Why Bradford Cathedral is a good place to talk about peace in Gaza

Palestinians carry their belongings after salvaging them from their destroyed house in the heavily bombed town of Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip

Palestinians carry their belongings after salvaging them from their destroyed house in the heavily bombed town of Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip

First published in News
Last updated
Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , T&A Reporter

INTRACTABLE murderous conflicts such as the current one in the Gaza Strip have appalled and polarised the world before - think of Northern Ireland and Bosnia, which were concurrent horrors in the early 1990s.

Although modern Belfast and Sarajevo remain volatile peace of a kind, unimaginable during the thick of the slaughter, has settled on the clouded hills of both those cities.

Is the entrenched butchery of the Middle East, at least that portion of it bounded by the coastal plain of Palestine and the borders of Lebanon in the north, Syria and Jordan in the east and Egypt in the south, fated to go on forever or can a way be found for sympathetic minds among Israelis and Palestinians to find a place of truth and reconciliation?

This is the theme of a talk to be given at Bradford Cathedral on Saturday (Aug 16) by Professor Paul Rogers, from Bradford University's School of Peace Studies.

Television and social media make events in Gaza a local affair, no matter the place in which words and pictures are received. Dr Phil Lewis, retiring adviser to the Bishop of Bradford, said Gaza was a hot topic in Bradford where pro-Palestinian supporters have protested about the by the Israeli Defence Force - more than 1,800 to date - and have called for a boycott of Israeli produce in local supermarkets.

Israel's sympathisers have made their views clear in the letters columns of the T&A, pointing out that the whole bloody business would stop if Hamas told its fighters in Gaza to stop firing rockets - more than 2,700 to date - and accept Israel's right to exist.

Dr Lewis said: "We have too few 'safe spaces' to talk about controversial local issues. The partnership with the university makes real sense when we have an international authority of Paul's calibre.

"As the world gets more complicated and interdependent, at the same time as information overload, the need for institutional spaces which can enable a considered reflection on controversial issues which can threaten to polarise communities seems urgent. A cathedral seems well placed to address such issues."

The world has witnessed the consequences of bombs and rockets in Gaza before; but this time the Israeli attack has been more intensive than in the past, Professor Rogers said.

"Given the existing impoverishment of the area, the human consequences will be severe, as UN staff have been pointing out repeatedly."

Histrionic arguments about past horrors and UN resolutions seem academic against the reality of bodies dismembered by bullets and bombs. The polarising of world opinion - if you are sympathetic to Israel you are against Palestinians and vice-versa - suits the entrenched strategies of those pulling the strings behind the scenes.

An example can be found in Robert Fisk's monumental historical memoir of the Middle East, The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. Twenty years ago, at the time of the Oslo Agreement involving Israel, Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the United States, other forces were at work:-

"For the Israeli army itself - again, to the detriment of Arafat - admitted opening a 'dialogue' with Hamas in which Hamas officials met with Brigadier General Doron Almog, the Israeli commander of the Gaza Strip.

"General Almog talked of how Hamas preferred 'the continuation of the Israeli occupation to Arafat's control under autonomy. Yet even Hamas was mystified as to why the Israelis would do so much to undermine the PLO leader.

"The truth, of course, was that within the Israeli army there were those who were dedicated to destroying the Oslo agreement - just as there were Israelis murderous enough to kill their own prime minister in 1995 (Yitzhak Rabin) to extinguish all hope of agreement with the Palestinians."

Professor Rogers said: "The problem for the Israelis is that when they attack they don't hold back - and it doesn't work. They are no more secure than they were 65 years ago. Israel feels isolated in the wider Middle East. There is a saying; 'Israel is impregnable in its insecurity'."

Public opinion in Israel was 90 per cent behind the war at the outset. "Now that's down to 65 per cent. I don't think demonstrations will affect Israel; but a trade boycott could have a big impact quite quickly," he added.

Israel/Palestine: What Hope For Peace? takes place at Bradford Cathedral from 10am on Saturday, August 16.

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