Friday, 15 January 2016

Open Letter to Hilary Benn on Palestine

Below is an Open Letter I have sent to Hilary Benn concerning an article that he wrote for the Jewish News on his recent visit to Israel.  Benn has copied the tactics of Horatio Nelson and turned a blind eye to that which he didn't want to see.  Below are also the statements of Fabian Hamilton, who was recently appointed to a shadow junior ministerial role in foreign affairs.  Not only is Hamilton a Zionist who smears supporters of the Palestinians as anti-Semitic but he is a signatory to the pro-Iraq War Euston Manifesto and a member of the cold war, far-Right  Henry Jackson Society.  A wonderful choice as a future Labour Minister.

It raises the question why Jeremy Corbyn has appointed two overt Zionists to the shadow foreign ministry when he could easily have put in someone who was pro-Palestinian.  Indeed Fabian Hamilton specifically pointed out what his position on Israel/Palestine was and he was told by Corbyn's aides that this wasn't a problem.  Well I think it certainly is a problem if Jeremy is jettisoning everything he has said about Israel and Palestine.

Tony Greenstein
Fabian Hamilton - Jeremy Corbyn's new Zionist shadow Foreign Minister
Dear Hilary Benn,

Following your recent visit to Israel you wrote an Opinion piece for the Jewish News. ‘I’ve seen two possible futures for the Israelis and Palestinians’  It is noticeable that you didn’t write for a Palestinian paper.
There was a time when people visited South Africa, which incidentally was Israel’s closest military ally, and came back with stories about how prosperous Black people there were and how South Africa too was a hi-tech centreunlike the surrounding Black African states.

Indeed people used to visit Nazi Germany and come away equally blind to the situation of its Jewish people.  For example Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, wrote in the Daily News (4.9.33) re the situation of the Jews that:

‘They have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call 'Nazi atrocities,' which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence.’ 

Like Lord Rothermere, you came and you saw what you wanted to see.  Everything else was discarded. 

You wrote that today there is no peace process’.  But has there ever been a peace process?  There have been many peace plans – from Rogers to Kissinger to Kerry, but they have all fallen foul of Israel’s intransigence.  Israel is a settler colonial entity that needs enemies in order to justify its militarism, even if it has to manufacture them.  The Zionist movement which founded Israel, has always claimed the whole of the British Mandate area of Palestine, Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel).
The ‘peace process’ has been a cover for expansion and settlement, under both Labour and Likud governments.  Netanyahu’s Coalition Government unanimously opposes a  2 State solution.  When Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotoveli says 

This land is ours. All of it is ours. We expect as a matter of principle of the international community to recognize Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland, everywhere.”  The Guardian, 22/5/15 

what part of that statement do you not understand?

The possibility of a two state solution has long since disappeared.  600,000 settlers and the  strategic placement of settlements has ensured that a Palestinian state is impossible to achieve.

Netanyahu made his position crystal clear in Israel’s 2015 general election.  He is opposed to a Palestinian state.  Why is that so difficult to understand?  Talk of a ‘peace process’ and a 2 State solution serves one and only one purpose.  It provides Israel with a pretext for refusing to grant any civil or political rights for the 4½ million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.  The ‘peace process’ thus enables the present Apartheid situation to continue.  Israel has no intention of agreeing either to a Palestinian state or the granting of equal rights to the Palestinians under occupation because that would be the end of a Jewish state.  Those who talk of 2 States and a peace process are accomplices in Israeli Apartheid.

What is most repugnant about your article is that you treat the oppressed and the oppressor, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as equivalent.  People could be forgiven for believing that Palestinians too fly war planes and drive tanks.  You imply that there is a symmetry between the two.  Nowhere do you even mention the Occupation.

You treat Israel as a normal western-style state rather than a state based on ethno-religious supremacy.  You give succour to the Israeli claim that their main concern is a lack of security.  You state that ‘the absence of a settlement creates fear and uncertainty about the future in a very troubled region.’  This is complete nonsense.  Israeli Jews voted overwhelmingly for parties opposed to Palestinian self-determination and statehood.  One can assume that people who vote for the parties of a Greater Israel intend the consequences of their actions.

The people who require security are not the Israelis, who are armed to the teeth but the Palestinians who live under military occupation or siege in Gaza.  Not once did you mention the blockade of Gaza which is preventing the rebuilding of Gazan homes after Israel’s blitzkrieg which killed 2,200 people, including 550 children, in Operation Protective Edge in 2014.   Gaza is subject to a water tight blockade, by air, sea and land.  Its water has been stolen and now 90% of its water is unfit for human consumption.  Gaza has had its trade destroyed and its gas fields stolen yet none of this was worthy of comment by you.

It is ironic that you and your new fellow shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Fabian Hamilton, oppose sanctions against Israel but have nothing to say on the blockade of Gaza.  That is the measure of your hypocrisy.

In your description of your visit to Hebron, you mention the checkpoints and ‘a pervasive tension’.  Checkpoints were of course part of the pass system of South Africa.  You refer to ‘a cycle of killing.’ as if there was parity between the occupied and occupiers.  But whereas you display sympathy for the ‘Young Israeli soldiers (who) are stuck in the middle of it all’ you evince no sympathy for the Palestinians whose city it is. 

Even when you mention the fact that Palestinian shopkeepers and residents have ‘metal netting separating them to catch the rubbish that some settlers throw down on their neighbours’ you draw no conclusions.  The settlers in Hebron are a bunch of racist red necks.  Their fellows in the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba have a shrine and memorial to one Baruch Goldstein who, in 1994  opened fire on worshippers in the Ibrahimi Mosque killing 29 people and wounding some 125.  Hebron’s settlers not only throw their shit (literally) down on their Palestinian neighbours but they scrawl graffiti such as ‘Arabs to the Gas Chambers’ on their walls.  But all this merits no comment from you.

You mention, without comment, the fact that Israeli soldiers are ‘operating to different rules of engagement for Palestinians and for settlers.’  To most people that would suggest a racist apartheid style occupation.  But for you it merely ‘fuels resentment.’

You are on record as describing Israel as a ‘vibrant democracy’ ‘Labour must “take on” those who delegitimise Israel, says Hilary Benn’  Not only is there discrimination against Israeli Palestinians in every single sector of life such as education, housing etc. there is also a virulent anti-Arab racism. 
On Jerusalem  Day every year, mobs march through the city chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’, a popular slogan of the Right.  According to an opinion poll in the largest circulation daily, Yediot Aharanot 40 percent of Israeli Jews agree that Arabs should not have a right to vote and over 50% believe Israel should encourage its Arab citizens to leave the country.

Only last week it was reported that a book was banned by the Education Ministry for use in Jewish high schools because it depicted a romance between Jewish and Arab teenagers.  The book was held to pose a threat to Israeli Jewish national identity.  In the words of the responsible Education official, Dalia Fenig,

The story is based on a romantic motif of impossible prohibited/secret love. Young people of adolescent age tend to romanticize and don’t, in many cases, have the systemic vision that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation.'

In other words Israeli schools should not encourage relationships between different races.  Does that call to mind any similar countries?

We also had last week legislative attacks on human rights NGOs such as Btselem and Breaking the Silence in this ‘vibrant democracy’.  

I can only suggest that the next time you visit Israel that you take a pair of spectacles with you.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Greenstein

December 23, 2015
by Hilary Benn, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary 

Last week I visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel. It was my third trip to a region I first visited more than a decade ago. The aim was simply to hear, to see and to learn more from people and politicians on both sides.

I returned full of thoughts and reflections, but I am sad to say that politically my overriding sense was of gloom at the lack of progress since the Oslo Accords. To put it bluntly, today there is no peace process. 

For the Palestinians, who rightly want their own state and their civic, political and economic rights, hope is absent. The younger generation grew up on promises of peace, progress and jobs but now there is just huge frustration and despair. 

And for Israelis, who also want security and to get on with their lives, the absence of a settlement creates fear and uncertainty about the future in a very troubled region.

We know, however, that politics can find a way forward. We have seen how it can bring peace where once there was only conflict. All the Israeli and Palestinian politicians I met told me about their continued commitment to two states, with Israel living in security alongside an independent Palestinian state. But this could all too easily slip away unless political leaders on both sides act with urgency. Some people told me that the continued building of settlements means that time is running out for a two-state solution, and yet that the alternative does not bear thinking about.
As in all long-running conflicts, more attention is paid to past wrongs rather than to the possibilities of future cooperation. The economic dividend of peace would be enormous, especially for the Palestinians. But instead both sides find it hard to move beyond suspicion and resentment.  
Of course, each conflict is different, but as on my two previous trips, I found myself reflecting a lot on our experience in Northern Ireland. At the height of the troubles in the 1970s, it used to be said that the conflict had been going on for 400 years and would still be going on in another 400 years. And yet it isn’t. In the end, it took political leadership in both communities to change things; a decision to seek peace rather than continue to blame each other. 

The international community certainly has its part to play in securing two states so that Israelis and Palestinians can live side-by-side in peace, security and mutual respect but ultimately it must and will fall to leaders to make this happen.

I hope that the new year will bring a new commitment to peace, remembering that small steps can lead to big progress. A freeze on illegal settlement building and vocal condemnation of violence would certainly help.

There are two possible futures for Israelis and Palestinians. The morning I spent in Hebron illustrated what can happen if the conflict continues to fester and isn’t resolved. The main road, where once there was a thriving market, has been closed off. There were checkpoints, no-go areas and a pervasive tension, created in part by a cycle of killing. Settlers live above Palestinian shopkeepers with metal netting separating them to catch the rubbish that some settlers throw down on their neighbours. Young Israeli soldiers are stuck in the middle of it all operating to different rules of engagement for Palestinians and for settlers, further fuelling resentment.  

And yet it could be so different with people of different faiths living alongside each other and worshipping freely. This is not a dream because it was the history of Hebron for many years and there is no reason why is should not be so again. 

The other future is the one I saw in Jerusalem in the new media quarter by the old railway station. Start-up media companies, a technology incubator, restaurants, a music club and concert venue and a youth empowerment programme supporting youngsters from some of the city’s most deprived neighbourhoods. 

It is all about people coming together to build something better and provide jobs and opportunity for the next generation. It can be done.

For hope to win out and to achieve justice for the Palestianians and security for Israel, all that is needed is for courageous political leadership to compromise in the interests of peace. 
There are always reasons why it is hard to do this. But if not now, when?

‘The new shadow minister didn’t mince his words in speaking out against boycotts of Israel. “If you’re going to boycott Israel because of what it allegedly does you should boycott China too which means not buying computers or mobile phones. Are you going to boycott Burma? Are you going to boycott all the countries that treat minorities far worse than Israel ever does because Israel is a democratic country? Are you going to boycott all the dictatorships in the world? If you’re going to do that then maybe you have a case for boycotting Israel. Until then, it’s absolutely out the question. It’s simply anti-Semitic.”

He said he was “disgusted and appalled” at the recent vote by Labour’s national executive committee to sever ties with security firm G4S over its work in Israel, adding that holding the vote after many members had left the meeting was “disgraceful”. It came despite the party’s long-standing stance against boycotts.

Fabian Hamilton also stressed that he had opposed sanctions against Iran “because it hits the ordinary people far more than the elite leadership. The only time it worked was in South Africa. It’s a cheap and nasty way of making a point”.’


He hailed the Jewish state as a with a “vibrant democracy”, adding: “Our future relations must be built on cooperation and engagement, not Israel of Israel. We must take on those who seek to delegitimise the state of Israel or question its right to exist.”

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