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AS I write, Palestinians are embarking on a general strike against Israel’s current war on Gaza and the wider occupation, colonial settlements and human rights abuses that dominate the lives of Palestinian people.
Huge numbers of Palestinians both inside of the occupied territories as well as those living in Israel itself have joined the strike in a tremendous show of unity for their common goal of a Palestinian state and a life free of Israeli state oppression.
Palestine has the right to exist but it is a right that successive Israeli governments have made less and less feasible — both through the direct military assaults, as we are seeing on Gaza right now, but also through decades of land grabs, expulsions of people from their homes and military checkpoints that determine where Palestinians can and can’t move.
Five years ago, as a new MP, I was privileged to visit the occupied Palestinian territories and Jerusalem and meet Palestinian families struggling against Israeli state-sanctioned human rights abuses.
I visited a Palestinian village that had been repeatedly demolished. I saw Israeli settlements that were seizing land and which do more than anything else to prevent a two-state solution.
I attended the military courts that try Palestinian children in a language that the vast majority cannot read or speak.
I spoke with Palestinians who had become cut off from work, neighbours, family and friends as a result of Israel’s illegal separation wall that divided Palestinian communities and annexed more land.
In the Old City of Jerusalem, I visited the home of a Palestinian family who had lived there since 1953 but who faced Israeli settlers trying to force them out of their home.
In those few days, I got a glimpse of the daily suffering that the Palestinian people have endured for over 50 years under Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and of Gaza.
Israel’s injustice against the Palestinian people is again intensifying. War on Gaza in recent days has killed at least 219 Palestinians including 63 children.
Hundreds more have been injured and tens of thousands displaced from their homes. Ten Israelis have been killed including two children.
I never had the opportunity to visit Gaza on my visit. It is almost impossible to imagine what it must be like to live on that tiny strip of land — smaller than the Isle of Wight but with two million captive inhabitants — as it is targeted by one of the world’s most powerful military forces.
As the UN noted this week, Gaza’s population is having to repeatedly try to find cover from Israel air strikes in areas without any proper shelters.
Over 40 schools and at least four hospitals have been completely or partially damaged as have over 350 buildings including the demolition of homes. Even media TV channels have been targeted in a blatant attempt to suppress the truth of Israel’s assault.
Hundreds of thousands of people have had their access to clean water and sewage restricted by Israeli actions that limit Gaza’s electricity supply.
The UN warned that Gaza’s health system, already overwhelmed by chronic drug shortages, inadequate equipment and the Covid-19 pandemic, will likely be unable to meet the needs of those injured.
Surely the deliberate targeting of civilian areas in this systematic way is a war crime?
We must all do what we can for an immediate end to the current loss of life and suffering. But this cannot simply mean a return to the collective punishment of the Gazan population that has gone on for 14 years or the brutality of over half a century of wider Israeli occupation.
A long-lasting peace for both Palestinians and Israelis can only be secured through a just solution that tackles the underlying injustices.
That means ending Israel’s siege of Gaza, its illegal occupation of Palestinian land, its colonial settlements, its denial of the right of Palestinian refugees to return and its violations of human rights and international law.
Global solidarity with Palestine is key to winning these demands and the global movement has been getting stronger and stronger over the last decade.
Across the world, vast numbers of people now know that the Palestinian people are an oppressed people denied justice and their rights by a much more powerful oppressor.
That’s why many hundreds of thousands marched last Saturday in a fantastic show of solidarity and why many will do so this weekend too.
Even in the US, while the Biden government continues to give Israel a green light — though without the bombastic rhetoric of Trump — there is a growing movement against Israeli occupation and against the $3.8 billion annual military aid that Washington provides to the Israeli military.
Black Lives Matter has stated that it “stands in solidarity with Palestinians” and that it is “a movement committed to ending settler colonialism in all forms and will continue to advocate for Palestinian liberation.”
Progressive politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are speaking out against Israeli occupation.
The prominent US rights group Human Rights Watch recently declared that “Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”
That is a view echoed a view in Israel itself, by the brave human right group B’Tselem which stated recently that it had “reached the conclusion that the bar for defining the Israeli regime as an apartheid regime has been met after considering the accumulation of policies and laws that Israel devised to entrench its control over Palestinians.”
As the former colonial power in Palestine, Britain has a special responsibility to do all it can to ensure an end to Israeli occupation, colonialism and human rights abuses and to secure a just peace.
That is why this week, along with my colleagues in Parliament in the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, I called on the government to act to try to force Israel to change path.
Our government must demand an end to the war on Gaza but also to the siege that is causing so much human suffering as well as an end to the wider illegal occupation of Palestine.
But we need action too.
The British state should recognise the state of Palestine, as Parliament voted to do in 2014.
The British government must impose sanctions on Israel for its repeated violations of international law.
It must end trade with illegal Israeli settlements.
It must also place an embargo on arms sales to Israel. It is sickening that Britain has licensed over £400m in arms exports to Israel since 2015.
If our government just continues to stand by, Israel will see that as a green light to further occupation, colonialism and oppression of the Palestinian people.
We need to force our government to act as a step to delivering justice for the Palestinian people.
Richard Burgon is MP for Leeds East.
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