Prime Minister David Cameron Forthrightly Describes Gaza as a "Prison Camp"
Hanley, Delinda C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
A week after David Cameron's first official visit to Washington, DC as Britain's new prime minister-and presumably after holding strategy discussions with President Barack Obama-the new Conservative leader visited Turkey. Unlike Obama who, quite frankly, can't criticize Israel for domestic reasons (namely, November's mid-term elections), Cameron can express his opinions. In a July 27 speech to business leaders in Ankara, Cameron criticized Israel's deadly assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and compared the blockaded Gaza Strip to a "prison camp."
At the age of 43, Cameron is the youngest British prime minister in 198 years. He led the Conservatives to victory in the country's May 2010 general elections, but, falling 20 seats short of an overall majority, had to form a coalition government-Britain's first since WWII-with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
Coincidentally, a year ago Cameron, who studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, earning a first-class honors degree in 1988, discovered his Jewish roots when Dr. Yaakov Wise, a specialist in Jewish history, enlightened him about his great-great-grandfather, Emile Levita, a German émigré banker who became a British citizen in 1871. Cameron, Dr. Wise told him, could also be a direct descendent of the prophet Moses, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
Will a modern-day Moses try to free the Palestinian people?
"Let me be clear," Prime Minister Cameron told his Turkish audience. "The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable. And I have told Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous."
While he stopped short of calling for an international probe, Cameron didn't hold back criticism of Israel's recently liberalized, but still stifling, blockade. "Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp."
Later that day, in a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Cameron told reporters that he stood by his earlier remarks, adding that his views on the blockade of Gaza aren't new: "The fact is we have long supported lifting the blockade of Gaza, we have long supported proper humanitarian access. Even though some progress has been made, we are still in the situation where it is very difficult to get in, it is very difficult to get out. So I think the [prison] description is warranted."
This isn't the first time Cameron has spoken out on behalf of Gazans, he reminded the press. In the House of Commons on June 28 he said, "Everybody knows that we are not going to sort out the problem of the Middle East peace process while there is, effectively, a giant open prison in Gaza."
In a Financial Times interview published on March 31, before Britain's elections, Cameron approved of Obama's "robust line" on settlements and said, "Unlike a lot of politicians from Britain who visit Israel, when I went, I did stand in occupied East Jerusalem and actually referred to it as occupied East Jerusalem." He added, "it is depressing how little progress is being made right now."
Even now goods and people certainly are not flowing in and out of Gaza. In response to the international outcry following Israel's deadly May 31 raid on the humanitarian flotilla, on June 20 Tel Aviv relaxed its ban on mattresses, towels, toys, nuts, spices, chocolate, fruit juice, sweets, jam, toilet paper, notebooks, newspapers, musical instruments and other goods it had prohibited from entering Gaza for the past four years. The blockade forced thousands of Gazan factories to shut down due to the shortage of raw materials-which are still prohibited for industrial and food production. Israel has also refused to permit exports of anything but small seasonal shipments of strawberries and flowers.
Israel now will permit construction materials such as cement, steel cables and concrete into Gaza-but only for projects supervised by international aid agencies. Repairs of Gaza's schools, sewage treatment plants and homes have been on hold since 2006-even before Israel's devastating 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead.
According to Sari Bashi of the Israeli human rights group Gisha, the benefit to Gazans of lifting some of these restrictions will be limited. "Gaza residents can now purchase Israeli-made products," she pointed out, "but they are still prevented from engaging in dignified, productive work and from traveling."
Even under its "new" Gaza policy, there will be no easing of restrictions on the passage of people to and from Gaza. Israel will continue to permit travel only in "humanitarian and exceptional" cases, mainly relating to medical needs. Israel has prohibited Gazan students from traveling to the West Bank to study since 2000.
Following Cameron's remarks in Ankara, Israeli Ambassador to London Ron Prosor blamed the Palestinians' situation on Hamas. "The people of Gaza are the prisoners of the terrorist organization Hamas. The situation in Gaza is the direct result of Hamas' rule," he charged.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, 86, provoked fury in the U.K. after remarking that there is more anti-Semitism in the U.K. than is acknowledged. In an interview with Israeli historian Benny Morris published in the Jewish magazine Tablet on the same day Cameron spoke in Turkey, Peres said, "There is in England a saying that an anti-Semite is someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary." He charged that some British lawmakers have turned to anti-Israel politics to appease Muslim constituents.
While Cameron's "prison camp" comments also infuriated some of his fellow Conservatives, others were pleased. The Conservative Web site's home page recorded passionate views from both sides of the debate, including this post: "For once I agree with Cameron. It's about time a leader had the guts to stand up to this terrorist state and condemn it for its brutal actions."
Tory MP Mike Freer urged the Jewish community not to over-react. "David Cameron remains a friend of Israel, but friends can still criticize if and when they feel they get things wrong...Governments have disagreements. That's grown-up politics. The community needs to be mature enough not to take his comments out of context."
Cameron's remarks in Turkey may have outraged some Israelis and diaspora Jews, but the rest of the world agrees that Israel's commando raid against the aid flotilla was outrageous and that Israel's occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must end.
Even America's pro-Israel mainstream media were shocked-if briefly-by the deaths of eight Turks and a Turkish-American dual national aboard the Mavi Marmara. While the death of a U.S. citizen by violence, or a humanitarian crisis overseas or at home, usually prompts a response from the federal government, politicians and the media, if Israel is the perpetrator it's usually the victim's fault and things get very quiet in the "land of the free."
Only Britain's Financial Times paid serious attention to Prime Minister Cameron's criticism of Israel in Turkey.
Another, bigger Gaza Freedom Flotilla is planning to sail to Gaza before the end of the year. The network of organizations involved in the effort is growing and now has support groups around the world, including in Europe, Canada, the U.S., India, South Africa, and parts of the Middle East.
Like Cameron, the coalition agrees that Israel's recent reluctant steps have not been enough. After an Aug. 4 meeting in Stockholm of the umbrella Freedom Flotilla Coalition, organizers released a statement saying, "Israel's alleged easing of the closure on Gaza has been purely cosmetic, intended only to deflect criticism from its illegal policies. Expanding the list of items permitted into Gaza does not address the most fundamental concern of the people there-freedom of movement."
Dror Feiler, a spokesman for the Swedish group Ship to Gaza, says flotilla organizers are in the process of buying and licensing ships for the new operation. They also plan to travel to Israel at the end of August or early September to reclaim ships seized by Israel in the first flotilla, he said.
A coalition of U.S. organizations is raising funds to send a boat named The Audacity of Hope, after President Obama's second autobiographical book, to take part in the international flotilla. Israel has vowed to stop all future foreign flotillas. Perhaps flotilla organizers should ask Moses' descendant-and President Obama-to sail on The Audacity of Hope ship and at long last set the Palestinians free.
Delinda C. Hanley is news editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Prime Minister David Cameron Forthrightly Describes Gaza as a "Prison Camp". Contributors: Hanley, Delinda C. - Author. Magazine title: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Volume: 29. Issue: 7 Publication date: September/October 2010. Page number: 18+. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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