Saturday 2 August 2014

On the sequence of events leading up to the Israeli invasion of Gaza


This article is meant as a description of a sequence of events to help the reader understand the current so-called “war” in Gaza, and to find one’s way through the many dense layers of lies and propaganda.

For the purposes of this article, I shall use the terms “Israel” and “Israeli” instead of “Zionistan”, the term I prefer; but the use of those terms do not signify any legitimisation or approbation of the Zionist entity.

I shall – for the purposes of this section of the article – treat HAMAS as an organisation independent of Zionist control. I shall discuss that point further in the concluding section of this article.

The reason I am doing this not to pretend that there can be some kind of moral equivalence between a racist apartheid “nation” with billions yearly in aid from the American Empire on one side, and the inmates of a starved open-air concentration camp on the other. This is so any reader who wishes to can cite this article, or copy it, to other discussions without being accused of bias.

I repeat: you are welcome to cite or copy this article elsewhere.

I  strongly recommend you follow up the links I have provided in the text and at the end - they provide additional information that is beyond the scope of this article.

So let us begin.


In general, the Israeli propaganda machine, and those who repeat its claims, say that the aggression against Gaza is justified to prevent HAMAS rockets from falling on Israeli cities. Let’s examine this claim.

It is perfectly true that HAMAS is firing Qassam rockets at Israeli cities. It is completely true that Israeli families have hidden in bomb shelters from the incoming rockets.

Nothing else about Israeli claims is true.

Before we go further, let me mention a word about these Qassam rockets. They aren’t guided ballistic missiles or anything of that nature. What they are, is a steel tube packed with fertiliser as propellant, and sometimes (not always) with a crude warhead at the other end. When the propellant is ignited, the rocket – hopefully – takes off from the launching rails without crashing, and flies through the air until said propellant runs out and it falls on something. If there is a warhead, and if the rocket strikes the ground at an angle that impacts the nail (which is generally what is used as a striker), the warhead may or may not explode. If it does explode, the usual damage is a smear of black powder residue.

The statistics make it clear: Israelis are more likely to die from peanut allergies than Qassam fire.

What is the military utility of the Qassams? Nothing. What is their non-military value? Immense. The Qassam is a symbol of continued resistance, that oppression and blockade haven’t destroyed the will to fight back.

But, as I said, in military terms the Qassams’ value is less than negligible. And if we are to take the Israeli claim about the effectiveness of their Iron Dome defence at face value – something which reputable scientists have dismissed – the value of the Qassams drops to farcical levels. This is not the equivalent of the US’ Ukrainian allies rocketing and shelling Lugansk, something  the White House seems perfectly willing to let go on.

But, the HAMAS did fire Qassams without provocation on Israel, right? They did provoke the current round of violence?

Let’s see!

If we aren’t to take the route of arbitrarily declaring that a certain point is the “beginning” of the sequence of events leading to a particular situation – something that has been called “Historical Creationism” and is meant to point blame in one particular direction – we should take a longer view. We should start further back in time and see how things led up, action begetting reaction, to the situation of the moment.

The Beginning:

If there is a point where the story begins, it could be 2006, when HAMAS won a free and democratic election in Gaza. This was greeted by shock in Western capitals, which had aided in the election in the fond belief that the Palestinians would vote for the hyper-corrupt and effete Fatah in preference over HAMAS. Discord over the election resulted in an internecine HAMAS-Fatah civil war in 2007, in which Fatah was eliminated in Gaza and HAMAS virtually ceased to exist in the West Bank.

This was followed by a punishment Israeli (and Egyptian) blockade of Gaza, meant to, in the words of an Israeli minister, “put Gaza on a diet” for having the temerity to back HAMAS. This “diet” was quite literal, with a per capita limit of 2279 calories per day. Also,

All exports were banned, and just 131 truckloads of foodstuffs and other essential products were permitted entry per day. Israel also strictly controlled which products could and could not be imported. Prohibited items have included A4 paper, chocolate, coriander, crayons, jam, pasta, shampoo, shoes and wheelchairs.

Apparently, shoes et al were “dual use items” – as was A4 paper, and presumably coriander and jam could only be used to “feed terrorists”, who would then attack on wheelchairs with shampoo bottles firing crayons, if one were to go by the Israeli “logic”. Also, Gaza fishermen were restricted to a narrow coastal zone, which rapidly became depleted of fish due to the inevitable overfishing involved.

Not surprisingly, this could not sustain the population of Gaza, and smuggling rapidly became a major industry. Since Gaza is a tiny territory, under constant Israeli control and surveillance (even after the 2005 Israeli “withdrawal” from the territory), there was no way to carry out this smuggling except via tunnels. These tunnels, from Gaza’s border with Egypt – the only non-Israel border the strip has – rapidly became a major conduit for all supplies, and the Gazans became expert at tunnel-building. Time magazine even did a photo feature on them.

I repeat – these tunnels were built in the first place as a direct response to the Israeli blockade, because it was the only way the people of Gaza could survive in anything resembling civilised conditions.

These tunnels also suited HAMAS fine, because it could tax all the smuggling activities and raise funds from them. (It must not be imagined for a moment that HAMAS was, or is, the only resistance group in the Gaza Strip – there is also Islamic Jihad, which is no friend of HAMAS, and several smaller outfits. This should be kept in mind.)

Mowing the lawn”:

Roughly every two years after imposing their blockade, the Israelis have launched major attacks on Gaza. It happened in 2008, in which over a thousand Palestinians were killed, and again in 2012, in which 139 Palestinians died. In between, there were more, indeed constant, minor attacks on Gaza. On each occasion, the overwhelming majority of casualties were Palestinian civilians, something difficult to understand in view of the Israeli pretence of having a “moral army” which “goes to extreme lengths to avoid civilian casualties.” In fact, as we shall see, what is remarkable is not that civilians were killed, but that – for a nation claiming that HAMAS presented a threat to its very existence – Israel went to great lengths not to destroy HAMAS.

Had it been determined to end Hamas rule it could easily have done so, particularly while Hamas was still consolidating its control over Gaza in 2007, and without necessarily reversing the 2005 disengagement. Instead, it saw the schism between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority as an opportunity to further its policies of separation and fragmentation, and to deflect growing international pressure for an end to an occupation that has lasted nearly half a century.

Israel called this process of regular attacks “mowing the lawn”. Apparently no one chose to notice that this reduced the Palestinians to the status of grass.

But HAMAS accepted a ceasefire after the 2012 “mowing”, and not only did it adhere to this ceasefire for over nineteen months, it prevented the other Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza from attacking Israel. It even stopped peaceful protests against Israel.

I repeat: from 2012 to 2014, HAMAS was in total ceasefire mode with Israel, despite constant provocations. Not only was it in ceasefire, it enforced the ceasefire on Islamic Jihad and other resistance groups.

HAMAS and the Syrian “Civil War”:

One of the few nations that had stood by HAMAS and the Gaza resistance was Bashar al Assad of Syria, as well as his ally, Iran. Now, the ideological mentor of HAMAS is the Muslim Brotherhood, the organisation which had been suppressed throughout North Africa from Algeria to Libya to Egypt, and in Syria as well. In the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011, as various old tyrants were overthrown by what seemed to be a tide of democracy, the Muslim Brotherhood scored an important victory. The dictator of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown by a popular revolution, and a MB led government replaced him. Life became easier for Gaza residents, with the MB significantly easing the blockade and in fact pressuring Israel to an early ceasefire when it last attacked Gaza in 2012.

At the same time, in Syria, the violence was escalating as terrorist gangs sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and NATO attempted to take over the country. HAMAS – at the time based in Damascus – made a blunder so colossal that it has, to date, never recovered from it and perhaps never will. It chose to believe the fantasy that Assad’s fall was imminent and inevitable (something I, a mere foreigner half a world away, had at the time accurately stated was neither) and ditched him for Qatar. HAMAS men began using the techniques taught them by Hizbollah against Hizbollah, as at the battle of Al Qusayr, a turning point in the conflict. All this swiftly led to the funds being provided by Iran and Syria drying up – and Assad showed no signs of falling.

Soon enough, there was more trouble with Qatar, too, when in a very murky episode the HAMAS leadership was asked to leave the country. And in Egypt, the MB government was overthrown by a military dictatorship under al Sisi, one so aggressively anti-MB that it was far more anti-HAMAS than the earlier Mubarak dictatorship had been.

So, from having the full support of Syria and Iran and at least being tolerated by Egypt, HAMAS – by its own blunders – suddenly ended up with no friends whatsoever, bar the doubtful “friendship” of Israel’s friend and ally Turkey. It had no money and no way to make any more. Even the old reliable tunnel network had collapsed since the al Sisi dictatorship was aggressively demolishing them. By early 2014, HAMAS was on the ropes; unable to pay salaries of the Gaza employees, the economy almost nonexistent, sewage accumulating in the streets, massive daily power cuts, rising popular discontent, and no way out except a unity deal with its arch rival, Fatah.

Unity moves with Fatah:

Ever since the 2007 break with Fatah, there had been several attempts to forge a unity government. The closest that it came to one was in 2011, but went nowhere. But now, in 2014, with the situation in Gaza turning increasingly desperate, HAMAS decided to form a unity government with its arch rival. In real terms it was an unconditional surrender for HAMAS, since it accepted almost completely the Fatah positions (which in turn were dictated to Mahmoud Abbas by Israel). HAMAS wouldn’t even have a single cabinet post in this unity government, so total was its surrender. All it would gain in return was continued control over the Gaza strip and the reopening of the border crossing with Egypt, no more.

Not too surprisingly, this was greeted with relief by a lot of people in the West, including the US, which had grown increasingly uneasy at the situation in Gaza. In April, the agreement was signed, and on the 2nd June, the government was inaugurated.

With barely a protest from the Islamists, Abbas repeatedly and loudly proclaimed that the government accepted the Middle East Quartet’s demands: that it recognise Israel, renounce violence and adhere to past agreements. He also announced that Palestinian security forces in the West Bank would continue their security collaboration with Israel.

It did not, however, suit the Israeli government at all. All this time, the Israeli attempt had been to play off the Palestinians against each other, but a unity government would put an end to the game and put real pressure on the Netanyahu regime to allow a Palestinian state, something the Israeli prime minister had stated he would never allow. It became imperative to find a way to sabotage the unity government.

The opportunity came not in Gaza, but in the West Bank.

The West Bank:

All this time, the West Bank remained under the corrupt and effete Fatah “government” – the Palestinian Authority, as it is called, though it has no authority – of Mahmoud Abbas. The security services of this “government” acted in close alliance with the Israeli forces – so much so that the West Bank people joke bitterly that they’re enduring two occupations, one by Israel and one by the PA. In the West Bank there is no armed resistance activity; with few exceptions, the only weapons are in the hands of the “security services”. Not a single Qassam has been launched from the West Bank. And in return for this the West Bank people are rewarded with...

...massive, constant Israeli settlement construction – which always takes the best land from the Palestinians – with institutionalised apartheid (Arabs are not permitted to use roads meant for settlers, for example); “security walls” which cut off villages from their fields and children from their schools; over five hundred military checkpoints;  “price tag” attacks from settlers; the destruction of their olive groves and houses in mass punishments; and no prospect of ever gaining independence as a reward for their “good behaviour”.

Please keep this in mind when you hear any Israeli claim that they are interested in living peacefully alongside the Palestinians. They simply are not.  

Professor Ilan PappĂ© has said that Israel made a conscious decision to become a racist apartheid state instead of a democratic one. Today, ultra-right, openly racist and fascist opinion is rising in Israel, with chants of “Death to Arabs” even at football matches. This should not be forgotten either.

In May, on the day commemorating the Nakba – the Palestinian Holocaust of expulsion by Israel in 1948 – there were demonstrations in support of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in the West Bank. Israeli troops opened fire with live ammunition, killing two unarmed Palestinian teenagers. The incident was captured on closed circuit TV, and after initial denials the Israelis fell into sullen silence, not admitting the murders but unable to plausibly continue to deny them.

The kidnappings:

Some days later, on 11th June, Israel bombed Gaza, killing two Palestinians – one of them a ten year old boy. The very next day, three settler teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank. Israel, without providing any proof whatsoever, immediately blamed HAMAS for the kidnappings – though HAMAS denied any involvement. Despite knowing – from a phone call made by one of the kidnapped teenagers – that they were almost certainly dead, Israel lied (even to the parents, as they later testified), and launched a massive and aggressive “search operation” in the West Bank. Hundreds of Palestinians were arrested, including over sixty released as part of a previous prisoner swap for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Nine Palestinians were killed, and houses demolished and looted. During this time Abbas’ PA security forces worked in close collaboration with the Israelis.

Much later, the teenagers were found dead – only a short distance from where they were kidnapped – and by tourist guides at that. Apparently the “thorough” search wasn’t thorough enough to check the neighbourhood of the kidnap. In response, the Israeli government immediately announced three more settlements in the West Bank.

Let me mention at this point that all these settlements are clearly illegal under international law.

Meanwhile, in Israel and the West Bank, ultra-right racist Jewish organisations had been hard at work, stoking up anti-Palestinian hatred.  Straight from an anti-Arab demonstration, six of these ultra-right Jews attempted to kidnap a Palestinian boy but failed - because the nine-year-old boy's mother began hitting the attempted kidnapper over the head with her cellphone. Can you imagine the paeans in the media if it had been an Israeli mother protecting her son from Arabs? I think you can.

It wasn't enough deterrence. The next day they returned, successfully abducted Muhammad Abu-Khdeir, poured petrol into his mouth, and burned him to death.

Even at this stage, HAMAS did not retaliate. Despite being repeatedly attacked, falsely accused of the kidnap of the teenagers (even the Israeli police later admitted HAMAS had had nothing to do with the kidnappings), it still did not retaliate. The nineteen-month ceasefire was still on.

The Qassams begin:

The facts show that Israel, as one article laconically states, had to work quite hard to get HAMAS to end its ceasefire. That finally happened on 7th July, when it bombed a HAMAS group in a tunnel inside Gaza. This group had had nothing to do with attacking Israeli positions.

Between 01:00 and 16:00, the bodies of 5 members of the ‘Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades (the armed wing of Hamas) were recovered from a tunnel dug near Gaza International Airport in the southeast of the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.  They were identified as: Ibrahim Dawod al-Bal’awi, 24; ‘Abdul Rahman Kamal al-Zamli, 22; Jum’a ‘Atiya Shallouf, 26; and Khaled ‘Abdul Hadi Abu Mur, 21, and his twin brother, Mustafa.  Another three members were recovered alive, but one was in a serious condition.

Only then – after being repeatedly attacked in the West Bank as well as Gaza – did HAMAS retaliate; and the retaliation was by the Qassams, which, as we have seen, are utterly useless for all practical purposes.

That they are useless isn’t even a matter of opinion – the Israeli reaction proves they are useless. While simultaneously claiming that they are an existential threat, Israel reacted angrily to international flights being held back from its airports; apparently the existential threat wasn’t threatening enough to potentially harm its tourist industry. And while Qassams were touted as a massive threat, Israelis were sitting out on hillsides cheering the bombing of Gaza – exposed to these same Qassams.

Therefore the sequence of events, leading up to the invasion of Gaza, clearly shows that not only was HAMAS not to blame, but that at every stage, the Palestinians were reacting to Israeli provocation.

Let me also repeat a point I made earlier: HAMAS is not the only resistance group active in Gaza. There’s Islamic Jihad and several smaller groups; and even Israel admitted that HAMAS had stopped them rocketing Israeli cities. An attack blamed on HAMAS is not necessarily an attack launched by HAMAS, or even an attack HAMAS knew about or had any sympathy for.

It's a different matter that right now the various resistance groups are standing together against the enemy offensive - but not surprising. It's United We Stand and Divided We Fall; and if the Israeli attack is one thing which will bring the resistance together permanently, so much the better for it.


Having handled the sequence of events up to the launch of Qassams, which Israel cites as the casus belli of its war massacre in Gaza, let me move on to some other points.

The HAMAS human shield myth:

When all else fails, the Israeli counterargument about Gaza hinges a few shopworn arguments:

The first is the argument that HAMAS uses human shields and stores weapons in mosques and houses. That this is not true isn’t even a new thing: it was exposed several years ago, by Amnesty International among others, which said that the only instances of human shield use had been by Israelis. HAMAS did not, and has not now, used human shields. That is a lie. Nor has it stored weapons in homes or mosques except on two occasions when it stored weapons in empty UNRWA schools – UNRWA condemned the incident, and nobody has ever found any evidence that it was repeated.

Actually, this is by no means a new Israeli tactic. It had accused Hizbollah of similar tactics in 2006 – and then, too, it was conclusively proved by Human Rights Watch that Israel was lying. In fact, there is so much evidence piling up on this that this is something even Israeli Hasbara propagandists are becoming wary of citing.

(There's an interesting twist to this; as one of the few old Zionists still alive, Uri Avnery, says, in the Israeli "war of independence" it was the Jewish groups which hid weapons in schools, hospitals and synagogues.)

Nor is it true that the Israelis "warn" the people to flee before bombing their house. Often they don't, and even when they do, there is neither time to run or anywhere to run to.

The tunnels:

Another argument is that HAMAS used its tunnels to attack Israelis. This is a strange argument – apparently invented post facto – after the Qassam excuse didn’t wash as well as it seemed it would. I have been able to only find one instance of Palestinians – perhaps HAMAS, perhaps someone else – attacking a kibbutz using the tunnels; and that was on 17th July, ten days after the beginning of full scale hostilities. Since the tunnels have been around for many years, it's, in any case, at least disingenuous to pretend that they are a proximate cause for attacking Gaza.

The tunnels, as I said, were originally invented for smuggling, not for fighting; but they do seem to have been used with increasing effectiveness by the resistance to target the Israeli attackers. In retaliation, it is the Israelis who have been killing Palestinian civilians; that over 80% of Palestinian casualties have been civilians is proof, if any were needed, who is actually striking at civilian targets. In contrast almost all Israeli dead and wounded have been military personnel.

It is, in fact, the phenomenon of Gazan resistance and Israel’s retaliatory massacres of civilians that has led to the attackers’ destruction of the strip’s only power station; it was to drain Gaza’s laptops and mobile phones of power so that the people of the strip could no longer Tweet and Instagram photos and appeals for assistance to the world. Massacres are difficult to continue if exposed to the world in real time.

That this kills babies is incidental, of course.

The ceasefire:

The third Israeli argument is that HAMAS rejected a peace proposal – a ceasefire “proposed” by Egypt. It was a ceasefire HAMAS was never going to accept, and for excellent reasons. First, it was not consulted at all on what terms it was ready to accept; it has said repeatedly that what it wants is a lifting of the blockade. Secondly, the ceasefire was rubber stamped by the Egyptian dictator al Sisi, the man most responsible for the plight of the Gazans – much more so than even the Israelis. Third, though the proposal was rubber stamped by Egypt, it was an Israeli proposal, which gave Gaza nothing at all in return for ceasing hostilities. It would be a return to the status quo ante, as was the case in 2012. As we have seen, though the Gazans honoured the ceasefire, it was the Israelis who broke it. There is absolutely no reason to imagine it would be different this time round.

In return, HAMAS – and, very significantly, Islamic Jihad – made a counter-proposal; they would offer a ten-year ceasefire in response for lifting the blockade and other minor concessions. The response from the other side? Dead silence.

At the moment, fighting continues, and another “ceasefire” was broken within two hours by the Israelis, citing the “capture” of one of its soldiers. HAMAS has denied that it captured the soldier; in any case, the Israelis prefer to murder their own troops rather than let them be captured, as it seems to have done in this case. And seeing the number of times the Israelis have lied, it is by no means impossible that this “capture” is nothing more than another lie meant to continue the fighting.

In any case, the Israeli insistence on demolishing the tunnels is somewhat bizarre. Tunnels, surely, can be easily re-constructed when demolished? Isn't someone bright enough to have thought of that? And, in the exposed Gaza strip, tunnels are not just vital to the defence - they are the only way the defence can be conducted. As Uri Avnery says, HAMAS uses the tunnels for "...attacks, command posts, operational centers (sic) and arsenals."

As bizarre as this tunnel fixation is the Israeli insistence that it, and it alone, has the right to decide what a "ceasefire" entails. Thus, after declaring a 72-hour ceasefire, it still sent troops to attack a tunnel, apparently in the belief that it can destroy Palestinian infrastructure with impunity, but it's a ceasefire violation when the resistance fights back. That is at least delusional.

Either way, we can more or less say with confidence that the invasion isn't going anywhere near as well as the Israelis thought. 


A word about HAMAS:

Throughout this article, I have treated HAMAS as an independent resistance movement, “terrorist”, if you will, but independent. Actually, it was nothing of the kind. According to Uri Avnery, it was set up with the knowledge and tacit encouragement of Shin Bet (the Israeli military intelligence service, more honest and less murderous than Mossad). According to other sources, the Israeli involvement in setting it up was much more direct. Either way, HAMAS – at least in its upper echelons – is far from being as independent of the Israelis as most people believe.

There’s an interesting little fact. For all the talk about how HAMAS is “sworn to destroy Israel”, the Israelis have actually taken great care not to destroy or even seriously harm the group. In fact, even in the current confrontation, Netanyahu wants HAMAS to stay.

If you look at it, the only side that really wins in this conflict is...HAMAS. Israel is well on the way to becoming a pariah state, its propaganda collapsing, with huge numbers even in Europe now turned firmly against its racist apartheid policies. However, HAMAS, the raison d’ĂȘtre of Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza – HAMAS, which was on the ropes only months ago – has suddenly regained its lost position as the only defender of the Palestinians (excepting Islamic Jihad and minor groups). While Mahmoud Abbas continues to do nothing in the West Bank, HAMAS is steadily fighting the Israeli war machine to a virtual standstill. Who wins here?

I am not saying that Israel is deliberately sacrificing its soldiers to strengthen HAMAS. Even Netanyahu is not so stupid as that. The resistance of the lower ranks of HAMAS is real and effective; they didn’t melt away as the regime in Jerusalem thought they would. Increasingly, the Israelis are looking at a no-win situation. They aren’t losing though; not yet. Not as long as the US empire continues paying them, no questions asked.

The ones who are actually losing are the people of Gaza; but apart from the copy-pasted, hypocritical comments of Hasbara propagandists, nobody in a position of power cares about them.    

 Further reading:

And, oh, by the way, Zionists do not represent Jews. Thank you for remembering that.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2014

Tuesday 29 July 2014

The Way of the Unicorn: A Fable

Once upon a time, there was a herd of unicorns in a forest in a far and distant country.

The unicorns were too small to use as draft animals or for riding, they were too ugly to be decorative, and they didn’t compete with humans for food, so they were left alone.

Now, unicorns had rather special horns, which weren’t made of keratin like other horned animals. They were made of blahnium, a mineral which was unique. It was, you see, so useless that it could be used for absolutely nothing.

And so the years turned to decades and centuries, and most people hardly even remembered that the unicorns existed.

But then, one day, a scientist in a laboratory owned by one of the nation’s top industrial concerns – who had been imported from another distant nation with the lure of high pay – invented a new entertainment device. It was a mega-revolutionary advance in the entertainment industry, overnight turning plasma screens and the like obsolete. And, of course, it had tremendous defence and propaganda applications as well.

Nobody else, in the whole wide world, had anything like it.

What was the secret of this entertainment device? It depended on electron flow through a sheet of material with very unusual properties.

This material was, of course, blahnium.

And nowhere was blahnium found, barring trace quantities, except in the horns of unicorns.

At the prompting of the defence and entertainment industries, and especially of the concern which employed the foreign scientist and so owned the patent, the government of the nation declared that the unicorns were now a Strategic Resource.

Therefore, it ordered that all the unicorns should be rousted out of their forest, and confined in a concentration camp, where their horns could be regularly harvested for their precious blahnium. And so men with nets and guns and cages came to the forest, and captured the unicorns, even the newborn foals, which had no horns; and locked them all away behind barbed wire.

There, each animal would have its horn cut off, with camp officials assuring the media that the horn had no nerve endings and so the animal could not possibly feel pain; while the unicorns cried bitter tears of agony, and dreaded the moment when the horn would grow back again, when it would be hacked off once more.

Of course, there were unicorns in a few other countries in the world, too; but with its new gadgets and is weapons, the nation attacked all of them, overthrew their governments, and locked away their animals for its own use. Soon, it controlled all the unicorns in the world.

Now among the unicorns there was one who was brave and resourceful, whose name was Midnight; and he was the strongest and most intelligent of them all.

One day, while rooting for grass near the barbed wire, Midnight saw a few strands loose, and he broke out through them and ran away as far as he could. But he was all alone, and though he wandered through many lands, he never found any more of his kind.

This made him very sad and unhappy. Finally he decided to kill himself.

“I’ll go to the edge of the world,” he thought, “and jump off into the void. That way, at least, they will never get to my horn.”

So he walked and walked, through many a desolate wilderness, until he finally reached the end of the world.

And then he jumped off, and he fell.

But at that moment, the moon was passing by, on her daily voyage round the world. The unicorn fell on the moon, and rode her down to the bottom of the world, which no eyes had ever seen before.

And the bottom of the world was full of blahnium. It grew in spires and spikes, lay along the ground in twisted sheets like rock, and bubbled molten from volcanoes, spilling into the sky.

The unicorn was entranced. “All I have to do,” he thought, “is tell the humans about all this blahnium just lying around for the taking. Then they can let us unicorns go, for surely we can be of no further use to them.”

So Midnight rode the moon up to the other side, till she rose past the edge of the world, and then, neatly as you please, he jumped off. After walking through many strange and unknown lands, he finally reached the concentration camp from which he had escaped. And, making his way past the guards, he managed to reach the camp commandant’s office.

“I have great news,” he said, and proceeded to tell the commandant of all the blahnium which was lying around for the taking, at the bottom of the world.

But the commandant frowned terribly. “Cultivating unicorn horn is big business now,” he said. “Unicorn horn futures sell high on the commodities market. If free blahnium becomes available, the market will implode, the investors will lose heavily, and we’ll lose our jobs. Besides, the country will no longer have an excuse to occupy foreign lands with unicorn populations.”

And he hit his alarm button to summon his staff, to recapture Midnight and put his back with the others; but they had grown slow and complacent, so that he just managed to get away.

This caused a mighty consternation in the industry and the government. “If that wretched animal tells anyone about the free blahnium,” the government said, “other countries, which now depend on us for the mineral’s supply, will become independent. We will lose our exceptional status as controller of the world.”

“Worse,” said the industry, “we’ll lose our profits.”

“We have to destroy this unicorn at once,” they both decided. “Even if we have to sacrifice the horn to do it.” Which goes to show just how concerned they were.

So they sent out kill teams with sniper rifles, and drones with missiles, and made announcements on the media of rewards to anyone who would give information about the evil rogue unicorn.

And the snipers shot several horses in error, and the drones bombed many cattle; but of Midnight they found no sign.

He had found shelter, with people who grew their own food, did not believe in the capitalist system and trickle-down economics, and did not invest in the stock market. This proves that they were rebel scum, anti-national terrorists and worse. But they were also clever enough to hide Midnight in a way that nobody found him.

“We are not interested in blahnium,” they said when he mentioned it. “But if they are hunting you, you’re safe with us, for their enemies are ours as well.”

And so many months passed.

Then, one day, in another of the nation’s top laboratories, another imported foreign scientist made another ground-breaking technological breakthrough. Far superior control of electron flow patterns could be achieved by substituting greedium for blahnium.

Overnight, blahnium was obsolete.

And greedium was found only in the brains of capitalist robber barons, sleazeball politicians, smarmy religious leaders, and other thoroughly morally corrupt, degenerate people. The more corrupt they were, the better the quality and quantity of greedium one could get out of them.

The blahnium market collapsed. The Greedium Wars began.

And, in the crash of the collapsing economic system, nobody noticed as the unicorns went free.

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is the tale of how the unicorns were emancipated from slavery.

Of course, nobody believes a word of it. It’s all far too ridiculous to be true.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2014 


Listen, brother, I have a story
That you might want to hear.
Shall we sit down a moment? That stone will do
As a seat. It will have to do.

Forgive me, I have no chairs to offer you
Brother, but that stone you’re sitting on
Was once a wall of mine,
On which my daughter hung posters
Of Turkish pop stars

Those posters irritated her mother
Like the jeans and sleeveless tops she wore.

Now, it’s of more use, perhaps –
As a buffer against the ground beneath
Muddy with the blood
Of those who have gone.

Look here, past my pointing arm
There, I used to sit of evenings
And talk to my neighbours. Their children played
Football on the beach.
Now they play nothing anymore.

One night, I sat there
Looking up at the stars
And my son sat beside me. I told him
Of galaxies and quasars
Of black holes beyond the reach of time and space.

My son asked me, then
Whether one could fly up into the sky
And reach the stars, and there to be free.
My daughter came up behind us
And told him he could go
She would remain to be with me.

I wish you could have met my daughter, brother
She had a smile like the sun,
And wanted to be a doctor. But she’s gone.
My son is gone.
Only the stones remain.

And I
Waiting to speak a word
To someone who passes by.

Tell our story to the world, brother
Tomorrow I will not be here
And the tanks will crush these stones
Under their iron treads.

When you leave this all behind you, brother
Tell the world of my son, my daughter.
Do not let our stories
Wither and die.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2014

Photo by Antonio Olmos

Sunday 27 July 2014

Wham Scam

Something interesting happened Saturday.

Actually, a lot of interesting things happened Saturday, including people so far round the bend that they needed a psychiatrist, not a dentist, but that’s a story for another day.

But this is what happened:

Now, I bought – like most Indians who have life insurance – policies from one primary source, the state-run Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). I have three policies from them, all bought together about thirteen years ago. I’m not really a believer in life insurance, but I get a tax rebate for the investment, just FYI.


On Saturday – that’s 26th July – at just after 1230 pm (remember that time – it’s important), I was at work when I got a phone call from a person  who identified himself as Rohan Sharma and started asking questions about my LIC policies. He verified that I had LIC policies, and immediately asked if I was still in touch with the agent from whom I’d bought the policies. I said I wasn’t. (Actually, the agent was an ex-girlfriend who is now not associated with LIC in any way and with whom I no longer interact in any fashion. We have...a history.)

As soon as I’d said that I wasn’t in touch with the LIC agent, the caller’s voice changed. He said he was from Future Generali India LIC Ltd. (a private insurance company of which I hadn’t previously ever heard until that moment). He said that my LIC policies had earned “benefits” of over 130,000 rupees, payable on 30th December 2014 – these “benefits” (of which I had never before heard either) were allegedly the interest on my policy premiums, which were reinvested by LIC and FGILIC in the ratio of 30:70.

So far so good. But...?

But, this Sharma said, the money would not be paid to me since the company had received my file back with a notification saying “please cancel his benefits” and the amount would be then returned to LIC and my LIC agent. Horrors!

So – you understand that it was my lunch break, so I had some time free – I asked him what I should do. I’ll pass you on to my superior Rahul Khanna, he told me, and gave me a file number (ADN 17417) to quote. So I waited for a few seconds and was put through to this Mr Khanna, who for all I know might have been sitting in the same room. Right.

The first thing Rahul Khanna asked me – again – was whether I was in touch with my LIC agent. I said I wasn’t, and again at once I could just about hear his voice change instantly. (If I’d have told them that I was in contact with my LIC agent, they’d have dropped the conversation immediately.) He then went over the same ground as the earlier guy. I asked him what I was supposed to do.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll help you. I’ll give you some personal advice.”

Thank you so much, and what is this personal advice?

“You could buy a fresh policy from us,” he said, “one which matures on 30th December. So on that day when your policy matures the sum will be returned to you along with the 130,000 rupees of yours lying with us.”

But there was a catch. “You’ll have to do it immediately.” Because if I waited, the file would be “closed”. In fact I would have to buy the policy immediately, right away. Like in half an hour.

How do I do that, I asked.

No problem, he said, all I had to do was courier him (to an address he gave me, in Pune) some things. What things?

1.     A photocopy of my PAN card (a tax card for Indian taxpayers).
2.     A photocopy of my driving licence (for ID purposes)
3.     Two passport sized photographs and
4.     Two cheques (Ah, you were wondering when I was going to get to that):

                  (a) A crossed cheque for Rs 20,100/- favouring Future Generali India LIC Ltd
                  (b) A cancelled signed cheque.

All these had to be sent by 2pm – less than an hour and a half, while I was talking to him. I told him I didn’t have a copy of my PAN card available, just to see how he would react. No problem, he said, you can send that later.

And after couriering these things, I was supposed to let him know the courier consignment note number (so they could pick up the envelope at the courier office, I assume) and I need have no further worries.

Why not?

Because as soon as he’d got the cheques he would provide me with a “secret log on” which I would have to use to recover my money at the appropriate time. Sounds legit, yeah.

By now, of course, two things were already screaming “scam” at me, apart from the fact that I’d never heard of any such “benefits” from anyone who had ever taken an LIC policy. The first was his extreme insistence on haste. What was the tearing hurry? How come, if Saturday was the “last day”, did he have to wait till then to call me, and then till 1230? Incidentally, the LIC working hours on Saturday are from 1030 to 1230, so since he called just after that I shouldn’t have been able to contact them to verify the situation. Also, it seemed to me that the rush was meant to prevent my taking the time to think.

And the second thing? Well, that private insurance companies are closed on Saturday.

As soon as he had terminated the conversation I walked over to the LIC office, which is only a short distance from my clinic. As I anticipated, the staff was still there, and I managed to speak to one of them. He told me what I already knew, that there was no such “benefit” due me. Just to check, I looked up the Future Generali India LIC head office phone number online and called them. The only person I got was a security guard who informed me, sure enough, that the place was closed on Saturday. He did, though, give me the FGILIC customer service helpline number, and I called them. What they told me was that their office never contacted non-customers in any manner and that this was a scam.

Meanwhile, the scammers kept calling me at roughly five minute intervals from 130 pm onwards, probably desperate to prod me into sending the cheque. I didn’t take any of the calls, and they stopped abruptly after 2 pm. Incidentally, these calls were allegedly coming from Pune, but my caller ID identified it as a Delhi number.

The whole experience was both fairly instructive as well as entertaining, and it gave a good window into the modus operandi of these criminals. It’s certain that they are either employees of FGILIC or have someone on the inside, who will cash the cheque for them. They also, without a doubt, haven’t tried this only on me; and I’ll bet that they get busy every weekend, when people are mostly at home and have time to talk to them, but not enough time to think, and no way to check up.

I’ve sent a letter describing these events in a more abbreviated version to the local paper, and in a much more formal version (with the purported names and phone numbers of the scammers) to the LIC here. Let’s see if they take any action.

I can imagine the scammers’ pleased anticipation when they’d imagined they’d got me in the bag, and their baffled fury when I stopped taking their calls. Well, at least they wasted time on me (not to mention phone bills) they could have used to successfully scam somebody else.

Like scambaiting, the great cyber sport where one keeps Nigerian princes and deceased Sierra Leonean businessmen’s daughters busy with outrageously funny email exchanges, that’s a victory.

Caveat insurer.


Raghead: Plane Lies