NOVICHOK- Red flag warning

One month after the announcement that a man and his daughter found slumped on a park bench were victims of a nerve gas  attack, there are new questions. The news that Sergeiii Skripall was a former UK and Russian double agent did little to allay fears and the sight of investigators clad in bio chemical protective clothing  increased alarm.  Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced next day that Russia was responsible for the attack, quoting  the Porton Down government laboratory chief who confirmed the substance as Novichok, a ‘military grade nerve agent with no known antidote,’  requiring “extremely sophisticated methods to create, something only in the capabilities of a state actor” namely Russia.  Continue reading

PALESTINE MARCH OF RETURN

As the Jewish people celebrated Passover, a celebration of the Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of captivity, the irony was not lost on those who are not of the Jewish faith. At Passover Jewish families come together in remembrance of the Exodus when the ancient Israelites were led by Moses from bondage in Egypt, commanded by their God to ‘Let my people go’. The Haggadah is recited, an instruction to ‘tell your son’ to ensure the memory of that captivity is never lost. We might assume that a people who have suffered persecution, loss of homeland and the horrors of concentration camps within living memory would not choose to inflict similar suffering on the Palestinians. Continue reading

GUN LAW OR LAW OF THE GUN

So many people die annually from gunfire in the US that the death toll between 1968 and 2011 eclipses all wars ever fought by the country.

According to research by Politifact, there were about 1.4 million firearm deaths in that period, compared with 1.2 million US deaths in every conflict from the War of Independence to Iraq. The US spends more than a trillion dollars per year defending itself against terrorism, which kills a tiny fraction of the number of people killed by ordinary gun crime.

  • On average there is more than 1 mass shooting per day in America.
  •  America has 4.4% of the world population but owns almost half of the civilian owned guns around the world.
  • In 2012, 64% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides.
  • Before the deadly shooting at  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February there had already been 18 incidents at schools involving gun shots in 2018

The particular horror of the  Sandy Hook shooting shocked the world, it was assumed that the massacre of 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 years old would initiate stronger gun control. It did not. The National Rifle Association boasted that  its membership surged to around five million in the aftermath. There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, at least 239 were school shootings In which 438 people were shot, 138 being killed. Researchers and gun control advocates say that since 2013, they have logged school shootings at a rate of about one a week. Katherine W. Schweit, a former senior F.B.I. official and the co-author of a study of 160 active shooting incidents in the United States said, “We have absolutely become numb to these kinds of shootings, and I think that will continue.” Continue reading

ADDING INSULT TO INJURY

The world reels from the gutter language used by the President of the United States as he manages to insult  a quarter of the countries of the world, concerning his views on immigration policy.  His response to accusations of racism,  a thinly veiled excuse – ‘it’s not racism it’s a financial problem‘  reveals the billionaire businessman beneath the presidential facade. By comparison the dignified response of the people of Haiti and Africa to his derogatory description of their countries provides an example that he would do well to emulate.

As we spare a thought for the 65 million people currently displaced  by conflict, war and persecution, the latest report shows that while the richest nations ponder on possible ways to curb immigration, many of the worlds poorest nations are hosting  56% of the global refugee population.  An Amnesty International report for 2016 states that many of the world’s wealthiest nations “host the fewest and do the least”.

The United States has historically led the world in terms of resettlement, admitting 84,995 refugees in the fiscal year ending in September 2016. In 2017 President Trump cut the refugee quota by 50%, a policy currently being challenged in the Federal Court. In 2017 only 42,000 refugees were resettled in America; Canada in contrast  resettled 30,000 refugees in 2016.  Continue reading

Weapons for Peace?

The text message received by residents of The State of Hawaii  warning of a ballistic missile threat, confirmed as ‘This is not a test’,  sent thousands  rushing for cover and sending final messages to family and friends. Thirty eight interminable minutes later they were informed that ‘someone clicked the wrong button on a shift change’ Most experts agree that human error is the most likely trigger for a nuclear engagement, an event to which the opposing side should be expected to respond. The awesome military power which now rests in the hands of leaders who have repeatedly demonstrated their instability coupled with the spectre of fallible technology raises risk factors exponentially.

The farewell speech of President Eisenhower, a former general,  as he prepared to hand over power to President Kennedy on January 17th 1961 was “a solemn moment in a decidedly unsolemn time’, He warned a nation “giddy with prosperity, infatuated with youth and glamour, and aiming increasingly for the easy life.’ to be vigilant of the potential rise of the military industrial complex and potential abuse of power. Continue reading

REMEMBERING THE DREAM

WISH YOU WERE HERE……..

 A poignant reminder of the best of America in the hope that the dream might still come true.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin Luther King – I Have A Dream Speech – August 28, 1963

GLOBAL WARMING ON PLANET TRUMP

‘Climate change and global warming  are two different phenomena, but are interlinked, and each affects the other. Climate change is change in the climate of a region. Global warming is the rise in average temperature of the Earth. Human interference is the common factor, which is accelerating both’

For the nomadic herders of Siberia, climate change is not an illusion a joke or a scam. Scientific data confirms that Russia is already warming at one and a half times the rate of other parts of the world, leaving  reindeer, Russia’s cattle of the Arctic regions, under threat from climate change. Nomadic reindeer herders living near the north-west coast of Siberia where the sea freezes nine months of the year state that  the snow is melting sooner, and faster than before.

 During the autumn period between 2006 and 2013 sea ice began to melt instead of thickening. Traditionally the Nenet nomads cross the frozen Ob River in November with their reindeer herds to set up camp in the southern forests. Higher temperatures are delaying the annual winter trek  until late December  when the ice is finally thick enough to cross the frozen river. Continue reading

AID and ‘undue influence’

The dictionary definition of undue influence: “influence by which a person is induced to act otherwise than by their own free will or without adequate attention to the consequences.”

President Trumps threat to withdraw Aid from the  countries  who chose to vote against the US and the US Ambassador’s statement that ‘we will not forget and are taking names’  sent a collective global shudder though the halls of power. Through these actions the long standing but previously obscured  abuse of power becomes transparent. The spectacle of the ‘leader of the free world’  supported by  a mere handful of vulnerable nations, each of which have an inherent dependency on access to US Aid has caused many to question the degree of pressure they faced.

Guatemala with a weaker and more corrupt state and a more impoverished society than that of Mexico has a growing public debt. President Perez Molina is looking to Washington for military aid to support the Guatemalan army to root out corruption. Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate  and high levels of sexual violence despite a population of a little over 9 million. An estimated 1 million Hondurans reside in the United States, 600,000 of whom are believed to be undocumented; consequently, immigration issues are an important item on the bilateral agenda.

Micronesia: (A Federation of small island states, formerly a United Nations Trust Territory under U.S. administration until gaining independence in 1986.) The US will provide $100 million annually over the next 20 years. Guam – 210 sq. mi.; population 186,000 Guam is the largest single island in Micronesia. A territory of the United States and one of its primary military bases in the Pacific. Nauru : 8 sq. mi.; population 9,000. An independent nation; single island. The United States is a major financial contributor to international and regional organizations that assist Nauru, Palau – 177 sq. mi.; population 21,000  an archipelago  of over 300 islands, only 8 of which are inhabited.Palau is the largest recipient of aid per capita from the US, receiving more than $852 million over the last 15 yerars.

Marshall Islands70 sq. mi.; population 68,000. The United States conquered the islands in 1944. The Marshall Islands served as a test theatre for American nuclear weapons from 1946 to 1958 with 67 weapon tests  conducted, These including the 15-megaton  hydrogen bomb test  on Bikini Atoll which was 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Bikini Atoll became uninhabitable. Prior to nuclear testing, the residents had initially accepted resettlement voluntarily to Rongerik Atoll, believing that they would be able to return home within a short time. Rongerik Atoll could not produce enough food and the islanders starved and were again relocated. In 1970  islanders returned to the Bikini Island, advised it was now safe, until further testing revealed dangerous levels of strontium-90.    Today the Marshall Islands, relies on nominal access to U.S. based health agencies and is, like so many of the islands states of Micronesia, dependent upon US Aid  which represents a large percentage of the islands’ gross domestic product.

TOGO West Africa: Amid a diplomatic drive by Israel to extend its influence in West Africa, Togolese President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe  met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice in 2017. This  included a conference hosted by the Togo President where Netanyahu stated “Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel,” The President has visited Israel three times since 2012 and Lome the capital, consistently sides with Jerusalem in international organisations,”

While congratulating the moral victory of the 129 nations who chose to ignore the threat, at the UN Council we might also consider the 35 who chose to abstain and why, among them Canada for example, walking a political tightrope with one eye on current NAFTA negotiations.

AID: Which country gives the most?

Aid to countries in need comes in many forms, economic, military, developmental etc. it almost always has strings attached and can intentionally or unintentionally create permanent indebtedness. Aid should never be used as a weapon. Figures can be misleading and confusing, with the  richest nations appearing to give more generously as might be expected. We are frequently reminded that the US is by far the greatest donor of global Aid but when measured against Gross National Product, ie the country’s total wealth, Greece, a country struggling to survive gives proportionately more.  The Chart below shows Overseas Development Assistance in millions for 2015 as measured by the World Economic Forum. The US heads the list of donors.

 

 

If we measure per capita ie the amount of Aid divided by the income of the number of people in the donor country, the picture changes.  Europe and Scandinavia consistently giving most.The US, France, Japan and Canada fall off the list. Sweden moves from the mid range to first place and The United Arab Republic moves from the bottom to 2nd place, followed by Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. Additional countries, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Turkey and Finland appear. Continue reading

JERUSALEM: A Pocket History for Trump

GOLAN HEIGHTS SETTLEMENT TO BECOME ‘TRUMP HEIGHTS’

The announcement by Benjamin Netanyahu that an illegal settlement in the  Golan Heights is to be renamed ‘TRUMP HEIGHTS’ provides a timely reminder of the strategy behind the unseemly Trump –  Netanyahu alliance and their open contempt for a just settlement of Palestinian rights. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War.  Israel continues to flout the UN directive which forbids the building of settlements in what is internationally regarded as occupied territory.  Syria wants a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 border, this would give Damascus control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee which provides Israel’s main source of fresh water through the now occupied territory. This  latest move follows the audacious decision in March by President Trump to relocate the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,  changing the disputed status of Jerusalem without consultation and in the face of complete opposition from world leaders. Such a move suggests either a degree of ineptness or a callous disregard for the deepest feelings of those concerned. King Abdullah of Jordan, currently Custodian of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, warned of the potential dangerous repercussions. 

HISTORY OF JERUSALEM

 Whatever our faith we tend to view Jerusalem from our own  perspective. While  sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, the site is however much older than any of these religious traditions, artefacts show  it was first settled between 4,500–3,500 BCE. The original inhabitants of Jerusalem were Phoenician Canaanites, their culture is believed to have pioneered the Mediterranean system of agriculture, intensive horticulture, grain growing and commercial olive cultivation. Old Testament scripture states that the land is named after Canaan, a son of Ham, son of Noah, the ancestor of the Canaanite people. The Canaanites of the southern Levante worshipped a panoply of gods; the first known mention of the city of Jerusalem was in c. 2,000 BCE.

PHILISTIA  (present day Gaza on the Mediterranean coast of Israel) was the name of a region between Egypt and Canaan believed to be founded  c 2,100BC.  The Old Testament states that the inhabitants were Philistines. In Hebrew, Philistine literally means ‘of  Palestine’ (Phillistia). The name Jerusalem is of Canaanite origin, meaning “Founded by Shalem”: Originally ‘Urushalim’ or ‘Urushalem’ the prefix uru means ‘founded by’, and the suffix salem or Shalem refers to the Canaanite ‘god of dusk, of the setting sun and of health and perfection’. The Sumero-Akkadian name for Jerusalem (1330 BCE) uru-salim, means “foundation of [or by] the god ‘Shalim‘ from Hebrew/Semitic meaning ‘to found, to lay a cornerstone’.

Though not a part of Canaan and never conquered by the Israelites, Phillistia was in the area promised to the Israelites by their God. The two nations were initially on peaceful terms but eventually warred for centuries. Goliath the giant was the Philistine from Gath, who was killed by David  the shepherd boy (later King of Israel) with a slingshot stone. Under the later Roman occupation of Judea, Phillistia was renamed Palaestina,  the name Palestine and the Arab word Filistin originate from the Romanised Palaestina

According to the Old Testament  Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, was born  in 1,813 BCE, he was a native of Ur of the Chaldeans, in Mesopotamia, now south eastern Iraq. He was led by God to settle in Haran. The Torah traces his  lineage through his grandson Jacob and through his twelve sons who became the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. The name Israel comes from the renaming of Jacob following a heroic struggle when he wrestled with an angel. The Hebrew bible states the name is derived from ‘yisra’ meaning ‘to prevail over’ and ‘el ‘referring to ‘God, the divine’.

Following a famine Jacob’s descendants, the Hebrews, migrated to Egypt and under the patronage of Joseph, Jacob’s son, established a thriving community, which in time became viewed as a threat to the indigenous population. After Joseph’s death they were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years until Moses led them to freedom. The Hebrews were directed through the Sinai Peninsula to Canaan, the ‘land flowing with milk and honey’  promised  to them by their God. Canaan had an indigenous population of both settled and nomadic groups; the  Israelites were commanded  by their god to conquer Canaan. The  conquest occurred under Joshua in c.1,406BC. The  Book of Joshua states that Canaanites are included in a list of nations to exterminate and later described as a group which the Israelites had annihilated. Today this has been equated with genocide.

According to the Bible, the Israelite history of the city of Jerusalem began c.1,000 BCE, when the city of David was sacked by King David who later united the 12 tribes of Israel. Solomon, his son, built the Temple of Jerusalem, however following his death, the kingdom was split into two parts, 10 tribes of Israel and 2 of Judah.  The Jewish people were  exiled in the Assyrian conquest (740 BCE)  and in the Babylonian conquest (587/6 BCE) . After the Fall of Babylon  to the Persians, King Cyrus the Great allowed the descendants of the  tribes of the Kingdom of Judah  to return to Israel. The 10 tribes who never returned are referred to as ‘the Ten lost tribes of Israel’ who were  scattered globally in the diaspora.

Recent History:

ZIONISM IS NOT A RELIGIOUS TERM. IT DEFINES THE POLITICAL MOVEMENT COINED IN 1890 TO PROMOTE THE RETURN OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE TO PALESTINE AND THE RESUMPTION OF JEWISH SOVEREIGNTY IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL. THE NAME COMES FROM THE HILL OF ZION ON WHICH THE TEMPLE OF JERUSALEM WAS BUILT.

In 1917 in response to  the  Zionist political movement, Great Britain recognized the rights of the Jewish people to establish a “national homeland for the people of Palestine”.  In 1947 the UN voted for the Partition of Palestine, in 1948 Britain withdrew when their  Mandate for Palestine as a Protectorate ended. The  Zionist movement immediately declared a State of Israel in Palestine, triggering the Arab invasion and later the Arab/Israeli war and the eventual  Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Since that time, Palestinians have been dispossessed of their rights and remain stateless. The restoration of East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital has been an inherent part of endless Peace negotiations for a two State solution until the recent declaration by President Trump.

Post script: Palestinians are now seeking a non partisan peace broker to replace the US in negotiations.

(First published December 13 2017)

(Note:Previous blog: Errata/Tribes of Israel corrected)