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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/

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/

A long march to freedom

The Myanmar coup shows that the military is an existential threat to democracy in many nations

Protestors in Yangon

The latest overthrow of a democratically elected government in Myanmar on February 1st, 2021 shows dramatically how the military can set back democracy. The Myanmar military, known as Tatmadaw, has declared a one year “state of emergency” and taken full control of the country’s government and infrastructure. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Chairman of the State Administration Council, is now exercising supreme power over the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and several dozen other senior officials were arrested in early morning raids in the capital, Naypyidaw. The charges laid against Ms Suu Kyi allege that she illegally imported and used communications equipment -walkie-talkies -found at her home in Nay Pyi Taw. The military repeatedly claims that there was fraud in the elections of November 8th 2020 which the National League of Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide.

The party backed by the military, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) performed dismally. Given that the military holds a quarter of all seats in both the House of Nationalities and House of Representatives in accordance with the 2008 constitution devised by the military, giving the military a veto over any change, the claim of fraud is contrived. The deeper reason is the anxiety of the military that its monopoly of political, social and economic power has come under serious threat by the electoral popularity of NLD and the demand for constitutional reform.

Suu Kyi’s pact with the military has unravelled. The youngest daughter of the Burmese father of the nation, Aung San, assassinated in 1947, her rise began on the back of the 1988 democracy uprising when she became the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD). When the NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, the military nullified the results, and kept her under house arrests off and on for 15 years from 1989 to 2010. She became an international icon and won many awards including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

When Myanmar opened up to liberalisation, there was a protracted move to democracy and the NLD won the 2015 elections when she assumed the post of State Counsellor (equivalent to Prime Minister). Her image was tarnished when she appeared before the ICC to deny the allegations of genocide against the Rohingya by the military.

In Myanmar, people have been protesting against the coup in large numbers. The response has been water cannons and rubber bullets and even live ammunition. Amnesty’s crisis evidence centre has reported that there is evidence of use of machine guns and live fire on protestors. The first victim of police shooting was a young woman, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, shot on February 9th. On February 20th, reports came that security forces opened fire on protestors wounding 40 and killing two in Mandalay. A large number of people have been arrested and detained.

So far the protestors are not deterred. All sections of civil society have joined in civil disobedience to demand the restoration of democracy. What is significant is that workers have taken action. Rail workers, civil servants, bank workers have come out on strike against the coup. Unions have taken a leading role in organising the strikes.

The coup is poised to deliver a major blow to the $6 bn garment industry reeling from the pandemic which has reduced working hours. Garment workers have joined protests. Front line health workers in more than seventy medical facilities have walked out in response to the coup. It has cut off telephone lines and internet connections across a large part of the country to stop protestors from communicating for organising and also with the outside world. Witnesses describe the level of violence as ‘a war zone’ in Mandalay and other locations away from the main city Yangon where most embassies, the UN and international journalists are based. The general strike on Monday the 22 shut down businesses in defiance of the military’s threat of violence is a harbinger of the coming heightened struggle between the masses and the military.

At this stage it is hard to say how severe the military repression will be and what will be the costs to civil society. The military has a history of terrible violence in1988, during the massive democratic uprising known as 8-8-88 (acronym for August 8,1988), when thousands of protestors were massacred and again in 2007, when protests were suppressed with killings and arrests. In 2017, the military unleashed violence against the Rohingya with more than 600,000 fleeing to safety in Bangladesh.

Our hope should lie with the mobilisation of the people united in a common front. The demand for democracy must include the Rohingya in the North West of the country if there is to be meaningful democracy for all. The ethnic cleansing must stop and those who sought refuge in Bangladesh must be allowed to return.

We have to go back to Burma’s colonial period to understand how modern Burma developed as a nation. British colonisation of Burma began in 1824 and after three Anglo-Burmese wars spanning over 60 years, it consolidated the annexation of Burma in 1888, sending the last king of Burma, Thibaw Min, into exile in India. Of those years, George Orwell who spent five years in Burma, wrote in 1929 that that the British were robbing and pilfering Burma quite shamelessly. They seized the mines and the oil wells, controlled timber production and acted as all sorts of middlemen, brokers, millers and exporters, making colossal fortunes from rice without the peasant producers getting anything out of it. The get-rich-quick businessmen make their pile from rice, petrol etc., and sent the money to England, rather than investing it in the country.

Secondly, Orwell said that the British government was at pains to give the people only summary instruction, merely sufficient to produce messengers, low-grade civil servants, petty lawyers’ clerks and other white-collar workers. They were unwilling to develop a well-educated Burmese class which could assume the leadership of the country in the future.

The Second World war was a turning point. Burmese independence fighters set up a Burmese Independence Army (BIA) to free the country from British rule. They initially forged an alliance with Japanese forces to obtain training and weapons. The British, on retreating, followed a scorched earth policy to thwart the Japanese advance. They destroyed the major government buildings, oil wells and mines for tungsten, tin, lead and silver to keep them from the Japanese. When the Japanese occupied Burma and refused to give independence, the BIA switched allegiance to the British and rebelled against the Japanese by deploying its units across the country. It became the first truly national organisation in Burma which is still honoured by its people.

Myanmar was bombed extensively by the Allies. At the time of independence, the country was in ruins with its major infrastructure completely destroyed. Independence began badly with many of its best leaders assassinated. Over the next decade, the fragile democracy struggled to rebuild the country, a task that should not be underestimated in an underdeveloped colonial country where there was no Marshall plan to reconstruct it.

The military guns first crackled in 1962, when Gen. Ne Win overthrew a fragile government. The Revolutionary Council centralised state power, established the Burmese Socialist Programme Party with anti-communism as its motto and banned all other parties. Myanmar also turned away from the outside world when it came to economic policies. During the military’s 49-year direct hold on power, the country declined economically until it opened up to liberalisation in 2011.

In the wake of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the UN set up an independent fact-finding mission to assess the economic interests of the military in Myanmar with a view to recommending how these needed to be brought under the control of civilian authorities. In its report in 2019, the mission revealed a business empire is so vast and secretive that there is no transparency and accountability over the military budget. The Tatmadaw uses its web of commercial interests, established through military-linked companies and subsidiaries, relationships with state-owned enterprises and private crony companies, to secure financial resources to support its activities and personnel.

Furthermore, there were reasonable grounds to conclude that China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Israel, the Philippines, Russia, and Ukraine allowed arms and arms- related transfers and assistance to Myanmar which posed a direct and foreseeable threat to human rights to the people of the country. The military that were the champions of independence have become parasitical, treating the country as their fiefdom.

There has been a swift international response against the coup. The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution calling for support for Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials, and to refrain from using violence on people protesting against the military coup. The US government has imposed sanctions on some military officers but it remains doubtful if that would provide key leverage for change. What is needed is corporations investing in Myanmar to begin to pull out their investments. That would worry the military deeply because it holds substantial shares in its joint ventures with corporations. However this response at its best has been rather timid. It is hampered by a legacy of seven decades of impunity when the international community failed to take any significant action when the military was violently repressing the minorities like the Karen and expelling the Rohingya muslims.

When the Burmese military took power in 1962, neo-fascist military dictatorships were in power South Korea, Guatemala, Iran, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, Zaire and Thailand among many others. Through the cold war period until 1979, the USA supported these regimes, generally viewing them as promising stability in an unstable Third World. These regime intensified the use of organised terror in the name of ‘modernisation’.

American policy changed when the Shah’s dictatorship in Iran, installed after he coup against Mossadegh in 1953, was swept away by the Islamic revolution in 1979. It encouraged a new wave of democracies, albeit managed in its client states through electoral manipulations. However this promotion of democracy is not consistent as we saw in Egypt, after the uprising of 2011, when the first elected government of President Morsi was overthrown and replaced by one of the most brutal dictatorships under General Sisi, fully supported by the USA and many regional powers.

Liberal news and editorials in the media have rightly condemned the coup in Myanmar and demanded the return of democracy. It’s a pity that they have not been consistent over the decades and even today condone other neo-fascist and authoritarian governments across the world. Myanmar’s strategic position in the region puts it at the mercy of Chinese and American interests.

Western intervention in the name of freedom, human rights and democracy has been a dismal failure across the world. Progressive movements have rarely been supported by the dominant powers. In fact these powers have done everything possible to destroy such movements and have supported reactionary forces. The war on terror launched almost 20 years ago erased the boundary between terrorism and freedom struggles, hence all resistance movements across the world were labelled terrorists.

Military coups are not aberrations but integral to the imperialist system. Geopolitical interests play a significant role in the turn of events in any nation. Military aid by the most powerful countries create a class of privileged military officers with guaranteed pensions and business investments. They are linked to the dominant countries. They are a marked feature of uneven development when the gap between the highly developed countries and the undeveloped countries is so vast that it drives some classes to believe that a strong authority will lead to development. That is why the military remains an existential threat to democracy in many nations.

Military leaders are trained in the ethos of control, regimentation, discipline and order. They are not able to foster participation, negotiations, consensus and accountability necessary for democracy. The takeover by a strong man promising social order attracts many who fear chaos, including the rich who wish to keep on making money. That is why, when the military assumes power over society it represses politics and people and distorts society. It ends up in a mire of corruption and in the long term fails dismally. Myanmar is no exception.

Progressive forces should never disregard the power of nationalism and the role the military plays in the suppression of democracy. The illusion that the military in any country is a neutral force politically must be shed. Mass movements for political change need to be firmly based on popular participatory democracy, racial and ethnic equality, gender equality and an economy linked to ecology, to be developed for the good of all. This is going to be a long march to freedom for many people in the world including the people of Myanmar to whom we should extend unreserved solidarity.

First published in The Labour Hub on February 24 2021- link below

African economic migrants show up the failure of capitalist globalisation for the continent

Towards the end of 2020, nearly 20,000 economic migrants from West Africa made their journey across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands. This is an eightfold surge from the numbers who arrived in 2019. The routes the migrants take are less than 100 kilometres from the Moroccan coast, anywhere up to 450 kilometres from the Western Saharan coast but about 1,500 kilometres from Senegalese coast. They come in small fishing boats. The crossings are perilous. Hundreds have lost their lives.

With the route to Europe blocked off through the militarisation of the Mediterranean crossing, these migrants are risking their lives to find an alternative. Just as the crossing across the Mediterranean has become a graveyard for thousands of migrants, the Atlantic crossing is increasingly becoming a watery burial site for many migrants.

This reminded me of the Mati Diop’s haunting film Atlantique, where young labourers in Senegal whose wages have been held by the property mogul decide to board a flimsy boat and make the dangerous journey across the ocean to Spain hoping for a better life. They lose their lives but their spirits come to haunt the rich through their girlfriends and their memories.

Young men from Morocco, Senegal, Mali and many other countries along the West African coast are trying to escape the dire, unending poverty. There are no jobs that would bring an income for them. Some of them face a life of precarious low-paid employment without any prospects. There is no economic development that could absorb their labour. The Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated their situation further by decreasing economic growth significantly.

Some of them who eked a living out as stall holders have lost their livelihood. Those who have trained say as electricians do not have any job opportunity to use their skills to earn a living wage. Agriculture is also under strain because drought and the threat of desertification due to climate change haunt the hinterland of these countries. The rising sea levels have also displaced coastal communities. The depletion of fish stocks due to overfishing – largely by European and Chinese vessels – has depleted stocks off the Senegalese coast and has led to sharp cuts in incomes of fisherman and fuelled the wave of migration.

Furthermore, in the hinterland of these countries civil conflicts have become endemic. On the grounds of fighting terrorism and extremism across the Sahel, Western powers over the last decade have intervened militarily to manage national security and governance. The United States has deployed special forces commandos across the continent especially in Sahel to counter Boko Haram, and ISIL. This has enhanced regional instability with a long term impact on public security, trade and economy.

The poverty in Africa has deep historic roots. Since the 16th century, Africa was turned into a warren for slave hunting. The abduction of the youth across the continent to be ferried by tortuous slave ships across the Atlantic and set to work in death camps of plantation slavery left African societies fragmented and depleted of the life-blood of youth to maintain and develop the productive forces of their societies. Western countries accumulated their social wealth through the exploitation of African blood and sweat at one pole and left Africa poor and underdeveloped at the other. Walter Rodney’s arguments of how Europe underdeveloped Africa remains true today.

As slave uprisings and abolitionist movement in the mid-19th century, followed by the American civil war, led to the gradual end of chattel slavery, at the Berlin Conference of 1884, the imperial European powers carved up Africa with arbitrary boundaries to further their trade and exploitation. All resistance by the African continent was crushed with overwhelming military force including air power. Such resistance has been erased in the Western narrative of history, which lauds the opening up of Africa by David Livingstone, and noticed in passing when Gordon was slain in Khartoum followed by the much celebrated massacre of the Mahdi army with machine guns.

White racial supremacy led to the horror of the extermination of ‘inferior races’, notably the Herroros in German South West African territories and the indigenous people of the Congo under Belgian King Leopold’s rubber monopoly. These were reflected across the continent where African life was considered cheap and forced African labour was widespread. There was no civilising mission in the continent. The ‘civilising’ mission was to drag the continent through mud and blood to a capitalist extraction of as much wealth as possible. Christianity spread by well-organised and well-funded missionary societies turned out to be a subtle tool for pacification. Co-option and collaboration by traditional leaders with colonial powers became embedded.

White settlements in South Africa, Rhodesia, Kenya followed, through the dispossession of Africans from their lands in climes favourable for Europeans. Throughout the continent, apartheid was embedded in one form or another. Both World Wars I and II saw regional wars between European powers in Africa and a great loss of African life. The quest of Africans for democracy and trade union rights emerged but was quashed. It was after the WWII, that the liberation struggles across the continent emerged strongly. The decade-long Algerian revolution resulted in the removal of French power at a great cost. The Mau Mau revolt in Kenya against settler domination was defeated with massive military force and methods using torture, disappearances, and concentration camps.

Across the continent, the colonial powers ushered in neo-colonial administrative regimes with national flags but without a fundamental change in the social and productive relations. Where imperialism was challenged by radical African leaders, the assassination of political leaders like Patrice Lubumba and the installing of pro-Western military regimes was favoured. Other revolutionary anti-imperialist leaders who wanted to change their countries to serve their people, such as Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Samora Machel, Steve Biko and Chris Hani, were among many who were also assassinated crushing the hopes of the continent.

Even moderate leaders like Nkrumah were toppled. Only right wing conservative leaders accommodating to imperialism survived. Counter-revolution was the extreme manifestation of Western policy during the Cold War. Military dictatorships were fostered unreservedly. Where there were modicums of elective democracy, the elites preferred a one-party state. The encroachments of Soviet Union in a few countries ended up in the cul-de-sac of military dictatorships.

The Francophone countries in West Africa are even today in the monetary grip of the French Treasury which controls their reserves and their currency, limiting their autonomy to decide on investments. The late Portuguese decolonisation after the revolution in 1974 led to proxy wars fomented by the apartheid South African regime and the United States. These devastated Angola and Mozambique for over a decade and left a million dead. The fall of the nationalist regime in South Africa in 1990 after 70 years of Western powers’ support, leading to a non-racial democracy led by Nelson Mandela, did not fundamentally alter the class relations within the country.

Over the last three decades, the imposition of neo-liberal policies from the 1970s onwards, led by the trio of International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, reinforced the underdevelopment of most African nations. These Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of the world, locked into a dollarised economic system, became heavily indebted during after the 1973 oil crisis. The IMF swooped across the continent, insisting on structural adjustment in return for any loans. Structural adjustment demanded deregulation of their economies, allowing free movement of capital, imposing domestic austerity, cutting back on public sector investment and exporting primary produce to earn dollars. The Ebola outbreak showed how West African nations had lost their primary health network to protect their people because of these policies.

The ties of the African economy to the metropolitan powers were deepened after decolonisation. Africa’s mineral wealth across the continent was extracted with profits taken out through devious methods. A War on Want report by Mark Curtis in 2016 documented how 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange — most of them British — have mining operations in 37 sub-Saharan African countries. They collectively control over $1 trillion worth of Africa’s most valuable resources. Under the guise of the UK helping Africa in its economic development (a mere continuation of the colonial paternal narrative), $134 billion has flowed into the continent each year in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid. However, the British government has aided and abetted the extraction of $192 billion from Africa, mainly in profits by foreign companies, tax dodging and the cost of adapting to climate change.

Such huge sums flowing out of the continent have left it underdeveloped. Not that there is not economic development – there is. Cities and towns have grown but the top one percent are the beneficiaries.

But the surplus produced by African countries is sucked out by imperialist corporations. Economically, it is imperialist relations that determine that African currencies decline in value and their purchasing power. These interventions ensure that the oligarchy which rules across the continent salts away the gains in partnership with the imperialist centres. This self-enriching pact, well analysed by Andy Higginbottom, has kept Africa underdeveloped. Of late, China’s encroachments in Africa have become of concern in the West, but currently the dominant corporations are on the whole Western, with deep colonial roots.

All demands from social movements, dissidents, or political parties are met with repression, dismissal and hostility. Protestors are met with police gunfire and detentions. The oligarchy cements its hold by cultivating religious, ethnic and tribal sectarianism as foreseen by Franz Fanon. Yet people across the continent are yearning for popular democracy and rebellions continually break out against oppression. One day there will have to be a reckoning.

Too often, economic migrants are treated with casual dismissal, meaning they have no rights to migrate into other countries when compared to refugees and asylum seekers. But this is not defensible, because such migrants are also seeking a better life from poverty which is no less deserving than those seeking refuge from war and conflict. Both poverty and conflict have been fuelled through exploitation, toxic trade deals, dodgy debts, land grabs and climate change for which rich countries, including Britain, bear great responsibility.


As a recent report by Global Justice Now for freedom of movement argued so trenchantly, “It cannot be right that the place you are born dictates whether you will live a life of poverty or plenty, of freedom or imprisonment. It cannot be right that while the richest, at least in normal times, move around with ease, the poorest are imprisoned in geographical poverty.” To accept the current situation is to endorse a form of apartheid on a global scale. African migrants are harbingers calling for an end to this apartheid.

First published by Labour Hub on 28th January 2021

COUNTERING DISINFORMATION

At this moment in time, I really miss the wisdom of Mike Marqusee whose wrote in his essay ‘SUCCESS, FAILURE AND OTHER POLITICAL MYTHS’ (Red Pepper, December 2013),

“There are worse things than failure, and while failure is nothing to glory in, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can learn more from a failure than from success- if you recognise it as such. But if the only lesson you draw from failure is never to risk failure again, you’ve learned nothing at all. 

“Needless risks should always be avoided. We don’t have resources to squander. But the elimination of risk is impossible if you’re contending with power. Without risks all that can be done is to reproduce existing social relations. There is no truth, no beauty without risk, because these things can only be secured in the teeth of resistance, against institutions and habits of thought. To succeed in any way that matters, you have to take your place in the republic of the uncertain, when you risk yourselves, not your stake in other people’s labour. It’s the action taken in the full knowledge of the possibility of failure, and its consequences, that acquire leverage.”

The winter election of 2019 was a great risk for Labour. The outcome was affected by many factors – Labour’s bipolarity on Brexit, the civil war within the party, Jeremy Corbyn’s distorted image, the tsunami of disinformation by the right wing mass media, the smears of antisemitism, the undermining of Labour by Tony Blair and his acolytes, amongst others. None of these factors are isolated from each other, but they intersected to undermine Labour’s campaign.  Jeremy’s public perception was determined by the mass media which began his vilification since he entered the leadership contest in 2015. 

There can be little doubt that the mass media plays a significant role. Newspapers and TV are more powerful than armies. We lost the battle for hearts and minds because we did not have the means to counter the vast campaign of disinformations and propaganda. Every means available was used against the Labour party and its leadership. 

In a prescient observation more than a 150 years ago, Marx observed that those who own the means of production also own the means of information enabling them to produce and regulate the production and distribution of ideas. The control of the means of information central to influencing public opinion was missing in the original Clause IV. From our experience, the most important lesson we need to learn is, that to win the battle for ideas for the public good and social ownership, we need to have adequate control over the means of public information and have a strategy followed by concrete actions to counter disinformation

To this day, Chomsky and Herman’s analysis on the role of the media in shaping public opinion in a democratic society remains unrivalled. The selective filtering of news by the media, the setting of the political agenda and the confinement of public discussion within narrow limits is all the more powerful with the TV channels playing a significant role in moulding public perception.

Empirical analysis of media bias as we approached the election day showed that press hostility to Labour in 2019 was more than double the levels identified in 2017. By the same measure, negative coverage of the Conservatives halved.  For Granville Williams, editor of Media North which monitored the press closely, “It was a disturbing experience, reading what can only be described as undiluted  propaganda day after day in the bloc of avid Tory-supporting newspapers which worked closely with the Tory HQ election campaign to maximise the assault on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s election policies.”

We need to be cautious in adopting the term ‘fake news’ that has become a popular media reference, on grounds that it tends to frame the problem as isolated incidents of falsehood and confusion. Rather the public is subject to systematic disinformation which can be defined as intentional falsehoods spread as news stories or simulated documentary formats to advance political goals.

The choice for us is to accept this and succumb to this enormous pressure to win an election by tilting to the right, abandoning socialist politics and accepting neo-liberal norms just as Tony Blair did with his pact with Rupert Murdoch.  Or we work out imaginative ways in which to counter the disinformation.

Jim Ring in his article ‘BLAST FROM THE NORTH’ (Labour Briefing February 2020) put the challenge succinctly:

“We have one great disadvantage in this fightback campaign- we have no public voice of our own. It is time for the unions to delve into their vast pockets and sponsor a professional media service-combining television outlets, newspapers and social media facilities- to get our message across to everyone.”

The techniques used by the mainstream media spring from the ideas of the Public Relations pioneer Edward Bernays who considered stereotypes as influential in shaping public opinion. The media created a range of stereotypes of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. The response to these was a public relations disaster for the party on all the issues such as antisemitism, extremism, electability, economic management, etc. What is urgently needed for the party is to have a Public Relations team with visible and identifiable voices who would rebut disinformation with boldness immediately.

The idea of community organising is getting traction now and should be taken forward urgently. CLPs should also prioritise community engagement and create Community Engagement Officer posts on their Executive Committees. Simultaneously, the provision of adequate financial resources to constituency parties is needed so that they can publish a quarterly newsletter through the year for every home in the constituency. Such a newsletter would be not replicate the party leaflets but could be a vehicle to tell local personal stories about the impact of universal credit, homelessness, housing crisis, transport, pollution, hospital trolley waits, mental health, cuts affecting services, etc. The production and distribution of such newsletters would be the responsibility of local activists in the campaign committees. This would complement the growing use of online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram amongst others.

Monopoly control of the whole media is by a handful of billionaires and global corporations with just three companies controlling 83% of the newspaper market and just two individuals – Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere -dominating the national press. Serious discussion on how wider control of and access to the media can be put in place for a democratic political order is urgently needed with a view to incorporating fundamental media reform into the next Labour manifesto.

Published in Labour Briefing https://labourbriefing.squarespace.com/blog/2020/2/12/countering-disinformation

Double Injustice: Media Racism

Good reminder in the times of ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ of the relevance of the film ‘Injustice’ about black deaths in police custody.

Trinketization

Back in 2003 Imogen Bunting, whose birthday it would have been today, wrote this on the film INJUSTICE by Tariq and Ken. To date the film still has not been shown on UK television, despite all the awards and media acclaim and THE RELEVANCE OF IT STILL TODAY.

Originally posted 2006

MEDIA RACISM

This piece was written by Imogen for a possible book on the film Injustice. We approached 19 publishers for the book, but while screenings do occur now, because the film was banned/threatened for so long by the court injunctions of the Police Federation, no publisher seemed able to risk a publication. As you can see from below, the failure of the publishers (some respected left wing houses) was not because of the quality of the writing – here as ever Imogen was on the case.

Media Racism:
Reporting black deaths in the British press: Injustice and…

View original post 3,354 more words

The long war of attrition against Iran

It is time the British government abandoned its double standards on human rights and denuclearisation.

When the House of Commons returned after its unlawful prorogation on Wednesday September 25th, the debate following the statement by the Foreign Office minister, Dominic Raab on Iran was instructive. It demonstrated that the established US narrative in the corporate media on Iran is deeply embedded in the perceptions of both sides of the Commons.

His statement had two key elements. First, that in the wake of the attacks on the eastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia which cut oil production by half, Iran had become a destabilising force in the region. Hence, in his words, “Iran must never begin access to nuclear weapons and that is why the UK remains committed to the 2015 joint comprehensive plan of action, notwithstanding US withdrawal.” Secondly Iran was in breach of human rights, particularly in detaining dual citizens.

To be credible, the defence of human rights must be universal. It is right that Iran should be criticised over its detention of dual citizens and right to demand their release but also to insist that due processes of law in Iran are transparent. However, defending human rights should not be selective and opportunistic. There are horrendous violations of human rights on a daily basis by Israel which are condoned consistently by our media and our politicians. So, too, in Egypt under Sisi, Turkey under Erdogan and Saudi Arabia amongst others. The violations of human rights by Western powers are egregious. Drone attacks killing civilians are indefensible. There is no place for double standards in applying international human rights standards. Attacking the alleged enemies of Western powers for breaching human rights whilst turning a blind eye when the allies breach them, undermines human right norms internationally.

Tensions in the region were ratcheted up when Trump decided to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and imposed sanctions on Iran. The nuclear agreement reached by the five powers, backed by the security council, was to contain Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium and prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. After Trump’s decision, the European powers have tried to maintain the nuclear agreement. For its part, Iran has pressurised them to protect it from US sanctions. As yet European powers have not able to come up with a mechanism to assist Iran overcome the impact of US sanctions.

The condition that the Foreign Secretary laid down for engagement with Iran is that “it should show the respect required for the basic principles of the rules-based international system”. Members of the United Nations are bound by the Charter, Articles One and Two of which affirm the right of all peoples to self-determination, the sovereign equality of states, the prohibition of the use of force and of economic or political interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Yet these fundamental principles of international order continue to be grossly violated by the US, the UK and other European states. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was probably the most serious violation of the Nuremberg Principles, a supreme crime of war of aggression.

Iran has in modern time not invaded any sovereign state. On the contrary, the US and UK successfully overthrew the democratically elected government of Mossadegh in 1953 and imposed a dictatorship under the late Shah until 1979 when a landmark revolution led to the establishment of the Iranian Islamic Republic. Since then the western powers and their allies have conducted a war of attrition against the Iranian people under the pretext of stopping it developing nuclear weapons. The lifting of sanctions under the nuclear treaty was a short respite. Trump’s assertion to the UN General Assembly that Iran was spreading terror across the region cynically inverted the reality. It is the US, its allies and proxies which have in the last three decades invaded and slaughtered innocents and destroyed countries across the region from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. This has led to millions of displaced and refugees. There is little acknowledgement that wars lead to widespread displacement. Blockading a country economically through sanctions so the civilians cannot obtain the means of life and life-saving medicines is economic warfare. Iran is subject to severe sanctions by the US whose aim is to reduce its oil exports to zero. Locking Iran out of the system of exchange and trade is causing immense economic hardships and lack of availability of life-saving medications. These sanctions are an act of war. How long can the US quarantine a population of 100 million?

Dominic Raab’s statement that “we need a longer-term framework that provides greater certainty over Iran’s nuclear programme and, as the attacks on Aramco demonstrate, we must also bring Iran’s wider destabilising activities into scope”, indicated that the UK government has moved towards the US position. So have the European powers gradually. Many had predicted that the nuclear agreement would collapse following the withdrawal by the US because European powers and corporations could not circumvent US sanctions. It is likely that this will happen in the near future.

The underlying problem here is that the western powers are not prepared to address the issue of denuclearisation in the region. This would require that the only power that possess nuclear weapons in the region, Israel, is brought into consideration. An agreement to denuclearise across the region would mean the inspection of Israel’s nuclear weapons capability. The US and Israel do not want this to happen. The shadow of Israeli nuclear weapons hangs across the Middle East. Here we confront again the stark double standards that western policy applies in its dealings with the nations in the region.

The fall of the Berlin wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, did not lead to the rhetorical peace dividend. It led to the strengthening of US hegemony, controlling the destiny of the world in a way similar to the emergence of British domination of the world after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. With no checks and balances, the US resorted to extreme actions of regime change in the region, reshaping it with its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hopefully, there are signs that this era is coming to an end with the US failing to carry out regime change in Syria.

This demonstrates that we still live in an epoch of imperialist system within which a hierarchy of highly developed nations led by the US are able to subject other nations to their dominations, using a variety of means from economic sanctions, blockades, to low intensity wars and invasions. Changing this system will require a sustained resistance by peoples across the world and within imperialist countries. However much we disagree with Iran, it is vital that we oppose not only war against Iran but economic sanctions as well.

In his speech at the Labour annual conference, Jeremy Corbyn said “Have we learnt nothing?” and advocated the need for diplomacy to solve problems. He has been principled in pursuing peace his entire life and has opposed all the wars in the Middle East. It is time the country listened to him. A government led by him would bring a paradigm shift in UK foreign policy.

Countries in the region will take generations to reconstruct. This they cannot do on their own but only with significant international assistance. This has hardly begun. We need foreign forces to move out of the region and regional powers to come together to establish peace and security. The wounded have to be healed, people need to be fed, the displaced need to be housed, the young need to be educated and jobs need to be provided for the youth. The economy must serve the people with good infrastructure providing clean water, electricity and transport links. Democracy needs to be embedded so that those who exercise power are accountable to the people.

The hidden Economic War on Venezuela

Financial sanctions, trade embargo and blockade of Venezuela by the United States pose the gravest of threats to the well being of the civilian population

The US and its allies are strangulating Venezuela without any humanitarian consideration

The political right has monopolised the conversation about Venezuela in print and on TV. It case is well rehearsed and follows the party line of the United States that President Maduro is a cruel illegitimate dictator and his corrupt government has mismanaged the economy to sink the country into a humanitarian disaster. The left has countered this by defending the gains of the Chavista revolution and puts the current situation to the steep fall of oil prices and the US sanctions.

This confrontation was well captured by Andrew Neil’s This Week political review when Ken Livingstone valiantly defended the gains of the Chavez revolution whilst Andrew Neil put the opposite case with the assistance of Alan Johnson and Esther McVey. Regrettably Ken Livingstone was rinsed by Neil because he could not answer how the sanctions had affected Venezuela or which sanctions were imposed when, whereas Neil with his selective briefing notes pointed out the oil sanctions were recent and reinforced the US line on the mismanagement by the Maduro government. Kenan Malik in The Observer   castigated Livingstone for ‘bullshitting’. This was instructive to those on the left-if we are going to defend Venezuela, then we need to be armed with facts and be well briefed.

The starkest glimpse of US sanctions policy is Eisenhower’s memorandum in 1960s  that stated “a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Over the last four decades, with the micro-electronics revolution, the world economy has become more integrated. With the dollar as a reserve currency and a monopoly over world financial system through bank credit and clearance, the US is the nerve centre of monetary power in global commerce. Jack Lew, the former Secretary of Treasury during the Obama administration, declared that“economic sanctions have become a powerful force in service of clear and coordinated foreign policy objectives—smart power for situations where diplomacy alone is insufficient, but military force is not the right response.  They must remain a powerful option for decades to come.”  

The legal cover for intensifying economic warfare on Venezuela began with the passage of Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act passed by the US Congress on the 18 of December 2014. The Act directed the President to block assets and apply exclusion sanctions to any person, including current and former Venezuelan government officials who are involved in violating human rights, curtailing civil freedoms and hindering democracy in the country. The Act was extended further from the end of 2016 to 2019 under the Trump administration which intensified sanctions on Venezuela.

Within three months of this enactment, on March 8 2015, the Obama administration issued the new Executive Order 13692, declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by Venezuela.  It also empowered the Treasury Department to set in place surveillance of Venezuela’s financial transactions in the United States. Even though the executive order deceptively stated that there was no intent to target the people and the economy of Venezuela, by blocking the personal and business accounts of seven Venezuelan officials, it fired the first shots for the imposing constraints on Venezuelan individuals and businesses operating in the US financial system.

Concurrently the major financial rating agencies ranked Venezuela as a high risk country akin countries in armed conflicts in spite of the fact that Venezuelan government had been making regular debt repayments. This aimed to push the country towards default by preventing debt restructuring , creating disincentives for international investments and provided a pretext for impounding Venezuelan assets.

The banks and financial institutions took their cue, and they stopped extending credit to Venezuela state and institutions. Over the following year well into 2016, Venezuela accounts were shut down by the major US banks. Banks across Europe followed suit. This diminished the capacity of Venezuela to make payments in dollars and added costs when making payments by other means. Russian firms and Chinese banks also baulked at carrying out contracts because of the pressure from the US securities and exchange commission.

The hammer blow was struck by Trump on August 25, 2017 by the issue of Executive Order 13808 which prohibited new financial dealings with the Venezuelan government and its oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA). In the following twelve months, there was a dramatic decline in oil production. The loss of credit prevented PdVSA from obtaining finance for investing in or maintaining the oil industry infrastructure.

Perhaps even more important was a letter of guidance issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) on September 20, 2017, warning financial institutions that “all Venezuelan government agencies and bodies, including SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) appear vulnerable to public corruption and money laundering” and `red-flagging’ several transactions originating from Venezuela as potentially criminal . Fearing that it was too risky to participate in money laundering inadvertently, many financial institutions proceeded to close Venezuelan accounts. Venezuelan payments to creditors got stuck in the payment chain, with financial institutions refusing to process wires coming from Venezuelan public sector institutions. 

The US has been engineering the collapse of the Venezuelan currency, the Bolivar, for years, firstly by preventing the inflow of dollars to Venezuela and secondly by facilitating the outflow of dollars. The shortage of dollars drives up the value of the dollar and pushes down the value of the Bolivar. The prices of imported goods (medicines, critical food commodities, business commodities, spare parts ) rise rapidly. Domestic businesses cut back on production leading to mass layoffs and lower wages which in turn led to collapse of consumption. For several years, US policy has been to ensure that US businesses in Venezuela repatriate their dollars back to the US or divert them to their subsidiaries elsewhere. It has also encouraged richer Venezuelans to bank their dollars in Miami or to invest them in financial vehicles set up in Colombia. With shortage of dollars, black market thrives. The manipulation of exchange rate by publication of pernicious exchange rate not grounded on factual purchase and sale transactions using a website in DolarToday based in Miami has been used to artificially drive inflation levels since 2010. Taking all this together, not only the foreign exchange market is affected but also the price levels in the economy, leading to the loss of purchasing power and distorting production and marketing of commodities.

Venezuela is a gold producer and exporter. Gold is a substitute for dollar and to stop Venezuela using its gold reserves, in November 2018, the US imposed sanctions on the gold sector of the Venezuelan economy. The Bank of England was asked and complied by freezing Venezuelan gold deposit worth $1.2bn. Countries like Abu Dhabi where gold is traded globally have been asked to stop trading Venezuelan gold.

On 28th January 2019, the Trump administration imposed further wide ranging and stringent sanctions on the oil sector of Venezuela which exported $12bn of crude oil and oil products to the US in 2018. US companies are prohibited from buying and selling any oil products from and to Venezuelan PdVSA or any entities it has a majority stake in. At a single stroke, this move deprived Venezuelan of a major source of foreign exchange revenue leaving it at risk of not being able to import vital food and medicines.


Venezuela does not have any capacity to refine the oil it produces to enable it to have economic independence. The oil refineries owned by the state owned CITGO Petroleum Corporation are in the southern US gulf coast. This leaves it at the mercy of US oil companies and the US government. The recent seizure of CITGO by the US blocked assets worth $7 billion deprived the government of dollars which could be used to import food and medicines. Furthermore Venezuelan crude requires diluents such as Naphtha which the PdVSA imported from Houston based subsidiaries of the Indian Reliance Industries. This has now been halted.

The cruellest move in all this is the deliberate blocking import of vital medicines and equipment that are a matter of life and death for many patients in Venezuela. In July 2017, Citibank refused to process Venezuela payment for the import of 300,000 insulin doses. In October 2017, the entry of vaccines to the country was delayed for four months because the US blockade made it impossible to make payments in the Bank Swiss UBS. In November 2017, to tackle a Malaria outbreak, Venezuela made a payment to purchase primaquine and chloroquine, to the BSN laboratory Medical in Colombia. The Colombian government blocked the dispatch of tai-malarial drugs. In the same month, the European company Euroclear, founded by JP Morgan, seized $1.65 billion that were destined for the purchase of food and medicine. The following year in May 2018, the payment of $ 9 million was blocked for the acquisition of supplies for dialysis equipment.

According to a Latin American Geopolitical Strategic Centre (CELAG) study, US economic war on Venezuela since Maduro’s April 2013 election through 2017 cost the country $350 billion in lost production of goods and services. If Maduro received international financing from the IMF Venezuelan GDP growth from 2013 – 17 would have exceeded Argentina’s This hidden war of monetary imperialism has seriously damaged Venezuelan economy. The shortage of essential food commodities and medicines has led to an economist aligned to the opposition, Fransisco Rodriguez to call for a oil-for- food programme similar to that for Iraq in 1990s. Readers may recall that sanctions on Iraq led to an estimated death of a 500,000 infants.

The economic warfare on Venezuela is worse than what was done to Iraq and a portent of the shape things to come for those countries which are in US cross-hairs such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Iran unless countervailing forces develop to contain US hubris. The unity and the resistance of the working class, the rural classes and the military against the oligarchy backed by the US will determine the outcome of this struggle. International solidarity in challenging the corporate media’s narrative for regime change and the Tory governments sanctions policy is vital in this struggle.