Wednesday, February 24, 2010

'No olive branch of peace, we're British ?' Visa ban is not fair!

THEY'VE DONE IT AGAIN. First it was a Palestinian under-19 soccer side, invited to Chester, to train with the local club and play three friendly fixtures with English teams. Everything was set up for these lads to get a break from the awful conditions in Gaza, when HM government's man refused to let them have visas.

Now we go from footballers to farmers. Palestinian farmers are proud of their produce, particularly their quality olive oil. They have been having a hard time of it, what with Israeli bulldozers tearing up olive groves in the path of the "security wall", which then prevents villagers reaching their fields, and if they do manage to get a crop, the nuisance of frequent road blocks.

So when three Palestinian farmers were invited here to attend Fair Trade fortnight it should have been a proud and happy occasion. The farmers, from newly certified co-operatives, whose olive oil is the only one in the world to bear the Fairtrade mark, had been invited by the UK social enterprise Zaytoun.

They were due to arrive this week, and would have attended events in England, Scotland and Wales, meeting potential buyers here as well as Non-Governmental Organisations with an interest in fair trade and economic development.

But this welcome development has been thwarted by the British government denying them visas.

What makes this denial even more galling, as tour supporters point out, is this report from a year ago:

'Gordon Brown said he was "delighted" by the launch, marking the start of Fairtrade Fortnight, the annual campaign urging people to buy goods with the internationally recognised mark designed to ensure producers from poorer countries get a fair price and long-term security.
Brown said: "Olive oil production provides an essential part of the West Bank economy. In buying this oil, British shoppers wil be helping the farmers of Palestine to make a living.'

This was bound to encourage optimism that the British government, if not actively helping efforts for fair trade and development for Palestinins, would at least not stand in the way. Hundreds of people have worked hard for months to organise events that would enabled these Palestinian farmers like those from elsewhere to make friendly contacts and present Palestinian Fairtrade produce.

The irony is that this blow to the Palestinians comes while people here have been waiting to see what the British government does about the misuse of British passports by a Mossad hit team in Dubai to murder a Palestinian official. Israeli produce continues to enjoy privileged access to Britain and other EU countries, and goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank are on sale in British supermarkets.

With Tony Blair counting Middle East peace envoy among the most prestigious roles in his remunerative portfolio, the British government continues to insist that it believes in the so-called two-state solution, for which Israeli expansion continues to lessen the hopes and prospects. But whenever it has the opportunity to inspire confidence, and show that it means what it says, by encouraging Palestinians to make their own constructive efforts, and recognising their rightful place among nations, it does the opposite.

First, it was the football team. Now it is the farmers. Stopping them coming is also stopping us meeting and hearing from them. It is a slap in the face for the Palestinians and for all who want to see fair play, fair trade, and a genuine peace with justice.

When it happened to the football players, David Milliband was new to his job, and got away with passing on protest letters to some Foreign and Commonwealth Office official nobody had heard of, to give a reply in officialese that said nothing we understood. Now Milliband has been in the job long enough, whether or not he is any better at it, and it is time he and the government were tackled, and told to let the Palestinian farmers in!

PLEASE LOBBY your local MP. You can email them via these websites:

PLEASE CALL The FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) on 020 7008 1500

Sign the petition, let Palestinian farmers in to Fair Trade Weekend:



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