The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has this week exposed once again its one-sided view of relations between Gaza and Israel.
In identical letters sent to Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and PSC members, the FCO reiterated its belief that Israel’s assault on Gaza in November 2012 was a response to rocket attacks into Israel.
The letter came from Barry Griffiths of the Near East Department of the FCO, and was in response to emails sent in November asking for factual evidence for claims made by Foreign Secretary William Hague that “… it is Hamas that bears principal responsibility for starting all of this.”
Hague was speaking on 15 November, a day after the assault began, on Sky News’ Murnaghan program, a weekly news show.
After apologizing for the delay in replying to emails about Hague’s statement, Griffiths wrote: “I would like to reassure you that the UK in no way seeks to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
His next paragraph then began: “We made clear that Hamas bore principal responsibility for the start of the current crisis, because the conflict would not have happened without the significant increase in rocket attacks in 2012, and particularly in the latter months, including Hamas ending its own ceasefire.”
As with all people, governments and institutions that side with Israel, Griffiths gave the specious “rockets” argument which is propagated by Israeli politicians and PR chiefs, while ignoring the root cause of the “conflict” – decades of occupation and more than six years of siege.
In truth, “the conflict would not have happened,” as Griffiths puts it, if Israel paid heed to international law, ended its occupation of Palestinian land, lifted the blockade of Gaza and allowed the Palestinian people their right to self-determination.
Without specifying what ceasefire Hamas had allegedly broken and when, Griffiths also chose to ignore the documented fact that Israel violated an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on 14 November, when it carried out the extra-judicial assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari – the signal to its consequent onslaught on Gaza.
And, although he bemoaned a “significant increase in rocket attacks in 2012,” without providing any figures, Griffiths saw no reason to consider that the besieged people of Gaza might also be unhappy with living under near-constant Israeli bombing, shelling and artillery attack.
According to figures from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 99 Palestinians were killed in Gaza by Israeli armed forces between 1 January and 14 November 2012. There were no Israeli fatalities caused by Palestinian rockets during this period. However, according to Griffiths’ fallacious argument, the deaths of nearly 100 Palestinians, including children, warranted no justified response from Gaza. Israel, on the other hand, was understandably provoked by the crude rockets being launched from the territory it lays siege to and could not, in any way, be blamed for the “current crisis.”
Further highlighting the skewed FCO notion that only Palestinian violence is to be denounced, while Israeli state violence has its justifications and need only be toned down, Griffiths continued: “We have consistently condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel which are contrary to international humanitarian law and do nothing to help the people of Gaza. At the same time, we called on Israel to seek every opportunity to de-escalate their military response, and to observe international humanitarian law and avoid civilian casualties.”
The tragic irony of asking a state whose collective punishment of the people of Gaza through siege is a breach of the Geneva Conventions, and whose health officials have calculated exactly how much food to let in to avoid starvation while they “put the Palestinians on a diet“ (Dov Weisglass, 2005), to “observe international humanitarian law” appeared to be lost on Griffiths.
His letter continued: “The priority now must be to address the underlying causes of the conflict, including more open access to and from Gaza for people and goods, and an end to the smuggling of weapons. It is important that momentum towards finding a solution to the problems of Gaza is maintained. We are also working with humanitarian agencies to address the needs of the civilian population of Gaza.”
There it is. The UK Foreign Office isn’t calling for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza which has reduced 80 percent of households in the territory to aid dependency, but merely for some increased entry and exit of people and goods. Griffiths, it would appear, is content to let the Palestinians remain living under a medieval siege which, through its restrictions on the free movement of people and its collective punishment of children, women and men, is in breach of international law.
He talks about the “problems of Gaza,” but completely fails to address them. The words “occupation,” “blockade” and “siege” are not mentioned in this letter. There is no condemnation of Israel’s total control over an entire population which, according to the UN, equates to occupation.
The Palestinians are blamed for bringing their suffering on themselves – earlier in the letter for firing rockets which “do nothing to help the people of Gaza,” and then for smuggling weapons. Israel is absolved of responsibility. This is highlighted again when Griffiths says the FCO is working with humanitarian agencies to address the needs of Gaza’s civilian population.
No amount of humanitarian aid will bring a “solution to the problems of Gaza.” The situation in Gaza is political and the people of Gaza need a political solution — at the very least, sanctions against the state which so wilfully abuses their human rights. They also need genuine impartiality from countries like the UK, which are members of the UN Security Council, a body which has the power to approve or sanction any decisions made about Israel by the UN General Assembly. As this letter shows, that impartiality appears to be a long way off.