Letters: Blair's Middle East policy

Arab Labour supporters dismayed by Blair's policy on Middle East
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The Independent Online

Sir: I am writing on behalf of the Arab Labour group, an organisation that promotes the Labour Party amongst the 900,000-strong British Arab community. Many of our members joined the Labour Party in spite of the war in Iraq, because they share the priorities of this government and believe it has achieved much.

But recently, our members have felt consistently let down by this Government and have faced a dilemma. Mr Blair has stated: "Unless we reappraise our strategy, unless we revitalise the broader global trade agenda on poverty, climate change, trade and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to making peace between Israel and Palestine, we will not win."

Unfortunately, Mr Blair has failed to treat both sides equally. Instead he has bowed to pressure put on him by Israel backed by George Bush. The British public is crying out for a leader who will not only set out the path towards peace, but will move world leaders along it. Our members have watched the images on television of a building in Nablus being demolished - within hours 20 families lost their lives, their homes, their future. Those 70 people, mostly children, will never be able to forget what it was like to lose everything at the hands of Israeli soldiers and American weaponry.

Relatives of our members in Lebanon who do not support Hizbollah have been starved and forced out of their family homes. They did not believe they would ever again have to relive the horrors of Qana. The Israeli government must surely see that its actions in Palestine and Lebanon have not proved successful. The loss of life, of economic stability and of innocents - on both sides - must convince it that the only route worth taking is that of peace.

We call on whoever replaces Mr Blair as leader to "bend every sinew" to make sure that thanks to the efforts of a British government, instead of dying in war, millions of Palestinians, Israelis, Lebanese and Iraqis live in peace.




Why is Kate Moss on an 'African' cover?

Sir: Why a blacked-up Kate Moss on the cover (21 September)? The pseudo-consciousness-raising rationale you bleat from the leading article: "We think ... had the white woman on our front page really been a black African..." smacks of the worst kind of pretension - and cowardice. Have the courage to use an actual black model if that's the point you want to make! Is that so radical?

Why not admit that Kate Moss - not just any "white woman"- is the cover model because she will sell more papers than would Alek Wek (who is on your centre pages) or Oluchi Onweagba, two brilliant African models? You might as well not bother trying to cover your tracks with a meaningless nod to political correctness and African suffering. It's insulting to your readers. Most of us would have been perfectly happy with "We think the additional sales generated by public interest in Kate Moss will translate to more funds raised for the fight against Aids."



Sir: Your special red edition featured a photo of a black Kate Moss with the headline "Not a Fashion Statement". I wondered if you could tell me exactly what the idea was? Could it be an ad for the relaunch of The Black and White Minstrel show or a re-run of It Ain't Half Hot Mum? I'm a huge fan of Moss, but wouldn't it have been easier to feature a black model to illustrate your African edition?



Sir: WaterAid welcomes your bold edition of The (RED) Independent. Over a billion people live without access to clean, safe water every day; that's one in five of the world's growing population. Paul Vallely astutely picks up on the importance of water and addresses the miserable plight of Africa's women who spend 40 billion hours every year just fetching water.

Earlier this month we were involved in a report launch "In the Public Interest", which demonstrated the need for integrated essential services: health, education, water and sanitation. There is no point building schools if they remain empty because children are too sick with diarrhoea caused by a lack of adequate sanitation and having to drink dirty water, or too busy fetching water. No point investing in hospitals if they spend all their resources treating easily preventable water-related diseases. The report is available via our website: www.wateraid.org.

We need to get governments to acknowledge the importance of improving water and sanitation as a means of alleviating poverty in the long term. Thank you for putting water on the front pages.



Sir: Your focus on Africa covered very thoroughly most of the urgent matters confronting the continent but, almost wilfully, it ignored the role rapid population growth plays in the struggle to make poverty history. The population of Sub-Saharan Africa has more than doubled in the last 25 years. And according to the UN it is expected to grow from some 700m today to 843m in a decade.

How any nation in Sub-Saharan Africa can produce houses, schools, hospitals, jobs or farmland to cope with 40,000 more people, every 24 hours for the next decade is not clear. It is probably the greatest problem facing mankind.



Climate change: new laws needed

Sir: We're delighted that Richard Branson has recognised the urgent need to tackle climate change (report, 22 September). Biofuels can play a small part in tackling the problem, but this must not distract from the urgent need to cut greenhouse gases.

Aviation is the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide, and if it continues to grow as predicted it could account for 100 per cent of the UK's emissions quota by 2050. And if this happens it will make it virtually impossible to meet targets on tackling climate change as all householders, motorists and businesses would have to reduce their carbon-dioxide pollution to zero.

The Government must take urgent action. Firstly it must announce a new climate-change law in the Queen's Speech this autumn. This new legislation, which is supported by most MPs and all the main opposition parties, would require successive governments to make annual cuts in UK carbon-dioxide levels.

And Ministers must also scrap plans to allow a massive expansion in UK airports. Airport expansion isn't only bad for the environment. A new study by Friends of the Earth has found that the economic benefits have been greatly exaggerated by both the Government and aviation industry, while the costs to other sectors of the economy and to the environment have been ignored.

Climate change is the biggest threat the planet faces. We hope Mr Branson will join our campaign for Government action too.



Sir: Richard Branson's pledge to commit £1.6bn over the next 10 years to combat global warming, is of course to be commended. We may only have that time in which to halt and reverse otherwise inexorable global warming. However, the environmental cost of air travel is huge. Airline travellers are producing more CO 2 than ever before, a trend fuelled in the last decade by the growth of a last-minute culture, inequitable fuel-tax regime and budget fares.

I wonder if the Clinton Initiative delegates considered holding a "virtual conference?"



Child 'criminals' caught in EU trap

Sir: The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies' call for the raising of the age of criminal responsibility (report, 22 September) is to be welcomed not only for its national importance but for its potential effects on bail arrangements in the European legal space.

Last month the European commission adopted a form of bail arrangement (the European Supervision order) that could go a long way towards reducing discrimination for EU citizens facing trial in other EU countries. One serious anomaly, however, was not covered by the proposals: the lack of a common age of criminal responsibility within the EU - which varies from seven in Ireland to 16 in Portugal. A mandatory ground for refusal to return a bail absconder will be that the subject of the request for return is below the age of criminal responsibility in his country of residence.

What this will mean in practice is that while adults may get bail, some quite young children in the same circumstances may be detained in a strange land with no one to speak their language while their case is disposed of. The EU must determine a common age for criminal responsibility, and what that should mean in practice for foreign children, as a matter of urgency.



Electoral fraud is not so easily done

Sir: Pandora writes (19 September) that Electoral Reform Services has "fallen victim to a mass hoax". I write to reassure you that for this ballot there were controls in place to ensure that only votes cast by Conservative Party members eligible to vote were counted.

Any individual who is not initially in receipt of a ballot paper can appeal to us if they feel they are entitled to vote. For this ballot, because the checking of membership details can be lengthy, any individual who claimed to be a member of the Conservative Party was immediately sent a ballot paper so that they were able to at least register their vote before the deadline.

All additional requests for ballot papers are checked and only when we have had it confirmed to us by the Conservative Party that an individual is entitled to vote do we include their vote in the count. Thus, the integrity of the vote is maintained whilst trying to be flexible to enable all eligible members to vote.

We monitor closely the number and type of requests of this nature we receive. This is to detect possible problems or, as in this case, alleged fraud.

To put this "mass hoax" in context, less than 0.1 per cent of the ballot papers returned to us were these "additional" requests and not all of these were counted.



The proper way to serve Marmite

Sir: If one thing has come out of the Marmite debate it is that you cannot tell other people what food they should enjoy and how they should enjoy it.

In the Oak Room in Dorchester (reputedly Judge Jeffreys' court room during the Bloody Assizes, and where the waitresses still wear 1930s "nippy" style uniforms) one used, until very recently, to be able to order Marmite soldiers. They still supply the ingredients - warm buttered toast and a small dish of Marmite - but the management has decided, quite rightly, that it is very much a matter of individual taste just how much Marmite should be applied.



Sir: On a recent trip to Latin America I took with me a jar of Marmite having heard that, if consumed daily, it acts as an excellent mosquito repellent. Locals and other travellers were unanimously appalled by the substance, with one Swedish friend convinced I had misunderstood the instructions; I later found him rubbing my Marmite on his ankles.



Bears in the Bible

Sir: As Barbara Pearman says (Letters, 22 September), the Bible nowhere recommends that small children be fed to bears. Kings II: 23 and 24 however recounts that the prophet Elisha swore at a gang of 42 children for calling him "baldy", whereupon they were torn apart by bears. Just a coincidence, I would say.



Israeli land-grab

Sir: Your correspondent Henry Tobias (Letters, 21 September) gives his address as Maale Adumin in Israel. This is in fact a huge Israeli colony on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, one of the worst examples of the land grab by which Israel is annexing East Jerusalem, all illegal under international law.

His assertion that indiscriminate targeting of civilians is justified as combatants return to civilian life could also logically be applied to Israeli civilians who comprise the occupying military forces (with the honourable exception of the refuseniks who reject further Israeli expansionism).



Obesity and the BMI

Sir: Of course there are problems with the BMI index ("The Big Question" 21 September) at it margins. American footballers register as obese because they compete professionally in a sport where size counts. The reverse is true of elite marathon runners where any extra weight is a distinct handicap. However, to use extreme examples to discredit the entire BMI concept merely gives another excuse to the majority whose only sporting achievement is carrying beer, pizza and the TV remote without dropping them.



More Chavez, please

Sir: On 21 September you devoted a single paragraph to Hugo Chavez's speech to the UN. Whether one agrees with Chavez or not, he represents an important constituency in world politics, and his views have a resonance throughout the world including within the UK. I understand, from other sources, that Chavez said that the priorities for the world should be to tackle global warming, peak oil, nuclear proliferation, poverty and Aids; statements that few of us would disagree with but where our governments fail us.



Love lessons

Sir: Terence Blacker ("Looking for Love?" 22 September) recommends the traditional venues of supermarkets or art galleries for pathetic lonely men to find female company. I can only say that, once past a certain age, it is more likely that the management will send for the Social Services than true love will be found.