At this stage, the best that can reasonably be said of Priti Patel is that she has a woefully dismal idea of what constitutes a family holiday. A recent trip to the Levant, initially touted as a personal holiday, involved twelve meetings with Israeli officials – not necessarily the fun-in-the-sun you’d want from a private vacation. It quickly emerged that (presumably inbetween pina coladas) she offered to siphon off funds from the UK Aid budget, pouring them straight into the coffers of the Israeli Army. An army which is far from cash-strapped, after just last year signing a $38 Billion military funding deal with the USA. UK Aid policy has never entirely covered itself in glory – it’s bound up with some profoundly shady dealings, and often used as a bargaining chip in international trade agreements – putting countries which depend on aid money for vital services firmly on the back foot. This could well aggravate situations of economic uncertainty which render them dependentent on aid money in the first place. But this is no diplomatic sleight-of-hand to secure trade deals which trip up the global economic south. Nothing so subtle as that – it’s an outright promise to plough public funds into an institution responsible for a violent, ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory – an institution which has been accused of war crimes.
Let’s think about that for a second: a budget which is bracketed off under the auspices of feeding the starving and providing vital health and education services around the world, was offered to an army responsible for the deaths of countless innocent Palestinians. A budget which is nominally supposed to provide sticking plasters for the fallout of the UK’s disastrously violent foreign policy – which has destabilised former colonies and stripped them of their resources – was promised to fuel further conflict and violence.
Not only this, but Patel’s trip to the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights has broken form with previous UK diplomacy, as her presence in the illegally occupied zones courtesy of Israeli forces zone is taken as tacit assent to their presence there. International voices have long condemned the occupation of the Golan Heights, occupied since the 1967, and used ever since as a way for Israel to control vital access to water in the region. It smacks of some kind of macabre sight-seeing visit of complicity; in deference to our generous support for their occupation, one of our top politicians is given a nice little whistle-stop tour of what our money can buy. Like some sort of sponsor-a-tiger package deal – except instead of photos of exotic animals, you get blueprints of the ghosts of former Palestinian or Syrian villages, now razed to the ground. According to War on Want, this weapons-grade misstep ‘undermines attempts to hold Israel to account’.
We’re supposed to be shocked and appalled. Appalled should be easy, after a catalogue of war crimes committed by the army is available at our fingertips; only three years ago in the most recent Israel-Gaze war, ‘Operation Protective Edge’ saw an onslaught that killed an estimated 2,205 Palestinians. They couldn’t run – they were hemmed in at all sides by Israeli forces which turned Gaza into an ‘open air prison’. There was no where to hide. But then, this steady stream of atrocities makes shock a little more difficult to conjure up. The truth is that Patel’s dodgy dealings with Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration is only the latest in a long history of UK complicity in the crimes of the Israeli army. 100 years ago the Balfour Declaration laid the groundwork for turning British colonial territory into the state of Israel, – and ever since, Britain has been lending its support – or at least its tactical silence – to Israeli land-grabs. In In November 1947, the Assembly ‘endorsed the UN Special Committee’s Partition Plan,’ kick-starting the slow dispossession of Palestinians. In 1948, 700 000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes after British-backed Israeli forces took the land – an event referred to as ‘Al-Nakba’ or ‘the catastrophe’.
Six months before the most recent Gaza war, the UK approved £7 million of arms sales to Israel. Just a year after Operation Protective edge ended, the government lifted all remaining restrictions on the sale of arms and military equipment to Israel. As a nation, we are officially assenting to trade deals which put weapons targeting systems, armoured vehicles and drones in the hands of an organisation which Amnesty International has accused of war crimes. So much for Theresa May’s recent statement that she wants to work ‘towards a genuine two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict’. A two-state solution is tricky if one ‘state’ has been reduced to a smouldering heap of rubble.
Indeed, whilst other sectors of the economy are floundering or sclerotic, recent years have been a boom time for the arms industry. Politicians have happily put profit before people – whilst the ‘dead bodies in the streets of Libya’ are an embarrassment, falling profit margins are an outrage. When they’re not busy buttering up our MPs, UK-based arms companies have cut billion-pound deals with dictatorships such as those of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Who then turn the weapons we sell them back on their own populations. Michael Fallon recently urged fellow MPs to stop criticising Saudi Arabia’s flagrant human right abuses for fear that such criticisms might endanger a lucrative upcoming arms deal. Hours afterwards, he and fellow MPs were “wined-and-dined by the arms trade at a £450-a-head banquet” by arms manufacturers.
Furthermore, banks which were bailed out with billions of bounds of public money have then gone on to invest in and support companies known to supply the Israeli military and government with weapons and technology “used in the militarised repression of Palestinians, including war crimes”. This is our hard-grafted taxes underwriting deals which support a multi-billion dollar industry of death. Our elected representatives facilitating backroom deals between accused war criminals and arms industry moguls.
Against this ignoble background of grand indifference and personal avarice, Patel’s underhand dealings with Netanyahu’s cronies seems not like a shocking deviation, but more like a telling slip-up. If we’re outraged over this, we cannot be content with her being fired. Her empty shoes will simply be filled by another sycophant happy to trade the lives of those in the Middle East for the health of UK arms industry – and the health of their careers. We need to address Britain’s wider complicity in supporting destructive wars and occupations, supplying the funds and weapons for war crimes. We don’t need a ritual public sacking to ease the government’s conscience and smooth over a diplomatic furore. We need concrete action to stop these deals.