News and Views

Speaking up for Palestine

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By Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine

As a campaigner, when closely involved with an issue, it is often difficult to see progress. This is especially the case when the issue is Palestine and you see the ongoing bombing of Gaza, the house demolitions and the threats of annexation.

But if we look narrowly at the political landscape in this country, we can see that support for Palestine is still very strong, despite all the obstacles we face.

Two examples illustrate this – the Labour Party statement on Annexation and the TUC motion passed earlier this month.

I remember when I was first getting active on Palestine in the trade union and labour movement, the TUC’s position was one of balance, and Labour’s almost unadulterated support for the Israeli Government.

So Lisa Nandy’s recent statement that Labour would support a ban on settlement goods if annexation took place was a small, but significant step. As action it will not be enough to make a difference if – or when – Israel goes ahead with annexation. But in political terms, it is the first time that I am aware of that the Labour Party has officially called for Government action of this kind in response to actions by Israel.

There might be a reluctance to call this sanctions, but the dictionary describes sanctions as “measures taken by countries to restrict trade and official contact with a country that has broken international law,” so I’m not sure what else you would call it.

The TUC motion, meanwhile, in denouncing the threat of Annexation, describes it as “another significant step in the creation of a system of apartheid.” So, although TUC policy has come a long way in supporting Palestine over the years, this is the first time it has used apartheid in the context of Israel.

Specifically it reads, “Congress stands united in its full opposition to the Israeli government’s declared intention to annex great swathes of the West Bank, a move that is illegal under international law and that makes clear there is no intent on the part of the Israeli government to end the occupation and recognise the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. It will be another significant step in the creation of a system of apartheid.”

Indeed, prominent supporters of Israel have publicly expressed concern that annexation would legitimise talk of sanctions and the use of apartheid to describe the reality Israel is creating.

How right they were. But supporters of Palestinian rights must be under no illusion. However it is described, the threat of annexation has not gone away – the physical annexation of Palestine is taking place at an increasing speed.

It is obvious, but also important, to say that Israel’s Government still has a problem – the Palestinians. It can threaten, bomb and annex, but at the end of the day the Palestinians are still there.

Resistance takes many forms, cultural, political, physical – but in the case of the Palestinians the biggest act of resistance is to still be there. They might be imprisoned in Gaza, encircled by walls and occupied, but the very act of remaining poses Israel with a dilemma, which leaves Israel with inequality as the only viable option.

In practice this means to coral and control the Palestinian population into as small a space as possible whilst denying them equal, human and national rights.

As Rashid Khalidi sets out in his excellent book – The Hundred Years War on Palestine – Israel has an ‘illiberal and discriminatory essence’. Inequality is the hardcore on which Israel is built – this is not a nasty accident, it is in the DNA of the Israeli state. It cannot grant equality whilst remaining determined to block the self-determination of the Palestinian people

It also fatally undermines any lingering pretence it has to being a western liberal democracy – as it craves to be recognised. It is all very well normalising relations with the UAE and Bahrain, but they are undemocratic bedfellows.

Therefore equality and democracy are Israel’s Achilles Heel. We can compare Israel to other nasty regimes and talk of the imbalance of power, but our campaigning should be rigorously focussed on that inequality, the absence of equality and democracy for Palestinians, and the denial of their human and national rights.

As a democratic, socialist party that should be Labour’s agenda on Palestine – there can be no solution that does not include full equality.

With CLP meetings resuming online, we need as many constituencies as possible to discuss Palestine. The aforementioned statement from Lisa Nandy and TUC motion provide a good basis for such discussions and we will be circulating a motion and briefing shortly.

The overwhelming majority of Labour Party members support Palestine – our challenge is to make that silent majority visible and vocal.

  • Follow Labour & Palestine at www.twitter.com/LabourPalestine and www.facebook.com/LabourandPalestine
  • EVENT: Justice for Palestine – a conversation between Jeremy Corbyn & Mustafa Barghouti. Thursday October 8, 19.00. Register here – share, invite & RSVP on Facebook here. Jeremy Corbyn & Mustafa Barghouti discuss the need for a progressive response from the global community in the face of the threats faced by Palestine. Organised by Labour & Palestine. Kindly hosted on Zoom & streamed by Arise: A Festival of Labour’s Left ideas.

Palestine: Annexation has not gone away

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By Tony Burke, Unite and Labour & Palestine

The TUC has in the past two weeks has agreed a comprehensive policy on Palestine in regard to the situation in Palestine.

UK unions have always stood with those facing oppression and discrimination and who are fighting in defence of workers and human rights.

We stood with workers in South Africa in the fight against apartheid. We are standing with workers in Colombia where they are struggling to stop the murders and killings of trade unionists and human rights defenders.

And we have stood with Cuba as they fought for the right for their own future – free from aggression and interference.

And today we are standing with workers in Turkey, Syria, Belarus and many other countries as they fight for the same rights.

In recent years the TUC and many affiliated unions have stepped up solidarity work with the Palestinians – and now, with the threat of annexation of large swathes of Palestinian lands by the Israeli state, we must again step up our efforts.

For decades the Israeli state has occupied Palestinian lands and engaged in massive discrimination against the Palestinian people.

Gaza has been under an inhumane blockade for over 10 years and has been regularly bombed and attacked.

In East Jerusalem the Palestinian population is subject to extreme restrictions concerning where they can go to work and where they can live, and their houses are being systematically bulldozed, demolished and taken over.

In the West Bank the Israeli state continues to support the growth and expansion of illegal settlements in an attempt to effectively build Palestine out of existence.

And now the Israeli government has gone a massive step further and laid out its plans to annex huge swathes of Palestine and to officially integrate the area into Israel.

It is has been said that Israel is ‘the only real democracy in the Middle East’ – but can anyone remember the last time that the leader of a democracy went into an general election and openly campaigned with a pledge to actually take over the territory of another country?

So it is absolutely essentially that we make clear our total opposition this move by Israel.

Unions are now committed to join with other progressive forces that are pledged to resist the annexation and that we will work with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and wider civil society towards this goal.

The British government must make it clear that sanctions will follow if this goes ahead, and we must call on the international community to do the same.

Likewise, we will be working with unions internationally to build a mass movement that demands an end to the annexation plans and an end to the occupation and repression.

And let us be clear that the plans for annexation have not been dropped as part of Trump’s so-called ‘deal of the century’ between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Netanyahu says the annexation is postponed not abandoned it is clear the delay is more to to do with Israeli politics and the pending US presidential election, rather than a U-turn by the Israeli government.

If Trump loses the US election in November, Israel may push ahead with the annexation and try to present Biden with a fait accompli so he cannot reverse the annexation.

Annexation has not gone away, and we have no choice for unions and Labour to step up our support and solidarity with the Palestinian people.

EVENT: Palestine: Why Labour must speak out – against annexation, the siege of Gaza and the arms trade with Israel.

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Monday 21 September, 18:00 – 19:15. Register here.

With: Samia Al-Botmeh, Birzeit University, via Live link from Palestine // Ambassador Husam Zomlot /// Professor Karma Nabulsi // Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP // Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine // Tony Burke, Unite Assistant General Secretary // Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary.

Online Labour Fringe Meeting: Palestine: Why Labour must speak out – against annexation, the siege of Gaza and the arms trade with Israel.

Gaza: Now the bombing has stopped, the siege must too

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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.

  • Follow Labour & Palestine on Twitter here and Facebook here.
  • Join the Labour & Palestine online meeting on why Labour must speak up for Palestine on Monday September 21 at 6pm with live link-ups from Palestine. Register here – Facebook info here.

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.

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• An edited version of this piece appeared on the Tribune website.