Saturday, January 10, 2009 

Over 50,000 protest against Israel's murderous cynicism.

Today's was a huge demonstration. By my entirely unscientific method of pure guesswork, I would estimate 50,000+ at the least, possibly even the 100,000 which the Stop the War Coalition are claiming. It was certainly bigger than the second Lebanon march two years ago, which again at max may well have been 50,000.

Unlike then, the planning behind today's march seems to have been the main problem behind some of the trouble which took place, combined with a small minority of hot-heads whom were out to cause trouble. Clearly the StWC and the others behind it weren't expecting the numbers which came, and as also suggested by their appeals for stewards, there simply weren't enough of them to keep it under control or to help those unfamiliar with London with where to go. I got to Speaker's Corner about 12:05, and the park was still continuing to fill when the march finally got under way at around 13:45, although it may have been later. It was all well and good having speakers both before and after the march, but hardly any of those prior to it getting under way had anything beyond platitudes to offer, with the exception of the rapper whose name I missed who spoke/rhymed last. Getting the march under way first, then holding the speeches over for the rally afterwards would have been a better idea.

The anger was however palpable throughout. One thing I'm more than happy to report is that I did not hear one chant throughout the day in support of Hamas; although, on the other hand, there was little criticism of them either. There was as reported last week a few Hizbullah flags, and also some black flags with Arabic script (a couple of white ones also), which I'm always uncertain about regarding what they're supporting or representing. Hopefully some of the shitty photographs I took while clambering on various things give some idea of the numbers of the crowd and just how far back they stretched, especially considering I was some way back from the front. Most amusing here was a hastily parked police motorbike which was quickly draped with a couple of banners and placards, with dozens taking photos of it.

While the news reports are focusing on the trouble outside the Israeli embassy itself, some also flared outside a building that some of us were under the impression was the Israeli embassy or at least something connected with it. A couple of people had clambered onto the walls and were busy waving flags, while the police had congregated underneath. Whether it was simply those spoiling for a fight taking it upon themselves to start trouble, or those with the impression that it was the embassy and so started throwing broken placards and shoes, the police quickly called in their colleagues in riot gear, but not before a couple of officers at least had been hit square in the face with eggs, with others flecked with what looked like red paint. If anything they were very restrained, but they did rush us on a couple of occasions, while a couple of firecrackers/fireworks were also thrown. I was uncertain whether it was the embassy, until a steward did finally turn up with a megaphone telling everyone that the embassy was further on and things broke up.

As the BBC have reported, some of the trouble outside the embassy itself was purely because of the crush, with it getting distinctly uncomfortable, the side streets blocked off and riot police from the beginning throughout the area, the pavement itself apparently off limits. Again there were some hot-heads pushing the barriers back from the beginning, but for the most part things were far more jovial up here, with shoes thrown inside the embassy to great cheers. The biggest though went to the person who attached a Palestinian flag to a number of balloons, which swiftly flew into the grounds before getting trapped in a nearby tree, blowing in the slight breeze and which will hopefully be stuck there for quite some time, a permanent reminder that as was chanted throughout, we will never let Gaza die. Things were only then slightly spoiled by the great moron Galloway, who said that parliament should be turned into a battlefield and that Israeli shops in the bigging shopping malls should be picketed and potentially closed down by protesters at the rally afterwards, but for the most part it was an incredibly encouraging day with only minor scuffles and idiots marring it. You somehow doubt that tomorrow's demonstration by the Board of Deputies of British Jews will be even a tenth of today's size, as it should be. It will have also hopefully have shown the strength of feeling to our own politicians, who have been almost entirely muted in their criticism.

Complete directory of all photographs taken, many very shitty, full res, is here.

Also see Lenin's various posts.

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Friday, January 09, 2009 

Plea for peace.

From the second that the United States abstained from voting on the UN security council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, Israel knew that it had a completely free ride to continue with its onslaught in the Gaza Strip. Forget that according to Ehud Olmert, Hamas's firing of rockets this morning, when Israel had been bombing the strip all through the night, showed that the UN ceasefire was "unworkable"; the unavoidable message sent from the United States was that its surrogate could continue to hammer the Palestinians for at least a few more days yet.

All the messages coming from the US at the UN was that it was going to vote for the resolution and had overcome its objections to the various drafts which had been circulated. It's impossible to know exactly why they decided at the last moment to abstain, although Reuters suggest it was because Condoleezza Rice made the mistake of calling Bush prior to the vote. Their excuse was that they first wanted to see what happened vis-a-vis the Egyptian mediation efforts, but after a day of continuing carnage and further apparent polarisation it's difficult to see what can be achieved there.

Neither Hamas nor Israel seem to have an apparent end game in sight. Israel's actions so far, despite killing over 800 Palestinians, destroying countless supposed smuggling tunnels, and turning a distinct minority of the Gaza strip into rubble, has not even began to break the back of Hamas, who continue to fire dozens of rockets into Israel every day. Hamas is calculating that the longer it manages to hold out, the more likely that it claim to have successfully resisted the IDF, and potentially extract the ceasefire conditions which it wants, which is the lifting of the effective Israeli blockade which stayed in place despite the previous agreement between the two. For the moment the people of Gaza, despite bearing the brunt of the assault, have not blamed Hamas, or at least have not publicly. The longer the bombardment continues however, the more likely it will be that the civilians themselves will, if not now, perhaps later decide that Hamas has paid not with its own blood but with the blood of its people instead.

In launching the assault on Gaza, it was apparent from the beginning that the thinking of the Labour-Kadima coalition was firmly on upcoming election, now less than 5 weeks away. While the poll ratings for both have at least temporarily increased, they cannot depend on them staying at those levels, especially if they are forced into a ceasefire with Hamas still able to fire rockets into Sderot, even if not able to reach the bigger cities which it has managed during the conflict. It's apparent that Hamas cannot inflict the sort of casualties on the IDF which Hizbullah managed during the 2006 war, and so there's likely to be little pressure on the human cost score, the majority of the Israeli public more than apparently not caring a jot for the Palestinian death toll. The cynicism with which the attack was decided upon, where life is considered expendable for the goal of staying in power, says much about the real attitude towards the civilians that Israel claims time and again not to be targeting.

Two weeks on, and the complete futility of the whole exercise seems more alarming than before. Hamas talks tough but can't even begin to follow through on its promises, while Israel knows full well that even if it does succeed in disarming Hamas or destroying the organisation in Gaza, which is most unlikely, that another, potentially even more radical group or party will emerge in its place. The only solution is direct negotiations with Hamas, where both sides will have to make painful concessions, but for the moment the indiscriminate slaughter and the crushing tyranny of the occupation, combined with the casual confiscation of land and building of illegal settlements looks set to continue. Such intransigence only encourages protest, however potentially pointless, which is why tomorrow's protest outside the Israeli embassy needs to be as large as possible. Peace is possible, but not while both sides bomb and rocket in the supposed name of it.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009 

Defending the indefensible.

It takes a lot for the Red Cross to criticise anyone; they generally don't because they know that doing so makes it less likely that will be allowed to work unhindered. It's therefore out of character for them to directly accuse of Israel of failing to meet their obligations under international humanitarian law, but from the truly shocking story they tell you can understand why:

On the afternoon of 7 January, four Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) ambulances and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) managed to obtain access for the first time to several houses in the Zaytun neighbourhood of Gaza City that had been affected by Israeli shelling.
The ICRC had requested safe passage for ambulances to access this neighbourhood since 3 January but it only received permission to do so from the Israel Defense Forces during the afternoon of 7 January.

The ICRC/PRCS team found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses.

In another house, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team found 15 other survivors of this attack including several wounded. In yet another house, they found an additional three corpses. Israeli soldiers posted at a military position some 80 meters away from this house ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do. There were several other positions of the Israel Defense Forces nearby as well as two tanks.

"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

Large earth walls erected by the Israeli army had made it impossible to bring ambulances into the neighbourhood. Therefore, the children and the wounded had to be taken to the ambulances on a donkey cart. In total, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team evacuated 18 wounded and 12 others who were extremely exhausted. Two corpses were also evacuated. The ICRC/PRCS will recover the remaining corpses on Thursday.

The ICRC was informed that there are more wounded sheltering in other destroyed houses in this neighbourhood. It demands that the Israeli military grant it and PRCS ambulances safe passage and access immediately to search for any other wounded. Until now, the ICRC has still not received confirmation from the Israeli authorities that this will be allowed.

Coincidentally, today CiF gave Alan Dershowitz house room to blame Hamas for absolutely everything that has happened in Gaza. According to him, not just are the deaths at the UN school Hamas's fault and Hamas's only, but also we can't trust the numbers of women and children killed, because Hamas has used both in the past as terrorists. Here then are some more terrorists that Israel was completely right to take no chances with:

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Scum-watch: Glen Jenvey unmasked as "abuislam".

Strangely for what was a front page "exclusive", the Sun has not so much as a single word to say in today's paper about yesterday's entirely concocted claim that Alan Sugar was on a "hit list" drawn up by "hate-filled Islamic extremists" on a "fanatics" website. Perhaps they'd already noted that the forum had produced a press release which denied the allegations in the strongest possible terms, or maybe they felt they'd already done enough, which they certainly had. Google News links to 174 separate news stories, all of which had their origin in the Sun's original, the vast majority without so much as questioning the Sun's claim or double-checking them. Churnalism, as always, had done its work.

Unfortunately for the Sun, their story has even further unravelled. Their own journalists in this instance seem to have only written the story up, or had it sold to them by Glen Jenvey, a so-called anti-terror expert and former spy quoted in yesterday's report as claiming that the result of the naming of certain high profile Jews on would result in 20 to 30 thugs going round their houses, at the least. Jenvey has an interesting past, and as Tim from Bloggerheads who has done most of the digging with some help from others notes, he's been involved in editing his own Wikipedia page, like all the finest egomaniacs, so nothing on there can be trusted in the slightest. Jenvey's page claims that he studied radical Islam at college, spied on Iran for the United States, and also infiltrated the Tamil Tigers. Again, trusting things on the internet is always unwise, but mikimoose in the comments on Tim's original post uncovered a perhaps more enlightening reason for Jenvey's interest in radical Islam:

Update 16.03.09: Following the latest by Tim Ireland have fully removed the claims involving Jenvey's non-existent daughter.

Jenvey is linked with another whole host of interesting characters, the online group Vigil, which claims to be monitoring and infiltrating jihadist forums online, both for surveillance purposes and, it seems, with a view to selling stories onto the national press. Vigil themselves deny that Jenvey is a member, although they admit that they have worked with him in the past. While as noted is by no means a radical forum, it has previously attracted extremist sentiment, and other sites have described it as being part of the so-called Londonistan set-up. For such an apparently sophisticated former spy meant to be monitoring incredibly dangerous individuals, Jenvey's exploits on were amateurish to say the least. While yesterday it was thought that "abuislam", the poster on the original thread that attempted to stir the letter writing campaign up into something it wasn't was a freelance journalist called Richard Tims, this appears to have a simple cover for Jenvey himself. Tims' only post on was to link to a website where you could sell stories, now defunct. Unfortunately for Jenvey, posts on other sites spamming point to the fact that the site was owned by none other than... Jenvey.

Tim has noted that "abuislam" had tried on a number of other occasions to troll, hoping to catch some bait, presumably to sell to the newspapers, but he failed on each and every occasion, not getting enough for a story to be weaved out of it. First he posted about the prospective release of "terrorist mastermind" Abu Izzadeen, without getting a single reply. Then he went a bit further, asking whether "marital rape" exists, which did spark discussion, but as you would expect, plenty of condemnation and some others in thread wondering about trolling. Next up was asking where the failed nail bomber Nicky Reilly might have been encouraged into carrying out a suicide attack, again without any luck. Probably most interestingly, especially regarding the Sun, he next tried to ask opinions on the Sun's "Help for Heroes" charity single, done in conjunction with the X Factor. One response was his reward, and that was to tell him that they didn't really discuss pop music. Perhaps this was his attempt to cash in on a previous Sun front page story, where the paper claimed that Omar Bakri Muhammad had ranted about the X Factor's involvement with the charity, suggesting that even watching it was committing a form of "muadaat". After failing with a thread on Prince Harry, he finally struck gold with his posts on letter-writing campaign thread.

The best that can be said for the Sun itself is that it was tricked by Jenvey in alerting them to the non-story in the first place, with them chomping at the bit to concoct from the little there was to go on in the thread a supposed "hate-filled Islamic extremist" threat to Alan Sugar and others, not bothering to investigate whether abuislam's interventions were too good to be true. At worst, the Sun has connived with a supposed anti-terror expert in completely fabricating a threat to some of the most prominent Jews in those country, doubtless causing them undue worry at the very least, all while further demonising British Muslims who were only planning to exercise their democratic right to peaceful protest. Whatever the truth, what has happened here is still a scandal; a newspaper caught red-handed, diverting attention away from the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza to completely spurious and invented threats, purely for its own profit and gain. This deserves to be investigated by the Press Complaints Commission at the very least, although is already considering its legal options. The paper might well yet curse doing business with Glen Jenvey.

Update: Fayruz in the comments on Bloggerheads says that Jenvey has no daughter and that the entire interview was invented by the Saviour Sect. I'm not removing the link as yet but just another thing to be kept in mind.

Update 16/03/09: Have fully removed the claims as above.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009 

Threat level diminishing? Say it ain't so...

Sometimes the headlines used in different newspapers on the same story can be instructive: while the Guardian headlined their report of the interview with MI5 head Jonathan Evans "al-Qaida threat diminished but not over", the Telegraph went with the more alarming "MI5 chief warns of threat from global recession". Little of what he said really hinted at any imminent security threat as a direct result of the recession, more a gradual shifting of power from the West potentially to the East, but it made for a better story than the much more important revelation that the threat level has diminished.

Whether this is, as Evans argued, a result of the last couple of years of prosecutions or rather down to the changing priorities of those becoming radicalised, with Evans suggesting that Somalia is becoming an increasingly attractive place to join the jihad is impossible to know. It is however very encouraging and informative that according to Evans al-Qaida appears to have no "semi-autonomous structured hierarchy" currently in place in this country. This suggests that if there are going to be attacks, or attempted attacks, they're more likely to be of the variety provided by Abu Beavis and Abu Butthead outside the Tiger Tiger and at Glasgow airport, where incompetence and lack of funding combined with an apparently automonous decision to launch an attack, although allegations of links to the Islamic State of Iraq, rather than al-Qaida "central" in Pakistan have been made.

Without saying as much, Evans more or less admitted that since the Glasgow attack there has been no serious, imminent plot to disrupt. He also more or less suggested that the number of active sympathisers, said by himself to be around 2,000, a figure which has never been adequately quantified, has also declined, although whether this is due to recantation or those previously identified leaving the country is again impossible to know. From attacks supposedly being imminent, or actively being planned, Evans only said that "they have the intention to mount an attack here", which is a long way from some of the blood-curdling rhetoric and outright fearmongering we have heard from politicians and police in the past. It also directly contradicts the recent remarks made by Lord West that "another great plot is building up again".

Evans' interview ought to raise the question of why the "official threat level" continues to remain at "severe", which is meant to mean that an attack is highly likely. By his comments, a more suitable level would be the next one down, which is "substantial", with an attack a strong possibility. One of the factors involved is surely that prior to 7/7 there were discussions about lowering the threat level to "substantial", only for the attack to apparently occur from out of the blue, catching police and security services off-guard, although it subsequently became clear that MI5 had known about two of the attackers, previously described as "clean skins". Potential criticism for messing around with the threat level is probably part of why it hasn't been brought down, but also surely a factor is that Labour ministers themselves continue to scaremonger at every given opportunity, regardless of the reality. Keeping it at "severe" helps them to be able to continue sell the ever continuing casual dilutions of liberty and the new plans for databases, all supposedly to make us safer while apparently doing nothing other than properly prosecuting and monitoring plots has up to now stood us in apparently good stead.

Evans did mention the mega-database plan, or at least something similar to it, although his main concern appeared to be calls made over Skype, which they seem to currently have difficulties intercepting. Far less impressive was his defence of the Intelligence and Security Committee, for the obvious reason being that it is about as inefficient and hopeless as a watchdog over the security services as any parliamentary committee. From its whitewash over MI6's involvement in rendition, which changed the descriptions of what constituted an "extraordinary rendition" so that MI6 was found innocent, to its pathetic censored reports which may as well not be issued for all the enlightenment they offer, both MI5 and MI6 need to have a fully independent organisation which monitors them, similar to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which although flawed, is far better than the ISC currently is. Neither political party however is interested in opening up the security services any further than they currently have been, and they'll continue to be able to do more or less as they please for years to come. They may have cleaned up their act considerably on the home front, but abroad and especially regards to suspects in Pakistan and elsewhere they seem as dependent on torture and the unannounced, shadowy visits as they ever have.

Outside of that, what we ought to take from the interviews with Evans is that the sky is not about to fall, despite so many relentlessly predicting just that. The one real concern is in fact that the assaults on Gaza by Israel seem to be successfully radicalising not just those living in the occupied territories, but those outside it as well. All those defending Israel to the hilt ought to take note of that; when we refuse to recognise that such disproportionate attacks on an impoverished people far away can have such an effect on our own streets, it imposes on all of us an obligation to push ever harder for a peaceful settlement. And one thing that can be guaranteed is that the massacres we have seen over the last couple of weeks are only likely to put that further away.

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Scum-watch: Letter writers turned into "Islamic fanatics".

How then do you report the conflict in Gaza if you're a tabloid based in this country? Convinced that your readers couldn't care less about war in other countries unless it involves us and especially if it involves people with a skin colour other than white, as well as the fact that such reporting costs money, you have to try at all costs to get some sort of link in to what's happening here. Despite 40 being killed in a UN school which the Israelis now apparently privately accept there was no mortar fire from, only the Mail so much as mentioned it on its front page today, and that was on the side away from the utterly vital news involving the phasing out of incandescent light-bulbs.

The Sun though had an exclusive: TERROR TARGET SUGAR their front page shrieks, with EXTREMIST THREAT TO UK JEWS in a banner above it. The online version of the article, which has a rather less hysterical headline with "[H]ate hit list", spells it out pretty clearly:

FEARS grew last night that hate-filled Islamic extremists are drawing up a “hit list” of Britain’s leading Jews — bringing the Middle East conflict terrifyingly close to home.

TV’s The Apprentice boss Sir Alan Sugar and Amy Winehouse record producer Mark Ronson are among prominent names discussed on a fanatics’ website.


British anti-terror expert Glen Jenvey is convinced online forum Ummah is being used to prepare a deadly backlash against UK Jews.

Here is the thread on which the Sun article appears to be based on. It bares almost no resemblance whatsoever to the Sun or Jenvey's claims. The title of the topic is "[C]ompile a list of those who support Israel, started by saladin1970:

Asalamalykum, it seems that the time is right to compile a list of british people who support Israel

I read this post
"The names and addresses of Wealthy Zionist Jews can be found in the lists of sponsors and contributors of Zionist Charities. The names and addresses of Company Directors that work for Military Industrial Companies that support these tyrannical regimes can be found in publication like Dunn and Bradstreet"

It would be beneficial to start compiling a list so that we can write polite letters reminding them of the injustices of israel and to stop supporting israel

Ah yes, so what's being proposed on this "extremist" website is a deadly letter writing campaign. The thread itself was started on the 29th of December, and there wasn't exactly much headway made except in linking to lists on other websites. Suddenly, "abuislam" two days later bumped the thread up:

Have we got list of top jews and supporters yet we can target? can someone start posting names and addresses.

Saladin continues to link to a load of different pages, urging others on the forum to write to separate organisations to campaign against them, before abuislam suddenly pops up again and directly names some individuals:

Sir Alan Sugar

Alan Howard

David Miliband

Again, there's some further discussion but no indication of any protests that would involve anything other than private representation, until, wait for it, out comes abuislam at 7:31am yesterday with:

(QUOTE:It would be beneficial to start compiling a list so that we can write polite letters reminding them of the injustices of israel and to stop supporting israel ) polite will not work. Target them with Demo's out-side their Home's and Business hit and run demo's showing and exposing their war crimes in their support.

There where then no further posts until an admin posted on the Sun's story and locked the thread. seems to have already looked into who "abuislam" was and quickly found some rather quite surprising details:

I can confirm that the User "AbuIslam" who was posing as a Muslim on this forum is infact a freelance Journalist by the name of "Richard Tims" who registered on this forum to twist what the original Intent of this thread was for and to make Muslims look bad. Whether he works for the sun or not i dont know.

Abuislam Deliberated added comments on this thread which made is as if this thread was intended to cause harm to names that were mentioned

This has been confirmed from his IP address and Email addresses has he used on this forum and previous usernames

It's obviously impossible to confirm's claims, and a quick Google for Richard Tims doesn't turn up any obvious social networking profiles which would confirm there's a Richard Tims who describes himself as a hack, but on the surface the evidence does look rather damning; no one suggested anything other than a letter writing campaign or passing information on to other Muslim organisations for them to make representations, and very few actual names were mentioned until abuislam just happened to name some of the biggest used in the Sun's story, including Sugar and Miliband. Then, probably because even the Sun was going to have difficulties spinning a story out of absolutely nothing, abuislam finally suggested protests outside their homes and businesses, which even then suggests nothing other than unpleasant but within the law doorstep demonstrations.

There isn't even any out and out anti-semitism within the thread, although some will doubtless consider the targeting of individuals simply because they are Jews, regardless of their views on Israel, to be intimidating and most certainly counter-productive. As for the names the Sun mentions, Mark Ronson, Lord Levy and Anthony Julius were not so much as mentioned in the thread itself. They are however all entries on the Jewish Chronicle's list on the 100 most influential Jews, which was linked to on the thread.

Worth quoting is a section from's "press release", which attacks the Sun's article in no uncertain terms:

Examining the adjectives used in The Sun's article gives us an undeniable insight into their intent in publishing this piece; the words "hate", "hit list", "hate-filled", "extremists", "terrifyingly", "fanatics", and "deadly" all appear in the short article. The article mentions anti-Semitic attacks on Jews in Europe, quotes a statement from a figure in Al-Qaeda saying Muslims should attack targets wherever they can, alleges that Hamas call for the killing of Jewish children by saying Jewish people should be targeted anywhere and mentions attacks including an arson raid on a Synagogue. Discerning readers will be able to see this for what it is: a despicable attempt to paint law-abiding, Muslim peace activists - who are campaigning against Israel's actions - as criminal, murderous, anti-Semites, and terrorists. By using the language and imagery of hate and fear, they are instilling these feelings towards Muslims in the hearts and minds of their readers, and this has been an obvious feature of The Sun newspaper for many years.

Around the only accurate comment made in the article regarding the thread on the forum is that as Glen Jenvey says, it has in the past been used by extremists. Considering however that it is a wide open forum, where debate is not strenuously moderated, this is always likely, especially on the internet where intemperate and extreme comment are only a click away on any major forum. Some of those on it are quite clearly militant in their thinking: "kuffar" is used a number of times to describe those that aren't Muslims, alongside the usually illuminating remarks about the "illuminati" and "masons", and on the open press release thread one person has an Israeli flag combined with a swastika as an avatar, while others have avatars regarding the caliphate, potentially indicating support for Hizb-ut-Tahrir or other similar revivalist groupings, but none of this even begins to justify the Sun's twisting of the thread, or their outright scaremongering about the threats facing famous Jews in this country.

Some, like the press release will further link this to the Sun's previous articles about Muslims, whether supposedly telling passengers on their buses to get off so they could pray or attacking the homes soldiers had looked at with the view to moving in as evidence of the paper's Islamophobia. To me it just looks like the Sun doing what it always does: twisting the truth as far as it can to create a "story" while not telling outright lies. That it will further inflame hatred against Muslims who were only proposing a letter writing campaign, and also scare Jewish individuals already concerned at the potential for attacks on them because of Israel's actions in Gaza is just an unfortunate by-product of the Sun's constant need to keep shifting copies and making money. Nothing else apart from that matters, and if other people get hurt, so be it.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009 

Massacres upon massacres.

The inevitable then has happened. As almost always occurs when Israel uses overwhelming force, whether in Lebanon, the West Bank or in Gaza, they have succeeded in massacring a large group of civilians, and then subsequently claimed that it either wasn't their fault or that they had no choice. Between 30 and 40, mostly children, were slaughtered when tank shells hit a UN school in the northern town of Jabailya.

It's almost impossible to describe this as anything other than a crime for the simple reason that Israel knows full well that thousands if not tens of thousands of Palestinians are now sheltering in these schools, the only semi-safe havens there are in the entire Strip. It knows full well because it has been dropping leaflets across the territory ordering citizens to vacate their homes or face the consequences, making the ominous telephone calls that houses are about to be destroyed, all while claiming that civilians will be dealt with with "silk gloves". The Israelis know the exact locations of these schools, because the UN gave them the GPS co-ordinates.

There are therefore no excuses whatsoever for hitting them with artillery fire, or launching air strikes at them, as another suffered, which killed 7 of those sheltering there. Even if we believe the Israeli claims that Hamas fighters were launching mortars from inside the school, information which the UN completely denies, although they accept that there was fighting close by, there is no justification whatsoever for hitting somewhere which will almost certainly result in gross civilian casualties, just because you are getting shot at. The Israeli propaganda ministers, sorry, spokesmen, even have the audacity to claim that it's Hamas that is launching cover-ups and conspiracies in response to the massacre at al-Fakhura. In reality, Israel has participated in cover-up after cover-up and whitewashed inquiry after whitewashed inquiry whenever large numbers of civilians are killed. The explosion on the beach in Gaza which killed most of Huda Ghalia's family was first blamed on Hamas mining the beach; only later did they admit that it was most likely the result of unexploded Israeli ordnance, although others also still believe it was the result of Israeli shelling, with the IDF admitting a shell had gone "missing" during firing at the time. The shelling of Beit Hanoun later in 2006 which killed 19 Palestinians initially brought an end to the Israeli attacks and apologies for the "malfunction"; the Israelis then however repeatedly blocked a UN fact finding mission led by Desmond Tutu from entering Gaza, only letting them in at the third attempt, while decrying the UN for criticising Israel after it had expressed regret. Finally, there was the air strikes which hit a building north of Qana during the 2006 Hizbullah-Lebanon war, which killed 28 civilians, again mostly children sheltering from the bombing. Initial claims that Hizbullah had been firing rockets from the buildings or nearby were shown to be false, with missiles have been fired from south of the village. The Israelis then claimed they had "intelligence" that the building was unoccupied and was being used by Hizbullah, statements which were again given short shrift by human rights groups and journalists in the area. Instead it seemed that Israel was continuing with its collective punishment regime, flattening many of the buildings in Qana and north of the village where the building was located.

This time round there has not even been the slightest suggestion of apologies or regrets for the targeting of the UN schools. The response has instead been as combative as ever, the same old repeated blaming of Hamas while refusing to accept responsibility for so much as hurting a hair on a Palestinian child's head. The Israeli propaganda offensive has been completely overwhelming, a constant flow of spokesmen (and women) repeating the same lines endlessly into cameras, controlled by the recent establishment of a National Information Directorate and fear of repeating the mistakes of 2006, when the propaganda offensive fell down, partially thanks to independent reporting from Lebanon, but also due to there being those on the opposite side who were felt to be representative and which broadcasters would not be criticised for hosting. This time round, Israel has successfully blocked foreign journalists from entering Gaza, leaving the West's hacks stranded and dependent on local producers, while the Arab news channels can broadcast live from the Strip around the clock. As much as this will inflame the Arab street and put pressure on governments in the Middle East, it's Western governments and especially the US which are in a position put pressure on Israel to end the assault. With television in America especially either completely ignoring the conflict or so pro-Israeli that it's beyond a joke, very little pressure is being placed on anyone. Only today did Barack Obama bother to so much as mumble a few lines on the situation, spreading the blame equally. Combined with this is that few stations will put on Hamas members or leaders, at least the ones not in hiding on screen, or give them the time to properly interview them. The result is much the same as the disparity in strength between Israel and Hamas, with only one message being put across, even as the scenes of carnage are being broadcasted, themselves sanitised less any squeamish Westerners be shocked by the polls of blood along with the twisted bodies which are now routinely being pulled out of the rubble of bombed buildings.

The propaganda offensive is naturally not just limited to print news and television, but to internet comment threads as well. No longer are the likes of just GIYUS selecting pieces on mainstream news sites as well as individual blogs to target and invade with the same old rehearsed arguments which have been heard a thousand times, the Israeli Foreign Ministry itself is now taking part in similar efforts, with the Guardian and Times among those being targeted. Dissent from the view that Israel is perfectly justified in slaughtering at least 595 Palestinians in just 10 days is simply not to be tolerated, especially when claims that white phosphorus or depleted uranium is being used are made. We've yet to see the risible claims from right-wing bloggers during the Lebanese war that the Qana massacre was staged for the cameras, but we have had, as mentioned yesterday, the just as ridiculous idea that Palestinians are actively pretending to be injured for the cameras. That there is no need for such tactics or manipulation when so many have been injured or killed is beyond their imagination.

At the same time, there are those who repeatedly apologise for the Israeli assault while providing deafening denunciations of leftists for palling up with the likes of Hamas and Hizbullah supporters when going on marches. Sunny from Liberal Conspiracy even complained on CiF about how a tiny minority on Saturday's march had tried to chant "we are all Hamas" and then had shouted "Allahu Akbar", which unpleasant as it is for secular leftists is always likely to take place. Such temporary coalitions when protesting against murderous cynicism are unavoidable, however much we dislike those involved. Additionally, if it wasn't for the likes of the Socialist Workers' Party or the Stop the War Coalition such protests would probably either not take place or be as well organised as they are, however much you dislike the SWP's politics or the StWC's partners. However much some dislike it, at the moment the only people actively defending the Palestinians in Gaza are Hamas and the other militant groups, and even if they stopped fighting or firing missiles tomorrow the fighting and the siege are hardly likely to be lifted any time soon. The policy has gone from stopping rocket fire to the apparent overthrow of Hamas, and the Israeli concession of "humanitarian corridors", when it denies there is any humanitarian crisis in Gaza suggests there is still plenty more shelling and missile strikes to come rather than a quick ceasefire.

If there is an abiding image of this conflict, apart from the incessant images of the brutalised and eviscerated coming into Gaza's close to collapsing hospitals, it's this one of Israeli citizens, the ones so apparently fearful of Hamas's rocket attacks, the ones terrorised for 8 years while the Israelis disengaged from Gaza, who made the journey to near Gaza's border to watch the IDF attack Beit Hanoun. While the Palestinians cower in their shattered homes, they watch and comment on how the IDF could be doing more. Both sides have been damaged by the incessant conflict, but only one finds the time to go and watch from afar the destruction being waged in their name. Probably because the Gazans can't even if they wanted to.

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Monday, January 05, 2009 

Unethical and immoral pity.

It sums up both the disparity between Hamas and Israel that a stray shell has killed three Israeli soldiers, the same number of civilians that Hamas has succeeded in killing in more than a week of launching rockets into Israel, as well as the complete inaccuracy of such repetitive firing which the whole of Gaza is now enduring, at a far greater cost than any weapon which Hamas has, other than the suicide belt which has largely recently eschewed.

While the more deluded Hamas officials continue to spout murderous nonsense to themselves that Israel by its actions has authorised attacks on synagogues or Israeli children, those on the opposite side do much the same. Take this utterly delightful article by Adi Dvir, which urges us not to pity the Palestinians, as doing so is "
unethical and immoral", patronising them by believing that they are not in control of their own actions or either too stupid or unable to overthrow Hamas. By the same yardstick, we shouldn't pity those living in Sderot whom the Israelis and their mouthpieces are urging us to feel for, having lived for eight years under Qassam rocket fire, as they too are either too stupid or unable to overthrow their own government which enforces a blockade on a territory which starves it while not starving those within it to death. Israel has never lived up to its promises since it left Gaza. As Mike Power pointed out in response to Melanie Phillips' discounting the idea that Hamas's terror is similar to what we lived with from the IRA, with her claiming it would only be the same if the IRA had controlled Ireland like Hamas controls Gaza:

Only if the UK had blockaded Ireland, controlled its water and power supplies, prevented its inhabitants from seeking urgent medical treatment and controlled the movement of its citizens in and out of the country (and that's just for starters).

We shouldn't also feel pity for any of these people below, and remember, most of them are either only pretending to be dead or pretending to be injured, including the cow:

Oh, and in the interests of balance, here's a terrified Israeli attempting to protect her child, who isn't putting it on like all those above:

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Suicide by churnalism.

As Sim-O notes over on the Sun Lies, the Sun and 12 other newspapers/news sites have been found in breach of clause 5 of the Press Complaints Commission's code over articles reporting the suicide of a man who decapitated himself with a chainsaw, all of which were found to have reported the method used in excessive detail, something of increasing concern due to the apparent number of copycat attempts after similar articles have been published. While I'm hardly one of those people who thinks we shouldn't so much as mention suicide or ways to kill yourself for fear that those that would otherwise live long and happy lives will kill themselves on a whim, what also has been to be kept in mind when publishing such articles is the potential for further distress to those left behind, especially when splashed all over the national press for what is little more than titillation value, so-called public interest or not.

Again though, this is a prime example of churnalism in action. It seems that none of the newspapers had reporters at the actual inquest, which naturally heard forensic detail about how the man had set-up and activated the chainsaw in order to kill himself, but rather that all the information was provided by the Press Association. The PA itself quickly realised that the first report had gone too far in giving a blow by blow account of the exact facts of the case, and issued an edited follow-up. By then though the initial account had been put up across the web, and few seem to have replaced it with the updated version. As Nick Davies argued in Flat Earth News, PA and the other wires are often considered to be authoritative and therefore don't need to be double-checked, even though they themselves are under the same time constraints as their print counterparts are. Likewise, in this instance few of the newspapers bothered to edit the initial report, or even if they did didn't edit it enough to the PCC's liking, which seems to have investigated the reports without an actual complaint being made, presumably because of their own concern about them.

The PCC emphasised the importance of editing in its statement:

However, this was not a sufficient defence [the copy having came from the PA]. Indeed, this case demonstrated the importance of the editing process in removing excessive detail before publication – both online and offline.

Of the 14 articles that were investigated, only the Metro's print version and the one in the Guardian were ruled to have not breached the code. The Guardian's is worth quoting because it seems to sum everything up perfectly concisely, without dwelling on the story:

A man cut off his own head with a chainsaw because he was "irrationally opposed" to leaving his home, which was due to be demolished, an inquest heard yesterday. David Phyall, 50, rigged the machine up with a timer before swallowing painkillers at his housing association flat in Bishopstoke, Hampshire, on July 5, the hearing at Winchester was told. At the time of his death Phyall, who had suffered from mental illness, was the only person living in the 1960s block. Recording a verdict of suicide, coroner Simon Burge said Phyall was "irrationally opposed to moving".

The PCC's adjudication decided "in a difficult judgement call" that the newspaper had "stayed on just the right side of the line". In others, such as the Sun's print version and the Daily Star, it decided that the opposite was the case and that they had included just "slightly too much" detail. None though responded in the way which the Daily Mirror did, which claimed that the method of suicide was so "exceptional" that reporting it was in the "public interest". Perhaps not knowing which battles to fight and which to not, it went on to argue that it didn't believe that copycats were likely, and "also questioned whether the restriction on the right to report inquests in full was practicable for newspapers or consistent with the principle of open justice". The Mirror might have had a point if the PCC were objecting to the details of a murder being reported in such a way, or if it was genuinely restricting the right to report on inquests completely rather than just asking newspapers to show discretion over cases involving suicide or apparent suicide, which are rarely of such public interest that the full details need to be known for justice to be seen to have been done, but it wasn't. Interestingly, the Mirror's Scottish sister, the Daily Record, accepted in good grace that its report had breached the code, "apologised, and acted to make sure that the back bench and night desk were more familiar with the terms of the Code in this area", which seems like a model response.

You could understand the Mirror's response more if its own reporters and editors had been involved in the story other than rewriting or editing it slightly, but they weren't. Surely the fact that the copy had been provided by an outside source, even if one routinely used, meant that it should have come under more attention, especially on a subject where the code is more than clear. Perhaps the reaction was more to do with the fact that the Mirror, along with the Express group and the Independent are the papers which have the fewest resources to work with and so less time to spend on messing around with the wire copy, especially when it is seen as high quality. Indeed, the Express recently made more than half of its subeditors redundant, with the Star having already done similar. Accordingly, the Star was raked over the coals while the paper protested that its sister had edited the story down to just mentioning the chainsaw, as if that was a defence.

As the recession takes hold and advertisers further desert the print media, more job losses are inevitable. With them will come the further triumph of churnalism, and as newspapers continue to try to appeal across the board and do everything, even more mistakes and complaints with them will be made. The future is, as Peter Wilby argues, the niche - either highbrow or lowbrow, not trying to be both. You can imagine that the Mail and Sun will likely survive, as will probably the Torygraph, Times and Guardian in their current forms, at least for now - the others may well fall by the wayside or go online only, although I can't imagine many seeking out the Star, Express or Mirror websites when everything they do is done elsewhere and almost always better. Before that happens, things will probably deteriorate rapidly, and like with the other victims of the recession outside those being made unemployed at least so far, the papers and their owners will have few others to blame but themselves.

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Godwin's law and Tory economic policy.

One of the old rules of debate, long before the invention of Godwin's law, was that the first person to bring up the Nazis lost. Unless you want to look like Rick in the Young Ones, even in these times when calling Labour ZaNuLiarBore or similar is considered the height of wit and sophistication, or calling Gordon Brown a one-eyed communist passes for enlightened discourse, it's mostly still looked down upon.

Iain Dale, the nation's premier serious blogger is obviously beyond such subtleties. Opening his article on Comment is Free, he invokes everyone's favourite propaganda minister (no, not Alastair Campbell, or Andy Coulson):

Gordon Brown and his ministers seem to have adopted the Goebbels principle of propaganda, hoping that the more often they repeat an allegation, the more likely a gullible public is to believe it. Over the past month they have repeatedly accused the Conservatives and David Cameron of adopting a "do nothing" approach to the recession, in the hope that Cameron can be made out to be heartless and uncaring. James Purnell's interviews on the Today Programme and 5 Live this morning were classic examples of the genre. Goebbels would have nodded approvingly.

Yeah, shame about him giving his children cyanide pills before he and his wife blew their own brains out, otherwise we could have asked him personally what he thought of Labour's media strategy. By the same token, Dale must surely be concerned about how the Conservatives have repeatedly suggested that the country is either "going bankrupt", "near bankruptcy" or "bankrupt", all of which have been the Tories' refrain for quite some time now, with even less basis in facts than the accusation that the Conservatives are a "do nothing" party. Dale lists some of the other policies proposed by his party, but few of them have been praised by those outside of it, and others such as the proposed tax break for employers have been derided. Few of them would provide anything resembling a stimulus, or one more likely to be spent than saved, which is what is needed, and while the jury is still out on the VAT cut, even fewer of their promises seem to actually add up.

The same can of course be said of the government's policies, which do indeed also deserve criticise, but today's new announcement by the Tories for tax cuts for savers are especially wide of the mark. Welcome as further incentives to save would be once we're out of a recession, it's the opposite of what's needed right now, as Tom Freeman points out. The Conservatives can though of course say whatever the hell they like when they're in opposition, as they're not suddenly going to become the party of government and have to introduce their announced plans immediately, and unsurprisingly the Tory press has lapped up Cameron's latest pronouncement, as they were meant to.

All the rhetoric however masks the fact that if the Conservatives had been in power rather than Labour, they would have in all likelihood have let the market rip even further. Yes, taxes might well have been lower, the public services might well have not had as much money pumped in, the deficit might not be quite so high, but we would almost certainly be in much the same hole. It has taken the recession for the Conservatives to rediscover the "morality" of saving rather than going into debt, and that's something that should always be remembered now that parties of all political shapes and colours decide that capitalism might well need taming after all.

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