Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Gaza’

Israel/Palestine: Déja Vu All over Again

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 19th August, 2011

The tragic cycle of violence has restarted in Israel-Palestine, this time triggered by a terrorist attack on bus passengers in southern Israel not far from Eilat. The Israelis say the killers infiltrated from Gaza via Sinai, which both Hamas and the Egyptians deny. Whatever the truth of the matter, reprisal strikes were almost immediate, with several Gazan militants being killed — along with civilians, including children. Inevitably, given the assymetrical nature of the conflict, the Palestinian death-toll of the past 24 hours has already surpassed that of Israelis this year. Moreover, as I write, Egyptian media are reporting more bombing raids over Gaza, more deaths (including more children). Will this cycle of violence never end? The armed wing of Hamas has declared that its ceasefire has been suspended, which is an ominous indication that Israel can expect more rockets or other attacks, which in turn will more than likely lead to yet more disproportionate bloodshed in Gaza at the hands of the IDF. All this, of course, in the run-up to the Palestinians’ plan to ask for statehood at the United Nations next month. Indeed, the timing of that is so close that this seems more than a coincidence. Someone, somewhere, wants that initiative strangled at birth. The so-called Middle East Peace Process already was long ago.

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A Bloody Remembrance of the Nakba

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th May, 2011

Every year the Palestinian people mark 15 May — the anniversary of the 1948 founding of the State of Israel — as the Nakba or Catastrophe. This year, there were larger demonstrations than usual, not just in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank but also in the Golan Heights of Syria, bordering the Israeli-occupied zone, and along the border between Lebanon and Israel.  At least 15 were reported killed in clashes and many scores more wounded. Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says he has ordered troops to act with restraint, but nothing contradicts the fact that the IDS fired on unarmed protestors. Despite this tragic turn of events, however, there was also a mood of optimism in the Occupied Territories today, both because of the recent agreement between Hamas and Fatah to try to ovecome their differences and form a government of national unity, and because of the Arab Awakening that has been sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Interestingly, in Cairo, thousands of people turned out to protest in commemmoration of the Nakba outside the Israeli Embassy. Late into the night clashes with security forces continued there. But there is little doubt that with the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt — Israel’s key Arab treaty pertner — is no longer such a friendly neighbour prepared to accept continuing Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

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Jewish Boat to Gaza

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th September, 2010

Another vessel is attempting to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, only this time there is a difference: all the passengers are Jewish. The small catamaran, Irene, is sailing under a British flag and has various nationalities on board, representing several groups including the London-based Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JJP). The cargo includes prosthetic limbs for orthopaedic care in Gaza hospitals, as well as toys, musical instruments, text books and fishing nets. Richard Kuper of JJP commented, ‘Israeli policies are not supported by all Jews. We call on all governmens and people around the world to speak and act against the occupation and the siege.’ The 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Reuven Moskovitz, who is also on board, declared, ‘It is a sacred duty for me, as a survivor, to protest against the perseuction, the oppression and the imprisonment of so many people in Gaza, including more than 800,000 children.’ The boat will attempt to dock in Gaza, but if intercepted by the Israelis (as it surely will be), the people on board will not offer any resistance. Some people might think their gesture futile, even provocative. I find it immensely brave.

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How Could Israel Change?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th August, 2010

The Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy — one of the sanest Jewish voices in Israel today — is in Britain at the moment to promote his new book The Punishment of Gaza (Verso), an impassioned account of the one of the latest and most grotesque aspects of the prolonged Israeli policy of belligerency and occupation. I met Mr Levy along with a number of other journalists and area specialists for an informal session in London and he is a very impressive performer. He reminded us starkly that Israel has been an occupying power for more than two-thirds of its existence, during which it has invaded and occupied every one of its neighbours: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, as well as so far preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Yet still Israel presents itself as a victim. Most Israelis, Gideon Levy argues, are indifferent to this situation. They live the good life — especially if they are in Tel Aviv — and largely ignore what is going on in the occupied territories. Settlement building continues, despite the fact that the presence of 500,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem now make a two-state solution virtually impossible. The main Israeli political parties are virtually alike and the small liberal ones of yore have died out. Israel is demonstrably an apartheid society, Mr Levy argues, and that situation can only get worse. He is pessimistic that change can come from within Israel itself, particularly after the influx of Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union, may of whom swell the ranks of the far right and often racist political forces. And as the only voice Israel listens to is Washington’s, the only hope is if the United States puts its foot down. But President Obama, beholden to Congress and the more conservative Jewish lobbying groups — appears incapable of living up to early promise in promoting a just peace. On the gound, new mooted negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are likely to deliver nothing of real substance.

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Will Turkey Dare Defy Israel?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th July, 2010

The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, came out with an unusually strong statement the other day, insisting that Israel must either apologise for its bloody assault on the Turkish cruise liner which was part of the recent abortive Gaza aid flotilla, or else submit to a truly independent, international commission of inquiry. Otherwise, he said, Turkey would not remain indifferent — hinting that Ankara might break formal relations with Israel. But how serious is that threat? Both the Israeli Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have made clear there is no way Israel is going to apologise for the attack, despite the fact that eight Turks and one Turkish-American lost their lives. And it is pressing ahead with its own inquiry into the incident, having rejected calls for a UN-organised probe. However, Turkish diplomats and journalists have confirmed to me that it is highly unlikely that Turkey will take strong action — other than issue statements of condemnation — as ties between the two countries are considered too important. Moreover, the United States would be mightily displeased with its Turkish ally were it to send such a firm rebuke to Tel Aviv. However, surely it is time for a major country to stand up against Israel’s continuing defiance of International Law. And if not Turkey now, who else and when?

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Gaza, Giza and the Gorgeous Geezer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th January, 2010

George Galloway, ‘Respect’ MP for Bethnal Greeen and Bow, has got himself into the news again by being thrown out of Egypt. Things are never dull where the former Big Brother spectacle is concerned. Predictably, news of his expulsion (for trying to return to Gaza, to which he had earlier been with an Palestinian solidarity aid convoy) has provoked a welter of reactions, from the adulatory to the damning. Just take a look at the comments after the relevant news article in today’s Guardian online (www.guardian.co.uk) to get a flavour. I am sure that when he next visits Tower Hamlets he will give a stirring speech full of righteous outrage.

The sad thing is that, not for the first time, the personality and performance of Mr Galloway is actually detracting from the cause which he genuinely supports. The aid convoys to Gaza have been a very worthy endeavour, bringing practical relief to a population which has suffered a prolonged blockade and military assault (including another air attack today). There are some very fine people involved in the current convoy, including some of my friends from Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Committee.

The Egyptians have behaved badly by making the convoy go through geographical contortions to get to Gaza at all. But what is needed is strong diplomatic pressure from Britain on Cairo to be more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Annoying them so much that they expel you from the country is not helpful, alas, George. But of course it is all good publibity for the man who now hopes to bring his political show to my home constituency of Poplar and Limehouse.

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Clegg’s Clear Stance on Gaza

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th December, 2009

Tomorrow human rights activists around the world will be commemorating — but certainly not celebrating — the first anniversary of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against the population of Gaza. As was made clear in the report by Judge Richard Goldstone and his UN team, there is sufficient evidence to warrant investigations into both the Israeli Defense Force and Hamas on charges of war crimes. Several senior Israeli politicians amd military leaders are theoretically at risk of being arrested when they traval abroad, though many Western governments have reassured them that they will in fact be safe from prosecution. Just as Israel has consistently violated the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international law — not least by the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and the systematic judaisation of East Jerusalem — without any effective international sanction. The British government has been shameful in its relative silence, mouthing token protests at settlement activity, for example, without doing anything pratical to bring Israel to heel — including putting pressure on Washington. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu got a noticeably warm welcome from Gordon Brown when he visited 10 Downing Street a while back.

There is only one mainstream British political party, the Liberal Democrats (and only one party leader, Nick Clegg).  that can hold its head up high on the Palestinian issue, not only for endorsing the Goldstone Report but also for reminding the British electorate of the ongoing suffering in Gaza as well as in the Occupied Territories. The LibDems have rightly condemned Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli communities and other forms of terror activity. But that does not justify the treatment the Palestinian civilian population is still receiving at the hands of the Israeli Defense Force and some militant Jewish settlers. The most urgent priority now is for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, so people there can regain some sort of normality in their lives. Nick Clegg made a clear and brave statement about that in an article in The Guardian earlier this week. So, tomorrow mourn for the victims of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, on both sides of the divide. And stand up for the right of the Palestinians to be treated as dignified human beings.

Link: www.ldfp.eu

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Israel Is Stupid to Rubbish Richard Goldstone

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th September, 2009

Richard GoldstoneThe Israeli government has blown a giant raspberry at the UN report into the hostilities in and around Gaza earlier this year, in which an estimated 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died. The 575-page document was put together by a small team headed by the eminent South African judge Richard Goldstone. The Israeli authorities refused to allow the team into Israel or the occupied West Bank to carry out their work, but the investigators did go to Gaza and interviewed Israelis in Geneva (the UN’s European headquarters). Israel’s excuse for not cooperating with the investigation was that it was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council which, Tel Aviv says, is biased against it. To mark the appearance of the report, Israeli embassies round the world put out a strong press release rubbishing it (and Judge Goldstone).

Gilad ShalitThey should not have done. The report bends over backwards to be impartial. It slams Gaza’s Hamas rulers — rightly — for the rocket attacks on Israel which did not distinguish between military and vivilian targets, caused terror among Israeli citizens and therefore ‘would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.’ Similarly, the report rebukes Gaza’s security forces for carrying out extraditional executions and the arbitrary arrest, detention and ill-treatment of political opponents. It also calls for the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been in captivity for over three years and who should, the report argues, be released on humanitarian grounds.

Gaza conflictAlas, the Israeli government has chosen instead to smart at the stern reproaches the report gives over Israel’s conduct of the Gaza offensive, which it describes as a ‘deliberately disproportionate attack, designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population.’ It says that Israeli troops used Palestinians as human shields — a war crime — and that Israeli forces committed ‘grave breaches of the fourth Geneva Convention, which gave rise to ‘individual criminal responsiblity.’ In other words, individual soldiers could find themselves the subject of prosecuton. Moreover, the Golstone team opined, Israels’ blockade of Gaza in the years before the hostilities amounted to intentional collective punishment. And Israeli actions depriving Gazans of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, as wellas denying their freedom of movement, ‘could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, had been committed.’

These are grave charges, but justified ones. The question now is whether the international community — including Britain and other EU member states — is prepared not just to acknowledge this but to enforce the loigcal consequences — in other words the arrest of certain individuals when they are travelling, and/or appropriate sanctions. In the meantnime, the Israeli propaganda machine is doing everything it can to denigrate Judge Goldstone, a man of immense integrity and experience. The irony is that Richard Goldstone is Jewish and has always considered himself to be a friend of Israel. But this is Israeli government, like its predecessor, has an uncany knack of alienating its friends.

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What Gordon Brown Should Tell Bibi Netanyahu

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th August, 2009

Binyamin NetanyahuThe British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will receive his Israeli counterpart, Binyamin Netanyahu, at 10 Downing Street this afternoon. Behind the diplomatic courtesies, some hard truths need to be conveyed, namely that there will never be peace in the Middle East unless the Israeli government changes its policies towards the Palestinians, and that a viable, independent Palestinian state — which is in principle what most people want — is being made impossible by the continuing Israeli colonisation of the West Bank.

Settlements are the key issue at this juncture, as Barack Obama has rightly stressed (though without the necessary threat of sanctions unless something is done about them). President Obama has called for a freeze on new building, which Bibi Netanyahu’s government is blithely ignoring. But a freeze is not enough. A phased process of withdrawal of settlers needs to be started, as happened years ago in Gaza. Zealots who continue to set up illegal ‘outposts’ on Palestinian land need to be prosecuted, not protected. Mr Netanyahu also needs to be reminded forcefully that all of the West Bank settlements are illegal under international law anyway.

Secondly, the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem must stop. Arabs — both Muslims and Christians — are being pushed out of their homes and businesses, by a mixture of persuasion, intimidation and force, including house demolitions. The clear objective is to make Jerusalem as far as possible a Jewish city, the undivided ‘capital’ of the Jewish state of Israel. This is a violation of thousands of years of heritage of a unique town, holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. It should have become an international city after the partition of Palestine and Britain, as the country that held the Mandate for Palestine, has a responsibility to try to ensure that that heritage is not detroyed.

Last but not least, there is the issue of the blockade of Gaza, which must be lifted, on both humanitarian and pragmatic grounds. There then has to be dialogue with Hamas. That won’t be easy, but the mutual loathing and reciprocal violence will never be overcome unless there is some constructive engagement.

Of course, the responsibility for change does not rest entirely on the Israeli side. Far from it. But today Gordon Brown is seeing the Israeli leader, so these points need to be stressed. The next time a Palestinian leader is invited to 10 Downing Street, I will set out some uncomfortable but necessary truths for the Palestinians too.

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What Next for the Palestinians?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th February, 2009

Anyone who feared that current economic difficulties might have diverted people’s attention away from international questions would have been disabused by the healthy turnout at Thursday night’s Pizza and Politics at La Forchetta in Bethnal Green, hosted by Tower Hamlets LibDems, when the Bethnal Green and Bow PPC Ajmal Masroor and I spoke on prospects for peace in the Middle East. Things have not gone well for the Palestinians in 2009, what with the Israeli onslaught on Gaza and the subsequent swing to the right in the Israeli elections, though maybe the picture is not entirely negative. The election of Barack Obama injects at least a modicum of hope that Washington might be less of an uncriticial benefactor for Tel Aviv and that the new President will create a completely new atmosphere in US relations with the region. I also pointed out in my remarks that although the idea of Bibi Netanyahu as Israeli Prime Minister is depressing, past evidence has sometimes shown that hawks are more effective at making peace concessions than doves. But the main thrust of my contribution was that the EU must assert its soft power in the Middle East in a more united and effective way than it has done so far, using both carrot and stick. All parties to the conflict have to be made to recognise that only a lasting, negotiated settlement that respects the human rights and security of all the region’s peoples can bring an end to decades of suffering.

Link: www.tower-hamlets-libdems.org.uk

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