Interview: Prince William should visit Gaza after Israeli bloodshed, chief of UK Palestinian Council tells RT

I was interviewed by Claire Gilbody-Dickerson for RT on 22/6/2018

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Prince William has been urged to visit Gaza, where 120 Palestinians were shot dead in the past two months by Israeli military, during his upcoming visit to the Middle East by the vice president of the British Palestinian Council.

The Duke of Cambridge will be visiting Jordan, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) between 24-28 June. He is expected to meet with Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his office in Ramallah.

Yet the Prince’s travel itinerary released last week made no mention of a visit to the besieged enclave of Gaza, where Israeli forces have used live ammunition against largely unarmed protestors in recent months.

The Red Cross reports 120 people were killed and 13,000 injured since the Great Return March began on March 30, when Palestinians started protesting for their right to return to the lands they were stripped of when the State of Israel was founded.

Professor Kamel Hawwash told RT Palestinians still “lay the blame at Britain’s door” for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. But a visit by the Prince to the hospitals in Gaza would have helped “boost the morale”.

Hawwash said among others, the Duke could have visited the home of 21-year-old volunteer medic Razan Najar, who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers while giving first aid to injured protesters.

“It would have shown some sympathy, that there is someone who is not political and who is making a humanitarian gesture visiting the home of someone killed for no other reason,” the council’s vice president said.

But Hawwash instead claimed the main reason for the trip is the UK wanting to hammer out a free trade deal with Israel ahead of Brexit, and Prince Williams is merely “part of it.”

Saying the visit could not take place at a worse time because of the current turmoil, Hawwash said: “The royal family has held off making a statement since Israel’s foundation in 1948 and what has changed?

“Has it ended its occupation? Does it treat its citizens, the Israelis and the Palestinians equally? Has it really committed to peace with Palestinians? No. And if that’s the case what is the point of a making royal visit now?”

Hawwash added that “if Palestine wasn’t inside of Israel he probably wouldn’t have visited.”

Israel has defended its use of live fire against the Palestinian protesters saying it was necessary to defend its land from Hamas – Palestine’s leading political party which is deemed a terrorist organization by the US and EU.

Prince William recently angered Israeli politicians by referring to East Jerusalem as part of the occupied Palestinian territories in a statement which outlined details of his trip.

Israel’s Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin hit back on Facebook saying Jerusalem was “unified” and “has been the capital of Israel for over 3,000 years.”

Elkin wrote: “It’s regrettable that Britain chose to politicise the Royal visit. Unified Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for over 3,000 years and no twisted wording of the official press release will change the reality. I’m expecting the prince’s staff to fix this distortion.”

East Jerusalem has been considered occupied, under international law, since 1967.

Britain must not reward Israel for its abuse of Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on Sunday 10/6/2018

Britain appears to be developing closer relations with Israel on many fronts.

Breaking with the norm? Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (L) and Prince William arrive as she hosts a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London, on May 31. (AP)

Prince William’s visit to Israel this month, the first official British royal visit to the country, could not come at a more inappropriate time.

More than 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire since March 30, when mass protests near the Gaza-Israel border broke out to highlight the plight of the besieged enclave and the rights of refugees. More than 10,000 people have been reportedly injured.

Among the fatalities was Razan Al-Najar, a 21-year old volunteer medic who was shot in the back while tending to injured protesters near the Israeli fence. Her death caused international outrage. Nicolai Miladinov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, tweeted: “Medical workers are #NotATarget!”

Israel, however, has not been held accountable. A resolution tabled at the UN Security Council to provide protection for the Palestinian people was vetoed by the United States hours after Razan’s death.

Britain’s Middle East Minister Alistair Burt, who was visiting the Palestinian territories and Israel, tweeted: “Circumstances of dreadful death of young Palestinian medic yesterday require urgent clarification.”

The world community failed to condemn Israel for the use of live ammunition fired by highly trained snipers, when less lethal force could have been used. There were no reports of injuries either to Israeli army personnel or nearby settlers.

Britain called for an independent inquiry into Israel’s killings of Palestinians only to abstain in the UN Human Rights Council when a resolution setting up the required inquiry was tabled.

Criticism of Britain’s U-turn on an independent inquiry grew when Burt said he could not verify how British weapons would be used once delivered to Israel. This raised concerns that British weapons may have been used by the Israeli military to kill Palestinian protesters, which is in contravention of the licences that allowed their sale.

Burt explained that once a risk assessment had been conducted, the licences were issued and no further checks made.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade said the United Kingdom issued approximately $300 million worth of arms licences to defence companies exporting to Israel, substantially more than the $115 million sold last year and the $27 million licensed in 2015.

Over the past five years, Israel has bought more than $450 million worth of British military hardware, making Israel the eighth largest market for UK arms companies. Last year’s sales included targeting equipment, small arms ammunition, missiles, weapon sights and sniper rifles. This makes it possible that snipers were using British rifles to kill and maim civilian protesters at the Gaza fence.

Britain appears to be developing closer relations with Israel on many fronts.

Britain’s Royal Air Force took part in a flyover to mark Israel’s Independence Day last month, even though it coincided with the Palestinians’ commemoration of 70 years of their Nakba.

Last December, HMS Ocean, a flagship of the British Royal Navy, docked in Haifa. It took part in exercises with the Israeli Navy and Air Force. To encourage British-Israeli business cooperation, particularly in the high-technology sector, the United Kingdom created the UK Israel Tech Hub. Its website confirms that it focuses on “tech areas with the potential to contribute to growth in both the UK and Israel.”  The areas include cyber-security, biomed, clean tech and fintech.

The United Kingdom is also firmly against placing pressure on Israel through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and has attempted to stop British local authorities excluding companies complicit in Israel’s occupation from applying for contracts or for their pension schemes to invest in such companies.

Israel is on a list of ten countries the United Kingdom is targeting for trade deals post Brexit and the United Kingdom appears to be exercising caution in taking any action against Israel that may put such a deal in jeopardy.

Prince William’s visit to the region is to include stops in Jordan and the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian Authority welcomed the visit, however, it is likely to be a only courtesy call in Ramallah, rather than a “meet the people” affair. The pomp and pageantry will be with the Israelis. Significantly, the prince will not visit Gaza to see first-hand the effect of the siege — imposed by the leaders whose hands he will shake and whose wine he will drink — on 2 million people.

It is the norm that royal visits avoid politics but by choosing to make such a visit in the current climate, every step and every word uttered by the prince will matter.

To avoid the many pitfalls, it would have been better for this visit to take place after a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis, rather than after the significant loss of life in the Great March of Return.