Archive for June, 2010

England’s World Cup woes worsened yesterday when several players were stolen from the Royal Bafokeng hotel (or as it is called more fittingly for its English guests, sports complex). Thought to be missing after a head count on the Team England bus are John Terry, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Emile Heskey, although it later emerged that the thieves had dumped Heskey just outside Johannesburg.  He is said to be in shock but unharmed and is now hitching his way back to the hotel. 

“This is very common with all burglaries”, said the police captain in charge of the investigation. “The thieves will carry off as much as they can get away with and then dump items of no value. I’m optimistic the remaining players will turn up over the next few days.”

However, some of the stolen players’ teammates suspect that the burglary was far too easy, testament to the level of division and strife within the sorry England camp. “I know Lamps and Ash were terrified of going home to face the media”, remarked Steven Gerrard. “And Big Emile heard rumours from home that he had his British passport cancelled and wouldn’t get back into the country”.

Asked if he was suggesting some kind of conspiracy, Gerrard refused to comment but a raise of the eyebrows said it all.

However, a pool attendant who was listening into the hastily convened, scene-of-the-crime media conference had his own theory. “Everybody in the hotel is talking about it!”, he exclaimed. “The burglars just mistook the players for cardboard cut outs and nicked them as souvenirs. After their poor performance against the Germans, these players remind us all that our victory over France was truly a national triumph!”

Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, the South African police commissioner, General Beki Chele, promised that the full force of the city’s traffic police would be deployed to find the missing players. The General, who prayed that the USA would be knocked out early to avoid a “nightmare” visit by President Obama, refused to ask God’s intervention on this latest World Cup fiasco. “One must be careful what one prays for”, he said with a wink to the English media.

The BBC recently gained access to documents submitted to an Israeli court, revealing that the list of food imports allowed through the blockade is determined by a calculation of how many calories the people of Gaza might need to survive; though the documents mention that this is apparently not linked to government policy making, whatever that means. Mind you, this might set a precedent for western governments worried about  national obesity levels. Doctors could be given the authority to impose compulsory, daily calorie intakes on patients diagnosed as obese or morbidly obese. If a patient fails to comply, they’re simply left to starve like the Gazans and if they actively resist then they face house demolition, arrest and the designation,”terrorist”.  Although this would dispense of expensive treatments such as liposuction or stomach stapling, saving a fortune for national health services and insurance companies,  it would attract serious resistance from international fast food giants.  These doughty guardians of the free market might even launch a campaign to break the calorie blockade with free deliveries of illegal Super Meals* to customers affected by these tough new anti-obesity measures. However, such actions are easily dealt with by force if necessary  and backed up with a three-day media blitz by official food czar, Jamie Oliver. Just get him to repeat the following lines ad nauseam on every news bulletin (and he will get on every one of them!): 

  • “The operations launched against the McJoint outlets today are security operations, not military offensives on international territory as claimed by their managers”.
  • “The operations are designed to stop shipments of illegal Super Meals* to people listed as obese”.
  •  “We are very happy and ready to facilitate shipments to those people of permitted fruit and vegetables through our official depots.”
  • “This is not a war against innocent fat people. It is a war on the international scourge of obesity.”

(* A Super Meal is defined by the World Fast Food Institute as “a packaged meal of approximately 5 million calories and consisting of:  1 x one-pound burger, 1x mega portion of fries with free top up,  1 x 1 gallon of fizzy drink, 1 x imported item of fruit and a free Super Meal token for next visit.”)

Ah the World Cup.  You either love it like I do or you hate it but you can’t kill it. But never mind the woes and tantrums of overpaid English and French footballers over the past few days (Sacre bleu! Quelle pantomime!!). I was more interested to see how Fifa Inc dealt with those naughty stewards who had the temerity to protest about their pay . Recruited by a private company, they had been promised £133 or $198 per 12-hour shift only to receive  £17 or $25 per same. So something got lost in translation there or the South African rand mysteriously plummeted in value just in time for the World Cup. 

This isn’t good for the PR image at a time when Fifa Inc and the South African government are determined to prove the doomsayers wrong and put on a successful festival of football. Danny Jordan, chair of the South Africa World Cup organising committee, was no doubt mindful of the good old days when beating up black strikers was the height of apartheid chic but he drew a line under this one: “Although we have respect for workers’ rights, we find it unacceptable for them to disrupt matchday proceedings and will not hesitate to take action in such instances.” This amounts to respect for workers’ rights as long as they are not asserted. 

 As good as his word, our Danny called in the police riot squad to show the ungrateful strikers the red card, using tear gas and batons to hurry  them along when they dragged their feet (no doubt counting down the clock to the final whistle, the time wasters!) This was not only PR overkill but also terribly unjust. Why didn’t they send in the riot squad to deal with the crime against football that was the England v Algeria game (18 June) or the French squad’s one-day training strike last Sunday (20 June)? And why was England’s John Terry allowed so much free airtime to moan about his boss and put his team-mates in the shit? Where was the riot squad then?

You see Danny missed a positive PR trick here. Instead of gassing the stewards or bashing their heads in with the cosh, he could have selected a strikers’ All Stars XI to play the England team. If they beat England, they would be awarded the wage they were promised. For their part, the England squad could go home with their heads held high, accepting that they were well trounced by the better team, and humbly subject themselves to a 30-minute grilling from the fearsome Adrian Chiles…or  more Bleakley, his pal Christine. If the All Stars lost the game, they would go back to work as slaves on a pittance, too embarrassed to strike after having been beaten, thanks to a dodgy penalty, by some of the worst but highest paid players in the tournament. 

Poor Danny. Now he has had to swallow his pride and let the South African police police the tournament instead. Honestly! What’s the World Cup coming to?

In my post, Apartheid Israeli-style, I recommended some alternative reading on the Israeli occupation and repression of the West Bank and Gaza; alternative, that is, in the sense that the conventional history and wisdom on the issue is so overwhelmingly pro-Israeli and subject to what David Miller of Spin Watch calls a “control culture” of unrelenting PR and lobby politics.  Today, I’m adding an excellent documentary by the American Media Education Foundation, called: Peace,Propaganda and the Promised Land: Media and the Israeli-Palestine Conflict. It’s just over an hour in length but very well worth the time if you’re looking for a calmly stated indictment of American media coverage of the conflict. 

The publication today (Tuesday 15 June) of the Saville Inquiry’s report on the events of Bloody Sunday was greeted with much relief and emotion in Derry.  You had to be there when it happened to understand this response. And I was. I was only 9 years old and while I didn’t quite understand the politics of what was happening, I knew something truly awful had happened. I sensed the shock and dismay of my parents  and of the city over the following days – the silence,  the funerals, the whispered forebodings of adults around. I grew up detesting the British paratroops who murdered so many innocent people and I would get angry if anyone cast doubts about that central truth. It was state sponsored murder. That has always been accepted by the majority of Derry people. There is no controversy about it in the city, which explains all the emotion. It’s like we’re saying: about time you’ve come round to ripping up the Widgery Report and accepting what we’ve believed all these 38 years!  And yet it seems that sections of the media, for the sake of spurious “balance”, still insist on looking for the smoking gun and for the tiny  minority in the city and beyond who are quite willing to help them dig for it. I need to work through the coverage and judge it in the round so will  report back on that when I do. But it’s important to say, too, that there’s still good journalism out there. It’s still alive. I’m mindful especially of the work of Derry journalists Eamonn McCann, Don Mullen, Paul McCauley and others and of Channel Four News (Alex Thomson and Lena Ferguson) in helping uncover the vital evidence to bring the  Inquiry about in 1998. Thanks to you all.

As the World Cup 2010 kicks off in South Africa, the pundits reflect on how far the country has come since the dark days of Apartheid etc. Apparently, we’re now living in a world where such an iniquitous system of ethnic segregation can no longer be tolerated. Except, we’re not. And it is: in the occupied West Bank of Palestine, where Palestinian majorities are separated from Israel settler minorities by a system of “sterile zones”. The Irish, Sunday Tribune, yesterday  (13 June),  carried a feature on the city of Hebron, a typical example of how the system is enforced throughout the West Bank. In what is an ancient city of densely packed streets, Palestinians (170,000)  must navigate their way around without entering a “sterile zone” occupied exclusively by Israeli settlers (1,000).  If they do and they’re caught, they face arrest and punishment. So for many whose front doors face on to a forbidden zone, they must exit via rooftops or other ingenious routes until they can descend onto a street in their allotted zone.  Where else would this be tolerated? What other country could sustain such a system and get away with it? Serbia’s policy of ethic cleansing after the break up of Yugoslavia incurred the wrath of the “international community” to the point where it was finally bombed for its activities in Kosovo. Ex-Serbian leaders, Milosevic and Karadzic,  have been arrested and brought to face international justice.

Israel is exceptional, though. It is the only country in the world that can practice Apartheid, steal land, defy countless UN resolutions (to the envy of Saddam Hussein no doubt), attack ships in international waters (the recent Flotilla incident had plenty of precedents), invade and/or bomb its neighbours in defiance of international law, slaughter thousands of civilians, and torture us with its annual entries to the Eurovision Song Contest, yet continue to enjoy immunity courtesy of its powerful patron, the US.  Expectations that President Obama, with a political career steeped in the traditions of the black civil rights movement, might take a very different tack on Israel have been confounded. Israel has already humiliated him, given the two fingers to him, and carried on regardless. 

Speaking of attacking ships in international waters, the latest incident raises the question: when an ally is not an ally? When it’s attacked by Israel apparently.  NATO works on an one-for-all, all for one policy . So why did it allow Israel to get away with attacking a Turkish ship in international waters without at least a stern warning to back off? Can you imagine similar circumstances in which the Iranians, say, had boarded an vessel registered to a NATO country? A different, more belligerent response, perhaps?  Hmmmm.

Just one more thought before I go.  We depend on our news media for some understanding of what’s happening in the Middle East in our name. More fool us. Western  journalists appear to accept Israeli propaganda and media restrictions without question. For example, the Sunday Tribune feature I’ve just cited assumed the Orwellian language of apartheid without attribution and without reflecting on what the term “sterile zone” really means, which is to be cleansed of impurities or contaminants, in this case the “contaminants” being the majority Palestinian population that has been there for generations. (The Israeli settlers “moved in” by force only a few decades ago). The Tribune reporter also mentioned how she was forbidden to enter Gaza so went to Hebron instead. No harm to her but it seems ironic when one thinks of all those daring journalists who defy similar restrictions of movement in Iran or North Korea, going in disguise with hidden cameras, risking danger to themselves (and, more so, their trusty local guide) to get at the truth of these countries and their terrible human rights abuses. Mind you, Gazans have trouble getting out of  Gaza. And getting back in as well. 

So forget about the mainstream media. Read David Hirst’s excellent history of Israel’s violent foundation, The Gun and the Olive Branch,  Noam Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle; and also Bad News From Israel by Greg Philo and Mike Berry. Or try something a little more first hand such as the excellent site, The Electronic Intifada:

That’s it for now. Back soon I hope.

A senior Hamas representative said today that the  Gaza Blockade would remain in place until the Israeli army stopped throwing stones over the big fence. The remark has already sparked fierce condemnation from around the world and the UN Security Council will meet tomorrow to formulate a suitable response.  A UN spokeswoman in New York warned that “The international community has tolerated Hamas long enough and must take decisive action to bring about the end of this destructive blockade before thousands die of boredom”.

The sense of crisis in the west deepened yesterday when President Obama was rushed to hospital with severe carpal tunnel syndrome, brought about in the last few months by drumming his fingers on his desk waiting for Hamas to lift the blockade.  The President’s doctor appealed to the Gaza government to have mercy and do the right thing for the good of humanity and the Presidential finger tips. 

The Israeli government reiterated its official line of the past three years of the blockade, that it would stop throwing stones over the fence as soon as the people of Gaza voted themselves out of existence. “You see”, said the PM, “that’s the beauty of democracy”.