A Policy of Punishment

Your people understand the Palestinians suffer a great injustice, Mr Blair – but you are adding to it

Despite the historic responsibility of successive British governments for what has befallen our people, from the Balfour declaration to the catastrophe of dispossession, Palestinians had hoped that the new generation of British politicians might break with the past and stand for truth and justice in the Middle East.
Regrettably, however, the last decade has witnessed the most unfair and one-sided British policy towards the region since the creation of the state of Israel in our homeland close to 60 years ago. The problem has been the unquestioning attachment of Tony Blair’s government to the Clinton and then Bush administrations, which have seen the Middle East through Israeli eyes only.

Despite Israeli war crimes against our people and assassinations of our leaders, the Palestinians introduced to the region one of the most transparent democratic experiences ever. The response of the British government has been to back the US and Israel in imposing boycotts and sanctions, in a blatant act of collective punishment. Since the legislative elections in January 2006, the Palestinian people have endured an effective state of siege and economic and diplomatic boycotts, and the Israeli military machine has been given free rein. During July and August, Israeli occupation troops killed 251 Palestinians, about half of them civilians – without a word of criticism from the British government.
Mr Blair plans to visit our country this weekend. Is this a public relations exercise as he enters his last days of premiership, or is he bringing some new initiative to break the deadlock created by his and his friend’s policies? It might have been an opportunity for me, as the elected Palestinian prime minister, to have one-to-one discussions with him, but that is not possible, since his government has decided not to recognise mine. Not only that, his government decided to punish my people as well, for electing me and my fellow MPs, many of whom have been in Israeli detention since they were kidnapped from their homes and offices. The arrest of these ministers and MPs – five ministers, 33 MPs, including my deputy and the speaker of the legislative council – is a violation of the most fundamental principles of democracy, but this appears to be immaterial to Mr Blair. For him, three captured Israeli soldiers are far more important than 10,000 Palestinian detainees.

Here in Palestine we wonder what the British public thinks of the Blair government conduct that has brought about untold hurt to the Palestinian people. We know why our people are being collectively punished. It is because we refuse to give up our right to freedom and independence.

At the heart of our region’s problems is the Israeli occupation, which has brought about endless suffering and disasters. If you wish to do the right thing, Mr Blair, then work for the end of occupation without further delay. Our message to Labour party delegates as they assemble this month is not to allow those who stand with our oppressors to divert you from your values and historic association with freedom movements around the world.

We receive signals here that the British public is unhappy about what Blair’s government has been doing to our people. We know for sure that the majority of the British people did not approve of the invasion of Iraq. We greatly commend them for such a stance and thank them for sympathising with us in our plight. It is only through justice that peace will prevail in our region and Muslims, Christians and Jews once again live in harmony.

· Ismail Haniyeh is the Palestinian prime minister and a Hamas leader

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