Friday, 2 January 2009
The New Year opens with news that the Israelis have bombed the parliament building and the offices of Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City, both places I have visited myself for discussions with PLC members and with Haniyeh when he was prime minister of the shortlived Palestinian unity government.
The current death toll stands at 4 Israelis to 380 Palestinians, a ratio of nearly 1:100. I join in condemnation of the killing of Israeli civilians on both humanitarian and political grounds (what on earth does it accomplish except to provide the Israeli government with an excuse for its actions), but how can Israel´s actions be described as anything other than slaughter?
On the first day of Israel´s attack I took part in a discussion on Al Jazeera with Mark Regev, the Israeli government´s appallingly brilliant spokesman and propagandist (day after day he is allowed by journalists to get away with defending the indefensible). He demanded that Hamas and the Palestinians do this and that. I pointed out that the demands are always one way, why are not questions also being asked of Israel, about its blockade of Gaza, the expansion of the Jewish settlements, the stealing of Palestinian land, etc etc?
The firing of missiles – however primitive many of them are – with the intention of killing Israeli civilians provides a justification for Israel´s actions that is impossible to dismiss. No politician could ignore them. Those of us who are horrified by the killing in Gaza are forced to criticise its grossly disproportionate nature rather than condemn it outright.
The reality that this obscures is that the Israelis have the Palestinians tied like a donkey on a rope. They deny the animal much that it needs, they poke it and humiliate it. From time to time the donkey kicks out. The Israeli response is then to shout ¨Bad Donkey,¨ and to hit it, and hit it, until it is cowed and subdued. The failure of the West is to bring in the police and make an arrest for mistreatment of an animal!
The racism that goes to the heart of the Israeli Government's approach is to assume that the Palestinians can be beaten and beaten until they are subdued and will then do what they are told. It fails to recognise that the Palestinians might respond to such treatment in exactly the same way as Israelis would – with defiance.
The response from the West to the events of the past week has been utterly hopeless. Perfectly good words from George W Bush backed by no action at all (I expect no better from Obama). France and Germany united in their unswerving support for Israel. Miliband gives the impression that he wants to go a bit further in his criticism of Israel policy but clearly has no support for that from Gordon Brown, hence his dismissal as ¨naive¨ Nick Clegg's call for a halt to the development of a closer EU-Israel partnership. ¨Naive¨. Why?
It is time for Liberal Democrats to call a halt to the attempt to ride two horses and to try not to upset the Israeli lobby. Our support for the Palestinian cause is well enough known amongst those (by no means all!) in the Jewish community who will not countenance criticism of Israel. It is not well enough known amongst the majority who are appalled by Israel´s behaviour.
We should make clear that we will campaign tooth and nail for a viable and independent Palestinian state and will demand an end to deals with an Israeli government that bases its policy approach on a stance that is fundamentally racist.