The International Middle East Media Centre reports:

 “U.S. officials have visited Egypt and the Rafah terminal to discuss “a detailed plan that includes high-tech equipment to uncover tunnels…the U.S. officials said that the congress-supported plan aims at securing the 13.5 border line between Egypt and Gaza. The congress approved allocating 50 million USD to secure the borders between Egypt and Israel”

Today I asked a spokesperson and member of the International Movement to Open the Rafah border IMORB for  a statement on this situation by email. They said:

“Israel and Egypt are maintaining an harsh blockade to the 1,5 millions people in Gaza Strip and the only way for them to get medicine, food, clothes, petrol, and all the basis products is through the tunnels. If US and Egypt close all the tunnels, life in Gaza will be unbearable. Many people will die, particularly the sick people.

As we are heading towards new general elections (presidential and legislative ones) which are expected to come on next January, USA, Israel and the international community want to force Palestinians in Gaza to make the right choice : to vote for the collaborator party and leader. And to insure they will do the right thing, they have to impose an hermetic siege without the help of the Egyptian people and tunnels!

Palestinians will be forced to collaborate with their occupier and to recognize its right to dispossess them. It is not only a shame, it is a crime ! Where is justice ?  Where is the right to freedom ? This is the kind of democracy westerners countries promised to the Palestinians (for the racist zionists : a subhumanity !!)”

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According to the news section of the website Almasryonline

“Israel conducted an airstrike using F16 bombers on the Egyptian Gaza border yesterday morning. Egyptians living in Rafah were thrown into a state of fear and mayhem, many of them fleeing their houses in fear of the vibrations resulting from the near-by bombing.

The air raid resulted in the death of four Palestinians and the wounding of 9 others”.

Of the many interviews Joe Glenton has given over the past few months – I felt this one shows the man. Currently, Joe faces a two year prison sentence. Video by Counterfire.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has just released an important report:  Locked In – The Humanitarian Impact of two years of blockade on the Gaza Strip 

Much of it we know – but the publication is important – thirty pages long but very clearly written and illustrated with maps which show the extent of restrictions on fishing (crucial in a food crisis). Here is a extract:

“Following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza strip in June 2007, Israel has imposed an unprecedented blockade on all border crossings in and out of the Gaza strip. The blockade has ‘locked in’ 1.5 million people in what is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, triggering a protracted human dignity crisis with negative humanitarian consequences…

…The blockade, now it its third year, has taken place alongside recurrent cycles of violence and human rights violations, stemming from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Hamas’s rule over Gaza…it has been characterized by the U.N.’s most senior humanitarian official, John Holmes, as a form of ‘collective punishment’ on the entire Gaza population. The UN, the ICRC, many states and humanitarian organizations have repeatedly urged the Government of Israel to remove the restrictions on Gaza’s borders; to allow free access to agricultural areas within Gaza, and to allow unrestricted fishing in Gaza’s territorial waters. These are the urgent first steps needed to start the reconstruction of homes and infrastructure, the revival of the economy and the restoration of human dignity in Gaza.”

Mayors for Peace Plaque, Chester, August 2009. Photo by Frances Laing

Peace Plaque, Chester, August 2009. Photo by Frances Laing.

 The ‘media’ is not a faceless entity. We are journalists, bloggers, photographers, sub-editors and bosses. Real people – making decisions all the time about what sort of news to offer. Journalism matters

I knew there were some images missing in the series of recent blog posts about Hiroshima and Nagasaki memorial ceremonies.  I deliberately held these pictures back. They are a story yet to be told. The story of our children and their future. 

In 2004,  the ritual of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki flower memorial in Chester changed and a third stage was added to the ceremony. The crowd now crosses the bridge over the River Dee and gathers in front of a young oak tree marked by a plaque. Cestrians refer to it as the ‘Peace Tree’ – or ‘the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tree’. The tree was planted by Minister Kishino of the Japanese Embassy (see report and pictures on the Japanese Embassy site here).

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Tree. August 2009

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Tree. August 2009

The Quaker Testimony in Action Committee have been co-ordinating the Flower Memorial for a few years now, but they have drawn on the work of campaigners and activists across the city (of many faiths and none) who came before them, most notably, perhaps, those who campaigned hard for more than three years to secure Chester City Council’s affiliation to Mayors for Peace in 2003. I was there and together with Joan Meredith made one of the  speeches on Mayors for Peace to Chester City Council – which resulted in a unanimous vote in favour of affiliation.

My analysis, activism and writing on nuclear issues though, stretches back in time for more than twenty-five years. News comes together in human lives. The campaign to secure Chester City Council’s affiliation to Mayors for Peace was conducted on a tiny fraction of a shoestring with minimal resources – although I do remember late one night at Alexanders Jazz Club – how the co-owner of the club thrust a hundred pounds or so into my hand – I’d just made a speech about the campaign and they wanted to help. The money was used  to cover some of the postage, photocopying and publicity costs – a drop in the ocean really – looking back it was  all such a big investment in terms of time and effort. Unlike our city councillors we had no organisation behind us who might pay train fares or refund our expenses.

Now that Chester City Council has been transformed into West Cheshire and Chester Unitary Authority the question arises: Did the campaign achieve anything at all? I remember some of what I said to our elected representatives back in October, 2004:

  “We are asking our councillors and the Mayor and Deputy Mayors of Chester to pass by majority vote a decision to support an international initiative to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Councillors in Chester according to the constitution, ‘act as ambassadors on behalf of the City both in a regional, national and international context’.

We are asking you to put aside your party loyalties and differences and take action in support of this initiative which is upheld by the European Parliament. Over 613 cities worldwide and in the U.K. including Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, Lincoln are now members. Many of you (as members of the public and as elected representatives) have already signalled your support in signing the petition.

There are many good reasons for supporting the initiative driven forward by Lord Mayor Mr Tadatoshi Akibha, the Lord Mayor of Hiroshima and the Lord Mayor of Nagasaki.

We are aware that conflicts which occur across the planet may have serious consequences for our own everyday life and well-being. Since 9/11 the profile of international visitors to Chester has changed dramatically and some parts of the City have lost income. Tourism and international links are important to us. They are the bread and butter of many people living in the city. It makes economic sense to strengthen our international links and uphold our friendship across the globe as best we can.

As citizens of Chester and elected representatives, we declare our respect for the law. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty has been consistently violated and undermined by secret nuclear deals and the illegal trade in fissile materials continues, all over the world without the checks which should be in place. There can be little doubt that we need to uphold, renew and strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which is due to be renewed in the year 2005.

Article six of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty as it is called, clearly states that states ‘shall negotiate in good faith in matters relating to nuclear disarmament’.

But states are not doing this effectively. Power politics and human weakness have meant that negotiations frequently stall and the treaty is currently ‘in a coma’.

(The nuclear non-proliferation treaty is a rare treaty in that it has an end date built into the treaty text. Twenty-five years after its entry into force the signatories agreed to meet and decide whether and how to extend the treaty. This will happen in 2005. If we fail to inject it with new life in 2005 – it’s gone.)

I met Lord Mayor Mr. Tadatoshi Akibha and United Nations representatives when they visited Manchester to discuss the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the way forward for the world following the executive planning meeting of Mayors for Peace in Manchester last year. At this meeting in a shockingly frank statement Mr. Aaron Tovish of the United Nations explained that the comprehensive test ban treaty was being held to ransom by the United States and France and that was vitally important to confront the whole reasons why the U.S. says it won’t negotiate.

It seems that what is needed to save negotiations is leadership with integrity – people who can cut through power struggles with an honest voice – Lord Mayor Mr. Tadatoshi Akibha is one of these people.

Mr. Akibha recalled his visit to the non-proliferation preparatory meeting held in 2003 in Geneva, where he had the opportunity to speak to the delegates. He said he had received a standing ovation from the NGO representatives and the delegates present. When asked why the thought his words were upheld by all, he replied:

‘I was surprised at first at first by this reaction, but I soon realised its meaning. Most of the world feels the threat and sincerely wishes to abolish nuclear weapons. At the same time, I was more keenly aware that Hiroshima is expected to lead the struggle to achieve this shared goal.’

We have a moral duty to ensure the survival of our families and our children. Standing on the cross in the Centre of Chester several months ago, I was approached by a lady with teenage children who wanted to sign our petition. She said to me that her children did not know what ‘Hiroshima’ was.

However you may feel about war and peace, in your hearts there can be little doubt that people should be offered the opportunity to educate themselves about what it really means to drop an atomic bomb.

I feel that we, as citizens need to do all we can to make sure that this education takes place. Mayors for Peace aims to encourage all of its members to take part in activities which further this understanding:

  1. As a first and simple step, all cities which have affiliated have formulated and published a peace declaration. The nature of this declaration varies according to the character and country of the member.
  2. Cities may then network with each other, and decide to hold an event or take part in an educational intiative to raise awareness of the importance of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
  3. One practical idea might be for the city to introduce an essay writing competition, for students (of particular interest to law students) with a prize to attend the nuclear non-proliferation negotiations next year in 2005.
  4. In Chester for the past twenty five years, concerned citizens have held a flower memorial service by the river (The Groves) on August 6th. every year to commemorate the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. There is therefore a tradition which is already established in Chester which may be supported and expanded by city councillors and the Lord Mayor.

 May I now hand officially hand over the petition (addressing the councillors) which many of you have already signed – to Lord Mayor Terry Ralph.

Please fill in the form to join Mayors for Peace we have brought with us and send it to our international friends and colleagues at Mayors for Peace care of the Lord Mayor of Hiroshima and holder of the World Citizenship award, Lord Mayor Mr. Tadatoshi Akibha. Thank you.

To read Joan Meredith’s speech click here.

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See you there? 8.oo p.m. Hiroshima and Nagasaki Flower Memorial at the Groves, Chester.     Co-ordinated by the Testimony in Action Committee of the Wirral and Chester Quakers.

Remember Hiroshima - Street stall - Chester - Triden Ploughshares

Trident Ploughshares engages with the general public. Chester City Centre. Photo by Frances Laing

 It’s 12.30 on a hot afternoon in the centre of Chester and Trident Ploughshares supporters are holding the anti-nuclear fort with a street stall. Some people consider this way of communicating ‘old hat’ but judging by the response stall members got today, it’s still a vital way of speaking directly to the general public, even in our digital age.

This sort of stall can have an immediate and global reach, especially in Chester. The two people on the left of the picture are visiting the city and signed petitions. They’re from Iran – they’re wearing the famous green armbands, sharing experiences of repression and resistance and showing their support for international nuclear disarmament.
Trident Ploughshares Banner. Photo Frances Laing

Trident Ploughshares Banner. Photo Frances Laing

Trident Ploughshare posters. Picture by Frances Laing

Trident Ploughshares posters. Picture by Frances Laing

Watch news coverage of the Peace Declaration and the Hiroshima memorial ceremony – attended by participants of over 50 countries (broadcast two hours ago).

Every year on August 6th. the Mayor of Hiroshima addresses the crowds at the Annual Peace Memorial . Not only are his words moving and poetic, but the speech gives us insights into the current state of global disarmament negotiations, helps us understand the connections between the past and the present – and what we can usefully do. Mayor Tadatoshi Akibha is a leader with integrity.

You can read the text of the 2009 Hiroshima Peace Declaration here.

  With the Internet, we can hear the Mayor make the Peace Declaration on video. If you can’t make it to a ‘Remembering Hiroshima’ event – find a few moments to tune in to the Peace Declaration. It’s a chance to reflect on what your role might be to alleviate the current crisis – and what you can do to help build a nuclear-free future. The broadcast starts at 8.15 a.m. Hiroshima time so the website is updated later today.  To hear and see it, follow this link:

Remembering Hiroshima

August 5, 2009

Bridge. Chester. By Frances Laing

Bridge. Chester. By Frances Laing

Mindful that tomorrow marks the 64th. year since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima city – I took myself off for a walk by the River Dee to reflect on what peace activists have achieved in the past few decades (and to take a few photographs).

West Cheshire Council’s elected representatives have been in the news lately for less-than-positive reasons, but the people of Chester also have a progressive and radical hidden history. An important international news story  which deserves to be told.

It was in the early eighties that people began to gather at 8.p.m every year on August 6th. to make speeches remembering Hiroshima and to pledge their support for the abolition of nuclear weapons. This ‘Flower Memorial Ceremony’ (which will be held tomorrow evening too) has now been taking place for more than twenty years.

Traditionally, people meet at the bandstand on the city centre side of the river – at the Groves. A reading is given. Everyone brings white flowers. Next, the small crowd sets off together across the bridge which you can see in the first picture. 

The size of the crowd has varied. There were many times when the beautiful suspension bridge swayed with the weight of them. In the eighties when the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had a surge of strength. During the height of the opposition to the war in Iraq. During the long years in which peace activists,  community leaders and churches successfully campaigned for their Council to affiliate to Mayors for Peace.

In this ritual act of rememberance – the crowd always stops in the middle of the bridge to hear a second reading. Sometimes this is a speech. Sometimes it’s a poem.

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There is a moment of silence. The people cast their white flowers into the water and watch them drift peacefully away.

Rafah Border Opens

August 4, 2009

The border at Rafah has been open this week. First reports from the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border are coming in. Access to broadband, bathrooms and proper sanitary facilities is often limited. This report is short – and for a truer picture – I have not edited the copy. The peace camp set up by IMORB and other international Palestine solidarity groups at Rafah has had a presence at the Rafah gate for more than thirty days now (see previous posts). IMORB report (from yesterday – Monday) follows:

* the border opened at about 10am

* the operation was messy, and the condition very exhausting for every body involved, but it was significantly better than last time (27th june).

* more than 2000 wanted to inter (enter?F.L.)Gaza, most went through.

* we were told that approximativly 5000 in Gaza waited to pass to Egypt, most were turned back, while only about 500 passed.

*the border was open for a long time, possibly 12 or more hours, till late hour at night.

* there was a lot of activity at our camp, with members monitoring the days action, and facilitating where possible.

* in the same time the camp itself was full of Palestinians as visitors, for a glass of water, or few minutes resting, some even spent the day with us. (report from IMORB)