Phillip Hammond, British Foreign Secretary, was heard earlier last week, by me, and many others, on Radio 4, slinking, sliding, languidly dodging questions on whether Israel’s attack on Gaza is proportionate. And I say, can he count? Or at least if not count, does he understand the concept of units, tens, hundreds, THOUSANDS? And does he then understand those concepts when applied, in their units to a Palestinian life, not extinguished, because that generates connotations of death being a peaceful smog, enveloping you in a quick and painless embrace. I want those impersonal units applied to each Palestinian life in massacre, deliberate and brutal. Call a spade a spade, and murder, murder.
What’s important here, is that Phillip Hammond’s or any high level state official’s maneuvering around what many would consider a truism is nothing new, but what is even more important is that now, the maneuvering is even more obvious; in the world of 24/7 news coverage and social media, people from Gaza, Palestine as a whole and Israel are connected more than ever before. The news of the horrors in Gaza are with us in the West before the newscasters have even applied their makeup, to themselves and the story. Unfortunately for Phillip Hammond, we know what we have seen and heard, of that there is no doubt, but still the truth to him, and more importantly to the state he represents, is something that can and will be ignored, hidden in plain sight. Right now, there are at least 1,800 dead, of which 357 are children. 9,400 injured and 239,000 hide in UN shelters. Gaza is being destroyed, 9,245 homes have been flattened, and attacks on schools, hospitals and medical staff continue, with families continuing to be wiped out. Nothing to see here.
The discourse that leaves the mouths of those in power, and of a large part of the media has strict parameters. In a world of ever decreasing standards, the best we indeed hope for in this conflict is for a politician to declare the attack as ‘disproportionate’. The debate, purposefully, hasn’t been whether it is appropriate at all to be attacking the battered population of Gaza. Seemingly, a population locked in their own land, under siege and blockade, with 80% surviving on humanitarian aid, are a threat that must be neutralised. Murder cannot be described as proportionate, ever, but they try. Indeed, Palestinian deaths are but a ‘tragedy’ and illicit ‘concern’ from the media and diplomats, yet the White House described the alleged capture of an Israeli soldier as ‘barbaric’. Strong words not afforded to the besieged in the Strip. These attempts, age old and successful, arouse images of accidental deaths that were never intended by our ‘restrained’ fellows; sounds better than conspicuously purposeful slaughter. It’s worth noting, however, that the alleged capture of a soldier from an invading army is quite a minor crime in comparison with Israel’s longstanding policy of kidnapping Palestinian civilians in their thousands. But the trajectory of the discourse remains the same.
There have been two ‘humanitarian’ ceasefires declared in the past few days (and another after that). I will come onto the proposterousness of that term in a moment. But the ceasefires both had an important caveat; they didn’t apply to areas in which ‘IDF operations were ongoing’, operations that have imposed a 3km buffer zone inside Gaza, shrinking the territory by 40% and forcing Palestinians into areas of Israeli terror. Israel, in these ceasefires, also reserved the right to ‘act defensively’. The duplicitousness would be funny, if the results not so tragic. As for a ‘humanitarian’ ceasefire. The term in itself is a flurry of horrible, but intended contradictions. A pretend pause in the fighting, in which the Palestinians are allowed to gather bodies lying dead for days, is a philanthropic gesture, greeted as one brave and noble that sought and received praise from the usual outlets. And Israel’s right to ‘defend itself’ is still the encore. Israel’s right to ‘defend itself’ from the people they brutalise and whose land they occupy. The right to defend oneself somewhat incompatible with the simultaneous occupation of someone else’s land.
But Hammond’s unwillingness to label Israel’s attack as disproportionate pleased Netanyahu, who praised the Foreign Secretary’s ‘moral focus’. And now, much like an Orwellian nightmare, 2+2=5 and, in this case, 1,800 Palestinian deaths actually = 0. Hammond went further though, saying that a UN investigation into war crimes committed in Gaza is both “unbalanced and unhelpful”. This will have reassured Netanyahu that all is well in the land of the lickspittles and for Hammond et al, the fact still remains: eulogies from the master have long been more intoxicating than the grief of the subordinates. The insistent liar is a danger, always.
Britain’s role in this conflict, however, does go a lot further than the mealy-mouthed phrases of ‘concern’. Aside from being the authors of this catastrophe via the Balfour Declaration in 1917, in which the UK initiated the theft of Palestine from the Palestinians. Today, Britain currently sells £7.9bn worth of arms to Israel, the very arms that are being used to crush the Palestinians, as well as exchanging instruments of oppression for money with Saudi Arabia, a brutal dictatorship. Such ethical transactions. Britain is also a customer of Israel’s. Heavily involved in the £700 million pound Watchkeeper drone scheme, in which Britain buys drones from Israel. David Cronin from Global Research said: “Israel’s drones are the best-known example of innovations routinely “battle-tested” — a term favoured by arms traders — on Palestinian civilians.” Shudder.
A snapshot of this ruthless world, in which Western governments trade their principles and other people’s lives on a global stock market, was illuminated by Peter Oborne of the Daily Telegraph, who present at a Conservative Friends of Israel dinner, along with almost every Conservative MP and a large majority of the then shadow cabinet, watched David Cameron’s speech to the delegation, just months after Israel’s devastating 2008/9 Cast Lead assault on Gaza that killed 1,417, including 313 children. Cameron omitted any mention of the invasion, the destruction caused, but did go onto praise Israel’s benevolence as it “strives to protect innocent lives”. Oborne writes: “I found it impossible to reconcile the remarks made by the young Conservative leader with the numerous reports of human rights abuses in Gaza. Afterwards I said as much to some Tory MPs. They looked at me as if I was distressingly naive, drawing my attention to the very large number of Tory donors in the audience.” Fast forward to July 29th 2014 and David Cameron, to form, refuses to condemn Israel’s escalating attacks and proclaims “Hamas must stop attacking Israel with rockets… that’s how all this started”. Tact prevails and no sign of what would be a much welcome U-turn.
In the case of Israel and Palestine, the US goes much further than Britain, protecting Israel in material and motive. Israel is the largest recipient of American overseas aid, to the tune of $3.1bn p/a. The US’s altruism does not go unreturned though, with Israel providing America with an “offshore US military base right on the periphery of the most important region of the world…oil and energy producing”. The US has five military bases inside Israel. And in true state pragmatism, their hospitality does not pass like a ship in the night. Israel are loyally protected diplomatically by America, with the US having vetoed 42 United Nations resolutions concerning Israel. The same day as the brutal murder of men, women and children at the UN shelter in Jabaliya and the attack on a market that killed 19, the US agreed an Israeli request to resupply them with 120mm mortars and 40mm grenades. Together, this makes for a heady brew of unwavering diplomatic support and military aid, in return for a base in the heart of the Middle East. In the US, a powerful Israeli lobby, AIPAC, and a fervent Christian Evangelical population, who encourage the travel of all Jews to Israel in preparation for Judgment Day, make sure Israel is forever on the agenda.
But should our disappointment at the impotence of our government be of any surprise? Though our dismay at a seeming lack of humanity remains palpable across the country, it would do us well to remember that states themselves are not moral beings. They are in fact immoral, and make decisions based on a ruthless agenda. Thus, morality must be placed upon them. Journalist Mike Rosenberg said, on the subject of Israeli-Palestinian politics: “I have sat in a room with both [John] Kerry and [Joe] Biden, and the bottom line is: publicly, they lie.” Pragmatism usurping morality at the highest level.
So as this conflict further drags Gaza into hell, It is time we shaped the debate. The 66th year of an occupation that has brutalised and humiliated Palestinians, killed and tortured them at worst, has been aided and abetted by the political and media elite. The sight of dead, dying and injured children, and the explosive grief of their parents is changing the way we see the conflict, because we see it now more than ever. Instead of waiting for words to fall from our leaders’ mouths, our morality and our outrage should at the very least label this as disproportionate, at the very best, a crime that will shame a generation.
Tom Colclough is a journalist from Sheffield, England. Interests are the Middle East and giving words back their meaning.