Prime Minister David Cameron Forthrightly Describes Gaza as a "Prison Camp"

By Hanley, Delinda C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September/October 2010 | Go to article overview

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. …

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