By Stuart Littlewood – London
‘Mr Hague, is it not your responsibility to keep seaways open?’
‘The unbroken thread of Conservative Party support for Israel that has run for nearly a century from the Balfour Declaration to the present day will continue. Although it will no doubt often be tested in the years ahead, it will remain constant, unbroken, and undiminished by the passage of time.’ No prize for guessing which leading politician uttered these words.
It was your goodself, Mr Foreign Secretary, back in 2008.
Now for a reality check. I want to share with you, Mr Foreign Secretary, this powerful and moving interview with Lilian Rosengarten by Philip Weiss.
75 year-old Lilian, an American, was on board Irene, the Jewish boat to Gaza, when the vessel was assaulted by “dehumanized” Israelis. Lilian and the other passengers were abducted. She was later deported and told never to come back.
It seems to Lilian that the Israelis, in their own best interests, would have been wiser to send a small boat to intercept the catamaran Irene, "no guns, but an ambassador coming on to the deck to say, ‘Sorry folks, we can’t let you through’."
Instead they chose the terror option against these elderly, unarmed peace voyagers. “We saw 9 or 11 warships, some with guns, and then they were at the front and the back and the side of our little boat — and why? It was inexplicable to me. Inexplicable. That our little catamaran with nine Jews, survivors in their 70s and 80s and all of them human rights activists, that they should send nine boats with guns pointed…”
Lilian and her friends were surrounded by "soldiers dressed to the gills with the boots and the Tasers and the helmets and the gloves with the fingers showing… What war was this? Who were they fighting?… And since I got back I read Gideon Levy saying that each year of occupation has made the Israelis harder. Gradually they have become dehumanized."
Lilian describes how Israel’s much-vaunted military behaved. "They had kicked Glyn [that’s Glyn Secker, the captain] to the ground to get him off the wheel… Itamar’s being tied up on the other boat, and they’re tasering Yonatan. He was screaming. It was just fascistic. It could have been Haiti under Duvalier, it could have been Chile under Pinochet, it could have been Franco’s Spain.
“I saw first hand the dehumanization and the brutality…and rigid tunnel vision. I could see the truth of the most moral army in the world. No army is moral. And this army, it is brutal, not only to others in Palestine, but to Jews who dissent.”
“Dissent has to be crushed to keep the myth of Israel going…”
So, Mr Foreign Secretary, here was a harmless little sailboat carrying symbolic relief supplies such as a high-tech device for purifying water, children’s books from a German school, backpacks, and musical instruments,.surrounded by 9 or 11 warships. "What is this paranoia?” asks Lilian. “What is this fear?”
Jews who dissent against fellow Jews who have become a military state that seizes Palestinian land and imposes a siege on the entire Palestinian population… “that dissent has to be crushed to keep the myth of Israel going. Look at Yonatan. When a man of conscience decides he can’t bomb Palestinians, and says, no I can’t do it, he is seen as a traitor instead of a patriot. And now it is to the point that a Jew who doesn’t go along with the right position is deported.”
Asked what it means to flee Nazi Germany as a young Jew and now be kicked out of Israel as an older one, Lilian weeps. “I think about my mentor Hans. He is 91. I can’t ever go to visit him. I can’t go there if he dies. And my Palestinian friends, I can’t see them again either… My response is sheer nausea – at the truth of what Israel has become.”
Lilian’s revelations are reinforced by a letter in The Guardian from Glyn Secker, who skippered the little Irene.
"The Israeli Defence Force says that there was no resistance and no violence in the boarding of The Jewish Boat," writes Secker. "In fact, when boarded, we cut the engines and I held the wheel with all my strength. With one commando standing by with an electric Taser, two others removed me (I am 66) and threw me hard to the floor.
"Commandos singled out Yonatan and Itamar Shapira, our two refuseniks. Itamar was violently dragged backwards across the safety wires to their boat and restrained dangerously by a commando who pushed his fingers deep into Itamar’s jugular artery. Yonatan was hugging Rami Elhanan, our Bereaved Families passenger. The commander fired his Taser twice into Yonatan’s shoulder, then with deliberation moved Yonatan’s lifejacket aside, placed his Taser directly over Yonatan’s heart and fired. Yonatan’s whole body went into spasm, he let out a fearful scream, crashed across the cockpit and was dragged backwards over the safety wires to the commandos’ boat.”
So there you have it, Mr Foreign Secretary. The military wing of the lawless entity you so admire behaves towards its own brethren in much the same brutal manner as it has done for the last 62 years towards their Arab neighbours, and more recently towards innocent internationals peacefully going about their humanitarian business on the high seas.
It must be a disappointment, Mr Foreign Secretary, that your enthusiasm for Israel and its Zionist project is no longer shared by a British public that’s now better informed and not so easily duped.
We are repeatedly told by ministers that Israel is an important ally, but nobody buys that any more. We are judged globally by the friends we keep, and the “unbroken thread of support for Israel” misguidedly perpetuated by our political leaders only brings us grief and a stained reputation, and this is cause for real anger.
The Irene was a British flagged vessel, but what action has the Foreign Office taken in response to her violation by Israel’s armed thugs? Come to think of it, the Foreign Office was also strangely subdued about the wanton barbarity towards the 28 British nationals aboard the Mavi Marmara and other vessels in the flotilla when it was attacked by the same hooligans with guns blazing. Has proper compensation been paid and property returned?
Dignity, Mavi Marmara and now Irene…menaced, mauled and hijacked by marauding Israelis. The international waters of the Eastern Mediterranean are clearly unsafe. Is it not up to the British government and its UN partners to keep the seaways open and guarantee free movement, as required by numerous treaties, charters and the law?
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.