Oh, Gaza! I don’t think the Palestinian question has ever resounded so plaintively around the world as it does today. In previous decades worldwide interest focussed on acts of PLO terror and here in the UK there was a generalised sympathy for the Israeli state under siege…a westernised, often English-speaking democracy many of us could identify with.
Israel is still responding to acts of terror – that’s what firing rockets into their territory amounts to – but the reaction this time has awakened a hurricane of popular fury that goes beyond the committed Left and western critics. This begins to feel like a tipping point because of the grim evidence of carnage, the viciousness of the weaponry, the relaxed air of indifference in Israel itself and the sickening sense that we have been through the ritual dance of international-led negotiations and hand-wringing so often without solution. Still the corralling of the Palestinians goes on, the destruction of the basic needs for survival continues and no sustainable resolution to the historic injustice is achieved let alone a workable means of mutual co-existence.
And still we pay for it. Whenever Israel devastates the infrastructure it is us as European citizens who pay to have it rebuilt. If Israel is our ally in the West, they have a counter-productive way of showing it. It is Europe which directly supports Palestinian reconstruction and has for decades.
In 2012, the European Union frontloaded €156 million for the Palestinian Authority’s recurrent spending, including €11 million for private sector reconstruction, €25 million for infrastructure development in the Gaza Strip, €27.5 million for institution-building projects €8 million in East Jerusalem.
€42 million was committed for humanitarian intervention in Palestine, €24 million under the food security programme and €7.5 million through the UN’s humanitarian crisis prevention initiative in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.
Last year, the EU provided €168 million for direct financial assistance.
Pledges of money for reconstruction this time are being recorded – $93 million from the United Arab Emirates, $10 million from Kuwait, $5 million from Bahrain. Government sources in Tel Aviv indicate Israeli money could be available this time on condition Hamas agrees to ceasefire.
But public opinion even among the normally staunch US Jewish community is saying enough is enough as we witness the scale of devastation and the images of death and horrific injuries. The realisation that the all-powerful and heavily-armed Israeli Defence Force is prepared to smash anything near a potential target in defiance of world opinion is hardening opposition in Hamas’ favour. Yesterday’s strike on a UN school occurred because they were aiming at militants on a passing motorbike. That sounds cavalier and certainly uncaring of potential innocent death. It isn’t just that this prolonged attack is enough, it is that the situation which permits it is also now too much to bear. Instead of just the Americans, who help arm the Israelis, who hold the ring, it is the world community which needs to find a new resolution, a determination to force a change in attitude that decrees a settlement must now be formulated.
I already boycott Israeli goods – after all Israel boycotts Gazan goods and the navy blockades its ports. But that needs to turn into an international movement, one that makes the supermarkets think twice before ordering.
But here’s the thing…for all that we protest and complain our voices need the loudspeaker of the government. Tomorrow Alex Salmond has an opportunity to put Scotland on the map in the Gaza disaster by making a statement during the televised debate condemning Israeli aggression. He can take a lead, following the offer of treating the injured, that would be bold and echo the feelings of the Scots by speaking out on behalf of the Scottish government and demanding not just an end to the bombardment and immediate reparations but urging a UN peace conference. And offering to host it.
So far the UK government’s response has been mealy-mouthed and pro-Israel. Such a statement and offer by Salmond would force Cameron’s hand on the day he dared not appear in Scotland to confront his nationalist opponent on television.
This has the obvious danger – and will be criticized thus – of being an act of political expediency, of playing to a gallery. But who has a locus? Not even the Americans if we read the script, because Netanyahu has previously ignored Obama and awaits his departure. Seemingly, so does Obama, unaware that this episode will taint his legacy.
Right now it is the people across the world who are raising their voices, urging their governments to engage and condemn. Do we exclude ourselves from this because we are Scots, because we are not a sovereign state, because we are too small or because we don’t care enough? Didn’t we just have a global event in our biggest city placing us firmly at the heart of international affairs? Do we leave this to the Norwegians and the Swiss who stand ready to mediate – both of them also small countries?
Isn’t independence about taking our place in the world and playing a full role? What better sign could we give than to put into official words the message that is resounding around the world…
The SNP showed itself resolute and confident when it freed Megrahi – in the teeth of world and Washington opinion. This would be much less controversial and be hailed abroad if not at home where Salmond’s opponents would display the customary national self-loathing by jeering him for saying what they themselves believe and what their own party leadership is saying. That can be laughed off.
It isn’t an easy decision. No administration seeking approval for cutting against the grain to win its independence wants to alienate neighbours and international power bases unnecessarily but has there ever been a moment of such disgust coinciding with a mass audience when the voice of the Scottish people can be heard so clearly? There are times, and this one, when it is plain humanity, not politics that is to the fore. Whichever side you are on, whatever doubts about Hamas and its policies you hold, you can put up a hand and say Enough.
Politicians speaking up now may find they are on the right side not just of the argument but of history if Israel’s brutality really has turned the tide of world support against them. Let’s be part of that movement for peace.by