We're not normally called upon to justify a decision to travel abroad. Few people would challenge me if I were visiting China, despite that country’s appalling human rights record, repression of free speech, and colonisation of Tibet. If I was travelling to America, even though Predator drones kill hundreds of innocent people each year, and even though Guantanamo Bay still holds 154 detainees, nobody would complain.
Would we, perhaps, be tempted to react as we did when the IRA were terrorising the streets of London? Would we reprise the British Army’s Operation Demetrius of 1971, which allegedly included detention without trial, beating, starving, hooding for long periods, harassment with dogs, placing nooses around prisoners’ necks, forcible head shaving, denying prisoners clothes, forcing them to run barefoot behind Army vehicles, burning them with cigarettes, dragging them by the hair and pressing guns to their heads? Would Bloody Sunday, in which 26 protesters and bystanders were shot by British paratroopers, happen again?
These examples are particularly relevant when you consider the geographical, topographical and historical context in which Israel exists. The Jewish state is roughly the size of Wales, with a ridge of high ground running along the middle of the West Bank. If Britain were surrounded by hostile neighbours at such close proximity, some of which contained terror groups bent on the destruction of the country, would we be doing any better? And would a fearful British public be outraged at the Army’s brutality? Or relieved that it was keeping us safe?
It is significant that a man who knows war, Colonel Richard Kemp – the former commander of Britain’s armed forces in Afghanistan testified to the UN Human Rights Council that the Israeli military does “more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare”. It is right that every instance of military abuse should be treated gravely. But this does not justify a boycott.