Saturday, 14 October 2017

Back on the road in Turkey with Amos Trust

This week I have had the pleasure of meeting a dedicated group of walkers/ pilgrims who are making their steady way across Europe and the Middle East on foot.  I have joined them as a support driver because they need a minibus to assist them with luggage, lunch and lifts when necessary.  Today they are in Turkey and they have walked through England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Albania, Macedonia and Greece.  They will move on to Jordan from Istanbul and from the capital Amman will walk to the Holy Land and ultimately Jerusalem.

The walkers view their journey as a pilgrimage as well as an act of solidarity and penance.  They participate in a daily liturgy, or morning observance, where they together remind themselves that they are walking with those whose rights are undermined, for the oppressed and for peace.

The initiative was set in motion by a guy called Justin, a writer, actor, director, musician and producer who has several years association with Amos Trust, a small human rights organisation supporting educational and rights projects in Nicaragua, India, South Africa, Burundi, South Africa and Palestine.  When Justin was in the Holy Land in 2014 he met a Palestinian family whose home had been demolished by the Israeli authorities for the fourth time.  The head of the family offered hospitality and graciousness and Justin was moved to consider ways to respond to their predicament. 

Since 1967 house demolitions have affected thousands of Palestinians and this destruction shows no sign of abating.  Palestinian, Israeli and international activist campaigning against restriction of movement of Palestinians by Israel, the illegal separation wall built by Israel, the siege of Gaza imposed by Israel, discriminatory laws, illegal Israeli settlements feel powerlessness yet there is power in being able to put one foot in front of the other and to lead oneself along a path such as the Just Walk from UK to Jerusalem.

There are three main aims for the walk which are to a) in order to express solidarity with those who have no freedom of movement, b) to demonstrate a willingness to walk the path of peace together with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists and c) as an act of penance recognise the wrongs of Britain’s political failure in the Holy Land.

The walkers are a diverse group and amongst them is a mezzo soprano called Julia from an organisation called Music with Refugees.  She can play the oud and sing Arabic songs beautifully

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Universal Jurisdiction and Political Immunity: can states still get away with it?

I was invited to take part in a panel meeting at LSE to discuss 'Universal Jurisdiction and Political Immunity: can states still get away with it?

I pulled together some slides for the talk these are available below.

The audio recording of the whole evening is also available here with the perspectives of Panellists who were:

Rodney Dixon QC, Temple Garden Chambers, instructed by Stoke and White LLP in representing UK and other victims on the Flotilla and Mavi Marmara.
Dr John Chalcraft, Associate Professor in the History and Politics of Empire/Imperialism, LSE Department of Government
Alexandra Lort Phillips, Passenger on board Gaza flotilla MV Mavi Marmara
Ahmet Dogan, father of Furkan Dogan who was an 18 year old activist killed on the MV Mavi Marmara
Ali Emrah Bozbayindir, Associate Professor of International Law & International Criminal Law & Assistant Dean at the Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University

Thursday, 7 March 2013

New challenge to the project

Today we were notified that Skatejam's application to the Egyptian authorities for permission to leave Egypt to travel to Gaza was declined by the security clearance department.  We have been told that the reason is to do with the materials list we submitted.  This is a depressing news because it not only presents a challenge to us for the project but it also confirms that the siege of Gaza from the Egyptian Rafah side is still in place.  Apparently the following items be a security issue:

Skateboard Shoes (USED / SECOND HAND) 3
Sets of skateboard bearings (USED / SECOND HAND) 20
Sets of skateboard wheels (USED / SECOND HAND) 19
Pair of skateboard Trucks (USED / SECOND HAND) 8
Skateboard helmet (USED / SECOND HAND) 1
Set of skateboard hardware (spacers, bushings, pads) 4

So we have told them we don't need to take the materials.   We'll find a way to get the stuff there but will have to wait longer now for team clearance. We did not want to use the tunnels but this decision leaves us with little choice.

The rumoured flexibility on the border under the new administration appears to be just that.

We also went to the British Embassy in Cairo his morning to ask for a reply to our email.  I asked them to please confirm that they had received our communication.  It was almost like asking them to sell their grandmothers.

Me: 'Hi, we're a group that is travelling to Gaza with an invitation from an organisation in Palestine'
Woman on the counter: 'We don't advise travelling to Gaza'
Me: 'I know.  I sent you an email with details about our project asking for a response'
Woman on the counter: 'Ok did you call or email?'
Me: 'I emailed you with all the paperwork'
Woman on the counter: 'When did you send it?'
Me: 'Two days ago'
Woman on the counter: 'Yes we have read it'
Me: 'How do I know you've read it? I need to have evidence that you have received our email so that I can show it to the Egyptian border officers at Rafah who need to know that our consulate are aware of what we are doing and that we waive our consular rights.'  (passed paperwork through hatch)
Woman on the counter (looks at paperwork evidently not recognising it in any way whatsoever):  'We can't provide any letter of support to groups wanting to travel to Gaza'
Me: 'I didn't ask you for that I asked you for a reply to our email to confirm that you have read our information and you know who is going and that we waive our rights'
Woman on the counter: 'Ok we'll send confirmation'
Me: 'You need to mention the names of the people I named in the paperwork, otherwise it will only be confirmed to me'
Woman on the counter: 'Ok we'll do that'
Me: 'It needs to be today because we want to travel'

10 hours later no email from them.

The embassy reception is just like a government office in the UK, same green lino on the stairs, government posters in noticeboards, contract carpet, water cooler, computer in the corner that doesn't connect to any network.  Same parrot fashion response from a person that is careful to make sure they implement the policies in the most conservative way they can 'to cover their backs' in the event of any mistake.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Returning to Gaza

This month I'm returning to Gaza with Skatejam, an organisation that constructs skateboard half pipes.  We have an invitation from Emaar Association for Rehabilitation and Development in Khan Younis to deliver the project for two weeks at the Al Amar Sports Club.  We received a formal invitation almost a month ago but the siege of Gaza is still effectively upheld on the Egyptian side of the border and we are stuck here in Cairo.  We will get in eventually but it is a slow and unpredictable process which makes planning and timing very difficult.  It's the expected and unnatural situation that people in Gaza live under permanently.
Delays on access from the Egyptian authorities is another facet of the siege. If you wish to visit Gaza you need a letter of invitation from an NGO in Gaza and an Egyptian security clearance letter, otherwise the Egyptian side of the border won't let you out.  The siege is upheld by the British Embassy as well as the Egyptian authorities because even though the Palestinian side have invited us the border crossing is restricted by Egyptian permissions and the British Embassy who could provide us with a supporting letter but refuse to do so.
It's been rumoured that it is easier to cross under the new Morsi administration, but the process appears to be just as slow as before.
Nevertheless there are four of us here and we're waiting until we get in.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Spring into action

As discussions flit across the internet in preparation for a new convoy I am reminded how bizarre it is that within 18 short months I have become someone to whom heart monitors, dialysis machines, dental chairs and ventilators get offered on a regular basis.  While at the outset of collecting aid for Gaza in autumn 2009 I would have turned down very little of people's kind and well-meaning donations of the UK's second-hand or just-about-to-go-out-of-date surgical consumables I now have a different perspective.  How is it that the world watches while Israel receives $3billion annually in military aid from the US to spend on brand new technology, such as the pilot-less drones which apparently may have had a role in the "mistake" that Goldstone now refers to the obliteration of Samouni family members in Gaza, while civil protestors and people of conscience scrabble together to deliver second hand items to Palestinian hospitals.  It is an insult to humanity and to Palestinians that this is the state of affairs and I wouldn't blame anyone in Palestine for saying thanks but no thanks to any of these well-meaning donations.  Its another sign of the corporatised, unequal consumer-mentality of our society here that some of our private health providers make enough money to toss fully functioning, sterilised, expensively made equipment into the trash at the passing of some meaningless sell-by date. But then the big pharmas wouldn't have it any other way would they?  Ensuring that the rules-insurance-contracts that are standard in the health industry allow for plenty of forward profit-planning I've no doubt whatsoever.

Oh yes... p.s. Israel normally comes up with some other projects to require funding on top of the standard $3 billion annually received directly in cash at the start of the fiscal year and did I forget to add they also now estimate requiring a further $20 billion apparently due to the added risk of 'Arab uprisings' this year.

This latest road convoy is specifically aimed at supporting the Samouni children in an education initiative  to provide a space and some resources to assist learning for the many of them who are part of the surviving family - Samouni Family Community Centre and Classroom.  The past month has seen Gazans reeling from not only the recent bombardments and shootings that killed several Palestinian civilians there, including children, but also last week the murder of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni.  The brutalising and de-humanising effects of the occupation are manifest.  For a link to the sort of work Vik would take part in view a short report completed by him by way of thanks for a journalistic award he won, it includes clear footage of the Israeli military firing live ammunition at fishermen and farmers with International Solidarity Movement witnesses.  Friends from the movement are mourning and shocked at this murder and also that of Juliano Merkhamis in Jenin refugee camp just a week or two earlier.  I had the privilege of sitting and watching the film Arna's Children (link is to the trailer) which Juliano made telling the true story of a handful of children who took part in his mother's drama education workshops in Jenin who when Juliano returns have become inevitably into the armed resistance struggle as young men with claustrophobically sad result.  Snapshots of the Freedom Theatre where he worked show a vision of creative activists in Palestine realised.

This year it has been hard to keep abreast of the news, in January we had the release of the new Palestine Papers and wikileaks documents exposing what we all knew really - that the US is a dishonest broker in peace talks and Palestinians have no partner for peace, MEMO hosted a great evening about it.  Then the massive popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt faltering and turning into something else in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria.  The conflict in Libya has divided not only the Libyan country itself between east and west but also London-based activists, analysts, lawyers and civil opinion, for example the CPGB-ML position describes Britain's intervention as another imperialist war - while 'An Arab in the British wilderness' tries to debunk the myth surrounding the Libyan 'revolutionary' that is Gaddafi.  There were two Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 passed in quick succession in March both explicitly referring to 'responsibility to protect' civilians in Libyan Arab Jemiyrah.  Resolution 1970 is the first resolution to have the unanimous vote of the Security Council in imposing non-military measures on Libya, Resolution 1973 was passed by 10 votes for and five abstensions - no veto.  So now we are at war again.  Hmm isn't it funny how things happen when there isn't a VETO.  Yes the U.S. has vetoed no fewer than 43 resolutions and counting against Israel meaning that they have exercised the veto right more than all the other veto Permanent Member states put together - on behalf of Israel.  This twisted relationship is undermining the world's system of international law - slow and immature though it still is.  The duplicity of the West is thrown into relief again when we consider the lack of response to civilian massacre in Gaza during Cast Lead and this has led to calls for No-fly zone over Palestine.  As I've said elsewhere - I am interested in the least dead and felt confused and uninformed about Libya, with one Libyan friend telling me 'thank god for the no-fly zone resolution' and another inviting me to join a peace delegation from the West (Tripoli).  I'm erring towards the writer of this blog however I may well be wrong - but I can't help thinking the imperialists of the West were quite happy with the way things were with Muamar before the demonstrators took to the streets.  Nevertheless it certainly can't be said that the decision to deploy forces would have been carefully planned and thought through - not like the carefully planned interception of the Freedom Flotilla by Israel (!).  If you instruct soldiers what do you expect?  Cups of tea?  Anyway having to complete academic exercises has meant no trip for me to North Africa this time... It was quite fitting that at the time my university assessment presentation was titled 'responsibility to protect is humanitarian intervention by another name', if you really want some boring punishment you can read the notes that accompanied what I said (n.b. this is an academic exercise and not particularly interesting!).

So back to action - I have been trying to track down the whereabouts and state of the lorry I drove to Istanbul last year so it can be put into use again for the Samouni project.  A helpful English local I found online living in Bulgaria has even gone as far as visiting the lorry park and he tells me its there!!  but looks a bit sad and unloved.  Plans are afoot to revive very soon.

OMG (and friends will know I NEVER use that acronym) I have just seen Richard Lightbown's excellent article about the BBC Trust's response to complaints about Panorama's 'Death on the Med' I am really feeling so incredulous about the Trust's conclusions I'm going to have to stop now. 

Monday, 27 December 2010

Mavi Marmara returns, Gaza massacre anniversary

It is very appropriate to me that today, on the second anniversary of the beginning of the three week long murderous military attack by Israel on Gaza I am currently sitting in the IHH offices in Istanbul wıth colleagues, friends and veterans of flotilla and convoys.  As we all know the situation in Gaza has not been eased substantially since the flotilla and 2011 will be a major year for the region given the breakdown of talks and Freedom Flotilla II .  I am completing some administration after yesterday's huge event where I was reunited with shipmates from Mavi Marmara and the ship itself returned where it will be docked for a week to be opened to the public.  It was spectacular and emotional.  There were thousands of people in the crowd that assembled to remember the dead and welcome the ship home.  Not everyone from the internationals onboard has been able to make it but some wonderful suprises wıth people coming from many countries to be here.

I landed at 4.30am Boxıng Day in Istanbul from London straight from Christmas Day at home with family.  I'm carrying a Christmas present from my family - a new holdall to replace the battered and torn one that has travelled on the convoy and the flotilla.  I'm going to keep the old one it is a special bag having been through Israeli hands in June.  Durıng the Israeli raid they removed a mobile phone from the bag as well as all my paperwork, notebook, receipts to the value of 700 pounds none of which has been returned. The new bag goes straight into action and is loaded with books and reading I need for essays due in early January for Uni.

On arrival ın Istanbul aırport a taxi firm in arrivals calls me over to try to persuade me to hire a cab from them, during the conversation they ask me what I'm doing in Istanbul and I say I'm here to visit the Mavi Marmara and see friends from IHH.  Instead of charging 110 lire for a return journey (approx 40-50 pounds) they take me to my hotel free of charge.

I get up at 10am eat at the hotel buffet which reminds me of the summer - best breakfast I can think of: hard boiled egg, cheese, fresh tomato, cucumber, fresh bread, honey hot tea.  IHH minibus picks us up at 11am and we head to the event.  I am very happy to see friends from previous journeys including Fatima Mohammedi, Kevin, Nabil, Sheza, Sakir, Laura Stuart, Parveen Yaqub, Babu, Ahsan, Ebrahim, Arif Shah.  On the way we also collect Audrey Bomse and Mohamed Salwa and his wife.

On the way we get an idea of the scale of the event.  A huge column of coaches is lining the route to the event with waves of people walking towards the site on foot in addition.  We head through the crowd to an area separated by barrier from the main crowd, next to this area is a platform with seats for the families of the martyrs and VIP speakers.  I see Manuel and Laura from Spain, they have been very active in Spain campaigning ceaselessly since the flotilla and the Spanish public have responded, you can see info about their work at , as well as raising money for a ship to add to the Freedom Flotilla II they have started a schools activity programme, erected a statue in memory of the Mavi Marmara, have had theır case against Israel opened by Spanish prosecutor in Spain and continue to engage with the media.  Incidentally their lawyers in Spain are the same ones that took the case of Jose Couso, Spanish cameraman killed by U.S. forces in Iraq.  It turns out that wikileaks documents reveal the Spanish government bowing to U.S. pressure to drop the case against their soldiers while they were asssuring Couso's family they were fighting for his interests, this may re-open the case.  It is also wonderful to see Fatima from Belgium, she tells me about the fundraising they have been doing there for a boat to Gaza for Freedom Flotilla II next year.  The wonderful familiar faces of our IHH family Nalan and Gulden as well as many more who were all onboard Mavi Marmara and looked after us so carefully.  They have all worked hard to prepare for today's event and to restore the ship to working order.

The event unfolds in spectacular fashion with thousands of people arrivıng, flags, fıreworks, speeches, music, whistles, scarves, banners, balloons, tv cameras.  The Mavi Marmara arrives with huge banners depicting the names and photographs of those shot dead hanging from the sides.  She is accompanied by many other small vessels to the dockside.  There are even some champion swimmers who take part in the proceedings by swimming to accompany her for the fınal 5000m.  I take part in a brief interview by a TVNET reporter, just as we are about to begin I see Farooq from Al Fakhoora Foundation who has come from Qatar with his wife to take part in the event, I ask him if any of the 60 or so laptops they had purchased for Gaza students had been recovered after the raid.  He said in contrast it was some of these laptops that were found beıng re-sold by Israeli soldiers after they looted them from the Mavi Marmara which has led to prosecution in Israel.

We are at the event for several hours, the families of the martyrs and brother Bulent from IHH as well as some passengers manage to get through the crush onto the ship where memorial photographs and plaques have been erected.  I decide there are too many people today and I will return at a quieter time to visit.

I head back to the hotel and we make our way to IHH offıces at around 6pm to get to dinner at another location.  I have brought some cards and presents for the families which my mother and I have bought - only small things but my mother said she wanted to thank them in some way for keeping me safe on the ship.  I need help with writing cards in Turkish and wonderful angel called Zeynep, daughter of a flotilla veteran, helps me do this.  We all have dinner together and at the end Brother Bulent addresses us.  He says IHH are launchıng '9 projects for 9 martyrs', this is an initiative to develop a project in each of the home towns of each of the men killed on the ship.  This includes sports, music, health, student dormitories a different project ın each place to be co-produced with an international partner, to reflect the international nature of our journey.  We will be actively seeking partner charities or trusts to take part in the initiative.  IHH would like all of our feedback about what we think Mavi Marmara should do now and he offered the chance for the ship to visit our countries for events.  He says IHH have not finalised any plans for 2011 with regards to returning to Gaza by sea but that we will be among the first to know.

After dinner a group go to the ship to visit in peace but I head back to the hotel with Parveen, Sheza and others and we stay up for several hours talking, my friend Mehmet comes to hang out as well.

IHH has been assisting the Asia Gaza Convoy on its Turkey leg, they are still waiting to reach Gaza.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Month of activity - part 2

November 13th I attended the Jewish Cultural Centre to hear Peter Beinart and Mick Davis (chairman if United Jewish Israel Appeal) in conversation with journalist Jonathan Freedland.  The event was called 'Hugging and wrestling with Israel' and aimed to allow participants as Jews who don't live in Israel but support Israel and the audience to talk about a conflicted relationship with Israel critically and raise issues relating to Israeli policy and voices of opposition to it amongst liberal Jews.  The room was packed out, sponsored by the Jewish Chronicle UK paper.  Peter Beinart caused controversy in US recently when he reported the divide between liberal young American Jews and Zionism in an article the Failure of the American Jewish Establishment .  The event was interesting, well organised and the panel were articulate - the numbers attending suggest there is a sense of urgency in the topic at present and indicated UK Jewish community are interested in discussing about what Israel is doing in Palestine and are concerned about its policies.  Peter Beinart gave the impression that in US it is very difficult for young liberal Jews to express critical views of Israel within the Jewish community, harder than in UK, however voices in the room how they too felt pressure to conform, such as an ex-student from Durham as a member of Jewish student association she was expected to provide unwavering support for Zionism within the group.  On 8th November however Jewish protestors in New Orleans managed to disrupt Netanyahu's speech there, there is a website articulating the position of these protestors and the phenomenon described by Peter Beirnart .

Mick Davis expressed concern about the implications of the direction of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians and there was a tangible sense of running out of time in terms of what is happening there with settlement building and expansion, human rights abuses against Palestinians.  For his position he has sparked controversy being reported in Haaretz for his comments at the event - for while stating categorically that he did not believe Israel was an apartheid state that in the current direction the majority would indeed be ruled by the minority - as it was in apartheid South Africa.  A question from the floor suggested that democracy and Zionism are incompatible - the panel believed not.  When it came to discussion of a bi-national state they expressed preference for two-state solution - but the atmosphere in the room suggested a growing awareness of the unlikelihood of this and the urgency of the situation - its too late for that now.