Category Archives: War

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.


Steve Hynd


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Filed under Human rights, Media, Middle East, War

A message from Kampala to whoever thought up the ‘Adebayor Chant’

With a cold beer in hand I sit down on a plastic chair behind rows of chattering men. Glancing around, I see that almost everyone is wearing an Arsenal shirt – not an unusual sight in Uganda. The sun is setting and I think to myself I that I cannot imagine anywhere I’d rather be watching this north London Derby, a thought that would soon disappear.

I sit taking sips of beer and listening as people chat noisily in Luganda. With the exception of a few words I struggle to make out what people were saying so I happily sit back and let the atmosphere wash over me. The big screen is on and sit half watching the match build up and half watching the people around me chat and laugh.

I am deep in thought about how different watching football in Kampala is compared to my old haunt of the Dog Star in Brixton. So deep in fact that I don’t notice when six guys sharply turn around and look me up and down.

All six of them look straight at me. A few seconds later one of them asked, “What’s the Adebayor chant?”

I feel a prick of panic on the back of my neck. We were sitting just down the road from where the 2010 World Cup terrorist attacks took place and I had no idea why these guys were asking me.

The words of the chant run though my head as I try to buy myself time.

Adebayor, Adebayoooooooooor, your dad washes elephants, and your mums a whore.
It should have been you, it should have been you, killed in Angola, it should have been you

I think to myself how fucking unacceptable it is. I think about how, not for the first time, I am complicit in some football fans outrageous actions. Mostly though I think, how the fuck am I supposed to explain what ‘the Adebayor chant’ is in this situation?

Maybe spotting my discomfort, one of the guys piped up with, “Is it true that they sing about the Togo shootings?”

I lamely offer a “yeah” in response. This was getting beyond awkward.

The guys muttered a few words to each other before one asked, “Why?”

Why? Like why do British football fans think it’s acceptable to sing about a terrorist attack that resulted in one of Adebayor’s friends bleeding in his arms? Like why do they feel it is OK to throw in crass racist stereotypes as a prelude to such fucking outrageous comments? Or perhaps just why do so many fans in the stands join in?

Pathetically I muttered into my beer, “I don’t know”.  The guys turned away and went back to pre-match build up. There was no bitterness in the whole exchange but it left me thinking.

One thing I pondered as I moved onto a second and third beer was how would have one of the guys who had thought up that chant have responded if they were in my situation? Would they have tried to justify their crass racism and insensitivity to terrorist atrocities or would they have sheepishly apologised?

I imagined in my mind’s eye the stereotype of a classic football thug almost spitting, “It’s just a bit of fun”.  In all likelihood though, the guy probably looked just like me, young, male and football mad.

As I walked home that evening I was deep in thought. Am I responsible in any way for what happens on the terraces in the UK? Should I have apologised, criticised or critiqued the chant? In retrospect though I was predominantly feeling pissed off that these fucking morons who come up with these chants hold the power to dictate how my evening, thousands of miles away goes.

I have nothing to do with these idiots but to many people we are one of the same.


Filed under Football, Social comment, Uganda, War


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: What made you decide to work with EAPPI?

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

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

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

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

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

In terms of Israel more generally…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Zionists and Palestinian Activists Unite In Condemning Galloway

The reason is simple; No recognition, No normalisation. Just Boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the Apartheid state is defeated

This is the explanation George Galloway MP gave for walking out of a debate after stating he doesn’t “debate with Israelis”.

Everyone from Harry’s Place through to the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has condemned Galloway’s overtly discriminatory views.

I find it extraordinary that someone who claims to working for peace in the region will refuse to talk to an entire nation of people.

By saying he won’t debate with Israelis, is he saying that he won’t debate with the millions of Palestinian Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship as well?

Or is he saying he won’t with Jewish Israelis?

His view makes no sense. The very suggestion that every Israeli citizen is tacitly involved in the Israelis state oppression of Palestinians is inaccurate and insulting.

It is insulting to the Israelis working at the human rights group B’Tselem. It is insulting to Israeli journalists like Gideon Levy who have devoted their lives to exposing the realities in the occupied territories. It is insulting to anyone who is trying to hold onto a vague sense of shared humanity in this conflict that seems so determined to strip people of this.

Both pragmatically and principally, Galloway’s stance is wrong.

Expect an apology…from George Galloway? No chance.

Galloway later turned to twitter to defend his stance:


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, War

“This is what occupation looks like” says ex-Israeli soldiers

Breaking The Silence is a group of ex-Israeli soldiers who have taken it upon themselves to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories”.

Today they put out this important message:

In the past few days thousands of people have seen the image on the right: a Palestinian child in the cross hairs of an Israeli soldier’s gun after the soldier took the photo and uploaded it to his personal Instagram account. It was shared hundreds of times, with many people expressing their discomfort with this absurd show of force where a person can aim a gun at a child just to post a ‘cool’ picture and get many shares.

The image on the left was taken by another Israeli soldier in Hebron in 2003. He later gave us the rights to the photo along with a testimony that were presented in the first Breaking the Silence photo exhibition. The solider in question took the photo using his own personal film camera to keep as a ‘souvenir’.

Both pictures are testaments to the abuse of power rooted in the military control of another people.

Ten years have passed. Technology and media have changed. The distribution of images has changed. But the exaggerated sense of power and the blatant disregard for human life and dignity have remained: this is what occupation looks like.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, War

100,000 dead – 10 years on and I have some questions for Labour activists

10 years ago today over a million people took to the streets to oppose the war in Iraq. Our leaders ignored us. The result? Over 100,000 dead.

In a flagrant disregard to the UN, international law and the British public, the Labour leadership pushed ahead.

The elected representatives within the Labour party, with a few exceptions, failed to voice an effective opposition. Many, including those within the Labour Party, felt betrayed by Blair and his supporters.

In the immediate aftermath 25,000 people handed back their Labour Party membership cards and left in disgust.

What was extraordinary though, was that 208,000 members of the Labour party chose to stay on.

Thus, I have some questions to those 208,000 Labour Party members and those who have joined since.

What would your party have to do for you to no longer feel comfortable being part of it? What would they have to do to make you hand back your membership card?

Were the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis in an illegal war not enough?

A similar question of course has to be asked of all political party members. What red line does your party have to cross before you would leave?

For example, Liberal Democrats have to be able to answer if they comfortable offering tacit support to an attack on some of the poorest in our society?

Where is your personal line in the sand? At what point do you say enough is enough, I can no longer be part of this?

These are questions that cannot be ignored.

These questions are particularly pertinent to those still in commons who backed the war (Ms Harman for example). Even to Red Ed who has, I believe, quite strong anti-war credentials, he needs to be able to answer these questions.

Only if Labour activists can answer these questions can they begin to have the moral credibility to attack this current coalition government.

The loved ones, relatives and friends of the 100,000 dead – they need an answer.


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Syria has reached “unprecedented levels of horror” – and it’s only going to get worse

Today’s papers are filled with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League peace envoy, comments to the UN Security Council that Syria has reached “unprecedented levels of horror”.

His comments come in the aftermath of the UN estimate that 60,000 have now died in the conflict. Although the actual death toll is likely to much higher as the UN excluded any partial or unverifiable reports of killings.

Last summer Amnesty International reported of a “tide of increasingly widespread attacks on civilians by government forces and militias which act with utter impunity”. Significantly, Amnesty International highlighted evidence that war crimes had been committed by both the opposition and government forces.

In November the human rights organisation made a direct plea to William Hague to try and curb the pattern of abuse against civilians being perpetrated by the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

It is hard to imagine the situation getting worse.

Worryingly, some of Mr Brahimi’s comments that went less reported suggest just that. He commented, “The region is being pushed into a situation that is extremely bad”.

This is an understatement.

Firstly there is Iran. A key player in the conflict that is desperate to keep a Shi’a regional ally – not least as a potential arms link export market for terror organisations working in and around Palestine and Lebanon. Many, including the West’s regional partners such as Saudi Arabia, see a functional transition of power from Assad as a way of reducing Iran’s regional influence.

With neither side strong enough to win the war outright, the regional external players are only likely to increase the bloodshed. There is a growing possibility that the fighting will cross borders to draw in more concrete action from regional players.

Secondly, where there is war, there is a killing to be made through arms exports. This opportunity hasn’t passed the UK and US. Currently using routes through Jordan, the UK and the US is ensuring that arms reach their favoured groups – ignoring the above mentioned war crimes. Of course the UK would argue they are acting to ‘protect civilians’ and the arms trade is an inconsequential side note. Whether or not we believe them is a different question.

Either way, the arms industry (which we know to have a small influence on our government) is more than happy to see this war drag out.

Finally, the West’s aim, the overthrow of Assad, also has the chance to further increase the bloodshed. Haytham Manna writing in the Guardian highlights the thorny side of the armed opposition including al-Nusra who Obama has labelled a “foreign terrorist organisation” and who Manna said “indiscriminately targeted non-Sunni people”. Will they and other Islamist groups form part of the new government when they are playing such a pivotal role in the armed resistance?

Even after the overthrow of Assad, will this end the civil war?

Bahimi’s warnings are clear and should act as a warning, not just to the Russians and Chinese who continue to block calls for sanctions against Assad, but also to the West who seem all too eager to jump into bed with those who fulfil their short term goals.

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Can tribal traditions bring together war torn Uganda?

As Uganda recovers from a conflict that has left thousands dead and millions displaced, I met Rwangyezi Stephen, director and founder of the Ndere centre but perhaps best known for his role in the 2007 blockbuster ‘The Last King of Scotland’. His aim? Nothing short of building a new Uganda based on traditional values

In 2005 the International Criminal Court announced that Joseph Kony, the leader of Lord Resistance Army, was a wanted man.

His Crime? To recruit thousands of child soldiers and to displace millions of residents across the north of Uganda.

It is estimated that his movement, the LRA, was responsible for the deaths of 300,000 Ugandans. The ICC arrest warrant for Kony stated that the

LRA is an armed group which has established a pattern of brutalization of civilians by acts including murder, abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, as well as mass burnings of houses and looting of camp settlements; that abducted civilians, including children, are said to have been forcibly recruited as fighters, porters and sex slaves and to take part in attacks

The LRA developed out of the Acholi dominated Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA) and a sense of internal tribal divisions within Uganda.  Specifically, a feeling amongst the Acholi that they had at best been tolerated, and more likely that they had been discriminated against by the central Ugandan government.

Rightly or wrongly, Uganda is often held up as the example of ethno-conflict.

With this in mind, I was interested to meet the actor Rwangyezi Stephen, the founder and director of Kampala’s Ndere centre.

With a beaming smile Stephen introduced his ‘culture centre’ as proof that “different and diverse cultures and tribes can come together to live and work for peace”.

The Ndere centre has its origins in a music and dance troupe that was founded in 1984. On the surface, the troupe simply bought together the different singing, dancing and musical traditions from across Uganda.

In practice, the Ndere centre and Stephen’s vision was something much more radical.

The aim was to transform the colonial myths surrounding the traditional performing arts in Uganda that suggested they were ‘evil or backwards’ into a modern celebration of the culture. A celebration that disadvantaged young people could take part in and use as stepping stone in life in modern Uganda.  Many of the young men and women there were receiving an education only because of the centre.

Like a pied piper, Stephen leads us through the perfectly green grounds of the Ndere centre. We pass a lively bar/cafe and a small shop selling traditional crafts with employees’ positively beaming back at us. Brimming with excitement and a literal bounce in his step, Stephen takes us into a small theatre where some his cast were waiting.

We sit opposite a score of young men and women who sit quietly chatting. Everyone waits for the master of ceremonies to take the next step.

Methodically, Stephen introduces each of them by name and by where they come from. The process is drawn out, theatrical but ultimately entertaining – something that I would learn to be a theme of the Ndere centre.

The process serves a point however – it illustrates the diversity of the performers.

Patiently, Stephen explains to this muzungu audience about the importance of music in traditional Ugandan culture. As he talks he picks up musical instruments made of bits of wood, old tins and plastic pipes that are scattered throughout the theatre.

For the next two hours we watch on as Stephen sweeps us through a whirlwind tour of Ugandan history, politics and culture. With each note from each instrument he or one of his cast draws out, another subtlety and distinction between the different peoples within Uganda is illustrated. It is an education for most of us muzungus, but I suspect, stating the obvious to some Ugandans.

What was obvious though for anyone to see was the confidence with which this collection of young men and women performed. The confidence clearly stemmed from an enjoyment of the art form they were performing – the performing arts from across the tribal divisions within Uganda.

To illustrate a point, Stephen asks why we thought Ugandan women could dance like they do and Europeans struggled to emulate. Some suggested practice, others confidence and a few murmured something about cultures.

Stephen’s answers was much more simple…start by bending your knees. As he said this he grinned and said “see” as he proceeded to shake his hips from side to side. The white, very bottom conscious crowd looked at the floor not sure how to respond.

Sure enough though, before long, Stephen had a room full of muzungus up dancing – well most of us anyway.

The session came to a close with an impressive display of improvised music played by dozens of young men and women.

I left the centre feeling inspired by Stephen’s enthusiasm and passion.

As I was walking out of the theatre back into the afternoon sun I caught up with Stephen to tell him that I thought what he had established at the Ndere centre was really impressive. His answer though was telling, for the first time that day, enthusiasm dropped from his voice as he said:

“I wish my government agreed with you. We do not get any government money to support this work, but we also struggle to get the performing arts taken seriously. You know, I used to perform with these instruments and people would walk out. ”

At the Ndere centre I found young adults raised in a war torn country not only living, studying and working together but young adults enjoying each other’s company and traditions.

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In the quiet of Kampala’s suburbs, the memory of the Al Shabaab bombings lives on

The leafy suburb of Muyenga in Uganda’s capitol city of Kampala is home to a scattering of charity head quarters and gated houses. It sits over 4,000 feet high  above the congested bustling city centre.

It is in this suburb that I find myself, by chance, spending my first week in Kampala.

Walking up the hill from the crowded city centre you pass a row of lively looking pubs and restaurants all contributing to Kampala’s reputation as the “city that never sleeps”. It feels warm and welcoming.

Nestled within these pubs and clubs though is a reminder of the area’s recent past. The Ethiopian Village restaurant, stands as a physical reminder the atrocities that took place in the summer of 2010.

In 2010, Al Shaabab terrorists detonated a bomb in the closing minutes of the 2010 world cup final in the Ethiopian crowded restaurant. The explosion in the Ethiopian restaurant coincided with an explosion at the city’s rugby club. These attacks left 74 dead.

At the time Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage of Al Shaabab said that they were “sending a message to Uganda and Burundi” that “If they do not take out their AMISOM troops from Somalia, blasts will continue”.

Ugandan currently supplies one of the largest numbers of troops to the on-going peace mission within Somalia.

Uganda has recently threatened to withdraw troops though after a UN report suggested they had been arming M23 rebels – a group that is lead by an ICC indicted warlord and has been accused of war crimes.

Here in the capital, the threat of Islamic terrorists is still talked about and still worried about. One Kampala resident said to me that the threat internally from the inter-tribal conflict in the north is not worried about in Kampala but that “Al Shaabab could strike at anytime, anywhere”.

Despite these concerns, there have been no comparable attacks in Kampala since the 2010 atrocities and Kampala enjoys the reputation as one of the safest capital cities in Africa.

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A tribute to Marie Colvin

As 2012 slips into the confines of history, I wanted to pay one last tribute to Marie Colvin – one history’s greatest journalists that 2012 so cruelly took from us. I want to ensure that something of her ethos lives on in my writing.

Marie Colvin

Marie Colvin

Marie Colvin is one of the 121 journalists who lost their lives in 2012.  She lost her life in Syria surrounded by the same killings, war crimes and atrocities that she had spent her life reporting as a war correspondent.

She not only did a job that many of us would be unable to do, but she did it without losing a sense of humanity in some of the darkest situations.

Jeremy Bowen described her “big reserves of empathy” – something that is so vital when you spend your time examining the worst humanity has to offer.

In a 2010 speech in Fleet Street Marie described the role of a war correspondent saying:

“Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash…

Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitised language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes, the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years. Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children.

Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice”

What fascinates and inspires me however is what drove her to then put what she saw down onto paper.

Ingrained in Marie’s writing was a belief, a belief that if the atrocities that she witnessed were recorded and reported then at least there was the potential for action to be taken. Accountability.

If war zones are left without accountability we take nothing into the future except for the loss, anger and desperation which comes to define the bloody aftermath of war.

Marie’s writing acted as a basket to carry the possibility of justice forward. Without accountability, the truth, in all its bloody detail, is left to soak into the cracks of history.

Perhaps part of what drove Marie, and certainly what motivates a lot of my writing and human rights work, is more than just the possibility for action. It is the belief that people care.

In the same speech in 2010 Marie went onto say:

The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen”

In 2013, I am going to take these words with me.

I doubt I will find my ways into the war zone of Syria, but I am sure, wherever I end up, there will be human stories to tell. I hope that you, the reader, will also take these words with you.

I do what I do because, like Marie, I trust that you care.

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Both Israel and Hamas have shown a disregard for civilian life and International Humanitarian Law

It is very very scary…you never know where they will send the rockets, where they will attack. Each day I feel as though they will attack my house”. Asmaa Alghoul – Gaza.

Emblem-255x300International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is the very basic standard used to govern armed conflicts. They are a set of rules which seek to protect those not participating in the conflict. Both Hamas and Israel have violated these basic standards in the recent up-surge in fighting. Everyone concerned needs to be condemning this – not taking sides.

The recent civilian death toll in Gaza has, once again, spiralled. At the time of writing at least 158 have died. The UN estimates, at least 103 were civilians.

Right from the start of the latest bout of violence, human rights groups have started to collect the evidence they need to illustrate that both Hamas and Israel have undertaken ‘indiscriminate’ attacks.

While IHL allows for civilian casualties, it leaves a duty on warring parties to show they have made a distinction between combatants and civilians. Israel has been accused of failing to do this on a number occasions.

By these same standards, Hamas’ rocket attacks are, almost by definition, violations of IHL. If the targets fired at by Hamas are civilian then they are clearly violating the principle of ‘civilian immunity’ – a basic tenant of IHL. Regardless though of the chosen target, the indiscriminate nature of Hamas’ arsenal means that they consistently fail the distinction test inherent within IHL.

This is not to say it is balanced war between two equal parties – it is clearly not in terms of military capability or geo-politics. Gaza’s borders are closed and so Hamas use any arsenal they can get their hands on while Israel has one of the best funded and high tech militaries in the world.

It is however to say that parties from both sides have violated the most basic standards set out to govern armed conflict and that this should be condemned.

Sadly though, this lack of regard for IHL and civilian life is nothing new – for either side. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has a history of failing to meet the very basic standards laid down in IHL. In 2006, the IDF’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon or their 2009 use of white phosphorus during operation Cast Lead, failed to meet the basic standard of distinction required by IHL.

In the latest up-surge of violence, Israel has insisted that it is only using ‘targeted’ strikes. Sadly we know now this is not to be the case. These ‘targeted’ strikes include the homes of Hamas officials, which are also the homes of civilians – thus they have failed to distinguish between combatant and civilian. A combatant’s home which is inhabited by civilians is not a ‘military target’ – it’s a civilian’s home!

There have also been examples of Israel targeting civilian targets. On the 19th and 20th November Israel bombed a media centre that killed two journalists (who are considered under IHL to be civilian). Thus, targeting of this media centre was a violation of the civilian immunity principle within IHL. Intentionally targeting journalists can be a war crime.

In addition to all of this there are examples of what Israel refers to as ‘mistakes’. For example the deaths of 10 members of the al-Dalou family when they struck the wrong house due to ‘bad intelligence’.

Of course, Hamas also has a dark history when held up to the scrutinizing light of IHL. The use of suicide bombers for example is a clear violation of IHL not to mention morally repugnant.

In the latest up-surge of violence, the on-going use of rocket attacks, as stated before, is a clear violation of IHL. Hamas shows no willing to acknowledge this. Already we have seen the impact that this can have; three Israelis were killed by a rocket attack on the 15th November.

IHL is not a nice set of laws – by its definition it allows for fighting and killing. It allows for example for Palestinians to resist the military occupation that they under (although this is one of the protocols that Israel has refused to sign).

Instead however of condemning those parties who fail to meet these crass basic standards. Too often people feel they need to take sides as the injustice of these attacks shines through. On one side you have Israel’s supporters who paint the government’s actions as ‘self-defence’ against an on-going terrorist attacks. On the other you have Palestinian supporters who paint Palestinians an oppressed people being forced into a basic form of self-defence.

Any objective mind can see that there is element of truth in both of these statements.

As I said before though, this is not say it is a balanced conflict against two equal sides. Indeed, these violations of IHL can only be analytically understood in the context of 45 years of military occupation and the regional hostilities.

The answer? I have no idea – if I did I wouldn’t be writing this, I would be picking up my Nobel Peace Prize. All that I am arguing here is that IHL provides a much better starting point to approach the conflict than partisan side taking.

For more on how IHL affects the Gaza/Israel conflict see


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, War

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.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, War

Gaza in Crisis as Death Toll Rises

At the time of writing, at least 14 people have been killed in Gaza and southern Israel in the latest escalation of violence in the region.

Of these 14 people, it was reported that at least 3 Palestinian children have died – including an 11 month old baby. 3 Israelis died when a rocket hit the town of Kiryat Malachi.

Israel has carried out a number of air-attacks in the last few weeks, of which at least two have been described as indiscriminate and therefore a violation of International Humanitarian Law. Militants have also fired hundreds of rockets out of Gaza of which approximately 75% have been intercepted by the Israeli ‘Iron Dome’ defence system.

As part of an on-going conflict all parties are bound by the basic principles of distinction, proportionality and military necessity which govern all armed conflicts. These basic standards are incredibly important as neither side looks to be backing down.

The Israeli Prime Minister has said that “Israel will take whatever is necessary to defend its people”. At the same time, further violence is expected from Hamas in revenge for the killing of Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, the head of Hamas armed wing.  Already over 200 rockets have been fired in the last 24 hours alone.

This escalating violence has lead Amnesty International to call for all sides to ‘step back from the brink’ to protect civilians.

In the midst of this growing death toll, residents of the Israeli towns that surround Gaza have made a dramatic plea to the Israeli government to “stop mucking around with our lives and immediately enter into diplomatic and political contacts with the Hamas Government”.

The statement from the Israeli peace group ‘Other Voice’ goes onto say “We have played around with [the] use of force and war for long enough. And both sides have paid, and are continuing to pay, a high price of loss and suffering. The time has to come to endeavour to reach long-term understandings which will enable civilians on both sides of the border to live a normal life”.

The need for a diplomatic solution to find an end to the on-going armed conflict is needed now more than ever. This message is coming through loud and clear from all around the world including from those within Israel. Are our leaders listening though?

UPDATE: As this went to print, Ma’an news reported the Palestinians death toll has risen to 15.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, War

Remembrance Day, a day to remember but also a day to call for justice for our injured servicemen

When we collectively bowed out heads this morning we remembered those who have lost their lives in war. We took part in a tradition that has occurred annually since the First World War. We remembered the millions who have died throughout our recent history. Equally though, we let our thoughts go out to the families and friends who have suffered bereavement because of our current battles around the world.

This year I spent the two minutes silence by myself at home. I stopped what I was doing on my computer and sat in silence. I thought about our servicemen and women, those who have fallen, but also those who have come back with life changing injuries.

At 10:55, I had a quick browse of the British Legion website. At 11:00 I was left looking at their Poppy Appeal advert. “I.E.D survivors pin their hopes on you”.

I shared those two minutes of silence with the I.E.D victims looking back at me. I thought about what I owe him, what our society owes him, and also what our government owes him.

Now is not the time to talk about the morality of war. Now is the time to remember those who have fallen and offer support to those who are still living with the impacts of war – both psychological and physical.

Now is the time to make sure this government give our returned servicemen the support they need.

Iain Duncan Smith, The Work and Pensions Secretary, said recently that in order to secure a 20% cut in spending on mobility support for the disabled, having lost limbs, in itself, will not be enough to secure benefit payments.

The governments planned reforms away from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are expected to leave 500,000 without ‘vital support’ according to a new report by The Hardest Hit campaign.

The British Legion, in a submission to the Department of Work and Pensions, has said that the criteria that could be applied to the new benefit will hit limbless ex-Servicemen especially hard. The charity said thatmany veterans with mobility problems, particularly amputees, [will] no longer qualify”.

The government in response has said that those with the most severe injuries will be exempt from the medical test when assessing them for their PIP. This in itself raises questions about who will and who will not be  affected by the changes.  Will for example soldiers who are less visibly disabled still lose out?

I would hope that supporting our injured servicemen would be something that is backed by all, regardless of political allegiance. This current government’s push for greater austerity though has warped and confused its morality.

Disability rights campaigners have described how many with disabilities are on a tipping point of isolation and poverty. Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council and co-chair of the Hardest Hit campaign, said “The chancellor has just announced a further £10bn cut to the welfare budget. With £9bn having already been removed from disability benefits and services in this Parliament, disabled people are already at a tipping point”.

In response to the accusation of leaving disabled people isolated and further impoverished, the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey saidOur welfare reforms will ensure the billions we spend better reflect today’s understanding of disability and offer the targeted support disabled people need to live independent lives“.

Essentially, the Department for Work and Pensions is saying that it understands the needs and demands on mobility that disabled people face, better than a coalition of 90 disability charities…

Once again, we are witnessing social policy that is being pushed primarily through an austerity agenda not what people’s lives demand.

On this Remembrance Day, thousands across the country, including our injured servicemen and women are worrying about the removal of vital support that they rely on to live ordinary lives. Where is the respect and honour in that?


Filed under Economics, Politics, War

Rockets and war crimes cannot break the Israeli peace movement

At the time of writing, 80 rockets have been launched from Gaza since last night – all aimed at the south of Israel.

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) spokesman on twitter pointed out earlier that these rockets are not always intercepted.

The latest series of attacks have caused at least 5 injuries. Towns across the south of Israel are, once again, living in fear that a rocket could hit at any moment.

These attacks, due to their indiscriminate nature are a violation of International Humanitarian Law as they fail to distinguish between civilian and combatant. Amnesty International has accused Hamas, who regularly claim responsibility for these rocket attacks, of War Crimes.

These most recent attacks reminded me of my visit to Sderot earlier this year. Sderot is an Israeli town less than a kilometer from the Gaza border with a population of just 24,000 people. Life in Sderot is dictated by the near constant danger of rocket attacks.

Every house in Sderot has a built in ‘safe room’. I was told residents have just 14 seconds to get to it should they hear the warning siren. A physical impossibility for many such as Sderot’s elderly residents.

Town planners have ensured that there are always bomb shelters close by out in the streets. Every bus stop is built to double up as a bomb shelter. As a result, residents of Sderot are never far from shelter nor the reminder that they live in a constant danger.

Nearly all of Sderot’s residents have been affected by rocket attacks. 13 people have been killed in the small town in the last decade alone. The most recent was 35 year old Shir-El Friedman who was killed on the 9th May 2008.

Despite this terrifying reality, I met some within this small community that are actively looking to reach out to those living in Gaza.

I met a representative from ‘Other Voice‘ – a group of Israelis, mainly based in Sderot, who are working to end the circle of violence both in Gaza and Sderot. Their website states:

The Palestinians are also suffering. They, like us, strive for a quiet and peaceful life and for a better future. We believe that only by working together can we reach a long lasting solution. Therefore, our group is in ongoing contact with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who believe, as we do, in non-violence and mutual respect that will bring about the much anticipated change”.

To meet Israelis living with this constant threat of attack but who were looking to create dialogue rather than conflict was truly inspiring. Too often, across both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, I witnessed the exact opposite happening.

The most difficult question I am left with, is that I don’t know how I would respond if I lived under such constant fear! This however only exaggerates my admiration for those like the members of Other Voice.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, War

“What happened to Rachel will never be OK” Cindy Corrie

“The loss, the void, is permanent. You feel it every day of your life, What happened to Rachel will never be OK”.

These are the words of Cindy Corrie, the mother of Rachel Corrie who was killed in Gaza in 2003. She was interviewed a few days before a judge was due to rule on the civil lawsuit that she had bought against the State of Israel. Today the judge’s rulings were announced.

How it feels to lose a daughter at such a young age is something that I cannot begin to fathom. In Cindy’s own words, “for parents there’s that dread of something happening to a child. I don’t even know how to describe how we got through those first minutes and hours”.

Rachel died at the age of 23 in March 2003. She was crushed to death by a bulldozer as she stood in front of it aiming to protect a Palestinian’s house that was due for demolition. This house, which was finally demolished a year later, was one of 1,700 houses in Rafah that were demolished between 2000 and 2004. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem described these demolitions as ‘collective punishment’.

Richard Purssell, from Brighton, who witnessed Rachel’s death said at the time. “The driver cannot have failed to see her. As the blade pushed the pile, the earth rose up. Rachel slid down the pile… The driver didn’t slow down; he just ran over her. Then he reversed the bulldozer back over her again.”

Despite testimonies supporting this view, the Judge today concluded that the driver had not seen her – despite the fact she was wearing a bright orange jacket and was stood on top of the pile of earth he was driving towards. The judge added that “She [Corrie] did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done.”

Sadly, death remains an ever present reality in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Since January 2009 (the end of Operation Cast Lead) 302 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces. 38 of those killed were minors.

Indeed, an often forgotten fact is that on the same day that Rachel Corrie died in March 2003 a four year old Palestinian girl was also killed. This, in a world where the value of your death is dependent on the colour of your passport failed to make the headlines.

A death of an international was embarrassing to Israel. The then Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, promised US president George W Bush that Israel would conduct a “thorough, credible and transparent” investigation into the incident.

The judge ruled today that the initial internal IDF investigation did take place and its findings were valid.

For many Palestinians however the possibility of an investigation into a loved one’s death is often an impossibility. B’Tselem states that “Israel has increasingly avoided accountability for serious violations of human rights…as a rule, [Israelis do] not open criminal investigations in cases in which soldiers killed Palestinians who were not taking part in the hostilities”.

Indeed, in cases of alleged torture no criminal investigations have been launched despite over 700 complaints being filed with the State Attorney’s Office. This failure led to B’Tselem concluding that the “State of Israel breaches its obligation under international law to investigate allegations of torture and, where the findings dictate, prosecute the perpetrators”.

Just as the families of many Palestinians are awaiting justice so are the families of murdered Israelis. Amnesty International noted that Hamas has made no attempt to investigate the alleged war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by Hamas’ military wing and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza during Operation “Cast Lead”. Families left to mourn with no prospect of an investigation.

This is something I cannot comprehend going through. Cindy Corrie’s grief is something I cannot comprehend going through. The thought of losing a loved one in this way is more than anyone should have to experience.

Rachel Corrie emailed home on the 27th February 2003 saying, “I really can’t believe that something like this can happen in the world without a bigger outcry about it”. Sadly, for nearly 10 years this lack of outcry is what has enabled the atrocities to continue throughout the region.

Today’s verdict has failed to offer any sense of accountability. It has however created a global outcry.

I am now waiting for a similar sized outcry next time an Israeli or Palestinian dies.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, War

Testimony from an IDF soldier living near Qalqiliya

I have written a lot on this blog trying to explain to you what life was like living in Jayyus, a small Palestinian village close to Qalqiliya in the West Bank. Equally, I tried to give the people I met a platform to tell their stories.

Well today I stumbled across this testimoney from an Israeli Lieutenant in the IDF who served close to Qalqiliya over ten years ago. Things have changed a lot since then but I thought you might appreciate this view of Qalqiliya from the eyes of an Israeli serving in the army.

The period this describes is October 2000. You can read the full testimony here.

“I was around Qalqiliya then, which was considered a very friendly town to Israelis. Many Israelis used to go there, shopping for everything, using local garages for repairs, buying stuff, drugs, everyone was hanging out there all the time, and suddenly all at once lots of Palestinians were attacking the checkpoint. A little checkpoint, and all those Palestinians coming along and throwing stones, and armed. You couldn’t even tell where this suddenly fell from.

This happened while you were already an officer?

Right after I was commissioned…Our objective was to lay ambushes on various roads in the area, which are the border line between a Palestinian village and a Jewish settlement. They would simply come down after nightfall and throw stones at a car. The driver – frightened – would move the car and get hit. Our objective was to actually catch them [The Palestinians] before the act.

What do you do to catch them?

Lay an ambush. Our instructions were: anyone seen after 9 PM or so descending towards the road, you shoot. Legs down. Every ambush of this sort goes out with a small marksman rifle.

The instructions were to shoot at anyone arriving on the road without any warning? How did it go?

Think of a road with these steep hills on both sides which do not actually enable strategic control of the road. There are terraces of olive groves, that is the reason for this structure. It was rather logical geographically. This was at the time when the east-west highway was not yet constructed. There was just the old road. The new road simply bypasses all the Arab villages, creates an isolated route. There was none of this back then.

The situation was not weird, it was ridiculous. People shot at anything they saw moving. As a commander on the ground who is not supposed to shoot, you give the order to your soldiers and expect them to understand that if they see someone through their special sights who looks like he’s going to do something, they should shoot him in the legs or lower. In the knees. That was a very clear instruction. And they knew perfectly well how to aim and where to aim, regarding ranges. There are different ranges, after all. If you shoot at a leg you might hit the chest. There are situations where you know exactly what you’re going to hit if you aim here or there as regards the weapon’s deviation. And suddenly after two months of warfare, I don’t even know how long that was, two months of uncertainty, because there actually was uncertainty, what we called ‘waning and waxing tides’, two days calm and then chaos, and wild deployments, everyone in the area would leap at anything, stressed out like crazy.

So lots and lots of people got hurt and died, for no reason. Nothing you could even say they did. They did nothing. And then the army realized it was losing control. I’m talking to you here about a company in training of young soldiers, eight months into their army service. The older companies were even in a rougher spot. They had marksmen rifles so they would simply snipe away with more serious ammunition, not 5.56 but 7.62 caliber. Suddenly the army realized it had a problem. At least, the way I understand it now, they stopped it. They said: no more shooting. You need confirmation to open fire. Suspect arrest procedure. So then this procedure came in for suspect arrest. It didn’t exist until then. No such thing. Suspect arrest procedure went like this: You detect someone, you shoot….

It was a confused time. There were stones hurled, Molotov-cocktails, but no serious terrorist attacks. No targeted alerts. Nothing of the sort. As for intelligence information, it read like this: there is an attempt to enter roads. No one spoke of infiltration into Jewish settlements, soldier kidnappings, nothing targeted.

This instruction was handed down from the top, to shoot anyone approaching the roads after 9 PM?

Yes. It was a clear order, at least in our designated area. Anyone descending from that hill and looking suspicious, with no obvious reason to be there. Look, let’s say at 11 or 10 PM people have no reason to be there. Could be, perhaps they did do something. On the other hand, people at 11 PM don’t have too much reason to travel that road, see? So perhaps people really did try to throw stones, but hitting, I mean I’m talking to you here about kids hitting. Okay, they throw stones inside the village. Or there’s a demonstration in the village. The army tricks them by trying to enter and creating a riot. We knew that every entry of an army jeep into an angry village provokes a riot. That’s what brought them on, really. Not every commander was interested in keeping things quiet.

Some wanted to heat things up. Commanders? Company commanders?

Yes. The battalion commander was moderate, the company commanders were all gung-ho. Really. They were eager to enter and create planned disturbances.

A company commander would come along and say: tonight at 8 PM we’re going in for a provocation? Or during a patrol, he’d suddenly say: ‘Let’s hop in’?

No. It was more like, let’s hop in, make the rounds of the village now”.


This testimony was taken by the organisation “Breaking the Silence

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Scorched earth and shootings, as the Israeli military stand by

This article was originally published on Liberal Conspiracy.

Scorched earth stretched out before me. To my right the fire was still burning across the hillside spreading through olive trees. To my left all that remained was charred black earth.

All around me, men were moving, unable to rest but also unable to access their land to tackle the fire. All they could do was to stand watching as their livelihoods and land burnt.

An hour earlier, 22 year old Najeh al-Safadi had tried to put out the fire on his land and had been shot in the stomach by the private security staff from the overlooking settlement. At the time of writing it is unknown if he will walk again after the bullet damaged his spine.

I was stood with some residents from Urif, a small village in the West Bank close to Nablus. Urif stands on the opposite side of the valley to the illegal settlement of Yitzhar which is described in the New York Times as, “an extremist bastion on the hilltops”.

Violent action from the settlers directed at both the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and local Palestinians is not uncommon in the area. The International Solidarity Movement reported back in April 2012 that, “that hundreds of villagers [from Urif] have been injured since 2000 [by settlers from Yitzhar], with as many as 40 serious injuries (many of which were gunshot wounds) and one murder”.

Stood on the hillside opposite me, above the one hundred and fifty dunums of burning land but below the settlement of Yitzhar, were a collection of about forty to fifty settlers. A small group of them were still lighting fresh fires, hours after the original fires had been started.

Parked up and stood alongside these settlers were the IDF. The Israeli Army stood by and watched as these crimes unfolded.

A few hours later however, the IDF did intervene. Just as a small number of settlers were on the outskirts of Urif the IDF stepped in. Their contribution? To fire fifty to sixty tear gas canisters at the villagers and international observers who were monitoring the events.

The IDF has said that they, “regard this incident [the shooting] as severe and will thoroughly investigate it”. Between September 2000 to November 2011, B’Tselem sent fifty-five complaints to the Military Advocate General’s Corps regarding cases that raised the suspicion that security forces did not intervene to stop settler violence.

In only five cases was an investigation opened; two of the five were closed without any measures being taken against the soldiers involved. In eighteen cases, no investigation was opened at all. In eleven cases, B’Tselem did not receive any response.

In a flash the ambulances were gone and the only traces that were left of the violence that had just occurred were the smouldering fields and the talk of whether Najeh would make a full recovery.

I left the mayor promising him that I would do what I could to tell the world what I had seen in his village that day.

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If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it: Another asylum seeker told to go home and be discreet

This article was written by Carrie Lyell for the wonderful Lesbilicious magazine. Re-posted here on request.

Another day, another headline about a failed asylum bid. This time, it’s Angeline Pirara Mwafulirwa and her three children who are currently in a family detention centre in Scotland and will be forcibly removed from the UK this weekend.

Angeline Pirara Mwafulirwa and her children were forcibly removed from their home in Glasgow

Angeline is claiming asylum on the grounds of her sexuality, like many other lesbian and bisexual women who flee their homes in hope of refuge in the UK from a myriad of discrimination and danger they may encounter at home. And yet our government send them home, time and time again, with the message: Be Discreet.

Be discreet? Seriously? I don’t know about you, but my sexuality is much more than just the sex of the person I am attracted to. It influences everything I do. My politics, the television I watch, the newspapers I read, even the shoes on my feet. Discretion does not mean do not hold your girlfriend’s hand in public, it means do not be yourself.

I remember those few years between realising I was gay and telling my family and friends as incredibly isolating and lonely. I was slamming doors and crying myself to sleep, and no one knew why. I was in love with my best friend and I was confused. I couldn’t quite admit it to myself, let alone anyone else. I can’t even comprehend a situation where I wouldn’t be allowed to tell anyone else, for fear of imprisonment, violence or even death. An all too familiar situation for lesbian and bisexual women like Angeline who have been refused asylum in this country and others like it.

Lord Hope said in a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that: “to compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress his behavior by which to manifest himself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is” and still, we don’t talk about protecting the rights of asylum seekers. We don’t talk about immigration at all, as if it’s a dirty word, infecting our mouths with some kind of liberal disease. The mainstream political parties cower to the will of public opinion, refusing to speak positively about immigration issues incase it loses them votes. Incase it alienates their core support. Well you know what? If your core support refuse a safe haven for a woman and her children who are danger because she is attracted to other women, then that’s a core support I don’t want.

Oh yes, that’s right. They come over here, they steal our women, our jobs and our flat screen televisions. I forgot. Instead of talking about the danger that these ‘criminals’ pose to us, why don’t we talk about the danger that these people are fleeing from? With the summer and Pride season almost upon us, whilst you’re dusting off your rainbow flags or planning your Civil Partnership, the sobering reality is this: homosexuality remains illegal in over 80 countries worldwide and is punishable by death in countries like Sudan, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. Not to mention all the places where the law might have changed, but social attitudes haven’t. Discrimination goes well beyond prosecution. We’re talking humiliation, violence and inequality not only by state officials, but in communities. In families. So many people who have no one to stand up for them or laws to protect them. We don’t know how lucky we are.

The Home Secretary promised two years ago to stop the removal of people whose sexual orientation or gender identity put them at ‘proven’ risk of imprisonment, torture or execution. There have been several high profile cases that have highlighted the problems that people like Angeline face in Malawi, including imprisonment, police violence and exclusion from housing and health services. Angeline fears her children will be taken away by her ex-husband and says she’s scared they are in danger of female genital mutilation at the hands of his family. That’s clearly not enough proof for Teresa May and the Home Office.

Of course, there will be people like May who don’t believe Angeline’s story. A comment under one article said: “’LGBT” – she’s having a laugh – three kids and she’s now claiming LGBT (lol)’” and others who think that she and Waverley Care—an HIV charity that she volunteers for—are lying in a bid to defame Malawi.

For me, it’s not about whether or not Angeline is telling the truth. What is far more important, in my eyes, is our unwillingness to help. All she wants is a safe place to raise her children and the freedom to be who she is without fear of persecution. I feel so lucky to live in a place where my rights are protected, where I can have my relationship recognised by law, where I could serve in the army and adopt a child, if I wanted to. And I want those things for Angeline and her family, and all of those women who are in the same situation but aren’t fortunate enough to have their stories believed. Of the 19,804 applications made for asylum in 2011, more than half were refused. I don’t think even the most hardened cynic could believe they were all lying.

I’ve no doubt that Malawi and countries like it will soon realise that, as Hilary Clinton put it, gay rights are human rights, but until then, we have a responsibility to take care of people like Angeline and her family. It’s not long now until London plays host to World Pride 2012, an event that aims to draw attention to countries where being gay is still illegal and give those who can’t march safely at home an opportunity to do that on our streets. Let’s hope that sentiment lasts a little longer than the British Summer.


Filed under Human rights, Politics, sexuality, Social comment, War

My mates band, my love life and the security of Israel’s borders

A little more than a few hundred meters of fences and checkpoints mark out the border between Jordan and Israel where the two countries meet at their southern most point. It took me about 10 to 15 minutes to cross this border when entering Jordan last week. On the way back into Israel however it took about two hours. Why? I was told it was because they had ‘serious security concerns’. Never before has the word ‘serious’ been subjected to such a loose definition.

The conversation started off a little tedious. “How long have you been in Jordan for? Who did you visit? Are you carrying any weapons”? These are the sort of questions that always strike me as slightly pointless but are a regular feature of border crossings. In a slightly overly accommodating way I responded to a complete stranger with complete itinerary of my holiday and that no, I was not carrying any weapons.

Very quickly however the conversation started to veer from the ordinary ‘airport style questioning’ to the downright bizarre.  “What’s on your t-shirt?“. I was wearing my Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun t-shirt (a friend’s band). I explained this to her and she answered, “Are they successful…your mates band?”. She almost spat the word mate. I paused wondering whether she really wanted to hear how successful or not my friend’s band were. As she didn’t break the silence I responded, “Well yes, just recently it has been great, they’ve been signed to a record label I really like and they have just put out an album which has been met with critical acclaim”.

Now taking swabs from every item of clothing in my bag checking for the explosives and drugs I had assured her I didn’t have she says, “give me an example”. I clarify, “you mean, you want an example of the ‘critical acclaim’ my friend’s ban has had?”. She nods. Again, an awkward couple of seconds silence before I say, “Well, Kerrang magazine gave it KKKK (out of 5) while the site Punktastic has described it ‘ a definite contender for album of the year’”. She stares at me blankly. “What’s that a picture of?” she says pointing at the album art from their first record ‘atlases’ that is printed on my t-shirt. “Why would did he chose that picture?”. I answered as honestly as I could, “I don’t really know, I would just be guessing if I answered”. Deadpan again she says, “well guess”. Feeling slightly foolish I again sought clarity, “you want me to guess why a mate of mine that I went to school with chose this picture for his first album?”. Nod. “Really?”. Two nods.  I start to speculate and she continued to stare blankly at me.

This level of conversation lasts for one and half hours. It stretched from the finest detail that I can recall about the Live Music Act (part of my former work), my love life as a 16 year old through to petty details like why my bag had ‘mountain equipment’ written on it when it didn’t look very suitable for mountains. I answered question after question trying to not laugh at the stupidity of it all.

After an hour and half of solid questioning she tells me to stop slouching. I had maybe stared to drift off. She handed back my passport and tells me that I can go now. I smile and walk past a picture of Bill Clinton on the wall – I was sure by this point his eyes followed me across the room.

Walking away past a customs official who didn’t bother to look up from his newspaper I thought to myself that there are two undeniable facts about Israel. One is that it faces an extreme external security threat that means it needs to have secure borders. Secondly is that it’s response to this security threat is often disproportionate. What I experienced coming through the border is a slightly more comic illustration of this disproportionately.


Filed under Middle East, War