Tag Archives: palestine

Towards peace in Israel and Palestine 

I was only 19 when I first visited the West Bank in 1964 but was sufficiently gripped that, after studying the region’s history at university, I retained a strong interest in the area thereafter. The Israel-Palestine conflict seems far less amenable to a solution today than it did then. That is why I greatly welcome Conference’s Motion F39,’Towards a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine’.  There are two particular issues I should like to flag up. 

The first concerns UNRWA, the UN agency of Palestine Refugees for which I worked in the 1970s. As we watch the refugee crisis in Afghanistan it is easy to forget the Palestinian one. Unlike Afghan refugees, Palestinians never wished to be resettled and resisted attempts by the UN and Arab states. They demanded the right of return, adumbrated in General Assembly Resolution 194 (1949)  (which reflects Article 13.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). For political reasons, that return has not happened. Today, they are stuck in a terrible limbo, without full citizenship rights (except in Jordan’s East Bank) and in the case of the Gaza Strip, where they are some 80% of the population, suffering awful privation under Israel’s permanent siege. We must support the woefully underfunded UNRWA robustly, to sustain needy refugees whose right to the same freedoms we enjoy has, after seven decades, still not been realised. Support for UNRWA also has the self-interested virtue of helping reduce the tensions that lead to violence. 

The second issue concerns respect for international law as the bedrock of the international order. Nothing in that body of law is so crucial to this conflict as the Fourth (1949) Geneva Convention (4GC), dealing with the rules governing military occupation following the 1967 war. In law ‘occupation’ is a temporary situation, which can no longer be said of Palestine where it has been unlawfully prolonged. Why is 4GC so important? It was the inadequacy of existing rules (dating from 1907) as well as the Axis Powers’ comprehensive disregard of them, 1938-45, which impelled the drafting of the four Geneva Conventions in 1949. All four open with the requirement that all States party to them undertake to ‘ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances’, now recognised to mean that all State signatories have a responsibility to ensure that the protagonists in this particular conflict abide by the Convention’s terms. It goes on to forbid wilful killing, collective punishments, house demolitions, settlement of the Occupier’s own nationals in occupied territory, and much else besides. It lists ‘grave violations’, requiring signatory States to detain and charge individuals believed guilty of such crimes if such persons ever enter their own territory. For political reasons States have been loath to act. Whereas the West has been quick to punish Russia over Crimea, it declines taking similar measures against friendly states, a lack of consistency that smacks of hypocrisy to much of the world. 

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My Jewish journey to understanding Israel and Palestine

As I watched with horror, the escalating flames in Jerusalem, and their reverberations around Israel and Gaza, it was bitterly ironic that preview screenings of my film, The Tinderbox, are running now.

Five years ago I set out to make a single film that would allow audiences to understand what’s been happening in Israel/Palestine for the past century. Despite being told that there must already be historically rigorous, balanced documentaries clarifying past and present context, I have been unable to find another. This notwithstanding, after two years it became clear that despite being a BAFTA/RTS-winning, Oscar-nominated documentary film team, I and my colleagues were going to have to make this film unpaid. No one was interested. Thankfully, crowd-funding enabled us to pay for many of the costs that couldn’t be deferred and three years later the film is being distributed.

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Save Palestine by rediscovering the British Liberal tradition

Right now, as events unfold in Gaza, a test case is emerging for British Liberalism, and European Liberalism more broadly, the response to which will say a lot about the state it is in within Western Europe. That test case is the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.

For too long, some liberals have been indifferent to the persecution of Palestinians by the Israeli state, with the honourable exception of the Liberal Democrats. A lack of forceful criticism or forbidding expression of objection to the actions of the Israeli state, in the case of Emmanuel Macron, is to the disgrace of the noble cause of liberalism. That is why British liberals need to rediscover their liberal heritage to save the reputation of liberalism as something more than what cynics dismiss as mere talk.

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Observations of an Expat: Israel – The Problem is Internal

The current fighting in Israel is different. It was not sparked by a suicide bomber from Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority or an Arab state. Hamas did not decide to test its rocket capability with a random attack.

No, this time the cause is the long smouldering fuse of discontent by the Palestinian’s living inside Israel. And because the roots are internal, the problem is even more intractable and dangerous.

Not all the Palestinians fled Israel during the 1947-1948 war of independence. Some of them simply refused to go. Some actually savoured the thought of living in a democratic country. The descendants of these stay-at-homes now comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population.

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Violence in Israel and Palestine – Layla Moran’s Urgent Question

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The Urgent Question put by Layla Moran in Parliament yesterday exposed the gulf between government rhetoric and any attempt to deal with the real causes of the horrific violence unleashed in Gaza and elsewhere in Israel and Palestine over the past few days.  Asked time and again for the government’s response, James Cleverly told the House the government was ‘urging restraint’ on both sides.  Layla’s call for clarity on questions like support for UN Security Council resolutions was met with the bland response the government would be trying to “encourage an end to the violence”.  Asked by Layla when would be the time to recognise the state of Palestine, if not now, Cleverly just ignored the question.

The spark which ignited the current wave of violence was the proposed illegal evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, and it was Conservative MP Crispin Blunt who challenged Cleverly to spot the difference between the UK’s response to that and its response 25 years ago to illegal settlements in Har Homa.  Cleverly replied that “the UK’s position on settlements is of long standing,” unintentionally making Blunt’s point for him.  What we did in the past had no effect, and we intend to keep doing it.

Underlining the futility of the Cleverly’s assurances that we have strong diplomatic ties with Israel and can have a “powerful” influence, Benny Gantz, the Israeli defence minister, has announced that “we will not listen to moral preaching against our duty to protect the citizens of Israel”, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says “we will inflict blows on (Hamas) that they couldn’t even dream of.”  The British government calls for restraint and a proportionate response, and Israeli ministers proudly announce they are not listening.  The disproportionate response the IDF boasts of carrying out in Gaza is explicitly outlawed under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and constitutes a war crime.

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Israel/Palestine in 2021

As 2021 approaches and as Trump prepares for an undignified exit from the White House, can we hope for some positive moves towards a peaceful settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict?  Joe Biden may in due course try to get the peace process going, but nothing much will happen for a few months until yet another Israeli election has taken place in March.

There are also plans for long overdue elections in Palestine which may lead to a power shift to a younger and more credible generation of political leaders.  Even if Netanyahu loses (and all liberal democrats will surely pray for …

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Observations of an expat – Israeli memories revived

The ongoing debate over anti-Semitism within the British Labour Party plus Israel’s planned annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has revived old memories of a visit to Israel.

The year was 1976. I was invited as a guest of the Israeli government.

The reason for my invitation was that I was a young (27) American recently appointed diplomatic correspondent. The Israeli government regarded – with some justification – the bulk of the British foreign affairs writers as a pro-Arab write-off. But an American-born diplomatic correspondent at the heart of the British journalism establishment had the potential to be a real coup.

They were, in theory, right. Americans imbibe pro-Israel sentiments at their mother’s breast. This is probably the result of the Jewish lobby, Holocaust guilt, Biblical teachings, Israel’s democratic government in a sea of absolute monarchies and dictatorships and, finally, Israel’s geostrategic position in the oil-rich Middle East.

When I arrived in London, I, like most of my countrymen, was pro-Israeli. When I stepped off the plane at Tel Aviv I was still pro-Israeli. And for the next few days the Israelis worked hard to confirm my opinion. They set up interviews with Teddy Kollek, the charismatic mayor of Jerusalem, foreign minister Yigal Allon, scandalous Mandy Rice-Davies who had set up a couple of night clubs in Tel Aviv, and even organised a dinner date with the talented, beautiful and young prima ballerina of Israel’s state ballet company.

To make certain that I travelled safely from A to B the Israeli foreign office provided an air-conditioned limousine and a young Israeli diplomat to keep me out of trouble, answer questions and entertain me. He was charming – until about halfway through the trip.

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Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel Statement on the proposed Israeli annexation of the West Bank

The Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI) would like to express our deep concern about plans by the current Israeli Government to annex large swathes of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley.

We are strong supporters of the State of Israel and a negotiated two-state solution; however, we believe this action by the Government of Israel is neither in the best interests of the State nor the Israeli or Palestinian peoples. Significant parts of the UK’s Jewish diaspora have voiced both concerns about and opposition to these proposals. The proposed annexation, reportedly scheduled for 1st July also has the potential to impact Israel’s political, diplomatic, and economic challenges, including their hard-won peace deals with Egypt and Jordan in addition to their burgeoning relations with the Sunni Arab states.

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Netanyahu’s annexation plans must not go unchallenged

Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn, reacting to the new Israeli government’s intention to annex 30% of the occupied West Bank, put it well. ‘Thou shalt not steal’, he said.

Unfortunately, Binyamin Netanyahu has little time for this type of directive. Encouraged by the so-called US ‘peace plan’ for the middle east, he wants to introduce legislation to the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, to begin the process of annexation. He had originally planned to declare this today, and while there might be a delay to the announcement, by all accounts his intention has not changed.

This must not go unchallenged. International law is clear. …

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Our promise to the Palestinians

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Britain appointed itself the ruling power in Palestine after the First World War mainly because it suited British geopolitical ambitions, but our government solemnly acknowledged a “sacred duty” to safeguard the rights of all the people of Palestine when British rule ended.  However, in 1948, Britain, bankrupted by World War II and dealing with the collapse of its empire, forgot its promise to the  Palestinians, and left them to their own devices.  The Jewish state of Israel was created in roughly the part of Mandate Palestine designated by the United Nations, and the rest was ceded to Egypt and Jordan.

This all changed after the 1967 war, in which the Israeli army overran large parts of neighbouring countries.  The areas they occupied when the fighting stopped were effectively the parts of Mandate Palestine which Israel had been unable to claim when it was created in 1948.  Continued military occupation is allowed in the immediate aftermath of a war, but occupied territory must be handed back, and permanent settlement by people from the conquering power is illegal.

Despite that, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and part of southern Syria immediately in June 1967, and have remained as an occupying military power in the West Bank and Gaza until the present day, some 53 year later.  During that time the Palestinians have struggled to have their rights recognised, mostly through peaceful protest and negotiations sponsored by third parties.  Some have resorted to violence, and there have been acts of terrorism, particularly in the early days of the PLO.  The Israeli response is usually disproportionate retaliation, based on the idea that ‘collective punishment’ means violent protest rebounds on the local community.  Collective punishment is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which was ratified by virtually every country in the world, including Israel, but like the illegal settlements, it has been tolerated by the world community for decades, and rarely generates more than mild rebukes.

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The response to Trump’s peace plan should be – recognise Palestine now

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As we leave the EU, we need to show that we are not Trump’s poodle. Britain must therefore publicly be seen to reject the wholesale attack on the rule of international law that is unfortunately an important element in Trump’s so-called “deal of the century”, his plan for peace between Israel and Palestine.

Although the “deal” contains positive elements, such as aspects of its vision for cooperation in economic development, nothing can hide the fact that it contains a diktat to be imposed on the Palestinians that deprives them of their right of self-determination (whilst brazenly maintaining that the contrary is true), as well as the territorial integrity of the Palestinian land that Israel occupied in 1967.

The “deal” has understandably already been described as creating “disconnected Bantustans” rather than a Palestinian State. If it is successfully implemented in the form in which it is published, it is likely to mean the end of the two State solution and become the focal point for a struggle for equal rights for Arab and Jew between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. It also has the regrettable appearance of trying “to buy” the Palestinians so as to induce them not to insist on their rights. That is creating anger far beyond Palestine.

The plan claims to recognise the realities on the ground. This assertion must be called out.

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A trip to Palestine

The racial profiling had gone a bit wrong.  We’d been walking along al Shuhada, a street in Hebron which is strictly off-limits for Palestinians, flanked by some nervous-looking Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers, when one of them demanded to see some ID.  He’d picked one our small group of British Lib Dems who was obviously of Indian origin.  Our Israeli guide, ex-IDF himself, gently reminded the young soldier that as ‘internationals’ we had rights not granted to Palestinians.

Our trip to Palestine earlier this year lasted only six days, but as well as Hebron, we visited Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, some outlying villages and towns, a Bedouin settlement threatened with demolition (but still there today), and a refugee camp for internally displaced people.  You can’t learn everything about a country in such a short time, but whatever you read or see in the media, there is no substitute for being there and meeting the people.  We were warmly received by the Palestinians we met – unsurprisingly, given that our (Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine) stated aim is to campaign for the rights of Palestinians, although it is maybe just a little surprising when you consider the past role of the British, exemplified by the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and our hasty departure from Palestine in 1948.

The context for our journey was provided on day one, at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  As well as working to improve the lot of the Palestinians, they collect data on casualty numbers on both sides of the ongoing conflict, and they showed us on a series of maps the steady decrease in the land occupied by Palestinians, due to the illegal (under international law) settlements in the ‘Occupied Territories’.  

The West Bank and Gaza were overrun by the IDF in a brief war more than fifty years ago, but are still subject to martial law.  We visited Military Court Watch, which independently monitors court proceedings when the accused are young Palestinians (under 18).  Typically, the charge is throwing stones at settlers, for which the penalty is usually several months in prison.  Around 200 children were in Israeli prisons when we were there; military courts operate differently from civil courts, and although evidence is not always available, the conviction rate is 99%. 

Sometimes our guides were Israeli Jews who were out of step with the current right-wing Israeli government, and they and their Palestinian counterparts impressed us with their calm determination to see their land freed from conflict.  One thing they all stressed was the effectiveness of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.  The views and support of the outside world really matter.

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LibLink: Layla Moran – We must talk about Palestine, without being antisemitic


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Over on the Guardian website, Layla Moran has written an opinion piece which says that the anti-semitism scandal in Labour is creating a fear among MPs of speaking out for the Palestinian right to equality, justice and statehood. Layla writes:

My mother is Palestinian. These issues are deeply personal; we still have family in the West Bank. I am very worried that, at this critical juncture in the history of the region, activists, parliamentarians and journalists feel that they cannot speak out for fear of being branded as antisemitic. My plea is that we must speak more about Palestine, not less, and in this current climate it is something members of both houses of parliament have confided that they are more fearful than ever to do.

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10 April 2019 – today’s press releases

Moran: Recognition of Palestine cannot wait a moment longer

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran has today called on the UK Government to recognises Palestine following the Israeli election.

Ms Moran, the first MP of Palestinian decent, previously introduced the Palestinian Statehood (Recognition) Bill which would require the UK Government to recognise the State of Palestine within 3 months of the Bill being passed. It had support from Lib Dem, Labour, SNP, Plaid and Green MPs.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said:

The dead heat between Gantz and Netanyahu means uncertainty for Palestinians continues. We now wait with baited breath for the

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21 November 2018 – today’s press releases

Having completed another meeting of the Federal International Relations Committee, featuring an exploration of the distant reaches of Article 7 of the Federal Constitution of the Party, your editor’s mind turns to press releases…

  • Moran: Gov must recognise state of Palestine
  • Cable: Prokopchuk’s Interpol position is still ‘an insult to the victims of the Salisbury attack’
  • Sanctions needed to get Matthew Hedges home
  • Davey: PM must publish immigration white paper now
  • Lib Dems announce Siobhan Benita as London Mayoral candidate
  • (covered separately here)

  • Lib Dems lead fight to protect vulnerable people in care
  • Davey: Something going very wrong in energy market

Moran: Gov must recognise state of Palestine

Liberal …

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How Israel frustrates Palestine’s education

In the current issue of Times Higher Education (13 September), you’ll find a piece by Palestine’s Raja Shehadeh, about the way Israel discourages foreign faculty from teaching in Palestine.  Precisely half of the 64 foreign academics working in Palestine, have been adversely affected by denial or restriction in their permission to work, over the past two academic years. 

Once a university has invited a foreign academic to join its faculty, Israel uses an opaque two-tier system of control, through the Civil Administration in the occupied territory and, if an application clears that hurdle, the power of veto by Israel’s Interior Ministry.  The process is uncertain, Kafkaesque and has every appearance of being discriminatory, to impair the fundamental purpose of education, the dissemination of knowledge and the deepening of understanding. Unable to plan their future, such applicants give up, seeking employment elsewhere. Some Palestinian-born faculty educated in the US or Europe have also been denied residency. 

Israel’s handling of these applications seems tainted with illegality. In his ground-breaking book, Occupier’s Law, published in 1985, Shehadeh showed how the Civil Administration in the West Bank, which issues (or withholds) work permits, was created as part and parcel of ‘solutions for the legal problems encountered in achieving the goal of annexing the West Bank without its inhabitants,’ itself a profoundly illegal process. 

The second tier of Israeli control, however, lies within Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, which issues (or withholds) entry visas for residence in the Occupied Territory. Even where visas are issued, visa extensions may be denied on the grounds that foreigners may not reside in Israel for more than five years. But they are, of course, residing in the Palestinian territory, not in Israel. Under the Laws of Occupation, it may be debatable whether this illegally transfers powers that should remain within occupied territory. Yet it clearly transgresses operative clause 5 of the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (December 2016), which requires all Member States, and that of course includes Israel itself, ‘to distinguish in all their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.’  

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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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Layla on Palestine

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran has been writing for Politics Home on Palestine. The first MP of Palestinian descent, she has special insight into the troubles experienced and what the solutions might be. You can find the full article here, but to get you started here is an excerpt.

Working with our EU partners, now more valuable than ever before, the UK Government must meet the expectations on its special responsibilities and influence in the Middle East. The US has left the field, UK Government Ministers cannot hide away. And we

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UK participation in Eurovision 2019 in Israel would condone “outrageous human rights violations”

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I’m just back from Lisbon where I was lucky enough to have a stageside position for the Eurovision Song Contest last Saturday. Apart from a nasty stage invasion during Surie’s performance (with which she dealt brilliantly), the whole thing went without a hitch.

Portugal were Eurovision Song Contest entrants for 53 years before they won it in 2017. As a result, they were desperate to welcome everybody to their country and to put on a fantastic experience. That they did. Apart from anything else, Lisbon must have been the most LGBT+ friendly capital city in the world during the last week or so.

This was a “bucket list” trip for me. A one-off. Any temptation to become an annual Eurovision camp follower was cut short with the prospect of a 2019 contest in Israel.

From a musical point of view, Israel deserved to win last Saturday. The scoring system is, nowadays, fairly balanced between national juries and the vote of viewers throughout the 42 participating countries. So, they won fair and square.

On Sunday I was resolved to resist any 2019 Eurovision trip to Israel. While I might one day tour Palestine, Israel and Jordan as a triplet itinerary, visiting specifically Israel for Eurovision would feel like condoning injustice.

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A response to the Conference debate on the Balfour Declaration

Shalom alechum, alsalam ealaykum, peace be with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Independent View: Jewish opposition to Israeli policies

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

JJP’s core beliefs can be summarised as:

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

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

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

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

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

Some examples will suffice to show the diversity: 

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The Israeli occupation gets worse and worse

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

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

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

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Royal indiscretion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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UN tells Israel to stop taking Palestinian resources

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

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

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

 

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

The Mayor of London said:

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

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

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What I learned when I cycled through Palestine

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

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

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

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Christians continue to suffer on the West Bank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you agree with the following statements:

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

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

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

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