May 31, 2011

Neutrality on Israel?

Two letters in today's Guardian, one following on from a report of the appointment of an "Israel studies professor at Oxford University and the other commending The Guardian for a report on how the Palestinian village of Lifta was ethnically cleansed in the 1940s and is now being lined up for settlement by Jews only:

Derek Penslar (First professor of Israel studies at Oxford vows neutrality, 27 May) says he will strive for political neutrality in a professorship created with a £3m donation from long-standing supporters of Israel. But claims to be politically neutral generally obscure particular political positions since "you cannot be neutral on a moving train" or while riding the back of an angry crocodile. The report shows the difficulty of achieving neutrality by referring to "the Jewish state" as one might refer to the UK as a Christian state or Egypt as a Muslim state, none of which could be seen as politically neutral positions since they elevate the power of one group of citizens above others. States are defined by their borders. So in struggling to achieve neutrality, perhaps Derek Penslar will inform us of his politically neutral position on the borders of Israel.
Tony Booth
Cambridge University
• We commend you for putting Lifta in the news (We will never forget this village, G2, 30 May). Its Palestinian population was attacked and terrorised between Christmas 1947 and February 1948 and forced to leave by Menachem Begin's IZL and Yitzhak Shamir's Stern terror gangs. By February 1948 the village was emptied and its inhabitants were trucked to East Jerusalem. Now, the Israel Land Authority plans to parcel Lifta's private land and sell it to Jewish developers in an attempt to create a luxury enclave for Jews only. The international community must not remain silent in the face of this continued theft of private Palestinian land.
Antoine Raffoul
Co-ordinator, 1948: Lest We Forget
Actually there appeared to be an error in the report on Lifta not mentioned in the letter. See this:
The development plan was approved by the Jerusalem municipality five years ago, but earlier this year the Israel Lands Administration – the state agency that took ownership of Lifta's land under the Israeli law governing property deemed to be abandoned – began marketing the plot to private developers. A legal challenge stayed the tender process, but a decision is due any day on whether to proceed. The proposal is for 212 luxury housing units, expected to be advertised to wealthy expatriate Jews, a chic hotel and shops, and a museum. It suggests that some of the ruins be restored. But Lifta as a sanctuary and de facto heritage site will be lost.
Expatriate Jews? Where might they be? The largest number of expatriate Jews, understood as Jews living away from their country of origin, lives in Palestine. It wasn't me that noticed the error, it was Frank Fisher at the Just Peace UK list.

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