Sir: Sadly even The Independent relegated one of the most important news stories to come out of the Near East for some time to page 34 of last Friday's edition. The appointment of Amir Peretz to defence chief marks probably the last stage in the elimination of the old warriors from Israeli/Palestinian politics.
"When the old men are gone" is a saying that is frequently heard on the West Bank, among ordinary Palestinians and among the young Israeli soldiers on the checkpoints. And now most of them just about are. Arafat is dead, Sharon is in a coma, Fatah were defeated in the polls and Likud and Netanyahu are sidelined, while Hamas is now in charge in Palestine and Peretz is in charge of the Israeli army.
"When the old men are gone - then there will be peace." The young men in Hamas know of resistance of course but also of the importance of setting up clinics, schools and community centres, with which the western media unfailingly resists crediting them; and Peretz, who is now in charge of those disgruntled, frightened young soldiers on the checkpoints, has never even seen combat of any sort and has no heritage of military "glory". He understands how to negotiate though (what successful union leader doesn't?) he understands that negotiation with Hamas is necessary and he understands too that the West Bank must be cleared of all those who don't want to become Palestinians.
Those old men knew only war. Now with them gone, there is hope for peace at last.
Opportunity to ask what prisons are for
Sir: One element missed in all the furore over the missing foreign prisoners is the possibility that those concerned may have been rehabilitated and now hold down perfectly good employment. The fact that this possibility does not seem to have ever entered the public discourse on this matter would seem to indicate a tacit admission that prison does not work.
Why then does the Government insist on incarcerating more and more people in prison? The prison population is now at record levels of over 77,000. Why the expanded prison building programme? Surely, the present furore offers an opportunity to look at what is going on in our prisons and why they have become universities of crime instead of places of rehabilitation.
Sir: Setting aside the fact that the judiciary system is costly and already overloaded there is a common-sense way in which the courts, the prisons and the probation service could be brought together sensibly by the Home Office.
Everyone sentenced to, say, more than five years should be brought back to the court where they were sentenced when eligible for release. It may not be possible for a prisoner to reappear before the same judge or magistrate who levied the sentence, but it would surely be useful for the judiciary to learn what effect the sentence has or has not achieved.
Further, the court could ensure that the sentence has been properly served and if the sentence included deportation on its conclusion, then the prisoner could be taken away for immediate deportation.
Sir: Charles Clarke need have no fears. The penal remit of his brief may be shaky, but the fiscal side works exceedingly well!
Today, I tried to pay a minor sum (around £100) into an overdue store account for a relative who had suffered a stroke. Payment was refused. The reason given was that (since 5 April), payment without prior written permission from my relative fell without the law. Bravo! Another al-Qa'ida plot foiled and all of us the safer for it.
In attempting to foil the misappropriation of major sums from the Inland Revenue our legislators have made the concept of helping out in family crises a potentially suspicious crime, benefiting terrorists more than family.
A sense of scale and proportion is what this administration sadly lacks. Lord save us from do-gooders who think they know best. We had enough of them with Margaret Thatcher.
DR ANDREW MACZEK
The threat to our civil liberties
Sir: I heartily commend Ben Russell for taking the Government to task in such robust fashion over its attack on our civil liberties ("The battle for civil liberties", 24 April). It is intriguing to consider just what they have got away with and continue to foist upon us simply by playing the terrorism card, and by sensationalising the threat from benefit fraudsters and organised criminals so that in magnified fear we submit to the state in meek fashion.
No more clearly is their attitude demonstrated than in their policy on identity cards and the National Identity Register: quite simply the most intrusive and far-reaching meta-database the world has ever seen, which the Home Office will find very difficult to deliver in anything like the form it wants, and which will cost us a bomb without providing any tangible benefit.
You are right to raise matters such as these, and I urge you to continue to do so until we all see sense. We should all join in what must be a major campaign to defend our hard-won liberty. There is no better place to start that by renewing our passports in May, as a demonstration to the Home Secretary that we are not prepared simply to sit back and accept the use of passport applications to harvest our data for this nightmare.
WHICKHAM, TYNE AND WEAR
Sir: Congratulations to Simon Carr for rattling Charles Clarke's cage over civil liberties (15, 24 April). I am a supporter of Brian Haw and his protest in Parliament Square. The police have made it clear to me that if I am visiting Brian, or watching over the demo whilst he nips off to the loo, they will not arrest me. However, if I am protesting, they might arrest me. Presumably, wearing a T-shirt saying "Stop the Genocide in Iraq", which would, no doubt, be seen as bad taste by Charles Clarke, and therefore not an arrestable offence, would, however, still leave me open to arrest for protesting without police permission in a designated area. Have I got that right?
New deal for nursing mothers
Sir: Bronwyn Eyre's account of her breastfeeding experience (25 April) is a sad example of the care many breastfeeding mothers receive in the British maternity services. But don't blame breastfeeding; instead blame the system which lets so many women down.
Poor professional practice has too often resulted in breastfeeding failure, distressed parents and poorer health outcomes for mother and baby. Unknown to many parents, most midwives, health visitors and doctors have had little or no training in how to support breastfeeding. UNICEF and the World Health Organisation are addressing this problem through the Baby Friendly Initiative - a global programme which requires maternity services to implement agreed best practice policies for breastfeeding and train their staff in implementation. Hospitals accredited as baby friendly invariably see a rise in their breastfeeding rates and the satisfaction expressed by mothers.
There are now 43 Baby Friendly Hospitals in the UK, around 14 per cent of the total. The remaining maternity units must accelerate their adoption of the programme so that the largely preventable experiences of mothers like Bronwyn Eyre should become a thing of the past. In the meantime when choosing where to have their baby all prospective mothers wishing to breastfeed should ask "Is this facility baby friendly?"
DIRECTOR UNICEF UK BABY FRIENDLY INITIATIVE, LONDON WC2
Sir: I breastfed my two eldest with no trouble at all, but my youngest was a different matter. I would have given up if I hadn't known about the sunny uplands that lie on the other side of the cracked nipples, lost birth weight and worry. No fiddling with bottles and sterilising, no expensive formula to buy, and you get to sit down undisturbed and read a book. What's not to like?
One serious point is that breastmilk is only as good as the diet of the nursing mother. It is even more important than usual to eat properly and drink plenty of water while you are nursing a baby.
For Western women with access to clean water, formula is a reasonable alternative, although it lacks the immunities present in breast milk that help prevent conditions such as glue ear and more serious ones such as SIDS. For women in the developing world, not breastfeeding can literally be a death sentence for their babies.
Sir: "Europe in facts and figures" eh? It was not. Where were the figures for Norway, Switzerland and the other non-EU countries in Europe? Their omission from your map speaks volumes for your "little European" attitude and denies us interesting comparisons.
SOWERBY BRIDGE, WEST YORKSHIRE
Sir: Surely only a sad man would search for a kitchen bin, (Ask Alice, 26 April) write to the newspapers about it and then consider parting with over £100 for one and/or spend and evening choosing one at a special bin-buying experience. He must have too much time and too much money and probably throws out too much kitchen waste. What happened to the plastic pail lined with a supermarket carrier bag?
PENCAITLAND, EAST LOTHIAN
Weight of destiny
Sir: Your recent article on astrology (28 April) suggests the action of the Moon on the Earth's tides as a partial rebuttal of the sceptic's accusation that astrology is pseudoscience. Far from it; if the proposed mechanism of astrology's alleged influence on human affairs is gravity, then the inverse square law applies. This means that a 75kg midwife delivering a baby will have roughly 1,000 times more "astrological" influence than Mercury orbiting nearly 60,000 km away.
NORTH BADDESLEY, HAMPSHIRE
Left out of the pie
Sir: The pie chart of current voting intentions on page 4 on Friday (28 April) shows vote shares for Labour (33 per cent), Conservatives (33 per cent), and Liberal Democrats (22 per cent) apparently adding up to 100 per cent. I would not expect The Independent to discount in this rather careless way the fact that 12 per cent of us plan to vote other than for the three main parties.
Salad by air
Sir: Your recent front page on "The real cost of a bag of salad" (29 April) was commendable, but to add more weight to your argument we consumers should also consider how the fresh produce and flowers reach Britain. If they come by plane we should reject them for the disproportionate damage they are doing our environment through wastage of non-renewable resources and production of carbon dioxide. Perhaps, in addition to stating the country of origin, the packet should state if the product was transported by air freight.
HIGH WYCOMBE, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Sir: "Why did God make the metatarsal?" asks David Nettleton. To remind the rest of us that Wayne Rooney is not God.
THE REVD DR PAUL SHEPPY