Progressives must speak up about what is happening at the Gaza border and what its wider implications mean: the current trajectory of Israeli and American policy offers no path to peace, writes Wes Streeting MP
Yesterday was the bloodiest day of violence on the border between Gaza and Israel since the recent wave of protests began. Fifty-nine Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli forces, including six children. Some 2,771 people were reported injured, including 1,359 by live ammunition, with 130 people in a critical condition. Since the end of March, 97 Palestinians, including 12 children, have been killed by Israeli forces during the course of the demonstrations.
The United Nations secretary general, Antonio Gutteres, has expressed his profound alarm at the ‘sharp escalation of violence’ and the ‘high number of Palestinians killed and injured in the Gaza protests’. According to Save the Children, over 250 children were shot with live ammunition.
This morning, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mark Regev, appeared on the Today programme to defend these actions as necessary to protect Israel’s border and laid bare a series of statements made by Hamas leaders – even in recent weeks – seeking to incite violence against Israel and Israelis.
There can be no justification for Israel’s actions yesterday. None. The idea that Israel’s only options in response to a scenario that was entirely foreseen were to do nothing or to fire live ammunition is absurd. As the executive director of B’Tselem – an Israeli human rights organisation – has argued: ‘defending the border is not a licence to kill’.
To attempt, as some have done, to portray tens of thousands of protestors as armed Hamas combatants is deeply disingenuous. There can be no doubt that there has been incitement to violence and those choosing to exploit these protests for their own ends. Nor is there any real doubt that there were armed combatants among the protesters. Violence is their method and the destruction of the state of Israel is their aim. We know what they stand for. But here is an uncomfortable truth for those defending the actions of the Benjamin Netanyahu’s government: Hamas has no better friend or recruiting sergeant than the present Israeli government.
The failure of political leadership – Israeli, Palestinian and American – is contemptible. Yesterday marked 70 years since the creation of the state of Israel – a day of celebration for Israelis who are proud of the great many achievements of their young state with ancient roots. For Palestinians, it is the Nakba – an anniversary of loss, displacement and ultimately occupation. For the international community this should be a moment of profound reflection of our collective failure to bring about two states for two peoples, where both Israelis and Palestinians can grow up surrounded by peace, security and opportunity.
Instead, we see the unedifying spectacle of the United States of America opening an embassy in Jerusalem for no other reason than the vanity of its president and an appeal to his evangelical base – emboldening reactionary forces in Israel, putting the prospects of peace further away. As John Brennan, the former director of the CIA, has said: ‘Deaths in Gaza [are the] result of utter disregard of Messrs Trump and Netanyahu for Palestinian rights and homeland. By moving [the US] embassy to Jerusalem, Trump played politics, destroyed US peacemaker role.’
While this jamboree takes place, two million Palestinians in Gaza continue to live in an open air prison, trapped under a blockade by Israel and Egypt that has been in place for the past 11 years. So men, women and children have chosen to march. They are marching against the conditions they endure – not living, existing. Every international NGO focused on humanitarian assistance has raised the alarm of a systems collapse in Gaza: everything from health care, to sewage management, schools and energy are at breaking point and unable to provide essential services. Less than four per cent of the water is drinkable and over 60 per cent of the sea water is full of sewage. The UN previously argued that Gaza would become unliveable by 2020. That moment is close and the need for humanitarian intervention is urgent and overdue.
Friends of Israel, including the British government, have a responsibility to speak up. The current trajectory of Israeli and American policy offers no path to peace and a two state solution. It is a path that will only lead to the further oppression and humiliation of the Palestinian people and, ironically, it will only serve to undermine Israel’s founding principles as a democratic state and put Israel’s longer term security at risk.
There are progressive elements on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who can bring about the future that a majority of both peoples still want to see. We saw how close they came to success under Yitzhak Rabin. We see those elements at work through NGOs and coexistence projects in Israel and Palestine and here in the UK. They are undermined by those who act as apologists for these actions of the Israeli government and those who amplify reactionary voices on both sides of the conflict.
After 70 years and decades of missed opportunities, the international community must reflect on the human consequences of placing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the ‘too difficult box’. A new generation of political leadership is required in Israel and Palestine and a new mindset is required here: one that does not see the key divide as choosing between being pro-Israel or Pro-Palestine, but as between siding with reactionaries or progressives or between peacemakers and warmongers. It should not be hard to choose.
Wes Streeting is member of parliament for Ilford North. He tweets @wesstreeting
Photo: Al Mogheer shurrab
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