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Tuesday, 6 January 2009


The tragedy of the Middle East is once again making news, demonstrating the seemingly intractable nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I would hope that everyone wants peace in this troubled part of the world. To this end I support the calls for an immediate ceasefire. I also agree with Gordon Brown that the Palestinians need humanitarian aid while at the same time Israel requires certain assurances, including stopping the rockets being fired across its border and a resolution of arms trafficking into Gaza.

The State of Israel has existed since 1948. It is an internationally recognised sovereign country and must continue as such. This is not to say I agree with the occupation of parts of the West Bank or the Israeli security barrier and checkpoints. Neither do I agree with Hamas terrorism, and certainly not with suicide bombings. I do, however, hope that sooner rather than later it will be possible to agree a two state solution providing a homeland for the Palestinians.

By using its military strength in Gaza Israel has killed children and elderly people in its quest to stamp out Hamas terrorism. On the other hand, Hamas has constantly fired rockets into Israel, often aiming their missiles at Israeli schools, and sustained a grinding campaign of suicide bombing. Moreover, Hamas's stated aim is to get rid of the State of Israel. It is shunned by the EU and the USA as a terrorist organisation. Hamas is also a fundamentalist group and is in regular contact with Iran.

It is not easy to take sides in this unending war which seems to defy resolution. Unfortunately at present both sides are acting in an extreme manner. Israel has an election looming and each political party is seeking votes. Hamas gained power due in large part to corruption and lack of effectiveness in Fatah, Yasser Arafat's organisation which led the Palestinians for many years. The result has been continuing conflict, fighting which causes each side to take up more and more entrenched positions.

I visited Israel and the West Bank about three years ago on a parliamentary delegation, meeting both Israeli and Palestinian leaders as well as seeing the West Bank for myself. Although basic human rights are being violated on both sides, it is true to say that Israel is a functioning democracy, a rarity in the wider Middle East.

However, there is an additional matter which concerns me very much - the position of women under the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas. Personal issues such as marriage and divorce are adjudicated under Sharia law, which discriminates against women; a Muslim man can marry more than one woman and a son receives double the inheritance given to a daughter. My own experience of Sharia law came a few years ago when I was involved in the case of Amina Lawal, a Nigerian Muslim woman who was sentenced to death under Sharia law for committing adultery.

As Labour Spokesperson on women's rights in the European Parliament, I believe I have to speak up for women. Fundamentalist religious organisations are by their nature anti-women. This, I am afraid, includes Hamas.


Martin Meenagh said...

God almighty. I have the flu, so it might be the medicine I am on--but that was one of the most sensible posts on the crisis I have read. I have some disagreements, but, actually, I agree with you again. It's too serious an issue to joke about, but you've gone up in my estimation for that.

A very happy new year to you.

Sonali Bhattacharyya said...

Israel may be a 'functioning democracy', but only at the expense of the beleaguered Palestinians whose land they occupy and on which illegal settlements continue to be built on, against international law.

This 'functioning democracy' also relies on approximately $3 billion of aid from the U.S every year, despite having one of the world's highest per capita incomes. I wonder if it would function so well without this generous benefactor.

Hamas were democratically elected by the Palestinian public, after international pressure for an election, and with many international observers who attested to the scrupulously proper way the election was conducted. They abided by the recent ceasefire agreement, even while Israel contravened its part of the deal by maintaining an inhumane blockade on Gaza. The ceasefire was broken in November by Israel - when they launched an attack on Gaza, killing six civilians. So I wonder why you're so ready to view Hamas as a 'fundamentalist' party, and not the Israeli government, who are willing to kill children in order to curry favour in the elections.

I think the first route to women's rights in Palestine would be an end to the brutal and illegal occupation.



Mark Stroud said...

Hopefully not to long to go until we are apologsing for the horrific anti arab racism that underlies action in Gaza, facilitated in the first instance by this country.

From November 29, 1947, when the United Nations voted for partition and Jewish statehood, until the start of the current violence in September 2000, some 755 Israelis were killed in terror actions at home or abroad. Some 674 Israeli civilians have been killed since September 2000. This is the logic of Israeli action in Gaza I presume.

Since 1947 there are at least By my reckoning 32,000 Palestinians killed by Israel, excluding the Lebanon war (from electronic intifada). This includes I believe a far greater proportion of women and children, particularly young children. I support womens rights but hard to pick this out as an issue, particularly at the moment. What I have seen is a high level of activity amongst arab women of various religions including muslim women, keeping their communities together, working closely with their partners and communities, and inspiring tourists like me.

Not much of a war by my reckoning, more of a slaughter I think. From my visit this year to the West Bank the most important idea is part of a greater drive to ethnically cleanse in slow motion, and has to be seen historially, sadly lacking from reporting, and the understanding of the general public in Britain (which included me until this year). The second is that the oppression is routine when it is not brutal, and their is huge benefit in tourism to the West Bank for people to understand the mechanics, and gain insight into the realities that must have brutalised Jewish people during the Second World War. This is a case study of violence leading to violence.

Of course it was Britain who facilitated the start of all this on the ground in 1947 when Palestine was mandated to us after the first world war, and that is the reason British people are kept in the dark I believe, and why it is my mission to end this ignorance. This country should be making it a priority to issue an apology to the Palestinian people in Parliament. This would not only clarify the repsonsibility for this act, but also restrain the equally terrible violence experienced by the Jewish population internationally to this day due to the actions of the Israeli government, and our governements silence. It would also put into clearer relief the actions of this country and America in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I believe the use of the word war for such an unequal death toll should itself be illegal.

seemainamdar said...

Maybe Mary & Martin you should read this and the reconsider?

seemainamdar said...

Maybe Mary & Martin you should read this and reconsider?

Martin Meenagh said...

I'm not particularly sure that it is a good idea to start throwing charges based on hearsay evidence like that of 'war crime' around. That ought to be a technical term. Here, for instance, is an alternative list of Hamas War crimes, which is frankly more believable.,0,4232460.story

This is all going to end up with Egypt, Jordan and Fateh calling for an international solution to run two states. As for voting for Hamas conferring legitimacy on them, make sure and, on that logic, engage with the BNP next time they win an election. I won't be.

seemainamdar said...

Why are you so ready to believe the reports of Hamas violence and not Israeli crimes against the Palestinians - could this be typical of the hypocritical attitude towards Arabs and people of colour in the Middle East?

I think the casualty lists speak for themselves.

Martin Meenagh said...

twenty per cent of the population of Israel itself are arab; there are at least 120 000 black jews out of a population of 7 million, and at least two hundred thousand people from Asia acknowledged to be in the country.

When Hamas were firing over 6000 rockets this year at those people, amongst others, were they programming them not to hit people of colour?

When the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel and Jews, were they being PC?

When Hamas responded to tension with Israel by murdering or maiming Fateh members in Gaza, what were they up to?

I have a great many disagreements with mary honeyball. She has been consistent and sensible on this matter. You commented by waving a tendentious report produced because Israel is a democracy with free speech, so it could be reported; I wrote that anyone could do that but we had to move on. To illustrate, I put forward a tendentious report from LA. Now you're alluding to racism.

This isn't my blog and I have a reasonable deal of respect for its author, which has grown over the past few months. I urge you to think about who Hamas are and what they mean for free people should they ever have their way.

seemainamdar said...

Actually I think you'll find that Israel have banned international journalists due to the fact that their actions are highly illegal. Israel may be a democracy, but so is Hamas. America has a history of trying to overthrow governments that do not suit it's interests - Cuba, Venezuala etc this is another example of an American backed campaign waged in order to suit business interests. Whatever you or I may think of Hamas the fact is they have been elected by the people of Palestine becuase they have been oppressed and harassed - illegally - on their own land for the past 61 years.

Marcel said...

on the points raised by Mr Meenagh

1.both the arabs in israel and the Ethiopian black jews who emigrated to israel in the 80's are the poorest and most discriminated against in Israeli society.

2. i'm sure if Hamas were allowed the technology to build better missiles and target them in the way Israel has been allowed to then they would make more effort to only try and hit military targets. likewise they wouldn't need suicide bombers if america gave palestine the same F16 fighters and apache helicopters Israel gets for free.

3. likewise Hamas can call for the destruction of israel as much as they like, they don't have the power to do anything about it. israel has nuclear weapons, Palestine doesn't even have an airport anymore. However there are also numerous groups in israel, from religious groups to secular organisation that call for the ethnic cleansing of palestinians and for there never to be even the creation of a palestinian state. they certainly have the power to enforce their will, yet you don't hear a peep about them in the media.

4. tendacious report in the Guardian? when the red cross and the catholic church call you out for warcrimes then you know your doing wrong. plus the report you site in the LA times, have you heard of Mr Dershowitz before? he is notorious as a radical zionist american supporter of israel who has encouraged students to spy on their lecturers in case they have pro palestinian bias. would you accept an account of israeli warcrimes from a Hamas cheerleader?

the facts are out there if you bother to look, and they are not in favour of Israel, the US or Uk government.

Martin Meenagh said...

Firstly, marcel--you can write 'Martin' to me, buif you want to be pompous, its Dr Meenagh--I agree that black and asian people face a great deal of discrimination in Israel, as is the case everywhere. That isn't helped by religious fundamentalists and the fellow travelling left trying to murder them. Secondly, Alan Dershowitz and his articles are in part there for people who don't want to think. I didn't write tendacious, I wrote 'tendentious'--my point being that we can throw articles from no-brain newspapers at each other to no profit until the cows come home. Thirdly, grad missiles, which are provided by Iran and used by Hamas (as well as the Katyushas) are superior technology, not fireworks. No country would have a defence, even in the fevered world of patriot-missile evolution. Fourly, there are press in Israel, they are proected by the rule of law, and tey don't seem to be doing too bad a job of getting Hamas propaganda out of the west bank.

Honestly, I'm not going to row with yous. Just ask yourself two questions, thats all
1) if it weren't for all the hate and violence, for how long could Palestinians and particularly those who backed Hamas have been enjoying statehood?
2) Why are people on the european left expected to turn off their brain and support hamas, with honourable exceptions like Mary, when Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian authority and most people outside of the political bubble don't?

By the way, a two-state solution would guarantee everyone their state; but you'd need goodwill for that to occur.

And elections--as we know in a small way, with the British government enjoying the support of 22% of the electorate in 2005, or virtually any Euro-election--do not convey legitimacy.

I'm off and probably won't be reposting on this thread.

spottmedia said...

I'm afraid I really struggle to stay calm when I read about the "only true democracy" in the middle east, Vs the "Repressive islamist Hamas". These are complete red herrings and a diversion from anything that is actually important in this argument. Israel is a "functioning democracy" only if you ignore the fact it is founded on a fundamentally racist principle that systematically descriminates against it's arab population. It's "functioning democracy" is an apartheid state (Note the huge numbers of roads exclusive to the Israeli population that criss cross Palestinian land) that is illegally occupying and colonising Palestine, repressing it's people, regularly committing +war crimes+ such as the collective punishment on the Lebanese in it's recent war, use of illgal weapons, and other illegal actions such as house demolitions on occupied land ( this even before the criminal attack on Gaza and the murder of it's children). These are complete RED HERRINGS and reek of Israeli propaganda that has been passsed on verbatim by the UKs politicians.
How can the ability to vote between one fundamentally racist and repressive party and another fundamentally racist and repressive party by "functioning democracy". Israel acts with impunity, crushing the life out of the Palestinian's, creating "facts on the ground" that will prevent any viable two state solution, the knock on effect being greater support for extremism globally, not just in Palestine but dare I mention the obvious 9/11 and 7/7 bombers, both groups of which were in no small part motivated by their anger at the treatment of the Palestinian's and the Wests complicity. Even if (as our politicians consistently do) ignore the mothers, daughters, sons and fathers that are being murdered in Gaza by Israeli "precision" attacks, surely a sense of self preservation would say that if you stop the main source of angst amongst our arab/muslim brothers and the growing number of angry young men (generally) the whole world would be a safer place.
The fact that the vote on upgrading EU/Israeli relations has just been "postponed" is indicative that the intention is to simply pass it when the current anger dies down - Israel has shown contempt for the Human Rights principles that govern the EU - the vote should be held and the answer a resounding 'NO' until they get out of Gaza, stop the blockade, and establish a viable Palestinian state, shame on the EU parliament for even considering the support of an apartheid state, it seems we never learn.

Uncoool Bob said...

Those who oppose Israel's brutal and illegal actions (past and present) do not automatically "support Hamas" (to quote Martin Meenagh). It's not as simple as that, although the paranoid Israelis would have it seem that way. I also oppose the brutal and illegal actions of my (UK) government and the US government in Iraq and Afghanistan, although at least in those countries, the fight has been a little less one-sided (they actually have weapons!).

Radmila D said...

Dear Mary,

I can see that you are not in a big hurry to save any lives in Gaza and I find that disturbing.

Why do you feel that you can deny an occupied country right to defend itself? Clearly Hamas is not besieging Tel Aviv.

I don’t understand your point about Israel being the only democratic county in the region. Do you mean that the undemocratic countries deserve bombing? Does it mean that the democratic countries have a right to do what they like even if that is to kill innocent civilians.

I wander whether you would grant the same right to the democratically elected government of Iran as you do to democratically elected government of Israel?

And one more thing- we just don’t have the moral ground to criticise Sharia law or any country for their human rights record. Not after the active participation of this country in torture which took place in the Guantanamo Bay, Bagram, Abu Graib and what the extraordinary renditions were all about.