We Cannot Allow These Murders to Go Unpunished
We can demand these homicidal Israeli soldiers be prosecuted for war crimes
by Sir Gerald Kaufman MP
In a marvellous book of essays, “The Slopes of Lebanon,” the great Israeli novelist Amos Oz advanced an audacious thesis. He contended that the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis in the Holocaust – they included many members of my own family – must not be used as justification for the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis.
Recent Israeli governments, led first by Ariel Sharon and now by Ehud Olmert, have launched a new twist on the argument refuted by Oz. They operate actively on the policy that the murder of 1,000 Israeli Jews by Palestinian terrorists allows the Israeli forces to do anything they think fit in what their government claims is national self-defense. Over the past few days they have killed 13 Palestinians, including a five-year-old girl.
Those of us who believe in a two-state solution, a secure Israel alongside a free and internationally recognised Palestine, are denounced as sympathisers with terrorism – or, in cases such as mine, self-hating Jews – if we attack the appalling suppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis.
We point out that the evacuation of the Gaza Strip by Israeli troops last summer was not a move towards a two-state solution but simply self-defensive action. We point out that Olmert’s plans to base Israel’s permanent border by the year 2010 on the illegal Israeli wall is not a peace formula but an imposed settlement that the Palestinians will never accept. We point out that every withdrawal of funding from the Palestinians by the European Union and the US increases support for Hamas among the Palestinians. We point out that the road map for peace in the Middle East, of which our own government is a key initiator, is moribund. We are all but ignored.
But, when it comes to the murder of Britons by trigger-happy Israeli soldiers, the self-serving apologia of Israeli atrocities by right-wing Israelis and their sympathisers loses all credibility.
New territory is opened by the verdict of the inquests in Britain that the British peace activist Tom Hurndall and the British film-maker James Miller were murdered by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. As Britons we have the right to require action by our own government when our own nationals are stated by legal authorities in our own country to be the victims of homicide by a foreign power. If the Speaker allows me when the Commons reconvenes next Tuesday after the Easter recess, I shall be asking my friend and colleague Jack Straw what action he proposes to take about the murder of Hurndall and Miller.
It seems to me that we have three choices. We can ask for these killers to be extradited for prosecution under war crimes legislation in this country. After all, even Colonel Gaddafi agreed eventually to the Libyan Lockerbie killers being put on trial. Alternatively, we can demand that these homicidal Israeli soldiers be prosecuted for war crimes before an international court, as Slobodan Milosevic was. If the Israelis cooperate in neither of these courses, then we should impose sanctions on what would be a rogue government.
Those of us who have visited the Palestinian territories in recent months know that there is an element in the Israeli armed forces which is trigger-happy and well nigh out of control. Last November I led the first ever British Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to the Palestinian National Authority. Twice, during our period there, our group of three members of the Commons and two members of the Lords was held at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers, even when we had explained our mission.
I pointed out to my Parliamentary colleagues that we were being subjected to only transitory harassment, that we were going home on Friday, while for the Palestinians this was their life, much worse, and permanently. And of course brief annoyance for a British team of parliamentarians is less than a minute fraction of what happened to Hurndall and Miller. But it is a meaningful symptom.
Apologists for the Israeli government say that that country is a democracy. So what? The United States is a democracy, yet it almost routinely tortures prisoners held in violation of international law at Guantanamo Bay. A democratically-elected French Government suppressed the Algerians for years.
This current Israeli government, posing as moderate when it is extremist, is, like President Bush’s administration in Guantanamo, also in violation of international law. I look to my own British government to take action on behalf of its own murdered nationals and their families. They must ensure that the Israeli government is made to abide by international law and international decency.
Sir Gerald Kaufmanis Labour MP for Manchester, Gorton, and former Shadow Foreign Secretary, 1987-92.