Twisting UK Law to Criminalize Dissent on Palestine

Craig Murray denounces the U.K.’s persecution of Richard Barnard for calling out his country’s role in the manufacture of instruments for the death and maiming of Palestinians. 

Matam high-tech park in Haifa, Israel, where military manufacturer Elbit Systems has one of the buildings in the foreground. (Zvi Roger, Haifa Municipality, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Craig Murray

Once you have been active in politics for a few decades, you get used to the popular convulsions of support for Palestine every few years when Israel military action against Gaza becomes particularly intense. Then follows a ceasefire, the media move on and Israel resumes the daily routine of low-level evictions, destruction of tree crops, imprisonments and murders that accomplishes the gradual extinction of the territories that the Western powers pretended to intend for a Palestinian state.

For the media, 50 Palestinian children killed in a week has been a story. The regular killing of 50 a year is not; and anybody who thinks it is must be labeled an anti-Semite and hounded from political life.

As a young man, the two great injustices we campaigned on were South Africa and Palestine. I never dreamt the latter abuse would possibly outlast me. These two issues resonated so much because they were both remnants of European colonial arrogance, founded on racism and a sense of cultural superiority.

Nowadays I cannot even think myself into a mindset that says that for the greater good of the United Kingdom, it is O.K. to deport the entire population of the Chagos Islands to make way for a military base. But that was the view not just of governments, but of Labour governments, inside my own lifetime. 

I should like to think that the undeniable openness of Israeli apartheid rule has made a fundamental shift in thinking towards Palestine, but I do not think much has in fact changed. The media and political class remain bought and paid for on the issue. 

The general British population may return to slumber until the next major bombings, but one man who will not forget is Richard Barnard of Palestine Action. Incredibly, Barnard has been charged by police and the Crown Prosecution Service with blackmail for proposing to hunger strike until the Israeli Elbit weapons factories in the U.K. are closed down.

That is not a mistake; he really is charged with blackmail for a proposed hunger strike. I have been trying to find precedent for this and while I can find examples of the argument being made that hunger strike is emotional extortion, I certainly cannot find any example, anywhere in the world, of actual prosecution. The International Committee of the Red Cross has considered the ethical argument with relation to prisoners:

“Hunger strikers are often criticized for using their physical welfare as an instrument of protest, the (debatable) argument being that this constitutes a form of blackmail. It is inappropriate to assert, however, that hunger strikers should be placed in the same category as persons intending to commit suicide. This is a simplistic approach to the issue which wrongly reduces it to purely medical terms: namely, that since any doctor would come to the assistance of someone who attempts suicide, so hunger strikers should be “assisted“ (i.e. force-fed) to prevent them from ‘killing themselves’.

This is certainly a misconception. Someone who attempts suicide is either appealing for help, as in the majority of cases, or he truly wants to end his life. (The ‘black-and-white case’ often cited here is that of a general, found guilty of treason, who prefers to blow his brains out rather than face a shameful court-martial. Although some doctors would even argue for a case of acute and severe depression, it can be claimed that not all suicides are necessarily to be ‘medicalized’.)

The clear-cut case of a politically motivated hunger striker is different. The striker does not want to die: on the contrary, he wants to ‘live better’, by obtaining something for himself, his group or his country. If necessary, he is willing to sacrifice his life for his cause, but the aim is certainly not suicide. (Soldiers charging a heavily defended enemy position also run the risk of dying. Are they suicidal too?) All too often hunger strikers who fast up to or beyond the limits of irreversible physiological consequences are labelled as suicidal. This naturally gives any prison or judicial authority the perfect excuse for ordering doctors to intervene forcibly.”

As I am shortly likely to become the first person in the U.K. — and so far as I can tell, the first person in the world — to be jailed for supposed “jigsaw identification” of witnesses, I accept I have a jaundiced view of the novel abuse of law against dissenters.

Having witnessed and reported day after day after day of abuse of process in the extradition hearing of Julian Assange, I have entirely lost any faith in the justice system where it collides with the wishes of government. But the persecution of Richard Barnard for his calling out the U.K.’s role in the manufacture of instruments for the death and maiming of Palestinians takes things to a whole new level. The law is twisted by power to make all dissent criminal.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. His coverage is entirely dependent on reader support. Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

The homepage feature image is of Palestine Action’s Richard Barnard in a Real Media video still. 

4 comments for “Twisting UK Law to Criminalize Dissent on Palestine

  1. RomeoCharlie29
    June 3, 2021 at 18:36

    The British system of justice, though always able to be manipulated by the wealthy and powerful, once offered a simulacrum of fairness, but it seems no longer. The obvious corruption of the judicial system, and the apparent politicisation of its practitioners, as witness both Assange’s and your own case, now extending to the Barnard issue, is symptomatic of the illiberalisation taking place in so-called democracies. The government in my own country, Australia, is hell-bent on criminalising all forms of dissent including finding ways to stop charities from criticising their actions. In the absence of a ‘Palestine’ to pillage and persecute, they are turning on even the mildest of dissenters to hound and Harry, increasingly in secret trials. In England’s case the demonisation of Jeremy Corbyn, and in our case the willingness of the Labor Opposition to support so many of the draconian laws being legislated would indicate that even a change of government would have little effect. Depressing.

  2. Calvin E Lash Jr
    June 3, 2021 at 16:17

    Is Barnard Kafka’s Stranger?

  3. June 3, 2021 at 13:01

    Most importantly, good Sir, be safe and hopefully the absurd unjust sentence that you have been subjected to will be recognized and repealed for what it is, a wanton miscarriage of justice.
    The charging of Richard Barnard with blackmail by the Crown Prosecution Service for threatening a hunger strike, within his effort to prevent government/corporate collusion in aiding the committing of murderous international violence, appears to be the most recent example of the last vestiges of willful systemic corruption.
    As Usual,
    Thom Williams

  4. Em
    June 3, 2021 at 10:44

    By definition: – “a person who strongly identifies with their own nation and vigorously supports its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations”, every U.S. President has been a nationalist, except for the most recent glaring example of an extreme narcissist plutocrat, who cared not a whit for the integrational integrity or wellbeing of the general populace.
    So, for a BBC talking head to describe Israel’s Naftali Bennett’s presumable rise to the Prime Minister ship of Israel as that of nationalist, as if he will be Israel’s first nationalist P.M. who vigorously supports its interests, is absurd. Whether, in the long-term, any of Israel’s leaders have supported the country’s best interests is now wide open to debate.
    Bennett is an ultra-right-wing supremacist, and a ‘self-made’ millionaire to boot. Like the former U.S. president, he is as divisive a racist separatist – of the first order – as was American extremist ultranationalist Rabbi/politician, Meir Kahane, who in 1968 formed the militant American Jewish Defense League (JDL) prior to moving to Israel in 1971 where he served one term in the Knesset (Parliament) before his party was banned. On a return visit to New York in 1990 he was assassinated by a naturalized American of Egyptian descent.
    That was then – forty years ago, this is now, where the Kahana settler cohorts’ vision has been steadily coming to fruition, since 1967. Since then, during these years, things have sure been changing in Palestine/Israel, and not for the better. The “live by the sword” mindset of Israelis has become more entrenched, throughout the land.
    History, unlike the potential uplift of the natural sciences – but one example, is not made standing on the shoulders of those giants who came before, but on the backs of the innocents today, as always, who refuse to be cowed!

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