In spite of British Foreign Office policy that “the Royal Family should not make official visits to Israel due to its historic and grave violations of human rights, international law and UN resolutions,” Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, made just such an official visit last week – the first royal to do so since the establishment of the state in 1948.
A Kensington Palace statement announced: “The non-political nature of His Royal Highness’s role – in common with all Royal visits overseas –allows a spotlight to be brought to bear on the people of the region: their cultures, their young people, their aspirations, and their experiences.”
But surely the visit is especially politically charged, given the aspirations of the over 120 Palestinians massacred and 14,000 injured by the Israeli army during the Great Return March protests in Gaza? British arms exports “almost certainly” were used in the attack, in direct contravention of the UK’s policy that arms exports should not be used in the Occupied Territories.
UK arms export licences to Israel soared to £216m last year. They include “technology for military radars”, grenades, bombs, missiles, armoured vehicles, assault rifles, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles and components for sniper rifles which may have been used by the Israeli military on the Gaza border. The violence prompted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to call for a review of arms sales to Israel, condemning its “illegal and inhumane” killing and wounding of “yet more unarmed Palestinian protesters”. But Wills, (without his wife Kate), had nothing to say on that subject.
Instead, at the British Embassy Garden Banquet on Tuesday in Tel Aviv he said that he was delighted to be in Israel. He spoke about his first official engagement visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, which he found a “profoundly moving experience”.
“As I wrote in my message at Yad Vashem,” he said, “We must never forget what was perpetrated against the Jewish people in the Holocaust. I am well aware that the responsibility falls now to my generation to keep the memory alive of that great crime as the Holocaust generation passes on. And I commit myself to doing this.”
I doubt if any of his grateful Jewish Israeli hosts pointed out to Prince William the location of Deir Yassin on the other side of the valley from the Holocaust Memorial, the village where 254 Palestinian men women and children were brutally murdered by Zionist forces in 1948, now bulldozed and covered by a new settlement of Orthodox Jews centered round a mental hospital.
And I doubt if he was informed that Yad Vashem had fired an instructor for comparing the trauma of Jewish Holocaust survivors with the trauma experienced by the Palestinian people in Israel’s War of Independence. Teacher Itimar Shapira admitted that he had spoken to visitors about the Deir Yassin massacre.
“Yad Vashem talks about the Holocaust survivors’ arrival in Israel and about creating a refuge here for the world’s Jews. I said there were people who lived on this land and mentioned that there are other traumas that provide other nations with motivation,” Shapira said.
“The Holocaust moved us to establish a Jewish state and the Palestinian nation’s trauma is moving it to seek self-determination, identity, land and dignity, just as Zionism sought these things,” he said.
“I only tried to expose the visitors to the facts, not to political conclusions. If Yad Vashem chooses to ignore the facts, for example the massacre at Dir Yassin, or the Nakba (“The Catastrophe,” the Palestinians’ term for what happened to them after 1948), it means that it’s afraid of something and that its historic approach is flawed.” Shapira said when he was sacked (ten years ago).
Prince William also visited the “Occupied Palestinian Territories”, (a title which infuriated Israelis), shared peace pleasantries with President Abbas and played football with some kids. In Ramallah he spoke to school girls in Jalazone refugee camp, and visited a cultural display and a street food festival, but the continued annexation of land, building of settlements and walls, the killing, systematic repression and displacement of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state remained absent from discussion, and unsurprisingly, the daily lives of Palestinians, which includes checkpoints, an apartheid wall and illegal settlements remained invisible in the official visit.
“You will not be forgotten,” Prince William told his Palestinian hosts as he stepped from the Occupied Territories back into Israel – the real focus of his visit. As he told his Tel Aviv embassy audience: “The United Kingdom stands with you as we work together for a peaceful and prosperous future. The ties between our two countries have never been stronger, whether in our record levels of trade and investment, our cooperation in science and technology; or the work we do together to keep our people safe.”
In Jerusalem, donning a black skullcap at the Western Wall, accompanied by security guards, he placed his right hand on the ancient stones, stuck a note in a crack, and stood for a full minute while cameras flashed.
“Today we experienced a moment of history which will live long in the memory of Jews around the world,” said the Chief Rabbi of Britain Ephraim Mirvis, who accompanied the prince on his visit. “The Western Wall stands at the epicenter of our faith. To see the future monarch come to pay his respects was a remarkable gesture of friendship and a sign of the duke’s regard for the sanctity of Jerusalem.”
Mission accomplished, Prince William flew back to London on Thursday from Ben Gurion airport, named after David Ben Gurion, chairman of the Jewish Agency and head of the Zionist workers movement.
In 1938 Ben Gurion is quoted as telling Jewish leaders: “In our political argument abroad, we minimize Arab opposition to us, but let us not ignore the truth among ourselves. We are the aggressors and they defend themselves.”
I doubt Prince William knew that.