“The blockade must end”, Nick Clegg on Gaza, December 2009
The suffering is shocking. And nobody will benefit from the radicalism that confinement engenders
Nick Clegg, Tuesday 22 December 2009
Hat Tip Frank Barat who suggests it is an appropriate moment to remind Nick of this article written now so long ago – Email him here or here. And remind yourself of the wider Liberal-Democratic position on the Middle-East.
On 27 December last year, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, an overwhelming exercise of military force aimed at silencing the Hamas rockets which had terrorised Israeli towns and villages. The immediate effects of the invasion are well known: 1,400 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians, with many more wounded or displaced; 10 Israeli soldiers and three civilians killed, dozens more injured; and thousands of families in southern Israel forced to flee to other parts of the country. The rocketfire from Gaza into Israel has slowed but has not entirely ceased. Hamas is still in power.
What is less well-known is the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The legacy of Operation Cast Lead is a living nightmare for one and a half million Palestinians squeezed into one of the most overcrowded and wretched stretches of land on the planet. And as Israel and Egypt maintain a near total blockade against Gaza, the misery deepens by the day.
This is not only shocking in humanitarian terms. It is not in Israel’s or Egypt’s interest, either. Confining people in abject poverty in a tiny slice of territory is a recipe for continued bitterness, fury and radicalism.
And what has the British government and the international community done to lift the blockade? Next to nothing. Tough-sounding declarations are issued at regular intervals but little real pressure is applied. It is a scandal that the international community has sat on its hands in the face of this unfolding crisis.
No doubt the febrile sensitivities of the Middle East have deterred governments, caught between recriminations from both sides. No doubt diplomats have warned that exerting pressure on Israel and Egypt may complicate the peace process.
But surely the consequences of not lifting the blockade are far more grave? How is the peace process served by sickness, mortality rates, mental trauma and malnutrition increasing in Gaza? Is it not in Israel’s enlightened self-interest to relieve the humanitarian suffering?
The peace process is in serious trouble right now. Internal Israeli politics limits any meaningful room for manoeuvre, illegal settlement activity in the West Bank continues, and leadership of the Palestinians is divided and incoherent. A two-state solution, long the accepted bedrock of any agreement, is being openly questioned.
But paralysis in the peace process cannot be an excuse for the inhumane treatment of one and a half million people, the majority of them under 18 years old. No peaceful coexistence of any kind is possible as long as this act of collective confinement continues.
According to a recently leaked report by the UN office of the humanitarian co-ordinator, Gaza is undergoing “a process of de-development, which potentially could lead to the complete breakdown of public infrastructure”. A report released today by a group of 16 humanitarian and human rights groups further spells out the effects.
Family homes destroyed in the invasion lie as shattered as ever. The embargo on construction materials means they will stay that way. Local hospitals and clinics were left devastated by the invasion, and those suffering health problems wait longer than ever to get out of Gaza for treatment. Many have died waiting. Bed-wetting and nightmares are endemic among children.
Half of those under 30 are unemployed. These young people are trapped in a broken land with little hope of economic opportunity. The blockade’s restrictions on Gaza’s fishermen mean they can sail only three nautical miles from the coast, impoverishing their families. Meanwhile, 80m litres of raw and partially treated sewage is pumped out into the sea every day.
Most disturbingly of all, the lack of access to materials means that basic water infrastructure simply cannot be repaired or improved; 90 to 95% of Gaza’s water fails to meet WHO standards. The extremely high nitrate level in the water supply is leaving thousands of newborn babies at risk of poisoning.
The insistence by some that aid should come into no contact whatsoever, even indirectly, with Hamas means NGOs are prevented from repairing basic water and sanitation facilities in schools.
There is a clear moral imperative for Israel and Egypt to end the blockade, as well as it being in their enlightened self-interest to change course. But if they do not do so of their own volition, it is up to the international community to persuade them otherwise.
The EU has huge economic influence over Israel, and it believes the blockade must be lifted. At the same time as exercising leverage over Hamas, it should make clear that the web of preferential agreements which now exists between the EU and Israel – from Israeli access to EU research and development funds to recently improved access for Israeli agricultural products – will be brought into question if there is no rapid progress.
Equally, the US, as by far the largest bilateral donor to Egypt, should press President Mubarak to allow in the humanitarian and reconstruction materials that are so desperately needed.
What will be the state of Gaza’s drinking water by next December? Of the health of its children? Of the economy? The attitude of its people towards Egypt and Israel? The risk of waiting another year is too great. Gordon Brown and the international community must urgently declare that enough is enough. The blockade must end.
A VOTE FOR THE LIB DEMS IS A VOTE FOR THE CHILDREN OF GAZA – AND FOR ALL THE CHILDREN OF PALESTINE AND ISRAEL
Here is a three page fact-sheet from the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine on the contrasts between our party, Labour and the Tories on issues concerning Israel and the Palestinians. We are the only one of the three parties to call for substantive action in response to Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’. Our calls for a war crimes tribunal, an arms embargo and measures in respect of the EU-Israel Association Agreement have not been matched by the other parties. Instead, Labour and the Tories have called for the Geneva Conventions Act to be amended so as to make it easier for individuals against whom there are credible war crime allegations to visit Britain with impunity.
We also provide a link to our website to enable you to find out about the extreme views expressed by Michael Gove MP on Israel and the Palestinians, as well as details about how he cheer-led for Blair in calling for the invasion of Iraq.
Fact sheet on Israel/Palestine and the political parties March 2010
The Liberal Democrats were the only party to oppose the Iraq war.
We are also the only party to speak up for international humanitarian law (IHL) in the Occupied Territories.
Neither Labour nor Conservatives have condemned the siege of Gaza or Operation Cast Lead – the Israeli military assault on Gaza in December/January 2008–9, in which civilians and civilian infrastructure were deliberately targeted.
Lib Dem Policy on Gaza
Following our policy motion passed on 8 March 2009 in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, it is Lib Dem Policy that –
* the UN Security Council should establish an international tribunal with power to prosecute and compel the appearance of witnesses to investigate war crimes arising out of Israel’s attack on Gaza, whether by Israel, Hamas or any other party;
* the existing EU Israel Association Agreement should be suspended since Israel has continued its illegal blockade of Gaza;
* the update for Israel’s Association Agreement with the EU should also continue to be suspended;
* the EU should review whether Israel is in enduring breach of Article 2 of the Association Agreement; and there should an arms embargo on Israel by Britain and the EU.
The entire policy motion can be found on the official Lib Dem website. Go to www.libdems.org.uk and search under GAZA.
By contrast, the official Labour and Conservative websites are silent on the Gaza crisis. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary has even been forced to admit that British armaments sold to Israel were likely to have been used in the conflict.
Ed Davey, our Lib Dem shadow foreign secretary, following his visit to Gaza after Cast Lead, commented that it would be an understatement to say ‘it was one of the most harrowing visits I have ever made’. Neither David Miliband nor William Hague, the Conservative shadow foreign secretary, made a visit. Why not?
The Lib Dems and the Goldstone Report
The Goldstone Report found strong prima facie evidence that Israel deliberately used disproportionate force in its assault on Gaza, that civilians and civilian infrastructure (even methods of food production) were deliberately targeted, and that this strategy was sanctioned at the highest level.
We think all war crime allegations should be properly investigated and there should be no impunity for anyone found responsible.
Ed Davey called for the UN, Israel and Hamas to act on the Goldstone Report at the Britain-Palestine All Party Group Annual Reception last November. Both Labour and Conservatives were silent.
Instead, when the Goldstone Report was endorsed at the UN General Assembly, David Miliband sent instructions to the British representative to abstain. For the Conservatives, William Hague actually said that Britain should have voted against the resolution unless it was amended ‘to reflect the role that Hamas played in starting the conflict’.
51 Lib Dem MPs – an overwhelming majority of our parliamentary party – have signed Early Day Motion 502 which states ‘that this House believes that universal jurisdiction for human rights abuses is essential as part of the cause of bringing to justice those who commit crimes against humanity and will oppose any legislation to restrict this power of UK courts.’
This is a brave and principled stand by our MPs which reflects our belief in the rule of international law.
We agree with Judge Goldstone that only accountability can bring justice and peace to Israel and Palestine.
And what of Labour and the Tories?
Labour and the Tories have refused to call for any of the measures which the Liberal Democrats urge should be taken by Britain and the EU in respect of Gaza.
Instead, Brown, Miliband, Cameron and Hague vie in their efforts to reassure the Israeli government that they support a change to the law that would make it easier for Israeli politicians and military figures who may have committed war crimes – as well as other alleged war criminals all over the world – to visit these shores without fear of prosecution under the Geneva Conventions Act.
If the Conservatives win the election, the influence of the Greater Israel lobby – those extremists who believe Israel has a right to add to its territory by swallowing up land it conquered in 1967, rather than by negotiating fair boundaries with the Palestinians on an arms-length basis – will increase. Extreme Conservative views are exemplified by those of Michael Gove MP. Find out about them at http://www.ldfp.eu/gove.html.
According to Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, over half the members of David Cameron’s shadow cabinet are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel. Should our foreign policy be vulnerable to the influence of lobbyists in this way?
To find out more about Palestine, including the history and background to the conflict, visit www.ldfp.eu. If you would like a speaker from the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine or have any queries, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU CARE ABOUT PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST BASED ON THE RIGHTS OF ALL PARTIES IN INTERNATIONAL LAW, THEN VOTE LIB DEM!