Thursday, 17 February 2011

Concrete Referendum Proposals at the University of Sheffield Challenge Israel's Concrete Indifference to the Fate of Palestinian Citizens

By Rashida Islam

University of Sheffield Palestine Society

The University of Sheffield's Palestine Society was able to secure over 1000 signatures to send the pro-Palestinian policy (see below) to referendum.

Israel’s 2008-9, Massacre of  Gaza, by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) killed over 1400 Palestinians – 400 children. Thousands of homes, hospitals, schools and universities were also destroyed.

Since 2007, Israel has imposed an illegal blockade on Gaza barring people, goods and aid from entering or leaving. Damage caused by Israel’s attack cannot be repaired. Food and medicines are scarce. Students lack books, desks and paper.

Education will play a vital role in rebuilding a safer, peaceful Palestine.

This Union resolves to:
•actively campaign to end the siege on Gaza
•take practical steps supporting Palestinians’ right to education by fostering links with the Islamic University of Gaza ”

Our aim in the coming week is to lay out a concrete set of demands that we hope to see realised:
1) Every year send a delegation of students/members of staff to occuppied territories
2) Training for the sabbatical officers before the beginning of each academic year to educate them on the ongoing crisis in Palestine
3) UN Palestine Solidarity Day - Ensure the union takes active steps in publicising this event so that the Palestine Society can educate students regarding occuppied Palestine

The overall aim of the Palestine Society is to educate the students at the University of Sheffield on Palestine and simultaneously campaign against the injustices suffered by all Palestinians in particular the pupils/students who are denied access to their education. 

LSE & Kings College: Palestine Papers - End of the Peace Process?

By Zachariah Sammour

On Friday 11th February, the LSE and Kings College Palestine Societies held a joint event entitled "The Palestine Papers: End of the Peace Process?"
The talk was delivered by a panel of speakers: Jody McIntyre - political activist and journalist for The Independent, Dr. Dahlia Wasfi - an international renowned public speaker and political activist, and Zachariah Sammour - President of the LSE Palestine Society. 
Below is an excerpt of Sammour's speech. 

I do not intend in this speech to engage in any close analysis of the revelations disclosed in the Palestine Papers, but I intend instead to examine the strategic opportunity that these papers present to Palestine Rights activists and to examine two possible arguments that I believe individuals like myself, student-activists involved in the campaign for justice in Palestine, can construct.

Before we embark upon an analysis of what the Palestine Papers mean for the so-called ‘peace process’ we must first define our terms- we must be clear in our heads as to what we expect the peace process to consist of, what we expect it to achieve or purport to achieve. In order to assess what the Palestine Papers truly show us about the peace process, we must clearly define, on our own terms and according to our own conceptions of the word, what peace entails.

Zachariah Sammour giving his speech

The operative word in this phrase is clearly ‘peace’- process has no real meaning except to suggest that this is an ongoing series of interrelated functions and events that are aimed at bringing about ‘peace’. But what is ‘peace’, and particularly what is ‘peace’ within the context of a popular struggle for liberation and self-determination by a stateless people? The US sponsored peace process is based around the conception that peace is concerned primarily with the cessation of hostilities between conflicting states or governments. I will refer to this view of peace, for the remainder of the evening, as the state-centred peace paradigm; it is a way of thinking about peace in which the primary actors are the states involved in the conflict. We think of the states as autonomous legal persons, capable of engaging and ceasing from a range of activities, including armed hostility.  

If we accept this definition and work within the state-centred paradigm then we must assess the implications of the Palestine papers accordingly. We must use the insight provided by the Palestine Papers to assess whether or not this process is truly capable of, or even concerned with, ending the open period of hostilities between the state of government and the de-facto government of the Palestinians, the PA.  The central question is then do these papers show that the negotiations have the capacity or potential to bring about an end in the open hostilities between Palestinian factions represented in the negotiations and the state of Israel?

However, I would argue that the dominant conception of peace is certainly not the only one available to us, and that, particularly in the context of a national struggle for self-determination carried out by a stateless people, the state-centred paradigm is inadequate. If we accept that the conflict is not between two states, as is clearly the case, then the analysis of peace arising out of the cessation of hostilities between those states becomes inadmissible. Peace, in such circumstances, must be reached between two peoples, or at least between a state and a people. It is possible to argue that in such circumstances a different paradigm exists, and this is one in which peace must be considered in a far broader context and to include other integral social goods such as justice and equality. 

A people struggles for its self-determination because without it they are not at peace; a people living under occupation, oppression and brutality cannot be considered to be at peace even if they are not in a position to fight back against those injustices and accordingly are not engaged in open hostilities with their oppressor. A ‘people-centred peace paradigm’ is therefore an approach to peace that focuses on the position of the people, as a collective group, as opposed to the state or quasi state-authority which may be engaged in negotiations on behalf of that people.

Dr. Dahlia Wasfi

We can see then, that a people-centred peace paradigm, which focuses on an end of injustice against the people fighting for their self-determination as an integral part of the ‘peace’ that is to be achieved, may have a greater bearing for the Palestine-Israel conflict than the approach internalised by the US-led peace process. Thus, if we were to accept the second conception of peace, then we would expect a peace process to work towards a just and equitable solution to the ongoing conflict, and we would examine the Palestine Papers to find the evidence, or lack thereof, of such trends within the negotiations.

So, we can see that there are two possible conceptions of peace that I’d like us to think about- the state-centred approach and the people-centred approach. The practical implications of the approach that we take will become clear once we examine the different arguments that are likely to be made by Palestinian activists up and down the country in the wake of these papers.

The first argument, which is an entirely valid and sensible argument to make, relies upon the first conception of peace. It works within the existing US-Israeli framework and attempts to show that, in light of the revelations in the Palestine Papers regarding the refusal of the Israelis to accept the extremely generous offer in relation to land, Jerusalem and the issue of the right of return, the peace process can be seen as failing. The peace process, which we are accepting is concerned only with creating an agreement between the two governments, or quasi-governments, is failing because the Israeli’s are so reluctant to accept generous Palestinian proposals that they make any agreement impossible. The peace process is failing because Israel doesn’t want peace; Israel wants more land, more settlements, greater concessions.
We can see the appeal of this argument to a Palestine activist- the opportunity to work within the largely US-Israeli defined parameters of peace and to still show that Israel does not want peace is clearly constructive as far as the Palestinian cause is concerned. It acts to counter the long held and frequently forwarded proposition that Israel is desperate for peace and has constantly been refuted by the greedy Arabs despite its magnanimous and generous attempts to make peace. From this perspective the argument has strong appeal; we can show that the Palestinians want peace, that they are willing to make concessions to reach it and that the true obstacle to peace is actually Israel. We can, relying upon this argument, seek to reverse the conceptions so deeply held by many that it is the Palestinians who are to blame for the stalled peace process, and thus increase pressure on the state of Israel to come to its senses and end the hostilities.

However, I would strongly recommend that anybody who considering employing this argument and the state-centred peace paradigm upon which it relies to consider its implications carefully before doing so. If you argue that the peace process is only failing because Israel will not accept the generous offers being proposed by the PA, then you, as a corollary, accept that had Israel accepted that proposal there would have been peace. It is at this stage where the flaws in the state-centred paradigm in relation to Palestine can be seen most evidently. We would be arguing that the peace process is, in itself, capable of finding peace so long as the two parties can come to an agreement, and we would be accepting that the outcome of those negotiations would be a form of ‘peace’ so long as it led to a cessation in violence between the PA and Israel. How many of us would consider a solution in which 5000 out of 6 million Palestinian refugees would have been eligible to return to their homes a peaceful solution to the conflict? Would those 5 million, nine hundred and ninety five thousand Palestinian refugees denied the right to ever return to their homes and lands be living in peace? Would those Palestinians who lost their land to the settlements be considered to be at peace? Would those Palestinians transferred into the sovereignty of a state which openly considers them a fifth column, and in which top politicians openly discuss the possibility of expelling them into the future state of Palestine, have been living in peace? If the answer to those questions is yes, then peace is a vacuous goal which the Palestinian people should not be pursuing
And so we turn to the second possible argument which is based on the people-centred paradigm, in which the peace process must deliver a cessation to hostility and end the oppression of the people fighting in pursuit of their self-determination in order to be properly considered as such. If we are to accept this approach, then the analysis of the Palestine papers becomes radically different. From this perspective, the answer to the question ‘is the peace process dead’ becomes ‘the peace process was never born’. We can see, from the earlier analysis, that the offers being made through these negotiations, the concessions being offered and the agreements being sought have absolutely nothing to do with peace, on this understanding of the word. Clearly the negotiations are concerned with an end to the hostilities between the PA, and those under its control, and Israel- but this cannot be considered as an attempt to establish peace when the process in no way attempts to remedy and end the oppression, brutality and suffering that the Palestinians endure. If we understand peace to entail aspects of justice and the alleviation of oppression for a collective people, then the Palestine papers show us very clearly that the peace process is not concerned in any way with establishing peace- but rather it is an endeavour in political power distribution.

Jody McIntyre

The PA negotiators demonstrate, time and time again within these leaked documents, a total disregard for the plight of their people and show that there primary focus is to successfully engineer a fiefdom within the west bank. The negotiations are essentially a meeting of two political factions, neither with the democratic legitimacy to decide how the land of Palestine is to be parcelled out, deciding, under the auspices of the world hegemon, how power and land is to be distributed amongst them. Issues of the right of return, of the importance of Jerusalem to the Palestinian people, of the plight of Palestinians left inside Israel are all ignored or conceded by the PA in order to allow them to pursue their true ambition in these negotiations.

It is clear then, that if we are to think on a more analytical level about what peace is, and what this process actually seems to be aimed at achieving, we are able to construct a far more convincing and advantageous argument in relation to advocating a just end to the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. Whilst it is indeed tempting to attack Israel as an obstacle to peace, this approach suggests that the path they are obtruding does indeed lead to peace- and this is an implication that I cannot bring myself to make. Israel is frustrating the PA’s attempts to establish a fiefdom inside historic Palestine and in the name of the Palestinians- they are not obstructing peace as neither party is close enough to that path to possibly block it. Rather, each party has hidden that trail so well that the rest of the world cannot even locate it, let alone pursue it.

If the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia over the past few weeks have taught us anything, it must be to challenge the paradigm, challenge the structure and create our own solutions. I think the Palestine papers give us the ability to do that and I hope that we seize that opportunity with both hands, reshape the discourse surrounding the peace process and attempt to shape it in such a way as it meets our understanding of peace for the Palestinians.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

LSE Palestine Society & ‘The Academic Boycott: Helpful or Harmful’

By Zachariah Sammour

On January 13th 2011 the LSE Palestine Society and LSE  Israel Society jointly hosted a debate entitled ‘The Academic Boycott: Helpful or Harmful’ which saw Dr John Chalcraft of the LSE speak in favour of the motion and Professor Daniel Hochauser of UCL oppose it. 

The debate was, in many ways, a success for the society and for the general BDS movement. Not only did the event serve to make a mockery of comments made by some members of the LSE student community that the Palestine society has ‘no regard for student welfare’ and have been ‘pursuing an aggressive, alienating and one sided agenda’ this year, but it also provided an excellent platform for the academic boycott which has largely trailed in the shadows of the wider call for economic boycott of Israel. 

Most importantly, however, the debate is indicative of the shift on LSE campus, and hopefully across the UK, from vacuous and futile attempts by Israeli groups to legitimise and justify the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestinian lands and towards discourse aimed at establishing the best tactics to bring about an end to that occupation. 

The debate itself was of an extremely high quality, with two distinguished academics providing rigorous and insightful analysis of the efficacy and merit of the call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Despite two isolated incidents, one in which an audience member was harassed and called ‘Hamas’ and another in which an LSE academic was insulted, the crowd and the speakers conducted themselves in a respectful and polite manner and contributed to an interesting and thought provoking event. 

The motion eventually fell by a slight majority, no doubt partly due to the fact that the LSESU Israel Society were able to register over 160 non-LSE audience members, however the very fact that the issue was debated at such a prestigious academic institution and jointly hosted by the Israel and Palestine societies is a massive step forward for the movement.

The fact that an Israeli group would take part in a debate reflects the shift in UK campuses from support for the illegal Israeli occupation to an acknowledgment of its impediment to lasting peace in the region. This event represents an active effort by both societies to explore tactics aimed at ending this occupation, and bringing about a just solution to the conflict.

It seems that the goalposts have shifted, and this must undoubtedly be seen as a victory for student advocates for Palestinian rights, and we commend the Israel society for taking the bold step forward in engaging in constructive, progressive dialogue focused on tactics that could end the occupation, rather than attempting to continue to defend an increasingly obvious immoral and illegal occupation as other similar groups at other universities seem to do. 

Hats off to LSESU Israel Society and Israel Society President Gabi Kobrin for being a part of the event, and for taking the bold step in moving the debate forward to more progressive and meaningful territory.

(  for footage of the event:  )

Where to for Palestinian solidarity in the campuses?

By Christos Symeou

A few months ago I moved to London, and went to my first event on Palestinian solidarity as a new, permanent resident of the capital. The specific topic of the event is not that important. What is important, is the introduction given by the event organizer as it started, presenting the event as one aiming to give a new perspective and new ideas, invite debate, challenge existing views and create controversy.

And instead, as is usual, what I saw and heard was exactly the same as in every other event I have been to over the years – pointless analysis, self-righteous anger, some hating on the US, some socialist rhetoric, and then it was all over. We went home, happy for going ‘against the system’ and for our self-proclaimed titles as ‘activists’.

I feel there is something rotten in the international Palestinian solidarity movement. And I think new perspectives, new debates, and some controversy ‘are’ actually needed. I hope then to be controversial in some way, and I hope that some people will not like what they’ll read. But I also hope that what I’ll say - which is what I feel - will actually make some sense.

Let’s be controversial then and start by praising Zionism! Let’s go back 150 years ago – and imagine at that time the prospect of the creation of a Jewish state in some corner of the Middle East. Not only that, imagine the prospect at that time of a Jewish state with one of the most powerful militaries and one of the most advanced economies in the world, a regional superpower, and armed with weapons capable of destroying all European capitals at its whim! Surely the ideas of a madman!

Zionism is a flawed, racist, ideology and the Zionist movement an immoral, destructive movement and our enemy, let’s not have any doubts about that. But there is something extraordinary about the sheer scale of the victory the Zionists achieved. One could argue that they had the fortune of strong allies in the West, and of public sympathy following the Holocaust. But even as such, it was an ability to build such alliances, to know how to use and adapt to the events around it, and to know how to seek public sympathy, rather than pure luck, that brought the movement to triumph.

Theodor Herzl
Herzl has been called the father of the Zionist movement, but that was not because he offered anything to it ideologically. The basic ideas of Zionism, the rhetoric regarding the need for a Jewish state and all the arguments for it, had been formed before Herzl’s time, at the start of the 19th Century. Herzl’s contributions were not ideological, but practical in nature. His famous book ‘The Jewish State’, is short on ideology and focused instead on outlining a practical program and a set of steps for actually bringing a Jewish state about – looking at such things as the organizational bodies that would need to be formed and how their financing would be achieved. It was Herzl who started lobbying governments to get an endorsement for the project, who formed the Zionist Congress and funded ‘Die Welt’, the Zionist newspaper.

By 1948, the Zionist movement had branches in every major capital of the Western world, all under the single umbrella of the World Zionist Organization. During 1947 it was able to print and distribute tens of thousands of pro-Zionist leaflet and other material to the American public and convert it to its cause. It had its own financial arm in the Jewish National Fund. In Palestine the Jewish Agency had the singular authority over the movement. And although there were definitely splits within the movement, that between the Labor and revisionist Zionists the most significant, there was a firm, and consistent set of principles by which all Zionists, and all organizational bodies, abided to – a singular agreement on the need for a Jewish state and the reasons why that should be achieved. In other words, the Zionists had discipline and consistency in the messages they gave (and still give) out, on their narrative, and a well-defined and executed strategy on how to build power, influence, and popular sympathy.

In many ways such discipline was easier for the Zionists than for the Palestinians. The World Zionist Organization itself was a private institution of members devoted to a single ideology – the Palestinians are instead a geographical society, of people from different backgrounds and different views on the world. And after 1948 the Zionists had the advantage of a properly formed government. Does that mean though that a pro-Palestinian solidarity movement should be condemned to be less well-structured than the Zionists it opposes?

Otpor! (resistance)
I have recently seen in Al-Jazzera a short documentary shot as the Egyptian January 25th revolution was still taking place, focusing on the April 6th youth movement. The messages that came out were striking. The most important principles the movements organizers claimed were ‘discipline’ and ‘unity’, and a very organized strategic approach. They had their own, secret headquarters where they would meet and plan, they would know which neighborhoods in Cairo to go to ask for support in the Tahrir demonstrations, what slogans to use, when to issue press releases to the international media to inform them of what was planned. Themselves inspired by the Otpor! movement in Serbia, (another movement with a carefully constructed program and a long term strategic plan), they would host training programs and video-conferences with their Serbian counterparts to identify the best way to organize and campaign. The importance of a consistency of message was highlighted – for example the stress for non-violence as a strategic, not a principled stance, as, as it was pointed out, it takes a single person being violent for the cameras to focus on him, and for a movement of tens of thousands to be tarnished. As such the focus on maintaining the same cries for non-violence, and the same simple, consistent principles and demands – the regime must fall, Mubarak must go.

Activism and campaigning is in fact a war they said. And in our part, we must think and act like it is one. If we are campaigning in solidarity with Palestinians we must have a strategy, and we must accept that we have a mission. But can we even agree on what that mission is?

Both internationally, but also here in the UK specifically, the pro-Palestinian movement is stale and ineffective. I am not proposing that it is our lack of commitment to the same principles followed by Egyptian revolutionaries or by Zionist campaigners that is our problem. Our problem is out lack of commitment to ‘any’ principles at all, our lack of any common messages, any organization, any strategy. There are two main issues that I want to focus on though – our factionalism, and our lack of strategic discipline.

Let’s look at factionalism. In the UK we have hundreds of different groups, some more prominent than others, who claim to campaign for Palestinians. But we have no set of principles by which they all abide to. We have no common messages. Even worse, many of these groups have their own agendas and ulterior messages that they want to promote, breaking even further any unity that we may have.

When the April 6th youth went to the streets, they did not wear anything that defined them as members of the specific group, any specific colors or insignia – to show a unity as Egyptians and not as supporters of one particular group. After Mubarak fell, I was in the celebrations in Trafalgar, and I was struck by the fact that not one of the Egyptian speakers praised any particular party or group of revolutionaries. To the contrary, every single one of the British speakers started by talking about their ‘own’ organization, and how important their ‘own’ group was, what support ‘they’ could give. Our campaigning material, our flags and our signs, will always very prominently show which group ‘we’ are coming from – and all too often bring in symbols and rhetoric that have nothing to do with Palestine, but very much to do with promoting our own unrelated politics. Not only do we lack unity, everybody seems to want to do nothing but focus on themselves.

I do not want to be vague and make nameless accusations. Even if it may make me unpopular, the socialists and certain segments of the left in this country seem to be intent on hijacking the pro-Palestinian movement. With an unrelenting passion to try and convince us that only socialists and the left can care about the Palestinian cause, that the Kafyia is the new Che T-shirt, that socialist revolution is the answer to the conflict,  they seem desperate to push the cause as one belonging to a marginal extreme of society (let’s forget for a while that all the early and most passionate Zionists were all socialists, that Ben Gurion himself claimed that the Jews had a right to Palestine because they were winning it with ‘the dignity of labor’, that Moses Hess, probably the real earliest Zionist we can talk of, was a close friend of Marx and one of the founding figures of communism). How can our movement ever gain universal acceptance, how can I ever invite a friend to an event on Palestine and have them take me seriously, when they’ll be swamped by people trying to sell them the Socialist worker newspaper, praising Cuba and  Hugo Chavez, and carrying flags with the hammer and sickle wherever they go? And why, what is the meaning of all this theatrical pointing to ‘our symbols’, ‘our imagery’, ‘our rhetoric’ other than to somehow stand out more from the crowd than anybody else, separate the British society that we are trying to convert into ‘us’ vs ‘them’, while trying to convert as many people as possible to some other completely unrelated causes and ideologies?

Our other problem, is what I call a lack of strategic discipline. For as long as I had been a student, I have been hearing the same discussions on the same supposed campaigns and initiatives, the same issues to focus on. National boycott campaign. Twinning movements. Campaigns to get people to visit Palestine. Schemes to support new societies and providing training for effective campaigning. Every year it’s the same (good no doubt) intentions. Every year some meeting will be held in London, people from various societies will show up, talk for a few hours, everybody will make their own self-righteous little speech, declare commitment to some new form of organizational and communication structure, and then go away to do the same things they’ve been doing before, and with nothing having changed. Because true organization doesn’t come around from having a simple meeting once a year – it comes from real commitment, thoroughly discussed and defined strategy, and true discipline.

Ask yourselves this, and be honest in the answer: Does a real national Pro-Palestinian student movement exist? Or do we have nothing more than individuals who see campaigning as a hobby, and who sometimes talk to each other in forums and facebook groups? A facebook group is not a movement I’m sorry to say.

In the end we are ineffectual. We do nothing but bring the same speakers to our universities, say the same things, have the same meetings. We will go to that most pointless of self-serving events, the SOAS conference, listen to endless hours of analysis, and a horde of comments after the same old speeches, from old men who seem to like nothing more than to listening to themselves speak. And once again nothing changes. Next year we’ll still be talking about organizing a boycott campaign, and the year after that, and the year after that.

We talk of our ‘victories’. Some obscure retailer has stopped stocking a single Israeli product. A Scandinavian country has taken a harder stance to Israel. The route of the wall has been re-planned in a single spot to move some tens of meters further off Palestinian land. Some society somewhere has passed a referendum to twin with a Palestinian university. What are the victories of Israel at the same time? How many more billions have been invested in its economy? By how many missiles, tanks, and helicopters has its army expanded? How many more colonists have moved to the West Bank, how many more housing units build? How much older have existing settlements become, making them even more entrenched as facts on the ground that will never go away? Maybe the sheer scale of Israeli victories is such, that when put next to our own victories, they are just so large that they become invisible. And maybe we fail to realize that our own victories, small as they are, are less about how well we manage to campaign, and more about how intolerable Israel’s actions are becoming – such that despite our own BAD campaigning, regular people are nonetheless starting to take a stance against it.

We need to take lessons from those whose movements have succeeded. Unite behind a common set of principles, find a single set of messages we can all agree on, and design a consistent, long-term strategy for promoting that message. Come up with a real organizational structure, with a real communication structure, with a real training regime in best campaigning practices, in message consistency, and with an infrastructure for effective communication and resource sharing between us. There are many things that we can practically do, and I do not want to start giving suggestions here – whoever wants to talk to me on such issues can contact me. But above all we need discipline and commitment, and an understanding that campaigning is not about feeling good about one’s self, and simply preaching one’s OWN worldview, but about coming together to actually bring about a real change. As students (or recent ex-students in my case) at the least, we have the power and possibility of making the universities a place where the Palestinian cause will take root in the minds of the young people of this country, and where the Zionist position is derived of any legitimacy. We simply need to commit to working towards that goal. 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

LSE Palestine Society and Gaza's Right To Education

By Fidan Huseyni

Last term, the electronic resources scheme was piloted, whereby the Right To Education team managed to successfully persuade over 30 LSE academics and major lecturers to agree to make their electronic resources (such as articles, and lectures notes) available to the IUG. The Society also intends for the materials to be freely accessible to all other educational institutions in the region following agreements with IUG. The LSE have now taken on this project and have scheduled procedures whereby these materials can be made available to Palestinian students. This success marks a poignant achievement for the Palestine society at the LSE. We intend to further advance this project by collaborating with more universities and expanding the electronic resources campaign nationwide.

The IUG After Operation Cast Lead
We are also in the process of trialing ‘Project Connect’, which is a mentoring scheme enabling LSE students to tutor university students in Palestine, via email and online video conferencing. We paired LSE students with students from the Islamic University of Gaza and the aim of the project is to provide academic assistance, any advice regarding their English and essay structuring. 

We hope to continue seeking ways in helping to alleviate the distress the people in Palestine face on a daily basis.

As the a member of the LSE Palestine Society, Nadiya, superbly put, “We may not be able to participate in peace talks, but we can empower the Palestinian students with a gift far more sustainable and superior than money: education”.

This year the LSE Palestine Society has been continuing to run the Right To Education campaign. Following last year’s great accomplishment of twinning the LSE with the Islamic University of Gaza, new projects on education in Palestine were launched.

Islamic University of Gaza before the Israeli terrorist attacks

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Iraq - Bad News For Blackwater

By Layla Auer
As controversial mercenary firm Blackwater gets away with the massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians, Layla Auer from War on Want explains why private armies need to be regulated now more than ever.
The notorious US mercenary firm Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, has hit the headlines recently as contractors working for the firm have evaded responsibility for killing 17 Iraqi civilians three years ago at Nisoor Square. Two former Blackwater operatives also were arrested at the beginning of the year on murder charges. In both instances Blackwater was operating under contract with US government. With Blackwater currently a favourite to win a $1 billion Pentagon contract to train Afghan police, the company's profiteering from conflict zones at the expense of human rights looks set to continue.
Nisoor Square shootings
In 2007, mercenaries working for Blackwater opened fire at a busy crossroads in Baghdad, Iraq, killing 17 and seriously injuring many more. Some of the bodies of the Iraqi victims were
 so disfigured that they had to be identified by dental records.
During the occupation of Iraq, mercenaries working for coalition forces were given immunity from prosecution both in the United States and Iraq. But recently the United States government initiated a legal process that would empower the Justice Department to prosecute the Blackwater contractors for these killings.
In December 2009, the case against Blackwater was thrown out due to a procedural technicality over the way the defendants were questioned. The case was dismissed despite the judge's conclusion that the killings were unprovoked and that "the spectre of improper and potentially criminal conduct was apparent to government officials almost immediately after the incident."
At the end of January 2010 controversy over Blackwater's killing spree took another sordid twist. The Justice Department is currently investigating allegations that following the Nisoor Square massacre Blackwater attempted to bribe Iraqi officials. The bribe of about $1 million was meant to be in exchange for a guarantee that the company would be allowed to continue operating in the country.
Within the last few days, 250 former and current Blackwater staff  have been ordered to leave Iraq within a week. The Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani expressed his dismay over the dismissal of the Blackwater charges, stating "We want to turn the page. It was a painful experience, and we would like to go forward."
Blackwater running riot in Afghanistan
Following the increase in mercenaries engaged in combat Iraq, private armies have been awarded an alarming amount of UK government contracts in Afghanistan. Recent figures revealed that private armies have secured contracts for Afghanistan worth more than £42 million from the British government for a two-year period from of the start of 2008 to the end of December 2009, more than twice the figure for Iraq in the same period. As the US and UK plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, there are now serious concerns about the use of private armies and the potential for further human rights abuses.
There is evidence to suggest similar human rights abuses at hands of mercenaries are already occurring. In May 2009 in Kabul two contractors working for a subsidiary of Blackwater allegedly opened fire on a civilian's car, killing two people and seriously injuring a third. The contractors had been training the Afghan National Army in the use and maintenance of weapons and weapons systems. The accused men were hired by Blackwater despite their suspect pasts with the US military, including instances of violence, drug use and insubordination. They face the death penalty if found guilty.
Stop private armies now
In the United States strident steps have been taken to hold mercenaries to account. In January 2010 congresswoman Jan Schakowsky proposed legislation
 to ban the US government from offering contracts to private armies. Yet the UK government — which has spent over £148 million of taxpayers' money on private army contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan — has rejected formal regulation in favour of a voluntary code of conduct where mercenary companies will be left to police themselves. This voluntary code is currently being drawn up by the government without any parliamentary oversight. War on Want is campaigning against voluntary codes of conduct. Only robust government legislation can regulate private armies. Innocent civilians living in conflict zones already face grave danger on a daily basis. Men roaming the streets with guns who are not held accountable aggravate this vulnerability. As the Blackwater shootings have proven, self-regulation of this deadly industry is not an option.

Real Story From Gaza: Two Years Passed


By Tasneem B. Iqelan

Two years passed, when 1,417 Palestinians were killed, 318 of them were children. Two years passed, when 11:25 am shocked all of us, when the police stations were attacked, when the police men were scattered dead and injured, when all them people in the streets were running extremely shocked, crying and screaming. When the mobile network almost died and everyone was trying to call his family to make sure they are still surviving. Two years passed, when many of us were forced to leave our houses to find a safe place as if there is one. Two years passed, when many of schools, universities, and hospitals were damaged, when more than eleven thousand homes were destroyed, when tens of mosques were bombed and two years passed when Gaza was raining fire with white phosphorus.

Being a survivor of war on Gaza, I must think I could have been one of those who lost a father or a mother or even both. I could have been one of those who lost their home and everything about their life was buried deep under the sand. I could have been one of those who cannot see or walk now. Actually, I could have been killed! Yes, I could have been killed by a helicopter or F16 or by an ugly white phosphorus missile. I could have been killed by a crazy warship or by a surprising firepower from an Israeli tank. See, Israel is thinking too much and bothering itself to surprise me, Israel is wondering in what way it should wish me a happy new year. But whether under bombardment from Israel or under international siege or denial of civil liberties and self determination there will be no white flag above our homes.

And being a survivor of war on Gaza I have to thank every single one of freedom fighters whether buried under the sand or still alive. I have to thank the internationals, who were in Gaza and had given the chance to leave, but they preferred to risk their lives to show the truth, and I have to thank those who believe we will never go down. 

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Chalking The Boycott

By Khaled Hanbali
The London School of Economics (LSE) Palestine Society's ongoing campaign to get Eden Springs off campus has taken to the streets!

Students are lobbying the School not to purchase water coolers and bottled water from Eden Springs UK, which is part of the Israeli company Mey Eden, which appropriates and sells water from sources in Syrian land that has been controversially occupied since 1967.

The campaign has been supported by a majority of the student body. Ongoing talks are taking place to reach an agreement where Eden Springs is boycotted from campus, other London universities are also launching their own Boycott Eden Springs Campaign. 

LSE Palestine Society Host William Parry

By Riya Husseyni
On the 27th January photo journalist William Parry delivered an inspiring speech to LSE and outside students, entitled "The Graffiti on Israeli's Illegal Separation." Parry brought the reality of Palestinian apartheid to London students through emotionally provoking photos.

LSE Palestine Society President Zachariah Sammour with William Parry 

William Parry is a British photojournalist who has recently published a book about Israel's illegal wall, entitled "Against the Wall". 

He has lived and worked in the Middle East for many years. He has written for the Washington Review of Middle East Affairs, The Middle East, Times Higher Education Supplement, and several electronic news organisations (including Electronic Intifada and New Matilda). He has also published in the Guardian and Independent and a number of other magazines and journals.

In February 2008, William Parry went to Bethlehem to write an article about the after effects of Ba
nksy project " Pictures on Walls" He interviewed several of the artists and organisers of this project. 

William Parry Signing His Book For Students

As he toured Bethlehem for this article, just six months after his previous visit, he was stunned by how quickly it was evolving as a unique, ephemeral canvas of local resistance and international solidarity that ought to be documented – given that all walls eventually fall. The wall has been used as a canvas for many paintings and writings.

It has been called "the largest protest banner in the world"

Jewish Chronicle: Fiction - Fact 101

by Thucydides 

Dear readers, it has come to our attention that our loyal readers at the illustrious Jewish Chronicle, have some difficulty understanding the difference between fictional stories and factual stories. For their benefit, and for the benefit of anyone else reading this who suffers from a similar problem, please see below for a quick lesson.

A Zionist media outlet that is in a chronic state of confusing fact and fiction...

A person who tells a story is called a ‘narrator’. Often, when a person creates a story they will also create a narrator to tell the story. I know it’s confusing but don’t worry- we can get through this believe me. The person who creates the story is called the author; Roald Dahl is an author, J.K. Rowling is an author... they write the book. They are real people.

Now, in order to write a story the author, remember this is the real person, must create, from their imagination, a narrator. Here is an example.

I swam down, deeper and deeper into the sea. The sunlight began to dwindle and the water against my scales became colder. I began to swish my tail faster and faster, chasing my fish friend...

Now, the author here is me. I’m not a fish. I’m a real person. But, now this is the important part, the narrator- the I in the story who is swimming deeper into the sea- is not real. That fish is a figment of my imagination. So the author is real, but the story and the narrator- the teller of the tale, are imaginary.

Now, though the narrator might say or do something in the imaginary story, that does not necessarily mean that the author does it or agrees with the narrator. By creating the narrator as a fish, I do not propagate, support, undermine or attack fish. The narrator is a fish- I am not. Perhaps another example to drill home this point;

I crept up behind him, the blood boiling in my veins. Standing just 6 feet infront of me was the man who killed my father. I pulled the knife out of my coat pocket and leapt at him. I felt the knife pierce his flesh, I felt his warm blood trickle onto my hand.

Again, the I in this story is not me, I (me, the author) did not kill anyone. The narrator, a creation of my imagination, did the deed- well that is I imagined him doing the deed because of course imaginary people cannot really do anything. The author here, me, is not propagating stabbings, he is merely constructing (like you do with Lego) a story in his head and creating a character to tell it.

So, to conclude our lesson for today; fiction is not real. When an author creates a fictional story, with a fictional narrator, doing fictional things, that doesn’t mean that the author does/supports those things/statements.