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An open letter to Ben Phillips, Oxfam

FAO Ben Phillips

Director of Campaigns and Policy Division

Dear Mr. Phillips,

I watched you debate with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, and followed the semi-debate with Daniel Birnbaum in Tel Aviv. You deflected several of Paxman's questions with some adroitness, and you never really got to engage with Birnbaum, not least because of the time delay.

I'm writing to fill in some of the gaps, of which I imagine you are not aware, and I do so in the trust that you will consider what I have to say with a good measure of fairness and objectivity. I don't wish to push you into one position or another, but I do hope I can prise your mind a little further open. I do not write as a Jew or an Israeli, though I have close connections with both communities. I am a former lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies, with a PhD in Persian Studies, I am the author of several books on Islam, and I am currently a columnist with the US Gatestone Institute. Politically I am a liberal (with a lower-case ‘l') voter, so perhaps we have a fair bit in common.

It is not the purpose of this letter to bully you, to tell you you're wrong about Sodastream and the West Bank, or to force you to change your mind. It's your privilege to think as you do, but I want to engage with you in a dialogue of some kind. I certainly believe you are mistaken about many issues relating to Israel, the West Bank and the settlements, but I am sure the best way forward for both of us is to lay out, as objectively as possible, what seem to me to be the foundations of misunderstanding. For you are far from alone in seeing the West Bank and its various inhabitants in a jaundiced light, and to place the blame for the situation there firmly on the state of Israel.

Rogue States
I could say that your view of these matters is entirely false, but I don't want to do that. I would prefer to believe that you speak from the heart and that your convictions are based on a wide reading of media comment and statements by international bodies such as the UN, the International Court of Justice, the UN Human Rights Council, and, presumably, Oxfam itself. If that is the case, as it is for most people, you can well be excused views that dismay other people, Jews and non-Jews alike, Israelis as well as English, Irish (like myself), Canadians, Australians and many others. I think I may add that your opinions in this matter find a warm echo in a range of rogue states like Gaza, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan, or fairly stable countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and many beyond. That alone should, I trust, cause you to hesitate in your determination to espouse views that are, to a large extent black and white.

It must be said too that I imagine our views coincide in some central areas. Your underlying motivation is, surely, one of humanitarian regard, of the heart as much as the mind, of a level of sympathy for the Palestinian people, something you possibly feel more strongly than you do for the people of Israel. That - if I am right in my assumption - prompts you to take actions and espouse convictions that stem from a deeply felt urge to cause no harm, nor encourage harm to a people you deem oppressed or downtrodden or impoverished. It may surprise you if I say that those are sentiments most Israelis agree upon. Israel was not founded to hurt the Arab people of the region, nor has Israel fought any of its wars in order to diminish the hopes or plans of the Palestinians or the other Arabs who have attacked it. For all Israelis, the best possible outcome must lie in a peaceful solution, the creation of a prosperous Palestinian state, and an eventual exchange of ideas and activities as good neighbours, one to the other.

Perhaps I can reinforce what I say about Israel not seeking harm by referring you to a policy strictly followed by the Israeli Air Force. It is this: before a projected mission to destroy a rocket launching pad or other terrorist target, the IAF drops leaflets over the civilian population, warning them of the coming attack. They follow that up by telephone calls to all properties with a phone and e-mails to those with e-mail facilities. Only when civilians have extricated themselves, leaving only terrorists behind, will an attack be made. Sadly, terrorists will, as often as not, order civilians to stay where they are, to act as human shields. In that case, no attack will be made. It is the terrorists Israel wants to dislodge, not ordinary Palestinians. And we are sure that if there were freedom to speak as one wants in Gaza or the West Bank, most civilians would want the terrorists out of their way.

So, let us agree on some basic principles and common motives. We both want a good outcome for the Palestinians. I care for the Palestinians, but I have no love for Palestinian politicians or Palestinians. That is because I am convinced, from years of study, that both politicians and terrorists have served the people of Palestine very ill indeed.

In your interview you referred several times to the illegality of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and of the Israeli settlements. This seems to be the core of your position, whereby you base your argument about Sodastream. And it is here that we must begin an investigation into the truth. For the fact is that I can think of a great many experts in international law who will argue otherwise and advance numerous historical and rational arguments in defence of their position. Among them I number the late Julius Stone, professor at the University of New South Wales and the University of California; Eugene Rostow, Dean of the Yale Law School; William Brinton, an American international lawyer, and Professor Eugene Kontorovitch from Northwestern University. They are unanimous is stating that both the occupation and the settlements are thoroughly legal. There are others.

How can there be such a division, between scholars and lawyers who back the occupation and others who denounce it? As in so many legal matters, this reflects difference of opinion between experts. But the fact that so many skilled interpreters of international are form in their assertion that Israel has done no wrong should be enough to serve as a word of caution to you that there are at least two sides to this debate and that your repeated assertion of illegality may need to be modified. Whether or not you come, like me, to favour an outright vote in support of Israel, you must at least conclude that the situation is far from being as hard and fast as you now think.

Has Israel made mistakes? I will not deny it. It is, after all, a nation state among other other states, and we know that all nations make mistakes. But just as we are careful not to treat the democracies as criminal states, so we should not regard Israel, also a democracy (and the only democracy in the Middle East), as a nation that breaks international law. Do not forget, in all this, that Israel has over the years been the object of some of the vilest slanders, the repository of myth upon myth. Israel is not, I will strenuously maintain, an ‘apartheid state'. There is simply no evidence for that at all, yet we have an annual ‘Israel Apartheid Week'. Israel is a model for anti-racism. There are, need I say, Israeli racists, but leading examples of the species like Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira have been arrested. An apartheid state would not arrest pro-apartheid (or worse) ideologues. Like other countries, Israel has still some way to go, but like those other countries (including the UK) it is making serious efforts to advance connections between all ethnic groups. Equally, Israel is not a ‘Nazi state'. One would have thought that self-evident. How could anyone imagine that the world's only Jewish state would model itself on the Third Reich?

But the enemies of Israel will stoop lower than that in their accusations. In 2005, during anti-Israel demonstrations against Israel (and against the murderous terrorist outfit, Hamas), marchers in several cities (including London) chanted loudly ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas'. This, and not mild questions in the House of Commons, is what today's Jews and Israelis have to put up with every day. But the steady barrage of vituperation and pure hatred colours the whole debate, prevents people like yourself from knowing the truth, and obscures the historical and modern narratives. That is why I feel I have to go back to basics. I hope you don't mind, but I don't see any way round it. So many people pontificate on the Israel-Palestinian conflict without a sustained knowledge of how it all happened and how today's legality is joined at the hip to yesterday's events and documents. That's where I come in. And, admit it, you'll enjoy it. Everybody likes to know more about things.

The Role of Islamic Law
Before I pass on to the issue of legality historically, let me introduce a factor that is seldom if ever spoken of in this context. While legality in international law is taken to be the primary context for this debate, this is not the case for Muslim countries, including the Arab states. For these countries - all sworn enemies of Israel - the crucial issue is Islamic law. A leading authority on war in Islamic law, Rudolph Peters, has argued that international law in Islam is determined by the law of jihad. This is incontrovertible. All substantial books of jurisprudence contain chapters on jihad and regular war. One feature of Islamic international law is the belief that any territory, once conquered by Muslim forces, must remain within the sphere of Islam in perpetuity. Even today, many jihadists believe that countries like Spain and Portugal must be reconquered and returned to Islam. That is the case with Israel, which was conquered (as Syria) in the 7th century. Now, there are many Muslim authorities who argue that treaties and covenants may exist between Muslim and non-Muslim states. I recently edited an impressive paper detailing this: ‘A Guide to Refuting Jihadism' by Rashad Ali and Hannah Stuart, at: I commend it to you, but advise that most contemporary Muslim writers take a different position with regard to Israel, and their refusal to compromise or to recognize the validity of modern international law standards and rulings is a major factor in continuing the war against Israel. Do bear this in mind when you speak of legality and non-legality. There is more than one dynamic at work here, more than one view of the world. When you say the settlements are illegal, you do so out of a conviction that this is in respect of international law whereas the illegality that is being criticized here may, as often as not, be determined in terms of shari'a law, something to which I doubt very much you subscribe. A very popular compendium of shari'a law is Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri's Umdat al-salik, ‘Reliance of the Traveller', a fourteenth-century text written in Arabic and often referred to as the ‘the classic manual on Islamic law'. One reference will suffice to make my point: In the Book on Retaliation for Injurious Crimes, section o1.2, we are told that ‘The following are not subject to retaliation'. A short list follows, among them ‘a Muslim for killing a non-Muslim'. Whereas a non-Muslim will be put to death for killing a Muslim. It is evident that we are dealing with legal and moral codes that are a world apart. I just want to show in simple terms how Islamic law is a very unsafe basis on which to pursue the issue of animosity between Muslim Arabs and the Jews of Israel. And it's worth adding that in all the original fighting against Israel, as in modern views issued by Hamas or Hizbullah, the term jihad is used freely to describe the struggle. Thus, to Muslim proponents of the war against Israel, there can be no compromise, only strict adherence to the rules of jihad as they interpret them. In 1947, the UN resolution for a two-state partition was rejected by Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem and the most important Arab leader in his day. He declared: ‘I declare a holy war, my Moslem brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder them all!.' Or, again: ‘Kill the Jews wherever you find them, this is pleasing to Allah.' Two weeks before the Arab invasion in May 1948i, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, ‘Abd al-Rahman ‘Azzam Pasha, declared: ‘If the Zionists dare establish a state, the massacres we would unleash would dwarf anything which Genghis Khan and Hitler perpetrated.' And to make sure his meaning was clear, he said on the following day: ‘This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.' We are not in the realm of international law at all. Nothing has changed since then.

The More Historical bit...
Tempting as it may be, I don't plan to take you back to ancient Israel nor to the Arab invasion of 634 (a mere 2 years after the death of Muhammad). One thing is important though, namely the fact that, despite rash claims to the contrary, there was never a territory called Palestine under Muslim/Arab rule. No such territory existed in the twentieth century either, and claims that Jews ‘invaded' a fictitious Palestine should be disregarded, since the scenario that creates only serves to inflame emotions based on a myth.

What is vital is to look briefly at the Ottoman Empire, a long-lasting Turkish dominion that ruled this region from 1516, when the entire region was designated Syria, the later West Bank/Israel stretch being simply Southern Syria. There was no such thing as nationalism from the seventh to the late nineteenth centuries, with a broad Arab nationalism developing in imitation of several European movements to assert independence or to throw off the yoke of the Ottoman Empire (as in Greece). Palestinian nationalism dates only from the late 1960s and replaced an earlier Syrian nationalism.

This situation was compounded by the fact that, by the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was crumbling and could no longer exercise proper rule over its subject peoples, who included most Arabs and Jews. The Caliph made the disastrous decision to join the First World War on the side of Germany. It lost heavily, and it was clear to the states who came into control of the imperial regions that chaos would ensue if they did not act at once to fend off the results of Ottoman collapse. The newly-established League of Nations met at San Remo in 1920 and entrusted the shift to the two leading imperial powers, Britain and France (but not Portugal). The two powers were given mandates out of which to create new nations, apportioning resources and borders in as equable a fashion as possible. Thus, for example, the French held the mandate of Syria, out of which it created a large state of Syria for the Muslim inhabitants and the much smaller state of Lebanon for the Christians. Until recent events, this arrangement served well. Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations puts this well: ‘[C]ommunities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone.'

Britain was apportioned two mandates: that of Iraq (from which modern Iraq was created) and that of Palestine (following older British usage). Among other things, the resolution of the League of Nations with regard to Palestine read: ‘The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 8, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people'. The meaning is clear. The resolution and the Balfour Declaration of 1917, on which it is in part based, have the force of law, and nothing resolved since has or can overturn the intent or the application of their joint purpose. It is why Israel exists today, and in no sense did Jews enter the land illegally or steal anyone's land or act outside the conventions of the mandate. We do not object to the mandates of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon or the nations to which they gave rise; nor does anyone object to the creation of the country of Jordan out of the Palestine mandate, even though Britain acted arbitrarily and outside the League of Nation's intention, stealing a substantial portion of the land from the Jews. That, of course, is water under the bridge, even though the ruling Hashemite dynasty had no overt claim to the territory and only received it as a favour of the British so they could retain influence in the region. Double standards apply.

By now you must be asking yourself, ‘who is this madman, holding forth on obscure historical facts and expecting me to pay attention?' I don't blame you, a discussion of mandates and resolutions isn't quite the sort of thing that goes with a zing, and you have work to do and books to read and films to watch and you must be fed up with people lecturing you about Israel.

But I ask your patience. This is important. If you are to grasp the falsity of statements to the effect that Israel's occupation of the West Bank is illegal or that Israeli settlements are illegal, you simply won't get it if you don't follow enough of the background And you ought to look at some of the moral issues too. Israel has abandoned a lot of territory to make peace. It left the Sinai to make peace with Egypt, in which it was successful. It left south Lebanon to make peace with Lebanon, also a success. Less successfully, it vacated Gaza, tearing down all its settlements, receiving anger and aggression in return. Later, I will print out a list of Israeli peace-making efforts. It is important to know about them, to be informed of the reactions to them, and to see how a constant effort for peace (and a repeated negative response from the Palestinians) provides a clear picture of Israel's moral position, which is very far removed from the slurs and contumely heaped on it by the media, the Western Left, and the jihadist sector of the Muslim community across the board.

In 1947, the UN voted to adopt a plan for the partition of Mandate Palestine, which was perfectly generous towards the Arabs and fair to the Jews. Though with reservations, the Jews gladly accepted the resolution that awarded them a state. The Arab response was angry, violent, and in line with a policy that refused to let Jews settle in or rule what had been Muslim territory. Thus, Jamal Husseini (Secretary to the Executive Committee of the Palestine Arab Congress (1921-1934) and to the Muslim Supreme Council) threatened that "The blood will flow like rivers in the Middle East'. The Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Sa'id, said: ‘We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in'. He also said to British diplomats that if the United Nations solution was not ‘satisfactory', ‘severe measures would have to be taken against all Jews in Arab countries'.

Extreme violence had already started in 1947, but when, on 15 May 1948 Israel declared its independence, five armies descended on the new state and fought to destroy it, root and branch. Leaving the war the followed to one side, I would ask you to consider what this meant. The Jews had abided by international law by agreeing to the UN resolution of May 1947 that established two states, one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians, and by working within the framework of the November 1947 partition plan. The Arabs, beginning with the group who would later call themselves ‘Palestinians' (though most of them were Egyptians, Syrians, Turks, and others) these Arabs refused to agree, and when they attacked Israel were in breach of international law. There can be no doubt about this. When, in the course of the 1948 war, the Egyptians conquered the Gaza Strip and the Jordanians conquered the West Bank and Jerusalem, they both acted outside the law, especially when they decided to keep the two enclaves under their own control, without so much as a ‘by your leave' from the UN or other body. Even the Arab League considered the annexation of the West Bank to be null and void. Gaza was at first administered by a purely symbolic All-Palestine Government, after which it came under direct Egyptian control with out annexation - to stay that way until the Palestine question could be resolved. As with the West Bank, Gaza did not become a state nor was it ruled by a High Contracting Party.

When in 1967 Israel fought a second defensive war against several Arab states (all acting illegally), it conquered the West Bank and Gaza, but it did not annex either. The territories were (and the West Bank still is) disputed. Just like the Egyptians and the Jordanians, the Israelis have left the final issues of sovereignty and borders until the Palestinians come to their senses and finally agree to a generous peace offer. A great deal rests on a critical document produced months after the cessation of hostilities, the issue of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which remains germane to all current and future negotiations. The resolution contains several vital clauses, of which the most important is I(1), which calls for Israeli troops to withdraw from ‘territories' held during the war. That short clause was the object of draft after draft, comment after comment, but what it boils down to is this: the words ‘all the' before ‘territories' were carefully omitted. Numerous authorities have affirmed that this was the case and that Israel has never been obliged to withdrew from all territories under its control. Successive British Foreign Secretaries, including Michael Stewart, in November 17, 1969, and George Brown, on January 19, 1970, both confirmed to Parliament that the intentional omission of the words ‘all the' from the Resolution implies that Israel is not required to retreat to the boundaries in effect before 1967, namely the Armistice lines determined in 1948 - and that territorial adjustments have to be made.

Israel is not acting illegally in its control of the West Bank. The West Bank is a disputed territory that currently has no owner, and Israel has good reason to remain there until the Palestinians can guarantee the safety of Israeli citizens (both Jew and Arab) and the integrity of the state of Israel. But the Palestinians have persisted in rejectionism, citing, not Resolution 242 but the Khartoum Declaration of the Arab League, also drawn up in 1967 in response to a war the Arabs started (and reiterated after 1973 following another war the Arabs started). The Declaration refers, in paragraph 3, ‘the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it', a view that has blocked every serious attempt to make peace between Israel and the Arabs, with the exception of Egyptian and Jordan. Why is Israel held to blame for a failure to find peace?

Consider these statements by Professor Eugene Rostow, who was then the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, and who went on record in 1991 to make this clear:
‘Resolution 242, which... I helped produce, calls on the parties to make peace and allows Israel to administer the territories it occupied in 1967 until ‘a just and lasting peace in the Middle East' is achieved. When such a peace is made, Israel is required to withdraw its armed forces ‘from territories' it occupied during the Six-Day War - not from ‘the' territories nor from ‘all' the territories, but from some of the territories, which included the Sinai Desert, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.'

No such peace has been made, despite the best efforts of the Israelis to foster one. The Palestinians still publicly assert that the entirety of what was Mandate Palestine belongs to them, that the Jews must be expelled or killed (as happened to almost one million Jews in other Arab states), and that ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free'.

So far, it is the Palestinians who have broken international law. Israel has defended itself against three genocidal wars and many, many thousands of terrorist attacks that have taken the lives of Israeli men, women and children.

Fourth Geneva Convention
I suspect that one factor in your opposition to Sodastream and the ‘illegal' Israeli settlements may be your interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Frankly, interpretations that conclude by placing Israel in the dock are heavily biased. I have already shown that UN Resolution 242 makes it entirely legal for Israel to remain in part in the West Bank (where it currently occupies no more than 4% of the territory). The 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority and divided the West Bank into three unequal areas, with Area C remaining under Israeli control, while A and B (where the vast majority of Palestinians reside) is run by the PA. Though broadly ineffectual, the Accords do carry weight and do permit Israeli settlement. The original League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, article 6, makes it quite clear that there shall be ‘close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes'. The Palestinian threat to make a future state Judenrein is in direct contradiction to both the spirit and the letter of this declaration. Opponents of Israel now address themselves to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, especially Article 49, clause 6, which reads: ‘The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.' This does not apply to Israel and Israeli settlements. First, the Convention was drawn up to assist people caught in a war zone, in time of war. The West Bank is not a war zone, and the Palestine Authority and Israel are not currently in a state of war. Moreover, Jewish settlers have not been deported nor have they been transferred by the Israeli state. They are private citizens who have chosen to go to the West Bank and build homes there. We may disapprove of some at least of what the settlers do, but I will not accept that their largely religious inspiration is regarded as illegal while the religious missions of Hamas, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups go unremarked. Sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. You may disapprove of the settlements, but to call them illegal means nothing, since there is not a single law that they have broken.

The West Bank Economy
In your interview, you accused Israeli settlements of harming the Palestinian economy, forcing Palestinians into poverty. I am not an economist, but I will have to take you to issue. Until about 2009, the West Bank economy flourished when about half of the WB workplace held jobs in Israel. But once the use of the suicide vest became common, Israelis became fearful of Palestinians and went abroad to find workers. The 2006 elections in Gaza and the West Bank resulted in a terror group, Hamas, being elected, and this resulted in the Quartet's decision to stop all funding to the PA. Again, in 2010, the Arab states cut their funding to the PA. Last year, US Secretary of State John Kerry unveiled a $4 billion plan that would help grow the Palestinian economy by 50 percent and bring ‘unprecedented wealth to the region. The day after he made this announcement, the Palestinians turned his offer down, saying they would not make political compromises for political gain. The Palestinians need to look to themselves, to their constant violence, the education of their children in hatred and the glory of martyrdom, and to their inability to make compromises in the way every other country in the world has to do at one time or another. If you want to improve Palestinian poverty - for which I commend you - you need to address these issues. If the Palestinians had rejected violence in 1947, had established their own state, and had worked alongside Israel, it might well be one of the richest Arab states today.

The Palestinians are only moments away from statehood. They already have a small army of 25,000 men, a Central Bank in Ramallah, government ministries, some embassies, most countries recognize them as a semi-state, and 90% of them live directly under PA rule. Only their stubborn refusal to agree to anything with Israel or to recognize Israel as the world's only Jewish state, and their ready tolerance for the intolerable are holding them back. But please do not blame Sodastream or any of the hundreds of Israeli factories in the region for the failure of the Palestinians to normalize. Sodastream, as I'm sure you're tired of hearing by now, makes good lives for Palestinians and their families. How many of my fellow Irishmen and women in the past and today have gone abroad to earn a crust they would not earn at home. How many emigrants round the globe today seek refuge, bread, and gainful employment in foreign countries. They have all had to make compromises with new languages, customs, and beliefs, and for the most part they have been the better for it. When the Ethiopian Rada family moved to Israel from Ethiopia years ago, they could have scarcely imagined that their daughter Ester would have spent last year highlighting at the Glastonbury Festival and touring the USA, Canada and Europe. Ester is a remarkable, funky singer. She lives on the West Bank, in Kiryat Arba, the place where Abraham buried Sarah and where many Israelis have been killed by Palestinian violence. Can you not see that the presence of a singer with a growing international reputation enhances the neighbourhood. She is black, with her roots in a poor country. Don't you think it would be a good idea if she and her Arab neighbours could work together instead of turning their backs on one another, which your policy would guarantee? If one and a half million Arabs can live in Israel, and flourish there, why can't some Israelis live on land they were promised they could closely settle? Isn't an integrated co-existence before than Mahmoud Abbas's ‘No Jews' policy?

And here we come, not to legality, but to morality. If we don't grasp the moral nettle and if we connive in the actions of Hamas and other Islamist terror groups (as so many do), then we can lose sight of what is really happening. That's true of most of the left in Europe and America, who regularly go on the streets to condemn Israel and celebrate the rejectionist philosophy of Israel's enemies. Something is wrong, and it's not the legal existence and actions of Israel. Most of the time it's how we look at things.

For example, in your interview with Mr Paxman you referred to the problems caused by some 50 roadblocks in the West Bank. Why didn't you mention that the number of roadblocks and checkpoints has dropped dramatically since 2008, as the Israeli administration has worked to make life easier for the Palestinians. There are now only 9 checkpoints in the whole of the West Bank. According to one IDF officer: ‘Nowadays, Palestinians can travel from northern Samaria to southern Judea within record time while crossing maybe one checkpoint, when three years ago it would have taken a few hours and they would have had to cross several checkpoints.' And why didn't you say why the roadblocks and checkpoints are there in the first place? They certainly weren't put there just to amuse the Israeli military. They were and are there to save lives - something Oxfam is itself surely in the business of doing. We know they save lives because the IDF has stopped hundreds of young Palestinians trying to pass them while carrying weapons or wearing suicide vests. Let me illustrate this for you in as clear a way as I can.

In 2005, a young Palestinian woman called Wafa Samir Ibrahim al-Biss suffered severe burns in a domestic fire and was treated at the Israeli hospital of Sokota. Eventually discharged, she was given a card to permit return visits for follow-up treatment. In June, she was stopped at the Erez crossing point, and it was found that she was wearing a bag of explosives strapped to her leg. She had been sent to detonate herself in the burns unit among the doctors and nurses who had saved her life, and, as she herself said, among as many children as possible. That such things happen should make it fully clear why Israel, however reluctantly, has no choice but to create opportunities to block the passage of potential terrorists. That is why the short stretch of wall is there, and the much longer fence. I don't really care how many people dislike the wall - it alone has saved at least hundreds of lives.

BDS: Phillip, however you construe it, your actions concerning Sodastream cannot be divorced from the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions campaign directed at Israel - and only Israel. Desirable as it would be, no BDS campaign has ever been directed against the Palestinians, yet they are the chief obstacles to peace I the region. Nobody ever boycotts countries like China, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria before the civil war, or any other of the multitude of nations that commit daily crimes against human rights. Israel doesn't, even if it, like the UK and other states, makes mistakes. The majority something like 80% - of Arab Israelis say they would prefer to stay I Israel even if and when a Palestinian state is created. Gay men from Arab countries flee to Israel as a haven against murder. Religious minorities like the Baha'is flourish in Israel while they are killed elsewhere, in this case Iran. Israel has not broken a single international law or harmed anyone who was not trying to harm or had not already harmed innocent Israelis. Israel does not implement capital punishment and is the only country in the entire Middle East (apart from Turkey) to abstain. Yet Israel has, over the years, held many, many prisoners whose murders and mass killings would elsewhere have led to certain death. Israel is not a country that deserves boycotts and sanctions.

The truth is that the entire BDS campaign is targeting the wrong people. Far better to stand behind Israel and support its struggle against intransigence and a continuing threat of genocide or wholesale expulsion. Supporting Israel would deprive the Palestinians of what they see as the most potent weapon in their armoury and issue a warning to everyone who celebrates the Khartoum Declaration and its three ‘no's or the Hamas Charter and its claim that ‘[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement' coupled with repeated calls to jihad. Surely no amount of support for the Palestinian people can possibly lead you to support for that dismissal of peace and assertion of violence as the ‘only solution'. I certainly don't believe you would disagree with me on this.

And so...?
This has turned out longer than I anticipated, and I wouldn't be surprised if you had fallen fast asleep long ago. But there are important points to be made. I have not tried to convert you to my side (though wouldn't it be blissful if you did!), just to bring things to your consciousness that you might not have known or, having known, seen in a different light. If the people you most mix with are not Zionists or are even anti-Zionists, my view of things must seem bizarre. But the Zionists I mix with are quite normal people, intelligent, balanced, rationalist and much else that you would recognize. If I can only convince you that we do not have fangs or breathe fire or sup with the devil with long spoons. We don't launch attacks against innocent people, we don't put posters on our wall hailing murderers as heroes and heroines, we don't preach terror from our pulpits or bimahs, we don't fire rockets into other people's back yards, we don't chant ‘Muslims to the gas'. And in case there was any question, we don't poison wells or drain the blood of Christian children or rule the press and the entertainment industry, we are not a cabal, and we do not have sinister Protocols. I know perfectly well that you don't believe any of those things. But I mention them just to illustrate that half the world ignores Palestinian attacks on the innocent and goes on believing that Jews or Zionists are all the things their worst enemies say about them. Someone in your position, with a measure of authority, has, I believe, a degree of responsibility to condemn terrorism and to exonerate self-defence. You can play a part in this just by accepting that there is a clear case to be made for Israel and its supporters. Scarlett Johansson has made a principled stand in favour of Sodastream. Despite your disagreement with her, I am sure you can see that her position is based on principle, something normally in short supply among celebrities. That principle bases itself on a sense that Palestinians benefit overall from a high level of economic activity, that Israelis treat them better than other employees in the region, and that there is no illegality involved.

My wish is this: that you should retain your somewhat dogmatic attitude to Sodastream and the settlements of Ma'aleh Adumim and industrial zone of Mishor Edomin only on condition that you have investigated the issue of illegality more thoroughly than you have done, and that you respect the very moderate views of those who believe there is no illegality in the Israeli occupation or the settlements that have come in its wake. You do not pressure the Palestinians to smarten up their act or to cease using violence, so I would hope you come to recognize that Zionists like myself do not seek active harm to the Palestinians and that, on the contrary, we would like nothing more than a Palestinian state next to Israel, founded in peace and absent of aspirations to redemption through murder and revanchism. We do not think well of the Palestinians for their stubbornness, their proneness to violence, or their treatment of their own children; but equally, and perhaps ironically, we do not wish harm to them either. They too have responsibilities on the world stage, and their resort to war and terrorism to take more than their obligations under international law allow them does not deserve the equability of the nations any more than Israeli self-defence and observance of international law merit the almost insane vituperation of half the world. Israel can do some things better and more fairly, and I will happily measure my enthusiasm against that scale. But Israel is not the primary offender in this, nor has it ever been. You could not do your job without recognizing that some populations are their own worst enemies. Sometimes you need to help from nearby, sometimes you have to speak out to the right people. Israel will gladly enter into dialogue with you, but it's time the Palestinians did some listening and acted in their own interest. I hope you see the possibility of using your influence in the right way.

I do not greatly expect you to reply to this letter, even if you have persevered to the end with it. But there is always a chance that you will, if only to correct me of my perspectives or harry me about others. Well, that least would be a start out of which better things may come. This argument has gone on for almost a century now and has been frozen into its present form for many decades. The entire world has been unable to rescue the Israelis and the Palestinians from the hell of their long-lasting impasse. But I believe that someone like yourself, and Oxfam as an organization, can play a role by seeing things in a more realistic light in communicating moderate ideas to both sides, and this could make a big difference.

My thanks for reading this. Despite everything, I look forward to hearing from you in return.

Best wishes,


Dr. Denis MacEoin

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