Quote of the week

March 29, 2005

Just wanted to share a beautiful quote I just read.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

- Lilla Watson, an Australian Aboriginal woman

Power of the people proves successful at anti-war demo

March 28, 2005

The following is an article that I wrote for the latest issue of SNAP!, a local anarchist broadsheet that you’ll find stuck up on walls around the central city, and in a few other locations. Also below are photos I took at the march/rally.

Over 150 people marched from Civic Square to the US Embassy last Saturday in protest against the United States’ continued illegal occupation of Iraq on the second anniversary of the invasion.

Marchers hailed from across the leftist spectrum, from Anarchists to Campus Left, from the Anti Capitalist Alliance to high school students, all came to voice their anger over the US’ continued flouting of international law and human rights in the interests of its corporate masters. As the march moved down Lambton Quay, several paint bombs were thrown at the ANZ Bank, in protest over its involvement in and profit from the war in Iraq. All the way, two plainclothes police kept a close eye on the marchers, with one taking a considerable number of close-up photos of activists with a high powered zoom lens.

At the embassy several speeches were made, then protesters were invited to vent their frustration by throwing rotten fruit at an activist dressed as George W. Bush. Police warned protesters not to get any fruit on the embassy, so one activist stood facing away from the embassy and threw a tomato. He was arrested and dragged away by police. The crowd sprung into action, surrounding the police and their vehicle to ensure that the arrested protester would not be taken away.

Shouts of “let him go!” and “false arrest!” filled the air for half an hour, until the police were forced to give in and release the activist without charge. Once again, people power proved triumphant over abusive police behaviour!

About 15 people camped overnight outside, and 2 went on a hunger strike in solidarity with the people of Iraq and those arrested in an Auckland anti-war protest.

More photos at http://flickr.com/photos/asherg/sets/204421/.

Edit – April 3rd: Made the photos smaller to reduce loading time. Sorry about that.

Hate speech

March 18, 2005

Last year, when it first started appearing that David Irving, the notorious Holocaust (I don’t like the sacrifice connotations of this word, but it’s better known than Shoah) denier, might be denied entry to New Zealand, I drafted a letter to the editor to be sent to the Dominion Post. Unfortunately, I have long since lost this letter, but the general gist of it, taken in point form, was as follows:

- I am a Jew
– Many members of my family were killed in the Holocaust
– David Irving is a horrible specimen of humanity
– I can’t understand why the National Press Club would invite him to speak
– I fully sympathise with those in the Jewish community who don’t want him to come
– However, I strongly believe that he should be able to say what he wants to say, and he should be able to do it in New Zealand
– At the same time, I call for a mass protest wherever David Irving speaks, to speak up against his atrocious views

The next day, as I woke up to head into town and post it along the way, I flicked on the news on the radio, only to hear about the cemetary desecrations in the Jewish section of the historic Bolton St cemetary. I left the letter on my table, and decided to hold off until the shock had subsided. A short while later, I drafted another letter, saying the same things as my first letter had, and adding that while the cemetary desecration had shocked me, I still had faith in New Zealanders and the relative lack of anti-Semitism in New Zealand. I put the letter on the table and went to sleep. The next morning, I woke up to hear of another Jewish cemetary desecration, this time at Makara cemetary.

This hit me significantly harder, as Makara is where many members of my family are buried, including my Grandparents on my Mother’s side and my Mother. I called a number of people to try to find out if any of my family’s graves had been among those knocked over. Eventually, I reached my Aunt, who sadly informed me that she had been out to Makara in the morning to check, and my Grandparents’ graves were indeed among those attacked. An hour or so later, I managed to organise a ride out there, and spent the remainder of the day at Makara cemetary in tears at the horrific damage that had been wrought. Again, the letter remained unsent.

I had forgotten all about these until I heard about the proposed Anti Hate Speech law thats going around at the moment. To my mind, a law against hate speech is almost as ridiculous as the Sedition Laws which so sorely need to be removed.

I tried to promise myself that I wouldn’t quote that famous line, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, but I simply can’t resist. I would, however, like to add an addendum. I would turn it into:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. At the same time, I will also defend to the death my right to shout so loudly that you cannot be heard.”

Promoting free speech does not mean that one has to provide a platform for vile, intolerant crap. On the contrary, it doesn’t even mean you have to listen to it. All it means is that everybody has the right to say what they want (within some minor limitations, such as the “fire in a crowded theatre” example).

I oppose hate speech laws, as a member of one of the minorities whom such a law would likely set out to protect.

Refusenik News

March 16, 2005

As some of you no doubt will have noticed, in the right hand column on this website is a little counter called Refusenik Watch. It keeps a tally (currently at 1396) of the number of Israeli’s who have actively refused to serve in the IDF (Israeli army) for ideological reasons. For those of you who don’t know, Israel requires that all of it’s Jewish and Druze (not Israeli-Palestinian-Arab or Bedouin) citizens go into the army at age 18, males for 3 years and females for 2. Following this, there is miluim (reserve duty) for a number of weeks a year for many years (the exact length of miluim differs from person to person, depending on what they do outside the army, their fitness and what army unit they were in).
Note that female refuseniks are rare, as the majority of women who apply for exemption on pacifist grounds are given it (it is very rarely granted for males) and as such, only one of the refusenik groups, the shminitsim, include women in their numbers.

Recently, I read some good news, reported in Ha’aretz. 250 high school seniors have signed a letter stating they will not serve in the IDF. They stated:

“We call on all youths ahead of service in the IDF, and all soldiers already in the Israeli army to reconsider endangering their lives and taking part in a policy of oppression and destruction”

I’d like to personally congratulate those 250 seniors for their brave and moral stance. It’s not an easy decision to make, by any stretch of the imagination, and those who refuse frequently subject themselves to jail time, financial hurt (the miniscule pay that soldiers get does not get paid to refuseniks), societal rejection, and their future job prospects are inevitably harmed immensely. So, to take such a strong moral stand, despite the consequences, is something we should applaud.

The following was written by Asaf Oron, a Sergeant Major in the Giv’ati Brigade (now one of the more presitigious areas in the army), who refused in 2002 after 17 years of service.

But when, instead of a sacred mission, a 19 year old finds himself performing the sacrilege of violating human beings’ dignity and freedom, he doesn’t dare ask – even himself – if it’s OK or not. He simply acts like everyone else and tries to blend in. As it is, he’s got enough problems, and boy is the weekend far off.

You get used to it in a hurry, and many even learn to like it. Where else can you go out on patrol – that is, walk the streets like a king, harass and humiliate pedestrians to your heart’s content, and get into mischief with your buddies – and at the same time feel like a big hero defending your country? The Gaza Exploits became heroic tales, a source of pride for Giv’ ati, then a relatively new brigade suffering from low self esteem.

For a long time, I could not relate to the whole “heroism” thing. But when, as a sergeant, I found myself in charge, something cracked inside me. Without thinking, I turned into the perfect occupation enforcer. I settled accounts with “upstarts” who didn’t show enough respect. I tore up the personal documents of men my father’s age. I hit, harassed, served as a bad example – all in the city of Kalkilia, barely three miles from grandma and grandpa’s home-sweet-home. No. I was no “aberration.” I was exactly the norm.

There are many different arguments used against refusal, both from the right and from the established left. All the main political parties oppose refusal, including the supposedly centre-left (yeah, right) Avodah (Labour) party and the supposedly left (again, yeah, right) Yachad party (who’s leader created the Geneva Accord). The only parties in parliament to support refusal are the 2 Arab parties, the United Arab List and Balad, and the joint Jewish-Arab party, Hadash-Ta’al.

I am currently planning on moving to Israel early next year (while this was accurate at the time of writing, it has not been for a long time. Asher – 12/03/2006), as I think it’s a beautiful area and I can see a real purpose for myself (in terms of social action & activism). This of course means that, like all male immigrants under 26, I will be required to serve in the IDF. In the middle of last year, I had a dream. I was living in Jerusalem in a kvutsah (a commune), and it was the night before my call up. I had decided to refuse and not show up the next morning…that night i was making phone calls and emails to friends and family to tell them, not knowing what would happen. I didnt sleep that night, and then at about 11am the next morning (I was just getting ready to prepare lunch) when i heard a knock on the door, which I answered to a few soldiers who had come to arrest me. I picked up a bag which I had packed the night before, and slowly walked out the door, surrounded by soldiers with their guns at the ready. Then i woke up. That dream scared the hell out of me, and even now, as i write about it, im shaking. The thought of going to jail, possibly for up to 2 & 1/2 years (the length of time I will be legally required to serve) scares the shit out of me. It is on this basis that I am able to praise those who do refuse so highly – their courage serves as an inspiration to me every day.

A favourite argument of the anti-refusal crew is that everyone gets a say when they vote, the decision is made by the elected government and then anyone who goes against that is “distorting the democratic process”. Therefore, by refusing to serve where and how the democratically elected government has ordered you to serve, you are distorting that process, and therefore you should serve if you support democracy.
To that, i say, bollocks.
To take this argument, every time you jaywalk, you are distorting the democratic process. Does that mean you should ONLY cross at pedestrian crossings when the light is green? Of course not. You should cross when you feel it is safe, as long as you are willing to accept the consequences (ie – if you cross at a busy street when you think it is safe, you might get hit.)
If you sneak into a club/bar underage, you are distorting the democratic process. As long as you are willing to accept the consequences (if you get caught, you could be taken home and your parents informed. If you get in and then proceed to drink underage, you could be causing irreprable harm to your body.) then that is ok.

The key here is the acceptance of consequences. If you wish to break the law and are not willing to accept the consequences, then, yes, you may be unfairly distorting the democratic process (whatever the hell that is anyway. Who says the democratic process is such a good thing? I sure don’t).
However, if you are willing to accept the consequences, (in the case of refusing to serve in the IDF, this means going to prison), then I do not believe you are unfairly distorting the democratic process.
Note that when I say “then that is ok” I only mean in terms of the charge of distortion of the democratic process. Someone who murders and then accepts the consequences of life in prison is not “ok”, for he is a murderer. He is not, however, unfairly distorting the democratic process.

A socialist friend of mine in Israel who has served in the army explained his reason thus (italics are mine):

There will be people serving at these checkpoints. No matter what we do, right now, there will be people at these checkpoints. I would much rather have one of my chanichim (youth), who have been brought up in the ways of NOAL (a large Israeli socialist-Zionist youth movement), who have a social conscience, guard this checkpoint, than a kid from Betar (a right wing, revisionist Zionist youth movement) or someone from Kiryat Arba (a large settlement next to Hebron). This way we can reduce the pain inflicted on all those Palestinians who pass through this checkpoint.

This is probably one of the better arguments around. I note, however, that he said “reduce the pain inflicted”, and not eliminate the pain. This is a nod to the fact that the mere presence of this checkpoint causes harm to the Palestinian people. This is a nod to the fact that there is a minimum level of activity that must be undertaken by those who serve at this checkpoint which causes harm to the Palesinian people. While it may be the lesser of two evils, it is still inherently evil.

Courage To Refuse, the largest and most mainstream of the refusenik groups, has this to say on a related matter:

Question: And what would happen if everyone were to refuse to serve in the territories?
Ori Rot-Levi replies:
Then the occupation would end. The occupation is not a The Will of God. It is maintained by a few thousand people against the will of millions.

To finish off, I will quote Asaf Oron once more:

We are the Chinese young man standing in front of the tank. And you? If you are nowhere to be seen, you are probably inside the tank, advising the driver

My traditional birthday reevaluation

March 3, 2005

So, today, March 3rd, is my birthday.

As I do every year around this time, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of days reviewing my life, where its at, where I want to take it, and what I need to do in order to get there. Now, I’m by no means finished yet. Traditionally, this intense renewal period lasts from about Feb 28th to about March 10th, so my thought patterns could change, but so far, I’ve found a few things.

Firstly, I’m not going to quit smoking, yet. I think I’ll probably quit over new years, but I’ve decided not to quit at this moment in time.
Secondly, I’m fairly sure I’m going to have another crack at vegetarianism. I tried this in 2003, but unfortunately my heart wasn’t truly in it and I really didn’t last long at all. Ever since, I’ve vaguely wanted to give it a proper try, and it seems to me like that time has just about arrived.
Thirdly, I’m going to get far more involved in local activism, rather than focussing on overseas and writing based activism, I’m determined to really get my hands dirty with some good old fashioned direct action this year, something I have lacked in at times in the past.
Fourthly, at a later point in the year, I am going to run some teach-ins on Israel/Palestine issue and Zionism.
Fifthly, I am going to be truer to my beliefs, and not sacrifice as much on the pillar of pragmatism as I did (last year especially).
Sixthly, I am going to take more photographs. I love photography, and don’t do enough of it anymore. At least once a fortnight, I am going to go somewhere for a few hours, sit, think, write and take photos. It’ll be my “me” time.

So thats what I’ve got for now…I’m fairly happy with it.

In other news, Left & Lefter will soon be getting it’s own domain. With this, the site will expand somewhat, to include things like my photography and possibly my essays, plus anything else I can think of, in addition to the blog. And, I get to use WordPress instead of Blogger. Hooray!

Lastly, one of the new links on my links menu is to Sanity Now!, a blog started up by a friend of mine, Hik, who describes it as “An unmoderated stream of semiconsciousness and personal slant from your favourite Maori-Jewish-social-anarcho-cultural-zionist”. He hasn’t written much yet, but it should be good, so keep an eye out. I’m hoping this post might pressure him into writing something new soon.

Capital Punishment in the Palestinian Authority

March 1, 2005

Every week, I get an email from B’Tselem, an organisation which labels itself “The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories”. Normally they are filled with the now tragically standard news of more house demolitions by the IDF, innocent Palestinian civilians killed, land expropriations and other assorted human rights abuses by Israel. This week, one of the items gathered my attention.

On 17 February 2005, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the president of the Palestinian Authority, approved the death sentences given to a number of Palestinians who had been convicted of collaboration with Israel and of other criminal offenses.

many of the prisoners given the death penalty were denied due process in the course of their trials.

According to B’Tselem, the PA judicial system issued 59 death sentances between January 1st, 1995 and May 31st, 2003. So far, 6 of these have been carried out, 1 person was killed while trying to escape, 2 have been commuted down to prison sentances and 50 remain pending. Out of the 7 dead, 4 were civilians and 3 were members of PA security forces.

The death penalty is a truly disgusting form of punishment. Look at the studies which show it doesn’t work as a deterrant. Look at the number of innocent people, whose innocence is discovered too late, if ever. Look at the sheer inhumanity, the depravity, of sinking to the level where it is considered “right” to kill someone.

“The death penalty is disgusting, particularly if it condemns an innocent. But it remains an injustice even when it falls on someone who is guilty of a crime.”
Giuliano Amato, Prime Minister of Italy, 14 September 2000, commenting on a scheduled execution in Virginia, USA

I call upon the PA, Israel, China, the USA and all other countries where the death penalty is still on the books to immediately abolish it as a legitimate form of punishment.


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