Almost a year and a half has passed since our friend Samir Dari was gunned down by an Israeli policeman. Samir, an Israeli resident and father of two, approached a group of policemen who had just detained his brother on a street corner not far from his house and demanded his release. There are conflicting versions of what happened afterwards, but there is no dispute about the following facts: Samir was unarmed and the policeman, Shmuel Yechezkel, shot him in the back at close range.
The Israeli police were quick to disseminate a version of the incident that portrayed the killing as an act of self-defence. When an Arab is killed, he is said to have been violent; when he is beaten up, he is said to have struck the policeman first; when he is oppressed, he is the one who is guilty. Also typical was the lack of public interest in Samir’s death. The killing of an Arab is, after all, not the kind of event that makes headlines in Israel.
The non-violent protest that Samir’s friends organised in response to the killing did attract attention, however. Israeli Jews do not welcome the presence of angry Arabs on the street, and were quick to threaten the protesters. ‘An immediate and forceful response is necessary,’ letters in the local newspaper argued. ‘A missile attack on their village is needed.’
The Israeli legal system, it turns out, shares the public’s perception. Judge Noam Solberg recently acquitted Yechezkel, even though in his verdict he stated that Samir had not threatened Yechezkel, that at no point was there physical contact between Samir and the policemen on the scene, and that Samir was actually moving away from the policemen when he was shot in the back. ‘The accused made an awful and terrible mistake,’ the judge concluded; ‘the deceased was killed for no reason.’ Solberg nevertheless exonerated Yechezkel because, in his opinion, it was not beyond reasonable doubt that the policeman felt he was acting in self-defence.
Since September 2000, 34 Arab citizens have been killed by the police, security guards and soldiers. Only four indictments have been issued, and only after a vigorous public campaign. Not one of these cases has resulted in a conviction. And yet, when Samir was killed, we thought it was worth demanding justice. Initially, Samir’s family refused to allow an autopsy. Only after considerable pressure from friends and lawyers, who argued that without concrete evidence Yechezkel would walk free, did the family agree, against their religious convictions, to permit the forensic procedure. The doctor’s report was unequivocal: Samir had been shot in the back at close range.
Solberg did not allow the autopsy results or, as he put it, the ‘objective dimension’ of the case to alter his verdict, making it clear to Arab citizens of Israel that evidence is not the most important consideration in determining guilt. It will, accordingly, be no surprise if the next victim’s family refuses to consent to an autopsy.
The verdict also sends a clear message to the police: ‘Don’t worry.’ Israeli policemen can rest assured that everything will be done to cover up violence against Arabs. If they can’t take care of it themselves, then a judge can be found who will acquit the policeman, even when the officer is guilty of shooting a man in cold blood. At the same time the verdict reinforces the idea among the Jewish public that not all blood is the same. Not that this should really surprise anyone.
Yigal Bronner and Neve Gordon
University of Chicago
John Lanchester quotes James Lovelock’s opinion that nuclear power is the ‘least worst solution to our urgent need for a carbon-free fuel source’ (LRB, 22 March). Nuclear power stations, it’s true, emit little CO2 themselves, but the mining, milling and transport of uranium ore, fuel enrichment, fuel reprocessing and storage, radioactive waste treatment and eventual waste disposal are all energy-intensive and result in considerable CO2 emissions.
Perhaps more important, nuclear power has remarkably little potential to reduce UK CO2 emissions because only about 20 per cent of these are caused by electricity generation. Moreover, for reasons of safety, nuclear reactors do not vary their levels of output in step with the large daily swings in electricity demand, and only supply baseload demand – about a quarter of our total electricity supply. This means that a UK nuclear replacement programme would address only one quarter of 20 per cent – i.e. 5 per cent – of our CO2 emissions. The UK Sustainable Development Commission’s 2006 report compared likely CO2 emissions from new nuclear reactors with those from new gas-fired stations and concluded that a 10 gigawatt replacement nuclear programme would result in a 4 per cent cut in annual UK CO2 emissions from 1990 levels. Is this worth it?
Colin Kidd asks whether Scotland would need to reapply for membership of the EU in the event of independence (LRB, 26 April). If it did, then so would England and its remaining satellites, since a union of states would have been dissolved, rather than a region having seceded. Unless, that is, England and the United Kingdom are indeed coterminous, as Kidd’s question and the logic of his article seem to assume.
Revulsion for Tony Blair in Scotland means a large vote for the principal opposition, in this case the SNP. The popularity of independence is now exactly at the level it has been in opinion polls for as long as I can remember, at less than 30 per cent. The SNP are running in this election on a manifesto to form a government in Edinburgh, with a referendum (which they wouldn’t win if it were held today, as well they know) as a distant promise made of pie crust – easily made, easily broken. If and when it comes, I hope the referendum will be used to increase the scope of the Scottish Parliament to address such specific questions as whether we should have nuclear bases up our rivers and our troops in Iraq. London may be happy to have their foreign policy decided in Washington. Up here, we’d rather it wasn’t.
It is a shame that Norman Dombey doesn’t mention some of the important legal consequences of the renewal of Trident (LRB, 5 April). The opinion of my colleagues Philippe Sands and Helen Law, for example, is that upgrading or renewing Trident based on some possible but unknown future threat is inherently incompatible with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Rabinder Singh and Christine Chinkin have reasoned similarly and concluded that unilateral action that pre-empts any possibility of disarmament is inconsistent with the UK’s international law obligations. Michael Fordham and Naina Patel have also concluded that the government is under a duty to consult on the contents of the White Paper. The NGO Peacerights has accordingly recently commenced judicial review proceedings in the High Court.
Matrix Chambers, London WC1
I was wrong to say that Arlette Laguiller had signed ACLEFEU’s Social and Citizenship Contract (LRB, 26 April). Wrong, too, to say that Ségolène Royal wants half the members of the National Assembly elected on the basis of proportional representation. Her programme states only that she favours ‘a measure’ of PR for the Assembly. It was François Bayrou, the man with nothing to lose before the first round, who went into detail, suggesting that half the country’s MPs be elected by PR. A week or so in advance of the vote, Sarkozy’s ghoulish, influential friend Brice Hortefeux floated the notion that some form of PR in the Assembly five years from now would be a good thing. It was spun as a personal opinion but widely read as a nervous, last-minute throw by the Sarkozy camp to woo FN voters: their party would fare better under PR. In any event Le Pen turned out to be the Flat Stanley of the far right, as Sarkozy had always intended.
St Michel de Rivière, France
Eric Hobsbawm’s account of the devoted – and finally abortive – activities of British Communists needs to be supplemented by a few close-up memoirs if we are to take the measure of that doomed phase in the history of the left (LRB, 26 April). I belonged to the Party from 1956 until, in the mid-1970s, it crumbled and dispersed; I gave up on it as an effort that was getting nowhere and could do nothing to stop the self-seeking groups who run our country.
During that time I attended hundreds of branch meetings, canvassed for Labour in England and Scotland (and for the CP when chance arose). I took part in evening meetings and weekend courses, spoke and wrote against the American invasion of Vietnam, and did my best to work as an egalitarian socialist in my dealings with colleagues and students. I served on the CP’s Cultural Committee and discussed things with women and men as intelligent and humane as Margot Heinemann, George Matthews, Brian Simon, and Margot and Arnold Kettle. I even had a comradely conversation with John Gollan when I met him by chance on the summit of Beinn Alligin.
We all seemed to think that one day, not too remotely in the future, our country would be governed by politicians who believed that ‘workers with hand and brain’ should enjoy ‘the full fruits of their labours’; and that social, not capitalist, ownership of ‘production, distribution and exchange’ would take over the economy.
Of course other people believed in these ends and were working towards them too. More than once I sat in the Café Roma in Oxford, watering-place of the New Left after the death of Stalin and the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising, and discussed things among the fragrance of espresso and frying vegetable oil with people such as Raphael Samuel and Stuart Hall. They were among the Marxist intellectuals who had broken with Communism after Khrushchev’s revelations of Stalin’s cruel tyranny at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, and they taxed me with condoning the gulag (not yet called that), the show trials, the famine caused by collectivisation, the persecution of Osip Mandelstam and Isaac Babel, and so on. I still believed that the Soviet experience was not something we in Britain were doomed to follow; and Khrushchev’s ‘revelations’ did not surprise me because I had made a point of reading such works as Darkness at Noon, not only to spike the guns of anti-Communists but also to face the possibility that enormities could be perpetrated in the name of Marxism and had better be guarded against if ‘the revolution’ ever came about on our tight little island.
One night in Scarborough in 1961, during a weekend school in literature which I had organised for the Workers’ Educational Association, I sat in a bar with Edward Thompson while an impassioned woman, all eagerness to learn, asked him, ‘Edward, what are you trying to achieve?’ – as though, once he had told her, she would throw herself into the same great cause. He replied: ‘To build a left within the Labour Party.’ He did try, and the New Reasoner and the Universities and Left Review published much good work striving towards socialism with a human face. Some of us did much the same, throwing what weight we had behind CND, campaigning against the American atrocities in Vietnam and Cambodia, and (at Lancaster University) bringing out a magazine (on pink paper) in the name of an alliance between Communists, Trotskyists, left socialists and other like-minded people.
None of this, we can now see, had any effect. Today we stagger from one atrocity to another, and look with helpless foreboding at places where horror may next break out. The difference is that it is no longer possible to have much trust in organised politics as a means to a better state of affairs, because during my lifetime they have had so tragically slight an effect.