On 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel and U.S. President Harry S. Truman recognized the new nation. This started what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba (meaning catastrophe), when they were ethnically cleansed from their land.
President Trump chose the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day to inaugurate the American Embassy in Jerusalem, while Israel massacred 60 Palestinians, among them eight children, and injured a further 2,400 including 200 children. Since 30 March Palestinians had been gathering in Gaza to protest peacefully against the inhumane living conditions created by Israel’s illegal decade long blockade of the coastal strip, and also to reaffirm their Right of Return as enshrined by international law. Israel responded from the start by deploying snipers along the border, using live ammunition with deadly consequences.
Posted on 22 May 2018 by Medical Aid for Palestinians
On Friday 18 May UN Human Rights Council members voted to establish an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly Gaza. To date, 104 Palestinians have been killed and more than 12,600 injured by Israeli forces using live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets and teargas since demonstrations began on 30 March.
The Human Rights Council resolution passed with 29 votes in favour and two against. Fourteen States abstained, including the UK.
The UK’s decision not to support the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry came despite Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP’s statement in Parliament earlier last week – in response to an Urgent Question on Gaza from Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry – that the UK has been “urgently calling for the facts of what happened to be established, including why such a volume of live fire was used”, and that the UK was “supportive of that independent, transparent investigation.”
The UK has instead called on Israel to “carry out what must be a transparent inquiry into the IDF’s conduct at the border [sic] fence and to demonstrate how this will achieve a sufficient level of independence”, despite the warning of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein of a “deficit in accountability for alleged extrajudicial killings and other violations [that] undermines confidence in Israeli justice.”
On Monday 21 May, MPs returned to the Commons chamber to discuss Gaza, this time to interrogate the UK’s decision not to support the resolution establishing the Commission of Inquiry. The Urgent Question was tabled by Chair of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group, Richard Burden MP, who responded to the Government’s assertion that the Human Rights Council resolution was “partial, and unhelpfully unbalanced” by saying:
“May I remind the Minister that the remit of the UN inquiry is to investigate “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” and that it calls on Israel “and all relevant parties” to co-operate fully with the inquiry? That includes Hamas and other Palestinian factions, as well as Israel.”
Alistair Carmichael MP echoed this, reminding the Government that the “United Nations commission of inquiry will be mandated to look at all violations of international law and calls for co-operation from all relevant parties.”
Richard Burden further argued that the Government’s “feeble response” to recent events in Gaza “only encourages the culture of impunity that the Government of Israel too regularly displays”. He further asked whether the UK Government would, now that the resolution has passed, get behind the Commission of Inquiry.
In reply, Minister Alistair Burt stated: “I think it was the general nature of the resolution, clearly specifying Israel as opposed to any other, that caused concern.” He reiterated the UK’s support for an internal Israeli investigation and that this “must have an international element to it”, explaining that “It is very clear that if it is done solely by the Israeli legislative and judicial system, it is unlikely to carry the sort of confidence that the international community is looking for.”
Focusing on the UK’s support for Israel to investigate its own action in Gaza, Jess Phillips MP inquired whether the UK would “set out its criteria for assessing the independence, impartiality and effectiveness of an internal Israeli investigation?” as well as what action the UK would take “should those criteria not be met.” To this, Minister Burt replied that he “had spoken to the Israeli ambassador last week, and representations have been made in Israel as well” and that there will be “further consultations.”
MPs from across the house shared concerns about the Government’s decision to abstain on the resolution. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry MP argued that “the debate about the wording of the resolution agreed by the Human Rights Council” was “frankly immaterial as long as the objective of setting up an independent investigation is achieved.” She further highlighted Israel’s self-exoneration over the killing of four boys playing on a beach during the 2014 military offensive on Gaza.
Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, asked:
“Given that Gazans did all the dying and the Israeli soldiers did all the killing, how does the Minister expect an internal Israeli inquiry … to be less partial and less unhelpfully unbalanced than the inquiry mandated by the UN Human Rights Council?”
MPs also raised concerns about Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation, including former DFID Minister Sir Desmond Swayne MP, who highlighted that “human rights are constrained and violence exacerbated by a water shortage that the UN says will render Gaza entirely uninhabitable by 2021.” SNP MP David Linden called on the government to place pressure on the Government of Israel to “lift the blockade of Gaza” and end its occupation of Palestinian territory.
Afzal Khan MP highlighted the gargantuan challenges faced by Gaza’s health system, which is struggling to cope with the many thousands of injured protesters who have needed treatment over recent weeks. He asked: “Have the Government offered any additional humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza to ensure that the injured receive the medical treatment that they so desperately need?” To this, Minister Burt responded that he is “in contact with international agencies that are involved in delivering humanitarian medical aid”, adding: “Gaza’s medical resources, which are already incredibly stretched, will have been put under even greater pressure following the events of the past few weeks. I am looking to see what further the United Kingdom can do beyond the support that we already give to those who provide such help.”
The full discussion can be read here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-05-21/debates/78156DDC-1AD0-4C68-9728-79B9A46C6883/GazaUNHumanRightsCouncilVote
Members of Kingston Peace Council / CND, with many other members of Campaign Against the Arms Trade, attended the BAE Systems Annual General Meeting on Thursday 10 May, as token shareholders. If you own just one share in the company you can attend the AGM and ask the board some searching questions.
The firm manufactures Eurofighter Typhoon jets, Challenger tanks, a range of bombs including the “advanced precision kill weapon system” rocket and is working on a new fleet of stealth drones. With customers in more than 100 countries, it is the biggest arms company in Europe and third-largest in the world, and currently expanding further with a fighter jet programme in Turkey.
Most of the questions came from token shareholders who were concerned about BAE’s involvement in supplying, training and supporting Saudi Arabian forces, who since 2015 have been part of the military coalition against Yemen’s Houthi rebels1, and in their sending tanks to crush anti-government protests in Bahrain in 2011.
Chairman Sir Roger Carr refused Reverend Matthew Harbage’s request for a minute’s silence to commemorate the people killed and injured by his company’s products. Asked whether any of its products were used in an airstrike in Yemen that recently killed at least 20 people at a wedding, including the bride, Sir Roger replied: “You don’t know and I don’t know”. He acknowledged “the spirit and depth of your belief” but added “We might never agree as I'm a leader of a defence company and you're a member of the church”.
Questions continued on the ethical stance of the Board in supplying equipment to Saudi Arabia, and the responses repeatedly attempted to justify the trade, referring to the “clear line” that exists between the sale of arms and the use of arms2.
Sir Roger refused to comment on the financial implications of CAAT's case to Stop Arming Saudi returning to the Court of Appeal3, claiming the first judgment was “a very robust decision”.
Quaker activist Sam Walton and Daniel Woodhouse, a Methodist minister from Leeds, who broke into BAE Warton airbase and attempted to disarm one of the Typhoon war planes being supplied to Saudi Arabia and used in Yemen, told the Board that they were acquitted by a UK court despite admitting “trying to smash up the jets you are making” because “BAE's crimes are so heinous”.
The Chairman was asked a question on behalf of Ahmad Algohbary, a Yemeni in Sana'a, “How do you feel when your warplanes and bombs kill children in my home Yemen?”
When Sam Walton started to shout comments accusing the firm of being “complicit in the murder of innocents every day” he was carried out by security guards.
Finally Ali Alfayez, a pro-democracy Bahraini activist exiled in the UK, stated “Myself, my family and indeed my people are victims of your work”. Sir Roger was clearly irritated at this stage by the continuing tone of the meeting, urging Alfayez to ask a question rather than making a statement, and then cut him off by asking the room, which was at least 90% full of BAE employees, to clap if they wanted him to move on and ignore the questions (which they did).
The Chairman then closed the meeting, saying he hoped the rest of us would leave “remembering what a fine company this is”.
1 Along with other international agencies, charities and aid organizations, CAAT alleges that weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are being used to target civilians in schools, mosques and markets in Yemen. (According to the UN, there have been at least 5,295 civilians killed during the conflict as of November 2017, although the true civilian death toll is likely to be much higher.) But British exports to Saudi Arabia have continued, with the UK licencing more than £4.6bn worth of arms to the country since the bombing started.
2 Comments by the Chairman included:
“BAE Systems staff do not load weapons on to planes themselves but are involved in service, maintenance and training. It is only at that level we draw the line, the use of that equipment is for others.”
“We separate ourselves from the war itself… we’re not involved in any part of prosecuting, planning or executing the war.”
“We are not an aggressive company. We don’t conduct wars, we manufacture equipment in order to ensure that those who protect and serve us are equipped appropriately and hope that having given that equipment it will avoid others being aggressors.”
3 On 4 May CAAT was granted permission to appeal against a 2016 court decision that allowed Britain to continue the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. KPC has contributed £100 to the funding of this appeal.
A group of Kingston Faith Bodies have applied to register a new charity, Kingston Community Refugee Sponsorship. Community Refugee Sponsorship was presented to the community at Kingston Guildhall, hosted by the Council, during the National Launch in July 2017.
They will be holding a Launch at All Saints Church from 6 to 7.30pm on 6 June 2018. The Chief Executive of the Refugee Council will give a talk, and they hope for representatives of a group from Merton who have already got going on Community Sponsorship.
Ceremonies and protests took place around the world on Tuesday 15 May (International Conscientious Objectors' Day) calling for the release of hundreds of people imprisoned in the two Koreas for refusing to join the armed forces. Despite recent moves towards peace in the region, over 250 conscientious objectors remain in prison in South Korea. The number in North Korea is not known. Conscription is still in force in over 60 countries worldwide, and has recently been reintroduced in Sweden.
In London, a ceremony in Tavistock Square was addressed by Eritrean human rights activist Selam Kidane, who campaigns against conscription in Eritrea, and by Hannah Brock of War Resisters' International, who read out a statement by WRI's South Korean affiliate World Without War, explaining why we need to take action and why supporting the rights of conscientious objectors contributes to peace on the peninsula.
There was a minute’s silence and white flowers were laid on the Conscientious Objectors' stone in memory of COs past and present. The ceremony was organised by a range of peace campaigns, human rights organisations and faith groups who make up the First World War Peace Forum.
Following the ceremony, postcards were handed in at the South Korean embassy by members of the Peace Pledge Union and War Resisters' International, urging South Korean president Moon Jae-in to act on his election promise of recognising the right to conscientious objection.
To make the most of the opportunity for peace, the right to conscientious objection must be recognised!
The Korean Peninsula is a place where strong militarism and different types of violence have existed for over seventy years since World War II. This violence and militarism exist primarily due to the Korean War and consequent division of the two Koreas.
An atmosphere of peace is being created on the Korean Peninsula for the first time in seventy years. Following the inter-Korean summit in April, the U.S.-North Korean summit will be held in May (sic). South Koreans and world citizens who want peace hope that the recent truce agreement between the two Koreas will lead to a declaration to end the war. They hope, furthermore, for a peace treaty concluded between North and South Korea and a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
The signing of the peace treaty and the abolition of North Korea's nuclear weapons are of course very important, but overcoming the violence created by militarism and division on the Korean Peninsula will be more difficult and will require more time and effort than improving relations among the two Koreas and the U.S. government.
A key consequence of militarism produced by this division is conscientious objection. Since Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonialism in 1945, more than 19,000 South Korean conscientious objectors have been imprisoned, and since 2000, when this social issue gained visibility in Korean society, more than 9,000 young people have been imprisoned for refusing military service.
Many citizens, critical intellectuals, and the international community have asked the South Korean government not to imprison objectors. The current president Moon Jae-in also spoke several times about the necessity of an alternative service system, not only during his days as a human rights lawyer but also during the presidential candidacy. However, the Korean government still does not recognize the right to refuse to perform military service. As a result, 258 people are still in prison for conscientious objections (as of February 2018), which is more than the sum of all imprisoned objectors in other countries around the world.
On International Conscientious Objectors Day, we ask the Korean government to acknowledge the right to conscientious objection and release the conscientious objectors currently in prison.
Recognizing the right to conscientious objection to military service does not only involve guaranteeing objectors the freedom of conscience, thought, and religion. In addition, overcoming deep-rooted violence and militarism will be possible only when we acknowledge this right to object. In order for Korea to make the most of the most precious opportunity for peace that has come in seventy years and to become a country of permanent peace, the right to conscientious objection must be recognized.
May 15, 2018
On Tuesday 15 May, Movement for the Abolition of War organised a screening of this very inspiring film. A group of school students attended and one of them wrote this excellent review:
“Why not abandon the fear and the causes of the fear? War represents the tribal past of man-kind.” – José Figueres (former President of Costa Rica)
Yesterday Mr Speight took our Year 12 Spanish class (12Almodovar) to see a documentary film, ‘A Bold Peace’. It was about Costa Rica and its decision to abolish its military in 1948 and the repercussions of that. Although small and relatively less developed, Costa Rica has much more advanced medical, educational and social security systems than most similar countries and is a much more equal and peaceful society as a result of this decision.
After the film there was a Q+A session with the film director Matthew Eddy which was very enlightening. From Utah in the USA, he spent four years making the film and gave us a series of fascinating insights. He clearly believes we have a lot to learn from societies like Costa Rica - and we were all very much in agreement!
We all had an amazing time and it was so great to open up our minds to the history and politics of Central America which was new for us, as we have been learning a lot about the history in Spain. I would highly recommend this documentary to anyone who is interested in the decisions taken by a government to ban their armed forces despite the intense pressure they faced from the American Government and other Central and South American nations.
More details about the film can be found here -http://aboldpeace.com/
[At this point in the printed version of Kingston Peace News, there is an extract from a post by ForcesWatch, 25 April 2018, entitled "Ethics not (military) ethos" written following reports surfacing of proposals to inject schools, particularly those in disadvantaged communities, with a ‘military ethos’. See the full post at https://www.forceswatch.net/blog/ethics-not-military-ethos.]
Veterans for Peace has launched this initiative called Neutral Country.
Our armed forces are trained and equipped to attack other countries across the globe. They are not focused on defending our country. Since 2001 we have attacked Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Our nuclear weapons are prepared to execute first strike attacks. They are not an independent deterrent fully controlled by the UK government.
We maintain military bases in 14 countries and have military personnel deployed in over 80 countries around the world.
This is not a defence policy. This is a war policy that has poorly served us and the world in the 21st Century.
Declaring the UK as permanently neutral will redefine the limits of our defence policy, confining our armed forces to the defence of our territory and respecting the sovereignty of other nations. Austria, Finland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland all claim some form of neutrality.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Gill Hurle
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND