Earlier 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.
Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th July, 2016
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: anti-Semitism, Binyamin Netanyahu, David Burrowes, David Winnick, Hamas, Hizbolklah, IDF, Israel, Jeremy Corbyn, Keith Vaz, LDFoP, Miranda Pinch, Palestine, Philippa Whitford | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th July, 2016
The 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.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th May, 2016
Across 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.
Ambassador 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.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th March, 2016
In the face of Brazil’s firm refusal to accept former settler leader Dani Dayan as Israel’s new Ambassador to Brasilia; Israel has today admitted defeat and named him as its next Consul General in New York instead. The government of Dilma Rousseff has been one of the strongest supporters the international recognition of Palestinian statehood and considered the nomination of Mr Dayan; who was born in Argentina; emigrating to Israel as a teenager; as unacceptable b,ecause of his strong support for illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank. This situation led to a seven-month stand-off between Tel Aviv and Brasilia, but the Brazilians dug in their heels and now the Israelis have conceded defeat. It is very unusual for a country to refuse the credentials of a designated ambassador, but the Brazilians are to be congratgulated for refusing to compromise on a core matter of principle. The United States, alas, has no such qualms, but Mr Dayan’s arrival in New York is likely to spark at least some protests, not least from US Jewish groups who oppose Israel’s 49-year-old occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv’s efforts to delegitimise the nascent Palestinian state.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd March, 2016
The Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, is due to address MPs and Peers in Parliament today at the invitation of his British counterpart, John Bercow. Nothing strange about that, one might think, except that Mr Edelstein lives in the illegal Israeli settlement of Neve Daniel in the occupied West Bank and declared ahead of his visit that he will “represent the Knesset, the state of Israel and the West Bank with pride” during his visit (my emphasis). Mr Edelstein has no right to represent the West Bank, whose Palestinian inhabitants have lived under oppressive Israeli occupation for the past 49 years. Several elements of that occupation are in clear violation of both the Geneva Convention and the Hague Agreements, not least the way that Israel has settled hundreds of thousands of its own people in the occupied territories. This is in clear violation of International Law and indeed successive British governments have condemned it. Yet it is clear that the current Conservative government in London speaks with a forked tongue, as in principle it is opposed to the occupation yet Mr Edelstein will be welcomed with open arms. No wonder Palestine’s envoy to Britain, Manuel Hassassian, has declared that he is “incredulous that Mr Edelstein is being given a platform in Parliament itself – the self-same Parliament that only a short time ago voted to recognise the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.” During his visit, Mr Edelstein is expected to meet both the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, underlining the cosy relationship that the UK Conservatives have with Israel’s Likud-led government. This includes people like Mr Edelstein who would love to see a “Greater Israel”, which formally incorporates all of the West Bank into the Jewish state. As it is, there is now so much illegal Israeli settlement in the Occupied Territories that many informed observers, including myself, fear that things have passed a point of no return, as there is no longer enough contiguous territory left for a viable, independent Palestinian state. It is shameful that the British government is essentially acquiescing to this situation rather than using the diplomatic and economic tools that it has at its disposal to demonstrate that its pubic statements against Israel’s occupation policies are not just empty words. No wonder so much of the Arab and wider Islamic world accuses Britain of double standards in the Middle East. Moreover, they are correct.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th January, 2016
Today is the first of what is expected to be an annual event: the Global Day of Support for Palestinian Rights. In London, this was marked by a seminar this afternoon at the P21 Gallery in Camden, “Targeting Dissent: Israel’s Crackdown on Palestinian Citizens”, organised by Middle East Monitor. The plight of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is increasingly well-known in Europe, including Britain, but less familiar is the situation of Palestinian Arabs living in Israel. They make up about 20 per cent of the population but only own about 3 per cent of the land, and although they can vote and enjoy many other civil rights they are not completely equal citizens of the Jewish state, particularly when it comes to property and treatment in the Courts. At this afternoon’s event we heard from an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, Yousef Jabareen, who said that Ministers of Israel’s ruling coalition are rarely in the chamber when Arab members speak and attempts over the years to get the concept of equality enshrined in the basic law of human rights have been rebuffed. The law professor, Durgham Saif, highlighted the situation of Bedouin in the Negev desert, and pointed out that while Palestinians have no right of return to their historic homeland Israel has let in hundreds of thousands of Russians, many of whom are not even Jews. The journalist Ben White cited a litany of ways that Israel has suppressed Palestinian rights over he decades, while the NUS’s Black Students Office Malia Bouattia spoke of the way that pro-Palestinian activists in this country sometimes get caught up in police and security services’ operations against radicalisation. The event was chaired by LibDem peer, Baroness (Meral) Hussein-Ece.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 4th January, 2016
The chilling pictures published by ISIS/Daesh of a small child thought to be British, proudly brandishing a gun, are symptomatic of a worrying trend by political extremists to try to “normalise” the phenomenon of children bearing arms, supposedly in the defence of a particular cause. I’ve seen examples on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict and child soldiers have been a sickening feature of a number of recent civil wars, such as in Uganda, Liberia and Sri Lanka — in some cases with children being forced to kill or else be killed or tortured themselves. You will even find photos of American kids posing with weapons with the encouragement of their gun-loving parents, despite the fact that each year numerous victims, both young and old, get accidentally shot by young children in America. For supporters of the US constitutional right to bear arms, the issue at stake is “freedom”, but I would argue that even in countries where it is legal for adults to own firearms it should be a serious criminal offence to encourage or allow children to handle them. For me, that amounts to child abuse, and a particularly pernicious form of child abuse, for kids often do not have a developed sense of right and wrong, or of the nature of killing and death. I believe that if parents proudly pose with their infants who are brandishing weapons they should be prosecuted for child abuse and sentenced accordingly.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd December, 2015
The Israeli Ambassadot to the United States, Ron Dermer, is sending out Christmas presents in his host country. Nothing unusual about that, one might think, given that the US has been Israel’s staunchest ally for decades and is the major impediment to the recognition of the State of Palestine. But these are not ordinary Christmas presents; they are all products deliberately sourced from illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights, which Israel seized in 1967. To add insult to injury Ambassador Dermer refers to the West Bank products as coming from Judeia and Samaria, which is how those supporting a Greater Israel incorporating the Palestinian West Bank designate the area. Mr Dermer says his gesture is in deliberate defiance of the international Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign organised by some in the Palestinian solidarity movement. The EU, to its credit, recently insisted that all products from illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories must be labelled as such, so consumers could make their own mind up whether they wish to buy them.
Ambassador Dermer is no stranger to controversy. A close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he arranged for Netanyahu to speak to the US Congress behind the Obama administration’s back. He doubtless thinks he is being clever with his Christmas present gesture, whereas what in fact he has done has been to underline the arrogance of the Israeli occupation, with its constant use of brutality, intimidation and humiliation against the Palestinians. But the tide is not running in the direction Mr Dermer and similar Greater Israel fanatics want. Yesterday, Greece became the latest country to agree to recognise the State of Palestine, by a unanimous vote in the Greek parliament. Almost two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations have now done so. By continuing the occupation and building ever more illegal settlements Israel is losing the friends it once had in the international community. And with people like Ron Dermer in key diplomatic positions it will soon have no friends at all.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st December, 2015
Last night I was at the National Liberal Club for a meeting organised by Liberal International British Group (LIBG) on Israel and Palestine, addressed by the former British Consul General in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean. Since retiring from the diplomatic service, Sir Vincent has been an eloquent advocate of the Palestinian cause, in particular calling for recognition of the State of Palestine as a necessary step on the way to a viable Two State Solution. In summating after Sir Vincent’s talk and a range of often vigorous questions from the audience and proposing a vote of thanks, I said:
A few years ago, I made a documentary in the West Bank which focussed on two young families: a Jewish couple and their small daughter, who had immigrated from Australia because they believed it was God’s will that they should be part of Jewish “re-settlement” of Judea and Samaria, and a Palestinian businessman (and his teacher wife), whose business was basically going down the pan because of the continued Israeli occupation. These two families were physically separated by only a couple of kilometres, yet they were worlds apart and seemingly irreconcilable. The temptation for many of us therefore is to give up on trying to find a peace settlement in the Middle East and just accept the status quo. But as Sir Vincent has said, the status quo in this case is not static; it is dynamic and the movement is going dangerously in the wrong direction, which will ultimately probably lead to catastrophe unless something is done to change it.
One attendee tonight said he could not understand how Liberal Democrats today speak so differently about Israel than Liberals used to when he first joined the Party; at the time, every single Liberal MP was a member of the Liberal Friends of Israel. The answer to that query is contained in one word: occupation. Nearly 50 years of often brutal occupation, coupled with ever increasing Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, has shifted liberal opinions radically. I know that because it is a journey I have made myslf. As a teenager I was a keen supporter of Israel, thought the kibbutzim movement was fantastic and when Arab states attacked Israel I was out in the street protesting. But what has happened since 1967, with the persistent violations by Israel of the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international law, has made me a passionate champion of justice for the Palestinians. That must include recognition of the Palestinian state (as 130 countries have already done). There can be no true negotiations between parties as unequal as Israel (the occupying power) and the Arab people of the occupied territories.
Britain has a moral duty to further this cause, both for historic reasons (as the mandatory power of Palestine from the end of the First World War until 1948) and because of its position on the UN Security Council. The Obama administration appears to have given up hope in trying to promote a settlement, so as Sir Vincent has argued, Britain and other EU countries should take a lead. The two state solution is dying, indeed it is almost dead. But we must make a last, determined effort to resuscitate it before it is too late, in the interest of both the Palestinians, who suffer so much injustice and humiliation on a daily basis, and of Israelis, who understandably desire to live in security.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th November, 2015
Earlier this week I was honoured to be elected the new Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, which aims to increase awareness and understanding among Liberal Democrats about issues relating to Palestine and to champion the recognition of Palestinian statehood. I follow in the distinguished footsteps of my former Oxford Oriental Institute fellow student John McHugo, who was recently appointed one of Party leader Tim Farron’s two advisors on the Middle East. Like John, I have spent a great deal of time in the region, in my case mainly as a writer and broadcaster, including commentating on Middle Eastern issues on TV channels from the area.
British public attitudes towards Palestine and Israel have shifted quite dramatically over the past few decades. When I was a schoolboy, Israel was seen as a heroic little infant state battling for its own survival, experimenting with new forms of collective society and spearheading new technology in an otherwise under-developed part of the world. But almost half of century of illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the Six Day War of 1967, coupled with the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza and disproportionate military action against the Gaza Strip have soured the perception of Israel. I deplore Gazan rocket attacks on Israel and the recent spate of knife and other attacks on Israeli citizens but these should not obscure the fact that Israel is in breach of international law in its occupation, the related settlement activity (which continues unabated) and the daily instances of human rights abuses and humiliations committed against Palestinians. There has also been an unpleasant recent rise in attacks on Palestinians by extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied territories which the Israeli authorities have failed to address adequately.
On the international stage, Palestine has been gaining increased recognition, with the notable exception of Israel’s great ally the United States and most of the EU member states, including Britain. It is high time that Britain also extended recognition to Palestine and brought greater pressure on the state of Israel to abide by international law. Israeli settlement activity is in danger of making any two-state solution, to which in principle the West is committed, impossible. Israel in principle has so much to offer the Middle East, as does a viable Palestinian state. But there is going to have to be a fundamental shift in attitudes and policies on the ground to make any sort of bright future happen. Otherwise the violence and the hatred will continue and everyone will be the loser.