Official: Gaza is a prison camp

Tony Greenstein sees a Palestinian David versus an Israeli Goliath

Whilst New Labour keeps its silence over the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla and the murder of nine activists in May, David Cameron is busy condemning it and describing Gaza as a prison camp. Truly the world has been turned upside down, as the Tories are seen to be more progressive than Labour not only on civil liberties issues, but on foreign affairs too!

There is a certain irony in this. Judge George Bathurst-Norman, who presided over the acquittal of nine Brighton activists who trashed an arms factory owned by EDO-MBM Technology, was accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ for describing Gaza as a prison camp. So far, at any rate, David Cameron has not yet been tarred with the same brush.

Why has Cameron spoken out? Firstly because he was visiting the Turkish prime minister and wanted to reaffirm a relationship with an important strategic and economic trading partner. Britain has always been the keenest of the European Union states in favour of admitting Turkey to membership. But beyond that there are signs that Israel is trying the patience of its imperial backers.

Israel is a strategic asset of the United States. In the words of former state department secretary Alexander Haig, it is an unsinkable aircraft carrier and comes remarkably cheap. But American support, and thus British support, comes at the price of not annoying the US’s partners in the region. For example, when Israel opposed the sale of the Awacs early warning aircraft to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, its good friend Ronald Reagan had no compunction in pointing out to Tel Aviv that the US had to be “free of the restraints of overriding external vetoes”.

Israel’s handling of the Gaza flotilla has perplexed friend and foe alike. It is so crazy that it is beyond analysis. Having sent marines in to ‘teach a lesson’ to the activists, Netanyahu and the military did more than any activist ship to undermine the very blockade they were trying to maintain. The position of the United States now is that the siege of Gaza is ‘unsustainable’. But a few months ago the USA was doing its best to keep it in place - its engineers inserted a metal wall into the sand some 20 or so metres down!

What has changed? The martyrdom of the nine activists on board the Mavi Marmara and the enormous wave of sympathy it generated. Only the BBC believed the lies Israel told about how its naval marines were subject to an armed lynch mob by boats which had deliberately set out to ‘provoke’ them (just as smugglers into the Warsaw ghetto ‘provoked German reprisals’).

Cameron’s remarks indicate that there are limits to the imperialists’ support for Israel - especially when it comes to a crucial strategic player like Turkey. Israeli histrionics, which included the deliberate humiliation of the Turkish ambassador by Israel’s deputy defence minister, have not endeared it to its paymasters.