The room was packed when Bruce Kent addressed the Merton UNA lunchtime meeting on October 22nd. His theme was ‘Building a world free of war’ and he spoke in general terms for about a quarter of an hour before tackling the inevitable question of Iraq (“a cloud which is hanging heavy”).
He defended the concept of the abolition of war in vigorous practical terms. He admitted that it sounds like “a completely daft idea” but pointed out that it is a very old idea which can be traced back at least as far as Bible times (“swords into ploughshares”). He showed how the aspirations of the idealists had time and again been deliberately wrecked by governments with short-term vested interests. The UK government must take its share of responsibility for the collapse of the League of Nations, and the UK delegate to the 1899 Hague Conference was Admiral Fisher, a leading ‘hawk’ of the day who cast the single vote against the banning on humanitarian grounds of the notorious ‘dum-dum’ bullets.
We were reminded of the Preamble to the United Nations charter (“We the peoples.... determine to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”) and the spirit of idealism in which the UN was set up. (The Charter was in fact stylistically closely modelled on the US Declaration of Independence by its American woman author.)
We must be wary of saying the UN has ‘failed’ — the specialist agencies of the UN have been a conspicuous success — but the UN has had virtually no success in preventing war. There have been about 20 million war casualties since the end of the Cold War and there are about 20 wars going on world wide at the moment. War has changed its nature. Wars between nation states (the scenario for which the UN was set up) are generally being replaced by civil wars, weaponry has changed (invulnerable planes can hit targets from 5 miles up) and most war casualties are now civilians.
We were reminded that the argument “we’ve always done it” is no argument at all. We should examine the gap between what is domestically normal and the rules of international politics. At home, we don’t shoot our awkward neighbours — we don’t expect neighbouring children to die from starvation and preventable disease — we accept that anyone in the community can stand for election — all can go to the church of their choice, etc. There will never be peace internationally until the same standards apply worldwide.
The big difference between the domestic and international scenes is that at domestic level we accept the rule of law — but nations do not have to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, nor have all signed up to the International Criminal Court (the USA being a conspicuous absentee, of course). International law will never be effective until it embraces everybody.
Referring directly to Iraq, Bruce reminded us that Saddam Hussein was created and armed by the Western powers. (Iraq was still ‘our boy’ at the time of the poison gas attack on the Kurds of Halabja).
The UN Charter clearly states that states can only attack if attacked by another state, and there is an absolute obligation to explore all alternative means to armed conflict. The Security Council is not a free agent when discussing Iraq: it is an organ of the United Nations and bound by the UN charter. We must challenge the common media assumption that the Security Council is a law unto itself.
We must defend the UN charter. “War is not inevitable and the war against Iraq is not inevitable.... Saddam is the problem and war on Iraq is not the solution.”
Report by Joanna Bazley
CND believes that international nuclear disarmament can be brought about only by diplomacy and negotiation, not by military action. United Nations resolutions and international treaties including the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) must be adhered to by all nations, not just Iraq.
The UN resolution 687 (the cease-fire resolution agreed at the end of the Gulf War in 1991) calls for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East. This includes Israel yet there are no challenges to Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. It also calls for adherence to the NPT, exactly the treaty that the US and UK are breaking by their continued possession of nuclear weapons and by their failure to promote negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.
At the WDC/CND meeting on October 22nd we watched a video of John Pilger’s powerful TV documentary on Palestine. The most impressive contribution came from a Jewish father whose young daughter had been killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. This was a man who wanted to search for peace rather than revenge, and who despite his own personal tragedy could understand and sympathise with the despair that motivated the Palestinian bombers.
On November 25th we shall be welcoming to Wimbledon representatives from a remarkable group of young Israelis — the ‘refuseniks’ who defy their government and refuse to serve in the Israeli armed forces in the occupied territories.
Two speakers from Israel have been invited: one from the group of ‘seniors’ (high school students) and one from Yesh Gvul, the most veteran Refusenik group which was established during the Lebanon war in 1982. It is also hoped that a member of The Courage to Refuse (the newest Refusenik group and the one that has been most heard of in the media here) will be present.
The Wimbledon meeting is just one part of a frenetic three-week schedule which will take these speakers all over the country. One of the purposes of the tour is fundraising, as many of the refuseniks are sustaining their protest at great financial cost to their families as well as personal cost to themselves.
It is now twelve months since some of us came together to found a regular Friday vigil in the aftermath of September 11th, and we decided to mark the occasion with a small party after the vigil on October 25th. Despite the continuing gloom of the international situation we felt that we had much to celebrate — the fact that we have maintained our weekly presence without a break, the many thousands of leaflets we have given out, the many hundreds of conversations we have had with passers-by, the signatures we have collected on our petitions:— and not least, the friendships we have forged amongst ourselves. It was a happy occasion, and we are very grateful to Wimbledon Quaker Meeting for the hospitality of their meeting house.
17 September 2002
To the Prime Minister, Mr. Ariel Sharon,
It has been a year now since we, 62 Israeli boys and girls raised in Israel, sent you a letter announcing that we will not take part in the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people. Today, with a worse situation in Israel and in the Territories, we say it again, together with many who have joined us: we refuse to be soldiers for the occupation.
The state of Israel commits war-crimes and tramples over human rights, destroying Palestinian cities, towns and villages; expropriating land, detaining and executing without trial, conducting mass-demolition of houses, businesses, and public institutions; looting, closure, curfew, torture, preventing the administration of medical care, constructing and expanding settlements — All these actions are opposed to human morality, and violate international treaties ratified by Israel. In these and other actions Israel systematically prevents Palestinians from maintaining any reasonable life. This reality leads to suffering, fear, and despair, which yield terror attacks. Therefore, the occupation is not only immoral; but it also damages the security of Israel’s citizens and residents. Such security will be achieved only through a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
When the elected government tramples over democratic values and the chances for a just peace in the region, we have no choice but to obey our conscience and refuse to take part in the attack on the Palestinian people. As youth about to be called to serve in the military we pledge to do all that we see fit so as not to serve the occupation. Some of us will refuse to serve beyond the green line, others will avoid military service in other ways — we view all these means as legitimate and necessary, and we call on other youth, conscripts, soldiers in the standing army and reserve service soldiers to do the same.
Signed by 240 high school students
Minister of Defense, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer
Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya’alon
Those who missed our evening of ‘Poems and Songs for Peace and Freedom’ at Merton Abbey Mills on September 29th missed an evening of rare enjoyment. The evening was opened by Strawberry Thieves founder John Hamilton reading Adrian Mitchell’s magnificent poem ‘Blood & Oil’ — as bitingly relevant now as when it was written at the time of the first Gulf War.
The four visiting poets from Bromley and Beckenham CND then each read a selection of their own work, by turns moving, lyrical and satirical, but always deeply-felt and personal. Despite their exertions of the previous day (when they had sung alongside the great anti-war demonstration for several hours) the Strawberry Thieves choir interspersed these readings with songs from their inimitable socialist repertory. The evening ended with pleasant socialising around the Colour House Theatre bar.
[Copies of the two recently published books ‘Scatter White Poppies’ and ‘Inherited from Pioneers’ can be obtained from Bromley and Beckenham CND, 31 Plaistow Grove, Bromley BR1 3PB, tel: 020 8460 1295]
BLOOD AND OIL
by Adrian Mitchell
To the British Armed Forces
And once again the politicians
Whose greatest talent is for lying
Are sending you where they’re afraid to go
To do their killing and their dying.
You are young and you’ve been trained to fight,
You’re brave and well-equipped and loyal.
That’s why they’re sending you to Hell -
Blood and Oil.
It’s not to defend the Falklands sheep
Or keep Christians apart in Ireland
But to sit in a tank until you are moved
On a giant chessboard of desert sand.
You’re not there to fight against tyranny,
Or free hostages or defend British soil
But for economics, the dollars of death -
Blood and Oil.
And the soldiers you fight will be young men
With no reason to kill, young men like you
With beautiful families back home
And some with wives and children too.
But no politicians will be there
When the lungs tear and the arteries boil
They’ll be filmed with survivors in hospital -
Blood and Oil.
Yes, once again the politicians
Whose greatest talent is for lying
Are sending their young men where old men dare not go
To do their killing and their dying -
Blood and Oil
Blood and Oil
Blood and Oil
Please try to find the time to write to:
Lisa Smith, Senior Planning Officer, Planning Department, West Berkshire Council, Market Street, Newbury RG14 5DL (email@example.com)
asking for a public enquiry into probable development at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermaston.
The proposals include a giant hydrodynamics testing facility and the biggest laser in Europe, which together will be able to replicate nuclear tests forbidden under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Officially these facilities are there to ensure the safety and reliability of Trident (itself incompatible with UK obligations under the NPT) but Aldermaston spokespeople also admit that the new facilities could be used to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons as a replacement for Trident “should the government request it.”
Ask for a public enquiry because:
[Based on information supplied by Jenny Maxwell — contact West Midlands CND 0121-643-4617 if you would like to become a regular member of her letter-writing team.]