Cameron Calls Gaza under Israel Blockade a ‘Prison Camp’

British Prime Minister David Cameron went to Turkey this week and engaged in some refreshingly blunt talk about Ankara’s application to join the European Union (which does not appear to be going anywhere fast), and about the strained Turkish-Israel relationship. Cameron slammed France and Germany for putting the brakes on Turkey’s EU membership, which US secretary of defense Bob Gates has blamed for the turn to an eastern policy by Turkey’s present government.

Cameron also said that the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million impoverished Palestinians, cannot be allowed to remain a prison camp. Calling the territory, which Israel has blockaded for several years, a prison camp outrages many Israelis because it seems an implicit comparison of Tel Aviv to the totalitarian governments of the WW II period.

But note that Cameron did not call Gaza a ‘death camp,’ only a big outdoor prison. And that it surely is, since it is not allowed by Israel to export its goods and even after a supposed ‘easing’ of import restrictions by the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, only a fourth as many goods are allowed in today as came in in 2006. One Israeli official said that the Gazans were to be put on a diet.

That is why the Israeli response to Cameron, that the blockade of Gaza is the fault of Hamas, the fundamentalist party that came to power in the 2006 elections, is absurd. What is going on is that Israeli officials are half-starving Gaza children as a political move, to turn Palestinians away from Hamas and to weaken the party. But you cannot blockade civilian populations for political purposes in international law. That is a war crime, and contrary to Israeli assertions, it would be illegal for any other country to cooperate with such a blockade primarily targeting civilians, including of children. If the blockade were solely for military purposes, then why did the Israelis have such a long list of goods that could not be brought in, including chocolate? No, the policy is punitive, not for security, and Cameron is correct in his diction.

Cameron is perfectly clear that he is trying to improve British relations with Turkey, in part because that country is Europe’s fast-growing economy. In 2008 before the crash, Turkey did over $13 billion in trade with the UK. (Turkey’s total external trade is $100 billion, so Britain is a major trading partner. In contrast, in 2007, all of Israeli trade with Europe only came to about $19 bn.). Cameron wants to improve British trade with economies outside the North Atlantic, including India. But it would be wrong to dismiss Cameron’s straight talk as merely a way of buttering up the Turks for the purposes of commerce. He is just saying what virtually all European leaders actually think.

Moreover, Cameron wants to see Turkish relations with Israel return to normal and may be attempting to pave the way by saving Turkish face in this way (Israel has adamantly refused to apologize for its deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara Turkish aid vessel, which left 8 Turkish and one US citizen dead. In fact, it is not clear that they even said they were sorry that the aid workers died.)

Last June, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu likened the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla to Somali piracy. It may be a while before the two countries have the kind of relationship again that would allow Turkey to play broker between the Palestine Authority and Israel.

11 Responses

  1. Integrating Turkey in the EU is something which has been pushed by the US, but not really something which makes sense for the EU. The US is constantly pushing to widen the EU; the American Enterprise made it clear why : the US prefers a weak and heterogeneous UE, which has difficulties speaking of one voice, rather than a strong unified alliance. This is the reason why the US pushed for a fast integration of the former east countries and why she is pushing for the inclusion of Turkey.

    UK has always wanted a weaker union and has always been a lackey of the US. No surprise to hear that kind of talks again. The US encouraging rift between UK and the two leading EU countries (France and Germany), or between old EU and new EU is nothing new, but she should rather mind her business and let Europeans decide what they want. Same for the rest of the world btw.

    Also, whatever Gates said concerning Turkey turning toward East, there are many other reasons why Turkey is also looking East, not only the reluctance of EU members to accept Turkey in the UE. Turkey is a turning point between Asia and Europe. The Erdogan foreign policy is based on that geostrategical reality and very well thought, whether it pleases the Americans or not. They don’t need to be included in the EU to play that role. They may even play that role better if they are not part of the UE. Further, the unconditional US support of Israel which came out strickingly clear during the Gaza flotilla events does nothing to encourage Turkey to look West. Turkey rightly expects a more balanced US policy in the ME. Cameron or the US putting the blame on the UE doesn’t change anything to this fact.

    Moreover, Cameron wants to see Turkish relations with Israel return to normal and may be attempting to pave the way by saving Turkish face in this way

    ?? I don’t understand this part ?? The only way to encourage a normalization of the Turkish/Israelian relationships is to pressure Israel for some excuses, whatever form they take. What would be more interesting to know is whether behind the scene Cameron tried to work for some issue to the Turkish/Israelian crisis : for instance Israel is ready to say such and such … would that be enough for you not to loose face, or what more would you want.. Cameron criticising the Israelian blocade may improve UK/Turkish relationships, but I don’t see how that alone could improve the relationships between Turkey and Israel.

  2. “It may be a while before the two countries have the kind of relationship again that would allow Turkey to play broker between the Palestine Authority and Israel.”

    Is that really a bad thing for Turkey? Or the Palestinians?

    The chance to mediate between negotiations that the Israeli government intends to go nowhere, and aren’t likely to honour on the off chance that there appears to be some agreement. We’ve seen it before with the U.S. and their associated factions.

    The talks go nowhere and more Westbank squatters arrive. When pressure gets to the point that an agreement has to be reached it’s either given an end point some time in the future which allows them to make token gestures in the short term and then forget the agreement altogether; or it’s nullified by selective and self-interested interpretations of the agreement.

    Ultimately the people running Israel, and their supporters abroad, have no interest in peace on any terms but their own. That means they don’t share Jerusalem, they don’t end the expansion of Jewish communities on Palestinian land, they don’t allow the Palestinians-in-exile to return to their homes or compensate them for their loss and help them to find new homes and Israel controls valuable resources like water and natural gas.

    Until that changes, being the middle man amounts to nothing more than playing the fig leaf to help them hide their near-naked aggression in politics and ideology. That role might play well in Eurocentric countries but it doesn’t have quite the same allure in the near east and evidently not in Turkey proper.

  3. The British only want EU membership for the financial benefits and would rather sally forth in the wake and dust of their American friends when it comes to foreign policy. What does Turkey offer to the citizens of France and Germany? Olives? The last thing German taxpayers want right now is another poor country joining with such a large population – waaay more than Greece. You might as well talk about the Mexican state of Juarez becoming the 51st state of the USA.

    Please remember, it was France and Germany that opposed the invasion of Iraq. One would do well to recognise such common sense when discussing issues between the UK and EU.

  4. Israel’s War Against Palestine — Now What?

    July 28, 2010

    By Noam Chomsky

    there are important tasks of education and organization that have to be addressed seriously if US policies are to be shifted. They should lead to actions focusing on specific short-term objectives: ending the savage and criminal siege of Gaza; dismantling the illegal “Separation Wall,” by now a de facto annexation wall; withdrawing the IDF from the illegally annexed Golan Heights and from the West Bank (including illegally annexed “Greater Jerusalem”), which would, presumably, be followed by departure of most of settlers, all of whom, including those in East and expanded Jerusalem, have been transferred (and heavily subsidized) illegally, as Israel recognized as far back as 1967; and of course ending all Israeli construction and other actions in the occupied territories. Popular movements in the US should work to end any US participation in these criminal activities, which would, effectively, end them. That can be done, but only if a level of general understanding is reached that far surpasses what exists today.

    link to

  5. Juan said: “What is going on is that Israeli officials are half-starving Gaza children as a political move, to turn Palestinians away from Hamas and to weaken the party.”

    Isn’t the goal of terrorists to change the politics of the people being terrorized? Surely, deliberately starving children to get their parents to change their politics qualifies as terrorism. Some would call it Genocidal, akin to the sanctions applied to Iraq.

  6. It is refreshing to have a politician tell the truth about what has happened in Gaza! Have not seen that happen often. Turkey will be difficult to bring into the EU but it is time to start. They bring a different concept of Democracy.

  7. British PM David Cameron’s willingness to criticize Israel following President Obama’s own criticism of the Gaza blockade is more historic than anyone seems to be aware.

    Finally, the US and UK are treating Israel like an adult, letting it know that there are consequences to their actions and “Daddy” won’t always be there to bail them out (although they know we always will).

    I credit President Obama for this new willingness to tell Israel there are consequences to their actions and we won’t automatically take their side on every bad decision, out of fear of appearing to be “anti-Semitic”.

    Now, if only the people of the Middle East will recognize this fact and not do anything to screw it up.

    • Where did you see anything new in the way the Obama and the US are talking to Israel ? Obama didn’t even support the request of an international inquiry in the Gaza flottilla drama.

  8. What?!? A politician telling the truth??!!?? Doesn’t he know that’s NOT the way to get ahead in politics?

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