Category Archives: Middle East

The third intifada and the role of boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS)

israelpalestine-flags
For a while now activists have used the phrase ‘third intifada’ to describe the growth of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s involvement in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

The term intifada describes the ‘up-risings’ against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. It derives from the Arabic ‘intifāda’, literally, the act of shaking off.

What is curious though about this ‘third intifada’ is that it so many have chosen to use the word ‘intifada’ at all.

Consider that both the first and second intifada were marked by barbaric levels of violence. Consider also that the second intifada saw the wide-spread use of suicide bombings and is widely held up as a key reason many in the international community lost interest in the ‘Palestinian cause’. One wonders why so many activists are so keen to refer to this non-violent form of resistance as an intifada at all?

One theory, that certainly holds a degree of weight, is that this third intifada of non-violent resistance is much more active outside of Palestine than in. Just recently we have heard of Dutch and Danish banks removing funds from Israel because of activities occurring in the settlements.

The world’s media in recent weeks has been focused around Hollywood actress Scarlet Johansson’s drawn out decision to break away from the International NGO Oxfam because of their disagreement about boycotting business in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Although of course the BDS movement stems from calls within the West Bank, it largely operates in an international global environment. It is feasible that this disconnect is felt by activists campaigning for BDS and by labelling it an ‘intifada’ it roots the campaign back to the Palestinian population it aims to help.

Many that chose to use BDS though do not limit their campaign to organisations or individuals who operate in the occupied Palestinian territories but focus on Israel as a whole reasoning that it is the state of Israel that has the power to change their policy of on-going occupation.

Increasingly however I am coming to think that the chances of the BDS movement succeeding (that is, contributing to a lasting peace) rests heavily on just focusing on the trade and interaction with illegal settlements with a goal of bringing about the end of the occupation – not targeting Israel as a whole.

The reasoning for this is my belief in the importance in moving the silent majority inside Israel to feel both strategically secure and supported but also outraged at the immorality of the occupation. At the moment a large number of Israelis feel insecure and do their best to get on with life without thinking about the immorality of the occupation.

Forms of resistance in the past that have failed to acknowledge this have also led to a failure to bring about peace.

Writing recently in the New York Times Thomas Friedman makes what I feel to be an astute observation saying:

“You cannot move the Israeli silent majority when you make them feel strategically insecure and morally secure, which is what Hamas did with its lunatic shelling of Israel after it withdrew from Gaza; few Israelis were bothered by pummeling them back.”

 In contrast Friedman goes onto argue:

“the Third Intifada is based on a strategy of making Israelis feel strategically secure but morally insecure”.

Regarding his latter point I would argue that this latest form of resistance has the potential to do this, but could also slip into a diplomatic equivalent of an all-out attack on Israel. Its success rests on its ability to ensure the majority of Israelis feel strategically secure. At the moment I feel that the BDS movement is failing to do that.

The BDS movement has the potential to shine a light on those profiting from the occupation without putting an ounce of doubt around the future of Israel as an independent state. When the price of occupation becomes too high (both economically and politically) the chances of a lasting settlement between two states becomes more possible.

In contrast however, when aimed at Israel as whole, the BDS movement (however well intentioned) can be seen as being simply anti-Israel – or worse, anti-Semitic. This perception is fuelled by the critics of any BDS campaign that look to label it as anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ultimately anti-peace.

This accusation remains a slur on many involved in the campaign but holds a worrying degree of weight for others. Israel always has had opponents that literally wish it to be wiped off the map. Those who hold those views now see the BDS campaign as the latest way to attack the state.

Equally, there are those who do hold genuine anti-Semitic views who see the BDS movement as a way of targeting Israel (note that this doesn’t mean that all attacks on Israel are anti-Semitic).

In my mind then, following on from Friedman’s analysis, the success of a non-violent ‘third intifada’ rests on three points that the BDS movement must act upon:

  • Ensuring that a zero tolerance approach to violence is taken and applied across the board to avoid any association with the atrocities of the first and second intifada.
  • Focusing the campaign on the occupation with the end goal being the end of the occupation. This will hopefully ensure that Israelis feel secure and able to join in the movement but that the immorality of the on-going occupation is raised in day-to-day life.
  • Distance itself from the slightest whiff of anti-Semitism.

There are many people that I respect who advocate for a full boycott of Israel and also many that would oppose any boycott. For me, this approach seems a sensible pragmatic middle-ground.

I would be interested in your thoughts though.

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As Germany commits to taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees can you guess how many the UK has agreed to take?

Zaatari refugee camp

Zaatari refugee camp

 

Dear the British political establishment (you know who you are),

You have today been arguing over whether or not Britain should take in 500 Syrian refugees. Do you have any idea how contemptible, abhorrent and just completely ridiculous this makes you look?

You see there are currently just under two and half million Syrian refugees – that is about one in ten of the country’s population.

In response to this almost unheard level of severity, the UNHCR approached you and other European leaders to ask if Europe could take just 30,000 of these refugees. Leaving mainly much poorer neighbouring countries to take the disproportionate burden.

Germany stepped up in response to this modest request and committed to taking in 10,000.

In contrast, after a week of trying to avoid your moral – if not legal – obligation to take in any additional refugees, you have now compromised and agreed to take in 500 spread out over the coming year.

You must be able to see that this makes you, at best uncaring and at worst, a collection of abhorrent human beings?

In one ear I know you could hear the whisperings of middle-England, ‘We are just a tiny Island and we cannot take in more people’ and I know this influenced your decision. But it is this small Island mentality that you’re now perpetuating that looks, not just ridiculous, but, in the light of this crisis contemptible.

In contrast – a much smaller nation, Lebanon who has a population of just over four million, is currently hosting over a million Syrians. 85% of whom are registered as refugees with the UNHCR.

Please, just step back and just look at what you’re actually saying. After weeks of trying to say ‘none of our business’ you have finally agreed to take 500 refugees but are turning your back on the thousands that UNHCR has asked you to help and millions who are still languishing in temporary camps.

These people have had their lives ripped to shreds by war and you know you could be doing far far more than just sending money!

The parameters in which you have framed this debate have sickened and embarrassed me.

I hope, in the coming days you will grow the fuck up, take stock of just how appalling your position has been, and start fully cooperating with UNHCR’s plan.

In hope,

Steve Hynd

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On Ariel Sharon’s death and my own hypocrisy

Yesterday, Ariel Sharon was buried. While the world responded to the death of ‘a courageous war hero/a vile war criminal’ with a war of words, I have been fighting my own battle with my own thoughts. Let me explain…

Ariel Sharon
After Sharon’s death an inevitable war of words broke out.

The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as describing Sharon as a ‘courageous warrior,’ who played a ‘central role in the struggle for the security of Israel’.

The Guardian in contrast ran an article by the Oxford academic Avi Shalim which concluded, “His enduring legacy has been to empower and embolden some of the most racist, xenophobic, expansionist, and intransigent elements in Israel’s dysfunctional political system.”

No mention of war crimes, but equally not exactly the praise lavished on him by some.

Meanwhile activists and human rights organisations have used this moment to highlight his role in massacres such as that in Sabra and Shatila in 1982 which saw hundreds and perhaps thousands slaughtered.

For myself I opted for silence while I struggled with my own thoughts.

In the aftermath of Thatcher’s death I wrote and spoke, to the dismay of most on the left, about the need to show respect and to not celebrate a death.

I still stand by those comments.

But a personal experience keeps reoccurring in my mind which makes it difficult for me to not pick up my metaphorical pen.

When I started to learn Arabic before heading to the West Bank in 2012 I was taught by a Londoner who had fled Sabra and Shatila in the early 80s to make a new life for herself in the UK.

She spoke with a brittle absolutism about the past that reflected a personal experience that outweighed all the history and politics that she had so obviously read. In my own mind I foolishly criticised her for this while pompously praising myself for my ability to stand back and reflect on things objectively.

One time we were sat in a café repeating lists of Arabic words when we, as too often happened, got side-tracked into conversations about politics and religion. I can still remember clearly the London sun coming in through the window catching her downcast eyes as she told me of some of her very earliest memories. She told me about one night when an explosion went off in the middle of the night and in panic she ran outside in her pyjamas and just kept running through fear before finally breaking down and crying.

In that moment my books seemed obsolete and useless. In the pain of that story what seemed like crass historical absolutism seemed, for a short time, completely justified.

I write this now because whenever I read an article about Sharon I think, not of my Arabic teacher, but of a young girl crying in the middle of the night.

Sharon, although never mentioned by name, was a central figure in her story. He was the Israeli Defence Minister of the time.

He was the Defence Minister who an internal Israeli commission into the massacre of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 found ‘personally responsible’. He was the Defence Minister who had decided that Phalangist militias ‘should be sent in’ to the camps despite the risk that they would massacre the civilian population there. And as a result, he is the Defence Minister who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds or maybe thousands, for the children, pregnant women, and the elderly, some of whom were found to have been brutally mutilated.

Sharon has gone to his grave without ever facing justice for his role in this war crime and others he oversaw.

These thoughts have been weighing on me in the last few days. I am fully aware that writing these words won’t help bring justice for any of his victims or their families. Nor will it help people who experienced the harsh repercussions of his policies.  It certainly won’t help those who see Sharon as a hero and who are mourning him as I write.

In fact I am not sure this blog will help anyone – especially not me. I am still not sure why I am writing it. I know the ever quick to judge bloggersphere will jump at the chance to accuse me of hypocrisy, inconsistency and double standards.

All I know is that it felt important to write it. Somehow if I didn’t write it I would feel like I wasn’t being honest with myself.

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1000 days of war in Syria

Today marks 1000 days of conflict in Syria. The British Embassy in Syria released this shocking infographic today highlighting the human cost to this man-made war.

Syria 1000 days

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Jayyous – one year on

Kate Cargin, who served as a human rights monitor with EAPPI just after me, writes about going back to Jayyous a year after we served there. 

Abu Azzam, welcomed us back to Jayyous like members of his own family and his wife Sehan laid on a lavish meal. I had met Juliane, my team-mate from EAPPI last year, in Jerusalem and the two of us were invited by the current team to stay in our old placement house.

Supper with Abu Azzam. Photo: Per-Ake Skagersten

Photo: Per-Ake Skagersten

Now, as then, the most serious problem for people living in Jayyous is the ‘separation barrier’ or ‘separation fence’, which divides the village from 75% of its agricultural land. All other problems stem from that: increasing poverty, emigration, demonstrations and arrests.

The impact of the fence and accompanying restrictions on the village is profound and life-changing. Farmers have to pass through ‘agricultural gates’ to access their land and permits to do so are often not forthcoming. It is a precarious way to live. Not only are people cut off from their farming income, but because of demonstrations against building the fence many have also been denied permits to work in Israel. Breadwinners and young people emigrate; students are pulled out of university. Regular army incursions with exchanges of stone-throwing and tear gas result in arrests, many of them of children. The prevailing emotion is loss and grief. Jayyous used to be a prosperous place to live. Now it is estimated that up to half its inhabitants receive food aid.

When the fence in this area was completed in 2003, the case for Jayyous was taken to the Israeli high court to contest its route. In September 2009, the Israeli High Court handed down a judgement to reroute the barrier to return some land to the village. Yet the farmers were not represented subsequently when the new route was determined which would return only a third of the farmland to the village. The villagers did not accept this, pointing out that all of the land belonged to them. They organised demonstrations which resulted in many arrests and increased army presence in the village. As Abu Azzam put it ‘We are expected to welcome the return of 2,488 dunums (1 dunum = 1,000 m2) and one underground well to the village. However, more than 5,000 dunums and four underground wells remain behind the fence.’ When the new fence is complete, most of the farmers will still have to pass through agricultural gates and some will even have to take a longer route.

Fence showing re-routing in progress

Photo: Fence showing re-routing in progress

Water is a huge issue in Palestine. While I was in Jayyous, villagers were suffering from a chronic lack of water because the fence cut them off from their main water supply. We had a very small well in our garden with a back-up supply from the next door village of Azzun and were warned not to drink it. There had been an agreement to pipe water from some of Jayyous’s own wells back through the fence. This was to be implemented and financed by the International Red Cross. Like many agreements it was taking its time and nothing happened during our time there. After a shaky start when the settlers destroyed the initial pipes, a pipeline is now established from three wells behind the fence to the Jayyous reservoir. However, the villagers have not been given planning permission to lay electricity cables to run the pump. They have been told to use diesel which would increase the cost eightfold. Currently there is a stalemate.

Israel says that the separation barrier is necessary for security. They claim that it has prevented suicide bombings in Israel (the last suicide bomb in Israel was in 2006). However, we remained sceptical. We were told last year ‘everyone knows where the holes are’. All of our team had seen people going through a hole in the fence near one of the checkpoints. Sometimes soldiers went down to guard the hole and sometimes they did nothing. We were very surprised, returning a year later, to see that the same hole was still in operation and had not been blocked. We were even more surprised to be told by a local man that there are eight holes in this section of the fence.

men detained at checkpoint for attempting to go through a hole in the fence

Photo: Men detained at a checkpoint for attempting to go through a hole in the fence

Nevertheless Jewish Israelis are clearly afraid of their Palestinian neighbours and believe that the fence makes them safer. I saw several manifestations of this fear. Last year, when my daughter came to visit me, the border guards tried to stop her entering the West Bank for her own safety. ‘You will be kidnapped and robbed’ they said. On another occasion, an Israeli woman warned me against getting on an ‘Arab’ bus in Jerusalem. ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ she exclaimed in surprise when I asked why that would be a problem. The fear is undoubtedly genuine but it is cynically manipulated by politicians to justify theft of Palestinian land and in the process all Palestinians are demonised. The sad truth is that the separation barrier will not make Israel more secure and does not bring about the end to fear.

My British MP, a reasonable man, was unimpressed when I pointed out the deviation of the separation fence from the Green Line and told him how it represented the livelihood of an entire village. He described it as a small bump on the map. When people talk about a two-state solution they blithely talk of ‘land swaps’ allowing some settlements to remain and Palestinians to be given land elsewhere. This is what ‘land-swaps’ can look like on the ground. Where else can Jayyousi farmers farm if not on the land next to where they live which their families have farmed for generations?

The settlement outpost caravans, which we used to monitor, have been moved from the area designated for return to Jayyous and are now on land next to Abu Azzam’s largest farm. This land was confiscated in 1988 from the Khaled family when Abdul Latif Mohammed al Khaled went to work in Jordan and the land was classified as owned by an absentee. Planning permission has been granted for 40 new houses to be built there and as with all settlements, the houses will be for Jewish Israelis only.  According to official Israeli data, Palestinians have been given only 0.7 percent of confiscated land in the West Bank; around 38 percent has been allocated to illegal Israeli settlements.  Abu Azzam told us that someone from the settlement council comes down to look at his land every day. On one occasion, he told Abu Azzam’s workers: ‘Tell Sharif (Abu Azzam’s given name) this is our land and the shed is our shed.’

Abu Azzam is a naturally cheerful man but he was more worried than I had seen him before. The Israeli army had given him a map showing the re-routed fence. There were also strange yellow lines marked on it going across his land. He said, ‘I do not know what the lines on the map mean. Are they going to take my land? Have they already confiscated my land and I do not know about it?’ This is not without precedent. Sometimes land is declared forfeit but nothing happens on the ground until some years later.

Remembering also that two sizeable plots of Abu Azzam’s land are still behind the rerouted fence, I asked him if he was afraid that village access to land behind the fence would be more difficult now that some of the land had been handed back.

His answer was to tell me a story about a melon farm which had belonged to his extended family. It was situated between the nearby town of Qalqilya, on the Green Line, and the railway, in what is now Israel. The area was designated as a buffer zone when the 1949 armistice line was drawn up, to be neither Palestinian nor Israeli. At first they were assured that they would be allowed to continue farming; then the Israelis simply sealed it off.

I looked at Abu Azzam and wondered how he could bear it. It has been his life’s work to defend his village’s land. He just shrugged and replied quietly, ‘For the moment, they say they will allow us to go there’.

Kate no longer work as an Ecumenical Accompanier and the views contained in this blog entirely her own.

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Violence against women – the global crisis

A series of papers published in the Lancet have revealed shocking statistics surrounding rates of rape in the UK. 1 in 10 women in the recent study admitted to being forced into having sex against their will. 1.4% of men also admitted to being forced into having sex against their will.

While these figures are shockingly high, I thought it would be interesting to place them in a global context. The last two countries that I have lived in, the occupied Palestinian territories and Uganda, help to highlight the truly global nature of this crisis.

Just yesterday I was reading in the Ugandan Observer that:

“Six in ten Ugandan women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and 34 per cent of all Ugandan women have experienced physical violence in the past 12 months…

The 2006 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey shows that at least 24 per cent of women report that their first sexual encounter was against their will and at least 15 per cent of the women have experienced violence during pregnancy.”

To reiterate – 1 in 4 women’s first sexual encounter was against their will.

When I read out this quote to a Ugandan (who, by chance was female) she simply responded saying, “I can believe that to be true”.

In the occupied Palestine territories the situation was, if anything, even worse.

Sexual violence is a chronically understudied phenomena in the oPt, so statistics are few and far between. But, a few months ago I read this report on the Al-Monitor that reported:

“The Bureau of Statistics report indicated that Palestinian women face many forms of violence, with 76.4% of Gazan women being subjected to emotional violence, 34.8% to physical violence, 14.9% to sexual violence, 78.9% to social violence and 88.3% to economic violence.”

While I was in the West Bank gender based violence (let alone rape) was near to impossible to talk about. One Palestinian who I got to know quite well responded to me talking about the problem of violence against women in the UK by simply saying, “We don’t have these problems here”. I think he might have believed that as well!

Anyway, I choose these two countries for no reason other than my recent residency in them. Similar shocking statistics can be drawn from all over the world.

It’s a depressing context in which to look at these UK statistics but I feel it to be an important one.

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One year on from Gaza/Israel conflict, no investigations, no justice.

One year after the upsurge in fighting in Gaza neither side has conducted sufficient, impartial and independent investigations into alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law says Amnesty International.

On 21 November 2012, 13-year-old Mahmoud was killed by a missile fired by an Israeli drone fired in the al-Manara area of Gaza City.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, has today accused both the Israeli authorities and Hamas of failing to investigate documented reports of serious human rights violations.

Amnesty highlighted the case of 13 year old Mahmoud who died in an Israeli drone strike. Mahmoud was one of at least 30 children to die during the 8 days of fighting. Mahmoud was of course also one of 70 or so civilians to die in that 8 day period.

Failing to distinguish between civilian and combatant is a violation of International Humanitarian Law. The nature of Mahmoud’s death is one of 65 incidents Amnesty are calling on the Israeli authorities to investigate.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, reported on Operation Pillar of Defence and highlighted that Israeli forces made considerable efforts to avoid civilian casualties but that on a number of occasions “the military may have acted unlawfully”.

Amnesty International however in their annual report go further commenting that:

“The Israeli air force carried out bomb and missile strikes on residential areas, including strikes that were disproportionate and caused heavy civilian casualties. Other strikes damaged or destroyed civilian property, media facilities, government buildings and police stations. In most cases, Israel did not present evidence that these specific sites had been used for military purposes.”

Specifically, Amnesty has called for investigations into 65 cases of “alleged misconduct” by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during Operation “Pillar of Defense”.

In their latest statement, Amnesty has also condemned Hamas for their “indiscriminate” use of rockets. During the conflict it is thought that as many as 1,500 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel in the 8 day period.

The case of David Amsalem who lost his 24 year old son to a rocket strike was highlighted to illustrate the fact that Hamas’ arsenal, by its very nature, cannot distinguish between civilian and combatant – something which in itself is a violation of International Humanitarian Law.

The conflict left more than 165 Palestinians (more than 30 children and some 70 other civilians) and 6 Israelis (including 4 children) dead.

Neither side has launched sufficient, impartial and independent investigations into these alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law leaving thousands morning with no access to justice and reinforcing a sense of impunity on both sides.

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On Israeli settlers: “They come down from the hills and get us with dogs and guns”

I have just stumbled across this article that the wonderful Kate Hardie-Buckley wrote after visiting me and my former colleague Emmet Sheerin in Yanoun in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

I don’t think I shared the article on Hynd’s Blog at the time.

The title, “They come down from the hills and get us with dogs and guns“, might read to some as being as slightly over the top. The fact that I can promise it isn’t says a lot about life in Yanoun.

Anyway, have a read of the article and let me know what you think.

PS – you can also watch Emmet’s video about life in Yanoun.

 

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Talking on Russia Today about Israel/Palestine and International Humanitarian Law

Have a watch of me being interviewed on RT (Russia Today) on Israel/Palestine and International Humanitarian Law.

This video is about a year old but I’ve only just stumbled across it. No laughing at me not being able to hear the presenter nor the hesitant roundabout answers.

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It’s quite possible that both sides have used chemical weapons in Syria

What happened in the suburb of Damascus that resulted in the death of 1,429 Syrians on the 21st August?

This question sits at the heart of the debate about what the International Community should do in response to the attack.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry is pretty clear that he thinks he knows what happens and what needs to happen. In short, he believes Assad’s regime used chemical weapons on its own people – an act constituting a war crime. Commenting on a declassified report Kerry said that the findings are “are as clear as they are compelling.”

His suggested course of action  is immediate air-strikes.

The UK knows that the Assad regime has stockpiles of chemical weapons partly because 10 months after the outbreak of the most recent conflict the UK government sold nerve gas chemicals to the regime.

Despite all this, many are still claiming that there is not sufficient evidence that the Assad regime is definitely responsible for these attacks. Natalie Bennett, leader of The Green Party, writing on Liberal Conspiracy said: “no, we haven’t seen real evidence, independent scrutiny, in what happened in that hell in a Damascus suburb on August 21.”

The UN inspectors are still compiling their evidence and have given no indication of when they will announce their results.

Bennett’s suggested course of action  involves the ICC. She comments, “The route to justice for a horrific gas attack is the International Criminal Court. As Caroline Lucas said this week: “Crimes against humanity and international law have been committed. Once there is evidence of responsibility for these appalling attacks, those responsible must be dealt with by the International Criminal Court.”

Of course, none of this is anything new in Syria.

We know that there have been reports of deaths after chemical attacks for months before this most recent attack. For example, in March this year 26 people died in the Khan al-Assal area (just outside Aleppo) after an attack that is believed to have involved Sarin. On this occasion, the Russian government produced a report suggesting rebel forces were responsible for the attack- a reported that was contradicted by US evidence.

We also know that rebel forces have been in possession of chemicals such as Sarin. In May this year, Turksih forces “found a 2kg cylinder with sarin gas after searching the homes of Syrian militants from the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front” .

It is worth reminding ourselves that Al-Nusra is a listed terrorist organisation that is a splinter of AL-Qaeda and is also widely considered to be the most powerful military force currently fighting Assad’s regime. We also know that Al-Nusra have claimed responsibility for attacks on civilians areas – a failure of the principle of distinction and itself a war crime. This, when combined with a series of brutal killings, starts to paint a bleak picture of what some within the opposition stand for.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons but I am under no pretence that some of those who are opposing Assad are just as capable of such atrocities.

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From knighthoods to bombs. Blair switches sides on Assad.

British PM Tony Blair hosted the dictator at 10 Downing in 2002. So high was his esteem for Assad that...
The hand-wringing has to stop. We must act” wrote Tony Blair.

In a passionate article Blair calls for intervention in Syria. He comments, “It is time we took a side: the side of the people…”

Blair pulls no punches in his opposition to Assad. At one point, Blair even compares the violent Bashar al-Assad regime to the “dark days of Saddam”. An awkward reminder of his illegal war in Iraq.

His opposition to this murderous dictator (connected to the death of over hundred thousand Syrians) has not always been this clear cut.

It has emerged, that the previous New Labour government considered bestowing a knighthood on Assad during his trip to the UK in 2002. This is despite 10 downing street referring to him at the time as, “this nasty dictatorship that locks up its own MPs”.

During his visit he also had an audience with Elizabeth Windsor and a platform in parliament.

Of course, it wasn’t just Blair who was flirting with Assad. Buzzfeeds have done an excellent job in reminding us of the on-going relationship between Assad and the US.

Here is a photo of Kerry sharing a cool drink with Assad in 2009 (after widely documented human rights abuses took place – eg cracking down on human rights activists in 2007):

The US and their old friend Tony seem to be clear enough now on whose side they are on (or at least whose side they are NOT on) – but it hasn’t always been that clear.

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A response to Guido Fawkes question, ‘Why Not Holiday In Gaza?’

The rabidly reactionary and yet remarkably well read blogger Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines) dipped below even his usual standards today when he published a blog entitled, “Why Not Holiday In Gaza This Year.”

The blog opened saying:

‘The IDF are good at lot of things, not least social media. This week they are releasing new images of ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and just how bad the conditions are in the “open prison camp”.’

It then showed this collage of photos:

The blog, whilst rightly criticising some of Hamas’ discriminatory (and frankly horrific) policies makes appalling light of a truly horrific situation.

Take the term ‘open prison camp’ for example. It has been used to describe the on-going crippling blockade of Gaza. These restrictions have contributed towards 80% of those living in Gaza being reliant on humanitarian aid.

Oxfam explains:

“Because of the blockade on Gaza, people are sealed in to a small strip of land and unable to flee. Our partners working in Gaza have stressed that it is not safe to move around in Gaza right now”

This blockade, according to the International Red Cross is punishing the population of Gaza for the actions of the few which constitutes one of many violations of International Humanitarian Law committed by Israel. They state:

“The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”

I tried to pick Paul up on some of this tweeting:

When Paul responded saying:

It was clear that he was either ignorant of the nature and severity of the blockade or, and perhaps more likely, trolling.

As such, my suggestion to Paul would be this: fly to Tel Aviv (for you can’t fly to anywhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territories), tell immigration you are planning a beach holiday in Gaza, then let us know what your experience of the following 12 hours is.

This might serve as the basis for a follow up blog, on your “Why not holiday in Gaza?” article.

If that doesn’t help, you could always read the UN’s July 2013 up-date on the restrictions in Gaza.

 

UPDATE: It looks like some of the photos used are not even of Gaza. Awkward. 

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Israel/Palestine – reflections of a tired peace activist

When things get to a certain ‘bullshit factor’ I think I subconsciously switch off. It is a sort of self-defence mechanism against insanity.

I think it happened about three years ago with climate change. I can tell you that climate change is the single biggest threat to humanity blah blah blah but I don’t find myself lying awake at night worrying about it.

To be honest, I only really think about it when one of my more solid activist friends tweets, writes or speaks to me about it. The rest of the time it swirls around in my head evading any solid thoughts, let alone actions.

I have been dwelling on this particular thought over the last few weeks, thinking I really should pull my finger out and do something about it when it suddenly struck me that I have also switched off about Israel/Palestine.

The observant amongst you will have noticed I have barely mentioned it in the last few months on these pages.  A very personal bombshell that I doubt anyone reading this will care very much about.

I have subconsciously wondered off from all those people whose hands I shook, coffee I drank and that I made all those ill-thought out promises to, “I won’t forget this hospitality”, “I will do everything I can”, “I will write” etc etc.

Staying for a short period of time in the West Bank was a deeply moving experience and one that I would recommend to most people. For me, it helped put a lot of things in perspective and yet, perversely, for some it also seems to annihilate all sense of perspective.

I still care passionately about the people that I met, and with less rationality, the people I didn’t meet that live in the troubled towns and villages that I visited.

But, as much as I try and muster the will power, I am simply no longer reading Ma’an News, I have stopped listening out for what Peace Now has to say and worse of all…I no longer feel the fire of injustice that burned so fiercely when I hear about arbitrary arrests, midnight incursions, rockets and all the other bullshit that occurs on a daily basis in Israel/Palestine.

What’s happened?

I don’t know exactly. Of course, partially time… I moved countries, moved jobs, got engaged. Life moved on and before I realised it the memories that loomed in my rear view mirror that once loomed so large slipped out of sight.

Partially disillusionment, my ‘moderate’ approach (showing empathy towards people regardless of their belief, religion, skin colour, nationality etc) seemed to win me surprisingly few friends and the few friends it did win me were, so I was told, sell-outs or people ‘pretending to be moderate in order to be extreme’ (an accusation that was also regularly thrown at me).

I guess most of all, I got as tired of talking to people who weren’t listening and the people who were listening got tired of listening to me.

Don’t worry; this isn’t me giving up just being honest with myself, with you.

Just because something is difficult it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The improbability of peace in Israel/Palestine remains a weak defence for the inaction of the majority. I will proudly call for the improbable and fight the uphill fight but, being honest with myself, I can see I will be doing it at a lower intensity…dipping in and out of the insanity, commenting when I feel the strongest and feel it to be strategic.

Perhaps that is what I should have been doing from the start.

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Beers of Israel and Palestine…

During my time in Israel/Palestine I got to taste some wonderful beers. Israel especially has a impressive and growing craft-beer scene.

You can read some of my comments on two of the widely produced (and consumed) beers in Israel/Palestine – Goldstar and Taybeh – in this CNN article by Orlando Crowcroft.

You can also have a read of my visit to Taybeh Brewery in the West Bank – here.

Cheers.

Steve

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How will the UK ensure only the good guys shoot the bad guys with the guns they are thinking of giving to the people they think are good guys?

If the UK government proceed and arm Syrian rebels, the very minimum they have to do is provide detailed answers to Amnesty International activist Kristyan Benedict’s 10 questions. 

“While we have no immediate plans to send arms to Syria, [the ending of the arms embargo] gives us the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate and worsen,” 

This was William Hague’s response to the EU’s failure to reach agreement around renewing the arms embargo on Syria.

The New York Times summarized the in rifts within the EU over arming rebels saying:

efforts to ease the arms embargo, led by Britain, exposed deep rifts on Monday over the issue of arming the rebels… Austria, the Czech Republic and Sweden came to the meeting strongly opposing arms shipments. They distrust large parts of the Syrian opposition and said they feared that the weapons would end up in the hands of jihadist groups.”

Many met this news with dismay:

Frans Timmermans, the Dutch Foreign Minister was unequivocal in his government’s analysis of the situation saying:

“The only effect you could have — let’s be realistic about this — is that it will stimulate the Russians to provide even more arms,”

Timmermans hits on the same point that Kristyan Benedict asks in his article “10 questions“. The last of these 10 questions to the UK government about arming the Syrian opposition reads:

“What is the likelihood of an arms race occurring from increased arms supplies to the armed opposition?”

It is an important question.

It is widely understood that the UK and France are eager to provide armed support to the rebels.  As such, the crux of Benedict’s questions, “what adequate safeguards would the UK Government put in place to ensure any arms transferred would not be used to commit human rights abuses.” is more relevant than ever.

If the UK government does go ahead and arm the rebels, despite the very vocal criticism, the very minimum it has to do is to be able show it can effectively answer each of Benedict’s questions. How will they ensure rebels use the weapons in line with IHL? How will they ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands? etc etc…

Without these basic safeguards they leave themselves open to accusations of negligence and (according to the Austrian government) violations of International Law.

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Letter to the Guardian Weekly regarding violence in the West Bank

This is a copy of a letter that I have sent to the Guardian Weekly:

Dear Editor,

Harriet Sherwood captures some of the anger and frustration that many feel across the West Bank (
Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli soldiers in West Bank: 4th April). Yet towards the end of the article when she explores one of the events that has sparked this recent uprising – the death of Amer Nasser and Naji Belbisi – she offers only the Israeli army’s account of the events surrounding the deaths. 

“According to the Israeli military, the pair were shot while hurling molotov cocktails at an army checkpoint close to a nearby settlement”

In contrast, in Israel, Gideon Levy reported the event by describing the deaths as “an execution” due to the nature in which the second boy was shot after he tried to run away (Every soldier has a name: Haaretz 14th April).

Both describe the same event, but offer two very different accounts that give the reader a very different impression as to why so much anger spilled out onto the streets of the West Bank after these deaths.

Regards,

Steve Hynd

Kampala
Uganda

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A response to: “May the wicked scum responsible for bombing the Boston marathon rot in hell”

This a guest post by my very good friend, Mike Assenti.

Yesterday someone I have a great deal of respect for posted the following on Facebook not long after the news broke of the Boston Marathon bombing:

“May the wicked scum responsible for bombing the Boston marathon rot in hell.”

This really pissed me off.

Far be it from me to undermine the serious and tragic nature of this horrific act – having run a couple of half marathons I know very well the fantastic and generous atmosphere of these sporting events, and can think of few times when so many people who have worked so hard to raise money for charity are all gathered in one place. At the time of writing, 3 people have died and over 150 have been injured, many terribly, and I feel nothing but compassion and pity for those affected. However, something about the extremity of the hate in this kneejerk reaction has really gotten under my skin, particularly given my affection for the person concerned. Unfortunately, they are far from alone, and so this blogpost is an attempt to counter the attitudes present in this and many other reactions to these and similar events.

There are a number of issues here, one of which is the general response to atrocities that take place in the West compared with the far more everyday occurrences elsewhere in the world. In the run up to elections this weekend in Iraq, a spate of car bombs have killed dozens (http://goo.gl/22imY), and injured hundreds more, but the mundanity of these events demotes the story way below Boston and Thatcher, and I have no reason to think that it won’t continue to do so.

I can’t remember seeing a single Facebook update from my friends or family on these bombings. To be clear, I am not making any sort of judgment on those people who have not erupted in outpourings of sympathy for those victims in Iraq – I am as guilty as anyone else of allowing the whole event to pass by as another unfortunate background event. Lurking somewhere in the back of my head is the Scroobius Pip lyric from ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ (http://goo.gl/JFGV)

“Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries, as to those that occur in English speaking countries”.

Another issue is the condemnation of this attack when considered next to other, ongoing killings, such as continuing US drone strikes. This is summarised, amongst other related issues, far more eloquently by Glenn Greenwald in his first point from this article: http://goo.gl/wKgbK. He writes,

…”it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers. These are exactly the kinds of horrific, civilian-slaughtering attacks that the US has been bringing to countries in the Muslim world over and over and over again for the last decade, with very little attention paid.”

There are a number of pretty astonishing statistics when you look at the death tolls from US drone strikes, not least the 174 children killed in drone strikes in Pakistan alone over the last decade (http://goo.gl/QU1qi). The quantities of these attacks have ballooned under Obama’s presidency, no doubt devastating countless lives and families, the vast majority of which are civilians caught in the crossfire. Should President Obama be held accountable for these deaths? There’s certainly a strong argument that he should, but until recently the silence on the issue of the very principle of these drone strikes has been deafening.

I think that the most important part of this is the need to refrain from jumping to conclusions before there is sufficient evidence to form an opinion. Already many in the American media have been unable to resist speculating whether this is an Islamic Jihadi attack (http://goo.gl/tVtz6) in the same vein as 9/11, despite there currently being no evidence to support this. Having said that, the sheer lack of evidence so far in this incident means that most have little choice but to remain open minded at this point. We simply do not know who set off these bombs or why they did so.

In Norway in 2011, Anders Breivik set off a car bomb killing 8 people, and shot a further 69 at a youth camp, most of which were teenagers. In response to his ultra-right wing views and apparent lack of remorse during his fair and open trial, the vast majority of Norwegian people displayed astonishing courage and conviction by maintaining their support for the democracy and tolerance to which Breivik was so opposed (http://goo.gl/ZRF1H). They reacted to a terrible tragedy calmly and sensibly, with compassion for the victims and justice for the perpetrator (true justice, not a mob lynching), and in doing so displayed remarkable strength as a society.

Whatever the investigation into these bombings reveals, it is likely that the reasons behind this attack are complex and multi-faceted. Obama’s drone program takes place for a multitude of reasons, many of which would seem reasonable to those of us in the West, but likely less so to the victims of a drone strike.

In my personal opinion, little is gained from the expression of hate by ANY party, whether verbally or through violence. The attack on Boston last weekend was a despicable, tragic, pointless act, and those responsible must face justice in a fair, transparent way with all of the complex evidence present, whoever they are. Similarly, we must try to look through this same prism when considering these other acts around the world, regardless of their frequency, and regardless of who commits such acts. Better still, the people of Norway have demonstrated that it is possible to do so with courage and magnanimity even in the face of great tragedy and loss.

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Anti-Semitism in pro-Palestinian networks

Anti-Semitism exists within ‘pro-Palestinian’ networks and must be tackled. But labelling everyone who speaks out against Israel’s crimes as ‘anti-Semitic’ is as unhelpful as it is untrue.

In a brave and powerful article in the New Statesman, Mehdi Hassan took on what he referred to as the “the banality of Muslim anti-Semitism” in Britain.

I am sure it wasn’t an easy article for him to write but it was an important article for at least two reasons. Firstly, it tackles a form of prejudice that has been left untouched by many. Secondly, it made me and I suspect many others, reflect on the prejudice that sits within our own social circles.

As I was reading the article I could not help but to draw parallels with the low-level anti-Semitism that exist within the ‘pro-Palestinian’ activist networks that I have dipped in and out of in the last few years.

Please stick with me here. What I am about to write involves me wading through a quagmire of politics, misinformation and high emotion.

From my personal experience, most of the ‘internationals’ (ie not Palestinians or Israelis) that are passionate about the ‘Palestine issue’ are so because they have a deep rooted empathy with other human beings that have been, and still are, suffering terribly.

I have however come across the occasional individuals who self identifies as ‘pro-Palestinian’ who has also held anti-Semitic views and used the conflict as context and cover to express these views.

The problem is that a significant minority of those in the former category – the well intentioned empathetic individuals – have not been vocal enough or clear enough in condemning these views.

In addition to this I have come across lazy and sloppy language often confusing the state of Israel with that of Jews worldwide – not anti-Semitic in itself but a line of thought that when combined with vocal criticism of Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, can too often lead to anti-Semitism.

In addition to all of this in the international activist community, I also came across wide-spread anti-Semitism within parts of the Palestinian population living in the West Bank.

Part of what triggered me to write this article was Mehdi writing about the conspiracy theories he had come across in the British Muslim community. With obvious sarcasm he wrote:

“What about 9/11? Definitely those damn Yehudis. I mean, why else were 4,000 Jews in New York told to stay home from work on the morning of 11 September 2001?”

A conspiracy theory that is as repulsive as it is without truth. A conspiracy theory however that I heard on four separate occasions from Palestinians in the West Bank and once from an international working in the there.

What was also interesting and perhaps equally as depressing was a conversation I had with an ISM volunteer in Nablus. I told her about hearing these conspiracy theories and she responded saying that (and I paraphrase from memory) ‘you can’t blame Palestinians for thinking like that. Wouldn’t you if you had lived under occupation for the last 45 years?’

At the time I didn’t know where to start. I gave my answer, “No” and walked off. In retrospect it clearly highlights to me a deep rooted problem -That too many who self identify as pro-Palestinian become apologists for a form of anti-Semitism.

In short I can see three issues that we as peace activists need to face up to:

1)      A tiny minority of those who campaign for Palestinian rights do so holding unacceptable anti-Semitic views.

2)      Too many of those who campaign for Palestinian rights, also too often turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism amongst fellow activists and amongst Palestinians.

3)      A significant minority of Palestinians express anti-Semitic views and are left unchallenged (it goes without saying that this does not describe the majority of Palestinians).

On the flip side of this of all this is an equally important challenge that anyone serious about tackling anti-Semitism has to face up to.

I have personally been accused of being anti-Semitic, hating Israel and such forth**. All utter codswallop. Equally, I know good friends who have had similar accusations thrown at them. This not only cheapens the accusations but it makes seeing the actual anti-Semite amongst the false accusations much more difficult.

Equally, it is worth noting that it doesn’t just apply to individuals.

EAPPI –the organisation that I travelled to the West Bank with – has also had every criticism you can imagine thrown at it.

Melanie Phillips writing in the Mail quoted the following remarks about EAPPI:

“[EAPPI is] nothing but an insidious front for a pro-Palestinian campaign to propagate the partisan lie that, while Israel is besieged by child killers, infiltrated by suicide bombers, surrounded by Islamist propagandists and endures almost daily missiles launched at civilian areas, she is the aggressor, the terroriser, the occupying force.’

‘… the EAPPI ascribes Palestinian misery to apartheid Israel alone, consistently turning a blind eye to Palestinian aggression, corruption, rejectionism and incitement (not to mention Islamism, homophobia, racism and the oppression of women). The EAPPI is blind to antisemitism and deaf to the numerous overtures to peace which have been offered. They are ignorant of Israel’s need for security, and oblivious to the fact that she alone in the entire region is a vibrant, tolerant, multiracial, multi-faith society.’

This description of EAPPI is so far from what I experienced that it dissolves any sense of credibility that the author might have tried to project.

In short, I and many others cease to take it seriously because it bears no resemblance of the truth.

Our ability to tackle the low level anti-Semitism within the ‘pro-Palestinian community’ (a term I feel uncomfortable using but do so for the sake of ease) is hampered by those who aim to smear all involved as anti-Semitic.

I, like many others, have learnt to ignore such criticisms. The severity, sensitivity and frequency of this anti-Semitism though demands that we start taking this seriously. The roles of those who dedicate themselves to highlighting anti-Semitism has to be to begin to work with the progressive majority within ‘pro-Palestinian’ circles to tackle anti-Semitism– not blindly attacking. It helps nobody when these progressives spend their time having to defend themselves from false accusations.

Like Mehdi this article has not been easy for me to write. Removing prejudice and encouraging a greater degree of human empathy has to be the starting block of any future peace.

I am sure that this article will win me no friends from either side of this polarised debate. So I finish with a plea to the moderates who might quietly agree – speak out. Publically stand up for those falsely accused of anti-Semitism and condemn in the strongest terms any hint of true anti-Semitism you experience. The foundations of any future peace depend on it.

 

 

**Update** After receiving feedback I’d like to clarify that when I listed ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘hating Israel’ next to each other I was seeking to illustrate some of the false accusations thrown at me, not to conflate the two as being the same.

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Talks on Israel/Palestine

In 2012 I spent five months living in the West Bank as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel. I then undertook a speaking tour about my experiences.

I wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who hosted me and to everyone who attended one of my talks.

So a huge thank you to:

I am still available for further one off talks, commentary or debate. My contact details are here.

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CHILDREN OF PEACE INTERVIEW

This is a copy of an interview I did for charity Children of Peace.  Children of Peace is a UK based charity that works with both Israeli and Palestinian children to build positive relationships for a future generation, whose communities might live and work in peace, side-by-side.

“Steve is a human rights worker who spent five months in 2012 in the occupied Palestinian territories as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine. He is currently working in Kampala, Uganda.

Sarah Brown (Sarah): Could you tell us what sparked your interest in Israel/Palestine?

Steve Hynd (Steve): A mixture of design and chance is the straight answer.

My sister studied ancient Hebrew at the University of Jerusalem and was living in West Jerusalem in 2001 and experienced first-hand the impact suicide bombers had on the community in which she was living. I was at secondary school when this was happening and it challenged me to think about the conflict. My sister was moved deeply by what she saw, but will openly admit, she only saw one side of the story. This was my very first introduction to the conflict.

Since then I have been actively involved with human rights issues and organisations for a long time. Invariably Israel/Palestine came up – especially during my time at Amnesty International in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead.

At first though, I chose to work on other issues and countries and took an active interest in countries such as Turkmenistan (described by Freedom House as ‘the worst of the worst’) thinking that there were others with more knowledge and better placed to work on the Israel/Palestine conflict. I thought to myself ‘what could I contribute?’

Only after getting involved with EAPPI, almost by chance, I have come to think that I do actually have a role to play and something to contribute.

Sarah: What made you decide to work with EAPPI?

Steve: I became interested in a model of human rights work that combined impartial monitoring with the concept of ‘protective presence’. This was being practiced by organisations like Peace brigade International (PBI) and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Israel and Palestine (EAPPI). PBI worked mainly in South America and EAPPI worked in the West Bank. In the end I chose to apply for EAPPI for a range of reasons including being interested in positive examples of faith based organisations – this led me, in many ways by chance, to Israel and the occupied territories.

I had also come across EAPPI as I had previously worked for the Quakers (who coordinate EAPPI in the UK and Ireland) and had heard very positive feedback from people I respected. Before I applied I contacted Symon Hill (author of the No-Nonsense Guide to Religion) who at the time worked at Friends House in London and he had nothing but praise for the organisation.

Sarah: EAPPI has faced some recent criticism. Would you like to comment on that, or, more generally, on the assertion that Israel, as a comparatively accessible and open society, comes in for a disproportionate amount of scrutiny?

Steve: In the lead up to the Church of England synod vote (to endorse the EAPPI) they did come under a lot of criticism. A small amount of which I felt was valid, but a lot I felt was not valid and indeed was often inaccurate or misleading.

As with all conflicts, EAPPI as a human rights organisation challenges some vested interests and gets attacked because of it.

In terms of Israel more generally…

Israel is paradoxical in its human rights record. In one sense, as the question suggests, it is open and free. It consistently does well in terms of press freedoms and is a beacon of hope, in stark contrast to its neighbours, on issues such LGBT rights.

You cannot however, examine Israel’s human rights policy, without looking at their foreign policy and their on-going occupation of the territories and their continued disregard for International Humanitarian Law.

I have no doubt that some people use these violations as a tool to attack Israel – either because of regional politics or because of anti-Semitic values. Equally however, from my experience, most people working on the conflict are doing so because they care passionately about the victims. I know a number of good people working hard for peace that have been lazily labelled ‘anti-Semites’ – this cheapens a very serious problem.

Equally, sometimes the criticisms of human rights organisations are unfounded. For example, Human Rights Watch is often accused of ‘attacking Israel’ and focusing disproportionately on Israel. In reality, Human Rights Watch works on 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Israel accounts for about 15 percent of published output on the region. The Middle East and North Africa division is one of 16 research programs at Human Rights Watch and receives 5 percent of total budget.

I accept that Israel has more focus on it than most other countries (such as Turkmenistan), but I still maintain that we need more focus on these neglected countries rather than less on Israel. In my opinion it is a disgrace how few people care about, or are willing to work for the people in Turkmenistan.

This why, whenever I speak to people about Israel/Palestine I insist that we can all be doing more and working harder.

Sarah: Could you tell us about some moments which most stick in your mind from your time with EAPPI?

Steve: It is hard to pull out a couple of moments. There was not a day that went by where I didn’t hear about how people’s lives were being affected by the occupation.

Perhaps the best place to start would be the occasion when I felt the most hope. I was in Sderot in Israel on the border with Gaza and we met with representatives from the peace group ‘Other Voice’.

Every house in Sderot has a built in ‘safe room’. I was told residents have just 14 seconds to get to it should they hear the warning siren before rockets from Gaza might hit. This is a physical impossibility for many such as Sderot’s elderly residents. People live in fear. Nearly all of Sderot’s residents have been affected by rocket attacks.

Despite this reality, I found people who were looking to work creatively with Palestinians to find a lasting peace. I passionately believe that change needs to come, at least in part, from within Israel. Groups like Other Voice might provide the seeds from which this change grows.

A second example that sticks in my mind highlights the complicity of the Israeli Defence Force in some of what is happening. I was in the village of Urif and settlers had set fire to a large section of Palestinian farmland. When Palestinians went to put the fire out, the IDF fired teargas at them and the settlement security shot a Palestinian in the spine. When Palestinians went to help the man, the IDF continued to fire tear gas at them. The whole time they watched on as the settlers continued to undertake acts of arson.

This is just one of many examples where the IDF were not fulfilling their responsibilities to protect the occupied population!

Sarah: Is there anything which really surprised you in Israel/Palestine? And anything which you have changed your mind about?

Steve: It surprised me quite how the occupation affects every part of life for so many people. Before I went, I understood that terrible things happened. I didn’t understand that not a day would go by in the West Bank without either a demolition, a midnight raid of a village, some arbitrary arrests, detentions, excessive use of teargas, child detention, etc. The reality of everyday life for an ordinary Palestinian shocked me.

I was lucky, and unusual, in that before I went I didn’t hold many preconceptions about the conflict. In that sense I would say that the experience was a steep learning curve for me.

Sarah: Which commentators (journalists, writers or bloggers) on Israel/Palestine would you recommend to someone wishing to learn more about the region?

Steve: This question has a catch in it. One of my biggest gripes is that too many people approach the conflict from a partisan side-taking perspective. If you follow bloggers, journalists and writers, you have to take 90% of them with the assumption that they are pushing an agenda. In light of that, I feel more comfortable naming a few organisations (with the understanding that I might not agree with everything that they say/do)

  • B’Tselem – The Israeli Human Rights organisation.
  • Breaking the Silence – The Israeli organisation of ‘veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada, and have taken it upon themselves, to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories’.
  • Al Hac – Palestinian Human Rights organisation.
  • EAPPI – They provide regular on-the-ground accounts of what is happening.

I would encourage everyone to explore and read on this issue as widely as possible – trying to empathise with what has been written.

Sarah: Can you tell us something about your hopes/fears for the future?

Steve: The same as most people I think – I hope for lasting peace that enables Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side feeling safe and secure.

My fear? That the detrimental spiral of violence and mistrust will continue and people will continue to suffer.

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