Palestinian author and journalist Dr. Ramzy Baroud discusses the reasons behind Israel’s lack of accountability to international law. While many countries, especially in the Global South, are held accountable to United Nations resolutions and to international humanitarian laws, Israel remains untouched. The role of the UK, past and present. What will it take for the Palestinians to achieve justice?
I thank you very much for that lovely introduction and to the Balfour Project for the amazing work that they can continue to do. And to all the lovely people who are tuned in and are being part of this conversation.
I just want to start with, with a reference, not to the Balfour Declaration per se, but rather to the 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. And that’s when Netanyahu and his right-wing ilk gathered in London to celebrate the anniversary with the British government, the who’s who in the British elite. And at the time, Theresa May was the prime minister, and it was really interesting, the kinds of things that she said.
Now, let’s remember that the Balfour Declaration, which essentially was the deed that was granted to Israel to have control over Palestine to establish a state, and eventually that led to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the Nakba and all the disasters that helped that have befallen the Palestinian people ever since. Even though it has done so it had certain caveats that are worthy of discussion. For example, the fact that that establishment of that Jewish state should not prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. And of course, we can talk about the language a great deal, this whole idea that the original inhabitants, the natives of the land, are only identified as non-Jewish through a process of cancellation. as if they were not worthy of being named as Palestinians, as Arabs, as natives.
But still, there was that caveat that that Jewish state should not prejudice, the civil and religious rights of the native inhabitants. Yet in 2017, when Theresa May, took her champagne glass and raised it up in the air, in celebration of Israel and the Balfour Declaration, she uttered such words, which is interesting because it shows the degree of defensiveness that exists within the British establishment that she would absolutely not apologise for the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which paved in her mind the way for the establishment of the most extraordinary state of Israel.
Now, if anybody has any doubts that the British government, when they made that promise, and when they issued that declaration, they did not really anticipate the process that came after that, and the disaster after disaster that has befallen the Palestinian people, the majority of whom are refugees scattered within Palestine itself, but throughout the Middle East and around the world, one would assume that 100 years of practical empirical experiences would have shown that the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine have been violated in numerous ways on a daily basis or an hourly basis.
Yet there was no recourse, there was no apology, we would absolutely not apologise. And not just that, it went much further than the prejudicing of the civil and religious rights into daily war crimes committed in Palestine, including crimes against humanity, the crimes of aggression, crimes against peace, and much more and arguably, even, in some instances, the crime of genocide. The Nakba was a crime of genocide. And we can talk about these things within the larger context of the politics of international law later on.
Yet nothing has changed. The idea is that Israel is infallible, that Israel is beyond apology, beyond critique, remains dominant in the British elitist and official thinking.
As a Palestinian refugee, I was born and raised in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip called Nuseirat. I come from a village called Beit Daras. It’s located somewhere in southern Palestine, close to Askelan today’s Ashkelon. Like millions of Palestinians in Palestine and around the world. I did my Nakba, the Nakba of my family, of my community, to the British. The British government, the British military has, had impacted our life in incredible ways. It took the Americans many years to join in in supporting Israel. They were not predominant party in sustaining the Zionist regime and Israeli war crimes and funding these war crimes and expanding the settlements. It took them many years to do so.
Arguably, not until 1967 did Americans really become a major primary party in this and possibly not until the early 1980s did the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC in particular, among others become a major players in American foreign policy in Palestine and beyond Palestine. The British, however, the British government, the British elites have been part of this for much longer.
And there has been no attempt at correcting that course, no attempt at having some reflection whatsoever. And in fact, no apology will be issued anytime soon, according to Teresa May, and that is not Teresa May, of course, it’s the thinking of that ruling elites, all the way with this trust that made up the jewel of her foreign policy promises within that extremely short career. The idea that I will follow the leads of Washington and I will remove or I will relocate the British embassy to Jerusalem and I would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
So something has fundamentally remained unchanged in Britain’s attitude towards Palestine and towards Israel. I think it’s really interesting because we quite often link Britain to the Balfour Declaration, and to the process of ethnic cleansing that was coordinated so very well between British forces in Palestine and the Zionist militias that took over Palestine between late 1947 until late 1948, in fact, even early 1949. That coordination was supposed to be the end of the British influence in Palestine, and throughout the Middle East. That was supposed to be the last stands of Britain, the last damage that they have made, and we are told that this is related to the fact that Britain at that point was no longer capable of maintaining its vast empire. They have lost the jewels of empire in the Indian subcontinent, later India and Pakistan, but also Burma, the so-called Mao Mao revolution in Kenya, and Rhodesia and so forth, made it impossible for Britain to actually maintain itself as a hegemon in the Middle East.
But that’s not exactly true. We can actually go even further than this and say in 1956, when Sir Anthony Eden went as far as carrying out a secret agreement between him and the President of France at the time, along with Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan in Israel, and they carried out the tripartite aggression against Egypt, which was a massive colonial drive.
Britain actually didn’t break away from the past. It was a very colonial drive, they were invading Egypt, and they failed in doing so because it seems that Anthony Eden overestimated the ruminants of British power in the Middle East. He wanted to keep the Suez Canal. He failed humiliatingly and miserably. And it ended up leading to his own resignation and the rise of a new era of Middle East politics when that fell between the Soviets and the Americans, between Khrushchev and Eisenhower at the time, and that we remain committed to that post so-called the Suez Canal crisis, or the Suez Crisis of 1956. What is the current political status quo in the Middle East was actually shaved by hat by that process. But that wasn’t also the last colonial endeavour. And I when I say colonial, I’m not talking about semi-colonial or Neo-colonial, I’m talking about colonialism in the raw sense as in, take over the land, control the people, control the resources, exploit them, and so forth, and so on. That was in the end of it.
Again, it happened in 2003, when Mr Tony Blair joined in knowing that this time, he does not have powerful allies, that he can do it without the Americans. So they come in with the Americans, and they invade Iraq, hoping to resurrect British colonialism in the Middle East. And we also know that that was a terrible failure as well.
The point I’m driving at here is that when we look at British policy, and politics, let’s not delude ourselves with this idea that Britain has changed. And in many ways, they are we have more margins and spaces in which we can manipulate and work with. The mindset of British colonialism that continues to control the ruling elites in Britain and their relationship with Palestine and the rest of the Middle East, and I would venture out and say the rest of the world as well, remains intact.
Now, that takes me to Jeremy Corbyn and that failed experiment of trying to achieve a paradigm shift in the UK is foreign policy and attitudes towards Palestine, and the Middle East and again, the world as well. I think there’s a lot of reductionism that has been taking place since 2015, all the way to 2020. And that is, the conversation has focused largely on the issue of antisemitism. And of course, from a strategic point of view, it would have made perfect sense for the British ruling elites, and the Zionists and the pro-Israel forces in Britain to actually manipulate that particular element. It is tried and true. It is successful, and it is the soft belly, if you will of the pro-Corbyn supporters and politicians and MPs and various organisations in Britain, simply because they have failed and continue to fail to deal with the issue of antisemitism in a proper way.
Israel has constantly wanted to make itself the priority and the focus of any conversation related to Palestine, anywhere in the world. I remember when I first came to this country, to the United States, where I’m speaking from right now. And I attended the first Palestine solidarity groups discussion on what do we do to in American support for Israel. And I was bewildered and shocked by the fact that much of that conversation focused on two elements, 1) we need to make sure that we are purging the anti Semites amongst us. And 2) don’t forget that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is also creating a great deal of damage to the psyche of Israeli soldiers. The poor soldiers who are killing Palestinians are traumatised. And therefore, not only Palestinians are the victims, but the Israelis are also victims of Zionism and so forth.
Well, one can agree, nominally that some of these issues might be or are true, but making it the departure point of the discussion about Palestine and Palestinian rights was confused, confusing and truly upsetting. The Palestinian narrative and the Palestinian people have never at any point been the core of the discussion on Palestine, not just in the United States, and not only among even pro-Palestine groups, but also within Britain as well, and I lived in the UK for a good number of years, and I manage various media ventures there. And I had all sorts of exchanges with British politicians and MPs, including Corbyn himself.
And I feel like we are trapped. We are trapped in this pro-Israel narrative, that we feel that in order for us to challenge that pro Israel narrative, we have to use the very tools that are used by Israel and the Israelis themselves. Instead of arguing that we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people unconditionally, and forever, we quite often make the claim ‘we are not antisemites. And antisemitism is not a feature of being a pro-Palestine. And we need to make sure that all the antisemites amongst us are, quote, and publicly derided. Also, we don’t support any kind of violence and Palestinian suicide bombings is an act of terrorism. And also, Hamas is not the only representative of the Palestinian people, and so forth and so on. This is what they call history of negation, the constant attempt of trying to deflect criticism, by trying to prove to your enemy, to your detractors, your attackers, that you are not what they say that you are. In the process of doing, we achieved so very little in terms of narrative.
And I made that suggestion to some people in the Labour Party and I know other Palestinians have, instead of coming with statements after statements, trying to disassociate yourself from antisemites within your party, and keep urging the party over and over again, thinking that, and wrongly so, that there will be a particular point in which you have indeed established yourself as an as a true supporter, that you are not racist, or you are not antisemitic, as if the accusation of antisemitism was actually a functional accusation from a moral point of view, that we really, really, really wanted to make sure that you are not antisemite. And once you establish that, then you can articulate your narrative regarding Palestine.
It’s an illusion, it was never in the works in the first place. And yet, somehow, we engaged and we played that game. And I remember a member of the Labour Party, a supporter of Corbyn telling me ‘Ramzy, no, no, no, don’t worry about it, that party is going to be issuing the statement. And it’s going to be a decisive, conclusive statement that is going to shun antisemitism, and clarify our position regarding this.’ And I keep telling him, the issue is not that, the issue is something much bigger, the issue, it has nothing to do with racism, per se, but it’s a distraction, so that you never truly articulate your position regarding Palestine.
And I suggested, alternatively, why not let Palestinians speak for themselves, that’s the biggest service that the Labour Party or any pro-Palestine platform in the UK can actually do. Bring Palestinians, let them articulate their own narrative, don’t speak on their behalf, don’t apologise on their behalf and stop reducing the issue to a single point that is being dictated on you by the very supporters of Israel. None of this happened, unfortunately. And we kind of went back to the status quo, in fact, much worse than the status quo. Because now there is this idea, and it’s a terrifying idea. And we have to think and talk about this idea, in depth, that being pro-Palestine can be the end of your political career, that being pro-Palestine means the end of the game for you, whatever you are trying to establish in terms of being accepted within mainstream society. And it’s really not true. It’s actually the other way around at this point, thanks to the power of BDS. Thanks to the influence of the pro Palestine, communities around the world, in many instances is becoming a liability being pro-Israel. In many campuses across Canada, the US and the UK, and many other parts of the world, being pro-Israel can be a true liability. And that’s because the BDS is a Palestinian movement. This is why it’s so very important. We keep talking about reclaiming the narrative, reclaiming history, reclaiming the discourse. It’s not cliche, and it’s not romanticisation when you reclaim the centrality of Palestine within the Palestinian narrative, what you are essentially doing, you are saying the priorities of this narrative are exclusively Palestinian. Yes, Palestinians are aware of the global scene and working with other disaffected communities, oppressed people around the world, indigenous communities, various liberation movements, and so forth and so on. But essentially, it is Palestinian, and therefore, it can only be changed, altered and reformed based on Palestinian priorities.
But the other thing that is really not true about this notion that being pro-Palestinian is the end of your careers, the reductionism that happened since then. And I feel like there’s all sorts of new documentaries that are emerging that feed into that false narrative, the idea that Palestine is a liability. It actually is not, it just what we haven’t really realised, and this is what I began my talk with, that the British ruling elites have never really changed in the first place. This has nothing to do with Palestine. They haven’t changed, the mindset remained the same.
The reason that Palestine itself became the center of discussions in some circles is because everybody benefited from it. Everybody benefited from it. The ruling elites would say, Listen, this is not about British foreign policy in the Middle East. It’s not about the fact that we have established a foreign policy agenda and outlook that serves our interests over the course of a century and more and we want to sustain it. No, no, it’s about antisemitism. And the pro-Israel camp, meaning Zionists themselves, loved this, loved teaching us all a lesson, see what happens when you mess with Israel.
So this is something that is going to also further inflate the power of the pro-Israel lobbies in the West. That term makes me makes me a bit uncomfortable. We refer to AIPAC, for example, in the US as the powerful Israel lobby. Powerful, you are a lobby, you have a very specific agenda, you use money context networks, in order for you to achieve certain ins. And you could lose, and there are times we do lose.
So we have to be a little bit careful, because Zionists are very, very keen at creating this image for themselves of being beyond reach. But I also suspect that some within the Palestine Solidarity movement or pro-Palestinians in the UK, in Europe across the world, also wanted to emphasise the point. See, that’s how powerful the Zionists are. And as a result, we reduced the entire issue to a single phrase, a single brand.
Now, from a business point of view, if you want to establish a good brand, you simply need to emphasise one specific element that you perceive to be the best selling point in that brand. The Coke company, for example, always brand the Coke, this is something that is going to quench your thirst on a very hot day. Even though actually it dehydrates you, it does the exact opposite. It doesn’t matter. That’s the brand. Every commercial from when the Coke company was established, all the way until today always presents pushing that specific element.
And antisemitism has become a brand. Yes, of course there is real racism that exists. And there is indeed antisemitism that exists on an everyday basis. But there are two kinds of antisemitism that we are talking about. The real antisemitism that is part of a larger racial paradigm in which people are being judged because of the race or background. As it does for Jewish communities, it exists for Arabs, Muslims, Africans, and Latinos and so forth. And so it exists.
But that’s not the antisemitism we are talking about. The antisemitism we are talking about is a purely political trope, and it is used conveniently whenever a pro-Palestinian voice rises anywhere in the world. The reason it works is not because the rank and file and ordinary people are believing. The reason it works is because those on the very top also benefit from the use of that particular brand. And this is why, in my opinion, what happened within the Labour Party and within Britain has taken place, it’s the fact that on one hand, Labour themselves were not united. And they never really managed to establish an independent narrative on Palestine and many issues. I don’t want to go into that, it’s not my business right now.
But on Palestine, they never really managed to produce a unique narrative that is saturated and situated within Palestinian priority. And they engaged in this counter-narrative of self-defense. But on the other hand, that whole side of the friends of Israel in both parties and all parties, among the Zionists and the media and all that, They were so keen to prevent Corbyn and others from challenging what has served as tried and true British foreign policy in Palestine, in the Middle East, and across the world. And of course, they have chosen that specific element of the story, again, the soft belly of the Labour Party, and in fact, of British politics, and they have succeeded in doing so.
So here we are in a situation where we have to understand that Palestine cannot be reduced to the success or failure of the Corbyn experience, although that is a very important experience we need to learn from, but we have to also think of our position regarding Palestine, from now on, based on the priorities of the Palestinian people, and we can’t play this game of ‘well, the Palestinians don’t know what they want anyway. Palestinians are divided, and they are going through their own political infighting and so forth.’
Solidarity with any nation anywhere in the world cannot be reduced or cannot be blamed or conditioned, more importantly, on the political discourse of the people who are being oppressed. You can’t, simply because if you look at it from a historical point of view, every national liberation movement in the world had its own divisions, and its various political currents that often times oppose each other. And in the cases of Vietnam, Korea, Algeria, and many others, Cuba, actually clashed and very violently.
Yet, still, we haven’t conditioned our support to the liberation movements in these countries based on ‘well, when the Algerians are united, then and only then I will start listening to what the Algerian people want.’
No, it doesn’t work that way. So Palestine should not be made the exception. The moral of the story here is that we really need to reposition the epicentre of solidarity back to the Palestinians, back to the Palestinian narrative, and, and truly listen to the Palestinian people, and make them the central voices, not just the Palestinian people, but as represented in their engaged intellectuals, in their organic intellectuals, who are fighting the good fight in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Jerusalem and Palestine 48, but also all around the world.