What happened to the two-state solution?

I thought, and certainly President Obama thought, that Israel and Palestine were pursuing a two state solution.

The key issues to be resolved with regard to this 60 year conflict are as follows:

1. Borders and security

2. End of belligerence

3. Status of Jerusalem

4. Refugee issues

5. Israeli settlements on the West Bank/Judea-Samaria

It’s very easy to get confused with long litany of “peace agreements” , accords, understandings etc. We have Oslo, Geneva, Camp David, Taba, Annapolis, road map, Saudi Plan and so on.

Despite Ehud Barak offering Yasser Arafat 95-7% of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and compensation for refugees, not only was the offer rejected, without a counter proposal,  to the dismay of all involved, including the Saudi Ambassador, but Arafat issued orders for the Second Intifada covering his own inability to confront the possibility of a just peace and leading to the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis.

Now the Netanyahu government is turning away from seeking a  final status solution, including the two-state solution and instead is following a course to ameliorate the conditions on the West Bank and to improve the infrastructure and living standards of Palestinians.

At the same time it is saying that it will honour all previous agreements. It’s getting very confusing. Clearly, the Netanyahu government has decided to follow its own agenda in the apparent belief that there is no current partner for peace. Netanyahu is, therefore, giving the distinct impression that he has accepted a sort of de facto annexation of the West Bank as part of Israel but with Palestinian autonomy.

Whilst Netanyahu kicks the two-state solution into the long grass, Mahmoud Abbas and the PA continue with their own maximalist agenda: Jerusalem is Muslim only and Jews have no claims to it or to any of Palestine (that means Israel too).

Let’s take a look at some recent pronouncements:

Yesterday the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser issued the following:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today (Wednesday), 28.5.09, convened the Ministerial Committee on Improving the Situation of the Palestinian Residents of Judea and Samaria.  At the start of the meeting, he said that advancing economic projects for the Palestinian population of Judea and Samaria would a better economic, social and political reality and would improve the Palestinians’ quality of life and personal welfare.

Note “would be a better… reality”. This means better than pursuing any further peace negotiations which both Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have rejected as having a history of leading not to peace but to Israeli concessions and Palestinian violence.

The communique continues:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak presented economic projects in the PA, including: The establishment of an industrial zone in the Mukibleh-Jenin area of northern Samaria, the establishment of an industrial zone for the processing and marketing of agricultural produce in Jericho, the establishment of an industrial zone in the Hebron-Tarkumiyeh area, the establishment of an industrial zone in Bethlehem, environmental protection projects (waste disposal and sewage treatment sites) and the establishment of a Palestinian city near Ramallah.  He noted that approximately 100 projects in various fields in the PA areas of Judea and Samaria are currently in various planning stages.

And so it continues. The strategy here appears to be that an economically stronger Palestine with greatly improved living standards would lead to the de-radicalisation of certain elements with Palestinian society on the West Bank. This in turn would lead to the easing of security arrangements and a better quality of life.

Although I can only applaud the improving of Palestinian economic conditions and easing of restrictions, if they result from this strategy, I also have an impression that this is the language of quasi-annexation. It certainly does not address Palestinian self-determination or any of the agenda items at the top of this page.

Yesterday Arutz 7 reported :

Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon believes that the time has come for Israel to “free itself from the failed paradigm” of the “two-state solution.” Yaalon spoke Tuesday at a meeting of MKs dedicated to finding an alternative to the creation of a Palestinian Authority-led Arab state.

While the creation of a PA-led state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is perceived as a necessity both in Israel and worldwide, such a state would not solve the Israel-PA conflict, said Yaalon. In fact, he said, it is doubtful that the possibility of creating such a state exists, due to Arab and Muslim reluctance to take any step that would imply recognition of Israel or compromise on Arab claims to the entire Land of Israel.

Meanwhile President Obama is advancing his “peace plan” although we only know vaguely what it entails. The Jerusalem Post reported:

US President Barack Obama’s statements about how to advance the peace process do not differ significantly from those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post…

He denied reports in the Hebrew press that Obama had drafted a Middle East peace plan calling for a democratic, contiguous and demilitarized Palestinian state whose borders would be determined by territorial exchanges with Israel.

According to the reports, the Old City of Jerusalem would be established as an international zone. The initiative would require the Palestinians to give up their claim of a “right of return,” and Europe and the US would arrange compensation for refugees, including passports for those residing abroad.Arab countries would institute confidence-building measures to clear the air with Israel. When Palestinian statehood would be achieved, diplomatic and economic relations would be established between Israel and Arab states.

“I don’t know of any Obama plan that has been finalized,” said Ayalon, who has been briefed on the closed-door meetings between Netanyahu and Obama. “Don’t believe the headlines. What was in the papers was mere speculation, and there is no substance to it,” he said.

So what IS the plan?

Ayalon said his Israel Beiteinu Party would oppose the internationalization of Jerusalem and the relinquishing of Israeli sovereignty in the “holy basin” around the Old City. He said the party would also insist that Israel not take in a single Palestinian refugee, citing legal, moral and historical grounds.

Tzipi Livni now leader of Kadima said in the Knesset:

“We will not be able to keep Jerusalem if we say no to everything, or if out of fear we adopt unwillingness as a policy and frozenness as an ideology,” Livni said. “I believe that it is possible, through proper management, to make the world understand the things that are important to us, and with them we can keep Israel as a national home for the Jewish people and Jerusalem as its eternal capital.”

Wow! She thinks she can make the world “understand” – that’s more ambitious than a peace settlement given the world’s hatred of the only democratic and free country in the Middle East.

And she seems to fear not just losing Jerusalem but Israel itself as the home of the Jewish people!

Silvan Shalom, Vice Premier puts it most succinctly:

“There aren’t two Jerusalems. Jerusalem will not be divided. Jerusalem will remain the eternal capital of Israel. It’s not a promise. It’s a fact. Jerusalem will not be a topic for compromise.”

Now if you think that’s all a bit uncompromising let’s look what the PA are saying.

Again in the Jerusalem Post, reacting to rumours of a Obama’s “peace plan” President Mahmoud Abbas said:

One PA official said Abbas and his aides were currently studying which, he added, included “several positive points.” The official stressed, however, that some of the proposals mentioned in the plan were completely unacceptable to the Palestinians. These proposals, he said, included the talk about resettling Palestinian refugees in Arab countries, swapping lands between the future Palestinian state and Israel, creating a demilitarized state and granting the Old City of Jerusalem the status of an international city.

“The Palestinian position on these issues is very clear,” explained another PA official. “We insist on the right of return for all refugees on the basis of United Nations resolution 194, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with all of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as its capital.”

The official said the PA had, in the past, rejected the idea of establishing a demilitarized state and swapping land with Israel.

“The only way to achieve real and lasting peace is by forcing Israel to withdraw from all the territories that were occupied in 1967,” he said.

The interpretation of resolution 194 is highly problematical. 194 does not offer a “Right of Return” nor does it mention Palestinian refugees exclusively. See this article for a full discussion.

The Palestinian position is still maximalist in that it demands ALL of Jerusalem and ALL refugees returning to Israel. As Alan Dershowitz so succinctly puts it:

… the only justification for Palestinians opting to exercise their right of return would be a macropolitical, rather than a microhumanitarian, one. It would be part of a large-scale, carefully orchestrated plan to return millions of Palestinians to Israel in order to overwhelm the Jewish state with a Palestinian majority. (The Case for Peace, John Wiley and Sons, inc. p. 47)

No Israeli government can ever agree to that and the Palestinians know it.

As for Jerusalem, the PA has and continues to make obnoxious statements which deny that Jerusalem was ever Jewish, that the Temple was was not built there, the Torah was altered to lay false historic claim to the Holy Land and all Jewish claims to Israel are bogus. This is nothing less than the negation of Jews and Judaism by denying there clear and evidenced historical connections to the Land of Israel.

June 1st 2008 worldnetdaily.com reporter Aaron Klein provided the following report:

“Jerusalem is Muslim. The blessed Al Aqsa mosque and Harem Al Sharif (Temple Mount) is 100 percent Muslim. The Israelis are playing with fire when they threaten Al Aqsa with digging that is taking place,” said Abbas’ chief of staff Rafiq Al Husseini.

WND also reported March 15th 2007:

The Jewish Temples never existed, the Western Wall really was a tying post for Muhammad’s horse, the Al Aqsa Mosque was built by angels, and Abraham, Moses and Jesus were prophets for Islam.

All this according to Sheikh Taysir Tamimi, chief Palestinian Justice and one of the most influential Muslim leaders in Israel. Tamimi is considered the second most important Palestinian cleric after Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

… Tamimi, who preaches regularly from the Al Aqsa Mosque, claimed Jews have no historical connection to Jerusalem or Israel and that the Jewish Temples never existed.

“Israel started since 1967 making archeological digs to show Jewish signs to prove the relationship between Judaism and the city and they found nothing. There is no Jewish connection to Israel before the Jews invaded in the 1880’s,” said Tamimi…

“About these so-called two Temples, they never existed, certainly not at the Haram Al- Sharif (Temple Mount),” Tamimi said.

This is the same Sheikh Tamimi who ranted against Israel in front of Pope Benedict as I reported here.

Previously, a leader of the Waqf, the Islamic authority which manages the Temple Mount, was dismissed for stating the Jewish temples existed on the site of the Al Aksa mosque and that denying it is purely political.

The PA is supposed to be “moderate”. Maximalist positions are not moderate. In fact maximalist Palestinian positions and historical revisionism by its lay and religious leaders only give fuel to the current Israeli government to claim there is no point in pursuing solutions using old formulas which have always been rejected.

So we now have two entrenched positions.

Meanwhile President Obama seems to be moving ahead like someone driving a buggy without the horses.

Ken Loach and the politics of spite (2)

For the first part of this saga see my previous post here.

Having sent off my email to the EIFF (Edinburgh International Film Festival) last week in light of its craven submission to the bullying Ken Loach (who blackmailed the EIFF on behalf of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Committee to return to the Israeli embassy a miserable £300 which it had given to enable the Israeli film maker Tali Shalom Ezer to make it to Edinburgh where her film is to be shown), I received the following canned (that is automatic and unthinking) email reply:

In the light of recent press reports and in the interests of clarity:

 The Edinburgh International Film Festival is well known for bringing together people from all over the world, regardless of race or religion, to screen and appreciate films for their own sake and we look forward to continuing this important mission. The programmed film screenings of SURROGATE remain as advertised, and the filmmaker will also attend the Festival as planned.

 Statement from Iain Smith, EIFF Chair:

 “On behalf of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I apologise sincerely for the distress many people have felt at changes in the arrangements for bringing the producer and director of the film ‘Surrogate’ to the Festival. Clearly we didn’t appreciate enough that our Festival cannot keep itself entirely detached from very serious geopolitical issues and I am instituting a review of our procedures to ensure that there can be no repeat incident. Nevertheless, this experience has strengthened our belief in the need for film to bring people together and I hope very much that many will want to attend this year’s Festival where filmmakers from 33 countries and diverse backgrounds and beliefs will be screening their films.”

But this is no defence at all because it states that “our Festival cannot keep itself entirely detached from very serious geopolitical issues”. This is exactly the point. To remain independent this is precisely what it must do. The EIFF cannot give in to pressure from one group with a particular axe to grind. Where would it all end. Does the EIFF’s response to intimidation depend on the  prestige and perceived clout of the person or organisation doing the blackmailing.

Remember what Ken Loach said:

 The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable. With regret, I must urge all who might consider visiting the festival to show their support for the Palestinian nation and stay away.

We shall leave aside Loach’s one-sided and ideological reading of the Gaza conflict and its profound mendacity about the actual events and its ignoring of the true crimes committed by Hamas, but let’s consider what the EIFF actually did:

They returned the £300 and instead donated the money to Tali Shalom Ezer themselves. By so doing they committed two errors of judgement: 1) They succumbed to political pressure and compromised their independence and their own principles 2) They singled out Israel which is a political judgement in which they are now complicit.

Either the EIFF is an organisation dedicated to films “for their own sake” as they proclaim or it is not.

What criteria did they use to decide to give in to Loach? Was it his threat? Is it that he represents the Film Industry, which I doubt?  Which other public figures or organisations would they be willing to kow-tow to and for what reasons?

The EIFF has shown itself to be cowardly and unprincipled in giving in to a petty-minded bigot representing a group with a particular political agenda against a particular country. The net result as far as Ezer is concerned is zero. If I were her I’d withdraw my film. The net result as far as publicity and propaganda for the SPSC and Ken Loach’s particular brand of left-wing animus against a democratic state exercising its right of self defence is a resounding victory.

I am quite certain that Loach would not complain about a Palestinian film because Hamas commit war crimes by launching rockets against civilian targets. And I am damn certain no Israeli or Jewish group would be so crass as to try Loach’s particular form of censorship and boycott by threat.

 

 

Celebrating independence, commemorating the Nakba and the question of loyalty

On the 14th May 1948, Israel declared its independence as a state in Tel Aviv. This day corresponds to the Hebrew date of the 5th Iyar and it is on that date that Israelis celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, have long reserved the day after Israeli Independence day, May 15th, as a day of national mourning.

The Yisrael Beitenu party put forward a new law, the Nakba Law, which passed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation stage on Sunday. The Law seeks to make illegal and punishable with up to 3 years in prison any celebration in Israel of the Nakba.

Although receiving some media attention, it has largely been ignored outside of Israel where it has caused, according to the Jerusalem Post “a maelstrom of criticism”.

Some background.

There was no Palestinian state in 1948.

The Palestinian leadership and the Arab nations had rejected the 1937 Peel Commission plans for a two-state solution and the 1947 UN Partition plan, preferring instead to go to war against the nascent Jewish State.

In July 2000 at Camp David, Yasser Arafat walked out of negotiations with Ehud Barak after being offered approximately 97% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, East Jerusalem as a capital and $30 billion dollars in compensation for refugees. At the time, Prince Bandar ibn Sultan, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia, who was present when this offer was made  said: “If Arafat does not accept what is available now, it won’t be a tragedy, it will be a crime.”

Arafat offered no counter-proposals and went home to give orders to commence the Second Intifada.

Dennis Ross, chief UN negotiator blamed Arafat for the breakdown of the talks. You can see a full discussion of this topic and the Palestinian attempts at obfuscation here.

Let me make it quite clear; I agree with Michael Eitan (Minister for Improvement of Government Services), Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, Dan Meridor and Minister without Portfolio, Benny Begin who submitted the following appeal against the decision on Monday (and three other ministers did the same). In the same article, the Jerusalem Post says the appeal states “This bill harms freedom of speech and right to demonstrate, which are basic rights in a democratic country. This bill will increase the isolation and alienation felt by the Israeli Arab community and will strengthen radical elements within it..” (my emphasis)

Of course, the Nakba is blamed on the Zionists not on the rejectionists. Instead of a “catastrophe” the Palestinians could be celebrating 61 years of their state in the vast majority of the British Mandate Palestine and the Israelis would be confined to a small northern enclave. The true catastrophe for the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbours is that then, as now, many are more intent on destroying Israel than creating their own state.

If Arafat had said “yes” in 2000 thousands of live lost in the Intifada could have been saved and Hamas would probably not have been elected and would remain a marginalised extremist group outlawed both by Israel AND Palestine.

Let’s make a distinction here which is important. Nakba commemorations by Palestinians outside Israel are nothing to do with the Israeli government. If the Palestinians wish to continue with their self-deluding national narrative and blame Israel for their continuing plight even though they had at least three chances for their own state and were let down by their own leadership, that’s up to them. In fact, the true narrative behind the Nakba is not a two-state solution at all, but a one-state Palestinian solution.

But Nakba commemoration by Israeli Arabs, is a somewhat different matter.  

Firstly, isn’t it strange that they have the freedom to do demonstrate against their own country’s creation, a freedom which would not be afforded to them in Gaza with Hamas, in the West Bank with the PA or in any other Arab country. The Israeli Arabs are more free than their counterparts anywhere in the Arab world which is why the vast majority of them have expressed the desire to remain Israeli citizens were there ever to be a Palestinian state (78% in 2007 according to A-Sinara, an Arabic newspaper published in Nazareth).

The health of Israeli Arabs is better then their counterparts elsewhere in the Arab world. Life expectancy has increased and infant mortality has dropped enormously since 1948. Indeed, between 1967 and 1995 (when the PA took over control of the West Bank and Gaza), health and education skyrocketed for Palestinians under Israeli occupation compared with Jordanian and Egyptian occupation. As far as I know, there was no commemoration or mourning of being occupied by Jordan or Egypt and no such commemoration would have been permitted.

While conceding that the Arab population does face problems of discrimination and reduced levels of health and education opportunities compared to Jewish Israelis, the ongoing conflict must have considerable impact on these sectors and perhaps, too, cultural differences. Within Israel there are many (Jewish or joint Jewish/Arab) organisations which assist the Arab population to improve its living standards and to champion their rights as equal citizens.

Notwithstanding these problems, it is revealing that the majority still wish to remain within Israel rather then become citizens of a future Palestine. 

It will be interesting to see whether this Bill and the more offensive Loyalty Oath Bill (which seeks to impose an Oath of loyalty to Israel as a Zionist state) will get any further and if they do become law whether they will or can be implemented in practice. The JP ends its piece with:

President Shimon Peres, meanwhile, responded Monday to a journalist’s question on the bill by saying that no decision by the Knesset could overrule the feelings of any person. 

This is the fundamental issue at stake: you cannot legislate loyalty in a true democracy. There are many French Canadians who would like to separate from Canada and there are many Scots who want to destroy the United Kingdom and they have a perfect right to say so and to form parties to agitate for such a cause. Although it is understandable that, given the history of the region, Jewish Israelis and, indeed, may Arabs Israelis, look on Nakba commemorations as disloyal and provocative, I cannot believe how Lieberman and his cohorts cannot see how damaging to Israel’s democratic credentials such a law would be.

The supporters of this Bill would do well to remember that in the British parliament, for example, it has always been necessary for a Member of Parliament to swear an Oath of Allegiance. Until 1888 this Oath effectively prevented professing Jews and Catholics, other faiths and atheists from becoming MP’s because it enjoined them to swear allegiance not just to the monarch but to aspects of the Protestant faith. This goes back to the Test Act of 1673 which effectively equated loyalty to the state to loyalty to not just the Crown but the faith the Crown was defending. The exact words included in the oath were “on the true faith of a Christian” i.e Protestantism.

Even now Republican Sinn Fein MP’s do not sit in the House of Commons because they will not take the Oath of Allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. No-one is supporting the expulsion to the Republic of Ireland of Sinn Fein members who do not take a loyalty oath. Any such move would be considered inflammatory and counter-productive and also illegal. There are and have never been any moves within the UK for its existing citizens outside of parliament or the armed forces to take any form of loyalty oath to the Crown or parliament. However, new citizens are required to do so as they are in almost every other democracy. This makes sense: if you are actively seeking to become a citizen of a country it is incumbent upon you that you should agree publicly to be loyal to that country. But if you are a citizen by birth or accident your loyalty is always assumed. 

Here’s an interesting thought on which to end: if, in the future, ultra-orthodox Jews decide to remain in a Palestinian state on the West Bank because they believe that they are fulfilling a Divine wish to inhabit the Land, would they be prepared to take a loyalty oath to promise to be good citizens of an Islamic State? Should they even be asked? But if it did happen, I can absolutely assure you that there would not be an iota of protest by the world’s media outside of Israel.

Ken Loach and the politics of spite

Ken Loach is at it again.

The Scotsman website reports:

ORGANISERS of the Edinburgh International Film Festival have been forced to return a donation from the Israeli embassy after director Ken Loach waded into the funding row and called for people to boycott the event on political grounds…

A donation – believed to be in the region of £300 – was to have been used to pay travel costs to the capital for Tali Shalom Ezer, a graduate of the film and television department at Tel Aviv University, who directed a short feature film, Surrogate…

The SPSC then enlisted the support of Mr Loach, well known for his support of Palestinian human rights.

Mr Loach released a statement through the SPSC which read: “I’m sure many film-makers will be as horrified as I am to learn the Edinburgh International Film Festival is accepting money from Israel. The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable. With regret, I must urge all who might consider visiting the festival to show their support for the Palestinian nation and stay away.

The following day the EIFF – which has since been in talks with Mr Loach – did a U-turn. It said: “The EIFF are firm believers in free cultural exchange and do not wish to restrict film-makers’ abilities to communicate artistically with international audiences on the basis that they come from a troubled regime.

Although the festival is considered wholly cultural and apolitical, we consider the opinions of the film industry as a whole and, as such, accept that one film-maker’s recent statement speaks on behalf of the film community, therefore we will be returning the funding issued by the Israeli embassy.

I was so incensed that I wrote the following letter to the EIFF:

Dear EIFF

 I am writing in utter disbelief at your craven surrender to the threats from Ken Loach to organise a boycott of the EIFF as a result of the Israeli embassy funding one of their citizens a mere £300 so they could come to Edinburgh. Loach’s  pusillanimity is only matched by your cowardice in the face of unwarranted intimidation, interference with your own internal affairs and the compromise of your principles.

 In the words of your own Ginnie Atkinson:

 “Choosing not to accept support from one particular country would set a dangerous precedent by politicising what is a wholly cultural and artistic mission. We are firm believers in free cultural exchange, and do not feel that ghettoising filmmakers or restricting their ability to communicate artistically on the basis that they come from a troubled territory is of any benefit. Nor do we see that filmmakers are voices of their government. It is particularly important in situations of strife and conflict that artists be supported in having their voices heard*”

 After receiving a threat this turned to:

“The EIFF are firm believers in free cultural exchange and do not wish to restrict film-makers’ abilities to communicate artistically with international audiences on the basis that they come from a troubled regime.

“Although the festival is considered wholly cultural and apolitical, we consider the opinions of the film industry as a whole and, as such, accept that one film-maker’s recent statement speaks on behalf of the film community, therefore we will be returning the funding issued by the Israeli embassy.”

Since when does Mr Loach speak on behalf of the film industry? And even if he does, so what.

 I understand that you have funded Shalom Ezer from your own funds. This would be laudable were it not an admission that your organisation does not agree with Loach’s position but still decides to give in to threat.  This is mere hypocrisy from the EIFF.

 The lessons of history tell us that if as a society we sacrifice our principles on the altar of bigotry that society is doomed.

*Quoted in Harry’s Place

The pettiness of this affair is indicative. What if it were a Zimbabwean director or an Iranian, Sudanese, Sri Lankan. In the distorting prism of Loach and the outraged righteous of Scotland only Israelis are to be singled out even when the director and the subject-matter are completely apolitical. For a £300 grant. 

Meanwhile, in Israel, I have it on good authority that Loach’s films are still aired without threat of boycott. 

Correction: Sheikh Tamimi

Apparently Sheikh Tamimi is no longer a member of the board of One Voice as I incorrectly posted yesterday.

Sheikh Tamimi’s hypocrisy, the Pope and the tightrope

Today Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Israel for a state visit which was always going to be fraught with opportunities to embarrass and be embarrassed; after all, His Holiness served in the Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht, albeit briefly, albeit when he was very young and almost certainly against his will. Indeed, he actually deserted from the Wehrmact in the last days.

More recently he agreed to the rehabilitation of Levebrian priests including Bishop Richard Williamson, a British bishop who believes the Holocaust, one of the most documented events in human history, may have been exaggerated.

“I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler”

 “I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them in gas chambers”

This in an interview on Swedish television. Williamson, then went off to a dinner party with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and David Irving.

The Pope was also in hot water because, true to his conservative type, has issued a Motu Proprio authorising wider use of the Latin or Tridentine Mass that includes the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews.

If all this wasn’t enough, he has also begun the process of beatification of his predecessor pope Pius XII whom the Jews and many others believe did not do enough to protest the treatment of Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust and, although he dropped some strong hints, never actually publicly condemned the Nazis or the their anti-Semitic policies. In an effort to counter these claims the Vatican has, belatedly, published a number of documents showing how Pius XII, working behind the scenes, did much to help the Jews during this period. History may have to make some revisions with respect to the silence of Pius but it is unlikely to overturn history’s judgement.

So His Holiness arrives with three strikes already against him in his dealing with Jews and, therefore, the State of Israel. He had some serious fences to mend, banana skims to avoid and tightropes to walk.

With regard to Islam he wasn’t doing too well either having quoted the following:

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

Oh dear. Has anyone ever issued a fatwa against a Pope?

However, he was quoting from an obscure 14th century emperor, Manuel II Paleologus. I shan’t attempt to go into the deep theological content of this lecture, at Regensburg University in 2006, but suffice it say he upset a lot of Muslims. There was a clear lack of understanding of what a Pope should be saying about other religions even if he is quoting as part of a much wider discussion. He apologised afterwards but the genie was out of the bottle, as it were.

So it must have been with some trepidation that he set foot in the Holy Land, first visiting Jordan and today arriving in Israel where he found himself in Jerusalem at the Notre Dame Jerusalem Centre with Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen and Sheikh Taysir al Tamimi who is a cleric and also a jurist as well as been a fierce Palestinian patriot.

The Sheikh is on the board of OneVoice, whose website describes itself as: 

… an international mainstream grassroots movement with over 650,000 signatories in roughly equal numbers both in Israel and in Palestine, and 2,000 highly-trained youth leaders. It aims to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates, empowering them to seize back the agenda for conflict resolution and demand that their leaders achieve a two-state solution guaranteeing the end of occupation, establishing a viable independent Palestinian state, and ensuring the safety and security of the state of Israel – allowing both people to live in peace with all their neighbors. 

A noble cause indeed. Please note: “It aims to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates..”

One would assume, therefore, that its Board members would be moderates and always act and behave in the spirit of the organisation they represent, even if not doing so officially.

 

The purpose of the meeting of Jerusalem’s three faith communities at the Notre Dame Centre was “inter-religious dialogue”, something, no doubt, that OneVoice would support.

In an unscheduled speech the Sheikh, board member of OneVoice, certainly took the opportunity to have his voice amplified. Speaking in Arabic, according to the Jerusalem Post:

accused Israel of murdering women and children in Gaza and making Palestinians refugees, and declared Jerusalem the eternal Palestinian capital. 

Fine. The  Sheikh is entitled to air his views but it was certainly not in the spirit of the meeting or likely to further the causes of peace. 

The Pope shook his hand and walked out thus neatly ending his first high-wire sortie. His Press Officer, Father Federico Lombardi, then provided the safety net:

L’intevento dello sceicco Tayssir Attamimi non era previsto dagli organizzatori dell’incontro. In un evento dedicato al dialogo, tale intervento è stato una negazione del dialogo. Ci si augura che questo incidente non comprometta la missione del Papa diretta a promuovere la pace e il dialogo tra le religioni, come egli ha chiaramente affermato in molti discorsi  di questo viaggio. Ci si augura anche  che il dialogo interreligioso nella Terra Santa non venga compromesso da questo incidente.

(The intervention of Sheikh Tayssir Attamimi was not scheduled by the organizers of the meeting. In a meeting dedicated to dialogue this intervention was a direct negation of what a dialogue should be. We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the Pope aiming at promoting peace and also interreligious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions during this pilgrimage. We hope also that interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident.)

The Pope was clearly embarrassed by this but his reaction was dignified and appropriate. The Sheikh’s behaviour, whatever his conviction, was an insult to the Pope and opportunistic.

The Sheikh has form. He did a similar thing in the same place when Pope John Paul II visited in 2000. You would have thought they would be forewarned, but they could hardly not invite him. On that occasion the Sheikh was decidedly not speaking in the spirit of OneVoice as the JP points out:

Never referring to Israel by name, Tamimi had called on “the occupier” to stop “strangling Jerusalem and oppressing its residents.”

Singling out land confiscations, house demolitions, settlements and the Baruch Goldstein shooting in 1994, Tamimi said that Israel had a long record of “genocide” and “shooting and wounding Palestinian children.”

 This is verging on the rhetoric of Hamas with its lies about genocide and targeting of children.

But here’s the hypocrisy bit. Whilst Jews, Christians and Muslims, and indeed all religions, are allowed freedom of religious practice and access to their holy places in Israel, in Bethlehem, for example, which is under Palestinian Authority control, Christians, one time the majority, are being driven out by religious intolerance from Muslims.

In this JP article two years ago: 

A number of Christian families have finally decided to break their silence and talk openly about what they describe as Muslim persecution of the Christian minority in this city. 

The move comes as a result of increased attacks on Christians by Muslims over the past few months. The families said they wrote letters to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Vatican, Church leaders and European governments complaining about the attacks, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. 

According to the families, many Christians have long been afraid to complain in public about the campaign of “intimidation” for fear of retaliation by their Muslim neighbors and being branded “collaborators” with Israel. 

But following an increase in attacks on Christian-owned property in the city over the past few months, some Christians are no longer afraid to talk about the ultra-sensitive issue. And they are talking openly about leaving the city. 

But Arab propaganda says otherwise and blames, you guessed it, the Israelis. Here’s Al Jazeera:

Bethlehem’s mayor explains that the worsening conditions under the Israeli occupation are the main reasons for the “Christian exodus”.

Victor Batarseh says that the Christians are leaving because of the stress of occupation, the lack of jobs and worsening economic situation in the territories, the constant fear of war and military incursions and the continuous building of roadblocks and the wall.

“It is much easier for a Christian Palestinian to get a visa to a Western country than a Muslim Palestinian,” Batarseh said.

“So because it is easier they are able to leave.”

Yeah right. The Muslim Palestinians really find it hard to get to the West. According to Abbas Shiblak, The Palestinian Diaspora in Europe: Challenges of Dual Identity and Adaptation, (ISBN 9950-315-04-2) more than 10,000 Palestinians arrived in Britain alone in the 1990’s. It records, as of 2001, 191,000 Palestinians resident in Europe. 

Sadly, but predictably, most commentators take the Al Jazeera line, even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who just concedes that the plight of Christians is a result of occupation whilst ignoring the fact that Bethlehem is behind a barrier because 50 percent of all suicide bombers came from Bethlehem.

So when the Pope visits the remnants of the Christian community under the PA rule he might wish to take some of its leaders aside and ask them discreetly why Christians thrive in Israel free of persecution and intimidation but are frightened to speak under Muslim control in the West Bank and Gaza as their numbers dwindle.

For Sheikh Tamimi, board member of OneVoice, I would point out that it rubs both ways; you can’t just choose which “ethnic cleanser” to criticise, especially when your lot are at it big time. See for example this article in the JP in June 2007:

Christians living in Gaza City on Monday appealed to the international community to protect them against increased attacks by Muslim extremists. Many Christians said they were prepared to leave the Gaza Strip as soon as the border crossings are reopened.

The appeal came following a series of attacks on a Christian school and church in Gaza City over the past few days.

Father Manuel Musalam, leader of the small Latin community in the Gaza Strip, said masked gunmen torched and looted the Rosary Sisters School and the Latin Church.

“The masked gunmen used rocket-propelled grenades to storm the main entrances of the school and church,” he said. “Then they destroyed almost everything inside, including the Cross, the Holy Book, computers and other equipment.”

Musalam expressed outrage over the burning of copies of the Bible, noting that the gunmen destroyed all the Crosses inside the church and school. “Those who did these awful things have no respect for Christian-Muslim relations,” he said. 

There’s a pattern here somewhere. Oh yes. If Muslims persecute Christians, the Church says nothing. If Jews are in conflict with Muslims then EVERYONE feels free to have a go and condemn the Jews.

Inconsistency and hypocrisy is often (but not always) the currency of Israel’s detractors.

Meanwhile, His Holiness is preparing for his next hire-wire act.

Why everyone should make Auschwitz Pilgrimage

This is a transcript of my letter published today in the Manchester Jewish Telegraph:

READER Stewart Reubens wrote last week that he would never go to Poland and that visiting Israel was a better way to commemorate our survival.

He was responding to the Jewish Telegraph’s complaint that Britain was poorly represented on the March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau.

While I would strongly agree that every Jew should visit Israel as often as they can, I have personal experience of the March of the Living.

I believe it is very important that our youth and, indeed, the older post-Holocaust generation should also visit Auschwitz-Birkenau.

If they can take in “the march”, so much the better.

In 1998 I flew with Manchester’s King David High School to Krakow and then went by coach to take part in the 10th anniversary of the march.

On my return I wrote in the Jewish Telegraph:

“I remember the soul-piercing sound of the shofar which began our march in Auschwitz. I remember walking with pride and defiance beneath those infamous words Arbeit Macht Frei amidst a forest of Israeli flags. I remember our young boys and girls from King David walking with thousands of young Jews and many adults like myself from all over the world in a river of blue coats which stretched in front and behind as far as the eye could see.

“I remember the impassive stare of the Poles who watched in silence. I remember the gates of Birkenau draped in a Magen David.

“I remember the clear, strong voice of Rabbi Israel Lau who told us we are an immortal people.

“I remember the words of Binyamin Netanyahu who proclaimed that we are the victors, not the vanquished and that we are invincible.

“I remember the cry in the voice of the cantor as he sang El Molei Rachamim when I thought my heart would burst.

“And I remember the Kaddish and the singing of Hatikvah in that place, in that hell.”

It isn’t about “survivor guilt”, Mr Reubens, it’s about survivor pride. We are still here, and all the Ahmadinejads, Hamases and Hezbollahs of this world cannot destroy us.

Their efforts to deny or belittle the Holocaust are best defeated by our honouring the memory of the victims; and where better than amidst the ruins of the instruments of their murder.

I returned from Poland with my spirit uplifted and with a bounce in my step. Never have I felt more Jewish than in Birkenau singing Hatikvah. Never have I been more proud to be part of the Jewish people.             

Gaza and Sri Lanka: The BBC News Double Standard

On Saturday the BBC reported that a “makeshift” hospital in what is supposed to be a civilian safe zone has been hit by the Sri Lankan army killing 91 Tamil civilians and injured another 87.

The Sri Lankan army has put the blame on the Tamil Tigers saying that they had carried out suicide attacks and insisted that they had stopped their heavy bombardment some days before.

It was doctors at the hospital who claimed that the Sri Lankan army had bombed the hospital. You would think they would know the difference between a suicide bomb and an artillery shell.

But in the interests of  the fair reporting standards that the BBC is so keen to tell us it upholds the reporter offers this word of warning:

Journalists are not allowed near the conflict zone, so the conflicting accounts cannot be independently verified.

I would point out to the BBC that during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s military action against Hamas in December and January, no such statement ever appeared on the BBC News website or TV broadcasts. The BBC, and its viewers, were asked to swallow whole reports from just one side of the conflict, coming through UNWRA which, in turn, received all their information directly from Hamas. This lead, for example,  to the misreporting by UNWRA head John Ging of the supposed attack on a UN school where 41 people were reported to have been killed. Later, Ging had to concede that no such incident had taken place and about a dozen people had been killed outside the school, the majority of whom were combatants.

But the BBC STILL REPORTS THIS INCIDENT AS IF IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. and adds a pathetic “Update” at the end:

In February 2009, the United Nations said that a clerical error had led it to report that Israeli mortars had struck a UN-run school in Jabaliya, Gaza, on 6 January killing about 40 people. Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Jerusalem, said that the Israeli Defense Force mortars fell in the street near the compound, and not on the compound itself. He said that the UN “would like to clarify that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school”.

Some “clerical error”! It doesn’t even mention the fact that only 12, not 40 had been killed, and it only mentions obliquely the IDF investigation which actually names most of the fatalities and identifies them as know Hamas combatants.

Why does the BBC not just withdraw completely this lie. The report is still there with the headline “‘Stray mortar’ hit UN Gaza school” and a photograph of an injured child being carried from an ambulance, presumably to a hospital even though we now know that NO CHILDREN WERE INJURED IN THE SCHOOL.

So why does the BBC continue to post a lie or, to be generous, an erroneous report which appeared to have the authority of the UN and which the UN corrected later?  The UN report was so credible that, according to the BBC, even the IDF at first believed it and produced the “stray mortar” story. But:

The [Israeli] statement was made anonymously to the media because the investigation had not yet been made public by the military

So this wasn’t even the official IDF position at the time but suited the BBC’s biased viewpoint, so they printed it.

The BBC report continues:

The dropping of the defence that Hamas mortars had come from within the school compound may cause some embarrassment to Israel in what has been a high profile incident.

The initial “human shield” claim was made forcefully after the killings by the military, politicians and many supporters of Israel.

“Hamas cynically uses civilians as human shields,” the military said in its initial statement, and later it went as far as naming two well-known Hamas militants among those killed at the school.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev called the incident “a very extreme example of how Hamas operates”.

It is not clear what credibility the change of position will be given by observers. 

The last sentence says it all really: the Israeli government was not to be believed. It was Israel who were the war criminals, Israel who breached every rule of warfare and Hamas who were  the victims. This is in marked contrast to the BBC’s Sri Lanka report where it emphasises that story cannot be verified.

The IDF has clearly shown that Hamas not only used Human Shield policies but operated in cynical violation and total disdain of international law throughout the conflict. Yet the BBC still sees fit to perpetuate its own misreporting and offer a dismal and ineffective rider.