George Galloway speaking on 'Middle East Crisis' 12 July 2002

Middle East Crisis: What should Britain do?

Speech by George Galloway, M.P. in Palmerston Room, John's College Cambridge, Friday 12 July 2002, organised by Campeace

[Editorial comments are in square brackets like this. For technical reasons approximately the first 30 seconds of his speech went unrecorded]

How very different the world was when Lord Palmerston bestrode Whitehall like a colossus, when if Johnny foreigner stepped out of line, a gun boat could be dispatched to the farthest points to pound the enemy into submission. If the Chinese didn't want to take any of our opium - interesting that David Blunkett's reopening the question this week - Chinese don't want our opium we'll pound them until they ingest it through every orifice and take Hong Kong off them as a punishment for their cheek. If foreign leaders didn't do what they were told, brand them as mad dogs and then overthrow them. How very different indeed the world was, when Lord Palmerston ruled the roost.

Now the title of this meeting, what can Britain do? is a very important question and I shall as the others have, advance some views about what Britain can do. But we cannot separate that question from what Britain has done and what Britain is doing. Because these are not abstract questions, but are utterly at the heart of the crises in the Middle East that we are discussing here this evening. Both Palestine and Iraq were ours. We ruled them. In the building in which I work, I walk past every day the room in which the foreign minister of one people, ours, promised a second people the land of a third people, without asking any of the three people concerned.

Mr. Balfour didn't ask the British if they wanted to be in on this act of original sin. The zionist movement to which Balfour promised the land was not only not hegemonic amongst world Jewry at the time, but was opposed by the vast majority of the Jews of the world at that time who were in the vanguard of socialist and communist and and trade union and other liberal and progressive opinion around the world and the last thing on their mind was to go and live in the Middle East as settlers. And of course the third people, the people whose land it was, were consulted last and least of all. And that original sin is the sin which has delivered all of the agony which has been suffered by the Palestinian people, one of the greatest crimes of the twentieth century which stretches now into the twenty first. And we are deeply complicit in it.

Of course our culpability didn't end when ministers no longer wore beards and top hats. Our culpability continues to this very week. As was said by the chair, this very week Jack Straw, implementing the ethical foreign policy of New Labour, admitted to the House of Commons in writing - didn't have the guts to face us in person - that we were breaking our own laws on arms sales to areas of conflict where those arms might be used in repression or aggression against others and were to sell through the United States cockpit apparatus for f16 fighter jets knowing, for the first time explicitly, that those jets would be used to bomb and shell and strafe a captive refugee population quite defenceless in the face of those attacks and utterly abandoned by the international community in defiance of the international community's international obligation to offer protection to refugees in what is legally occupied territory.

And so the mask not so much slipped but was wilfully taken off his own face. And why? Because, said Jack, our strategic relationship with the united states of america was such that it was unrealistic for us to withhold military parts which the Americans wanted to buy in order to give to their friends, the Israeli occupier. And the culpability doesn't end there. I want to tell you and show you a story about a very brave little boy.

You may have seen this picture, an AFP picture of a 14 year old boy in Gaza, as the poster says, confronting Goliath. his name Farris Odeh. Farris in Arabic means knight, a knight on a charger. This boy confronted this tank, this Goliath with a stone, was pictured in the newspapers and then was hunted down by the Israeli soldiers for two whole weeks who searched for him everywhere so they could find him and murder him. He died at 14 for throwing this stone at this tank and parts of that tank were made here in the United Kingdom and sold to the armed forces of General Ariel Sharon a convicted war criminal. And we have founded the Farris foundation to raise money for his family and for the families of other martyrs and we're selling these posters and the T shirts that go with them and my comrade [] wearing the [unclear] scarf there will be selling them at the end of the meeting by kind permission of the organisers at the stall and I hope that you will buy them because Farris and his family have no breadwinner. They live in a rancid refugee camp in Gaza - which was described so eloquently by the chairman - a rancid refugee camp of a million people the most densely concentrated civilian population in the world under absolute siege where no person from Gaza has stepped foot out of the Gaza strip for more than one year including the most eminent, including members of the Palestine national authority who are supposed to be doing something about the security situation in the region. They live in that camp without breadwinners without support. Seventy five percent of the people in Gaza have no income at all have not worked throughout this intifada. And so I hope that you will support us.

Britain is selling more weapons to General Sharon during the intifada than we have sold to any Israeli government in history. We've stepped up the arms sales and even more we're stepping up the arms purchases. Not only are we selling weapons to General Sharon, we're buying weapons from general sharon. I know this intimately because, if I may so, it's my parliamentary questioning that has revealed most of it. And I have an Early Day Motion on the order paper for the banning of British arms trading with sharon's Israel and 107 members of parliament have signed it and your member of parliament isn't one of them, that's another early day motion she hasn't been able to sign and I hope that you will do your best to make her and other parliamentarians in the region see the light.

We are intimately involved in this crime against the Palestinian people. We, as I say, offered it with the Balfour declaration, we presided over its implementation through the British mandate and then we ran away and handed the control of the area to united states of america and its zionist auxiliaries. We didn't do it because we liked Jews. As a matter of fact, Mr. Balfour was a notorious anti-semite. he wanted Jews to go, and live in Palestine or anywhere - Uganda was one canvassed site, Patagonia another - anywhere but here. We didn't do it even because we hated Arabs. Because from the time of lawrence of Arabia there have been many in the English ruling class who actually rather liked Arabs in the Bedouin way of life. We did it for a very simple reason which I'll [inaudible] you straight with the fable, Aesop's fable about the scorpion and the dog.

The scorpion, coming upon a raging river asks the dog if it can climb on his back and be swum to the other side. The dog looks sceptical and says "but if you get on my back you'll probably sting me and".. "Don't be stupid" says the scorpion "I want to get to the other side why would I do such a thing?" and he climbs on the dog's back and the dog takes him across the raging torrents and just as they reach the other side the dog feels the sting and begins to die and dying turns to the scorpion and asks "Why did you do that?" and the scorpion shrugs and answers "because I'm a scorpion".

We did what we did in Palestine because we were imperialists, because we were determined to maintain iron control over economic, political and social developments in the Arab world because even then we knew of its strategic importance - its strategic importance which has only grown with time, the discovery of oil and the dependence, the absolute dependence upon middle eastern oil of the western capitalist economies. And so we embarked upon a policy of keeping the Arabs divided and weak, breaking them up into mini states, plucking puppet presidents and corrupt kings to sit on the chairs and the thrones of those countries, even inventing countries where we had to, which had never existed before and the purpose of these mini states and their potentates utterly dependent on us was to keep the Arabs divided and weak so that they could never attain control over their own future, their destiny and the world which god had given them and ultimate arbiter of imperialist power in the middle east is Israel. That's why I say when people say to me american policy has been hijacked by the zionist lobby on the hill, america has to see that Israel is a strategic liability rather than a strategic asset. It's all nonsense. Of course the zionist movement is very well organised on Capitol Hill and no doubt that helps, but america supports Israel because Israel is the ultimate guarantor of imperialist control of the middle east, which can polish off any and all the Arab enemies, their armies their navies and their air forces in an afternoon, which sits - as you say - on a mountain of weapons of mass destruction. Chemical weapons, biological weapons that would make your hair curl and we know - thanks to the brave Jew Mordechai Vanunu, now into his eighteenth year of solitary confinement in Israeli jail for telling us - that Israel has hundreds, hundreds of nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them to any and all Arab capitals in moments from the press of a button. That's why we support Israel, not because we like Jews not because we hate Arabs but because we're determined to control the strategically important heights which the economies and the societies of the Arab world represent and the result I can tell you as someone intimately connected over many many years with that part of the world that the result is a swamp of bitterness and hatred and rage and alienation against us in all the Arab countries, indeed all the moslem countries. A swamp which breeds the mosquitoes which took off into the blue skies of the United States on September 11th last year and stung the American people so very badly. And instead of draining that swamp of hatred by addressing some of the grievances felt by these people we have embarked upon policies and actions which are intensifying every day the number of people who hate us and the intensity with which they hate us.

I said in the house of commons on the recall of parliament right after September 11th that - forgive me quoting myself - that if you embark upon an indiscriminate attack on the poorest people in the poorest country in the world, Afghanistan - people by the way beggared in the first place by your support for the islamist obscurantists of bin ladenism against the socialist government which ruled in Afghanistan before that dark night - if you embark upon such an attack you may kill - as a matter of fact I was wrong they didn't - you may kill one bin laden but you will make ten thousand bin Ladens rise in his stead. Well they didn't kill him. They did launch a savage indiscriminate attack which is continuing to this day. An attack which reigns death on wedding parties, which massacres civilians living in mud houses ragged, hungry, [inaudible] poor people bombed from on high by technology they cannot even begin to imagine. And did they make ten thousand bin Ladens? They made ten thousand bin Ladens in every city in Afghanistan never mind the bin Ladens they've created in the minds of the 1.3 billion moslems around the world.

Did we address the issue which is at the very heart of that bitterness and rage? The issue of Palestine. Did we do anything to lighten the burden of the Palestinians living now decade after decade under occupation. No. Since September 11th sharon has launched a rampage in the occupied territories. I recently returned from Jenin where in a refugee camp one kilometre square 15,000 families have lived for 50 years, most of them from Haifa, a beautiful city, a shining city on the coast, which on a clear day, the refugees in the camp could see, could see their town, could see their lands could see their orange trees in which the occupier now lived, the occupier who had come from New York or London or Warsaw or Moscow, taken their house their land their trees, imprisoned them in a small, foul refugee camp and what happened the people who had kept them for 50 years in that refugee camp then massacred them over the Easter weekend of this year. The United Nations security council passed a resolution demanding the access of a fact finding mission, inspectors, no less, to go in to the refugee camp in Jenin and see what had happened there. Sharon told them to go and get stuffed. What did they do? They promptly went and stuffed themselves, disbanded their mission, packed their tents and went home. Anyone anywhere do you hear them demand the access of these inspectors to the refugee camp in Jenin where yesterday another small massacre of several Palestinian including an eminent Palestinian journalist took place. just in the last 24 hours. Sharon's rampage in territories has slaughtered hundreds, imprisoned thousands including some of the most important political leaders of the nationalist wing of the Palestinian resistance like mustafo sorry like Marwan Barghouti who they announced yesterday they intend to put on trial.

And what about Iraq? When bin Laden in his first video from a cave after September 11th highlighted the areas which he was cleverly, assiduously milking for the rage and bitterness I'm talking about he talked about Palestine and he talked about Iraq he said America will never have peace as long as the Palestinian people don't have justice. America will never have peace as long as the Iraqi children are being slaughtered by sanction and by war. He knew that the powerful in the west didn't care about the suffering of the Palestinian and the Iraqi children but he also knew that the moslem people did. And that's why he fired those darts, so cleverly in a video which had enormous impact across the Islamic world.

Have we done anything to minimise or lessen the suffering of the Iraqis since September 11th? As the chairman eloquently told you, far from planning on killing fewer Iraqi children, they're burning the midnight oil coming up with plans to murder far far more of them. The New York Times last Friday told us the scale of it. An invasion of an Arab moslem country while Palestine is in flames, while Afghanistan is in flames, by a quarter of a million western crusader army, preceded by 60 days and nights of massive aerial bombardment. One thousand air sorties a day for 60 days. Sixty thousand bombing missions of a country that is already in ruins and where a child dies every six minutes because of the punishment that the country has already taken. I know Iraq well now. I tell you I cannot begin to imagine what kind of targets there could be standing after 6 days let alone sixty of that level of bombardment. They intend to reduce Iraq to ashes so that their quarter of a million crusaders can go in without opposition. The New York Times even helpfully told us which countries alongside ruled by their puppet kings and corrupt presidents would be used as the military bases for this frenzied, crazed assault. One of them is one of the countries I talked about earlier a country that never existed that was invented by the British called Jordan. which was given a king who lost his job of king of Arabia and as a consolation prize was placed on the throne of a new country we created called Jordan. 65% of the Jordanian people are Palestinian. Many of the others and most of them live lives of absolute poverty and despair. And I warn here tonight as i did on the radio this morning there'll be nothing called Jordan they better buy a house for the dwarf who reigns there now because if this attack on Iraq takes place from Jordan, there will be no Jordan at the end of it. The explosion in that and other Arab countries complicit in this crime will be of earthquake proportions and the imperialists better know that if they turn Iraq the cradle of civilisation into a desert they may succeed in achieving regime change in Baghdad but it will not be the only regime change and the earthquake which it will trigger will reverberate as you said John for many years indeed generations to come.

The question is what is to be done? As always. Well Britain, though a country complicit in many crimes, is also a country with many fine people in it, who are not fools and one of the most inspiring periods in my life in British politics has been the period since September 11th when a great mass movement against the war, the un-ending war, has been built time after time a hundred thousand people have taken to the streets of London and filled Trafalgar Square to state not in my name, to call for justice not war, to demand and end to the endless war. Not only have the numbers been huge, but the consciousness and the understanding of the people crystal clear. We now have an anti-war movement in this country which understands these issues very clearly and is not going away and the reason 161 of my parliamentary colleagues have now signed the motion against the war on Iraq is because of the anti-war movement in the country. They didn't sign before, and they wouldn't have signed unless, that movement had shaken the ground underneath their feet. And that's our first victory. We made 15 or 20 usual suspects into 161 members of parliament, sadly as I say not including, yet, your own. That mass movement which has developed in this country is now a material political factor in the decisions that the government will make. You may have noticed that from last Friday until this Friday in the words of Conan Doyle, the dog that did not bark was the British poodle. Not a word from Downing Street about the New York Times war plan. No spinners out there preparing us for our joining the invasion because they know that the labour party the parliament and the country will be split from top to bottom if such a decision is made. If we contribute our 25,000 to that quarter of a million which is what they 're demanding things will never be the same for Tony Blair in British politics again. If we enter that bloodbath and are stained in it things will never be the same in Labour politics again so the first thing to be done is to strengthen and build the anti-war movement in this country that means to be active with Campeace in Cambridge and it means to be on the streets of London on the 28th September for the next great national demonstration where that hundred thousand has to be hundreds of thousands. And that demonstration is the day before the British Labour party conference begins in Blackpool. If we have those delegates going to Blackpool with the cry of hundreds of thousands in their ears against the war, believe me we'll make a major political impact on the deliberations of the ruling party at that conference.

And we have to show our solidarity with the Palestinian people too. We have to stop selling weapons to Israel and we've got to stop buying goods from Israel we have to boycott Israeli products, Israeli goods, Israeli institutions have to be boycotted. It's not easy, sometimes leads to hard choices but they have to be made. No self-respecting civilised person would have bought apartheid products from South Africa when white racism ruled and Mandela was incarcerated in a dungeon on roman island and no self respecting civilised person should be buying Israeli products while Barghouti is rotting in an Israeli dungeon and whilst the Palestinian people are imprisoned in their millions.

There's a code, what is it []? 729 on the barcode means that it came from Israel. Sometimes they say its made in Israel, sometimes they don't but 729 is the give away. No one should buy any products marked 729 from this point onwards. Neither should they and it goes without saying be sunning themselves in Elat whilst the Palestinians are on their Calvary under occupation. No-one should be going on academic conferences which are a cover for legitimatising the occupation in Israel. No-one should be inviting Israeli academics any more than they would have invited apartheid academics to attend conventions and conferences here in this country. We have to establish in the public's mind that Israeli apartheid is every bit as abhorrent as south African apartheid was. We have a lot to do, we have little time to do it.

If the disaster overwhelms us, if the Palestinians are drowned in blood and expelled - as the [inaudible] said they may very well be - in their hundreds of thousands; if you wake up on morning soon to hear on the Today program, to hear that yasser arafat has been killed in his compound in Ramallah while resisting an attempt by Israel to deport him, ask yourself how safe you're going to sleep in your beds in the western world thereafter. If you wake up to the Today program telling you that the invasion of Iraq has begun, ask yourself how safe we in the western world are going to be thereafter. I tell you if it happens and if there are flames from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush, if there are flames from the Tora Bora to the Negev, none of us will ever be safe again. The bitterness and hatred and rage that we have seen and which the American people tasted so bitterly on September 11th will be nothing as to the deluge which will follow.

[ Audience questions followed. See "Related" below ]

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