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The crisis in Gaza

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06 August 2014
Palestinian and Israeli flags On Monday evening (4 August), I visited the Lewisham and Kent Islamic Centre to talk with their management committee about the current crisis in Gaza.
 
Over the last few weeks, I have been contacted by a large number of constituents, who are rightly concerned about the devastation and destruction we are witnessing on our television screens.
 
I thought it might be useful to share my speaking notes for the contribution I made at the start of the meeting – a robust and well-informed debate followed:
 
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet with you about the crisis in Gaza.
 
I hope this will be a chance for me to share with you my views about the crisis but also for me to hear your perspectives on the current situation.
 
It goes without saying that the loss of life is appalling and that the scale of human suffering is horrific.
 
We know that the number of Palestinians killed is over 1800. Many more have been injured and tens of thousands have fled their homes.
 
Israelis have been killed too - and for those grieving Israeli families, those losses will be no less painful - but I think most people would agree that the weight of loss and suffering in recent weeks has been borne disproportionately by the Palestinian people.
 
It's clear that the imbalance in the number of casualties reflects wider imbalances in power and military might in the conflict.
 
However, to reduce this conflict down to a balance sheet of casualties is not only wrong in and of itself, but it also belies the horror of the situation.
 
It’s about human lives. It’s about children being killed and maimed. It’s about the 5 year old girl, lying on a makeshift hospital bed, crying out of pain - but also crying for her mum who has just been killed in her own home by an Israeli bomb.
 
I know there has been concern amongst British citizens, particularly within the Muslim community but not confined to them, about the strength of the UK’s response.
 
The Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband has been very clear: the Israeli incursion into Gaza is wrong, the loss of life amongst innocent Palestinian civilians is completely unjustified. Yes, Hamas must stop the rockets and yes, Israel has a right to defend itself but its military actions in the last few weeks are not justified.
 
This weekend, Ed called upon the Prime Minister to lead international efforts to secure an enduring ceasefire and a meaningful peace process. A ceasefire that is not broken as soon as it’s announced and a peace process where both sides engage in good faith.
 
But the UK Government also needs to ask itself some tough questions.
 
On arms exports, is it right that we condemn the war on the one hand and help to continue it on the other through the sale of arms and military components to the Israeli regime?
 
On humanitarian aid, are we doing enough to get medical treatment to those who are in desperate need?
 
On the international response, are we playing our part at the UN to force the international community to take action? And what are we doing to ensure our international structures are up to the job?
 
At the UN, we know the current UK Government abstained on the vote at the General Assembly to recognise Palestinian statehood – a vote which a Labour Government would have supported – and we know that at the most critical points, where big powers are involved, the UN is often found wanting. What is the UK doing to make out international institutions fit for purpose?
 
The UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, has spoken out about how recent Israeli actions, including the bombing of the UN shelter, constitute a breach of international humanitarian law and are criminal acts.
 
I’m no international lawyer and I don’t doubt that this is a terrifically complicated area, but these atrocities must be properly investigated and individuals held to account for their actions.
 
It does seem to me that Israel’s recent actions have been disproportionate. Of course they have a right to defend themselves but the recent use of bombs and tanks seems excessive. It seems indiscriminate and it just seems wrong.
 
Hamas must stop its violence. I don’t believe that their actions represent the wishes of the majority of the Palestinian people.
 
Both sides must work in good faith towards a two state solution with some form of territorial sovereignty.
 
Israelis must recognise that a Palestinian state is not some sort of gift to be given but a right to be realised - a point made by the Shadow Foreign Secretary today. Palestinians must accept the existence of the state of Israel.
 
But for negotiations to be conducted in good faith, we also need to look beyond the immediacy of the last few weeks. Israel needs to stop building illegal settlements and they must lift the Gaza blockade. Hamas must stop the rockets and they must stop the tunnels.
 
If both sides don’t accept their responsibilities, more lives will be lost, more families will be ripped apart and more people will be drawn into thinking that violence is the only answer. That can’t be right.


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