Apeirogon, by Colum McCann

Summary: a desperately sad but hopeful perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Rami Ethanan, a graphic designer, and Bassam Aramin, a scholar, are friends. They have a lot in common. Both are smokers. Both are former combatants. Both understand the deep, moral corrosiveness of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Both understand that peace requires people to talk to each other and try to understand each other’s point of view. Both are the fathers of murdered children: Rami’s daughter, Smadar, was murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers; Bassam’s daughter, Abir, was murdered by Israeli soldiers.

Apeirogon is the story of how, in particular, these two men have sought to advocate for peace by building mutual understanding. But it ranges even more widely, into the lives of their families, including their murdered daughters, and into the cultural and political history of Israel and Palestine.

(From the Guardian)

I finished this book just before Israel launched its latest series of child-killing attacks on Gaza. As usual, in such situations, American politicians are to be found on social media congratulating themselves for the US military support to Israel that allows its leadership to launch such attacks on Gaza with impunity. Such politicians find the slaughter of children with rockets, and American journalists with bullets, much more palatable than the murder of children by suicide bombers. But that is the logic of the US’s military alliance with what the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, has called an apartheid state.

The asymmetric nature of the warfare between Israelis and Palestinians is very much on display with the latest Israeli attack on Gaza. In prison, for throwing a dud grenade at an Israeli patrol, Bassam realised that responding to Israeli violence with violence, even if only stones, plays into the hands of those who want to sustain the occupation: it allows them to portray Israeli violence and theft as defensive, and the Palestinians as less than human. As a result of this realisation Bassam became committed to the ideal of non-violence.

Rami, recognising the common humanity of Palestinian and Israeli families who had suffered similar losses to his own, came to his own realisation that the status quo offered no real security for Israelis either. His wife, Nurit, a distinguished academic and peace activist, had understood this much earlier: with enormous courage she explicitly and publicly blamed the racist and militaristic policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the death of her daughter.

Apeirogon reminds us that as well as the meat-headed terrorists in the high echelons of government and the military, Israel and Palestine also have thousands of people like Rami and Bassam: people committed to non-violence, human rights and dialogue as a path towards justice.

For success such activists need international support. Yet the US and Europe fail utterly to do this, privileging Israel with arms and trade rather than compelling the dialogue that is essential for any meaningful peace to be forged.

Apeirogon is an extraordinarily important book. It is a tribute to the thousands of (asymmetrically) marginalised Palestinians and Israelis who have sought to build peace and fraternity through dialogue and understanding rather than acquiesce in violence. How many more children will be slaughtered before their path is recognised as the only truly viable one?

Photo by Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Stories of the Law and How it’s Broken; and Fake Law, by The Secret Barrister

Summary: the UK’s process of becoming a rogue state explained

The Secret Barrister’s first book, Stories of the Law and How it’s Broken, described the contemporary criminal justice system in England and Wales and how years of underfunding have left it dangerously unfit for purpose. Fake Law looks at the law more widely and examines how populist politics, dishonest journalism, and increasing authoritarianism in government have led to a wholesale assault on ordinary people’s most basic rights.

Taken together these two books are an elegantly written primer of key elements of UK law and how it is practiced. However they also represent a searing indictment of the ongoing assault on the fundamental tenets of rule of law in the United Kingdom.

Take, for instance, that perennial bug bear of the English Far Right, the Human Rights Act. The Secret Barrister describes in some detail how, to take just one example, the victims of the serial rapist, John Worboys, were only able to obtain any remedy for the appalling police failings in the case that left Worboys free to assault other women, due to the Human Rights Act. This piece of British law allows citizens to hold the government to account for its failings. Hence it draws particular ire from those who believe that ministers and other public servants, such as the police, should not be accountable before the law.

As the Secret Barrister points out, it is untrue that the UK has no constitution. This, they note, is scattered through diverse pieces of legislation stretching back centuries. Fundamental to the UK constitution is the supremacy of parliament. This does not mean the “supremacy of government”. Government is also meant to be accountable under the laws set by parliament, and it is the role of the courts to publicly administer these laws, including whether the government is acting in accordance with them.

This is pretty fundamental to how the UK is meant to work. But findings of government unlawfulness, such as with the Tory government’s plans to withdraw from the EU without primary legislation, or Boris Johnson’s unlawful attempt to prorogue parliament, have drawn particular venom. For example the vile Daily Mail infamously declared judges “enemies of the people” for just doing their jobs. And parliamentarians and government ministers from both Labour and the Tories, some of them, like Harriet Harman and Dominic Raab, qualified lawyers, have wilfully misrepresented due process and demanded removal of citizens’ human rights protections because, they think, it plays well with sections of the electorate: “There go the people. I must follow them because I am their leader.”

The resulting political climate has allowed the government to advance their programme of reducing the human rights protections, and access to justice, of some of the most vulnerable in society, and limiting the power of the courts to scrutinise government incompetence and abuse.

The Secret Barrister’s books should be required reading for every individual who has the temerity to put themselves forward for elected office. While some of them struggle with the big words, the rest of us should read them to get informed and stay angry about the sustained assault on rule of law that is being perpetrated before our very eyes by the authoritarians who currently dominate the UK’s parliament and government.