Kate Thick  

Home Page


October 29th 2018

Poor diet a factor in one-fifth of global deaths in 2017 – study
Global survey says diseases such as cancer and diabetes behind almost 75% of deaths last year
The Guardian Thu 8 Nov 2018
After poor diet, high blood pressure and smoking were the greatest risk factors to global health.

Almost 20% of deaths worldwide are attributable to an unhealthy diet, with high blood pressure and smoking completing the top three risk factors for reaching the grave, according to a new report on the state of the world’s health.
The study, which focuses on 2017, has revealed that non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes now account for nearly three-quarters of the 55.9m deaths worldwide, with experts stressing a large proportion of these are unnecessarily early.
“A lot of these problems are potentially preventable: things like high blood pressure and smoking are still causing a massive burden of mortality and ill-health,” said Prof John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England and a collaborator on the project.
Globally, the leading cause of death is cardiovascular disease, with abnormal tissue growth including cancers in second place, and chronic respiratory conditions in third. Among cancer deaths, lung cancer was the most common cause.
The data revealed that our behaviour is our biggest threat to staying alive, with poor diet the greatest risk factor. Indeed, a bad diet was behind more than 19% of all deaths worldwide in 2017, and almost 70% of coronary heart disease deaths.
The Global Burden of Disease study is a huge international endeavour that looks at the causes and risk factors of death and sickness in every country in the world. Experts say the latest findings reflect an accelerating shift away from deaths relating to infections and problems around birth and towards diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
“Although we are used to seeing it in developing countries, the really strong message now is that this is a global phenomenon, even relatively poor countries are more troubled now by things like diabetes than they are from conditions such as malaria,” said Newton.
“A lot of it is … down to the fact that people’s way of life is changing, their diets are changing, people are eating too many calories, they are having too much fat and carbohydrate in their diet and they are not taking enough exercise.”
Dr Christopher Murray, senior author of the research, said at present poor quality diet is a bigger driver than obesity but that “given the trend is very markedly in the wrong direction for obesity, it may be that the obesity component will be the most important in the future”.
“[People] are free to change their diet but statistically we know you are very likely to eat what you ate when you were younger and what the people around you eat – so public policy can have a big influence through taxes and subsidies and other strategies,” he added.
High blood glucose – which can lead to diabetes – was the fourth biggest risk factor for an early death, while almost 9% of deaths worldwide – about 5 million – were attributable to air pollution, putting it in fifth place.
Newton said it was a wake-up call. “[In] China and India they have been worried about this for some time, but I think the extent of the impact of air pollution globally is now getting much more attention, as it should be,” he said.
The report also shows that the number of deaths from executions and police conflict worldwide have tripled, while the number of deaths from conflict and terrorism rose by 118% between 2007 and 2017. More than 36% of deaths in Syria and almost 22% in Iraq were down to fighting in 2017.
“It is really concerning – particularly that fact that the proportion of [conflict] deaths amongst children is disproportionate, which is a terrible indictment of the world in which we live,” said Newton.
The opioid epidemic is also taking its toll, with the number of deaths from substance use disorders up by almost 24% since 2007, with a 77% jump for opioid deaths: about 110,000 people are thought to have died from the use of such drugs in 2017.
The authors also flag concerns over antibiotic use and resistance, noting that the number of deaths from extensively drug resistant tuberculosis has risen by 14% to 12,600 a year in the same timeframe.
But the report contains good news too: both the number of deaths and the death rate for HIV/Aids have more than halved since 2007, while the number of deaths from measles declined by 57%. Sudden infant death syndrome is also claiming fewer lives, with the death rate falling by more than 20%. The number and rate of deaths from Ebola have both dropped by more than 98% between 2007 and 2017.
The research also looks at fertility trends, revealing that total fertility rates continue to decline, likely in part due to falling child mortality. Indeed, 91 countries have fertility rates below “replacement level”.
“We should expect fertility rates to come down and we should celebrate the fact that women have more choice over their fertility – that is a good thing,” said Newton, although he said policymakers needed to take the trend into account when planning services including care of the elderly.
As for disability, the report shows that lower back pain remains the biggest problem, with headache disorders and depressive disorders making up the top three.
Experts say the report shows that progress in human health is fragile, as are the world’s healthcare systems; the data shows about half of all countries have shortages of people working in healthcare.
Newton added that policymakers as well as individuals needed to take action: “Neither individuals nor governments should take the health of the population for granted.”


September 29th 2018 Loneliness among over-50s 'is looming public health concern'
Greater numbers will feel impact of widowhood, poor finance and ill-health, says Age UK
The Guardian Tue 25 Sep 2018

Soaring numbers of over-50s in England will suffer from loneliness in the coming years as a result of widowhood, ill-health and money problems, according to a new analysis.
More than two million people of that age will be lonely by 2025-26, a 49% increase on the 1.36m who were socially isolated in 2015-16, according to projections by Age UK.
While the proportion of the population who say they “often” feel lonely will not change from one in 12, the number of those affected will rise as a result of the increase in numbers of people over 50.
The findings come as the government finalises its strategy to combat loneliness, which charities, councils and health experts say has increased in recent years as a result of lengthening lifespans, cuts to social care services and families becoming more spread geographically.
Age UK warns that the problem is a looming “major public health concern, because if loneliness is not addressed it can become chronic, seriously affecting people’s health and wellbeing”. Lonely people are more likely to report mental and physical ill-health.
“Loneliness can blight your life just as badly if you are 18, 38 or 78. But our analysis found that different life events tend to trigger the problem depending on your age,” said Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director.
“It makes sense to target help at people going through the kinds of challenging experiences that put people at risk, whether you are in your youth and leaving college; in mid life and going through a divorce; or in later life, having recently been bereaved.”
Its analysis of findings in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing identified over-50s as a group particularly at risk of loneliness and the likely triggers for that. For example, widowers are more than five times as likely to report feeling “often lonely” as peers who are in a relationship. Having someone to open up to about their lives is often a predictor of loneliness, the charity found.
Similarly, those over 50 are four times more likely to feel “often lonely” if they are in poor health compared with those who continue to have good or excellent health. Over-50s struggling with financial problems are twice as likely to feel lonely as those who are not.
“Loneliness is a far from trivial issue. It can have a devastating effect on people’s physical and mental health, as well as placing an increasing burden on health and social care,” said councillor Ian Hudspeth, the chairman of the wellbeing board of the Local Government Association, which represents councils.
“For too many people, loneliness is their reality all year round. They are often less able to look after themselves, which can make existing health conditions worse and are more likely to become reliant on public services sooner.”
He lamented the loss of “community connector” services, which help mainly older people who are isolated participate in social activities in their area. The service has been reduced as a result of councils having their budgets cut by central government in recent years.
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which is leading the government’s efforts to tackle loneliness, said: “Loneliness is an issue that can affect anyone and we are committed to tackling it. We have set up an £11m fund to better connect people across the country and our soon-to-be-launched loneliness strategy – the first of its kind in the world – will be a step to overcoming social isolation within society.”

July 4th 2018 People not getting enough exercise from long walks
Strengthening and balance activities are vital for future wellbeing, says Public Health England
The Guardian Wed 4 Jul 2018


Walking is just not enough, according to a new review of the evidence from Public Health England, which reveals a major disconnect between the exercise people need and what they actually do.
Those who thought 10,000 steps a day or a brisk daily trudge from a further bus stop meant they were doing enough to stay fit and healthy have got it wrong. People should also all be doing tai chi, weight lifting or ballroom dancing – although carrying home heavy shopping bags might do the trick.
Aerobic exercise, such as walking or gardening, is good for the heart and improves the circulation. PHE’s review said that muscle and bone strengthening and balance activities are also vital for health and future wellbeing, but they are neglected.
In older adults poor muscle strength increased the risk of a fall by 76%, PHE said. Those who have already had a fall are three times more likely to fall again. Strengthening and balance activities not only help prevent falls, but also help improve mood, sleeping patterns, increase energy levels and reduce the risk of an early death.
“People’s understanding of walking more and doing aerobic activity, keeping up the heart rate, has grown, but the need for us all to do two sessions of strength and balance exercise a week has been the Cinderella of public health advice,” said Louise Ansari from the Centre for Ageing Better, a charity set up with lottery funding a few years ago which jointly commissioned the expert review with PHE.
In 2011, the UK’s four chief medical officers issued guidance containing three pieces of exercise and activity advice, but only some of it has been well followed. Walking has become increasingly popular. But fewer people have taken on board the need to stand more and sit less and muscle strengthening and balance have been largely forgotten.
According to the Health Survey for England in 2016, 66% of men and 58% of women met the aerobic guideline – 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. But only 31% of men and 23% of women also did muscle-strengthening exercise and that dropped to 12% over the age of 65.
Muscles tend to be at their peak in our 30s, said Ansari, and the muscle tone is going by the time we reach 40 unless we actively work on it. The best forms of exercise, according to the review of evidence, are ball games, racket sports, dance, Nordic walking and resistance training – usually training with weights, but including body weight exercises which can be performed anywhere.
These exercise both arms and legs, strengthening muscles and helping us keep our balance. In Nordic walking, for instance, two poles are used.
Ansari said the type of exercise required depends on a person’s fitness.. “If you are a reasonably fit adult and you do walking, you should also do yoga or tai chi or racket sports or resistance training which could be in a structured exercise class. You can do two long sessions a week.
“I do an hour and a quarter of tai chi every week. That helps with my balance. I should also do something like badminton and circuit or resistance training.”
But exercise doesn’t have to be in a gym, she added. “You can also make sure you go up and down stairs a lot instead of taking the lift. That is resistance training. Your body is providing the resistance. You don’t have to go to the gym. As long as you are feeling the ache in your muscles.”
Dance of all sorts is good for muscles and balance, from folk to salsa to ballroom. “If you don’t feel you can go to a full-on dance class because you are a bit frail, standing on one leg for 30 seconds a day or tai chi are very good.”
Ansari said she doesn’t use a gym. “I don’t go and lift weights, but I make sure I’m carrying shopping home and carrying things around – consciously lifting weight.”
The advice is not just for the elderly. “Alongside aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, all adults should be aiming to do strengthening and balancing activities twice per week,” said Dr Alison Tedstone, head of diet, obesity and physical activity at PHE. “On average we’re all living longer and this mixture of physical activities will help us stay well in our youth and remain independent as we age.”
The evidence review now goes to the four chief medical officers, who will update the guidance next year.


March 3rd 2018 Cycling keeps your immune system young, study finds
The sport also preserves muscle and helps maintains stable levels of body fat and cholesterol
The Guardian March 8, 2018
Cycling can hold back the effects of ageing and rejuvenate the immune system, a study has found.
Scientists carried out tests on 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79 and compared them with healthy adults from a wide age group who did not exercise regularly.
The findings, outlined in two papers in the journal Aging Cell, showed that the cyclists preserved muscle mass and strength with age while maintaining stable levels of body fat and cholesterol. In men, testosterone levels remained high.
More surprisingly, the anti-ageing effects of cycling appeared to extend to the immune system.
An organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T-cells, normally starts to shrink from the age of 20. But the thymuses of older cyclists were found to be generating as many T-cells as those of young people.
Prof Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, said: “Hippocrates in 400BC said that exercise is man’s best medicine, but his message has been lost over time and we are an increasingly sedentary society.
“However, importantly, our findings debunk the assumption that ageing automatically makes us more frail. Our research means we now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier.”
Many other studies have also shown the remarkable health benefits of cycling. A study published in the BMJ last April found that regular cycling cut the risk of death from all causes by more than 40%, and cut the risk of cancer and heart disease by 45%.
Experts also believe cycling boosts riders’ mental health, with multiple studies finding that those who commute by bicycle are happier and less prone to depression than those who use any other form of transport.
A recent report from cycling and walking charity Sustrans also found that cycling does not just benefit an individual’s health but that of society as a whole, estimating that if Britain were to reach government targets for walking and cycling, the country would save about £9.3bn and reduce deaths from air pollution by more than 13,000 over the next decade.

Report says healthier living could cut cancer cases by 40%
Guardian March 23, 2018
Almost four in ten can cases in Britain could be prevented if people made lifestyle changes such as drinking less alcohol, reducing their weight, ditching cigarettes and avoiding overdoing it on sunbeds, research has revealed.
Although cancer survival is improving, the rate of new cancer cases in Britain has risen by 7% over the past decade, after taking into account the ageing population and population growth, and is expected to continue to increase by about 2% every year, making prevention important.

December 12th 2017 Death from air pollution would be cut if UK hits walking and cycling targets
Meeting government walking and cycling targets would save 13,000 lives and almost £10bn, finds Sustrans study
The Guardian 4 December 2017
If the UK hits government targets for walking and cycling more than 13,000 lives and almost £10bn would be saved over the next decade, according to a new report.
The study from the transport charity Sustrans has found that meeting government plans in England and Scotland for an increase in walking or cycling would reduce deaths from air pollution by more than 13,000 in the next 10 years. It would also save almost £9.31bn.
Xavier Brice, CEO for Sustrans, said that at a time when road transport is “responsible for the majority of air quality limit breaches in the UK” it has never been more important to reduce the number of “motorised vehicles on our roads”.
“The new findings reiterate that walking and cycling have a huge role to play in tackling the air quality crisis that causes tens of thousands of premature deaths every year. If we are to make a major modal shift, we need to provide a network of direct protected cycle routes on roads in addition to quieter routes across the UK.”
Air pollution contributes to around 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK. The government is being taken to court for a third time over the levels of toxic air in cities across the UK caused by nitrogen dioxide, mainly from diesel vehicles. Many towns and cities are now also failing WHO guidelines for the most damaging type of air pollution known as PM2.5, 45% of which comes from car tyre and brake wear and would not be reduced by a move to electric vehicles.
A report last month revealed that every area in London exceeds World Health Organisation limits for PM2.5.
Brice said: “We are urging governments at all levels to include funding for walking and cycling infrastructure in their clean air plans and the UK government to prioritise investment in active travel as part of wider urgent action to make air safe again.”
Sustrans, in partnership with the environmental consultancy Eunomia, found that if targets to double journeys by bike and increase walking by “300 stages per person” in the England’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy were met, this would prevent more than 8,300 premature deaths from air pollution. This would result in £5.67bn in benefits over 10 years through the avoided costs associated with poor air quality, including NHS treatment in hospital for respiratory diseases.
Equally, if the aim of 10% of everyday journeys to be taken by bike set out in Scotland’s Cycling Action Plan was realised, it would save nearly 4,000 premature deaths and £3.64bn.
Sustran said the gains would be even bigger if wider benefits to health and wellbeing from increased physical activity were included.
Twenty-nine local authorities in England that are breaking legal air quality limits now have to pull together clean air plans by November next year.
Ann Ballinger, an air quality expert at Eunomia, said: “This is the first time that Sustrans’s data has been used alongside public health data to understand what impacts walking and cycling schemes have on an individual’s exposure to air pollution.
“Our analysis suggests investment in cycling and walking has considerable potential to improve local air pollution. We believe this innovative model could be of considerable value in supporting local authorities and government as these bodies consider options to tackle the air pollution emergency at a local level.”

September 15th 2017
Poor diet is a factor in one in five deaths, global disease study reveals
The Guardian     Thursday 14 September 2017
Poor diet is a factor in one in five deaths around the world, according to the most comprehensive study ever carried out on the subject.
Millions of people are eating the wrong sorts of food for good health. Eating a diet that is low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds and fish oils and high in salt raises the risk of an early death, according to the huge and ongoing study Global Burden of Disease.
The study, based at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, compiles data from every country in the world and makes informed estimates where there are gaps. Five papers on life expectancy and the causes and risk factors of death and ill health have been published by the Lancet medical journal.
It finds that people are living longer. Life expectancy in 2016 worldwide was 75.3 years for women and 69.8 for men. Japan has the highest life expectancy at 84 years and the Central African Republic has the lowest at just over 50. In the UK, life expectancy for a man born in 2016 is 79, and for a woman 82.9.
Diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking. Other high risks are high blood glucose which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI) which is a measure of obesity, and high total cholesterol. All of these can be related to eating the wrong foods, although there are also other causes.
“This is really large,” Dr Christopher Murray, IHME’s director, told the Guardian. “It is amongst the really big problems in the world. It is a cluster that is getting worse.” While obesity gets attention, he was not sure policymakers were as focused on the area of diet and health as they needed to be. “That constellation is a really, really big challenge for health and health systems,” he said.
The problem is often seen as the spread of western diets, taking over from traditional foods in the developing world. But it is not that simple, says Murray. “Take fruit. It has lots of health benefits but only very wealthy people eat a lot of fruit, with some exceptions.”
Sugary drinks are harmful to health but eating a lot of red meat, the study finds, is not as big a risk to health as failing to eat whole grains. “We need to look really carefully at what are the healthy compounds in diets that provide protection,” he said.
Prof John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, said the studies show how quickly diet and obesity-related disease is spreading around the world. “I don’t think people realise how quickly the focus is shifting towards non-communicable disease [such as cancer, heart disease and stroke] and diseases that come with development, in particular related to poor diet. The numbers are quite shocking in my view,” he said.
The UK tracks childhood obesity through the school measurement programme and has brought in measures to try to tackle it. “But no country in the world has been able to solve the problem and it is a concern that we really need to think about tackling globally,” he said.
Today, 72% of deaths are from non-communicable diseases for which obesity and diet are among the risk factors, with ischaemic heart disease as the leading cause worldwide of early deaths, including in the UK. Lung cancer, stroke, lung disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) and Alzheimer’s are the other main causes in the UK.
The success story is children under five. In 2016, for the first time in modern history, fewer than 5 million children under five died in one year – a significant fall compared with 1990, when 11 million died. Increased education for women, less poverty, having fewer children, vaccinations, anti-malaria bed-nets, improved water and sanitation are among the changes in low-income countries that have brought the death rate down, thanks to development aid.
People are living longer but spending more years in ill health. Obesity is one of the major reasons. More than a billion people worldwide are living with mental health and substance misuse disorders. Depression features in the top 10 causes of ill health in all but four countries.
“Our findings indicate people are living longer and, over the past decade, we identified substantial progress in driving down death rates from some of the world’s most pernicious diseases and conditions, such as under age-five mortality and malaria,” said Murray “Yet, despite this progress, we are facing a triad of trouble holding back many nations and communities – obesity, conflict, and mental illness, including substance use disorders.”
In the UK, the concern is particularly about the increase in ill-health that prevents people from working or having a fulfilling life, said Newton. A man in the UK born in 2016 can expect only 69 years in good health and a woman 71 years.
“This is yet another reminder that while we’re living longer, much of that extra time is spent in ill-health. It underlines the importance of preventing the conditions that keep people out of work and put their long term health in jeopardy, like musculoskeletal problems, poor hearing and mental ill health. Our priority is to help people, including during the crucial early years of life and in middle age, to give them the best chance of a long and healthy later life,” he said.
August 15th 2017 GPs in England 'unconfident' discussing physical activity with patients – report
Less than two-thirds of doctors feel confident discussing activity levels and almost a third have never heard of national guidelines
The Guardian Tuesday 15 August 2017

The majority of doctors in England are unfamiliar with recommended levels of physical activity, with fewer than two-thirds confident about discussing the topic with their patients, researchers have revealed.
Set out in July 2011 by the Chief Medical Office, national guidelines recommend that adults aged between 19 and 64 undertake 75 minutes of intense activity or 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.
But in 2015-16 more than a quarter of adults in England were deemed “inactive”, undertaking physical activity for less than half an hour a week.
Now a nationwide study has revealed that 80% of GPs in England say they are unfamiliar with the national guidelines, and more than one in seven doctors say they are not confident raising the issue of physical activity with their patients.
“Many people have described [physical activity] as the most cost-effective drug we have, yet we are not implementing it properly,” said Justin Varney, co-author of the research from Public Health England (PHE). “This is as appropriate as having a conversation about smoking,” he added.
Published in the British Journal of General Practice by Varney and colleagues at PHE, the study was based on an online questionnaire open to GPs in England for a 10-day period during March 2016. Quotas were put in place to guard against all responses coming from one region.
Participants were asked six multiple choice questions, ranging from whether they were familiar with the national guidelines on physical activity to selecting medical conditions around which they would discuss physical activity with a patient.
The results, based on answers from 1,013 doctors, reveal that only 20% were familiar with the national guidelines, with 30% admitting that they had never heard of them at all.
Doctors’ familiarity with questionnaires used to gauge patients’ activity levels was similarly hit-and-miss. More than a quarter of doctors were unaware of any such questionnaires, while 55% said they did not use such tools. More than half of doctors said they had not had any training about encouraging patients to undertake physical activity.
Only 78% of doctors said they would discuss and recommend physical activity to overweight patients, while just 26% said they would bring it up with patients living with dementia or cognitive decline.
“Being physically active is a separate conversation from losing weight,” said Varney. “Whatever your weight, if you are more active than someone who is of the same weight and inactive you will be healthier.”
The study also found that only 61% of GPs said they were either very or somewhat confident about raising the issue of physical activity with patients, with 16% saying they were somewhat or very unconfident in broaching the topic.
While Varney admits that nurses and other healthcare administrators were excluded, and that doctors with a keener interest in physical activity might have been more likely to respond to the survey, he said the sample included GPs across the country of different ages and seniority.
The authors say physical activity needs a greater emphasis during medical training, while more needs to be done to increase GPs’ awareness of training initiatives. Both are areas which PHE, Sport England and other partners have developed programmes to address, said Varney.
Alice Smith, professor of lifestyle medicine at the University of Leicester who was not involved in the study, welcomed the research but described the findings as disappointing and worrying.
“Physical activity is a fundamental element of a healthy lifestyle, and more and more research is showing that it is effective in the prevention and management of chronic disease,” she said. “It is vital that GPs at the forefront of healthcare are aware of this and know how to help their patients gain the wide-ranging benefits of an appropriately active lifestyle.”
Gavin Terry, the Alzheimer’s Society’s policy manager, added that tailored exercise advice can be extremely beneficial for people with dementia.
“It’s crucial that GPs are aware of the benefits of exercise for their patients and are aware of what is available locally to enable them to continue to take part in physical activity after a dementia diagnosis,” he said.
But Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said that while it is important that GPs are up to date on physical activity guidelines and the tools that accompany them, 10-minute patient consultations are too short and are “stifling” the use of such measures.
“Ultimately, we need the pledges in NHS England’s GP Forward View – including £2.4bn a year for general practice and an extra 5,000 full-time equivalent GPs by 2020 – to be delivered in full and as a matter of urgency so that GPs can spend longer with our patients and inspire them to make improvements to their lifestyle,” she said.”
July 2nd 2017 Antibiotic shortage puts patients at risk, doctors fear
The Guardian Saturday 1 July 2017

A major shortage of one of the most widely used hospital antibiotics is putting patients at risk, doctors have warned.
There is an international shortage of of piperacillin-tazobactam, an antibiotic and antibacterial combination drug known by the trade name Tazocin, which is usually used intravenously in intensive care. It is also used to treat a wide variety of conditions including cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, diabetic foot infections and neutropenic sepsis – a life-threatening condition that can arise in those receiving anti-cancer treatment.
The Department of Health and Public Health England have issued guidance on the problem and hospitals in Scotland have been given advice by the Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group (SAPG). A document from NHS Fife dating from early May says “there is a high likelihood that in the near future piperacillin-tazobactam will not be available at all… this is a major challenge to our prescribing practice.”
The document also points out that the use of other drug combinations could increase the workload for doctors and nurses, as some of them require more frequent doses and increased monitoring. “Regrettably there is no other feasible solution at present,” it notes.
Philip Howard, Royal Pharmaceutical Society spokesman on antimicrobial resistance, said that an explosion at a Chinese factory that produced raw materials for the medication had caused the problems. Howard said the UK had experienced supply constraints since March this year.
Hospitals in the UK have been urged to restrict their use of the drug in order to conserve stocks. “This is one of the more serious shortages that the NHS has had to face,” Howard said, although he added there were enough supplies of other drugs for patients to get the antibiotics they needed.
Documents approved by the Department of Health and Public Health England dated 24 April, seen by the Observer, advise that the use of piperacillin-tazobactam be restricted to severe cases of sepsis and ventilator-acquired pneumonia, although some doctors fear that if the shortage lasts then these patients could also be affected. Doctors wanting to use the medication for other cases must get approval.
A doctor who works at a hospital in East Anglia, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was advised of the piperacillin-tazobactam shortage by the pharmacy team at his NHS trust on 18 May in an email stating “we will not be able to obtain any further stock in the foreseeable future once we have used up all our current stock”.
The doctor said he believed patients were being put at risk by the shortage. “Every hospital in this country would use it,” he said. “[If you look] at the grades of antibiotics we have, [piperacillin-tazobactam] is probably the second rung from the top. It is not quite the last resort, but it is almost.”
He said many of the options doctors were having to use were less powerful or could cause side effects such as kidney damage. “Patients are either having prolonged stays on these courses of antibiotics, or even worse, they are not actually even responding,” he added.
In such cases, he said, doctors were increasingly left having to deploy the last line of defence – an antibiotic known as meropenem, part of a group of antibiotics known as carbapenems. But resistance to such drugs is a growing problem, and doctors are already advised to limit their use. A microbiologist at a hospital in England, speaking on condition of anonymity, said meropenem was being used more often than he would like, while critical shortages had also been encountered for other drugs.
In the case of one antibiotic called ceftriaxone, which is used as the first line of treatment for meningitis, the Observer has seen a memo from his NHS trust to staff which said it expected to exhaust all its supplies of the drug within the next few days.
The microbiologist added that the use of antibiotics known as cephalosporins, which includes ceftriaxone, had previously been reduced in the UK to help reduce the threat of the dangerous superbug C difficile. Any rise in use of the drugs, he said, could increase the risk of such infections.
The cost of piperacillin-tazobactam and other drugs had shot up, the microbiologist added, while the workload for microbiologists had also increased, due to the number of calls from doctors and emergency meetings to discuss shortages.
In another document seen by the Observer, the Department of Health acknowledged that the shortage of piperacillin-tazobactam could cause problems with supplies of other drugs – a situation Howard also admitted was possible. He added that recent data did not show a significant rise in the use of meropenem.
The Department of Health said the piperacillin-tazobactam shortage was a global issue and that more supplies should be available this summer. “In the interim period we are working with the pharmaceutical industry and NHS to make sure supplies of alternative antibiotics are available and have issued guidance about appropriate alternative treatment options,” it said.
Andrew Seaton, chair of the SAPG, said they did not advise health boards to increase the use of cephalosporins, except in certain cases, due to concerns over a possible increase in C difficile infection. He also pointed out that use of piperacillin-tazobactam and meropenem had been low before the shortage, and described gentamicin as a cornerstone of the SAPG approach, saying that there was strong guidance for its safe use..
But he raised concerns about unreliable supply chains for important medicines. “Drug shortages in general have become a thorn in our side,” he said. “I am thinking particularly of drugs that we would like to use as alternatives to, say, piperacillin-tazobactam and meropenem or the carbapenem antibiotics.”
But Seaton said he would describe the situation as an inconvenience rather than a crisis. “There are always alternatives to this antibiotic,” he said.
While a document from Luton and Dunstable University Hospital seen by the Observer said the piperacillin-tazobactam shortage was expected to last until at least July, the document from the SAPG said they had been advised stock constraints were likely until September.
The latter also suggested the shortage might offer a silver lining, presenting a chance to improve control on how the medication is used to reduce the likelihood of resistance.
According to Howard, the factory in China was now back in full production, but it might take months before the global supply chain recovered completely.
Ultimately, said Howard, action needed to be taken to avoid a repeat situation in the future. “We need to ensure that we use a broader range of antibiotics in our hospitals, so that if there is a global supply problem, it doesn’t have such a large impact,” he said.
June 13th 2017 Obesity causes premature death, concludes study of studies

The Guardian   June 13th 2017
Although it is true that the body mass index is flawed, even the merely overweight have shorter life expectancy than the slender

‘On average, overweight people lose about one year of life expectancy and moderately obese people lose about three years,’ said Dr Emanuele Di Angelantonio. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA
View more sharing options This article is 11 months old
Obesity and excess weight do shorten lives, according to a major review across five continents which sought to find a definitive answer to a controversial question.

While obesity is a known risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes, which can all be life-shortening, the impact of obesity alone has been much disputed. Overweight and obesity are measured by BMI – body mass index – which charts weight against height. Many argue that it is a seriously flawed measure because it does not allow for the muscle that replaces fat in very fit people, such as athletes.
A large group of international researchers has attempted to overcome the problems of previous studies by analysing a vast amount of data collected in smaller studies, on 3.9 million adults worldwide. They found that even overweight people risked an earlier death than those of normal weight.

“On average, overweight people lose about one year of life expectancy, and moderately obese people lose about three years of life expectancy,” said Dr Emanuele Di Angelantonio, the lead author, from the University of Cambridge.

“We also found that men who were obese were at much higher risk of premature death than obese women. This is consistent with previous observations that obese men have greater insulin resistance, liver fat levels and diabetes risk than women.”

The researchers in the Global BMI Mortality Collaboration looked at the risk of early death between the ages of 35 and 70. Men of normal weight (with a BMI of 18.5 to 25) have a 19% risk of an earlier death and women a 11% chance. For those who are moderately obese, with a BMI of 30 to 35, that rises to 29.5% for men and 14.6% for women.

If obesity does directly cause early deaths, they calculate that if all those who are overweight or obese were instead of normal weight, one in seven early deaths could be avoided in Europe and one in five in north America, where obesity rates are higher. “Obesity is second only to smoking as a cause of premature death in Europe and North America,” said co-author Prof Sir Richard Peto, from the University of Oxford.

“Smoking causes about a quarter of all premature deaths in Europe and in North America, and smokers can halve their risk of premature death by stopping. But [being] overweight and obesity now cause about one in seven of all premature deaths in Europe and one in five of all premature deaths in North America.”

But the study, published in the Lancet medical journal, is still not the final word. In a linked comment in the journal, three scientists from the National Institutes of Health in the United States point out the difficulties, when using BMI data, in accounting for fitness and physical activity, people’s diet and their history of disease – even though the study excluded people who had ever smoked and those who died in the first few years of the study so that those factors would not influence the results.

March 30th 2017 Quarter of adults in England 'exercise for less than half hour a week'
NHS review finds high levels of obesity and inactivity in England, with minority eating five portions of fruit and vegetables
The Guardian Thursday 30 March 2017

One in four adults in England get less than 30 minutes of exercise a week, with women more likely to be inactive, a report shows.
NHS Digital’s annual review of obesity in England also found high levels of obesity among adults and children, with only around a quarter of adults eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Twenty-six percent of all adults were classified as inactive (undertaking fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a week), with women being slightly more likely to be inactive (27%) than men (24%).
People who have been unemployed long-term or have never worked are most likely to not take exercise (37%), compared with 17% of those in professional and managerial jobs.
Almost a third of people in South Tyneside, Leicester, Barking and Dagenham and Rochdale are deemed to be inactive, while the lowest rates of inactivity were found in Wokingham (13%) and Brighton and Hove (14%), the report said.
In 2015, 58% of women and 68% of men in England were overweight or obese. Obesity has risen from 15% of adults in 1993 to 27% in 2015.
The prevalence of morbid obesity has more than tripled since 1993, affecting 2% of men and 4% of women in 2015.
The report also revealed high numbers of overweight children, with more than one in five in reception class (aged four to five) being overweight or obese in 2015-16, rising to more than one in three for children in year six.
On Thursday, Public Health England (PHE) published new voluntary targets for the food industry to reduce sugar levels by 20% by 2020 in nine categories of food popular with children.
The NHS Digital report found that only 26% of adults ate the recommended five portions of fruit or vegetables a day in 2015: 47% of men and 42% of women ate fewer than three portions a day. But 52% of 15-year-olds said they hit the recommended five a day.
The data also showed there were 525,000 hospital admissions in England in 2015-16 where obesity was recorded as a factor. Two in three patients, or 67%, were female.
The report found that 6,438 weight-loss surgical procedures were carried out.
A spokesman for the Obesity HealthAlliance, a coalition of more than 40 health charities, campaign groups and medical colleges, said: “As waistlines increase, so do the chances of developing life-threatening conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, putting further strain on our already overstretched health service.
“This data is a stark reminder of exactly why we need measures like the sugar reduction programme and the soft drinks industry levy to help create a healthier environment for all.”
Dr Justin Varney, Public Health England’s national lead for adult health and wellbeing, said: “We need many more adults and children to be more physically active. Little and often makes a big difference – just 10 minutes extra walking each day can improve a person’s health and their overall quality of life.”
Chris Allen, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Being inactive can dramatically increase your risk of having a deadly heart attack or stroke.
“But the good news is that it’s never too late to start being more active, which can help you control your weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and improve your mental health.
“The recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week may seem like a lot, but you can break it down into 10-minute sessions and gradually build up.”

February 17th 2017 Rothbury hospital closure alternatives 'not considered'
16 February 2017

Campaigners fighting to save beds at a cottage hospital have accused NHS bosses of failing to consider alternatives to its closure.

The plan to permanently shut the 12-bed inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital in Northumberland has already sparked protest marches and a petition.
NHS managers have said the facility is under used. Residents say the area has a high proportion of vulnerable, older people who need local hospital beds.

Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) chief clinical officer Dr Alistair Blair said the hospital's beds had "been used less and less" over the last few years.
"With the pressures in the NHS it doesn't make sense to have a resource that's just not being used to its full potential," he said. David Blakeburn from the Save Rothbury Cottage Hospital Campaign group said the beds were needed for "palliative care, end of life care, respite and for post-operative care". "One of the major human impacts of the closure" was that families would have to travel to hospitals in Wansbeck or Cramlington to visit relatives in acute beds, he said.

The CCG wants to replace the hospital with a health and wellbeing centre and more care in the community.It proposes to use video links so patients can have consultations with specialists at hospitals further away.

A three-month consultation runs until 25 April.


It won’t ever happen I thought, but it has and it was met by loud applause in a packed UN chamber.

Capping a year of, shall we say, surprises, a landmark UN resolution announced loudly and clearly that Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are a “flagrant violation” of international law. Israel is livid.

The 15-member Security Council voted 14 - 0 on the resolution; in a symbolic break with past US policy of vetoing all similar resolutions, the US was the lone abstainer.

Settlement building - which has surged under Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu - is viewed as the major stumbling blocks to a lasting peace deal. Obama has been alarmed by a draft law at the Israeli Knesset to legalise settler outposts and by the construction of a monstrous wall; two of several measures by Netanyahu rendering a viable contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible.

Israel has expanded onto 85% of historic Palestine. The Palestinians are locked into tiny enclaves where they lack civil and human rights. This road leads to one destination: an apartheid state.

The agenda of the most right-wing Israeli government in history is clear: putting in place a one-state Jewish reality. Palestinian homes, fruit and olive trees, their access to water and freedom of movement have been systematically destroyed. Peaceful protesters are shot and children imprisoned. So who are the “terrorists”?

The US knows much of the Arab world, for all its schisms, will not normalise relations with Israel until they accommodate the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinians, yet the Obama administration just signed a record $38bn military-aid package for Israel. How fitting for a 'post-truth' world.

This is a conflict which, at its core, is about an illegal, decades-long military occupation and siege of Palestinian territories. Yes, the Palestinian leadership is divided and corrupt but the Palestinians do not occupy a sliver of Israeli territory; to suggest any "Palestinian responsibility" for the conflict is baffling. The Palestinians recognized the state of Israel 30 years ago; that was the basis of the Oslo peace process.

If we've learned anything over the past years, it is that nothing will change in the Levant if inconvenient truths are ignored.

In an unusually hard-hitting speech last week, the outgoing US secretary of state spelt out the self-destructive nature of Netanyahu’s policy for Israel’s long-term security.

It may all be too little too late; if only Kerry’s speech and the UN resolution had occurred years ago, allowing the international community to act on them. But they may yet generate new momentum and for all Netanyahu’s blustering, he will be forced to look in the mirror. There has been growing support among European governments for tougher steps against Israel and the Palestinians could now bring the settlement project to the International Criminal Court.

Trump tweeted: “As to the UN, things will be different after January 20th.” Trump and Netanyahu share certain characteristics; insecurity, aggression and paranoia. Trump cannot reverse UN resolutions but with his presidency looming, world leaders are on the edge of their seats given a Middle East already shattered and aflame.

A more muscular consensus regarding the Palestinian issue and settlements will, hopefully, be demonstrated again at a conference in Paris later this month where the international community could seek to impose a resolution to the conflict.

A just resolution - a sovereign Palestine alongside Israel - will only come when Palestinians and Israelis are brought together under the auspices of the EU or UN. More likely, a peace accord will take the form of a one-state solution – a bi-national, democratic state – because that is the only option Israel and successive US administrations may have left us with.

The military occupation, expulsion and siege of a people are wrong. History will not be on our side when we ask how we could have been so complicit.

The permanent disenfranchisement of millions on an ethnic-national basis doesn’t conform to American values. The brutal subjugation of Palestinians isn’t consistent with Jewish religious and moral values.

With 2017 marking 50 years of occupation, it would make an ideal New Year’s resolution to reverse this violation of international humanitarian law.


December 23rd 2016 Christmas Appeal

Médecins Sans Frontières is one of the few aid groups to continue working in war zones despite deadly attacks on its facilities. The group’s commitment to impartiality helps staff stay on the front lines and in refugee camps in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

At the core of MSF's identity is a commitment to independence, neutrality and impartiality.

Human connections are at the heart of their work; collectively, they help millions of people every year.

Your donation matters: 100 percent of MSF donations come from people like you, and 86 percent is spent on helping people who need it most.

See https://www.msf.org.uk

November 14th 2016 Dementia and Alzheimer's leading cause of death in England and Wales
Ageing population and better diagnosis have led to heart disease being knocked off top spot for first time, ONS says
The ONS said 11.6% of deaths in England and Wales in 2015 were attributable to Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Monday 14 November 2016 The Guardian

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias have replaced ischaemic heart disease as the leading cause of death in England and Wales for the first time.
Last year, 61,686 (11.6%) out of a total of 529,655 deaths registered in England and Wales were attributable to dementia, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The statisticians said an ageing population, better diagnosis, and lifestyle and treatment advances with respect to other illnesses were among the factors that had pushed dementia to the top of the list.
The mortality rate for dementia, which was the second leading cause of death for the previous four years, has more than doubled since 2010, while that of ischaemic heart disease declined sharply over the same period.
Martina Kane, senior policy officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Today’s news that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are the leading cause of death in England and Wales is a stark reminder that dementia remains a growing concern across the country. While the news represents improvements in diagnosis rates, general awareness and the accuracy of reporting, it also reflects that there are rising numbers of people with dementia.
“While there remains no cure for the condition, everyone who develops it will sadly still have the disease when they die. It is therefore essential that people have access to the right support and services to help them live well with dementia and that research into better care, treatments and eventually a cure remain high on the agenda.”
Ischaemic heart diseases were responsible for 11.5% of deaths last year, although it was still the leading cause of death for men, accounting for 14.3% of male deaths. Dementia, the leading cause of death for women, was responsible for 15.2% of all female deaths, up from 13.4% in 2014.
Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the figures “call attention to the uncomfortable reality that currently, no-one survives a diagnosis of dementia”. He added: “With growing numbers of people living with dementia, we urgently need treatments that can stop or slow the diseases that drive this devastating condition.”
The ONS said there was likely to have been an increased reporting of dementia on death certificates because of dementia diagnosis incentives paid to GPs (which have since been scrapped), the prime minister’s challenge to improve dementia care and an agreed ambition that two-thirds of the estimated number of people with dementia in England should have a diagnosis.
Elizabeth McLaren, from the vital statistics outputs branch at ONS, said: “In 2015, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease became the leading cause of death in part because people are simply living longer but also because of improved detection and diagnosis. An updating of the international rules for determining the underlying cause of death is also a factor, with the increase in cases attributed to these conditions accompanied by falls in other causes.”
The most common causes of death last year after dementia and ischaemic heart disease were cerebrovascular diseases, such as strokes, chronic lower respiratory diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.
There was wide variation by age group. Dementia was the leading cause of death for people over 80 but it was the fourth leading cause of death for women aged 65 to 79 and not in the top five leading causes of death for men aged within that age group. Among men aged 35 to 49 suicide and injury/poisoning of undetermined intent was responsible for the most deaths, while for women of the same age group the leading cause of death was breast cancer.
If all cancers are grouped together, it was the most common cause of death, accounting for 27.9% of all deaths last year, compared with 26.2% caused by circulatory diseases, such as heart diseases and strokes.
Alzheimer’s Society estimates that there will be a million people with dementia in the UK by 2025, although research published earlier this year suggests that the number of new cases in recent years has been fewer than previously predicted.
August 20th 2016 Global education is civil rights struggle of our age, says Gordon Brown
In his role as UN envoy, former PM says £23bn needed to ensure every child gets primary and secondary education
Brown said that on current trends, half the world’s children would be inadequately educated by 2030.
The Guardian Sunday 18 September 2016
Gordon Brown has described funding education in the world’s poorest countries as “the civil rights struggle of our generation”.
Almost half of the world’s children face the prospect of growing up without proper schooling unless there is a transformation in education funding, the former Labour prime minister said.
Brown, who heads the international commission on financing global education opportunity, said the shortage of schooling represented a ticking timebomb that could trigger new protest movements among a generation frustrated by a lack of life chances.
Presenting the commission’s findings at the UN in New York on Sunday, Brown said $30bn (£23bn) in additional funding was needed if the goal of ensuring every child receives a full primary and secondary education by 2030 is to be achieved.
Much of the funding will have to come from within the countries concerned, but he acknowledged more would also be needed from the international community, including institutions such as the World Bank and donor governments.
He also called for an emergency injection of $400m for the estimated 30 million refugee children around the world, including 4 million who have fled the fighting in Syria, most of whom are not in school.
The commission estimates that by 2030, 800 million of the world’s 1.6 billion children will not get a full education, of whom 200 million children will receive no formal schooling at all.
“This is the civil rights struggle of our generation. At the moment we are betraying half our future,” Brown said. “A timebomb is ticking. These young children denied an education will be a source of massive discontent in years to come.
“The gap between what they have been promised and what is actually delivered will be so great that it will cause Arab springs and Occupy movements in the next generation if we fail to act.
“It is the basic instinct of every parent for their children to have the best possible start in life. The truth is that for half the children in the world we will not be offering them that unless we take the action that we are recommending.”
Brown, who is the UN’s special envoy for global education, said that low and middle income countries, which spend an average of 2% of annual GDP on education, needed to raise the figure to about 5%.
He said that at the same time there had to be a major reform of international institutions with a new investment mechanism to channel funds into schooling.
He also called on donor governments to divert a greater proportion of their international aid to education projects, which currently account for just 10% of expenditure.
“We are calling for a complete transformation of the way we deal with education aid,” he said. “Aid has got to be more effective and it has got to be directed towards this priority of education. At the same time we need a new multilateral investment facility to direct resources into education.”
Brown said the implication of failing to deal with the issue were so serious that the commission was calling on the UN secretary general to make an annual report to the security council, with a new rapporteur reporting on violations of children’s rights - such as child labour - that prevent them getting an education.
June 26th 2016 Britain is sailing into a storm with no one at the wheel
The Economist Jun 26th 2016,

IT WAS a troubling exchange. On live television Faisal Islam, the political editor of SkyNews, was recounting a conversation with a pro-Brexit Conservative MP. “I said to him: ‘Where’s the plan? Can we see the Brexit plan now?’ [The MP replied:] ‘There is no plan. The Leave campaign don’t have a post-Brexit plan…Number 10 should have had a plan.’” The camera cut to Anna Botting, the anchor, horror chasing across her face. For a couple of seconds they were both silent, as the point sunk in. “Don’t know what to say to that, actually,” she replied, looking down at the desk. Then she cut to a commercial break.
Sixty hours have gone by since a puffy-eyed David Cameron appeared outside 10 Downing Street and announced his resignation. The pound has tumbled. Investment decisions have been suspended; already firms talk of moving operations overseas. Britain’s EU commissioner has resigned. Sensitive political acts—the Chilcot report’s publication, decisions on a new London airport runway and the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent—are looming. European leaders are shuttling about the continent meeting and discussing what to do next. Those more sympathetic to Britain are looking for signs from London of how they can usefully influence discussions. At home mounting evidence suggests a spike in racist and xenophobic attacks on immigrants. Scotland is heading for another independence referendum. Northern Ireland’s peace settlement may hang by a thread.
But at the top of British politics, a vacuum yawns wide. The phones are ringing, but no-one is picking up.
Mr Cameron has said nothing since Friday morning. George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, has been silent. (This afternoon I texted several of his advisers to ask whether he would make a statement before the markets open tomorrow. As I write this I have received no replies.) The prime minister’s loyalist allies in Westminster and in the media are largely mute.
Apart from ashen-faced, mumbled statements from the Vote Leave headquarters on Friday, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have also ducked the limelight; Mr Johnson meeting with friends and allies today at his house near Oxford in what are believed to be talks about his impending leadership bid. Neither seems to have the foggiest as to what should happen next. Today Mr Gove’s wife committed to Facebook the hope that “clever people” might offer to “lend their advice and expertise.” And Mr Johnson’s sister, Rachel, tweeted: “Everyone keeps saying ‘we are where we are’ but nobody seems to have the slightest clue where that is.”
Ordinarily the opposition might take advantage of the vacuum: calling on the government to act, offering its own proposals, venturing a framework. But Labour has turned in on itself, a parade of shadow ministers resigning this afternoon in what seems to be a concerted coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s useless leader. In a meeting tomorrow Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, is expected to call on Mr Corbyn to quit. Of the need for stability and leadership following Thursday’s vote the party has little to say.
No-one seems capable of stepping forward and offering reassurance. The Leavers, who disagreed on what Brexit should look like, do not think it is their responsibility to set out a path. They reckon that falls to Number 10 (where they have appeared in public, it has mostly been to discard the very pledges on which they won the referendum). Number 10, however, seems to have done little planning for this eventuality. It seems transfixed by the unfolding chaos; reluctant to formulate answers to the Brexiteers’ unanswered questions. As Mr Cameron reportedly told aides on June 24th when explaining his decision to resign: “Why should I do all the hard shit?”
This could go on for a while. The Conservative leadership contest will last until at least early October, perhaps longer. It may be almost as long until Labour has a new chief, and even then he or she may be a caretaker. The new prime minister could call a general election. It might be over half a year until Britain has a leader capable of addressing the myriad crises now engulfing it.
The country does not have that kind of time. Despite arguments for patience from continental Anglophiles, including Angela Merkel, the insistence that Britain immediately invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, launching exit negotiations and that can last no longer than two years, is hardening. Soon it may be a consensus. Britain could be thrust into talks under a lame-duck leader with no clear notion of what Brexit should look like or mandate to negotiate. All against a background of intensifying economic turmoil and increasingly ugly divides on the country’s streets. The country is sailing into a storm. And no-one is at the wheel.
May 31st 2016 UK in no shape to go it along            The Journal May 28th 2016

Outer space is already filling up with junk but I wouldn’t hesitate to put Boris Johnson and Donald Trump – they should get on splendidly – in a rocket to the furthermost galaxy.

If the Leave campaign wins, David Cameron may be forced out as prime minister and Boris could be a contender at the next election. Need I say more?

For those in Britain wanting us to puff out our chests and go it alone, bear in mind our lacklustre economy and low productivity, and that the UK accounts for less than 1% of the world’s population and only 2-3% of global GDP, percentages that are going to shrink in the future.

You could ignore the flustered G7 leaders who issued a joint declaration warning that Britain leaving the European Union would be a threat to the global economy.

You cannot ignore the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Britain’s most respected economics think-tank with an impeccable reputation for impartiality. They made it crystal clear: Brexit could save about £8 billion annually - less than half a per cent of national income - if Britain stopped contributing to the EU budget but the cost and disruption of leaving the EU would bring a significant economic slowdown.

It took me a while to work out what it was that had bothered me at the excellent debate held at Barter Books in Alnwick recently. I looked back at the photos on my phone – no young people – only grey or balding heads listening to Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for the Berwick constituency, and Julie Pörksen, spokesperson for the Liberal Democrat party in Northumberland.

Julie said the next generation will be more prosperous and safer if we stay in Europe. They may vote the way Cameron wants if he could offer them respite from student debt, low wages, dwindling public services and ludicrous rents.

In the north-east, the Office for National Statistics projects that over the next eight years there will be a 20% increase in people over 65 while the number of 16- to 64-year-olds falls. So who will ‘man’ the tools, tills and tillers?

Numerous studies show that immigration to Britain has not increased unemployment or reduced wages. If the UK closed its doors to more than two-thirds of prospective immigrants, skill and labour shortages would cause economic seizure. We just don’t have enough UK graduates or apprentices in science, maths or engineering. Leaving the EU could undermine thousands of British businesses, not to mention an understaffed NHS reliant on foreign nurses and doctors.

Predictably, a member of the audience at the Barter Books debate said immigrants are responsible for bankrupting the NHS. Wrong. Most immigrants are young, healthy and work hard. The key development for public services has been deepening austerity; a growing population will put pressure on services if we don’t invest in them.

In 2014, the NHS had a shortfall of 50,000 clinically trained staff, gaps migrants helped fill. One in five care workers is foreign born. The NHS is in a pickle because of the huge amount it pays agency staff and because of an ageing population suffering long-term health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia. Britain spends a lower percentage of its national wealth on health than France, Germany, Sweden or even Greece.

I am not uncritical of the EU: It promotes its own commercial interests while doing little to stimulate economic growth in the developing world; it has been slow and inflexible over Greece’s debt; it must urgently fathom how to rationally and humanely help the refugees on our doorstep or populism and extremism will continue to gain ground across Europe.

We have an imperfect EU beset by mounting troubles but Brexit is a recipe for silent decline and regional chaos.

Too often, money in the hands of the Chancellor in London fails to find its way back up North. A recent report from Northumberland County Council states that the North East has been allocated £436 million of European Structural and Investment Funds for the current budget period 2014 -2020. That’s the largest allocation outside London. EU money allocated to our region is ours to spend; may we spend it wisely on education and training systems striving for excellence.

Of course, the EU needs to change if it is to become more effective and more accountable.

Brexiteers point to lumbering Brussels bureaucracy and bemoan the UK’s limited influence. Gordon Brown reminded us this week that Britain will hold the presidency of the European Council between July and December 2017, handing the UK responsibility for pushing through new EU diktats and brokering cooperation between member states. A better place surely from which to puff out our chest.

Most EU members want less red tape. One point lost in the debate is that, just as Britain considers Brexit, the European Commission has already proposed fewer regulations. According to the London School of Economics, our costliest business regulations are home-grown, not EU inspired. By international standards, Britain remains lightly regulated.

EU social policy and positive regulation over the past 45 years have made this country, and our lives, infinitely fairer and safer, and every major climate change agreement has involved EU leadership.

A historian, Brendan Simms, boiled the whole argument down to three words, quite simply: “Europe made us.”

An integrated Europe is a legacy worth improving, not abandoning.

The journalist Martin Wolf said this referendum is, arguably, the most irresponsible act by a British government. Whatever the result, I hope the EU forgives us.

May 17th 2016 A third of people in the UK have experienced poverty in recent years

The Guardian, May 16th 2016
ONS data shows women and one-person households at greater risk of enduring poverty as many fail to escape low pay
The UK has the third lowest rate in the EU for persistent poverty.
One in three people have experienced poverty in recent years, according to figuresthat underline the precarious nature of work in Britain.
Anti-poverty campaigners welcomed news that the proportion of people experiencing long-term, or persistent, poverty had declined to one of the lowest rates in the EU. But they highlighted Britons’ relatively high chances of falling into poverty as the latest evidence that a preponderance of low-paying and low-skilled jobs left many families at risk of hardship.
The Office for National Statistics said in 2014 6.5% of the UK population was in persistent poverty, amounting to approximately 3.9 million people. That was the lowest rate since comparable records began in 2008.
The UK has the third lowest rate in the EU for persistent poverty, defined as experiencing relative low income – less than 60% of median household income – in the current year, as well as at least two of the three preceding years.
But the ONS figures also showed a relatively high turnover of people in and out of poverty compared with other EU countries. As a result, a high proportion of people had suffered hardship for at least a short period. Between 2011 and 2014, 32.5% of the UK population experienced relative income poverty at least once.
David Cameron said “an all-out assault on poverty” would be at the centre of his second term as prime minister. But he has been criticised for changes to benefits that risk increasing working poverty.
Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said the figures showed the government must do more to increase social mobility and job security. “The ONS figures lay bare the true scale of the challenge if an ‘all-out assault on poverty’ is to be successful,” she said.
“The government has been taking steps to secure a more prosperous society with lower levels of poverty. But these alone are not enough to provide a route out of hardship and fulfil David Cameron’s pledge to truly transform the life chances of the country’s worst off people and places.”
The figures on relatively low persistent poverty were seized on by the government as evidence its efforts were paying off. “The government is determined to tackle poverty and its causes, particularly through work. That’s why we’ve introduced reforms such as the new “national living wage”, the extension of free childcare to 30 hours and increases to the personal allowance,” said a spokesman.
Figures on overall poverty were less flattering for the UK. The ONS noted previously released figures showing that the UK’s overall poverty rate – the proportion of the population at risk of poverty in the current year – was 16.8% in 2014, the 12th highest in the EU.
The figures on the risk of people falling into poverty and the chances of them escaping it chimed with other evidence of low job security in the UK. Between 2010 and 2013, 7.8% of the UK population entered poverty for the first time. Only Ireland and Greece in the EU had higher entry rates.
The UK’s exit rate from poverty was 48.6%, second only to Denmark in the EU. The ONS said: “This means that, in the UK, the chances of getting into poverty are relatively high, but the chances of getting out of poverty are also high.”
That pattern will intensify scrutiny of what lies beneath the UK’s relatively strong recovery in employment in recent years. Labour market experts emphasise that record high employment has failed to usher in a corresponding recovery in wage growth. Some of that is explained by the fact many of the jobs being created are in low-paying, low-skilled work where there is little prospect of promotion.
Conor D’Arcy, a policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation thinktank, said the figures in part reflected the fact job tenure was relatively short in the UK.
The figures also echoed the thinktank’s findings that people in the UK struggle to escape low pay. A Resolution Foundation investigation last year found that over a 10-year period, just one in four low-paid workers managed to move on to consistently higher wages. “There’s a real need for employers to help their staff progress,” said D’Arcy.
The Trades Union Congress said the relatively high chance of falling into poverty in the UK was a longstanding trend. “We have a long history of what is called ‘rubber band’ or recurrent poverty – lots of people who bounce between being and not quite being poor,” said Richard Exell, the TUC’s senior labour market analyst.
“There are long-term institutional factors including weak trade unions, low collective bargaining coverage, an economy that has large numbers of people at the bottom end of the skills range and a lack of vocational training.”
The ONS also noted that some people were significantly more at risk of enduring poverty than others. The persistent poverty rate was higher for women than for men and it was higher for single-person households than those with two adults.
Education also played a role, and two in five people who left school without any formal qualifications experienced poverty at least once between 2011 and 2014, the ONS said. That compared with one in five of those with a degree or higher.

May 10th 2016 The so-called powers-that-be are becoming even less accountable
2 MAY 2016 The Journal by Kate Thick


On hearing the verdict of unlawful killing following a two-year inquest into the Hillsborough disaster, lines from the poem Truths and Reconciliations by Isobel Dixon came to mind:

Pragmatic whitewash

rainbow complacencies

the slow and bitter years.

The systematic cover-up which transferred blame for what happened from the police to the innocent - by spreading lies, doctoring evidence, treating the grieving cruelly, pressurising witnesses and suppressing the truth – is chilling. South Yorkshire Police fought tooth and nail to avoid adverse findings by the jury.

It would be nice to believe things have changed but in recent years the police have been hit by a string of scandals over the way they operate. Worryingly, the government wants to expand the police’s remit in the investigatory powers bill.

The verdict may give us faith in the British judicial system but without article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – allowing a jury to be convened to assess the wider circumstances behind a death - the corruption and negligence behind the deaths at Hillsborough would never have been uncovered.

Home Secretary Theresa May is sensitive to the abuse of power and praised the families’ courage and persistence but said in a speech recently that Britain should leave the European Convention on Human Rights as “it adds nothing to our prosperity” and, because of the ECHR’s primacy over UK law, it prevents the deportation of a few dangerous foreigners. Terrorists have rights too; we might not like it but we must not sink to their level.

The so-called “powers that be” are becoming more unaccountable, not less. Xenophobia and populist fringe parties are on the rise, threatening European liberalism and international humanitarian law. A charter giving privileged status to human rights should be welcomed, not denigrated.

The Hillsborough inquest showed how the ECHR helps protect rights; abstractions about sovereignty are irrelevant. Along with other hyperbole, some Brexiteers want us to believe the ECHR, and by extension the European courts, are a threat to our liberty.

There are loads of them but significant laws the ECHR has brought to Britain include the right to privacy and to a fair trial, freedom of the press, child protection and prevention from torture.

Some members of the Conservative Party want to withdraw from the convention in favour of a British Bill of Rights which would prevent decisions made by UK courts being checked by anyone else.

How the worm turns. Britain founded the ECHR. It is the most successful system for the enforcement of human rights in the history of the world and every day it helps bring freedom, justice and the rule of law to millions.

Created in the shadow of the horrors of the Second World War, the convention enshrines a common decency towards one another. We need something that reminds us our commitment to humanity; I am aghast at our government’s refusal to help vulnerable child refugees in Europe. Homeless or without citizenship – stateless, itinerant, vulnerable – both you and your human rights reach a devastating nadir.

People around the world increasingly see themselves as global citizens rather than national citizens according to GlobeScan, a BBC poll on changing attitudes about immigration, inequality, and different economic realities.

Human rights are universal and universally broken. Imperfect and necessary, they point to an enlightened way of governing. They are not just a child of the Enlightenment or a neo-colonial endeavour; they are buried deep in almost every human culture and are the consequence of the struggles of past generations.

The European Convention on Human Rights is more relevant than ever in the face of radical Islam, nationalism and western hypocrisy. Silencing the brave few who bear witness and speak the truth, turning our backs on refugees and the vulnerable, or hindering the doggedness of the bereaved renders the world poorer and more dangerous.

The ECHR will be increasingly dragged into the EU referendum debate. After Theresa May said Britain should leave the convention, actors Patrick Stewart, Adrian Scarborough and Sarah Solemani expose the problems of the Conservative plan for a UK bill of rights in a brilliant online video. Their satirical take, redolent of a classic Monty Python sketch, asks ‘what has the European Convention on Human Rights ever done for us?’


April 16th 2016 PANAMA PAPERS: A bright light has been shone on the fundamental disconnect between global elites and the rest of us.

Printed in The Journal 16/4/2016

A BBC programme about the end of the universe showed what a tiny speck within this vast cosmos we inhabit. Other forms of life may well be out there but no galaxies are visibly abuzz with them.

Zoom in on Earth where the most dominant species is busy reinforcing borders, squirreling away money, stockpiling weapons and tipping plastic into the oceans.

Hone in on, say, the Greek-Macedonia border and you witness despairing refugees being pelted with teargas and rubber bullets through a razor wire fence. These people should weigh heavily on Europe’s conscience in our bicker over sharing, or not, legal migrants. It is ugly and shameful.

Many of those thousands of desperate refugees are fleeing civil war in Syria. Economic grievances were an important factor igniting the uprising against the Assad regime. Syria’s corrupt economy became a corrupt war economy that takes advantage of a system blown open by the Panama Papers. Assad and his cronies who got rich and crushed dissent had no problem moving their money offshore and using it to maintain power.

If you are concerned about inequalities of wealth and power, the existence of tax havens matters. The sums involved are huge, nearly 10% of the world’s wealth in fact, and the value of offshore wealth shot up by 25% in the past five years alone.

The Panama leak highlights the key role UK-linked tax havens play in allowing an elite to dodge paying their fair share of tax.

The stuttering and piecemeal efforts against tax evasion and money laundering limped along a bit further last week with George Osborne announcing new rules endorsed by five EU countries. This is the same Chancellor who last month defended scrapping an official analysis that shows how much money his budgets take from the poor and give to the richest, and who is unable to implement an HMRC strategy preventing the UK losing £7 billion from tax avoidance and evasion annually.

What does it say when only 700 Revenue staff look into the tax affairs of the richest while about 3,700 investigators chase benefit claimants over paltry sums?

Fully eliminating tax avoidance and evasion would render some of the Chancellor’s austerity cuts unnecessary.

To pay any businessperson, for example BP boss Bob Dudley, £14m for a year’s labour is obscene. BP cut over 5,000 jobs including hundreds at its North Sea operations, imposed a pay freeze and reported its biggest ever annual loss. Angry shareholders rightly balked at giving him a 20% pay rise but dissent is unlikely to be enough to spark reform over ludicrous pay and bonuses.

Reform of corporate governance has also been stymied and underwhelming but it was refreshing that a BP shareholder said: “While so much of our population must tackle austerity, it is not the time to increase directors’ remuneration.”

Research says that it is the family circumstances into which we are born that largely determine your future life prospects more than intervention by the state but, also proven, income inequality is the key cause of most modern social ills – violence, obesity, drug abuse, depression, teenage pregnancies and ill health.

Food bank usage has continued to rise for another year; new data revealed that hunger is most common in areas with high levels of disability and long-term illness. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger found worrying levels of hunger being reported at schools. A survey circulated to schools in Birkenhead and South Shields uncovered two where staff reported one in five children arrive at school hungry.

A bright light has been shone on the fundamental disconnect between global elites and the rest of us.

Our government - Labour in the past and the Conservatives now - could and should have done more. Hopefully the Panama leak will inject some urgency into adopting slowly emerging international standards on financial transparency, and into the global anti-corruption summit to be held in London next month.

Corruption makes the world poorer and less equal. Tax evasion reduces the amount of public cash left over for hospitals or schools, for the vulnerable; it is not clever, it is immoral.

Why is an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules, beyond us?


March 29th 2016 Three-quarters of teachers 'see pupils turn up to school hungry'
26/3/16 From The Independent

A study by NASUWT found 71 per cent of teachers said their pupils are coming to school hungry
An alarming survey has revealed almost three-quarters of teachers have seen pupils come to class hungry, as schools are forced to compensate to meet childrens’ basic needs.
NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, published the findings of their third annual survey, which highlighted the impact of ‘financial hardship’ is steadily growing.
Over the last year, 71 per cent of teachers saw their pupils come to school hungry, while more than a quarter have given their own food away to students.
And over half have seen their school give food to hungry children.
Of the 3,250 teachers surveyed, more than half said some youngsters were unable to afford uniform, with 15 per cent claiming they have given pupils clothing.
More than half – 59 per cent – reported their school had handed out garments.
Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, went a step further, claiming both teachers and support staff were also mending or washing clothes.
The survey also showed nearly two thirds of staff have either lent, or given, school equipment, while more than half again reported their school had done so.
And 41 per cent have given financial advice to parents facing difficulties, while more than half said pupils were displaying rising levels of anxiety due to financial pressures at home.
NASUWT highlighted teachers are increasingly making referrals to external organisations for struggling families.
In addition, the findings illustrated housing was a key issue affecting students, with more than a third of teachers claiming their pupils were living in temporary accommodation.
A further quarter had seen schoolchildren lose their homes, with more than a third witnessing pupils leaving mid-term because they have been forced to move.
A large number of teachers, more than 75 per cent, said a rising number of children were absent from class, and nearly two thirds reported behavioural problems among pupils.
Ms Keates said over the years the problems were ‘worsening’, and questioned how this situation could occur in one of the world’s largest economies.
She added: “It is clear that teachers and schools are being left to pick up the pieces of callous fiscal and social policies.
“Poverty is not incidental to teachers. It is a key inhibitor to educational progression and schools simply cannot be expected to tackle these issues alone.”
She questioned the chancellor's policies in addressing the issues.

February 25th 2016 2015: When Global Governments Trampled Human Rights in Name of National Security
The Independent February 24th 2016

Rights 'are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world'
Governments worldwide in 2015 capitalized on supposed national security threats to trample over human rights.
That's Amnesty International's assessment of global human rights in its latest report.
"Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world," said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
Driving some of the government attacks on human rights are "misguided reactions... to national security threats," including "the crushing of civil society, the right to privacy and the right to free speech; and outright attempts to make human rights dirty words, packaging them in opposition to national security, law and order and 'national values.' Governments have even broken their own laws in this way," he continued.
"Millions of people are suffering enormously at the hands of states and armed groups, while governments are shamelessly painting the protection of human rights as a threat to security, law and order or national 'values.'"
Looking at abuses "by the numbers," the watchdog group found that:
• At least 122 countries tortured or otherwise ill-treated people;
• At least 30 or more countries illegally forced refugees to return to countries where they would be in danger;
• Over 60 million people were displaced from their homes;
• At least 113 countries arbitrarily restricted freedom of expression and the press; and
• At least 156 human rights defenders died in detention or were killed.

In addition to rights and rights defenders being under attack, so "are the laws and the system that protect them," Shetty said.
The new report covers a wide range of abuses, such as Ireland's restrictions on and criminalization of abortion and Australia's disproportionate jailing of Indigenous people and its denial of rights to asylum-seekers.
The United States and some of its allies fared poorly as well.
Saudi Arabia continued its crackdown on freedom of expression and association, locked up human rights defenders, and tortured prisoners. Women also faced discrimination by law and lacked protections from sexual and other violence.
Israel continued its "military blockade of Gaza and therefore collective punishment of the 1.8 million inhabitants there."
The UK repealed its Human Rights Act and pushed forth surveillance laws. "The UK is setting a dangerous precedent to the world on human rights," said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen.
And Egypt arrested thousands "in a ruthless crackdown in the name of national security."
As for rights abuses in the U.S., the report states:
There was no accountability nor remedy for crimes under international law committed in the secret detention program operated by the CIA. Scores of detainees remained in indefinite military detention at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, while military trial proceedings continued in a handful of cases. Concern about the use of isolation in state and federal prisons and the use of force in policing continued. Twenty-seven men and one woman were executed during the year.
"President Obama has often said the right thing but failed to turn his rhetoric into an agenda that makes human rights, in fact, a national priority," said Margaret Huang, interim executive director of Amnesty International USA.
While numerous abuses are cataloged, Shetty stresses in the foreward that the report "cannot convey the full human misery of the topical crises of this last year, notably the refugee crisis—even now exacerbated in this northern winter. In such a situation, protecting and strengthening systems of human rights and civilian protection cannot be seen as optional.
"It is literally a matter of life and death."
January 4th 2016 WHAT WILL 2016 BRING?
The Jounrnal http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/news-opinion/precious-things-must-protect-year-10680811

Predicting global trends is on a par with Pin the Tail on the Donkey but I think, hope, the medieval ideology behind ISIL and its barbarity will fade, although the fallout has only just begun as societies become more fractured and tribal.

Beside climate change, the biggest problem in the world is the curtailment of citizen rights and freedoms, particularly in the Middle East, amplifying political violence. Human rights are fundamental to peace and stability, antidotes to the sense of hopelessness and marginalization that underpinned the brutally suppressed 2011 Arab uprisings.

Facts should provide surer footing. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization are concerned that, globally, livestock contributes 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions so the environmental impact of animals raised for food has been vastly underestimated.

I was bemused then, in a letter last week, as a reader said this was not true, going on to say, rightly, organic farming is healthier – indeed, I wish our shelves were heaving with locally produced organic food – but overlooking the massive problem caused by the rising demand for meat.

Further, the overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry is spreading drug resistant bacteria. Public Health England reports bacteria resistant to colistin, the antibiotic of last resort, have been discovered on three UK farms. Total antibiotic consumption by weight of active ingredient in food animals in 26 European countries, including the UK, is now twice that in humans.

Antibiotic resistance is more worrying than terrorism. The British Review on Antimicrobial Resistance - warning the global death toll from superbugs could reach 10 million a year by 2050 - is to give recommendations this spring, so one to watch.

I predict a greater hankering for global rules. A humane asylum system, climate change and antibiotic resistance demand global solutions; strong legislation and leadership are essential, we cannot afford inaction or to ignore facts. Such as the 200 species of life (plants, birds, animals, fish, amphibians, insects, reptiles) driven to extinction every day.

Biodiversity, soil and water are the most precious things on the planet. So are children.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “the world is over armed but peace is under funded.” The imbalance between defence and social or development budgets is striking in most countries but may be forced to shift or meld this year.

According to the UN, at least 87 million people are expected to require humanitarian aid in 2016, costing the world’s nations a record $20.1 billion; easy to predict then that more people will be on the move this year. We ignore refugees, their powerlessness and desperation, at our peril.

Thank you Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, for your New Year message calling on us all to show generosity and love to refugees as a way to counter extremism. We need empathy and pragmatism. Our government will be distracted showering too much love on bankers.

It was a massive and prolonged drought that first displaced large segments of Syria’s population. The conflict-climate-inequality triad will continue. I have been accused of being pious but to avoid a massive social schism, what alternative is there but to recognise the moral imperative of pursuing greater equality in every sphere to mitigate the impact of resource depletion, militarism and climate change?

In 2016, I want to glimpse a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world. I hope for rebellion against the curtailment of rights, corporate tax avoidance, corruption and inequality.

The Fabian Society says another two million UK children will be living in poverty in 15 years time if our government continues its current policies, with the proceeds of any growth going overwhelmingly to the country’s richest. Our government will redefine poverty out of existence.

The best news is that education levels are soaring in developing countries but children today live in two worlds. Progress against preventable deaths has been offset by a world becoming more brutal for children, who pay a terrible price for the behaviour of the adults around them.

And around us … we may be saved this year from the own-goal of Brexit but I am more concerned about the impending dismantling the BBC, the most respected international broadcaster, with a long established record for integrity and responsibility. Golly gosh we need it.

Oh, and it will rain.

The Journal http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/news-opinion/donald-trump-farce-selling-fascism-10628893

I avoid ridicule in my columns but forgive me this once; the man is a buffoon.

Trumpism is an ideology defined as the "low art of fear and fanaticism". Donald Trump, a US Presidential candidate, is almost trumped in Europe by the Hungarian PM Viktor Orban who said after the Paris attacks, “all terrorists are basically migrants”.

On International Migrants Day last Friday, the artist Banksy visited The Jungle refugee camp in Calais to install an image of Steve Jobs, holding a duffel bag in one hand and an original Mac in the other. Entitled "The son of a migrant from Syria", the image reminds us not to judge refugees based on preconceived, racist notions. It is shameful this camp exists at all.

On any spectrum of acumen or decency, Donald Trump is at one end of the scale and Angela Merkel on the other; she is TIME magazine’s Person of the Year. Rightly so methinks.

By absorbing nearly a million refugees in 2015, Merkel stated Germany’s intention to fulfil its humanitarian duty despite voices of disquiet within her own party. A generous miscalculation? I don’t think so.

Germany may be straining to cope but Merkel has never wavered from an uncompromising call for Europe to keep its borders open, saying this is “no more or less than a moral imperative”, even as Germany is encircled by countries with rightwing parties advancing or in government.

Merkel effectively threw down the gauntlet to the rest of Europe by insisting we share the burden. Pragmatism and humanity upheld while extreme nationalism is again on the rise.

Despite colder weather, rougher seas and the coils of wire spreading across Europe, the desperate are barely deterred. This is the biggest humanitarian challenge since the second world war. Merkel said it is unforgivable that rich countries have failed to properly fund the UN relief agency and the World Food Programme.

Success or failure in imposing a major new co-ordinated relief programme could define Merkel’s legacy. Neither Germany nor Europe will be the same again. We had better step up to the plate as the world badly needs a new migratory regime.

Was the arrival of refugees a tipping point for the EU? I wonder if the weakening of European solidarity is more the result of internal political dynamics than external migration pressures. Perhaps 2016 will show if the erection of walls and the trumpeting of nationalism are temporary or if multiculturalism really is fracturing.

All is far from well in Bethlehem or anywhere else in the Middle East for that matter. Are three wise men to be found there? Not that they could reach Bethlehem anyway given the cruel concrete wall Israel has put up in an effort to pretend Palestinians don’t exist.

While we festively commemorate the arrival of one baby, Unicef reports that 16 million were born in conflict zones this year, one in eight of all births worldwide. ISIS wants to convince the world of our indifference to the suffering of Muslims - so we should demonstrate the opposite.

Cameron said Britain has kept its promise to resettle 1,000 Syrians by Christmas as the first tranche of the 20,000 refugees to be welcomed by the year 2020 arrives. Surveys suggest us Brits are less hospitable toward refugees than people in most EU countries even though their impact on public services is over-reported and exaggerated. Many local councils will struggle but this won’t be due to the arrival of refugees; it will be down to austerity policies repeatedly undermining the efforts of local authorities to meet local need.

Is a guiding star finally twinkling? A resolution on Syria, passed unanimously by the UN Security Council at the weekend, sets out a timetable for formal talks and a unity government. It is ambitious and flawed but at least brings closer an opportunity to lessen the number of civilian casualties and refugees.

Trump is a farce selling fascism. Never has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything or are born with nothing.

The We Stand Together campaign is appealing for funds for six charities supporting refugees across the world (https://guardian.charitiestrust.org/guardianappeal.aspx). It has already raised £1.2m; some people have even donated their winter fuel allowance. A stand for empathy and generosity.



Following the terror attack which left more than 100 people dead on the streets of Paris last week, one of the first reactions of many people, as in many horrific disasters, was to turn immediately to prayer.
While the hashtag #PrayForParis was prominent on social media and world religious leaders were praised for their condemnation of the attack, the Dalai Lama says the world must not ask God to fix man-made problems.
The Tibetan spiritual leader said in reaction to the Paris attack:
People want to lead a peaceful lives. The terrorists are short-sighted, and this is one of the causes of rampant suicide bombings.
We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.
We need a systematic approach to foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony. If we start doing it now, there is hope that this century will be different from the previous one. It is in everybody's interest.
So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments.
The 80-year-old added that many of the world's problems have been caused by "superficial differences" of religion and nationality.
His message for the world is clear:
We are one people.

The attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, claimed by Isis, have brought the issues of terrorism and Islamic extremism to the forefront of international relations once again.
Surveys by the Pew Research Centre in April and May gauged sentiment towards Isis in Muslim countries, finding that in none of the countries were 15 per cent of the population, or more, in favour of Isis.


October 28th 2015 Should we ignore China's dire human rights record because they are the world's second largest economy?

I love Christmas crackers. Along with the awful joke, out pops a wee present, usually saying ‘made in China’, once a catchphrase for shoddy. Let’s hope Chinese nuclear reactors have a longer half-life than the trinkets.
China’s booming economic prowess was long-predicted. A fast rising military power, cash-rich China is preparing for a ‘post-western’ world.China’s booming economic prowess was long-predicted. A fast rising military power, cash-rich China is preparing for a ‘post-western’ world.
Does it matter that China executes more people than the rest of the world put together? Should we ignore China’s dire human rights record because they’re the world’s second-largest economy? Can China’s arrest of lawyers and activists, cyber espionage and repression of ethnic groups – markedly worse under President Xi Jinping – be swept under ceremonial red carpets and trade deals?
Cash-strapped Osborne needs big money for big projects and big austerity. Is part of the tactic to look less towards Europe? The past three years have seen a shift in our exports towards America and China.
Osborne’s soliciting of Chinese investment is a gamble, a lot of eggs in one basket; Germany, Japan and the US look on, eyebrows raised.
Economists disagree over global economic health as world trade contracts and debts mount. Analysts are sceptical about China’s claimed growth figures; even so, China represents 32% of global GDP growth. If China sneezes, the rest of us will get pneumonia.
China is shifting focus from cheap manufacturing and investment towards services and consumption; China sees the UK as an offshore trading centre where the yuan can rival the dollar, a platform to go global. This is while the US and Japan launch a huge trade pact which, as yet, excludes China.
China has areas of expertise now exceeding those of many advanced Western nations. It can build nuclear power stations; Bradwell will allow China to trial its own reactor design. If privatisation and free enterprise are as great as Conservative doctrine says, why are we turning to French state-owned EDF and to China’s state-directed economy?
Britain has the third-highest share of youngsters in OECD countries with poor literacy, numeracy and technical skills. The government’s pledge to boost the quantity and quality of apprenticeships hardly addresses the underlying causes of our skills shortage. But that’s another story.
Ostracism is counter-productive. Good relations with an economic superpower are better than bad ones; so too with the EU, surely. As part of the EU, the world’s largest market, Britain could wield economic heft by acting with allies instead of dealing separately. As fans of free trade blocs, both Obama and Xi want Britain to stay in the EU so at least they see eye-to-eye on that.
Cameron wants massive Chinese investment in transport and infrastructure deals for big cities up north, including a Science Centre comprising houses and shops for sale in Newcastle which, no doubt, will provide affordable homes and well-paid jobs. Let’s go to Pizza Express, bought by a Chinese company last year, to celebrate.
Unemployment is falling nationally, but it rose in the North East this month to 8.6%, not helped by 2,200 jobs lost when Redcar steelworks closed.
Some blame our steel industry’s decline on the tsunami of cheap steel currently being dumped on the global market by China and Russia, but even state-propped Chinese steelmakers are losing money.
Global overcapacity isn’t going away. Much of what Britain makes is low-grade bars and rails. In contrast, Germany specialises in alloys and sheeting for the car industry.
It may well be that, over time, the more we trade goods and culture, the better placed we are to discuss human rights but the UK will be in China’s debt to the tune of billions; not a balance of power conducive to ethical debates.
China, Russia and Gulf states buy up British national assets and property with the encouragement of a government that oils the deals with obliging conditions. After being scolded by China for meeting the Dalai Lama in 2012, Cameron snubbed the Nobel laureate during his visit to London last month.
Grand talk is yet to be matched by serious cash but the marketplace, political expediency and expendable Tibetans are the rules of the game in helping fuel a northern powerhouse.
President Xi is cracking down on corruption and he did say his government’s record on human rights leaves room for improvement. Perhaps he should down a few pints with the 245 lawyers in his jails.


September 17th 2015 The United Nations is the most important political innovation of the last century - and the best bargain.

The global peacekeepers and agencies who are doing their best but who simply cannot cope with their enormous workload

Octopuses and chimpanzees do it; fight, bully and lob stuff at one another that is, but only humans have managed it on an industrial scale.
Is our world becoming a more dangerous place? Not according to Stephen Pinker, a Harvard psychology professor; his data shows that despite various hiccups, the world is retreating from warfare. Cooperation is gaining ground as humankind recognises the futility of violence.
I hope Prof Pinker is right. Why then are major nuclear powers competing in Europe and Asia, with NATO versus Russia and US-Japan versus China? You would think wars and military threats outdo diplomacy as the principal means of resolving political conflicts.
I hope Prof Pinker is right. Why then is there no disaster in the Middle East for which the west’s answer is not to drop bombs? This only reinforces a core principle at the heart of all terrorist groups – that the end justifies the means.
Gandhi, opposed to any form of violence as a means to achieve policy objectives, grasped the nettle succinctly: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
The UN reports that conflict across the Middle East and North Africa prevents more than 13 million children from attending school, leaving their hopes and futures shattered – permanent damage for sure.
If you really want to fight terrorism, start by fighting poverty and the abuse of power. Besides the odd murderous despot, it is injustice, political impotence and inequality that drive humanitarian crises and foster fanaticism and criminality.
No, the mayhem is not all our fault. Every civilisation has its own demons but we are hugely culpable.
The refugee crisis can only be solved in Syria by peacemaking, not more war. The UN agencies providing food, medical care and shelter are financially broke. Despite repeated appeals to member states, the UN has received only $1.67 billion of the $4.5 billion it needs this year for Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. This is ludicrous.
With nearly 60 million people displaced by conflicts worldwide, permanently skint UN agencies simply cannot cope. Member nations should finance the organisation’s major humanitarian agencies in the same way they are now called upon to contribute to its regular budget.
2015 marks the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations; the UK should mark the anniversary by recognising the urgent need to invest in global solutions.
I think the UN is the most important political innovation of the twentieth century and the best bargain on the planet.
Spending on all UN bodies and activities – from the Secretariat and the Security Council to peacekeeping operations, emergency responses to epidemics and humanitarian operations for natural disasters, famines and refugees – totalled roughly $45 billion in 2013, about $6 per person on the planet. Brits spend more on takeaways.
That is not just a bargain; it is a significant under-investment in an organisation that has secured remarkable achievements. Are there waste, ineptitude and corruption within the UN system? Sadly, yes.
The UN’s member countries are about to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals which aim to end extreme poverty in all its forms everywhere, to enforce human rights, narrow inequalities and ensure environmental sustainability by 2030.
But if the UN is to fulfil its potential in the 21st century, it must be seriously upgraded, starting with the Security Council, the unrepresentative composition of which no longer reflects global geopolitical realities.
The Security Council is a den of undemocratic politics, of power and profit brinkmanship. For the most part it is not the UN but governments, some worse than others, that fail us. The damage wrought will take decades to unravel.
I hope Prof Pinker is right. Why then is it still so hard to enforce international law in an age of seeming impunity?
War makes us less safe, threatens our environment, erodes liberties and takes $2 trillion a year away from where – a huge, highly trained, permanent United Nations peacekeeping force mopping up legions of unemployed youth, for example - it could do a world of good.
If we did not have the UN, we would have to invent it but as Dag Hammarskjöld, a former secretary general, once quipped … it has a long way to go to save us from hell.


August 29th 2015 Hopeless in Gaza?   Ian Black 28/8/2015

The International Crisis Group has a deserved reputation for thorough and cool-headed analysis, and its latest report on the Gaza Strip, marking a year since the end of the last war, is a model of its kind. There’s no shortage of media coverage of this festering disaster at the heart of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, but the ICG goes beyond most reporting to highlight underlying themes that are often hard to pick out in the smoke and clamour of violent and terrible events.
Chief amongst these is the effective absence of a government running Gaza - meaning that its economy is a wreck and most of its 1.8m people have no access to the outside world. Israel has slightly eased its blockade since the ceasefire of last August 26, alleviating but not eliminating pressure. But even before Operation “Protective Edge” Egypt had blown up the cross-border tunnels that were the strip’s lifeline. It sees Hamas as part of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, the target of its implacable hostility since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank town of Ramallah, which recognises Israel and negotiates with it, also wants nothing to do with its bitter rival, which does neither. (Hamas’s Arabic name means the Islamic Resistance Movement). Lip service is paid to the idea of Palestinian reconciliation though few either promote it or believe it likely to happen any time soon.
On the ground Hamas faces internal dissent and the rise of Salafi-Jihadi extremists with an alarming affinity for Isis. That is the background to recent exploratory ceasefire talks between Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, and Tony Blair. Israelis say they don’t actually want to topple Hamas – which took over Gaza from Fatah in 2007 - but fear that a deal with it would empower the Islamists in the West Bank as well as anger the PA and Egypt. Thus do Palestinian divisions and Arab self-interest, a wearily familiar combination, play into Israel’s hands and maintain what the IGC rightly calls a “disastrous status quo.”
Gaza’s plight serves no one, on pragmatic grounds, never mind moral or humanitarian considerations. “The policies of isolating Hamas and blockading Gaza,” the report argues, “have neither brought a political settlement closer nor dislodged Hamas. There is no reason to believe that their continuation will do so.” Per capita income is now 31% lower than in 1994, the year Yasser Arafat returned in triumph after the Oslo agreement. Conditions in Gaza are the worst since Israel occupied the territory in 1967; 100,000 people who lost their homes last year - the majority of them refugee families from the Nakba of 1948 - are still homeless. It has the highest unemployment of any economy in the world; infant mortality is rising. Of the 2,250 people killed in the 2014 war, 1462 were civilians, the UN says. Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians.
Fragile internal security constantly threatens to erode the ceasefire with Israel. Interestingly, the IGC finds “no shortage” of Israeli officials ready to negotiate a long-term truce and lift the blockade - the idea being to boost Israel’s deterrence by giving Hamas more to lose. That could include building a seaport which would help rid Israel of its responsibility for the territory. (It retains that under international law despite Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement” and the removal of illegal settlements in 2005). But Hamas is highly unlikely to accept demands for demilitarisation – armed resistance being its very essence. Israel also finds it conveniently easy to blame Egypt and the PA for blocking change in Gaza. Both fear that any further separation between Gaza and the West Bank will undermine the already slim prospects for a creating a unified, viable Palestinian state alongside Israel – the two-state solution to the conflict. Buried in the text is the intriguing line that Israel would gladly accept funding from Qatar – a loyal supporter of Hamas and strong critic of Egypt - for the Gaza government.
This is an intelligent and helpful document, packed with insights based on enviably good access to authoritative sources and sensible policy recommendations to all parties - an ICG speciality. Yet it conveys no sense of optimism that anything much is going to change for the foreseeable future. Its title is No Exit? Gaza and Israel between Wars. In the end you are left wondering about the question mark.


August 24th 2015 The west has so much to apologise for in the Middle East

Letters Friday 21 August 2015

Your front-page article (21 August) states that Jeremy Corbyn, if he becomes leader, will issue a public apology over the Iraq war on behalf of the Labour party. This apology is made to, among others, the Iraqi people for the suffering we have helped cause.
Maybe, on behalf of us all, he could apologise not just for this but also for the sanctions prior to the war that led directly to the deaths of thousands of Iraqis because they were denied medical treatment. He could apologise to those thousands of people in southern Iraq who suffered from or who died from cancer as a result of coming into contact with shell fragments coated with depleted uranium left by the allies after the first Gulf war was fought to evict Iraq from Kuwait.
He could apologise for the west’s bolstering of Saddam Hussein’s regime that sustained the war between Iraq and Iran that let to hundreds of thousands of deaths on both sides and led an increasingly deluded Saddam into believing he could invade Kuwait with impunity.
He could apologise to the Iranian people for the CIA/MI6 plot that overthrew the democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 (because of his socialist tendencies and resulting prospect of alliance with the USSR) and replaced it with the brutal regime of the Shah, the resulting overthrow of which in 1979 led to the west using Iraq to wage war by proxy against Iran.
He could apologise for British support for the conquest of Arabia by the Saud family in the 1920s and 1930s, allowing it to use subsequent power and wealth to firstly export Wahhabism, until then a relatively minor but ultra-conservative form of Islam, and secondly to exercise to this day a regime, the consequences of which, combined with ongoing western support, spawned Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, which itself resulted in the “war on terror” and the invasion of Iraq.
It might be unreasonable to ask for all this, but if British and US politicians in particular began to acknowledge that the west has for decades played a dominant role in the shaping of the Middle East, rather than portraying our countries as today’s innocent bystanders, they might start to derive some credibility at home and abroad. It seems Corbyn is one politician who understands this.

Terry Mahoney, Sidlesham, West Sussex


August 5th 2015 The Migrant Crisis

The Journal   Kate Thick   August 3rd 2015

Barricades and razor wire will solve nothing. Strong-arm security verges on the inhumane. Deportations are a sad gesture. Squabbling won’t help.

What we see in Calais is just the tip of a growing iceberg. The few thousand who come through the Eurotunnel are merely the most visible part of a much bigger phenomenon.

A hostile press wants to present it as some kind of mass siege. It’s not. The problem is not European, it is international.

The real figure of refugees on the run is easily 60 million; forced migrants in temporary camps, in transit to nowhere and often under ghastly conditions.

Even worse, the lines between migration and human trafficking all too easily converge. Not to mention the smugglers. Exploitation and misery; humankind at its worst.

The bottom line is we have an international, humanitarian obligation. A UN official criticised the British response to the crisis in Calais, saying the UK accepts far fewer refugees than its neighbours and any threat posed by migrants had been “exaggerated beyond belief”.

Of the boatloads still arriving, only 5-10% of them reach Calais days later. Italy and Greece have been begging for help.

Calais has had migrant camps for nearly two decades. They are usually bulldozed by the authorities but the new Jungle, home to 2,000 to 10,000 depending on who you believe, looks more permanent. So the migrant crisis has existed there for years, exacerbated recently due to increasing number of the displaced, refugees from countries like Eritrea, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Afghanistan.

The camp has street lighting, a bicycle shop, a church built of wooden pallets and plastic sheeting, two mosques and a cemetery. Refugee leaders have organised volunteers from schools in the Pas de Calais to come and teach French in a shanty classroom; humanity at is best. But the camp is still diarrhoea-ridden and squalid. After protests by the UN, the French authorities were obliged earlier this year to provide minimal sanitary facilities.

You have to admire these people. Most are fleeing oppression, war and poverty and somehow, against the odds, they survive to reach Europe. Many will try to claim asylum in other EU countries; Germany and Sweden top the list, the UK further than halfway down.

The response from European governments so far is petty and piecemeal. As Lord Kerr said recently, “Though isolation may seem splendid, it is alliances that win results.” We need partnerships, not posturing.

A joined-up European asylum system could serve as a model for international co-operation on refugee protection.

Thousands of Syrian refugees with skills needed in Europe — doctors, nurses, construction workers — languish unemployed in Lebanese and Jordanian camps.

If it weren’t for migration, the EU’s working-age population would already be shrinking. Along with upping the skills of our own youth, we need migrants who bring new talent and dynamism, something many European countries sorely need.

The EU could process asylum requests and work visas where they are, in fact, wherever economic migrants and refugees are camped in the world and distribute these new EU citizens fairly across the continent.

However, the real solution – which won’t happen anytime soon - lies at the source. Instead of squabbling over identity cards and policing techniques, Europe should use its diplomatic expertise to help foster some semblance of order in the continent’s nearby troublespots.

The immediate neighbours of failing states carry the bulk of the burden, nations often ill-equipped to cater for huge numbers – places such as Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan and Kenya. Not enough is being done to sustain those countries’ efforts, and the more that is done there, the fewer who will risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean and the Channel. The international community, and especially the EU, needs to send much more assistance to the front line of the crisis.

The International Rescue Committee works in over 40 countries, responding to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives until, hopefully, they can be repatriated. The IRC has long warned that countries neighbouring conflict areas are reaching their maximum capacity to absorb any more refugees. It needs far more manpower and resources.

The issue of migration does not need harsh words and feeble gestures; sound, practical and ethical actions are required. If you want to help, make a donation to the IRC (http://www.rescue.org/).


July 28th 2015 The BBC debate     The Journal   Kate Thick  July 27th 2015

Our right to receive information and express opinion is fundamental.

The government is simultaneously slipping a noose around the necks of the BBC and the Freedom of Information Act; the latter is accused of being overly expensive and intrusive.

Government proposals will lead to more secrecy and less accountability. We are moving from the right to know to the information they want us to know or believe.

The BBC is highly politicised given its privileged position and method of funding. The BBC’s large share of the news market means it can affect public opinion, making it open to accusations of bias.

The new Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, is the spokesman for a very powerful body of bean-counters and rightwing opinion that has long been determined to diminish the BBC and sees an opportunity to decide the corporation’s future following the Tory election victory.

The end of the licence fee – which gives the BBC independence - has long been a strategic objective for the Murdoch empire which has retied its historically close relationship with the Conservative party now the phone-hacking scandal is past.

A proper balance of public service broadcasting and commercial media makes for a healthy media economy. If you want a reminder of how awful TV and radio can be, go to America where public broadcasting has a tiny presence and news reporting is influenced by major advertisers and other commercial interests. You will come back gagging for the BBC, for advert-free public service broadcasting with global impact, for a powerful kick-starter to creative industries, and for a true window on the world.

A professor at Cambridge University hit the nail on the head when he said the BBC has something in common with institutions that look quite different from it and from each other, such as museums, hospitals, arts organisations and universities. These are bodies whose primary aim is a form of public service, not the making of profit for the owners of capital; in all of them, good work depends more on ethos than on financial incentives. They are in some sense public possessions, custodians, something we all have a share in and should all take pride in.

The BBC is facing a political threat while also dealing with the explosive rise of new technologies. The under-25s are swapping TVs for tablets and the BBC has taken a lead on this issue; BBC Online News is the most popular news source for the young.

The BBC is not perfect and its finances do need reviewing. There was the sorry saga over Jimmy Saville and salary levels for senior executives and celebrities are out of kilter with public service. The secretive licence recently struck between the government and BBC managers has already effectively lowered its funding by 18% given the ridiculous obligation for the Beeb to handle the welfare benefit of a licence fee waiver to the over-75s.

The founder, Lord Reith, established the BBC’s mission - to inform, educate and entertain – and it has delivered a universal service, offering something for everybody. In a fast changing world and a devolving UK, the BBC needs pruning but it must also have the resources to continue to deliver and innovate while protecting its independence and principle of universality.

Every 10 years the BBC’s charter - what it does, how it is financed and governed - is reviewed. The recent publication of the government’s Green Paper on the BBC Charter Review has started the formal process of public debate over the position of the BBC beyond 2016. The green paper confronts the corporation’s very purpose, contemplates scrapping the licence fee, proposes that the BBC be diminished to protect commercial rivals, and questions the political impartiality of BBC News.

The BBC’s TV and radio programmes, news service and website are read, watched and listened to by fifty million British people every day. It is envied across the world. For all its faults, it is one of our jewels.

The BBC is too important to be a political football; it is not owned by its staff or by politicians, it is owned by us the public because we pay for it.

Please have your say in the debate. The deadline for written submissions to both the BBC and the government are in September.


July 21st 2015 Iran deal - we shall see     The Journal   Kate Thick  July 20th 2015

The conflict in Yemen has morphed into a many-headed beast, a sadly familiar story in the Middle East. Iran and Saudi Arabia are pulling the strings on opposite sides of a devastating Sunni-Shia contest ripping Yemen apart.

The recent ceasefire in Yemen barely lasted a day; all sides wanted to avoid responsibility for saying no, so they said yes but didn’t commit to it. Let us hope the same will not be said of the recent deal, brokered after 23 months of negotiations, to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the gradual lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

Critics say Iran’s new wealth will fuel further regional hegemony via proxy forces in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. They say Iran could cheat and build nuclear weapons but the terms imposed will not make that easy.

Iranian hardliners and well-funded hawks in the US, including those who led us to invade Iraq, are raising alarms about the accord, which has been championed by civil society groups around the world, including from within Iran, as an important step away from military escalation.

Congress could still sink the deal between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, UK, France, Germany, and the European Union. But in all likelihood the deal will not be allowed to unravel.

Note that all 16 US intelligence agencies from 2007 to 2012 have agreed Iran doesn't actually have a nuclear weapons programme. Note too that Iran has every right to be equally circumspect given the West’s record in the Middle East and it’s profligacy with weaponry.

Israel is livid. Israel views Iran as an existential threat so they should be grateful, but Netanyahu said the deal will fuel Iran’s terror machine and its expansion across the globe. A bit hysterical methinks. Netanyahu’s answer to Tehran’s nuclear programme has long been to start another war. It is the fact that Iran opposes the Israeli occupation of Palestine and has proxies that create resistance, some of it violent, to military occupation which irks Netanyahu.

Opinion on the deal in the Arab world is divided; official statements have been limited and cautious.

Saudi Arabia says a nuclear-capable Shia Iran must be matched; one of the biggest risks of Mr Kerry’s Iran diplomacy is that it sparks rather than stalls a regional arms race. If we only could get Israel to dismantle their huge undeclared and uninspected stockpile of nuclear weapons.

This is almost beside the point; since Iran negotiations began, Saudi Arabia has been spending a lot more on weapons and Israel has been getting the same and more from the US.

Obama said the deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction and I think he is right. Any agreement, no matter how complex or defective, is a great achievement and has to be welcomed. The long-term consequences may take years to play out.

More immediately we will see China and Russia export weapons to Iran again, seeing it as a valuable customer. China wants Iranian oil. We will see a gold rush by Western companies keen to invest in the Iranian market including the continuation of a gas pipeline into Europe.

Britain wants to open an embassy in Iran by the end of the year. Visitors of Iran cannot speak more highly of the warmth of the people or beauty of the country so tourism will flourish.

The west has tested to destruction the idea that it can impose its will on the Middle East through the deployment of force. Order can be restored only with the support of the regional powers. Iran’s destructive ambition is a big part of the story but arguably even more so is Saudi Arabia’s role in violent Sunni extremism.

Even the countries that formed and supported terrorist organizations are realizing the monster they have created might also devour them. Building on rapport established through the nuclear deal, there can be a push for de-escalation of the tensions between the two Muslim superpowers enabling the Islamic State and their ilk to thrive.

So what is one or two atom bombs you don’t actually have compared to billions in freed assets, a welcome mat back into the community of nations and a chance to peacefully resolve myriads of conflicts scarring the region? We shall see.


July 10th 2015 Gaza: One year on
Twelve months after the most recent war, the strip is still suffering

Jul 11th 2015 | http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21657316-twelve-months-after-most-recent-war-strip-still-suffering-one-year-later

The hardest-hit neighbourhoods in Gaza became something of a tourist attraction at the start of Ramadan in mid-June. Television cameras and aid workers descended on Shujaiya and Khuzaa to join residents for iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daily Ramadan fast. After a few days, though, the visitors lost interest. “People come to talk to us every month,” said Khaled al-Mahmoum, a resident who lost 13 relatives and his house to an Israeli air strike in August. “They talk, and they leave, and nothing ever changes.”
On July 8th 2014 Israel launched Operation Protective Edge: a series of air strikes followed by a land invasion of the Gaza Strip, in response to a blizzard of rocket attacks from Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic organisation that runs Gaza, and from Islamic Jihad. Hamas called the rockets a response to Israeli air attacks that themselves followed the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers, which Palestinians have in turn described as a response to Israel’s earlier shooting of two Palestinian youths. The fighting raged for more than 50 days, and left Gaza devastated.
One year on, the 1.8m residents of Gaza feel abandoned by the outside world. Not one of the 17,000 homes that were destroyed has been rebuilt; the authorities have not even finished clearing the rubble. Power cuts last up to 16 hours per day. The World Bank in May said that Gaza has the highest unemployment rate in the world: 43%. Donors pledged $3.5 billion to rebuild it at a glitzy conference last October in Egypt. The World Bank surveyed the results in May and found that just 27% of the money had been delivered.
Even the few signs of progress are misleading. Gaza’s housing minister said last month that the owners of some 90,000 damaged homes have received stipends to rebuild. Israel has allowed some 1.2m tonnes of construction supplies into Gaza, but that is nowhere near enough (each side blames the other for that), and more than half of the materials were earmarked for a Qatari-funded project to fix two highways.
Mohammed Adwan says he needs $20,000 to mend the foundations of his house in Beit Hanoun, which was damaged in July by an Israeli shell. The bill is six times more than he received from the authorities. The 31-year-old engineer can afford to make up the difference, but cannot find enough cement and iron. “We’ve been warned it could collapse, and we have 20 people living here, including children,” Mr Adwan says. “If the materials were available, we would start work right away.”
Gazans have lived through three wars in six years, and have spent nearly a decade under virtual siege by both Israel and Egypt. The policy of isolating Gaza was meant to dislodge the Hamas militants who have controlled the strip since winning an election in 2006. It has shattered Gaza but left Hamas firmly in charge.
Pressure is mounting. Israel accuses Hamas of aiding militants in the Sinai region of Egypt inspired by Islamic State (IS). The Egyptians are looking into the matter. Meanwhile, Palestinian jihadist groups, who benefit from the misery in Gaza, have targeted Hamas itself. Their numbers are small, but many of their recruits are disgruntled ex-members of Hamas; men angry that their leaders are not taking a harder line against Israel. Some have launched rockets at Israel, hoping to provoke another war. Others call the Hamas leaders apostates for not enforcing Islamic law.
Israel also blames Hamas for a recent wave of shootings and stabbings in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Israeli generals have started calling for a new policy; even Naftali Bennett, the hawkish education minister, believes it is time for a change. “I see they’re there,” he said of Hamas last week, describing their rule as an established fact.
The ceasefire under discussion would offer Israel five years of quiet in exchange for an easing of the blockade. There is even talk of a “floating seaport”, anchored offshore, that would give Gaza a badly needed outlet to the world. Donors are reluctant to invest in projects that could be bombed months later. A truce could offer peace of mind. But can Hamas convince its members to back the idea? While its leaders talk with Israel, its soldiers are preparing for another war, building rockets and digging new attack tunnels under the border.


June 30th 2015 Israel, Gaza and human rights - Fear of isolation
The UN’s latest report on last year’s war in Gaza makes Israel nervous
Jun 27th 2015 | http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21656188-uns-latest-report-last-years-war-gaza-makes-israel-nervous-fear

In under a week, Israel looks set to have suffered two testing legal assaults. First, on June 22nd, the UN Human Rights Council issued a report castigating it for its conduct during the 50-day war in Gaza last year. Then three days later the Palestinians, taking advantage of an enhanced status at the UN that enabled them to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague earlier this year, were expected to make their first formal submission to the court’s prosecutor, accusing Israel of breaching international law by, among other things, building Jewish settlements in the West Bank. They also charge Israel with committing war crimes in Gaza.
The ICC has already opened a “preliminary examination” against Israel; moving to a full investigation, with charges against individuals, may take years. Israel refused to co-operate with the UN inquiry, saying the council is biased against it and that it went to great lengths to minimise civilian casualties.
The UN report says that 2,251 Palestinians were killed in the war, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 299 were women and 551 children. (The Israelis put the figure at 2,125, of whom they say 36% were civilians.) Israel lost six civilians and 67 soldiers. Some 18,000 housing units were “destroyed in whole or part”, says the report, displacing 28% of Gaza’s people at the height of the battle. The report chides Israel for using explosives in densely populated areas, too.
The council’s main target is Israel, but it also criticises Hamas, the Islamist movement governing Gaza, for firing rockets indiscriminately at civilians in Israel and for executing 21 Gazans during the war for alleged collaboration with Israel. Both actions, says the report, may be classified as war crimes.
The UN document will not simply be funnelled into an ICC investigation. But its raw material may be used. And it will add to Israelis’ growing feeling that they are on their own.


June 23rd 2015 The Guardian view on the 2014 Gaza war report: damning conclusions for both sides
Editorial     Monday 22nd June 2015
The UN commission of inquiry demands accountability from both Israel and the Palestinians for possible war crimes

In the report released on Monday by the UN commission of inquiry on the 2014 Gaza war, one passage stands out. “Palestinian and Israeli children were savagely affected by the events. Children on both sides suffered from bed-wetting, shaking at night, clinging to parents, nightmares and increased levels of aggressiveness.” Those words are a reminder that, in all the positioning and spinning that follows a report of this kind, the heart of the matter is the human cost, usually paid by the most vulnerable.
Israel lost no time in condemning the document, arguing that it was politically motivated from the start. But that instant verdict is a mistake. For one thing, as the passage above suggests, the inquiry clearly worked hard to be even-handed. It blames both the Israeli military and armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, for “serious violations” of international humanitarian law that “may amount to war crimes”. The death toll of last summer’s violence was lopsided – with more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis killed – but the UN report strains to understand the Israeli as well as Palestinian narrative behind those numbers. It speaks, for example, of the “immense distress” suffered by Israelis facing continual rocket fire from Gaza.
It’s also the case that, even if the inquiry was initiated by the tainted UN Human Rights Council, it was completed by a staunchly independent investigator, New York judge Mary McGowan Davis. Israel may have had a case in pushing for the resignation of her predecessor as chair, William Schabas, whose neutrality became in doubt when it emerged that he had advised the Palestinian Authority in the past. But Israel had little cause to withhold cooperation once he had gone. Indeed the country may now regret that decision, recognising that it surely damaged its own self-interest by failing to present its side of the story.
Not that there was much that could have been done to avert the report’s damning conclusions. It describes how Israeli planes conducted more than 6,000 air strikes, “many of which hit residential buildings”. The investigators were not impressed that Israel warned of imminent assaults via phone call or text messages, because those warnings were often received by people who had too little time to run and nowhere to run to. Yet Israel regarded anyone who remained in a targeted neighbourhood as a combatant. Israel persisted in these tactics despite the rising civilian death toll, a fact that points to a policy “at least tacitly approved at the highest level of government”.
The Palestinian side is strongly criticised for the indiscriminate targeting of civilians. The majority of the 4,881 rockets shot by Hamas and its affiliates at Israeli civilian areas carried no degree whatsoever of precision. The report mentions 21 cases of extrajudicial killings of alleged Palestinian collaborators.
The UN team finds both sides lamentable in their failure to demonstrate even modest accountability. It says that among Israeli forces “impunity” prevails for those guilty of violations. One remedy would be the international criminal court, a route Israel has always rejected. If Israel wants to maintain that position then it surely has to deal with these war crime allegations through its own legal system. Both sides like to claim the moral advantage, even while locked in a vicious conflict. If they really believe that, then they must bring those accused of grave crimes to justice.


June 11th 2015 The battle for Palestine reaches the U.S. courts
Rami G. Khouri Jun. 10, 2015

One of the great battles that has been taking place within the United States in recent years has seen two separate issues meshed into a single confrontation. One is the powers of the Congress versus those of the president in foreign policy decisions. The second is whether the United States should stand squarely behind Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or play the role of an impartial mediator seeking peace based on international law that meets the security interests of both sides.
Other new dimensions to this multifaceted tug-of-war have also materialized in recent years. One is the use of American courts as a venue in which to wage new battles in this long-running war. Cases now before federal district and appeals courts include accusations by pro-Israeli groups and families that the Palestinian Authority and the Arab Bank are liable for having aided Hamas and other “terrorists” whose acts resulted in the deaths of Americans who also hold Israeli nationality.
Another is the use of American trade and commerce laws to punish European countries whose governments institute regulations that distinguish between exports from Israel within its 1967 border and from those produced in settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. The aim of such regulations is to discourage or prohibit exports that exploit occupied Arab lands and resources – as international law requires.
A third is the growing controversy over events about Israel-Palestine on American university campuses. This includes attempts to divest from university investments in companies benefiting from the Israeli occupation, prohibit public events critical of the Israeli occupation and moves to fire or not hire professors who criticize Israeli actions (such as the war on Gaza last year) in their private lives via social media, for example.
These and other confrontations see pro-Israel and pro-Palestine forces waging intense battles inside American institutions that, otherwise, do not engage in foreign policy through their normal functions. Most Americans do not follow these developments, and have few if any strong feelings about the issues raised. Polling evidence for many years suggests that the American public clearly supports the security of Israel, but also wants to remain as even-handed as possible in the Palestine-Israeli conflict and wants to uphold the rule of law and U.N. resolutions.
So it was fascinating Monday to hear the United States Supreme Court’s decision in response to a lawsuit by an American-Israeli couple. The couple wanted the U.S. State Department to issue a passport to their son, who was born in Jerusalem, that named his place of birth as Israel. The American Congress had passed a law in 2002 during the George W. Bush presidency making this option available to those Americans who requested it. The Supreme Court rejected the law and the lawsuit by a 6-3 vote, saying that foreign policy issues such as United States’ view of the status of Jerusalem must be decided by the president, and not Congress.
The majority ruling noted that the nation must speak with a single voice on foreign policy issues and on which foreign governments the U.S. views as legitimate or not, and “that voice must be the president’s.”
This is significant beyond the narrow issue of what is written on a child’s passport, because the balance of power between the president and Congress has emerged recently as a major issue in relations between the government of Israel and pro-Israeli American forces seeking to orient American foreign policy heavily, if not totally, in line with Israeli priorities. Examples of this were the speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before Congress earlier this spring in an attempt to scuttle President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, and the 100-0 vote in the U.S. Senate last year to fully support Israel’s actions during the Gaza war.
The legislation on passports was another move by pro-Israel forces in Congress to use American law and unilateral political decisions to determine the outcome of issues being negotiated between Israel and Palestine, such as the status of Jerusalem. The Obama administration’s lawyers argued before the court that it has been the executive branch’s policy since the 1950s “to recognize no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem, leaving the issue to be decided by negotiation between the parties to the Arab-Israeli dispute.”
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in the American land, and its decision could prove consequential in the months and years ahead, as the political battle between Israelis and Palestinians continues to find its way into American courts. Its decision seems to support the view held by recent presidents that international law that underpins bilateral negotiations is the way to define the status of Jerusalem.


June 4th 2015 Egypt should open border crossing into Gaza, British Government says
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond raised the issue with Egypt's foreign minister earlier this year WEDNESDAY 03 JUNE 2015

The British Government has asked the Egyptian government to re-open its border with the Gaza strip, ministers have said.
The Rafah border crossing, the only way out of Gaza that does not pass through Israeli territory, has been closed since the start of the year to most traffic.
The Israeli military has enforced a blockade of Gaza from the Israeli side since 2007, shortly after the election of Hamas to the territory’s administration.
The blockade, which the United Nations says infringes basic human rights, has resulted in a desperate humanitarian situation in the territory.
70 to 80 per cent of Gazans live below the poverty line while thousands of people forced out of their homes during Israeli bombing campaigns have been unable to return due to a lack of construction supplies.
Conservative peer Baroness Anelay, a minister at the Foreign Office, said in response to a parliamentary question that allowing traffic across the border could lessen some of the the humanitarian impact of the Israeli blockade of the area.
“We are concerned about the closure of the Rafah Pedestrian Crossing and the impact that has, particularly on urgent medical and other priority cases in Gaza,” the minister said.
“We have encouraged the Egyptian authorities to ease the movement of bona fide travellers through Rafah, and in the longer term to consider expanding Rafah to passenger transit and humanitarian goods transit, which will help to ease humanitarian pressures.
“[Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond] raised the importance of reopening the Rafah crossing when he spoke with the Egyptian Foreign Minister on 14 January. We continue to raise this issue in our contacts with the Egyptian government.”
Ministers noted that some crossings into but not out of the Gaza strip had been allowed by Egyptian authorities in recent days.
Israel says the blockade against Gaza’s population is in retaliation for rocket attacks by Hamas militants.
The United Nationssaid earlier this year that more civilians were killed in Palestine last year than at any time since 1967.
“Overall, some 4,000,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip remain under an Israeli military occupation that prevents them from exercising many of their basic human rights,” an official report released in March said.
“This crisis stems from the prolonged occupation and recurrent hostilities, alongside a system of policies that undermine the ability of Palestinians to live normal, selfsustaining lives and realize the full spectrum of their rights, including the right to self-determination.”
In July Israel bombarded the Gaza strip for seven weeks then sent troops into the area as militant groups fired rockets at Israel.
A total of 2,220 Palestinians, including 1,492 civilians were killed in Gaza in 2014, the UN said, noting that “Israeli attacks striking residential buildings accounted for a significant number of the civilian casualties”.


May 19th 2015 Save Israel from Netanyahu's dangerous stalemate
The opposition must raise its voice and pose alternative to the government's iron wall facing the Palestinians.
Haaretz Editorial | May 18, 2015 |

Simple logic strongly suggests that the new government formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not bring peace, certainly not on its own initiative. Netanyahu renounced the two-state solution during his election campaign, does not consider Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a partner, and sees the United States administration as the enemy. All this is enough to suppress any hope for a diplomatic turnaround.
But apparently Abbas is still interested in giving the diplomatic process a chance, and in a speech he gave to mark Nakba Day reiterated his terms for renewing negotiations – a halt to construction in the territories, the freeing of prisoners jailed before the Oslo Accords and continuous negotiations for a year, at the end of which a timetable will be set for ending the occupation in 2017.
One might raise an eyebrow at Abbas’ seeming naiveté or apparent disconnection from reality. One could also remind him that in an interview U.S. President Barack Obama gave to the Al Arabiya network he stated that peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t possible in the coming year. (Incidentally, it’s permitted to wonder about and even object to Obama’s declaration, since who but the U.S. could pressure the Israeli government into changing its policies?) But it is precisely within this reality, which at the moment looks unchangeable, that a dangerous dynamic lies.
Europe, particularly France, is unwilling to put up with this deadlock. The United Nations General Assembly that will convene in September is more ready than ever to make tough decisions that will support the Palestinians’ demand for recognition of their independence. More and more organizations are joining the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Several European countries have announced that they recognize the Palestinian state or that they are prepared to do so. In the West Bank itself there is a growing feeling of despair over ever reaching a diplomatic solution, and one cannot count on the quiet there being maintained forever.


May 14th 2015 May 13, 2015 7:17 pm
Pope Francis to sign groundbreaking treaty with Palestinians

The Vatican is set to sign a groundbreaking treaty with the Palestinian Authority, in a move that immediately triggered anger in neighbouring Israel for its emphatic recognition of Palestinian statehood.
The looming agreement — which the Vatican said had been finalised but not yet signed by the parties — would cover legal and tax issues related to the Catholic Church’s activities in the Palestinian territories.
But the substance of the deal was less important than the fact that it would mark the first bilateral agreement between the Holy See and the Palestinian Authority — referred to as the “State of Palestine” in the official document.
The conclusion of the negotiations came ahead of a planned visit by Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president, to the Vatican on Saturday. The following day Pope Francis will canonise two 19th-century Palestinian nuns, St Marie Alphonsine Ghattas and Mariam Bawardy, at a ceremony in St Peter’s Square.
The Vatican has recognised Palestinian statehood since 2012, after a vote in the UN General Assembly in which the Palestinians sought, and won, recognition as a non-member observer state.
Pope Francis last year used the words “state of Palestine” on a visit to the Holy Land, when he stopped in prayer at the Israeli wall that runs through the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
The Vatican yearbook has also referred to the Palestinian envoy to the Holy See as representing the “State of Palestine”, a Vatican spokesman noted.
Yet the move raised hackles in Israel. An Israeli diplomatic source said: “We are disappointed by the use of the term ‘State of Palestine’. It does nothing to advance the cause of peace. In fact the opposite — it further distances the Palestinians from returning to negotiations.”
Israel has been worried and angered by a growing push by the Palestinians to seek international recognition unilaterally, outside the framework of US-sponsored talks on a two-state solution, the most recent round of which collapsed more than a year ago.
Some 138 countries recognise Palestine as a state, and the parliaments of the UK and France last year were among European legislatures that held symbolic votes calling on their leaders to follow suit.
Nevertheless, the Palestinians played down the move by the Vatican. “The Holy See recognised Palestine a long time ago,” said the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the umbrella group representing Palestinian political factions. “What is new is that we are about to sign an agreement between them and the State of Palestine.”
The agreement represents the latest sign of Pope Francis’ increasingly assertive foreign policy, following the Argentine pontiff’s recent meeting with Raúl Castro, Cuban president. Pope Francis helped to broker the groundbreaking deal last year to ease diplomatic relations between Havana and the US.
Pope Francis also triggered outrage in Turkey after referring to the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide.
Pope Francis has placed the protection of persecuted Christians at the top of his diplomatic agenda, and the deal with the Palestinians could help him achieve that goal. But he has been unable to move Israel and the Palestinian Authority any closer to a peace agreement.


April 30th 2015 CHARTING A NEW COURSE Overcoming the stalemate in Gaza
In 2014, after unprecedented destruction and suffering in Gaza, international donors pledged $3.5bn and a change in approach. Six months later, reconstruction and recovery have barely begun, there has been no accountability for violations of international law, and Gaza remains cut off from the West Bank. This paper outlines an achievable course of action to address the root causes of the recurrent conflict and put international engagement with Gaza on the right course.


SUMMARY Operation Protective Edge – the codename used by Israel for the 51 day military operation1 and the associated conflict between Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups – has inflicted unprecedented destruction and human suffering in Gaza.2 This was the third such major military operation in six years, further complicating recovery for a civilian population sealed off by a blockade and separated economically, socially and politically from Palestinians in the West Bank. Shortly after Israel and Palestinian armed groups agreed to a temporary ceasefire, donors from around the world gathered in Cairo to pledge $3.5bn for the reconstruction of Gaza. Six months later, there has been no accountability to address violations of international law, only 26.8 percent of the money has been released, reconstruction and recovery have barely begun, and people in Gaza remain in dire straits. This paper outlines an achievable course of action that, if implemented, could make significant progress in addressing the root causes of the recurrent conflict and towards the realization of a just, durable peace that would benefit Israelis and Palestinians alike. By directly addressing the different actors that have distinct responsibilities towards Gaza – from Israel and the international community to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – the signatories to this report outline what each party can and must do to end the conflict and ensure Palestinians in Gaza can realize their rights. It is time for these actors to work together effectively to change the course for Gaza before it is too late.


April 14th 2015 Monday, April 13, 2015
Nearly 50 Aid Agencies Charge International Community Failing People of Gaza
The Association of International Development Agencies finds that, six months after global donors pledged $3.5 billion, only a quarter of funds have been disbursed

Just six months after donors from around the world pledged $3.5 billion towards the rebuilding of Gaza, following Israel's 51-day military assault last summer, only 26.8 percent of these funds have been disbursed, reconstruction has "barely begun," and the civilian population remains strangled by an economic and military siege.
The Association of International Development Agencies delivered this devastating indictment in a report released Monday, entitled Charting a New Course: Overcoming the Stalemate in Gaza (pdf).
Forty-six humanitarian organizations from across the globe signed onto the findings of the report, which was published six months after an October 2014 conference in Cairo At the conference, attended by representatives of over 60 countries and chaired by Norway, governments committed funds for Gaza's reconstruction and recovery following the devastating attacks.
Israel's ground invasion and air bombardments—termed "Operation Protective Edge"—killed an estimated 2,134 Palestinians, approximately 70 percent of whom were civilians. Seventy-one Israelis were also killed in the conflict, including five civilians.
Gaza's civilian infrastructure, furthermore, was decimated in the attack, which damaged over 160,000 homes, 20,000 meters of water pipelines, and 30 percent of agricultural lands. At least 14 health facilities and eight schools were completely destroyed, and Gaza's only power plant was targeted in the bombings, leading to ongoing electricity shortages.
"With the blockade in place we are just reconstructing a life of misery, poverty and despair."
—Tony Laurance, MAP UK
In the face of this large-scale destruction, the international community has so far failed to deliver on its recovery promises, the report charges.
"The promising speeches at the donor conference have turned into empty words," said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam, a signatory to the report. "There has been little rebuilding, no permanent ceasefire agreement and no plan to end the blockade. The international community is walking with eyes wide open into the next avoidable conflict, by upholding the status quo they themselves said must change."
And, even when funds do get in, reconstruction projects stall, or do not begin at all, because the blockade prevents materials from reaching Gaza.
"Most of the 81 health clinics and hospitals that were damaged still lack funds for reconstruction, but the few that have funds do not have the material needed to proceed," notes a report summary.
In addition, an estimated 100,000 people in Gaza are homeless, and not one of the 19,000 homes destroyed in the war has been rebuilt.
Furthermore, the report charges, there has been "no accountability to address violations of international law" and the international community has not posed a meaningful challenge to the siege itself.
As many have argued, international aid is a pittance as long as global super-powers like the United States throw their political and financial backing behind Israel's siege of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people and one of the most densely-populated places on earth.
The report urges, "The international community, in particular the (Middle East diplomatic) Quartet of the US, the EU, Russia and the UN, should propose a time-bound plan to support an end to the blockade."
Tony Laurance, CEO of MAP UK, another signatory to the report, declared, “The world is shutting its eyes and ears to the people of Gaza when they need it most. Reconstruction cannot happen without funds, but money alone will not be enough. With the blockade in place we are just reconstructing a life of misery, poverty and despair."


March 24th 2015 No country should be above international law
Kate Thick, a frequent visitor to Gaza, on the bleak prospects for peace after Benjamin Netanyahu's victory in Israel's general election

Hats off to Hexham for holding such serious debates at St. Mary’s Centre. Last Saturday’s was on the human cost of conflict in Israel/Palestine and Syria.
It is extraordinary how the powerful are able to blame the victim. I wanted to point out to the very well-meaning Guy Opperman MP that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land predates Hamas, the Islamic group in control of Gaza, and that apartheid is apartheid no matter what rhetoric you use to dress it up.
A member of the audience asked what Britain would do it it were occupied. There would be retaliation for sure, some of it violent, and the occupiers would use this as an excuse to ratchet up oppression. Would you want justice or would you seek compromise with your occupiers?
I have been to Gaza many times. If you want to know what it is like to be bombed heavily and repeatedly, it is the place to go. Not that there is much of Gaza left standing after decades of conflict. Israel however is relatively unscathed, booming in fact and building apace, illegally so under international law, on Palestinian land.
Presenting alongside Mr Opperman was the Rev Brian Brown whose gracious humanity you sense has been honed through tragedy. This retired Methodist minister, banned from South Africa for opposing apartheid, is unafraid to shout when the emperor wears no clothes.
In his successful, if manipulatively racist, bid for re-election, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. As if we didn’t already know.
He later tried to back-pedal but his credibility internationally sunk further. The EU threatened tougher sanctions, President Obama expressed exasperation. The White House - already irked by Netanyahu’s attempts to undermine negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme - may no longer shield Israel from pro-Palestinian resolutions at the United Nations. We can only hope.
Netanyahu exploits the politics of fear, fetes militancy over statesmanship. Israel touts itself as the only democracy in the Middle East but wants to be an exclusively Jewish country. If there is no Palestinian state in a two-state solution, then Israel will have to permanently subjugate millions of Muslim and Christian Palestinians, denying their democratic rights, under a binational one-state solution. How would the UN, US and EU respond to that?
A new EU report on Jerusalem does not mince its words, warning Jerusalem is on the edge of polarisation and violence over the systematic construction of settlements in the city and the eviction of Palestinians. Palestinians are close to boiling point.
As Simon Schama pointed out in the Financial Times last weekend, young Palestinians, doomed to endless occupation, will become more, not less, violent. Radicalisation would flourish in the West Bank and Gaza. You reap what you sow, Mr Netanyahu.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab wrote that with Netanyahu’s intentions now writ large, it is paramount the international community resolve a conflict that all agree has poisoned the air in the Middle East.
It is no longer acceptable that international instruments such as the Security Council and International Criminal Court be disabled in favour of Israel. No one country should be above international law.
The crime of apartheid, becoming harder to deny, is important because it carries international legal weight. The Palestinian Authority will join the International Criminal Court next month where it will request indictment for Israeli war crimes in Gaza and for illegal settlements in the West Bank. Palestine may soon also again seek a UN Security Resolution calling for an end to the occupation. Is there a whiff of justice in the air?
The human cost of the occupation mounts, for Palestinians and Israelis. Souls and societies are being destroyed. Somehow, they are going to have to live together. I suspect things may get worse before they get better.
The Palestinian diplomatic offensive could lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu’s government is withholding tax revenue the PA needs to survive, while Abbas, the Palestinian leader, is threatening is withdraw security co-operation with Israel in the West Bank.
Regionwide, peace is currently poisoned by religious sectarianism which is probably impossible to solve without the inclusion of Iran. And Syria? The only thing the US should do is provide transportation for Bashar Assad to The Hague to be tried for crimes against humanity.


March 19th 2015 Wednesday 18 March 2015
Israel elections: The nation is less safe with Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm

Against all predictions, Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu have come out on top in Israel’s parliamentary elections, winning 30 seats in the Knesset to the Zionist Union’s 24. Mr Netanyahu is likely therefore to form the next government with partners on the right and from the centre.
The poll’s outcome demonstrates the sheer force of Mr Netanyahu’s personality. But it also emphasises the degree to which paranoia is now the dominant undercurrent in Israeli politics. The Likud leader plays on people’s fears, not their hopes. Yet there is little on Mr Netanyahu’s policy agenda which is likely to make Israel safer in the long term. His insistence that there will be no Palestinian state is not only provocative; it is mindless folly. While the creation of a Palestinian homeland is no guarantor of peace, its denial assures the continuation of conflict.
Perhaps of most concern to Israelis ought to be the increasing hostility which faces Mr Netanyahu from those traditionally regarded as Israel’s friends. He and Obama do not get on and he has antagonised European leaders by questioning the safety of Jews living in the West. If he follows through on his election pledges, it is hard to see those relationships improving.
Israel undoubtedly faces many threats in an ever more disordered Middle East. But whether its situation can be improved by a bully masquerading as a statesman is uncertain at best.


March 11th 2015 March 10th 2015        From the Financial Times

The fateful choice facing Israeli voters on security
Netanyahu has taken wrong direction on Iran and on the Palestinians
When Israel goes to the polls next week, Benjamin Netanyahu will once again offer himself up to the electorate as the leader best suited to guarantee his country’s security. Attempting to become prime minister for the fourth time, his pitch is familiar. The Likud leader is stridently opposing US plans for a deal with Iran over its nuclear programme while also balking at any concrete steps towards the long-delayed creation of a Palestinian state. No one questions the sincerity with which he cleaves to this agenda. But it is taking Israel in the wrong direction.
When Mr Netanyahu triggered this election after the collapse of his coalition in December, there was a strong assumption he would easily be returned to power. But in recent weeks, Isaac Herzog, the self-effacing leader of the centre-left Labour party, has looked an increasingly credible challenger. In part, that may reflect public weariness towards any sitting prime minister who has been a total of eight years in power. But it also reflects how vulnerable Mr Netanyahu is to attacks on his own record.
If Mr Herzog has gained momentum it is by focusing on the economy, the key issue for most Israelis. Growth is forecast to reach 3 per cent this year and the country’s tech sector is a global leader. But many voters feel the government has done too little to mitigate the soaring cost of living and the lack of affordable housing.
However, the bigger concern, both domestically and internationally, is Mr Netanyahu’s approach to security. While the prime minister’s rhetoric is strong and his views monochromatic in their clarity, Israelis are increasingly unconvinced that Mr Netanyahu’s hard line will deliver the peace they crave. Particularly wounding has been a recent intervention by Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief. He warned of a “crisis of leadership” under Mr Netanyahu, implying that Israel’s leader sees change in the region as a threat to his own political survival.
It is not hard to see why Mr Dagan might take this view. As the US approaches the possibility of a landmark deal with Iran over its nuclear programme, Mr Netanyahu has been inflexible, visiting Washington to call on the US Congress to block any pact, come what may. Yet many Israelis know that if a US-Iran deal puts a genuine brake on the Iranian programme, it will avert war.
On relations with the Palestinians, Israelis would also be right to ask where Mr Netanyahu’s policies are leading their country. In the West Bank, the Likud-led government has allowed Israeli settlements to continue unabated while aggressively prevaricating over the creation of viable Palestinian state. This risks bringing about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and a dangerous security vacuum in the occupied territories.
Mr Netanyahu’s stance stands in stark contrast to the one taken by Mr Herzog. The 54-year-old opposition leader is an unknown quantity for whom victory is far from guaranteed. However, while he is tough on Iran, he believes it is “preferable to reach an international agreement” on the nuclear programme. And he wants to “ignite a process” with the Palestinians that leads to a two-state solution.
Israel is a sovereign state and a rare democracy in the Middle East. The choice of whom to elect is for Israelis alone. The question they should ask is where Mr Netanyahu will lead the state of Israel if he is granted a fourth term in office. On Iran and the occupied territories, his confrontational and inflexible approach will not guarantee their country’s security.


March 5th 2015 We must not fail in Gaza say UN agencies, joining global call to action

United Nations agencies and offices are expressing alarm over the limited progress in rebuilding the lives of those affected by last summer's fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip.
A joint statement from some 30 international aid agencies said that six months after a ceasefire ended over seven weeks of fighting the Israeli-imposed blockade continues, the political process, along with the economy, are paralyzed, and living conditions have worsened.
“Reconstruction and repairs to the tens of thousands of homes, hospitals, and schools damaged or destroyed in the fighting has been woefully slow. Sporadic rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups has resumed,” the agencies said.
“Overall, the lack of progress has deepened levels of desperation and frustration among the population, more than two thirds of whom are Palestine refugees,” they emphasized.
Living conditions in Gaza were already dire before the latest round of fighting. Most residents were unable to meet their food requirements and over seven years of blockade had severely compromised access to basic services, including to health, water and sanitation.
“But since July, the situation has deteriorated dramatically. Approximately 100,000 Palestinians remain displaced this winter, living in dire conditions in schools and makeshift shelters not designed for long-term stay,” the statement said.
Scheduled power cuts persist for up to 18 hours a day. And the continued non-payment of the salaries of public sector employees and the lack of progress in the national unity government further increases tensions. With severe restrictions on movement, most of the 1.8 million residents are trapped in the coastal enclave, “with no hope for the future,” agencies said.
Bearing the brunt of this suffering are the most vulnerable, including the elderly, persons with disabilities, women and nearly one million children, who have experienced unimaginable suffering in three major conflicts in six short years. Children lack access to quality education, with over 400,000 of them in need of immediate psychosocial support.
Agencies say that the international community is not providing Gaza with adequate assistance. “Little of the $5.4 billion pledged in Cairo has reached Gaza. Cash assistance to families who lost everything has been suspended and other crucial aid is unavailable due to lack of funds,” they noted.
A return to hostilities is inevitable if progress is not made and the root causes of conflict are not addressed, they added, calling on Israel, “as the occupying power,” to comply with its obligations under international law and fully lift the blockade, within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009).
The fragile ceasefire must be reinforced, and the parties must resume negotiations to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. “All parties must respect international law and those responsible for violations must be brought to justice. Accountability and adherence to international humanitarian law and international human rights law are essential pre-requisites for any lasting peace,” the non-governmental agencies said.
Also imperative, Egypt needs to open the Rafah Crossing, most urgently for humanitarian cases, and donor pledges must be translated into disbursements, they added.


February 26th 2015 Abusing the Palestinian corpse

There is no closure on the West Bank: Citizens can go out in the streets, travel, spend time in Ramallah’s discotheques and renovate their homes. Paradise.
But just so they won’t forget where they came from, and where they’re going, Israel reminds them that their ship of fools is no more than a corpse tossed to the side of the road, with every passerby permitted to kick it or spit on it.
Two days ago, Israel Electric Corp. cut off the current to Jenin and Nablus. But for just 45 minutes. A humane gesture by a creditor that only wanted to hint to the Palestinian Authority what will happen if it doesn’t pay 49 million shekels ($12.4 million), the amount of the most recent invoice, and doesn’t take care of the cumulative debt, almost 2 billion shekels.
The Sopranos would probably ridicule this soft-hearted attitude, treating debtors with kid gloves. If you want to cut off the electricity, do so - don’t talk, as Tuco the Ugly would suggest.
We really have to thank this corporation, which knows exactly how to strangle the Israeli economy, for making do with three quarters of an hour, which caused the residents of Nablus and Jenin to lose their electrical confidence.
Israel gave a different gift to the residents of Ramallah, about whom we have already written here.
The city of Rawabi was built magnificently. It’s missing only one thing - water - because the neighborhood bully is demanding that the joint Israeli-Palestinian water committee convene and approve the project, or it won’t open the tap.
The committee hasn’t met for years because the Palestinians don’t want to approve settlement projects. But has anyone heard about a water shortage in the settlements because the committee didn’t convene?
Suddenly Israel has become a law-abiding country that zealously adheres to agreements that it helped destroy with its own hands. Who can guess when it will decide to abide by agreements and when it will violate them?
After all, in January Israel once again violated the agreements it signed when it decided to freeze the transfer of the tax money it collects for the Palestinians. Half a billion Palestinian shekels are lying in an Israeli safe awaiting the moment when the PA’s tongue turns blue from suffocation.
For the past two months about 180,000 officials and members of the security services, the ones who are supposed to implement the defense coordination with Israel, have been receiving partial salaries.
That will be their lot in March too, since during an election season Israel doesn’t pay debts and doesn’t do favors for the Palestinians.
We will only mention that this illegal decision is nothing more than revenge for the fact that the PA decided to join the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court.
What a mistake. Once again the PA forgets which guys are running the neighborhood, and it has to pay dearly for that. It’s a shame that the PA doesn’t devote more time to watching popular crime series.
The battered PA finally understands that even those whom it considered its good friends are afraid to start up with the gang.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued his usual warning, to the effect that the PA will collapse if Israel doesn’t transfer the tax money. The European Union, one of the cornerstones of the Quartet, whose job it is to supervise observance of the agreements, nods its head in sorrow. And the voice of the Zionist Union, the hope of the political bonfire of the vanities, froze in the cold.
Because what can really be done when the IEC, the Israel Customs Authority and the minister of national infrastructure have become a substitute government? They are the ones who decide policy, they implement it and they won’t pay the price.
This way another layer of the occupation system is developing: occupation from a distance. Lock the Customs safe containing the tax money, turn off the switch at the IEC, don’t open the tap. Nobody’s hands get dirty, there are no casualties, fear of the occupier is maintained and there’s more to come.


February 20th 2015 Middle East: UN launches appeal for Palestinians as humanitarian needs surge

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory today launched an appeal to boost funding for more than a million Palestinians who continue to face grim conditions on the ground and an uncertain future.
In a press release issued earlier today, James Rawley, who also functions as the UN’s Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, presented the 2015 Strategic Response Plan in an effort to raise the $705 million required to help 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank with their sharply increasing humanitarian needs.
“2014 was a tragic year for Palestine,” Mr. Rawley explained. “Approximately 100,000 people are still unable to return to their homes in Gaza, and in the West Bank, thousands more live in chronic insecurity, at risk of losing their homes and livelihoods as a result of demolitions.”
According to UN estimates, a lack of donor support for the Plan would result in the continued displacement of over 22,000 families while up to 1.6 million people across the occupied Palestinian territory would be deprived of adequate water and sanitation services, and food assistance. Access to basic healthcare and education would also be compromised, Mr. Rawley added.
As a result, the 2015 Strategic Response Plan will seek to carry out a total of 207 projects presented by 77 organizations, including 64 national and international Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) as well as 13 UN agencies, with almost 80 per cent of the funding aimed at providing shelter and enhancing food security. Over 75 per cent of the requested funds target needs in the war-torn Gaza enclave.
Despite UN efforts to assist in its recovery, Gaza continues to reel from last summer’s conflict with Israel, in which nearly 2,200 Palestinians and 70 Israelis died during the 50 days of fighting.
In addition, the violence saw the wide-scale destruction of property. According to a recent UN assessment, over 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, affecting more than 600,000 people. Many people still lack access to the municipal water network and blackouts of up to 18 hours per day are common.
“Alongside the humanitarian response, we need fundamental changes, particularly in Gaza which is teetering on the brink of another major crisis,” Mr. Rawley continued. “Above all, the fragile ceasefire needs to be solidified, the blockade lifted, human rights respected, and a political solution reached for the entire Palestinian territory.”


February 11th 2015 After ‘grim’ 2014, UN urges renewed push for Middle East peace

The resolution of the long-standing Israel-Palestine conflict is “clearly a serious matter” for international peace and security, particularly during a time when the entire Middle East is threatened with terrorism and violent extremism, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson warned today.
Addressing the opening of the 2015 session of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Mr. Eliasson called on the UN system, the international community and all concerned stakeholders to work to revive negotiations for a two-State solution and end the impasse between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples which, he noted, had dangerously deteriorated.
While originally designated as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, 2014 had been “grim” for the region, as talks between the two sides broke down and violence escalated, he continued.
Last summer, for instance, hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip resulted in the deaths of almost 2,200 Palestinians and 72 Israelis, along with the wide-scale destruction of the war-ravaged enclave.
According to a recent UN assessment, as it stands now, over 100,000 homes remain damaged or destroyed, affecting more than 600,000 people. Many people still lack access to the municipal water network. Blackouts of up to 18 hours per day are common.
He added that Gaza remained “a desolate place under blockade and with much human suffering” and called on donors to fulfil pledges made at last October’s Cairo conference for the reconstruction of Gaza.
In addition, the year also saw rising levels of violence in the West Bank with incitement fanning religious tensions in the region and beyond.
“I regret that the parties have since taken unilateral steps that have deepened mutual distrust and distanced them from a prospect of negotiated settlement,” Mr. Eliasson declared.
“I urge both parties to refrain from any action that could further exacerbate the situation and to demonstrate the necessary leadership for reaching and implementing the difficult decisions that lie ahead.”
The Deputy Secretary-General reiterated that Israelis, Palestinians and the international community together held the responsibility for what had become “a collective failure to advance a political solution” to the crisis and said “all good forces must now be mobilised” for a new, successful push for peace.
“As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of our Organization, I call on this Committee to exert all efforts to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights,” Mr. Eliasson concluded.
“I reiterate the commitment of the United Nations to help achieve a just and durable peace between Israel and Palestine, resolving the conflict by ending nearly half a century of occupation and establishing a sovereign and independent State of Palestine – living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.”


February 4th 2015 Palestinians urge release of children jailed by Israel

Protesters gathered outside the Red Cross headquarters near Ramallah for a demonstration organized by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and other Palestinian factions
Palestinian activists staged a protest on Tuesday in the West Bank to demand the release of 14-year-old Malak al-Khatib and all other Palestinian minors imprisoned by Israel.
Protesters gathered outside the Red Cross headquarters near Ramallah for a demonstration organized by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and other Palestinian factions.
Protesters, including prisoners' relatives and women's rights activists, held posters aloft of al-Khatib, who was sentenced to two months in prison in January for possessing a knife and throwing stones at Israeli troops in the West Bank.
"Israel's detention of Malak is a shame on the occupation, which considers itself above the law," Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian Authority (PA)'s committee on detainees, told the Anadolu Agency at the protest.
"Israel violates international law by detaining children and subjecting them to military trials and forced confessions with no regard to children's rights," he said.
On Jan. 21, al-Khatib became the youngest of 280 children being held in Israeli jails after an Israeli court sentenced her to two months behind bars and fined her 6,000 Israeli shekels (roughly $1,500), according to the Ramallah-based Ahrar Center for Prisoners' Studies and Human Rights.
The 14-year-old was detained by Israeli forces on Dec. 31 of last year while on her way back home from school in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Israeli forces routinely carry out arrest campaigns against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank on the pretext that they are "wanted" by the Israeli authorities.
Over 7,000 Palestinians are currently languishing in prisons throughout Israel, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs.


January 20th 2015 Rising Inequality and Climate Change: The Defining Challenges for Global Leaders in 2015

By Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International.

Significant progress has been made in the last decade. Global poverty rates are falling. Child and maternal mortality rates are down, many more children are in school, and the total number of people going hungry in the world is falling – albeit all far too slowly.
Yet extreme economic inequality is out of control and getting worse. From Ghana to Germany, South Africa to Spain, the gap between rich and poor is rapidly increasing. At the World Economic Forum last year, Oxfam released a statistic which made headlines: Just 85 rich individuals held more wealth than the poorest half of the world's population - 3.5 billion people. Now, a year later, that figure has become more extreme - just 80 billionaires have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the planet.
Across rich and poor countries alike, this inequality is fuelling conflict, corroding democracies, and damaging growth itself. Not long ago those who worried about inequality were accused of partaking in the politics of envy. In the last year this concern became officially mainstream as voices from the Pope to Christine Lagarde to President Obama cautioned of its impacts. The mounting consensus: left unchecked, economic inequality will set back the fight against poverty and threaten global stability.
At the same time, the impacts of climate change are exacerbating this growing divide. As temperatures rise, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe, crop and livelioods are being devastated, and the efforts of people on low incomes to feed their families are being undone. Those who are least to blame, are suffering the most.
Setting a course for action
Rising inequality and climate change: These are the defining challenges for 2015.This is the year when we will have to set a course for action for a sustainable and just world.
What action can we take? These profound global challenges require bold responses.
In October last year Oxfam launched a global campaign to tackle inequality, Even It Up, in which we pledged to campaign for years to come on a seven-point plan to close the gap between the rich and poor, focusing on measures ranging from public financing for free health and education, to decent work and wages and political participation for all.
This year, our collective energy must focus first on international tax reform. To make headway on tackling inequality a more ambitious, far-reaching and inclusive process is needed to fix the broken international tax system, to prevent corporations from dodging the taxes they owe and to give governments the resources they need to tackle poverty and inequality. Yesterday’s international tax system is not fit for purpose – let alone fair – today. 2015 must be the year world leaders re-write fragmented global tax rules that reward those who avoid their civic obligation, and leave the poorest to foot the bill.
World Tax Summit
For this reason, Oxfam is calling for a world tax summit in 2015, which would allow a discussion between all countries, rich and poor, to set the basis for a permanent body to set, implement and arbitrate fairer international tax rules.
On climate change, 2015 could be a pivotal year if our leaders rise to the challenge. Last year we saw the latest scientific assessments confirm more clearly than ever the scale of the danger we face from a warming world. And we saw the response of citizens: in September in New York, l joined a hundreds of thousands on a march to demand real action on climate. We were joined by many thousands more in other cities worldwide.
Climate agreement
This year, governments have a chance to secure an agreement at the UN that could be a turning point in the fight to cut and ultimately end greenhouse gas emissions, and secure the support vulnerable communities need to adapt to climate change.
In recently months private companies have made some encouraging climate pledges and commitments to clean energy.
But ultimately, governments must lead and act on the issues that affect citizens and our planet most. Only with political leadership can we get the global action that a growing number of people around the world are demanding.
In Davos, I look forward to a robust and frank discussion about these issues, which challenge vulnerable communities and powerful businesses alike.


January 15th 2015 Children in crises: NGOs must adopt stronger protection systems
Investments are needed to protect children from the impact of conflict and bring down the $7tn annual global cost of violence against them. In 2002, almost half the states engaged in conflict were using children younger than 15 in their armed forces.
Helen Kearney Tuesday 13 January 2015 07.00 GMT

During the Sierra Leone war, an estimated 10,000 children were recruited or used by armed forces and groups, and at least 692,000 children suffered sexual abuse. In 2002, almost half the states engaged in conflict were using children under the age of 15 in their armed forces. But amid the devastation of war, children are often forgotten with the full extent of their suffering only emerging afterwards. New data shows that 1 billion girls and boys live in areas that were affected by armed conflict in 2013 or 2014. Over the last decade, more than 250 million people were affected by disasters each year – more than half were children.
At present their are complex humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Palestine and Gaza, and Central African Republic, as well as a devastating Ebola outbreak in parts of west Africa. During such events lives are uprooted and the systems working to keep children safe – in their homes, schools and communities – may be undermined or damaged.
In times of crisis, boys and girls face increased risk of all forms of violence and exploitation. They may be separated from their families, trafficked, recruited or used by armed forces and groups, economically exploited, or physically or sexually abused. Thousands of children are killed or injured every year by explosive weapons and landmines. In the long term, children’s survival and development are jeopardised as their societies’ ability to invest in their future is weakened.
But there are ways to protect children in emergencies. Evidence repeatedly shows that protecting children in humanitarian action saves lives, both immediately and in the long-term. Strengthening child protection systems is one of the most cost-effective ways to build resilience and promote sustainable development. The costs of inaction – for individuals, homes, schools and communities – can be tremendous.
A recent review by the ChildFund Alliance and the Overseas Development Institute estimates that the annual global damage caused by physical, psychological and sexual violence against children reaches $7tn, or 8% of global GDP.
One way to reduce stress and support children’s healthy development is through recreation and play. In Syria, for example, where 5.6 million children are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance, Unicef supports the running of child-friendly spaces and mobile teams to restore a sense of normalcy and help children cope with the daily stresses of living through war. Unaccompanied and other at-risk children are identified and referred through close connections with education, health and social service systems. Where necessary, children can access specialised psychosocial care and other services.
Efforts to protect and engage children need to start immediately and continue long after the initial crisis has past. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) runs support programmes for parents raising children in some of the toughest circumstances imaginable; in Burundi, Tanzania and Thailand where local communities, refugees and migrants are rebuilding their lives; in Uganda and Liberia where communities are recovering from long civil wars; and in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria where families are struggling to survive.
Two new studies show that supporting parents and primary caregivers by showing alternatives to harsh discipline can reduce levels of family violence and strengthen children’s protective environment in the long-term. After learning about non-violent parenting techniques over the 10- to 12-week IRC course, caregivers demonstrated reductions in physical and verbal punishments and reported improved communications and collaborative problem solving with children, as well as between spouses. Some participants also reported teaching the new alternative parenting techniques to neighbours, thereby contributing to the reduction of violence in the wider community.
Strong child protection systems can mitigate the impacts of conflicts and crises on boys and girls. Children have the right to be protected from harm and child protection is a vital investment, enabling children and young people to rebuild their own lives and the futures of their societies.
Helen Kearney is communications specialist at the Child Protection Working Group. Follow @HelenFKearney on Twitter.


December 31st 2014 Change the way of the world with small acts of kindness and consideration
The Journal 29th December 2014  by Kate Thick


     Do you remember Bewitched, a TV programme where the heroine granted wishes and prevented catastrophe with the twitch of her nose?
     Following a rather turgid lecture about the United Nations, I looked up the UN’s sustainable development goals, due for ratification in September 2015, which will set every country 15 year objectives for ending poverty, reducing inequality, for peace and security, and for sustainable consumption and production.
     Call me an idealist but I believe the world needs the UN especially as many problems are global in nature so harder to solve. We need to keep ambitions high and do whatever it takes to provide hope for people and planet. UN reform, urgently needed and increasingly called for, will be difficult but we owe it to the millions yet to be born.
     We may listen to the news and despair but there are always candles in the dark: European countries just agreed measures to cut carbon emissions by 2030; over 1,000 UK businesses have pledged to pay the living wage; and EU Ministers have unanimously reached agreement on fishing policies for the North Sea which aim to have all stocks fished at sustainable levels in 2015.
     Cooperation for the common good is possible: An increasing proportion of humanity, for all the inequality of health services across the globe, has a good chance of living into old age and a rising proportion of children reach maturity; the international Arms Trade Treaty, although far from perfect, went into effect this month to tighten the way the global arms trade operates.
We should have learned by now that military might, no matter how impressive, is not in itself transformative. Fewer people are dying in war, but many more are seriously wounded, traumatised, and environments destroyed.
     According to UN data, 32,000 people across the world are displaced by conflict every day. Every year the UN system delivers food to millions of people in dozens of countries; assists refugees; vaccinates 58% of the world’s children; and protects and promotes human rights. The UN and its agencies spend about $30 billion each year, or about $4 for each of the world’s inhabitants; a very small sum compared to most government budgets and less than 3% of global military spending.
     The world is awash with armaments. According to Amnesty International, at least half a million people die every year and millions more are injured, raped, and forced to flee from their homes as a result of the poorly regulated global trade in weapons. The new Treaty will not disarm the world nor will the use of particularly odious weapon be outlawed. Sadly the three largest arms dealers in the world, Russia, China and the US, are not parties to the Treaty but at least serious negotiations are happening.
     If I were a nose-wiggling white-witch, my bottom line goal would be a permanent solution to the inequality of wealth and opportunity across the globe. What upsets me most is that poverty, although declining, still haunts us, and - the biggest spanner in the works - international law is implemented selectively. We need to start by reforming the UN; it needs to be more democratic and representative because the five permanent members of the Security Council represent only a third of humanity.
     According to the World Food Programme, 805 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy and active life despite there being more than enough food to feed every human being, while 67 billionaires possess as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people. Mad or what?
     As the world’s economy grows the prevalence of under-nourishment - eating too few calories to sustain an active life – reduces only half as fast as poverty. In most developing countries the old afflictions - including poor sanitation, contaminated water and malaria - linger. Two billion people are thought to suffer from micronutrient deficiency; about half of childhood disabilities and 45% of deaths of under five year olds are attributable to malnutrition. Meanwhile, the human and financial cost of obesity in America is astronomical.
     Better nutrition is actually a byproduct of several policies, many of which are not about diet at all. For example, dirty drinking water and bad sanitation cause gastrointestinal illnesses which prevent the body from absorbing nutrients. Discrimination against women is also a major cause of persistent hunger. There is no greater multiplier than empowered women. In developed and developing countries alike, from conflict zones to refugee shelters, where women’s rights and opportunities prevail there is a much better chance of defeating intolerance, poverty, disease, and even extremism.

So, just for starters, with a quick snout shuffle:
   · The UN veto power is replaced with a majority vote and membership of the International Court of Justice compulsory

   · Everybody in the world has access to a tap and a toilet

   · Deforestation stops and climate negotiations secure a legally binding global agreement

   · Every child goes to school and the 75 million unemployed young people are in training as teachers, doctors, scientists, UN peacekeepers and humanitarian workers

   · All landmines immediately disappear and weapon factories turn waste into energy

   · A fair tax system is implemented and those with ludicrous wages – football players for example – donate part of their income to our underpaid and undervalued care workers or to local schools and hospitals

   · The tidal wave of plastic waste in our land and oceans impacting wildlife, human health and the environment disappears  and its manufacture regulated

   · The major world religions prioritise tolerance and gender equality

   · A healthy lifestyle and nutritious food is the norm

     I decided not tamper with human nature. Selfishness and greed are often cited as innate characteristics but research has shown that compassion is an innate human response and we are a pretty amazing species.
So do not give up on us Homo sapiens, a better world is not beyond our will and ingenuity. We can start in 2015. Just close your eyes, wiggle your nose, think good thoughts … and start with random acts of kindness.


December 14th 2014 Despite pressure from US and Israel, Switzerland to hold summit on Palestinians
Fourth Geneva Convention signatories to meet December 17; Israel and the U.S. expected to boycott the summit.

Despite pressure exerted by the United States and Israel, the Swiss government has decided to convene on December 17 the states that are party to the Fourth Geneva Convention to discuss the situation on the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.
A senior official in Jerusalem said that Israel is expected to boycott the conference, and apparently the United States, Canada, and Australia will, as well. In the days left until the conference, Israel will try to lobby EU states to get as many as possible to boycott the conference.
The Swiss plan to conduct a relatively short, three-hour conference, at the ambassadorial level, with few speeches and without the presence of journalists or any media coverage other than a communiqué to be issued at the end. In addition, the draft of the summary resolution has been softened and will not include a decision to establish an international mechanism to monitor implementation of the Geneva Convention in the occupied territories.
The conference is not expected to make any operative or binding decisions, but may intensify international criticism of Israeli policy in the territories, particularly with regard to the settlements.
At the beginning of April, in response to Israel’s delaying the release of the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners and the announcement of construction plans for 700 new homes in East Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to sign, on behalf of the state of Palestine, 15 international conventions and asked to join them. One of those conventions was the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deals with protecting civilian populations in war zones or occupied territories.
The move was the culmination of the crisis that led to the final breakdown of the American efforts to extend the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. A few weeks later the Palestinians and representatives of the Arab League made an official request of Switzerland to urgently convene the convention signatories to discuss the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its harming of civilians in the Gaza Strip. At the same time as the Palestinian appeal there was also a decision on the issue by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
To date there have been four attempts to convene the signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention, all of them focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most recent attempt was in 2009, following Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. At the end of consultations held by the Swiss Foreign Ministry at the time, it was decided that there wasn’t sufficient international support to convene a conference. In 2001, however, after the outbreak of the second intifada, there was such a conference, which was boycotted by the United States and Israel.
Israel has opposed this move by Switzerland despite the low profile it is according the event. Senior Israeli diplomats have traveled several times to Bern and Geneva in an effort to persuade the Swiss Foreign Ministry not to hold the conference, making it clear that Israel would boycott the event if it was held. The United States also exerted pressure, but to no avail.
The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 deals with protecting civilian populations in combat zones or in areas under occupation. The convention prohibits harming noncombatants – whether civilians, prisoners of war, or wounded soldiers.
In a state of prolonged occupation, as exists on the West Bank, the convention states that the occupying power must preserve the civil rights and the property of the occupied civilian population, and enable them to go about their daily lives. It prohibits the settlement of the occupying power’s citizens in the occupied areas, either by force or by offering incentives.
Israel signed the convention when it was adopted, and the government ratified it, making it a party to the convention. However, the convention was never affirmed in law by the Knesset. Israel claims that the convention does not apply to the West Bank or East Jerusalem because they are not occupied territories but disputed territories. Therefore, Israel does not believe that the settlements violate the convention.


November 30th 2014 Despair and repression

Israel’s strangulation of Palestinian aspirations can only fan the flames of extremism in a region of the world already suppurating with it.
   Israel is not in the grip of a terrorist onslaught as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would have us believe; it is in the grip of senseless violence spawned by despair and repression.
   The Netanyahu government has accelerated Jewish settlement in and around occupied Arab East Jerusalem – in defiance of international law – and is abetting the far right’s creeping colonisation of Arab quarters of the holy city. The settlement policies of Netanyahu and his predecessors, giving Israel control of over half the occupied territories, may already have placed a Palestinian state beyond reach. It does not seem to matter what the Palestinians do. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 was ignored by the Israelis. The last slaughter in Gaza has done much however to open our eyes to the real and tragic nature of Israel.
   A new Israeli cabinet bill that would identify Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people would further subject the over 20% of Israeli citizens who are Muslim or Christian to deeper levels of oppression and mistreatment by adding to the more than 50 discriminatory laws on Israel's books. The core of the violence is not the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish’ state (they recognized the state of Israel on 78% of historic Palestine 26 years ago), but Israel’s refusal to address – even acknowledge – Palestinian national rights and claims.
   Be it religion, land or rights – this conflict can only be settled through law and diplomacy. Europeans have focused on Israeli settlement activity, which they see as illegal under international law and as fundamentally at odds with public, but disingenuous, vows by Israeli leaders to pursue a two-state solution. Recent recognition of Palestine by Britain, Spain, Ireland and Sweden has opened the debate at the European Parliament, slated for December, to recognize a Palestinian state along 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, underlining that this is absolutely in line with the decision taken by the United Nations General Assembly. A growing consensus among Europe's lawmakers should add more policy-oriented teeth to what's been the international community's limp rhetoric on Israeli settlement activity so far. It also could change the conversation in the U.S. on Israel's responsibilities to the Palestinian people. Simultaneously, there is a pending resolution before the UN Security Council to set a timetable to end Israeli occupation. The Palestinian Authority needs to push further and request the International Criminal Court to adjudicate on Israeli violations of international law.
   As inadequate as the Palestinian leadership may be, the onus is on the occupier, Israel. Unless Israel changes course, it will end up permanently subjugating the Palestinians and come to be seen as an apartheid state; as the Jewish State becoming the mirror image of its authoritarian Arab neighbours. In the meantime, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians who want to live in peace continue to suffer as hatred prevails.

“The West Bank has remained an occupied territory for over 47 years. During this period we have ignored international treaties; expropriated land; moved Israeli settlers from Israel to the occupied territories; engaged in acts of disinheritance and theft. We have justified all these actions in the name of security. Over the years, the motives for the occupation have merged into the following: economic exploitation of the occupied territories for the well-being of Israeli settlers and their needs. In our eagerness to maintain control over the occupied territories, we have developed two separate legal systems: an advanced, liberal system for Israel and Israeli settlers; and a cruel, abusive system for Palestinians in the occupied territories. In effect, we imposed an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately after their conquest. This oppressive regime exists to this day.”
Former Israeli attorney general Michael Ben

“But not only is the proposed law unnecessary, it is harmful. A quarter of Israel’s population is not Jewish, and probably the most important item on the nation’s agenda should be their integration into the fabric of Israeli society and their participation in the Israeli economy. Giving them the feeling of being at home, of being equal citizens.” Former defence and foreign minister Moshe Arens

“Without leaders who inspire hope for a future of peace, young Israelis and Palestinians have lost the ability to dream, to envision a different reality. ... I know that even if the occupation ended tomorrow, healing will take many years. But healing will only be possible once the two societies separate, so they can mind their own illnesses. We must let the healing begin.” Ori Nir


November 17th 2014 UN Gaza inquiry team hears testimonies in Jordan
Israel has forbidden access to the West Bank and Gaza by the team, which is investigating possible war crimes by Israel during the last Gaza war.
Nov. 17, 2014


The United Nations committee investigating possible war crimes by Israel during last summer's Gaza war has spent the past week in Jordan, listening to the testimonies of victims’ families and civil society organizations, Ma'an Palestinian news agency reported on Sunday. The committee, which was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, has been denied entry to the West Bank and Gaza by Israel. The team had intended to enter the Gaza Strip via Egypt, but was prevented from doing so by the security conditions in Sinai. It is now scheduled to visit Gaza in January. Instead, the committee will listen to the testimonies of bereaved Gaza families this week using videoconferencing technology, according to Ibrahim Khreisha, the Palestinian representative to the UNHRC. The team of 15 people includes human rights experts, investigators and technical teams. It is required to submit its final report on March 1, 2015. “Only representatives of Palestine and Israel will be allowed to see the final report 48 hours before it’s submitted to the regular session,” Khreisha added. He said that the report will differ from the so-called Goldstone report of 2009, in that it will include possible Israeli crimes from Jun 16, 2014 until the day the report is submitted.


November 4th 2014 The UN can bring peace to Jerusalem by moving its headquarters there

By Eugene Bird
Eugene Bird will turn ninety years old next March. He is a former Foreign Service officer who served most of his career in the Middle East.

President Barack Obama recently surprised no one by observing that the Israel-Palestine status quo was not “sustainable.” Quite so. His own Secretary of State, John Kerry, has given up for the moment on his year-long effort to negotiate a solution to this long-festering conflict. But still, nothing would help us win ‘hearts and minds’ in our psychological battle with Salafist Islamic extremists like ISIS than if we could broker a real peace between Arabs and Israelis.
I first began to grapple with this issue nearly sixty years ago when the State Department assigned me to the Israel-Jordan desk. As a newly minted Foreign Service officer, I had studied in Sweden and written a Master’s thesis on the 1919 Curzon Line between Poland and Russia. I told my boss, Ambassador Parker Hart, that I knew nothing about the Middle East. “Well,” he gruffly replied, “Maybe that’s what we need around here, a fresh new mind.”
Soon after this exchange I was posted to Jerusalem where I lived for a time in the American Colony, a boutique hotel founded by Horatio Gates Spafford, a well-to-do Chicagoan lawyer who had migrated to the Holy City in 1881. Over the decades, such distinguished visitors as T.E. Lawrence, Lowell Thomas, Gertrude Bell and John D. Rockefeller spent time in the American Colony.
As I approach my tenth decade, I know a little more, and I firmly believe that much of our “peace process” diplomacy has repeatedly failed precisely because we have always assumed that it is wiser to put off the toughest issues to the end of the process. This is a bad strategy because it actually encourages both parties—the Israelis and the Palestinians—to resist compromises in the short term because they fear in the long term they will be asked to concede their key goal: Jerusalem.
The ancient city of Jerusalem is at the core of this conflict. And so it seems there is only one road to peace and it lies through Jerusalem. The Israelis annexed the entire city after the June 1967 war and they insist that the city can never again be divided. But the international community refuses to recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem and insists that the annexation is illegal under international law. The Palestinians, of course, are determined to make East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza. Without East Jerusalem, they insist, there can be no real Palestinian self-determination. Without East Jerusalem, say the Palestinians, there will be no end to the 47-year occupation.
That is the stalemate. So Jerusalem remains at the core of the problem. And yet, the international community could unilaterally break this logjam. Here is my proposal: move the formal headquarters of the United Nations from New York to Jerusalem.
The United Nations already owns a piece of Jerusalem. It is known as Government House, a beautiful white-stone building sitting on sixteen acres overlooking the Old City. Built in 1933 to house the British High Commissioner, this property lies on the edge of the 1948 Armistice Line, the so-called Green Line, with access to both Israel and the West Bank. From this vantage point, one has a splendid view of both the Dome of the Rock and the Israeli Knesset in West Jerusalem. It is just large enough to house what would be a symbolic headquarters of the United Nations. And this in turn would be a giant step to transforming the status of Jerusalem into a truly international city.
Back in 1947 the United Nations passed a resolution calling for the internationalization of Jerusalem. After all, the Old City is sacred to three major religions. And if Jerusalem acquired “international” status this would facilitate the big compromises necessary for an over-all peace settlement. An international city could house both the Knesset of the Israeli republic and the parliament of a future Palestinian state. No one would “own” Jerusalem, everyone would.
Does anyone have a better idea?


October 22nd 2014 UK Should Not Hinder Palestine's Right to International Criminal Court

By Alyn Smith , Member of the European Parliament for Scotland, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee


The recent House of Commons' vote overwhelmingly in favour of Palestine's right to statehood was a welcome step in the direction of justice and respect for international law. However, there seem to be deep contradictions between the UK Government's stated aims regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, and its actions, specifically in regard to its position on Palestinian accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC). As a Member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, I have been astonished by reports that the UK government has pressured the Palestinian leadership not to seek ICC jurisdiction. The UK recognises that accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws is a vital step towards achieving peace and stability worldwide and has been at the forefront of efforts to bring other conflicts such as Sudan and Syria under ICC jurisdiction. It also recently condemned Russia and China for blocking Syria's referral to the ICC. Taking the opposite position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes no sense. Accountability is vital to prevent another Gaza war, as well as to bring about resolution of the wider conflict. Since the Oslo Accords, efforts to resolve this conflict have consistently floundered, due in no small part to the ongoing breaches of international law, which have not been pursued adequately.
Serious and repeated violations of international law, such as Israel's settlement expansion, Hamas rocket attacks, and Israeli bombardment of Gaza have undermined trust between the parties, and fuelled a bitter cycle of hostilities. Encouraging the Palestinians to accede to the ICC, which they have been eligible to do since attaining Observer State status at the UN in 2012, would introduce an accountability mechanism that would deter future violence. It would also provide an incentive for each side to stay at the negotiating table. Any UK attempt to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking the Court's jurisdiction thus undermines its stated commitment to the peace process, and to a negotiated two-state solution, as well as its support for the ICC. It is also a contradiction of the UK's commitment as an ICC member to "advance universal support for the Rome Statute of the ICC by promoting the widest possible participation in it" and the statement in its 2013 ICC Strategy Paper, that "support for international criminal justice and accountability is a fundamental element of our foreign policy". There is another issue on Israel and Palestine on which UK policy seems at best contradictory, and at worst self-defeating. On July 23, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution establishing a Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged violations by all parties during the latest Gaza war. At the time, Foreign Secretary Hammond stated that the resolution would "complicate the process by introducing unnecessary new mechanisms". In contrast, the UK's Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood said: "the UK supports this inquiry, which must be balanced and independent" and called on "both sides to co-operate with the Commission of Inquiry". I have recently written to Mr. Hammond asking him whether he meant the Commission of Inquiry was an "unnecessary mechanism" - and if so, how that is consistent with the Government's commitments to uphold international law elsewhere. I asked him to clarify the UK's position on this and on Palestinian accession to the ICC, which I strongly believe the UK should support. I await a response.


October 7th 2014 UK government should recognise the state of Palestine

On Monday 13th October MPs in the UK House of Commons will debate the motion; 'this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel'.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has set up a template letter permitting people to quickly and effectively contact their MP encouraging them to vote 'Yes' in this debate. A template may be found here http://act.palestinecampaign.org/lobby/Palestine/

Please write to your MPs – your voice will make a difference.


August 13th 2014 Gaza and Iraq: What century are we living in?

“What century are we in?” asked an Iraqi Christian interviewed by the BBC as bombs and aid packages dropped simultaneously from the sky. A Palestinian doctor said, after nine members of her family were killed in Gaza: “No matter what you ask the children to draw, the drawings will come back with blood.”

The Middle East is laced with barbed wire frontiers, walls, checkpoints, tunnels, tribal and religious affiliations, corruption, western imposed boundaries, extremists, refugees, armaments, the powerful and the powerless. Iraqi authorities requested US assistance by way of air strikes to counter the Islamic State; Obama said, “When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the US cannot turn a blind eye.” Perhaps Hamas should pick up the telephone and sound him out about Gaza. What Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians endure should be a clarion call for the world to end the rivers of senseless bloodshed.

If you bomb, drone, invade, desecrate and slaughter—collaterally or otherwise— a people and their lands, they might find ways to return the favour. European colonialism provided the world with a basic lesson about subjugation: The longer any colonial occupation endures, the greater the brutality and extremism in both occupier and occupied.

The illegal Israeli occupation, decades old, is one of the only remaining settler-colonial occupations. Palestinians in Gaza, for the fourth time since 2006, are subject to an Israeli military aggression that pits one of the world's most sophisticated militaries against an impoverished population trapped inside the world's largest prison. Israel aim is to prevent unity between Gaza and the West Bank, and to deny the Palestinian people their right to independence and statehood on the 22% they have left of historic Palestine, a land the UK and France carved up to create Israel after World War II. Gaza was already pulverized before the current offensive; the UN says the level of destruction is now 'unprecedented'. Israel is creating a new generation of enemies. Children, 45% of the 1.8mil people in Gaza, have nothing but memories of explosions and violence. They live in a world they cannot change. It is our moral responsibility to protect these children and rebuild what is left of the home of the Palestinian people.

Israel’s onslaught does a disservice in curbing Islamist extremism and antisemitism. There are now strong common interests between Israel, Arab countries and the international community as none are solely capable of containing spreading radicalism. Israel's refusal to engage with the relatively pragmatic Hamas may lead to the rise of more extreme groups which flourish where there is a power vacuum and desperate peoples. This is a political conflict for which, as history repeatedly demonstrates, there is no military solution. Israel will not budge an inch unless the world demands it.

The concession Hamas most wants from Israel is the lifting of the crippling blockade and the right to build a port and airport in Gaza, facilities promised to the Palestinians under the Oslo peace deal. Under-reported, Hamas’s leader said recently: "I'm ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and the Arabs and non- Arabs ... However, I do not coexist with the occupiers." Hamas has encouraged President Abbas to sign the Rome Statute which will allow Palestine to join the International Criminal Court as a full member, even though Hamas itself could be subject to prosecution. But Abbas is hesitating given forceful opposition by the US and EU. What better recourse, surely, than international law?

The main mediators attempting peace between Israel and Palestine insist on three principles: the Palestinians must recognise the state of Israel, they must abide by previous diplomatic agreements and they must renounce violence. Fine principles that should also be applied to Israel. Israel cannot continue to be a stark exception to the rule of international law and human rights. Calling for an arms ban on Israel should be extended to the Gulf states funding Islamist extremism. It is human rights abuses we must object to, whoever they are carried out by, and the hypocrisy of governments, including our own, which promote arms sales then wrings their hands when the weaponry is used.

Bombs solve nothing. The sheer, terrifying primitiveness of it. Have we passively accepted that this is how the world is run? Hundreds of thousands worldwide protested against the war in Iraq, even greater numbers are now demanding justice for Palestinians. Gaza is a microcosm of the inequality, of the historic and political failure, of the vested interests besetting and weakening the Mideast. The Arab League’s peace initiative, which few Israelis have heard of, has been on the table since 2002. It outlines a way toward stability for the region as a whole, for Israel and Palestine in particular. Only arduous, multi-pronged diplomatic processes addressing the root causes of conflict, ensuring security and rights to everyone, will reduce motivations for war and extremism. This is why the UN was founded, to save mankind from the scourge of war. Little will change in the Middle East unless the major backers of Sunni and Shia extremism, Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively, reach a rapprochement, and the thorn of the Israeli occupation ends - jobs best done under UN auspices.

The UN Human Rights Council just formed an independent commission to investigate purported violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Gaza. The Council decided this by a vote of 29 countries in favour, with 17 abstentions and a sole negative vote by the US. Pushed by international criticism, Israel is conducting talks with Hamas although few hold out hope for a lasting peace agreement unless the US shifts policies and pressures Israel.

This could be the century of a more just and equitable global order but I suspect a lot more of us are going to have to take to the streets.


August 7th 2014 Gaza is a crime made in Washington as well as Jerusalem: The carnage unleashed on the Palestinians is part of a decades-old routine that depends on western support        By Seumas Milne

Global revulsion at the mind-numbing carnage of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza seems finally to have spurred some of the western political class to speak out. The resignation of Sayeeda Warsi, Britain’s first Muslim cabinet minister, in protest against her government’s “morally indefensible” stance, emboldened Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, to demand the suspension of arms export licences to Israel.
Last week it was Ed Miliband who condemned Israel’s invasion and the prime minister’s “silence on the killing of innocent Palestinian civilians”. Even the United States administration denounced its strategic protege’s “disgraceful” bombardment of a school, while Barack Obama described Palestinian suffering as “ heartbreaking” – as if he had nothing to do with it.
Now that Israelis and Palestinians have arrived in Cairo to turn the ceasefire into something more long-lasting, perhaps it feels safer to take a stand. But a month of indiscriminate brutality in which 1,875 Palestinians and 67 Israelis have been killed is still presented, grotesquely, as a war of Israeli self-defence – rather than as a decades-long confrontation between occupier and occupied, in which western governments stand resolutely on the side of the occupier.
And while the overwhelming majority of Palestinian dead are civilians – 430 of them children – and 64 of the Israeli dead are soldiers, it is Hamas that is branded terrorist, rather than the Israeli armed forces armed with the most sophisticated targeting technology in the world.
It’s only necessary to consider for a moment what the reaction would have been if the death toll had been the other way round to realise how loaded are the scales of western moral outrage and selective the appetite for action. And it’s only by ignoring the entire history of the conflict that it can be portrayed as the result of some wearisome ancient ethnic hatred.
This week’s centenary of the outbreak of the first world war should help. David Cameron claims it was fought for freedom. In reality, it was a savage industrial slaughter perpetrated by a gang of imperial powers to carve up territories, markets and resources.
Far from defending democracy or the rights of small nations, Britain and France ended the war divvying up the defeated German and Ottoman empires between them, from Iraq to Palestine. A century on, we’re still living with the consequences.
In my own family, both my grandmothers lost brothers in the 1914-18 war. One was George Mackay Clark, who fought with the Royal Scots in Gallipoli and the campaign to conquer Palestine. He was killed in November 1917, just outside Gaza.
Ten days earlier, a British foreign secretary had signed the Balfour declaration, which on behalf of one people promised to a second the land of a third. Palestine would be a “home for the Jewish people” provided that nothing would prejudice the rights of the “existing non-Jewish communities”, as the Palestinians were described.
So began its full-scale colonisation by mainly European settlers – something that could have happened only under colonial rule – which three decades later would lead to the establishment of Israel and the dispossession or expulsion of the majority of the Palestinian people.
Four Arab-Israeli wars on, the 44% of Palestine allocated to the Palestinian majority under the 1947 UN partition plan had been entirely occupied by Israel – and the Palestinians were fighting a guerrilla war for self-determination and the refugees’ right of return.
The other day I came across a copy of Newsweek magazine from March 1978, with a picture of an Israeli tank on the cover under the headline “Israel strikes back”. Then it was south Lebanon that Israel was punishing, not Gaza – and the “terrorists” of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation, not Hamas, that its forces were targeting.
Israel staged an even larger-scale invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and occupied the south for another 18 years. Since the Oslo agreement of the early 1990s failed to produce the Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza it was supposed to, Israel has colonised, bombed and reinvaded the Palestinian territories it illegally occupies (along with Syria and Lebanon) time and again: in 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2012.
The justification is always the same: the security of the occupier must be upheld against the resistance of the occupied and blockaded population. And at every stage Israel has had the military, financial and diplomatic support of the west, the US above all.
Despite the hand-wringing, that backing has been unwavering throughout the past month’s devastation of Gaza. Not only is Israel’s right of “self-defence” in a territory it illegally controls upheld, while the same right is denied to the Palestinians, but the US, whose military aid to Israel runs to $3bn a year, has been re-supplying it with weapons as its troops and aircraft pulverised and massacred their way through an impoverished territory from which its captive people are unable to escape.
Europe is in the same game. Britain has licensed the sale of a startling £8bn worth of military or dual-use equipment since 2010, and £42m of direct arms sales – including parts for drones and tanks used in the destruction of Gaza.
But a month on, Israel has failed to achieve its objectives. It has “mown the lawn”, as Israel’s military likes to describe its campaigns of destruction and bloodletting. But Hamas has been strengthened by its defiance and military performance; its rate of rocket fire was barely reduced by Israel’s attacks; and the united front with other Palestinian groups Israel is so keen to destroy has been shored up by the campaign.
If the Palestinians are going to break out of their current subjection, that will have to go further. For the rest of the world it’s the outrageous big-power backing for Israel’s 47-year illegal occupation, colonisation and denial of Palestinian rights – while orchestrating an endless phoney peace process that simply allows the land grab to continue – that has to be challenged and dismantled.
Global public opinion has shifted decisively in favour of justice for the Palestinians. What’s needed is to turn that into unrelenting pressure for an end to support for occupation, an arms embargo and sanctions, from above and below. The horror of Gaza is a crime made in Washington and London, as well as Jerusalem.


July 25th 2014 Letter to my MP, Sir Alan Beith

Dear Alan,

As one of your constituents I am writing to ask, plea in fact, that you take a stand on the violence currently being perpetrated by Israel in Gaza. I am not sure if outrage is outweighed by grief at witnessing this escalating human destruction.
   When did slaughtering civilians you illegally occupy and daily humiliate become the new ‘self defence’? Would a British government be so crazed as to illegally occupy its next door neighbour for 50 years, deny their history, steal their resources, move settlers into choice locations while caging the ousted ‘natives’ within remaining sealed remnants, then bomb them for firing (relative to Israel’s awesome arsenal) garden-shed rockets?
   Be clear, I do not condone any violence by either party. We mourn each victim. But every law of human decency, war and international law is being broken in the targeting of civilians in Gaza. A Palestinian boy wrote on Facebook, “We have nothing left to lose. Now I would rather die with my family under the rubble of our house than have a humiliating truce. No justice, no peace.”
   Those who maintain a strangling siege reap reprisal. Those who turned Gaza into an overcrowded, impoverished internment camp should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth, just as imprisoned Jewish people and British soldiers did during the war. Those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the Green Line, expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements – what right do they have to raise their hands and speak of Palestinian terrorism? Avi Shlaim, the Emeritus Professor of International Relations at St Antony's College in Oxford said the occupation has turned Israel into a colonial power and colonialism has the habit of brutalising not only the occupied but the occupier as well. What is happening is a tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
   You know how much I admire you Alan but please do not just send me a thoughtful, placatory letter saying the UK government believes, as we all do, that a negotiated two-state solution remains the only way to resolve the conflict once and for all. We have been saying that for years. We all know that London and Washington give almost ironclad support for Israel and US vetoes at the UN shield prosecution for war crimes and the occupation. I would like you to go and see the Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, and tell him that public anger is steadily growing at the impotence of political and judicial systems, locally and globally, to enforce justice, equality and human rights.
   Thus far, the UK, which bears a historic responsibility for this conflict, has intervened in a way that either blatantly supports Israel or professes to be even handed which, given the gross asymmetry of the struggle, amounts to the same thing. This continuing feeble equivocation plays into the belief of the Israeli leadership that they can continue to commit war crimes with impunity. Not holding them to account by using our considerable leverage internationally is to fail the helpless civilians of Gaza but also encourages Israel, and all those with a militaristic mindset, that they can perpetuate a violent modus operandi.
   I will end with the words of Haider Eid, associate professor of post-modern literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University: “The urgent question facing us in Gaza is not just how to survive for today, but how to hold Israel accountable to international law and basic principles of human rights; how to stop this from ever happening again. Knowing that the credible Goldstone report on suspected war crimes in Gaza in 2008-09, and reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are all ignored or undermined, there is a bitter awareness that we in Gaza can have no expectation of Israeli accountability for the current onslaught… What Palestine needs from the world today is not just a condemnation of the Gaza massacres and siege, but also a delegitimization of the ideology that produced this policy and justifies it morally and politically, just as the racist ideology of apartheid was delegitimized.”

With affection and respect,

July 23rd 2014 The Lancet: Leading doctors and scientists denounce Gaza violence

More than 20 leading doctors and scientists from the UK and Italy denounce ongoing Israeli military aggression in Gaza in a letter to The Lancet, published today.
"On the basis of our ethics and practice, we are denouncing what we witness in the aggression of Gaza by Israel," write the authors. "We ask our colleagues, old and young professionals, to denounce this Israeli aggression."
"We are appalled by the military onslaught on civilians in Gaza under the guise of punishing terrorists. This is the third large scale military assault on Gaza since 2008. Each time the death toll is borne mainly by innocent people in Gaza, especially women and children under the unacceptable pretext of Israel eradicating political parties and resistance to the occupation and siege they impose."
The letter states that tightening blockades imposed on Gaza by Israel in the last year have not only caused starvation and poverty for residents of Gaza, but have also resulted in a dangerous lack of access to medicine and healthcare.
"Wounded and sick people cannot leave easily to get specialised treatment outside Gaza. Entries of food and medicines into Gaza have been restricted and many essential items for survival are prohibited. Before the present assault, medical stock items in Gaza were already at an all time low because of the blockade. They have run out now."
"As we write, the BBC reports of the bombing of another hospital, hitting the intensive care unit and operating theatres, with deaths of patients and staff. There are now fears for the main hospital Al Shifa. Moreover, most people are psychologically traumatised in Gaza. Anyone older than 6 years has already lived through their third military assault by Israel."
"None of these are military objectives. These attacks aim to terrorise, wound the soul and the body of the people, and make their life impossible in the future, as well as also demolishing their homes and prohibiting the means to rebuild."
"We as scientists and doctors cannot keep silent while this crime against humanity continues. We urge readers not to be silent too. Gaza trapped under siege, is being killed by one of the world's largest and most sophisticated modern military machine. The land is poisoned by weapon debris, with consequences for future generations. If those of us capable of speaking up fail to do so and take a stand against this war crime, we are also complicit in the destruction of the lives and homes of 1•8 million people in Gaza."


July 17th 2014 Palestinians need a state of their own; Israel cannot remain oasis of peace in a region on fire

The tragic scenario rarely varies much. Makeshift Palestinian rockets fly out of Gaza and Israel’s guided missiles and artillery shells rain in. The Israeli government vows to eradicate Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the teeming Gaza Strip. Hamas and its allies beat their breasts and vow eternal resistance. Hundreds of Palestinians, mainly civilians, die, until an international outcry calls a halt to the killing. Mediators manage to tweak the rules of engagement, and both sides reload for the next time. It is a desolate picture. Reaction to this conflict, the third in the past five years, has been muted. Syria’s savage civil war, the springboard for the lightning seizure by jihadis of swaths of Iraq, eclipses what for many looks like a new episode in a wearisomely familiar feud. That is short-sighted. The current conflict follows the kidnap and killing last month of three Jewish seminary students from a settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and the subsequent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s premier, instantly blamed Hamas for the kidnapping, although it looks to have been perpetrated by the Qawasmeh clan in Hebron, which has a record as spoilers of previous ceasefires. What they spoiled in this instance was the unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah, its nationalist rivals in the Palestinian Authority that governs part of the West Bank. That deal afforded Mr Netanyahu the excuse to break off US-brokered talks on a two-states solution that had in any case collapsed, mainly as a result of the intransigence of his rightwing coalition, which has accelerated the colonisation of the land on which the Palestinians hope to build their state. Yet neither side sought to renew hostilities. Hamas, in particular, is hemmed in and incapable of offering anything but more despair and destruction. The Islamist movement fell out with Iran by refusing to side with Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian conflict, and lost its Muslim Brotherhood ally in neighbouring Egypt after Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s military coup last summer. Mr Sisi, Egypt’s new president, regards Hamas – the Palestinian chapter of the Brotherhood – as an enemy fuelling the growing jihadi menace in the Sinai peninsula. That is one reason Hamas dismissed Egypt’s ceasefire formula, which has no provision for Cairo to reopen the Rafah crossing to Egypt in southern Gaza, much less lift Israel’s blockade of Gaza’s northern border and seaport. Hamas continued firing after Tuesday’s ceasefire was supposed to take hold, presumably intending to show its supporters its infrastructure has hardly been dented and that it can break the siege. That is a delusion. What is more likely is that Israel, in tacit alliance with Egypt, will try to break Hamas, at a cost of many more lives. Yet beyond Hamas lies the spectre of the unbridled jihadism seen in Syria and Iraq – which already has bridgeheads in Palestinian refugee camps across the region as well as in Gaza. In this particular conflict, international actors need to mobilise countries such as Turkey and Qatar that have leverage with Hamas, and may persuade them of the ruinous futility of their rocket attacks. Ultimately, that should mean engagement with a Fatah-Hamas coalition government, conditional on an end to violence and a meaningful negotiating framework. That is unlikely. Israeli policy has left the Palestinian Authority toothless and discredited, its land eaten away by the continuing occupation of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem. But Israel’s reputation in the world is also eroding, and it is an illusion to think it can remain an oasis of peace and prosperity in a region on fire, so long as the Palestinians have no prospect of a viable state of their own.

July 14th 2014



Dear partners and friends,

   As you all know by now, almost a week ago, under the false pretense of self-defense, Israel launched yet a new deadly massive attack on Gaza. At the time of my writing this message to you, 151 people have been killed, among which at least 26 children, and another 1,000 at least injured. OCHA estimates that over 75% of victims so far have been civilians. More than 500 homes have been either completely destroyed or severely damaged, putting over 3,200 people – families with young children and elderly – in the streets. 300,000 more are threatened with displacement if Israel moves forward with the announced ground operation. Just yesterday morning, Israeli forces bombed a care facility for people with special needs without any warning while 5 patients and one nurse were inside. The building was destroyed and two of the residents, two handicapped women, were literally blown to pieces.
   The humanitarian situation in the Strip is dire. Shortages of medications, of medical supplies, of fuel to power generators and ambulances, lack of spare parts for medical equipment and emergency vehicles, overcrowded ICUs… The list goes on. 350,000 are affected by the damage sustained to major sanitation infrastructure.
   Not to mention the mental trauma for a population already suffering from sky-rocketing rates of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and other stress- and trauma-related disorders. As of Friday 11 July 2014, an estimated 1,500 children have been directly impacted by the killing or injuring of a relative or the destruction of their homes. Meanwhile, settler attacks and Israeli army and police violence against Palestinian civilians continue in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with near impunity. Yet all Western leaders and mainstream media can come up with are disingenuous statements parroting Israeli disinformation and blaming the victims.
   It is time to finally debunk once and for all the Israeli narrative and expose it for what it is: propaganda in its most dishonest form. No, Hamas and other groups are not the aggressors. No, there is no right to self-defense in the context of a violent and brutal occupation. There is no such thing as restraint, there are no “surgical strikes” on a territory with a population density of 4,822 persons per square kilometer. The war Israel is waging on Gaza right now is not about self-defense, it is not even about destroying Hamas. It is a war about complete control over a territory and a people and it is being conducted with complete disregard for human life. It is a war aimed at destroying the resilience of an entire people – and if we don’t act immediately, if we don’t change the current narrative and re-establish the truth, it might very well succeed this time.
   We need you. We need not only your continuous invaluable material and moral support for which we are ever so grateful; we need you to take action and take a further stand with us. We call on you all who are able to do so to come at once to Palestine to be our witnesses and our voices to the outside world. Bring with you your cameras, your press contacts, your local and national celebrities.
   The UN Security Council, paralyzed by the US, will not send an observer mission? Let you be our peacekeeping observers. Let’s flood Israel’s border posts with international citizens standing up for justice and show the world what is really going on in Palestine. Together, we can force mainstream media to talk about the real issues and reach all people of conscience in Europe and in the United States. Let’s do it for our children.

Palestinian Medical Relief Society


July 8th 2014

Here are some numbers to put recent sad events in context:
Number of Palestinian children killed by Israelis since 2000: 1,500 (and how many of them have you heard about in the news?)
Number of Israeli children killed by Palestinians since 2000: 132
Number of Palestinian children now in Israeli jails: 200

Number of Palestinian children Israel has arrested since 2010: 3,000
Palestinian children arrested, detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military detention system each year: 500-700
Percentage of these arrested Palestinian children who have been subjected to physical abuse and/or torture: 75%
Percentage of arrested Palestinian children who face Israeli military trials: 25%



For Israel’s existence, peace with the Palestinians is the only way
There is no method for achieving the goals of Zionism than dialogue, agreements and compromise with our neighbors.


Haaretz Editorial | July 8th 2014 http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.603620

   In the past, the longing for peace united Israeli society, which sought to end the conflict with the Palestinians and the Arab world. But in recent years, and especially since the second intifada, it seems as if Israel has given up on the peace option. The debate instead focuses on ways to manage the conflict, so the price is apparently tolerable to the public and the leaders won’t be forced to make hard decisions.
   Under the guise of the status quo, the settlement enterprise has expanded and the discriminatory regime of one law for Jews and another for Arabs has become entrenched in the West Bank. Israel has made great efforts to push Palestinians into enclaves (known as Areas A and B in the Oslo Accords) in order to make room for more settlers and the possible annexation of open areas. The occupation has spread to Israel within the Green Line in the form of attempts to crush the democratic regime, suppress the Arab community’s political expression and restrain human-rights activists.
   Haaretz has sponsored the Israel Conference on Peace, which opens Tuesday in Tel Aviv, to reinstate peace in the public debate as the essential choice for the country’s future. Only a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and in its wake with Arab countries as well, will ensure Israel’s existence in the region as a state with recognized borders and preserve its democratic character with a Jewish majority. There is no other way to achieve the goals of Zionism than the way of dialogue, agreements and compromise with our neighbors.
   The freeze in the diplomatic process has led to another round of violence and to growing fears of a third intifada. The events of the past few weeks have revived fears on both sides. The incitement by right-wing politicians, who always propose more and more force, threatens to drown Israelis and Palestinians in rivers of blood.
   The only answer to these hate-filled statements is to refuse to give up, to proudly raise the banner of peace and to show that it is both necessary and possible. Precisely at this difficult time the debate must focus on the reasons peace has tarried and how it can be achieved.
   In articles contributed to Haaretz in honor of the conference, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal show that Israel has a partner for a peace agreement based on the Arab League’s peace initiative and dividing the land into two states – Israel and Palestine. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues must step up to the challenge and show that such an agreement also has an Israeli partner.


June 18th 2014

Palestine and Israel - looking for leadership and a saner world

“The world cannot lend its hand to this. It is unacceptable, in the 21stcentury, for a state that purports to be a permanent member of the free world to keep another nation deprived of rights. It is unthinkable, simply unthinkable, for millions of Palestinians to continue to live in these conditions. It is unthinkable for a democratic state to continue to oppress them in this way. It is unthinkable that the world stands by and allows this to happen.” Gideon Levy, Haaretz, May 2014

The Middle East has long been tainted by the Sykes-Picot agreement which realized Balfour’s 1917 promise to give British support to the creation of a Jewish “homeland” in Palestine. The awful violence this week further reveals the profound political significance it wrought on the colonial map of the Middle East. There is little the vast majority of peaceful Muslims around the world can do. Along with Iraq and Syria, Shia-Sunni sectarian warfare blights Yemen, Pakistan and Bahrain, and tensions are high in other states, especially the Arabian Gulf and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, with the peace talks being dead, what is going to happen in Israel and Palestine? Well, settlements will continue to be built apace, dispossession will continue against Palestinians, slowly the “apartheid” context of Israel will become more and more obvious. The world cannot lend its hand to this. It is completely unacceptable, in the 21st century, for a state that purports to be a permanent member of the democratic world to keep another nation oppressed and deprived of rights. It is unthinkable for millions of Palestinians to continue to live in these conditions.

The long promised Palestinian unity government was sworn in on 2 June and, happily, cautiously, the UN, US, EU, Russia and China have agreed to work with it. President Abbas says new elections will be held within six months. So this is part of Mr Abbas’s new strategy – creating a momentum towards statehood at the United Nations. He is right, a diplomatic option offers the best hope.

I wonder if Israel agrees with Mr Barroso of the EU who said the situation is “untenable in the long run” and peace with the Palestinians is in Israel’s best security interests? I suspect the status quo seems rather good to Israel. In Egypt the army toppled the Islamist president and security co-operation with Israel has rarely been closer. As a result Hamas in Gaza has been weakened, not least by Egypt’s closure of underground tunnels. Israel does not like the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, but the Palestinians are still far from unified, and remain compounded behind Israel’s security barriers and largely forgotten by Arab states.

The question of Palestine is just one of many problems in the Middle East, and perhaps not even the most pressing one presently but what happens there matters. The EU could step up by making a clear and simple offer: if Israel and Palestine reach a full and final peace agreement, they should be eligible for membership of both the EU and NATO, and economic packages will flow.

When it comes to Western action in the Middle East, the law of unintended consequences applies. The history of the past decade in the Middle East suggests that western military force has a sorry record in securing lasting and acceptable political outcomes. European diplomacy on behalf of Palestine would go a long way in the history books and in the Muslim psyche.



May 15th 2014

Israel and Palestine - not all is lost

With the predicted demise of negotiations, blame for the collapse – be it Israel, the Palestinians or shortfalls in US brokering - is not the issue. The occupation itself is the continuing concern and, even more so, the balking by Israel and the US to heed international law. So while the occupation snowballs with, according to Peace Now, 500 Palestinian structures destroyed and 14,000 new settlement units announced since negotiations began, the Palestinians are joining a plethora of United Nations agencies. Hopefully this will lead to an international effort calling for equality under the law. By going to the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC), Palestinians can enlist an international community that has grown progressively sympathetic to their plight and increasingly critical of Israeli governance. A group of 17 Palestinian and international human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are now urging Palestine to urgently seek access to the ICC.

Kerry bravely articulated that Israel risks evolving into an “apartheid” state if it cannot find a way to finalise a two-state solution. There are about 1.7 million Arab/Palestinian citizens in Israel that are already treated as second-class citizens, denied the same rights as the Jews. Accepting a "Jewish state of Israel", as Netanyahu demanded of the Palestinians during negotiations, is tantamount to recognizing an apartheid regime.

There will be no true negotiations if Israel cannot acknowledge that it is indeed an occupying power and therefore the onus is on them as the occupier to act. If the US is serious about peace, Obama and Kerry should indicate they will no longer use the US veto to protect Israel from a resolution in the UN Security Council condemning settlements as illegal. The pro-Israel lobby, with some help from the US Congress, continually plays an important role in determining the boundaries of criticism against Israel but its power could be waning.

The talks may have failed to deliver a peace accord but what has changed significantly over the last year is public awareness of the Palestinians’ plight and of Israel’s methodical policy of brutality and belligerence. Israel may not like it, and may deny it, but world opinion is shifting; an international boycott movement gains momentum. The other welcome outcome is the announcement of a unity deal between Fatah and Hamas with elections predicted in a few months. The devil lies in the details, yet to be settled, of how a unified government will work. Even so, the announcement went over like the proverbial lead balloon with Israel and the US but surely a united Palestinian government would be more representative and legitimate so to be welcomed?

Palestine has a greater presence in the UN than ever before, and is recognized by 132 UN members, about 68% of that world body (Israel is recognized by 160 countries, about 83%), and that number is slowly growing. The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton warned Israel of potential repercussions of suspending peace talks with the Palestinian Authority in the aftermath of the Fatah-Hamas agreement. However, Ashton welcomed the idea of holding genuine elections in Palestine which are more than overdue. But will Hamas commit to peaceful diplomacy and renounce violence as Fatah has done? Palestine has signed global treaties banning torture and racial discrimination, corruption, and protecting the rights of women, children and the disabled – all core human rights treaties so a significant step towards enhancing the promotion and protection of human rights in Palestine. Although you would not know it from the mainstream media, the Hamas vision of peaceful coexistence in Israel/Palestine is similar to the international consensus on what a permanent peace should look like — as well as closer to international law and relevant UN resolutions — than the Israeli vision, not that any Israeli government has yet articulated what vision exists beyond maintaining and managing the occupation indefinitely.

There is a lot to worry about. With Egypt engulfed by political turmoil, Saudi Arabia fixated on the threat from Iran, and the region drowning in refugees from the ghastly Syrian civil war, the fate of the Palestinians has dropped down the region’s list of priorities. Some columnists predict the region will be overtaken by small but toxic wars that extend from Iraq to Syria and from northern Sinai to Yemen. Frustration and violence could easily fester anew in the West Bank and Gaza, especially with Israeli and US economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority on the heels of the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas. To add to the seething, unemployment rate among the Palestinian labour force has reached 26% with youth being particularly affected. Further, with Israeli-Palestinian relations deteriorating, Palestinian officials are warning that its security forces will stop helping the Israeli army to thwart attacks unless settlement construction in the occupied West Bank is halted.

The Palestinians will get their state in the end - whether through violence or by turning to international organizations. Let us hope to goodness it is via the latter.

April 21st 2014

There is no equality between occupier and occupied, oppressor and oppressed

From many reports on the seeming demise of the peace negotiations, it seems the jailer and the prisoner are to be blamed equally. There is no equality between occupier and occupied, oppressor and oppressed. If two sides to negotiations are so extremely unequal, surely the situation can only be remedied by an impartial mediator. In defiance of the UN, Israel’s occupation continues generation after generation, decade after decade, with no end in sight. John Kerry’s noble but skewed efforts sadly reflect another compliant US congress providing massive funding and arms for Israel to continue unrestrained, illegal settlement building and discrimination. Israel and the US are now issuing threats to Palestine for turning to the international community for, as is their legal right, signing treaties on racism, genocide, civil and political rights, as well as the rights of the disabled, women and children. Why is this an outrage while Israel, daily, unrelentingly, is in direct violation of these Geneva Conventions? Why is this a ‘unilateral act which is unhelpful to the peace process’? On the contrary, it could help to redress the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians and spur further effort this month. The road to the International Criminal Court could be short from here but surely ‘lawfare’ is preferable to warfare? The only realistic path to peace is for the US to acknowledge Israel as the stronger party, the occupier, and thus the side obliged - legally, morally, and practically - to make concessions.

April 9th 2014

Netanyahu's settlement policy in West Bank now outside US Control

By Anthony Bellchambers

A compliant US congress calculates that Israeli premier Netanyahu is now beyond any military, political or financial control and can continue unrestrained with his illegal settlement building until the entire West Bank is ethnically cleansed. This is the consequence not only of the compliance of this congress but of the covert collusion of successive American administrations with the Israel lobby. Compounding this congressional collusion is the team of presidential advisers in the White House who support the aims and ambitions of the Political Zionist movement that seeks to avoid the will of the UN Assembly and to allow the continued ethnic-cleansing of the West Bank and East Jerusalem where Palestinian Arabs have lived for well over a thousand years, by rubber-stamping the massive funding and arming of the Netanyahu government. That this is a complete failure of democracy is patently obvious but it is also a political and military disaster given that Israel has been allowed to become the world's only undeclared nuclear weapon state with a secret arsenal estimated to contain up to 400 warheads and a fleet of cruise missile submarines with a second strike capability that is more powerful than any of the 28 member states of the European Union. Why have three hundred million Americans allowed their elected representatives in Congress to irretrievably change the balance of global power that is so detrimental to their own safety and security? That is the question that urgently requires an answer as nuclear control is removed from the IAEA and the UN Security Council to a state that was created by the UN itself in 1948 ostensibly to fulfil a humanitarian need but which has, unbelievably, been allowed to transmogrify into the nuclear tail that wags the global dog.

March 30th 2014

Palestine, Crimea and President Obama

After nine months of intensive diplomacy, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks appear to be on the brink of collapse.

Much energy is being spent on the release of Palestinian prisoners, not on core issues such as defining borders, determining the future of Palestinian refugees, providing for Israel’s security and the future of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Arab leaders this week backed Abbas in declaring that they will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, as Israel has demanded, adding a new complication to peacemaking.

But what an opportunity to pass. Failure could trigger more violence in an already unstable region. The Israeli/Palestinian crisis needs substantive Israeli concessions and renewed US pressure.

In tandem, the US needs to look at difficult issues, such as human rights in Saudi Arabia, Gaza, and seriously take on board the Arab conviction that America is never even-handed on Palestine. The UN Human Rights Rights Council in Geneva just passed four resolutions on the question of Palestine and the United States was the sole “no” vote in every single case.

Between August 2013, a month after the talks started, and February this year, 34 Palestinians have been killed and 1,535 injured (in the same period there have been three Israeli deaths and 53 injuries). Meanwhile, 10,509 housing units on illegal settlements have been approved by the Israeli authorities. Is there any wonder that many Palestinians don't want to continue the "peace" talks? The Palestinian people deserve far more.

And what must the Palestinians think of Obama’s rhetoric over Russia's occupation of Crimea? Repeatedly he invoked democracy, self-determination, human equality, territorial integrity and dignity — principles the US nullifies in its policy in Israel and Palestine. Obama said Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident; that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters. Sovereignty and self-determination must be addressed through constitutional means and international laws so that majorities cannot simply suppress minorities, and big countries cannot simply bully the small. But Obama continually refers to Israel as a democracy while Palestinians have almost no rights.

Obama said annexation is an evil around the world but annexation is alive and well in Palestine, carried out by an occupying army that the US supports with billions every year. He cites sovereignty and territorial integrity when Palestinians have never had either, and are rapidly losing lands to Jewish settlers – but Obama vetoed a resolution against Israeli settlements in the UN Security Council.

Enough to make you weep.

March 5th 2014

Either Israel ends the occupation or the occupation with destroy Israel

Published in The Journal March 10th 2014

The carving up of Arab lands to found Israel after the Second World War was not Britain’s finest hour. How tragic, after all the Jewish people have suffered over centuries, that the once oppressed have now become the oppressors. The world is showing signs that it will no longer tolerate Israel’s occupation; Israel is facing growing international isolation and boycotts. Israel cannot continue to be both a Jewish state and a democracy if it denies rights to the Palestinians indefinitely.
   Neither finger-pointing nor dual empathy will end such an asymmetric conflict. It is a picture of utter power and complete powerlessness, of failed diplomacy. Palestinians have known nothing but an existence defined by checkpoints, demands for identity papers, night raids, detentions, house demolitions, displacement, verbal abuse, intimidation, physical attacks, imprisonment and violent death. The conflict, to Palestinians, is about an illegal occupation, it is about land and justice first and foremost. Acknowledging the extent, brutality and illegality of the Israeli occupation of every aspect of Palestinian life, of their land and resources, is necessary for any just and lasting peace. The onus is on the occupier, not the occupied.
   Either Israel ends the occupation or the occupation will destroy Israel. Israel currently has 260 Jewish-only settlements on confiscated Palestinian land. Palestinians do not have any settlements on Israeli land. No Israeli homes have been demolished by Palestinians while least 27,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel since 1967. One Israeli is under arrest in Palestine, there are nearly 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Since Netanyahu came to office in March 2009, Israeli forces have displaced more than 4,100 Palestinians by demolishing homes in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, according to figures compiled from reports by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Without condoning Palestinian violence, I wonder how we would feel at the systematic destruction of our land and homes by a military goliath acting with impunity.
   From the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000 up to April 2013:
• 129 Israeli children and 1,518 Palestinian children have been killed; that is the equivalent of one Palestinian child killed by Israel’s occupation forces every 3 days for almost 13 years
• 1,104 Israelis and at least 6,836 Palestinians have been killed; 9,104 Israelis and 50,742 Palestinians have been injured.
Israel has been targeted by at least 77 UN resolutions, the Palestinians by 1. During 2013, the US provided Israel with at least $8.5 million per day in military aid and none to the Palestinians. May John Kerry, in his laudable determination to broker a peace accord, bear in mind that since the Camp David Accords, the US has used its veto power at the UN Security Council 42 times on behalf of Israel.
   Military might is not the long-term solution to peace in such a tumultuous region. If persistence at peace negotiations can defuse the crisis in Syria and the Palestinian issue is addressed in accordance to international law, and if the ongoing detente with Iran succeeds, then hopes that have eluded the Arabs - and perhaps the world - for a long time might just be possible.

February 3rd 2014


"It is disingenuous to romanticise settlement enterprises. The occupation imprisons thousands of the Palestinians’ young men, gives their land and water to settlers, demolishes their houses and partitions the remaining territory with scores of checkpoints and segregated roads. There are almost no basic foundations for an economy. The way to create Palestinian jobs is to end the occupation and let Palestinians build those foundations – not to build “bridges to peace” on other people’s land without their permission". Extract from FT editorial Feb 1st 2014

Sir, Your excellent and succinct editorial “A star stumbles in the settlements” (February 1) could not be a more timely reminder of the necessity, be it by politicians or corporations, to heed international law. The US, as a rule, places more emphasis on Israeli demands than it does on Palestinian rights. May US secretary of state John Kerry, in his laudable determination to broker a peace accord, bear in mind that since the Camp David Accords were brokered in 1978, the US has used its veto power 42 times on behalf of Israel; that includes, in February 2011, a resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion that had the support of 14 members of the UN Security Council.
Catherine Thick, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

January 29th 2014


“The reason we’re so devoted to finding a solution is simple: Because the benefits of success and the dangers of failure are enormous for the United States, for the world, for the region and, most importantly of all, for the Israeli and Palestinian people.” Senator John Kerry

“The US continues to seek exclusive power for this on-going crisis. Palestine is central to the entire Arab people, but continues to be treated by the US as a separate problem, rendering all the resolutions of the United Nations irrelevant and inapplicable, and by Israel, parasitical and objectionable.” Clovis Maksoud

“If Israel wishes to be regarded as a western-style democracy, it must decide to give up Arab land conquered through war. Should it choose to stick to the status quo and deny basic human rights to four million Palestinians, the US should not add to the some 40 or so vetoes it has already exercised in the UN Security Council to protect Israel from sanctions. Israel’s filibustering tactics at peace talks must not continue to be rewarded”. Hugh Reilly

Secretary of State John Kerry intends to present the framework agreement setting out the principles for resolution of the core issues between Israel and the Palestinians within a few weeks. Some would argue that there is no need for a framework agreement: Israel must acknowledge that it is an occupying power subject to acting in accordance with the 4th Geneva conventions. Israel leaving the occupied territories should be the basis of a just peace.

As Gershon Baskin of IPCRI wrote recently, the Palestinians are no different from the Israelis in that they too are willing to fight and die for a territorial expression of their identity. There is only one solution Gershon went on to say to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – two states for two peoples. As a Jew, a Zionist and a proud Israeli he wants to have prosperous and happy neighbours living in a state of their own, next to Israel, living side-by-side in peace.

A major shift in the discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is well under way. Israel is watching traditional allies in the West dry up due to widening criticism of the country’s behaviour toward the Palestinians. Helped by the social media and an internationalising boycott movement that is gaining ground, the conflict once been draped in purely security-related terms, is becoming a rights-based discourse on all those under Israeli control from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. For example, over 2000 BBC viewers and listeners have contacted the BBC to urge it not to award G4S with a security contract worth £80 million. G4S services Israeli prisons to which Palestinian prisoners are illegally transferred in serious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and also, in the case of child prisoners, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is credible evidence that Palestinian prisoners – including children – are routinely subjected to violence and torture at G4S serviced prisons in Israel and Palestine.

Since talks started last July, Israel has unveiled plans to build some 5,349 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - land the Palestinians want for their future state. The European Union’s Ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Anderson, said if the settlement business continues to expand, Israel will be facing increasing isolation. Produce grown in illegal Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley is becoming increasingly difficult to sell to European market; export-driven income has dropped by more than 14%, largely due to supermarket chains in Europe refusing to stock the produce. Britain was singled out as a particularly problematic market for illegal settlement goods. By the same token, the EU has warned the aid-dependent Palestinians it might reduce the 1 billion Euros it hands them each year - crucial budget support for the Palestinian Authority in self-rule areas, if they snub Kerry's initiative.

In his recent book, The Crisis of Zionism, American journalist Peter Beinart argues that more and more American Jews no longer support Israel the way they once did because they have grown disenchanted with the conflict and occupation, and Israel’s liberal intellectuals are also taking action too. On the other hand, a campaign called Yesha reflects the power of the settler lobby in Israel which is bigger and better organised than at any time in the country’s past.

As the tension ratchets over the ongoing Kerry initiated negotiations, we are watching a polarization of positions within Israel, Palestine and internationally. The gloves are off. Dr. Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations in New York, said that the international community must act collectively to hold Israel accountable for its violations and crimes and salvage the prospects for the realization of peace and justice in this year. He said, "The international community, foremost the Security Council, has clear responsibilities and must no longer tolerate Israel’s blatant contempt for international law." The Palestinians say they are ready to shift their battle for an independent state on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war to the International Criminal Court if the negotiations prove fruitless.

Palestinians will not accept any deal short of having East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine and they refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Israel cannot make peace with the Palestinians so long as it fears that a free Palestine next door would be a base for terrorism or attacks on Israel. So back to the security argument. Israel reaps more than $600 million in revenue from agriculture in the Jordan valley. The Palestinians believe Israel wants annex the entire valley — about 25 percent of the West Bank — and never surrender it. But Israel has peace accords with Jordan and Egypt. The greatest way to ensure security surely would be further peace agreements, especially with the Palestinians.

Peacemaking needs tremendous courage. It requires mutual concessions and unpopular decisions. It must be crafted by leaders and supported by the people. It is a test of leadership. The post-conflict era is generally characterized by prolonged instability in the transition from warfare to cooperation. The real fruits of peace can take years. We remain hopeful Kerry will defy the pessimists and secure a deal in the coming weeks to allow, at the very least, detailed talks to continue beyond the original nine-month deadline, which expires at the end of April.

January 7th 2014


Posted in The Guardian

"Awaiting justice" could summarise your excellent editorial squarely laying responsibility for failure at Israeli and American doors. For all the Palestinian leadership's shortcomings, the onus is without doubt on the occupier, not the occupied. Israelis cannot be blind to the cause of their growing isolation given the extent of Israel's disrespect, sadly condoned by the US, for international law.

As Kerry arrives in the Middle East, an Israeli ministerial committee approves a Knesset bill allowing Israel to annex the Jordan Valley and, going by history, Israel will announce this week or next plans to proceed with about 1,400 new housing units on Palestinian land. Unless the US, with the UN and EU, promptly enforces the illegality of the occupation, there is no chance of a just and durable peace.

December 18th 2013



According to Kerry this week, Israel and Palestine remain committed to a peace deal to be completed by April 2014. With equal certainty, political pundits predict doom for the peace talks. The US will have to decide which card to play: force a final agreement on both sides, or abandon the effort and risk renewed violence. Tensions in the West Bank are growing while living conditions in Gaza are worsening rapidly.

   The United Nations recently slammed Israel's demolition of 30 Palestinian properties in the West Bank, saying it displaced some families for the second time in less than two weeks. According to rights groups and charities including Oxfam, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, demolitions facilitate the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, with 60 percent of demolitions occurring in Palestinian communities close to settlement zones.

   While the US is proposing a marathon three-way summit between the sides within a few weeks with the aim of drawing up a framework for peace, the European Union is reported to be offering a lucrative aid package to both sides if they reach an agreement. Besides the other issues (refugees, Jerusalem etc), a key concern from Israel’s perspective is border security. The Palestinian government is resisting a US security plan it considers biased toward Israel, allowing the Israelis to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley. Abbas has said he would sign any plan that would include replacing Israeli troops with multinational soldiers wherever Israeli soldiers are currently placed throughout the occupied territories. Surely, this is what the UN is for?

   The EU is, happily, putting on pressure. Continued European Union sanctions against the settlements are being discussed. Israeli produce from the West Bank would be marked as such in European supermarkets. Guidance to business issued by the British government on December 3rd reaffirms the view that settlements in the occupied territories including East Jerusalem are illegal. There have also been attempts to interrupt international collaboration with the Israeli defence industry, most recently a demand by War on Want for an EU embargo on arms trade with Israel, specifically an end to collaboration on the manufacture of drones.
    Israel needs to face its growing international isolation. Kerry has warned Netanyahu of the drive to delegitimize Israel and of a boycott campaign that will unfold if talks fail. These warnings by Secretary of State Kerry and European diplomat are already starting to play out. The number of boycotts and sanctions by Western states is certainly increasing. The main
targets of this campaign are the settlements and any entity associated with them. Let us hope Bibi gets the message in time.


November 5th 2013


Recent events underline an important principle in international relations – that negotiation, even if difficult, can deliver incremental progress on apparently intractable problems. The current impasse in the Israeli- Palestinian peace talks justifies imposing international diplomatic intervention in the peace process. Palestinian officials commented on the transitional agreement reached in Geneva last week between Iran and the world powers, saying the deal was a message to Israel that peace is obtainable. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Geneva agreement on the Iranian nuclear program was a "new international example" and that should be applied in Palestine. Palestinians have repeatedly called for an international sponsorship to help resolve their predicament and end conflict with Israel. This call is made as they reach a deadlock in the direct peace talks with Israel to resolve the conflict and reach a permanent peace agreement. Israel strongly opposed the international agreement between Iran and the six world powers, will always oppose any Palestinian attempts to influence the international community to help resolve the conflict. Ghasan al-Khatib, a political science professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, says the Palestinian leadership should address the world and demand real international political arrangements to help progress the peace process. It is rumoured the Palestinians are now officially preparing to apply to the UN Assembly as a full member state. Israel and the US are vigorously opposed to "unilateral" actions by the Palestinians. Israel is particularly alarmed at the prospect of the Palestinians signing up to the international criminal court, fearing it could be pursued for alleged war crimes.

John Kerry is due to arrive in the region late on November 5th  for separate discussions with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah on Thursday. The US is to present Israel with security proposals at Thursday's meeting in an effort to advance the talks. Meanwhile, EU officials warned that action on produce originating in Israeli settlements in the West Bank was likely to step up, and that the EU may consider withholding the €300m (£249m) it gives to the Palestinian Authority each year if the talks failed. Without EU funding, the PA would struggle to function. Its collapse would oblige Israel, as an occupying force, to take over the provision of public services. Some Palestinians and their supporters argue that this would be an improvement on a status quo in which, they say, the PA and its international backers provide a fig leaf for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
We wish Kerry well but perhaps other players such as the UN, Russia, China and the EU will be stepping in to impose a solution on Israel?