The turning of the tide for Palestine

It comes as a surprise that on 14th October progress was made in the British parliament. In a historic, yet noticeably underreported moment, British MP’s voted 274 votes to 12 in favour of a motion to recognise a Palestinian state. Whilst this decision is non-binding, it is none the less a huge symbolic step towards the salvation of the Israeli-Palestinian question.

The overseeing statue of Arthur Balfour served as a ghostly reminder to Britain’s previous grievances and overdue debt to the region. This history of betrayal began in 1917 with the ‘Balfour Declaration’, a set of contradictory promises that pledged the land of Palestinian natives to Zionist settlers:Palestinian children in Khan Yunis on the Gaza Strip place their national flag on the rubble of a bu

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” – Arthur Balfour, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1917

The late, renowned Palestinian writer and activist Edward Said condemned this as “the moral epistemology of imperialism, [1]” one nation, promising another the land of a third. Following the Holocaust, Jewish people quite rightly swore they would never stand defenseless again. But tragically, the Palestinians became the “victims of victims [2]” as 700,000 fled their homes in the 1948 first Arab-Israeli war. Forged in conflict, the State of Israel has continued to expand, forever justified under the pretext of ‘self-defence’.

Yet increasingly, Israel’s response to managing threats has been widely criticised as brutally disproportionate. The gross enlargement of Israel beyond its original boundaries has shown a blatant disregard to Palestinian land and life. Since 1967, Israel has occupied territories in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, illegally building settlements that defy United Nations resolutions, the International Criminal Court and the Geneva Convention. In 2007, Israel blockaded Gaza, and with the restriction of economic aid, the area is it known by locals as “the world’s largest open air prison.” Inside these territories, leading International Organisations, including Human Rights Watch and the African National Congress have condemned Israeli policies for creating a ‘two-tiered’ system between Jews and Arabs that is “worse than apartheid.” Response from the west, particularly Britain and the United States, has always wavered; granting Israel a blank cheque. This history of violence is so regular it is described inside Israel as “mowing the lawn”, or “removing the top soil.[5]” Such language is telling. One might dare to assume this ongoing pattern of war reveals the favoured agenda; to continue to encroach or worse erode what is left of the Palestinian territories and do away with a ‘two- state’ settlement. palestine2

But the vote in British parliament in October marked a change. Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn recognized “the House was in a mood to pass this motion,[6]” following the particularly brutal Israeli war launched on Gaza this summer. Whilst official pretexts cite another case of “Israel’s right to defend itself,” the counter-accusation is that Operation Protective Edge purposely broke a cease-fire, to re-escalate a situation that had been going through a progressive period of calm. Since the 2012 Israeli Operation Cast Lead, Hamas had honored their side of the ceasefire, not firing a single rocket for 19 months. More importantly, this spring marked a historic reconciliation between Palestinian political factions, Hamas and the PLO. This significant political union was greatly welcomed by the west, praised by the European Union and then British Foreign Minister William Hague as “a necessary condition for resolving the Israel-Palestine question.[7]

So why war? On the other hand this progress signaled a warning-sign for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly denied the recognition of Palestinian sovereignty as recently as January this year [8]. Left lacking familiar pretenses to hide behind, something had to be done. In July, a national tragedy was exploited and Israeli skirmishes entered Gaza, demanding the return of three missing Israeli teenagers. Not only did the Israeli Prime Minister have no proof Hamas were behind these kidnappings, but it was also revealed that intelligence knew the boys had already been killed by an unrelated group. This awful tragedy aside, it in no way gave Israel justification for a military excursion. However this was the point. Rampant rhetoric was revamped, and calls for “revenge [9]” against Hamas were demanded. The intention of course was to provoke and aggravate the occupied. It worked as rockets hit Israel’s brand new missile shield and sparked a new war to plunge the region back into chaos.

If moral equivalency or universalism were truisms to be cherished, two Palestinian boys were shot dead by Israeli soldiers in early May, bystanders to stone throwing near the town of Ofer [10]. In retaliation for the Israeli kidnappings, a Palestinian boy was in turn abducted by a gang of Israeli terrorists, forced to drink petrol and burnt alive. However these parallels are never succinct in a world where justice is the advantage of the stronger.palestine1

What shocked the world this summer was the disproportionate scale of the operation, launched by ‘the most moral army in the world’. Critics have referred to Operation Protective Edge as ‘the war on children’, leaving 495 dead. Israel cite Hamas as using children as ‘human shields’ in Gaza, a claim that is still to be found wanting. Such claims highlight the sheer lack of self-criticism, along with the continued process of callous dehumanization, which allows Israeli war crimes to be supported and justified. As the ultimate insult, a former piece of Israeli propaganda is often recycled. Used by one of Israel’s early Prime Minister Golda Meir, the saying goes:

“We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children… but we can never forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. [11]

With collateral of over 1,462 civilians from a total of 2,104, it is reported that Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon wept, as he visited the rubble from one of several UN schools accidentally struck by Israeli rockets. Gaza itself is only 32 kilometres long and a few kilometres wide. When a war is waged in a crowded civilian area with a population of 1.8 million, there are few places to hide.[12]

Just days after a ceasefire was desperately brokered, Israel then annexed over 1,000 acres of Palestinian land for more settlements; the largest land grab in over 30 years. Since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967, more than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlements. This has always been deemed “illegal under international law” by the United Nations “[running] counter to the pursuit of a two-State solution.[13]

This time around, there is a growing feeling that Israel may have overplayed its hand. Earlier this year Britain abstained when the United Nations voted on upgrading Palestine’s status from “observer entity” to “non-member observer state”. Following Operation Protective Edge, for the first time Britain has condemned Israel’s actions, Prime Minister David Cameron deeming the land grab “deplorable” and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond “illegal.” Above all else this vote shows Britain is slowly waking up. This is of course comparative to the rest of the world; 133 of the UN’s 193 member states have already recognised Palestine as a state, representing 69% of members and 80% of the world’s population.[14]

Yet the shadow of America still looms. In the middle of the conflict, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights called for an independent investigation, with the suspicion that:

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.[15]

This is not something called for lightly, yet the United States was the only country in the world that voted against the motion. With previous calls denied in 2009, and in 2012, this is part of a wider trend. The United States totals a staggering 42 vetoes on behalf of Israel, along with $3 billion in annual aid. There is little doubt that the ultimate resolution of this conflict lies with the United States.

We are all morally obliged to stand on the side of the victim when an atrocity takes place. This article is not a one sided all-out attack, coming days after a three month old Israeli baby was fatally thrown out of her mother’s pram when a Palestinian slammed his car into a packed tram at rush-hour [16]. All the more, this urges an end to a conflict that has been left to stoke by Britain and the United States for too long. As the veteran activist Tariq Ali addressed Britain’s largest ever pro-Palestinian demonstration on August 9, he said “this is the turning of the tide, but it is not over yet.”

By Will Murray

 

[1] Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, 1979

[2] Edward Said, Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims (1979)

[6]Jeremy Corbyn, available at http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-8577-MPs-vote-to-recognise-Palestine#.VEabFSLF-ac

[7] Cited at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140617/debtext/140617-0001.htm

[8] Information at http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-finally-speaks-his-mind/

[9] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28102253

[10] Available at http://972mag.com/watch-footage-shows-israeli-armys-killing-of-two-palestinian-teens/91084/

[11] http://www.haaretz.com/news/video/1.607607

[12] http://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/15507#sthash.5blLtMur.dpuf

[13] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/international-response-israel-land-grab_n_5758256.html

[14] http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-recognises-palestine/19039

[15] http://www.theguardian.com/global/2014/jul/23/un-high-commissioner-navi-pillay-war-crimes-israel

[16] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/11181107/Three-month-old-baby-dies-in-terror-attack-on-Israeli-tram-station.html

 

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Categories: Middle East

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