On the 26th. May Israeli Defence Forces dropped threatening propaganda leaflets over Gaza. Listen to the podcast: Firstpodcastbehindthelines (bear with me – it’s my first pod cast – I had some technical challenges, so sound quality will be better next time.)

To see pictures of the leaflets – visit the Palestine Solidarity Movement website at this link.

To see a slideshow of the Code Pink delegation at the border visit this link.

To join the International Movement to Open the Border Facebook group go to this link.

Latest news from the Hope Convoy: U.K. time 9.a.m.: Statement from International Movement to Open the Rafah Border;

“Sometimes, you are lucky enough to meet heroes. That is the case with Hope Convoy members. After been turned away at the Rafah crossing on Sunday by the Egyptian authorities, the Hope convoy members stand their ground and refuse to leave the Rafah terminal. They laid down their sleeping bags and they are occupying the Rafah crossing till Egyptian authorities give them back their human rights and allow them to cross the border.

We can do it ! We can lift the Gaza siege ! How can we support their action ?

1) Let us spread this information to everyone who might be concerned about it.  (media, activists, e.t.c..)

 2) Let us support their action and come to Rafah as soon as possible in order to occupy the outskirts of the Rafah crossing

 3) Let us organize demonstrations in your own countries in front of Egypt and Israel’s embassies Free Gaza, Free Palestine.

The quintessential Palestinian/Egyptian/Israeli drama of borders, crossings and checkpoints repeats itself. Some might say: this is not news.

 Even if we’ve heard the story before –  we need to keep listening. We need to  understand that each time this happens – and as long as the borders remain closed, another solidarity delegation will arrive to challenge this violation of human rights. And another. And another:

A 39-person solidarity convoy to Gaza was turned away at the Rafah crossing on Sunday. Egyptian authorities agreed to allow only 16 of the activists to cross the border.

The organizers of the European Hope for Gaza Convoy refused Egypt’s offer to allow only part of the group into Gaza, insisting that all 39 members cross, according to Ahmad Al-Kurd, the minister of social affairs in the Gaza government.

Al-Kurd held a press conference at the main gate of Rafah crossing. He asserted that Egypt first informed the Palestinian side that the whole convoy would be given access to the Strip, then changed its decision, granting entry to only 16 people.

An organizer of the convoy, Amin Abu Rashid said:

 ‘The Egyptians informed the convoy it would not be allowed to pass to the Gaza Strip.’

The group of volunteers and European members of parliament said it was bringing 12 ambulances and some 30 truckloads of medical supplies to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-led land and sea blockade since June 2007. Egypt has also maintained a near complete closure of Gaza, opening the Rafah border only occasionally.

 CodePink’s first delegation with 10 people was rejected at the border on Saturday and is at the border now but still having trouble. Another CodePink delegation with 40 people will try to reach Al Arish this evening before trying to cross the border tomorrow at 9am.

Thirty nine internationals from Gaza ‘Hope Convoy’ and 10 Canadians from CodePink group are stranded as Egypt limits access.

 Date: 24/ 05 / 2009 – Update received 10 pm – (assume this is Gazan time. F.L) –  The 39 members of the delegation are still stranded inside the Egyptian border compound and they are still trying to enter into Gaza. After allowing them entry and stamping their passports, Egyptian authorities took back their passports and denied them permission to cross the border, telling them to go back to Al Arish.

 The whole delegation is still inside the compound and they refuse to leave.”

Information from the ‘International Movement to Open the Rafah border’.

I’ve just received some good news from the Hope Fleet Ship support team.

They say: ‘One day is not necessarily like another… 

Yesterday we really thought we were all going to be deported, when the Port Said hotel where we are staying was surrounded by the police and then—nothing else happened. 

It was our fellow activists who came to our relief. When our European friends heard about our problems with the Egyptian authorities they hopped on planes and came to join us in Port Said. So now there are about 150 European activists here.

 With this many people we formed into groups this morning according to country: Italy, France, Great Britain, Holland etc…funny to be recreating Europe in a Port Said hotel.

This afternoon during the briefing we were told that the Egyptian authorities were agreeing to the landing of the Hope Fleet convoy at Alexandria and not, as we had been led to believe, at Port Said. One just might surmise from this that they deliberately kept us away from Alexandria to keep us out of contact with Egyptian activists. That surely must have been the reason for their excuse about “security matters.”

For the moment, we are staying here where the convoy should be arriving from Alexandria, in the hotel, still surrounded by the police. And, in theory, and  if the Egyptian authorities don’t change their minds, the convoy of 12 ambulances and 40 trucks should arrive tomorrow at Port Said, and we will leave for Gaza on Saturday.

And we also have, in principle, the authorization to enter Gaza. We’ll see. This long wait has finally paid off and we will finally be able to deliver the humanitarian aid so desperately needed by the Palestinians of Gaza. It’s not much but at least it will show that ordinary people aren’t forgetting them. 

We also hope that the frontier will be opened for the 9 doctors on a humanitarian mission who are staging a hunger strike in front of the Gaza crossing, where they have been refused entry since May 4.

 We are supposed to stay two or three days in Gaza and then … return to Rafah/Al Arish to take part in the sit-in because the objective is not simply to lift the siege temporarily and leave for home with an easy conscience.

 No, our goal is to open the Gaza frontier permanently to restore freedom and basic human rights to the Palestinians.

 During the briefing we also learned that the Egyptian authorities had decided to open the Rafah frontier two days a month, but that’s not enough!

 Furthermore, just because a frontier is open doesn’t mean that all the Palestinians will be allowed to come and go.

 Last weekend when the Egyptian authorities did open the crossing for two days, thye allowed 1519 Palestinians to leave but refused 569..

 815 Palestinians were allowed to enter Gaza’.

  To participate in the sit-in at the Rafah border, please contact the International Movement to Open the Rafah border:  email address: Intmorb@Googlemail.com

Just got a message from Port Said about the Free Gaza Hope Fleet

An activist said: “For three days now we have been waiting here in Port Said for the boat with its cargo of 12 fully equipped ambulances and 40 trucks loaded with medical supplies and special needs equipment. 

Part of the 120-member delegation has already left, brokenhearted, unable to enter Sinai, let alone Gaza, and others are due to return to Europe in the next few days.

But some have stayed on, among them Senator Fernando Rossi and 12 European Parliament members who joined us yesterday in Port Said. 

The ship is presently in Libya and should be arriving in Port Said at the end of the week—that is, if permitted by the Egyptian authorities, who have been playing a game of nerves with us since our arrival. 

Dr. Arafat Abu Madi, who is in charge of the convoy, wrote yesterday to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, asking him to put pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to open all the border crossings immediately, to allow humanitarian aid and reconstruction material into the Gaza Strip.

 We really get the feeling we are unwelcome in Egypt. Yes, here in Egypt, when you mention the blockade of Gaza and the terrible predicament of the Palestinians–a situation in which Egypt is playing an active part–you bring the wrath of the authorities down upon you.

 So here we are, all in the same hotel, under surveillance from without and within. For now, we have cut off all contact with our Egyptian friends, for their own protection. 

In any case, by sending us to Port Said, the Egyptian authorities have deliberately separated us from the Egyptian activists, who are even now being subjected to harassment and even arrest. 

In the last four days, 56 activists have been arrested in Egypt for having participated in or having announced their intention to participate in the “Day of Anger”—organized demonstrations to protest the founding of the state of Israel”. (International Movement to Open Rafah Border)

I have today requested an urgent statement on this matter from our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

SL272577

It is a year since Pauline Campbell died. I knew her as a strong, spirited and loving human being. She was also a woman who changed the course of history. For those who don’t yet know her story may I point you towards the feature ‘Dying on the Inside’ which I wrote shortly  after her death. Eric Allison, Prison Correspondent for the Guardian wrote an obituary.

 This week Joan Meredith – grandmother, campaigner and friend of Pauline’s placed an advert in the Morning Star in remembrance (see first photograph). Joan explains on her own  blog how Pauline first became known as a ‘suffragette of Penal Reform’.

Since Pauline’s death Joan Meredith and I had both been aware that huge swathes of this brave campaigner’s life and work had remained undocumented.  Joan decided to do something about it and has put together an impressive archive of the material which Pauline gave her. This contains Pauline’s handwritten notes and reports, Joan’s personal hand written accounts of travels and demonstrations as well as minutes of meetings up and down the country where Pauline made speeches and gave lectures.

I interviewed Joan today.  Technical issues meant that I couldn’t post an audio recording of the interview  –  I hope to slot that in at a later date. Here’s a transcript of what was said:

 Frances Laing: Joan, we’re meeting together today – it’s been a year since Pauline died. We’re going to talk about  her campaigning.  You’ve brought along a huge file of cuttings. Can you tell me something about that?

 Joan Meredith:  I decided after Pauline’s death that I must make an archive of Pauline’s campaigns. I have completed the file for the year 2003.  It was in January of that year that Sarah died in Styal prison and I first met Pauline in September 2003. The cuttings in this file we are now looking at are about Pauline’s work in the year 2004.  

Frances Laing : So how many files of archived material have you got altogether Joan and how did you get this material?

 Joan Meredith: I’ve got five files altogether. While Pauline was alive she insisted on giving me a copy of everything that appeared in the newspapers. I was given copies of leaflets for demonstrations. Copies of demonstration press releases and articles that she thought were relevant to her campaign. 

Over and over again she would say to me:

‘You will know what to do with these, Joan when the time comes.’

 Frances Laing: Do you know what she meant by that, Joan? 

Joan Meredith: Yes. She knew that when the time came she would end her life because the pain of what she was suffering had become too great to bear.  I feel that I have got a moral obligation to carry out her wishes.

Frances Laing: Why do you think it is important to archive the work that Pauline did?

Joan Meredith: So much of women’s history is never written down. And while I do not feel that this is a complete record of what Pauline did – I know that she would want as complete a record as possible to be left behind.

 Frances Laing: Why do you say ‘this is not a complete record?’

Joan Meredith: I believe that the carefully chronologically ordered collection of papers that she made was unfortunately thrown away. And I know for a fact that her computer was taken away by the police. This makes me really sad – that documented work critically important to the welfare of women has been lost.

 Frances Laing:  So what do you see is the  lasting impact of Pauline’s work?

 Joan Meredith: Hopefully, the huge impact that she made while alive will serve other people working on the welfare of people in prison (men, women and children). Her heroine was Elizabeth Fry and if Pauline’s memory can reinforce the public’s regard for Elizabeth Fry and raise public awareness then Pauline’s  work must have a lasting effect. Pauline believed that prison did not work and prisons should be abolished.

 Frances Laing: What was your involvement with Pauline?

 Joan Meredith: My involvement with Pauline came about through the peace movement. A friend of mine who had known Pauline for twenty years asked me did I think I might help this woman who lived in the village and whose daughter had recently died in prison. I wasn’t sure that I was the right person because I felt it would only reinforce the horror of the shortcomings of our prison system. because I had just served a prison sentence myself and was appalled about what is going on in our prisons today.

Frances Laing: Why did you go to prison?

Joan Meredith: I went to prison for not paying a fine after breaching the peace at Faslane nuclear submarine base.

 Frances Laing:  What do you think Pauline would  have thought about blogging?

 Joan Meredith: Pauline would have taken to blogging like a duck takes to water. Communication and getting out the real facts of what was going on in our society became her reason for living.

Frances Laing: Pauline worked as a lecturer at Newi in Wrexham, North Wales. You went to the  Women’s Archive of Wales Roadshow in Aberystwyth in 2008 . What did you do there?

 Joan Meredith: I took along a selection of papers about Pauline (newspaper cuttings e.t.c.) – and explained to them that I was afraid that when I died it was possible that these papers would be thrown away and I asked the archive staff if they would like to have them. They said yes and offered to help.

Interview: 19/05/09

Here are just a few examples of the materials contained in Joan’s files:

Manchester Evening News - Press Clip - 19 January, 2004. Sarah's first vigil

Manchester Evening News - Press Clip - 19 January, 2004. Sarah's first vigil

From left to right: Pauline Campbell, Yvonne Bailey (Scholes), (unknown), Jane Foreshaw, (unknown),Elaine Griffiths, (unknown), Joan Meredith.

Joan Meredith, Pauline Campbell and Joan Buckley at the United Friends and Family Demonstration. Chester Evening Leader 1.11.94

Joan Meredith, Pauline Campbell and Joan Buckley at the United Friends and Family Demonstration. Chester Evening Leader 1.11.94

Chester Evening Leader Press cutting of the United Friends and Family Demonstration held every year on the last Saturday in October. Picture taken at Trafalgar Square. The autograph was given to Joan Meredith by Benjamin Zaphaniah who was present at the demonstration.

Behind the Lines

Behind the Lines

 It’s not hard to know why some of the information landing on my desk on any given day may never make it into print. The answer?Gatekeepers.Vested interests. With the British and global economy in deep recession – dozens of local and national publications are shutting up shop. Not the time for editors to risk printing something new. Some quite openly say they no longer have the budget to fund research for investigative journalism – or to finance the legal back-up needed if they decide to publish something ‘challenging’.

 Is this really what we mean by ‘democracy’? The news and the questions remain. And so does the threat of another war. 

The Pope visits Palestine this week.  I’ve heard when he is gone – it’s likely there’ll be another military attack on Gaza. That is as well as the assaults on well-being people have to put up with every day. Like the drone attacks – unmanned aerial vehicles increasingly deployed across the globe (see the link here

Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International’s UK arms control programme director said:

 “Available evidence suggests these drones are powered by UK engines. Until someone from the UK government goes and physically inspects the drones, it’s hard to see on what basis they are dismissing these serious allegations.”

 “Until a robust system of end-use monitoring is in place, the UK will forever be reliant on assurances from other countries, and from arms companies, that British-made equipment is not being used to abuse human rights.” (Quoted in The Guardian 3rd. February, 2009)

Yes, I know this isn’t the only conflict on the planet. And some are sick of hearing about it.  But not half as sick as the people in the middle of it. The ones who can’t feed their children. The ones who can’t access health care properly because of the issues at the borders. 

It’s a few months now since I found Laila El-Haddad’s blog – ‘Diary of a Palestinian Mother’. She’s a journalist, like me and tells us:

“The quintessential Palestinian experience,” historian Rashid Khalidi has written, “takes place at a border, an airport, a checkpoint: in short, at any one of those many modern barriers where identities are checked and verified.”

In this place,  (adds Robyn Creswell) “connection” turns out to be only another word for separation or quarantine: the loop of airports never ends, like Borges’s famous library. The cruelty of the Palestinian situation is that these purgatories are in no way extraordinary but rather the backdrop of daily existence.”

Laila’s most recent  posts describe in detail how she was held at Cairo airport with her two children and couldn’t return to Gaza.

 Someone once told me I couldn’t be a mother AND a journalist. I wouldn’t be able to see things ‘objectively’ enough. Well, maybe that’s just because empathy is sometimes more important. Laila is the only writer I know who treats potty training as serious news. And it is serious, (and very human) news. And most of us don’t have to do it with two young children whilst in detention at Cairo airport. 

In this post – I’ve given you a disparate news flash on oppression – so I’m adding some snapshots of resistance:

  • Women Say No to War (Code Pink) organise another freedom delegation to Gaza (see link for details). There will soon be a sit down protest at  the Rafah border.
  • International Campaign to Open the Rafah Crossing has started a letter writing campaign for the permanent opening of the crossing (see the sample text at the end of this list)
  • Boycotts of Israeli goods are gathering momentum.
  • Following the death of Bassam Abu Rahmah, a demonstrator who was killed at Bi’lin by a tear gas grenade (see also previous posts) a large number of international,  Israeli and Palestinian activists have been keeping up the long-standing Friday vigils and building a memorial. To read an article written about Bassem by Frank Barat of the organizing committee of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, click here.
  • At the Trade Union Conference on Palestine solidarity last month Hugh Lanning of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign described how PSC membership is growing every week. Addressing long-standing members of solidarity groups in a friendly challenge – he said :        “It’s time to stop giving new members a history test”   
  • Protest against Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s racist foreign minister
    Wednesday 13 May 10.30am to 12.00 Noon
    Foreign Office, Whitehall, London. Called by Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, British Muslim Initiative, CND, Palestinian Forum in Britain. These organisations say: “Join us to show our disgust at the government’s willingness to meet with Israeli warmongers. During Israel’s bombing and invasion of Gaza, Avigdor Lieberman threatened action ‘just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II’, when the US used nuclear bombs to obliterate two cities”.
  • Remember Gaza demonstration. This Saturday in London. Assemble 12noon Malet St London WC1E 7HY. March to Trafalgar Square. (Look out for Rod Cox and the children’s pictures from Gaza at the square) More details.

International Movement to Open the Rafah Border (also on Facebook). Contact: intmorb@googlemail.com

Sample letter of protest: to be sent to your Egyptian Embassy:

Dear Sir or Madam,

  As a world citizen, I address to you my preoccupations about Palestinian people who live besieged in the Gaza Strip. 

Gaza is in the grip of a man-made humanitarian crisis. Thousands of tons of food, medical and emergency shelter aid including blankets and mattresses, donated by countries including the United States and aid organisations, are being denied entry through crossings by the Israeli government but also by your government.

I also learnt that your Foreign Affairs Department has put another obstacle to the entry of the foreign aid into Gaza: Our embassies have to write to the Egyptian Dept of Foreign Affairs asking permission to go to Gaza, which can take up to 7-14 days to get reply and bring permission to cross! This new rule is shocking from an Arab government.

Only 100 aid trucks of the estimated 500-600 trucks deemed necessary to sustain the population of Gaza according to the United Nations are being allowed into Gaza each day – 30 less than were being brought in last year and substantially less than before Israel’s operation ‘Cast Lead’: an attack that has left over 1,300 Palestinians dead, the vast majority of them civilians massacred in their streets and homes. With over 5,000 injured and 900,000 Gazans now depending on food aid, admittance of aid is crucial at this time. 

Reconstruction from Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza has been stalled due to a blanket prohibition enforced by Israel on imports of construction materials, including cement and steel. Now, thousands of Palestinians are still residing in the rubble or in flimsy canvas tents reminiscent of the mass dispossession through the ethnic cleansing of 1948 when the state of Israel was first established on Palestinian land. 

More than 3500 medical patients are injured from this war and Israel’s previous invasions, many are waiting to leave Gaza for indispensable medical treatment. Over 320 people have died of preventable and treatable conditions after being denied access to treatment since the beginning of the ongoing siege four years ago. 

Under the Geneva Conventions and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December, 10th 1948), they are entitled to freedom of movement and protection from collective punishment. 

So, we call you to open the Rafah border and to lift all the bans, because this siege is a collective punishment and illegal under international law.

 Egypt, end the collective punishment of the Gazan people, open the border definitively! 

SEE ALSO: JUSTICE IN THE NEWS: THE INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF JOURNALISTS REPORT ON TARGETING OF THE MEDIA DURING THE WAR ON GAZA in 2009.

The report describes how the media were subject to: ‘intimidation, direct military assault, and deliberately prevented from working freely during the 22 day military offensive launched by Israel’.

Following up from the Trade Union Solidarity Conference on Palestine I emailed the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists to get a policy and action update:  Jeremy Dear said:

“We have been active supporters for justice for the Palestinian people for many years. In particular we have always maintained a tight relationship with the Palestinian Syndicate of Journalists sometimes directly but mostly through the work of the International Federation of Journalists in the region. The most recent flurry of activity has been around the war on Gaza.

We participated in all the decisions taken by the IFJ regarding the situation of journalists during the invasion and have done more on this than any other union in the UK:

We participated in the protest over the media ban on the foreign media entering Gaza imposed by the Israeli military – I spoke at the national demonstration in December and again in January on these issues

  • We participated in the protest over the violations of journalists’ rights, the bombing of the stations, including Al Aqsa TV and the general mobilisation of IFJ affiliates to help alleviate the security situation of Palestinian journalists

 (i)         Jim Boumelha sent an urgent letter to the UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, asking him to investigate and take actions over the media crisis and the targeting of journalists;

 (ii)         IFJ affiliates were requested to join this action and send similar letters;

 (iii)                We joined the Gaza Defence Committee set up by the IFJ as a support group in defence of journalists in Gaza. This group was tasked to send humanitarian assistance and organise the investigation of all violations of international humanitarian law, especially the right to protection for journalists as enshrined in Security Council Resolution 1738 of 23 December 2006.

 (iv)                We circulated to members the appeal to the special safety fund established by the IFJ. 

We were part of the discussion that set out the terms of reference and tactics of the international delegation that visited Gaza on January 21-23rd. The report Justice in the News: A Response to Targeting of Media In Gazaand recommendations, which we endorsed, can be seen on the IFJ website. The NUJ did not participate in this solidarity mission but will be represented by Jim Boumelha in a forthcoming second mission.

 Since the mission, we have played a role in helping facilitate a safety training programme in Cairo of Palestinian journalists from Gaza and the West Bank.

 In the long-term we will be giving support, as it is our policy, to the next round of projects to help the syndicate develop its capacity.

 As the syndicate is going through a difficult period of divisions, we would be called upon to help facilitate its next congress. 

We have also been active in opposing the decision by the BBC to ban the DEC Appeal in respect of Gaza”.