Letters: Israel and Gaza

Israel and Gaza: who are the true friends of peace?
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Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is to be thanked for bringing our attention back to the outrageous and tragic situation in Gaza (Comment, 24 November).

The "peacenik" referred to in the report on the ship which broke the Israeli sea siege of Gaza was Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He was later arrested and held in Shikma prison, Ashkelon after he tried to break the land siege by crosing at the Erez checkpoint. He is now waiting to learn how long he is to serve.

There is a small but courageous peace movement in Israel, the members of which are often accused of anti-Semitism, denigrated, attacked in Israel and overlooked outside of the State. The peace movement does not dismiss Israel's legitimacy, but states clearly that the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and the disregard for human rights distorts Israel; defined as it is through the oppressive relationship it has with the Palestinians. The work of ICAHD in supporting Palestinians whose houses are demolished involves real physical risk and trauma yet they continue to stand up for a just peace for all parties, believing there is a real political solution.

Dr Carole McKenzie

Wollaston, Northamptonshire

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown condemns Israel for closing the Gaza borders. What choice does Israel have when the Palestinians keep shooting missiles into Israel? Would Alibhai-Brown prefer that Israel invade and retake Gaza, permanently stopping these deadly rocket attacks?

Israel has proven itself a willing partner for peace. Israel gave back all of the Sinai to Egypt and gave Gaza to the Palestinians for the sake of peace. Rather than build schools, roads and hospitals, the Palestinians, under the elected rule of Hamas, have used much of the millions in international aid to acquire weapons and attack Israel. The Palestinians are to blame for their own predicament. Alibhai-Brown's comments serve only to fan the flames of bigotry and blind hatred.

Dr David Lazerson

Miami Beach, Florida, USA

Dr Tom Weinberger (letters, 25 November) is concerned about the fate of Gilad Shalit, a prisoner of war for two years. This is right and proper. But the circumstances of Corporal Shalit's capture and the plight of the many Palestinians held in Israeli prisons in atrocious conditions without trial are very different.

Cpl Shalit was a serving soldier and should have been able to protect himself: almost all of the imprisoned Palestinians are civilians abducted on suspicion that they may be guilty of trying to free their land from the oppressor.

John Trapp

Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridge

Darling misses a historic chance

For the Government to imagine that the solution to debt and over-consumption is to encourage the public to consume still more is plainly absurd, as Hamish McRae rightly makes clear ("A monumental debt that takes us back to the 70s", 25 November). It is not only economically irresponsible, it is environmentally catastrophic.

Even if it works, it will simply ship money abroad, because most consumer goods are imported, rather than supporting jobs here in the UK. Instead, any further borrowing – together with a tax on the windfall profits of energy companies – should have been invested in creating a successful zero-carbon economy.

Alistair Darling has thrown away a historic opportunity to launch a clean-energy revolution that would lead to hundreds of thousands of green-collar jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency, cutting energy bills and delivering long-overdue improvements to infrastructure.

The Government's new Climate Bill is to get Royal Assent this week. But if it is to have any chance of meeting even its present inadequate emission reduction targets, Darling will have to change economic course radically, and quickly.

Dr Caroline Lucas MEP

Leader, Green Party, London SE1

Gordon Brown's insistence that the banking crisis was started by the Americans and has nothing to do with him must be one of the biggest political lies or acts of self-delusion by a British prime minister.

So the complete deregulation of financial markets, the setting up of the tripartite arrangement with no one in overall control, and the light-touch regulation of the FSA, which he boasted was a major reason for so many banks moving in the UK, is nothing to do with him and all the fault of the Americans. And the uncontrolled credit boom and the massive increases in house prices fuelled by reckless lending and six-times-salary mortgages is all the fault of the Americans?

That he is now claiming credit for the solutions to the problems he is so heavily implicated in, with eye-watering amounts of government borrowing, is quite disgraceful.

A Davies

Burton on Trent, Staffordshire

Alistair Darling's "spend now, pay later" mini-budget will land the nation with a virtual doubling of debt by 2013, the fastest increase in British public debt in peacetime.

Gordon Brown introduced his fiscal rules precisely to stop this sort of thing and he has now blown them to pieces, leaving us with a debt level that takes us back to the 1970s. Had he stuck to his original rules we would be in a strong position to pull through this downturn in better shape than other countries.

Treasury forecasts for this year's deficit have been catastrophically over-optimistic, and the Government has gambled the UK's economic future on the world economy recovering at the end of next year. Should this recovery not occur the consequences don't bear thinking about.

Alex Orr


I have some – limited – sympathy with the argument that UK banks are being asked by the Government both to rebuild their capital base, and to lend large sums of money cheaply to avert a recession, and that they can't do both at the same time, so they are charging high interest on loans, not least to small businesses.

Why not introduce a "spreads tax", which would compare the rate at which banks borrow with the rate at which they lend, give them (say) 2 or 3 per cent above the borrowing rate untaxed, and tax any spreads above that? This might, conceivably, align their commercial behaviour with the public interest.

Anthony Evans

London SW7

David Cameron and George Osborne are right in criticising the levels of debt the Blair and Brown administrations have brought. But I do not recall them making any public statement at the time on the need to rein in the obscenely high lending by banks, building societies and credit card companies for the purchase of everything from homes to foreign holidays.

Mike Abbott

London W4

Bruce Anderson ("Brown is not after economic recovery, he's after votes", 24 November), fails to recognise the implications of a government doing very little during a recession: three million unemployed, interest rates running at 18 per cent and inflation at 10 per cent, as witnessed in the early 1990s.

Henry Jarrett

Uffculme, Devon

No, Mr Darling, you will not be keeping "the overall cost to consumers the same this year". Those of us who have to buy at charity shops but still need transport for mobility are going to be worse off. And guess which end of the financial spectrum we're at?

H Powell

Alvechurch, Worcestershire

If it is possible at a time like this to spend your way out of a recession, why is it not possible at any time to spend your way into any degree of prosperity you may desire?

Robert Edwards

Hornchurch, Essex

With the present state of national debt, would not 2010 be a good year for both Labour and Tories to lose the election?

Valerie Crews

Beckenham, Kent

Is Gordon Brown now a sub-Prime Minister?

Jerry Rommer

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

The dilemma of Down's syndrome

Dominic Lawson is a little hard on the medical profession (Comment, 25 November). After 40 years as a gynaecologist, I cannot recall any occasion when the financial burden to the NHS was used in discussions about termination.

It is interesting that 40 per cent of women did not believe the result of an amniocentesis showing an extra 23rd chromasome. Is that really due to a "generalised distrust of the medical profession" or to a distrust of the technology that has become such a major part of modern medicine? Certainly, technology is fast replacing the old Hippocratic principles of listening and observing. Perhaps the reaction of those 40 per cent is also a reflection of, "It can't happen to me", a perfectly understandable denial.

Mr Lawson is right in implying that medicine (together with society) has indeed cheapened life. Surely one of the most important issues is what we regard as "normal". Is it average? Is it acceptable? Is a Down's baby more abnormal than someone who is 7ft tall? How then do we interpret "disabled"? As Professor Tom Shakespeare has pointed out, normality is a moving target. What is normal now was different 50 years ago. Disability is very complex even with a specific condition such as Down's syndrome.

As to quality of life, it is my experience that it is very rare indeed to meet anyone with a genetic or physical disability who has truly believed that it would have been better if they had never been born.

Michael Pawson

Tarrant Gunville, Dorset

Cyber-bullying is really child abuse

That something which actually amounts to child abuse ("First 'cyber-bully' trial opens", 21 November) is being reported as "cyber-bullying", is indicative of a fundamental flaw in much of the research on cyber-bullying in recent years.

The truth is that we don't really know or understand cyber-bullying because we have a tendency to imbue young people with the same intentions as adults. We perceive the "bullying" dangers that children face on websites as being created by other kids when, as this case demonstrates, the danger can just as easily come from adults.

We spend so much time encouraging adults to supervise their children's online activity to reduce the likelihood of cyber-bullying, but how can we keep children safe online if the parents of other children are colluding with the harassment in overt ways?

Professor Ian Rivers

Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex


Spin that one again

Being very old and able to write of events familiar and oft-repeated, my spell-checker translates part of déjà vu as deejay. Is this a record-player?

Robert Vincent

Wildhern, Hampshire

Mac was in the back

In the "Drive of our lives" (24 November), you say that Harold Macmillan climbed into the back of his well-polished Austin Sheerline and became the first person to drive down a British motorway. Either Harold Macmillan was taller than I remember and had to sit on a rear seat to get into the vehicle or was the vehicle driven by a robot? The first person to drive on a British motorway by a metre and a few seconds would have been the unnamed chauffeur of the Austin.

David Watson

Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

Ortega's successes

Your article on Nicaragua (21 November) made several accurate points, but gave only part of the story about life under the Sandinista government. Despite all the problems cited, the Ortega government has a good record in addressing poverty. Illiteracy has fallen considerably. Schools and hospitals are now free: under the previous neo-liberal government they charged fees. Thousands of families in rural areas have benefited from a "zero hunger" programme that has distributed livestock to poor farmers. The opposition's criticisms should not be swallowed uncritically. There are many good things happening too.

John Perry

Masaya, Nicaragua

Children's champion

Professor Carolyn Hamilton (letters, 24 November) rightly points out that children at risk have no independent representation and no one, other than the local authority, to protect their rights. This lack could be met by the appointment of Children's Ombudsmen/women, one in each local authority area. These individuals should not be employed by social services but by the court. They could also be em-powered to issue Place of Safety orders, giving social workers the power to remove a child at risk for a limited period while further inquiries were made.

Dorothy Forbes


The Bush stops there

Graham James (letters, 22 November) suggests that George Bush's election as US President shows that it is not necessary for a head of state to be bright. Surely Dubya's record in office indicates precisely the opposite.

Bob Heys

Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire