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From East Jerusalem to Easton Bristol

June 17, 2011

One of the most enjoyable things I do as MP for Bristol West is visiting the more than forty schools in the constituency.  The children of all ages always have an amazing assortment of questions.   When asked what is the best part of the job I reply that it’s the sheer variety, no day is the same. One week can see the mundane and the extraordinary, pavement politics and international relations.

The last week has been no exception.  On Saturday I joined the congregation of the Bristol & West Progressive Jews as they celebrated the golden jubilee of their group.  The Rabbi prayed facing the wall.  Just the week before I’d been in East Jerusalem witnessing the same scene at the Western Wall, the most sacred site in the world for Jews.

I was able to discuss with the Bristol faithful what I’d seen on a Parliamentary delegation to Palestine-Israel.  I am the co chair of the Council for Arab British Understanding, which sponsored the visit along with Medical Aid for Palestinians.  On our four day visit we met everyone from Beduin shepherds to representatives of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Government.

For some people a visit to Jerusalem, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims and to Hebron, burial place of Abraham, the father of all three faiths, is a spiritually uplifting experience.  But the politics of it all left me downcast and gloomy.

The Palestinian farmers we met in the West Bank had endured encroachments on their land by Israeli ‘settlers’.  A common site was a water tanker delivery as the local springs have been secured by the settlers.  Israeli settlements have been established all over the West Bank, splitting up the putative Palestinian state.

One such settlement is right in the middle of Hebron, next to the Mosque and Synagogue where Abraham and Sarah are buried.  Hebron should be a World Heritage Site and like Bath would get visitors from all over the world to enjoy its architecture and ancient history.  Instead it’s a ghost town, its centre hollowed out with deserted streets and shops sealed up by the Israeli army. It really is a tragedy, with neither Israeli or Arab being able to enjoy the town.

Back to Bristol West.  The synagogue I visited was in Easton.  Within a square mile I have previously visited Christian churches of all denominations and mosques built by Somalis, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. I’ve always received a warm welcome in each.  All nationalities and faiths have made their home in Bristol.  Every big city has its problems but Bristolians live together in harmony.  Sometimes it is well to remember how lucky we are and to spare a thought for those less fortunate in other parts of the world.

[NB this was written as my MP column for the Bristol Evening Post]

6 Comments leave one →
  1. John Rippon permalink
    June 18, 2011 1:21 am

    Keep up the good work!

    As you know I spent five rewarding years living and working with Arabs in Benghazi building a Television network for the Libyan Government. and was there during the Coupe D’etat, which brought Qaddafi to power.
    The ordinary Libyans were warm and friendly at all times and I loved my years spent there.

    I met many dispossesed Palestinians who had settled in Benghazi and set up small busineses who had sad tales of being driven from their homeland by the Israelis.

    John Rippon

  2. June 18, 2011 11:08 am

    Hi, Stephen, we’ve met a few times over the years at Conference, as I’m a mate of Sean Hooker’s…I’m also a Vice-Chairman of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. I’m really pleased that you’ve just been to Israel/Palestine on this visit and I greatly appreciate the constructive tone of your comments, in contrast to the strident language that sometimes attaches itself to discussions of these issues. Here is the website of one group that is doing a lot to address some of the issues that you raise here:

  3. r blackmore permalink
    July 12, 2011 10:35 pm

    did you ask why they keep firing rockets into israel? or sending in human bombers to join bus stops, thought not, still suffering anti semitism , the jews are wrong and our poor palistinian friends are helpless, get off your soapbox, they kill people and hate it when people retaliate

    • Chas Easton permalink
      August 17, 2011 6:02 pm

      message to stephen williams: well done for going out there, witnessing the situation, talking to people and trying to be objective.
      message to r blackmore: how many rockets do palestinians fire into israel? how many rockets do israel fire into gaza regularly or how many did they when israel invaded gaza a few years ago? if you did ask the palestinians why they did this, would they say it is because israel has taken about three quarters of our land, illegally occupies most of the rest and imprisons the rest of us in gaza?
      how many israelis have palestinians killed and how many palestinians have israelis killed? does one life equal another or is one worth more.
      it is possible to be jewish and to want a fair and just solution.
      it is possible to be against the policies of the israeli government and not be anti-semetic.
      it is possible to learn the truth.

      • August 17, 2011 8:07 pm

        thanks Chas, there are good people in all parts of Palestine who want peaceful co-existence

  4. jrbearpad permalink
    August 18, 2011 1:34 am

    I think that people should read up on their HISTORY!

    From the early 15th Century (Remember the fall of Constantinople in 1453) the Seljuk Ottoman Turkish Empire had total control of the entire area of the Middle East and most of North Africa for something like 500 years!

    In the 19th. Century this of course included the whole of Palestine and corruption was part and parcel of the regime as the Ottoman Empire went into indolent decline. This meant that the lands of Palestine were owned almost entirely by Turkish absentee landlords.

    In the late 19th. Century the Jewish Zionist movement, with dreams of a new Israel, began to purchase land from the absentee Turkish landlords, who were only too eager to sell at the right price. Zionist families settled in these lands and the process accelerated: remember that the land had been bought LEGALLY and the new settlers had a perfect right to be there.

    Up to this time the European Empires had no interest in the Ottoman Empire, but then the British and French came to an agreement to build the Suez Canal with the Turks still in charge of Egypt. The Turkish Ottoman empire steadily declined but British and French interests in the area became paramount because of the vital importance of the Suez Canal.

    Then things became very complicated: For a few minor favours Turkey ceded Cyprus to British rule because Britain considered it of vital strategic value. In 1911(?) Italy simply marched into Libya and took it from the Turks with no opposition!

    Then came the First World War: The Turks, in a desperate attempt to recover its fortunes joined up with Germany who lost. Retribution was swift: Syria/Lebanon was mandated to the French, Britain got the lions share as Palestine,Trans-Jordan (Later to become Jordan and Iraq) and Egypt and most of the Arabian Peninsula were mandated to them.

    The Zionist movement, mainly backed by American money, continued unabated. Kibbutz movements were set up on LEGALLY BOUGHT Palestinian land, mainly to the East. Britain,with its unrealistic romantic fantasy about the Arabs and the old Arab world (Look up the incredible story of Gertrude Bell, her relationship with Churchill and the formation of Iraq on Google!), was still the mandatory power and did not favour the Zionist expansion.

    Then came the Second World War. British mandates in the Middle East were confirmed by the United Nations with the proviso that Britain should work towards an EARLY independence of all the “Nations” within their mandate. The Zionists then formed terrorist groups to attack the British and demanded a state of Israel whilst at the same time being quite nasty to the Arab community who had lived there for many hundreds of years.

    Then came the UN Resolution in 1948, heavily backed by the USA plus Russia and all the Iron Curtain Countries,which was passed (Britain, being the Mandatory Power, had to abstain from the voting, so the Arab myth that the British “GAVE” Israel to the Jews is just that)

    You all know the rest. Frankly my sympathies are still with the indigenous but now displaced Arabs who deserve THEIR rights, but I do not like their methods at all nor the shocking way Britain and the USA behaved in this whole wretched business..

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