The Man on the Clapham Omnibus is a concept used by English law courts. The term was introduced into English law during the Victorian era, and in recent years has morphed into a more socially acceptable Person on the Clapham Omnibus. This hypothetical person is reasonably educated, reasonably intelligent, prudent and normally exercises due care while avoiding extremes of both audacity and caution. Such a person acts as an example against whom a defendant’s actions can be judged.
The exact nature of this reasonable person is unknown. Over the years, we have learned more as a result of judges’ decisions in various cases; for example, a reasonable person is not drunk, a reasonable, short-sighted, person does not drive without glasses. As society changes, new cases reveal more characteristics. although we will never have a complete description.
With a daily rain of rockets from our neighbours in Gaza, our reasonable government is certainly “avoiding extremes of both audacity and caution.” Hopefully, as thousands of dunams of farmland and national park go up in smoke, our government is not drunk. As our brave young soldiers are shot by snipers hiding amongst children, we wonder whether our short-sighted government’s glasses are firmly in place. Perhaps our government is setting a new standard for “reasonable” behaviour?
I have my own reasonable person — Len Palmer. Glancing through the ever more depressing news headlines, I find myself asking what would Len Palmer do? Len Palmer has had a lot of experience with difficult, almost impossible situations but has always found the right answer. Like the American government, he has taken on the drug lords south of the US border and come out on top. Like our government, he has faced Iranian treachery and, against all odds, has stopped the Iranian nuclear weapons program in its tracks. Aided by his beautiful wife, Len Palmer is the very personification of a reasonable person.
But who, you ask, is this Len Palmer? Well, Len is an English ski-lift designer. We know quite a lot about Len. He is 35, tall, pleasant features, not handsome, blue eyes, light hair. He is an enthusiastic amateur skier who owns a company designing ski lifts. All in all, a most reasonable man.
And one last detail; he doesn’t exist — there is no such person. Len Palmer is just a figment of my imagination; a person who lives in the Len Palmer Mysteries. When I started to write these books back in 1990, the world was a very different place, where reasonable people took reasonable actions.
In December 1992, Hamas’s newly created military branch, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, kidnapped and murdered a border police officer (Senior Sergeant Nissim Toledano). Israel’s response was very reasonable; 415 leading figures of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were deported to Lebanon. The UN Security Council failed to ask what the Person on the Clapham Omnibus would have done and issued a unanimous resolution condemning the action.
In 2004, Hamas leaders attempted to project a reasonable face to world opinion. Ahmed Yassin said that Hamas would end armed resistance in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi offered a 10-year truce, a hudna, in return for a Palestinian state and Israel’s withdrawal from the territories taken in the 1967 Six Day War. Hamas had concluded, Al-Rantissi said, that it was “difficult to liberate all our land at this stage, so we accept a phased liberation.” You can’t be more reasonable than that!
Israel was not convinced; al-Rantissi’s statements were insincere and a smokescreen for military preparations. Taking the only reasonable action against these sworn enemies, Israeli air strikes killed both Yassin and al-Rantisi in early 2004.
Today we have no one to guide us. The Clapham Omnibus is no more. Len Palmer, in my third book, is trapped in a diamond mine as I try to find a way to get him out. The actions of the Palestinians, burning our lands and suffocating themselves with burning tyres, fail any test of reason. Our government is certainly avoiding extremes of both audacity and caution, but in today’s reality this is not reasonable. We need extreme audacity to stop the terror, to prevent further damage to our green land, and we need extreme caution to avoid all-out war on both the northern and southern borders.
But enough of this blog. I’ll get back to writing about Len Palmer — perhaps he can give us a reason for hope.