The land of the Bible may be nearer the Equator than Blackburn, but don’t be misled by the travel advertisements for places like Sharm el Sheik.
The Middle East can be cold, wet and thoroughly miserable. Hence, one of my indelible recollections from my time as British Foreign Secretary – a day of truly dreadful weather.
This was on the border crossing between Israel and the West Bank of the Palestinian Occupied Territories, near the city of Ramallah.
There was no bloodshed that I witnessed that day. Just people queuing in the rain to cross the border.
All very ordinary but for the fact that the Israeli authorities made no disguise that they had ‘organised’ the crossing in a way designed to maximise the humiliation of and delays endured by the Palestinians.
There was no shelter from the rain; no tarmac. None of this was remotely necessary. Indeed co-operation from the Palestinians would have been that much better if the Israelis had treated them with even a modicum of respect and dignity.
But that was not on the agenda.
The right of the Jewish people to have their own State was first promised by the British Government (with responsibility for the area) in 1917, towards the end of the First World War.
Israel was formally recognised by the United Nations after the Second World War. Few these days argue about that. Not least because it suffered quite the worst single human atrocity in human history – the Holocaust (at the hands, it is well to remember, of fellow “civilised” Europeans), Israel has a right to live in peace and security.
But it does not have a right to prevent millions of Palestinians from doing likewise; nor does it have any right unlawfully to take Palestinian homes and farms in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Above all it has no right to take the law into its own hands as it did on Monday to intercept a ship carrying humanitarian supplies in international water, kill some of those on board and take the rest into custody.
Israel has correctly been condemned by the UN Security Council for this action.
Israel probably judges that if they “tough” this out, as they have similar incidents in the past, the world’s attention will move away from them. I hope that they are wrong, for the strategic, as well as the humanitarian consequences of Israel’s actions are far reaching.
This aid convoy was organised by a Turkish charity.
The attack on it has been seen as an attack on the Turkish people, and state. We in the west have every interest – as I sought to do in opening EU negotiations with Turkey – to have it face west, not east; but this task is now made more difficult.
What makes Israel’s action doubly short-sighted is that it damages the longer-term interests of Israel itself. It can only sustain its security if it starts treating others in its neighbourhood with greater humanity.