Athens Now! Tourist reflections on riots and ruins

Hi everyone, here’s a quick video blog on how things are in Athens right now from a tourist’s perspective. I should say that minutes after finishing this I walked through Syntagma Square and saw the riot police/army gearing up again, so perhaps things are not as quiet as they have first seemed. Also, sorry for the wind / sound quality – what can I say, Athens is windy!
Hope you enjoy,
Kim x

The Intellectual Particle Accelerator that was TEDxManchester

We are 3 talks into TEDxManchester and Tara Shears is giving us a crash course in advanced particle physics. On the screen is a giant animation of particles smashing together in the Hadron Collider at CERN, and she is talking and gesturing enthusiastically about how this is part of the scientific community’s ongoing quest to find that God(damn) Higgs-Boson particle and validate the notion that we might have some kind of a clue what the universe is all about. Because, as Tara explains, without Higgs our theories for the universe simply don’t work. We’re back to square one, or at least in need of a bloody good plan B.

Now I can’t say I completely understood everything that Tara was saying (what is a quark? Anyone?). But I love this. I love that some of the world’s greatest minds have spent decades (and several billion pounds) searching for something that might be nothing more than an idea, all so that we can understand the forces of the universe a little better. Yes, the technology used at CERN will undoubtedly have practical uses at some point down the line, but right now its primary purpose is just to turbo charge global knowledge and understanding about the world around us. It’s purely and simply an exercise in discovery.

Which is probably the same reason why TEDx appeals so much. Like some kind of giant intellectual particle accelerator, this Manchester based event has gathered together a collection of experts from fields ranging from arts, music and philosophy to science, digital technologies and architecture, put them on the stage in Cornerhouse cinema 2, wound them up and let them fly at us.

Mary Anne Hobbs on pursuing your passions

We had Tom Bloxham, standing against a slideshow of some of his massive architectural achievements, appealing to us to stop striving for perfection and make more mistakes. David Erasmus, social entrepreneur extraordinaire, who is intent on changing the world and for whom the word ‘can’t’ simply does not seem to have a place in his vocabulary. Brendan Dawes, whose playful approach to constant iteration and discovery resulted in the creation of his seminal work – Cinema Redux – which is now part of the permanent collection at New York’s MOMA. And Mary Anne Hobbs, reminding us that even living on a bus for a year with questionable sanitation surviving on a diet of chips is no hardship at all if it’s in pursuit of your passions and dreams.

TED might be about ideas worth spreading, but what struck me most about all the talks yesterday was the consistent theme of Action. Do something; even if it means making mistakes along the way. Do something; even if you don’t know if it will work. Do something; as it’s the only way you’ll achieve your dreams. Do something; as that next tiny step might result in greatness. Do something; because things are not ok the way they are, and we can do better.

And, as is the point of these kind of events, I for one left feeling a little more excited and inspired, and a little more ready to take some action of my own.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested, you can read my reflections on TEDxManchester 2009 here.

Interview: A guide for visiting Palestine

Every day, Fred Schlomka’s Green Olive tour company picks up a car full of Jerusalem tourists and guides them through the Separation Wall into the Palestinian West Bank, visiting refugee camps, social enterprises and – in what’s been seen by some as a controversial move – settler communities.

Having joined one of these tours earlier this year, I recently interviewed Fred to find out first hand why he set up Green Olive Tours, and what he sees for the future of Palestine.

1. So, where did the idea for Green Olive Tours come from?

I launched Green Olive Tours in 2007. For many years I had been organizing specialized tours for two Israeli organizations that I worked for, Mosaic Communities and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. These tours were aimed at activists and researchers who came to Israel/Palestine to further their understanding of the political issues here and experience the events on the ground.

I decided to offer these types of tours to a broader public, and include cultural experiences and some more conventional tourist activities. The blend of experiences serves the general tourist public and enables them to go home with a more rounded view of our country.

2. And why was it important to you to set up Green Olive Tours?

Most tour companies offer a ‘Disneyland’ view of the country, from a Jewish or Christian perspective, often excluding information, experiences, and sites that conflict with their worldview. Green Olive Tours tries to offer a more comprehensive experience while gently advocating for a more humanistic and democratic perspective.

The tours serve as a bridge between my political and professional work. Through traveling the West Bank almost every day I am able to monitor the situation and stay in touch with my contacts. Through offering tourists the opportunity to benefit from my experienced guides’ knowledge, and witness the impact of the Occupation, they often are motivated to become politically active when they return home. Some return as volunteers in the organizations we introduce them to.

3. Is it important for tourists to visit the West Bank?

It is extremely important. Most Israeli tour companies offer only limited opportunities to visit the West Bank, often telling their clients that it is too dangerous. However there are many important religious and historical sites in the West Bank, and hospitable Palestinians who are eager to tell their stories. No visit to the Holy Land is complete without at least several days visiting the West Bank.

4. What’s been the hardest part of setting up and running Green Olive Tours?

Lack of capital. We are a ‘bootstrap’ operation and completely self-funded. If there was access to capital then the business could grow faster. However growing in an organic fashion has its benefits. When we make mistakes it is less costly.

Another issue is marketing. All the major tour companies that conduct day-trips have full access to the residents of tourist hotels. Our brochures and flyers are rejected by the mainstream hotels for political reasons, and we are restricted to marketing through the smaller and Arab-owned hotels.

5. What do you think is the main thing that people on your tours get from the experience?

They see the reality of life in the West Bank and Israel, and are provided with enough information to make up their own minds about the issues. People-to-people contact is also much appreciated by our clients. On most of the tours they are able to meet Palestinians and Israelis, have conversations, and often to have lunch with a family.

6. You have recently launched a ‘Meet the Settlers’ tour. Why did you decide to run this tour? Has that been controversial?

The tour was started to give visitors the opportunity to hear from the settlers themselves about their philosophy and reasons for living in the West Bank. Some Israeli and Palestinian activists are critical of this tour. Since the settler/guide receives a fee, they feel that the tour is actually supporting the settlement enterprise.

However on balance I think that it is more important to educate tourists about the settlements than to worry about a few dollars ending up in the hands of a settler.

7. What are your hopes for the future of Israel and Palestine?

My hope is that we all can find a way to live together within a democratic framework. However the present trends of settlement expansion and lack of negotiations does not bode well for the immediate future.

I believe that any possibility for the ‘classic’ two-state solution is over. The idea is a fantasy that the settlers will be removed from the West Bank and a largely Jewish-free state is formed in the West Bank and Gaza. Reality must sink in. There are now over 600,000 Israelis living in the Occupied Territories. I think the best we can hope for is a Palestinian state that allows most of the settlers to remain under Palestinian sovereignty. This will preserve the national aspirations of Palestinians, and the integrity of the state of Israel.  Of course if Israelis are permitted to live in Palestine then Palestinians should also be permitted to live in Israel.

Perhaps a solution like the European Union may emerge – a Three-State Solution, which would put a third government on top of the two states, with a hard external border but a soft internal border.

Thanks to Fred Schlomka and the Green Olive Tours team for this interview. You can find out more about the Green Olive story at www.toursinenglish.com

The Ahava Protests: A Victory for BDS?

On the sunny April afternoon I’m invited to check out the fortnightly protest against Ahava’s Covent Garden store, it’s clear that this week – perhaps more than most weeks – emotions are running high. It is just one day after the body of peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni was found by Hamas forces in an abandoned Gaza house, allegedly murdered by radical religious fundamentalists, and it’s clear that this tragedy is serving to add yet more fuel to the animosity between the opposing sides gathered here.

I arrive on Monmouth St just after midday to the sound of one of the boycott protesters yelling “fascists” at the Israel supporters. A few minutes later a minor scuffle breaks out, ending with several police officers holding one of the pro-Palestinian activists against a wall while two of the Israel supporters begin shouting “Hamas terrorist” in his direction. Moments later one of them guffaws “Vittorio sleeps with the fishes,” and soon, the handful of protesters on either side of the metal barricade are trading insults; “No Nazi boycott in Covent Garden!” shouts an Israel supporter. “That’s right; go home” retorts someone from the Palestinian side.

Having researched the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement before coming here – a movement that advocates non-violence – I have to admit the level of agitation on display from both groups of protesters takes me aback. While the passion on both sides is undoubtedly emblematic of how much the activists care about the Israel-Palestine issue, at several points the trading of insults between the two groups seems almost comical; at one stage three men stood watching the commotion next to me whisper to one another “is this actually serious?”

And yet, as curious as these scenes might seem to the average Londoner, this is serious. Ahava is the target of this boycott action not simply because it is an Israeli-owned company, but because the beauty products it sells in over thirty countries worldwide are manufactured in Mizpe Shalem, an Israeli settlement roughly six miles inside the Israeli occupied Palestinian Territories. As Rose, one of the pro-boycott activists tells me a little later in a quieter café on Shaftsbury Avenue, “every time someone purchases those products they’re supporting that illegal settlement, and helping to entrench the occupation of Palestine. This conflict does not happen in a vacuum, it persists in part because this kind of economic support from the West.”

And that is the point of the BDS movement – to stop international complicity in the sustained Israeli occupation of the West Bank which both undermines the human rights of Palestinians and holds the region back from attaining a meaningful peace. But more importantly, it wants to remind us that it is a conflict we can do something about, in this case simply by being more conscious about where we shop.

But is it working? The Palestinian solidarity protesters say yes. For a start, just two weeks ago Ahava announced that this particular shop will close in September as a result of the protests which, Rose tells me, the boycotters see as a victory; “this will be one less place taking money from London shoppers and investing it in supporting Israeli settlements”.

What is more significant perhaps is that Israeli authorities are taking notice of this campaign. Last year, Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute presented  a report to the Israeli Cabinet singling out the BDS movement as one of the most significant global forces threatening the security of the Israeli state (something I blogged about at the time). Furthermore, when I asked Omar Barghouti – one of the movement’s founders – about the Reut Report at last month’s 6 billion ways conference, he stated that Israeli authorities had responded by tabling a motion in the Knesset last year stating that any boycott activity targeting Israeli companies should be made illegal. The law hasn’t passed, yet, but with that kind of alarm-bell it’s no wonder some pro-Israel supporters are working hard to fight the movement.

However, when it comes to Ahava, it’s worth questioning whether this ‘success’ is as clear cut as it may seem. For a start, the closure does not reflect a decision on the part of Ahava to pull out of the UK altogether; in this case their landlord has simply decided that the protests are causing too much disruption to the wider area. Ahava may simply relocate elsewhere, which suggests that this is perhaps a somewhat less noble victory for civil disruption caused by the animosity between these two opposing groups of protesters, and not a true signal that the BDS message is succeeding in educating people and affecting public opinion.

Furthermore, as I stand watching the taunting from both sides, I can’t help but think that were the tone of these protests more consistently in line with the reasonable and non-violent aims of the movement, even in these trying circumstances, it might be more successful in doing so. And half way through the protest, something powerful happens which proves this point.

For just one minute, the boycott protesters turn their backs on their pro-Israel opposition and hold silent vigil in honour of Vittorio Arrigoni. The street, previously noisy and chaotic, packed with the sound of offensive jibes and campaigners enthusiastically thrusting leaflets in the hands of bemused passers-by, becomes deafeningly quiet. The Israeli supporters stop shouting, watching the vigil with what seems to be a mixture of interest and confusion, and a group of London shoppers approach a police officer and ask him what’s going on. He explains in hushed tones that people are protesting against Ahava because they support the Palestinians. That someone from the protests was killed in the region, which is why everyone is more upset than usual. And for a moment, it feels like we all get it.

Ahava is important. But isn’t finding reasonable means of educating people about the situation in Palestine, of engaging in intelligent discussion and rising above the knee-jerk reactions that have fuelled this conflict for decades, even more so? Shouldn’t our protest movements reflect this ethos, and not just in words and grand statements, but in behaviour too? I think so. Regardless of the provocation. And particularly when Londoners are watching.

Separation, Settlements and Guerilla Graffiti: The West Bank in Pictures

With construction beginning in 2003, the Israeli authorities erected the 8m concrete wall with incredible speed. It’s aim, they say, is to help stop Palestinian suicide bombings on Israeli soil. Since then, the number of attacks has declined by more than 90%.

Banksy at the Bethlehem Checkpoint

However, the wall makes life for many Palestinians even more difficult. For a start, Palestinians cannot get through the checkpoints and onto the other side of the wall without a permit, and permits are very difficult to come by. If you have a job on the Israeli side, and you have kids, it can be easier, but your permit will still only last 3 months, meaning that people have to withstand constant questioning and bureaucracy in order to go about the simple business of getting to work.

Wall Graffeti

Separation

What’s worse for many however is the fact that the wall separates them from family and friends. I met one woman – Sarah – who used to live next door to her aunt, but now the wall travels along what was once the fence between their homes. Sarah is now only able to get a permit to travel across the border to see her family-member once a year.

Annexed Olive Groves

The wall also habitually separates Palestinians from their land. These olive groves have been split in two by the wall, with a substantial portion annexed into the Israeli side.

In this case, the diversion from the ‘Green Line‘ is due to the fact that Rachel’s tomb happens to be several hundred yards into the Palestinian territory. Rather than stick to these UN agreed boundries, Israeli authorities simply built the wall into Palestinian land, annexing the tomb and the olive groves around it.  The farmers have not received compensation.

Refugees

Aida refugee camp is just within the boundaries of the wall on the outskirts of Bethlehem. It homes around 5000 Palestinians, most descended from the original 800 or so that fled to the UN led camp in the 1948 “war of independence”.

All in all, around a million Palestinians fled their homes in what is now Israel, and most have resettled in the West Bank, where they now number at around 2 million.

The boys school in Aida Refugee Camp

Aida isn’t what you might imagine from a refugee camp. There are buildings, streets, schools and community centres holding theatre classes and dance workshops for kids.

One organisation in particular, Al Rowwad, does some amazing work teaching young people photography, theatre and journalism – it aims to help Palestinians tell their story to the world’s media.

Still, the walls are covered in bullet holes and barbed wire. Not sure anyone would choose to live here.

Resistance

Banksy – Separation Wall Graffiti

The wall has become a canvas for political graffiti, communicating messages of peace, anger, hope and despair. Banksy set the trend, coming out here a couple of times over the past few years, usually with a crew of 4-5 other graffiti artists

This one (above)  is one of his. Some argue that this trend is a bad thing, as it somehow trivialises people’s traumas and injustices.

Separation Wall Graffiti

For others, it is an essential way means of protest for Palestinians; taking this symbol of oppression and, somehow, making it their own.

Settlements

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities continue to build towns (‘settlements’) and roads on the Palestinian side of the wall.

Palestinians are not allowed to travel on many of the Israeli built roads or enter the settlements, which are most often populated with ultra-orthodox Jews from America and Eastern Europe who see this land as their own, as promised by Abraham in the Torah and captured by Israel in the 1967 ‘six day war’.

Israeli roads and settlements

Settlements continue to be built at an incredible pace, despite pleas from the international community, including America, to freeze this activity in order to give the peace process a chance of success. It seems like a peculiar brand of craziness (not to mention a double injustice) to go to the trouble of building a mammoth barricade between these two peoples, only to continue colonising the land on the other side.

What Egyptians think about the revolution

I have spent the past 5 days in a quiet, peaceful corner of Egypt, where the only real signs that a revolution has occurred is the fact that is very little money left in any of the cash machines. It seems the country pretty much ground to a halt over the past three weeks, and now the army and the people are working very hard to get things (including the bank clearing system) moving again. So much so that when my iphone finally started working yesterday my first text message was from the armed forces, telling me and everyone else on the network to ‘go back to work’. It was in arabic, and the man who translated it was kind enough to reassure me that this particular instruction did not apply to me.

One of the other quirks of arriving in Egypt the day that Mubarak finally stepped down is that I have fast developed a reputation for being pretty much one of the only English tourists in the Red Sea town of Dahab. Every other country in the world stopped flying here as soon as the protests started – easyjet seem to be the only airline not to have halted their flight schedule. This means of course that everyone in town seems to know my name and is keen to sit me down and share their views over several cups of Bedouin tea. Everyone is talking about the revolution, keenly aware it seems that the eyes of the world are on them.

“People need freedom,” one man just told me as we sat in his coffee shop watching protests erupting in Libya, Bahrain and Algeria on an old 24inch tv. “And now, we know we can have it. We didn’t know this before. Now, we know. And they know.”

Although, while most seem happy, the overall level of jubilation has been more under-stated than I expected. This, it seems, is not a part of the world where it pays to be overly confident about what the future might hold. For the most part however, people seem happy that Mubarak has gone, and happier still that it was the people that forced him to leave. On my first day here, I met a man called Aimon who, typically, owns an Egyptian rug shop. He was the first to tell me that Mubarak had left and when I asked him if he was happy his response was positive but measured; “it is a good thing he is gone, yes. It was very bad for the country – you cannot make money unless you know someone in government. Now, maybe, it will be better.” Aimon used to be a teacher in Suez, but because he could only earn 1200 Egyptian Pounds (around 130 GBP) a month he decided he could improve his prospects by moving to the Red Sea, opening a shop and capitalising on the ever growing tourism industry. His family, including his wife and four children, are still in Suez. He has worked here in Dahab – about a 5 hour drive away – for 11 years. “If I knew a government person, I could earn much more. Maybe now things will change. We need teachers, so it is important they can live on what they earn.”

Among the younger Egyptians, rumours of their bright new futures abound. “Now Mubarak is gone everyone will get 50 dollars a day from the Suez Canal! Before, Mubarak take it all. Now, it will be given to the people.” When we questioned them on where they had heard this news, they simply said “everyone is saying this”.

Others however are more concerned. I talked at length with a guy called Zavvi – a friend of a friend – who was asking the same question I was asking – what next? He is heading to Berlin to study for degree in electronics in March having served in the army for two years. He met Mubarak on two occasions and when he heard the news of his leader’s departure, he cried. “Yes, he should go, but why now? He said he will go in 6 months, why can’t we trust him to do this? Now we have no leader, and many people want power. It is dangerous for us, for the country. But the young people can’t see the consequences – they are not educated and they just want action now. But Egypt is too important for there to be uncertainty.”

Much like everyone else here though, Zavvi has absolute faith and trust in the army. “They are for the people. They are educated and they want the best for this country – I think we will be safe with them for a while. But they have many jobs to do; they can’t run the country forever.” Furthermore, everyone is incredibly proud of the way the people have conducted themselves in the global media spotlight. “Now, everyone knows about Egypt because of the the strength of the people, not just the pyramids,” everyone is saying.

Maybe it is easier for people to rest easily in this beautiful place. Hours away from any of the major protests, Dahab has been relatively untouched by the chaos and while the reduction in tourists is proving difficult, everyone is confident that in a few weeks the industry will be back in full flow. From what I’ve seen, it’s the people arriving here from Cairo who have be most affected. Ben, a British journalist, arrived here yesterday, delighted to be somewhere where he was going to be kept awake at night not by gunshots but by the sounds of the crashing waves. He said Cairo felt like a warzone these past three weeks, and that many people have been killed. Foreigners were targeted and quickly fled. He thinks it’s starting to settle down, but I couldn’t help but think that it’s not often you see a journalist look so nervous. It was a reminder that while Dahab remained peaceful, other parts of Egypt have had to suffer to achieve this revolution, and for some it will take a long time to recover from the experience.

Picture Credit: Denis Boquet on Flickr

 

Egypt: Why restricting the internet won’t stop this tide

In the 16th Century the Catholic Church faced arguably the greatest threat of its long history, not from armies or kings, but from the spread of ideas and information. The printing press was at this time becoming a common feature in cities and towns across Europe, and printers and writers were generally considered to be radicals and rebels intent on disturbing the status quo. A threat to stability. A threat to traditional notions of power.

Luther nail's his 95 theses to a church door

The church and state made various attempts to wrestle control of this new communications technology – printers had to apply for licences to operate their machines, while at the same time the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books) swelled in Italy, France and the Netherlands, banning the works of scientists, astronomers, theologians; anyone with ideas and evidence that might challenge traditional thought.

Of course, you know the rest. Efforts to restrict the flow of information might have slowed things down, but it couldn’t stop the tide. Lutherism and Calvinism charged on regardless, leading to the reformation and the birth of the Protestant church. Copernican theories of astronomy, such as Galileo’s findings that the Sun did not move around the Earth, eventually became considered scientific fact. Like many leaders after them, the Catholic Church found restrictions on ideas almost impossible to enforce, at least over the long term.

At this point, you might be wondering why I’ve started this post with a history 101 (one relating to religion at that). Well here it is. When I read this weekend’s article in the Scientific American about how the Egyptian government had systematically turned off the ISPs disabling the bulk of their country’s internet access, while millions of Egyptians continue to take to the streets demanding that their voices be heard, this story from my Year 9 history class suddenly came back to me. And I think this is why.

It seems to me that popular revolutions the world over have been slowed down by the efforts of the authorities to control and restrict the spread of information and means of communication. Slowed down. But not stopped. You cannot stop information, ideas and freedom of expression. Whether it takes days, weeks, months or even years, it seems that sharing ideas, developing our knowledge, gathering together, having our voices heard; these things are more than simply strange quirks of history but intrinsic aspects of human nature.

Egyptians march on Tahrir Square (Bloomberg)

We have an intrinsic need to learn. To develop our thinking. To improve our understanding. To express our ideas. And ultimately, to try to influence the world around us in a way that reflects these deeply held values. Freedom of opinion and expression, to receive and impart ideas and information are not arbitrarily enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because they’re ‘nice to have’. They’re human rights because they are an intrinsic part of who we are, and to stifle them is to stifle our humanity.

So, while I was pleased to hear Barack Obama state in his remarks on Friday night that the Egyptian government must reinstate internet and mobile phone access on the basis that these are human rights which “do so much to connect people in the 21st Century”, I do not believe this revolution is going to be stopped by the restrictions on internet access any more than the Reformation was held back by restrictions on the printing press. Online technologies will help the Egyptians get their story out and make their voices heard, I grant you, but without these technologies, the people finding other ways to make their point, to share their ideas and experiences, to demand a better future. Whether that means getting around the restrictions by using dial-up modems or ignoring new technologies altogether and camping in their hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square until their government finally listens to them, the people are finding a way. Yes, it might take a little longer. But history tells us you can’t stop the tide.

The Reut Report: Why criticising Israeli policy just got tougher

Those of you following the Israel-Palestine situation closely will have noticed the development of a new conflict in recent months – that between Israel’s Reut Institute think tank and the prominent author and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activist, Naomi Klein. The debate centres on the fundamental issue of legitimacy; under what circumstances is criticism of Israel legitimate? And what can the Israeli state legitimately do to counter this criticism?

On 14 February this year, the Reut Institute in Tel Aviv published a paper entitled The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewall which was immediately presented to the Israeli cabinet. This landmark paper centres on the fundamental conclusion that Israel’s existence and security is facing a emerging threat – the threat presented by ‘the forces of delegitimacy’ comprised of two parallel developments.

The first of these is the change in strategy of Middle Eastern based resistance networks such as Hamas and Hezbollah who, the report outlines, seek to undermine attempts to end Israel’s control over the Palestinian population in order to pursue a one state solution. The second, and arguably more intriguing development highlighted in the paper, is the rise of solidarity and resistance movements based in the West such as the BDS movement. These movements bring together organisations and individuals who object to Israel’s policies and activities on grounds of achieving justice and human rights for the Palestinian population, launching campaigns such as boycotting Israeli goods from illegal settlement areas in order to make their point. This growing movement is tarnishing Israel’s reputation among the general public and elites and, more dangerously the paper argues, risks the advancement of the one state solution and the eradication of Israel altogether.

This paper flies directly in the face of the standard discourse of Israel’s political elites, who have traditionally perceived the most urgent threat to Israel as being potential physical attack from their enemies in the region. As a consequence, the preferred strategy and policy to counter this threat has always been a military one. To this extent, the fact that this paper was published at all reflects a shift in the discourse. Israel’s policymakers, finally, are starting to realise that the fact their policies are the focus of increasingly vocal outcry across the major cities of the West is probably something they need to take seriously. This in itself is a small victory for the BDS movement – they are gaining strength and forcing their way onto the Israeli government’s agenda.

However, as Naomi Klein argued on her blog a few weeks later, the response recommended by the Reut Institute to this emerging threat is seen by some as “most worrying”.

…the report explicitly urged Israeli intelligence agencies like Mossad to take unspecified action against peace activists using entirely legal methods: “Neither changing policy nor improving public relations will suffice…Faced with a potentially existential threat, Israel must treat it as such by focusing its intelligence agencies on this challenge; allocating appropriate resources; developing new knowledge; designing a strategy, executing it.” The think tank also called on the Israeli government to “sabotage network catalysts” – defined as key players in the “delegitimization network.”

Klein it seems was in part goaded into this response (“I’ve gotten a taste of Reut-style “sabotage” myself”). Eran Shayshon, a senior analyst at Reut, explicitly names her as being one of the key players in Toronto’s ‘deligitimization hub’ and makes the claim (denied by Klein) that she is working to undermine the existence of the Jewish state.

What follows is a bit of a ‘he said, she said’ altercation, played out on Mondoweiss and on their respective blogs. Klein states she has never advocated any particular outcome in Israel-Palestine. Shayshon points to examples where Klein suggests a one state solution (essentially ending the Jewish state) might be a way forward. Klein laughs at Shayson’s attempts to drag up statements she made in a student newspaper over 20 years ago, and puts the rest of her quotes in context, while landing some Reut body blows by pointing out that she does not single out Israel for BDS style tactics; she uses the same style in any fight against injustice including against her own government in its violation of the Kyoto Protocol. Shayson takes a week or so to regroup, and responds with a discussion on the rise of what he terms ‘Kleinism’; “a simplistic, artificial view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has led many who consider themselves human-rights activists to focus their criticism nearly exclusively on Israel”.

No response from Klein, as yet. But what this altercation demonstrates quite clearly is that lines on what the Israeli government considers legitimate in terms of comment on its policies from Western critics are being restated and reinforced. While Shayson states this is only his opinion, he lists the following as ‘no go areas’ from the Israeli side of the debate; challenging the two state solution, singling Israel out, demonising Israel, or suggesting that Israel is “a state born in sin”.

Moreover, if the Reut report is taken seriously by the political elites, no longer will such criticisms and viewpoints go (relatively) unnoticed or unaddressed by the Israeli intelligence services. In future we’re likely to see even more coordinated and strategic attempts to counter and discredit the major international critics of Israeli policy. Battlelines are being redrawn.

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How the world changed in 2009

Perhaps it’s the end of a decade that gets you thinking about how things have changed, and are changing. This post just pulls together some of the articles and sites that I’ve enjoyed for giving a useful insight into the shifts happening in global economics and international relations, which you might find interesting too.

In global politics, Copenhagen cemented a seismic shift and global power and interplay, with Mark Lynas’ article in the Guardian; How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room as essential reading.

Copenhagen was much worse than just another bad deal, because it illustrated a profound shift in global geopolitics. This is fast becoming China’s century, yet its leadership has displayed that multilateral environmental governance is not only not a priority, but is viewed as a hindrance to the new superpower’s freedom of action.

Meanwhile, whatever you might think about Gordon Brown, his TED talk on the web and our growing interconnectedness is, I think, a fantastic 15 mins on showing how the growing power of technology is strengthening global humanity to fight poverty and injustice.  At the same time, Evgeny Morozov‘s RSA talk warning of how the internet is being manipulated to, at best, influence popular opinion and, at worst, to find, target and destroy dissenting voices is both compelling and terrifying.

The economic crisis has caused many to question whether a debt-fuelled money system is really the best way for the future, reinvigorating economic thinking in the effort to try, test and prove what might make things better. The New Economics Foundation, among others, are doing a lot of research in this area, and argue:

Money and credit have become disconnected from the real economy, from productive investment and sustainable growth. New, more democratic forms of money are required in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Amidst all the economic turmoil, some have looked at the paltry sums of money dedicated to development assistance and aid in the developing world and asked themselves what exactly is the point? Given no one any longer has much of a clue how to sustain growth in an unpredictable global economy, can development aid really make a difference? Yes, says development specialist and blogger Owen Barder in his excellent article on Open Democracy and on his blog:

Although the effect of aid on economic growth is uncertain, there can be no doubt that aid makes a huge difference to people’s lives.  Aid provides food, health care, education, clean water, financial services, and modest incomes which transform the lives of the people who receive them.

Finally, I loved the AP new’s picture of the decade. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Got any other interesting links, sites, pictures or articles that show us how the world is changing? Post them here.

Climate Crisis: This recession could be good for us

Is it just me, or has climate change fallen a few places in our agenda this year?

Thinking back to a couple of years ago, when it seemed like anyone with an altruistic bone in their bodies was getting to grips with the inconvenient truth that a) the is world heating up, b) the consequences are fairly terrible, and c) we’re the ones responsible. Buoyed by the urgency of the situation, we all swiftly began recycling our rubbish and calculating our carbon footprints. I think it was the Christmas of 2007 that my brother told us instead of giving us regular presents, he had put money towards planting trees in Wales to offset all the flights we had taken that year.  

But no one is talking about climate change anymore. Instead, we’re focused on cash flow. We’re interested in reducing our gas bills, but that’s because it’ll save us some money. We’re not flying as much, but who can afford to go to Europe when the euro is so strong. Up and down the country people are organising clothes swap shops and growing their veggies in their back gardens. But ultimately, the underlying reason for our new found excitement for sustainable living has been the possibility of saving some cash, with saving the planet being a welcomed side-effect.  And once the economy gets back on its feet, the chances are that most of us will forget our sustainable credentials in favour of long-haul holidays and a new wardrobe.

The stark reality is that, in the short term at least, a strong economy does not make for a sustainable environment. And while green fuels, electric cars and low-carbon technologies might help the situation in the longer term, in the short term the planet is just going to keep getting hotter, having a devastating effect not just here in the UK, but more importantly on people already living in hot countries in extreme poverty, who are reliant on farming, agriculture and rapidly depleting water supplies to stay alive.  

According to DFID, climate change means that in just 10 years time farming harvests in Africa will have been cut in half. At the same time as thousands of farmers are losing their livelihoods, up to 270 million people will be struggling to get hold of the water they need to stay alive. And in those areas where the annual rainy season makes water shortages less of an issue, longer and more intense monsoons will not only destroy homes and communities, but make malaria, dengue fever and polio even more prevalent.

Climate change is an inconvenience for us in the UK. But for people in developing countries, it’s an ongoing and life-threatening catastrophe.  And they’re not the ones pumping carbon into the atmosphere, so it’s a pretty cruel twist of fate that they would be the ones to bear the brunt of decades of Western industrialisation, rather than us.

So, as the economy drags itself out of recession, why not hold onto some of those new found sustainable habits and help our friends in the developing world? Why not take the bus or ride your bike instead of driving? Why not discover what the English coastline has to offer before jetting off to the southern hemisphere? You’ve already started on the vegetable patch, so why not keep it up? And if you must rush back to the high street, choose your purchases wisely – trying to buy ethically can be a bit of a minefield in terms of what actually helps people in developing countries, but at least  fair trade can be a good place to start. None of these things will be too terrible for us to endure, and while no one thing is going to save the situation, together these small changes could actually make a big difference not for us, but for the lives of people who live not so far away.

Written for Blog Action Day. To take part, visit http://www.blogactionday.org/