Monthly Archives: December 2006

Israel’s identity crisis

In my mailing from Jewish Voice for Peace the question arises “just where is Israel?” Geographically it’s in an area called rather loosely “The Middle East”. A few years ago my friend worked at Heathrow Airport in the days of BOAC (aka “Better On A Camel) the airline covering the region was known as “Muddle East Airline”.
In terms of continents I’d been taught to believe Europe ended at Instanbul which was divided between Europe and Asia. On the other hand next door Egypt is actually in Africa (there appears to be doubt about this judging by the way the topic of “Ancient Egypt” is dealt with in schools). Well it seems that Israelis see themselves as essentially European, as white people, surrounded by despised Arab and Asian people. Certainly Israel is involved in matters European like the Eurovision Song Contest, which it won in the year the event was held here in Birmingham. One thing it does have in common with Europe is a firmly entrenched racism, institutional and all.

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African remedy to curb obesity

The Independent reports on trials by a number of conglomerates in the pharmaceutical industries to find a way of cutting down on obesity which affects 300 million world wide. Top of the list is a cactus found in the Kalahari desert. It is known that the San people use it to curb their hunger on long hunting trips. Unilever will pay them a royalty for the its use.
“….at the head of the race to cash in on the £3bn worldwide market for dietary control products is Hoodia gordonii – a spiny cactus, which takes five years to mature in the Kalahari desert.
Hoodia contains a secret weapon – a compound known as P57 which has been isolated by a British bio-technology company, Phytopharm, and is now at the heart of a £21m research scheme funded by Unilever.
Phytopharm announced last month that it was making good progress in clinical trials of P57. The cucumber-like core of the Hoodia has been used for centuries by indigenous San tribesmen to stave off hunger pangs. They eat it on long hunting trips.
Unilever has struck a deal with the San to pay the tribe a royalty from the sales of any product containing P57 to be used in a social programme.”

(Source Independent 26/12/2006).

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Manger Square, Bethlehem, Christmas 2007

The article from PNN describes the major festivities outside the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square where events are put on for children. The Latin Patriarch of the Holy Lands visited here, and with a special permit, Rachel’s Well, which is off limits to Palestinians.
“Thousands of people crowded into Manger Square for the annual scouts parades, drum corps, and children’s festivities. This is the main event for the Christmas season. After the all night Mass, the city is quiet.
The main event was when the Patriarch arrives from Bethlehem at around 2:00 in the afternoon. He passed through the streets of Bethlehem, flanked with Palestinians, welcoming his procession. Priests and members of the clergy were in and outside of the Church of Nativity, while others passed through the streets with the Patriarch.
Local organizations, charities, school groups, citizens and political parties all made a showing as well for the first stop. The Patriarch arrived at the Mar Elias Monastery in Beit Jala, just up the hill from Bethlehem. The Beit Jala Mayor, Raji Zeidan, received Sabbah, as did the local clergy and residents.”

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Christmas story from Bethlehem, 2007

A resident of Bethlehem recalls Christmas past and present with the “little town” surrounded by a fence and wall, and settlements of newcomers.
A group of church leaders from the U.K., including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have pledged to be “a voice for the voiceless” following their visit yo Bethlehem. Speaking out has not been welcomed by the Foreign Office though and the Archbishop has been roundly condemned for his thoughts that British and American foreign policy have damaged relations between Muslims and Christians.
The more the majority of the American people, British people and world wide understand that Middle East policy is a terrible disaster, the more the blind leadership digs its heels in

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A New Colonialism in Africa

As was evident on my visit to Zimbabwe and Botswana earlier this year, the Chinese are interested in Africa. Very interested. Now Thabo Mbeki, leader of South Africa, warns other African leaders.
Not that indigenous peoples need outside colonial powers to trample on their ancestral rights. I reported on the Bushmen of the Kalahari being removed in the interests of diamond mining in Botswana. The courts declared this illegal. Nevertheless the government is limiting return to the homelands

Seasons Greetings from Handsworth

If recently Handsworth, Birmingham UK, has been associated with unrest and intercommunal strife, perhaps the following link will restore a balanced view. Simon Baddeley sent me Christmas greetings with this link.
St Mary’s Church can still be seen in a nidyllic setting from the recently restored Handsworth Park. Simon has written histories of both, and he frequently gives on site tours for those interested. The associations with Boulton and Watt are part of our nation’s history which had a profound influence worldwide.
Two people at least have proudly taken Handsworth into their titles as peers of the realm: the former Conservative MP for Handsworth, Sir Edward (Lord) Boyle and now Bill (Lord) Morris, just one of the many famous people who had their origins here.

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Children in Care

As an advocate for children and young people in care I’m deeply troubled by the way professionals gang up, which can push vulnerable people over the edge. Instead of solving problems they contribute to them.
One young person I visited in a young offender’s institution. While there she gave birth to her second daughter. She worked hard and got early release with excellent comments on her parenting and on her education. Social care and health weren’t prepared for this to happen, even suggesting that she remained in prison! This really amazed a number of us, including senior staff at the institution. While there she had no money to buy clothes and either wore her outsize maternity dress or borrowed from someone else.
Nevertheless a place was found at a mother and baby institution where she could be assessed with her child. An institution it was and in the circumstances it was amazing she stayed as long as she did. When the inevitable happened and she was booted out, she was sent on her own late one night to a strange bed and breakfast hotel while her baby was taken into care. Since I was there I took her instead of having to get a taxi. I just wondered what harm was being done to this young person.
A flat was found supposedly sharing with another young person who had offended. In practice she was never there. She appeared one day with a boy friend and they left the place for this young woman to clean and tidy when they left.
This was her second child taken into care. It happened to her first child. That child died in care. No one told her and she found out by chance when it was mentioned in court. Hurriedly she was taken to see the body of the girl which had severe burn marks on the legs. There were no condolences. Now the second child is in care the professionals are running around the baby with little or no support for the mother. Another statistic of a family being broken up needlessly.
Her solicitor is working hard for a foster care placement for mother and child. The successes she has worked for go for nought and continually obstacles are thrown down in front of her to trip up and fall over. The city’s solicitor has to be seen to be believed. She seems to be rooting for the young person to fail and get the child placed for adoption. Grandmother was in care, mother and now the next generation. Who is working to break the cycle? She has had so many social workers, and she just doesn’t get on with the present one who has been absent from so many key meetings.

Botswana Court rules eviction of Bushmen from land in the Kalahari was illegal

Having reported about the upturn in Botswana’s economy I guess there had to be a downside. It turns out that Bushmen were evicted from the land. Why? Because of the existence of diamonds there. Now a court has declared their removal illegal.
This is ancestral land. Once more it has to be shown that Africa’s wealth is withheld from the people. Not only that many are dispossessed. The irony is that many of those who have acquired wealth from the former colonial powers are now mimicking their appalling behaviour.

Still the Wall, still the Land Grab

The effects of the dividing Wall, that the Israelis continue to build on the pretext of defence, is stark in a village which is divided in two, isolating its people. The real purpose is rather to displace and acquire more Palestinian territory.
“The town of Azzun ‘Atma has come to represent the worst of the worst of the effects of the Israeli Wall in the West Bank. The small town is in the northwestern West Bank’s Qalqilia District as is now known as one of the ‘bad parts of the West Bank.’
Azzun ‘Atma is surrounded, literally encircled, by the area’s 700 kilometers of concrete Wall. Villagers have been trapped by the Wall and now additional illegal Israeli settlement expansion from Ornit and Sha’arei Tikva settlements is designed to wreak additional havoc.
Azzun ‘Atma residents cannot reach the rest of the West Bank expect for through one infrequently open gate, and cannot go into 1948 areas under the pretext of car theft. With this, the village is completely isolated from the outside world, accessed only through the main gate of the village that may or may not be open.”
(Source: Palestinian News Network.)

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