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Partisan comments from pro-Israel MPs shouldn’t trump expert advice in aid review

Houses of the Parliament, UK
Houses of the Parliament, UK

Earlier this week we read about Israel being nominated to chair a UN committee which is the “primary forum for the consideration of legal questions in the General Assembly”. As my colleague Ramona Wadi pointed out, this move comes a couple of years after the world’s last colonial state – Israel – was nominated to chair another committee on “decolonisation”. Now, just as we thought that satire was dead and buried, along comes the announcement, given prominent coverage in Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, that the British government “has launched a review into its funding of the Palestinian territories” based, it is suggested, on allegations “that funds were going towards incitement projects and the payment of so-called ‘salaries’ to convicted Palestinian terrorists by the Palestinian Authority (PA).”

Put aside for the time being the absence of the word “occupied” before Palestinian in that quote from the JC, one of Israel’s main media mouthpieces. The allegations, it seems, have been made by a significant pro-Israel lobby group in Westminster. Israel, of course, doesn’t do “incitement”; it just sends its army, air force and navy to attack Palestinian civilians, with devastating results for their lives and livelihoods, their human rights and the infrastructure meant to sustain them.

What is this “incitement” that Joan Ryan MP is talking about? The chair of Labour Friends of Israel claims that the PA is “glorifying terrorism in its schools.” Indeed, as the Jewish Chronicle also reported earlier this year, she wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron in February to tell him that the PA had “named at least 25 schools as a well as dozens of sporting events and summer camps after terrorists.”

The Labour MP for Enfield North is very concerned about Palestinians “glorifying terrorism” but has she also told the prime minister about “How Israel honours the murderers in its midst”? Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, for example, “was intimately involved in the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from 1947 to 1950” during which hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. Apart from the usual streets, he even has Israel’s international airport named after him. One of the Zionist murderers of British politician Lord Moyne in 1945 is honoured with a street name in Haifa. There are many more examples that Ryan could have told Mr Cameron about, but it must have slipped her mind. Read the article by Stanley Heller, Ms Ryan; it’s all there and I’ve even given you the hyperlink to make it easier for you.

Although the prime minister rejected Joan Ryan’s call for a specific review of aid to Palestine, a spokesperson for the Department for International Development has now clarified that it “is already undertaking a review of its programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as part of its Bilateral Aid Review, to consider how it can best support progress towards a negotiated two-state solution.” Not surprisingly, Ryan and her counterpart at the Conservative Friends of Israel, Sir Eric Pickles MP, have contacted International Development Secretary Justine Greening to offer their advice. On the face of it, Sir Eric’s suggestion looks very reasonable.

“We don’t want to see money cut to people living under the PA,” Pickles is quoted by the JC, “but it would be much more sensible to start moving funding to something that encourages the peace process, that makes the possibility of a two-state solution more likely.” A good place to start would be to put pressure on Israel to stop building more and bigger colony-settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, wouldn’t it, Sir Eric? Or how about saying “people living under Israeli occupation” rather than “under the PA”? Given that the occupation affects Palestinians to a much greater degree than the Palestinian Authority, such terminology would not only be more accurate, but would also convey the need for peace so much more effectively. The Tory MP should remember that next time.

Semantics are important and the statement from the chair of Conservative Friends of Israel should be taken with a pinch of salt, for it is not what it seems. The Jewish Chronicle reported that Pickles “sent Ms Greening a list of suggested co-existence projects for UK funding, including Save A Child’s Heart (SACH), an NGO which brings children to Israel for emergency heart surgery. More than 50 per cent of the 4,000 children who have been treated are from Gaza and the West Bank.”

Such a charity should be applauded for its work for all children, not just those Palestinian youngsters, but why is it needed to help them in the first place? Sir Eric’s media-friendly suggestion masks the fact that Israel’s occupation has stripped the Palestinian Health Sector in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to its bare bones. The children helped by SACH are the lucky ones; how many more have been denied treatment because Israeli soldiers won’t let them cross the hundreds of military checkpoints spread all over the West Bank? What about those Palestinians who aren’t allowed by Israel and its ally in Cairo to leave the besieged Gaza Strip to reach a hospital with the facilities and resources to carry out life-saving operations? Or what about those who simply do not have access to Palestinian medical facilities and staff that have not been attacked by Israeli bombs and bullets?

Amnesty International reported in summer 2014 that there was “mounting evidence” of attacks on health workers in Gaza by the so-called Israel Defence Forces. Deliberate attacks on hospitals can be war crimes, and the IDF is a prime suspect.

Helping the Palestinian Authority to develop the infrastructure necessary for state-building is supposed to make “the possibility of a two-state solution more likely”, as Sir Eric Pickles claims to want. Conversely, diverting funds away from institutions may help individual Palestinians in the short-term, but ensures that they become even more dependent on a state which appears to be the model for the “bomb today, build bridges tomorrow” school of international relations.

Is it not, therefore, hypocritical of Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel to support a state which, far from “helping to further Britain’s policy of a two-state solution”, has utter contempt for international laws and conventions, and is possibly guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, making peace more unlikely than ever before? While Joan Ryan believes that “future funding” from Britain for the PA should be linked “to the immediate cessation of violence” why does she not make similar demands about British political, economic and military support for Israel?

It is to be hoped that if DFID is indeed reviewing aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Justine Greening will consult impartial experts and not rely on unhelpful comments by partisan MPs in Israel’s corner in Westminster. Anything less and a cut in funding to the beleaguered and besieged Palestinians will be seen as a vindictive move made more to promote a pro-Israel agenda in Britain than to help the people suffering under Israel’s brutal military occupation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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