A passion for Palestine

Former Hunts Post columnist Stuart Littlewood has written a book called Radio Free Palestine, an ironic title. In it, he chronicles the daily struggles of ordinary Palestinians under the yoke of Israel and against a background of indifference or worse fro

Former Hunts Post columnist Stuart Littlewood has written a book called Radio Free Palestine, an ironic title. In it, he chronicles the daily struggles of ordinary Palestinians under the yoke of Israel and against a background of indifference or worse from the world's most influential political leaders. IAN MacKELLAR reviews the book in a week that has seen a Palestinian patriarch celebrate mass in St Ives's Roman Catholic church.

Two things seem odd about the modern state of Israel. The first is that it seems to have learned little from atrocities perpetrated on the Jews (and others) by the Nazis, other than to replicate them, with the Palestinians as victims.

There are also echoes of Nazi Lebensraum in the annexation of huge tracts of the Holy Land to which they have no lawful right, with the excuse of "national security". They have the backing, or tacit connivance, of the White House and Downing Street, even in the face of explicit UN resolutions demanding their withdrawal to pre-1967 boundaries.

Part of the problem lies in powerful Jewish interests in the US and Britain that back Israel, because it has called itself "the Jewish state".

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The second oddity is that those who dare to criticise are branded "anti-Semitic".

The notion of Israel as a liberal western democracy is simply a myth. It is a closed, repressive and expansionist banana republic, backed blindly by American Jews and by US and British arms, and controlled by ultra-right-wing Orthodox Jewry. It is the cause of most of the conflict in the Middle East, including the West's abject failure to secure lasting peace in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

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This is the basic thesis of Radio Free Palestine by Stewart Littlewood.

Littlewood is no historian. He is simply a campaigner for the Palestinian voice that is drowned out by stun grenades, mortar bombs and Jerusalem's and Washington's rhetoric. Nor is it an academic work. It is a cri de coeur on behalf of the oppressed people of Palestine that their voice should be heard.

It is immensely readable, and his photographs are good. He compels you to share the Palestinians' anger at their treatment and the Israelis' cynical undermining of the Palestinian economy and young people's future.

He is emphatic that he is not anti-Jewish - he records countless examples of brave Jews denouncing what Israel is doing in their name and to their shame - but he is equally emphatically anti-Zionist.

There is real, infectious passion here, as he reminds readers that Christians, Muslims and Jews share the same God and, in Jerusalem, the same holy place, even if the minority of zealots in each religion believe theirs is the only route to Heaven. The rest of us might say it was the route to hell.

Littlewood's co-author, Philip Vine, adds some dully repetitive anecdotes and some poetry - some of it tediously precious, other verses inspired. But that is often the way with modern free verse.

It's well worth a tenner for 170-odd beautifully-illustrated pages.

INFORMATION: Radio Free Palestine by Stuart Littlewood, with Philip Vine. Paradise Publishing, 15 Needingworth Road, St Ives: telephone 01480 374826. £9.99 (£13.49 by post from Holy Land 2003, PO Box 140, St Ives, PE27 9AP). www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk

The book also features the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Bishop Michel Sabbah, who was at the Church of the Sacred Heart, in St Ives, on Sunday. The parish is twinned with the Aboud parish in Palestine, and the visit was a gesture of thanks to the parish priest, Father Paul Maddison, and his parishioners for the support they have given to the community in Aboud.

Over the last five years, the St Ives parish has raised more than £50,000 to fund projects such as providing Internet access for the local school, books for the school library, renovation of townspeople's houses and providing medical and humanitarian aid.

The patriarch went on to visit the Roman Catholic Bishop of East Anglia before undertaking the annual diocesan pilgrimage to Walsingham, and flying home to Jerusalem yesterday (Tuesday).

INFORMATION: Patriarchs are the bishops of the five original apostolic dioceses, so are regarded as being in direct succession to the apostles of Jesus. These five dioceses are Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Rome. As Patriarch of Jerusalem, Bishop Michel is responsible for the Roman Catholic Church in Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Cyprus. A visit from a patriarch is an event of great importance and honour for any Roman Catholic parish.

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