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11th November 2003
Dawn Primarolo, M.P. for Bristol South,
House of Commons
Dear Dawn Primarolo
I returned a couple of hours ago from a 10 day study tour in Palestine and was delighted to find two letters from you on the subject - one with a letter to you from Baroness Symons and the other the Report of a Parliamentary Delegation to the area in July 2003.
I want to say "YES! YES! YES!" to the Report and its conclusions. Though we went to different areas (we were unable to get into Gaza) we found the same evidence, both from our own observations and from many talks with Israeli Jews, Christians, and Palestinians. We did not have access to the top level (but did visit Chairman Arafat's bombed headquarters) but we were addressed by two town Mayors, and by academics, clerics, peace and justice workers, and ordinary folk.
The delegation does not seem to have realised that the Wall, though presented as a security measure, is clearly intended to grab land. We stayed in Bethlehem which is now tightly encircled not only taking farmers' fields and grazing lands but making urban development almost impossible, thus raising the cost of land, housing, and industrial property. I have drafted a letter to the press about this, which I shall enclose.
Another point not stated is the enormous size of some of the 'settlements' or 'neighbourhoods'. Though many are tiny, some are vast new towns. Moreover they are built as linear cities on an east-west axis so as to divide the West Bank area into 'bantustans' or cantons. At present these are separated. The view was expressed that the Israelis will make a grandiose concession by building highways to connect them.
The delegation also seems to have missed the importance of Christian Zionism as a principle source of the injustice. Sabeel, a Christian ecumenical organisation, is to hold a conference in the spring to raise awareness of this factor. I hope some parliamentarians or at least some New Labour researchers will attend.
We were amazed by the misconceptions expressed by a politically aware, left-wing 'moderate' Jew. For instance she believed the Arabs left their villages in 1948 only because their leaders told them to. (My "Israel" guide book says that the Jews occupied unused land which was sold to them by absentee Arab landowners.) She could only explain a recent poll (in which Israel was found to be regarded as the biggest threat to peace) as evidence of widespread misunderstanding of the situation.
Two views I heard more than once (that are not reflected in the report) from pro-Palestinian speakers were: 1. that Mr Arafat is not helpful in his present position and 2. that were the wall to have been erected on the 1967 border, the 'Green Line', it might have been acceptable.
I have been convinced that Sharon has a grand plan which is to make life so intolerable for Palestinians as to drive them out. (Already more than half have gone.) He dare not engage in ethnic cleansing of the form used by the Serbs against the Kosovans but the effects are similar. The remnant who do not leave will find their land cantonised; non-viable as a State, but useful as a source of cheap labour.
A concept that has helped me was expressed by one of the town mayors. (We found several of the Palestinians we met very able to see both sides and extraordinarily reasonable in their assessment of their situation.) He said that Jews look back with a certain resignation but not bitterness to the losses they sustained due to having to move on as a result of persecution (pogroms). (Our 'moderate' said that she was not demanding to go back to her grandparents' house in Prague, so why should the Arabs demand a right of return.) Whereas Palestinians have an almost religious attachment to their village, their land, and their olive trees. It occurs to me that they have been conquered many times in the past 2000 years but have never before been driven away. This might explain their extraordinary tenacity and courage.
I realise you are very busy but I hope you will be able to find time to continue actively to pursue this concern. Within our world neighbourhood this has to be the most extreme injustice being perpetrated.