Monday, January 11, 2010

The cops want to destroy our megaphones....


Commentary: Derwin Smith, Socialist Aotearoa

I was one of the eight people arrested for protesting against the Israeli tennis player last week. It must be said that very little of my political activism, or that of the other people arrested, involves protesting tennis players.

Most of the things that I am campaigning around are issues like low wages or the destruction of the environment. Just like the other people at the protest that are all involved in many different things like animal rights, Women’s rights, child poverty, and anti-war/anti-imperialism. These are all things I agree with and I believe they are all symptoms of the way our society works, these are all the by products of our political and economic system, i.e. capitalism. Just as the reason the USA gives Israel millions of dollars each week in military aid to protect the right of international corporations to rape the Middle East for its resources, markets, and cheap labour – it is protecting capitalism – our social system. Capitalism is my enemy, and we must fight the injustices it causes. Even if that means protesting tennis players.

Should we be protesting this tennis player? The simple answer is yes. Over 170 Palestinian civil society groups have come to the consensus that the best way for people all over the world to express solidarity with the Palestinian people is by participating in the “Boycott, Disinvestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) campaign against Israel. This includes a ‘cultural’ boycott. This means that we don’t want Israeli sports people competing here in Aotearoa. It also means many more things, like the breaking of academic links between universities as an example. Participating in the BDS campaign is the most effective way we can help the cause of the Palestinian people.

There is also the fact that Shahar Peer, like many Israeli citizens, happily participated in one of the worlds’ largest terrorist organisations. The Israeli Defence Force - infamously known for the murder of countless civilians and distain for international law.

So, for peacefully protesting outside a tennis game eight activists have been arrested. We broke no laws. We were not violent or threatening to be violent. There is no chance that we will be convicted of our so-called crimes and whoever it was that ordered the police to arrest and detain us knows this. We were not even that loud (not that being loud is a crime), on the day I was arrested the herald reported that our protest was “barely audible” inside the stadium. Sadly rank and file policemen are not paid to know the law: they are paid to be thugs.

The way I see it, the reason we were arrested is simple. We were damaging the image of the ASB tennis stadium. Big Business under threat – the Police to the rescue. Well as of yet, peaceful protesting is not illegal – even if those protests are effective . However as protecting private property rights (this is secret code for the rights of rich people to do whatever they want) is the main role of the police force – whoever ordered the grunts in to arrest us must have thought it was their job to shut us up. In all honesty I reckon whoever ordered these illegal arrests got a big pat on the back – not the usual “Oh Fuck, Not Again.” when the police do something incredibly stupid and illegal.

Well where do we go from here? With our civil rights in tatters what can we do to resist these bizarre actions of the cops. And they are truly bizarre, if someone told me that I was going to get dragged off to the cells for a few hours for blowing a whistle at the protest: I would have laughed at them. But here I am with charges of disorderly behaviour and obstruction.

The first thing we can do is see if any legal action can be taken against the police. This may serve to shorten the leash on the cops if they are fined or at least get some bad press. Though since I’m not a lawyer I’ve got no idea how this works and even if we win a lawsuit I’m not sure the police will give a shit, since we have won legal battles before. The second thing we need to do is wait and see if the police are going to keep doing things like this. And if the courts can’t put a stop to it, then we will have to prepare to defend ourselves.

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” - JFK


Tennis Protests Not A Popularity Contest

By John Minto

If last week's protests directed at Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer were a popularity contest she would have won hands down against the protestors.

This was reflected in the Weekend Herald's editorial which described the protest action as a disgrace. A hardly surprising view with Peer portrayed as an innocent young woman who only wants to play professional tennis. As the week went by she seen as "bravely winning the battle" against disruptive protestors. When questioned, Peer kept to her script and refused to discuss politics. Just as well for her.

The public reaction would have been significantly different had it been known that not only had Peer served in the Israeli army for two years (as required of all Jewish Israelis) but volunteered to be the poster girl to encourage army recruitment. Her enlistment was a major PR exercise. A huge media contingent was in attendance and she happily posed for the cameras in uniform beside an Israeli tank and was followed for her first week of army experience by a documentary film maker. She described her first day in the army as "more exciting than playing Maria Sharapova". She could have joined the "refuseniks" - young Israelis who suffer for refusing to do military service - but instead she has become the willing pin-up girl for an army widely seen around the world as a force for state-sponsored terrorism against the Palestinian people.

The public reaction here would also have been different had New Zealanders understood the problems faced by Palestinian sportspeople wanting to play sport under Israeli occupation. Take the Palestinian women's soccer team for example.

It was established in 2003 based in Bethlehem and continues under extreme difficulties. Several of the girls have been injured playing on the concrete practice field because when they began the only real soccer field in the West Bank was 30 kilometres away in Jericho but largely inaccessible due to a network of Israeli military checkpoints which effectively bar the way. Players from Ramallah and the Gaza strip therefore couldn't attend practices.

The Israeli military occupation means they are able to meet and play together only at overseas competitions. They played their first game as a full team, and their first experience playing on grass, at the West Asian women's football championship in Jordan.

Coach Emil Hilal said "It was a strange experience - the team playing a game together without even knowing each other's names."

One of the team's earlier coaches resigned after being detained and interrogated at the Israeli border while taking the team to a match in Jordan. He said the experience was too traumatic to repeat.

Three years ago journalist Amelia Thomas interviewed team members and like all young people with dreams one of the first team captains, Honey Thaljieh, a Bethlehem University graduate in business administration, said football had been her passion since she was small. "First I played with my brothers on the street, then on boys' teams at school."

The girls are a mixture of Christian and Muslim and their involvement is not always approved. Honey Thaljieh: "Our society has a very male-centered mentality, but we're showing women there's a different way. Step by step, from the inside, we're changing things around."

Amira Hodaly who studied physical therapy at Bethlehem University said "I feel powerful when I'm playing soccer. I started when I was 10, playing alongside my brothers. Now that I'm older, it's less accepted than when I was just a child. But I don't care."

Sarab Shair, a 21-year-old Muslim who grew up in a children's home and was later adopted by a local family said her parents didn't really like her playing "but they don't have a choice.... They also want me to wear the veil if I have to play at all, but I've refused that, too."

It's a pity we'll not see these courageous young women playing in Auckland.

The Palestinian men's national soccer team has had a similar difficult time since it was recognised by FIFA as a nationally representative team in 1998. Team practices are impossible at home under Israeli occupation while Israeli-enforced travel restrictions overseas have seen the team forced to withdraw from several international competitions.

In April 2006 the soccer field in Gaza was shelled by the Israeli army. They said it was specifically targeted to "send a strong message to the Palestinian people against terrorism." Work that one out.

Three national soccer league players died during the Israeli invasion of Gaza last January. (Some 1400 Palestinians were killed - including hundreds of children - and 13 Israelis). National representative player Ayman al-Kurd was killed at home alongside his three children while Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtahe also died in their homes. The main Gaza soccer stadium was also attacked.

Earlier on striker Ziad Al Kourd returned from a World Cup qualifier to find his house in the Gaza Strip town of Deir al-Balah had been demolished. The Israeli army said it had been clearing an area of land while searching for arms-smuggling tunnels... Ziyad was then banned from travelling abroad...

The Israeli regime has always done its best to thwart the national aspirations of the Palestinian people because it wants Palestinian land more than it wants peace. Palestinians have now just 15% of the original territory of Palestine and this land is broken up into a patchwork of enclaves resembling the Bantustans set aside by South Africa's apartheid regime for their unwanted black citizens. More territory is taken daily by Israel as it demolishes Palestinian homes, seizes land and builds Jewish-only accommodation in East Jerusalem and throughout the occupied West Bank. Adding to the land grab is Israel's 8m high apartheid wall being build through Palestinian territory.

As a last resort after 57 years of struggle a comprehensive boycott of Israeli was called by Palestinian groups in 2005 with the aim of repeating the success of the international boycott of apartheid South Africa. It's called the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign and came after all other attempts at developing international pressure on Israel failed. Israel has thumbed its nose at numerous UN resolutions called for an end to the occupation of Palestinian land and the return of Palestinian refugees. It has also ignored rulings from the International Court of Justice that the 8 metre high "apartheid" wall is illegal. Israel now claims 85% of the land of the original territory of Palestine. More land continues to be taken each day as Israeli settlements on occupied land expand with Palestinian families evicted from their homes and stripped of their land to make way for Jewish-only settlement in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank.

Israel gets away with this because it has the backing of the United States as its main ally in the Middle East - a region from which the US depends on a ready supply of cheap oil. The US also obliges with around $3 billion in aid each year, 75% of which is required to be spent on armaments produced by US companies. As Peer left the tennis court after her final game last Thursday reports came in of the latest series of night raids across the Gaza strip by Israeli aircraft bringing more death and destruction across this already devastated area.

In earlier decades a similar international consensus developed calling for a comprehensive boycott of South Africa and among the various aspects of such a boycott (trade, investments, cultural, diplomatic etc) sport was always the most sensitive. Other boycott action was largely invisible while the sports boycott was high profile and goes to the heart of how a country sees itself through the eyes of others.

I was in South Africa for the first time last year and was very surprised to hear from so many people that the sports boycott was the first time the country was confronted with how others saw it. How others see us is as important to countries as it is to individuals.

The protests directed at Shahar Peer are at the early stage of a boycott campaign aimed at Israel. Just as it took time for the South African boycott to gain momentum the same is true with Israel. It won't happen overnight but it will happen.

In the meantime spare a thought for the thousands of Palestinian sportspeople in the Gaza strip and the West Bank who struggle to represent their nation and yet are determined not to be cowed.

Exiled Palestinian journalist Iqbal Tamimi puts it well when she says she is inspired by " the other side of Gaza, the side that keeps rising from under the ashes like a bird with a thousand wings because its people refuse to surrender..."

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