Friday 30 January 2009

After the BBC - Target British Gas?

I'll return to comments left by friends on my post about the BBC at some point soon, but I wanted to flag up a piece by Robert Fisk in Saturday's Independent.

Fisk highlights a Global Research paper by Canadian ecomonist and anti-war campaigner Michel Chossudovsky that argues that the "military invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves.

According to Chossudovsky, British Gas Group and its partner, the Athens-based Consolidated Contractors International Company, were granted 25-year oil and exploration rights off the Gaza coast by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority in 1999. However, "the death of Yasser Arafat, the election of the Hamas government and the ruin of the Palestinian Authority have enabled Israel to establish de facto control over Gaza's offshore gas reserves."

Israel has negotiated directly with British Gas Group to bypass both the Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority, insisting that the Palestinians be paid in goods and services and that no money go to the Hamas-controlled government. A proposed agreement, under which Palestinian gas from Gaza would be channelled via undersea pipelines to the Israeli port of Ashkelon, would have effectively transferred the control of gas sales to Israel.

British Gas Group withdrew from talks in December 2007, but in June of 2008, just as Israel began its invasion plans for Gaza, the company was asked by Israel to resume discussions about the purchase of natural gas from the Gaza offshore fields. Following Israel's invasion, guess who now controls Gaza's coastline?

As Robert Fisk says, "if the Israelis can continue to violate international law by seizing Palestinian land in the West Bank, why cannot they seize the sovereignty of Palestinian gas fields off Gaza? If Israel can annex Jerusalem, why not annex Gaza's maritime areas?"

I still think that the main issue for everyone outraged by Israel's bombardment of Gaza is punishing the Israeli state through a consumer boycott and through disinvestment. So if you see Sid, tell him - British Gas Group has negotiated with Israel for what amounts to the daylight robbery of precious natural resources from the Palestinians. It's time its headquarters at Thames Valley Park in Reading were occupied.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Blair's Man Becomes Met Commissioner

A change at the top of the Metropolitan Police? Hardly. There can be little suprise that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith approved the appointment of Sir Paul Stephenson as the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, but perhaps raised eyebrows that the increasingly bewildered London Mayor, Boris Johnson, should offer such an enthusiastic endorsement.

For 'Rusty' Stephenson, so named by London's police officers for his strangely permanent tan, has consistently been the most loyal supporter of his predecesor, Sir Ian Blair, during one of the most disastrous periods in the Met's history.

Let's not forget that it was Stephenson who vigorously defended Blair in the aftermath of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, backing his boss' claims that he did not know the Met had shot the wrong man until 24 hours after Jean's death.

Brian Paddick, in his book 'Line of Fire', alleges that Stephenson attempted to force him to issue a statement saying he had misrepresented the Met, after Paddick gave evidence to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in which he claimed that two of Sir Ian Blair's closest advisers believed Jean's killing was a fatal mistake many hours before Sir Ian himself claimed to have found out. After Paddick refused to be bullied and sought legal advice, he received an apology and Stephenson was publicly obliged to say the Met did not intend to imply that Paddick had misled the IPCC. Paddick has also claimed that Stephenson's secretary told him she had known the Met had shot the wrong man by 4pm on the day that Jean died. And if she knew, how come her boss claimed ignorance?

Let's not also forget that it was Stephenson who went to the Metropolitan Police Authority and demanded that then Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur face suspension after he had made an allegation of racial discrimination - and that it was Stephenson who told Ghaffur (in a public statement), "it is long past time we shut up, stop making public statements about a private dispute and get on with the job we are paid to do." It was this comment that helped drive the London branch of the Black Police Association to call for a boycott by potential black applicants to the Met.

As a senior member of Sir Blair's inner circle, Stephenson is as tainted by the most controversial elements of the Met's recent history as his former boss. Forget the glowing profiles and the spin - his appointment as Commissioner represents a continuation of the discredited Blair era, not a break with the past.

The 43 Group - Stand Up to Hatred

An interesting article and video in yesterday's Guardian on the 43 Group, the militant post-war anti-fascist organisation of Jewish ex-servicemen who fought Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts.

See also Morris Beckman's brilliant book

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Hutch stupidly cancels his TV licence

I understand why the BBC’s decision not to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for the people of Gaza has generated so much anger. Arguments about maintaining the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ are completely implausible when the Corporation has been willing to televise appeals on Darfur and the Congo. One wonders, too. what qualifications Director General Mark Thompson feels he has to make an informed judgement on whether funds raised by international aid agencies are spent wisely. It’s rather like Oxfam deciding to comment on whether the BBC is right to waste money on ‘Strictly Dumb Dancing’.

But I’ve personally been unimpressed by campaigners like the Stop the War Coalition who have shifted all their energy onto protests against the BBC. It seems like a perfect example of middle-class rage against the sense of impotence in having so little power to stop Israel’s ferocious bombardment of Gaza, rage that has turned on a weaker target and forgotten who the real enemy is. The BBC did not bomb Gaza and to call for a ‘mass return’ of TV licences (and highlighting the dumb decision to do so by Starsky & Hutch actor David Soul) is to forget the reasons why the BBC has become so cowardly.

Cowardice is born of a fear of censure by those with real power. To begin with, Israel will always be seen as ‘controversial’ because of the success that Zionism has had in painting any perceived criticism of the Israeli state as an act of anti-Semitism. But it is the years of direct pressure from the government on the BBC and the sustained right-wing press attacks on public service broadcasting that has brought us to the point where the BBC’s management hide behind ‘impartiality’ to try and avoid anything that might be potentially contentious. You only have to see how papers like the Daily Mail are reporting this story (they have described the BBC as an organisation whose reputation was “shredded long ago, when it adopted an institutionally liberal attitude to everything from abortion and migration to minority rights and religion”) to see that any campaign that seeks to undermine the licence fee plays into the hands of the Right. One has to wonder, too, why campaigners haven’t called for a mass cancellation of contracts with Sky TV, who have also refused to show the DEC appeal.

Focusing on the BBC has taken the spotlight off Israel. It may be easier to rage against Mark Thompson, for he is undoubtedly spineless. But after today’s broadcasts of the DEC appeal, it should be the moment to end the 15 minutes of impotent fury and return again to the main issue - punishing the Israeli state through consumer and sporting boycotts and through disinvestment.

The DEC Appeal for Gaza

Click here to donate to the DEC Gaza Crisis Appeal

Thursday 15 January 2009

Remembering Gilly

Ceremony organised by Debbie on 28 December 2008 on the beach in Mandrem, northern Goa, to remember Gilly.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Fleeing Reality in Goa

Having made it back from two weeks in Goa, with a stomach bug and chronic jetlag as souvenirs, it has been odd answering the question about how the holiday went. Unlike ‘travelling’, which is supposedly about finding out more about countries and cultures (a contentious definition, I know), holidays are a chance to get away from our hectic lives for just a short while, to relax and recharge. On that level, this latest trip has been a success and I don’t even mind that I wasn’t around for the massive protests against Israel’s brutal bombardment of Gaza. Even activists need a break.

But much as I love India, I’m not sure I want to spend time in Goa again anytime soon. Yes, it is beautiful and warm. But after four trips, three to Palolem in the south of the state, it seems like a really long way to go to do nothing and by the end of the 16 days I was there, I was desperate for any kind of intellectual stimulus.

Unfortunately, with the exception of my friends, the majority of the foreigners I met who are long-term residents in Goa are neither travelling or on holiday. They are just stuck - caught in a cycle of parties, 'therapy' of one kind or another, furious gossip, bad poetry and a insular detachment from the outside world.

I can see how even a a brief period of self-absorption can make even the best people incredibly selfish, but drawing this out into a permanent lifestyle choice really isn't appealing. I think the point when I was told, by an English guy with a guitar, that he hadn’t read the news for six years - a fact that he seemed intensely proud of - was the precise moment I knew it was time to come home. Or perhaps it was answering the question about what I do back in London and repeatedly seeing the disappointment in people’s faces when they discovered I wasn’t a reiki teacher, homoeopathist or on sort of spiritual journey…

The bad poetry was at Galgibag, a beautiful beach that unlike others in south Goa is protected for sea turtle breeding and therefore free of the endless beach shacks and bars. There is a poem I had read just before travelling to India that would have made the perfect response, by the Australian comedian Tim Minchin, but it was too long to commit to memory.

It’s about having to hold back for the sake of remaining polite, whilst a hippy called Storm “fires off clichés” at a north London dinner party “like a sniper using bollocks for ammunition.”

I met so many people like 'Storm' in Goa that it was always incredibly difficult to hold my tongue...

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