Frank Barat is one of the co-ordinators of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. He also writes a blog at baratfrank.com

twitter: 
@frankbarat22

The Brussels Attacks

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Gathering at the Bourse, in honor of victims of terrorism, Brussels 23 March 2016. Valentina Calà under a Creative Commons Licence

Frank Barat reflects on Tuesday's attacks on his city, and argues that only more understanding can defeat terrorism and its root causes.

The second day of Spring in my hometown, Brussels, started like any other day. I took the kids to school and nursery this morning, then went to work. Or, rather, came back home, where most of my work is done these days. For two years, I’d been working at offices near the European Parliament, but I prefer working from home now, especially in days like today: The sky is blue and the sun is shining. Sitting in front of my computer, I looked outside at the trees, listening to the singing birds.

Then my brother called.

He had just taken a couple of good friends to Brussels’s Zaventem airport. They were already on their plane, waiting on the tarmac, when they heard two loud bangs at around 8am. They jumped in their seats. ‘Nowadays, you get scared from so little,’ they joked to one another. What they did not know was that Brussels National airport, a few dozen yards away, had just been hit by suicide bombers and that many, many people, were already dead or seriously injured.

I switched on the TV, and, like most people in these situations, got glued to it. The images and the videos started to appear on mainstream media feeds, battling and fighting to be the first one to show ‘the horror’, ‘the panic’ and ‘the destruction’. The Belgian police and government decided to be extremely cautious. ‘We cannot say yet that this was a terrorist attack.’ The mainstream media followed the same line. Everybody else knew that, caution or not, Brussels had just been victim of what will turn out to be the biggest terrorist attack in the city’s history.

A few minutes later, news arrived that an explosion had just been heard at Maelbeek metro station, in the European Quarter, very close to where I used to work and to where many of my former colleagues and friends still exert their professions. I spent the next few hours answering calls, emails and messages to tell everyone that I and my family were safe, while at the same time trying to find out if all my friends were okay too. They were. Unfortunately, many others lost their lives, 34 at the time of writing, and many more – hundreds more – were injured, some seriously. While there has not been any official confirmation of the perpetrators, the New York Times has reported that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

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My oldest kid is five-years-old. Since the Paris attacks a few months back, he has been repeatedly asking questions about the meaning of the words ‘terrorism’, ‘massacre’, ‘army’ and ‘bombs’. He has noticed the presence of soldiers in the streets of Brussels in the past days. Coming back from school the day after Saleh Abdelsam was arrested, a few miles from where we live, he watched the helicopters circling the blue sky above us and police stopping people on the streets. ‘We are lucky to have them’, he told me, ‘because the others wanted to kill us’.

I thought of something to say for a moment, then looked at him, and changed the subject. Deep down, I knew that as long as we bury our heads in the sand, as long as we do not face a problem that seems more existential by the day, what happened in Brussels on Tuesday, will happen, again and again, more ferociously, everywhere in the world. I think of it like I think of global warming. If you do not try to understand where it is coming from, and try to fight it, at its roots, try to make the sacrifices it requires and the changes it needs, the storms will become more fierce and the hurricanes and the tsunamis will destroy everything in their paths.

To stop this drift towards self-destruction we, as a human race, need to ask the tough questions, and speak truth to power. We, collectively, need to ask ourselves why some young men and women, born and raised in Brussels, with family and friends here, many with jobs and even businesses in the city, turned into terrorists and suicide bombers, very often in a matter of a couple of years. Despite the rage that we are feeling today, we must try to think rationally and try to understand, which is very different from condoning, what led them to commit such terrible and heinous crimes. It will not help anyone, and it will definitely not save future lives, to be hateful ourselves, to ask for revenge and demand ‘an eye for an eye’. The perpetuation of the cycle of violence has to stop. The racist rhetoric of ‘they do not love life the way we do’, is utter nonsense and needs to be carefully refuted.

Today’s attackers embarked on a path towards death, but when they woke up this morning, the sun was shining and the sky was blue for them, too. The terrible crimes they committed may have made sense to them, and to their twisted vision of the world, but I struggle to believe that anyone could kill another human being for fun, for the sake of it. Their journey from disfranchised youth to murderous terrorists is one that we need to study, seriously, step by step, to move forward and hope for a better future for society as a whole.

If you read the ‘biographies’ of the Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan, and the Brussels attackers, one similar fact keeps popping up: their extreme and fast process of radicalization started in prisons, not mosques. As such, it is time for us to address what Angela Davis calls the Prison Industrial Complex. The evidence is compelling that prison definitely does not ‘heal’ people or help them re-integrate into a society that has often failed them. Quite the contrary. It is also time to look at the policies of European governments towards immigrant youth, who are very often, from the earliest age, vilified for every problem their societies face.

We need to speak truth to power. We need to challenge our governments and the decision-makers every step of the way. For our own sake.

If you look at what happened in France and Belgium, if you study all the footage and read all the media reports and analyses, you will realise most of them focus on ‘security’, ‘militarization’, ‘hitting back’ and ‘war’. Only a few are concentrating on what the terrorists said or wrote. Why did they do it? What did they say while doing it? If you read these – not something you’ll find easily with a Google search – you will realise that all the attackers are talking the same language. They were politically educated out of the destruction of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, the drones bombing in Pakistan, Yemen, the torture of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and the colonization and occupation of Palestine. While most identified themselves as Muslims, they also said they were horrified by the ideological war the West has carried out against what it wrongfully calls ‘the Muslim world’. This is the main motivator behind them becoming killers. ‘Your wars, our deaths’ became a slogan after the Paris attacks. It might not be totally accurate, and we definitely cannot simplify things, but there is a lot of truth in it.

What is certain is that the people in power, despite telling us that they want to protect us, actually care very little about the safety of their citizens. The response of the Belgian authorities following the Charlie Hebdo and the Paris attacks was to put thousands of soldiers on the streets and raise the security alert. Despite this, and the massive and pretty much unlimited funding that the intelligence services enjoy, two of the most obvious targets for terrorists, an airport and the metro system, were hit. It can only be called what it is, an utter failure on their parts, both in their overall strategy and in the specific response they adopted to ‘defeat terror’.

We know, for example, that the real people fighting ISIS at the moment are the Kurds in Kobane and other cities. We know that helping and supporting them, while cutting the route of ISIS’s oil to Turkey, would deal a huge blow to the so called Islamic State. Are we doing it? Not at all, quite the opposite in fact, supporting Turkey, a key actor, despite its murderous policies on the ground. We also know the role that Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive states in the world, plays in the region, through its funding of corrupt and dangerous ideologies. Are we doing something against it? For sure we are, France just gave the future Saudi King, Mohammed Ben Nayef, its highest honour, the ‘Legion d’honneur’ a few days ago. These constant double standards, and the lies our governments offer in their defence, need to be challenged. They create rancour and hate.

This time, we are going to need more than demonstrations, we are going to have to do more than putting the Belgian flag as a profile picture on Facebook, we are going to need more that GIFs, tweets and petitions. What we need is a total, radical and deep rethinking of the way we see society, of how we see each other within it, of who makes decisions on our behalf. In short, a spiritual and philosophical revolution is what it required.

Otherwise, what will I tell my son next time?

Frank Barat is Coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, and the author of ‘Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians’ with Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe. His new book, 'Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement', with Angela Davis, is out now. He tweets at: @fbarat1

This article is crossposted from Ceasefire.

We are going backwards, COP21 is the opposite of progress

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People's climate march in Prague, 29 November 2015. Friends of the Earth International under a Creative Commons Licence

Frank Barat for Ballast: We're here in Paris. I live in Brussels. Two of the most talked about cities of the last few weeks. Both cities are under what governments call ‘A state of emergency’. Our security is paramount to everything else apparently. The French and Belgian governments are now discussing passing laws that are very similar to what the patriot act is in the USA. Less civil liberties and more surveillance. How close are we to a new type of shock doctrine?

Naomi Klein: It is not that new. We are in it, not close to it. Some of what we are seeing is worse than what happened after 9/11. Bush did not ban marches and protests across the board. There were certainly increased police presence and more restrictions but this idea of just a complete blanket ban of demonstrations in cities, I don't remember ever seeing that in North America. What Brussels has experienced is so extreme. So I think this is very familiar, using a crisis and using people's fear to push through policies that they already wanted to push through like restrictions on privacy, on movement for people, restricting refugee entry, all of this, it is a pretty classic example. The fact that it is unfolding in Paris during the climate summit is really exposing the subjectivity of what gets declared a crisis and what does not. We are here to discuss an existential crisis for humanity and it has never received crisis treatment from elites. They give loads of wonderful speeches but they do not change laws. It is exposing the double standards in a very naked way. In the name of security, they would do almost anything, but in the name of human security, of protecting life on earth, there are loads of talk but no serious regulations of polluters and even the deal themselves they want not to be legally binding. So we are actually moving backwards. The Kyoto protocol was legally binding and now we are moving towards more volunteer, meaningless, non-regulations.

F: Why would a climate deal be our best hope for peace?

N: The first part of it is simply that climate change is already driving conflict. So is the quest for fossil fuels. In terms of the Middle East, our thirst from fossil fuels is a major driver for illegal wars. Do we think Iraq would have been invaded if their major export had been asparagus [as journalist Robert Fisk once asked]? Probably not. We wanted that prize in the west, Iraq's oil. We wanted this on the world's market. It was certainly Dick Cheney's agenda. This destabilized the whole region, which was not particularly stable to begin with because of earlier oil wars and coups and support for dictatorships. This is also a region that is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Large parts of the Middle East would become unliveable on the emission trajectory that we are on. Syria has experienced the worst drought of its history in the run up to the outbreak of civil war. It is one of the factors that destabilized the country. There is no possibility for peace without very strong actions on climate. What drew me to this issue was understanding that if we are going to take climate change seriously it is going to require a redistribution of wealth, of opportunities and technologies. In this book I begin quoting Angelica Navarro who is a Bolivian trade and climate negotiator, talking about how climate change called for a Marshall Plan for planet earth. For countries that have their resources systematically plundered, like Bolivia and are on the front lines of dealing with the impact of climate change, it requires kind of a writing past wrongs, the transfer of wealth and turning the world right side up that I think are pre-conditions for a more peaceful world.

F: How do you put to the masses of people that to change course, we have to deconstruct capitalism? I think that for most people it is too difficult a change to imagine?

N: In Canada we did this exercise of trying to use climate change and the fact that it puts us on a deadline. Not only do we have to change but we have to change now and if we do not make the most of this remaining decade, it will indeed be too late. What does this mean for healthcare, education, indigenous rights, inequality, what would it look like for refugee rights to take climate change seriously? Our team hosted a meeting of 60 movement leaders and we drafted a document called The Leap. We are really hoping that it would help break through this problem. We found in Canada that the only way to break through is to do it. To get together and act. Everybody is working on such urgent issues. If you are an anti poverty activist or a refugee rights activist, you do not have any spare time. It is only when climate change does not distract from your issue and in fact brings another layer of urgency and a really powerful tool and argument and brings you new allies as well, then people have that space to go, ‘oh yeah, ok, this is actually hopeful, this is not a distraction.’

There are a couple of things we did in Canada. One, we organized a march under the banner ‘jobs, justice, climate’. It was not a theoretical exercise but really an organizing one. How do we talk to people in trade unions about climate in a way that really resonates, how do you talk to people who are just fighting for basic services, for housing, and transit, what would it mean for the Black Lives Matter movement, what are the messages that are different? It really helped. Then we drafted and launched the LEAP manifesto. Not that it is perfect, but it is a start. To me it is shocking the extent to which the anti-austerity movement and the climate movement in Europe do not seem to talk to one another. You could have [Greek Prime Minister Alexander] Tsipras suddenly talking about climate change this week, for the first time from what I can tell since he took office.

Climate change is the best argument against austerity that you are ever going to have. If you are negotiating with Germany, a government that claims to take climate change very seriously and that has some of the most ambitious energy policies in the world, why wouldn't you talk about climate change in every meetings and say that we cannot have austerity because we have an existential crisis, we have to act. And yet Syriza, Podemos, you almost never hear them talking about climate change. I spoke at a blockcupy rally in Frankfurt a few months ago and climate change was not mentioned. When I talked about the connections, people understood instantly, it is not abstract. If you are dealing with the endless of budget crisis and this false sense of public scarcity, of course governments are going to cut their support for renewables, of course they are going to increase fares for public transit, of course they are going to privatize the rail system as they are doing in Belgium, of course they are going to say that we have to drill for oil and gas to get ourselves out of debt.

These issues are the same stories, so why is it that it seems far off, right? I do not think it is a hard argument to make. I think that people are creatures of habit. There is a lot of fear around talking about climate change. It has been so bureaucratized. A little bit like trade used to be. When we first started talking about free trade deals there was all of this talk about having a degree in international law to understand it as it was so bureaucratic. It was designed to repel public participation. But somehow people started to educate themselves and found ways to talk about it and really understood how it impacted their lives and the things that they understood. They realised they had a right to participate in this conversation. I think that why climate change people are afraid of making mistakes about the science. You have got three levels of bureaucratic language. The scientific, the policy and the UN language. It is very difficult to understand. The UN one is a nightmare. Look at the schedule for the Cop21! It is not in any language anybody could recognize. All of that is part of the reason why even though it is obvious to connect climate to austerity somehow it is not done.

F: I am mostly working on Palestine where climate change and austerity hardly get a mention...

N: Certainly, Palestine people know that water is a major driver and that water scarcity is one of the clearest impact to climate change in the region. Climate change is an accelerate. If you have a pre-existing problem, climate change will make it worse. Look at New Orleans under hurricane Katrina. If you have a society with out of control police and criminal justice system, if you have crumbling public infrastructure, and that you lay on top of that climate change, you have hell on earth. All these things start to go crazy, you have got vigilantes on streets shooting black people – all goes nuts, right?

I think that this is the best way of understanding how climate change plays out in the Middle East. Whatever is wrong gets more wrong. That's why the slogan ‘system change not climate change’ is more than a slogan because we have a system that is sick on a lot of levels and climate change makes it sicker. Scientists say that climate change loads the dice. You were already going to have a storm but because of climate change it turned into a super storm, you were already going to have a drought but because of climate change it becomes a historic drought. It is an accelerator. If you already have systemic racism and inequality than climate change pushes you into the ugliest place you can possibly get to.

F: You were talking about trade before. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks are held in secret, but apparently not for everybody as it was recently exposed by the Guardian that Exxon Mobil had access to confidential papers and actually wrote the energy chapter. How much does this say about the world and the democracies we supposedly live in?

N: This is what we are seeing at the COP21, right? It has always been the case that transnationals have been part of negotiations (like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change process for example). In France you actually have the clearest example of the intersection of austerity and corporate influence over climate. Although the Hollande government said that it did not have enough money to organize the COP themselves and that they had to bring in all these corporations to sponsor it, Suez and the rest, all big nuclear energy companies and the rest of it, they have they own ideas and agendas about climate change, solutions 21. GMO seeds, Private water, nuclear energy, offshore winds all of these corporate solutions to climate change. Then the civil society spaces where there was going to be the amplification of people's solutions, community controlled renewable energy, energy co-operatives, agro farming, all of that space has been dramatically restricted. It isn't just about the loss of that space, this was always going to be a fight between false corporate solutions and real people solutions and one side of that fight has just really been silenced and constrained while the other one is inside the bubble.

F: Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, wrote recently in the Guardian that ‘The political will to act on climate change has arrived’ and that ‘we will look at Paris as a turning point in this century towards a brighter future.’ Is she bluffing? Is it a means to put pressure on the deciders? Or do you agree with her?

N: (Laughs) I think she is a believer and that she is doing her best. We are seeing some serious engagement, but I think it is really unfair to say that we are turning the corner to that bright future when the targets add up to 3 degree Celsius warming, which is catastrophic.

Governments are fighting for those paltry targets to not be legally binding. It is the opposite of progress – we are going backward. Kyoto was legally binding. This is headed towards not being binding. The target in Copenhagen was 2 degrees, which was already too high, and here we are headed towards 3. This is basic laws of physics. It is not forward.

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‘A two-state solution is not the key to peace’

Ilan Pappe

Ilan Pappe Salaam Shalom under a Creative Commons Licence

Why and when did you decide to stand on the Palestinians’ side? And what were the consequences for you as an Israeli?

Changing point of view on such a crucial issue is a long journey; it doesn’t happen in one day, and it doesn’t happen because of one event. If I had to choose a formative event that really changed my point of view in dramatic way, however, it would be the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 1982. For us who grew up in Israel, it was the first non-consensus war, the first war that obviously was a war of choice: Israel was not attacked; Israel attacked.

People who know Israel know that it is an intimate and vibrant society, so if you are against it, you feel it in every aspect of your life

It is a long journey and once you take it, facing your own society and family, it is not a nice position to be in. People who know Israel know that it is an intimate and vibrant society, so if you are against it, you feel it in every aspect of your life.

Most nation states are very good propagandists but do you think that Israel has taken it to another level?

Indeed. It is a very indoctrinated society – not because of coercion but because there is a powerful indoctrination from the moment you are born to the moment you die. I think it is more difficult now for the Israelis to rely on indoctrination, although they are doing a good job. There are a very few young people of Israel who challenge Zionism.

When you are brought up in a certain way and the policies and actions of your own government push the other side to take violent action as well, then you think that objectively your point of view is correct, because you see that there are suicide bombers and missiles sent from Gaza. It is very difficult for Israelis to separate the violence from the reasons for that violence. One of the most difficult things to explain to Israelis is what is the cause and what the effect.

It seems the circle of violence will never stop without education and knowledge…

I think one of the major challenges is to find space for Israelis and people from the West to be able to understand how it all began. The first Zionist settlers, when they realized that what they thought was an empty land was full of Arab people, regarded these people as violent aliens who had taken over their land. This feeds all the Israelis’ perceptions and visions. It is a dehumanization of the Palestinians that began in the late-nineteenth century. How to explain to people that they are actually a product of this alienation? It is one of the biggest tasks for anyone who engages in alternative education or is trying to convey a different message to the Israeli-Jewish society.

You moved to Exeter in 2007 but still go back to Israel often. How has the situation evolved in Israel in the past few years?

If you compare Israel today with the Israel I left, or the Israel I grew up in, the trend is to become more chauvinistic, ethnocentric and intransigent, which makes us all feel that peace and reconciliation are very far away. The task of changing Jewish society from within is formidable. This society seems to be more and more entrenched in its position. On the other hand, there is a growing number of young people who seem to grasp reality in a different way. So although the short-term does not harbour any chance for a change from within, there are signs that, with pressure from outside, there is a group of people with whom one will be able to create a different society in the future.

Should we therefore put all our energy on applying pressure from the outside, or should we still try to talk to Israelis to try to make them change their views?

The reason why we are all debating this is because the machine of destruction never stops. We don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer; many terrible things are happening. We also know there is a correlation between those terrible things and Israeli realization that there is a price tag attached to what they are doing. We urgently need to find a system to stop what is being done now, on the ground, and to prevent what is about to happen. You need a powerful model of pressure from the outside. As far as people from the outside are concerned, international civil society, I think the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement is as good as it gets. There are two additional factors needed to make it a successful process, though. One is on the Palestinian side: the question of representation needs to be sorted. Secondly, you need to have a kind of educational system that takes the time to educate the Israeli Jews about a different reality and the benefit it will bring to them. If those factors all work well together, and we have a more holistic approach to the question of reconciliation, things could change.

Let’s talk about the ‘solution’. The two-state solution still seems to be the only one on the table. When you mention ‘one state’, people either call you a utopian or say that you are against Jewish self-determination. Even the so-called Palestinian political leaders still support a two-state solution. The more rational and humane one-state solution is not debated enough…

I think two things are taking place. One is the issue of Palestinian representation. The people that claim to represent the Palestinians from the West Bank became the representatives of the whole Palestinian people. As far as the West Bank is concerned, you can see why a two-state solution is attractive. It could mean the end of military control. One can understand this, but it disregards the other Palestinians: the refugees, the ones from Gaza and the ones that live inside Israel. That’s one of the difficulties. You have certain groups of Palestinians who believe, wrongly in my opinion, that this is the quickest way to end the occupation.

We urgently need to find a system to stop what is being done now, on the ground, and to prevent what is about to happen

The second reason is that the two-state solution has a logical ring to it. It’s a very Western idea. A colonialist invention that was applied in India and Africa: this idea of partition. If you question the rationality of it, you are criticized.

Of course, five minutes on the ground shows you that the ‘one state’ is already there. It’s a non-democratic regime, an apartheid regime. So you just need to think about how to change this regime. You do not need to think about a two-state solution. You need to think about how to change the relations between the communities. How to affect the power structure in place.

So why do people still say that the two-state solution is a necessary first step towards something better?

Again, it goes back to a rationalist Western way to look at reality. At the moment it seems that there is such a wide coalition for a two-state solution that you go for it. You do not evaluate its morality, its ethical dimension. It’s like this Jewish joke, about the person who loses his key and only looks for it where there is light. Not where he lost it. The two-state solution is the light, it’s not the key.

Ilan Pappe spoke to Frank Barat on 22 October for Le Mur a des Oreilles
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Confronting the seven myths of Israel’s history

Palestinian refugees in 1948

Palestinian refugees, 1948 gnukx under a Creative Commons Licence

Your film On The Side of the Road premiered in Tel Aviv on 28 November during the International Film Festival on Nakba and Return. Can you tell us about this festival, and the subject of your film?

The strongest element of Israeli DNA is knowing what questions you cannot ask. Once you start touching these questions about 1948, everything else starts to unravel

The film festival is the first in the world that focuses entirely on the return of the refugees that were expelled and fled in 1948, and the Nakba itself. Being held in Israel is revolutionary on its own. My film opened the festival. It’s a film that has never been done here in Israel before. It includes my story: someone that grew up in a settlement, deep inside of the colonial mentality and colonial project of Israel, who wakes up to the Palestinians and the Nakba. It profiles the soldiers who perpetrated the Nakba, who expelled and massacred the Palestinians. They talk about what they’ve done and return with me to the places that they have destroyed. The film focuses on the concept of return not from the perspective of the refugees, but from the view of the perpetrators. In that way, the film connects 1948 and 1967 to today, as one continuous project of dispossession.

Only two former Israeli soldiers testify in the film, even though you got in touch with many more. So how difficult is it to talk about the Nakba in Israel?

It’s incredibly difficult. As soon as you start talking about the conflict – whether it is with Israelis or Palestinians – you inevitably end up at 1948 within five minutes. It is not just something that happened, it’s an entire ideology, a mentality. The Israeli fear is based on the fact that what we did to the Palestinians in 1948 will be done to us. When I contacted other veterans, most of them did not want to talk about it in a critical light. They wanted to talk about it as this miraculous victory in a war where all odds were against us. Now that historians have started digging up the facts of the war, we’re starting to discover that what we believed about the State of Israel is pure mythology. When you talk to Israelis, if you start talking about the Nakba, it brings up this intense fear. In fact, veterans tend to be a lot more honest, because they did those things, but for their children or their grandchildren, for whom 1948 is just a concept, it brings this deeply embedded fear. The strongest element of Israeli DNA is knowing what questions you cannot ask. Once you start touching these questions about 1948, everything else starts to unravel. It’s an incredibly violent and terrifying process.

The film shows a scary side of Israeli society, racist and violent. Is it really that bad?

I am not sure how to answer this question. Israelis and Palestinians are incredibly politicized. Violence is a daily reality here and it’s mostly experienced by Palestinians and mostly perpetrated by the colonial project. The State, soldiers, the settlers and everyone else. The film itself shows violence against an idea. It profiles the Nakba as a very violent process of ethnic cleansing and destruction, where hundreds of villages were wiped off the map and refugees forbidden to return. It focuses specifically on the psychological violence against the idea of questioning. It starts and ends with Israeli Independence Day, one year apart. The whole film fits into what happened within one year, when the Israeli parliament tried to pass a law that forbids mourning what happened in 1948. It tried to silence history, silence people’s feelings about history, something that on its surface is an incredibly fascist move. The film starts and ends with this one day when we celebrate this big mythological bubble. On that day, when we are supposed to be celebrating our miraculous victory, our State, everything, activists from the organization Zochrot tried to question what this mythology is based on. The response from not only the State and the police but also from people is incredibly violent. They try to violently shut up these activists because you cannot talk about 1948 in Israel and certainly not on Independence Day. That’s why this festival is so important.

The film touches upon your own story. When did you, a girl raised in a Zionist family that moved to one of the biggest settlements in Palestine, Ariel, realize that what you thought was the truth was not?

I’m still realizing it. Unlearning and decolonizing your understanding is a lifelong process. The first time that I started to question things was at university in Canada. There was an Israel week organized by the Jewish student organization along with the Israeli affairs committee on my campus. These two Zionist groups organized what they thought was a celebration of Israel. For a whole week we had Israeli flags everywhere, displays showing that Israel is a democratic country, a queer-friendly country... I remember thinking that it was crazy for them to organize such an event on campus and say such things. I then realized none of them had ever lived in Israel.

What do you want to achieve with this film? Do you want to change people’s views? Have your parents seen the film? What did they make of it?

My parents refused to watch it, for different reasons. My whole family treats my journalism [for the Real News Network] as this thing that ‘Lia does and that we do not talk about’. My journalism and my filmmaking is something that we don’t talk about because every time they try to talk about it, it turns into me asking them uncomfortable questions and it is not a conversation you can have on a daily basis. We had a very deep conversation with my mum about the film and what is in the film and what is not. She believes it is a very dangerous film because it gives ammunition to the people who are resisting Israel.

Now that historians have started digging up the facts of the war, we’re starting to discover that what we believed about the State of Israel is pure mythology

As for the process of the film, it started as a very journalistic movie. It was going to profile the seven myths that we believe about the founding of the state of Israel through the stories of the historians and the journalists that have covered that history. I evolved, with the film, into someone who started to understand that you cannot fit this place into black and white, you cannot fit this place into any other kind of political conflict. The film evolved with me. I realized that the facts do not convince; the facts weren’t what changed my mind. It was the people that I met that changed my mind. Even when you bring every fact in the world into a conversation with Israelis they will bring you 400 other facts and you will never be actually talking about the essence of the thing. I wanted to touch on the essence of the thing and the only way to do that would be to talk to the persons, the individual people.

How did you manage to raise the funds to make such a film – a film that criticizes and demystifies 1948 and the creation of Israel?

Well, I have a sugar daddy! I’m joking! No, the entire film is funded by individuals. We did crowd-funding; there were two associate producers who donated quite big sums to the film and also regular people who care about this issue, who know me and the film, people who heard about me from my journalism work… The vast majority of the people who donated to the film are struggling themselves, financially. It is an enormous honour to see that people see the power in such a story that they are willing to put their wallets where their mouth is.

Lia spoke to Frank Barat for Le Mur a des Oreilles
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More details on On The Side of the Road: naretivproductions.com

Ken Loach: why I support a cultural boycott of Israel

Ken Loach

Speaking out: Ken Loach at a rally for low-paid workers in London. Bryce Edwards under a Creative Commons Licence

Could you tell us how you became aware of and then involved in the struggle for Palestinian rights?

It began some years ago when I was involved in putting on a play called ‘Perdition’. It was a play about Zionism in the Second World War and the deal that was done between some Zionists and the Nazis. It shed a whole new light on the creation of Israel and the politics of Zionism. I became aware then, and gradually in the following years, that the foundation of Israel was based on a crime against the Palestinians. Other crimes have followed since then. The oppression of the Palestinians, who have lost their land, whose daily lives are interrupted by the occupation, who live in a state of permanent depression that is continuing today, is something that we have to deal with.

Why Palestine? Why is Palestine symbolic?

There is oppression all around the world but what makes the Israel-Palestine conflict special is a number of things. First of all, Israel presents itself to the world as a democracy. A country just like every Western state. It presents itself in this way while it is in fact committing crimes against humanity. It has produced a State which is divided along racial lines, like apartheid South Africa. It is also supported militarily and financially by Europe and the US. So there is a massive hypocrisy going on; we are supporting a country that claims to be a democracy, we’re supporting it in every way, and yet, it is involved in these crimes against humanity.

There are various tools to try to change this, and one of them is the BDS (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) call. You were the first major personality to endorse and support the call for a cultural boycott of Israel. You opened the way for many others to join you. Some people say you should not boycott culture. What would you respond to that?

First of all you are a citizen, a human being. When you are confronted by such crimes you have to respond as a human being, regardless of if you are an artist, a VIP or whatever. First of all you have to respond and do what you can to bring this to people’s attention. A boycott is a tactic. It is effective against Israel because Israel presents itself as a cultural beacon. It is therefore very susceptible to cultural boycott. We should not have anything to do with projects that are supported by the State of Israel. Individuals are not concerned; we have to concentrate on the actions of the Israeli State. That is what we have to target. We target it because you cannot just stand by and watch people live their lives in refugee camps forever.

Israel uses art and films for a campaign called ‘Brand Israel’. Art is therefore political. As far as you are concerned, all your films are political. So, in your opinion, can art be a tool to fight oppression?

Yes. The basic point is this: whatever story you choose to tell or images you choose to show, what you select indicates what your concerns are. If you do something that is entirely escapist, in a world which is full of oppression, this indicates what your priorities are. So a major commercial film, to make a lot of money, shows something. It has political consequences and implies a political stance. Most art has a political context and political implications.

Have you heard about World War Z, a film with Brad Pitt where there is a virus killing people around the world, and the only place which is safe is Israel because of the wall that they have built?

It sounds like extreme rightwing story. You have to see the film before making a judgement but it really sounds, from your description, like far-right fantasy. It is interesting that Israel reveals itself by its friends. In the north of Ireland – which has a long history of being split between the loyalists and the republicans – the loyalists, on their walls, have the flag of Israel and the South African whites; the republicans have the flags of Palestine and the ANC. It is curious how these alliances reveal so much about what people really think.

Are you worried about the rise of the rightwing and the rise of far-right ideas all over Europe? It reminds me of the early 1930s.

The rise of the far-right always accompanies economic recession and depression and mass unemployment. People in power, that want to keep power, always have to find scapegoats because they do not want people to fight their real enemy, which is the capitalist class, the owners of big industries, those in control of politics. They need to find scapegoats. The poorest, immigrants, asylum seekers, gypsies will be to blame. The rightwing chooses the most vulnerable, the weakest to blame for the crisis in their economic system. In mass unemployment people are unhappy and have to find something to fight. The Jews were to blame in the 1930s, terrible things were done to them. Now it is immigrants, the unemployed...We have a horrible press in Britain which will blame those without work for their own unemployment while, of course, there are no jobs.

How can we respond to that when the same people control everything: press, capital, politics? How can we, the civil society, without access to the mainstream press, challenge and defeat this ideology?

Big question. In the end there is no home but politics. You have to make an analysis of the situation and organize resistance. How it is organized is always the big question. You have to defeat every attack on the ground and stand in solidarity with those most under attack. You also have to organize political parties. The problem is that we have parties that have a false analysis. We have the Stalinist parties of the Left that led people for years into a blind alley, we have the social democrats who want to make people believe that we have to work within the system, that we can reform it, we can make it work. Which of course is a fantasy, it will never work. The big question is what politics? People are struggling with this every day.

Your last film touches upon those points. About people that are marginalized because of their political views. I have read today that Jimmy’s Hall might be your last film and that you might want to focus on documentaries after that, which is great news for Palestine.

I don’t know about that. Jimmy’s Hall was quite a long shoot and it is very hard work. I am not sure I could make another like that. But there is still trouble to cause somewhere, so I have to work out the best way to cause a bit more trouble. Certainly, films should be made about Palestine. They need Palestinians to make them. The Palestinian struggle, at the end, is one that will be won. Things don’t stay the same forever. It will be won in the end. The big question is, what type of Palestine will emerge? It is not only a question of ending Israeli oppression – it is a perennial question – what state will emerge? Will it be in the interest of all the people? Or will it again be dominated by one wealthy class that will oppress the rest of the people whatever their background? What type of State will emerge is the bigger question.

This interview was conducted by Frank Barat for Le Mur a des Oreilles. Crossposted with permission.
Facebook: Le Mur a des Oreilles

Bordering on the criminal: how Israel treats unwelcome visitors

Palestinian solidarity activist Frank Barat has an uncomfortable brush with the authorities as he is deported from Tel Aviv.

welcome to Israel sign at Tel Aviv airport
Tel Aviv airport's welcome sign doesn't apply to everyone. Susan Hartline under a CC Licence
‘Write your email addresses, your mobile phone number, your house phone, the name of your father and the name of your grandfather on this piece of paper’ were the first words the Shabak officer said to me when I sat in front of him in his office.

As anyone involved in solidarity work with the Palestinian People will tell you, landing at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, and having to face questioning by the authorities, is never an exciting prospect. In the last couple of months, a few activists have been turned back. Due to my work with the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, I knew even before I arrived in front of the immigration desk that I was a likely target for hard questioning from the internal security service (Shabak).

I was coming to Palestine to visit old friends and also to take part in a conference on political prisoners organized in Ramallah as part of my role of co-ordinator for the Russell Tribunal. Due to the fact that Israel controls all the West Bank borders of Palestine (sea, air and land), one has to go through Israeli officials in order to reach the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (Only Gaza now, via the Rafah border with Egypt, is accessible without too much Israeli interference).

So I wrote those details on the piece of paper in front of me. Except that I put an alternative email address, being fully aware that what the officer wanted was information about other people involved in Palestine and abroad with solidarity work. Mapping networks has in recent years been vigorously pursued by Israel.

The line of questioning stuck, at first, to my travel plans. Six days in Tel Aviv without a travel guide was too much to bear for the man. He then quickly moved to my personal details and asked me to log on to my email account, which is apparently less illegal (in Israel anyway) than I thought (see here and here).

He started to get upset when my inbox opened and there was no message in it. He told me repeatedly, ‘I know you have another email address. Give it to me.’ ‘I only have this one’ was the answer I stuck with throughout the whole process. I was taken to various offices throughout the interrogation process, and spoke to a few people, who asked, again and again, the same questions. I had to wait for long periods between each interrogation. Palestine and political activity were only raised after about three hours of questioning. I was sort of relieved to hear the word because I knew deep down that the Shabak agent had known about my work on the Palestine issue from the firest minute. He even asked me, at one point: ‘What will Google tell me if I search for your name?’

The goal, however, was something else: to was to exhaust me into giving information about workmates, colleagues and various people I knew in Israel/Palestine. The exhaustion part worked. I was clearly on my knees at 4am, having had no sleep for 24 hours, and faced with several unfriendly people questioning me. But they never got what they really wanted. My email account, and its content. After four hours of questioning, the verdict came (there were five people in the room, including me, at this time): ‘You lied to me. So you won’t get in. You will now be deported back.’ (Still, right after telling me this, the officer tried one more time, telling me that he was my friend, here to help me, and that if I collaborated he might change his decision). I was at this point taken to a room where I was body-searched thoroughly (by a young man with an apologetic look on his face), and where my carry-on bag (the only piece of luggage I brought) was fully checked, in and out, approximately three times, including passing through X-rays.

At roughly 4.30am, I was put in a van, alone, and driven to my next destination; the deportation centre. (Why we stopped, for about 10 minutes, in between airplanes on the tarmac, is a question that remains unanswered). The official told me before he dropped me off that I would be deported in 23 hours. ‘You're lucky,’ said the man. ‘Some people have to wait for a week here.’

The next 23 hours were the longest in my life. With no means to know what the time was, it took forever. My cellmate, a 21-year-old Ukrainian man, who spoke no English at all and had come to Israel in search of a better future, and I, were allowed two 10-minute breaks outside, under surveillance, of course, and managed to catch a glimpse of the palm trees and the sunshine that we were, at this point, longing for. We were then joined by two older Ukrainians as well as a Chinese man.

What I did not know at the time was that a friend in Israel, at 9am on Tuesday morning, had contacted the office of Israeli lawyer Gabi Lasky to ask her to try to get more information regarding my whereabouts. (Did I enter? Was I being deported? Detained?). They did not want to say anything. It took many hours for Gabi to get confirmation that I was in the detention centre in the airport. (Gabi told me afterwards on the phone that the authorities are making life harder and harder for lawyers and that they are being more difficult every day.)

I was put back on a plane, escorted by an immigration official, my bag full of security tags, paraded in front of the other passengers, at 1am the next day. The fact that the main air hostess was from Arab background and smiled at me when the immigration official handed her my passport felt, I have to say, very good at the time.

While this was an extremely unpleasant experience, it is crucial to put things into a broader context. The pressure, fear and humiliation I often felt during this time, the scare tactics used by the Shabak (‘Tell me the truth or you’re going to jail, right now’), and the short time spent in jail, are nothing compared to what the Palestinians are going through every day. Right now, more than 4,500 Palestinian political prisoners are rotting in Israeli jails. A few of them have started ‘hunger strikes’ and are slowly dying, while the ‘international community’ (understood as the Western states, the EU and the UN) is doing nothing to come to their rescue. It is crucial to keep highlighting this. The inconvenience felt by a privileged international citizen should not overshadow the reason at the core of his activism: to acknowledge the right of the Palestinian People to resist their far more powerful occupier and to do so until the systematic and institutionalized apartheid system put in place by Israel ends; to expose the active role played by third parties (states, institutions and corporations) in supporting Israel’s occupation; and to highlight Israel’s impunity regarding countless resolutions passed by the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council that, so far, have never been followed by any concrete action.

It is our role as global actors involved in a global struggle for justice, freedom and dignity for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, political orientations, or countries of origin, to show solidarity with those people stripped of their rights. The breaking down of human civilization in sub-categories of human beings (privileges come depending on where you were born, while this act was simply an accident of nature), the slow crumbling of any ‘common decency’, solidarity and compassion shown by people towards others, can be reversed and is not ineluctable.

This can only happen if we all unite towards this goal.

Frank Barat is one of the co-ordinators of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

Angela Davis: making waves since 1961

What’s your earliest memory?

I grew up in the Jim Crow south [of the US] at a time when spectacular manifestations of racist violence were the major interruptions of our daily routines. When I was still quite young, my parents moved to a neighbourhood that was repeatedly attacked by the Ku Klux Klan. The earliest event I can remember was a bombing across the street from our new home. Black people were allowed to move in on the side of the street where we lived, but they were not allowed to purchase property or live on the other side of the street that divided the white zone from the black zone. On several occasions, committed white allies purchased homes in the forbidden zone as surrogates for black people who were determined to resist the racist zoning laws. One Saturday night when I was close to three years old, I was washing out my white shoelaces that I would need for Sunday School the next day. Suddenly the entire house shook violently. It would have felt like the end of the world, but there was no such conception in my young consciousness. I remember being more frightened than I had ever been, and ran screaming to my mother. To this day, whenever I hear loud, explosive noises, I am brought back to that moment.

As an older person, I find that a great proportion of the new knowledge I encounter comes from young people

Berthold Stadler / AP / Press Association Images

What does ageing mean to you?

As I grow older, I try my best to hold on to the courage, enthusiasm and willingness to venture into new territory that is most often characteristic of young people. But at the same time I try to draw appropriate lessons from the experiences I have accumulated. For example, I really do understand now the importance of physical, mental and spiritual self-care. As an older person, I find that a great proportion of the new knowledge I encounter comes from young people. Intergenerational contact is good for us all.

What are you politically passionate about?

I could name a number of political issues that are close to my heart – violence against women, the global prison-industrial complex, immigration rights, Palestine solidarity. I am passionate about all of these issues and many others. However, what concerns me most today are the connections between these issues. Especially in relation to Palestine. I am especially happy that increasing numbers of African Americans are speaking out against Israeli apartheid.

Who or what inspires you?

I have been active around Palestine for most of my life and thought I knew what I needed to know about the subject until my visit to the West Bank last year. I did not expect to be both shocked by the brazen character of Israeli state repression and immensely inspired by the people who refuse to give up, even after many decades of occupation. I was inspired by women activists, former prisoners, educators, and especially by the children, who have learned how to combine a sense of struggling for a better life with an ability to find joy in every day.

What’s your biggest fear?

My fear right now, as Barack Obama’s second term in office begins, is that we will forget that the real victory was not the election of an individual but rather an indication that people in this country really want a change. During Obama’s second term, we will have to accelerate our mass mobilizations and our movement-building so that what we considered by itself to be a historic victory will indeed have made a difference in the lives of people who continue to suffer as a result of policies that have led to poverty, mass imprisonment and war.

Where do you feel most at home?

I feel at home wherever there are people who have dedicated their lives to struggling for a world beyond capitalism, racism and heteropatriarchy.

The day after the UN vote on Palestine


Palestine is now a UN non member state. Photo: joi, under a CC License.

138 for, 9 against, 41 abstentions.

On 29 November 2012, 65 years after the United Nations’ partition plan that envisaged dividing Palestine into two countries, and more than 44 years after the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Palestine has become a ‘non-member state’ at the UN.

But what does this upgrade mean in symbolic and practical terms?

This is a resounding symbolic victory, no doubt about it. The Palestinian flag being laid down on the floor of the UN General Assembly, in front of the Israeli and US ambassadors, will put a smile on the faces of everyone that supports justice. The fact that Hamas congratulated Mahmoud Abbas, even if not too enthusiastically, opens potential new avenues for the unity of the Palestinian movement.

The fact that countries like France and Italy voted in favour is, in diplomatic terms, also a huge step forward. The fact that Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and Australia abstained, and did not vote against, is also progress and shows that Europe is less and less on the side of Israel, symbolically at least. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported yesterday that an Israeli ambassador said: ‘We’ve lost Europe’.

The final result, which was expected, isolates further the US, Israel and Canada, putting them more than ever on a completely different wavelength from the rest of the world.

This achievement, which keeps alive the tiny bit of hope Palestinians have in the international community, must not be underestimated. But we can not fool ourselves because in practical on-the-ground terms this vote hardly changes a thing.

What is important after such an historic moment is what’s happening the day after.

Let’s remember that this vote was only to upgrade Palestine to a ‘non-member state’ (the same status as the Vatican) and that, if it is not followed by actions from those who voted in favour, it will have been totally meaningless. The fact that France and other European Union countries, when it comes to concrete political steps, are active supporters of Israel should not be forgotten. France recently upgraded Israel’s status in the EU, with regard to trade agreements, and the association agreement between the EU and Israel – giving Israel virtual EU membership and access to most EU bodies – still holds. The call from civil society to cancel or at least suspend this agreement until Israel respects its duties on human rights has so far fallen on deaf ears.

When Israel launched ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’, in November 2012, the EU, via Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, only expressed regret at Israel’s actions while strongly condemning Hamas and the Palestinian people for exercising their right to resist a most powerful occupier. Ashton went so far as to tell Netanyahu that Israel had, like any other country, the right to self-defence (which, under international law is completely bogus, as Hamas is not a state anyway and Palestinians are under Israeli occupation) but that Israel should ‘respond’ in a proportionate manner. In non-diplomatic language, this meant ‘go and do whatever you want’.

Being a non-member state at the UN gives Palestine one huge opportunity, however. Palestine could apply for admission at the ICC (International Criminal Court) and therefore take to court the various individuals behind some of the most vicious and, most importantly, well-documented War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in history. For most Palestinians, this was the most important thing this statehood initiative could achieve. Symbolism is good, but actions and changes on the ground are what counts.

So why would the Palestinian Authority not do this?

Mahmoud Abbas has, throughout this whole process, repeated that negotiating with Israel was still a number one priority. He has also said that you could not negotiate with someone while taking them to court the same time, which suggests that the day Palestine will ask for admission at the ICC has not come yet. Abbas and his entourage are the same people that have helped bury the Goldstone report at the UN Human Rights Council and have also never done anything with the impressive 2004 International Court of Justice ruling on the Separation Wall.

Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are hardly popular in Palestine at the moment – for good reasons. People like Leila Shahid, who is the Palestinian delegate to the European Union, say that the PA has failed and that more than 20 years of negotiations have brought nothing but more misery for the Palestinians, If the PA does follow, once again, the path of sociocidal negotiations with Israel and its partner the US, it will once again be down to civil society both in Palestine and around the world, to take up the real struggle.

This struggle is today, more than ever, an anti-colonial one, based on justice, human rights for all, and the right to self-determination. It goes further than standing in solidarity with the Palestinians.

In Israel it’s business as usual, Obama or not


Obama meets Netanyahu in the Oval Office. Photo: Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Four more years!

After a presidential campaign that lasted two years, cost billions of dollars, interested very few people and was turned by the corporate media into a tight race (in terms of the popular vote), finally, we have a winner: Barack Hussein Obama II!

Obama should be proud. He defeated one of the worst-ever candidates (Republicans and Democrats combined) to postulate for the job of ‘puppet master of the world’. The campaign was degrading for the whole political class and incredibly divisive, full of slogans, one liners, bigotry, racism and sometimes total lunacy. A campaign empty of any content and actual programme for the future. The only thing Obama did well was to not use his favourite slogan again: ‘Yes we can!’. A very sensible decision as, after four years of ‘No I won’t!(change a thing)’, most US citizens would have felt a bit insulted.

In Israel (sometimes called the ‘51st State’) meanwhile, business continues as usual.

For all the talk about how much Netanyahu wanted Romney to win, the fact is that the re-election of Obama will not change the slightest things on the ground. Netanyahu, (Obama’s ‘sworn enemy’ if you watch too much TV), congratulated him and lauded his re-election. Because that is what professional politicians are taught to do: be a phoney at all times. Smile, shake hands, have a laugh with and even go on holidays with people you don’t care for in the slightest, people you don’t agree with on anything, people you actually despise.

Politicians are all made with the same ingredients, using the same recipe. The secret deal they all make with each other is sometimes, at least publicly, to act as if they do not agree on things. It is important to entertain the illusion, for the masses, that politicians are different and we have a choice. But really, we don’t. Politicians are like programmed robots craving for the same fuel. Obama and Netanyahu are not different.

So what did Netanyahu do before, during and after Obama’s re-election?

First, he merged his party, Likud, with Yisrael Beiteinu, the party of the Foreign Minister, Avidgor Lieberman, ahead of the next Israeli general election in January 2013. While Lieberman is only saying publicly what most Israeli politicians are keeping for more private conversations, it is still important to understand what this coalition means for the Palestinians.

Lieberman has called for the sacking of Mahmoud Abbas and the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority(PA) – Israel, as Abbas’s employer and the PA’s creator, could do this without notice; after all, we are going through a recession right now – which is bad enough when you consider that Obama and the rest of the Western world believes that Abbas is the right man to lead Palestine towards a new round of ‘peace negotiations’ with Israel.

Lieberman has also called for some Palestinian political prisoners to be drowned in the Dead Sea, for a population transfer of Israeli Arab citizens, for bombing all the PA institutions in Ramallah (which happened back when Ariel Sharon was in power) and for Hamas to be fought the way the US fought Japan during the Second World War (remember Hiroshima? Nagasaki?). The list is endless. If the Lieberman/Netanyahu coalition is victorious in January, the Palestinians’ situation will turn from really bad to incredibly worse.

But maybe the radical European Union (EU) will decide that such a racist, ultra-nationalist, Islamophobic government has to be dealt with and is not welcome. Who knows? They did this in the year 2000 when Jörg Haider’s ‘Freedom Party’ was about to join the Austrian government, and as the EU has never been about double standards, we have hope.

The next thing Netanyahu and his government did, actually on US election day, was to announce the construction of 1,285 new housing units, in occupied East Jerusalem and across the green line in the illegal mega-colony of Ariel. Ironically, Israel also announced that it might expand settlement activity as a sanction if the PA seeks a status upgrade to permanent observer-state at the UN General Assembly at the end of November. Israel does have such a great sense of humour.

But if ‘settlements are a threat to peace’, as Obama has often said, what type of a response is the newly re-elected president of the world going to give his Israeli nemesis? Is he going to stop sending annual $3 billion cheques to Israel? Is he going to call for sanctions against the rogue state? Or maybe, something he is really good at, a good old regime change? For freedom, peace and democracy.

No he won’t. Because Obama or not, business in Israel continues as usual.

Palestine: we need to be fearless


The activists at the Russell Tribunal felt empowered says Frank Barat. All photos: Nathanael Corre.

In my last blog for New Internationalist, before the 4th session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine had even started, I asked the question: ‘Can you gauge an event’s success even before it starts?

Today, a day after the New York session of the tribunal ended, trying to put my thoughts together with a brain that only wants to be left alone, is not an easy thing.

On Saturday morning, the session did start with a bang. The one and only Harry Belafonte turned up to an already full room, accompanied by his wife. For the pro-justice movement in Palestine, this is huge. Belafonte has been known as a humanitarian and civil-rights activist for decades; he also opposed the War on Iraq and openly took a stand against the government of George W Bush. Harry Belafonte was as much liked for his musical hits as his stand against injustice. But one thing was missing: Palestine.

The fact that, for the first time, even if he didn’t come on stage or speak, Belafonte was at an event explicitly calling for justice in Palestine, could be a milestone in terms of public opinion outreach. We do hope that he will follow up on this and help make sure the word Palestine becomes mainstream.

The three days of the Tribunal flew by, for everyone involved. Roger Waters, Angela Davis, Miguel Angel Estrella and Dennis Banks, the newcomers on this jury, repeated throughout the session how much they were learning and how empowered they were feeling. On one occasion Roger Waters told one of the organizers: ‘I am having a ball.’

This is key. What did he mean by this?

He obviously did not mean that he was enjoying hearing terrible stories about what is happening in Palestine. He was not happy to hear that the country where he has been living for 15 years, the US, is giving $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel every year. He was not enjoying the fact that both Raji Sourani, one of the foremost Palestinian human rights lawyers, and Leila Shahid, the Palestinian Liberation Organization ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, did not get their visas to join us in New York.

Roger Waters had a ball because he felt empowered. We all did. He had a ball because he knew he was in the right place, on the right side, at the right time. He had a ball because he was surrounded by people who, for three days, left all their differences aside to join hands in standing in solidarity with an oppressed people. He had a ball because he knew the people with him in Cooper Union’s Great Hall were the present but also the future.

The exhilaration of being an activist is contagious.

Waters and his comrades in the jury called, in their findings, for civil society to rise even higher, even stronger than it has been doing in the last few years. They also called for a reforming of the UN and an abolition of the veto for the five permanent members. How is it possible for an institution with a charter starting: ‘We, the people..’ to be so undemocratic?

In my opinion, we should start by reforming the way we think. What is happening in the world at the moment is radically wrong. The only possible answer to this is to become fearless and even more radical. It is high time, for us, the people, to rise up.

Our future depends on it.

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