Commissioned letter in London Evening Standard

Give 1.5 million people a cargo of fish, and tomorrow they’ll be hungry again. Help those people break through an illegal siege, and tomorrow they’ll be able to fish for themselves. This is the reality for Gaza, and is one part of why the volunteer humanitarians on board the Freedom Flotilla are not interested in depositing their cargo in an Israeli port.

Another part of their reasoning is that Israel’s offer to pass the aid through land routes “in line with regulations” subtly refers to regulations that would see the bulk of the aid dumped. Israel allows a very specific, varying selection of goods into Gaza so it can claim to be helping. Including “sticks for brooms” and “cleaning products for tiles” — but not dental amalgam for fillings.

In fact, roughly enough dental amalgam manages to find its way into the country. But again, that’s a short-term solution. What Gazan dentists desperately want is young recruits to be able to study at universities. There are currently no anaesthetists in the strip. But the blockade prevents them travelling too.

In ten years as an aid worker, I’ve never been faced with such a one-sided problem. In Kosova, for example, we helped isolated communities of both Albanians and Serbs. One reason aid workers are so often accused of bias in Palestine is simply that precious few Israelis need our help!

Yet Israel insists on creating hostility where none need exist. The people who wielded sticks against soldiers two nights ago had no hostile intent. They were being attacked by armour-clad men leaping from helicopter gunships in the night.

Government responses must focus on this underlying cause: Israel’s inability to see that it is fomenting most of the trouble it tells us it is trying to suppress. William Hague has said directly the flotilla and its welcome “underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza”. The UN and EU have said much the same. Why is the world paralysed until the US joins in? And if Obama does dare, will we see the next flotilla escorted through the Israeli pirates by NATO ships?

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Gaza aid flotilla massacre – points arising

Some thoughts from the day’s discussions that arose on Facebook:

Jane asked: What I want to know is – how does dropping from a helicopter onto an aid ship constitute being “ambushed by activists bent on violence” ?

This is key. I am sad to see the Israeli footage of some of the people on the boat using sticks. This is being used to suggest violent intent on the part of the volunteers. But they were using them to fight against heavily armed and armoured soldiers who had already shot at them, and NOT with paint-ball guns as one ridiculous story goes, but with M-16 and M-4 assault rifles with live ammunition. Someone I know personally saw somebody in front of them shot in the head. In such circumstances – in the dark, in fear for their lives – it is hardly surprising they defended themselves. Not everyone is Ghandi himself.

The attack happened at approximately Latitude:32.64113, Longitude:33.56727, which is outwith Israeli territorial waters (by a good 40 km). The Israelis brought the fight to them, without question.

It has also been reported that the Israelis offered an alternative docking opportunity in Israel. This would however have been akin to throwing the aid in the sea, so little would have been passed on. (The regulations allow kitchen cleaning cloths, but not paper or pencils for schools, not dental amalgam… it is a ridiculous token list of permitted items designed not to help Gazans but to allow the Israeli government to claim they are helping.)

Additionally it would not address the issue of breaking the blockade overall. Gaza mustn’t be a place that depends upon humanitarian aid.

Gaza convoy update 2010december27th

Hospitality is perhaps not a thing to generalise about, but how many shops in the UK would insist that you sit down with them for a really good Turkish coffee, just because you went in to buy some board shorts, and despite the fact that you don’t share a word of the same language? So yes, I’ve just spent half an hour watching the business of the head of the Aqaba clothes-shop mafia. 🙂

Some of the convoy tried to begin a hunger strike today in front of the Egyptian consulate here. They were prevented from reaching it by the Jordanian police, but the hunger strike will proceed anyway. Taking part amongst others is John Hurson from Tyrone, a relative of whose (Martin Hurson) died in the Irish hunger strikes in 1981.

Meanwhile, Kim, Joel, Shak & Ryan got up at five and took a flag up a mountain today, then some of the rest of us took one out in a boat towards Israel. Not to worry you, but their navy fired a few intimidation shots out to sea just before we headed out (they were expecting us? The room IS bugged then… 😉 and then the Jordanian police came out to tell us not to film the border. The scene was pretty dramatic with our glass-bottomed tourist boat being rammed by the fast police inflatable (and losing his landing ladder in the process), but the glass boat dudes were very cool about it and even enjoyed holding up some of our banners on the way back. In fact the police were fine too, although I was a bit nervous for DashCam for a moment and it looked as though Hassan from Press TV might have his tape removed… the excuse was that our cameras were “too big” to be for tourists.

I was using DashCam, the dashboard-mounted camera that’s been filming those moments of the journey where you wish you’d had time to grab a camera. He’s been liberated from my dashboard while the trucks languish in the compound. I’m going to miss that camera when I have to give it back! Having been talking about DashCam as a “he”, I asked Kim the other day if his had a gender. Kim decided his was a girl, after which bit of anthropomorphising he realised he’d suddenly become even more attached to the thing! It’s fascinating for me as a keen photographer to watch the related but distinctly different techniques of video film-makers — like Kim and Hassan.

On the subject of the compound, the Jordanians have sent a refrigerated truck up to help the medicine survive. Which doesn’t bode too well for how long they plan to keep us there.

SO, here is where you guys can help. Please, write to your MP, MSP, MEP, and to the Foreign Secretary — also to the Egyptian government. Stress that this is a peaceful convoy of humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. Demand to know from the Egyptians the justification for denying it access to Egypt and thus through to Gaza. And plead with the UK to show some measure of care by pressing Egypt to allow us access — and indeed pressing Israel to stop the bombing, which recommenced today, killing several Gazans.

Rebirth of the phoenix

Because blogs need pretencious titles, n’est-ce pas?

So, every so often, I rebuild this blog after a technical calamity or personal epiphany stops me from keeping it. And on each ocassion, I write something a little bit like this. Chances are it won’t remain once there is some actual content to take its place, so it’s in essence the last of the dodos. Stroke it while you can.

WordPress was in fact a joy to install this time. I never knew what killed the database last time. However, one day into using it this time around, they updated to 2.7. I dutifully upgraded to the new version, only to find a terminal error. It turns out that the new version introduced a variable name which was also in use in my theme. It’s at times like that that I am very grateful to be hosting this myself. Rather than asking some anonymous support desk whether help would be available in March 2010 or perhaps never, I was able to simply login, remind myself how PHP worked, and fix the files myself. I am now rather proud that I can still negotiate code. Not that it was anything very complicated, but it has been… a while.

Tonight I am off to the Christmas bash of the Liverpool Flying School. I am rather hoping to see the odd handlebar moustache and to be invited up in some antique “kite”… I’ll report back later. Mince pies and wine later.

Petrol

I noticed today that I really love the smell of petrol stations. They remind me of road trips; of being abroad; specifically of the many dozens of foreign motorway services we’ve stopped at en route to Kosova, Ukraine, Albania, and all those places I love so much. Even a simple German autobahn stop can seem so exotic, with its slightly different architecture, range of products, brands, and attitudes. And when you start to get up into the Alps with the stations so precariously built out onto concrete stilts, or into Italy, where you pay for your food and then order it, the atmosphere just gets more and more special; and memory-jogging. It’s so strong an association that I even get the good feeling at the grotty old Asda pumps in Charlton. Actually, grottiness doesn’t make things any less exotic. Ukraine in particular is good at dusty and run down petrol stations, and I love them all the more. Especially the guys who fill up an entire convoy with diesel without turning off the pumps between vehicles — or putting out their fags, for that matter.

“…sea surplus store, corner of Peebles Drive & 124th Street”

I’ve had crazy sleep patterns since new year. It’s because of life being so unstructured just now, while I house-hunt, and don’t really do much of anything work-wise. So, I’m enjoying reliving Hill Street Blues. I always loved it, though I’m not certain I realised how quirky it was when I was watching it first time around. I was fairly little after all!

Tonia was wandering around Chernigov a couple of nights ago, also unable to sleep, so she was in touch by text. I suggested we had become owls. She tells me that no, I am in fact a special Ukrainian creature called a night-stalker. It has big eyes and looks a bit like a lemur. Apparently…

End of days

One of my best, closest and most loyal friends is lying curled up behind me. She often stops by to visit, but once I move house and leave this town in less than a week, I may never see her again.

I’ve been trying to tell her this for ages; being extra careful to always open the door for her, making sure she gets a good long hug to welcome her when she arrives; always having some of her favourite drink available.

And I think it’s sinking in now. She’s normally off home by the time it’s getting dark, but here she is, visiting for the second time today, and asleep on the couch where she never normally sits – she prefers to sit on the rug on the floor – just, it seems, to be near me as I perch on the edge of the couch using the laptop and gazing out of the window, through the fairy lights I borrowed from a friend, at one of the last pink Brighton sunsets I’m going to see.

I can just feel a little warmth radiating from her as she snoozes, keeping my back from draughts.

She is PC, the neighbour’s cat.

Take your hammer and break the chains…

The weekend found me in Scotland, involved in preparations to disarm a nuclear submarine.

“I’ll take my hammer and break the chains
I’ll not remain in silence.
I will stand and I will defend
My right to fight against violence.”

No, really. Britain’s Trident submarines are an internationally illegal nuclear weapon delivery system. The International Court of Justice has ruled that nuclear weapons could only possibly be legal if the very existence of a state was in question. Even then it is not clear. And there is absolutely no excuse to have four submarines, with one constantly patrolling shipping lanes and the coast of Africa.

The proposed action is legal, non-violent, and accountable. This is in the manner of an action taken last year against a Hawk jet fighter which British Aerospace were preparing to send to Indonesia to assist in the genocide in East Timor. The women accused of criminal damage were set free by a court which agreed they were acting to prevent a greater crime.

Try to imagine how good it feels to really think, “Yes, we’re really going to do this. We’re justified, legal, and have a broad base of support from around the world.” And we are going to do it.

The camp I stayed at had a brilliant atmosphere. There were actually no discernable egos, the bane of most protest camps and actions. I think this was especially because of the spread of ages and backgrounds. Non-violent, accountable actions seem to attract people who are reassured of the motives.

As ever, Faslane’s majestic beauty was scarred by the military razor wire, and it wasn’t easy for some of the people I’d brought, who saw it all for the first time. It’s hard to look at a grey shed and think that what it contains could end the world, but that’s exactly the kind of wicked, surreal sight which motivates all the more.

Somehow, in the midst of it all, I also managed to meet some wonderful new people, and have established once and for all that in the night sky, Sirius is in fact a horse, and Pegasus, well, woof.

Small world!

I’ve just been to the National Film Theatre to see Storefront Hitchcock, a film by Jonathan Demme (who also directed Stop Making Sense for the band Talking Heads.) The film is of Robyn Hitchcock playing in an “uncomplicated” location: a vacant shop in New York. They manage to be quite inconspicuous, in a “nobody has noticed us, we’re gettingaway with it” sense. Robyn is of course as powerful as ever. The music set I’d pretty much seen live, but the close ups really make the most of the very personal, emotional facial grimaces he makes when reaching the highest, sweetest notes. And I’ve never seen a concert make such good use of lighting — one bulb hovering during “You and Oblivion” was perfect for the isolation of it.

My experience (as usual given Robyn’s following, which tends towards élite, rather than large) was one of frustrating proximity. This is a man I’d love to get a chance to know, but the closest I’ve come is this conversation:

R (hunting around before small gig): “Have you seen my harp?”
K (at table Robyn recently vacated, and stunned in daft admiration): “Sorry, nope… erm, do you mind if I just say ‘wow’ a lot?”

Not exactly edifying. This time, I was waiting to go in and overheard some people worrying that one of their number was without a ticket. I offered them a spare I had been left with. They were most grateful before being whisked off to some backstage spot by Mr Hitchcock himself. I feel a “degree of separation” went wrong there…

The film though was very comfortable to watch, so no worries about my mental state! Robyn’s socialist, hippy-spawned politics came through better than I’ve heard before, which is great because I so much want people I respect to actually be cool (!) The song, “1974” includes the line “You could vote Labour then, you can’t do anymore”. And the introduction was brilliant, with Robyn complaining about the loss of the two-party system… but this wasn’t a Billy Bragg-style political band-wagon (sorry!) — we were cautioned by Mr H that when he tells us what a song is about, he is generally lying…

Finally, I’ll get to the point. Small world stuff got me again tonight. I noticed most people in the theatre seemed to know each other. When the man I’d given the ticket too arrived in the seat next to me, he knew the person in front of him — Tim Keegan, who appears in the film! Sheesh. And then, as I got off the train home, the people who’d been sitting in front of me on the journey up to London were getting off the return train right in front of me.

Presumably, I’m just being followed.

Either that, or planet earth is running out of processor power.

Post-script…
I don’t believe it. From a message about Storefront on a Robyn mailing list:

“High points:
A rare sighting of Swiss Family Hitchcock (Robyn, mother and daughter) disappearing up the NFT spiral staircase as a family group.”

Remember those people I gave the ticket to before seeing whisked off?

Local colour

Becky B called today. She’s an honorary little sister — I’ve known her since she was 14. Definitely my friend, but somebody I particularly try to look out for; who’s had her lifetime’s allocation of crap already. Actually, it was her I went to see one morning recently to talk to about the then relationship crisis, and I think Becky was really pleased to be listening to me for probably the first time.

Anyway, tonight she called to calm her nerves because she lives in Lewes. The County Town of East Sussex appears, to the tourist, to be a pretty, castellated example of an ancient South Coast stronghold. But under the surface it is bizarre, and not always entirely salubrious. Home of the NF, a fascist organisation, and endowed with rumours about inverted crucifixes, and such-like, its crowning glory is tonight: the world famous Lewes Bonfire Night celebrations. The town, swelled with most of the population of Sussex, goes completely mad. There are at least four main, massive bonfires. Not fireworks for the kiddies, but mass hysteria. Processions of locals in almost tribal segregation, all in costume, carry large and dangerous fire torches through thick crowds, prevented from escape by incredibly unreasonable closures of roads. The heads of these columns don’t just burn Guy Fawkes, either. Politicians are common, but always present — the Pope, burnt by tradition from our less noble heritage.

Many residents, Becky included, plan to stay at home but fear for their chances of escape! Most parts of the town are filled with insanity and crowds bearing missiles and mortars, torches and exuberance. Some shops open late with a blitz-spirit style of tea-serving; others close early and set up the shutters. Traffic is impassible for several miles, parking unheard of. Trains are full to the point where people fall out — and there are massive queues at the University station en route from Brighton. In fact this year, the people of Brighton were asked not to come!

Local colour.