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Archive for August, 2009

This is a guest post from Jonathan Sacerdoti.

image001Can you remember your 23rd birthday? How did you celebrate? What presents did you receive? Last Friday was Gilad Shalit’s 23rd birthday, though I’m not even sure he knew it. Gilad has been held captive by Hamas in unknown conditions since he was kidnapped over three years ago from Israeli territory. He is assumed to be alive, but there has been little public evidence either way.

I’m not normally in the habit of standing on street corners trying to talk to passers-by, but on Friday I joined others in London who wanted to mark Gilad’s birthday and raise awareness of his plight. We handed out flyers explaining his situation, and offered birthday cake to the busy Londoners rushing up and down the streets near Moorgate tube station during their lunch breaks. However, I’m sure it didn’t change anything for Gilad, wherever he is.

There’s a reason we feel helpless when we think about Gilad Shalit. It’s because we are. There’s nothing you or I can do that could make a difference; if only there were. It was almost pathetic watching the efforts people around the world made to ‘do something’ on Friday. A special #GiladShalit hashtag made it into Twitter’s trending topics, and thousands of concerned people sent emails, signed petitions and said prayers calling for Gilad’s release. But those who control his life now don’t care at all about any of these things. They don’t care about international law, or the Geneva convention, or human rights, or basic human decency. Nothing you or I say or do will make them behave differently. They’ve made that clear.

So why were we there, handing out cake? Maybe it was to let people know who Gilad is – many Londoners we met had never even heard of him. Maybe it was to mark his birthday publicly, knowing that he could not. Maybe it was in the hope that increased awareness would raise the pressure on our government and others to intervene however they can. Maybe we hoped to show those around us just what sort of enemies Israel has to deal with in any potential negotiations, ‘peace talks’, or even wars. Or maybe it just helped us feel we were doing something in the face of the unimaginable horrors that must be Gilad’s everyday  life.

Prisoners of war are entitled to visits from the International Red Cross, to ensure their health and human rights are being protected, and they must be allowed regular and unconditional contact with their families. Yet Gilad has been granted neither (the three letters and one voice recording released very early on during his imprisonment cannot be counted as regular).

After a couple of hours spreading the word on the streets of London, four of us went on to meet Michael A Meyer, OBE, the Head of International Law at the British Red Cross. I told him that we wanted the Red Cross to try harder to visit Gilad. While he assured us that we were “pushing at an open door”, he and we knew that his good intentions and ours made no difference at all to Gilad. I asked him why the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] wasn’t trying harder, and why they continue to provide humanitarian aid to the very people who deny Gilad his human rights. But despite the “direct and indirect contact” Mr Meyer said the ICRC has with Hamas, it seems that everything they have tried has been as fruitless as our birthday cake and flyer distribution had been earlier that day.

Before we left the Red Cross offices, we presented Mr Meyer with a cake for him and his colleagues to enjoy, asking him to remind them all that it was for Gilad’s birthday. Perhaps these little reminders will keep Gilad’s plight in their consciousness, encouraging them to do more for him until he is treated fairly, and ultimately released back to his family, his people and his country. We expressed our hope that this will be the last time Gilad is not free to celebrate his birthday at home. “The British Red Cross and the ICRC hope that, too”, said Mayer.

If only all of that hope could help Gilad.

My biographies of Simon Cowell and Michael Jackson are published next week. Then the following week my Gunners Lists book hits the shelves. (I actually have six new books published over the next nine weeks.) The Sunday papers have covered the Cowell biography wonderfully. The News Of The World reviewer gave it four out of five, which is really pleasing. The Independent On Sunday diary page did its second story in three weeks on the book, focusing this time on my interview with Julie Burchill.

The busy promotional campaign for the Cowell book continues tomorrow when I do a newspaper review and interview on BBC Radio London, the first of something like 20 radio interviews I am doing next week. I will also be speaking to a few magazines and blogs. Meanwhile, the book is rising up the chart in WHSmiths and other shops. It’s winning Amazon’s Judges Joust (a face-off they set-up between my biog of Cowell and the brilliant Sean Smith’s one of Cheryl Cole).

As it this isn’t all brilliant enough, I’ve decided that The Cowell’s decision to do the opening X Factor auditions in front of arena audiences was a stroke of genius from the clever so-and-so. I didn’t enjoy it last week but after last night’s show I am definitely won over. Watching Jamie Archer’s ‘Sex On Fire’ audition made it all click into place, especially seeing The Cowell let himself go and join in the singing along.

Good times!

Amy Winehouse’s classic appearance on Buzzcocks condensed into 3:39. Comedy gold.

What a great title for a blog! And knowing the lovely Monique as I do, I know this is going to be a very entertaining blog to follow.

Remember when I interviewed author Andrew Sanger about his unforgivably brilliant novel The J-Word? Well, you can see the man himself in discussion at the forthcoming Hampstead & Highgate Literary Festival. The event is at lunchtime on Monday September 14. You can book tickets here and then start planning what you’re going to eat at Solly’s afterwards. If you haven’t read The J-Word yet, buy it at once or I’ll never speak to you again.

Twitter users might like to know that on Wednesday August 26 there will be a 24-hour initiative in support of Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas in the summer of 2006.

The task is very simple: please use the hashtag #GiladShalit for all your Tweets on that day. Together we can raise awareness by pushing his name into the Top 10 ‘trending topics’ on Twitter. This event takes place just days before his 23rd birthday.

So please support if you can. UK readers can read about another simple and effective way to help Gilad here.

As I posted previously, last month I wrote to my MP about Gilad Shalit.

I have received a very positive reply. He completely ‘gets it’ about both Gilad and Hamas. He’s written to David Miliband about Gilad and is supportive of his case.

So hats off to Adam Afriyie MP.

UK readers: see here how you too can act to help Gilad. It only takes a minute…

I’m ridiculously excited by the growing possibility of Patrick Vieira returning to Arsenal. He was an absolute legend during his stay at the Club. My favourite memories of him on the pitch include his goals at home to Manchester United and Newcastle United in his first season (I was there for both goals). More generally, him and Emmanuel Petit’s customary high-five just before kick-off always got my adrenalin pumping – and who can forget the breathtaking sight of him galloping impressively upfield year after year like an imperious thoroughbred?

I also encountered Vieira off the pitch quite a few times. The first time was at Lee Dixon’s testimonial golf day (I know!) during which him and Petit were great value. I chatted with him a few times during my then-regular visits to the Arsenal training centre in my capacity as Dennis Bergkamp’s official online biographer. Vieira would sometimes come and join Dennis and me as we went about our website business, and always showed a devilish sense of humour. Those two could be a great comedy double-act.

In autumn 2000, I wrote this cover feature on Vieira for Four Four Two magazine, predicting he would become the next Arsenal captain. Naturally, I was proved right. I also recall doing an in-depth interview with Neil Ruddock a month or so after Vieira had spat at him at Upton Park. I asked Ruddock about the incident. If it had genuinely upset him he did a good job of pretending he found the entire controversy rather amusing.

I make no bones about it – I’d love Vieira to return. The last time a player came back for a second Arsenal career was Martin Keown in the mid-1990s and that worked out very well. True, this is a different situation in many ways but I’m all for a second helping of Vieira. It’s true that, under Wenger, Arsenal have tended to sign unheard of players who he turns into stars. But he is also the master of taking established stars who have lost their way and putting them firmly back on track. Just ask Marc Overmars and Thierry Henry about it.

Come on Arsenal, make it happen with Vieira.

© Copyright Chas Newkey-Burden. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Chris Morris.