Blood Diamonds and the BBC – Journalist Ishmahil Blagrove talks about his documentary and his experience with the corporation

Is the BBC as impartial, free and fair as they claim. I choose to disagree! 

Guest post by Ishmahil Blagrove

After I initiated an inquiry into the way in which the BBC distorted my documentary “Blood Diamonds (2001)”, deceitfully reneged on a signed contract and jeopardised the lives of several contacts on the ground, the BBC’s internal investigation overseen by Mark Damazer, ruled in their own favour against the overwhelming physical evidence and witnesses that I had. Before initiating the inquiry they attempted to bribe me into accepting the distorted narrative of the story, “Don’t worry Ishmahil, there will be more work for you.” When I insisted that I wanted to stick to my contract, someone came and told me “If you rock the boat, as a freelancer you will be black listed”. I still have all the evidence and correspondences with the BBC and perhaps one day I will post it up. I had to decide if I wanted future employment or to stick with my values and principles – I chose to stick with my principles. I have no confidence in the BBC or their impartiality in conducting or commissioning such investigations. THEY ARE CORRUPT!

When the BBC approached me and asked if I could get into the rebel controlled territories during the war to expose slave labour in the diamond mines controlled by the RUF, I agreed on the basis that we would explain how the war started. The war began as a result of a lack of resources and government spending in the East of the country, hospitals, schools etc…

The BBC agreed that we would be able to fuse the two stories, explain the history of the war and that diamonds were being used to fund the conflict. The BBC were obsessed, as were most of the Western media with this patronising view that the people were simply fighting over diamonds. In every conflict protagonists will use the resources at their disposal to acquire weapons, but the Western media were only obsessed with diamonds. The rebels sold cocoa, timber or what have you, but “Blood Cocoa” or “Blood Timber” just wasn’t as catchy as “BLOOD DIAMONDS”.

The BBC cameraman who accompanied me at times refused to film certain scenes, such as when we were coming out of the rebel held territory of Tongo and bumped into a patrol of British soldiers hundreds of miles away from their zone and in an area where they had no mandate to be. We had heard rumours that the British had been training the CDF (a militia) in contravention of the Abujah Agreement which insisted that both sides desisted from fighting. I told him film! He ran into the bush made a satellite phone call back to the BBC and then came back and said, I’m told we need to get more diamond stuff first.

The BBC continually frustrated me. On another occasion one of my informants at the UN called me and said that 4 CDF fighters had been killed and beheaded by the Rebels and that I should get to the region because they had British made weapons (I’m sure some of you may remember the arms to Sierra Leone scandal). The informant at the UN was a senior figure who was angry with the way in which the British had strolled into the arena of war and refused to come under the control of the UN and were using propaganda to steal the glory from the good works that the UN had done. My contact was an American, but i will not name her for her own protection. She offered to put on a helicopter and fly us to the scene where we could investigate the scene – of course the BBC objected.

I had known the former President, Captain Valentine Strasser who had been overthrown and was living on the fringe of Freetown. I visited him and convinced him to talk and to explain the deal behind using the mercenary company ‘Executive Outcome’ to prosecute the war and some of the other under table deals he had done with the Americans and the British – the BBC didn’t want it.

When I returned to the UK, the BBC said I should stay at home for a couple of weeks and write the story – When I returned back into the office, the BBC had deceitfully cut and arranged the material for the film they wanted and had excluded the material and direction I wanted to take the story. I was contracted as the Producer of the story and therefore it should have been my vision, however, when I began to raise objections the Editor of BBC Correspondent, Farah Durani, a dishonourable and dishonest woman who rose to the position of Deputy Editor solely on the basis of some minorities fast track scheme, came to me and said that my contract had been issued in error, that I was not the Producer of the programme, that I was simply the reporter. I asked her, “If I didn’t produce the programme, then who did? Did it produce itself out of thin air?” Such was the deceptive and dishonest nature of the BBC that caused me to take them to an inquiry. They put out the documentary omitted the credit of Producer. (I have never been able to tell this story, as at the time the internet was not as ubiquitous as it is now. There was no forum to explain how criminal and deceitful the BBC had been. I am glad for this opportunity to unburden myself. Anyone from the BBC who wishes to sue me for defamation, or perhaps FARAH DURANI, please feel free to contact me you bunch of fraudsters.)

Even now the British are seen as the ones who brought peace to Sierra Leone. The UN are rightfully criticised in the often dismal efforts at peace keeping, but in the final years of the Sierra Leone conflict they did an outstanding job. The United Nations Bangladeshi Forces of Battalion 7, were the first soldiers to get into the main rebel stronghold of Kono. The fact that the Bangladeshi’s were humble and came from a culture similar to many in the region who are muslim, made it easier for them to get along with the rebels. They had a laid back attitude and the rebels were often hanging out and chilling at the Bangladeshi’s outpost. They ate with their hands and slept outdoors in bivouacs. (The rebels continually praised the Bangladeshi’s and I know of several instances where the Bangladeshis under the command of a brave Colonel, whom I can’t remember his name but I do have it recorded in my notes of the time, they averted massacres of hundreds of people and put themselves in the middle of raging gun battles.) During peace talks the rebels insisted that they did not want any British soldiers or officials present, as they believed that the British were not impartial but were involved in training the government militia and encouraging the war.


Muslim woman turned away from her son’s parents evening

Muslim woman wearing niqabA Muslim women wearing the niqab has been turned away from her son’s parents evening because of security concerns.

Maroon Rafique was told by college staff that she could not come to the parents evening unless she removed her niqab. The 40-year-old from Manchester has visited the college on previous occasions and there never seemed to be a problem, but on this occasion she was stopped in the lobby. The College staff told her that her face veil was a security risk.   She was then forced to ring her husband who attended for her.

The media has jumped on this story but rather than see Maroon Rafique as the victim, the debate has yet again,moved to Muslims and integration.  No one seems to ask the real questions about how a few inches of cloth over someone’s face can be a threat to British society.

If a woman wishes to wear a niqab then surely it is her choice to do so. An educational institute that is supposed to be a bastion of free speech, diversity and acceptance, should not be turning away parents on the basis of how they chose to dress.

Unfortunately, there has been an increased number of these actions since the UK went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The actions of the UK abroad are directly linked to the increase of racism and Islamaphobia in this country.  You cannot kill Muslims abroad whilst not attacking Muslims at home, whether it is in the form of targeting women for a few inches of cloth or expecting Muslims to adhere to an imaginary notion of Britishness invented by the elite.  What is clear to many is that talk of ‘security’ and ‘Britishness’ is just a veneer for xenophobia and scapegoating.  At a time of government cuts and recession politicians turn on the most vulnerable in society to distract people from the real issues.

Maroon has defended herself admirably; she phoned in live to the BBC Asian Network and came across as articulate and composed unlike the bigoted voices that opposed her.  Most of all it is clear that she is a mother that cares about her son’s education.  The college have said that they are looking into the concerns raised by Mrs Rafique, but it does not excuse the fact that they treated her in a degrading manner.

She is yet to receive a formal apology for her treatment at the hands of the college staff.

Muslims Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee?

The Queen’s diamond jubilee has exposed Muslims and Muslim organisations as being complicit in the collective amnesia around the crimes of the British Empire.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) sent out a press release stating that British Muslims are “deeply grateful” for the Queen’s long interest in her Muslim subjects. It must have been this interest that kept her silent during the two wars waged against the people of two Muslim countries: Iraq and Afghanistan.  It must be this interest that maintains the Queen’s silence with regards to the complicity of the British in Israel’s destruction of Palestine, or in the face of rising Islamophobic and Fascist groups such as the EDL.

Shockingly, this gratefulness is not reflected on the ground. From London to Birmingham to Manchester, the majority of Muslims have expressed little or no interest in the Queen’s jubilee. I heard of no Imam thanking the Queen or being “deeply grateful” to the Queen during their Friday sermons.  I have seen no street parties in Muslim areas of Birmingham celebrating Her Royal Highness’ 60th year on the throne.

There are a minority of Muslims that are falling over themselves to please the establishment and sign up to a colonial notion of tolerance and integration. Maybe the MCB and these other Muslims have forgotten about the stolen jewels on the Queen’s crown, the British flags that once flew over the lands of their forefathers planted by an occupying British army and how colonialism still lives on in the shape of the occupation of Afghanistan. Maybe they have also forgotten that the last time a diamond jubilee was celebrated by a British monarch, it was an excuse to consolidate British imperialism and the presence in India. Even if the MCB and their friends are blind to history surely they can find it objectionable that a £32 million party is been thrown for someone that lives off tax payers, whilst people across Britain are losing their jobs, facing pay cuts and watching their services disappear. And if they are all blind to this, then surely these Muslims cannot ignore the knighthood of Salman Rushdie, a slap in the face of every Muslim colonial servant that is celebrating this taxpayer funded decadence.

The only major media channel that seems to have shown some sort of context to the Queen’s diamond jubilee is Al Jazeera with a report about members of the West Indian community that first came here that want an apology from the Queen for their treatment.

I spoke to an imam of a Mosque in Birmingham and asked him about his opinion of these Muslim organisations that are celebrating the jubilee. He said simply, “they’ve lost the plot”.

These organisations would be better off, at the very least, demanding that the Queen cut back on her extravagant expenditure, advise her to return her stolen jewels like the Koh-i-noor diamond, for her to apologise for all the blood spilt by the British empire, the rape, the stolen land and resources as well as the decades of subjugation in the name of the crown.

Yet again, these so-called representative Muslim bodies and individuals have shown how out of touch they are with the vast majority of ordinary Muslims on Britain’s streets.  These organisations and individuals prefer to kiss the hand that beats them in the hope of finding a seat at the elitist table asking for government handouts and seeking recognition for themselves. These self-serving interests are worth nothing in their eyes without the rubber-stamped approval of Her Majesty.

Proud and Prejudiced – a critique

‘Proud and Prejudiced’ was a programme that seemed to be about two extremist groups: the English Defence League (EDL) and Al Maharijroun (or whatever name they are currently operating under).  From the outset, it is clear that the programme makers are working within the premise that these are two groups of extremists both of which are as bad as each other. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One is a religious extremist group which represents an extreme minority view amongst the Muslims in Britain. Another is a racist organisation that has displayed its violent tendencies in public on numerous occasions and is backed by sections of the media that perpetuate the racist undertones espoused by the far right.

For all their ills, Al Muhajiroun have only carried out insensitive political protests at inappropriate times.  If white people had carried out the same kind of protests then the reaction would have been very different. There is still a sense that Muslims are not British or that Muslims are not part of our society, part of us.   The majority of British Muslims dislike groups like Al Muhajiroun and their ilk. However, it is important to note the climate in which they have emerged.  Al Muhajiroun use foreign policy and treatment of Muslims worldwide at the hands of the West as a recruiting tool. They target the disenfranchised inner-city youth who are looking for an identity and fill this void with a pseudo-Islamic identity which gives them affiliation to a faith and the reestablishment of the Caliphate.  Al Muhajiroun  is an extreme minority born out of post-colonial conflict and a reaction to the Western occupation, destruction, and division of Muslim lands.

The EDL on the other hand, are a product of Britain post New Labour.  From the football terraces, and racist organisations throughout the country, they use the seemingly acceptable veneer of fighting Islamic extremism to further a much more sinister agenda – racism.  The EDL have gone on racist rampages up and down the country. There is numerous evidence of their links to the BNP and other racist groups as well as videos online of EDL members performing Nazi salutes and singing, “I hate Pakis more than you”.   Their members are violent thugs have been convicted of racist acts: putting a pigs head on a mosque for example. It is no coincidence that the Norwegian mass murderer, Andres Breivik, expressed his desire to attend an EDL demo and cited the EDL as one of his influences. This is not fighting Islamic extremism; it is out and out racism.

This documentary is an example of media organisations commissioning sensationalist film making that masks the reality on the ground and ignores the political, cultural and social history of the development of extremism, because lazy journalism is easier than ethical journalism.  It may be a convenient story to portray this as two men that just don’t get along, almost like a playground scrap.  Journalism is more than simplifying complicated issues, it is about portraying struggles and issues in their appropriate context.  It is not balanced or responsible journalism to merely give the two men half an hour each, it is responsible journalism to ask why are people following Al Muhajiroun, and why has the EDL grown so much?

The programme reduces a serious issue of racism and Islamophobia to a personal vendetta between two men. It furthers the EDL’s agenda and plays into their hands to represent Muslims as extremist terrorists: men with massive beards, women you cannot see and children being indoctrinated.

Instead of highlighting the EDL’s violent racism, the only acts of violence that have been highlighted are Safyul Islam slapping Tommy Robinson and, later, Tommy Robinson headbutting one of his own rivals. The documentary has totally missed out all the acts of violence from EDL’s inception to the present day, including when the EDL smashed up Luton and Stoke.  It is dangerous to ignore this violence. By turning a blind eye to this violence, the programme risks becoming a platform from which Tommy Robinson can spew their bile.  Although some people may laugh them off and say that they are just lunatics with mad ideas, there are those who are disaffected and with whom the EDL’s words and ideas will have resonance.

Although Unite Against Fascism were mentioned a few times on the programme, they were never given any airtime.  It was stated that the EDL have been opposed by UAF wherever they have gone.  Why were they not interviewed for their views on these groups?  To have interviewed UAF for a meaningful argument against the EDL would have meant completely disregarding the foundations that the programme was made on.  It would have meant acknowledging the fact that the EDL are not just made up of Tommy Robinson’s mates out to protect the UK from the mores of extremist Muslims like Sayful Islam, but that they are a violent, far-right organisation who pose a real threat to our society.  Hearing from UAF would also have put up non-Muslim faces of those who oppose the EDL and shown that, contrary to Robinson’s assertions, white people and other ethnic groups like Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Black people actively oppose these racists.  But to do this the programme makers would have to abandon their fantasy and flawed paradigm that this is some kind of scrap between two men with laughable ideas.

The New Colony – Balochistan

The people of Balochistan have the right to self-determination and their own sovereignty, according to the United States House of Representatives Committee on foreign affairs.

The reasoning behind this article is to question the motives of any Western power to support the Balochi independence cause. Not for a moment am I going to excuse the heinous crimes committed by the Pakistani military in Balochistan. The Americans do not care for the freedom of the Baloch people. If the chair of the committee, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, really cared about freedom he would have spoken up for many other people around the world a long time ago.

Wikileaks released cables on Rohrabacher’s trip to Honduras where Rohrabacher promoted business after a military coup had disposed the democratically elected president and installed Porfirio Lobo, a candidate backed by the military and the oligarchy. A quick look at Rohrabacher’s campaign funding tells you that he is a good friend of big business and therefore it should come as no surprise that Balochistan is rich in natural gas, coal and uranium. But it is not just big business backers that drive Rohrabacher, he is also ideologically driven. The Republican Representative voted against supporting democratic institutions in Pakistan but voted for cooperating with India as a nuclear power. An ardent believer of free market economics, he is also opposed to the expansion of the influence of China and has spoken vociferously against communism. His views on Iran are very clear. Rohrabacher supports a potential strike by Israel against Iran – it is worth noting that the Balochistan region also crosses over into Iran.

Another ‘expert’ witness, Ralph Peters, a retired US Lieutenant Colonel, was eager to give his biased opinion. As far back as 2006, he had drawn up maps of Pakistan with Balochistan as a separate state. In 2008 in an article for the New York Post he wrote that, “Pakistan suffers from a flawed founding vision: Islam has not been enough to unite Sindhis and Punjabis, Baluchis and Pashtuns.” He is an expert for Fox News, that bastion of ‘fair and balanced’ reporting, and on there he ranted, that Jullian Assange should be assassinated for being a ‘cyber-terrorist’. Can Peter’s opinions really be taken seriously and can we blame Pakistanis for thinking that he has an ulterior motive here?

Dr Hossein Bor, an American Baloch, sounded like a colonial servant as he pimped himself out to Rohrabacher. Attempting to appeal to the US for support for the independence of Balochistan he cited the rich natural resources of Balochistan, the Iranian oil pipeline, Afghan Taliban, and the Gwadar port. It seems that some in the Baloch freedom movement are happy to be used as US proxies to achieve their freedom. When asked about the Baloch people and the West he replied, “they have welcomed US support with open arms.” He also stated that if Balochistan became independent that they would provide the US with military bases in Gwadar and went on to say that Balochistan “is the most strategically important piece of land in the world”. Dr Bor spoke more like an American hawk than an expert witness, and also warned of the dangers of China’s naval base in Gwadar. He was there to sell the cause of Baloch nationalism to the US and did it through scaremongering about China and talking to the hawks about US strategic interests.

Freedom for the Baloch people is not the primary concern for the US, but countering China is. The Chinese government has invested heavily in the Gwadar port in Balochistan. The port city will be connected to the Karakoram highway, which connects Pakistan and China, and that China has been helping Pakistan to widen. The Gwadar port gives China access to the Arabian Sea, strategically close to the Gulf through which 30% of the world’s oil is shipped. Having China so close to the Strait of Hormuz and access to the shortest route to Central Asia states via Afghanistan makes the US nervous. In a US Department of Defence report the port was referred to as being part of the ‘String of Pearls’ initiative, which sees China strategically placing itself in locations to ensure its energy security. Where do the Balochs and Pakistanis fit into all of this? They are but pawns in the new Great Game being played out by the US.

This article was also published in the Huffington Post on 28 February 2012

FOSIS Are a Good Example of Muslims Engaging With Society

Such is the level of racism and Islamophobia in society that when encountered by a politically active Muslim, people automatically seem to put them in the radical or extremist box.

The main problem here is that there is a set of double standards at play for categorising people with political opinions. There seems to be one set of criteria for Muslims and another for the rest of the human race. I have found a simple but effective method for people to determine if a Muslim’s views are extreme or not. If a white non-Muslim was to express the same view would you think they are an extremist? Would it make you look for the number to the terrorism hotline? Or would you accept their views as a legitimate opinion that has a place in the broad political spectrum of society?

In the majority of cases Muslims have perfectly acceptable opinions, which tells us that there is a problem in the way we look at Muslims in society. This is understandable in some cases, since we have been fed constant reports linking the words ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ to Muslims. It is only natural that Islamophobia has now become inherent in society.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies is anything but radical or extreme, unless you have a problem with Muslims engaging with political and democratic processes and using those avenues to air their views and get involved with wider society. But, I suspect that the critics of FOSIS disagree with the political opinions aired and campaigned on by the federation. Some even have an issue with Muslims, as an entity, airing political opinions whilst standing on a religious ticket.

No FOSIS member has served for the military in the Islamic Republic of Iran or any other military. But there are student religious groups whose members have served for the IDF or have gone on to serve for them. FOSIS has never justified suicide bombings of any type, but in 2010 at the NUS conference, the Union of Jewish Students invited a Muslim speaker from CENTRI (Counter Extremism Consultancy, Training, Research and Interventions). This speaker openly told me that he accepted and was comfortable with a fatwa from a traditional scholar in Syria that suicide operations against Israeli military targets were permissible. Extreme? Radical? Or an opinion that is prevalent in the Muslim world? Are the UJS now guilty of what FOSIS is being accused of, inviting speakers that have ‘radial’ opinions?

Some may take issue with the fact that FOSIS campaigns on international politics, specifically their anti-war and pro-Palestinian stance. But for FOSIS to ignore these issues would be to ignore their democratic mandate and disregard the issues their members wish for them to campaign on. These are issues which Muslim students hold close to their hearts and many are affected by.

Another argument is that FOSIS members are from the Wahabi/Salafi school of thought – a literalist school of thought emanating from Saudi Arabia. It is true that most FOSIS members I have encountered follow the Wahabi school of thought, however this is not extreme in and of itself. In fact FOSIS’s elected member on the National Union of Students Executive in 2009 was openly a Sufi. Sufis follow a more traditional and spiritual way of Islam and are seen to be more moderate than Wahabis. If anything, FOSIS is more diverse, pluralistic, democratic and representative of Muslims than any other religious grouping within the student movement in the UK.

FOSIS does not have a clandestine radicalisation program that takes students and turns them into extremists. Extremists have political grievances which they choose to air on in illegitimate ways. Extremists will always use examples of victimisation of Muslims engaging in democratic processes as examples of why Muslims engaging in politics is futile and should take up more of an extreme approach. The unfounded targeting of FOSIS plays into the very extremists’ hands that people are so opposed to.

Universities are places where young people become radical. They are radicalised by ideas, politics and life. It is a place where you learn and engage in the battlefield of ideas. The problem is that when non-Muslims get political we put them in the ‘lefty’, ‘eco’ or any other political box, but when Muslims get political we just deem them extremists, now that is extreme!

Welcome to Palestine: A First Hand Account of Arbitrary Detention

I saw the green Israeli military jeep speeding down the Israeli road towards us, the roar of its engine had alerted the Palestinian farmers who had taken cover under a tree, but there were two fences between us. They’re probably just coming to see what we are doing, I told myself. The two soldiers got out of their vehicles M16s in hand, helmets on their heads and their bullet proof vests fastened. They opened the gates and entered the buffer zone between the two fences, and then they opened the second gate and entered Palestinian territory.

Some of the British students taking a walk through the farm, looking at the ancient olive trees, ran as soon as they saw the soldiers. One of the soldiers ran towards me and grabbed me, he attempted to twist my arm behind my back, pushing and shoving me, I resisted. “Stop!” he shouted in my face, all the time trying to twist my arm into some sort of lock. Some of the students protested, but the two soldiers had already grabbed the two brown people in the group and were quickly trying to push us into Israeli territory.

As I resisted mildly, the soldier showed me a small white container that he held in his right hand, “I will use it!” he shouted. I assumed it was CS spray and I did not fancy getting sprayed with it so I had no option but to comply with what their demands. In a matter of minutes a midday stroll through a Palestinian farm, looking at the ancient olive trees with their thick intertwining trunks, trunks that generations of Palestinian farmers have rested against, had turned into an Israeli incursion onto Palestinian territory to snatch a British journalist and five students. The Israeli road serves only the settlement, perched high on the hill top, shaped like a medieval fortress, looking down on the Palestinians, serving as a constant reminder of the inequality they face.

Six of us were dragged into Israeli territory as more jeeps arrived, rushing down the road, soldiers dismounted, M16s in hand, fingers on the triggers, steely eyed and intent. We tried to explain that we were British citizens and that they could not do this. “This is Israeli territory,” said the soldier. “Yes it is, but we were just in Palestinian territory until you dragged us here,” I protested, the soldier just looked away. “You damaged the fence,” said sharply a blue eyed soldier, he looked Eastern European but I could not be sure. We had got close to the fence, but damaged it? That was stretching it, nevertheless this was the official reason they were using to hold us. The soldiers captain arrived, an older man in his mid-thirties of large build. He said his name was Munir, an Arab – Israel regularly recruits Bedouin Arabs from the northern Sinai.

Munir began to ask us for our passports, we told him that we did not have our passports on us – we were not going to hand our passports over to the Israelis, especially since the cloning incident and the foreign office advice not to give our passports to the Israelis- the last thing we wanted was for our names to show up as would be assassins in some foreign country.

Munir questioned me again and again as to my nationality, he found it hard to believe that I was British- it must have been my permanent sun tan. He spoke to us in Arabic, but when we said we did not speak Arabic he asked again but louder, “Are you sure?” he said in Arabic repeatedly. Telling them that I spoke Arabic would open up another barrage of questions that I wanted to avoid.

We were taken to a checkpoint as the sun beat down on us. One soldier was kind enough to bring us a bottle of water, two of the women were taken to a toilet when they asked. We waited in the sun, sitting on the floor using the curb as a seat. We realised that the Israelis had a problem. They had just carried out an incursion onto Palestinian territory that under the Oslo agreement the Palestinian authority and snatched six British citizens. The Israelis may have thought that two of us, being of Asian origin, were Palestinian, but they had made a mistake.

Munir, the captain, got in his jeep and drove away. We waited and watched as another army jeep turned up and they began to empty out the content of one jeep to another. We thought they were emptying out for us, to transport us to another location. By this time we had rung the British consulate. The consulate told us that there was not much that they could do and would give us some names of some lawyers but we had to pay and that they would get back to us the next morning! Good old British foreign service.

A soldier wearing a skull cap came over and asked for our names, we gave them, he did not ask us to spell them. Then, just as we had suddenly been snatched, they escorted us to the gate, and the huge gate opened, “Welcome to Bethlehem,” said the soldiers. We were free. Relieved, hot and tired, we had just tasted and had a very small insight to what it must be like to be a Palestinian. Throughout our time at the checkpoint we could hear Palestinians at the gate and now we had seen the wall from both sides. Welcome to Palestine.

The Israeli Occupation: The Bubble Has to Burst

The Israeli occupation of Palestine has forced Palestinians to live in isolated bubbles, cutting off their struggle from those outside of the major cities, where life has become bearable since the Oslo agreement but has resulted in Palestinians being cut off from each other as settlements criss-cross Palestinian land cutting off one village, one town, one city from another. Profound parallels to Bantustans of apartheid South Africa can be seen.

Lavish houses can be seen in the Palestinian administered territories, three stories high, large front gardens, gated entrances, and nice cars to match. The city of Ramallah is a busy bustling city where the Palestinian administration is based. Round the corner from the tomb of Yasser Arafat a shepherd watches over his sheep on a small patch of green area.

Sulaiman is 80-years-old and reminds me that he is still strong and healthy, behind him, in the distance, stands a tall apartment building. Sulaiman is the old face of Palestine – still resisting in whatever way he can in the face of the new wave of money pouring into the West Bank. However, the acceptance of foreign American cash comes at the cost of accepting the occupation in exchange for American money. People here are talking of a third intifada, but there seems to be no appetite for it from the Fatah controlled Palestinian authority.

Settlements are increasing, not only in East Jerusalem but around Palestinian towns, settlements that will prevent the growth of Palestinian towns, settlements that are built on Palestinian land, settlements that are linked by Israeli only roads that Palestinians are not allowed to travel on, settlements that have stolen Palestinian water delivered to them, whilst Palestinians cannot get permission to even dig a well and have to deal with intermittent water supply for five times the cost, settlements whose inhabitants are armed and have, in the past, used their firearms to kill Palestinians.

So as Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister, formerly of the World Bank, pro-western and unelected, appointed by Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian National authority president, lavishes in his lush surroundings and is rushing to declare some sort of state within two years, but what kind of state is he going to declare? A state with no control over their borders, air space, a state with Israeli military checkpoints outside their cities, a state whose people are cut off from each other by an illegal wall?

There are refugees who have been living in camps since 1948, camps like Belatta in Nablus. After the Nakba or catastrophe, this camp initially housed 5,000 refugees on 1 square kilometre of land, but now, more than 60 years later the population has grown to 25,000. Yet the population has increased with now second generations of Palestinians living here the land on which they are housed has not grown – they still live on the original square kilometre the camp was established on. The air in the camp is close and the alleyways are claustrophobic. There is no privacy or room to move, the children play in alleys rather than playgrounds. Moving out of the refugee camp is not an option, it would mean an acceptance that the refugees of 1948 do not have a right of return, that they cannot return to their villages, homes, farms that their grandparents once farmed, that they as children once played on and continue to pray that their children will return to.

“The Next Intifada Will take place Between the Villagers and the Settlers”

Salam Fayyad has set his sights on securing foreign investment for Palestine, American and others. The streets have ‘US Aid’ bill boards telling people of the importance of US aid. But outside cities like Ramallah and Nablus talk of the third intifada is rife. Whilst many Palestinians are living in the bubble, sometimes even forgetting about the 400 checkpoints, new settlements are popping up, and expansion in East Jerusalem villagers continues.

“The next intifada will take place between the villagers and the settlers,” a student at Al Najah tells me, who did not want to be named. We are whisked around Al Najah University by the administration, the pro-Fatah administration, showing us their new gym and swimming pool, but students look on in surprise as they have never seen the facilities opened before, they are just for show. Recently the university had elections for its student council, Fatah students won, simply because all other political groups had been banned and then decided to boycott the elections, information the university administration keeps from me, but students are keen to share.

For a university that was at the heart of resistance during the occupation, it has become increasingly repressive to those that are not towing the Fatah line. The university was closed during the first intifada – between 1988-1991 – as tanks occupied its premises, and lecturers were forced to conduct their classes in houses, mosques and even cars. It seems that people have forgotten that at one time the Israeli military arrested people that carried books in the streets, because they had realised that the military order to close the university was not enough to stop Palestinians trying to gain an education.

This is the reality of the past and the present. Villagers are seeing their land taken away, even as Fayyed belly dances around the west asking for handouts so that the Palestinian authority can consolidate its power. A former Israeli prison in Nablus is now a prison run by the Palestinian Authority, where no doubt political opponents are now housed.

Every year droves of tourists visit places like Jerusalem and think that all is fine, you will see soldiers but people will think that is to be expected. But the bubble needs to burst, the bubble that the city Palestinians are living in, the bubble that the Palestinian Authority has created, the bubble the Israeli government is counting on, so that it can further its actions of annexed land, increasing settlements and continuing the occupation of Palestine.

Rafah Border crossing- Aid workers on hunger strike

Rafah border crossing

As medical workers went on hunger strike today at the Rafah border crossing into Gaza in Egypt, Israeli jets could be heard flying overhead, the sound of explosions and vibrations could be felt on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing.

No mercy was shown by the Egyptian authorities, who kept the border closed, not even sick Palestinians were allowed through back into Gaza, they were simply told that the border was shut. However there was a great deal of activity at the crossing with military vehicles passing through all day. There were some ‘VIPs’ crossing the Rafah crossing, but it was unclear who they were as the vehicles had blacked out windows and travelled well protected with armed soldiers at the front and rear.

For most of the day the Rafah border has been quiet, only the sound of birds can be heard disturbed by Egyptian military and police vehicles entering the border compound, but everything is periodically drowned out by the piercing screams of Israeli jets as they fly over Gaza.

Reem al Tahloot, 26, arrived from Cairo after receiving treatment for a brain tumour but was told that she could not go home to Gaza as the border was now closed. She was asked why she did not come earlier by the guards even though she had been in hospital and had left at the first opportunity.

70 year old Salaha Skeyg arrived with his 65 year old wife Salma at the Rafah crossing at 6am in the morning, only to be told that it was closed. Salaha Skeyg had been in hospital in Cairo suffering from kidney stones but could not afford for the operation he required to remove his stones that had blocked the passage between the kidneys and bladder and was therefore forced to return to Gaza. Now they wait in the blistering sun of the southern Sinai, sitting, waiting for the Egyptian authorities to show some mercy to allow them back home to be with their family in Gaza.

Meanwhile aid workers continued their hunger strike in protest at the Egyptians not allowing urgent medical help through to the Gaza Strip. British reconstructive surgeon Sonia Robbins-Bolos and her Greek husband Dr Nikolos Bolos of Mercy Malaysia have been waiting to enter Gaza for 40 days, with no avail.

“There have been issues around entering Gaza before, it has always been difficult but nothing like what we are experiencing right now,” said Sonia. Sonia and Nikolos are members of the group of aid workers that have entered into a hunger strike over the Egyptians refusal to allow them entry.

Dr Omar Mangoush a cardiac surgeon from Hammersmith said, “We are trying to enter Gaza, we are doctors, we have a humanitarian mission to carry out but we are being prevented from doing that by the Egyptians and the lack of help from the British consulate.”

Two Irish medics were allowed through into Gaza this Monday which suggests that the Irish consulate has put pressure on the Egyptians to allow their citizens through into Gaza, something that the British are reluctant to do.

The Egyptian intelligence agency is making it as difficult as possible for the hunger strikers, even forcing the local shop at the Rafah crossing to close, where the aid workers were purchasing water and phone cards.

For now the aid workers and Palestinians are waiting in the searing heat of the southern Sinai for the border to open so that they may cross into Gaza, to help and return to their families.

Salama Skeyg pleads with the guards, asking them to let her and her husband pass; her husband has a bag attached to his bladder. She cries out, the sound of her cries drown out everything, the wind, the vehicles and even the Israeli jets. The Egyptian authorities look on, unmoved, untouched by the plight of this old couple who do not even have anything to sit on except a small dirty wall. The police sit on chairs provided by the local cafeteria, but they prevent the owner from allowing anyone else to sit on them.

Oktay Balci an aid worker from Belgium asked the police, “Do you not have a heart? What If she was your mother?” At this the officer looked them straight in the eyes and said, “It is not our decision, we do what we are told.”

Egypt and the rest of the Middle East can be summed up like this. It is not their decision; they do what they are told, whether it is from their governments or foreign powers like America and Israel. But the Palestinians refuse to do what they are told, refuse to accept decisions made by others about their future, and refuse to give up their hopes; this is why they must endure so much punishment at the hands of everyone.