The Independent / March 25, 2023
The UK should stop being selective when it comes to international law.
“A shining beacon of hope”, were the words used by British prime minister Rishi Sunak to describe Israel last year.
But for the Palestinian people, who are living under Israel’s settler-colonial apartheid regime and prolonged illegal occupation, as well as being subjected to discriminatory policies and practices manifested in almost all elements of their lives, the word hope does not come to mind.
Hope certainly didn’t come to mind when Israel’s finance minister Bezalel Smotrich called for the entire Palestinian village of Huwwara to be “wiped out”. Nor did it when the same far-right politician brazenly asserted “there is no such thing as a Palestinian, there is no such thing as a Palestinian people,” in Paris on 19 March.
Those statements came just weeks after Israel surreptitiously de facto annexed the entirety of the West Bank by expanding its own civilian authority over the occupied territory, and days after Israel approved the construction of 7,287 illegal settlement units.
While mourning the near-daily killings of Palestinians by Israeli occupying forces, hope is the last thing we feel. Since the start of the year to date, Israel has killed 89 Palestinians. Last year, 2022, was the deadliest for Palestinians since 2005, with 192 Palestinians killed, including 44 children and 7 women.
This brutal reality of Palestinians, with almost daily raids by Israeli forces, arrests and, at times, collective punishment of entire communities, includes over 15 years continuous blockade and closure of the Gaza Strip. This does not give the Palestinian people hope.
As Sunak welcomes Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Number 10 Downing Street on 24 March, on his first official trip to the UK since his re-election, even Israel’s closest allies have condemned the latest statements made by his cabinet members. Netanyahu himself promised that his government would, “promote and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel – in the Negev, the Golan, Judea and Samaria”, using the biblical names for the West Bank.
Welcoming him is not just disappointing, but an act of whitewashing his crimes and those of his government.
It should not come as a surprise to the international community that the most right-wing Israeli government to date was elected at the end of last year. For decades, Palestinian civil society has been calling for accountability and an end to Israel’s impunity for international crimes committed against the Palestinian people. A little over a year ago, the previous Israeli government (that was not even perceived as right wing) designated legitimate and prominent Palestinian civil society organizations – including our own – as terrorists, thereby criminalizing and outlawing our work.
It should not come as a surprise that a government-backed bill instating the death penalty for Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks against Israelis passed the preliminary Knesset vote this month, while no such capital punishment was proposed for Israeli Jews who kill Palestinians.
Israel has been allowed to maintain and deepen its discriminatory policies, domination and oppression of the Palestinian people with no consequences – and, precisely as we have warned for years, without accountability the human rights situation will only deteriorate.
It is particularly dismaying that when the Palestinian people attempt to seek justice in the courts of law, countries such as the UK strive to block such moves. Most recently, a United Nations resolution calling on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to give an advisory opinion on the legality and consequence of Israel’s prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territory was opposed by the UK, US and 24 other member states.
While the UK has led the call on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Russian war crimes in Ukraine, the UK has opposed an ICC investigation into crimes committed by Israel in the situation of Palestine.
Despite all violations committed by Israel’s settler-colonial and apartheid regime, and the far-right policies pursued by Israel’s 37th government, the UK government signed a landmark agreement with Israel on 21 March: a “2030 Roadmap for UK-Israeli Bilateral Relations, boosting economic, security and technology ties”. This is a development contrary to the UK’s obligations towards the situation in Palestine, and the deteriorating human rights of the Palestinian people.
It is simple: we are asking the UK, and other third states, to act in accordance with their obligations, to work to hold Israel accountable, and to not be selective when it comes to international law. It is imperative that third states commit to the legal processes, and work toward advancing the calls of the Palestinian people for their realization of self-determination and freedom from Israel’s settler colonial apartheid rule.
Shawan Jabarin is the general director of the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq (Ramallah)