Women Speak up for Palestine – Beth Winter MP

Beth Winter MP

Thank you for inviting me to address this evening’s event.

It is a privilege to be on the same panel as Samia al-Botmeh, our sister who teaches at Birzeit University.

And I’m delighted to join my colleague Kim Johnson MP, our trade union colleagues, and from Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

It is very welcome that Labour and Palestine have organised this fringe, and are active organising in the Labour Party.

Because while our eyes and our minds have been occupied  very much – and rightly so – by both Covid 19 and, now, by the terrible war in Ukraine, the harshness of life for the vast majority of the people of Palestine has not changed – indeed, for many, it will have grown harder and harsher.

I’m Welsh from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, but those feet learnt at an early age how important it was to walk in the shoes of my fellow human beings because we grow stronger as individuals and as a nation when we care about others, and act against injustice wherever we find it.

So sometimes I imagine myself as a Palestine woman, having to pass all those road blocks to get to work, worrying about my children being safe when they go to school past Israeli forces brandishing their guns. Worrying about the possibility that my home could be demolished next week by outside forces.

What if this woman (who is so much like me) needs hospital treatment. What if she is pregnant and the time limit on her permit to travel runs out when she is in labour? Will she be forced to give birth at a checkpoint?  What if this was how we had to live in the UK?

Israel and Palestine are two states sitting side by side, with one consuming the other.

One is a major power financed by the West. The other remains impoverished, and unrecognised as a state by the West.

Israel’s wealth means it has a GDP per person of $43,000 a year- similar to the UK – whilst Palestine’s is estimated at less than $6000 per year. These figures come from the IMF.

Israeli military spending per person is second only to the US.

The Palestinians remain under militarised occupation in the West Bank, under military siege in Gaza and with millions still living in refugee camps. Israeli settlers and the Israeli government continue to seize more and more land in the West Bank, whilst life is squeezed in Gaza by the blockade.

Last Summer we saw further escalation of violence with the seizure and demolition of houses in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem, with the families expelled. This action continues, and which – given it is in occupied territory –  the UN has said ‘may amount to war crimes’.

This action inevitably created conflict, and we saw over 200 deaths in Gaza, and the shocking Israeli attack on the Hanadi Tower housing Al Jazeera and other media outlets, in Gaza City.

So despite everything else, we cannot forget the Palestinians and the misery they are forced to live in by the Israeli government.

Fortunately we are active here in the UK.

I have long been a supporter of PSC and of MAP. And PSC has continued to grow, through its own active membership, and also building on its relations within the trade union movement. 

That growing strength of opinion in support of Palestine  was shown at Labour’s annual conference last year, so it is worth reflecting on the policy passed  by that conference last September, thanks in no small part to the work of Labour and Palestine, working closely with PSC.

That policy was clear, and in it, the Conference resolved the party’s priorities are to,

“ensure that Israel stops the building of settlements, reverses any annexation, ends the occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza, brings down the Wall and respects the right of Palestinian people, as enshrined in international law, to return to their homes.“

And in terms of how we do that, the policy included,

‘to support “effective measures” including sanctions, as called for by Palestinian civil society, against actions by the Israeli government that are illegal according to international law’.

This was a significant  development giving a policy anchor for Labour MPs and Labour activists to point to when we are campaigning to support the Palestinians.

And alongside that we have also seen a hardening amongst mainstream civil society and human rights organisations against Israel’s actions.

In 2020, the TUC called settlement building a ‘significant step’ towards the UN Crime of Apartheid.

In 2021, both Human Rights Watch, and also B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation, concluded unequivocally that Israel is practising the crime of apartheid as defined by the UN.

And in recent weeks, at the start of February, Amnesty International published it’s report, Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity.

Amnesty is the world’s leading human rights organisation, and their views carry significant weight. Their report creates additional pressure on the international community to act on Israel’s violations of human rights.

But our opponents are organising as well.

There is hostility to our solidarity, and to the measures we use to express that.

We must be prepared counter them..

So what do we do now?

Well – We continue to call for an end to the Israeli occupation.

We call on all political and trade union organisations and public representatives across the UK to make it clear to the Israeli Government that its annexation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza will have consequences.

I mentioned B’Tselem earlier. We must support the Israeli anti-occupation movement.

We must support economic sanctions and an end to the sale of arms to Israel.

We must ban the import of goods from the illegal settlements.

We must recognise the State of Palestine and work for a two-state peaceful solution to this on-going and oh so damaging situation.

And we, as women activists, need to forge closer links with Palestinian women. And I hope Samia and PSC can help us with that.

Samia, there is an olive tree in Palestine , a gift from me one Christmas – one day I will sit by that olive tree with my Palestinian and Israeli friends in peace and friendship.

  • This is the text of a speech given by Beth Winter MP to the recent Labour Women Speak up for Palestine event hosted by Labour & Palestine.