Kingston Peace News - March 2009

Other voices on Palestine

A major aspect of this newsletter is again Palestine but this time from a different perspective. It has become all too easy for the Israeli government and its supporters to stifle criticism of its actions by claiming that such criticism is fundamentally anti-Semitic. It has reacted especially aggressively in denouncing those, principally non-Jews, who have likened its actions in Gaza and the West Bank to the tactics of the Nazis or to Apartheid South Africa.

It is incumbent on all of us not to fall into the trap of equating the Israeli Government's line with that of Jewish people per se for to do so will be to silence those Jewish individuals and organisations who are speaking out against what they see happening in Israel.

In this newsletter we have chosen comments about the Israeli government's and its supporters' attitude towards the Palestinian people, not from peace activists, not from those who espouse the Palestinian cause from an anti-Israel, anti-Jewish or pro-Muslim perspective. We have avoided, in other words, 'the usual suspects' and turn instead to a senior Jewish politician, a Jewish musician of world renown, and a scientist whose intellect is virtually unequalled in this or any other age. Without further comment, hear what Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, Daniel Barenboim, and Professor Stephen Hawking have said about the attitude of the Israeli Government towards the Palestinians

Phillip Cooper

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I was brought up as an orthodox Jew and a Zionist. On a shelf in our kitchen, there was a tin box for the Jewish National Fund, into which we put coins to help the pioneers building a Jewish presence in Palestine.

I first went to Israel in 1961 and I have been there since more times than I can count. I had family in Israel and have friends in Israel. One of them fought in the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 and was wounded in two of them. The tie clip that I am wearing is made from a campaign decoration awarded to him, which he presented to me.

I have known most of the Prime Ministers of Israel, starting with the founding Prime Minister David Ben- Gurion. Golda Meir was my friend, as was Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister, who, as a general, won the Negev for Israel in the 1948 war of independence.

My parents came to Britain as refugees from Poland. Most of their families were subsequently murdered by the Nazis in the holocaust. My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed.

My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli Government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians. The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count.

On Sky News a few days ago, the spokeswoman for the Israeli army, Major Leibovich, was asked about the Israeli killing of, at that time, 800 Palestinians.the total is now 1,000. She replied instantly that

"500 of them were militants."

That was the reply of a Nazi. I suppose that the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants.

The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asserts that her Government will have no dealings with Hamas, because they are terrorists. Tzipi Livni's father was Eitan Livni, chief operations officer of the terrorist Irgun Zvai Leumi, who organised the blowing-up of the King David hotel in Jerusalem, in which 91 victims were killed, including four Jews.

Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism. Jewish terrorists hanged two British sergeants and booby-trapped their corpses. Irgun, together with the terrorist Stern gang, massacred 254 Palestinians in 1948 in the village of Deir Yassin. Today, the current Israeli Government indicate that they would be willing, in circumstances acceptable to them, to negotiate with the Palestinian President Abbas of Fatah. It is too late for that. They could have negotiated with Fatah's previous leader, Yasser Arafat, who was a friend of mine. Instead, they besieged him in a bunker in Ramallah, where I visited him. Because of the failings of Fatah since Arafat's death, Hamas won the Palestinian election in 2006. Hamas is a deeply nasty organisation, but it was democratically elected, and it is the only game in town. The boycotting of Hamas, including by our Government, has been a culpable error, from which dreadful consequences have followed.

The great Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, with whom I campaigned for peace on many platforms, said:

"You make peace by talking to your enemies."

However many Palestinians the Israelis murder in Gaza, they cannot solve this existential problem by military means. Whenever and however the fighting ends, there will still be 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza and 2.5 million more on the west bank. They are treated like dirt by the Israelis, with hundreds of road blocks and with the ghastly denizens of the illegal Jewish settlements harassing them as well. The time will come, not so long from now, when they will outnumber the Jewish population in Israel.

It is time for our Government to make clear to the Israeli Government that their conduct and policies are unacceptable, and to impose a total arms ban on Israel. It is time for peace, but real peace, not the solution by conquest which is the Israelis' real goal but which it is impossible for them to achieve. They are not simply war criminals; they are fools.

Daniel Barenboim, musician, conductor, founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra that brings together young Jewish and Arab musicians, is the only holder of dual Israeli and Palestinian citizenship. He was born in Argentina of Jewish parents.

I have just three wishes for the coming year. The first is for the Israeli government to realize once and for all that the Middle Eastern conflict cannot be solved by military means. The second is for Hamas to realize that its interests are not served by violence, and that Israel is here to stay; and the third is for the world to acknowledge the fact that this conflict is unlike any other in history. It is uniquely intricate and sensitive; it is a human conflict between two peoples who are both deeply convinced of their right to live on the same very small piece of land. This is why neither diplomacy nor military action can resolve this conflict.

The developments of the past few days are extremely worrisome to me for several reasons of both humane and political natures. While it is self-evident that Israel has the right to defend itself, that it cannot and should not tolerate continuing missile attacks on its citizens, the Israeli army's relentless and brutal bombardment of Gaza has raised a few important questions in my mind.

The first question is whether the Israeli government has the right to make all Palestinians culpable for the actions of Hamas. Is the entire population of Gaza to be held responsible for the sins of a terrorist organization? We, the Jewish people, should know and feel even more acutely than other populations that the murder of innocent civilians is inhumane and unacceptable. The Israeli military has very weakly argued that the Gaza strip is so overpopulated that it is impossible to avoid civilian deaths during their operations.

The weakness of this argument leads me to my next set of questions: if civilian deaths are unavoidable, what is the purpose of the bombardment? What, if any, is the logic behind the violence, and what does Israel hope to achieve through it? If the aim of the operation is to destroy Hamas, then the most important question to ask is whether this is an attainable goal. If not, then the whole attack is not only cruel, barbaric, and reprehensible, it is also senseless.

If on the other hand it really is possible to destroy Hamas through military operations, how does Israel envision the reaction in Gaza once this has been accomplished? One and a half million Gaza residents will not suddenly go down on their knees in reverence of the power of the Israeli army. We must not forget that before Hamas was elected by the Palestinians, it was encouraged by Israel as a tactic to weaken Arafat. Israel's recent history leads me to believe that if Hamas is bombarded out of existence, another group will most certainly take its place, a group that would be more radical, more violent, and more full of hatred toward Israel than Hamas.

Israel cannot afford a military defeat for fear of disappearing from the map, yet history has proven that every military victory has always left Israel in a weaker political position than before because of the emergence of radical groups. I do not underestimate the difficulty of the decisions the Israeli government must make every day, nor do I underestimate the importance of Israel's security. Nevertheless, I stand behind my conviction that the only truly viable plan for long-term security in Israel is to gain the acceptance of all of our neighbours. I wish for a return in the year 2009 of the famous intelligence always ascribed to the Jews. I wish for a return of King Solomon's wisdom to the decision-makers in Israel that they might use it to understand that Palestinians and Israelis have equal human rights.

Palestinian violence torments Israelis and does not serve the Palestinian cause; Israeli military retaliation is inhuman, immoral, and does not guarantee Israel's security. As I have said before, the destinies of the two peoples are inextricably linked, obliging them to live side by side. They have to decide whether they want to make of this a blessing or a curse.

First appeared in The Guardian on 1.1.2009

You don't need the biggest brain on the planet to realise that Israel's attitude towards the Palestinians, especially those living in Gaza, will never achieve peace but it's encouraging to know that the biggest brain on the planet , that belonging to Professor Stephen Hawking (right), took the same point of view in an interview recorded this January...

THE BBC may be doing its best to retain its impartiality but not so this country's foremost brainbox, Professor Stephen Hawking. Israel will have to alter its position on Gaza radically if there is ever to be peace in the region, says the scientist. Interviewed by the Arab television network, Al Jazeera, Hawking claims "If Israel wants peace, it will have to talk to Hamas, like Britain did with the IRA. Hamas are the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people, and cannot be ignored." For the wheelchair-bound boffin, who has been known to holiday in Israel in the past, this is a rare intervention in matters of international politics. It has been more common for Hawking, the holder of 12 honorary degrees, to speculate about natural disasters and encourage space initiatives than to wade into the tricky waters of the Middle East.

"The attack on Gaza is similar to that on Lebanon two years ago," he explains. "That killed over 2000, but did not achieve Israel's war aims. I think the assault on Gaza will be equally unsuccessful. A people under occupation will continue to resist in any way it can... Israel's response to the rocket attacks has been quite out of proportion. Almost a hundred Palestinians have been killed for every Israeli. The situation is like that in South Africa before 1990. It cannot continue."

Positive developments at last

At its AGM last month Kingston Peace Council/CND agreed to affiliate to CADU. Noel Hamel reported that during December there had been important, positive developments at the UN in relation to depleted uranium weapons. The General Assembly, voted by an overwhelming 141 votes to four against that UN agencies should update their positions on the health and environmental effects of uranium weapons. No prizes for guessing who voted against this resolution: Britain, the USA, France and Israel (could the latter have been considering the arsenal it had lined up for use against the Palestinians in Gaza!) A total of 34 countries abstained in the vote.

In a welcome move, the text requests that all UN agencies work closely with countries affected by the use of uranium weapons in compiling their research. Until now, most research by UN member states has focused on exposure in veterans and not on the civilian populations living in contaminated areas. Furthermore, recent investigations into US veteran studies have found them to be wholly incapable of producing useful data.

The resolution envisages that the gathering of evidence will take this year and next with the intention that a report shall be tabled at the General Assembly's 65th session that opens in September 2010.

KPC/CND Annual Report . given by the chair, Noel Hamel, at the AGM, February 11 2009

The year has been dominated by concerns for the seven years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, continuing to cause deaths on an outrageous scale by any normal standards. For example, 70 - 90 civilians, mostly women and children, were eliminated in a US airstrike, and on polling day in Iraq it was reported that only twelve people had been killed and things were "relatively" orderly! President Obama plans withdrawal from Iraq, and an end to the bloodbath that disrupted so many lives is at last in sight. The best that can be said is that it could have been worse . maybe. Meantime Afghanistan, and increasingly Pakistan, cause serious concern as 40 years of US interference, "with a little help from their friends", has left deep scars which continue to fester to the detriment of yet more poor and innocent people, and others in cities around the world. The quartet, (USA, Russia, EU & UN, chief boxwallah T. Blair esq,) simply watched as Israel flouted their injunctions.

This year we finally saw the end of the Bush/Cheney junta and the hope that 20th century 'industrial killing' might be behind us. Senior diplomats and colonels said how stupidly pointless nuclear weapons are and the new US administration is thought to be sympathetic to that view. It was also the 60th anniversary of the declaration of human rights and the 50th of the founding of CND!

KPC/CND has been busy in so many campaigns and activities it is difficult to mention them all. Some members picketed a meeting to divide up Iraqi Oil - the 'spoils of war' - and organised a local leafleting campaign. Others blockaded Aldermaston. Our resolution objecting to nuclear weapons being on 'hair-trigger-alert' passed at CND Conference. We had a very successful stall for the International Day of Peace. We 'well and truly' launched Harry's book, 'Palace of Crystal' with interesting discussion and Susan Kramer MP in attendance. We had speakers on subjects: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Kate Hudson on CND. We had a useful presence at the Kingston Uni Freshers' Fair. Mary has continued working with local schools and we maintained a presence at Kingston Interfaith events. Jim McCluskey launched a letter-writing campaign to environmentalists about nuclear weapons and our letter about the Georgian conflict elicited a Foreign Office response which contradicted David Miliband's finger-pointing at 'Russian Aggression'. We had a vigil for the 7th anniversary of the Afghanistan invasion, and several during the Gaza massacre. Members marched to show distaste for George W Bush and objection to the treatment of Palestinians.

We have maintained our familiar fortnightly stall in the Kingston Market Place in fair weather and foul. The tragedy of unseasonal May weather - worse even than 2007 - killed the Kingston Green Fair which was bankrupted. We stoically persisted with other events and raised money. We are heavily reliant on Maggie who often organises garage sales as well to help keep us solvent. We all pray for Andrew and Maggie's speedy recovery to health . with just a hint of self-interest. We had our usual Hiroshima Day gathering but couldn't persuade the council to join Mayors for Peace. The newsletter flourishes under the supervision of a variety of editors. Gill and Hilary are bricks for producing the monthly inventory of dates and events. We have given some thought to upgrading our website and possibly improving our strategic planning to try to get more 'bang for our buck', with publicity/local press etc... We submitted our own analysis to the Foreign Affairs enquiry into disarmament and proliferation which helped focus our minds on the issues.


More than £360 was raised for Medical Aid for Palestinians in memory of Dorothy Bridgeland who died, aged 95, last December.
Thanks to Charles Wicksteed for help with the KPC/CND website.

Newsletter Editor for this issue was Phil Cooper.

Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.