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The betrayal of Gaza

The US is vocal about its commitment to peace in Israel and the Palestinian territories — but its ac

That the Israel-Palestine conflict grinds on without resolution might appear to be rather strange. For many of the world's conflicts, it is difficult even to conjure up a feasible settlement. In this case, not only is it possible, but there is near-universal agreement on its basic contours: a two-state settlement along the internationally recognised (pre-June 1967) borders - with "minor and mutual modifications", to adopt official US terminology before Washington departed from the international community in the mid-1970s.

The basic principles have been accepted by virtually the entire world, including the Arab states (which call for the full normalisation of relations), the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (including Iran) and relevant non-state actors (including Hamas). A settlement along these lines was first proposed at the UN Security Council in January 1976 and backed by the major Arab states. Israel refused to attend. The United States vetoed the resolution, and did so again in 1980. The record at the General Assembly since is similar.

But there was one important and revealing break in US-Israeli rejectionism. After the failed Camp David agreements in 2000, President Clinton recognised that the terms he and Israel had proposed were unacceptable to any Palestinians. That December, he proposed his "parameters": imprecise but more forthcoming. He then stated that both sides had accepted the parameters, while expressing reservations.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 to resolve the differences and were making progress. At their final press conference, they reported that, with more time, they could probably have reached full agreement. Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, however, and official progress was then terminated, though informal discussions at a high level continued, leading to the Geneva Accord, rejected by Israel and ignored by the US. Much has happened since but a settlement along those lines is still not out of reach, if Washington is once again willing to accept it. Unfortunately, there is little sign of that.

The US and Israel have been acting in tandem to extend and deepen the occupation. Take the situation in Gaza. After its formal withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel never relinquished its total control over the territory, often described as "the world's largest prison".

In January 2006, Palestine had an election that was recognised as free and fair by international observers. Palestinians, however, voted "the wrong way", electing Hamas. Instantly, the US and Israel intensified their assault against Gazans as punishment for this misdeed. The facts and the reasoning were not concealed; rather, they were published alongside reverential commentary on Washington's dedication to democracy. The US-backed Israeli assault against the Gazans has only intensified since, in the form of savage violence and economic strangulation. After Israel's 2008-2009 assault, Gaza has become a virtually unliveable place.

It cannot be stressed too often that Israel had no credible pretext for its attack on Gaza, with full US support and illegally using US weapons. Popular opinion asserts the contrary, claiming that Israel was acting in self-defence. That is utterly unsustainable, in light of Israel's flat rejection of peaceful means that were readily available, as Israel and its US partner in crime knew very well.

Truth by omission

In his Cairo address to the Muslim world on 4 June 2009, Barack Obama echoed George W Bush's "vision" of two states, without saying what he meant by the phrase "Palestinian state". His intentions were clarified not only by his crucial omissions, but also by his one explicit criticism of Israel: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

That is, Israel should live up to Phase I of the 2003 "road map", rejected by Israel with tacit US support. The operative words are "legitimacy" and "continued". By omission, Obama indicates that he accepts Bush's vision: the vast existing settlement and infrastructure projects are "legitimate". Always even-handed, Obama also had an admonition for the Arab states: they "must recognise that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning but not the end of their responsibilities". Plainly, however, it cannot be a meaningful "beginning" if Obama continues to reject its core principle: the implementation of the international consensus. To do so, however, is evidently not Washington's "responsibility" in his vision.

On democracy, Obama said that "we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election" - as in January 2006, when Washington picked the outcome with a vengeance, turning at once to the severe punishment of the Palestinians because it did not like the results of a peaceful election. This happened with Obama's apparent approval, judging by his words before and actions since taking office. There should be little difficulty in understanding why those whose eyes are not closed tight shut by rigid doctrine dismiss Obama's yearning for democracy as a joke in bad taste.

Extracted from "Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians" by Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé (Hamish Hamilton, £14.99.

To buy the book at a special offer price of £11.99, call 08700 707 717, quoting "NS/Gaza" and the ISBN 978-0-241-14506-7

This article first appeared in the 08 November 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Israel divided

Colin O'Brien
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London Life: the photographs that capture the changing face of London over seven decades

Over 70 years, Colin O'Brien has recorded change and continuity in the lives of Londoners, creating a social record of breathtaking expanse.

Born in a Victorian tenement in ­Clerkenwell in 1940, when the area was known as “Little Italy” in recognition of the main immigrant community, Colin O’Brien began to take photographs of his family, friends and immediate environment with a box camera at the age of eight. Displaying extraordinary maturity, some of these pictures are reminiscent of Bert Hardy’s photographs of children playing in the street – except that Colin was one of the kids and he was photographing his peers (above).

Intimate images of his mother in the scullery, his father eating breakfast before going to work at the nearby Mount Pleasant sorting office and a neighbour sharing out the shepherd’s pie among the members of her large family: these are the domestic scenes of Colin’s childhood. Drama erupted into this world in the form of multiple car crashes at the junction of Farringdon Road and Clerkenwell Road, which Colin captured from his window in beautiful compositions that prefigure both Weegee and Andy Warhol in proposing traffic accidents as legitimate subjects for photography.

In the 1960s the O’Briens were rehoused in a top-floor flat in Michael Cliffe House, a modernist council block on the eastern fringe of Clerkenwell named after the erstwhile Labour mayor of Finsbury, and the tenement dwellings of Little Italy were demolished. From here, Colin recorded the postwar rebuilding of the City of London and the construction of the Barbican. His longing for dramatic spectacle was satisfied by shots of lighting over St Paul’s Cathedral, which he took down to Fleet Street for publication in the Evening Standard the next day.

As Colin’s experience of London expanded he recorded the transition from the years of austerity to those of plenty. At first, he took affectionate pictures of his mother trying on hats she couldn’t afford in Oxford Street; later he captured enthusiastic customers at the Woolworths pic’n’mix counter in Exmouth Market at the end of sweet rationing. A chance encounter with the playwright Bill Naughton led him to take the photograph for the dust jacket of Alfie, and Naughton subsidised Colin to set up his first photography studio. By now, Colin was recording new waves of immigration, taking glamorous street portraits of black girls posing for his lens and, in later years, Asian children enacting a Nativity procession in Brick Lane. Through redevelopment in the 1980s, the flash of the 1990s and the increasing dominance of corporate culture in the 21st century, Colin kept snapping.

Over seven decades, he has recorded change and continuity in the lives of Londoners, creating a social record of breathtaking expanse. In 2014 he photographed Jasmine Stone, one of the single mothers in New­ham, east London, evicted from a homeless hostel and denied social housing. She occupied an empty council house in protest against the sale of local authority housing to property developers. The picture of Jasmine and her daughter Safia (facing page) is a poignant coda to an unparalleled body of photography, distinguished equally by its aesthetic flair and its human sympathy.

The Gentle Author blogs about London at: spitalfieldslife.com

“London Life” by Colin O’Brien is published by Spitalfields Life (£25)

 

Battersea, 1974

“I came across these children from the prefabs playing on an industrial site and they posed for me in front of the junkyard gates,” the photographer writes.

Corner of Farringdon Road and Clerkenwell Road, 11 June 1962

“I read later that a child died in this accident,” O’Brien writes. “There was a rumour the traffic lights all turned green at once.”

Gerrard Street, Soho, 1987

When O’Brien exhibited the picture, the man in it recognised himself and said that the child was his niece Christine. “Next day, she came along and I took her photograph again, standing next to the earlier shot. By then she was a student, training to be a dentist.”

Battersea Park, 1975

Three generations of the same family sit down for lunch at a café.

Oxford Street, early 1960s

 

O’Brien’s mother and Auntie Beattie try on hats while he takes their picture with his prized Leica – which his parents bought for a “nominal sum” off a chauffeur who claimed he’d found it in the back of his employer’s car. “These sort of deals with expensive merchandise being sold ‘off the back of a lorry’ were not uncommon,” he says.

 

This article first appeared in the 30 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double