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Middle East: Enduring injustice

Until Israel ends the occupation there can be no hope for a lasting peace in Palestine, writes JEREMY CORBYN

Seventeen days into the latest round of Israeli bombing of Gaza, and the death list gets longer and longer.  

There are now more than 600 Palestinian dead, more than 30 Israeli dead, and water supplies, sewage systems and electricity generators have been destroyed.

There are shortages of vital medical and other supplies due to sporadic closure of the crossings. 

Norwegian doctor and activist Mads Gilbert, who has worked in previous conflicts in the Shifa hospital in Gaza, sent a very sad and poignant email earlier this week. 

“Ashy grey faces — Oh NO! Not one more load of tens of maimed and bleeding, we still have lakes of blood on the floor in the ER, piles of dripping, blood-soaked bandages to clear out — oh — the cleaners, everywhere, swiftly shovelling the blood and discarded tissues, hair, clothes,  cannulas — the leftovers from death — all taken away … to be prepared again, to be repeated all over. 

“More then 100 cases came to Shifa last 24 hrs. enough for a large well trained hospital with everything, but here — almost nothing: electricity, water, disposables, drugs, OR-tables, instruments, monitors — all rusted and as if taken from museums of yesterday’s hospitals. But they do not complain, these heroes. They get on with it, like warriors, head on, enormous resolute.”

Gilbert invited the world’s leaders to visit Gaza and see the situation for themselves, suggesting that if they did: “I am convinced, 100 per cent, it would change history.”

I very much doubt any of them will accept his invitation, but I hope they listen very carefully to what the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said yesterday in Geneva.    

Speaking with great caution and making it absolutely clear that she deplored Israel’s bombing as well as rocket attacks by Hamas, she then catalogued the inequality of the situation.  

Some 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced so far and the UN calculates 74 per cent of those killed were civilians. Pillay’s fear is that the situation will get worse. 

She also said that “Israel has stated that it has alerted Gazans before conducting strikes, including by using telephones, text messages and so-called ‘warning roof knocks’ using relatively light munitions.”

This extraordinary method of claiming to be humanitarian before destroying somebody’s house is dealt with quite robustly by Pillay, who said: “This does not release Israel from its obligations under international humanitarian law.  

“Any warning to civilians must meet with the requirements of international law, including that this warning be clear, credible and allow sufficient time for people to react to it.”

In describing attacks on the disability centre at Beit Lahiya and al-Aqsa hospital, she said: “These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”

She also called for the Gaza blockade to be lifted and pointed out that the arrests of large numbers of Palestinians in the West Bank have contributed to the tensions in Gaza.

It appears that 1,200 people have been arrested and held in detention in the last few days and Israel is extending its policy of punitive house demolitions.  

Fundamentally, the issue is the occupation. There are strenuous efforts being made to bring about a ceasefire as demonstrations mount around the world in condemnation of the Israeli bombing of Gaza and the grim mounting death toll.  

While US Secretary of State John Kerry is the one who gets all the publicity for this, totally missing from the equation is the so-called Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair.

One can only speculate what he might be doing that can be of greater importance — or is it quite simply that all of his credibility has now gone and so no-one comments?

Already, South Africa has asked the Israeli ambassador to leave its country and the government of Chile has apparently suspended trade with Israel — probably against the wishes of Kerry, who prefers to deal with Egypt as an interlocutor with Hamas and try to sideline the role of other countries. 

But even if Israel does offer a ceasefire, without any change in its relationship with Palestine, there can only be temporary lull in fighting and the route to a longer-term peace will be closed. 

While the immediate issues between the government of Israel and the Palestinians are very obvious, we should also think of the history of the region, in which the Western powers carved lines on maps for themselves — and the Palestinians, as well as Kurdish and other people in the region, have been the big losers.  

More immediately, the prospect or possibility of a two-state solution becomes more and more distant, as since the six day war of 1967, Israel has never attempted to remain behind its original UN-recognised borders, and despite some retreats from Sinai and removal of Israeli forces from Gaza, Israeli policy is still the main obstacle to any peace.

First, the occupation of the West Bank means that the functioning of any Palestinian state would be very limited if not impossible.   

Second, the rapid growth of settlements which take water, land and create apartheid-like roads across the West Bank, make normal functioning of life impossible for many Palestinians.  

Last, there is the siege of Gaza, which has gone on continuously since the elections of 2006. 

I’ve had the good fortune to visit Gaza on a number of occasions and it’s very difficult to describe to people what it is like to live with the ever-present fear of a machine-gun killing anyone who approaches the enormous fence between Gaza and Israel, or of the Israeli navy shooting at any small fishing vessel that dares to venture more than a few kilometres from the shore, or the continual drone surveillance of every person’s life.  

No wonder Dr Mona Alfarra of the Gaza Mental Health Foundation considers that two-thirds of the population are clinically depressed. 

David Cameron in his statement to the House on Monday waxed loud and long about Israel’s right to defend itself, but seemed incapable of understanding the perspective of the people of Gaza, who are well-educated but impoverished, denied the right to travel. More than two-thirds of them are searching for work. It makes people very, very angry. 

The demonstrations in support of the Palestinian people have been unprecedented in various locations in most major cities all across the world. 

Israel’s isolation and the diversity of those who attended last Saturday’s march through London is marked.  

On the hottest day of the year, people’s anger brought tens of thousands — including people fasting for Ramadan — onto the streets.  

This Saturday we’ll be lining up at midday near the Israeli embassy to march to Parliament — Muslims, Christians, Jews, humanitarians and people from all ethnic groups, united in supporting Palestine’s right to exist and a ceasefire that guarantees the peace and life of everybody. 

Britain bears special responsibility as the former colonial power, a military partner of Israel and a close ally of the US, which effectively bankrolls the Israeli military.  

A response by the British government along the lines taken by Chile or South Africa would have a dramatic effect on the whole situation. 


Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.


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