Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’


In T. Chinnick on May 5, 2015 at 9:22 pm

An on-line Clarion special for the General Election 2015 by Monmouth Labour’s Tyler Chinnick, in between canvassing for Ruth Jones in Monmouth.

On Shamocracy yesterday Brogan Morris took exception to the main parties urging the electorate to vote tactically.  I understand amidst the noise and blackmail it can be easy just to think ‘Fuck it’ and vote for the party that most closely represents your own views, but that would be a mistake.  Let me explain why.

I came of political age under New Labour and to a large extent I defined myself in opposition to it; to its policies of war and privatisation, of ID cards and 90 day detention.  I loathed its rightward lurch and felt absolutely no affiliation to it.

As my political education continued my opposition to New Labour quickly became indistinguishable from my opposition to neo-liberalism and American imperialism.  During this time I flirted with a number of groups – TUSC, the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Britain, the People’s Front of Judea… the Judean people’s front…

Prior to the last election I organized a hustings to which our then Labour candidate was invited alongside Plaid, Green, Communists and others.  When confronted with a semi-hostile left-wing audience* the Labour candidate’s default argument as to why we should vote Labour was ‘to keep out the Tories’.  This struck me as being horribly negative.  I hated that they had nothing positive to offer and I resented the implied blackmail.  And so at the last election, knowing that Labour were certain to lose and living in a safe conservative seat I felt no regret about casting my vote for the most left-wing party on the ballot – The Greens.

I presumed that even though my vote would make absolutely no practical difference Labour would at least register the discontent that I and many others felt.

In 2015, however, you absolutely should fear another Tory government and it isn’t illegitimate to point out that the only way to stop it is by voting Labour.

Nonetheless, I fully understand that that isn’t enough.  People have the right to demand something to vote for; luckily in Ed Miliband’s Labour we have it.

When the financial crisis hit a few years previously I had naively assumed that everyone would more or less instinctively see the error of their ways and, with the exception of a few free-market fundamentalists declare neo-liberalism dead.  The political parties could then begin in earnest to decide what would replace it.  This would be remarkably propitious to the left in general and the Labour party in particular.

Skip forward to the Labour leadership election.  On the BBC Parliament channel Ed Milliband is giving a speech to the Fabian society outlining his assessment of Labour and the country and his vision for our future.  His basic contention is essentially this: like the post-war consensus before it the Thatcherite consensus is now dead, Labour has alienated many of its core supporters, shed thousands of members and been reduced to its second worst election result since 1918.  It is time to reconnect and forge a new path.  I’m sold and although not a member I’m rooting for him.

A battle between left and right ensues.  That his brother, an unreconstructed Blairite should embody the other pole of Labour opinion and also be Ed’s main rival gives the contest the feel of a Shakespearean tragedy. What’s left of the New Labour machine is mobilised for David and the media have more or less crowned him winner before the battle proper has even begun.  So as well as having the right prescription Ed is also the anti-Blairite candidate – suddenly I feel that it is even more important that he should win.

A year later Ed Milliband gives his first speech as leader at the Labour conference.  By anyone’s standard it’s not good.  Propped on the lectern is a voluminous manuscript from which he reads like a particularly uncharismatic politics professor.  The content is very similar to the speech given to the Fabians that so impressed me a year earlier, but overly academic and lacking the common touch it fails to connect with the audience.  The verdict from the commentariat is damning.  The right wing press wrongly interpret his attempt at left-wing populism as a return to 1970‘s style ‘old Labour’.  That he lacks the rhetorical skills of a Thatcher or Blair is evident but the content for me is more important.

The calls of having chosen the wrong brother intensify and treacherous Blairites crawl out of the woodwork to sniff and sneer; people begin to talk about getting rid of him “before it’s too late”.

In fact the reaction becomes so hysterical, so over-the-top, so nasty and personal that I decide to join the party in the hope of bolstering his leadership credentials in whatever small way I can.

Miliband’s time as leader since has been characterised by challenging conventional wisdom and taking on powerful vested interests, and winning.

He has broken the neo-liberal consensus by championing market interventionism, opposing privatisation and proposing some re-nationalisation, albeit limited.

He defied both Rupert Murdoch and conventional wisdom when Murdoch tried to take over the remaining shares of bskyb.  He followed it up by vowing to implement Lord Leveson’s findings in full, which would, amongst other things break up Murdoch’s press monopoly.  It’s no wonder the ‘dirty digger’ harangued his journalists a few weeks ago for not doing enough to harm Miliband.  The sound of the gutter press in full attack mode combined with Lynton Crosby’s shameless smear campaign (it seems British politics is now overrun with venomous antipodean reptiles) should be enough to elicit your sympathy for Mr. Miliband if nothing else.  The fact that he has faced all this with a commendable humility and resilience should – if people really do want politicians of principle and decency – consider awarding him their vote on Election Day.

Consider this also – if Ed Miliband becomes prime minister tomorrow it will mean the end of the toxic stranglehold that an unaccountable foreign national has held over our politics since the 70’s.  The British press and British democracy will be infinitely healthier as a result.

By voting for the recognition of a Palestinian state and refusing to support the bombing of Syria he defied the assumption that Britain will always support the U.S.  But this still won’t be enough for some people.  He doesn’t want to scrap Trident and has no aim of disbanding the army like the Greens.  But if he does become Prime Minister we will see the most significant shift in British foreign policy since at least the 1970’s.

I probably don’t need to remind readers of Shamocracy of the legacy of this government but quickly: 700,000 people on zero hours contracts, at least a Million people forced to rely on food banks, the worst rate or underemployment in the E.U, 3.5 million children living in poverty, the bedroom tax, a huge onslaught on welfare which has led to people dying, large scale privatisation of the N.H.S, privatisation of the Royal Mail and probation services, rising energy prices, a cost of living crisis, disability hate crime up, homelessness up.  We have the ability to end all this tomorrow.  But only if we vote Labour.

If elected Miliband will end the bedroom tax, ban zero hours contracts, take action on food banks, reverse the Health and Social Care Act, start a million new house builds, raise the minimum wage, take action on energy prices, ensure a fair deal for private renters, introduce a mansion tax, hire 20,000 more nurses, end the free school program and the list goes on.

The Labour party supports TTIP.  I do not.  I share the Green position. But this is one issue out of many and I would much, much rather spend my energies fighting a Labour government on that one single issue than a Conservative government on everything.

Even then, Labour has pledged to ring-fence our most valuable public service – the NHS – from TTIP.

So, since on more or less everything else the Greens and Labour are in agreement – the only question is the extent.  Greens want a minimum wage of £10 by 2020; Labour £8.  Greens want to bring the railways back into public ownership by waiting for the contracts to expire; Labour want to set up a state rail company to bid for contracts and gradually bring the railways into public ownership that way.  The Greens want to raise the top tax band to 60p; Labour want 50p.  The Greens want a complete end to privatisation in the NHS; Labour want to reverse Tory privatisation and cap profits on contracts already awarded.

The main difference between Labour and the Greens is that the Greens don’t have to worry about either large-scale electability or whether their ideas are practical.  Labour on the other hand doesn’t have the luxury of being a minor party; they can’t throw out ideas and see what sticks. If they commit to something chances are they’ll have to implement it.

Throughout the dark days of New Labour I encountered various hard-left groups, such as those mentioned earlier who insisted that Labour weren’t left-wing enough.  But I recognised that their prescriptions – basically an unreconstructed Socialism – were completely unelectable.  There was surely a path to be trodden between ‘New Labour’ and out and out Socialism (however desirable that may be) that was both properly left wing and electable.  At last in Ed Milliband’s Labour we have such a party.

Meanwhile we now have more insurgent groups who are not only insisting that Labour isn’t left enough but are taking Labour votes.  How tragic would it be that given the opportunity to vote for change – real change unlike we’ve had in years – a section of the left should deny us that opportunity by voting for the Green or SNP?

Brogan regards the first past the post voting system as “absurd” but burying your head in the sand and voting as if we have a proportional system is even more absurd.

I’m not saying under no circumstance don’t vote Green, far from it.  If you live in Brighton or a super safe seat then by all means obey your conscience.  But if you live in a Labour-Tory marginal please vote with your head not your heart, and put your cross in the red box.

Don’t #Votegreenandfeelblue #VoteLabour

*it was at this meeting that the Green party leader in Wales Pippa Bartolotti claims to have got her political awakening

The Forest of Dean reflects on events in Gaza

In A.Graham on September 3, 2014 at 9:00 pm

July – August, 2014:  Whilst Israeli forces set about the destruction of the infrastructure of Gaza, demonstrations and peace vigils have been held across Britain and the world. 

Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza continued to mount – over two thousand, most of them hapless civilians, and too many of them innocent children – before an uneasy ceasefire was declared. 

Schools have been bombed (with what seemed like pinpoint accuracy), Gaza’s one power station was put out of action – and even over-crowded hospitals were not immune from attack. 

We’re talking here about an area somewhat smaller than the Forest of Dean, but with a cramped population of 1.8 million.

Where, and how, it will end we can’t, at this stage, say.  At present the ceasefire is holding, but whether there are more horrors ahead for the people of Gaza we don’t at this stage know. But such a densely populated strip of land can only take so much punishment. 

DSC00980Photos on this page are from a peace vigil held in Coleford on July 30th. It was attended by local peace campaigners, together with many who were simply shocked and dismayed at what is happening to the people of Gaza. For them, there is no escape. Steve Parry Hearn also came along to add his support.

It’s worth adding that Mark Harper, our current MP, refrained from comment, until spurred into a response by letters from constituents. In one such communication he stated that “it is vital that all security operations (ie, the Israeli response) are conducted with due care and proportionate use of force….” but adds that “Israel has a right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks… International humanitarian law requires both sides to distinguish between military and civilian targets and enable unhindered humanitarian access”

In this, Israel has blatantly ignored such “international humanitarian law”.  By the way, it should be noted that Mark Harper is a member of Friends of Israel.

DSC00990Vigil organizer Roger Drury lights a candle for peace with Forest of Dean Labour Party 2015 parliamentary candidate Steve Parry-Hearn.

Photos by John French.

RE-DRAWING THE MIDDLE EAST: And re-visiting the film “Lawrence of Arabia”

In John Wilmot on September 3, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Recently I’ve been re-watching the classic 1960s film, Lawrence of Arabia.

It was much acclaimed at the time, winning a clutch of awards. It was directed by David Lean but backed by American money through Sam Spiegel at Columbia studios – and the US influence does tend to show through.

Much of it follows the heroic (and sometimes manic) actions of T.E. Lawrence (played by Peter O’Toole) attempting to unite the Arab tribes against the Turks during the First World War. Thus much of the action takes place in the scorching heat of the desert as the various tribes quarrel, unite, and then go on to score stirring victories over a disintegrating Turkish army. They manage to gain control of  Damascus just ahead of the British forces led by General Allenby.

But here Lawrence’s dream of creating an independent Arab state falls apart, as the various tribes once again quarrel amongst themselves, divide the loot, and leave the city.


And we become aware of a sub plot to all this action. The major players had no intention of allowing the emergence of an independent Arab nation. Instead they had plans to divide the Middle East amongst themselves.

France was to be given what became Syria (further subdivided into Syria and Lebanon), whilst Britain would take control of Iraq.  And so, as they say, it came to pass.

The Middle East and much of North Africa was to be carved up between the European nations. France had much of Morocco plus of course Algeria, and now added Syria to its portfolio. Italy had already seized control of Libya in 1912 and it was to be administered as an Italian colony until 1943.  Meanwhile, Britain added Iraq and what was then known as Transjordan to its “sphere of influence” – that already included Egypt.


It was of course a case of the imperial powers sharing out the booty. And, to complicate matters even further, under the “Balfour declaration” we also promised a “home for the Jews” in “the land known as Palestine”.

The declaration was contained in a letter sent by James Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, to Lord Rothschild in November 1917.

True, the declaration stipulated that respect should be paid to “the existing inhabitants” of Palestine. And, at the time, it was not intended that it should become effectively a Jewish state. But what the letter succeeded in doing was to spread both hope and mistrust amongst Arabs and Jews alike.

Meanwhile, Britain was given the mandate to govern Palestine by the League of Nations (fore-runner of the UN) which it fulfilled until the late 1940s.

The territory was handed back to the United Nations, which decided on partition as a solution to an increasingly intractable problem. The rest, as they say, is history.


The Arab nationalism that T.E. Lawrence had bought into so avidly endured until perhaps the 1950s. The notion that a better world, for all Arabs, could be built has now fragmented and sadly has been replaced by a divisive, sectarian, religious fervour that is tearing parts of the Middle East apart..  That sense of Arab identity still exists on paper in the form of the Arab League, but in recent conflicts it has proved to be powerless.

And maybe we can trace much of the conflict back to divisions created by the European powers at the end of the Firs World War. It’s said that we can learn from history (if we’re prepared to do so) – but sadly we can never wind back the clock.


Rising resistance in a rocky year: The Clarion’s review of 2012

In Editorial on December 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm

It’s been a rocky ride over the past year or so. Looking back to the Clarion of December 2011/January 2012, the Tory-led “austerity” programme was gathering pace, we had succeeded in defeating plans to sell off our forests – and legislation to privatise the NHS was already passing through Parliament.

But there was growing, organised, resistance to the Government’s agenda. After the riots that had swept London and other cities in August 2011, campaigners were taking to the streets with a more organised agenda. We focused attention on the “Occupy” movement, which had spread from Wall Street to the City of London. – a sign that many demonstrators had decided that enough was enough, and were keen to ensure that we didn’t forget who’d been responsible for the economic crisis – the bankers..


But it was the campaign to save the NHS from mass privatisation that occupied our attention for much of the year – and, indeed, still does. At the heart of the Tories’ plans was the fragmentation of a once-unified service, with healthcare to be farmed out to “any willing provider”. And there were plenty of those amongst the private healthcare corporations queuing up for contracts. Competition rather than co-ordination would be encouraged.

Opposition to the Tories’ plans was countrywide, not only amongst the public but also within the medical profession. Locally, the campaign against the Health and Social Care Bill was spearheaded by the “Forest Against the Cuts” group, working closely with campaigners in Stroud and Gloucester.

The Bill was finally passed on March 20th, when, as we commented, “the House of Commons delivered the death blow to the National Health Service as we’ve known it since 1948”. But one question remained both un-asked and unanswered. Why were the Tories so determined to push through the Act against such widespread opposition? After all, they’d caved in over plans to sell off our forests.

One possible answer lies in the power and persuasiveness of the private healthcare lobby, much of it US-owned. Nationally, the NHS is much more important than the Forestry Commission, overall it has an enormous budget, and consequently much more is up for grabs.

One might also ask why the Liberal Democrats had caved in and voted for the Bill. They claimed that they had helped to “reform” the original legislation, and on this basis they’d trooped through the Government lobbies in willing acquiescence. But their amendments did nothing to alter the main thrust of the legislation that was finally passed.

Local campaigners were now left with the task of defending NHS services within Gloucestershire, and trying to ensure that healthcare provision in the county would remain within the NHS. Mass petitioning was the main basis of activity, backed up by attendance at “consultation” meetings and events. Thousands of signatures were collected – and, finally, it was announced that healthcare within Gloucestershire would remain within the NHS.

This was, of course, a victory – but a limited one. We are still faced with an Act of Parliament that deliberately encourages the private sector. We have a new Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt, who has made no secret of his desire to “denationalise the provision of health care in Britain.”

And, of course, contracts for provision of health care services will be subject to renewal – and possible change. Who’s to say that three or four years down the line, our hospitals and clinics will remain within the NHS? After all, the ultimate aim of the Act is to reduce the NHS to an empty shell, with provision in the hands of private companies. Faced with tight budget controls (effectively leaving healthcare with less money), we still have a long and continuing fight ahead of us. We need continued vigilance if we’re to protect the NHS from its predators.
Another issue affecting our communities has been the remorseless impact of cuts in public spending at both national and local level. Such cuts are not merely a “one off” imposition. Each budget year, local authorities are expected to tighten their belts just a bit more.
Already, public libraries have been threatened, youth services reduced to a bare minimum – or less – legal aid services are being axed, and thousands of public sector jobs have been lost. And the Government hides much of this under the bogus slogan, “localisation” – otherwise known as passing the buck.
So, where will it end? If many in the Government have their way, with the gutting of the public sector.
The public sector unions have, of course, been fighting the cuts in services and to their livelihood. Clarion readers were on the march in Gloucester at the end of 2011, and again in London in October 2012 (see report on page 9 of this issue).
Whatever our views on Europe may be we must surely view Cameron’s shenanigans at the EU budget summit with (at least) distaste. He was posturing for effect – partly to appease his anti-Euro backbenchers, and partially to pretend that he could be as macho as the next man.
Cameron wants more austerity, more cuts in the Euro budget – whilst countries like Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal are suffering from the cuts already imposed. Where do you want it all to end, Mr. Cameron?

THE PLIGHT OF PALESTINE: Experiences of occupation

Jane Harries is from South Wales. She is a Quaker, and has been involved in the “Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel”. And in November she came to the Forest, to the Bailey Inn, Yorkley, to give us the background to her work in the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank.

The Ecumenical volunteers in Palestine have certain set roles. They are there to monitor and report violations of human rights; to offer protection through a non-violent presence; to support Israeli and Palestine peace activists – and to pass on their experiences at meetings back in the UK and Ireland.

Jane opened her talk with a look at the small Palestinian community of Yanoun on the West Bank, where she was based. It is now surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements and outposts, together with what have been designated “security areas” – blocking Palestinian access to much of their land and their olive groves.

Those who have set up these settlements in the Yahoun area are religiously motivated “and quite extreme”. Palestinian residents are constantly harassed in attempts to drive them from their homes. In this creeping process of settlement, 40 per cent of the West Bank is now occupied, reducing the integrity of the area. It is being ruthlessly torn apart, so that it now resembles “Swiss cheese” – in a clear violation of human international law. Jane talked of events in 2002, when threats from the settlers forced those living in Yahoun to leave their homes. However publicity and pressure allowed them to return. But harassment continues. Local people have had their sheep shot, and olive trees destroyed. The Israeli Army on the spot should have been there to protect local inhabitants – but instead Palestinian villagers have been fired on and wounded by soldiers as they attempted to defend their livelihood.

The Jordan valley, to the east is the “bread basket” of the West Bank – but 56 per cent of it is now taken up by closed military areas. To those who live on the West Bank, access to water and sanitation is vital. But the pumping stations now provide water exclusively to the Israeli settlements. Palestinian communities have to have it transported, and pay for the privilege – and Jane gave one example of villagers scraping by on as little water as possible, whilst one settlement boasted of a “fish farm”!

Jane also met up with Israeli peace groups, who are working away to improve relations between the two communities, and improve the lot of Palestinians. One group of Israeli women organises “sea days” for Palestinian children, who are taken on trips to the seaside. Meanwhile, in Sokrot, close to the Gaza border, another group calling itself “the Other Voice” has been formed, with the slogan, “Yes to Coexistence. No to Violence.”

Education is very important to Palestinian families – yet the provision of schools is very patchy. Access to settlement schools is denied, and Palestinian children often have to travel long distances to reach their nearest school.

Palestinian communities, meanwhile, put much faith in the international support that they receive – and this includes the tireless work provided by those like Jane Harries and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme.

The Limits of Violence

In Guest Feature on October 21, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Through the example of Baader Meinhof, Richard Huffman from Seattle, USA questions violence as a serious means of social protest.

When I marched in the November 30, 1999 anti-WTO rally here in my hometown of Seattle, the brutal tactics and sporadic yet stunning violence by the Seattle Police felt eerily similar to a catastrophic Berlin protest a generation ago. On June 2, 1967 tens of thousands of young Germans, many of them students at Berlin’s Free University, lined up on Kaiser Wilhelm Strasse early in the evening to protest a visit by the Shah of Iran. By the end of that night, however, a young pacifist lay dead, shot by the police.

After the rally, thousands of angry, frustrated students converged at the Berlin offices of the leading student organisation – the Socialist German Student Union. Among those present was a young woman called Gudrun Ensslin who declared “This fascist state means to kill us all! We must organize resistance. Violence is the only way to answer violence. This is the Auschwitz Generation, and there’s no arguing with them!”

This article looks at Gudrun’s exclamation asking whether her experience offers us a warning as to the limits to violence just as there are limits to our consent.

While leader of the Socialist Student Union – “Red” Rudi Dutschke – was sympathetic to Ensslin’s goals he proposed “a long march through the institutions”. For her part, Ensslin went on to form the Red Army Faction – the “Baader-Meinhof Gang”.

During the next decade Ensslin, intent on bringing a form of Socialist Revolution to Germany, and the 50 or so young Germans who joined her and her boyfriend Andreas Baader, embarked on a campaign of bloody terror throughout West Germany. The R.A.F. blew up symbols of capitalism like department stores; killed American soldiers and high-ranking figures on the West German Supreme Court. They kidnapped wealthy and influential German industrialists, blew up the German embassy in Stockholm and high-jacked a Lufthansa jet.

Others meanwhile chose the path of Rudi Dutschke instead.

In time it was these activists who built a new progressive German environmental movement that went on to found the Green Party in 1979 and, twenty years later, sharing Government in coalition with the SPD.

The Baader-Meinhof gang’s adherence to violence made a considerable impact on German society. At first their actions held the support of a new post-war generation. Polls showed an extraordinary number of Germans supported their cause in one way or another: 20 percent of Germans under the age of 30 expressed “a certain sympathy” for the Baader-Meinhof Gang; one in ten young northern Germans indicated they would willingly shelter a member for the night.

But as the violence increased empathy decreased. Before their pursuits West Germany had no national police force as such and it was in response to their terror campaign, the BKA (which later became the German equivalent of the FBI) was created. Instead of progressing social justice their actions lead the German government to pass sweeping laws that restricted the rights of average citizens; instituted loyalty oaths for all civil servants, and random general searches of peoples’ homes was not uncommon. And yet this was exactly what the R.A.F. hoped would happen.

They anticipated German state repression and expected it to be applied with disproportionate violence. Their hope was the proletariat would be shocked from their complacency and would spontaneously rise up in revolution.

Instead the German population, angered and frightened by the violence, applauded their government’s repressive response. Seven million ‘Wanted’ posters were printed.

Within five days of their May 1972 week of terror, all the ring-leaders were in jail. Within five years they were all dead. After an airplane hijacking by Palestinian comrades failed to secure the release of the three imprisoned leaders of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe all committed suicide deep in the night of October 17, 1977.

Activists marched on Berlin in 1967 in anger. Out of that anger came Baader-Meinhof. Their rage sought to change German society but failed. Now their generations’ “long march through the institutions” has borne fruit: in 2003 when much of the West marched to Stop the War on Iraq, Germans marched in support of their Government and their decision not to participate in it.

©2010 Copyright the author. Sourced & edited by C. Spiby; this article first appeared as two articles and in a different form in Satya magazine, March 2004.

The promised land?

In R.Richardson, Reviews on August 10, 2010 at 3:06 pm

‘Journey to Nowhere’ by Eva Figes

Non-fiction/memoir. Review by Ruth Richardson

I had read several novels by Eva Figes, but her latest work seemed a departure from her usual writing, and sounded particularly interesting.

In fact, Journey to Nowhere was not what I expected. The framework is the story of a Jewish woman’s survival in war-torn Berlin and her post-war emigration to Palestine. The woman is Edith, formerly a maid in the household of Eva Figes’ family. The family were well-to-do Jews who managed to get out of Berlin in the nick of time in 1939. Edith was left behind, and it was ten years later when she came to London that Eva Figes caught up with her story.

The first section of the book details the life of the Unger family (Eva’s parents) as she remembered it. She was only six when the family escaped to London, so her memories of that time are inevitably fragmented. But she conveys a sense of happy family life with skiing holidays and weekends in the summer cottage – a life which changed quite quickly. Eva’s parents soon knew that, as a Jewish family, life for them in Berlin would no longer be viable, and were preoccupied with arrangements that would secure their future. Eva was often left in the care of Edith who came to be her friend.

Fortunately the Unger family had money. They paid a considerable sum to leave and their sponsor was a Rothschild.

In 1948 a letter arrived in London from Edith asking for her old job back. So she came, and little by little the young Eva learnt her story. Edith had survived the round-up of the Jews, the bombing of Berlin and the final battle when Russian troops reached the city. Edith’s account of her life in the war-torn city is told in a series of conversations with Eva. When Edith first had to wear her yellow star she was ashamed, but in fact ordinary Berliners often treated her with sympathy, offering her a seat on the tram and giving her small gifts. She was sheltered by a whole succession of people “sometimes just for a couple of nights, sometimes for several weeks.”

Once the war was over and mere survival was no longer an imperative, Edith took stock of her life. By chance she met an old acquaintance, Elsa, who had trained as a volunteer for Palestine. Now her job was to recruit survivors for what would soon become the new Jewish state of Israel. So with nothing to keep her in Berlin, Edith decided to go. She was sent to a kibbutz and from the outset was deeply unhappy. Eva was amazed. British newsreels were full of “happy camp survivors reaching the Promised Land”. But Edith found herself ostracised because she came from Germany. German Jews were not true Zionists and, even more damning, wanted to establish friendly relations with the Arabs. “Everyone hated everyone else,” said Edith.”

Eva Figes quotes Olivia Manning describing Palestine during the war as “an awful place… all in small communities each one trying to corner everything for themselves, jobs, food, flats, houses.” Edith felt despised and was told she had only herself to blame. She should have left Germany and answered the call of Zion years before.

The young Eva found it hard to come to terms with Edith’s account. But the final section of the book is an analysis of the setting up of the state of Israel, the mistakes made and the parts played by the big powers. Eva Figes is particularly fierce in her attack on US policies. A quota system had been in force for European Jewish immigrants, and even after the war with perhaps 250,000 in displaced persons camps, this was not relaxed.

Eva Figes describes in some detail the negotiations between Britain with its mandate to govern Palestine and the US who wanted to wash their hands of it. The UN was involved and, partly due to US intervention, a majority came out in favour of partition – in effect giving a mandate for the creation of the state of Israel. Ernest Bevin declared at the time, “I think the Arab feeling in this question has been under-estimated.”

Eva Figes’ final chapter pulls no punches in her condemnation of that decision. “It is difficult to think of any other political decision taken in the 20th Century that has had such long-term and catastrophic consequences,” she writes.

This book, part memoir, part polemic, deserves to be widely read. Although the personal experiences described date from sixty years ago, the insight into the present situation in the Middle East is illuminating, and should concern us all.

Price £14.99, from Granta.