Today in London crowds are gathering to vent their anger in a mass demonstration and march to Parliament to “stop the massacre in Gaza” and call for an arms embargo against Israel. This follows last weekend’s huge protest outside the Israeli embassy and campaigns against the BBC’s pro-Israel bias in reporting the assault on Gaza.
There is growing resentment among British people at being endlessly shamed by their government’s complicity in the mega-injustices and non-stop crimes inflicted on the native people of the Holy Land, exemplified by Whitehall’s attempts to whitewash Israel’s latest genocidal offensive.
And on this the 19th day of Israel’s blitzkrieg comes news of a brief humanitarian “pause”, after which the killing spree will continue while Israel attempts to eradicate Gaza’s tunnels. At this point in the orchestrated tragedy the Palestinian death-toll is approaching 900, three-quarters civilians including around 200 children, and more than 5,000 wounded.
These figures are gruesome enough, but Dr David Morrison reminds me that since September 2005 when Israel pulled out its squatters and withdrew its military from Gaza (but not from Gaza’s airspace and coastal waters) only 24 people have been killed in Israel by rocket and mortar fire coming from Gaza. Of those, 13 died during Israel’s three major military offensives against Gaza (including the present one). In the same period, nearly 4,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli military action.
The unending tragedy is one that Britain created nearly 100 years ago with Balfour’s crackpot Declaration. Balfour, a Zionist convert, wrote: “In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.” He dismissed “the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now occupy that land” in favour of Zionism’s needs and hopes, which were “of far profounder import”.
At the time Lord Sydenham warned: “The harm done by dumping down an alien population upon an Arab country may never be remedied. What we have done, by concessions not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, is to start a running sore in the East, and no-one can tell how far that sore will extend.” Well, the harm is massive and still waiting for a remedy. The running sore shows no sign of healing. The trouble will not end until Britain (with help from the international community) takes some very necessary steps. The problem is the British Government’s acute and persistent lack of integrity and foolish pledges of support to the aggressor.
Why is Hamas banished to outer darkness?
In the last few days I have seen two ministerial statements saying that Hamas, democratically elected to power in the 2006, is a proscribed terrorist organisation, proscribed being a posh word for something condemned as so bad as to be banished to outer darkness.
Earlier this month Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow and Tel Aviv but not necessarily in that order, said in the House of Commons: “Hamas is Hamas is Hamas: it is a terrorist organisation whether it is part of the so-called unity Government [of Palestine] or not.” He wanted the British Government to “give Israel every possible assistance to take out the Hamas terrorist network so that that country can be sure that her children will be secure in the future”.
Hugh Robertson, Minister of State at the Foreign Offce, replied: “Nobody should be under any illusions about this at all: Hamas is a terrorist organisation and remains a terrorist organisation, and one that is proscribed by the British Government. The key thing about the technocratic [Palestinian] Government was that they signed up to the Quartet principles and renounced violence and no member of Hamas is a member of that Government.”
Earlier he had this to say: “If anybody in that Government were an active member of Hamas, which remains a terrorist organisation, that would absolutely be the end of this Government’s dealing with them and would be a very serious matter indeed. That is not the case at the moment; they are fully signed up to the Quartet principles.”
A few days later Baroness Jenny Tonge, in the House of Lords, asked the Government what action it planned to take to open diplomatic relations with Hamas in order to assess the viability of a long-term truce such as Hamas offered in 2006.
Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, replied: “Our policy towards Hamas is clear — we have no contact with Hamas, which is a proscribed terrorist organisation. Hamas must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements. Hamas must make a credible movement towards these conditions, which remain the benchmark against which their intentions are judged, before we consider a change in our stance.”
Warsi is a Muslim and should know better. How can anyone sensibly recognise Israel when it won’t agree its borders? Has she ever put it to the Israelis that they too must renounce violence, recognise Palestine and accept previously signed agreements — the benchmark against which their intentions will be judged?
And given all this stuff about Hamas being proscribed, what are we to make of a Home Office document dated 20 June 2014 in which, of the 60 international terrorist organisations proscribed by the UK government under the Terrorism Act 2000, only Hamas’s military wing – the Izz al-Din al-Qassem brigades – is listed, not Hamas’s political wing?
Why, then, aren’t we talking to Hamas’s political leaders?
How do organisations qualify for the Terror List anyway? Well, in the UK they have to pass a test and the Home Secretary decides. In the US, under Section 3 of Executive Order 13224 “Blocking Property and prohibiting Transactions with Persons who commit, threaten to commit, or support Terrorism”, the term “terrorism” means an activity that…
(i) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and
(ii) appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking.
This US order and its definition of terrorism, signed in 2001 by George W Bush, is used to outlaw and crush any organisation, individual or country the US doesn’t like. Funny how it fits the Israeli regime — those “amoral thugs”, as one British MP called them — like a glove. And they have been allowed to practise their terrorism on the Palestinians (and occasionally on the Lebanese and Syrians) without interference for the last 66 years.
The long drawn-out siege and blockade of Gaza, and the numerous military assaults on its people and their legitimate government, are only the latest crimes in a catalogue of torment and terror inflicted on all the Palestinian territories Israel occupies. They are clearly attempts to “intimidate and coerce”, while the mass destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, the withholding of humanitarian aid, the assassinations, the abductions, the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, and the many violent and dangerous acts including indiscriminate bombing and shelling (and the use of cluster bombs in Lebanon), make Israel’s place on the Terror List a sure thing – or should do.
They talk of addressing “underlying causes” but can they agree what they are?
With Agent Hague gone from the Foreign Secretary post, we are beginning to see what his successor, Philip Hammond, is made of. He started by praising Egypt’s fake ceasefire initiative when Hamas hadn’t even been consulted on the terms and instead of coming through proper diplomatic channels it was release to the media as soon as Israel agreed it. Given the Egyptian regime’s hostility towards Hamas it is hardly an honest broker. Unsurprisingly it contained none of the guarantees that would sustain a ceasefire, such as a permanent end to the 8-year siege (promised but not implemented in the 2012 ceasefire) or the release of prisoners who had been freed then re-arrested by Israel. So what was in it for the illegally occupied Palestinians? Nevertheless Hammond thought it was jolly good and welcomed Israel’s acceptance of this piece of nonsense which hadn’t been shown to the other side.
His other statements have to be seen to be believed. They are on the FCO website. Following the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to launch an inquiry into potential violations of human rights by Israel in its operations in the Gaza Strip, a move Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called a “travesty”, Hammond said the UNHRC resolution would not help achieve a lasting ceasefire. “It is fundamentally unbalanced and will complicate the process by introducing unnecessary new mechanisms… The UK could not support this resolution… We will continue to urge Israel to exercise restraint… blah, blah… while recognising its right to defend itself against these attacks.”
And after meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders (though not Hamas), Hammond said: “With President Abbas… I reiterated the UK’s strong support for his leadership and thanked him for his own efforts to achieve a ceasefire. I stressed that, once a ceasefire is secured, there is an urgent need for a long term plan for Gaza.
“With Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman, I expressed my deep concern at Hamas’s rocket attacks and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself. I urged that Israeli forces do everything they can to avoid civilian casualties, and stressed the need for a rapid conclusion to their ground operation in Gaza.”
Hammond doesn’t explain how Israelis can claim a right of self-defence against their victims – the people they are brutally occupying and blockading — or how Her Majesty’s Government can possibly “reaffirm” such a crass invention.
He said that for a ceasefire to be durable there must be rapid movement to address “the underlying causes” and find “a wider political solution”. So, Mr Hammond, what “wider political solution” do you have in mind? And, by the way, do you have any idea what those “underlying causes” are? Do you think you could ever get Israel to acknowledge what they are?
Here are some clues from two very knowledgable sources. In 2010 Archbishop Theodosius Hanna (Orthodox Church of Jerusalem), on a visit to Ireland, told politicians: “The problem in Palestine has nothing to do with religion – it is not a religious issue. It is not a conflict of Christians, Muslims and Jewish people. It is a conflict between those who are the holders of a rightful cause and those who took away that right by military might.”
Fr Manuel Mussallam (formerly of the Catholic church in Gaza), who accompanied the archbishop, told the Irish what things were really like under military occupation. “We have spoken to Israel for more than 18 years and the result has been zero. We have signed agreements here and there at various times and then when there is a change in the government of Israel we have to start again from the beginning. We ask for our life and to be given back our Jerusalem, to be given our state and for enough water to drink. We want to be given more opportunity to reach Jerusalem. I have not seen Jerusalem since 1990.
“We want to see an end to this occupation, and please do not ask us to protect those who are occupying our territory.”
Nearly 4 years on, and what has changed? Can we rely on Hammond to make a difference? Here’s another clue. In a Jerusalem Post report the director of Conservative Friends of Israel remarked that, in his previous job as Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond “presided over a period when the UK-Israel defense relationship has never been better.”