Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem’

The Spirit of Córdoba

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th November, 2018

5061EB38-2936-4119-B8B3-99CCCC4F7ADDHaving so often cited the Umayyad emirate (later caliphate) of Córdoba in my Humanities lectures at SOAS, as an historic example of religious tolerance and the promotion of an independent spirit of enquiry, it is perhaps surprising that I had never been to this Andalusian city myself until last night. Of course, I am 1200 years too late to see the place in its full glory, when it was a centre of civilisation and learning to rival Damascus, populated by Muslims, Christians and Jews, and was probably the biggest human settlement in Europe. But there are still many vestiges of that golden era, not least the pillars and arches of the city’s main mosque, now incorporated into the Roman Catholic cathedral’s precinct. Many of the courtyards in the old town are reminiscent of the casbahs of North Africa and I was intrigued by how many Moroccan visitors I noticed as I walked round the city today. There are remnants of an even older, Roman, town, not least the splendid (albeit heavily remodelled) bridge that spans the Guadalquivir river. But it was the civilisation established after the Moors took control in 711AD that still resonates in world history. Perhaps inevitably, after a couple of centuries, the rot set in. Books were burned, as Islamic religious puritans got the upper hand. Then in 1236 the city fell to a Christian king’s armies. Subsequently both the Muslims and the Jews were expelled and one of the most repressive, totalitarian forms of Christian orthodoxy was imposed through the Spanish Inquisition.

BABF9765-ABDC-42D4-956C-02EC92A4B394A degree of mutual respect between the three Abrahamic religions was found in various parts of the Ottoman Empore at different times, but nothing quite like the spirit of Córdoba. With hindsight we can maybe wonder whether it would not have been possible to create such a society in an independent Palestine after the First World War, but Britain (as the mandated power for the area) got no further than supporting the concept of Jerusalem as an international city, where Muslims, Christians and Jews would live as brothers, and even that notion was swept aside by the surge of Zionism and the creation of the modern state of Israel. However, we live in an interconnected, postmodern world in which boundaries are traversed and the Internet allows us to create transnational communities of interest. Interestingly. in 2005, as fears were expressed about polarisation between Islamic and Western civilisations, the then Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his Spanish counterpart, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, launched the “Alliance of Civilizations”. The initiative was based on the idea that all societies are interdependent, regarding development, security, welfare and environment, and that therefore a common political will should be established in order to overcome prejudice, misperceptions and polarisation. This move was endorsed by the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, turning the Alliance into a UN programme, the UNAOC. Progress has not exactly been linear since then, but there are a number of significant efforts to revive the Spirit of Córdoba, and to help it thrive, at the national level, including an independent research and public relations organisation in the UK, the Cordoba Foundation: https://www.thecordobafoundation.com

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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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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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Illegal Israeli Settlements Condemned

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd December, 2016

iraeli-settlementsThis evening the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, including East Jerusalem. The vote was 14:0, with the United States abstaining. Earlier in the day Israel had been putting heavy pressure on the US to veto the resolution, but in a rare demonstration of determination Barack Obama obviously declined. It is as well that the vote came now, as Donald Trump would certainly have vetoed the measure, had it come to the vote after his inauguration. Some people might argue that a UNSC resolution is of no real significance, but there I would have to disagree. For the first time in several years the rest of the world has made clear to Israel that its continued settlement activity is contrary to international law and should cease. It also effectively gives the green light for countries, including the UK and other EU member states, to ban trade in settlement products and to take other appropriate measures. Several members of the UNSC believe that it is now almost too late for a two-state solution to be possible in the Middle East, largely because of the settlements, but they would still like to try to make it happen. Britain should now take an important step forward in recognising the state of Palestine, as two-thirds of the UN member states have already done. For too long Israel has been able to get away with violeting both the Geneva Convention and the Hague Agreements with regard to the West Bank and Gaza and it is high time it was forced to stop.

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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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Kerry’s Mission Impossible?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th January, 2014

Kerry and AbbasOne thing one cannot fault John Kerry on: his eternal optimism. Just about everyone who has anything to do with the Middle East — including Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, if truth be told — agrees that the chances of a Middle East “peace” being negotiated by the arbitrarily-set deadline of May is an illusion. Indeed, the very word “peace” is singularly inappropriate. What this festering sore of a conflict is all about is land and justice. The Israelis are increasingly occupying more and more of the former, in defiance of international law, while the Palestinians have been crying in vain for justice for 65 years. So John Kerry can shuttle, Kissinger-style, as much as he likes between Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Amman and Riyadh, but nothing concrete is going to be achieved until the settlements are dismantled or evacuated (as happened in Gaza, albeit on a far smaller scale), the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem ceases, and militant groups in Gaza stop firing rockets at Israeli towns. I said as much in an hour-long TV special on the Iraqi English-language al-Etejah channel this evening. As Ariel Sharon lies in his terminal, vegetative state, some wonder whether he could have delivered a settlement of the Palestinian issue, just as it looked as if a solution might be engineered by Yitzhak Rabin, another hard man who might have been able to stare down the lunatic extremist small parties that plague Israeli government coalitions; Rabin certainly had the will, but he, of course, was assassinated, by a Jewish extremist. I do not for one moment think Bibi Netanyahu has it in him to deliver a solution. Or indeed really wants one. He is like the playground bully with all the serious power in his hands, and a great big brother (the United States) to call on whenever necessary. No, there probably can never be a solution until there is an American President who has the guts to stand up to the Israeli lobby, and the strength to persuade militant Palestinian groups, including Hamas, to lay down their arms (as the IRA did in Northern Ireland). I had hoped that Barack Obama, especially in his second term, might have the courage to do that. If he had, he would have deserved winning the Nobl Peace Prize. But alas that was given to him before he even tried; the incentive was thus gone, and maybe the motivation with it.

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Resuscitating the Middle East Peace Process

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.

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The Doha Declaration on Jerusalem

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th February, 2012

The Jerusalem conference which ended in Doha, capital of Qatar, last night produced a Declaration which referenced at least some of the issues raised in the conference’s four working groups: (1) History of Jerusalem, (2) Jerusalem and International Law, (3) Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and (4) the role of civil society organisations in the defence and protection of Jerusalem. I attended the last-mentioned (along with many other Christians and Muslims and a small number of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews), for which I had produced a paper on the role of NGOs in Britiain in raising awareness of issues relating to Jerusalem. A lot of the discussion in that group focussed on house demolitions, the difficulty Arabs have at getting building permits in East Jerusalem and the way Palestinians in the West Bank have had access to Jerusalem hampered or even blocked by both the Security Wall and the lack of necessary papers issued by the Israeli occupatin authorities. Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani financed the conference, as well as opening it, so it is not surprising that he figured prominently in the final Declaration, the English version of which was published by the Gulf Times newspaper today as follows:

The International Conference for the defence of Jerusalem was hosted by Doha, the capital of the State of Qatar, from 26 to 27 February, 2012, in implementation of the resolution no. 503 of the 22nd Arab Summit held in Sirte on 28 March 2010.

The conference was held under the slogan “Support the Steadfastness of Jerusalem”, under the auspices and attendance of HH the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, in the presence of the President of the State of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, Arab League Secretary General Dr Nabil al-Arabi, Arab Foreign Ministers, heads of international and regional organisations an bodies, organisations and federations advocating human rights, clerics, as well as intellectuals, legal, political and historical figures who gathered in a historic global mobilisation to express solidarity with the Palestinian people in the city of Jerusalem and their legitimate rights.

The Declaration welcomes the invitation of HH the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani to use Jerusalem’s freedom as a fulcrum of all Palestinians and an incentive for achieving reconciliation and ending division. The Declaration appreciates and supports the proposal of HH the Emir to go to the Security Council to adopt a Resolution for the formation of an international commission to investigate all Israeli actions taken since the 1967 occupation of Jerusalem with a viuw to erase its Arab and Islamic features. It also welcomes HH the Emir’s invitation to prepare a comprehensive strategy for the various sectors and projects that Jerusalem needs, and Qatar’s willingness to participate with all its capacities in accomplishing this strategy and putting it into practice. It emphasizes that Israel breaches International Law to forcefully displace the people of Jerusalem through Judaisation schemes, the denial of justice, obscuring history and heritage, land alienation and property confiscation. It expresses deep concern about the ongoing Israeli works including excavations in Al-Aqsa Mosque and around the Old City, which seriously affect the distinctive character of the city at the religious, cultural, historical and demographic levels, and are contradictory with the decisions of the decisions of UNESCO and UN resolutions related to the city’s territory and the rules of International Law and especially the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property of 1954.

The Declaration calls on international powers who remain silent towards Israeli violations to assume their responsiblity and compel Israel to implement all UN resolutions relevant to Jerusalem. The Doha Declaration calls on the UN and its relevant institutions to shoulder their responsiblities towards Jerusalem and its people; to ensure that they enjoy all their civil, economic and social rights in their city; and to preserve the city’s sacred sites, historical monuments and human heritage.

 

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Qatar the Trailblazer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th February, 2012

The Gulf state of Qatar may be one of the smallest countries in the world population-wise, but since Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani became Emir in June 1995, it has not only rocketed to regional prominence but has also claimed a place on the international stage. When I first started coming here 20 years ago, in the wake of the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the capital Doha was a sleepy backwater whose most remarkable features were the Corniche that ran alongside the central bay and the Sheraton Hotel — shaped like a decapitated Egyptian pyramid — at one end. Both of those landmarks still exist, though extensively refurbished, and the Corniche road is now a 6-lane highway. Roughly half way along is the striking Islamic Art Museum with its exquisite collection of pieces from across the predominantly Muslim world. Through its huge main windows one gets a good view of the skyscrapers that have sprung up over the past decade further round the bay. But it is not just the beautiful architecture and the rapid rate of growth that have put Qatar on the map. The Qatar Foundation, celebrating 15 years in operation and headed by the Ruler’s second wife, Sheikha Mozah, has funded many significant projects in the Arts and Sciences as well as community development. Sheikh Hamad meanwhile has not only overseen Qatar’s transformation into the most intellectually stimulating of the Gulf States — housing Al Jazeera TV, notably, as well as several overseas campuses of American universities and even a branch of Sherborne School — but has also blazed a trail in international diplomacy. Qatar predictably espoused the cause of the Palestinians, but far less predictably has become pro-active in encouraging the departure of dictatorial regimes in the movement dubbed the Arab Spring, the latest example of that being urging Syria”s Bashar al-Assad to step aside. Doha has become a major conference centre — I have been attended one on Jerusalem this weekend — and of course now rivals Dubai as a regional airline hub. Qatar Airways has grown from a very modest affair into a premier global airline. Having vast revenues from oil and particularly gas, as well as  small population, has given Qatar an opportunity other countries can only envy. But what is interesting is the way that this has often been used constructively. Moreover, with both the Middle East and the Gulf in a state of high tension, we can expect Qatar increasingly to play a mediating role.

Links: http://www.qf.org.qa and http://www.qatarvisitor.com

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