26 August 2006

Let’s hear it for the tree-huggers!

By Marguerite Finn

How does one make the sudden transition from being a retired civil servant to a tree-hugging hippy? Quite simple really. I was walking along a footpath near the RAF air base at Mildenhall the other day, with a placard protesting against flights carrying arms to the Middle East, when a passing female jogger accosted me with the words; "You god-damn tree-huggin' hippy". This was a change from the usual empty-headed shouts of "Get a job" or "Get a Life" and it set me thinking about the very different perceptions people can have of the same issue. To the jogger, my calling for the cessation of arms shipments that fuel the conflict in the Middle East, was worthy only of derision.

Protest at the Mildenhall RAF base To me, her reaction was as incomprehensible as her chosen insult – because I believe we should all be working for a peaceful world and, as far as I am aware, tree-hugging hippies everywhere share that aim and are usually gentle and sensitive souls. Being compared to one is quite a compliment! We are, after all, still just over half-way through the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) – although the young victims of the recent slaughter in Lebanon may not have known it.

There has been much Prime-ministerial rhetoric in recent months about "values" but the international community had already signed up to a set of values: "that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation" (UN Resolutions A/RES/52/13) when signing up to the Culture of Peace. Ironically, the UN General Assembly reaffirmed the Culture of Peace on 20 November 2003 – notwithstanding the US/UK attack on Iraq without a UN mandate the previous March.

No one said then – or since - "We can not go to war because this is the Decade for the Culture of Peace".

Protest at the Mildenhall RAF baseWars are fuelled by the arms trade. In 2003, world military spending soared to a staggering $956 billion – nearly half of that spent by the USA on the 'war on terror'. Yet it is now being suggested by some military analysts that there is no longer any point in seeking a quick bold military solution by finding The 'Big Enemy' and bashing him to bits. Strategic victory requires the changing of hearts and minds because of the 'communal' nature of modern warfare – where the enemy's structure and support comes not from the state but from the community.

Are we, perhaps, at the first of the three stages that Schopenhauer identified as happening to many truths, namely: "First it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, third it is accepted as self-evident?" If so, we can be cautiously optimistic that even the most intractable barriers can be overcome. One way to move on from the notion of 'perpetual war' is to stop shipping arms to the combatants. There are guidelines in place to help – but double standards are being applied. For example, Britain is currently selling arms and technology to 19 of the 20 nations the UK's own Foreign and Commonwealth Office lists as "countries of major concern". Israel is on that list – yet from January 2005 to March 2006, the UK sold Tel Aviv weapons worth £27.25 million. In the same period, more than £1 million of UK weaponry was sold to Lebanon.

Protest at the Mildenhall RAF baseEarlier this month a cross-party committee of Westminster MPs criticised the government for breaking its own guidelines on the sale of arms to Israel. The guidelines say that export licenses should not be given if there is a "clear risk" that the military products would be used to "provoke or prolong armed conflict or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts."

MPs are doing exactly what they were elected for, asking awkward questions about what the government's policy actually means and how is it implemented. If the sale of arms to Israel is unlawful, is Britain complicit in breaches of international law by Israel? A spirit of optimism was never more needed than now. Our Peacekeeping forces come under increasing pressure to perform miracles. I say our Peacekeeping forces because we are the UN. Political commentators frequently refer to the United Nations as though it were a disconnected colossus floating in outer space. Instead, there is an increasing emphasis on the role that civil society can play in the United Nations. Globalisation makes us all 'global citizens' who can play an active, informed role in civil events. That is why I was at Mildenhall with my 'tree-hugging' placard: to object to the carnage taking place in the Middle East.

19 August 2006

Spirit of the blitz revisited

By Rupert Read

There is a new trend in travel, a new ethical fashion afoot. It is called 'carbon offsetting'. Many of the big rock bands are doing it, for example Pearl Jam, Coldplay, and the Rolling Stones.

Carbon offsetting means taking actions such as planting trees in order to compensate for the damage that one does by burning fossil fuels; for instance, by flying. The coming of carbon offsetting is surely a welcome development, inasmuch as it shows that an increasing number of people are trying to 'offset' the damage that they do to our planetary life-support system when they fly. But how effective is carbon offsetting actually likely to be?

The first point to make is that even in the best case scenario, carbon offsetting only neutralises damage that I am actually doing. It is not a positively good thing; it is not like giving to a worthwhile charitable or political cause, for instance, that will actually change the world for the better. It is only making up for real harm that one has done, by (say) dumping several tons of carbon in the atmosphere, through taking a flight.

Furthermore, if the money that one spends on carbon offsetting is money that one would otherwise have spent on other worthwhile activities that would reduce one's carbon footprint, for instance, then it may be no good at all. If I can only afford to offset my carbon emissions by reducing the amount that I spend on local organic produce, for instance, then there is no genuine carbon offset effect.

Carbon offsetting can only work at all to neutralise harm if it results in real reductions in carbon emissions, to compensate for the emissions one wants to offset. And those reductions need to be of the same amount as the amounts of carbon one wants to offset, for the thing to be scientifically valid.

The only way that this can be done in a way which will actually make the needed difference in stabilising the climate is if one has a total 'budget' of carbon that one can choose to use in one way or another – and if one chooses to use more in one part of one's life, one must use less elsewhere.

This means that, to be effective, offsetting must be compulsory; and it must be scientifically measured; each measured increase must be compensated for by a measured decrease.

Real carbon offsetting is therefore equivalent to carbon rationing. Each person should have a carbon ration that is worked out in such a way that the total of all the rations adds up to an amount that the climate can cope with. And if more carbon is spent in one place, less must be spent in another.

Let's revisit the spirit of the Blitz!If we are to avert climate catastrophe, then we will need to recapture something of the spirit of the Blitz. All of us pulling together, even when it involves sacrifices such as those that were involved in food rationing. People grumbled about food rationing during the Second World War sometimes; but by and large it worked, and was adhered to. The long emergency that we are now entering requires similar sacrifices: it requires carbon rationing. But with the difference that this time we will not create a 'black market', but rather will enable those who live a lower-carbon life-style to sell part of their carbon ration to those still making the transition to that lifestyle. This will preserve personal freedom, while allowing us all to pull together in a way that can stop our children from having to wrestle with a disastrously chaotic climate.

Surely it's worth it. And voluntary carbon offsetting just won't get us there. Only compulsory carbon offsetting will do the trick. That is, carbon rationing, which forces one to reduce one's carbon consumption elsewhere in one's life, if one takes a flight, or else to pay a fair price on the 'white market' for the right to use some of someone else's ration.

Let's revisit the spirit of the Blitz!I believe that the human race is up to the task of preventing climate catastrophe, preventing the climate Blitz that will otherwise overwhelm most of the world outside Antarctica before the 21st century is out. I believe that carbon rationing will be the essential tool in this essential task. Let's revisit the spirit of the Blitz: let's pull together, to save the future.

The One World columnists are sponsoring the Norfolk and Norwich Campaign against Climate Change (N2C3) exhibit in the 'Changing the climate, changing ourselves' exhibition at Norwich Anglican Cathedral from 19 August 16 September 2006. Do visit and see for yourself.

12 August 2006

Missiles do Israel no favours

By Liam Carroll

Peace activists in East Anglia have reacted to the transfer of missiles from the United States to Israel by staging protests at the US special Operations base at Mildenhall. They are peace activists in the true sense of the word. This is not an anti-Israeli action, this is an action that asks the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom to bring peace, not war, to Israel. For all the anger directed at the Israeli barrage of southern Lebanon we must not forget where the weapons and much of the funding for the Israeli military fortress have come from. The transfer of arms to Israel is not simply assistance for a beleaguered country, it is a ringing endorsement for a military solution to the problem of Israeli integration with the wider Arab world. While the people of Israel remain relatively isolated in the world, it is no surprise that they look to the United States for guidance and support. The response of the United States has been to arm Israel with the latest high tech weaponry that is superior to that of even most European forces. We do the Israeli people no favours in helping to ship in these arms, whether through the Scottish airfields of Prestwick or the US military bases of East Anglia.

The United States does not stand embedded in the Arab world in the same way that Israel does; surrounded by people who sympathise with the grim plight of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. On a day to day basis the American government is removed from the violence that permeates the Middle East, and does not directly suffer under the continual threat of attack. It is thus far easier for Washington to support military solutions to political problems when the consequences of these policies are more likely to be felt by others. After 58 years of existence as an internationally recognised state, and an even longer history as a people fighting to create their own country in other people’s land, the Israelis must still surely feel insecure and defensive. The military fortification of Israel and the building of security walls has not changed this, as the steady in-flow of rockets demonstrate. US policy has not brought security to Israel, and indeed the levels of antagonism toward the country have grown, with Hamas and Hizbollah growing in popularity in their respective regions for adopting a less conciliatory role to Israeli policy than their forbears.

All this begs the question of what the overriding US policy in the Middle East is. We know it isn't simply to bring democracy to the Arab states, as the key US allies in the region, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt remain fairly immune from Washington’s democratising zeal. We know it isn't disarmament of any sort, as the flow of arms and missiles continues unabated to the region, and Israel's nuclear weapons have fallen of the Security Council agenda (Resolution 687 called for "a zone free from weapons of mass destruction" in the Middle East in 1991). Somewhere in the background lies the pervasive influence of oil. If there is an overriding long term fear amongst Washington's policy planners it has to be the fear of being shut off from the world's major oil reserves. Oil is such an important strategic resource in both commerce and war that no long-term polcy for the global superpower can fail to take account of this vital resource. The lesson of the US attitude toward Iraq and Iran is that the United States fears, surely beyond that of terrorism, the emergence of a strong anti-american state at the heart of the world's largest oil reserves. The ability of any state to threaten western economies by restricting the flow of oil would surely act as a considerable restraint on Washington's ability to fulfil certain policy objectives.

Israel remains the only reliable ally to the United States in the region. Since proving their military determination in a number of inter-state wars since 1948, Israel has gained the admiration of US military planners. This admiration has extended to a lasting military alliance with Washington that has developed Israel into a well-armed fortress. Israel has been encouraged at every step to develop it's military might at the expense of pursuing political and diplomatic solutions to integration. In supporting this we do Israel no favours. This war in the Lebanon will no more bring them security than the previous wars have, let alone what it brings to the Lebanese people. It is not to the Israelis though that we should look for an answer, true leadership in the pursuit of peace surely lies with those who have the ability to remove the option of violence.

5 August 2006

Palestinian prisoners must be released too

By Jacqui McCarney

The horror and bloodshed in the Middle East is at its rawest – the whole world is calling for an immediate unconditional ceasefire, blocked now only by the UK and US. As Gaza and Lebanon are shattered, and missiles fall on Israeli towns and villages, it is the innocent civilians on all sides, especially children, whose suffering becomes unbearable for us, helpless onlookers. Millions of peace-loving people want above all to see an end to the carnage.

Enormous attention has been focussed on the three Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas and Hizbollah, but why has so little attention been paid to the three Lebanese prisoners whose release is demanded by Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah leader?

And, why, is there even less mention of the 9500 so-called Palestinian 'security prisoners' in Israeli jails, a thousand of them classed as 'administrative detainees' and imprisoned without trial? 300 are under the age of 18, and 60 having been incarcerated for 20 years or even longer.

The Middle East conflict is fuelled by huge injustice and human rights violations and these imprisonments are part of the problem. They have been a factor in the capture of Israeli soldiers with the possibility of prisoner exchange.

Israel holds many more prisoners but has used the capture of a few IDF combatants as a pretext to smash civilian life and infrastructure in Lebanon. But there are Israelis who are appalled by the actions of their government and are campaigning against the denial of human rights of so many Palestinians, one of the most active of these campaigners being a courageous and dedicated woman, Anat Matar.

She is a leading figure in the Israeli Action Committee for the Palestinian Prisoners and Detainees, an organisation that firmly believes that there can be no lasting peace between Israel and Palestine so long as thousands of Palestinians are being kept in prison, and which is working to arouse public awareness of their plight in Israel and in the wider world. These Israelis also believe that among the Palestinian prisoners are those who can and should play a significant role in advancing the peace process, demonstrating that co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians is indeed possible

The Action Committee has exposed the fact that parole boards routinely refuse to grant parole to long-serving Palestinian 'security prisoners' after they have served the customary two-thirds of their sentences. It also campaigns on the conditions of the Palestinians prisoners, which are significantly worse than those of 'ordinary' prisoners in the Israeli jails.

The ranks of the Palestinian prisoners have swelled since conflict broke out in Gaza this year, as Israeli forces have detained many Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including members of the Palestinian parliament and government.

Anat Matar has a special link with Norwich - she spoke at the 'Conflict Resolution' Conference at UEA last October and met local people from both Jewish and Muslim communities.

The plight of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is unfortunately only one example of the world-wide scandal of the abuse of the basic human rights of people confined in jail, often without charge. (Some of the worst examples of the denial of human rights are the infamous US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay and 'extraordinary rendition' centres around the world).

How long can the international community tolerate this abuse?

Saturday July 15th saw a Peace Camp at the Norwich Forum with Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, the UN Association and other groups calling for Peace. Just a week earlier, over 300 British Jews signed a full-page advert in The Times newspaper strongly condemning the 'collective punishment' being inflicted on the population of Gaza by Israeli military forces.

Here in Norfolk, the Norfolk Jewish Peace Group work to bring the truth about the situation in the Middle East to public attention and aim to promote peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. In October 2004, they organised a packed Norwich meeting, where two 'refuseniks' - young Israelis who had just been released from prison for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories – spoke. This October, they will host Judith Keshet from Israel, a founder of Machsom ('Checkpoint Watch') that monitors the checkpoints that Palestinians have to pass when travelling between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

Amid the terrible events now unfolding in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, it is incumbent on all of us to listen to those voices that call for peace and human rights. If there is to be any hope for mankind, they must in the end drown out the barbaric noise of war.

I am grateful to Jean Davis and the Norfolk Jewish Peace Group for their contribution to this article.