Category Archives: Middle East

Children in war zones – how do we respond?

I co-authored an article for the International Children’s edition of ehospice looking at the impact that war has on children and what the response should be from the palliative care community. I thought I would share it here as it explores some interesting subjects around how the medical community responds to disasters…

“Jon Snow of Channel 4 news appeals to everyone to raise their voices against the war raging in Gaza and talks about the adverse effect this war is having on children and young people. This article asks what the palliative care response should be to the increasing death toll of children in war zones around the world.

In recent days reports have emerged from Gaza of the growing child death rate and the devastating impact this is having on families, friends and the community in the Gaza strip. One such report was that of Channel 4’s Jon Snow. His impassioned account of what he has witnessed during his recent trip to Gaza makes for difficult viewing.

At times clearly moved by what he has experienced, Snow reports on the impact that the bombing is having on children saying:

“Those people who live in Gaza are young. The average age is 17. That means that a quarter of a million is under the age of 10 years,”

He goes on to explain that when a densely populated area such as that of Gaza is targeted, it is inevitable that some of the civilians killed will be children. In the most recent upsurge of violence Snow’s report estimates that 1310 children have been wounded and 166 killed, with these numbers rising every day.

The long-term and short impact this is having on children and their families is almost impossible to quantify.

It is of course not just in Gaza that children are suffering.

From Ukraine to Syria, from the Central African Republic to South Sudan we are increasingly seeing how children are being affected by war. Not only in the death statistics but also through the exposure to the brutality of war we can see the devastating impact on children’s lives that will be felt for a generation to come.

The palliative care response
“How do we respond as a palliative care community to these distressing reports?” asks Joan Marston, CEO of the International Children’s Palliative Care Network. “Where there is so much suffering, what are we as the “experts” on death and dying doing to help those in regions that are difficult to reach; and how do we provide and justify palliative care when there are so many other conflicting needs that must be met?”….

Read the full article on ehospice

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Only the USA voted against launching UN investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza

US No vote

Only the United States of America voted against launching an investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza at the United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday. 

Twenty-nine of the council’s 47 members voted for a resolution calling for the creation of a commission of inquiry to look at “all violations” of international law.

17 members, including large parts of the EU (including the UK) abstained on the motion. 

Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights had commented that, “there seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,”

Read more in the New York TimesGuardian, and Haaretz

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Lib Dem MP says he would fire rockets at Israel if he lived in Gaza Strip

David Ward
Somewhere in Westminster the Head of Communications for the Liberal Democrats head has just hit his desk. “Why oh why” he will be asking anyone who will listen, “does David Ward MP keep tweeting?”

This is his latest contribution:

Wow. Put another way, he is saying that he would undertake committing a war crime. Why? Because these rockets fired by Hamas and other armed militant groups in Gaza do not have capability to distinguish between civilian and military targets.

Or, put another way, this is a MP saying that he would perpetuate a climate of fear in Israel that is, at least in part, responsible for the on-going conflict. This would be a badly thought out comment from an average Joe on the internet, but coming from a MP…just wow!

Of course, David Ward has a history with his twitter account and the Israel/Palestine conflict. Back in January 2013 Hynd’s Blog reported on his comments on “the Jews” and how they “should learn from the holocaust”.

Just like in 2013, the Liberal Democrats have had to distance themselves from him and his comments. A spokesperson for the party was quoted by the BBC as saying:

We utterly condemn David Ward’s comments, they are not representative of the Liberal Democrats. “The party takes this matter very seriously and will treat it as a disciplinary issue.”

Quite right as well.

Apart from the fact that comments like these distract from the atrocities being committed in the Gaza Strip at the moment, it also highlights a minority of the public who sympathise with such badly thought out views (although it is also noteworthy that most responses on and off twitter are condemning his comments). That said, his comments clearly struck a chord with some people:

Finally, it is also worth remembering that Ward is not the first elected politician to express such sentiment. Remember one Ehud Barak saying, “If I were a Palestinian I would have joined a terrorist organisation.”?

UPDATE:

From The Guardian:

This morning Ward told Radio 5 Live that he was not condoning the Hamas missile attacks on Israel; he was trying to understand why they happen.

The comment was about understanding why people are firing rockets. I am not condoning that. In fact, yesterday in the House of Commons I condemned it. I’m saying I understand why people are so desperate that they are doing it ….

Why are they firing the rockets? When the rockets are fired, they’re done by people who know what is going to happen, the repercussions of that, this horrendous military force that Israel have will result in further Palestinian [casualties]. Why are they doing that? The answer is they are so desperate to retaliate for what is happening to them …

This is supposedly about the security of Israel. Why is it insecure? Why is it under threat? It’s because of the occupation. So what do we do? We have a ceasefire, a so-called ceasefire, where there isn’t rockets being fired out of Gaza, and then what? We go back to a situation where there’s a brutal oppression of the Palestinians and we call that peace.

I have always maintained that the occupation and associated human rights abuses act as a partial explanation to crimes committed by Palestinians but cannot act as a justification. Equally, I reiterate that it can only act as a partial explanation otherwise you patronizingly remove all agency from Palestinian actors who chose to take to arms as well as those who don’t!

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Gaza: a week of conflict and violations of International Humanitarian Law

Gaza*Photo: The Guardian.

The on-going Israeli military operation in Gaza is now over a week old. In this week, 172 people have been killed according to Palestinian officials. The UN estimates that 77% of those killed are civilians. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge in UN facilities within the Gaza strip.

In the same time period nearly 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza according to Israeli sources.

It is civilians who are dying in the Gaza strip. It is also civilians who are living in near constant fear of rocket attacks across the south and west of Israel. These attacks that the last week has seen once again constitute a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) from both ‘sides’.

At the heart of IHL is the principle of distinction:

“The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.”

This principle of distinction not only applies to people but also property.

Throughout the last week we have seen multiple examples of the IDF openly saying that it targets the houses of activists involved in armed Palestinian groups. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem highlighted the case Kaware’a family home which was bombed on the 8th July. The bombing saw the roof collapse killing eight people, six of them children. Another 28 people were injured.

This house was owned by Ahmad Kaware’a and his sons. The oldest of which is active in the military wing of Hamas. Even if no harm came of civilians in this attack, it is still unlawful as the house does not constitute a military target.

The UN have been very clear on the subject saying:

“The targeting of civilian homes is a violation of international humanitarian law unless the homes are being used for military purposes. In case of doubt, buildings ordinarily used for civilian purposes, such as homes, are presumed not to be legitimate military targets”

The last week has also seen an increase in the number of rockets fired from within Gaza towards the south and west of Israel. Armed groups within Gaza including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have continued to fire rockets either indiscriminately or with the specific aim of targeting civilians. Although no deaths have been reported from over 1000 rockets launched, by definition these rocket attacks are a violation of the principle of the distinction.

While some violations of IHL are new, many are much older than the recent media attention. For example, Israel’s policy of blockading Gaza is one that the ICRC has described as collective punishment which is in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under IHL.

Because Gaza is considered as occupied territory under IHL, Israel has a legal obligation to ensure the basic needs of Gazans are met. The blockade does the opposite impacting on food security, health provision, education and almost every other aspect of life.

In the last couple of days Oxfam has sent out another emergency appeal as the already bleak humanitarian situation deteriorates further. As an occupying power, Israel has a clear responsibility to the citizens of Gaza that it is too often neglecting.

Once again violence in this troubled region is leaving civilians on the front line of the conflict. IHL has at its heart the intention to protect civilians at times of conflict. For this to happen, both Israel and armed Palestinian groups need to respect these very basic standards.

 

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As Gaza is bombed why do I keep looking for the odd good news story?

Gaza

Palestinians in Gaza City survey the rubble of a house targeted in an Israeli air strike

Reports have cumulated overnight suggesting that at least 25 Palestinians have been killed and 70 injured as Israel launched at least 160 strikes on the Gaza strip.

The death toll – primarily made up of civilians – has continued to rise as Israel amasses troops on the border readying for a potential ground invasion. Militants within Gaza continue to fire rockets into Israel with at least 140 launched on Tuesday alone but thankfully, so far, with no casualties.

This violence in the south and west of Israel and in the occupied Gaza strip has also resulted in an upsurge of violence in the Occupied West Bank with reports coming in of clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli Defence Force.

Amidst this escalating violence many, myself included, look on with a growing desperation for any positive development to hold onto. It is perhaps because of this that I have seen this photo, and the accompanying story, posted on my social media feeds almost as much as the photos of the devastation occurring in the Gaza strip.

The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offers his condolences to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son Mohammed was murdered last week by Jewish extremists.

The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offers his condolences to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son Mohammed was murdered last week by Jewish extremists.

This story of mutual loss and grief holds resonance with so many because not only does it deal with death – something which connects us all – but also because it shows the shared humanity in a conflict that too often removes any sense of such commonality.

It is an important story that I hope more people read**.

This said, it also made me reflect how people (once again, myself included) use the Israel/Palestine conflict to project their own values. I want Israelis and Palestinians to focus on their shared humanity more than everything that divides them. I want this so much that perhaps at times I convince myself that this view is shared amongst Israelis and Palestinians more than it perhaps is.

How often do you hear commentators use a variation of the phrase ‘the vast majority just want peace’ with nothing to back this claim up?

Obviously in the broad sense of the word ‘peace’, I am sure this is true, but how many people want a realistic collection of the characteristics that are needed to establish peace? I am not sure to be honest. Probably not as many as I would like.

To counter this I grasp onto the minority who conform to my pre-existing perspective in hope that it validates my own views and my own vision for potential peace in the region. I suspect this is one compelling reason why the above photo has gone viral with many left-wing friends – it supports a world view that validates their own.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that I face then is the task of facing up to the fact that lots of people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories don’t think like I do. Lots of Palestinians don’t want to accept a neighbouring state of Israel, a lot of Israelis don’t want to share Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state etc etc…*

While I am entitled to my views, as you are yours, I also have to accept the fact that we probably won’t be the ones who ultimately bring about peace. This has to come from within Israeli and Palestinian society (although I think we outsiders can help lay the foundations).

I was acutely aware of this during my time in the West Bank and Israel in 2012 and tried as much as possible to report the words of the people I met and to only offer a human rights framework for their words to help readers contextualise what they were saying. Inevitably though I at times failed and led interviews into the direction I wanted them to go rather than really listening 100% to what they wanted to say.

Equally I noticed on a number of occasions that some Palestinians I was interviewing would self-conform, either out of a sub-conscious desire to please or through strategy, and use peace/human rights language that sat comfortably in my articles but did not necessarily reflect the militaristic rhetoric that I heard in the coffee shops and in the fields when I wasn’t conducting formal interviews.

Since moving away from both Israel and the occupied territories it has become harder for me to put the emphasis on listening to what Palestinians and Israelis have to say on the subject rather than just projecting my own thoughts purely because I am not having daily interactions with them. This is one of the reasons I have been writing much less on the conflict in the last year or so.

All of this said I still think it is important that the international community (that includes you and me) keeps highlighting what is happening and calling for justice and accountability. I also believe that we have a role to play. The most powerful things I think we can do is to highlight the grass-roots efforts to bring about a non-violent end to the occupation. This in my mind includes the powerful story of the Fraenkel and Khdeir mourning families coming together to offer each other support.

The challenge though is how we do this without losing sight of the reality of normal people’s opinions that might sit less comfortably with our own (my own) liberal human rights dominated perspective whilst we cherry pick the few good news stories that make ourselves feel better?

 

*I am not saying these are the characteristics needed for peace, but they are examples of characteristics many feel are needed for peace and that many people in Israel/Palestine oppose. 

** UPDATE Since publishing this article it has emerged that the photo and the recent story I linked to on Huffington Post are not the same. The photo is from 2013. More here. The story however in the Huffington Post, to the best of my knowledge, is true though.

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Why today I’m reflecting on the deplorable killing of 3 Israeli teenagers

Israel
On hearing the news that 3 bodies have been found in the West Bank that are suspected to be the three abducted Israeli teenagers, Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach,  that went missing almost three weeks ago I posted the following facebook status:

facebook

I was referring to the fact that some armed groups have claimed responsibility for the killings (inc an ISIS affiliated group, and Sarayat al-Quds, the military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad). If it is shown that one of these groups, or Hamas as the Israeli government keeps claiming, is responsible, then the killings would constitute a war crime.

Almost immediately comments began to follow that status update with comments on context and the atrocious backlash that the Palestinian population has suffered after the abductions in recent weeks. Comments came thick and fast about what we have already witnessed: Israeli forces’ arresting hundreds of Palestinians, raids and damage of property, enforced restrictions on freedom of movement, the continued widespread use of administrative detention and of course a series of killings.

From these comments I assume that people felt one of two things. Either that they thought that by condemning one act of violence I was somehow tacitly condoning another. And/or that some context was needed to the killings of the teenagers for those who read my facebook status updates to understand ‘the other side of the story’.

Whilst I strongly reject the first (for hopefully obvious reasons) the latter needs a bit more exploration.

I strongly agree with the assertion that context is important in understanding violence and human rights abuses. It is essential. I would be fascinated to hear anyone argue anything different. Equally, as a human rights activist the principle of impartiality is important – so I would be equally as passionate about condemning killing of civilian x as I would of civilian y.

The perpetrator is not important, but the context is.

With this said, why then would my facebook status not include the ‘other side of the story’ that so quickly emerged in the comments below?

Firstly, like so many, that status came as a result of reading about and then empathizing with all those affected by the killing of the three boys. It was a knee jerk reaction to a deplorable act. The words that came to hand was that of emotion and human rights, “deplorable act” “war crime” etc.

This facebook status wasn’t an essay, an analysis or trying to make any wider point. It was simply a comment on a deplorable act to illustrate that International Humanitarian Law condemns such behaviour.

Secondly though there is also an issue around comparing and/or contrasting people’s suffering. Not only do I find this morally uneasy but also at times pragmatically unhelpful. I am not convinced that trying to compare levels of suffering is helpful to anyone. In contrast, I can see others use the language of others suffering to perpetrate further atrocities. For me, the death of anyone’s loved one deserves a mark of respect, not a reduction of that life into a statistic to be used and abused for political ends.

With that said, a balance at this point then has to be struck. Clearly those in power are not following this line of thought and are already using these tragic deaths to justify furthering a pattern of events that have been occurring for much longer than the last three weeks.

Netanyahu has openly blamed Hamas for the killings and has promised revenge for what he described as a murder “in cold blood by human animals”. As a result we have already seen a sharp increase in the bombing of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli housing minister, Uri Ariel, has called for the extrajudicial executions of leaders of Hamas and for Israel to “start a wave of construction in the settlements in response to the murder of the abductees.” – something which in itself would be the cause of forced displacement, a myriad of human rights violations and is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law (IHL).

So simply ignoring the context isn’t sufficient either. Mourning the loss of innocent civilians whilst watching on at the on-going violations of others is as equally morally and pragmatically undesirable.

The challenge for myself, and others then looking to comment on these killings and the atrocious backlash being experienced across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is how we speak out in an equal and fair way without reducing people’s suffering to just statistics or worse, campaigns fodder.

This is something that I am still struggling with and thinking about. For now, I use human rights language. Hence my response as I tried to keep it simple when responding to one friend who asked about the killings of Palestinian children:

facebook 2

 

While some might think of human rights language as cold and legalistic, I think of it as a powerful liberal tool that encapsulates the importance of the individual. It is not always perfect but it does allow space for people to expand on individual violations when they want.

This morning I chose expand on the deplorable killings of three Israeli teenagers. This has no bearing on my thoughts on the other violations occurring in the region.

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Journalism is not a crime #FreeAJStaff

NYT FreeAJ

This protest from the New York Times was a powerful reminder of the importance of press freedoms and the potential impact that the trial of the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt could have.

NGOs and governments alike have spent the last 24 horus urging the Egyptian government to free the Al Jazeera staff who have been on trial for charges including belonging to and aiding a terrorist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, and of “manipulating” images to suggest “there is a civil war that threatens to bring down the [Egyptian] state”.

The charges have long been rejected by Al Jazeera and have been condemned as a clamp down on free press by human rights groups.

It is with great sadness then that I read that the journalists have been jailed for 7-10 years.

Responding to the news, Amnesty International described the verdict as “an absolute affront to justice“.  The Guardian quickly published an article that condemned the verdict as:

a shocking blow to the principle of free speech

Perhaps the strongest condemnation was reserved for Al Jazeera English’s managing director Al Anstey who said the verdicts defied “logic, sense, and any semblance of justice”.

As a passionate defender of freedom of speech, Hynd’s Blog stands in solidarity with all those calling for the release of the Al Jazeera staff. This verdict is not just an affront on these journalists but to the principle of good journalism and freedom of speech. It is a tacit acknowledgement that anyone could be arrested for simply doing their job and reporting the news!

More information: 

hashtag_freeajstaff_451608304

 

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Palestinian human rights activist on BBC’s ‘Desert Island Discs’

Raja
Raja Shehadeh, the human rights lawyer and writer who founded the human rights organization Al-Haq, yesterday appeared on BBC radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’.

Just before he tells Kirsty Young his final choice of disc (about 38 minutes in) he makes an important point about the importance of humanizing the conflict and generating empathy between different people. A point that should be axiomatic but is so often ignored and/or forgotten.

As with all things Israel/Palestine related I need to cover myself and say that I don’t know enough about Raja to make any sweeping generalizations about him. On the occasions though that I have read his work or heard him speak he has always come across as passionate, articulate and most importantly willing to build rather than burn bridges.

This for me as a human rights activist is incredibly important. As an aspiring writer though I have also been taken aback by the beauty in which he forms his words.

A friend sent me this quote from his book ‘Palestinian Walks: Notes on a vanishing landscape‘:

To my left at the perfectly still waters of the [Dead] Sea, transformed by the sun into a luminous platinum sheet, and to my right at the formidable wall of incandescent rock along which we were travelling, towering steeply, challengingly, seemingly an impenetrable line of defence, a mighty gateway into another world. 

This imagery resonates powerfully with my own memories of walking in the West Bank.

This book, Palestinian Walks, is itself a combination of his human rights activism and his commitment to personalize the conflict that is intertwined in some truly beautiful adjectives.  It is a deeply personal reflection of walking, or not being able to walk, in the West Bank.

I think this is why I was drawn to the Desert Island Discs programme, because it is once again a deeply personal reflection on the conflict and the human rights abuses that occur there.

 

 

 

 

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Stop the war coalition supports the war (against Israel’s legitimacy)

stwc_logo_transparent
The ‘Stop the war coalition’ ran a blog a coupe of days ago entitled:

Time to go to war with Israel as the only path to peace in the Middle East

I have left this headline in bold because I figure if people misinterpret what the actual article says from this ridiculous headline then so be it – it is there fault for putting such a stupid headline up in the first place.

You see, by going ‘to war with Israel’ what they actually meant was (and again I quote) ‘a legitimacy war’ with Israel. Crystal clear? No not exactly.

By legitimacy war (you find out deep into the quite long article) what they actually meant was a grass-roots movement involving the BDS campaign against interaction with Israeli settlements (that are illegal under IHL).

It takes quite a dedicated reader though to get to the last few paragraphs of this article where it finally explains what it means by ‘war’ and then ‘legitimacy war’. Most people will come away from this article thinking one of two things:

1) Stop the war now backs a one off war against Israel

2) Stop the war now wants a ‘peaceful war’ against Israel’s legitimacy (right to exist).

To put this into a little context, the biggest gripe that most people who are broadly pro-Israel has with the BDS movement is that they feel it sometimes calls into question Israel’s legitimacy. It’s right to exist. This fear is based on a real danger. There are those who would gladly see the state of Israel disappear of maps altogether.

It is curious then that this article decides to refer to BDS as a ‘legitimacy war’.

Is this sloppy language or purposeful provocation?

Even for those who bothered to skip down to the conclusion would have been met with the phrase:

It is important that world public opinion reject as meaningless the diplomatic charade of peace talks while the fate of a people continues to be daily sacrificed on the altar of geopolitics.”

They must be able to see how this would be interpreted can’t they? It sounds like a justification for walking away from peaceful negotiations and to resort to other means.

As I say, I reading the article I couldn’t decide if the language was just sloppy or a purposeful provocation.

That was until I got to the very bottom and saw the author.

Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, was, from 2008 to 2014, United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”

I can’t believe that he would have been unaware of the context I have described or the consequences of his words. Which, worryingly, leads me to the only conclusion I can see available – it was a form of purposeful provocation.

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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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