Monday 16 April 2012

Palestinian Prisoners' Day - 2012

Tomorrow, April 17th is Palestinian Prisoners' Day, a global day of action in support of Palestinian prisoners.  Since 1967 around 700,000 Palestinians have been detained by the occupying Israeli military. That means 2 out of every 5 males. There have been around 10,000 women arrested or detained, and each year there are around 700 prosecutions of people who are under 18.  Currently there are approximately 4,600 Palestinian political prisoners inside Israeli jails. Palestinians, living under occupation and oppression for nearly 64 years, have been targeted for mass imprisonment and detention by the Israeli occupation. Nearly every Palestinian family has been touched by political imprisonment – a father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, cousin, uncle, aunt – from the elderly to children.
Detention is used as a weapon of mass punishment by the Israeli military, who want to suppress every sign of resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. But this cruel practice only strengthens Palestinian resolve - and brutalises those who perpetrate it.  That the Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners, detained solely for their opposition to Israel’s illegal occupation is evidenced by the range of people who are imprisoned.  They include 27 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.  Some of the prisoners are Israeli citizens, like Ameer Makhoul, who was general director of Ittijah – The Union of Arab Community-Based Associations and the Chairman of the Public Committee for the Defense of Political Freedom.
Writers, scholars, students and artists are also Palestinian political prisoners, including Palestinian scholar Dr. Ahmed Qatamesh, who has now been held without trial or charge for nearly a year, Dr. Yousef Abdul Haq, a professor at An-Najah University whose administrative detention was just extended for an additional six months, and Ola Haniyeh, a student leader at Bir Zeit University and a leading political prisoner solidarity activist abducted just before student elections and currently held under interrogation.
The whole process of detention and imprisonment is inherently brutal and contrary to international law.  After arrest, in which Israeli soldiers may deliberately destroy the family home, Palestinians are handcuffed and blindfolded. Humiliation and beatings are routine, and systematic abuse includes long periods of solitary confinement, and prisoners constrained in uncomfortable positions. In this way, many are coerced into signing ‘confessions’ - frequently written in Hebrew, which they can’t understand. Trials are in military courts, which ignore international law. Contrary to International law, these courts treat Palestinians as adults from the age of 16. Even those classified as children are not treated very differently and there are no provisions for them to have a lawyer or family member present when they make a ‘confession’. The majority of Palestinian detainees can be held for 6 months without charge, and once court proceedings start, these can be extended indefinitely. Hundreds more Palestinians are held under indefinite administrative detention for never-specified ‘security’ reasons.
This brutal and inhumane treatment continues once prisoners are put into captivity.  Prisons are overcrowded, airless and suffer extremes of temperature and humidity. Cells are Spartan, food is poor and there is a lack of basics like soap and toothpaste. Medical neglect is systemic, and former prisoners are often left with chronic health problems. Newspapers, learning materials and many TV channels are outlawed. Family visits are severely restricted and often impossible. Gazan prisoners have had no family visits at all since 2007.  Israel has frequently gone back on agreements to release prisoners, and last year’s much publicised release of prisoners in exchange for one captured Israeli soldier, was not all it seemed. Many released prisoners remained under severe constraints, and the prisons were soon refilled with new prisoners.
Opposition, both within Israel and Palestine, to this ongoing injustice is growing.  10 Palestinian prisoners are currently on hunger strike and thousands more prisoners plan to join in a massive hunger strike starting April 17th.  Palestinian Prisoners’ Day is an opportunity for us in the rest of the world to show our solidarity with Palestine.  In Dundee, Tayside for Justice in Palestine will be participating in this global day of action.  Join us at the City Square in demanding the immediate release of all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. They have been targeted by an unfair and unequal legal system. Their imprisonment reflects Israel’s inherent system of injustice and racism.

For more information on Palestinian prisoners visit Addameer and Samidoun

Saturday 14 April 2012

Is Scotland a Nation?

The title for this post is in part a response to a post in the Better Nation blog entitled “Non-nationalists for Independence.”  You can read the post here.  Like James, the author of that post, I do not consider myself a nationalist and try to avoid the term.  It is one of the reasons why I have found it impossible to join the SNP for example.  However I am not in agreement with James’ interpretation of nationalism and non-nationalism.  His starting point is that, “Crudely, there are romantic arguments for particular territorial boundaries, and there are pragmatic ones.”  And he of course supports independence for purely pragmatic reasons.  As he puts it, “I want to see independence for something, for a purpose. I want to see a fairer Scotland, one that relies on wind and wave, not oil and gas, one where money stops being wasted on motorways and is diverted instead into public transport, and one where politics is cleaned up and opened up.”  The people he would regard as nationalists on the other hand see “independence as an end in itself, an emotional objective irrespective of any other political changes.”
This is where I take issue with James - on two grounds.  Firstly I do see independence as an end in itself and secondly I do not believe one can keep the emotional out of this debate.  James wants independence for purely pragmatic reasons.  But why then stop at Scotland?  Would his particular purposes - a progressive, fairer and greener society - not be even more likely if Scotland were to join in a Union with Denmark?  Or what about an even wider Union with all the Scandinavian countries?   And if an independent Scotland did not deliver on any of James’s concerns, what then?  Would he seek re-admission to the UK?    While James may be quite relaxed about changing the territorial boundaries of Scotland every so often just to pursue a particular social or economic objective, I suspect he is in a very tiny minority in this.
The reason is that most people do feel some kind of emotional attachment to their country.  Which is why independence as an end in itself is the only valid position to hold.  Independence is not just for Christmas or the next few years.  While it may not be forever - who can foretell that far ahead? - it is for the long term.  So it has to be an end in itself.  It is of course at the same time a beginning.  In an independent Scotland James will be able to argue and campaign for his vision for Scotland - one which I pretty much share, as it happens.  The purpose of independence for Scotland is to establish that it is us, the people who live in Scotland, who get to decide our future, whatever it may be.  Choosing Independence will be based on a mixture of pragmatism and emotional attachment.
A major part of James’ difficulty is I venture to do with the complexities and contentions surrounding the word Nation and its derivatives such as Nationalism.  In his post he uses the term nation-states as opposed to nations.  I presume this is because he is most interested in states, but needs the addition of the word nation in order to argue against nationalism.  For it is the case that in the English speaking world the word Nation tends to be used as a synonym for state.  Thus we have English National Ballet, English National Opera, the National Galleries of Scotland, the Australian National University etc, etc.  I have never been at all comfortable with this usage.  In other parts of the world the word state and its derivatives are more likely to be used.  Thus we have the Wiener Staatsoper, the Berlin Staatsoper, and in Denmark the Prime Minister is the Statsminister.  Variants of the English word realm are also common in some countries, for example the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands or the Riksdag in Sweden.  
To return to Scotland and the title question - is Scotland a Nation?  My answer is that Scotland is not a nation.  To me, Scotland is a state.  It is in fact a kingdom as the Scottish state was created by successive kings and queens.  The boundaries of this kingdom remained pretty stable over centuries and the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland under James VI predated the UK by over a century.  I am by persuasion a republican, so I tend to refer to Scotland as a state.  But not if I can avoid it as a nation.  The original Scots were an Irish tribe and though they gave their name to the state, the Scots were never the sole or even the largest group in the country.  Scotland has always been a multi-national and multi-lingual country.  As has often been said we Scots nowadays are very much a mongrel breed.  Something to be proud of and not something that easily squares with nationalism or exclusive notions of national identity.
Scotland the country, Scotland the land has existed for centuries with its own distinctive customs and laws.  It is on the basis of its continuing existence as a distinct entity - a state - that I support Scottish Independence.  Let it be us - the people of Scotland, wherever we come from - who decide our future.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Do the Tories secretly want Scotland to become Independent?

It has always been a bit of a mystery as to why so many Tories are so keen to keep Scotland in the UK.  After all according to most of them we are a bunch of subsidy junkies living in semi luxury at the expense of the English.  Now it seems that some Tories are not that keen on maintaining the Union.   At least that is the message that comes from Peter Cruddas, the former Tory Party treasurer.  He was filmed recently talking about the forthcoming referendum on Scottish Independence.  Publicly the Tories are committed to fighting to keep the UK together, but according to Cruddas, “even if they’re not, we as a party have to be seen to be fighting to keep the Union together.  Even if we don’t agree with it, because at the end of it all, if the Scots say we’re out of here and they want to go independent, we can turn around and say it’s not what we wanted, it’s not what we campaigned for, you can’t have this, you can’t have that, and you can get on with it.”
Quite a nice or should that be nasty example of just how duplicitous the Tories are.  There are two main points it seems to me about this statement.  The first is that at least some Tories are already preparing for a Yes vote in the referendum.  Despite their public protestations they are clearly not quite as confident about keeping the UK together as they would like us to believe.
The second and to me, more important point, is that this kind of thinking shows up the Tories for what they really are - English nationalists.  It is unlikely that Cruddas is thinking of what might benefit Wales or Northern Ireland.  The “we” that he refers to is clearly the Tories in England.  And what kind of Union is it anyway when one partner could even think of saying to the other partner - “you can’t have this, you can’t have that.”  I certainly don’t want to remain part of this one-sided and increasingly nasty Union.
These revelations should have been one of the main topics for debate and analysis in our media, but, surprise, surprise, it went virtually unheeded by our increasingly biased BBC and the usual suspects in the pro Union print media.  It is not a conspiracy as such, just that all the key people in the media, broadcast and print, are Unionist and almost without thinking about it, promote any story that advances the Union and ignore any story which calls into question the integrity of the UK.