Sunday, 9 August 2015

What's going on in Palestine?

[Category: Whats going on?]

If you follow the news, you may have a sense of what is happening in Palestine. However, a single news story, however bleak, can never quite capture the ongoing and cumulative effects of occupation and oppression. To give a snapshot, I've gathered some of the events of the past two months into a single post to provide a more detailed depiction of the situation.

Freedom Flotilla. Israel has a long-standing blockade on the land, sea and airspace surrounding Palestinian territories. Fishermen out of Gaza are only permitted to fish three nautical miles offshore limiting their access to a primary source of food and revenue. They regularly have their boats seized or are subject to harassment from Israeli military forces that patrol the area. The Freedom Flotilla seeks to force Israel to conform to international law and stop limiting freedom of movement, access to agricultural land and fishing and the ability of foreign agencies to deliver aid. On June 29th the Flotilla was stopped whilst breaking the blockade and its crew and passengers were subject to violent arrests and abuse from Israeli forces.

More information:

(Flotilla being boarded by Israeli forces. Image source: Reuters.)

Susiya. In June an international delegation visited the Palestinian village of Susiya to express condemnation of the Israeli demolition order that would destroy homes and evict over 300 Palestinians including a large number of children. The village has been subject to three previous evictions and demolitions, as well as frequent violent attacks by Israeli settlers. It falls within 'Area C' which refers to Palestinian land under Israeli administration. All new buildings require permits which are almost never granted to Palestinians. However, the area features a high number of Israeli settlements which have been allowed to remain despite flouting international law. The Israeli government has accepted the legitimacy of documents proving that the land has belonged to Palestinian families for well over a century, but plans to go ahead with the demolition and eviction regardless.

More information:

(Residents of Susiya facing yet another eviction. Image: google images)

Stone throwing. In June, the Israeli parliament passed a law changing the penalties for stone throwing to 10 years if the defendant can prove no intent to harm, or 20 years with proven intent to cause harm. The law applies to attacks on property as well as humans. As stone throwing is a common way for Palestinians to resist incursions onto their land, the law disproportionately affects their right to protest and defend themselves and particularly targets youths and children. Given that arrest and detention by Israelis is frequently brutal and can extend for many months without charge or trial, even in arrests involving children, this law is particularly egregious. Israel is also the only country in the world to try children in military courts and subject them to punishments such as solitary confinement whilst incarcerated.

More information:

(The penalty for throwing stones at an Israeli vehicle is now 10 years.) 

Ongoing power outages. In 2006 an Israeli F16 bomber targeted the power plant in Gaza. Since then the 1.8 million residents have been forced to buy power from Israel and Egypt and since then there has routinely been only enough power to meet the needs of less than 50% of the population. This month there have been protests as Gazans have had less than three hours power a day in the hottest months. Gaza is still feeling the effects of the assault by Israel last year; hospitals have yet to recover basic infrastructure and large areas are still rubble. Unemployment is high with little hope of being reduced as Gazans are subject to movement restrictions. As much of the energy dispute is over unpaid bills, it is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Until then the people of Gaza are unable to wash, cook or stay cool and are forced to endure pitch black nights. 

More information:
(Palestinian children do their schoolwork by candlelight)

Force feeding. Israel changed the law banning the force feeding of hunger strikers last month and is preparing to force feed Mohammed Allan, a Palestinian lawyer being held under 'administrative detention', an anti-terror measure whereby the suspect can be held for up to six months without charge or trial. Allan has been held since November and began his strike 56 days ago to protest his lack of trial. Force feeding is widely considered to be torture and a serious breach of human rights. Under the Israeli apartheid which enforces a two-tier legal system, hunger strike is one of the few peaceful forms of protest available to those being held unlawfully.

More information:

(Palestinian protest in support of hunger strikers)

Attack on Al Aqsa mosque. Al Aqsa mosque is in East Jerusalem and is legally recognised as being Palestinian territory. However, occupying Israeli forces frequently restrict access by worshipers and break the law by holding prayers or readings within the Islamic areas. It is also frequently a target for inflammatory attacks by Jewish settlers. In the days leading up to Tisha B'av, a Jewish holiday commemorating the destruction of the Temples that used to stand on Temple Mount, many skirmishes by settler youth erupted in the grounds of the mosque. On July 25th, the day itself, Israeli forces raided the mosque on the grounds that Palestinians had been stockpiling rocks and fireworks to be used in retaliation. Two hundred and fifty settlers also stormed the mosque. Ten Palestinian citizens were injured and significant permanent damage was done to the mosque and it's grounds. This attack was not only an act of aggression against people at prayer, but also the desecration of an ancient and sacred holy site.

More information:

(Apartheid in a single picture)

Arson attack in Duma. At 4am on Friday 31st of July, four Israeli settler youths broke into two houses in Duma village in the occupied West Bank. They threw firebombs, killing baby Ali Saad Dawabsheh and putting his three relatives into intensive care. His father, Saad Dawabsheh has since died of his injuries and his four year old brother and mother remain in critical condition in hospital. The suspected ringleader of the attack, Mier Ettingern has been sentenced to one year of administrative detention. However, without any significant crackdown on the settler movement, violence like this is going to continue. The settler terrorists are little better than your basic racist thug, but with the weight of public approval behind them. Israel approves permits for new settler structures, doesn't enforce international law and investigates less than 10% of complaints made by Palestinians against them. The very act of settlement is tantamount to terrorism, but the state continues in it's support. Last month, Natanyahu approved funding for 300 settler units on Palestinian land despite resistance from the international community.

More information:

(Burned photographs in the home of the Dawabsheh family)

Ongoing civilian casualties. In the protests following the arson attack in Duma, 15 year old Laith al-Khaledi was shot by Israeli forces at the Atara checkpoint, making him the 18th civilian to have been killed by Israeli forces in 2015 alone. Other civilian casualties include 17 year old Muhammad ali-Kosba who was shot in the back after throwing a stone at an Israeli vehicle, Muhammad al Hamed al-Musri, a 27-year old man was shot in the exclusion zone and 52 year old Falah Abu Maria who was shot close range in the chest whilst defending his injured son from arrest.

More information:

(The funeral procession of Laith al-Khaledi. Image: Getty Images)

Any of these events in isolation is a stark reminder of the brutal and unjust apartheid being perpetrated against Palestinians. Taken together, the events of just two months paint a picture of the struggle that many Palestinians have experienced in various forms for over a century. The international community cannot keep turning a blind eye. I don't want to tell my children in thirty years that in the age of unrivaled access to information that we stood by and allowed apartheid and genocide.

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Above all, talk about it. Don't let the conversation die just because bombs aren't dropping. Support Palestinian artists and communicators. Do what you can, but don't do nothing. 

Note: I am an independent blogger who writes for the sake of widening my own and others understanding. I have no particular expertise or experience but I always try to do appropriate research and link to people who do have experience and expertise. If you disagree with anything I have written or with my treatment of an issue, please get in touch. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Stories can change the world. Let's tell them right.

When writing stories, it's important to remember that whatever the topic, the story you are really writing is your own. Your history, your politics, your background will all be there. It might be inconsequential; your use of semi-colons, your position on the Oxford comma, your preference for pointlessly complex sentence structures. Also present might be more unwelcome guests; unconscious prejudices, preconceived ideas, adopted narratives.

If you don't remain vigilant when you write, these intruders can end up writing the story for you, and also for everyone else. Everything you have ever read, every experience, every story and song you have ever heard is there in your head, waiting for you to stir them all together into new shapes and structures. Not all of those stories are good stories and like a virus, they seek to replicate themselves. They may be present in your choice of words, in the order you present your ideas, the tone you adopt.

Remember that when you tell a story, no matter what the format - a tweet, a conversation, an article, a song - you are creating the raw material from which others will tell the story. When you sit in front of a keyboard or a blank page and you dip into the shimmering mass of words, listen to everything they are telling you. Bad stories aren't just told in hate speech, they are told in a careless choice of words, a deviation towards a dominant narrative or allowing your story to dominate that of another.

Every single human experience enters our consciousness as a story. To change the world, we must change the stories we tell and that starts with the stories we tell ourselves. Make them the right ones.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Three things to bear in mind when discussing the 'Migrant Crisis'.

(Refugees in the Mediterranean. No image credit available)

What would you do?

Almost all of the refugees seeking asylum in Europe are fleeing desperate and horrific situations in their home countries. People are not travelling thousands of miles, spending all their life savings, risking death, rape and kidnapping along the way in order to get a welfare payment.

The main country of origin for European refugees is Eritrea. You may not have heard of it, and for good reason. It ranks above North Korea as one of the most secretive, oppressive and brutal regimes in the world. Citizens have few options apart from brutally enforced military service which can extend almost indefinitely. The government perpetuates the Orwellian myth that war is imminent in order to maintain their power and to justify widespread human rights abuses. Citizens have no right to free speech and much of the population live in extreme poverty.

Another primary source of refugees is Syria. Citizens of Syria are currently besieged on all sides by terrorist groups including ISIS, attacks from their own oppressive government and military interventions by western forces. In 2015 alone over 200,000 Syrians have died as a result of conflict. There are now 9 million displaced Syrians who have fled their homes.

When we look at so-called 'migrants', we aren't seeing complex, three-dimensional human beings who have been faced with horrendous choices. We see what we are told to see; a 'swarm' of money-grabbing freeloaders who were gullible enough to get lured onto a rubber dinghy. If your home was destroyed, along with your entire livelihood, what would you do? Where you you go? And what sort of welcome would you expect when you got there?

The 'crisis' is not nearly as big as it looks. 

Sure, when you see people crowded together on boats or packed into refugee camps at Calais, it looks like a lot of people. And it would be if say, you were being asked to put them up in your back garden. Net migration for last year was 318,000 and of that number, only 22,020 were refugees seeking asylum. To put things into perspective; the total number of extra people coming into the country is only slightly higher than the number of people who attend Glastonbury.

The number of people seeking asylum, even when you take illegal entrants into account is far fewer than the number of people who went to see Taylor Swift in Hyde Park last month. I'm sure they were pretty annoying on the tube home, but I'm also sure that Londoners dealt with the minor inconvenience and got on with their lives. Once they are all mixed in, you'll barely notice them. Oh, and those 9 million displaced Syrians? Only about 3000 of them want to settle in the UK. You can breathe again.

The main 'crisis' is that Calais is a bottleneck. Getting there is (extremely relatively) straightforward but moving on is not. The problem is complex as there is always the suggestion that by making the process smoother, you will encourage others to come. In my opinion, I think that the difference would be minimal. The journey is already incredibly hard; I do not believe that having to live in a refugee camp when you arrive is necessarily going to be a deterrent. If the first obstacles you faced on your arduous journey was leaving a brutal dictatorship where dissenters can be put to death and then crossing a border where the guards are instructed to shoot-to-kill, you aren't one to be put off.

The fact is that right now there are thousands of people living in horrific conditions and risking their lives daily to try to get to safety. There are things we could do, but without public will and empathy, solutions will continue to be punitive and inhumane. Politicians are playing politics with peoples lives; we can't let that continue.

We are part of the world. 

In the west, we live in a shiny bubble. We are the safest, healthiest, most educated humans that have ever lived. We live in a fantastically wealthy country (yes, really) and we mostly experience the rest of the world as either news or holidays and most of us are happy to keep it that way. Migrants are an intrusion. They remind us uncomfortably of our privilege. We use dehumanizing language like 'migrant' 'flood' and 'swarm' because it is simpler than coming face to face with the rampant inequality that exists in the world and our role in creating and maintaining it.

Most of us have relegated our colonial history to an amusing little peccadillo, a punchline; a 'Carry On' sketch. Colonialism is bluff explorers in beige hats and monocles being amusingly patronizing to skeptical locals whilst jabbing flags into anything that stands still. It's never having to learn a foreign language and being able to buy chips almost anywhere in the world.

We are very happy to gloss over the fact that our wealth and power came from the brutal exploitation of nearly a quarter of the globe and that the wealth of our neighbors came from colonial rule of much of the remaining three quarters. We like to think of it as ancient history, a ignoble but distant past.

The fact is that we still exerted colonial power in the Middle East when my parents were born. Many of the current global conflicts are rooted in our recent colonial past. We still benefit disproportionately from this history and from the ongoing exploitation of cheap labor and resources overseas. Our wealth isn't divine right or evidence of unique worth; we inherited it off our rich, racist auntie.

I've never owned a slave, but every single day I benefit from slavery. We have spent centuries siphoning wealth out of the rest of the world and now that people want us to share, we accuse them of freeloading. We need to accept this history and it's ongoing impact on the world. Time we got a round in, I think.