UK Parliament Hall
Briefings about Israel-Palestine for Legislators in the UK and US are very similar.
Organize-organize-organize. Line up expert witnesses. Secure a member of Congress or Parliament to sponsor the briefing. Invite-invite-invite. Hold your breath and see who shows up, praying for members of Congress and Parliament to attend or send their staff.
The Members of Parliament (MPs) might be forgiven for not attending the briefing on Israel’s new Nation-State Law on Feb. 26, 2019 given the current Brexit turmoil they find themselves embroiled in. About 30 people were there, hopefully some staff, and at least one Zionist who identified himself at the end of the meeting.
The seminar at the House of Commons in London was hosted by EuroPal Forum and brought together experts in the legal, diplomatic and public policy fields.
Andrew Slaughter – photo credit Chris McAndrew
MP Andy Slaughter convened the meeting and provided a strong introduction to the issue. Clearly, he doesn’t need an education on Israel-Palestine. (Slaughter’s interests include the Middle East and particularly Palestine. He is Secretary of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and Vice-Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East.)
He mentioned Amnesty’s new report (Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa – Review of 2018), and the 25th anniversary of the massacre in Hebron where Baruch Goldstein killed 29 worshipping Palestinians, and even mentioned that AIPAC is calling Israel’s new political party racist! (The New Right הימין החדש, HaYamin HaHadash was established in December 2018). He concluded his remarks by saying that Israel’s Nation State Law is institutionalizing Palestinians as second class citizens before he apologized and said he had to leave the meeting. The speakers who followed were just as pointed and passionate.
Orfhlaith Begley, the MP representing the Sinn Fein from northern Ireland, said that Sinn Fein believes an international peace initiative is needed. The party is going to work on the Irish Parliament to recognize the State of Palestine. She mentioned there was a bill in the House of Commons to require Israel to treat Jews and Palestinians equally but it failed with the religious parties voting against it!! The British government has said nothing publicly about Israel’s Nation-State law.
Salma Kami-Ayyoub, a legal consultant with Al-Haq and other organizations, summarized the provisions of the Nation-State Law and its three major impacts on Palestinians.
(1) Only Jewish people have the right to self-determination in the Land of Israel. (2) Settlement of Jews is a national value. (3) The Nation-State law is a Basic Law, equivalent to the Constitution. All future laws will have to be consistent with it as a foundational law for Israel. It is now a legal obligation of the State of Israel to promote the settlements. The law is “extremely damaging” because it forces the right of return out of the negotiations.
Where does this Nation-State Law apply? Over the whole of historic Palestine, Kami-Ayyoub said. There is no other constitution in the world that has a similar provision. She mentioned the rise in settler violence and asked why aren’t the settlers in Hebron called terrorists? She believes the UK government should impose sanctions. At the least, Parliament should investigate whether UK arms sold to Israel are being used to kill Palestinians.
She also mentioned the Namibia decision in 1971 as precedent which must be followed now. I remember reading the decision a couple of years ago in my Human Rights Law class. The International Court of Justice wrote:
The member States of the United Nations are under obligation to recognize the illegality and invalidity of South Africa’s continued presence in Namibia and to refrain from lending any support or any form of assistance to South Africa with reference to its occupation of Namibia.
The final speaker, Kamel Hawwash, is a British-Palestinian Professor who gave an impassioned plea for action.
A predictable Q & A followed until a Zionist stood up and introduced himself as a British Jew who attends pro-Israel meetings in London and wanted to hear the other side. He listed a number of Israel’s achievements in health and science, and then invited the panel to attend some meetings to learn about Israel’s positive contributions to the world.
Professor Hawwash gave the best rebuttal by asking the Zionist — “Are Israel’s scientific achievements incompatible with ending the occupation?” he asked. No response, and the meeting ended soon after.
The exchange at the end was symptomatic of the typical discourse with Zionists on the issue of Palestinians and the occupation. They refuse to talk about the occupation, they ignore the elephant in the room, and they deflect by turning the conversation to other points, such as Israel’s scientific achievements.
Maurice on left, Zionist in the middle
After the meeting ended, filmmaker Maurice Jacobsen tried to engage with the Zionists but said they kept deflecting and refused to respond directly on the issue of the occupation. Undoubtedly, it was frustrating for both but it summarized for me what the greatest challenge may be to ending the occupation. Not Israel’s new Nation State Law, although that presents a huge obstacle.
The biggest challenge is finding a coherent and meaningful way to talk about the occupation with the occupier and with the Zionists around the world that support Israel. Some pro-Palestinian activists may not be inclined to talk with Zionists, but Palestinians and Israelis will never live together as equals in the Holy Land if they refuse to talk and listen to each other.
Obviously, the Zionists appear content with the status quo since they have the upper hand and all of the advantages of the occupation flow to the State of Israel. They have no incentive to change the narrative that “Palestinians are terrorists and Israel must defend itself”. Thus it’s incumbent on the Palestinians and their supporters to provide a framing of the narrative where both can live together, side-by-side, respectfully and peacefully, as their ancestors did centuries ago.
This isn’t a sign of weakness or capitulation. The right of return must remain on the table. But the occupation will only end when both sides are willing to talk about it and listen to the other.