Thursday, 8 May 2003

Israel's responsibility

Britons' deaths must be fully explained

Jack Straw was quick to offer full cooperation to Israel after last week's fatal suicide bombing by two British men in Tel Aviv. The foreign secretary reiterated his pledge in the Commons on Tuesday and offered the "British people's condolences for the death of those Israeli citizens". Mr Straw's statements were only right and proper. So it is surely also only right and proper that Israel show similar consideration by cooperating with Britain in concluding inquiries into the killing by the Israeli army of two Britons, Iain Hook and James Miller, in the West Bank and Gaza, and the serious wounding of a third, Tom Hurndall. Mr Hook died in Jenin last November but, despite an earlier promise, Israel has yet to provide a full explanation of what happened or who was to blame. Nor, according to Mr Hook's family, has it admitted its mistake or expressed its condolences. A similar lack of urgency, easily confused with a lack of concern, characterises Israel's approach to the shootings of Mr Miller and Mr Hurndall. This is not acceptable. Israel has a responsibility to account fully for its soldiers' actions in these cases.

Mr Straw, likewise, has a duty to insist on candid explanations without delay, even if that means more friction with the Israeli government. He should also explicitly reject any attempt by Israel to use British connections to terrorism in Israel to prevent the Palestinians' foreign supporters from travelling to the occupied territories or to smear brave, independent peace activists by linking them to anti-Israeli violence. Britain's political relations with Israel are undoubtedly under strain at present. Ariel Sharon resents Tony Blair's determined efforts to promote the new peace "road map". Both Mr Straw and Mr Blair's envoy, Lord Levy, have been slapped down in the past for interfering. Mr Sharon tried to scupper a London conference on Palestinian reform; now stray, repulsive whiffs of anti-semitism inflame matters further.

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