I spoke to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and New Statesman Conservative Party Fringe meeting in Manchester on the 6th of October 2015. The title was ‘A just policy for Palestine?’.
This was the first PSC fringe meeting at a Conservative Party Conference, proof that solidarity with Palestinians is transcending party boundaries. In fact Palestine is mainstream in British politics.
This is firstly a response to a just cause and to Israeli illegal actions, including the continuing occupation and the siege on Gaza. More specifically, the outrage that ordinary people felt about Israels violent action in the summer of 2014 in which Gaza was subjected to 51 days of hell and over 2,000 Palestinian lost their lives including hundreds of innocent children.
The fringe meeting was chaired by Stephen Bush , Editor of the Staggers, New Statesman. The other speakers were Dr Tania Mathias, a recently elected Conservative MP for Twickenham, and Arthur Goodman from Jews for Justice for Palestinians.
Dr Mathias recalled her time in Gaza during the First intifada and sounded hopeful of a resolution to the conflict despite the recent escalation in violence and the loss of life in Jerusalem and a number of areas in the West Bank.
I started my remarks by reminding the meeting that Palestinians are human beings like everyone else and that anyone interested in resolving their injustice must understand that they are not a lesser people. That it is inadequate to talk of alleviating their suffering and to talk and work for the restoration of their full rights.
I referred to the injustice of any Jewish woman anywhere in the UK being able to take a flight to Tel Aviv in the morning and be given Israeli citizenship, a home and a life but that my mother who was born in Jerusalem before 1948 is not able to return to her homeland because Israel won’t let her.
I reminded the meeting that Israel was created on our homeland, without our permission and indeed against our will. Balfour had more right to promise Wales to the Zionists than Palestine, which in 1917 Britain did not even occupy. How would the Welsh have reacted to this. Would they have happily ‘shared’ Wales with the Zionists?
The root of the problem to this day continues to be the occupation and Israel’s refusal to allow the Palestinian refugees to return.
Successive British Government policy has been For a 2-state solution to be achieved through negotiations. Like the rest of the World, except Israel, the UK believe the settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank to be illegal. Despite over 20 years of negotiations after the Oslo Accords were signed we are further from a solution than we have ever been.
It is important to remember that at the start of negotiations there were around 200,000 settlers in the West Bank, but that there are now over 600,000 settlers. The peace process has provided cover for the Israelis to do this, claiming they were not required to halt settlement construction. But how can you hope to achieve peace with a neighbor whose land you gobble up?
Sir Alan Duncan, a senior Conservative MP identified settlements as illegal and called those who support them as extremists. and in fact named supporters as extremist.
But it isn’t just about settlements. House demolitions, imprisonment, especially child prisoners, movement restrictions, attacks on religious sites, settler violence, Gaza siege. It is the whole daily grind of the occupation that has resulted in the recent escalation in violence.
Israel controls the whole of historic Palestine, from the river to the sea.
In recent years, Israeli society has moved to the right and we currently have an extremist settler led Government. Major parties in it have declared that they do not accept a 2-state solution and some favour annexation of major parts of area C.
So British Government policy Is out of step with Israeli political reality
But even worse than that, Britain provides impunity for Israel. It stood with it during last year’s Gaza war and said it was entitled to self-defense. Despite 2,400 Palestinians losing their lives, mostly civilians against just under 70 Israelis mostly military.
Even when Britain takes a moral stand like voting for the adoption of the UNHRC Report on Gaza which said both Hamas and Israel committed war crimes, the British Government invited entertained Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who leads a state which Britain agreed by endorsing the report had committed war crimes.
The former coalition Government changed the Law to protect Israeli war criminals also from being arrested under universal jurisdiction. It did this only for Israel and no one else. This means that suspected war criminals can visit London without fear of being arrested to face charges for their crimes.
More recently, the current Conservative Government, under pressure form he pro-Israel Lobby, has initiated legislation that would ban Local Authorities from refusing to offer contracts for services to companies that are complicit in the illegal occupation of Palestine. This is in response to the growing BDS movement. It is doing this to protect Israel and no one else.
We need to end the double standards that treat Israel with kid gloves, provides it with impunity and protects its leaders from facing justice. We can’t continue business as usual with a state which continues to impose a military occupation on millions of people, discriminates against its own citizens simply because they are not Jewish and will not allow the implementation of the right of return to Palestinian refugees, Their only crime was that they were the indigenous population on a land Zionist’s wanted for themselves.
Britain should end arms trade with Israel. It cannot confirm whether Israel uses British arms or components to attack Palestinians under occupation.
We should end all trade with Illegal settlements. Labeling is good but not enough. We should make the settlement enterprise unviable.
An endless peace process will not deliver peace, nor will a lack of firm foundation, based on justice.
Arthur Goodman from JFJP agreed with my remarks and explained how the EU ISrael Association Agreement, could play a key role in pressuring Israel through its clauses on human rights.
This year’s Conservative party slogan can address the Palestinian injustice as follows:
Security for all in historic Palestine.
Stability through a genuine peace process, that is time limited, based on International Law, to deliver justice
Opportunity for Britain to play a key role in this and to atone for the role it played in the Zionist’s colonization of Palestine and the imposition of Israel on the indigenous Palestinians.
I colsed by telling the meeting that for as long as Israel continues to occupy Palestine illegally, it is fully responsible for all deaths and violence in the cupied territories. I also firmly beleive that whta is needed is for Israel to be told to vacate the occupied territories to a an agreed withdrawal schedule or face sanctions. What it needs to vacate is clear.