British Ministers Stonewall Criticism of Israel

By Stu Littlewood

Last week there was a debate on Gaza in the UK Parliament. Very few people turned up.

MP Jeremy Corbyn reminded everyone that 36 of the 39 Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council members the Israelis abducted in 2006 were still detained and some hadn’t even been charged. "We cannot stand by and allow elected members of a fellow Parliament to be arrested and held without charge or trial in Israeli prisons… More Palestinian legislators are in prison than legislators from all the other Parliaments in the rest of the world put together… I hope that the Minister will tell us that serious pressure has been put on Israel to release those parliamentarians."

He also raised questions on settlements, the blockade of Gaza and the West’s refusal to talk with Hamas. The minister with responsibility for the Middle East, Dr. Kim Howells (a former chairman of Labour Friends of Israel) replied: "The Government recognises the impact and scale of the problems and the need to address all of them.”

He then dismissed Hamas as "a rejectionist Palestinian group” and tried to equate Gaza’s home-made rocket launchings with Israel’s crippling siege and high-tech military onslaughts that have killed 169 (at the time of writing) and maimed hundreds more since the Annapolis ‘peace’ meeting. "The United Kingdom urges restraint on all parties," was as firm as the minister got.

As for Hamas, a political dialogue was impossible as long as one party was dedicated to violence and the destruction of the other. “The bedrock of our approach is… to give every support to those who are committed to peaceful progress.”

What of the 90 chronically sick hospital patients who have died in agony for lack of drugs, equipment spares and proper nutrition, and over 300 more who face a similar fate unless the blockade is lifted? Well, desperate Gazans will be relieved to know that, according to Howells, "the United Kingdom remains committed to supporting Palestinians in Gaza."

Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for International Development, also fielded questions. Asked what assistance his Department was providing to the people of Gaza, he said: "I and the Foreign Secretary have made repeated pleas to the Israeli Government to recognise their obligations and ensure that the crossings are open for humanitarian supplies.”

Sir Gerald Kaufman asked: "Is it not a fact that only international action can bring to an end the humanitarian disaster caused by collective punishment imposed by the gang of amoral thugs who comprise the Israeli Government and violate not only international law but the historic Jewish conscience?" Sir Gerald is one of many well-regarded Jews who are dismayed and disgusted with the Israeli government.

"The British Government have been unequivocal in stating that Israel should abide by its commitment under the fourth Geneva Convention," was the reply.

Another MP, Michael Moore, said: "We are appalled by the scale of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, but does the Secretary of State agree that we have reached an extraordinary state of affairs when a UN representative can say: Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the…acquiescence…of the international community? Does the Secretary of State think that the scale of the Israeli response is disproportionate?"

Alexander twittered about “active diplomatic efforts”. In December he had discussed the Israeli Government’s “defence posture and humanitarian obligations” with Ehud Barak. Foreign Secretary David Miliband had raised those matters directly with Minister Livni.

Blame It on the Rockets

Then David Winnick asked: "Cannot the Western powers—certainly this country, and I would hope the US—be much firmer with Israel and say that its actions cause dismay throughout the civilised world? How would Israeli citizens like to be subject to what the citizens of Gaza are subjected to by Israeli occupation?"

This had Alexander ducking and weaving. It was time to play the Israel lobby’s trump card – Qassams! "Ultimately, both the Palestinians and the people of Israel have legitimate security concerns, but that is no reason why humanitarian supplies should not reach Gaza, nor why rockets should be fired on the Israeli population,” he said. “It is imperative that all sides recognise their responsibilities…"

Miliband and Alexander later made a joint statement: "We continue to be deeply concerned by the growing humanitarian impact of restrictions by the Government of Israel on industrial diesel supplies to Gaza… We welcome Israel’s recent decision to increase the supply of industrial diesel and continue to urge them to lift all restrictions on fuel with immediate effect…

"We utterly condemn the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. We support all efforts to stop these attacks consistent with obligations under international law.”

Commitment to Geneva Conventions, obligations under international law… none of it amounts to a row of beans, and never will until the grey suits in London and the rest of the west learn that if the law is to mean anything they must enforce it.

Righteous condemnation of the rockets is ‘de rigueur’ of course, though only a smokescreen. As Al Jazeera reports, many in the Occupied Territories see that Annapolis was nothing more than an international facade behind which a new phase of fiercer US-backed Israeli aggression could be launched. Gaza’s Qassams are a wonderful excuse for stepping up military action in pursuit of Israel’s unlawful ambitions. In addition to the mounting atrocities in Gaza Israel has been conducting 20-30 incursions a week into the West Bank, rounding up and killing members of assorted Palestinians groups with impunity. It might spoil the IDF’s fun if the home-made rockets were to stop. They’d have to invent another excuse for their depravity.

What moral reason is there for supporting Israel?

Sir Gerald’s “gang of amoral thugs” are not the only villains. Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger advocates ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and says Muslims should recognize that "our land is the Holy Land and Jerusalem belongs to us." Metzger, reports Haaretz, wants Britain, the European Union and the United States to help construct a Palestinian state in Egypt’s Sinai Desert. “They will have a nice country, and we, the Jews, shall have our country and we shall live in peace.”

However Neturei Karta, an international group of non-Zionist Orthodox Jews, issued a strongly worded press release that brands Metzger a Zionist stooge. “Any moral person would much prefer to see the Zionist warmongers, including Metzger, removed from the Holy Land.”

Neturei Karta argue that the State of ‘Israel’ is illegitimate according to Torah teachings, and the establishment of a Jewish state is forbidden until Jews are released from exile by God Himself, without any human intervention, at which time all nations of the world will live together in peace. “Therefore to oppress the Palestinian people, harm them, steal their land, expel them, etc. is totally forbidden according to our Holy Torah.”

It is a mistake, they say, to believe that you have to support Zionism in order to show friendship to the Jewish people. “True friendship can be demonstrated by saving all the peoples of the Middle East, including Jews, from the bloodthirsty machinations of the dangerous State of ‘Israel’ and by dismantling the Zionist regime entirely.”

When Torah experts say the regime’s conduct is incompatible with the moral teachings and ideals of Judaism, I’m not surprised. It doesn’t sit well with Christianity either.

How can pro-Israel MPs and ministers possibly ignore the fact that the Israeli government is waging war against the Holy Land’s Christian communities, whom it terrorises along with their Muslim neighbours, and is using pernicious administrative controls to disrupt the life and work of the Church? Many Christians here are deeply angered by such criminality, and it’s very odd that our elected representatives, who are mostly Christian themselves, don’t feel similarly outraged on behalf of members of the Church family who are so cruelly abused under Israeli occupation.

Why there should be any support at all for Israel at the heart of British government is one of the greatest political mysteries of our time. We share no beliefs or values and we shouldn’t even think about sharing foreign policy. Can it be that supposedly bright people with vast sources of information at their fingertips are still ignorant of Israel’s apartheid practices, its wholesale land thefts, its careless slaughter of children and the slow genocide it inflicts on defenceless civilians… the break-your-door-down-in-the-middle-of-the-night snatch squads, the house demolitions, the torture and assassinations? Were those same bright people also unaware of the lies that persuaded them to commit our country to fight Israel’s war with Iraq? I don’t think so…. which leaves only one other explanation.

Of course, it’s not just a western weakness. Arab governments have ‘taken the dollar’. It’s a cosy money-go-round that oils the wheels of the self-serving political elite and their puppet-masters as they trample the millions they have condemned to a life of misery.

-Stu Littlewood is the author of the book Radio Free Palestine: ( The author contributed this article to

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