Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Letter to the Archbishop of Westminster

Following midnight mass on Christmas Eve, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, delivered his annual homily for the occasion. In it, he made a reference to Christians in the West Bank which I and others found offensive and ill-informed. I wrote a letter to him, setting out what I believe to be the important context within which his words appear either ignorant or biased or both. His statement is quoted in the text of my letter, which I reproduce below. Is there anything I should have said or anything I should not, please let me know in your comments.


The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols DD

Your Grace,

I hope you will forgive my writing at such a busy time of year, but I have a serious concern that will not wait for expression. I am not a Catholic, but my concern is, in the main, not about your religion, but your politics. To introduce myself briefly, I am a writer and a former lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies with a serious interest in Iran and the Middle East in general. Late on Christmas Day my attention was drawn to your Midnight Mass homily. When I found a copy online, I found it well expressed and diligent in its portrayal of the mysteries you set out to expound. But since I am not a religious man, I can make no better comment on the homily and its religious content. It would be inexpressively arrogant of me to challenge you on any of that, nor did I feel compelled to do so.

As you may already have surmised, my problem lies with your departure into political matters in a manner that, I believe, exposes you to real and spontaneous criticism. You wrote a short introduction to this theme in words I find no fault with, but for which I had heartfelt agreement:

‘We are to see clearly the reality of the world around us. As we look at the real circumstances of Christ's birth so too we look with fresh eyes on the anxieties and insecurity which touch many peoples' lives. We are to be freshly attentive to the needs of those who, like Jesus himself, are displaced and in discomfort. We are to see more clearly all those things which disfigure our world, the presence of the sins of greed and arrogance, of self-centred ambition and manipulation of others, of the brutal lack of respect for human life in all its vulnerability. While recognizing how complex moral dilemmas can become, we are to name these things for what they are. We too live “in a land of deep shadow”.’

Just last week, I watched a three-part television adaptation of the Nativity story. You may have seen it yourself. It was dramatically balanced, presenting both the religious narrative and the harsh realities of life in first century Judaea: Mary’s fear of being stoned, Joseph’s anxiety about his attachment to a sixteen-year-old girl who has fallen mysteriously pregnant, Herod’s fear of the Romans, the shepherds’ distress under Herod’s rule, and much else. Your connection of the Nativity to contemporary suffering is perfectly balanced; but your later application of that principle leaves much to be desired, almost certainly as a result of your ignorance of the realities of life in the West Bank. Such ignorance is widespread, so I do not single you out for sharing in it. But your calling and stature make it vital for you to get something like this right, otherwise your words will pass on shadows of that ignorance to all who hear and read you and will darken the minds of another generation.

You say that ‘We too live “in a land of deep shadow”,’ and I don’t doubt the veracity of it. What you mean exactly by ‘a land’ is neither here nor there, since most of the world is in some kind of darkness and has always been so. It is the curse of the human race. We are in agreement. But in a moment we are not. You continue by saying:

‘That shadow falls particularly heavily on the town of Bethlehem tonight. At this moment the people of the parish of Beit Jala prepare for their legal battle to protect their land and homes from further expropriation by Israel. Over 50 families face losing their land and their homes as action is taken to complete the separation/security wall across the territory of the district of Bethlehem. We pray for them tonight.’

‘Particularly heavily’? Can you in all sincerity say that your singling out of events in Beit Jala merits that use of ‘particularly’? A difficult and misunderstood situation for some people becomes a paradigm for the shadow enveloping mankind? Of all the people in the world, you single out 50 Christian families in Beit Jala and expect those who hear you to recoil, cut to the heart by the horrors of that situation. You speak as if the world had no greater shadow to offer. Thousands have died and are dying in neighbouring Syria, but that gets no mention from you. An entire population is repressed and religious minorities are persecuted in Iran and you say nothing. Muslims who convert to Christianity in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere are put to death, yet you are silent. In Egypt, Coptic Christians are killed and persecuted and their churches are destroyed, yet you cannot find a sentence in which to condemn it. Christians are not allowed to possess Bibles or to worship or seek converts in Saudi Arabia, yet your voice is not raised. Christians are murdered and their churches burned to the ground in Nigeria, but I do not hear your voice. Yet Muslims are free to worship, open schools, have their own courts, and missionize in every Western country, yet you do not point out the anomaly.

Instead, it is the predictable condemnation of one of the world’s most democratic, liberal, and tolerant states that occupies your thoughts. You speak of a ‘separation/security wall’ without irony. Overall, this barrier is not a wall, it is a fence: it will be about 500 miles long when finished, and only about 3 percent of it will be a wall or is a wall now. There are very cogent reasons why some sections are built from concrete and are very high, unlike the rest, which is primarily chain-link fence. When the second intifada erupted in 2000, gunmen belonging to Fatah Tanzim squads went into mainly Christian houses in Beit Jala and used them as strategic points from which to fire into the Jewish civilian enclave of Gilo, a mere 800 meters away. They fired at first with Kalashnikovs and stolen M16s, then with heavy machine guns. The battles fought in Beit Jala, together with the return fire the Fatah shooting provoked, caused great difficulties for the Christians of the town, who wanted to stay apart from the Muslim-centred violence, whereas the Muslims of the Tanzim wanted to attract return fire into Christian properties. Not surprisingly, the Christian residents tried to force these terrorists (many of whom were from outside Beit Jala) outside their homes. In retaliation, the gunmen beat Christians badly. Christian women were harassed by Muslim men from a nearby village, Beit Awwad.

That violence was spread throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Hundreds were killed by terrorist attacks and suicide bombings, and hundreds more on the Arab side when Israeli troops fired back. It was the second intifada, on top of thousands of similar incidents since 1948, that impelled the Israelis to take hard action against those who wanted to kill them, to attack them specifically as Jews, and to wipe them out or expel them entirely from the Holy Land. Building the barrier was and is harsh to many who live in the West Bank, but it has cut terrorist attacks by over ninety percent. That is an achievement that must be taken into consideration before any condemnation of the wall or the fence. It was never the Israelis who started the violence, nor do they seek to continue it.

Tragically, the barrier did not prevent a hideous massacre in March of this year, when two Palestinian youths entered the Jewish settlement of Itamar, not very many miles from Bethlehem. They took knives and murdered five members of the same family in their sleep, including a five-month-old girl, whom they decapitated. The bodies of her mother, father, two younger brothers and baby sister were found by twelve-year Tamar Fogel, when she stumbled on a scene of such carnage that I flinch to describe it. It is in attacks like this that Israeli toughness begins, in which the plan for a long security barrier was born.

I know that some of the actions that have been taken to build or expand the barrier have resulted in injustice. But I weigh such injustice against several things. I weigh it against the photographs I was sent of the Fogel family massacre and the courage of young Tamar Fogel in facing up to her future as an orphan, yet still committed to her faith and her land. I weigh it against my understanding of how Israel behaves as a country. Israelis have a deep commitment to justice, something achingly evident in the number of times their Supreme Court has ruled against the government, not least in the matter of the security barrier. In 2004, for example, the Court ruled that ‘The route that the military commander established for the security fence ... injures the local inhabitants in a severe and acute way while violating their rights under humanitarian and international law.’ The route was changed. In 2005, the Court issued an injunction against the government and the Israeli Defence Forces against the building of the fence round the village of Iskaka, and in the same year forced a halt to the barrier’s construction near Ramallah. Similar rulings have continued to the present day. If the appropriation of land in Beit Jala is illegal and can be shown to have merit, the case will undoubtedly receive a hearing. It may take time for such a case to pass through the judicial system, but what country can offer instant justice save one that makes no pretence at consideration, due process, or justice? If justice is your concern – and I see no reason for it not to be – may I please ask you to direct your criticisms to Iran, where sentences of death are passed in minutes, or to Syria, where justice is firmly in the hands of the regime, or to Saudi Arabia, where a misdemeanour may take you after Friday prayers to the main square in Riyadh, where an executioner’s sword will quickly teach you manners.

Israel, by contrast, has always applied its laws fairly and justly. The only person Israel has ever hanged was Adolph Eichmann, one of the planners of the Holocaust. There is no death penalty, even for the most horrendous acts of terror. This year, in return for a single Israeli soldier, who had been kidnapped illegally and kept incommunicado even from the Red Cross for many years, the Israeli state sanctioned the release of over one thousand Palestinian prisoner, many of them with hands stained by the blood of innocents and children. Israel has well-enforced laws to protect the rights of women, homosexuals, and members of religious minorities. Although Muslims have at various times destroyed synagogues in Jerusalem and elsewhere, the Israelis have long recognized that control of their own holiest site, the Temple Mount, is vested in the Muslim waqf authority and that control of almost the entirety of the second holiest structure of the Jewish faith, the Ma’arat Ha-Machpelah is also under the authority of the waqf Council. When I visited this shrine – the resting places of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac with other patriarchs – we found ourselves squeezed into a tiny space, while Muslim visitors had full run of the place. There is a lack of balance between the two. In Iran, the regime has destroyed all the holy places and cemeteries of its own largest religious minority, the Baha’is. In Israel, the Baha’is practise their faith openly and have established their international centre in a series of dazzling buildings and luscious gardens that are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site of remarkable beauty. I ask you to judge here whether it is customary for the people of Israel to behave towards non-Jews with contumely, for it is the implication of that deep shadow that hovers over your sermon. If you do indeed mean the Israelis, if you do indeed think of them as bearers of that shadow, I must ask why. Why are Israelis thought to embody the heavy shadow of your accusation when true haters of mankind abound yet are never the targets of your anger. And if it is not the Israelis as Israelis but the Israelis as Jews, I think you will agree with my that that cannot be a helpful road down which to travel.

I write all that as a sort of prelude to a wider discussion. There is much at stake here. That muchness derives from your singular attention to a single place, or two contingent places, Bethlehem and Beit Jala. It would be easy for the uninformed to conclude that the Israelis are bent on the expulsion of Christian families, who are in your sermon portrayed as the victims of an arbitrary Israel ruling. That is not how it seems to me.

After the Palestinian Authority took control of most of the West Bank in 1995, Muslim families from Hebron (where Jews are very badly treated) and elsewhere moved to Beit Jala and illegally seized private land and property. This came on top of a long period when pressure was placed on Arab Christians to migrate from towns like Nazareth, Bethlehem, and elsewhere. In 1914, Christians constituted 26.4 percent of the total population in what today is Israel, the Palestinian areas, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, while by 2005 they represented at most 9.2 percent (Phillipe Fargues, "The Arab Christians of the Middle East: A Demographic Perspective," in Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East, Andrea Pacini, ed, Oxford University Press). But the same thing is emphatically not true of Israel. In 1949, one year after Israel was founded, the country’s Christian population numbered 34,000 souls. That figure has grown by 345 percent. It is still growing. Between 1995 and 2007, Israeli Christians grew from 120,600 to 151,600, representing a growth rate of 25 percent. In fact, the Christian growth rate outpaced the Jewish growth in Israel in the same period.

It is not a coincidence that Christians thrive in the only non-Muslim state in the Middle East and diminish in all the Muslim states. This does not surprise me, for Islam has a long history of intolerance towards Jews and Christians, and religious sensitivities take precedence for many, regardless of the nationalist and economic dimensions of the conflict. Let me cite some relevant statements by the well-known Muslim-Arab journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh, who brings a hidden problem into the open. Writing in 2009, he says:

‘Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.

‘Many Christians in Bethlehem and the nearby [Christian] towns of Bet Sahour and Beit Jalla have repeatedly complained that Muslims have been seizing their lands either by force or through forged documents. . . .

‘Moreover, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.

‘Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay "protection" money to local Muslim gangs.

‘While it is true that the Palestinian Authority does not have an official policy of persecution against Christians, it is also true that this authority has not done enough to provide the Christian population with a sense of security and stability.

‘In addition, Christians continue to complain about discrimination when it comes to employment in the public sector. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority 15 years ago, not a single Christian was ever appointed to a senior security post. Although Bethlehem has a Christian mayor, the governor, who is more senior than him, remains a Muslim.’

May I recommend you also read this valuable report written by David Raab and published by a very sound think tank, The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs?

A statement by the Palestinian Authority Information Ministry makes it clear that ‘The Palestinian people are also governed by Shari’a law... With regard to issues pertaining to religious matters. According to Shari’a Law, applicable throughout the Muslim world, any Muslim who [converts] or declares becoming an unbeliever is committing a major sin punishable by capital punishment... The [Palestinian Authority] cannot take a different position on this matter.’

Such rulings have a major effect on all Christian churches and make life impossible for potential converts, who are only safe if they seek refuge in Israel or go abroad.

Let me cite a couple more passages from reports that make this same point in fresh ways.

An Israeli government report in 1997 asserted more direct harassment of Christians by the PA.

In August 1997, Palestinian policemen in Beit Sahur opened fire on a crowd of Christian Arabs, wounding six. The Palestinian Authority is attempting to cover up the incident and has warned against publicizing the story. The local commander of the Palestinian police instructed journalists not to report on the incident....
    In late June 1997, a Palestinian convert to Christianity in the northern West Bank was arrested by agents of the Palestinian Authority's Preventive Security Service. He had been regularly attending church and prayer meetings and was distributing Bibles. The Palestinian Authority ordered his arrest....
    The pastor of a church in Ramallah was recently warned by Palestinian Authority security agents that they were monitoring his evangelistic activities in the area and wanted him to come in for questioning for spreading Christianity.
    A Palestinian convert to Christianity living in a village near Nablus was recently arrested by the Palestinian police. A Muslim preacher was brought in by the police, and he attempted to convince the convert to return to Islam. When the convert refused, he was brought before a Palestinian court and sentenced to prison for insulting the religious leader....
    A Palestinian convert to Christianity in Ramallah was recently visited by Palestinian policemen at his home and warned that if he continued to preach Christianity, he would be arrested and charged with being an Israeli spy.

Another report in 2002, based on Israeli intelligence gathered during Israel's Defensive Shield operation, asserts that ‘The Fatah and Arafat's intelligence network intimidated and maltreated the Christian population in Bethlehem. They extorted money from them, confiscated land and property and left them to the mercy of street gangs and other criminal activity, with no protection.

Your fifty families – if, indeed, there are fifty families – will, at worst, face a legal battle, knowing they will be vindicated if their claims are valid. Israel will not set their homes alight, nor gun them down, nor desecrate their churches nor violate their priests nor execute their converts. It will not do to them what the Muslims of Egypt have done in a long and systematic persecution. It will not do to them what the Taliban have done to Christians in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will not intimidate or hector or torture or kill them. It’s time this was recognized, especially by a leading churchman like yourself.

The Christians of Beit Jala are, I suspect, being used to put pressure on Israel. The protest may well be part of a long and insidious campaign to malign and weaken Israel in the eyes of the world. Thus, Israel has been described as an ‘apartheid’ when it is, in fact, free of all traces of apartheid. What racism there is is on the same level as that found in the UK. Israel has been called a ‘Nazi state’ in an attempt to hurt Jews in the most painful way imaginable. It has been termed an ‘intolerant state’ when its reputation for racial, religious, and other forms of tolerance raises it above most nations.

I believe you owe the people of Israel an apology or an explanation. They need to know why you chose to single them out, selecting their actions as particularly examples of the shadows that lie on us. I cannot see Israel as a shadow, though I have seen it as a country surrounded by shadows all its life. It is a country of hope for millions. It has been a safe hand in securing the safety of Christianity’s holiest places, places that would fall into disrepair and be threatened with ruin should Israel be replaced by an Arab state, in direct allegiance to Islamic law, which forbids the repair of Christian churches or synagogues.

I have, I fear, abused your hospitality. I hope you have been able to spare the time to read my little letter. I trust it has given you cause for thought. What may arise from that is entirely up to you. I believe I have played my part, but if you know more, I can point you in other directions. Thank you for troubling to read so far. I have trusted that you would, and I have trusted in your innate goodness to awaken in your conscience new insights into the behaviour of a country that seeks peace when others lust for war.

Yours most sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Iranian Human Rights Commission

If you haven't been huddling somewhere since the UK riots, you will already know that the brutal regime that governs Iran (if 'governs' is the right word) has announced the formation of some putative Human Rights Commission to sort out the British. They will, I think, send a delegation to these shores to instruct us in the true meaning of human rights. What that means, if I'm not mistaken, is advice on how to shoot down protesters of any kind, especially anyone marching for democracy and freedom. We'll all appreciate that, I know, and our police will be glad to exchange their baton rounds for more lethal 9mm parabellums. Being a Belfastman by birth and training, I can see now that our Troubles need not have gone on so long if we had only applied a full dose of human rights and shot everybody who went on the street during a curfew or went on a protest march. I can still remember a friend of my father's saying (this was at the very beginning of the thing) that he (a member of the B Specials no less) was off to get his sub-machine gun in order to kill Catholics. I used to think he was a bad man, but now, enlightened by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I recognize his devotion to human rights and his willingness to put them into practice.

Of course, it isn't all guns on citizens. This Iranian commission will, I'm sure, do sterling work telling us how to handle our own uncontrollable women. As we know, Iran is in the vanguard of women's rights in the world. They have a rightful place on the UN Commission for Women's Rights, and who can gainsay that? Look at it objectively. In the West, in the UK above all, women run wild. I have seen them with my own eyes. Even my wife is out of control (in Persian, bi-bazbini). She's goes to cafés with her sister, with no man around to keep an eye on her, she never wears proper hijab (bad-hijab é, agha), she sees male patients without a guardian present. And she's not the worst. But when the Iranians get here, they will sort women like her and her sister out. Her sister knows all about this: she used to be married to an Iranian, so I don't doubt she'll be eternally grateful to be put in her place again.

Most of all, they'll show us what to do with our homosexuals. As we know, Mr Ahmadinejad made it clear while speaking to the United Nations, there are NO homosexuals in Iran. We could be like that by the proper application of human rights values: once they are gone, there will be no more human rights issues and the Anglican Church (and a large part of the Jewish community) will have one problem less to deal with.

Speaking of Jews, The commission is bound to give us all pointers on how to deal with our Jews (and any Jews reading this should be dancing in the streets at the good times on their way for them). Iran, after all, loves Jews and only persecutes an indigenous religious minority, the Baha'is. They do have some naughty human rights measures they would like to apply to all Jews, of course, such as genocide. You can't argue with that, can you.

Of course, the human rights commission is just another vicious fantasy. Laughable, but indicative of something deeply worrying, not only in Iran, but throughout the Middle East. It is the ubiquity of the lie. The enormity of it. This lie has many forms, but some of the worst relate to Israel and the Jews. The worst is the claim that there were never any Jews in the Holy Land a.k.a Palestine. No Temple. No Me'arat ha-Machpela. No David. No Solomon. Abraham? He was the first Muslim and nothing to do with the Jews. The Israelis/Jews are Nazis. The racially mixed Israeli state is an apartheid state. As someone wrote to me last week, only one of Israel's wars was a defensive war. The Palestinians go back over 3000 years. Jerusalem is a holy city for Muslims, not Jews.

You know all this and more. What these and other tropes have in common is a compulsive need to turn history and contemporary fact on their head. Barefaced lies are stated publicly and without embarrassment, on the principle that saying something over and over again results in it being internalized and believed in with greater fervour than one might believe in fact.

It starts, I think, with the Qur'an. The Qur'an gives a host of Biblical stories devious twists, Islamicizing figures like Abraham, Moses, Ishmael, Mary, and Jesus. It is generally thought that Muhammad learned a lot from the rabbis of his day and came into contact with some heretical Christians, but that he garbled what he heard and produced alternative versions of Judaism and Christianity (thus, the Jews believe Ezra is the Son of God). The Quranic stories later get mixed in with accounts called Isra'iliyat, legends and fanciful tales from Jewish sources.

Since the Qur'an is deemed the Word of God, no Muslim will ever admit that it gets these things wrong. Instead, a new culture grows up, convinced of its own perfection. The Bible (both Jewish and Christian) has been hopelessly corrupted and cannot be relied on in anything.

And so it becomes easy to deny the truth of anything the Jews say or the propriety of anything they do. The lie is buttressed by the Qur'an and the Law. And secular means of establishing historical proof, such as archaeology, are sneered at just as much as the Bible. Our opponents live in a fantasy realm, impervious to Biblical and other classical accounts and immune to the methods of modern scholarship.

And now, no doubt, they are set to re-write the history of the UK.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Letter to the Leader of the UK Green Party

To Caroline Lucas MP
Leader of the UK Green Party

Dear Ms Lucas,

I have just finished the short but intriguing interview you gave to Martin Bright for the Jewish Chronicle, and I feel there are points I should make about some parts of it. Let me say a few words about myself first, so you understand where I am coming from. I’m a former academic in the broad area of Persian, Arabic, and Islamic Studies. Politically, I describe myself as a liberal, but not a member of any party. That means there are many things about the Green Party which I admire and others I do not. For as a long as I can remember, I have been a supporter of Israel, and not a day goes by without my contributing in some small way to the debate that surrounds Israel and the Palestinians. (You may even find my blog of help, ‘A Liberal Defence of Israel’ of help:

Be that as it may, let me turn to some remarks of yours in the course of Martin’s interview. I thought it impressive that you chose to speak with a local rabbi, Elizabeth Tikvah Sara about the Green Party’s approach to the boycott and divestments dialogue. That you conclude that more sensitive language is needed is commendable. However, I don’t think it’s just the language that is at fault, but thre whole thinking behind the BDS movement. That initiative is based on the conceit that Israel is a rogue state, a state that engages in actions that breach human rights, that imposes a form of apartheid on Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, that oppresses Palestinians in various ways, that impedes the economic growth of Gaza and the West Bank, that continues to occupy Palestinian land without due cause, that kills Palestinians for no good reason, that targets Palestinian children, and much more.

If you support the BDS movement, I must assume that you believe at least some of those accusations. My worry is that, if you do so, it is out of the best intentions, but very far removed from a genuine context. I will not present you with an argument that Israel is a perfect country and its people long-suffering saints. That would not be true. But I would still argue that Israel is guilty of very little of what she has been condemned for. And I would argue that you need to read at least one intelligent book about these issues, since you do seem to have difficulty with the context.

For example, when Martin asked if there would soon be a Green Party boycott of Syria or Iran, you fobbed him off by saying ‘I think the difference with Israel is that so many other tools have been tried for so many decades with such extraordinary lack of success, that people have been driven to use these these other tools.’ What on earth can you mean by this statement? What has happened over the years is this. In 1948, Israel, a democratic state (not a dictatorship like any of its neighbours) was invaded by five countries, by six armies who stated aim was to kill all the Jews and destroy the Jewish state. This took place three years after the end of the Holocaust. No other country went to Israel’s aid, despite its being a UN state. The Arabs had been offered a state in 1947 too, but chose to resort to violence instead of taking up the offer. In 1967, Arab armies massed tanks and infantry on Israel’s borders, preparing to render the region judenrein. The Israelis fought back and won. In 1973, an invasion on Yom Kippur took the Israelis by surprise, but again they fought back and again they won. Do you think they ought to have put down their arms and let their enemies, as they claimed, ‘finish wehat Hitler started’. They are still saying that, by the way. Who do you blame for all this? Israel or the Arab states.

Since the 1960s, the Palestinians have been masters of terrorism, hijacking aeroplanes, sending suicide bombers into kindergartens, restaurants, buses or anywhere else. Who is to blame for this? Who launched two intifadas aimed at killing as many Jews as possible? The Israeli solution was not to go into the Wesrt Bank and slaughter civilians, but to build a fence that has now dropped the incidence of terrorist acts by over 90%. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

In 2000, at Camp David, Yasir Arafat was offered 95% of the West Bank and the whole of the Gaza Strip. He walked out. Nobody walks out on an offer of almost 100% of what they have demanded. In business, it would be suicidal. In politics much the same. Were the Israelis to blame for this, should ‘tools’ have been used to bring them into line. The Israelis have made gesture after gesture for peace. They left Sinai, Southern Lebanon, and Gaza. None of these gestures bore fruit in peace. To this day, Palestinian leaders (such as Mahmoud Abbas) when speaking to their own people in Arabic talk of taking conrol of both their territory and Israel and of driving the Jews into exile. A future Palestinian state will, according to Abbas, will be judenrein. (Jordan is already free of Jews and will not allow Jews to enter.) The Palestinians simply will not wake up to the fact that they will have to do like anybody else in their situation and compromise. So, who do you need to put pressure on? The Israelis, who have been desperate for peace since 1947/48 or the Palestinians (and other Arabs) who are fixated by their horror of a Jewish presence on what was Islamic soil?

Further down, you say ‘I think the Naqba (sic), the occupation, that’s been going on for decades. You could say that Syrian oppression has been going on for decades but in terms of the wider awareness of what’s going on there and the particular violence we’ve seen over the last few months, it is a much more recent phenomenon.’ I don’t know where to start with this. As a minor point, the nakba (it’s a k, not a q) is not the occupation. The nakba is the ‘disaster’ of 1947/48, when the UN brought a Jewish state into being, when Arab armies were defeated, and when local Arabs were forced (as often as not by Arab armies) out of their villages. The nakba was their own doing, when they launched the invasion. In towns like Haifa, the Jewish leadership pressed their Arab citizens to stay, but Arab leaders from the Arab Higher Committee, told them to go so that Arab troops could take the town. Nothing, absolutely nothing, prevented the Arabs from setting up their own state. Now, the occupation of the West Bank has been going on for decades (though Gaza was abandoned in 2005), but the problem has been, not that the Israelis won’t give up (I’ve mentioned Begin offering 95% of the West Bank), but that the Palestinians will not give up on their idea of a Palestine from the sea to the Jordan. Even now, the Jewish settlements take up no more than 3% of the WB, and the Israelis have offered an equivalent amount of land to compensate. The Palestinian response is, as ever, no. That happened famously after the 1967 war, when the Arab League met in Khartoum and issued a declaration (the Khartoum Declaration) that insisted on ‘the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it’. Is Israel to blame for that (it has never been rescinded and can be found in similar words in the Hamas Charter of 1988, or in this statement from Hizbullah’s 1985 Risala maftuha: ‘We vigorously condemn all plans for negotiation with Israel, and regard all negotiators as enemies, for the reason that such negotiation is nothing but the recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist occupation of Palestine. Therefore we oppose and reject the Camp David Agreements, the proposals of King Fahd, the Fez and Reagan plan, Brezhnev's and the French-Egyptian proposals, and all other programs that include the recognition (even the implied recognition) of the Zionist entity. Or, as the Fatah Constitution puts it: ‘Armed public revolution is the inevitable method to liberating Palestine.‘

These are all terrorist groups. They refuse even to negotiate, and they play games with Western politicians like yourself, convincing you that the Israelis, not themselves are to blame for the lack of progress in peace talks.

Let me go a bit further. I can’t believe what you have said about Syria. Anyone (including Western governments and intelligence agencies) knew perfectly well how horrible most Arab regimes were and are. The monstrosities of the Iranian regime have been well known since 1979: they hang their victims in public from cranes. Yet the West has never done anything serious to bring them to book. Iran’s (and Syria’s) human rights records have never been hidden. So were those of Saddam Hussein. Of Mubarak. Of Ghadhafi. Of Saudi Arabia (they don’t hang, they decapitate their victims in a public square). Of Algeria. Of Hamas (they kill opponents by throwing them off rooftops). But not till this year have we done anything (and it’s little enough) to stop the violence. Maybe you knew nothing about this till now, but in that case you and your party shouldn’t be supporting boycotts in a region you know so little about.

As for human rights, I think you’ll find that most of the people living in most Arab states would prefer to live in Israel than where they are. Some already take refuge there, notably gay men and women. Back home they can be beaten badly or hanged or thrown from a height. In Israel they can meet together openly, live together, and join in gay pride marches, should they wish. In Israel, women are not discriminated against. They have the same rights as men, they are conscripted into the army, and they suffer none of the discrimination their peers suffer in Muslim countries. Israel’s record on treatment of religious minorities is unsurpassed. I will give you a simple contrast. You may know that Iran’s largest religious minorities is the Baha’i faith, a religion that originated in Iran in the 19th century and currently has adherents in most parts of the world, but almost none in Islamic states. (I have written several books and many articles about them.) As you may have heard, the Baha’is are severely persecuted by the Islamic regime, which has executed over 200 of their leaders, which has destroyed them financially, destroyed their books, refused admission to universities for their young men and women, and has demolished their holiest places and ploughed up their cemeteries. But if you go to Israel (something I heartily wish you would do), you can visit two UNESCO World Heritage Sites belonging to the Baha’is. Here, they have their two holiest shrines (one in Haifa, one near Acco), their international archives, the seat of of their supreme administrative body, and much else, all surrounded by some of the loveliest gardens you can imagine. So, please tell me why a party like yours chooses to boycott Israel and doesn’t say ‘boo’ to Ayatollah Khamene’i and Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad about their criminal activities. Nobody is executed in Israel for adultery, or being gay, or being Muslim, or being a member of the opposition. So why the boycott? Don’t you feel ashamed to be boycotting a country that has achieved so much in such a short time to improve conditions for its citizens, yet can’t drum up the energy and interest to speak out against regimes that kill and torture and support terrorism or arm terror groups (as Iran and Syria do)? Israel is a genuine democracy that includes all its citizens, Arab and Jew. It has no system of apartheid in any part, despite wild claims to the contrary. Saudi Arabia operates an apartheid system, within which it bans non-Muslims from certain areas and forbids Jews to enter under any circumstances. Why not boycott a country that really does carry out human rights abuses? The Green Party has said that ‘There is no place for capital punishment in a criminal justice system which is compassionate, just and respectful of human rights. No country or state should retain the death penalty in its criminal justice system.’ Israel, as you should know, abolished the death sentence from the beginning and has only hanged a single person and that for good reason: Adolf Eichmann was a chief organizer of the Holocaust, and it’s hard to see who the Jewish state could have let him live. But today, Israeli gaols are filled with Palestinian murderers, chiefly terrorists. Recently, two young Arab men were placed in prison to stand trial for the sickening slaughter of five members of a Jewish family, the Fogels, in a settlement called Itamar. They stabbed to death the father, mother, two little boys, and beheaded a five-month-old baby girl. Those boys will never face a death sentence in Israel. In Gaza, people danced in the streets when they heard of the murders. That was last March. Iran hangs on almost a daily basis, Saudi Arabia has regular work for its executioner, China has the highest rate of executions in the world. But you boycott Israel.

To quote further from the interview: ‘Ultimately, Ms Lucas explained, the Green Party's support of the boycott should be seen in the tradition of activism rooted in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. "For many people I think that's what they're looking at and thinking if we did it on South Africa…", her voice trails off. "And there are many parallels that are drawn.”’ What parallels exactly? Let me remind you that, in apartheid South Africa, the regime aimed to keep blacks and whites wholly separate. There were segregated buses and trains, segregated restaurants, segregated beaches, segregated schools, segregated hospitals (and ambulances),and segregated cinemas. Blacks lived in townships, whites on farms and in the cities. Blacks were disenfranchised. And on and on, as I’m sure you well know. But here is the point: not one of those segregations applies to Israel. There are no places reserved to Jews or to Arabs, no all-Arab public transport, no Arab-only or Jewish-only cinemas or swimming pools or schools or – importantly – universities (where Arab students form 20% of the student intakes, in accordance with the Arab percentage in the general population. When I was in the Hebrew University last March, everywhere I went I saw Arab students, including a possible majority of women. So, go ahead and draw parallels, and go ahead and boycott Israel to punish Israelis for their attempt to create a rounded and balanced society, and stay shtum about countries in the region that have their own apartheid ambitions. For decades now, Christians have been forced out of Arab countries, notably the West Bank. The only Middle Eastern country that has seen a rise in the Christian population is Israel. But why not boycott Israel for that? I have yet to hear a single politician raise his or her voice to protest that exodus of Christians from their homes.

I’m not writing this letter in a spirit of antagonism, and I hope you don’t feel that I have. I wouldn’t be writing this if I felt antagonistic. We have a lot in common I too have a degree in English (before the Arabic, Persian etc.) and I greatly admire your principled support for homeopathy (my wife is a well-known homeopath and author of books on homeopathy and women’s health; I was for a long time chairman of the UK Natural Medicines Society). In so many ways, I admire what you do and a great deal of what you stand for. That’s why I’m taking the trouble to write, and at this ridiculous length! I hate to see someone who normally impresses me peddling such a tawdry notion as the boycott of Israel. I have a strong feeling that you simply don’t know much about the history of all this, or about issues such as Arab anti-Semitism. I believe that if you knew a lot more about that anti-Semitism and its corrupting influence on Arab and Iranian and Pakistani society you would begin to realize why the boycott and disinvestment campaign is driven, as much as anything, by an unyielding hatred for the Jewish people. Delegitimization of Israel has become the focus for Fatah, Hamas, and other groups, now they are prevented from taking suicide bombers into Israel proper. It’s not a case of taking my word for any of this, and hoping I’m not a nutcase after all. You can delve into website after website to read for yourself how far the Nazi defamation of Jews has merged with older Islamic hatred. Not many years ago, anti-Israel marchers, composed of both radical Muslims and far-left activists appeared on the streets of London, Amsterdam and elsewhere chanting ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas’. The boycott is a major strand in the delegitimization campaign, and it has its roots in anti-Semitism. Such actions are carried out by much the same people as though who define the UK or the USA as ‘terrorist states’, who see dark conspiracies everywhere, who state in a matter-of-fact way that Jews were behind 9/11 and that thousands were warned to stay away that day. It is not Israel that these agitators and conspiracy theorists hate, it is the presence of Jews on Islamic territory, and they will do all they can to suborn honest politicians like yourself into believing their upside-down world view, by manipulating your best intentions to their ends.

Forgive such dramatizing. I only want to get across to you just how vile this hatred for Israel has become, to give you a quick glimpse into what it does to the truth. I have written enough for one sitting. If you have read thus far, thank you for taking the time to do so. Beyond this, there are two things you should do. The first is to read more about this topic. To start with, why not read Robin Shepherd’s excellent and recent study A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel ( After that, perhaps any of the Israel texts by Alan Dershowitz, such as The Case for Israel ( This book is much hated by the anti-Israel brigade, but I have always found him sane and reasonable.

More importantly, perhaps, you have to spend some time in Israel. There are two ways to go: the Israeli embassy will happily get you there (and may even cover the cost of your trip), but you may not like to go about with an official guide. So just book yourself on a flight to Tel Aviv and have a holiday.

There, that’s it. I’m more than happy to answer any questions you may have (provided I can answer them!). Forgive my impertinence in making this demand on you, but I deem it too important to let lie. A forest of lies surrounds Israel like great Birnam wood. I want to help you see through the thickets in order to make the most moral and ethical decision you can.

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Newcastle upon Tyne

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Letter to the Secretary of State for Defence

Last Sunday (15 May), I was at a wonderful conference called 'We Believe in Israel'. It was held in London, and almost 2000 people were there. The choice of sessions was overwhelming: it seemed hard to miss a good one.

The plenary session in the morning was opened by a speech by Dr. Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence, a man rightly praised for his pro-Israel attitudes. However, on this occasion, he said a number of things that sparked a very negative response on the part of half or more of his audience, who booed him. I'm sure he was taken aback, thinking that most of what he had to say was designed to please a Zionist crowd.

Afterwards, I felt he needed a briefing on what had gone wrong, but I wasn't sure where he'd get one. Whoever had advised him when preparing his speech had got several points badly wrong, and I wasn't sure that he would turn to the Israeli embassy or anyone else who might explain things. So I wrote a long letter in an attempt to bring some clarity into his life. The letter is on its way to the Ministry of Defence, and I hope he reads it.

It won't do any harm to spread knowledge of this letter more widely, so here it is. Any comments will be helpful. And, no, my timing was wrong, so there's no reference to Obama's horrendous call for Israel to return to the Auschwitz borders.

Rt. Hon. Dr. Liam Fox
Secretary of State for Defence

Dear Dr. Fox,

I have just returned from the ‘We Believe in Israel’ Conference, held in London on Sunday. Your opening speech to a large and sometimes hostile audience was impressive and, for the most part, nuanced, and I want to congratulate you on it and, rather belatedly, on your address to this year’s Herzliya Conference, which was outstanding. Your love for Israel and the support you offered her were obvious from the outset. If only more politicians could see this matter as you do…..

But you must have been dismayed and somewhat puzzled by the reception some of your remarks received. It may have seemed unfair to have such a pro-Israel speech countered in parts by hostile voices, and that is to be regretted. But there is, I think, a silver lining, in that this provides an opportunity to explain why those matters were deemed contentious by fifty per cent or more of your audience. Given the overall composition of that audience, it’s clear that they enjoyed and agreed with the largest part of what you said. I don’t doubt that, if asked, everyone would have agreed that your heart was in the right place, but that you had been misled, as often as not by nuggets of received wisdom which most or all of us think mistaken. So, what about the other passages?

The first one to draw my attention was your eulogy of British treatment of Jews and then Israelis during the Mandate and around the time of Israeli independence. I don’t have access to your text, but I remember that you spoke highly of British support for Jews and unprejudiced assistance in the creation of Israel. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite, and I say this with sorrow as a British patriot willing to defend this country on a broad front. After the White Paper of 1939, Britain closed Palestine to almost all Jews. This had an immediate impact, since it prevented thousands of European Jews trying to flee the impending catastrophe in their homelands, shutting off what might have been their safest place of refuge. After the war, Britain imprisoned many thousands of concentration camp survivors in camps on Cyprus and turned back attempts by other Jews to land on the shores of the Mandate. In 1948, as the Israeli war of independence was about to break out, Britain threatened to intervene on the side of Egypt. At the same time, Britain left forts, weapons and ammunition for the Arabs and nothing for the Jews, with the strong implication that they hoped for an Arab victory, which would drive the Jews out of the country. During that war, Transjordan’s army was led by thirty-eight British officers. And there has long been a perception that, like the Quai d’Orsay, Britain’s Foreign Office has always been strongly pro-Arab.

I’m sure you can appreciate why your expression of a rose-tinted picture of British-Jewish and British-Israeli relations did not go down too well with those parts of your audience who were aware of these more negative facts. However, let me add that, in the many years I have been privy to Israel advocacy circles, I have never come across anti-British sentiments. You are doubtless aware of that yourself. All I would ask, then, is a greater measure of consciousness on your part. Some measured affirmation of the difficulties Britain has caused the Jews down the years would go a long way to winning approval from similar audiences in future.

Now I must address those three issues about which Sunday’s audience grew vocal in disagreement. These were three areas on which your listeners felt you had misrepresented the facts, not about past history, but about matters that touch more nearly on the present day and the hopes for a valid peace process. I hope I did not misunderstand you in any of these.

1967 borders
At one point you stated that any final settlement would require Israel to return to her 1967 borders. That is not true. The relevant UN resolution 242, whose chief author was the British peer Lord Caradon, affirmed the principle that there should be ‘withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’. That resolution was accepted by Israel but flatly rejected by the PLO, a rejection that lies at the root of later conflicts. As you may know, Caradon and his fellow drafters deliberately omitted the definite article before the word ‘territories’, leaving the interpretation of which lands should be vacated by Israel to future negotiations. He did so because he knew the 1967 borders were ‘inadequate’ and exposed Israel to attack on its eastern flank. No Israeli government will ever accept a return to those borders, nor will they be compelled to do so in any future negotiations.

Famously, the late Abba Eban referred to the pre-war 1967 lines as ‘Auschwitz borders’, because they exposed Israel to attack: ‘We have openly said that the map will never again be the same as on June 4, 1967. For us, this is a matter of security and of principles. The June map is for us equivalent to insecurity and danger. I do not exaggerate when I say that it has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz. We shudder when we think of what would have awaited us in the circumstances of June, 1967, if we had been defeated; with Syrians on the mountain and we in the valley, with the Jordanian army in sight of the sea, with the Egyptians who hold our throat in their hands in Gaza. This is a situation which will never be repeated in history.’

Certainly, there are few topics in the Israel-Palestine debate more contentious than this one. There is almost universal condemnation of Jewish settlements, from the White House to the UN to the EU. Your statement on Sunday that called the settlements as ‘illegal’ and an ‘obstacle to peace’ was not therefore unusual in that context, but you will recall how much disagreement it provoked in the hall. You can hardly be blamed for expressing an opinion that is so widely shared, but I do think you should pause to ask if what you said is true.

A close examination of the claim of illegality will show where the fallacy lies. The settlements are not illegal. Controversial, certainly, and, in the case of the tiny, trailer-camp units, as much condemned in Israel as outside. The legal defence is simple. When Israel entered the West Bank (Samaria and Judaea) in 1967, it did so to protect its own citizens from attack by Jordan. In such a situation, occupation is provoked and justified by enemy aggression. British occupation of part of Germany in 1945 was, by the same argument, wholly legal, and has never been challenged. The West Bank had previously been illegally annexed by Jordan in 1950, following its conquest in the 1948-49 conflict. Thus, in 1967, the Israelis did not occupy Jordanian sovereign territory. Nor did they occupy sovereign Palestinian territory since the Palestinians had not acted on earlier resolutions to establish an Arab state alongside Israel. This means that the West Bank is merely ‘disputed territory’, not illegally occupied sovereign land.

Apart from this, it should not be forgotten that the Jewish people have a long connection to Judaea and Samaria, a connection that long precedes Arab conquest in the 7th century. In the 20th century, several settlements were set up with full legal recognition, in places like Neve Ya’cov and the Etzion Bloc, or older habitations like Hebron. Neve Ya’cov was forcibly abandoned when it faced attack from Jordanian troops in 1948 and was occupied by Jordan. Only when Jews returned there after 1967 was any question raised about legality. The same is true of the Etzion Bloc (Gush Etzion).

I do recognize that, in your position as a member of the UK government, you cannot say that the settlements are not illegal’, but on Sunday I think a more nuanced expression might have helped allay people’s fears that, despite your public Zionism, you subscribed to the accusation of illegality. This is not easy territory, but it is territory about which Israel cannot afford to back down. It is all but certain that any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will result in an acceptance of the major settlements as part of Israel, in exchange – it has been suggested – for unoccupied areas of comparable size.. More worrying than the Israeli retention of little more than 5% of Arab land is the current Palestinian position, which refuses to have even a single Jew living in its territory. This may prove a major obstacle in the case of Hebron, where the small Jewish population is already subject to severe restrictions. In Israel, of course, Arabs form some 20% of the population, with equal rights under the Constitution.

A touchier topic, on the whole, than settlements, and with the potential to upset an audience like Sunday’s. But this is less clear-cut than the other issues, since the future status of Jerusalem is entirely negotiable. In some ways, the issue revolves less around legality and more around religion and emotion on both sides, though more, I think, the city’s centrality to Judaism, I suggest, is more relevant than its historical character for Muslims. I should, perhaps, explain that I’m a former lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies and that I have a keen sense of what is involved here. For Jews, it is not just the division of the city (something you consider necessary) that is hard to contemplate, but the way that division would take place. By taking East Jerusalem, the Palestinians would gain complete control over the Temple Mount, the holiest place in the world for Jews. Despite cries to the contrary, neither Jerusalem nor the Temple Mount have ever had much importance for Muslims or Arabs. In the early phase of his mission, the Prophet Muhammad and his followers prayed towards Jerusalem, following the practice of the Jews in Medina. But about ten months after his move to Medina, he abruptly swung right round during prayers to face Mecca, literally turning his back on Jerusalem. There is even a verse in the Qur’an which records this change of direction and states that it is preferable to the previous one. By contrast, Jewish worship has focused on the city from the time of King Solomon, and remained firmly fixed there throughout the long years of the diaspora. Given that Muslims have Mecca and Medina (both cities closed to Jews), Muslim control over east Jerusalem would be unjust and might lead to renewed conflict over the mere fact that it had fallen into non-Jewish hands.

In Jewish hands, Muslims would enjoy the same rights they already have of access to the twin mosques on the Mount, the al-Aqsa and the Qubbat al-Sakhra. Israeli treatment of non-Jewish holy places has always been exemplary. Haifa contains an extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage Site, which contains the gardens, shrines, and international headquarters of the Baha’i religion. In Iran, by contrast, all the Baha’i holy places have been bulldozed and built over, and their cemeteries trashed. That alone causes me to consider Israeli control preferable to any by the Islamic waqf authorities. The Waqf authorities are guided by shari’a law, whose principles form the foundation of the Palestinian Authority’s Basic Law. In general, shari’a rulings are deeply prejudicial to the rights of Jews and Christians, and give no status at all to the followers of any other religion. By contrast, the Israeli Law for the Protection of Holy Places (1967) provides a more equitable basis for the control of Muslim, Jewish and Christian sites throughout the Old City.

There is another reason for Jewish concern. In Hebron, you can visit the Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, secondary only to the Temple Mount in Jewish affection and veneration. I visited it in March, and was deeply impressed by this large building dating from the days of King Herod, i.e. the same period as Herod’s Second Temple, of which the Kotel or Western Wall remains. Because Hebron is chiefly Arab and Muslim, the Tomb, which is believed to be the burial place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca and Leah, comes under Islamic control. The result is pitiable. Jews are allowed to use only 20 per cent of the edifice and are not allowed to improve or develop it in a seemly manner. Nor is any form of historical or archaeological research permitted. This naturally gives rise to concern for the Jewish and Christian sites in east Jerusalem should they be made subject to shari’a law, which is harsh regarding churches, synagogues, cemeteries, and other sacred sites.

This is difficult to put into political words, but it is immensely important to Jews who, after some two thousand years have regained a measure of access to their holiest sites only to see them at risk of being repossessed by the same people who banned them from entering the Tomb of the Patriarchs for 700 years. There has to be a better solution to the issue of Jerusalem, therefore, than a crude division of the city, which, incidentally, is mentioned some 700 times in the Bible but not once in the Qur’an.

I did not at first intend to write at such length, but the subjects demanded their say. I hope you will not interpret this as a letter of criticism: it is not. I understand that official UK policy on these matters makes it hard for you to introduce another note, however correct that might be. But I believe your work in this field would benefit from closer discussions from a representative grouping of pro-Israel activists, both Jews and non-Jews like myself. There is no shortage of organizations, and just about as many opinions. Nonetheless, I think the points I have made do come close to what most of us believe.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Friday, April 08, 2011

A Letter to the Quakers

Teresa Parker
Middle East Programme
Society of Friends

Many years ago, I came very close to joining your ranks and becoming a Quaker. I have generally admired much of what you do and some of what you believe. But I am now thoroughly grateful that I did not become a Quaker then, for I fear I would have to abandon you now. I find myself frequently disappointed in the Quaker attitude to Israel, and more so given your recent decision to boycott settlements in Samaria and Judaea, which you regard as illegal under international law. That is, of course, highly inaccurate. There is no firm position in international law concerning these settlements, and authorities veer from one side to the other and will do so until the matter is resolved by a future peace treaty or other instrument. The only point I wish to make in this regard is that, so long as the legal position remains unclear, you have no right to declare the illegality of the settlements, particularly since you are not a properly constituted legal body with the authority to pronounce on such matters. There is something high-handed about your position, which clashes with traditional Quaker belief in the virtues of humility.

I have spent much of the past week composing a letter to a 12-year-old girl called Tamar Fogel, and distributing it to people around the world, who have written in support of the letter and the sentiments it expresses. The letter will be delivered to Tamar before Passover next week, by her grandparents. Even for a professional writer like myself, it proved a difficult letter to write. Tamar is the oldest of the three surviving children of the Fogel family. On returning from her Sabbath youth club three weeks ago, she found her parents and three of her siblings murdered in a bath of blood. Her mother had been stabbed to death, her father and two brothers had had their throats slit, and her 3-month-old sister had been beheaded in her cot. The perpetrator or perpetrators have so far remained in hiding. When news of this atrocity was made known, Palestinians in Gaza handed out sweets and danced in the streets of Gaza City.

The massacre of this harmless family, all residents of one of the settlements you so despise, is only the latest in a long line of atrocities that have been carried out against Israeli civilians. Palestinian terrorist attacks have no excuse, yet I have never seen a supporter of the Palestinians march or protest against the very great evil they represent. A website entitled ‘Quakers in Israel and Palestine’ says almost nothing about Israel, but records a long list of activities you have undertaken in the Palestinian territories. An American website called ‘Quakers With a Concern for Palestine-Israel’ has a series of links, not one of which presents the Israeli point of view, but most of which reiterate a pro-Palestinian position. Does that seem balanced to you? Fair? Helpful? Likely to work towards peace? Another site, entitled ‘Quakers in Britain’ has a page named ‘Israel-Palestine’. It shows a photograph of part of Israel’s security barrier, to be precise a section of the barrier which is a wall. Only 3% of that barrier is a wall, the rest is a fence. Why did Quakers choose to show the wall when the fence would have been more representative? Does that match Quaker ideals of fairness and justice? The barrier has reduced terrorist attacks within Israel by around 90 percent. Might it not have been appropriate to have made that clear? You will know that images of this wall sector are routinely used by groups and individuals who seek to defame Israel and who mischaracterize the barrier and the reasons it is there. Can you explain how Quaker ideals sit alongside those of groups motivated by anti-Semitism and hatred for the Israeli state?

Palestinians have done much to worsen their position. While sympathizing with their plight, fairness demands we take notice of their many acts of self-defeat and hatred. They have fought wars against Israel and killed thousands in terrorist actions. They continue to do so, and their boldness in semi-military action grows year by year. Israel has done much to help them and for over 60 years has appealed to them to accept the legal status of Israel and to build their own state alongside it. Yet their newspapers, their school textbooks, their radio, their television and their mosque sermons are filled every day with exhortations to kill Jews, with appeals to young children to grow up to become suicide bombers, with blood-curdling cries to launch a jihad once more against the Jews, ‘those sons of apes and pigs’. Speaking in English, Palestinian politicians preach peace, but in Arabic they deliver a message to their people of ‘No surrender’ and predict a day when there will be no more Jews and no more Israel. Does it not seem to you that Quakers might be better employed in trying to break down these dreadful barriers of hate and militancy? But do Quakers have the courage to do so? You have made many friends with Palestinians, but fewer, to my knowledge, with Israeli Jews or, for that matter, Israeli Arabs.

If the Quaker movement stands, in the eyes of non-Quakers, for anything, it is the pursuit of peace. Your efforts, when directed to that end, have been commendable. We all hope and work for peace. It is an essential quality of civilized human life that all of us, be we religious or secular, should make efforts in the path of peace and reconciliation, for without them civilized life is not possible. I do not, however, believe that boycotting one side in this conflict is conducive to peacemaking. Through her tears, the little girl Tamar, whom I mentioned above, told an interviewer that she was resolved to continue in the path set by her parents. Her surviving family, her grandparents, aunts and uncles are all religious people, much like yourselves. They work hard to build something that symbolizes the survival and endurance of the Jewish people against the odds. No people in history have gone through the persecution, brutalization, and contempt that he Jews have done. We all thought that, when the Holocaust had ended, its horrors would speak to mankind and mark the end of hatred of the Jews. And yet it is clear today that anti-Semitism is as strong as it ever was, perhaps stronger. Hatred of Israel has become a mask for hatred of the Jews. Why else would the one Jewish state be singled out for the daily opprobrium that is heaped on it? Why do ordinary young people march in the streets chanting ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas’? Not in Berlin in 1939, but in London in 2009. Having survived the Holocaust and returned to their homeland after 2000 years, the Jews are not going to cave in to your boycott or any other trick that singles them out for punishment, much as Hitler singled them out.

For over 60 years, the Jewish people have done all in their power to make peace with their neighbours. They have given up Sinai and Gaza, and they will give up most of the West Bank when a reasonable deal has been made with their enemies. What have the Palestinians given in return? In 2000, Yasser Arafat walked away from an offer at the Camp David Summit that gave him 97 percent of what he had asked for. He then started a pre-planned second intifada, in the course of which over 1000 Israelis and over 4000 Palestinians were killed. While Israeli hospitals continue to treat Palestinians of all kinds, the Palestinians have offered a steady diet of violence, from suicide bombings to bullets to car bombs. They fire rockets on civilian communities, they target children, they teach their children to kill. No Israeli school teaches violence. So why do people of peace like yourselves prefer to boycott Israelis and to leave untouched the men of violence? Perhaps you will say you work among the Palestinians to inculcate a love for peace. If that is so, may I say in sorrow that your efforts have borne no fruit? As time passes, the Palestinians grow more violent, not less, more dismissive of gestures for peace, not less.

You have a role to play in the Middle East, but at present I believe you are playing the wrong one. The settlements are a prickly subject that will be settled in its own time. It is fairly certain that most of the settlements there now will remain. The Palestinians and the Jordanians say that no Jew will be allowed to remain on Arab soil. Yet 20% of the population of Israel is Arab. Racism against tolerance, surely. I think it would be better if you could agree not to interfere in the settlements, for which you seem ill-equipped. Work with both sides, by all means. Give comfort to the Jews and good counsel to the Arabs. Associate yourselves with activities like Israel’s Save a Heart Campaign, which gives heart transplants to Palestinian children. Much good can come of that, and your help would be much welcomed. Go to Hebron and see for yourselves how the small Jewish population is restricted to 3% of the town, on pain of death. Much reconciliation is needed there. Visit Givat Haviva's Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, the Parents Circle-Families Forum, the four Hand in Hand schools in Israel and the West Bank, and many, many more. Such projects offer a positive response to alienation and fear. Boycotts only exacerbate enmity.

I do not doubt your motives, your sincerity or your commitment. I only ask if you are properly informed about the realities of the Middle East and whether you do not take your information from tainted sources. You must act by your own lights, but I fear that is exactly what you are not doing. You have a mission to the Palestinians, and that is essential. But I believed you also have a mission to the people of the settlements, to children like young Tamar Fogel and her two brothers. The horror she witnessed will never leave her. But nor will the determination she has to build on the foundations left by a loving mother and father. If it is possible, I would ask you to visit some settlements and to sit in silence with the people who live in them. But do not boycott them or the produce they work so hard to grow.

Yours sincerely,

Denis MacEoin

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Letter to Edinburgh University Student Association

The following letter was written to the EUSA following their vote to boycott Israel because of its 'apartheid'.

The Committee
Edinburgh University Student  Association

May I be permitted to say a few words to members of  the EUSA? I am an Edinburgh graduate (MA 1975) who studied Persian, Arabic and  Islamic History in Buccleuch Place under William Montgomery Watt and Laurence  Elwell Sutton, two of Britain’s great Middle East experts in their day. I  later went on to do a PhD at Cambridge and to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies  at Newcastle University. Naturally, I am the author of several books and  hundreds of articles in this field.

I say all that to show that I am  well informed in Middle Eastern affairs and that, for that reason, I am  shocked and disheartened by the EUSA motion and vote. I am shocked for a  simple reason: there is not and has never been a system of apartheid in  Israel. That is not my opinion, that is fact that can be tested against  reality by any Edinburgh student, should he or she choose to visit Israel to  see for themselves.

Let me spell this out, since I have the impression  that those members of EUSA who voted for this motion are absolutely clueless in  matters concerning Israel, and that they are, in all likelihood, the victims  of extremely biased propaganda coming from the anti-Israel lobby. Being  anti-Israel is not in itself objectionable. But I’m not talking about ordinary  criticism of Israel. I’m speaking of a hatred that permits itself no  boundaries in the lies and myths it pours out. Thus, Israel is repeatedly  referred to as a ‘Nazi’ state. In what sense is this true, even as a metaphor?  Where are the Israeli concentration camps? The einzatsgruppen? The SS?  The Nüremberg Laws? The Final Solution? None of these things nor anything  remotely resembling them exists in Israel, precisely because the Jews, more  than anyone on earth, understand what Nazism stood for. It is claimed that  there has been an Israeli Holocaust in Gaza (or elsewhere). Where? When? No  honest historian would treat that claim with anything but the contempt it  deserves. But calling Jews Nazis and saying they have committed a Holocaust is  as basic a way to subvert historical fact as anything I can think  of.

Likewise apartheid. For apartheid to exist, there would have to be  a situation that closely resembled things in South Africa under the apartheid  regime. Unfortunately for those who believe this, a weekend in any part of  Israel would be enough to show how ridiculous the claim is. That a body of  university students actually fell for this and voted on it is a sad comment on  the state of modern education. The most obvious focus for apartheid would be  the country’s 20% Arab population. Under Israeli law, Arab Israelis have  exactly the same rights as Jews or anyone else; Muslims have the same rights  as Jews or Christians; Baha’is, severely persecuted in Iran, flourish in  Israel, where they have their world centre; Ahmadi Muslims, severely  persecuted in Pakistan and elsewhere, are kept safe by Israel; the holy places  of all religions are protected under a specific Israeli law. Arabs form 20% of  the university population (an exact echo of their percentage in the general  population). In Iran, the Baha’is (the largest religious minority) are  forbidden to study in any university or to run their own universities: why  aren’t your members boycotting Iran?

Arabs in Israel can go anywhere  they want, unlike blacks in apartheid South Africa. They use public transport,  they eat in restaurants, they go to swimming pools, they use libraries, they  go to cinemas alongside Jews – something no blacks could do in South Africa.  Israeli hospitals not only treat Jews and Arabs, they also treat Palestinians  from Gaza or the West Bank. On the same wards, in the same operating theatres.  

In Israel, women have the same rights as men: there is no gender  apartheid. Gay men and women face no restrictions, and Palestinian gays often  escape into Israel, knowing they may be killed at home. It seems bizarre to me  that LGBT groups call for a boycott of Israel and say nothing about countries  like Iran, where gay men are hanged or stoned to death. That illustrates a  mindset that beggars belief. Intelligent students thinking it’s better to be  silent about regimes that kill gay people, but good to condemn the only  country in the Middle East that rescues and protects gay people. Is that  supposed to be a sick joke?

University is supposed to be about learning  to use your brain, to think rationally, to examine evidence, to reach  conclusions based on solid evidence, to compare sources, to weigh up one view  against one or more others. If the best Edinburgh can now produce are students  who have no idea how to do any of these things, then the future is bleak. I do  not object to well documented criticism of Israel. I do object when supposedly  intelligent people single the Jewish state out above states that are horrific  in their treatment of their populations. We are going through the biggest  upheaval in the Middle East since the 7th and 8th centuries, and it’s clear  that Arabs and Iranians are rebelling against terrifying regimes that fight  back by killing their own citizens. Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, do  not rebel (though they are free to protest). Yet Edinburgh students mount no  demonstrations and call for no boycotts against Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia,  Yemen, and Iran. They prefer to make false accusations against one of the  world’s freest countries, the only country in the Middle East that has taken  in Darfur refugees, the only country in the Middle East that gives refuge to  gay men and women, the only country in the Middle East that protects the  Baha’is.... Need I go on? The imbalance is perceptible, and it sheds no credit  on anyone who voted for this boycott.

I ask you to show some common  sense. Get information from the Israeli embassy. Ask for some speakers. Listen  to more than one side. Do not make your minds up until you have given a fair  hearing to both parties. You have a duty to your students, and that is to  protect them from one-sided argument. They are not at university to be  propagandized. And they are certainly not there to be tricked into  anti-Semitism by punishing one country among all the countries of the world,  which happens to be the only Jewish state. If there had been a single Jewish  state in the 1930s (which, sadly, there was not), don’t you think Adolf Hitler  would have decided to boycott it? Of course he would, and he would not have  stopped there. Your generation has a duty to ensure that the perennial racism of  anti-Semitism never sets down roots among you. Today, however, there are clear  signs that it has done so and is putting down more. You have a chance to avert  a very great evil, simply by using reason and a sense of fair play. Please  tell me that this makes sense to you. I have given you some of the evidence.  It’s up to you to find out more.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis  MacEoin

Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Open Letter to Tamar Fogel

Dear Tamar,

We have never met, nor are we likely to. I am not a Jew nor an Israeli, though for many years I have defended both Jews and Israelis from the physical and political attacks that are made on them. I live in England, though I'm Irish. The Irish used to be great enemies of the English, who did bad things to us, but who gave us their language, something in which we excel. But many years ago, long before you were born, the enmity between the Irish and the English faded. We are not the same people, but we no longer hate each other, and the English Queen will soon make her first visit to Ireland, in a gesture that the past is past, that we are now allies, not enemies.

The most important for you is to be sure that the only guilty parties were the terrorists who carried out the slaughter. And I need not tell you that these were not the first Palestinian terrorists to take out their hate, their resentment, and their jealousy on helpless Jews living on Jewish land.

I have watched you in two videos, the first time when Binyamin Netanyahu came to visit you and your grandparents, and I still remember the force with which you challenged him, such an important man and such a young girl. And after that your tears. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now that the dead are at peace, and your two living brothers may grow up with less dark memories, but that you above all are old enough and aware enough to carry the most terrible memories through the rest of your life. But I also saw a second video in which you spoke to a reporter from Israeli National Television, and here your tears gave way to a most articulate, awesomely mature, and moving assertion of your right to live in Samaria. I wish every Palestinian could watch that video with an Arabic voice-over. Perhaps there and then they might see that their fight against Israel is worthless, that you will never surrender, that you will not let yourselves be led to the slaughter as happened all those years ago. Rabbi Chaim Potok once wrote that there are no more gentle Jews. He did not mean that Jews are no longer kind or good, but that they now know how to fight back. Kol Hakavod for every word you spoke.

You will grow up among strong people, and you will finally marry and have children of your own. That may seem far off to you, but to someone much older like myself, it will happen in no time at all. When that happens, and when your two brothers find wives and have children, there will soon be more Fogels than before. They cannot substitute for the dead, but they can stand up and speak for them down the long years to come. Your life, however much you may wish it otherwise, will be overshadowed by the terrible event that has fallen on you. You will ask questions and you may find answers. After the Shoah, many rabbis tackled the question of hester panim, asking why HaShem had seemed to turn his face away from his people. I am not a Jew, and I cannot provide easy answers to those questions. You must seek your own answers from your rabbis and in your scriptures. One answer may be found in a short sound recording that was made in Belsen shortly after its liberation by British forces. It was made by the BBC and contains at the end description of a Shabbat service held by a British rabbi, at the end of which the survivors stand and sing HaTikva. They are weak, they are out of tune, some of them will still die: but they are singing in open defiance of the very great Nazi evil that had overwhelmed them and their families. Three years after that, the state of Israel was established.

I'm writing, first because I'm a writer and that's how I express my feelings best. But also because I want to convey just how many people's thoughts are with you. You have your grandparents and aunts or uncles, and after that you have your small and concerned community of I'timar, but beyond that you have a world of people, Jews and non-Jews, who stand with you in your grief. We feel helpless, not knowing what we can or should do to help, yet longing to do so. How many people can say they truly love the murderers who came to your house that night? Some may hand out candies and dance in the streets, but how meaningful is that? They love themselves and their own dreams of glory, but who can truly love men of blood, people who kill infants in their cradles?

For you the greatest problem of the next few years may be this: you are still a child and you deserve to be reading funny books and watching films and playing games and going to your youth club; but many will treat you as an adult before you are entirely ready for adult responsibilities. You do seem older than your years, but you should not be rushed into adulthood. I am sure your grandparents and others will understand this and will do their best to protect you from those who want to take your childhood away from you.

Enough of the advice! Everyone likes to give advice. You don't have to listen to any of it, and advice isn't really the reason I've written. You are in my thoughts and in the thoughts of millions of other people because the murder of your family has gone so deeply into so many people's hearts. The list of atrocities carried out on Jews, not just in Israel but beyond, is very long. As a result, it's easy to let them all blur together into one mass. But every so often one death or a group of deaths stands out and demands special attention. One day there will be a memorial to the sacrifice your family made. People from far away may come to visit it. Photographs of it will appear in the press. But the true memorial will be you, an ordinary girl, with a torn heart and a wounded soul, going to school, going to shul, making friends, baking bread, sewing, cooking, reading, blushing when a certain young man comes to speak to you, going to Kever Yosef to marry him, giving birth to your first child. I just mean to say that no-one expects from you heroic deeds, no-one wants you to have to shoulder resistance to all the evils you know better than most. It is your ordinary deeds, the day-to-day living of an ordinary life that are for the creators of horror the most painful thing of all, that Jews will continue to live on land sanctified by Jewish blood. At the end of that recording made in Belsen, someone calls out 'Am Yisrael Chai'. By living, the killers only bring eternal disgrace on themselves, their families, and everyone who shelters them. By living, you make clear to everyone that the People of Israel live, that their light will not be snuffed out, and that when your enemies have gone to dust and seen a darkness beyond measure engulf them, the light of the Jews will illuminate the nations. Grow and be happy and tell us what you see on your journey.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Loosening the belt

I’ve been thinking this through for some time. Think, think, think. It clears the brain and makes all things evident: I recommend it to all my friends and relatives. What I’ve been thinking is simple: why don’t we destroy Israel? I don’t mean some mild redrawing of Israel’s fascist boundaries, or putting all those shameless Israeli women in burkas. They should be so lucky. No, I mean the hot patootie, wipe it off the face of the earth, off the map, off the pages of time, as my little chum Mahmoud There Are No Gays in Iran Ahmadinejad keeps telling us to do. I’m inclined to let him do it himself, because he has almost got the wherewithal, but I have some misgivings about putting everything into his hands.
For one thing, half a dozen nuclear bombs on the Zionist Entity would take care of it. No more Israelis, no more Nazi Zionists, no more fascist Jews, no more Christians, no more Baha’is, no more apartheid, no more gays. What’s not to like? There’s only one teensy drawback: Fifty megatons will take out all the Palestinians as well and probably contaminate Gaza and the West Bank. Sorry, Judaea and Samaria. No, that’s not right. Filastin.
Think about it as I have done. It’s not the land we hate. In fact, we love the land, we’ve loved it since 1964, long before the Zionists even heard of it. Before there was ever such a thing as a Jew. So the land is kosher. Actually, no, it’s halal or something. There were Palestinians on this land from before the Flood. It’s in the Qur’an, you just have to read it. Naturally, all this changed when the Jews invaded, following the Holocaust they caused in Germany and the deaths of millions of German Muslims and the SS Peace Corps. They drove all the Palestinians out and created another Holocaust, just like that. So all we have to do this time round is drive the Jews out, back to Germany, to their comfortable gemütlich homes given to them freely by the German Reich. There are many old SS men who will jump at the chance to help them settle in again.
Once the Palestinians return to their homes and take possession once again of those places so dear to their hearts, the homes they left in tears all those thousands of years ago, in the ancient Palestinian city of Tel Aviv and towns and villages everywhere, they will take possession of the lot. Think of that! The shops, the swimming pools, the universities, that neat little network of electric cars, all the businesses and technology centres, the farms, the electric cars, the widescreen high-definition TV sets, the restaurants, the falafel stands, the hospitals, the garden centre on Mount Carmel (we’ll demolish the shrines, of course, just to keep Mr Najdi Ahmadi-Mahmoud happy), the schools, the libraries (I’m not quite sure what those are, but they sound worth a look), the IT centres, Yad Vashem (which we will turn into a museum of the Palestinian Holocaust, which we will name Tadhkar wa Ism), in fact the whole bloody lot.
I got to about this point in my thinking, and I shared my thoughts with all the brothers and sisters out there. It’s not exactly rocket salad, is it, getting rid of the bad guys and putting the good guys in. There’d be an overnight transformation, wouldn’t there? Palestine would be Seventh Heaven, graced by pictures of the shuhada’ and nasheeds chanting everywhere you go. Why worry? But one of the sisters came up with a small problem that needs a bit more thinking. How the f*** do we run the place? She pointed out that the Jews were some sort of geniuses.
‘Geniuses?’ I guffawed. ‘You mean Jewnesses?’
She shook her head. Then she explained to me what a genius is. I must say, I was taken aback. It wasn’t a concept I had come across before. I had heard of martyrs, naturally. But not this. But not to worry, I said. ‘The glories of Arabic and Islamic civilization fly like banners before us….’ She let me go on for a while in similar vein, then she explained about the Noble (or is it Nobel?) prizes. ‘Nearly one hundred and seventy for the Jews,’ she said. I laughed out loud. ‘Is that all? The Muslims pick up Nobel prizes every other day.’
She looked rather worried when she answered me.
‘Actually, Ahmad, they don’t. Even at the most generous, they have only won nine Nobels. Ever.’
‘Well, that’s obvious,’ I told her. ‘Stands to reason. There are far, far more Jews than Muslims. Always have been. And the Nazi Jews are really, really rich. You just have to look around.’
‘Ahmad, there are about thirteen million Jews in the entire world.’
‘So, a couple of million Muslims? We win hands down.’
She shook her head.
‘Actually, we don’t. There are one point six billion Muslims, Ahmad. One point six billion.’
‘But if we throw all those Israeli Jews out or put them where the sun doesn’t shine, there’ll be none left, right?’
‘Not in Israel, no.’
‘So the Arabs and the Muslims get to take over.’
‘And they run the hospitals and the laboratories and the science institutes and the IT centres for research and development, and they win a lot of Noble prizes. We could even introduce Noble prizes of our own. We could call it Al-Ja’iza al-Nabila.’
‘Maybe,’ she murmured. ‘Maybe not. And it’s Nobel, not noble.’
‘Why maybe not?’
‘Ahmad, the Muslim world is a mess scientifically.’
‘How can that be?’ I asked, a little sarcastically, because I could see which way this particular wind was blowing. ‘We produced al-Khwarizmi and al-Farabi and Avicenna and Galileo….’
She stopped me, and for a moment I thought she was going to lay a hand on my arm, but I gave her a warning look and the moment passed.
‘Galileo was a Christian,’ she said. ‘As for all the rest, they lived in the middle ages.’
‘Well,’ I defended myself, ‘there’s no reason we can’t become great again.’
‘Ahmad, the countries belonging to the Organization of the Islamic Conference have an average of 8.55 scientists per every 1000 people.’
‘See, what did I tell you?’
‘Ahmad, the world average is 40.7. And the OECD countries have an average of 139.3. The OIC contains some of the richest countries in the world, like Saudi Arabia. Where are the Palestinians going to find the expertise to run all the enterprises you mention?’
‘We’ll patent everything we invent and catch up that way.’
‘I don’t think there have been any Palestinian patents. Now, Pakistan is one of the most active Muslim countries in terms of science. It has produced 8 patents in forty-three years. Israel has more companies quoted on the high-tech NASDAQ stock exchange in New York than any other country outside the United States. In innovation it outshines all its neighbours. Between 1980 and 2000 our neighbours the Egyptians registered 77 patents in the US. Our rich friends the Saudis registered 171. Israelis registered 7,652.’
‘But we have universities,’ I clamoured. ‘And lots of young people, and even more when they no longer have to blow themselves up to show the Israelis who’s the boss.’
‘Ahmad, not a single university from an OIC country is in the top 500 universities list. Did you know that in 1000 years the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in a single year?’
‘All right,’ I said, ‘you’ve made your point. We work slowly but surely. But where can we find help to replace all the Jews once we’ve kicked them out? I mean, Palestine will have to be proud and free. It’s our destiny.’
‘Ahmad, the Jews are the ones with the destiny. All we know how to do is blow ourselves up in public places. That’s not a destiny, that’s mass suicide.’
‘What then? We’ll have to create a new country, a what-do-you-call-it? A Goldene Medina. Won’t our friends help? The Saudis, perhaps.’
‘The Jews were our friends all along. If you kick them out, you’ll just have to grovel and ask them back in again and let them get on with what they were doing in the first place.’
‘And I’ll get a Fa’iza Nabila for that?’
‘I expect you will, Ahmad. You certainly deserve one.’
She squeezed my hand. Quite forward, really, but I let her go on squeezing.
‘Can we give Fa’izat Nabilat to people who blow themselves up? If they kill people, that is?’
‘I expect they’d like that, Ahmad. But you’re forgetting already that we want the Jews to stay. Permanently.’
This time I squeezed back. Impure thoughts went through my head. For the first time in my life, my suicide belt felt heavy. Maybe she would take it off for me.