As Jeremy Corbyn implied: “The West should reflect on its part in prolonging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”

June 7, 2017

It is the 50th anniversary week of the Six-Day War of 1967 when Israel seized 1,200 square water-rich kilometres of the Golan Heights from Syria and later annexed it – though its right to this land has never been recognised by the international community.

Donald Macintyre, who lived in Jerusalem for many years and won the 2011 Next Century Foundation’s Peace Through Media Award, recalls in the Independent that fifty years ago Shlomo Gazit, head of the Israeli military intelligence’s assessment department, heard detailed reports of the destruction that morning of almost the entire Egyptian air force by Israeli jets – his 23-year-old nephew being among the few missing Israeli pilots. He then started work on a clear-sighted blueprint for the future of the territories Israel had occupied, arguing that “Israel should not humiliate its defeated enemies and their leaders.”

Jerusalem: an open city or UN headquarters?

There were then, as now, many leading Zionist Israelis who believed that occupation was a wholly wrong course. Gazit outlined plans for an independent, non-militarised Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip; the Old City of Jerusalem would become an “open city … with an international status resembling that of the Vatican”.

A British Quaker, Richard Rowntree, advocated moving the UN Headquarters from New York to Jerusalem and years later Sir Sydney Giffard, a former British Ambassador to Japan, presented the social and economic advantages to Israelis and Palestinians of moving the UN Headquarters to the vicinity of Jerusalem (Spectator link only accessible if account created). Whilst recognising difficulties and obstacles, Giffard felt that UN member states giving determined support to this project “could enable the UN to effect a transformation – both of its own and of the region’s character – of historic significance”.

But after 50 years the Palestinians, as Macintyre points out, “a resourceful and mainly well-educated population, are still imprisoned in a maze of checkpoints closures and military zones, deprived of civil and political rights and governed by martial law (denounced by Mehdi Hasan here, destruction of sewage system pictured above). And all this nearly three decades after Yasser Arafat agreed to end the conflict in return for a state on Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – 22% of historic Palestine (Even Hamas, so long one of many excuses for not reaching a deal, last month issued its qualified support for such an outcome)”.

“The West should reflect on its part in prolonging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”

Under this heading, Macintyre points out that the US provides Israel with over $3bn (£2.3bn) a year in military aid and the EU implements trade agreements which exempt only the most flagrant economic activity in the settlements from its provisions, leading Benjamin Netanyahu to believe he can maintain the occupation with impunity.

He summarises the potential gains of a peace agreement for Israel: “full diplomatic and economic relations with the Arab world, an end to the growing perception of Israel as an apartheid state, the reduction of costs – moral and financial – to its own citizens of using a conscript army to enforce the occupation”.

Co-existence in Iran

In several Stirrer articles, opening with this one, Richard Lutz reports on his visits to Iran – as a Jew, albeit lapsed – and Roger Cohen’s account in the New York Times is not to be missed. He – like Lutz, “treated with such consistent warmth” in Iran, says, “It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshipping in relative tranquillity. Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric”.

As so many civilised Israelis and Palestinians work for peace, some details recorded here, and the settlement of Neve Shalom (above) shows what is possible, Macintyre ends by saying that it is not just the Israelis and the Palestinians who should be reflecting this week on the impact of what is surely the longest occupation in modern history:

“It is time for the Western powers to reflect on their part in prolonging a conflict which will never end of its own accord”.






“We’re doing this to rescue Israel’s honor”

March 3, 2015

Last week, Haaretz reported that Israelis have been working with Mount Zion churches in recent months to repair damage to cemeteries belonging to Jews, Christians or Muslims, whether due to vandalism or the ravages of time.

graves mount zion cemetery

The first project, sponsored by the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, is the restoration of the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion [above]. The work was done by master masons – Circassians from northern Israel – with funding from the preservation society. After the gravestones were repaired, groups of volunteers — ranging from religious Israeli Jews to overseas Christians studying here — began cleaning up the cemetery and tending the greenery.

“We did this to correct, at least a little, the bad impression left by the authorities’ failure to deal with the hate crimes,” said architect and historian Gil Gordon, who oversaw the work. “They haven’t caught and indicted a single person, and the mayor is ignoring it. If you like, we’re doing this to rescue Israel’s honor, so they’ll know there are also people who care.”

armenian cemetery jerusalem

The organizers are talking with the Armenian Church about restoring its cemetery [above, before damage], and also with the Dajanis, a respected Palestinian family that has long taken care of Mount Zion’s cemeteries. Next week the volunteers are expected to begin cleaning up the mount’s Muslim cemetery. After that they plan to restore the Sambursky Cemetery, a Jewish site on the mount.

In addition to cleaning up the cemeteries, the volunteers are documenting the graves, some of them very old. They came to remind people that Jerusalem is a multicultural city where we all live, and will continue to live, side by side.

dr yisca harani“We began the project after dozens of crosses in the Protestant cemetery were broken,” said Dr. Yisca Harani (right), a historian of Christianity and one of the project’s initiators.

The volunteers, she added, “came not just to show solidarity, but to show commitment and try to remind people that Jerusalem is a multicultural city where we all live, and will continue to live, side by side.”

Once Mount Zion’s cemeteries have been restored, the plan is to create a tourist route that will cover both the cemeteries and the site’s many cultures and faiths.


Many in the Middle East continue to pay a heavy price for Europe’s persecution and displacement of Jewish people

November 18, 2014

synagogue deaths nov 14

At least four Israelis have been killed and eight injured in what police say was a terrorist attack at a West Jerusalem orthodox synagogue on Harav Shimon Agassi Street. Two men armed with a pistol, axes and knives carried out the attack in the Har Nof neighbourhood during prayers. Police say that the attackers – Palestinians from East Jerusalem – were shot dead. Jerusalem has seen tensions between Israelis and Palestinians soar, with a string of deadly attacks and clashes over a disputed holy site. Israeli media reports suggest there was a shoot-out between the attackers and police who arrived on the scene.

A BBC correspondent also conjectured that this incident was related to the deepening of tensions caused by the ‘disputed holy site.

Earlier this month we focussed on rising tension due to orthodox incursions to the pressure to admit Jewish worshippers to the Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa mosque, in the Old City of Jerusalem, is sited.


Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel, quoted in the Middle East Monitor; “Ariel told Israeli radio station Kol Berama – controlled by the Jewish extremist movement Shas – the status quo could not continue at the Al-Aqsa Mosque as it ‘was built in the place of the holiest place for Israel’ “.

Ariel added that the construction of a third Jewish temple at the site is the primary demand of the Torah “as it is at the forefront of Jewish salvation”.

John Reed, in the FT, earlier reported that Jordan withdrew its ambassador from Israel after Israeli security forces clashed with Palestinians at the al-Aqsa mosque. A Jordanian/Palestinian-led  Islamic trust, which administers the mosque, said that Israeli security forces damaged the mosque’s doors, burnt carpets and broke glass during the confrontation; two people were injured inside the mosque, and Israeli security forces used foam-tipped bullets, stun grenades and tear gas against protesters.

Henriette Al-Khouri says that although anti-Semitism has historically been a European issue, people in the Middle East have continued to pay a heavy price for Europe’s persecution and displacement of Jewish people – in land and blood – since the establishment of Israel (the Friend, 29 August 2014).

Most readers will wholeheartedly and urgently endorse her call to western governments, as well as Israelis, “to find a just and long lasting solution to this enduring and explosive conflict”.

Israeli Nature and Parks Authority support for Palestinian village

February 28, 2014



Battir, in the Bethlehem hills a few miles from Jerusalem, is famous for its terraced hills built by hand over millennia. The fertile lands of the Palestinian village are filled with vegetables, fruit crops and olive groves, fed by natural spring water which flows through Roman irrigation systems, built more than 2,000 years ago.

However, Sky News’ Middle East News Editor, Tom Rayner, reports from Jerusalem that Israel’s Defence Ministry wants to extend the separation barrier – which in some areas nearby is an eight-metre-high concrete wall (below) and would divide the village from around 35% of its ancestral land.

battir near wall

Residents of Battir were guaranteed continued access to the land by the Israeli state after the 1948 war, in return for a pledge that the railway which runs along the line would not be vandalised. Now, however, Israel’s Defence Ministry has told the Supreme Court in Jerusalem a court that it has “no alternative” but to extend the separation barrier and divide the land of the West Bank village of Battir.

Israeli opposition to the plan

The Israeli Nature and Parks Authority has backed the village’s appeal against the Defence Ministry’s planned routing of the barrier – the first time one arm of the Israeli state has publicly opposed another on this matter.

At earlier court hearings Israel’s Defence Ministry insisted residents of Battir would still be able to access the land through special security gates and that the barrier would take the form of a fence, rather than a wall, but Gidon Bromberg, an Israeli spokesman for Friends of the Earth Middle East, said such a plan risked the cultural and environmental importance of the land:

“This site is so unique that we must protect it, not just for Israelis and Palestinians, but for humankind as a whole. We can meet the legitimate security concerns by alternative means.”

A final ruling in the case of Battir, and other villages in the Bethlehem area, has been delayed to a later date.