All posts by Saleh Mamon

The Sudanese Revolution continues

Yet again, the military in Sudan is attempting to crush a transition to democracy

The coup

On Monday 25th October, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) shredded the transitional agreement signed on 17th July 2019 which was to usher Sudan towards a democracy led by a civilian government over a period of 39 months. It swept away the Constitutional Charter signed by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the TMC agreed in August.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the TMC dissolved the power-sharing Sovereignty Council, dismissed the transitional government and the regional governors and declared a state of emergency.

The December revolution

From the beginning in 2018 and through 2019, the military was on the defensive. Waves of protest erupted across the country in January 2018 against the rise in bread and fuel prices. They continued to grow and peaked in December, demanding an end to poverty, corruption and unemployment. In this December Revolution, calls for President al-Bashir, who ruled for 30 years, to step down became louder.

In February 2019, al-Bashir declared a state of emergency and sacked the cabinet and regional governors in a bid to end weeks of protests against his rule, in which up to 80 people died.

Talks between the generals and protest leaders broke down. Sudan’s military removed al-Bashir from power, suspended the country’s constitution and closed its borders and airspace.

The TMC took over but thousands of protesters camped in front of the army headquarters, demanding civilian rule.  A three-month state of emergency was also imposed.  The Military Council began talks with opposition on the transition to democracy.

On May 28th and 29th 2019, workers launched a countrywide political strike against the military regime, with the strikers and protesters demanding civilian rule, undeterred by military threats.

Bloody repression

But the military crackdown continued unabated. It reached its high point with the massacre in Khartoum when the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) launched an assault on the sit-in in front of the military HQ using tear gas and heavy live fire on 3rd June.

An estimated 120 were killed and hundreds of unarmed civilians were injured, with hundreds of unarmed citizens arrested and many families terrorised in their homes across Sudan.

By mid-July 2019 there were at least 246 deaths and more than 1,350 injuries, an unprecedented historical record compared to other similar uprisings in the country.

On 30th June thousands of people protested across Sudan in a day of mass marches and protests in response to the call by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA)  and the FFC for a “miliyoniya” – a millions-strong protest to demand the handover of power to a civilian authority.

Power-sharing

The military caved in under internal and international pressure to agree to the power-sharing structure by signing the transitional agreement and the draft Constitutional Charter setting a road map whereby the new government would ostensibly bring Sudan’s economy back from the brink of collapse, achieve peace, build new institutions capable of combatting corruption and delivering justice, and pave the way for a new, permanent constitution and credible elections.

The transitional government under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok took power in September 2019.His cabinet inherited the economic crisis. The economy had been battered by years of US sanctions, after the US designation of Sudan as a supporter of terrorism in 1993, and was heavily indebted. It was also dominated by a small class of al-Bashir’s cronies. The spread of COVID-19 compounded the difficulties.

In December 2020, President Trump removed Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in return for Sudan normalising its relationship with Israel.  The United States further enabled $50 bn debt relief and $ 2.4 bn funding by June 2021 through the IMF and World Bank.

In return theHamdok administration implemented the agreed economic austerity reforms which included cutting back on subsidies and balancing the budget. Inflation went through the roof and by July 2021 stood at over 400%, increasing the hardship in the living conditions of many Sudanese, which were already dire.

These problems gave the military an opportunity to stir public discontent. It tried its utmost to stall economic reforms since it controlled the key sectors. Hamdok expressed his frustration that only 18% of the state’s resources were in the hands of the government. The generals publicly decried the ineptitude of the civilian administration.

During the 20 months with al-Burhan as the chair of the Sovereignty Council, the TMC took full advantage of the weaknesses in the transitional agreement.  Al-Burhan began acting as de facto head of state. His deputy, Hemeti, headed the civilian government’s Economic Committee, and also became chief peace negotiator with rebel factions. The generals even ventured into foreign policymaking, including involvement in foreign wars and pacts, and, most controversially, agreeing to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, without the knowledge of the civilian cabinet.

Planning for the coup

By July 2021, the generals were emboldened. When al-Burhan was just about to hand over the chairmanship of the Sovereignty council to civilian leadership, he went on the offensive. The generals had used this period to prepare a restoration.

Its allies mobilised the Beja tribe in eastern Sudan to blockade the main highway linking the main commercial seaport Port Sudan on the Red Sea and the rest of the nation. This caused severe bread shortages. The military refused to dismantle the blockade when the civilian government asked it do so.

On 21st September the authorities announced that there had been a coup attempt which had been averted. Shrewd political analysts thought that this seemed to be a ‘trial balloon’ set up by the military to gauge the public response to the ratcheting of tensions between the military and the civilian transitional government.

On 16th October security forces allowed several thousand demonstrators to be bused into Khartoum, as far as the gates of the presidential palace, where they openly called for a military takeover and the overthrow of the Hamdok administration.

In response to this, pro-democracy forces organised a mass protest on 21st October. Thousands of supporters of Sudan’s transitional government took to the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and other cities.

Arrests of civilian government officials

The security forces arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and members of the transitional government, officials and political leaders. 

Al-Burhan, announced that he had taken this action because he wanted to avoid a civil war because of civilian factionalism. He promised to hold elections in July 2023 and hand over power to an elected civilian government then. He alter went on to claim that there was no coup and that the Sudanese army had not killed any protestors.

Behind him stands his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemeti). He has been at the head of the Rapid Support Group (RSG), the Janjaweed tribal militia that carried out massacres in Darfur during Bashir’s reign. His group has been integrated into the army as a militia within the military. The RSG was responsible for the massacre at the sit-in on 3rdJune.  He has a close alliance with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He projects himself in a high-profile foreign policy role and is regarded by some in Sudan as the country’s strongman.

Resistance from below

The announcement of the coup brought thousands of people out onto the streets of Khartoum spontaneously to demand the release of the political leaders.  Protestors opposed to the military takeover carried the national flag and burned tyres across the city. Youths barricaded streets. Soldiers stationed on the streets of the city to restrict movement clashed with protestors. A large number of protestors were arrested.   By the next day, at least seven anti-coup protesters were killed and 140 injured due to excessive force used by the country’s security forces.  The main opposition coalition, Forces of Freedom and Change, called for peaceful actions in the streets to overthrow the military takeover

Massive organised resistance from below was to follow. The call for a million to march on 30th October saw around four million people protest in nearly 30 cities across Sudan. Workers went on strike to shut down transport, oil fields, banking and most public institutions. Many women joined the street demonstrations. Teachers, university and school students also walked out.

The real drivers of the resistance are the Sudanese Professional Association which unites workers’ professional associations and unions and the neighbourhood Resistance Committees

The SPA emerged by stages during the 2010s from the struggles of professional groups: in turn, doctors, journalists, lawyers, veterinary surgeons, engineers, and school and university teachers. 

Neighbourhood Resistance Committees emerged as a leading force in 2018, mobilising millions of young people using this network-based form of self-organisation independent of political parties. They have been formed in major cities and rural communities, bringing together a broad coalition of activists drawing in the previously unorganised.  For example, Bahri (North Khartoum) is thought to have nearly 80 resistance committees, each with several hundred members. These grassroots committees have established local coordination committees; they reject any kind of centralisation and are keen to preserve their autonomy. They not only organise street protests but also provided food distribution, medical services and much more in some areas.

As usual the main bridges in Khartoum were closed by the military and there was an internet blackout to prevent the opposition from organising. Meanwhile the military used the state TV and social media to control the narrative.

For months, al-Burhan has been advocating the need for a technocratic government. Hamdok is a technocrat who has worked for many years for the UN, most recently as deputy executive secretary of its Economic Commission for Africa. Many are advocating he should serve as a neutral figure and lead such a government.

Sabotaging civilian rule

However, the real intention of the generals is to ensure that there is compliant neutral government that does its bidding and avoids accountability. They want to take politics out of policy decisions especially financial matters. They want to de-radicalise the new resistance forces, to divide and sideline them.

This is what they exactly did on 11thNovember, by appointing a new Sovereign Council with self-selected members of the military and civilians including ex-rebel leaders. Al-Burhan would lead the council with Hemeti as his deputy. The FFC representatives were totally excluded.

Divisions have also appeared in the FFC about strategy, tactics and inclusion of different political currents. It came under criticism for delaying the creation of a Transitional Legislative Council by more than two years.

Protests broke out across the country and on Saturday 13th November, another ‘million-people march’ saw huge protests across the country despite the military using live fire which resulted in fatalities. Protestors have been undeterred by this repression and have continued to make demands by being on the streets. The rallying cry now is “No negotiation, no partnership, no compromise.”

On 21st November, Hamdok was released and he signed a 14 point agreement with al-Burhan restoring him as the Prime Minister to lead a technocratic government. The calculation the generals are making is making that they would still be in control of the transition Sovereignty Council behind the facade of the technocratic government.

On the face of it, this may seem a retreat but is more likely a tactic to allay the street protests, influence public opinion and relieve international pressures.  The agreement has been angrily rejected by major networks of Resistance Committees, who have stated, “This agreement means nothing, we continue to hold to our position: no negotiations, no participation, no settlement.”  The Resistance Committees stand by the radical demands agreed by their gathering on 22nd October.  The SPA has also stuck by similar demands agreed on 30th October.  Both are in no mood to compromise – they want the overthrow of the military regime, full power to a civilian government and accountability of the military for killings and war crimes.

On Thursday 25th November, thousands of protestors were out on the streets across Sudan to pay tribute to the 42 people killed, according to medics, in the crackdown against anti-coup demonstrators. Demonstrators in Khartoum chanted slogans such as, “The people want the downfall of the regime”, while in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman others shouted, “Power to the people, a civilian government is the people’s choice.”

On 26th November, in an exclusive interview with Al-Jazeera, Hemeti said that Hamdok was aware of last month’s military takeover before it happened and was “completely agreeable” to it. This suggests that all the orchestrated manoeuvres to arrest Hamdok and then to release him, reappoint him as the Prime Minister were to give him legitimacy for independence.

Many Sudanese activists foresaw this as a part of process to “manufacturing consent”  to secure public opinion in favour of a return to peace and stability from the turmoil of the last two years.

The deep military state

If there is a secret ‘deep state’ in Sudan then the army is at its heart.  The military, trained by British colonial authorities, has ruled Sudan for 52 of the 64 years since independence from the British in 1956. The military generals have ruled the country intermittently for significant periods – Abboud (six years) Nimeiry (16 years), al-Bashir (30 years), each time overthrowing transient civilian governments. 

Besides having the technical armed power, the military stratum exerts immense political influence on national life in Sudan. Over a long time, this stratum is politically and organisationally centralised. Despite the factions within this stratum, the army has become the fundamental institution, just as in Egypt and Algeria.  Military supervision of government is the keystone of the ‘system’ that ‘the people want to bring down’ (a common slogan of popular uprisings in the region). As a part of the ruling class, it could not have done this without a compact with the landowners, business classes, industrialists, bureaucrats, etc.

The military economic empire

At stake is the military’s control of the economy beyond its massive call on public spending at the expense of public spending. Over 60% of state spending goes on military and security spending, according to IMF and World Bank estimates. Official budgetary allocations put security spending at five times the level of health spending and 35 times the budget for education.

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) amassed extensive commercial holdings under al-Bashir. The crown jewel of the military’s commercial empire is the Defence Industrial System (DIS). It was launched as the Military Industrial Corporation in 1993, to safeguard against potential disruptions of weapons supplies from Western governments by developing arms manufacturing capabilities.  Over the past several decades it diversified and expanded significantly without any transparency about its holdings, operations and revenues.

Today military and security services are running a network of companies with billions of dollars in assets. These military enterprises are involved in the production and sale of gold and other minerals – marble, leather, cattle, and gum arabic. They control 60% of the wheat market.

This commercial empire stretches across key sectors such as construction, real estate development, contracting, water supply, banking, transportation, aviation, tourist facilities telecommunications and the manufacture of household appliances, pipes, pharmaceuticals, detergents and textiles.

Even the RSF with Hemeti at the helm have built up secret independent sources of wealth. They have captured a large part of the country’s gold industry through a linked company, but the leaked bank data and corporate documents show their use of front companies and banks based in Sudan and the UAE. It has also earned significant sums from hiring out troops to fight alongside Emirati- and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen (as has the SAF) and Libya. Its contribution of just over $1 billion to the Central Bank of Sudan to support essential imports in 2019 gave a sense of the volume of the RSF’s reserves.

Besides all this, all the companies held by the SAF and RSF are exempt from paying tax and operate without transparency about their holdings and revenues.

Moves towards military divestment

It was at this time critical that the U.S. Sudan Democratic Transition, Accountability, and Fiscal Transparency Act (SDTAFTA) came into force on 1stJanuary 2021. This required that the Sudanese authorities establish civilian control over the finances and assets of the security (encompassing the military) and intelligence agencies.

An agreement was reached in March 2021 between the government and the armed forces for a gradual divestment of the army from the economic field and transfer of military companies to civilian state authorities.  The stumbling block has been full financial disclosure and civilian capacity to take over. No steps in this direction have taken place in the face of the army’s refusal.

In April 2020,  a committee, established under the transitional charter to recover ill-gotten gains from former senior officials with close ties with al-Bashir, secured into public hands 20 million square meters of residential land, more than one million acres of agricultural land and dozens of businesses.  All of this is very limited compared to the massive resources of the country’s military, security services, and militias. This example rattled those in the military with vested interests.

Disasters of Military rule

Military rule has been a disaster for the Sudanese people. The economy stagnated for three decades since 1970 with a GDP mostly around $10 bn and saw growth after the discovery of oil, leading petroleum exports after 2000, to peak between 2010 and 2017 at around $60 bn. Since then it has seen a steep decline particularly after the secession of South Sudan where most of the oil reserves are. 

Sudan’s poverty rate in 2021 stands around 46%. Hunger is a serious issue particularly affecting children with a high proportion of undernourishment and stunting. It has one of the lowest human development rates taking in account life expectancy, education and per capita income.

The stakes for the country’s public finances and economy are equally high. Sudan is deemed to be “in debt distress,” with a foreign debt of $60 billion and total public debt reaching 202 percent of GDP in 2019. This makes it one of the IMF’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC).

Neither has military rule brought peace and stability to Sudan. Like most Muslim-majority countries across the Middle East and North Africa in the 1980s, the turn towards Islamist politics engrossed Sudan. The historical memory of the nationalist revolt led by the Mahdi in 1885 against British colonisation to create an Islamic polity has been carried forward in the al-Ansar movement. Today the National Umma Party claims to be the descendant of this movement.

In September 1983, Nimeiry issued several decrees, known as the September Laws, which made Islamicsharia the law of the land.  Secular Muslims and the predominantly non-Muslim Southerners strongly opposed the imposition of Islamic law.  John Garang, the leader of the Sudan People’s_Liberation_Movement (SPLM) defected from the government and begun to organize Southern opposition.  A civil war between the North and South followed which extended to the control of oil resources in the South. Strict sharia law was imposed under President Omar al-Bashir, during which time Islam became the religion of the state.

Osama bin Laden was in Sudan from 1991 to 1996 before he became America’s arch-enemy. As the originator of Al-Qaeda with its drive towards establishing an Islamic State through Jihad (Holy War), it is inconceivable that he would not have had influence on the Islamist currents in Sudan.

The second civil war was internationalised and lasted about 21 years and ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005, laying the basis for an autonomous South which seceded through a referendum in 2011.

The short sightedness of the military elite and politicians imposing Islamic laws in a multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country, and its failure to establish a secular, pluralistic and united society based on consensus and sharing of resources broke up Sudan with dire consequences for both South Sudan and Sudan. Sudan still faces an economic crisis due to the loss of two-thirds of its oil revenues with the secession of South Sudan which erupted into a destructive civil war.

The Darfur conflict in western Sudan has been costly. Rebels launched an insurrection in 2003 to protest against the disregard for the needs of the non-Arab population. The government responded by setting up and equipping Janjaweed Arab militias which terrorised the civilian population.  The conflict resulted in a humanitarian crisis that left hundreds of thousands dead and two million displaced. In July 2008 an International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor alleged that al-Bashir, as president of Sudan, bore criminal responsibility for the crisis in Darfur.

Since independence, Sudan had faced other insurgencies on the periphery because many communities have grievances to do with identity, marginalization, the relationship between religion and state, governance, resource-sharing, land issues, social justice, and equality at the national level. The military had failed to address these issues for decades and used military force to resolve them unsuccessfully.

Within a matter of months, the transitional government led by Prime Minister Hamdok was able to negotiate the Juba Peace Agreement. This was signed on 31st August 2020, in Juba, with the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, which includes the five main Sudanese rebel groups, and at the head the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Movement, both from the Darfur region in the west, and the Sudan People’s_Liberation_Movement-North , which is leading a rebellion against the Sudanese government in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.  Some groups such as Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North and the Sudan Liberation Movement have not joined the agreement.

Geopolitics at play

Sudan is in a strategic location straddling North Africa, the Sahel and Ethiopia and sharing borders with nine other states. Its geopolitical importance is growing with its long coast line along the Red Sea where rival powers are jostling for control. Islamic militancy across the Sahel, the escalating war in Ethiopia and the strife within its border put it at the centre of regional stability.

Sudan has always been a locus of competition between regional powers and subject to the pressures of realignments in regional politics. Patronage and financial leverage often determined who would retain power in the country.

Al-Bashir with links to the Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed a privileged relationship with Qatar and Turkey, two backers of the Muslim Brotherhood. He also maintained an alliance with Iran.

The revolutionary uprising in 2018-19 provided UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt an opportunity to bring Sudan into their axis. In December 2018, Qatar reportedly cut off fuel shipments. Facing crushing debt, a crippling deficit and an acute foreign exchange shortage, al-Bashir cut subsidies for bread and fuel, triggering the first demonstrations which would grow into the December Revolution. In the coming months the crisis left al-Bashir with no allies or foreign backers, precipitating his downfall.

The Arab troika backed the TMC to the hilt, enabling it to launch the bloody repression, stalling revolutionary demands for civilian rule and enabling the emergence of a power-sharing agreement in which the generals would retain substantial executive powers. In the guise of ‘national stability’ they supported military and paramilitary figures and co-opted elements of the FFC to forestall any radical moves.

Closer links between Saudi Arabia and UAE were forged when Sudan deployed 30,000 infantry troops to fight in the Arab coalition against the Houthis in Yemen. Sudan received the payment of soldiers’ salaries, direct deposits to the Sudanese state’s coffers, and subsidies on basic commodities. By 2018, UAE officials estimated that they had injected about $7 billion into Sudan’s economy.

As an imperial hegemon in the entire region and indeed Africa as a whole, the US has kept Sudan on its radar for decades. It designated Sudan as a state supporter of terrorism in 1993 and imposed sanctions which strangled the Sudanese economically, cutting of financial support from international institutions.

President Clinton ordered the bombing of the Al-Shifa factory in Khartoum which was reduced to a heap of twisted metal by fourteen cruise missiles. It produced 90% of the major pharmaceutical products and was the sole producer of TB drugs for nearly 100,000 patients. The human costs were far greater than the damage to property.

The December Revolution provided the US with a new opportunity to bring Sudan within its fold in coordination with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. As mentioned earlier, as soon as the US removed Sudan from its state supporter of terrorism list, both the IMF and the World Bank provided debt relief. The US also offered a credit line of $700 million. This provided the US with significant leverage over Sudanese state.

The US has been disappointed with the coup. Its envoy Jeffery Feltman  had frantic meetings with al-Burhan to stop the coup and to reverse it once it took place. The Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in touch with Hamdok during his arrest, further indicating the US engagement in Sudan at the highest level. All major donors and financial institutions have suspended economic support, including the US, World Bank, IMF, France, Germany, and the UK.

The question is what is the calculation the US is making in wanting a democratic transition in Sudan? Can it be trusted to safeguard democracy in Sudan? The way in which the counter-revolution was engineered in Egypt after the 2011 Arab Spring, with the election of Morsi after the first ever democratic vote being swiftly reversed, ushering in the military dictatorship of Sisi points to the contrary.

Historically the US has undermined the independence of African governments and overthrown governments that it considered against its interests by the CIA engineering coups, for example in Congo in 1961 and Ghana 1966.

From the 1950s to 1970s the US installed many neo-fascist military dictatorships across three continents. After the Iranian revolution its policy shifted to installing controlled electoral democracies generally in the global south.

Distorted politics of Sudan

Sudan’s current impasse cannot be fully understood without grasping the underlying politics over decades. Politics has never been absent whether it took a religious, secular or nationalistic form.

Sudan had experienced two historic and much celebrated political uprisings – the October Revolution of 1964, which overthrew the first military regime of General Abboud and ushered in a four year period of parliamentary democracy and the 1985 April Intifada which overthrew the country’s second military overlord, General Nimeiry. 

During both these upheavals, the urban professional activists, the Doctor’s Union, Bar Association, Khartoum University Teacher and Student Unions were the engines behind the call for strikes and the overthrow of the military dictatorship.

After 1964, there followed government by unstable parliamentary coalitions, hardly lasting a year. The Islamic Umma party and the Democratic Union Party were coalition partners. There were tensions between the secular “modern forces” and the Umma Party. When the Umma-dominated parliamentary regime outlawed the Sudanese Communist Party, a section of the ‘modern forces’ retaliated by facilitating Nimeiry’s military coup in 1969.

In 1989, Hassan-al-Turabi, the ideologue of the National Islamic Front (NIF) collaborated with Umar al-Bashir, to overthrow the Umma Party government led by Sadiq-al-Mahdi since 1985, thus ending the third parliamentary democracy. The NIF was fretting about the potential failure of its project of restoring sharia law. 

Through the different phases of Sudan’s history, the competition for dominance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Movement in various guises, both in Parliament and the military was decisive.

Instead of tethering it, the politicians rode the military tiger, only to be thrown off and sidelined. They failed to fulfil the primary requirement of democratic politics -keeping the military stratum under control. Their unprincipled opportunism, their horse-trading and their lack of vision for the future of the Sudanese people made them use the army generals to achieve their short term partisan aims -only to entrench military rule in Sudan for decades.

Once any military strongman took power, politics was repressed, civil society was demoralised, corruption prevailed, internal wars continued, and a vast amount of funds were wasted, inevitably distorting Sudanese society and its future development.

The struggle for self-determination

The military has become a parasitic stratum feeding on the national wealth in Sudan. It has a monopoly of violence. Revolutions can have many meanings. Any change that can shake up Sudanese society from the stranglehold of the military would be revolutionary and open up new possibilities.

The situation remains extremely fluid.  The generals have made well planned moves to solidify the coup.  The neighbourhood Resistance Committees can provide a basis for a decentralised federalist democratic power structure. But as new organisations and alternatives continue to emerge through the struggles, there is an urgent need to build their capacity to link up, build unity amongst the different classes and ethnic groups and present a radically egalitarian vision of governance in Sudan.

Although the revolutionary movement is confident, it needs to solidify fairly quickly to present an alternative to the Sudanese people. It must expose the failures and the corruption of the military relentlessly. Constant vigilance and change of tactics by the revolutionary forces to win over the majority of Sudanese to the necessity of change for further social advancement will be vital.

This is the third time in Sudanese history since independence that the explosive contradiction between the military stratum and civil society has come to the fore. Repeating the feats of the previous revolutions, activists need to be aware that by overthrowing an autocratic regime will not guarantee the emergence of a more democratic system. The revolutionaries will need to reconcile the centre and the periphery, and religion and secularism that previous uprising failed to do.

International Solidarity

The coverage about Sudan in the corporate media is cursory, superficial and ahistorical.  Sudan is a country far off whose fate matters little and garners interest only when Western interests are threatened or if terrorism in the form of an Islamic State insurgency shows up.

To support the civil society resistance in Sudan and the struggle for democracy, subscribe to MENA Solidarity Network which has up to date information on news, demonstrations, petitions and motions for trade union branches which can also be adapted for party branches.

The calls for international solidarity matters and should be heeded. The most important thing that we can do for the Sudanese revolution is hold the British government to account for its intervention with the US and the Arab Troika to push back the revolutionary tide. After all, the British government ruled Sudan for nearly seven decades after invasion, trained its army and supported conservative political forces in Sudan.

Secondly, activists need to put in real effort to track and shut down the sources of RSF and military revenues which are funding the counter-revolution.  This can only be done at multinational level, given that the commercial enterprises of the military are integrated with western capitalist economies dominated by banks and corporations.

Thirdly, international solidarity should focus on exerting pressure on the military to release detainees, compensate for death and injuries, hold all those responsible for these to account, refrain from using deadly force at protesting civilians, respect the rights to protest, restore telecommunications and the internet and to lift bans on trade unions and other associations.

Image: Sudanese soldeirs stand guard around armoured military vehicles as demonstrators continue their protest against the regime near the army headquarters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, April 11th 2019. Source: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/military-coup-ousts-sudans-bashir-protesters-demand-civilian-government. Author: Agence France-Presse, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

First published on the Labour Hub 29 November 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/11/29/the-sudanese-revolution-continues/

The horror of a US drone strike killing ten members of the same family including seven children in Kabul

On Monday 30th August reports began to emerge that a drone strike in Kabul had killed a family.  The reports were fragmentary and there was uncertainty about the numbers. The earliest report was a brief one from CNN at 8.50pm Eastern Time. I picked this up when John Pilger tweeted saying that there were unconfirmed reports of nine members of one Afghan family including six children killed. Someone had taken a screen shot of the CNN report and tweeted it. 

Later the CNN journalists filed a detailed report with photos of eight of the ten who were killed.  If you have a look at these photos, they cease to be abstract numbers and names. Here are beautiful children and men in their prime whose lives were cut short. The New York Times also reported the details. The Los Angeles Times had a comprehensive report showing the photos, the incinerated husk of the family car with relatives gathering around it, the grieving relatives and the funerals. 

The two LA Times journalists who visited the site observed a hole where a projectile had punched through passenger side of the car.  The car was a heap of metal, melted plastic and scraps of what seemed to be human flesh and a tooth. There were metal fragments consistent with some kind of missile. The outside walls of the Ahmadis’ home were spattered with bloodstains that had begun to turn brown.

By complete chance, I watched the BBC news at 11pm on Monday which featured a BBC World Service Newsday report on this drone strike in detail, interviewing a relative who cried at the end. The air strike killed ten of his relatives including six children. The presenter was Yalda Hakim. There was a clip showing relatives combing through the remains in the burnt out car.  Ramin Yousufi, a relative of the victims, said, “It’s wrong, it’s a brutal attack, and it’s happened based on wrong information.”

Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s veteran correspondent who was in Kabul, when asked about the incident, made a general comment that this was one of the tragedies of the war. Yalda Hakim, instead of interviewing any US national security officials about the incident, went on to interview the Pakistani ambassador in the US about Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban.

The BBC news at 10 o’clock, presented by Mishal Hussain, had a more detailed segment. It showed BBC correspondent Sikender Karman at the Ahmadi family home near the incinerated car and the family member combing through the wreckage for remains of the dead. Someone picked up a burnt finger. He interviewed a family member and described the episode as an awful human tragedy.  Again there was a failure to question any US official.

The reports in the US media were detailed and graphic compared to what was published in the British media. As one would expect, the tabloids completely ignored the story. The next day on Tuesday 31st, some British newspapers carried a few photos of the dead on their front pages.

Using these reports, it was possible for me to piece together what had happened. After a day of work on Sunday, at about 4.30pm Zemari Ahmadi pulled into the narrow street where he lived with his extended family, with three brothers (Ajmal, Ramal and Emal) and their families in Khwaja Burgha, a working-class neighbourhood a few miles west of Kabul’s airport.  Seeing his white Toyota Corolla, the children ran outside to greet him. Some clambered aboard in the street, other family members gathered around as he pulled the car into the courtyard of their home.

His son Farzad, aged 12, asked if he could park the car. Zemari moved to the passenger side and allowed him to get into the driving seat. This is when a missile from a drone that was buzzing in the sky above the neighbourhood struck the car and instantly killed all those in and around the car. Mr. Ahmadi and some of the children were killed inside his car; others were fatally wounded in adjacent rooms, family members said.

Those killed by the strike were Aya, 11, Malika, 2, Sumaya, 2, Binyamen, 3, Armin, 4, Farzad, 10, Faisal, 16,  Zamir, 20,  Naseer, 30  and Zemari, 40.  Zamir, Faisal, and Farzad were the sons of Zemari. Aya, Binyamen and Armin were the children of Zamir’s brother Ramal. Sumaya was the daughter of his brother Emal. Naseer was his nephew. The loss of these loved family members to the surviving members must have left them all heartbroken and inconsolable. That fatal drone strike changed their lives forever. Their dreams and hopes were shattered.

For the last 16 years, Zemari had worked with the US charity Nutrition & Education International (NEI), based in Pasadena as a technical engineer. In an email to the New York Times Steven Kwon, the president of NEI, said of Mr. Ahmadi: “He was well respected by his colleagues and compassionate towards the poor and needy,” and recently he “prepared and delivered soy-based meals to hungry women and children at local refugee camps in Kabul.”

Naseer had worked with US special forces in the western Afghan city of Herat, and had also served as a guard for the US Consulate there before joining the Afghan National Army, family members said. He had arrived in Kabul to pursue his application for a special immigration visa for the US. He was about to be married to Zemari’s sister, Samia whose photo showing her grieving appeared in New York Times.  

In response to the killing of innocent children, US national security officials resorted to familiar justifications.  Firstly, they had targeted an individual planning suicide attacks on Hamid Karzai Airport in a defensive operation based on actionable intelligence. Secondly, they said there were secondary explosions, with the vehicle carrying substantive explosive material that killed people. This line was a well prepared public relations spin.

The Pentagon press conference fronted by a general and press secretary was equally revealing. There were two anodyne questions about the drone strike killings. Most questions were about the five rockets that were fired towards the airport, three of which never reached the airport and two of which were intercepted by the US defence system. When referring to the drone strike, everyone refrained from mentioning the children – they talked about civilian deaths. The party line was repeated without reservations. There was a promise of an investigation, but there is unlikely to be any transparency or accountability, as findings have never been released in previous drone killings.

Again, the gross failure to hold the Pentagon officials to account stood out. This moral blindness is the result of the underlying racism that accepts without reservation US attacks on civilians as legitimate and looks away from the deaths of civilians who are non-white. The same ranking applies to innocent children and the sympathies they evoke. There is a ranking system for deaths, with the deaths of US and allied soldiers leading the rank and Afghan deaths at the bottom.

The media coverage on Afghanistan in Britain was a classic inversion of truth and reality. Instead of holding the elites in the US, the UK and their allies to account for 20 years of war on one of the poorest countries in the world and their failure to bring freedom and democracy, the entire focus was on the bestiality of the Taliban who now had to be accountable to the so called ‘international community’. The savagery of the Afghanistan war was re-written in pictures showing soldiers rescuing children and dogs. 

Reports from all the journalists who interviewed the family members and also people in the neighbourhood clearly show that this was an errant strike. The US military was on alert after the suicide bombings at Kabul airport that claimed the lives of 13 US army personnel and over a hundred Afghans on Thursday August 26th. It had launched three strikes on what it believed to be IS-K (Islamic State-Khorasan).  Ground level intelligence is vital to avoid any collateral damage.

There was a failure of intelligence in the case of this drone strike. It lays bare the dangers of the Pentagon’s long term counterterrorism strategy of so-called over-the-horizon attacks.  Even when US troops were fully deployed in Afghanistan, with American special forces working alongside Afghan security forces, intelligence was often shoddy and led to mounting civilian casualties.

Secret drone strikes have been widely used in Afghanistan. Figures are extremely hard to pin down. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalists which maintains a database to map and count the drone strikes, between 2015 and now, 13,072 drone strikes were confirmed.  It estimates that anywhere between 4,126 to 10,076 people were killed and between 658 and 1,769 injured.

The horrific killing of members of the Ahmadi family as the US abandoned Afghanistan is symbolic of the total warfare on the Afghan people for two decades. Identifying the elusive terrorists among the Afghans made every Afghan a suspect.  Secret drone warfare portends the arrival of technological extermination for people on the periphery as the imperial powers attempt to subjugate and discipline them.

All people of conscience should speak out boldly and critically against these destructive wars based on the deception of bringing freedom and democracy. We must question the legitimacy of state terrorism which is hundreds of times more destructive than the terrorism of political groups or individuals. There are no military solutions to the political, economic and ecological issues that we confront across the world. Peace, dialogue and reconstruction are the way forward.

Image source https://can2-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/petitions/photos/000/302/044/original/no-more-attacks-afghanistan.png

First published on the Labour Hub 9 September 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/09/09/the-horror-of-a-us-drone-strike-killing-ten-members-of-the-same-family-including-children-in-kabul/

Israeli army’s lethal ‘shoot to kill’ actions cut down innocent Palestinian lives

IDF Soldiers Prepare Near Israeli-Syrian Border

Let us consider five episodes during which Palestinians were killed recently in the West Bank.

Friday July 23th  Israeli forces entered Nabi Saleh located northwest of Ramallah around 5 p.m. from the eastern area of the village. As they moved through the village, they encountered Palestinian residents. Confrontations followed with Palestinian youth throwing stones and Israeli soldiers firing tear gas, stun grenades, and live ammunitionIsraeli forces shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian boy Mohammad Munir Mohammad Tamimi. The bullet entered his back and exited out through his abdomen, tearing a large hole and exposing his intestines, according to information collected by Defence for Children International – Palestine. Mohammad was taken in a private car to a hospital in Salfit where he underwent four hours of surgery. He was stabilized and moved to the intensive care unit, but later succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead around midnight.

Tuesday July 27th 41-year-old Shadi Shurafi, a plumber went to check the village’s main water valve near the entrance of Beita (Nablus). He had a wrench in his hand. After finishing, he was heading home. He was shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the pumping station. He was alone and there were no other Palestinians around at that time.  He was a father of four – his son Leith aged 13 and three other younger children.

Wednesday July 28th  A 12-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed al-Alami was killed by IDF gunfire in the West Bank town of Beit Ummar’ north of Hebron.  He was subsequently rushed to hospital in Hebron and was later declared dead.  Mohammed’s father, Muayyad, was taking his children in the pickup for a picnic with 5-year-old Ahmed in front, 10-year-old Anan and 11-year-old Mohammed in the back.  They had shopped for snacks at the grocery store and were heading out of the village when Mohammed asked his father to turn back because they had forgotten some item. As he reversed near the hill which held Israeli soldiers, to head back to the village, the pickup was struck by 13 bullets fired by the soldiers. One of the bullets struck Mohammed in the chest. The others were just lucky to survive.

Thursday July 29th  A 20-year-old Palestinian man died hours after being shot by Israeli forces during the funeral of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Alami, who was killed the day before, also by Israeli military gunfire. He was one of the pallbearers carrying Mohammed’s body. He too was shot by soldiers, who opened fire during the funeral. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, Shawkat Awad sustained gunshot wounds to his abdomen and head and was taken in a critical condition to a hospital in Hebron, where he died.

Friday Aug 6th  38-year-old Imad Duikat, a labourer, had been among hundreds of fellow villagers of Beita who gathered every Friday across from Evyatar, an illegal outpost whose settlers have left for the time being but the  dwellings are still there, intact. He was drinking water from a disposable cup when he was shot. It was about 2.30 p.m. when an IDF soldier took up his rifle and fired just one round – a .22 calibre “tutu” bullet – into Duikat’s chest. Blood spurted out of his mouth; the bullet did not exit. His infant son Ali, and his four sisters, will never see him again. 

These killings categorically show that the Israeli defence forces are operating a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. None of those killed endangered the soldiers who killed them. They were not terrorists but civilians. These five executions left behind grieving families, widowed women, orphaned children and distraught parents, shattering dreams and hopes. They were deliberately targeted by soldiers choosing shooting to kill as the preferred option. In all cases other options were available: arrests, aiming for the legs, not shooting, or simply letting the people be.

Gideon Levy rightly wrote, “All this can be called terror; there is no other definition. All this can be called the actions of death squads; there is no other description. It sounds horrible, but it really is horrific.”

According to the Israeli open-fire regulations, live ammunition may be fired in two situations only. First, shooting to kill is permitted when the lives of members of the security forces or other individuals are in danger. Even then, the use of firearms is only permitted if there is no other way to avert the danger, but only against the assailants themselves. Second, members of the security forces may only shoot at a person’s legs, as the last phase in an attempt to arrest the person in question, only after they have given warning and fired in the air, and only when no one else is in danger of getting hurt.

In using firearms in the Occupied Territories, Israel’s actions are also subject to the provisions of international humanitarian law. These allow security forces to open fire even under non-life-threatening situations. However, and most importantly, they restrict the actions of security forces so as to protect civilians who are not taking part in the fighting, and their property, as much as possible.

However these rules are entirely ignored by the Israeli armed forces despite claiming otherwise.   Soldiers have often fired indiscriminately, hitting passers-by; they targets civilians deliberately and they use firearms without ensuring sufficient distinction between armed groups and civilians.

In order to promote accountability, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem regularly wrote to the Military Advocate General (MAG) Corps to conduct investigations for cases in which security forces harmed Palestinians.  But thousands of casualties have been largely ignored by the military law enforcement system. In most cases, no investigation was opened at all; in the rare cases that were investigated, no further action was taken. Other than a handful of cases, usually involving low-ranking soldiers, no one has been put on trial for harming Palestinians. Frustrated with this, B’Tselem ceased to demand investigations from MAG Corps in May 2016.

Shockingly, the day after the killing of  Mohammed al-Alami, Israeli soldiers raided the headquarters  of the Palestine branch of the Defence for Children International NGO  in El Bireh, and stole six desktop computers, two laptops, one external hard drive and a few binders. These contained all the evidence that the organisation had collected on the  killing.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed there since the beginning of the year. The increase in the number of Palestinians killed this year – almost twice as many as in every other recent year – is due to a combination of circumstances such as the May uprisings against the Al-Aqsa intrusions, the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and attacks on Gaza. According to United Nations, in the period covering July 13th to 26th, overall, Israeli forces injured 615 Palestinians across the West Bank, including 24 children, the youngest of whom is a three-month-old baby.

The responsibility for these shootings lies squarely with the head of Central Command, Maj. Gen. Tomer Yadai and Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi. When he was appointed as Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff two and a half years ago, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said, “Our goal is fielding a lethal army.” He appointed Yadai who has now been removed because there was a call for his sacking because of the multiple incidents of killings of Palestinians. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the new head of Central Command, who still threatens Palestinians with the use of “trained lethal forces without hesitation.”

The Editorial in Haartez of August 4th 2021 said, “IDF soldiers’ quick trigger fingers are a badge of shame for the army and the lethal chief of staff who heads it. The IDF has proven to be a thug against people smaller and weaker than itself. Only utter contempt for Palestinian lives could explain such a bloody harvest.”

The whole of the Israeli media have just looked away and not reported on these killings, except for Haaretz. Their two veteran journalists Gideon Levy and Amira Hass have courageously investigated some of the incidents and have called for accountability.

To quote Gideon Levy, “It could be less horrific if the Israeli media bothered to report on it, possibly shocking Israelis. It could be much less horrific if IDF commanders took the necessary steps given their army’s murderous recklessness. But most of the media believed that the killing of a child interests no one or is unimportant, or both, so this shocking incident wasn’t reported on. If the soldiers had shot a dog – also a shocking act, of course – it would have attracted more attention. But a dead Palestinian child? What happened? Why should it interest anyone, why is it important?”

It would also be less horrific if the British and American media reported on the killing of innocent Palestinians. But they remain silent, discrediting their defence of human rights across the world.

Image: IDF soldiers. Source: IDF Soldiers Prepare Near Israeli-Syrian Border. Author: Israel Defense Forces, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The crimes against indigenous children in Canada reveal the barbarism of the colonial system

The discovery of unmarked graves of indigenous children in Canada reveals the cruelty and inhumanity of the colonial system. In May, members of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation found 215 bodies at the Kamloops school in British Columbia. On 24th June, Cowessess First Nation announced the discovery of as many as 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewanan. On 30th June, the Lower Kootenay Band community announced finding 182 unmarked graves of indigenous children between the ages of seven and 15 at St Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook, British Columbia.

The nearly 1,000 ‘virtual unearthings’ of the bodies were made by using a highly specialised ground penetrating radar which mapped the buried human remains. The initiatives were a persistent effort by the indigenous community groups, and not by the Canadian government or the perpetrators who had every reason to hide these remains forever. These revelations are a searing reminder of the sufferings of the indigenous communities.

Just imagine the trauma of a family whose child was abducted without notice, without consent. The accounts of survivors who lived through such abductions make harrowing reading.  Being loaded onto buses, trucks and trains without the opportunity to say goodbye to their parents and family, many cried all the way and were taken many hundreds of miles from home. The arrival at a residential school was equally traumatic. They were stripped of their clothing, their hair cut and given a school uniform. Brothers were separated from sisters, older brothers from younger and older sisters from younger.  They entered a world dominated by fear, loneliness and lack of affection.  The trauma is still fresh in the minds of some who experienced the abduction of their siblings.

To operate such a heartless system, the settler society dehumanised the indigenous communities. Institutional racism based on the supremacy of ‘white Christian’ culture was the driving force behind the policy of ‘aggressive assimilation’ that Canada copied from the United States. It was made mandatory for native children between the ages of seven and 16 to attend residential schools.

A partnership between the Canadian government and Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches administered the system. The system opened around 1883 and grew to about 150 schools across Canada. The government’s partnership with the churches remained in place until 1969, and, although most of the schools had closed by the 1980s, the last federally supported residential schools remained in operation until the late 1990s.

An estimated 150,000 indigenous children were forced into the residential schools. A landmark class action by the survivors of the system against the federal government in 2008 resulted in a court settlement.  The Canadian government apologised to the former students, and agreed to pay 1.9 billion Canadian dollars (about $1.85 billion) to surviving students and establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the experiences of children who attended the schools.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up immediately. It was led by Justice Murray Sinclair, an Ojibwa who was the first aboriginal judge in the province of Manitoba. Members of the Commission spent six years travelling to all parts of Canada to research and gather evidence.  Seven national events were held across the country between 2010 and 2015, marking the culmination of a process which saw the TRC hold 238 days of local hearings in 77 communities across the country.

In all, the TRC collected 6,750 statements from survivors, their families, and others directly affected by the schools. In 2015 it published a six volume, 4,000-plus-page report detailing the testimonies of survivors and historical documents from the time. By all accounts, this is an immense achievement reproducing the erased history of the indigenous communities for the first time.

The Commission could establish that 3,201 students died of malnourishment, tuberculosis and other diseases caused by poor living conditions. Many students also died from accidents, fires and during attempts to escape. Justice Murray Sinclair argued that this number is likely higher, perhaps five to ten times higher

The poor record-keeping by the schools of the children on their register and poor burial records made it impossible to establish a more accurate picture. The schools were left unregulated. The lack of a proper dietary standard meant students were undernourished, which increased their vulnerability to infectious diseases. 

It was known that the comparative mortality rate for indigenous children in these schools ranged between twice as high and five times higher than non-indigenous schoolchildren. The rates of infectious disease grew due to lack of regulation barring ill students from being admitted to the schools or being in class or dormitories, as well as overcrowding.

Furthermore, students were expected to grow crops or raise animals to provide themselves with food, to make and repair much of their clothing and to maintain the school building and grounds. This meant that the schools operated a “half-day system” with half the day spent in classes and the other half on institutionalised repetitive child labour in the guise of vocational training.

The residential schools were woefully underfunded compared to the schools for non-indigenous communities.  They were inadequately staffed with many staff being paid poorly on the grounds that they were carrying out missionary duties. During any economic recession the schools faced a financial crisis as well as health crisis because of cuts.

Many survivors recalled how their heavily regimented daily lives lacked privacy and dignity. At many of the schools, students were addressed by a number rather than a name, as if they were prisoners. Corporal punishment was administered if they were caught speaking their language. Children were forced to convert to Christianity. Such was the alienation of students that there were episodes when students tried to burn down their schools. At least 33 students died after running away, mostly from exposure to cold and drowning.

There were widespread bullying and beating involving both staff members and older students. Some former students testified before the Commission that priests at the schools had fathered infants with indigenous students, that the babies had been taken away from their young mothers and killed, and that in some cases their bodies were thrown into furnaces.  The commission found that the government had in effect blocked criminal investigations of some sexual predators employed at the schools.

The objective of separating children from their families was to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to next. Thus aboriginal parents were completely alienated from their children on the grounds that they were unfit to look after them. Parental visits were strictly limited by placing schools hundreds of miles from home. Parents who travelled a long way and camped outside the schools were denied the opportunity to see their children. Many parents resisted by keeping their children out of these schools at risk to being punished because they saw those schools as dangerous and harsh institutions. Students were also subjected to forced enfranchisement as ‘assimilated’ citizens that removed their legal identity as Indians.

The legacy of the regimented residential schools has left a lasting impact on indigenous communities. Disconnected from their families and culture and forced to speak English or French, students who attended the residential school system were often unable to fit into their communities but remained subject to racism in mainstream Canadian society. It has been linked to an increased prevalence of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse and suicides which persist within indigenous communities today.  A disproportionate number of indigenous people are imprisoned in Canada. Indigenous children account for a much larger part of the child welfare system’s caseload than their share of the population.

The TRC came to the conclusion that for over a century, the central goals of Canada’s aboriginal policy can best be described as “cultural genocide”. Aboriginal lands were simply occupied or seized. Often, negotiated treaties were seemingly legal but marked by fraud or coercion. Populations were forcibly transferred from agriculturally valuable or resource-rich lands to remote and economically marginal reserves. Their movement was restricted through ‘pass laws’. Aboriginal languages were banned. Spiritual leaders were persecuted, spiritual practices were forbidden and objects of spiritual value were confiscated and destroyed.

The TRC’s call for action included an apology from Pope Francis for the role the Catholic Church played in the residential schools system.  But the pope has not apologised but only expressed “pain”. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime minister said that Canadians were “horrified and ashamed” of the policy of forced assimilation but stopped short of launching a national investigation on the deaths in residential schools.

The TRC set out an agenda for true reconciliation between the indigenous and other communities. The establishment of the of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation as an archival repository for all the material it collected laid the basis for the compilation of the complete history and legacy of the residential school system for future generations.

However five years after it issued its recommendations, the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nation led research centre found that the Canadian Government and the Catholic Church have implemented only nine of 94 recommendations.

The government’s reconciliation agenda, which is still based on assimilation, is facing increasing opposition from native people due to Ottawa’s manifest failure to address the horrific social conditions faced by the majority of Canada’s indigenous people, both on and off reserve.

On 1st July when Canada was supposed to have a national celebration marking its 154 years of independence, the celebrations were muted because indigenous groups had called for the cancellation of the celebration after the discovery of the unmarked graves.

Apologies and reconciliation should not be allowed to deflect from thorough accountability. The most basic of questions about missing children — who died? why did they die? where are they buried? — have never been addressed or comprehensively documented by the Canadian government.

The Independent UN human rights experts called on the Canadian authorities and the Holy See of the Catholic Church to conduct prompt “full-fledged investigations”. They called on the authorities to probe “the circumstances and responsibilities surrounding these deaths, including forensic examinations of the remains found, and to proceed to the identification and registration of the missing children.”

Furthermore, “the judiciary should conduct criminal investigations into all suspicious death and allegations of torture and sexual violence against children, hosted in residential schools, and prosecute and sanction the perpetrators and concealers who may still be alive.”

For the last three centuries, vast swathes of the world fell under direct imperial rule accompanied by the most brutal violence against indigenous peoples by states which see themselves as democracies today. The barbarism of colonialism that has been buried needs to be exhumed and a comprehensive indictment against the colonial system fully assembled. There has to be justice and reparations for the survivors.­

Image: Canada. License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0. Attribution Link: Pix4free.org – link to – https://pix4free.org/ Original Author: Nick Youngson – link to – http://www.nyphotographic.com/ Original Image: https://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/highway-signs/c/canada.html

First published on the Labour Hub on 28th July 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/07/28/the-crimes-against-indigenous-children-in-canada-reveal-the-barbarism-of-the-colonial-system/

Amnesty condemns Israeli military shutting down a Palestinian health provider

The Palestinian Union of Health Workers Committee (UHWC) is one of the main providers of health services in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), running hospitals and health clinics which provide medical care to marginalized communities. It provides essential health services to thousands of Palestinians and also runs a programme for women’s health among many others.

More than 310,000 Palestinians have contracted Covid-19 and the virus has killed 3,500 of them. UHCW has been at the forefront of the Covid-19 response in the OPT, providing medical care to Covid-19 patients at its health facilities as well as through mobile clinics for hard-to-reach communities. It plays a vital role in raising awareness and offering public health guidance on the spread of Covid-19. Additionally, it leads local advocacy efforts to improve the Palestinian health system.

On 9th June, Israeli army forces raided the UHWC headquarters in Ramallah in the early hours without warning. They forced their way in by breaking the main door down and confiscated computers and memory drives which are essential to run its services effectively. This was immediately followed by a military order for the UHWC to close for six months.

Amnesty International has warned that the order to shutdown UHWC will have catastrophic consequences for the health needs of Palestinians across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

This is not the first time that UHWC and its staff have been targeted by the Israeli military. Its Jerusalem office was shut down by Israeli authorities in 2015. Its Ramallah office was previously raided in October 2019 – when its finance director was arrested – and in March 2021 when two other members of staff were arrested.

The organisation has come under attack repeatedly from the Israeli authorities, with its employees facing harassment and arrests for its alleged affiliation with the Popular Liberation Front for Palestine, a Palestinian political party with an armed wing and listed as a terrorist organisation.

Associating a community organisation with terrorism in order to criminalise it is a very familiar tactic in nations across the world, in the context of the global war on terror, to delegitimise opposition, dissidence and resistance. 

The allegations against UHWC come from a report by NGO Monitor which claims to be a globally recognized research institute promoting democratic values and good governance. Its objective is to hold NGOs to account through transparency and adherence to human rights. Its primary focus is non-governmental organizations (NGOs), their funders, and other stakeholders, in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

NGO Monitor is based in Jerusalem. Its funders are organisations from the United States and a few from Israel. It is well endowed with a turnover of nearly 1.8 million US dollars in 2019. Among its International Advisory Board are prominent pro-Israeli supporters such as Professor Alan Dershowitz, Elliot Abrams and Douglass Murray, among others. Its Board of Directors and Legal Advisory Board have highly qualified individuals from the academic and business world who have varied associations with Israel.

Its activities aim to defund European finance for Palestinian organisations by allegations of association with terrorism. Its publication attacks human rights organisations such as B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch which have called out Israeli apartheid.  It opposes any resistance against Israel, such as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

The claims that NGO Monitor makes of impartiality and defending human rights are patently false. It is a right wing organisation which is pro-Israel and seeks to delegitimise any opposition to Israel. This shows how pro-Israeli political organisations have the capacity to influence both knowledge and decision-making at an international level.

Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International said in a statement, “As the occupying power Israel has a clear obligation under international law to protect the rights of all Palestinians – including their right to health. So far they have completely failed to fulfil this responsibility throughout the global pandemic, pursuing a discriminatory Covid-19 vaccination policy. Israeli authorities must immediately rescind the shutdown order and put an end to the harassment of health workers.”

Appeals to Israel to respect international law have always fallen on deaf ears. Israel is being shielded by the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe from any criticism or pressure to change its policies. This provides an unconditional impunity, giving it free pass to act as it wishes, defying international law and conventions.

Israeli policies have strangled the Palestinian health care system for decades. The cumulative effect has meant the Palestinian healthcare system is in a state of chronic crisis with continuous shortages of money, investment in infrastructure, medication, medical equipment and a lack of specialist doctors and medical staff in general.

Per capita expenditure in Israel on health services is eight times greater than in the West Bank and Gaza.  This is reflected in the staffing of health services.  Israel has eight times more specialist doctors than the West Bank and Gaza, 1.76 compared to 0.22 per 1,000 residents.  While Israel has 4.8 nurses per 1,000 Israelis, the figure for the occupied territories is 1.9.

Furthermore, the Palestinian public health system is not able to provide specialized treatments for complex medical problems in fields such as oncology, cardiology and orthopaedics. Many patients needing such care are referred to private Palestinian health facilities in East Jerusalem and, if needed, to hospitals in Israel, Egypt and Jordan at a significantly higher cost.

The Israeli Ministry of Health also controls the import of pharmaceuticals to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It allows only the import of medicines registered in Israel and blocks imports from neighbouring markets which could provide medications at lower costs. Importing raw materials needed for the local manufacture of medicine is almost impossible because of restrictions by Israel.

All these constraints are reflected in health outcomes. The life expectancy of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza is about ten years lower than that of persons in present-day Israel.  Meanwhile, infant mortality and maternal death rates are four times higher in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the West Bank and Gaza, an average of nineteen babies die per one thousand births, while in Israel, the average is four out of one thousand. Four times as many Palestinian mothers die during childbirth compared to mothers in Israel, 28 compared to 7 per 100,000.

The incidence of infectious diseases is higher in the occupied Palestinian territories than in Israel. Disturbingly, some vaccinations against life-threatening diseases are not given in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Expensive vaccines that prevent Hepatitis A, chickenpox, pneumonia, rotavirus (the common cause of severe diarrhoea among infants and young children) and human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer, are not included in the Palestinian Authority’s national vaccination program because of lack of access and cost.

Needless to say, the healthcare situation in Gaza is extremely precarious, fragile and near to collapse.  The Israeli blockade for 14 years, reinforced by the Egyptians, the periods of non-cooperation by the Palestinian Authority and the four devastating aerial bombardments by Israel, have left a trail of destruction both of human life and resources.

The destruction of housing has created a mass of displaced people – the ruin of the economy, a mass of jobless. Food insecurity and rising poverty mean that most residents cannot meet their daily caloric requirements, while over 90 per cent of the water in Gaza has been deemed unfit for human consumption. A meagre electrical power supply, a badly-depleted water aquifer and the inability to treat sewage have only intensified the social health crisis.

The deaths of loved one caused by bombings have filled the living with grief and trauma. Those injured during bombings and live firings during the March 18th demonstrations near the border have left them with disabilities. Across the Gaza Strip, psychological trauma, poverty and environmental degradation have had a negative impact on residents’ physical and mental health; many, including children, suffer from anxiety, distress and depression.

On top of all this, the Israeli authorities are hell-bent on criminalising and closing down Palestinian civil society organisations built by Palestinians to serve the health needs of their community. The shutting down of UHWC is unforgivable and indefensible.

It shows that the Israeli apartheid system is a heartless and cruel system which has no regard for the wellbeing of Palestinian people. It is clear that Israeli policies want to decimate the Palestinian population in order to contain the demographic threat they are believed to pose.

We must be ever vigilant of what Israeli policies are doing to Palestinians under occupation and speak out critically against our government’s policy of looking the other way. We must support the struggle of Palestinians for freedom and self-determination. We must not remain silent.

Image by Chicago Man from  Creative Commons  marked with a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

First published on Labour Hub on 22 June 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/06/22/amnesty-condemns-israeli-military-shutting-down-a-palestinian-health-provider/

Why we must support Palestinian families resisting eviction in Sheikh Jarrah

The silence of the press and TV on the eviction of the Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem is deafening. The only explanation one can have is the effectiveness of the lobbying by the Israeli state and the collusion of journalists and editors in silencing this issue. It is patently clear that Arab lives do no matter to our media. This confirms the long history of anti-Palestinian racism as Ghada Karmi has so well argued.

Sheikh Jarrah is a predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.  Some 300 Arab residents belonging to 28 extended families in Sheikh Jarrah could be evicted and made homeless.

The Israeli Haaretz newspaper interviewed and published the stories of several families.  I would just like to recount four of those stories.

At 72, Mohamed Sabbagh’s family fled from their home in Jaffa in 1948 when he was one year old. Their original home is now a synagogue. The family wandered around nearly a decade, beginning with a stay in an Egyptian town, then the Gaza Strip, followed by a journey on foot to Hebron, from where they moved to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem their first home was a makeshift car garage. The Jordanian government brought his parents to Sheikh Jarrah in 1956, where they settled in a compound allocated to them. Over time this developed into a maze-like complex to accommodate the families of his four brothers, as well as his family, with his wife and two of their grown-up children, with their spouses and children – altogether, 32 members including 10 children.

Through his adult life, he did all sorts of odd jobs which included working as plumber, a driver and a hospital receptionist.  They remained together under cramped conditions because Palestinians cannot get permits to build extensions or move to newer locations.

Moving on to the Diab family with seven family members: Saleh Diab, 51, was born in Sheikh Jarrah after his father moved to Jerusalem in 1956 from Jaffa, as part of the Jordanian resettlement programme.

In early May, the family were sitting on the patio of their home when they heard a commotion. He popped out to see what was going on. There was a protest against evictions. The Israeli soldiers assaulted him and broke his leg.

Diab had his own business, a bakery but about seven years ago, but it went bust. He got a job in the bakery department of a large supermarket. He was fired from his job in May without a good reason. He believes that the real reason was complaints by some settlers to his employers about his political activism.

Abdel Fattah Skafi’s family comes from the Baka neighbourhood of West Jerusalem. They were forced out in 1948 and dispersed to different areas of East Jerusalem. Eventually his parents moved to Sheikh Jarrah in 1956 by arrangements with the Jordanian administration. At 71, he is now retired after working his entire life as a shoemaker with great pride.

Skafi and his wife share a small four-room space with three of their six children and their grandchildren, altogether 14 family members. His grandchildren are refusing to attend school, fearing that they would be evicted and won’t be able to come home. He fears that they are regressing in the current situation from being outstanding students.

Finally we come to El-Kurd family with six family members with one minor, who are threatened with eviction. The family was expelled from Haifa in 1948.

The response from 24-year-old Muna El-Kurd was to throw herself into campaigning against eviction. She rose to prominence internationally, with Arabic and international media regularly quoting her in their reports about the protests.  She has 1.2 million followers on Instagram.

On Sunday June 6th, Israeli police arrested her, suspecting her of “participation in disturbing the peace and in riots” that have taken place recently in Sheikh Jarrah. A video posted on social media showed her being handcuffed on arrest at her home and taken off to the police station.

The police allegations are false. They want to silence her because she is getting the message out about the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. She does not have a history of violence towards anyone.

Her brother Mohammed is also active in the protest movement and was summoned by the police on Sunday. He turned himself in. The outrage of these unjust arrests got worldwide attention and the police released both of them.

Reading their stories, one can only admire them for their resilience and strength in surviving against all the odds. Every individual in the families involved are under immense stress because of the threat of evictions. The children suffer from anxieties and their education is damaged. It is a living nightmare for them.

Through May and still continuing, Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood have held demonstrations in response to the imminent threat of forced eviction.  Amnesty International has documented arbitrary arrests of peaceful demonstrators, the use of excessive force, arbitrary use of sound and stun grenades as well as the arbitrary spraying of maloderant (skunk) water cannons at demonstrators and homes in Sheikh Jarrah. The Israeli police have placed the area under siege and continue to attack peaceful protestors and injuring hundreds.

Israeli forces have also been intimidating and arresting journalists who are reporting on Sheikh Jarrah. On May 28th,  the Al Kofiya satellite channel TV crew were attacked and their leading reporter Zaina Halawani and cameraman Wahbi Mikeh were arrested and removed from the neighbourhood. After five days in jail, the judge at Jerusalem’s Central Court released them on bail of 4,000 shekels ($1,230) each and ordered them to be put under house arrest for a month, forbidding them from communicating with each other for 15 days.

On June 5th, Al Jazeera News Channel’s journalist Givara Budeiri was arrested brutally when covering a demonstration and remanded in custody for several hours. Her left hand was fractured and she had to be treated in a hospital on her release.So what is behind these evictions? After 1948, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was under Jordanian administration, which struck an agreement with the UN agency for refugees (UNRWA) in 1956 to build housing units for these refugee families. 

In the 1960s, the 28 families agreed a deal with the Jordanian government that would make them the owners of the land and houses, receiving official land deeds signed in their names after three years. In return, they would renounce their refugee status.  However, this was scuppered when Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem after the 1967 war.

Since 1972, several Jewish settler organisations, mostly funded by donors from the United States, filed lawsuits against the Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah, alleging the land originally belonged to Jews during the Ottoman rule in 1885. 

Khalil Toufakji, a Palestinian cartographer and expert on Jerusalem, found a document in the Ottoman-era archives in Ankara which negates any Jewish ownership of the neighbourhood. However, when he presented the deed to the Israeli district court, it was promptly rejected.

In 1991, the Palestinian families accused their Israeli lawyers and legal representatives of forging their signatures on documents stating that the ownership of the land belonged to settlers. This skulduggery turned Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah from owners to tenants facing removal orders from settlers.

But it was not until 2008, after a US-based settler group, Nahalat Shimon International, bought the disputed land rights, that they used inherently discriminatory laws, such as the Legal and Administrative Matter Laws as well as the Absentee Property Law of 1950, to confiscate Palestinian land or property and transfer it to settler groups. 

In 2009, the Ghawis, along with the Hanoun family (a combined total of 55 people) were forcefully kicked out of their homes, their furniture and belongings strewn across the lawn.  The memory is still fresh in the minds of all residents in this neighbourhood.

In the first week of May, the Jordanian government ratified 14 agreements from the 1960s with Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to strengthen their position against the Israeli courts. But all the families feel that they will never get justice from the Israeli courts which always favour settlers.

Israeli law allows Jews who may have historic property rights in East Jerusalem to recover those properties, but Israeli discriminatory apartheid laws do not allow Palestinians to claim their properties in West Jerusalem and elsewhere, even if they have the deeds.

Underlying all this is the policy of the Israeli government to limit the population of Palestinians in East Jerusalem to 30 percent or less. This is achieved by arrests, demolition of structures, land confiscation and forced displacement of Palestinians.

It is urgent that the Jordan, UNRWA and the international community take diplomatic and political action against this ethnic cleansing, dispossession and land theft. The Israeli government is shirking its responsibilities as an occupying power.

The good thing is that hundreds of Palestinians and Jews in East Jerusalem marched together on June 11th to stop the evictions.  We must support the grassroots organisations leading the resistance. International solidarity does matter. 

On Facebook, support the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement.  If you are a twitter user, you can get updates and share using the hashtags #SaveSheikhJarrah, #SheikhJarrah and #StopJerusalemExpulsions. You can also find a sample of tweets to share here.

Also follow Mohammed El-Kurd @m7mdkurd.  On Instagram, you can follow muna.kurd15 where she posts latest updates on the situation in Arabic but in most cases English translations are available.            

Don’t donate to funds claiming to help Sheikh Jarrah. The families are not taking donations and haven’t endorsed any funds. “We are committed to keeping the fight for Sheikh Jarrah a political one. It is not time for humanitarian support yet,” Mohammed el-Kurd tweeted.

Join the ‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions’ movement. BDS is a form of protesting, boycotting and working towards ending international support of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Find their call to action here.

Sign these petitions:

Stop Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem

Facebook, we need to talk.

Demand an end to Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem

Sheikh Jarrah -Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Image: Sheikh Jarrah Demo, June 11th. Author: Kara Newhouse Creative Commons image was marked with a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

First publishes by Labour Hub on June 16 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/06/16/why-we-must-support-palestinian-families-resisting-eviction-in-sheikh-jarrah/

The legacy of imperial genocides

German responsibility for the Herero genocide should be the beginning of many imperial reckonings

Germany accepting historical and moral responsibility for the genocide a century ago of the Herero people in present-day Namibia should just be the beginning for all ex-colonial powers to recognise genocides across the five continents.

As far as I know, the TV channels in UK did not broadcast this news. Most of the tabloids and the broadsheets ignored it except for the Guardian. The BBC news website reported it. Only Al-Jazeera English TV gave coverage to the story but it does not have a large audience.

Most people rely on TV for their news.  They are blissfully unaware of the Herero genocide, one of the first genocides of the twentieth century. School history books and teachers would not have covered such genocides. They are erased from history. The only genocide that is widely known is the Holocaust.

This comes at a time when there are calls for imperial reckoning. There is agitation for removal of statues of slave traders and colonisers from public spaces. European museums are under pressure to repatriate objects looted during violent imperial expeditions. Calls for formal apologies for past racist violence are getting louder.  There are demands for including imperial history and the roots of racism in the school curriculum.

News reports barely cover the context of the events and set it in a wider historical framework. One of the best jargon-free introductions to this is Sven Lindqvist’s Exterminate All The Brutes.  In this short, extraordinary book, Lindqvist weaves a narrative of his Saharan travel with historical reflections drawing on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, scientific theories, social debates and literary worksto tell a gruesome story of imperialism and racism over two centuries.

European world expansion, accompanied by a shameless defence of extermination and white supremacy, created a political climate, psychology and violence that led to a series of genocides which began to be regarded as the inevitable by-product of progress and modernity. This culminated in the most horrendous of all, the Holocaust.

The Heart of Darkness was written during the patriotic delirium after Kitchener’s return in 1898. He had defeated the mighty Mahdist army using a whole new arsenal – gunboats, automatic weapons, repeater rifles and dum-dum bullets at Omdurman. The entire Sudanese army was annihilated without once having got their British lines within a gunshot. Within five hours, eleven thousand Sudanese were killed and the sixteen thousand wounded were left to die. The British lost only forty-eight men. It was a sweet revenge for Gordon’s defeat and death in 1885. Churchill was present and he rejoiced with champagne on the Nile.

The weapons race among European nations had produced a technical superiority that enabled the annihilation of any conceivable opponent from other continents. The tools of imperialism – the ship’s cannons firing on ports of continents, the river streamer carrying Europeans and arms deep into the heart of continents and railways to ease the plundering of continents were put to full effect. Within decades, the ‘gods of arms’ had conquered another third of the world. Many Europeans took this military superiority as intellectual and even biological superiority.

During the nineteenth century, religious explanations for the extermination of indigenous people, often thought of as divine intervention, were replaced by biological ones. Both Charles Darwin and William Wallace, co-founders of the theory of natural selection, came to view the extermination of indigenous people as the result of natural selection, just as the weeds of Europe overran North America or the European rat exterminated native New Zealand rats. In his The Descent of Man, Darwin devoted a section on the extermination of the races of man. The extermination of the Tasmanians by white settlers within a short period was emblematic.

In Heart of Darkness, Conrad’s main character Marlow tells the story of his journey up the Congo River in search of Kurtz, a highly successful ivory trader. He witnesses the violence that is inflicted on the African people who are exploited relentlessly. When he reaches Kurtz’s trading station he finds posts with severed human heads on them. Kurtz had ruled with extreme terror to obtain ivory from the interior with the help of an African tribe that worshipped him as their god.

In 1891, King Leopold II of Belgium issued a decree which gave a monopoly to his representatives to obtain rubber and ivory, with the natives compelled to provide forced labour without payment. Those who refused had their villages burnt down, their children murdered and their hands cut off to set an example. When this was exposed by credible witnesses, King Leopold succeeded in London in suppressing this story as Queen Victoria was preparing for the imperial jubilee. The great powers condoned the genocide in Congo for they had been complicit in similar acts elsewhere.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Germany had no colonies. Scholars like Theodore Waitz and George Garland were able look at extermination more critically than other Europeans and saw through the naturalistic constructs. Europeans grabbed native lands and resources through land clearances, displacing the natives and privatising the commons.  The rapacity of white settlers destroyed everything the native thought, believed and felt.  Although physical force was the most tangible factor in extermination, the use of ‘cultural violence’ was equally efficacious.

Germany, with its unification under Bismarck and a massive leap in industrial advance in the late nineteenth century, was a major European power that did not have colonies and coveted a colonial empire. The Berlin conference of 1884 kicked off the so called ‘scramble’ for Africa. Germany embarked on the conquest of South-West Africa (now Namibia), German East Africa (now Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania), German Kamerun (now Cameroon and a part of Nigeria) and German Togoland (now Togo and eastern part of Ghana). 

It was in South-West Africa that Germans demonstrated that they too had mastered the art of hastening the extermination of indigenous ‘inferior’ people, an art long practised by the British and other Europeans.  German anthropologists had changed their tune and justified the annihilation of indigenous people.

Mimicking the North American example, the indigenous Herero people were banished to reserves. Their grazing lands and cattle were seized and handed to German settlers and colonial companies. The Herero leader, Maherero, wanted to avoid war and over two decades signed treaties with the German colonial government ceding large areas of land. The Germans just ignored the treaties as ‘superior races’ were wont to do. When German encroachments persisted, the Hereros rebelled.

In October 1904, General von Trotha issued orders for the Herero people to be exterminated. The German borders were a free fire zone where every Herero with or without weapons was to be shot. Most of the Hereros were driven out to the desert and the border was sealed off.  Almost the entire people, about eighty thousand, died in the desert, lacking water and food. German patrols found skeletons around dry hollows dug by the Hereros in vain attempt to find water. The few thousand that were left were rounded up and sentenced to hard labour in German concentration camps, which were just death camps.

This is the horror for which Germany has accepted historical and moral responsibility. After years of negotiations with the Namibian government, Germany will fund 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) of reconstruction and development projects in Namibia to directly benefit the genocide-affected communities.

Herero paramount chief Vekuii Rukoro dismissed a deal agreed by the two governments as “an insult” because it did not include payment of reparations. It is indefensible for Angela Merkel’s government to offer the funds as gesture of reconciliation and avoid legally binding reparations.

Imperial nostalgia is still prevalent in the UK more than any other ex-colonial power. A 2020 poll showed that 32 percent of the people were proud of the British Empire while only 19 percent believed that it was something to be ashamed of. This is indicative of the most successful brainwashing for centuries.

But Britain has many skeletons in the proverbial cupboard across the world. Its colonisation of North America, Australia and New Zealand with Anglo-Saxon settlers was the biggest land grab in world history and it was based on extermination of the natives.  Its colonisation across the Third World was based on exploitation, and violence when there was resistance.

It is more than just the infamies of slavery and slave trade. It is more than toppling of nefarious statues. The The Late Victorian Holocausts in India, the plundering and burning to the ground of Benin City, and Kenya’s gulags are just some of the many examples. All this has been erased from history and concealed from people for a long time through the inculcation of patriotism.

We have before us a huge educational and political task to reclaim the savage, hidden history of Imperial Britain and reproduce it in our school textbooks, libraries, museums, public squares and universities.

Image: Shark Island, Lüderitz, Namibia was the home of the Shark Island Concentration Camp between 1905 and April 1907, as part of the Herero and Namaqua genocide of 1904–1908. Author: Johan Jönsson (Julle), licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

First published by Labour Hub 7 June 2021

https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/06/07/the-legacy-of-empire/

HOW NETANYAHU Unleashed a cold and CALCULATED WAR OF TERROR against Palestinians

At first sight, the current attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank and the relentless bombings of Gaza may look disconnected. But a closer investigation shows that the chain of events had political calculations behind them.

For the past two years, Netanyahu has been fighting for his political life.  On May 4th Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government, 28 days after the inconclusive election of March 23rd. The corruption case against him was a factor that led to this failure. Since 1996, he has demonstrated political wizardry by snatching power back just when he as on the brink of losing it. It is not inconceivable that he calculated that a small war against defenseless Palestinians would save him politically.

After all, there is a strong historical precedent for this. Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to al-Aqsa compound, the third holiest site in Islam, on September 28th 2000, accompanied by Israeli riot police led to protests and riots.  Palestinian youths hurled stones and chairs at the police who retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets.

This set off the al-Aqsa Intifada which subsided after 2005, with an estimated death toll of 3,000 Palestinians, 1,000 Israelis and 64 foreigners. The Israelis used gunfire, tank, air attacks and targeted killings while the Palestinians resorted to stone throwing, gunfire, rockets and suicide bombings.

The visit was a part of Sharon’s campaign to lead the Likud party to outmanoeuvre Netanyahu. He wanted to show that the Temple Mount where al-Aqsa is located would remain under Israeli sovereignty. His reward was to be elected as the Prime Minister in February 2001 and he remained in power until he was incapacitated by a stroke in 2006.

Tensions have been building up in Jerusalem for weeks during the holy month of Ramadan which started on April 12th, because of the restrictions imposed on Palestinians wanting to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque. Simultaneously, the attempted evictions of four Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood became an explosive issue with Palestinians resisting and Israeli forces raiding neighbourhoods, resulting in arrests and injuries.

On the last Friday of Ramadan, May 7th, more than 70,000 congregated to pray after having been forced to go through iron security barriers and identity checks by the Israeli police. Throughout the day, protesters in Jerusalem were violently dispersed by the police, forcing many to retreat to the confines of the mosque. After prayers, Palestinians in the mosque compound began demonstrating, raising both Palestinian and Hamas flags.

Later that evening, armed Israeli forces entered the complex to disperse the worshippers using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that hundreds were injured and hospitalised. Many of the injuries inflicted were to the head and eyes. Israeli police reported that six officers were injured.

Palestinian civil society called for a day of anger on Saturday May 8th in response to the crackdown. Palestinians in towns throughout Israel including Jaffa and Nazareth demonstrated in a show of anger at the storming of al-Aqsa and the Sheikh Jarrah evictions.

The situation was extremely tense ahead of the 27th night of Ramadan, one of the holiest nights (Laylat al-Qadr) when worshippers stay up during the night performing prayers. Israeli police carried out further raids and arrests. Despite the intimidation, some 90,000 Palestinians filled the courtyard for prayers.

After the prayers, as the worshippers were leaving the Old City, Israeli police attacked them, wounding at least 90, according to medics, and arresting many. At the Damascus Gate, which was adorned with lights to mark Ramadan, Israeli police, some mounted, used tear gas, smoke grenades and rubber-coated bullets to attack Palestinians, wounding many.

After a relatively tense but on the whole quiet Sunday, on Monday May 10th heavily armed Israeli forces raided the al-Aqsa mosque in the morning and later in the evening. They fired tear gas and sound grenades at Palestinians to disperse people and caused damage to the interior of the building. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 305 Palestinians were injured and 228 others hospitalised – some in a field hospital set up near al-Aqsa – including four in a critical condition.

Natanyahu could have stopped all this if he wanted to.  In Israeli political circles there was discussion that he would manipulate a security incident at the Gaza border to prevent a new cabinet being formed. Now all he had to do is to wait for the situation to escalate so that could turn the crisis to his own advantage.

Hamas issued an ultimatum for Israeli forces to evacuate al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah by 6 pm on Monday. As expected, Netanyahu ignored the warning because he knew that it would play into his hands. A barrage of rockets from Gaza were fired towards Jerusalem. This was a godsend for Netanyahu who unleashed a savage aerial bombardment on Gaza, aiming to unite the entire Jewish citizenry.

 After eleven days of bombing, it can be seen what pain, suffering and destruction was heaped on a defenceless people. At least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, have been killed in 11 days of Israeli bombardment. On the Israeli side, 12 people, including two children, have been killed. The scale of devastation on Gaza has been horrifying. The human and financial toll is indescribably unbearable for an already beleaguered society.

Entire families were wiped out when their homes were bombed. Residential tower blocks were demolished. It is not a matter of body count. Those injured, at least 1900, would in many cases, bear their wounds and disabilities for a lifetime. The psychological trauma especially for children, who are half of the population, can be debilitating.

The wanton destruction of at least 230 buildings and damage to at least 678 homes have displaced more than 75,000 who found shelter in schools.  Power supplies and roads were bombed. The already poor water supply was further restricted. Livelihoods in an economy on its knees have been destroyed. The Jalal Tower which housed many media agencies was given an hour to evacuate before its demolition. Altogether targeted Israeli air force attacks have destroyed the premises of 23 Palestinian and international media outlets to stop first hand media witness reports.

Israel used its well-honed public relations machine to cover up the ethnocide. Out came the tropes of Hamas using civilians as human shields, its willingness to sacrifice Palestinian children, Hamas placing rocket firing operatives on top of residential buildings, residential buildings used for tunnels, etc. These were repeated in the Western press without critical examination and verification.

What political calculation was Hamas making? After legitimately winning the Palestinian Legislative Elections in 2006, Hamas was never allowed to take power and was confined to Gaza by Israel with the support of the US and regional allies. Fourteen years of blockade followed, with three massive Israeli assaults. The worst one in 2014 destroyed the economy of Gaza and created immense problems for basic services. Most of the population depends on humanitarian aid.

It is inconceivable that Hamas leaders are irrational actors. They were fully aware that they cannot win militarily with rockets against the Israelis’ air power. That 10 percent of their rockets got through the seemingly impenetrable Israeli iron dome system must have been some sort of triumph for them. Their calculation was to win over the ‘hearts and minds’ of the majority of Palestinian community.

For the first time in many years, Palestinians in Gaza, Israel, West Bank and East Jerusalem have risen up in unity. In response to Palestinian mass protests in Israel, the Israeli response was to develop a narrative of civil war when in reality Jewish mobs roved around cities in Israel, attacking and lynching Palestinians in the street or trying to break into their homes. Palestinians reacted by staging protests, burning tyres, and attacking Jews. The general strike on 18th May by all Palestinians was yet another sign of unity and renewed solidarity.

The Palestinian Authority, set up following the Oslo Accords, is defunct. Its security forces are there to control Palestinians, especially any resistance against the Israelis. It is entirely dependent on Israel for revenues, and funded by the United States and Europe. It has no strategies to protect the Palestinians against house demolitions and displacement. The postponement of Palestinian Legislative elections this year has frozen politics. 

The leaders of Arab nations showed their bankruptcy. Their failure to support the Palestinians is laid bare.  The Arab masses have viscerally always been for the Palestinians. Their ruling dynasties are minorities armed against their own people.  The leaders of the world’s richest region have failed to use its wealth and strategic location to exercise power. They put all their eggs in the American basket and were reduced to pleas to the US.

The United Nations also showed its utter impotence. Four meetings of the Security Council failed to agree even a statement because of the US veto. The US callously went on to make it impossible for a ceasefire resolution to be passed for 11 days, letting the killings and destruction continue. Biden has to answer questions about how many Palestinian children had to die before he would call for a ceasefire. Moreover, the unconditional ceasefire reached with Egyptian mediation fails to address the issues that caused the eruption. The Security Council has yet to address the root causes of the conflict for seven decades.

Israel has once again proved that, as a nuclear armed regional power with its military fed by America with huge quantities of sophisticated weapons, it is free to kill civilians, destroy their homes and cut down necessary services as it wills. This is the horror of technological extermination. Its public relations internationally have generated sweeping and blind support from the media as a whole, covering up ethnocide. Unless there is a countervailing power to stop this, it does not bode well for peace, justice and stability in the region.

Palestinians cannot win militarily against Israel but in the long term they can win politically. They need to learn from their struggles to unite and organise a militant non-violent resistance. They need solidarity from people across the world. There have been rare times in history when people have refused to tolerate the intolerable. The mobilisation against the war in Vietnam and the Anti-Apartheid Movement showed that people can change the course of history.

The huge demonstrations in London and across the world in solidarity are a sign of hope. People need to join campaigning organisations such as Stop the War, War on Want, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Campaign Against the Arms Trade and BDS amongst many, to continue to work for justice for Palestinians and oppose Israeli apartheid.

Top image: Israeli rocket attack on a building Rafah Khan Yunis, Gaza. Source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/126296c3-3396-4306-bb71-e0f265076b27 Author: Zoriah, licensed with a CC BY-NC 2.0 license. End image: Labour Hub.

First published on Labour Hub https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/05/25/how-netanyahu-unleashed-a-calculated-war-of-terror-against-palestinians/

Breaking the silence on Israeli Apartheid

Human Rights Watch is calling for actions against Israel for committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.

Aftermath of an Israeli air strike in Rafah, 2009. Source: Exodus 1. Author: RafahKid Kid from Rafah, Palestine, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

For Human Rights Watch to call out the Israeli apartheid system in its recent report is certainly a landmark. The 213-page report, titled A Threshold Crossed, condemns Israel for “committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians” in the Occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) and in Israel itself.  It reinforces the recent finding of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, which also broke the taboo by calling the singular organising principle of “Jewish supremacy” in Israel nothing less than “apartheid”. This consensus within human rights organisations has been long overdue since Palestinian, legal scholars, UN diplomats and activists have applied the concept of apartheid to Israel since at least the 1970s.

The report is strictly limited to assessing Israeli policies and practices towards Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Israel and comparing them to the treatment of Jewish Israelis living in the same territories against the three primary conditions under the 1973 Apartheid Convention (ICSPCA) and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). These are: an intent to maintain a system of domination, systematic oppression by one racial group over another and one or more inhumane acts, such as forcible transfer, expropriation of landed property, creation of separate reserves and ghettos, and denial of the right to leave and to return to their country and the right to a nationality.  As grave as apartheid is the crime of persecution, also set out in the Rome Statute, as the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights on racial, ethnic, and other grounds.

The intent of the Israeli government to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians is beyond reasonable doubt. In 2018, the Knesset passed a law with constitutional status affirming Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” and establishing “Jewish settlement” as a national value.

To justify limiting and minimising the Palestinian population, Israeli authorities project Palestinians as an existential demographic “threat”.  At least 270,000 Palestinians who were outside the West Bank and Gaza when the occupation began in 1967 have been refused registration. The residency rights of nearly 250,000, mostly for being abroad for too long between 1967 and 1994, were revoked. Palestinians who had lived in the West Bank but left temporarily (to study, work, marry, etc.) are denied entry into the West Bank, including their non-registered spouses and other family members.

When Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, Palestinians who lived there were designated as “permanent residents,” a status normally given to non-Jewish foreigners.  Since 1967, At least 14,701 Palestinians have had this status revoked mostly for failing to prove a “centre of life” in the city. In Jerusalem municipality, government policy has set a target demographic “ratio of 60% Jews and 40% Arabs”. Today there are roughly 200,000 Israelis in East Jerusalem.

Since 2000, the Israeli government has largely refused to process family reunification applications. Requests by Palestinians for address changes in the West Bank and Gaza have been turned down. This freeze effectively bars Palestinians from acquiring legal status for spouses or relatives not already registered, and thousands of Gaza residents who came on temporary permits to West Bank are deemed illegal.

Within the West Bank, Palestinian ID holders are prohibited from entering areas such as East Jerusalem, lands beyond the separation barrier, and areas controlled by settlements and the army, unless they secure difficult-to-obtain permits. Nearly 600 permanent barriers including the separation wall have been erected, many between Palestinian communities. Land grabs for settlements and the infrastructure that primarily serves settlers effectively concentrate Palestinians in the West Bank, according to B’Tselem, into “165 non-contiguous ‘territorial islands.’” This planned fragmentation disrupts the daily life and economy of Palestinians.

Thousands of Palestinian homes across the West Bank including East Jerusalem have been demolished over the years because they are deemed not to have building permits which they cannot obtain. No compensation or resettlement is offered to displaced families. The purpose of this is to coerce Palestinians to abandon their homes and livelihoods and relocate into towns under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).  In East Jerusalem, it is to force Palestinians out of the city.

Nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza have been effectively sealed off from the outside world by land, sea and air. Entry and exit of people and goods are severely restricted through one crossing each from Israel and Egypt. This has destroyed the economy and reduced access to basic services with 80 percent of people relying on humanitarian aid.

Water is critically scarce and an estimated 96 percent of the water supply has become “unfit for human consumption”. Electricity supply to homes is erratic and available for between 12 and 20 hours per day. On top of this, since 2008 Israeli defence forces have launched three major military offensives with air bombardment leading to death and destruction of homes and infrastructure. In 2018 and 2019, Israeli forces killed 214 demonstrators and maimed thousands when they approached the fences separating Gaza and Israel.

Generations of Palestinians in the OPT have been deprived of their basic civil rights, including the rights to free assembly, association and expression. Palestinians who have opposed occupations and are politically active are targeted. Hundreds of political and non-government organizations including media outlets have been banned.

More than 2 million dunams (1 dunam =1000 square meters) of land making up more than one-third of the West Bank has been confiscated from Palestinians. Israeli authorities have also made it impossible for Palestinians in Area C, the roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that the Oslo Accords placed under full Israeli control, as well as those in East Jerusalem, to obtain building permits. Meanwhile, 130 government-approved settlements and 100 unofficial ones are now homes of around 400,000 Israelis.

In Israel, at least 4.5 million dunams of land belonging to Palestinians have been confiscated and converted to state lands since the forced expulsion of nearly 700,000 Palestinians in 1948. These were turned into 900 Jewish small towns exclusively for Jewish residents which are allowed space for expansion. The vast majority of Palestinians – nearly 1.9 million – are hemmed into a handful of townships constituting 3 percent of the land. These are overcrowded, poorly serviced enclaves with little access to land and housing for growth. 

In the Negev, 35 Palestinian Bedouin communities have been denied legal recognition, making it impossible for their 90,000 or so residents to live lawfully.  These communities do not appear on official maps. Authorities have refused to connect most to the national electricity or water grids or to provide even basic infrastructure such as paved roads or sewage systems. They are denied access to their farms. Most have no educational facilities, and residents live under constant threat of having their homes demolished. Israeli authorities demolished more than 10,000 Bedouin homes in the Negev between 2013 and 2019.

For all intents and purposes, Palestinians in Israel are second class citizens with a two-track citizenship structure. Jews obtain automatic citizenship no matter where they are from under the Law of Return.  By contrast, Palestinians have to prove residency before 1948, inclusion in the population registry from 1952 and a continued presence in Israel or legal entry in, between 1940 and 1952.

The Israeli state has been relentless in maximizing the number of Jews, as well as the land available to them, in Israel and the coveted portions of the OPT for Jewish settlements. There is a determined incremental “Judaization” of areas with significant Palestinian populations by increasing Jewish settlers. There are no restrictions on the freedom of movement, or on the residence, work, farming, business, etc., for Jews anywhere.

The cover of the “peace process” launched after the Oslo accords has been used by Israeli government public relations to create the aura that occupation is temporary and Israel is an egalitarian democracy aiming to give Palestinians meaningful control over their lives. The reality on the grounds has been continual annexation of land for Jewish settlements. It has also led to the normalisation of Israel’s relations with many countries by giving it international legitimacy.

The key question is not whether there is apartheid in Israel but what is to be done about it. The first obstacle is that Western democracies including Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have neither signed nor ratified the Apartheid Convention. Hence these governments are going to ignore the report, and the mainstream media as a whole will not take up this issue.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor opened a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since June 2014 following a request from the Palestinians. Human Rights Watch urges the chief prosecutor to investigate and prosecute those credibly implicated in the crimes of apartheid and persecution. Israel has said that it would refuse to co-operate with the ICC.

The initiative has to come from civil society against the backdrop of the obstacles that have been placed on any criticism of Israel by calling it “anti-semitic”. The BDS movement initiated by Palestinian civil society against Israeli apartheid must be supported fully. Palestinians have a decades-long tradition of popular non-violent resistance against repression. International solidarity for this resistance through building links and practical action is vital.

First published on the Labour Hub on 11 May 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/05/11/breaking-the-silence-on-israeli-apartheid/

A flawed report that hinders the fight against racism and injustice

“Anti-Racism Kensington 44” by thivierr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Sewell report cancels institutional racism and erases black struggles for justice and equality.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Diversity Report (the Sewell Report) is to set the ‘new race agenda’ for the Johnson administration. Central to this is its politics, rather than the plethora of data it marshals.

Institutional racism cancelled

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, after the launch of the report, Dr Sewell said that while there was anecdotal evidence of racism, there was no proof that there was “institutional racism” in Britain.

The entire right wing media received this news with glee. The Daily Mail ran a front page “BRITAIN’S RACE REVOLUTION – Landmark report says UK is ‘a model to world’ on diversity- and finds NO evidence of institutional racism”. For the Sun it was the final proof that no structural and institutional racism exists in Britain and the dividing line of social inequality is class.

The publication of the report in 1999 of the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry chaired by Sir William Macpherson was a landmark in British legal and social history.  Macpherson, after much deliberation, discarded earlier shibboleths of countering racial disadvantage through cultural compensation by funding ethnic projects recommended by the 1981 Scarman report and forced the establishment to accept that institutional racism needed to be tackled in the police force.

The commission argues that the Macpherson definition has been devalued through “linguistic inflation” and it should be “applied only when deep-seated racism can be proven on a systemic level”. It is difficult to understand this. Can’t allegations against an institution be made before proof?

This distorts the elegant clarity and directness of the Macpherson definition which states that

“It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping.”

Furthermore, the report makes the astonishing claim that one of the key justifications for Macpherson’s findings of institutional racism was the under-reporting of racist crime and the problem has been solved.

In fact, the Macpherson report confirmed that the Met was “institutionally racist” because there was gross misconduct on the part of the police during the Stephen Lawrence case, primarily due to racism. Their misconduct included failure to administer first aid to the victim as well as failing to follow obvious leads and failure to arrest subjects. What was revealed over the years through investigations and reviews was that undercover police had undermined the Lawrence family’s campaign and there was corruption in the police force.  Doreen Lawrence, who campaigned for 18 years for justice for her son’s murder, said that the claim that the system was no longer rigged against minorities could give racists a green light.

This would give government institutions, both central and local, the health service and the educational services a green light to periodically review their policy and practice to ensure that there is no institutional racism.  There was great resistance against Macpherson’s proposal when it was published in 1999, and before it could be turned into a policy across institutions, the tabloids and right virtually killed it off.  There is still massive resistance to tackling institutional racism that is woven over centuries of colonialism and slavery into the structures of society and into the instruments and institutions of local and central government, as Sivanandan put is so powerfully.

Windrush state racism condoned

The way in which the report deals with the Windrush scandal illustrates this well. Apart from the token gestures to the Windrush generation, their heroism, their experience, etc., the report does not recount how the lives of Black British citizens, who joined their parents legally as children but were deemed illegals as they became adults, were destroyed. Thousands lost their jobs through employment bans, lost pensions, lost homes because of lack of income to pay their mortgage, or through eviction if they rented, were denied access to health care, unlawfully deported as adults, refused re-entry to the UK and left traumatised and impoverished for years.

When these injustices were exposed by campaigners, a token ‘Windrush Day’ was declared by the perpetrator Theresa May and a fund set up to compensate the victims. Even then, the system failed to respond with urgency with just a trickle of money being awarded if they survived the ordeal. The report has the gall to say that that, “Outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted.”

It is widely accepted that this injustice was the direct result of the hostile environment created by the Home Office. This is quintessentially state racism arising from the Immigration Act 1971 which defines citizenship of two types, giving unrestricted right of abode to ‘patrials’ who were British citizens by birth or immigrating citizens who had an ancestral connection to the country, and a second class citizenship for ‘non-patrials’ who are largely Citizens of Commonwealth such as the Windrush generation and who no longer have the automatic right of abode. 

Those who have suffered and those who campaigned to get justice for the Windrush victims are appalled by the report. There is no recommendation in the report to amend the immigration acts and remove the hostile environment which is still operated by the Home Office.

Slavery sanitised

Sewell wrote in the foreword that there was a new story to be told about the “slave period” not just “about profit and suffering”, but about how “culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain”. It is best to read the excoriating criticism of this distortion of history from David Olusoga and other historians who found the report poisonously patronising and historically illiterate.  Olusoga was shocked that the report deployed a version of an argument used by the slave owners in defence of slavery 200 years ago, the idea that by becoming culturally British, black people were somehow beneficiaries of the system.  The report reduces slavery’s racial terror and Britain’s racial capitalism to a simple exchange of cultural ideas. The report fails to make clear that slavery entailed hundreds of years of crimes against the African people and the deaths of millions of African men, women and children justified on the basis that they were sub-human.

Deracinated, torn from their communities, their native languages and traditions, under immense odds slaves went on to create their own culture in song, dance and art. On many occasions they rebelled and fought for their freedom even though they were defeated by the slave owners who were backed by superior arms. The story of the Black Jacobins who successfully overthrew slavery in Haiti in 1791 to claim liberty and equality needs to be celebrated.

This is what the movement for toppling statues such as that of Edward Colston in Bristol is all about. It is about the removal of the memorial statues of slavers and the colonial history they represent. We live in a country where the crimes of slavery have not been recognised by the establishment which has refused to make any reparations. The report argues against reparations and considers ‘decolonising’ the curriculum to be negative. 

Systemic racism in education and health underplayed

The report’s approach on educational achievement uses the evidence to highlight the significant differences between ethnic groups. Its analysis shows that using the threshold of strong GCSE passes in English and Maths as a measure, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups outperform the White British group on this measure by wide margins. Its new evidence indicates that attainment is closely related to socio-economic status – once this is controlled for, all major ethnic groups perform better than White British pupils except for Black Caribbean pupils (with the Pakistani ethnic group at about the same level).  It also revives the argument that has been promoted by the right that ‘white working class’ people are disadvantaged by policies intended to help ethnic minorities to succeed.

From this it concludes that educational achievement is affected by different social, economic and cultural factors: parental income levels, parental career and educational achievement, geography, family structure, and attitudes towards education within the family and wider community. Hence racial bias in schools has limited effect on achievement.

Attempting to “control” for different factors is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how racism works. Often, various statistical factors, such as people’s socioeconomic status or geographic location, are themselves products of racism. For example, if a survey into educational attainment controlled for poverty, it might look, on paper at least, as if racism played less of a significant role. But this ignores the reality that poverty is often inherently related to racism, and is disproportionately experienced in the UK by ethnic minorities, with 50 percent of BAME households living in poverty compared to 19 percent of white households.

The findings of the report have been contested strongly by more than 400 academics and researchers on the ground that it “completely overlooked the substantial base of evidence in educational research that has shown how structural, institutional and direct racism works in and through schools, universities and other sites of education.”

Black Caribbean pupils are five times more likely to be excluded in some areas in England compared with other groups, and teachers consistently fail to address the overt racism that many Black pupils experience in schools. Last week it was reported that more than 60,000 incidents of racism were recorded over the last five years in UK schools. The latest research in London shows that government policies promoting Pupil Referral Units (PRU) and zero tolerance policies have resulted in a ‘PRU to prison pipeline’, criminalising black working class youth.

The report claims that “for many key health outcomes including life expectancy and overall mortality… ethnic minority groups have better outcomes than the White population.” The report also concludes that deprivation, “family structures,” and geography — not ethnicity – are key risk factors for health inequalities.

According to the British Medical Journal, this contradicts several decades of irrefutable peer-reviewed research which show that ethnic minorities have the worst health outcomes on almost all health parameters. The BMJ authors found that the report cherry-picked data to support a particular narrative in its conclusions and recommendations. Their data used was not externally peer-reviewed by independent health experts and scientists. There was no health expert amongst the commissioners.

The report ignores the overwhelming evidence that systemic racism, in particular residential segregation, which is rising in the UK, is a major driver of ethnic differences in socioeconomic status. Consequently, this segregation also affects health, due to poorer quality education, employment opportunities, and poorer access to resources to enhance health. The concentration of poverty in these areas leads to exposure to higher levels of multiple chronic and acute psychosocial stressors, greater clustering of these stressors, and greater exposure to undesirable social and environmental conditions.

The report is indifferent to empirical analyses that show that ethnic differences in health persist even after adjustment for socioeconomic status. In the UK, for example, Black women are five times more likely to die during pregnancy than White women and Black people have a greater risk of detention under the Mental Health Act than White people.

Black and South Asian men are respectively 4.2 times and 3.6 times more likely to die from Covid-19 as their white counterparts. According to the report, these Covid-19 disparities are due to “genetic risk factors” along with “cultural” and “behavioural” factors.  There is no evidence of “genetic risk factors”.  Sufficient evidence exists showing that these disparities are partly due to high risk public-facing jobs, living conditions such as multigenerational households, poverty, chronic co-morbidities, as well as racial discrimination and the effects of structural racism such as residential segregation.

Hate Crimes, Stop and Search, Knife Crimes, Drugs and Gangs

Using police record and crime survey data, the commission find that during the 2018-2020 period there about 142 racially motivated hate crimes per day. There were over 10,000 incidents of violence without injury and about 4,500 incidents of violence with injury. But the commission fails to put hate crime in a wider social and political context of racial violence which has become normalised. 

As Liz Fekete has convincingly argued, in reality hate is not an abstract category, and cannot be delinked from the material act, whether it is discrimination or physical violence. And hate is not merely the prejudice shown in individual encounters, but the verbal and physical working out in aggression of racist ideas imbued in individuals by a wider political framework that demonises minorities. Racially aggravated hate whether verbal or physical, is most often accompanied by violence, ranging from a public order offence on the street or on buses or trains to physical assault on individuals and criminal damage to religious and community centres.

Stop and search has been a major issue for the black community for years causing great resentment against the police amongst black youth. In almost every police force area, Black people had the highest recorded stop and search rate. In the Metropolitan Police force area where 60 percent of the black population resides, 80 percent of the searches target black people. The commission takes the view that Stop and Search is “a critical tool for policing when used appropriately and lawfully” – which is in agreement with the police who justify it for drug possession and knife crime. 

The commissioners feel that is important to acknowledge other factors, in addition to racism, when considering disproportionality between ethnic groups in policing. So as an example, instead of asking the police why black young men in London are up to 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched, it wants the focus on why so many black children are brought up by single parents.

On ‘knife crime’, drug offences and gangs, the report does not offer us any ground-breaking analysis. It does not set out to analyse the extent to which the media and politicians distort the public perception and trigger panic. Such crime cariesy heavy racial connotations, with politicians linking it to the gang, drug and music culture of black youth.

Teenage knife crime is an episodic obsession with the tabloids’ front pages, blaming the ‘feral youth’ who run riot in our cities. For each family, it brings a tragedy. Vigils follow for the victim and public indignation rises.  There are appeals from the police, mayoral statements, knife amnesties, a new charity in the name of the fallen and interventions by the politicians.  All these efforts have little effect because positive interventions are dwarfed by austerity-driven decisions to cut youth services, underfund child mental health services and swingeing cuts to education and policing.

The complete failure by the commission to investigate how joint enterprise has been used by the police to arrest and imprison youth, not on the basis of committing a crime but solely for being associated it. A survey of 250 serving prisoners in 2016 found that three-quarters of the black and minority ethnic prisoners reported that the prosecution claimed that they were members of a ‘gang’, compared to only 39 percent of white prisoners. This apparent ‘gang’ affiliation’ was used to secure convictions, under joint enterprise provisions, for offences they have not committed. This searing injustice is one of the most intolerable for the nearly 4,500 families whose sons have been locked up without committing a crime.

The commissioners want us to recognise that the challenges the police face when dealing with both victims and perpetrators of crime are complex as the causes are beyond their control. In their view great strides have been made by the police towards becoming a service that can fairly police a multi-ethnic society.  There is no attempt made to suggest how the police service should be made democratically accountable to the community, apart from the need for clarity and consistency in police communication for communities to understand the drivers of police activity.

Past injustices forgotten

The report observes that past injustices still loom large in perceptions of the police for some ethnic minority Britons, especially Black Caribbean people.  Yet it does not recount what these injustices have been, nor that they are still going on.

There has been a deadly silence over black deaths in police custody over decades. There is a roll call produced by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) of deaths from 1978 to 2002. Their most recent covers the cases of 509 people from BME, asylum seeker and migrant communities who have died in custody, in suspicious circumstances, between 1991 and September 2014.  Such violence occurs on many sites – on police patrol, home raids, on arrest, at the police station, in prisons, in hospital custody, etc. The families of those killed have formed a coalition to fight for justice and have reasonable demands that have still to be addressed by the government.

Britain’s industrial decline in the 1970s led to an increase in racist violence on the streets, including the deaths of Gurdip Singh Chaggar in Southall (1976) and Altab Ali in London’s East End (1978). This led to the establishment of the Asian Youth Movement (AYM) to defend communities from racist attacks. Recently, the memories of the cruel killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 at Stockwell station are still fresh in people’s mind. The shooting of Azelle Rodney in 2005 was later found to be unlawful by an enquiry in 2013. The shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 by the police in Tottenham led to widespread riots in London and beyond.

This year we mark the 50th anniversary of the Mangrove Nine trial on charges arising from violent clashes with the police during a protest march. After 55 days at the Old Bailey, the Mangrove Nine were acquitted and forced the first judicial acknowledgment that there was “evidence of racial hatred” in the Metropolitan police.

The report mentions the significance of events such as the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963 which shaped race relations legislation in the United Kingdom but fails to recognise that black struggles went from resistance to rebellion to change British society. From 1958’s Nottingham riots to 1981’s St Paul’s riots, followed by Brixton and five cities during Thatcher’s rule, these drew attention to the discontent of black people. There were more to follow 1985 (Handsworth, Brixton and Broadwater Farm), 1987 (Chapeltown), 1989 (Dewsbury), 1995(Brixton), 2001(Bradford), and 2011 (English cities following the shooting of Mark Duggan).

Great Britain the beacon

The commission’s eagerness to sell ‘Britain as a beacon’ is peppered throughout the report. It begins with the well-rehearsed Olympic opening ceremony as a metaphor for the unity and diversity of British society. Accordingly, Britain has fundamentally shifted from the past and has become a more open society entering a new era of ‘participation’.  It has become a more ‘open’ and inclusive society.

This serves the government’s agenda after Brexit to portray the British nation as a beacon of good race relations and a diversity model for ‘white majority countries’. It claims that incremental progress has been made beyond doubt and that building on this progress is more important than refighting the battles of the past.

For this it is prepared to distort, sanitise and erase the history of black people’s struggle for justice and equality in the country which transformed it into a multicultural society. It finishes the job started by the Scarman Report of ethnicising minorities, with different ethnic minorities having nothing in common. In doing so, it seeks to advance the state’s drive to detach ethnic minorities from their history and prevent them from uniting.

The report fails to fully explore the intersection between class and race in Britain because for the commissioners these are invisible. It is blind to the exploitation of the labour of ethnic minorities who are vulnerable and occupy the lowest rungs in the labour market.

Hence all the all the contradictions that exist in British society are brushed under the carpet – the increasing social inequality, the class divisions between bosses and workers, the racial tensions fostered by the media, the existing institutional and popular racism, the warehousing of refugees, the unbridled executive power, the lack of democracy at local level, the draconian police powers, and the criminal justice system that does not provide justice for the many.

In its “Making of Modern Britain”, the report argues that black students should reclaim their British heritage. Yet when Black people do recover the contributions of their ancestors to British history and culture through struggles by bringing marginalised black communities and figures into mainstream history, the report patronisingly labels these as “tokens of black achievement”.

It envisages that the stories of different ethnic groups could be linked to create a unifying sense of ‘Britishness’. Further, it could contribute to a wider understanding of how the UK with its regions and four nations, as well as the Commonwealth and former colonies, are mutually connected in defining ‘Britishness’. Such a preoccupation with ‘Britishness’ would place limits on learning about the histories of the Caribbean, African countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc., in the making of the interdependent world which we share.

 Astonishingly, the only “great example” it comes up is “a dictionary or lexicon of well-known British words which are Indian in origin.” For such a history to be truthful, it would need to include the history of resistance against oppression by colonial powers, of national liberation, of independence struggles, of insurgent politics, of the men and women who led such struggles, of the works of fiction that capture these.  Such understanding seems to be beyond the commissioners.

Black struggles made invisible

The commission finds the biggest challenge for our age is not overt racism but building on and advancing the progress won by the struggles of the past 50 years. Yet, at no stage, does it include the experience, resistance and struggles of black and ethnic minorities which produced the multi-cultural society here.

There were struggles against fascists attacking communities, struggles to make the police protect people against such attacks, struggles against the ‘Sus’ laws that criminalised black youth, struggles against deaths in police custody, struggles against Afro-Caribbean students classified as Educationally Subnormal, struggles for children not to be bussed out of schools, struggles to include other histories in the educational curricula, struggles to teach the roots of racism and much more. Ignoring such a rich history of struggles as a foundation cannot take us forward in building policies.

Conclusion

The commissioners deserve contempt in the way they portray anti-racism as “bleak new theories about race that insist on accentuating our differences” and an “increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of white discrimination”.  Anti-racist campaigns and intellectual ideas over the last 50 years made a real difference. There would not have been an inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder without the relentless six-year campaign to force the government to set it up.

There are giants of anti-racist analysis whose legacy continues to influence black activists – C.L.R. James, George Padmore, Claudia Jones, Stuart Hall, Darcus Howe, Sivanandan amongst others. They did not fight “white discrimination”, they fought the embedded systemic racism in unity with many white activists. They wanted to create a plural tolerant society for the common good of all where black and white working classes are united. There are activists like Cecil Gutzmore (Brixton Defence Campaign) who witnessed the Brixton uprising, Suresh Grover (The Monitoring Group) who was involved in defence of Southall against National Front attacks in 1979 when Blair Peach was killed, and many more who are still alive to tell stories of resistance and self-defence.

There is a remarkable absence of calls for the accountability of institutions, of those who exercise power, including the government. Instead the report is an instrument for providing the narrative to mould social reality. It is essentially a conservative manifesto to manage ethnic minorities in the years ahead and maintain the status quo.

Its anodyne recommendations about trust, fairness, partnership and transparency are in the government’s comfort zone. They may be useful but are largely regulatory and do not touch fundamental issues such as the hostile environment, racist immigration laws and regulations, injustices under counter-terrorism laws, police accountability, injustices in the criminal justice system or the free play of media racism.

Furthermore, the report is remarkably consistent with the historical amnesia and vicious historical revisionism of colonialism pedalled by the far right. In line with this, the report mischaracterises the demands of ‘decolonising’ as the ‘banning of white authors’, a crude attack line often used in the culture war agenda. This also promotes the idea of white victimhood and discounts race inequity as a lesser problem.  It adds credence to the false binary that the nation faces a choice between addressing racial inequalities or class disadvantage.

The report is deeply marred by its misuse of data to pursue polemical points to push its own agenda.  It castigates those who see institutional racism as a significant factor and promotes an illusory meritocracy, where individuals are wholly responsible for their own success and Black and ethnic minority students must simply work harder and pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they are to succeed.

Developments have already left this report behind. Racism does not stand still but changes according to the economic, social and political framework. Globalisation has fuelled the displacement of people, both through war and economic capture of the global South through neo-liberalism. The racism that is meted out to asylum seekers and migrants who may also be white, particularly from Eastern Europe, is an amalgam of xenophobia and the existing racism, a xeno-racism as defined by Sivanandan.

The last two decades have seen the rise of a new racism, that against Muslims across Europe, the US and elsewhere. This new racism sees the two trajectories of the war on asylum and the war on terror converge. It is, in the words of Sivanandan,

“a racism which cannot tell a settler from an immigrant, an immigrant from an asylum seeker, an asylum seeker from a Muslim, a Muslim from a terrorist. We are, all of us blacks and Asian, at first sight, terrorists and illegals. We wear our passports on our faces or, lacking them, we are faceless.”

As far as the struggle against racism goes, the report is irrelevant but we have to fight its pernicious underpinning ideas which would set us back by 20 years.  We have to fight the existing racism at all levels and the far right that is continually raising its ugly head. Whether it is the control of borders, the immigration laws or the terrorism laws, the state is behind this racism which shows its different faces in the form of the institutional racism of government ministries, local government, the media and the popular racism they foster.

We need to support all campaigns fighting against racism and for justice such as the Black Lives Matter UK, the United Families & Friends Campaign, Stand Up To Racism and many others. We need to support those campaigns and organisations that are monitoring and researching racism and collating data to provide us the material to fight with.

We need to oppose the stigmatisation of communities by the newspapers and join campaigns for media reform and accountability. We need to build a broad coalition of activists, students, academics, lawyers and artists to fight against racism, against the demonisation of migrants, against deportation, and to defend human rights, the fundamental rights to protest, freedom of association, freedom from state surveillance, the right to fair trials and much more.

First publishes on Labour Hub on 14 April 2021

https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/04/13/a-flawed-report-that-hinders-the-fight-against-racism-and-injustice/