On the 10 May 2021, I wrote to the Prime Minister to express my deep concern about the Israeli authorities’ planned eviction of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, the violent policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Haram Al-Sharif, and the continued annexation of Palestinian land by Israel.
I wrote a further letter to the Prime Minister about the escalating situation in Israel and Palestine on Thursday 13 May. I asked the Government to commit to concrete actions to achieve a cease-fire and to end the cruel and unsustainable Israeli policies which have led to this and previous violent episodes.
On the 20 May, I wrote a third letter to the Prime Minister, expressing my profound anger at the Government’s failure to respond effectively to this crisis, and my ongoing concerns about this terrible conflict. You can read these letters in full below.
You can also see, beneath these letters, links to a series of Parliamentary Questions I tabled on the 12th May.
Letter of the 10 May 2021
Dear Prime Minister,
I write in relation to the recent violence in East Jerusalem. As you will know, the situation has been escalating over recent weeks and has now reached the point of crisis. I believe a strong diplomatic response is required from the UK.
There have been horrifying scenes of extreme racist organisations marching through Palestinian areas of the city, chanting hateful and murderous slogans including ‘Death to Arabs’ and inciting random violence against Palestinian homes. Counter-demonstrations have also boiled over into violence several times in recent days, and the Palestine Red Crescent have reported that three hundred and five people have been injured so far.
Incitement to violence has been allowed to continue during the holy month of Ramadan, and in the lead up to today, 10th May, which extreme nationalists in Israel celebrate as ‘Jerusalem Day’, the anniversary of the capture of the city, and the occupation of the Eastern areas, by the military of Israel in 1967.
There are widespread reports, including by Israeli journalists, that over recent days the police have acted irresponsibly, responding with disproportionate force to Palestinian demonstrations while preparations for the provocative Jerusalem Day parade were allowed to continue until the last moment despite the dangerous circumstances.
I share the horror expressed by many of my constituents at the recent scenes of tear gas and stun grenades being fired by Israeli police into the immediate surroundings of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Reportedly, more than two hundred Palestinians, and 17 Israeli police officers, were injured during the violence on Friday 7th. Al-Haram Al-Sharif, or the Temple Mount, is a sacred site at any time and, as a site shared by Muslims, Jews, and Christians, is a vitally important symbol of the possibility of religious freedom and peace in the Middle East. The use of force in this area is particularly harmful at this time, during the final and holiest days of Ramadan.
We must remember the context for this violence. Many of the tensions result from a court case, which the Council for Arab-British Understanding reports has put 87 Palestinians at imminent risk of forced eviction from their homes within the next few months. This is part of a long history of dispossession and settlement construction in East Jerusalem, and there is evidence that this process has accelerated in recent years.
The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has recently again refused to take action against continued settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian sections of Jerusalem. Laws and policies in Israel have been implemented over decades in a way that forces Palestinians, who are subjected to laws they cannot democratically influence, out of their homes in the illegally annexed sections of Jerusalem, and actively promotes settlement by Jewish Israelis in their place.
It is understandable that the Palestinians who remain in their Jerusalem homes feel under constant and increasing threat, and therefore want to demonstrate their defiance and their wish to protect their homes and the symbols of their religions, culture, and nationality. Such actions must be undertaken peacefully, but in the face of an occupying state that does not recognise their rights and actively supports the objectives of those who threaten them, violence becomes almost inevitable.
As Prime Minister, I plead with you to do everything in your power to prevent escalation, to uphold the United Kingdom’s long-standing rejection of the annexation of East Jerusalem and of illegal settlements, and to take strong and immediate diplomatic action to protect the rights of Palestinians and preserve the hope for a just peace.
I look forward to reading your response which I will pass to the hundreds of constituents who have contacted me on this matter. They understandably want and expect action, Prime Minister. I would be grateful for a rapid and positive response.
Member of Parliament for West Ham
CC: Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Letter of the 13 May 2021
Dear Prime Minister,
Since my letter on Monday, the situation in Israel and Palestine has deteriorated significantly, and it is not clear to me that the Government has taken meaningful action commensurate with the scale of the threat to lives, rights, and regional security if violence continues to escalate. We need to know, now, what the Government is doing in order to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
Palestinian and Israeli families of all religions and ethnicities are under threat, in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and across Israel. This violence does not only come from air strikes or rocket fire, but from horrifying intercommunal brutality on the streets, where a cycle of racist revenge attacks and burnings of shops, homes and religious institutions by mobs organised on the basis of Arab or Jewish identity has taken hold in many cities.
We must be clear that racist rhetoric, including that used frequently by the Prime Minister of Israel and members of the Government and legislature, has played a major role in creating the conditions for this intercommunal violence. Groups motivated by transparently racist ideology, who explicitly aim for annexation of Palestinian lands followed by the subjugation or expulsion of the Palestinian people, have been able to operate freely in Israel over recent years. Settler groups active in Palestinian areas in East Jerusalem were reportedly in open possession of assault weapons in the weeks leading up to this conflagration.
The death toll is rising rapidly. Innocents are being murdered, and the psychological scars of the trauma being inflicted on a massive scale may have still more disastrous consequences for the prospects of a just peace over the coming years.
I believe that the UK must act immediately to prevent further escalation by facilitating a cease-fire and preventing Israel from re-occupying Gaza, as some reports suggest may be imminent. However, our actions must extend far beyond this. We must be absolutely clear that the violence we are seeing is an almost inevitable consequence of unjust policies and an unsustainable political situation that we have tolerated over decades.
Palestinian people in the occupied territories have no ability to affect the laws and policies that are forced upon them, and frequent, largely peaceful protests have no impact. Their children have few or no economic, educational, or cultural opportunities, while those growing up just a few miles away in Israel are able to live in prosperity.
Current Israeli policy aims to actively make this situation worse, by incentivising the construction of illegal settlements which materially deprive Palestinians of space, freedoms, and opportunities. With every new settlement that is built or expanded, the feasibility of a future Palestinian state, free of occupation and able to realise the rights of its people, is ever more diminished. In this situation, hope becomes almost impossible, and despair and rage are the inevitable consequence.
I urge you to demonstrate courage and make clear, to all those with power in the region and with whom we have a degree of influence, that the UK will not tolerate escalation, but we equally will not tolerate a mere return to the status quo. Doing so will only create the conditions for still worse violence in the future. Please act now.
Lettter of the 20 May 2021
Dear Prime Minister,
I write to express my constituents’ justified anger and my abhorrence at the abject failure of your Government to act against the violence we have seen in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in many parts of Israel, and now in Lebanon. As my letters and many Parliamentary Questions last week asserted, it was clear that a severe escalation of violence was underway, repeating the familiar pattern set by previous escalations, especially in 2012 and 2014. This is now my third letter to you about this issue in the space of a fortnight, and I write again having received no response to either of my first two letters.
The Government has emphasised behind-the-scenes diplomatic discussions it has had, represented by the Foreign Secretary and diplomatic officials, to no evident effect. In addition, no clear and material steps have been taken to deter Israel from taking the multitude of actions that are fuelling this conflict. In the absence of a change in the international response, how can we expect a different outcome?
The current death toll in Gaza is 227, according to the Health Ministry, including 64 children and 38 women. In numerous cases, medical, journalistic, humanitarian, and educational buildings, as well as homes, have been targeted by Israeli airstrikes. It has become clear that even in many of those cases where the Government, military, or intelligence services of Israel claim that Hamas militants had been operating from these sites, no evidence has been shared to support these claims either publicly or in secret with Israel’s closest international partners.
The repeated scenes of children weeping for parents and siblings are heart-wrenching and enraging. In addition to the fact that many of the attacks by Israel on Gaza may represent war crimes due to disproportionality or the targeting of civilians, I see absolutely no reason to believe that they increase the security of people living in Israel. Instead, they exacerbate still further the conditions that have made the current violence almost inevitable: racial hatred, creeping and inexorable dispossession and disempowerment, the destruction of Palestinian hopes and opportunities, despair and rage.
In this environment, extremists with racist, violent, or frankly genocidal motivations are ever more empowered, and the very concept of a peace process resulting in a just two state solution is endangered. How do these attacks serve legitimate security interests? How can the Government not see that it is insulting to mindlessly repeat the platitude that states including Israel have a right to legitimate self-defence, when these attacks so consistently skirt the boundaries of international law?
There are some signs that the most damaging and immediate phase of the violence may be coming to an end, if only because some minimal pressure has now been exerted by the Biden administration. As I made clear in my previous letters, a de-escalation of violence was immediately necessary to prevent further destruction, human rights abuses and the deaths of innocent children.
However, if a ceasefire or unilateral de-escalation does occur, this in no way absolves the UK Government from its responsibility to take steps to materially change the situation. We cannot return to the familiar state of complacency and complicity. We must act to remove the drivers of future violence and create the conditions for a genuine process towards a just peace settlement to begin. This means immediately using the diplomatic levers at our disposal to prevent further Palestinian evictions in occupied East Jerusalem, to ensure that the Government of Israel acts to prevent incitement to violence and the organisation of racist militias, and to halt settlement activity in every part of the occupied Palestinian territories.
In pursuit of these urgent goals, I believe the UK must look at an immediate embargo on trade with all illegal settlements, the application of restrictions on exports of materials that can be used for internal repression or the violation of the human rights of civilians, and the diplomatic recognition of Palestine as a state on an equal basis to Israel, and as the legitimate vehicle for the basic human rights of Palestinians.
Finally, I want to raise another, closely connected aspect of the plight of the Palestinian people. According to The Lancet, Covid-19 infections have recently been increasing rapidly in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rise of 21% in the number of confirmed cases in the week to 22 April. Testing capacity is reportedly very low, so current case numbers could be a significant under-estimate. The Lancet reported that only 3% of Palestinians have received even a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
These infections have been concentrated in Gaza, where essential supplies of oxygen and the electricity needed to run ventilators were already scarce before the renewed attacks began. A surge in Covid, exacerbated by even greater levels of displacement from destroyed homes into highly overcrowded living conditions, the destruction of medical facilities, electricity sources and other essential supplies, could be even more deadly than the bombings.
I have been appalled by the lack of an effective response to recent events from the UK Government thus far. I urge you to rectify this now, with a proportionate diplomatic and humanitarian response to the extremely perilous situation for Palestinian lives, opportunities, and human rights.
As stated earlier, this is my third letter to you and as such I would welcome an urgent response.
Member of Parliament for West Ham
Parliamentary Questions tabled on 12th May 2021