Letter to UK Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham
A few days ago I wrote to you in your new capacity as a Foreign Office minister, asking what steps Her Majesty’s Government was taking to protect the Fee Gaza flotilla sailing to the besieged enclave on a humanitarian mission, in view of threats by Israel to seize the vessels and their crews and passengers.
And I wanted to know what constructive help, direct or indirect, the government is providing to break Israel’s illegal four-year blockade.
What many of us feared has actually happened. The mercy ships have been subjected to an unprovoked military assault, with tragic consequences and loss of innocent life. It may have surprised some but, frankly, it is only to be expected from a hooligan regime that never gets the clip round the ear it deserves from the international community for the obscene crimes regularly committed since its unwelcome birth 62 years ago.
The Cast Lead blitzkrieg on the Gaza Strip, which left 1,400 dead including at least 350 children, thousands maimed and hundreds of thousands homeless, should have been a final warning that Israel’s leaders are utterly devoid of humanity and need to be treated accordingly.
Israel’s chief propagandist, Mark Regev, surpassed even himself when interviewed yesterday [31 May] on BBC TV.
“We did everything we could to avoid violence…”
“They [the aid workers] chose the path of confrontation…”
“This is elementary, we have to defend ourselves…”
“Our boarding party was attacked with live fire…”
“Violence was initiated by these activists…”
“The violence and the hostile fire was initiated by them… these people masquerade as human rights activists…”
“The last time they were in Gaza, this group, the first thing they did was to have their photographs taken with the Hamas leadership… “
“We didn’t attack them, they attacked us…”
“We tried to do, in accordance with international law, a peaceful intervention as they were entering a blockaded area…”
He trotted out the same tired mantra about “those rockets that have rained down on Israeli civilians” with no mention of the hundreds of thousands of rockets and other explosives the Israelis have launched into Gaza and no explanation of why the West Bank, which fires no rockets, is still occupied). And his final lie? “There are no shortages in Gaza…”
I see on the Foreign Office website that consular access has been granted to the injured British citizen but not to the other Britons abducted from the flotilla. Even their number and location are withheld. This is a grave insult which, following so closely on the passports scandal, should have resulted in Ambassador Prosor being given his marching orders.
No-one, it seems, wants to talk about the central issue of maritime law, probably because it doesn’t suit the case of Israel and its adoring friends. I have just received from an eminent source a legal opinion on piracy, which I relay here, somewhat shortened and paraphrased…
If Israeli interference with the flotilla is carried out by ships flying an Israeli flag, it would not be piracy, but a violation of the right of freedom of navigation on the high seas. If no Israeli flag, then arguably piracy.
Interference with shipping beyond the so-called contiguous zone (another 12 miles beyond the 12 miles of territorial waters) would be also a violation of the freedom of the high seas, in this case aggravated if the ships in question were on a widely acknowledged humanitarian mission to break a criminally unlawful blockade.
The call by John Ging of the UN for material humanitarian relief via the freedom flotilla gives the mission a quality of being “ultra-innocent”. Israel’s unilateral establishment of a 68-mile security zone, without any legitimate security basis, for the purpose of apprehension of foreign vessels is a deliberate further unlawful encroachment on the freedom of navigation on the high seas.
If Gaza is considered occupied, which is of course denied by Israel, then by Article 25 of the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (which allows a coastal state “to take the necessary steps in its territorial sea to prevent passage which is not innocent” and “suspend temporarily in specified areas of its territorial sea the innocent passage of foreign ships if such suspension is essential for the protection of its security…”) it has latitude to take steps in accordance with its temporary sovereign authority. However, even here Israel would have to rely on its legal status as occupying power, which it hotly denies.
As a lawyer yourself, Henry, you may have a view you wish to share. Or maybe the Foreign Office’s maritime lawyers could be asked to issue briefing notes for us poor citizens.
I took the liberty of reminding Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that ministers were alerted to Israel’s threats and had ample time to prepare for the possibility – no, probability – of a bloody incident occurring. “What’s needed is firm, decisive intervention. Just for a change let us see our government do us proud on the international stage.”
It is interesting to note that Turkey promises an armed escort for future humanitarian flotillas. Britain should have already taken care of that.
Am I angry? You bet I’m angry – and disgusted with the endless posturing by cowardly politicians who are complicit in the plight of those who were once under British mandate and are now systematically half-starved, strafed, abused and forced to live in the most appalling, squalid conditions.
Foreign Secretary Hague has announced he is calling on the government of Israel “to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians”. But these are only words, which we all know will be ignored unless matched by action.
Mr Cameron has urged Israel to respond constructively to criticism and lift its blockade on Gaza. That too is fine as far as it goes but, again, there must be consequences for Israel if it does not immediately act as required. Mr Cameron must spell out the need to comply meticulously with international law, the ruling of the International Court of Justice and the long list of UN resolutions and declarations that Israel has defied.
Until wholehearted conformity is demonstrated, Britain should play its part in ensuring Israel’s membership of the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] is revoked and the plug is pulled on the EU Association Agreement. After what is, in many minds, the rogue state’s foulest crime, Israel must now work hard to earn a place in civilized international society.
Talking of Prosor, instead of packing his bags he used the platform of the [BC Radio 4] “Today” programme to repeat the disinformation broadcast earlier by Regev, complaining that Israel’s storm-troopers, abseiling from helicopters under cover of darkness onto innocent vessels on the high seas, had to defend themselves from “extremists”. The right of self-defence, it seems, belongs only to Israel. Here is some of the desperate stuff he was spouting:
“The people on board the ships behaved appallingly…”
“People on board, they weren’t really looking for co-operation, they were
trying to confront…”
“Hit with metal pipes, fire bombs and knife blades…”
“We disengaged completely out of Gaza…”
“We are up against people who are not exactly human rights activists…”
“We are trying ,,, not to go overboard in our reaction…”
“We are trying … to create a situation where we are able to talk to more moderates and trying to isolate those extremists…”
“The other side, they really did everything in order to provoke and confront…”
“On the West Bank the economic figures are looking really, really good…”
Finally, could someone in government please explain why we have heard nothing of the Palestinian view in our mainstream media? The Palestinian ambassador in London is supposed to speak for all Palestinians including those trapped and brought to their knees in Gaza. Why hasn’t our state broadcaster, the BBC, provided a balanced picture by including the voice of those robbed of the humanitarian aid that was seized by Israel?
Just before sending this I was reading reports in [the Israeli newspaper] Haaretz from some of the aid workers who were released. They say others still detained were badly beaten by the Israelis and everyone had their cameras, phones, laptops and other personal items stolen.
Henry, you are no longer the opposition, you are the real thing. And if you are the decent man I’ve always thought you to be, then you must please do what you can in your new role to inject some steel into the wobbly backbone of Westminster.