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Wednesday 26 January 2011
Letters: The Palestine Papers
What more could the Palestinians give up?
It is an outrageous irony that the Palestinians should have felt it necessary to offer territorial concessions to Israel in their efforts to secure a peace deal ("Palestinians 'ready to give up Jerusalem sites' ", 24 January).
Palestinians have lost a homeland and a majority are even prepared to recognise the right to exist of the country which has replaced them, Israel, in return for the latter's withdrawal from the small portion of Palestine still left to them. What more can they give?
These are the words of Moshe Dayan (reported in Ha'aretz, 4 April 1969): "We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish, state here. In considerable areas of the country [the total area was about 6 per cent] we bought land from the Arabs. Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages... There is not a place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population."
Now Israel not only ignores UN resolutions to pull out of the occupied West Bank, but continues to build and expand within it, while we in the West generally look the other way. If the Palestinians were to receive the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in line with UN Resolution 242 (drafted by America in 1967) this would still leave them with only 22 per cent of historic Palestine; a land in which they formed a majority of 10:1 at the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
According to information released, the Palestinian negotiators made most generous offers to Israel in various attempts to achieve a peace agreement including the "right of return" for only 10,000 Arabs over 10 years and huge concessions on the governance of East Jerusalem.
Why were they offering something which they must have known would never be acceptable to their own supporters? What was the point? What did they hope to achieve with such offers?
Your leader "Israel betrays its ideals by whitewashing the military", 2 January) dismisses Israel's commission of inquiry out of hand and then comes to the conclusion that Israel's friends "lament her lack of sensibilities".
I suggest that it might be more accurate to say that friends of The Independent lament its loss of any sense of balance and justice. Here is a highly respected commission of inquiry reaching a detailed conclusion (and anyone seeing the pictures on that day, will probably have reached the same conclusion), yet The Independent has decided, without any detailed rebuttal, that the report only highlights Israel's reluctance to face facts
This stems either from extreme arrogance or is an indication of an anti-Israel bias which results in a complete lack of objectivity
First, pick the right pupils...
What is it about politicians and education? Bright, able people go into Parliament but when they get involved with education their brains seem to turn to mush. We now have the reputedly brilliant Michael Gove upset that 216 secondary schools have failed to meet government targets, ("Improve or go, Gove warns heads", 15 January.).
Were all schools to have a similar intake then Mr Gove's target would be reasonable. But look at any schools league table and you will see the top places dominated by selective schools where the intake is overwhelmingly middle-class. Children from the "underclass" will not be represented at all. Go to the bottom of the table and you will see the opposite: high numbers of children with "special needs" and serious "behaviour issues".
We need to do some serious research into the methods that might be employed to raise the performance of the children that dominate these schools. Mr Gove's suggestion is plain silly. He plans to sack the heads and hand over control to the academies. Does he not realise that the great advantage that academies have over the schools controlled by the local authorities is the power to reject the "worst" children?
Far from sacking these heads, Mr Gove should be consulting them so as to build up a sensible, dogma-free picture of what the problems are. Perhaps Mr Gove would have a clearer insight if he were to give himself a brief sabbatical in order to teach for a week in one of these schools.
So the incoming education minister thinks that he is putting things right in our much-maligned educational system by restoring the primacy of "facts and figures" ("School curriculum gets back to facts and figures", 20 January). Forgive me for not holding my breath.
Successive governments have subjected the curriculum to continual reinvention. Every rearranging of the deck-chairs has been trumpeted as the "great leap forward" – up to and including Michael Gove's most recent intervention. The really depressing truth is not so much that ministers have come up with the wrong answers as that they are asking the wrong questions.
If we want to improve the education of our children, we need to focus not on more (or different) "facts and figures" but on a much nobler objective, namely "the awakening of the mind to the consciousness of its own power, cultivating its faculties of observation, perception, reflection, judgement and reasoning: training it, in short, to form habits of thinking".
These are not "subjects" at all, still less "facts and figures". Subject content per se is less important than the "habits of thinking" which are thereby cultivated and nurtured.
The educational reformer I quoted is Joseph Payne; he wrote those words back in 1856. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose – and that's a fact.
Hive deaths still a mystery
In Michael McCarthy's article "Poisoned Spring" (20 January), the research by Dr Pettis offers another piece in the puzzle of understanding how neonicotinoids might affect honey bees. However, it is impossible to comment on whether or not his findings are important because the research is unpublished.
When you strip away the emotion, sensationalism and conspiracy theories surrounding this issue, you are left with a pile of published research suggesting causes for concern, and a pile of published research showing no cause for concern. There is no clear weight of evidence linking any pesticides to the decline in bees. For some organisations, suspicion is enough to call for precautionary bans on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. However, at the NFU we work on the basis of what we actually know for sure, rather than what we might suspect.
The consensus among leading scientists and experts across the world remains that the decline in bees is caused by a combination of factors, and the major factors are pests and disease.
Dr Chris Hartfield
NFU horticultural adviser
Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire
The crop science industry is deeply concerned about the bee colony death situation. As the chief contributors to sustainable crop productivity, we recognise the essential role of bees in agriculture. Clearly our goal is to protect them and we are making a substantial investment toward that end.
Independent research is under way worldwide. The objective of these investigations is to find the actual cause of the problem. To achieve this objective, research must be published and peer-reviewed to determine if it is objective, reliable and reproducible. This must happen before the results can be responsibly discussed in public forums.
Unfortunately, the claims on which this reporting is based have not undergone this review process. This is very troublesome, because we really need to know if they are factual if we are to respond.
Investigators are following a variety of clues that will ultimately lead to the right answer, the one that will generate a solution. Until that research is complete, caution in pronouncements is a must. Otherwise it can be politics and promotion, not science.
Senior Manager, Communications, the European Crop Protection Association
From real life to politics
One cannot blame MPs for the choices their parents made ("Final fanfare for the common men", 25 January), but the quality of MPs would be improved if in future candidates were required to demonstrate that they had spent three years in the front line of public service, working in an organisation such as a hospital, a prison, the Army or a Jobcentre. Service as a ministerial adviser would not count.
To replace Andy Coulson, the Tories should turn to their bright idea of the 1980s. They started "parachuting" outsiders into government, nationalised companies and universities. They said that if a person could manage, say, a bank then they could also manage an organisation that had absolutely nothing in common with it.
Rather than picking another media insider, why not choose a person who has always been a consumer of the media? Could they do worse?
Let us back into the gallery
Like John O'Sullivan (letter, 25 January) we also visited the Glasgow Boys both in the Kelvingrove and in the RA (twice in both locations), and were intrigued by the contrasts between the way in which the pictures were hung.
The Glasgow show was greatly superior not only in the number of pictures displayed, in the readmissions-encouraged policy, in the informative videos, and the tremendous enthusiasm and local knowledge of all staff and visitors. But the exhibition was housed in a basement with many strange and cramped spaces, to the extent that one of Arthur Melville's most innovative pictures could be viewed at a distance only by backing away from it and crossing a corridor.
Where we were much luckier than John O'Sullivan, however, was that on both our London visits we could view the exhibition virtually on our own because we went in November, before London had discovered the Boys, and on late-opening Friday evenings.
I find the "no readmission" policy of London galleries particularly barbaric, as the only major gallery with toilets within its exhibition area is Tate Britain.
Free music is no theft
Steve Hill's comments (letter, 17 January) are paranoid to the extreme. We already have a free "peer-to-peer file-sharing" for books and music; they're called a library and a radio, respectively. We can also rent films and video games from rental stores for a small fee. Yet none of these has forced us to leave the EU and most EU countries operate a similar system.
Most aspiring artists don't play for free in pubs; they put their music on YouTube, Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter to gather support and sell CDs to anyone who likes them. I've found several good indie bands that I wouldn't have ever heard of if their music wasn't available online, and purchased their CDs to encourage them to keep producing songs.
Regarding the decline of the music industry, the main reason is that advances in technology mean that people no longer need the support of a big company in order to produce their own album. These days people can produce it in their own homes.
If the seeming majority of prisoners encountered by Terence Blacker ("Give them a stake in our democracy", 21 January) believe that David Icke is the son of God, politicians are satanic paedophiles and the world is ruled by lizard humans, might this alone stand as a reason for not giving prisoners the vote? I resent prisoners having a right to vote when their behaviour has clearly demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the rules of common decency.
Robertsbridge, East Sussex
Woman in black
Whatever one's views on the involvement of women in men's football, we should all be glad Sian Massey has such determination to progress as a referee. With a shortage of game officials we should be doing all we can to encourage people to take up refereeing, not making or excusing unfair and hurtful comments aimed at and about a young person of 25 who was and is "just doing her job".
I have just had the uplifting experience of trying to contact Royal Mail to inquire about delivery of a book that was posted to me on 11 January. An interview with the Burmese military junta would be easier to arrange and probably more fruitful.
R J Hunwicks
Perspectives on devastated high streets
A plague of bookies
The article about how the recession has hit high streets (21 January), and the onslaught of betting shops, struck a particular chord for us burghers of Deptford, London.
Along and adjacent to the 1,000-yard Deptford High Street are now 10 bookies, the most recent being a Paddy Power that took out the Deptford Arms. That was one of the very few remaining pubs that served market traders, students, musicians, locals and boozers alike, a communal and cultural centre that hosted folk music and political events.
But now it, and most recently the historically named John Evelyn pub, have fallen victim to the nag mafia who bring nothing to the area, but siphon off the funds of the poor fools who patronise these places.
Despite strong vocal opposition to these takeovers, we've found to our despair that the Gambling Act does not so much relax restrictions for bookies to set up shop, as make them nigh-on impossible to refuse.
The High Street, cutting through one of London's most deprived but also vibrant and mixed areas, was only recently cited as one of the UK's most diverse shopping streets, mostly chain-free, with independent traders shouldering along.
In fact, the recession has not hit the area that hard, compared with the norm, and it is undergoing quite substantive regeneration projects. But of all the chains to find ourselves bound with, it's bookies! The law needs to change.
Victorian charm eradicated
I must take issue with your article on Elmbridge (21 January). Oliver Bennett writes that he felt privileged that the car that he narrowly escaped was an Aston Martin? It may well have been. We, in Elmbridge, would be more impressed had it been a bus. This borough rarely sees them.
Did Mr Bennett come to Elmbridge 30 years ago? He would have seen attractive Victorian houses surrounded by grass verges and majestic trees. Both have been almost completely eradicated, felled by developers' diggers to be replaced by endless blocks of charmless flats – bought by investors who have little interest in the local community and environment. They are only concerned with the profit they hope to make when the flats are sold.
Has he seen our pathetic high streets? Butchers, bakers and post offices replaced by charity shops and discount stores. Walton on Thames, a busy attractive town in the 1960s with good shopping for everyone, now has 14 ladies' clothes shops and little else.
You have, in the same edition, an article on "How the recession killed the high street". We, in Elmbridge, haven't needed the recession to do that – just a series of arrogant and unimaginative councils.
Building societies survive
The statistics that Ordnance Survey has provided for the building society sector, quoted in your article "How the recession killed the high street", are incorrect. There has not been a decline in building society branches of 943, or 28 per cent, from 2008 to 2010. It might be that banks that demutualised in the 1990s have mistakenly been classified as building societies.
The figure we have for end 2008 was 1,916 branches, substantially lower than the 3,346 from OS. While we do not yet have the end-2010 data for societies and there may be a small reduction in building society branches between 2008 and 2010, I can categorically reassure you that building societies have not closed 943 branches in that period.
Director-General, The Building Societies Association,
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