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Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Zealand and Israel -- the threats and repercussions

New Zealand might be a featherweight country, but...

From RNZ news

A UN Security Council resolution, calling for a ban on illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, has passed, with NZ taking a major role. Phil Smith outlines the background and the blowback.

Israeli security forces taking position near the settlement of Kadumim (background) during clashes following a demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel.
Israeli security forces taking position near the settlement of Kadumim (background) during clashes following a demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel. Photo: AFP
New Zealand has dared to go where even Egypt's strongman, President el-Sisi, feared to tread. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi put a forward a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, but after an incredibly inappropriate call from Donald Trump, el-Sisi withdrew it again. Exactly how Trump achieved that is anyone's guess, but America's $1.5 billion aid package to Egypt may have been threatened.

President el-Sisi said he wanted to let Trump's incoming administration have first crack at the issue. It was obviously an excuse. Trump's nomination for Ambassador to Israel is a hardliner who wants more settlement construction and who has compared Jews who advocate for a 'two-state peace' to Capos (Jews who assisted in Nazi death-camps).

Amr Abdel Latif Aboulatta, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN, votes in favor of the ban on Israeli settlements.
Amr Abdel Latif Aboulatta, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN, votes in favor of the ban on Israeli settlements. Photo: AFP

When el-Sisi retreated, New Zealand stepped up. Together with Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal, New Zealand called for a vote on the resolution, and for the first time since the Carter administration, the US declined to veto a rebuke over illegal Israeli settlements.

The US noted that settlement construction had accelerated since the US vetoed a similar resolution in 2001, and that the Obama administration has been warning Israel for eight years that this 'trend-line' was both making peace more difficult and isolating Israel from the international community.


The foundations of the settlements

Settling population in militarily-occupied territory is contrary to the Geneva Convention, to international law and previous United Nations rulings.

Settlement building is usually strategic. Settlements create 'facts-on-the-ground', making it more difficult to give back captured territory (in this case, territory captured during the 1967 Six Day War).

Hardliners believe the territory is theirs by God-given right, but its return, at least in part, would be necessary for a lasting peace based on a two-state solution. The tracts that are currently Palestinian controlled areas are an unworkable, disconnected patchwork of territories.

Settlements also increase local conflict by expropriating land and resources to construct and sustain the townships. Moderate Israeli administrations have tended to restrict or demolish settlements, while hawkish governments look the other way, or - like the current one - are gung-ho on expansions which push Palestinians into an ever-diminishing corner.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his country would not abide by a new UN resolution.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his country would not abide by a new UN resolution. Photo: AFP
Former US President Jimmy Carter has repeatedly stressed that peace in Israel/Palestine is only likely when the Palestinians also have a viable state, where middle class citizens have a reason to hope and work for a future. Some form of two state solution has been American policy for decades.

Seeing this may be about to change, and after significant antagonism from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama apparently believes it is time to allow a line in the sand.


Kiwi peace-broker

A few years ago, after the successful Bougainville peace talks, New Zealand imagined a role for itself as an international peace broker. It was a nice idea that turned out to be harder than it sounded, but it marked an increased New Zealand confidence to act independently, for good purpose.

This week's action is a further brave step from New Zealand. It has no obvious ulterior motives, but instead seems an attempt to simply do the right thing and bugger the consequences. A nation like New Zealand cannot throw its feather-weight around internationally in order to win friends.

Frequently, the opposite is achieved. A friend won with one action is alienated with the next, and nations often remember slights more strongly than support.


The blowback

The blowback has already begun. Israel is apoplectic and has recalled its envoys to New Zealand and Senegal, and stopped its Senegal aid programme. It called the resolution "despicable" and "an evil decree". The Israeli Ambassador to the UN said the vote was "a victory for terror, a victory for hatred and violence."

New Zealand was already in Israel's bad books. In 2014 Israel refused to accept New Zealand's ambassador because he was also to act as an envoy to the Palestinian Authority. In October 2015, Israeli officials reprimanded our Ambassador after New Zealand dared propose a Security Council resolution that dared encourage a return to peace negotiations. Palestinian supporters were equally upset, seeing the wording as supporting Israel.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council.
A meeting of the UN Security Council Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

But this time is worse. Israeli-New Zealand relations haven't been so poor since 2004, when New Zealand imprisoned 'Mossad spies' for attempting to fraudulently obtain a New Zealand passport.

After a year, Israel apologised and relationships were slowly mended.

This new rift may take longer. Much of the anger is being directed at the US, where President Obama could have chosen to veto the resolution. But Netanyahu's conservative government will not take kindly to us fronting a resolution that pointedly calls East Jerusalem "occupied Palestinian territory".
New Zealand's government will have known blowback was likely. It has decided that, if you ask to be on the Security Council you need to appear from behind the parapet and take a stand.

In an era where the world's mood seems to be trending towards resentment, aggression and extremism, a country wins few friends by calling for tolerance or asking for restraint. But that doesn't mean that working for peace and goodwill isn't the right thing to do.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Alaric Bond's Latest

Great review from Historic Naval Fiction

The Blackstrap StationFollowing the wreck of HMS Prometheus, some of the crew have managed to evade capture and a British Frigate is nearby. When their attempt to steal a vessel coincides with a cutting out attempt, action and new responsibilities follow for Tom King. Now based in Malta with a shore job he worries that  his seagoing career will be over.

Another well written narrative from Bond with sea action and some nefarious shoreside activities which as usual follows a wide cast of characters from all ranks as well as some civilians, all of whom you feel you know. The plot had plenty of unexpected twists which made it hard to put down.

Bond's historical accuracy, knowledge of sailing ships and characterisations imerse you in the period and he continues to be one of the best contemporary naval fiction authors. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Frederick Douglass, the most photographed American of his time

A long time ago, I was in Los Angeles researching the experiences of runaway slaves on New Bedford whaling ships.  It was for background to my book In the Wake of Madness, the troubling story of a homicidal whaling captain, who beat his steward, a young runaway slave, to a slow and agonizing death.  And, while consulting with Kathryn Grover, the author of The Fugitives' Gibraltar, Escaping  Salves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts, I became intrigued with one of the most famous runaway slaves of all, Frederick Douglass.

He became my hero.  In short, I needed a copy of his memoir, Narrative of the Life Of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in a hurry.

Friends dropped me at what must be the largest pre-loved books store in the world, at Long Beach.  It resembled an aircraft hangar.  Maybe it was an aircraft hangar.  In the doorway, there was a small desk, with a young man who appeared to know where all the books were.  A dim, shadowy vastness stretched behind him.

I asked for Black History.  He directed me to the farthest, darkest corner, which felt, I swear, a mile away.  And as I threaded my way through the loaded shelves, I realized I was being trailed by four young Black men.

When I stopped, having found the right section, they stopped.  I turned.  We all looked at each other.

I said, "Can I help?"

One young man said, "We just want to know why a white lady like you wants to read about Black men like us."

So I told them about Frederick Douglass.  They had never heard of him.  They were enthralled.  Then, when I had finally finished, they thanked me very politely, and went away.

I've thought about that often, wondering if learning something about this American hero had any effect on their lives.

Today, I was reminded of it.  The New York Review of Books, in its review of the best articles of the year, includes a discussion of two books about "the Mysterious, Brilliant Frederick Douglass".

It begins:  Some years ago, after giving a talk at a college in Louisiana, I was approached at the podium by a middle-aged white man who said, with a genial smile, “Since you mentioned Frederick Douglass, I thought you’d be interested that my family used to own him.” His matter-of-factness was a shock to this Yankee clueless in Dixie. I couldn’t tell if I was meant to congratulate or, perhaps, commiserate, as if his forebears had misplaced some rare collectible. So I said something lame like, “Well, that’s quite something, thanks for letting me know.”

Wow.  That's quite something.  Was the man proud of being a descendant of the man who had owned this hero?   I don't know how he felt, but I have a good idea of how the writer felt, having had much the same experience when I met the very polite and pleasant descendants of the homicidal whaling captain.

But that is another story.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

And what about the rabbits?

Author of To Sir, With Love dies at 104

To Sir, With Love author ER Braithwaite dies aged 104

Author whose autobiographical novel dramatising his time as a black teacher
in east London in the 50s had a career that took in social work and
diplomacy as well as writing

Danuta Kean

Wednesday 14 December 2016 11.55 GMT

ER Braithwaite, the Guyanese author of To Sir, With Love, has died at his
home in Maryland at the age of 104.

Born in Guyana on 27 June 1912, Eustace Edward Ricardo Braithwaite was the
child of privileged parents, both graduates of Oxford University. His father
was a diamond miner while his mother raised the family. During the second
world war, he joined the Royal Air Force to fight as a pilot before going on
to Cambridge to read physics. He later said that he experienced no racial
prejudice within the RAF.

On graduating, he found himself barred from work as an engineer because of
racism. Unable to find an alternative, he took a job as a teacher at St
George-in-the-East school in London¹s East End, which was recovering from
the battering it had taken during the war. This experience formed the basis
of his autobiographical novel To Sir With Love, his 1959 book later adapted
into a film of the same name starring Sidney Poitier.

At the school, renamed Greenslade School in the film, the well-educated
middle class graduate was confronted with casual racism, violence and
antisocial behaviour by a group of disadvantaged pupils. Hardest to bear was
the self-hatred the racism brought out in him and the low expectations of
colleagues for their charges.

Gritty and unsentimental, the book shows Braithwaite gradually turning his
class around through a mix of affection and respect. It also revealed his
love affair with a fellow teacher ­ controversial at the time because the
other teacher was white. When the film adaptation was made in 1967,
Braithwaite criticised it, saying the love affair had been downplayed.

The book also contrasted his experience of race relations in Britain with
those in the US, where he studied before joining the RAF. He wrote: ³The
rest of the world in general and Britain in particular are prone to point an
angrily critical finger at American intolerance, forgetting that in its
short history as a nation it has granted to its Negro citizens more
opportunities for advancement and betterment, per capita, than any other
nation in the world with an indigent Negro population.²

To Sir, With Love has been hailed as a seminal work for immigrants from the
colonies to postwar Britain. In an introduction, Caryl Phillips wrote: ³The
author is keen for us to understand that the Ricky Braithwaites of this
world cannot, by themselves, uproot prejudice, but they can point to its
existence. And this, after all, is the beginning of change; one must first
identity the location of the problem before one can set about addressing

After teaching, Braithwaite moved to social work, finding foster homes for
children of colour. This formed the basis of for his 1962 book Paid Servant:
A Report About Welfare Work in London. He went on to write a further nine
books, a mix of novels, short-story collections and memoir.

A visit to apartheid South Africa in 1973, following the country lifting its
ban on To Sir, With Love, resulted in Honorary White (1975). The title was a
reference to his visa status, which granted significantly more privileges
than enjoyed by the native black population. The book had a mixed reception:
one critic described it as too soft on the apartheid regime, too hard on the
oppressed black population and too focused on the author.

After his social work, he moved to Paris to work for the World Veterans
Association, before transferring to Unesco and a diplomatic career that took
in posts as permanent representative of Guyana to the UN and Guyana¹s
ambassador to Venezuela.

From diplomacy, he moved into academia, teaching at the universities of New
York, Florida State and Howard in Washington, where he also served as

When asked in 2013 whether he had stayed in touch with students from the
London school, he admitted he had not, telling the Coffee Table blog: ³I
don¹t know if I changed any lives or not, but something did happen between
them and me, which was quite gratifying.²

Braithwaite¹s companion, Genevieve Ast, confirmed his death on Tuesday. He
died a day after being admitted to a medical centre in Rockville, Maryland.

© Guardian 2016

Monday, December 5, 2016

New Zealand and its Faults

From Geonet

Kekerengu Fault has a Word to its Geologists

Written by Ursula Cochran

Last year Tim Little of Victoria University of Wellington and Russ Van Dissen of GNS Science thought it would be a good idea to find out more about the Kekerengu Fault in North Canterbury. Through previous work they had identified the Kekerengu Fault as likely to be the fastest slipping fault within 100 km of Wellington city apart from the Hikurangi subduction zone.

They knew this meant it posed a significant seismic hazard to the northeastern South Island and also to Wellington if linking faults in Cook Strait ruptured at the same time as the Kekerengu Fault.
In February of this year, with funding from the Natural Hazards Research Platform, Tim and Russ excavated three trenches across the Kekerengu Fault to look for evidence of past large earthquakes. The main aim of their project was to better constrain the seismic hazard posed by this major active fault.

In these trenches Tim and Russ found evidence that at least three past large earthquakes had occurred in the last 1250 years. These initial results confirmed that the Kekerengu Fault was capable of producing large earthquakes frequently (on average, about every 300 or 400 hundred years), and was likely to do so again in future.

Then, two weeks ago, as if to say, “Don’t underestimate me!” the fault ruptured right through those same trenches. Tim was awe-struck. As a geologist working on active faults he said, “I had often wondered what it would look like if a fault moved while we were working on a trench cut across it, but I had never expected this to happen to me.”

When the Kekerengu Fault moved as part of the M7.8 Kaikoura earthquake the impacts on the landscape were dramatic. One side of the fault has moved as much as eleven metres with respect to the other side. Tim did not expect quite this amount of slip on this fault during a single earthquake. Russ, though, was less surprised – he says it fits with the long-term slip rate calculated for the fault – but he is still amazed to see such fault movement in action.

So, we knew about this fault, we knew it posed a seismic hazard, we even thought it was possible that it would rupture jointly with other faults – New Zealand’s National Seismic Hazard Model specifically includes scenarios that involve joint rupture of the Jordon, Kekerengu, and Needles Faults. And this, now confirmed by NIWA’s offshore survey of the Needles Fault, is exactly what happened on Monday 14th November. What we had not foreseen is that even more faults would be involved in a single earthquake sequence.

Currently we have evidence for seven faults rupturing in the M7.8 Kaikoura earthquake so work on the Kekerengu Fault is just a small part of the earthquake geology response. There are teams from University of Otago, University of Canterbury, University of Auckland, Victoria University, GNS Science, and NIWA, not to mention volunteers from overseas, currently mapping and measuring the faults that moved last week. We want to understand what happened in this event but, most importantly, what it means for future events.

The Kekerengu Fault has been speaking to geologists-in-the-making for generations because Victoria University’s third year structural field geology course is held near its northern end. I still clearly remember the Kekerengu Fault back in the early 1990s as a subtle, curious line in the landscape that our professor – Tim Little – stood astride inciting us to notice. Today, the fault has spoken and it is impossible not to notice.