The US will claim success if Israel pulls back its heavy weapons from some of the occupied Palestinian towns. But the world knows that this will not stop the tanks moving back whenever the Israeli leaders choose.
The whole business of US shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East is dishonest. Washington has its own economic and strategic interests to serve in the region and supports Israel financially and politically.
Israel is a catspaw of the US and is only able to wage its terrible war against Palestine because of the steady inflow of US dollars. We all remember that in the Gulf War the United States refused to let Israel retaliate when it was hit by Iraqi Scud missiles and Israel had to accept its master's orders.
So it is clear that America does not need to play peace charades with Israel -- it only does so to look as though it is trying to do its best for peace. It's real agenda is to assist Israel in its oppressive programme against the Palestinians.
The so-called peace negotiations are a sham. There is no recognition of the illegality and injustice of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land. There is no attempt to address the years of Israeli oppression, no condemnation of Israel's policy of building Jewish settlements to steal more Palestinian land. And while there are some crocodile tears being shed about the atrocity in the refugee camp in Jenin -- there has been no questioning of why Palestinians are still forced to have refugee settlements in their own country.
The tragedy in the Middle East will not be ended by the likes of Colin Powell and George W Bush. Peace will only come when justice is served. That demands solidarity with the Palestinians and a worldwide tide of protest at Israel's policy of expansion and terror.
Public demonstrations are growing across the world, though many are not reported in the western media. Let's make it big! Join the demonstration on 18 May in London!
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by Daphne Liddle
CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown last week delivered another budget that seemed to be generous to the NHS and to low paid workers but was really for the benefit of big business.
He has increased National Insurance contributions by one per cent to fund a big rise in health spending.
Mr Brown had been signalling for some time that tax rises of some kind were going to be necessary toprovide the NHS with a much needed injection of funds.
The extent of the rise will cost a worker on £21,400 a year an extra £3.70 a week. Most will be thinking this is not as bad as it could have been.
But it puts the main burden of taxation once again on ordinary workers while letting the very rich off of making a contribution in proportion to their ability to pay.
Most people do not mind paying a bit more for a better health service -- as long as this is delivered. But with the Labour leadership wedded to bringing more private sector involvement into the NHS, the danger is that too much of this extra spending -- an extra 40 per cent over the next five years -- will disappear into private pockets.
Mr Brown based his estimate that the NHS will need more than double its current funding by the year 2022 on the recently published Wanless report.
Most health workers would heartily agree with this but they and their patients will get little benefit after the PFI companies and big drugs cartels have plundered it for their profits.
The giant general union Amicus has acknowledged that the extra spending on the NHS will be of great benfit to the private sector.
And there is a nasty little sting in the tail for sick people who are hard-up -- Mr Brown commented that prescription charge exemptions are "not logical", suggesting the most hard-up and vulnerable may soon have to pay more charges for the medicines they need.
The Chancellor also announced considerable extension of the tax credit system for workers. This started out as family tax credit aimed, Mr Brown claimed, to end child poverty.
Since it was only payable to parents in work full-time, it totally failed to reach many of the poorest children.
Now it is extended to childless couples on low pay and even to single workers, giving them a minimum Income of £154 a week "to make work pay" and ensure those in work are always better off than those on benefits.
Of course the real beneficiaries here once again are the bosses, especially those who pay the lowest wages. They get their wages bill topped up by taxpayers.
It is not only small businesses that benefit from this. Many of the big high street chains and multi-nationals pay very low wages. And of course the unemployment statistics are kept low as people are forced into the worst and lowest paid jobs in the service sector and the manufacturing sector -- the great wealth creation engine which ultimately supports all other sectors -- continues to falter and fail.
Once again Mr Brown has pretended to be generous to pensioners while kicking them in the teeth. He has pledged a guaranteed rise of £100 a year in the basic state pension, no matter what inflation is doing.
This amounts to under £2 a week and is a long way from the respectable rise demanded by the pensioners' movement to restore the value of the basic state pension -- and even further from the restoration of the link with average earnings.
This year, pensioners will get an extra £3 a week but in future the rises will not even be linked to inflation. £100 a year is only just over one per cent on the basic. In most years inflation is a good bit more than this. It could easily rise very steeply, this is beyond Mr Brown's control.
But he admitted he hoped to keep inflation at 2.5 per cent -- well above the annual rise he plans to give pensioners.
A rise of just £100 a year will see the value of the basic state pension fall even more than before. Pensioners are being betrayed here.
Clearly the motive is to force people to seek private pensions even though these schemes are daily seen to be failing to deliver on their promises and leaving those approaching retirement with a bleak prospect of poverty.
Budgets for primary schools are to rise from £33,750 to £39,300 and for secondary schools they will rise by £16,200 to £114,700 -- not enough to pay for a single extra teacher.
Eighty-five million has been designated for school repairs (how much into private pockets?) and £87 million to be diverted (not extra cash) into improving behaviour.
The best way to improve standards of behaviour is to employ a lot more teachers so they can give a lot more time and attention to pupils with different needs, make them feel valued and motivated and prevent them falling into bad behaviour patterns in the first place.
But these budgets will not solve the teacher recruitment crisis.
Another £180 million will be set aside to tackle street crime. How much of this will end in private pockets?
Small breweries are to get a tax break, with the duty on their beer halved "in time for the World Cup". This hardly squares with policies to discourage drunkeness that is associated with football hooliganism.
Fuel tax will be frozen with some very small incentives on licence fees to buy "green" cars.
Foreign lorries will be charged extra for using the roads in Britain.
What is desperately needed is big investment in public transport to make it more attractive and discourage unnecessary car use. But favouring public transport over private cars is not what the giant oil companies want.
Small companies are to get a one per cent cut in taxes from 20 percent to 19 per cent. Big companies will get big tax cuts for research and development. Their creative accountants are sure to be able to describe almost any activity as "research".
And companies will get tax perks for embracing the internet.
One idea not yet in the budget but mooted by several Blairites in the last few days is state funding for political parties.
This would of course free the Parliamentary Labour leadership from the pressure being put by the unions to drop further privatisation plans.
It would also give the three major mainstream parties a guaranteed income and independence, no matter how unpopular they were with their members or the electorate. And it would freeze out all other parties into fringe non-entities.
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by Ray Jones
A £55,000 BARN set alight by people believed to be Gypsies; excrement smeared on a bus shelter blamed on Gypsies: these are statements found in local papers and are far from rare. When such allegations are found to be false they are rarely retracted. Gypsies, or Roma, as many prefer to be called, certainly get a bad press.
The High Wycombe Midweek editorial can hardly be accused of pulling its punches when it said, "It is a tragedy that our society continues to tolerate and even subsidise these ragbag vagabonds who sponge off the state and steal it blind... Set up a Gypsy site next to Sellafield where they can pinch as much radiation as they like."
In January this year an MP described gypsies and travellers as "scum", not entitled to human rights, during a debate in the House of Commons.
Roma will have been angry and offended but I doubt they will have been very surprised. They have been the target of abuse and discrimination in Britain since they arrived in the late middle ages after their long trek from India. In 1530 Henry VIII ordered them to leave the country within 40 days unless they gave up their "naughty, idle and ungodly life".
New laws were enacted against the nomadic life style of the Roma to try to force them to conform or depart. It is hardly surprising that the state in the late feudal period should take such an attitude. Society was, in theory at least, static, unchanging and unmoving.
Everyone was supposed to know their place and keep to it. The vast majority of people worked the land and lived its unchanging circle of seasons; the lord sat in his hall, priest in the church and God in His heaven. The powers that be could well do without these living proofs that another way of life was possible. However it appears that Roma were not initially disliked by ordinary people at this time.
No doubt villagers found the colourful clothing and the unusual music an interesting diversion from their usual round and found the skills and crafts of the Roma useful. Perhaps they crept away by night, so the priest could not see, to have their fortunes read and their illnesses doctored.
The Roma did not settle down and they did not go away.
Capitalism saw Roma in much the same light us late feudqlism. Travellers are not ideal wage slaves', their nomadic way of life is not attuned to the needs of factory production or the type of controlled, organised, society preferred by capitalism. So in spite of their occasional use as casual labour, mainly for harvesting certain crops, Roma were not seen as fitting in accept as useful scapegoats when it suited.
Gypsies were on the Nazi hate list along with Jews, homosexuals and communists and with the fall of socialism in eastern Europe they have again come under attack. Britain's response was to send immigration officials to the Czech Republic to spot gypsies at the airports and prevent them leaving.
Decades of ruling class propaganda, and perhaps a fear of strangers, had its effect and many people came to see travellers as workshy, dishonest and dirty. In fact Roma culture stresses the need to work, honesty and an almost ritual hygiene, perhaps necessary when living in confined spaces.
Reliance on social security payments is frowned upon among Roma. They prefer to be self-reliant, living on a range of crafts and jobs From selling 'lucky heather' (usually done by women) to scrap dealing and horse trading.
But it's not easy living on the edge of capitalist society and no one is suggesting that travelling people are more perfect than the next person. Their travelling fairs, such as Appleby and Stow, are under constant threat and with them opportunities for earning money, so claiming benefit from the state is sometimes necessary.
Roma have to pay for council provided sites and of course they are subject to the same tax regulations as every body else. In return it can be argued that they receive precious little. They often have to do without good health care, education and sanitation.
In spite of poor conditions, and the prejudice of the society which surrounds them, the myth of the thieving gypsy seems to be just that, a myth. A survey in Yorkshire Found that recorded incidents of theft by the Roma community were only 0.46 per cent higher than that for house dwelling community. The Association of Chief Police Officers maintained to the Department of the Environment. in a letter written in 1992, that the Roma community cause no major policing problems.
Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries laws continue to be introduced against "rogues, vagabonds and pedlars" and attempts at licensing systems tried. In 1822 Roma could be fined 40s for camping on the side of a turnpike.
In spite of the dedicated work of campaigners it was not until the 1960's that a substantial change appeared in government policy. The essence of the Caravan Act of 1968 was that it made it mandatory, with some escape clauses its true, for local authorities to provide campsites for travelling people. Travelling people were defined in the Act by their nomadic life style and any racial factor was expressly excluded.
The Act was far from perfect, and was anyway ignored by some authorities, but at least it recognised the right of travellers and their way of life to exist. But on the other hand, in any area which could be said to provide provision for travellers, however inadequate they might be in practice, it became a criminal offence to camp on unauthorised land.
Unauthorised sites of course lacked basic amenities but many of the authorised ones were little better. A survey of 65 sites in 1974 revealed that 12 per cent were next to rubbish tips and 28 per cent were close to industrial estates. "No non-gypsy family would be expected to live in such places." said Sir John Cripps in his report on the legislation in 1977.
The 1994 Criminal Justice Act was not apparently aimed at Roma but grew out of a growing panic among the middle and property owning classes about 'new age' travellers. But as well as tightening laws against trespass and restricting right of assembly, which affected us all, it also repealed the duty of local authorities to provide sites for travelling people, which was a big step backward.
New age travellers were a product of the hippy movement of the 60's and 70's and the fashion for music festivals on a large scale and became hate figures for the tabloid press. Unfortunately even some Roma have blamed them for their own troubles - in spite of the obvious fact that these long predated new age travellers.
There is something of a history of divisions between 'real gypsies' and other travellers. Sometimes this has been fostered by the clannishness of some tribes of Roma who will not accept other tribes and sometimes by well meaning people who promote a romantic view of Roma life and culture which few Roma live out.
Roma culture is diverse, differing from group to group to some degree, and while pride is taken in their language it no longer seems to survive as a complete language and words vary from tribe to tribe. The most striking thing about the Roma is perhaps their very survival over the centuries in societies which have tried to drive them away or force them to give up their way of life and assimilate.
A new Travellers Law Reform Bill has recently been drafted by researchers at Cardiff Law School after four years of consultation with travellers and their organisations, the police, local authorities, churches, lawyers and planners. This new Bill, if enacted, would create a Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Commission which would be responsible for assessing the need for traveller sites.
While local authorities would not be bound to provide these sites they would be required to "facilitate site provision" - that is to give planning permission for owner occupied sites, 'tolerate' traditional sites, and work with Housing Associations which will have the power to develop and manage sites. Also the duty that authorities have to provide housing in some cases would be extended and the Housing Corporation would have the power to use its resources to support site development.
This Bill seems weaker in some respects than the 1968 Act and reflects new Labour thinking in some ways but it does appear to be going in the right direction again. Whether it becomes law or not is another matter.
Roma and other traditional travellers, such as Irish travellers, have not disappeared and they have been joined by others. They now number some 300,000 and are increasing. They will not go away; why should they? Britain should be flexible and tolerant enough to accept those who wish to live differently from the majority. They do not ask for charity, only the chance to live how they wish.
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by Steve Lawton
PALESTINIAN leader Yasser Arafat spoke to Tunisian TV last Tuesday from his office in the Israeli-shelled Ramallah headquarters compound. He said United States Secretary of State Colin Powell's Middle East 'diplomacy' was a failure: "Powell had spent a week and a half in the region but nothing has happened."
He characterised Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- the butcher-General of Sabra, Shatila and now the West Bank town of Jenin -- as "bloodthirsty".
He insisted that "international and Arab action is needed as quickly as possible because the situation is highly dangerous." Palestinians are still being attacked and are under siege with curfews selectively imposed.
Arafat's second-in-command of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Mahmud Abbas, explained: "We expected a response on an Israeli pullout, but Sharon closed all the doors, which means that the visit of Mr Powell did not yield any results."
Powell still expects to get an agreement that trades an anti-terror statement on suicide bombings from the Palestinians for an Israeli pull-out from the West Bank. After Powell had held three meetings with Sharon -- who is trying to wriggle out of his criminal responsibility by calling for a Mid-East conference -- there was not so much as a slap on the wrist.
Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said "before talking of progress in any talks... there has to be an implementation of the UN resolution calling for an immediate withdrawal from all towns, villages and refugee camps occupied by the Israeli army.
President Arafat is under pressure to accept the wretched demands of Bush to condemn all Palestinian terror acts and to root it out. So while blatant state terror against southern Iraq by the jet bombers of Bush and Britain's Blair continue, and Arafat and his people have an American-Israeli gun to their heads, they are expected to roll over and die.
The Palestinian people are murdered in their hundreds, buried and bulldozed under their own homes; the centre of Jenin on the West Bank has been obliterated with many of its people executed -- like the Nazis who wiped out Lidice and its inhabitants in the Second World War.
And still US imperialism courts Zionist aggression and its hatred being meted out by Sharon regardless of world condemnation, solidarity, protests and demonstrations - and in Israel itself.
Even the British government has beeun to voice concerns over Israeli brutality under the increasing pressure of a bloc of MPs opposed to an invasion of Iraq.
It matters little to imperialism what the world thinks; but it matters greatly if the world acts. President Bush this week again made a barely veiled threat against Iraq as an are of US military power has begun to stretch from Central Asia to the Middle East.
On Tuesday the Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani was phoned by Arafat requesting an emergency Islamic summit to assess the state of the occupied territories, according to Kuwait News Agency. He also relayed to Sheikh Hamad the atrocities committed by Israel and the extent of continuing Israeli terror.
In Washington meanwhile, Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Hariri -- the first among Arab leaders expected too try and get Bush to stop Israeli barbarism -- insists Lebanon and Syria must be part of the solution. "The Middle East is in danger and needs intensive care, which only the United States can offer", he said.
He argued that a planned process of Israeli withdrawal from occupied areas, the announcement of a Palestinian state -- filling in precise boundary detail later, and the i-csumption of political negotiations was the only basis for a solution. A temporary truce was inadequate. Without such a "road map". he said, "desperate people do desperate things" -- a reference to suicide bombings alleged by Sharon to be the reason for his actions.
The situation demands -- and is developing - into a general mobilisation against US-led imperialist war. As the most extreme capitalist state terror focuses on the Palestinians, we are witnessing global outrage. Never has there been so many people out on the streets on so many continents in recent weeks against the Zionist onslaught and the US war preparations.
It is set to escalate. Bush rails against what he calls the countries that have hated America for so long, but when its selfish profiteering interests continue to destroy human life the world over, all exploited peoples are Palestinian. As Hugo Chavez, back in the driving seat in Venezuela demonstrates -- a leader who was first to make a state visit to Iraq in its defence since the US-led Gulf War. The people saved him from a coup.
Venezuelan oil will go to Cuba much to US annoyance; but Iraq's oil will not go to the US or Israeli backers for the hell they have unleashed on Palestinians. This is anti-imperialism in action. The world's peoples taking to the streets against the perpetrators of war and aggression develop the struggle for the defence of all exploited peoples, at home and abroad.
The economic subjugation of countries by the US and other Western powers for oil -- the one commodity over which so much blood has been spilt -- makes capitalism the complicit force in genocide. That causes workers here and Palestinians in the West Bank rightly to politically hate or distrust America and its most servile allies.
The division between Europe and the US over the Palestinian issue is one potential firebreak in this vicious trend to war. Germany has taken cautious economic action against Israel.
If the Middle East goes completely, it won't be the only region that is seriously destabilised. US hawks want this. The world's people do not. They must have their way for the Palestinians.
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by Elizabeth Farrell
AROUND 50,000 people marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square last Saturday in a huge protest against the killing of Palestinians by the Israeli government in the West Bank.
The march for solidarity with the Palestinians was organised by the Muslim Association of Britain and the Palestine Solidarity campaign. It took more than two hours to arrive at Trafalgar Square.
Protesters carried thousands of Palestinian flags and placards condemning the Israeli occupation as "the new apartheid", calling Ariel Sharon "the new Hitler" and branding George Bush as a war criminal.
There were banners from Stop the War groups from all over the country as well as different CND banners and a banner from Manchester University.
Trade unions also took part in the demonstration. Banners included one from London Region MSF, the manufacturing union recently merged with the AEEU to form Amicus; the lecturers' union Natfhe and the public sector union Unison.
The march ended in Trafalgar Square with a huge rally, where Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said: "The message to Tony Blair is now clear -- stop talking on behalf of George Bush and instead speak on behalf of peace and justice in the Middle East."
Former Labour MP Tony Benn said that the people were demonstrating against what President Bush called "a crusade" against the Muslim world.
"The only reason that Bush wants peace in Palestine is so that he can start a war with Iraq." he said.
Labour MP George Galloway told the rally: "The sight of the British Government belly-dancing to George Bush is turning our nation's stomach."
Michael Massih, Chairperson of the Palestinian community in Britain, said that Christians, Muslims and Jews were among the protesters.
"This demonstration reflects that right across the religious divide, there is widespread support for the Palestinian cause."
Lindsey German, convener of the Stop the War Coalition, urged the crowd to support the next demonstration. She said: "There will be no peace without ending the occupation -- no justice, no peace.
"We want a bigger demonstration on 18 May."
And Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, called for the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West Bank and for solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Harris Bokhari, the spokesperson of the Muslim Association of Britain, ended the rally saying: "The most important thing that happened today is that we showed support to the Palestinian people. This is not an issue of Muslims versus Jews, it is all issue of human rights."
The British media totally ignored this huge demonstration, with no word in any of the Sunday papers and no reports on radio or television.
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