Opinion: Giving voice to the afraid

Qassam rocket attacks are to be condemned. House demolitions and land theft are also to be condemned. But whilst we condemn, this does not mean that we should not strive to comprehend. One senior Party member – Jenny Tonge – showed comprehension and was sacked. Her offence was to say she understood the desperation that drove Palestinians to become suicide bombers. And her critics seized on this as evidence of sympathy when it was not. And comprehension – expressing understanding – should not be condemned as sympathising.

Yet we should all have sympathy for the Israeli inhabitants of Ashkelon and Sderot, whose towns are subjected to daily arrivals of Qassam rockets. We should sympathise too, for the beleaguered Palestinians living in equal fear in Old Hebron, their front doors welded shut by settlers who spray Stars of David on Palestinian houses, and who terrify Palestinians too fearful of walking the streets of Old Hebron.

But for too long we dared not show understanding or sympathy for this latter group, for fear of being labelled a supporter of terrorism, or of running the risk of being labelled ‘anti-Semitic’.

All three UK Parties have had a voice safeguarding and propagating the case for Israel, through their ‘Friends of Israel’ groups. Yet until 2007 there was no such voice advocating the case for the Palestinians in any of the 3 Parties. Folk seemed reluctant to be seen to be sympathising with ordinary Palestinian families for fear of being labelled ‘terrorist sympathisers’ or ‘anti-Semitic’ as was Jenny Tonge. So the afraid remained unrepresented and voiceless.

One member of our Party supported my piece in the Sunday Times recently but begged not to be named. This Arab person has family in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He is a senior consultant in the NHS and has lived in Britain for years – yet he was afraid that if he was to be identified as speaking in support of his family in the West Bank, trying to exist under the yoke of foreign occupation, then the foreign occupier’s secret police would find him and also punish his family for daring to speak out.

There is a large Palestinian émigré population living in Britain, some of whom are rich and successful business folk. Yet when it comes to demonstrations and protest actions in London and across the regions, they are nowhere to be found. Why? Because they are afraid to speak out. They say they are afraid of the 4 o’clock knock from our Police, who will come and deport them. How many Arab members of our Party have you heard speak on Palestine and international humanitarian law, at Conference?

If a Palestinian child sees his parents humiliated, siblings arrested, house demolished, school shut down, and the Hamas quartermaster comes to him in the child’s teenage years and the now teenager has to make an ethical choice – how likely is he to reject the path of violence for the path of peace and dialogue?

And what about the many thousands of ordinary Palestinian families who have no interest in fighting the Occupier, but who just want a normal life? Who speaks for them? Who puts the case for the brave group of Israeli and Palestinian parents who have joined together to try to convince their respective Governments to stop the cycle of violence and uphold international humanitarian law? Or the many Israeli peace groups who are vilified as ‘traitors’ or ‘self-hating Jews’?

Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine were formed last year to try to champion the afraid and the reluctant. We believe it should be Party policy to insist on the even-handed and scrupulous application of international law, and international humanitarian law, and that those who breach it should be called to account.

palestine.jpgIt is right to sympathise with the dispossessed, the weak and the downtrodden. It is right, just, and required, that all be given a voice, not just those who are mightiest and most powerful in this dreadful cycle of violence in the former British Mandate of Palestine.

Please visit our web site at www.ldfp.eu and join us – £10 a year if you believe that the liberal democratic rights of freedom to live free of fear, should hold good for Palestinian families as well as Israeli security interests, and that it is now time for a call to action to ensure our Party champions the primacy of international humanitarian law in the Israel/Palestine issue. Abraham’s many millions of children deserve it.

Kerry Hutchinson is the media co-ordinator for the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Andrew Duffield 14th Feb '08 - 8:51pm

    It’s high time Jerusalem was made a “world city” under the auspices of the United Nations (a “no state” solution) – ideally with the UN headquarters relocated there too! That should concentrate the minds of the attendant politicians and diplomats to find a solution to the mess they have created.

    As long as faith continues to dominate Middle Eastern politics, Jerusalem will remain far too potent a symbol to be exclusively controlled by any one of the 3 world religions (or their secular surrogates) who have an interest in it.

    Perhaps our Lib Dem “Friends of..” factions could lead the way by merging into a “Friends of Middle East Peace” group, or similar? If our own respective protagonists can’t find common ground, what hope is there for the real ones?

  • Julian H wrote: “including Jenny Tonge and her theories of the “pro-Israeli lobby” with “its financial grips on the Western World”.”

    So AIPAC doesn’t exist?

    Accusing people who refuse to deny facts of “anti-Semitism” is nothing more than a devious means of shutting down the debate.

    As for “financial grips”, Julian H might like to ask himself why it is that Switzerland caved in to the demands of Jewish elites to hand over money held in bank accounts unclaimed by families of Holocaust victims? Well, I will tell him. The State of New York threatened to disinvest in those banks.

    Incidentally, Jewish elites have never called for US banks to disgorge similar funds. Nor have they even asked the Ford Motor Company or the Bush family to apologise for their role in bankrolling the Nazi war machine. It is a fundamental rule of modern Zionist ideology never to say anything even vaguely rude about the United States.

    And what does Julian H make of Larry Silverstein, arch-Zionist and friend of Binyamin Netanyahu, sitting back and allowing Al-Qaeda to kill Jews? Clearly the $3 billion inurance money he has collected is worth more than the 400 odd Jewish lives lost in those Towers.

  • Personally I think the Jenny Tonge being forced to pay for her totally sane and reasonable comments was one of the most shameful episodes in our recent past. Thank the Hogfather it had nothing to do with a pro-Israeli lobby.

  • The Israel-Palestine conflict is intractable. The UK would be better off concentrating its efforts on more solvable conflicts, like Cyprus. Paving the way, so to speak.

  • What a shame that the Palestinian cause is again being used as the excuse for misrepresentation and paranoid conspiracy theory. For Kerry Hutchinson to suggest Liberal Democrats “dared not show understanding or sympathy for this latter group (the Palestinians), for fear of being labeled a supporter of terrorism, or of running the risk of being labeled ‘anti-Semitic’ suggests that he has been on another planet in recent years.
    While, according to him, the party has been in a state of fear
    a) we have had a foreign affairs spokesman and subsequent leader who never lost an opportunity to criticize Israel,
    b) the Party newspaper’s coverage of foreign affairs, such as it is, has chiefly consisted of anti –Israel articles
    c) The debate on this issue at last years conference was for the most part an anti Israel rant session and the contributions of most of our parliamentarians were on those lines.
    Not much sign of fear in all that.
    This ludicrous notion is then used to justify the indefensible.
    Jenny Tonge was dropped from the front bench because she made an obnoxious, ignorant and politically stupid statement and instead of retrieving the situation dug the hole deeper, I thought at the time she was just politically incompetent, reason enough to get her off the front bench but no more. After all this is the Liberal Democrats we don’t do bigotry do we? However her subsequent article in Liberator, demonstrating how highly selective her much vaunted empathy is, indicated (and subsequent “stranglehold on the party” conspiracy theory comments confirmed) that she is a plain old anti-Semite. The fact that she, and Chris Davies at the European level, haven’t had the whip withdrawn for comments and attitudes that would get any parish councillor ejected is a continual embarrassment for the party. Typical of her is the continued dishonest peddling of the myth, mentioned by Kerry Hutchinson, that the motivation for suicide bombing is the desperation of poverty. Acres of research (and Britain’s practical experience with the 7/7 bombers) have conclusively demonstrated that this is the reverse of the truth but truth has never been a consideration for Baroness Tonge.
    . Her subsequent attempts to present herself as a martyr are sickening (I made a stupid mistake and was punished by being given a peerage!) None of the other parliamentarians criticising Israel in last year’s debate, or putting the Palestinian case elsewhere, have descended into bigotry (Richard Younger –Ross’s article in Liberator following his trip to the region being an example). No one has ever suggested that criticism of Israeli government actions is automatically anti-Semitic and the false assertion that they do is too often used as a cover for those who are bigots you only have to look at the sewer like comments that come up on the Guardian CIF or BBC blogs for that. The Liberal Democrats should do better.

  • Spelling watch:- “labeled” and “criticize”. From which side of the Atlantic does Mr Allen write?

    Talk of conspiracy theories? When Ming Campbell spoke about foreign policy he only ever criticised Israel? Not even David Icke gets it THAT wrong! Have a look at Hansard, Mr Allen.

  • I assume from the previous post that “Sesenco” is a BNP troll or similar.The problem with the open forum.

  • Got it wrong there, Mr Allen. As a student, I attended two anti-racist marches. The first of these was routed wholly within Hackney and Tower Hamlets. The second started with a rally in Trafalgar Square (addressed by Peter Hain, among others) and ended up in Victoria Park where we were treated to a gig by the Tom Robinson Band. And it might also interest you to know that one of my most unnerving moments in politics was to be an election agent at a count with a National Front candidate (and to be approached by the NF agent trying to be polite sotto voce!).

    Mr Allen, you are a vile bully. Clear off back to New York and take your poison with you.

  • Ahem, no conflict is intractable, so long as it is possible to rise above provocation and simple-minded self-interest.

    This does, however, place a huge burden on the unfeasibly rare commodity of imaginitive leadership, which, as irony would have it, is only truly valued once it has gone.

    Anyway, all conflicts are the same conflict played out in their infinite variety, so maybe we should start by learning some hard old lessons instead of selectively preaching prescriptions.

  • A word of advice “Sesenco”, if you’re going to troll on a Liberal Democrat site dropping Peter Hain’s name won’t give you any marks for ideological consistency and cred.

  • John Allen wrote:

    “a) we have had a foreign affairs spokesman and subsequent leader who never lost an opportunity to criticize Israel,
    b) the Party newspaper’s coverage of foreign affairs, such as it is, has chiefly consisted of anti –Israel articles
    c) The debate on this issue at last years conference was for the most part an anti Israel rant session and the contributions of most of our parliamentarians were on those lines.”

    Perhaps Mr Allen would care to justify the above.

    And a question for Mr Allen. What do you think of the Ford Motor Company and the Bush Family bankrolling the Nazi regime right up until Pearl Harbour?

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