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Letter to MP on the British Government’s Position on Gaza, & international law

3 August , 2014

This is a letter I sent to Mark Field MP this morning. Please write to your MPs. Feel free to use this letter as a draft for your own letters. Cut and paste as appropriate. There needs to be far more collective outrage over what is happening. There are stirrings from politicians now that the UK response has been inadequate. Your letter may force some action.

Dear…

I write to you both as a constituent and as an experienced human rights lawyer.

I wish to express my indignation at the way in which the British government has responded to the crisis in Gaza. I hope that you will feel able to convey that indignation and concern to the Prime Minister and government, and that you will take steps to ensure that the government’s position, both in public and private, is rapidly re-assessed.

The British government hails respect for human rights and international law as one of the fundamental axis upon which its foreign policy lies. Such rhetoric must be matched now by a swift and considered appraisal of the legality of the Israeli operations in Gaza. Any such appraisal must be bound to conclude, as I do, that the Israeli government is in serious violation of international law.

That position has been reached by many lawyers, both in the UK and internationally. Indeed, Navi Pillay has expressed early concern that the Israeli action may amount to war crimes. UNWRA has labelled the strikes on its schools as a serious violation of international law. The UNHRC has ordered an independent inquiry. Many NGOs have conducted preliminary investigations on the ground which support the view that Israel has violated international law routinely over these last three weeks.

This morning, we have now witnessed the shelling of the seventh UNWRA school by Israel. There is no justification whatsoever for these actions. Not only are the actions lacking any proportionality, but there has been a complete failure by Israel to distinguish between combatants and a civilian population, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The UN has made clear that they have given their coordinates on multiple occasions to Israel. Their shelters have been hit without warning. The thousands of people sleeping in those shelters have been fleeing from areas which have been the subject of intense bombardment. Gazans are closed in all sides by an illegitimate occupation which has blockaded them for many years. They have nowhere to run.

The Israelis have struck well beyond the tunnels which they use to justify this bombardment. They have sabotaged the power plant and basic infrastructure of Gaza, demolishing thousands of homes, schools, hospitals, mosques and facilities. Many Gazans are now without water, power and food. Over 100,000 people are now displaced. They are neither safe at home, nor safe in the shelters. This is not about tunnels, or rockets or captured soldiers. The actions that we have witnessed in these last three weeks have sought to apply collective punishment to the people of Gaza. The target appears to have been the people of Gaza as a whole. Both morally and legally, that position cannot be defended.

In the fog of propaganda that has been spun out by the Israeli government, through Mark Regev, Daniel Taub and others, the Israelis retaliate consistently with the language of self-defence. They make constant unsupported claims about Hamas using its civilian population as shields. These assertions are repeated often enough until they become popular lore. That is not what reporters on the ground are saying. Respected British journalists of all persuasions who courageously have been reporting live from Gaza have been able to give a clear picture of the battering meted out to the mostly civilian population of Gaza.

The British government’s stance of equality and parity, that both sides must be equally criticised is based on a fallacy. There is no parity. The numbers speak for themselves. The number of dead now exceed 1600, with at least a fifth of those children. That number is largely civilian. By contrast, the Israeli dead (numbering about 60 today) are almost entirely soldiers killed in action.

There is no doubt that Hamas’ actions in firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas themselves are likely to constitute breaches of international law. Those rockets, however, are met by a sophisticated protection system which ensures that Israeli civilians, whilst no doubt living in some fear, are not presented with a real danger.

By contrast, Gaza and her people are being systematically destroyed.

By continuing to perpetuate the myth that both sides should be criticised equally, and that Israel should be permitted a wide discretion in how it chooses to defend itself, the British government is siding with Israeli action. It is making Britain complicit in the indefensible. We are not acting as an honest broker.

As a country, we have lost much international credibility in our quest for human rights and democracy through the ugliness of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. We now have an opportunity to restore some credibility by supporting both the rights of Palestine to join the ICC, and to ensure that Israel is made accountable through a UN-led investigation, and indeed through the International Criminal Court.

In 2012, the UN designated Palestine a non-member observer state. The Palestinian Authority must be encouraged to ratify the ICC treaty so that the Prosecutor can investigate war crimes since 2012.

No doubt Hamas may also have found itself at the door of the Hague court, had Israel ratified the ICC. Israel has chosen quite deliberately not to do so. The Palestinian Authority has been actively discouraged from acceding to the ICC by the US, Britain and France. This state of affairs is, profoundly hypocritical. The UK was a founding member of the Court, as indeed it has been a founding and drafting member of almost all of the international human rights mechanisms. It was our government’s view that war crimes should be properly investigated, tried and sentenced by an international court in whom the world could have confidence. The ICC should not become a court to try dictators in countries with whom Britain has no significant trading relationship. Rather, wherever war crimes occur, which meet the standard by which the Prosecutor is permitted to intervene, our national position ought to be that we support that Court without reservation. Otherwise, our public pronouncements on human rights and international law are meaningless. In consequence, our opposition of Palestinian accession to the ICC is illogical and indefensible and should be reversed immediately.

The war in Gaza shows no prospect of immediate cessation without unequivocal condemnation from the international community. This weekend’s events in Rafah demonstrate how trenchant the Israeli position has become, at all costs. If those officers acting on the ground to decimate entire communities realise that they may be forced to face the consequences of their actions in a criminal court, they may consider a little harder what they actually are doing.

The British government now needs to speak out and demand an immediate ceasefire to which the condition is attached that the seven year blockade of Gaza is dismantled with immediate effect. Whilst it is entirely right that Hamas be criticised ( and indeed made accountable in the ICC is Israel ratified the treaty) for many of its positions, tactics and rockets, it must publicly be recognised that Israel is not only the aggressor in this situation, but persists in flagrant and naked violations of international law, for which it must be held accountable. The Foreign Secretary’s constant refrain of proportionality appears to be wholly misunderstood by him. It will never be proportionate, within international law, to kill hundreds of civilians and children in a densely crowded residential area because of some sense of military advantage. It is certainly never morally supportable.

We have a long history with Israel, and much leverage with the Israeli government through trade. It is time that we use that leverage to bring an immediate end to the atrocities in Gaza. Further, and as a matter of urgency, we must immediately ensure the cessation of an arms trade with Israel. For ultimately, it is our weapons engaged in the murder of innocent civilians.

Britain and her people must not be complicit in the destruction of a people in Gaza. The British government does not do this in my name. I entrust you as my Member of Parliament to ensure that our government takes the right and proper steps, in both a legal and moral sense, immediately.

From → Legal, Politics

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