Friends don’t defend the indefensible

The former Labour and now independent peer Norman Warner sponsored a debate about Palestinian children in the House of Lords just as it was breaking up for the summer recess which produced many powerful speeches, not least from Lord Warner himself.

Here we reproduce a speech by the new Liberal Democrat peer Jonathan Oates as an example of how the strongest criticism of Israel can come from people who regard themselves as friends of Israel:

“My criticisms of the occupation and its inevitable and devastating impacts on Palestinian children arise not out of any hostility to Israel, but, quite the contrary, from a profound respect for the achievements of Israel and its people, and the consequent horror that its values are being so corrupted by the near 50-year occupation and consequent oppression of millions of people. Israel is the only state in the region in which I, as a gay man, could live freely and under the protection of law. I have a great respect for the values of Israel.

“Nevertheless, while there is no comparison between the Government of Israel and that of apartheid South Africa, it is unavoidable and undeniable that many conditions that pertain in the Occupied Territories are similar to those that those of us who spent time in South Africa saw under the apartheid regime: the occupation and settlement of land; the checkpoints; the bulldozing of homes; the military incursions; the detentions of minors; the disregard for legal rights; the night raids; the closed roads; the separate laws; the ongoing humiliations; the deepening anger; the loss of hope; the spread of violence; the settler retaliations; the authorities’ passive and sometimes active acquiescence in the excesses of their own settlers, with whom they inevitably side; and the steady dehumanisation of one side by the other. None of this should be surprising. Whenever one people seeks to rule another through occupation and settlement, it is inevitable that similar methods will be used and similar reactions engendered.

“In all this, children are always in the crossfire: oppressed and exploited by the vile Hamas regime in Gaza and suffering under the suffocating Israeli economic blockade and periodic and overwhelming military assaults in response to Hamas attacks. Or else they are radicalised in the West Bank from years of witnessing their parents humiliated and defeated, and their own aspirations curtailed and destroyed. Hundreds of children are killed, thousands maimed and hundreds of thousands traumatised.

“Given the occupation, it is inevitable that young people come into conflict with the occupying forces. In June 2012 the FCO funded a report into children in military custody, which found that Israel’s military detention system violated six articles under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and two articles under the Fourth Geneva Convention. In February 2013, as has also been alluded to, a UNICEF report described the ill treatment of children in the military detention system as “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.
“B’Tselem itself has reluctantly concluded that there is no point continuing to file complaints against the military detention system as it has no desire to give credence to a justice system in which there is no justice. A review of developments since the 2012 FCO report indicated that just one of the report’s 40 recommendations had been addressed four years later.

“All of us who passionately believe in Israel need to recognise that true friendship does not lie in defending the indefensible. It exists in having the courage to acknowledge and confront the truth. Organisations such as B’Tselem understand this. Their painstaking work does not, as some detractors suggest, give succour to Israel’s enemies. On the contrary, it bears witness to the enduring values for which Israel was created. After the 1967 war, the founding Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, presciently warned that the continued occupation and settlement of the Palestinian Territories would corrupt the valiant soul of Israel. Nowhere is that more evident than in the willingness of the Israeli authorities to countenance the terrible suffering of Palestinian children as an acceptable price of occupation and settlement.”

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Palestine statement from Owen Smith

Thank you to Owen Smith’s team for forwarding us this response from the Labour Leadership team to Grahame Morris MP, chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. We hope this will be helpful for those Labour Party members deciding how to vote.

Owen Smith writes:

“I am proud to be a member of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and I strongly support a viable peace process based on internationally recognised (1967) borders.

“I continue to unequivocally support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recognition of a viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel. The terms of a peace deal are well known and I support them completely: two sovereign states living side by side in peace and security.

“The right to self-determination is an inalienable right for the peoples of both Palestine and Israel. I believe that the state of Palestine should be recognised,within the UN and by the UK, and I voted to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014 as an essential step towards to realising a two-state solution. I recognise that, ultimately, this can only be achieved by both sides sitting down together, with equal status, negotiating in good faith and making some difficult compromises.Peace is not something that can be imposed on either the Israelis or Palestinians by force or diktat.

“I am opposed to violations of international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land. I consider the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal, unjustifiable and detrimental to the prospects of achieving a two-state solution. I also agree that the blockade on Gaza should be lifted and that rocket attacks and terrorism against Israelis must stop.

“I am not convinced that a boycott of goods from Israel would help to achieve a negotiated peace settlement. In order to support the peace process we must build bridges between all those who support peace in the region. My time working in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process showed me that, beyond negotiations, peace only really comes when each side moves towards reconciliation. 

As friends of the people of Israel and Palestine, our most important task is to help foster cooperation and coexistence between both sides and I believe the work of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East makes an important contribution to that understanding.”


Members will already be familiar with Jeremy Corbyn’s views on all these issues. To recap, during the 2015 leadership election Labour Friends of Palestine asked the candidates for their views on six issues: Are settlements illegal? UK recognise Palestine? Lift the blockade of Gaza? Stop settlement trade? Suspend tariff reductions? Stop arms sales? Jeremy Corbyn answered yes to all of them.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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