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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Exposing the ignorance and hypocrisy of Conservative Friends of Israel

Exposing the ignorance and hypocrisy of Conservative Friends of Israel

"Israel continues to feed the hand that bites it...”

...says the British Conservative Party's “Voice of Israel”

By Stuart Littlewood*

19 January 2008

Stuart Littlewood asks British Conservative Party MP and mouthpiece of Israel James Arbuthnot pertinent questions about the propaganda, disinformation and humbug spouted out by him and his Friends of Israel colleagues about Israel and the Palestinians.

Each of the three main political parties in the UK has a “Friends of Israel” lobby group that ensures pro-Israel members are embedded at all key levels in Parliament and government. The Foreign Office minister responsible for the Middle East is a former chairman of Labour Friends of Israel. His opposition “shadow” is a member of Conservative Friends of Israel. You get the picture.

So, after visiting Gaza in November 2007 I wrote to the chairmen of the Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel enclosing a desperate appeal received from the Ministry of Health in Gaza and an article describing the horrendous suffering of innocent civilians under the cruel siege imposed by Israel. "You and your family will, I hope, enjoy Christmas. But starving Gazans will not... What steps will you personally take, I wonder, to help end the humanitarian crisis?"

The Labour chairman didn't reply. Now, after more than six weeks, I have received an answer from the Conservative, James Arbuthnot. This is what he says (dated 17 January):

It is not in Israel's interest to see Palestinians in Gaza starving and suffering from a lack of medical attention. Publicity towards Israel has been far from favourable thanks to the situation in Gaza. However Israel, as a democracy, has a duty to protect its citizens. As a responsible democracy it must ensure that potentially dangerous materials and goods that could be used to harm Israeli citizens do not make their way into Gaza.

Terrorist organizations continue to take advantage of humanitarian aid that is delivered to the strip. Just last month an IDF [Israel Defence Forces] operation caught a truck at one of the crossing points in the West Bank carrying approximately 6.5 tons of potassium nitrate. The potassium nitrate was disguised in sugar bags that were marked as being part of the humanitarian aid provided by the European Union, and was intended for use by terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Potassium nitrate is a banned substance in the Gaza Strip due to its use by terrorists for the manufacturing of explosives and Qassam rockets.

Rocket attacks from Gaza continue hitting western Negev towns. Last month alone there were 113 identified rocket hits. One Qassam fell near a school in the town of Sderot sending 20 civilians, 10 of them children, into shock. Last month there were 17 Israeli casualties and two Israeli deaths from rocket attacks. Since December last year there have been 896 rocket hits in western Negev towns like Sderot.

Israeli actions in Gaza are not a military incursion but a defensive response to try to bring to an end the constant attacks made on Israelis in their homes, schools and on their streets. Terrorists in Gaza fire rockets from their homes and schools (one example being a UN-run school) and places where they deliberately hide behind civilians. Israel always takes care to avoid civilian casualties. Death tolls could be much higher and the risk to Israeli personnel far less.

Stopping the attacks is the obvious precursor to any hope for peace negotiations and bettering of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The fact that attacks are continuing sends out a clear signal that Hamas is not responding to any attempt to move forward.

Despite all this, Israel continues to feed that [sic] hand that bites it. Terminals are open for fuel and gas to be supplied to the strip. The electricity supply and the northern Gaza water purification project continue to be maintained. Since the Hamas takeover a total of 8,759 patients have undergone a medical evacuation. Trucks of aid continue to be unloaded at the Sufa, Erez, Nahal Oz, Karni and Kerem Shalom terminals. Since 16 June 2007, when Hamas took over in Gaza, a total of 14,279 trucks of aid and 326,563 tons of aid have been delivered to Gaza. Merchandize such as rice, fruit, vegetables, meat, chicken, fish, dairy products, sugar, legumes, flour and yeast have all been delivered to the strip.

This is the same man who said:

"Some people say that the occupation by the Israelis is the problem. Well, if that were the case, when Israel withdrew from Gaza they could have expected some benefit from it, but instead what they got was a rain of rockets coming out of Gaza" – that's according to the Conservatives' humorously named magazine "Informed"

Mr Arbuthnot's email address is

How should I reply? Where to begin? Ummmm

Dear Mr Arbuthnot,

The question I put to you simply asked what you personally propose doing to help end the humanitarian crisis in Gaza where 1.4 million civilians are suffering under Israeli blockade, which shows no sign of being lifted and only bites deeper. It's called collective punishment, one of the nastiest crimes in the book. You don't answer.

Can we therefore conclude that you are happy to see Gaza turned into the worst kind of ghetto? And quite relaxed about its Christian community being crushed and reduced to dire circumstances alongside their Muslim friends and neighbours?

I see you visited Israel quite recently with “The Friends”. How far did you stray from the Israelis' carefully planned programme, I wonder? Did you talk to Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions [[]] (ICAHD) and learn what the Israeli government is really up to, how it plans to make the occupation permanent and how every step it takes is designed to achieve just that?

Did you visit Muslim leaders? Or the Catholic Church, which operates in every town and village, teaches Muslim as well as Christian children, and has a superb intelligence network? Did you pop in for a chat with the Latin Patriarch and hear how his priests are treated? When visiting Bethlehem did you talk to Open Bethlehem, [[]] listen to the mayor, meet with the survivors of the 40-day siege of the Church of the Nativity? Did you queue for ages with citizens at the Israeli checkpoint as they tried to get to work?

Did you stop to admire the monstrous wall, with its gun-towers encircling the cradle of Christianity? Do you think Jesus would be impressed? How would the good citizens of Hartley Wintney and Fleet, whom you represent, like to live their lives surrounded by that and not be able to travel to London?

Did you take a Palestinian taxi and journey through the occupied West Bank, only to find yourself barred from Jews-only highways? Did you call in at Hebron, Tulkarem, Nablus and Jenin? Did you note the Israeli vandalism and mega-destruction of villages and olive groves? Did you enjoy the endless delays at hundreds of armed checkpoints and the rudeness of the IDF, or IOF (“O” for Offence) as they are more correctly called?

Then to Gaza. Did you notice how Israel still occupies Gazan airspace, airwaves and coastal waters, seals all exits in order to ruin trade and livelihoods, and barges in with tanks, bulldozers and helicopter gunships to commit murder and mayhem whenever the mood takes it? Did you check the food stores and supermarket shelves? Did you record Israel's destruction of vital infrastructure, some of which the British taxpayer paid for?

Did you tour the hospitals, talk to the overworked doctors, see the dialysis machines and other equipment standing idle through lack of spares thanks to Israel's blockade? Did you note the zero stock of medical disposables and cleaning materials, check the dispensaries to find them out of vital drugs, watch chronically sick cardiac and renal failure patients dying in agony through lack of medication and because the Israelis won't allow them to cross the border for proper hospital treatment?

Did you partake of the meagre rations? And if you are a Christian, did you drop in on the Christian community to hear about their difficulties? Did you know that their priest hasn't visited his family in Jordan for nine years because, if he leaves, the Israelis won't let him back into his parish? And the schools – how are they managing without books, do you know? How are university students able to get on with their studies?

Did you request a briefing on the economy, crippled after decades of strangulation and nearly two years of siege? Did you stroll along the deserted beach and ask the 3,000 licensed fisherman why they can't take their boats to sea? Did you wander through the refugee camps? Did you stop off for coffee and a chin-wag at the houses of Fatah and Hamas?

Did you stay a few days to enjoy the long nights without light and power, tapping the keyboard of your laptop until the battery gave out and watching the children study for exams by candlelight?

And when you waved goodbye, how was your three-hour shuffle through the maze of steel bars and high-tech pens of the Erez crossing? Did the inhuman “security” process give you a buzz?

In short, Mr Arbuthnot, what do you really know about the situation in the Holy Land and Israel's conduct? Do you ever get the feeling you're being used? That's a cruel thing to say, but maybe all MPs caught up in Friends of Israel ought to ask themselves the question, or at least consider what kind of impression they create in the minds of a public who are increasingly learning the truth.

Stu Littlewood

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