Author Archives: John Kelly

Apartheid in Israel?

Is the Nation-State Act, approved by the Israeli parliament last week, really as bad as its critics suggest?  Jonathan Freedland, Guardian journalist and occasional writer in the Jewish Chronicle, clearly thinks so.  Neither he nor the Chronicle have been willing to criticise Israel very much in the past, but this has been changing in recent weeks.  His article of 27 July lays it out clearly:

“It… (the Act)…says that the right to self-determination in Israel is a right that applies to Jews only and that Hebrew is the state’s only official language, with Arabic now granted merely a “special status”. The combined effect of those two moves is to tell the one-fifth of the country that is not Jewish and whose mother tongue is Arabic that they are second-class citizens.”

Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which is always very critical of its government’s treatment of Palestinians, had an article the following day with the sub-heading The nation-state law is a sickening rejection of equality for all of Israel’s citizens. 

Many are now saying that Israel itself, and not just the Occupied Territories, now meets the UN Definition of an Apartheid State.  Article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines Apartheid as follows:

“The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts….committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

Reaction to the new law has of course been greeted with anger by Arabs, dismay by European governments (whose concerns are as usual ignored by Israel) and, significantly, there has been strong criticism in Israel itself.

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Compassion and Trust in Politics

What is the matter with Theresa May?  Is she really the untrustworthy and uncompassionate minister she has been portrayed, or does she just surround herself with advisers who are like that?

This morning on the Today programme Dominic Grieve spoke with barely veiled anger at the way he and others were let down by the PM last week over Europe amendments.  Well, that’s politics you may say.  But this interview followed soon after John Humphreys interviewed a mother who had been trying to get special cannabis oil for her epileptic child.  Not the mother who was interviewed by him yesterday who had just got Sajid Javid to relent and let her keep the cannabis oil she had brought back from Canada. Both families had spent tens of thousands of pounds having their children treated abroad and met uncompassionate and callous resistance from ministers and officials – especially in the Home Office.

Coming back to Theresa May – she apparently met the mother interviewed this morning, in March, and promised her that she would sort it so that her child could use the oil.  Her officials have still not approved the special licence and been deeply unhelpful to the mother concerned.  Theresa May’s flash of compassion has not been followed through – again showing she can’t be trusted.

Who presided over the Home Office and is responsible for the Windrush debacle: the families split up, the heartbreak of so many mistreated people?  This was no isolated case as readers of the I newspaper, and the Guardian know from reading week in and week out of bad uncompassionate decisions being made by Home Office ministers and civil servants.  The Law Society recently published a report that didn’t get nearly enough attention, in which it highlighted that the Home Office loses over 50% of immigration appeals.  This is a scandalous waste of public money.  Meanwhile, so many individuals and families are put through while uncompassionate civil servants mount ridiculous challenges to the most deserving asylum seekers for example.  The Law Society suggested that there might be institutional racism at the Home Office. That has been rather obvious to me for a long time.

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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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Commemorating 50 years since the Six Day War

On Monday, June 5, Palestinians and their supporters marked 50 years since the 1967 Six Day War, when Israeli forces occupied the remaining 22 percent of historic Palestine left over from the War of 1948.  During this military assault, Israeli forces displaced another 350,000 Palestinians from their homes, and turned many 1948 refugees into refugees again.

How long must Palestinians wait to return to their homeland? How long until the international community exercises its political will to force Israel to comply with international law? How long until the UK and other western countries, explicitly or tacitly, end the double standard in its foreign policy and unconditional support for Israeli policies that contravene international law and deprive Palestinians of their basic human rights?

The international community is gradually losing patience with Israel’s occupation. U.N Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016, which refers to Israel as an “occupying power”, condemns “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem”, and condemns, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians.  The Resolution furthermore states in the clearest terms that the UN Security Council “will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.”

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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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Spare a thought for Bethlehem

Last January I managed to visit Bethlehem after 5.5 hours of  delay and “obstruction” at the Jordan/Palestine border by the Israeli authorities.  As well as visiting the (Christian) University of Bethlehem, I also paid a visit to the birthplace of Christ and the place where Christmas originated.  At this time of year, it is appropriate to remember just how much the occupants of Bethlehem are affected by the illegal occupation and I am grateful to the Palestinian mission for the following information, which I will present without further comment – it speaks for itself.

Bethlehem is located 10 kilometers to the south of Jerusalem. It has a population of over 220,000 people, including over 20,000 living in three refugee camps (Dheisheh, Aida and Beit Jibrin).

The most important cities and towns of the governorate are Bethlehem City, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Al Doha, Al Khader, Battir and Artas.

There are two sites in the governorate that have been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

  1. The Nativity Church and Star Street (“Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route”).
  2. Battir, including Wadi’ Makhrour (“Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir”).

Other important heritage and archeological sites located in the governorate are:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 15 Comments

Is Labour really the natural home for those concerned about human rights?

 

I read the report by Shami Chakrabarti into alleged racism in the Labour Party over the weekend.  It’s a good report and an interesting read for a number of reasons – but I was looking for lessons for our Party.

What particularly struck me was that right upfront she explains why she joined the Labour Party as soon as she was appointed to lead the Inquiry. She states that she has always supported and voted for the Labour Party but that her various jobs (Civil Servant and then Director of Liberty) required her to be non-Party political.  She goes on to say that Labour is however the natural home for anybody concerned about human rights, that all significant legislative improvements in human rights in this country have happened on Labour’s watch, and that Labour has consistently been the first Party to accommodate immigrant voices and to achieve significant support among successive waves of immigrants -whether they be Jewish, Irish, BAME.

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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 | Tagged , and | 29 Comments

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.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 17 Comments

Introducing…Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine

The Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine exists to fight for the rights of the Palestinian People through the medium of the Liberal Democrat Party. The party’s core values of liberalism, internationalism and support for the indivisibility of human rights and the rule of law make it the natural home in mainstream British politics for those determined to support the Palestinian call for recognition of their own State, for justice and their entitlements under international law.

Prior to 2010 the Party was recognised as the only one of the three main parties that could be relied upon to support Palestinian rights …

Posted in Lib Dem organisations | Tagged and | 9 Comments

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: Ethical Foreign Policy

 

At a dinner in London last week to celebrate David Steel’s 50 years in Parliament Nick Clegg congratulated David on his internationalism and talked at length about the importance of our Party being the champion of internationalism and human rights.

In his final conference speech Nick said “we will stand up for tolerance, decency and fairness” but this was put in a domestic context.  Hopefully we will soon hear an election speech from Nick offering a Lib Dem foreign policy that will clearly differentiate us from the Tories and from the policies of the Blair/Brown years.

This is the speech I would like to see Nick deliver about ethical foreign policy:

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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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Opinion: Jewish and Muslim voting intentions

The Independent on Sunday headline on 9 November suggested that Jewish donors were deserting Labour because Miliband and Alexander have been so forthright in their criticism of Israel over the Gaza invasion this summer and their strong support for recognition of the state of Palestine.  A day earlier Jewish News published the results of a poll carried out within the Jewish Community.

The headline was that Jewish voters were 30% less likely to vote Labour because of its leadership’s stance.  What was much more interesting was that 19% say they would vote Labour compared with 15% who actually voted Labour in 2010 – i.e. at a time when the Brown/Blair governments had been pretty slavish in their support of Israel even during previous Gaza conflicts and the invasion of Lebanon.  Could this perhaps show that the most vocal leaders of the Jewish Community are out of step with the masses and that significant numbers in that Community in fact would rather support a Party that is highly critical of the present government of Israel?

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Opinion: An Open Challenge to Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel

In recent months a number of Lib Dem Voice readers have suggested that there should be a dialogue, if not a merger, between the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. This week one person highlighted the objectives of each organisation as shown on their websites as follows:

Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel:
“We exist to support and promote policies which lead to peace and security for Israel in the context of a comprehensive and lasting Middle East peace settlement”.

Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine:
“ exist to fight for the rights of the Palestinian People through the medium of the Liberal Democrat Party”

When I became Vice Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP) last autumn I had the same thought and suggested to my (somewhat sceptical) colleagues that our common Lib Dem values should give us a fair amount of common ground – even if not complete agreement.

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Opinion: Who are the terrorists?

palestine

This sign held by a Palestinian child at a demonstration sums up the context and background of the present conflict in Gaza that has also led to violence and loss of life in the West Bank.

This simple summary of the oppressive behaviour of the Israeli government shows how it amounts to State Terrorism.  Western governments are reluctant to recognise this for what it is and our own political leaders (Cameron, Hammond, Miliband – and even our own Nick Clegg who has been much quieter than he was during the Cast Lead invasion of 2008) usually qualify any criticism of Israel with a statement that Israel has the right to defend itself, i.e. they accept at best the “justified but disproportionate” paradigm which is frankly indefensible.

Our governments have allowed Israel the means to maintain an illegal and oppressive control over Palestine.  They have refused to put economic and other pressures on Israel to change its behaviour.  They ignore the words of leaders of liberal organisations (Yachad, Jewish Voice for Peace, New Israel Fund etc.) or of liberally minded journalists in Israel (Haaretz) and other Jewish commentators like Professor Avi Shlaim and Henry Siegman, and accept the propaganda coming from Israel’s far right politicians, who they wouldn’t even talk to if they were active in the UK.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 52 Comments

Opinion: Hamas and the collapse of Palestine/Israel Peace Negotiations

Palestine_Jerusalem_Geopoint_Right_of_Return_NK24131Two weeks ago the Israeli Cabinet declared that the peace negotiations over Palestine were halted in view of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The fact that the Cabinet Meeting took six hours perhaps suggests that this was not a unanimous decision. Was it a reasonable decision?

Background on Hamas can be found here. The essentials are that it was founded with the aim of liberating Palestine from Israel and had an armed wing that has indulged in terrorism.  (Sound like Sinn Fein and the IRA?) Nonetheless it won Parliamentary elections …

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Opinion: Liberal Democrat support in minority and other communities

3387203709_d0349346c3_bLiberal Democrats are thought to have benefited considerably from support in Muslim communities at the 2010 General Election.

This can be attributed both to the Lib Dems being the only party to oppose the invasion of Iraq in 1993, and also to Nick Clegg being the only party leader to consistently criticise Israel for its policies towards Palestinians in the years leading up to the Election.  This has caused some concern in the party that we may be losing Jewish votes. During the period of the coalition government there has been much more …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 19 Comments

Opinion: Crimea/Palestine – unfavourable comparisons

As a Liberal Democrat one is appalled by the heavy handed way that Russia has moved into Crimea with an apology for a referendum. It may be the wish of the majority but this invasion is totally against international law and indeed tears up the post-Soviet treaty between Russia and Ukraine. The criticism of Russia is led by the USA and strongly supported by the rest of Europe. Many in Europe and the Middle East are wondering why the same critics have been so mute in the face of not dissimilar aggression and occupation of Palestine by …

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    @George Potter. Yes it is long, but no way were we going to be the people to say that some bits did not matter !...
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    @Peter Martin Hi Peter, Thank you for your comments. For the sake of clarity, are you the same Peter Martin who commented last year on...
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    With apologies to Suzanne and LD4SOS, my understanding is that their amendment is 3 pages long. In all my time in the party I have...
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    @ Grahame Evans, Yours is a rather convoluted argument. Low interest rates and a lowish exchange rate are a sign of weakness in an economy...
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    I agree with Martin, the summary is useful. If you read ConsevativeHome and LabourList BTL you see that our comments are relatively moderate! Labour has...