Hats off to Hexham for holding such serious debates at St. Mary’s Centre. Last Saturday’s was on the human cost of conflict in Israel/Palestine and Syria.
It is extraordinary how the powerful are able to blame the victim. I wanted to point out to the very well-meaning Guy Opperman MP that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land predates Hamas, the Islamic group in control of Gaza, and that apartheid is apartheid no matter what rhetoric you use to dress it up.
A member of the audience asked what Britain would do it it were occupied. There would be retaliation for sure, some of it violent, and the occupiers would use this as an excuse to ratchet up oppression. Would you want justice or would you seek compromise with your occupiers?
I have been to Gaza many times. If you want to know what it is like to be bombed heavily and repeatedly, it is the place to go. Not that there is much of Gaza left standing after decades of conflict. Israel however is relatively unscathed, booming in fact and building apace, illegally so under international law, on Palestinian land.
Presenting alongside Mr Opperman was the Rev Brian Brown whose gracious humanity you sense has been honed through tragedy. This retired Methodist minister, banned from South Africa for opposing apartheid, is unafraid to shout when the emperor wears no clothes.
In his successful, if manipulatively racist, bid for re-election, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. As if we didn’t already know.
He later tried to back-pedal but his credibility internationally sunk further. The EU threatened tougher sanctions, President Obama expressed exasperation. The White House - already irked by Netanyahu’s attempts to undermine negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme - may no longer shield Israel from pro-Palestinian resolutions at the United Nations. We can only hope.
Netanyahu exploits the politics of fear, fetes militancy over statesmanship. Israel touts itself as the only democracy in the Middle East but wants to be an exclusively Jewish country. If there is no Palestinian state in a two-state solution, then Israel will have to permanently subjugate millions of Muslim and Christian Palestinians, denying their democratic rights, under a binational one-state solution. How would the UN, US and EU respond to that?
A new EU report on Jerusalem does not mince its words, warning Jerusalem is on the edge of polarisation and violence over the systematic construction of settlements in the city and the eviction of Palestinians. Palestinians are close to boiling point.
As Simon Schama pointed out in the Financial Times last weekend, young Palestinians, doomed to endless occupation, will become more, not less, violent. Radicalisation would flourish in the West Bank and Gaza. You reap what you sow, Mr Netanyahu.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab wrote that with Netanyahu’s intentions now writ large, it is paramount the international community resolve a conflict that all agree has poisoned the air in the Middle East.
It is no longer acceptable that international instruments such as the Security Council and International Criminal Court be disabled in favour of Israel. No one country should be above international law.
The crime of apartheid, becoming harder to deny, is important because it carries international legal weight. The Palestinian Authority will join the International Criminal Court next month where it will request indictment for Israeli war crimes in Gaza and for illegal settlements in the West Bank. Palestine may soon also again seek a UN Security Resolution calling for an end to the occupation. Is there a whiff of justice in the air?
The human cost of the occupation mounts, for Palestinians and Israelis. Souls and societies are being destroyed. Somehow, they are going to have to live together. I suspect things may get worse before they get better.
The Palestinian diplomatic offensive could lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu’s government is withholding tax revenue the PA needs to survive, while Abbas, the Palestinian leader, is threatening is withdraw security co-operation with Israel in the West Bank.
Regionwide, peace is currently poisoned by religious sectarianism which is probably impossible to solve without the inclusion of Iran. And Syria? The only thing the US should do is provide transportation for Bashar Assad to The Hague to be tried for crimes against humanity.