleash, and Gaza waits to be struck, firing off militarily meaningless salvos of rockets as a gesture of resistance, represents a shameful breakdown of civilization values. These rockets do spread fear and cause trauma among Israeli civilians even when no targets are struck, and represent an unacceptable tactic. Yet such unacceptability must be weighed against the unacceptable tactics of Israel that holds all the cards in the conflict. It is truly alarming that now even the holiest of cities, Jerusalem, is threatened with attacks, but the continuation of oppressive conditions for the people of Gaza, inevitably leads to increasing levels of frustration, in effect, cries of help that world has ignored at its peril for decades. These are survival screams! To realize this is not to exaggerate! To gain perspective, it is only necessary to read a recent UN Report that concludes that the deterioration of services and conditions will make Gaza uninhabitable by 2020.

That is, completely aside from the merits of the grievances on the two sides, for one side to be militarily omnipotent and the other side to be crouching helplessly in fear. Such a grotesque reality passes under the radar screens of world conscience because of the geopolitical shield behind which Israel is given a free pass to do whatever it wishes. Such a circumstance is morally unendurable, and should be politically unacceptable. It needs to be actively opposed globally by every person, government, and institution of good will.


Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. He is currently serving his fourth year of a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Desperate situation as Kurdish hunger strikers near death in Turkish prisons

Please urge you MP to support Early Day Motion 628 on Kurdish Hunger Strikes (

The most recent bulletin from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has many members amongst the strikers, can be read on the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation website.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hundreds of Kurdish prisoners on prolonged hunger strike

Peace in Kurdistan Campaign


Hundreds of Kurdish prisoners are now taking part in a hunger strike which they have declared is to be indefinite.

This hunger strike began on 12 September, a not insignificant date in Turkey’s political history, with 63 people, including 13 women, in seven prisons. The numbers have grown rapidly with hundreds more Kurdish political prisoners joining the action and it is reported that 600 prisoners are currently on indefinite hunger strike.

The prisoners' demands appear simple and reasonable: the right to education and legal defence in their mother tongue of Kurdish; and the start of direct peace talks to resolve the outstanding conflict by peaceful, constitutional means and with the full participation of imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

If nothing is done to meet the demands of the hunger strikers, more martyrs will be added to the Kurdish dead and it is feared that the situation could rapidly take the country to the brink of chaos. Renewed conflict would become inevitable if this action were to end in fatalities. We therefore call on the Turkish government to respond positively to the legitimate demands made by the hunger strikers.

The majority of those who have joined this action are members of the Peace and Democracy Party, BDP, including elected politicians and officials; they are responsible citizens striving to do the best for their communities who have found themselves detained and gaoled on the basis of largely spurious allegations.

It is clear that the Kurdish citizens in very large numbers regard Ocalan as their political leader and they have chosen him to speak on their behalf. Ocalan himself has shown consistently that he is ready to reach agreement; he has put forward many constructive proposals as a basis for negotiations.

It is right to see Ocalan as a responsible leader of a responsible peace-loving people. It is high time that Turkey changes its approach to the Kurds and ceases its attempts to demonise the Kurdish people, their organisations and their leaders; Kurds should not be seen as enemies in a war but as partners in the pursuit of peace. They want to help build a modern, truly democratic Turkey.

It can hardly be surprising that it is from inside Turkey's notorious prisons that this drastic action has been initiated. For nearly four years, the world has looked on aghast as Turkey has been imprisoning Kurds in their thousands.

Ostensibly, this is part of a counter-terrorism strategy to safeguard the unity of the country allegedly threatened by guerrilla violence. In reality, the anti-terror law has been used to punish, isolate, and silence the Kurdish community.

Anyone who has been courageous enough to criticise Turkey’s militarisation of the Kurdish conflict, or who has demanded the right to speak their own language in school or to have their Kurdish identity recognised, is criminalised and arrested.

The Turkish Government has a responsibility to resolve this outstanding conflict in a spirit of justice, democratic inclusiveness and respect for the rights of all the country’s citizens.

The individuals who have taken their decision to join this hunger strike are demonstrating their dedication and commitment to a cause that is unquestionably just and right.

The men and women on hunger strike see no other avenues open to them when faced with a situation where elected politicians are criminalised and Kurdish community leaders are harassed, detained and sent to court to face grotesque show trials.

These repressive measures shame Turkey and represent a dangerous political course that is now threatening to bring calamity on the country. All Turkey’s citizens, Turks and Kurds equally, will suffer as will future generations if the conflict and animosities are permitted to linger on and escalate.

We have no hesitation in expressing support for the demands of those on hunger strike -

Education in the mother tongue;

The right to use Kurdish in defence in trials;

Respect for the Kurdish people’s democratic rights;

Freedom for Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Peace in Kurdistan Campaign Patrons and Friends
Lord Avebury
Lord Rea
Lord Hylton
Lord Dholakia
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Hywel Williams MP
Martin McGuinness MP
Conor Murphy MP
Michelle Gildernew MP
Paul Maskey MP
Pat Doherty MP
Seán Crowe, Teachta Dala and Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Diaspora
Elfyn Llwyd MP
John Austin, former MP
Jim Cunningham MP
Mike Hancock MP
Jill Evans MEP
Jean Lambert MEP
Ana Miranda MEP
Gareth Peirce, human rights lawyer
Prof Bill Bowring
Michael Mansfield QC, human rights lawyer
Bruce Kent, Vice-President Pax Christi
Margaret Owen OBE
Prof Mary Davis
Louise Christian, human rights lawyer
Frances Webber, human rights lawyer
Stan Newens, President “Liberation”
Revd Richard Carter, Priest, St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
Julie Christie
Noam Chomsky
John Berger
Edward Albee
Mark Thomas
Joe Ryan, Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission
Dafydd Iwan, Past President, Plaid Cymru
Melanie Gingell, barrister
Martha Jean Baker, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
Val Swain, NETPOL (Network for Police Monitoring)
Dr Tove Skutnabb-Kangas
Robert Phillipson, Professor emeritus
Kariane Westrheim, PhD, Associate professor University of Bergen, Chair of EUTCC
Hans Branscheidt, BOD EUTCC, Co-Editor of Development Magazine "Weltsichten", Author
Prof Michael M. Gunter, Dept. of Political Science, Tennessee Technological University
Tony Simpson, Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation
Barry White, NUJ delegate to the European Federation of Journalists - personal capacity.
Dr Vicki Sentas, School of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney
Dr Alexandra Pillen, Department of Anthropology, UCL
Dr Vicki Sentas, School of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney
Khatchatur I. Pilikian / Professor of Music & Art / Socialist History Society
Nick Hildyard, policy analyst
Hugo Charlton, barrister
Maggie Bowden, General Secretary, Liberation
Alain Hertzmann, Branch Secretary London LNW9708 Unite
Stephen Smellie, Depute Convenor, UNISON Scotland
Paul Burnham, member of the UNISON Housing Associations Branch
Keith Flett, Secretary of the Haringey Trades Union Council
David Morgan, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Melanie Sirinathsingh, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Estella Schmid, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign

4 November 2012

For information contact:
Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question

Contacts: Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Sirinathsingh - Tel: 020 7272 7890
Fax: 020 7263 0596

Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, John Austin, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Mark Thomas


GUE/NGL Pres Conference
Hunger strike in Turkey: MEP back from delegation in Turkey

MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat (delegation of elected representatives to Turkey from the 31st of October to the 7th of November)

MEP Jurgen Klute (EP-Kurds Friendship Group)

Eyyup Doru (Representative of the BDP in Europe)

Thursday 8/11/12, 10:30, Room ASP 5 G2, European Parliament, BRUSSELS - BELGIUM

GUE/NGL press contact:
Gianfranco Battistini + 32 475 646628

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Trouble in Rushcliffe’s Schools

David Laws MP, who falsified his expenses claims and had to repay Parliament some £56,000, has now been appointed Schools Minister by David Cameron, as we discuss in Spokesman 118. Together with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, Laws is pushing the Government’s programme of state-funded companies (academies including so-called “free schools”) to run schools, which are then no longer part of the local authority or public sector. This policy of further fragmentation of school education in England is becoming increasingly chaotic, as recent developments in Nottinghamshire indicate.

West Bridgford is one of the leafier parts of Nottingham, south of the River Trent. Ken Clarke lives here, in his Rushcliffe Constituency, five or six miles from where he grew up, in Bulwell, a tougher part of town. County Hall is in West Bridgford. In 2009, the Tories won control of Nottinghamshire for the first time in 30 years.

Back in the early 1990s, the Conservative Government split Nottingham City from the County through “unitary” status. One of several adverse consequences of this structural change was that the City had to try to build an education authority pretty much from scratch. Conversely, the County’s education authority was weakened by the associated reduction in resources. As a consequence, education in the City and the County suffered for a number of years, and some schools continue to struggle.

Fast forward to 2010 and the arrival of the Coalition Government. Almost its first priority was to push through the Academies Act, very quickly, with little critical or careful Parliamentary scrutiny. Head teachers in Rushcliffe saw their chance. The head of West Bridgford School seemingly had little difficulty in persuading his governing body to pursue conversion to academy status. When one parent suggested that a consultative meeting be convened to consider this far-reaching change of legal status, removing the school from the local authority and changing it into an independent company, the head replied that it would be too expensive to organise if lots of parents wanted to attend!

Less than a mile away, at Rushcliffe School, the head teacher changed and the new man also wanted an academy. The chair of governors had hitherto been against such a move, but he resigned. Rushcliffe School duly academised, as the jargon has it.

In rural Rushcliffe, in the small market town of Bingham, the head teacher of Toot Hill School, a comprehensive with 1,600 students, also grasped the new opportunity to go independent and form a company, now the Torch Academy Gateway Trust. Torch teamed up with the Meden School, near Mansfield in North Nottinghamshire, and began to export the Toot Hill model for school improvement.

One consequence of Labour’s generous support for children when in government has been an increase in the birth rate. This has put pressure on the provision of sufficient school places, which remains a statutory responsibility of local authorities, along with educational outcomes and safeguarding. Such pressure is acute in West Bridgford, which is popular with young families who can afford to live there. The County Council is building new classrooms at primary schools which feed Rushcliffe and West Bridgford Schools. By 2015, some of this growing cohort will be ready to transfer to secondary school. West Bridgford School plans new classrooms of its own to accommodate the anticipated enlarged intake, and Rushcliffe School has similar plans. They say they are in discussion with the local authority about funding for such expansion.

Step forward the Torch Academy Gateway Trust. Its head, who lives in West Bridgford, had noticed that Rushcliffe and West Bridgford Schools are already heavily over-subscribed. What to do? Should Torch establish a ‘Free School’ close to Trent Bridge, not far from the ‘world renowned’ TBI, or Trent Bridge Inn, which overlooks Trent Bridge Cricket Ground? This school would specialise in maths and sport. Meetings to recruit parental support are being held, the first of them in the pleasant Long Room at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, attended by some 50 people.

Torch has received a ‘development grant’ from the New Schools Network to help fund its slick presentation to parents and the Department for Education, which is said to be encouraging the bid for the Trent Bridge Free School. The Network recently attracted some controversy when it was revealed that the DfE had given it some £500,000 towards its work without any tendering process, as required by European law for state aid. Indeed, the Network’s accounts, filed at Companies House, indicate it may receive more than £1.7 million from the DfE, in addition to some £250,000 in ‘donations and gifts’ from unspecified sources. Rachel Wolf, the Network’s director, used to work for Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. Its trustees include several persons associated with chains of academy schools such as ARK, Harris and United Learning Trust. Interestingly, Rachel’s father, Martin Wolf, writes a regular column for the Financial Times, which newspaper advocates education for profit in the British school system. Questions have been raised about whether charitable status is appropriate for the Network. Its objects include ‘improving educational opportunities for young people and in particular those in necessitous circumstances’, which make the New School Network’s intervention in affluent Rushcliffe all the more surprising.

Torch recently advertised for a marketing and public relations person, and he or she is likely to be quite busy, as the heads of the two West Bridgford schools are clearly unhappy at what they see as an encroachment on their turf by a ‘small and financially unviable secondary school’. If money goes to the ‘Free School’, so the argument goes, where will they get the cash and students for their own expansion? In a pre-emptive strike, both heads have revised current admission plans to admit all children ‘who live in our respective catchment areas’, claiming it is ‘within our abilities to offer places without a detrimental impact’ on children already at the two schools. This year, Rushcliffe admitted 236 students, while West Bridgford School admitted 210.

Far from co-operating, Rushcliffe’s three independent school companies are locked in a struggle which looks likely to run until next June, when Messrs Gove and Laws at the DfE are due to decide on Torch’s bid for the Trent Bridge Free School, which aims to open in September 2014. These three highly paid head teachers (one, at least, receives more than £100,000 per year) currently expend much time pitching for public support. Has the education of today’s students been left to others? And now, two teachers have proposed a new secondary school for the village of Cotgrave, also in Rushcliffe, where the pit was closed in the 1980s. Were this Free School to go ahead in a location where, on the face of it, there appears to be greater educational need, it would draw off students from Toot Hill and elsewhere.

All but five of Nottinghamshire’s secondary schools have now converted to become academy companies. Many of the County’s primaries have been more cautious, with some head teachers recognising that they hold the school in trust for the long term, and that a hasty decision by their governing body to convert now may not be in the long-term interest of education in the area. In Nottingham City, only 17 of the 87 primaries have converted, including 7 Catholic primaries. Nottingham City Council, which is Labour controlled, does its best to maintain contact with all schools in the City, whether academy or not, and has established the Nottingham Learning Trust with a view to sponsoring academisation, if necessary, whilst mitigating further fragmentation of education for the City’s children. This local authority is committed to maintaining the City’s schools for the long haul.

In the country as a whole, rather more than 2,000 schools have taken academy status, out of a total of more than 20,000 schools. This is still very much a minority, albeit a growing one. As the contests in Rushcliffe indicate, the emerging market in school education is showing itself in one of the Tory-controlled shires. Nottinghamshire may well return to Labour control in 2013, if by-election results are a reliable guide. What is Labour’s response to these developments? How will it ensure that there are school places for all the children who need them? How do we maintain a coherent and effective system of education in the face of increasing fragmentation?

Tony Simpson
Rushcliffe resident and parent
Editor, The Spokesman journal

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