Straw accomplice to Israeli barbarism
BRITISH Foreign Secretary Jack Straw denies his government was in collusion with the barbarous Israeli assault on Jericho. Does he really expect us to believe that the Israelis could have launched this major military operation within minutes of British monitors being withdrawn, without having prior knowledge of the withdrawal and timing?
Perhaps he does. Re-elected despite widespread public disillusionment with 'New Labour' and the majority of people knowing that Blair lied to send British trooops into Iraq, this government may feel it can get away with telling us what it likes. It seems to have got the BBC back on side.
BBC news told us Straw condemned the day's 'violence'. Not the Israeli tanks firing point blank into the prison walls, but the understandable rage that erupted against British offices in Gaza. The TV news even threw in some footage of the row over Danish cartoons, just to convey that it's those fanatical Muslims again. Right. They unreasonably object to Israeli tanks blasting their cities with US encouragement and British connivance.
The main ostensible object of the Israeli operation was to capture Ahmad Sa'adat, who was held in the Jericho prison. Sa'adat, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was accused of responsibility for organising the assassination of Rehava'am Ze'evi. A right-wing extremist who had made his name as a military commander by going in for the kill against Palestinian guerrilas and taking no prisoners, Ze'evi led a party calling for "transfer" -ethnic cleansing -of all Palestinians. Few can have mourned his death, not even Ariel Sharon who, if not actually setting up his rival, was probably pleased to see the back of him.
But now there are other considerations, politically.
Earlier in the day, the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom accused acting prime minister Ehud Olmert of staging an "Election provocation in Jericho to exacerbate the conflict". Olmert's party Kadima, launched by Ariel Sharon with support from rejected Labour leader Shimon Peres, is facing a challenge from the far-Right Likud in elections.
"At this moment in Jericho, the main elections gimmick of the Kadima Party and its leader Ehud Olmert is taking place with hundreds of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian prisoners drafted to serve as extras. This gimmick, designed to draw extreme right votes in the March 28 elections, shows Kadima as an adventurist and irresponsible party in whose hands it is dangerous to entrust the helm of state" said Gush Shalom in a statement.
"In co-operation with the governments of the US and Britain, whose removal of their observers from the Jericho Prison proves them utterly incapable of any mediation role between Israelis and Palestinians, PM Olmert and Defence Minister Mofaz are carrying out a provocation which will only exacerbate the conflict and hatred.
"Theirs will be the full responsibility for bloodshed of Israelis and Palestinians, in the course of the Jericho provocation itself and in the cycle of retaliation upon retaliation which may follow. It should be noted that the people which the army was sent to Jericho to capture or kill are marked out because, when taking revenge for the targeted killing of their own leader, they did not kill innocent civilians. They selected Rehav'am Ze'evi, a general turned politician who was the foremost of Israeli racists and who built a political career upon crude hate propaganda. A targeted killing."
In Britain, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which held a succesful conference on Palestinian workers' struggles at the weekend, supported by several British unions still officially backing Labour, issued this statement:
"Foreign Secretary Straw shares responsibility for Israeli attacks in Jericho
"The way Jack Straw answered questions in the House today did nothing to persuade us that the British government has acted honestly or honourably in withdrawing British monitors from the Jericho prison and allowing Israeli forces to storm in, killing 2 and wounding 26 others.
"Mr. Straw was invited by Peter Kilfoyle MP to condemn the Israeli actions but he did not do so. He cited the dangers British monitors face because of prison visits and use of mobile phones yet as he also said, Israeli intelligence knows everything that is going on in Palestine.
"In 2002, the Palestinian High Court of Justice in Gaza ordered that Ahmad Sa‘adat be released immediately as there was no evidence connecting him to the crime of which he was accused and Amnesty International found the proceedings which convicted the accused, grossly unfair. Nevertheless, the PA did not release those accused.
"One of the Israeli demands for lifting the siege was that those detained should be handed over to the Israeli authorities. However on 1 May 2002 they agreed a deal whereby the Palestinians detained in the compound were taken to Jericho to be imprisoned under the monitoring of UK and US warders.
The agreement by the UK and US to monitor these prisoners in the Jericho prison was clearly a compromise drawn up to prevent the killing of prisoners not properly convicted. Yet today the UK is complicit in a ferocious Israeli attack on the whole prison.
"Last week the Palestinian Human Rights Commission, in cooperation with Hickman & Rose Solicitors, filed a lawsuit before the UK judiciary against the British government for its role in monitoring the illegal detention of Sa'adat in violation of the Palestinian High Court of Justice ruling. PCHR believes that this role violates international law and humanitarian law.
"The British government has acted shamefully in this matter. Already at the prison, 2 people have been killed and 26 wounded. Is the British government prepared to see more murders and violence perpetrated?"
The Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), which includes senior Members of Parliament, scholars and former diplomats, warned that Britain's reputation in the Arab world was "at an all time low" after the Jericho siege.
CAABU Director, Chris Doyle said this "severely undermines the British national interest. Whatever the truth of the situation is, to most Arabs it looks like Britain has been complicit in a Suez-like pact to facilitate an Israeli attack on Jericho."
Sharon adviser is top law man at the Foreign Office
BRITISH collusion with this Israeli action comes only weeks after the Foreign Office announced the appointment of Daniel Bethlehem QC as its new top legal adviser. Bethlehem, who succeeded Sir Michael Wood, is a barrister and Cambridge academic who has previously acted as an adviser to the Israeli government, as well advising the British government on the international legal aspects of pre-emptive nuclear strikes.
It was on Bethlehem's advice in 2002 that Ariel Sharon blocked a UN inquiry into the battle of Jenin. The Israeli refusal to cooperate was widely condemned by human rights organisations. The Cambridge barrister also took the lead for the Israeli government at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2004 to defend the security barrier being built along the West Bank. Israel lost the case, but carried on building what is now seen clearly as an annexation fence.
The Foreign Office said: "Our view is Mr Bethlehem has had a distinguished career in international law, including acting on behalf of the UK government in a number of international proceedings. He has also acted for or against a number of other states. His experience in this area equips him strongly for this job."
One member of the Foreign Office law team quit in disagreement with the build-up to the Iraq war. Maybe the government hopes a team led by Sharon's former advisor will be less finickety?