My Update sent to constituents on the recent events in Israel Palestine. Please note this is a long update covering many different questions posed to me by constituents. Some of the content may be old and have been superseded by more recent events.
Thank you for contacting me about recent events in Jerusalem and across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories more widely. The strength of feeling on this issue is clear from the hundreds of emails I have received over the past few days. I thought it would be useful to address all issues raised. This is a fast-moving situation and this is the information we have at the time of writing.
I have been shocked at the scenes unfolding in the region, the most upsetting part being that it is nothing new. I heard myself saying “no, not again”. This is why we need to find a solution and that can only be done by the UN upholding international legal resolutions and the international community using the tools they have to ensure the law is abided by.
On Wednesday (12 May 2021), the Government was asked an Urgent Question about the violence in Israel and Palestine brought by the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy MP. You can watch it here.
I have been appalled by what we have seen in Jerusalem, Gaza and Israel over the past week. The loss of life is terrible and my thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones. I strongly condemn the provocation by Israel with their continued illegal actions in building settlements, evicting Palestinians from their land, and the attacks on places of worship. I strongly condemn Israeli actions that have killed Palestinian civilians. I visited Gaza in 2013 and witnessed the injustice and hardship first-hand. I don’t condone the rockets being fired into Israel from Palestine and they must stop but I do recall talking to a 24-year-old Palestinian man in Gaza when I visited and I asked him directly why this was taking place. He simply replied “we’ve nothing left and nothing left to lose. People must listen.”
Responding to the recent Urgent Question, the Minister for the Middle East said the Government is concerned by the escalation in violence. He urged all sides to refrain from any kind of provocation so that calm can be restored as quickly as possible. The Minister condemned attacks on worshippers in Jerusalem, terror attacks by Hamas and other groups, and the loss of civilian life but the Government need to do more than analyse the problem. They must take a leading role in finding a proper solution.
The violence must stop now and Israeli and Palestinian leaders must do everything they can to de-escalate the situation. The UK Government should also ensure that it is doing all that it can to prevent further conflict. For the UK Government’s part, this should include an acceptance of the need to recognise Palestine as a state, as nearly 140 other countries have done.
The UK and the international community must also reinforce the commitment to a two-state solution – one that ensures a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. That is diminishing with every illegal action and the international community must do more to uphold international law.
Many constituents have written individually about the specific Sheikh Jarrah Evictions issue
I am deeply concerned about the situation in East Jerusalem. The forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah must stop and I condemn attempts by Israeli settlers to take control of Palestinian homes. East Jerusalem has been illegally annexed – Israel is the occupying power, which creates obligations that the Israeli Government is not meeting. Israel must comply with international law. It is against UN treaties and the international community must intervene as their responsibilities allow. I have lost track of the number of times the UK and US governments in particular have said that these settlements are illegal but do nothing to enforce the UN resolutions that make them so. This must change. Without enforcement of international law, the situation can’t be resolved.
Myself and my Labour colleagues are calling on the UK Government to make urgent representations to the Israeli Government to halt all evictions in East Jerusalem, change planning laws that discriminate against Palestinians and suspend the construction of all other settlements in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank immediately. I have also written to the Minister and will share any response I receive. The UK Government, UN and other international stakeholders all agree but nothing is being done which then creates these situations where unnecessary blood is shed on both ensues.
Attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque
I was shocked to see the violence used against worshippers gathered during Ramadan at Al-Aqsa Mosque – this was totally unacceptable and the catalyst for the significant escalation in events. It is essential that holy sites are respected. The Israeli authorities must take immediate steps to defuse the situation in the city and stop their illegal actions.
The Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, has said “The violence against worshippers during Ramadan at the al-Aqsa mosque was shocking. Israel must respect international law, and must take steps, immediately, to work with Palestinian leaders to de-escalate tensions.”
We have seen a significant escalation in violence in Israel and Palestine with deadly exchanges of fire between Palestinian militants in Gaza and the Israeli military. More than 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel and hundreds of air strikes have been carried out by the Israeli air force.
Reports that Israeli air strikes on Gaza have killed very many civilians, including children, are shocking and appalling. Along with the appalling rocket attacks launched by Hamas, I strongly condemn all actions that endanger civilians. Leaders on both sides must urgently seek to de-escalate tensions and defuse the situation. The international community must not miss this latest opportunity to find a lasting peace that has been promised for too long.
Lisa Nandy MP, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary released a statement on behalf of the Shadow Front bench, which you can read here.
On Wednesday (19 May 2021), the Shadow Minister for the Middle East asked an Urgent Question on the Government’s efforts to secure a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza. You can watch this here.
In response, the Minister for the Middle East said the Government is urging the parties to work with mediators towards an immediate ceasefire to prevent further loss of life in Israel and Gaza. He added that the Government is supporting UN, Egyptian and Qatari efforts in this regard, and is working closely with the United States. The Minister also said that the Government is prioritising its own diplomatic efforts through both bilateral and multilateral channels.
I am deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel in which hundreds of people have been killed, including 65 children. I condemn the rocket attacks by Hamas and the Israeli airstrikes, which have killed so many innocent people and severely damaged schools and medical facilities.
I note that the Minister said the Government is in favour of an immediate ceasefire.
However, while reports have indicated that the French and Jordanian governments are making real efforts to bring about a UN resolution that would help secure an immediate ceasefire, the UK has not been mentioned. Labour is urging the UK Government to work for a UN Security Council Resolution to ramp up pressure on Israel and Hamas to accept a ceasefire and bring this cycle of violence to an end. There is no military solution to this conflict.
UPDATE – A ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian government, Hamas came into effect at 02:00 local time on Friday (23:00 GMT Thursday).
This brings a welcome end to 11 days of bombardment in which nearly 250 people have died, mostly in Gaza. The ceasefire followed soon after US President Joe Biden called for a “significant de-escalation” and mediation bids by Egypt, Qatar and the UN. It is deeply disappointing that the UK Government failed to play a prominent role in these negotiations despite their rhetoric.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab released a statement following the news which said:
“The UK welcomes the announcement of a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza, an important step to ending the cycle of violence and loss of civilian life.
Hamas must end all attacks on Israel. It is also now important for Israel to facilitate rapid humanitarian access in and out of Gaza.”
The statement from the Foreign Secretary shows just how wrong the Government response to this conflict has been and how they have only really spoken out after the event. In contrast, Lisa Nandy MP, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, made a strong statement which calls for consistent, long term action. She said:
“This is a welcome step which offers hope to the people of Israel and Palestine that this devastating escalation of violence will come to an end. The events of the last 11 days have been appalling and the loss of life amongst Palestinian and Israeli civilians, including so many children, is heart-breaking. It is vital that this agreement is honoured.
“The international community must now step up and provide urgent humanitarian assistance to Gaza. This includes vital medical support as well as fuel to ensure rolling blackouts do not leave homes and hospitals without power.
“As the people of Israel and Palestine begin to come to terms with the horror of recent days, this must mark a turning point. For too long, a meaningful peace process has amounted to little more than an empty promise. Rocket attacks and indiscriminate violence spread terror and sustain enmity and distrust. Forced evictions and illegal settlements have made the prospect of a viable two-state solution an all too distant reality.
“There is no military solution to this conflict. We must establish a meaningful peace process that ensures a sovereign Palestinian state alongside a safe, secure Israel becomes an achievable prospect.”
I hope that the ceasefire continues to observed by both sides. However, this is not a quick fix and now is the time for renewed efforts to a lasting and peaceful solution.
There has been too many missed opportunities to take the agenda of permanent peace forward and I hope that this is not another.
In addition to a ceasefire, I would like to see the Government do all it can to ensure the necessary humanitarian support can access Gaza. Once the violence ends, I believe we must also make every effort to restart a meaningful peace process as a matter of urgency. If further conflagrations are to be prevented, we need a process that will uphold international law, end the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and create a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
UK arms exports to Israel
On UK arms exports to Israel, I believe strong export controls have a vital role to play in sustaining a legitimate trade in arms and the Government has a responsibility to ensure that arms are only sold for legitimate defensive purposes.
Any use of force must be proportionate and there are too many cases, including incidents in Gaza, where Israeli forces may have acted in violation of international humanitarian law (IHL). This is not acceptable and merely makes the situation worse.
As a country, I believe it is important that we implement our arms export controls to the highest standard and act when exports might be used in violation of human rights or IHL.
The Government often emphasises that the UK has some of the most robust arms export controls in the world and it is ultimately the Government’s responsibility to make sure they are being enforced properly. The Government says that all export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it monitors closely the situation in Israel and Gaza. There is no point in having a strict controls regime if it isn’t implemented to prevent the atrocities we see happening.
Treatment of Palestinian children
I also share your concern at the high numbers of Palestinian civilians, including children, who have been injured or killed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Israeli authorities must act in a restrained and proportionate way when facing protests, especially in relation to young people. This must include respecting obligations under international law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the international Convention on the Rights of the Child. As a bare minimum of protection, no child – in Palestine, Israel or anywhere else in the world – should be subjected to physical or psychological violence. I also strongly believe that the treatment of Palestinian children in military detention in the West Bank is deplorable. A report by Save the Children showed that the behaviour of Israeli forces is totally unacceptable, with most of the children they interviewed suffering physical and emotional abuse in detention.
I hope the UK Government will press the Israeli authorities to end violations and injustices suffered by Palestinian young people when in contact with Israeli authorities.
Israeli settlements and UK trade
Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are not only wrong but illegal under international UN legal resolution. Illegal settlements are also a barrier to peace. The demolition of houses and the eviction of Palestinian people from their homes in Jerusalem and elsewhere makes finding any long term solution almost impossible..
I supported calls for the UK to immediately ban goods entering the UK from the illegal settlements in the West Bank if the Israeli Government followed through on its annexation plans that the UK Government said were both illegal and wrong.
I believe the UK Government should encourage and support the creation of a new climate in Israel and Palestine, conducive to securing a lasting peace. I would therefore like the UK Government to support projects that promote coexistence. Only when Palestinians and Israelis have an ongoing dialogue, when they live and work together and engage in reconciliation, can there be a firm basis for a permanent peace.
Human Rights Watch report
I am aware of the recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which highlighted the dire situation that many Palestinians face.
I have consistently advocated for an end to the blockade of Gaza, which undermines basic human rights and economic prospects, as well as the availability of essential services. Poverty is rife and while there is a barrier to opportunity the situation will continue to deteriorate. I also share serious concerns about the continued reports of ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.
The UK cannot be a passive observer when it comes to events in Palestinian and the UK Government should demand the end to of violations and injustices suffered by Palestinians. Without an insistence on basic protections for the rights of Palestinians, I believe it will only be harder to make the progress we all want to see towards a long term, sustainable peace in the Middle East.
In March the Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that the Court is investigating alleged war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territories since 13 June 2014. This is an important process to deliver justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators on all sides, and I support the independence of the ICC and its capacity to undertake independent investigations.
I was therefore concerned by the Prime Minister’s comments about the ICC’s investigation when he claimed that the investigation is a “partial and prejudicial attack”. The Prime Minister’s comments attempt to interfere in the work of the Court and, in effect, draw into question its legitimacy; I believe the PM’s remarks were most unfortunate, to say the least. In my view, it is extremely important for the UK Government to be, and to be seen to be, an upholder of international criminal justice and the rule of law as set out by the UN Resolutions and Treaties of which the UK is a signatory.
Rocket Attacks and Anti-Semitism
Many constituents have been in touch about the rocket attacks on Israel from Palestine. The situation has emerged again and the international community must broker a ceasefire to prevent loss of life in Israel and the escalation of conflict.
I have been shocked by the increase in anti-Semitism as a result of the latest tragedy in the region. The fear and intimidation of the Jewish community has increased exponentially in the last few weeks and I have had a large number of Jewish constituents who have been in touch to express their concerns about their own personal experiences and that of others.
There has also been a large increase in concerns from constituents who are the relatives of Jewish people living in Israel and being subject to the rocket attacks.
I have been working with the Jewish Leadership Council on their response to this and for advice on how this should be dealt with.
There is a broad agreement that we need to achieve the following:
- Urgently support all efforts for a ceasefire
- Put the issue of long-term conflict resolution back on the table – the status quo is not sustainable; two state solution is the goal, recognising Palestine as a state is the first step
- Support all efforts on the ground to work for coexistence between Israel’s diverse communities, in an attempt to stop the civil violence unfolding.
I think everyone would agree with these goals.