The threat of good deeds: why did the police arrest aid convoy men?

The state broadcaster bans a charitable appeal on behalf of charities raising funds to help Gaza residents rebuild after Israel’s attack – for fear of being associated with criticism of the “good terrorism” carried out by the UK’s ally.

Now those travelling to Gaza to deliver aid to people who have been bombed are targeted by police as though they were about to bomb people! (If only there was the same readiness to seize weapons destined for Israel!)

All of the men arrested have been released without charge. The action taken by police looks suspiciously like an Islamophobic media stunt designed to smear the Viva Palestina convoy and feed into the hysteria about Muslims that the corporate media are drumming up.

Preston’s socialist councillor Michael Lavalette wants answers:

The three Burnley men arrested on Friday night under anti-terror legislation were today (Thursday) released without charge. The men had been held for six days in a secure detention centre in Manchester. The men were arrested on Friday as they drove to join the ‘Viva Palestina’ convoy taking humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Also arrested, as part of the same operation, were six men from Blackburn. They were kept isolated in police vans for 7 hours before being released without charge. Some of those from Blackburn were religious scholars.

The arrests and the treatment of the men in question raise serious questions about policing in Lancashire and about the ‘targeting’ of both the Gaza Convoy and Muslim men in the region. There are serious questions that now need to be answered from Lancashire constabulary. Questions like:

1. Who ordered the stop and arrest of the 9 men?

2. What evidence of ‘wrong-doing’ did the police have?

3. Why (given the fact that the convoy organisers submitted all the names, passport and visa details of those on the convoy) did the police not act sooner if they had ‘real’ or ’significant’ concerns?

4. Who provided the police with the (now obviously flawed) ‘evidence’ that suggested the men were involved in wrong-doing?

5. This was clearly a national police operation. Who led the operation? Did it have Government clearance?

The suspicion is that this was a politically motivated operation to disrupt the convoy. Where are the Labour Ministers on television or in the press defending their operation and explaining the actions that were taken?

The Gaza Convoy is a humanitarian mission and the men travelling from Lancashire had vehicles that were laden with gifts from children in our area for the children of Gaza. The disruption of this trip is nothing short of a disgrace.

George Galloway condemned the timing of the arrests, the arrests themselves and the deliberate efforts of the police to create a story in the press the purposes of which appears to have been to discredit the aid convoy to Gaza. Viva Palestina reports that there was a drop of 80% in donations following the broadcast of the arrests and the police allegations on the BBC on Saturday afternoon.

“Nine innocent people were prevented by the police from joining our convoy with vital aid to meet the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said George Galloway this afternoon.

“The follow up action by the police, which has apparently included the strip-searching of an Imam and his wife in their own home in Blackburn, has gravely damaged their relations with the community whose trust they need to win.

“Anyone with any sense can see that it is in everyone’s interest to encourage Britain’s Muslim community to engage themselves in democratic politics. That is precisely what this convoy – and the huge political, and humanitarian effort throughout Britain’s often alienated Muslim communities which lies behind it – is about.

“To arrest innocent men in such a provocative and hyped operation will achieve precisely the opposite of that engagement. The timing of the operation is seen locally as an attempt to smear and intimidate the
Muslim community and I must say they seem to be right.

“The arrests were clearly deliberately timed for the eve of the departure of the convoy. Photographs of the high-profile snatch on the M65 were immediately fed to the press to maximise the newsworthiness
of the smear that was being perpetrated on the convoy” said Galloway.

“I am writing to the Chief Constable of Lancashire to demand an explanation and will consult Viva Palestina’s lawyers with a view to seeking compensation for the real financial and public relations damage we have suffered as a result. I will also be writing to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to demand action against those who seem to have abused their power and authority as a police officers to produce this really damaging outcome.”

But the events of the last week also raises another significant issue. For the last two years the Government has attempted to divide the Muslim community in this country by launching a programme called Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE). PVE has come with substantial sums of money that can be directed towards projects aimed at stopping ‘extremism’. The funded projects have been varied (and its certainly the case that there is a need for ‘good projects’ in our city and amongst the poorest communities). But PVE isn’t about providing services. Its about obtaining surveillance and criminalising sections of the Muslim community.

For example, how is an potential extremist defined? People who fall under suspicion include those who have an interest in global politics (so opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or opposition to the murderous regime in Israel could lead to someone being identified as a potential ’extremist’.) Of course that could include someone like me – but I’m not subject to PVE surveillance because I’m not Muslim, and this is the crux – its the combination of the political interest with the religious beliefs and style of dress of the individual that marks them out as ’suspicious’; and its one reason why converts to Islam are particularly targetted. Here is the Government’s own document PVE – A Strategy for Delivery (May 2008), which states that:

“The most severe terrorist threat currently comes from individuals and groups who distort Islam. … It is
not the role of Government to seek to change a religion. However, where theology is being distorted to justify violent extremist rhetoric or activity and threaten both Muslims and non-Muslims, Government should reinforce faith understanding and thereby build resilience.”

PVE is actually an extension of the ‘war on terror’. Its intention is to isolate the ‘enemy within’. In this form it is no different to other historic strategies of ‘divide and rule’ that the British state has used to isolate and intimidate minorities such as the Irish community in the 1970s or Communist Party members at the hieght of the Cold War.

PVE was piloted in a number of places across Britain – including Preston and Reading. Both these areas were included because police sources argued they were ‘hotbeds’ of extremism – though there is no evidence of this being the case in Preston at all (there have been no high profile ‘terror’ arrests in Preston and there is no network of ‘political islamists’ in the city.)

In Preston one of the major PVE interventions is called the Channel Project. Here is what the police have to say about it:

“The Channel Project is all about supporting vulnerable individuals. It is a local and community-based initiative between the police, local authority and the local community. The project takes referrals from a number of sources on individuals that may be vulnerable to becoming involved in violent extremism. A joint risk assessment of each individual case is then made by project members and any issues of concern are identified. A programme of intervention tailored to the needs of the individual is then developed and implemented. Involvement of community partners is key. They will have expertise and insight into the process of assessment, referral and intervention. This process will make the vulnerable person confident
in their rejection and condemnation of violence. If you would like to know more about this initiative.”

The language used makes it seem almost ’social workesque’! The ‘needs’ of ‘vulnerable individuals’; a ‘programme of intervention’ etc. You have to stop for a minute to realise that all of this is being done without the knowledge, input or consent of the ‘vulnerable individual’! (Their ‘vulnerability’ remember is opposition or hostility to the imperial policies of the British state combined with the fact that they are Muslim!)

But of greater concern is their claim that they take ‘referrals from a range of people’ (people with a grudge? spies in the community? the security services? who?) and that ‘involved community partners’ are key.

There is an old saying that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. The ‘involvement of the key community players’ essentially means those that have taken funding for their projects – certainly that was the indication of what was happening in Derby and Reading (two PVE areas featured on Panorama on Monday evening): once the projects get their funding the police and security services come calling asking ’surveillance’ questions.

The PVE agenda brings a ‘dirty money’ reward to a few ‘community leaders’, but in the process it turns them into an outreach of the security services. The events of last week-end and the harassment faced by 9 innocent Muslim men in Lancashire should bring to an end this form of ‘engagement’.

Israel occupies BBC?

As everyone knows, the Disasters Emergency Committee is made up of the following extremist organisations:

Action Aid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund, and World Vision

Give these people a few minutes air-time to talk about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and they’ll be ranting and raving about Zionist imperialism, waving rocket-launchers in the air, and calling on us to send money to Hamas. So, it’s understandable that the BBC would want to avoid giving air time to such lunacy?

No, obviously this is ridiculous.

The DEC hasn’t been turned down in the past, even when aid was difficult to administer, even when the politics were iffy – the BBC aired their appeal for the public to donate towards providing aid to people in need of assistance. So it’s good to hear that there’s uproar about the BBC’s failure to give a few minutes to inform people of how they can help people in need.

ITV, Channel 4, and Five have all agreed to broadcast the appeal, after initially following the BBC’s lead. (As yet, Sky is unconfirmed – presumably waiting to see if the BBC holds the line.)

Tim Llewellyn, former Middle East correspondent for the BBC, sees the corporation’s decision as a betrayal of public service values:

Caroline Thomson, [...] said that one reason was that “the BBC’s impartiality was in danger of being damaged”. Could the BBC be sure, she added, that money raised for this cause would find its way to the right people?

How is the BBC’s impartiality to be prejudiced by asking others to raise money for the victims of an act of war by a recognised state, an ally of Britain, using the most lethal armaments it can against a defenceless population? What sly little trigger went off in her head when Thomson questioned whether the aid would reach the right people? What right people? Hamas, the elected representatives of the Palestinian people? The hospitals and clinics run by private charities and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency? The mosques? The citizens of Gaza, persecuted beyond measure not only by their Israeli enemies but by the western powers who arm and sustain Israel and defy the democratic vote of the Palestinian people?

Is Thomson more fussed about some imaginary “war on terror” that even the new White House is shying away from than she is about upholding the free speech and freedom of action of the corporation?

[...]

The big question that remains is this: what are the suits scared of? Why do BBC managers try to second-guess our government and even outreach it in grovelling to the United States and Israel?

BBC journalists, extant and retired, not the “usual suspects”, not disaffected radicals and high-octane lefties, are incandescent with rage over this extraordinary piece of institutional cowardice.

Should we be all that surprised? The Director General bravely met with Ariel Sharon for “peace talks” (no, really) in 2005.

Here’s Tony Benn, making an appeal at the Beeb:

Students give Palestinians a better kind of occupation

In the seventies and eighties, there was a movement in this country opposed to apartheid in South Africa. It looks as though a comparable movement is developing now against Israel’s occupations…

From Socialist Worker:

Student occupations in solidarity with Gaza spread around Britain online only

A wave of student occupations in solidarity with the people of Gaza is continuing to spread across Britain. There are currently occupations at Kings College London and Oxford, Sussex, Newcastle and Kingston universities. There have also been sit ins at Warwick and Manchester Metropolitan.

These have been inspired by successful protests and occupations at Soas and LSE in London and Essex University. The first three occupations have all ended now, as their main demands have been met.

In Oxford more than 80 students have occupied the historic Bodleian building.

The demands put forward by individual universities are similar, but vary depending on the specific circumstances of each institution. Oxford’s give a typical flavour.

  1. Statement
    Oxford University should release a statement in support of the right of Palestinians to education and its support to the Palestinian Academic community. The University should condemn in particular the attack on the Islamic University in Gaza.
  2. Divestment
    Oxford University currently holds investments in BAE Systems, a firm that the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (caat.org.uk) states provides weapons and ammunition for the Israeli military. This means that our university is being directly funded by the Israeli war on Gaza. Oxford University must divest from BAE and other companies which supply arms to Israel.
  3. Five fully paid scholarships for Palestinian students
    Particularly after the attack on Gaza and the ongoing hardships suffered by Palestinians, Oxford University should offer 5 fully-funded scholarships to Palestinian students as a way to contribute to greater access to education for those affected by the conflict.
  4. Cancellation lecture series inaugurated by Shimon Peres
    The group demands that the Master of Balliol College cancel the lecture series that was inaugurated by the Israeli President Shimon Peres. It is not appropriate to have such a lecture series in light of the attack on Gaza and the ongoing siege.
  5. Resources for Education
    The Oxford University should donate resources to, and support, the University and educational infrastructure that have been bombed in Gaza.
  6. Right to Peaceful Protest
    Oxford University has a proud history of student activism. Students united to campaign against apartheid, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All students have a democratic right to peaceful protest and students should not be prevented from expressing their opinions by fear of reprisals.

Occupation blogs

Essex » www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=45143838671

Kings » kcloccupation.blogspot.com

LSE » lseoccupation.blogspot.com

Oxford » occupiedoxford.wordpress.com

Soas » soassolidarity4gaza.blogspot.com

Sussex » sussexoccupation.blogspot.com

Warwick » warwicksolidaritysitin.wordpress.com

The following should be read alongside this article:
» Eyewitness report: Israel is guilty of war crimes
» Gordon Brown gives Israel a licence to kill
» Israel’s bloody war fails to achieve aims
» Beirut conference calls for solidarity with Palestine
» A revival of student militancy over Gaza
» Activists take to the streets against the slaughter in Gaza
» Councillors condemn Israeli terror
» London demo targets Israeli embassy
» Mass march in Middlesbrough
» Gaza protests continue around Britain
» Pictures of Gaza protests around Britain (1)
» Pictures of Gaza protests around Britain (2)
» Pictures of Gaza protests around Britain (3)

If Hamas rockets are so lethal, why doesn’t Israel swap an F-16 for some?

It’s a credit to Mark Steel’s comedic talent that he can make you laugh about a subject that’d otherwise make you cry…

Now we’ve all seen through the Israeli government’s excuses

The worrying part about whether the ceasefire in Gaza can hold together will be whether the international community can stop the flow of arms to the terrorists. Because Israel’s getting their planes and tanks and missiles from somewhere and until this supply is cut off there’s every chance it could start up again.

The disregard for life from these terrorists and their supporters is shocking. For example Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, wrote that the purpose of the Israeli attack must be to “inflict a heavy death toll and heavy pain on the Gaza population”.

Replace “Gaza” with “western”, and that could have been written by al-Qa’ida. Maybe this is the problem: the Israelis are writing their policies by downloading statements from an Islamic Jihad website and just changing the place names. Also, if the Israelis think the Hamas rockets are as lethal as they say, why don’t they swap their F-16 fighters and Apachehelicopters for a few of them?

These things are capable of terrorising a whole nation for years apparently, yet the Israelis have neglected to buy any, wasting their money on gunboats and stuff. Given that their annual arms budget is $7.2bn plus $2.2 bn in “aid”, they’d save enough to buy a selection of banks in every country in the world.

The military advantages would be enormous because the Israelis’ complaint about Hamas is the use of tunnels to smuggle arms. But if Israel gave Hamas a few planes and tanks and helicopters, they could probably be persuaded to shut down those tunnels that seem to be the cause of such bad feeling.

Whatever you say about Israel, at least it moves its weapons about legally – except for when it secretly built a nuclear arsenal against an array of international agreements. But they did it above ground and not in a tunnel and that’s the main thing.

Watching the reports from Gaza, another reason why the ceasefire may break down becomes apparent. The Israelis might claim that their satellite pictures now show Palestinians in possession of huge mounds of rubble – lethal if thrown over the border. Luckily these weapons are easy to spot. Most of them are next to women howling, “Look what they’ve done to my house,” but perhaps the airforce should bomb them again – just in case. The Israelis say they fear Hamas will once again break the ceasefire by sending over those rockets. But the whole point of the operation was to make that impossible. Because they must have asked themselves the question, “If we slaughter 1,300 people, including 300 children, is that likely to make people: A. less cross or B. more cross?” And presumably they concluded it will make them much less likely to grow up full of hatred and determination to retaliate. Perhaps they saw medical research that shows when someone is suffering from anxiety and bouts of irascible ill-tempered behaviour, the best treatment is to pen them in with no food or medicine and then kill some of them, and that calms them down a treat.

Another way to allay their worries about Hamas breaking the ceasefire is to read the report from their government’s own Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre. This states that during the ceasefire “Hamas did not take part in any rocket fire and sometimes prevented other organisations from attacking.” Still, with all that’s been going on I suppose they haven’t had time for reading.

Despite all this there might be one cheery sign, which is that never before have so many people seen through the Israeli government’s excuses for handing out mass destruction. The demonstrations in support of Palestinians have been bigger than ever before, and even the United Nations and the Wall Street Journal have suggested Israel has committed war crimes. One poll in America suggested that 60 per cent of people opposed the bombardment, and the change of opinion reached the point that an Israeli diplomat has admitted that “The harm to civilians in Gaza is causing us huge damage.”

Maybe, best of all, was genetics expert Steven Rose who appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme to talk about a new study that’s located “morality spots”, the part of the brain that deals with our morality. Asked how we could know whether this was true, he said in a marvellously posh academic Radio 4 voice “Well we could test the brains of the Israeli cabinet and see if they’ve got no morality spots whatsoever.”

And the most immoral part of all is the perfectly cynical timing, as if three weeks ago Bush shouted: “Last orders please. Any last bombing, before time’s up? Come along now, haven’t you got homes to demolish?”

Brown offers British help in Israel’s war on Gaza

No, that title is not misleading.

He’s really offering naval assistance to Israel:

Mr Brown said he had been involved in talks with Mr Olmert and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

“Germany, France and Great Britain have just sent a letter to Israel and Egypt to say they will do everything we can to prevent arms trafficking,” he said.

No mention of arms sold by UK companies to the IDF! Presumably, any British naval assistance would not be to the Palestinians to prevent attacks by the Israel…

Contra Hazel Blears, it’s not that the government has failed to get its message across, the message is very clear – Israeli terror is bad, but not so bad we’re going to do anything about it (like stopping arms sales to Israel).

Saying that Israel’s actions are “disproportionate” isn’t good enough. In fact, it suggests that there exists a number of civilian casualties that would be proportionate.

Saner stances towards the conflict have been forthcoming from backbench parliamentarians.

Here’s Gerald Kaufman:

And George Galloway:

Israeli war crimes, British weapons

Rarely does a leader of the ilLiberal unDemocrats impress me, but by gosh, Cleggeron has done it.

His call for the UK government to cease sales of WMDs to Israel is a practical suggestion that shows up the silence of the Tories, the feeble responses of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, and the inability of the UK media to adequately convey how the British government supports Israel’s military:

Brown must also halt Britain’s arms exports to Israel, and persuade our EU counterparts to do the same. The government’s own figures show Britain is selling more and more weapons to Israel, despite the questions about the country’s use of force. In 2007, our government approved £6m of arms exports. In 2008, it licensed sales 12 times as fast: £20m in the first three months alone.

There is a strong case that, given the Gaza conflict, any military exports contravene EU licensing criteria. Reports, though denied, that Israel is using illegal cluster munitions and white phosphorus should heighten our caution. I want an immediate suspension of all arms exports from the EU, but if that cannot be secured, Brown must act unilaterally.

There’s a petition on the Number 10 website, which is worth signing:

This petition recognises that the government has taken positive steps to tighten weapons exportation to Israel since 2005. However, only a complete arms embargo will send a clear message to Israel that this government will not accept the prolonged armed conflict which is aggravating existing tensions in the region. Additionally this will ensure that the government adheres to the UK Export Control Act of 2002 and the EU “consolidated criteria” governing the export of military equipment. Equally such a stance would set a precedent showing that this government is committed to establishing peace in the region. This precedent will have a far reaching impact in terms of marginalising the ideologies of radical extremist groups.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has plenty of details:

Export licences approved in the first half of 2008 include:

  • components for combat aircraft
  • components for electronic warfare equipment
  • components for helmet mounted display equipment
  • components for military aero-engines
  • components for naval radars
  • components for surface-to-air missiles
  • equipment for the use of weapon sights
  • general military aircraft components
  • general naval vessel components
  • military communications equipment
  • technology for the use of weapon sights

Israel has used F-16 fighter aircraft and Apache combat helicopters to bomb Lebanese and Palestinian towns and villages. These contain significant UK components including missile triggering systems for Apaches and Head-Up Displays for F-16s.

In July 2002, the government approved the export of components for F-16 fighters being made by the US company Lockheed Martin and sold to Israel. Then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw justified the sales saying: “The Government has judged that the UK’s security and defence relationship with the US is fundamental to the UK’s national security … Defence collaboration with the US is also key to maintaining a strong defence industrial capacity.” He went on “Any interruption to the supply of these components would have serious implications for the UK’s defence relations with the United States.” In other words, the commercial relationship between BAE Systems and US companies such as Lockheed Martin was judged more important than the lives of Palestinians.

The UK continues to sell arms to Israel despite the UN stating that Israel “violates humanitarian law” and even though the UK’s own “Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria” are supposed to assess the impact on regional peace, security and stability and the human rights record of the recipient.

More information on UK companies known to have supplied military equipment to Israel

Tony Benn at the Stop Gaza Massacre protest

Here is veteran socialist politician Tony Benn speaking at yesterday’s huge demonstration in London:

Recorded by Ady Cousins

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