There are times when you think; surely something has to be done now? This must be the tipping point? Those terrible images of the father in Gaza trying to protect his 13 year old son who was shot to death. The last intifada when 13 citizens of Israel were killed for merely demonstrating against their government. The outrage of Lebanon and then last year Gaza. For me, as I suspect for many of us, the brutal attack on the flotilla this week was another such time. Surely the international community is not once again going to wash its hands, turn its back, walk by on the other side?
Instead, we have seen more of the same hypocrisy – one rule for you and another for me diplomacy. Of course I welcome William Hague's statement – but it is the verbal equivalent of a chocolate teacup! All the appearance of concern and mild outrage, but absolutely no substance. And that is why I am devastated at the way Nick Clegg has been muzzled on this. OK, I've read all the explanations about cabinet collective responsibility – and despite my misgivings about this coalition – I do have some understanding of why this is necessary. But, just as there are some issues which for some folk are of such moral importance that a free vote is given, surely the same should apply in the cabinet? Do we really think that if the cabinet took a line on abortion, or euthanasia that the same constraints would apply to those who took a different view? Now I know there are those who will argue this is not a moral issue for them. Fine – but it is for me and I believe it is for Nick – and frankly I don't want anyone else defining my morality for me! And this is why I am devastated that Nick has not been able to speak his mind. One of the things that endeared me to him in the first place was hearing him speak at a CAABU fringe some years ago. His frankness and commitment to hold Israel to account, was so refreshing. Also in the wake of phenomenal opposition from the Zionist lobby, he stuck to his guns on the issue of Gaza last year and was the only party leader to condemn the Israeli government and call for an end to arming Israel. I have no doubt his views have not changed.
If I was in Nick's shoes I can't imagine how I would feel. I hope as a fly on the wall in the cabinet I may hear him making a robust argument for taking a stronger line against the continuing illegal practices of the Israeli state. No doubt resignation is out of the question as it would destabilise the coalition and the country. But I am afraid if I was in his shoes I would be more concerned about the destabilisation of the world. Frankly we can do all we like to try and sort out the economy etc etc etc but it will be worth diddley squat if all we end up with is a totally destabilised polarised world. As a nation our credibility is already close to zilch after Iraq and Afghanistan – to continue to tacitly support Israel by failing to condemn her outrageous actions against innocent victims, be they on a ship carrying humanitarian aid, or in Gaza or against her own citizens, will further undermine any right we may feel we have to be a player on the world stage. The irony is that all this is counterproductive for Israel too. It's a bit like seeing an abused child abusing others and turning a blind eye, or tut tutting – the child will know it is quite OK to continue – there are no sanctions. What the child will not understand is just how damaging their behaviour is to themselves!
At a UN conference in Brussels a few years ago I coined a metaphor that I believe sums up the situation in Israel/Palestine and the desperate need to end the occupation. If you are sitting on my head I may need to you to get off my head before I can be reconciled to you. If in the course of sitting on my head you broke my nose and blacked my eye, I may need you to apologise to me when you get off my head before I can be reconciled to you. If while you were sat on my head I kicked you where it hurts to try and remove you, you may want me to apologise to you too. There has to be an end to the occupation, nothing less. It's no good just calling for the end to the siege against Gaza (this was clearly what the Israeli government had in mind when they cleared the settlements to enable them to create this open prison), it's the end of the occupation that is the imperative.
Just before Christmas I was at a Palestinian event where the wonderful Bruce Kent was a speaker – he spoke eloquently about the need for a new anti-apartheid campaign against Israel. Even Desmond Tutu has declared that what we are witnessing in Israel/Palestine is worse than the South African apartheid regime. If ever there was a time for that campaign to find its feet it's now.
Every time the Israeli government commit an outrage the only response they get from their protectors is a slap on the wrist. Each time they push the envelope a little further – each time they get away with it. Is this the time they stop getting away with it? I hope so, but I'm not holding my breath.