By Stuart Littlewood – London
‘We have to be steeped in the Middle East, way back to historical matters. Because you can’t understand it without the history.’
My MP, a Foreign Office minister in the shiny new coalition government, has written to me saying he believes the Foreign Secretary was "extremely fair, tough and statesmanlike" in his reaction to Israel’s murderous assault on the vessel Mavi Marmara and the rest of the Free Gaza flotilla.
So I re-read William Hague’s statement to the House of Commons on 2 June, and it struck me as something the Israeli government spin doctor Mark Regev might have penned. Here are some extracts:
• "Our clear advice to British nationals is not to travel to Gaza."
Just what Israel wants to hear. This “advice” serves to legitimize Israel’s illegal sea blockade and use of lethal force against unarmed British citizens and other nationals peacefully going about their lawfully business in international waters.
• "We deeply deplore the loss of life…"
There must be stinging consequences for this latest barbaric act. The word "deplore" is for the spineless, do-nothing handwringers.
• "Their welfare [meaning the British nationals on board] is our top priority."
Mr Hague must have been alerted to advance warnings that Israel would go to any lengths, including violence, to stop the mercy ships but he took no precautionary action. Where is the mighty Royal Navy when not cruising the Caribbean or sunning itself in the Gulf? When consular access was then denied to some of the 37 Britishers abducted and jailed by Israel the Foreign Office meekly accepted the insult.
• "…those individuals who are allegedly involved in violence against Israeli servicemen during the boarding"
Mr Hague doesn’t seem to grasp that the violence was committed by Israeli storm-troopers dropping from helicopters with guns blazing under cover of darkness.
• "Restrictions on Gaza should be lifted – a view confirmed in United Nations security council resolution 1860."
Resolution 1860 goes much further and calls for the sustained reopening of crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which provides for
– the reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank
– bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza
– the building of a new seaport in Gaza
– re-opening of the airport in Gaza
Nearly eight months ago the European Council repeated the EU’s call for “an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza” and for “full implementation of The Agreement on Movement and Access”.
What is the point of mouthing this stuff again and again and not backing it up with ACTION?
• "Hamas now has near total control of the economy".
Perhaps our Treasury people should take lessons from them…
• "We will, therefore, continue to press the Israeli government to lift the closure of Gaza, and plan early discussions… about what more can be done to ensure an unfettered flow of aid."
The Foreign Office is exceedingly well practised at pressing and urging. However, “unfettered flow” is not going to happen without a naval escort and/or sanctions. If Mr Hague hasn’t learned this he hasn’t been paying attention.
• "The House should not forget the role played by Hamas in this conflict. They continue to pursue an ideology of violence and directly to undermine prospects for peace in the region."
Mr Hague must take everyone for fools. Hamas won the 2006 elections fair and square and has been subjected to a relentless blockade, armed incursions, air strikes, sanctions, assassinations, an attempted putsch and a devastating 22-day blitzkrieg. Continually accusing Hamas of undermining prospects for peace is the ultimate absurdity.
• "Violence has continued in recent days, with rocket fire from militants in Gaza and Israeli military incursions and air strikes in response."
On the question of who provokes and who responds Mr Hague should consider how Israel violated the cease-fire to pave the way to the Gaza war of December 2008 and still carries out air-strikes on a daily basis.
• "We call on Hamas to make immediate and concrete steps towards the quartet principles – unconditionally to release Gilad Shalit."
Something like 11,000 Palestinian civilians are held (and believed tortured) in Israeli jails, many without charge. Why isn’t Mr Hague calling for their release? Shalit is a tank gunner captured in 2006. In the three years following Israel’s troop withdrawal to Gaza’s perimeter in 2005 some 1,250 Gazans, including 222 children, were killed by tank gunners and other Israeli military personnel while 11 Israelis were killed by Palestinian rocket fire.
• "The only long-term and sustainable solution to the conflict which produced these tragic events is a two-state solution."
Politicians like Hague have stood back and allowed Israel to seize so much key Palestinian territory and establish so many ‘facts on the ground’ that the chances of a viable Palestinian state are vanishing fast.
• "The proximity talks that are currently underway are more important than ever."
Is he serious? How credible are ‘talks’ when one party has a gun to the other’s head and continues to steal its land, colonize its territory and murder its citizens? What honest broker would be party to such a farce?
William Hague is our top international representative. He has the power to heavily influence whether Britain makes war or peace, whether we make friends or enemies, and whether our soldiers live or needlessly die. Yet he seems to have trouble interpreting intelligence. One can see how the poor chap got his knickers in a fearful twist over Iraq and voted enthusiastically to get us mired in that shameful war… And did anyone hear him speak out against the folly of invading Afghanistan when it was his duty, as a leading Opposition figure at the time, to hold our Labour government to account?
Now he rattles his sabre at Iran and wants to turn Britain into a safe haven for Israel’s war criminals.
All things considered the guy is a big worry.
Prime minister David Cameron was a little nearer the mark when he called the blockaded Gaza Strip a "prison camp". That brought loud squawks from the usual suspects. Plain speaking earns him a cheer but Cameron, like Hague, is an avid admirer of Israel and calls himself a Zionist. He too only talked of "humanitarian access", failing to acknowledge that Gazans are not allowed to export anything and therefore cannot make a living.
He has nothing to say about the 3,500 licensed fishermen who are shot up by Israeli patrol boats whenever they put to sea. Or Gaza’s students who are blocked from studying at their West Bank universities.
Or all the Christians and their Muslim brothers and sisters who are prevented from worshipping at their holy places in Jerusalem.
Or even Gaza’s marine gas field, which Israel has its greedy eyes on and Palestinians can’t go near.
Mr Hague, according to the Jewish Chronicle, told David Cameron as soon as he became Conservative party leader in 2005 that a deep understanding of the Middle East would be crucial to his claims to be taken seriously as a statesman. "We have to be steeped in the Middle East, way back to historical matters. Because you can’t understand it without the history. That’s been one of the failings sometimes with the Western governments."
Yes, but when is the history lesson, and the story of the West’s betrayal, going to sink in?
Finally, Viva Palestina has just sent this message: “Despite the recent claims by Israel that they have ‘eased’ the siege on Gaza, vital medical supplies and equipment are still prohibited from entering the besieged region. In June, the World Health Organization reported that Israel blocked the delivery of essential medical equipment, including a CT scanner, defibrillators and monitors.
“In addition, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Israel confiscated seven oxygen machines, donated by a Norwegian development agency, and refused to allow delivery of x-ray machines, claiming they could be used for military purposes.”
Consequently, says the message, there is a critical shortage of vital medicines and essential life saving equipment, and other supplies are expected to run out very soon.
What does it take for Cameron, Hague and Britain’s limp-wristed Foreign Office to run out of patience and forcibly smash this cruel blockade?
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.