Saturday, 9 January 2010

Scottish trade visit to Israel: an exchange with SDI

Scottish Development International are planning a trade mission to Israel (10 - 15 January 2010). The news will come as cold comfort to struggling Palestinians, particularly those enduring primitive hardships inside Gaza. It will also disgust many people here in Scotland, averse to the notion that trade with an apartheid state should come before humanitarian support for an occupied and brutalised people.

I wrote to SDI requesting an explanation.


Dear Elaine Philip

I've been reading the web page regarding SDI's planned visit to Israel.

I find it deeply disturbing that a Scottish government-backed body could even countenance such a 'mission' when Israel continues its illegal occupation and Gaza lies in ruins, its 1.5 million people victim to a merciless economic and humanitarian siege.

The First Minister and many of his government have proclaimed their open support and sympathy for suffering Palestinians, condemning Israel's occupation and the mass murder of over 1400 Gazans this time last year. The SDI's visit goes against the very grain of that humanitarian position.

You will also be aware of the recent Goldstone report (ratified by the UN General Assembly) into these events, concluding that there's an overwhelming case to indict Israel for war crimes.

Following its own exhaustive visit to Palestine and Israel, the STUC has also formally endorsed the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) policy, convinced of the need to counter Israel's apartheid treatment of Palestinians.

I note the SDI's ambitions to develop trade links with Israel's "life sciences" sector. That's a dark, ugly irony given the Israeli state's massive concentration on death sciences; a military-R&D-driven economy that's using Gaza as a human laboratory to deploy new lethal weaponry, including the illegal use of white phosphorous on innocent civilians in Gaza.

All this has been forensically recorded in the Goldstone document, as well as Amnesty International and International Red Cross on-the-ground reports.

For all these reasons, any proposed SDI trade relations with Israel is to be utterly condemned. I'm sure many Scottish people would be appalled to learn that they are paying for such a delegation.

In the name of humanity, please give your most urgent consideration to Israel's criminal violations of international law and cancel the visit.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley
For Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign

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Dear John

I acknowledge receipt of your email. I will ensure your comments, together with others received both for and against the planned trade mission, are passed to relevant members of staff.

Regards

Elaine

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Dear Elaine

Thanks for your reply. The main point of my mail, aside from stating our objections to the visit, was to elicit a specific explanatory response. I'd be pleased if you could ensure this is forthcoming.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley
For Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign

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Dear Mr Hilley

Thank you for your message about the trade mission to Israel arranged by Scottish Development International (SDI) as part of its planned programme of trade missions overseas.

This mission is being organised in partnership with UK Trade and Investment. Its purpose is consistent with all international work undertaken by SDI, which is to assist Scottish companies in developing links to secure new investment and jobs into Scotland by increasing their overseas markets. The Scottish Government and SDI supports a number of trade related missions to the Middle East. For example, last October SDI visited the United Arab Emirates.

with best regards

Anne MacColl
Scottish Development International

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Dear Anne

Thanks for responding.

With respect, that's a complete evasion of the questions I put to SDI regarding the moral and legal standing of this visit. It's further lamentable that you attempt to legitimise SDI's involvement through association with UK-level trade and investment bodies. The complicit promotions of an Israel-friendly British government suggests no similar onus on their Scottish counterparts.

While your delegation prepares to be feted in Tel Aviv, the people of Gaza are, again, being bombed and murdered by Israeli forces. Israel continues to block basic food, medicines and essential fuel supplies from crossing any of Gaza's entry points. Despite new UK trading standard directives, illegal Israeli settlements are labelling produce for export as 'West Bank', further strangling what passes for a Palestinian 'economy'. Meanwhile, Tzipi Livni, senior Israeli army officers and other planners of the Cast Lead attacks have cancelled visits to the UK fearing arrest over war crimes. Is this really an appropriate state to be conducting favourable trade links with?

Moreover, your assertion that the Scottish Government supports various Middle East trade missions takes no account of that same government's recorded denunciations of Israel's illegal occupation and criminality in Gaza.

Have you stopped to consider that in cultivating Israel in order "to secure new investment and jobs into Scotland", the SDI is helping to legitimise its occupation-based economy, thus prolonging the political impasse and giving a green light to more Palestinian suffering? Are these supposed trade openings for Scottish companies more important than human lives and the growing global effort to make Israel abide by UN resolutions and international law?

Again, I request your specific consideration of the following with regard to SDI's visit:

The Goldstone report's conclusions on Israel's pre-planned attack on Gaza and its illegal economic siege.

The STUC's BDS policy, based on an extensive study of Israel's military, economic and human rights violations.

The evidence of Israeli apartheid, as presented by UN Rapporteur Richard Falk and other notable international figures.

I look forward to your more considered response on these matters.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley
For Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign

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A further exchange (11 January 2010):

Dear Mr Hilley

thanks for your return message.

In addition to my comments from my message to you on Friday, the position from the Scottish Government position regarding the situation in Gaza is very clear and the Deputy First Minister announced a package of humanitarian aid last year. The Scottish Ministers strongly believe that, in the longer term, only engagement and dialogue leading to a two state solution, based on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the need for a safe and secure Israel and Palestine, can form the basis of a lasting peace in the Middle East.

best regards

Anne MacColl
EMEA Operations DIrector, Scottish Development International


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Dear Anne

Thanks for your further response.

Yes, I'm very aware of the humanitarian package and some Scottish ministers' concerns. But why should this be presented as some kind of mitigating argument for the SDI's trade visit?

The desire for "engagement and dialogue" is all very noble, but these 'well-intentioned' calls mean precisely nothing to a state zealously intent on maintaining its illegal occupation, murderous attacks and apartheid persecutions. How convenient to hide the imperatives of business and profit behind such ersatz peace talk.

The actual point of trade-related action - as with trade sanctions against South Africa - is to help push the principal aggressor party towards that very position of serious, engaged dialogue. Continuing to build and normalise trade and political relations only serves to legitimise the aggressor's behaviour, further negating any prospect of a just negotiation. The SDI is, thus, serving to intensify the problem, not diminish it.

The "need for a safe and secure Israel and Palestine" also falls into that same 'two sides to blame' cliche-speak so redolent of 'sensible business'. And it's always telling to see Israel's 'safety and security' noted first in such sentences.

There wiil be no just and durable peace in the Middle East until Israel's mass criminality is seriously challenged and checked by the 'respectable international community' of which SDI apparently forms a part. In its determination to forge closer ties with Israel, the SDI is, in effect, a complicit party to ongoing Palestinian suffering.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley
For Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign
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Scottish Parliamentary motion proposed by Sandra White (SNP) MSP:

S3M-05463 Sandra White (Glasgow) (Scottish National Party): Scottish Development International Trade Mission to Israel— That the Parliament notes with concern the proposed trade mission on 10 to 15 January 2010 organised by Scottish Development International (SDI) to Israel, a state that is currently in contravention of numerous United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions and stands accused of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the Gaza conflict, amounting to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity; notes that this trade mission was postponed in January 2009 after advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the wake of Israel’s December 2008 offensive, and, while welcoming the Scottish Government’s clear position on the situation in Gaza and the substantial package of humanitarian aid announced last year by the Deputy First Minister, urges SDI to reconsider its current stance while Israel continues to flout international law and stands accused of possible crimes against humanity.

Supported by: Patrick Harvie, Hugh O'Donnell, Bill Kidd, Christine Grahame, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Robin Harper, Dr Bill Wilson, Aileen Campbell, Mike Pringle, Elaine Smith, Hugh Henry, Angela Constance, Anne McLaughlin

Lodged on Thursday, January 07, 2010; Current
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John

5 comments:

Rory Winter said...

Following your original alert about this on Medialens I wrote to Elaine Philip, First Minister Alex Salmond and my MSP, Stewart Stevenson, protesting the proposed visit.

So far I have had only one reply, from Stewart Stevenson, who said that he had raised the matter on my behalf with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Stuart Littlewood said...

What a shocking, dismissive and deeply ignorant response from Anne McColl. Where do they find these people?

I wrote to Salmond a week ago and have heard nothing.

joe90 kane said...

As always Zenpolitics,
great post and great work.

Osama Saeed (SNP Westminster candidate or Glasgow Central constituency) has written about this here -
Scottish trade mission to Israel
Rolled-up Trousers blog
08 Jan 2010

Margaret Pacetta of GPHRC has left some comments on Osama's Facebook here -
Osama Saeed: Scottish trade mission to Israel
08 Jan 2010

all the best

biowrite said...

More MSPs have since signed the motion. On 12 January the signatories were: Patrick Harvie, Hugh O'Donnell, Bill Kidd, Christine Grahame, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Robin Harper, Dr Bill Wilson, Aileen Campbell, Mike Pringle, Elaine Smith, Hugh Henry, Angela Constance, Anne McLaughlin.

John Hilley said...

Thanks for all the above comments and links. I've updated the list of those signing Sandra White's motion and added a further exchange with Anne MacColl.

Cheers

John