I do not see why the Liberal Democrat MP David Ward needs to apologise over his remarks about firing rockets.
The Palestinians have been oppressed for decades and in Gaza are forced to exist on a tiny, narrow strip of land. Unless a breakthrough is made in Middle East negotiations, which looks unlikely, there is little hope for them. You can see why they retaliate against their oppressor.
Perhaps if more people, particularly Western leaders, showed more empathy for the Palestinians we would have long-lasting peace.
Using the maze of tunnels under Gaza to hide and transport weapons to densely populated sites from which to launch indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli civilians is an evil and despicable act which has rightly been condemned as a war crime.
To respond by bombing and shelling targets in the full knowledge that this will result in sizeable civilian casualties is equally a war crime, and has now been denounced as such by Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
A spokesperson for the Israeli government very eloquently stated: “We [Israel] use our arms to protect our children whereas Hamas use their children to protect their arms.” That does not give Israel the right to kill those children.
Israel cannot win a war against Hamas by the use of disproportionate force against the already beleaguered citizens of Gaza. Every picture of a dead Palestinian child is a recruiting poster for the militant arm of Hamas and causes worldwide revulsion against an Israeli regime which seems to care little about its international reputation.
The only way Israel can gain from this conflict is to cease hostilities, use its effective anti-missile defence system and air-raid shelters to protect its citizens and then offer some concessions to the Palestinians. Removing the blockade of Gaza and halting developments on the West Bank might just convince the Palestinian people to silence their extremist arm and work towards a peaceful coexistence.
When Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, says that Hamas “pile up as many civilian dead as they can” to make Israel look bad, he is speaking from a mind-set that has informed the political attitude of Israel’s leaders for many years.
Israel paints an image of itself in the media wherein the victim becomes the oppressor, and the oppressor becomes the victim forced to defend itself. Israel is portrayed as wishing only for peace. The reason, they say, for so many civilian deaths is that the Palestinians use “human shields”, forcing Israel to choose between no response and one that incurs “collateral damage”.
The responsibility for Palestinian deaths is transferred to the Palestinians themselves; Israel is seen as blameless, guilt-free, angry at having been “coerced” into mass murder. In the words of the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”
And thus the cycle of killing and justification becomes self-perpetuating.
As a retired counsellor, I can liken the situation in Gaza/Israel to a combative couple. One swipes at the other ineffectively in frustration and the other batters them severely back. The batterer then tells the social services or the police that the other “made me do it”.
Blame is an ineffective solution to problems. They must sit down and talk.
Reform the benefits assessment now
We all know that the work capability assessment (WCA) isn’t working. If the Government acts now on the recommendations in the Work and Pensions Select Committee report (23 July), it can make an immediate, positive difference to people’s lives.
Simple changes such as introducing flexibility, so that assessors are not trying to determine how a person’s condition affects their ability to work in an often too-short 45-minute meeting, should make a huge difference to the accuracy of the assessment results. They should also reduce the amount of government money wasted on unnecessary appeals.
Another simple change involves a common-sense approach to reassessments. At the moment people are being reassessed far too quickly following a successful appeal. We have heard of many cases where people are asked to start the whole process again only a month after winning an appeal.
We believe the reassessment phase should instead begin from the date of the appeal outcome.
In the light of the news earlier this year that Atos will withdraw as the WCA provider, it is important that the Government immediately acts upon any changes that can be made to improve the process for people going through the assessments. This cannot wait until the contract is re-tendered in 2018.
Chief Executive, Papworth Trust
Papworth Everard, Cambridgeshire
Cambridge colossus skews degree grades
The Tompkins Table 2014 again demonstrates that disproportionate wealth results in a better academic performance.
Trinity College’s exceptional performance of nearly 43 per cent of its students obtaining a first-class degree should be compared with, say, Lucy Cavendish with its 11.1 per cent and Hughes Hall with its 12.7 per cent.
Trinity’s wealth is put at some £900m (with a reported annual income in excess of £20m), whereas Lucy Cavendish’s wealth is some £24m and Hughes Hall’s some £18m. The disparity of performance ties in with the disparity of wealth, and should be seen as a form of unacceptable elitism.
It is high time that Cambridge University grappled with this problem, which encourages an attitude that there are “good colleges” and other colleges which are also-rans. The problem is perfectly soluble without undermining the college structure, if the university were to put its mind to it.
Oxford University has a similar problem, but fortunately no colossus like Trinity College.
Holidays in term-time
Like many others, I have been astonished and dismayed to read of the case of the very sick young man whose mother has been threatened with legal action should she take him on holiday in term-time.
I suggest she does so anyway and enjoys the public pummelling that the relevant head or local authority will get should they be stupid enough to pursue the matter.
I was a primary school head for many years, and my response, when informed that a child was going on holiday – I was rarely asked for permission – was almost always “Have a lovely time, they’re bound to learn more with you than they do with us!”
Nantglyn, North Wales
Bad moment to shift ministers
What a miracle of timing on David Cameron’s part to fire his experienced Foreign Secretary and infinitely more experienced Minister without Portfolio, and move his Defence Secretary two days before the shooting down of Flight MH17! When cool heads and firm but forceful diplomatic language are required, all we get is megaphone diplomacy for the benefit of the tabloids.
Just what are these British values?
Allegations of a “Trojan horse” plot by Islamic hardliners to take over the running of schools are indeed disturbing, but I am dismayed that the new Secretary of State for Education should respond by stating that teachers should be barred from the profession if they fail to protect British values.
What constitutes British values is nebulous and open to various interpretations, some of which could themselves be illiberal and unpleasant.
Far better to just outlaw any promotion of racial, religious, sexual or other intolerance and bigotry without hooking this on to an unhelpful notion of what our national values may or may not be.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Guess who picks up the bill
The publicly remunerated Ed Balls sacks the publicly remunerated Sharon Shoesmith. The publicly remunerated Court of Appeal directs that the publicly remunerated Haringey Council is to compensate her with ... er, public remuneration.
Then I woke up. For a horrible moment there I thought that the fantasy financing of the banking crisis had returned.