Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Israelis strike back

Like every nation in the world, Israel has a right to protect its citizens and its borders. The complication in that tiny strech of land in the middle-east is that its citizens and borders remain so confused and disputed. The Palestinians living in Gaza are technically considered citizens of Israel by some members of the international community, and in fact only 96 nations currently recognise a Palestinian state, while less than 30 recognise the Palestinian passport issued by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1995. That being said, Israel is fighting a war very close to home.

Israel has suffered for decades (and continues to suffer) from internal terrorism. Londoners experince a common uneasiness everytime we use public transport. We can only imagine what it must be like being an Israeli. For those living in close proximity to Gaza even the home does not provide the safety it is usually associated with, for there is always the chance that a Gaza-based rocket may be launched into the property. Cafes, restaurants, sopping malls, buses, government buildings and private dwellings have all been the target of Palestinian terrorism in the past. According to CNN some 84 rockets were fired at Israeli civilian targets on the 27th of December, while some 124 rockets were reportedly fired on the morning of the 29th alone. Conservative Friends of Israel tells us that 5,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel by Palestinian militants since Israel withdrew its military forces from the territory in the summer of 2005. It is important to remember that these weapons are fired indiscriminately. They kill civilians and destroy private buildings. They are not targeted at commercial interests or Israeli security service buildings and no warning it provided in order to ensure safe evacuation of innocent citizens. They are indescriminate acts of terrorism. Israel has a right to defend itself from such attacks, and it's no surprise that the majority of Israelis support their government's offensive.

Unfortunatley however things are not that simple. Palestinian civilians are inevitable being killed in the offensive, reportedly at a rate of 1 to 3. But Hamas and its agents are blameworthy for this too. It is a popular strategy of Hamas and Gaza-based terrorists to launch rockets from residential areas as a means of protecting themselves from Israeli retaliation. These rockets are not harmless and one wonders how they would be reported by the media if it were Israelis launching rockets into Gaza with the full support of the Israeli government.

Of great concern is the situation on the ground in Gaza. Blood and medical supplies are likley scarce and Israeli bombs will inevitably destroy important infrastructure such as roads, making it difficult to transport the injured. Whether or not Hamas and Eqypt will come to an arrangment regarding supplies from that north African state is presently unknown. Hamas is not particularly pleased with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who bluntly told it "You [Hamas] have brought this upon yourselves. You are responsible for what is happening to the people of Gaza."

The people of Gaza can thererore perhaps blame Hamas for this tragedy as much as they can the Israeli military which continues to pound their territory. No doubt that is what Israel wants. Hamas has allowed (and encouraged) terrorists to operate in Gaza and publically states that it seeks the destruction of the state of Israel. The organisation was however democratically elected in the 2006 Gazan elections. Whether or not an organisation listed as "terrorist" by Canada, Japan, the US and the majority of the EU member states can be considered a legitimate political party is debatable, but doesn't change the fact that Palestinians in Gaza voted for candidates openly representing Hamas in elections a mere two years ago. Undoubtedly Israel hopes to identify Hamas as the indirect source of Gaza's battering. I order for this Israeli offensive to be truly successful it is important that there is a cultural shift in Gaza. That may be acheived by this warfare, but at what cost? Over 250 people have reportedly been killed in Gaza so far and that numbert is likely to increase significantly. There is the real possibility that Hamas will exploit such deaths and actually increase its support. That being said, this Israeli offensive could actually have the counterproductive of pushing Gazans who don't currently support Hamas into becoming its supporters. That is something Israel needs to thoroughly consider. The alternative is of course more sinister. Israel may be better equipted to deal with Hamas while it is operating openly. Driving it under ground and making martyres out of its leadership and supporters could in the long-term hurt Israel more than the current rocket attacks hurt it.

There are three objectives to Israel's airstrikes: the simplest and most immediate is to stop the rocket attacks which target private Israeli targets on a daily basis. The mid-term objective is to materially weaken Hamas by destroying its compounds and killing its members and senior figures. The long-term objective of turning ordinary Palestinians against Hamas may not be as simple to achieve. If Israel chooses a protracted campaign, and possibly ground war as is looking inevitable, it is taking a significant gamble. The ultimate objective in all is to cripple Hamas, for even Israel must accept that it will very doubtfully ever be completely destoryed. A ground offensive may be Israel's next best move. They can minimise civilian fatalities and perhaps restore a semblance of order in Gaza. Soldiers can also be used to transport much-needed supplies into Gaza.

There's no doubt that Israel has chosen its moment shrewdly. Most parliaments and congresses in the west are in recess for the Christmas break and there is a power vacuum in the white house as George W. Bush says goodbye to the oval office and Barack Obama enjoys the beaches of Hawaii. There are noises of a pan-Arabian coalition being organised. One is reminded of the six-day war when the Israeli military destroyed the last pan-Arabian military coalition organised against it. One outcome of that campaign ironically enough was Israel's takeover of the Gaza strip. Whether or not there is such a thing as a "Palestinian" people or a "Palestinian land" is a debate I don't intend to tackle in this post, but Gaza's Arab population may benefit from bearing it in mind for Israel surely will and will use it ideologically against any pan-Arabian coalition. One is reminded of Golda Meir's quote: "There was no such thing as Palestinians ... It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist." The areas now claimed as "Palestine" we after all, until the 1960s, part of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, and a large number of Palestinians hold citizenship in those countries. The international community should remember that often over-looked fact.





Friday, 5 December 2008

Obama's predictable move

So U.S. president-elect Barack Obama has made the predictable move of appointing his Democractic presidential-nominee rival, Hilary Clinton, secretary of state. One can understand the logic behind Mr Obama's move, but I think in the long-term he may well cause more damage to himself than the protection he seeks.

The election of Obama is a watershed event for the United States. Concurrently, Obama's appointment of Hilary Clinton may well provide the break Mrs Clinton needed to ensure that she is elected first female president of the United States, just as Sarah Palin's election to the vice-presidency would have almost certainly paved the way for her eventual (attempted) ascension to the presidency from political obscurity had Republican Senator John McCain's presidential bid been successful. Like Clinton will Obama, Palin would most probably have caused McCain more problems than protection.

In appointing Clinton, Obama has almost certainly facilitated the operation of a powerful "enemy within" his administration, albeit one with a friendly face. Clinton may well become Obama's Gordon Brown, just ask Tony Blair. One can understand Obama's motivation: to ensure the support of the Clintonian wing of his party. However, we all know that Clinton desperately wants to be president. Secretary of state is a position which will allow the former first-lady to meet and deal with powerful people domestically and internationally. There can be little doubt that the new secretary of state will use her position, and the doors it will open, to ensure her ascension, and possibly Obama's downfall if he stands in her way.

By trying to unite the Democrats and ensure partisan loyalty, the president-elect may well have paradoxically ensured disloyalty and facilitated political schemery. Clinton will be in a position to constantly undermine the president whenever subtely feasible. She will be in a position to negotiate with foreign leaders and senior diplomats and domestic figures to build support for herself and play Obama's supporters against themselves. In appointing Hilary Clinton as his secretary of state, Obama may well have set in motion his own downfall and ensured that we will see a female U.S. president in 8 years time. Hilary Clinton will prove to be Obama's wolf in sheep's clothing.

Should Citizenship be a given?

As the global credit crunch looms and terrorist attacks occur at home and in faraway lands hitherto associated with serenity and opulence (Bali and more recently Mumbai) I find myself asking "should citizenship be a given right"?

In the UK we are battered daily by stories about British-born Islamic terrorists, unrestrained urban knife crime, elderly poverty, fuel poverty and benefit theft. I recently returned to London having been away for a week and as I entered the urban sprawl that is the city I experienced the feeling that I was entering the old wild west. It was ultimately a feeling of lawlessness. It wasn't the first time that I had felt this feeling as I drove into the city from "out of town." In fact the question that forms the title of this post, which is intended to create discussion and provide food-for-thought not advocate an actual policy, first arrived in my mind after I moved to the wild west that is modern London some seven years ago. But this isn't a story unique to London. The point of this post is to consider an alternative form of the provision of citizenship.

The UK is falling apart at the seems, or so it seems if we are to believe the constant stories of crime, hatred and social corruption in Britain. There is no doubt that the country of my birth is a vastly different place than it was a mere decade ago. There are a number of factors that can account for this: nanny-state liberal welfarism which has created a "benefit culture" that prevents those who ought to be working from working (for example capable asylum-seekers) and rewards those who simply don't want to work. In all of this the honest hard-working taxpayer is the victim, for it is our National Insurance Contributions that fund this escapade. Virtually unrestricted immigration from the other 26 member states of the European Union and some Commonwealth countries has had a drastic affect on British society. Schools, the National Health Service and Sewage and waste management facilities are all at breaking point in some parts of the Union (Slough and Peterborough are good examples). The decadely national census is virtually useless. Unrestrained banks have over stretched themselves using savers' money and a passive and inept judiciary and obsessively politically-correct police forces seem entirely incapable of enforcing and interpreting the law. It would be easy to place the blame entirely on government policies and the governing agencies and organisations. However, though governing agencies such as the Home Office and the judiciary are ultimately responsible for allowing the country to sink to the level of depravity it has currently reached, we, the citizenry, need to accept some of the responsibility. The British, particularly the English, are notoriously passive and apathetic. We are known for not even complaining if food is served cold in a restaurant, so mobilising to confront government .... forget it. It's time that we took advantage of our democratic heritage and demanded change. What is the point in our soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for the sake of "democracy" if we don't even practice our democratic rights here in Britain? Perhaps it is time to consider making citizenship an earner honour rather than a given birthright.

The fact that hate-preachers such as Abu Hamza, who has publicly claimed that if he had the means to go back to Afghanistan and kill a British soldier he would "love to do so", and 21/7 wannabe-terrorist Yassin Omar both lived in housing accommodation at the time of their arrests is such a sickening insult to public decency, when we have second world war veterans living in fuel poverty. Omar's terrorist co-conspiracist, Muktar Said Ibrahim was granted British citizenship after serving five years in a UK young Offenders Institute for robbery and assault.

I don't intend this post to degenerate into an immigration debate, but rather provide a platform for discussing the rights and duties of citizens. A lot of people won't like this but just hear me out for a minute before you make any judgements: what if we told all residents, immigrant and British-born that they had to EARN their citizenship. That's right, earned citizenship. A policy intended to weed out undesirables from applying for, and receiving citizenship, and to install the notion that citizenship is a privilege not a birthright, and one not to be taken for granted.

What are the practicalities of such as policy and how could it be enforced? There's a lot of scope here. One possibility is to identify British-born children as Full British Citizens (FBC) until age 19. This would entitle them to all the benefits of FBC until they reach a predetermined age (in this example 19). Once they reach this age they would automatically become British Resident-Citizens (BRC) unless they had already fulfilled a number of citizenship requirements. These requirements would not be obligatory and any individual could chose to ignore them and to continue to live in the UK as a BRC. However in doing so they would forfeit any right to certain citizenship benefits, such as welfare provision and National Health Service treatment (other than in emergencies). Of course these individuals would have passports, clearly stating their status, entitling them to travel. Any individual who opted out of applying for FBC at age 19 could do so anytime thereafter, providing they had met the requirements in the interim. Likewise, before any foreign-born British residents could be eligible for nationality and subsequently citizenship they too would have to fulfill the requirements. Of course certain incapable individuals, such as the genuinely disabled and mentally incapable, would be exempt.

Now to the requirements. There is much scope here too, but I have had some ideas. These requirements aren't intended as punishment, rather they are intended to install pride in ones citizenship, community spirit and an understanding of democracy and justice in the citizenry. An additional benefit would be the deterrent value that such compulsory requirements would have on potential undesirable immigrants who are unprepared to earn the rights this country has to offer. In order to qualify for FBC, BRCs or FBCs under the age of 19 would have to prove their commitment to their local communities or the nation, their work ethic and their character. They must be able to demonstrate that they have worked and paid tax and national insurance contributions for at least 2 full years. They must be able to demonstrate that they have performed a national duty or community-based duties. Here individuals will have choices. Those interested in the military may opt to serve in one of the armed forces for a period of 12 months on a subsistence level. This could be done on a full-time or pat-time basis (eg. weekends). Those with no such desire may opt to perform a series of civil duties. These duties could include voluntary community policing, road and street cleaning, coaching local youngsters and being involved in local youth centres and assisting the elderly. Individuals choosing the latter option could decide whether they wanted to dedicate themselves full-time to their voluntary assignments or to fulfill their requirements on a part-time basis as they work and thus pay tax and national insurance contributions. Individuals should be prepared to perform their civil duties for perhaps 1,200 hours. On a part-time basis that would work out at about 12 hours per week over a 2 year period. The latter option would make it possible for individuals to move from BRC to FBC within about two and a half years. School-leavers aged 16 could have fulfilled their requirements by the time they reach their 19th birthday and consequently would never be reclassified as BRCs.

The requirements above would be applicable if the individual had a clean or only minor criminal history. For those with an extensive or serious criminal history the requirements would be more rigorous and extensive and the applicant would have to provide demonstrable evidence of their rehabilitation and regret. Foreign-born residents who had a serious or extensive criminal history would be automatically precluded from applying. Other requirements could include the successful completion of a high school or equivalent education, the successful sitting of a "Life in the UK" exam to demonstrate a knowledge of the history, culture and governance of the UK, and for foreign-born residents, an English competency exam and health check.

To some people such a policy would probably be slandered as "fascist." To others it may be too little too late. I believe there may be something to it. It would need a lot of work and consideration before being implemented, and of course strict measures would have to be imposed to avoid fraud and corruption. But potential obstacles aside, just have a think about the benefits for us all, as a nation, before your immediately reject it.

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