Tag Archives: palestine

Tom Arms’ World Review

Middle East

A quick round-up on Gaza, Israel, Iran, Yemen, Lebanon, America and everywhere else that is affected by the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.

President Biden’s “outrage” following the killings of World Central Kitchen aid workers resulted in an apology and two new aid routes: The Erez Crossing and the port of Ashdod in southern Israel. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that as a result 400 aid trucks went through to Gaza immediately after the presidential fury. UN officials said the figure was actually 223.

Disenchanted State Department officials – of which there are a growing number – say that …

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How can we find peace?

A couple of week ago, I responded to a post in a Facebook Group trying to create a grassroots movement for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  The post challenged us to outline our vision for peace, this was my response:

My vision for Peace isn’t a detailed plan. Simply, it is that Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs, Christians, Jews and Muslims learn to accept each other, learn that to live in that small sliver of land between the River and the Sea they must share it with people with a different background, different history, different beliefs but with a shared hope that their children can grow & thrive without the threat of war.

If we can achieve that, the details of the political solution will be easy to decide; unless we can achieve that, no solution will succeed.

There are two other pieces of writing I want to share here.  The first is an (long) article written by an acquaintance in Notts Friends of Standing Together titled There is no Magic Peace Fairy.   It tries to examine how people on both sides have become blind to the suffering of those on the other side, why good people are trapped by their own history to ignore the fact that most people on the opposite side also trapped in their history.  It is a hard read and made think about my own preconceptions and how open was I to having them challenged.

The other is a novel written by Haviva Ner-David called Hope Valley.  Set in 2000, after the failure of the Clinton/Arafat/Brak Camp David Summit, mostly around a Moshav in the Galilee that was built on the ruins of a Palestinian village cleared by the Hagenah during the 1948 war and the neighbouring Palestinian village where some of the refugees from the ruined village now live.  It looks at the intertwined lives of two artists, both with a serious illness, both with deep links to the land both who need to overcome their own misunderstandings & preconceptions.

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Layla Moran’s speech in tonight’s debate: We need to stop this now

I thought about putting Layla’s speech in the last post, but I didn’t want it getting lost. Her clarity and wisdom and persuasiveness, and her liberal desire to bring people together have been a huge credit to her and to this party in recent months. We can all be incredibly proud of her, especially when this has been so personally painful for her.

She spoke in the debate and her words in full are below:

I am speechless at the way this debate began. As the House knows, there has been scant opportunity for me to tell the story not just of my family or the hundreds in the church where they are in northern Gaza, but of Palestinians on the ground and, indeed, those who lost people in the horrendous attacks on 7 October, whether through murder or abduction. I am grateful that we have this opportunity. In the hours of debate in front of us, my first ask of anyone who speaks after me is, please, to hold all those people in their hearts as they say what they say. I believe sincerely that this House is moving towards a right position, and I will explain what I think that is in a moment. On the suggestion that this House is in some way against a ceasefire—I would hope an immediate one, however the semantics play out in the votes later—can we please try to send a message in particular to the Palestinian people perishing in their tens of thousands on the ground, and to those hostage families that, fundamentally, we need this to stop now? I do not care what we call it.

I should have started by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests. I sit as an unpaid adviser on the board of the International Centre for Justice for Palestinians.

Last week I went to Israel and Palestine with Yachad, and I will start with a story. On the first day, we went down to the southern border with Gaza, to a place called Nativ Ha’asara, a place I have visited before. We met an incredible woman called Roni, who had lost family members—16 from that kibbutzim had perished. As I went there, I looked across at northern Gaza. I saw the plumes of smoke. I heard the drones and the “pop pop pop” of the gunfire, and I broke down. As I walked back through the village, Roni, an Israeli peace activist, took me to one side, gave me a hug and said, “I’m so sorry”, which I said back. We both cried and held each other.

It is important to remember that although those voices of peace in Israel have been silent for some time, many of the people killed on that day were allies of the Palestinian people who had been calling for decades against the occupation, calling out Netanyahu’s Government, and condemning Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. It is for that reason that I welcome the sanctions on those extremist settlers, because there is a direct link between the right wing elements of Netanyahu’s Government and those extremist settlers. The amendment that the Lib Dems tabled to the motion stated that we should not finish there. We need to continue those sanctions on those people and their connected entities.

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Ed on tonight’s drama in Parliament: We need an urgent end to the humanitarian catastrophe

So I managed to sleep thoughout tonight’s drama.

Waking up to a phone glowing with WhatsApp messages, I realised there had been a bit of a rammy in the Commons. I checked out the BBC summary and my immediate and instinctive reaction is that the Speaker had been right to allow votes on three distinctive positions on such a huge issue. The SNP’s motion called for an immediate ceasefire, the Government’s called for a humanitarian pause and Labour’s had a bit more meat on its bones about how you actually get to a lasting peace. Normally on an opposition day, you’d get the motion and a Government amendment. It is unusual to have a third option, but in this instance, it made sense to reflect as broad a consensus as possible. He could have done better by including a fourth option, ours.

Ours said:

Expresses its devastation at the mounting humanitarian disaster in Gaza with tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians killed, millions displaced and thousands of homes destroyed; calls on the Prime Minister to oppose publicly and at the UN Security Council the proposed IDF offensive in Rafah; further urges Hamas to unconditionally and immediately release the over 100 hostages taken following the deplorable attacks on 7 October 2023; notes the unprecedented levels of illegal settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories left unchecked by the Israeli Government; welcomes the recent sanctions by the UK Government against four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank; urges the UK Government to sanction all violent settlers and their connected entities; calls on the UK Government to uphold international law and the judgments of international courts under all circumstances; further notes that the only path to regional security is a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with Hamas not in power; condemns Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated assertions that there is no future for a Palestinian state; and further urges the UK Government to call for an immediate bilateral ceasefire in Gaza, which will allow an end to the humanitarian devastation, get the hostages out and provide an opportunity for a political process leading to a two-state solution, providing security and dignity for all peoples in Palestine and Israel.”

You would hope that when discussing one of the biggest humanitarian disasters and most dangerous conflicts we have seen in a long time, the Mother of Parliaments would model generous, collaborative behaviour. It was not beyond the wit of the SNP to work with the other opposition parties to bring together something that truly reflected the will of the House.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Surprise, Surprise, Benjamin Netanyahu is opposed to the two-state solution.

The Israeli Prime Minister has never made any secret that he believes that the only guarantee of Israeli security is Israeli control of Palestinian security. On Thursday he reiterated his position.

Any Palestinian state, Netanyahu argues, would be dedicated to the overthrow of the Israeli state. And even if they publicly committed themselves to peace, Netanyahu wouldn’t believe them.

The primary responsibility of every country is defence. Ipso facto, there can be no Palestinian state—according to Netanyahu.

Most of the rest of the world believes that there are basically three possible outcomes to the Arab-Israeli Crisis: The Israelis wipe out the Palestinians. The Palestinians wipe out the Israelis. Or the two sides somehow work out a modus operandi that allows the two groups to live side by side in peace.

The Biden Administration was hopeful that the experience of Gaza would show that the only long-term opportunity for peace is a political solution which involves a Palestinian state.

But Netanyahu appears unfazed by Gaza. He told a press conference this week that Israel must have security control over all land west of the River Jordan, which would include the territory of any future Palestinian state.

This is a necessary condition, and it conflicts with the idea of (Palestinian) sovereignty. What to do? I tell this truth to our American friends, and I also told them to stop the attempt to impose a reality on us that would harm Israel’s security.

John Kirby, the US National Security Adviser, replied: “Israel and the US see things differently.”

Donald Trump, on the other hand, sees the Middle East very much through Bibi eyes. His Abraham Accords were designed to circumvent the Palestinians and the two-state solution. Netanyahu’s continued intransigence could—at least in part—reflect his hope for a Trump victory in the November presidential elections.

A Trump Landslide?

Iowa was a Trump landslide. Or was it? Only 15 percent of the state’s 718,000 registered Republicans voted—the lowest turnout in years.

Why? There is no certain answer but here are a few possibles, starting with the MAGA camp: The weather was atrocious. Nobody in their right mind would risk leaving home to caucus in the sub-Arctic temperatures.

Also, the media named Trump the big margin winner before the caucusing started. Why bother risking frostbite to vote for one of the losers or even for the winner? Best stay warm.

Now, for the non-MAGA Republican perspective: We don’t want Trump, but none of the others can win, so why risk hypothermia for a wasted vote?

Everyone is an individual, even in Iowa. So chances are that there are 69,000 reasons why 85 percent of the state’s Republicans failed to caucus. But if that figure is extrapolated across America—then Trump is in trouble come the general election.

As any seasoned campaigner will tell you. The key to winning elections is to persuade as many as possible of your registered voters to get out and vote. Apathy can result in political disaster.


Conspicuous by its near silence in the aftermath of the Taiwanese elections is the voice of Chinese President Xi-jingping.

To briefly re-cap, the Chinese leader was loud in his election support for the Kuomintang but and condemnation for the incumbent Democratic People’s Party. This is because the KMT favoured closer relations with Mainland China based on the 1992 “one country two systems” concept. The DPP, on the other hand, is moving Taiwan closer to a quasi-sovereign independent state.

The DPP’s William Lai won the presidency, although the party has lost its majority in  parliament.

The US is in two-minds about the result. They want Taiwan in the democratic capitalist camp. But not necessarily as a sovereign Taiwan. This could provoke Beijing into a military solution which would drag in America’s Pacific-based Seventh Fleet.

So the State Department issued a rather anodyne statement which welcomed the fact that Taiwan held democratic elections, without focusing on the possible repercussions. Statements from Japan, the EU and NATO countries followed suit.

Beijing was, if anything, more anodyne, it has said virtually nothing about the election result itself. Instead it focused on the statements from the Western countries and basically said they had no right to make any comment because Taiwan is part of China. The diplomatic conversation then ended.

There could be lots of reasons for the Chinese not to take the argument further. There is no point. Xi is busy purging his military and party structures. The Chinese economy is sluggish. Or, he could be waiting for a Trump victory in November.

Is honour now satisfied in the Iran-Pakistan tit for tat missile exchanges?

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The Gaza war continues…

Baroness Morris of Bolton begins her New Year message as President of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) as follows:

In 1984, a group of doctors and humanitarians, horrified by the massacre of Palestinian civilians they had witnessed in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, grouped together to form Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). For them, medical relief wasn’t just about saving lives, but was a tangible act of solidarity with a people who had suffered so much for so long.

Forty years later, amid the heartbreaking scenes we are witnessing in Gaza, the future for Palestinians appears bleaker and more uncertain than ever before. Families have been torn apart, homes destroyed, and countless lives shattered. The healthcare system is on its knees. Two million people are now hungry.

We can’t turn on our TVs or radios without a daily report of more civilians being killed – :children, journalists, healthcare workers, staff of UN agencies and NGOs.  The Liberal Democrats are the only national party in the UK to have unequivocally called for a ceasefire.  The majority of Tory MPs seem intent on egging on the Israeli war machine.  Labour is more divided, but its leadership has lost its moral compass – as so often happens with that party on international issues. This interview with Keir Starmer illustrates the point.

What can we do as a small party in Parliament to influence the direction of travel? The situation looks dire.  Israeli PM Netanyahu seems determined to carry on destroying Gaza and indiscriminately killing Palestinian civilians so he can declare victory over Hamas and complete his revenge for the frightful horrors perpetrated on October 7th.  Members of his cabinet – led by Ben Gvir – are calling for Gaza to be cleansed of Palestinians and settled by Israelis.

In addition, in the West Bank, Israeli settlers have escalated attacks, murders and rampant destruction of Palestinian land and property, unchecked by the IDF and supported by powerful Israeli government ministers, Itamir Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. 

What is just as disturbing is the attitude of many Israelis towards Palestinians.  My must read/listen item of the Christmas period was an interview by Owen Jones with Gideon Levy. Levy is the son of Holocaust survivors.  He served in the Israeli army and has become one of Israel’s leading journalists. He has spent much of his time in the West Bank covering and criticising the practices of settlers, the Israeli army and successive Israeli governments. It is well worth listening to this interview which sadly demonstrates how the dehumanisation of Palestinians has become accepted by the majority of Israeli citizens.  Levy argues that only external pressure from abroad is likely to change Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and end its illegal occupation (something quite explicitly recognised by our party when it passed resolution F39 in 2021).

Two of my least favourite listens of recent weeks have been an interview (in French)with Belgian TV and a speech in Germany, both by Yair Lapid the Leader of Yesh Atid, our supposed sister party in Israel.  Uncompromising in his support of the present military assault, he showed absolutely no remorse or sympathy for the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israel and in the TV interview was also questioning the idea of a separate state for Palestinians.

In 2003 our Party was the only one to take a strong and moral position on the Iraq war.  The Party was almost totally united on this – only Paddy Ashdown and a few others thought differently.  After some initial hesitation Charles Kennedy played a leading role in the biggest anti-war demonstration; and, as a matter of fact, 2005 was our best election year since the 1920s. Many people who are still active in the party joined because of our stand.

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What’s the future for Israel and Palestine?

It is now more than two months since the Hamas attack in southern Israel, and the bombing and shelling of Palestinians in Gaza continues.  Many of us have marched in support of a cease-fire, but the marches have achieved nothing, so it must be time for a rethink.

The horrific, murderous the attack on October 7 had its roots in Palestinian resentment, and arguably the seeds were planted by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s decision during the First World War to donate part of a foreign country we didn’t own to a people who’d suffered abuse and discrimination in Europe for hundreds of years and wanted somewhere to go that wasn’t Europe.  

Others say the current conflict in Gaza is simply the consequence of Hamas behaving “like animals” on October 7.  There are proximal causes and more deep-seated ones, some of which go back a very long way – for some Jewish fundamentalists the claim to ownership of Judea and Samaria goes back thousands of years.   Many other more recent factors are involved, like the funding of Hamas by Qatar (among other countries) and the funding of Israel by the US, which have made the Palestinians pawns in a game driven by the geopolitical ambitions of others.     

What is being lost in the debate over which part of history is most important is the fate of the Palestinian people in Gaza, and increasingly in the West Bank, with bombs falling, bullets flying, and starvation and disease now gaining hold.  Since October 7, more than 20,000 people have been killed, upward of 50,000 injured, and hostages are being held.  Around two million people in Gaza are living in a devastated waste land, short of water, food, electricity, shelter, medical aid, and hope that the world will do anything to alleviate their suffering. 

If the world community is going to move on from simply grandstanding, the obvious first requirement is an end to the fighting.  Calling for Israel to stop hasn’t worked, but if we think that only Israel has the power to end the war we are missing an important point.  Israel has said it won’t stop until Hamas is defeated or surrenders, so the sooner Hamas lays down its arms the better.

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Where next for Gaza?

It is now 5 weeks since the terrible massacre perpetrated by Hamas on mostly civilians in Israel, killing over 1400 people, Jews & Arabs, Israelis, Thai & Nepalese and kidnapping more than 240 into the tunnel network inside Gaza as hostages. This was a savage attack, with people killed in front of their children, in front of their parents. Old people, young people, even babies, were not spared. Nothing that has happened since should hide that simple brutality of the actions of Hamas. This went beyond a raid into Israel, it was a pogrom against civilians whose only crime was that they lived in Israel. 

It also broke an existing ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that had allowed a slow (far too slow) relaxation of the blockade of Gaza, that allowed an increasing number of Gazan residents to work inside Israel & provide for their families. There was also the tantalising possibility of an agreement with Saudi Arabia that would have included measures to ease the plight of Palestinians which has now gone because of Hamas’s actions.

However, none of this is an excuse for the actions of the Israel Government. By acting in the way they have done, the Netanyahu Government has lost the goodwill from around the world it got after the October 7th.

It has allowed itself to be drawn into a fight on Hamas’s terms.  It has been culpable in the killing of thousands of Gazans of all ages, many of whom were not members or even supporters of Hamas. It has invaded Gaza with no clear idea of how to extract itself after the fighting ends. It has embroiled the Israeli Military in a war it cannot win however many Hamas militants (and Palestinian civilians) it kills, simply provided a ready supply of new volunteers bent on revenge for the death of their loved ones.  It has made the release of the hostages taken into Gaza more difficult. It has made finding a resolution to the wider conflict and providing long term security for Israel far more complicated.

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Israel-Gaza conflict: Liberal Democrats call for immediate bilateral ceasefire

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey and Lib Dem Foreign Affairs spokesperson Layla Moran MP have today called for an immediate bilateral ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The purpose of such a ceasefire, which must apply to both Israel and Hamas, would be to get aid in, get the hostages out, and provide space to realise a political solution, ultimately with two states and a lasting peace.

Ed Davey has set out this proposal in full here.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Layla Moran MP commented:

A lasting peace and a two-state solution is the only way to guarantee

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Observations of an Expat: A sad tale

The story of Israel is possibly the world’s oldest and saddest. It stretches back Millennia to God’s land deal with Abraham and encompasses wars, slavery, a long and bitter diaspora, pogroms, and the Holocaust.

And that is just the Jewish side. On the Palestinian side (or if you prefer, Arab), there is colonialism, wars, displacement, refugee camps, unemployment, and their own diaspora.

But let’s start with the Jews and relatively modern history. In 1917 the British government issued the Balfour Declaration which set aside the British mandate of Palestine (as it was then known) as a homeland for the Jews. But there was a proviso, Jewish rights were not to be realised at the expense of the resident Arabs.

This obvious contradiction led to The Israelis fighting against the British and Palestinian Arabs for the right to create their own state.  In 1948 they succeeded and emerged as underdog heroes; rising from centuries of discrimination and the horrors of the Holocaust. However, the tactics they used to achieve their political success was terrorism.

When the infant Jewish state defeated the Arab armies in 1948, 1967, 1956 and 1973 its leaders morphed from terrorists to soldiers. Now they were heroes carving a modern successful nation out of an arid wilderness.

But there are two sides to every story. If the Jews are the most oppressed people in 3,500 years of history then the Palestinian Arabs are possibly the most oppressed in modern history.

It is true that in 1947 they were offered a separate Palestinian state in an UN-partitioned Palestine. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight they should have accepted the deal. But at the time they saw no reason to give up the land that their families had lived on for centuries. The Jews said their God had given them the land. But the Jewish God was not their God.

In fact, it was not the Palestinians themselves who fought in 1948. It was mainly the Arab states with the help of poorly equipped and ill-trained Palestinians. The Arab states were more interested in an anti-colonial war to stop the establishment of a Western outpost in the Middle East than they were in upholding Palestinian rights.

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The Gaza War – what should or could happen next

Layla Moran in her webinar to over 1,000 Party members last Thursday gave us much to think about. Layla reminded us that what often distinguishes us as Liberal Democrats is our strong sense of empathy and humanity, which naturally leads to a respect for human rights and international law. It is difficult not to be traumatised by the horrors we are witnessing on our screens day after day and feel heartfelt sympathy for the victims themselves, their surviving friends and family, and especially those who are here in the UK, worrying about their family members being held hostage by Hamas, …

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Ed Davey: An update on our response to the Israel-Gaza Conflict

Ed Davey has sent out an email, which we reproduce here in case you haven’t seen it.

I was horrified to wake up on 7th October to the awful terrorist attacks in Israel, which we have condemned unequivocally. I have been heartbroken and dismayed to see the scenes of violence in Israel and Palestine over the past two and a half weeks.

It is hard to watch the news right now. We continue to hear reports of the brutal terrorism of Hamas, which still holds more than 200 Israelis hostage in Gaza. And now we have a situation in Gaza which is

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Tom Arms’ World Review


Russian President Vladimir Putin must be delighted by the Gaza Crisis.

It ticks a number of Moscow’s foreign policy boxes. For a start, it distracts the world from his war crimes in Ukraine and allows him to point the blame finger at America’s absolute support for Israel.

Russia’s Middle East policy is complicated. It supports Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but Putin also has a close personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has used that relationship to stop Israel from sending weapons to Ukraine.

Russia has also refused to go along with most of the rest of the world in branding …

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Two sides to the story in the Middle East

There have been some very good articles on the tragic events in the Middle East published by the Lib Dem Voice over the last two weeks, especially those by Leon Duveen,  and Ruvi Ziegler, both Israeli/British citizens and very active members of our Party.  I want to approach this from a different angle coloured by my own experience.  I have worked and travelled in Palestine and other parts of the Middle East and have been Vice Chair and/or Secretary of the Lib Dem Friends of Palestine since 2013. I helped draft the 2021 motion on Palestine that was overwhelmingly passed by Conference.  I have friends with families affected in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel – some tragically.

Like everybody else, I was shocked and saddened by what happened on 7 October in southern Israel, and I was equally saddened by the disproportionate response of the Israeli Government, which has already led to many more Palestinian deaths than resulted from the Hamas attack, including at least 1,500 children.  70-80,000 buildings have been destroyed including dozens of healthcare facilities and schools.  Aid workers from MAP, UNWRA and other human rights agencies have been killed as well.

I have welcomed the solidarity shown to the Jewish community in this country and with Israelis more generally.  It would be nice to see some of the same empathy towards the smaller but still significant Palestinian community here, and also to the 4 million strong Muslim community amongst whom there has always been strong sympathy for the beleaguered Palestinians, who are mostly Muslim and whose holy places have been treated with contempt by Israeli officialdom.  

However, I was sickened to see the affection shown by Joe Biden and then Rishi Sunak towards Benjamin Netanyahu on their recent visits, and by Sunak’s assurance that “we hope you win”.  Biden at least reminded Netanyahu of the Geneva Conventions and other aspects of international law which successive Israeli governments have claimed don’t apply to them.  There is a very good case for arraigning Netanyahu before the International Criminal Court in the Hague – and, of course, the same goes for the leaders of Hamas.  Our leaders should keep him at arm’s length as much as they possibly can. The same applies to people like President Sisi of Egypt, Mohammed Bin Salman and of course Bashar al-Assad.

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Observations of an Expat: Threading the diplomatic needle

An American-led offensive is desperately trying to thread a narrow diplomatic needle and prevent the Gaza Crisis from exploding into an uncontrollable wider war.

Joe Biden, Olof Scholz and Rishi Sunak have all been to Israel this week. Emmanuel Macron and Giorgia Meloni will soon follow.

Together they are known as “The Quint” and they are all preaching the same message: 1- Support for Israel and its right to defend itself. 2- Total condemnation of Hamas. 3- The need to differentiate between Hamas and Palestinians. 4- The urgent need for humanitarian aid to reach Gaza residents 5- Prevent the red mist from blinding Israel to the wider consequences of a no-holds barred invasion of Gaza. 6- Deter Iran.

The foundational premise of the diplomatic offensive is that American support for Israel is granite-like. The oppressive security-heavy policies of successive Likud-led governments has chipped away at American backing. But the American-buttressed plinth on which Israel sits is so large that it is unlikely to ever be reduced to rubble.

Alongside Israeli over-reaction is the associated problem of Iran’s reaction to the Gaza crisis. Its foreign minister (Hossein Amir Abdollahian) has threatened to activate the “Axis of Resistance” if Israeli forces move into Gaza. In fact, Tehran may have already done so. On Thursday the American warship USS Carney intercepted Israeli-bound missiles fired by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. US troops in Syria and Iraq have suffered drone attacks and Hezbollah has launched missile attacks from southern Lebanon.

In response to the Iranian threat, the US has moved two aircraft carriers into the eastern Mediterranean and 2,000 additional troops into the region. Washington said they are meant as a deterrent.  On the diplomatic front, Washington is relying mainly on Qatar to act as a go-between. The Gulf kingdom has good relations with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran as well as playing host to 10,000 American troops. Japan, which has reasonable diplomatic relations with Tehran, has also offered its services.

The immediate focus of the Western countries is humanitarian aid to Gaza. This is a signal to the Arab countries that while condemning Hamas, they do not hold the Palestinians as a whole responsible for their actions. President Biden has pledged $100 million. The EU has trebled its assistance to Gaza to $75 million and the UK has increased its aid to $12.8 million. Canada and Japan have upped their aid to $10 million each and Australia is sending $32.4 million in aid to Gaza

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Yet another war in Gaza. What to do?

This is a very difficult post to write.  Yet again Palestine & Israel are at war and thousands on both sides have already or possibly will die.

After the attack by Hamas on Simchat Torah (October 7th), understandably, Israel is hurting, grieving and many there are angrily demanding action against the murderous terrorists who kill so many, kidnapped nearly 200 and wounded thousands.

But as we all know, it is not always possible to make good decision when you are angry, hurting, grieving, a cooler head is needed.

Hamas is not Palestine. It has held Gaza in a destructive dictatorship for over 15 years, inviting retaliation from Israel time after time, to strengthen its grip & generate propaganda.

Israeli Governments over the last 15 years has been willing enough to play this game, to pretend that peace is impossible, to trigger another round of violence when they need to win elections, until on Simchat Torah, the monster they cultivated became too powerful and acted in a way the Israeli security apparatus failed to anticipate.

So where does the conflict go now?

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Layla Moran tells of her extended family’s plight in Gaza

Our Layla Moran, the first British MP of Palestinian descent, has been talking about how members of her extended family in Gaza have had to flee their home and seek refuge in a Church.

She talked about this in the Commons yesterday when she questioned Rishi Sunak:

As you are aware, Mr Speaker, my immediate family are from the west bank, but I have extended family in Gaza city. Their house was bombed by the IDF, so they went to seek sanctuary in a church—we are Christian Palestinians—and I am afraid to say that they are still there, because they are too old to leave. They say to me that they have nowhere to go.

Because of this, not despite it, I attended a vigil in Oxford organised by the Jewish community. Between our communities, we now share profound emotions, loss and grief. When the Prime Minister says never again, I agree with him. Will he give his assurance that it will be never again and that, whenever we get through whatever happens in the next few days, he will keep the promise he made to my great-grandfather that there will be a Palestinian state to call our own at the end of it?

The Prime Minister:

I start by expressing my sympathies to the hon. Lady and her family for what they are going through. I know this will have been an incredibly difficult time for them. I also pay tribute to her, because her presence at the vigil, in spite of everything, will have meant an enormous amount to many people, and the courage she shows in talking about that experience here today is admirable. She looks forward to a more positive future, which is an ambition I share.

This is an unspeakably difficult situation, a tragedy, but we must find a way to move forward to secure a more stable, peaceful settlement for those living in the middle east, because this tragedy has reminded us all of the horrors of war and the horrors of terrorism. We must find a way to bring peace and stability to the region, and that is what I will strive very hard to help bring about.

Today, she was interviewed on Good Morning Britain and spoke in more detail about the lack of food and fuel and her worries of this turning into a humanitarian disaster:

In a display of ignorance not worthy of a respectable interviewer, Richard Madeley had the nerve to ask her whether she or her family had any idea of what Hamas had planned. It was such a disgraceful thing to say, equating a hideous terrorist organisation with ordinary Palestinian people. That one has to be worth a complaint to OfCOM.Madeley has since made one of those non apology apologies, but that is simply not good enough.

Layla spoke later to the BBC

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The scent of a fresh Nakba

The scent of a fresh Nakba lingers in the air. Just a week ago, like so many others, I was taken aback by the unfolding events in Israel. It was a moment I could hardly fathom. At the time, I was going about my work in the home care industry, preparing breakfast for one of our clients. The background hum of the BBC, murmuring about Palestine, filled the room. I initially dismissed it as yet another minor incident and continued making scrambled eggs. However, when I finally turned my attention to the news, the gravity of the situation hit me. Israel’s sovereignty had been breached and defiled by Hamas – they had infiltrated through sea, land, and air, catching the Jewish state completely off guard.

I realised they lacked the capability to fend off such an assault for days. It was clear that Hamas was aiming to inflict harm upon Israel, and they ran rampant, causing havoc and tragedy. They took both combatants and non-combatants hostage, mercilessly targeting innocent people and turning a music concert into a bloodbath. Various online videos touted Hamas and its supposed adherence to Islamic values, which were clearly propagandistic. But do they truly comprehend Islamic principles during times of conflict? This brings to mind the 10 rules laid down by Caliph Abu Bakar: ‘Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.’ One might argue that living by these tenets can be challenging in a world rife with collateral damage and predator drones. From the perspective of Israel, this may well be their 9/11 moment, prompting many prominent far-right commentators and politicians to urge Benjamin Netanyahu to dismantle Hamas. However, there’s often a blurred line between Hamas and Palestine in the eyes of many.

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Observations of an ex pat: Worst and much, much worse

Too often the choice facing international decision makers is not between good and bad but between bad and worst. In the Middle East, at the moment, it appears to be between worst and much, much worse.

The possible consequences of the likely Israeli reaction to the attack by Hamas are terrifying and potentially global in their impact.

Let’s start with Israel itself. The overwhelming majority of Israelis are calling for massive retribution for a terrorist assault which left 1,300 dead, 3,300 injured and 150 held hostage in underground Hamas dungeons. It would be difficult for any Israeli government to ignore the public demands. For arch-conservative Benjamin Netanyahu it is nigh impossible.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has formed an emergency government of national unity. He has also called up Israel’s 350,000 reservists who will be added to the 150,000 Israeli troops on active service. The bulk of this force are already massing on the Gaza border waiting for the whistle to launch a ground offensive.

There will also be major deployments on the borders with Lebanon and Syria to prevent Hezbollah from joining the fray. And in the West Bank to control Palestinians there.

Massive and painful retribution appears inevitable. But what detailed form will it take and how will the world react? Gaza has been subjected to Israeli ground offensives and occupations in the past. These have resulted in a temporary reprieve. But each has been costly in military lives and cash expended. Neither has solved the long-term problem. Successive Israeli governments have failed to grasp the fact that oppression is not a long-term security solution.

This Israeli offensive is likely to be different. Already they have imposed a total blockade of Gaza. No food, water, energy, medicine or any goods of any kind are allowed into one of the most densely populated and impoverished strips of land in the world. A million residents in the northern half have been warned to immediately move to the southern part of Gaza, and all Gazans have been advised to leave their homes.

But they have nowhere to go. Their only other land border is with Egypt which has refused them asylum and has worked with Israel to enforce a long-term blockade. The possibility of a heavy handed response is very real. How the world reacts could result in fearful consequences.

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Struggling with complexity – the continuing crisis in Israel and Palestine

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

I often think of these wise words when reading “hot takes” on social media on whatever issues are on the front page at a given time. As a lawyer, I tell my junior colleagues that the correct initial answer to any legal issue is often “it depends” and to distrust attempts to oversimplify the complicated.

As we have all grappled with yet more tragic news from Israel and Palestine, we have seen commentators and politicians often explain their thoughts by saying that the issues are “complex”. This is undeniably true but at the same time, though complexity should caution us against glib, easy answers, it should never be an excuse for failing to engage with rights and wrongs.

In my professional life, I engage with complicated legal issues by trying to break it down into constituent parts as much as I can. Through this I can sometimes get a greater understanding of the whole and, at the very least, it allows some answers to be agreed along the way. So this week, I have tried to do the same in my personal engagement with the situation in Israel and Palestine.

In doing so, like readers of this short article, I have tried to read widely. I have benefited from communicating with an Israeli friend living in Jerusalem and from reading the wisdom of our own Layla Moran MP – with her writing from the perspective of being the only British MP of Palestinian heritage while embracing a deep commitment to peace and justice in the Middle East for Israelis and Palestinians alike. I also spent time talking with a colleague who is passionate about the plight of the Palestinian people.

I struggle to say what I think about the totality of it all, but I can identify building blocks along the way where my personal view is clearer. I am not seeking to offer answers to everyone but rather I’m sharing my process in case that is helpful to anyone.

So, what do I believe?

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12 October 2023 – today’s press releases

  • NHS waiting list: Public are tired of waiting on this government that has given up
  • London Assembly Liberal Democrats Back Motion to Condemn Hamas Terrorist Attacks

NHS waiting list: Public are tired of waiting on this government that has given up

Responding to the news that the NHS waiting list has risen to 7.7 million, Liberal Democrat Health and Social Care spokesperson, Daisy Cooper MP said:

This is yet another damning indictment of this Conservative government’s record on the NHS.

They broke their promise to recruit 6000 GPs, broke their promise to build 40 hospitals and now they’ve broken their promise to bring down

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Ed Davey : I stand in solidarity and support tonight with Israel and all Israelis

Those were the opening words of a powerful speech by Ed Davey at the  Vigil outside 10 Downing Street on Monday evening following the Hamas attack on Israel. Ed was there  representing our Party with Daisy Cooper. 

Ed went on to say: 

The Liberal Democrats stand in solidarity and support tonight with Jewish people across the world and we stand in support and solidarity with the amazing Jewish community in Great Britain.

And I stand in support together tonight with Tom, with Robert, with David .  Let them hear this, the government and the opposition stand in solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people. This most horrendous terrorist attack by the terrorist Hamas must be condemned by everybody completely.

Let us, as we do that, remember the people who were killed. Let us mourn for each and every one of them.

The children, the women, the men who were killed in their homes, killed in their villages, killed as they came together in a festival for music and peace.

That is what the terrorists want to do. They want to kill innocent civilians going about their everyday lives and they must never be forgiven or forgotten that they impose this murderous act on Israel.

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The attacks on Southern Israel – a personal perspective

This time, it’s personal. My nephew’s fiancé‘s family was in hiding all day in a small room in Kibbutz Magen in Southern Israel that was attacked by Hamas. They survived after fierce fighting. Others were not so fortunate. Hundreds of civilians were murdered, many of whom teenagers and young adults who were at an overnight rave and were machine-gunned.

Other civilians were taken hostage. The clips of an elderly woman and a gun-shot naked young woman being paraded by Hamas and cheered in the streets of Gaza are sickening. There is a video circulating which shows toddlers harassing a 3 year-old Israeli boy who is held hostage. A woman was taken hostage with her two very young daughters. A teenage girl was shown bleeding, hands tied behind her back, dragged out of a vehicle. You cannot watch this and not be repulsed.

And, of course, there are ongoing rocket attacks, in their thousands, directed at major civilian populations – not inadvertently or recklessly but deliberately seeking to cause civilian casualties.

This concerted attack on civilians in their homes and cities is vile; the responsibility lies squarely not just with Hamas, a proscribed organisation for good reason, but with its regional supporters.

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Supporters of Palestine and Israel must stand with the defenders of Israel’s democracy

Whether you are a supporter of Israel or a support of Palestine or even, like me, a supporter of finding a peaceful end to the decades old conflict, what is happening in Israel currently should worry you deeply.

When Netanyahu returned to the office as Prime Minister after the Israeli elections last November, he included a number of parties in his coalition who are either, not to beat about the bush, fascists or ultra-orthodox zealots.

Netanyahu’s main drive appears to be to end his on-going corruption court case which could see him sent to jail.  To do so, he seems to be wiling to pay any price, up to and including the destruction of democracy in Israel.  What the zealots & fascists have demanded, initially at least (there is a lot more as well), is the end of the right of the Israeli Supreme Court to be able to apply a test of “Reasonableness” to Governmental appointments, actions or new laws.  In a country with a single chamber Parliament and no formal constitution, this right of the Supreme Court is one of the few “checks & balances” in stopping any Government behave anti-democratically.

The law has passed the Knesset but has been referred to the Supreme Court to rule if it meets this Reasonable Test or not.  A number on members of the ruling Coalition have already said they will ignore any ruling from the Supreme Court that blocks this new law.  We await the decision from the Supreme Court (which met for the first time ever with all 15 members sitting as a single panel) in the coming weeks.

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The gratuitous humiliation of women, the Occupation’s new weapon of war?

Trigger warning: This post describes serious abuse of women and children.

Two months ago (13 July), I shared Save the Children’s report on Israel’s seriously abusive treatment of Palestinian children.

Unfortunately, it isn’t only children. We need to face up to Israel’s increasingly abusive treatment of Palestinian families. One of Israel’s most dauntless journalists, Amira Hass, whose mother’s Diary of Bergen-Belsen, 1944-1945 is one of the profoundest records from the death camps I know, has shocked readers of Israel’s liberal newspaper, Haaretz, with a harrowing account of a raid on a Palestinian home (£) in the small hours of 10 July. Around fifty troops surrounded the Ajlun home in Hebron and forced entry. It is the terror inflicted on the women and children, who were separated from the men, particularly the strip-searching of the women, which is so alarming.

Hass writes,

Two masked Israeli women soldiers with rifles and an attack dog forced five female members of a Palestinian family to strip naked, each one separately…. The soldiers threatened to release the dog if the women did not comply, the family says…. The children (fifteen aged between four months and 17 years) were screaming in fear the entire time. Amal (one of the five) told the soldiers to pull the dog back because the children were afraid of it; she then took off the rest of her clothes.

The four others had similar experiences. According to Hass, Zeinab recalls,

When I objected, they came near me with the dog in a threatening way. I heard Diala (another of the strip-searched women) yelling to me from outside the room that I should do what the soldier said. After that, I undressed. The soldier told me to turn around. I only turned halfway around, and then she brought the dog near me again. I was shaking and crying. At one point, the children were left alone in the living room without their mothers and in the presence of the armed soldiers.

The IDF reports finding an M16 rifle and ammunition in the house. The male members of the household were searched but not required to strip, so there was clearly no reason to force the women to do so.

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Save the Children Fund exposes Israel’s abuse of Palestinian children

It was when Save the Children Fund’s founder, Eglantyne Jebb, was shouted down by hecklers at SCF’s inaugural meeting in 1919 as she tried to raise money for the starving children of Austria and Germany, that George Bernard Shaw stepped onto the podium and declared, ‘I have no enemies under the age of seven.’ His words silenced the crowd and as we know, SCF became one of Britain’s most illustrious NGOs. It has always been reticent, like other NGOs and Western governments, to call Israel’s poor human rights record to account, for the obvious reason of the unequalled historic suffering of the Jewish people.

But it can remain silent no longer. Palestinian children live in constant fear, are liable to violent arrest and incarceration, most hauled from their beds in the middle of the night by heavily armed soldiers. Almost half such arrests, according to this SCF report, involved excessive violence against both children and to property.

In a case I know of personally, 16-year-old Shadi, whose parents run East Jerusalem’s classical music conservatoire, was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night last October. As his grandmother told me, “They beat him until he was bleeding all over the room and along the path on the way out of the house dragging him barefoot and blindfolded not allowing the parents to see where the blood was coming from.” Shadi’s ill treatment made it into Haaretz newspaper. He was illegally taken out of the Occupied Territory to the notorious Russian Compound, then to a remote prison in Northern Israel. After forty one days of beatings and questioning about his alleged role in a stone-throwing incident, he was released to house arrest. He still awaits trial.

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A Way Out of the Chaos in Israel

Joe Biden has lost patience with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Previous US Presidents must have been exasperated by the succession of Israeli Prime Ministers who paid lip service to international law, UN resolutions and human rights, and then ignored them in practice, but this time the frustration is public. Netanyahu is no longer welcome in the White House, and Biden has told him he must end his attempt to destroy democracy in Israel. Jewish organisations like Yachad in the UK have demonstrated around the world that Israel’s leader must not be allowed to join the autocrats’ club, along with Putin, Erdogan and Orban. In stark contrast to Biden, the UK government kowtowed to Netanyahu only days before the US condemnation of his latest moves, and has published what must now be a deeply embarrassing ‘roadmap’; it ticks off virtually everything on Netanyahu’s wish-list.

Netanyahu’s initial response to Biden’s announcement was to say Israel could manage without US help, and to call on his supporters to stage counter-demonstrations opposing those seen over the last few recent weeks. Tens of thousands have shown their disapproval of the planned legal reforms, both in Israel and in cities around the world. The truth is that Israel needs its friends more than ever, and dismissing Biden’s call to end his attack on the Israeli judiciary was a mistake.

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Democracy in Israel and Palestine

If you have been following to news from Palestine & Israel in recent weeks, you will have seen the appalling rise in violence which has left many dead and even more severely injured on both sides.  The violence reached a peak last week with what can only be described as a pogrom carried out by Israeli Settlers on the Palestinian village of Harawa after two young Israelis had been killed by a Palestinian gunman.

This rise in violence is worrying and is no doubt connected with the threats to democracy by the new Israeli Government under Binyamin Netanyahu which includes, for the first time in Israeli history, two far right extremist Parties, the Religious Zionists led by Bezalel Smotrich, and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) led by Itamar Ben Gvir and also by total lack of democracy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories where elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council & President haven’t been held since 2006.

In Israel, as part of the Coalition agreement for the new Israeli Government, Netanyahu is introducing what he calls “Judicial Reforms” that will have the effect of:

  1. severely curtailing Judicial Independence in Israel,
  2. limiting the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to overturn laws passed by the Knesset that that violate fundamental rights protected by Israel’s “Basic Laws”,
  3. dilute the role of the Attorney General in giving legal advice and
  4. give Ministers more powers to act without fear of Judicial Review.

This means that the Israel Judiciary will no longer have a role in containing the excesses of the Government, a Government that seems hell bent on creating an apartheid regime in Occupied Palestine and silencing its critics in Israel.

For the last two months, since the Judicial Reform legislation was published, every Saturday night ten of thousands of Israelis have been taking to the streets in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and many other towns across Israel to protest against these proposals.  Even President Herzog has called for the Government to pause the legislation and reach a compromise with its opponents.  Even here in the UK, Israelis living here have protested outside the Israeli Embassy.  This week, reservist pilots in the Israeli Air Force have refused to attend training days in protest against these “Reforms” and other reservists (and most adults under 45 in Israel are in the reserves) are also refusing to show up for duty.  Many are realising that the Occupation of Palestine is what is destroying democracy in their country.

In Palestine, the lack of any democratic outlet for change is driving many, especially younger Palestinians to support new armed militant groups such as Lion’s Den.  The old guard around Mahmoud Abbas is clinging to power but there is a vacuum behind them. This has allowed the militants groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and now Lion’s Den to try to fill the gap because they see no other obvious possibility for achieving self-determination and statehood.  The Israeli Government hasn’t helped, with its very heavy-handed raids on these militant groups’ safe houses in the Occupied Territories, killing not only members of these groups but also civilians.

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Palestine and Israel face a dark future

It has taken me a few days to deal with the results of the latest elections to the Israeli Knesset.

To say they were disappointing is a massive understatement. Even though the popular, the Nationalist parties led by Netanyahu only gained a small majority in the popular vote: 2,397,624 who voted for parties that will support Netanyahu and 2,334, 239 who voted for parties opposed to Netanyahu). But the way the proportional representation system works in Israel, it will has gained a majority of 6 to 10 seats in the new Knesset.

For now, Yair Lapid remains the Israeli …

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There must be no whitewash over Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing

The shameful killing of 51 year-old Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh happened a month ago. Most likely she was shot by an Israeli sniper, with initial claims by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) that a stray Palestinian bullet might have hit her having been largely discredited.  An Israeli investigation is under way, but has provided no answers yet.

A human tragedy for her family and the Palestinian people, Abu Akleh’s killing follows that of Jamal Khashoggi, callously dispatched by Saudi Arabia in 2018, and according to the Palestinian Authority, the deaths of 45 other Palestinian journalists killed since 2000.  

If we don’t yet know for sure that an IDF soldier shot her, we do know what happened the following day.  Her funeral was disrupted in an astonishing display of disrespect by the Israeli State.  Palestinian flags are not illegal in Jerusalem, but Israeli law allows police to seize flags displayed in places where they might lead to violence.  The flags on Abu Akleh’s coffin did indeed lead to violence.  It was perpetrated by an angry mob of Israeli Police, who aggressively waded into the crowd, hitting people with wooden batons, including those carrying the coffin. 

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