Peaches Geldof on same-sex marriage

April 8, 2014 at 11:22 pm (Civil liberties, gay, good people, Human rights, law, love, posted by JD, RIP)

 

Peaches Geldof, who died on Monday, had become a serious and thoughtful person, and a very good writer. In her memory, we re-publish this powerful piece that she wrote for The Independent, published on 9 October 2012. Happily, Peaches lived to see this battle won, but her message of tolerance, love and decency is still worth reading, and stands as a fitting memorial:

In the summer of 2003 I was 14 years old, and my best friend was a gay boy named Daniel. He was smart, funny and totally unaware of how beautiful he was. Everyone seemed to be in love with him at some point, but he was in love with his school friend Ben.

Every day after classes ended, Daniel, Ben and I would hang out. For a little bit, they could both be funny, bitchy queens in the most unashamed and wonderful way, and all was right in the world. Time would glide. As the years progressed we three drifted our way through youth, our journeys disjointed but always seeming to connect at significant points along the way.

Daniel came out to his parents two years after he and Ben became serious. He was 16. I was there when he told them, I don’t know if he’d planned on me being there for support, he never told me. I sat hiding at the top of the stairs in his house, listening. His mother laughed, I’d always loved her laugh, it sounded musical, like bells ringing, and I remember that laugh was just full of love in that moment, and she said to him she’d always known and how happy she was that he had experienced love and it didn’t matter who with. His father echoed her sentiments entirely and I heard the intake of breath that always seems to precede a meaningful hug.

Back in his room, his face seemed different somehow. Where once his eyes had seemed to me to be restless and distant at times, now they just shone. His whole face shone, with this pure elation, and in that ephemeral moment I realised how these revelations people make to the ones who mean something to them, can make a person into something great or break them entirely.

Accept and respect

And Dan was made in that moment. He was whole. I remember vividly having this weird image in my head of the old Disney movie of Pinocchio, where the good fairy turns him into a real boy. And looking back I guess Daniel had been exactly that, just wooden, all that time before. I learned that day that all you really need to do to make someone happy is to accept who they really are, and respect who they are.

Weeks passed and Ben still hadn’t participated in the big coming out party. Where once our after-school hangouts had been easy, effortless fun, now they seemed tense. Instead of Ben and Daniel’s relationship becoming more open, it seemed all the more clandestine. They both confided in me in emotional, tearful phone calls and I began to feel like the go-between. I was falling into other interests and felt myself pulled in a different direction, away from these boys that were so much a part of me. I started loathing our meetings because I could see how terrified Ben was of revealing himself to his parents, and how Daniel was pushing him to the point where it seemed inevitable that he would just leave.

What he didn’t understand, having never met them due to Ben’s terror of being caught out, was that Ben’s parents were different to his. His mother was, and always had been, a housewife who had raised him, his two sisters and three brothers seemingly without any help as his father, a Protestant priest, had staunchly archaic views on where a woman’s place was. Weeks, months passed. We grew and changed, summers came and went. It was winter two years later when the ultimatum was issued, and by then too much was at stake, and Ben did come out to his parents. I sat there, on the same patch of grass in Cavendish Square, worn down from our school shoes, and my friend wept as the words left his mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take the words back for him myself.

Devastated

His mother was devastated, his father, in his words, “ruined”. They both told him he was sick and a failure. He left home. How, of course, could he have stayed. I think, after that, Ben hated Daniel a little bit, partly because he had pushed him to come out, partly because he was jealous. But in the end he loved him more, and Daniel’s parents allowed him to move in to their house and live there with him.

Years passed. We had kept in touch by email, but our lives had taken us in different directions and our friendship wasn’t the same any more. It was December, freezing, when I received the invitation to their wedding. They had been living in New York, where gay marriage had been legalised. I was elated. More than that. These boys, who had been such an intrinsic part of my teenage years, were finally getting what they deserved. It was a beautiful moment.

In New York, the snow had covered everything in a soft white blanket, making it new again. As everyone was gathering outside the city hall, I spotted Ben’s parents. They seemed nervous, but they were there. I assumed they had eventually come round to his sexuality, but he later told me they had turned up without telling him. He had sent them an invite, half out of defiance and half out of hope, but had never expected them to be there for him. In that moment I saw how powerful marriage can be.

A nation of dictating pigs

This man, who I loved so much, was marrying his best friend, his soul mate. Taking vows to stand by him until death. And why not? Why, if these two men wanted to be married in the country they were born in, would it only be regarded as a “civil partnership” – a title more insulting than anything else, a half measure. It’s not as if us saintly heteros take the institution of marriage so seriously, is it? A recent study shows same-sex civil partnerships lasting longer than straight marriages, and divorce at a record high.

I have had first-hand experience of how wonderful the introduction of gay marriage has been, and how negative and potentially damaging it is to not allow it, which just breeds more homophobia. For a country and culture that declares ourselves so progressive, our governments, citizens and, of course, our churches, can be small-minded bigots at the best of times. One day we’ll look back on the gay marriage ban as we look back on historical events like apartheid. Because in the end, that’s what it is, pointless, futile segregation. I long for the day when we break free of this Orwellian ridiculousness, a nation of dictating pigs, where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

And even if Daniel and Ben’s marriage was a small squeak of opposition drowned out in the roar of prejudice, at least it happened. And it will continue to happen, til death do they part.  

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Support Iranian trade unionist Shahrokh Zamani!

April 7, 2014 at 8:32 pm (Civil liberties, democracy, Human rights, internationalism, Middle East, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

By Andy Forse

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) has reported that the imprisoned Iranian trade unionist Shahrokh Zamani (above) has just entered his 30th day of a hunger strike.

The agency reports that his initial 3 day strike which was made in solidarity with imprisoned and persecuted Gonabadi Dervishes was extended after being exiled to the infamous Ghezel Hesar prison, a jail notorious for abysmal conditions, torture and executions. Shahrokh was jailed in 2011 for his organising of the painters and decorating union.

Another political prisoner – the student Arash Mohammadi, has joined Shahrokh’s hunger strike in solidarity.

Socialists must use this urgent time to bring the awareness of Shahrokh’s imprisonment to the attention of the wider public to gather solidarity.

There has been a petition campaign to Free Shahrokh Zamani since 2013. It can be signed online at Change.org here, and paper copies of the petition can be printed from here, as well as leaflets, from here.

Press release from Iran Workers’ Solidarity Movement here

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Mirror exposes Qatar’s World Cup slavery

March 31, 2014 at 8:12 pm (capitalism, Human rights, internationalism, Middle East, posted by JD, profiteers, Slavery, sport, unions, workers)

***Embedded image permalink

The Daily Mirror today returned to its radical, campaigning best, with a front-page lead report by Kevin McGuire on slave labour in Qatar. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time a British tabloid has raised the issue of the murderous conditions of migrant workers in Qatar as the Emirate prepares for the 2022 World Cup (though Nick Cohen has written some excellent pieces for the Observer).

The Mirror‘s report:

Qatar is accused of working 1,200 people to death in its £39billion building bonanza for the 2022 World Cup.

An investigation by the Mirror into the oil-rich Emirate revealed horrific and deadly exploitation of migrant workers, who are forced to live in squalor, drink salt water and get paid just 57p an hour.

Campaigners fear the death toll could reach 4,000 before the Finals kick off. One worker told us: “We are treated like slaves and our deaths are cheap.”

FIFA faces renewed pressure to show Qatar a World Cup red card following the exposure of mass deaths and vile exploitation of construction workers in the region.

A team of British trade union leaders and MPs warned that the 2022 tournament is being built “on the blood and misery of an army of slave labour”, after uncovering appalling abuse during a visit to the Gulf monarchy.

Qatar is accused of working 1,200 migrants to death since being awarded the World Cup in 2010 and campaigners have insisted the shocking death toll could reach 4,000 before a ball is even kicked in the Finals.

On a mission organised by Geneva-based Building and Woodworkers’ International, a global federation of construction unions, I witnessed and heard distressing evidence of systematic mistreatment on an industrial scale. Sneaking into squalid labour camp slums under the cover of darkness, frightened workers lured to Qatar with false promises of high salaries complained of persecution.

One Nepalese carpenter, paid the equivalent of just 95p an hour, said: “We’re treated like slaves. They don’t see us as human and our deaths are cheap. They have our passports so we cannot go home. We are trapped.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Amnesty marks International Women’s Day

March 8, 2014 at 8:45 am (Civil liberties, democracy, homophobia, Human rights, misogyny, posted by JD, rights, sexism, women)

My body my rights

Being able to make our own decisions about our health, body and sexual life is a basic human right. Yet all over the world, many of us are persecuted for making these choices – or prevented from doing so at all.

A woman is refused contraception because she doesn’t have her husband’s permission. A man is harassed by police because he’s gay. A teenager is denied a life-saving termination because abortion is illegal in her country. Whoever you are, wherever you live, you have the right to live without fear, violence or discrimination. It’s your body. Know your rights. Act now.

                                        

Unnecessary burden

Stand with Nepali women and girls to defend their rights.

                                                                                  

Tell world leaders: protect sexual and reproductive rights now and for the next generation!

Around 1.8 billion young people worldwide are at risk of having their sexual and reproductive rights ignored. Call on world leaders today.

                                                   

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At last! A voice from the Ukrainain left

March 7, 2014 at 9:03 pm (anti-fascism, democracy, Europe, Human rights, internationalism, posted by JD, solidarity, stalinism)

Author:   Volodymyr Ischenko

Ukrainian leftist Volodymyr Ishchenko has written a blast against Russia’s military intervention in his country and against the new government there.


I hate! On war in Ukraine

http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/i-hate-on-war-in-ukraine/

Writing from a critical position is not something to be widely appreciated in turmoil times. For some hysterical idiots I’ve succumbed to the fascists, for others–betrayed the Fatherland. Time is now precious and to be used efficiently. This is why I respond to all in a single post.

I hate the Euroidiots who started all this because of their little ticks and cultural chauvinism.

I hate the bastard who clung to power despite dozens of deaths and who now wants to return to the country on foreign tanks.

I hate the former opposition, who became today’s authorities, and who found nothing better than to “save the Ukrainian language” [by restricting Russian], populate the government with fascists, and promise unpopular social measures.

I hate Crimean authorities, who are so afraid for their places that they would happily serve as the doormat of an occupying administration.

I hate the tyrant in the Kremlin, who needs a little victorious war to strengthen the rouble and his own, almost unlimited power.

I hate all these “deeply concerned” EU and US bureaucrats, which introduce sanctions only when the government is all but toppled and give aid under conditions resembling daylight robbery.

I hate Ukrainian and Russian fascists, who cannot get used to the reality of a multicultural and multilingual country, and are ready to destroy it.

I hate those “liberals,” who were ready to cover for and never distanced themselves from the the fascists present on the Maidan to give a chance for truly all-Ukrainian democratic movement rather than pushing the country to a Civil War.

I hate myself and other leftists for spending most of our time in mutual recriminations rather than the building of a powerful political organization. Divided, we could influence little the Maidan or the anti-Maidan. Part of the blame lies with us.

But I am for the world peace. I send these flowers from Wallonia. Snowdrops against the background of green leaves from last year. I hope this is not the last time we see them. I just returned to my divided country and pray that all it will all end with a Second Crimean rather than Third World War. Because this war won’t grow into a world revolution (the chances for that are much less than 100 years ago) but in a nuclear holocaust.

Russian comrades, go to the central squares of your cities so that you could stop the intervention into Ukraine.

Ukrainian comrades, let’s think what we could do. It’s clear that signing up in the Right Sector [which has issued a call for mobilization] is not an option.

Ischenko also wrote in the Guardian on 28 February 2014: click here to read his article.

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The Stop The War Coalition and the rise of neo-Stalinism

March 5, 2014 at 8:35 pm (apologists and collaborators, capitalism, class collaboration, democracy, Europe, ex-SWP, Guest post, history, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, John Rees, Lindsey German, Marxism, national liberation, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, Stop The War, trotskyism, USSR)

Above: neo-Stalinists Rees, Murray and Galloway

Guest post by George Mellor

“The attempt of the bourgeoisie during its internecine conflict to oblige humanity to divide up into only two camps is motivated by a desire to prohibit the proletariat from having its own independent ideas. This method is as old as bourgeois society, or more exactly, as class society in general. No one is obliged to become a Marxist; no one is obliged to swear by Lenin’s name. But the whole of the politics of these two titans of revolutionary thought was directed towards this, the fetishism of two camps would give way to a third, independent, sovereign camp of the proletariat, that camp upon which, in point of fact, the future of humanity depends” - Leon Trotsky (1938)

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of the ‘Third Camp’ – independent working class politics that refuses to side with the main ruling class power blocs (or ‘camps’) of the world. At the outbreak of WW2 the majority of would-be revolutionary socialists (and quite a few reformists as well) supported Russia, seeing it as some form of socialist state. However a minority (the ‘Third Camp’ socialists, mainly grouped around Max Shachtman) disagreed, viewing it as imperialist – of a different type to Western imperialism, but imperialist nevertheless.

Some on the left who came out of the Third Camp tradition (and, remember, the SWP was once part of that current and over Ukraine has shown signs of returning to it) now come to the defence of capitalist Russia. In doing so these acolytes of Putin – the neo-Stalinists – use the same framework to defend Russian imperialism as their predecessors did to defend ‘Soviet’ imperialism.

The basic framework they take from the arsenal of Stalinism is the view of the world as divided into two camps: on the one hand the peace-loving countries who supported Stalin’s USSR and on the other, the enemies of peace, progress and socialism. In the period of the Popular Front (1934-39) this found Russia aligned with the bourgeois democracies of the West, but between 1939 and ’41 that policy was superseded by an alliance with Hitler and the Axis powers. The consequence of both policies (and the intellectual zig-zagging required of Comintern loyalists) was that communist politics were subordinated to Stalin’s foreign policy, effectively cauterising the revolution in the inter-war years and disorientating socialists for over a generation.

For today’s neo-Stalinist the world is divided into Western imperialism on the one hand and China, Russia and other states (like Iran and Venezuela) that broadly identify with them against the ‘West’ on the other. Their conclusion is that socialists must stand up for China, Russia, or, indeed, any state or movement (eg the Taliban) that finds itself in conflict with ‘The West’. Seeing the world through this lens has led them to support Russian imperialism against Western imperialism, turning them into Putin’s Foreign Legion.

With the advent of the Ukraine crisis the neo-Stalinists were faced with the following problem: Russia invaded (using traditional Stalinist / Fascist methods) another county, after the people of that country overthrew the incumbent, corrupt, government. From what bourgeois - let alone socialist - principle does Russia have the right to invade an independent country? Of course there is none and so the neo-Stalinists have to invent one or two: the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) ten point statement is just such an invention.

The StWC statement provides a rationale which adds up to telling us the fact Russia has invaded a sovereign country is not as important as the new cold war (I feel a moral panic or, perhaps, political panic coming on as StWC functionaries stalk the land warning us of the dangers of ‘the new cold war’). Woven through the ‘ten points’ is the continual attempt to demonise the 1 million-plus movement which overthrew the Ukrainian government. They claim the movement is fascist / neo-con / in collusion with the European Union – in fact every bad thing one can think of. Such demonization is straight out of the Stalinist playbook, a classic example of blaming the victim. The character of the Ukraine movement has been largely shaped by its experience of greater Russia chauvinism: the idea that a pure democratic let alone socialist movement would spring fully formed out of the Euromaidan was never a possibility. For sure fascist and ultra-nationalist forces played a prominent role, and maybe even paid agents of the EU were present: the point is how should socialists relate to the million-strong movement and how can we seek to influence it? This is simply not an issue for the neo-Stalinists because they have written off the Ukrainian rebels as one reactionary mass not worth a second look.

In truth the StWC statement is neither here nor there, (a blogger at The Economist has taken apart the non sequiturs, half-truths and downright lies of the neo-Stalinists in a point by point rebuttal): it is simply a particularly crude example of the ‘campist’ world view.

For the neo-Stalinists the `hard headed’ geopolitical realties of the need to defend Russia against the ‘West’ always trumps the truth, morality, political principle and consistency: just as they support the invasion of the Ukraine and fit the facts around this, so they support the butcher Assad (crimes against humanity, mass murder, poison gas user, indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, starvation, state-sponsored terror, wholesale torture) and in that case, support for sheer barbarism.

Of course socialists are unlikely to affect events in the Ukraine, let alone Syria: however even if we can only proclaim it, we have a right – and a duty - to say we support neither Western or Russian imperialism but fight for independent working class action.

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Yarmouk Camp, Damascus, 2014 [see update]

February 28, 2014 at 12:16 am (crime, Harry's Place, Human rights, palestine, posted by JD)

Hour of need: Residents of Syria’s besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, crowding a destroyed street during a food distribution led by the UN


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2568251/UN-calls-Syrian-warring-sides-allow-aid-flow.html#ixzz2ufA3hxBO Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

When I first saw this photo, I couldn’t believe it was genuine. I thought perhaps it was a CGI from some post-apocalyptic movie.

But apparently it’s for real. Click to enlarge and get the full impact.

The World Post reports:

A sea of hungry, haunted faces looks out from a massive queue that snakes through the bombed out Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Syria. In the photo, taken on Jan. 31 of this year in Damascus’ Palestinian refugee camp, men, women, and children are on line for aid that includes desperately needed food and medical supplies. There are more than 18,000 people in the Yarmouk camp, and many are starving to death.

The camp was originally built in 1948 to house Palestinian refugees fleeing the Arab-Israeli war. Since the start of the Syrian conflict the area has become a humanitarian disaster zone as fighting between government and rebel forces hinders attempts to deliver food and medical treatment to those within.

Dozens have died in the camp from malnutrition, with reports of those trapped in Yarmouk sometimes resorting to eating grass and cats in order to survive. Aid from the United Nations has trickled in slowly since January 2014, sometimes only 60 parcels a day, and when it does arrive it results in the harrowing scenes such as the one you see in this photo.

The United Nations has set up a special site to donate to the people of Yarmouk, which you can visit here.

At the risk of possibly helping to feed some people who don’t like Israel, I’ve kicked in some cash.

As DaveM made clear last month, the death and suffering in Yarmouk are a result of the Assad regime’s months-long brutal siege of the neighborhood.

Any organization or blog which claims to be “pro-Palestinian” and does not feature this photo on its website isn’t pro-Palestinian at all. It’s simply anti-Israel.

Update: OK, my first instinct was correct. It appears the photo was enhanced after all.

Here are some genuine photos of UNRWA’s food distribution in Yarmouk– which are heart-rending enough.

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Respect to Fahma Mohamed!

February 27, 2014 at 10:18 pm (child abuse, children, Education, Guardian, Human rights, misogyny, posted by JD, women)

For once, the Guardian is on the right side

Glyn Harries (via Facebook) writes:

Respect due to Fahma Mohamed  (above)

She started this petition and got nearly 250,000 supporters and forced Michael Gove to take action. Ok that will not stop the abuse of FGM but it is a start …

“You wouldn’t think school girls in the UK have to worry about female genital mutilation (FGM), but we do. Although it is illegal in the UK, it is still happening – 24,000 girls in the UK are currently at risk of FGM. People just don’t talk about it, doctors don’t check for it and teachers don’t teach (about) it

FGM is child abuse. It forces girls into a future of pain from the moment they are cut. They face the risk of infertility, pain during urination, menstruation, childbirth and sexual intercourse. The pain doesn’t go. It’s a traumatic experience they have to live with every single day, physically and emotionally.

That’s why I’ve started this campaign with The Guardian.

I know of people who have been cut – anyone who knows girls from FGM affected communities will know girls who have been cut. We were told Ofsted would be asking schools what they are doing to protect these girls from FGM, but it never happened.

Me and my classmates campaigned for our school to do more on FGM. Now all the girls at school know the risks of FGM and feel able to talk about it. But this is one school. We need this to happen at every school in the country – so that no girl is missed.

We need to act now. Many girls are sent away to be cut over the summer holidays. Some are cut at home. They call it the ‘cutting season’. If every headteacher was given the information they need to talk about FGM to students and parents we could reach every girl who is at risk before the holidays. We could convince families not to send their daughters to be cut and we can help girls who are at risk. We could break the cycle so the next generation is safe.

That’s why I’m calling for Michael Gove to get schools to teach about FGM before the summer holidays.

 Michael Gove — we’re serious, we’re not going to back down and we won’t go away.” 

http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/educationgovuk-tell-schools-to-teach-risks-of-female-genital-mutilation-before-the-summer-endfgm

Latest: “We did it! We met Education Secretary Michael Gove and he agreed to write to all primary and secondary headteachers in England about female genital mutilation” says Fahma.

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Amnesty: North Korea in “a cateogory of its own” for human rights abuses

February 18, 2014 at 12:24 am (hell, Human rights, murder, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, terror, thuggery, truth)

From Amnesty International:

North Korea is in a cateogory of its own for scale and breadth of human rights abuses. Now is the time for action

Kim Jong-Un (AP Photo/KRT via AP Video)

Dear Supporter,

When Kim Young-soon was sent to political prison camp Yodok for ‘gossiping’ about former leader Kim Jong-il, her parents, daughter and sons were also imprisoned for ‘guilt by association’.

Each day, they were woken at 3.30am and forced to work until dark. When her parents starved to death, she wrapped their bodies in straw and buried them herself. Her children all died in the camp too.

Stand with the people of North Korea and demand action

In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (widely known as North Korea), there is no political opposition, no independent media, and no free trade unions or other civil society organisations.

The country has been in the grip of a devastating food crisis since the early 1990s, and nearly a million people have starved to death

At the heart of this vast network of repression and cruelty, are the political prison camps. Watch our video: the inside story of the prison camps

At least 100,000 people live in the prison camps. Satellite images we commissioned last year show the largest covering an area of approximately 215 square miles. Some people are sent there without charge, let alone a trial, and forced to work with little food or sleep.

Many die of overwork or malnutrition. Torture is rampant, and executions are commonplace.

A former guard at the country’s largest prison camp, Kwanliso 16, told us of women being raped by visiting officials then disappearing:

‘After a night of “servicing” the officials, the women had to die because the secret could not get out. This happens at most of the political prison camps.’ Former prison guard

Stand with the people of North Korea and demand action

Armed with evidence of the scale and depth of abuse within the country, we have been lobbying the United Nations to hold a Commission of Inquiry into North Korea for many years.

The inquiry began in March 2013, and published its final report today, laying bare the gruesome reality of life in North Korea. Among testimony given was an account of a woman forced to drown her own baby. 

The world can no longer say it does not know what is happening in North Korea. And the North Korean regime can no longer deny this is happening. The UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council must now use their power and influence to ensure action.

This must be the year the world acts on North Korea – pledge your support now

Thank you,

Karen Middleton
Karen Middleton Campaign Manager

Take Action: pledge your support

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Answering Roger Waters’ questions

February 5, 2014 at 12:49 am (anti-semitism, Harry's Place, Human rights, israel, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged)

This piece by  J.S. Rasfaeli is so good that we’ve lifted it from That Place: not everything they publish is rubbish, and this article is a brilliant reply to the idiotic anti-Israel-fanatic rock “star” Waters. It also deals with a number of widely-held misconceptions about Palestinians (who are indeed, oppressed) in Israel:

Above: anti-Israel fanatic Waters’ pig drone (note Star of David)

Dear Roger Waters,

The other day you posted an open letter to Neil Young and Scarlett Johansson on your Facebook page. This letter was primarily made up of a series of questions regarding the Palestinian employees of SodaStream’s factory in Ma’ale Adumim, addressed to Ms Johansson.

I see that neither Neil Young or Scarlett Johansson has offered you any answers to these questions, so I thought I might have a go.

There are several hundred Palestinians employed at this particular factory, I don’t know each of their particular circumstances, so I have taken my lead from the people interviewed in this recent article, and this video.

Enjoy the answers Roger, I hope they shed some light:

Do they have the right to vote?

Since 1994 Palestinians have voted in Palestinian elections – presidential, parliamentary and municipal. Following disputed elections and violent power struggles in 2005/6 the Palestinian polity has been split: Gaza ruled by Hamas, and the West Bank dominated by Fatah. All the Palestinian workers at SodaStream are from the West Bank.

The last local elections in the West Bank were held in October 2012. The internecine Hamas/Fatah rivalry prevented both local elections in Gaza, as well as new presidential or parliamentary elections for Palestine as a whole, but this has nothing to do with SodaStream.

Do they have access to the roads?

In the article above several Palestinian SodaStream workers are interviewed. Four of them identify where they live: Achmed Nasser and Nabeel Besharat, from Ramallah, Ptiha Abu-Selat from Jericho, and Mohammed Yousef  from Jaba.

Ramallah and Jericho are both in Area A of the West Bank, as defined by the Oslo Accords. This area is under full control of the Palestinian Authority, thus they should access to the roads there. There are several towns called Jaba in the West Bank; it is impossible to know which one Mohammed Youssef is referring to, and thus what his road access is like.

In Area C of the West Bank some Israeli-built roads are reserved for the use of Israelis (Arabs as well as Jews) travelling between communities beyond the Green Line, often known as ‘settlements’. This leads to frequent chatter in the West about ‘Jewish only’ roads. This is nonsense. How would this be enforced? Would traffic cops stop drivers and ask them to recite the Torah from memory?

Can they travel to their work place without waiting for hours to pass through the occupying forces control barriers?

SodaStream provides a bus service to take workers to and from the factory – as seen in this video. They pass through one checkpoint. It doesn’t appear too onerous, nor have any complaints been registered around this issue.

Do they have clean drinking water?

Access to water and other resources is of course a contested issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and will be a factor in any peace deal. But, to actually answer your question, the latest figures (from 2011) indicate that 89.4% of homes in the West Bank were connected to the water network, and 70.9% of respondents in a poll rated the water quality as ‘good’.

The West Bank’s agricultural sector, though under pressure from Israeli occupation and mismanagement, is functioning. People are not dying of thirst or water-born diseases in Palestine as they are in so many other places in the MENA.

Do they have sanitation?

The figures above apply to water for sanitation as well as drinking.  One suspects that the employees of SodaStream, earning between three and five times the local average are able to afford a better standard of sanitation than their neighbours.

Do they have citizenship?

Interesting question. Until 1988 residents of the West Bank were citizens of Jordan. Jordan then stripped Palestinians of citizenship based on ethnocentric lines. Israel has not done this to its own Arab citizens.

The Palestinian Authority has been issuing its own passports since 1995. The United States recognises these as travel documents, but not as conferring citizenship, as they are not issued by a state the US recognises. However, in 2007 the Japanese government stated, “Given that the Palestinian Authority has improved itself to almost a full-fledged state and issues its own passports, we have decided to accept the Palestinian nationality”.

So the answer is yes and no. The West Bankers who work at SodaStream do however have something considerably closer to citizenship than Palestinians in Lebanon, who are denied both citizenship and residency, despite many families having been there for several generations.

Do they have the right not to have the standard issue kicking in their door in the middle of the night and taking their children away?

According B’tselem, as of the ‘end of December 2013, 4,768 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons’. This number includes petty criminals, those who have maimed and murdered Israeli civilians, and very likely some poor souls who got scooped up by a crude judicial machine.

Law enforcement in the Occupied Territories is rough. Israel and the Palestinians are in a state of conflict; this does not engender light touch policing. But even its critics say that Israel does maintain the separation of its Legislative and Judicial branches. One hopes that the innocent will be set free – but this has little to do with SodaStream. One would expect the company to support any of its employees who were wrongly incarcerated.

Do they have the right to appeal against arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment?

As far as I am aware there are no categories of prisoner in Israel without the right to appeal.

In cases of Administrative Detention the prisoner may be held for six months without charge. This can be appealed in the Military Court, the District Court and the Supreme Court.

I am not aware of any SodaStream employees having been put into Administrative Detention.

Do they have the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before 1948?

Do you actually know whether the workers at SodaStream vacated homes or properties during the 1948 war?

If they did, then the answer is no, at this point they do not have the right to return to those homes (assuming said homes are still standing). However the so-called ‘Right of Return’ is a questionable ‘right’ at best.  At the end of the Second World War millions of Germans were forcibly displaced from homes their families had occupied for centuries in Eastern Europe. The same happened to two million Greeks and Turks in the early 1920s, millions of Indians and Pakistanis during the Partition in 1948, and roughly 750,000 Jews from the Arab and Muslim world at roughly the same time as the Palestinian Nakba. Most of these Jewish-Arab refugees ended up in Israel, where they became citizens. None of these groups is said to possess a ‘Right of Return’, none of them have ‘the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before’.

The Palestinians are uniquely cursed with this notional ‘Right of Return’, not least because even three of four generations after the fact, the Arab states where the Palestinian refugees ended up have declined to grant them citizenship or equal rights.

Do they have the right to an ordinary, decent human family life?

This is too nebulous a question. I’m not sure anyone can answer it, least of all Scarlett Johansson. From the article and video above, one might draw the conclusion that, inasmuch as the workers at SodaStream have this right, their positions at SodaStream help them to more fully exercise it.

Do they have the right to self-determination?

The workers at SodaStream are all free to leave the factory and find other employment. Thus far it seems none have chosen to do so. Perhaps you should ask yourself why?

Do they have the right to continue to develop a cultural life that is ancient and profound?

Again, a nebulous question – there is a room set aside for use as a mosque in the Sodastream factory (it’s in the video link). Prayer times are not deducted from break times. One of the more touching sections of that video is the part about the workers seeing each other pray, and families starting to celebrate each other’s holidays. In the Middle Eat this is new, and it is very profound.

*****

So Roger, I hope that answers some of the questions you posed to Scarlett Johansson.

Part of me does suspect that you weren’t actually looking for answers to these questions– that you posed them rhetorically. What I would say to you, Roger, is that this part of the world doesn’t need any more rhetoric. Shrill, canting rhetoric is what got the Israelis and the Palestinians into the parlous state in which they find themselves. What is needed is calm, sober analysis, hard-headed realism, a sense of perspective and some good old-fashioned deal making by the politicians. You do no one any favors by adding to the noise, least of all the Palestinians who have chosen to work at SodaStream.

One last thing, Roger. At the end of your open letter, you tell Scarlett Johansson she is ‘cute’ but hasn’t been paying attention. This sails pretty close to what might be called ‘patronizing sexist bullshit’. Johansson is a grown woman who considered the facts and made her choices. You would do well to consider that. If you want to talk politics leave out the 1970s stand-up comic routine.

Cheerio Roger – think on it.

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