The Government has protested four times in the last month to the Israeli authorities about their treatment of Palestinians, including the use of lethal force and live ammunition against demonstrators, the failure to prosecute Israeli settlers for acts of violence and the punitive demolition of Palestinian homes.
According to written answers in Parliament, Britain protested:
On October 26 to the army general in charge of the occupation of the West Bank, Yoav Mordechai
On October 28 to the Director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
On October 28 to the Mayor of Jerusalem
On November 4 to Netanyahu’s envoy on the peace process Isaac Molho
One of the points the Government stressed was the need for proper accountability for settlers guilty of acts of violence against Palestinians, including a swift resolution of the investigation into the attack at Duma where a family was burnt to death in a firebomb attack.
The Israeli minister of defence has admitted that his security services are aware of the identity of the settlers who carried out the attack, but will not prosecute because it might reveal the identity of their informants.
The Government said – in response to questions about the Israeli army’s use of live ammunition for crowd control against unarmed protesters – that it had also protested about the use of lethal force and called for proportionality and proper accountability.
The use of excessive force against unarmed civilians is one of the issues on which successive reports from the United Nations and from human rights groups have said Israeli Defence Forces could be charged with war crimes at the International Criminal Court.
Since the beginning of October the wave of violence in the West Bank has resulted in 85 Palestinian deaths and 11 Israeli, 9,171 Palestinian injuries and 133 Israeli according to the latest figures from the United Nations – a ratio of nearly 8:1 in deaths and 69:1 in injuries.
Yet the two questions put to ministers at Foreign Office questions on Tuesday mentioned only the Israeli deaths and injuries:
Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister raise in his discussions the current terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians? Some 108 Israelis have been killed or injured by shootings and stabbings on the streets in recent weeks.Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con): There has been another weekend of deadly terror attacks on Israeli citizens, including a brutal stabbing yesterday. Will the Foreign Secretary condemn those attacks, and does he agree that sanctioned incitement to commit terror must end?
At least at the official level the Government does not seem to suffer from such myopia and the answers to written questions reveal that the Foreign Office is making representations to the Israelis not just on settler violence and the use of excessive force, but also on punitive demolitions of Palestinian homes, restrictions on Palestinian access to Jerusalem and discrimination against Bedouins in Israel (see below).
Deaths: 85 Palestinian – 11 Israeli
Injuries: 9,171 Palestinian – 133 Israeli
What is missing is any sign of Government action. The EU has recently published its guidelines of labelling of goods from illegal Israeli settlements – effectively adopting the labelling guidelines that the last Labour government introduced in the UK in 2009 and extending them to wines and cosmetics.
While this was welcomed by Palestinians, it was regarded as an inadequate response to the critical situation that the Palestinians now face. As the former Palestinian foreign minister Dr Nabil Shaath told a UK parliamentary delegation last week:
“Labelling is feeble and incapable of putting real pressure on Israel. If it was OK to boycott the Iranians to the tune of $280 billion, why is it wrong to put any pressure on Israel?
“We are looking for measures which impose a cost on countries that have violated international law. If we are not allowed to take measures such as BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions), can they be surprised if some people ask what is left but violence? Is that what they want?”