Middle East Monitor / August 16, 2022
More than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for the UK to review its foreign policy “in light of reports of Israeli apartheid”. After obtaining the number of signatures required for consideration, the petition was sent to the British Petitions Committee made up of 11 MPs, from both the government and opposition political parties, a committee that defines itself as completely independent.
The petition, whose signatures were collected very quickly, came during the recent Israeli attack on Gaza that killed 48 martyrs – 17 of them children – and wounded about 360, including at least 151 children, and the attack on the city of Nablus where three of the resistance fighters were assassinated – Ibrahim Nabulsi, Islam Sobh and Hussein Taha. During the Israeli occupation’s rabid attack, the besieged hospitals in Gaza received a large number of injuries caused by direct explosions, shrapnel from rockets and falling debris from collapsed buildings. These hospitals mainly suffer from a lack of medication, medical equipment and rehabilitation treatment. They are also in great need for mental health support for those suffering from psychological trauma, either due to their injuries or the loss of loved ones. It is known that more than 40,000 were wounded by the Israeli bombings and attacks during the past four years.
The petitioners based their demand for a review of foreign policy on reports from international human rights organizations that documented the policy of racial discrimination practiced by Israel on a daily basis against Palestinian citizens and the violations they are subjected to as a result of the occupation.
The organizations’ recognition of the occupation’s racist practices has established what the Palestinians have been living and documenting themselves for years, and it is identical to the practices of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The Petitions Committee received the petition and, according to the system drawn up in the “democratic” system, the petition was looked at, the government issued a response in the name of the UK Government and Parliament that puts an end to any hope among the signatories that the petition would, as is the usual practice, be a tool to pressure the government to take a certain measure and collect evidence.
What did the response include? There was nothing new, although it is necessary to read it as a reminder of the position of a government that was and still practices double standards without moral standards. The response stated that “The UK is committed to advancing the Middle East Peace Process. We are aware of these reports (referring to reports proving that the Israeli government is an apartheid government), and do not agree with the terminology used within them.” It did not address the details of the reports or argue them. The response also stated that “Resuming meaningful bilateral negotiations, with international support, is the best way of getting to an agreement.”
The response, as a whole, resorts to the typical position of viewing the executioner and the victim as equals, and often goes beyond it, in explicit or implicit language, to blame the victim and implying the victims are deserving of what befalls them. This is the general outline of the response wrapped in terms such as “peace process”, “negotiated settlement”, “abide by International Humanitarian Law and to promote peace, stability, and security”, and “bilateral negotiations, with international support” which, of course, includes the British government, which only refers to the apartheid government as “a friend”. It referred to Israel as a friend twice, first when it says, “As a friend of Israel, we have a regular dialogue with the Government of Israel” and, second, when it says, “Israel’s long-standing commitment to democratic values is one of its great strengths as a fellow democracy, and we continue to make clear that a strong, vibrant civil society is in Israel’s own interest. As a friend of Israel, we would be concerned by any developments that may undermine this commitment.”
It is clear from reading the response; clearly diplomatic language did not succeed in disguising the fact that there are two completely different positions towards the racist regime and the Palestinian people. In the case of the former, it is a position of a friend who is concerned about the safety and security of their friend and recognises “their legitimate need to deploy security measures” and “The UK remains resolute in its commitment to Israel’s security.” It also says “The people of Israel deserve to live free from the scourge of terrorism and antisemitic incitement, which gravely undermine the prospects for a two-state solution. We were appalled by the recent terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. There can be no justification for such acts of violence” adding that “Where there have been accusations of excessive use of force, we have advocated swift, transparent investigations.”
It is as if the writer of the response was afraid, they would be accused of anti-Semitism, an accusation that is immediately directed against anyone who tries, even remotely, to address the occupation of Palestine and the occupier’s crimes. Therefore, the writer listed instances of the UK’s support for Israel, writing “The UK has stood up for Israel when it faces bias and unreasonable criticism” and included examples of this, such as voting against a UN resolution that supported the Palestinian people. At the same time, the British government played a major role in imposing sanctions and a comprehensive siege on the Iraqi people for 13 years but sees no harm in the genocidal siege imposed on the people of Gaza. The response states “We are firmly opposed to boycotts/sanctions in this case.” Why? Because it believes that “imposing sanctions or boycotts on Israel or supporting anti-Israeli boycotts would not support our efforts to progress the peace process and achieve a negotiated solution.”
As for its position towards the suffering of the Palestinian people as a result of the occupation and racist practices, the response portrays it as nothing more than a natural product of what is described as a “conflict”. As for resisting the occupation, it is considered terrorism that justifies the arrest, imprisonment and assassination of the resistance fighters. Mention of what the Palestinian people are exposed to comes as a second thought, in loose and cliché phrases, such as “Every Israeli and Palestinian has the right to live in peace and security”. However, the UK does not forget to mention its generosity in improving “the lives of Palestinians throughout the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem”, focusing specifically on “humanitarian assistance for Gaza” to cover up Israel’s racist policies that have made Gaza a prison for 2 million Palestinians.
What, then, is the importance of participating in the distribution and signing of the petition, when the reality of the situation indicates that everyone knows what the government’s response will be? Continuing anti-occupation actions at all levels is necessary, not only in order to achieve its ultimate goal, but the process acts as a tool of awareness and global solidarity with the resistance, which the Palestinian people bear the heaviest load for. They pay the price dearly in the form of the daily lives of the people, the shedding of the martyrs’ blood, and the wounded.
Haifa Zangana is an Iraqi author and activist