Helen responds to the crisis in Israel and Gaza
In recent weeks we have been watching with horror the scenes of unimaginable human pain and suffering from the Middle East. My thoughts are with everyone affected by this terrible conflict.
The terrorist attack by Hamas in Israel on 7 October was a grave and utterly abhorrent violation. More than 1,400 Israelis were killed in their homes and at a music festival and more than 200 Israeli civilians were taken into Gaza as hostages by Hamas, some of whom are now known to have been killed.
I visited the West Bank and East Jerusalem earlier this year, and I have seen first-hand how intolerable life is for Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank. Many of the people that I met with also gave their accounts of life in Gaza under the blockade. You can read a full account of my visit here.
The events since 7 October in Gaza are utterly horrific, including the bombing of neighbourhoods where thousands of civilians are living and the huge displacement of Palestinians. I am deeply concerned about the blockade of food, fuel, water and medicines into Gaza and the lack of protection for Palestinian civilians including children. There are devastating reports of the impact of the blockade on hospitals in Gaza and we know that more than 10,000 people have already been killed in Gaza, a figure which is tragically increasing every day.
President Biden is right to reflect on the response of the US in the aftermath of 9/11 and to urge the Israeli government to exercise restraint. Hatred begets hatred and violence begets more violence.
The right of any country to take action to defend itself in the face of a terror attack only applies in line with international law which requires proportionality and the protection of civilians and prohibits collective punishment.
The appalling attacks on civilians in Israel by Hamas and the taking of hostages are illegal under international law. The horrific scale of civilian casualties in Gaza gives rise to grave concerns that, as the UN Secretary General has said there is ‘a clear violation of international humanitarian law that we are witnessing in Gaza’.
The urgent need for humanitarian aid to be delivered to Gaza safely and at scale, and the urgent need for civilians to be protected are undeniable. I want to see an immediate end to the bombardment of Gaza and the loss of life, the release of all hostages by Hamas, an end to the suffering of innocent civilians, and a cessation of the violence on both sides. I support the call of the UN for an ‘immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce’.
I am also concerned about the increase in settler violence and the forced displacement of Palestinians living in the West Bank. On my visit earlier this year, I met with a number of communities who experience settler violence on a regular basis and who had been displaced from their land, lost access to water and lived with the constant threat of demolition orders on key facilities such as health centres and schools. Such violence and intimidation is illegal and it is incumbent on the Israeli government to stop it, and on the British government and the wider international community to condemn it.
The events of recent weeks have been devastating for anyone who believes in a peaceful two-state solution in the Middle East. There must be a renewed and concerted international effort to restore a meaningful peace process and make progress towards a two-state solution. The end to decades of conflict in the Middle East will only come with a viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel.
I have used the experience gained during my visit to the West Bank and East Jerusalem earlier this year to scrutinise the UK government’s approach to Israel and Palestine in the House of Commons, raising issues including the protection of Palestinian health workers, the expansion of illegal settlements and settler violence. I will continue to campaign for peaceful co-operation and greater accountability for all human rights abuses.
This is a deeply worrying time for Jewish and Muslim communities across our local area and the UK. I know that many are worried about the safety of loved ones in Gaza and Israel.
We have also seen an appalling rise in both antisemitism and Islamophobia in the UK recently. We must not allow our communities to be divided by these events. There must be zero tolerance for any intimidation and harassment, and it is important that any incidents are reported to the Community Security Trust and TellMama.
A number of constituents have asked me to sign Early Day Motions on these issues. As a member of the Shadow Frontbench I am afraid that I am unable to sign Early Day Motions on any topic.
I will continue to call for an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce, the release of all hostages by Hamas, the protection of civilians and access for humanitarian aid including food, medicine, water and fuel into Gaza, and the instigation of a new internationally brokered peace process.