Category Archives: War

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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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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Book review: Jason Burke – On the Road to Kandahar

Road to Kandahar
OK, so I am a little late on this one. Jason Burke’s ‘On the Road to Kandahar’ was published nearly eight years ago back in 2006.

Back in 2006, a number of very well respected authors and critics reviewed it.

Jon Snow writing in The Observer commented:

“Burke is not the first to identify the folly of mythologising al-Qaeda into a Soviet-scale monolith with a capacity to destroy the West. But what he does more effectively than most is to use the personal experience of a decade and a half of reporting across the Islamic world to identify the consequences of the West’s flawed response to 9/11.”

Leni Wild writing for IPPR commented:

“Burke highlights the huge diversity that exists in the Islamic world. Whether in Kurdistan, Kabul or Kashmir he encounters a full spectrum of beliefs, worldviews and perspectives…What makes this book stand out is that he does not overlook the radical and destructive use of Islam in various regions. Suicide bombings, honour killings and the other acts of violence carried out by some Islamic militants are all described as ‘abhorrent acts’ which are used to send public messages to communities.”

And so I too add my list to the names of those, mainly on the left, who have enjoyed and I dare say even learnt a bit reading Burke’s second book.

What inspired me about this book though was not Burke’s incredible insight as described by Snow or Wild, the self-evident wonderful use of flowing near poetic language or even his admirable ability to summarize insurmountably complex issues but his ability to draw the very real human side out in each of his anecdotes.

Talking to an unrepentant failed suicide bomber in a cramped prison cell Burke resists the temptation to throw around cheap generalised adjectives – at no point do you read that he was ‘radicalised’ ‘indoctrinated’ ‘alienated’. Instead Burke encourages you to see what he sees – the moustache that ‘looks like it could be used to clean shoes’, the drawn out expressions in tired faces, or the incongruous western clothing worn.

Real expressions, clothes and facial hair worn by real people.

Although the theme of the book is an extension of his first book, ‘Al Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam’ (2003), the theme for this follow up is much human orientated. Whilst his first book explored how the development of Al-Qaeda as a concept influenced both people and institutions, this latter book flips this analysis and looks at how people interact with different concepts within Islam – including the globalised jihadist ideology associated with Al-Qaeda.

It is this deeply personal approach that makes ‘On the Road to Kandahar’ so accessible even when exploring subjects such as suicide bombings.

Written in the first person Burke encourages a trust in the description of the flawed and multifaceted people he meets along his travels because of his own willingness to acknowledge and laugh at his own flawed and multifaceted approach to war journalism.

As well as the often farcical situations he puts himself into, you’re also exposed to his thoughts in deeper more poignant moments. One of which that stands out in my mind and sets Burke apart from other gung-ho macho war correspondents is when, on returning to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, he openly talks of having to step outside overcome by the emotion after seeing young girls back in school.

It is a genuinely touching moment in a book dominated by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

‘On the Road to Kandahar’ takes you on a journey to Afghanistan, Iraq, Algeria, Britain, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and back to Kurdistan and Pakistan and without realising you pick up snippets of history and politics along the way. But unlike much of Burke’s articles or his first book, you feel that the politics, history and social analysis are just footnotes to help him better describe his time, his passion and his love/hate relationship with all that he has seen and all the people he has met over the last two decades.

I was once told that an argument is only as strong as the opposing view it takes on. What Burke has done is compiled a wonderful celebration of the diversity of life that is framed in some of the darkest contexts that the last two decades have produced.

For this alone – it is a literacy triumph. 

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Uprooted by conflict – stories from West Nile

This is a guest post by Anya Whiteside. Anya works for the Forum for Education NGO’s in Uganda and is also my fiance. 

Refugees at Dzaipi reception centre. Image Daily Monitor. Photo by Martin Okudi

Refugees at Dzaipi reception centre. Image Daily Monitor. Photo by Martin Okudi

‘I was a business woman in Bor and then when the trouble started I just had to pick up my children and run’.

I am standing in Ajumani in West Nile region, in the North West of Uganda which borders both the DRC and South Sudan. The woman I am speaking to is heavily pregnant and her three young children cluster round her. One of her daughters is about four and spends the next half hour sidling up to me to stroke my white skin all cheeky grin and dirty t-shirt. ‘My husband was in Kenya getting treatment for an illness when the fighting started’ she continues. Now she is sleeping on the floor of a school in Uganda hoping that he will come and find her.

I am in West Nile as part of an inter-agency assessment of the schools in the areas of Uganda where South Sudanese refugees have flooded in the recent weeks. My colleagues are from various NGOs, the UN and the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports. Well over two thousand people cross the border every day into this remote, hot and dusty part of Uganda. Add to that recent new arrivals from the DRC, as well as many generations of refugees who fled here in the past and you have a patchwork of stories.

The schools are due to open in the first week in February and are likely to receive large numbers of refugee children enrolling to join the classes. Our role is to assess what additional support they are likely to need. ‘I have one thousand children in my school’ one head teacher tells me, ‘but I expect an additional four hundred refugees to enrol this term’. Even before the recent crisis the schools in this area are full beyond capacity. It is not unusual to see a teacher teaching 90 children with four or five children squeezed onto each desk.

Over and over again as we interview head teachers in the area they tell us they will enrol the extra children and they are happy to welcome them into the school, but that they need support to be able to cope. They need additional teachers to help teach and translate what they are teaching, textbooks, latrines, desks and classrooms. All resources they look unlikely to get, certainly in the numbers they need them.

I am amazed by the way the schools in West Nile are so welcoming to the new influx and wonder how primary schools back home would react if in a matter of weeks you asked them to enrol 50% extra pupils many who speak a different language.

One of the reasons may be that the area is so used to hosting refugees. For many years refugees have fled across the border from DRC or Sudan seeking safety from fighting. Some go back and some stay. Some of the new refugees have fled back to areas where they were refugees before, or gone to stay with family still in Uganda. Outside the reception centre it can be hard to tell who is a refugee and who is not, as people start to build mud huts in land allocated to them by the Ugandan government.

One man who has been in Uganda for many years and is elected in the refugee settlement as a local leader tells me how his father was a politician under Mobuto’s regime in DRC. ‘When Mobuto was overthrown they chased him and cut him up into pieces’ he tells me, ‘and then they came for me’. He tells me how he drove away in a car full of people, but it was stopped before they could leave the country. All the women in the car were raped and then everyone was shot. After being shot he was thrown in the river. He was injured, but not killed, so was dragged out further downstream and rescued. He then escaped to Uganda he explains to me matter-of-factly while we are walking to visit a local school.

Some Ugandans understand more than most the trauma of being uprooted from your home. ‘I hate seeing people here’ says my colleague as we drive into a refugee reception centre where newly arrived refugees clutch bags and look for shade. I have known my colleague for a while as a vivacious, hilariously funny and very competent member of the NGO community who went to University in Europe and now works as an education specialist. ‘Seeing it just reminds me of running away and all that time spent as a refugee in the jungle’, she explains.

My colleague is from West Nile, the area where Idi Amin came from, and after he was overthrown the area was targeted for reprisal killings. Her house was set on fire and her and her family fled into the jungle in DRC. I wonder as she talks how many other people I know have terrible stories which I know nothing about. I also wonder how a country can heal from these stories when they are buried so deep and rarely talked about.

Experiences of displacement in Northern Uganda are also more recent still. In 2005 the war between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) saw 1.8 million internally displaced people in camps across Northern Uganda.

After a week of talking to head teachers and local District official, hours and hours of bumping along dusty dirt road, visiting some of the refugee reception centres and hearing some of the refugees’ stories I am left with twin emotions. On the one hand I am sickened by conflict and the horrendous things it does to people. And on the other hand I am amazed by the human resilience and ability to cope.

I return to Kampala thinking of all the refugees in the world and just how horrific it must be to flee your home. I am welcomed by the sickening news that of the 2.5 million  Syrian refugees, my own country, the UK, has agreed to host a mere 500 Syrian refugees over a year. I am aghast and wonder how a country like the UK can choose to refuse safety to so many, when countries with so little resources such as Uganda receive thousands of refugees a day, or a tiny country like Lebanon can hosts over a million.

As I rant and rave at the selfishness of my own nation I think back to the drive out of a refugee reception centres on our way back to Kampala. As I looked out the window I saw a group of scruffy children playing football. In the last month their whole lives have been uprooted and many have lost everything. They shout and skid through the dust imitating the moves of famous footballers.

I wonder what will become of these children and hope against hope that they will experience peace and better times ahead.

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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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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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Guantanamo Bay – it’s still a fucking* travesty!

shaker-aamer-nov-2012-1
Over 12 years ago, November 13
th 2001 to be precise, President George W Bush signed an order authorizing the detention of suspected al-Qaida members and supporters, and the creation of military commissions.

A few nights ago I was sat on top of a rock in the middle of national park drinking drams of whisky ranting to my, very lovely but unfortunately close by, American friend about how much of a travesty Guantanamo Bay is. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “it’s a fucking travesty that it still exists”

My mate: “I know man”

Me: “But don’t you get it, it’s outrageous…I mean how can it be justified”

My mate: “I know, I completely agree”

Me: “But I mean, it’s beyond words…even after so much evidence of torture, ritual humiliations…”

At this point I would like to think my mate walked off but in reality I suspect he was too nice and sat and listened to this tipsy Englishman ranting about his country’s foreign policy.

Although I may have been slurring, and the conversation might at times have slipped into more of a monologue, at least we were was talking. One of my biggest fears is that Guantanamo and all the other secret detention sites the US operates might just become a norm if people stop being outraged about them.

166 men that we know of are still held in Guantanamo. 86 have been cleared for release by an interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama, but are still held mainly because of Congressional opposition (see here for more on that).

These are men have all suffered enormously, their loved ones, family and friends have also all suffered enormously. They need us to be outraged…I mean really fucking* outraged!

One of these 86 men who have been cleared for release is British resident Shaker Aamer. I highlight his case over any other just because I know this blog is mainly read by Brits. Shaker was taken to Guantanamo Bay in 2002. He has been cleared for release now for over 3 years and yet he is still languishing inside this illegal detention site.

If you do one thing today make it this. Write to your MP and ask him/her to write to the FCO. By itself it might not result in change but it will help remind those in power that we have not forgotten about Shaker or the travesty which is Guantanamo.

More information and how to take action:

You can read Shaker story here.
Find out who your MP is here.
Read Shaker’s daughter’s letter to Gordon Brown and then Cameron’s response here.


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Sorry if you take offence at my use of the word fucking…really I am. But, I would like you take a minute to put things in fucking perspective. The use of a swear word might, just might, be the lesser of two evils considering the nature and content of this blog post. Want to get angry about something? Get angry about Guantanamo, about being held without trial, about the war on terror, about systematic torture…you get my point. 

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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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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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Peace and palliative care in the DRC

This article was first published on the Africa edition of ehospice

Dr Paul Pili Pili is a representative of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Health. But like many people from the DRC, he has been affected by the war, knows people who have died and more than anything, wishes for peace and stability for his country. Steve Hynd from the African Palliative Care Association met up him to find out more.

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Hip Hop star Mos Def force fed under Guantanamo Bay conditions

Hip Hop legend Mos Def has  been force fed under the ‘standard Guantánamo Bay procedure’. The following video was put together with human rights organisation, Reprieve.

WARNING: This video might cause offence – but hopefully not as much offence as the Obama administration doing the exact same thing on non-consenting detainees at Guantanamo Bay.


Disturbing,  isn’t it?

I struggled to watch it all, the inhumanity of it got to me.

The only difference with the 40 inmates currently being force fed is that we aren’t watching. There is no accountability for how they are being treated. There is no one to call cut and bring it all to an end.

The US administration has said that it does not use torture in Guantanamo Bay but does use ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ such as ‘waterboarding’. Amnesty International this time illustrates what this means:


These techniques, the bastard child of Bush’s war on terror are still used under Obama’s rule.

Never before has the phrase, ‘the land of the free’ left such a bitter taste in the mouth.

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Refugees also have a right to adequate palliative care

This is an article that I wrote for the Africa edition of ehospice news for World Refugee Day. 


The WHO states that: “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.” On UN World Refugee Day it is important to reiterate that this applies equally to people classified as refugees.

The fulfilment of this right is pushing both governmental and non-governmental organization’s capacity to their limits as the number of refugees across Africa continues to rise.

Read the full article here >>>

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From war zone to tourism: the transformation of northern Uganda

The people of Agoro in northern Uganda were some of the worst hit by the Ugandan civil war. As the village slowly recovers, Steve Hynd from the Mountain Club of Uganda visits Agoro to explore the surrounding mountains and what role tourism might have in the regions recovery.

The car pulls up next to two piles of red mud bricks. Behind are a handful of thatched mud huts that mark the edge of the village of Agoro. Ahead, beyond the mud bricks , is another collection of mud huts. The latter are UPDF army barracks. The pile of red mud bricks is the checkpoint into the barracks that cannot be passed until ‘clearance’ has been approved.

A smartly dressed soldier appears and waves the car through. The soldier introduces himself as Lieutenant Everest. Dressed in ironed khakis and polished leather boots Lt Everest stands tall with his chest puffed out. His appearance would have been archetypically military if it wasn’t for his curious grin and unashamed enthusiasm.

When the prospect of climbing the surrounding mountains is mentioned, the aptly named Lt Everest describes in some detail the security challenges. He talks about the landmines that line the border with South Sudan and claimed a UPDF soldier’s life in 2011 and countless other lives during the civil war. He also talks though about the ‘potential’ of armed conflict breaking out from over the border.

The village had been spooked recently by reports that Kony, the wanted Ugandan war lord, is being harboured by Sudan.

The village which is two hour’s drive north of Kitgum, the most northerly town in Uganda, has every reason to be on edge. Agoro has been devastated by 17 years of almost continuous civil and tribal conflicts. Many people have been killed or forced into fighting for rebel factions including Kony’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented wide spread human rights violations including reports of cutting the lips and breasts off women who dared leave the internally displace people (IDP) camps.  Agoro’s children were also hit particularly hard.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, notorious for its use of child soldiers, operated heavily in the area. One 12 year old child from Agoro told HRW how he was beaten until he agreed to kill a civilian. His experience is sadly not unique.

In light of this very recent history, Lt Everest’s opinion that armed guards were a necessity for any mountaineering expedition had to be taken seriously, despite the relative stability and peace of recent years.

Pub 4Two soldiers, carrying nothing but dust covered AK-47s led the way through the fertile fields in plastic wellington boots with the local guide, Jeffery, following suit. As Jeffery walked he pointed with obvious pride the varied fruit and vegetables that flanked the small path that he was walking.

This pride stems from both the villages new 680 hectare irrigation system and, in contrast, the near starvation that many in the village faced just a few years previously. The International Rescue Committee described Agoro’s recent history saying:

“Most of Agoro’s residents had been driven from their homes into a makeshift camp that grew up around the local trading center. These displaced farmers, with little space or incentive to grow their own food, lived on relief rations provided by the United Nations.”

It is no surprise then when Jeffery takes pride in both being able to walk freely through the fields but also being able to reach up and pick some mangoes from near-by trees.

These agricultural fields sit in the bottom of a valley which is encircled by imposing mountain peaks, the highest of which on the Ugandan side of the border stands at over 2,800 meters.

As the agriculture gives way to uncultivated bamboo forest though, so the path soon disappears. The soldiers though march on insisting that they regularly walk these routes for ‘surveillance’. The pace of the walk drops only occasionally to drink some water or to stand for a nervous few seconds as everyone waits for a snake to slither off.

The higher up the ‘path’ goes, the less apparent the ‘path’ becomes.  So, the last hour before summiting is spent scrambling through thick grass up improbably steep slopes. The soldiers who at the bottom seemed at best bemused about why anyone would want to go to the top of the mountain are now clearly enjoying themselves.

Standing on top of the peak the soldiers explain that we cannot go any further in case the South Sudanese soldiers see us. “It might cause problems” says the younger of the two soldiers as he pulls a cigarette out of his shirt pocket.

As he explains this though, he does not look up to the border of South Sudan but instead he looks out over the plains that stretch for miles out to the south. The plains are dotted by the volcanic mountains that hint at the potential for other walks in the area.

Pub 7Just as the agriculture of the plains is booming in this formally ‘no go’ area of northern Uganda, the potential for tourism is also growing.  The Ugandan Tourism Association has documented the so far mainly untapped tourism potential of northern Uganda. There is no reason to think that Agoro could not be at the heart of this tourism revival.

The village of Agoro has seen an unimaginably difficult couple of decades loosing men and women and children in a bloody conflict. This history requires visitors to be sensitive to such loss, but should not stop them from coming.

As we leave Agoro, we say good bye to Lt Everest and thank him for his help. We pull up at the pile of red bricks that mark the entrance to the army barracks and Lt Everest, now in civilian clothing, beams a smile at us and says, “Tell your friends to visit, they too can be our guests.”

Steve Hynd is a freelance journalist based in Kampala and is a member of the Mountain Club of Uganda

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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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