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Afraid to sleep, afraid to wake

As the invasion intensified, Mohammed Omer, a Gazan journalist injured by Israeli police last year a

"We sleep in fear and wake up in horror," cries Zahrah Salem, her voice shaking and distraught. The 64-year-old mother of four and grandmother of 15 takes comfort that all in her family are still alive. Yet around her home in Deir al-Balah, death enshrouds her neighbours. Israeli warplanes continue to bomb her town and the ground offensive has begun. Despite events around her, she clings to the hope that diplomatic efforts by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will bear fruit and the bombs will stop.

"I have faith in the Frenchman more than Arab leaders," she tells me in a telephone interview. "I hope he will end this war."

One of her sons is less optimistic, noting that no one has an interest in stopping the Israeli attacks, not even the Arab countries.

"I never thought voting for Hamas would cause this kind of result," she tells me. "I wish I hadn't voted for anyone!"

Zahrah Salem is well off compared to others in Gaza, but that is of little help.

"Shops are closed, we are afraid to walk in the streets, and now we have no running water or electricity," she tells me. Many houses in her neighbourhood have been the target of missiles. Mourning tents pepper the streets where picket fences should be.

"I am afraid to go to offer condolences," she says. "Israeli warplanes are hitting everywhere."

Her eight-year-old grandson Hamid regularly asks for protection, pleading not to sleep alone. The family leaves the windows open at night, even though the smoke from neighbours' burning homes makes breathing difficult. This is preferable, she explains, to having razor-sharp shards rain down on sleeping heads when the vibrations from bombs shatter glass.

"We all sit in one room," she continues. "If it's so that we die, then we want to die together and not to leave the children behind to suffer."

Abu Ghassan, 42, talks to me from the Bureij refugee camp. I can hear ambulances and bombs in the background. "I find it hard to understand what this war is about," he says. "Launching rockets on mosques? Schools, universities and civilians' houses? This is crazy! The majority of people killed are civilians rather than those launching rockets . . . [and they include] a pregnant woman, her four children . . . All this was confirmed by Palestinian medical sources." Abu Ghassan has to try to figure out how to sneak out to buy bread for his children so they can eat. But the bakeries are closed, and he admits that he weighs the risk of letting his children go hungry against the possibility of returning in a body bag.

At al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest, Ahmed Abdelrahman, a staff nurse, explains: "We receive human remains: arms, legs and fingers. It's hard to identify which body parts belong to whom." Again in the background I hear ambulance sirens. "We have been shot at as we evacuate the bodies of injured people. Right now we know of eight calls east of Gaza City for people who are bleeding, including two women; but as an ambulance crew, we are targeted by Israeli gunfire [as we attempt to rescue them]."

And, with the critical shortage of medical supplies, those fortunate enough to make it to the hospital have only a slight chance of recovery. Israel continues to restrict entry of medical and food supplies into the Gaza Strip, though the Egyptian government has opened the Rafah border for a few minutes several times in the past few days to allow limited aid to enter.

Muawiya Hassanein, the doctor in charge of the emergency service at al-Shifa Hospital, confirms that at the time of talking to me, at least 11 ambulances have been destroyed and 12 emergency workers killed in the line of duty. A further 32 have been injured.

On Israeli public television, a military spokes man, Avi Benayahu, said: "Our soldiers know all the backstreets where their targets are."

As the battery on her cellphone beeps a warning, Zahrah makes a final point. She has heard that the White House has been "deeply saddened by the passing" of the family cat India (known as Willie), but not, apparently, by the deaths of children killed in Gaza. Summing up her frus tration, she says in a voice full of incredulity: "At least they can remember the cat died full. It did not die hungry like the children of Gaza."

Mohammed Omer was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2008

Mohammed Omer

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The destruction of Gaza

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times