DAY 253: Suffering

August 3rd, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Mine, yours, that of the world. (Have I told you about my knees, which seem to get worse every day? And my cataracts in both eyes?) There’s always plenty enough to go round, and what a bewildering variety! And all of us are always competing, promoting the particular brand of suffering which most concerns us. As I’ve been saying, as I keep saying, it’s lately been that of migrants facing drowning in the Mediterranean; but there are so many different categories of suffering, so many circles in today’s hell? Today’s good news Is that  the Court of Appeal has finally, at the end of an astonishingly long-drawn-out process,Unknown ruled that the Home Office’s actions during the idemolition of the Calais jungle were an incompetent shambles, in which the interests of the children, which should have been the first consideration, were consistently ignored by the Home Office. But why has it taken nearly two years to reveal this typically devious behaviour by the H.O.? Basically, because that’s how they operate, through obstruction and obfuscation

To quote our own Sonal Ghelani of the Islington Law Centre:: “It is extremely disturbing that these emails show the government was advised by the Home Office’s own lawyers to act unfairly and unlawfully, in order to avoid legal challenges by the children concerned.
This is in direct contravention of a fundamental tenet of fair decision-making, where reasons are often required precisely to allow the person against whom a decision is taken to know if they have a basis on which to challenge it.

“The Secretary of State should now launch an investigation into how all this came about, given that an unknown number of children have been denied the opportunity to know why their cases were rejected and whether these rejections could be challenged.”

Speaking on behalf of refugee charity Safe Passage, which works to reunite child refugees and their families in the UK, Beth Gardiner-Smith, Project Lead, said:

“Tragically, many of the children that were refused by the government with no good reason have since gone missing from French authorities’ care, and we have never little to no information on their whereabouts or wellbeing.
“Today’s judgment reveals not only the failure of the Home Office to comply with law but also its abysmal disregard for the safety and welfare of incredibly vulnerable children.

“By refusing these applications without providing reasons, the Home Office left potentially hundreds of unaccompanied children in Calais with no viable legal avenues to join their families. The Home Office knew the risk that these children might lose faith in the legal process and attempt to find their own way to their families. But it withheld the information anyway. And that’s the way the Home Office continues to act; and the culture within which it acts, with impunity; unless we challenge it.

‘ I heartily agree; but the Home Office, who has never prioritized the care of the weak nd the defenceless, is now in the context of the ‘hostile environment’ making their persecution a priority.  Both as.regards my body and over the whole of Europe, nay, the world. (I I am minded to say) rights count for nothing as children are starved and incaceration rules.

Remember that this decision has not ended the suffering of the Calais children, simply by declaring that they were wrongfully detained. Have they found secure homes in Britain? Not yet. The key point concerns  - I must repeat – the unknown number of children out there. Europe is being overtaken by a disaster of an unknown size. A report, already a year old, describes the growing disaster cross France. We must rely on charities like Safe Passage to keep us  focused on this central fact, as once friendly countries become increasingly hostile; or on SOS-Mediterranee whose daily updates I recommend to you.

Still, these children at least have (I must suppose) been given a home in Britain. But we have to note that a French Senate report from July 2017 found that 709 children removed during the clearances of the camps in Calais had subsequently gone missing from French care shelters. Just let that figure sink in – 709. How many children were there in the jungle at its peak? Could anyone kindly do an analysis?

[It's all enough to make you wish, like Thomas Campion, that the Lord would take your weather-beaten soul to rest. I did at least drag my weather-beaten feet about 100 yards along Oxford St. It. did my weather-beaten knees no bit of good.]

How many children were in the jungle at the time of the clearances? (all right, approximately)

How many children did the UK government record in its lists as acceptable for transfer to the UK? And how was this process conducted?

What happened to the rest of them?

While in other news of suffering, let’s not forget that over 150 Palestinians have been shot since April in the course of the “Great March of Return”. I’m quoting an article – which is interesting and though-provoking even where you don’t agree – from ‘al-Shabaka’ by Haidar Eid on the shift which the march 2526represents, in his opinion,, not least in representing the unity of the whole people.

‘Given the failure of the dominant political class after 70 years of displacement and dispossession since the Nakba, 11 years of blockade that international human rights organizations have described as a crime against humanity, and three Israeli wars that have killed more than 4,000 men, women, and children, the Palestinians of Gaza have decided to peacefully mobilize to enforce international resolutions, beginning with UN Resolution 194 regarding the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands.

Indeed, as Gaza-based civil society and political activists have concluded, the only dependable power is that of the people, especially after the Palestinian leadership turned its back on the Gaza Strip and began to impose punitive measures against it in April 2017. The struggle against apartheid in South Africa has inspired Palestinian activists since the late 1980s and the popular mobilization of the First Intifada. Palestinian activists also draw on a history of popular resistance in Palestine, including the 1936 strike and later uprisings in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel.

The Friends have their occasional meetings for sufferings. Never having been at one of these occasions I’m naturally inquisitive at what goes on (particularly as the Friends aren’t given to talking much anyway). Do you get up and describe your recent sufferings – imprisonment, as it might be, or backache? And then, after a long pause, another Friend says ‘It’s funny that thou shouldst say that, I’ve been having the same problems but I find Arnica very useful.’ (Not with imprisonment.) I’d welcome enlightenment.

Poetry

Israeli poet Dareen Tatour has been courting suffering by writing a poem (‘Resist, my people, resist them’) which has landed her a five months jail sentence. This is stiff for a poet, whose poems are mld in comparison with those of, say, Shellley. One can only applaud a writer who would be prepared to risk so much, rather than collecting the rewards (such as they are) of the published poet.

Music

For various reasons (I’m reminded of ‘Dido’s problem’, the isoperimetric inequality, recent studies e.g. by the erudite Marina Warner on Dido as a migrant, from Tyre to Carthage and so on), I’ve lately had Carthage, the lost and destroyed city, on my mind. So here is a pleasingly camp song from some of the local witches.

 

DAY 252: The summary

July 14th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

This is the promised Part 2 (or whatever) of my accounts of life, death, and the actions of governments in the Mediterranean over the last month or so. It’s very much abbreviated, and I urge you to keep following the news as it unfolds; the pages and tweets of SOS-Mediterranee and MSF are a good place to start. We have on one side the rulers, the makers of camps and barbed wire, the culture of detention, sending back, and separating families; on the other side the culture of hospitality and welcome. It’s looking like an increasingly long haul; but I urge you to believe with me that the future of Europe,whatever it is, lies with the culture of the rainbow.

First, a report from Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch.  They (HRW) recently issued an effective statement against leaving people to drown: but she expresses a personal view forcefully. Note the figures: 200 drowned in three days, 1,000 this year.

Migrants are seen onboard the charity ship Lifeline at Boiler Wharf in Senglea, in Valletta's Grand Harbour, Malta June 27, 2018.
Migrants are seen onboard the charity ship Lifeline at Boiler Wharf in Senglea, in Valletta’s Grand Harbour, Malta June 27, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

As an American living in Italy, I feel almost choked by despair. The country of my parents ripped young children from their parents and put them in cages. The country of my children is condemning people to drown in the Mediterranean.

Over 200 people have drowned or gone missing off the Libyan coast in the last three days, including young babies, bringing the death toll so far this year to over 1,000.

The new Italian government closed its ports to rescue boats in June. After years of laudable efforts to save lives in the Central Mediterranean, the Italian state-run Maritime Rescue Coordination Center is denying any further responsibility, insisting Libyan coast guard forces are in charge or that the countries where rescue ships are registered should take responsibility.

Migrants and refugees are already exploited by unscrupulous smugglers who pack them into unseaworthy vessels. Confusion, uncertainty, and delays by the European Union contribute to loss of life at sea.

In a devastating chain reaction, Malta – which is host to many asylum seekers, but studiously avoids responsibility for rescues and disembarkation – is aping Italy’s hardline approach. After 200 people floated adrift at sea on the Mission Lifeline rescue boat for five days, Malta finally allowed survivors to disembark– only to place the captain under investigation.

Malta has since also refused the rescue group Proactiva’s request to refuel, and is blocking another rescue organization, Sea-Watch, from leaving port.

At a migration summit last week, EU leaders agreed on little except to further empower Libyan coast guard forces to intercept boats in international waters and tell NGO rescue boats not to intervene. Never mind that everyone taken back to Libya is locked up in horrific prisons where they face filthy conditions and risk torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and extortion.

I want my three sons to be proud of their two countries. I tell them about the outrage across America over the caging of children that forced the Trump administration to change its policy. I talk about the compassionate European volunteers trying to save lives at sea.

I hope to tell them soon that European leaders have pledged to support European rescue operations at sea and share responsibility for disembarking rescued people on European soil, and then to sort out humanely – on dry land – who needs protection and who may be safely returned home.

Next, the International Federation of the Red Cross has denounced the ”criminalisation of compassion’; or what in France is called the ‘crime of solidarity’: offering hospitality to strangers, or rescuing them:

And third, as I’ve again mentioned elsewhere, the pope has jumped on the bandwagon, using the terms ‘sterile hypocrisy’ to attack the European governments; and invoking the Good Samaritan who notoriously rescued a bloke who probably had no papers, and even paid for his hotel bill. What more should I say? As Paul says (Romans 8.31 I think) What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? [Well, we know who,...]

In the meanwhile. we need to remember the men,women and children who keep on drowning… I was going to give you a rendering of Shakspeares ‘Full Fathom Fove’; but I prefer Bessie Smith’s Back Water Blues; even if no one drowns for sure, Bessie makes it clear that the ones who are getting a hard time are the poor.

DAY 251: Live for ever?

July 11th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

The other day, at one of those Catholic revival meetings in South Sudan which she’s addicted to attending, my sister was asked if she wanted to live for ever. (So were the rest of the congregation; understandably they preferred the option of cutting short their stay in this vale of tears ASAP.) Me, while i can see  some attractive points in life on earth as opposed to life as a ghost, or as a zombie, or any of the other available alternatives – say watching the arrival of the spring, or listening to Lebanese pop music – things on this particular planet do seem to be going a bit out of control to the point where I can’t see much point in hanging around to wait for History to get its act together and let the toiling masses finally grab the cup of plenty which is due to them and declarerevolution ‘It’s coming home!’ I’ve been waiting for sixty-six years, and things have been getting steadily worse – I know about gay marriage and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and that, but having seen the invasion of Iraq, the war in Syria, the rise of Daesh, and now the election of a racist misogynist President who then goes on to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – I’m about ready to hand on the torch to my friends in their 20s and 30s to whom I can only wish good luck. I suppose that, like Hamlet, I might be put off by the prospect of visiting that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns, but frankly I don’t see that it would be much worse. Hand me a bare bodkin, I’ll make my quietus.

These thoughts have been sharpened, and my few remaining friends have been noticing my obsession, by the completely unacceptable actions of the European Union. Never a reliable agent of progress at the best of times, whatever you may say about the role of Defrenne v. Sabena in advancing equal rights, or about the Social Chapter which the Tories opted out of and Labour opted into, or… it has most recently been rushed into a decision which effectively endorses the position of the fascist Italian government on humanitarian rescue at sea.

As MSF has said:

 London/Amsterdam: European governments must come to their senses and end policies which trap extremely vulnerable people in Libya or leave them to die at sea, said the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) following the conclusions of yesterday’s talks at the EU summit.
Last week was the deadliest so far this year on the Mediterranean, as at least 220 people drowned. These were avoidable tragedies. European Governments have blocked non-governmental search and rescue operations, while turning over responsibility for rescues to the Libyan coastguard.European governments are financing, training and equipping the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats in distress and return them to Libya, where they are held in inhumane conditions. In an unprecedented development some 2,000 people were returned to Libya over the course of last weekend. Upon arrival they were sent to arbitrary detention, with no due legal process.

The same European governments that were just a few months ago strongly condemning reports of slave markets in Libya, seem today to have no hesitation in escalating policies that will increase the suffering of people trapped there. People whose only ‘crime’ is that they flee conflict, violence or poverty.

“EU member states are abdicating their responsibilities to save lives and deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea” said Karline Kleijer, MSF head of emergencies “They do this fully aware of the extreme violence and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer in Libya.”

“MSF urges European governments to show some basic decency and remember that we are talking about human lives and human suffering. They can start by committing to search and rescue and facilitate swift disembarkation in places of safety, this does not mean Libya”.

People trapped in Libyan detention centres are largely without any assistance, as access for international humanitarian organisations including MSF and the UN is severely limited. This affects the ability to monitor and provide protection, however over the last month MSF has conducted over 3,300 medical consultations in four detention centres. Medical teams found that the main health issues are linked to poor living conditions, including overcrowding, and lack of sufficient water or sanitation.

Meanwhile despite the overwhelming need for search and rescue, an orchestrated campaign against non-governmental search and rescue operations is reaching breaking point. Independent search and rescue missions are increasingly obstructed from carrying out rescues in international waters and are denied access to local ports. This weekend the Aquarius was one of the only three dedicated search and rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean.

“Saving lives at sea is not a crime” continued Kleijer. “Yet, the message from European governments is loud and clear: humanitarian assistance is not welcome. Scapegoating NGOs is a tactic to distract from the real issues: lack of solidarity or vision in the EU, and a broken asylum system. These actions block and obstruct us from doing the work EU governments are failing to do, all the while de-humanising people in need. Any deaths caused by this are now at their hands.”

DAY 250 – Relativity

July 4th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

But what are  my pain, woes and griefs (I exclaimed) compared with those of countless others, smuggled, trafficked, beaten by the police of this or that increasingly Fascist country? Who will burn their children alive, or shoot their paramedics, simply because they belong to an inferior race? Or confine them in concentration camps, as seems to be the current plan in Hungary? A friend commented as Italy turned away a boatful of refugees that it made him ashamed to be European. I’d never thought of the reasons to be proud of being European (we have Socrates, Galileo, Michelangelo, Beethoven, and all that,  - or even Newton – but it doesn’t have anything to do with treatment of refugees who were very likely being tortured at the same time as the Sistine Chapel was being painted).

No, comrades, we have to be proud, if anything, of being human, an amazing thing when you think of some of the amazing human beings you know – I could go back to David Bowie, or Martin Luther King, or my friends X, Y and Z who are even now fighting fearlessly on behalf of the dispossessed. Think of them, and try not to despair, if you . Look at the lady next to you on the 41 bus; trying to maintain a tolerable relationship with her three-year old son. A driwnedhuman being, if ever I saw one, even if she isn’t an asylum-seeker or an asylum law barrister. Any cook, as Lenin said, should be able to run the country (How did I stray into quotes from Lenin? And what a lot of terrific ones there are! They’re enough to put you in good heart even when you’re at your most despairing.) Look at Dido, who made the dreadful mistake of falling for a man who lured her with his tall tales, and then had no choice but – to be laid in earth…

On Jone 29th MSF (who aren’t given to being sensationalist) summed the situation up as follows:—

London/Amsterdam: “European governments must come to their senses and end policies which trap extremely vulnerable people in Libya or leave them to die at sea, said the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) following the conclusions of yesterday’s talks at the EU summit.

Last week was the deadliest so far this year on the Mediterranean, as at least 220 people drowned. These were avoidable tragedies. European Governments have blocked non-governmental search and rescue operations, while turning over responsibility for rescues to the Libyan coastguard. European governments are financing, training and equipping the Libyan coastguard

libya

 

`The same European governments that were just a few months ago strongly condemning reports of slave markets in Libya, seem today to have no hesitation in escalating policies that will increase the suffering of people trapped there. People whose only ‘crime’ is that they flee conflict, violence or poverty.

“EU member states are abdicating their responsibilities to save lives and deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea” said Karline Kleijer, MSF head of emergencies “They do this fully aware of the extreme violence and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer in Libya.”

“MSF urges European governments to show some basic decency and remember that we are talking about human lives and human suffering. They can start by committing to search and rescue and facilitate swift disembarkation in places of safety, this does not mean Libya”.

People trapped in Libyan detention centres are largely without any assistance, as access for international humanitarian organisations including MSF and the UN is severely limited. This affects the ability to monitor and provide protection, however over the last month MSF has conducted over 3,300 medical consultations in four detention centres. Medical teams found that the main health issues are linked to poor living conditions, including overcrowding, and lack of sufficient water or sanitation.

Meanwhile despite the overwhelming need for search and rescue, an orchestrated campaign against non-governmental search and rescue operations is reaching breaking point. Independent search and rescue missions are increasingly obstructed from carrying out rescues in international waters and are denied access to local ports. This weekend the Aquarius was one of the only three dedicated search and rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean.

“Saving lives at sea is not a crime” continued Kleijer. “Yet, the message from European governments is loud and clear: humanitarian assistance is not welcome. Scapegoating NGOs is a tactic to distract from the real issues: lack of solidarity or vision in the EU, and a broken asylum system. These actions block and obstruct us from doing the work EU governments are failing to do, all the while de-humanising people in need. Any deaths caused by this are now at their hands.”

The heads of governments in Europe seem to be finally falling into two categories: the harshly repressive and the openly racist. There is opposition, but it only comes from grassroots activists, and from organisations like MSF who are committed by their very existence (the Hippocratic oath?) to saving lives. No such oath binds politicians, who willingly consign any number of unknown souls to death by water, or confinement and torture.

 

DAY 249: Memories – Harping on a Knee

June 20th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

My sister, with het usual perspicacity, has suggested that I should keep a blog of my recent life, which has indeed been more than usually mouvementé. My knee – I hate to keep harping on it, and indeed to harp on a knee seems a fine metaphor for a time-wasting occupation – has been giving me much grief despite injections which the NHS, or one particular untrustworthy doctor, swore blind would have me leaping around and throwing away my crutches in seconds, has been grumbling away with increasing intensity; while in an attempt to sort out my parlous financial situation I’ve put myself in the hands of a lawyer (£10 for a phone call) and am trying to produce the usual statement of incomings and outgoings.This work(the statement, are you still with me? Thanks) is a fascinating mélange of fact and fantasy, the facts being the huge amounts spent on school fees and credit card repayments and the fantasies being things like £22 for school trips and video rentals. Do people read this garbage, and what do they do with it? I’ve nearly completed the statement, am waiting for the knee to get its act together, and for the lawyer who in my mind plays Germany to my Greece, the ant to my grasshopper, to wave a magic wand over my debts. And I’m trying to find an analogy between (on the one hand) the difficulties of an old man in Islington, beset with a sea of sorrows and lacking the courage to end them; and the state of Europe, or indeed the world, fenced in, detained,

Campsfield

Campsfield detention centre

ruled by authoritarian maniacs armed with every weapon from video cameras to drones to tear gas and ready to shoot teenagers on sight either if they are the wrong religion or simply (if in an American high school) out of a blind destructive urge. The analogy predictably doesn’t work. Only the pervasive despair does.

 Stories and politics

As usual, I’ve jumped into a debate without realising that it’s been going on for decades, and I probably need a decade of my own (which I don’t have) to catch up with the literature. About a week ago, my eye was caught by some stuff about possible new directions for Palestinian leadership on Al Shabaka; and (I think) in the same estimable publication, something about folk stories, or was it poetry? Which prompted the following brief interjection on Facebook:

‘Hysterics suffer from reminiscences [Freud]
History is a nightmare which I am trying to forget [Joyce]
I’ve been reading recent articles in ‘Al-Shabaka’: on reinventing Palestinian political institutions – yet again! – and on oral history. Somehow in my confused mind these come together, so that people earn a place in the political institutions according to their memories; as streets in Nablus’ Balata camp are named after lost towns or villages. This relates (partly) to the Home Office practice of giving you rights according to how we believe your ‘story’.
I feel that telling stories is currently a more hopeful practice than building institutions. Do the stories have to be credible?’

Apart from misquoting Joyce (‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’, but I think my version has some merits), I find – I surely knew – that the relation between Palestinian political institutions and memories has been endlessly debated over the last seventy, if not a hundred years. I could cite Laleh Khalili’s Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration, although that’s itself far from being the beginning. Palestine, that nation of refugees, has a vast library of refugee stories – literally. And to turn from the discouraging search for a better ‘leadership’ to the search for better stories, of which there are many, could be a much more creative use of the time we have left to us. I do try, in my feeble way, to help refugees have their stories believed; but surely the first step is that the stories should be heard.

 

 

DAY 248: Risotto

June 4th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

To move to a grander scale in the grand scheme of things, setting aside mass carnage in places too numerous to mention, human rights abuses ditto, the shooting of a clearly marked paramedic on the Gaza border by the Israeli occupation force, drownings including of children in the Mediterranean. East and West, it was only to be expected (as I have finally come to conclude) that the fragile fabric of the universe which there were a number of reasons to conclude was not as secure as we had thought  was indeed crumbling (has anyone written down the Grand Theory of Everything? Does the Higgs really do what it say on the packet?). Things, which I had thought persisted in space and time, were unpredictably vanishing. I could cite about three cases from today, but let’s restrict our attention to a packet of arborio rice which – naturally – I wanted in order to make a risotto. I’d cut up an onion and various herbs and started  some oil melting and stuff and – hey! Where was the rice?

A week ago, there was a nearly full pack (okay, only a pound,

0000000459068_L

but no one around here would have eaten it) in the rice-cupboard. Now there was nothing. Nor in any other cupboard neither. Could that amount of rice have dematerialised? Could it have been taken by bailiffs to settle some rather picayune debt of which I was unaware? I naturally – given my currently rather fragile nature, which in the asylum-seeking trade we term ‘vulnerable’, rapidly became reduced to a weeping gibbering wreck.

Like the rest of us I’ve passed through a fairly disciplined school system (it’s evolved over the years) which filters the youngsters so that they come out getting to ‘know’ things about the ‘world’ (note the scare-quotes). So that we’re deemed to know about French, or chemistry, or Marxism, if we know that the past subjunctive of ‘nous voyons’ is ‘nous vissions’, or that cadmium has two valency electrons, being a transition element in group 12 (I hope) of the periodic table, or that the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas. And not only would these ‘facts’ get you through your GCSEs, but they were ‘true’ and told you something about the ‘world’, which was safe and stable and wouldn’t go away. In particular, a packet of rice, if you put it in the cupboard, would stay in the cupboard unless there was some compelling reason for its disappearance.

[I should mention that this was the third in a series of such disappearances (or apparent disappearances) in twelve hours, and I was getting twitchy.] I wonder if Bishop Berkeley

berkeley1

had similar problems which unused him to doubt the reality of the material world. I know he didn’t exactly do that, but let’s suppose he did.

Of course eventually the rice turned up, next to the Shredded Wheat. I know rice is a cereal, but how could anyone have been so misguided as to put it there? I hesitated to turn inquisitor; I prefer to stick to my belief that the structure of reality is, in some essential way, fractured, and that causality had decided to take a holiday and play games with the rice. Jesus did it with
loaves and fishes,

feeding-five-thousand-lambert-lombard

it’s not too much to suppose that other kinds of food can mutate.

As I said, I found the rice and made the risotto. I can move on (or back) to the struggle and hope the universe will stay put for the time being.

 

 

 

DAY 247: Apology

May 31st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Not for the first time I find that I’ve fallen behind, or been devancé, by my confrères in the blog racket by having failed to post anything, not a single word, syllable or even character, as Easter moved on into Ramadan (can that be right?) and the Israeli state raised the art of massacring unarmed residents of Gaza to a new level. I could raise feeble excuses based on my state of health (my knees are currently atrocious, but I don’t after all type with them) or poverty (and I’m daily confronted by examples of better and more productive writers who are starving): my best excuse was given to me two years ago by someone I particularly admire: ‘Don’t write unless you have something to say.’ So I haven’t. To post the conclusion first, and save you the trouble of reading the arguments such as they are: what is going on is repression on a massive, even murderous scale. But it isn’t genocide such as affected the First Nations in America and Australia, and the victims, many of whom are surviving and living among us, will remain and become part of our culture. That’s a small starting point.

Accordingly, I have been thinking, in the face of the increasingly dire political situation (yes, that again) that something new seems to be happening, both locally and globally. I could mention a piece which claimed that the President of the United States was no longer that important. (Assuming that there was a period, say between 1860 and 1970, I stand open to correction, when he was,) It seemed a good point, and well and crisply made. We have to keep continuously focused on the small, the human, the thongs which escape being ‘news’. Many aspects of the world scene are simply atrocious, but relatively minor aspects of the so-called Grand Scheme of Things. I have to tell stories which point out the essential point: that the human beings, however much you dislike them, torment them or torture them, aren’t going away. Why not give up, make friends, and come to terms with them? You’d feel better about yourself; and if you loo; closely at your arguments against (economic, or whatever), you’ll find they don’t hold.

One article on the continuing story of the Great Return March I have managed to retrieve. I think I’ll copy it since it summarises something I’m increasingly understanding about the Palestinian movement, or people. It’s not about winning or losing, the people are, and will remain, simply there. It’s an interview from the Israeli +972 magazine – which I suggest you subscribe to rather than reading my thoughts such as they are – with Hasan al-Kurd, one of the group of independents who organised the Gaza ‘Great Return March’. This makes clear that the march was an expression of an independent political demand within Gaza, and certainly not promoted or sponsored by Hamas

Did you to travel to Israel in the past?

“In the past I was part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (a left-wing Palestinian party that supports armed resistance — r.y.). So of course I was never allowed in. I have never met an Israeli in my life.”

Al-Kurd’s belief, as well as that of the other organizers of the Great Return March (“We are a group of 20 people, including four women, and we have members of all the political factions”) in nonviolent resistance has influenced a large segment of the public in Gaza, including leaders of local factions.

How is the leadership feeling a week after the attempt to cross the fence? After last week’s bloodshed I saw that Ahmad Abu-Ratima, who also helped organize the march, wrote on Facebook that the protests won’t cease, and that the attempts to breach the border will continue until the siege is lifted.

“Many of us are still in shock. We did not expect such a large number of people killed and wounded. But you know what? Even though we have more people wounded than during the 2014 massacre, I hear that many of them want to get recover and return to the border to try and cross over again.”

Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Gaza City on May 11, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Why?

“Because they have nothing to do. They do not feel that they have any other reason to live. One of the positive results of our protest, despite all the pain that followed the massive loss in life, is that it gives our young people a purpose and a goal in life. This is why we feel we have started something new that is not going to stop. We will try to cross the border again on June 5th (on Naksa Day, when Palestinians mark the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 – r.y.).”

What conclusions did you draw? Not everything went as planned.

“You’re right,” he sighs, the pain still audible in his voice. “We made a lot of mistakes. We did not control the protest as we had hoped. The involvement of the other factions in Gaza and the coordination among all of them made things extremely complicated. It began when we discovered how difficult it is to control the individual actions of young, desperate people. As much as we pleaded with them not to get close to the soldiers or use violence, so as to not give the soldiers a pretext for shooting them, some of the young people did not listen and threw stones. After all, we know that the Israeli soldier, who does not think twice before shooting women and children, is waiting for the tiniest excuse to kill. We could not keep people at the distance we wanted from the border.

Unity in resistance

The conclusion (which is obvious, and if I can find a good piece which argues it I’ll paste it in) is that paradoxically a policy which was meant to destroy Palestinian nationality has created it.

[Parenthesis: Was 'Palestine' as a nation actually created by the Balfour Declaration? I'd defer to others, but an important component of national consciousness seems to be the singling out of this segment of the Levant for special treatment by the Brits, and the feeling of the inhabitants that they 'belonged' together on account of a particular oppression? Discuss.]

These are the obvious but unintended consequences of repression directed against an entire population. Similarly (to turn to my second theme), with all attempts – and they’re getting more extreme all the time – to ‘stem the tide’ of refugees/migrants/whatever coming to Europe. You can kill them, jail them, drown them; they’ll keep coming. The humane solution is also the sensible one, and it costs so much less. Who would have imagined five years ago that the whole of northern France (nearly) would be so quickly transformed into, essentially, a police state? Who has the courage to call a halt to the process?

I’m reminded of what Izzy reported from Chios a year ago – and it’s hard to believe things have got better:

‘Tonight there are over 50 people sleeping outside the two camps on Chios. They arrived in the previous days and were all told there was no space. As we have seen several times before they were forced to walk between the two; carrying their children and their bags and an overarching cloud of hopelessness as they were repeatedly told to go back to the other.

Many have received threats of police removing them physically, others are sick, many haven’t eaten properly for days – all are tired and nervous of what comes next.

The situation here is unbearable, it’s of a horrific and catastrophic state I’ve not yet experienced on Chios.

Not even when fascists tried to burn children alive in their tents.

Or when an entire camp was emptied and given nowhere to sleep.

Now we are reaching a time where arrivals to the islands are straining them to a level that they simply cannot accommodate. Official figures for Chios estimate nearly 4000 people on the island which is almost three times over the official capacity. Meanwhile, the EU is pulling funding and the meagre presence of NGOs will be totally gone by the end of July.

But it’s not even this that is bringing the people here to the brink of collapse; it is the dark cloud of knowledge that something big is coming. For a year deportations have been discussed, fences have been constructed, legal systems that were put in place to ensure human rights have been sabotaged and detention centres built.

Now many people face huge uncertainty regarding the outcome of their asylum applications. Lawyers contact is minimal in many cases and a system designed to fail is leading to more and more arrests and deportations.

There is space on mainland camps but the islands continue to be used as giant holding cells. A macabre limbo where people wait often close to a year to know if they will either be sent back to Turkey or to a new camp to have their application for asylum in Greece simply considered.

One in three people here have witnessed a suicide in the camp, many have scars all over their own wrists and the mental torture deliberately inflicted through deplorable conditions in the camp and a seemingly neverending asylum process is taking its toll.

In a month there will be no going back.

Many of us on the ground here are failing at putting the daily suffering in front of our eyes into words. It is not from lack of will or fear but from exasperation, from the inability to describe the total despair that surrounds us. For years people have spent time gathering families, belongings and packing their bags – fleeing all that they knew and now they have been imprisoned on the shores of Europe.

To call this a prison is no understatement and by no means embellishment.

Those involved in this crisis have spent months putting photos into the public domain, stories and videos.

Dead children in the sand, smiling families finding solace in the sadness or capsizing boats has failed to create sustained action.

A post from Lesvos in the early days of this crisis was titled:

”The children’s feet are rotting – you have one month or they will all be dead.”

Nearly two years later I assure you, you have one month or many of these people will be deported to unsafe countries; locked in cells with no trial or will have been driven to trauma, despair and mental collapse the average human cannot imagine.

Many people have asked me why we aren’t talking, why we aren’t posting – in all honesty we don’t know what to tell you anymore.

Please just fight, hard and fast. The beginning of the end of this chapter of Europe’s refugee ‘crisis’ is approaching, the arrivals won’t stop and neither will the wars or natural disasters but any ounce of fairness or humanity that was left is about to be utterly extinguished.

If you don’t act the next photos you will see will be of children behind bars; of young people being forced onto boats to Turkey on masse, of more suicides and of faces who still hold traces of shock at what they found here in the pursuit of safety but are utterly resigned to the fact humanity has totally failed.’

 

 

 

 

DAY 245: Lamentations

May 7th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

My mind has been running, as minds do run, when it hasn’t been obsessed with royal

wenger

babies or hostile environments or the impending departure of the King of the Emirates- for where ? on the strange work known as the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, which every day as more populous cities are abandoned and sit lonesome like widows, seems more relevant. Aside from the fact (which only a crossword maniac would pay attention to) that
three of its chapters are acrostics with 22 verses corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, it does ask the question of where is God when our beautiful cities have been destroyed in this shitty way by the Hebrew equivalent of Daesh (say)? It’s a common enough question, and as usual God isn’t about to provide an answer. The other much-loved look (by me) know as  Ecclesiastes or Qohelet seems to take the more reasonable position that none of this is God’s business anyway, and we just need to keep thinking about him before the grasshopper gets to be a burden (pretty soon) and desire fails (not yet, I’m afraid). Which leads us to the question of why people write books at all. As the Preacher says ‘Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh.’ Amen to that!

Which brings me naturally to the weekend I spent at what the Quakers call their Yearly Meeting (Annual Conference to you), finding the friends deeply absorbed in the need to bring out a fresh edition of their standard text ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’. Why/ Of making many books there is no end, how will it help to add another? The motion to revise passed, of course, nem. con., and I didn’t have the eloquence required to marshal the (I’d have thought) obvious arguments against the enterprise:

!. The Quakers a) are bad at discipline b) don’t think it’s a good thing. So why do they need a book of discipline rather than a poetic book which says, say, some tosh about how God made the world, or loves the world, or has ways which are mysterious but just; and about how we are here on a vale of tears to live a life of suffering – all put in fine and poetical language so that the masses, if they don’t actually believe it, will at least find it comforting.

2. A book, as a basis for a religion, should be something you turn to to help you survive the unbearable daily grind, and it should be packed with nuggets of handy information about how you survive. This has nothing to do with discipline. Look at the AA Twelve Steps – they say nothing about discipline, because they say, basically, that you’re going to be incapable of it. As I’ve often been told, the important thing is to give up before you start, That, I feel, has the kind of poetry in action which makes it possible to get somewhere. Your cities have been destroyed, none of you friends will console you. Despair. It seems a pretty good basis to build on in Europe right now, and if I had the energy I might start a religion, buy a shopfront, write a gospel and all that stuff. I can’t say that the triumph of the Msys and the Javids (and the discomfiture of the Rudds) can be taken as a sign. But an evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign – I guess that’s us.

Time

On a completely different topic, I’ve been learning yet another way in which I was massively ignorant about the law; I’m sure there are more to come. You know how we (you and I) think of time as a continuum, or an ever-flowing stream, and if we’re supposed to bake a cake for forty minutes assume that this means something between thirty-nine and forty-one (say). The lawyer’s conception of time is completely different, which is why it’s lucky they’re never allowed to bake cakes. For a lawyer, time is divided into discrete units of six minutes – I expect it goes back to the Babylonians – think of the Code of Hammurabi -, but I can’t find a reference offhand. The consequences are obvious: if Meghan calls her lawyer Angelique about her marital status under EU law after Brexit and Angelique replies ‘Sorry, love, I’m at lunch, I’ll call you back in an hour’, Meghan, who finally gets a two minute conversation, is going to be billed for six minutes of Angelique’s time (say £10 at £100 an hour), since the legal accounting system allows for no shorter units. The historian, who sees time
hourglass

in a completely different way (what was the date of the battle of Barnet? how many weeks did Hey Jude occupy the number 1 spot, and which weeks were they?), not to mention the astrophysicist or the person who searches for quarks or works out orbits for drones, where a nanosecond can make the difference between eliminating a bad guy and a blameless family, as often happens. Meghan (to return to her) will also be billed for six minutes that Angelique has spent worrying about EU law and families (twelve minutes if she’s really worried). The latter, or some student in her office, will have also spent time working out all these costs and checking them – think of the tine taken thinking about time! Time squared!!

 

DAY 244: The black flag

April 9th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink


20180404_why_soldiers_must_refuse_to_fire_at_unarmed_protesters_top_1

I ‘ve been thinking quite a bit these last few days about law and morality and how you tell the difference. These thoughts were prompted not by idle academic speculation, but by the Israeli rights organisation B’Tselem’s condemnation of the State-promoted massacre of demonstrators in Gaza. With that condemnation went a clear call to Israeli soldiers to refuse to obey orders to fire on unarmed demonstrators – which forcefully quoted Judge Halevy’s ruling in the trial of soldiers involved in the 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre An order that permits live gunfire at unarmed civilians is blatantly unlawful, B’Tselem claims: ‘The hallmark of manifest illegality is that it must wave like a black flag over the given order, a warning that says: “forbidden!” Not formal illegality, obscure or partially obscure, not illegality that can be discerned only by legal scholars, is important here, but rather, the clear and obvious violation of law …. Illegality

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 08.44.32

Murdered villagers from Kafr Qasim

that pierces the eye and revolts the heart, if the eye is not blind and the heart is not impenetrable or corrupt—this is the measure of manifest illegality needed to override the soldier’s duty to obey and to impose on him criminal liability for his action.’

Well, as a result of Judge Halevy’s eloquence, eight IDF soldiers were convicted of murder; they had shot dead about forty  villagers, me, women and children, who had violated a curfew (which most of them didn’t know about). It should be said of the eight soldiers all were free in three years. All the same, clearly the event and the phrase have stuck in the minds of Israeli rights activists, who are prepare to insist that it’s still wrong to obey ‘manifestly illegal’ orders; and who accordingly try to persuade the soldiers to disobey. I haven’t seen reports that any of them have. As for any chance that any of the soldiers involved in the ongoing massacres in Gaza would face trial, it seems unimaginable.

In fact, when we think about it, we can recognise that there are cases where the law is a matter of convention and isn’t about ethics (parking tickets for example); and others where you can be seriously sucked without incurring any legal penalty, like cheating at cards. The two areas are separate, and fine people with fine minds earn a living distinguishing them. I recommend to you (I found it by random googling, as I usually do) Howard Zinn’s ‘Law, Justice and Disobedience’. Zion is a worthwhile read, as he served his term being disobedient on the Vietnam war etc, a friend of Daniel Berrigan and Nom Chomsky and an enemy of Plato. And he agrees with the rest of us that you can and should disobey laws when it’s the right thing to do; that ethics trump law. But the soldier’s blind obedience is untrumpable.

In other news Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers Florence and Opelo Kgali, who were due to be on a detention flight from Heathrow tonight (second attempt) have once again been saved at the last minute. Will there be a third attempt?

Detention poem
The World Beyond
A peep through my window
Makes me feel like a widow,
Grief-stricken to the toe, Like a King Fish being
pursued by a foe;
Cribbed, cabined and confined,
Without a nose to smell then world around.
Over the twenty-feet fence
And towards the horizon,
Nature opens up its beauty.
Aircrafts that cross my view, birds that flap by
in joy,
The landscape gardening that is new,
Thanking the spring message.
But while I stare and peep
My life seeps sorrowfully in a deep.
Wrapped up in despair and confusion,
Like at the confluence of White and Black Volta,
I see a future that is bleak,
And a dream that is meek,
Oh fate, why hast my destiny slipped?!
From a hunger striker at Campsfield, 11 April 1994
-Twenty-four years ago -and already, they had hunger strikes at Campsfield! What will it take to make a change?
In the world of music, if you’re in the UK, you should be looking forward to the double bill of Lekhfa (Egyptian alternatives) and Tamer Nafar (Palestinian rapper), They’re passing through London on the 27th (Rich Mix) and other venues which I can’t be bothered listing. If you want to impress your friends with your knowledge of the Egyptian scene, try Lekhfa’s Kent Rayeh

 

 

 

DAY 243: The interview

March 28th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink


So  where did it all go wrong?
We all have different memories. Izzy Tomico Ellis and Niamh Keady-Tabbal have picked on the 2016 EU-Turkey deal as a peg on which to hang a two years’ catalogue of betrayal and disaster; well researched, thoughtful and graphic, describing the devastating results for refugees, in particular  in Europe, for the Syrians. I, like many others, learned of the ‘refugee crisis’ in the summer of 2015 – September was a particularly active month, seeing in  the brief moment when the image of Alan Kurdi’s dead body on a Turkish beach brought home to the West (even to readers of the Sun) the price they would have to pay to suppress the coming misery and suffering. From then on, one must suppose, there were many in Europe who were even so determined to enforce the boundaries by whatever means  - even if it included mass drowning; while on the other side there were many who felt that Europe had to change, and to become a place of welcome and sanctuary.

Will it, can it happen? I’m not really so much interested in an imagined future of ease and luxury for all; as in a future where no one is sleeping in the snow and being beaten by the police. Or subjected to asylum interviews such as iIve been reading for the past few days, beginning: ‘I conducted a status interview under caution with the subject with the aid of HO interpreter. The subject confirmed she was fit and well and understood both the interpreter and the caution. The subject’s account is as follows though I will state that I believe the majority of it to be false.’ Reading this (it continues in much the same vein, and I’d have to redact it like mad to give you the gist of it), naturally drove me into a state of extreme rage. Have we always been a society in which the traumatised arrivers are automatically disbelieved – because, make no mistake, however many walls we put up, there are going to be more. How did it come about that Othello, who arrived in Venice with a similarly dubious story, was not only believed but promoted to general

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I ran it through, even from my boyish days
To th’ very moment that he bade me tell it.
Wherein I spoke of most diastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field;

othello
Of hairbreadth scapes i’ the’ imminent deadly breach;
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery; of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels’ history;
Wherein of anters vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven,
It was my hint to speak — such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear
Would Desdemona seriously incline;
But still the house affairs would draw her thence;
Which ever she could with haste dispatch,
She’d come again, and with a greedy ear
Devour up my discourse.

Ok, Othello’s (and Desdemona’s) end could – if you have a mind to it – be taken as a warning against believing the story of the migrant. (Who had had a bad time in Aleppo, too.) But Othello perhaps didn’t know he was being promoted, and invited to dinner, in a society like ours where endemic structural racism could lead to jealousy, madness, and death. He’d have been better off staying with the Anthropophagi.

Invention of Tradition Department

Since when has Wednesday in Holy Week been caked ‘Spy Wednesday’? It seems to be suddenly a generally accepted festival which commemorates the woman using a pot of very precious ointment (Oil of Olay? Clarins?) to wipe Jesus’ feet, leading to a dialogue in which two sensible opposing points were made:

footwashing

The disciples: This is a waste, this ointment could have been sold for a lot of denarii and the proceeds given to the refugees.

Jesus: The refugees you have always with you, me not.

Discuss. But what has this to do with spies (much in the news these days); or with the service of Tenebrae which I just managed, belting though the rain and traffic jams, to catch the second half of (at St James’ Piccadilly)? (By the way, Lucy Winkett who sang the soprano in Couperin’s Trois Leçons de Tenèbres, is completely wasted as a liberation theology vicar, when she could certainly win more souls by singing sacred motets. But I think I digress.)

I won’t post the Couperin – it’s too long, and I have a nasty feeling that I’ve done it before, and I’m certainly not going to scroll back and see if I have. Instead I offer you a very different piece I discovered in the past week, Bettina Schroeder on brushes and electric ukulele.

And, as a final treat on an already long (if overdue), here’s a poem which has been the rounds on Facebook and wowed a number of my friends, none of whom I’m afraid are heavy hitters in the poetry prize nomination world..

PALM SUNDAY

Ahmed is messaging me, stressing about his phone credit

And I’m stressing too, frying eggs and aubergine

At the same time.

Ahmed’s in Cosenza, good for him

His documents are OK, I’ve got his location

And number, but from his photo

It looks like he’s in a safe house. Can you show me a picture

Of where you sleep? Of your door? Of the outside? Keep an eye

On that slice of aubergine, it’ll burn. The admins don’t like the pic

though the house isn’t safe to Ahmed

How long since he got fished up in Catania? and got his papers…

The NGO threw him out a week ago, now he stays with a friend

On the floor of a room (with a door). Coffee’s ready, drink it quickly.

 

If you go to Bethany you’ll find a colt

Say the lord has need of him. (Bethany, al-Azariya

Where they shot the girl Abir four years ago at a bus stop)

Take the colt and bring it I’ll ride to Jerusalem

Never mind the checkpoint, the people will shout

And the admins say.

Ahmed’s borderline but just this time OK. Hosanna! Oh Sir thankyou please please

Can it be quick

I need to call my mother in Syria.

 

Lucky Marko the Eritrean he’s in La Spezia

Escaped across the desert, tortured in Libya, washed up in Lampedusa

Requested protection

A minor, Dublin, can I translate his documents?

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord

His sister’s in France, his guardian’s done the paperwork

He can catch the plane. But the Turkish army

Are planning to enter Sinjar, God’s gone west again

Three quarters destroyed already, two doctors left. Millennia ago

Those people worshipped peacocks.

You can bet the story’s nowhere near its end of endless

Heroes and heroines and butchers

 

So we listen and. watch, and share the human lives and deaths

As they cycle mindlessly for ever.

Do you believe? In what?

 

 

 

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