Following violence in Gaza this weekend, the British government behaved in the same shameful way as it did in 2014, refusing to condemn the killing of Palestinians.
Watching the heartbreaking outburst of violence in Gaza this weekend, I realised that it’s been almost five years since I resigned as foreign office minister over the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014.
Tragically, over the last five years the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has become far worse.
The cyclical violence continues, the Israeli occupation has become more entrenched, settlement building continues at a greater pace, the Israeli government has codified inequality in the form of the nation state law and the Trump presidency has effectively killed the peace process by unilaterally agreeing to Israeli demands that should have been part of a negotiated settlement.
In 2014, the facade of a “Middle East policy” was only too apparent to me and the impossibility of a “two-state solution” was obvious to many who still – at least – publicly declare support for it.
At the time of my resignation I had specific responsibility for human rights, the International Criminal Court and the United Nations. Britain, and I, prided ourselves on our stated British values as the defenders of human rights.
But when it came to the conflict in Gaza, it seemed we simply shelved the values we held sacred. More than 2,200 Palestinians and 67 Israelis were killed in the conflict in July that year. And Britain tragically failed to even find the words to condemn Israel’s disproportionate actions.
Human rights positions, for which I had advocated as an activist, lawyer and politician, were dismissed with no rational “national interest” reason.
Israel not an exception
The world is full of both dictators and elected leaders, brutal regimes and appalling armies who persecute their own citizens; Israel is not an exception.
From Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya to Syria, Sudan to Sri Lanka, we have taken a stand against leaders and regimes that brutalise their own populations.
Britain has rightly responded with condemnation, and high-profile visits to support the persecuted, as David Cameron rightly did with the Tamils in Sri Lanka in 2013; it has offered support for independence movements, as we did in South Sudan; ostracism, as in the case of Pakistan and its exclusion from the Commonwealth during military coups; financial sanctions, such as those that lasted over a decade against Iran; invasion and war, as in Afghanistan and Iraq; regime change, as in Libya, and in Syria, as we keep repeating: “Assad must go, he is part of the problem not the solution.”
We seem, at the very least, to find some words with which to show our displeasure, and yet when it relates to Gaza we cannot even find the words to condemn the daily massacre of civilians, starting each government statement with the robust defence of Israel’s right to defend itself.
I agree, Israel, like any other sovereign state, has a right to defend itself.
But as a member of the international community, that makes great efforts to be a part of International sporting and cultural occasions, Israel should make as great an effort to conduct itself within the parameters of humanitarian and international laws and norms.