Letters: Perspectives on the Palestine papers

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The Independent Online

Can God find a home for Palestinians?

Robert Fisk, as always, hits the nail on the head ("A new truth dawns on the Arab world", 26 January). Alas, this exciting new truth will get us nowhere. While we rant, rave and demand our democratic rights which we will not get, Palestine diminishes daily. Robert Fisk is right, we are now down to 10 per cent of historical Palestine.

And Condoleezza Rice's suggestion of relocating us Palestinian refugees to South America is a cracker. Are those negotiators serious or is it some fantasy aimed at wearing us down so that we give up?

Theodor Herzl set up a committee to study the possibility of creating a Jewish state in South America, then Africa, before deciding on Palestine. And when we Palestinians settle in, say, Argentina, which part of the Old Testament are we going to quote as a justification for taking someone else's land? Maybe we could use Genesis 17:20 where God promises Abraham that his son Ishmael will be made a "great nation".

A further structuralist analysis of the Old Testament will give us the spelling of Argentina. There we are. Amazing how accommodating God can be.

Dr Faysal Mikdadi, Dorchester, Dorset

US opinion turning away from Israel

I'd like to extend my thanks to your correspondent Donald Macintyre for his work in exposing the Israeli army's many abuses in the occupied territories. Sadly, in the US we're still accustomed to the mainstream media resorting to 10-second sound-bites and short items buried deep in newspapers to help explain this conflict (all in favour of Israel, of course).

I just wanted your paper to know that a growing number of Americans are no longer convinced Israel is at risk of annihilation and believe the opposite to be the case (Palestine doesn't appear on any maps here). Although the polls still show that most Americans hold a favourable view of Israel, an increasing number are seeing the occupation as reprehensible.

They are also worried about the rising tide of racism, which they believe is connected to the occupation itself.

And as these latest leaks show, the Palestinians have accepted Israel's existence for some time. Even Hamas has expressed its desire to end this conflict based on internationally recognised borders.

History has proven that militant groups can be brought into the political fold. Why should this one be any different?

Israel has had countless offers to bring this injustice to an end. I just hope this moral decline can be stopped before it's too late.

Jeff Northridge, San Diego, California, USA

Britain paid the price in blood

Without the Balfour Declaration there wouldn't have been a Mandate for Palestine, without the Mandate there wouldn't have been a British administration, without the British administration the Jewish presence would not have been able to develop the attributes necessary for a Jewish state to become a reality and Zionism to flourish.

How was Britain thanked for the birth of Israel? By the death of 784 soldiers in the final scramble by Zionists to grab more than their share of this tiny country. Have they apologised for killing Britons? No.

Has the British government ever acknowledged the role of the armed forces in the attempt to achieve an amicable conclusion to 40 years of political blunders? No, quite the reverse. Politicians and commentators prefer to ignore those three controversial, violent years of Zionist terrorism.

Eric Lowe, Hayling Island, Hampshire

The writer served with the British army in Palestine 1947-48

The Dickensian squalor of care homes for the old

Johann Hari's recent articles on the state of elderly care homes mirrors my personal experience as a care worker with disturbing accuracy. The underpaid, undervalued and undertrained staff. The discouragement of personal interaction with residents, maximising their loneliness, confusion and misery. Shabby environments. No proper hot running water. Poorly maintained old buildings. Chemical truncheons used as cheap alternatives to adequate staffing. Absence of activities and outings. Enforced bedtimes.

These are not exaggerations from some Charles Dickens story. This is the norm of 21st-century elderly residential care. Johann Hari should be given a medal for blasting open this can of worms.

I have no doubt that David Cameron's "light touch regulation" of care homes will be met with delight from many of their owners; a large proportion of whom are devious, rich rent-collectors who only bother to meet (or bully) their staff when the Care Quality Commission are due for a visit.

Mark Stevens, Sheffield

Thank you and congratulations to The Independent and especially to Johann Hari for again highlighting the problems in care homes for elderly people (Wednesday Essay, 26 January).

For the most part, these homes are managed by nurses. Nurses, however kind they may be, are generally not trained in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social services, podiatry, hairdressing, music and nutrition. The model of care in residential homes needs to be changed to incorporate all those services.

Care should be delivered by a team to all residents including those with dementia. Inadequacies in training of residential care-home staff must also be addressed to include sensitive management of chronic illness, pain, dying and death with medical advice and input as required.

Somebody somewhere must have the foresight, money and goodwill to set up a model home-care environment. Universities and colleges with departments where the relevant courses are taught could use a model care-home as a teaching source. There are some multi-millionaires in the UK who could take the issue in hand for the treatment of older people.

Dr Beatrice Sofaer-Bennett, Lewes, East Sussex

Johann Hari's plan for improving the lives of elderly people in care homes is good, but how long do we think it'll take for government to put it into action? Another solution could be for residents to own and manage their own care homes by setting up peer-led social enterprises, co-ops, mutuals, etc. Groups of like-minded people could club together, buy their own property and employ the care, cleaning and cooking staff they need.

They would choose how small or large their homes would be, who they live with, whether pets are allowed, etc. If they own the property, the costs would probably compare favourably with commercial care homes. But this would work better if people took the plunge before they actually needed care. As members die, their places would be bought by younger members, perhaps friends of existing members.

And yes, people would deteriorate physically and mentally, but not all of them and not all at the same time. So people needing care would be surrounded by friends more able-bodied or able-minded, and some would have their spouses, reducing the need for care workers simply to watch over residents.

Libby Smith, Meeting Hill, Norfolk

I'd add just three items to Johann Hari's thoughtful manifesto. First, we cease referring to "them" and start talking about "us". Frail old people aren't a breed apart, they are all of us as we age, yet the terminology of even the most principled and caring people still sets "them" apart.

Second, we recognise that every act of discrimination on the basis of advancing age is a step towards the abuse of old people. This is where the gradual stripping of value and identity starts, ending with the notion that frail, dependent old people are lesser beings whose humanity, dignity and rights are of no account.

Third, we seek a ruling on abuse under European human rights legislation which forces the issue of tough legal sanctions centre stage. We need the force of law to significantly improve practice because vulnerable old people have neither the political clout nor economic power to influence government.

Paula Jones, London SW20

Chirac changed mind on Iraq veto

Nicholas Wood is being economical with history when he describes ex-President Chirac's famous March 2003 interview in which he announced France would veto a second UN resolution on Iraq (letter, 27 January). Chirac made his statement not once but twice in the interview because he wanted to underline his decision. In December 2002, Chirac said Saddam had WMD, because all western governments, not just Britain, were advised by intelligence agencies that Saddam had WMD capability or intentions. At the January 2003 UK-France summit, French officials told their British counterparts (of whom I was one as Europe minister) that France would "not leave Britain alone" in tackling Saddam. The mood changed in February 2003 as 250,000 troops waited on Iraq's borders to know if they would move with or without the support of the rulers of China and Russia who, as veto-wielding powers at the UN, decide what UN "law" is.

I respect President Chirac's right to announce his veto though it did not affect the decision of the Commons to vote to use force. I wish he had made clear in 2002 that he did not believe the advice he was getting on WMD and that France would not vote for a UN resolution to use force. Had Chirac adopted that position, shared by many in Europe and Britain, the politics of the decision by the Commons to support force would have been very different.

It remains a puzzle why the Chilcot inquiry is interviewing only retired mandarins, generals and former government ministers. Since the Commons took the decision, surely the view of the then opposition leadership is relevant. And since our fellow UN permanent Security Council ally France gave no indication up to January 2003 that a veto on a second resolution would be imposed, surely Chilcot has some duty to examine the European and wider Nato context of the decision by the Commons to authorise military action.

Denis MacShane MP, House of Commons

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown ("It takes an outsider to see just how rotten this state can be", 24 January) is wrong on one count and one count only: there are many indigenous observers, including myself, who have long agreed with her analysis and are astonished at the increasingly reckless way in which government and its agencies dispense with public accountability and, so doing, undermine democracy and faith in the political process.

The decision of Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, to hide correspondence and conversations between Blair and Bush regarding Iraq is a good example of the way in which "well-established conventions" and "not in the public interest" are invoked to disguise or hide uncomfortable facts, opinions or procedures, and sideline the much more critical issue of public confidence and the functioning of our democracy.

Blair is allowed to declare his correspondence relating to the critical and damaging invasion of Iraq, as being not suitable to share with the public, and, during his evidence at the Chilcot inquiry, is allowed to fulminate at length about the dangers, as he sees it, presented by Iran and the likely need to take military action against the sovereign state.

You couldn't make it up.

Daniel McDowell, Ludlow, Shropshire

Hacking scandal and the BBC cuts

The News International phone-hacking scandal is a stark reminder of the depths to which the privatised media will stoop, and just how sleazy, morally bankrupt and devoid of ethics the profit-hungry media empire under Rupert Murdoch's ownership can be.

It's not a good time for the BBC to announce its intention to close five of its 32 World Service language channels with the loss of 650 jobs.

Not a good time at all. For all of its faults, better the BBC than Murdoch's brand of gutter journalism any day.

Sasha Simic, London N16

The BBC should be cutting the salaries of some massively overpaid celebrity presenters, not the World Service. The former contribute nothing except to the cult of the individual and their own fortunes. The latter is a positive envoy worldwide for the UK. It should be treasured against spending cuts as a valued part of our cultural heritage and future national interests.

James Leigh, Oxford

Our birds of prey are persecuted

A Mitchell, of the National Gamekeepers Organisation (letters, 21 January), is correct to state that some wading birds do well on moors managed for grouse shooting, as shown by RSPB research many years ago. But we do know that birds of prey do less well, in fact often very badly, and persecution is limiting the recovery of several species, including golden eagles and hen harriers.

Hen harriers in Scotland have indeed recovered from historic lows, but their recovery remains uneven. The situation is particularly acute in the north of England, where seven nests produced young in 2010 despite there being sufficient habitat to support more than 300. It cannot be coincidence that those upland areas from which golden eagles and hen harriers are absent are largely managed for driven grouse-shooting.

In 2009, 30 organisations, including the National Gamekeepers Organisation, demanded an end to the illegal killing of birds of prey. The challenge for this government, working with conservation and landowning organisations, is to ensure that eagles and harriers recover lost ground.

Dr Mark Avery, Conservation Director, RSPB, Sandy, Bedfordshire

No such thing as 'free' file-sharing

Thomas Wiggins's likening of file-sharing to lending libraries and the radio does not hold up, and not just because neither of these operates peer-to-peer (letter, 26 January).

In file-sharing, an infinite number of perfect reproductions of one original file can be produced and kept forever by anyone who wants one. Illegal copying aside, neither libraries nor the radio offer free records or books for life in this way.

Mr Wiggins points out that many bands these days give music away free to generate interest in the music they sell. This is true. But it is specifically illegal file-sharing that is under fire. Shops often have staff offering free food samples on a tray; in no way does this legitimise shoplifting.

You can admit to owning an iPhone full of stolen music and video, and no one will bat an eye. But tell them you stole the iPhone too and you'll get quite a different reaction. As someone who generates digital content for a living, I'd love to know why.

David Woods, Hull, East Yorkshire

Gray pays price for being boorish

Andy Gray may have been boorish and indiscreet, but he didn't rape or kill anyone. He didn't tell lies in public at other people's cost. He didn't swindle anyone with false claims and ruin people's savings. He didn't get huge undeserved "bonuses" from institutions that were bailed out during the credit crisis. And he didn't threaten the environment with careless risk-taking for profit.

The Sky TV sexism affair goes to show how selective we are when it comes to holding others responsible for their actions. Moral indiscretions, it seems, are much worse that more straightforward moral failings, however big.

P J Clarke, Maidstone, Kent

Not Labour

Ed Miliband talks about becoming the "standard bearer for Britain's progressive majority". It is unclear what, exactly, he is talking about. "Progressive" has a general meaning about moving forward (I don't see any political party advocating a move backwards), or a specific meaning about taxing at a higher percentage as the taxable amount increases (again, no major political party advocates the opposite). Britain clearly has a liberal majority, but I don't see the authoritarian Labour Party as being its natural home.

Steve Travis, Nottingham

Lost post

I'm sorry, but R J Hunwicks does not impress me with his not very sad tale of Royal Mail (letters, 26 January). I await delivery of a book mailed to me on 7 December. I am told the delay is still an effect of the bad weather. As far as I recall, that hadn't actually started by 7 December, but it's so long ago now that I could just be wrong. The only difference is that I am past asking Royal Mail: there's no point.

Elspeth Christie, Alston, Cumbria