Category Archives: middle east

Call for Aegis’ expulsion from Iraq

Article by David Granville from the Irish Democrat:

THE MOTHER of the Peter McBride, the Belfast teenager murdered by two Scots Guardsmen on 4 September 1992, has appealed to the Iraqi government to cancel the contracts of private security firm Aegis Defence Services and to expel it from the country.

Jean McBride’s appeal follows a decision in September by the Iraqi interior ministry to expel another leading private security contractor, Blackwater, after it was confirmed that the company’s personnel had opened fire on civilians in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour in western Baghdad, killing eight civilians and wounding a further 13.

Her family has waged a vigourous campaign on both sides of the Atlantic and won the support of a number of British and Irish MPs. Despite this, British government ministers and defence officials have consistently refused to back campaigners’ calls for Peter McBride’s killers to be thrown out of the army. At a time when it is still possible for serving soldiers to be cashiered for a string of relative minor offences, it’s

not difficult to see why the McBride family regard the decision to allow the two guardsmen, whose convictions for murder have not been quashed, to resume their army careers, as adding insult to injury.

In recent years, the McBride campaign has widened its scope by also focussing on the career of Aegis chief executive Tim Spicer, who was the British army officer in charge of the two guardsmen convicted of her son’s murder.

Spicer has always refused to accept that his soldiers did anything wrong in shooting an unarmed teenager in the back in broad daylight and is on public record as saying that they should not even have been charged, let alone brought to trial.

Since leaving the British army in 1995, Spicer has moved into the murky and highly lucrative world of private ‘security’ – that’s mercenary to you and me – provision, where the activities of his various companies have resulted in a string of investigations and official reprimands. Unfortunately, tacit British government approval has ensured that such misdemeanours have not restricted his business opportunities, especially in Iraq.

The McBride family and human rights campaigners have not been so forgiving. In the years since his son’s murder, Jean McBride has repeatedly told anyone who would listen that Tim Spicer is unfit to to be in charge of men in a conflict situation. She is now urging the Iraqi government to “show the door to Aegis” as they have done to Blackwater.

Speaking after the Iraqi government announced that it was expelling Blackwater and revoking the company’s license to work in the country, Jean McBride explained that she had written to the Ambassador to Britain and Ireland, Dr Salah Al-Shaikhl, pointing out that Aegis employees had been filmed firing at Iraqi civilians in 2005 and that neither the company nor the Pentagon had bothered to carry out a proper investigation.

Following representations from the McBride family, prominent US lawmakers, including Democratic presidential candidate hopeful, Barack Obama, have joined the call for an inquiry into the awarding, and re-awarding, of ‘security’ contracts in Iraq to Aegis.

The family has welcomed the recent announcement, made in the wake of the Blackwater revelations, that the oversight and government reform committee of the US Congress is to hold formal hearings on the use of private security companies in Iraq. It could be a small step on the road to justice.

Further details about the activities of Aegis, Tim Spicer and the McBride family campaign can be found on the website of the Pat Finucane Centre at www.patfinucanecentre.org

The above article originally appeared in the Morning Star on 01/10/07 (that’s 1st October…)

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Filed under aegis defence services, belfast, British army, British government, human rights, Iraq, ireland, middle east, Pat Finucane Centre, Peter McBride, private military contractors

Belfast mother appeals to Iraqi Government

From the Pat Finucane Centre:

Following the decision  of the Iraqi government to expel private security company Blackwater*from the country Belfast mother Jean Mc Bride has appealed to the Iraqis to ‘also show the door’ to British company Aegis Defence Services.   The CEO of Aegis is former Scots Guards officer and mercenary Tim Spicer. Soldiers under Spicer’s command murdered 18 year old Peter Mc Bride in Belfast in 1992 yet Spicer refused to accept that his soldiers did wrong in shooting an unarmed teenager in the back in broad daylight.

Spicer’s private security/mercenary company Aegis has been embroiled in controversary since winning a major security contract in Iraq. In 2005 an ex employee posted a video on the internet which showed an Aegis security team opening fire at random on civilian vehicles in Baghdad.

Speaking today Mrs Mc Bride said,

“The Iraqis have revoked Blackwater’s license to work in Iraq after it emerged that employees opened fire and killed civilians. I would urge the Iraqi Government to also show the door to Aegis and revoke its license. Its employees have been filmed shooting at civilians and neither the company nor the Pentagon bothered to carry out a proper investigation. The CEO of Aegis, Tim Spicer, is on public record as saying that the soldiers who were convicted in a court of law of shooting my son should not even have been charged. I have said repeatedly that Tim Spicer is not fit to be in charge of armed men in a conflict situation. I have now written to Dr. Salah Al-Shaikhly, the Iraqi  Ambassador to Britain and Ireland to make this point and I would appeal to those who have supported my family to date including Gerry Adams MP, Mark Durkan MP and the Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern TD to raise this with the Iraqi Ambassador.

Mrs Mc Bride has also welcomed the announcement that the US Congress is to hold hearings into the use of private security/mercenary companies in Iraq. Earlier this week Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said, “The controversy over Blackwater is an unfortunate demonstration of the perils of excessive reliance on private security contractors”. He said his committee would hold hearings on the issue. A number of prominent lawmakers in the US including Barack Obama have called for an inquiry into Aegis following representations on behalf of Mrs Mc Bride.

For info contact the Pat Finucane Centre at 02871 268846

see http://www.patfinucanecentre.org for extensive background on Aegis and the Peter Mc Bride case

· Blackwater was ordered to leave Iraq following an incident earlier this week when, according to Iraq’s interior ministry, “eight civilians were killed and 13 wounded when Blackwater contractors opened fire on civilians in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour in western Baghdad after mortar rounds landed near their convoy.” The US has promised an investigation however most commentators would be sceptical of any ‘investigation’. Similar allegations into the conduct of Aegis employees were brought to the attention of the US Consul in Belfast, Howard Dean Pitman and the US Special Envoy to Ireland, Mitchel Reiss in meetings with Jean Mc Bride. Neither diplomat honoured commitments made to Jean Mc Bride at the time.

Lobby for US Senate/Congressional Hearings into the Aegis contract. In 2004, Spicer’s new mercenary firm Aegis won a major security in Iraq. What role did two former British officers working for the Coalition Provisonal Authority, Brigadier General Anthony Hunter-Choat and Brigadier General James Ellery, play in the award of the contract to Aegis?

Ellery went on to head the Baghdad office of Aegis, which was later heavily criticised by US Government auditors who found the company could not prove that its armed employees received proper weapons training or that it had vetted Iraqi employees.

Contact Details

Contact Congressman Henry Waxman who intends to hold hearings on the use of private security/mercenary companies.http://www.house.gov/waxman/

To find a Senator visit: http://www.senate.gov Telephone numbers for Senators can be found at: http://www.senate.gov/general/resources/pdf/senators_ph…t.pdf List of mailing addresses for all Senators: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senat…m.cfm To find your Members of Congress visit: http://www.house.gov Telephone Numbers of all offices: http://clerk.house.gov/members/ttd_109.pdf Mailing labels/list of addresses to send letters to each Member of Congress in MicroSoft Word format: http://clerk.house.gov/members/wordmemberlabels.doc Websites of U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions: http://usembassy.state.gov/

Contact Derry office info@patfinucanecentre.org or Newry office newry@patfinucanecentre.org  Please delete all other PFC emails. Website http://www.patfinucanecentre.org

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Filed under aegis defence services, belfast, human rights, Iraq, ireland, middle east, Pat Finucane Centre, Peter McBride, private military contractors, tim spicer, war

Reflections from an Irish Activist with the ISM in Palestine

ismarticle.jpgThe following is the first part of an article by Irish peace activist Damien Moran, whom some of you may remember as one of the Pitstop Ploughshares.  To read Damien’s reflections in their entirety, please go here.

The following is not intended to be an attempt at a comprehensive analysis of the current situation in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. Instead, it is a reflection on the past few weeks I have spent with the International Solidarity Movement in the city of Hebron and its environs and what brought me here in the first place. It is completely subjective and deliberately intended to be so. It is merely a personal reflection, and therefore should not be taken as representative of the views of the ISM.

I am a firm believer that the shortest distance between a person and the truth is a story. Many stories I have heard and read about regarding resistance to occupation, capitalism, imperialism have formed my sense of what is right and wrong – and on which side of the fence I am on. So if you manage to read through this lengthy piece of writing, I hope the stories of resistance I have encountered over the past few weeks will inspire you also to keep on fighting the powers that be, wherever and whenever you encounter them.

Part I

It’s 8 a.m., Tuesday morning, and the city of Hebron – in the southern region of the West Bank of Palestine, has awoken. The initial morning calls to prayer from the surrounding mosques have well passed, a few Palestinian workers are wiping sleep from their eyes and some seem like they are in sleep-walking mode as they journey to work on foot from the heavily-militarised H2 Israeli district to the Palestinian Authority controlled H1 section.

It could be any other city in the world given the evident rituals of work, rest, and play – that is apart from the blatantly obvious fact that the city of Hebron is under a brutally repressive, 6,000 Israeli soldier strong, military occupation. And these soldiers are here to ‘protect’ the 600 or so settlers who live in the H2 area, which makes up 20% of all Hebron. Approximately 40,000 Palestinians lived in the area in 2005 but this number is steadily decreasing due to ever-increasing repression and violence

It is the first time I have ever lived in an occupied country. Even though I am from Ireland, the occupation of the Northern part of our country was a universe away for most of us who grew up in the southern Republic. Images that flashed on the screen on a daily basis when I was growing up remained just that – flashes on a screen. The impact of the Northern Ireland conflict on Irish society as a whole was nowhere to be seen, and was especially far removed from my home town, 130 kilometres away from the border. Yet, for those who have resisted imperialism and capitalism in the North of Ireland, the symbols of the Palestinian people and their struggle – which can be found in Republican areas of Northern Ireland – embody the universal spirit for true freedom. Fights against oppressive conditions tend to identify with each other easily and employ each others’ symbols in a clear manifestation of mutual solidarity. Hence, one can also see the Kurdish flag and Basque flag in a variety of districts in Belfast and Derry. That said, I have yet to see a tricolour here! But once one says they are from Ireland the amazing hospitality and friendliness of Palestinians elevates to even higher levels than normal.

Despite the fact that this is my first time in the Middle East, I have had previous voluntary experience in Haiti, where I worked for 3 months in early 2001. The stark poverty there and amazing spirit of survival manifested through their great sense humour and generosity was a significant eye-opener for a 21 year old from the midlands of Ireland. Haitians taught me many valuable lessons then about simple living, just as Palestinians have been teaching me invaluable lessons about their struggle since I arrived here almost 4 weeks ago. The domestic societal pressures I and other Westerners face, from San Francisco to Warsaw, Oslo to Madrid – whether to choose Nike or Adidas, Levis or Wranglers, Coca Cola or Pepsi – seems like such bullshit falsity when measured against the fact that it is people like ordinary Haitians who slave labour for our commodity overload and Palestinians who bear the brunt of our nation’s obsession with weapons sales to the Apartheid Israeli State.

Thankfully, groups like the ISM, Christian Peacemaker Team and many others exist to counter the exploitation and violence perpetuated by the political powerbrokers, cynical warmongers, and the ubiquitious capitalists.

In my own case, on return to Ireland after volunteering in Haiti, I had to decide whether I was to conform to the Irish Celtic Tiger economic expectation of attaining a brand-new 2.6 litre car, producing 2.3 children, constructing an 8 room house (3 times more than required), signing up for a 35 year mortgage in a cramped urban space with few social services, and putting aside a sufficent quantity of disposable income for 2 sun holidays a year in order to make up for the eternally falling rain in Ireland – and all by the time I would have reached 27 years old. Yes, I know, sounds pretty boring! And yet many feel forced into such economic and social traps, and of course not just in Ireland, by well-groomed real estate charmers, loan sharks and city councillor land rezoners, just because they want to start a family and bring up their kids in a secure environment.

That course of life may seem good to some, and more power to them if they can enjoy themselves and be active citizens at the same time. But for those of us who have had the privilege to form relationships with those who struggle to survive in their daily lives, whether amongst the poor and oppressed of the Global North or South, our responsibilities to respond through sharing some of their experiences and refusing to descend into slumber are to the fore of consciences. And that is exactly why I decided to come to Palestine (I know, it has taken me a while to get to this point) – to reignite my sense of responsibility towards the other, to develop mutually beneficial relationships with those having to confront occupation and violence in their normal daily rituals – of work, rest, and play

Anyhow, enough about soldiers. Thankfully I was free to come here, albeit for a short period of time, having no mortgage, kids (the only part of this triangle I would like to have) nor gas-guzzling car – and having a very understanding and supportive girlfriend and family to support me. I look upon it as a huge privilege and yet great challenge and responsibility to be able to travel and exerience resistance against occupation by the people here. They have much to teach us who live in countries ridden with individualism and materialism.

Even though I’m from Ireland, for the past two years I have been residing in Poland, teaching English and desperately struggling to learn the nightmarish Polish language. So when I decided to initiate contact with the ISM about the possibilities of working alongside them in Palestine, I started to recall previous stories of theirs which I had followed. A good friend of mine had been shot in the leg by an IOF soldier in 2002 while others had volunteered as short-termers. Last year I attended a very well produced play in Ireland which was based on the journals by the very inspiring ISM’er Rachel Corrie. And before I left Poland by train to make my way here I just managed to finish reading Jocelyn Hurndall’s book about her son Tom, fatally shot by an IOF soldier in the Gaza Strip in 2003, just shortly after Rachel had been murdered.

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Filed under human rights, ireland, Israel, middle east, palestine

Qana, Derry: The Dead Lie in Familiar Shapes

Article by Eamon McCann originally printed on Counterpunch:

It was the sudden eruption at the back of the room upstairs at Sandino’s which brought us eventually to the burial ground at Qana.

At the edge of the village, pictures of each of the 28 victims were displayed on a wall around the canopied space where the graves are laid out in precise, neat pattern by the place where the building which they were crushed under once stood.

Qana Mayor Mohammed Atiya made a formal speech of welcome while relatives of the dead stood sentinel by the graves. Shane Cullen, who had designed the memorial plaque we’d brought over, explained that it had been hewn from Irish blue limestone because we wanted “to leave a little bit of Ireland here in Qana, as a sign of our sorrow.” I talked of how we’d heard of the massacre and why we’d occupied the Raytheon plant in Derry in response. Goretti Horgan sang a Gaelic lament. Jimmy Kelly played the tin whistle.

Afterwards, we were invited into the homes of some of the victims where we sat around awkwardly and sipped the glasses of sweet tea that were offered to us everywhere in Lebanon.

Our hearts grieve with yours, I told Maryam Shaloub, who had moved into the home of her sister to look after what was left of the family. Five had been among the 28 who’d perished in the basement when a Raytheon bunker-buster brought the house where they’d sought shelter tumbling down. Some were squashed to death, some choked on dirt and debris. Most were children.

She bustled around, affecting crossness with two teenage survivors for being tardy with the tea, then beaming with pride at how well they are doing in school. We grieve for our loneliness that those we loved are not here, she said with a determined smile of seeming serenity. But we do not grieve that they are dead. We are joyful to know they are in paradise. They are martyrs now.

But there was no semblance of joy from Hala, who had lost her husband, her two children, her mother and father; sitting on the sofa alongside me, she was stiff, immobile, unspeaking, impenetrable, her face a mask of frozen pain.

Although we’d had little appreciation at the time of the depth of the anguish which had hollowed happiness out from the families of Qana, this was the reason we’d trashed the Raytheon plant.The meeting at Sandino’s pub had been called by the Derry Anti-War Coalition (DAWC) on August 2 last year to hear from Joshua Casteel, a former US Army interrogator at Abu Ghraib, and Iraqi lawyer Hani Lazim. But the focus of discussion turned quickly to Lebanon and Qana. For two days, television bulletins and newspapers had featured pictures of children being carried in dripping bundles from the crumpled ruin. “We have to do something,” came the angry roar from the rear. “Raytheon’s down the road. Derry’s a total disgrace.”

The meeting voted to protest at the Raytheon premises, and scheduled a gathering five days later to decide on the detail of what would be done.

US company Raytheon is one of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers, with 73,000 employees in 45 countries and 2006 sales of $20.3 billion. It specialises in electronic guidance and control systems for weapons, including the Patriot, the Sidewinder, the Sea Sparrow, the Tomahawk, the Maverick, and the bunker-buster Paveway used at Qana, which carries 945 pounds of explosive tritonal, about 80 percent TNT, 20 percent aluminum. In April this year, Israel ordered 2,000 more units to replenish stores depleted in last year’s bombing of Lebanon.

The arrival of Raytheon in Derry, announced in August 1999 by John Hume and David Trimble on the steps of the Guildhall in their first joint appearance after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, was widely hailed as a down-payment on the “peace dividend” arising from the Belfast Agreement. Sinn Fein and the DUP quickly joined the peace laureates’ parties in praising the company for creating new jobs. None of the parties has flinched from this position since. Everyone at Sandino’s knew it very likely that Raytheon soft-ware had guided the Qana bomb (proof, in the form of the code-numbers on fuselage fragments, was soon to come to hand), and knew also that it would be futile to appeal to the political mainstream to speak against the company’s role.

And so we did what we believed we had to, entering the plant and barricading ourselves inside. Nine of us were arrested after eight hours inside the plant, during which we hurled computers from the windows, used fire extinguishers to put the mainframe out of action and destroyed any paperwork and computer discs we could find: we next appear in court on September 3rd. The DAWC thought it appropriate to send a delegation to Qana on the anniversary of the massacre to lay a memorial stone.

The inscription on the stone, in Arabic and English, comprised two lines from the narrative of Bloody Sunday in the Museum of Free Derry and two lines from Patti Smith’s poem, “Qana”.

Qana, Derry,
The dead lie in familiar shapes.
No-one who yearns for justice is a stranger,
No-one who dies for justice is forgotten.
Derry, Qana,
The miracle is love.

The 28 who’d perished came from two extended families, the Hashems and the Shaloubs. They’d been sheltering in a three-storey building at the edge of the village, because it was relatively new and built in the lee of a hill ­ and they reasoned that it offered better protection than their less sturdy homes. Villages in a strip along the Israeli border had been shelled and attacked by Israeli aircraft for more than two weeks. Qana had been repeatedly hit. But the two families were among many who had been too frightened to flee to the nearest town, Tyre. The seven-mile highway was a junkyard of houses in rubble and burnt-out cars.

On streets around the Imam Ali mosque today, chunks of concrete and mortar still dangle precariously from crooked iron rods jutting out from rubble and dust. But much of the village ­ the location, many believe, of a miracle when Jesus turned water into wine for a wedding feast ­ has either been rebuilt or resembles a construction site. On every roof, it seems, young men are hauling buckets of cement and cinder blocks up by pulley. They look mildly curious when our group straggles into view, smile and return thumbs-up signs.

The assault on Lebanon had begun on July 12th, when Hezbollah fighters crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two others. They claimed they intended to bargain the captured men for some of the hundreds of Lebanese Muslims held without charge in Israeli jails. Israel responded by launching a land, sea and air bombardment against the Muslim areas of southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley and south Beirut, and against the infrastructure of Lebanon generally ­ roads, bridges, ports, power stations, fuel stores, Beirut airport, factories. Nowhere was remote from the targets. Nowhere was safe.

Lebanon is smaller than Northern Ireland, a mere 135 miles by 50; hemmed in by Israel, Syria, and the Mediterranean Sea, it has a population of four million. In the course of the 34-day conflict, Hezbollah was to fire 3,900 rockets into Israel, according to the Israeli government killing 44 civilians and 106 soldiers; the Israeli air-force, meanwhile, flew 12,000 combat missions and its army fired 100,000 shells, killing 1,200 Lebanese, including 250 fighters, according to Hezbollah, 530 according to Israel. Villages along the southern border were attacked with particular ferocity—Tiri, Kafra, Zebquin, Aita El Shaab, Bint Jbiel, Tebnin, etc., etc. But Qana struck a particular chord.

Ten years previously, more than 106 Qana people, 41 of them under 16, had been killed in an Israeli attack on the UN compound where they’d sought refuge. There had been a chorus of protest across the world, although neither the UN (because of the certainty of a US veto) nor any western country issued a formal condemnation. Now the death storm of Israel had swirled across the border again.

At around one in the morning in the house where the two families huddled, as two of the men were making tea, a bomb slammed into the structure. Perhaps five minutes later, as local people rushed towards the scene and adults inside scrambled amid the smoke and screams to find who’d survived, a second bomb gouged into the earth alongside and exploded. It seems almost certain it was this second bomb that toppled the building.

The Israelis claimed their target had been Hezbollah positions nearby from which rockets had earlier been launched.

Muhammad Mahmud Shalhub, a farmer, 61, in the house when it happened, recalls: “When the first strike hit, the whole house lifted…I was sitting by the door. It got very dusty and smoky. We were all in shock…I started pushing people out ­ whomever I could find.

“Five minutes later, another air strike came…We could barely breathe and we couldn’t see anything. There were three rooms in the house where people were hiding. After the first strike, a lot of earth was pushed up into the rooms. Then the house and all the earth dropped down onto us.”

Ghazi Udaybi rushed to the house when it was hit. He says he and others pulled a number of people clear after the first strike, but could do little after the second bomb struck. He’s scornful of the Israeli explanation. “If Hezbollah was firing near the house, would a family of over 50 people just sit there?”

Another man recalls voices calling from inside the debris, “Don’t die, Don’t die!” or crying for fathers, mothers, brothers, “Ali! Mohammed! Mama!”

Sanna Shalhoub, 18, round face, bright brown eyes, a smile of instant friendship to greet us, who lost her mother, father, older sister and two younger brothers, readily recites her story for us, and for an Al Jazeera crew covering the anniversary: “I was scared, but normally when I’m scared I cry out for my mother or father. I stood up and shouted ‘Mum, Dad’. I said, ‘If you can hear me, answer me’. I screamed and screamed but no one answered…

“Before my parents died, it wasn’t like this. We were all together. But after I lost them, my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, there was no love anymore. There are times when I don’t just feel alone in the house or the village, I feel alone in the whole world. If I could have just one moment from the time when my mother and father were alive, for them to talk to me or just call my name, I would feel the luckiest person alive.

“Although the place has been knocked down and is just land, I like to go there and sit thinking that this is the place I was sleeping. Here, my brother and I used to eat. Here, my father and mother and I used to sleep. There are still some of their clothes by the side of the road. I look at them and remember how we used to live here.

“Everyone says that we should change these thoughts in our heads and that we must forget, especially the day of the massacre. Before the war, I didn’t believe that there was an enemy watching our every move. I didn’t know there was an enemy that was so desperate to destroy Hezbollah. Now, all my thoughts are political. I wonder if the day will come when I will seek revenge against the Americans and the Israelis. Could it happen that the tables will turn and I will see myself avenging my parents’ death with my own hands? Inshallah, God willing, it will happen like this.

“When I am lonely, I feel I must change this feeling, so I go to the graveyard. I read the Quran for my parents, talk to my brothers and sister. It makes me feel happier.”

It was 6.30 am before ambulances and rescue crews made it through from Tyre, having been turned back three times by continuing bombing. Bodies dragged from the devastation lay waiting to be loaded into a refrigerated truck. There was a flurry of hope when a baby, Abbas Ahmad Hashim, was cradled out by a medic, tongue protruding from a mouth filled with dirt, but he couldn’t be revived.

By evening, the bodies had been tagged and bagged in plastic and laid out on a floor at the hospital in Tyre. They were: Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 55; Ibrahim Hashim, 65; Hasna Hashim, 75; Ali Ahmad Hashim, 3; Abbas Ahmad Hashim, 9 months; Hura Muhammad Qassim Shalhub, 12; Mahdi Mahmud Hashim, 68; Zahra Muhammad Qassim Shalhub, 12; Ibrahim Ahmad Hashim, 7; Jafar Mahmud Hashim, 10; Lina Muhammad Mahmud Shalhub, 30; Nabila Ali Amin Shalhub, 40; Ula Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 25; Khadija Ali Yusif, 31; Taysir Ali Shalhub, 39; Zaynab Muhammad Ali Amin Shalhub, 6; Fatima Muhammad Hashim, 4; Ali Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 17; Maryam Hassan Muhsin, 30; Afaf al-Zabad, 45; Yahya Muhammad Qassim Shalhub, 9; Ali Muhammad Kassim Shalhub, 10; Yusif Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 6; Qassim Samih Shalhub, 9; Hussain Ahmad Hashim, 12; Qassim Muhammad Shalhub, 7; Raqiyya Mahmud Shalhub, 7; Raqiyya Muhammad Hashim, unknown.

The women shrouded in black who sat by the grave stones in the gathering dusk as we left, murmuring prayers from the Quran, glanced up and nodded as we presumptuously took pictures and faintly acknowledged our goodbyes. Children scampering at the edge of the burial place waved and smiled. A man whose back had been broken in the blast and was sitting in a wheelchair, waved and pointed to his lapel to show he was wearing the Black Shamrock badge we’d given him earlier.

As our minibus lurched out onto what passes for a main road, we all swivelled round to look back until the village of Qana had passed out of sight. “I’ll tell you,” volunteered Kieran Gallagher, “Fucking up Raytheon was the best thing I ever did in my life.”

Me, too.

Eamon McCann lives in Ireland and can be reached at: Eamonderry@aol.com

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Filed under Bloody Sunday, Derry, DUP, Eamon McCann, human rights, ireland, Irish peace process, Israel, Lebanon, middle east, Qana, Raytheon, Sinn Féin, war

Belfast studied for clues to uniting fractured cities

I read this article in the Guardian a while ago and I’m only now getting around to posting it.  I found most of what the article said and didn’t say quite irritating–perhaps because it raises more questions about the premise of the study and the political nature of the subject that they’re undertaking.  Apparently a group of researchers plans to study the regeneration of Belfast “for possible solutions to ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem.”  Hmm.

The project by the University of Cambridge will look at how changes to the layout of cities can help to overcome decades of political and religious unrest.

The study will focus on Belfast and Jerusalem primarily, but also will look at other historically divided cities such as Berlin, Beirut, Mostar in Bosnia, Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, and Kirkuk in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

I wonder, by “changes to the layout of cities” in regards to Belfast, do they mean building 30ft high “peace lines” to separate the working-class Catholic and Protestant communities?  How successful has the Israeli apartheid wall been in overcoming political and religious unrest?

I suppose it’s what the article doesn’t say that says it all, so to speak.  Or maybe it’s this part:

“The nature of the city is helping people to overcome the old divisions, and by looking at how that is taking place it may be possible to find solutions that can be applied to Jerusalem.”

She added: “If we do not understand how people can manage to live side by side – in effect what makes such a city work at everyday level – it may never recover from years of division and conflict.”

Previous research by Cambridge concluded that the built environment plays a key role in determining whether inherent [emphasis mine] conflict in cities results in violence or lively social interaction.

inherent: adj. existing in someone or something as a permanent or inseprable element, quality or attribute
Perhaps the money spent on this 5 year study would be better spent on gaining even an elementary understanding of the roots of these conflicts? I don’t know about you, but I’d say this study is inherently flawed…

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Filed under belfast, ireland, Irish peace process, middle east, palestine

Free Alan Johnston petition

johnston_203.jpgThe BBC is currently reporting that missing reporter Alan Johnston may in fact still be alive. Apparently PA President Mahmoud Abbas has made a statement to this effect in Sweden today, stating that his intelligence services have confirmed this. Though he is aware of the group responsible for kidnapping Johnston, Abbas has not given any more details and there is not yet any definitive proof Johnston is still living.

Here are a couple of links to petitions you can sign to show your support for Johnston and to demand that he be released. To be honest, I’ve never had much faith in the power of the petition, but I’ve received so many lately that I figure it can’t hurt to spread the word. Sign the BBC’s online petition here. This is another petition that I heard about from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

April 17th was Palestinian Prisoners Day. To mark the occasion, the Gaza-based organization Mothers and Families of Palestinians and Arabs in Israeli Jails issued the following statement in response to the claim by Alan’s alleged kidnappers that he was taken to help Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails:

On Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, the Mothers of Prisoners Call for Their Release and Condemn Kidnappings in the Name of Stopping Their Continuous Suffering.

On the occasion of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, 17 April 2007, we, the mothers and families of Palestinian and Arab prisoners detained in Israeli jails, continue to miss our loved ones and hope that they will be immediately released.

It is we who each day miss our loved ones, who have been cut off from their sons, daughters and relatives by Israeli Occupation Forces. It is we who witness their detention in jails that lack the minimum international acceptable detention standards.

As we reject the illegal detention and inhuman treatment of prisoners, we reject the claim by any group that they may commit criminal and un-national acts in the name of the Palestinian and Arab prisoners. The kidnapping of anybody, including BBC journalist Alan Johnston, is against the rights of the prisoners, it is against the love and the suffering of their mothers, it is against the whole of the Palestinian people.

As we call upon relevant local, regional and international parties to ensure the immediate release of our prisoners, we call on those who have kidnapped Alan to immediately release him. We call on them not to stoop to the level of the occupation by conducting these pernicious acts. We call on them not to violate the goodwill of the people of the world towards the well-known suffering of the Palestinian people, who have been under occupation for nearly 40 years.

Based on our heritage, morals and principles and the Palestinian proverb that says: “No one feels the pain, except those who are injured,” we, the mothers and families of prisoners understand the pain afflicted to the family of Alan Johnston, and as we call for the immediate release of our prisoners, we hope the same for our peoples’ friend Alan Johnston.

As the suffering of prisoners in Israeli jails continues, and conflicting statements appears in the media concerning an exchange of prisoners, we call on the Palestinian side to prioritize this issue and learn from the mistakes of the past in negotiations on the issue of prisoners.

We also call upon the international community to pressure the Israeli government to comply with the human justice requirements and international humanitarian law, and release our prisoners.

We further stress to the Israeli government that the continued detention and inhuman treatment of more than 10,000 prisoners does not serve the peace process. Rather it deepens doubts concerning the possibility of achieving peace. These doubts will continue as long as prisoners are still detained in Israeli jails and they and their families continue to suffer.

Peace should bring liberation of people and land rather than enhance occupation and increase the suffering of people.

Freedom for the prisoners of liberation.

Signed,
The Mothers and Families of Palestinian and Arab Prisoners in Israeli Jails

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