It's an old chestnut but it does seem surprisingly common considering just how easy it is to refute. It's all about degrees of separation; as a UK citizen, my first concern is to the UK government's policies and actions. In a democracy, it is every citizens right, you might even say duty, to try to ensure that their government lives up to certain standards of behaviour. Scrutiny and criticism of your democratically elected government is not only acceptable, its an essential part of the democratic process.
From that key principle, it's easy to see why the closest allies of your democratically elected government should also be subjected to greater scrutiny than distant governments over which your own has little or no influence. It's a sort of responsibility chain; the closer to home, the more responsible you are and the more influence you can generally exert. In short, it's about trying to keep your own house in order.
This above is so obvious that it feels a bit silly typing it but it does appear that it needs to be said. Anyway, for the reasons above, I feel the need to mention the latest report from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
[T]he committee, in its report entitled Global Security: The Middle East, said a quicker response from the government in July last year "could have led to reduced casualties amongst both Israeli and Lebanese civilians whilst still working towards a long-term solution to the crisis".So the committee has concluded that the British government, by refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire, helped enable the continuation of the conflict. At the time, Blair waffled as people died. And why did the government adopted the policy it did when it refused to call for an immediate ceasefire?
It called some of Israel's military actions in Lebanon during the war "indiscriminate and disproportionate".
It particularly highlighted the attacks on United Nations observers and the dropping of more than 3.5 million cluster bombs (90% of the total) in the 72 hours after the UN Security Council passed the resolution which effectively ended the war.
From the full report (article 100):
At the time of the conflict, many believed the United States was obstructing calls for an immediate ceasefire to give Israel a chance to defeat overwhelmingly Hezbollah's militia. The BBC journalist Ed Stourton raised this theory with John Bolton, who had been the US Ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the war. Mr Stourton asked him if the US had been "deliberately obstructing diplomatic attempts" to bring an end to the war so that "Israel could have its head." Mr Bolton asked "what's wrong with that?" and added that he was "damn proud of what we did."The committee offers three possible reasons for this discrepancy.
We wrote to Dr Howells to ask him about Mr Bolton's comments. In his reply, he asserted: The UK was certainly not involved in collusion with either the US or Israel to support the continuation of hostilities or to block a ceasefire. Whilst I cannot speak for the US position [on] this matter, I do not believe they acted differently.
- Mr Bolton misled Stourton by suggesting that the US blocked diplomacy at the UN because it wanted to give Israel the opportunity to destroy Hezbollah.
- The US did indeed block attempts to find a quick diplomatic solution to bring about a ceasefire, but that the UK was not made aware of this collusion with Israel.
- The UK was in fact brought into, or at least aware of, the efforts to obstruct the diplomatic process.
Given the above quotation, it is perhaps unsurprising that a UN report found that there was "a significant pattern of excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by the IDF against Lebanese civilians and civilian objects, failing to distinguish civilians from combatants and civilian objects from military targets... Further, the Commission is convinced that damage inflicted on some infrastructure was done for the sake of destruction." It is hard to avoid concluding that the Israeli government decided to adopt a policy of collective punishment against the Lebanese people in an attempt to pressure them into doing something about Hezbollah.
What's wrong with that? Well, morals aside, it's specifically outlawed by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The British government, silent during the conflict, has remained silent in its aftermath. It has not condemned the dropping of 3.5 million cluster bombs after the conflict was essentially over nor has it condemned the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure for no useful military purpose. That continuing silence can only be seen by Israel and indeed by the rest of the world as a tacit approval of the actions of the Israeli government and the IDF. It seems to me that there is something very wrong with that.