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Stand strong in solidarity for a free Palestine

The international community needs to exert maximum pressure in the interest of peace in the Middle East and to end Israel’s human rights abuses, writes CLAUDIA WEBBE MP

THE current crisis in occupied Palestine is gravely concerning. 

Air bombardments and indiscriminate military attacks on the Palestinian people have been ongoing for over a week and show no sign of stopping. 

The Israeli government has threatened a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reporting that the Israeli Defence Forces have struck over 1,000 targets inside the territory. 

These sites include high-rise towers, office blocks containing media organisations, including Al-Jazeera and the Associated Press’s Gaza Office, and the largest residential building in Gaza. 

Many will argue it is wrong that rockets from Hamas continue to be fired into Israel, resulting in at least 10 deaths and 150 injured, yet the Israeli response cannot be considered proportionate, just, or fair. 

In excess of 200 Palestinians have been killed in hundreds of Israeli air strikes on Gaza, including 58 children, with 1,300 people wounded. 

This massacre has displaced about 38,000 Palestinians from their homes and destroyed electricity, water and hygiene infrastructure. 

Every life lost is a tragedy and this underlines the need for the international community to act in the interest of peace.

Thousands of Leicester East residents have written to me in anger regarding the Israeli bombing campaign, forced evictions and violence in East Jerusalem, especially the storming of the al-Aqsa mosque, which has led to the deaths and suffering of dozens of Palestinian women and children. 

Given this strength of feeling, which is replicated in communities across the country, the Westminster government must unequivocally condemn these attacks on the Palestinian people. 

The continued violation of human rights, including the violence and forced evictions imposed on Palestinians in East Jerusalem, is against international law. 

Bombing civilians and targeting places of worship is unacceptable, as are reports that Israeli forces blocked the Red Crescent ambulances reaching the injured and attacked the medical clinic in al-Aqsa mosque. 

The systemic violence against Palestinians and the illegal Israeli occupation is an international atrocity and was found by a recent Human Rights Watch report to amount to an “apartheid regime.”

The short-term set of causes for this latest massive and violent event include internal power struggles within Israel, following a series of inconclusive election results, and the eviction of Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah. 

In total, 58 people, including 17 children, are due to be forcibly displaced to make way for segregated settlements. 

In recent weeks we have seen violent settler groups, backed by the Israeli state, intimidating and assaulting Palestinian residents. 

Israeli police stormed the sacred al-Aqsa mosque ahead of the provocative Jerusalem Day march, which celebrates the 1967 military victory that led to the Israeli occupation and illegal annexation of East Jerusalem. 

The use of tear gas, grenades and rubber bullets against Palestinian worshippers was appalling, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. 

Yet the long-term context, which is systematically under-reported in media accounts of the conflict, lays bare the historical oppression of the Palestinian people. 

The recent violations are part of an ongoing process of the Nakba that started in 1948 where over 750,000 Palestinians were forced out their homes and made refugees. 

Since occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel has unilaterally declared tens of thousands of hectares of “state-land” for Israeli settlements — a process that is illegal under international laws of war and occupation. 

Last year saw the highest rate of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem on record and over 1,500 Palestinians are under threat of their homes being demolished and their being forcibly displaced. 

The Gaza Strip is effectively an open-air prison, with 95 per cent of the population not having access to clean water, and each Israeli bombing campaign further erodes living standards.

Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories have been identified by the United Nations as being in breach of international law. 

The UN secretary-general and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have called on the Israeli government to abandon the illegal annexation plans. 

The international community must recognise the Palestinian state, stand up for the inalienable human rights of Palestinians and actively support the enforcement of international law.

Britain is historically and contemporarily complicit in this suffering. As Bernard Regan argues in his book on the Balfour Declaration, the British empire was instrumental in the displacement and subjugation of Palestinian people. 

The self-determination and protection of the Jewish people after the genocidal horrors of Nazi barbarism following WWII was essential, yet the British empire played a leading role in ensuring that this came at the expense of the Palestinian people. 

Indeed, Patrick Wolfe, the pre-eminent scholar of settler colonialism, classifies the relationship between Israel and Palestine as that of occupier and occupied which is imbued with the logic of elimination. 

Understanding this asymmetrical power imbalance is essential in moving towards a future of peace.

Fast forward to today, and 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 have urged the government to end all sales of weapons that could be used unlawfully against Palestinian people.

Across the British media landscape, this crisis is routinely reported as a conflict between equals, rather than retaliations to the military actions of a settler-colonial state. 

This historical context is frequently ignored in favour of a narrative that focuses on Palestinian aggression against Israel. 

The British press either fails to report on atrocities against the Palestinian people, or else it continues to label these abuses as “clashes” and consistently misrepresents the systemic aggression and violence directed at Palestinians. 

Such framing serves only to legitimise and obscure the scale of oppression in occupied Palestine.

This framing is reflected in the statements of the British government, which neglects to recognise its own complicity in the suffering of the Palestinian people. 

Indeed, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the Hamas rocket attacks yet made no mention of the devastating attacks on Palestinian civilians. 

The statements from the White House have been equally weak. I have urged the British government to work with the international community and use all diplomatic means available to defuse this crisis, end the violations of international law, argue for a free Palestine and lay the foundations for a future of peace and justice. 

International solidarity is vital in this struggle. I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone, in Britain and around the world, who is committed to ending the historical marginalisation of the Palestinian people. 

In the words of the global movement of solidarity making its voice heard with inspiring mass protests taking place from New York to Istanbul; London to Amman and Berlin to Sydney, “Free, Free Palestine.”

Claudia Webbe MP is the Member of Parliament for Leicester East
You can follow her at www.facebook.com/claudiaforLE and twitter.com/ClaudiaWebbe.

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