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Nakba Day: How Britain rewards Israel for its war crimes

The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is unaddressed after 74 years even as it continues. To end it, the West must hold Israel accountable
A demonstrator holds the Palestinian flag during a protest in New York city on 13 May 2022. (Reuters)
A demonstrator holds the Palestinian flag during a protest in New York city on 13 May 2022 (Reuters)

On May 15, the Palestinian people mark the Nakba, or catastrophe, when more than two-thirds of the population in 1947-48 were forcibly displaced from our homes and lands to make way for a Jewish-majority Israel.

This ethnic cleansing, for that is what it was, remains unaddressed today 74 years later. And it remains the key to any resolution of the Palestine-Israel situation.

This ethnic cleansing, for that is what it was, remains unaddressed today 74 years later

But not only is it unaddressed: it is ongoing. Two examples:

At the beginning of May, an Israeli high court ruling gave the Israeli military the green light to forcibly remove more than 1,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages in Masafer Yatta near Hebron in the occupied West Bank.

This is forcible population transfer and is illegal under international law. It is what Zionist gangs did to the Palestinian population en masse in 1948 before levelling the hundreds of villages they had been forced to vacate. 

The refugees that were created then were never allowed to return to their homes and lands, including my parents and family. This is also in contravention of international law, under which refugees have a right of return.

Who knows what Israel will do to the 1,000 unfortunate souls whose homes are now under imminent threat.

Then there was the May 11 killing of my friend Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera's veteran correspondent in Palestine. Whatever Israeli officials' attempts at deflecting blame and spreading disinformation, there is no doubt that she was killed by an Israeli bullet. And there is no doubt of the brutality of the Israeli apartheid during her funeral in occupied East Jerusalem. 

Israel certainly has form. At least 46 journalists have been killed since 2000. No one has been held to account because Israel is always allowed to investigate itself, with predictable results. 

A case has been filed against Israel at the International Criminal Court probe over the killing of four named journalists in Gaza - Ahmed Abu Hussein, Yaser Murtaja, Muath Amarneh and Nedal Eshtayeh - as well as the deliberate targeting of media offices in Gaza during last May's military assault.

Israeli impunity

Whatever happens with that case, it is the ease with which Israel kills and absolves itself from responsibility with barely a peep from the international community that is at the heart of the matter here.

For instance, in April, while the UK was happy to "condemn" attacks on Israelis at the UN, the government was only "concerned" about the much larger Palestinian loss of life.

Since 1948, in fact, Israel has rarely if ever been held to account for its violations of international law, international humanitarian law and the dignity and rights of the Palestinian people.

For anyone interested in a just and peaceful resolution, that has to change. And it is abundantly clear that Israel will not undertake any steps in this direction without firm international pressure.

A Palestinian woman in Gaza holds up a key symbolising the right of return on the 74th anniversary of the Nakba. (Reuters)
A Palestinian woman in Gaza holds up a key symbolising the right of return on the 74th anniversary of the Nakba (Reuters)


It is therefore unfortunate that we see the British government do the exact opposite. Rather than hold Israel to the same standards as everyone else, standards that are loudly being proclaimed over Ukraine, the UK is instead rewarding Israel, most recently with a brand new trade deal.

It is a confusing strategy. On the one hand, the UK holds that Israel's occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip is an illegal military occupation.

That brings with it certain legal responsibilities. Under international law, for instance, the settlements Israel has built and keeps building deep in occupied territory are not just transgressions of the law, they are war crimes.

And yet, on the other hand, rather than sanction Israel for this behaviour, 55 years after the occupation started, the UK is busy strengthening relations.

Disregard to international law 

The lesson Israel and others will learn? If powerful countries like you, you can do what you want. Kill a journalist, annex occupied territory, engage in a system of apartheid against the native population of the land you have invaded.

It doesn't matter. International law is just a plaything for the powerful.

This should matter in the UK. Britain was one of the prime movers behind the post-World War II global rules-based order.

Allowing Israel to flagrantly and repeatedly violate international law, international resolutions and global human rights standards is undermining that order.

This will have catastrophic consequences as people lose faith in and respect for international law. 

Shireen Abu Akleh was executed to send a message to Palestinians
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Britain is also the country that started the whole issue of Palestine in the first place with its Balfour declaration, giving away our land.

That is simply the act of a colonial power with no care for the wishes of the land's indigenous population.

The good news is that, judging by the numbers I see attend protests for Palestinian rights on the streets of London and other UK cities, the UK's cosying up to and defence of Israeli apartheid is not popular.

Popular disgust and activism ultimately forced a reluctant British and other western governments to take action against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

It would be nice if some politicians in the UK, the US and the West in general had learned their lessons since then and got ahead of a curve that is approaching.

Ambassador Dr Husam Zomlot is the Head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom.