Letters: No Middle East peace without respect for history

No Middle East peace without respect for both sides' histories
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The Independent Online

Sir: Today, millions of Israelis and Jews around the world will joyfully mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel. For many, this landmark powerfully symbolises the Jewish people's ability to defy the power of hatred so destructively embodied in the Nazi Holocaust. Additionally, it is an opportunity to celebrate the wealth of cultural, economic and scientific achievements of Israeli society, in all its vitality and diversity.

This same day, millions of Palestinians living inside Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the worldwide diaspora, will mourn 60 years since over 700,000 of them were uprooted from their homes and forbidden from returning, while more than 400 villages were destroyed. For them, this day is not just about the remembrance of a past catastrophic dispossession, dispersal, and loss; it is also a reminder that their struggle for self-determination and restitution is ongoing.

To hold both of these responses together in balanced tension is not easy. But it is vital if a peaceful way forward is to be forged, and is central to the Biblical call to "seek peace and pursue it" (Ps. 34:14). We acknowledge with sorrow that for the last 60 years, while extending empathy and support to the Israeli narrative of independence and struggle, many of us in the church worldwide have denied the same solidarity to the Palestinians, deaf to their cries of pain and distress.

To acknowledge and respect these dual histories is not, by itself, sufficient, but does offer a paradigm for building a peaceful future. Many lives have been lost, and there has been much suffering. The weak are exploited by the strong, while fear and bitterness stunt the imagination and cripple the capacity for forgiveness.

We therefore urge all those working for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine to consider that any lasting solution must be built on the foundation of justice, which is rooted in the very character of God. After all, it is justice that "will produce lasting peace and security" (Isaiah 32:17). Let us commit ourselves in prophetic word and practical deed to a courageous settlement whose details will honour both peoples' shared love for the land, and protect the individual and collective rights of Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Mairead Corrigan Maguire

The Right Rev Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn

Baroness Jenny Tonge

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners

The Rev Joel Edwards, General Director, the Evangelical Alliance

Canon Garth Hewitt, St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem

The Rev Malcolm Duncan, Leader, Faithworks

Stewart Hemsley, Chair of Pax Christi British Section

And 140 others

Tighter cannabis ban won't help our son

Sir: The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, whose advice Jacqui Smith has rejected, evidently concluded that mental health problems associated with cannabis were not sufficiently prevalent to justify its reclassification to Category B. It may be true that the drug causes no psychological problem for the majority of regular users but, for a significant minority, smoking cannabis is not only a way of life but also a very destructive one.

As parents of a son who has been dependent upon the drug for the last 10 years we are acutely aware of its effects, including the often discussed "cannabis psychosis". In our son's case this takes the form of paranoia, anxiety, irritability and extremely violent temper, symptoms that are only relieved by the first smoke of the day; or, as is the case at present, which are held in check by the use of antidepressants prescribed by a doctor.

Our son's case is by no means rare in our experience. One factor that most of these young people seem to have in common is a background of poor achievement at school, with no tertiary education, resulting in a lack of ambition and motivation, and low self-esteem. It is tempting to conclude that that the dual emphasis in today's society on university education and conspicuous spending power has exacerbated this problem.

Cannabis is used initially as a form of rebellion against authority and a statement of identity, but quickly becomes a means of blotting out the realities and difficulties of everyday life, which of course are only enhanced by the effects of the drug itself.

Changing the classification of cannabis is unlikely to have any effect at all on its use by people like our son, unless far more police effort is directed towards it. As things stand, only a tiny minority of users are apprehended. This is probably just as well. Sending a cannabis user to jail is quite likely to turn him into a heroin addict, since heroin not only appears to be freely available in prisons but is far more difficult to detect in use than cannabis.

Jacqui Smith's decision to upgrade cannabis may be an attempt to send a signal about how seriously she takes the problem of "skunk", but it is very unlikely to have any benefit either for the problem user or for society as a whole.

Names and address supplied

Sir: Less than a week ago Gordon Brown assured us that he would listen to people's opinions. Now we are told that, despite expert advice to the contrary, he is going to order tougher new laws on cannabis possession. So that policy didn't last long then.

Sarah Pegg

Seaford, East Sussex

Sir: Bearing in mind the anarchy that broke out in this country when cannabis was downgraded to Class C, it is only right that its status as a dangerous drug is returned as soon as possible.

Alex Palmer

Epsom, Surrey

There is no 'test' to find good teachers

Sir: It appears that none of the groups mentioned in the article "Teachers 'should face tough new tests to weed out incompetents' " (5 May) understand the basics of psychometric profiling.

Perhaps this is a symptom of the growing obsession with testing within the school system. You cannot be "tested" for personality. It is not a test. Personality profiling would not tell you if someone was going to be a good teacher or a bad teacher; however, it would tell you what kind of teacher they would be.

In my experience teachers come in all shapes and sizes (in terms of personality). School as a work environment probably isn't compatible with everyone, though the ones that suffered most under the school system probably were my favourite and best teachers. School would be a poorer place if these maverick teachers were no longer part of the school fabric. A personality report will tell you what kind of teacher someone is likely to be and if they are allowed to be that type of teacher then the teaching staff and pupils will be all the richer for it.

It will also tell their manager (the head) how to manage them better. Today managers have to adapt their style for each person they manage in order to get the most from them. It should make for happier managers and happier staff.

Every organisation needs a range of personalities; without this they become stagnant and lopsided. Great teams are made up of diverse personalities, and school is a team effort. If personality profiling is to be used in schools it should be used to enable a better understanding of the individuals and how best to accommodate them and get the best from them.

Martin Gibbons

C.E.O., PeopleMaps, Glasgow

A false argument that attacks rights

Sir: I write following your letter from Tom Cunliffe ("Privacy? What have you got to hide?", 6 May) and his disagreement with Virgin Media.

The argument that if one is innocent then one ought to be prepared to put up with any infringement of one's personal rights is false but it is still being trotted out. I do not like being spied on by TV cameras, or turning over my personal data to the state even though I have nothing to hide. That is not the point. The point is that citizens are not divided into two groups: on the one hand those "good" people with nothing to hide who are happy to spread their lives out for the policeman or the civil servant; and the others, dubious people with dark secrets who do not disclose everything about themselves because they fear being found out and who could therefore be, who knows, tax-evaders, terrorists or paedophiles.

That argument makes people afraid to exercise their rights to free speech and protest. I may have nothing to hide right now, but the knowledge that my phone may be tapped or my emails read if I decide to take up some legitimate issue with some branch of the state apparatus may well inhibit me from a quite legal course of action. In this way, my human rights will have been compromised. If I am photographed on a legal demonstration or if the Government forces my internet service provider to disclose my emails then there will be, somewhere, a file about me and, as a consequence, my future actions will be a source of interest to whoever stores this data about us.

The argument is still in regular use because although it is false, the authoritarians in power know that it usually works.

Christopher Payne

Plesidy, France

Beware the low-tax race to the bottom

Sir: Your leading article "A competitive edge that Britain needs to preserve" (6 May) makes an overwhelming case for EU tax harmonisation, which I am sure was not your intention. The piece was a locus classicus of liberal economic theory: the UK should lower tax rates on business or else these itinerant gentlemen will go to a country which offers a lower rate of taxation.

The logical outcome of such a policy is a race to the bottom in terms of corporation tax, wage levels, working conditions and social services (this is generally referred to as "flexibility"). I suppose the final goal would be zero taxation and/or slavery. Maybe we should even pay multinational companies to set up in the UK.

That is always the problem with this argument. For every low-tax, low-wage regime, there is an even lower tax, lower wage regime waiting to undercut it. Tax harmonisation directives are the only solution to this problem.

It doesn't surprise me that neo-liberal economists – those high priests of monied interests – put forward such arguments; it does come as a surprise, however, that an otherwise putatively progressive publication such as The Independent gives them houseroom.

Frank Lee

Wallington Surrey

Sir: If corporations insist on being global nomads then they must pay the going rate to pitch their tents . The people whose countries corporations camp in pay for the infrastructure without which they could not operate. Much as with too-powerful unions in the 1970s and 1980s, so today with the corporations: we are witnessing a power struggle between privately elected interest and popularly elected government. History shows government can't afford to lose.

Stephen Jackson

Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex

Noisy RAF over Snowdonia

Sir: I read with disbelief the article "Anger over plan for commercial flights at wartime airfield near Snowdonia" (7 May). The impression given is that all is quiet and peaceful in this Snowdonian idyll.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The RAF fly low over Snowdonia constantly from RAF Valley on Anglesey. It's bad enough when the training Hawks fly over one's house at a height of a few hundred feet, but when the Eurofighters fly over, the sound is unbearable for a considerable period of time.

I, for one, am all for turning the Llanbedr airfield into a commercial airstrip, as this will mean that there will be fewer low-level RAF flights over Snowdonia and the levels of pollution, both sound and exhaust, will plummet.

Malcolm Smith

Porthmadog, Gwynedd


Cloud control

Sir: Further to reports of clouds being seeded to ensure blue skies over Moscow for May Day (letter, 7 May), in Minsk last month I heard the rumour that the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl, blowing towards Moscow, was seeded, and fell on Belarus instead.

Andy Thomas

Market Harborough, Leicestershire

Unfair on England

Sir: If Scotland leaves the UK, it will end the UK. It was an agreement between Scotland and England that formed the Union in the first place. Why should Scotland be the only partner to get to vote in this matter? The Scots have already had two referendums on devolution and now there are plans for a unilateral vote on ending the UK. When will England be shown the same courtesy regarding an equal settlement – an English Parliament?

Terry Heath

Dinton Buckinghamshire

Last to be hanged

Sir: Esther Walker is incorrect in stating, in her interview with Michael Mansfield QC, that James Hanratty was the last person to be hanged in Britain. Two individuals share that distinction. Peter Anthony West and Gwynne Owen Evans were both hanged at 9am on 13 August 1964 at Walton Prison, Liverpool, and Strangeways, Manchester, respectively for the murder of John Alan West.

Arthur Mayson

Midhurst, West Sussex

The other 1968

Sir: I have read the same old guff about the summer of love in London and Paris so many times now that I feel like throwing cobblestones whenever I see yet another dreary Swinging Sixties headline, so a first-hand account of Kampala in '68 was a real eye-opener. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's tale (5 May) of the rounding up of student leaders for re-education and elimination, racist taunts from the Ugandan President and a brush with the slouching monster Amin was a corker of a read.

Michael O'Kelly


Undemocratic PR

Sir: Max Gauna (letter, 6 May) points out that on current voting percentages a Conservative win on 44 per cent would produce a majority of about 100 seats, thus making the case for PR. However, under PR, where Labour got 25 per cent and the Lib Dems 24 per cent, the Lib Dems would determine whether to join the Conservatives or Labour to form a coalition, and on what policies. Would it be any more democratic for a party with 24 per cent to determine the nature of the government than one with 44 per cent?

Alan Spencer


Man for the job

Sir: Ken Livingstone is out of a job while, at the same time, Gordon Brown and the Labour Party are in disarray. The conclusion is obvious: Ken for PM.

Keith O'Neill