With record numbers of civilian deaths at the hands of the Israeli army, record levels of settlement expansion, and record levels of the expulsion of Palestinians from their land, this year has been one of the worst in terms of the extent of violations of Palestinian rights.
Yet, new British Prime Minister Liz Truss has had no problem in expressing her unlimited support for Israel, affirming that “I am a huge Zionist. I am a huge supporter of Israel, and I know that we can take the UK-Israel relationship from strength to strength,” a statement she made during an event with the Conservative Friends of Israel group at the Conservative Party’s annual conference at the beginning of this month.
Truss has never been known to support a balanced stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but her announcement that she is considering moving the British Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is an indication of the growing difficulties Palestinians are facing in obtaining fair dealing in the West.
In recent years, the Israeli religious nationalist right and extremist settlers have dominated the political discourse in Israel. The rates of violence against Palestinians have increased to record levels.
Since the beginning of this year, Israeli security forces have killed more than 100 Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, making it the deadliest year since 2015.
Of the 100 fatalities, most were shot dead by Israeli forces during search, arrest, and punitive home-demolition raids. More than half the total number was in Jenin and Nablus or surrounding villages in the northern West Bank. The vast majority were shot dead by Israeli security forces and several by armed Israeli civilians.
As human rights groups express mounting alarm, the figures show nearly a fifth of the Palestinians killed were children, the youngest of whom was 14. The list of fatalities includes teenagers and young men shot after reportedly throwing stones or petrol bombs, unarmed civilians and bystanders, protesters and anti-settlement activists, and individuals carrying out alleged knife attacks or using other weapons against Israeli soldiers or civilians.
Night raids on Palestinian homes have become a favourite tool of the Israeli army carrying out intimidation and arbitrary arrests. Last week, the US called for an immediate investigation after a seven-year-old boy died of apparent heart failure when the Israeli military came to the family home after his brothers were accused of throwing stones. The army said an initial inquiry had found no connection between its search and the boy’s death.
Israel continues to use the doctrines of security and the principles of the Zionist movement to establish a state for the Jews to cover up its violations of the rights of the Palestinians and hide them under slogans of “the state’s right to defend itself.”
With the world preoccupied with the cost-of-living crisis and the Russian-Ukrainian war, there are few stories on Western TV channels about the violations taking place in the Palestinian Territories.
Truss’ recent statements indicate the increasing difficulty for Palestinians to tell their side of the story.
“Truss and her government have a very anti-Palestinian approach. They continually ignore Israeli crimes against Palestinians. These crimes have increased, and they are much worse than they used to be. Occasionally, we get expressions of concern from the UK foreign office, but given the large numbers of killings this year, the huge expansion in settlements, the settler violence, home demolitions, and the lack of a robust British government response highlights their utter lack of genuine concern for the fate of the Palestinians,” Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CABU), told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“Truss has also agreed to review the location of the British Embassy in Israel, and we wait to see what that means. But even considering it demonstrates that she is prepared to favour Israeli claims over the city and ignore Palestinian ones. It’s very reckless. It is rash, and it breaks away from the international consensus over a city that is divided between two peoples and revered by people of three faiths.”
Ghada Karmi, a prominent British-Palestinian academic, thinks that Truss was encouraged to make the statement by recent developments in the Middle East, primarily the normalisation of the relationships between several Gulf countries and Israel without any guarantees from Tel Aviv regarding the resumption of the peace process.
“When Israel finds that it can establish economic, commercial, and security relations with countries in the Gulf without committing to the principle of the establishment of two states or a peace process, then the equation of land for peace is dead. This is what makes right-wing governments in the West, such as that of Liz Truss, make promises that completely contradict the rights of the Palestinians and international resolutions by the UN,” Karmi told the Weekly.
In addition to the regional shifts represented by the acceptance of Israel as an economic, technological, and security ally for some countries in the Middle East, there are strong internal factors that have pushed Truss and other British officials to turn a blind eye to many of Israel’s practices against the Palestinians.
On top of these is London’s desire to attract more trade allies and reach free-trade agreements that compensate Britain for the economic effects of Brexit.
“I don’t think Truss herself cares much about the Middle East. I think that what she realises is that there is a strong level of internal parliamentary support in her party for closer relations with Israel. So, during her leadership campaign, she committed to this review, and whilst there is this strong body of support for Israel, she will play to that crowd,” Doyle said.
“She is also very transactional, and with relations with Israel she sees possibilities of greater economic ties, greater security ties, and closer relations with the US. When she looks at the Palestinians, she sees of course that the Palestinians barely have an economy. There are no great benefits or tangible benefits to improving relations with the Palestinians. So, in a very transactional world, where international law has ceased to be of such prime importance, conflict resolution in a just way no longer seems to matter.”
But Karmi points to another issue, which is the use of the anti-Semitism card to silence voices that defend the Palestinians and their right to self-determination.
In recent years, analysing the history of Israel and talking about the massacres that took place in its early years has become “anti-Semitic” on the ground that it could spread hostility to Israel. Talking about the return of the Palestinian refugees has also become “anti-Semitic” on the grounds that it could be an attack on the idea of the Jewish state. Supporting the Palestinians’ right to resist has become “anti-Semitic” as it could lead to violence against Israel.
“There is no doubt that there is a relationship between the attempt to silence the voices of the Palestinians by using the card of anti-Semitism and the growing bias in European countries, including Britain, France, and Germany, towards the Israeli position at the expense of the Palestinians,” Karmi said.
But despite shrinking platforms and coverage, “Britain is not the United States,” Doyle said. “I think it’s very definitely possible to tell the story of Palestine. And some MPs do get up in the Commons, for example, and speak about Palestinian rights, Israeli war crimes, and apartheid practices.”
There is plenty of support in the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party (SNP), and the Liberal Democrats for the rights of Palestinians and international law. Even within the Conservative Party, there are MPs who do not believe it is wise to move the British Embassy to Jerusalem.
“There are many Conservative MPs who are very reluctant to back the move of the embassy. They realise that this is inflammatory. But what we don’t see is enough Conservative politicians saying Israel must be held to account for what it’s doing, that Israel should stop settlement building, and that we need to have a proper negotiating process on principles of international law and fairness,” Doyle concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.