Exchange with Martin Horwood MP

Dear Martin,
 
The state of Israel continues to justify its military action against Gaza on grounds of “self defence”. Ipso facto, since Gaza remains OCCUPIED under international law (an interpretation shared by the British government), it is proclaiming the right of an occupier to crush the resistance of the occupied.  Applied universally, this leads to conclusions any reasonable observer would reject (think Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait or Nazi Germany’s occupation of, say, France, and so on).  How then to explain why this “right” is accepted by so many (including, it would seem, William Hague) in the case of Israel?
 
I would be grateful if you could post your views at This is Gloucestershire, where they will be available to all.
 
Best wishes,
 
Joe

———

I will be meeting with FCO officials and if possible ministers this week in relation to the situation in Gaza.  It is critical that we urge Hamas to cease rocket attacks on Israeli civilians but also that Israel pulls back from escalating the situation in a way that will doubtless cause more civilian casualties amongst the population in Gaza, further inflame opinion in other middle eastern countries and across the world and further damage any prospect of the peace process resuming.  The Fatah administration in the West Bank and moderates within Israeli civil and political society need to be encouraged in their efforts to find diplomatic and political paths out of this tragic situation.

———

Dear Martin,
 
Your press release does not answer the question.  To re-phrase:
 
Do you accept that the root cause of the recent violence is not rockets fired from Gaza, but rather Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territory (to include the illegal siege of Gaza)?

Please note I will be posting our continuing exchange at This is Gloucestershire, and also on Facebook.
 
Many thanks,
 
Joe

———

Dear Joe,

I do understand what you are saying but the immediate cause of this specific conflict is undoubtedly the rockets fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians.  Are the root causes Israel’s continuing failure to halt illegal settlements, their blockade of Gaza or their failure to reward those Palestinians attempting to pursue diplomacy not violence?  None of these are helping so possibly the answer is yes – but I don’t think any of these things justify firing rockets at civilians, any more than I think firing rockets at civilians justifies a disproportionately violent response from Israel which has cost many more Palestinian lives.  Seeking to definitively ascribe blame to one side or the other is a hopeless game.  The key thing it seems to me is to encourage those on both sides who are pursuing the path of diplomacy and negotiation, for instance with a UK government ‘yes’ vote to Palestinian recognition in the UN General Assembly if we can persuade the government to cast it this week. 

Best regards

Martin Horwood MP

———

Dear Martin,

Many thanks for your email.
  
You say: 

“Are the root causes Israel’s continuing failure to halt illegal settlements, their blockade of Gaza or their failure to reward those Palestinians attempting to pursue diplomacy not violence? None of these are helping so possibly the answer is yes…”

Which sounds reasonable… but, again, isn’t quite what I asked, is it?  This sentence, in the context of your other published responses on this matter (I’ve just conducted a brief google search!), seems to indicate a reluctance on your part to characterise the situation in Gaza (and indeed the West Bank) as one of “occupation”.

This in mind, I’d like to request answers to a few simple questions please (yes/no answers will suffice):
 
(1)  Do you agree with your own government’s assessment that “although there is no permanent physical Israeli presence in Gaza, given the significant control that Israel has over Gaza’s borders, airspace and territorial waters, the UK judges that Israel retains obligations under the fourth Geneva Convention as an occupying power“?
 
(2)  Assuming you have answered “yes” to (1), do you agree that application of a framework in which Israel is the “occupying power” and the West Bank and Gaza are “occupied Palestinian territories” is in accord with the generally accepted facts of the matter?
 
(3)  Assuming you have answered “yes” to (2), do you agree that, morally speaking, the manner in which the “occupied” resist occupation is secondary to the “occupying power’s” obligation to end its occupation?

(4) Do you agree that selling weapons to the “occupying power” directly facilitates its military activities against those it occupies, and is thus completely at odds with (3)?
I do hope you’ll  respond to these questions, which shouldn’t take more than a few moments.

———

Yes, Israel is legally the occupying power, has actively occupied in Gaza and still is actively occupying large parts of the West Bank.  I tend not to use the phrase ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ in debates and elsewhere precisely because I think the simpler term ‘Palestine’ recognises more straightforwardly what should be that country’s equivalent status to ‘Israel’ and is in line with international agencies’ judgement that the Palestinian Authority has now achieved a great deal of the international benchmarks for statehood.  In the specific case of Gaza, Israel is not in active occupation at the moment having passed on administrative authority in 1994 in line with the Oslo Accords and withdrawn altogether in 2005, albeit within all the economic and military constraints that we both know all too well.  Gaza and Palestine will not of course gain true independence until there is a peace settlement.

But just to be absolutely clear in answer to your crucial third question, I don’t think that attempting to deliberately murder Israeli civilians are morally justified in any way.  Such attacks are also profoundly undermining of any attempt at a peace process and of the Abbas government’s attempts to pursue a peaceful diplomatic approach.

As far as I know we don’t sell weapons to Israel although the policy is to consider each export licence on its individual merits and I have to say I would be happier with a clearer policy that ruled out components that could be used in disproportionate Israeli military responses of the kind we have seen in Gaza recently.  Some UK export licences have been granted for potentially defence-related items such as aeronautics software and imaging cameras but a licence for combat aircraft components to be exported to Israel was refused only this summer. 

Best regards

Martin Horwood MP

———

Hi Martin, 

Many thanks for the prompt response.

Some brief rejoinders that, as usual, will be made available to others via Facebook and This is Glos.

Yes, Israel is legally the occupying power, has actively occupied in Gaza and still is actively occupying large parts of the West Bank.  I tend not to use the phrase ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ in debates and elsewhere precisely because I think the simpler term ‘Palestine’ recognises more straightforwardly what should be that country’s equivalent status to ‘Israel’ and is in line with international agencies’ judgement that the Palestinian Authority has now achieved a great deal of the international benchmarks for statehood.  In the specific case of Gaza, Israel is not in active occupation at the moment having passed on administrative authority in 1994 in line with the Oslo Accords and withdrawn altogether in 2005, albeit within all the economic and military constraints that we both know all too well.  Gaza and Palestine will not of course gain true independence until there is a peace settlement.” (Martin Horwood) 

This paragraph would seem to be an answer, of sorts, to questions (1) and (2).  However, from your use of “active occupation” to differentiate between Gaza and the West Bank, it is unclear as to whether or not you actually concur with the British Government (and the United Nations) that Israel remains an “occupying power” in respect of GazaCould you confirm, please?  A simple yes or no will suffice.

Regards your use of “Palestine” rather than “occupied Palestinian territories”, the problem with this is that it potentially obscures the historical reality, namely that Palestine is NOT equivalent to Israel; that Israel occupies Palestine, and – incredibly – has done so since 1967.  This context is crucial both to understanding the dynamics of events in the region AND to securing a just “peace settlement” (as opposed to merely a “peace settlement”). 

But just to be absolutely clear in answer to your crucial third question, I don’t think that attempting to deliberately murder Israeli civilians are morally justified in any way.  Such attacks are also profoundly undermining of any attempt at a peace process and of the Abbas government’s attempts to pursue a peaceful diplomatic approach.” (Martin Horwood) 

This is an obvious strawman.   The “crucial third question” neither states nor implies that firing rockets at civilians is “morally justified”.   Rather, it seeks acknowledgement of something that ought to be uncontroversial:  that the crimes of the occupier warrant greater attention than the crimes of the occupied.  Do you agree with this?    

As far as I know we don’t sell weapons to Israel although the policy is to consider each export licence on its individual merits and I have to say I would be happier with a clearer policy that ruled out components that could be used in disproportionate Israeli military responses of the kind we have seen in Gaza recently.  Some UK export licences have been granted for potentially defence-related items such as aeronautics software and imaging cameras but a licence for combat aircraft components to be exported to Israel was refused only this summer.” (Martin Horwood) 

Well, my question wasn’t really specific to the UK (the US, our “special relation”, is of course the principal culprit), but of course, it is nonsense to suggest that the UK doesn’t sell weapons to Israel.  Sure, some export licences have been refused in recent years, but weapons and, more relevantly, components for use in military equipment (e.g. Head-up displays in attack aircraft) have consistently been sold to Israel since the Oslo Accords.  Thus, the issue isn’t so much that the UK government is giving insufficient support to those resisting occupation, but rather that the UK government (of which you are part!) is ACTIVELY FACILITATING the crimes of the occupier. Early Day Motion 788 seems highly relevant at this juncture – is there any reason you haven’t signed?

Best,

Joe 

Experiences of Occupation – a talk in the Forest of Dean on November 25th

Human-rights observer Jane Harries will be sharing her experiences of occupation at The Bailey Inn, Yorkley on Sunday November 25th at 4pm.
The Bailey Inn is about 2.5 miles from the crossroads on the A48 (on the south side of Blakeney)

Directions:
The road from the A48 takes you through the village of Viney Hill and becomes the main road through Yorkley, continue until you see the Bailey Inn on the left, turn left in front of the pub, the entrance to the car park is on the left side of the pub.

An event on 12th June organised by our friends in Worcester

THESE ARE NOT THE HUNGER GAMES

A Reflection on The Palestinian and Irish Republican Hunger Strikes.

By Jim Bonner.

I worry that the deal reached, with the help of Egypt, might not be the end of the Palestinian Prisoners hunger strikes. We have seen concessions from Israel before which have turned out to be nothing but weasel words.

In the report from Uruknet written by Ali Abunimah (Details emerge of …) we see that this worry is one which Ammadeer share.

I see striking parallels between the hunger strike just ended and The First Hunger Strike of Republican Detainees in Long Kesh (The Maze) in 1980. If you consider The Five Demands below

  1. the right not to wear a prison uniform;
  2. the right not to do prison work;
  3. the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
  4. the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
  5. full restoration of remission lost through the protest.

which were the core ideals of the prisoners you see echoes of the Palestinian demands as stipulated in the press release of  27 September 2011.

Both hunger strikes began as a demand for basic human rights within prisons holding  political prisoners. In Northern Ireland the detainees were stripped of their ‘Political Status’. The result was the beginnings of the Dirty Protests and the rise of  The Blanketmen. These were the precursors of the hunger strikes in Long Kesh.

In Palestine jails many of the ‘prisoners’ are not convicts but internees, again an echo of  Northern Ireland. Will we see another wave of protests if the deal is not honoured?

The next few months will be crucial in seeing if Israel is going to keep it’s word. The politics of the Jewish State is littered with back room deals, every player in the governing Coalition, headed by Netanyahu and The Likud Party, seems to want something for their own constituents rather than solve the Palestinian-Israeli impasse, ignoring any chance of a just cessation of hostilities.

What happen if there is a break from good faith?

History shows what will occur if this happens. In The Fast To The Death lives were lost, but the aftermath was a resurgence of Republican sentiment. In those deaths the seeds of the Peace Process was begun. Bobby Sands MP, with his election to the UK Parliament and the election of Kieran Doherty in the Dail Eireann whilst they were dying reignited in the Irish Republican communities a hope for a better future.

The people overcame the intransigence of successive Governments from both sides of the border, a new politics was created by the voters, not by those who sought to rule. From the embers of the hunger strikes Sinn Fein was reborn as a political entity and, in time, the Provisional IRA and the INLA moved away from the bullet and embraced the ballot.

It is this spirit which will allow the Palestinians to overcome. Unity is strength. Internationally their has been a coming together to support the Palestinian Prisoners. Our job now is to channel this support into a worldwide movement to support all Palestinians, and not only The Men Behind The Wire.

Meeting with Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood on Friday 9th December 2011

Gloucestershire Palestine Solidarity Campaign is meeting with Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood on 9th December 2011. Here are the discussion points for the meeting, which have been emailed in advance to Mr. Horwood:

PSC Group members in Cheltenham would welcome a report on the visit which you made to the West Bank in June. Specifically:

  • In the light of your visit, what do you now see as the key issues in the Israel/Palestine Conflict?
  •  What action have you since taken as a result?
  •  What are your views on the two state solution?
  • How do you see the way forward?

Following your visit Bob Russell MP is reported as saying that, in his view,

“Britain needs to take a more robust line against Israel, with action from the European Union and the United Nations to force Israel to comply with UN resolutions”.

Do you agree?
We were disappointed that in the debate on events in the Middle East and the Middle East peace process which followed the Foreign Secretary’s statement to Parliament on 9th November you did not refer to the issue of Palestine. Rather, your question to the Foreign Secretary related to the criteria for intervention by other states in, for example, the case of Iran.
Current issues for the Group
The Group continues to be concerned about a wide range of specific issues relating to the Israel/Palestine conflict. With regard to the UK Government, these currently include:

  •  The decision to abstain in any vote on the Palestinian President’s request to join the United Nations as a full member state, based on international recognition of the 1967 borders.
  • The Government’s failure to speak out against, or even to acknowledge, the growing development of an apartheid regime, as evidenced both by the treatment of the Arab population as second class citizens within the State of Israel itself and by the IDF’s subjugation and harassment on a daily basis of Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories and the associated denial of basic human rights.
  • The failure of the UK Government to take effective action in response to Israel’s continued confiscation of Palestinian land and the on-going, illegal, settlement building programme (especially that in East Jerusalem), the arbitrary withholding of tax revenues and the failure of the IDF to prevent or intervene in attacks by settlers on the native population. The UK Government’s failure also to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the effect that all of this has in undermining the peace process.
  • The Government’s change in September (on the casting vote of a LibDem Peer, Lord Palmer) of the law on universal jurisdiction.

In the broader context, we are concerned in particular with the need to improve the quality of the lives of ordinary Palestinians living, under occupation, in the West Bank and those in Gaza which remains, effectively, an open prison. We maintain strong, day-to-day contact with many families in the West Bank, especially in Deheishea Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, where we continue to provide financial and material help to around 250 children of the poorest families. This includes help with school fees, clothing for babies and celebratory meals such as Eid. We regularly buy tankers of water to help out on the many occasions when water supplies to the camp fail or are cut off.

Action that we ask you to take in future
The Group congratulates you on your appointment as chair of the Liberal Democrat international affairs team and welcomes the strong influence this gives you in helping to shape policy, at least on the LibDem side of the coalition. We note from Nick Clegg’s website that the party’s pledged is to:
“put British values of decency and the rule of law back at the heart of our foreign policy” and that “the national interest demands that we work with allies, stand up for human rights, and help people in the poorest parts of the world.”

It also states that

“we want to see rules upheld and international law observed.”
We have, however, seen very little in the approach either of the party in general, or in your personal stance in Parliament, that would put these admirable sentiments into practice in relation to the plight of the Palestinian people. We were especially disappointed at the very bland, anodyne tone of your article in the Gloucestershire Echo following your visit to the West Bank in June; a tone which we know to be out of step with the strong sympathy for the Palestinian people felt by very many of your constituents.
We strongly urge you, please, to take a very much more robust stance in:

  •  Making it clear that you support the right to self determination and statehood for the Palestinian people.
  • Accepting unequivocally that any peace settlement must be based on the internationally recognised 1967 borders, and that Jerusalem should be recognised as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
  • Being more willing to condemn Israel’s blatant disregard for human rights, its continuing occupation of the West Bank, and the establishment of ‘facts on the ground’ by illegal settlements and through the on-going blockade of Gaza.
  • Opposing further arms sales to Israel until a just and lasting peace settlement has been negotiated.

We welcome your decision to sign, in October, Early Day Motion 2274 on Prisoner Exchanges and Palestinian Child Prisoners. But we were sorry that you did not sign that also tabled by Richard Burden in October 2010 on the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories (EDM 1068) or EDM 2135 by Ann Clwyd in September on Palestinian Membership of the United Nations. We would ask that you be willing to sign any such future EDMs.
Finally, we would ask that you consider joining the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group, which aims to foster good relations and understanding between Britain and Palestine and to promote a just and durable peace in the Middle East.

Roy Hickey
Chair, GlosPSC
3 December 2011

Cheltenham Event – November 3rd – “Behind the Wall: three months in Bethlehem”

South Cheltenham Churches,

University of Gloucestershire Chaplaincy,

Quaker Peace and Social Witness,

present

“Behind the Wall: three months in Bethlehem”

an illustrated talk by

Bishop Richard Llewellin

7.30pm

Thursday 3 November

in

Lecture Theatre TC014, Park Campus

University of Gloucestershire

Cheltenham

Earlier this year retired Anglican Bishop Richard Llewellin spent three months in Israel/Palestine as an EA – that’s a member of Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which sends out groups of volunteers (EA’s) to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. They’re there to support Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, monitor what happens, report violations, and talk about their experience when they get home.

EAPPI is organized worldwide by the World Council of Churches and UK by Quaker Peace and Social Witness. It was set up in response to a call by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem for a protective presence.

Gloucester Event October 16th – “Israel’s little reported war against the Negev Bedouin”

JEWS FOR JUSTICE FOR PALESTINIANS

GUEST SPEAKER DR AWAD ABU FREIH

VENUE – FRIENDSHIP CAFÉ, BARTON ST,
GLOUCESTER GL1 4HR
SUNDAY OCTOBER 16th 2011 6.45 – 8 PM

FREE ADMISSION – LIGHT REFRESHMENTS PROVIDED

Dr Awad Abu Freih is a Bedouin from Al Araqib, a village demolished 28 times since July 2010. He will speak about Israel’s little reported ‘war’ against the Negev Bedouin, who have been hounded from land they have lived in for hundreds of years. Forced to relocate to huge townships, rife with poverty, unemployment and crime, the Negev Bedouin have seen their land stolen to enable the establishment of Jewish settlements, agricultural projects and forests. Dr Abu Freih coordinates a group ‘Recognition Now’, which brings together Bedouin, Jewish and international groups who are campaigning for Bedouin land and civil rights.

Update on Situation in Deheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem

Water: The water has been on for 1 – 2 days at a time since the new year began. It usually goes off for 2 or 3 weeks.  It came on the day I arrived, 18th March, for 24 hours, then went off until the day before I left, 1st April. It runs slowly so does not fill all the tanks while it is on.
If they run out of water, we buy it in a tanker which delivers to the camp and costs about £55, according to the exchange rate of the shekel to the £ sterling..
There is still a lot of unemployment, and many families without any income, so we try to give each of our 43 families something. They have 223 children between them. We are saving for Ramadan, as they will need extras at that time.
While I was there, there were several Israeli incursions into the camp at night. One night, the house opposite us was entered and searched, and then the people were told they had the wrong name, so it wasn’t them they were looking for!! No apology, or help to put everything back in it’s place. The children were upset.
It seems the Israelis regularly make raids in the camp, and arrest people, with no charges for weeks and months sometimes. My friend works at a hotel in Bethlehem and sometimes has to be there at 5am if a group want early breakfast. it could be around midnight when he returns home, and it is an ordeal for him as if he meets soldiers in the camp, they could arrest him, or question him, which would delay him getting to his work.
There will be closures during the next week or so, as the Easter for Latins,(R/C’s) and Orthodox, is at the same time, which means the Old City will be very crowded as all the celebrations will be taking place at the same time. As it is also the time of Pesach, (Passover), so there will be closures in the West Bank, so people will not be allowed into Jerusalem. This usually causes a lot of problems, as Palestinians may not be allowed to go to work, or to pray in the churches there.
There are extra restrictions now because of the settler family who were killed, although it is thought by many that a Thai worker who was employed by the family murdered them, as he had not received his salary, and was owed 10,000 shekels.
Families are struggling to make ends meet, as prices are going up all the time. Yousef is hoping to come to Cheltenham in December to do some fund raising with me. We would cook Arabic Meals, and sell goods from the Holy Land, and I will give an update of the situation. If anyone would like to host an event, please let us know via the Glos PSC website.
Joanne

New venue for Monthly Branch Meetings

Starting from April 14th we will be holding our  monthly Branch meetings at 7:30pm on the 2nd Thursday of every month at the Milsom Street Day Centre, Cheltenham (Milsom Street is off Lower High Street near the Bingo Hall, the Day Centre is situated approx 50m up on the left). New members always welcome!

Satirical Comedian/Investigative Journalist Mark Thomas is coming to Cheltenham!

Mark Thomas will be performing on the 7th and 8th of February at Cheltenham Town Hall. He will be talking about his recent walk along the entire length of the Israeli Separation Barrier – which he refers to as “extreme rambling”!

From markthomasinfo.com….

NEW Tour – “EXTREME RAMBLING – Walking The Wall”

During 2010 Mark decided to go rambling in the Middle East and walked the entire length of the Israeli Separation Barrier, crossing between the Israeli and the Palestinian side. This is the story of 300 000 settlers, a 750 km wall, six arrests, one stoning, too much humuus and one simple question…

Can you ever get away from it all with a good walk?

Mark has put together a new show recounting the tale of the walk.

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