News and Views

Lisa Nandy’s call for sanctions against Israel’s proposed annexation is a welcome first step

By Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine

Labour & Palestine welcomes Lisa Nandy’s statement that, if Israel’s proposed annexation takes place, “concrete action will follow, including a ban on goods entering Britain from the illegal settlements in the West Bank”. This is the first time Labour has officially called for there to be Government sanctions in response to an Israeli breach of international law and is a welcome first step.

As a response to the call from Palestine for ‘effective measures’ it is unlikely to be sufficient. As it has always been, Israel will undoubtedly be intransigent on its flouting of international law. Therefore Labour’s first challenge will be to get the UK government, other countries in the EU and globally to accept the notion that “a blatant breach of international law must have consequences”. It will be a measure of Labour’s seriousness; how much energy is put into making this policy a reality in the spheres where Labour has influence.

There is much care being used about terminology – from sanctions, concrete action, restrictive or effective measures to consequences. It matters little what they are called, the critical test will be do they work – do they have the effect of stopping annexation?

The objective must be to take action to genuinely stop annexation taking place – not just delaying or reducing it a bit, or just a verbal statement, but blocking it. Then Labour needs to be equally clear, that if annexation goes ahead, action will be taken quickly. This will require international cooperation but should not be delayed until there is a global or European consensus – as this is unlikely to be achieved within a reasonable timescale. Countries will need to take unilateral action.

The forms of action that can be taken – as was shown with the response to the annexation of Crimea – are many and various. It is likely that low-level sanctions would need to be accompanied by further measures anyway.

There will be much discussion about what form any action should take, but there should only be one criteria – effectiveness. If whatever action has been taken doesn’t result in bringing an end to the annexation, then it has to be recognised that the actions will have to be strengthened. It cannot be a ‘one-off’ – we tried and it didn’t work.

Labour’s statement will have the positive effect of bringing discussion about sanctions into the mainstream, rather than being ostracised as Israel was hoping to achieve through its campaign against BDS. A campaign further undermined by two legal setbacks it has suffered – first in the UK’s Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Government regulations aimed at blocking local authority pension schemes from choosing not to invest in Israel.

Secondly the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which will still cover the UK after Brexit unless we opt out of the Convention, to rule illegal French Court’s decision s to convict BDS activists. It ruled, with usual caveats, that boycott actions aimed at a state’s actions were covered by the freedom of expression.

In the fight against apartheid in South Africa it was the long campaign for ‘Sanctions Now’ coming to fruition that eventually had the effect – it is clear that governments need to act. Many view Israel to effectively be an apartheid regime now. Annexation will take Israel inevitably along the path that make it a state where the discrimination is built into and supported by its legal system. The definition of an apartheid state.

With annexation, Israel is changing the terms of debate – something which it might be prevented from doing if supporters of Palestine speak up loudly and the world calls Israel to account for its actions. Israel is effectively declaring itself above the framework of international law and any form of peace process that could lead to an independent Palestine.

Why Israel’s annexation plans matter to Labour

By Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine.

With the new government in Israel threatening further annexation of occupied Palestinian land, a broad range of parliamentarians, trade unions and cultural figures have signed a statement launched today in support of the global call from Palestine for effective measures to stop the annexation.

The general secretaries of nine trade unions including Len McCluskey and Mick Whelan, cultural figures including Philip Pullman and Maxine Peake, and 33 parliamentarians including Jeremy Corbyn, Andy Slaughter, Diane Abbott, Stephen Kinnock and Bell Ribeiro-Addy have all supported the call from Labour & Palestine, PSC and other organisations.

The new Israeli unity government of Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz is threatening to annex large swathes of the West Bank – including the Jordan valley – starting in July. This is a time for Labour and the UK government to be vociferous and pro-active in seeking to stop this from happening. Not just moaning after the event.

Annexation sounds like something anodyne, administrative, neutral rather than dangerous. But correctly described by leaders of the Arab List – on demonstrations in Tel Aviv – as a ‘war crime’, annexation is illegal under international law. Annexation is the forcible and unilateral acquisition by one state – in this case Israel – of territory over which it has no recognised sovereignty.

The land under threat are those parts of the West Bank that were militarily occupied by Israel in 1967. This would be the culmination of years of appropriation of land through the forced displacement of Palestinians, settlement and the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980. The annexation of East Jerusalem was globally condemned, but – in the end – tolerated.

Palestinian civil society has made a very clear call for all states across the world to take ‘effective measures’ to stop the annexation taking place. Since 1967, the territories Israel occupied have been primarily governed, through the military commander, by military law and Palestinians have had some protection under international law under the laws of occupation. These are designed to protect the civilian population during a military occupation that is presumed to be temporary.

Although all the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River has been under Israel’s control and domination since it was occupied, it has not directly come under the laws of Israel and the Knesset. Through settlements, the wall and other laws, such as giving Israeli citizenship to settlers, Israel has sought to blur the lines, but the distinction between Israel and the land it occupies has been broadly maintained in law. This distinction was the basis of the Oslo accords.

Although annexation was always on the agenda for the more fundamental Zionists within Israel, Netanyahu has mainstreamed it as part of his determination to cling to office. This has been egged on by Donald Trump, who has put forward a plan – the ‘deal of the century‘ – drawn up by his nephew.

This plan and Trump’s actions have been a dream come true for the hardliners in the Knesset, which has a majority publicly supporting annexation. But time is critical – to do it before the US Presidential elections, in case he is not re-elected. But also, for a Netanyahu concerned about his legacy, to start it whilst he is still Prime Minister and before his trial concludes. For Trump, it is a further appeasement to his Christian Evangelical base who support a greater Israel – albeit for different reasons, predominantly driven by antisemitic sentiments.

The core and fundamental purpose underlying annexation is that it permanently puts the ‘nail in the coffin’ of a two-state solution. It leaves no room for any conceivable viable Palestinian state. It is critical to understanding the motives behind Israel’s actions to recognise that it has no interest in and does not want to see the creation of an independent state of Palestine. It wants to retain total control of all the land between the sea and the Jordan river, and this is granted under the Trump plan.

Its problem is that there are broadly seven million Jews and seven million Arabs in this land mass, so Israel does not want to sequester all of the occupied territories and all its people. It wants to take as much land as possible, with as few Palestinians as possible – to quote Netanyahu, “not a single Palestinian”.

In its very essence, the annexation proposed by Israel is discriminatory. It picks and chooses who it wants, excluding those who are not Jewish. It grants rights, privileges and status to some whilst denying and excluding others. This view was iterated in a letter to Israel’s ambassador in the UK, Mark Regev, by a group of prominent British Jews, who wrote: “It would have grave consequences for the Palestinian people most obviously. Israel’s international standing would also suffer, and it is incompatible with the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.”

Palestinians in East Jerusalem were not granted citizenship when it was annexed, just the status of residents – made to pay taxes, but not eligible to vote. It is not clear, as yet, what status would be granted to any Palestinians, if there are any, within the annexed territory or to those remaining in the occupied territories. Israel, far from being a democratic state, becomes even more entrenched as what Israeli human rights organisation Breaking the Silence describes as ‘One State, One Discriminatory Regime’.

The racial discrimination will not be limited just to the fundamental legal and political rights, but will permeate every aspect of Palestinian life. In an excellent briefing, another human rights group, Yesh Din Volunteers for Human Rights, set out some of the other major consequences of annexation.

They detail the impact in two major areas: freedom of movement and property rights. Under Israeli law, residents of the West Bank have no right of entry to Israel. They need a permit and to go through border controls. Annexation would make whole new areas ‘no go’ zones for Palestinians and would require the establishment of permanent barriers and border controls. In addition to the settler road system that they are currently excluded from, this would cut across and block many of the remaining roads.

As has been seen in East Jerusalem and elsewhere, once under Israeli law, the way would be open for the expropriation of Palestinian land and houses by the state – because they, the Palestinian owners and residents, were no longer present. It would deny access to agricultural land, facilitate the growth of settlement-building and the continuation of ethnic cleansing through expulsion and house demolitions. It would entrench the already disproportionate control of natural resources, such as water, oil and minerals.

Palestinian civil society has made a global call for ‘effective measures’ to be taken to stop this annexation. If the measures are to be effective, this means the UK should now, at the very least, be adhering to an ethical policy on all the UK’s trade with Israel, in particular by applying international law on settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and stopping any arms trade with Israel that is used in violation of the human rights of Palestinians.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of organisations are cooperating to try to respond to the call from Palestine by making Annexation a live issue on the current political agenda. Israel’s timetable is to annex land quickly with Trump’s support. This means we cannot wait.

Stopping annexation must be part of Labour’s foreign policy agenda. Most crucially, at some point Labour needs to recognise there must be consequences for Israel’s continual breaches of international law. Surely annexation is that tipping point. The Palestinian call for effective measures is reasonable. This time we cannot stand idly by.

Labour Figures Speak Out Against Annexation – Show your support.

The new Israeli Government has said that it intends to annex large swathes of Palestinian land in the West Bank, starting in July, land which was militarily occupied in 1967. This would be the culmination of years of appropriation of land – through the forced displacement of Palestinians, settlement and the annexation of East Jerusalem. Annexation, illegal under international law, is the forcible and unilateral acquisition of territory over which it has no recognised sovereignty and to make it an integral part of the state – in this case, Israel.

Palestinian civil society has made a global call for ‘effective measures’ to be taken to stop this annexation happening. If the measures are to be effective, this means the UK should now, at the very least, be adhering to an ethical policy on all the UK’s trade with Israel , in particular by applying international law on settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and stopping any arms trade with Israel that is used in violation of the human rights of Palestinians.

In the midst of the Covid pandemic a number of organisations and individuals (see a list of Labour and other prominent figures below) are cooperating to try to respond to the call from Palestine by making Annexation a live issue on the current political agenda. Israel’s timetable is to annex land quickly with Trump’s support – this means we cannot wait.

If you agree with this and want to support the Palestinian call for action, please indicate your agreement with the following statement in one or more of the ways listed below:

SPEAK OUT TO STOP ANNEXATION NOW

“I am speaking out now in order to stop the threatened annexation of Palestinian land by Israel in July and I call on the UK Government and all UK political parties to support the call of Palestinian civil society organisations for Effective Measures by all States to Stop Israel’s Illegal Annexation of the Occupied West Bank.”

 

Signatories include:

Parliamentarians 

Diane Abbott MP

Apsana Begum MP

Baroness Tessa Blackstone

Baroness Christine Blower

Richard Burgon MP

Ian Byrne MP

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Lord Peter Hain

Lord John Hendy

Rachel Hopkins MP

Stephen Kinnock MP

Ian Lavery MP

John McDonnell MP

Grahame Morris MP

Kate Osborne MP

Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP

Andy Slaughter MP

Zarah Sultana MP

Jon Trickett MP

Claudia Webbe MP

Mick Whitley MP

 

Trade Unions :

Len McCluskey, General Secretary Unite the Union

John Phillips, Acting General Secretary GMB

Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary NEU

Mick Whelan, General Secretary ASLEF

Manuel Cortes, General Secretary TSSA

Jo Grady, General Secretary UCU

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary PCS

Sarah Woolley, General Secretary, BFAWU

FBU

RMT

Barbara Plant, President GMB

 

Organisations:

Labour and Palestine

Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Amos Trust

Artists for Palestine UK

British Palestinian Policy Council,

Jews for Justice for Palestinians

Labour Friends of Palestine and Middle East

War on Want

 

Individuals :

Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine

Dr Hafiz Alkarmi  (Chair- Palestinian Forum in Britain)

Philip Pullman

John Austin, former Labour MP

Victoria Brittain

Julie Christie

Brian Eno

Ghada Karmi

A.L.Kennedy

Sara Husseini

Kamel Hawwash, Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Professor Karma Nabulsi

Maxine Peake

John Pilger

Alexei Sayle

Irvine Welsh

Tony Burke, Labour & Palestine

  • For a full list see the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website.

Palestine on the Brink

With Israeli Government aggression continuing, the people of Palestine need international solidarity to ensure they get the resources they need to fight COVID-19, write the Labour & Palestine Team.

In his last speech as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn noted that the coronavirus was now hitting “the mass open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip.” Since then, within Gaza at the time of writing (May 21) 55 cases of COVID-19 had been detected and quarantined, with great concern at new cases coming from refugees returning from Egypt this week.

The risk of an outbreak amongst the strip’s Gaza’s two-million population remains very real.  As Gaza’s healthcare system has been starved of resources due to the siege, it would be a particularly disastrous place to have a coronavirus outbreak.

Recent reports have said there are only 60 working ventilators and 2,800 hospital beds in Gaza, and that stocks of essential drugs are already chronically low.

The supply of testing kits was limited to hundreds for a population approaching 2 million.

The UN has previously warned that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020, and now 13 years of an illegal blockade mean that Gaza’s fragile healthcare system is already stretched to a point that it is hard for us to imagine.

Gaza is also one of the most densely populated areas on the planet and still facing regular Israeli military attacks.

To help try and avoid the spread of the virus measures that can be taken are being, including the United Nations agency (UNRWA) preparing food rations to be delivered to the homes of Palestinian refugee families in an effort to avoid people congregating at distribution centres, but what is really needed is a lifting of the siege.

Authorities in Gaza have also announced that they were allocating $1 million for emergency payments to 10,000 families who have lost their incomes due to the pandemic, and that another $300,000 had been donated from the salaries of government employees for redistribution to low-income families.

Linked to this, demands are also growing internationally that this crisis means more than ever Israel must end the siege of Gaza, including so that Palestinians can both manufacture and obtain much needed PPE, medicines and medical equipment.

There is also grave concern regarding the further spread of coronavirus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the illegally annexed East Jerusalem.

At the time of writing, the occupied Palestinian territories have confirmed more than 400 cases of Covid-19, and the Palestinian Authority placed the areas of the West Bank that it controls under a lockdown on 22 March. Furthermore, OCHA has expressed a view that the relatively low number of COVID-19 cases in Palestine “may reflect the limited testing capacity.”

Palestinians living in the West Bank and Jerusalem are largely concentrated in packed refugee camps. Squalid living conditions mean they too have severely limited access to water, health and other resources.

As the UN humanitarian coordination agency (OCHA) have said, “people in refugee camps and other poor, densely populated areas across the [occupied Palestinian territories] face a higher risk of contagion due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitation.”

In East Jerusalem – where nearly 400,000 Palestinians live, as ‘residents’, not citizens. Dr Rawan Al-Dajani, Deputy Director of the Community Action Center has reported that attempts by Palestinian doctors to establish a quarantine facility in an unused hotel were blocked because of the absence of testing. No testing kits were supplied, and an offer from the Palestine Authority in the West Bank to supply kits was declined.

It has also been reported that the Israeli military arbitrarily raided and closed down a coronavirus testing clinic in East Jerusalem.

In the West Bank meanwhile, emergency treatment facilities being established in case they were needed, were bulldozed and demolished.

There is also international concern for the well-being during the coronavirus outbreak in Israel of some 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel. In 2019, five Palestinians died in Israeli custody.

Unfortunately, continuing the siege of Gaza is just one of a number of aggressive policies being advocated by the new coalition Government in Israel.

The coalition’s two main parties – Likud and Blue and White – have both recently expressed support for annexing massive swathes of Palestinian territory – with a July date seeming likely – along the lines outlined in Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ Plan, which has been widely condemned across Palestinian society and internationally.

As Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said in her letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, such annexation would be “in direct contravention of international law” and therefore “we must ensure that actions which will set back the prospect of peace and undermine international law do not go unaddressed.”

Over 140 MPs have also signed a letter saying that the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary must make clear publicly to Israel that any annexation of occupied Palestinian territory “will have severe consequences including sanctions”.

The context to this is that the Trump administration has been encouraging Netanyahu in annexation and other aggressive policies, and also cut vital international funding to Palestine in recent years.

This was highlighted by recent reports that the US will give just 5 million dollars to Palestine to help deal with the coronavirus crisis, which amounts to about 1% of the amount given before Trump slashed almost all aid.

In 2018, Trump cancelled more than $200m in economic aid, included $25m specifically earmarked for underfunded East Jerusalem hospitals.

As was recognised and opposed by Labour Party Conference in 2018, the erratic US President also withdrew funding of approximately 200 million dollars a year from UNRWA, the aforementioned vital UN body that supports more than 5 million Palestinian refugees, including for healthcare and other public services, including sanitation.

Faced with Trump’s encouragement of illegal Israeli annexation and aggression at this time of international crisis, it is simply not enough for members of the international community – including the UK Government and the EU – to say they support a meaningful peace process.

The Israeli Government must be held accountable when it breaks international law, diplomatic power must be used to secure an end to the murderous siege of Gaza, and we must have international action now to stop Israel’s illegal annexation plans in their tracks.

Palestinians have been on lockdown since 1967

Hemmed in by walls, checkpoints and security fences, Palestinians have been on a permanent, militarily enforced, lockdown for over 50 years since the occupation by Israel in 1967, writes Hugh Lanning.

Unable to travel freely within their country or abroad, with regular curfews are now added the restrictions of isolation measures required because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Any thoughts this might lead to a humanitarian relaxation of the occupation rules or the siege to enable the local authorities and services to deal with the situation were quickly dashed. In Gaza the supply of testing kits was limited to hundreds for a population approaching 2 million. In the West Bank – emergency treatment facilities being established in case they were needed, were bulldozed and demolished.

Most worrying is the situation in illegally annexed East Jerusalem – where nearly 400,000 Palestinians live, as ‘residents’, not citizens. Dr Rawan Al-Dajani, Deputy Director of the Community Action Center has reported that attempts by Palestinian doctors to establish a quarantine facility in an unused hotel were blocked because of the absence of testing. No testing kits were supplied, an offer from the Palestine Authority in the West Bank to supply kits was declined.

Ahmad Al-Budeiri, of the Jerusalem Alliance, trying to co-ordinate self-help services in East Jerusalem, described the attitude of the Israeli authorities as ‘racist’. Whilst barricading the Palestinians in severe lockdown with continuing armed raids in districts such as Issawiya, Israelis and, in particular Orthodox Jews, have been allowed much greater flexibility. Palestinian shops in Old Jerusalem have had to shut whilst similar Israeli shops have been allowed to stay open.

A breakdown of figures by race or status has been declined as this would be ‘racist’, so health organisations and NGOs in East Jerusalem are having to work blind, not knowing how many cases there are or where they are. The suspicion is that there are many more cases than publicly reported, because Palestinians can’t or are intimidated from coming forward for treatment or testing.

Already discriminated against in many ways, the more than 1.5 million Palestinians living within Israel are facing another tier of mistreatment. A catch 22 where the lockdown is weaponised to prevent them from developing their own ways of effectively combatting the pandemic, in the absence of humanitarian support from the Israeli authorities – who, as the occupier, should be providing health services to all of its civilian population. 

  • Originally published on Union News here.

Israel and Palestine – borders , barricades and, now, Coronavirus

By Hugh Lanning

Any thoughts or hopes that the Coronavirus pandemic might lead to a humanitarian relaxation of the continuous lockdown Israel imposes on Palestinians have been quickly shattered. The siege has been used to restrict medical supplies into Gaza, the military occupation to harass and raid the Issawiya neighbourhood in East Jerusalem during lockdown and emergency medical facilities in the West Bank have been bulldosed.
Israel’s multiple internal walls and barriers are being used barricade the Palestinians in dire conditions with grossly under-provided health facilities in order to ‘protect’ Israelis from the risk of infection. This is not withstanding the fact that there are currently far more cases amongst the globally mobile Israelis than there are amongst Palestinians.
As Israeli politicians form a coalition government to deal with the crisis, former Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to exclude the ‘Arab list’ from Government. Twenty percent of the Israeli population are Palestinian, but they – like the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – will not get the same treatment or access to health facilities as other Israeli citizens.
This tallies with Israel’s strategy, it wants the land, but not the people and the responsibilities that go with them. Whilst continuing with the building of multiple internal walls and barriers, it has never finally defined its own borders or recognised Palestine. This is because it still sees itself as expanding into more and more Palestinian land. It does not accept the internationally declared position of the ‘green line’ borders of 1967. Its mechanism for this land grab are the euphemistically called ‘settlements’.
Israel’s settlements aren’t a few people building houses on unoccupied land – a Middle Eastern version of ‘Little House on the Prairie’. These are towns with roads, infrastructure and now more and more houses. Even by official figures – well over 600,000 Israelis on land wholly or partially owned previously by Palestinians. Israel’s supreme court has recently ruled that this is legal – the ‘public use’ of the land for settlement is ‘justifiable and proportionate’.
The statistics have become boring with the international community’s response lacklustre to say the least. It is in this context that Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ must be seen. It represents not a proposal for peace but a demand for the Palestinian people to live under conditions of inequality, external control and occupation in perpetuity. They are not being offered a viable state, but instead a series of dis-connected, encircled parcels of land where the Palestinians are to be corralled like the Bantustans were used by apartheid South Africa to segregate the black population from the white.
It is alleged that calling Israel an apartheid state could be interpreted as anti-Semitic; but if we do as Israel asks and examine ‘the facts on the ground’ then it is systematically building an apartheid infrastructure – not abstractly, but physically – through construction, demolition and ethnic cleansing. All involved are participating In what the late Israeli activist – Uri Avnery – believed was a ‘suicidal project which will create an apartheid Israeli state’, because if a minority of Israeli Jewish settlers are to rule over a disenfranchised majority of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank – currently upwards of 2.75 million people – that will be the result.
The settlements are a ‘huge construction enterprise across the hilltops of the West Bank, with swimming pools, lawns and smart roadways, supermarkets and orchards – all encircled by acres of barbed wire and now also by the grotesque Wall’. This theft has been directly funded through banks and financial institutions. The UN Council of Human rights recently published a list of 112 companies currently operating within the illegal colonies, which now number over 140.
They are illegal, not because of the theft of land – wrong though that is – but because Article 49 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions specifies: “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The UN security council and general assembly, the ICRC and the International Court of Justice have all agreed Article 49 applied to Israeli-occupied territories.
These were territories – East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank – occupied by Israel in 1967. Over 50 years later, Israel is not only still continuing its military occupation – it is deliberately encouraging and transferring hundreds of thousands of its citizens, many recent migrants from Russia and the USA, to take the ‘unilateral step’ of crossing the internationally recognised threshold in order to set up house on Palestinian land. Not just encouraged, but financially induced – with settlers receiving financial support three times that of other Israeli citizens.
Normally it is the ‘occupier’ who should fund the costs of the occupation – looking after and feeding the civilian population. However, these costs are borne, not by Israel, but by the international community – primarily the EU; with the military costs of the occupation being funded by the US. Despite this huge subsidisation of what was meant to be a transitional period to a ‘two state solution’ Israel consistently and regularly puts two fingers up to the international community – ignoring international law with seeming impunity.
Whilst joyously waving Palestinian flags, the last two Labour Party conferences have passed motions calling for Labour to support Palestinian rights. This will be an early challenge for human rights lawyer – Keir Starmer, and new shadow Foreign Secretary – Lisa Nandy. Lisa – a Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, has visited and spoken out on behalf of Palestine.
Within the Party there is rightly a determination to stamp out any vestiges of anti-semitism. The UK government has waiting in the wings – post-lockdown – legislation aimed at ‘banning boycotts of Israel’, which leadership candidates were asked to oppose. There are concerns that the departure of Jeremy Corbyn as leader will lead to renewed attempts aimed at silencing of Palestinian voices within the Party.
Labour Party policy passed by its conferences makes it clear that Labour’s ethical foreign policy should support ‘Palestinians’ rights to freedom, justice and equality, including by applying these principles based on international law to all UK trade with Israel.’
It goes on “an internationalist Labour Party has a special responsibility to redress the ongoing injustices against the Palestinian people, denied their right to self-determination during the British Mandate, because of the role Britain played as a colonial power during the 1948 Nakba when Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes.”
Jeremy Corbyn – as a life-long supporter of Palestine – was seen as a potential threat by ardent supporters of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. His departure was not only welcomed, but worked for, and is now being perceived as an opportunity to push back the gains that have been made in recent years – notwithstanding the backdrop of the furore taking place over anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.
Labour & Palestine was set up by seven affiliated trade unions, including the two biggest Unite and Unison, to galvanise grassroots support for Palestine within the party. The successful and overwhelming passing of motions at Party conference shows that that support exists. It is the natural instinct of new and old members of the trade union and labour movement to be internationalist and support the oppressed, not the oppressor – in this case the occupied, not the occupier.
In 1914 it was prophetically stated, for Palestinians, that “We are a nation threatened by disappearance”. If one looks at the maps of Palestine – it is shrinking and shrinking towards invisibility, not just physically but along with the political prospects of a viable Palestinian state. These are Israel’s dual objectives – to make the physical reality of Palestine impossible along with driving the issue off the international political agenda.
It has two problems – first the Palestinians aren’t going anywhere – they have nowhere to go. Imprisoning, isolating and intimidating them isn’t working. The second is that the practical acts of Israel – the occupation, the wall, the settlements – are in breach of international law. Without the existence of a Palestinian state, the more steps that are taken towards making Israel a Jewish state, the more it is discriminating against the Palestinians both within and without Israel – however defined.
For the reality is that there exists a ‘no-state’ solution where Israel controls all the land and people between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan. The proposed annexation of the settlements and large tracts of the Jordan Valley into Israel – as proposed by the ‘Trump’ plan will only accentuate the racial basis of the two infrastructures that will exist.
If you look at law, land, waste, water, food, income or education – this is not separate and equal, but endemic, planned inequality based on the racial discrimination by one people of another.
In his recent book (The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine) Rashid Khalidi concludes: “While the fundamental colonial nature of the Palestinian-Israel encounter must be acknowledged, there are now two peoples in Palestine, irrespective of how they came into being, and the conflict between them cannot be resolved as long as the national existence of each is denied by the other. Their mutual acceptance can only be based on complete equality of rights, including national rights, notwithstanding the crucial historical differences between the two”.
The mutuality of respect and rights cannot be placed into the never-ending debacle of the peace process – now surely dead and buried under the weight of Israeli house demolition and settlement construction. It requires the international community to robustly call for and expect the observance of international law and that a failure to comply should have consequences. Fundamentally this must mean the end of the cruel and inhumane siege of Gaza – most recently witnessed by the denial of supplies to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. It must mean the end of the occupation and respecting the rights of refugees.
At the moment – with Trump’s aid and abetting – Israel is going in the opposite direction, seeing how far it can go, how far it can push its borders, before the world does anything. Israel’s ever-expanding occupation of Palestine is described by Robert Fisk as the last colonial struggle. Now, more than ever, the Labour Party needs to be speaking up for Palestine, saying ‘enough is enough’. Indeed, saying it is too much.

• Follow Labour and Palestine at www.twitter.com/LabourPalestine and www.facebook.com/labourandpalestine
• An edited version of this piece appeared on the Tribune website.

Speak Up for Palestinian Refugees

By Matt Willgress, Labour & Palestine

It was recently reported that a minimum of $1.4 billion of international funding is needed to fund the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, known as UNRWA.

UNRWA’s temporary head Christian Saunders explained that “We are stretched to our limits under our shrinking budgets and the growing needs of Palestine refugees who are impacted by the same volatility and unpredictability that people face in the Middle East every day.”

A core reason this level of funding is needed is that in 2018, the Trump administration stopped US funding to UNRWA. The US had been UNRWA’s largest donor at that time, and this was a cut of nearly one-third of the agency’s budget.

These funds are vital for Palestinian refugees to survive and used for essential core services, including infrastructure, health and education, and with the spread of COVID-19 into the region – including in the besieged Gaza Strip – this support is going to become all the vital in the months ahead.

As the motion in solidarity with Palestine at the 2018 Labour Conference explained, UNRWA “provides emergency assistance and basic provisions to Palestinian victims of the Nakba of 1948, when the majority of Palestinian people were forcibly displaced from their homes.”

Indeed in 2019 UNRWA helped to provide education to over half a million children in some 700 schools across the region and enabled around 8.5 million patient visits in health facilities.

The cutting of this funding is just one of a number of measures took by Trump that have given a green light to the Israeli Government to continue and increase their aggression against the people of Palestine in recent years, which also included shifting the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Crucially, the cut to UNWRA funding was also part of undermining the right of return of Palestinians living outside of historic Palestine – saying they (the refugees UNWRA looks after) are not real refugees, and therefore don’t need to be part of any deal or solution.

This devastating and one-sided approach of Trump to the issue of Palestine recently culminated in the so-called “Deal of the Century” proposals, which were predictably welcomed by the Israeli Government and rejected by all major Palestinian groups.

As the aforementioned Christian Saunders said, “a lot of Palestinians are in a state of shock at this point in time, in a state of disbelief”.

Trump’s proposal would legalize illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, intensify the siege of Gaza, and allow Israel to annex around 30 per cent of the West Bank.

Rather than create a state of Palestine, the proposals would effectively mean there is no Palestine, merely a glorified municipality, with no army or coherent borders.

The proposing of the ‘deal’ has already lead to Israel threatening to steal ever more slices of Palestinian land, following recent election campaigns where Netanyahu has put promises of more annexations centre stage.

Now then is the time to speak up not only for Palestinian refugees but for the rights of all Palestinians. As the situation facing Palesintian refugees and UNRWA is one clear example of, this is definitely not the time to retreat on the issue, including in the Labour Party itself.

As Jeremy Corbyn rightly put it, “Donald Trump’s Middle East deal is not a peace plan. It is a plan to lock in illegal Israeli colonisation and deny Palestinian rights” and “is a threat to peace.”

And as TUC Congress said last year that the labour movement should “oppose any proposed solution for Palestinians, including Trump’s ‘deal’, not based on international law and UN resolutions recognising their collective rights to self-determination and to return to their homes.”

This means recognising (in the words of the Labour Party 2019 Conference motion) that “the proposals in Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ are a one-sided attempt to impose an unjust outcome destroying core Palestinian rights.”

The Covid-19 outbreak will lead to untold misery & death in besieged Gaza

By Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine

Last weekend, the devastating news broke for the people of Palestine of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the densely populated Gaza strip.
It is important for everyone in the labour and solidarity movements to understand why this is truly a nightmare situation for the people of the besieged Gaza strip, and why these 1.8 million people are particularly vulnerable.
The UN has previously warned that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020, and now 13 years of an illegal blockade mean that Gaza’s fragile healthcare system is already stretched to a point that it is hard for us to imagine. Covid-19 means it will now be placed under a simply unbearable strain.
Alongside this, the situation in Gaza is one of malnutrition on the rise, poorly controlled non-communicable diseases, dense living and housing conditions.
There are deep levels of poverty, the power supply is sporadic and sources of drinking water are largely contaminated.
Older people are without access to proper nursing and healthcare.
At the current time, Israel has restricted testing kits to the strip, where there are only 60 working ventilators and 2,800 hospital beds. Stocks of essential drugs are already chronically low.
As health officials have warned this week, this now means that under the current illegal Israeli siege of Gaza, containment and treatment of Covid-19 will be simply impossible.
Like all other people around the world, Palestinians have a right to access health treatment, and at this dangerous time, the international community has a duty to help uphold this right, meaning that Israeli restrictions must end.
The UN, Medical Aid for Palestine and many others have reported the denial of this right in recent years, and said the situation urgently needs to change in this regard. This change is now more important than ever.
And as Michael Lynk, a UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Palestine, has said this week, Israel is legally responsible for providing health services to ensure the safety of Palestinians in the occupied territories during the fight against the coronavirus.
He clearly stated: “The legal duty, anchored in Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, requires that Israel, the occupying power, must ensure that all the necessary preventive means available to it are utilised to ‘combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics’.”
He added that he was “particularly worried about the potential impact of Covid-19 on Gaza.”
For these reasons, all governments internationally, including Britain, must use all their diplomatic power to ensure that Palestinians have access to all the healthcare they need, and that the siege of Gaza ends immediately.
The international community must say clearly that the denial of medicines and other basic resources by the Israeli government to the people of Gaza is a form of collective punishment and illegal under international law.
Lynk has previously noted that Israel is already in “profound breach” of its international obligations with regards to the right to healthcare of Palestinians living under occupation.
If Israel does not fulfil its obligations, there can be no doubt that many innocent people will die unnecessarily, and awful harm done to countless others.
Labour members have expressed amazing support for Palestinian rights at our last two conferences.
Now we must be part of the growing and crucial international calls for an end to the siege of Gaza and in support of the Palestinian people’s right to access healthcare.
Our international solidarity at this vital time can lead to thousands of lives being saved.

  • Please take action by writing to the Foreign Office on this issue using the PSC online tool at mstar.link/GazaEndTheSiege
  • This article originally appeared in ‘The Morning Star’ here.

Under Trump’s plan, there will be no Palestine – Tony Burke

Trump says his ‘deal’ will create a “New Palestine”. It won’t, writes Tony Burke of Unite the Union and Labour & Palestine.

If you believe the increasingly erratic US President, the contents of his “Deal of the Century” proposals will allegedly ‘resolve’ the issue of Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza by the creation of a “New Palestine.”

In fact, they will do nothing of the sort. They can be summed up as a concerted attempt to destroy the Palestinian cause by stopping all vital funding to the humanitarian agency UNRWA for Palestinian refugees, increasing the siege of Gaza, and rapidly expanding illegal settlements.

The UK government’s response to the ‘deal’ was unsurprising but still deeply disturbing. Boris Johnson told Trump it was “a positive step forwards,” whilst Dominic Raab called it “a serious proposal” worthy of “genuine and fair consideration.”

In contrast, Labour’s current leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised the ‘deal in this tweet:

Jeremy Corbyn

@jeremycorbyn

Donald Trump’s Middle East deal is not a peace plan. It is a plan to lock in illegal Israeli colonisation and deny Palestinian rights. It is a threat to peace.

The UK government should oppose this travesty and press for a real peace deal and a genuine two state solution.

In reality, under Trump’s plan there will be no Palestine — merely a glorified municipality, with no army or coherent borders.

In the plan, the land currently militarily occupied by Israel would be divided up. Israel could annex all the settlements and land it wants in the West Bank – including the Jordan valley – into a greater Israel.

Palestinians living in this area would be accorded the second-class citizenship currently accorded to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Jordan would impose guardianship over the remaining parts of the West Bank, and Egypt would govern Gaza.

International law and the UN recognise the state of Israel based on the boundaries prior to 1967 when Israel’s military occupation started. Multiple resolutions say there should be a Palestinian state, but Israel has never recognised a Palestinian state nor ever defined its own borders.

One can see why. Since 1967, Israeli authorities have denied that the Geneva Convention applies to its occupation and therefore it can annex territories under its military control.

So, by what criteria should the Trump deal be judged? Dictionaries define a deal as an “an agreement entered into by two or more parties for their mutual benefit.” By any definition of a deal Trump’s fails — there is no agreement or mutual benefit.

Through the force of armed and economic power it is intended to impose the deal on Palestinians as a one-sided attempt to systematically destroy and take off the table their collective rights under international law.

History has shown that bilateral negotiations between Israel and Palestine are inherently unequal — with the US, as Trump is showing perhaps more than any other President, the dishonest broker and enforcer.

There is then a very real risk of Palestine being forcibly carved up and atomised before our eyes and the ‘deal of the century’ must be firmly opposed.

As TUC Congress passed last year, the labour movement should “oppose any proposed solution for Palestinians, including Trump’s ‘deal’, not based on international law and UN resolutions recognising their collective rights to self-determination and to return to their homes.”

This means recognising (in the words of the Labour Party Conference motion) that “the proposals in Trump’s ‘deal of the century’are a one-sided attempt to impose an unjust outcome destroying core Palestinian rights.”

There will not be a just solution if the solution proposed is not based on the consent of the Palestinian people, including by recognising their international rights to self-determination and to return to their homes. It is not a solution if it doesn’t recognise equality for all.

We must therefore have a strong and determined show of solidarity to confront the Trump sponsored ‘Deal of the Century’, including from the Labour Party itself.

  • This piece was originally published on Left Foot Forward here.

Now is the time to Speak Up For Palestine – Hugh Lanning

By Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine

The title of Kubrick’s film “eyes wide shut” aptly describes the attitude of successive UK and other Western Governments to Israel’s aggressive colonisation of Palestine.

To put it simply, they believe it is necessary to turn a blind eye to some failings to keep a relationship alive.

The Israeli Government itself has a two-pronged strategy.

It is important to understand that this is not a conspiracy – it is a plan and an open political strategy. People don’t have to believe those of us who stand in solidarity with Palestine, they just need to listen to Israel’s Government itself.

Firstly, it is not to pursue peace. Israel has never recognised the right of Palestine to exist or defined its own borders.

As Trump grants Netanyahu his wish list, so the wish list then grows, covering areas such as the status of Jerusalem and settlements, plus demands for further annexation.

This adds up to the subjugation of the Palestinian people as a whole and Israel’s intention is to confine as many Palestinians as possible on as little land as possible.

Secondly, central to their strategy is the – to quote Israel’s influential Reut Institute – ‘outing, naming and shaming’ of their opponents, who are critics of the Israeli Government’s policies.

It is within this context, that MPs, Lords, trade unions, Labour and Palestine together with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and others have sent a letter to all Labour Leadership candidates asking them to commit to speaking up for Palestine.

All the candidates have made statements criticising Trump’s so-called ‘deal of the century’ which ignores UN policy on Palestine. But looking at their track records on Palestine, none hold a light to the present incumbent Jeremy Corbyn, and this will make our campaigning on the issue all the more important.

The letter therefore asks for candidates to commit to make a priority of ensuring that the Labour party’s policy towards Palestine is rooted in respecting international law and UN resolutions recognising the collective rights of the Palestinian people including their right to self -determination.

It also asks for commitments to an ethical trade policy including in relation to Israel, including a commitment to stop any arms trade with Israel used in the violation of human rights of Palestinians.

This will require action starting with holding accountable those British companies named in the UN’s recently published database listing companies active in illegal Israeli settlements.

Finally, it addresses the threats posed to freedom of expression by the Government’s proposed law to stop public bodies from making decisions not to invest in companies complicit in a state’s human rights abuses where the Government itself has not imposed sanctions.

This last point is vital as we have already seen in Boris Johnson’s legislative agenda a proposal to outlaw here the non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns called for by Palestinians until Israel ends the occupation and complies with international law.

As part of our campaigning on Palestine in the Labour Party and here in Britain, we also have to recognise Britain’s historical role in the colonisation and subjugation of the Palestinian people.

Wherever you see a straight line on a map, you can guarantee the British were involved somewhere. Syria, Iran, Iraq and many others were not self-determined nations. They were colonial constructs.

After World War 1 Palestine came under British control – which, although not ours to give, was handed over to enable the creation of modern Israel – initially with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and then after WW2  standing aside during  the Nakba – the expulsion of Palestinians from their land and homes in 1947/8.

This is something which continues to this day, and we need to set out the brutal truth that again today, Palestinians are being systematically expelled from their homes. This is being endorsed by Trump, who in turn is endorsed by Boris Johnson.

Now Trump’s “deal of the century” is leading to Israel threatening to steal ever more slices of Palestinian land.

Labour and all UK parties need to remove the blinkers and, with their eyes wide open, act on the reality they see.  Israel’s Government needs to be treated as what it is – an aggressive, law-breaking power which needs to be pressured to behave in line with international law, not given the favoured treatment it receives.

Now is not the time to retreat on support for Palestine but to speak up and organise to defeat both Trump’s plan and organise to defeat Johnson’s plan to keep us quiet on the issue.

In other words, now is the time to speak up for Palestine.