Sunday, 2 December 2012

A little over a year ago, as part of a delegation from the European Parliament, I found myself sat in the office of Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister of Palestine. He was one of the most impressive people I have met in many years of an  interesting political career.

As well as the West Bank, I visited Gaza City. If you did not actually see it, then you know nothing about it, trust me. I wanted to go on on that trip, because I wanted to confront some demons. You see, I know about divided communities. I served in Northern Ireland in the late 70s and early 80s, and I was on the Green Line in Cyprus with the UN. I wondered, having seen all of that as a young serviceman in my late teens and early 20s, how might it be to see a contemporary situation as a 50 year old man with quite a bit of political experience... It was humbling, to say the least. I learned a lot from the trip.

And now Palestine has been granted non-member observer status within the UN.

Like many, despite my absolute belief in the concept of statehood and self-determination as basic human rights, I was not sure about the timing of this. Its a complex issue to say the least.

But it has happened, and so let us move forward from this moment.

My first thought was that Palestine must now reciprocate, and throw an olive branch to Israel. The absolute top of the wish list is that Hamas recognises the state of Israel. But events moved quickly, and Israel appears to have got it all wrong. A vindictive acceleration of the settler programme, and another halting of the transfer of taxation revenue from Israel to the Palestinian Authority were quickly reported. Palestinians are paying tax to Israel, and they will see nothing of the proceeds in their own territory.

Israel has an absolute right to defend its territory and its people, (as does any legitimate state) but there is a certain irony in the fact that in Gaza they have created a walled and isolated community, separated on ethnic lines. I saw for myself children picking through the bulldozed remains of homes under the shadow of surveillance cameras and army posts. I could write more, but I think you get the picture. To be honest, when I saw this, I thought about the movie Schindler's list....

In Ramallah, we had dinner with the Mayor. The Mayor of Ramallah is a Christian Woman named Janet Mikhail. A Christian Woman. There we see the preconceptions about Arab society demolished on two fronts. While we were eating, two Palestinians, on Palestinian territory, were killed by Israeli helicopters.

Something is not right here.

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