Letters: Gaza killings

Israel's anti-rocket artillery 'mistakes' in Gaza will happen again
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Sir: So the United States has decided to veto the draft UN resolution condemning the killings in Gaza because it was "biased" and because Israel had apologised for its mistake.

I am sure the Israeli army did not deliberately set out to kill 18 men women and children in their own homes while they slept. The army's regulations for Gaza state that artillery targets must be at least 200m to 300m from civilian houses. These were 450m away.

But, as a former senior Israeli artillery officer observed in the newspaper Ha'aretz last week, hitting somewhere 450m off target would require only a deviation in the gun barrel so small as to be undetectable to the human eye.

If you live in a residential area such as Beit Hanoun that means a "mistake" like this is pretty much inevitable. Sooner or later.

And the policy of targeting rocket-launching sites is not even working. The killing of 350 Palestinians during Israeli strikes into Gaza since June has not stopped the ramshackle Qassam missiles which strike genuine fear among people living in southern Israel, even if they rarely cause injury. Indeed, the events of the last week seem to have increased the number of Qassams being fired. Israel would achieve far more by lifting the crippling blockade which is strangling the economy of all the Occupied Territories and causing appalling suffering in Gaza.

I was in Israel and Palestine last week. The anger among Palestinians at the mounting civilian death toll is real. They want to see more than hand-wringing from the international community.

They will not easily understand why our own government was not prepared to do more than just abstain on the UN resolution.



Deadly dilemma of armed police

Sir: I write as the senior officer with responsibility for the Met's Specialist Firearms Command (CO19), a unit that has recently been subject to much media coverage and debate (Matthew Norman, 3 November).

These officers routinely face some of the most dangerous situations within policing to protect Londoners and their unarmed colleagues. Last year, our officers dealt with more than 14,500 calls and between 50 and 60 planned operations a month. The last thing firearms officers would ever wish to do is to shoot someone, but they have a duty to stand between armed criminals and the public.

Any officer who does fatally wound someone knows they will face independent investigation and be held accountable. If cleared of wrongdoing and when they are ready and capable to return to firearms duty the Met will fully support them in that step. Why would we do otherwise? He or she is an experienced officer who has proved themselves operationally, and their decision-making has been investigated and upheld by an independent inquiry.

If in the line of duty that officer fatally wounds a second person, of course another investigation would start. That investigation would establish if there had been any error or over-zealous action.

An investigation and public interest in the case does place stress not only on the officer but their family and friends. In my opinion, anonymity should be a given for those going through this, unless they are proved to be criminally liable.

No one can stand in their shoes nor fully understand the split-second decisions they must make for the protection of the public, their colleagues and themselves. What must be avoided at all costs is a situation where an armed officer hesitates to use force, which then results in the death or injury of an innocent member of the public or the officer's colleagues, or the officer themselves.

For people to better understand the challenges and dangers faced by firearms officers we have to have a voice in that public debate. I am introducing road-shows to better explain to people how we recruit and train our officers, including explaining the split-second decisions these officers have to make.



Global warming warning is real

Sir: On 7 November, Dominic Lawson informed us that "after all, carbon dioxide is not itself a pollutant". With the possible exception of several recently created chemicals not naturally occurring, there are no substances that are "pollutants in themselves". Anything will be a pollutant if there is too much of it in the wrong place. Anyone who is intelligently informed in environmental issues would regard this as too obvious to need stating. Mr Lawson refers to concerns expressed 30 years ago that we may be about to enter a new ice age. These concerns were not remotely comparable to the present warnings on global warming.

They were at the level of an interesting scientific possibility based on the then-recent discovery that the transitions from interglacial periods to ice ages happened more rapidly than previously supposed. It was not that a new ice age was seen as suddenly more likely to begin, but that if it was about to begin it may happen quickly.

Serious concerns about global warming, at this theoretical level, began about the same time. Continuing, and ever-increasing and more reliable research has clarified the position. Science can now give us a far more reliable statement of risk.

The Lawson logic goes like this: "Scientists once had a theory which, when thoroughly researched, proved to be wrong. They also had a theory which, when researched, proved to be correct. Ergo, the theory that was proved correct must be wrong too."



Sir: Spencer Atwell's insular letter (10 November) seeks to shelter UK citizens from their responsibilities to address global climate change by citing the minor impact savings in UK CO2 use would have on the planet.

Technology and development have driven greenhouse gas emissions to the point where evidence of climate change has been recognised by all but the most ignorant. The UK and its partners in the G8 have been major contributors to the technology revolution and its dissemination. Globalisation will, rightly, give many more of the world's six billion (and rising) access to these technologies.

On present figures, global CO2 emissions per capita are about four metric tonnes when averaged over the world population. The UK average is 11 tonnes (www.carbonfootprint.com). We could set an aspirational target for our emissions at four tonnes, probably unachievable in a century, but then so is uniform global distribution of GDP. The aspiration demands new technologies and social changes, whose identification and dissemination will be one of the major industrial forces of the 21st century.

For the UK to be at the vanguard of this industrial and societal revolution would be good business sense for everyone. Adoption of low-emission technologies and renewable resource use in the UK will provide UK business with the platform to take their wares across the world. Advocating this approach is not a question of bolstering morale; it is a major step in the war effort to defend our global climate.



Russians suffering Chechen atrocities

Sir: I am pleased monitoring groups world-wide are paying attention to human rights violations in Chechnya (article, 10 November). As a Ukrainian, with relatives in Russia, I am also concerned that atrocities against the 150,000 ethnic Russians by Chechen terrorists have largely gone unreported in the western media. Where anti-Russian violence has been reported, as in the Beslan massacre in north Ossetia, an attempt was made by the media to lay the blame at Vladimir Putin's door rather than that of the terrorists.

Playing politics with the lives of victims cannot be an acceptable journalism.



Dangerous road to oppression

Sir: Loathe and despise, as I do, the ravings of the BNP, I am still deeply anxious about kneejerk reactions from the Government.

While I respect your right to believe in God, Allah or the Great Spaghetti Monster and to worship your god as you wish, you cannot demand that I respect and never question or mock your religion. In a free and civilised society, nothing should be immune from criticism or indeed laughter. To legislate against expression of opinion is yet another step down the dangerous road to oppression we seem to be travelling so blindly.



How to rehabilitate society's offenders

Sir: I think Deborah Orr is right that John Reid would be the man to "help" the Probation Service (Opinion, 8 November). He is a sensible man. Unfortunately, his boss Tony Blair is an arrogantly unrealistic, over-idealistic man, who wants to destroy the Probation Service. The National Offender Management Service Bill, coming before Parliament any day now will see to that.

The Probation Service can rehabilitate offenders, and reintroduce ex-prisoners into society safely, but only in our way. This way is to form a benevolent, "casework" relationship with a prisoner, at the latest, halfway through their sentence, and work with them over interviews, to make a sensible release plan. By this method we can motivate them to go on release into a genuinely rehabilitative hostel, such as those run by the voluntary sector.

The alternative is to hurl them into the sort of "mini-prisons" as the Government is attempting now, and we all know, after the Panorama programme, how ineffective they are bound to be.

No, Mr Blair, and Mr Reid, for goodness sake, let prison be a punishment [by humane containment away from society], and let the Probation Service reform and rehabilitate offenders through their traditional, long-term, benevolent, professional, casework relationship.



Spooky times for a reader

Sir: I've been reading The Independent since it began, and over the years there have been innumerable occasions when I've thought you must have a direct line to me.

I only have to plan a visit to, say, Florence, and at once you provide a helpful travel article; I tell a friend about the delights of samphire ("Never heard of it") and a few days later you report on the trendiness of samphire in London restaurants; I come across a little-used word in a book and soon it's a crossword clue; my daughter moves to south London and has a baby, so there is a piece about "Nappy Valley"; my Marmite addiction induces an interminable correspondence; I become an OAP and you hire Joan Bakewell to echo my thoughts.

It's long been a family joke, and I simply concluded that I was your quintessential Independent reader. Now it is spooky. Immediately after your amusing report on a book about bizarre begging e-mails, we started receiving pleas from Nigerian or Ghanaian widows, solicitors and bank managers of accident victims desperately wishing to transfer vast sums of money to us.

I blame you, and wonder if anyone else is suffering this way.



Welcome delay

Sir: A delay on the decision about replacing Trident would be very welcome ("Brown may be left with Trident dilemma", 10 November). This would make it possible for the long-promised public and parliamentary debate to happen before the Government makes a decision, rather than after.



Stinging answer

Sir: In your article "Invasion of the alien species" (10 November) you say that "For a long time, the name yellowjackets referred simply to Ohio's state basketball team". I am 66 and from Ohio and cannot remember Ohio ever having a state basketball team. The small Baldwin Wallace College and Cedarville in Ohio have athletic teams called the Yellow Jackets. Ohio State University's teams are called the Buckeyes.



Missing the point

Sir: I would be interested to learn the origin of the term "near-miss" ("The near-miss which shows dangers of crowded skies", 10 November). If, when driving my car, I nearly hit another, I miss it: that is a "near hit". So, logically, a "near-miss" must be a hit. In addition, if I "nearly missed" the 4pm post or the 9am train I would be saying that I was cutting it a bit fine but actually did not miss them.



Lost the plot?

Sir: So the MI5 head has warned of up to 30 terror plots at work in Britain (article, 10 November). Has anyone asked the director general of MI5 how many terror plots and "radicalised Muslims" were at work in the UK before Tony Blair took this country illegally to war in Iraq?



Happy expat

Sir: Ruth Grimsley (Letters, 8 November) is of the view that all British expats come crawling back in the end because Britain offers a better life. I beg to differ. I live in a comfortable apartment and work as an independent translator, teacher, proofreader etc. My skills, which wouldn't be in demand in London, are much appreciated and well paid. Although I like to have a day in London now and then I'm always happy to see the Jura mountains under the plane's wings as I fly back home.



Potter idea

Sir: Do you think Hogwarts would be eligible for state funding as a faith school? And if so, should they consider taking 25 per cent muggles?



France's turn

Sir: I translate loosely but the question now being asked in France is: "Would the burger-eating surrender monkeys like some freedom fries to go?"