Richard Burden on UK complicity in the deadly Israeli blockade of Gaza
The last few months have been the deadliest in Gaza since 2014. Around 131 Palestinians have been killed and more than 13,900 injured since protests began in March this year, most of them from the use of live fire by the Israeli military. But the situation in Gaza is bleaker than that. Gaza has been suffering from the shattering effects of an eleven-year closure by land, air and sea. Conditions on the ground are shocking. The Strip only receives a few hours of electricity each day, over 96% of water is undrinkable, the health service is on the brink of collapse and the rate of poverty stands at 40%. That is the reality of living in Gaza today and is the context in which recent events sit.
The worst part about the situation in Gaza – and the deadly events in the last couple of months – is that we knew they were coming. Back in 2012, the UN warned that Gaza would become unliveable by 2020. Since then, UN coordinators and organisations on the ground have said that threshold has already been crossed. We also knew that the 70th anniversary of the Nakba anniversary – when Palestinians were first displaced from their homes back in 1948 – would increase tensions and result in protests in Gaza and the West Bank. For the US President to choose the day before that anniversary as the day to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem was deliberately provocative and foolish. It takes us further away from constructive dialogue and a peaceful resolution to the conflict, while also destroying any credibility the USA had to act as an honest broker for peace.
With the situation on the ground growing worse by the day and with no international agreement or plan to address the crisis in Gaza, it is incumbent on us to not stand idly by and wait while things continue to get worse. That is why MPs from all parties have been calling on the government to do more, not only to begin to address the urgent need for humanitarian support in Gaza, but to be more proactive in working toward and securing a solution for Israel and Palestine which is so sorely needed.
But perhaps the greatest humanitarian issue of all is the right to life. That is why it is so important that there must be accountability for the shocking number of deaths and injuries in Gaza in recent months – deaths and injuries that are continuing week by week. The United Nations Human Rights Council have taken the first step towards that accountability by setting up an independent commission of inquiry into those deaths. Inexcusably, the UK government decided to abstain from voting in favour of setting up that inquiry, instead choosing to throw their lot behind an Israeli inquiry which would have next to no chance of being impartial and independent. The inquiry will be going ahead, but it remains to be seen whether the UK government will now get behind it and encourage all parties to comply fully with the investigation and recognise its outcomes.
There must also be accountability in the UK’s sales of arms to Israel. In the past two years, export licenses to Israel have been provided by the UK for categories of arms and arms components for a whole host of weapons, from sniper rifles and assault rifles to tanks and helicopters. That is despite UK and EU rules which prohibit the granting of export licences where the equipment is likely to be used for internal repression or in violation of international humanitarian law. However, when I asked UK ministers how they were checking whether arms imported from the UK were being used against Palestinians in Gaza, I was told that the government “do not collect data on the use of equipment after sale”. That simply isn’t good enough. The UK government must be accountable for the arms export licences it grants and the uses to which those arms are put. That is why I and other MPs have been calling for the suspension of arms sales to Israel until we can be confident they are not being used in contravention of their licence conditions.
With further protests taking place week after week and with more deaths and injuries adding up, we cannot let Israel continue to act with a culture of impunity and with no consequence for their actions. The international community must step up where the US has stepped back and provide leadership to efforts for a peaceful resolution to the conflict based on accountability, human rights and international law.
Richard Burden in MP for Birmingham Northfield