Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tony Blair and the Emperor's New Clothes

Dear friends,
please find below, in case you missed it, a wonderful article which appeared on the website of Bethlehem based Palestinian News Agency, Maan News.

The article is an interview with the Alexandra Darby, the niece of Tony Blair (former British PM now Middle East Quartet Envoy) and her mother, Lauren Booth (Blair's sister in law). In August 2008, Booth, who is a journalist and broadcaster, was one of the participants on the Free Gaza boats, which helped break the siege of Gaza. Booth subsequently spent a month or more in Gaza working as a human rights volunteer and reporting on the siege. She has since returned to Palestine to participate in the Peace Cycle, bringing her daughter with her.

During their visit to Hebron, Booth and her daughter, just happened to cross paths with Tony Blair's cavalcade which had been in Hebron as well. Alex notes, after her and her mother spoke with local Palestinian residents, that her uncle visit reminded her of the Hans Christian Andersen fable of "The Emperor's New Clothes".

Alex told Maan: “Do you know the story of the emperor’s new clothes?" she asks, "Well the emperor is blinded by what they do, because for real there is nothing there. And I think that’s what they are doing, because when he went to visit the Old City, and well, the Israelis didn’t make him go through the metal bit to get into the mosque; he went through the wide bit. So he thinks, ‘Well, then it's right what they say, these people aren’t poor, these people aren’t under an occupation.’ That’s what they are trying to make him see, so he can make others see the same.”

What a wonderful comment from such a young person!

In solidarity,


Quartet envoy's eight-year-old niece sees the real Palestine

published 22/10/09 and updated on 27/10/09

Bethlehem - Ma’an - Eight-year-old Alexandra Darby, the niece of Quartet envoy Tony Blair, toured the West Bank this week on a bicycle, peddling an estimated 200 kilometers from Amman to Jerusalem.

Asked what she will tell her school friends about the Peace Cycle journey, Alex reflected, “I’ll tell them that the people here are very nice, not like they say in the newspapers.”

Alex Darby - photo by Maan News.

The West Bank is not a usual vacation site for most eight-year-olds. But, as mother, journalist and activist Lauren Booth explained, “She’s been asking me for the last five years why she can’t go to Palestine, and despite the fact that the Israelis can make it bloody trying to get in and out, the greeting here I knew would be so sensational for her that I didn’t have a reason not to bring her.”

Why doesn't Alex think other kids get to come to Palestine? “Because, of course, the telly, which says Palestinians are not like us, that they are a revolting people, a violent people, a nasty people, it’s mad. In fact it’s the exact opposite, it’s the Israelis.”

Alex and Tony visit Hebron

On Tuesday, Alex visited Hebron with the Peace Cycle Group. As she entered the streets leading to the Old City, she saw her uncle’s motorcade drive away.

While in the city, mom Lauren had heard the Quartet envoy, and husband of her sister, may be in the area. “We tried to wave them down,” she said, but “they thought we were just waving at them [as fans] so they just waved back. They thought people on the streets were waving at them, which was a bit frustrating.”

But it meant Alex had the fortuitous experience of meeting the people who had just escorted Blair around the city. His visit was reported as a chance for Blair to hear about the troubles of Palestinians in Hebron so he could better inform the decisions of the Quartet as it pushes its Middle East peace Road Map.

“As soon as Blair left, we arrived and got to speak to the local dignitaries and to the police who had been part of showing him around, and their disappointment was total,” Lauren explained.

“He was shown into the mosque and cheered in by Israeli soldiers. He went not through the cattle grid and the humiliation of checkpoints that the local population has to go through to get to their own mosque; he went in through open doors used only by Israelis. How is he going to learn, and make any judgment about what the Palestinian people need, if that’s the sort of trip he makes?”

Tony Blair - former British PM and now Middle East Quartet Envoy.

Touring the area with her mom and the group, listening to the way people talked about Blair’s visit, and what he was supposed to be doing, reminded Alex of the Hans Christian Andersen fable The Emperor’s New Clothes. The tale is of a leader who hires swindlers to make him new robes and is fooled into believing they are made of a magical fabric that only the worthy can see.

“Do you know the story of the emperor’s new clothes?" she asks, "Well the emperor is blinded by what they do, because for real there is nothing there. And I think that’s what they are doing, because when he went to visit the Old City, and well, the Israelis didn’t make him go through the metal bit to get into the mosque; he went through the wide bit. So he thinks, ‘Well, then it's right what they say, these people aren’t poor, these people aren’t under an occupation.’ That’s what they are trying to make him see, so he can make others see the same.”

“The Palestinian Authority is culpable in this as well,” Lauren adds, “they arrange these visits so that he doesn’t have tea with a local family; they go along with these supposed security issues that allow Israel to protect foreign diplomats from the supposedly violent Palestinians and they never get to see the real situation.”

Alex, however, saw the real Hebron.

“I felt a bit scared in Hebron,” she admits, tucking her legs up into the chair, “You never really could be alone. When you came in there are Israelis looking down at you, then we got to one bit, there was this big thing the Israelis could look through just to see far-er, and he had a big gun,” Alex said describing the guard towers that dot the Old City.

“She has been afraid twice,” Lauren explained, “both times because of settlers, and that’s disappointing that she had to feel that. I never want any child to have to go through that, but she did… and it really affected her.”

Going home

Wednesday was the last night for Alex and Lauren in Palestine, so thoughts turned to what would happen when she returned to class.

What did she tell her friends before leaving? “I’ve told them about the siege, but they don’t listen, my best friend listens though.”

What will she tell them when she gets back? “I think it’s a mad idea to build a wall, to think of people getting guns and building a giant wall around France and saying ‘This is England;’ it’s mad.”

Does she think her visit will prompt them to come and see the place for themselves? “I don’t really think they will, because if I tell them about the soldiers they’ll be scared… I think their parents would come first, to get to know some people and make friends, then when they know the people quite well and that they’re nice, then perhaps they’ll bring their children.”

Peace Cycle - photo by Maan News.

That comment prompts an idea in Lauren, who, along with the other members of the Peace Cycle Team, has used the trip to make connections with local initiatives, hoping to pair them with organizations in the UK and Europe. “You need to know the people first, you’re right. Do you think your classmates would want to Skype with the kids in Jenin that you met?”

Alex nods, excited about the prospect of keeping in touch with some of her new friends.

“I have brought the most precious thing in my life to Palestine with the knowledge that she will be loved and cared for,” Lauren says as the buss rolls up to take the group to a school for the blind in Beit Jala, “and that she has found this to be a place where children are adored and not in the least like she would have expected it to be as a child exposed to the news.”

Getting nervous about the visit, Alex asks if we want to hear the song she will share with the children at the school.

“Are you ready?

Free my people Palestine - Sing it loud
We will never let you die - Sing it loud
Palestine West Bank Ramallah Gaza, this is for the child that is looking for an answer
I wish I could take your tears and turn them into laughter
Long live Palestine, Long live Gaza!”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Today in Jerusalem

Dear friends,

My friend, Dominique, who I worked with in Palestine a year or two ago is currently back in Palestine working with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).

Please find below Dominique's account of what happened in Jerusalem today when the Israeli state destroyed more Palestinian homes.

I have asked her if I could share her account of it with all of you and she was fine for me to pass it on. As you will see, Dominique's writing is informative, insightful and very moving.

According to Dominique in another post I recieved from her, all up today three house were demolished and 40 people were left homeless. As she notes in her blog, the rains and winter have just started and I can say for personal experience, winter is very, very cold in Palestine.

With her permission, I will also be regularly posting up a variety of her updates onto the Live from Occupied Palestine blog.

You can visit her blog: De L'autre Cote du Mur (From The Other Side of the Wall), which has a range of photos as well at

In solidarity,

Dominique writes:

Today in Jerusalem

2 November, 2009

When talking about Palestine and Palestinian's rights it is difficult to decide where to start. So I will just tell you day about my day of today.

9:39am: I am drinking my second cup of tea, trying to do my arabic homework, (last minute as usual) when I got a text message “ DWG alert : demolition ongoing of a structure in Abu Dur in East Jerusalem. For further info call xxx”. I ring the number, try to get info about this address and figure out if it is still time to get there or if everything is already over.

I jump into a taxi, and start grumbling against Jerusalem's traffic. When we reach Abu Dur, a truck blocks the street. I get out the taxi, decided to find the place walking. But I realize I am in a very Jewish and “bourgeois” neighbourhood. Obviously nobody is going to demolish anything here. Did I misunderstood the indication? Did the taxi driver make a bad joke? I get down the hill looking for buldozers. Finally the neighbourhood's look changes. Smaller houses, pourer, narrow streets. Much more arabic looking. And suddenly 4 soldiers heavily equipped. They stare at me. I don't look very local. “Where are you going?” “I'm visiting” “Visiting whom? “nobody, just looking for a nice place to take photos” “Passport?”

Soldiers at today's house demolitions making way for bulldozer
Photo by ICAHD:

10:25am: After checking my passport they let me go through. I hate them but at least I know I am on the right way now. And a few hundreds meters further I reach the crime scene. The house, I mean the rubble.

A woman crying, another shouting her anger. Buldozers and police left a few minutes ago. Men from the family and neighbours are already active trying to clean the place. They received an order from the municipal representative to clear out all the rubble that used to be their home within a week, otherwise they would receive a fine.

The few belongings the family managed to save are piled on the street. A children bike, books, a cupboard, toys, kitchen items. That's it. 2 houses, 16 persons just lost their all house, home, history, dignity, hope.

The father of the family fainted twice during the demolition, and was hospitalized.

Atmosphere is oppressive. A few people taking pictures, a few journalists. I meet people from Icahd, the ngo I volunteer with. Closed faces. What can we do or say? I don't know and feel ashamed and sad.

11am: Time to go. I'm already late for my arabic class though I promised myself I would not miss any.

During an hour and half I try to focus on grammar. I don't feel comfortable to speak about much with other students. This is life in Israel. Deal with ignorance at the best, and hate at the worst in your daily life.But I am the lucky one, I can go from one side to the other.

13h50: I am at Icahd' office in West Jerusalem. I am determined to focus on the advocacy document I am supposed to work on.

14h: phone call: new house demolition in Beit Hanina. We try to get more information before jumping into a taxi again, an arab one preferably cause others usually refuse to go to this part of Jerusalem.

14h30 : still in the taxi, tens of phone calls to try to locate the house.

15h : we found it. Again to late. Buldozers left half an hour ago. 22 persons homeless. A family with 10 children, plus grand-children. This house was built seven years ago. They have already payed 42000 shekels ( more than 8000 euros) as fines to 'regularize' their situation. Yesterday, the court ruled it was illegal. This morning the family received demolition order. this afternoon the buldozers.
Some families live years under demolition order. Not them. You never know when and where they are going to demolish one of the thousands of houses declared illegal. And one day, you see the buldozers coming, you have ten minutes to pack and then it's over. A woman from the family fainted when she saw the buldozers. The army called an ambulance. The ambulance treated her. Then the army gave the family the bill for the ambulance... They will then receive the bill for the demolition cost. Arrogance, cynism have no limit here.

A few months ago, the municipality told the family that if they would destroy by themselves the small annex they have, they would not touch the main house. The owner did it. He took off the roof and walls of the adjacent small building. Now he has absolutely nothing.

Is it necessary to add that it is raining and cold winter has just started.

I am there with an israeli activist from Icahd. Communication is therefore in hebrew. I can just take a few pictures. The only one smiling here is the little girl, maybe 4 years old. She asks me “Leish?” showing the destroyed house. This, I understand : “Why?”. I cannot answer anything, in whatever language.

After a few months of pause, the municipality of Jerusalem has clearly reinstated its illegal and racist policy of house demolitions in East Jerusalem. 11 within the last 3 weeks. These houses are ruled illegal by a municipality which does not grant any construction permits to Arabs but who promotes illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.

My day is not over but it's enough for now, Masalama.