Rory Macdonald- PNN/Bethlehem/
Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, could barely contain his enthusiasm about Prince William’s upcoming visit to Israel, Jordan and Palestine next month: “We Jews haven’t had royalty of our own since biblical times so we are naturally excited by this visit”. Israel’s response is evidently positive. But how might Palestine view the royal visit?
The prince, as well as spending time in Amman, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, is scheduled to visit Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority, on 27th June. Even if he is given the chance to hear firsthand about Palestinian suffering there and elsewhere, he won’t speak out against it. The reason why? The neutrality, understood as an unspoken rule, of the apolitical royal family.
Such ‘neutrality’ comes at a cost, however. William’s silence will have political ramifications for Palestine: it will suggest his, and by extension Britain’s, implicit acceptance of the occupation’s status quo, which daily abuses Palestinians on a staggering scale. The Prince’s silence will be a PR victory for Israel, an opportunity to canvas over ugly truths. Palestine, meanwhile, will continue to languish under Israeli control- its legitimate claim to statehood not even recognised by Britain.
As a British citizen, I think it is high time Britain delves into its own colonial past and begins to understand and outwardly acknowledge the injustices perpetrated under its direct rule or influence. With Palestine, the list of such injustices is long. Following the secret Sykes-Picot agreement, which carved out areas of British and French influence in the waning Ottoman Empire, the Balfour Declaration was issued on 2nd November 1917. The Declaration’s legacy is deeply problematic for Britain: leaving aside the ethics of granting one people’s land to another, the phrase ‘it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ rings hollow one hundred years on. The dire situation in Gaza is proof enough of a flagrant disregard for the rights of the ‘non-Jewish communities in Palestine’.
The historical guilt Britain could feel is one thing, its continued support of a repressive regime is quite another. Although Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, called for an independent inquiry into the ‘deeply troubling’ killing of innocent citizens in Gaza this year, she then warmly celebrated the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel, declaring it a ‘modern, thriving democracy’. Can a state be called a democracy, let alone a ‘thriving’ one, if it routinely kills innocent people and segregates millions of others behind walls and fences?
Britain’s double standards are most acute in its sale of arms to Israel. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) reports that Britain, in the last three years, has approved licenses for the sale of £327 million worth of arms to Israel. CAAT’s spokesman, Andy Smith, said recently that the UK is ‘sending a message of support for the collective punishment that has been inflicted’ on the Palestinian people. On 20th May, Lisa Nandy MP denounced the ‘shameful…equivocation about arms sales to Israel’ in the House of Commons. A motion was raised on the issue last week in parliament, but, as of yet, little has been done to reduce Britain’s arms trading- either with Israel or other oppressive regimes.
In recent years, solidarity campaigns and activism for Palestine have grown in the UK. Almost half a million people follow Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK on Facebook; thousands rallied on the streets of London to protest Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza during the peaceful Return March; and BDS is making strides, as the UK government was defeated last year in court in a ruling that permits local authorities to divest from companies linked to Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. Awareness and support for Palestine is on the rise, and the British government’s position should begin to reflect this. It will face tough opposition from influential lobbying groups like Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and the Jewish Labour Movement, which have the backing of a large number of MPs, but this should not deter its efforts.
Returning to the royal visit, William’s trip, which required the British government’s official approval, will uphold the status quo. It will, in all likelihood, further cement Britain’s relationship with Israel and continue its disregard and apathy towards the plight of Palestinians. As November’s jubilant celebrations to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour declaration showed, Britain wilfully ignores the troubles it has, in part, caused. Without critical self-reflection, there is little hope for a change in its policy on Palestine.