Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Making the Case for Palestine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th November, 2015

LDFPEarlier this week I was honoured to be elected the new Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, which aims to increase awareness and understanding among Liberal Democrats about issues relating to Palestine and to champion the recognition of Palestinian statehood. I follow in the distinguished footsteps of my former Oxford Oriental Institute fellow student John McHugo, who was recently appointed one of Party leader Tim Farron’s two advisors on the Middle East. Like John, I have spent a great deal of time in the region, in my case mainly as a writer and broadcaster, including commentating on Middle Eastern issues on TV channels from the area.

Israel PalestineBritish public attitudes towards Palestine and Israel have shifted quite dramatically over the past few decades. When I was a schoolboy, Israel was seen as a heroic little infant state battling for its own survival, experimenting with new forms of collective society and spearheading new technology in an otherwise under-developed part of the world. But almost half of century of illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the Six Day War of 1967, coupled with the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza and disproportionate military action against the Gaza Strip have soured the perception of Israel. I deplore Gazan rocket attacks on Israel and the recent spate of knife and other attacks on Israeli citizens but these should not obscure the fact that Israel is in breach of international law in its occupation, the related settlement activity (which continues unabated) and the daily instances of human rights abuses and humiliations committed against Palestinians. There has also been an unpleasant recent rise in attacks on Palestinians by extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied territories which the Israeli authorities have failed to address adequately.

Palestine flagOn the international stage, Palestine has been gaining increased recognition, with the notable exception of Israel’s great ally the United States and most of the EU member states, including Britain. It is high time that Britain also extended recognition to Palestine and brought greater pressure on the state of Israel to abide by international law. Israeli settlement activity is in danger of making any two-state solution, to which in principle the West is committed, impossible. Israel in principle has so much to offer the Middle East, as does a viable Palestinian state. But there is going to have to be a fundamental shift in attitudes and policies on the ground to make any sort of bright future happen. Otherwise the violence and the hatred will continue and everyone will be the loser.

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Responding to the Refugee and Migrant Crisis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th September, 2015

imageYesterday, along with tens of thousands of others, including a sizable Liberal Democrat contingent with leader Tim Farron, I took part in the London march in support of refugees. But in the evening I facilitated a discussion with the Lewisham local party on what can and should be done about the current refugee and migrant crisis. Britain has an historic responsibility regarding Iraq and Syria, not only because Tony Blair joined George W. Bush in ousting Saddam Hussein in 2003 and dismantling Iraq’s predominantly Sunni security fores but also because of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret Anglo-French deal of 1916 that carved up the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire to serve the colonial interests of London and Paris. That is also why Britain should be at the forefront of pressing for a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as Palestine was part of the British Mandate in the Middle East.

imageHowever, in my presentation last night I emphasized how we need to work with our EU partners to respond to the current massive increase in refugees, including guaranteeing safe routes into Europe. David Cameron ought to have joined Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande in launching an EU strategy instead of sitting on the sidelines and only coming up with a still rather vague timetable for Britain’s taking Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East. I deplored the Conservative government’s ongoing closeness to the Saudi regime, which not only has an appalling human rights record but also is partly responsible for Islamist extremism and the growth of groups such as ISIS as Saudi has exported its own fundamentalist interpretation of Islam as expounded by Muhammed bin And Al Wahhab in the late 18th century. The Saudi intervention in Yemen, as well as devastating that already impoverished country is further destabiising the region. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, the US and the EU all need to be involved in some sort of peace conference, preferably sponsored by the United Nations, that could negotiate an end to the Syrian civil war. But given such developments as the rise of ISIS and the Kurds growing demand for an independent homeland I do believe we are witnessing the unravelling of the borders as set down by Sykes-Picot and that that is not necessarily a bad thing given their arbitrary nature.

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A New Era in UK-Iran Relations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd August, 2015

UK Iran 1The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is in Tehran today, reopening the Embassy that has been closed for four years following its invasion by demonstrators. Given the recent progress in international negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions this was an inevitable and welcome step. Though Brtain’s engagement in Iran has not always been positive there are strong reasons for the UK — and indeed the European Union — to have closer working relations with this important Middle Eastern power. Commercial opportunities are obvious, but trade should not be the only focus for attention. If there is going to be a regional settlement of Syria’s ongoing civil war then Iran is going to have to be involved. Similarly, wider regional insecurity as well as the fight against ISIS, require closer contacts with Tehran. In particular, it would be helpful to reduce the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has been a central cause of the recent events in Yemen.

UK Iran Britain can also usefully use its influence to try to calm Israeli rhetoric against Iran and vice versa; yesterday, in an interview, the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that Israel had considered attacking Iran four times over the past decade. Iranian propaganda against what it refers to as the “Zionist entity” is often poisonous, but Israel would find itself in a less ignominious position if it withdrew from occupied Palestine. There is, however, one other major issue that could be an impediment in the way of much closer British-Iranian relations and that is human rights. The Islamic Republic has a poor record in a number of areas, including the treatment of its Ba’hai minority, Kurds, political dissidents, LGBT population and others. And although the UK Foreign Office recently downgraded its emphasis on a worldwide campaign against the death penalty it should not let this issue drop off the agenda in discussions with Iran.

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Little Christmas Joy in the Middle East

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd December, 2014

imageAs hundreds of millions of people around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, spare more than a thought for the Christians of the Middle East, for many of whom 2014 has been a dire year. Two of the most vibrant Christian communities, in Iraq and Syria, have been traumatised by violent conflict, dispossession and displacement. And in Israel/Palestine, the fount of the faith, Christians are feeling under ever greater pressure to leave. The brutal Israeli onslaught on Gaza may be over, but its effects are still there, and in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem Christians and Muslims alike continue to suffer from the excesses of the occupying forces and the more extreme fringe of Israeli “settlers”. The symbolic confrontation between Palestinians dressed as Santa Claus and IDF soldiers has become almost ritualistic, but there is nothing joyful in the real gulf that still separates the people in the Holy Land. The rise of ISIS has undoubtedly made things worse across the Middle East and North Africa as a whole, but no one actor in the region’s turmoil is to blame alone. If Christians are to have a future in the Middle East, as they should, along with the other two Abrahamic faiths, then there needs to be a massive change of heart among political and religious leaders, as well as ordinary people, and an acknowledgement that what unites us all should be much stronger than that which divides.

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Oman’s Quiet Diplomacy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th November, 2014

Oman flagOman is probably the most low-key of the Gulf states, certainly when compared with the UAE’s Dubai or Qatar. But it is the one with the greatest sense if history; for centuries, Omani merchants were key players across the Indian Ocean and down the East coast of Africa and its navy was a force to be reckoned with. For the first two decades of my life, it was largely a closed country, as the old Sultan was mistrustful of modernity and the West — understandably if one reads how the Omanis were mistreated by the Portuguese and then outmanoeuvred by the British. All that changed in 1970 when Sultan Qaboos took power, and he started to use the country’s oil-wealth to build up its infrastructure, as well as to raise the living standards of his people. Moreover, while some of the other Gulf States have trumpeted with great fanfares their activities in international diplomacy, Oman has done so quietly. It was one of the first Arab states to accept that someone who had been to Israel should not therefore be a prohibited visitor. And today there are efforts underway to further the Western dialogue with giant neighbour Iran, with the US and the EU represented at the highest diplomatic level at talks in Oman’s capital, Muscat (which I left this morning to fly to Salalah). Sultan Qaboos himself is unfortunately detained by medical treatment in Germany, so unable to greet the participants, as I am sure he would have wished. He will also miss National Day celebrations here on 18 November. But when he went on the radio on Wednesday to say he is doing OK, cars full of flag-waving young men took to the streets of Muscat in celebration. Oman may not pass the Westminster-model democracy test, but on so many levels it is an undoubted success, including in its quiet diplomacy. And many Omanis say they like things the way they are — so long as Sultan Qaboos is in charge.

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Over the Edge

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).

IDFThe 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.

GazaGaza 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.

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Time to Boycott Israel

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 11th August, 2014

BDSFor years I have resisted calls to boycott Israel — not least in the field of academic exchanges — on the grounds that constructive engagement had a better chance of delivering an equitable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as fitting in better with my Quaker beliefs against violence and confrontation. However, the time has come to  accept that engagement has not worked. The Israeli government has continued to allow the expansion of illegal settlements on land stolen from the Palestinians. Some Fascist Israeli occupies, who prefer to describe themselves by the euphemism “settlers”, continue to torment their Palestinian neighbours, uproot their olive trees and are complicit in the establishment of what can only be described as an apartheid state. And then there is the latest pitiless onslaught on Gaza, in which nearly 2000 Palestinians have been killed, including several hundred children. I deplore and condemn the rockets fired into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups. But what the IDF has been doing over the past month is not just disproportionate as a response, it is criminal. I look forward to the day when Bibi Netanyahu and his colleagues are arraigned before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Israel has repeatedly violated both the Geneva and Hague Conventions in international law, but now it deserves to face charges of war crimes. Moreover, remember Israel is a democracy, not a dictatorship, which is why the Israeli public who voted for Netanyahu, Lieberman and worse need to face the music too. Boycott Israel now, on all fronts, as happened successfully with racist apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. Do not go on holiday to Israel, sunning on the beaches of Tel Aviv or Eilat, while ignoring the injustices being carried out against Palestinians out of your sight. Do not buy Israeli produce of any kind, not just from the illegal settlements. Make the message loud and clear: you can no longer act with impunity, Israel, and until you make a just settlement with the Palestinians, withdraw from the West Bank and lift the siege on Gaza, you shall be an international outcast, a pariah state, and deservedly so.

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Alan Duncan, Free to Speak

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th July, 2014

Alan DuncanArab Spring EgyptWhen Lord Lothian invited International Development Minister Alan Duncan to address the Global Strategy Forum at the National Liberal Club today on the Arab Spring three years on, he can have had no inkling that Mr Duncan would be ministerially defenestrated the previous night. But in a way that was an advantage as the speaker was therefore bound by no government conventions and limitations and was able to give a wide-ranging yet penetrating overview of recent events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). I liked his concept of “3D” British foreign policy, i.e. diplomacy, development and defence working in conjunction, and he has clearly put his experience in the oil industry to good use while in office, though he was pretty pessimistic about developments in Libya, in particular. I queried him on Egypt, as he’d said the West was maybe too quick to welcome the ousting of Hosni Mubarak; surely, I said, the West has been too quick to welcome the arrival of Field Marshal Sisi, given the appalling current record of torture and imprisonment, which has even affected journalists working for international media outlets, such as my former BBC colleague, and now Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste? Where Alan Duncan and I were much more aligned was when he spoke of the need to approach the Arab-Israeli conflict from a position of principle — in other words recognising the compound injustice (and indeed humiliation) perpetrated against the Palestinians by successive governments of Israel. It would have been good to press him further on his hints at possible consequences of the tensions between different Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, but maybe now he is more of a free agent it will be possible to winkle more out of him in such important debates.


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Israel: Get Back to the Table!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th April, 2014

JF speaking at LI CongressKerry NetanyahuThis 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.

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Big Brother IS Watching You!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th January, 2014

Big BrotherGus Hosein 2It’s incredibly easy and cheap to spy on people these days — wherever they are. That was the (depressing) core message of the presentation by Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International at an Association of Europe Journalists (AEJ) UK briefing at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime. Technology means that just as George Orwell foresaw, Big Brother can and probably does watch all of us all of the time — only Big Brother could be of a variety of nationalities (or none, in the case of multinational corporations), not just those who, elected or not, in principle have a mandate to rule over us. What is more, a very significant proportion of the equipment used in this new surveillance world is manufactured by companies based in the UK. Gus Hosein identified three main areas of concern: (1) “Upstream collection”: for example the way that Google and others have agreed to allow access to electronic traffic by the NSA (US), GCHQ (UK) et al. By tapping into fibre optic cables underseas, they can literally monitor everything we send electronically, and GCHQ-monitored material captured off the coasts of the UK and Cyprus (sic) play an important role in this. (2) “Tailored Access Operations”: effectively, black ops done from a computer terminal which can compromise networks and computers anywhere in the world, through hacking and related techniques. They can, for example, turn on or off the microphone in your mobile phone without you realising. (3) “Sabotage”: the heavy stuff, which introduces “vulnerabilities” into supposedly secure systems. So can anyone have confidence in the security of any transaction by digital means? Alas, no. So who are the “baddies” in our surveillance world? Line up the usual suspects: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Israel — but also the US and the UK. Moreover, British companies have been selling the relevant surveillance technology to regimes such as Egypt and Bahrain (as I know, having been refused entry to Bahrain last time I landed there). So should we be worried? You bet. Particularly now we are in the age of what is known in the trade as “Big Data”, whereby what might appear seemingly innocuous information about us all is stored to make predictions about us (our likely purchases, as well as our beliefs or potential actions) that even we did not realise ourselves. And did you think it was smart to have a high-tech fridge or washing machine? Think again: it could literally be monitoring you and your movements. I asked Gis Hosein about drones, about which I have been quizzed at length on Iranian TV. Do we really need to fear the sophistication of new technology there as well? By now you won’t be surprised by the answer. “Drones can be flying hacking machines,” he replied, “which is what the police and security services would be interested in, more than mere surveillance.”

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