Letters: Act now to stop the killing in Gaza

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As lawyers committed to the protection and promotion of Palestinian human rights, we call upon the international community to reassert the rule of law in the region to ensure the cessation of the use of force against Palestinian civilians and secure legal accountability for all deaths and injuries caused by unlawful military actions.

The actions pursued by Israel since 14 November have already caused huge destruction. There is no legal justification for the use of indiscriminate force against civilians or civilian targets by any armed group, Israeli or Palestinian.

The lingering brutal shadow of the three-week military offensive launched by Israel in December 2008, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and saw the use in densely populated urban areas of heavy metal weapons, flechettes and white phosphorous, amplifies the urgent need for the international community to act decisively to immediately halt the latest resort to sustained military action, and its concurrent substantial risk of violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law.

We urge the UK government to ensure that all parties immediately fulfil their binding legal obligations for the protection of civilians, taking positive steps (unilaterally and together with other EU governments) to convene a special session of the Human Rights Council and an urgent meeting of the signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Tareq Shrourou

Chair, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights

Daniel Machover

Sarah McSherry

Rachel Waller

Charlotte Dollard

Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC

Farheen Chaudhry

Andrea Becker

Professor Bill Bowring

Chantal Refahi

London EC4

Why is everyone so surprised by the mutual attacks by and on both Gaza and Israel?

This has been coming for a long time. Forthcoming Israeli elections; President Obama's customary lack of courage; Israel's inability to attack Iran now that Romney has lost; Arab governments' indifference to the Palestinians' plight; evangelical Christians' unconditional support for anything Israel does; Hamas's inability or unwillingness to control its more extreme factions; and the utter lack of vision among both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Add Palestine's application for non-member observer status at the United Nations – and these events become inevitable.

Enough is enough. The only way forward is to resume peace negotiations on the basis of honest brokering by those with power.

Dr Faysal Mikdadi

Dorchester

Everyone watching what has been happening in Israel must sympathise with the people of southern Israel, subjected to missiles falling on their homes. But what could the Israeli government do to stop this? I have one suggestion.

Why does Israel not lift the siege of Gaza, allowing food, medicines and concrete into the territory, and permitting the area's produce to be exported, thus helping address its greatest problem, its grinding poverty? Israel could announce at the same time that, if rocket attacks on Israel were to resume, this policy would be reversed.

Why does the Israeli Government not do this? Why does our government not publicly suggest this? Why does the US not urge Netanyahu to following this course?

Rory Francis

Blaenau Ffestioniog, Gwynedd

Mitt Romney did President Obama the favour of making him look statesmanlike; it is now time for him to act like a real statesman, earn his Nobel peace prize, and make a convincing attempt to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict without fear or favour.

John Dakin

Toddington, Bedfordshire

Fear of libel actions stalks Twitter

Following the McAlpine issue, how long, I wonder, before we see the emergence of a new breed of legal firms and advertisements along the lines of "Have you been mis-tweeted? We are specialists in .. etc etc." Will such firms, I wonder soon start going after Facebookers or other areas of potentially libellous social media defamation?

Alan Sturgess

Gargrave, North Yorkshire

I have no doubt there is a whole raft of individuals and organisations out there who will be getting twitchy and fearing a solicitor's letter landing on their doormat.

Twitter's Terms of Service are pretty clear on the responsibility for what users write: "You understand that your content may be syndicated, broadcast, distributed, or published by our partners and if you do not have the right to submit content for such use, it may subject you to liability."

Nonetheless, it appears as though many users either have not read these terms or have acted without necessarily thinking through the consequences. Such oversights can be very costly, as a number of footballers have recently found. The need to exercise caution and the potential for any tweets to be libellous is certainly well known in legal and most media circles, although recent behaviour suggests not as well practised as one would have assumed.

I don't think Lord McAlpine's actions will necessarily change anything legally or set any precedent. However, I have no doubt that the message to think twice before you tweet will now be heeded by many more users than before. If not, they will have no one to blame but themselves.

Leon Deakin

Associate, Thomas Eggar LLP

Crawley,

West Sussex

Alice Renton's letter (19 November) illustrates very well how detached the rich are from the reality of life.

The defamation laws may, in theory, exist to protect everyone, rich and poor alike, but In practice their use is limited to the rich, who can afford to risk perhaps half a million on suing a newspaper (or the BBC). And there is and never has been any legal aid available in defamation proceedings.

In recent years there has been limited scope for conditional fee agreements in defamation proceedings, but this is being whittled down at the behest of the newspapers.

I have been pestering my MP to try and get some financial support for the defamed of limited means introduced into the Defamation Bill, but I think we can be sure that nothing will happen.

Dudley Dean

Maresfield, East Sussex

Police vote sets an example

It is heartening to hear ministers welcoming the resounding vote of confidence in their legislation on police and crime commissioners, defending their brainchild as a welcome development of local democracy.

We look forward to the next round of legislation introducing elected commissioners for the fire service, ambulance trusts and clinical commissioning groups. Naturally in due course academy schools are surely candidates for local elections, since currently the only control of these bodies stems from Whitehall.

With their usual efficiency, I am sure the Government can ensure that elections for each of these bodies can be held on different days, as a means of boosting the employment prospects of polling clerks.

As an alternative, perhaps, the centralised British state might like to consider effective reform of the provision of all public services, perhaps putting them under the control of directly elected bodies run by local people. I think they are called local councils.

Such joined-up thinking is unlikely however to emerge from a government obsessed with free markets and unable truly to trust local communities to run their own affairs.

Colin Thomas

Dorstone, Herefordshire

I am not surprised the number of people voting for the police commissioners was so small. We were not told much about it and what we were was on the internet.

I do hope the Government will learn the lesson from this, that you cannot rely on the use of the internet to inform the public.

Barbara Mark

Wrexham

Rarest names in Britain

Charlotte Philby and Nicholas Lezard (19 November), do a service in highlighting the admirable work of the Guild of One-Name Studies on rare surnames.

The 8,000 names on the Guild's database are not the totality of rare surnames. Those they miss out tend to be the rarest, including mine, Spyvee, and its slightly more common cousin, Spivey. When some of these go, they will not even be noticed. It would be good if all surnames now used in these islands were recorded, but I cannot see that happening.

All Spyvees together would only half fill a single-decker bus.

Henry Spyvee

Colchester, Essex

Political prisoners

Conservative MPs might like to think twice before voting against votes for British prisoners,

On 12 February 1950, a mock election was organised in Dartmoor prison by the Anglican chaplain and the deputy governor. According to Peter Jenkins in his autobiographical Mayfair Boy, "the results were Conservative 150, Liberals 106, Labour 63, and Communists 52". (Outside, Labour scraped home.) In a close election (the next one?) every vote will count. Maybe government MPs should swallow their distaste and enfranchise the natural Tory majority in our prisons.

Philip Priestley

Wells, Somerset

False start

The Olympic effect is well and truly over. Having been tempted into opening the sports section on a Monday I can revert to throwing it unopened in the recycling. Of the sports people pictured today (19 November)– 67 men, one woman. And football: 11 pages out of 24. I am disappointed and infuriated. This is back to square one.

Dr Gemma Stockford

Burgess Hill, West Sussex

Unequal

According to the letter in favour of the ordination of women to the episcopate (a project I warmly endorse), signed by "more than a thousand members of the Anglican clergy and senior laity" (19 November), "Jesus treated women radically equally". Surely, if this had been the case, "the Twelve" would have included women?

Professor Nicholas Lash

Cambridge

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