As 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.
Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd December, 2014
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, 7th November, 2012
There were many sleep-deprived eyes in the David Lloyd George room at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime when the Global Strategy Forum held a panel debate on US Foreign Policy perspectives the day after the presidential poll. At least we knew the election result, which would not have been the case 12 years ago. And not surprisingly, most of the people present — including many foreign diplomats –were pleased that Barack Obama has been returned. But will this make much difference to US Foreign Policy, now that he doesn’t have to worry about re-election? Dare he be brave? Panelists Anatol Lieven (King’s College London), Michael Cox (LSE) and Mark Fitzpatrick (IISS) didn’t really think so. I raised the point that Obama had raised high hopes in the Arab and wider Muslim worlds when he made a speech in Cairo in 2009 shortly after his inauguration suggesting he would be more responsive to the concerns of that region, but he has deeply disappointed most people there since. The panel’s view was that not only does any US President personally come under great pressure from AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, but also Congress would never stomach a fundamental realignment of US policy in the Middle East. It was significant that in the Obama-Romney foreign policy TV debate, Israel was mentioned 34 times (and the UK precisely once). The issue of how America is ‘pivoting’ away from the transatlantic relationship to be more concerned about links to East Asia was raised at the Global Strategy Forum event and a couple of the speakers uttered the word that usually dare not speak its name in discussions about US politics: decline. Personally, I believe the US will hasten that decline from the undoubted Number 1 global spot if it does continue to stand so firmly behind right-wing Israeli governments, to the detriment of its reputation almost everywhere else. So we left the NLC gathering this afternoon discouraged by the lack of any hope for real, positive change in Washington’s world view — but also relieved by the understanding that a Romney victory would have been so much worse.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AIPAC, Anatol Lieven, Barack Obama, Global Strategy Forum, Israel, Mark Fitzpatrick, Michael Cox, Middle East, Mitt Romney, National Liberal Club, US Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 31st December, 2009
As Thomas Friedman once aptly commented, commenting on the Middle East tends to be an intellectual desert, in which ‘charlatans and ideologues, hucksters and holymen, regularly opine and divine, unencumbered by facts, history or statistics’. So it is with considerable relief that I can recommend as my Book of 2009 Avi Shlaim’s Israel and Palestine (Verso, London, 2009), a brilliant exposition of the last 40 years of the Middle East tragedy that mixes academic rigour with literary fluency. An Iraqi-born Jew, Dr Shlaim is a Professor of International Relations at Oxford University and the author of a number of books on the Middle East, including a biography of the late King Hussein of Jordan. His new book is in fact a collection of essays, articles and book reviews written over a number of years, but it has been woven more or less seemlessly together and is full of insight as well as compassion. The writer belongs to the small but important revisionist school of Israeli history, which rejects much of the Zionist narrative, while accepting the right of the modern state of Israel to exist, in security. There is a wealth of telling detail — not least direct quotations from various Israeli Prime Ministers — and by the end of the book, one is not surprised that Dr Shlaim is horrified by the disproportionality of the Israel Defence Force’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (‘an eye for an eyelash’), which, he writes, ‘makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with an “utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”… Israel’s real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighybours but military domination.’ If you only have time to read one book on the modern Middle East, I recommend that you read this one.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th December, 2008
The whole Arab world is in mourning, but an angry mourning, after yesterday’s Israeli assault on Gaza. Any hope of progress on the euphemistically-named ‘Middle East peace process’ before the end of the Year (as George W Bush had confidently predicted) is now dashed. It is not just the Palestinians who are outraged. And from the Maghreb to the Arabian Gulf (where I am now), people are echoing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for the international community to intervene.
The international community’s record so far has been deplorable, as it has stood idly by while Israel has operated its blockade of the Gaza Strip, driving Gaza’s population to destitution and despair. Even worse, in many ways, is the fact that nearly half a million Israeli settlers have been allowed to move into occupied West Bank territory over the past 40 years, in blatant defiance of international law. Palestinian communities have often found themselves cut off from their land, as the Security Wall has usurped territory and organised things for the convenience of the settlers. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian olive trees have been uprooted and numerous houses have been demolished, often as a form of collective punishment. Rabid Jewish religious fanatics who have set up a bridgehead in Hebron from which some of them attack Arab families, yet they receive the protection of the Israeli army, rather than being evicted and put on trial for their criminal activities.
The Kadima-led government in Israel is obviously wishing to show itself as tough in advance of forthcoming elections. But they will not stop rockets or suicide bombers by killing, impoverishing and humiliating Palestinians. Instead, they are engendering more hatred day by day, seemingly blind to the possibility that they are inviting Armaggedon — despite the fact that there are even road signs to Har-Magedo (Armageddon) to remind people of scriptural predictions.
The solution is obvious: the Israeli government and Hamas must talk, as there can never be a military solution to the Middle East without face-to-face negotiations. This is an unsavoury prospect for most Israelis, but then so was talking to the IRA for most Britons. The alternative is more bloodshed and the increasing likelihood of a new, wider Middle East war. The international community, including the European Union, should put intense pressure on all parties concerned to cease all hostilites, and be prepared to impose sanctions if they are rebuffed.
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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Ahmad Mallick, David Griffiths, Dick Cheney, Ed Davey, Emil Kirjas, George W Bush, Israel/Palestine, Israeli committee against House Demolitions, Israeli Embassy, Jeff Halper, Kingston and Surbiton, Liberal International, LIBG, Malcolm Bruce, Marco Silva, Middle East, National Liberal Club, oil, Ran Gidor, Simon Hughes, two state solution, water, Willie Rennie | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th April, 2008
Former US President Jimmy Carter is in the Middle East, pursuing his one-man mission to inject some life into the moribund peace process, by getting dialogue going between the main protagonists. Controversially (as far as the Israelis and the current occupant of the White House are concerned), he has been photographed embracing Nasser Shaer, a Palestinian professor of comparative religion in the West Bank, who is a leading member of what is sometimes called the pragmatic wing of Hamas. Official US policy, of course, is to boycott Hamas. But Jimmy Carter is convinced that in conflict situations people have to talk. Moreover, he is going on to Damascus to meet Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s Syrian-based leader.
The Israeli government has made its deep disapproval of this trip known. But the Israeli newspaper Haaretz — so often the voice of reason in the Jewish state — has chided Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for shunning Carter on this visit. ‘Jimmy Carter has dedicated his life to humanitarian missions, to peace, to promoting democratic elections and to better understanding between enemies throughout the world,’ an editorial in Haaretz said, reminding readers that Nobel laureate Carter brokered Israel’s first peace agreement with an Arab country, Egypt.