Lord "No Brain" piles in against Israel

Former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott used to be known as "Two-Jags", in reference to his penchant for fast cars while presenting himself as a working class hero. Now it's "No-Brain" Prescott with mindless and vile invective against Israel

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Jeremy Havardi
On 30 July 2014 08:38

A great deal of bile has been heaped on Israel during the last three weeks of the Gaza offensive. We have witnessed the usual torrent of hypocrisy, double standards and delegitimisation in The Guardian, The Independent, the BBC, Channel 4 News and a variety of other outlets.

The Daily Mirror too has entered the hall of infamy.

In a recent opinion piece in that paper, former Deputy Prime Minister and now Lord John Prescott has launched a withering condemnation of Israel's actions in Gaza, using the kind of language unworthy of a senior British politician.

He slams Operation Protective Edge as a 'war crime', and demands that it 'must end'. He engages his readers in a 'thought' experiment:

'Imagine a country claiming the lives of nearly three times as many as were lost in the MH17 plane tragedy in less than three weeks. A nation which blasted a hospital, shelled and killed children from a gunboat as they played football on the beach and was responsible for 1,000 deaths, at least 165 of them children, in just two weeks'. Such a country would be 'branded a pariah state, condemned by the United Nations, the US and the UK'.

Of course, the scenes of civilian suffering in Gaza are heartrending. Who does not feel pity for the child victims of this war, and for the innocents losing their homes and livelihoods? That much is not at issue.

But it is intellectually disingenuous to deny Hamas' role in causing such extensive death and damage. As Prescott accepts, Hamas terrorists chose to initiate this war with a heavily armed neighbour by firing a vast arsenal of rockets indiscriminately into Israel's main cities.

Millions of Israeli civilians have been forced into bomb shelters in terror, day after day, hour after hour. Such rocket fire with no military objective is a war crime, pure and simple.

That Israel has an Iron Dome system which 'easily intercepts missiles launched from Gaza' is beside the point. It is not up to Israel to decide how Hamas spends its money. Hamas could choose to build bomb shelters and a civilian defence infrastructure for its people. Instead, it has invested in rockets and tunnels of death. Perhaps John Prescott could take Ismail Haniyeh to task on this.

Then there is ample evidence, including that provided by Hamas spokesmen, of how the terrorists have repeatedly used their population as human shields, both to protect their weapons and to score a PR victory when civilians are killed.

Rockets have been stored and fired from schools, hospitals and residential neighbourhoods. That is another blatant war crime. If Navi Pillay can accept this, so can John Prescott.

Prescott gets to the nub of his argument by condemning Israel's actions as 'so brutally disproportionate and so grossly indiscriminate' that it becomes impossible not to view them as 'war crimes'. He adds: 'Of the 1,000-plus to die, more than 80 per cent were ­civilians, mostly women and children.'

Firstly, these casualty figures are highly contentious and rely on a disputed view of how to count civilians in this war zone. It would be far wiser to await an unbiased verdict once this conflict is over.

Secondly, the Israeli operations are hardly indiscriminate when the IAF has used surgical strikes to target military infrastructure and when multiple warnings are given to Gaza's residents prior to attacks. Prescott clearly implies that Israel has intentionally or recklessly killed civilians. But in the fog of war, operational errors can occur too, and it is wrongheaded to ignore this.

Yet thirdly, on no reading of international law is the inadvertent killing of civilians in Gaza an automatic breach of the laws of war. The rule on proportionality states that while no country is obliged to avoid killing any civilians in war, the loss of civilian life must not be "excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated."

Given that Israel's basic objective is to destroy the vast apparatus of terror in Gaza, the force used hardly appears excessive. According to Colonel Richard Kemp, the IDF has behaved in 'exemplary fashion' during Operation Protective Edge and no other army could be doing more to reduce civilian casualties. He should know, having spent 30 years in combat zones and having commanded British forces in Afghanistan.

But Prescott does not take a rational perspective on this issue. At one point, he describes Gaza as a 'concentration camp' and says that the atrocities suffered by the Jews in WW2 ought to give Israelis 'a unique sense of perspective and empathy with the victims of a ghetto'.

Why is a British politician making such a vile comparison between Nazi Germany and Israel? His government rightly introduced Holocaust Memorial Day to remind the world of the horrific Nazi genocide. Yet here is the former Deputy Prime Minister abusing the memory of the Holocaust, hurling it back at its victims in order to score cheap political points. It is a deplorable tactic.

If Mr Prescott wants to see the relevance of Nazism here, perhaps he should take a look at the odious Hamas Charter. Lest we forget, this document commits the fanatical Islamists to an unending war against Israel and to slaughtering Jews everywhere, while scorning the peace process as unIslamic. Yet the Charter does not merit a comment in his piece.

To be fair, Prescott does acknowledge Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas terror and he condemns the firing of rockets. But this counts for nothing when he blames Israel for the terrorism. He quotes Channel 4’s Jon Snow: “If you strangle a people, deny them supply for years, extreme reaction is inevitable". In other words, the blockade is the reason why Hamas terrorises Israelis.

But the blockade was not imposed on Gaza when Israel left the enclave in 2005. It was imposed, both by Egypt and Israel, only later when Hamas violently seized control of the Strip and continued to fire thousands of rockets at Israeli communities. If the blockade was removed, Hamas would import even more sophisticated Iranian weaponry, guaranteeing further rounds of bloodshed in the future.

Prescott calls for 'free and unfettered access for humanitarian aid and reconstruction materials'. But while humanitarian aid is essential, and is provided, reconstruction materials include cement, the very material used to build the Hamas tunnels. So, while a long term plan for economic development in Gaza is welcome, it would be hard to implement with Hamas in power.

The worst thing about Prescott's diatribe is its manifest hypocrisy. He was a key figure in the Labour government's decision to launch the 2003 war in Iraq. He will know that a vastly larger number of Iraqi combatants were killed compared to British troops. He will also know that tens of thousands of civilians died in this war, many the (accidental) victims of coalition action.

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of this conflict, who is he to lecture Israel on taking military action? Did he condemn the 'disproportionate' casualty count in Iraq or accuse the British army of war crimes when civilians were inadvertently attacked, in some cases because they were used as human shields? It is appalling that he can have such a moral blind spot.

Unlike his former boss, Tony Blair, John Prescott shows that he barely understands the dynamics of the Middle East conflict. Yet he does demonstrate that the demonisation of Israel, far from being a fringe phenomenon, is firmly part of the political mainstream.

Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton

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