At the beginning
of January I went to a well-attended meeting in the House of Commons addressed
by Bishop Riah of Jerusalem. Although
the situation in Palestine is dire, he was quite upbeat, and of the opinion that the day is
darkest before the dawn. He thinks British opinion is very important, and we
must keep pressure on the Government. He met Tony Blair in 2003 and told him,
"the road to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem". In
response, Blair suggested that the Iraq war
would pave the way to peace, but the Bishop did not think he would say this
now. He would like as many of us as possible to visit, especially to view the
wall - "bring a hammer" he says. The situation at the checkpoints is
quite intolerable. The elected Government must be recognised.
As a Christian
bishop he is very worried because Christians are leaving Palestine, and he
does not think there will be any still living there by 2015, if emigration
continues at the same rate. Last year 10,000 left, and
50,000 visas are being processed now.
However, he sees possible improvement from within Israel,
as many there know that what is going on is wrong. He is optimistic for change
from among the younger generation and hopes to see more desegregated schools -
he mentioned one which is so popular that it has grown to 1,472 students and
132 staff, in a couple of years.
A speaker from
Palestine Solidarity Campaign spoke of a recent visit to Palestine by
European parliamentarians and NGOs. They
were there 8 days and held about 30 meetings. While the media concentrate on
disputes between Fatah and Hamas,
we must try to publicise the true situation, such as the withholding of taxes
by Israel, aided and abetted by US/GB/EU. We must continue to focus on the
wall, now 60% built and 30% under construction. This is a terrible problem, but
can also become a focus for protest, many Israelis regularly joining
Palestinian protests there.
MP stressed that many in Israel do not understand the situation, but those who
do realise increasingly that it is untenable, financially and politically as
well as for humanitarian reasons - the message sent out is that "democracy
doesn't work - the West won't allow it to". Fatah
behaves as if it is still in power, and we collude in this. However, she was
not optimistic about any change based on the recent political changes in the USA - the
Democrats will be no better. She advocated campaigning to have the EU Trade
Agreement with Israel withdrawn, as clauses laying down standards of humanitarian
behaviour and human rights are not being observed.
January a new pressure group, Enough, is being
launched, together with War on Want and other groups. Hopefully this will
provide a boost to the campaign.