By Stuart Littlewood – London
To their eternal shame, Western churchmen seem to care little about the plight of their brothers and sisters in the Holy Land or the fate of the holy places where Christianity was born.
There are, of course, honourable exceptions. One such is the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev Dr Barry Morgan, whose church has provided Palestinians in Gaza with a mobile dental unit.
He is not best pleased that the Israelis make it difficult to obtain fuel and medical supplies for it, and he didn’t mince his words when recently reporting to the Church’s governing body how things really are in Gaza.
The truth of the matter seemed to annoy a certain Mr Simon McIlwaine, who complained that the Archbishop’s words put the state of Israel in an unduly harsh light and he was compelled to “provide some badly needed context”. Whereupon Mr McIlwaine launched into the familiar anti-Gaza, anti-Hamas rant we’re used to hearing from the pro-Israel lobby.
• "The Archbishop raises a central issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict – anti-Semitism…"
The central issue is 62 years of criminal oppression. The charges include land theft, illegal occupation, ethnic cleansing, disregard for human rights, and war crimes such as those documented in the Goldstone Report. The action required is set out in international law, numerous UN resolutions and every code of human decency.
• "Hamas is an explicitly anti-Semitic organization that at the very least seeks to exercise a veto over the Jewish right to self-determination."
Israel is deeply anti-Arab and continues to dispossess and remove Arabs not only from Israel proper but also from areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem that Israel has earmarked for permanent occupation.
Palestinians have been denied the right to self-determination for decades and Israel even refuses to recognise their perfectly satisfactory democratic process.
• "Hamas’ anti-Semitic ideology pre-existed the blockade…"
Israel’s illegal occupation pre-dates the founding of Hamas.
• “Hamas’ attacks against Israel are not merely motivated by a desire to end the blockade, but to deprive the Jewish people of their ability to enjoy a national life of their own.”
The irony of that remark is apparently lost on Mr McIlwaine.
• "Clearly, anti-Semitism plays a significant role in fomenting violence against Israel in the Middle East."
Playing the anti-Semitism card yet again. Israel is the violator. Hamas chief Khaled Mesh’al has explained that armed resistance against Israel is the result of Israeli occupation, injustice and oppression, not religious differences.
• "The Archbishop describes the devastation in the Gaza Strip without acknowledging the role Hamas played in bringing the destruction about."
Israel broke the ceasefire with a raid killing at least 6 Palestinians in order to provoke the sort of retaliation that could then be used as an excuse to launch Operation Cast Lead, the 3-week onslaught Israel had been preparing for months.
• "History has shown that isolating tyrannical regimes such as Hamas results in civilian suffering."
Israel was making Palestinians’ lives a misery long before Hamas appeared on the scene. What right has Israel or anyone else to isolate a democratically elected government and its people anyway?
Hamas is an Islamic party legitimately ruling a mainly Islamic country. It is the people’s choice. How can it be any more “tyrannical” than the Jewish State with its exclusivity laws and lethal attitude towards non-Jews?
• "…Responsibility for the disruption of daily life in the Gaza Strip lies with Hamas. By way of comparison, daily life in the West Bank, which has not been the source of rocket attacks, is improving."
As long as Israel occupies Gaza’s airspace, coastal waters and air-waves, controls all access points (except now the Egyptian border, although it still interferes there), maintains a sea blockade and attacks and even murders volunteers bringing humanitarian supplies, it is ridiculous to suggest that anyone else is responsible for disrupting daily life.
In 2007 when Israel tightened the siege on Gaza the prime minister’s adviser, Dov Weisglass, said "the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger”. According to documents just released under a Freedom of Information petition by Gisha, an Israeli law centre, Israel operated "a policy of deliberate reduction" of basic goods in the Gaza Strip. Gisha’s director accuses Israel of “paralyzing normal life in Gaza”, and adds: “I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place."
The documents confirm that the siege was not for security reasons but aimed at keeping Gazans at near-starvation level. Since around half the population are growing children this act of collective punishment has meant that hundreds of thousands are undernourished.
Mr McIlwaine is right that no rockets have been fired from the West Bank. Why, then, are the shredded remains of that territory still under cruel occupation and tight restriction?
• "Hamas has murdered its political opponents, threatened its critics and stolen humanitarian aid shipped in from outside."
Another classic piece of irony for us to savour… Assassinations and extra-judicial executions are an Israeli speciality. So is thieving. They even steal British passports for their murder squads.
We never hear what happens to humanitarian aid seized in international waters by Israeli thugs who abduct passengers and crew and rob them of their possessions. Remember how Israel kept stealing Gaza’s tax revenues? Did they ever give the money back?
Simon McIlwaine is co-director of Anglican Friends of Israel, an organization whose aims include:
• Securing defensible borders for the State of Israel. (What borders… its ever-expanding illegal borders enclosing stolen lands or its internationally-recognised 1967 borders?)
• Calling Anglicans to repentance for the wrongs inflicted by Christians on the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.
• Protecting the Christian communities threatened by Islamic extremism in the Middle East (though not, it seems, against the crushing oppression of Israeli extremists).
The puzzle is why any Anglican would befriend a regime with so much blood on its hands and attack a bishop who speaks up for its wretched victims. St Augustine must be spinning in his grave.
At least Dr Morgan went to Gaza to see for himself. Did Mr McIlwaine?
What did the good Archbishop say that so rattled Mr McIlwaine’s cage?
Regarding Gaza, Dr Morgan observed: "Two-thirds of these people live in abject poverty, in refugee camps, after the confiscation of their homes and land by the Israeli Government. The situation is worse now than when I visited in 2001…" He described how people lived in zinc shacks, without electricity or water and with open sewers running down the streets, and how Gaza City itself was like a bombsite.
"Only 32% of the industrial fuel needed in one week in August 2010 for Gaza’s power plant was allowed into Gaza. The result was that the power plant shut down completely for two days after exhausting its reserves of fuel, triggering power cuts of 16 hours per day – affecting water supply, sewage treatment and removal, and the functioning of health services. 30% of households in Gaza have access to running water for only 4 to 8 hours per week; 40% receive water once every four days, and the other 30% obtain it once every two days. Half of the normal level of need of cooking gas entered Gaza in August; no diesel or petrol has been delivered for weeks – hence diesel and petrol being taken through the tunnels at the risk of attack by the Israelis. Imports are limited, raw materials severely restricted, no building materials are allowed into Gaza, exports from Gaza are banned entirely.
"The blockade in Gaza has destroyed public service infrastructure and hospitals have power cuts for twelve hours a day, emergency medical treatment for residents of Gaza is denied, and 40 million litres of sewage is being discharged every day into the sea because of lack of fuel to pump or treat human waste. Family members in Gaza have been separated from relatives living in the West Bank and elsewhere."
All of which is confirmed by other sources.
Dr Morgan continued: "The United Nations, the Security Council and the European Union want crossings to Gaza to be permanently open to allow access for humanitarian and commercial aid and all of this was agreed between Israel and the Palestinian authorities in 2005.
He also referred to the Kairos document issued by Palestinian Church leaders a year ago and the report ‘Justice and Peace for Palestine’ discussed recently by the Methodist Church. “Both of those reports say that the key hindrance to security and a lasting peace for all in the region is the occupation of Palestinian territory by the State of Israel…”
For 43 long years. Who is foolish enough to believe there can be peace under the jackboot of occupation?
"Settlements by Israeli settlers are illegal under international law, and over one third have been built on Palestinian privately owned land. The wall that has been built covering a distance of 702 kilometres…not only separates Israelis from Palestinians but Palestinians from family members and friends. In rural areas, it effectively cuts them off from their olive trees and fruit and vegetable plantations. In July 2004, the International Court of Justice declared the separation barrier illegal, and called on Israel to cease construction to dismantle constructed areas and provide reparation to those materially damaged by the construction."
“Settlers” is too nice a word for my taste. It suggests peaceful pioneers wishing to integrate. Israeli “settlers” are anything but. They are squatters, half a million in over 100 illegal colonies – ugly blots on an otherwise lovely landscape. They include gangs of armed delinquents who terrorise local villagers, vandalise their crops, pollute their land and harass their children.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly forbids an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.
Next time, the Archbishop might question why the Separation Wall, if meant for security, wasn’t built within Israel’s internationally recognised borders. Its actual route bites deep into Palestinian territory and is designed to annex choice agricultural land and the Palestinians’ precious water supplies. Palestinians are now severely rationed and have to pay Israel inflated prices for a dribble of their own water while Israelis splash around in their swimming pools and wash their cars.
The Archbishop finished by saying: "Now we, as a Church, perhaps cannot do very much except that we ought to acquaint ourselves with what is going on, and fight against injustice, and demand that the rule of law be upheld wherever it is being flouted for whatever reason. We have a duty to speak out."
On an earlier occasion in 2009, after Israel’s blitz on Gaza, Dr Morgan was saying:
“Having visited Gaza twice over the past few years I have seen the appalling conditions in which the people there live… with no proper homes, sanitation or means of escape. Their lives are now unbearable as they come under daily fire and are too scared to even leave their homes. We have heard that it has now become too dangerous for our clinic, which was being used as a frontline hospital dealing with casualties, to continue its work.
“It is tragic that there is so much violence in an area known as the Holy Land… It is time for the fighting to stop – enough children have died and enough homes have been destroyed and it is immoral for the world to stand by and do nothing.”
How very refreshing. Those other bishops who loaf around the House of Lords and never open their mouths when so much needs to be said and done, please note.
– 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.