As a child in the 1950s, at Church, School, and Sunday School I was brought up on the stories of the Old Testament.
As a teenager, as part of the O Level history syllabus I learned of the Dreyfus Affair, the decline of the Ottoman Empire (as one of the causes of WW1) and the Balfour Declaration and associated treaties and concordats. (1)
In the 60s and 70s I first watched the movie epics:-
Exodus, Cast a Giant Shadow, Fiddler on the Roof, Lawrence of Arabia.
In 1967 I visited the Dachau concentration camp near Munich.
In September 1970 we witnessed the hijacking of four passenger jets by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
In September 1972 we witnessed the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich by the Palestinian “Black September Organization”.
In February 1973 I visited Anglo-Jewish friends in Tel Aviv and went to the Wailing/Western Wall, Temple Mount and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. (2)
Since 1982 I have been regularly reminded of the history of King Solomon's Temple and (since 1992) of the construction of the second temple.
In 1984 we visited the remains of the Warsaw ghetto and Auschwitz.
1993: Schindler's List - the movie
In 1994 we (in the company of Jewish friends) visited the Forêt de Compiègne: site of the formal German surrender in 1918; also the point of departure of the last deportation train of Jews from France to Auschwitz in 1944.
In 1996 on a visit to Prague we saw the remains of its ghetto and learned of the Golem; we also visited the Theresienstadt concentration camp. (3)
In 2001 I visited the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.
In 2007 I visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles with another Jewish friend.
27th January 2010 was Holocaust Memorial Day: the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
On 31st January 2010 we revisited the IWM Holocaust exhibition: the stories of the Lodz and Warsaw ghettos were amply illustrated; camp survivors provided their testimonies with accounts of racial and religious prejudice and pleas that this history wouldlead to tolerance and understanding.
All of the above dispose me to a natural sympathy with the Jewish people.
In early December 2008 we visited Jordan and Petra; in the distance we heard an occasional distant rumble. On enquiry, our guide told me that this was a sonic boom caused by Israeli fighter jets breaking the sound barrier over the Gaza strip.
Three weeks later Israel initiated Operation Cast Lead with air-strikes on the Gaza Strip followed by a ground invasion beginning on 3 January 2009. The war ended on January 18 with Israel completed its withdrawal on January 21. Between 1,166 and 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. For more detailed reports and analysis see below (4).
However... there was clear evidence of the use of phosphorus munitions; the “settler” movement has continued unabated.
[1st February 2010: "Israel has revealed it has disciplined two top army officers for using white phosphorus shells during an attack on a UN compound in Gaza last year."]
In January 2009 I had the pleasure of meeting Commander David Hawksley (RN retired) who was present at the end of the British Mandate of Palestine. His view from 1948:-
“Despite the efforts of Britain to provide balance, the world was trying to correct the great wrong done to the Jews in Europe by committing another great wrong, the dispossession of the Arabs of Palestine. Despite the subsequent admirable courage of the Israelis and the unattractive behaviour of Palestinian extremists, I still feel the same. This is simply a sense of practical justice.
The injustice will continue to be the cause of Middle East instability and a volatile fuel for terrorism until it is understood both by Israel and the US. In practical terms it requires the maximum effort by Israel to put it right as far as possible within the bounds of its own prosperity, which would probably improve as a result.”
I was therefore sensitised to the “Palestinian Issue” and have subsequently monitored events via the Internet getting daily reports from both Israel and Arab sources.
Most recently my interest culminated in my participation in the Viva Palestinia 3 convoy which took medical and educational materials to Gaza via the Rafah crossing point from Egypt.
1. Is Gaza a ghetto?
2. Who is now exhibiting racial and religious prejudice?
-to be continued
1)The Sykes-Picot Agreement: 1916
November 2nd, 1917.
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country".
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Yours sincerely, Arthur James Balfour
5)League of Nations Mandate http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/palmanda.asp
(2) Less than 12 hours before my flight home Israeli jets shot down Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 over the [then Israeli-occupied] Sinai peninsula.
(3) Theresienstadt was also the place of imprisonment of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914 – the act which precipitated WW1; being only 19 at the time of the assassination he was sentenced to 20 years, held in solitary confinement in a dank cell, and died there of tuberculosis exacerbated by malnutrition and blood loss from an amputated arm in April 1918.
Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group