Tag Archives: palestine

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. 

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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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What I learned when I cycled through Palestine

Rosina Credit Rugfoot PhotographyJust as tensions began to rise in Israel and the West Bank, I undertook a cycle and study tour of Palestine organised by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). We covered around 200km in five days in 40oC heat – at the time if it felt like the cycling version of the Sahara’s ‘marathon des sables’. I’ve read a lot about the situation in Palestine over the years but nothing could really prepare me for what I saw and experienced in that single week.

Over five days, the sponsored ride took us from Nablus in the North to the enclave town of Qalquilya then on to Ramallah. We then swept down into the Jordan Valley to Jericho and the Dead Sea, 300m below sea level to then climb the next day up to Hebron and back on the final day through Bethlehem to Jerusalem. We were never far from the tensions with Ramallah city going into ‘lock down’ with roads closed not long after we left and one of our group getting trapped in the Al-Aqsa mosque as violence grew in Jerusalem.

What we saw was the suffocating pressure faced by Palestinians in every part of their existence and the resolve needed just to do the day-to-day things we take for granted. The general sense of unease was apparent walking around Jerusalem where there was a heavy military presence and the Jewish civilian settlers were openly carrying hand guns in the street.

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Christians continue to suffer on the West Bank

There are constant reminders of the sheer awfulness of the illegal occupation of the West Bank by Israel.  The video which went viral last week showing an Israeli soldier assaulting a 12 year old boy, with his already broken arm in a plaster cast, is a case in point.  He was rescued by his mother and other women from the village, who are now depicted in much of the Israeli press as the attackers and the soldier as the victim! Minister of Culture Miri Regev said the troops should have used their guns!

The British media often presents the conflict as one between mainly Muslim Arabs and Jews, forgetting that there is a significant Christian Arab population, albeit one that continues to decline as more and more leave the country.  I am grateful to the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Foundation for sharing this information.

Christian communities suffer just as much as Muslim communities in the West Bank. In July, the Israeli High Court reversed a previous decision to halt work on the wall which will separate the mostly Christian-populated Beit Jala and the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, and the Cremisan monastery from its sister convent and school. The new High Court ruling has been challenged. Israeli forces however hastily uprooted dozens of olive trees of Palestinians and leveled land belonging to a number of families as part of its plans to resume the construction of the wall, which is also close to the illegal Israeli Har Gilo settlement.

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Opinion: Why Liberal Democrats should respond positively to the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign’s questionnaire

In an election Campaign in which none of the Parties has wanted to talk very much about foreign policy, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been asking candidates their views on a variety of questions related to Palestine and then urging the c.200,000 people on their mailing list to consider these responses before deciding how to vote.  On average that represents 300 supporters per constituency – more than the margin that decided the election in a handful of seats in 2010, including some of ours.

Over 800 candidates have responded.  I did a check a few days ago and found that only half of the Lib Dem candidates in constituencies that we held last time have responded.  Some of the responses, for instance from Martin Horwood, Layla Moran, Andrew George and John Hemming were particularly strong. Others responded rather weakly and seem to have been following a rather weak brief supplied by Party HQ.

Liberal Democrat candidates who haven’t yet responded should be aware that Greens have been particularly punctilious about responding and doing so positively to PSC questions, which were:

Do you agree with the following statements:

  1. I urge the UK Government to uphold the principles of equality, human rights and international law in all its relations and dealings with Israel.
  2. I consider the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal and unjustifiable.
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Opinion: It’s time to recognise Palestine as a state

Israelis go to the polls on March 17 and no doubt the US and UK governments and most Lib Dems are hoping for a Netanyahu defeat and a more “liberal” government.  Opinion polls however suggest the opposite.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in article on 1 February, suggested that Netanyahu’s re-election would be the better outcome, as then the rest of the world would see the need to keep up the pressure on Israel.  The article suggested that it could be worse if a government of the centre left was elected as this would reassure the rest of the world that peace negotiations would be renewed, while nothing would actually happen. So, whatever the outcome of the election, there is a need for EU countries to keep up the pressure on the Israelis to stop their illegal activities in the Occupied Territories, lift the cruel siege of Gaza, and settle fairly with the Palestinians.

I would suggest that now is the time, well before the general election,  for the Party to commit itself to immediate British recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, as Sweden did last October, and to encourage other members of the EU to do the same. Sweden acted alone, France is getting close to doing so and others would undoubtedly follow the United Kingdom.

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