Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’

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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Storytelling for Syria

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd November, 2014

Shebabs of Yarmouk 2Shebabs of Yarmouk 1Through the eyes of the Western media what appears to be a black-and-white situation has developed in the Middle East: the wicked self-styled Islamic State (ISIS) versus the rest, including the international coalition of which Britain is part. But of course the reality is nowhere near as clear-cut as that, and some of ISIS’s enemies should not be our friends — Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, for example. So it was helpful, as well as moving, to be at the BBC Radio Theatre in London yesterday afternoon for a screening of three documentaries from Syria, the first and longest of which was The Shebabs of Yarmouk, directed by Axel Salvatori-Sinz, focussing on a group of young creative artists/writers/directors living in the crowded Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus — their hopes and fears and their ambivalent attitude to the possibility of leaving Syria. The film ends just as the so-called Arab Spring hits Syria in early 2011. The handsome and talented central, figure, Hassan Hassan, has finally accepted to do his military service, but as we learn from a very short but poignant postscript filmed separately by Axel Salvatori-Sinz in Paris, Hassan was subsequently detained and died under torture in one of Assad’s hell-hole prisons. Dissent is simply not tolerated by the regime. And yet thousands of predominantly young Syrians, with no affiliation to ISIS or indeed any of the other radical groups to be found fighting the country, continue to make their dissenting voices heard, through clips uploaded onto YouTube, and through social media postings, as well as brave demonstrations, singly or in groups. Many others have perished or been forced into exile, or at best internally displaced. For those of outside who follow the Syrian story at a distance through the mainstream media, it is important to acknowledge those different voices and diverse points of view. This is not a black-and-white situation, and we demean the people of Syria by assuming it is.


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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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Cowboys and Indians, Israeli Settlers and Palestinians

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st August, 2013

Cowboys and IndiansIsraeli settlersAs a child of the 1950s and 1960s, I was raised on The Lone Ranger (black and white TV version) and other Westerns, in which the noble white cowboys and sheriffs fought against the dastardly redskins, as the wagon trains carried settlers across the Mid-West, in the name of civilization and Christianity. One just took it for granted that this crucial period in US history was an enterprise to be admired, and it was only much later, when I had acquired an educated, critical mind, that I realized that Justice had been stood on its head. The Indians were desperately trying to halt their dispossession, in the face of brute force and more advanced firepower, and it was the settlers and those who protected them who were the real baddies. I’m reminded of this by what is happening in Occupied Palestine today. Again, as a child, I grew up in an environment in which the creation of the new state of Israel was seen as a heroic endeavour, in which the young labourers on the kibbutzim were involved in a noble purpose, the Jewish people risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust. And had Israel remained within the boundaries drawn up by the United Nations that argument might have continued to hold water, even though the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who were made refugees by the Nakba or catastrophe of 1948 would see things otherwise. But Israel did not remain within those boundaries, and many within Likud and some even more extreme political groups in Israel persist in their expansionist aims and colonising Occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in defiance of International Law, and the feeble protests of the West. Once more, the narrative enunciated by Israel, AIPAC and other pro-Zionist groups is that the “settlers” in what was formerly Jordanian territory and is meant to be the basis for a putative Palestinian state are engaged in a noble enterprise, like the colonisation by white immigrants of the American West. And once again, Justice has been stood on its head. It is the Palestinians, whose land is being appropriated, olive trees cut down and children intimidated, who are the victims and the Israeli settlers and the IDF army that protects them that are the villains. The ultimate irony, of course, is that while in the short term the Palestinians will be the losers, in the long term, if this occupation and absorption by Israel of Palestinian territories persists, demographic trends will mean the Jewish state will de facto cease to exist. I think that’s called “shooting yourself in the foot”, as cowboys might say.

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How Permanent a Ceasefire?

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.

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