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Monday 12 May 2008
Light aircraft are better for Snowdonia than thoughtless picnickers
Sir: I write in response to a report about plans for commercial flights from the Llanbedr airstrip, near Snowdonia (7 May). It presents a very one-sided view of the issues.
As a private pilot, I feel that being able to see the beauty of somewhere like Snowdonia from the air is a great privilege and one that, with the opening of a new private airfield, will become available to even more people. Pleasure flights and sightseeing trips will surely be a huge potential market, with pilots themselves making up a fair proportion of new tourists to the area.
Conservation and environmental concerns are often trotted out in opposition to aviation in any form. Unfortunately so much of it is not thought through and applies less to light aircraft than to heavy jets. Light aircraft passing overhead leave a brief noise footprint, then they are gone. Unlike many ground-based visitors to the National Park, they don't hang around churning out exhaust in traffic jams on narrow, hilly roads, park on the wayside obscuring everyone else's view, drop litter, leave picnics behind, let their dogs foul the footpaths and harry the wildlife, light fires, or camp where they shouldn't. The Countryside Code asks that everyone "leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs"; light aircraft are obeying it 100 per cent.
An often overlooked fact is that airfields themselves are substantially green areas. Although the runway and manoeuvring spots may be paved and a number of buildings present, there is a need for overrun and undershoot areas and clear space around the runways for safety reasons. This leads to a lot of undisturbed grassland within the airfield perimeter, much of which supports a variety of plants and wildlife.
Finally, there's the simple fact that seeing the amazing landscapes and unspoiled stretches of countryside from the air has a tendency to make people care more passionately about preserving it all, not less.
Why Palestinians said no to 1948 plan
Sir: Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 9 May) says that "if in 1948 the Arab world had accepted the UN-mandated partition between Israel and Palestine... then Palestinians too might this week have been able to celebrate 60 years of independence." A true statement, no doubt, but to suggest that Palestinians would have dreamt of accepting such a position is to ignore all that had gone on in Zionist thinking since 1880 and what had occurred in Palestine since the Balfour accord.
Zionists had made it clear in their internal documents that their goal was, and still is, all of Palestine territory, not just what the UN was agreeing to in 1948. Palestinians were well aware of this from 20 years of coexistence with Jews in Palestine under the British mandate. What other group would be willing to concede part of their territory because a second group claimed God had given it to them?
Other Western countries, and the UK and US figure most prominently, had set a bad example to Palestinians when they denied mass immigration of Jews to their own lands immediately after the war.
It might add to the argument that even the UK anticipated the problems that would arise from the creation of the state of Israel when it abstained in the vote in the UN Security Council.
Sir: I would be grateful if, as one of the quoted interviewees in Dominic Lawson's column, I could clarify one issue.
All Palestinian children treated in Israeli hospitals arrive with an accompanying adult. In more than 95 per cent of cases, it is the mother. It is less common for the fathers to escort their child, because usually they are the providers and can't afford to miss work. In the rare cases when the parents cannot join the child, either because of security reasons or because there are younger children to be looked after, a grandparent is always granted a permit.
Dr Ido Yatsiv
Director, Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, Hadassah University Hospitals, Jerusalem
Sir: Dominic Lawson quotes the argument of "many Israelis" who say that "every time Israel concedes territory, it makes life more dangerous for its citizens". This seems to me a thinly veiled justification for grabbing Palestinian land and annexing it to Israel so that no viable Palestinian state could be established.
In the name of the security of its citizens, Israel has illegally expropriated vast areas of Palestinian occupied areas by placing its so-called "security wall" to the east of them well into the West Bank and away from the border line that was in place until the war of 1967.
Successive Israeli Prime Ministers have declared since then that Israel wants to retain its illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, particularly the three major ones (Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion), which, together with other settlements and more than 600 military check points, make this territory like a piece of Swiss cheese. Those Prime Ministers have always maintained that Israel should also retain the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem as part of its undivided capital.
Peace could be achieved if Israel ended its occupation. The political leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, told Jimmy Carter that his movement is willing to accept an independent Palestinan state made up of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Sir: Howard Jacobson's claim that there is no evidence of a campaign to silence Israel's critics is just plain barmy (Opinion, 10 May). Ask any Israeli politician why the government spends millions on campaigning groups such as Bicom, Aipac and Memri and they will tell you that it makes good PR sense. I agree that these campaigns are becoming less effective in recent years, largely because of the internet, but let's not forget that it is only relatively recently that even the basic facts of Palestinian dispossession have been aired in the Western mainstream media. They still aren't in the US.
Also, Jacobson's suggestion that evidence of Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 is merely a view of the historian Ilan Pappé is ridiculous and demonstrates either his ignorance or deceit. This ethnic cleansing is well documented by Israeli historians from left to right, anti-Zionists and Zionists. Alex Hogg
Cameron's rhetoric makes little sense
Sir: Isn't it about time we started questioning David Cameron's rhetoric (Opinion, 9 May)? Much of what he says sounds plausible, but on closer examination it is muddled. For example, one cannot attack the Government for removing the 10p tax rate and then deny that the "state shifting money around can provide the long-term solution to poverty". Either taxation has an effect on the low paid or it does not. He would reply that the difference lies in the phrase "long-term", but again the argument is muddled.
Apparently the cause of poverty is "the cycle of family breakdown, worklessness, crime, drug and alcohol abuse" and the solution is to remedy these causes. But the causes of poverty are as much economic as social, and to argue differently is to insult anyone who keeps their family together, off drugs and out of trouble while living on low wages or benefits. To address "the causes of poverty and not just the symptoms" sounds correct, but is he sure he has them the right way round? If not, then his appeal to 19th-century voluntarism seems unconvincing at best, backward at worst.
Don't worry, the Poles are staying
Sir: I admired your article "The drain drain" (29 April) on the supposed mass departure of Polish workers from the UK and the devastation or otherwise it could cause the British economy, particularly in agriculture and the service industry. Well, please do not pine for us yet.
The changing currency exchange rates, the possible downturn in the British economy, the upturn in the Polish economy and the abolition of the double jeopardy tax announced by the Polish Finance Minister, Jacek Rostowski, are all important factors in the coming exodus of Polish citizens, but that exodus will probably be a steady trickle not a flood. According to one independent Polish market research institute, IIBR, some 12 per cent of Poles in the UK are definitely planning to go home this year, but as many as 75 per cent are not. According to another researcher, CSM, 51 per cent do want to return to Poland in the next five to 10 years, while 23 per cent are likely to stay in the UK permanently.
Only those with definite job prospects in Poland are going back now, while many young couples are expecting to educate their children here before they return. So weep not for our departure yet. And if farmers are anxious about losing Polish workers, how about paying them more?
Research Officer, Federation of Poles in Great Britain London W5
We must regain our respect for food
Sir: Yes, we are a society wasteful of its food (report, 7 May). But aside from the supermarkets exhorting us to over-buy produce on special offer, there is the fact that we have simply lost respect for food, which has now become a mere commodity.
We have ready meals cooked and eaten in as many minutes, pub carvery plates piled to overflowing to assuage our greediness, and restaurant main courses following even before the starters have begun their downward journey. Then we have the ridiculous contrivances (such as those at the Fat Duck) where good wholesome ingredients are tampered and messed about with to placate the jaded palates of those who have lost the plot when it comes to the natural good taste of food.
Incidentally, I rarely throw any food away, and living on your own is no excuse for doing so. Leftovers get combined with other remnants, and often result in meals that taste better than the original. Leftover raw food can be frozen or batch-cooked to the ready-meal recipes of your choice. At least you know what's gone into them!
Sir: Surely one of the main reasons why so much food is wasted in this country is an over reliance on sell-by dates. I am old and am used to relying on my senses to tell me whether food is fit to eat. I have, for instance, just this week eaten a stollen slice that had a sell-by date of 6 December 2007.
Sir: It came as no surprise to read that UK consumers throw out an estimated 1.3 million yoghurts each day. My local Morrisons supermarket has a 10-for-£2 offer on Müllerlight yoghurts, while the individual pot price is 54p. That simply encourages waste.
Time to honour victims of the Blitz
Sir: In her article listing lacunae in the recent memorials to those who served with honour in the Second World War, Joan Bakewell omits a large group (9 May).
I refer to those wounded or killed in the Blitz. The Women's Land Army and the Bevin Boys are to get their badges. Blitz victims don't even get a place on the Cenotaph march past on Remembrance Sunday. But hope seems to appear. It was reported a few weeks ago that the Government was considering a medal analogous to the American Purple Heart for those wounded by enemy action. Presumably Blitz victims will be included.
I shall wear mine with pride.
Sir: I was very surprised at Chris Parry's claim ("Independent schools chief warns of 'sectarian divide'", 8 May) that "teacher training colleges" bully student teachers into not working in the independent sector. In fact, many teacher education institutions routinely use independent schools that deliver the National Curriculum for student-teacher placements.
Executive Director, Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, London WC1
Sir: You described those MPs who, like me, support a woman's right to access abortion services as "pro-abortion" (report, 9 May). No one is in favour of abortion as an end in itself, but most people accept that women should have the right to choose that option if necessary. The best way to reduce the numbers of abortions is by improving sex and relationships education and access to effective long-acting and emergency contraception, both steps ironically opposed by many of those who describe themselves as anti-abortion.
Dr Evan Harris MP
Oxford West & Abingdon
Sir: The review of the de-regulated postal service says that it has delivered no benefits to most customers, but it is quite wrong ("Royal Mail calls for end to price controls after profits collapse", 9 May). By taking advantage of private-sector low prices for bulk mail, businesses are now able to send us even more of that junk mail we enjoy so much. What is more, we have got rid of those little post offices that so cluttered our towns and villages, with their unsightly queues, mostly of old people, poorly dressed. We still have a few left, but they'll soon be gone.
Another side of India
Sir: I am glad that Matt Carroll enjoyed his Anglo-centric tour of Kolkata, despite his sadness that things are changing because "India's star is in the ascendant" (Traveller, 10 May). I am tempted to set up a reciprocal tourist company and become England's answer to Matt's own guide, Anup Saha. Indian visitors would get to see Leicester, Rusholme, Bradford, Southall and the temples at Neasden and East Ham, without wasting any time on Knaresborough, the Lakes, Big Ben or the language of Shakespeare and Milton.
Sir: Barack Obama is mostly described as a black man of mixed race, never as a white man of mixed race: half black = black; half white = black. Hence, any black tint = black. Is this not subtly (or, worse still, subliminally) racist? And if so, to which colour?
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