Tag Archives: protest

Why Amnesty International is right: Both the village of Kafr Qaddum and Murad Shtewi must be freed

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The village of Kafr Qaddum in the West Bank was the scene of some of the worst violence I saw during my half year working as a human rights monitor there.

The village holds weekly demonstrations to demand that their main road be reopened. It was closed by the Israeli military authorities in 2002 to prevent Palestinians from travelling on roads designated for use only by Israeli settlers and adds on nearly 20km to their travel to the main town.

These demonstrations are violent affairs. This is my account of a ‘not so peaceful protest’ which includes footage of a Palestinian being mulled by an Israeli military dog (see below) as well as multiple protesters being shot directly by heavy metal tear gas canisters. This is my account is of a 17 year old boy who was relearning to talk after being shot in the head by a tear gas canister.

As I said – the demonstrations are violent affairs littered with human rights abuses. It is not surprising then that on a number of occasions the Israeli military tried to stop human rights monitors and members of the press from entering the village. On one occasion before a particularly brutal response to the protest I had to travel through the olive groves to avoid the Israeli military checkpoint to gain access to the village.

In midst of this madness trying to marshal events was the figure Murad Shtewi. Murad is (was) a leading activist in the weekly demonstrations held in his village. I met him on a number of occasions normally over strong Arabic coffee and cigarettes to discuss what had occurred in his village during the previous week. Invariably the conversation focused on army raids and arbitrary arrests (painfully common events across the West Bank) but this was juxtaposed to Murad’s middle-eastern understanding of lavish hospitality and his talk of non-violence resistance.

I liked Murad for having optimism in the face of such continued violence (violence that Murad experienced first hand, in the video of the dog attack you can see Murad being pepper sprayed in the face for trying to intervene in the dog attack on his nephew).

Despite witnessing so much violence Murad was also committed to non-violence. This commitment to non-violence is one of the key criteria for Amnesty International who now consider Murad a ‘prisoner of conscience’ after his arrest at around 3am on 29th April of this year (arrests in the middle of the night are common place in the West Bank – even when detaining minors).

Murad is charged with organizing a demonstration without a permit, causing a public disturbance, and throwing rocks during a demonstration. Amnesty International has responded to these charges saying:

“In Amnesty International’s assessment, the charges of rock-throwing and of causing a public disturbance are unfounded. Murad Shtewi has been persecuted for expressing his non-violent opinions and for his role in the peaceful protests in Kufr Qadum against Israel’s illegal settlements. His arrest and detention are a measure to punish him and stop him and other village activists from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly.”

As such Amnesty International is calling for Murad Shtewi to be released immediately and unconditionally, as ‘he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression’.

This is a call that I am happy to publicly back. On every occasion that I went to Kafr Qaddum I never once saw Murad throw a stone. On a number of occasions I did see him telling others not to throw stones. I also talked to him at length about the importance of non-violent resistance.

This is also the third time Murad has been arrested (each time released without charge) in the last few years, the first was after the dog attack on his nephew.

Simply put, I can’t see how this latest arrest of Murad has any purpose other than to try and deter him from organizing legitimate protests against the Israeli policy of segregation in the West Bank.

It is in light of all this that I ask you to take a few seconds to send this sample letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that significantly not only calls for Murad’s release but also to:

‘take effective measures to prevent the use of unnecessary and excessive force by Israeli forces against peaceful demonstrators’

Please help me help Murad by taking this small action.

For more information:

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Protest 12 years of Guantanamo Bay

2pm. This Saturday. 11th January 2014. Meet in Trafalgar Square. Help send a message to the Obama administration that says close Guantanamo Bay.

Gitmo

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Fair fares: A protest in Stroud

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This morning I joined a handful of others outside Stroud train station to protest at the latest hike in rail fares and to call for the renationalisation of the First-Great-Western franchise.

Why? Well, where to start. Figures show that the average rail season ticket in the UK has now risen to £2,191. This, put another way, is equivalent to 8% of the median UK salary. Even more depressingly, this is considerably higher than the £1,441 average fuel cost of driving to work.

But it gets worse. There are sections of the UK rail network now where you pay as much as £6 a mile.

The trains in the UK are bloody expensive. This is at least in part due to the last 20 years of privatisation. The Rebuilding Rail report put the cost of the privatisation of the railways at £1.2bn a year. Or again, put another way, enough money to cut the average rail fare by 18%.

These ticket prices mean that for many trains are simply an unaffordable luxury. This restricts social mobility and also drives climate change as people opt for their own carbon intensive forms of transport.

So, the question then is not why was I stood outside a station protesting but more why were you not stood with me?

Never fear though…there is always something you can do. Write to your MP and ask them to support the recently launched Private Members Bill which, if adopted, “Requires the Secretary of State to assume control of passenger rail franchises when they come up for renewal”.

The last 20 year tell us that governments are happy for train services to be run for private profit not the public good. It’s up to us to tell them that we want our trains running for the public good.

UPDATE:

Soon after publishing Molly Scott Cato, The Green Party lead candidate for the South West European Parliament elections, contacted me to highlight this e-petition – please do also sign the petition.

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The Sussex Five and the privatization of Britain’s universities

This is a guest post from Gabriel Raeburn. Gabriel studies Politics and American History at the University of Sussex. He is a Labour Party activist and is an active critic of the continued marketization of education. He tweets @gabrielraeburn.

sussex
Three years ago, as British students protested in their thousands against the rise in tuition fees, many asked “where did all the apathy go?” After that initial burst of collective energy and anger, sadly some of the apathy did return. Yet, the last few months have seen the return of the student movement as a radical force in British politics. Last week saw over eight British universities under occupation, forty-one arrests in two days in London and the return of heavy-handed police brutality against student protesters.

Arguably the most drastic reaction to the student movement was at the University of Sussex where management, led by the Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing and Registrar John Duffy, callously suspended the studies and excluded from campus five students involved in peaceful occupation of university facilities.

In February 2013, students involved in the University of Sussex’s anti-privatisation movement occupied Bramber House’s conference hall on university property. This was in solidarity with 235 campus employees who were having their jobs outsourced to the private catering company Chartwells. Occupy Sussex highlighted both the continued marketization of higher education and the undemocratic nature of British universities. The movement gained support from a range of politicians as well as the academic Noam Chomsky, the novelist Will Self, and the comedian Mark Steel.

On the evening of the 27th November 2013, students reoccupied an entire floor of Bramber House as a result of management’s continued privatization of university services and marketization of higher education. It also stated support of strike action called by UCU, Unite and Unison on the 3rd of December over fair pay and gender pay inequality in government institutions. On the day of the strike, Occupy Sussex peacefully left the occupation to stand in solidity with their lecturers and workers on picket lines. The following day management banned five students involved in the anti-privatization movement from entering campus and indefinitely suspended their studies. The Vice-Chancellor claimed the charge was “disruptive and intimidating behaviour.”

The suspension of the five students, collectively known as the “Sussex Five” or “Farthings Five”, represents a disturbing trend in British universities. The claim of “disruptive and intimidating behaviour” is, in this case, without factual basis.

The university was once seen as a key institution for education, democratisation and debate. Farthing and Duffy have distorted this image. They have turned Sussex from an institution of education to a profit-orientated business. They have instigated a top down agenda with no accountability. And as for debate, the message is clear; if you challenge management policy, you will be removed. Students are scared and intimidated, and why wouldn’t you be? If I speak out, I may be suspended. The slogan that “we are all the Sussex Five” is clearly not just a stand of solidarity but an obvious notion that students feel that this could happen to them.

Sussex’s battle may appear as a small case of five students indefinitely suspended from their studies, but the issue is clearly much larger than that. It is a battle over both the right to freedom of speech and peaceful protest, and unaccountable university management power. The response to the Sussex Five has been remarkable and swift. The day following the suspensions, 500 students marched on Sussex House where management resides, demanding their immediate reinstatement.

Similar numbers marched the following day. An Early Day Motion (EDM) was put forward in Parliament by the Labour MP John McDonnell. An online petition reached over 9,000 signatures. A letter signed by over 200 staff members, including many senior lecturers, condemned the Vice-Chancellor’s actions in the “strongest terms,” while a statement demanding the immediate reinstatement of the Sussex Five was signed by over two dozen societies. An Emergency Members Meeting (EMM), which over 600 students attended, passed a vote of no confidence in management and called for unprecedented student strike action of Tuesday 10th December in solidarity.

Within hours of the EMM, management drastically backtracked and declared the reinstatement of the five students, but claimed it would continue to press charges. This was in part due to the continued and sustained pressure of faculty and students, and the fear of continued peaceful chaos on campus.

This should be seen as a victory for democracy and for freedom of speech. But it is only a small victory in a much larger debate. The university is first and foremost an arena to foster debate and challenge conventional wisdom without the threat of persecution. If it is to be a democratic institution then management must be accountable to someone. The continued struggle over the Sussex Five will determine what type of institution Sussex wishes to become.

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MP arrested after protesting against fracking

In a refreshing break from the usual “all talk no action” criticism of Westminster, Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP, has today been arrested for taking part in an anti-fracking protest.

As a rule of thumb I don’t support illegality, but as Caroline has already explained to BBC News, there are times when non-violent direct action is justified.

I for am proud of Caroline for putting her liberty on the line in defence of her views (supported by well established science).

Commenting on her arrest Caroline said:

“Along with everyone else who took action today, I’m trying to stop a process which could cause enormous damage for decades to come. The evidence is clear that fracking undermines efforts to tackle the climate crisis and poses potential risks to the local environment.

 “People today, myself included, took peaceful non-violent direct action only after exhausting every other means of protest available to us.  I’m in the privileged position of being able to put questions to the Government directly and arrange debates in Parliament, but still ministers have refused to listen.

“Despite the opposition to fracking being abundantly clear, the Government has completely ignored the views of those they are supposed to represent.  When the democratic deficit is so enormous, people are left with very little option but to take peaceful, non-violent direct action.”

I am pleased to see that at least one MP understands the severity of what’s at stake.

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Politics, passion and underground protest music

Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music…whether it’s metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values”John Harris

Harris expresses a sentiment many of us feel – in our hearts of hearts, we know that there is something missing in modern music – a politics, a passion, a sense of protest.

The music mainstream is characterised by ‘soulless music, artless lyrics, goalless movements and heartless gimmicks’ and yet under our feet a revolution brews from the stages of music venues across the country.

This revolution has no base other than music’s third world, the underground.

I refer to the underground, as the ‘third world’ to reflect the Peruvian American rap artist Immortal Technique’s observations…that the underground has all the natural resources, the talent, the man power and the passion, but has none of the access to the music markets that remain so manipulated and dominated by the powerful few.

Just like the third world though, the underground also spawns creativity, protest and resistance.

While the mainstream stays eerily quiet, the pulse of popular resistance beats on. Musicians are coming together to articulate what many of us feel but are unable to express. These musicians are uncaring of the marketability of their work.

They offer the discerning listener a raw, passionate and articulate response to the injustices we see and feel.

While traditional structures teach us that the love between two men is immoral the music of the underground gives us the poetry to resist this prejudice.

From The King’s Will’s ‘Love Against Homophobia’:

To some people 
My love is somewhat alien;
When he comes up, they start subject-changing, and
In some states he’s seen as some contagion -
In those zones, he stays subterranean;
Some love my love; they run parades for him:
Liberal citizens lead the way for him:
Same time as some countries embracing him,
Whole faiths and nations seem ashamed of him:
They’ve tried banning him,
God-damning him,
Toe-tagging him,
Prayed that he stayed in the cabinet,
But my love kicked in the panelling, ran for it -
He’s my love! Can’t be trapping him in labyrinths! -
Maverick, my love is; he thwarts challenges;
The cleverest geneticists can’t fathom him,
Priests can’t defeat him with venomous rhetoric;
They’d better quit; my love’s too competitive:
He’s still here, despite the Taliban, the Vatican,
And rap, ragga in their anger and arrogance,
Who call on my love with lit matches and paraffin -
Despite the fistfights and midnight batterings -
My love’s still here and fiercely battling,
My love’s still here and fiercely battling,

In this underground world, lyrics carry the sentiment of a generation growing up surrounded by violence and prejudice that we are unable to articulate a response to.

The underground does not demand protest but offers a fertile space for resistance to grow.

The underground crosses causes, continents and musical genres. Just as under the streets of Harlem you will find the dirty beats of subversive hip-hop, so under the soil of Middle-England you find the subversive chords of new-folk…and no, I’m talking about Mudford and fucking Sons.

Chris T-T for example expresses the concerns of the rural working classes as he takes on The Countryside Alliances’ (we’ll call them ‘the cunts’ for short) hypocrisy when he sings:

You loved the fucking poll tax, you propped up Margaret Thatcher
And you didn’t give a fuck about Tony Blair
‘Til he threw your hobby back at ya

Of course, a world-wide underground does not escape attention. Immortal Technique comments on this in his track ‘Open your eyes’ when he says, “When they [The  Record Companies] need new assets, new artists to prostitute…, when they needed new concepts… they came to the underground”

Often music that pushes moral, social and musical boundaries becomes the pre-fix to new trends – new marketable trends. Subversive characters are marketable – think of John Lydon and his butter adverts.

So how should we, as consumers, respond to artists who rise up from the streets and onto the record company’s balance sheets?

Should we walk away from the likes of Frank Turner who sing of liberty and freedom whilst playing at the G4S/ATOS sponsored Olympics? No, of course not.

There is nothing inherent about protest being distinct from populism, and certainly nothing inherent about poverty and protest. Billy Bragg stands as a testimony as someone who has ridden a wave of popularity and prosperity and remained, relatively speaking, true to his values.

When Turner is quoted in The Guardian saying that “Rock n Roll will save us all” and that “anyone can take the stage” – The Guardian ‘raises an eyebrow’. For the rest of us it offers a signpost to resistance that surfaces in the mainstream.

When protest music such as Bragg, Turner or even Dylan rise up on to the airwaves and newspaper sheets of the masses, we should be pleased but we should never lose sight of where it came from.

The Underground.

Only in here will you find the raw passion, politics and protest that we are missing in most of our modern music.

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As Gaza burns Londoners take to the streets

Hundreds of miles away, families are huddled up inside their houses fearing the next explosion. Across the south of Israel and throughout Gaza, civilians are suffering the anxiety of a war that they cannot escape.  The second day of fighting in Gaza has left a mounting death toll and an unknown number of people with life changing injuries.

This bloodshed seems a long way away from the Israeli embassy in north London. It is though, ultimately why around 1000 people gathered here on a cold November night.

As I approach the planned protest I am met first by a sea of blue and white – mainly in the form of the Israeli flags but also Union Jacks. A few hundred people had gathered to offer support for Israel. I quickly have two leaflets thrust into my hand; one entitled “Defending Israel from Terror” and the other urging me to donate to “Rocket Aid”.

I dither on the pavement as I read the leaflets. Some of the language on the leaflets attracts my attention. The first leaflet states “Operation Pillar of Defence is aimed at removing the threat to Israeli citizens. No innocent civilians will be targeted” and I think about how this aspiration seems to so routinely not be lived up to. Amnesty International has stated that two Israeli airstrikes in the last week alone have failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets and as such constitute a violation of International Humanitarian Law.

My attention though shifts to a woman who is draped in an Israeli flag handing a small child a leaflet whilst saying, “it’s important everyone knows the truth”. I decide that now was not the time to discuss the philosophy of ‘truth’. Instead I start a conversation.

It would be fair to say that we don’t always see eye to eye on every issue. At times though we find common ground, “Israel’s external security threat is not to be underestimated” she says. At times though we had to agree to disagree, “I don’t know what more Israel could be doing to get peace”. I offer her a list. At times I am left speechless by some of her analogies – the bombing of Gaza, she said is like having children “you talk to them and you talk to them but sometimes you just lose your rag”. I bit my lip.

Despite at times finding her views unpalatable, she was friendly and engaging and our conversation attracted other around us. A young Londoner called Harry was hanging around the edge of the protest and soon we were having a good conversation. Harry is a 17 year old student who wants to study International Relations and oozes confidence and intelligence.

I asked Harry why he was there and he responded passionately about schooling and how he thought that every kid should have access to it without being scared of rocket attacks. Indeed, Harry who has family in Israel had none of the anger or angst that can sometimes be found in these situations and I believed him when he said “I’m also here for the Palestinians, I’m here because I want them to be free from Hamas, a terrorist government”.

As I worked my way through the crowd trying to make my way to the much larger “pro-Palestine” demonstration I briefly met a man whose son had gone and joined the IDF, a spokesman for the ZF and a young girl of about 6 who “just wanted there to be peace”- a diverse crowd.

All the time though I kept being distracted by snippets of less guarded conversations in the crowd. “Fuck human rights” “Those Arabs, they would kill each of us if we turned our backs” “Why do Arabs always smell like they’ve shit themselves”. I couldn’t help but to be appalled and I wondered what someone like Harry would have made of some of these comments.

As I made my way through the lines of police between the protests, one stopped me and asked, “Are you one of them?” I gave an oddly constrained answer as if under interrogation and said “I was looking to get into the Palestine demonstration”. To seek clarification the officer asked “Are you Jewish”? I answered honestly, “no”. This seemed to be enough to let me walk freely between the demonstrations.

Once through I was met with the swaying force of 1,000 people all shouting and chanting. There were Socialist Worker Party banners everywhere.  Almost immediately someone approached me and said “solidarity brother” and held out his fist. I replicated and we did, what I thought to be, a slightly awkward fist tap (like a high five but with your fist clenched). He looked at me smiled and said, “Yeah fuck the Jews man” and walked off.

With no sense of irony he turned and immediately started talking to a group of Jews who are anti-Zionist and can often be seen on ‘pro-Palestinian’ demonstrations. Language is used and abused but I still found the flippancy in which he muttered the phrase “fuck the Jews” to be deeply disturbing.

A wee scuffle broke out at one point between a young activist called Joe and a portly policeman. I approached Joe afterwards and asked what the problem was. Angrily at first he said, “They won’t let me confront them…the fascist scum. The EDL are down there and these pigs won’t let me through”. He looks through the policeman who is still hovering over us and says, “The Zionists are standing side by side with the fucking EDL”.

I asked around and indeed even went back to check, and couldn’t see any sign that the EDL had been at either demonstration.

All around me the crowd is loud. They chant in slogans that have been used for as long as the occupation and the mass of people seem to move with a collective pulse. The atmosphere is intense and the police numbers grow around the edges of the swelling crowd.

A young man with a scarf around his face sees me making notes and winds his way up to me. He tells me above the ambient noise that he is Indian and this is the reason why he has come here today. “I am here for myself because my country was occupied for hundreds of years. I’m here standing up for myself but also for the Palestinians – the oppressed”.

I ask him if he thinks it will work, if this demonstration will make any difference and he responds simply, “we have to try”. Even though he has a scarf over his face I can see his cheeks lifting and some wrinkles appear in the corner of his eyes. He exudes a sense of optimism.

Just as I finish speaking to him a small fight breaks out and two protestors are taken away by the police whilst chanting defiantly “Free free Palestine, from the river to the sea, free free Palestine”. The whole evening feels electric as if at any moment it could spill over.

After a gradual decline though, the cold takes most people back to their warm houses. Only a handful of anarchists and activist are left. One proclaims proudly “I’m only leaving in handcuffs” to which a policeman responds “did you bring any with you”?

As I arrived back to the warm of my south London flat, I turn on my computer and I am virtually reminded of the reason why we had all trekked across London on this cold November night. The Palestinian news agency, Ma’an News has on its front page a story that is grimly entitled “Teen brothers among 3 killed in Israeli airstrike”.

It states, “An Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday evening…bringing the death toll to 19 on the second day of fighting.”

No amount of goodwill on either side will bring back the dead and only the Israeli government and Hamas have the power to stop further bloodshed. Let’s hope the leadership was listening to some of the moderate voices out on the streets of north London  on this chilly November evening.

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Another Friday, another protest in Kafr Qaddum

This is a guest article by my friend and colleague David Heap who is currently based in Tulkarm. It was originally published on the EAPPI website.

For the Abu Ihab family, Friday wasn’t too bad. Admittedly there were Israeli soldiers on their roof firing tear gas, they couldn’t leave the house, the sons had been chased down the stairs by armed soldiers and the stink of tear gas and burning car tyres drifted through the room. But Isra’a, the youngest daughter, said they weren’t really afraid today.

Kafr Qaddum is a pleasant Palestinian hillside village of some four thousand people. It has a mayor, a mosque, an elementary school. It had a road joining it to the next village one and a half kilometres away – but not anymore.

Between the two villages are two Israeli settlements, legal under Israeli law, but illegal according to UN Resolutions, which expressly forbid the civilian settlement of lands occupied as a result of conflict. The road was closed for security reasons by the Israeli authorities in 2003. The only security problems the townspeople were aware of were some damage to their crops and olive trees in the early days of the settlement, but all had been peaceful for a good while. Israeli authorities had reportedly promised to re-open the road at the same time as the main road beyond it to Nablus re-opened. This happened two years ago, but their road remained closed.

Since the first of July 2011 the people of Kafr Qaddum have held a demonstration every Friday against the closure, which means a 20 kilometre detour to get to families and friends and a six-fold increase in bus fares for students. It can get very angry, as it had on the 15th of June this year, because the Israeli army had raided the village in the middle of the night before and detained 20 young men. They can be held in administrative detention inside Israel, many kilometres away from their families for hours, days, weeks, months or years, often without trial. If they admit to the claims against them (often stone-throwing) they can be released upon payment of a fine that is around 10,000 shekels (€2000.) A Palestinian going to work in Israel as a labourer or farmhand earns 120-180 shekels per day.

That Friday, it was a game of kids advancing and throwing stones, soldiers dashing forward threateningly with the guns, kids running back, soldiers withdrawing, kids advancing again went on till the main adult procession came up the hill. Tyres had been set alight and were now billowing smoke. The same pattern of ebb and flow was repeated, only now tear gas was being lobbed regularly. Mostly into a field to the side of the demo, but some skittering along the road into the crowd. Men were regularly brought back choking and temporarily blinded and a Red Crescent ambulance zoomed up and down giving aid to the worst affected. One man was hurt more seriously as it seemed his shirt had caught fire and he was burned.

Things quietened down after an hour or so and the procession came back chanting slogans. A quiet enough day we were told. Unlike the previous week there had been no chemically-created “Skunk” water shot from water cannons and no sound bombs, which disorientate and nauseate as well as deafen.

Back in the Abu Ihab house, which is at the outer limit of the village and always caught up in the midst of things, things were now quite calm. The soldiers had left the roof and for once had not cut the television cable. The mother was preparing a huge and delicious meal of chicken, rice, vegetables, pickles, pitta bread, tea and coffee.

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Protest at Kafr Qaddum 11.05.12

The organiser of the weekly protest at Kafr Qaddum took a few seconds to explain to me his version of events from today’s protest.

These are some images I took from today’s protest:

Two boys using slingshots to throw stones at the soldiers.

The Israeli Army entering the village.

A member of the press (who made it past the flying checkpoints put down by the Israeli Army to stop press entering the village) is carried out of the protest by a first aider.

A small boy collects the empty tear gas canisters

If you would like to read what the protest at Kafr Qaddum is like – click here

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Another crackdown on the protest in Kafr Qaddum

My head started swimming and I couldn’t open my eyes. I could feel broken stones crunch beneath my feet and I knew I was moving away from the protest. For a terrifying 30 seconds I lost track of what was happening. An autopilot sense of self preservation kicked in that my conscious self had little control over. Just as my senses started to return I felt a colleagues hand rest on my lower back and lead me to the side of the street. Here I crouched in the small amount of shade offered by the shop-front from the midday sun. My stomach had tied itself into a knot and my head felt like it had split in two. Only then did I realise that I must have walked away from my colleague who was now stood in front of me with her camera in hand. I glanced up an offered what I hoped was a reassuring smile.

A few minutes earlier I had been stood at the back of a demonstration in Kafr Qaddum, a small village in the West Bank. I was there to monitor the proceedings and reporting on any human rights violations I witnessed. In the minuets preceding I had filmed a number of ‘warning shots’ being fired over the crowd and whiffed the faintest smell of tear gas. I believed I was far enough back though to avoid the worse of what was to inevitably come. I was stood on the side of the street next to a large wall that could also offer me protection, should it have been needed, from any direct fire. My colleague was nearby and I felt in control of situation.

Seconds later the Israeli army fired a volley of tear gas canisters (some directly into the crowd) that filled the streets with a penetrating thick gas. At first I stayed in position as it appeared the soldiers were aiming just for the front of the protest. As the crowd turned to run however, the tear gas landed closer and closer to me. At this point one canister landed a few yards away and filled my lungs with the gas. What happened next is a blur. I remember a man kicking the canister away down the hill but little else.

On the approach to the village earlier that day there were some clear signs that the protest was not going to pass peacefully. The Israeli Army had set up a series of checkpoints cutting off the only main entrance to village. I approached as part of a mini convoy of human rights monitors. I was travelling with others from EAPPI and the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem. As we approached the checkpoint it became abundantly clear that international human rights monitors were not being allowed into the village. Later I would find out that the same restrictions were being applied to media outlets.

I already had reasonable suspicion to believe that this week’s protest at Kafr Qaddum was going to witness an escalation of violence on previous weeks. The day before the village had seen 19 of its residents arrested in an IDF raid. “It was a clear illustration of strength aimed to intimidate us and to stop us making protest” one villager suggested. There were reports that a large amounts jewellery had also been stolen during the raid. This combined with the checkpoints only heightened our unease about the protest.

After meeting a series of other journalists, news agencies and human rights monitors who had also been turned away we decided to collectively head across the fields and enter the village “through the back door”. As the representative from B’Tselem put it, “if we do not reach the village today I am sure some very bad things will happen and they will go unreported”.

Sadly, his prediction of violence proved to be true. Both the Israeli Army and boys and young men from the village once again illustrated their willingness to take part in acts of violence against one another. Before being ‘tear gassed’ myself I saw stones the size of my fist being flung through sling shots at the soldiers who then responded with the brutality that I am coming all to use to seeing.

It is important, however distressing these scenes of violence are, that the world hears about them. Today I saw a large number of boys throwing stones before the Israeli Army fired tear gas directly at the crowd as a whole.  The obvious difference in these actions is that one was undertaken by a professional army and the other by young boys in an occupied village.

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A not so peaceful protest

This article was posted on the Liberal Conspiracy blog.

I was stood in the middle of an escalating protest against the Israeli occupation in the village of Kafr Qaddum. The air was thick with tear gas, panic was spreading as people were running in all directions to escape. In this commotion another round of tear gas was fired directly at the crowd. I saw someone meters from me collapse. A man caught him as he was falling and lifted him onto his shoulders. As he tried to escape other men came to help carry him. After a few meters they laid him down on the ground and it became clear he had been shot in the neck by a tear gas canister. This was the second person of the day to suffer this fate.

The former legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, Col. Sharon Afek of the Israeli Defence Force stated in April 2009 that, “direct firing [of tear-gas canisters] at persons is prohibited” and that, “very soon, an explicit and broad directive will be issued that will prohibit the firing of a tear-gas canister directly at a person.” When in July 2011 the Israeli human rights group B’tselem enquired to why they were still recording multiple incidents of tear gas canister being directly at crowds, Major Uri Sagi, of the office of the legal advisor for Judea and Samaria within the IDF stated that, “we have again clarified to the forces…the rules relating to firing of tear-gas canisters at persons, including the prohibition on directly firing a tear-gas canister at a person.”

In December 2011 the death of Mustafa Tamimi was caught on camera. He was killed by a tear gas canister fired by an IDF soldier from the back of a jeep just a few meters away. This incident caused international outcry. It was raised by Don Foster MP in a letter to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and gained wide spread media coverage.

Despite this extensive history I today witnessed another two Palestinian men being hit by IDF fired gas canisters. Despite IDF regulations stating that tear gas must be fired at a 60 degree angle I witnessed them repeatedly firing directly at the crowd. Not only does this violate the IDFs own regulations regarding the use of tear gas, it also violates International Humanitarian Law by failing to distinguish between civilian and combatant.

This however was only one part of the story of what happened at the protest at Kafr Qaddum today. The IDF tactics varied between spraying chemically produced water with a awful smell (aka ‘skunk water’, firing tear gas (at the crowd) and even using dogs to capture protestors towards the front. I was told that this boy had his arm broken by the dog before being arrested. This was the first time I had seen dogs being used at protests – a potentially worrying development.

The protest is organised under the principle of non-violence. Regularly however stones are thrown at the IDF by boys from the village despite men trying to stop them. It was reported that last week that a soldier was hit in the face by one of these stones. This reality that the IDF faces however provides no justification for their continued breach of both IHL and their own regulations. We are collecting too many examples now of the IDF misusing tear gas. It is time for the IDF to start enforcing its own standards and to live up to its obligations under International Humanitarian Law

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Administrative detention on the West Bank

This article was written by my colleague Bjoern Gunnar and was originally published in Norwegian and English on his blog.

By invitation from the Qalqiliya branch of Prisoners’ Club, the EAPPI team at Jayyus attended the demonstration against the administrative detention of Khader Adnan who has been detained since 18 December. Adnan is now on his 64th day of hunger strike and has lost a third of his body weight. According to Al Jazeera, the 33 year old baker was arrested in his home in the middle of the night and ‘sentenced’ to four months of administrative detention,  “World leaders have expressed growing concern over the fate of the prisoner, who is being held without charge under a procedure known as “administrative detention”. There are currently more than 300 Palestinians being held in administrative detention by Israel, without charge or trial, for renewable periods of six months, without any way of defending themselves.”

EAPPI teams do not actively participate in demonstrations, but attend to show sympathy and talk with people. Sometimes we find eloquence without the use of words.

In the small town of Qalqiliya, more than two hundred attended the demo. Not bad!
Mothers and sisters with husbands, sons and brothers in administrative detention; faces showing the destructive effects of the use of illegal imprisonment.
There is beauty to be found on the West Bank. Administrative detention is not among these. The life of Khader Adnan is on the line; a very thin line. Should he die in illegal detention, scenarios including disruptive, violent response are more than probable. Israel’s Supreme Court will hear an appeal for Khader’s release today.

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Today we mourn – tomorrow we continue the fight for justice

I am Troy - You are Troy - We are Troy

Today we mourn for the sad loss of Troy Davis who was put to death in the early hours of this morning. His life was taken away by the hypocritical hands of the state of Georgia. His death marks the ends of over 20 years of campaigning for the truth that would surely have seen him found to be innocent. The state of Georgia has taken a calculated decision to execute a man despite not holding a shred of physical evidence to implicate him in the crime they accuse him of. This is wrong on so many levels.

As the reality of his death sinks in we are left to look to the future to ensure that such a miscarriage of justice is never again allowed to occur. In Troy’s death we can draw out the very visual growing support for the abolition of the death penalty. Over a million people signed a petition calling for a stay of execution. The Council of Europe, MP’s and celebrities all got behind his case. There was a clear and loud message that reverberated around a globalised world about the abhorrent nature of both Troy’s death but also the use of the death penalty.

When I was stood outside the US embassy last Friday alongside hundreds of others who had turned out at short notice we were read a message from Troy. This message contained a request, no stronger, a demand to not give up the fight. Yesterday, a day before his execution Troy reiterated his call saying:

“The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me.

I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath.”

I finish therefore with a promise, a promise to Troy and to all others who have been needlessly put to death at the hands of the state – I will not give up, I will continue this fight until we see the complete world-wide abolition of capital punishment. Troy has had the ability to speak taken from him for the last 20 years, and now we will never hear him speak again. With Troy in mind I urge you to join me in this fight. It is not going to be easy, we will see more innocent men and women put to death – but it is a fight I feel compelled to take on. Please join me.

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Join me outside the US embassy to stop an injustice occurring

The execution date is set. Unless something changes, Troy Davis will be put to death on the 21st September 2011. This is despite a list of doubts surrounding his case.

Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of the murder of Officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1991. Since 2007, Amnesty international has campaigned alongside Troy’s family and other supporters for a new trial or hearing and clemency.

He was given an opportunity to prove his innocence in 2009 and despite:

  • Four witnesses admitting in court that they lied at trial when they implicated Troy Davis
  • Four witnesses implicating another man as the one who killed Officer MacPhail
  • Three original state witnesses describing police coercion during questioning, including one man who was 16 years old at the time of the murder

Despite this all this, in August 2010 the federal district court judge ruled that although executing an innocent person would be unconstitutional,Troy had not met the extraordinarily high bar for proving his innocence.

You can read more about the doubts surrounding Troy’s case in this Amnesty International briefing.

We have a chance to stop this injustice happening. There is going to be a walk in solidarity for Troy in Georgia (where he is on death row). Our aim in the UK is to illustrate the strength of feeling and international support Troy holds.

This is why I hope you will join me on Friday 16th September 2011 outside the US embassy in London between 5 and 7pm. Troy deserves a fair trial. He does not deserve any punishment, let alone the death penalty while there are such doubts surrounding his case. This is literally a matter of life and death.

Can’t make it but online? Take action here

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