I share the deep concern and worry that has been expressed to me by hundreds of constituents in the last few weeks about the current conflict taking place in Gaza. The escalation of the conflict that has been seen in recent days, following Israel’s ground operation in Gaza, has led to over 1,000 deaths and over 4,000 Palestinian casualties, to date. The humanitarian situation on the ground is dire, with a shortages in basic medical supplies and the UN looking to shelter an ever increasing number of residents in Gaza.
This is why at the Prime Minister’s statement on Ukraine and Gaza this week I raised my concerns about the change in the Government’s tone on the Gaza crisis and called upon the Prime Minister to “unreservedly condemn the indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on the Palestinian people, particularly civilian women and children, and the breaches of international law and the Geneva convention.”
Since the abduction and killing of three young Israeli men in the West Bank and the subsequent retaliatory killings of Palestinians, the Israeli Government has been pursuing a policy of collective punishment. This has involved hundreds of arrests, the looting and ransacking of houses, a ground attack into Palestinian territory and a large number of airstrikes killing and injuring large numbers of Palestinians, of whom around one third are children. I initially raised my concerns in Parliament during the initial Urgent Question on this issue on 1st July.
The urgent priority must be for an immediate ceasefire and to de-escalate tensions in the region, preventing further death and injury on both sides. I have been pressing for a ceasefire via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, both in Parliament and in correspondence to Ministers. I have also raised with Ministers the wider issues of the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, the need for sanctions and an arms embargo against Israel and the role of international law, the Geneva Convention and the International Criminal Court.
During the Statement in Parliament on the situation in Palestine and Israel on 14th July, I asked the Foreign Secretary to convey both my concerns and those of my constituents to both Hamas and the Israeli Government.
I visited Israel and the West Bank with the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) in December 2012 following the horrific bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli Government in November. I wanted to see for myself the situation on the ground. In my article about the visit I spoke about the injustices, frustration and indignity that many Palestinian people face on a daily basis.
Since my visit, I am still actively involved in supporting the Palestinian people, most recently attending a fund raising event for Saddleworth’s Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund as part of International Women’s Day to support an education programme for women. One of the Palestinian women funded by this scheme has kept us informed of what is currently going on in Gaza.
I expressed my deep concern about current Israeli action in Gaza and the importance of an immediate ceasefire, with the Israeli ambassador last Tuesday when I met him, alongside other Parliamentarians. In the longer term I pressed him on if the Israeli Government were prepared to be brave and take politically uncomfortable decisions on the blockades, settlements and access to justice in order to make a sustainable peace for Palestinians and Israelis. I have followed this up with a letter, again urging an immediate ceasefire.
It is too early to be clear about the full implications for the Middle East peace process from the current situation in Israel and Palestine, but I hope that once a ceasefire is agreed it will be followed by a return to negotiations on a two-state solution, which is, and remains, the only way to resolve this conflict once and for all.
25/07/14 UPDATE: You can view my speech at the Manchester Rally for Gaza on Wednesday 23rd July on YouTube here