Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Israel/Palestine’

We Mustn’t Take Peace for Granted

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th April, 2014

Battle of the SommeIn this centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War many minds have been turning to the issues of war and peace, and when I make speeches at hustings or rallies in the current European election campaign I always make the point that the founding fathers of what is now the European Union wanted to enmesh the economies of France and Germany (in particular) so that war in western Europe would be unthinkable. And so it appears. But it is all too easy for us today to take that for granted. As a child of the 1950s, I was very much aware of the legacy of the Second World War — the bomb sites, the drab unpainted unrestored buildings, the dreary food and the tail-end of rationing — but I was too young to see National Service. So it was perhaps a little perverse of me to go off to war voluntarily at the age of 18 — as a journalist in Vietnam. What I saw there burned into my heart a hatred for war and for all the human emotions connected with it. I attended my first Quaker meeting there, and joined the Society of Friends when I went up to Oxford. And although Reuters sent me off to comfortable Brussels when I joined the news agency after university, the lure of conflict zones was too great, and relaunched as a freelance commentator and broadcaster I covered a whole range of bloody situations, from Israel/Palestine to Central America and Angola. That was not because I revelled in the suffering. Quite the contrary. But I believed passionately that it needed to be reported, so people might learn that humanity should develop ways of resolving differences and rivalries more constructively. I still feel that today, as Vladimir Putin seems intent on infiltrating deeper into eastern Ukraine, alarming not just Kiev but several other of Russia’s neighbours. In the recent Clegg versus Farage EU IN/OUT debates in Britain, Nick Clegg stressed the importance of Britain’s EU membership for jobs — and of course that is true. But I shall also carry on talking about something that is not just related to the economy or livelihoods: the EU — enlarged a decade ago to take in formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe — is a brilliant example of how to do things differently, about how to live togeter in peace, celebrating diversity. Fall back on nationalism, as Nigel Farage and some of his more unsavoury counterparts on the Continent would like us to do, will only lead to renewed tensions between peoples and, yes, the reappearance of the spectre of war.


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Is a Two-State Solution Still Viable?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th September, 2008

Liberal International British Group (LIBG) maintained its tradition of stimulating lively political debate by holding a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ Bournemouth Conference last night on the question of whether a two-state solution in the Middle East is still viable. This is a taboo subject in some quarters — indeed, I am not aware that any other major British political party has dared address it — but given the fact that most peace plans see a two-state solution as essential, it’s a vital question to ask. Thanks to the continued growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the division of the Palestinian territories into Gaza and the West Bank under mutually hostile administrations, the notion of a coherent Palestinian state seems increasingly in doubt.

That was certainly the line taken by star speaker Jeff Halper, from the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, who is currently on bail for the ‘crime’ of going to Gaza as an Israeli citizen. Not surprisingly, Ghada Karmi, the distinguished Palestinian writer and academic also though things were heading towards a de facto one-state situation. Ran Gidor, from the Israeli Embassy, put up a spirited defence of Israeli determination to see a two-state solution work, while Willie Rennie, MP, who was recently on a parliamentary fact-finding mission to the region, highlighted some of the problems on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide. Lord (William) Wallace provided some wise and firm chairing in a session that understandably roused some passions among some of the attendees. There was no clear conclusion — it would have been surprising if there had been — but it was important that this ‘forbidden’ question be raised.

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The Agony and the Ecstasy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th July, 2008

Walking down Fetter Lane in the City of London earlier today, I thought I was dreaming as I heard a — clearly live — performance of Chopin, brilliantly played. But no, my senses were not deceiving me. Round a corner, in New Street Square, the gifted young Polish-Canadian pianist Berenika Zakrzewski was playing in the open air a grand piano, as part of the City of London Festival. Dozens of City workers, caught as unawares as I had been, stood around and bathed in the ecstasy of it all.

I had to tear myself away, to go to the Summer Party of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), on whose governing board I sit. Their headquarters in the Arab-British Centre overlooks Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square, one of those curious nooks and crannies of 18th century London that have survived unscathed. As a backdrop to the event, slides of CAABU’s work were being projected, and I was jolted by a shot of Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer, whom I had last seen in that very room but a few weeks ago, and who is still in pain from the obscene and vicious beating he received at the hands of the Israel Defence Force when he crossed back into the West Bank from Jordan on his return from collecting the Martha Gelhorn Prize.

Politicians from all three main political parties are represented on CAABU’s Board, and the organisation’s work has never been as much in need as it is now, when there so much misinformation and fear in Britain about the Arab world and the agony some people on both sides of the Israel/Palestine side are suffering. I have recently been called ‘naive’ and even ‘anti-Semitic’ by some critics for my highlighting the injustices borne by many Palestinians as a result of some Israeli government policies, but that will not silence me. Just as accusations from some Islamic militants that I am a ‘closet Zionist’ because I champion the work of liberal and artistic Israeli Jews will cut no ice with me. I am pro-people and pro-peace (which is why in my student days, shortly after my first visit to the Middle East, I became a Quaker). And I judge people accordingly.

This is also why I am such an enthusiastic supporter of the work done by the Argentinian-born Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, who has taken Palestinian citizenship to further his concern for peace and reconciliation in the region. I have only met him once, but was deeply impressed. Similarly, with the legacy of the late Soviet Azerbaijan-born cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who is the one 20th century figure I never met who I would invite to one of those fantasy dinner parties one is sometimes asked to construct.


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Water on the Brain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th July, 2008

Oil has dominated the geopolitical agenda for the past three decades, not least since George W Bush and Dick Cheney have been in charge in Washington. But water could be the new oil, according to Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman and MP for Kingston and Surbiton. He was the keynote speaker at the annual general meeting of the Liberal International British Group (LIBG) at the House of Commons this evening, presided over by Malcolm Bruce MP (Chairman of the all-party Select Committee on International Development). Ed underlined how important the issue of water is in relation to peace and security, not only in the Middle East, but in so many regions of the world. The party president, Simon Hughes MP, also put in an appearance at the AGM and underlined his support for LIBG and its internationalist work. Amongst the distinguished gathering was Emil Kirjas, (Macedonian) Secretary General of Liberal International, and the Canadian Liberal MP, Marco Silva.

At the subsequent dinner, at the National Liberal Club, we were able to thank David Griffiths, who has for many years served as either Chairman or Secretary of the group, as well as the outgoing Treasurer Ahmad Mallick. There is likely to be a generational change within LIBG over the next year or so, which is essential for the smooth functioning of any healthy organisation. In the meantime, LIBG will be hosting what promises to be one of the liveliest fringe meetings at the Bournemouth LibDem autumn conference, on the theme ‘Middle East: Is a Two-State Solution Still Viable?’, with speakers including Ran Gidor (Counsellor at the Israeli Embassy), Jeff Halper (from the Israeli Committee against House Demolition), a Palestinian academic (to be confirmed) and Willie Rennie, MP, who was recently on a fact-finding mission to Israel/Palestine.


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