One of the most enjoyable things I do as MP for Bristol West is visiting the more than forty schools in the constituency. The children of all ages always have an amazing assortment of questions. When asked what is the best part of the job I reply that it’s the sheer variety, no day is the same. One week can see the mundane and the extraordinary, pavement politics and international relations.
The last week has been no exception. On Saturday I joined the congregation of the Bristol & West Progressive Jews as they celebrated the golden jubilee of their group. The Rabbi prayed facing the wall. Just the week before I’d been in East Jerusalem witnessing the same scene at the Western Wall, the most sacred site in the world for Jews.
I was able to discuss with the Bristol faithful what I’d seen on a Parliamentary delegation to Palestine-Israel. I am the co chair of the Council for Arab British Understanding, which sponsored the visit along with Medical Aid for Palestinians. On our four day visit we met everyone from Beduin shepherds to representatives of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Government.
For some people a visit to Jerusalem, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims and to Hebron, burial place of Abraham, the father of all three faiths, is a spiritually uplifting experience. But the politics of it all left me downcast and gloomy.
The Palestinian farmers we met in the West Bank had endured encroachments on their land by Israeli ‘settlers’. A common site was a water tanker delivery as the local springs have been secured by the settlers. Israeli settlements have been established all over the West Bank, splitting up the putative Palestinian state.
One such settlement is right in the middle of Hebron, next to the Mosque and Synagogue where Abraham and Sarah are buried. Hebron should be a World Heritage Site and like Bath would get visitors from all over the world to enjoy its architecture and ancient history. Instead it’s a ghost town, its centre hollowed out with deserted streets and shops sealed up by the Israeli army. It really is a tragedy, with neither Israeli or Arab being able to enjoy the town.
Back to Bristol West. The synagogue I visited was in Easton. Within a square mile I have previously visited Christian churches of all denominations and mosques built by Somalis, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. I’ve always received a warm welcome in each. All nationalities and faiths have made their home in Bristol. Every big city has its problems but Bristolians live together in harmony. Sometimes it is well to remember how lucky we are and to spare a thought for those less fortunate in other parts of the world.
[NB this was written as my MP column for the Bristol Evening Post]