“Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.” (John Robert Lewis – 1940-2020)
I ended an article I wrote in September as part of the ABC of Socialism series for the Sunday Socialist with the words above; they encourage us to remain hopeful. Since then the world feels even bleaker. War and devastation are not new, but the genocide in Gaza seems as if we have reached a whole new level of brutality. We must remember of course that wars, violence and cruelty in all their forms occur throughout the world and that much of it does not find its way into our media. Sometimes our sorrow and tears only reinforce our sense of powerlessness, but I received this message a day or two ago from someone I have known most of my life: “I find I walk around with tears in my eyes for so much of the time. And I feel ashamed because tears can be so self-indulgent. And yet someone very wise with a sort of ancient and not showing off kind of wisdom once said to me that to feel the grief was important work too and needed to be done.” So maybe tears and grief for others have their place, but we must continue to find hope to move forward and work for change. Having said that, the few stories below do, for the most part, reflect the bleak state of the world, but end on words of hope from Ramallah in the West Bank.

Human trafficking, kidnap and torture in Libya

Western intervention in Libya in 2011 led to chaos, lawlessness and division, and the chaos remains to this day. There are illegal prisons, detention centres where refugees are held and numerous militias. And in Bani Walid, which is situated about two hours south east of Tripoli, refugees who have been captured as they attempt to cross Libya are held and ransomed. They may be captured by the militias or armed gangs of young men who are said to ‘specialise’ in extortion and torture. The torturers use electric shocks, painful implements and sexual assault. They film the pain and terror they are inflicting as they aim “to extract the maximum degree of visible and audible pain” and then send the videos to their loved ones at home, demanding a ransom to free them.

Another shocking development has been taking place this year and, earlier this month, Al Jazeera reported how an armed group from Libya, Tareq Bin Zayed, (TBZ) has coerced refugees to return from boats in the Mediterranean Sea to North Africa, usually eastern Libya. This has been done with the collaboration of European authorities. TBZ is allegedly linked to the Wagner Group and is known for enslavement, detention, torture and murder. These violent illegal pullbacks leave the surviving refugees with injuries, psychological trauma, slavery, destitution and extremely precarious uncertain futures.

“The dead are the lucky ones”

A nine year old girl, whose name is Nayan, was rescued from the rubble in Khan Younis earlier this month. She told ITV News when she was sheltering in the Nasser Hospital, “The dead are the lucky ones”. Israeli air strikes destroyed the multi-storey home where the family was living and they killed her father and brother. The strikes also inflicted serious injuries on her mother and left other members of her extended family buried beneath the rubble.

Al Jazeera highlighted another deadly attack last month which killed a five-year-old. “A woman cradles a child in her arms, delicately balanced on her knee. It is an image that resonates, as ancient as human history. But in a grim inversion of the familiar, we see that the child she holds close is a corpse, wrapped in a shroud. It is a quiet moment of intense grief. The woman wears a headscarf, her head bowed, her face convulsed with grief.”

And so more and more vivid and desperate images and reports of dead and seriously injured children, grieving families and complete devastation are coming from Gaza. We can hardly absorb the enormity of the suffering as the Zionist regime pursues the slaughter and destruction.

UN figures, quoted by ITV, indicate that 20 children have been killed every single day of this 21st century in wars around the world. A Save the Children Fund report, based on information available up to 2017, gave a far higher number and estimated that 420 million children live in conflict zones. The report pointed out that this amounts to almost one fifth of all the children in the world. With all the advances the human race has made, our communication skills, our technology, our medical knowledge, our exploration of space, we are clearly incapable of looking after the world’s children.

Homeless man’s blankets soaked with water and bleach, courtesy of McDonalds

Being homeless on our capital’s streets is increasingly perilous and dehumanising. Last month the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, called being homeless on the streets a ‘lifestyle choice‘: “We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice.” A few days later refuse collectors destroyed and removed homeless people’s tents and some of their belongings in Camden, close to University College Hospital. There was widespread condemnation of the action and one user of X/Twitter commented: “It takes a certain type of cruelty to do that to someone who has pretty much nothing.” The Criminal Justice Bill 2023 is bringing in new measures to crack down on ‘nuisance sleeping’ which could include fines and possibly prison sentences if doorways and pavements are blocked. It must take some ingenuity surely to be a ‘nuisance’ when you are asleep?

Earlier this month a McDonald’s security guard soaked a homeless man’s blankets in water and bleach. His patch was not even outside McDonalds. This odious action was filmed and has led to outrage and to profuse apologies and a show of remorse from McDonalds; the security guard has been sacked. The incident was recorded and shared by Damon Evans and he posted a message on X/Twitter to McDonald’s: “Do you think it is acceptable for your staff to soak the sleeping bags of homeless people in the middle of winter or any other time of the year? Disgusting behaviour. He wasn’t even outside your premises.”

Over the ‘festive season’ an estimated 8,500 people are expected to be on the streets, a rise of 27% from last year. The streets have become more and more dangerous and the homeless are subjected to violent attacks, including rape and robbery, quite regularly. They have their tents damaged or burnt and many have been urinated on. One of the richest countries in the world cares so little that we cannot even look after our own.

Looking back in time – 1973 the three-day week

Forty years ago there was also an energy crisis in the UK. Energy prices soared, with the price of a barrel of oil almost quadrupling and fuel shortages. There was an embargo by Arab oil-producing nations – their response to the US support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War.

In the 1970s most of our electricity came from coal. Union membership numbers were high, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had hundreds of thousands of members. Pay for miners had not kept up with the pay rises received by other workers, and there was an unofficial strike in 1969, and then in 1972 came the first official strike since the 1920s. The Heath Government announced a state of emergency and timed blackouts were brought in to try to conserve energy. People were encouraged to use as little energy as possible. A deal was reached fairly quickly, but inflation was increasing and this wiped out anything the miners had gained; they now demanded a 35% increase in pay. But Heath had capped public sector pay rises, seeing it as the way to control inflation. The miners voted on whether or not to strike, and a clear majority was not in favour. However, coal production was halved as they introduced a ban on overtime. With coal stocks becoming low, Heath introduced the three-day working week, with work restricted to reduced hours on three days only, though essential businesses and services were exempt.

Some of us have vivid memories of those days. Our cities became dark. Television was only available in the evenings anyway, but there were no broadcasts after 10.30 pm. Candles and lanterns were used in homes and workplaces and in those pubs that stayed open. The lights on the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree were also switched off until Christmas Day – unprecedented! There was something electric about the atmosphere in London, a sustained tension and a strange energy. There was a feeling of imminent crisis, people seemed friendlier and more approachable, but spoke in whispers. There was an eerie loveliness about the absence of brash lights in the capital. It was almost as if we were removed from the 1970s and had been transported to another era.

But families and business began to suffer from considerable hardship.

The miners were offered a 16.5% pay increase, but this was rejected by NUM, and another vote on strike action was called. There was an overwhelming majority in favour, and a strike began on 5th February. Heath called a general election, but this led to a hung parliament. The minority Labour Government led by Harold Wilson raised the miners’ pay by 35%, and they returned to work in March. Later in 1973 Labour gained a clear majority in a second general election, and the miners received another increase in pay.

The NUM had demonstrated the power of unity, but only five years later there came the Winter of Discontent, 1978-1979, widespread union action and ultimately the election of Margaret Thatcher, who was to wreak such destruction on the country. The Labour Party, despite its faults, had felt like a party worth supporting, but Thatcherism led to changes, brought in by Neil Kinnock (1983-1992) and then Tony Blair, a ‘Labour’ leader allegedly claimed by Thatcher to be her ‘greatest achievement’.

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And so back to hope

If in their suffering the children of Palestine can find hope and show their determination to build a better future, we owe it to them to hold onto hope and from it gain strength to continue to do all we can to make the world a better, fairer, safe and peaceful place where every child can feel secure and loved.

We want love, life, and justice
We will create it with our own hands, 
no matter what happens
We will build our country after destruction,
Home after home, we are determined
Gaza is strong, no matter what
WE ARE DETERMINED
Oh heaven, let it snow safety and peace.
Ramallah Friends School


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