Letters: West Bank settlements

UK embassy risks condoning West Bank settlements
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The Independent Online

We are alarmed to hear of Foreign Office plans to rent three floors in the Kirya Tower in Tel Aviv from African-Israel Properties Ltd for use as the British embassy. African-Israel Properties is chaired by Lev Leviev, who acts as a major settlement builder.

Renting space from his company is tantamount to HM Government condoning Israel's settlement-building, supporting clear violations of international law, which in some cases amount to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and hindering the possibility of peace in the Middle East.

It constitutes precisely the kind of action that the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion points to as being in violation of the third-party obligations to the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation – see para 159 of the Opinion of 9 July 2004: "They [states] are also under an obligation not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction."

As Mr Leviev's activities involve settlement-building, and the route of the wall is directly affected by his settlement- building activities, to have an economic arrangement with him or his companies of any kind is indeed rendering aid and assistance in maintaining the construction described in the Advisory Opinion.

Further, the FCO's actions are contrary to the statement made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown while in Ramallah in July 2008; namely that, "we want to see a freeze on settlements...[they] make peace harder to achieve...erode trust...[and] heighten Palestinian suffering". We urge the FCO to follow this policy and its practical and legal consequences.

By not engaging in financial transactions with Mr Leviev or anyone else furthering the developing of illegal settlements on Palestinian land HM Government would be in good company: Oxfam and Unicef have both rejected financial relations with Mr Leviev because of his companies' settlement construction. In addition, HM Government would be acting in compliance with its declared policy objective of persuading Israel to end the construction of illegal settlements, promoting adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law and brokering a lasting peaceful solution for the Middle East.

Daniel Machover; Michael Mansfield QC; Louise Christian; John McHugo; Sarah McSherry; Andrew Sanger

Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights London WC2

Blame bankers? Yes, and tax them too

Margareta Pagano argues (Opinion, 19 September) that we should not blame the bankers for the financial crisis, suggesting that they are only doing what everyone else does – trying to make money.

The justification for free markets rests on the proposition made by Adam Smith more than 200 years ago: markets work in the social interest because consumers, making individual decisions, determine what goods and services are worthwhile and therefore who can make a living from providing them.

But this rationale relies on producers doing something useful – producing goods and services, or increasing productive capacity. When we consider the trade of simple ownership (not management) of the means of production – which is what the stock exchange is all about – things get much more murky.

Stock market traders earn their returns (sometimes massive to the point of obscenity) simply by exchanging ownership of the capital resources of UK (or, now, the world) Inc. Why do they deserve our respect? In the bad old days, we used to treat this income as "unearned" and tax it at a substantially higher rate than earned income.

The conventional answer is that these speculators help financial markets to work more effectively. Oh, really? Not to judge by the highly volatile behaviour of these markets, especially since this sector was deregulated in the 1980s. They have now precipitated severe economic uncertainty.

Regulating them properly is almost certainly impossible; resources will be deployed to get round any regulation, making regulation itself increasingly costly, at our expense. It makes much more sense to reduce substantially the gains from this activity – simply impose a near-punitive tax on such unearned income.

David Harvey

Tynemouth, Tyne & Wear

At the start of Ronald Reagan's presidency, I spent a year as a visiting academic in Pennsylvania, where I opened an account with a local bank.

I stress local, because the law then stipulated that a bank – at least in Pennsylvania – could not expand beyond the county in which it was headquartered and contiguous counties. I was told that this was because of the great risk that the collapse of very large financial institutions posed to ordinary customers.

During the following years, the rule was relaxed, so banks were able to expand into more remote territory. They could now consolidate, merge, take over and be sold. The bank with which I had an account was amalgamated with a bank that was sold to another corporation that was in turn taken over, so that it became part of a multi-state venture, whose ultimate ownership lay who knew where.

I assume that in some form or other that bank still exists. But in the light of the gigantic failure of major financial institutions in the United States and possibly elsewhere, which looks like hitting banking customers before long, I wonder whether my money would have been more secure, or less, if the First National Bank in the Lehigh Valley had maintained its identity.

Professor Ronald J Hill

Trinity College, Dublin

Ho, Ho, so the merchant bankers are feeling some pain. Do we care? Did they care as British industry was dismembered piece by piece?

Banking and finance is only the lubricant of the economic engine, but we have ended up with a motor that is 90 per cent oil and only 10 per cent engine. Its time to drain some oil and restore the motor's balance.

Paul Eddison

Northwich, Cheshire

Wild claims on the cost of cancer care

I write in response to your leading article on the subject of cost inflation in the NHS (10 September). At the NHS Confederation, the body which represents 95 per cent of the organisations making up the NHS, we were understandably intrigued by the claims made by Professor Karol Sikora, that the service faces "meltdown" in the next four years unless an additional £50bn is found to fund cancer care.

He has claimed, on the basis of his own calculations, that by the time we reach the London Olympics a greater sum than is currently spent on the UK's defence budget would be needed to treat cancer patients, or the NHS would effectively collapse under the weight of expectations. Assuming that the numbers of people requiring treatment for cancer remains roughly consistent over the next few years, this equates to an astonishing claim that an additional £200,000 will be spent per patient in 2012.

Nothing the NHS Confederation has seen suggests that these figures are even remotely credible. Nor do they factor in decisions made about the efficacy of different treatments or work on cancer prevention.

There is an important debate to be had about how, with an ageing population and ever more expensive drugs, the increasing cost of healthcare in the UK can be met. We are happy to debate these issues on their merits. However, starting such a debate by making wild and unsubstantiated claims is of little use to the patients, who can only have been distressed to see the future of the NHS painted in such bleak terms.

Steve Barnett

Chief Executive NHS Confederation London SW1

Sending worms after heavy metals

Darwin's book On the Formation of Vegetable Mould suggested that earthworms were intelligent and could be trained. Alas, this turned out not to be the case, so it is unlikely that we could add worms to contaminated sites and then blow a whistle and have them gather at a pre-arranged muster point for removal of the metals (letter, 15 September).

The way in which it may be possible to use earthworms to help clean up contaminated sites is that the metals in the soil that earthworms ingest and then excrete seems to be more readily extractable by plants. One would then harvest the plants to remove the metals from the site.

Our metal-munching earthworms could be introduced at contaminated sites that normal earthworms wouldn't be able to live in. In addition, introduction of earthworms to such sites could stimulate the development of soils, often the first step in reclaiming brownfield sites.

Dr Mark Hodson

Department of Soil Science University of Reading

With creationists, reason is no use

Professor Michael Reiss made the perfectly reasonable suggestion that science teachers should be prepared to discuss creationism if the issue is raised by a pupil ("Creationist row forces scientist to quit Royal Society post", 17 September). Here is how I would respond if I were a well-funded creationist lobby group.

First, I would campaign for Professor Reiss's approach to become mandatory in schools, an easy task given this government's craven pandering to "faith" groups.

Then I would make sure that every child in every creationist church in the country was instructed to keep raising the issue of creationism in their science lessons whenever possible. If it is true that 10 per cent or more of pupils are "creationists", then this should be sufficient to paralyse science teaching for the few hours that would otherwise be devoted to teaching evolution.

Given the success of this kind of relentless creationist lobbying in the US education system, we should not assume that everybody is quite as reasonable or fair-minded as Professor Reiss.

Chris Webster

Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

There is no problem with referring to intelligent design when teaching evolution in science lessons (letters, 15 September), as long as a distinction is made between theory and hypothesis. In the theory of evolution, the word "theory" implies a logical system of explanation for all the known relevant facts, whereas intelligent design is best described as a hypothesis, a proposition made as a basis for reasoning or further investigation.

Fundamental creationism –the belief that the world was created by God only about 10,000 years ago – is more problematic, since it denies a huge volume of scientific evidence. In this case, there is no alternative for science teachers other than to describe it as a belief system to which hardly any serious scientists adhere.

Francis Kirkham

Crediton, Devon

As part of his argument against creationism, Mike Lim (letter, 15 September) quotes the "Big Bang" theory as an example of scientific fact supported by a wealth of evidence. This is ironic.

The "Big Bang" theory has its roots in a 1927 thesis by George Lemaitre, a Belgian Catholic priest. At the time, Lemaitre's ideas provoked controversy, as Arthur Eddington, Albert Einstein and Fred Hoyle thought the idea of a dynamic and expanding universe with a cosmic beginning, rather than a static model, was too suggestive of "the Creation".

Pope Pius XII joined the debate in 1951 when in an address he indicated his opinion that the "Big Bang" may have represented the moment of Creation.

David Shewring

Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

Generous reminder

Thanks for illustrating the article (19 September) about not showing pictures of ecstatic women with unfeasibly large breasts with a picture of an ecstatic woman with unfeasibly large breasts. I'd have forgotten what they look like otherwise – for some reason there don't seem to be any in the previous day's paper.

Julie Harrison


In memory of UN hero

Donald Macintyre fairly explains why the efforts and the death of Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN's first mediator, remain so little known ("Silent witness", 18 September). However, his sacrifice in the cause of peace is marked annually in London, on the occasion of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. This year, participants included a Foreign Office Minister, those from the armed forces and police, and diplomats from 66 embassies, making this the largest such ceremony worldwide. It will be held on 21 May next year.

David Wardrop

Chairman, Westminster Branch, United Nations Association, London SW6

Poetry of Cornwall

While John Betjeman was an adopted Cornishman, it was sad that you omitted from your list (The Big Question, 16 September) Charles Causley, who spent virtually his entire life in Launceston. His poetry speaks eloquently of his home county: "One day, friend and stranger,/ The granite beast will rise/ Rubbing the salt sea from his hundred eyes/Sleeping no longer."

N J Butland

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Clegg's gaffe

Nick Clegg's "gaffe" in stating that he thought the basic state pension is £30 a week rather blows his cover. If that figure were right, rather than tax cuts being at the top of his agenda, it would be the pressing need to address a gross injustice. I am sorry to admit it, particularly after the Lib Dems' admirable stance on the war in Iraq, but I think it safe to say that Mr Clegg is more interested in pressing the right buttons than in a real agenda of change.

Jeff Hebblewhite

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Good enough to eat

Will Self (Magazine, 13 September) seems to have strayed into Christopher Hirst's epicurean territory with his "braised" Brompton bicycle parts. Tough though, even for a weasel.

Keith Reedman

Long Eaton, Derbyshire