28 June 2024

David Hearst’s account of Britain’s responsibility for Israel’s catastrophic assault on Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territory was first published on 15 May in Middle East Eye but is reproduced here since it is as timely today as it was then.

Britain’s support for Zionism has caused 76 years of conflict. It is time this barbarism stops

Following in Balfour’s footsteps, David Cameron is dooming Britain to irrelevance in the Middle East.

US President Joe Biden, the US Congress and the British Foreign Secretary David Cameron are living in a parallel world.

In their world, Hamas could have had a ceasefire tomorrow if it handed over the captives.

In their world, only continued pressure on Hamas will force them to release the captives and therefore weapons must be supplied to Israel to do that. Israeli forces are still mounting “pin-point operations” to the east of Rafah and hence not crossing the red line set by Biden on the use of US-supplied heavy bombs.

US Senator Lindsey Graham is grotesque, but he could as well be their most eloquent spokesman.

Just as the US had “rightly” ended the Second World War by dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Israel should be given the bombs it needs to end this war, Graham said. By dropping one of its 200 nuclear warheads on Gaza?

In the real world, the US walked away from an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal that Hamas signed and that CIA Director Bill Burns sponsored; Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has called Biden’s bluff by launching the biggest offensive on all parts of Gaza since the war began and cutting off all but token amounts of aid.

In the real world, Israeli forces are carpet bombing eastern Rafah and central and northern Gaza. Jabalia in the north, Zeitoun in Gaza City, Nuseirat in the centre and Rafah in the south are simultaneously under massive bombardment.

Rafah, the main entry point of aid, has been closed completely, and a fraction of what is needed on a daily basis is let through other crossings.

Since taking control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, Israel has let just six trucks of aid through its crossing at Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) and 157,000 litres of fuel. The very minimum Gaza needs is 500 trucks and 300,000 litres a day.

Unrwa says that nearly 450,000 people have been pushed north, heading to the devastated towns of Khan Younis and Deir al-Balah, while tens of thousands in Gaza City are heading south fleeing what the World Food Programme has called a “full-blown famine”.

In the real world, half of Gaza’s population could be about to converge on central Gaza which has no food or fresh water to cope with such an influx of refugees.

There is nowhere safe to flee to. Israel is seeing to that by bombing the shelters.

Calling Biden’s bluff

Netanyahu has called Biden’s bluff. It’s not as if he is acting regardless of the human costs. For him, the human cost is a war aim.

Biden’s war on Gaza is now a war on truth and the right to protest

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A good part of him, the Israeli defence establishment and a clear majority of Israelis themselves want that human cost to be as high as possible. Eight months of this slaughter have not sated their thirst for revenge.

So what is Biden’s reaction to being ignored by his chief ally?

He has offered two responses: the assault on Rafah is not happening so no red lines have been crossed; and the blame for this offensive, if it actually exists, lies with Hamas itself. “It’s just one shipment that was delayed, Israel did not cross the red line in Rafah,” the US ambassador to Israel, Jack Lowe, shrugged.

Biden agreed with Israel: “Israel said it’s up to Hamas; if they wanted to do it, we could end it tomorrow. And the ceasefire would begin tomorrow,” Biden told a fundraiser in Seattle on Saturday.

Both excuses are palpable nonsense. If Hamas could “end it all now” there would have been a permanent ceasefire months ago, and certainly after the first captive and prisoner exchange.

It is Israel’s refusal to “end it all now” before Hamas is eradicated that has caused the collapse of the latest negotiations. Hamas signed up to a ceasefire deal that would have ensured a permanent cessation of hostilities. Israel rejected it. And now the US is backing it.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken next to British Foreign Secretary David Cameron during the G7 meeting in Italy, on 18 April 2024 (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken next to British Foreign Secretary David Cameron during the G7 meeting in Italy, on 18 April 2024 (Reuters)


This war is not about bringing the hostages home alive. The longer the war goes on, the fewer of the 128 captives thought to be still living will survive.

For as the families of the hostages all know, it is Israel’s bombing that is killing them, not Hamas.

UK fully aligned with Israel

Cameron has been even worse than Biden, if that is possible.

In a series of interviews, he said cutting arms to Israel would strengthen Hamas and castigated the BBC for not calling it a terrorist organisation.

He refused to reinstate Britain’s funding for Unrwa, despite the fact that an independent UN review headed by a former French foreign minister found no evidence to substantiate Israel’s claims that Unrwa staff were members of terrorist groups. “We are more demanding than that,” Lord Cameron scoffed.

Like Israel, Britain only wants this war to end when Hamas is destroyed. As this war’s aim is unachievable, Britain is in effect supporting the permanent reoccupation of Gaza

Really? So demanding that the UK cut funding without even investigating the claims, and base its action, according to sources who spoke to Middle East Eye, purely on “information in the public domain“.

Over 50 MPs and members of the House of Lords urged Cameron to restore funding, saying that it would send “a powerful message of solidarity to those affected by the crisis in Gaza and reaffirm the UK’s leadership in global humanitarian efforts”.

All ignored. Under Cameron, Britain has now become fully aligned with the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

Like Israel, Britain is intent on destroying Unrwa and with it the only international legal protection Palestinian refugees around the world have.

Cameron apparently agrees with Stalin’s proposition: “No man, no problem”, only this time it is “no refugees, no problem”.

Like Israel, Britain only wants this war to end when Hamas is destroyed. As this war’s aim is unachievable, Britain is in effect supporting the permanent reoccupation of Gaza.

Like Netanyahu, Cameron ignored the death of the British-Israeli captive, Nadav Popplewell, who died of wounds sustained in Israeli bombing. Cameron has been silent, too, on the closure of Rafah. And when he finally spoke, he told the BBC over the weekend that the UK “does not support a major operation in Rafah without a plan”.

He is also silent on the movement of up to half a million refugees northwards from Rafah to an area which has no capacity to feed and water them.

Britain rejects supporting any legal action in the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ), using the fig leaf that it would impede negotiations that Israel has already walked away from.

For the second time in this war, Biden and Cameron are giving Netanyahu a clear green light to continue this war as he started it; a war clearly and indisputably targeting the people of Gaza as a whole.

But this is not to say that the Rafah campaign has not had regional consequences.

A Bridge Too Far

In walking away from the ceasefire plan that Hamas signed, Biden is overlooking one uncomfortable fact. It was not a Hamas counter-proposal, as one US official put it, but an Egyptian-drafted document. Its rejection as a peace plan sparked fury and humiliation in equal quantities in Cairo.

Israeli leaks to the media did not improve the dark mood in Cairo. On the night the Israeli army occupied the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, Israeli media quoted an unnamed source saying that Israel had told Egypt that this was a limited incursion, and it would finish by the morning.

War on Gaza: Is Egypt building a militia force to handle Rafah influx?

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The day dawned and a big Israeli flag erected on the Palestinian side of Rafah was still fluttering in Egyptian faces.

Meanwhile, Israeli security sources kept feeding the Israeli media about Egypt’s under-the-table cooperation – that Cairo would work with Israel to end the tunnels under the border; that Cairo had agreed to a plan to have a US private company administering Rafah.

Overnight, Egypt’s officially licensed media swapped sides.

Major news anchors like Amr Adib praised what the Qassam Brigades had done. On Sunday, Adib proclaimed that Israel had lost Egypt, as the decision was announced of Egypt’s intention to join South Africa in its case for genocide against Israel in the ICJ.

Israel and the US should ask themselves why a key neighbour, who towed the line on Gaza for seven months, has cracked now. In retrospect, there probably was a tacit understanding between Israel and Egypt on the reoccupation of the Rafah crossing.

As far back as January, Israel’s Channel 13, citing unnamed officials, reported that Israel had informed Egypt of its intention to send troops into Rafah and the Philadelphi Corridor allegedly to rid the area of Palestinian resistance fighters.

Channel 13 added that Cairo had expressed concern about the plan, warning that such action could lead to a mass Palestinian exodus to Sinai. However, the Israeli sources said this would be a “temporary step” and that “Israel will not remain there after the end of the operation, on which a final decision has not yet been taken”.

Israel has clearly broken its word to Cairo that the reoccupation would be temporary, and the plan has gone much further than Egypt can tolerate.

Thus far, Israeli forces have reoccupied three kilometres of the 16 kilometres of no man’s land called the Philadelphi Corridor. But what happens to Egypt if Israel occupies the whole frontier?

A common interest in getting rid of Hamas in Gaza will have turned into a conflict of interest, which clearly harms the Egyptian state.

If the whole corridor is reoccupied, Egypt would lose all control over access to Gaza, as well as a lucrative source of revenue. Having lost all its interests in its biggest neighbours Libya and Sudan, Cairo now stands to lose its last remaining card on the regional stage.

No Egyptian state, under any leader, could tolerate that. It is after all the state, not President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi himself, that has closed the border to a mass exodus of Palestinians from Gaza into Sinai.

In reality, the reoccupation of Rafah has become a bridge too far for Egypt.

Not only them. The biggest supporters of normalisation with Israel, the United Arab Emirates, replied angrily to a suggestion by Netanyahu that the UAE could help run Gaza after Hamas. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan rebuked Netanyahu in a post on X, saying Abu Dhabi denounced the Israeli leader’s comments.

“The UAE stresses that the Israeli prime minister does not have any legal capacity to take this step, and the UAE refuses to be drawn into any plan aimed at providing cover for the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

From Balfour to Cameron

Rafah has become a poisoned chalice for any Arab leader, irrespective of their hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas. And so, barring another lurch of Biden’s doomed foreign policy, this war is set to run right through his election campaign and into next year.

Israel’s colonial creators are continuing to form. From Lord Balfour, whose declaration in 1917 paved the way for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, to Lord Cameron, the policy has not changed.

From Lord Balfour, whose declaration in 1917 paved the way for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, to Lord Cameron, the policy has not changed

Balfour did not give Palestinians a name, nor did he talk about their political rights. He talked about indigenous communities as if they were a minority. In fact, Jews made up just 10 percent of the population of Palestine at the time.

Cameron is doing nothing to create a Palestinian state. He gives it lip service only. In the meantime, in backing this war, he is doing his best to help Israel destroy a Palestinian state in Gaza.

The Balfour Declaration was as controversial then as it is now. Edwin Montagu was only the third practising Jew to serve in the British Cabinet. In August 1917, he wrote a lengthy and eloquent denunciation of Zionism calling it a “mischievous political creed” and predicted with remarkable accuracy how a Zionist state would behave.

“I assume that it means that Mahommedans [Muslims] and Christians are to make way for the Jews and that the Jews should be put in all positions of preference and should be peculiarly associated with Palestine in the same way that England is with the English or France with the French, that Turks and other Mahommedans in Palestine will be regarded as foreigners, just in the same way as Jews will hereafter be treated as foreigners in every country but Palestine. Perhaps also citizenship must be granted only as a result of a religious test.”

Zionism, he argued, was deeply antisemitic.

Following in Balfour’s footsteps, Cameron is dooming Britain to irrelevance in the Middle East.

It is well nigh time for the entire political class to retire and for a new generation to throw this policy into the only place it deserves to reside: into the dustbin of history.

Britain’s support for Zionism has caused 75 years of conflict. It is time for this to stop. The excuses for its barbarism are running thin.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

David Hearst is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He is a commentator and speaker on the region and analyst on Saudi Arabia. He was the Guardian’s foreign leader writer, and was correspondent in Russia, Europe, and Belfast. He joined the Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.