October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I recently hosted the ‘Wear it Pink’ photocall at Westminster for MPs to get silly photos, in outlandish pink gear, to highlight the campaign. While increased awareness, earlier presentation and modern treatments have improved Breast Cancer care in Scotland and the UK, this is not the case everywhere. Having worked with Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) as a surgical volunteer in Gaza for a year and a half in 1991 and 92, I returned last year for the first time in 25 years to see how we could contribute to the improvement of breast cancer treatment there and in the West Bank and, then again, just a few weeks ago.
What struck me once I made my way through checkpoints at Erez crossing was how crowded and claustrophobic the Gaza Strip is after 10 years of virtual siege. The spread of Gaza City outwards to accommodate the population of almost two million people, squashed into a strip of land 8 by 40 kilometres, is eating into the arable land within the strip, while the Israeli security wall and associated no-man’s land shrinks it around the edges. The pervasive smell of sewage as a result of the near doubling of the population and refusal of Israeli permission to expand the sewage treatment plant, means raw sewage is just pumped out into the sea; one of Gaza’s most important resources. The water has been undrinkable for several years. The beaches could be beautiful and the plentiful seafood could have made tourism a major source of income and economic activity but the blockade of Gaza by land, sea and air have made that impossible. Gaza fishing boats, a traditional source of income as well as food, face the impact of the sewage effluent as well as the fact that, while boats from the south of the Strip can now fish out to the main reef at 9 miles, those from Gaza City harbour face a 6 mile limit.
When we lived in Gaza, 25 years ago, it was still under direct occupation by the Israeli Defence Force and Settlers which meant there were clashes every few days, resulting in patients with gunshot wounds needing surgery. Since the Israeli withdrawal, it is easier to move about in Gaza but the external security wall and a decade of blockade impact on every aspect of daily life, including cancer treatment. For those requiring chemotherapy, it is not always possible to maintain an unbroken course of treatment and there are always chronic drug shortages – WHO report that 35% of all essential medicines are out of stock in Gaza.
As I documented last year, radiotherapy, a key element of breast cancer treatment, but also crucial for many other tumours, is not available within Gaza so patients need to travel to East Jerusalem. However, not only is it expensive for patients to travel and stay in Jerusalem for over a month, many are simply denied access to Israel and permission to travel – in August, 45% of all patients were denied permission or received no response. During the clinic we carried out on the first day, I met an elderly lady who had been trying to get permission to travel for radiotherapy for six months without success and came to the clinic concerned that a nodule in her Mastectomy scar might already be a sign of recurrence: a sad phenomenon which is not uncommon among those with the highest risk disease. It is hard to imagine what threat she could possibly pose to Israeli security.
It is not just those who are denied permission who are affected as the routine denial of permission is skewing treatment, with the majority of surgeons opting for mastectomy and clearance of the axillary nodes so most patients won’t need radiotherapy in the first place. This aggressive approach for all patients, regardless of the size and extent of disease, has significant ramifications due to the cultural impact for a woman of losing her breast and the high incidence of lymphoedema or arm swelling. It also feeds into a nihilism among patients about the potential to treat breast cancer and the fear of destructive treatment keeps women in Gaza from coming forward until the disease is very advanced. At our first clinic in Gaza, once our radiologist performed detailed ultrasound scans, sadly patient after patient was found to have heavy nodal involvement. As these patients had already been seen by other breast surgeons, this highlighted the need to develop a more detailed diagnostic pathway so the medical team can make the most appropriate treatment plan for each patient – this is one of the key aspects that the MAP project would seek to address.
Palestinian Ministry of Health data shows that approximately 1 in 3 breast cancer patients in the OPT are node negative and the key aim of my trip was to introduce the technique of Sentinel Node Biopsy (SNB), which involves removing just one or two nodes for testing in women who appear to be node negative and carries a very low risk of side effects. In the UK, we would use a combination of blue dye and a radiocolloid injected into the breast to identify the first nodes in the axillary lymph chain, i.e. the most likely to have any cancer deposits. Unfortunately, the Israeli authorities do not allow the import of radiocolloid into the OPT – describing it as a security threat, despite the fact that Technitium has a half-life of a mere 4 hours which means the radioactivity is essentially gone the following day.
It felt like a homecoming for me as I operated in Al Ahli hospital in Gaza City, where I had worked back in the early
‘90s, and received an affectionate welcome from old friends and colleagues. Its lush garden remains a wee green oasis in this city of concrete and sand. Over the next three years, the MAP project will take multidisciplinary breast cancer specialists, from across the Scottish Breast Cancer networks, to the West Bank and Gaza. The aim is to help develop an overarching vision for Breast Cancer care, to help support quality improvement measures and particularly to provide training and mentoring through our Multidisciplinary Teams.
It is, however, not possible to ignore the political nature of the constraints faced by Palestinians in their daily lives, nor how that affects healthcare. There are many other parts of the world where cancer treatment is unavailable but the difference in Gaza is that the obstruction is political in nature. The decade long siege affects every aspect of life and results in survival from breast cancer being around half that of women in the UK, or even just a few kilometres along the coast in Ashkelon. The international community need to put the Israel-Palestine conflict back on the agenda. In this centenary year of the Balfour Declaration, the UK must recognise that, while a Jewish State has been created in Israel, the second half of that declaration, which promised to protect the Palestinian people, most certainly has not been delivered.
By Tommy Sheppard MP.Tommy is MP for Edinburgh East, Vice-Chair of the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Palestine and co-Spokesperson for SNP Friends of Palestine at Westminster.
The hills around Jerusalem were drenched in sun the last time I was here. It brought out their significance and history. This week, though, the Holy Land has been visited by a Scottish winter. As I peer through the steamed up windows of our VW Transporter, it’s decidedly dreich out there.
I’m here on a parliamentary delegation to see if the political mood matches the weather. The trip is organised by the Committee for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding (www.caabu.org) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (www.map.org.uk). Over four days we have a packed schedule of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, human rights groups and the UK Foreign Office. We also get the chance to see first-hand what it’s like to live under a military occupation.
While we are here Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is being entertained in Washington by President Trump. In one of his typical glib moments Trump tells the press “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one that both parties like.” As he says it the world’s press and diplomatic industry are desperately trying to decipher what he means: is this a change in US policy or not?
Tempting as it is to see this as another spontaneous and reactionary outburst, I think it’s Trump’s way of buying time. The new US administration hasn’t yet decided which way to go and maybe, just maybe, they are beginning to understand the consequences of giving the Israeli right what they want. Things do look, however, like they might begin to move.
2017 is a year of anniversaries. It is now 50 years since Israel won the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and was left in military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, collectively known as the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). It is the longest military occupation of modern times. This most intractable of disputes is fraught with the problems of competing descriptions of the same thing, competing realities.
Emmanuel Nahshon from the Israeli foreign office rejects the notion of occupation for starters. “How can this be occupied Palestine” he asks “when the West Bank was run by Jordan and the Gaza Strip by Egypt before the 1967 war?” It’s a disingenuous point. Sure, there’s never actually yet been a state of Palestine, but the territory in question was exactly where it was intended to be.
The Two State Solution
This was one of the key components of the Oslo agreement reached by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation the last time they tried to make peace back in 1994. As with so many other aspects of this debate you could say opinion is divided on the matter: Israel takes one view, the rest of the world has another.
The Oslo Accords saw the creation of a Palestinian Authority and the division of the West Bank into three zones. Areas A and B contained the cities and towns, with most of the population. Area C was the rest, comprising 62% of the land. This was placed under the administrative control of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) as agents of the occupying power. It’s hard to overstate the degree of compromise that the PLO made in 1994, they not only recognised the State of Israel but effectively conceded that it would occupy around 80% of historic Palestine.
The intention back in 1993 was that a process of transition would take place with the new PA gradually assuming responsibility for all of the West Bank and evolving into a new state of Palestine. And there were to be further negotiations on a range of matters left undecided in Oslo: refugees, settlements and the status of Jerusalem being the main ones.
The creation of an independent state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza living peacefully alongside a state of Israel based on the pre 1967 boundaries became known as the two state solution. This became the policy of pretty much everyone.
Two states is not a new idea. A hundred years ago then UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s declaration of support for a Jewish homeland also contained the qualification “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done that would be prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. As the British mandate came to a close in 1948, the UN proposed the creation of two states in the area: one Jewish, one Arab.
The objective of the two state solution is to do justice to competing territorial claims. But advocates of the policy ought to be clear that little would be achieved by creating two religious states, each armed to the teeth and living in seething tension with each other. It only works if the states respect each other and cooperate across the border. So if we talk about a Jewish state, or an Arab one, we should be clear we mean this in terms of the culture, history and demography of that country, but that civil and religious rights of everyone must be respected in a secular democratic society.
The truth today is that only one of the two states exists. And that state is occupying the land intended for the other one. Until and unless the occupation ends, the two state solution cannot advance. Not only has the vision of Oslo not been realised, but Israel’s actions since have pushed it further and further away.
Over the last two decades Israel has used the zoning as a means to control the Palestinian population and ingrain and make permanent the occupation. Most of the population has been hemmed into the urban areas A and B. On a map they look like an archipelago of Palestinian islands in a sea of Israeli occupied land.
In Area C two worlds exist. Israel had commandeered much of the land as “state” land and then made it available to build residential settlements into which it moved Israeli citizens. This has been going on since the mid-70s and the existence of these enclaves throughout the West Bank was recognised in Oslo as an obstacle to be dealt with. Then there were about 200,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Today they are more than 600,000.
To the Palestinians – and to me – this looks like a land grab. The UN has declared these settlements illegal and ruled them in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power moving its civilian population into areas it occupies.
We drove through a couple of these settlements. There is nothing low key or temporary about them. Most are modern towns and cities replete with the entire service and tech infrastructure you’d expect in a first world country. Nearby industrial development provides work and means that the settlements now have their own economy and are not just commuter zones into Israel proper. Leisure centres and shopping malls offer a good quality of life and it’s all protected by the fourth most powerful military in the world.
There are about a hundred settlements which have been established by religious extremists without authorisation from the Israeli government. These are known as “outposts” and effectively they are groups of people taking the law into their own hands and trespassing on land which is mostly owned by Palestinian farmers.
In a hardening of the Israeli government’s position the Knesset passed a law two weeks ago which will retrospectively legalise these outposts. If it goes through they will be given the same status and protection as the “official” settlements. This represents a major victory for the hard right Jewish Home party which is a minor partner in Netanyahu’s coalition government. The policy will be challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court and the Attorney General has said he will not defend it. It remains to be seen, however, whether Netanyahu will simply find himself another Attorney General.
At the same time at the Israeli authorities have allowed, indeed encouraged, settlements, they pretty much prohibit any development by Palestinians. We met with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) who monitor the situation in the oPt and are the go to people for statistics. They told us that in 2015 a total of 15 building permits were issued in the oPt to Palestinians. If people go ahead and put up a structure anyway, including in one farm we visited, installing solar panels, they will be served with a demolition order. Demolitions have been increasing in recent years and OCHA recorded over a thousand last year. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to run a business. It also makes it impossible for towns and cities to develop as the adjoining land is controlled by the Israelis.
We have also witnessed how settlements are used to make the occupation work. Each settlement will have a buffer zone around it in which Palestinians are forbidden. So because settlements are built on hilltops in the midst of Palestinian farms it forces the local population into less and less space. The IDF not only patrol the perimeters, they regularly raid Palestinian villages breaking down doors in the middle of the night and arresting young men.
On top of this there are increasing reports of violence perpetrated by settlers, many of who are religious extremists. We travelled to a farmers’ cooperative just outside Ramallah who have recently built a new olive oil pressing factory supported by Oxfam. (you can buy their oil here in Edinburgh at Earthy and Real Foods – or check out www.zaytoun.org). They told us of gangs of settlers setting dogs on families whilst they were bringing in the olive harvest and cutting or uprooting trees in the olive groves.
The often fractious interaction between settlers and Palestinians is not regulated fairly. Palestinians are subject to martial law and dealt with in the military courts; settlers are dealt with much more leniently under Israeli civil law. So if there’s a fight between a Palestinian and a settler, the soldier will always arrest the Palestinian. He may phone his commander and suggest the police are notified about the settler, but more often than not no action will be taken. Nothing makes the comparison with Apartheid more real than this.
Gerald Horton is a softly spoken Australian barrister who, for the last 11 years, has been running Military Court Watch, an organisation which defends Palestinians caught up in the military courts. He says he appreciates the massive challenge facing the IDF. “Their duty is to protect 400,000 Israeli settlers in the midst of a population of 2.8 million Palestinians who do not want them there. To do that you have to subdue the host population and break their will to resist. That is what the raids, arrests and detentions are all about. It’s not about upholding the rule of law.”
Red Tape and Humiliation
Underpinning the occupation is a vast array of red tape. Permits are needed for everything and are used to control movement and activity. Much of this just becomes a way of life: everyday minor injustices and petty humiliations. It becomes normal for the five mile journey to work to take two hours because of checkpoints. You just accept that you cannot leave the West Bank. But sometimes the human effects are inhumane.
We visited Makassid general hospital, one of six in East Jerusalem, which specialises in paediatrics. We saw several premature babies on incubators. One was born at 29 weeks and will stay on oxygen until she reaches two kilos. Her mother came from Gaza to deliver her but had to return when her permit ran out. Now she cannot visit as the authorities say the baby is the patient and you have to be getting treatment to get a permit.
The doctors at Makassid also told us that a major problem they experience is “back to back transfers” of patients. This is where an ambulance from Gaza or the West Bank is stopped at a checkpoint and the patient is stretchered through the controls to a separate ambulance waiting on the Israeli side. On average this takes 24 minutes and the delay has been fatal on occasion.
Daoud Nassar is a Palestinian farmer and head of the only Christian family left in the Palestinian village of Nahalin 9 kilometres south-west of Bethlehem. His grandfather bought the land in 1916 when the area was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1991 the IDF declared the farm “state land” and sent him an eviction notice. But Daoud, unlike most farmers, had all the original deeds and decided to fight the notice in the courts. He’s been doing that for the last 25 years. He has also had 22 separate demolitions served on him for every structure on the farm, each of which he is resisting in the courts.
The day before we visited the IDF used bulldozers to block the road from the farm to Bethlehem. Daoud has been told it is for security reasons. He hopes to persuade the local commander to remove it – he is effectively cut off by road and visitors have to park at the roadblock and walk the final kilometre to the farm. Daoud explains how the roadblocks and checkpoints severely affect his work at harvest time. “During the grape season we pick early in the morning and try to get to market quickly. But sometimes we are held up for hours. We do not have refrigerated trucks so in the hot sun the grapes spoil and by the time we get through they are sub-standard. “
He calls the farm the Tent of Nations and is campaigning throughout the country under the slogan “We refuse to be enemies”. Listening to this gentle man tell his story with quiet determination I think the phrase “patience of a saint” could never have been more apt.
The Israeli Government’s actions in Jerusalem do most to undermine a two state solution. Since East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967 the authorities have been pursuing the twin objectives of increasing the Jewish population of the city whilst simultaneously reducing the Arab population. This process is known as the Judaisation of Jerusalem.
For four decades Israel has been building settlements to the east of the city in the occupied West Bank. These are effectively suburbs of Jerusalem and right wing members of the Knesset are urging the government to now annex the occupied areas including the major settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. If that happens it will effectively cut the West Bank in two.
Inside the city the Palestinian area in East Jerusalem is under intense pressure. Sarit Michaeli from the Israeli Human Rights Organisation B’tselem (www.btselem.org) took us to the neighbourhood of Silwan lying in the shadow of the Al Aqsa mosque. We met community activist Zuheir Rajabi who organises 81 families in this area of the old city. He’s lived there all his life but has now been served with an eviction notice on behalf of a Jewish trust which claims ownership from the nineteenth century. Like most of his neighbours he has no paperwork to prove his ownership of the property. Like most, he never thought he’d need it.
One by one Palestinian homes are being taken over by Jewish families who see themselves as the vanguard of the new Jerusalem. You can tell their homes from the massive blue and white Israeli flags in which thy are draped. These settlers seem to revel in the opposition they face from the long established Palestinian population, Zuheir claims they are determined to provoke a reaction. He points to the private security police which guard each settler family, paid for by the city council out of his taxes.
If there is to be a Palestinian state, then East Jerusalem would be its capital as the historic claims on this city are shared by both Muslims and Jews for whom it is equally significant. Judaisation is designed to prevent this from happening.
One state solution?
Israel has paid lip service to the idea of a Palestinian state even as its every policy seems to make this harder and harder to achieve. But now the coalition government may be ready to ditch the idea completely and pursue the objective of a greater Israel by annexing the Palestinian territories. I assume that this was on the agenda in Washington this week.
For the first time there is a majority in the Israeli cabinet which opposes a two state solution. This week several ministers took advantage of the Netanyahu visit to restate their vision. “Israel needs to say loudly and clearly: no to a Palestinians state, yes to an expanded, complete and united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty” says Transport Minister Yisrael Katz. Education Minister Naftali Bennett who leads the extreme right party Jewish Home and is part of Netanyahu’s coalition, went further: “We need to say that everywhere, to every Christian and Muslim in Europe and to every Jew in Israel and in the world. The Land of Israel is ours. Period.”
Parties like Jewish Home are clear in their intention. The want to see a state of Israel which stretches across all of historic Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river. They want it to be a religious state where civil rights are related to Judaism. They are in a minority for now but there seems no doubt that opinion in Israel has shifted markedly to the right.
Most of the Israelis we met would describe themselves as liberal or left wing. I was intrigued to know how they saw things. Sarit from B’tselem says the word “left” is a dirty word in Israel at the moment so they don’t use it. “We are pessimistic but more resilient than ever” she tells me. Even with the shift to the right polls still suggest a majority of ordinary Israelis favour a two state solution and would end the occupation if it brought peace.
One of the many wonderful Israeli campaigners we met was Yehuda Shaul who founded Breaking the Silence (www.breakingthesilence.org.il) eleven years ago. It’s an organisation which records and publishes the testimony of formers members of the IDF and campaigns against the occupation. A cuddly bear of a man he talks incessantly, anxious to explain every detail of his argument. An IDF veteran himself Yehuda says he is treated like a traitor by many and there’s a campaign to outlaw his organisation which has so far told the stories of more than a thousand former soldiers. He says things will get worse before they get better but he is confident that his vies will prevail. “Don’t’ get me wrong” he says “I’m a Zionist. I believe in a Jewish homeland. But the occupation is destroying Israel. It will have to end.”
So with the mood in Israel hardening and the US considering policy change, what should the UK Government be doing? Well, first and foremost, we need to realise that Israel gets away with policies that the world consistently condemns because the world sits back and lets them. If we believe not just in a secure Israel but in justice for the Palestinians, it’s now time to apply some leverage.
At dinner I’m seated beside the UK’s deputy ambassador. He tells us that relations between the UK and Israel have never been better, describing a range of new trade agreements signed in recent weeks. In the next breath he tells us our government is putting pressure on the Israelis over the occupation and settlement expansion. I point out that these two things may contradict each other.
These are good questions he says, but really I should ask them of Number Ten.
So I will. Here’s four things I’ll be asking the UK Government in the year ahead.
In marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, make it clear that there is unfinished business and it is now time to make things right for Palestine. And to make that clear the UK Government should officially recognise the State of Palestine as 136 other nations have now done.
Having supported the UN resolution on 23rd December, now implement it. In particular, issue guidance to businesses making clear the difference between Israel itself and the occupied territories.
Instead of sending observers to international peace talks, step up and take a leadership role. Britain, more than most, has a responsibility for the situation that we have in that part to the world today.
Use aid money to support peace and human rights organisation in both Israel itself and in the occupied Palestinian territories.
by Craig Murray:Author, broadcaster and human rights activist, Craig was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010, and member of SNP Friends of Palestine.
There is no starker proof of the golden chains in which Israel has entangled the British political class, than the incredible fact that “diplomat” Shai Masot has not been expelled for secretly conspiring to influence British politics by attacking Britain’s Deputy Foreign Minister, suggesting that he might be brought down by “a little scandal”. It is incredible by any normal standards of diplomatic behaviour that immediate action was not taken against Masot for actions which when revealed any professional diplomat would normally expect to result in being “PNG’d” – declared persona non grata.
“There could be no more conclusive evidence of Israel’s undue and pernicious influence than the astonishing fact that Shai Mosat has not yet been expelled.”
Obama has just expelled 35 Russian diplomats for precisely the same offence, with the exception that in the Russian case there is absolutely zero hard evidence, whereas in the Masot case there is irrefutable evidence on which to act.
To compare the two cases is telling. Al Jazeera should be congratulated on their investigation, which shames the British corporate and state media who would never have carried out such actual journalism. By contrast, the British media has parroted without the slightest scrutiny the truly pathetic Obama camp claims of Russian interference, evidently without reading them. When I was sent the latest “intelligence report” on Russian hacking a couple of evenings ago, I quite genuinely for several minutes thought it was a spoof by the Daily Mash or similar, parodying the kind of ludicrous claims that kept being advanced with zero evidence. I do implore you to read it, as when you realise it is supposed to be serious it becomes still more hilarious.
The existence of a natural preference in Russia to see a US President who does not want to start World War III is quoted as itself evidence that Russia interfered, just as the fact that I could do with some more money is evidence I robbed a bank. The fact that Russia did not criticise the electoral process after the result is somehow evidence that Putin personally ordered electoral hacking. Oh, and the fact that Russia Today once hosted a programme critical of fracking is evidence of a Russian plot to destroy the US economy. Please do read it, I promise you will be laughing for weeks.
In passing, allow me to destroy quickly the “we have smoking gun evidence but it’s too secret to show you” argument. Given the Snowden revelations and the whistleblowing of the former NSA Technical Director Bill Binney, for the US government to claim to be hiding the fact that it can track all electronic traffic in the USA is risible. This is like saying we can’t give you the evidence in case the Russians find out the sky is blue. If there were hacks, the NSA could identify the precise hack transmitting the precise information out of Washington. Everybody knows that. There were no hacks so there is ne evidence. End of argument. They are internal leaks.
The two stories – Russian interference in US politics, Israeli interference in UK politics – also link because the New York Times claims that it was the British that first suggested to the Obama administration that Russian cyber activity was targeting Clinton. Director of Cyber Security and Information Assurance in the British Cabinet Office is Matthew Gould, the UK’s former openly and strongly pro-Zionist Ambassador to Israel and friend of the current Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev. While Private Secretary to David Miliband and William Hague, and then while Ambassador to Israel, Regev held eight secret meetings with Adam Werritty, on at least one occasion with Mossad present and on most occasions also with now minister Liam Fox. My Freedom of Information requests for minutes of these meetings brought the reply that they were not minuted, and my Freedom of Information request for the diary entries for these meetings brought me three pages each containing only the date, with everything else redacted.
I managed to get the information about the Gould/Werritty meetings as a result of relentless questioning, where I was kindly assisted by MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas and Paul Flynn. The woman with whom Shai Masot was conniving to undermine Alan Duncan, was Maria Strizzolo, who works for Tory Minister Robert Halfon. It was Halfon who repeatedly tried to obstruct Paul Flynn MP from asking questions of Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell that threatened to get to the heart of the real Adam Werritty scandal.
Both Robert Halfon and Adam Werrity received funding from precisely the same Israeli sources, and in particular from Mr Poju Zabludowicz. He also formerly had a full time paid job as Political Director of the Conservative Friends of Israel. Halfon’s assistant is now caught conspiring with the Israeli Embassy to attack another Tory minister.
House of Commons Public Admininstration Committee 24/11/2011
Q<369> Paul Flynn: Okay. Matthew Gould has been the subject of a very serious complaint from two of my constituents, Pippa Bartolotti and Joyce Giblin. When they were briefly imprisoned in Israel, they met the ambassador, and they strongly believe—it is nothing to do with this case at all—that he was serving the interest of the Israeli Government, and not the interests of two British citizens. This has been the subject of correspondence.
In your report, you suggest that there were two meetings between the ambassador and Werritty and Liam Fox. Questions and letters have proved that, in fact, six such meetings took place. There are a number of issues around this. I do not normally fall for conspiracy theories, but the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and he has previously served in Iran, in the service. Werritty is a self-proclaimed—
Robert Halfon: Point of order, Chairman. What is the point of this?
Paul Flynn:> Let me get to it. Werritty is a self-proclaimed expert on Iran.
Chair:> I have to take a point of order.
Robert Halfon:> Mr Flynn is implying that the British ambassador to Israel is working for a foreign power, which is out of order.
Paul Flynn:> I quote the Daily Mail: “Mr Werritty is a self-proclaimed expert on Iran and has made several visits. He has also met senior Israeli officials, leading to accusations”—not from me, from the Daily Mail—“that he was close to the country’s secret service, Mossad.” There may be nothing in that, but that appeared in a national newspaper.
Chair:> I am going to rule on a point of order. Mr Flynn has made it clear that there may be nothing in these allegations, but it is important to have put it on the record. Be careful how you phrase questions.
Paul Flynn:> Indeed. The two worst decisions taken by Parliament in my 25 years were the invasion of Iraq—joining Bush’s war in Iraq—and the invasion of Helmand province. We know now that there were things going on in the background while that built up to these mistakes. The charge in this case is that Werritty was the servant of neo-con people in America, who take an aggressive view on Iran. They want to foment a war in Iran in the same way as in the early years, there was another—
Chair:> Order. I must ask you to move to a question that is relevant to the inquiry.
Q<370> Paul Flynn:> Okay. The question is, are you satisfied that you missed out on the extra four meetings that took place, and does this not mean that those meetings should have been investigated because of the nature of Mr Werritty’s interests?
Sir Gus O’Donnell:> I think if you look at some of those meetings, some people are referring to meetings that took place before the election.
Q<371> Paul Flynn:> Indeed, which is even more worrying.
Sir Gus O’Donnell:> I am afraid they were not the subject—what members of the Opposition do is not something that the Cabinet Secretary should look into. It is not relevant.
But these meetings were held—
Chair:> Mr Flynn, would you let him answer please?
Sir Gus O’Donnell:> I really do not think that was within my context, because they were not Ministers of the Government and what they were up to was not something I should get into at all.
Chair:> Final question, Mr Flynn.
Q<372> Paul Flynn:> No, it is not a final question. I am not going to be silenced by you, Chairman; I have important things to raise. I have stayed silent throughout this meeting so far.
You state in the report—on the meeting held between Gould, Fox and Werritty, on 6 February, in Tel Aviv—that there was a general discussion of international affairs over a private dinner with senior Israelis. The UK ambassador was present. Are you following the line taken by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government who says that he can eat with lobbyists or people applying to his Department because, on occasions, he eats privately, and on other occasions he eats ministerially? Are you accepting the idea? It is possibly a source of great national interest—the eating habits of their Secretary of State. It appears that he might well have a number of stomachs, it has been suggested, if he can divide his time this way. It does seem to be a way of getting round the ministerial code, if people can announce that what they are doing is private rather than ministerial.
Sir Gus O’Donnell:> The important point here was that, when the Secretary of State had that meeting, he had an official with him—namely, in this case, the ambassador. That is very important, and I should stress that I would expect our ambassador in Israel to have contact with Mossad. That will be part of his job. It is totally natural, and I do not think that you should infer anything from that about the individual’s biases. That is what ambassadors do. Our ambassador in Pakistan will have exactly the same set of wide contacts.
Q<373> Paul Flynn:> I have good reason, as I said, from constituency matters, to be unhappy about the ambassador. Other criticisms have been made about the ambassador; he is unique in some ways in the role he is performing. There have been suggestions that he is too close to a foreign power.
Robert Halfon:> On a point of order, Chair, this is not about the ambassador to Israel. This is supposed to be about the Werritty affair.
Paul Flynn:> It is absolutely crucial to this report. If neo-cons such as yourself, Robert, are plotting a war in Iran, we should know about it.
Chair:> Order. I think the line of questioning is very involved. I have given you quite a lot of time, Mr Flynn. If you have further inquiries to make of this, they could be pursued in correspondence. May I ask you to ask one final question before we move on?
Sir Gus O’Donnell:> One thing I would stress: we are talking about the ambassador and I think he has a right of reply. Mr Chairman, I know there is an interesting question of words regarding Head of the Civil Service versus Head of the Home Civil Service, but this is the Diplomatic Service, not the Civil Service.
Q<374> Chair:> So he is not in your jurisdiction at all.
Sir Gus O’Donnell:> No.
Q<375> Paul Flynn:> But you are happy that your report is final; it does not need to go the manager it would have gone to originally, and that is the end of the affair. Is that your view?
Sir Gus O’Donnell:> As I said, some issues arose where I wanted to be sure that what the Secretary of State was doing had been discussed with the Foreign Secretary. I felt reassured by what the Foreign Secretary told me.
Q<376> Chair:> I think what Mr Flynn is asking is that your report and the affair raise other issues, but you are saying that that does not fall within the remit of your report and that, indeed, the conduct of an ambassador does not fall within your remit at all.
Sir Gus O’Donnell:> That is absolutely correct.
Paul Flynn:> The charge laid by Lord Turnbull in his evidence with regard to Dr Fox and the ministerial code was his failure to observe collective responsibility, in that case about Sri Lanka. Isn’t the same charge there about our policies to Iran and Israel?
Chair:> We have dealt with that, Mr Flynn.
Paul Flynn:> We haven’t dealt with it as far as it applies—
Chair:> Mr Flynn, we are moving on.
Paul Flynn:> You may well move on, but I remain very unhappy about the fact that you will not allow me to finish the questioning I wanted to give on a matter of great importance.
It is shocking but true that Robert Halfon MP, who disrupted Flynn with repeated points of order, receives funding from precisely the same Israeli sources as Werritty, and in particular from Mr Poju Zabludowicz. He also formerly had a full time paid job as Political Director of the Conservative Friends of Israel. It is not surprising that Shai Mosat evidently views Halfon as a useful tool for attacking senior pro-Palestinian members of his own party.
But despite the evasiveness of O’Donnell and the obstruction of paid zionist puppet Halfon, O’Donnell confirmed vital parts of my investigation. In particular he agreed that the Fox-Werritty-Gould “private dinner” in Tel Aviv was with Mossad, and that Gould met Werritty many times more than the twice that O’Donnell listed in his “investigation” into the Werritty affair. The truth of the Werritty scandal, hidden comprehensively by the mainstream media, was that Werritty was inside the UK Ministry of Defence working for Israel. That is why it was so serious that Defence Minister Liam Fox had to resign
Of the eight meetings of Fox-Gould-Werritty together which I discovered, seven were while Fox was Secretary of State for Defence. Only one was while Fox was in opposition. But O’Donnell let the cat much further out of the bag, with the astonishing admission to Paul Flynn’s above questioning that Gould, Fox and Werritty held “meetings that took place before the election.” He also referred to “some of those meetings” as being before the election. Both are plainly in the plural.
It is evident from the information gained by Paul Flynn that not only did Fox, Gould and Werritty have at least seven meetings while Fox was in power – with no minutes and never another British official present – they had several meetings while Fox was shadow Foreign Secretary. O’Donnell was right that what Fox and Werritty were up to in opposition was not his concern. But what Gould was doing with them – a senior official – most definitely was his concern. A senior British diplomat cannot just hold a series of meetings with the opposition shadow Defence Secretary and a paid Israeli lobbyist.
All of this underlined the pernicious influence that Israel has in the political class, which is founded on the Israeli lobby’s shameless use of cash for influence – as witnessed in the discussion between Shai Mosat and Labour Friends of Israel and his flaunting of a million. Attitudes towards the plight of the Palestinians are an extreme example of the disconnect between public opinion and the views of the political class, and Al Jazeera should be congratulated heartily on giving us a peek into that.
No further evidence is required. There could be no more conclusive evidence of Israel’s undue and pernicious influence than the astonishing fact that Shai Mosat has not yet been expelled.
Child detention and abuse whilst under detention is an issue constantly raised by SNPFoP, SNP Parliamentarians and the many NGOs and solidarity groups we work with.
Back in April, 15-year-old Palestinian schoolgirl Natali Shoukha was shot by Israeli forces for allegedly attempting to
carry out a stabbing attack.
Natali was rushed to hospital and treated for the gunshot wounds she received, and then when she was deemed fit enough she was transported to an Israeli military detention facility outwith Palestine… in itself a breach of the Geneva Convention.
Yesterday at Ofer Military Court, only recently visited by an SNP delegation, this 15 year old Palestinian Child was sentenced to one and a half years imprisonment in an Israeli prison.
The matter of guilt or innocence is not being questioned here * … it is not for us to make assumptions. That is for others who are better equipped to do so and better informed of the case.
No, what is on trial here alongside this child is the very system whereby the Israeli military occupation forces can take children, some as young as 9, from their family, and detain them without charge indefinitely in another country… a serious breach of the Geneva Convention** and defined as a War Crime in itself.
‘Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts that lack basic and fundamental fair trial guarantees. Since 2000, at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in an Israeli military detention system notorious for the systematic ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children.’
These children will often be held in solitary confinement and may not be allowed to see their parents for months.
These children will be repeatedly interrogated by Israeli security forces and endure treatment deemed tortuous by many NGOs. This treatment leaves many of these children with emotional scars which they will live with for a lifetime.***
* Although most detainees plead guilty because this is the quickest way out of a system that rarely grants bail. – DCI-Palestine
** After sentencing, nearly 60% of Palestinian child detainees are transferred from occupied territory to prisons inside Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The practical consequence of this is that many of them receive either limited or no family visits due to freedom of movement restrictions and the time it takes to issue a permit to visit the prisons. – DCI-Palestine
A delegation of Palestinian students due to visit the Houses of Parliament for an event with SNP Friends of Palestine were prevented from leaving Palestine by Israeli authorities and awards for SNP MPs were seized. The delegation who were carrying documentation clearly identifying the nature of their visit to the UK, were reportedly given no reason for their departure being blocked. In addition, small hand carved shields which were to be presented as tokens of appreciation to individual SNP MPs were seized by Israeli authorities at the border.
Tommy Sheppard, SNP MP for Edinburgh East and Dr Philippa Whitford, SNP MP for Central Ayrshire, are today (Tuesday) hosting an event in the Houses of Parliament for SNP Friends of Palestine. The event was to enable the General Union of Palestinian Students to present an award to SNP MPs in recognition of their support for “continuous efforts to champion Palestinian statehood and human rights”.
Tommy Sheppard MP, vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Palestine commented “This is yet another example of the Israeli Authorities preventing Palestinian citizens going about their ordinary lives. The students wanted to meet with SNP MPs to thank them for their support for the Palestinian cause and share their experiences. I would urge the Israeli authorities to understand that actions such as these are unhelpful in gaining understanding for their perspective from the international community”
Andy Murray, convener of SNP Friends of Palestine said, ‘This reception, which will see recognition by the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK of the SNP Parliamentarians support for “continuous efforts to champion Palestinian statehood and human rights”, will go ahead today in spite of this effort to derail it.’
We were lucky enough to have co-founder of Breaking the Silence Yehuda Shaul with us at SNP National Conference in Aberdeen this time last year to speak to our members, MPs, MSPs & Cllrs from around the country.
Since then Yehuda has been on hand in occupied Palestine to give tours to a number of MPs who have travelled out to see for themselves the situation on the ground.
We praise the work that BtS are doing to expose the immoral occupation of Palestine against awful treatment by the Netanyahu coalition and its supporters.
Our very own Dr Philippa Whitford MP has just returned from her Spring recess trip to the sun… no, not to some sandy beach, that’s actually not a very safe option where Phillipa has just returned from. No, during Parliamentary recess Philippa has traveled more than 2,000 miles to occupied Palestine to carry out life-saving breast cancer surgery.
“Philippa Whitford, an MP for Central Ayrshire in Scotland and a breast cancer expert before entering parliament, traveled to provide care for a number of Palestinian women, who face an uphill struggle to get quality treatment.
Whitford carried out four major cancer operations in the West Bank last week, before travelling to Gaza on Sunday to advise hospitals there on how to improve their care.
One operation was on a woman with “very advanced” cancer, said the lawmaker, who returned to the United Kingdom on Thursday.
“It was very large in the breast and very advanced in the lymph nodes. She had had chemotherapy, but it hadn’t got a lot smaller and she still had a lot of disease.”
“It was just a difficult operation and we knew it would be,” she said, adding that initial signs suggested it had been successful.
Whitford, who became a lawmaker for the left-wing Scottish National Party (SNP) in the 2015 British general elections, said breast cancer treatment in the Palestinian territories suffered from a lack of planning, resources and Israeli restrictions.
In Gaza, breast cancer kills more women than any other cancer, according to a 2011 research paper by researchers from Harvard Medical School.
There are regular shortages of medicines in Gaza, including those to treat cancer, and no radiotherapy. “Getting anything into Gaza is not secure. You can’t say ‘we get a delivery every month and it will be here and the hospital will be stocked.’ So they are forever running out of things,” Whitford said. She said that, while in England doctors would usually remove just a part of the breast, in Gaza they tend to remove the whole breast –- whether through lack of training or due to limited medical facilities.
Radiotherapy is available in Israel and East Jerusalem, but Palestinians say travel permits are hard to obtain, border points can be closed depending on events, and some cannot afford the trip.
More than 120,000 Palestinians entered Israel for medical treatment in 2015, mostly from the West Bank, according to Israeli officials.
The lack of quality treatment in Palestinian territories, Whitford said, meant recurrence rates are believed to be more than double those in the United Kingdom.
No delegation of British lawmakers has been permitted entry into Gaza by Israel since 2009. Earlier this year a delegation of members of the European parliament was refused entry.
But Whitford applied and entered as a single doctor rather than in a delegation, thus skirting Israel’s restrictions.
It was a return for her, having worked as a breast cancer surgeon in Gaza for 18 months in the early 1990s with Medical Aid for Palestinians. She said returning to the Palestinian enclave was like “coming home.”
More than 8 percent of Palestinian women develop breast cancer in their lifetime, the Palestinian health ministry says.
But Whitford said breast cancer was for a long time a hidden killer in Gaza due to social stigma.
“When I came [in 1991] the doctors told me there was no breast cancer here,” she said. “As soon as people realized there was a woman surgeon they started to come and I realized there was actually a lot of breast cancer.”
Whitford said she never expected to be a lawmaker, but that her skills helped her in her role as the SNP’s shadow health spokeswoman.
The SNP has also criticized the British government’s lack of firm action over Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
Whitford said the West Bank, which is supposed to form the bulk of a future Palestinian state, is “being moth-eaten — every time I come back the settlements are bigger, they are closer to key Palestinian towns and cities.”
“We need to be saying ‘we don’t want to deal with settlements, we don’t want British registered companies to be dealing with settlement’s.”
Last week Tommy Sheppard MP wrote to the chief executive of the Californian-based online company Airbnb pointing out that the Israeli settlements where the homes are situated are illegal under international law.
“It is of deep concern that a company such as yours that prides itself as being a community, is showing such disregard for the communities in the Occupied Territories who are seeing their homes demolished for Israeli settlements to be built,” he wrote to Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky.
“It seems incredible that a company that aspires to have an international reputation should be assisting in the operation of illegal settlements. By facilitating owners to maintain their settlement properties through Airbnb your company is supporting the unlawful occupation.”
Speaking from Westminster Sheppard told The Scottish Six: “Let’s be clear about this. Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine are illegal. Palestinians are regularly subjected to home demolitions to allow for the building of Israeli settlements which are then subsidised by Israel to encourage settlers to move in and take valuable resources, including water, away from Palestinians.”
Andy Murray, convener of SNP Friends of Palestine, also hit out.
“What Airbnb is doing is immoral, unethical and perpetuates the violation of international humanitarian law,” he said. “Illegal Israeli settlements are counterproductive and one the biggest stumbling blocks to a peaceful and just resolution for the Palestinian people.
“Commercial entities such as Airbnb are effectively financially rewarding illegal settlers for the seizure of occupied Palestinian land and encouraging others to do the same.”
One of the properties in the Occupied Territories is a two-bedroomed apartment with a swimming pool in Ofra, available for £50 per night.
One reviewer said: “The view from this place is lovely. The hosts supplied us with a luscious bowl of fruit, and milk and coffee and tea, as well as locally produced soap made of all-natural ingredients. A beautiful tiled terrace greeted us at the top of the stairs. The apartment was spacious, and the walls were lined with bookshelves, a book-lover’s dream.
“The host and his wife were very available to meet any needs that arose. Also, for those whose only language is English, the host is fluent. For a reasonable charge they supplied us with a fresh Israeli breakfast. Ofra is a safe and protected neighbourhood.”
Last night Yopav Sorek, the host of the Ofra property, told The Scottish Six: “Israel never occupied any territory of Palestine, as such a state never existed.” He added:“Every place needs to be defined in some way. Airbnb offers only two options: Israel and Palestine. As we are Israelis in an Israeli settlement, that’s the reasonable description.”
Founded in San Francisco in 2008, Airbnb’s online listing service spans 191 countries and 34,000 cities around the world.across the world.
The website connects tourists and travellers in need of a place to stay with locals looking to rent out a spare bedroom or property. Both guests and hosts are rated by the online community.
The company’s stated mission is to allow people to “belong anywhere” and it has been used by nearly 17 million travellers.
Despite being based in California, Europe accounts for more than 50 per cent of Airbnb’s business, with Paris as its busiest city worldwide.
Last year the company launched in Cuba with 1,000 listings, even though Cubans have limited access to the internet. It is also trying to expand throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa.