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.
Richard Burden MP, Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, has today written to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson concerning US President Donald Trump’s recent announcement of his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
A cross-party group of 90 Parliamentarians have added their names to the letter to express their collective concern regarding President’s Trump decision and to ask the Foreign Secretary to ensure UK leadership in the pursuit and facilitation of a just and sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
Mr Burden said today:
“As a cross-party group of MPs and Peers we have written to the Foreign Secretary to express our collective concern at President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jerusalem is a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and there has long been consensus amongst the international community that the city’s status can only be settled fairly through negotiations.
President Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem is provocative, it undermines the ability of the US to credibly broker talks between Israel and Palestine and it will only fan the flames of conflict at a time when international efforts should be focussed on reducing tension, upholding the rule of law and promoting peace.
We are calling for the UK to show leadership in the pursuit and facilitation of a just and sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine with Jerusalem as a shared capital of both states. The UK must demonstrate in deeds as well as words that respect for international law and a commitment to equal rights for both Palestinians and Israelis must be cornerstones of a new UK proactivity and leadership to achieve peace. We believe it is in the best interests of pursuing peace, for the UK to now recognise the State of Palestine, in line with the decision of the House of Commons as expressed on 13th October 2014.”
Human Rights Day is celebrated annually to honour the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to remind us of the importance and value of the inalienable rights that we are all entitled to as human beings. Human Rights Day is an opportunity for us to remember those from all over the world who continue to fight for rights that we sometimes take for granted.
As Chair of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group, I follow closely the human rights situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This includes human rights defenders peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – rights that are enshrined in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Two such people are Issa Amro and Farid al-Atrash. Issa and Farid are two Palestinians who campaign against the construction of illegal settlements by Israel in the occupied West Bank. Farid is a lawyer and Issa is coordinator of the Youth Against Settlements group. Both are firm believers in non-violent protest. Amnesty International have described how during one such peaceful demonstration on 26 February 2016 in the Palestinian city of Hebron, Israeli forces threw sound bombs and fired tear gas at protestors.
Farid was arrested at the demonstration and Issa was arrested the day after. They now face trial in a military court on charges including participating in an illegal demonstration and attacking soldiers. They both deny the charges. In fact, video footage shows Farid holding a poster in front of an Israeli soldier before being pushed and violently arrested. Issa, meanwhile, has spoken of being beaten by Israeli police while in custody.
On Wednesday I attended Amnesty International’s annual Human Rights Day Reception, which took place in Parliament. The cases highlighted at the reception showed the wide range of people who are human rights defenders across the globe. They can be community leaders, journalists, teachers, farmers, poets, lawyers, students, politicians, health professionals or they may come from any other walk of life. Yet Amnesty International have documented an increase in attacks against human rights defenders globally. Sometimes this can take the form of harassment. Sometimes they are jailed. In some places they face torture and even death for upholding rights we take for granted here in the UK. Their courage is inspirational.
Yesterday’s Human Rights Day reception was an opportunity for me not only to voice my support for Issa Amro and Farid Al-Atrash but also to pay tribute to the vital work Amnesty International does more generally to shine a spotlight on the persecution of human rights defenders wherever they are, in documenting what is happening to them and in letting them know they are not alone.
You can take action too by sending a message of hope to Issa and Farid at https://www.amnesty.org.uk/write-for-rights/action/issa-amro-and-farid-al-atrash