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