Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Palestine’ Category

What Hope for Palestine?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 28th September, 2018

Netanyahu TrumpOn the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York, Donald Trump met Binyamin Netanyahu for a friendly chat. The relationship between the United States and Israel remains as close as it has ever been. President Trump did say in his trademark casual way that he thought he liked the idea of a two-state solution to the Middle East impasse. But his actions so far have done everything to undermine that goal. First there was the decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in defiance of the almost universal convention that until the final status of Jerusalem has been agreed, the Holy City should not be acknowledged as Israel’s capital. The PLO Office in Washington was ordered closed and bilateral relations between the US and Palestine downgraded. Then came the swingeing cuts to US funding for UNWRA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees as well as the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, leaving millions of people — many already on the breadline — destitute. No wonder that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has declared that the Americans are no longer a credible mediator.

Israe; Palestine separation wallThe Netanyahu government, meanwhile, was quick to announce that any future Palestinian state will be a “state-minus”. It won’t be allowed to be in charge of its own defence and security, as Tel Aviv intends to keep control of things militarily right up to the Jordanian border. So in other words, the Occupation would continue in all but name. Moreover, the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in contravention to international law, means that there is no viable Palestinian state left any more. The best that can be hoped for is a few little bantustans within an apartheid system. Anyone who doubts the appropriateness of the term “apartheid” in the Israel/Palestine context today needs to study the Nation State law recently passed in the Israeli Knesset. Non-Jews were de facto discriminated against within Israel before the passing of the law, but now that discrimination is officially sanctioned. As the USA under Trump is not going to do anything significant to stop the ongoing deterioration of the situation for Palestinians, it is time for the European Union to step up to the plate and become the Middle East mediator, with economic as well as political pressure on Israel to change its ways. Given Britain’s historical responsibility for mandate-era Palestine, the UK ought to be in the forefront of such action, though that is unlikely so long as Theresa May’s Conservatives are in power. However, one ray of sunshine in the otherwise cloudy landscape is that the Labour Party this week called for the immediate recognition of the State of Palestine following a similar move by the Liberal Democrats last year.

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Nuls Points for Israel on Naqba Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th May, 2018

Gaza protestsSome Israelis may still be celebrating their Eurovision Song Contest win at the weekend, but as Palestinians today mark the 70th anniversary of the Naqba or Catastrophe that sent an estimated 700,000 people fleeing from their ancestral homes, the mood should be one of respectful mourning on both sides of the Gaza border fence. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and many hundreds wounded as Israeli forces have fired live ammunition at Palestinian protesters. Arab youths who see little hope for their future living in the blockaded Gaza Strip have been mown down in their prime with a callousness that demonstrates just what little value the Israeli Defense Force and government put on Palestinian lives. One can criticise Hamas for encouraging action along the heavily fortified border — indeed, the British government has done just that — but the real blame for the ongoing massacre rests firmly with the Israeli state. Tensions have been inflamed by President Trump’s disastrous decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, adding insult to injury for those Palestinians living under occupation in the eastern part of the city by sending his daughter Ivanka to do the honours at the temporary embassy compound yesterday, as if she were opening a garden fete. The final status of Jerusalem is something that still has to be settled, but by unilaterally declaring the city to be Israel’s undivided capital, Binyamin Netanyahu has guaranteed the anger, even hatred, of hundreds of millions of Muslims (and many Christians, as well as liberal Jews) around the world. Israel is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its creation now, but for Palestinians the legacy of their dispossession is a bitter one. Today in London and in many other cities there will be demonstrations and vigils to mark Naqba Day. These should be matched not just by words of condemnation for the disproportionate Israeli actions (as is happening) but also with sanctions of some kind. Israel is literally getting away with murder, and in doing so undermines its own legitimacy as a self-styled Western nation in the heart of the Middle East..

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Palestine in Black and White

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th February, 2018

5B3889E2-D8DB-4D45-B59D-55D7F70692F4Art can be a form of resistance, especially for an occupied people, whether it is in the form of graffiti on walls, paintings or cartoons. So there is little wonder that the 50 years of illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the ongoing blockade of Gaza have been the subject of many works of art as well as biting political cartoons, both inside Palestine as well as in the wider Arab world and beyond. Most Arab newspapers feature black-and-white cartoons attacking dictatorships, corruption, the perceived evils of the United States and the “West”, not least in relation to Israel and Palestine. Many of those cartoons are deliberately simple, to put across a clear message not just to the literate elite but also to the less educated poor and marginalised. But some Arab cartoonists opt for more complex styles and messages. That is the case of Mohammad Sabaaneh, whose work is featured in the book Palestine in Black and White (Saqi, £10.99).

0979AF0C-DD4E-4848-9C7A-7167E1060C21Sabaaneh has achieved widespread recognition, including in Europe and North America, for both the artistic quality and the political poignancy of his drawings. Like many young Palestinian activists, he has spent time in Israeli jails — five months in solitary confinement. Prison is a central theme of the 100 cartoons in the book, both literally and figuratively, the latter reflecting the reality of life for many Palestinians, their movement curtailed by the Wall, security checks and curfews. It is not just the benighted inhabitants of Gaza who feel trapped.  Children grow up in this unnatural and at times frightening environment, and they occur frequently in Sabaaneh’s drawings, sometimes innocently playing, at others menaced by bombs and guns. Sabaaneh uses a variety of styles in his work as a cartoonist. Some are reminiscent of lino-cuts and wood-cuts of the kind favoured by the xilogravura popular artists of north-East Brazil — perfect for featuring stylised images of despair. But other drawings are more reminiscent of very detailed comic strips, with a multitude of characters and the military paraphernalia of occupation. So much is going on in this category of images that one needs to study them carefully for minutes on end. Yet another type is influenced by Modernist artists, not least Picasso; one cartoon, “The First Intifada”, even references Guernica. Some of the cartoons in this collection do have explanatory titles and all are arranged in thematic chapters. But many just speak for themselves, with a powerful voice that deserves to be widely heard.

http://www.saqibooks.com/book/palestine-black-white/

 

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Thinking of Bethlehem at Christmas

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th December, 2017

8751E2A9-3354-405F-911C-FDFAE85020C3I’ve never really been “into” the traditional British Christmas, partly because my adoptive parents (who I disliked anyway) had taken to spending their winters in South Africa when I was still a student, but also because of the tackiness of the festival’s commercialisation, which in London now begins in mid-October. Christmas carols set my teeth on edge and I resent the fact that American Christmas songs have achieved a global hegemony. Happy Holidays! Bah, humbug! I always make sure I am travelling over Yuletide. OK, gripe over. Let’s get down to the serious stuff. One of the things that attracted me to the Quakers, after I fled the uncomfortable fold of Anglicanism, was that Christmas and other religious celebrations, such as Easter, were not given special significance. All days should be equally spiritual, as well as a cause for celebration. I know many of the pilgrims and tourists who go to Bethlehem find visiting the Church of the Nativity there an uplifting experience, but for me it is the living, breathing town of Bethlehem itself that has more of an impact. I have seen it in good times and bad, crowded and deserted, and am distressed by the way that is increasingly being cut off from Jerusalem and nearby Arab towns by the continuing illegal Israeli settlements and that terrible Wall of Separation. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Occupation, longer even than the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States. The birth of Jesus has been heralded over two millennia as a message of hope, but it is hard to find much hope in Bethlehem today. How much longer must the Palestinians suffer before they are granted the dignity of statehood and genuine independence that should be the birthright of all humankind?

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Trump’s Threats over Jerusalem Backfire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 21st December, 2017

73DED4EB-9FA8-41BE-A18A-5810B588398D.jpegToday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn Donald Trump’s declared intention to move the US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, by 128 votes to 9 (and 35 abstentions). I am pleased to say that the United Kingdom, the former mandatory power over the whole of historic Palestine, voted in favour of the motion, as did almost all the other EU member states; none opposed. The nine nay-sayers were the United States and Israel, naturally, plus Guatemala, Honduras, Togo and four micro-states in the Pacific — all poor, developing countries heavily dependent on foreign aid. That latter point is important, because the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, made clear in no uncertain terms that the Trump administration would note who opposed the motion and deal with them accordingly — an outrageous threat in the sovereign body of the UN, confirming that the acid-tongued Ms Haley is indeed the Donald’s loyal handmaiden. However, not all countries were cowed by the menace of financial or trading retribution. On past performance, Canada could have been expected to back the US line on Israel’s capital, but Ottawa was reportedly so incensed by Trump’s threats that Canada abstained instead. So all in all, this was a good day for all those who believe that the final status of Jerusalem must be negotiated between sovereign Israeli and Palestinian states. But Mr Trump, like a cornered bear, is alas likely to bite back.

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The Balfour Declaration, 100 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th October, 2017

Israel PalestineThis year is the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which was contained in a letter from the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour,  to a leading member of the country’s Jewish community, Lord Rothschild, and in which the British Government, headed by David Lloyd George, said that it viewed with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish population there were not compromised. That condition — which has yet to be fully respected — was added at a late stage in the drafting of the declaration partly at the insistence of the one Jewish member of Lloyd George’s Cabinet, Edwin Montagu, who had serious hesitations about the whole Zionist enterprise. To mark the Balfour centenary, the Liberal Democrats passed a motion at last month’s Bournemouth Conference calling for HM Government to recognise the State of Palestine, as a positive contribution towards a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. At the beginning of December, in Amsterdam, I shall be moving a similar motion at the Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Several EU member states, including Belgium and Sweden, have in fact already done so.

Avi ShlaimBut motions at political conferences are by no means the only activities taking place in this centenary year. Today, at the British Library, Middle East Monitor put on a conference with a glittering array of academic and other speakers, analysing the origins, composition and consequences of the Balfour Declaration. For me, the two highlights of the day were the keynote address by Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, and a film made by Independent Jewish Voices (which will be posted on YouTube from this coming Monday). Dr Shlaim has made himself unpopular among some of his co-religionists by denouncing the reality of the current Israeli occupation of the West Bank as an apartheid state, but growing numbers of Jews, especially the young, are determined to make their voices heard, maintaining that some of the things being done by the Israeli government and Defense Force, should not be considered to be “in their name”. The current British government, alas, is dominated by those Conservatives who are self-declared Friends of Israel, which means that Mrs May and many of her Cabinet colleagues will probably “celebrate” the actual anniversary on 2 November, whereas many of the rest of us will be deploring the fact that the partial implementation of the Balfour Declaration has left the Palestinians dispossessed and increasingly bereft of hope.

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LibDems Vote to Recognise Palestine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th September, 2017

IMG_2811At their autumn conference in Bournemouth yesterday, Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly to urge the British government to recognise the State of Palestine. The vote came at the end of a thoughtful and well-informed debate on a motion to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, drafted with input from both Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP, which I chair) and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI). Balfour expressed support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish inhabitants were not compromised. Clearly the second half of that commitment has not been fully implemented, not least in the occupied territories. In my speech, I argued that calling for the recognition of the State of Palestine was timely for three reasons, namely the Balfour centenary, the 50th anniversary of the Occupation (the longest such situation in modern history) and the fact that it is one minute to midnight for finding a way forward to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Personally, I believe it is up to the people of the region to decide ultimately whether a two-state or a one-state solution is ideal, but in the meantime, recognising Palestine would give Palestinians a degree of equality in a singularly unequal relationship. Moreover, to acknowledge Palestine as a state (as more than 130 members of the United Nations have already done) would help restore some of the dignity that was taken away from Palestinians by the Occupation, along with their land and much of their water. The Conservative government has been backsliding on the issue of Palestine, recently downgrading the status of the Palestinian Ambassador, and it must be pressed hard to change its position.

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