Israeli settlements clear violation of human rights
I refer to the letter from Victor R. Shames (South China Morning Post, November 5), replying to my letter of October 27, on the sufferings of the Palestinian and Afghan people.
He refers to the UN partitioning of Palestine in 1947. In criticising my suggestion that the Palestinian refugees were ignored by an indifferent West for so long, he makes the spurious suggestion that the reason for their being refugees was that they fled 'to join a holy war to drive out the Jews' in 1948.
However, the UN asserted they were escaping from the fighting that was taking place at the time and because of panic resulting from real or imagined atrocities. There were also expulsions, accounts of which are documented. The then British commander of the Jordanian Army, Sir John Bagot Glubb, said that when the Palestinian towns of Lydda and Ramle fell to the Israelis in July 1948, the Israelis removed the men of military age to concentration camps and expelled perhaps 30,000 people, almost entirely women and children, who had to leave on foot and in hot weather. He remarked, 'Nobody will know how many children died.'
Whole areas of what became Israel were cleansed of their Palestinian populations. This was followed by a land grab and destruction of the Palestinians' villages.
Mr Shames says the Arab host countries of the 760,000 Palestinian refugees could easily have absorbed them. Yet only a few tragic years earlier, America itself refused entry to the desperate Jews from the German liner, St Louis, who were fleeing from Hitler. In our own time the Australian Government is reluctant to take a few hundred people from Iraq and Afghanistan. They are escaping from the very regimes that we in the free world so abhor.
Mr Shames complains about my criticism of Israeli settlements. He suggests they occupy a minuscule amount of land and should not have an impact on Palestine's economy. This conflicts with documents from B'Tselem (the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) on settlement establishment. B'Tselem states that by 1993, 45 per cent of all West Bank land had been taken over by Israel. It describes the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as being one of the most conspicuous violations of Palestinian human rights.
Perhaps the best way of combating terrorism is to deploy the weapons of justice and humanity as widely as possible. However, in the case of Palestine, these weapons have seldom been deployed.
K. J. R. BORTHWICK