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It's time that Britain recognised Palestine

Later this week Parliament will debate formally recognising the state of Palestine. Now, with the sea change in international opinion, is the time to finally do so — and end all arms sales to Israel, writes CLAUDIA WEBBE MP

IT HAS never been more important for the British government to commit to comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a free Palestine and a two-state solution — a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.

There can be no military solution to this conflict. That means an end to the illegal blockade, occupation and settlements. This week’s debate provides a vital opportunity for the government unequivocally to condemn Israel’s violations of international law, recognise the state of Palestine and work with the international community towards a future of peace and justice.

A majority, 138 of the 193 United Nations members, have recognised Palestine. It is long overdue that Britain, and every other country, joins the majority of the international community who have recognised the state of Palestine.

The urgency for the international community to finally do so was underlined by a damning recent Amnesty International report which described Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians as “a cruel system of domination and a crime against humanity.” The report sets out how massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians are all components of a system which amounts to apartheid under international law.

In international criminal law, specific unlawful acts which are committed within a system of oppression and domination, with the intention of maintaining it, constitute the crime against humanity of apartheid. These acts are set out in the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute, and include unlawful killing, torture, forcible transfer, and the denial of basic rights and freedoms. Israel enforces such a system against Palestinians through laws, policies and practices which ensure their prolonged and cruel discriminatory treatment.

Whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights. The report found that Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid and a crime against humanity.

The report demonstrates that Israeli authorities treat Palestinians as an inferior racial group who are defined by their “non-Jewish, Arab status.” This racial discrimination is cemented in laws which affect Palestinians across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

For example, Palestinian citizens of Israel are denied a nationality, establishing a legal differentiation from Jewish Israelis. In the West Bank and Gaza, where Israel has controlled the population registry since 1967, Palestinians have no citizenship and most are considered stateless, requiring ID cards from the Israeli military to live and work in the territories. The law also promotes the building of Israeli settlements and downgrades Arabic status as an official language.

Palestinians are effectively blocked from leasing on 80 per cent of Israel’s state land, as a result of racist land seizures and a web of discriminatory laws on land allocation, planning and zoning. Illegal Israeli settlements today cover 10 per cent of the land in the West Bank, and some 38 per cent of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem was expropriated between 1967 and 2017.

Amnesty International found that these acts form part of a systematic and widespread attack directed against the Palestinian population and are committed with the intent to maintain the system of oppression and domination.

The report identified that successive Israeli governments have considered Palestinians a demographic threat, and imposed measures to control and decrease their presence and access to land in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

These demographic aims are well illustrated by official plans to annex areas of Israel and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which continue to put thousands of Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer. The widespread unlawful killing of Palestinian protesters is the most tragic and visible demonstration of this. In 2019 alone, Israeli forces killed 214 civilians, including 46 children.

Israel must grant equal rights to all Palestinians, in line with principles of international human rights and humanitarian law. It must recognise the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to homes where they or their families once lived and provide victims of human rights violations and crimes against humanity with full reparations.

The scale and seriousness of the violations documented in Amnesty International’s report call for a drastic change in the international community’s approach to the human rights crisis in Israel. Britain must recognise the Palestinian state, stand up for the inalienable human rights of Palestinians and actively support the enforcement of international law. Britain must consider the effectiveness of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to achieve these goals — as the international community did in the mission to end apartheid in South Africa.

Yet this will require a rapid U-turn on current policy. The British government has licensed at least £361 million worth of arms sales to Israel since 2014. The Campaign Against Arms Trade reported that previous government reviews have found it likely that British-made arms have been used against Palestinians.

I am deeply dismayed that some of these weapons are made in my home city of Leicester. A subsidiary of Elbit Systems, which is situated in Leicester, supplies the Israeli Defence Forces with military equipment that is used in the illegal occupation and subjugation of Palestinian territories.

These sites are used for the manufacture of specialist military products and technology, including the SkyEye persistent surveillance system aboard Elbit’s Hermes 450 and 900 drones. They also manufacture the SpectroXR ultra long-range imaging system for Hermes drones.

Hermes drones have been used extensively by Israel in bombardments of Gaza, notably during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 in which over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including 526 children. The site was also used for the production of IronVision helmets for use in battle tanks such as the Carmel – specifically designed for operations in densely built urban areas, such as Gaza.

I recently asked a series of written questions to discern the British government’s level of support to Elbit Systems. These questions unearthed that the government granted two SIEL export licenses to Elbit Systems for components for body armour and military communications equipment that were completed on October 13, 2020 and January 25, 2021 respectively.

Therefore, these two arms deals were completed just months before the latest Israeli bombardment of Palestine in May 2021, in which at least 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, were killed. The government must immediately end all sales of weapons that could be used unlawfully against Palestinian people.

It would not only be morally abhorrent for the government to continue its current, uneven policy towards Israel and Palestine — it would also be deeply hypocritical. In relation to escalating tensions in Ukraine, the Prime Minister in recent weeks said that “We won’t accept a world in which a powerful neighbour can bully or attack their neighbours. All people, no matter where they are born, have the right to live safely, choose who governs them and decide which organisations they want to be part of.”

These words could equally be applied to Israel and Palestine, yet for decades the British government has ignored and even abetted the Israeli system of apartheid. This intolerable situation must end. Britain must immediately recognise the state of Palestine and work towards ending the historical marginalisation of the Palestinian people.

Claudia Webbe is MP for Leicester East — Twitter: @ClaudiaWebbe.

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