Tag Archives: palestine

A response to the Conference debate on the Balfour Declaration

Shalom alechum, alsalam ealaykum, peace be with you.

Peace, Peace in the land between the river & sea is what we should be working for.

And, to put it mildly, the motion we passed at Conference on Sunday does not do that. Indeed, by passing it, it means we probably won’t get another chance to debate the Palestine/Israel conflict again for some time.

I tried to get the motion referred back to the FPC and to ask them to bring back a better, more comprehensive motion next year as the one we passed today is the lowest common denominator that is acceptable (begrudgingly) to two interest groups in the Party, Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and Lib Dem Friends of Israel.

It does nothing to say what we, as a small political party far away from the area, can do to advance the cause of peace between Palestine & Israel and, believe me, there is much we can do.

We could be learning more from groups like “Solutions not Sides”, we could be inviting speakers from One Voice, YaLa Young Leaders, Ta’ayush and similar organisations, we could be listening to those who work every day to break down the barriers (both physical & mental) between the two nations.

The motion also contains factual errors, for example, line 35 refers to “pre-1967 borders” but no such borders existed as they were Armistice Lines that marked the end of conflict in 1949, they were never meant to be the final demarcation between Israel & its Arab neighbours.

What is worse, all amendments to correct errors and improve the motion have been rejected by FCC. No reason has been given for this rejection.

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The Independent View: Jewish opposition to Israeli policies

Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2002, there has been significant Jewish opposition in the UK, Western Europe and the United States to Israel’s occupation and settlement of Palestinian land, and to the repressive measures Israel takes against Palestinian resistance. Jews for Justice for Palestinians, now with nearly 2,000 signatories, is by far the biggest Jewish peace group in the UK or Europe. JJP is a founder member of European Jews for a Just Peace, the federation of 13 peace groups in 10 European countries.

JJP’s core beliefs can be summarised as:

Palestinians have the right to their own state in the areas occupied by Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, no less than Israel has the right to a secure existence within the 6 June 1967 borders. Israel must negotiate in good faith to withdraw to the 1967 borders, subject to an agreed, equitable land swap to accommodate the built-up areas in some of the settlements.

Violence against civilians is unacceptable, no matter who commits it.

Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for the 750,000 Palestinians who were driven out or fled in 1947/49, and who, with their children and grandchildren, make up today’s Palestinian refugees. Israel must negotiate a fair and practical resolution of the issue.

Our beliefs are based on the humanitarian values of Judaism, universal values of human rights and international law. As disquiet about Israel’s policies has grown, our beliefs have become common and are now shared by many in the community. All this was established by the meticulous City University survey “Attitudes of British Jews Towards Israel”, published in 2015.

The survey shows that Israel plays an important part in the identity of most Jews, but also that, far from there being widespread support for Israel’s policies among Jews, there is actually a wide diversity of attitudes, as one would expect to find in society generally. Depending on the question asked, responses varied from large majorities opposed to Israeli policies to significant minorities opposed.

Some examples will suffice to show the diversity: 

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The Israeli occupation gets worse and worse

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory – West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza – continues and deepens week after week.  The occupation is of course illegal under international law – as enshrined in the Geneva Conventions which were adopted after World War II.  As a reaction to Germany’s colonising activities in Eastern Europe, they specifically prohibit the colonisation/absorption of land conquered in war (in this case 1967) into the territory of the conquering country.  Just this weekend Netanyahu has confirmed his determination to continue the settlement enterprise and never to give back any land that has been stolen.  This has been reported in Haaretz, the Iiberal Israeli newspaper, which is the source of much of the information in this post.

In Gaza, the siege continues and this prevents the rebuilding of the territory after the last Gaza conflict (2014) and inflicts daily misery on the inhabitants.  In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it is estimated that over 3500 Palestinians have been arrested this year alone.  Many of these are children and every day I read reports of new overnight arrests – children and adults taken from their beds by Israeli soldiers.  Settler violence towards Palestinians has increased dramatically and the Haaretz and Israeli NGO’s regularly report on this.  The settlers who commit crimes against Palestinians are protected by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) whose soldiers rarely intervene.  Prosecutions of settlers for such crimes are almost unheard of.

A particularly serious development has occurred these past two weeks which has really incensed some European governments.  With the start of the new school year the Israelis have decided to demolish several schools.  Some of these have been funded by the Belgian, Dutch and Norwegian governments.  This has been documented this week in an article in the Independent (also confirmed by Haaretz) which reports that 55 schools in the West Bank are currently under threat of demolition.

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Royal indiscretion

This week it was reported in the Times that President Reuven Rivlin of Israel had invited the Royal Family to send a representative to the country this year to celebrate a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration.  There is intense speculation in the Israeli press now that the Royal Family might break its longstanding reluctance to visit Israel officially.  It would clearly invite controversy to visit a country in such flagrant breach of international law – defying the United Nations with its illegal settlements, child detention, blockade of Gaza and marginalisation of its ethnic minorities.  The Balfour Declaration, as well as promising a home for the Jewish peoples, also promised that the rights of the Palestinians must be protected.  This was ‘a sacred trust of civilisation’ under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations which Britain took on when it accepted the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. We betrayed that sacred trust and, until that trust is redeemed, the Balfour Declaration should not be celebrated.  A petition to the Queen’s Private Secretary to discourage such a visit is circulating.

The idea that the Royal Family would give any sort of endorsement or honour to the State of Israel this year sadly fits with a pattern of inadvisable steps that have been taken in the last couple of years.  The weekend before her infamous visit to the White House, Theresa May told Andrew Marr that it was up to the Queen whether President Trump was invited to Buckingham Palace this year.  Within days she had extended an invitation on the Queen’s behalf, which was of course accepted, to great public outcry in the UK.  American presidents crave the publicity that goes with a State Visit to the UK – remember Ronald Reagan on horseback with HM at Windsor.  Normally US Presidents must wait until their third year in office – if indeed they get one at all.  That gives them a chance to show that they are a good friend to the UK and frankly deserve it.  George H Bush never had one at all.  Donald Trump hasn’t done anything for the UK yet, and is a major potential threat to the world order.  His visit, if it happens anytime soon, will be highly controversial and will embroil the Royal Family in politics.  It was unwise of the Palace to go along with Theresa May in approving Trump’s visit in his first year.

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Disaster of Iraq is just one chapter of a flawed British Middle East Adventure

As we reflect on the Chilcot report, it is also worth reminding ourselves that British Foreign Policy in the Middle East has been flawed and at times disastrous for the last 100 years.  Too often it has been based on colonial ambition or narrow economic self-interest or just surrendering to powerful lobbies – often ignoring the expertise of well-informed diplomats and historians whose advice would have helped to avoid and repeat mistakes.

Until shortly before World War 1 the Levant was run by the armies of occupation of the Ottoman Empire.  While this colonial Ottoman governance was exploitative and far from benign, it must be admitted that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in relative peace and harmony, trading together, socialising and even inter-marrying.  The arrival of the French and British colonial powers was at first welcomed by most Arabs, who anticipated a less grasping and more civilised governance and some hope of eventual self-rule.  Fairly soon the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 led to a carving up of the region into French and British spheres of influence which showed little respect for natural communities and ethnic or religious difference.  Promises about self-governance were repeatedly broken or only half-implemented. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 which promised the creation of a Jewish national home within Palestine was greeted with dismay by Palestinian Arabs, so the British government pledged that the rights of Palestinians must be protected in the implementation of this plan – a promise that was totally forgotten when the time came.

In the aftermath of World War 2, and, under pressure from Zionist terrorist gangs, a virtually bankrupt British Government could not escape quickly enough; it abandoned the Palestinians to their fate when the UN approved the partition of the country.  The resulting ethnic cleansing and subsequent Israeli –Arab wars have left the festering sore of Israel as the occupying power in Palestinian majority areas in defiance of international law and UN resolutions.

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UN tells Israel to stop taking Palestinian resources

In a little reported step on Tuesday 22 December, the United Nations General Assembly, citing the Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted a resolution demanding Palestinian sovereignty over natural resources under Israeli occupation and the UK actually voted in favour!

The Fourth Geneva Convention was adopted in 1949 following the Second World War and the forced migrations of many peoples that occurred during and immediately after it.    Article 49 of that 4th Geneva Convention clearly states: ““The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”   Israel ratified this Convention in 1951. In 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted a report from the Secretary-General and a Commission of Experts which concluded that the Geneva Conventions had passed into the body of customary international law, thus making them binding even on non-signatories to the Conventions whenever they engage in armed conflicts. 

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Also tagged and | 29 Comments

Boris’ Israel visit proves he is unsuitable to represent us on the world stage

 

Many can be forgiven for finding Boris Johnson’s manner affable and quite comical. However, his conduct during his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories this week has been no laughing matter. A frontrunner to be our next Prime Minister has clumsily bounced around the region making an offensive remark here and reciting anti-Palestinian propaganda there.

The Mayor of London said:

I cannot think of anything more foolish than to say that you want to have any kind of divestment or sanctions or boycott against a country that, when all is said and done is the only democracy in the region. is the only place that has, in my view, a pluralist, open society…

…The supporters of this so-called boycott are really just a bunch of corduroy-jacketed academics from lefty, not that there’s anything wrong with wearing a corduroy jacket I hasten to say, but they are by and large lefty academics who have no real standing in the matter and I think are highly unlikely to be influential on Britain. And this is a very, very small minority in our country who are calling for this.

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