Statement on the continuing crisis in Gaza

The scenes we have witnessed have been appalling. The ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli troops was wrong and has only led to even more suffering.

1,800 people there have been killed, 450,000 people have been forced to leave their homes, the fuel supply for the power station has been bombed and the UN has warned that the health service is on the point of collapse. The citizens of Gaza did not know where it was safe to go, and the shelling of the UN-run schools where people were sheltering on 30 July and 3 August was an outrage. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called these attacks reprehensible, unjustifiable and criminal. I agree, and there must now be a full investigation so that those responsible can be held to account.

What has happened is not going to help bring peace. As the Labour leader Ed Miliband said “The escalation of violence engulfing Gaza has led, and continues to lead, to suffering and destruction on an appalling scale, and is losing Israel friends in the international community day by day.....the Prime Minister is wrong not to have opposed Israel’s incursion into Gaza. And his silence on the killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians will be inexplicable to people across Britain and internationally. “

From the start, the UN Security Council rightly and consistently demanded an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire, with a complete cessation of violence so as to bring an end to the unacceptable killing of large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including children, and to the rocket attacks into Israel which have targeted and killed civilians there. Like many MPs, I urged the Foreign Secretary to do all he could to achieve a ceasefire, but I share the deep concern that has been expressed about the failure of the British government to condemn the scale of Palestinian suffering as a result of the Israeli military incursion.

At present, the current humanitarian truce seems to be holding and talks have begun between the two sides, with Egypt acting as a mediator. This is the longest pause in the fighting since the conflict began and the opportunity must now be seized to turn this temporary truce into a permanent ceasefire.

On UK arms exports to Israel, I have also raised this with the Foreign Secretary. It is clear that no new licences should be granted where there is any doubt about the end use of  military equipment and the Government must urgently publish its review into existing UK export licences to Israel. We must be sure that the UK rules on arms exports, which prevent the export of military and dual use equipment which could be used for internal repression, the abuse of human rights or to provoke or prolong armed conflicts, are being applied fully.

Turning to the longer term, while the terrible murder of the teenagers - three Israelis and one Palestinian - was the immediate cause of this crisis, we know that the real problem is the blockade of Gaza, the continued building of illegal settlements by Israel on occupied land, and no progress at all on the peace process. I have seen for myself how the restrictions on movement in and out of Gaza affect the lives of the people there. The blockade must end with the lifting of restrictions as part of an agreement between the two sides.

The citizens of Gaza and the West Bank want to live in peace, and Israel wants security with an end to rockets being fired, but there can be no military solution. Real security will require political dialogue aimed at ending the Occupation and establishing a Palestinian state with recognised borders alongside a secure Israel. The parties to the conflict - Israel and all the Palestinians (Hamas and Fatah) – must now show the courage needed and the willingness necessary to compromise for peace; only this will stop the suffering we are witnessing and give the people of the Middle East the better life they desperately want and deserve.

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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