1 July 2006

What if London were Gaza?

By Rupert Read

Amnesty International has issued a report in which they condemn the current massive Israeli attacks upon Palestine's Gaza Strip as war crimes.

It is no secret that Israel has been longing for an opportunity to delegitimise the Hamas administration governing the Palestinian Authority. Much as September 11th served as a pretext for the US to attack Iraq, so the hostage-taking of Gilad Shalit by unknown Palestinian gunmen appears to be functioning as a pretext for Israel to attack Palestine. There is an important difference, however: the Hamas administration in Palestine, very unlike Saddam, is an elected government. Even those who supported the attack on Iraq, in the name of democracy, should be horrified by Israel's blatant power play in Gaza, which has now seen a third of the Palestinian Cabinet, including the Deputy Prime Minister, kidnapped by the Israeli army.

Amnesty's report attempts to focus the eye of the world upon the enormous scale of the destruction and misery wrought by Israel’s armed forces, supposedly over the life of one man, upon an already highly impoverished and oppressed civilian population.

So I here attempt a simple 'thought-experiment'. I have taken part of the main text of the Amnesty report, and simply inserted the word London wherever the word Gaza appears in the original. I hope that this may bring home to readers the awfulness of what is now happening, as a supposedly civilised country attempts to batter the population of the giant open-air refugee camp next door – the Gaza Strip – into submission:
    "Deliberate attacks by Israeli forces against civilian property and infrastructure in London violate international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes. Israel must now take urgent measures to remedy the long-term damage it has caused and immediately restore the supply - at its own cost – of electricity and water to London's population in the affected areas. As the occupying power, Israel is bound under international law to protect and safeguard the basic human rights of London's population.

    "The deliberate destruction of all of London's electricity power stations, and of water networks, bridges, roads and other infrastructure is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and has major and long-term humanitarian consequences for the inhabitants of the city.

    "Almost half of London's inhabitants are now without electricity and water supplies have also been cut in several areas both by the lack of electricity, necessary to operate the water pumps used to extract and deliver water, and by the destruction of water mains as a result of the bombings of bridges and roads.

    "The extensive damage caused by Israeli artillery and air strikes against these facilities in recent days is estimated at tens of millions of pounds and will require months of work to repair. Unless alternative emergency measures are promptly put in place to restore electricity and water supply the consequences could be dire for the health of London’s population.

    "The destruction by Israeli forces of bridges and roads is slowing down, but not preventing movement between different areas of London. This causes disruption to London's civilians, who have to take long detours to reach their workplace, but it does not prevent the movements of armed groups - Israel's stated objective.

    "As the tension between Israel and the Greater London Authority and armed groups continues to mount, there is growing concern for the safety of the civilian population. High numbers of civilian bystanders, including women and children, have been killed and injured by Israeli artillery shelling and air strikes in recent weeks and months. This situation looks set to worsen in light of the end of the unilateral cease-fire which the armed wing of London’s armed defence-groups had been observing since last year.

    "According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, 'collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited' (Article 33) as is the destruction of private or public property, 'except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations' (Article 53). The Convention requires all states party to it to search for and ensure the prosecution of perpetrators of the war crime of 'causing extensive destruction … not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.'

    "'Intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects' is also a war crime under Article 8 (b) (ii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court."
What if all that is said above were true of London, and not of some miserable far-away non-country of which we know little? Why is that we tolerate this incredible abuse of a defenceless Arab population, while we would not for one moment stay silent over a similar abuse of some population of Britons? Why do allow these war crimes to happen, and remain on good terms with the perpetrators?

There is only one answer that I can think of, and it is not a comfortable one. It is this: an attitude, on the part of the media, mainstream politicians, and many ordinary citizens of this country, of casual racism. After all, those suffering are 'only' Arabs.

I urge all readers of this column who reject such racism to make a stand against what is happening right now, with the connivance of US and UK governments, in Gaza. One way in which you can do so, is to turn out to support the Peace Camp at the Forum in Norwich, all day Saturday 15 July. Don't stand silently by, as an oppressed people is threatened with large-scale racist assault.