Here's the latest responses from Tom Harris MP and Foreign Office spokesman Ivan Lewis to my enquiry regarding the kidnapping of international peace activists from the Gaza-bound aid boat Spirit of Humanity.
17 August 2009
Dear Mr Hilley
Further to our previous correspondence I have now received a response from the FCO which I have enclosed for your records.
I hope that this is of some use.
Member of Parliament for Glasgow South
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
London SW1A 2AH
From the Minister of State
17 July 2009
Tom Harris Esq MP
House of Commons
Thank you for your letter of 10 July to the Foreign Secretary on behalf of your constituent Mr John Hilley of [address] about the Free Gaza Movement and the Spirit of Humanity. I am replying as Minister responsible for our relations with the Middle East.
The Israeli Navy took control of the Spirit of Humanity on 30 June, diverting it to Ashdod port in Israel. All those on board, including six British nationals were handed over to Israeli immigration officials. British consular officials had good access to the British detainees and established that they were treated well. The Israeli authorities deported the detainees on 6 July.
The Foreign Secretary said in the House of Commons on 30 June that it was "vital that all states respect international law, including the law of the sea. It is also important to say that we deplore the interference by the Israeli navy in the activities of Gazan fishermen." When the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Israeli Foreign Secretary , Avigdor Lieberman, on 1 July he raised the issue with Mr Lieberman and asked for clarification about whether or not the Spirit of Humanity had been intercepted in international waters. We will continue to press the Israeli authorities for clarification.
We regularly remind the Israeli government of its obligations under international law on a variety of issues, including with respect to humanitarian access to Gaza as well as Israel's control of Gazan waters and the effect this has on Gaza's fishing industry. The UK has been unequivocal in its calls for Israel to lessen its restrictions at the Gaza crossings, allowing the legitimate flow of humanitarian aid, trade and reconstruction goods and the movement of people. This is essential not only for the people of Gaza, but also for the wider stability of the region.
I should also point out that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice makes it clear that we advise against all travel to Gaza, including its offshore waters. It is reckless to travel to Gaza at this time and medical and other essential specialist staff needing to travel to Gaza should coordinate their entry to Gaza with the major international humanitarian organisations already on the ground. Our Embassy in Tel Aviv and our Consulate-General in Jerusalem have also similarly advised those wishing to deliver humanitarian assistance to Gaza to do so through existing humanitarian organisations, which can advise, particularly with regard to medicines, on which items if any are currently required.
I hope this addresses your constituent's concerns.
I sent the following response via Tom Harris.
Dear Mr Harris
Thank you for your letter of 19 August. It conveys two immediate truths to me: firstly, your own very obvious and continued refusal to castigate Israel over this and other humanitarian crimes; and, secondly, the hypocritical posturing of the UK Foreign Office in failing to seriously question and pursue Israel over these consistent violations.
Some points from Mr Lewis's letter:
1. The British detainees were not, in fact, treated well by the Israeli authorities. They were roughly abducted from the boat and held in unsatisfactory conditions. The FCO might also, for humanitarian purposes, take notice of the much harsher incarceration of Palestinians locked up beside them in Ramle prison, many indefinitely and for no obvious reason.
2. One wonders why the UK required "clarification" from Israel over the position of the Spirit of Humanity. It should have been well understood that it was sailing legally in internationally-recognised waters. I'd like to know what further responses the FCO have received in its apparent efforts to "press the Israeli authorities for clarification."
3. I'd also like to know more about the "regular reminders" being made to Israel regarding the free movement of aid and people in and out of Gaza. More particularly, what practical action is the UK prepared to take in order to help effect such movement? Or should deprived, traumatised and hungry people in Gaza just be quietly placated by the UK's 'diplomatic concerns'?
4. Isn't it typical of Britain's shameful posturing to call such courageous and moral voyagers "reckless" in their endeavours to bring humanitarian relief to Gaza? Beyond the protocols of travel advice, wouldn't it be more worthy to say something positive and encouraging about people who have undertaken such admirable actions in an effort to help end this illegal and wicked siege?
Again, as with your own silence on the matter, Mr Lewis's hand-wringing and official-speak tells us all we need to know about this government's ongoing complicity in Palestinian suffering. Perhaps if all those Labour Friends of Israel were to go to Gaza themselves and witness Israel's gross brutality, they might be a little more willing to challenge the perpetrators with appropriate words and action.
After posting the above, I received this from Joe Sucksmith at the Media Lens message board.
I received the same response (word for word), via my MP, on the 28th July. I fired off a brief reply a week later as follows... but have received nothing further.
FAO: Ivan Lewis
Dear Mr Lewis,
You said in your letter (attached) that you would "continue to press the Israeli authorities for clarification" regarding "whether or not the Spirit of Humanity had been intercepted in international waters". Have you received a response from the Israelis yet? It ought to be possible to obtain this "clarification" in one phone-call, so I'd be happy to oblige if you've yet to find a spare moment.
You might also be interested to hear that I recently spoke to one of the British nationals who was aboard the Humanity and subsequently kidnapped by the Israelis, Mr Adie Mormech. Adie was able to confirm that the Humanity was indeed within international waters when it was intercepted, and furthermore that the Israeli Navy shut down the Humanity's GPS and other navigational aids, remotely, just prior to boarding... something which, I'm sure you'd agree, equates - formally - to piracy.
I'd be grateful if you could acknowledge receipt of this email, and I look forward to your considered response as soon as practicable.
Again, its this type of standard denial and refusal to answer the detailed questions posed which allows such crimes to continue.