Sir: In welcoming the winds of change in America, one of the matters the Demo-crats must address urgently is President George Bush's foreign policy relating to the United Nations, a policy that has systematically eroded both the UN's credibility and and its functions.
The joint US/UK invasion of Iraq was ostensibly based upon Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with the infamous UN resolutions on weapons of mass destruction. Those resolutions were introduced and promoted by the US and UK and were based upon error or misinformation.
But the US and UK became the self-appointed enforcers of those UN resolutions, invading Iraq without a UN mandate and with total disregard for the findings of the UN inspectors. When Kofi Annan declared the invasion to be illegal, the dirty tricks brigades went to work yet again.
Both the Blair and Bush governments declare that Iraq's future depends upon the continued occupation, yet it is the very presence of Western troops which intensifies the bloodshed. Now is the time for the UN to be allowed to assume its proper role and for the US and UK troops to be replaced by UN peacekeepers while a proper plebiscite on the country's future is held.
Sir: So, Robert Gates has replaced Donald Rumsfeld as US defence secretary ("Pressure mounts for new Iraq strategy", 10 November).
Would this be the same Robert Gates who as deputy national security adviser declared, on 7 May 1991, that "Iraqis will pay the price while [Saddam Hussein] remains in power. All possible sanctions will be maintained until he is gone ... Any easing of sanctions will be considered only when there is a new government"?
Eight years later, the "price" paid by ordinary Iraqis was definitively assessed by Unicef. Based on surveys it had conducted in Iraq, it concluded that economic sanctions had been an "important factor" in the deaths of half a million Iraqi children.
Iraqis will surely be glad to hear that such a selfless humanitarian has taken over from Mr Rumsfeld.
West blind to plight of the Palestinians
Sir: Your report (9 November) on the tragic deaths of women and children from Israeli artillery again highlights the manner in which the people of Palestine are being made to suffer collectively for electing Hamas. The West and particularly the US turns a blind eye and thereby gives Israel carte blanche to carry on with the dismantling of civilian infrastructure and the maiming and killing of civilians.
The argument will be made that rockets fired from Gaza provoked this. This logic would mean that the RAF should have targeted Catholic areas of Belfast when the IRA exploded bombs in Britain.
It is no surprise to read another report in the same paper of 45 Tamil civilians, including women and children, being killed by Sri Lankan army artillery in eastern Sri Lanka on the same day.
Like the Israelis in Lebanon, the Sri Lankan armed forces have a deliberate policy of degrading civilian infrastructures in the Tamil regions and persisting in aerial bombing and shelling of civilian areas. The government there has seen the silence of the West regarding Lebanon and Gaza, and feels they can act in a similar way and get away with it. It is ironic that only two days ago Sri Lanka received a high-level Israeli diplomat for the first time in years.
Both these democratically elected governments have yet to realise that by the brutalisation of the Palestinians and the Tamil people they will not achieve the peace and security they profess to desire. The West by its silence is complicit in these crimes.
Sir: Palestinian farmers trying to harvest and sell their crops typify a wider crisis for those desperately attempting to make a living in the face of serious restrictions on movement imposed by Israel ("Poverty-stricken Palestinians desperate to profit from West Bank olive harvest", 3 November).
At this time of year, many of our staff take their annual leave to go and pick olives but many of them can't get to their land. More than half of the population is now unemployed so olives are an important source of income, but many crops end up being left to rot while people starve.
The present crisis is the most severe CARE International has encountered in 45 years of working in the region. Poverty levels have more than doubled over the past two years. Average household incomes have fallen dramatically, with approximately two thirds losing their only source of employment and much more than half of Palestinians now living below the poverty line of $2 a day.
More than 120,000 labourers from the West Bank have lost their jobs in Israel, with an additional 50,000 losing jobs in the West Bank itself, because of Israeli curfews and closures on Palestinian communities, according to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank.
The freedom to move freely, cultivate their land, and sell their goods will make the most difference to Palestinians' lives.
CARE INTERNATIONAL, COUNTRY DIRECTOR, WEST BANK AND GAZA JERUSALEM
Sir: In Gaza City last week, with other MEPs, I urged Hamas and Fatah deputies to recognise the 1967 borders of Israel and to curb the futile and indefensible firing of Qassam rockets. It is scarcely surprising if my words fell on deaf ears.
Gaza is under siege. There is no access by air, sea or road. Trade has been brought to a halt. Factories have been bombed. Tax revenue has been seized by Israel and paid employment has ceased to exist. Elected representatives and thousands of others have been kidnapped and imprisoned.
The Israeli Defence Force roams at will, killing 50 Palestinians in the past week alone. Anyone who resists the occupation is branded a "terrorist", as well as the hundreds of women and children killed "in error".
Israel ignores UN resolutions and shows contempt for international law. Those who, out of despair, have taken up arms against an occupying army can no more be considered "terrorists" than Second World War resistance fighters in France or Norway.
We are told repeatedly that Israel has the right to defend itself, but how would Israelis respond if the positions were reversed? They would surely fight back with every means at their disposal.
Continuing inaction by Britain and the EU condones Israel's behaviour. Strong condemnation must be backed by the use of selective sanctions. Many Israelis condemn their government's policies and seek peace and justice. Our object must be to strengthen their influence.
CHRIS DAVIES MEP
LIBERAL DEMOCRAT, NORTH WEST BRUSSELS
Unbiased thinking would be nice
Sir: I agree with Joan Bakewell that the horrendous sexist throwbacks she encountered on her train journey ("These sexist masters of the universe", 10 November) are despicable and their sentiments are completely unacceptable. Unfortunately, Ms Bakewell has reacted in a manner that illustrates she is just as sexist as any man. Her article is full of denigrating generalisations about "men" as being all the same as the businessmen on her train. This does not advance the cause of gender relations. Attitudes such as this from women such as Ms Bakewell continue to be as much part of the problem as part of the solution.
Some genuine unbiased thinking all round would be nice. I suspect this is not going to occur until reactionaries such as Ms Bakewell have been replaced by a new generation of "post-feminist" female leaders. Incidentally, why didn't Ms Bakewell confront these imbeciles if she felt so strongly about it?
MPs use expenses to help the people
Sir: Janet Street-Porter, commenting on the Farepak collapse (Opinion, 9 November), accuses MPs of not doing enough to help, and claims their average annual expenses claim of £134,000 is a lot of hampers, turkeys and glass balls.
It is also a lot of housing problems, benefit blockages and working and child tax credit disasters solved. It is also a great deal of help with the innumerable difficulties of life that the inarticulate and the excluded must cope with. It is also a large number of Gordian knots of local and national bureaucracy loosened, and a lot of vital support to local businesses and good causes.
As a Citizens Advice volunteer of 15 years' experience, I have a great deal of support from my local MP. I would bet he contributes more in an afternoon to his community than Ms Street-Porter will ever do in her lifetime. Please prove me wrong, Ms Street-Porter.
ST AUSTELL, CORNWALL
Attitudes that make the Scots rebel
Sir: If Johann Hari (Opinion, 9 November) is puzzled by the increasing support in Scotland for a divorce from our southern neighbours, perhaps he should consult whoever gave his column the clunking headline of "Beware this tartan timebomb".
Better still, he could consult his colleague Claire Smith (Education, 9 November) who, reporting the Scottish First Minister's trip to the US, writes of his going in search of "some dollars for the national sporran".
It is no mystery that, on reading such language, even the most ardent anti-nationalist begins to dream of secession.
IAIN T BARBOUR
Blair benefits from threat of terrorism
Sir: Though anyone who questions the stories from MI5 about fielding 30 terror plots at once can easily be accused of complacency, three points can nevertheless be made.
No assessment of the evidence from anyone outside MI5 can ever be made, since it is by definition "confidential" information. MI5, which after the end of communism might have seemed to be losing its role, now has more staff than ever and is growing fast thanks to the "war on terror". Like Bush, Blair is much more unpopular over Iraq than over the "war on terror". The more he emphasises the terrorist threat, the less he is exposed to criticism over Iraq.
To say that belief in a massive terrorist threat is in the interests of MI5 and Blair, and at the same time independently unverifiable, is not to say that it isn't justified. Like the announcement of Saddam's execution on the eve of the mid-term elections in the US, it simply arouses what Sir Malcolm Rifkind would call a "suspicion".
DR MARK CORNER
The vital need for animal research
Sir: Julia Stephenson sheds no light on research using animals (The Green Goddess, 9 November). The understanding of disease and the development of new medicines and therapies to treat it is complex and reliant on several key stages, not just one.
Drug development is a jigsaw, with several pieces needed to create a whole picture. The use of animals is just one vital piece, as are clinical trials in humans and computer modelling.
Without animal research, we might never have discovered the treatments which mean that a cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, or therapies which have made HIV/Aids a manageable condition.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, COALITION FOR MEDICAL PROGRESS, LONDON SE1
Do not spoil our Stonehenge
Sir: Visitor centres at ancient sites such as Stonehenge (Letters, 9 November) can do more to despoil the quality of place and experience than any other change.
Many centres have the atmosphere of overwrought service stations. They are self-conscious, all-too-permanent schemes, dreamt up in marketing departments. We should be free to wander and ponder to allow our imagination to spark.
At Stonehenge, a simple museum is needed and visitors should be free to walk among the stones. It is to be hoped the era of the grand visitor centre has ended.
COLIN KERR R.I.B.A.
Wake up, Coop
Sir: So Cooper Brown thinks daytime TV is bad. Does he not realise that The Archers was a government scheme to modernise British farming, and daytime television is another such scheme to discourage the workforce taking days off sick.
Note of alarm
Sir: Has the English National Opera gone mad? Its new Opera Guide lists 61 projected performances between April and July of next year. Twenty-two of them will be operas (Satyaraha, Death in Venice and La Clemenza di Tito). But 39 of them will be musicals (On the Town followed by Kismet, doubtless set in contemporary, war-torn Baghdad). The company clearly needs a change of name. Or of policy. Or of leadership.
Sir: Could one of your lawyer readers enlighten me, please? While completing a legally binding application for a loan I was bemused by how to answer a question on the form about "marital status". In the spurious battle over the difference between "gay marriage" and "civil partnership" what is the present legal meaning of the phrase "marital status"?
A Bond first
Sir: The radio actor Bob Holness was not the first to portray James Bond ("The Bond bunch", 8 November). The first actor to play Bond was Barry Nelson, in Casino Royale, an instalment of the American live television programme Climax!. Peter Lorre was the villain, Le Chiffre. The episode was broadcast on 21 October 1954.
REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA, USA
Sir: Margaret MacAulay wants to see a "federal UK with four countries including a reunited Ireland" (Letters, 10 November). Blimey. That's one solution to the Northern Ireland problem that seems to have been missed. When can I expect the invasion?
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