Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’

Palestine in Black and White

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th February, 2018

5B3889E2-D8DB-4D45-B59D-55D7F70692F4Art can be a form of resistance, especially for an occupied people, whether it is in the form of graffiti on walls, paintings or cartoons. So there is little wonder that the 50 years of illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the ongoing blockade of Gaza have been the subject of many works of art as well as biting political cartoons, both inside Palestine as well as in the wider Arab world and beyond. Most Arab newspapers feature black-and-white cartoons attacking dictatorships, corruption, the perceived evils of the United States and the “West”, not least in relation to Israel and Palestine. Many of those cartoons are deliberately simple, to put across a clear message not just to the literate elite but also to the less educated poor and marginalised. But some Arab cartoonists opt for more complex styles and messages. That is the case of Mohammad Sabaaneh, whose work is featured in the book Palestine in Black and White (Saqi, £10.99).

0979AF0C-DD4E-4848-9C7A-7167E1060C21Sabaaneh has achieved widespread recognition, including in Europe and North America, for both the artistic quality and the political poignancy of his drawings. Like many young Palestinian activists, he has spent time in Israeli jails — five months in solitary confinement. Prison is a central theme of the 100 cartoons in the book, both literally and figuratively, the latter reflecting the reality of life for many Palestinians, their movement curtailed by the Wall, security checks and curfews. It is not just the benighted inhabitants of Gaza who feel trapped.  Children grow up in this unnatural and at times frightening environment, and they occur frequently in Sabaaneh’s drawings, sometimes innocently playing, at others menaced by bombs and guns. Sabaaneh uses a variety of styles in his work as a cartoonist. Some are reminiscent of lino-cuts and wood-cuts of the kind favoured by the xilogravura popular artists of north-East Brazil — perfect for featuring stylised images of despair. But other drawings are more reminiscent of very detailed comic strips, with a multitude of characters and the military paraphernalia of occupation. So much is going on in this category of images that one needs to study them carefully for minutes on end. Yet another type is influenced by Modernist artists, not least Picasso; one cartoon, “The First Intifada”, even references Guernica. Some of the cartoons in this collection do have explanatory titles and all are arranged in thematic chapters. But many just speak for themselves, with a powerful voice that deserves to be widely heard.

http://www.saqibooks.com/book/palestine-black-white/

 

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Thinking of Bethlehem at Christmas

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th December, 2017

8751E2A9-3354-405F-911C-FDFAE85020C3I’ve never really been “into” the traditional British Christmas, partly because my adoptive parents (who I disliked anyway) had taken to spending their winters in South Africa when I was still a student, but also because of the tackiness of the festival’s commercialisation, which in London now begins in mid-October. Christmas carols set my teeth on edge and I resent the fact that American Christmas songs have achieved a global hegemony. Happy Holidays! Bah, humbug! I always make sure I am travelling over Yuletide. OK, gripe over. Let’s get down to the serious stuff. One of the things that attracted me to the Quakers, after I fled the uncomfortable fold of Anglicanism, was that Christmas and other religious celebrations, such as Easter, were not given special significance. All days should be equally spiritual, as well as a cause for celebration. I know many of the pilgrims and tourists who go to Bethlehem find visiting the Church of the Nativity there an uplifting experience, but for me it is the living, breathing town of Bethlehem itself that has more of an impact. I have seen it in good times and bad, crowded and deserted, and am distressed by the way that is increasingly being cut off from Jerusalem and nearby Arab towns by the continuing illegal Israeli settlements and that terrible Wall of Separation. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Occupation, longer even than the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States. The birth of Jesus has been heralded over two millennia as a message of hope, but it is hard to find much hope in Bethlehem today. How much longer must the Palestinians suffer before they are granted the dignity of statehood and genuine independence that should be the birthright of all humankind?

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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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The Balfour Declaration, 100 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th October, 2017

Israel PalestineThis year is the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which was contained in a letter from the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour,  to a leading member of the country’s Jewish community, Lord Rothschild, and in which the British Government, headed by David Lloyd George, said that it viewed with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish population there were not compromised. That condition — which has yet to be fully respected — was added at a late stage in the drafting of the declaration partly at the insistence of the one Jewish member of Lloyd George’s Cabinet, Edwin Montagu, who had serious hesitations about the whole Zionist enterprise. To mark the Balfour centenary, the Liberal Democrats passed a motion at last month’s Bournemouth Conference calling for HM Government to recognise the State of Palestine, as a positive contribution towards a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. At the beginning of December, in Amsterdam, I shall be moving a similar motion at the Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Several EU member states, including Belgium and Sweden, have in fact already done so.

Avi ShlaimBut motions at political conferences are by no means the only activities taking place in this centenary year. Today, at the British Library, Middle East Monitor put on a conference with a glittering array of academic and other speakers, analysing the origins, composition and consequences of the Balfour Declaration. For me, the two highlights of the day were the keynote address by Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, and a film made by Independent Jewish Voices (which will be posted on YouTube from this coming Monday). Dr Shlaim has made himself unpopular among some of his co-religionists by denouncing the reality of the current Israeli occupation of the West Bank as an apartheid state, but growing numbers of Jews, especially the young, are determined to make their voices heard, maintaining that some of the things being done by the Israeli government and Defense Force, should not be considered to be “in their name”. The current British government, alas, is dominated by those Conservatives who are self-declared Friends of Israel, which means that Mrs May and many of her Cabinet colleagues will probably “celebrate” the actual anniversary on 2 November, whereas many of the rest of us will be deploring the fact that the partial implementation of the Balfour Declaration has left the Palestinians dispossessed and increasingly bereft of hope.

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LibDems Vote to Recognise Palestine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th September, 2017

IMG_2811At their autumn conference in Bournemouth yesterday, Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly to urge the British government to recognise the State of Palestine. The vote came at the end of a thoughtful and well-informed debate on a motion to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, drafted with input from both Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP, which I chair) and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI). Balfour expressed support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish inhabitants were not compromised. Clearly the second half of that commitment has not been fully implemented, not least in the occupied territories. In my speech, I argued that calling for the recognition of the State of Palestine was timely for three reasons, namely the Balfour centenary, the 50th anniversary of the Occupation (the longest such situation in modern history) and the fact that it is one minute to midnight for finding a way forward to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Personally, I believe it is up to the people of the region to decide ultimately whether a two-state or a one-state solution is ideal, but in the meantime, recognising Palestine would give Palestinians a degree of equality in a singularly unequal relationship. Moreover, to acknowledge Palestine as a state (as more than 130 members of the United Nations have already done) would help restore some of the dignity that was taken away from Palestinians by the Occupation, along with their land and much of their water. The Conservative government has been backsliding on the issue of Palestine, recently downgrading the status of the Palestinian Ambassador, and it must be pressed hard to change its position.

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Palestine: Seize the Moment!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th February, 2017

jf-speaking-at-house-of-commonsThis year sees not only the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which led eventually to the creation of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland, bu also the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of territories captured during the Six Day War. The Israeli government and its friends round the world will doubtless wish to celebrate Balfour, but as I said at a meeting in the House of Commons earlier this week, Palestinians and their friends should seize the moment offered by the double anniversary to publicise the ongoing injustices of their situation and to call specifically for the recognition of the state of Palestine before the two state solution to the Middle East conflict is officially dead and buried, because of continuing illegal settlement activity. The House of Commons event, chaired by Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, was organised by the Palestine Return Centre, which argues that Britain should apologise for the Balfour Declaration because it led to Palestinian dispossession. Personally I think a stronger tack is to stress how the second part of the Declaration — about not harming the interests of the Arab residents of Palestine — has never been implemented and that injustice needs to be rectified. The Palestinian Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Manuel Hassassian, gave a typically impassioned speech, stressing that he believes the two state solution is indeed dead, however much the Palestinian Authority may cling to it, and it is vital if the situation moves de facto to a one-state solution that is not run along apartheid lines. He also castigated successive British governments for failing to act even-handedly in the region. I argued that there need to be a concerted effort by the myriad groups in the UK which are concerned about the Palestinian issue should come together to formulate a clear strategy of what needs to be achieved, with the Embassy and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign assisting with coordination. The bad news is that the Occupation and settlement expansion continue, as does the effective siege of Gaza. But by seizing he moment of the anniversaries, lobbying the media and parliamentarians, the attention and then engagement of the wider British public can be stimulated — with us putting particular pressure on the EU’s potential role as an agent for change, not least during the two years in which Britain will still be a member.

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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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Palestine and Anti-Semitism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th July, 2016

Friends of Palestine meeting with HASCEarlier this week, in my role as Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, I was invited to a hearing on anti-Semitism at the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, along with my LDFoP colleague Miranda Pinch and two representatives each of our Labour and SNP sister organisations (three of them MPs). Committee Chair Keith Vaz MP started off by asking me outright whether criticising Israel could be considered anti-Semitic, to which I was able to answer confidently “No!”; the continued occupation of the West Bank and other territories as well as some of the actions of the Israel Defense Force are in clear violation of international law and therefore can be justifiably condemned by anyone who has a sense of justice. As a Liberal Democrat I oppose all forms of discrimination and prejudice, so that of course includes anti-Semitism, but I argued that exceptionalism should not tempt us to single anti-Semitism out from other forms of ethnic, religious, gender or other forms of discrimination. The panel of MPs on the committee — which included David Burrowes as well as David Winnick — were astonished to learn that all six of us giving evidence and answering questions had been attacked as “racist” and “anti-Semitic” because we have campaigned for the Palestinian cause, but that is indeed the case. Miranda was able to give an interesting perspective as a (non-practising) Jew and she said that some of the worst attacks on her had come from Christian Zionists. We and the SNP participants pointed out that we try to avoid using the word Zionism because it can mean different things and instead are always careful to refer to the Israeli government or IDF, rather than saying, as many in the Middle East do, “the Jews”. Apparently Jeremy Corbyn, the embattled Labour Party leader, had a rough time before the committee a while ago, mainly because he had referred to representatives of Hamas and Hizbollah as “friends”. But one of the SNP MPs, Philippa Whitford (who has worked as a surgeon in Gaza, and hails originally from Belfast) pointed out that just as in Northern Ireland peace was only achieved by engaging with the IRA and Protestant extremists, so peace in Israel-Palestine will only come about if Hamas and other groups are included in talks. All six of us participants still in principle support a two-state solution, but all fear that ongoing settlement activity and the intransigence of the Netanyahu government mean that is in danger of being made impossible. But both Israelis and Palestinians will have be involved in determining their own future. The Home Affairs Committee report that will emerge from these hearings should be published in September.

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Chains of Sand

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th July, 2016

Chains of Sand 1The Arab-Israeli conflict is often presented in black and white terms, depending on which side one’s sympathies mainly lie, yet when it comes to the lives and emotions of people on the ground in Israel or the Occupied Territories there are in fact many shades of grey. Journalist and novelist Jemma Wayne chooses for the principal cast of her new book Chains of Sand (Legend Press, £9.99) young people struggling to come to terms with the tensions and at times outright violence of situations not only in the Middle East but also in the Jewish diaspora living in London. A girl from West Jerusalem becomes romantically involved with a young Arab man from the East in a case of forbidden love that can only end in tragedy. A young British Jew, against the wishes of his family, wishes to emigrate to Israel despite the fact that he might get dragged into the ongoing conflict in Gaza, while in a neat mirror image a young Israeli wishes to shift his life in the other direction. The characters’ dilemmas are exacerbated by politics, religion, gender, generational differences and above all by a quest for their true identity. Even when they are socialising, in the bars of Tel Aviv or the coffee shops of Golders Green, unseen but keenly felt dangers lurk off-stage, sometimes bursting in on them with shocking intensity. So many books on Israel-Palestine — both fact and fiction — embrace the narrative and perspectives of one side or the other, but to her credit Jemma Wayne avoids that easy option, instead weaving interlocking stories that constantly question one’s own understanding of the situation as well as that of the characters. That makes the novel unsettling, challenging, at times an uncomfortable read but stimulating in its acceptance of the complexities of the human condition and the challenge of conflicting loyalties.

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Palestine’s Nakba Continues

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th May, 2016

Manuel HassasianAcross the world, Palestinians this week are commemorating the Nakba or “Catastrophe” — the 1948 flow of more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees from territory that had been declared as the new state of Israel. Many Palestinian villages were destroyed and countless people had to leave their homes at a moment’s notice, never to return. The memory is a wound that never heals, even among second and third generation Palestinians of refuge families who were born in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere. Many remain stateless, thereby denied full freedom of movement. Last night, following a joint initiative by the SNP Friends of Palestine and the London-based Palestine Return Centre (PRC), there was a large gathering at the House of Commons, addressed by Manuel Hassassian (Palestinian Ambassador to the UK), Tommy Sheppard MP (SNP), Sameh Habeb (PRC), Karma Nabulsi (Palestinian academic and human rights campaigner, based at my old college, St. Edmund Hall, Oxford), Caroline Lucas MP (Greens) and myself (as Chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine). In the audience were Muslims, Jews, Christians and others, united in their concern to bring an end to the Israeli Occupation.

Palestinian refugee campsAmbassador Hassassian made a blistering attack on the Conservative government for its hypocrisy in saying that it is in favour of international law and human rights while doing nothing for the Palestinian cause; indeed, David Cameron and several other Ministers have stated openly that they are great supporters of Israel. Caroline Lucas particularly focussed on the arms trade and the fact that British arms manufacturers are selling some of the weapons used in the Israeli occupation. I urged people to look forward, as well as backwards to the start of the Nakba, pointing out that public opinion has shifted dramatically in the UK in favour of addressing the injustices of the current situation. I called on the British government to follow Sweden’s lead in recognising Palestine, without pre-conditions, and asked that people stop referring to Israeli “settlers” in the West Bank, instead acknowledging that they are “occupiers”. “Colonisers!”, Ambassador Hassassian chimed in. All the Palestinian speakers were doubtful that a two-state solution is now possible because of the fact that there is no contiguous unoccupied Palestinian territory that would be a viable core. However, Palestinians will within five years outnumber the Jewish population in Israel-Palestine, so it is urgent that a different kind of road map is drawn up for the future. Perhaps I am an incurable optimist, but I said that I felt that the fact the pro-Israeli lobby is trying to damn anyone standing up for Palestinian rights as “anti-Semitic” is actually a sign of weakness, not of strength. The Israeli government is beginning to understand that its narrative of victimhood — perfectly understandable historically — in 2016 no longer washes among many people in this country because of the Occupation and the daily injustices and humiliations inflicted on Palestinians. Furthermore, Britain, as the mandatory power over Palestine between the two world wars, has a historical responsibility to put pressure on Binyamin Netanyahu and his colleagues to change their policies radically. The Israeli government says it will only listen to the United States, where millions of Christian Zionists are blind supporters of Israel because they believe in the biblical prophecy that after Armageddon there will be a second coming of the Messiah. But it would be precisely to stop Armageddon in the region that Britain, in concert with other EU member states, should take the lead in trying to bring the Occupation to an end. International Law must prevail and the Nakba must end, so that both Palestinians and Israelis can live in a secure peace and in growing prosperity.

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