Sir: Johann Hari (Opinion, 28 April) is right to be outraged by Israel's vicious colonial policies in the West Bank but wrong to trace their origins to the creation of the state in 1948. The past four decades of occupation, land-grabbing, checkpoints and military raids are a world away from the 1948 conflict.
The civil war between Palestinians and Jews (November 1947-April 1948) and international war between Arab states and Israel (May-December 1948) would not have been necessary had the Palestinians and Arab states accepted the UN plan for a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine.
Nor should we accept, as Hari does, Ilan Pappe's inaccurate version of events. It is true that Israeli armed forces did engage in the forced removal of civilian populations, but it is also the case that Palestinian and Arab forces did the same. Indeed, the General Secretary of the Arab League [Azzam] promised a "war of extermination". Such statements could not be easily dismissed as mere rhetoric just two years after the Holocaust. Jews were, to use Pappe's term, ethnically cleansed by Arab forces (for example at the Etzion block and the entire Jewish Quarter of the Old City).
The Jewish and Israeli conduct in the wars has to be seen in the context of a struggle for survival. A just solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must address the need to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem conquered in 1967.
While you cannot look at 1948 through the lens of the 1967 occupation, it is time that the 1947 policy, of creating two states in Palestine, was implemented.
Reader in Law, University of East London
Sir: There are currently about one million Arabs living in Israel and no one is killing or evicting them.
BA treats an Asian pilot with respect
Sir: I am astounded by the irresponsible article and the comments made by Captain Maughan on the front page of The Independent (26 April).
As a British Airways captain of Indian origin who has worked for BA for 19 years, I have nothing but the highest praise for the dignity and respect with which I have been treated by all my colleagues. This is a sentiment that is shared by many other Asian pilots in the company, who find BA a most inclusive company. The airline sponsored my flying training; given my family's deteriorating trade in shop-keeping, my flying career would otherwise have been out of reach.
BA provided a Boeing 747 aircraft to carry relief to Gujarat following the earthquake in 2001 and continued to ship mercy goods for as long as required. This was crewed by volunteers, predominantly of British origin. BA has secured the total loyalty of my community's Hindu priests who, due to the airline's impeccable cultural understanding and involvement in the community, have made BA their preferred carrier.
My community and I have had much to thank BA and its staff for. That a non-Asian pilot presumes to speak on my behalf is far more offensive than any racism I have ever encountered.
Sir: Your article is far from accurate. I knew First Officer Maughan when I was training captain in British Airways and can recall the incident to which he refers. The comment by a fellow training captain was reported correctly in so far as the use of the word "coon" is concerned, however it was taken completely out of context.
Maughan caused many contemporaries frustration in his attempts to turn good-humoured banter, which is normal in his operating environment, into a political statement.
Captain Andrew FAWKES
Sir: "Casual racism" is not confined to British Airways. My English wife often tells me how white women at the bus stop talk in racist terms when complaining about the "foreigners".
Like Robert Fisk (26 April), I do not travel with British Airways either. I find their staff's attitude and service to non-white economy-class travellers patronising and sometimes rude. It appears to me that a substantial minority of white Britishers are terminally ill with the disease called "superiority complex".
Dr Tara Kumar Mukherjee
Sir: I have avoided flying with BA as much as possible for the past 10 years or so as I never saw any staff either on their planes or check-ins who were not white. Would BA care to give us a breakdown of their staff by ethnicity and position?
Senior Research FellowInstitute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London
Sir: You report on "casual racism" at British Airways, but couldn't your headline just as easily have read: "Casual racism across almost all walks of white British life"?
Thankfully, fewer people now feel comfortable using words like "coon" or "paki", but don't kid yourself that the racism has gone away. If you keep your ears open in a group of white British people you'll hear numerous examples of the same low-level "jokey" racism. And now we've got all the East European migrant workers to have a go at as well.
I wonder whether Independent journalists (like my teacher wife) move in such admirably liberal circles that they never come across this kind of behaviour.
Sir: Robert Fisk's splenetic attack on British Airways (26 April) is unfair to its employees. Since he abandoned British Airways "long ago" he is hardly qualified to judge their present-day performance. He also seems to be unaware that violent and disruptive behaviour has become a growing problem for airlines.
As a frequent flyer, I entirely agree with BA's policy of zero tolerance. Safety is of paramount concern to all of us and British Airways is justly proud of its excellent track record in an era when, as Mr Fisk constantly reminds your readers, terrorism is an ever-present threat.
His claim that BA regards its customers as an inconvenience is absurd. It would not survive in a highly competitive industry if it took such an arrogant view.
New ideas needed to combat HIV
Sir: Your provocative headline: "Is it time to give up the search for an Aids vaccine?" (24 April) is indeed relevant. We wonder, however, if this is the best question to ask. Rather, perhaps we should be asking what are the apparent failures of the current approaches telling us?
Most, if not all, antiviral vaccines currently available likely prevent spread of virus within the body to sites at which disease can become manifest; however, HIV spreads very rapidly and possibly covertly. For these reasons, in the case of HIV, it may actually be necessary completely to prevent infection by the virus at the so-called portals of entry, which in the majority of instances are the genital and lower gastrointestinal tracts. We now know that the body can sense signals from incoming viruses extremely rapidly. However, to muster a protective response back at the portal of entry is a relatively slow process.
We believe that a vaccine is possible but will likely not rely upon the usual types of recall response elicited with the types of vaccines currently being investigated. Many teams, our own included, are actively pursuing novel approaches which it is hoped will lead to positive scientific and clinical advances.
Professor M P Cranage
Dr P F McKay
Professor G Griffin
Centre for Infection, Division of Cellular and Molecular, Medicine, St George's, University of London
Suicide trauma for Tube drivers
Sir: Aslef is not an organisation which normally commands my sympathy, but I entirely agree with its concerns about the film Three and Out.
Like your correspondent Caroline Enfissi (24 April), I have some acquaintance with the trauma caused to train drivers by suicide attempts. Walking rapidly up an Underground platform to reach the front of an incoming train, I was surprised to hear it start to hoot and then see it come to a stop short of the platform end. The driver staggered out into my arms, saying "Got one under", a statement which took me a moment or two to interpret. As I was comforting him as best as I could, he told me that it was the second time that it had happened to him.
This incident took place more than 30 years ago, and I still remember it vividly. I can only hope that the driver recovered sufficiently to resume his career.
D W Budworth
Brown to blame for Grangemouth strike
Sir: The Grangemouth closure is another consequence, I believe, of the lack of political nous of Gordon Brown. When he imposed the £5bn per annum tax on pension funds he did them serious financial damage, from which the majority appear to be recovering. A more serious consequence was that it made it politically acceptable for many private companies to cancel their final-salary pension schemes, to the detriment of thousands of their employees. Herein lies the root of the Grangemouth situation.
The sadder part is that the probable loss of £350m in revenue to the Government will not diminish Gordon Brown's lavish pension, and he is lecturing the employees about the strike being unnecessary.
Market Rasen, lincolnshire
The 10p tax rate: echoes from history
Sir: Andrew Grice's account (26 April) of how the Cabinet heard about the plan to abolish the 10p tax band, three hours before the Budget speech, is depressingly similar to events 40 years ago when Chancellor Jim Callaghan told Wilson's Cabinet that his Budget next day would introduce the Selective Employment Tax (SET), which would raise new taxes on the farming and construction industries.
Richard Crossman's diaries note: "In Cabinet there was bewilderment and consternation. Nobody could quite follow what he was saying." Crossman's verdict – "It seems to me to make an absolute mockery of Cabinet government and Cabinet responsibility to introduce SET in this way and tell none of us about it until it is too late to do anything" – is just as valid with respect to the 2007 Budget as it was in 1966.
Sir: It is now clear that Labour has split into two distinct camps. In the one is traditional socialist Labour, liberated from Tony Blair's iron grip and now finding its voice, and in the other the newer, younger influx of rootless professional politicians whose power is being diminished as the artificial constructs of the past 11 years buckle and break.
Much bigger than hospitals and post offices, the 10p tax rate furore marks the first major confrontation between the camps. We can expect more. Gordon Brown can do little about it.
Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex
Victims of failed Iraq sanctions
Sir: "No one shed too many tears for the 5,000 to 10,000 children a month that were dying before the invasion as a result of our failed sanctions," claims Iain Duncan Smith (21 April). Not so: thousands of people around the UK spent the 1990s and early 2000s protesting against this policy – and long before its devastating impact was seized upon by the likes of Mr Duncan Smith as a bizarre justification for an illegal war of aggression.
Active Resistance to the Roots of War (ARROW) held a weekly anti-sanctions vigil outside the Foreign Office for over 12 years, more than 16,000 signed a petition in 1999, hundreds took part in an August 2000 "Die-in for the People of Iraq" which blocked Whitehall for two hours, and British peace activists risked jail by taking medical supplies to Iraq without an export licence.
We failed to stop this "silent war against Iraq's children" (Save the Children Fund UK) – a war backed by both Labour and Conservative parties – but we were never silent.
Voices in the Wilderness UK, London N1
Call that PR?
Sir: I have worked in the PR industry for the best part of 38 years. If a product is crap I tell the prospective client and walk away (letters, 24 April). Honesty is best, and it hasn't done me any harm.
Sir: A point of information arising out of the article on Simon Rattle on 25 April. While the very worthy Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra would have been astonished but delighted to have found Sir Simon in front of them for 18 years, it was the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) that formed the renowned partnership with him.
BBC coverage of Poles
Sir: We are sorry that Daniel Kawczynski MP feels that BBC coverage of Polish immigrants is unfair (Opinion, 25 April). He mentions Question Time and Panorama but there is no evidence for this. Firstly, on Question Time the views expressed are those of the panellists and audience – not those of the BBC. Secondly, Panorama has not made a programme critical of Polish immigration. We would like to reassure Mr Kawczynski that our coverage of Polish immigrants aims to be fair, accurate and balanced, as with our coverage of all immigrant communities.
Director, BBC News, London w12
Name that tree
Sir: Thank you for the excellent feature on trees ("Green giants", 25 April). Many readers will have noticed that the names of hazel and hawthorn have been transposed in the list of trees; maybe not so many will know that pussy willow was used as palm for Palm Sunday not only by European Orthodox and Catholics but also by Methodists (and others) in Lancashire 60 years ago.
Colin V Smith
St Helens, Merseyside
Sir: Prince William's helicopter exploits (report, 24 April) remind me of an old schoolfriend's father who was an RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot. When we were on a primary school week's camping in 1977, the said father flew out to our camp on a "mission" to deliver his son a food parcel. Much excitement for a field of 11-year-olds as he landed.