Israel’s latest bombing campaign on the blockaded Gaza strip sparked a vast global outcry, with massive demonstrations erupting in capitals worldwide. Over 180,000 Brits took to the streets in London on May 22, making it the third largest protest in the city’s history, after the movement against Donald Trump’s 2018 visit to the capital and the 2003 rally against the US and UK’s invasion of Iraq.
Despite such domestic pressure, Boris Johnson’s government has been spectacularly mute on Israel’s offensive.
Indeed, Johnson refused to even mention the government-backed Israeli settlers’ expulsion plans in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in early May. And when this event induced violence over Gaza, with dozens of Palestinians being killed, he finally said he was “deeply concerned” and urged “both sides to step back from the brink.”
Yet, it was not Boris himself who revealed the UK government’s true colors, rather it was some of his leading ministers. On May 19, UK Middle East Minister James Cleverly claimed in parliament that Israel has a “legitimate right to defend itself” against what he called provocations from Hamas, while only criticizing Hamas and ignoring the worsening humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza enclave and multiple other human rights violations in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab exclusively denounced Hamas’ rocket firing on Israel after speaking with Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi.
Likewise, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab exclusively denounced Hamas’ rocket firing on Israel after speaking with Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi, leaving little doubt that London was solely on Israel’s side.
Britain’s stance is apparently even more biased than that of Joe Biden’s US administration, which has largely adopted “bothsidesism.” Even France warned that continued occupation could lead to “long-lasting apartheid,” while on May 26, Ireland’s parliament passed a motion condemning Israel’s “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land, showcasing Britain’s growing seclusion on the European stage.
The UK’s position on Israel and Palestine may perplex some observers. London has repeatedly urged Israel to halt its settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, while calling for a two-state solution per the 1967 boundaries. Unlike most countries, however, it has refused to even recognize the state of Palestine, which is highly contradictory as this would facilitate a two-state solution.
Thus, Britain merely seeks to present itself as being on the right side of international law, wherein Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories is deemed illegal. Its alleged support for peace also aims to obscure its complicity in the Israeli military actions. It is no secret that, like the United States, Britain is a prominent supporter of Israel’s army.
“Israel remains a key strategic partner,” said a report from the UK’s Ministry of Defense, published in March and detailing the UK’s military strategy for the coming decade. Since 2014 — the year in which Israel launched its last bloody assault on Gaza that took the lives of over 2,000 people, the UK has delivered over £419 million (US$519 million) worth of arms licenses to Israel.
The UK has delivered over US$519 million worth of arms licenses to Israel.
After Israeli war planes bombed Gazan residential buildings and killed innocent civilians in its recent assault, The Independent revealed British-produced key parts were used in Israeli aircraft, including advanced targeting equipment and radar systems.
Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the F-35 aircrafts that compose a major component of the Israeli air force, said “the fingerprints of British ingenuity can be found on dozens of the aircraft’s key components.” Meanwhile, the UK Defense Journal estimated that the warplanes are 15 percent British-made. Such parts also compose F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters, which constitute a huge part of Israel’s war machine.
The UK purports to employ robust arms export controls, but the evidence shows it is not keen to carry out any sort of review of the Israelis’ use of them. Rather, it clearly seeks to keep profiteering from arms sales to Israel.
Of course, weapons sales are not the only driving factor behind British-Israeli ties. A recent report from Declassified UK shows that a third of the incumbent British cabinet, including Boris Johnson, have received funding from Israeli advocacy organizations in the UK. This has involved money from groups such as the Conservative Friends of Israel and the Henry Jackson Society, a think-tank which promotes favorable discourse towards Israel and has members with ties to the Israeli government. The funding has comprised of paid-for trips to Israel and conferences from organizations like the prominent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Johnson’s government has therefore gone above and beyond to maintain pro-Israel narratives within the UK. On May 11, during the annual Queen’s Speech which marks the beginning of the parliamentary year and in which the government can state its plans for the upcoming months, it was announced that local councils and public bodies would be banned from boycotting Israel.
It is worth noting that the Biden administration has faced relentless pressure from Democrats and rights groups, likely forcing it to alter its tone. Secretary of State Antony Blinken even doubted Israel’s dubious claims that Hamas operated from a media building hosting AP and Al Jazeera offices that it leveled on May 15.
Britain is more reticent to condemn its human rights abusing allies following its divergence from the European Union.
However, such a shift of public statements has not occurred within the British government. Brexit could be one driving factor, given Britain is more reticent to condemn its human rights abusing allies following its divergence from the European Union (EU), and has been increasing its volume of trade with countries like Israel since the 2016 Brexit vote.
There have been some promising displays of sympathy within the British establishment towards the Palestinian plight though. Philip Hall, the UK Consul General in Jerusalem, criticized the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and visited affected families. Even David Cameron, one of the UK’s most pro-Israel Prime Ministers in living memory, described Gaza as a “prison camp” in 2010.
As the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories worsens, London may find it harder to ignore it, especially should the growing domestic pressure – as seen in the recent protests –continue to mount.
This is important, as Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah still complain of ongoing harassment from Israeli settlers. And despite the Egypt-brokered ceasefire over Gaza, which could eventually falter, Israel still enforces a harsh blockade on Gaza, controlling everything that enters the enclave, down to the last morsel and drop of water.
It is high time that the UK delivers on its pledges to fulfil a peaceful settlement for Palestinians and listens to those who say enough is enough. Recognizing Palestine and halting arms sales to the Israeli military would be a necessary start.