South American Travels

Early June took me to Mexico City and then Guatamala City for an EITI Board Meeting in Mexico and then a celebration in Guatamala that they had become a full member of EITI, reporting according to the rules.

Mexico is engaged in significant reform of the management of its oil sector and is entrenching transparency in the system. Guatamala has suffered decades of brutal civil war but now has political peace but major problems with the drug gangs exporting drugs to the American market. Parts of Mexico suffer similarly.

There is no doubt in my mind that we need to look for alternative strategies for dealing with drugs and learn the lessons of the spread of criminality and powerful gangs that became established in the USA during the Prohibition era. This argument is increasingly made by South American presidents and senior figures in the international system.

Ledbury Poetry Festival

I was asked by Mark Fisher to present my selection of Desert Island poems for a session organised on similar lines to Desert Island discs. Mark is an old friend and I therefore of course agreed, but selecting seven or eight poems is as hard as selecting a similar number of pieces of music for Desert Island Discs. I adopted the same approach to the poems as I had to my desert island discs, and made the selection biographical, reflecting different stages of my life .

I started with the Sermon on the Mount, reflecting the best values of my Catholic childhood and of my mother and husband Alex Lyon; which is also a beautiful piece of writing.

I then chose ‘The Second Coming’ by W B Yeats. My father frequently quoted the words ‘the best lack all ambition, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’. I was always puzzled by this because I hoped to be amongst the best but certainly had feelings of passionate intensity about politics in particular! But besides that it is a powerful poem reflecting the terrible changes that are likely to come to the world as a consequence of the First World War…

The next readings were from my GCE school poetry book. It was hard to choose but I took Shakespeare’s ‘All the world’s a stage’, which I learnt by heart at school and am fond of because it encapsulates the sense that life is a process of change..

For my 27 years in Westminster I chose ‘Westminster Bridge’ by Wordsworth, which gives a picture of Westminster Bridge when London is asleep, and in the old days when the House of Commons used to sometimes sit very late, one would emerge in the dawn light to a peaceful London that is evoked by the poem…

And then I smuggled in Hilaire Belloc’s ‘On a General Election’, which just goes to show that the sense of being let down by politicians is long-standing!

The accursed power which stands on Privilege

(And goes with Women, and Champagne and Bridge)

Broke – and Democracy resumed her reign;

(Which goes with Bridge, and Women and Champagne).

For women and feminism I chose Alice Coates’ ‘The Monstrous Regiment’, which I find really entertaining. It describes the world in the UK during the Second World War, when all the men went off to fight and women took over all the traditional male jobs. This showed of course that women could do all these jobs from which they had been excluded for so long (and were again after the war); but she also says how boring life is with no men around!

For the need for tolerance and respect between the world’s different religions I chose the great Muslim scholar of the early 13th century, Rumi’s ‘The One True Light’, which describes people feeling an elephant in a darkened room and some thinking an elephant is a pillar because it felt the leg, or a fan because it felt the ear, or a pipe because it felt the trunk. His point is that all the great world religions are equal routes to God…

My last and most important poem was ‘Identity Card’ by Mahmoud Darwish, the great Palestinian national poet who died recently. When he first read the poem in 1965 there was a tumultuous reaction and within days the poem had spread throughout Palestine in the Arab world. It encapsulates the suffering and loss of the Palestinian people and their tolerant nature but the danger that in the end their anger will be roused. This was the poem I chose to take with me to my desert island because it stands for the unresolved injustice and great suffering of the Palestinian people.

Ukraine and Gaza

On Sunday I accepted an invitation to join the Murnaghan Programme on Sky to do the newspaper review. I chose a piece from the Weekend Financial Times which said that the missiles fired by the rebels in eastern Ukraine bringing down the aeroplane, with such a terrible loss of life, were probably obtained by the rebels from a Ukrainian military depot when they took it over.

I also chose a piece about Gaza and made the point that similar numbers of people had been killed in Gaza but the media response did not value those lost lives as it did those from the terrible downing of the aeroplane. Surely all life is equally precious and the only answer on Israel/Palestine is to require Israel to comply with international law?

On Ukraine I said that obviously Putin was an increasingly unpleasant ruler but that he had clearly not been involved in firing the missiles, and that he was the only person that could bring order to eastern Ukraine. The constant demonisation of him led to no solution since no one was proposing war, and more economic sanctions would hurt both Russia and the European economy.

I suggested that Western policy had provoked Russia by expanding NATO right up to its borders and suggesting Ukraine might join the European Union; I hoped that more thoughtful minds would see that there was a deal to be done by reaching agreement with Putin that he would stop interfering, and help stabilise eastern Ukraine; and in return would be given an assurance that Ukraine would not join NATO, ensure that Ukraine could trade with both Russia and the EU and encourage a decentralised constitution so that Russian-speaking Ukrainians would feel secure in their country.

Sky must have taken part of what I said and put it onto their news programs so I have had a stream of emails suggesting that I thought Putin justified in bringing down the aeroplane and that I did not care about those who died, and a few agreeing that expanding NATO up to Russia’s borders was provocative!


Reporting on the terrible Israeli attack on Gaza has been so unbalanced that I am providing here a short account of the events leading up to the attack from Professor Khalidi. I am also attaching links to openly genocidal incitement by an Israeli MP and the call for mass murder and ethnic cleansing by the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset which demonstrate what a terrible monster is growing in Israel.

July 10, 2014

Another Israeli assault on Gaza will produce more red herrings.

These include an obsessive focus on Israeli suffering, linked to an insistence on equivalence between intensive Israeli air raids on a tiny and highly populated strip of land killing at least 81 Palestinians and wounding 615 thus far, most of them civilians, and inaccurate Palestinian rocket-fire which has reached distant targets but has harmed no Israelis so far. With these red herrings come the utter obliteration of any background or context. Background such as that Palestinians have been subjected to nearly five decades of illegal occupation, colonization, subjugation and humiliation. Context such as that two young Palestinians were killed in cold blood by Israeli troops in May, a month before three settlers were kidnapped and killed. Or that Israel launched a massive search-and-destroy campaign against Hamas in the West Bank long before the first rocket barrage was fired from Gaza. Or that Israeli security sources confirmed that even while hundreds of Hamas adherents were being rounded up in these raids, Hamas tried for days to restrain other groups’ rocket fire from Gaza. The red herrings are essential, of course, to distract us from what is really going on: the occupation regime and its infernal settlement project are operating on all cylinders while racism and thuggish incitement against Arabs have infected broader and broader segments of Israeli society.

Despite its potential for getting out of the control of the protagonists, and despite the psychological impact of the rocket attacks on Israelis, this conflict has certain advantages for the Israeli government. Its forces are once again using potent American weapons to shoot human fish in the barrel that is Gaza, an open air 360 sq. km. prison for 1.8 million people. This is taking place under dehumanizing and racist rubric dear to Israeli security specialists of “mowing the grass” – as if the civilians who are falling by the score are no more than inanimate weeds. This video game war (that is what it is for the Israeli drone operators and pilots doing the bombardment) serves to let off ultra-nationalistic Israeli steam while simultaneously changing the subject at a moment when, for the first time, the West has really gazed at settler violence and the regular abuse of children by Israeli state, after the burning alive of a Jerusalem boy and the brutal beating of his young cousin. Those atrocities, well reported, with video footage of the beating and graphic detail about the murder, were too awful to ignore. Even the spin which tried to describe the perpetrators as outcasts in Israeli society could not disguise the fact that, as an Israeli journalist wrote, those who carried out the atrocity are “the children of the nationalistic and racist generation –Netanyahu’s children.” That said, we have yet to see the US media report regularly on the 1407 Palestinian children NOT engaged in hostilities who have been killed by Israel troops and settlers since 2000, with an average of over two of them dying every single week of those 14 years. Nor have we heard about the Palestinian minors regularly kidnapped, detained (214 of them were being held in May 2014) and even tortured by Israeli forces without charge or trial.

Earlier, the murder of three young Israelis living in a West Bank settlement gave the Israeli army the excuse to launch its dragnet across the West Bank, targeting Hamas (which to this day has not claimed the kidnapping-killings). This was mainly designed to achieve another cherished Israeli objective: wrecking the recent Palestinian unity government. Heaven forbid that the Palestinians unify their ranks and strengthen their debilitated national movement. This is unacceptable from Netanyahu’s point of view, as it might enable them better to resist Israel’s so far unstoppable colonial land-rush. Advancing this colonial settlement project is the core objective of the Netanyahu government, as it has been the core objective of most of its predecessors since at least 1977.

Rockets fired from Gaza also have the inestimable value for Israeli leaders of letting them do whatever they want to Gaza while receiving the usual pious US support for Israeli “self-defense.” This blanket support enables them to disregard the recent warning of a White House official that “Israel confronts an undeniable reality: it cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. Doing so is not only wrong but a recipe for resentment and recurring instability.” As usual, the besieged and incarcerated people of Gaza will pay the highest price, while those of the West Bank and East Jerusalem will continue to suffer the humiliation and routine brutality of occupation and dispossession. And as usual the media will swallow the standard hasbara red herrings, will ignore background and context, and will report this story with the clock starting a month ago with the abductions of the three Israeli settlers, or with the first rockets fired from Gaza.

But like most recent Israeli encounters with the Palestinians, like every previous assault launched against Gaza, this will be a losing maneuver. In the long run it will it backfire, producing another crack in the edifice of Israel’s illegal and morally bankrupt project of perpetual occupation and unceasing colonization. Just the other day, Netanyahu let slip what he had never uttered before: in future negotiations, Israel will insist on permanent occupation, meaning permanent subjugation of the Palestinians. All of this is in service of the Revisionist-Likud dream of unlimited settlement to achieve a greater Eretz Israel. However, the ongoing unrest in Arab East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories as well as in Palestinian communities within Israel is another warning. It is the third such warning since the first intifada began in 1987, that this inhuman and racist project is unsustainable, and there is simply no way that it will pass: it cannot proceed in calm and tranquility, as some dream, because it cannot force the Palestinians to submit.

Khalidi’s latest book is Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.

Interesting facts

  • Only a third of Americans believe that evolution has occurred through natural selection (Pew 30 December 2013).
  • More than 12 years after Guantánamo was established 149 prisoners remain down from a maximum of 800 in in the early days. Of these 78 have been cleared for release as low risk detainees but no acceptable countries found for them. Of the remainder only 20 have been charged or will ever face charges. The other 50 are in legal limbo, imprisoned indefinitely but charged with no crimes. The oldest is now 67 (FT 27/6/2014).
  • By 2008, the peak, there were 121 boys born for every 100 girls in China. In India there were 110 boys for every hundred girls (FT 7/8 June 2014).
  • In the UK average earnings for full-time employees have more than doubled since 1975 after accounting for inflation (FT fourth July quoting ONS report).
  • The High Pay Centre said in a recent report that since the late 90s executive pay had grown from 60 times that of the average UK worker to nearly 180 times (FT 14/7/14).
  • The world is facing a growing water crisis affecting all regions. Currently 70% of water is used for agriculture: 22% for industry and 8% for domestic use (FT Analysis 15/7/14)
  • According to an Ipsos Mori poll 47% of the public do not trust union officials to tell the truth; 57% for business chiefs; 72% for journalists and 77% for politicians. (FT Brian Groom 15/7/14).
  • By 2030 approximately one third of Britons will be from ethnic minorities, according to Policy Exchange. In 2012 one quarter (25.9%) of children born in the UK had foreign mothers. In London the number was more than half (FT Magazine July 12/13 2014).
  • Almost a quarter of American children under five are living in poverty (Joseph Stiglitz International New York Times 28/29 June 2014).
  • The US has 5% of the world’s population but around 25% of its prisoners (Joe Stiglitz International New York Times 28/29 June 2014).

Posted by