Meeting on Palestine


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.


Phyllis Starkey, 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.


On 30th 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.

Rosemary Addington