At this time of year my thoughts turn to Bethlehem. I have sent Christmas greetings to many friends there over the last few days, although the Orthodox Christmas is still a few days away of course. Interestingly several of my Muslim friends from Bethlehem have sent Christmas greetings to me and fellow Palestinians from the Christian community, as they have done in previous years. So much for the perception that Christian and Muslim Palestinians are at each others throats.
I have a lot of friends in Palestine, having developed projects involving youth exchanges and support for charitable work there.
A Forgotten People?
Unlike many Christians I do not turn a blind eye to the oppression of the Palestinian people which is the ‘new apartheid’ in my view.
With hopes of a viable independent Palestinian State dwindling further, following the gutless reaction of the US to Israeli settlement construction in Palestinian territory, I thought this article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was a useful reminder of one example of the oppression of the Palestinian people. Read the article here ‘Shin Bet tortures prisoners and denies access to lawyers’. Haaretz is Israel’s oldest daily newspaper.
Israeli Human Rights Champions
Not all Israelis support the actions of their government in respect of the treatment of the Palestinians. When I was out there last I met the Executive Director of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem who do valuable work exposing human rights violations on all sides of the conflict. Their website has this summary of what they are about.
The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories was established in 1989 by a group of prominent academics, attorneys, journalists, and Knesset members. It endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human rights culture in Israel.
B’Tselem in Hebrew literally means “in the image of,” and is also used as a synonym for human dignity. The word is taken from Genesis 1:27 “And God created humans in his image. In the image of God did He create him.” It is in this spirit that the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights.”
I also met other smaller groups and heard personal stories exposing the real life tragedies of people on both sides of the ‘Apartheid Wall’.
Clegg changes his tune on Israel
One good thing that Nick Clegg did in opposition was to call for Gordon Brown to ‘halt arms exports to Israel’ and he condemned the Israeli actions in Gaza a year ago. Sadly this is another aspect of Clegg’s changing politics as he took a very different stance in November when he met with the ‘Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel’, The Jewish Chronicle reported it under the headline ‘Nick Clegg: we got it wrong on Israel’ and other Lib Dems were less than impressed with the change of approach. The effects of a little bit of power? Does Clegg still believe in stopping sales of military equipment to Israel? The Coalition Agreement is pretty vague and simply says, ‘We will support defence jobs through exports that are used for legitimate purposes, not internal repression’. I am sure that the current Israeli government would argue that all their military procurement is for ‘legitimate purposes, not internal repression’ but all the Palestinians I know would strongly disagree!
It will be interesting to see how Ed Milliband approaches Israel/Palestine. Will he take the position of organisations such as B’Tselem and other Jewish groups who recognise the deep injustice of the plight of the Palestinians or will he give the green light to the current extreme right wing government in Israel to continue the land-grab of Palestinian territory and brutal oppression of the people of Gaza?