Kill the bill!


Thousands of people were out on the streets of London Sunday to protest the horrific housing bill which is currently being rushed through parliament (article in the Independent here). As an outsider to the UK nearly three years ago I was initially struck by the institution of social housing which seemed much more vast and ingrained than in other contexts that I knew. Then I began to understand the many ways in which social housing (or council housing as it is known–referring to the local council in charge of each  administrative area) in the UK is being steadily undermined. Namely, existing social housing is being sold off for private renting, no new social housing is being built, and discussions now center around “affordable” housing which falls on the whim of private developers to provide, which they usually don’t, and which is allowed to be up to 80% of the market rent. Now, this bill really seems like the nail in the coffin of social housing in the UK, rendering housing even less accessible to both council tenants and private renters. I don’t even understand how such a bill, that caters entirely to ensuring private developers make as much money as possible, has managed to pass so quickly through parliament (detailed explanations of the UK legislative system are most welcome).

The #KilltheHousingBill campaign has produced a great video explaining the housing bill.

Last week the Radical Housing Network also produced a spoof newspaper of the Evening Standard–they call it the ‘Standard Evening’, which was distributed at tube stops all over London. The paper, which detailed what London would be like many years in the future if this housing bill passes, can be accessed online here.

cartoonIf you live in the UK, please sign the petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-the-housing-bill

Let’s kill this bill!

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A Showcase of Extremes: Shuhada Street and the Logic of Occupation

Hebron, the largest Palestinian urban center in the West Bank, is increasingly known as a contested and embattled space. It is unique in the occupied Palestinian territories because Israeli settlements have been established inside the city. Mundane violence and segregation are evident here, most starkly culminating in Shuhada Street, once a bustling Palestinian thoroughfare, now off-limits to Palestinians. Numerous international organizations have set up shop here to document daily human rights abuses, though they’ve had little success in holding settlers and Israel accountable to their policies. There are many tours one can take while visiting Hebron, which is almost always recommended to visiting internationals itching to get a feel for “the situation,” at odds with all liberal sentiments. These kinds of tours often use Hebron as an example of a particularly dire situation, where Israeli settlers have taken things to the extreme. And extreme examples abound, such as when the Israeli military recently detained a 5-year old Palestinian. But is Hebron an exception to the rule?

02-IMG_7131Views of Hebron. Spot the military lookout.04-IMG_7134

Like so many other Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank, settlements in Hebron’s city center were established with assistance from the Israeli army, in the 1970s. Currently there are about 500 settlers in Hebron, with about 2,500 to 4,000 Israeli soldiers stationed around the area to protect them. In 1994, New York-born Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 praying Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. This is when Israel began limiting the movement of Palestinians in Hebron, supposedly to increase security (ha, ha). With the Oslo Accords, Hebron was divided into zones indicating various degrees of Israeli and Palestinian control, mirroring the division of the entire West Bank into Areas A, B, and C. Shuhada Street was completely closed off to Palestinians (except for residents of the street, but even they are limited in their access) with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000.

According to B’Tselem, 304 Palestinian-owned shops and warehouses along the street were shut down, and Israel even turned the central bus station into an army base. This has completely stifled the Palestinian economy in this area, which is now known by many as a ghost town.

I have visited Hebron on three occasions. These photos are mainly from my second visit, in December of 2012, when I visited with two Americans, a Canadian, and a Palestinian. We arrived in the afternoon as the sun was setting.

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Palestinian children play near their home on a route frequented by settlers descending toward Shuhada Street. A bit further down the hill, out of view, is an Israeli soldier stationed at a lookout to ensure the safe passage of settlers.

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An abandoned car. I haven’t been able to verify this, but my guess is the painted signs on the post demarcate the safe route for settlers.

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Walking down Shuhada street. Since Palestinians who do not have residency here are not allowed to walk down this street, our Palestinian friend had to leave us and loop around to meet us on the other side. We passed store after store that was empty and boarded up. The street is eerily quiet besides the occasional passersby, though we felt utterly exposed and watched.
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Why does Israel occupy Palestine?

It’s not a question to be taken for granted. If I had to give a short answer, I might say that Israel continues its occupation for land and resources—that it engages in what it knows to be a doomed “peace process” in order to eventually gain control over all of historic Palestine, “from the river to the sea”. At least, based on its actions, this is what Israel appears to be trying to do.

But there are continual and obvious contradictions in this idea. It is widely recognized among people educated in this topic that the longer Israel continues its occupation, the more it continues to build settlements throughout the West Bank along with infrastructure to serve those settlements, the closer it will come to having to deal with the 4 million+ Palestinians that inhabit the same space. Israel exhibits two conflicting desires: that for territory and that for a majority Jewish state. If Israel gains control over the entirety of historic Palestine, it will paradoxically lose its Jewish majority and thus its identity as a Jewish state.

So then how do we explain the current system? I recently read The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, written by Israeli academic Shir Hever. I outline here some of the theories he describes that can be applied to the occupation of Palestinian land.

A great video of Hever speaking at King’s College London. He does not address the theorists discussed below in the video but his talk summarizes the main points of his book.
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Sound of the police

I just discovered that you can watch the entirety of La Haine (1995) on You Tube (so no need to spend a fortune on the Criterion Collection edition). So even though I’ve seen it a number of times, I feel compelled to watch it again. It is one of my favorite films of all time and one that embodies so many topics that fascinate me, as it is ultimately a film about exclusion from mainstream society and how this is reinforced in structural ways such as urban planning and police brutality. And of course, there’s no shortage of vulgar French slang and “Verlan,” a style of speaking that more or less inverses words: “femme” becomes “meuf,” “bizarre” becomes “zarbi,” “arabe” becomes “beur.” Verlan is completely unique to the Parisian region and though it started among immigrants and other marginalized populations of the banlieues, it has spread throughout the city and elsewhere, much to the chagrin of the Académie Française’s arbiters of the French language.

I love this scene, which begins with shots of people hanging out in the housing projects’ playground. The DJ Cut Killer points his speakers out the window and plays a mixture of Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien” with NTM’s “Nique la Police” (Fuck the Police). How’s that for pastiche? (That is our completely gratuitous highbrow academic word of the day.)

Egypt: What’s different

The past couple weeks have been my first in Cairo since the January 25th revolution. As soon as I arrived I was eager to identify tangible changes in a city I used to know more than any other. (Of course, not all changes are tangible.) So what follows is a list, in no way intended to serve as substantial political analysis, of just that. It is a list based completely on my own observations and some anecdotal evidence, but if you know me then you know where I’m coming from, and this list might help you to understand Egypt how I see it, as well as Egypt as it is, a tiny bit better.

1. Election posters.

Because of Egypt’s high illiteracy rate, candidates are also represented on ballots with a symbol. As seen here one man’s is a ladder, and the other has the eye of Horus.

The very fist thing that was obviously different to me, that I noticed on my first walk outside my parents’ apartment in Zamalek, were these election posters pasted over walls everywhere. Since this is a country that had not had “real” elections in decades, posters like these are completely out of place to me. Before, if anyone’s face graced public spaces, it was Mubarak’s. Though when I visited exactly two years ago, we also spotted a couple posters of Gamal Mubarak, the President’s son, who was repeatedly described in the foreign press as being “groomed” to replace the sickly Hosni. I remember the ominous feeling that gave me, the prospect of this cruel dictatorship continuing as before with a newer, younger face, a prospect that pleased no Egyptian that I knew.

This time around, I’ve seen Mubarak’s face I believe a total of three times, and in no positive context–primarily in graffiti critical of his regime. Today, it is faces of anonymous Egyptian citizens-women included–that cover the walls of the city.

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