This briefing provides context to the 7 issues candidates are asked to respond to by Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
1. I urge the UK Government to uphold the principles of equality, human rights and international law in all its dealings with Israel.
Israel commits human rights abuses and violations of international law on a daily basis. Well documented by the UN, the EU, and bodies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch[i], these abuses and violations impact upon the everyday life of Palestinians, whether living under illegal, decades-long occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, or as residents of Israel, or as refugees outside. Israel has been the subject of over 77 UN resolutions condemning its actions[ii]. Richard Falk, who served as the UN's Special Rapporteur for Palestinian Rights for six years, has described Israel’s prolonged occupation as ' a new kind of crime against humanity'. He continued: ‘the UN, the governments and the peoples of the world will be all be judged complicit to the extent that this persistent violation of fundamental human rights is endured without taking the necessary steps in a spirit of urgency and commitment to bring this abusive occupation to an end and achieve Palestinian self-determination in accordance with international law and the dictates of global justice’ [iii] UN human rights chief Navi Pillay talked of Israel's ‘deliberate defiance" of international law during the attack on Gaza last summer, saying "There appears to be deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel.’[iv]
2. I consider the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal and unjustifiable.
Israel’s continued illegal transfer of Israeli populations to occupied Palestinian territory is a flagrant and well publicised violation of international law, leading the UN to condemn Israel's breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The US has repeatedly referred to settlement construction as obstructive and states that it 'undermines efforts to achieve peace'. Following Israel’s most recent decision to build new settlements, in October 2014, the UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond released a statement saying ‘The UK deplores Israel’s decision to advance plans for 2,610 settlement units in Givat Hamatos... it will have serious implications for… Jerusalem being a shared capital in a future two-state peace agreement and will hinder the process.’ The unrelenting progression of the settlement programme since 1972 is clearly indicative of Israel's rejection of any two state solution. The settlement of over 500,000 illegal occupiers[v] on Palestinian territory is Israel’s emphatic response to the peace process.
In achieving these principles, what are your views on the following steps that a future UK Government could take?
3. Do you agree that one of the first acts of the next UK Government should be the recognition of Palestine?
Allowing Israel to lead and dictate the direction, or not, of any resolution to the occupation has been hugely unsuccessful and has allowed Israel to create and entrench a situation in which it is the sole winner. At the same time, millions of Palestinians have continued to suffer an ever more restrictive occupation and siege with no or extremely limited political recourse. Recognition of Palestine by Britain would serve as a fresh direction and as a positive intervention. It would give Palestinians new authority in negotiations with the State of Israel. It would also constitute a step towards addressing Britain's historical role and responsibility.
The British electorate, witnessing the collapse of the peace talks in spring 2014, followed by Israel's devastating war on Gaza in July and August, would welcome such a step. In the same period support for Palestinians has swung decisively in their favour, and MPs have received record numbers of correspondence from the electorate on the issue. In the run-up to the vote on recognition in Parliament on 13 October, more than 57,500 people emailed their MPs and, in an historic vote, 274 MPs voted for recognition; with only 12 against[vi].
4. Do you agree that the blockade on Gaza should be lifted immediately?
In July 2010, David Cameron stated that ‘The situation in Gaza has to change,’ and that ‘humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.’[vii] Yet over 4 years later, the blockade has intensified, whole areas of Gaza are in ruins, and the situation is even more desperate. Words are insufficient – action is desperately needed.
Gaza has been blockaded by Israel since 2007, a punitive response to the result of democratic Palestinian elections in 2006, which Hamas won[viii]. As a result, living standards have rapidly and dramatically deteriorated for the 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza. The Gaza Strip - only 360 square km - is one of the most densely populated areas on earth. Over 70% of Palestinians living in Gaza are refugees. 80% of Gazans are dependent on aid, 44% are unemployed. The basic infrastructure has suffered widespread destruction, creating, among other outcomes, very significant power shortages. More than 90% of the ground water is undrinkable. There are dwindling medical supplies, placing the population at serious risk, 100,000 displaced people are in need of immediate assistance.
Palestinians are being subjected to collective punishment .The blockade has led to what UNWRA has called a humanitarian disaster, with the prediction that the Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020[ix] appearing wildly optimistic. Ending the blockade now would relieve an entirely man made, artificially constructed human disaster.
Humanitarian aid organisations such as Oxfam have repeatedly called for the blockade to be lifted; in Summer 2014, Oxfam launched a campaign, calling on the government to ‘use talks to continue to push for a permanent ceasefire - and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis. This must include lifting of the blockade of Gaza, which traps ordinary people in poverty, denied the right to move, trade and live in dignity.’[x]
5. Do you agree that we should stop trade with Israel’s settlements on Palestinian land, and stop settlement goods being sold in Britain?
The EU has declared that Israel’s ever-growing settlements on occupied Palestinian territory are ''illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible''. Despite this, the EU currently maintains significant cooperation programmes and bilateral agreements with Israel. While EU Guidelines determine that the settlements should not benefit from such programmes, Israel has proved able to circumvent these to some degree. By working with Israel while it continues to strengthen its illegal colonisation of Palestinian land, the EU and Britain are undermining international efforts to bring both sides to the negotiating table. At the same time, they are condoning Israel’s flagrant disregard for international law. Further, by continuing to allow settlement products to be marketed in Britain, the UK Government is not only failing in its own obligations under international law but it is also consolidating the position and permanence of the settlements, with a directly negative impact on the vulnerable Palestinian communities around them. The UK Government should place an immediate ban on settlement goods, a ban which takes account of the fact that Israel may actively seek to undermine its impact by falsely labelling such goods. The Palestinian Ministry of National Economy estimates that Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian access to markets and resources costs the fragile Palestinian economy 5.2 billion Euros whilst the World Bank has estimated that the 'layer of restrictions' on Palestinian land in the West Bank costs the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion.
6. Do you agree that the EU Israel Association Agreement should be suspended until Israel meets its human rights obligations?
The EU cooperates with Israel to an extent well beyond that offered to any other non-European nation. Agreements allow Israel full access to EU scientific, academic, research and technical programmes, as well as extensive EU-Israeli cooperation and integration in many important sectors. Additionally, the EU supports Israeli research, thereby providing funding for Israeli military companies and universities to develop technology which is used, in part, to exert control, through the use of force and otherwise, over the Palestinian people.
The framework for this cooperation – the EU Israel Association Agreement - is subject to Israel complying with Article 2 of that Agreement, which says that “relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles…”. Yet, Israel has consistently breached that Agreement through its use of force against, and the imposition of crippling restrictions on, the Palestinian population in pursuit of its colonisation of Palestinian land and of its suppression of the Palestinian right to self-determination.
The 2014 Israeli offensive against Gaza provided ample evidence of the failure of Israel to comply with Article 2. UN-run schools acting as civilian shelters were hit seven times during the offensive. This was despite coordinates for all the UN facilities being communicated to the Israel Forces. Hundreds of Palestinians at the schools were wounded and at least 47 were killed. A disproportionate number of those injured were children or women. These were just some of the 485,000 internally displaced people seeking shelter after being warned by the Israeli military to leave their homes.
The European Union has spoken out against Israel's construction of settlements, its disproportionate use of military force and some of its other violations of international law. Recent steps to scale back European cooperation with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory are welcome. However, it is clear that there is a sharp policy gap between the policies that the EU has adopted and the policies that would be required to help end Israeli violations of international law.
The failure of the EU and other western powers to treat Israel in the way that it does other states that systematically violate international law and commit war crimes allows Israel act with impunity.
The EU must therefore uphold its own principles by holding Israel to account for its recent war crimes in Gaza and its other violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. Israel’s very evident failure to comply with Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement provides ample justification for the EU to suspend that Agreement. Yet, the EU has, to date, been reluctant to take such a step. In so doing, it has shown itself to be acting without consistency, relative to its determination to hold states such as Russia and Sri Lanka to account.
7. Do you agree that arms trade with Israel should be suspended until Israel complies with International law?
“From a business point of view, the operation [Protective Edge] was an outstanding thing for the defence industries” Amir Rapaport, editor of Israel Defence[xi]
Israel is a major arms producer in its own right and what it does not make it procures largely from the United States. However, since 2010 the UK has licensed the export of £42m of military equipment to Israel, including that used in targeting systems and drone components. UK companies also provide components that go into US built equipment destined for Israel.
This is a two way trade: Israel is the acknowledged expert in drone technology. The UK government has leased Hermes 450 drones for use in Afghanistan and has placed an £800m contract with Israel to develop a new Watchkeeper drone heavily based on the Hermes 450. The Watchkeeper is currently unarmed but at the DSEI Arms Fair in London it was presented with missiles. (Jerusalem Post)
Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) lists 44 military companies throughout the UK (some with HQ in the US or Israel but with subsidiary companies in the UK) which manufacture drone engines, bomb components and other parts for export.
An EU law on arms exports states that: ‘weapons should not be sold if they are likely to facilitate ‘internal suppression or external aggression.’
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has named Israel as one of 27 ‘countries of concern’ for human rights abuses. However, the UK government can have no means of ensuring that any military equipment going to the IDF will not be used for internal suppression or external aggression. In fact, the balance of probability is that it will be.
F-16s, Apache helicopters, and drones were all used to attack heavily populated civilian areas in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in Summer 2015. Israel killed 2,205 Palestinians, of whom at least 1,483 were civilians[xii]. 72 Israelis were killed, all but six of whom were soldiers.
Amnesty International issued a report in November 2014 saying that, in this offensive, Israel displayed “callous indifference” in launching attacks on family homes in the densely populated coastal strip. Amnesty International concluded that some of the actions carried out by Israel amounted to war crimes[xiii].
While ignoring consistent evidence of human rights violations and war crimes committed by the Israeli army in Gaza and Lebanon, successive UK governments have continued to license British companies to sell arms to Israel. Following Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip in December 2008/January 2009, the then Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary David Miliband stated that UK supplied components had 'almost certainly' been used. Since then, Israel has launched two further offensives against Gaza. It is of major concern that, as a result of the Gaza offensive, Israel's arms industry has been able to advertise its weaponry and software as being 'battle tested'. Involvement in this, at any level, undermines Britain's own human rights obligations and puts Britain's commitment to peace and stability in the region into question.
[viii] These elections were monitored by the Carter Centre, and Jimmy Carter commented: I have observed three elections in the Palestinian territory, and these institutions have already administered elections that all international observers found to be free, fair, honest and free of violence.’ http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/support-the-palestinian-unity-government/2011/05/03/AFSbd6iF_story.html