Month: July 2016

Don’t forget to buy your tickets for the Palestine Youth Orchestra tour

youth orchestraThe decision to bring the Palestine Youth Orchestra to Britain for a summer tour was a brave one.  It’s a monumental task getting visas for 85 young Palestinians.  Unable to rehearse together at home, the PYO have been rehearsing at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland between 18 July and 24 July.

They are playing in Perth, Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff and, finally, on Monday August 1st, at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

In a speech in the House of Lords the Conservative peer Lord Cope, chairman of the UK Friends of the Palestine Conservatory, recounted some of the problems they had had in arranging the tour:

“Music opens hearts, but not quite all hearts. Two 15 year-old students of the Gaza Music School passed auditions to join the tour, necessarily by Skype, as it is the only way they can do it. We got them visas for the UK, but they were refused permission to leave Gaza for the two weeks of the tour by the Israeli occupying power.

“I was told it sometimes gives permission to leave for medical or educational reasons but that participation in the tour was insufficient reason. What a blind counterproductive cruelty that is.”

On their first UK tour, they will perform music by Beethoven, the pop-inspired Metal by British composer Graham Fitkin, songs made famous by legendary Arab singers Fayrouz and Om Kolthoum, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Ludwig Van Beethoven: Overture, Leonore No.3
Graham Fitkin: Metal
Zakaria Ahmad: Biridak ya Khaliki
Rahbani Brothers: Ahtarif al huzna wal intizar
Rahbani Brothers: Rudani ela biladi


Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition orch. Ravel
Arabic improvisation from students

25 July 2016        Perth Concert Hall, Perth, Scotland

01738 621031
26 July 2016        The Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Scotland
0141 353 8000
27 July  2016       Leeds Town Hall, Leeds, England
0113 376 0318
29 July  2016       Birmingham Town Hall, England
0121 345 0600
30 July  2016       St David’s Hall, Cardiff, Wales
029 2087 8444
1 August 2016     Royal Festival Hall, London, England 
020 7960 4200

Boris got up the noses of Palestinians even before he was Foreign Secretary

You will remember that Boris Johnson, our new foreign secretary, had to cut his visit to Palestine short after no less than six meetings were cancelled by Palestinians angry about his comments on the BDS campaign.Boris
During his visit Johnson repeatedly criticised calls for a boycott of Israeli goods as “completely crazy”: “I cannot think of anything more foolish than to say that you want to have any kind of divestments or sanctions or boycott against a country that, when all is said and done, is the only democracy in the region, is the only place that has, in my view, pluralist, open society – why boycott Israel? The supporters of this so-called boycott are really just a bunch of corduroy-jacketed, snaggletoothed, lefty academics who have no real standing in the matter and I think are highly unlikely to be influential in Britain.”
A Travel2Palestine delegation was in Ramallah on the same day as Johnson and, having met the Prime Minister, we were invited to an impromptu meeting with the Minister for Higher Education, Dr Sabri Saidam, who had just cancelled his meeting with Boris.
He was furious with Johnson’s comments but was more than happy to meet our delegation, including Dr Paul Monaghan MP, to make it clear he welcomed British politicians to Ramallah. Just not those who disrespect Palestinians.
Johnson was also disinvited by the Sharek Youth Forum, which posted a statement saying: “Following Johnson’s inaccurate, misinformed and disrespectful statement regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on 9 November, stating that he ‘cannot think of anything more foolish’, it is our conclusion, supported by the Palestinian youth that we represent, he consciously denies the reality of the occupation that continues to oppress them and all Palestinians.
“As Palestinians and supporters of BDS, we cannot in good conscience host Johnson, as a person who denounces the international BDS movement and prioritises the feelings of wearers of ‘corduroy jackets’ over an entire nation under occupation.
“In Johnson’s own words, the ‘only democracy in the region … a pluralist, open society’ is one that oppresses citizens, confiscates land, demolishes homes, detains children and violates international humanitarian and human rights law on a daily basis.”
They may have got the wrong end of the stick about corduroy jackets, but their feelings were shared by all Palestinians.

‘Helping the Arabs to drive tractors’

Another taste of Johnson’s diplomatic talents can be gleaned from this quote where he enlists Churchill to the Israeli cause and casually patronises the Palestinians:
“If we look at the history of modern Israel there is no doubt that there is something Churchillian about the country he helped to create. There is the audacity, the bravery, the willingness to take risks with feats of outrageous derring-do.
“When he wrote his 1922 White Paper that paved the way for accelerated Jewish entry into Palestine, Churchill imagined Jews and Arabs living side by side, with technically expert Jewish farmers helping the Arabs to drive tractors.”
Johnson seems to forget the Palestinians are descended from two of the earliest civilisations on this planet, the Philistines, who came from Greece in the 10th century BC, and the Canaanites who were inventing the world’s first phonetic alphabet while our ancestors were still using flint arrows.

Co-existence is no excuse for ignoring humanitarian needs

International Development questions
Questions Wednesday June 29th 11.30 am
Question 5: Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock): What support her Department provides to projects facilitating peaceful co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis.
MPs from Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel have been targeting the UK’s £72 million aid programme to Palestine, which goes roughly in thirds to the United Nations refugee agency, the Palestine Authority and various ‘co-existence’ projects.
Some MPs have argued the UK should focus all the money on co-existence projects – which is code for saying that it should be withdrawn from the Palestine Authority.
It’s not clear whether Friends of Israel are intending to undermine the precarious position of the moderate Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, but this would undoubtedly be the result of such a policy.
The MPs argue that the money that goes to the Palestinian Authority allows them to use more of their own income to make welfare payments to families of Palestinian prisoners.
There are four answers to this:
The first is humanitarian.”The PA operates social assistance programmes to provide welfare payments to households who have lost their main breadwinner. I hope you will also agree that dependent spouses or children should not be held responsible for the crimes of family members, or forced to live in poverty as a consequence” – former aid minister Sir Alan Duncan.
The second is also humanitarian. Israeli prisons refuse to provide adequate food and shelfter for their 6,000 Palestinian prisoners forcing them to rely on food and clothing brought by relatives who in turn have no income.
“The military prison authority provides detainees with basic food rations once a month. The provided rations do not meet necessary daily requirements, both in terms of quality and nutritional value.” – civil rights organisation Addameer
“The prisons are overcrowded and do not provide adequate shelter against extreme weather; food rations are poor in both quantity and quality, often spoiled or infected with insects and worms; and clean clothes and adequate supplies (such as blankets, mattresses or sanitary cells) are lacking. Many of the prisons are infected with mice and cockroaches and do not have enough, or even proper, ventilation.” Miftah
The third is political. The Palestinian Authority is answerable to Palestinians and it has no intention of abandoning the families of prisoners. As Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations explained to MPs on the Commons International Development Committee:
“The idea that you could have, at this stage in the conflict, a Palestinian Authority that does not treat its prisoners in a certain way, I do not think can exist with the reality we are in.
“If you asked the Northern Ireland warring parties to disavow the people of violence at the wrong moment in that process, one would have undermined that process…
“We de-Palestinianise the PA at our own peril, because the less credibility and legitimacy we impose on it vis-a-vis its own public, the less useful it is, to be honest, for the main purpose it is designed for, which is to be a vehicle for making a peace deal.” Committee report
The 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails include many of the leading Palestinian politicians, such as Marwan Barghouthi, and other elected members of the Palestinian parliament.
The fourth is economic. Palestine would not need any aid from the UK or anywhere else if the Israelis lifted their restrictions on the Palestinian economy.
As the aid minister Sir Alan Duncan said in March 2014: “A 2011 International Monetary Fund report estimated that without movement and access restrictions the Palestinian economy would be 78% larger in terms of GDP a year, amounting to about $6.3 billion. That would remove its dependence on aid.”
Palestinians are entrepreneurial and their economy is very resilient in spite of the crippling burden of the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli theft of land, water and resources in the West Bank, which alone was estimated by the World Bank to cost $3.4 billion a year or 35% of Palestine’s GDP.
The UK’s Palestinian aid budget is a subsidy not so much to Palestinians as to the Israeli government whose obligation it is under international law to shoulder all the costs of occupation.
When this question was last asked:
Ian Austin Just 0.2%—2 pence in every £10—of the £72 million the Department spends in the Palestinian territories goes to co-existence projects bringing Palestinians and Israelis together through the Conflict, Security and Stability fund. Why will the Department not support Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow—MEET—which does brilliant work with Israeli and Palestinian students, or, for example, Save a Child’s Heart? Co-existence and humanitarian work are the two pillars on which peace and a two-state solution will be built.
Aid Minister Desmond Swayne We are strengthening Palestinian institutions and supporting economic development. Last year, we supported 60,000 children in school and created thousands of jobs. Results are monitored quarterly. 

Palestinian-Israeli Co-existence Projects

Aid Minister Desmond Swayne): We support projects that bring Palestinians and Israelis together, to which end we have made provision for funding through our conflict, security and stability fund to support co-existence projects, but I am keen to identify what more we can do.Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what support her Department provides to projects facilitating peaceful co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis. 

Stephen Metcalfe: Why do he and his Department think that it is a good use of taxpayers’ money to continue to support the Palestinian Authority?

Sir Desmond Swayne: The reason why we think it is a good idea to support the Palestinian Authority is that they deliver essential public services, not least healthcare and the education of 770,000 pupils. I believe that it is in our national interest to build up Palestinian institutions so that in a future Palestinian state, they can be reliable and effective partners for peace.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Will the Minister join me in recognising the contribution to peaceful co-existence of Israelis who speak uncomfortable truths, whether that be the Mayor of Tel Aviv speaking out against occupation, the veterans of Breaking the Silence speaking out against the reality of occupation, or Peace Now mapping settlements that are undermining the chances of a two-state solution?

Sir Desmond Swayne: Yes, and I am concerned about any potential closing of space for non-governmental organisations.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Has he examined Save a Child’s Heart, an initiative by the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian children and save their lives?

Sir Desmond Swayne: Yes, I hosted a delegation of Members from across the House who brought this excellent organisation to my attention recently, and my officials are conducting due diligence.

Settler violence – you can experience a settler attack online!

The UN has catalogued 2,598 acts of violence by settlers against Palestinians in the last ten years.
Palestinians report the attacks to the police, but over 90% of the complaints lead to no charges and an infinitesimal number reach court.
Settler violence has been under-reported in UK media. In many villages Palestinians live under a reign of terror from residents of nearby settlements who are allowed to inflict violence on Palestinians and damage their property with impunity.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation that focuses on the occupation, has made available videos of settlers attacking Palestinian villages – with soldiers looking on and in some cases actively helping them.

See the United Nations OCHA Powerpoint presentation on Palestine

The presentation by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) is dry and factual and the commentary is objective and unemotional. But people find it deeply shocking.
We believe every visitor to Jerusalem should see this presentation and we find it very disappointing that all the MPs who come out on ‘fact-finding visits’ with Conservative or Labour Friends of Israel are never allowed to hear the facts in this briefing.
Even without the commentary it is well worth seeing this presentation. The UN has made the latest March 2016 version available online at
It can also be accessed through Dropbox via:

Advice on how to kick racism out of criticism of Israel

Former BBC journalist Robert Cohen has written a useful article on the website “Micah’s Paradigm Shift” giving three pieces of advice to British left-wingers (though it applies equally across the political spectrum) on how to make honest criticisms of the Israeli government without causing offence.
His three pieces of advice are:
  1. Never mention Hitler and Israel in the same sentence. Ditto Zionism and Nazism.
  2. Remember, one person’s settler-colonial project of land appropriation is another person’s expression of national self-determination.
  3. Resist conspiracy theories (especially those involving the words ‘Zionist’ and ‘controlled’)
You might also want to read his article:
“There’s a way to talk about Israel that’s honest and defensible even though it won’t avoid you escaping every accusation of antisemitism. And then there’s a way to talk that leads you into a massive bear trap of your own making.
Language and history are incredibly important when it comes to Israel/Palestine and being sloppy with either gets you into a heap of trouble that ought to be avoidable.
Too often I see those in solidarity with Palestinians lose the plot and allow opponents to grab the agenda and deflect attention from where the suffering really exists.”
Read the full article here:
Here’s another article from a serious (but entertaining) American website called ‘This Is Not Jewish’.  If you want explanations, click the link to their website and you will find a fuller version of their 20 ‘don’ts’.
As they said they had listed them “in no particular order”, we’ve put them in an order that is more topical for the current debate.
  1. Don’t draw any parallels with Germany, Hitler, the Nazis etc 
  2. Don’t say “the Jews” when you mean Israel. 
  3. Don’t say “Zionists” when you mean Israel. 
  4. Don’t claim that anti-semitism is eradicated or negligible.
  5. Don’t say Islamophobia is worse.
  6. Don’t call Jews you agree with “the good Jews.” 
  7. Don’t use your Jewish friends or Jews who agree with you as shields.
  8. Don’t demand that Jews publicly repudiate the actions of settlers and extremists.
  9. Don’t accuse Jewish people living in the UK, the US or elsewhere of dual loyalties or treason.  
  10. Don’t claim that the Jews control the media or banks or any country that isn’t Israel.  
  11. Don’t claim that Jews are ethnically European. 
  12. Don’t claim that Jews “aren’t the true or real Jews.”  
  13. Don’t say that since Palestinians are Semites, Jews/Israelis are antisemitic, too. 
  14. Don’t depict Israelis visually as Jewish stereotypes. 
  15. Don’t use the phrase “the chosen people”.  
  16. Don’t claim that Jews have no real historical connection to Israel/the Temple Mount.  
  17. Don’t depict the Star of David as an equivalent to the Nazi swastika. 
  18. Don’t use crucifixion imagery. 
  19. Don’t use the terms “bloodthirsty,” “lust for Palestinian blood,” or similar.
  20. If a Jewish person accuses you of antisemitism, don’t say ‘Oh my God, Jews think any criticism of Israel is antisemitic! 

Peace initiative launched, but where was our Foreign Secretary?

Every new provocation, every announcement of illegal Israeli settlements to be built on Palestinian land, every violent attack launched by Palestinians on Israeli civilians, emphasises the need for a new peace process.  In a political vacuum people lose hope and the situation deteriorates.
On June 3 the French president François Hollande launched his initiative for peace in the Middle East at a conference in Paris.  For the US John Kerry was there.  For the UN Ban Ki-moon was there. Over 20 countries were there, represented by their foreign ministers.
But where was the UK?  Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was in Nairobi on the last day of a three-day visit to East Africa. He was represented by his junior minister Toby Ellwood.
The question that MPs could ask the Foreign Secretary is this: will the UK put its weight behind the French initiative?  Will he attend the international peace conference that the French are planning later this year?
There have been no peace process since the Kerry talks collapsed in April 2014.  There has been no international conference since Annapolis in 2007.  When there are no talks, things get worse.
The French initiative aims to put Israel-Palestinian peacemaking back on the international agenda and to bring the two sides back to direct talks by the end of 2016.
The French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault understands that letting the status quo continue is like “waiting for a powder keg to explode”. But he is also one of the few Western politicians who understands that direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians “do not work” and only the international community can effect change.
It is now one of the most discredited mantras in the peace process, repeatedly endlessly by Netanyahu but also repeated by Western politicians who should know better, that the conflict can “only” be solved by face-to-face talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Of course a peace process will need to involve face-to-face talks at some stage, but it is only the international community that can persuade the Israeli government to make the fundamental changes in its policies that are needed for peace talks to have any chance of success. By themselves the Palestinians have zero bargaining power.
The Israeli government’s reaction to the latest atrocity in Tel Aviv is a textbook example of what not to do.  First they punish the family of the perpetrators.  Then they punish the village that the perpetrators came from. Then they punish every Palestinian by suspending permits for them to visit the Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan. This policy will inevitably – at some point in the future – push some other young Palestinian to a senseless act of revenge.
Netanyahu should listen to the mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai who told Israel Army radio that the cause of Palestinianian anger is the 50-year occupation of the West Bank and the only solution is to pull back to the borders of Israel where Jewish Israelis have a majority: “We might be the only country in the world where another nation is under occupation without civil rights. We have to show our neighbours that we have true intention to return to a reality of a smaller Jewish State with a clear Jewish majority.”
The central importance of the settlements has been emphasised by recent revelations in the Israeli and American press about the cause of the collapse of the last round of peace talks in April 2014.
It was confirmed on June 6 that the identity of an anonymous American official who blamed Israel for the collapse of the talks was none other than John Kerry’s special envoy who brokered the talks, Martin Indyk. “There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure, but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth – the primary sabotage came from the settlements,” he said.
“The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state. We’re talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less.”
On the following day Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, seemed reluctant to dispel the rumour that the US president might use his final months in office lift the US veto on security council resolutions critical of Israel. Asked if he would allow a resolution calling for an end to settlement building and setting a deadline for an Israel-Palestine peace agreement, she said: “I would be foolish and no one would ever rule out action [on a] hypothetical.”

Foreign Office questions 24 May 2016

Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the extent of radicalisation in the Palestinian Territories.
Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood: I condemn all violence and all efforts to incite or radicalise people to commit violence in the Middle East. During my most recent visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories in February, I raised this issue with the Palestinian Authority and urged them to do more to tackle this issue and make clear their opposition to violence.
Craig Tracey: Last week, the Fatah party in Palestine described the terrorist who killed 26 people and wounded more than 80 in a shooting attack at a Israel’s main airport in 1972 as a “hero” and said it was “proud of every fighter who has joined our mighty revolution” against Israel. Does the Minister agree that the success of the two-state solution that we all want rests upon the Palestinian Authority starting to teach its young people about peaceful coexistence?
Mr Ellwood: He makes an important point about peaceful coexistence. It is important that President Abbas condemn statements such as that when they are made. I have noticed a disjunct between the elderly leadership and the youth, who feel disfranchised and so are taking matters into their own hands. I looked into the particular claim that my friend has raised; I understand that it was placed on Facebook and so was not attributed to a particular Minister, as has been the case in the past. Nevertheless, it should be condemned and removed, as he indicated.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab):  Does the Minister agree that people’s expectation that they will be able to carry on living in their own homes would not normally be regarded as a sign of radicalisation? He will know that in the past week he has received a number of parliamentary questions from me and others about the fact that more than 90 Palestinian Bedouins, mostly children, have lost their homes in the village of Jabal al-Baba. He has said in his written answers that the Foreign Office condemns that but also that it has not raised that specific case with the Israeli authorities. Is it not time to do so, not least because the demolished structures are EU funded?
Mr Ellwood: I fully concur with the spirit of what he has said. I have visited one of the Bedouin camps. I should make it clear that that situation is different from the situation for those based in the occupied Palestinian territories; some are being removed in green line Israel, as well. These people are reliant on farming and so need space, so there is the internal issue of making sure that they are given the same amount of space if there is a requirement for them to be moved.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the effect of the recent activities of Hamas in Gaza on the Middle East peace process.
Mr Ellwood: The recent activities of Hamas in Gaza, including attempts to rearm and rebuild tunnel infrastructure, undermine efforts to improve the situation in Gaza and harm prospects for the Middle East peace process. Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza must permanently end rocket fire and other attacks against Israel.
Mrs Ellman In April, two new terror tunnels built by Hamas to launch attacks on Israeli civilians were discovered. Does the Minister believe that Hamas is planning new attacks on Israel?
Mr Ellwood: As I said earlier, I believe that is a worrying development, and we seek to place pressure on Hamas, and all those close to it, to recognise that it will take us back to where we were two years ago, unless there is a direction of travel.
John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Does the Minister place any significance on the founding charter of Hamas, which is clearly, or to a large extent, a stream of the most visceral antisemitism, and even includes approving references to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”?
Mr Ellwood: I have many conversations about that situation and the challenges we face in the Middle East, not least in Gaza and the West Bank. A number of commentators have said, “You need to speak to Hamas; you need to get them to the table”, but until Hamas changes its constitution, in which it clearly does not recognise the state of Israel, it will be impossible for us to move forward.
David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab):  Earlier questions have referred to the Middle East, and to deploring extremism wherever it may be found. Is it not a matter of grave concern that the new Israeli Defence Minister is extremely right-wing and ultra-nationalist? He said last year that what he described as “disloyal” Israeli Arabs should be beheaded. Does that not illustrate how far the Israeli Government have gone in their extremism and their rejection of any idea of a two-state solution, and should that not be condemned?
Mr Hammond: It is a matter of grave concern. The polarisation of views in Israel/Palestine makes it less likely that we shall be able to achieve the two-state solution that the House and most of the world so ardently crave, and harder for us to do so.