Richard Burden MP, Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, has responded to the decision of the US administration to to end funding to UNWRA.
Mr Burden said today:
“The action taken by the US administration to end funding to UNRWA is appalling and threatens the security of millions of Palestinian refugees. Many of the refugees living in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are dependent on UNRWA assistance to access primary health care, education and relief services. Due to President Trump’s reckless decision, this vital humanitarian work is now in jeopardy. The UK has a responsibility not to look the other way. It is imperative that the UK Government not only condemns this action, but also works with international partners to fill the funding gap left by the US administration to ensure that vital front-line services are not adversely impacted by this withdrawal of support.
This is the latest in a string in of provocative actions by President Trump which take us further away from peace and undermines the ability of the US to credibly broker talks between Israel and Palestine. A just solution for Palestinian refugees based on human rights and international law will be essential to achieving the durable peace in the Middle East which can provide a secure future that all Israelis and Palestinians deserve. I intend to table an Early Day Motion on the US Administration’s announcement when Parliament returns from the summer recess tomorrow.”
The action taken yesterday by the Israeli Knesset is discriminatory and formally creates a two-tier system of rights within Israel. It formalises as second-class citizens any non-Jewish community, particularly the 20% of the population who are Palestinian Arabs. The new law also allows for the creation of communities based on religion, something that raises worrying parallels with apartheid.
Jerusalem is a city of unique significance to the three religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In referring to the city exclusively as the capital and home of one of those religions, the new law jeopardises inter-faith understanding. It also recklessly prejudices the prospects for peace in the Middle East by undermining the long-established international agreement that the future status of Jerusalem can only be decided through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
This is the latest in a string of laws passed by the Knesset designed to strip Palestinians of their rights bit by bit. It also goes hand-in-hand with the Israeli Government’s destruction of the prospects for a viable Palestinian state through the demolition of Palestinian homes and the ongoing construction of illegal settlements.
Yachad, who work in the British Jewish community for a secure and peaceful future for Israel are right to describe this law as “counter to Israel’s Declaration of Independence” and a law which “turns minorities in Israel into second class citizens”.
55 people killed by live fire in one day and over 2,770 wounded. It was the deadliest single day in Gaza since Israel’s attack in 2014. Hospitals in Gaza, already at breaking point from shortages of essential medical supplies report more abdominal, chest and head wounds than from shootings of demonstrators buy the Israeli military in previous weeks.
The respected Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, had it right when they said yesterday that the use of live fire ammunition against Gaza demonstrator’s evidences “Appalling indifference towards human life on the part of senior Israeli government and military officials.” If human rights defenders in Israel can see this, why can’t the US Administration? The response of the White House in absolving Israel of all responsibility for yesterday’s deaths is as reprehensible as it is short sighted.
Decisions about the circumstances in which UK forces should be sent into action are amongst the gravest that any government can take. In a modern democracy, government also has a responsibility to listen and the elected Parliament should not be cut out of the process that precedes those decisions being made. Yesterday I stressed to the Prime Minister the importance of Parliament being consulted before taking military action and the urgent need for a broader international strategy to help protect civilians from the kind of carnage inflicted on Aleppo and Eastern Goutha over the past year.
You can see the statement I put out over the weekend in response to the US/UK French airstrikes here.
Decisions about the circumstances in which UK forces should be sent into action are amongst the gravest that any government can take. In a modern democracy, government also has a responsibility to listen and the elected parliament should not be cut out of the process that precedes those decisions being made. That, however, is what has happened this weekend. The Prime Minister could and should have consulted Parliament before involving UK forces in air strikes on Syria, including on their strategic purpose and how she believed the action proposed would achieve that purpose.
The reality we all now face, though, is that the airstrikes have gone ahead and the key issues now are what happens from here, including:
- Diplomatic strategies to guard against escalation both on the ground in Syria and between third parties in the region and beyond.
- The need to redouble international efforts to build a peace plan for Syria. The failure of the international community to end the appalling bloodshed in Syria so far does not alter the need to keep trying.
- An urgent and renewed focus on the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people – both those still in the firing line and those who have fled.
In all of this, it is vital to reaffirm an indivisible commitment to international law and internationally-agreed rules governing the behaviour and actions of states, especially in relation to the use of chemical weapons. The current investigation into the Douma attack by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is an important part of that process in relation to Syria.
The ongoing challenges for the international community are to build effective mechanisms to hold to account those who break international law and to uphold the UN’s constitutional responsibility to protect civilians under threat. Nowhere is that more important than in relation to the abhorrent use of chemical weapons, in contravention of international law.
Whatever the immediate results of the US/UK/French airstrikes on Syria, they have not taken away the imperative of addressing those challenges.