Saturday 9 January 2010

Blog-log day 11 - into the Knesset, seeing for myself

So just how do you go about getting a balanced view of Israel and the conflict here in the Middle East?

I'm not sure there is a clear answer, but I'm here in Israel and there's no ducking some of the issues here.

So over the last 10 days I have been meeting up with residents (many of whom are not politically active), I have met with a number of interest groups, I've discussed domestic affairs like health and education and I have met with a range of politicians.

Going to the Knesset (The Israeli Parliament) was really interesting. I visited 15 years ago when I was President of the Students' Union at Nottingham University on a trip organised by the Union of Jewish Students. But this time my understanding of paliamentary democracy is a tad more attuned - and I've come under my own steam. I have met with a range of MKs (Knesset Members - equivalent to MPs) of many parties/factions and heard a wide spectrum of opinions and views.

I've been getting The Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz newspapers each day (both in English) and they are at different ends of the Israeli political spectrum. I've been avidly reading and consuming news and conversation.

This weekend - my last few days here - I'll be in Ramallah on the West Bank and hopefully will get into Gaza as well - a mixture of seeing for myself as well as deepening my understanding. The walls, the Hamas rockets, the Israeli airstrike yesterday, the heightened sense of tension and even the Hamas in a stand-off against Egypt - all have a very different impact when they are taking place a few miles away from where you are staying.

One of the major concerns here is international opinion - not as some voice of conscience, but because of the role politicians play in shaping peace and aggression. So Barack Obama, not unsurprisingly, looms large. The general view, as far as I can ascertain it, is that at last America has a President capable of understanding complexities and nuances - that not everything is black and white - and nuance isn't a bland subtlety but a crucial part of effective diplomacy.

So the remaining issue to explain through this blog post is why I'm here - specifically. On that first visit 16 years ago I was totally taken by the heady mix of dust, history, religion and heat - my degree on Ancient History helped to instill me with an understanding of the age of the emotions and conflicts (it's useful knowing your Titus from your Hadrian!). I have a strong belief that even hard problems can be solved - it's years of playing chess, I think, that has forced that home.

So I'm visiting Israel with just 12 or so weeks before Gordon Brown finally goes to the polls. And I return to the UK (snow permitting!) charged up with enthusiam and passion - but also with understanding and empathy. Anyone can make a speech on a subject, but to speak from experience and knowledge is far more convincing. In Hampstead and Kilburn local residents want an MP who knows the issues, understands their concerns and who can engage in the dialogue.

Having renewed my links here in the Middle East, gained a better and fresher understanding and seeing much much more for myself I'm ready for the challenge and I'm willing to go further. I say to local residents in north west London - I know the issues, I understand your concerns and my views are drawn from personal experience and a preparedness to get out into the field and see it for myself.

Note: The trip is organised, planned and funded entirely by myself - I have had no official support from anyone in arranging appointments or meetings - it is all at my own initiative. I have been on the buses, met in the cafes, walked the markets - it has not been about chauffered cars or going where someone else wanted me to go. A snapshot, but I hope a valid one. The final clarification is that I'm neither jewish nor muslim, I have a faith but it is my own.

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