I have written again to the Foreign Secretary to express my outrage at what is happening in Gaza. This is my letter to him.
John SW1A 0AA 24thJuly 2014
Dear Foreign Secretary,
I am writing on behalf of my constituents whose outrage at the abhorrent massacre of innocent lives in Gaza I share.
I also share their indignation at the inadequacy of the UK Government’s response and what many believe is the complicity of the UK in the atrocities being committed.
According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, during the current military operation Israel has killed 718 Palestinians and wounded a further 4,563. According to UN estimates, at least 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced. UN figures put the number of civilian fatalities at 77% of the total Palestinian death toll. At least 161 of those killed and 1100 of all those wounded have been children. The total Israeli military death roll is 32 and 2 Israeli civilians arereported to have died.
The indiscriminate Israeli bombardment of Gaza has included the targeting of innocent young children playing football on the beach, children playing on a rooftop, the targeting of four hospitals (including the destruction of the desperately over-stretched intensive care unit and operating theatres of al-Asqa hospital), clinics, ambulances, mosques, schools, press buildings (including the Al Jazeera bureau in Gaza) and countless homes. Tonight we learn that the Israelis have bombed a UN school, used as a place of refuge.
To be absolutely clear, this is a war crime. The Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Convention on the Law of War provides that, ‘in case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used’.
In 2010, the Prime Minister referred to Gaza as a ‘prison camp’ but in the intervening four years he has taken no meaningful action to address the underlying causes of Palestinian suffering nor to alleviate the circumstances which continue to cause unimaginable grief and resentment among the Palestinian population. The illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine and siege of Gaza have created a desperate and unsustainable situation. A 2012 United Nations Country Team report in the Occupied Palestinian Territory predicts that by 2020 ‘Gaza will not be liveable’. The siege of Gaza has deprived its population of even the most basic essential items. Gaza constantly faces critical shortages of food, water, electricity, medicines and gasoline leaving people suffering from hunger, thirst and often any hope of meaningful employment. Over half of the Gazan population are University graduates yet as a result of the crippling siege of its territory, Gaza is unable to develop a self-reliant economy able to meet the needs of its population and unemployment is understood to be at 70%.
Prior the latest Israeli assault, the situation with regard to medical equipment was at crisis point with medical supplies described by the volunteer doctors working from Gaza in an open letter published in the Lancet as ‘at an all-time low’ and now, with the situation at its most critical, ‘to have run out’. The destruction of factories during the current and past bombardments along with the blockade of building materials, means that it is unlikely that public infrastructure destroyed in the latest waves of Israeli attacks will be adequately replaced. Additional doctors as well assupplies are prevented from entering the territory by the Israeli blockade while the wounded and sick cannot leave in order to get specialised treatment nor to study, work, visit families or do business. The effect of the isolation and destruction of Gaza has been described by the volunteer medical professionals who work there as a ‘wound [to] the soul, mind and resilience of the young generation’.
Despite having broken more UN resolutions than any other country in the region, Israel continues to enjoy a close relationship with our government and is wholly dependent on the aid it receives from the western powers, particularly our close ally the United States. I find it abhorrent that despite the consistent and blatant violations of human rights, Israel is the UK’s 35th largest export market for goods and the 40th largest source of goods import. In 2012 UK exports to Israel were £2.4 billion and imports worth £2.9 billion.
Far from condemning the brutal military assaults on the population in Gaza, the UK government enjoys a close relationship to the Israeli military which is considered ‘an important strategic partner’. Members of the Israeli Defence Force have attended training courses in the UK provided by the Ministry of Defence on multiple occasions, British soldiers have been trained by the IDF and the UK currently has two defence attaches based in Israel. Following Israel’s 2009 incursion into Gaza, the Commons Committee on Strategic Export Control found British arms exports ‘almost certainly were used in the attack, in direct contravention of the UK’s policy that arms exports should not be used in the occupied territories’. Given the expansive range of military equipment the UK has sold to Israel in recent years our government has in all likelihood supplied the weapons or components which are now being used to slaughter innocent civilians on the Gaza strip.
Human Rights groups estimate that 223 Palestinians, 46 of them children, 26 of them women and 14 of them elderly, have been killed in the current offensive using F-16 and Apache fighter jets and naval ships for which British firms currently provide parts to the IDF. This makes a mockery of our commitment to a long-term peace in the region. In the words of political commentator Ian Dunt we are in the disgraceful situation in which ‘Britain’s desire for profit trumps its commitment to Human Rights’.
Our close economic and military ties to the Israeli Defence Force implicate our government in the massacre of innocent Palestinians which is a situation neither I, nor my constituents, can accept.
There will be no meaningful, lasting peace in the region until western powers are genuine in their condemnation of the Israeli occupation, siege, bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza. As a former colonial power in the region and a close ally of the US (from whom Israel receives more military and civilian aid than anywhere else in the world) we bear a special responsibility in promoting peace in the region. Rather than enmesh ourselves in a military-industrial complex which binds us to the Israeli army and leaves the UK complicit in the atrocities being committed I urge the Government to stand up for Human Rights and International Law. Only an end to the occupation and siege of Palestinian land can pave the way to a permanent peace. I call on the UK government to demand an immediate ceasefire along terms in which both sides are consulted, to follow the lead of the Chilean government in suspending trade with Israel, to bring an end the supply of military equipment and the UK's military links to Israel and to support moves to sanction Israel.
John McDonnell MP