Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 May 2019

Britain’s foreign secretary under scrutiny for ‘lack of humanity’ towards Palestinians

Jeremy Hunt is ‘blaming the victim’, according to expert in international law

Palestinian students look at a building that was destroyed by Israeli air strikes near their damaged school in Gaza City May 7, 2019. Reuters
Palestinian students look at a building that was destroyed by Israeli air strikes near their damaged school in Gaza City May 7, 2019. Reuters

Britain’s foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has received fierce criticism for his statement on Gaza that some say has revealed the UK’s position on Israel-Palestinian matters.

His tweet on Sunday, expressing deep shock “by events in Israel” and blasting Hamas for its “indiscriminate and abhorrent rocket attacks”, attracted over 1,000 comments calling out the foreign secretary for his apparent blind spot on Israel’s role in the escalation of tension.

Amnesty International’s UN representative Sherine Tadros criticised Mr Hunt for displaying a “lack of humanity” for Palestinians.

Fighting between militants in Gaza and the Israeli military saw four civilians in Israel and 25 Palestinians killed, more than half of them civilians. A ceasefire to bring an end to the bloodiest fighting in the Gaza Strip since 2014 was reached on Monday, as fighting petered out and Palestinian groups said Egypt had mediated the truce.

On Friday, four Palestinians were shot dead and 51 injured after soldiers fired at protestors in Gaza.

“What Jeremy Hunt is doing is blaming the victim. In this latest assault Hamas rockets came after Israel killed a mother and a 14-month baby,” Neve Gordon, professor of international law at Queen Mary University of London, told the National.

He said that the sheer number of Palestinian civilians wounded shows that “there is no comparison” between Palestine and Israel on the effects of war.

“People locked up in the world’s largest open prison (Gaza and the West Bank) have a right in international law to use armed struggle to liberate themselves.”

Mr Gordon says that Hunt’s purposeful highlighting of Hamas, rather than Israel’s military, is “consistent with many, many years of the UK’s foreign policy, under both Labour and Tory governments”.

Mr Hunt used the Jewish Chronicle newspaper to announce a landmark change to British policy on Israel in March.

In his column, Mr Hunt said the UK would oppose all motions criticising human rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank brought forward at the UN’s human rights council under a special protocol.

“I believe that this disproportionate and discriminatory focus on Israel undermines the credibility of the world’s leading human rights forum and obstructs the quest for peace in the Middle East. That is why the UK will be opposing every Item 7 resolution at the HRC,” he said on March 21.

Mr Hunt chose to make the announcement himself as opposed to allowing Alistair Burt, then Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, to publicly declare Britain’s stance.

Britain’s long serving Middle East minister resigned on 26 March over Brexit concerns.

Having served two spells as Middle East minster, Mr Burt gained a reputation for being well briefed and well-respected across party divides.

“Minister Burt was a brilliant champion of peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians and will be missed by all those who work to promote a political resolution to the conflict,” said Hannah Weisfeld, director of British-Jewish group Yachad.

The former minister had told Yachad that the British government viewed Israel’s demolition of homes in the West Bank as “unacceptable”.

Kamel Hawwesh, a British-Palestinian professor based at the University of Birmingham and founding member of the British Palestinian Policy Council, says Britain is quietly changing its policy on Israel and Palestine and has aligned itself closer to US foreign policy under President Donald Trump in recent months, as seen through the language it uses to denounce attacks.

“Both Britain and the US are not only shielding Israel from accountability for its crimes; they are damaging the standing of international law and international humanitarian law. They are also emboldening Israel to continue to feel that it can operate above the law,” he said.

Senior Palestinian negotiator tweeted in March that Mr Hunt’s announcement was “a gift for Israeli settlers and the Israeli government. The British government has consistently opposed any concrete step against the occupation.”

Updated: May 7, 2019 07:33 PM

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