Saturday, 15 December 2007

Of books and books

Encouraging the underprivileged to read was one of the constant Republican preoccupations during the Spanish Civil War.

It was seen as a way to fight fascism.

But there are books and books.

And bookshops.

This afternoon David Irving, Holocaust denier (he has claimed that Auschwitz was merely "a labour camp with an unfortunately high death rate") anti-semite, racist and jailbird has been invited to speak at the same bookshop in Barcelona where David Duke was prevented from giving his conference a couple of weeks ago.

David (a rather unfortunate name for an anti-semite) (I seem to be repeating myself) has written a lot of books about Nazis and Nazi Germany, mostly in a rather favourable light. This is somewhat perplexing given that they nearly killed his father in 1942 when they sank the boat he was serving on.

He has been barred from entering Austria, Germany, Italy, Canada and New Zealand and in May this year was expelled from the 52nd Warsaw International Book Fair in Poland for attempting to promote pro-Nazi and anti-Semite books.

Barcelona is a wonderful, generous, open-hearted city. But sometimes...

Thursday, 13 December 2007


This year the boys and girls from Santa's Ghetto have moved the show to Bethlehem.

Where else?

Thursday evening.

Coincidentally the International Commitee of the Red Cross has just issued a report about the Gaza Strip entitled "Dignity Denied", the political nature of which is unusual for their normally discreet, "non-political" stance.

Worth a read.

Click the link for the full report.

Some extracts:


Throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, in the Gaza Strip as well as in the West Bank, Palestinians continuously face hardship in simply going about their lives; they are prevented from doing what makes up the daily fabric of most people's existence. The Palestinian territories face a deep human crisis, where millions of people are denied their human dignity. Not once in a while, but every day...

Trapped in the Gaza Strip

While the Gaza Strip is sealed off, the conflict between militants and Israel continues inexorably. Palestinian militants are launching rockets towards Israel almost every day. The Israeli army regularly carries out incursions deep into the Strip, air strikes and attacks from the sea. The civilian population remains trapped, with no escape possible, and is also affected by continued intra-Palestinian clashes...

"Even after the disengagement, they did not leave us alone, they return every now and then, levelling our land, uprooting our trees and destroying our houses. In addition, you only know that you are inside the buffer zone when they shoot at you."
Saleh, farmer, Gaza

Since the violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah-affiliated forces and the Hamas takeover in June this year, the crossing points remain closed to most Gazans. Studying or receiving medical treatment in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Israel or abroad has become nearly impossible, with the exception of patients who are in need of life saving treatment. And sometimes even they are not permitted to leave...

Since its unilateral disengagement in 2005, Israel has gradually established a buffer zone along the fence that surrounds Gaza, extending into the Strip's already cramped and overpopulated territory, with heavy consequences for the population. More and more agricultural land is being lost through the ill-defined extension of this buffer zone, and this is endangering anyone who gets too close. Indeed, Gazans are often killed, wounded or arrested when they approach the fence.

Enough to survive, not enough to live

"It is difficult to find certain types of medication, such as antibiotics. We have already run out of cereals, and these days milk powder for babies is very hard to find. When you do find it, it is unaffordable for most, as its price has increased dramatically."
Dr Salah, pharmacist, Gaza

According to the World Food Programme, some 80,000 Gazans have lost their jobs since June 2007, increasing the already high rate of unemployment to the point where around 44% of the working population is jobless. Many local industries had to shut down and fire their personnel, as 95% of local production depends on imports of raw materials from Israel. Israel has restricted imports to what it deems "basic goods" – mostly staple food products – while other essential items needed to keep industry running or repair infrastructure cannot enter the Strip.

Shrinking agricultural production

"First, they took land for the road, then more land for the security zone along the road, and then they destroyed my house because it was too close to the security zone. Now they have levelled the land again. I have nothing left."
Abdul, Gaza

Crumbling infrastructure

The infrastructure of the Gaza Strip is in a fragile state. Some eight months ago, a wastewater lagoon in northern Gaza containing hundreds of thousands of litres of raw sewage burst its embankments. Sewage flooded a Bedouin village, killing five people, injuring 16 others and destroying the homes of thousands. Since then, no substantial repairs could be carried out due to a lack of funding and Israel's restrictions on imports of spare parts.

Since Israeli air strikes destroyed a large part of the Gaza Power Plant in June 2006, it has been working at roughly half of its original capacity. The electrical supply to the Gaza Strip is precarious, unreliable and dependent on external sources. In its current state, it cannot produce sufficient power to meet the needs of the population.

As a result, essential infrastructure such as hospitals, water systems and sewerage systems is having to use backup generators. Relying on generators is risky, and creates new dependencies on fuel and spare parts, quite apart from the higher running costs. Current import restrictions are preventing delivery of essential fuel and spare parts, which means that vital services are in danger of complete collapse.

Access to land

The humanitarian situation in the West Bank is also deteriorating day by day. Palestinians stand by powerlessly as their land is confiscated. Over the years, Isitraeli settlements and roads have expanded, taking over more and more of the land that the same families have cultivated for generations.

Access to roads

Many West Bank roads that used to connect Palestinian villages to nearby cities are now closed off by concrete blocks, ditches, earth mounds or iron gates. These obstacles separate Palestinians from their lands, their water sources and even their rubbish dumps. They divide one community from another, villages from cities, and districts from each other...

Harassment by settlers

"I had to build a high fence around my house to protect my children. Before, my children were stoned by settlers when they were playing outside. They stone us for the simple reason that we continue to live on our land and do not want to leave."
Anwar, Hebron

Palestinians living close to Israeli settlements are not only dispossessed of their land, but are often harassed by settlers. The number of assaults on civilians in the West Bank has grown steadily. ICRC data collected in the field indicates that the number of offences more than tripled in the last five years, while complete police investigations are rare and most of the time reach the conclusion that "the culprits could not be identified.”

An appeal for a dignified life

The dignity of the Palestinians is being trampled underfoot day after day, both in the West Bank and in Gaza.

Israel's harsh security measures come at an enormous humanitarian cost, leaving those living under occupation with just enough to survive, but not enough to live normal and dignified lives.

Israel has the right to protect its own civilian population. However, there should always be a sound balance between Israel's security concerns and the protection of the rights and liberties of the Palestinians living under occupation. So far, the balance between the Israeli legitimate security concerns and the right of the Palestinian people to live a normal life has not been struck.

The 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip continue to pay for conflict and economic containment with their health and livelihoods. Cutting power and fuel further compounds their hardship and is contrary to fundamental humanitarian principles.

In the West Bank, the establishment of Israeli settlements affects every aspect of Palestinians’ lives and leads to the loss of much land and income, together with recurrent violence by settlers. Exhausting movement restrictions hinder access to work and have led to unprecedented levels of unemployment and poverty.

Only prompt, innovative and courageous political action can change the harsh realy of this long-standing occupation, restore normal social and economic life to the Palestinian people, and allow them to live their lives in dignity.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

AY, CARMELA. A song for Sunday.

Ay, Carmela, is one of the most famous of Spanish Civil War songs. This version by the group El Ultimo Ke Zierre uses the lyrics dedicated to the XVth Brigade formed in 1937 and which incorporated volunteers from twenty-six different countries including 600 Englishmen, 550 Americans (the Abraham Lincoln Battalion), 800 French and Belgians and 800 from the Balkans.

I doubt if anyone will ever dedicate a song to Mr David Duke.

But a good friend in the US, when I told him Duke was coming to Barcelona wrote:

"David Duke is fortunately a crook rather than a fanatic and has been bought and sold more times that a 10th Avenue hooker. That's all I can say that's positive about the swine."

Perhaps, once more, the less said the better.

Better the lyrics of the song

Viva la quince brigada,
Rumba, rumba, rumba

Que se ha cubierto de gloria,
¡Ay Carmela, ¡Ay Carmela!

Luchamos contra los curas,
Rumba, rumba, rumba

Legionarios y fascistas,
¡Ay Carmela, ¡Ay Carmela!

En los frentes de Gandesa,
Rumba, rumba, rumba

No tenemos municiones, ni cañones
¡Ay Carmela, ¡Ay Carmela!

Pero nada pueden bombas,
Rumba, rumba, rumba

Donde sobra corazón,
¡Ay Carmela, ¡Ay Carmela!

Sólo es nuestro deseo,
Rumba, rumba, rumba

Acabar con el fascismo,
¡Ay Carmela, ¡Ay Carmela!

Luchamos contra los curas,
Rumba, rumba, rumba

legionarios y fascistas,
¡Ay Carmela, ¡Ay Carmela!

Long live the 15th Brigade
The glorious 15th Brigade.
We're fighting the priests
The Foreign Legion and the fascists.
On the fronts of Gandesa
We have no ammunition or canons
But bombs can do nothing
Where there are hearts and to spare
Our only desire is
To eradicate fascism.
We're fighting the priests
The Foreign Legion and the fascists.

Ay Carmela, Ay Carmela!