Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

The Forest of Dean reflects on events in Gaza

In A.Graham on September 3, 2014 at 9:00 pm

July – August, 2014:  Whilst Israeli forces set about the destruction of the infrastructure of Gaza, demonstrations and peace vigils have been held across Britain and the world. 

Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza continued to mount – over two thousand, most of them hapless civilians, and too many of them innocent children – before an uneasy ceasefire was declared. 

Schools have been bombed (with what seemed like pinpoint accuracy), Gaza’s one power station was put out of action – and even over-crowded hospitals were not immune from attack. 

We’re talking here about an area somewhat smaller than the Forest of Dean, but with a cramped population of 1.8 million.

Where, and how, it will end we can’t, at this stage, say.  At present the ceasefire is holding, but whether there are more horrors ahead for the people of Gaza we don’t at this stage know. But such a densely populated strip of land can only take so much punishment. 

DSC00980Photos on this page are from a peace vigil held in Coleford on July 30th. It was attended by local peace campaigners, together with many who were simply shocked and dismayed at what is happening to the people of Gaza. For them, there is no escape. Steve Parry Hearn also came along to add his support.

It’s worth adding that Mark Harper, our current MP, refrained from comment, until spurred into a response by letters from constituents. In one such communication he stated that “it is vital that all security operations (ie, the Israeli response) are conducted with due care and proportionate use of force….” but adds that “Israel has a right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks… International humanitarian law requires both sides to distinguish between military and civilian targets and enable unhindered humanitarian access”

In this, Israel has blatantly ignored such “international humanitarian law”.  By the way, it should be noted that Mark Harper is a member of Friends of Israel.

DSC00990Vigil organizer Roger Drury lights a candle for peace with Forest of Dean Labour Party 2015 parliamentary candidate Steve Parry-Hearn.

Photos by John French.


RE-DRAWING THE MIDDLE EAST: And re-visiting the film “Lawrence of Arabia”

In John Wilmot on September 3, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Recently I’ve been re-watching the classic 1960s film, Lawrence of Arabia.

It was much acclaimed at the time, winning a clutch of awards. It was directed by David Lean but backed by American money through Sam Spiegel at Columbia studios – and the US influence does tend to show through.

Much of it follows the heroic (and sometimes manic) actions of T.E. Lawrence (played by Peter O’Toole) attempting to unite the Arab tribes against the Turks during the First World War. Thus much of the action takes place in the scorching heat of the desert as the various tribes quarrel, unite, and then go on to score stirring victories over a disintegrating Turkish army. They manage to gain control of  Damascus just ahead of the British forces led by General Allenby.

But here Lawrence’s dream of creating an independent Arab state falls apart, as the various tribes once again quarrel amongst themselves, divide the loot, and leave the city.


And we become aware of a sub plot to all this action. The major players had no intention of allowing the emergence of an independent Arab nation. Instead they had plans to divide the Middle East amongst themselves.

France was to be given what became Syria (further subdivided into Syria and Lebanon), whilst Britain would take control of Iraq.  And so, as they say, it came to pass.

The Middle East and much of North Africa was to be carved up between the European nations. France had much of Morocco plus of course Algeria, and now added Syria to its portfolio. Italy had already seized control of Libya in 1912 and it was to be administered as an Italian colony until 1943.  Meanwhile, Britain added Iraq and what was then known as Transjordan to its “sphere of influence” – that already included Egypt.


It was of course a case of the imperial powers sharing out the booty. And, to complicate matters even further, under the “Balfour declaration” we also promised a “home for the Jews” in “the land known as Palestine”.

The declaration was contained in a letter sent by James Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, to Lord Rothschild in November 1917.

True, the declaration stipulated that respect should be paid to “the existing inhabitants” of Palestine. And, at the time, it was not intended that it should become effectively a Jewish state. But what the letter succeeded in doing was to spread both hope and mistrust amongst Arabs and Jews alike.

Meanwhile, Britain was given the mandate to govern Palestine by the League of Nations (fore-runner of the UN) which it fulfilled until the late 1940s.

The territory was handed back to the United Nations, which decided on partition as a solution to an increasingly intractable problem. The rest, as they say, is history.


The Arab nationalism that T.E. Lawrence had bought into so avidly endured until perhaps the 1950s. The notion that a better world, for all Arabs, could be built has now fragmented and sadly has been replaced by a divisive, sectarian, religious fervour that is tearing parts of the Middle East apart..  That sense of Arab identity still exists on paper in the form of the Arab League, but in recent conflicts it has proved to be powerless.

And maybe we can trace much of the conflict back to divisions created by the European powers at the end of the Firs World War. It’s said that we can learn from history (if we’re prepared to do so) – but sadly we can never wind back the clock.


WTF? the counter comment column by Tyler Chinnick

In T. Chinnick on October 17, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Autumn 2013


It’s one of the easiest (and most nauseating) rituals on any political campaign: the kissing of the baby. Not so for Tony Abbott, the leader of Australia’s conservative Liberal party who missed the baby altogether and kissed the back of the mother’s head.

This unfortunate photo opportunity has not, unfortunately harmed the campaign. Abbott who looks like the cartoon version of Adam West from The Simpsons and whose rampant homophobia is surpassed only by his misogyny ended up winning the election. pity the nation!

In other election news from down under the One Nation Party’s candidate for Rankin, Queensland – Stephanie Banister bewildered everyone by claiming in a television interview that Islam was a country, Jews followed Jesus and praising a government program that wasn’t due to start for another three years. She stepped down claiming her words had been taken out of context. They hadn’t.


But the ramblings of an inconsequential weirdo on the political fringes pales into insignificance when you consider news coming out of the Prime Minister’s office. The Prime Minister of Israel that is, Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Ha’aretz the Israeli govt. is offering students scholarships if they post pro-Israeli messages on internet fora.

The scheme is reminiscent of China’s ‘50 Cent Party’ where individuals are paid 5p for every pro-China message they write. How becoming more like China will affect Israel’s image abroad is yet to be seen.


Oprah Winfrey accused a Swiss shop assistant of racism for refusing to show her a $35,000 handbag. According to Winfrey the shop assistant tried to show her a different, cheaper bag instead – something which the woman in question denies. The owner of the store maintains that it was all a misunderstanding.

But what is more offensive: the alleged racism or the fact that Oprah Winfrey is willing to spend on a handbag what some people could only hope to earn in a whole year? In completely unrelated news Winfrey’s new film The Butler opened a week after the alleged incident.


Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who heroically/treacherously leaked the largest number of classified documents in modern history has been sentenced to 35 years behind bars.

But before being transferred to Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas where he is due to serve his sentence the 25 year old released a press statement requesting that he be referred to as ‘she’ and be permitted to start hormone therapy as soon as possible.

The statement read “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female . . . I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun . . . I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible”. Good luck in prison, that’s all I can say.


The press continues to unearth examples of UKIP lunacy. The latest numb-nut is a man called Hugh Williams who self-published a book called “From Ur to Us, Everything you Need to Know about History”.

The stuff we need to know about history includes that the second world war was due to “Polish aggression”, that Hitler offered peace to Britain but was refused and that child abuse in the Catholic Church was “negligible”. He referred to the book as being “unencumbered by the shackles of political correctness” – unencumbered by the shackles of sanity would seem more accurate.

The Limits of Violence

In Guest Feature on October 21, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Through the example of Baader Meinhof, Richard Huffman from Seattle, USA questions violence as a serious means of social protest.

When I marched in the November 30, 1999 anti-WTO rally here in my hometown of Seattle, the brutal tactics and sporadic yet stunning violence by the Seattle Police felt eerily similar to a catastrophic Berlin protest a generation ago. On June 2, 1967 tens of thousands of young Germans, many of them students at Berlin’s Free University, lined up on Kaiser Wilhelm Strasse early in the evening to protest a visit by the Shah of Iran. By the end of that night, however, a young pacifist lay dead, shot by the police.

After the rally, thousands of angry, frustrated students converged at the Berlin offices of the leading student organisation – the Socialist German Student Union. Among those present was a young woman called Gudrun Ensslin who declared “This fascist state means to kill us all! We must organize resistance. Violence is the only way to answer violence. This is the Auschwitz Generation, and there’s no arguing with them!”

This article looks at Gudrun’s exclamation asking whether her experience offers us a warning as to the limits to violence just as there are limits to our consent.

While leader of the Socialist Student Union – “Red” Rudi Dutschke – was sympathetic to Ensslin’s goals he proposed “a long march through the institutions”. For her part, Ensslin went on to form the Red Army Faction – the “Baader-Meinhof Gang”.

During the next decade Ensslin, intent on bringing a form of Socialist Revolution to Germany, and the 50 or so young Germans who joined her and her boyfriend Andreas Baader, embarked on a campaign of bloody terror throughout West Germany. The R.A.F. blew up symbols of capitalism like department stores; killed American soldiers and high-ranking figures on the West German Supreme Court. They kidnapped wealthy and influential German industrialists, blew up the German embassy in Stockholm and high-jacked a Lufthansa jet.

Others meanwhile chose the path of Rudi Dutschke instead.

In time it was these activists who built a new progressive German environmental movement that went on to found the Green Party in 1979 and, twenty years later, sharing Government in coalition with the SPD.

The Baader-Meinhof gang’s adherence to violence made a considerable impact on German society. At first their actions held the support of a new post-war generation. Polls showed an extraordinary number of Germans supported their cause in one way or another: 20 percent of Germans under the age of 30 expressed “a certain sympathy” for the Baader-Meinhof Gang; one in ten young northern Germans indicated they would willingly shelter a member for the night.

But as the violence increased empathy decreased. Before their pursuits West Germany had no national police force as such and it was in response to their terror campaign, the BKA (which later became the German equivalent of the FBI) was created. Instead of progressing social justice their actions lead the German government to pass sweeping laws that restricted the rights of average citizens; instituted loyalty oaths for all civil servants, and random general searches of peoples’ homes was not uncommon. And yet this was exactly what the R.A.F. hoped would happen.

They anticipated German state repression and expected it to be applied with disproportionate violence. Their hope was the proletariat would be shocked from their complacency and would spontaneously rise up in revolution.

Instead the German population, angered and frightened by the violence, applauded their government’s repressive response. Seven million ‘Wanted’ posters were printed.

Within five days of their May 1972 week of terror, all the ring-leaders were in jail. Within five years they were all dead. After an airplane hijacking by Palestinian comrades failed to secure the release of the three imprisoned leaders of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe all committed suicide deep in the night of October 17, 1977.

Activists marched on Berlin in 1967 in anger. Out of that anger came Baader-Meinhof. Their rage sought to change German society but failed. Now their generations’ “long march through the institutions” has borne fruit: in 2003 when much of the West marched to Stop the War on Iraq, Germans marched in support of their Government and their decision not to participate in it.

©2010 Copyright the author. Sourced & edited by C. Spiby; this article first appeared as two articles and in a different form in Satya magazine, March 2004.

The promised land?

In R.Richardson, Reviews on August 10, 2010 at 3:06 pm

‘Journey to Nowhere’ by Eva Figes

Non-fiction/memoir. Review by Ruth Richardson

I had read several novels by Eva Figes, but her latest work seemed a departure from her usual writing, and sounded particularly interesting.

In fact, Journey to Nowhere was not what I expected. The framework is the story of a Jewish woman’s survival in war-torn Berlin and her post-war emigration to Palestine. The woman is Edith, formerly a maid in the household of Eva Figes’ family. The family were well-to-do Jews who managed to get out of Berlin in the nick of time in 1939. Edith was left behind, and it was ten years later when she came to London that Eva Figes caught up with her story.

The first section of the book details the life of the Unger family (Eva’s parents) as she remembered it. She was only six when the family escaped to London, so her memories of that time are inevitably fragmented. But she conveys a sense of happy family life with skiing holidays and weekends in the summer cottage – a life which changed quite quickly. Eva’s parents soon knew that, as a Jewish family, life for them in Berlin would no longer be viable, and were preoccupied with arrangements that would secure their future. Eva was often left in the care of Edith who came to be her friend.

Fortunately the Unger family had money. They paid a considerable sum to leave and their sponsor was a Rothschild.

In 1948 a letter arrived in London from Edith asking for her old job back. So she came, and little by little the young Eva learnt her story. Edith had survived the round-up of the Jews, the bombing of Berlin and the final battle when Russian troops reached the city. Edith’s account of her life in the war-torn city is told in a series of conversations with Eva. When Edith first had to wear her yellow star she was ashamed, but in fact ordinary Berliners often treated her with sympathy, offering her a seat on the tram and giving her small gifts. She was sheltered by a whole succession of people “sometimes just for a couple of nights, sometimes for several weeks.”

Once the war was over and mere survival was no longer an imperative, Edith took stock of her life. By chance she met an old acquaintance, Elsa, who had trained as a volunteer for Palestine. Now her job was to recruit survivors for what would soon become the new Jewish state of Israel. So with nothing to keep her in Berlin, Edith decided to go. She was sent to a kibbutz and from the outset was deeply unhappy. Eva was amazed. British newsreels were full of “happy camp survivors reaching the Promised Land”. But Edith found herself ostracised because she came from Germany. German Jews were not true Zionists and, even more damning, wanted to establish friendly relations with the Arabs. “Everyone hated everyone else,” said Edith.”

Eva Figes quotes Olivia Manning describing Palestine during the war as “an awful place… all in small communities each one trying to corner everything for themselves, jobs, food, flats, houses.” Edith felt despised and was told she had only herself to blame. She should have left Germany and answered the call of Zion years before.

The young Eva found it hard to come to terms with Edith’s account. But the final section of the book is an analysis of the setting up of the state of Israel, the mistakes made and the parts played by the big powers. Eva Figes is particularly fierce in her attack on US policies. A quota system had been in force for European Jewish immigrants, and even after the war with perhaps 250,000 in displaced persons camps, this was not relaxed.

Eva Figes describes in some detail the negotiations between Britain with its mandate to govern Palestine and the US who wanted to wash their hands of it. The UN was involved and, partly due to US intervention, a majority came out in favour of partition – in effect giving a mandate for the creation of the state of Israel. Ernest Bevin declared at the time, “I think the Arab feeling in this question has been under-estimated.”

Eva Figes’ final chapter pulls no punches in her condemnation of that decision. “It is difficult to think of any other political decision taken in the 20th Century that has had such long-term and catastrophic consequences,” she writes.

This book, part memoir, part polemic, deserves to be widely read. Although the personal experiences described date from sixty years ago, the insight into the present situation in the Middle East is illuminating, and should concern us all.

Price £14.99, from Granta.