Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Preview Of Ramzy Baroud's "My Father Was A Freedom Fighter"

By Stephen Lendman
28 October, 2009
Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Palestinian-American journalist and former Al-Jazeera producer. He also taught Mass Communication at Australia's Curtin University of Technology, is a frequent speaker, a regular media guest, and is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Chronicle, a leading resource for information on Israel/Palestine and much more.
He's also written many articles, commentaries, short stories, and authored several books, including "The Second Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle," and his latest and topic of this introductory review, "My Father was a Freedom Fighter."
Baroud knows his subject well, having been born and raised in a Gaza refugee camp where he saw Israeli soldiers regularly oppress, harass, humiliate, and attack young Palestinians like himself in an attempt to crush their spirit and break their will to resist, to no avail no matter how hard they tried.
What follows is a snapshot of Baroud's new book, soon to be released by Pluto Press. As distinguished Palestinian author, historian, activist and founder and president of the London-based Palestine Land Society, Salman Abu Sitta, explained in the forward:
Ramzy is Mohammed Baroud's son, a heroic "freedom fighter, (and himself) a gifted writer (who) eloquently unearthed the recent history of Beit Daras" village, chronicled his family's struggle in exile, and recounted their determination to survive and endure under siege and assaults that continue to this day.
Many books covered the early years, but most were in Arabic. Baroud's is one of the few in English "about the life, depopulation and (literal) struggle for survival of the people of a Palestinian village in southern Palestine." In spanning over seven decades of history and survivor recollections, "it stands out as an unblemished depiction of their plight" as only those who experienced it can describe.
As a freedom fighter's son, Baroud's book is proof of a people's persistence to survive, endure, and ultimately prevail in their historic quest for liberation, because of heroic men like father and son Baroud who'll accept no less. Nor should anyone wanting everyone to be free, especially the long-suffering Palestinians and oppressed peoples everywhere.
Born in Beit Daras, Mohammed Baroud's beloved village was conquered, leveled, and erased, except from the memory he took to his grave. One of seven children, he was born during the 1938 turmoil that erupted a decade later in merciless war that destroyed Beit Daras, 530 other villages, 11 urban neighborhoods in cities like Tel-Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, and slaughtered or displaced about 800,000 Palestinians with tactics reminiscent of Nazi WW II ruthlessness.
Mohammed and his family survived, were exiled to the Gaza Nuseirat refugee camp, dreamed always of going home, as a young man joined the Palestinian unit of the Egyptian army, later fought heroically for the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) in the Six Day War, was wounded, and was horrified that historic Palestine was gone, its people captives on their own land, forced to endure Israeli occupation viciousness, that, for Gazans, is in the world's largest open-air prison.
Throughout his life, he endured decades of struggle, conflict, violence, occupation, oppression, what Edward Said called "a slow death," shattered hopes, and the incalculable horror of it all. It took its toll. Yet he raised six children, used his resources to educate them, believed the occupation and poverty killed his young son Anwar, and then his wife Zarefah at age 42.
In his early 50s, he grew frail, needed two canes to walk, was weakened by various ailments by the late 1980s, and became increasingly disillusioned and impoverished.
Ill, in pain, and incapacitated, he was dying. The end came on March 18, 2008. Thousands turned out for his funeral, oppressed people like himself who shared his vision, struggles, and plight. "The resilient (freedom) fighter had finished the battle for a well-deserved moment of peace" while those left behind continue his courageous struggle, his son Ramzy one of them through his heroic work the way many others are equally committed and will be until Palestine is again free.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs archived for easy listening.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Israel Rations Palestinians To Trickle Of Water

By Amnesty International
27 October, 2009
Amnesty International
Amnesty International has accused Israel of denying Palestinians the right to access adequate water by maintaining total control over the shared water resources and pursuing discriminatory policies.
These unreasonably restrict the availability of water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and prevent the Palestinians developing an effective water infrastructure there.
“Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies. In Gaza the Israeli blockade has made an already dire situation worse,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s researcher on Israel and the OPT.
In a new extensive report, Amnesty International revealed the extent to which Israel’s discriminatory water policies and practices are denying Palestinians their right to access to water.
Israel uses more than 80 per cent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, the main source of underground water in Israel and the OPT, while restricting Palestinian access to a mere 20 per cent.
The Mountain Aquifer is the only source for water for Palestinians in the West Bank, but only one of several for Israel, which also takes for itself all the water available from the Jordan River.
While Palestinian daily water consumption barely reaches 70 litres a day per person, Israeli daily consumption is more than 300 litres per day, four times as much.
In some rural communities Palestinians survive on barely 20 litres per day, the minimum amount recommended for domestic use in emergency situations.
Some 180,000-200,000 Palestinians living in rural communities have no access to running water and the Israeli army often prevents them from even collecting rainwater.
In contrast, Israeli settlers, who live in the West Bank in violation of international law, have intensive-irrigation farms, lush gardens and swimming pools.
Numbering about 450,000, the settlers use as much or more water than the Palestinian population of some 2.3 million.
In the Gaza Strip, 90 to 95 per cent of the water from its only water resource, the Coastal Aquifer, is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Yet, Israel does not allow the transfer of water from the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank to Gaza.
Stringent restrictions imposed in recent years by Israel on the entry into Gaza of material and equipment necessary for the development and repair of infrastructure have caused further deterioration of the water and sanitation situation in Gaza, which has reached crisis point.
To cope with water shortages and lack of network supplies many Palestinians have to purchase water, of often dubious quality, from mobile water tankers at a much higher price.
Others resort to water-saving measures which are detrimental to their and their families’ health and which hinder socio-economic development.
“Over more than 40 years of occupation, restrictions imposed by Israel on the Palestinians’ access to water have prevented the development of water infrastructure and facilities in the OPT, consequently denying hundreds of thousand of Palestinians the right to live a normal life, to have adequate food, housing, or health, and to economic development,” said Donatella Rovera.
Israel has appropriated large areas of the water-rich Palestinian land it occupies and barred Palestinians from accessing them.
It has also imposed a complex system of permits which the Palestinians must obtain from the Israeli army and other authorities in order to carry out water-related projects in the OPT. Applications for such permits are often rejected or subject to long delays.
Restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of people and goods in the OPT further compound the difficulties Palestinians face when trying to carry out water and sanitation projects, or even just to distribute small quantities of water.
Water tankers are forced to take long detours to avoid Israeli military checkpoints and roads which are out of bounds to Palestinians, resulting in steep increases in the price of water.
In rural areas, Palestinian villagers are continuously struggling to find enough water for their basic needs, as the Israeli army often destroys their rainwater harvesting cisterns and confiscates their water tankers.
In comparison, irrigation sprinklers water the fields in the midday sun in nearby Israeli settlements, where much water is wasted as it evaporates before even reaching the ground.
In some Palestinian villages, because their access to water has been so severely restricted, farmers are unable to cultivate the land, or even to grow small amounts of food for their personal consumption or for animal fodder, and have thus been forced to reduce the size of their herds.
“Water is a basic need and a right, but for many Palestinians obtaining even poor-quality subsistence-level quantities of water has become a luxury that they can barely afford,” said Donatella Rovera.
“Israel must end its discriminatory policies, immediately lift all the restrictions it imposes on Palestinians’ access to water, and take responsibility for addressing the problems it created by allowing Palestinians a fair share of the shared water resources.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Brothers in arms: For over 20 years, Cuba helped Africa’s freedom struggle

Fidel Castro says Cuba's contribution to the independence struggle in Africa has never been properly acknowledged.Soon, Cuba will open its archives to researchers and historians working on the history of Africa.
Cuba sent over 350,000 soldiers, civilians and doctors in the 1970s and 1980s to support liberation struggles in Algeria, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, Guinea Bissau, Congo, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe.With Cuban help, apartheid in South Africa was dismantled. In total, 2,077 Cubans died fighting for Africa.And the story of valour spreads to Latin America and Asia.
In his memoirs, Castro recalls in detail the momentous events of his half a century rule.
In 1961, a Cuban ship took weapons to Algerians fighting for independence from France.
On its return to Cuba, it took back about 100 orphans and wounded civilians.“No one knows the hundreds of thousands of Algerian lives lost. And, to date, the French have still not sent to Algeria the maps of the fields where millions of landmines were laid.”In 1963, Cuban troops fought alongside Algerians against the invasion from Morocco, whose armed forces received logistical aid from the United States.
Cuba’s collaboration with the independence struggle in Angola and Guinea-Bissau began in 1965. It prepared the fighting units and sent in instructors and material aid.Guinea-Bissau was a Portuguese colony, and a fierce struggle for independence had been going on since 1956.It was led by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, under Amilcar Cabral. Finally, in September 1974, Guinea-Bissau gained independence.About 600 Cubans, among them 70 doctors, had been with the guerrillas for 10 years.In July 1975, the Cape Verde islands and the Sao Tome and Principe archipelago also gained full independence from Portugal.

And mid that year, the Mozambique Liberation Front and its leader Samora Machel also gained independence.
But Mozambique, after independence, was often invaded by South African troops.The last of the Portuguese colonies to win independence was East Timor, in 1999.“We were able to help that country at a very difficult moment. It was so far away. And Cuba was, at the time, isolated from the rest of the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp,” Castro recollects.The leader of the newly independent Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, received Cuban political aid.
When he was assassinated by colonial powers in 1961, “we helped his followers. Four years later, in 1965, Cuban blood was spilt in the western area of Lake Tanganyika, where Che, with over 100 instructors, supported Congolese rebels in their fight against white mercenaries led by the West’s puppet Mobutu (Sese Seko)”In his speech to the UN General Assembly on December 11, 1964, Che Guevara, denounced American and Belgian aggression in the Congo, saying: “Every free man in the world must be ready to avenge the crime committed (there).”
“I tried at the time to calm his impatience... while conditions were being created for a freedom struggle,” Castro reveals. Finally, Castro let Che go to Africa with a group of companeros.

On April 24, 1965, Che arrived with a large group of Cuban combatants at Kibamba, near Fizi, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.The area was controlled by Laurent-Desire Kabila’s guerrillas.Kabila had received his political and military training in China.“But his guerrillas were in deep crisis then — disorganised and under attack by battle-hardened white South Africans, Rhodesians and Germans... commanded by Belgian and African officers,” Castro says in his memoirs.
In July 1965, Cuba sent 250 fighters to Congo Brazzaville “to defend the nationalist government of Massamba Debat and, from Brazzaville, to provide help to Che, who was on the eastern border of the other Congo.”Cuba’s best known intervention in Africa was in Angola, where the United States played a major part.“The US implemented a covert plan to crush the legitimate interests of Angolan people and impose a puppet government. A key point was (a US) alliance with South Africa to train and equip certain organisations created by the Portuguese colonial regime to frustrate Angola’s independence and turn it into a condominium for Mobutu.”
The Angolan Popular Liberation Movement (MPLA) was led by Agostinho Neto, who had asked for Cuba’s help.
The US made arrangements to transfer to South Africa of several atomic bombs... We took all precautions, (under the assumption that) the South Africans were going to drop a nuclear weapon on our troops.”In mid-October 1975, the Zaireian army and mercenary troops, bolstered by South African military advisers, were getting ready to launch new attacks from northern Angola, and in fact were already in the vicinity of the capital, Luanda. The greatest danger was in the south.South African troops had crossed the southern border of the country and were advancing quickly into the heart of the country.
“The objective was to meet Mobutu’s mercenaries from the north and occupy Luanda before Angola proclaimed its independence, which was scheduled for November 11, 1975. Those were difficult days!” Castro says.In the face of the two-pronged invasion of Angola, Cuban soldiers joined the combat.“For the first time, in that remote part of the continent, the blood of Cubans and Angolans joined to nourish the freedom of that long-suffering land.”By late November 1975 the enemy aggression had been halted in both the north and south.After that victory, Cuba withdrew from Angola in 1976.

“In March 1977, I was finally able to visit Angola and congratulate its people and Cuban combatants on their victory. By then about 12,000 internationalists had already gone back to Cuba – that is, about a third of our troops. Up to that point, the withdrawal plan was being followed to the letter.”In 1977, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed power in Ethiopia, at a time when the country had been invaded by Somalia.
Somali President Mohamed Said Barre had taken over Ogaden in his ambition of a Greater Somalia, which would bring together all ethnic Somalis in one nation.To do this, it was necessary to annex Djibouti, the Somali region of Kenya and the Ogaden.The Soviet Union provided aid to Ethiopia, and Cuba sent in an expeditionary force. In 1978 the Cuban and Ethiopian forces, fighting together, won an important victory over the Somali army, which was forced to withdraw from Ogaden.

First Published in the East African:

Fidel Castro: My Life by Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet

Ever wondered why Cuban leader Fidel Castro — now off the limelight after nearly 50 years at the helm of the Caribbean nation — has always sported a luxuriant beard?It’s not just because it harks back to the anti-bourgeois ethos of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, but also because it is a practical expression of the old revolutionary’s workaholism.By his own calculation, Castro saves up to 10 working days a year by not shaving.
“The story of our beards is very simple: It arose out of the difficult conditions we were living and fighting in as guerrillas. We didn’t have razor blades, or straight razors. When we found ourselves in the middle of the wilderness, up in the Sierra, everybody just let their beards and hair grow, and that turned into a kind of badge of identity,” the ailing 82-year-old former president reveals in his spoken autobiography: Fidel Castro: My Life, published by Scribner.

“For the campesinos [farmers] and everybody else, for the press, for the reporters, we were los barbudos — the bearded ones. It had its positive side: In order for a spy to infiltrate us, he had to start preparing months ahead — he’d have had to have a six-months’ growth of beard, you see. So the beards served as a badge of identity, and as protection, until it finally became a symbol of the guerrilla fighter. Later, with the triumph of the revolution, we kept our beards to preserve the symbolism,” Castro says.“Besides that, a beard has a practical advantage: You don’t have to shave everyday. If you multiply the 15 minutes you spend shaving every day by the number of days in a year, you’ll see that you devote almost 5,500 minutes to shaving. An eight-hour day of work consists of 480 minutes, so if you don’t shave you gain about 10 days that you can devote to work, to reading, to sport, to whatever you like.”
Castro, commonly referred to as Comandante, adds: “Not to mention the money you save in razor blades, soap, after-shave lotion, hot water... So letting your beard grow has a practical advantage and is also more economical. The only disadvantage is that grey hairs show up first in your beard. Which is why some of the men who had let their beards grow, cut them the minute the grey hairs started to show, because you could hide your age better without a beard.”

In the autobiography — drawing on more than 100 hours of interviews with journalist and author Ignacio Ramonet — Castro narrates a compelling chronicle of his childhood, rebellion at home and school, the Revolution and meetings with prominent public figures (Nehru, Tito, Arafat, Jiang Zemin, Nelson Mandela, Noam Chomsky and others).He also tells of his dealings with no less than 10 successive American presidents (from Eisenhower to Bush II).

The long conversations on capitalism, the World Trade Organisation, the death penalty and other contemporary global issues began in late January 2003 and would bring Ramonet back to Cuba several times over the succeeding months, through to December 2005.
Castro proudly talks of the achievements and challenges of the revolution.
He shares recollections about more personal matters, like his successful attempt to give up cigars.

He discusses the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp on Cuba.
He concedes that corruption exists in the country.
And he reveals how he threatened to burn the family home if he was not sent back to school when he was in fifth grade; how he forged grades to buy comic books, sweets and go to the movies; how at the age of 21, he joined the Cayo Confites expedition to fight against the dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic in July 1947 and his experiences in the Bogota Uprising in Colombia in 1948.
Ramonet asks him why he attends international events in a suit and tie, but in Cuba is almost always dressed in his trademark olive-green uniform.
The answer is vintage Castro, “Because, with the uniform, I don’t have to put on a tie everyday. It avoids the problem of what suit to wear, what shirt, what socks... so everything goes together. I put on suits only for very special circumstances, some international conferences, or when the Pope came, or a meeting with some head of state, although even that protocol has been simplified here in Cuba.”He thinks the first time he appeared dressed in civilian cloths was at the Ibero-American Summit in Cartagena de las Indias in 1994, because the Colombian hosts asked all participating heads of state and government to wear a guayabera (a men’s shirt popular in Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and the West Indies).
“Since then, I’ve worn civilian cloths to other international meetings, but also for special occasions here in Cuba. But this uniform which I’ve always worn since the Sierra, is what I ordinarily wear. I’m used to it and feel perfectly comfortable in it. It’s not a sophisticated uniform. It’s very simple, almost like the one I wore in the war. We’ve just made a few modifications to it.
“I also have a uniform for receptions that I wear for some occasions, with a shirt and tie, a little more formal. But the one I feel most comfortable in, is this one.”

Castro was born on August 13 1926, on his father’s farm in Biran, Cuba.His father, Angel Castro Argiz, had migrated from Galicia in Spain and later became a wealthy landowner.
He died on October 21, 1956 in Biian.His wife Lina Ruz, who was Cuban-born and bore him seven children, died in 1980.

“Where I was born, I lived with people of the most humble origins. I remember the illiterate unemployed men who would stand in line near the cane fields, with nobody to bring them a drop of water, or lunch, or give them shelter, or transport. And I can’t forget those children going barefoot...” Castro recalls.
In October 1948, Castro married Mirta Diaz-Balart, daughter of a wealthy, politically influential Cuban family (they divorced in 1955).His first child Fidel Felix Castro Diaz-Balart, “Fidelito” was born on September 1, 1949.Nothing is included in the book on his wife — about whom there is said to be considerable mystery — and children.As Ramonet states: “It never crossed my mind that we should speak about Castro’s private life, his wife or his children.”

In school, Castro was outstanding in basketball, football, baseball — almost all the sport.
“I’d go to class but I never paid much attention, and then I’d go and study... So I turned into even more of a self-taught man, you might say, an autodidact in mathematics, algebra, physics, geometry. I’d study those theorems and whatnot on my own... I’d just let my imagination fly [during lessons] and study at the end of the term, just before the exams. At the University of Havana [where he enrolled in September 1945 to study law], I never went to class, either. What I’d do was talk to other students in the park.“In a relatively short time, on my own and with very little knowledge of economics or other essential subjects, I started becoming what today I would call a “utopian communist.”And if I tell you that I became a revolutionary at the university, it’s because I came in contact with certain books.But before I’d read any of those books, I was already questioning the political economy of capitalism, because, even then, it seemed irrational.”

Castro was admitted to the bar in 1950.By March 10, 1952, the day of Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’état, Castro had already been a Marxist-Leninist for several years.“I’d already formulated a plan for the future. I decided to launch a revolutionary programme and organise a popular uprising. I already had the idea that a revolutionary takeover of power was necessary.”

Castro, leading a group of 165 young people, attacked the Moncada Military barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953.This action, which Castro hoped would trigger a popular insurrection against the Batista dictatorship, was thwarted by a series of chance incidents.
“If I were to organise a plan for taking the Moncada barracks again, I would do it exactly the same way; I wouldn’t change a thing. What failed there was that we lacked sufficient combat experience,” he says.

On August 1, 1953, Castro, had retreated into the mountains after the Moncada failure, was ambushed by a military patrol and taken prisoner.He was later sentenced to 15 years in prison on October 16 1953.With his brother Raul and others who took part in the Moncada assault, Castro was released from jail on May 15, 1955, having been granted amnesty by Batista in the face of overwhelming popular pressure.In July of the same year, he went into exile in Mexico, where he laid the ground for an armed popular insurrection.

The revolution by Castro and his men began in December 1956.Ultimately, Batista fled Cuba for the rebels to take power on January 1, 1959.Castro was then barely 32 years old.He was first named commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces while Manuel Urrutia was installed as president.Castro later became premier of the Revolutionary Government in February 1959, a position he held for almost 18 years.From December 1976 to February 2008 he was president and commander-in-chief.

His younger brother, Raul Castro Ruz, was elected president on February 24 to replace him.
“My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, much less to stand in the way of younger persons, but rather to contribute experience and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional era in which I lived. It would be a betrayal of my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer. This I say devoid of all drama,” Castro wrote in his resignation letter dated February 18, 2008.

He continued writing the column, Reflections of Comrade Fidel, published and broadcast in the country.Castro reveals that Ernest Hemingway’s novel about the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls, helped him conceive the Cuban irregular war.The book deals, among other things, “with a struggle in the rear of a conventional army. And it talks about life in the rear; it tells of the existence of a guerrilla force, and how that force may act in a territory that’s supposedly controlled by the enemy.”“I’m referring to the very precise descriptions of war written by Hemingway in that novel. Because, in all his books, Hemingway describes things in a very realistic way, with great clarity. So that book became a familiar part of my life. And we always went back to it, consulted it, to find inspiration, even when we were already guerrillas.”
Hemingway had a house in Cuba for 20 years, leaving for the last time a year after the revolution and a year before his suicide, and was reported to have been on good terms with Castro and the new regime, who turned his house into a museum.

Castro says immediately after the triumph of the revolution, the conspiracies began.“Sabotage, the infiltration of men and the draining off of military equipment in order to sabotage us and encourage uprisings and terrorist activities. Our country has been the object of the most prolonged economic war in history, and of a fierce and unceasing campaign of terrorism that has lasted more than 45 years. They sent in planes to spray the cane fields with incendiary materials...”
In December 1959, US President Eisenhower approved a CIA-proposed plan whose objective was to “topple Castro in one year and replace him with a junta friendly to the Unites States.”

This included the elimination of Castro, who has subsequently had to deal with over 600 attempts on his life, which he believes were directly organised by the CIA.
On April 17, 1961 about 1,500 CIA-trained mercenaries landed on Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) in Cuba, only to be defeated by the Cuban forces within about 60 hours — between dawn of the 17th and 6pm on the 19th, Castro narrates.
“The battle was fought within sight of the American ships offshore. We took about 1,200 mercenaries prisoner, almost all the enemy forces who had been in the battle, the exceptions being, of course, the dead.” Cuba latter traded the prisoners for medical supplies.

Former American President Jimmy Carter, who Castro says is the most honest president the US has ever had, gets a word of praise.“He wanted to straighten out, to a degree, the relations between our two countries. Some of his people visited us in Cuba, but there was always a demand. There was the situation in Angola, and the revolutionary struggle in El Salvador — that is, problems and situations with regard to which we couldn’t make any concession whatsoever. But there was a man there who wanted to change the policy with Cuba.”

In the face of the US blockade and economic war that has lasted almost half a century, Castro says: “Cuba has been able to eradicate illiteracy in one year. Cuba has given free education to 100 per cent of its children. It is also first in the world in teacher-per-capita ratio. The average education of a Cuban citizen today is at least ninth-grade.“Eighty-five per cent of the population owns its own home, tax free. The other 15 per cent pay an absolutely symbolic rent — barely 10 per cent of their salary.”With respect to its health policy, Cuba has an infant mortality rate under 6 per 1,000 live births.With a 0.07 per cent Aids rate, it has one of the lowest indexes of Aids in the world.It has more than 70,000 doctors (30,000 abroad and no fewer than 40,000 on the island), plus 25,000 medical students.

“Today, Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita in the world. Its international contingent of doctors specialising in disaster situations and epidemics work all over the world. Africa alone has more than 3,000 Cuban doctors.”The US declined to accept the 1,610 doctors offered by Cuba during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Castro has been put on a list of the richest men in the world, which he denies, saying: “I honestly don’t own a thing. I lack for nothing, materially speaking. I have what I need. I don’t need much. Let people try to find any leader of the Revolution who has an account in some foreign bank; we’ll give anybody that manages to find such a thing whatever they want. My salary, at the exchange rate of 25 pesos per dollar, is $30 a month. But I’m not dying of hunger.“I’ll have the glory of dying without a penny of convertible currency. I’ve been offered millions to write memoirs and books, but I’ve never done it. I’ve always said, ‘If I do it, it’ll be for schools.’
“And a person is at peace in his own mind, really happy and strong, with that sort of rule.”

Authors: Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet
Translator: Andrew Hurley
Publishers: Scribner, 2008
Price: $40, hardback
Pages: 724

Friday, October 23, 2009

British torture in Kenya

British torture in Kenya alleged
Evidence allegedly showing government knowledge and authorisation of torture of Kenyans in the 1950s and 60s has been presented in a compensation claim.

Five Kenyans suing the government have also served evidence allegedly detailing torture they suffered, including castrations and sexual abuse.
British authorities rounded up thousands of people into camps during the Mau Mau uprising for independence.
The Foreign Office said it could not comment on particulars of the case.
Leigh, Day & Co, solicitors for the five men and women veterans of the Mau Mau movement, served the government with a 45-page Particulars of Claim on Thursday.
The lawyers say the documents show:

  • Systematic use of violence and "violent shocks" on detainees authorised in correspondence between then secretary of state for the colonies and the governor of Kenya
  • Widespread interference by British authorities in criminal investigations into allegations of abuse and torture of Kenyans
  • London ignored detailed reports of widespread and systematic violence by security forces
A Leigh, Day & Co statement said: "Far from being the acts of a few rogue soldiers, the torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of Kenyans during this period was systemic and resulted from policies which were sanctioned at the highest levels of the British government by the then colonial secretary."

Above all else the claimants are seeking an official apology for the torture that they and so many others were subjected to
Leigh, Day & Co solicitors
If these test cases are successful, it could lead to "community reparations for the wider group of Kenyan torture victims", the lawyers say.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission has said 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed during the crackdown, and 160,000 were detained in appalling conditions.
The lawyers' statement added: "Above all else the claimants are seeking an official apology for the torture that they and so many others were subjected to."
Claimant Ndiku Mutua, who says he was castrated and tortured by British prison guards, said: "I was robbed of my dignity and of a family and those scars have never healed.
"This wrong must be recognised, I and many others deserve an apology and justice at long last."
Contesting cases
The government has previously suggested that the claim is invalid due to the time that has passed and that any liability transferred to the Kenyan authorities after independence in 1963.
In a statement on Thursday, the Foreign Office said: "We understand the strong feelings that the Mau Mau issue still creates in Kenya and elsewhere. It remains a deeply divisive issue within Kenya and which historians continue to debate.

"The emergency period caused a great deal of pain for many on all sides, and marred progress towards independence. It is regrettable this was not achieved without violence.
"It is right that there should be open debate about the past and one which we are prepared to contribute to."
The statement added: "It is of course right that those who feel they have a case are free to take it to the courts. But as we have previously indicated to the solicitors, we expect to contest the cases on questions around liability and limitations.
"Because of the prospect of legal action, it would not be right to comment further on the particular aspects of this case."
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Portrait of a warrior-scholar


Hani: A life Too Short by Janet Smith and Beauregard Tromp (Jonathan Ball)

Despite some shortcomings, the latest offering from the Jonathan Ball publishing stable, a biography of famed ANC and South African Communist Party warrior-scholar Chris Hani, is an important piece of work.

Gently narrated by Janet Smith and Beauregard Tromp, it is a significant contribution to understanding arguably one of the most celebrated leaders to have come out of that broad and disparate church called the ANC.

It is important to state up front that on this score -- barring some obvious gaps -- Smith and Tromp succeed in giving the reader a beautifully crafted and, at times, powerful narrative on why the former general secretary of the SACP and chief of staff of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) is so revered.

The book is important in the same way that Mark Gevisser’s seminal biography on another former blue-eyed boy of this often-secretive movement, Thabo Mbeki, was. It is no mean feat what Smith and Tromp have managed to produce given the sources with which they had to work.

It is clear that the duo did not necessarily get unfettered access to all the power brokers in the ANC who had the privilege of knowing Hani, especially in his formative years.

Hani’s surviving wife, say the writers, declined to be interviewed for the book. Just as Gevisser gave us a glimpse into Mbeki, one of the most elusive minds to have led the ANC and the country, Smith and Tromp nudge us a bit closer to understanding his nemesis, who, because of his short life, unfortunately could not challenge or emulate Mbeki’s party and state presidencies.

It is worth pointing out that in Gevisser’s
Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred it is apparent that Hani occupies quite a prominent space in the “psycho-political examination” of the leader that is Mbeki, including in his formative years.

Sadly it is in this area of Hani’s life that
Hani: A Life Too Short falls short. The bulk of the first two chapters, ostensibly aimed at giving the reader an understanding of what shaped the man, fail to do this.

We learn only later in the book that Hani was drifting into thoughts of shaping a future South Africa steeped in socialism, and away from the ANC.

Hani, the later chapters convincingly tell us, had been alienated from the ANC once before, in the 1960s, at the end of the Wankie campaign.

The book takes us into Hani’s headspace at that stage, after his languishing in jail in Botswana and coming back to an indifferent ANC leadership, and other events that led to his penning of a wretched memorandum that almost deprived the country of his leadership sooner.

Smith and Tromp take the reader into the atmosphere surrounding the crafting of the memorandum -- particularly scathing of late defence minister and MK chief Joe Modise -- by Hani and other Wankie veterans.

The memorandum shows the gutsy nature of Hani, ruffling the feathers of an exiled ANC leadership that was almost losing the plot. It unleashed a flurry of consequences, one of which saw the young Hani surviving an almost certain death at the hands of the organisation he clearly loved.

The reader is then taken on a journey with Hani as he recovers from the fall-out that led to his being suspended from the ANC -- or, as the book shows, “expelled”, as some claim.

This chapter, a wonderfully crafted tale, debunks some of the myths around the significance of the ANC’s first real battle situation in which Hani led the MK’s celebrated Luthuli detachment alongside the Zimbabwean People’s Revolutionary Army.

It also contextualises why that battle went on to inspire generations of fighters in MK, such as Kebby Maphatsoe, who in the book gives the most powerful account of Hani’s leadership skills in the face of hardships.

It must be said that what precedes this, the opening sequences of the book, are reminiscent of Alexander Pope’s “words are like leaves; and where they most abound, much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. False eloquence, like the prismatic glass, its gaudy colours spread on every place.”

But by page 33 or so, if you have the gumption to get there (and it is strongly urged that you do), the narrative warms up. Now it’s a case of Pope’s “true expression” as the writers “like the unchanging sun clear and improve whatever they shine on”.

Hani’s Angola years are memorable and contain some of the best accounts of his leadership traits in a time of turmoil. Unfortunately these years also contain some of the question marks that will forever remain about his role in or knowledge of the abuses that took place in ANC camps.

In a manner that also applies to sections of the book that deal with Hani’s death, the writers manage only to gloss over whether Hani played any role in the death of another celebrated MK commander known in ANC circles as Thami Zulu.

Zulu died of suspected poisoning after being released from detention by the feared ANC security wing, Imbokodo, or NAT, and the writers rightly point out that Hani and Modise reportedly were the last two people in contact with Zulu before he died.

As for the book’s pluses, the reader gets a sense of why Hani was the most popular ANC leader after Nelson Mandela after 1990. Also unforgettable is the account given by Hani’s bodyguards on their relationship with a man who was clearly a practical communist.

It would be interesting indeed to know how Hani would have viewed the whole Mercedes-Benz saga surrounding SACP leader and Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimade, who incidentally also tells of a caring Hani in the book.

Hani: A Life Too Short is a part of the annals of this country’s history.
Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Letter from Venezuela - The Alba Summit


The Alba Summit

There was recently another Alba meeting in Bolivia.  The city where the summit was held was the birth place of the peoples uprising in Boliva. Cochibomba was where the indigenous first rose up against the privitized water system, which charged them an enornous amount of money just to drink their water.  The prices kept going up and up until it was impossible for poor, indigneous Bolivians to pay for water to even drink.  Furthermore, it was illegal to even try to capture rainwater to drink and have for daily usage.

One of the interesting things about the ALBA is that it was a direct response to the ALCA.  The ALCA was a neo-liberal plan which privitized everything, giving corporations the right to buy everything including a countries water. 

In direct contrast one of the decisions the group of ALBA countries was to put an emphasis on saving the earth.  This is direct contrast to the ALCA and the neo-liberal, globalization project that was sweeping the planet.  The theory behind neo-liberal globalization is, let the rich buy everything and exploit it for their own financial gain. This has brought about very dangerous consequences for all the planets inhabitants, because th rich dont really care about polluting the water, the air or even the greenhouse effects.  Their bottom line is to make a profit, even if it kills everyone on the planet.  So it was refreshing to hear that people are actually concerned about this place we call home, our earth, which we all share.

They also instituted a new money system which uses the Sucre.  This was thought of by Rafeal Correa, the President of Ecudar who is also an economist.  This is an exchange capital between theALBA nations in which they dont use the dollar as a means of exchange.  This lowers the price between the countries and makes it more feasible for them to exchange products easily.


I havent written in a while because Ive been doing some community work. Its been physical labor, but much needed labor. I find with the level of oppression in Venezuela, before the revolution, Venezuelans dont really know much about sanitation.  I was surprised when I came here and saw how dirty it was and how people would through their garbage onto the streets with disregard. I didnt understand it, then I realized they didnt have garbage pick-up services, so it was almost better to leave the garbage on the street, where the city didnt want the rich to see it and would sweep it up.  Now there are garbage pick up services.  We have a truck, that comes and picks up our garbage 4 times a week, but people still have a hard time breaking old habits.

The Fantasy

The rightwing here does things they would never get away with in the U.S.  First of all, they tell people a whole lot of fantasy about the U.S. The uneducated and informed rightwinger people in Venezuela really live in a fantasy world in regard to the U.S.

There is a woman I met who has a son. He was recruited by one of the major league teams in the U.S. as a new young recruit in their training program.  Its basically what U.S. baseball teams do here, they get the poor Latino baseball players and ship them up to their camps for training.

She told me she had some papers for health care, that were in English and that she wanted me to help her with.  She also told me it was a health care plan with this major league team, and that if anything happened to her in Venezuela she would be air lifted out of Venezuela, and flown to the U.S. for healthcare. She wouldnt have to bother with Venezuelan hospitals, no, she was going to the US. for healthcare.  So I thought, hey this is a really great healthplan with this team.

Then she told me, a representative told her that she would get first rate healthcare under this plan because her son was part of the training program for this major league team.  I couldnt wait to see these papers.  When I saw the papers, it was COBRA.  Now everyone in the U.S. knows COBRA is health insurance you pay for yourself, and it isnt that good.

She doesnt know there are close to 80 million people without healthcare in the U.S.  She doesnt know that in the U.S. they dont cover pre-existing conditions, she knows enough to indulge in fantasy.  I could not convince this woman that she wasnt going to be air lifted from Venezuela to the U.S. hospitals for healthcare under this plan.  But this is what many of the rightwing people really believe here. And the rightwing promotes this level of fantasy and ignorance.

The Smear Campaign

You are probably hearing a lot coming out of Venezuela.  Mainly from the rightwing. They are doing everything they can to get their hands on the wealth of Venezuela and they have stepped up their tactics.

One of their tactics is an international smear campaign. Because the government is planningto do more next year for the people with the oil and mineral wealth then had done this year.  Fourty-seven percent of the budget will go on social programs next year. 

Recently Venezuela discovered new Coltane and Gas reserves and that money will be spent on a massive housing and construction program next year, and the rightwing is pissed. They want the money to put into their banks, pockets and to buy private property. So now they are going international with a smear campaign to try to undermine the international communities perception of Chavez and the government.  So keep your eyes and ears open and for all of you who have been receiving my blogs, you have your information.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Nobel Prize For Evo Morales By Fidel Castro

19 October, 2009
If Obama was awarded the Nobel for winning the elections in a racist society despite his being African American, Evo deserves it for winning them in his country despite his being a native and his having delivered on his promises.
For the first time, in both countries a member of their respective ethnic groups has won the presidency.
I had said several times that Obama is a smart and cultivated man in a social and political system he believes in. He wishes to bring healthcare to nearly 50 million Americans, to rescue the economy from its profound crisis and to improve the US image which has deteriorated as a result of genocidal wars and torture. He neither conceives nor wishes to change his country’s political and economic system; nor could he do it.
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to three American presidents, one former president and one candidate to the presidency.
The first one was Theodore Roosevelt elected in 1901. He was one of the Rough Riders who landed in Cuba with his riders but with no horses in the wake of the US intervention in 1898 aimed at preventing the independence of our homeland.
The second was Thomas Woodrow Wilson who dragged the United States to the first war for the distribution of the world. The extremely severe conditions he imposed on a vanquished Germany, through the Versailles Treaty, set the foundations for the emergence of fascism and the breakout of World War II.
The third has been Barack Obama.
Carter was the ex-president who received the Nobel Prize a few years after leaving office. He was certainly one of the few presidents of that country who would not order the murder of an adversary, as others did. He returned the Panama Canal, opened the US Interests Section in Havana and prevented large budget deficits as well as the squandering of money to the benefit of the military-industrial complex, as Reagan did.
The candidate was Al Gore –when he already was vicepresident. He was the best informed American politician on the dreadful consequences of climate change. As a candidate to the presidency, he was the victim of an electoral fraud and stripped of his victory by W. Bush.
The views have been deeply divided with regards to the choice for this award. Many people question ethical concepts or perceive obvious contradictions in the unexpected decision.
They would have rather seen the Prize given for an accomplished task. The Nobel Peace Prize has not always been presented to people deserving that distinction. On occasions it has been received by resentful and arrogant persons, or even worse. Upon hearing the news, Lech Walesa scornfully said: “Who, Obama? It’s too soon. He has not had time to do anything.”
In our press and in CubaDebate, honest revolutionary comrades have expressed their criticism. One of them wrote: “The same week in which Obama was granted the Nobel Peace Prize, the US Senate passed the largest military budget in its history: 626 billion dollars.” Another journalist commented during the TV News: “What has Obama done to deserve that award?” And still another asked: “And what about the Afghan war and the increased number of bombings?” These views are based on reality.
In Rome, film maker Michael Moore made a scathing comment: “Congratulations, President Obama, for the Nobel Peace Prize; now, please, earn it.”
I am sure that Obama agrees with Moore’s phrase. He is clever enough to understand the circumstances around this case. He knows he has not earned that award yet. That day in the morning he said that he was under the impression that he did not deserve to be in the company of so many inspiring personalities who have been honored with that prize.
It is said that the celebrated committee that assigns the Nobel Peace Prize is made up of five persons who are all members of the Swedish Parliament. A spokesman said it was a unanimous vote. One wonders whether or not the prizewinner was consulted and if such a decision can be made without giving him previous notice.
The moral judgment would be different depending on whether or not he had previous knowledge of the Prize’s allocation. The same could be said of those who decided to present it to him.
Perhaps it would be worthwhile creating the Nobel Transparency Prize.
Bolivia is a country with large oil and gas depots as well as the largest known reserves of lithium, a mineral currently in great demand for the storage and use of energy.
Before his sixth birthday, Evo Morales, a very poor native peasant, walked through The Andes with his father tending the llama of his native community. He walked with them for 15 days to the market where they were sold in order to purchase food for the community. In response to a question I asked him about that peculiar experience Evo told me that “he took shelter under the one-thousand stars hotel,” a beautiful way of describing the clear skies on the mountains where telescopes are sometimes placed.
In those difficult days of his childhood, the only alternative of the peasants in his community was to cut sugarcane in the Argentinean province of Jujuy, where part of the Aymara community went to work during the harvesting season.
Not far from La Higuera, where after being wounded and disarmed Che [Guevara] was murdered on October 9, 1967, Evo –who had been born on the 26th of that same month in the year 1959—was not yet 8 years old. He learned how to read and write in Spanish in a small public school he had to walk to, which was located 3.2 miles away from the one-room shack he shared with his parents and siblings.
During his hazardous childhood, Evo would go wherever there was a teacher. It was from his race that he learned three ethical principles: don’t lie, don’t steal and don’t be weak.
At the age of 13, his father allowed him to move to San Pedro de Oruro to study his senior high school. One of his biographers has related that he did better in Geography, History and Philosophy than in Physics and Mathematics. The most important thing is that, in order to pay for school, Evo woke up a two in the morning to work as a baker, a construction worker or any other physical job. He attended school in the afternoon. His classmates admired him and helped him. From his early childhood he learned how to play wind instruments and even was a trumpet player in a prestigious band in Oruro.
As a teenager he organized and was the captain of his community’s soccer team.
But, access to the University was beyond reach for a poor Aymara native.
After completing his senior high school, he did military service and then returned to his community on the mountain tops. Later, poverty and natural disasters forced the family to migrate to the subtropical area known as El Chapare, where they managed to have a plot of ground. His father passed away in 1983, when he was 23 years old. He worked hard on the ground but he was a born fighter; he organized the workers and created trade unions thus filling up a space unattended by the government.
The conditions for a social revolution in Bolivia had been maturing in the past 50 years. The revolution broke out in that country with Victor Paz Estensoro’s Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR, by its Spanish acronym) on April 9, 1952, that is, before the start of our armed struggle. The revolutionary miners defeated the repressive forces and the MNR seized power.
The revolutionary objectives in Bolivia were not attained and in 1956, according to some well-informed people, the process started to decline. On January 1st, 1959, the Revolution triumphed in Cuba, and three years later, in January 1962, our homeland was expelled from the OAS. Bolivia abstained from voting. Later, every other government, except Mexico’s, severed relations with Cuba.
The divisions in the international revolutionary movement had an impact on Bolivia. Time would have to pass with over 40 years of blockade on Cuba; neoliberalism and its devastating consequences; the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and the ALBA; and above all, Evo and his MAS in Bolivia.
It would be hard to try summing up his rich history in a few pages.
I shall only say that Evo has prevailed over the wicked and slanderous imperialist campaigns, its coups and interference in the internal affairs of that country and defended Bolivia’s sovereignty and the right of its thousand-year-old people to have their traditions respected. “Coca is not cocaine,” he blurted out to the largest marihuana producer and drug consumer in the world, whose market has sustained the organized crime that is taking thousands of lives in Mexico every year. Two of the countries where the Yankee troops and their military bases are stationed are the largest drug producers on the planet.
The deadly trap of drug-trafficking has failed to catch Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador, revolutionary countries members of ALBA like Cuba which are aware of what they can and should do to bring healthcare, education and wellbeing to their peoples. They do not need foreign troops to combat drug-trafficking.
Bolivia is fostering a wonderful program under the leadership of an Aymara president with the support of his people.
Illiteracy was eradicated in less than three years: 824,101 Bolivian learned how to read and write; 24,699 did so also in Aymara and 13,599 in Quechua. Bolivia is the third country free of illiteracy, following Cuba and Venezuela.
It provides free healthcare to millions of people who had never had it before. It is one of the seven countries in the world with the largest reduction of infant mortality rate in the last five years and with a real possibility to meet the Millennium Goals before the year 2015, with a similar accomplishment regarding maternal deaths. It has conducted eye surgery on 454,161 persons, 75,974 of them Brazilians, Argentineans, Peruvians and Paraguayans.
Bolivia has set forth an ambitious social program: every child attending school from first to eighth grade is receiving an annual grant to pay for the school material. This benefits nearly two million students.
More than 700,000 persons over 60 years of age are receiving a bonus equivalent to some 342 dollars annually.
Every pregnant woman and child under two years of age is receiving an additional benefit of approximately 257 dollars.
Bolivia, one of the three poorest nations in the hemisphere, has brought under state control the country’s most important energy and mineral resources while respecting and compensating every single affected interest. It is advancing carefully because it does not want to take a step backward. Its hard currency reserves have been growing, and now they are no less than three times higher than they were at the beginning of Evo’s mandate. It is one of the countries making a better use of external cooperation and it is a strong advocate of the environment.
In a very short time, Bolivia has been able to establish the Biometric Electoral Register and approximately 4.7 million voters have registered, that is, nearly a million more than in the last electoral roll that in January 2009 included 3.8 million.
There will be elections on December 6. Surely, the people’s support for their President will increase. Nothing has stopped his growing prestige and popularity.
Why is he not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?
I understand his great disadvantage: he is not the President of the United States of America.
Fidel Castro Ruz
October 15, 2009

We are Not Always 'Equal'

By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH
October 19, 2009

Richard Goldstone has become a household name. Palestinians know him because he is the UN-commissioned judge who called Israel out on its grave war crimes and human rights violations in Gaza during Cast Lead. Israelis know him because Goldstone represents a "self-hating Jew", a man who says he is Zionist and loves Israel but who nevertheless exposed the Israeli army and the government that directs it for its brutal pummeling of a largely unarmed population, which caused unimaginable devastation in its wake. The Americans know him because they understood that to keep Israel happy they would have to reject, delay and oppose the Goldstone Report in any forum possible. This is exactly what they did, last week in the UN Human Rights Council, when the US along with five other countries voted against endorsement of the report.
The report still passed, thankfully, because 25 other countries knew it was time for Israel to be held accountable for the crimes it committed.

For Israel, the Goldstone Report has assumed a life of its own, one which they probably had not anticipated. When the South African judge first came to Gaza, he requested, very strongly, from Israel to cooperate. Israel would hear nothing of it and banned Goldstone and his team from even entering Gaza from an Israeli border, thus forcing them to travel to Egypt and enter though the Rafah Crossing. Perhaps naively enough, Israel thought if it turned Goldstone away and closed its own eyes to what it knew Goldstone would uncover, this whole nightmare would go away.

That did not happen, obviously. On the contrary, not only is Israel being criticized for not cooperating with the UN team, it is now under close scrutiny for the acts it committed against the people of Gaza in 22 days of bombardment, shelling and devastation. If nothing else, the Goldstone Report has put Israel on the defensive in an unprecedented manner, which is no doubt, an achievement of its own.

Still, this is not enough. A report like Richard Goldstone's is one that the Palestinians have been long hoping for. We first looked for endorsement, now we want action. Unfortunately, given the history of the UN, the United States and most other western countries in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the justice we seek is not the justice that will be served. One fundamental reason why resolutions on the Palestinians continue to fall through is because of an absurd premise that anything remotely pro-Palestinian is disregarded as "one-sided." That is how the United States described the Goldstone Report simply because it put more emphasis on Israel's violations than Hamas'. Isn't that logical given the fact that one, Israel is the occupying power with one of the strongest armies in the world and thus has the upper hand, and two, during its invasion it killed a staggering 1,400-plus Palestinians – overwhelmingly civilian – against a handful of Israeli casualties?

But this seems to be the modus operandi vis-à-vis the Palestinians who are constantly put on equal ground with the Israelis when it comes to accountability. "Both sides must show constraint" the US is often saying when violence flares up in the occupied territories. "The suffering on both sides," is another phrase used when describing the deaths of scores of Palestinians and a few Israelis. "Both sides need to show flexibility, be willing to compromise for the sake of peace."

There is an inherent flaw in all of these statements. When referring to the Palestinians and Israelis, the term "both sides" should not be used in equal terms. We are not equal in regards to political standing. We are far from equal when it comes to military might and we are certainly not equal in terms of realities on the ground. That is why the term "both sides" is so misleading. It implies that the Palestinians and Israelis are bound by the same obligations in terms of their commitments to one another. It also implies that the Palestinians and Israelis enjoy the same political and economic benefits and privileges at home and abroad.

This could not be farther from the truth. How is it possible that Palestinians must show "restraint" in a situation where they are being bombed by F-16s, heavy artillery shells and phosphorous bombs? Yes, there are some groups that fire Qassam rockets into Israeli territory as a response to Israel's oppression. But there is no comparison between the two, not in terms of capacity, damages or accuracy. When we talk about Israel, we are talking about a highly skilled, highly technological army that can devastate vast areas of land and kill dozens of people with a push of a button. Then, after the devastation is complete, it has the power to clamp down a closure so tight on the entire Strip that people are forced to smuggle in everything from baby formula to sheep through underground tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. Israel is a force to be reckoned with and it has somehow secured a spot in the international community as a "democratic, civilized country", which, when it carries out these acts of destruction, is doing so in the name of its own security and self-defense.

The Palestinians on the other hand, are an occupied people. They do not have a sovereign state, an army or independent borders. They have an Authority, which governs their internal affairs and their dealings with the outside world, including negotiations with Israel, but this Authority has no power outside the jurisdictions that Israel allows it. When "violence" occurs with Israel, it is by a frustrated, oppressed and beleaguered people. Even in Gaza, where Israel and the world at large blame Hamas for the rockets, it must be mentioned that Hamas is also not a government (even though it would like to think it is). It governs an extremely frustrated people who have been caged in this coastal strip for over two years now and who see no hope for the future. One can only wonder how Israelis would act if they were in the same situation.

The point here is that while the Palestinians should be held accountable for their actions just like any other people in this world, they should not be held to the same standards as their occupier, simply for the very reason of their occupied status. When addressing Israel's relationship with the Palestinians, the first thing that should be mentioned is its 42-year old occupation of this people and its land. If Israel is held accountable for this and this only – an occupation that has resulted in a slew of international law breaches and violations of human rights – then the international community's dealing with us – including the future of the Goldstone Report - may finally become more balanced and justice may actually be served.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reduced to a four-letter word: Hate on the Doorstep.

Tamanna Rahman spent two months living on a Bristol housing estate for the BBC's Panorama programme Undercover: Hate on the Doorstep.

Here she explains her reasons for agreeing to take part in the programme and describes how it felt to be a daily target of racist abuse, both physical and verbal. Her report contains details of racial abuse.

In 2000, as a 16-year-old at my culturally and racially diverse Manchester secondary school, I was asked by a local television news team examining the hopes and aspirations of the first class of the new millennium if I felt that racism in Britain was a thing of the past.
Fresh-faced, naïve and optimistic, I answered yes; racism is dead.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2009 and my answer is very different.
What changed? As part of a Panorama programme, I spent two months working undercover on a Bristol housing estate.

Over the course of our investigation I would have glass, a can, a bottle and stones thrown at me
The assignment came just months after Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said in an interview that having neighbours of a different ethnic background is no longer an issue in modern Britain when compared to other countries.
The Commission say his comments followed two Mori polls which, it claimed, showed the majority of British people to be increasingly at ease with racial diversity.
Before this assignment, even though I had not faced direct racism, some of my friends had and I had begun to notice subtle racism towards others.
The opportunity to see first-hand if the problem was really as bad as many friends had indicated, or if they were just isolated incidents, was one I felt I had to take when approached by the BBC to take part.
Rocks thrown
From the moment that my colleague Amil Khan and I drove onto the road that would become our home for the coming months, we were subjected to the coldest glare I have ever experienced.
Alone, it might not seem like a big deal - my skin is thick enough to handle a frosty look.
But it turned out to be a sign of things to come.

Pretty much every time I left the house, and from many people I met, I would get frowns and generally be made to feel unwelcome - whether they were on the street, in their gardens, looking out of their bedroom windows or in their cars.
We were new in town, and nobody came to say hello. It took an entire week to be on the receiving end of a single smile and that came from a middle-aged woman I passed in the street.
On my second day on the estate I had a rock thrown towards me as I returned from a shopping trip. I was called "Paki" and had obscenities muttered at me as I walked by.
This from people who knew nothing about me.
Over the course of our investigation I would have glass, a can, a bottle and stones thrown at me.
In what was perhaps the most shocking incident of our time on the Southmead estate, Amil was told not to walk on the pavement before being punched in the head by a man who said, "Bye, bye Paki".
I was almost mugged three times and threatened with a brick.
I was mooned twice, called smelly Paki, and told to take a shower. The abuse, including some of the worst obscenities imaginable, came from children, teenagers and adults.
On guard
I have been back in Manchester for a few months now, but I still brace myself for trouble whenever I see groups of boys on bikes or teenagers on street corners. Even though the children of Manchester have never had a problem with me, it has now become instinctive.

One of the worst effects was the lack of trust I felt towards anybody and the sense that I must always be on my guard - even if it was just popping to the shops.
There is little sense of a mixed community in Southmead and the longer I stayed the more I realised why. The more abuse I received, the less I wanted to go out. The more racism I faced, the less I wanted to talk to anybody. I do not think that I was alone in my feelings.
Before we began filming, Southmead was identified to us by the group Support Against Racist Incidents (SARI) as an area where recent racially motivated attacks had occurred. Other estates and areas around the country were also highlighted by race campaign groups.
The Southmead estate is mainly white and working class but in recent years more black and minority ethnic people have moved in. Before we moved there to live undercover we spoke to others who had had similar experiences to ours.
I feel strongly that neighbourliness is a two-way street, but why would anybody attempt to go out of their way to get to know the community they have moved into, if that community has made you feel unwelcome for no reason but the colour of your skin?
If you are a non-English speaker, what incentive would you have to learn the language if the vast majority of communication you are likely to experience is abusive?
It must be said that some people were lovely and in an estate like Southmead, many have their own issues to deal with, especially during tough economic times.
But I was not looking for special treatment in Southmead, I was looking to be treated like everyone else - not to be reduced to a four letter word that starts with 'P'.
Panorama - Undercover: Hate on the Doorstep, BBC One, Monday, 19 October at 2030BST.

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