Saturday 26 July 2014

Gaza: towards an ethical foreign policy for the new Scotland

Graphic by Tawfik Gebreel, Gaza
Jean Urquhart MSP, one of our excellent crop of independents, has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for sanctions against Israel in response to the current crisis in Gaza. In considering how to persuade my constituency MSP, Alex Fergusson, who is that most old fashioned and endangered species, an honourable Tory, to add his name to it, I thought about how I envisage - hope to see - the foreign policy of our reborn nation develop; how it can establish its place and distinctive voice in the world.

I thought about the history of the Palestine issue, and the United Kingdom's sorry role in it. Appealing to Mr Fergusson, I thought, over the current plight of the Palestinians was unlikely to succeed; presenting that appeal in the context of our responsibility for the construction of the problem and our consequent responsibility to aid in its resolution might do so. Of course, it's highly unlikely I'll succeed in also persuading him to turn from unionism to internationalism, but - with this issue particularly in mind - I think it's worth a try.

Scotland - our Scotland - really does have a chance to make the whole world a better place.

Dear Alex Fergusson

As Scotland moves towards independence next year, it's time we started taking up our responsibilities on the world stage, and establishing our reputation as one of those smaller, more enlightened nations, like our neighbours in Scandinavia, which have the luxury of being able to act not as the world's policemen, but as its peace builders.

The situation in Gaza now is a crying shame to the whole globe. It's a situation for which the British state cannot evade responsibility. By failing properly to discharge our responsibilities under the Palestinian mandate, by offering to resettle Jewish refugees on lands which were already inhabited, by then permitting Zionist terrorists to carry out ethnic cleansing in territory for which we were nominally responsible, we created the conditions for this cancer. Scotland, of course, inherits a share of the responsibilities for the failings of the United Kingdom. But, by this time next year, Scotland will not be the United Kingdom. We can take up these responsibilities with fresh hands, with fresh eyes.

The situation in Gaza must stop. The progressive illegal theft of territory in the West Bank - Israel's policy of Lebensraum in the East - must stop. The bulldozing of homes and of olive groves must stop. These are not anti-Jewish statements: they're not even anti-Israeli statements. Israel must find a path to peace as much for Israel's sake as for the sake of the Palestinians. The corruption of this dreadful conflict has brought the government of Israel down to the level of the states of old Europe - yes, including Scotland - which oppressed the Jews over the past seventeen hundred years. There is no moral distinction, now, between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto.

But just as Germany has, over the past seventy years, been able to step back from the dreadful moral hazard in which it stood in the early 1940s, so Israel can, too. But before they can, they must be brought to see the enormity of what they are now doing.

None of this is to say the Palestinians are innocent. Hamas are not innocent. Firing rockets at civilians - whoever does it - is a war crime, and should be. But no more were the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, whom Hamas so closely resemble, innocent. They were people driven to desperation, as the world - the Allies - stood back and allowed their people, their families, their homes - to be obliterated. Just as we are doing now, with Gaza.

Scotland cannot walk by on the other side. Scotland, like the good Samaritan, is an inheritor of what the Palestinian people must rightly see as an old enemy. We must step in and stand decisively with Palestine - not because the Palestinians are innocent, but because unless they have people who will stand with them, who will give them confidence to know they are not friendless in the world, who can offer them places away from the front line where the different Palestinian factions can meet, discuss and plan their approach to their necessary and inevitable negotiations with Israel, who will have their backs in those negotiations and who can help them to remain reasonable, flexible and unmastered by anger through them, they will not be able to find a path to peace.

In saying this I'm not suggesting that Scotland should usurp Norway's role as the primary peace-broker in this conflict. I'm seeing Scotland's potential contribution as different, but part of the whole process of building peace. This is something we small, unimportant, unthreatening nations - unburdened by imperial ambition, by weapons of mass destruction, by seats on security councils - can do, must do, that the ancient leviathans cannot.

So I urge you today to sign Jean Urquhart's motion, S4M-10638, calling for sanctions against Israel. But I also urge you, strongly, to listen to your conscience and vote Yes on September the 18th: not just for Scotland's sake, not even for Britain's, but for the world's.

Scotland has responsibilities. We must show we are prepared to take them up and acquit ourselves well of them.


Simon Brooke

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