Everything you know about Hamas is wrong


One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. This book – Hamas: A Beginners Guide – is enlightening and timely. We have seen the vilification of groups representing oppressed people so many times in history that we really should be more discerning when confronted with this. Indeed, years after the conflict is over, Nelson Mandela was hailed as a hero by the very same establishment and corporate media that were happy to see him castigated as a terrorist during his resistance against apartheid. Likewise, Hamas is not the organisation it is portrayed to be. The media runs with claims that Hamas routinely uses civilians as human shields, even though there is little or no evidence to support this. There is also no challenge to the claim that Hamas is purely an extremist organisation, but the Hamas leadership has shown arguably more interest in pursuing a lasting peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution – which includes an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – than Israel has. Take the example of ‘Hamas hardman’ Ahmad Jabari, who has assassinated in 2012 by the Israelis soon after receiving the draft of a comprehensive peace agreement he was intimately involved in negotiating. If Israel was really interested in peace, why would they murder the very person who could have delivered it?

Originally posted on Tim Holmes:

Two Minutes Hate

Alright, not everything. And no, not you, smart-arse. Still, it’s been alarming to be reminded over the past month just how delusory much western public conversation on Hamas is. A common perception is that Hamas are in essence recalcitrant fundamentalist extremists, hell-bent on destroying Israel by any means possible. Virulently anti-semitic, misogynist and genocidal, they use whatever weapons they acquire to murder Israeli civilians and perhaps even attack Western targets internationally, without compunction or restraint. There is little awareness in this discourse that Hamas differ in any significant way from the Jihadists of ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

Probably the most valuable basic text in dispelling these delusions is Khaled Hroub’s Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, which takes on most of the major confusions and misconceptions surrounding the group’s seldom-explained ideology and modus operandi. Hroub is a senior research fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Centre of Islamic Studies…

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Israeli-style policing in Ferguson gives US minorities a taste of Palestine

A Palestinian youth with a gas mask grabs a tear gas grenade fired by Israeli forces during clashes in the West Bank town of Bethlehem protesting Israeli attacks on Gaza, November 20, 2012. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Just like Ferguson: A Palestinian youth with a gas mask grabs a tear gas grenade fired by Israeli forces during clashes in the West Bank town of Bethlehem protesting Israeli attacks on Gaza, November 20, 2012. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Israel’s position as a pariah state seems assured with revelations that at least four US police departments have been coached in the ‘counter-terrorism’ techniques used by the IDF in the occupied Palestinian territories.

US commentators have been drawing telling parallels between Israeli operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and their own combat-ready law enforcement officers, who they claim increasingly resemble an occupying force.

And the links with Israel have been highlighted by the paramilitary-style response of St Louis County police to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which followed the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by the local force on 9 August.

Some eyewitnesses say that the 18-year-old boy was trying to surrender to police when he was shot six times. His body was left in the street for hours, during which time a crowd gathered demanding answers from the police, who responded by deploying K-9 units and riot squads.

This sparked days of riots in Ferguson, culminating in the deployment of the Missouri National Guard to restore order to this St Louis suburb.

However, in addition to the disturbances in Ferguson itself, the boy’s death has provoked protests across the nation, with institutional racism, breaches of human rights, police brutality and the militarisation of law enforcement the primary targets.

With images of Israel’s latest carpet bombing of Gaza still fresh in the memory – an operation which has more than ever threatened grassroots US support for the Jewish state – Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent riots have come at the worst possible time for Israel’s supporters.

And this is because the IDF-style counter-terrorism tactics, and the weapons used by the police, have highlighted the links between the policing of minorities in the US and Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. Palestinians and US minorities now have a common interest, as Palestinians were quick to show when they tweeted tips on dealing with tear gas and with their messages of solidarity.

Even before Ferguson, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge had already sparked protests across the US, led by organisations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, which is behind grassroots campaigns – such as this one in Colorado – to hold Jewish community leaders to account. US support for Israel is likely to come under further scrutiny as evidence emerges that Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza.

Indeed, support for Israel among young Americans has been waning for some time, according to polling research by Gallup and focus group studies, but the latest bombing has significantly also hit support among the Evangelical Christian community. Unsurprisingly, studies suggest that support for the Palestinian cause is much higher and growing among non-white Americans.

Grassroots support for Israel, though still strong, appears to be on a long-term declining trend. Throw in the suppression of the US black population – an fact so apparently obvious it has become the subject of satire – using Israeli techniques and the same US-made weapons as those used to control the Palestinians, and this could begin a real shift in American opinion on the Jewish state.

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Bank of England ‘a spectator’ as London housing market surges


London house prices are being driven beyond the Bank of England’s control by cash-rich foreign investors seeking top-end property in the capital.

Speaking on yesterday’s Andrew Marr show, Bank governor Mark Carney said the government’s Help to Buy scheme is having a minimal effect on the surging London market.

Instead, he said, the property surge is being driven by the continuing influx of foreign buyers whose cash purchases avoid the Bank’s influence, rendering it a spectator that can merely “watch” as prices rise.

Mr Carney said: “Much of what’s driven in London … is not mortgage-driven, it’s cash-driven. The top end of London is driven by cash buyers. It’s driven in many cases by foreign buyers.

“We, as a central bank, can’t influence that. We change underwriting standards, it doesn’t matter, it’s not a mortgage. We change interest rates, it doesn’t matter, it’s not a mortgage.”

However, Mr Carney went on to describe the surge in prices as an “adjustment” from their post-crash low, but which still remain below their 2008 peach. “They’ve now bounced back but they’re still more than 25% below historic averages, let alone stronger than historic averages,” he said.

His comments were at odds with figures released last week by Shelter, which suggested that the affordability of home-ownership is becoming an increasing problem.

Based on wage and house inflation figures collated from each area of the country since 1997, the homelessness charity claimed average earners would need to see their annual salaries double to match the rise in house prices.

And it highlighted Hackney as an area where property values had become completely detached from wages, claiming that the average salary across the borough would need to rise by £100,000 to remain in line with the “astronomical increase” in local house prices.

The charity added: “Worryingly, there is not a single area in the whole country where wage and house price inflation have remained aligned. Burnley has the smallest gap, but here £10,000 would still need to be added to the average salary to put it in line with the rise in house prices.

“The impact of the housing shortage has been widespread, with the latest Census showing a drop in home ownership in England for the first time since records began.”

Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb added: “It is no surprise that the dream of a home of their own is slipping further out of reach for a generation.

“Politicians need to start meeting people halfway by committing to bold solutions that will get more affordable homes built. Otherwise future generations will find themselves priced out of a stable home, however hard they work or save.

“The only solution is to build more affordable homes.”

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Chancellor backs building drive to fix ‘historic’ housing shortage


UK property prices rose by 7.3% in the year to January, according the latest Halifax house price index figures, chiming with other reports that reflect a widespread property boom.

The Halifax index revealed that house prices resumed their upward path last month, recording a 1.1% increase, following December’s month-on-month fall of 0.5%.

And though the slightly older Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures suggest a smaller nationwide rise – at 5.4% in the year to November – they do confirm the near-stratospheric boom in London compared with the rest of the country, with a rise in the capital of 11.6%.

But while the lack of housing supply relative to demand has become a common theme, there are differences over how the current boom will play out. On the one hand, the Halifax believes household debt will be a constant drag on prices, while chancellor George Osborne believes the boom could last for more than a decade.

Announcing the index figures, Halifax housing economist Martin Ellis said: “With the supply of properties being slow to respond to more buoyant market conditions, stronger demand has resulted in continued upward pressure on house prices.

“Demand has increased against a background of low interest rates and higher consumer confidence, underpinned by signs that the economy is recovering and unemployment falling faster than expected.

“However, continuing pressures on household finances, as earnings fail to keep pace with consumer price inflation, are expected to remain a constraint on the rate of growth of house prices.”

The Halifax figures were released the day after chancellor George Osborne gave evidence to the Lords Economic Affairs Committee. He said: “This is a big challenge for our country. We have got to build more homes.”

Mr Osborne said the Coalition government’s relaxation of planning regulations would, over time, go some way to easing the problem, by stepping up the construction of new homes. “The planning reforms are clearly working,” he said. “You see planning applications up, planning approvals up, and the percentage of planning approvals up.

“Across the board, we are pulling a lot of levers. But this is a historic problem.”

The chancellor, meanwhile, was keen to defend the Help to Buy Scheme which, by underwriting large loans to people without deposits, has attracted criticism for inflating a housing bubble in London and the South East.

Instead, Mr Osborne pointed to the fact that house prices are still well below their 2007 peak, and added that the Bank of England is monitoring the position closely, and has sufficient powers to cool the market if necessary.

Though the ONS House Price Index to November shows a more sedate rise in house prices across the country, they do highlight how London is a different housing market planet compared with the UK as a whole. According to the ONS, Wales saw the second-highest rise, at 5.4%, while the South East saw prices rise by a comparatively modest 4.5%.

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UK base rates held at 0.5%

Mark Carney: interest rate conundrum

Mark Carney: interest rate conundrum

In a move that surprised absolutely no one, the Bank of England has announced today that its base rate is staying at 0.5%.

This follows the nine-man Monetary Policy Committee’s (MPC) earlier vote to keep rates at this never-before low for the 60th consecutive month.

But the perceived need for continued market stimulus is creating a difficult presentational balancing act for the Bank’s Canadian governor, who is keen to reassure households and businesses that a rate hike is not as close as they might fear.

Mr Carney’s move follows a fall in January’s recorded unemployment levels to 7.1%, just a whisker above the 7% he said would trigger a rate re-evaluation. If the UK economy does grow faster than last year’s 1.9%, the pressure to raise base rates will intensify, potentially spelling trouble for millions of homeowners. Many commentators see UK rates rising to nearer 3% within two years.

In his ‘forward guidance’, issued last summer after succeeding Sir Mervyn King in the job, Mr Carney said unemployment was unlikely to reach the 7% mark before 2016. In other words, he believed there was little prospect of rate rises until safely after next year’s general election.

However, this issue could pose a challenge to his credibility because UK unemployment has declined must faster than expected, and looks set to fall below 7% within months, if not sooner.

Speaking at last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Carney reaffirmed his view that rates should stay put for some time, a position apparently not shared by all of his fellow MPC members. So, having nailed his colours to the ultra-low interest rates mast, he could face the risk of being outvoted by his MPC colleagues, who are increasingly thought to favour rises.

Many market analysts believe it would be sensible for Mr Carney to announce a cut in his unemployment trigger point to 6.5% when delivering his inflation report next month. However, even if rates do rise, the view is growing that any increases across developed economies like the UK will be minimal, restrained by the chronic and still-rising levels of public, corporate and household debt.

This argument was taken up by former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers in November. He said interest rates will have to stay negative – between to 2% to 3% below inflation – for many years as a stimulus to offset the deflationary effect of debt. But with inflation at barely 2%, the scope to do this is limited, removing many of the levers of traditional macroeconomic theory.

So, wherever Mr Carney’s interest rate balancing act takes him, it will very likely be closely watched by homeowners, who have their own balancing act to perform.

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