Archive for July, 2012

First Published March 2010

Upon first hearing the recommendations, from the Mc Carthy report, that the LRC (Labour Relations Commission) should return to the fold of the Labour Court, I was horrified. The LRC was established as a result of the 1990 Industrial Relations Act, in a bid to stop the number of industrial relations disputes seeking a solution from the Labour Court early on in their dispute process. Some would question the success of the LRC in so doing since that date and would even question the need for its existence today. Others would argue that as the Labour Court has expanded its remit since that time, that the LRC is actually reducing the number of cases that land on the Labour Court’s doorstep in the first instance.

However, as the recent interview given by its CEO in today’s Sunday Business Post, you would again begin to wonder about its raison d’être. Its aim of encouraging ‘…employers and trade unions to take a positive and constructive approach to industrial relations…’ is brought into question. Are comments claiming that the unions have ‘…adopted a reasonable approach…’ in escalating industrial action, really that positive or constructive? Have the LRC already made their mind up about the outcome, given that they feel that there was a limited opportunity to reach a breakthrough? (Hopeful, no?!) Further claims that public sector workers feel that they are bearing the brunt of Government cutbacks are astounding! EVER HEARD OF BENCHMARKING?!

Furthermore the assertion that inflated wages followed the increase in house and car prices, and cost of services as opposed to preceding or even causing them, does require further economic analysis as does the assertion that the Minimum Wage ‘…isn’t a competitive issue…’

I take great exception to this apparent stance. Maybe it’s personal in that I took the ultimate 100% pay cut, (i.e. dole) without city centre marches or Government task forces to defend me or open new opportunities for me. I have witnessed workers in the private sector volunteering for, as well as being strongly advised to take, huge pay cuts whilst already being on a wage rate barely above minimum wage! So who is bearing the brunt of the crisis? These private sector workers I just mentioned or those who have taken a ‘cut’ with part of that ‘cut’ being diverted into their own pension?!

Bearing the brunt is not up for discussion as much as who or what caused the crisis and (most importantly) how are we going to solve it and ensure it doesn’t happen again! How are we going to ensure accountability and that we get a return on our investment in Public and Private goods and services. Wake up guys, we all have to take a slice (and ‘…highly experienced…’ union officials should recognised this)!

I quit listening to public moaning, stopped accepting the doom and gloom of media reporting and the helplessness, pointlessness and absolute frustration of public sector striking, as some turn up to strike in Audis and Mercs. The implication that they are the victims of the crisis and that they see the need for a ‘…go slow…’ (some would argue that the pace is business as usual) is galling to say the least. Instead I went faster to see what I could create.

Maybe the public sector and those that make up our industrial relations system could do likewise and be just as ‘…positive and constructive…’ as is their aim. This may actually amount to a much better defence to proposed cuts from Mc Carthy!

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PUBLISHED in the ‘Derry Journal’ Friday 8 June 2012 – http://www.derryjournal.com/lifestyle/entertainment/celebrating-palestine-in-derry-through-culture-and-art-1-3924275

Little known Canadian-Palestinian performance poet, Rafeef Ziadah, has already received worldwide recognition for her work at 30 years of age. Most notably from film director, Ken Loach. He said “Rafeef’s poetry demands to be heard. She is powerful, emotional, political. Please read her work and see her perform.”

Ms. Ziadah’s is highly thought of in the birthplace of her grandparents – Palestine. By popular vote, she was chosen to represent Palestine at ‘Poetry Parnassus Festival’ at the South Bank Centre in London. The Arts Council in Ontario also recognised her talents in awarding her a grant to create her debut performance poetry album ‘Hadeel’.

Ziadah was in Ireland last week for the cultural concert tour “Commemorating Al Nakba – Celebrating Palestine”. We met in a Dublin city centre apartment to discuss the tour and the message it is bringing to an Irish audience.

While waiting patiently outside the apartment for her to arrive, I recognise her approaching among an oncoming group of five. I had seen her image several times on social media so, happily I cry out, “Hi Rafeef?” With a gentle smile she replies “yes, I am Rafeef”.

On first impressions, not the passionate personality who performed ‘we teach life sir’ in London last November. A performance that received over 215,000 hits on YouTube.

However, on the stairway up to the apartment, as we discuss Palestine and her poetry, the passion re-emerges. She passionately explains the message behind the concerts that recently visited Cork, Dublin, Belfast and Derry on the Irish leg of a tour that also included the UK.

She explains “the tour commemorates what Palestinians call ‘Nakba’ week – Arabic for catastrophe, which marks the 64th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel, when over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled”.

Among those expelled were her grandparents. They never returned. The right for refugees to return and the struggle of the Palestinian people are the key messages of the tour. They are the driving forces behind Ziadah’s poetry.

She excitedly explains what it means to her and other Palestinians. She explains what it means to be performing in Ireland. “Ireland has a special place in the hearts of Palestinians”. She jokes “we believe Ireland was mistakenly located and should be down her with us”. On a more serious note “the tour was planned at the time of mass hunger strikes in Palestinian prisons”, she pauses, “what country understands hunger strikes like Ireland”?

On the tour with Ms. Ziadah was singer, Terez Sliman, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Phil Mansour, a Lebanese-Australian singer-songwriter and musician, Yazin, form the occupied Golan Heights. It was “a very unique collaboration” says Ziadah.

For the first time ever she worked with Phil Monsour, who performed his CD ‘Ghosts of Deir Yassin’. The CD says “we are no longer living in the fear, we are going to return” says Ziadah.

Mansour presented his set and Ziadah played guitar with him as part of her performance poetry. The rest was a mix of Arabic songs, written by Sliman, and English poetry, written by Ziadah and integrated with Yazin’s music.

Ziadah was pleased with the response from the Irish audience. She feels it was so positive due to “the musicality of Arabic words mixed with English poetry so the audience can understand where we are coming from”. She explains “it is very hard to explain, it’s something you need to see to grasp the fullness of it”. However, she adds, “it is very unique and very theatrical but also very political at the same time”.

Palestinian art cannot be purely art “as nothing in our life is not political” she says. Ziadah feels a strong need to assert herself through art. She explains that art is about “asserting culture and identity and culture that is being destroyed”.

So how did she get started on this road? Ziadah says “she always wrote poetry” although she didn’t perform until her University years in Toronto. Despite growing up in Lebanon in the early 80s in the middle of the war, it was Toronto Canada where she first experienced real hatred.

It happened when Ziadah, and her fellow students, were working on a creative art scene, using a mock Israeli checkpoint. Ziadah and her fellow students played the parts of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian citizens.  In the middle of a scene, whilst lying on the ground, she was attacked by a young Jewish student. He kicked her in the stomach and yelled “you deserve to be raped before you have your terrorist children”.  One week later she performed her poem “Shades of anger”.

Ziadah’s was also influenced by Palestinian poets such as Mahmoud Darwish, Fadwa Tokan and Ghassan Kanafani. A childhood growing up during the Lebanon war meant she experienced a great deal of trauma so, “getting it out on paper was very important”.

Ken Loach’s praise may raise her profile but the bread and roses issues of Palestine will ensure her work is always heard. What does she hope the legacy of this tour will be? “To get the Palestinian story, on a day to day basis, out there and publicise the normalisation of violence against Palestinians”.

Ziadah is equally passionate about the cultural boycott of Israel and is indeed a signatory to the campaign. She hopes it will counter the “de facto boycott” that exists against Palestinian artists and serve as a “wakeup call to Israel”. “The boycott is working, Israel is taking notice and we have received support from South African artists who understand apartheid”.

And recent political criticism of the cultural boycott? She cools her passion and plainly replies “it shows where their priorities are”.

 

PUBLISHED in ‘Connect’ CWU Magazine Page 33 – http://www.cwu.ie/_uploads/documents/Connect/Connect_June_2012.pdf

Harassment from the most battled-trained army in the world, explosion of equipment, unlawful competition, limited access to frequency and excessive government restrictions. Palestinian-American businessman, Sam Bahour, encountered all of this in establishing Paltel, Palestine’s first mobile phone company.

Since Paltel’s eventual launch in 1999, its subscription rate increased from 570,000 subscribers in 2005 to two million in 2010. Telco in Palestine outperforms other conflict countries. Penetration per capita stands at about 33%. This puts it ahead of Egypt, Syria and Yemen. Paltel is Palestine’s largest private sector employer, employing 3,000 people, with 7,668 shareholders, making up 29% of Palestinian GNP and accounting for 50% of worth of the Palestinian Security Exchange. Paltel is a success story.

Despite this success, Bahour claims that even today Paltel faces unauthorised competition from Israeli providers serving Israeli settlements overlooking Palestinian areas. He claims this is illegal as, in his words, “there are no ifs ands or buts about it, neither side is allowed provide a service to the other side unless they are licensed to do so” and the Israelis are not licensed to do so according to Bahour.

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) have the right to collect taxes on these calls, yet cannot do so as Bahour claims the Israelis refuse to transfer them. This amounts to an estimated loss of $60m annually. It is also estimated that if Paltel had the opportunity to provide 3G coverage since 2005, it would have avoided lost revenue of almost $67m.

So how then, did he get Paltel off the ground? Bearing a striking resemblance to former Minister Frank Aiken, Bahour explains that to set up a mobile phone company he needed to tick six boxes – mobile licence, mobile frequency, transmission equipment, start-up capital, human resources and customers. As the PNA grant the licence and Palestinians were eager customers, two boxes were immediately ticked.

Palestinian Banks hold over $7Bn in reserves and the Diaspora is keen to invest, which ticks the start up capital and transmission equipment boxes. However, this equipment still needs to be accessed, when it arrives at customs, and installed safely. That box, and the access to human resources and mobile frequency box, is not so easy to tick. This is where Paltel faced their greatest challenges.

As an IT graduate from Youngstown State University and as a Director at the Arab Islamic Bank, Bahour was one of their key human resources. However, other properly skilled Palestinians living abroad were refused entry visas which necessitated the hiring of expensive foreign labour and consultants.

Accessing mobile frequency was problematic due to the bizarre reality of Palestinian Telecommunications. Local telecommunication regulations give the PNA the right to issue licences but Israel the right to issue frequency. Frequency must be released “…based on need…” which Bahour claims the Israelis ignored. Paltel did not get the necessary frequency until mid 1999 despite being ready to go live since January 1997.

The transmission equipment ordered by Paltel was held in storage by Israeli customs, without explanation, for two years. Israeli equipment was released in 2-3 weeks. In August 2010 the World Bank found that from 2002 – 2009 Paltel lost an estimated $382.7m due to Israeli confiscation of equipment and restrictions to operate.

The equipment that eventually got through was subject to arbitrary attacks from the Israeli Defence Force with “no explanation, apology or compensation given” claims Bahour. Delays meant that Paltel were forced to host mobile switches in London and route communication through that switching equipment to one of the Israeli operators. To avoid further delays Paltel then bought from Israeli providers.

So how did Bahour do it? How did he cope with the delays, explosions and lost revenue? What was the key? Quite simply he says “Palestinian business people are resilient”. He believes they are successful as they are “very tested crisis managers” and have learned to “use technology effectively to communicate with areas they cannot physically access”. He believes the Palestinian Diaspora are also a major advantage as, like the Irish, “…are scattered to every corner of the globe…” keen to invest and “willing to take a lot of risk”.

As a businessman Bahour pursued a “better reality for Palestinians” through business and believes the “best form of resistance against Israeli occupation is setting up businesses”. Not talk of revolution, talk of business and business can be revolutionary. Just as we in Ireland know, Bahour too knows that people are less likely to leave their homeland when they have work. “Businesses mean jobs and jobs mean Palestinians stay”. The Paltel story is an example of resilience in the face of adversity. Resilience not dissimilar to that in Irish business people.

 

As Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, lodges his application for full membership of the UN (September 2011), the Irish Palestinian community remain hopeful that some kind of history will be made today. They are, however, aware that observer rights as a non-member state, equivalent to that of the Holy See, will be the outcome. President Obama has already told the Palestinian President that he will veto his bid for UN membership, meaning it will now not be recommended to the General Assembly thereby making full membership of the UN impossible. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised the President’s position saying he deserved a “badge of honour”. So what now for Palestinians and Israelis living in Ireland as the current application is dead in the water?

While the application being lodged is somewhat academic at this stage, the Irish Palestinian community were always realistic about their chances of success. This was very much the mood at the Palestinian Cultural Day at Liberty hall last weekend organised by the Mission of Palestine in Ireland, SIPTU and Sadaka – The Irish Palestinian Alliance.

Speaking with Dr. David Morrison of Sadaka, who gave a comprehensive overview of the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations since the end of the Second World War, he underlined the importance of the application for Palestinians. Both he and Dr. Bassam Naser, head of the Palestinian community in Ireland, are conscious of the thousands of Palestinians who have ‘…become refugees all around the world…’, as a result of their villages being destroyed. He is conscious also of those, many who are close friends, currently living in the region who must travel 3 – 4 hours each way to work and to go about their ‘normal daily business’. Both are also realistic that the bid itself and that its rejection will lead to even more violence in the short term. For them, the application is nonetheless important and another milestone towards ‘full nationhood and independence based on the 1967 borders’. They are hopeful too that it will lead to the return home of so many refugees who have had to flee their homes over the years. They are also acutely aware that a successful application would give Palestinians access to bodies such as the IMF and most importantly the International Criminal Court.

Dr. Morrison finds Israeli opposition to the application perplexing in the long-term given that, ‘demographics is against them’ and that their reluctance to give up the West Bank ‘is costing them in terms of trade with their neighbours’. Lots of Israelis have the right to an EU passport and German passports are apparently ‘been taken out hand over fist’. Perplexing to him also is that, ‘the atmosphere in the Middle East is changing against Israel’ through losing an ally in Turkey and ‘a new regime in Egypt that will be less favourable towards Israel’. This remains to be seen and is by no means so clear cut.

Sadaka’s hope is that the Irish Government will support the Palestinian position in the future but in the absence of a clear stance from the EU, total support from the Irish Government looks increasing unlikely. The furthest the Irish Government have gone is to show ‘general support for the establishment of a Palestinian state’.

There is of course an Israeli community in Ireland, while much smaller in number. Theirs paints a somewhat different picture, as articulated by Yanky Fachler, Chair of the Israeli-Irish Group. He believes that the application is ‘quite dangerous’ as it is being made in the absence of ‘real negotiations’. With family in the area and a regular visitor to Israel too, Yanky is keenly aware of the realities ‘on the ground’ and the realistic security threats that both he and his family face on a daily basis to their very lives. He believes that the situation we are in today is somewhat as a result of ‘squandered chances’ going back to the 1967 conflict where, in the aftermath of that conflict, the Arab League responded with their ‘3 No’s to Israel’.

While ultimately accepting that some of the Israeli ‘settlements will be sacrificed’ as part of an overall settlement in the future. He also feels that, contrary to the inspiration that some Palestinians are taking from the ‘Arab Spring’, that it somehow ‘usurped their focus’ so they feel the need to get it back with the current application. As Yanky puts it, ‘Israelis have had to fight to defend Israel and have spent much on sophisticated armed forces’ otherwise Israel would simply have ‘disappeared’ so there ‘won’t be much change’ in the short-term.

Whatever the overall outcome from today’s application, all sides living in Ireland believe that violence in the Westbank is regrettably the most likely outcome in the short-term. It seems certain, from speaking to both communities in Ireland, that a Palestinian state in the long-term, of some description, is inevitable with pressurise on the Irish and EU governments set to continue. It also seems certain that Israelis will continue to ‘defend their position’. Long term, however, both sides need to decide what is really important to them and look more carefully at the implications of the Arab Spring, if indeed there are any significant implications beyond the changing of faces. Similarly the possible ailing position of the US as, Leader of the Middle East peace process, also needs careful consideration. Consequently, the only real outcome from today will be both sides looking for new friends, in the long-term and maybe even the short-term too.

 

PUBLISHED ‘Irish Times’ Friday 9 September 2011 – http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2011/0909/1224303759225.html

Chief Dan Daly remembers only too well the scenes of devastation and hopelessness he witnessed – he also remembers the faint glimmer of hope that inspired him so much.

September 11 2001 was ‘a beautiful crystal clear day’, what some pilots would call ‘severe clear’. Off duty that day, he was tempted to take his private plane up for a run around. But that run around was put on hold when he got a phone call from a friend asking him if he had seen what had happened, to which he replied ‘No’. His friend told him to turn on the TV and when Dan asked ‘…which channel…’ his friend replied ‘…it doesn’t matter which channel…’. Within minutes the 24 year veteran was at the scene and he couldn’t believe what was unfolding in front of him. He lost over 50 of his men at Ground Zero that day. One of those was Steve Belson, a very close friend of Dan’s who had convinced him to leave school teaching and join the fire department all those years ago, went into the North Tower and never came out.

He also remembers how he felt those days and for some days afterwards. Like so many Americans it was a feeling of anger. The ex Fire Chief, again like so many Americans, gave serious consideration to joining the armed forces to exact revenge. However, unlike some other Americans, those feelings subsided. Chief Daly began to realise a completely different message to most. He believes that 9/11 will remain one of the greatest atrocities of our generation, in the western world at least, and it is because the atrocity was so great that a new message must be spread.

Those feelings of anger subsided despite experiencing the horrific scenes of picking up human body parts and putting them into buckets along with the horror of losing close comrades and lifelong friends. Amongst the devastation, which has been well documented over the last 10 years, he would see that faint glimmer of hope. The hope he saw was through the volunteers who turned up to ground zero to set up tents and bring some comfort to the rescue workers through therapies such as massage and chiropractics. He describes how he saw ‘two worlds’ unfold in front of him. On one side there was Dante’s inferno as the two towers crashed and burned and on the other side there was a ‘City of Angels’ made up of these volunteers in their tents. In the early days there was no uptake on the services of the volunteers as firemen and other rescue workers were ‘too manly’ for such things. Yet as the days went by one or two tried it out, then three or four and pretty soon there were queues of rescue workers waiting to use them on a daily basis. These people, or ‘angels’ as Dan refers to them, sent him this new message, helped those feelings of anger to subside and changed his life forever. Up until that point he viewed retirement as taking it easy and living it up in The Caribbean, again like so many Americans. A dream retirement for most Americans but not when you feel you have even more to give and after 9/11 to Dan Daly ‘that would be a very shallow thing to do’.

Dan feels compelled to have a positive influence on the world and to do something to ensure that events such as these may never happen again. In his talks he has spoken in New Zealand, Australia and in the ghettos of Rio de Janeiro.  What he teaches is that we ‘need to drop our ego and reach out to people’. Dan says that “9/11 was a wakeup call for everybody but it seems that everybody has gone back to sleep” People are still filled with fear and confusion which has lead to tension and they don’t know what to do. Young people growing up are ‘Hi Tech but Low Touch’ and the so called ‘leaders in society are lost to them’. He feels that the vibrancy is back in New York as ‘New Yorkers are survivors’ but wonders, with some disillusionment, ‘what kind of lesson will we have to experience before we get serious about living with each other in peace’

Now in that retirement, far from kicking back in The Caribbean, Dan Daly is spreading a new message, that message of hope, compassion and personal responsibility to ensure that we get the real message from 9/11. As a father, Dan is conscious of the world that the older generation are handing over. It is for this reason that he is focusing his message on the youth of the world. In so doing he has already travelled to Brazil, Nicaragua, Nepal, Canada, Chile and, this Sunday September 11, he will be addressing crowds at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght. He will be speaking on The 5 keys to Successful Living which is a message of personal responsibility and means that ‘your actions matter and your actions have reactions’.

And with a name like Dan Daly it’s a sort of homecoming. Dan, moved to New York when he was 3 years old, having been born in London to Irish parents. His father is from Cahirciveen and his mother from Mitchelstown with an uncle, who is a retired Senior Captain with Aer Lingus, residing in Co. Dublin.

Dan’s talks are pro-bono so, apart from a small contribution from the US State Department, he does not receive a fee for giving these talks. Dan says that ‘every human being is on the same quest – the quest for happiness – yet they get distracted on the way which is what leads to so many problems in the world’.  In all of Dan’s life as both a School Teacher and Fire fighter nothing compares to bringing a young 5 year old girl with Aids to the Bronx Zoo, from the Children’s Wish Foundation. He saw that he had made a real difference in her life, a difference he would like to make in so many more lives. It is ‘an amazing feeling’ and it is why he does it. Time for a new story from 9/11, time for this new message.

 

Could the most important book underlying Christian values, beliefs and morals have been mistranslated? As our cultural values and religious beliefs in the west have been based on The Bible, have we based our values and beliefs on a misinterpreted book?

Dr. Rocco Errico believes so. He argues that The Bible was written for the ‘people of the near East’ and not those in the west. People in the west have literally interpreted expressions meant for those in the east, and this is where the misinterpretations have occurred. Rocco says that The Bible still has relevance for us in west but it needs to be re-written. Dr. George Lamsa, who grew up in the northern mountains of Kurdistan, where the most ancient Biblical customs were kept, is Rocco’s inspiration. Lamsa dedicated his life to translating the Bible from Aramaic into English and spoke ancient Aramaic. In his research, Dr. Lamsa found over 12,000 translation differences between the Aramaic version and the western version of the bible.

Lamsa said that in order to understand how such a thing could have occurred we must first of all look at the cultural context in which the Bible was written. We must understand that some of the hidden meanings within this book could not be decoded. At the time of writing The Bible, Aramaic was the spoken and written language of the Jewish people while Greek on the other hand was a foreign language.

In my conversation with Dr. Rocco he continues with examples to explain how easily misinterpretations can occur. He explains that hunting metaphors are used to describe the concepts of prayer, sin and evil. In Aramaic, the word for prayer, ‘slotha’, literally means to set a trap, i.e. a trap for the mind of God. A hunter would set a trap and await his prey in an expectant posture. Similarly in prayer, one waits with a receptive attitude to receive the mind of God. From archery, come the terms for evil and for sin. The Aramaic word ‘beesha’, which in the Greek texts, has been translated as ‘evil’, has many meanings, such as immature, unripe, hardships, and much more.

Dr Rocco has looked further at the Scriptures, from the perspective of Aramaic, which unravels theological paradoxes such as the following: Why did Jesus say to Peter, “Get behind me Satan?” The word ‘sata’ means errant. Jesus was reprimanding Peter for his misconceptions concerning Jesus’ mission. How was Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt? This is an Aramaic idiomatic expression, meaning she suffered a stroke. What was the purpose of Jesus giving his followers power to handle snakes and drink poison? This idiom means to handle devious people and to be unaffected by their gossip.

He says that the Aramaic understanding of the Bible, solves apparent riddles and contradictions. The God of the Old Testament is described as jealous. How could a God, whose essence is love, be jealous? Jesus tells us that God is love. The word ‘tanana’ means to be jealous, envious, or zealous, depending on the context in which it is used. Clearly the most appropriate term in this context, is zealous. The ambivalent view of God, continues in the Lord’s prayer, where we ask that God ‘lead us not into temptation’, as if His nature were untrustworthy or inconsistent.

As with all languages, the Aramaic language has numerous expressions of speech which say one thing but mean another. Imagine the quizzical look on the face of a Dub in response to the wise remark of the Connamara Gaelic speaker in impeccable English, “One beetle recognises another” (“Aithonionn ciarog ciarog eile”). When idioms are transliterated it is impossible to interpret them accurately. When mystical experiences are translated without reference to their cultural context, they become magical and mystifying, confusing rather than edifying. The story of Jonah being in the belly of a whale, exemplifies this. The Aramaic expression “to be in at the belly of a whale”, means “to be in a pickle” or “to be between a rock and a hard place”.

The list of examples Dr. Rocco gives are endless as is his knowledge on the subject matter, whether you agree or disagree with him. It is hardly surprising then, that he has dedicated 50 years of his life to this subject after Dr. Lamsa had already dedicated 60. The debate does not end here and is likely to continue for some time despite some religions not even recognising its existence.

 

irish Identity

Posted: July 24, 2012 in Irish, Unpublished

Will the Irish mentality always be the same? We now feel we can win the World Cup! Why? Because we beat England at home?! 😦 We revelled at beating the English at their own game on the world stage (Cricket) and John O’ Shea (on RTE tonight) said that we ‘…showed the British…’ at Cheltenham!!

Beckett famously riposted (to a French journalist who innocently inquired whether he was English) was “au contraire”. Will we ever know who we are?

Surely we are more than this…?