BBC News bulletins talk routinely about the “war” or “the conflict” in Gaza. Their correspondents on the ground know that there is no war in Gaza. It is a slaughter. On the one side there is an army equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry in the world: aircraft, missiles, tanks, artillery, rockets, phosphorus and cluster bombs guided with pinpoint accuracy by drones and satellites.
On the other hand two million civilians barricaded into a strip of land roughly 25 miles long and five miles wide. They have no means of defending themselves, they have nowhere to shelter and they cannot escape. It is as one –sided as a turkey shoot, or the German attack on the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. Some Israelis have brought out armchairs from which to sit and watch the fun.
The scale of the imbalance of forces is indicated by the casualty lists. Between 2001 and 2008 many thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli attacks. The number of Israelis killed by Palestinian ‘rockets’ during that period was 18. In the three week bombardment of Gaza that began on Dec 27 2008, some 1500 Palestinians were killed. The number of Israeli killed was 10.
Indifference about the plight of civilians
The civilians in Gaza, their houses, schools and hospitals are targeted at will, at any hour of the day or night, by the Israeli forces. The Israelis no longer trouble to deny that they are targeting schools and hospitals. During their last major offensive in 2008 they noticed the indifference of the rest of the world.
In many cases it is worse than indifference. Following a particularly egregious incident on July 22nd when a group of Palestinian teenagers relaxing on a beach were selected as a target by Israeli artillery, there was a proposal for a UN resolution to investigate this as a possible war crime. The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond immediately flew to Tel Aviv to assure the Israeli Government that the UK would oppose any such resolution. Those Scots still making up their minds how to vote on September 18th should take note of this statement. It was made in your name.
Despite Sunday’s shelling of a UN school in which nine civilian were killed, the third such fatal attack on UN schools in three weeks, David Cameron still refused to criticise Israel. This was the last straw for Baroness Warsi. In her own words: “Please stop making excuses for killing children”. Why does the British Government take the position that it does?
Making life intolerable
The Israeli Government says that their attacks on Gaza are intended to put an end to the sporadic and quite ineffective rocket attacks launched from Gaza into Israel. Their real objective is to make life in Gaza even more intolerable for its inhabitants. The blockade they have imposed for the past eight year has already cut off adequate supplies of food, medicine, fuel and materials from the population, crippling any economic activity as well as degrading their health.
Recurring attacks periodically destroy the infrastructure that supplies electricity and water. Just as life for Palestinians in the West Bank is made intolerable in different ways, (road blocks, seizure and destruction of property), the objective is the same. Eventually the Palestinian population will give up hope and leave. The boundaries of Israel will expand further.
Both in Gaza and in the West Bank Palestinians can be killed with impunity by Israeli forces and civilian settlers alike. Killing is made easier by a contempt for Arab lives. For most Israelis, Arabs are a lesser breed. It is a terrible irony of history that the very same people who, within living memory, suffered appalling persecution from such an attitude should allow their own Government to behave just as the Nazis did.
During the post War inquest on Nazi Germany it was common to ask “Where were the good Germans?” There were not many. Today, fortunately, there are many prominent Jews who are courageously outspoken in their condemnation of the behaviour of the Israeli Government. They are frequently abused and intimidated. They deserve our support.
An independent Scotland would have no part of this. One of the most powerful reasons for voting YES on September 18th is that we shall be able to develop our own foreign policy. Had we become independent two decades ago we should have avoided the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
What can be done?
No matter whether Conservative, Lib Dem or Labour holds power in Westminster, British foreign policy is entirely subservient to American foreign policy, which in turn is dictated by the interests of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu has more support in Congress than Barack Obama.
But there is still scope for action. As individuals, we should refrain from buying Israeli goods. We should ask our MEP to withdraw Israel’s privileged access to EU markets. We should use whatever influence we have to discourage sporting and cultural contacts. There is no good reason why Israeli teams should be allowed to play in European football competitions or its singers to perform in the Eurovision song contest.
Any local authority could offer the Freedom of its City to one of the Palestinian political leaders languishing in Israeli jails. At the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, Billy Connolly reminded us of Glasgow’s achievement in awarding the freedom of that City to Nelson Mandela as long ago as 1981. At that time it seemed like a futile gesture, but it proved to be a political turning point.