Letters: Perspectives on Israel and its place history

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TV show's broken 'Promise'

Christina Patterson is right ("Israel now needs its friends more than ever", 23 February) but she is wrong when she describes Channel 4's The Promise as "extremely balanced".

True, we see the horrors of Belsen, but after the opening shots Jews are presented as cold and indifferent, either hypocrites or terrorists. They scream "Nazi", at the most compassionate character, Erin's grandfather, Len. They hurl rocks with impunity at Arab girls. They chat and drink tea, unmoved by the gunning down of Len and his friends in daylight. They abuse Israelis protesting against Jewish families settling in Hebron with homophobic taunts, which is ironic, because gay Arabs in fear for their lives have fled Gaza and the West Bank to seek sanctuary in Israel.

In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem after seizing the West Bank during a war with its Arab neighbours, a war caused by Arab governments whose aim was eliminating the state of Israel in its entirety and expelling its Jewish residents.

I have taken Johann Hari's advice and read Gideon Levy's The Punishment of Gaza, and I have wept; but I have also read Brian Whitaker's What's Really Wrong with the Middle East and Professor Alan Dershowitz's The Case For Israel. I suggest independently minded readers do the same.

Anthont Hentschel, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

What a wonderful article by Christina Patterson about Israel.

During the 1970s, it became clear that apartheid in South Africa would – and of course, should – end, and I supported the ANC, albeit from a distance. Happily, the end came about unexpectedly and relatively peacefully.

Today, as events unfold, it is becoming clear that apartheid in Arab-Israeli Palestine will – and of course, should – end, and that a two-state solution, with Palestine and the West Bank as a kind of disconnected Bantustan, has had its day. The only long-term solution, as the Arab world moves towards democracy, is a single-state, apartheid-free, democratic, non-racist, tolerant Arab-Israeli Palestine. Again, we must hope that this will come about unexpectedly peacefully.

Dane Clouston, Stadhampton, Oxfordshire

The cultural treasures of the Arab world

Julie Burchill's Thursday plug for Israel is nothing short of embarrassing. The theme this week? How she can't abide any Brit travelling to an Arab country because this tells her they do so to avoid Israel. So nothing to do with the thousands of years of history, art, and culture these locations offer?

I'm sick of how sickened she is by all of us who object to Israel's past and present policies and practices against Palestinians.

Hannah Beecham, Hove, East Sussex

Art of intifada is catching

Stan Labovitch hopes that Arabs will soon be able to emulate Israeli democracy (letter, 23 February). He seems not to have noticed that across the Arab world people have already found something to emulate in Palestine. From where else did this generation learn the art of intifada?

Mark Elf, Dagenham, Essex

Britain bumbles through again in Libya crisis

The UK Government appears to be having difficulty arranging the timely evacuation of British nationals stranded in Libya, when other nations have already moved their citizens to safety. I don't suppose this would have anything to do with a preponderance of Oxbridge classics graduates in the Foreign Office, and career politicians in charge of it?

I wonder if these indecision-makers have ever done anything resembling a "proper" job that required initiative and common sense.

It seems that a combination of Facebook and lots of people on the streets can displace any sort of dysfunctional administration, these days. Well, I'm on Facebook and I've got a street outside my door. Our lot had better watch out.

Mark Ogilvie, Malpas, Cheshire

What we need, to evacuate British citizens from Libya, is an aircraft carrier a mile off with Harriers on board, a few destroyers, and search-and-rescue helicopters. A surveillance aircraft should monitor the situation and co-ordinate the evacuation.

Oh, silly me. Now, where is that army surplus store?

Roger Ellis, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Oil companies whore themselves out to Arab dictators, and people whore themselves out to those oil companies, but when it all goes wrong in places like Libya, it's up to "us" to go and rescue them? Why?

Why can't these tax-avoiding individuals or the very wealthy oil companies charter their own aircraft to get themselves out of there? Why does it have to be done at the expense of the rest of us?

Paul Harper, London E15

Dave Brown's "Saif-Gaddafi's-gone-ballistic-Muammar-is-Atrocious" (23 February) was the stuff of award-winning political cartoon genius. Black humour can sometimes prove the most effective framework for reflecting unspeakable horror.

Perhaps those under the last government who so unashamedly courted Saif and embraced his even more atrocious pater should buy framed copies as a constant reminder of the price of placing pragmatism ahead of principle?

David Cameron might care to do the same, given his dubious decision to take a coterie of UK arms manufacturers on a whistlestop tour around a tumultuous Middle East.

Can we look forward to Dave Brown putting such hypocritical insanity into devastatingly and grimly effective perspective?

Paul Connew, St Albans, Hertfordshire

I feel deep anger at the efforts by Libyan ambassadors to distance themselves from their government and to claim to speak for "the people". The brutality meted out to the citizens of that benighted country did not start this week or last.

As Robert Fisk and Dominic Lawson illustrate so well in their articles (22, 23, 24 February), and as those who have followed Middle East affairs are only too well aware, Gaddafi has been murdering and imprisoning Libyan people for almost as long as he has been in power. I squirmed at the contortions by Tony Blair as he sought to engage with Gaddafi.

Jon Taylor, High Peak, Derbyshire

In 1986, American fighter-bombers raided Tripoli, some from British bases, with Mrs Thatcher's blessing. In 1988, an American plane carrying mostly US civilians was blown up, its wreckage coming to rest on UK soil.

Your leading article (22 February) mentioned the latter but not the former. It's a surprising omission from a piece about the regrettable haste with which Britain has tried to deal with Gaddafi.

David Woods, Hull, East Yorkshire

The dramatic happenings in the Middle East have been widely reported. Of course, I have not read or listened to all the reports, so perhaps I have missed references to Tony Blair. What exactly is his role in the Middle East?

L Palmer, Colchester, Essex

UK census data is protected

I must set the record straight on three points about the safety of the census information (letter, 23 February).

First, it is not true that EU legislation allows for census information to be shared with EU member states. No personal census information has been or will be provided to EU member states or EU institutions; only statistical tables and counts will be provided.

Second, it is not true that raw census data may be acquired by the police, intelligence agencies, immigration authorities etc under the Statistics and Registration Services Act. The UK Statistics Authority and the Office for National Statistics will never volunteer personal information for any non-statistical purpose.

If disclosure is sought, we will always refuse to allow it, and will contest the case to the maximum extent possible under the law, using each stage of appeal in the courts if necessary, to ensure statistical confidentiality.

Third, it is not true that the US Patriot Act could give the US government access to personal census data. Under the contractual and operational arrangements, no employees of Lockheed Martin UK or of its US parent or of any other US company will be able to access personal census data. All of the data processing is done in the UK and all of the data will remain in the UK.

Glen Watson, Census Director, 2011 Census, Titchfield, Hampshire

Andy McSmith (22 February) asks whether there is any point to the census next month. The short answer is "Yes". The importance of the census to government for targeting billions of pounds a year to local areas is well known. Just as significantly, many retailers and other companies serving the public use census data to make local investment decisions running into hundreds of millions of pounds every year.

The linking of government population databases to create a Scandinavian-style register may be an alternative in the future, but the legal, technical and cost implications should not be underestimated.

Keith Dugmore, Demographics User Group, London SW1

To reduce the cost and disturbance of the census, may I give permission for the government to contact Tesco? The information on my Clubcard account will clearly detail how many people live in my house (the ages of occupants can be estimated by the food preferences).

Our alcohol consumption can also be accurately measured. Our religion could be accurately deduced from our buying habits, whether they are changed during Christmas, Lent, Ramadan or Diwali. It may not eliminate all of the expenditure of gathering the information, but every little helps.

Howard Robbins, Diss, Norfolk

Surely the Jedi religion has been replaced by the cult of Celebrity. And should bankers – and many MPs – be compelled to give their religious leaning as Greed?

Neil Cooke, London E9

Free school meals are no indicator

Free school meals ("Top universities take 1 per cent of poor", 21 February) are a bad measure of diversity at selective universities.

Some students are not eligible for free school meals simply because they attend sixth-form colleges, further education institutions or (on bursaries) independent schools. And many students opt not to claim free school meals even if they qualify.

About 9 per cent of Oxford's most recent undergraduate student intake comes from families with incomes below £16,190 (the key eligibility criterion for free school meals). One third of these were at independent schools. Only about one in 10 of these students claimed free school meals; the rest wouldn't have been counted in any of the figures in your article.

Charlotte Leslie MP is right to suggest that schools play a central role in producing these outcomes, for the starkest figures available are those relating to school attainment. Of the 80,000 students eligible for free school meals in the UK, only 176 achieved three As at A-level, the minimum requirement for making a competitive application to Oxford.

The good news is that more than one-quarter of those students on free school meals getting the grades ended up at Oxford or Cambridge, a sign that those achieving at the level necessary to go to Oxford or Cambridge are getting in, regardless of background.

Mike Nicholson, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Oxford University

Alan Barker (letter, 16 February) is right that the issue of entry to universities lies with schools, not with universities. But he is wrong to imagine that imposing quotas on independent schools could be a solution.

Many independent schools have a high, and growing, proportion of pupils on assisted (free) places and many of these pupils, given the best chance in education from the age of 11, go on to gain entry into the best universities.

Independent schools aren't the problem. They might even be a part of the solution to providing pupils from ordinary backgrounds with an opportunity, thereby increasing social mobility. That's what happened for over a generation through the direct grant system.

John Claughton, Chief Master, King Edward's School, Birmingham

How to crimp your pasty

As a Cornishman, I am pleased to see that the pasty has been given protected status. But it seems odd that the designation Cornish Pasty can be applied only to one that not only uses the specified recipe but is crimped at the side. My grandmother, mother and aunt, all of impeccable Cornish ancestry, made excellent pasties crimped at the top or slightly to one side. Why should such examples be excluded from the definition?

The idea that side-crimping allowed the consumer, probably in a mine or at sea, to discard that part of the pasty hygienically, is a myth. Is it likely that the hungry worker would throw away part of his hard-won meal?

Peter Treloar, Calne, Wiltshire

Now that the EU has recognised the Cornish Pasty, what next? Bakewell tarts, Eccles cakes, Lincolnshire sausages and Yorkshire puddings (which I couldn't find on a visit to York last year, as well as the tea plantations behind Yorkshire Tea or the wine in my wine gums)?

E C Goh, London, E12

AV debate: lies on both sides

The biggest problem with the claim that introducing AV will require expensive voting machines (report, 24 February) is that it is not true. Though the No campaign have been making the claim repeatedly, both the Government and the Electoral Commission have confirmed that there are no such plans.

Elections using preferential vote transfers have been held regularly in Britain without counting machines. The experience of AV in other countries is no different.

It reveals the weakness of the No campaign that they claim as fact something which is so obviously not required, not planned and won't happen.

Mark Pack, London N19

Just because the No campaign may be using misleading tactics ("A dishonest campaign that deserves to lose", leading article, 24 February) doesn't mean it's on the wrong side of the argument. Those of the Yes campaign are being equally economical with the truth.

Claims that AV is used through the world fail to point out that it's used primarily to appoint individuals to individual posts such as party leaders, mayors or chairs of tennis clubs. Less than 0.5 per cent of the world's population uses AV to elect parliaments and governments.

Brian Hughes, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Pensioners are being hit by cuts

Pensioners have escaped the cuts (letter, 24 February)? On the contrary, the change in pegging public sector pension increases only to the CPI instead of the agreed RPI means that for many the value of their pension has been eroded by 20 per cent over its payment life, a massive cut which the Government appears to have hoped will pass almost unnoticed. Indeed, the legality of this cut is as yet unchallenged.

Ruth Alston, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

We seek him here, we seek him there

In 1897, H G Wells published his science fiction tale, The Invisible Man. In the world of film and television, the role has been superbly played by Claude Rains, Vincent Price and David McCallum. Since last September's Labour leadership election, Ed Miliband has been playing this role too – and with great gusto – but much to my chagrin.

Derek W Hall, Hartlepool

Autobahn toll

Hamish McRae has let his enthusiasm for the German economy run away with him (Comment, 23 February). Number of fatalities per billion vehicle-kilometres in 2008 (latest year given): Germany 6.49; Ireland 5.66; U.K. 5.2 (International Road Traffic and Accident Database). Perhaps speed limits wouldn't be such a bad idea in Germany.

William Wallace, Wimborne, Dorset

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