What can Croydon do for Israel and Palestine?


By - Thursday 5th July, 2018

How Croydon MPs and a Croydon artist have reacted to the issues in Israel and Gaza


Screening of Electrical Gaza (2015) by Croydon-born artist and Turner Prize 2017 nominee, Rosalind Nashashibi, at Mother’s Tankstation Gallery, Dublin, in November 2017, for the Being Infrastructural series, curated by Maeve Connolly.
Photo by Maeve Connolly, used with permission.

There is a familiar course of action followed by the British government after escalations of violence in Palestine. First, a ‘neutral’ call that both sides show restraint whilst insisting that Israel has the right to defend itself; then a grudging recognition of the one-sided civilian death toll as it becomes undeniable; and, finally, a quiet closing of ranks to prevent Israel being held accountable for the violence of its over fifty years of military occupation of Palestine and its role in the blockade of Gaza, thus kicking hopes for a peaceful resolution for Israelis and Palestinians into the long grass.

After the 14th May killing and fatal wounding of over 60 Gazans by Israeli military forces, Britain abstained from a vote at the UN Human Rights Council to set up an independent commission of inquiry to examine Israel’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) – in particular, their response to the ‘Great March of Return’ separation fence protests. The protestors in Gaza have demanded the right to escape the strangling blockade and return to lands from which they or family members were made refugees since 1948.

Over 120 Gazans have been killed, mostly by live fire from snipers, including two journalists and two medics, with over 13,000 injured. Thirty-two amputations have been reported by the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Britain’s decision to propose an Israeli investigation into events, rather than supporting the “unbalanced” international inquiry agreed upon at the UN Human Rights Council by twenty-nine countries (only the US and Australia opposing), effectively reiterated to Israel that, despite any suggestion of criticism, they should proceed as normal.

Rosalind Nashashibi is a Croydon-born, Irish-Palestinian artist

Croydon-born, Irish-Palestinian artist, Rosalind Nashashibi, whose short film Electrical Gaza was part of her 2017 Turner Prize exhibition, says of the territory: “I think of the Gaza Strip as having been put under a kind of enchantment by the world powers”. In Electrical Gaza real and animated footage depicting everyday life are merged: “I aim to portray the place as I saw it, but also to find a way to show something of its nature as an alternative universe”, Nashashibi says.

Still from Rosalind Nashashibi’s short film, Electrical Gaza – part of her Turner Prize 2017 exhibition.
Photo by Rosalind Nashashibi and LUX London, used with permission.

Whilst the British government issued a statement after the 14th May Gaza massacre, stating that, “(t)he loss of life and the large number of injured Palestinians is tragic, and it is extremely worrying that the number of those killed continues to rise”, and has also committed £1.5 million to support the Red Cross’ work in hospitals in Gaza, Britain recently voted against a draft decision at the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Assembly proposing the deployment of a team of health experts to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) to assess conditions. The ‘no’ vote put Britain in a minority of six nations out of ninety, with US, Israel, Canada, Australia and Guatemala the others opposed.

On Friday 1st June, Britain abstained in a UN Security Council vote on a draft resolution condemning the “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force by the Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians” and calling for “the consideration of measures to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in the Gaza Strip”. The resolution was ultimately vetoed by the US. That same day, Razan al-Najjar, a twenty-one-year-old volunteer medic became the latest Gazan shot and killed. A similar resolution did pass in the UN General Assembly with 120 votes for and eight against, with Britain again abstaining.

Nashashibi’s eighteen-minute film, Electrical Gaza, commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in 2010, was filmed in the summer of 2014, after years of delay as the filmmaker sought permission from Israeli authorities to enter the blockaded territory. Only days into filming, however, she was told to leave by the British Foreign Office as Israel launched Operation ‘Protective Edge’; a fifty-day war in Gaza ensued that resulted in the deaths of 2,104 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, amongst whom 495 were children – most under twelve years old, whilst seventy-three Israelis were killed, including seven Israeli civilians by Palestinian militant rocket and mortar fire.

Civilians were deliberately targeted, according to Amnesty International

Israel’s Operation ‘Protective Edge’ caused the severe damage or destruction of 17,200 Gazan homes and the shelling of UN schools sheltering civilians killed around forty-five people. Civilians were deliberately targeted, according to Amnesty International. Accused of complicity in potential war crimes, the British government was pressured into reviewing its arms sale licences to Israel and identified twelve extant licences for components potentially being used by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza. The government chose not to suspend the licences but vowed precautionary action if “significant hostilities” resumed. A year later, the government had given itself the all-clear after an internal review.

Within months after the cessation of violence in Gaza in 2014, the British government licenced the export of £3 million-worth of military goods to Israel and £1.7 million in dual-use goods – usable for both military and civilian purposes. In 2017, Britain licenced a record £221 million in arms exports to Israel.

The British government’s stated policy on arms sales is that “(w)e will not issue licenses where we judge there is a clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression”. Croydon South MP, Chris Philp (Conservative) recently reiterated to me via email the process by which Britain licences arms sales: “All UK export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, taking into account all relevant factors”.

International relations and the economy help judge if export licences can be granted

The EU National Arms Export Licensing Criteria lists eight criteria for export licences to be judged against, as well as factors of “national interest”, such as international relations and the economy. According to criterion two, licences should not be granted where there is “a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression”, Britain should “exercise special caution” in cases “where serious violations of human rights have been established” and “not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”.

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) identifies Israel as a country of human rights concern in relation to “the Israeli government’s violation of international human rights and humanitarian law in the context of Israel’s occupation of the OPTs”. Criterion six states that the buyer country’s “respect for international law” must be taken into account.

How the government interprets its criteria, particularly, the phrase “clear risk” is not known and, this is especially unclear in cases where exports are incorporated in a third-party country, such as the US, which is, by far, the biggest seller of arms to Israel and internationally. In 2008, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government did not have to provide reasons publicly for its arms export licensing decisions.

Concern has been expressed about the export of arms or arms components

A recently tabled Early Day Motion (EDM 1305) on ‘UK Arms Exports to Israel’, expresses concern about the licensing for export of categories of arms or arms components, including sniper and assault rifles, pistols, weapon sights and targeting equipment and the fact that ministers “do not collect data on the use of such equipment after sale”. The EDM proposes that an embargo on arms exports to Israel should be implemented unless it can be demonstrated that the export control law is being met. The motion, following similar calls for an arms embargo by the UN Human Rights Council and Amnesty International, has received 55 MP signatures so far, but has no binding effect.

Film still showing a crowd waiting at the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt. From Electrical Gaza (2015).  Photo by Rosalind Nashashibi and LUX London, used with permission.

Film still showing a crowd waiting at the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt. From Electrical Gaza (2015).
Photo by Rosalind Nashashibi and LUX London, used with permission.

The difficulty of challenging Britain’s arms exports was highlighted last year when the High Court ruled as lawful Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia – recipient of 48% of UK arms exports – which is in the midst a bombing campaign in Yemen, with 16,000 air raids having bombarded the country for the last three years. Bombs have struck schools, hospitals, weddings and markets, contributing to the deaths of over 10,000 people, with 400,000 children severely malnourished and the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history. Leave for appeal against the High Court’s ruling was recently granted by the Court of Appeal to activists, opening the possibility of further challenge to the policy.

As well as the law, the British government and political representatives can be held to their own words. Last year, Chris Philp MP was amongst 100 Conservative MPs and Lords to sign an open letter “celebrating the friendship between the UK and Israel” and “marking… with pride” the centenary anniversary of the November 1917 Balfour Declaration – the historic pledge signed by Sir Arthur Balfour on behalf of the British government to facilitate the creation of Jewish homeland in Palestine. The final paragraph of the letter states: “(a)s the architects of the Balfour Declaration, the UK retains a key role to play in the Middle East Peace Process and we hope that in this centennial year we can finally see progress towards a lasting two-state solution that guarantees security and dignity for the Israeli and Palestinian people”.

Croydon MPs all chose to issue general statements rather than address the questions

Prior to the last UK general election, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) sought to establish parliamentary candidates’ positions on Israel-Palestine by asking five questions. Amongst them was the question, “(d)o you agree that the government should enforce its own arms export licensing criteria, and stop supplying arms to Israel until it ceases its violations of international law?”. Croydon’s winning candidates Sarah Jones (Central Croydon), Steve Reed (Croydon North), Chris Philp (Croydon South) all chose to issue general statements rather than address all the questions and none amongst them directly addressed the arms embargo question, though Jones and Reed expressed opposition to boycotts that isolate Israel. Whilst expressing support for the international consensus on a two-state solution, no-one acknowledged the thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries caused by frequent Israeli bombing and ground invasion attacks condemned internationally.

Nearly 50% of Gaza’s trapped population are children, being under eighteen years of age. In the West Bank, that percentage is around 45%. Another escalation of war in Gaza – which has been described as “unliveable“ by a senior UN official – may be brewing in the aftermath of the bloodiest day of the ‘Great March of Return’. The British public can end their government’s complicity in the torture of Palestine and boost the chances of peace for Israel and Palestine by calling for government to adhere to laws on arms export controls and impose a comprehensive two-way arms embargo on Israel. Political representatives can also be pushed to act upon their own words that profess to desire a two-state solution and an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements.

Samuel Ali

Samuel Ali

Samuel recently worked as a Heritage Trainee with the Museum of Croydon, in conjunction with arts and heritage charity, Culture&. He is interested in opening archives and museum collections to engage diverse and under-represented audiences. All views are his own. Contact: samuel.ali (at) cultureand (dot) org or @museumpoetry

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  • Mark Johnson

    100% one sided with no attempt at balance at all. It’s articles like this that show why Israel behaves the way it does. It can’t ever win in the authors eyes unless they surrender and leave the Middle East forever.

    • Sam A

      Britain’s supply of weapons to the region is not “balanced”, nor the death toll and suffering. If the facts on the ground are one-sided, to present a a faux-neutral “balanced” perspective would be misleading and poor journalism – even though it is common practice.

      • Mark Johnson

        I really hope you aren’t asking us to fund Hamas, a terrorist organisation are you? That’s who Israel are fighting, not the Palestinian people.

        Israel made the mistake of falling into Hamas’ trap by killing the innocent human sheilds that Hamas sent to protect the terrorists attacking Israel. When Hamas put weapons stockpiles under schools and hospitals and launch military operations from cilivian centre’s there will always be the deaths of innocents.

      • Anne Giles

        But nothing to do with Croydon!

  • Michael Swadling

    You mention “Gaza’s trapped population” why are they trapped? Why can’t they just cross freely with their religious counterparts in Egypt? Oh maybe it’s not just Israel that’s the problem?

  • Robert Ward

    Severely streches the Citizen’s requirement for Croydon content. A rant about Israel tacking on a few mentions of our local MPs and a Croydon born artist is pretty tenuous.

    • Anne Giles

      I agree.

  • John Stich

    Excellent article.

  • Anne Giles

    Very biased anti-Israel article. To be ignored.

  • hemsl

    I don’t see how this has any relevance to Croydon or this publication. Please find another outlet for your one-sided views on the Middle East.

  • El Jafari

    Thanks for the work and keep it up!
    I think more focus on the art work of Nashashibi would have been appreciated. I am left with many questions about it. But the coverage of Croydon MP’s was informative.
    On the whole I think a good 60-70%, at least, of the article should have focused on the art story and MP’s, then use more signposting/links for fleshing out the background info. A few paragraphs in and I could have been reading any brief article on the Israel-Palestine conflict in parts.
    I feel, boiled down, the article would only be one paragraph on the artist and two on the MP’s. But pay no mind to the hippocritory defenders, either.