Monday, December 29, 2008

How to help the people of Gaza

I think one of the most helpful things to do to help the people of Gaza is to donate to the Palestine Red Crescent. Please do go to their web site to see their list of needs. Money is always good as it allows them to be flexible. Either go to their site for information or donate to
Palestine Red Crescent Society
Arab Bank Ramallah
Account number 9090-652753/513

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gaza weeping

So many people are absolutely distraught at what is going on in Gaza. I know this is a long post but I got this email from a friend in UK and I wanted to show how people (even Jewish people who are horrified at what the Israelis are doing) are getting together there to protest.

At least here we can do something more tangible and I will certainly be joining in with contributions to the people of Gaza although I don't know how it will get there. T


2 8 / D e c e m b e r / 2 0 0 8

Israelis and Palestinians: two peoples, one future

A very good source of articles is the Occupation Magazine:
Activities in the UK are listed on our website at:


1. The crisis in Gaza - what you can do
2. The crisis - background
3. The Shministim - latest
4. The United Nations Human Rights Committee

1. The crisis in Gaza - what you can do

The situation in Gaza has become critical with over 200 people, mainly civilians, reported dead on the first day of Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza strip.

Join the protests
* Sunday 28 December 2.00 pm - 4.00 pm
* Monday 29 December 4.00pm - 6.00pm
Opposite the Israeli Embassy - Kensington High Street
Nearest tube: High Street Kensington

You can also:

* Circulate the Open Letter to Gordon Brown which Jews for Justice for Palestinians has issued (see below). Send it to MPs, local media, synagogues, members of the Board of Deputies etc

* Support the Palestinian human rights community calls for international action (see below). Send messages of support to

* Protest to your MP, the Labour party, the Conservative party, the British Consulate in Jerusalem, the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Prime Minister - contact details below

Emphasize the international law violations in any condemnations of the new war on Gaza.
The Israeli actions are clear war crimes -- violations of international humanitarian law, involving
1) Collective punishment (a whole population is being punished for actions of a few militants).
2) Attacking civilians of a protected population (they're in civilian areas, Gaza being one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world & certainly most densely populated in the middle east).
3) Disproportionate action (they've destroyed the entire security infrastructure of 1.5 million people).
And stress the impact of earlier Israeli actions that have led to medical & fuel shortages so ambulances can't respond, nor hospitals receive or treat the injured (Egypt has apparently opened the Rafah crossing & emptied two hospitals to take the Gaza wounded).
See also the points made in the letter from the Palestinian human rights community and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (both below).

(a) Open letter from Jews for Justice for Palestinians to Prime Minister, Gordon Brown MP:

In the light of Israeli air strikes against the Gazan population, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), the largest Jewish peace group in the UK or Europe, has today, Sunday 29 December 2008, released this open letter to Gordon Brown:

Dear Prime Minister

At the time of writing, almost 300 Gazans are dead, hundreds more wounded. The air strikes appear to be aimed indiscriminately at both civilian and military targets. Israel is using its extensive military power to wreak carnage on innocent civilians. This is a condemnable act of mindless violence, and we call upon you and the international community to intervene immediately.

Claiming that this is an action to stop rocket fire is a wholly unpersuasive argument. The six-month ceasefire has been squandered by Israel. The populations of Sderot, Ashkelon and southern Israel have been left unprotected by their own government, which has failed to either build shelters or make a more lasting agreement. The Israeli government is exploiting the understandable fear of their own citizens as an excuse for today’s strikes.

The Israeli government steadily sought to break down the ceasefire, not just in Gaza since early November, but also in the West Bank. Israeli forces have carried out an average of 33 incursions, 42 arrests or detentions, 12 woundings and 0.84 killings a week in the West Bank during the ceasefire. The tactic has been to continue attacking Hamas and other militants in the West Bank, provoking responses in Gaza, and to use the responses as the pretext for the massive attacks of the last 24 hours.

On 23rd December Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire if Israel would undertake to open border crossings for supplies of aid and fuel, and halt incursions. For those of us appalled at the collective punishment involved in the ongoing siege, and concerned that Israelis should not fear death or injury from Qassam rockets, that seems a truly reasonable response.

For Israel to reject it bespeaks a bankrupt body politic especially since the army and the politicians are acting against the wishes of the Israeli public. It is after all the civilians on both sides who will bear the brunt of this dangerous folly.

You regard yourself as a strong friend of Israel. When a friend crosses acceptable lines of behaviour as Israel has again done, one has a responsibility to intervene.

Yours sincerely

Sylvia Cohen, International Liaison
Diana Neslen, Campaigns Co-ordinator
for Jews for Justice for Palestinians

(b) Palestinian human rights community calls for international action
Urgent Release, 27 December 2008
Palestinian human rights organizations strongly condemn the recent military attacks carried out by the Israeli occupying forces in the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008. The attacks began at approximately 11:30 am and lasted for approximately three hours. These attacks have destroyed most of the Gaza security offices including police stations, resulting in the deaths of over 200 Palestinians. More than 350 have been injured with over 120 critically.
The number of deaths resulting from these attacks indicates a willful targeting of the civilian police forces in these locations and a clear violation of the prohibition against willful killings. Willful killings are a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention under Article 147 and therefore, a War Crime. Both the time and location of these attacks also indicate a malicious intent to inflict as many casualties as possible with many of the police stations located in civilian population centres and the time of the attacks coinciding with the end of the school day resulting in the deaths of numerous children.
The ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip has left medical facilities in the Strip incapable of meeting the needs of the hundreds more who have been injured which will likely lead to an increase in the number of deaths. According to Israeli officials, these attacks are only the beginning of an open military campaign in Gaza. It is therefore imperative that the international community not stand in silence while Israel moves forward with impunity.
Despite repeated calls from the Palestinian human rights community with regard to Gaza, the international community has failed to act. We are now on the brink of an explosion of violence as result of this failure and are pushed once again to call for action.

In light of the above, Palestinian human rights organisations urge:

• The UN Security Council to call an emergency session and adopt concrete measures, including the imposition of sanctions, in order to ensure Israel’s fulfilment of its obligations under international humanitarian law.
• The High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to fulfil their obligation under common Article 1 to ensure respect for the provisions of the Conventions, taking appropriate measures to compel Israel to abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular placing pivotal importance on the respect and protection of civilians from the effects of the hostilities.
• The High Contracting Parties to fulfil their legal obligation under Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to prosecute those responsible for grave breaches of the Convention.
• EU institutions and member states to make effective use of the European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law (2005/C 327/04) to ensure Israel complies with international humanitarian law under paragraph 16 (b), (c) and (d) of these guidelines, including the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions, as well as cessation of all upgrade dialogue with Israel.

Addameer Prisoners' Support & Human Rights Association
Ad-Dameer Association for Human Rights
Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights
Defence for Children International
Ensan Center for Democracy & Human Rights
Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR)
Jerusalem Legal Aid & Human Rights Center (JLAC)
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)
Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession - Musawa
Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies (RCHRS)
Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC)
Women's Studies Center
The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations' Network - PNGO

(c) Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights letter to David Miliband, 27 December

I am writing to you to urge you to immediately call on Israel to cease all its attacks on Gaza.

I am horrified to learn that over 200 people have reportedly been killed in Gaza in the last few hours, many of them entirely innocent civilians, a significant number believed to be schoolchildren returning home from morning lessons.

I refer to the letter that I wrote to you four days ago (attached), in the wake of news reports that Israel was ‘softening up’ the international community for a full scale assault on Gaza. Those reports were followed, inter alia, by Tzip Livni’s trip to Cairo to meet with President Mubarek, presumably to seek his complicity in today’s terrible events.

As Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights and many other observers feared, Israeli rhetoric of avoiding civilian loss of life is not rooted in a proper application of the legal principles of proportionality and distinction. Today’s events are not proportionate acts of self-defence.

I do not believe that Israel has made a lawful case for the wholesale targeting of Hamas. I believe from news reports that one target struck today was a graduation ceremony of police officers employed by the Hamas government - what evidence is there of any connection between rockets fired by militants, whether under the direction of Hamas or otherwise, and these trainee police officers?

But in any event, striking populated areas with the kind of force used by Israel today, even if some of the targets were in principle legitimate military targets, can never be in compliance with an ordinary understanding of the laws of war. Israel’s acts are therefore war crimes and crimes against humanity and everything possible will be done within the law to bring all those concerned to justice, including any third parties against whom there is evidence that they have aided and abetted these crimes.

Many more civilians will be killed if Israel does not cease its attacks immediately.

I urge you to immediately contact other foreign ministers to arrange an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution requiring an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and calling on the international community to collect evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The response of the international community in urging Israel to minimise civilian casualties is entirely unacceptable when many innocent civilians, including children, have been killed in the past few hours. Israel must be pushed to immediately cease all its attacks.

The international community must accept that it has a moral and arguably a legal imperative to bring an end to the violence unfolding in Gaza.

Yours sincerely

Daniel Machover
Chair, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights

(d) other statements can be found at:

Gush Shalom press release, December 27, 2008
The war in Gaza - a vicious folly of a bankrupt government

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

AIC Condemns Deadly Attacks on Gaza, Calls for Civil Society Mobilization, International Sanctions

(e) Send messages in protest

1. Write to your MP
You can find your MPs details on this site
Just enter your postcode. If you don't live in the UK you can write to the MP at your last address.

2. Write to the Labour Party
You can send a message to the Labour Party using this online form

3. Write to the Conservative Party
Write to David Cameron
You could mention you are appalled that he has been on the BBC calling for restraint on all sides when nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed.

4. British Consulate Jerusalem
972 (02) 541 4100

5. British Embassy Tel Aviv
02 3510 1167 / (0)3 527 1572
Call them.

6. Prime Minister - Gordon Brown
Fax PM's office on +442079250918

7. Support the Israeli Coalition against the Siege of Gaza which organised a demonstration against the impending war in Tel Aviv.

Its demands were to:
* Stop the siege on Gaza
* Negotiate with Hamas and renew the truce
* Stop the military offensive and propose a political solution to end the occupation
* Learn from the Second Lebanon War! A military assault will not stop the missiles! Only an agreement can bring calm!

We sent a message of support:
‘Jews For Justice for Palestinians from the United Kingdom stand with the Coalition against the Siege on Gaza in the Demonstration today. We are horrified when we hear the drums of war beating again, recognising as we do that war is the problem not the solution.
We know that Hamas promised on 23rd December that they would consider a renewal of the ceasefire if Israel would guarantee that border crossings will remain open for supplies of aid and fuel, and halt incursions. For those of us appalled at the collective punishment involved in the ongoing siege, that seems a truly reasonable response. For Israel to reject it bespeaks a bankrupt body politic especially since the army and the politicians are acting against the wishes of the Israeli public. It is after all the civilians on both sides who will bear the brunt of this dangerous folly.
We support your stand and wish you to know that there are many throughout the world hoping that even at this last minute sense and not bloodletting will prevail.’

Send messages of support to

2. On the current crisis: background (additional to that in recent newsletters - see

(a) Hamas’s offensive and defensive capabilities have increased markedly in the last couple of years, according to Harel and Issacharoff.

(b) Neither Fatah nor Hamas have a clear interest in reconciliation, both believing they have more to gain by prioritising their partisan interests, according to a new International Crisis Group report.

(c) Gisha has taken further legal advice which confirms, yet again, its view that the blockade of Gaza constitutes ‘a closure imposed for the illegal purpose of collective punishment against civilians’.

(d) Sara Roy looks at the implications ‘If Gaza Falls’ in the London Review of Books.

(e) Uri Avnery’s 13 December article, Spot the Difference, on the forthcoming Israeli elections is particularly pertinent now.

(f) As is Seth Freedman’s contribution to Comment if Free, 17 December ‘Remove the blinkers and see the truth’

(a) Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff take ‘A hard look at Hamas' capabilities’ (Ha’aretz, 26 December)
Harel and Issacharoff take a sober look at the improvement in Hamas’s training and equipment over the last two years. While there is little doubt of the IDF’s ability to reoccupy the territory, casualties are likely to be high - both in Gaza and as a result of a barrage of missiles into Southern Israel.
‘Israeli reservations about a broad military operation, therefore, are mainly linked to the question of what happens afterward, when the IDF controls a large area that it doesn't want and is in constant friction with terrorists and the civilian population.’


(b) A new International Crisis Group briefing ‘Palestine Divided’ was published on 17 December. It provides important background to the looming conflict, and offers no short-term comfort.
It argues that the current reconciliation process between the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah) is a continuation of their struggle through other means. Prioritising partisan concerns over the national interest, both see greater cost than reward in compromise. Without regional and international incentives to shift this calculus, Palestine’s political-territorial division will only deepen.

Changing the dynamics that have convinced both Fatah and Hamas that time is on their side will be daunting. At a minimum, it will require both a change in the regional landscape (through U.S. engagement with Syria and Iran) and a clear signal from the international community that this time they would not oppose a Fatah-Hamas partnership; would judge the government not by composition but by its conduct; and would assess the Islamist movement on a more pragmatic basis.

Read the full Crisis Group report on its website:
(or, if that is still down, can be found at )

c) Gisha confirms that the blockade of Gaza constitutes ‘a closure imposed for the illegal purpose of collective punishment against civilians’.

Sari Bashi, Director of Gisha, the Israeli Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, 17 December, writes:

“Gisha has published a detailed legal opinion regarding the closure of the Gaza Strip. The publication, which was sent to Israeli Cabinet ministers as well as to the Attorney General, seeks to clarify Gisha's position that the restrictions on the passage of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip cannot be considered a siege, a blockade or an economic sanction - but rather constitute a closure imposed for the illegal purpose of collective punishment against civilians.

The purpose of the publication is to de-mystify the terminology being used and misused to describe the closure of Gaza in order to dispel any uncertainty regarding Israel's responsibility towards residents of Gaza and accountability for the rights violations occurring as a result of the closure. The closure should be called by what it is: collective punishment.


d) Sara Roy writes ‘If Gaza Falls’ in the London Review of Books (1 Jan 2009):

‘The breakdown of an entire society is happening in front of us, but there is little international response beyond UN warnings which are ignored…
How can keeping food and medicine from the people of Gaza protect the people of Israel? How can the impoverishment and suffering of Gaza’s children - more than 50 per cent of the population - benefit anyone? International law as well as human decency demands their protection. If Gaza falls, the West Bank will be next.’

Full article at

e) Uri Avnery’s 13 December article, ‘Spot the Difference’, on the forthcoming Israeli elections is particularly pertinent

A MAN was asked about his sons. “I have three,” he said, “but one of them is a complete idiot.”
“Which one?” they asked.
“Take your pick,” he replied.
In 51 days, we shall vote for a new Knesset and a new government.
Three big parties are competing for the prize: Kadima, Likud and Labor…

‘Not one of the three has offered any peace plan at all. Only hollow words. Only spin.’

‘The choice between them is a choice between bad, worse and still worse. Between toothache, migraine and backache.
Nothing good will come out of this election. The question is only how bad the results will be.’

Full article at

(f) Remove the blinkers and see the truth
Seth Freedman writes in Comment is Free, 17 December:
“For two years I have detailed the abuses and miscarriages of justice I witness on every foray I make into the West Bank, and for two years I've been buried under an avalanche of hate in response. It was, is, and will continue to be water off a duck's back, regardless of the outraged responses on the threads, since I'm convinced that the only way to effect change is for the truth to be brought to light. And if I can play a small part in helping that to occur, then nothing and no one is strong enough to act as a deterrent.”


3. The Shministim - latest

A few days after the December 18th rally in Israel, the day after Tamar Katz was finally released from solitary confinement, the young Shministim gathered in a room to celebrate and to decide what they wanted to say to those who had expressed their support for them. This is the message they wrote together:

Dear friends and supporters,
On the eve of Hanuka, the festival of lights, we, the Shministim, would like to take a moment to thank you for all you've done for us and for our struggle.
While we sit down with our families and light the first candle of the holiday, symbolizing the rebellion against an occupying army, some of us are still behind bars, denied the freedom to celebrate the holiday with their loved ones, denied the right to freedom of thought and political consciousness.
During this dark period of consecutive jail terms, military trials and attempts to break our beliefs, you were our light.
Each and every one of you who helped with the campaign, who sent a supporting letter, who sent the link of the website to a friend. You've let our struggle be heard around the world, the letters, the postcards and posters, the demonstrations, all of those actions fulfilled our wildest dreams.
We would like to thank you once again and wish you all a happy and free holiday.

in solidarity,
The Shministim

P.S. The Shministim have asked that you click on this link if you would like to get regular updates about what is happening to them in Israel:

4. The United Nations Human Rights Committee

On March 26, 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Richard Falk, Professor of International Law at Princeton, to a six-year term as a special investigator on Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories. Falk replaced South African professor John Dugard, an expert on apartheid who left his post in June .

The Israeli government was furious at the appointment and threatened to block his entry. Nonetheless when Falk planned a visit in December 2008, visas were given to the two UN officials accompanying him and he assumed that his entry at Ben Gurion (in order to go to the Wet Bank and Gaza) would be tolerated. Not so.

As Falk wrote after his expulsion:
‘After being denied entry, I was put in a holding room with about 20 others experiencing entry problems. At this point, I was treated not as a UN representative, but as some sort of security threat, subjected to an inch-by-inch body search and the most meticulous luggage inspection I have ever witnessed.’ He was imprisoned in humiliating conditions ‘not by themselves worthy of notice, given the sorts of serious hardships that millions around the world daily endure. Their importance is largely symbolic. I am an individual who had done nothing wrong beyond express strong disapproval of policies of a sovereign state. More importantly, the obvious intention was to humble me as a UN representative and thereby send a message of defiance to the United Nations.’

See Falk’s account at


In July 2007 Prof Richard Falk had written an article entitled Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust in which he said:
“Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy.”

Wise it may not have been, but the article is nuanced, giving an account of US and Israeli elations to the Palestinian conflict over time and concluding with these words:
“The entire population of Gaza is treated as the ‘enemy’ of Israel, and little pretext is made in Tel Aviv of acknowledging the innocence of this long victimized civilian society. To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral part of an ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes appropriate the warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of ‘never again.’”

What does Falk say today? A very interesting interview by Victor Kattan appears in the Electronic Intifada, 25 December 2008, under the title Championing global human rights: interview with Richard Falk at

And an equally interesting interview by Laila El-Haddad

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

... and so it was christmas ...

A cursory look at the various ancient cultural traditions of civilizations throughout the world, sheds light on how Christmas has evolved the way it has into a time of care for family and friends and those less fortunate, a nudge back into the religious value of Christmas (albeit christian), and a great way to spread a little joy in a sad world. It is also an occasion practiced by other religions at different times and for different reasons, but they are all basically founded on the same values – piety, generosity, selflessness and love. So with a glass in one hand, or a cup, put your feet up on the table, take some time out and read what all the fuss is about, courtesy of the history channel, which, by the way only looked upon this occasion through distinctly 'European' eyes .... I wonder what happened in Arabia post ancient Egypt, birthplace of the three monotheistic religions? That will need a little more diligent research .... so in the meantime, I send you all happy festive moments and heartfelt wishes for a more peaceful new year. J

An Ancient Holiday
The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.

In Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra's birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.

By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the "lord of misrule" and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined "debt" to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.

Christmas under threat:
In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America's new constitution. Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas's popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch immigrant families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Nicholas's Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society's annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York.

Twas the Night before Christmas:
In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters entitled, "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas." Moore's poem, which he was initially hesitant to publish due to the frivolous nature of its subject, is largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus as a "right jolly old elf" with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head! Although some of Moore's imagery was probably borrowed from other sources, his poem helped to popularize Christmas Eve – Santa Claus waiting for the children to get to sleep the now-familiar idea of a Santa Claus who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve – in "a miniature sleigh" led by eight flying reindeer, whom he also named – leaving presents for deserving children. "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas," created a new and immediately popular American icon. In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore's poem to create the first likeness that matches our modern image of Santa Claus. His cartoon, which appeared in Harper's Weekly, depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. It is Nast who gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, and his wife, Mrs. Claus.

A Santa by any other name: 18th-century America's Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning "Christ child," Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. English legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children's stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn't find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.

The Ninth Reindeer
Rudolph, "the most famous reindeer of all," was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.

In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to Moore's "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, When Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn't be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh by the light of his red nose. Rudolph's message—that given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset—proved popular. Montgomery Ward sold almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Several years later, one of May's friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph's story (1949). It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie, narrated by Burl Ives, which has charmed audiences every year since 1964.

Friday, December 19, 2008

should we do this here?

Whilst in Damascus recently (where the parking is extremely haphazard) I noticed the use of wheel clamps. Maybe this would be a good idea if they came into use in Jordan! Especially where people double and triple park causing traffic jams. T

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How we all think so differently

I was horrified to see the pictures of the car that crashed in Aqaba recently, it is painful just to look at it this mangled piece of steel. So many of our tragic deaths on the roads are due to speeding and careless driving. I wonder if this accident will change anything and will parents and children heed the lesson?

One thing that did not even cross my mind and was brought up the other day is that many people are asking what a girl was doing in a car with four boys. In West Amman amongst the community there, it is nothing abnormal for girls to be with boys as they go to school together and are friends but for people in the wider community it is something to talk about and disparage. How different we all are! T

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

14 December ...Kundara Day

And so it was that I found myself on Fuerteventura, seeking a bit of peace and quiet on an island of rock and undulating barren hills, devoid of vegetation but replete with twentieth century touristic development, when hubby receives an sms message on his mobile:

¨Celebrate 14 December as Kundara Day - nominated as the Arab world´s national day of freedom of self expression¨

... and I could hear the howls of laughter tinged with satisfaction reverberate around the Arab world as we eventually caught up with the news .... Iraqi journalist throws shoes at President Bush ... such a simple, symbolic act, but oh so loaded, and the Arab street got the message loud and clear, did the leaders though, I wonder?

Al Zaidi said it all without the need for words deemed useless, and it will go down in history as the best bit of unorthodox journalism an American president has ever seen! It will also be a time for reflection on Al Zaidi´s other statement: "This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq," and I pray that his name will not join the list.

Let´s hope that new found sense of freedom of self expression will help turn the tide away from extremism, death and destruction and a sense of peace ultimately prevails. J

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fascinating Damascus

Had a wonderful weekend in Damascus staying in a lovely hotel in the Old City called Beit Al Mamlouka. Wandered round the narrow lanes with cars missing each other, the walls and the pedestrians by centimetres. Looking in the shops and spending a bit of money! In the main courtyard near the main mosque is a shop called 'Hassahn's' where I always buy some wonderful tablecloths. Hassahn himself has been there for years and has recently shown the British Foreign Secretary and President Carter round the area. He is a real character and it is well worth visiting his shop for a chat if nothing else!

The Street called Straight has recently been renovated. It is always difficult to control renovation with reconstruction and spoil the unique ambience of an area. I think that on the whole a good job has been done. It is no use sanitising the place just for tourists and it is lovely that it is full of Syrians going about their business with a few tourists mingling in the crowds.

How different it all is from Jordan. And how amazing it is to me that within half a mile at
the borders there are different flags, different uniforms, different allegiances and a totally different country. Syria is a fascinating country with the most wonderful places to visit but I think Jordan is my home! T
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Friday, December 12, 2008

please change the law

I wish I could understand the way people's minds work!

According to Rana Husseini in the Jordan Times a 59 year old man molested a 13 year old girl and got a 3 year sentence. Ok I will not dispute the sentence as I do not know the facts of the case, but then her father dropped the charges and his sentence was halved. Another case when a 31 year old man molested a teenager and got 7 years and his father dropped the charges and his sentence was cut in half.

Why is up to the father to drop the charges? And why does he drop the charges if he is not related to the offender? Usually in murder crimes, commonly called 'honour killings' the victim and offender are from the same family so when they drop the charges one knows it is a conspiracy and the family usually agreed together who will do the murder. I just wish the law could be changed so that families have no say in the matter of sentencing.

I do know of cases when the relations of the offender intimidate the victim's family into dropping charges. The pressure is almost overwhelming and one has to be very strong to resist all the pleas and threats. T

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

car crash in Aqaba

Four families devastated because their children were killed whilst joy riding at insane speeds. As I understand it the driver was under age with no licence. Do we blame the parents? They have now paid the ultimate sacrifice with the loss of a child and will never get over their pain. They will blame themselves endlessly and say 'if only' or 'why didn't I'.

My heart goes out to them in their grief and I hope that other parents will take a lesson from this tragedy. T

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Photo diary

You don't realise what you are missing until you go away for a while to a place without internet .... and a tv that doesn't work properly ... and then you discover a little bit of the quiet life ...

Tomatoes under cultivation along the shores of the Dead Sea

Who said a dog's life wasn't up to much??!!

Coffee break along the Amman-Aqaba Highway

My garden sprang to life when I gave it some tender loving care ...

Welcome tea and home made hubz overlooking my favourite spot in Ras an Naqab

hey - tea time for us too!

Aqaba at sunset, November 2008 ... I love the deep blue of the evening sky, something I can't seem to capture on camera!

So here's to Aqaba, to a little bit of the country that has had its arteries severed from the mainland (according to some;  especially those customs clearing agencies with a license to 'print money' - now that's a whole new story for another day) ... in the hope that it will never sacrifice its charm on the altar of development. J

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

choose Amman's new logo

A friend and I decided we had to go and see the proposed logos for the City of Amman. So off we went to the Municipality where no one had any idea what we were talking about from the information desk to the mayor's office. Finally a sweet young lady said the display was at the Hussein Cultural Centre so we walked over there and found the following. I was not very impressed with the choice but chose number 3 the one with the three thick strokes invoking the idea of a Roman theatre.

I think everyone should go down and make their feelings and choice known. T

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Who'd be a driving instructor in Jordan???

I was watching this poor woman with a driving instructor and passenger trying to get round the Eighth Circle and thinking, heavens it gives me palpitations attempting to get round the various circles and I have been driving here for more than 40 years!

Whenever I see a car for learner drivers I try to give them plenty of room, for their sake as well as my own, but most people just push and shove as usual. The driving instructor had his hand on the steering wheel and was, no doubt, giving a mass of instructions (brake, accelerate, watch that car on the left etc etc!). So, I really do feel driving instructors must go through huge stress trying to teach learner drivers and, at the same time, cope with the awful road manners of other drivers. T