“The Palestinian people have suffered decades of occupation and siege. The Labour Party must speak up for their right to self-determination – a right denied to them for so long.”
By the Labour & Palestine Team
Three days ago, the Israeli government agreed to cease its bombing campaign in Gaza. Israeli forces had attacked the strip of land – which is the third most densely populated region in the world – almost every day since the 6th of August.
This is not the first military attack on Palestinians in the area. Israel’s 2014 operation “Protective Edge” killed over 2200 people, nearly a quarter of whom were children, and left 100,000 homeless. The UN also found credible allegations of war crimes committed by Israeli forces. 4 years earlier, operation “Cast Lead” killed over 1400 people and the Israeli military were found to have used white phosphorous incendiary weapons, which are banned under the Geneva Convention.
These successive attacks have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis caused by an illegal land, air and sea blockade imposed since 2007. The 13-year siege of Gaza has meant severe restrictions on movement and imports of basic supplies such as food, medicines and building materials – items which are vital to reconstructing the infrastructure destroyed by successive bombing campaigns.
Palestinians living in Gaza have access to electricity for a maximum of only 4 hours per day. Power shortages have been worsened by the recent bombing of the Gaza Power Plant – the siege has meant that fuel for backup generators has been scarce. As Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s Humanitarian crisis coordinator, notes, this has further adversely affected water and sewage treatment – greatly limiting access to clean water – and has severely damaged medical infrastructure at a time when it is needed to deal with the covid-19 crisis.
While the end of the bombing campaign is a welcome development it’s not nearly enough; the people of Gaza still live under siege. The Israeli government must lift the illegal blockade and allow vital goods and supplies to get into the strip to end the humanitarian crisis.
The open wound perpetuating the cycle of violence in the region is the repeated denial of the Palestinian’s right to self-determination – not only the blockade of Gaza but also the ongoing occupation of the West Bank which, in June, the new Israeli government declared they would formally annex.
The annexation proposals came after President Trump’s so-called ‘deal of the century’. The plan would formally recognise Israeli settlements – which are currently illegal – in approximately 30% of the West Bank and make the Jordan Valley a territory of Israel. It sits alongside other proposals to make Jerusalem the “undivided” Israeli capital and refuse Palestinian refugees the right of return to the homes taken from them. No wonder not one Palestinian organisation supported the deal – certainly none were included in its conception.
The annexations have now been suspended, seemingly in return for UAE normalising its economic and diplomatic relationships with the Israeli government. However, after the announcement of the pause, Israel’s Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu said that ‘there is no change to my plan to extend sovereignty, our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States.’ The land grab is still very much on the table.
The Palestinian people have suffered decades of occupation and siege. The Labour Party must speak up for their right to self-determination – a right denied to them for so long. We should also join calls for the UK to stop arming Israel. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has shown that the British government has granted over £386 million worth of weapons exports to the Israeli military. This must end.
It’s also vital we provide more platforms for Palestinian people to tell their story and explain the realities of life under occupation. Time and time again, Palestinians have been shut out of a conversation about their future. Practical solidarity means amplifying these voices and putting them at the heart of our discussion of British foreign policy in the region. It’s time they were listened to.