Do world leaders today even know the underlying causes of the Holy Land’s misery?
Hansard is the official verbatim report of proceedings in the UK Parliament. You’d expect powerful intellectual stimulation, especially from the House of Lords, but too often the record reads like pulp fiction, punctuated as always with antique language, flowery manners and a pinch of pompous poppycock. But from behind it all emerge some uncomfortable truths.
For example, in the House of Lords on 27 January we were presented with this:
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assistance they have given to the people of Gaza over the last three months.
Baroness Northover (Government Spokesperson in the House of Lords on International Development): My Lords, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is precarious. There is a significant danger that food, water and fuel will run out later this year. The UK is a leading provider of humanitarian support, which includes supporting the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, to provide basic services, providing food vouchers to vulnerable households, supporting the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide humanitarian assistance and supporting the UN Access Coordination Unit to assist the passage of personnel and humanitarian aid.
Israel aiming to make Gaza “unliveable” by 2020?
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that response. The humanitarian aid is terribly important, particularly when the 1.7 million people in Gaza are now living life at breaking point, with 11,000 people displaced by last month’s floods. Fuel shortages are such that donkey carts have replaced cars…. the streets are overflowing with raw sewage and, with nearly 50% unemployment, the situation is like a tinderbox. The United Nations has said that Gaza will be unliveable by 2020, so what are Her Majesty’s Government doing…. so that a final settlement can be reached for people to live in civilised form next door to each other?
Baroness Northover: My noble friend is right. The UN has described Gaza as being currently in a state of de-development…. We strongly support the peace process. Meanwhile we are of course asking Israel to ease the blockade immediately, but in supporting the peace process we hope to see a two-state solution. The aim is to achieve a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, with all issues—borders, Jerusalem, refugees, all of them—addressed.
She doesn’t miss the opportunity to recite that same old mantra: a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestine, which peddles the obnoxious idea that Palestinians don’t qualify for security of their own, now or in the future. Lord Warner intervened to point out that the situation in Gaza had been intolerable ever since Operation Cast Lead, five years ago. “In the past six months, how many meetings have this Government had with the Israeli Government about lifting this blockade, which is a cause of great humanitarian suffering to the Gaza population, 50% of whom are children?” Baroness Northover didn’t know; she would write to him with the number.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield then spoke up: “My Lords, following Egypt’s closure of the tunnels… will the Minister give an assurance that the Department for International Development will adjust its aid package accordingly, to try to address some of the terrible suffering….?”
Baroness Northover said the UK and EU were putting in massive amounts of assistance. “However, the tunnels themselves help to fund Hamas and this is an opportunity to encourage Israel to open the borders there and to support the moderate elements in Gaza…. The international organisations are saying that the underlying causes of the problems need to be addressed. The immediate shortages are being dealt with adequately.”
Baroness Morris of Bolton, who is also president of Medical Aid for Palestinians and the trade envoy, acknowledged that some industrial fuel had reached Gaza but it was not enough and well below demand level. “Hospitals have regular power cuts and some families have only 12 hours of power a day…. What are we doing to ensure that more fuel is going in now? It will take a long time to solve the peace process but we can do something to alleviate the hardship now.”
“Those shortages are being addressed,” replied Baroness Northover. “However, the most important issue here is to address the underlying root causes of these problems.”
So, we’re told the life-threatening shortages are being dealt with “adequately” – an obvious lie – and, anyway, none of that is as important as addressing the underlying root causes. Her rather cruel remark actually touches on the crux of the whole nasty business, though without explaining what the root causes are. Who in Westminster remembers? They go back nearly 100 years. They came to a murderous head in 1948 and have been a pain in the ass to the entire world, not just the Palestinians, ever since.
And they’ve never been properly addressed…
Lord Sydenham described the main cause when, in 1922, he issued this awful warning in the same House of Lords: “The harm done by dumping down an alien population upon an Arab country… may never be remedied… What we have done is, by concessions, not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, to start a running sore in the East, and no one can tell how far that sore will extend.”
What has Her Majesty’s Government been doing since then to heal the sore and reduce the harm? Answer: nothing, except make a spectacle of itself endlessly grovelling to the grasping racist regime in Tel Aviv and pandering to its every whim. Asking Israel to do this, urging Israel to stop doing that is a waste of time. Israel simple says, “We’ll do as we please, we’ll steal all we want. Get off our back and sign us up for more trade benefits.” And the buffoons in Westminster, Berlin, Brussels. Madrid and Paris tug their forelock and say, “Yes-sir, Mr Netanyahu, anything you and your hoodlums say!”
The stain on British honour
Meanwhile, back in the Upper House Lord Hylton was asking what assessment HMG had made of the current situation in the Gaza Strip following the recent severe floods; whether UNRWA is now receiving promised construction materials; whether aid is being received from Qatar; and what is HMG’s assessment of the prospects for the full reopening of crossings into Egypt?
Baroness Northover replied that UNRWA was unable to proceed with twenty projects worth over $42million due to Israel’s continuing block on construction materials into Gaza. “We remain concerned at the frequent closures of the Rafah crossing, and the additional pressure that this puts on the fragile humanitarian situation.”
Lord Hylton, pressing further, asked what recent representations HMG had made to the government of Israel about the blockade of Gaza.
Baroness Warsi (Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office) said the British Embassy in Tel Aviv had raised the need for a major easing of Israel’s restrictions with the Israeli National Security Council. The Minister of State for International Development, Alan Duncan, had also raised the issue with the Israeli government during his recent visit between 12-15 January. “On both occasions, UK concerns were noted.”
Noted? Only noted? HMG is content with that, your ladyship?
Two month earlier The Lord Bishop of Worcester had asked about the confiscation of humanitarian aid and the prevention of access to communities in need of emergency assistance. On that occasion Baroness Northover replied: “Where humanitarian aid is needed, Israel is obliged under international humanitarian law to facilitate the work of humanitarian relief schemes. Our Embassy in Tel Aviv has raised this issue with the Israeli National Security Adviser and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
Why on earth does the UK, which provides considerable funds for humanitarian aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, tolerate Israel’s confiscations, import restrictions, bans on essential materials and outright wrecking of infrastructure paid for by British taxpayers? Israel’s repeated breaches of humanitarian law only cause issues to be “raised”. There are never any consequences for the psychopaths and they lose no sleep. Impunity rules. Not only that, Britain regularly rewards Israel for its delinquent behaviour by strengthening trading and technology ties.
Back to basics: remember your manners, say sorry, make amends
Perhaps those noble ladies Northover and Warsi and their ermine-robed colleagues in Government are not au fait with the wisdom of Lord Sydenham. Perhaps they don’t know about the machinations of that arrogant fool, Arthur Balfour, or even the sinister carve-up of the Middle East by Messrs Sykes and Picot. Perhaps they are unaware that the whole episode is a stain on British honour which hasn’t washed off to this day.
The Big Question puzzling all right-minded people remains unanswered… Why is the Holy Land, 66 years after Partition, still under foreign military occupation and total blockade when international law and the United Nations say it shouldn’t be? Or to put it bluntly, how can a bunch of terrorists in this day and age take over a treasured and blessed land by unlawful means, expel or subjugate the rightful inhabitants, and get away with it?
For world leaders who can’t give a sensible answer, this excellent document will help. It’s a report on Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under international law, and its violations, and the implications for EU policy. They should read it and act on it. Other recommended reading for parliamentarians includes Challenges to International Humanitarian Law: Israel’s Occupation Policy by Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Sydenham said the harm done may never be remedied. Ninety-two years later (and counting) he’s still right. Exasperated people across the globe are now entitled to say to their leaders: “You’ve had your chance. Your grubby allegiances and treacherous pledges to foreign powers disgust us. We demand that you put all corrupt practices aside and do the right thing, the just thing, the lawful thing, the decent thing, and see to it that the Palestinians are reunited with their lands, property and freedoms, and granted self-determination as guaranteed by the international laws, treaties, charters and codes we hold dear. No more excuses. There can be no advance in world peace until it’s resolved. Get it done or quit your post.”
Inevitably the passage of time prevents full restitution. But the world needs to make amends for the monstrous blunder by the United Nations in cruelly partitioning Palestine in 1947 without consulting those who lived there and, worse still, turning a blind eye to the Jewish land grab that followed. Justice groups are saying it’s time the British government, which accepted the mandated responsibility for the Holy Land up to 1948, had the good manners to admit its part in the catastrophe and say sorry for the needless damage and suffering heaped on Palestinian Arabs who once considered themselves Britain’s allies. That would be a good starting point for dealing with the horrendous situation today.
US Secretary John Kerry plans to present a framework agreement in a few weeks’ time to settle the long drawn-out conflict. But Kerry, like so many before him, likes to bypass due process and ignore the underlying causes. He could be ‘Mr Fix-it’ but isn’t. The betting is that Kerry’s framework will be another giant fudge that offers nothing resembling justice for the oppressed and dispossessed.
Zionist accusations that Kerry has threatened to orchestrate a European boycott of Israel and de-legitimization of the ‘Jewish state’ if talks fail are just part of the hasbara cacophony. The fact is, Israel is going to be globally boycotted and increasingly isolated with or without Kerry’s input until that entity learns to behave. It has already de-legitimized itself by its own actions.