December 19, 2010

To call in question the society you “live” in, you must first be capable of calling yourself in question

We have come to the time of year when many childhood memories of Santa Claus are evoked and Christians are reminded of the birth of a Son. Some will celebrate the re-birth of a Sun as the low point of the winter solstice is passed and the days at last grow longer. Others will give presents just because it’s so good to give, and as they decorate trees and festoon their rooms with boughs of holly and the like, the pagan origins of this festival will be forgotten. Forgotten too will be the people in present day Bethlehem in their struggle for justice and security.

In 1948, many refugees from areas captured by Israeli forces fled to the Bethlehem area of what is now known as the West Bank, primarily settling in what were to become official refugee camps. This influx of refugees significantly transformed Bethlehem's Christian majority into a Muslim one.

The population of Bethlehem today is composed of Muslim and Christian Palestinians. Muslims and Christians have been living together peacefully for generations and they share one fundamental violation of human rights. Both Muslim and Christian Palestinians have no right to move freely in and out of their own town.

Today Bethlehem is surrounded by an 8 metre high separation wall, dwarfing the Berlin Wall which stood at a mere 3.65 metres. Built by the Israeli occupation forces it has been condemned by the International Court of Justice who found that "the construction of the wall, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law". In other words the wall is illegal, yet it exists, and grows.

No-one can enter Bethlehem without going through one of the 69 military checkpoints and showing their ID’s and necessary permits. Border guards tend to make up the rules as they go along and checkpoints can be closed without warning. If Jesus had been born in Bethlehem today the 3 wise men would have had to queue like cattle for several hours to get through a checkpoint, had their hands scanned, been searched, and quite possibly turned away as the gold, frankincense and myrrh they carried would be highly questionable.

Should the labouring mother of a present day Jesus require assistance in her childbirth, she would find that obtaining medical treatment is particularly problematic for pregnant Palestinian women about to give birth as the delivery date is largely unpredictable. Often Palestinians are only allowed to travel on foot - not by car - and they have to use old and unmaintained roads. The checkpoints are only open by day, so a night time problem has to wait. The permits given are only valid for one or two days, therefore the women must constantly renew their permits, and as a consequence, in some instances, mothers have entered labor and given birth at checkpoints because they did not have up-to-date permits. Between the years 2000 and 2006, more than 68 Palestinian women gave birth at Israeli checkpoints. Of these, 35 women miscarried, and five died in childbirth.

In the Bethlehem area alone there are 19 illegal settlements taking valuable land from local Palestinian families and choking communities. The wall isolates 25% of Palestinian agricultural land and the farmers have to obtain permits on a daily basis and pass through checkpoints to access their own fields. A modern shepherd watching the stars as portent to a famous birth would have either had his land confiscated, or might possibly have to wait until morning to obtain a permit to cross into Bethlehem.

87% of Bethlehem’s land has been taken by Israeli occupation forces which forces Palestinians to live in cramped conditions. In some places the wall is built so close to buildings that the windows are blocked and daylight cannot enter the rooms. The wall has cut people off from their shops and their precious land and olive trees; busy roads have become dead ends. Bethlehem was once a thriving, bustling town, now one in five people are unemployed. If Jesus was born in Bethlehem today the innkeeper would be struggling to keep his business going. There would be plenty of room at the inn.

People of good conscience can help restore justice to Bethlehem in many ways.

1. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign is a call from Palestinians to consumers to stop buying goods made in the Occupied Territories. Often clothing and food products are labeled ‘made in Israel’ when they are not. lists some organizations you should avoid whilst out shopping.

2. Buy real Palestinian products here at and help enable the fragile infrastructure and jobs

3. Talk about it. Palestine is the news. Look beyond your usual news providers and interrogate the internet for differing points of view. It is only by constantly re-evaluating what you know that justice can be won.

Oh little town of Bethlehem, Imprisoned now you lie.

Above thy deep and silent grief, Surveillance drones now fly.

Full words can be found at

November 03, 2010

The people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders.

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same anywhere. “ – Herman Goering

COEXIST has been a little quiet of late because I have been driving in a convoy of humanitarian aid to Gaza with Viva Palestina. Full details on the blog ( I have witnessed for myself the level of terror and oppression being daily forced upon the besieged Palestinians, millions of whom are scattered in refugee camps across the Middle East, millions of whom are patiently and peacefully resisting the combined forces of the US, Israel and the EU to form an orderly queue, give up ownership to their houses and farms from which they were driven in 1948, and accept the perpetual fate of being a barricaded third class citizen in their own land.

In January 2006, in a remarkable act of courageous civil disobedience, the people of Gaza had a free and fair democratic election and voted in the Hamas government. For this their punishment has been continual and unrelenting.

In December – January 2008-9, just after Hamas had offered a ‘cessation of aggression’, a merciless attack was carried out upon the civilians of Gaza in order to inflict terrible pain. 1,600 Palestinian men, women and children were slaughtered and 5,000 wounded. Israel had no right to fire even one single bullet into the Gaza Strip at that time. 13 Israeli soldiers were killed.

Since then all crossing points into Gaza have been sealed. Food supplies are inadequate and intermittent, clean water is delivered every 3 days or so, there are 5000 demolished houses and 15000 damaged ones yet absolutely no building materials are allowed through the blockade. The sewerage pours raw into the Mediterranean Sea because of bomb damage to the treatment works and no means to repair it. There are no spare parts, the ambulances which escaped direct targeting in the Israeli attack are mostly out of order. The majority of commercial bakeries in Gaza – 30 out of 47 – have had to close because they have run out of cooking gas. Medicines , fuel, and the means to maintain the small amount of infrastructure still standing are smuggled in through the tunnels at Rafah or brought in by organisations like Viva Palestina who are continually trying to break the blockade by sending convoys of humanitarian aid.

The great Noam Chomsky in his book Hopes and Prospects ISBN 978-0-241-14475-6 suggests that this pain and suffering is inflicted – not to reduce the threat of Hamas forces – but to eliminate the threat of political settlement.

A siege is an act of war. I have witnessed the daily patrol of Israeli submarines across the Gazan horizon, the incessant patrolling of Israeli warships in Gazan fishing waters. International law gives these people 22 nautical miles of territorial rights, Israel gives them a few hundred yards or they are blown out of the water. Sizable fields of natural gas have been discovered in Gazan territorial waters. It is reasonable to suppose that these resources which could be a major source of income for Gaza are shortly to be appropriated by Israel, with full US consent.

I have heard the daily overhead roar of low flying Israeli fighter jets, seen the fear in men’s faces, and the weekly tally of dead farmers and their children working near the border, used by Israel as target practice. A young man in Gaza said to me “Life in Gaza is dangerous and scary. We have to fight for hope”.

But don’t think of the Israeli government as the culprit. The UN has declared the siege of Gaza illegal, but no government is prepared to step up to the mark and defy the combined power of the international ruling classes in order to end the suffering of these people. The US and Israel operate in tandem (albeit with the weak and grovelling acquiescence of the British and the EU). Israel relies crucially on the US for military, economic, diplomatic and ideological support. It will proceed as far as the US allows. Israel’s criminal actions are US criminal actions. If Gaza falls, who will be next?

Sara Roy, a leading specialist on Gaza states:

“Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into aid-dependent paupers. …Livelihoods, homes and public infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israeli Defence Forces admitted was indefensible. In Gaza today there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. 80% of Gaza’s agricultural crops are destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the border. Most productive activity has been extinguished.”

What is the hope for the people of Gaza? I have to inform you that this is entirely in your hands. Look beyond the sophisticated propaganda machine and enlighten yourself:

How many Palestinians are currently held in Israeli jails? - At least 10,000. The majority of whom are on 99 year sentences

What date did the last Israeli bulldozer entered Gaza to destroy homes? - Monday 1st November 2010

If Gaza Falls

August 23, 2010

COEXISTing in Gaza

"History is a myth agreed upon." - Napoleon Bonaparte.

The land variously called Israel and Palestine is situated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Gaza is a small parcel of land about 21 miles long and 6 miles wide. It holds 1.5 million people, 1 million of whom are refugees from the 1949 Palestinian exodus.

During its long history, its area, population and ownership varied greatly. History, and different perceptions of history, are perhaps the most important factors in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The archaeological record indicates that the Jewish people evolved out of native Canaanite peoples and invading tribes. Over time, Christianity spread to most of Palestine and by about 638 AD the population consisted of Jewish converts to Christianity and paganism, peoples imported by the Romans, and the original inhabitants.

The Crusaders captured Jaffa and Jerusalem in 1099, slaughtered many Jewish and Muslim defenders and forbade Jews to live in Jerusalem. In the mid-1200's, Arab-speaking Muslims made up most of the population. Beginning in the late 1300's, Jews from Spain and other Mediterranean lands settled in Jerusalem and its surroundings. In 1517, Palestine became part of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Sultan invited Jews fleeing the Catholic inquisition to settle in the Turkish Empire, including several cities in Palestine. By 1880, about 24,000 Jews were living in Palestine, out of a population of about 400,000. The Muslim rulers allowed Christians and Jews to keep their religions. However, most of the local population gradually accepted Islam and the Arab-Islamic culture of their rulers.

At that time the Jewish connection with the land was mostly abstract and connected with dreams of messianic redemption. The advent of Zionism in around 1897 had no concern for the Arab population, it was vaguely imagined that they would agree to voluntarily transfer to other Arab countries. By 1914, the total population of Palestine stood at about 700,000. About 615,000 were Arabs, and 85,000 were Jews.

The more modern history of Palestine then degenerates to a sorry affair of backstabbing, double dealing and deceit which continues to this day. Britain, Syria, France, Lebanon, Egypt and America all played their ignominious part.

In November 1917, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration which was a letter addressed to Lord Rothschild, based on a request by the Zionist organization in Great Britain. It stated Britain's support for the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine, without violating the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities. The mandate between all the various parties proved impossible to implement and as a result no institutions were created. Ormsby-Gore, undersecretary of state for the colonies concluded, "Palestine is largely inhabited by unreasonable people."

The rise of Hitler in Germany started a tide of immigration. In 1936 widespread rioting, financed by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, known as the Arab Revolt, broke out. The Peel commission of 1937 recommended partitioning Palestine into a small Jewish state and a large Arab one, and included voluntary transfer of Arabs and Jews to separate areas.

Reports of Nazi atrocities became increasingly frequent and vivid and there was a desperate need to find a haven for refugees. The Zionist leadership declared that it supported the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish Commonwealth and determined that the British were in principle, an enemy to be fought, rather than an ally. The Jews who suffered the Holocaust had been trapped in Europe because virtually no country would give them shelter. They were now desperate to bring the remaining Jews of Europe to Palestine.

In the summer of 1945, Great Britain reneged on their promise to create a Jewish state in Palestine. Rival Zionist underground dissident groups united and used terrorist force to drive the British out of Palestine. In Britain, newspapers and politicians began to demand that the government settle the conflict and stop endangering the lives of British troops.

An Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry recommended allowing 100,000 Jews to immigrate immediately to Palestine. The Arabs brought pressure on the British to block such immigration. The British found Palestine to be ungovernable and returned the mandate to the United Nations who recommended that Palestine be divided into an Arab state and a Jewish state with open borders and economic union, with Jerusalem to be put under international administration, a plan which was adopted on Nov 29th 1947. Many factors contributed to the decision to support partition, including domestic politics and intense Zionist lobbying. Truman wrote in his diary "I think the proper thing to do, and the thing I have been doing, is to do what I think is right and let them all go to hell."

The Jews accepted the UN decision, but the Arabs rejected it. Clashes between Israelis and Arabs began almost as soon as the UN passed the partition resolution. Arab Palestinians began leaving their towns and villages to escape the fighting, most of the Arab population of Haifa left in March and April of 1948 despite pleas by both Jewish and British officials to stay.

On May 14, 1948, the Jews proclaimed the independent State of Israel, and the British withdrew gratefully from Palestine.

From that point onwards hostilities increased. Both sides were fed weapons from their ‘allies’. Ex terrorists turned political leaders such as Moshe Dayan insisted that Israel should wage preventative war, and Israeli reprisals became ever more severe and disproportionate, ideology and dogma became more polarised and a poisoned wound lain open for 50 years continued to fester unabated.

When Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic Organisation with a socio political wing (not unlike the IRA) won the majority of democratically elected seats in the Palestinian Parliament in January 2006, Israel refused to do business with them. Mistrust and clashing ideology ensured that suicide bombers would enter Israel with malicious intent and rockets would be fired from the Gaza Strip onto Israeli land. History ensured that Israel would always retaliate in a massive and disproportionate way. Homes were bulldozed, whole streets demolished, rockets were indiscriminately fired at civilians, thousands killed, and finally, in 1994 the inglorious apartheid wall was built between the two warring tribes. Soldiers were given new rules of engagement, which, according to Ha'aretz, allow soldiers to fire at anyone seen there at night. .

On July 9 2004, the International Court of Justice delivered its advisory opinion on the Israeli security barrier. The court ruled that the barrier violates human rights and that Israel must dismantle it. Israel announced that it would not abide by the court decision.

The Goldstone report on the Gaza War of 2008–2009 cited war crimes carried out by Palestinian militants and the Israeli army, but most of its criticism was directed at Israel, which killed roughly 1,400 people during the war. The Report called on international governments to take action to bring those responsible to justice. Nothing happened.

Israel began the infamous Blockade on Gaza in 2007. This blockade prevents Gaza from exporting any goods, putting a crippling squeeze on the local economy, and restricts imports to a limited amount of basic humanitarian aid.

The UN estimates that of the 1.5 million people living within the boundaries 60 per cent are short of food, with seven out of ten living on less than $1 a day and six in ten having no daily supply of water. A man was arrested in August 2010 for stealing a bucket of Israeli water.

Today, Israel continues to blockade the tiny state on all fronts. By sea, by land and by air nothing is allowed in unless the Israeli government says so. The Palestinians – the original inhabitants of this land – are kept only slightly above malnutrition level. This is a collective punishment and a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation. As such it is seen by the UN as a war crime.

On April 21, 2008, former US President Jimmy Carter met with Hamas Leader Khaled Meshal and reached an agreement that Hamas would respect the creation of a Palestinian state in the territory seized by Israel in 1967, provided this be ratified by the Palestinian people in a referendum. Kaled Meshal thereafter complicated the offer, and Israel promptly declined it.

The situation for people living in the Gaza strip is insupportable. Indefensible is the international response to it.

The generational impasse of the Palestinian ‘problem’ represents a dismal, pathetic failure of men and women on every side to agree on just about anything at all. None of them are right. It is only by recognising every political entity as a part of the negotiation process that progressive opportunities can be explored.

Humanity in the region is on the edge of ruin. Should we ‘let them all go to hell’? The powers behind states have no conscience. It is for the hearts of people to find that conscience. Thus, COEXIST members are heading off on the overland Viva Palestina Convoy 5 Leaving London on September 18 2010. It is expected that we will be joined by more than 500 vehicles at the gates to Rafah.

Please help us with donations for humanitarian aid at

For an overview of Palestinian and Israeli history:

For more about the Viva Palestina convoy: