News in brief


As we went to press, the war in Yemen seemed to be heating up, with Houthis claiming a missile strike on an oil facility in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has been leading a military coalition in Yemen since 2015, fighting against Houthi rebel forces.

Britain has licensed saless of over £5bn-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since March 2015. At the end of October, Campaign Against Arms Trade launched a new judicial review into whether it was legal for the British government to restart arms sales to Saudi Arabia in July.

According to the Yemen Data Project, airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have killed over 8,700 civilians.

Save the Children said on 16 November that ‘the number of child casualties caused by airstrikes has increased five-fold since June as compared with the previous quarter.’

The war has led Yemen to the brink of famine, with two-thirds of the population hungry and nearly 1.5 million families relying entirely on food aid to survive.

UN technical experts warned again in mid-November of a possible environmental disaster from an abandoned oil tanker, just off the coast of Yemen.

Despite a UN ceasefire agreed in 2018, fighting has continued in and around Hodeidah, with an upsurge in October.

Sahara returns to war

The long ceasefire in Western Sahara is finally ending.

Morocco, which has illegally occupied most of Western Sahara since 1975, broke the 1991 ceasefire on 12 November by sending military forces into a UN-patrolled buffer zone in the south.

Unarmed Sahrawi protesters had been blockading a major road, protesting against the illegal export of resources from Western Sahara.

Sahrawis have been protesting against the building of the road, which leads to a port in Mauritania, since 2016. The latest blockade in October seems to have been provoked by Morocco’s preparations to tarmac the rest of the road, increasing the flow of Sahrawi resources out of the country – through what Sahrawis see as an illegal border post.

Sending troops into the ‘Buffer Strip’ was a breach of ‘Military Agreement No 1’, agreed between Morocco, the UN and Western Sahara’s national liberation movement, Polisario, in December 1997.

Polisario has responded militarily in both the north and the south of the country.

According to the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA), protests have broken out in important towns such as Laayoune and Smara, and human rights defenders have been arrested and beaten by the Moroccan security forces.

BLM £1.2m

In October, the official UK branch of Black Lives Matter revealed that it was about to gain access to £1.2m it had raised through GoFundMe, an online crowdfunding platform.

Formed in 2016, the group registered as a community benefit society (under the name ‘Black Liberation Movement UK’) in order to get the money.

@ukblm (Twitter)

Voices UK carries on

In mid-November, the US group, Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) announced it was ending.

This was 25 years after the formation of VCNV’s earlier version, Voices in the Wilderness, which ran 70 sanctions-breaking delegations into Iraq. VCNV (US) has organised around 30 delegations to Afghanistan since 2009.

While VCNV (US) is closing, the British branch, VCNV UK continues its work!

NETPOL product

The policing of the large-scale Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the UK in 2020 was institutionally racist.

That’s the conclusion of Britain is Not Innocent, a new report by the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol).

Based on evidence from over 100 witnesses, Netpol found excessive and unprovoked use of force against, and disproportionate targeting of, black protesters – with baton charges, horse charges, pepper spray and violent arrests.

The police also failed to protect BLM demonstrators or bystanders who were attacked by far right groups, or even to help them when they were injured.

I am not 'product'

Women activists from Police Spies Out Of Lives expressed their disgust at the ‘blatant disregard for women’s human rights’ shown by a former undercover police officer at the official Undercover Policing Inquiry on 19 November.

The police officer, who used the name ‘Peter Fredericks’ when he spied on activists in 1971, told the inquiry that having an intimate relationship with women he was spying on was to be expected. It was like ‘sampling the product’ if he was asked to infiltrate a gang of drug dealers.

Police Spies Out Of Lives said this statement reinforced the need for the inquiry to make a finding of institutional sexism.

The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance produced daily briefings of the inquiry proceedings during its first phase of public hearings, which dealt with the period 1968 – 1972.

The next hearings will cover 1973 – 1982, and will take place in March or April.

Three breaches

JCB, the construction equipment company based in Staffordshire, has effectively taken part in illegal Israeli government activities in the Occupied Territories, such as demolishing Palestinian homes and building Israeli settlements.

That was the verdict of a branch of the department for international trade, the UK National Contact Point (NCP), published on 12 October. The NCP oversees breaches of the OECD guidelines for multinational corporations.

The NCP will investigate the three breaches identified by Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights.

73 people

In Israel’s largest forced-displacement action in 10 years, its forces razed the occupied West Bank village of Khirbet Humsa on 5 November, destroying over 75 structures, including tents, animal sheds and solar panels.

41 children were left homeless, along with 32 adults.

B’Tselem reported that Israeli forces also destroyed over 30 tonnes of food for livestock and confiscated a vehicle and two tractors. The Israeli human rights group told the Guardian: ‘As part of its efforts to take over more and more Palestinian land, Israel routinely demolishes Palestinian homes and property.’

Israeli authorities said they had removed illegal structures in an army firing zone. The structures were ‘illegal’ because Palestinians are routinely denied building permits. Almost a fifth of the West Bank has been seized – illegally – for Israeli army firing zones.

According to the United Nations office of the coordinator for humanitarian affairs, the destruction of Khirbet Humsa was a war crime: ‘Home and property demolitions belonging to a protected population under occupation by an occupying power are a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.’

Nearly 700 structures have been demolished across the West Bank and East Jerusalem so far in 2020, leaving 869 Palestinians homeless.

103 days

Maher Al-Akhras, a 49-year old farmer from the West Bank, ended a hunger strike of 103 days against detention without charge or trial on 6 November, after spending weeks in hospital.

Maher said he’d achieved a victory for all Palestinians not just himself, after forcing the Israeli authorities to concede that he would be freed on 26 November and that his ‘administrative detention’ order would not be renewed.

According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, some 355 Palestinians, including two children, were being held without charge in administrative detention in Israel prisons as of August.