Emily Thornberry speaks at the Labour party Conference in Brighton, Britain, September 25, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/PETER NICHOLLS)
British parliamentarians attacked their government for its failure to support the launch of a UN Human Rights Council probe against Israel for the 102 Palestinians allegedly killed on the Gaza border in the last seven weeks.
“If you are an ally of the government you can get away with breaking international law with impunity and you can also be allowed to be your own judge and jury, too,” charged British shadow (opposition) foreign secretary Emily Thornberry of the Labour Party.
She made the comment during a heated debate in the House of Commons on Monday during which British Foreign Secretary Alistair Burt fielded questions from parliamentary supporters and opponents of Israel.
The UK was one of 14 UNHRC member states that abstained from the resolution.
Burt said the government wanted to see an independent investigation into the deaths that occurred over the last seven weeks during the “Great March of Return”.
But it did not believe that a biased inquiry focused solely on Israel and not on Hamas would shed enough light on the situation.
“We could not support an investigation that refused to explicitly examine the action of non-state actors such as Hamas; an investigation of this kind would not provide us with a comprehensive assessment of accountability,” Burt said.
“The UK continues to fully support the need for an independent and transparent investigation into recent events. We call directly on Israel to carry out a transparent inquiry into the IDF’s conduct on the border fence and to demonstrate how this would achieve a sufficient level of independence,” Burt said.
He added that members of the international community should be part of that investigation. The findings should be made public and wrongdoers should be held accountable, Burt said.
Thornberry was not impressed by his explanation. The wording of the UNHRC resolution “is immaterial” as long as the “objective of setting up an independent investigation is achieved,” Thornberry said.
“The issue today is why the British government, which claimed repeatedly last Tuesday to support that objective, chose three days later not to vote for it,” she said.
Calling for Israel to hold an independent inquiry is a “contradiction in terms,” she said.
“We should not be remotely surprised.”
“This is the government that says Saudi Arabia should be allowed to investigate itself for bombing weddings in Yemen. This is the government that says Bahrain should be left to investigate itself for torturing children in prison,” Thornberry quipped.
SOME CONSERVATIVE Party members spoke in defense of Israel.
MP Matthew Offord said that a Hamas leader admitted that the purpose of the violence was to breach the border and murder Israelis living nearby. Israel has a right and obligation to defend its border, he said.
MP Mark Harper noted that more than 50 of the 62 Palestinians killed along the Gaza border last week were members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
This resolution “does not mention those two organizations” and reaches conclusions that “already prejudge the outcome,” Harper said.
The UNHRC resolution will “not lead to the independent impartial investigation that everyone in this house wants to see,” Harper said.
MP Stephen Crabb said that the UNHRC was “an absurd body in which we see some of the worst human rights abusers play judge and jury on the rest of the world,” and was not therefore the correct vehicle to investigate the Gaza deaths.
But Conservative Party MP Crispin Blunt said, “Given that Gazans did all the dying and the Israeli soldiers did all the killing, in what way does (the UK) expect an internal Israeli inquiry to be less partial and less unhelpfully unbalanced then the inquiry mandated by the UNHRC?” Burt said he hoped that international involvement in the inquiry would allow for that kind of balance.
MP Rupa Huq of the Labour Party said: “Are we just content to hold hands rather than hold anyone to account?” MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, also of the Labour party, took issue with the continual references to the Gaza border.
If it’s a border, than what state do the victims of Israel’s “latest shooting spree” belong to? Russell- Moyle asked.
“Will the UK recognize the state of Palestine and push for an independent investigation and not just a white-wash by one of the parties?” he asked.
Burt responded, “the UK will recognize the state of Palestine when it is conducive to the peace process. But if we are truly to find out what happened in Gaza, there must be a better option than that presented by the UNHRC last week.”