A New Intifada?: What Palestinians are Really “Shaking Off”.

As the wave of violence increases within the West Bank many academics are labelling the rise of Palestinian violence the Third Intifada. Unlike the uprisings of 1987 and 2000, which fully involved the PLO, it seems that Mahmoud Abbas’s PLO is not partaking this time. With two-thirds of Palestinians stating they would want to replace President Abbas, it seems that the main thing the new Intifada is “shaking off” is Abbas’s control in Palestine.

In his UN General Assembly speech two weeks ago, President Mahmoud Abbas stated that Palestinians would “no longer continue to be bound” by the Oslo accords due to Israel’s consistent violations. However, many Palestinian’s do not believe this will lead to any change in on-the-ground realities.

The attacks over the last week have taken place in areas outside of the PLO’s control: Tel Aviv and East Jerusalem. This new generation of protestors are not, and shall not be controlled by their leadership, nor will they allow the PLO to have a role in the uprisings.

Mahmoud Abbas’s uncompromising opposition to violence has left many of the new generation of Palestinians feeling disenchanted with the PLO. Over the past ten years Palestine should have benefited from numerous Western interventions, such as a regenerated West Bank economy, with help from the UK and the US. They should have also established a united Palestinian Government, and secured the release of numerous political prisoners. Instead, this generation of Palestinians have seen the gradual occupation of East Jerusalem, a security force which collaborates with the Israeli security department and the continual violation and occupation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

This new Intifada is a defiance against a government which has increased the loss and despair of the Palestinian population.

As lone wolf attacks by Palestinians continue within Jerusalem and the West Bank, each individual becomes their own leader. They “shake off” Abbas’s waning presence, and fight for their freedom. Something most believe Abbas has not succeeded in delivering.

The Refugee Crisis: Containment and solution

This speech was give by William Morris, at last night’s Refugee Crisis event held by Initiatives of Change.

To tackle the refugee problem, the British government must commit to confronting it “at source”. That means not merely confronting illicit migration and dealing with the people smuggling rings but also finding a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Syria and diminishing ISIS’ capacity to continue its operations. And that means serious collaboration with on-the-ground political and humanitarian organisations.

British aid has played a significant role in alleviating the plight of refugees. Britain’s £1 billion in humanitarian funding means that it tops the donors’ league table and plays a vital role in ensuring refugees have access to basic services, food, shelter and medical care.

So much for the good news.

Not all of that vast sum of money provided by the UK is for humanitarian use. Far from it. Some is used for the vaguest of purposes like “capacity building for the Syrian opposition” and there is absolutely no transparency as to the UK’s dispersal of money in the region.

But whatever the use that is being made of UK taxpayers’ money – humanitarian or otherwise – The problem is that money can only do so much. This is part of the containment of the problem, not its solution. These refugee camps are not a solution in and of themselves. They cannot, in the long-term, accommodate the millions that they cater for and many camps are over-stretched and poorly serviced.

The subsistence money from the UN going to those within refugee camps has now been cut to $13 a month (according to Scott Darby of initiatives of Change who has just come back from Lebanon). This pathetic income leaves refugees with two options: either fight for Daesh (the group we in the West call ISIS) or flee to the West. So, if we are to keep refugees in the region more must be done.

And unless Syria stabilises and returns to some form of normality, it is only through resettlement that Syria’s refugees can achieve some form of viable future, particularly since they are also treated inhumanely and as second-class citizens in places like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.  But then what else can these countries do? Official UNHCR figures for September of this year indicate that there are 1,938,999 refugees in Turkey and 1,078,338 in Lebanon. The real figures are much higher of course. These countries cannot cope. Furthermore Syria itself has seven million refugees within its borders (people the UN terms in anodyne bureaucratic fashion mere IDPs or internally displaced persons).

But it is possible for refugees to be given alternatives to the dangerous and costly prospect of fleeing to Europe.

  • Syrian Kurdistan could act as a safe haven. It is the most stable part of Syria. The 1990s Iraqi Kurdish experience proves that an autonomous region that has a decent political process and a stable security environment can function as a safe-haven. That, however, is an ambitious proposal. It requires convincing the Turks that this would not jeopardize their territorial integrity; it requires investing resources in Syrian Kurdistan so that it can build the infrastructure and institutions necessary for housing refugees. Getting the international commitment for this might be difficult. The Assad government, Russia and Iran would however come on board, given that Syrian Kurdistan has effectively constituted a de-facto ally in the war against ISIS and Syria’s opposition rebels.

But to solve this crisis, which of course isn’t just the UK’s crisis but the international community’s crisis, some serious shortcomings have to be addressed in terms of the way that the debate has unfolded, which itself is a reflection of the failures of leadership. The toxic nature of the discourse surrounding the refugee crisis has marginalised constructive debate, which, in turn, has prevented effective and sustainable policies from being implemented.

You are all well aware of the difference between a refugee and a migrant. A refugee is someone forced to flee home. A migrant is anyone who moves to another country, whether a refugee or not. Most of those who flee their homes in Northern Iraq or Syria have little hope of becoming migrants to the West. They cannot afford to pay the air ticket to Istanbul and the subsequent fee to the people smuggler. Baghdad is being stripped of its educated young men from prosperous families as they seize this opportunity for a new start in Europe. The queues of young men to the Turkish Airways office in Baghdad today go round the block.

So let’s look at containment.

What we need is the kind of refuge that has been set up in St George’s Baghdad by Cannon Andrew White. This acts as a place Christians as well as those from other confessional groups can come and meet and get support from one another.

  • The Next Century Foundation proposes that the community centre on the approach road to the Christian town of Al Khosh in Northern Iraq be converted into a similar refuge offering free dental care, basic health care, primary education, a meeting room for worship and a soup kitchen to care for the displaced of any heritage.
  • We propose that something similar be done in the Yezidi town of Basheika in the Ninevah Plane.
  • We also propose the construction of a similar community centre in the Kurdish town of Qamishli in North Eastern Syria
  • And in the Christian town of Qatana on the outskirts of Damascus on the airport road. All of the above to support those who have not yet been displaced in those regions as well as the many displaced families that cling to life in those areas.

We then need havens within the region.

  • We need additional housing in the Ninevah Plane.
  • We need a new town in the Kurdish Region of Iraq to accommodate refugees.
  • We need additional housing in Qamishli in Northern Syria, and we need corridors for the free movement of aid to Qamishli. Six ambulances donated to the people of Qamishli by a German charity have been held up in Arbil airport for months because the Turks object to their movement. The Turks have nothing to do with it. Just because of the extraordinary hatred of the Syrian Kurds by the Turks, it should not mean that they can then constrain the movement of aid across the territory of a neighbouring state over which they have no hegemony. There is one more issue that needs attention.
  • We also need Western support for new housing in Kirkuk to accommodate the huge numbers of Internally Displaced Refugees migrating to that city.

However there is also some need for refugee resettlement. At the moment much of the burden for this falls on Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and the Kurdish Region of Iraq, as well as, oddly, the failed state of Libya.

  • We need Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Israel, most particularly Israel, to start to take significant numbers of refugees and to be supported so that they can do so. I find it extremely distasteful that on the 6th September of this year,Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls from opposition politicians for Israel to accept refugees from Syria, saying that Israel was “a very small country that lacks demographic and geographic depth.”

As for those that do need to be accommodated in Europe:

  • One practical step would be for Western nations that offer asylum, like the UK, to give preferential treatment to those that claim asylum at embassies in the region and whose claims can be processed there, thus discouraging dangerous life threatening migration by boat.

We must be very careful, however, as to how we deal with the resettlement of refugees in Europe. I am a believer in the Khalil Gilbran dictum of a world without frontiers. I am completely convinced that we must work towards the free movement of peoples. I am a believer in the sixties doctrine as expressed in the Blue Mink popsong: “What we need is a great big melting pot. Big enough to take the world and all it’s got. Keep it stirring for a hundred years or more. And turn out coffee coloured people by the score”.

However, whether or not we are to have a melting pot, what we do not need is sectarianism. Most of us at both Initiatives of Change, our hosts this evening, and at the Next Century Foundation, believe in the importance of building a future world in which the absolute selfishness of materialism is replaced by an ethos of absolute selflessness. This is an ethos consistent with the teachings of the three great monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

We must therefore campaign to undermine as thoroughly as possible the sinister program of groups like the Barnabas Fund that, out of a misguided sense of love, are working to cleanse the Middle East of its Christians by giving preferential treatment to Christian refugees.

There are actually petitions that are being signed by misguided Christians in churches up and down the country suggesting that the British government should give preferential treatment to Christian refugees. This goes against the basic tenets of Christianity. The Barnabas Fund seems to have forgotten the underlying meaning behind the story of the Good Samaritan whereby Christ advocates help for the stranger. But this is a sickness that is gripping the world.

The Polish government selects refugees from the region based on religious criteria – they demand that the refugees should all be Christian. There is currently a strong anti-Muslim campaign in Poland (including posters in major cities from nationalist groups attempting to convince the population that accepting Muslim refugees is tantamount to accepting terrorists).

The Next Century Foundation would contend that groups like the Barnabas Fund and the Government of Poland may be making the situation in the Middle East worse with their sectarian attitude.

If we do talk of “Safe Havens” within the region, we must distinguish them from the safe havens which the Barnabas Fund espouses. Their notion of Safe Havens for Christians represents a “sectarian” approach, which is abhorrent.

The Slovakian President has refused to take in Muslim refugees as he claims it would be unfair for Muslim populations to have to reside in a country with no mosque. Slovakia has therefore rejected the EU quota. A pretty horrible attitude but in practice it is at least less disruptive than the sectarian policy promoted by the Barnabas Fund and the Government of Poland respectively.

Bishop Angaelos of the Religious Affairs Advisory Council, a Bishop General of the Coptic Church went on record to tell me “We are not only supposed to tolerate, but love our enemies. To tolerate is merely to put up with. To love is to say truly Father forgive… with the right amount of grace and an understanding of the value of humanity, and why people need to be valued equally, we can love them.” He went on to say, “As Christians we are taught that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, which is our core identity… We must respect and accept that of the other.”

Similarly Dr Ahmed Al-Tayyib, the Grand Sheikh al Azhar, has denounced the forced displacement of non-Muslims in Iraq and called on them to remain in their homes.

Ayatollah Safavi of Iran also echoes these views. Indeed there is no major religious leader, Christian or otherwise, that supports this selective sectarian migration to the West that amounts to a form of ethnic cleansing that will ultimately result in the end of Christianity in the Middle East.

There are actually some members of the Jewish community who have set up a Safe Havens project whereby they see the Saturday people as helping the Sunday people in return for what the Allies did for the Jews at the time of the holocaust. It would be commendable if the prime focus of the project was resettling refugees of any heritage in the Middle East, just as the immediate recourse of those helping the Jews resettle under persecution was to move them to other countries in Europe. But no, the focus of this effort is to take Arab Christians, and Arab Christians only, direct to their promised land, which ironically turns out to be Germany. This is not helpful.

Much of the above is about containment. What of solutions? By which I mean solutions to the cause of this human tide of misery. We need more political action. For example:

  1. We need the return of the Embassies to Tripoli, Libya to foster a peace process. The mandate of the internationally recognized rump government in Tobruk runs out in a few days on October 20th at which point the embassies could return to the capital and promote a new power sharing agreement or caretaker government.
  2. We need the total removal of the US imposed de-Baathification laws that continue to cause such resentment in Sunni Iraq and have been a prime generator of support for ISIS amongst the young men of Sunni Iraq.
  3. We need the reformation of the Awakening or Sawah Movement in Iraq, most of the leaders of which were murdered by Malaki loyalists. Certainly an independent Sunni force loyal to the centre but regionally recruited and also loyal to an autonomous Sunni region.
  4. The constraint of Turkey’s disruption of the region and end to their practice of bombing the Kurds, supporting all anti-Kurdish insurgents, and facilitating the transit of volunteers to ISIS. Turkey’s decision to claim to be supporting the fight against ISIS came after the Kurdish Protection Unit (YPG’s) had made rapid territorial gains within Syria. Erdogan stated that: Turkey ““will never allow the establishment of a new state on our southern frontier in the north of Syria”. Such statements are indicative of Turkey’s tactics in the region.
  5. We need a swift settlement in Syria predicated on new elections in which all in the diaspora are fully enfranchised and enabled to vote at UN polling stations.

There is much that can be done but the Western practice of terrorizing the region with drones, American F16s, British Typhoons, and Russian SU30s does little or nothing to contain the Hydra that is ISIS and actually increases not decreases the flow of refugees to the West.  We are the problem. We are not the solution. We made this mess and we continue and continue, and continue to poor petrol on the fire we ourselves ignited.

Raising the (White) Flag?

A week ago the Palestinian state flag was raised for the first time in the rose garden of the UN, fostering hope and symbolising the refusal to abandon a Palestinian homeland. The flag honours those lost in the fight for statehood, those in jails, those killed at checkpoints and those occupied in Gaza.

However, the raising of the flag will not lead to the restarting of the peace process. Mahmoud Abbas’s statement that Palestine would no longer be bound to the Oslo Accords has confirmed the death of the 1990’s Peace Process. Just as Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that Israel would “fiercely reject attempts to impose international dictates” on peace, weeks before severed Israel’s ties to peace. Such statements alongside rising tensions in the West Bank means that the peace process is now a distant memory. The flag has not rectified these issues. If anything it has created further ruptures within the already fragile relationship.

The past week has seen several people killed from clashes in the West Bank, with many more injured. These deaths have emerged from the frustrations which have developed due to a lack of a foreseeable solution. Although the flag has highlighted issues with the Peace Process, it has also galvanised the tense situation in the West Bank. The raising of the Palestinian flag has not addressed any relevant issues but rather papered over their cracks.

Whilst the UN may have willingly raised Palestine’s flag and accorded the state non-member observer state recognition, it has not come close to a solution for the conflict. As the Palestinian flag flew over the UN, Israeli Settlements deemed illegal by the UN continued to be built near the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The UN did not condemn such acts. Without UN support Palestine shall not gain statehood, nor secure the control of its towns and cities. These continual violations of marked borders have not been resolved through the raising of a flag. Nor has the flag settled the violence which erupts from these land disputes.

The fact that the Palestinian flag now flies over the UN of course represents hope. However, it also overshadows the real issues at the heart of this problem. We must take the flag at face value. As for now, there is no Palestinian state, no Peace Process, nor a solution, there is merely a flag. A flag which represents hope to many but does little to improve the lives of those within the conflict, who remain in despair.

Amy’s Run

Here at NCF we rely heavily on the hard work of our volunteers and interns. This year, on October 18th, four NCF interns will take part in the annual Run on Clapham Common in order to raise funds for the Foundation and its work.

Seifu, Eva, Amy and Jakob are all running for the NCF. We would like to invite you to support them in the annual NCF run.

Please give what you can to support our runners as well as our work. To sponsor the team click this link

The Shooting Down of Peace

The recent shooting of a young Palestinian student at an Israeli checkpoint has once again prompted Israel and Palestine to resort to blaming one another. Incidents like this have become indicative of the problems involved in sustaining a Peace Process, as both states attempt to garner support from the International Community for their point of view. A year on from the Gaza War, and following the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu, an end to the ever-increasing cycle of violence between both states seems unlikely. The recent shooting is a stark reminder of the one major hurdle to the Peace Process: a lack of trust.

On Sunday, an even more troubling outcome was that Israel’s security cabinet approved a crackdown on Palestinian protests. The legislation will allow Israel’s security forces to use their weapons more easily against Palestinian stone-throwers and increase punishment for young offenders. Justification for this legislation comes from the assertion that the young Palestinian student was trying to attack Israeli soldiers. Meanwhile the Palestinian state denounced the young student’s death as an inevitable outcome of a premeditated attack. It is arguably premature to enact legislation that amounts to a clamp down as a consequence of this attack when the real course events remains clouded. As both sides battle to prove the other’s hand in the killing, the collapse of trust the Peace Process becomes ever more evident.

This ‘shoot first, think later’ strategy has become Israel’s default course of action in relation to Palestinians, and given the increasingly tightened legislation towards Palestinian activism, tensions are unlikely to subside soon. As the International Community continues to support the Palestinian state, Israel’s rhetoric will harden. Such micro-level incidents have proved a useful propaganda tool when it comes to Israel’s public shaming of so-called Palestinian terrorists. And, with tensions in Jerusalem heightening, alongside, this new legislation, the road to dialogue looks almost non-existent. Such tensions arise from a mutual lack of trust inherent in the relationship between the two states, and the two communities. These societal ruptures create a never ending cycle of blame that gets in the way of the important  work that needs doing if we are actually moving towards peace.

Dialogue and Division: The Revitalisation of Cold War politics in the Middle East?

In what seems to be a huge U-turn in policy, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated yesterday that Russia’s increasing military force within Syria was self-protecting. This statement comes after weeks of increasing Russian military build-up in Syria. Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday confirmed Russia’s stake in Syria, with Putin stating: “our main goal is to protect the Syrian state”. This meeting also shows the ever-increasing role of Russia in the region’s politics. Prior to the talks between the US and Russia that came to an end yesterday the old Cold War politics which beset the Middle East during the 1960s had begun to rear their divisive head. As a result, the humanitarian crisis in Syria had been sidelined by Superpower politics. All such divisions must either be set aside or dealt with, so that dialogue between the US and Russia remains focused on the refugee issue at hand.

Just as Nasser had done during the 1960s, Assad has successfully kept both Russia and the US at his beck and call. And as of yesterday it seemed that the US had completed a U-turn on its views towards Assad. The Syrian President has successfully manipulated Superpower politics to safeguard his rule. Moreover, it seems certain that Russia will continue to ensure Assad’s survival.

Assad’s clever control over Syria’s relations with Russia are most obvious in light of UN. Like Nasser, he has successfully controlled the global influence of Putin’s leadership. Russia has continually vetoed UN sanctions against President Assad. It seems that Russian sponsorship is working completely in Assad’s favour.

For well over half a century, Russia has supported Syria in its military ambitions. However, Putin’s current position on Syria must also be placed in the larger sphere of Russian foreign policy on the Ukraine. It is part and parcel of the larger Russian foreign policy plan to ensure that both Syrian and the Ukrainian interventions result in Russian glorification. So whilst, Obama and Kerry seem to be wandering around in circles, trying to decide the best solution for Syria, Putin has secured his strategy and his regional ties.

With Putin set to speak at the UN next week, his Syrian strategy may become even clearer. Regardless, consolidation of power in the region is the main card on the table. With the media already focusing in on this ‘new Cold War’, its damaging consequences for any Syrian decision are already obvious. At this vital point in time, the rivalries of the 1960s should be back-benched in order to secure peace. With both the US and Russia set to prioritise Superpower politics over the needs of the Syrian people, perhaps Kerry’s U-turn on Tuesday is the beginning of change.