Hackney Council censor resident from speaking against corporation complicit in war crimes in Palestine
Hackney council is intent on giving a massive contract to a company that profits from Israeli war crimes. And they don’t care what rules they break in the process – either locally or internationally.
Who are these people who persist in imagining we live in a ‘democracy’? It’s democracy for the ruling class and dictatorship over the rest of us. The rules are for us idiots to waste our time over trying to make sense out of and follow. When the rules don’t suit the interests of our rulers, they’ve no qualms about ignoring them and just getting on with whatever is most expedient!
As far as I can see, the lesson is: forget about trying to beat them through ‘legal’ and ‘democratic’ channels. Do what they do: use your collective power to do what needs to be done!
Thanks to Caroline Day on the ONN website for the article that follows:
Yesterday (Wednesday) I was meant to speak at a Hackney Council meeting about the potential selection of the multinational Veolia for a colossal multi-billion pound waste management contract, an issue I wrote about last week for the ONN.
Veolia is guilty of grave misconduct in the course of its business in providing vital services to the Israeli settlements therefore abetting Israeli war crimes in occupied Palestine. It also has a perilous financial standing and appalling health, safety and environmental record that should concern any resident of north London.
As I arrived at the council an hour before I was due to give my speech to the Council, I was heartened to see a large gathering of local people from the No 2 Veolia action group protesting at the shortlisting and possible selection of Veolia. In contrast, just two Zionists appeared to wave Israeli flags and shout ‘Support Israel! Support Veolia!’
The speaker of the council introduced the deputation as planned but whilst I was sat ready to give my speech inside the Council chamber, at this very late stage, an unprecedented cross-party procedural motion was tabled by Conservative Cllr. Linda Kelly of Haifa Twinning and seconded by Labour Mayor Jules Pipe. Mayor Pipe gave a speech, which I have since heard is aberrant in the case of seconders of procedural motions, claiming that my deputation should not be heard at council.
Jules Pipe claimed there was no ‘freedom of speech’ issue but I regard this as a clear act of political censorship. I was forced to leave the chamber without having uttered a single word, despite having submitted a delegation that was approved at every level of council procedure. The legal officer for Hackney Council advised the councillors that the delegation WAS legitimate.
The councillors chose to ignore this and voted for the motion, although it must be stated that all Labour councillors were whipped, meaning that to vote against the motion would have resulted in suspension from the party. Because of this we’ll never know how many were able to vote with their conscience.
The Council have since issued a joint statement which I would like to respond to here. I will also publish here the full text of my censored speech which I will also send to all the 57 councillors who were prevented from hearing it last night.
The Council statement statement begins “at Wednesday night’s Full Council meeting, the Mayor and councillors of all three political groups voted not to receive a deputation from a group wishing to raise issues concerning NLWA.”
The North London Waste Authority is made up of elected representatives from each of the seven north London boroughs. Those councillors are responsible for representing the interests and concerns of their constituents. Their voting decision on the huge £4.7bn waste management contract being considered should be guided by what is best for the people of their boroughs. The constituents of the boroughs concerned should have a right to address their elected representatives on matters that affect them, such as who handles their waste and how £600m of taxpayers money, including their own, is spent by each borough on such an undertaking.
“Elected members felt that to receive the deputation could give the incorrect appearance that they were open to lobbying on procurement issues and would be in turn be prepared to lobby an external organisation about its procurement.”
My response: it is important to distinguish between secretive lobbying, which regularly has detrimental consequences for the public interest, takes place behind closed doors, often on behalf of powerful vested interest groups who seek to gain financially from the result of decisions, and the right of a local constituent to put forward views on important ethical, environmental and financial matters in a public forum and on behalf of concerned residents from the borough who signed the deputation.
“Elected members also said that it was inappropriate for Full Council to debate what is intrinsically an international political issue which the local authority is in no position to resolve.”
Can the councillors and mayor Jules Pipe explain to me how Veolia’s dire financial situation and the risk this poses to the taxpayer who will foot the bill in the event that the company goes into administration “intrinsically an international political issue”?
How is Veolia’s dire health and safety record (including a notorious industrial accident which closed both the M5 and M6 motorways) and the risk this poses to their employees and the public “intrinsically an international political issue”?
How is Veolia’s lack of an environmentally friendly CHP solution (which the NLWA itself regards as best practice), and the apparent lack of the necessary capacity to carry out recycling for the area the NWLA covers, “intrinsically an international political issue”?
“Representatives of all three party groups issued a statement that said: We are here to represent residents and do not shy away from difficult debates on local issues, about services and issues that directly affect out borough.”
Fundamentally, this IS an issue that affects all residents of the borough as it regards the use of THEIR money. The issue being considered IS a local service, that of local waste management. It is hard to see how there could be an issue that affects residents less since all residents are affected by the issue of waste management. Veolia’s bid trebles the amount Hackney is currently paying for waste disposal, and this will clearly impact other services, cutbacks will presumably have to be made elsewhere.
“We believe, however, that although technically acceptable, to have received this deputation would not have observed the spirit of the Council’s constitution and went beyond what was reasonable for Members to consider.”
In other word’s a political decision was taken by Jules Pipe not to hear a deputation that conformed to the letter of the Council’s constitution and a whip which would have seem members voting against suspended from the Labour Party was required to enforce this political decision. What is ‘reasonable for the Council to consider” seems not be determined by the fair and reasonable council procedure but by the political beliefs of the mayor and others. Since many Labour councillors were under the intimidation of being suspended from the party we don’t know how many voted according to their beliefs and how many were forced into this embarrassing and unnecessary censorship of a local resident.
Here is the full text of my censored speech for you to read. Why was Hackney so scared to even hear the following?
NLWA Waste Management Contract
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about this very important issue.
It is vital that Hackney coucillors are aware, and that it is on public record that selecting Veolia will treble the current costs of waste disposal and expose the taxpayer to significant risks. This contract is likely to last over 25 years and represents a £4.7bn investment of taxpayers’ money.
Today I will outline 5 reasons why Hackney Council should not select Veolia.
1) Grave Misconduct
The Jerusalem Light Railway connects West Jerusalem with Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. By connecting West Jerusalem to the settlements, the JLR violates article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its own civilian population into occupied territory. By confiscating and destroying Palestinian property on the route of the JLR, it contravenes Article 53, which prohibits an occupying power from destroying property in the occupied territory. In November 2012 Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt affirmed that: “The UK has been consistently clear that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law”.
Veolia Transport Israel also operates bus routes 7, 19, 109, 110, 422, and 425 connecting communities in Israel to illegal settlements in the West Bank. A subsidiary company, the Israeli Veolia group, owns and operates the Tovlan landfill in the occupied Jordan Valley.
The NLWA have advised in communications that activities of Veolia’s subsidiary companies cannot be taken into account. This is incorrect according to both EU and UK law. Veolia’s revenues and profits are calculated as a whole and are listed as such on the Paris and New York stock exchanges. In reporting results, Veolia considers subsidiaries to be divisions of itself, and its subsidiaries’ contracts as its own contracts. Legally Veolia and its subsidiaries in the UK, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories should be treated as a single entity.
The NLWA have also advised that they cannot consider the location of a company’s activities. But this is irrelevant, as it not the location per se that is the issue, but the fact that Veolia’s business activities in that location violate international law.
Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories and numerous experts in international law stress that any decision by the NLWA to provide access to public funds to Veolia may contravene the UK’s international legal obligation not to facilitate violations of international law.
2) Discriminatory Practices
Racist recruitment: Veolia advertised jobs on the JLR requiring both Hebrew to a “mother tongue” standard and military service, a discriminatory requirement that excludes Palestinians.
Gender segregation: Veolia operates a segregated bus service on route 322 from Ashdod to Tel Aviv. Women enter through the rear of the vehicle and the men from the front. They cannot touch each other or sit next to one another.
Veolia’s proposal is limited to incineration, competing bids offer the more environmentally friendly Combined Heat and Power solution which emits less Co2 into the atmosphere.
Despite claiming to be ‘CHP ready’, Veolia have made no provision for a CHP solution and no obvious potential for this exists in the site they have selected.
Most Councils, including Hackney, wish to increase the amount of waste they recycle. For this reason it would be perverse to select Veolia to handle waste management since its strength and technical capabilities are in incineration. At present the UK capacity of Veolia’s co-mingled recycling plants is less than 20% of that required for north London.
Competing companies in the bidding process are operating recycling facilities that can process around 250,000 tonnes a year, close to the amount required for north London and around 5 times larger than any plant operated at present by Veolia in the UK.
The incinerator proposed by Veolia has an electrical output of 50 MW, over 25% higher than that of rival bidder E.On, and an indication of Veolia’s prioritisation of incineration over recycling.
4) Health and Safety
Veolia have an appalling health and safety record.
In 2005 they pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 6 and 9 of the Dangerous and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations Act 2002, after a huge chemical explosion at a Veolia facility resulted in the closure of the M6 and M5 motorways.
In May 2009 an explosion at waste recycling plant in Ohio injured two workers and damaged adjacent buildings.
In April 2011 the collapse of a sewage holding wall at a Veolia plant in Tennesse, spilled 1.5 million gallons of polluted water into a river and killed two workers.
In November 2011, a Veolia plant discharged raw and toxic digester gas into the atmosphere in Point Richmond California.
5) Financial concerns
The NLWA currently operates the EcoPark at Edmonton, recycling some waste, with the rest either incinerated to generate electricity or sent to landfill. Current costs for disposal and treatment are around £75 a tonne.
Veolia will almost triple this, charging close to £200 per tonne. Harrow Council actually make a profit by operating their waste and recycling services in-house, conversely Brent is prevented from doing the same by being locked into a contract with Veolia.
Veolia faces serious financial problems. Its share price has dropped below 8 Euros — compared with above 60 Euros five years ago — while debt has risen to above 15 billion Euros. Veolia is facing a major lawsuit from competitor EDF over the ownership of Dalkia. Veolia has pledged to sell billions of euros of assets and pull out of dozens of countries in a bid to lower debt and reverse losses.
The risk posed by outsourcing contractors going into administration is amply demonstrated by the case of Barnet Homes, where taxpayers subsequently picked up the bill. This is even more pertinent in the case of the north London waste contract as the duration and financial value of the contract are so considerable.
At a time of unprecedented cuts to Council budgets, selecting Veolia is not a gamble any Council can afford to make with taxpayers’ money.
‘Globe to globe’ meets global intifada at London’s Shakespeare theatre – poem and video for the cultural boycott of Israel
Palestine solidarity activists will be demonstrating at the Globe today, London’s Shakespearean theatre. They will be letting Habima, the Israeli National Theatre, know that performing for colonists illegally settled on Palestinian land makes them complicit in Israel’s breaches of international law and that art may not be used to whitewash human rights abuses.
Please use the poem and video below to spread the word about the cultural boycott of Israel – and let the Globe know that hosting those who collude with war crimes is to join in their collusion.
by Sue Blackwell
If all the world’s a stage – why then, the stage
Must play its part if we would change the world.
Whence this commotion? Why such howls of rage
The moment that our banners are unfurled?
In Shakespeare’s time, an audience was moved
By speeches about justice and compassion.
The Bard, methinks, could only have approved
Of protests carried out in such a fashion.
We’ll take no lessons from those fools who claim
That politics can’t mix with the theatre.
If actors break the law, they are to blame.
Perform in settlements? They should know better!
Attempts to whitewash Israel just got harder:
Now “Globe to Globe” meets global Intifada.
WATCH THIS: Why we say ‘no’ to Habima at the Globe: Miriam Margolyes
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s AGM last month resulted in what can only be described as a significant step back for the British anti-imperialist movement and a significant victory for zionism.
The meeting voted to endorse a paragraph that the PSC executive had recently added to the campaign website stating that “Any expression of racism or intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement. Such sentiments are abhorrent in their own right and can only detract from the building of a strong movement in support of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.” (My emphasis)
That is, they voted to give the PSC’s executive the ability to discipline and expel sincere and useful solidarity activists for committing a ‘crime’ that exists only in the zionist imagination – the crime of ‘minimising the holocaust’. And, whether they realised it or not, they simultaneously voted to endorse the zionist conflation of two terms that have no actual connection: racism and holocaust denial/‘holocaust minimising’.
Not that this is all that surprising in a country where ordinary people are so totally saturated with and generally accepting of imperialist propaganda. Even the fact that the PSC statement referred simply to ‘the holocaust’ rather than ‘the jewish holocaust’ shows how in thrall its writers are to the prevailing imperialist and zionist rhetoric, even if only subconsciously.
We are all ‘holocaust minimisers’
Speaking for the CPGB-ML, I proposed an amendment to the executive’s motion on anti-semitism that asked the campaign to keep to its primary focus of carrying out “effective work in solidarity with Palestine, against zionism and imperialism”. During my speech from the floor I emphasised the point that the more effective and influential the Palestine solidarity movement becomes, the more vociferously it can expect to be attacked by Israel’s supporters – which inevitably means being accused of ‘anti-semitism’ by hysterical zionist campaigners.
As if to prove the point that ‘holocaust minimising’ is a crime that anyone can be accused of, I found the trick being used against me by PSC Secretary Ben Soffa, who managed to twist my words with impressive sophistry. I had pointed out that those who ask any kind of question about the Nazi holocaust, or who challenge any of Israel’s founding myths, are all labelled ‘holocaust deniers’, ‘anti-semites’ and ‘racists’ by the zionist lobby. According to Ben, however, what I’d said was that the jewish holocaust was a myth!
Not only was this an unnecessarily hostile response to what was actually a fairly innocuous amendment, it was also a very underhand trick to play given that I was given no opportunity to reply. No doubt my expulsion is being prepared as we speak …
To underline the point, the meeting also voted to expel an activist from Brighton on the basis that he was deemed to be a holocaust denier and therefore ‘anti-semitic’. Just as in my local branch’s discussions, the case for the prosecution at the AGM focused not on why the accused member’s views meant he could not be useful as a PSC activist, but on whether those present agreed with him or not; whether they found his alleged views personally acceptable.
It’s a clever sleight-of-hand, but an important one for those interested in building a broad-based mass movement for Palestine. I suppose at this point I have to say (again) that I have no interest in denying the truth or the horror of the Nazi crimes against the jews of Europe. But whether I do or not is NOT the business of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Those who try to make it our business should simply be asked, firmly but politely, to take their discussions elsewhere.
Mass movement or liberal charity?
As far as I can see, the only points we all need to agree on are that the Palestinians have the right to decide what their minimum programme should be, as well as to chose their own leadership and their own forms of struggle, and that British people should be mobilised to support the just Palestinian struggle for self-determination and to stop Britain’s participation in and backing for the criminal zionist project. Insisting on further points of agreement does not serve this agenda; it does not help Palestine.
What was especially tragic about the antics at the AGM was the way that the timetable for the day was manipulated so that discussion of these diversionary non-issues took up most of the available debating time – to such an extent that several important motions were dropped off the day’s order paper. Almost all of those wishing to oppose the leadership’s agenda were stopped from speaking by the chair, while speaker after filibustering speaker was invited to come to the mic to endorse the leadership’s position and waste what little debating time was available.
Even these speakers, antagonistic as they were to our party’s agenda, had to concede our main points: that the jewish holocaust was not the unique event that zionist propaganda portrays it as being, but one of an ongoing string of catastrophic industrial-scale massacres that have been a hallmark of the imperialist system since it arrived on the scene over a century ago; and that it is the system of imperialism that we must fight if we are serious about supporting Palestine.
Comrade Harpal Brar received extremely warm applause in the hall when he made these points, pointing out the absurdity of obsessing over one of imperialism’s holocausts to the exclusion of all others. Indeed, the jewish holocaust made up just one small part of the gigantic holocausts that were the two world wars of the 20th century, perpetrated by the imperialists in order to save their rotten system at the expense of 100 million lives.
The jewish holocaust, he said, was not the murder of one race by another race but the murder of human beings by imperialism. Similarly, Israel itself is not a jewish project, despite its window dressing, but an imperialist project aimed at controlling the vital resources of the Middle East. Far from being the defender of jews that it claims to be, Israel does untold damage to the interests of jewish workers, just as it does to those of Arabs and, indeed, to those of workers all over the world.
The power of the unions
Many of the activists present were seriously disgruntled about the lack of time dedicated to discussing the campaign’s real plan for action in support of Palestine, feeling that the day had been given over to a zionist-inspired witch hunt, whose only motivation seemed to be that of keeping the PSC ‘respectable’ in the eyes of its establishment patrons. Many also found it worrying that so few actual Palestinians were present – either on the day or in the organisation generally.
One telling tactic that was used during the debate was the threat of disaffiliation by the campaign’s big union backers. What would Unite do, we were asked, if they got wind of even a hint that the PSC was being accused of anti-semitism? Drop us like a hot potato, of course, came the unspoken response. And so the debate, what little of it there was, died. After all, we don’t want to lose our connection with all those organised workers, do we?
The affiliation of major unions like Unite to the PSC in recent years has been hailed as a major breakthrough in the campaign’s progress; proof that we are becoming ‘mainstream’. The outcome of such affiliations, however, has not been quite what the more optimistic of us might have expected.
Instead of harnessing the collective power of Unite’s 1.5 million members in active solidarity with Palestine, the PSC has merely been given an opportunity to distribute postcards to union members aimed at persuading them to boycott settlement goods when making their weekly supermarket shop. But while moving a few people (or even a few thousand people) to make individual consumer choices may reflect a certain level of awareness and sympathy amongst the British population generally, it is no substitute for mobilising them for collective action; and not much threat to Israel either, if taken no further.
How much more effective would it be if Unite organised its lorry drivers to refuse to handle the goods to start with? Or if Usdaw backed its shop workers in refusing to put Israeli goods on the shelves? Or if the RMT organised members engaged in transporting freight by rail and sea to refuse to handle goods or weapons coming from or going to Israel? Or if the NUJ’s journalists stopped regurgitating zionist lies in Britain’s mainstream media?
Far from harnessing the power of Unite’s workers in support of Palestinian liberation, the affiliation has instead brought the power of Unite’s Labour-affiliated leaders into the PSC, where it is being used to crush any chance of organising the type of really effective Palestine solidarity work that might actually help Palestine by harming Israel – because in the process it would also damage British corporate interests.
And so the campaign’s new mantra seems to be: ‘What would Unite think?’ – which might as well be ‘What would the Labour party think?’ or (to take it to its logical conclusion) ‘What would Lord Sainsbury think?’
Non-cooperation off the agenda
Not that anybody present seemed to notice it, but the point about what kind of solidarity action is most useful was nicely underlined in the keynote speech of the day, given by Comrade Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Having flattered the activists present by making the rather surprising assertion that the British PSC was the best solidarity organisation in the world, Comrade Omar pointed out that the most effective form of boycott was the type delivered by dockers who refused to unload a ship bringing Israeli goods to South Africa in February 2009 – an action which he said had absolutely terrified the zionists and their imperialist masters. (Tellingly, the reference to the South African dockers’ action has been omitted from the edited version of Omar’s speech published on the PSC website.)
Which brings us back to those critical undebated motions. The last item on the day’s agenda was the CPGB-ML’s motion on non-cooperation, which called on the PSC to mobilise British workers to follow the brave example of their South African counterparts.
In particular, it called for “Building support within individual unions and at the TUC for motions that draw attention to the complicity of Britain’s government and corporations in Israeli war crimes, and that also call on workers to refuse to cooperate in their commission (eg, by making or moving munitions or other equipment, by writing or broadcasting propaganda, or helping in any other way to smooth the path of Israel’s war machine).”
Yet although the PSC’s leaders seemed perfectly happy to applaud such actions being taken elsewhere, they were clearly determined to avoid even a discussion about replicating them here in Britain. Having made sure the motion’s contents wouldn’t be debated at the AGM, the executive has quietly dropped all mention of the motion in its online summation of the meeting.
In fact, during the whole course of the day, the only mention of non-cooperation outside of Omar’s South Africa reference came when, as a candidate for election to the EC, I used my single minute of mic time to address a plea for action to the assembled delegates
If elected, I told them, I would focus my energies on organising and coordinating active non-cooperation work. In particular, as a media worker myself, I offered to work with other media worker members in PSC to get resolutions to the Bectu and NUJ conferences on the subject of non-cooperation with Israeli war crimes.
I emphasised the need to recognise the crucial role the media plays in supporting the zionist narrative and obliterating the Palestinian one, and reminded the activists of the Nuremberg rulings, which made it clear that propagating in favour of illegal wars and occupations is a war crime. That being so, I told them, it is vital that our media unions start to take a stand and protect their members from such involvement.
Interestingly, although I clearly wasn’t on the executive’s pre-approved list, and therefore had very little chance of being elected, this message was not so unpopular with the delegates as the leadership might have hoped. I received 119 votes (around 50 less than was needed to be elected).
The issue of active non-cooperation goes right to the very heart of what ‘solidarity’ actually means, bringing to workers’ attention the very real power that they have to change things when they act collectively.
It is understandable that the imperialists don’t want us to talk about this. Understandable, too, that the bought-and-paid-for labour aristocrats of the TUC and the Labour party should prefer to crush all such discussion, harmful as it is to the imperialist interests that they ultimately serve.
What is neither understandable nor forgivable is that the leadership of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign should be so averse to giving workers this message. Yet such is clearly the case. Every tactic continues to be used within the campaign to supress and sideline discussion on this vital aspect of our work, while those who do bring up the subject are treated as pariahs and portrayed as a hostile presence in the organisation.
The one vote that didn’t go the executive’s way was over a proposed constitutional amendment that aimed to expedite the process for expelling activists by removing their right to appeal to an AGM. Clearly, the tenor of the day’s debate had awoken a significant section of the delegates to the possibility that the proposed changes might not be inspired by benign motivations, so that the necessary two-thirds majority was not achieved.
Meanwhile, if anyone doubts that it is Labour and not we communists who are the real threat to the building of an effective mass movement for Palestine solidarity in Britain, perhaps they should think about the recent all-expenses-paid trip to Israel taken by a delegation of bright young Labour hopefuls, all in leadership positions within Labour’s youth and student organisations. Paid for by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), a frontline defender of the zionist state in Britain, the delegates were schmoozed by Israeli war criminals such as army spokesman Captain Barak Raz and Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev, as well as by Britain’s own arch-war criminal (sorry, ‘peace envoy’) Tony Blair.
Since Labour has given ample proof of its willingness to commit any crime in the cause of protecting British imperialist interests, it is hardly surprising that the party and its leaders continue to be committed backers of fascist Israel and defenders of its racist zionist ideology. What is surprising is that those who want to go against imperialist interests by supporting the Palestinian struggle for self-determination should allow their campaign to be misled by people who are tangled in a web of personal connections and political affiliations to that self-same warmongering, zionist-backing organisation.
Just got this message:
Hassan has been in touch from Istanbul where he is fine although he has no mobile phone or any other belongings. He is due back in UK from Monday.
He said the FCO told him his friends were working on his behalf while he was locked up and it made a massive difference to him.
Thank you very much everyone.
And this from Hassan himself:
I’ve just, for the first tıme, had a brief chance to look through some of the messages online.
I’m deeply moved by the support people have shown, I can’t tell you how much it means to me. I don’t have proper internet access where I am at the moment (being robbed of my phones etc hasn’t helped), but I hope to return to London on Monday and will be ın touch with everyone soon.
At the end of the day what we all must remember is that what we received, as passengers on the freedom wave, is only a small taste of what life is like for political prisoners in Israel and around the world.
My love and thanks to everyone who wrote a message or made a prayer.
Fi aman Allah
Hassan Ghani, a brave and hard-working young reporter known for his documentary films about the Viva Palestina aid convoys and his live reporting from the deck of the Mavi Marmara as it came under attack by Israeli commandos last May, has been kidnapped by the Israeli state and is in grave danger.
Hassan is an award-winning Scottish journalist known for his honesty and integrity. Four days ago, he was working to cover the story of two boats travelling to Gaza under the name of the Freedom Waves flotilla. While the boats were in international waters, warships and gunboats from the Israeli navy attacked them. Masked and heavily-armed commandos stormed aboard (an act of international piracy), hijacked the boats and abducted all those on board to an Israeli jail. Although other journalists working on the boats have since been released, Hassan has not. Moreover, he has been kept in isolation from all the other passengers.
The two boats, MV Tahrir and MV Soairse, were organised by human-rights activists from Canada and Ireland in the latest attempt to break the illegal siege on Gaza. Hassan was the only British citizen aboard, but the UK consulate in Tel Aviv is notoriously uninterested in protecting the rights of Britons who have incurred the wrath of the Israeli state. Moreover, Hassan is a muslim. His parents are from Pakistan and he has worked for several years as a reporter for Press TV.
In the current climate, where the ‘war on terror’ is being used as an excuse for rampant islamophobia, both in Britain and Israel, it is clear that the British government is only going to take action if it feels itself to be under pressure from the public to do so. Indeed, it may well have political motivations for colluding in any attempt by Israel to brand Hassan as some kind of terrorist or agent, although any such claim would be totally spurious and unfounded.
If there is no pressure from the British government, there is no saying what the Israelis might feel free to do. In a state based on ethnic cleansing and apartheid racial segregation, just having a brown skin is a ‘provocation’ to many officials. Where that brown skin is accompanied by a muslim name and a mission aimed at exposing Israeli war crimes, experience must lead us to suspect the worst.
The history of Israel is made up of six decades of perpetrating the most horrific crimes against Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrian and other middle-eastern peoples – and of total immunity from any consequences thanks to the protection of successive British and US imperialist governments and corporations. The massacre of ten unarmed human-rights activists on the 2010 Freedom Flotilla was just one of many examples of Israel’s unbridled aggression towards those who try to bring it to account.
No doubt Israel would welcome the chance to make a scapegoat of Hassan, especially at a time when it is escalating its efforts to start a war against Iran. Other delegates aboard the two ships heard Israeli officials refer to him as “The Iranian”, which itself is a chilling indication of the attitude being taken towards Hassan.
To all those reading these words: please do what you can to spread awareness of Hassan’s plight in any way possible. The story needs to be covered by British journalists. Our media unions must take up and publicise Hassan’s cause, and those union members who work on the news must insist that the story gets coverage. So far, there has not been a single mention of Hassan’s abduction or of the raiding of the Freedom Waves flotilla on the BBC.
The video below features an interview with Jihan Hafiz, a US journalist who was also working on board the flotilla and who has now arrived back in New York. Please forward this link or write a message of your own and spread the word. The British government must demand Hassan’s immediate release!
Written and directed by Peter Kosminsky for Channel 4, The Promise is a four-part drama series that tells the story of the creation of the state of Israel in Palestine, 1948. Set mainly in Haifa, events are seen through the eyes of two British protagonists – Len, a sergeant in the British army of occupation in 1947/48, and his granddaughter Erin, who visits Israel 60 years later during her gap year at the invitation of a friend.
Reading her grandfather Len’s diary six decades after the events it describes, 18-year-old Erin learns about some of the momentous events that led to the Palestinian Nakba (‘catastrophe’) at the same time as her travels in modern-day Israel/Palestine are opening her eyes to the legacy of that time.
Originally inspired by the letter of a Mandate-era British soldier, the drama has been meticulously researched. Seventy former servicemen contributed their stories in order to give a detailed picture of the way ordinary British soldiers in Palestine lived and thought during the years immediately preceding the partition and ethnic cleansing of the country.
There are excellent performances throughout the seven-and-a-half hour drama, particularly from the two leads, Christian Cooke and Claire Foy, and the authentic atmosphere is immeasurably boosted by an excellent supporting cast of Palestinian and Israeli actors and by being shot on location in Israel itself.
We see the enormous sympathy that most soldiers initially had for the jews following the atrocities of World War Two, and we see how the zionists played on that sympathy to foster support for a jewish state in Palestine.
Setting up social clubs in which ordinary soldiers mixed with jewish girls was one tool used by the zionists to great effect – both as a means of spreading sympathy for zionism and also as a way to gather information on the movements of British forces. Len’s love affair with a jewish girl who turns out to be a militant Irgun fighter is one of many relationships that is shown to help zionist paramilitaries in their mission to speed up the process of ejecting the British army from Palestine.
Len’s ultimate disillusionment with both his lover, who he sees taking part in the massacre of unarmed Palestinian villagers, as well as with his British army superiors, who seem unconcerned with the imminent slaughter of Palestinian Arabs about to take place, leads him to desert, fighting briefly on the side of the largely unarmed Palestinians who are being killed and driven out of their homes under the noses of the departing British forces.
The depiction of modern-day Israel is similarly well drawn. We see the jarring contrast between the first-world lifestyle of those in westernised Israeli cities, complete with designer shopping malls and hedonistic nightlife, and the Palestinians living in the run-down Arabic towns and villages under occupation. The sadistic and all-embracing nature of the occupation on the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, and the apartheid nature of the state of Israel for those Palestinians who remain within Israel’s borders are both shown.
The militarisation of what initially appears to be a very pleasant society is clearly revealed as Erin gradually comes to realise that every Israeli she meets is or has been in the army. Indeed, it transpires that the apparently ‘liberal’ father of the family she’s staying with was formerly a general. He is keen to present Israel as a democracy and to brush over the fascistic nature of its military state, but his liberalism doesn’t extend to accepting a Palestinian as a guest in his own home, or to wishing to spare his children from the brutalising experience of playing their part in the occupation.
As a drama, The Promise works well, in particular in relation to the 1947/48 characters. The love story between Len and Clara, her ultimate betrayal, Len’s friendship with local Palestinian Mohammed’s family and his overriding sense of failure when he is unable to save their young son Hassan from a zionist sniper are all movingly and convincingly portrayed.
Erin is a less likable but equally convincing character, and viewers are drawn into her quest to hunt down the family that her grandfather befriended. Her journey across Palestine, from Haifa to Nablus to Gaza, gives an insight into the still ongoing process of colonisation and expropriation as she comes face to face with those who now live in the homes that formerly belonged to Mohammed and his relations.
As a piece of history, The Promise is less satisfying. The drawback of Kosminsky’s style of research – ie, based solely on asking people about their experiences – makes for a wealth of interesting detail, but does little to explain the real historical context or forces at work.
Thus, the ‘background’ to the creation of the state of Israel is given as the Nazi holocaust – and while this may well have been the subjective experience of many people who lived through the events, one does not have to look that far to find that it is in fact a piece of imperial myth-making – as well as being one of the main planks of zionist self-justification.
Jewish immigration into Palestine became British imperial policy as far back as the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which stated that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object …”
This policy can be explained not by a desire to give jews a ‘homeland’ where they could be free from persecution, but by the desire to implant a population that would help them maintain control of the middle-eastern oil that had just then become central to the military and industrial workings of the British empire. As British colonial governor Sir Ronald Storrs wrote of the zionist project: “It will form for England a little loyal jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”
Before the Nazi holocaust, zionism was a marginal ideology amongst jews worldwide, despite the persecution many jewish communities suffered all over Europe. Indeed, the very idea that jewish people constitute a ‘nation’ is one that progressives have always disputed, and working-class jews in the early decades of the 20th century were much more likely to be drawn to socialism and communism than to zionism.
Peter Kosminsky’s own background is a reflection of this. His father, a second-generation immigrant from Romania to Britain, worked as a tailor in London and is described by his son as a communist. Kosminsky himself, despite identifying with his jewish cultural background, had never been to Israel before shooting The Promise, and felt no particular affinity for the country when he was there.
The suffering of the jews during the Nazi rampage was used as a justification for bringing the zionist project to fulfilment, but why it was that the jews should be ‘compensated’ for their sufferings in Europe by being given Palestinian land was quietly glossed over. The local population were either dismissed as ‘Arabs’ who could be easily moved to some other Arab country, or their existence was denied altogether, as epitomised by the widely-used phrase “A land without people for a people without land.”
The father of modern zionism, Theodore Herzl, was himself under no illusion about what kind of mission he was on. In his 1896 work The Jewish State, he wrote: “For Europe we shall serve there as part of the fortified wall against Asia, and function as the vanguard of civilisation against the barbarians. As a neutral state we shall keep our ties with all the European nations, who will guarantee our existence there.”
That is, that in return for being allowed to establish Israel in Palestine, the zionists would promise to serve imperialist interests in the region.
And that is precisely what Israel has done and continues to do – and precisely why its armed forces have been given imperialist protection (first by Britain, then by the US with British support) as they have massacred, bombed, invaded, occupied, ethnically cleansed and generally broken every rule of international and humanitarian law for six long decades.
By showing the situation only as it appears through the eyes of a lowly sergeant, the series neatly sidesteps the question of Britain’s long-term role and motivation in Palestine and the wider Middle East, leaving a general impression of an army that was playing the ‘difficult’ role of policeman between two opposing sides – the same impression that was carefully fostered in official British propaganda at the time, and the same story British imperialists have used to cover many of their manoeuvrings before and since, from India to Ireland and Iraq.
This missing of the big picture from the early story cannot but have its knock-on effect into the present-day narrative. Like her grandfather, Erin is shown as a disinterested bystander caught up in events outside her control – one who has divided sympathies and is frustrated by the injustices she sees, but who ultimately has no real connection with the events being played out before her.
The racism of Israeli society is an anathema to Erin’s sensibilities and we are invited to sympathise with her frustration, but she seems profoundly oblivious to the fact that she herself expects to – and does – remain largely immune when she challenges Israeli soldiers. Her outspoken ‘bravery’ comes easily, since she never has any thought that she might seriously suffer for it as a Palestinian would. Nor does she ever seem to wonder why this should be so.
Of course, those from the West and Israel who truly take the stand of the Palestinian people (such as Rachel Corrie) can’t necessarily expect to receive such kid glove treatment, and have even paid with their lives, but Erin herself clearly has no idea of any of this. The overriding impression that is left from the various scenes where Erin flies to the defence of Palestinians is that the Palestinian people themselves are objects of pity or charity in need of ‘rescuing’ by more forceful/clued-up outsiders.
The idea that Israel’s racist, colonialist society still serves British imperialism – that it continues to be fostered, supported and given financial, military and diplomatic support in order that British oil monopolies can carry on dominating and plundering the region – is never explored. And nor, therefore, is the connection between the privileged life that Erin unthinkingly takes to be her own birthright and the oppression of those whom she is rightly angered at seeing the Israelis mistreating.
Petty-bourgeois pacifism permeates Erin’s thought processes and directs the audience’s sympathies too. The acts of the occupying army and those of a ‘suicide bomber’ are equally to be condemned, and the myth that present-day acts of demolition and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians are ‘reprisals’ for such acts of ‘terrorism’ is left unchallenged.
The Palestinians are overwhelmingly depicted as victims with whom we can and should sympathise – so long as they don’t take it into their heads to fight back. The only member of the resistance with whom we are invited to sympathise is a former soldier who has renounced violence as ‘futile’. Despite having seen the massive Israeli armoury ranged against them, Erin’s main concern when she sneaks through a tunnel into Gaza is that the people she is travelling with might be carrying weapons into the Strip!
Despite these weaknesses, however, The Promise is a rare and brave attempt to show at least a part of the reality of a situation that has been so far ignored by British mainstream dramatists. Kosminsky has produced a thought-provoking and intelligent drama that will no doubt inspire many to look again at their prejudices regarding Palestine and Israel, having been given some small insights into a history of Palestinian dispossession and oppression of which most British people are still quite unaware.
It remains for a truly anti-imperialist director to show the story of Palestine in its full context, with the Palestinians and their resistance (rather than the Israelis and their myths) in centre stage.