Earlier this week, in my role as Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, I was invited to a hearing on anti-Semitism at the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, along with my LDFoP colleague Miranda Pinch and two representatives each of our Labour and SNP sister organisations (three of them MPs). Committee Chair Keith Vaz MP started off by asking me outright whether criticising Israel could be considered anti-Semitic, to which I was able to answer confidently “No!”; the continued occupation of the West Bank and other territories as well as some of the actions of the Israel Defense Force are in clear violation of international law and therefore can be justifiably condemned by anyone who has a sense of justice. As a Liberal Democrat I oppose all forms of discrimination and prejudice, so that of course includes anti-Semitism, but I argued that exceptionalism should not tempt us to single anti-Semitism out from other forms of ethnic, religious, gender or other forms of discrimination. The panel of MPs on the committee — which included David Burrowes as well as David Winnick — were astonished to learn that all six of us giving evidence and answering questions had been attacked as “racist” and “anti-Semitic” because we have campaigned for the Palestinian cause, but that is indeed the case. Miranda was able to give an interesting perspective as a (non-practising) Jew and she said that some of the worst attacks on her had come from Christian Zionists. We and the SNP participants pointed out that we try to avoid using the word Zionism because it can mean different things and instead are always careful to refer to the Israeli government or IDF, rather than saying, as many in the Middle East do, “the Jews”. Apparently Jeremy Corbyn, the embattled Labour Party leader, had a rough time before the committee a while ago, mainly because he had referred to representatives of Hamas and Hizbollah as “friends”. But one of the SNP MPs, Philippa Whitford (who has worked as a surgeon in Gaza, and hails originally from Belfast) pointed out that just as in Northern Ireland peace was only achieved by engaging with the IRA and Protestant extremists, so peace in Israel-Palestine will only come about if Hamas and other groups are included in talks. All six of us participants still in principle support a two-state solution, but all fear that ongoing settlement activity and the intransigence of the Netanyahu government mean that is in danger of being made impossible. But both Israelis and Palestinians will have be involved in determining their own future. The Home Affairs Committee report that will emerge from these hearings should be published in September.
Posts Tagged ‘Hamas’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th July, 2016
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: anti-Semitism, Binyamin Netanyahu, David Burrowes, David Winnick, Hamas, Hizbolklah, IDF, Israel, Jeremy Corbyn, Keith Vaz, LDFoP, Miranda Pinch, Palestine, Philippa Whitford | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th September, 2014
This article first appeared in the online edition of InterLib, the magazine of Liberal International British Group (LIBG).
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is a past master at inventing Orwellian names for its military operations. “Protective Edge” sounds so reassuring and 100% defensive, but for the people on the receiving end in Gaza this summer it was anything but. The completely disproportionate response to Hamas provocation led to well over 2,000 Palestinian deaths, two thirds of them civilians (according to the UN), including several hundred children. Many more were injured and over half a million displaced; the psychological trauma, particularly of the very young, has been incalculable. Whole districts were flattened, homes demolished; even some UN schools and facilities were attacked. Night after night we had to witness the sickening spectacle of the region’s foremost military power pounding a people trapped in a narrow strip of land from which there was no escape. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.I
I curse Hamas and whichever other militant group was responsible for firing rockets into Israel, for that was itself a terrorist act, albeit on a far more limited scale. There can be no justification for targeting civilians in that way, though the rockets were so primitive that it is maybe absurd to use the word “targeting” anyway. Six civilians were killed in Israel, including a child and one Thai national. That’s six too many. 66 Israeli soldiers also perished in the conflict, some from “friendly fire”. I curse Hamas and other militant groups for undermining attempts at getting some sort of negotiated settlement to the Israel-Palestine dispute. But I also curse them for letting Israel portray itself once again as the victim, whereas for decades it has increasingly been the oppressor.
Gaza itself has been under a tight blockade by Israel, denying the territory true autonomy. Even Gaza’s fishermen have regularly been prevented from going out to catch their fish, often risking arrest or attack when they do so. Over in the West Bank, the Occupation continues unabated. Palestinians there are regularly harassed and humiliated by the IDF and militant Israeli settlers, some of whom have stated overtly that their aim is to push all the Arabs out of Palestine into Jordan. Water is diverted to serve Israeli settlements, Palestinian olive groves are frequently uprooted, houses demolished, building permits for Palestinians routinely refused. Moreover, for several years now, what can only be described as ethnic cleansing has been going on in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians want to have East Jerusalem as the capital of their dreamed-of Palestinian state. But the Israeli government is doing everything it can to prevent that happening, instead working to claim all Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish State, despite the fact that the city is holy to all three Abrahamic faiths.
There are noble Jews in Israel, as well as in the diaspora outside, who are horrified by the way that what started out as an idealistic vision after the genocide of the Holocaust has turned into a nightmare. They are sickened how successive Israeli governments have acted in contravention to the very teachings of the Jewish religion. Israel has become a rogue state, violating both the Geneva and Hague Conventions on a daily basis. It uses targeted assassinations, subjects Palestinian prisoners to torture and inhuman treatment, incarcerates children, and is steadily making the creation of a viable independent Palestinian state impossible. Binyamin Netanyahu puts two fingers up to the United States and the rest of the West, because he knows he that so far he has been able to get away with murder. The settlements expansion continues apace; immediately after the Protective Edge operation, the biggest land-grab by the Israeli state for 30 years took place, near Bethlehem.
For me, Protective Edge was the final straw. The callous indifference of the Israeli government – and, I regret to day, of a significant proportion of the Israeli population – to the suffering wrought on the people of Gaza made me want to vomit. As the brave Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote, it was if they considered killing Palestinian children no more important than killing insects. Accordingly, I believe it is time for Britain officially to take a principled stand, as increasingly large numbers of Britons are doing. The UK should recognise the state of Palestine now. And individuals should seriously consider whether the time has not come to boycott Israel, and Israeli produce, as I have decided to do, until the blockade of Gaza is lifted, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank removed, the disgusting apartheid barrier (“security wall”) is pulled down and Palestine is set free.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th April, 2014
This afternoon, at the Liberal International Congress in Rotterdam, I successfully moved an amendment on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats to the Middle East section of the traditional World Today resolution, reviewing topical issues of global concern. Since the text had first been drafted, news came through that Israel was pulling out of talks with the Palestinians because of the new deal between Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) and Gaza’s Hamas, which have agreed to form a joint platform. The British amendment praised John Kerry for working tirelessly to get the peace negotations back on track, but criticised Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for pulling the plug on talks. Moreover, negotiating with a united front of Palestinians is more likely to mean that Hamas will clmp down on Islamic Jihad and other extremist groups, I believe. I argued from the position of a Brit who lived through IRA bombings in Manchester and London and therefore understands that one makes peace not with friends but with enemies. I got quite emotional when recalling the state dinner given earlier this month by Queen Elizabeth to the Irish President, at which former Sinn Fein bogey-man Martin McGuinness was welcomed by the monarch, despite the fact that the IRA blew up her cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in 1979. I said that I looked forward to the day when Shimon Peres, or whoever succeeeds him as Israeli President, welcomes Palestinian leaders, including current Hamas figures to his residence, because that will mean that peace and security have become a reality. It saddened — but didn”t suprise — me that the Israelis present protested that we cannot expect them to talk to “terrorists”, and a few prominent pro-Israelis — including outgoing Liberal Internatinal President Hans Van Baalen also oppossed the amendment and the idea that talks should resume. Fortunately, the amendment was carried — albeit by not a very large margin. and with many abstentions — which I thought was a very positive result. One thing that particularly saddens me, however, is that so many Israelis — even many Liberals — don”t realise that their narrative of the conflict doesn’t hold water and that not just Europe but increasingly many Americans (including American Jews) are no longer prepared to stand up for Israel, right or wrong.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Binyamin Netanyahu, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, Hans Van Baalen, IRA, Islamic Jihad, Israel, John Kerry, Liberal International, Lord Louis Mountabatten, Martin McGuinness, Middle East, Palestine, Queen Elizabeth, Rotterdam, Shimon Peres, Sinn Fein | 3 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st November, 2012
After several false starts, a truce has been agreed between Israel and Gaza, with both Egypt and the United States playing a significant role in the process. This will be a relief both for those Israelis who have suffered rocket fire from Hamas and from other groups in Gaza and the far greater number of Gazans who have been the deliberate or collateral targets of Israeli firepower. But does the truce offer more than a breathing space? Essentially, the core situation has not changed: Gaza is still subject to a cruel blockade, which means that many products, including building materials, are kept out by Israel and even humanitarian aid convoys from Turkey and other friendly states cannot get through by sea. Israel has made no firm offer to lift that blockade, though at least the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo is more sympathetic to the Gazan’s plight than Hosni Mubarak was. What has received little attention, though, is the amount of protest that has broken out in the Occupied West Bank, causing some Arab commentators to wonder whether a Third Intifada is on the cards. What seems to me to be certain is that until the Israeli government changes its policies and starts the evacuation of the West Bank, rather than continuing to build settlements both there and in East Jerusalem in defiance of International Law, there will be no stability in the region. To my mind, the Arab-Israeli conflict is merely on hold, and probably not for very long.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th November, 2012
When the Welfare Association* conceived the idea of a fundraising gala dinner in aid of disadvantaged children in Palestine, to be held at the Bloomsbury Big Top in central London, they can have had no idea that that event this evening would coincide with renewed fighting between Gaza’s Hamas and Israel, in which several Palestinian children have already been victims. The Middle East, which I have been following for well over 40 years, is an unending tragedy, complex and multi-dimensional. But any objective observer must come to the conclusion that in all of this chaos the Palestinians have been the big losers. And as so often in conflict situations the humanitarian burden falls most heavily on those least able to bear it. So this evening, around 600 people gathered under the big top to be entertained by trapeze artists and acrobats, the Palestinian-Jordanian singer Zeina Barhoum and other musicians, but most important, to demonstrate solidarity with the children of Palestine — tens of thousands of them disabled or else traumatised by conflict — whose lives can be eased thanks to projects for which a healthy six-figure sum was raised. Clare Short, the former Labour MP who nobly resigned from the party in protest at Tony Blair’s illegal war in Iraq, made a short speech, but those of us who were there needed little reminding of the necessity and urgency of the cause. It was good that many young people who have high-earning jobs in the City were there, to bid at auction for works of art by Andrew Martin, Alexander Mcqueen and others. Barclays Bank was also a ‘platinum sponsor’. Coincidentally, the Arab League held an emergency meeting in Cairo today to discuss how to react to the current crisis. The Qatari Foreign Minister warned about the potential emptiness of yet another declaration. At least tonight those at the Welfare Association dinner made a real contribution that will get to those who most need assistance.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alexander Mcqueen, Andrew Martin, Arab League, Bloomsbury Big Top, Cairo, Clare Short, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Palestine, Qatar, Tony Blair, Welfare Association, Zeina Barhoum | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th April, 2012
This morning at the House of Commons I was one of the speakers on a panel organised by the South Asia and Middle East Forum on prospects for the peace process between Israel and Palestine. I confess I tend not to use the term “peace process” myself, as far from leading to peace up till now it has led up a blind alley. Louise Ellmann MP, Vice Chair of Labour Friends if Israel, stressed in her speech that direct negotiations need to get underway again, and that Hamas needs to acknowledge Israel’s permanent right to exist. My remarks focussed on how public opinion in Britain has shifted dramatically over the past half century, from seeing Israel as a noble endeavour and a brave David against the Goliath of the Arab world, to a narrative in which the Palestinians are rightly seen as the victims of extraordinary and ongoing injustice. The prospect of a two-state solution is now in the Last Chance Saloon, I argued; if the situation is not resolved very soon, then there can be no two state solution and a one-state solution will hardly suit Israel’s interests. Settlement building in the Occupied Territories must stop immediately and realistic plans for withdrawal should be implemented; moreover the Judaisation of East Jerusalem must cease, and the city’s role as a holy place for all three Abrahamic faiths underlined and somehow guaranteed by the international community. The world also has to recognise that Israel is violating many aspects of the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Belligerency. The EU can and should be doing more, though it is partly hamstrung because of divisions among member states. But the UK could usefully put much more pressure on the United States which is the only outside power than can bring the Israeli government to heel (not that President Obama is likely to do anything constructive on that front until after the November election). I was pleased that Andy Slaughter MP concurred with most of what I had said and he went into considerably more detail. Alas I had to leave before the Palestinian Ambassador gave his contribution, as I had to teach a class at SOAS. But the Commons Committee Room 10 was full and the message seemed to be getting across.
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.
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.
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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Arab=Israeli conflict, Binyamin Netanyahu, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Geneva Conventions, Goldstone Report, Gordon Brown, Hamas, Israel, Israeli Defense Force, ldfp, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Operation Cast Lead, Palestine, Palestinians, Richard Goldstone, The Guardian, West Bank | 3 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th August, 2009
The 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.