'Gaza blockade bred radicals'

Departing British ambassador explains UK PM's criticisms of Israel.

tom phililps 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
tom phililps 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Elaborating on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s criticisms of Israel’s Gaza policies, the outgoing British Ambassador to Israel, Sir Tom Phillips, has told The Jerusalem Post that Israel needs to do more to help revive the Gaza economy, and that the Israeli blockade policy was counterproductive. “It was breeding radicalism,” he said.
Israel drove Gaza “into a Hamas-controlled tunnel economy, and the Palestinian Gaza private sector has been almost completely destroyed,” Phillips said in a farewell interview on Wednesday. “Young boys on the streets [have had] no role models apart from the Hamas guy in the black shiny uniform on the street corner.”
RELATED:Opinion: Drifting away from Israel'Gaza cannot remain a prison camp'Added Phillips, “Although one understood all the political pressures that were leading Israel to that situation, the fact is, it was causing significant humanitarian concerns. Also it was creating, in psychological terms, another generation of people that are not going to feel that friendly about Israel.”
Phillips was speaking a day after Cameron, on a visit to Turkey, described Gaza as a “prison camp,” and insisted that “the situation in Gaza has to change.”
The prime minister also renewed British criticism of the “unacceptable” Gaza flotilla “attack.”
Cameron’s comments drew condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League, which expressed “surprise and disappointment” at what it called the British prime minister’s resort “to the same kind of inflammatory rhetoric that has been used by Israel’s enemies to describe the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”
The British Zionist Federation described his remarks as an “assault on Israel” and urged its supporters to write to their local members of Parliament to complain.
“The description of Gaza as a ‘prison camp’ is misleading,” it said, in a press release labeled “Is David Cameron a friend of Israel?” It noted: “Earlier this year a new Olympic-size swimming pool was opened in Gaza.
Last week a new shopping center was opened. Shops and stalls are brimming with goods. Fancy restaurants are flourishing. The standard of living is higher in Gaza than in Turkey.”
As for the description of Israel’s action in relation to the flotilla bound for Gaza as an “attack,” the ZF retorted: “Israeli forces boarded the boats without any intention of damaging them or injuring their passengers, but were viciously beaten with iron bars and bats, stabbed with knives, shot at with guns, thrown over the edge of the deck and had their wounds gouged out in a bestial display.”
Phillips told the Post that Cameron’s comments in Turkey “were not new language. He’s used language along pretty much the same lines in the House of Commons in the past.”
The ambassador added: “It doesn’t mean that we don’t welcome the steps Israel has taken to relax access to Gaza, which we do very much welcome. We think more can be done.”
He praised “the shift” Israel had approved from a ban on all but “120-odd limited items” going into Gaza. “But we think the number of trucks going in could be increased quite substantially,” he said. “And in the end there’s got to be some more allowance for Palestinian exports as well. We accept that all of this has got to be consistent with Israel’s security concerns.”
Phillips, who will shortly be taking up his new appointment as Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, also noted that Cameron, in Turkey, urged “both Israel and Turkey to stay friends. We do see that as very important in the region.”
And he stressed that Britain was “not trying to say that Hamas has no responsibility for what is happening in Gaza. We’ve been clear about that. We’ve also been very clear that we want ICRC access to [Gilad] Schalit and we want Gilad out unconditionally.”
Phillips also noted that Britain last week announced moves to close the “universal jurisdiction” legal loophole that has left Israeli military and political leaders vulnerable to arrest in the UK for alleged war crimes, that the UK was “extremely active on the Iran sanctions front in the UN and the EU,” and indicated that Britain’s position on a probe into the flotilla incident was quite general: “There should be an investigation into what exactly led to that, and there can be many aspects to it,” he said.