Letters: The future of Palestine

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Leave the Palestinians to decide their own future

Sir: As Palestine moves toward a referendum on a two-state solution the international community must step back and allow ordinary Palestinians to take control of their own future. Whilst foreign governments have consistently held that the promotion of democracy is a key foundation of Middle Eastern involvement, these claims have been systematically undermined.

Through the rejection of the Hamas government the international community has not only failed to recognise Palestinian free will but, through sanctions, has sought to browbeat it into change. All these measures have produced is social division and factional conflict. Hamas, resting on its 25 January mandate, claims to be the only true representative of the people whilst Fatah, citing the economic collapse stemming from Hamas intransigence, is adamant that only it can save Palestinians from starvation and war. Through their actions external actors have created a vacuum of authority. A referendum would appear an ideal opportunity to restore a sense of order and legitimacy to the Palestinian political process.

The international community must stick to the principles of liberty with which it defines its regional engagement. The freedom of expression and choice held so highly in our own societies must be applied equally to Palestine. It is essential that foreign governments realise that progress cannot be built upon the false premises derived from an influenced referendum and, as such, any involvement must be impartial. Despite the depressing possibility of a Palestinian rejection of the Abbas proposals the decision must rest in the hands of the Palestinian people.



'Martyr' who shows the face of evil

Sir: The news of the death of al-Zarqawi almost makes me wish that there really was a Heaven and Hell, and a God who punished those who are evil.

No matter the rights and wrongs of the Bush-Blair occupation of Iraq, or the greater conflict between the extreme, backward-looking Islamic fundamentalism and any hope of a society of gender equality, human decency, freedom and real democracy, Zarqawi represented only the face of intolerance, hatred, cruelty and evil. He and his kind mistakenly believe they are God's chosen warriors, but his interpretation of God is not the one most of us would ever wish to worship.

If there is any kind of existence after death, one can at least be certain that he and his psychopath followers are not enjoying the fruits of Paradise right now.



Sir: Let's get this straight. Somehow it was wrong for George Galloway to suggest that Blair was a legitimate target for anti-colonial activists but OK for Bush and Blair to glory in the assassination of a Muslim leader?



Sir: Is Jenny Tonge serious? (letter, 8 June). She argues that Palestinian suicide bombers are blowing themselves up in Iraq because "Israel's security wall is forcing them to export themselves to another arena". Are they really so desperate to become "martyrs" that if they can't murder Israelis, then Americans will do?

Just for once, I would like to hear Ms Tonge condemn the evil clerics of Hamas who indoctrinate children to hate and teach them that the surest route to Paradise is in the mass murder of innocent civilians.



Sir: Despite centuries of some very serious meddling in the Middle East by the western (and eastern) powers, Baroness Tonge's breathtaking myopia leads her to believe that it is tiny little Israel's behaviour that "lies at the roots of the causes of terrorism and the ideology of Osama bin Laden". She should have her eyes tested.



Sir: The sad truth is that the only person who would really know how to solve the present situation in Iraq is probably Saddam Hussein. I am sure this thought has crossed the minds of the US and British governments as well as the Iraqi people. There was no point in replacing an existing evil with a greater evil.



Cars, not cyclists, get a free ride

Sir: Nigel Havers, like many motorists, wrongly thinks cyclists "use the roads for free" and "do not pay any tax" (quoted in your report, 7 June). He is wrong: roads are paid for by councils out of council tax, which we pay whether or not we cycle. Vehicle Excise Duty (presumably what he has in mind) is like any other tax. It does not "pay for roads" any more than does tax on whisky or cigarettes.

It is the motorist that freeloads, not the cyclist. Studies on road pricing consistently conclude that motorists are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. For instance, cars damage roads far more than cycles (roughly 10,000 times more). Council-tax-paying cyclists therefore subsidise drivers.



Sir: Mr Lehmann's claim that as a cyclist he is "safer than in a car" is sadly unjustified ("Revolution", 7 June). Using the Department for Transport statistics, one arrives at a figure of 39 deaths per billion passenger-kilometres on a bike, compared with 4 in a car.

The freedom to use the public highway was only granted to the motorist after a bitter inter-war struggle. Motorists' total domination of that infrastructure is now assured principally by the casualty rate they accord other users, most notably cyclists. Cycling will remain dangerous and limited while cyclists are allowed no safely separated paths of their own. Such provision is relatively inexpensive and is proven to reduce congestion, as in Copenhagen.

However, the most damning achievement of the private car is to turn the mode of travel that is intrinsically most safe into by far the most dangerous of all. Walking is subject to over 50 deaths per billion passenger-kilometres.

Given that the average occupancy and convenience of a bike is the same as that of a car, that its throughput per metre aperture is around six times greater, and its speed around town is around 50 per cent higher, trading car-lanes for cycle-lanes would seem a "no-brainer", even without an energy crisis and the desperate need to reduce pollution and carbon emissions.



Sir: As a cyclist, I disagree with Mr Benny's letter regarding cyclists on pavements (5 June). "Cyclist" is not the correct term for those idiots who think they have a right to present pedestrians and toddlers the same threat they are supposedly trying to avoid on the road.

Along with many other legal cyclists who try to treat all road and pavement users with respect and courtesy please do not associate me with these illegal, illiterate, selfish, dangerous, abusive yobs.

As a mother of two hop, skip and jumping children walking (yes, cyclists do walk too) to school I can never understand how a yob on a bike on a pavement can anticipate the movements of kids when after 10 years' experience these kids still surprise me every day. One day a child hit by a bike on a pavement will be killed and no doubt the yob's defence will be that the poor child's movements was, well, too childish to anticipate.

This is why riding cycles on pavements is against the Highway Code and is as illegal as cars doing the same thing.



Sir: How unhelpful of Richard Benny to fuel the polarisation of cyclists and motorists by blaming all for the sins of a few.

I've cycled in urban environments for nearly 50 years, and had numerous near-death experiences, but I'm not whingeing. I just congratulate myself that those who think it sane to travel a few miles around town in a ton of metal and plastic, spewing fumes and gobbling finite fossil fuels, while occupying about 30 times more of the highway than they need still haven't killed me. I've survived because I'm paranoid, ride defensively, wear hi-viz clothing and have bright lights, and because most motorists are observant, considerate and careful.

Education and peer pressure are the only cures for antisocial road use, not bigoted generalisations. But in the interest of self-preservation cyclists really should take the lead in demonstrating consideration, because with their numbers rapidly increasing so will some motorists cyclo-cidal tendencies.



Sir: In reply to your correspondent who hits out at cyclists who "ignore or abuse anyone who objects" to their cycling badly (5 June), I would ask when was the last time he took to task a speeding motorist. Cyclists moving at 15mph are an easy target for criticism from everyone.



Sir: As a regular cyclist I was pleased to read your report about the increase in cycling. However, the photo illustrating your feature (7 June) showed a common fault - a cyclist riding along while listening to his iPod, and therefore cut off from a vital source of information about his surroundings. It's just as dangerous as a car driver using a mobile phone. Meanwhile, keep up the good work - one day the oil will run out, and we are the transport of the future as well as the past.



Russia urges global fight against Aids

Sir: Your editorial "Ignorance and denial still conspire to prevent action" (31 May) was wrong to suggest that 25 years on from the first identified case of Aids, world leaders remain numb to the reality of this devastating global epidemic.

Each year HIV/Aids along with tuberculosis and malaria cause millions of deaths that might have been prevented and hamper social and economic development in many countries. Fighting this disease requires joint action of governments at national, regional and global levels. This is why Russia has included the fight against infectious diseases as a top priority at the G8 summit in July. We want to advance how we ensure people will have access to the means of prevention and treatment using all possible financial, organisational, economic and legal tools.

Far from a "quick fix" our objective is to develop a long-term and comprehensive strategy to fight the disease through the joint efforts of the G8 along with other international organisations and developing countries.



Having children without fathers

Sir: I read Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (5 June) with increasing irritation. Where are these women she characterises so unattractively? I have never met any of them. I have met a few of those 82,000 women with what she calls "father-free" children. They are lesbians.

It is anonymous donor insemination that has made it possible for my daughter and her partner to have children. There is very little chance they will ever "bitterly regret their impulsive actions".

They were not, of course, impulsive. The children were carefully planned as most "father-free" children are. It is totally absurd to suggest, as Ms Alibhai-Brown does in her last sentence, that my twin grandchildren, who bring joy to us all, will themselves "probably regret" the actions that gave them the gift of life.



Nation hails a miraculous cure

Sir: Now the miracle has happened, is it too soon to speak of the Metatarsal of God? Or should we wait for Wayne's winner in the Final?



Sir: Are the people who love talking about Wayne Rooney's foot pedophiles?



Standing room only

Sir: If in future they bury us standing up (letter, 2 June) there will be no point in engraving "RIP" on headstones. We shall have precious little rest propped up in a permanent perpendicular position.



Bigger reservoirs

Sir: Dr Michael Price's explanation of why you can't supply southern England's water from reservoirs won't wash (Letters, 7 June). Reservoir capacity can be increased by making them wider and deeper. They can be given a waterproof lining, solving the permeability problem of soft southern rock. They can also be built further north; the device that would make this possible is called a pipe. Opposition to new reservoirs by the Environment Agency is not an argument for not building them, just a reason to disband a proven-useless quango.



Violent music

Sir: I agree with David Cameron wholeheartedly in his condemnation of broadcasting by the BBC of music which may encourage violent crime. Only last month I heard a BBC transmission of music by a man called Wagner. It contained graphic illustrations of theft, robbery, incest, a number of murders and a very nasty bout of boar hunting (with chorus). There was clearly incitement to carry weapons, with spears, swords and hammers in abundance. It also glorified bling, which is one of the most distasteful aspects of society today. Well done David Cameron! Wake up BBC!



Feeling better?

Sir: Helen Brown says (Green Pages, 8 June) that testing homeopathic remedies on animals will eliminate placebo effects. I'm not convinced by this. The animal might pick up subtle cues from the tester that might affect the result. But how about homeopathic remedies for sick plants? That should be possible to test easily on a large scale. Unless plants are a lot cleverer than we think, that should eliminate the placebo effect. Or does homeopathy not work for plants?



Blairite maths

Sir: Is Tony Blair once again saying one thing whilst meaning another? Everyone knows that nowadays, total commitment demands at least 110 per cent.