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Raffique Shah


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Poverty Facts and Fiction

By Raffique Shah
July 18, 2010

Those among us who keep abreast of international developments will have noted huge protest demonstrations in Israel most of last week. This kind of action is unusual. Small numbers of Israelis who oppose their government's policies towards the Palestinians and atrocities committed by their military, hardly come out in the open for fear of their lives and liberty. Last week's protests were not only big, but apparently supported by the state apparatus.

What was it all about? One Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Hamas forces when the Israeli war machine rolled into the Gaza in 2006. During that invasion, the Israeli forces committed so many atrocities, even some of its soldiers spoke out openly against the inhumane way they went about that "war". The lone Israeli soldier captured, Shalit has remained in Hamas' hands ever since. He has appeared in several videos looking well and pleading with his government to secure his release.

Israel has agreed to Hamas' demands for the release of 1,000 Palestinians held in its jails, in return for Shalit. What both sides cannot agree on is the list of Palestinians to be released. An estimated 7,500 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli prisons. Indeed, if one adds Israel's blockade of the Gaza, millions of Palestinians are "imprisoned" in their own country. But for two countries at the UN (the USA and Taiwan, I believe), all nations have called on Israel to lift the blockade which Prime Minister Netanyahu "eased" immediately before his meeting last week with President Obama.

Note I have not added into the gross-injustice-mix the seizure of Palestinian and neighbouring Arab nations' lands, the diversion of water to Israel (hence its highly touted agricultural successes), and the establishment of Jewish settlements on the disputed lands.

Israel has flaunted its US-financed military prowess in the faces of the global community that demands a just Mid-East settlement so that the wider world may live in peace.

Make no mistake about it: for as long as there is no peace in that part of the world, acts of terrorism by militant Islamic groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban will intensify. None of us is safe, not because these groups want to "Islamise" the world, but because of the glaring injustices the Palestinians are subjected to. Recently, Lebanon-based Sheik Nasrallah, who heads the Hezbollah movement, warned of a major war a-coming because of Israel's recalcitrance.

Bear in mind Hezbollah put a licking on Israel in 2006, the first time Israeli forces suffered multiple deaths, destruction of its armour, and withdrawal of its soldiers across its border, some crying as they retreated. Oh, Israeli air-power levelled large chunks of Lebanon, including critical infrastructure like bridges, roads, housing, etc. But on the ground, which is where a war is won or lost, it fared badly.

Now, the drums of war can be heard again, this time with Iran being the prime target. The most powerful nations in the world, all of which already have huge arsenals of nuclear bombs and warheads, are intent on denying Iran the right to build nuclear power plants. Readers should note that Iran's first considered nuclear power way back in the 1970s when the Shah was in power. It was backed solidly by the US then. So Israel must be allowed however many nuclear weapons it has failed to declare, but, even at the cost of war, Iran must be denied nuclear power.

These are the injustices that plague the world, the sources of conflict that cost inordinate loss of lives and destruction of infrastructure and property. More than that, they also make the entire world a more dangerous place for you and me. Because when people who harbour strong positions against injustice strike, they invariably do so blindly. Whatever target is "soft" will be attacked.

This discourse brings me back to what I raised two weeks ago in my column: while all men might have been created equal, some are more equal than others. I dealt with how America has always valued its citizens' lives as being far more worthy than all others'. Here we have another case of Israel offering to release 1,000 prisoners for the return of one of its soldiers. Little wonder it could casually "imprison" an entire people in their own country, starve them, deny them water and an indifferent world allows them to get away with mass murder.

Briefly, I wish to put this in the Caribbean context. A few weeks ago, amidst much controversy and bloodletting, Jamaica bowed to the US demand for extradition of alleged drug baron "Dudus" Coke. Trinidad has long extradited alleged drug offenders to the USA to face trial and certain jail. We have also given them alleged terrorists who look more like geriatric jokers than mass killers.

In October 1976, a Cubana Airlines plane with 70-odd persons on board was blown up shortly after it left Barbados. Thanks to quick response by Barbados and Trinidad police, the two bombers were arrested in Trinidad. Their accomplices were later arrested elsewhere and they were tried and jailed in Venezuela. They mysteriously escaped. One, a CIA operative named Luis Posada, later turned up in Florida.

The US has repeatedly refused to extradite him to Venezuela. I ask: why should we extradite Ish and Steve, or anyone else, to the USA?

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