Britain should not be complicit to Israel’s policies
In 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron was asked what his country could do to help end the conflict over Kashmir. His response: “I don’t want to try to insert Britain in some leading role… when we are responsible for the issue in the first place.”
If Cameron is a leader who factors Britain’s colonial legacy into his decision-making, then what of his government’s position regarding the Palestinians? Many Palestinians would say Britain has a special responsibility as colonial administrator preceding the Zionists’ success in 1948. It was a former Conservative prime minister — Arthur James Balfour — whose name headed the famous letter calling for a Jewish “national home” in Palestine.
The Balfour declaration would help the transfer of millions of Europeans to Arab-majority Palestine and the creation of Israel through a military campaign of ethnic cleansing. Many Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal military occupation would say that successive British governments since have been complicit in Israel’s persistent violations of international law, its illegal military occupation of Palestinian lands, its colonial expansion through the growth of Jewish-only settlements, its siege of the Gaza Strip and its policies of segregation.
A report by the Campaign Against Arms Trade identified $60 million of arms-export licences to Israel granted to 130 British companies in 2014. The report was released a few months after the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, the assault on Gaza that led to a huge number of civilian casualties.
Following Israel’s 2008 offensive, the United Kingdom admitted that Israeli Defence Forces equipment contained British-made components. In both operations Israeli forces targeted schools, hospitals, ambulances, clinics, mosques, UN facilities, media buildings and numerous homes.
Since the introduction of Britain’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy, schoolchildren have reportedly been interrogated by police for expressing solidarity with Palestinians, some being told they held terrorist views.
Cameron told a 2015 meeting of the National Security Council: “We have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: ‘As long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.’ It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values… This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.”
Certain policies of the current government function to suppress those opposed to the United Kingdom’s complicity in the violation of human rights. On February 16th, Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock visited Israel to announce that the United Kingdom would bar the banning of Israeli products, including those produced on illegally occupied West Bank land. The move was viewed as an attack on the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to make Israel accountable for its racist policies.
The Cabinet Office explained the move by stating that “locally imposed boycotts can… hinder Britain’s export trade and harm international relationship”.
The government appears wary of alienating a valuable partner amid great turmoil in the Middle East, with its shifting geopolitical fault lines. The ban is understandable considering the ire BDS has aroused in Israeli officials.
The strategic partnership between Israel and the United Kingdom is ostensibly predicated upon mutual self-interest. In 2014 trade between the two countries hit an all-time high ($2.5 billion), despite widespread condemnation of the carnage Israel wrought upon the Gaza Strip.
Westminster’s affinity to the Zionist regime, however, and its readiness to insulate Israel from the consequences of its neo-colonial oppression, leave this Conservative government in danger of falling on the wrong side of history — as former prime minister Margaret Thatcher did in South Africa — for subsuming the human rights and dignity of Palestinians to a strategic and economic convenience.
The question is: When states complicit in colonial abuses move to silence even the most limited forms of peaceful resistance, who can wonder why so many Palestinian children see no option but violence?