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Tuesday 22 April 2008
Letters: Migrant birds
Migrant bird drop may be nature's warning on climate change
Sir: Is it significant that the species of summer visiting birds to the British Isle showing decreased numbers is restricted to the true, long-distance trans-Saharan migrants ("The great migration crisis", 21 April)?
Our summer visitors that winter around the Mediterranean (examples of these being blackcap and chiffchaff) are not showing these declines in returning numbers.
Climate change and the increase of desertification on the borders of the Sahara could be the culprit. Crossing the Sahara Desert is already a major obstacle for migrating birds, and any increase in its dimensions will have consequences. Environmental changes are often picked up by wildlife before man detects it. An example of this was the pesticide issues of the 1960s – the "silent spring" – when for these reasons, then unknown, the productivity of birds of prey was taking a nose-dive. Is the Sahara now sending us a warning?
Tomorrow I will perform a breeding-bird survey for the British Trust for Ornithology. There will not be any wood warblers, common whitethroats or cuckoos in the otherwise ideal Dorset habitat. They went a decade ago. But will the remaining pair of spotted flycatcher or the two pairs of garden warblers also be absent this year?
The natural world is a litmus paper on the environment and we ignore its indications at our peril.
John H Wood
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Daily humiliation of Arabs in Hebron
Sir: I am a student on my gap year. I volunteered with the International Solidarity Movement to live and work in the West Bank. I spent the majority of my time in Hebron, or El Khalil, as the Palestinians call it. I can testify to the horrendous brutality and racism in Hebron (report, 19 April). I spent most of my time in the H-2 area. That is the area of Hebron under total Israeli command for the protection of most of Hebron's settlements.
Palestinians in H-2 have even fewer rights than the average Palestinian. They are not allowed to drive, which causes huge problems for shopkeepers, who have to bring supplies on their backs. They are subject to arbitrary ID checks, bag searches and body searches, as well as having to traverse the checkpoints which shut H-2 off from the rest of Hebron.
At 7am, children try to get to school. This requires the protection of several international organisations. Children are subject to metal detection, bag searches and unexplained hold-ups at the checkpoints if they are trying to leave H-2.
If they go to Quortoba school inside H-2, they face harassment, humiliation and violence from settlers in the Beit Addasah settlement opposite the school.
Between 8am and 9am women who want to shop for supplies check whether the local shops have managed to bring vegetables and tinned goods through the checkpoint.
If they need other things, they may go into the Old City in H-1. But here they still face settler violence, since the flats overlook the market place. The municipality had to erect a wire mesh over the streets. Bricks, paving slabs, nappies, glass bottles, furniture and even washing machines are caught on the mesh. Most shopkeepers were forced to leave.
When the women return through the checkpoint, the soldiers often throw shopping on the ground, search handbags or use other means of humiliation. The suffering is dreadful.
Thirsk, North Yorkshire
Sir: The letters about Israel (21 April) cannot go unchallenged. I am sure I speak for most Jewish and Israeli people in expressing our deep disquiet over the long-term occupation of former war zones and the inevitable damaging effects on the controlling power.
The solution is not Israel's alone. Education of the Palestinian people has to be a priority. It is all too easy for these unfortunate Palestinian people to be manipulated by their own "leaders" who care not a jot for the suffering of their masses and continue to preach the language of hate. It is so much easier to find money for rockets and arms than to build sewers and schools.
Hebron and the other military conflict zones are a two-sided conflict; it is not safe for Israeli citizens either. How can two peoples possibly co-exist when the Palestinian people's leaders avowed aim is the total destruction of the neighbouring state?
Human nature tells us that the average Palestinian just wishes to live in harmony, providing for the family, but their leaders are not seeking solutions; instead, they are fanning the flames of conflict.
There are many schemes in Israel that promote the linked values between the Palestinians and Israelis. These never make front-page news; only controversy and strife make the headlines.
As human beings, we hope that leaders, sooner rather than later, emerge or be allowed to emerge from this desolation; leaders whose vision sees reconciliation and who can make the dream of the fantastic railway scheme linking the West Bank to Gaza, with all of its desert reclamation proposals, a reality.
Sir: Your report "Our reign of terror, by the Israeli army" is sensationalist. The article represents the experiences of a few individuals who, under Israeli law, would be prosecuted and punished were their names made public.
For every such incident there are countless other examples of Israeli soldiers conducting themselves in a manner unknown to armies even in Western "enlightened" nations such as Britain. Just one of these examples is the unit of soldiers who, my son included, cleaned the houses of Palestinians in Jenin in Operation Protective Shield upon vacating them.
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
Sir: The testimonies from Israeli soldiers of the immoral practices of the IDF, show that there is "another Israel", brave Israeli patriots who take democracy and social justice to heart. As Donald Macintyre suggests, in Israel's 60th year, it is they who need to be recognised and celebrated.
There are many groups, with thousands of activists. Some go further than Breaking the Silence and work closely and collaboratively with Palestinians for an end to the occupation and the militarisation of Israeli society. Combatants from both societies have to put down their arms to come to respect on another, even as the world makes it all the more difficult in failing to confront illegal and destructive Israeli policies effectively.
Professor of Urban Policy, London South Bank University
Brown's taxes annoy both rich and poor
Sir: I wouldn't want to go back to those Old Labour times when that well-known Marxist revolutionary Denis Healey talked at a Labour conference about squeezing the rich with taxes "till the pips squeak", but I can understand why there are still some in the Labour Party who think that doubling the tax rate for the poorest in society may be applying the squeeze in the wrong place.
The real trouble is that New Labour bought the right-wing argument that taxes must always be seen to be coming down. So to find the money for maintaining services, New Labour has resorted to a combination of high indirect taxation, using the private sector to finance public sector programmes (the disastrous and wasteful PFI initiative) and allowing government debt to reach dangerously high levels.
New Labour thinks it has found a clever way of redistributing wealth to the poor without being "noticed". In fact, it has achieved the worst of all worlds. The rich believe they are being taxed in devious and roundabout ways, the poor think they are being ignored, and the Government is running out of money.
It would be better to treat the electorate in an honest and straightforward manner and say the rich are going to pay more so that the poor pay less. Worth trying, since there's very little sign of anyone voting Labour on present policies.
Dr Mark Corner
Market wants to have it both ways
Sir: Much as I admire Jeremy Warner's journalism, he seems to want to have it both ways (17 April). He bemoans the fact that the quid pro quo for a bailout of the banking sector will be more regulation, to the detriment of "financial innovation", yet castigates the Government for not stepping in earlier to regulate the credit markets. I'm guessing that had Gordon Brown announced new measures to rein in credit at the beginning of the boom, Mr Warner would have been prominent among those objecting to government interference.
Market fundamentalists seem to operate a "heads I win, tails you lose" philosophy. When the boom is in progress, driven by all manner of "innovative" financial derivatives, the mantra is "light-touch" regulation; when the proverbial hits the fan, they want to know why public bodies didn't intervene to save them from themselves.
When the taxpayer has to shore up the private sector, a little humility might be in order. To address the problem of moral hazard, and avoid creating a dependency culture among bankers, perhaps all claimants should be means-tested and given a medical before they get the hand-outs?
Why BA emptied deportee's plane
Sir: British Airways, like all other UK airlines, is required by law to carry deportees at the Government's request ("Nigerian call for boycott of BA after deportation", 21 April). Security procedures, such as the provision of escorts, are implemented to ensure deportees are carried safely. We also have a zero-tolerance approach to any type of disturbance on board an aircraft which could affect the safety of a flight.
A deportee was on board the BA75 flight to Lagos on 27 March. His presence led to a large number of passengers causing such a serious disturbance that it required the intervention of 20 uniformed police officers to regain control of the situation.
Given the level of disruption it was not possible to pinpoint which passengers were the most involved. Hence the police decided, with the agreement of the captain, that it would be unwise to let all the passengers travel on the aircraft as their behaviour could pose a safety risk.
We have been flying to Nigeria for over 70 years and would be disappointed if the inappropriate behaviour of a few individuals had a lasting impact on the long-standing, positive relationship we have with our customers in Nigeria and beyond.
Manager, Government & Industry Affairs, British Airways, Harmondsworth, middlesex
Sir: Please do not apply the term "failed" to asylum-seekers (report, 19 April). The Government may make them destitute, but we do not have to buy in to the system's terminology. "Refused" is more accurate.
British bullies? Not when we're around
Sir: My wife and I are in our mid-eighties. We don't look like or move like spring chickens. We use the Tube, buses and taxis in London. We do all our shopping locally, using an excellent bus service. In other words, we lead a normal life.
And we find nothing but courtesy and kindness from our fellow-travellers. The popular press may give the impression that we are a snarling, in-yer-face, bullying and vulgar country, but that is not our experience.
If my wife is shopping, complete strangers will help her cheerfully on or off the bus, carry her bags and help her across the road. Not only on the local bus, but on any public transport, people, often the young, will give up their seats. Those aged between 20 and 40 are especially thoughtful.
We meet nothing but good manners, and they are British.
Let's hear it for Ustinov
Sir: In your obituary for Disney animator Ollie Johnston (17 April) you stated that in Disney's 1973 animated version of Robin Hood the role of Prince John was "voiced by Phil Harris". Prince John, who was brought to life by Johnson's animation, was voiced by Peter Ustinov. Phil Harris's voice was used in the film, but in the role of Little John.
Martyn P Jackson
Sir: At last the school holidays have ended, after five unco-ordinated weeks of frustration and irritation for pupils, teachers, parents, transport companies and the travel industry. In 2011, we will be here again when Easter Day falls on 24 April, 33 days later than this year. Gordon Brown has said the Local Government Association should sort it out, something they have utterly failed to do this year. Central government could and should usefully intervene and bang some heads togther.
Lytham St Anne's, Lancashire
Credit for pass
Sir: Your article on the Mayoral elections ("C-charge critic to run transport", 19 April) gave the impression that the Freedom Pass is controlled by the Mayor of London. The capital's boroughs have been running and paying for the Freedom Pass for 24 years. The only power the Mayor has over the pass is his ability to fix the amount the boroughs have to pay Transport for London (this year, more than £260m). The scheme gives free travel to a million older and disabled people on London's buses, tubes and trains.
London Councils, London SE1
The lady vanishes
Sir: In the light of Andy McSmith's article about Zapatero's female-dominated cabinet, and Christina Patterson's comments about the lack of women in parliament (16 April), I was interested to note on page 11 that there appeared to be four candidates for the London Mayor. I cannot believe that a woman would be allowed to stand for such an important position, and am encouraged by her invisibility in the media; after all, there cannot be many issues of interest to women in London.
Mugabe learnt lesson
Sir: Robert Mugabe goes back a long way and, like me, he is probably remembering the time when a British Labour Prime Minister said all the right things but failed to do anything effective about the last revolting leader in Zimbabwe, Ian Smith. We were working in Zambia at the time and felt bitterly let down as the effects hit Southern Rhodesia's northern neighbours as well as all the people who opposed Smith inside that country. I'm afraid Mr Mugabe is feeling quietly confident.
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