By Richard Irvine
Amongst what remains of the Israeli left, the siren cry for many years has been that the Occupation is destroying Israel. This view, brilliantly propounded by Pulitzer Prize Winner Richard Ben Cramer in his 2004 book How Israel Lost, makes a simple case. Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state whilst it rules the lives of four million Palestinians, it will either cease to be Jewish or cease to be democratic.
Well when one looks at the legislation before the Knesset with its introduction of loyalty oaths, community residence laws and a whole host of other discriminatory and anti-democratic legislation – over twenty bills recently passed or proposed according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, it is clear which track Israel’s politicians have opted for. Yet surely, destructive as this is of Israel’s own so called democracy, this need not concern us in the UK, after all Israel is a far away country, its problems domestic?
Unfortunately the truth is otherwise. Israel and its Occupation are now infringing on our liberties. The latest example of this was The Welcome To Palestine Initiative (WTPI), popularly dubbed ‘the Flytilla’. An invitation by 25 completely legal Palestinian civil society organizations to international participants “to come see Palestine for themselves. Come get involved, building the school and other peaceful activities in Palestine.”
However, as with so much else when it comes to the Occupation, Israel views anyone seeking to find out about the Occupation or express solidarity with its victims as ‘provocateurs’ who, according to Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, “will be dealt with in a determined and quick way.” That is denied entry to Palestine, locked in holding cells at the airport and then deported from Israel. Israel, a state they only proposed travelling through because as the organizers of the WTPI pointed out, “There’s no way into the occupied Palestinian territories other than the Israeli control points.”
However, not content with merely denying access to the four million civilians living under the 45 year long military occupation, the Israeli government wanted to avoid the embarrassment of locking up the hundreds of foreign visitors. In pursuit of this illegitimate goal Israel pressurized airlines across Europe not to permit passengers it suspected of wishing to visit Palestine from being permitted to board flights. Accordingly Jet2, Easy Jet, Air France and Lufthansa cancelled the flights of hundreds, thereby colluding in the policy of turning Palestine into a giant prison and effectively bringing the Israeli Occupation to our own shores.
Yet this should not surprise anyone, another example of how the Occupation is now embedded in British society was revealed last week in the case of the unlawful banning, deportation and detention orders placed upon Sheikh Raed Salah. Salah, a leader of the entirely legal Islamic Movement in Israel had come to visit the UK last June to address, amongst others, British Parliamentarians. Instead he found himself arrested and threatened with deportation.
Whilst the grounds for Salah’s arrest focused upon an alleged threat to public order, based mainly on contested evidence supplied by the Jewish charity, The Community Safety Trust, the most interesting aspect of the case is that Home Secretary Theresa May actively sought out reasons to bar him. And whilst Appeals Tribunal Judge Ockelton overturning the deportation order commented that Theresa May had been “misled” and “had acted under a misapprehension of the facts;” the important aspect is that she had sought to be misled, something which is evident in her taking a mere 17 minutes to put the ban in place once she had received CST’s contested report.
Commenting on the case last September, Tayab Ali, Salah’s solicitor said: “When the secretary of state makes a decision to exclude someone from the UK, it is imperative the correct policy is followed. The home secretary made a decision and then searched for reasons to justify it. Its not for the home secretary to determine who should speak in parliament. This is an attack on parliamentary democracy."
Yet the Occupation is here in other ways too – whether it be the trading in Israeli settlement produce; investments in companies that profit from the Occupation; or in security and intelligence collaboration. Whatever the instance, it is Israel’s position that is taken as normative and that receives priority from the UK’s decision makers. And while for most of us it is only the far off Palestinians who feel the consequences of this moral myopia, some actions should alarm us more directly.
Last year’s change in the law on universal jurisdiction is one such instance. In that case a law that was put in place to protect us all was diluted in order to protect suspected Israeli war criminals; the UK government removing the decision as to whether a war crimes suspect could be arrested from the independent judgment of a magistrate to the politically appointed Director of Public Prosecutions. And whilst this change in the law was condemned by Amnesty International Ilana Stein of the Israeli Foreign Ministry commented, “We are glad that Britain has made the right choice.”
One is left then to ponder, when to cater to Israel’s illegal policies our politicians change our laws, our airlines bar passengers and our Home Secretary actively seeks out reasons to stop Palestinian representatives from visiting or speaking – is it not the case that the Occupation is also here?
– Richard Irvine is a Belfast, Ireland-based writer. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
By Richard Irvine