Friday, January 30, 2009

annie lennox unhappy over use of her song in livni ad

Further evidence of the way in which the international music scene is reflecting aspects of the Gaza war comes with news that the Scottish singer Annie Lennox, one of Britain's most famous musicians, has objected to Israeli Foreign Minister and Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni's use of her song 'I Saved the World Today' in a YouTube film endorsing Livni's election campaign. The song first appeared on the 1999 album Peace featuring Lennox and Dave Stewart, her partner in Eurythmics. (It has already been used in an episode of the second season of The Sopranos - "The Knight in White Satin Armor").

The Jewish Chronicle newspaper reports: "The two-minute clip has been seen by more than 600 people and features the song being played over images of politicians including Hillary Clinton, George Bush and Tony Blair condemning Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. It ends with a screen showing an Israeli flag and the phrase: 'Israel: We’re all behind you.'"

Small wonder that Annie Lennox is not exactly thrilled by this use of her song!

As the newspaper observes: "Ms Lennox was a leading campaigner against Israel’s action in Gaza and joined demonstrators on a rally in London three weeks ago. The singer, who is divorced from Israeli film-maker Uri Fruchtmann, has since clarified her views, issuing a statement saying she was not taking sides in the conflict and calling for a peaceful resolution." The JC would seem to be referring to Lennox's letter to the Jerusalem Post in response to an open letter of January 11 to her from Yoram Dori, a senior adviser to Israeli President Shimon Peres.

After confessing that until two days earlier he had not known exactly who Lennox was, Dori went on the attack: "When I saw the fervor with which you demonstrated at the anti-Israeli demonstration in London and your interviews in which you slandered my people and my country in their efforts to defend the lives of our citizens in the southern part of our nation, I decided to write to tell a short story about what is happening in our country.

"No, I do not intend to recall the efforts of your government during World War II to prevent Jews - the brands snatched from the fire - to reach their homeland, Israel. I have not come to settle the account of my father who, fleeing from Austria when the Nazis entered that country, was caught at sea by a British destroyer and who, with great initiative, threw all his documents into the sea and thereby foiled their intention to send him back to the killing fields. To be fair, I'll not salute your people for the Balfour Declaration, although you deserve it." He goes on to tell the story of an eight-year-old boy, Osher Tewito, who was badly injured and lost a leg in a Kassam rocket explosion in Sderot.

In her January 15 reply Lennox begins:

"After reading Yoram Dori's 'An open letter to Annie Lennox' (January 11) I felt despair and anguish at the manner in which the awful war in Gaza is being used to divide the rest of the world between 'pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian‚' instead of 'pro-peace‚ or pro-war.'

"In my mind, the only distinction that matters right now, as Palestinian and Israeli lives are being lost and endangered by this violent conflict, is whether you support war or peace. I join hands with other humanitarians who support peace.

"For every Osher Tewito in Israel, there are at least 100 children who have tragically lost limbs or indeed their lives, to this conflict in Gaza. Each and every single one of these lost childhoods is an immense tragedy, whether Israeli or Palestinian, and I feel the pain for both peoples. I work for peace so that children on both sides of the Gaza-Israel border can be free from rocket and missile attacks. I hope for peace so that these children can know one another, learn from one another, appreciate each other, and maybe, some day in the future, love each other..."

Dori's open letter was of more than 860 words. Given his serious accusations of slander against Lennox, one might have expected her to be given the right to reply at decent length. The Jerusalem Post did publish a letter from her on its letters page, edited down to less than 350 words. She publishes the full unedited letter on her MySpace blog.

The Jerusalem Post omitted the following from Lennox's letter: "There are millions of people in Britain who support the campaign to end this war, including the Jewish Friends of Israel who in the Sunday Observer (11 January 2009) called upon Israel to employ an immediate ceasefire." The newspaper also cut out: "I have taken this position as a humanitarian and as a mother. I cannot stand seeing children killed. I cannot stand seeing families shatttered. I want this to end, and only a permanent ceasefire will achieve this. A peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians is possible, but it is being made impossible by this war. War is not the way to solve this conflict, and all it is doing is sowing the seeds of hatred and anger on both sides of the fence and fuelling further misery, which is likely to find expression in another round of conflict. I am not alone in my views, and..." Also omitted is: "I am not opposed to Israel, and I do not support Palestinians. I support an end to the war and for peaceful negotiations. That is my position and I state it unequivocally and without apology."
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz notes, under the subheading 'Saving the world?' : "Livni certainly has many virtues, but she has yet to save the world. At the moment, she's struggling to get Kadima back up to 30 Knesset seats. And that's no easy mission either."

Haaretz continues: "Annie Lennox, the gifted singer who constitutes one half of the Eurythmics duo, also happens to be among the leaders of the international protest against the operation in Gaza. In an interview in England, she described the IDF's actions in Gaza as 'a pornography of destruction.' She also marched at the head of an anti-war and anti-Israel demonstration in London attended by tens of thousands. Having this particular singer star in an official election video disseminated by Foreign Minister Livni's campaign is an interesting choice, to say the least.

"Livni staffers professed not to know what the fuss was about. A source in Kadima said that the video was put together by Web surfers and happily adopted by 'the campaign.' Before Wednesday, neither Livni nor her people were even aware that it had been posted on YouTube. When they heard about it, said the source, they didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. "

Livni is not only "Saving the World" but is also "All Over the World" according to another of her music videos starring world leaders, current and has-beens:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

tributes to john martyn

Many warm tributes have been paid today to the British singer, guitarist and composer John Martyn following the news of his death at the age of 60. Martyn is particularly known for his groundbreaking album Solid Air released in 1973. The title track was dedicated to his fellow singer-songwriter friend Nick Drake who died the following year at the age of 26 from an overdose of the anti-depressant amitryptiline. In this 1998 live recording of Solid Air (from the BBC's Transatlantic Sessions Series 2) Martyn is teamed with double bassist Danny Thompson who was among the line-up of musicians on the original album. Laid back, hypnotic, sensuous stuff. Martyn was awarded the OBE in the 2009 New Year's Honours list, "for services to music". A Tribute site has been set up with information, memories and video of a peformance of Couldn't Love You More from the Old Grey Whistle Test.

Below is an Old Grey Whistle Tste performance of I'd Rather be the Devil - mesmerising guitar and vocals.

comedian dean obeidallah's open letter to obama

The award-winning Arab-American comedian Dean Obeidallah (Palestinian dad is from West Bank village of Battir, mum's parents hailed from Sicily) has written on Huffington Post an 'Open Letter to President Obama on Future Appearances on Arab TV'.

Dear President Obama:

I just watched portions of the interview you gave to the Arabic cable network Al Arabiya.It was truly a great step towards rehabilitating our nation's image in the Arab world - but I must say - respectfully - your interview could have been better. I'm sure you are thinking: Who am I to say your interview could have been better? Well, I'm a mid-level comedian who has performed numerous times in the Middle East over the past year including just three days ago in Dubai. Impressed now?! I thought so.
So in the spirit of being helpful, Mr. President, here are my suggestions for your future appearances in the Arab media:

1. Dress like a hip Arab guy. I know Arab professionals and leaders tend to dress in a suit and tie - but for your next interview, wear an outfit that says I want to reach out to the common Arab man. I'd suggest slacks and a polyester blend shirt with the top four buttons open - maybe throw in a gold chain or two. That look will get the "Arab Street" to stop and listen.

2. Smoke during the interview. Mr. President we all know you enjoy smoking but are trying to quit. Here is a chance to justify your smoking as well as creating a bond with the average Arab man. To give you an idea how much Arab men smoke, I went to a gym in the Middle East and there were ashtrays on the treadmills. Arabs view it this way: Anyone can run five miles, lets see you run five miles while smoking a Marlboro.

3. Throw in a few Arab phrases like Salama Alaykum, Inshallah (God willing) or even a "My friend."

4. During the interview take out a lamb kebob and offer some to the interviewer. This helps for two reasons: 1. Arabs love lamb; 2. It shows you are being hospitable by offering to share your food. Arabs are among the most - if not the most - hospitable people in the world and would love the gesture. ..Read in Full

cake therapy of the cardamom and saffron variety

A few days ago I tried making this 'Igaili cake from Sarah al-Hamad's beautiful book 'Cardamom and Lime: Recipes from the Arabian Gulf' recently published by Interlink Books. It was delicious, but I had failed to line the cake tin with greaseproof paper (she calls for waxed paper) so a puddle of the sponge mixture, "filtered" of the date pieces and walnuts it contained, leaked and formed a subsdiary (pan)cake on the baking tray on which the tin was perched. Also, in my rush to prepare the cake I forgot to sprinkle the bottom and sides of the cake tin with sesame seeds. And I didn't turn the cake upside down as instructed...

Sarah's recipe calls for the dates to be mashed with a fork and rolled into pea-sized balls, but the Iranian dates I used were decidedly chewy and mash-resistant so I simply cut them into small pieces and that was fine.

For the ground cardamom, I spent ages removing black cardamom seeds from their green pods - a fiddly job - before grinding them. So for the second attempt I have bought a packet of 'Cardamom Pods Green Ground' from The Spice Shop, the treasure chest of spices and all sorts of other goodies in Blenheim Cresent, London W11. I imagine the ground green powder is less pungent than the ground black cardamom seeds.

The use of saffron as a flavouring in a cake recipe reminds me of my Somerset Quaker grandmother in her kitchen making saffron buns, a speciality of the West Country. (Yet another manifestation of the ancient trading links between South West England and the Middle East?) I remember the intense yellow of the buns and the mysterious taste of the saffron.



Cardamom-Saffron Sponge Cake

This is the Arabian version of sponge cake, perfumed with the exotic scents of the East and traditionally accompanied by a cup of sweet black tea. It is the perfect cake: satisfying yet light, aromatic but subtle, enfolding a variety of seductive ingredients like sweet dates and sesame seeds, saffron and cardamom, and walnuts.

pinch of saffron strands
6 soft dates, pitted
5 eggs
5 oz sugar
1 heaping tsp ground cardamom
pinch of turmeric
4 oz all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
butter for greasing
sesame seeds for sprinkling
handful walnuts or other nuts of your choice, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F (180 deg C). Soak the saffron in 2 tablespoons of warm water for about 1 hours, then set aside.

Mush the dates with a fork then roll small pieces into pea-sized balls. Set them aside.

Beat the eggs and sugar together for about 10 mintues, with a hand mixer or in a food processor, until light and fluffy. Add the cardamom and turmeric.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and, with a wooden spoon, fold 1 tablespoon at a time into the eggs. Continue folding as you pour in the saffron water and oil.

Grease a round 9-inch spring-release or ordinary cake pan with butter and line with wax paper. Dust the bottom and sides with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Pour half the cake mixture into the pan, scatter over the tiny date balls, then cover with the remaining mixture and a last sprinkling of sesame seeds. Top with the choppped walnuts.

Bake for 35 minutes until the cake is golden brown on top (a cocktail stick inserted in the middle should come out clean).

Cool the cake, then release the spring and turn out upside down onto a plate.

Serve with a spoonful of creme fraiche of a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

from Cardamom and Lime: Recipes from the Arabian Gulf by Sarah al-Hamad, Interlink Books
The cake as photographed by Sarah al-Hamad for her book

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

afghan music week at the university of alberta

An Afghan Music Week is to be held at the University of Alberta, Canada, from 9 to 14 February, hosted by the Department of Music and the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology.

The programme of concerts, lectures, film screenings, music workshops and other events focusing on the music of Afghanistan, marks a visit to the university by Distinguished Visitor, Professor John Baily (Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK). Professor Baily is an ethnomusicologist, film maker, musician, and world-renowned Afghan music expert. His visit to the University of Alberta is supported by the Office of the Vice-President (Research) through the Distinguished Visitors Fund.

Music is of course been a particularly sensitive subject in relation to Afghanistan, with various kinds of music censorship operating over some three decades, culminating in the ruthless attempts of the Taliban to ban instrumental music. In 2001 Professor Baily authored a report on Afghan music for Freemuse the international organisation that campaigns against music censorship and for the freedom of musical expression (a sort of equivalent in the music field to International PEN in the literary arena). Baily's report, entitled Can you Stop the Birds Singing? comes with a CD, three extracts from which can be heard on the relevant Freemuse page. The CD includes example of various genres, among them religious singing, including a Taliban chant.

A highlight of the Week is a concert organized in partnership with the Edmonton Raga Mala Music Society, exploring the musical connections between Afghanistan and India, and featuring musicians from the Edmonton Afghan community, John Baily on the Afghan rubab and Soumik Datta from the United Kingdom on the South Asian sarod.

The Week will be inaugurated with the presentation of a newly made rubab (the national instrument of Afghanistan) by outstanding local instrument maker Abdul Wardak, commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology for its Instruments Collection with the generous support of the University of Alberta Museums and the Friends of the University of Alberta Museums.

John Baily is Professor of Musicology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. After completing fieldwork in Herat and Kabul between 1973 and 1977, he has established himself as one of the most authoritative experts worldwide in the music and culture of Afghanistan. His monograph Music of Afghanistan: Professional musicians in the city of Herat (1988) has become a classic of ethnomusicological ethnography.

Combining his background in psychology and social anthropology with the cultural study of music, John Baily has contributed to the discipline of ethnomusicology not only a rich body of scholarship on Afghanistan, but also influential publications of a more theoretical kind, notably in the domains of music cognition, music performance and body motion, music and politics, music and migration, and ethnographic film-making. In addition to his academic profile, Professor Baily is an accomplished and very active musician and an advocate for the promotion and regeneration of Afghan music in response to almost thirty years of war in Afghanistan. He is also an experienced and prolific filmmaker. Some of his ethnographic films will be screened during the Afghan Music Week, including the award-winning Amir: An Afghan refugee musician’s life in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Professor Baily, his wife Veronica Doubleday (singer and daf player) and Afghan musicians at a concert they gave in the British Museum

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

yusuf islam's gaza charity record

The Gaza charity recording of George Harrison's The Day the World Gets 'Round by singer and guitarist Yusuf Islam (fomerly Cat Stevens), together with the German bassist and one-time Beatles collaborator Klaus Voorman and others, can be downloaded - or donations made directly to the charties concerned - via Yusuf's website:
Proceeds go to UNRWA, Save the Children and Small Kindness.

Yusuf recalls meeting Harrison, "the spiritual leader of the Beatles", and and John Lennon in the early 1970s at photographer David Bailey's studio. He pays tribute to Harrison's 1 August 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, which was "the first of its kind".

Yusuf chose the song from Harrison's 1973 US No 1 (for five weeks) album 'Living in the Material World", on which Klaus Voorman played bass. More than 35 years on there's a sense of a circle being completed. The song is a good choice for the Gaza record, both lyrics-wise and in terms of its appealing melody and interesting harmonic shifts. Yusuf is in great voice, tender and soulful. It's the most "poppy" I've heard him since his gradual easing back into instrumental and vocal music.
It is reported by Rolling Stone among others that Yusuf has recruited Paul McCartney, and many others to work with him on his forthcoming album, as yet untitled, due out late spring. This is the follow-up to his 'An Other Cup' album of 2006 which, as Rolling Stone puts it, "represented the singer-songwriter’s most secular batch of songs in decades." Yusuf has made a fascinating musical as well as spiritual journey over more than three decades.

Yusuf Islam (front L), Klaus Voorman (beside him) and the rest of the recording team

Thursday, January 22, 2009

obama, take away the pain in my stomach

The letter's author, a member of the Israeli women's organisation Checkpoint Watch - which opposes the occupation, and monitors human rights violations against Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints - says at the end of the reading: "I wrote this letter on the day you were elected, before Israel attacked Gaza strip, before Isareli media stood full of extazy watching Gaza in flames."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

nadia hijab on the silencing of gaza's music school

Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, writes in her article 'A Music School Silenced in Gaza' about the severe damage suffered by the six-month-old Gaza Music School, during Israel's aerial bombings of Gaza in late December. The school was founded by the Qattan Foundation which co-financing from the Swedish development agency SIDA.

"In the midst of all the death and destruction in Gaza, the school's short life rouses particular emotion," writes Hijab. "That there was such a school at all is astonishing, not just because of the 18-month siege that followed the decades of 'de-development' of Gaza under Israeli occupation but also because one might expect it to be contrary to an Islamist social program."

guardian interview with ilan pappe

The Guardian has a full-page interview with dissident Israeli historian Ilan Pappe today, tucked away in the Education supplement, headlined: "'I felt it was my duty to protest": The Israeli historian tells Chris Arnot that speaking out for the Palestinians turned him into a pariah." The generous length gives interviewer Arnot the chance to range broadlyover Pappe's career and the many controversies in which he has been embroiled, as well touching on the Gaza conflict.
Likes:"19th-century English novels, cinema, classical music, Liverpool FC."
Dislikes: "systematised state injustice".

Pappe left Israel in dramatic circumstances:

For an academic to describe himself as "feeling for a while like public enemy No 1" suggests either an inflated ego or an incurable case of paranoia. Professor Ilan Pappe gives every appearance of suffering from neither. He is an amiable character with an engaging grin. By his own admission, he "likes to be liked". Not a natural rebel then? "Certainly not," he says.

Yet in 2005 and 2006, this Israeli son of German-Jewish emigrants found himself in the eye of a storm that would lead him to leave the country of his birth and seek sanctuary in the English west country. He has been chair in the history department at Exeter University for the last 18 months. By the time he left the University of Haifa, he had been condemned in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset; the minister of education had publicly called for him to be sacked; and his pictures had appeared in the country's biggest-selling newspaper at the centre of a target. Next to it, a popular columnist addressed his readers thus: "I'm not telling you to kill this person, but I shouldn't be surprised if someone did."

The death threats had already been arriving by post, email and phone since Pappe, 54, had been asked on national radio whether he was going to take his complaints about the treatment of Palestinians to the UN security council. "I had to point out that I was not a politician or a diplomat," he says, "I was an academic." Albeit an academic who had recently published a book called The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. A somewhat provocative title, I suggest...

artists respond to gaza war

Cultural responses to the Gaza war

As some scores of thousands of demonstrators converged on London’s famous Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, on 10 January at the beginning of what would prove to be Britain’s largest-ever pro-Palestinian demonstration, speakers addressed the crowd from a stage.

A particularly moving moment came when the British Jewish poet, writer, broadcaster and official Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen read a poem for the children of Gaza. His poem gives a child’s-eye view of the terrifying Israeli onslaught [text and video link on 11 Jan tanjara posting]:

Videos and transcriptions of Rosen’s reading of the poem are now being circulated around cyberspace through websites and blogs. Rosen is one of many people who are turning to the arts express their feelings over the catastrophe of Gaza. Websites and video-sharing sites enable this material to be shared and spread quickly.

Los Angeles singer and songwriter Michael Heart has written and recorded the Gaza song “We will not go down”, dedicated to all the Palestinians in Gaza and juxtaposed with images from the war [linked to in a 14 Jan Tanjara posting]. It is being spread widely over the internet , and a posting of it on YouTube has been viewed more than 380,000 times. Other Gaza songs on YouTube include The Dark Bob’s “The war on Palestine (Gaza)” [link at bottom of this post], and [North London Turkish rapper & MC] Edzai’s “Israel War Gaza song” [link here].

There is a resurgence of interest in “Letter from Gaza”, the short story by the Palestinian writer and political activist Ghassan Kanafani, who was assassinated by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad in Beirut in 1972. The fact that the story was written more than half a century ago, but is still entirely relevant, shows the long-standing agony of Gazans.

A video of John Berger reading the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s “Mural” is also being circulated on the internet. Berger translated this meditation on with death jointly with Palestinian Professor Professor Rema Hammami.

Before the 10 January demonstration in London, many musicians, actors, poets and writers were among the prominent people who signed a letter urging people to participate in the demonstration. The letter said: “We speak out for the people of Gaza, what is happening there is a crime against humanity.”

Even before the latest violence, Gaza had been on the cultural radar in Britain. The Gaza-born artist Leila Shawa is one of the most prominent Arab artists residing in the UK. Her art, inspired by the children and graffiti of Gaza, has been shown at several exhibitions in Britain and her work “Children of War, Children of Peace” is part of the British Museum’s collection.

Four months ago a new play “Eating Ice Cream on Gaza Beach” [pictured], performed by the National Youth Theatre, had a run of several weeks at the Soho Theatre in London.
In October Channel 4 TV screened the drama documentary “The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall” on the fatal shooting of British photography student Tom Hurndall in Rafah, Gaza, by an Israeli army sniper in April 2003 while he was helping small children to safety. The film showed the huge efforts his parents had to make to get the truth in the face of the obstructive attitude of the Israeli authorities, who insisted that the sniper had been shooting at a gunman It took two years of dogged efforts by the Hurndall parents for the sniper to be jailed for eight years.

Since Tom’s death his mother Jocelyn has devoted herself to the cause of the Palestinian people and is development director of Friends of Birzeit University. A few days ago she wrote in the New Statesman weekly magazine that “faced with the killing of more than 300 Gazan children in barely a fortnight , I can’t help but replay the image of my son Tom, reaching out to three Palestinian toddlers sheltering from Israeli sniper fire behind a mound of rubble in Rafah.” She said that the experiences of her family “showed us is that where their own actions are concerned the Israelis are not greatly interested in truth or justice, or even apology.” [picture is a still from the film]

The Scottish musician and vocalist singer Annie Lennox, who started out as one half of the Eurythmics, has emerged as an outspoken voice on Gaza. Lennox was from 1988 to 2000 married to Israeli film and record producer Uri Fruchtmann, by whom she has two daughters. At a rally in Trafalgar Square for Gaza, she said: “There are no winners, there are only losers when it comes to death, when it comes to innocent civilians. There are no sides. We call on the ministers of all nations to please take responsibility.”

Another speaker at the rally was the Jewish comedian, TV personality and fiction writer Alexi Sayle. He said: “I want to one day be proud of my country – of that country. I want one day to be proud of my people, but at the moment I am ashamed. If only Israel, and if only Jewish people, can turn away from violence, what an amazing thing that would be.”

Sayle is one of many British Jews to have publicly condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza. Jews for Justice for Palestinians placed a full-page advertisement in the Times newspaper on 14 January signed by 570 people. Independent Jewish Voices has published an open letter to Foreign Secretary David Miliband in the latest issue of The New Statesman, signed by 205 British Jews.

A letter to the Guardian newspaper from more than 70 Jewish academics, writers, artists and others said: “When we see the dead and bloodied bodies of young children, the cutting off of water, electricity and food, we are reminded of the siege of the Warsaw Ghetto.”

The launch of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza coincided with the winning of a Golden Globe, for best foreign film, by the cartoon documentary “Waltz with Bashir”. The film, directed by the Israeli Ari Folman, tells of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and in particular of the massacres carried out in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps by Christian militiamen acting with Israeli complicity.

Gary Kamiya, an executive editor and founder of the US online news magazine Salon, writes: “In a strange case of art imitating life, at the same time that Israel is blasting a defenseless population enclosed in a tiny area, an Israeli film has appeared that depicts an earlier war in which Israel was complicit in an appalling massacre. “

He adds: “Of course, Israel’s moral culpability for the 1982 massacre is not the same as its moral responsibility for the civilians killed in the current war. But there are painful similarities. Sooner or later the patriotic war fervor will fade, and Israelis will realize that their leaders sent them to kill hundreds of innocent people for nothing.”

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 19 January 2009

gaza's possible impact on british muslim radicalisation

Gaza and the Radicalisation of British Muslims

As shock waves from the catastrophe Israel is inflicting on Gaza spread across the world, it has become clear that Britain is one of the countries outside the Middle East where the impact of the Israeli onslaught is being most immediately felt and is likely to be longest lasting.

British Muslims are feeling such anger and frustration that there are concerns this will be translated into social unrest, extremism and even terrorism. The reactions to Gaza bring into question the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy which it has introduced over the past few years to try to combat radicalisation.

British Muslims number up to 2 million, and the population is young, with an estimated 54 per cent under 25. The head of the security service MI5, Jonathan Evans, warned that as a result of the Gaza war extremists would “try to radicalise individuals for their own purposes.”

The Justice Minister Shahid Malik, the first Muslim to become a minister in Britain, told the Guardian newspaper that the Israeli attacks on Gaza have caused “immense anger” among British Muslims. “There is a real feeling of helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness”, Malik said. “The sense of grievance and injustice is both profoundly acute and obviously profoundly unhealthy.”

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hazel Blears told the BBC: “I am very concerned indeed that the events in Gaza could well be used by those people who want to peddle pernicious extremist views to draw particularly vulnerable young people into that kind of extremism.”

Following the attacks in the US on 9/11 2001, the four suicide bombings on the London transport system on 7 July 2005, and a series of terror conspiracies since then, the government has poured millions of pounds into a strategy to try to counter terrorism. The strategy has four main strands, including ‘Prevent’.

The ‘Prevent’ strand aims to tackle radicalisation, partly through a “battle of ideas” to challenge extremist ideologies. The government has worked with certain Muslim groups and individuals to dispute these ideologies, and has financed certain Muslim organisations it sees as “moderate”.

But now some of the Muslims at the heart of helping with the ‘Prevent’ strategy have spoken out both against the Israeli onslaught, and against British government policy towards Gaza which they see as “too little, too late” and not independent enough of the US. They include Ed Husain, co-director of the Quilliam Foundation. He told Al Hayat that a lot of young Muslims who had previously been “sitting on the fence” regarding radicalism may now tip over into extremism as a result of the Gaza war. He describes the Palestine and Gaza situation as a “cocktail” of elements that make it a particularly potent issue and a rallying cry for young British Muslims. “We are repeatedly told that the government has done what is possible, but that the ball is in the court of AmericaHusain argues that the Muslim anger over Gaza could damage the ‘Prevent’ strategy, and could also undo the efforts that Foreign Secretary David Miliband has been making to engage with Muslims abroad (including his recent trip to Syria, which went “exceptionally well”) and in Britain (including discussions and visits to mosques).

Already violence has erupted at some of the Gaza demonstrations in British cities. The Israeli Embassy off High Street Kensington in London has become a flashpoint for confrontations between demonstrators and police. On January 10, during the largest-ever demonstration for Palestine in Britain – attracting some 100,000 demonstrators – Muslim youths hurled down barricades and smashed into and looted shops and cafes.

There is said to be increased activity on Islamist websites and in Islamist recruitment efforts. Usama Hasan, a senior lecturer in computer science at Middlesex University, and also a part-time Imam at an East London mosque, said on BBC TV’s Newsnight: “We thought we were winning the battle against violent extremism - but if there is anything that will inflame people’s emotions and actions more it is the perception that the British government is siding with Israel in this conflict”. He added: “For example in my local area, posters went up over the weekend saying ‘Jihad – the only solution to Palestine.’ And by that they mean terrorism, or armed conflict, for ever, rather than peaceful negotiations.”

The leader and co-founder of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain Dr Ghaayassudin Siddiqui, who has often spoken out against extremism, told Al-Hayat: “I would like Muslims not to take the Israeli bait, and not to respond in an emotional way”. He compared it to the way in which Israel used Hamas in the past and built it up to marginalise “sensible and moderate” Palestinian groups. He said: “We want to see a pluralistic society in Palestine” and “We say no to an ‘eye for an eye’ response. “ He says “we want to make a huge movement for peace” and thinks violence will lost the movement friends. He calls for “a mature, measured response and a condemnation of killings of all innocent people on all sides. We have to stake out the moral high ground.”

Ed Husain and Maajid Nawaz jointly founded the Quilliam Foundation last year as “the world’s first counter-extremism think tank”. They are former members of Hizb Ut-Tahrir, which they now denounce as an extreme Islamist organisation. Not surprisingly, there have been some suspicions about the Foundation and its links with the government.

But now Husain and Nawaz have criticised Israel and the British government, and also Hamas. When the onslaught on Gaza began, their Foundation issued a press release saying: "The UK Government cannot seek to win hearts and minds across Muslim communities while failing to stop Israel from murdering Palestinians en masse.” The Foreign Office and Downing Street had a duty “to condemn, and call for immediate cessation of Israel's military operations, and end the siege".

The statement added that “perceived double standards from our government and the current green light (from Washington and London) to Israel's killing machine” would strengthen Al Qaeda's grand narrative and “radicalize yet another generation of young Muslims”.

Husain says that within moments of the Foundation issuing the statement, “we had complaints from senior officials in the US and others who blindly support Israel.” He said in an article he wrote for the Guardian’s Comment is Free site that “Israel has just helped create a new generation of suicide bombers, prepared to stop at nothing.” But at the same time he criticised Hamas as an “Irresponsible, senile and fanatical organisation that repeatedly puts its people at risk.”

Husain’s position has earned him bitter criticism from the journalist, author and broadcaster Melanie Phillips, who is one Israel’s of the most vocal supporters in the media. Two years ago she was full of praise for Husain’s “courage”, on publication of his book: “The Islamist: Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left”. But today she says: “Ed Husain has shown that in the great battle to defend civilisation against barbarism he is on the wrong side.” She adds: “Disgustingly, he draws a moral equivalence between Palestinian human bomb attacks and Israeli’s operation in Gaza which he calls Israel’s massacre of innocent Palestinians.”

In a joint article published on Comment is Free, Husain and Nawaz rejected the various criticisms levelled at the Quilliam Foundation – on the one hand (by figures such as Phillips) that it is Islamist, on the other that it is neoconservative. They wrote that for months, “our detractors have accused us of receiving tens of millions of taxpayers’ money. In reality we have received £514,000 for this [year] and last year from the Home Office, and £139,000 from the Foreign Office for the work we do in countering extremism in Muslim-majority countries. Much of this is used to support 18 full-time staff across three continents to tackle radicalisation. To put this firmly in perspective, central government has allocated a total £79.3 million so far for the ‘Prevent’ agenda.”

Another indication that Muslims on whom the government was depending to help counter radicalism have turned against it over Gaza is an open letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown signed by 14 people (including Husain and Nawaz) described as some of the government’s leading Muslim advisers on counter terrorism. The letter warned that Israel’s use of disproportionate force to combat threats to its security has revived extremist groups and empowered their message of violence and perennial conflict. They said it is imperative that Britain makes its differences and views with the US clear. “For Muslims in the UK and abroad, we run the risk of potentially creating a loss of faith in the political process.”

Separately, a letter has been sent to Brown by the Young Muslim Advisory Group which was appointed by the government last October as part of the ‘Prevent ‘strategy. The government sees the 22 members of the group – who are aged between 16 and 25 and have outstanding educational and community work records – as the next generation of Muslim community leaders. The group’s task was to talk regularly to ministers and policy makers about the issues affecting their day to day lives, and to help the government deepen its engagement with young Muslims.

The letter, the text of which was revealed by the Muslim News newspaper, demands that the British government see the killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinians in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli government as an “act of state terrorism” and as a form of “violent extremism” that “must be clearly condemned”.
The letter says that in the current political climate, “there is a real danger that young people who witness the impotence of institutions that are supposed to be protecting innocent life will turn to other organisations in an effort to make their voices heard and the violence stop.” It adds that “our failure to take clear action also jeopardises our efforts to achieve the objectives of the ‘Prevent’ agenda, as we will be seen to be inconsistent and hypocritical in our approach.”

The government faces the dilemma that it cannot be seen to change its foreign policy under the threat of a possible increase in radicalisation. Foreign Office minister of state for the Middle East Bill Rammell responded to the letter from the 14 Muslim advisers with a letter of his own to the Guardian: “Nothing justifies violent extremism and in fact the UK has led international efforts for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire. Criticisms of our approach are neither fair nor accurate.”

The government has been making considerable efforts to engage with Muslims during the Gaza crisis and to explain its policies. David Miliband and Hazel Blears have met representatives of the Muslim community. A foreign office spokeswoman notes that Bill Rammell has been briefing Muslim organisations, parliamentarians and community leaders, and she says that ministers and officials will continue to discuss developments with Muslims at grassroots level over the coming weeks.

But the government is having much difficulty getting its position understood and accepted. Justice Minister Shahid Malik said that during meetings he had held with Muslim communities over Gaza “I was extremely concerned that many British Muslims had failed to distinguish between the UK’s current response and the response in 2006 during the Lebanon crisis. People have become so disillusioned that they almost appear to have stopped listening to politicians.”

Nick Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats, is the only leader of a major political party in Britain to have strongly condemned Israel. He said that Brown, like Tony Blair, has “made British foreign policy effectively subservient to Washington.” Brown “must condemn unambiguously Israel’s tactics, just as he has rightly condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks. Then he must lead the EU into using its economic and diplomatic leverage in the region to broker peace.”

Clegg called on Britain to halt its arms exports to Israel, and to persuade its EU counterparts to do the same. “Britain is selling more and more weapons to Israel, despite the questions about t he country’s use of force.” In 2007 Britain approved arms exports to Israel worth 6million Sterling. In 2008 it licensed sales 12 times as quickly: £20 million in the first three months alone.

Clegg insisted that the EU must immediately suspend the proposed new co-operation agreement with Israel until things change in Gaza, and should also apply tough conditions on any long-term assistance to the Palestinian community.

Chris Doyle director of the Council for Arab British Understanding (CAABU) welcomed Clegg’s statement, and said in a letter to the Guardian that an arms embargo should be the absolute minimum international action. “From 1982 to 1994 the UK joined a UK-wide embargo as a result of similar Israeli atrocities in Lebanon, a reflection of Israel’s propensity to use massive, overwhelming force against civilian targets in total defiance of international law and morality. The case for an embargo is perhaps even stronger now.”

Susannah Tarbush
published in Al-Hayat 19 January 2009 [in Arabic translation]

Sunday, January 18, 2009

reem kelani addresses Gaza rally in speech and song

The Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani speaking at the Gaza rally in London's Trafalgar Square yesterday, and getting the crowd to sing the Palestinian national anthem 'Mawtani' (lyrics by Nablus poet Ibrahim Touqan, 1905-1941, music by the Lebanese Fleiefel brothers). Her references ranged from honouring Palestinian mothers - "big mamas" - in their embroidered dresses to the need to reclaim Palestinian cultural identity, the '1948 Palestinians' within the Green Line, Sesame Street's Elmo, and the reclaiming of Palestinian childhood through a letter delivered by children to Downing Street.

getting at the truth in gaza

In April 2003 British photography student, Tom Hurndall, was shot in the head by an IDF sniper in Rafah Gaza while trying to shepherd small children to safety under Israeli fire. He never recovered consciousness and died nine months later in a London hospital. His mother Jocelyn Hurndall, whose concern for the Palestinian people is such that she has become Development Director of Friends of Birzeit University, has written a piece for the New Statesman on the children of Gaza, Tom's death and of the struggle she and her family had to get the truth of the circumsatances of his shooting in the face of constant obstruction from the Israeli authorities. In 2005 a military court found the sniper, Taysir Hayb, guilty of Tom's manslaugher and of obstructing justice, and he was sentenced to eight years in prison. (Some suspect that because Hayb is a Bedouin Arab he was dealth with much more harshly than a Jewish Israeli sniper would have been). If British lawyer Anthony Hurndall - Tom's father - and his family faced such difficulty in getting to the truth over an Israeli crime in Gaza, one can imagine the difficulties ahead in establishing the truth over the latest alleged war crimes in Gaza in the face of Israel's reflex of "deny, deny, deny". Today's Observer has a report of apparent war crimes in a 12-hour assault on the village of Khuza'a in southern Gaza, and the Independent on Sunday has a report on the alleged use of "unconventional" weapons by Israel, including "a new type of bomb that causes injuries that doctors have not seen before, and which they find impossible to treat". The evidence suggests the use of Dime bombs, which "are packed with tungsten powder, which has the effect of shrapnel but often dissolves in human tissue, making it difficult to discover the cause of injuries". The New York Times has a feature 'In Gaza, Weighing Crimes and Ethics in Urban Warfare'.

Footage from Gaza, used in the documentary "Rachel: An American Conscience" on Rachel Corrie, killed in Gaza by an IDF bulldozer.

Tom Hurndall's killing was the subject of a Channel-4 drama-doc film "The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall" starring Kerry Fox as Jocelyn and Stephen Dillane as Anthony Hurndall. The film looks at the shooting from the perspective of the sniper Taysir Hayb as well as from that of the Hurndalls.

Trailer from the film:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

british jewish mp: israelis not simply war criminals, but fools

Today's House of Commons debate on Gaza saw some particularly passionate and eloquent contributions, and a probably unprecedented level of crticism of Israel. The Guardian has a useful timeline with notes on the debate.

The speech by Sir Gerald Kaufman, the veteran Jewish Labour MP and former chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, was especially outspoken. Kaufman (78) has a long record of criticising Israeli policies - although he has been friends with leading Israeli politicians, as well as with the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, and is certainly no admirer of Hamas.

In 2002, during Israel's invasion of the West Bank, he told the House of Commons:

It is time to remind Sharon that the star of David belongs to all Jews, not to his repulsive Government. His actions are staining the star of David with blood. The Jewish people, whose gifts to civilised discourse include Einstein and Epstein, Mendelssohn and Mahler, Sergei Eisenstein and Billy Wilder, are now symbolised throughout the world by the blustering bully Ariel Sharon, a war criminal implicated in the murder of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila camps and now involved in killing Palestinians once again."

Kaufman's speech during the Gaza Debate:

Madam Deputy Speaker, I was brought up as an Orthodox Jew and a Zionist. On a shelf in our kitchen was a tin box of the Jewish National Fund into which we put coins to help the pioneers building a Jewish presence in Palestine. I first went to Israel in 1961 and I have been there since more times than I can count. I have family in Israel and I have friends in Israel. One of them fought in the wars of 1956 1967 and 1973, and was wounded in two of those.The tiepin I am wearing is made from a campaign decoration awarded to him, which he presented to me.

I’ve known most of the prime ministers of Israel, starting with the founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion. Golda Meir was my friend. So was Yigal Allon, deputy prime minister, who as a general won the Negev for Israel in the 1948 War of Independence.

My parents came to Britain as refugees from Poland. Most of their families were subsequently murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed.

Madam Deputy Speaker, my grandmother did not die to provide cover to Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The present Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploits continuing guilt among Gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians.

The implication is that Jewish lives are precious but the lives of Palestinians do not count.

On Sky News a few days ago a spokeswoman for the Israeli army, Major Leibowitch, was asked about the Israeli killing of – at that time – 800 Palestinians. The total is now 1000. She replied instantly: “Five hundred of them were militants.” That was the reply of a Nazi. I suppose Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw Ghetto could have been dismissed as militants.

The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said that her government will have no dealings with Hamas because they are terrorists. Tzipi Livni’s father was Eitan Livni, chief operations officer of the terrorist organisation Irgun Zvai Leumi who organised the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in which 91 victims were killed including four Jews.

Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism.

Jewish terrorists hanged two British sergeants and booby-trapped their corpses. Irgun, together with the terrorist Stern Gang, massacred 254 Palestinians in 1948 in the village of Deir Yassin.

Today the present Israeli government would be wiling, in circumstances acceptable to them, to negotiate with the Palestinian president Abbas of Fatah. It’s too late for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. They could have negotiated with Fatah’s previous leader, Yasser Arafat, who was a friend of mine. Instead, they besieged him in a bunker in Ramallah, where I visited him.

It is because of the failings of Fatah since Arafat’s death that Hamas won the Palestinian election in 2006. Hamas is a deeply nasty organisation, but it was democratically elected and it is the only game in town. The boycotting of Hamas, including by our own government, has been a culpable error from which dreadful consequences have followed.

The great Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban, with whom I campaigned for peace on many platforms, said: You make peace by talking to your enemies. However many Palestinians the Israelis murder in Gaza, they cannot solve this existential problem by military means. Whenever, and however, the fighting ends there will still be one and a half million Palestinians in Gaza and two and a half million more Palestinians in the West Bank who are treated like dirt by the Israelis with hundreds of road blocks and with the ghastly denizens of the illegal Jewish settlements harassing them as well. The time will come, not so long from now, when they will outnumber the Jewish population in Israel.

It’s time for our government to make it clear to the Israeli government that its conduct and policies are unacceptable and to impose a total arms ban on Israel. It is time for peace – but real peace, not the solution by conquest which is the Israelis real goal which it is impossible for them to achieve. They are not simply war criminals – they are fools.

the lancet's special report on medical conditions in gaza

One of the world's most respected medical journals, The Lancet, has published an editorial, comment and special report on medical conditions in Gaza. The dossier includes a letter signed by seven students from Harvard, Boston University and Tufts University medical schools, on behalf of 753 of their fellow medical students.

the editorial begins:
During the past 2 weeks, The Lancet has been contacted by many doctors concerned at the desperate events unfolding in the Gaza Strip. All deplore all violence directed at civilians. But, in this politically inflammatory setting, the overwhelming sense we detect among our correspondents—and reflected in Special Reports by Jan McGirk, Mads Gilbert, and Erik Fosse, a Comment by Iain Chalmers, letters from David Worth et al and Rami Adbou et al, and further reports posted on is that the violence launched on Gaza is taking an unjustifiable toll on civilian populations. At least 265 children have been killed so far, social infrastructures (UN buildings, schools, and government facilities) have been badly damaged, and agreed international norms of humanitarian behaviour in situations of conflict have been breached. So far, several mobile clinics and ambulances have been damaged by Israeli attacks...

An article by Iain Chalmers of the James Lind Library in Oxford in the Comment Section, entitled 'Gaza - a symptom of an insufficiently acknowledged cause', starts:
Although Israel has banned foreign journalists from entering Gaza, images of the ongoing carnage there have been widely seen on television, and have provoked outrage. Since the attacks began, I have been in frequent telephone contact with friends—Christian and Muslim—in Gaza Cityand other towns in the Gaza Strip. Their testimonies are heart-rending. On the third day after Israel’s ground invasion of the Strip, one of my friends—a woman in her mid-70s—broke down while talking to me. She had been left uncharacteristically terrified by repeated bombardment of one of Gaza’s government buildings, which is near to her house. This attack had resulted in her home heaving with successive blasts, and most of the remaining window glass being shattered. The latest situation has made her life without electricity and water supplies in winter even more challenging than during the preceding months of Israeliblockade of the Strip, a form of collective punishment on the civilian population which has been endorsed by theUSA and the European Union.
My friend stressed that, so far, she feels she has been fortunate by comparison with many of the other 1·5 million people crammed into the conurbation that has becomea prison for Gazans...

john humphrys grills mark regev

This interchange between Today presenter John Humphrys and Israeli PM's spokesman Mark Regev reflects the growing exasperation and frustration of British broadcasters with Israel's policy of barring the international media from Gaza, and a degree of scepticism over Israeli spin. The interview at times has something of the flavour of the "two Johns" 'interview-sketches' between John Bird and John Fortune on Channel 4's satirical show 'Bremner, Bird and Fortune'.

BBC Radio Four
Today programme 15 Jan 2009, 7.17 am
intro from BBC website: "More than 1,000 Gazans and 13 Israelis have reportedly died as Israel's war on Hamas militants enters its 20th day. Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, discusses how the conflict can be brought to an end."
John Humphrys: On the line is Mark Regev who is the spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister. Good morning to you.
Mark Regev: Good morning.
JH: Whatever the detail of these figures, you knew – must have known –when you launched this attack that many civilians, many children, would die didn’t you?
MR: And we’re making and continue to make every effort to leave innocent civilians out of the crossfire between us and Hamas
JR: So when you fire shells at a heavily populated area, you know, do you that those shells aren’t going to kill civilians?
MR: We do not indiscriminately drop bombs.
JH: I didn’t use the word’ indiscriminately’.
MR: No, we are being as surgical as is humanly possible in a very difficult situation.
JH: So you can fire a surgical shell at a building in which civilians may or almost certainly will be living or taking shelter.
MR: We have – as you have documented on the BBC – we have spent a lot of time dropping leaflets, radio message, even telephone calls, warning people to leave areas of combat before the combat starts precisely because we don’t want to see innocent civilians caught up in the fighting.
JH: So what are they going to do, catch the next plane to London or New York or something?
MR: No, but they can leave the area, you don’t have to be too cynical about it, and in fact there have –
JH: I think you can be cynical about a lot of innocent people dying, can’t you?
MR: To be fair – let’s analyse what’s going on here – if Hamas – and we have documented cases where Hamas has deliberately put their explosives, put their weapons, is shooting out of civilian neighbourhoods – it’s very difficult for us, but we are making every possible effort – those numbers that are out there, do you have any idea how many of them were killed by Hamas ordnance? How many were killed by Hamas fighters?
JH: Oh I’d love to have that stuff, I would love to have that detail, the BBC would love to send in reporters, so would every other single news organisation in the world, but you won’t let us do that.
MR: Well first of all those independent reporters that have been in – and there’s the New York Times and the Italian press and so forth – they have actually reported very extensively as to how Hamas is deliberately endangering civilians through their activities.
JH: And for how long have they been allowed to operate in those areas and under what circumstances? Because the BBC has not been allowed to do that, and it’s a fairly substantial news organisation as you’ll appreciate.
MR: First of all the BBC has been in Gaza
JH: Once, a very short in and out trip, under the control of the IDF, once in and out.
MR: and ... again today, and you’ve got your office operating in Gaza, I see your producer all the time... on the airwaves.
JH: There is one producer in Gaza, one producer, who is able to do what he has done, heroically, over the terms of the effort he’s been putting in. Do you regard that as adequate?
MR: Well first of all it is a difficult combat situation and what Israel is doing in Gaza in preventing people going in – the truth is that has been done by NATO forces in such places as Serbia, in such places as Afghanistan. So what we’re doing – I understand why the press and the BBC is upset that you don’t have more access but it’s not unprecedented.
JH: It is not a matter of being upset Mr Regev; we would like to do a proper journalistic job. The reset of the world would like to see a proper journalistic job being done there to test the claims that you and Hamas make. We are not allowed to do that job because you will not allow us to do it. It really is that simple, isn’t it?
MR: I do disagree. Once again, I understand the frustration. But many Western democracies in similar situations have imposed a closed military zone. And if you would allow me to finish my question, I always point out to my government’s leadership that when we have instances of Western journalists going in it’s actually been very good for us. This morning the Italian press is full of reports how there’s no shortages of food, that the hospitals are actually coping.
Hamas wants atrocity propaganda to come out and I think by having more Western press in there we actually balance.
JH: Ah, fine. So you will allow us to send in a reporting team .. what – in the next hour? The next two hours? Tomorrow?
MR: I hope as soon as the combat situation allows.
JH: Ah. And what does that mean?
MR: As soon as the combat situation allows.
JH: Would you care to define that?
MR: I don’t think I can, I don’t think anyone can, to be fair.
JH: Right. So you would like us to be there – but you won’t let us go there. I’m slightly puzzled by this.
MR: Well it’s a difficult combat situation one can never...
JH: They always are Mr Regev. Combat situations always are difficult. But you are in control of this. You are sending your soldiers and your tanks into that area, you could if you so wished allow foreign reporters to go in, and you will not allow them to go in, in spite of the fact that your Supreme Court has said that some should be allowed to go in.
MR: First of all, today some 20 are going in and I hope also someone from the BBC – they are going in with our forces, and I think that’s a good thing, and I want journalists to see what’s going on.
Ultimately we are very concerned with the sort of atrocity propaganda coming out of the Gaza strip which is precisely because Hamas through its control of civil society has been able to manipulate the message.

JH: It’s also because we have been misled by some of your people as well. We were told on this programme by your ambassador that there was drone evidence that the Fakhura school in Jabaliya – you know the school very well because so many children, so many Palestinian civilians were killed there – we were told that it was being used as a base from which Hamas were firing missiles. That turned out not to be the case – it was the wrong area and the drone evidence was two years old. That’s the kind of thing we want to check, isn’t it.
MR: Yes but to be fair both the New York Times and Associated Press independently confirmed the Israeli version of events at that school. And this is one my examples where I think the Israeli – where the independent press has an important role. I mean this was where Hamas was saying Israel was deliberately targeting a civilian target, and when the independent press went there they actually found proof that Hamas had turned the UN facility into a place where they were shooting mortar shells at Israeli soldiers.
JH: Well I wish we could verify that, but we of course we can’t.
MR: But the New York Times reported that, are they not good enough for you? The Associated Press reported that, you don’t have to be so cynical sir.
JH: So you’re going to choose certain reporters to go in for certain assignments? You don’t want to allow the kind of coverage that everybody believes should be allowed?
MR: I also would add, if you want to have a serious discussion, that there is a huge objective problem for any independent reporter working from Hamas territory. Because as you know it’s very difficult to get a Palestinian living in Gaza on microphone to say anything remotely critical of the Hamas regime because afterwards you will pay a price.
JH: with respect let us be the judge of that. But we can’t, can we.
Let’s take another very serious objective consideration here. When you went in to Gaza, when you launched the attack, you must have known must you not that children would die. Innocent civilians, non-combatants, would die. You did so none the less. I take your point that you may have made great efforts to try to avoid that sort of thing happening but it was inevitable, and you must have known it to be inevitable, must you not?
MR: We don’t want to see a single non-combatant...
JH: No, that’s not what I’m asking. What I’m suggesting to you is that you must have known it would happen.
MR: But surely, surely when NATO declared war on Serbia you could have asked the same question to NATO leaders. Is the question relevant?
JH: Well I’ll tell you why the question is relevant, and it is this. For every child who dies, there is going to be enormous hatred of the Israelis who caused that death, isn’t there?
MR: I actually think, and our intelligence is indicating this very strongly, and you can see this in Arab the media and amongst Arab elites that the anger in Gaza, the frustration in Gaza, as to what is going on – of course there is an automatic knee jerk reaction to blame Israel but we see more and more very interesting information that Hamas is being blamed for orchestrating this crisis. And it was Hamas, as you will recall, that tore up the ceasefire understandings, it was Hamas that led to the escalation that forced us to respond and we’re seeing .... the whole idea that Hamas equals the Palestinian struggle, that Hams is the representative of the Palestinians, it is just not true, and we are seeing cracks, we are seeing Hamas has a real problem with the Palestinian street and when this is over and the dust settles, I think Hamas is going to have a real problem with Palestinian public opinion for orchestrating and initiating this crisis that no one really wanted.
JH: Mark Regev, many thanks.
Just a couple or so hours after the interview was broadcast news broke that the main UN compound in Gaza, housing UNRWA's regional headquarters, had been shelled (injuring three people) and set ablaze as Israeli troops pushed further into the area, and that a media building was also hit and at least one photographer injured.
The Los Angeles Times reported the breaking news under the headline: "UN headquarters in Gaza hit by Israeli shells".
The newspaper noted: "Although UN officials, including [Secretary General] Ban [Ki-moon], placed blame for the shelling on Israel, Israel did not accept responsibility.'We don't know if it was hit by Israeli fire or Hamas,' said government spokesman Mark Regev."

video of reem kelani singing darwish's 'mawwal: variations on loss'

YouTube video of Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani performing her setting of Mahmoud Darwish's 'Mawwaal: Variations on Loss', a track on her debut CD Sprinting Gazelle.
Reem's website is at:

from the sleevenotes:

Sprinting Gazelle – track 5
Mawwaal - Variations on Loss
Poetry: Mahmoud Darwish, Music: Reem Kelani

"I wrote the music to this poem in 1992 for a BBC Everyman documentary called ‘See no Evil’ on the tenth anniversary of the massacre in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut. The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (born in 1942 in the now depopulated village of Birweh, near Acre) wrote the original poem in 1967 to convey the Palestinian sense of loss at the time.

"In this poem, Darwish borrows the chorus line from Palestinian folklore, thus juxtaposing colloquial Palestinian with the classical Arabic of the main verses. Each time the chorus is performed on this rendition, it is done with a different variation. This is reflected in the English subtitle of this song."

I lost a beautiful dream
I lost the lilies’ sting
My night has been long
stretched over the garden walls
But I have not lost the way

My palm has grown accustomed
to my wounded hopes
Shake my hands with vigour
and passion, a river of songs will flow
O Guide of my colt and my sword

O Mother! I can endure the
daggers’ stabbing
But not the rule of a coward

Your hands hover over my
Forehead, like two glorious crowns
If ever I should bend, a hill shall
Bow, and a sky will be lost
Then I am no longer worthy
Of a kiss or a prayer
And the door will be slammed
In my face

They asked: do you love the beautiful
Woman? I replied: My love is worship
Her hair is lavish and abundant
Her breast the dearest pillow
Wedding her is a sign of valour

Variation II
O Mother! I can endure the
Daggers’ stabbing
But not the rule of a coward!

The children of tomorrow
Pray in your hands
And my own child
Says: “my days will brighten”
For you are my sun and my shelter

I defend the roses
In yearning for your lips
I defend the sand in the streets
Fearful for your feet
And I defend my right to defend
My right
I defend my right to defend my right

Variation III
O Mother! I can endure the
Daggers’ stabbing
But not the rule of a coward

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

bbc radio series on 'british iranians 30 years on'

'The Flight from Tehran: British-Iranians 30 Years On' is a gem of a series running on BBC Radio 4 daily this week in 15-minute episodes at 3.45 pm. Each episode can be hear via for seven days after transmission via the series page. The presenter, British-Iranian writer David Mattin, has assembled a collage of memories and anecdotes, poignant and often amusing, from Iranians who came to Britain around the time of the Revolution.

Today happens to be the launch date of the BBC's new Persian satellite TV channel (link to promo video below). Last year saw the launch of BBC Arabic TV, for which several World Service language services were sacrificed. Wonder whether it has done much recently to overcome the criticisms of British policy on Gaza being heard in some quarters.

kanafani's 'letter from gaza'

The Palestinian writer and political activist Ghassan Kanafani, assassinated by Mossad in Beirut in 1972, wrote 'Letter from Gaza' more than half a century ago. It's shocking to think it could be a hymn for the children there today.
I first heard the story when a film of John Berger's reading of it was screened at the opening session of Poetry International at London's South Bank last October. The session was devoted to Palestinian poetry, and particularly that of Mahmoud Darwish who had died two months earlier. The All Time is Unredeemable blog has a 29 December statement from Berger on Gaza and a link to his reading of Kanafani's story on a Zapatistas website.

Letter from Gaza by Ghassan Kanafani
Dear Mustafa,
I have now received your letter, in which you tell me that you've done everything necessary to enable me to stay with you in Sacramento. I've also received news that I have been accepted in the department of Civil Engineering in the University of California. I must thank you for everything, my friend. But it'll strike you as rather odd when I proclaim this news to you -- and make no doubt about it, I feel no hesitation at all, in fact I am pretty well positive that I have never seen things so clearly as I do now. No, my friend, I have changed my mind. I won't follow you to "the land where there is greenery, water and lovely faces" as you wrote. No, I'll stay here, and I won't ever leave.
I am really upset that our lives won't continue to follow the same course, Mustafa. For I can almost hear you reminding me of our vow to go on together, and of the way we used to shout: "We'll get rich!" But there's nothing I can do, my friend. Yes, I still remember the day when I stood in the hall of Cairo airport, pressing your hand and staring at the frenzied motor. At that moment everything was rotating in time with the ear-splitting motor, and you stood in front of me, your round face silent.
Your face hadn't changed from the way it used to be when you were growing up in the Shajiya quarter of Gaza, apart from those slight wrinkes. We grew up together, understanding each other completely and we promised to go on together till the end. But...
"There's a quarter of an hour left before the plane takes off. Don't look into space like that. Listen! You'll go to Kuwait next year, and you'll save enough from your salary to uproot you from Gaza and transplant you to California. We started off together and we must carry on. . ."
At that moment I was watching your rapidly moving lips. That was always your manner of speaking, without commas or full stops. But in an obscure way I felt that you were not completely happy with your flight. You couldn't give three good reasons for it. I too suffered from this wrench, but the clearest thought was: why don't we abandon this Gaza and flee? Why don't we? Your situation had begun to improve, however. The ministry of Education in Kuwait had given you a contract though it hadn't given me one. In the trough of misery where I existed you sent me small sums of money. You wanted me to consider them as loans. because you feared that I would feel slighted. You knew my family circumstances in and out; you knew that my meagre salary in the UNRWA schools was inadequate to support my mother, my brother's widow and her four children.
"Listen carefully. Write to me every day... every hour... every minute! The plane's just leaving. Farewell! Or rather, till we meet again!"
Your cold lips brushed my cheek, you turned your face away from me towards the plane, and when you looked at me again I could see your tears.
Later the Ministry of Education in Kuwait gave me a contract. There's no need to repeat to you how my life there went in detail. I always wrote to you about everything. My life there had a gluey, vacuous quality as though I were a small oyster, lost in oppressive loneliness, slowly struggling with a future as dark as the beginning of the night, caught in a rotten routine, a spewed-out combat with time. Everything was hot and sticky. There was a slipperiness to my whole life, it was all a hankering for the end of the month.
In the middle of the year, that year, the Jews bombarded the central district of Sabha and attacked Gaza, our Gaza, with bombs and flame-throwers. That event might have made some change in my routine, but there was nothing for me to take much notice of; I was going to leave. this Gaza behind me and go to California where I would live for myself, my own self which had suffered so long. I hated Gaza and its inhabitants. Everything in the amputated town reminded me of failed pictures painted in grey by a sick man. Yes, I would send my mother and my brother's widow and her children a meagre sum to help them to live, but I would liberate myself from this last tie too, there in green California, far from the reek of defeat which for seven years had filled my nostrils. The sympathy which bound me to my brother's children, their mother and mine would never be enough to justify my tragedy in taking this perpendicular dive. It mustn't drag me any further down than it already had. I must flee!
You know these feelings, Mustafa, because you've really experienced them. What is this ill-defined tie we had with Gaza which blunted our enthusiasm for flight? Why didn't we analyse the matter in such away as to give it a clear meaning? Why didn't we leave this defeat with its wounds behind us and move on to a brighter future which would give us deeper consolation? Why? We didn't exactly know.
When I went on holiday in June and assembled all my possessions, longing for the sweet departure, the start towards those little things which give life a nice, bright meaning, I found Gaza just as I had known it, closed like the introverted lining of a rusted snail-shell thrown up by the waves on the sticky, sandy shore by the slaughter-house. This Gaza was more cramped than the mind of a sleeper in the throes of a fearful nightmare, with its narrow streets which had their bulging balconies...this Gaza! But what are the obscure causes that draw a man to his family, his house, his memories, as a spring draws a small flock of mountain goats? I don't know. All I know is that I went to my mother in our house that morning. When I arrived my late brother's wife met me there and asked me,weeping, if I would do as her wounded daughter, Nadia, in Gaza hospital wished and visit her that evening. Do you know Nadia, my brother's beautiful thirteen-year-old daughter?
That evening I bought a pound of apples and set out for the hospital to visit Nadia. I knew that there was something about it that my mother and my sister-in-law were hiding from me, something which their tongues could not utter, something strange which I could not put my finger on. I loved Nadia from habit, the same habit that made me love all that generation which had been so brought up on defeat and displacement that it had come to think that a happy life was a kind of social deviation.
What happened at that moment? I don't know. I entered the white room very calm. Ill children have something of saintliness, and how much more so if the child is ill as result of cruel, painful wounds. Nadia was lying on her bed, her back propped up on a big pillow over which her hair was spread like a thick pelt. There was profound silence in her wide eyes and a tear always shining in the depths of her black pupils. Her face was calm and still but eloquent as the face of a tortured prophet might be. Nadia was still a child, but she seemed more than a child, much more, and older than a child, much older.
I've no idea whether I was the one who said it, or whether it was someone else behind me. But she raised her eyes to me and I felt them dissolve me like a piece of sugar that had fallen into a hot cup of tea. '
Together with her slight smile I heard her voice. "Uncle! Have you just come from Kuwait?"
Her voice broke in her throat, and she raised herself with the help of her hands and stretched out her neck towards me. I patted her back and sat down near her.
"Nadia! I've brought you presents from Kuwait, lots of presents. I'll wait till you can leave your bed, completely well and healed, and you'll come to my house and I'll give them to you. I've bought you the red trousers you wrote and asked me for. Yes, I've bought them."
It was a lie, born of the tense situation, but as I uttered it I felt that I was speaking the truth for the first time. Nadia trembled as though she had an electric shock and lowered her head in a terrible silence. I felt her tears wetting the back of my hand.
"Say something, Nadia! Don't you want the red trousers?" She lifted her gaze to me and made as if to speak, but then she stopped, gritted her teeth and I heard her voice again, coming from faraway.
She stretched out her hand, lifted the white coverlet with her fingers and pointed to her leg, amputated from the top of the thigh.
My friend ... Never shall I forget Nadia's leg, amputated from the top of the thigh. No! Nor shall I forget the grief which had moulded her face and merged into its traits for ever. I went out of the hospital in Gaza that day, my hand clutched in silent derision on the two pounds I had brought with me to give Nadia. The blazing sun filled the streets with the colour of blood. And Gaza was brand new, Mustafa! You and I never saw it like this. The stone piled up at the beginning of the Shajiya quarter where we lived had a meaning, and they seemed to have been put there for no other reason but to explain it. This Gaza in which we had lived and with whose good people we had spent seven years of defeat was something new. It seemed to me just a beginning. I don't know why I thought it was just a beginning. I imagined that the main street that I walked along on the way back home was only the beginning of a long, long road leading to Safad. Everything in this Gaza throbbed with sadness which was not confined to weeping. It was a challenge: more than that it was something like reclamation of the amputated leg!
I went out into the streets of Gaza, streets filled with blinding sunlight. They told me that Nadia had lost her leg when she threw herself on top of her little brothers and sisters to protect them from the bombs and flames that had fastened their claws into the house. Nadia could have saved herself, she could have run away, rescued her leg. But she didn't.
No, my friend, I won't come to Sacramento, and I've no regrets. No, and nor will I finish what we began together in childhood. This obscure feeling that you had as you left Gaza, this small feeling must grow into a giant deep within you. It must expand, you must seek it in order to find yourself, here among the ugly debris of defeat.
I won't come to you. But you, return to us! Come back, to learn from Nadia's leg, amputated from the top of the thigh, what life is and what existence is worth.
Come back, my friend! We are all waiting for you.

john berger reads from mahmoud darwish's 'mural'

an extract:
Wait till I pack my bag Death
my toothbrush soap after-shave and some clothes
Is the climate warm over there?
Do the seasons change in the eternal whiteness?
Or does the weather stay fixed in autumn or winter?
Will one book be enough to read in non-time?
Or should I take a library?
And what do they talk over there?
vernacular or classical?

(tr Rema Hammami and John Berger)