22 April 2012

EDL Humiliated as Brighton Says ‘No to Fascism and Racism’

Largest Post-War Anti-Fascist Mobilisation in Brighton as Hundreds Turn Out

For the past 3 years, an outfit called March for England has marched from Brighton Station down to the Old Steine. The first year they lodged at the King & Queen Pub opposite Grand Parade and last year they drank before setting off at the Railway Bell opposite the train station. This year no pub would serve them and many pubs closed rather than face a fascist invasion. Billed as a ‘family fun day’ the March 4 England has turned from a ‘patriotic family day out’ to the usual EDL march for bigotry.

For the past couple of years, the opposition has been weak and relatively half hearted, possibly because some people were taken in by the ‘family’ bit and because the march organisers dissociated themselves from the EDL.

This year it was quite clear that it was an EDL march in all but name and we went to town. To paraphrase Trotsky, the UAF and the anarcho-independent left Anti-Fascist Committee may have organised separately but they struck together!

And credit should go in particular to the Anti-Fascist Committee based at the Cowley Club, the anarchist social centre. Regular meetings laid down our strategy and laid the basis for today’s success.

The EDL were due to arrive at 12.00. Eleven o’clock was the time we were meant to be gathering. When I arrived I did a quick reconnoitre of Brighton Station to find about 60-70 EDL members there, including a tiny contingent from Brighton itself. At first there were very few strung out along the route on Queens Road.

Because of the danger of being kettled like last year, we decided that people would line the march with posters making it clear that Brighton rejected racism and fascism. At 11.00 I thought that maybe we had failed to mobilise, but within half an hour hundreds of people started gathering along the route – young and old, men, women and children, gay and straight. We were a marked contrast to the balding, beer bellied oafs with their union jacks and mock dragon at the station Virtually the whole of the EDL march was male.

But the Police had gone into overdrive to try and drive a march of racists and fascists through Brighton. So much for their ‘diversity agenda’ and their opposition to racism. When the chance presents itself they lose no opportunity to try and impose a bunch of racist hooligans on Brighton. I would estimate that there were at least 500 police on duty today, as police minibus after police minibus swept by. But it was all in vain. Despite a liberal use of pepper spray (which I found out to my cost causes your skin to come up in a nasty looking rash!) and an overtly aggressive stance, the Police found it difficult.

The EDL/MFA eventually got underway about 15 minutes late. By which time our numbers had swelled to well over a thousand. Queens Road is about a 1/3 mile long and goes straight to the Clocktower, the centre of Brighton. From there you can turn left down North Street to the Old Steine or continue along West Street to the sea. The agreed route with the Police was for the fascists to march down West Street to the sea, along the seafront and back up the Old Steine to Victoria Gardens. However the best laid plans of men and mice get laid to waste!

The presence of over one and a half thousand people put paid to that. After repeated incursions into their path, the lobbying of the odd egg and a march moving at snails pace, coupled with the possibility of serious disorder and mayhem if the march proceeded into town with shoppers etc., the police halted the march at the top of one of the backstreets, Church Street and directed the march down there. The EDL, now surrounded by phalanxes of police and then hundreds of us, were in no position but to obey their masters. Despite acts of bravado the fact is that the fash were sheltering behind police lines and but for the police would have been torn in pieces.

It was with the greatest difficulty that an increasingly aggressive and jittery police mob finally managed to get the EDL to its rallying point in Victoria Gardens. The march had been cut by 2/3, a major victory of anti-fascism in Brighon. ‘No Pasaran’ was the order of the day. And what a rally it was. Surrounded by over a thousand anti-fascists on the lawns outside the Art College and the King & Queen Pub (closed for the day) they had to kick their heels for an hour and a half until the Police moved them off at 3.00 pm back to Brighton Station.

A few of the fash, who had separated off from their mates ended up in a gay pub at the Old Steine and ended up having a conversation with the pavement.

Having been on virtually every anti-fascist mobilisation for the past 30 years, I have no doubt that today’s was the largest anti-fascist mobilisation since the large demonstrations against Mosley in the 1930’s. Because of the necessity of lining the route along Queens Road it was essential that we pulled in as many people as possible. And we did. There was also a punk festival, Punx Picnic, taking place at the same time in Brighton and because of the EDL threat featured a number of anti-fascist bands.

The danger in the past has always been that when fascists are not opposed or only opposed half-heartedly, local working class kids start to see them as some kind of force. Today it was virtually impossible to see the EDL/MFE behind the massed ranks of police and the lines of anti-fascists. They were seen to be an impotent and weak force, depending on the power of the state and police to shepherd them through.

And this filtered through even to the Police. As far as I know, there wasn’t one anti-fascist arrest today (a number of the fascists seem to have been lifted). And on a personal level, when I discovered that my hand was covered in pepper spray (also got whacked in the mouth by a police glove!) a fellow marcher and first aider went up to the police to get some water and was given 4 bottles of the stuff! In fact the police started handing out bottles of waters to the demonstrators as the EDL kicked their heels inside a tight cordon. Which goes to show that it’s not the police as individuals who are the problem but the institution itself which warps the individual.

I got an inkling of what might happen today at Sussex University last Thursday when 4 of us spoke to an anti-fascist meeting organised by Sussex Anarchist Society. Usually these meetings consist of about 12-15 people at best, but the lecture hall was packed to overflowing. It was clear that the message had got out and we were going to have a good attendance today. No doubt we could have done some things better but Brighton has once again made it clear that fascists are not welcome in this town. It was also good to see our local MP Caroline Lucas and a number of Green Party councillors, including previous leader Bill Randall. Although there were a few people present from the left of the Labour Party there was not one Labour councillor that I could see. What a change from the past!

see also:





Tony Greenstein

The Framing of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie Bomber

Not before time a detailed overview of the Lockerbie bomb case

When Muammar Ghadaffi made his peace with western imperialism and Tony Blair , part of the price was the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie Bomber. A special court had been convened at Camp Zeis in the Netherlands 8 years before, but only Scottish judges were to sit there, whereas the original Libyan demand had been for an international panel of judges.

Ghadaffi was eager to come in from the cold and conceded the point. The judges decided, when faced with 2 prisoners, to convict one and acquit the other. The pressures on them were, of course, enormous. Megrahi was convicted in January 2001 and freed, as a ‘humanitarian gesture’ in August 2009.

It is widely believed that the reason for Pan Am 103 being brought down had nothing whatsoever to do with Ghadaffi and everything to do with a pro-Syrian Palestinian group, the PFLP-General Command. The reason? An Iranian aircraft had been shot from the skies by the US navy some years previously.

And of course, whilst we have heard countless tales of how much the relatives of the Pan Am passengers have suffered, I have yet to see a single interview with the 300 or so Iranians who were murdered. Arab people are somehow not quite as human for the BBC as white Americans.

The evidence was always extremely tenuous and depended on things like the bomb having been put on a flight in Malta and then relying on it to go undetected. Far more likely, the bomb was put on in Paris. But the judges were under political pressure to come up with a result and that is what they did, aided by CIA and British Police skullduggery and the planting of evidence, the disappearance of other evidence and the paying of bribes to witnesses.

When Megrahi was freed in August 2009 one of the conditions, although Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill denies that he gave him this advice, was that he had to drop his appeal. The evidence had all but disappeared as the true story of how Megrahi was framed began coming out. An appeal hearing when the judges were forced to admit that the evidence was simply not credible or sufficient would have been a damaging blow. Far better to release Megrahi on ‘humanitarian’ grounds, even if the largely stupid and ignorant American relatives were outraged, because they preferred to take the word of Bush and the Republicans rather than examine the convictions themselves. Many of the British relatives were not so easily taken in, in particular Jim Swire whose daughter died in the atrocity.

As Mick Hall writes, ‘below Morag Kerr of the Justice for Megrahi Committee has put together a detailed overview of the Lockerbie case. It was commissioned by the Scottish Review, and is designed to unpick the many strands of the case past and present. This is the first time, a concise statement justifying the argument that the Lockerbie trial resulted in a colossal miscarriage of justice has been placed in the public arena.

Tony Greenstein

What happened? The Story of Pan Am 103
Maid of the Seas, Pan Am 103, left the gate at Heathrow airport on time at 18.07 on the evening of 21st December 1988, taking off at 18.25. The aircraft was loaded from empty at Heathrow, however 49 passengers and their luggage were transferred from a feeder flight (Pan Am 103A) which had left Frankfurt at 16.50 local time. Maid of the Seas was due to land at John F Kennedy airport, New York, at 01.40 GMT. She fell out of the sky at 19.03 over southern Scotland, with the fuel-laden wings causing carnage in the small town of Lockerbie when they landed on occupied houses. In total, 270 people lost their lives. It was soon established that the cause of the crash was an explosion in the baggage container that had held the luggage transferred from the Frankfurt flight.

What was Abdelbaset al-Megrahi supposed to have done?

The court decided that he was a senior Libyan security officer who had bought a selection of clothes in a small shop in Sliema, Malta, only three miles from Luqa airport. Fragments of clothes from that shop were recovered from the crash scene, and the shopkeeper (Tony Gauci) remembered the sale. Megrahi then (allegedly) smuggled a suitcase containing these clothes and a Semtex bomb disguised in a radio-cassette recorder on to Air Malta flight KM180, which left Luqa at 09.45 local time on 21st December, for Frankfurt. The suitcase was said to be unaccompanied, and to carry Air Malta tags directing it to be transferred at Frankfurt to PA103A, and then at Heathrow to PA103. He was alleged to have used an electronic countdown timer set to detonate the bomb after the transatlantic leg had left Heathrow.

What was the evidence for this?

Evidence against Megrahi fell under a number of headings.
1. A member of the Libyan security services who had turned CIA informer identified him as a senior security operative.
2. Tony Gauci identified him as 'resembling' the man who bought the clothes in his shop.
3. He was shown to have been at Luqa airport at the time KM180 departed, travelling on a false passport.
4. Baggage transfer records at Frankfurt showed evidence of an item of luggage being transferred from KM180 to PA103A, even though no passenger from the Malta flight was booked on the Heathrow flight, and all the passengers collected their luggage at their destinations with nothing going astray.

A small piece of printed circuit board found embedded in a scrap of the Maltese clothes was identified as a part of a countdown timer made by a Swiss firm which Megrahi had had business dealings with. This timer was part of a special order of only 20 items supplied exclusively to Libya.

The difficulty with this is firstly that each of these points fails to stand up to serious scrutiny, and secondly that far more robust evidence exists for both a different modus operandi and a different set of perpetrators.

Membership of the Libyan security services

The CIA informant, Majid Giaka, was originally the Crown's star witness. Without his evidence, the indictments against Megrahi and his colleague Lamin Fhimah (who was acquitted) could not have been issued in the first place. However, CIA cables revealed during the trial exposed Giaka as a fantasist who was inventing 'intelligence' for favours and money from the CIA. The judges discounted all his evidence except for his statement that Megrahi was a member of the Libyan security forces. No other evidence for this was produced, and Megrahi has consistently denied the allegation. No evidence has ever emerged linking Megrahi to any other terrorist atrocities or human rights abuses of the Gaddafi regime, or to refute his claim that he was merely an airline employee who was also moonlighting as an entrepreneur businessman.

The identification evidence Tony Gauci was first interviewed about the clothes sale on 1st September 1989, nine months after the event. He described the purchaser as Libyan, aged about 50, over six feet tall, heavily built and dark-skinned. Megrahi is 5 feet 8 inches tall, light-skinned, of medium build, and was 36 at the time of the purchase. A photofit and an artist’s impression produced at the time suggest the man may have been negro or mixed race. Gauci was unsure of the date, but this was narrowed down to either 23rd November or 7th December 1988 on the basis of televised football games. Gauci stated that the Christmas lights were not yet lit, and it was raining when the customer left the shop.

On 15th February 1991 (well over two years after the purchase) Gauci was shown a police photospread including a picture of Megrahi. He initially rejected all the men as being 'too young', but when urged to reconsider he chose Megrahi's picture as the one that looked most like the customer. However, all the policemen present knew which picture was the suspect's, a recognised confounder in such exercises and something now banned, and Megrahi's picture was appreciably different from the others in both size and quality. As a further confounder the passport photo reproduction used was such a poor likeness of Megrahi as to be essentially unrecognisable. It did, however, look a bit like the photofit Gauci had produced in 1989.

By the time of the live identity parade in April 1999, better likenesses identifying Megrahi as the 'Lockerbie bomber' had appeared in many publications, which Gauci is known to have seen. (So widespread had been the publicity that most people following the case could probably have picked the accused out without ever having met him.) Megrahi was by then 47, close to the age the purchaser was said to be in 1988. The 'foils' in the parade were nearly all much younger (and bore little resemblance to Megrahi), even though by Gauci's original estimate the purchaser would by then have been in his early sixties. Megrahi in the flesh looked nothing like the images Gauci had produced for the police in 1989, or the blurry passport photo he picked out in 1991. Nevertheless, Gauci once again fingered him as 'resembling' the purchaser.

The date of the purchase was important, as Megrahi was in Malta on 7th December 1988 (using his own passport), but not on 23rd November. Meteorological evidence demonstrated that there was light rain in Sliema at the relevant time on 23rd November, but not on 7th December. The Christmas lights were eventually found to have been switched on on 6th December.

In late 1998 a magazine article was published with a recognisable photograph of Megrahi, together with a list of all the discrepancies between Gauci's original description of the purchaser and date, and the case against Megrahi. Gauci had a copy which was only taken from him four days before the identity parade. When he gave evidence, he consistently back-tracked on his original statements regarding height, build, age, Christmas lights and rain, always to favour the prosecution case. Tony Gauci's brother Paul, who was later rewarded for 'maintaining the resolve of his brother', had long expressed interest in a reward for the family's input, and after Megrahi was convicted the brothers were paid an alleged $3 million by the US Department of Justice's 'Rewards for Justice' programme.

Presence at Luqa airport

Megrahi was at Luqa airport on the morning of the disaster, using a passport in the name of 'Abdusamad'. However, all he did was catch his flight for Tripoli, without going airside, and without checking in any hold luggage. The court accepted that he could not have got the bomb suitcase on to KM180 himself, and must have had an accomplice. That accomplice was originally said to have been Lamin Fhimah, but Fhimah could not even be shown to have been at the airport that morning. The 'false' passport was a legal one, issued to Megrahi to allow him to conceal his airline employment while negotiating business deals to circumvent the sanctions then in force against Libya, and which he occasionally used for personal travel. Although Megrahi used it for that trip, he had business meetings in Malta using his own name, and stayed at a hotel where he was well known.

Not only was no other accomplice identified, security at Luqa airport was unusually tight in 1988, and baggage records provided strong evidence that there was no unaccompanied luggage on flight KM180. Despite intensive and intrusive investigation lasting many months, no plausible mechanism whereby the bomb suitcase could have been loaded was ever identified, and no trace of the bomb was found on the island.

Baggage transfer at Frankfurt

The only evidence for an unaccompanied suitcase coming from Malta was a single line of code in a printout taken from the Frankfurt airport automated baggage system, which surfaced in August 1989. However, that system was far from transparent, and a number of guesses and assumptions were necessary to conclude that something might have been transferred from KM180 to PA103A. In the end, two items apparently loaded on to the Heathrow flight could not be identified, one seeming to have come from Malta and one from Warsaw. The coincidence of the Maltese clothes caused the investigators to become convinced the former item was the bomb, and this was never reconsidered despite the failure to find any way the bomb could have been put on board at Luqa. The Warsaw-origin item was never investigated.

The timer fragment.

This is the most notorious item in the Lockerbie case. Originally the investigators believed the bomb to have been triggered by an altimeter device, operating on air pressure, and designed not to explode until the device was airborne (see the PFLP-GC, below). This introduced problems in respect of a Frankfurt introduction, as such a device should have exploded over France. A hypothesis was developed that the altimeter had malfunctioned on the feeder flight, only to detonate after the second take-off. When the focus of the investigation switched to Malta and a third flight, this introduced a paradox that was not addressed for over a year, until the identification of this fragment as part of a countdown timer resolved the difficulty.

The MST-13 timer was said to be one of a special run of only 20 supplied exclusively to Libya by the Swiss firm MEBO. Megrahi had business dealings with that firm, but not relating to, or at the time of, the purchase of the timers. Nevertheless this was said to be the 'golden thread' linking him to the bomb. This item had extraordinarily irregular provenance within the forensic investigation, with paperwork anomalies leading many commentators to suspect its appearance in the chain of evidence had been back-dated. In addition, the Libyan provenance was less certain than claimed, with Lockerbie occurring over two years after the timers were supplied, and examples having been found in other parts of Africa.

Irrespective of who had bombed the plane, the countdown timer introduced another paradox. Maid of the Seas exploded only 38 minutes after her wheels left the tarmac, and the plane was not late. There was a seven-hour flight ahead of her, with a thousand miles of Atlantic ocean where incriminating clothes and PCB fragments could have been buried forever. An altimeter timer would inevitably have exploded around 40 minutes into the flight, regardless of take-off time. Using a countdown timer set so early in the flight time carried a huge risk that the explosion would have occurred harmlessly on the tarmac if the plane had missed its slot at Heathrow – as could easily have happened on a stormy winter evening.

It was only in February 2012 that metallurgical evidence concealed from the original trial was revealed, which showed that the fragment could not have been one of the 20 items MEBO had supplied to Libya. This discovery calls into question whether the PCB chip was even part of a countdown timer, rather than some other electronic component using the same basic template.

Evidence for a Heathrow introduction

Although Maid of the Seas was loaded from empty at Heathrow, a press release issued on 30th December 1988 announced that the bomb had almost certainly not been introduced there, apparently because the location of the explosion had been traced to the baggage container holding the Frankfurt luggage. However, that container already held a number of suitcases before the Frankfurt items were added, and had been unattended in Terminal 3 for some time during the afternoon.

Baggage-handler JohnBedford was interviewed on 3rd January 1989, and told a strange story. He had left the container with a few suitcases already inside while he took a tea break. When he returned (this was still an hour before the feeder flight landed), he noticed two more cases had been added. He described the left-hand one, which was only a few inches from the position of the explosion, as 'a maroony-brown hardshell, the kind Samsonite make'. It was not until several weeks later that forensic analysis identified the bomb suitcase as a Samsonite hardshell in 'antique copper', variously described by investigators as brown, bronze, maroon and even burgundy. It was known that security at Heathrow was very lax, with many airside passes unaccounted-for. However, there is no evidence the police seriously investigated the possibility that the suitcase Bedford saw was the bomb-bag.

Reasons why this suitcase was not the bomb varied during the inquiry.

Originally (at the 1991 fatal accident inquiry) it was assumed absolutely that the case could not have been moved at all, thus as the explosion had occurred a few inches outside its last recorded position, it was innocent. Later (at Camp Zeist) this was reversed, and a suitcase from Frankfurt was placed in the position the Bedford case had originally occupied. One might think this obviously allowed for the possibility, even probability, that the Bedford case, replaced on top of this Frankfurt item, was indeed the bomb. Especially as no innocent suitcase recovered on the ground was ever matched to the one Bedford described. Nevertheless the prosecution insisted that the tenuous trail of the Frankfurt baggage printout was the one to follow, rather than the only brown Samsonite suitcase actually seen by any witness.

It was only after Megrahi had been convicted that another witness came forward to testify that there had been a break-in into that very area of the Heathrow airside, the night before the disaster. This had been reported at the time, but not acted on. Clearly, this could have been the way the suitcase was taken airside, to allow the terrorist to enter the next day, apparently empty-handed. It was not until 2007 that it was realised that one witness whose evidence had been crucial both at the FAI and the civil actions against Pan Am in the USA in the early 1990s had not been called at Camp Zeist. DC Derek Henderson had conducted reconciliations on the baggage carried by passengers on PA103, and concluded that none of them had checked in a brown-ish Samsonite. This was considered crucial in proving that the bomb had not been planted in a passenger's luggage. However, it also proved that the suitcase Bedford saw was not legitimate passenger baggage. Lacking his evidence, the Zeist judges were able to decide that Bedford's case belonged to a passenger, and had simply vanished over Lockerbie.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command

The saga of the Frankfurt cell of this terrorist group, its murderous members, their shocking past form in blowing up airliners, their possession of explosives, radio-cassette recorders and altimeter-type timers, and their serious intent to blow up an airliner in autumn 1988, has been well-rehearsed elsewhere. There is evidence to suggest they were sponsored by Iran to take revenge for the US shooting down of the Iranian airbus flight IR655 over the Straits of Hormuz in July 1988. What there was not, was any evidence to link this group to the actual placing of a device on Pan Am 103. Whether this is because the investigators spent all their time and effort investigating the feeder flight, and latterly concentrating exclusively on Malta, and neglected to investigate Heathrow as a possible point of origin, cannot be known.

The reasoning of the Zeist court

The trial at Camp Zeist took place nine years after the indictments were issued against Megrahi and Fhimah. Nine years of international publicity and condemnation, of house arrest for the suspects, and punitive sanctions imposed on Libya, which was assumed to be guilty. It is difficult to see how the presumption of innocence could be maintained in this context. The reasoning of the judges has been subject to much criticism as being perverse; 'inference piled upon supposition'. At almost every turn a less probable explanation that implied guilt was preferred to a more probable explanation that implied innocence.

The rationale of the judgement has been variously described as circular reasoning, petitio principii and begging the question. First, the judges decided for no readily apparent reason that the date of the clothes purchase was 7th December,despite the evidence of the rainfall records. Then, they decided that although Gauci's identification of Megrahi was 'only partial', the fact that Megrahi had been in Malta on the day of the purchase, and had been at the airport at the time they had decided the bomb was invisibly levitated on board KM180, and knew the manufacturer of the timing devices, showed that he was indeed the purchaser beyond reasonable doubt. Then, when turning to the extraordinarily tenuous evidence at Frankfurt, the possibility that the entry being relied on was a mere coding anomaly was rejected on the grounds that the man they had decided had bought the clothes in the suitcase was at the airport when the flight in question had left.

Although Giaka was acknowledged as a lying fantasist his assertion that Megrahi was a senior security operative was accepted, and the 'coded' diplomatic Abdusamad passport judged to be highly incriminating. Megrahi having lied to a journalist in a panicked interview shortly after being indicted was also held against him. The extensive terrorist record of the PFLP-GC members was brushed aside in favour of blaming a man who had no such history, and their possession of radio-cassette bombs designed to attack aircraft ignored in favour of an imaginary device that Megrahi was merely assumed to have assembled.

Withholding of evidence

Inquiries carried out in connection with Megrahi's appeals revealed an alarming amount of important evidence never disclosed to the defence. These are only a selection.

• The report of the break-in at Heathrow the night before the disaster
• DC Henderson’s baggage reconciliation report (despite his having given evidence at the FAI and in the USA in the 1990s)
• A statement from Gauci stating that the clothes purchase occurred on 29th November
• Police notes documenting the desire of the Gauci brothers for a reward payment
• The metallurgy results showing the coating on the 'timer' fragment was pure tin, while all the timers made for MEBO were coated with a tin-lead alloy
• The infamous 'public interest immunity' documents relating to the timer fragment

It seems inescapable that if the Zeist court had had access to the withheld evidence, their reasoning might well have been different.


The weight of evidence that the Lockerbie bomb was introduced at Heathrow (not all of which can be rehearsed here) is absolutely compelling. In contrast the evidence that the bomb transited from Malta through Frankfurt is beyond tenuous. In addition, no dispassionate examination of Tony Gauci's various and varied statements can possibly lead to the conclusion that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi bought the clothes in the bomb suitcase. Bearing in mind that Megrahi was verifiably in Tripoli at 4pm on 21st December 1988, the time John Bedford took his tea break, some might reasonably observe that he has an alibi. It was his misfortune to be at the other end of the blind alley the investigators pursued to Malta, looking just suspicious enough and with the right contacts to have a wholly inferential case constructed against him.

Morag Kerr writes on behalf of the Justice for Megrahi Committee.

The above document was commissioned by, and first published on the Scottish Review.

Christ at the Checkpoint Conference - Christian Zionists Tell Jesus to Cut the Criticism of the Money Lenders!

Emily Lawrence, The Electronic Intifada, Bethlehem 12 March 2012

As someone who’s an atheist, it’s been a source of amazement that the western Christian churches, especially the Protestant/non-Catholic denominations, have been a steady source of support for the ‘return’ of the Jews to Palestine. Evangelical support for Zionism pre-dated Jewish support for Zionism! George Elliot in Daniel Deronda, a book in 2 parts – one good, one embarrassingly bad, Lord Shaftestesbury, Palmerston et al. – all saw imperialism’s hopes as being fulfilled in the ‘return’ of the Jews.

As anyone who knows anything about the British Empire knows, the missionaries were the underbelly of the British occupation and subjugation of its colonies. They provided the ideological legitimation for the expansion of western ‘civilisation’ even if, like John Philip in South Africa, they represented the liberal wing of colonialism.

So it’s not any great surprise that the US Evangelicals are head over heels in love with Rapture, Armaggedon and the second coming of Christ. Palestinian Christians to them are just so many natives, sub-human in comparison with the enlightened Israelis. So it was no surprise when the Messianic Christian missions to the Jews issued a statement critical of the very idea of holding such a conference. It is ‘anti-Semitic’ to suggest that Christ might have been inconvenienced or stopped at a checkpoint. How dare Palestinians, especially Christian Palestinians, not suffer in silence as the Palestinians suffer under the jackboot of the settlers.

But no one should be surprised. Of course the ‘messianic’ nutters in these churches don’t care a fig for Jews per se. What they are interested in is saving souls, hastening Christ’s return and beginning a conflagration in the Middle East – hence why some of them openly welcome the idea of the Middle East being set aflame with a war against Iran. Arthur James Balfour made it plain that he didn’t like Jews, especially of the East European variety but that he was happy to lend his name to the Zionist effort. There was even a Declaration named after him in 1917. His evangelical niece Baffy Dugdale made it her life’s work to help the Zionist cause, working unpaid at their HQ in Great Russell Street.

This conference came under enormous pressure to change its name or purpose and those who organised it, including the indefatiguable Stephen Sizer, should be congratulated. They should comfort themselves with the thought that nearly 80 years ago there were another set of Christians who also became mesmerised by state power. These were the German Christians who went on to set up their very own Reich Church in adulation of Hitler. At that time the fate of even those Jews who had converted, the Christian Jews, was to tear up their theology and define religious adherence in terms of race. Nothing much changes except the victims. Plus ca change!

Tony Greenstein

“Christ at the Checkpoint: Hope in the Midst of Conflict” was a five-day event organized by Bethlehem Bible College earlier this month. Christian theologians, academics and church leaders were invited to meet with the local Palestinian church and challenge the Christian Zionist influence within the evangelical movement.

The conference attracted major speakers both from within the Palestinian Christian community as well as international evangelicals, including Tony Campolo, Gary Burge, Stephen Sizer, John Ortberg and Shane Claiborne. Messianic Jewish speakers were also invited.

“This is a conference about sitting down together, Christians, Muslims, whoever comes, discussing theology, in this environment of occupation,” Alex Awad of Bethlehem Bible College told The Electronic Intifada. “We want people to come, see the wall, see the checkpoints, see the reality on the ground, and then open the Bible.”

“The bottom line is the reality of God and his goodness, and the reality of this occupation. Because as Palestinian Christians we face this every day,” Awad added. “We go to church and we learn God is good, but to get to our church we have to go through a checkpoint. How do we figure the goodness of God with the harsh realities on the ground? That is what the conference is all about.”

Empowering the Palestinian church

According to the Christ at the Checkpoint website, its main aims were to empower the Palestinian church, expose injustice in Palestine and to motivate participants to engage in reconciliation.

Topics ranged from the role of Palestinian women in ministry, to the theology of the land and biblical principles of justice and nonviolence. One of the most prominent themes, however, was using the Bible to challenge the theology of Christian Zionism, a theme which proved unpopular in Christian Zionist circles.

The aim that proved most controversial, however, was the conference’s desire to “create a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism.” A series of attacks ensued from the Christian Zionist community, including campaigns to intimidate speakers into withdrawing from the conference.

Challenging Christian Zionism

The conference included seminars and talks which outlined why, from an evangelical Christian perspective, Christian Zionism has dangerously misinterpreted the Bible. An entire day of the conference was devoted to engaging with Christian Zionism, including a seminar by Rev. Stephen Sizer, author of Zion’s Christian Soldiers, entitled “Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions.”

“Christian Zionism can be defined as Christian support for Zionism,” said Sizer in an interview with The Electronic Intifada. “They simply believe that promises God made to Abraham and the Jewish people in Hebrew Bible are in some sense being fulfilled today, or are about to be fulfilled.”

“Therefore as Christians our responsibility is to support what God is doing among the Jewish people today and so taints our political agenda,” Sizer continued. “But there really is no place for the Palestinians within a Christian Zionist theology, other than as the servants, or the hewers of wood and the carriers of water.”

“The particularism and the exclusivism of Christian Zionism is actually a misreading of the Bible,” he added. “When you turn your theology into a political agenda which denies the human rights of other people because they’re not Jews, for me that’s where it crosses a line.”

For many Palestinian Christians, the Christian Zionist theology leaves no room for the presence of an indigenous church in the Holy Land, and fails to address the suffering of the Palestinian people as a whole.

“Christian Zionism, in my opinion, has ignored us Palestinian Christians at best, [and] demonized us at worst,” said Munther Isaac, conference director, in his talk at the conference entitled “A Palestinian Christian Perspective.”

“Whenever they speak about prophesy and Israel, it’s as if Palestinians don’t exist. We are not mentioned in the books, in the films, in the theology conferences,” he added.

“For too long there has been only one narrative,” Isaac said. “The Palestinian narrative is there and is challenging the narrative which has dominated for too long. They can no longer ignore the Palestinian voice.”

Conference attacked

The aims of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference did not go unnoticed. For months before the conference, Christian Zionists and Israeli Messianic Jews waged a campaign against the conference and its organizers, labeling them “anti-Semitic” in an attempt to have the conference canceled.

“You wouldn’t believe the negative stuff that was written about us — sometimes [it] was nasty, some was personal,” said Isaac. “Major Christian media stations have spread lies about Bethlehem Bible College, just because of this conference. I never expected it to get this nasty and this personal.”

These critics suggested the conference was one-sided, biased and anti-Semitic, and speakers were attacked individually and accused of being anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. One op-ed in The Huffington Post even asserted that Stephen Sizer had “joined hands with the Iranian regime” (“Christ at the Checkpoint Conference will only breed more Theological Extremism,”
(9 November 2011).

Meanwhile, Guilio Meotti wrote in an op-ed for Israeli online publication Ynet, “Their Intifada from Heaven is breathing new life into a kind of demonology that bans Israel from the family of nations,” (“Christians who Hate the Jews,” 19 February 2012).

The attacks intensified in the days leading up to the conference, culminating in a hysterical treatise in The Jerusalem Post which equated the conference with Haman’s genocide plot against the Jews in the Old Testament (“This Bethlehem Conference is no Purimshpiel,” 29 February 2012).

As well as attacking the conference aims and individual speakers, critics were also unhappy both with the choice of the name, “Christ at the Checkpoint,” and the logo, which depicted a church surrounded by Israel’s wall, an image based on a photo of a church in Bethlehem. Some conference organizers were even targeted by the Israeli authorities.

The Israeli officials and military leaders summoned me and Dr. Bishara [Awad, founder of Bethlehem Bible College] to interview about the conference,” said Isaac. “They tried to intimidate us and protested the logo and the name of the conference. We said, ‘you don’t like the wall and checkpoint? Remove them, then we’ll change the name of the conference.’”

Christ at the Checkpoint organizers responded to these attacks both personally, by writing to their critics, and publicly, by publishing statements on their website.

“[To] everyone who criticized us, we sent a personal email and said please come to the conference, and then make your judgements,” added Isaac. “In a lot of cases there was no credibility in the attacks, because they were based on the wrong information.”

It is not fair for one to assume that any criticism of Israel should be considered an act of demonization,” stated Isaac and Awad on the conference website. “In reality, many of these attacks are made by extreme fundamentalist groups or writers who do not have any tolerance for a view that differs from their own. For these writers, any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism … If any demonization is taking place, it is the demonization of all Palestinians and Arabs” (“An important message from Christ at the Checkpoint”, 25 January 2012).

For most speakers, the attacks suggested that Christian Zionists were unhappy with any challenge to their theology, particularly from within the evangelical community. According to Stephen Sizer, Christians Zionists often attempt to intimidate or isolate any Christian who publicly disagrees with them.

“Many ministers I know share the views I hold but they won’t talk about it, because when they do they get hit over the head,” he said. “So intimidation often works.”

But while some are intimidated, others remain resolute.

“This is the first time within the evangelical movement there’s been an uprising against Christian Zionism,” Awad explained. “And these people don’t want an uprising, especially because it is a civil uprising. We are evangelicals, and we are revolting against Christian Zionism from within the evangelical church … this is the first time that Palestinians [are speaking] to them loudly.”

Influencing the evangelical church

For many years, the Christian Zionist narrative has dominated evangelical Christianity, particularly in the United States. Prominent figures and pastors such as John Hagee and Pat Robertson have circulated the belief that the modern state of Israel is fulfillment of biblical prophecy and part of God’s divine plan for humankind.

Though Christian Zionism is still very much a mainstream theology, this conference, which describes itself as a “major breakthrough,” shows that there is a growing number of Christian academics and pastors, both within Palestine and worldwide, who are willing to challenge Christian Zionist doctrines and support a biblical understanding of the Middle East based on principles of justice and care for the oppressed.

Because we are evangelicals, when we come up with a conference to question the basics of Christian Zionism it really angers them,” said Awad. “That article in The Jerusalem Post said one statement that made me very proud. It said that this conference has the possibility of changing the evangelical movement. Well if our conference can do that, hallelujah!”

For Sizer, Christian Zionism isn’t the first historical example of Christians confusing theology with politics in order to oppress others. “The Bible has been misused by every colonial system,” he said.

“The Spanish used the church to suppress the Incas and the other people in Latin America, the British used the Bible to justify the colonisation of East Africa and Asia. In South Africa the Dutch Reform Church used the Bible to justify why the blacks were inferior to the whites.”
“We’ve used the paradigms of the Bible to justify mistreating other peoples that we could denigrate or dehumanize them … My message to the Christian community is to say Jesus has called us to treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

According to Isaac, many Christian Zionists tend to ignore the suffering of the Palestinians as it presents a problem to their theology. “One of the most typical and common reactions we hear from many Christian Zionists when they are asked about the situation of Palestinians, you know what they say? They say it’s ‘unfortunate,’” he said.

“People look at the conflict, the death, the refugees, the wall, the humiliation. Tourists pass by the checkpoint and the refugee camps into the Nativity Church, they look at the wall, and all they can say is ‘it’s unfortunate.’”

“No, it’s not unfortunate, that’s the wrong word,” Isaac added. “If you spill a cup of coffee, that’s ‘unfortunate.’ People victimize us in the name of God and the Bible; that is not ‘unfortunate.’ It makes me wonder whether we as evangelicals have lost our conscience. How have we become so apathetic to the suffering people of the world?”
“In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the people who passed by the wounded person were religious people. Maybe they passed by the person and said, ‘it’s unfortunate.’”
Emily Lawrence is a recent graduate and independent writer currently based in Bethlehem, West Bank. She can be followed on Twitter at @EmilyWarda.

21 April 2012

Cameron’s attack on Disability Benefits was Underpinned by his use of his own Dead Child

I am unashamedly lifting a story from Mick Hall’s excellent Outrage blog. This one is on how David Cameron, whose family fortune was accrued via offshore tax havens, and George Osborne have robbed and stolen the benefits of the most vulnerable in society, whilst New Labour looks on with approval. Because the proposal to replace DLA with the cheaper PIP (Personal Independence Payment) was of course a New Labour idea. And the abolition of Incapacity Benefit and its replacement by Employment Support Allowance was another New Labour idea. Work related ESA lasts one year, however ill you are.

Cameron is a particularly disgusting creature. He used the death of his own small child to put across the idea that he understood what disability was. Instead of course his own dead infant was the means by which was able to kill far more people off, as at least 30 people have directly died as a result of the cuts in disability benefit and the effort required not simply to starve to death – something which those who are incapable of looking after themselves might not manage since the benefits system has always been a nightmare to navigate.

Tony Greenstein

Sally Rhodes is disabled, and has been unfit for work for many years. Fortunately she has a partner, Mick, who is in better health, and so Mick is able to go to work, but not full-time because of his caring duties not just for Sally but for their daughter as well.

Sally has a combination of mental and physical ill health manifesting itself in extreme exhaustion and poor motivation. Changes of circumstances are very stressful for her so it can only be imagined how she felt when her DLA came up for renewal in 2010 and a decision was taken to axe her award of middle rate care and low mobility components; not only did her income fall by nearly £50 a week but she was also obliged to appeal against the decision. Sally thus joined an ever-lengthening queue of appellants and waited for more than a year for her hearing to come round. When a date was finally set she suffered many a sleepless night waiting for her day before the tribunal, only to suffer the anti-climax of an adjournment as the tribunal sought further evidence; in particular with regard to her Employment and Support Allowance assessment.

Sally had actually passed through her ESA examination and been found unfit for work but capable of "work-related activity" which was a slight disappointment but not one she felt much like challenging. Now, when a claimant is refused ESA the record of the assessment (on form ESA85) is always included in a claimant's DLA appeal papers because the Department for Work & Pensions like to point to it and use it as further evidence to back up their case. When the assessment is favourable to the claimant they don't put it in, which is equivalent to the prosecution in a criminal case failing to divulge relevant information to the defence.

Sally left the tribunal suite in tears of frustration, but the Judge did insist that before she left a new date be set and the DWP be ordered to produce the missing evidence. Six weeks on, and after more anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks, Sally appeared again and was awarded not only the middle rate of care component but the high rate of mobility component as well, so the decision to withdraw benefit, finally, rebounded in the face of the official who made it since Sally ended up better off than she would have been had her previous award simply been renewed. A rare piece of good fortune for Sally, and a great relief, since the additional £100.75 a week would be a great help to the family's finances and go towards paying off some household debts.

This may sound like a story with a happy ending but it is not, for no sooner had Sally received her arrears of DLA than she was sent a letter bearing bad news indeed.

From April this year her £94.95 ESA was to be stopped, not because she was now fit for work but because the Coalition Government has decided that no-one is allowed to receive the benefit for more than one year.

At a stroke, therefore, Sally and thousands like her have had £94.95 per week simply stolen from them, and this, note, is a benefit which claimants have earned the right to by virtue of paying National Insurance contributions while they were fit for work.

There is no justification, no explanation, no excuse beyond the idea that disabled people of working age, just like the millionaires who are to be handed a tax deduction and the banking executives who continue to pay themselves bonuses of eye-watering extravagance, are "in it together." Sally's joy was severely tempered by the news that what the Secretary of State giveth with one hand he also taketh away with the other. Forget meeting those household expenses after all, Mick and Sally!

The removal of contributory ESA has not been a major talking point during the Welfare Reform Act's progress onto the statute book but I believe it is actually the most pernicious of all the benefit cuts which are just about to take place. People who are long-term sick cannot go to work because they are not fit enough and so their capacity to earn an income is nil; consequently they are already at a huge disadvantage. The only thing they could rely on was that, as long as they managed to get through the increasingly onerous ESA assessments they would at least have their £90 odd per week to help with the family's finances but now even that pittance has been taken away. Apparently this measure is intended to help the disabled by "breaking the culture of dependency" but this is bullshit which would shame the Ministry of Truth. Of course disabled people are dependant; they have no choice but to depend on welfare and in the case of contributory ESA we are talking about a benefit paid for by claimants themselves via National Insurance.

In 1963 the Great Train Robbers received sentences of 30 years but the amount they got away with was paltry compared to the loot the Government is expecting to make via the 2012 Great ESA Robbery. Take money from the disabled and hand it, via tax reductions, to the richest of the rich; that's Robin Hood in reverse and yet we take it with barely a voice raised in protest. Labour's suggested amendment was worthy of Dr Weakling in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists; cut off benefit after 2 years rather than one. Great stuff, guys! That would have given Sally Rhodes an extra year to contemplate the theft of her benefit. Clearly, the Labour Party sees no problem in principle with robbing the disabled as long as the actual stealing takes place over a more acceptable timescale.
Now, as far as I recall none of the three major political parties included in the 2010 manifestos, a promise to burgle the benefits of disabled voters, so if you are experience door-knockers or leaflet-distributors at your door this month please do remind them of that fact.

And next time there is a General Election remember what is taking place right now before you are tempted to believe anything the ESA Robbers tell you.

By Felix McHugh.

Israel's Other Temple

Research Reveals Ancient Struggle over Holy Land Supremacy

By Matthias Schulz


The Jews had significant competition in antiquity when it came to worshipping Yahweh. Archeologists have discovered a second great temple not far from Jerusalem that predates its better known cousin. It belonged to the Samaritans, and may have been edited out of the Bible once the rivalry had been decided.

Clad in gray coat, Aharon ben Ab-Chisda ben Yaacob, 85, is sitting in the dim light of his house. He strikes up a throaty chant, a litany in ancient Hebrew. He has a full beard and is wearing a red kippah on his head.

The man is a high priest -- and his family tree goes back 132 generations. He says: "I am a direct descendent of Aaron, the brother of the prophet Moses" -- who lived perhaps over 3,000 years ago.

Ab-Chisda is the spiritual leader of the Samaritans, a sect that is so strict that its members are not even allowed to turn on the heat on the Sabbath. They never eat shrimp and only marry among themselves. Their women are said to be so impure during menstruation that they are secluded in special rooms for seven days.

Outside, on the streets of Kiryat Luza, near Nablus, a cold wind is blowing. The village lies just below the summit of Mount Gerizim. There's a school, two shops and a site for sacrifices. This is home to 367 Samaritans. It's a small community.

Everyone here is required to attend religious services in the synagogue on Saturdays. "Every baby boy has to be circumcised precisely on the eighth day," says the high priest -- not beforehand, and not afterwards.

Most important of all: the sect only believes in the written legacy of Moses, the five books of the Pentateuch, also commonly known as the Torah. They reject all other scripture from the Bible.

Once in the Majority

From a historical perspective, the Samaritans and the Jews have a common lineage. The Old Testament recounts that 10 of the 12 tribes in the region of Samaria founded the state of Israel in the year 926 BC. The two other clans lived farther south, in the mountainous region of Judah, with its capital Jerusalem (see map).

In other words, the Samaritans were once in the majority. In ancient times, there were 300,000 of them -- perhaps even over a million. But their strictest law almost led to their downfall. It states: "None of you may settle outside the promised land."

As a result, while the Jews fled across the globe to escape the cruelty of foreign rulers, their relatives persevered in the land of their forefathers and suffered under Byzantine tyrants and merciless sultans. At the end of World War I, there were only 146 of them.

"Today we are doing better," says Ab-Chisda cheerily, as he gazes out the window. Now, together with another group in Holon near Tel Aviv, this religious community consists of 751 individuals.

But this population increase only took place because they broke with age-old traditions and rescinded the ban against mixed marriages. In 2004, five Jewish women from Ukraine and one from Siberia, all of them ready and willing to get married, were accepted into the community.

Nevertheless, due to inbreeding, they have a wide range of genetic defects. Trade journals have published studies on the forgotten children of God. They often suffer from muscle weakness and Usher syndrome, also known as deafblindness.

A Grim Fate

But their religion is alive and well. They all gather for Passover, a holiday where the men wear white robes and perform a great animal sacrifice.

During the ceremony, a priest cuts the throats of 50 lambs. Streams of blood flow through a stone channel into a hole, where they are burnt along with the intestines. The meat, which is cooked in a large earthen oven, must be completely consumed during the night -- otherwise it becomes unkosher.

But where do these archaic people come from?

It is a question that intrigues an increasing number of religious scholars. Recent discoveries show that the Samaritans suffered a grim fate. They were once the guardians of the Ark of the Covenant and the keepers of the Mosaic tradition. But then they became the victims of a smear campaign.

His hair windblown, Stefan Schorch stands in front of the synagogue in Kiryat Luza. An expert on the Old Testament, Schorch hails from the University of Halle-Wittenberg in eastern Germany and comes here often -- usually armed with a tape recorder. He works like an ethnologist would when studying a remote indigenous tribe.

Above all, Schorch is looking for sacred books.

It's 7:30 a.m., and a priest unlocks a small house of worship and disappears into a niche behind a heavy red curtain. Inside stands a safe filled with old volumes of the Pentateuch. "Unbelievable," says the researcher, as he leafs through "a completely preserved edition from the 14th century." He photographs each page of the tome. Then the priest locks it away again.

'One Main Difference'

There was a time when nearly every affluent family possessed such a precious handwritten book. Some of them reached Europe. Now, the professor, who comes from the historic birthplace of Martin Luther's Reformation, studies these texts, checking them line by line, and word by word. And he compares the Samaritan Torah with the Jewish version.

"Actually there's only one main difference," he says. Among the Jews, Jerusalem is the world's religious epicenter, whereas for the Samaritans it's Mount Gerizim.

But which Torah is the original? Until recently, the generally accepted school of thought was as follows: In the fourth century BC, the Samaritans split off as a radical sect. In the Bible, they appear as outsiders and idol worshipers; they are evil. The parable of the "good Samaritan" (Luke 10:25-37) offers a rather atypical portrayal of a member of this sect.

The historian Titus Flavius Josephus, himself a Jew, mentions that the apostates erected a shrine "in all haste" in the year 330 BC, as a rather dilettantish attempt to emulate the Temple in Jerusalem.

Increasingly, though, it looks as though the Bible has handed down a distorted picture of history. Papyrus scrolls recovered from Qumran on the Dead Sea, as well as a fragment of the Bible that recently surfaced on the market for antiquities, necessitate a "complete reassessment," says Schorch.

Mass Palestinian Hunger Strike

Israel’s policy of unlimited detention without trial is challenged

As I have oft-remarked, there is an uncanny parallel between Ireland and Palestine. As Ireland was being partitioned the Palestinian Mandate was being put in place under the same Home Secretary Winston Churchill. The Unionists in the north of Ireland achieved a gerry-mandered majority through the creation of an artificial 6 county state and the expulsion of thousands of Catholics. The Jewish majority in Israel was only achieved through expulsion and massacre. In both Ulster and Israel, the dominant settler group saw itself as doing the work of god. Settler colonialism was justified by a form of religious millenarianism. And the traditional weapon of Irish Republicanism, the Hunger Strike, is now being adopted by Palestinian prisoners.

But whereas the hunger strikes ended in political status effectively being conceded by the British state, as it had been before the ascendancy of Labour’s Unionist Home Secretary, Roy Mason, such a possibility is going to be far more difficult to achieve under an Israeli military administration which seems to glories in its brutality and which is impervious to most civilised standards.

On April 17, about 1,600 Palestinian prisoners began open-ended hunger strikes. Instead of being granted political status, Palestinians face hellish conditions in Israeli prisons, enduring torture, deprivation, isolation, intimidation, and denial of basic rights.

Administrative detainees are held indefinitely without charge or trial. Children as young as 10 are treated like adults. So-called security prisoners are isolated punitively for extended periods.

All Palestinian prisoners suffer overcrowding, poor ventilation and sanitation, lack of proper clothing, inadequate food in terms of quality, quantity, and conformity to dietary requirements, and poor medical care. They also have limited or no access to family members and counsel. They get wooden planks with thin mattresses and filthy blankets. They suffer winter and summer weather extremes. The Addameer prisoner support group calls overall conditions "appalling."

Palestinians “are almost completely cut off from the outside world.” Children are treated like adults. Women are treated like men. Toilets inside cells often back up through drains. Essential hygiene necessities like toothpaste, clean clothes, and cleaning products are denied. Medical negligence is common. Required surgery may take years to get if at all. Medications only are given to treat disease. “Sick detainees inside Israeli prisons live on painkillers and tranquilizers,” says Addameer.

Many released prisoners face chronic health problems. Often, early death results. Israeli treatment violates international law. Doing so is official Israeli policy. Geneva's Common Article 3 prohibits all forms of cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment. The International Covenant Against Torture (CAT) prohibits it at all times, under all conditions with no allowed exceptions.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states:
“All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person (Article 10.1).”

Former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak once ruled:
““The walls of the prison do not separate the prisoner from human dignity. Life in prison intrinsically involves a violation of many liberties that a free person enjoys. But life in prison does not require denial of the prisoner's right to bodily integrity or protection against violation of his dignity as a person.””

Israel's Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty states:
“....(B)asic human rights in Israel are based on recognition of the value of man, the sanctity of his life and the fact that he is free. The goal of the law is to defend Human Dignity and Liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Last summer, instead of obeying international law, his own, and his Supreme Court, Netanyahu toughened prison conditions harshly. As a result, cruel, abusive and degrading treatment got worse. Palestinians react the only way they can. Hunger striking is a common tactic. In 1968, they began. Some were individual, others collective. At issue are intolerable conditions, denial of basic rights, and collective punishment.

Annually on April 17 since 1979, Palestinian Prisoners Day commemorates Mahmoud Hijazi's 1974 release. He was the first political prisoner freed in exchange for Shmuel Rosenwasser, an Israeli that the Palestinians held.
  • The demands of the Palestinian prisoners include:
  • Ending administrative detention.
  • Ending solitary confinement.
  • Reinstating the right to education.
  • Halting abusive cell invasions and gratuitous strip searches.
  • Allowing family visitations, especially for detained Gazans receiving especially harsh treatment.
  • Proper medical care.
  • Halting body-searches of family members allowed visits.
  • Allowing books and newspapers.
  • Halting abusive penalties.
Palestinians want to be treated like human beings as international law mandates. They suffer horrifically under appalling conditions. Deaths result. Many when released aren't ever the same. Many die from chronic and debilitating diseases.

Heroic hunger strikers Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi inspired others to refuse food for justice. On March 30, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights expressed concern for eight current open-ended hunger strikers. They include:

(1) Mahmoud Kamel Mohammed As-Sersik
On July 22, 2009, he was arrested. On August 23, 2009, Israel extended his detention under its Unlawful Combatant Law (UCL). Israel calls As-Sersik, and others like him, “unlawful combatants.” No proof is needed, just “a reasonable basis” for believing targeted Palestinians engaged in belligerent confrontation with Israel or belong to a hostile group.

As-Sersik's has been on hunger strike for three weeks. On April 8, he was transferred to Eshel prison solitary confinement.

(2) Thaer 'Aziz Mahmoud Halahla
On June 27, 2010, he was arrested. On March 5, 2012, his administrative detention was extended six months. He refused food for 44 days. On March 28, he was hospitalized in Ar-Ramla prison hospital. Deteriorated health places him gravely at risk.

(3) Belal Nabil Sa'eed Diyab
On August 17, 2011, he was arrested. On February 14, 2012, his administrative detention was extended six months. He's been hunger striking 45 days against imprisonment with charge or trial. On March 28, he was hospitalized in Ar-Ramla prison hospital. His condition's also grave.

(4) Ja'far Ibrahim Mohammed Eiz Ad-Din
On March 21, 2012, he was arrested. He was administratively detained without charge for six months. He's been hunger striking 22 days. On March 28, he was transferred to Al Jalama prison solitary confinement. He's now in Ar-Ramla prison hospital.

(5) Ahmed Nabhan Da'san Saqer
On November 20, 2008, he was arrested. On January 24, 2012, his administrative detention was extended six months. Israel often holds administrative detainees uncharged without trial for years. Doing so has no basis in international law.

He's been hunger striking 31 days in Shata prison.

(6) Mohammed Rafeq Kamel At-Taj
On November 19, 2003, he was arrested. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He's been hunger striking 29 days for justice. He and thousands of others in Israeli prisons get none.

(7) Hasan Zahi As-Safadi
On June 29, 2011, he was arrested. On January 29, 2012, his administrative detention was extended four months. He's been hunger striking 39 days. On April 6, he was hospitalized in Ar-Ramla prison hospital. He's also very much at risk.

(8) Omar Mousa Mesleh Shalaeil
On August 15, 2011, he was arrested. On February 15, 2012, his administrative detention was extended six months. He's been hunger striking 41 days. Now in Ar-Ramla prison hospital, his health also deteriorated severely.

Throughout 45 years of occupation, Israel lawlessly detained Palestinians "as part of its policy of restraint and collective punishment...."

The British Mandate 1945 Emergency Law remains in force. Israel uses it repressively to detain Palestinians, hold them indefinitely without charge or trial, and provide no reasons for doing so.

Israel's Unlawful Combatant Law exacerbates harsh practices.
“Administrative detention amounts to arbitrary detention in violation of the law when the detainee is not presented with the reason for his detention, made subject to criminal charges, or informed when he will be released.”

Doing so violates international law. Israel spurns it unaccountably. Alleged secret evidence is used. Detainees and counsel are denied access. Due process and judicial fairness are nowhere in sight. Palestinians are guilty by accusation for praying to the wrong God.

Israel can hold them uncharged without trial forever. Palestinians risk their lives for justice. Israel doesn't care if they live or die.

A wave of hunger strikes is planned to begin on or around Prisoners' Day on Tuesday, held under the slogan: “We will live in dignity.” About 1,600 prisoners have agreed to take part in the protest, according to Palestinian prisons minister Issa Qaraqi. “The situation inside Israeli prisons has become very dangerous and serious,” he was quoted as saying.

There are around 4,600 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, according to the prisoners' rights group Addameer. More than 300 are held under “administrative detention”, meaning they and their lawyers are not informed of accusations or evidence against them, no trial is held, and their term of imprisonment is determined by an Israeli military judge.

Of the 11 prisoners currently on hunger strike, two have refused food for 46 days. Bilal Diab, 27, who has been held under administrative detention since last August, has also refused fluids either orally or intravenously since 8 April, and has lost consciousness a number of times, according to Physicians for Human Rights.

PHR has urged the Israeli authorities to grant Diab's request to be transferred to a civilian hospital and has cited World Medical Association advice that “the body is unable to survive without liquids for more than a few days, and in most cases a hunger striker will die during the first week”.

Thae'r Halahi, 34, has been held in administrative detention for 22 months, plus for five separate previous periods of between three months and one year. His condition was described as stable but commensurate with a prolonged period without food.

Khadar Adnan, the first prisoner to begin a hunger strike in the current wave, refused food for 66 days before agreeing to a deal that should see him released this week after four months in administrative detention.

Adnan, 33, was followed by a woman prisoner, Hana Shalabi, who was released and deported to Gaza after 43 days on hunger strike. Her family home is in the village of Burqin, near Jenin, in the north West Bank.

She considered herself "not deported but freed to Gaza", where she had never been before, she told the Guardian. "It's a victory for me." But she acknowledged that she had come under pressure from the Israeli authorities to accept the deal and end her protest, amid fears that her life was in danger.

Hunger strikes were, she said, "a good and effective tool, and the only way prisoners can achieve something". She is still suffering from weakness and swollen legs since ending her protest, and is under medical supervision. “Physically it was hard, but morally I was high,” she said.

Shalabi, 30, had previously been held for 25 months under administrative detention, but was freed in October under the prisoner exchange deal struck by Israel to secure the release of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit. She was re-arrested on 16 February.

She denied being an activist with Islamic Jihad. However, the faction had rented an apartment in Gaza City for her, in which a large Islamic Jihad poster was displayed on the wall. Her brother, Samir, who was killed in an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers in 2005, had been convicted of Islamic Jihad activities.

Under the terms of the deal that ended her hunger strike, she must stay in Gaza for three years, after which she will be allowed to return to the West Bank unless she is found to have been involved with a banned organisation. “The Israelis also threatened me that if I took part in any political or military activity, then I could be targeted [for assassination],” she said.

Addameer described Shalabi's deportation as a “forced displacement”.We consider this a violation of the fourth Geneva convention,” said Sahar Francis, director of Addameer. “We're happy she was released but not to be forced to live in Gaza. They have sent her from one prison to another big prison.”

Shalabi agreed to the deal when physically and mentally weak and without access to independent lawyers, said both Addameer and Amnesty International. “The deal may amount to a forcible deportation given her medical condition and the denial of access to independent doctors and lawyers,” said Ann Harrison of Amnesty.

Israeli government spokesman Ofir Gendelman said Shalabi was deported to Gaza “because she cannot pose from there a clear and present danger to the safety of the Israeli public … If Shalabi was to return to the West Bank, there is no doubt that she would return to her terrorist activities with the Islamic Jihad.”

Since being released in October, she had planned attacks against Israeli citizens, he added.

Around one third of the 477 Palestinian prisoners released last October in the first stage of the Gilad Shalit deal were deported to Gaza, 17 for three years and 144 permanently. The Hamas government is now building a new neighbourhood south of Gaza City for them, and is also paying salaries to those not provided for by other factions.

Hamas has said that the only way to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners is by abducting Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips. “If the enemy has not learned, we are prepared to give them practical lessons,” Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader in exile, told a conference in Qatar this month. “The only way to free prisoners is by exchanging them for [Israeli] prisoners and leaders.”

Hamas leaders inside Gaza echoed the call for militants to step up efforts to seize Israeli soldiers.

See Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to go on hunger strike