Published on August 8th, 2014 |
by Chris Cooper-Davies
Britain’s response to the Israel-Palestine conflict is inadequate and unethical
‘Free! Free!’…’Palestine’, bellowed the crown at Parliament Square’s Palestine rally last Saturday. The reverberations no doubt echoed throughout Westminster, perhaps even down Whitehall, for up to 15,000 people crammed the streets in indignation at Israel’s recent assault of the Gaza strip. The congregation was diverse. Atheist, Jews, Christians and Muslims, from across the country and from innumerable ethnic, class and philosophical backgrounds took part. Such diversity was reflected by a general disagreement among the crowd and speakers about what ‘freeing Palestine’ and, therefore, solving the age-old Israel-Palestine conflict might entail. Some clearly favoured the infamous two state solution, with an Israel shrunk, perhaps to its pre-1967 borders. Others advocated the farcical notion that Israel and Palestine could merge into a single nation with Arabs and Jews living in perfect harmony impinged by almost a century of conflict. While others, although few said it plainly, yearned for something far more sinister: the complete annihilation of Israel.
Despite this, the crowd was united in their contention that the British government’s response to the crisis, of defending Israel’s right to defend itself; blaming Hamas for starting the war; condemning Israel only for the ‘proportionality’ of their response; and essentially pledging to do nothing in practise to stop the tide of Israeli violence, has been entirely inadequate and unethical.
The disappointing nature of the response is eye-opening. Not least of all because it is built on a lie. Hamas did not start the recent crisis. Israel, blaming Hamas without evidence for the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, orchestrated the war by rounding up hundreds, and killing several Hamas operatives in the West Bank, declaring their intention to make Hamas ‘pay’ for the kidnapping. Hamas responded accordingly and gave Israel the war it had been trying to provoke.
The rhetoric of ‘proportionality’ is equally worrying. As numerous MPs pointed out during the Commons debate on the issue last week, over a thousand civilians have been killed, many of them children. Can a civilised nation really reduce condemnation of this outrage to a critique of military proportionality? Does’t the use of the word imply that, if Hamas had killed a few more Israeli civilians through their rocket attacks, there would be absolutely no cause for concern because murdering innocence would then be an entirely proportional response?
As well as this, the response also shows how little anything has changed in the past 70 odd years. For the sake of Anglo-American relations, Britain will not condemn, and have never condemned, Israel. We have been bound to a policy of passivity, verging on a policy of outright Israeli support, since 1948. Indeed, the year 1948 itself produced the mind-numbing spectacle of British troops leaving Palestine amidst the violence of the first Arab-Israeli war and, because of various political pressures – not least of all from America – doing absolutely nothing to stop the fighting or save innocent lives.
All this is made worse by the fact we as a nation, because of our post World War One meddling in the Middle East, cannot consider ourselves third-party onlookers in this crisis. We do, after-all, have a fair share of responsibility for the whole mess. One needed only to glance around Parliament Square during Saturday’s protest and observe the statues of British statesmen gone, specifically David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. If it were not for Lloyd George, who presided over the signing of the Balfour Declarations- Britain’s first pledge to support for Zionism in 1917 – and Churchill, who oversaw the implementation of this policy during the 1920’s and subsequently ensured the Zionist cause was always well orated in parliament – it is unlikely Israel would ever have come into existence. If only, I thought, as I observed the spectacle, Clement Attlee’s figure had graced the square as well; then we would have had a complete set of British prime ministerial proponents of Zionism.
Because, therefore, we as a nation must take the lion’s share of responsibility for the creation of Israel, Britain has a post-imperial responsibility to work for a lasting and peaceful settlement to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. At the moment, such a peaceful settlement can only be achieved, first by realising that Israel has severely overstepped the mark this time; second by breaking the 70-year-old tradition of toeing without fault America’s line in the Middle East; and third by throwing in the policy of passivity for a policy of action. Not military action, but economic and humanitarian action. Apply sanctions against Israel, as one should against any war mongering nation; terminate the arms trade with them; and, if they still persist, send their ambassador to the UK running for the hills.
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