BRITAIN’S sick decision to suspend funding for Palestinian refugees while they face famine and mass displacement in Gaza shames our country in the eyes of the world.
We will not escape blame simply because, alongside other wealthy countries such as Germany, Italy and Canada, we are falling into line behind the United States, the first to freeze funding for the UN Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA) following allegations that 12 of its 30,000 employees were involved in Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.
This act of inhuman cruelty further underlines the divide in international politics between the West and the rest. Since Israel’s invasion of Gaza began the gulf between the handful of US allies who facilitate its mass murder of Palestinians and the huge majority of countries which back an immediate ceasefire has yawned ever wider.
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini rightly calls this collective punishment. Innocent Palestinians will starve to death because of an unproven Israeli accusation that a tiny number of its staff may have played a role in Hamas’s raid. An accusation UNRWA immediately pledged to investigate, with survivors among the named 12 already sacked.
But the collective punishment of Gaza’s population is nothing new. Over 25,000 people, mostly women and children, have been killed as Israel’s merciless bombardment flattens neighbourhoods and its rampaging soldiers shoot their way into hospitals, a collective punishment for Hamas killing over 1,100 Israelis on October 7.
And what can we call the 17-year siege of the Gaza strip, once termed the world’s biggest open-air prison by our current Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron, other than collective punishment for its having elected Hamas in 2006 (incidentally, while receiving the largest vote share Hamas was not supported by a majority)?
The 5.6 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA have themselves been collectively punished down the generations simply for having lived on land Israel decided to seize. Denied their UN-mandated right of return, herded into refugee camps across Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, denied the independent state they alongside Israel were promised, a people dispossessed and wronged.
Britain has always been complicit in that dispossession. But our role today is more sordid than ever.
RAF bases on Cyprus are used to resupply an Israel charged with genocide at the International Court of Justice. Deadly weaponry for Israel is manufactured in British factories. British aircraft and warships actively assist Israel’s terrorising of an almost defenceless, trapped population.
Britain has gone further than other European countries in aligning itself totally with Israel’s war, even joining the US in revenge bombings of Yemen because its Houthi government has attacked Israel-linked shipping as a declaration of solidarity with Palestine.
And the bombings are indeed nothing but revenge, as even US President Joe Biden admits they will not stop attacks on ships: Yemen, which has been pitilessly bombed for eight years by Saudi Arabia (with British weaponry and logistical assistance) without the Houthis even being perceptibly weakened, will fight on but its people will suffer.
Revenge and collective punishment. These are the motive and practice of the US-led alliance which explain freezing UNRWA’s funding.
The 12 accused staff are just an excuse. The old imperialist powers are furious that a global South country and Brics member, South Africa, has taken Israel to the UN’s highest court, and that that court has ordered it to immediately act to prevent acts of genocide by its troops in Gaza and to punish those inciting such acts, something Benjamin Netanyahu and his fascist allies do every day.
They have responded by sanctioning not Israel, but Palestine and the United Nations itself. Their tantrum will mean real suffering for Palestinians, but shreds what little moral authority the Nato states have left on the world stage, and will accelerate the gathering revolt of the global South.
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