Letters: Palestinian's academic freedom

Intolerable restrictions deprive Palestinians of academic freedom
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The Independent Online

Sir: Howard Jacobson's eloquent denunciation of those supporting an academic boycott of Israeli universities (8 June) misses the point. I recently visited the medical school of Al Quds University on the West Bank, and its affiliated school in Al Azhar University, Gaza.

Students from Gaza cannot attend lectures, tutorials or clinical teaching in the West Bank. Students from the West Bank (half the student body) cannot attend clinical teaching at Hadassar Hospital, half a mile away in East Jerusalem, but have to go to Hebron, normally about half an hour's drive away. The journey however can take several hours or be impossible because of restrictions of movement and checkpoints, even though the whole journey takes place in the West Bank. There are insufficient beds in Hebron for teaching purposes.

The Dean of Al Quds medical school, a distinguished paediatric neurologist, has been unable to leave the West Bank for 10 years. He cannot visit Hadassar Hospital and is prevented from visiting the Gaza school, the last time he had a permit was for six hours, to conduct an examination.

Palestinians cannot be admitted to Israeli medical schools. If Palestinian students in other disciplines are able to obtain places, they are often unable to take them up for "security" reasons. Postgraduate medical trainees cannot obtain appropriate training. Palestinian clinicians are prevented from attending international conferences, or from essential continuing educational opportunities.

In the face of these intolerable restrictions on academic freedom, there has been no audible protest from Israeli universities. How, then, can those of us who wish to draw attention to the abuses act other than to call for an academic boycott?



TV Licensing put an old woman in fear

Sir: Let no one underestimate the damage caused by the threats issued by TV Licensing ("People without TVs 'intimidated' by licence reminders", 6 June).

My mother - 91, blind, no television - has received many such letters. She plucks up courage to disturb a neighbour and asks him to read the letter to her. The fact that she has no television does not alter the fact that she will then have several sleepless nights and turn ashen as the threat of the £1,000 fine occupies her thoughts.

All I am interested in is that my mother's remaining days are free from unnecessary stress, so I have, of course, written to TV Licensing. The first thing you find is that the person who signs the threatening letters is unable to respond to any correspondence personally. Then you discover that if you give them the address, they will visit to check that there is no television, as if it were perfectly acceptable to hand out addresses of the frail elderly to people who issue them with threats. However, you then learn that this will stop the threats for all of three years, and then they will resume.

But, I said, at her age a television licence is free, so perhaps she should get a licence even though she has no need of it. TV Licensing were outraged at this suggestion, blustering that technically the licence is not free, but reimbursed by the Government, so such an action would be fraudulent. The solution is, of course, to purchase a television set and stow it in the loft, if there is no other way to stop the threats and intimidation.



Sir: It isn't just the living who are harassed by TV licence reminders. When my mother died I told the TV Licensing people that she was dead, and they said they would make a note of it. A little while later we started to receive reminders sent to her empty flat, addressed to her and quite intimidating. I phoned again and said she was dead and that the flat was being sold. Again I was told they would make a note of this.

Because of problems with the freehold my mother's flat took 18 months to sell. During this time we must have received a dozen reminders all addressed to my mother, even though the authorities had been told on three separate occasions that she was dead.

As the relative dealing with my late mother's affairs I found it extremely distressing that they would not even change the addressee to the "occupier", but continued to address what I regarded as threatening letters to my late mother.



Sir: You are perpetuating the myth that a TV licence "must be bought by anyone with a television". This is what TV Licensing wants us to think, in order to maximise their profits.

In fact, a licence is only required if you intend to "receive" television signals. You are perfectly at liberty to own a television - tuned out and with no aerial - to watch videos and DVDs, without purchasing a licence. This information is even on the TV Licensing website, but is - unsurprisingly - not something the licensing authorities want us to know about.



Sir: Several years ago I had to threaten the TV licensing office in Bristol with a report to Watchdog before they finally agreed to take my address off their computer. Perhaps your readers in a similar position would like to follow this example.



We could match the green Germans

Sir: May I offer strong support to the letter from Keith Barnham (31 May). It is imperative for the long-term commercial success of any programme to develop the use of solar cells and wind power that users should be given a strong incentive to install such devices.

Data collected by Professor Martin Green at the University of New South Wales makes it clear that the cost of electrical energy from solar panels has decreased continuously between 1978 and the present time, as the amount of installed generating capacity has increased. A relatively short extrapolation of his data suggests that the cost of solar electricity will soon become competitive with that from other sources; what is needed is adequate stimulus for the required increase in solar-panel installation.

As Mr Barnham points out, the approach adopted by the German government, offering the incentive of a high "feed-in" tariff, has worked extremely well to encourage private citizens to purchase suitable roof panels and has led to Germany's present position of strength in the race to adopt renewable technologies. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot follow suit in this country; what is needed is adequate political motivation.



Sir: Mr Orr (letter, 31 May) asks why all new homes are not built to the same energy-saving standards as are required from housing associations. The answer is simple. The speculative developers lobbied hard to lower the standards originally proposed for new private homes, and persuaded government to relax the requirements. This is a pattern which has occurred every single time attempts have been made to improve the minimum standards for energy conservation for new buildings, since these became mandatory in 1985.

Even more of a missed opportunity is the failure by too many builders to install such energy-saving measures as are required, even to these less onerous standards. The last comprehensive survey, undertaken in 2005 of new dwellings a year after occupation, found that one in three homes - and almost half the houses - simply did not comply even with the minimum energy standards. Perhaps it is not surprising. Since 1985, there have been no prosecutions for non-compliance with the relevant sections of the Building Regulations.



More abortion means less crime

Sir: Anyone tempted to adopt the kind of simplistic "solution" to the ethical tangle of abortion (letters, 8 June) could do worse than consult the work of Harvard and Chicago economist Steven Levitt.

In his analysis of US crime figures in the 1980s and 1990s, Levitt demonstrates that the most significant factor in the decline of juvenile homicide in the US was not, as was widely believed at the time, tougher policing, more social care or economic up-turn. The single most significant factor according to Levitt was the Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973 which allowed abortion on demand. Young single impoverished women took advantage of the new dispensation and a generation of disaffected young men and women went unborn.

The price of the right to life is a less stable society, and will remain so until we have the courage and decency to provide the kind of opportunities for disadvantaged young people that make anti-social behaviour irrelevant and unnecessary.



British resident in Guantanamo Bay

Sir: The fatal flaw in charging "lawful combatants" incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay ("Charges against two Guantanamo inmates dropped", 5 June) is perhaps the penultimate stage in the shameful history of that grisly concentration camp. Sooner or later, the 385 prisoners remaining will have to be sent home or somewhere. The international community must insist that wherever it is they are sent it is not to torture and death. The problem could be solved for some of the inmates if a long-running injustice under international law was corrected.

Four years ago I was legal adviser to the European Parliament on the plight of the European citizens in Guantanamo. One British resident, Binyam Mohamed, still remains there. We were powerless to do anything because the right to protect in international law is enshrined in the 40-year-old Vienna convention which is based on citizenship and pays no regard to territorial or family ties.

Guantanamo is a high-profile example of this injustice. Over the years numbers of dissidents, having received asylum status in the UK, have been lured to third countries to meet relatives in the mistaken belief that the British government will take responsibility to for them. They are then often detained and kidnapped or handed over to the very government they fled from.

Many of us have repeatedly observed that the behaviour of our government in using the state of international law to shirk its moral responsibilities for our residents is an exercise in cowardice. At least let us demand that our government goes to Europe and the United Nations to initiate a new convention that bases the right to protect on domicile and habitual residence rather than the accident of citizenship.



Calumnies against capitalism

Sir: Dr Wall's claim that capitalism collapses without exponential growth rates is nonsense (letter, 7 June). Free markets and capitalism function just as well (or badly) in declining areas as in expanding sectors. Cinema audiences have fallen dramatically over the past 60 years, but cinemas still function satisfactorily.

His claim that outsourcing impoverishes those to whom work is outsourced is largely nonsense. India and China have enjoyed unprecedented real wage increases thanks in part to work outsourced from western firms.

His assertion that capitalism causes ecological problems is invalid because this problem is not unique to capitalism. The state-owned businesses of the old USSR were if anything more negligent in this connection.



Royal parasites

Sir: Francis Roads (letter, 6 June) suggests Oak Apple Day as a public holiday to celebrate "Britishness" (whatever that may turn out to be), as it marks the reimposition of monarchical rule over the people of this island. As the oak apple is a deformity caused by a parasitic infestation, I can think of nothing more appropriate.



A man among women

Sir: Your correspondent Tony Patterson professes to be baffled at the German media calling Chancellor Merkel's husband Joachim Sauer a "cock in a basket" (report, 8 June). Hahn im Korb is a common idiom and is equivalent to "cock of the walk" in English. It is often applied to a single man in the presence of several ladies.



Blair's election promise

Sir: In your recent correspondence I have looked in vain for mention of one of Tony Blair's most serious transgressions, namely his cynical failure to keep the promise which he made before the 1997 election to hold a referendum on proportional representation. If he had kept it, we would in all probability not have had several governments based on a minority of the electorate, no illegal Iraq invasion and no deaths of many British and American soldiers, and thousands of Iraqi civilians.



Imperfect recall

Sir: Addicts of Yes, Minister will recall the episode in which the dim but eminent banker Sir Desmond Glazebrook systematically fails to distinguish Maynard Keynes, Milton Keynes, Milton Friedman and Milton Shulman. As often, life is now imitating art: in his column of 8 June Matthew Norman has told us how "Attlee sent Milton Friedman to Washington to beg an interest-free loan of $8bn". It's a tableau that lingers in the mind.



Sexist bosses

Sir: As a single mother, who "chose" to take part-time work, and thereby "drop out" of my career due to issues around childcare, my issue is not with Sir Alan Sugar's interview technique, but why anyone is particularly surprised ("Sugar accused of sexism after apprentice quits", 8 June). Sir Alan's questioning was undoubtedly wrong, but he was simply doing in the open what many employers still think about and act upon in private.



Take no notice

Sir: While travelling in northern India recently I saw above a makeshift shop a sign advertising "Extra Large Bonsai Trees". I can't help but think that perhaps if the UK had this entrepreneurial spirit we would be more competitive on the global markets.