I am a big fan of Stephen Sackur, the host of BBC’s HardTalk program. He’s an intelligent interviewer who does his homework. And while he is not hellbent on completely humiliating and destroying anyone who tries to give a bullshit answer to a straight question the way Jeremy Paxman is, Sackur really doesn’t let his guests get away either with any tricks or evasive tactics.
In the latest episode of HardTalk, the guest is Israeli ambassador to London, Ron Prosor. It is another great interview, and can be found on the BBC’s website. After somewhat benign start the interview really kicks into the gear at the beginning of part 2 and then touches upon some very important issues indeed. First of all I should say that, given the circumstances, it wasn’t a bad performance by Ron Prosor at all. He was about as straightforward and honest as could be expected that a top level Israeli diplomat can be when discussing the matters that he did. In some cases, he was actually VERY straightforward – and those are the places that in my opinion merit a very close attention.
Although I do agree that it is important to take a stand in the current conflict and demand for killing the civilians to stop, in terms of helping the Palestinian population of Gaza or ensuring that such things wouldn’t happen again, I am afraid that this is only marginally helpful. When asked about how does Israel feel about the mounting public pressure and the fact that pretty much every other government apart from the US has demanded them to stop shooting now, ambassador Prosor responds: ‘This is not a “how we look”, it’s a question of a country, and a nation, standing up and saying /…/: “enough is enough”.’
I actually agree that Israel cannot stand idle – over the last seven years they have faced certainly thousands, if not tens of thousands (depending on what you count as a separate incident) attacks on their civilian population. The question is how do they react. And this is where Stephen Sackur’s question on whether he ambassador is confident that Israel is not at odds with what the International War Crimes Tribunal has defined as war crimes, specifically with the article 3 of Tribunal’s statutes that reads: ‘attack, or bombardment, by whatever means, of undefended towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings’, led to what I believe is the key part of the whole interview. While Ron Prosor agreed (after being pushed by Sackur) that Israeli government is to be held to higher standards than (a supposedly terrorist organisation) Hamas in how it conducts itself with respect of civilians, he plainly pointed out that they should NOT be held to any higher standards than the armies of countries such as the UK and United States. Also, when responding to a question why doesn’t Israel allow foreign journalists to enter the war zone – with the official reason voiced by the head of Israel’s government press office, Danny Seaman, being that ‘Foreign journalists are “unprofessional” and take “questionable reports at face value without checking”‘ – ambassador Prosor again pointed on the fact that journalists’ access was similarly limited in Iraq, Afghanistan and Faulklands conflict.
And then comes the final harrowing point. When Sackur asks about whether Israel will allow, once the shooting stops, a full independent investigation into the actions of the Israel’s army during the conflict, ambassador Prosor, while avoiding the direct answer, leaves no doubt that this will not be forthcoming, pointing again at how the killing of 30,000 Taleban militants with less than 200 UK military casualties in Afghanistan didn’t merit an investigation.
And this is where the buck stops. Given that it takes weeks if not months of political and diplomatic process to reach an agreement – and this is especially true in case of Israel that enjoys de facto military and diplomatic shield of the United States – and even more before any Western country is able to actually intervene, it is all pretty useless for people caught up in the conflict. As Rwanda showed, you can kill almost a million people with matchetes within a couple of weeks, so for any modern army a week or two that it takes for the public opinion and political pressure to build up is plenty of time to do whatever they want to do. And like ambassador Prosor plainly said, they are not overly concerned how do they look. The only way to deter people shooting at schools with tanks is to make it sure that those taking decisions will know that they will be held accountable for whatever they decide. As long as there remain some people who will not, there will remain people who are liable getting hit by an artillery shell in their home. And unfortunately this means that we will first have to apply the same rules to ourselves.
If we don’t do that, we don’t really care about Palestine.