Quakers join anti-Israel campaign

New coalition to be launched to mark anniversary of the IDF's "occupation of Gaza and West Bank, including East Jerusalem."

By JONNY PAUL
January 29, 2007 20:44
Quakers join anti-Israel campaign

quaker house 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Quakers in the UK have for the first time joined a politicized and controversial campaign made up mainly of groups who promote an anti-Israel position. A new coalition is to be launched in London on Tuesday to mark the "40th anniversary of Israel's military occupation of Gaza and West Bank, including East Jerusalem." "Enough!" is a coalition of UK-based non-governmental organizations, charities, trade unions and faith groups who are calling for an "end to the occupation and justice for the Palestinians" while putting responsibility on Israel. The coalition maintains they "want peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike" and "this can only be built on justice, equality and freedom," and to achieve this "governments like the British government must stand up for international law and human rights." However, their motivations and understanding of the conflict have come into question, as many of the groups do not recognise Israel or believe in a two-state solution. Their understanding of the conflict is highlighted on the literature advertising the new campaign, which says: "Since that time, the government of Israel has built 'settlements' in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and assisted its citizens in setting up homes and businesses using land and resources stolen from the Palestinian people. This situation has continued to the current day, despite Israel being in violation of international humanitarian law and over 60 UN resolutions. "The Occupation has created serious poverty for the Palestinians, as well as severe human rights violations. But Palestinian suffering dates back further to 1948, when the state of Israel was created and 750,000 Palestinians were driven or fled from their homes. The UN asserted the refugees' right to return home in 1948, but Israel has refused to allow this. Meanwhile, the refugee population has grown to over four million, one of the largest in the world, many of whom live in camps waiting for international law to be upheld. "Britain bears a particular responsibility for this suffering. From 1917 to 1948 Britain controlled Palestine. Along with the US and many EU countries, the UK Government is today involved in a close military, economic and political relationship with Israel and fails to stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people." Gavin Gross, campaigns director at the Zionist Federation of Britain, said: "As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, the groups comprising the 'Enough!' coalition need to understand that Israel has since made peace with two of its war opponents, Egypt and Jordan, on the basis of land for peace. They should press the Palestinian leadership to genuinely accept Israel's right to exist as Egypt and Jordan have done, because only then can we have a peaceful two-state solution. Instead, just this morning we heard news of a terror attack in Eilat claimed by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Bridge, which is linked to Fatah. This is the real obstacle to peace." Among the charities that make up the coalition is War on Want, which is currently being investigated by the UK Charity Commission for abusing their charity status in highly politicised and controversial campaigns against Israel. Other groups include the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, a socialist group whose patrons include Jenny Tonge, who was disposed in 2004 as a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for sympathising with suicide bombers and last year was forced to stand down as a trustee of Christian Aid after her remarks about the "financial grips of the pro-Israel lobby." Another member is the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, who the Jerusalem based NGO Monitor says focuses primarily on political and ideological denunciations of Israel, including active promotion of "apartheid" rhetoric and justification of terrorism. Their UK branch is made up of non-Israeli volunteers who share an office with Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). Both groups are part of the campaign. MAP believes that the Palestinian right to health "is compromised by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the strictures placed by Israel on Gaza and the absence of the right of return for Palestinian refugees." The NGO Monitor discovered that MAP works with partner organizations including the anti-Israel Ard et-Aftal and Ard el-Insan as well as the highly politicized Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees. "MAP's ideological agenda [is] demonstrated by its selective historical background to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the amoral equivalence of Palestinian terrorists and their Israeli victims and advocacy against Israeli settlements," the NGO Monitor said. Muslim groups include the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) - the mainstream Muslim organisation that maintains a boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day - and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). Also supporting the campaign is the radical Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), whose website hosts highly contentious rhetoric. On their website Monday, they blamed Israel for the infighting between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, saying: "For decades, Israel has been attempting to turn Palestinians against each other. Divide To Conquer. This time Israel seems to succeed. Late last year, body language analysis during Abbas['s meeting] with Olmert, his wife, and his cabinet in Jerusalem said it all. The handshakes, the kisses, the smiles, the laughs, and the whole lot gave a message of a one team spirit. In contrast was [the] Abbas meeting with Hamas in Ramallah in the wake of one of [the] renewed clashes. The body language analysis showed two enemies were obliged to talk." In response to a report in The Jerusalem Post last week on the unveiling of an urban warfare training center in a mock city that simulates an Arab town, MPAC said: "Israel is determined to design and practice the best way to kill Arabs. They failed in their last war on Lebanon and discovered that they were not prepared enough to handle guerrilla fighters in battlefields such as 'Arab/Muslim' cities and villages such as of Palestinians, Lebanese (maybe Iranian too), etc." Like MAB and MCB, they boycott Holocaust Memorial Day. An MPAC representative who visited Auschwitz in 2003 said it was because the memorial was exclusive and remembered one group at the expense of the others. "The Palestinians as group have suffered as the sympathy for the Jews after the Holocaust was used by Zionists to create the tragedy that is Palestine," she said. On their site, it says: "Genocide occurs to all nations, peoples and races. MPACUK recognise this and want to expose the lies of those who abuse the memory of this tragedy to justify the bloody crimes of apartheid Israel." A response from a contributor, known as Taz, typifies some of the views shared on the site: "Whilst the Holocaust was indeed a tragedy of epic proportions, it is not the only act of genocide, and the fact that HMD is being used as a political football by Zionists is inescapable. There are lessons to be learnt from this dark episode in history, but these lessons are being ignored. The Israelis have tattooed Palestinian civilians a scene reminiscent of Germany in the 1940's." Quakers are active in peace work, human rights and social reform. The group's mission statement says the "Quaker testimonies to peace, equality, simplicity and truth are a challenge to alleviate suffering and seek positive social change." Asked why they decided to join such a controversial and political campaign, a spokesperson for Quakers Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) said: "Quakers are engaged with issues of peace and justice, which inevitably brings them into the political sphere. This has always been the case, and goes at least as far back as our speaking out against slavery more than 200 years ago. We endeavour to engage with political issues imaginatively and truthfully. "QPSW have signed up to the 'Enough!' campaign as part of our work for peace and reconciliation, and out of respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. "The call for an end to occupation is not a one-sided issue. Our view is that the continued occupation by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza harms Israelis as well as Palestinians because it results in a militarized Israeli society, diverts resources to the military from other areas and contributes to the continuing violent conflict. Moreover, we consider the long-term psychological impact on young Israelis who are brutalised through participation as soldiers of an occupying army. Since 1967, UN Security Council resolutions have been calling for the withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank and Gaza, which is what Quakers are saying, too." Asked if they concur with the hard-line views held by members of the coalition, the Quaker spokesperson said: "As you are aware, Quakers have signed up to the 'Enough!' campaign and its mission statement. There is nothing the campaign has stated so far that warrants the claim you make. Quakers are not responsible for the views of other coalition members. Quaker work in the region engages with both sides to the conflict." The Council of Christians and Jews is concerned with the participation of Christian groups such as Pax Christi and the Amos Trust. CCJ is facilitating a meeting between "Enough!" and concerned Christians and Jews, at which they will listen to each other, share views and talk about their concerns with the new group. David Gifford, chief executive of CCJ, said: "In the spirit of dialogue and openness, we are holding a consultation, through Pax Christi, to raise concern that this campaign is damaging to Christian-Jewish relations, in manner and approach, and fuels discontent and does nothing for reconciliation." Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "This coalition consists of a number of members who, however well-meaning, are being duped by the disingenuous soft-peddling tactics of others whose track record is avowedly anti-Israel and whose aim is the wholesale dismantling of the Jewish state. It remains to be seen whether their campaign results in genuine bridge-building and reconciliation, or is a catalyst for further polarisation and divisiveness."

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