DUBLIN AUDIENCE AT AFRI PUBLIC MEETING CHARMED AND INSPIRED BY FORMER MEMBERS OF USA ARMED FORCES WHO ARE ON TRIAL FOR BREACH OF SHANNON AIRPORT SECURITY ZONE.
Veterans for Peace Members Ken Mayers and Tarak Kauff,US-based anti-war campaigners, last Wednesday evening clearly impressed members of a Dublin audience by their dedication. Both men are awaiting trial in Ireland for exposing U.S. war crimes and the violation of Irish neutrality at Shannon Airport and are at liberty only within the jurisdiction of the Irish State on a combined bail of €5,000.
The bail was paid by anti-war campaigner Ed Horgan, a former army commandant and UN peace keeper and the sum is twice the amount of criminal damage they are accused of having caused to the airport’s perimeter fence, as well as unlawfully trespassing into a taxiway. They did so in order to inspect a US plane to ensure it was not carrying war material or personnel, in violation of Ireland’s Constitutional neutrality. Campaigners have long demanded that the Irish State itself carry out these inspections but despite evidence that the State’s neutrality is indeed being violated by US Planes landing at Shannon, successive Irish governments have insisted in taking USA Government denials on trust.
The public meeting was opened by Joe Murray, Coordinator of Afri and Emer Lynam, newly-elected Vice-Chairperson of Afri Ireland, introduced the speakers.
The elderly campaigners, in their “Veterans for Peace” sweatshirts, addressed the audience about the reasons for their actions and their commitment to opposing US militarism which they stated was a major cause of misery around the world, including to serving members of the military themselves (quoting a figure of 22 suicides per day), along with being a major cause of world pollution. Ken Mayers explained that the USA has 800 military bases around the world in addition to its 400 on its own territory, the infrastructure, fuel expenditure and waste of the total which he stated is a major cause of pollution. (This is presumably without even taking into account the use of nuclear-generated power and disposal of radioactive material, or depleted uranium projectiles, such as used in Iraq or the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.)
Both men belong to an organisation called Veterans for Peace which campaigns against the US militarisation of the economy, war, interference in the affairs of other states and for better treatment of veterans. Recently they also supported a campaign against concentration camps for migrants along the US-Mexico border.
13 DAYS IN JAIL THEN BAIL ON CONDITION THEY DON’T APPROACH ANY AIRPORTS
Ken Mayers, 82 years of age and Tarak Kauff 77, spent 13 days on remand in Limerick jail, where their toilet did not flush unless they poured buckets of water into it. Other than that, they said they were treated well and the other prisoners treated them “like celebrities”.
The reason for their bail being refused during that period was Garda objections that they would flee the jurisdiction. Tarak Kauff exposed the illogicality of this ‘fear‘ to the Dublin audience, explaining that they had taken their action at Shannon knowing that they would be arrested and wanting to use the trial to expose what was going on at Shannon airport: “For us not to attend that trial, they would have to physically drag us away from there!”
They were eventually granted bail on condition they remain within the Irish state and having to surrender their passports, due to Garda objections again that they might flee, also not to approach any airports. On July 10th the High Court turned down their appeal against these conditions, though the judge said that he might review that decision if the case were to be moved to the Dublin District Court, where the waiting list was much longer. The defendants and their solicitor, Michael Finucane, will be seeking to have the case heard outside Clare, where it is believed a fair trial relating to a Shannon protest is unlikely. A trial date is expected in September or October.
“THEY POSTPONED MY HONEYMOON”
Ed Horgan took the floor after Mayers and Kauff to speak about the one million total of children killed in the Middle East as a result of war and sanctions and urged action to prevent further loss of children’s lives.
Then Emer Lynam opened the meeting to questions.
In reply to questions from the audience about the cost to themselves, Ken Mayers revealed he was due to be on his honeymoon by now with his bride.
Ken Mayers was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island. From Princeton University he entered the US military as a Second Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, rising to Major until he left the organisation in 1966 in disgust with US foreign policy. In Berkeley University, California he gained a PhD in political science where, according to the AFRI event page, he became a peace and justice activist, which he has been ever since and six years on the Veterans For Peace (USA) Board of Directors, five of them as national treasurer.
Tarak Kauff, ex-military too and also from New York, said that he missed his wife and daughter but both were supportive of what he was doing, being activists also (see short letter from his wife in Links and References). According to Afri’s FB page, he’s a former U.S. Army paratrooper (1959 – 1962), a member of Veterans For Peace, the managing editor of VFP’s quarterly newspaper Peace in Our Times and was a member of the VFP National Board of Directors for six years. He has organized and led delegations of veterans to Okinawa; Jeju Island, South Korea; Palestine; Ferguson, Missouri; Standing Rock …. and Ireland.
Asked what kept them going, they stated the importance to act against injustice. Kauff in particular declared that “to resist is human” and that he wished to be fully human. He said that no-one could tell another what he or she could do but one only had have the courage to ask oneself that question …. and then the courage to act upon the answer.
“IRISH PEOPLE JUST COME UP AND SHAKE OUR HANDS, THANK US FOR WHAT WE ARE DOING”
Both expressed gratitude and a degree of amazement at the warmth of their welcome and appreciation by members of the Irish public. Kauff gave an instance of the Lisdoonvarna pub where the management would not accept payment for their food and drinks. “People just come up to us and shake our hands and thank us for what we’re doing,” the veteran said, “and we don’t get that in the USA.”
Donations from the public fund them and, at the moment, they live in student accommodation at Limerick University, rent free – though they will need to find alternative accommodation in September.
Asked about popular feeling in the USA, Ken Mayer explained that the US public are exposed to a systematic system of propaganda and misinformation. However their anti-war organisation is very wide with many members and that there were optimistic signs with popular protest about the treatment of migrants along the US-Mexican border and fuel pipeline resistance in New York State and in Standing Rock. However, a little later, Tarak Kauff said that the outlook was not promising but that not resisting was no choice — even if he knew the world was going to end next week, he would feel he had to resist in order to fulfill his human potential.
Earlier in their presentations, Kauff alluded to Ireland’s historic struggle to overthrow its powerful oppressor and called people to oppose the most powerful enemy in the world today – the US State. He said that a stance taken by the Irish Government today would have a strong progressive ripple-effect around the world.
RESISTANCE IN MUSIC AND SONG
Music for the evening was provided by veteran campaigner John Maguire who sang a song he had composed back at the first demonstration at Shannon airport, with a chorus that the audience soon got the hang of and joined in.
RoJ performed a song also of his own composition, accompanied by Paul O’Toole on guitar and Nimal Blake on cajón. Later, O’Toole also sang a song of his own, about the child who lost both his arms to US imperialist ‘smart-targeted’ bombing, then going on to sing one of Dylan’s numbers. Both RoJ and O’Toole are long-time professional performers and have produced CDs of their material.
All performers were warmly applauded.
The evening was a fund-raiser and it could be seen that the collection bucket, although covered, was stuffed with notes. Ken and Tarak also have a Fund Me appeal and Afri is also receiving some donations for them through the Internet.
On Saturday 8th June, The Starry Plough Historical Society put on a remarkable event: an exhibition of photos from Aleppo with a real-time audio explanation of each by the photographer, community worker Antoine Makdis, speaking from Aleppo itself. Please note all but one of the images are photos taken by me of those being shown on the screen, hence the poor quality of the image but it is Antoine’s story of each that is of most importance.
Aleppo is a many-centuries-old city in the north of Syria which for five years was fought over in the war between Jihadists and the Syrian national army. Antoine Makdis is a Syrian community worker who also takes documentary photographs. The city was once the principal one in the region, being on the midway spot on Silk Road for caravans, between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean but the development of the Suez Canal reduced its trade importance hugely. There was also political rivalry between Aleppo-based interests and those in Damascus, as to whether to gravitate towards allegiance with Iraq or with Egypt.
However, the city has nevertheless been famed for its antiquity and its ancient buildings, as well as for its edible produce and cuisine. Sadly, the city was riven by war between 2012 and 20161, suffering huge destruction to its ancient buildings and communal spaces and with high loss of life too.
Aleppo won the “Islamic City of Culture” title in 2006. Its western suburbs contain “the Dead Cities” with remains of many cultures which have Unesco World Heritage status since 2011 under the title “Ancient Villages of Syria”. The city has the largest covered market-souq in the world and ancient buildings of worship, not only for Moslems but also for Christians and Jews.
Wikepedia: “Aleppo lies about 120 km (75 miles) inland from the Mediterranean Sea on a plateau 280 m (1,250 ft) above sea level, 45 km (28 miles) east of the Syrian-Turkish border checkpoint of Bab al-Hawa. The city is surrounded by farmlands to the north and west, widely cultivated with olive and pistachio trees. To the east, Aleppo approaches the dry areas of the Syrian Desert.”
Before the recent war in Syria the population of the city was 4.6 million, making it the most populous city in Syria but it is probably so no longer. According to some sources it is one of the cities in longest continuous human occupation, possibly since 6th millennium BC.
DOCUMENTING THE EFFECTS OF WAR AND BEGINNINGS OF RECOVERY
After the fighting in the city ceased, Antoine walked around taking photos, documenting not only terrible damage but the efforts of people to recover and the voluntary work done by some people to help people recover the city.
The Dublin event was organised by the Starry Plough Historical Society. A screen displayed the photographs while a presenter conversed with Antoine Makdis on a link-up and the latter talked about each photo, why he took it and what it meant to him.
“I wanted to show the world my beloved city Aleppo, through my eyes”, the photographer wrote in an introduction published on the event page. “This city that suffered a lot from the war and at the same time is cleaning the dust of battles from it’s magical robe to rise again as the oldest and most beautiful city in the world. That year, Aleppo started to recover after the unification of the parts of the city. And I started to publish these pictures on facebook, writing sometimes stories about the photos and most of the times keeping the picture taken unaccompanied by words.”
The event promotion on FB posted that it would be “… non-political, free to attend and open to all (respectful behavior to others is mandatory however).” At the time I questioned how anything could be non-political, to say nothing of photos taken in what was a war zone fought over definite political objectives. I do think I was correct in doubting that possibility and, at times, it was clear that Antoine was grateful for the Syrian National Army for ridding his city of the jihadists and that is entirely understandable.
Sadly, as the last photo was being discussed, I had to leave to attend another event and so was unable to participate in discussion with the photographer, or to thank and congratulate him for his work and what seemed to me a deep humanity underlying it.
ALEPPO WAR BACKGROUND
The uprising against Assad may have had genuine democratic or socialist component and it would not be surprising, given the history of the Syrian State, if they were suppressed with unreasonable force.
In Aleppo, there had been a demonstration against Assad in August 2011, some months after they had occurred elsewhere in Syria. Syrian State forces had suppressed that demonstration with the loss of two lives. Two months later, there was a large pro-regime demonstration.
The jihadists began to attack Government forces and others with bombs the following year. In February two suicide car bombs hit security compounds, killing four civilians, 13 Army, 11 Police and injuring 235. Another bomb in March 2012 killed two police and one civilian and injured 30 residents of the area. In July the “Free Syrian Army” besieged the city and penetrated into a section so that the war was then fought house to house until it stabilised into war between the section held by the FSA and the other, held by the Syrian National Army, separated by a no-man’s land.
The FSA were by this time undoubtedly mostly jihadists, i.e followers of the call of “jihad” or religious war. Jihadists are operating in various parts of the world and have undoubtedly been funded by Western Powers, chiefly the USA, along with in many cases sections of the Saudi Arabian royal ruling class.
The strategists of the USA have felt for years that it was necessary to have the rulers of a number of Middle Eastern states overthrown and replaced with regimes friendly to them.
The USA began seriously funding jihadists in Afghanistan to counter the Russian military and political presence there from the end of 1979 to early 1989 (they even sent them Rambo2!). Al Qaeda was created then by the USA, the organisation’s leadership drawing also on support from ruling circles in Saudi Arabia.
The CIA strategists developed a theory that religious zealots could be used to counter the influence of socialists and anti-imperialist democrats. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, Al Qaeda later turned against it creator, the USA, of which the most spectacular incident was the hijacked airplane attacks on the Twin Towers and on the Pentagon in September 11, 2001.
The monster has found a life of its own and has bred many offspring (the organisation variously known as ISIS/ ISIL/ Islamic State/ DAESH being the most notorious) and continues to be an ongoing danger to the people of the world. The various groups often fight among themselves for dominance and this was the case between ISIS in Syria and the imperialist-backed FSA.
Dr. Frankenstein has not entirely given up on his creation, believing it can be used in a controlled way from time to time wherever in the Middle East the political situation threatens the foreign interests of the USA.
(Lots of images but text reading time less than 5 minutes)
As Palestinians and their supporters around the world mark anniversaries of the Return to Palestine demonstrations and Land Day, Israeli snipers kill Palestinian children. Dublin marks the day with a solidarity rally and exhibitions and talks by internationally-recognised Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh.
The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign organised a rally to mark the anniversary of the start of the Return to Palestine demonstrations last year and also Land Day. Sadly, marking a Palestinian anniversary usually involves marking the deaths of martyrs and this was no exception, as Israeli Occupation Force snipers killed four demonstrators, three of them 17 years of age.
After the rally, of which I just caught the tail end because of the weekly Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign duty, I managed to catch the exhibition of noted Palestinian political cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh and to buy his book PALESTINE in black and white. Sadly, a prior appointment meant I had to miss his talk, which I would have loved to attend, especially as I dabble a little in cartoon-drawing myself.
Fortunately, Mohammad Saba’aneh was still there and was kind enough to autograph his book for me. When I took a photo of him with Fatin Al Tamimi, photographer and Chairperson of the IPSC, she insisted on taking a photo of me with him too – shukran.
On Thursday, Saba’aneh had also given a talk at the National College of Art & Design, along with Tuqa Al Saraj, also a Palestinian artist but today based in Dublin.
Mohammad Saba’aneh was born in 1978 in Ramallah in occupied Palestine, where he still lives. He is a Palestinian painter and caricaturist who has been imprisoned by Israel because of his art. He has a daily cartoon in the Palestinian newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida and his work features in publications across the Arab world.
HELPING THE DEAF AND THE TRAUMATISED WITH CARTOONS
Saba’aneh used caricature with deaf students to help them adopt another language to express their feelings and with children who witnessed an Israeli assault to help them psychologically. He took part in many workshops designed for children to develop critical thinking. Saba’aneh was responsible for organizing an international fair at Mahmoud Darwish museum in 2014 in which more than 100 international artists participated. Freedom House chose one of his works in 2016 as one of the year’s most important photos. His first book was published in the US in April 2017.
INTERNATIONAL WORK AND RECOGNITION
Saba’aneh is the Middle East representative for Cartoonist Rights Network International and the Palestinian ambassador for United Sketches, an international association for freedom of expression and cartoonists in exile and participated in many international publications such as The truth has more than one face in Europe and Sketch of Freedom in the US. He. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2017 Marseille International Cartoon Festival Prix d’Or. Pulitzer–winning cartoonist Matt Wuerker described him as “an inspiration for cartoonists around the world.” Noted graphic journalist Joe Sacco has said of this work that it is a “gut punch that gets straight to the essence of the stark reality of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation.”
Thursday 28th March – NCAD (Dublin), 7pm, Harry Clarke Lecture Theatre
Friday 29th March – TCD (Dublin), 3pm, Room LTEE1, Hamilton Building
Saturday 30th March – Dublin, 2.30pm, The Pearse Centre, 27 Pearse St
All of the above now over.
Monday 1st April – Waterford, 7.30pm, The Tower Hotel
Tuesday 2nd April – Limerick, 8pm, Perys Hotel
Wednesday 3rd April – Galway, 7pm, Black Gate Cultural Centre
Thursday 4th April – Maynooth University, 4pm, Venue TBC (Afternoon)
Thursday 4th April – Celbridge, 8pm, Celbridge Manor Hotel
Background information: Wikipedia and IPSC FB page
I was anxious for the Turkish airline plane to take off but it was being held up by Turkish State security agents. Two of them were walking down the airplane aisle from the forward exit, casually casting eyes over the passengers of the plane. Not looking at them would have been suspicious and would have conveyed guilt or fear, so I glanced equally casually at them and then away.
Average height, in suits and sunglasses, dark-haired, one of what might be termed “Mediterranean” appearance in his mid-thirties, the other “Middle-Eastern”, forties perhaps. Secret police for sure – not that their profession was in any way secret. Political police.
Almost certainly the same ones who had passed us in town a couple of times as we sat in the cafe killing a few hours before we headed for the airport. Nothing secret about that either – nor even subtle, driving a couple of times up and down the deserted street. They wanted us to know that they knew. Knew what we were. Tightening the cords of fear.
The two came slowly down the airplane aisle towards me. I tried not to tense as they drew near ….. and then they passed on towards the rear. I did not turn to look at them. This might have been a regular kind of security check as far as other passengers were concerned but I knew it wasn’t — they were here for us.
So what now? Drag us off the plane? Drag one or two and leave the rest? What would I do if they arrested one or more of the others but not me? Keep quiet until I got back and raise hell there? Or make a fuss here and get arrested as well? Think about it too much and I’d get really scared. Fear can paralyse. Also might send out the wrong signals. Put it to the back of my mind now …… wait to see what happens, then react. Or not.
I didn’t want to be in any prison, least of all a Turkish one — I’d seen Midnight Express. OK, some people, including the original central character of the story, had protested that the film was not true to life, that it made the Turks out to be monsters. But even those people had not defended Turkish prisons. And if even a tiny percentage of Turks were nasty psychopaths, the police, army and prison service were sure to have more than their share. And I knew what those elements had been doing to the Kurds …. which is why we were there.
Time was slowing down. They were still behind me somewhere but caution was telling me not to turn to look.
If we were detained, even for questioning only, they’d go through our luggage. Maybe had done so already.
I really wished that thought had not occurred to me.
* * *
The Kurds are a huge ethnic group, population estimates varying between 35 and 45 million, with parts of their people spread through the states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Azerbaijan, also with a large diaspora over much of the world, the most numerous in Germany (often those we think of as Turks, for example in kebab shops, are actually Kurds). It is what many might consider the Kurds’ good fortune to be sitting on oil and huge water reserves and a very strategic situation between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But that had turned out unluckily for them. They’d been overrun by the armies of many conquerors and, as is the way of these things, had participated in a fair few of those armies themselves.
Kurds are usually classified ethnically as an Iranian people and their language as in the Iranian group but the dominant language in the states in which they find themselves, apart from Iran itself, is mostly Turkish, Arabic or Azeri. Although with long-held nationalist ideas, the Kurds had experienced self-government twice and only for a total of eight years, each time under the protection of the Soviet Union: 1923-1929/’30 (Azerbaijan) and for almost all of 1946 (in northwestern Iran).
But neither the British nor the French, world masters before WW2, wanted an independent Kurdistan. The British had bombed Kurdish villages, probably the first deliberate aerial bombing of civilians, in their repression campaigns in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Persia (now Iran). The bombing was under the command of Squadron Leader Arnold Harris1, developer of the area-bombing tactic, essentially to strike terror into civilian populations and damage their infrastructure. He later put his expertise to use against the German population in WW2, including the horrific bombing of Dresden. By then, of course, the Italian Fascists and German Nazis had learned from Harris’ earlier innovation, the Italians using them against the Ethiopians and the Nazis against Gernika and other towns, later they and the Italian fascists over much of Europe and the Soviet Union.
Neither the post-WW1 treaties among the victors nor the upsurge of anti-British and anti-French nationalism and republicanism across the region had done the Kurds much good. Those carving states out of former empires wanted them as big as possible and would brook no independentism from different ethnic groups on the territory they claimed for their state. Kemal Attaturk, who led a secularising and modernising movement in building the Turkish State, denied that there was any such thing as a Kurdish people – they are just “mountain Turks”, he famously said.
In 1946 the USA, by then the top imperialist power, didn’t want an independent Kurdistan either and nor of course did the Shah of Persia (Iran) and his supporters so, some time after the Soviets withdrew, the Royal Iranian army invaded and suppressed first the Azerbaijan Republic and then the Kurdish one and executed its leadership.
By 1984 the PPK’s2 communist-led guerrillas, including female units, were fighting a war of Kurdish national liberation against Turkish troops, who were occupying areas, bombing suspected guerrilla bases, destroying villages and forcibly relocating civilians3 and carrying out atrocities, including torture, rape and summary executions.
In Iraq, the Kurds seemed mostly under the tribal leadership of Barzani and Talibani, their peshmergas or guerrillas sometimes collaborating with the Kurds in the Turkish state and more often not.4
During the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988, the Hussein regime had bombed Kurds with chemical weapons, including mustard gas, in one incident at Halabja killing up to 5,000 and injuring twice as many, mostly civilian men, women and children. But, strange to know now, atthat time the western imperialist powers were supporting Hussein’s invasion of Iran, because Iran was the ‘big monster’ and Hussein was friendly towards the West. Journalists found it difficult to get their editors interested in the massacre story. And the CIA tried to pin the attack on the Iranians! Only when, years later, Hussein had annoyed the western powers sufficiently by invading Kuwait and they soon afterwards went to all-out war against him, did the story suddenly become generally newsworthy and the then Iraqi military commander Ali Hassan Al-Majid become known as “Chemical Ali”. The chemicals came from west-European companies and US satellite surveillance supplied the targeting references.
Following the defeat of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by the USA-led coalition forces of the time (35 states overall but with Saudi Arabia and British forces next in number to the USA’s), the CIA called on the Kurds to rise up against the Saddam Hussein regime, leading them to believe that the USA would support them and that Hussein’s overthrow was imminent. They rose but neither the external support nor Iraqi-wide uprising was delivered and they faced heavy military suppression and repression with many atrocities, causing millions of Kurds to flee to the Kurdish areas of Iran and Turkey, hundreds being killed on the way by helicopter strafing attacks or by wandering into minefields. Of the 200 mass graves the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry had registered between 2003-2006, the majority were in the South, including one believed to hold as many as 10,000 victims5.
The Assad regime in Syria suppressed Kurdish national aspirations, forced Arabic while punishing expression in Kurdish and jailed a number of Kurdish artists, in particular musicians.
The Kurds of Iran had been repressed under the Shah of Iran but after his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution, they also suffered repression by the fundamentalist clerical regime that took power and executions of Kurdish activists took place. This although during the eight-year Iraq-Iran War, two of the Iraqi Kurdish forces, the Barzani-led KDP and the Talibani-led PUK, had supported the Iranians against the Iraqi regime.
* * *
The earliest I can remember reading about the Kurds was about Turkish State repression of cultural expression by their Kurdish ethnic citizens, banning of language and song, suppression of history and extending even to arrests of Kurdish women who hung their washing out in the red, white and green sequence — sometimes with yellow in the middle — of Kurdish national colours. Being Irish, I felt something of an identification with them, of course I did. Being a revolutionary socialist in addition, I had no love of the rulers of the repressive Turkish State, nor of the fact of its membership of the USA-dominated military alliance of NATO since 1952.
London, a major European city with a population of over eight millions, larger than the entire population of Ireland (but about the same as the latter’s pre-Great Hunger levels), was temporary or permanent home to a large number and variety of people of non-English ethnic background. Foremost in number was my own, the Irish, largely unacknowledged in multi-racial discourse but the opposite in terms of security, surveillance, harassment and racialisation. I had not heard of the Kurds previously but as one becomes newly aware of the existence of something, it tends to start popping up into one’s consciousness in different places. And so not long after reading of them, I found myself at a Kurdish solidarity meeting in London and leaving my email address with them. Which is how eventually, a couple of years later, I sat in a Turkish airplane in a Kurdistan airport, watching Turkish state political police walking down the aisle towards me.
The Kurdish solidarity people in London set up a committee of activists and I became part of it. The idea came up of building trade union links between Britain and the Kurds, for which it was proposed to send a delegation of British-based trade unionists on a tour of Turkish Kurdistan, whose report could then be used to generate further and increased solidarity work. A boycott of Turkish tourism was one tactic being considered by some of us which, if promoted by the trade union movement in Britain, would have a significant impact on the Turkish economy. Friendly relationships already existed between British trade unions and Turkish ones, which were sometimes repressed by their State but the social-democratic and Moscow-style Communist leaderships on both sides had no sympathy for independence movements which they saw as weakening and splintering the workers’ movement within the Turkish state. There were no specifically Kurdish trade unions but large sections of Turkish unions existed inside the Kurdish region and the solidarity committee had contacts there.
Some of us were asked whether we would like to go, for which we would need to be sponsored by a trade union and raise our own air fares and some money for food — but accommodation and travelling expenses within the region would be taken care of. Most of the money would go towards the flights but our spending money, we were advised, should be in dollars or marks. Turkish Lira is the currency of Turkey but it would be hard to get and anyway those other two currencies would be more valued.
I was excited by the idea of going but doubted I could raise the money – living little above subsistence rates as I was. Having been accepted by the University of North London on a BA combined studies course of History and Irish Studies6 and although in receipt of tuition fees and subsistence support, I was nevertheless having to continue working part-time in order to pay the rent on my flat. It was just my luck that was the year that students in Britain ceased to be eligible for Housing Benefit. Teaching Irish language at Beginners’ level to adults and some weekly youthwork sessions was my only employment then, my last welding job having ended some years earlier – around the same time as the final breakup of my marriage.
The part-time employment and full-time studies course would keep me busy enough but by then I was also on the Ard-Choiste7 of an active Irish diaspora campaigning organisation, the Irish in Britain Representation Group8. In addition I was also on the Branch Committee of my trade union, NALGO (Clerical Section)9, as a part-time (which meant no time off work for union activity) Assistant Branch Secretary and also occasionally representing workers in the grant-aided NGO sector. These workers were usually managed by a voluntary committee of people who considered themselves left-wing or at least liberal but often treated their staff atrociously and rarely abided by due process in disciplining them or responding to grievances. Their employees worked in very small organisations (sometimes with only one or two employees) and were isolated, deprived of the solidarity of larger workforces and often played off against one another.
How likely was it that my trade union branch would sponsor me, even nominally? I was unsure. The local NALGO leadership at the time was what I considered collaborationist with the Council’s management, rather than fighting for improvement of conditions and salaries. And I was new to employment by Lewisham Council. And if the branch were to sponsor me, how likely was it that they would put up some funds to get me to Kurdistan?
In the end, the branch did sponsor me to go to investigate and report back, also making a contribution towards my plane fare. Surprisingly, my funding included a personal contribution from a middle-management figure in the Council which, although she was a union member, surprised me considerably, mostly on a political level. She told me later that despite our differences she admired my courage in undertaking the risk implicit in the delegation. The NALGO Irish Workers’ Group10, of which I was also an activist, contributed a sum too from their meagre resources, for which I was very grateful personally and appreciated also as an example of internationalist solidarity.
And so, after a mad rush to sort out and renew my Irish passport, which I had never needed to travel between Britain and Ireland but would for most other destinations, I arrived late and stressed out at Heathrow Airport to meet the others of our delegation bound for Kurdistan.
Just in case anything should happen to me over there, I informed a few of my siblings over in Ireland, insisting my parents not be told until I telephoned that I had returned. There seemed no point in them worrying while I was away. We are not very good at keeping secrets from one another and, of course, someone told my mother, as I found out later.
* * *
The introductions were brief and hurried before we entered the queue for the Departures gate. Arnold, our English interpreter for Turkish, I had already met several times through the solidarity committee. In addition there was a jocular English photographer called Paddy, a London Afro-Caribbean male trade unionist by the name of Damien from North London and an English woman trade unionist called Rose from another part of England.11The initial list had contained another two but they had to drop out for various reasons.
It was late afternoon on a cloudy day around four hours later when we landed at Istanbul airport and in the city we booked into a four-star hotel, apparently arranged by our hosts. Just as New York is seen as the main city in the USA but the capital is actually Washington DC, Istanbul is seen as Turkey’s main city but its capital is actually Ankara. That evening we went out for a little stroll around the older part of the city and to eat and a little later, were brought to a pub apparently frequented by the Turkish Left. After a few pints I sang a couple of Irish songs which seemed well-received but cannot now remember which they were.
The following day we learned that our departure on the next leg of our journey had been delayed and so we had time for a little sight-seeing. After coffee in one of our host’s flats overlooking the Bosporus Strait, where we were told that we were on the European side and on the other was Asia, we split up to see some of the sights. With one other I visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (“Blue Mosque”) opened in 1616, functioning as a mosque for Muslim prayer but with parts open to non-believers.
A historic monument in Istanbul is the bronze Serpent Column, created from melted-down Persian weapons, acquired in the plunder of the Persian force’s camp after their defeat at the battle of Platea in 479 BCE, erected at Delphi but transferred to Constantinople
(heart of the European side of Istanbul) by Emperor Constantine I “the Great”. Listed on the column were all the Greek city-states that had participated in the battle. Although a part at the top was removed, the Column survived a number of disasters, including the tragic burning and sacking of the city at the hands of the Fourth Crusade (although it was a Christian city) by forces under the Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo in 1204 AD.
Then we got word to be ready as that night we’d be taking a plane to Batman. Really, Batman? Not to Robin? They had heard the jokes before, of course. Batman is a town in the province of the same name, south-east of Anatolia or Asia Minor, i.e in Kurdistan but more to the point, was where our hosts were based – the Petrol Is trade union.
On the journey, looking down from the passenger plane, I could see vast mountain areas seeming like a wrinkled and rucked fabric, in many places covered or streaked in snow. A little over two hours later, we landed at Batman airport.
* * *
Batman was a bit of a shock, to be honest. Not so much the very small airport but the town itself, which seemed to be little more than a long and very wide high street forking at one end. A few shops, cafes or restaurants on one side of the road and some half-constructed buildings and empty sites on the other. A cow walked down the street unattended, stopped by a rubbish bin and began to eat waste cardboard; cows’ stomachs of course can break down cellulose and extract nutrition from it – but still, not what one from our parts of the world expects to see in a town.
On a map of the Kurdish area of the Turkish state, Bitlis would appear to be roughly in the middle; Batman is a little over 100 kilometres from there, heading south-westward.
After spending the night in a very quiet and basic enough Batman hotel but with single rooms each, after breakfast of bread, biscuits and coffee, we got a taxi to the regional Petrol Is headquarters, a large building but which seemed almost empty, where we were asked to wait. After an hour the area where we were, somewhat like an auditorium in size but without many chairs, had begun to fill up. The first thing that struck me was that they were all men – even the administrative staff, it seemed – so that I felt sympathy for Rose. She was wearing a long scarf over her head in recognition of the cultural norms of the area and, although I was not at all sure that I agreed with that, in the end it was her decision.
Eventually the President of the regional branch arrived and we sat down with him and a few of his committee, with some other Petrol Is members standing around us. We were drinking chai, light-coloured tea without milk and with nearby sugar-cubes to add to taste.
The discussions were in Turkish, with Arnold interpreting for us and for the union President. After the introductions, the President welcomed “the British trade unionists” who were coming to enquire about conditions and promised the assistance of the union while we were there. Naturally I couldn’t let that go and asked Arnold to translate the following for me:
“For my own part, as an Irishman in a British trade union, thank you for your hospitality. The British state has occupied my country for hundreds of years and we have struggled – and continue to struggle – for full independence.”
The regional President acknowledged the statement but no doubt understood that I was by inference making a point also about Kurdish members of Turkish trade unions. I was interested in precisely the nature of that relationship and a little later probed deeper, with Arnold of course translating. The President limited himself to stating that the union’s HQ in Turkey supported the regional branches in their struggles for better wages and conditions and for freedom to organise. Of course, even if he were an ardent nationalist, he would have to be very circumspect; there were certain to be State spies in the union.
Petrol Is workers were scattered around the region at oil depots and refineries and often living away from home for long periods. Inclement weather could be an issue as could work accidents. Wages were considered generally good but did not keep up with the rising prices of necessities, not to speak of more luxurious goods – a common experience of the working class around the world.
After about an hour he bade us farewell and we were introduced to our driver for the rest of our stay, Genghis.12
Genghis spoke little English but was fluent in both Turkish and his native Kurdish. A good-natured man in his early thirties who lived locally with his wife and children, we were to spend a week in his company as he drove us many hundreds of kilometres. His salary, accommodation and traveling costs, we understood, were being paid by the union.
After Genghis dropped us off back at our hotel, I and some of the others fancied a couple of beers with relaxed conversation but were in for a surprise – the area was under islamic norms. Not only did the hotel have no bar – there were no bars. No alcohol? It is amusing now that some of us seemed more shocked by the prospect of no beer than the fact that we were in an insurgency war zone.
There was, however, a shop where we could buy cans of beer. What kind of islamic no-alcohol policy could that be? We asked no more questions, bought some beers and discreetly brought them back to the hotel, piled into one of the bedrooms and relaxed with a couple of cans for awhile.
Paddy and Damien were quite lively and amusing guys, Arnold and Rose quieter. Of the first two, Paddy was the perhaps the funniest. He seemed to think I looked like Sean Connery (some people years ago thought that) and kept calling me “Big Sean”. He was a freelance professional photographer. Damien was a member, like myself, of a NALGO branch but in North London. Rose was not only on the executive committee of her trade union but also on the joint union area committee.
After a while, we separated, each to his or her own room. Next morning, we were to be up at 7am, meet Genghis and begin our investigative journeys. We’d stop off at a cafe for breakfast on the way.
* * *
ARMY ROADBLOCK AND A CANNON-SHELL HOLE IN MY WALL
Driving into a town (I can’t remember which one now) we could see light cannon and heavy machine-gun missile impact marks on the walls of houses.
Suddenly ahead was an Army checkpoint and turning back now they’d seen us would be suicidal. There was nothing to do but to drive up and greet them casually. I was thinking either this is purely coincidence and nothing is likely to happen or it is not and something will definitely happen to us here.
One of the soldiers returned Genghis’ greeting, looked at his passengers and asked to see our ID. I didn’t know whether he was entitled to see more than our driver’s documentation but I was certainly not going to make an issue of it as guns trump legal arguments every time.
The soldier went away with our passports and Genghis’ driving licence, presumably to his officer. An Army truck was blocking our view and we couldn’t see where he was. I looked casually around, saw more bullet-holes. Everywhere.
A little later I saw the soldier coming back towards us and I started doing breathing exercises. He handed over our documents and bade us goodbye. Genghis pulled away slowly – damn right!
From a jeweler in Mediyat I bought a silver ring with a black stone set in it. The shops, a row of what looked like sheds, with bars in front but no shutters we could see, were mostly empty, possibly in fear of the Turkish Army. I am not sure whether it was in that town or another that we booked into a hotel, free of charge again.
Bringing my haversack up to my room on the first floor, I looked out the window on to the street below. When I turned back to the room I got real shock: there was a small diameter cannon shell hole in the wall! It might have been only 20 or 30mm but it seemed huge to my eyes. The shell must have gone in through the window without exploding and then into the wall opposite, again apparently without exploding. Still, anyone in the path of that shell would have been killed.
The bed was below the level of the window ledge and any time I wanted to go to the toilet from my bed, I crawled there on my hands and knees – and back again the same way. And you know what? I never felt stupid doing that, either.
It was raining out so we stayed in and, sitting smoking later that night, the front door open so I could see the street clearly, the owner started talking to me and had me brought free cups of chai. He could speak fair English.
Was the room ok, he asked? I asked him about the shell hole. Did I want to change rooms? No, not at all thanks, I just wanted to know what happened (I was thinking maybe a shell wouldn’t land in the same place twice).
Apparently a few days previously, in another part of town, Kurdish guerrillas had ambushed one of the Turkish armoured cars, destroyed it and got away. The Turkish soldiers, enraged, shot up the town, including his hotel.
“I am a businessman. My hotel is a three-star hotel. But because I am Kurdish, the Army can shoot up my place,” he said, “I get no compensation and me and my staff could have been killed”.
* * *
MASSACRE OF CHILDREN
One day Arnold told us that there had been a terrible incident two days earlier – the Turkish Army had killed people in a village – did we want to go? Of course we did!
He would make enquiries whether they would want us to visit – after all, we might be bringing more trouble on them.
With their agreement obtained, we set off some hours later. I cannot now remember the name of the village, which was reached by a track off the road. The area was pretty level and the houses were single-storey and rectangular, with white or greyish walls, somewhat similar to the adobe houses one sees in westerns set in the southwest of the USA or Mexico. Entering the village, we passed one of the houses, blackened with huge scorch marks.
Invited into one of the houses, firstly I was surprised at the couple of steps up into the building, secondly by the carpets on the floor inside and thirdly by a TV set in the corner. It was just not what I had expected when viewing the buildings from the outside.
They were all men inside (unless there were women out of sight), apparently village elders and some young men. We sat down on cushions on the carpet to hear the story, translated by Arnold.
Two nights earlier, men had come and knocked at the victim’s house, the one with the scorch marks, saying that they were guerrillas and asking the son, a young man, to come out to talk to them. His mother said “They are not guerrillas” and asked him not to go. He replied that there would be trouble for the family if he did not and so he would go. (What his mother was implying was that the men outside were either soldiers in disguise or State proxy assassination squad people). The son left and they heard him and the others walk away.
After a little, the young man’s father picked up his gun (it is common for people in those areas to have a gun) and went out after his son. A little later, firing was heard down the track.
Eventually, when people went to investigate, they found blood on the ground in some places but no bodies. Their belief was that the son was being mistreated in some way, the father intervened and perhaps shot some of the men but that he and his son were killed too. Then the surviving men took the bodies away.
But worse, much worse was to come, which was what had brought us out there. For the Army arrived and announced a curfew on the village throughout the day and, that night, an army vehicle (the words sounding like a “panzer flamethrower”) had driven up and incinerated the house, the victims including six children. They showed us the photo, the little charred bodies laid out side by side. It was hard (sometimes still is, thinking about it) not to cry, not to scream in rage13.
We said we would tell who we could, thanked them and left. I imagined in turn being the son, then the father, then the neighbours. I did not want to imagine being the victims in the house. We were quiet in the car for a long time.
* * *
Diyarbakir is the capital city of Turkish Kurdistan, a city then of maybe a million or more in population (the estimate for the metropolitan district now is 1.7 million). The Turkish State has had a policy of forcing the Kurds out of their small towns and villages – especially those in the mountains – and directing them in one manner or another to the big city. Such a population reallocation makes the countryside easier to control, removing ‘the sea (the people) that the fish (the guerrillas) swim through‘, to paraphrase a famous phrase of Mao-Tse-Tung. The British did it in Kenya and the USA in Vietnam, in somewhat different manner but the principle is the same. Of course revolutions happen in cities too and urbanisation tends towards proletarianisation of the majority, which may cause a different kind of problem for the Turkish ruling class in the long run.
Genghis left us at the hotel and headed home, about 50 kilometres. He wanted to see his wife and children and he’d also heard that the Turkish police had called at his house and questioned his wife. She seemed to be ok but he was worried. And so were we.
Handing in our passports at the Diyakakir hotel registration, we filled in our forms and a boy took them to the local police station as required (this had not been the case in Batman or in Istanbul but perhaps copies had been supplied). We had of course described ourselves as tourists.
While we were eating, the boy returned with the passports and said something to Arnold, who smiled. “He says the police said ‘They are not tourists’,” Arnold told us in response to our queries. My heart gave a little jolt – but what did I expect? Of course they were keeping an eye on us. And letting the boy hear, knowing he would communicate it back to us …. intimidation? Kind of reassuring because what would be the point of intimidation if they were going to arrest us anyway, or worse? Well, maybe to soften us up a little beforehand ….
I pushed the thoughts out of my mind.
The following day we had a number of meetings arranged, the first at a kind of municipal building, was with trade union representatives, many of them women: teaching, municipal service both manual and clerical, health workers’ unions. It was slow work since everything had to be translated – ours mostly into Turkish, I think and theirs into English for us. These were much more explicit about their problems with Turkish State repression: censorship, cultural eradication, arrests, threats, a few assassinations by the State proxy so-called “Turkish Hizbollah”14. This was their reality, day in, day out.
About a year later, looking at a list of the names of Kurdish activists assassinated by these State proxy gangs, I recognised the name of at least one of those we had met and talked to, a woman teacher and trade union activist. And felt guilt, the thought that maybe our visit had been part of the decision to kill her. But of course, all Kurdish activists were and are vulnerable, even sometimes abroad – and the Kurds want their stories told out there in the world.
Another meeting took place in what they were calling their human rights centre and here I got the impression of the human rights people working closely with the Kurdish political party – not the PKK, which was banned but perhaps a reformation of it in part, to comply with Turkish laws and allow them to stand in elections. They already had municipal councillors but were heading for Turkey-wide elections. Having the status of a member of the Turkish Parliament in Ankara didn’t really protect one that much, as a number of elected Kurds have found over the years.15
For some reason we were kept waiting there for over a hour, although other people were coming and going. I was hungry and not impressed but then, what did I know of what other concerns they might have? Eventually we got to talk to a couple of the human rights people and the politicians. They were very concerned to talk in terms of human rights and not Kurdish independence or even autonomy. With all the people hanging around and listening (which I thought a most inappropriate way to have our meeting), it seemed unwise to push them on that issue. Also, these people too were in constant danger of arrest and even assassination.
We never made any promises to anyone, except that we would report back and try and get publicity for their struggles. We outlined the possible outcomes, such as more media coverage or our trade unions taking up a policy of solidarity with them … but we could not even guarantee that.
Later we wandered through a market area; Damien was anxious to buy a kilim rug and haggled with the seller until they reached agreement. I know that haggling is expected but it is something I cannot do and I left empty-handed.
Back at the hotel, we received a phone call from Genghis – he’d collect us the following day and drive where wished to. His family was ok, the Army had just asked where he was, his wife told them he was away on a driving job for the union but she did not know where. Of course, they knew that – it was a reminder by the Army of his vulnerability and of his family’s.
* * *
THE ANCIENT AND OLD
We did get to see some other things, not so directly connected with human rights, conflict or politics.
The Zoroastrian monastery, looking like a fortress standing on its own but I cannot remember where it was. We were received courteously, allowed to see the church and served chai. Did the Army bother them? Rarely but sometimes, was the reply.
Zoroastrianism or Mazdayasna, is the oldest monotheistic religion on record and one of the world’s oldest active religions. Its number of adherents generally world-wide is declining but was reported recently to be increasing somewhat among some of the Kurds. With a single god and good-bad split influences, along with free will and responsibility for one’s actions, it would seem to have influenced the creation of the Judaic faith, which in turn led to the creation of Christianity and, somewhat later, Islam.
The religion’s Wikipedia page contains this possibly contradictory entry: “Recent estimates place the current number of Zoroastrians at around 190,000, with most living in India and in Iran; their number is declining.In 2015, there were reports of up to 100,000 converts in Iraqi Kurdistan.Besides the Zoroastrian diaspora, the older Mithraic faith Yazdanism is still practiced among Kurds.”
Another time we drove past a group of nomads on a hillside, their big black tents pitched wide, their flocks of sheep nearby. I would have loved to have talked to them but we were expected elsewhere without time to stop. These were probably Yoruk people.
Ancient site threatened
Hasankeyf is an ancient settlement area along the Tigris river in the south-east of the Turkish state, i.e in Kurdistan. Although it was declared a conservation area by the Turkish Government in 1981, it is now threatened by a dam to be built by the Turkish Government of today. Even back then when we visited, the threat was known although further away.
With a history spanning nine civilizations, it should have World Heritage status. According to Wikipedia:
“ The city of Ilānṣurā mentioned in the Akkadian and Northwest Semitic texts of the Mari Tablets (1800–1750 BC) may possibly be Hasankeyf, although other sites have also been proposed.By the Romanperiod, the fortified town was known in Latinas Cephe, Cepha or Ciphas, a name that appears to derive from the Syriacword(kefa or kifo), meaning “rock”. As the easternand western portions of the Roman Empire split around AD 330, Κιφας (Kiphas) became formalized as the Greek name for this Byzantine bishopric.
“Following the Arab conquest of 640, the town became known under the Arabicname حصن كيفا (Hisn Kayf). “Hisn” means “fortress” in Arabic, so the name overall means “rock fortress”.”
The site we visited was of the caves, rather than the city. There were thousands of man-made caves, of which we only saw a few. Paddy displayed his Arabic phrases with an elderly man sitting outside a cafe, while we bought some chai. Up to fairly modern times, people had lived in some of the caves, we were told.
In Cizre, over 166 km from our Batman base, we went to see thealleged grave of Mem and Zin, star-crossed lovers without any apparently religious significance but whose grave is cared for and visited by many. We were allowed to enter but there was not much to see – the interesting content is in their story, written down in 1692 and which is performed in a mixture of prose and poetry.
Mem, a young Kurdish boy of one clan and heir to the “City of the West” falls in love with Zin, of the “Botan” clan and daughter of the Governor of Butan. Their meeting is during New Roz, the ancient fire-festival of the Kurds still celebrated today (often with political independence symbolism) but their union is prevented by a man of a different clan who some time later causes the death of Mem. Zin dies mourning at his grave in Cizre, being buried beside her deceased lover.
Bakr, the author of Mem’s death, is killed by the victim’s friend and he is buried near the lovers so that he can witness their being together. However, his hatred is such that it nourishes a thorn tree to grow, sending roots deep into the earth to separate the two lovers, even in death.
Sadly, I knew very little of this wonderful story then and had to look it up on the Internet much later.
Workers on a cotton plantation
On another occasion, on impulse we pulled in off the road at a cotton plantation. The manager politely made time for us, talking about the product, its cultivation etc. Although most Turkish cotton is grown in the Aegean region, there were fields of it here. The cotton grown in Turkey is long-threaded, with fewer joins, therefore higher quality, especially for towels: strong and smooth and not too absorbent.
Were his workers members of a union? He didn’t know, that would be their business. They were well treated; in any case, he did not receive any complaints. Would it be possible to talk to some of the workers? Alas, no, they were in the middle of their shift. But he did not suggest an alternative time when it would be convenient.
* * *
AT THE IRAQI AND SYRIAN BORDERS
As our time in Kurdistan drew to a close, Arnold asked whether we’d be interested in seeing the Iraqi and Syrian borders. Of course we would! After Arnold’s brief discussion with Genghis, we set off. It is approximately 300 kilometres from Batman to the Border but we might have been around Mardin by then, which is nearer. Our road wound higher and higher through hills into the mountains and we rarely saw traffic on the road; as we got nearer we’d need to be more cautious. In a quiet mountainy area we stopped beside a stream to stretch our legs and for Genghis to take a short break. Always interested in nature generally and water life in particular, I wandered to the stream and to my amazement saw crabs very like the marine shore crabs of home, both in appearance and size. I soon caught one and had my photo taken holding it up.
A middle-aged and young woman appeared on the road and I greeted them in the few words of Kurdish I knew to which they responded with a muttered reply and turned away. It was probably to do with gendered cultural mores of the area but they might also have seen us as something to do with the Turkish state or even foreign intelligence people operating in the area. I released the crab back into the water, watched it make off sideways, its pincers threatening. We got back in the car and drove off towards the Border.
The US-led Coalition forces in March 1991 had imposed a no-fly zone on the Kurdish region of Iraq from which even Iraqi helicopters were banned, which of course brought some relief to those areas suffering repression after the US-incited uprising. But it also gave the Kurdish tribal leaders unfettered access to Iraqi-drilled oil wells. And so the plunder began.
Stopping a few hundred yards from the Iraqi border we watched the trucks coming over from the Iraqi state, pause momentarily, hand something over to the Turkish soldier on “border control” duty and drive on. Each lorry had an additional fuel tank welded on underneath with little clearance before the road surface. All illegal, of course, according not only to Iraqi but international and even Turkish law. It was a lonely spot for Turkish soldiers garrisoned there but no doubt a lucrative posting. And surely Turkish Government officials were taking a bigger rake-off, though nothing as crude as being slipped a bribe at a border crossing.
After that we went to visit the Syrian border. This time it was just to see, set back a little from the road, a barbed wire fence stretching east-west. On the other side was Syria but with nothing to see there. Just for the sake of having done so, I picked up a pebble on the Turkish side and threw it over the fence – when it landed, it looked no different to the Syrian pebbles.
* * *
On our last evening, in the hotel in Batman, we trade unionists were taken aside and asked to carry sheets of typed paper in secret back to London. The precise nature of the content was not revealed to us but they did not contain maps or diagrams, which we confirmed with a quick riffle through them.
We were disturbed and also somewhat angry and resentful, one more than the rest, who refused. Under protest, for all the good that would do me if we were searched, I agreed, distributed the papers among my belongings and said no more about it. I chose not to examine them too closely on the vague principle that the least I knew the less I could tell and to this day am not entirely sure what the contents were. Rose, having said little in the first place, packed them away quietly. I had the impression that this quiet woman was the bravest of us all, certainly of us trade unionists.
Next morning we got up at a decent hour, had breakfast and headed out to the local cafe-restaurant to kill time before we needed to head out to the airport, where waiting would be even worse than where we were.
We did not see Genghis again but learned that he had returned home and things seemed ok. The State police must have known where he was now but had not detained him. If they questioned him he could, we supposed, say he knew nothing except the places we had asked him to go to, for which he was being paid. That would be his wisest course of action and hopefully the one he’d adopt. Hopefully too his union would exert itself to protect him.
The street being so quiet, there was little to do but chat over chai or coffee, read or look out the window. So even if we had not been somewhat nervous, it would have been difficult to miss the car that passed down the street a number of times, going first in one direction, then the other, with two men inside, wearing sunglasses.
“Political police”, I said to Arnold. He glanced out the window, nodded, returned to sipping his chai. Nobody else said anything.
At the airport, there was no sign of the plainclothes cops, only the armed Turkish airport guards and customs officials. We were processed pretty quickly and then on to the Turkish airline passenger jet, bound for Istanbul. We sat down, somewhat relieved but knew there was still the next airport to get through.
But twenty minutes later, we were still there with no sign of preparations to take off. And then there they were, the two of them coming through the plane’s forward exit, in their suits and sunglasses.
As they walked casually down the aisle towards me, I tried to empty my head and concentrate on my breathing. Tried to feel at ease so I would look it. They passed me and I did not turn my head. A little later, they passed me again heading back forward. Over the top of the passenger seat in front, I watched them as casually as I was able. They were talking to a couple of male members of the cabin crew, near the exit. About to leave? Informing them that some of their passengers were going to be arrested? Just making us sweat a bit more?
The conversation with the cabin crew was dragging on. Then a kind of wave from one and they ducked their heads to exit on to the stairs.
A crew member closed the hatch and dogged it securely. The engines whined, then slowly increased in pitch. The plane began to taxi, stopped, turned slowly, the engine noise increased to a roar and …. the plane jumped forward to gather take-off speed.
I heaved a sigh of relief. We were safe now, at least until our disembarkation at Istanbul. Then the flight to London and safety. Well not entirely … there would be another hurdle at Heathrow: customs and police. But they wouldn’t be interested in some papers, would they? British political police? Well, the very worst they could do to us would be detention and interrogation, possible but unlikely custody, trial and sentence. The Irish in Britain were subject to the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act, a “temporary” suspension of civil rights introduced in 1974 and renewed annually. I had some experience of arrest and detention in Britain and, however bad it might be, I was sure there would be no close comparison with a Turkish jail. And I’d be within reach of family visits.
The journey back to London was without incident. I handed the “contraband” papers over to the intended recipient and that was that; phoned my family to let them know I had returned safely.
Our delegation and some of the solidarity committee arranged to meet in order to prepare our report. Rose was back on her home ground and corresponded by email, while Damien attended a few meetings. Paddy contributed his photos. Arnold and I and one other did most of the writing text, discussion and editing and in time an attractive and informative report, magazine-size with a full-colour cover was produced, featuring some of Paddy’s photos. I submitted a copy to each of my funders, sent one home, kept one and ………. None can be found now, apparently.
After reporting to my union (a brief announcement recommending the reading of the report, offering to speak at meetings and to bring other speakers), I expected to receive invitations to speak on the subject of the Kurds and the Turkish State, hopefully in support of a campaign such as a tourism boycott. No such requests came from activists in my union branch.
In all, I received one invitation to address a very small meeting in North London with which I complied and tried unsuccessfully to organise one myself in the University of North London. There were no other invitations nor meetings organised by the solidarity group, which seemed to be a singular failure to capitalise on the delegation, so well organised and the report, so well produced.
I had told Arnold, once we got out of Turkey, that I thought the walk through the plane in Batman of the Turkish political police was intended as a warning to him. The rest of us had not been there before and were unlikely to return whereas he was a fairly regular visitor. I told him that the next time he visited, they would lift him. I was wrong; his next visit was with the Liberal British peer Lord Avebury, a campaigner for human rights in Turkey. But the next visit after that, without Avebury,he was arrested and spent some weeks detained in a Turkish jail before various efforts combined to have him released.
I lost contact over the years with Damien, then with Rose and eventually with Arnold too. Paddy disappeared, resurfaced, then disappeared again. There seemed little more I could do for the Kurds and in any case, had completed my course of studies and was searching for and taking up full-time employment and involved in other struggles, though I attended the occasional Kurdish solidarity public event.
In Turkey, the State’s war against the PKK has continued on and off, with the latter varying their combat position and also reducing their demand from Kurdish independence to regional autonomy within Turkey. This position developed after 1999 when the PKK’s co-founder and leader Abdullah Ocalan was kidnapped in Kenya by the CIA and Turkish Intelligence and brought to Turkey, where his death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment after the abolition of the death penalty. Ocalan was kept in prison on his own in an island prison until 2009 and has published articles and books from jail, among other things arguing for a “peace process” for Turkey, the delivery of which he insists requires himself set at liberty16.
In 2014 and 2015 the Turkish Army attacked the PPK fighters and the civilian population of a number of cities, including Cizre and Sirnak (see Links), turning large areas into rubble, killing and injuring many and causing huge numbers of refugees (the total lost housing has yet to be replaced).
The Kurds in Syria have been the only effective force to repel ISIS (Islamic State) in the area bordering on Turkey and also rescued a great many Yazidis from murder, rape and slavery by the ISIS fighters. Later the Kurdish armed forces there received US Coalition aid and a few years ago their commander stated in an interview that they and the Coalition were going to overthrow the Assad regime. They went on to build the nucleus of a federal administration defended by their fighters (reputedly about 40% of which are female – see Links for video interviews).
Turkey attacked Kurdish cross-border traffic (supplies, recruits) but more recently invaded Syria ostensibly to support the jihadist anti-Assad forces that they support but more seriously to attack the Kurdish YPG, which they consider an offshoot of the PKK. Many Arab states are unhappy with Turkey occupying Arab land. Assad is unlikely to agree to Kurdish regional autonomy, even the US seems ready to drop them and the future looks dark for the Kurdish forces there.
In Iraq the Kurdish movement, mainly organised along tribal lines originally, split into war-bands during the Second Iraq War fighting alongside the US Coalition forces.
They took part in the plunder of Iraqi non-Kurdish areas, including Baghdad, along with other forces and shootouts between different warbands were not unknown. The Kurds have their oil-rich area protected within Iraq but the overall administration of Iraq is a US-dependent puppet regime and very unstable.
In Iran, suppression of Kurdish national identity continues under the religious regime.
The Kurds continue their struggle, the largest nation without a state.
1Later Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief RAF Bomber Command, later still Marshal of the Air Force Sir Arnold Harris, First Baronet of Stowford. As well as his WW2 record, he was proud of his earlier career of attacking people rising up against the British Empire and was recorded as saying that “the only thing an Arab understands is a heavy hand.”
2 Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (Kurdish for ‘Workers Party of Kurdistan’)
3Forcible relocation of Kurds and settling Turks in their areas had been official State policy since the time of Attaturk.
4On one infamous occasion, some of the Syrian peshmergas were reported to be collaborating with Turkish troops in their attack on PKK guerrillas.
6I would have applied for a stand-alone Irish Studies course if that had been available but there was not one in the whole of the UK and very few even of the combined kind. This in a state which has had an association through invasion, colonisation and war of nearly a thousand years with Ireland! Although my History modules included some Irish history I also did modules on British colonialism in India and Africa, Latin American history, Palestine ….. I didn’t regret them either.
8Formed in 1981 after the Federation of Irish Societies (in Britain) had refused to have any official mention, even of condolences to his family, on the death of Bobby Sands which took place during their Annual General Meeting. The IBRG was radically different from the FIS, campaigned against anti-Irish racism in the media, for the release of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, Judith Ward and others, for the abolition of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, for Irish national self-determination, for the implementation of the McBride Principles to the occupied Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”), for ethnic monitoring and anti-racist measures to include the Irish and for an Irish diaspora dimension to health, welfare and educational services in Britain. Its activists represented a variety of ideologies but all somewhere on the Left, anti-racist and anti-imperialist.
9National Association of Local Government Officers, which union I had joined while employed by the Inner London Education Authority. When Margaret Thatcher abolished that organisation in 1990 its employees were dispersed to the Education Departments of the 12 London Boroughs and the City of London and I was allocated to Lewisham, one of those boroughs were I was already working; in effect, a transfer to different management but working in the same places, with less resources and less mobility. In 1993, NALGO, already the largest British trade union, joined with NUPE and health service union COHSE to become Unison: for awhile, the largest trade union in Europe but which is now the second-largest union in Britain.
10NALGO recognised the right of oppressed sections in society to organise their own groups within the union; those recognised by the union received some funding for running costs and educational activities. At this time such groups included those of Lesbian & Gays, Disabled and Afro-Caribbean. The activists of NALGO IWG campaigned energetically to change the union’s policy to recognise anti-irish racism, to demand the freedom of the framed Irish prisoners, against strip-searching of Irish Republican prisoners, against the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The IWG was never recognised officially and its work was blocked both by the Left and Right in the union’s leadership, mostly by procedural obstruction in preventing motions being heard at the Biannual National Conference or weakening them when they rarely succeeded in reaching there.
13That photo was published at the time in other media and in our later Report but I have failed to find it on the Internet.
14None of the Kurds I spoke to believed that this was a genuinely independent organisation, although it might have contained some Islamic fundamentalists recruited by the Turkish State. Another paramilitary assassination squad, fascist in ideology with which the State colluded was Ergenekon.
15In November 2018, the European Court of Human Rights adjudged that a Kurdish representative to the Turkish Parliament had his detention in custody deliberately extended in order to hamper his party’s electoral work. Selahattin Demirtas had been arrested on ‘suspicion of illegal activities’ two years earlier and was still in jail awaiting trial. Demirtas, 45, was a co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and accused of links to the outlawed PPK, which he denied. He was also convicted last September of “terrorist propaganda” arising out of a speech he made in public in 2013. The ECHR judgement did not result in Demirtas’ release but it did push the State to begin his trial the following month; he faces a possible sentence of 142 years in jail.
In 2015 thirteen of the 55 elected parliamentarians of HDP, the Kurdish nationality party, were jailed and the State took over direct control of 82 municipalities, arresting town mayor members of the Kurdish party.
16Ocalan (nicknamed ‘Apo’) has iconic status among many Kurds and a Kurdish picket or demonstration without his image on placards or banners would be a rare one. This was an aspect of the Kurdish independence movement, particularly of the ‘Turkish’ part, with which I made plain on a number of occasion that I did not agree. Similarly, the experience of the so-called peace processes around the world has demonstrated that they are in reality pacification processes which bring an end to armed struggle but leave all or most of the causes of the conflict unresolved.
Quite propagandistic but very interesting video (2014) of interviews with Kurdish female fighter’s unit in the Syrian Kurdish region (note Apo’s i.e Ocalan’s) iconography; the language is Kurdish but with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aEwvfmk8Tc
Palestinian flags and solidarity banners decorated each side of Dublin’s iconic Ha’penny Bridge on Sunday 31st December as people crossing towards both sides of the river passed between people holding flags, wearing kifiyehs or standing under umbrellas in the Palestinian colours. The overwhelming majority of the supporters seemed Irish and could be identified as from a range of socialist and republican backgrounds, whether independent or not.
This is an annual New Year’s Eve event, organised by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, whose stall had been set up on the south side, near Merchant’s Arch.
Two versions of leaflets were being distributed; one which called for an end to the siege of Gaza pointed out that in 1017 a UN report stated that “the unliveability threshold has already been passed there.” Among other recommended actions the leaflet asked people to contact their TDs (Irish parliamentary representatives) and urge them to support Senator Frances Black’s Bill this year which will ban trade with Israeli illegal settlements in Palestine. Those settlements seize Palestinian land and water resources and are illegal by UN declaration.
According to a report “Between July 2016 and June 2017, Israeli authorities authorized construction work on more than 2,000 new housing units for settlers in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem”, another area of Zionist expansion.
During the same period, “Israeli authorities destroyed 381 homes and other property, forcibly displacing 588 people as of November 6, in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as part of discriminatory practices that reject almost all building permit applications submitted by Palestinians.”
During the Great March of Return protests on Gaza’s border which began in May, Israeli Occupation Force snipers shot dead or caused death by gassing of 168 Palestinians and injured 17,259 people, including women, children, medical workers and journalists. During the same period one Jewish Israeli was killed 11 and injured, six of which were soldiers.
A great many passers-by expressed their approval of the demonstration, some stopping a while to talk with the demonstrators.
Some chanting of Palestinian supporters could be heard as well as occasional passing drivers tooting their horns in solidarity, occasionally with a clenched fist also raised outside the window. A counter-protest planned by the zionist Irish Friends of Israel on Essex Bridge however failed to materialise.
LINKS FOR REFERENCES & FURTHER INFORMATION:
IPSC (an organisation independent of all political parties): www.ipsc.ie
Very recently, a large and high-status media organisation published a news report with a headline to which a minister of state objected. The Minister made it an official complaint and the media organisation changed the headline. Nothing so startling in any of that, right? Wrong.
There are many things wrong with this scenario. Firstly, should a government minister be able to change news reporting by a media organisation? Isn’t media supposed to be independent? So they tell us, anyway.
Well, the media organisation in question, the British Broadcasting Corporation, is government-funded. Yes but at the same time it proclaims its independence nevertheless.
Anyway, the government to which the complaining Minister belonged wasn’t even the British Government – it was Israel’s.
So a minister of Israel’s Government made a complaint about a British Broadcasting Corporation’s news headline, and the BBC changed the headline to accommodate him and the Israeli Government? Yes, it happened on 9th August this year.
Well, maybe the complaint was justified? If so, the BBC should respond appropriately.
Perhaps they should – IF it was justified. But it wasn’t.
Firstly, the complaint was that the headline was inaccurate – and the complaint actually said that it was a lie! In other words, not just inaccurate but deliberately so.
So what was the headline? It was as follows:
“Israeli air strikes ‘kill woman and baby’”
Untrue, whether deliberate or not? No, it was completely true and attested to by reports of many other media, including Israel’s own. On 9th August, Inas Muhammed Khamash (9 months pregnant according to some reports) and her 18-month daughter Bayan Khamash were killed when, according to the Israeli Army, Israel bombed 140 sites in Gaza. Not only that but the Health Ministry of Gaza confirmed the death of 20-year old Ali Al-Ghandour in the attack and the hospitalisation of another 12, two of which are in critical condition.
The Israeli Minister wanted included in the BBC headline that the Israeli bombing which did kill a mother and child, that it had been in response to rockets fired at Israel. Context is important, right?
.@BBCWorld this is a formal complaint by @IsraelMFA .This title is a deliberate misrepresentation of reality ( that’s the polite equivalent of “ this is a LIE”, if you don’t get it). Israelis were targeted by Hamas and IDF acts to protect them.Change it IMMEDIATELY!!! @IsraelMFA
CONTEXT IN NEWS REPORTING
Well yes, of course context is important but one cannot always include context in a headline. Imagine putting context into a number of news headlines down through history: “Nazi invading army surrounded after failure to take Stalingrad due to courageous resistance for over five months and Red Army counterattack” instead of “Nazi Army surrounded at Stalingrad – five-month siege lifted.” Or “Banks bailed out with debts guaranteed by Government prepared to implement austerity cuts on most of the population” instead of “Banks bailout – who will pay?” The context can be provided within the story.
However, if the Israeli Minister wants context in headlines or even in stories, how about including in a report of any Palestinian demonstration or rocket attack the following information as to what gave rise to the action:
Zionists colonised a land in which Jews were about 10% of the population and created a State from which through terrorism they expelled thousands of non-Jewish Palestinians
The Zionist State extended its lands on which it plants Zionist settlers, stealing further Palestinian land and water
Zionist state law allow for any Jewish person in the world, with no connection whatsoever with the land, to become an Israeli citizen while banning original non-Jewish Palestinian exiles or their descendants from returning or from Israeli citizenship. And it has now legislated that Israel is a Jewish state, officially discriminating against the 20% of its non-Jewish citizens who are born and raised within the state.
Zionists are steadily making Jerusalem, a city holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews, a Jewish city by appropriation of buildings and areas and intimidation of Palestinian residents and worshippers of other faiths.
Palestinians are second-class citizens in their own land held up at Israeli checkpoints for hours
The Zionist state disagreed with the Palestinian election results years ago and made of Gaza what many have called “the largest concentration camp in the world”.
The Zionist Armed forces bombed Gaza several times with huge loss of Palestinian life including many children
The Zionist Armed forces bombed water treatment plants and much infrastructure in Gaza
The Zionist Armed forces bombed a hospital
The Zionist Armed forces regularly shoot unarmed demonstrators
The Zionist state has many children in jail and
holds adults for months on end without trial or even charge in “administrative detention”
The Zionist state attacked Palestinian places of culture and worship
Yes, there’s plenty there for context alright, if that’s what the Israeli Zionists want. And if the media corporations carried even a little of that, how would it weigh against the two fundamental, often-repeated lines of Zionist context:
God gave Palestine to the Jews
The Israelis are only defending themselves against Palestinians rocket attacks
Well, about the first one I have to say that I deny the validity of a document at most recent 300 years BCE (BC), commonly called the Old Testament (even if it were not full of the contradictions that exist within it) – and calling on an extra-terrestial being for its authority — to settle a question of ownership of land on Earth in the 20th and 21st Centuries CE (AD).
And I deny the validity of anyone, including an extra-terrestial being, to justify oppression, racism and murder. Of course, the extra-terrestial being in question has been silent for centuries and it is living men and women with human intentions that are using his alleged words and interpreting them to their advantage (and ignoring those who quote the same being to oppose them).
THE DEADLY ROCKETS
But what about the Palestinian rockets – they’re real, are they not? Yes, the rockets – let’s deal with that one now.
Given the way those rockets are commonly treated in reporting, one would imagine Israel suffering something like the London Blitz during WWII or the Allied bombing of Germany. How many Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets? Due to reporting methods of the Zionists and much of the Western media, it is not immediately easy to answer that question.
In an analysis of figures by Phan Nguyen of violent fatalities by Palestinian missiles for the Mondoweiss site, the total from 2000, when the Second Intifada began until 2014, were 44 Israeli fatalities, of which 14 were military and another two were civilians at an Army post. That is a rate of 3.1 Israeli fatalities per year from this fearsome weapon which requires the Israelis to slaughter tens of hundreds of Palestinians! In addition, only 23 deaths were caused by rockets, the rest being by mortars. In statistics of all homicides of the conflict for this year (2018) up to July 26 (given by a pro-Israeli site jewishvirtuallibrary.org), though 11 Israelis were injured, not a single Israeli has been killed by Palestinian rocket or mortar fire; during the same period, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, Israel killed 155 Palestinians (of whom 23 were under 18) and injured many others. And after that date they killed another thirteen.1
The most recent Israeli killed by a Palestinian, according to the IsraelPalestineTimeline database, was on July 27th this year (2018), father-of-twoYotam Ovadia and he was not killed by a Palestinian rocket. Yotam Ovadia was stabbed by a Palestinian who apparently managed to climb the security fence surrounding one of the many Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land, declared illegal by international law and by the United Nations.
The most recent Palestinian killed by an Israeli according to the same database was on 12th August this year, 30-year old Wisam Yousez Hijazi. He had been an unarmed demonstrator at the Great Return March and was shot by an Israeli soldier on 14th May, needed specialist treatment unavailable in Gaza and died near the Rafah Crossing into Egypt before he could get through the Egyptian blockade of Gaza.
Those two deaths typify the conflict in some ways: an Israeli participant in theft of Palestinian land (even according to the UN) and a Palestinian demonstrating against the theft of their land and denial of right of return to Palestinians. A Palestinian killed by an Israeli soldier using a modern firearm and an Israeli killed by a Palestinian civilian with a knife. And the Palestinian perpetrator will be jailed but nothing will happen to the Israeli perpetrator (unless he is commended for service to Israel).
But it is far from one for one. In fact the whole statistic table of homicides is hugely favourable to the Israeli Zionists, which is not surprising as they have an air force, a sophisticated land army and a navy with missiles, while all the military force the Palestinians have to fight back with are various groups of guerrillas (many not Hamas, incidentally) and some rockets and mortars the sites of which, once they fire, can be located and wiped out by the Israelis. And of course, the Palestinians have their own bodies: the unarmed demonstrators (on occasion, rioters), those who rush to help the victims of an Israeli munitions strike and are caught in the second strike and other civilians who just happen to be passing by or living where an Israeli bomb or missile strikes.
And the imbalance in numbers of children killed is even more horrific – not that one would want to see a balance of any children killed (the israelpalestinetimeline site provides a number of other statistical charts).
TONE OF THE COMPLAINT AND BBC ACQUIESENCE
Having explored the issue of context sufficiently, I think, let us return to the Israeli Minister’s complaint and, setting aside the content, look at the tone of it:
.@BBCWorld this is a formal complaint by @IsraelMFA .This title is a deliberate misrepresentation of reality ( that’s the polite equivalent of “ this is a LIE”, if you don’t get it). Israelis were targeted by Hamas and IDF acts to protect them.Change it IMMEDIATELY!!!
This suggests to the reader an arrogant figure, one in authority, ordering an underling. The arrogance may or may not have arisen through the individual’s life experience or through his position in Israeli society or through his culture – but what does he think gives him the authority to talk down this way to a world media corporation belonging to a major imperialist power?
I would speculate that the answer is that Zionist Israel knows that it is supported by an even bigger imperialist power than the one whose media organisation the Minister is addressing. Israel is backed by the USA, currently the biggest and strongest imperialist power in the world. And furthermore, since British imperialism lost its position at the top after WWII and later gave up or set aside its dream of returning to that elevation, it determined to partner the USA. This has been clear in its contribution of troops to Korea, in putting no obstacle to Australian troops to Vietnam, in contribution of troops and/ or military resources to the bombing of Libya and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and war in Syria.
The Israeli Minister seems to assume that he is speaking to one of his protector’s minor employees – and who can blame him for that? In addition, British imperialism has been, on the whole, backing US imperialist ambitions, strategy and tactics in Israel and in the Middle East, only very occasionally disagreeing on even tactics.
And when the BBC caved in, it confirmed that Israeli Minister’s opinion and, furthermore, made it the opinion of many others too!
And all of this will compound the belief among anti-imperialists around the world and among Arabs and Muslims, that news is propaganda, and that western media news is mostly anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim propaganda.
So how did the BBC amend their headline in the end? They changed it to “Gaza airstrikes ‘kill woman and child’ after rockets hit Israel”.
So there you have it now: Gazafired rockets at Israel and killed a woman and child, presumably in Israel!
The ongoing slaughter by Israeli soldiers of Palestinians demonstrating at the border of the Israeli State for the right to return to their homeland has rightly received media attention and, after a motion condemning Israel in the UN Security Council was blocked by the USA, the General Assembly passed another by a huge majority. The shootings demonstrate the total disregard of the Zionist authorities for Palestinian life and also the degree to which, by refusing to condemn and by supplying finance and equipment, the USA and major European states stand in support of Israel and are therefore complicit in its murderous actions. But the whole history of the right of return of Palestinians raises another issue of international importance and provides a historical and political lesson applicable widely, far beyond Palestine or even the Middle East.
Negotiations, Agreements and ….?
Back in 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was in secret negotiation with Israel in Oslo, with Norway in the ‘honest broker’ role (but a later Norwegian Foreign Office investigation concluded that the Norwegian participants had acted as “Israel’s errand boys” – see link). Later it was to be the USA playing the ‘facilitator’ role — yes, bizarre, given the USA’s major economic and strategic interests in the Middle East and its role in supporting Israel. But then, perhaps the PLO figured they’d best have both their enemies there at the same time, both tied to whatever agreement was hammered out.
What had brought the parties to the negotiation table was the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. This uprising had begun on 9th December 1987 and had been characterised by repeated street fighting, barricades, refusal to work for the Israelis and strikes and boycotts, along with refusal to pay taxes. The Israeli state had replied with arrests and shootings, killing over 1,600 Palestinians as against 277 Israelis killed. Between 23,600–29,900 Palestinian children required medical treatment from Israeli Occupation Force beatings in the first two years (Wikipedia).
After signing the Oslo Accords in Washington, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO and Yitzak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, were photographed there shaking hands with US President Bill Clinton looking on approvingly, arms almost around them, like a big friendly uncle making peace between nephews. Yizhak Rabin, Shimon Perez and Arafat were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 (a prize already devalued ever since it had been awarded to notorious warmonger Kissinger).
Much was made of the Oslo meeting and the Accords (including later meetings and agreements) in the international media with talk of coming peace in Palestine and a resolution to the conflict etc signposted and not too far ahead. These prediction proved false and hopes were dashed.
But anyone examining the situation cooly would not have been surprised. Leaving aside other issues such as whether a two-state solution was justifiable, or viable even then, or whether the legitimacy of Israel should ever have been agreed to, the right of return of Palestinian exiles had been set aside by the PLO in the final Oslo agreement, a postponement, along with a number of other big issues, such as illegal settlements, to be discussed later. The Palestinian diaspora is today estimated at 9.6 million people (see link).
Since the omissions were of issues fundamental to any solution even within the parameters of the dubious two-state solution, it would have been obvious to anyone who had their eyes open that the Oslo Accords were no solution nor even a step towards a solution. So why were they agreed by the PLO?
A belief in the Accords as a stepping-stone would not have been sustainable on its own (except for wishful-thinking liberals) and the partial withdrawal of Israeli armed forces insufficient, given that Israel controlled all borders (except the Gaza one with Egypt, in which that state colluded with Israel). In addition, the Israeli troops had the capacity to return whenever they wished (and did so many times).
The motivation has to have been status or money.
The PLO, although containing a number of Palestinian organisations at that time (but not Islamic Jihad or Hamas), was dominated by Al Fatah, a secular Palestinian national liberation organisation. Fatah had the prestige of long existence and of having withstood the Israeli armed assault at Karameh in Jordan in 1968 during which, at a huge cost, it had forced the Zionist army to retreat. The following year Fatah had reportedly racked up 2,432 guerrilla attacks on Israel too — for a population with the Zionist jackboot on its neck, that counted for a lot.
Concluding an agreement with the Israelis, who previously said they would not talk to the Palestinian resistance, might have seemed like a status-raising event to Fatah. And setting up the Palestinian Authority, which of course they would run, would definitely give them status in the eyes of many outside and even inside Palestine.
But running the PA, which would be in receipt of funds and in charge of their distribution, also managing employment, would also provide myriad opportunities for corruption and nepotism, unless the organisation were to be rigorously monitored either externally or internally. That monitoring did not happen and corruption among Fatah was rife. Only the people on the ground seemed to mind, the ones who wanted strong opposition to the Israeli occupation and whatever development could be brought about in the infrastructure and communities, along with the longer-term aims of a Palestinian state and the return of refugees and exiles. And who weren’t part of the corruption.
Failure of Agreements and Insurrection
In 2000, after the failure of the Camp David talks in the US and many failures in the Accords in the nine years of their existence, no-one seriously believed in the Oslo Accords any more and the Second Intifada began. An intifada had provided the reason to negotiate for the Israelis, however insincerely intended and now another intifada brought the negotiation period formally to a close.
As observed earlier, Fatah was the organisation to which the majority of Palestinians (certainly within Palestine) had given their support and it was a secular party (although for the first time the PLA declared the “state religion” to be Islam in 2003, where previously there had been no mention of religion whatsoever). We can assume that most Palestinians were happy to be represented by a secular organisation and perhaps even preferred it.
But in the 2005 municipal, most Palestinians voted for Hamas, a fundamentalist Moslem organisation, for the first time pushing Fatah into second place. And in the Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 2006, again. What brought about that change? Was it a sudden devotional conversion? No, it was that Al Fatah had become corrupt, was not seen to be fighting Zionism hard enough (some would have said was becoming collaborationist) and had given up on the right of refugees and exiles to return. Hamas, though not officially represented in the PLO, was running social programs, its activists seemed disciplined and it was resolutely opposing Israeli Zionism politically and militarily. And it insisted on the right of refugees and exiles to return.
Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections with a 3% lead over the incumbents. Unwilling to accept the popular will, Fatah staged an armed uprising against Hamas which, in the Gaza strip, Hamas decisively won (what the Wikipedia entry on Hamas calls a “takeover”!). For some reason, although Hamas was undoubtedly the winner electorally, they let Fatah hang on to power in the West Bank. And the US-led demonisation and isolation of Hamas in Gaza by the West began, along with a series of Israeli armed attacks from that year until 2014, including full-scale missile and air bombardments and infantry incursions, killing thousands of Palestinians including civilians, women and children and destroying much infrastructure.
Since then, the Gaza population is being squeezed with electricity supply reduced to four hours a day and hardly any fuelto run generators or transport allowed in past Egyptian and Israeli gates, its water supply contaminated by damaged sewage treatment plant, the inshore sea likewise contaminated and Palestinians fishing further out attacked by Israeli gunboats, factories bombed out ….
The message seems to be: “Get rid of Hamas, get back with Fatah and we’ll stop exterminating you.” But a delayed extermination is all it would be, as evidenced from the deeper penetration of Zionist colonist enclaves on to Palestinian land, the Zionist-only roads, the ongoing takeover of Jerusalem, the Israeli Wall, the continual theft of water and the harassment by settlers and Israeli Army of any populations of Palestinians living near to Israeli colonists.
The Processes outside of Palestine
Taking a trip back in time to 1993, we saw the Oslo Accords being hailed as a great step forward by the majority of commentators across the West. These coincided with the new interim constitution as a result of the negotiations in South Africa — so that then two major areas of conflict were being hailed as definitely on the way to a solution, to come sooner rather than later. “Peace process” became a buzz-word, firstly among the participants and some of the commentators, then in the agreed discourse of the rest of the media and politicians.
In Ireland, as the Provisionals’ leadership and the British looked at one another across the dance floor, the former wondered what they could get from the same kind of process but crucially, how to sell it to their rank and file. At the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheiseanna (annual congresses of the party), the ANC and Al Fatah (wearing their PLO hat) fraternal delegates were welcomed by hype from the SF leadership and enthusiastic reception from the floor of the hall. The ANC and Fatah of course talked up their parts of the Processes and no-one seemed to examine critically what either the South African blacks or the Palestinians were likely to get out of them.
And the Pal-African partnership continued to attend congresses, to send fraternal messages to areas of ongoing anti-imperialist resistance, to sing their siren song with a Western chorus backing. The Provisionals joined the actors and took to the stage as they neared and finally accepted the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. But with the Palestinian conflict showing no sign of resolution (unless one considers a kind of genocide of Palestinians) or even a respite — and in particular after the 2006 elections victory by Hamas — the Palestinians were no longer quoted as a good example of the “peace process”. Various actors, including South Africans and Irish, went on to try to sell the “Process” to areas of stubborn anti-imperialist resistance: the southern Basque Country, Turkish Kurdistan, Columbia, Phillipines, Sri Lanka ….. But the Palestinians (or rather Fatah) had been dropped off the billing and bowed quietly out of the Traveling Peace Process Show. They had not even an illusion to portray any more.
However, the show must, as we are often reminded, go on. It failed to deliver in Kurdistan and the Basque Country, not because the leaders of the resistance movements were not amenable but because of the unwillingness to adapt of the Turkish and Spanish regimes respectively. However, the Basque armed organisation ETA threw in the towel a couple of years ago anyway, abandoning their fighters in the jails to seek their own individual ways out through begging forgiveness of the occupiers of their land and oppressors of their people. The Turkish and Syrian Kurds were drawn into partnership with the imperialist allies dominated by the US, in their war against ISIS but also for the overthrow of the Assad regime, though deep Kurdish contradictions continue with the Turkish regime, to which it looks like the US Coalition will abandon them and they may seek an accommodation of sorts with Assad.
The Colombian FARC and MIR swallowed the Processed bait and gave up the armed struggle for a promise of a political one but those of their leaders who are resolute are being hunted by the regime, the quasi-liberated areas terrorised by the Army and assassination squads, the resistance fragmenting and disorientated. The Tamil Tigers didn’t entertain the Peace Process Show but the Sri Lankan Army were able to surround their liberated areas and bombard them to defeat, murdering their leaders and raping, murdering and repressing their followers.
The Phillipines and India? The resistance groups in both these areas are led by a Maoist-type leadership and we wait to see.
And in Ireland, after two decades since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the colonial occupier has the leadership of Sinn Féin, the former resistance, in joint colonial government, the party’s southern arm seeking admittance to the Irish comprador capitalist club, the remaining anti-imperialist resistance fragmented and the country not one step nearer to unity and independence.
The Palestinian lesson for the world
All the issues which led to these conflicts and which the processes of pacification did not address – were never intended to address – will return again, to be struggled over anew, under new leaderships. In Palestine now, that is what has been happening. The Right of Return for exiles and refugees, put to one side by Fatah in the Oslo Accords nearly three decades ago, is being demanded again on the Israeli border, the protesters (along with the ‘collateral damage’ of journalists and paramedics) being bombarded by tear gas and shot down by Israeli snipers. The Palestinians, whose leadership nearly three decades ago were chosen by US imperialism to be among the first to accept the new round of historical pacification processes and to become complicit in being its missionaries, are teaching us the fallacy of the facile promises they were made at the time.
There is another irony here: while refusing the right of return to Palestinians who were themselves exiled or are children and grandchildren of exiles, i.e within living memory, the State of Israel offers “the right of return” (sic) to people who have never been there and cannot even prove that their ancestors were, providing only they can prove their Jewishness. And a further irony: Sephardic Jews, who were expelled by the Christian kingdoms in Spain and Portugal in the Middle Ages, were being offered a “right of return” by the Spanish Government in 2014 (see link).
Over time, the people in the other areas of anti-imperialist resistance around the world will regroup, gather strength and return to the resistance. The imperialists almost certainly know this. But they have bought themselves three decades of damage to their opposition and, since they need the people as producers and consumers, cannot eliminate the deep wells of resistance. And capitalism is not about enduring solutions – they work away at undermining the resistance on a temporary basis and as for the future, like Micawber in Dickens’ David Copperfield, believe that “something (else) will turn up”.
LINKS (NB: I have deliberately chosen most background references regarding Palestine from Wikipedia, which is known to be heavily monitored by Zionist interests and also has inputs from friends of the Palestinians and therefore cannot be said to be completely favourable to either side):