By: Professor Manuel Hassassian, Ambassador of Palestine to The Kingdom of Denmark
On December 20th 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This is a step in the right direction for the international community to uphold universal principles of human rights. However, Israel has since sought to delegitimize the ICC’s decision, defying the institution that was set up in the wake of the atrocities experienced during World War II to protect the human rights of all peoples of the world.
The stance taken by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the ICC’s decision is a huge disappointment to say the least. His letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel on April 9th in which he blatantly disputes the ICC’s decision to investigate war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories shows his complacency towards Israel’s apartheid regime and disregard for Palestinian rights for freedom and justice.
The Prime Minister probably forgot that it was Lord Balfour and his declaration of 1917 that paved the way for the establishment of the Zionist state of Israel in the first place, which resulted in the forced expulsion of the Palestinians from their land in 1948. Instead of rectifying the ill-fated declaration, Britain continues to bolster its support for Israel, compromising human rights. Just as Europe needs and seeks atonement for the atrocities during the World War II, so should the British government seek to rectify its policies and recalibrate its moral compass towards the Palestinian people, especially now when all its colonial endeavours are being re-evaluated at this watershed moment in response to the Black Lives Matter Movement.
I was ambassador for Palestine to the UK for 13 years and I never knew of any statements from previous prime ministers including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May to be as blatant and outright in supporting Israel with such unreserved zeal. I am appalled by the lack of historic awareness and denial of both reality and British responsibility to put right its wrongdoing.
Regrettably, the statement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is clear evidence that the moral compass in some parts of the British establishment has not changed since 1917. It seems that his mind set is still one that is at ease with Britain’s colonial past despite the fact that the British Empire has crumbled and British imperial ambitions brought nothing but destruction and pain to the peoples of the Middle East, India and Africa, while plundering the resources of these regions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s reasoning that “Israel is not a party to the Statute of Rome and Palestine is not a sovereign state” is a very feeble argument. Israel not being party to the Statute of Rome does not give it the right and the green light to inflict state terrorism against Palestinians, conducting extrajudicial killings and imposing collective punishment. However, Palestinians have every right to defend themselves against Israeli human rights violations and the ICC’s decision is a chance for us to seek long-awaited justice.
The Palestinians hold a great respect for the British people and its parliament as it has always supported Palestinians’ pursuit for justice, liberation and statehood. However, the actions of Boris Johnson and that of the current government stand in total contradiction to the majority of the British people’s wish to see Palestine free and sovereign.
Provocative statements such as this one from the Prime Minister only risk inflaming tensions which are already high and religious sensitivities, threatening to transform the conflict beyond redemption. The consequence of this will be grave and detrimental to peace and security to the whole Middle Eastern region.
We urge the British Prime Minister to change his position towards the ICC’s decision and stand on the right side of history.
Transparency and accountability are essential if peace is ever to be achieved, which highlights the imperative need for the ICC to freely perform its role and mandate to hold actors responsible and accountable for their crimes and to help prevent these crimes from happening again.