UKPMHN Steering Group letter to The Guardian

The UKPMHN writes to the Guardian

This week the UKPMHN Steering Group was joined by the psychiatrist Dr Derek Summerfield and the psychoanalyst David Morgan in submitting a letter to the Guardian newspaper. An editorial on 23rd was followed by an opinion piece by Jonathan Freedland, on the 25th, both using the sentencing of Ratko Mladic to call for a return to the principles that guided the Nuremberg Tribunal. Atrocities, they argue, abound in a world where the major powers subvert international law; there ought to be no impunity for war crimes. This was our letter:

Dear Editor,

Jonathan Freedland’s list of countries where governments can expect to kill with impunity (‘Mladic was unlucky. Today most war criminals go free’ 25/11/17) omits the example of Israel/Palestine. In accounting for the decline in international morality he fails to mention Britain’s abandonment of universal jurisdiction, intended to protect Israeli leaders accused of war crimes from arrest in the UK. Those with some direct knowledge of what is happening in Gaza struggle to understand this silence. It is beyond our powers to convey the human impact of the blockade, on top of the terrible bereavements inflicted by the military onslaughts of 2008/9, 2012 and 2014.  A former Israeli soldier, Itamar Shapiro, speaking in London last weekend, compared Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. It takes work to run this massive open prison: men and women carrying out the banal tasks involved in strangling the economy, administering the permit system, limiting the availability of the essentials of life, and controlling the drones, jets and naval ships that frighten and harass, and threaten much worse. Behind these state agents are the politicians. The United Nations has estimated that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020. Are we doing what we can to ensure that this does not become yet another genocide that we let go by in plain sight, only to beat our chests after the event? 

Signed:  Teresa Bailey, Andy Bateman, Chris Blacktop, Gwyn Daniel, Chris van Duuren, Martin Kemp, David Morgan, Eliana Pinto, Derek Summerfield, Adrian Worrall

There was more to be said than could be fitted into a letter, certainly one with any prospect of being published. The real issue here is the newspaper’s own lack of principle.

The Guardian’s reputation as a quality paper on the liberal left, concerned about human rights and freedom of information, gives it the power to do more damage to the Palestinians’ struggle for equal rights than perhaps any other media outlet in Britain. It would shock many of its readers to believe that the paper could protect an apartheid state, ignore state terror, or legitimize an ideology incompatible with the basic tenets of liberal democracy. Yet that is what the Guardian has done, systematically, for decades.

The Guardian can be highly critical of Israeli governments, but it will not make the link between the oppression that it can, on occasion, acknowledge, and the dream of creating a Jewish state in an already inhabited land. So it resorts to the liberal evasion that it is down to ‘bad apples’ – the baleful influence of Israel’s ‘fanatical extremists’.

This argument was given a further airing in its 1st November editorial, the Guardian’s contribution to reflection on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. It included the following:

“The horrors of the Holocaust made the founding of the state three decades after Balfour’s declaration morally justified. The world, weary of war and sympathetic to the Jews’ plight, looked the other way as Palestinians paid for a crime they did not commit. The belated understanding of this subsequent injustice – the Palestinian Nakba – means that the creation of an independent Palestinian state is equally justified. A two-state solution would allow Palestinians and Israelis to run their own affairs without interference.”

Whilst acknowledging that the Palestinians had been sacrificed by the great powers to shoulder the consequences of European anti-Semitism, this paragraph is still in a number of ways shamefully disingenuous. The Holocaust contributes to our understanding of the circumstances in which the Nakba took place: but by what moral reasoning worth the term could one crime against humanity come to justify another? This does violence to the very idea of an ethical world based on universal principles, a world in which we would want to distinguish (for example) between Jewish immigration and Zionist colonization. The manipulation of our horror at the Nazi genocide to normalise the latter has deprived us of the Holocaust as the most profound warning of all against ethnic nationalism, militarism, racism and ethnic cleansing.

To say that the terrible injustice inflicted on the Palestinians was only belatedly understood is simply untrue. Balfour himself, a hundred years ago, was clear that the creation of a Jewish homeland meant the total disregard of the rights and aspirations of the indigenous population (see quotes beneath this article). Zionist propaganda from Herzl onwards has dehumanized Palestine’s indigenous people. As far back as 1908 a Palestinian newspaper, Al-Karmil, was launched with the stated aim of protecting Palestinian society from Zionist colonization. Restrictions placed on Jewish immigration under the British Mandate were motivated by concerns for its impact on the existing population. Whether a conscious lie or some kind of self-deception, the Guardian’s editorial statement reveals a narrow Eurocentrism, an outlook that, we suspect, is being repeated now. The realisation that what is happening in Gaza is another crime against humanity will perhaps ‘belatedly’ dawn on Jonathan Freedland and his colleagues only after its unwholesome purpose has been fulfilled.

Finally, the Guardian pronounces that an independent state where Palestinians would be allowed to ‘run their own affairs without interference’ is the optimal and viable solution to the struggle. This reflects the impoverished vision of those still attached to the story of Israel as a morality play. Two race-based states, one still fragmented, dependent and impoverished, is the best the Guardian can imagine. What has become of its anti-racism, its distaste for ethnic nationalism, its commitment to universal human rights and the defence of international law?

Disregarding all the ‘facts on the ground’ that make this an impossible prospect, the ‘two state solution’ serves simply as a fig leaf behind which liberal fellow travellers of Zionism hide their fundamental indifference to the fate of the Palestinians.  All the evidence (for example the revelations of the leaked ‘Palestine Papers’) suggests that Israel has no intention, and has no reason, to accept a negotiated surrender, when it can do what it wants with the very impunity that Freedland now describes as an invitation to war crimes elsewhere.

Nothing disturbs the Guardian’s analysis. Just as Trump will clasp to his love of fossil fuels even as they burn up the planet he’s standing on, so the Guardian’s Zionism is untouched by the writings of historians and the revelations of Israel’s own dissidents. This is one area where the Guardian does not enthusiastically report revisions to its worldview on the basis of newly declassified documents. One scoop that went unmentioned by the Guardian was the revelation that the Israeli cabinet, in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war, had debated how best to depopulate the newly occupied Gaza and West Bank. The newly available minutes from Government meetings, in the words of Ali Abunimah, ‘underscore the unchanging goal of Zionism: the destruction of the Palestinians as a people and as viable communities, and the theft of their land for exclusively Jewish colonial settlement’.

The Guardian editorial suggests the influence of unreconstructed colonialist attitudes. ‘We’ know what is best for ‘them’, and while ‘they’ refuse to sign away their rights we will overlook the state terror that is being applied to pressurize them into doing so. ‘They’ should not expect equal rights, or aspire to the kind of lives ‘we’ take for granted. Jonathan Freedland has none of the courage of Itamar Shapiro, referred to in our letter. Itamar is a founder member of Combatants for Peace, his involvement made possible by a painful process of working through the cognitive dissonance that had emerged between the myths and lies with which he’d been raised and his experience as an IDF soldier in the West Bank. It is such groups, formed on the basis of a shared commitment to end the Occupation, that anticipate a Palestine/Israel in which the rights, aspirations and anxieties of both national communities can be addressed and attended to.

1919, Balfour to Curzon: ‘The weak point of our position is of course that in the case of Palestine we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination.’

1919 Balfour to Curzon: ‘in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country….The Four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land………. In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate.’