Peace in the Middle East, The Prince and the swastika armband and others

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The obstacle to peace in the Middle East is not Israel

The obstacle to peace in the Middle East is not Israel

Sir: I do not know what parallel universe Harvey Quilliam inhabits (letter, 12 January). I cannot see why the Palestinians are apparently unable to negotiate their way to an independent state. They had this for the asking at Taba in 2001, and Arafat threw it all away because he was unable to transform himself into a statesman. This assessment is not mine - it was made by President Clinton and many Arab leaders at the time.

Contrary to Mr Quilliam's assertion, the one thing that Israel requires is that the Palestinian Authority should be seen to be making a genuine effort to stop the indiscriminate terrorist homicidal bombing of Israeli citizens - not to mention the large numbers of Arabs who are also victims of these murderers.

I expect quite a few Israelis have thought it would be nice to have an Israel stretching from the Jordan to the sea; however, this will not be found as a serious proposal in any Israeli government policy statement, whereas conversely, an Arab state stretching from the Jordan to the sea and thus annihilating Israel is even now touted by unrealistic and irresponsible Arab leaders. Who, then, is the expansionist obstacle to peace?

On many occasions since 1967 Israel has offered the disputed or occupied territories in return for peace, but neither Egypt nor Jordan wants them, and no Palestinian leader has been prepared to enter into serious negotiations.

There is an interesting selectivity among Mr Quilliam and the Arab world about which UN resolutions they like, and which they don't. The resolutions, like the "road map" impose reciprocal obligations on the Arabs as well as on Israel, and, arguably, Israel has done far more to comply with them than have the Arabs.

His interpretation of "original borders" presumably means the 1949 armistice lines that were intended to end hostilities after the Arab invasion of Israel in 1948. The Arabs never recognised them as valid boundaries in the first place, and the UN resolution post-1967 accepted that the 1949 armistice lines were not realistic borders for Israel, and that adjustments would need to be made.

London N12

The Prince and the swastika armband

Sir: This week's tutorials at my college have looked at prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, racism and so on. My 17-year-old students have, for the most part, displayed enlightened and encouraging attitudes. The outstanding Auschwitz programme from the BBC has provided excellent teaching material. There is, of course, a small number for whom it is a revelation that words such as "Paki" are offensive, and for whom the Nazis are amusing.

I was therefore disappointed to discover that Prince Harry seems to share this ignorance and insensitivity. He has made my job that much harder. Perhaps the headmaster of Eton could enlighten us on how that institution tackles these issues? I understand that the Prince hopes to go into the Army. I cannot imagine how he might deal with a sensitive situation in the back streets of Basra. It would be interesting to know how Sandhurst re-educates such people.

London E18

Sir: The argument has centred on whether this was the deeply offensive action of a public figure who ought to know better, or simply a youthful indiscretion that should never have been made public. What concerns me more is the fact that nobody stopped him.

A crass adolescent with no judgement is bad enough - especially one in his position and especially one who hopes to be an Army officer - but what about the entourage of supposedly responsible adults who advise the Prince? If he was too stupid to know better, surely one of them should have told him? Is this gross, institutional incompetence on the part of Clarence House, or is it something even worse? I think the British public deserves an explanation.

Wolfson College, Oxford

Sir: Prince Harry enjoys all the privileges of being a member of the Royal Family for as long as the taxpayer is prepared to tolerate a monarchy. The flip side of this is that Harry is always on duty, as an ambassador for Britain, with increasing expectations being placed upon him as he gets older.

His choice of an outrageous fancy dress party costume, no doubt as a bit of fun, designed to shock, can for now be put down to the inexperience and folly of youth. It was a private party, not a public engagement, and his quick apology makes clear that he is not a Nazi sympathiser. Harry did not break any laws, except social and diplomatic ones of taste and judgement, and he has suffered the punishment in the short-term damage to his image.

Those calling for Harry to abandon his plans to join the Army are going too far. The Prince has earned his place at Sandhurst, and this one incident should not be allowed to destroy his military career before it has even begun. It will then be up to Harry to prove himself on the parade ground.

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Sir: The media is right to express anger at Prince Harry's choice of costume. It's silly for anyone to do it, but coming from one who is third in line to the throne, it was downright stupid.

What I also find striking is the media's indifference to the theme of the party itself - "colonials and natives". Does no one recognise how offensive this theme is to people from these ex-colonies? I am Indian - one of those "natives" - and I find the idea of a masquerade party about this issue offensive because it amounts to a celebration of colonialism. While I do not downplay the atrocities suffered by the Jews, I think the indifference people have shown to the party theme is illustrative of something that many of us feel about European attitudes to colonialism - which is that Europeans do not acknowledge the full impact of what their people have done to the colonies.

London N6

Sir: A 20-year-old boy, invited to attend a fancy-dress party as the most horrible thing he can imagine, dons the uniform and swastika armband of a Nazi storm-trooper.

In dubious taste, perhaps, but harmless, except that the boy concerned is third in line to the throne, which makes it ill-advised, certainly, and probably also rather crass.

However, is anybody seriously suggesting that this means that were Prince Harry to succeed as head of state, his first priorities would be the persecution and genocide of Jews and Romanies, and his second would be the invasion of Poland?

It would nice to think we might be spared the predictable parade of the literal-minded, the humourless, the bigoted and the obsessive ego-trippers who will be queuing up to vent their synthetic shock, horror and indignation over this incident, but somehow I don't think we shall.

Telford, Shropshire

Sir: Why does the swastika still hold us in thrall, 60 years on? Surely, we should be vilifying the torture, genocide and other crimes of the Nazis, not their absurd dress-sense? Do the victims of torture care what their tormentors wear on their armbands? The swastika is a thing of the past; torture is most definitely not. Amnesty International reports the recent use of torture by state agents from a shocking 106 countries.

In choosing to wear a Nazi uniform to a fancy-dress party, Prince Harry is guilty of a breach of good taste, nothing more. It is ridiculous to suggest that such a gaffe should affect his future prospects. Perhaps some of the vitriol directed at him would be better directed at the many modern-day perpetrators of torture.

London E3

Sir: So a pampered aristocrat shows us how arrogant and insensitive he is by dressing up as a Nazi. Well fan my brow, whatever next? A David Attenborough documentary with exclusive images of bears defecating in a wooded area?

London SE

Tsunami reports

Sir: I was bemused to read Bill Hagerty's account of the religious press in his Media Weekly column (10 January), claiming that it was caught napping by the tsunami disaster, with the exceptions of the Scottish Catholic Observer and the Church Times.

We certainly were not caught out at The Tablet. We ran a lead news story on the disaster in our edition of 1 January, which included an account of the disaster from our correspondent in India, who described the situation at a pilgrimage site where many hundreds died. We also had a leader on the "Where was God?" issue. So to say that "Handley [of the Church Times] was ahead of everyone else in the field by also running, in the same issue, an editorial on the religious implications of the catastrophe" is abject nonsense.

We followed up our coverage of 1 January with several more pages devoted to the disaster in our next edition, including a more measured piece on theology, another on science, as well as major accounts of the work of aid organisations and of religious organisations on the ground.

It was curious of Hagerty to ignore The Tablet while taking a swipe at other Catholic papers, given it has the highest circulation of the Catholic weeklies, and has been around since 1840. It was also unfair. We are renowned for our coverage of foreign news, which is why you will find The Tablet in many British embassies abroad, as well as in many a nuncio's diplomatic bag.

Editor, "The Tablet", London W6

Country customs

Sir: Edmund Bailhache (Letters, 8 January) makes a spirited defence of the hunting community based on its love of horses, hounds and "the rural way of life".

I have some difficulty understanding what this overused phrase means. Is it the despoliation of the countryside by the destruction of its hedgerows, its saturation by chemicals and the extinction of its species? Or does it mean the killing of local communities by desertion of their shops, pubs and native industries? Perhaps it's the unjust enrichment of the uniquely protected and subsidised agricultural industry.

If these arrogant, self-interested activities add up to the "rural way of life" I understand what it is that Mr Bailhache loves. But if it's some dewy-eyed vision of concerned guardianship for the landscape and everything and everybody it supports - then I'm foxed.


Deaths in prison

Sir: In the article and editorial about the tragic death in HMP Styal of Sarah Campbell (11 January), you failed to acknowledge the very real improvements that have been made in prisoner care over recent years.

The Prison Service is committed to doing all it can to reduce the number of self-inflicted deaths. There has been increased investment in both detoxification and mental health in-reach services. Reception procedures have been improved and new systems are being developed to support those at risk of self harm.

Moreover, since April last year, all deaths in custody are now investigated independently by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. It is now almost 18 months since the last self inflicted death at HMP Styal, which I firmly believe is due to the professionalism of the staff and the improvements in procedures.

Inquests are not "victories" gained by campaigning, as you claim; they are an essential legal requirement which amongst other things can help formulate best practice in self-harm and suicide reduction.

I can assure you that suicide reduction remains a top priority for the Chief Executive of National Offender Management Service and the Director General of the Prison Service.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office

Misfired satire

Sir: Many of your correspondents (and at least one of your columnists) appear to miss the point in the Jerry Springer debate. For satire to be effective real knowledge of the object of the satire is required; both in the author - or the attempt comes across as simple bigotry - and in the audience, which otherwise reads it as documentary. This is why satire on Christianity is generally acceptable; but that on Islam or Sikhism, given the public's lack of understanding of the religion and culture, is more problematic. An argument in favour of multicultural education?

Beckenham, Kent

Famous Belgians

Sir: Another omission from your list of famous Belgians (7 January) is surely the great gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who was born near Charleroi in 1910.

London NW3

Blair and Brown

Sir: Our Prime Minister has stated that the Chancellor did not make adverse comments to him concerning his future trust. If Gordon Brown did make the attributed comments and can prove it, then Mr Blair has misled Parliament. I wonder who now holds the upper hand in their fraught relationship.

North Shields, Tyne & Wear

Final warning

Sir: Mark Harrison's letter about too many warnings (12 January) seems to overlook the essential point. The warnings will never prevent the disaster, whatever it may be, but a proper advance notice can save considerable lives. Now in the case of a large asteroid, most likely the warning will serve to help us get right with God, before the hit.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA

Organised crime

Sir: I'm so glad to read that the new crime-fighting agency's investigations priorities will be ranked in part by the extent of media coverage (report, 10 January). On this basis, the illegal war in Iraq will be top of the pile, closely followed by hunting issues.

Tonbridge, Kent