Israel and the Flotilla

June 1, 2010

You learn a new word every day.

I can’t sleep so I thought I’d post my initial thoughts on what happened today in the Mediterranean. Longer term readers will know that I wasn’t exactly Israel’s biggest fan before, and my initial reaction when I got back from class and read the news was a very simple “Fuck Israel”. Some other pieces of information have come in and I’ve thought about it, so in an attempt to be a bit less biased, I can find fault on both sides, but mainly on Israel’s.

Let’s start with the flotilla. I’m not going to pretend that I think this was a simple aid convoy. They’d been talking about this for weeks and Israel had warned them not to go. If they’d asked any foreign office or international organisation I’m sure the advice would have been the same: don’t go. There are other, safer and arguably better ways to get aid into Gaza than trying to get a few boats past an entire navy. They also had supplies of concrete on board, something which is not allowed into Gaza by the Israeli blockade. Now I don’t agree with that ban, but nonetheless it is banned, and the activists involved can’t have been hoping to just sail on past and take their aid into Palestine. No, the aim of this group seems to be much grander to me, they were in an attempt to bring down the blockade. How do you do that, by sailing some boats through it? No, you do it by piling on international pressure. In short, they wanted to be attacked to draw international scrutiny and condemnation. I’m not claiming they expected people to die, but it seems pretty obvious to me that they were provoking a response.

Now onto Israel’s failings, shall we? It seems to be a botched job from start to finish. Why did the morons in the government approve a mission by crack commandos to raid civilian ships in international waters? To bolster their reputation as the bully-boy of the Middle East? To show that they can do whatever they want? They’ve got nukes and the support of the US for Thor’s sake, isn’t that enough? They’ve apparently been quoting international law that says that vessels approaching a blockade can be intercepted in international waters, but like I say they had a whole navy versus a few boats armed with a few poles and chairs. There were better ways this could have been done, within the few miles that Israel claims off the coast of Gaza.

Then they messed up the raid itself. The Israelis were the ones saying all along that the activists had a more political agenda than just getting aid into Gaza, and yet they still thought that once the raid took place they’d just sit down and let themselves be captured. Did they not believe their own propaganda? You’ve just raided a civvie ship in international waters, of course they’re going to put up a bit of a fight. Now I’m not saying that the soldiers didn’t have a right to defend themselves if they were under attack, but they shouldn’t have put themselves into the position where they were so compromised. According to the Israelis, two of them had their weapons snatched away by the activists – they’re supposed to be commandos, wtf?!

Maybe Greece should take a leaf out of Israel’s book of protest control. Pssst! All those people rioting in Athens? The solution’s simple. Don’t bother with riot police and containment or any of that bollocks. What you do is drop some commandos in by helicopter, vastly outnumbered so they look threatened, and then when someone inevitably hits them with a bit of wood, shoot indiscriminately into the crowd of protestors! Genius!

Maybe Israel’s been able to get away with that kind of totalitarian behaviour when it comes to the Palestinians, but when you screw up so badly with citizens of other countries, it’s not so easy to hide it or to call them terrorists. It’s like someone in government thought “hmm… I wonder what the best way to piss of Turkey would be? Maybe we should raid a ship filled with their citizens. And better yet, why don’t we do that raid in such a half-arsed way that it’ll put their lives at risk?”

In any case it seems the activists’ plan – if that was indeed their plan – may have worked. Countries on the UN Security Council, including permanent members with vetoes, are calling for an end to the blockade.

Occupation update

February 14, 2009

Still here at George Square Theatre. At the moment we’re watching a film called Sands of Sorrow. It’s kind of boring so I thought I’d blog instead.

So today I spent most of the day outside speaking to non-student protestors. There’s a frustrating situation where the university is refusing to allow anyon who’s not a member of the university into the building. This means we have people showing up outside to show us support and join the occupation, realising they can’t do very much and moving on. It’s also freezing outside so people inside are reluctant to come out. That said we’ve had a core group of people coming to our stall outside to help us hand out flyers, and generally just to have a chat. I’ve been sitting outside each evening and the dedication of some people is astounding.

Last night after I blogged a group of musicians came and played us some brilliant original music, and then we had a really long meeting to discuss the university’s response, which they’d said was final. Again using the consensus decisionmaking process (something I’m really glad I’ve been introduced to), we decided that we’d done everything we could with this occupation, and acknowledged that we had achieved a lot of our aims. Those that we hadn’t achieved, or those that we thought we could achieve more with, it’s perhaps more feasible to act upon them through the normal channels, or through further demonstration in the future. For example the university thinks it would be unethical to “deny access” to graduate job opportunities at companies making arms used by Israel by banning them from careers fairs. Of course this argument doesn’t stand up at all, they’re not denying access, the access to the jobs is still there through normal channels. All banning them would do is stop the university indirectly condoning their actions. But we can better act against this by demonstrating at the careers fairs and working through EUSA. I think the majority of us knew it was time to leave.

Seeing as the university administration is not around during the weekend (particularly Melvyn Cornish and Tim O’Shea), we decided that we would leave on Monday morning before lectures start. In the meantime we’ve been using the space to try to mobilise more support, hold workshops, screen films and hold lectures, in order to keep momentum and create a group which is ready and willing to hold the university to account over what it’s agreed to do.

As part of this we held a demonstration outside the front of the building, attended by just short of 100 people in total. To start with, a choir called Protest in Harmony came and sang some protest songs. This was the best thing I’ve ever heard, with lyrics like [paraphrasing] “the Venezuelans sent the Israeli ambassador home, for its flagrant disregard of international rules” (which was apparently taken straight from a newspaper article), but set to choral, hymn-like music. It was phenomenal, and got a lot of people outside who probably wouldn’t have otherwise been arsed. Then the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign showed up (who have also been great, they’re obviously very used to speaking publicly and one of their members, Mick, has MC’d both of these demonstrations, which helped it go a lot smoother) and we got a demonstration going. Several people spoke out, and we got a lot of signatures on our petition.

So things are going well.

Still here…

February 13, 2009

So I stayed overnight and we briefly prepared our response to the negotiations with the university. I’ve had a couple of classes and I went back to the Chaplaincy to sell more chocolate for the DEC Gaza Appeal. Now that I’m back, I’ve been watching some of the protestors doing a workshop on resisting arrest. At first it was quite practical like going limp instead of tensing your muscles and trying to calm the situation, but then it kind of degenerated into deep breathing and saying words at different volumes, and all the time lots of hugging. Personally I think preparing for such an eventuality is a bit paranoid, but it was quite good entertainment.

One thing that is mildly annoying me is that other issues are getting sneaked into the agenda. A lot of these protestors are really really liberal and have more interests than just this, so during the negotiations, some of the demands are having other things added to them. For example, we stipulated in one demand that any aid getting transported to Gaza gets shipped because it’s better for the environment. Fair enough and I don’t think anyone here disagreed, but it’s not really what this is about, it shouldn’t be in the demands.

Another, perhaps better example, is that one of the demands was to disinvest in any company producing weapons that are being used in Israel. I fully supported that, but then during this morning’s discussion, points were raised that the demand should be to disinvest in all weapons research. Not only do I think this is totally unrealistic and will make the protestors seem juvenile, but I also don’t think it’s desirable. Weapons are necessary for war, and war is sometimes necessary, at least in the current global anarchic system. I do hope for a day when weapons will not be necessary and there will be world peace, but the way to reach world peace is not through getting rid of weapons. Weapons are merely the tools, war would still exist without them. But regardless of whether it’s a good thing or not, it’s nothing to do with us. This demonstration is against this conflict in Gaza, not all war, as if that would be achievable. This is not an anti-war demonstration in general. Of course the Socialist Workers have been slipping their own familiar rhetoric in too, but that’s fine, they’ve been great supporting us so far.

Consensus agreement is also becoming more difficult as we get into the finer points, particularly because people are coming and going all the time so if we review something we’ve discussed before, some people don’t know what we’re on about, and others disagree with something we’ve already put through the consensus system. It’s difficult because I’m in agreement with the broad message, but some things about the protest are so frustrating.

One thing that picked up morale a bit was that an Eden Springs van came to deliver water this morning, and as some of us rushed down to tell them to get lost, security did it for us! So far the security guys have been brilliant, they’ve had no problems with us getting in and out (although so far they’re only letting UoE students in), and they’ve all been really friendly.

We got some news today that an emergency SRC (Students Representative Council) meeting was called to discuss the issue by a very pro-Israel member of the committee, and that their intention was to release a EUSA statement against the demonstration. Adam Ramsay, Naomi Hunter and Guy Bromley came down a few minutes ago to let us know what’s going on, and the SRC did not agree on that statement. Instead Adam paraphrased the statement they will be releasing, and they’re not saying anything, basically.

I’ve no idea how long I’ll be here but I’ll be popping in for a few hours each day until it’s over. Here’s some more photographs.

Gaza Protest

February 13, 2009

As I type this I’m sitting inside George Square Lecture Theatre, which I’d say is quite an unusual thing to do at 2.30 in the morning. At 12 midday yesterday, several activists at the University of Edinburgh moved into this hall and refused to leave until several demands were met by the university, and although negotiations have been taking place, the occupation is still ongoing. The initial demands, which I consider fairly reasonable, are as follows:

1. Boycott: That the universityimmediately suspend all contracts and relations with companies enabling the conflict and/or occupation, including Eden Springs. This demand is contingent on access to information to establish which other companies, eg. Agrexco-Carmel are implicated.

2. Disinvestment: That the university divest from and cut all links – specifically on-campus recruitment – with BAE Systems, MBDA, QinetiQ, Rolls Royce and all other “arms and defence” manufacturers whose products are proven to be in use by the Israeli military.

3. Scholarships: That the university make full scholarships available to at least 5 university students in Gaza, allowing them to attend Edinburgh University – this is specifically in response to the destruction of their universities by the Israeli military, and otheracademic restrictions which violate their human right to education.

4. Aid: That the university collect and make available non-monetary donations to war-damaged Gazan schools and hospitals, including but not limited to text-books, chairs, computers.

5. Education: That the university provide logistical and financial suport for a series of informative lectures and debates, involving university staff and guest speakers, on the Palestine/Israel question during the academic year 2009/10

Regular readers may notice that I’ve so far been silent on the Gaza conflict. This is because I recognise that my view, which is that Israel has no right to exist, is not the best way to achieve peace in the region, and that’s what we all want.

At about 1, we finished a discussion on the response the university gave to the first round of negotiations. Everything is being decided using a fairly effective consensus system, which means it takes quite a long time, but I think the benefits far outweight the disadvantages. There are other frustrations: the people who come to these kinds of protests, not that I’m being overly critical, tend to finish all their sentences as if it were a question (long term readers may remember I have a big beef with that), and sometimes use vocabulary which is clear to people they’re used to campaigning with, but not to others. That said, people are getting along surprisingly well so far and we all know we’re here for a reason. There are about 40 people here now, but I did a quick count during the discussion and there were over 50, and when I was here this evening before our Darwin Day celebrations there were many more, including a lot of non-student protestors, such as the Socialist Workers.

So, depending on how long the occupation goes on, I may be reporting from here over the weekend. Similar demands have been met in Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities, and I’m told there are 26 such occupations happening in universities around the UK, so I don’t think it’s too optimistic to be hopeful.