Open Letter to the British Foreign Secretary

By Stuart Littlewood – London

To Mr David Miliband,

You seem like a clever man – Kennedy scholar, something big in Social Justice, then head of Tony Blair’s policy unit, now foreign secretary. Tell us, why do so many western politicians have so much trouble coming to terms with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which their countries are obliged to observe?

Is it because they haven’t bothered to read it? Or do they simply not care? Either way, they neglect their duty.
 
Understanding the Declaration is really no sweat. A glance at the Preamble is enough to grasp the fundamentals:

• Recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

• Violence against tyranny and oppression is what happens if these rights are not protected by the rule of law.

• Member States (and that includes Britain) have pledged themselves to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

So when you were within home-made rocket range of Gaza recently, Mr Miliband, why didn’t you drop in to see first-hand the deprivation, pain and death your government department has helped inflict on 1.4 million civilians for the last 30 months, tearing up nearly every Article of the Declaration in the process?

Instead, you visited Sderot to "show solidarity" with the people there.

Why is Article 2 such a big problem? This says that EVERYONE is entitled to ALL the rights and freedoms set out in the Declaration, regardless of race, politics and religion and regardless of the status of the country or territory to which a person belongs. So let’s think Gaza and West Bank… What entitles Israel to take away Palestinians’ rights and freedoms and discriminate against them precisely on the grounds of their race, politics and religion? And what entitles Britain to give a wink of approval? 

Why doesn‘t your department uphold Palestinian rights as vigorously as it upholds Israel’s “right to defend itself” – a right everyone else is equally entitled to – and talk to Palestinian ‘extremists’ as well as Israeli extremists?

There also seems to be difficulty with Article 5: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". 10,000 Palestinians, including women and children abducted from their homes, are languishing in Israeli prisons, many without charge or trial. Several reports, including those from Israeli groups B’Tselem, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Centre for the Defence of the Individual, have alerted us to Israel’s torture of prisoners and detainees.

Humiliating treatment can be seen any time, any day, at any Israeli checkpoint or crossing. And there’s the unforgivable torment of collective punishment meted out to the civilians of Gaza by Israel’s devastating siege.

Article 13 promises that "everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state… Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." No Palestinian has freedom of movement within his homeland in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As you well know, Israel has seized more than 38% of the West Bank, including prime agricultural land and strategic water resources, and these areas are off-limits to Palestinians. 80% of the West Bank’s precious water is now diverted to illegal settlements while Palestinians are strictly rationed or go without.

In Gaza, where the blockade has brought the near collapse of healthcare, even the chronically sick cannot leave for treatment abroad. Students have been prevented from taking up scholarships in the West. Were you stopped from going to university, Mr Miliband?

And the right of return for Palestinians forced to flee their homes by rampaging Jewish (later Israeli) terrorists still waits to be enforced.

Article 17 provides that everyone has the right to own property and no-one shall be arbitrarily deprived of it. Yet confiscation, demolition and displacement – ‘ethnic cleansing’ in plain language – continues as Israel pushes ahead with its illegal colonizing programme establishing vast settlements and other ‘facts on the ground’.

Article 21 gives everyone "the right to take part in the government of his country… The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government…" You and your colleagues extinguished this right by rejecting the people’s choice in fair and square elections in 2006. Why? Anyone who knows the situation knows who the real terrorists are. The decision to refuse to talk with Hamas not only denies Gaza’s citizens of their rights but is unworthy of us.

Please don’t give us excuses about home-made rockets "raining down" on Sderot when countless thousands of Israeli bombs, missiles, grenades, tank shells and dum-dum rounds are routinely blasted into Gaza’s rightly-packed humanity. 8 Palestinians die for every Israeli; and when it comes to children the kill-rate is 11 to 1.

And don’t even mention that captured Israeli soldier – a trained killer – when the Israelis, I hear, kidnapped 330 Palestinians only last month. It would be nice to hear equal concern for the 30+ Palestinian MPs and legislators still under ‘administrative detention’. In the UK we create merry hell when police arrest and question an MP for a few hours.

Then there’s Article 23: “Everyone has the right to work”. Gaza’s 3,000 fishermen miss out on this one. Israel unlawfully claims control of Palestinian territorial waters and when the fishing boats put to sea they are fired on. Most citizens in the Strip are denied the right to work. Businesses are prevented from bringing supplies in and shipping products out. All attempts to develop their economy are thwarted. Care to guess the unemployment rate, Mr Miliband?

Let’s not forget Article 25: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.” That of course is a sick joke to Palestinians. Care to guess the number of children with stunted growth through malnutrition, Mr Miliband?

Finally, Article 28. “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” So what exactly has the international order been doing the last 60 years to deliver Palestinian rights and freedoms?

You are part of that order, are you not Mr Miliband?

– 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.

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