We will not falter in our commitment to the Palestinian people

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June 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s longest running military occupations when Israel occupied the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights, known as the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).

Since then systematic human rights abuse and violations of international law, including war crimes, have persisted without justice. Israeli settlements are built and expanded on land illegally confiscated from Palestinians, dispossessing them, sometimes forcing them into homelessness, and often destroying their livelihoods.

Alongside the 1967 war, this year also marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, when the British government of the day expressed official support for the creation of a Jewish home in Palestine which in 1948 led to the dispossession of millions of Palestinians and the denial of their rights including their right to self-determination.

It is also 10 years since Israel cemented its siege on the already occupied Gaza Strip, and where in the space of a decade three major military attacks on the Strip have seen more 3,700 Palestinians killed and thousands more injured and left homeless and 1.8 million Palestinians cut off from the rest of the world, living in a virtual prison.

Israeli policies are created to deliberately impoverish the Palestinian people. The Apartheid Wall, condemned as illegal by the International Court of Justice, is just one aspect of the illegal land grabs taking place in the West Bank. The Israeli State has created a two tier system of discriminatory laws. One which expands illegal settlements, protects Israeli settlers, builds settler only roads and exploits Palestinian natural resources.

Whilst Palestinians face military checkpoints, imprisonment without trial, house demolitions and denial of their basic human rights including being able to work, study, travel, vote, engage in any political activity or even farm their own lands. Nearly half of the 4.8 million Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) have been left needing humanitarian aid, with the situation continuing to deteriorate especially amongst the most vulnerable – the elderly, children, single mothers.

Successive UK governments have expressed concerns about Israel’s violations of human rights, whilst continuing to approve millions of pounds worth of arms and weapons technology exports to Israel each year. The UK’s own procedure for determining the legality of exports has identified Israel as a ‘country of concern’, with it violating numerous points on the criteria for receiving arms exports.

Yet still, over £100m worth of arms exports were approved in 2016 alone. The armed drones, military aircrafts, assault rifles, grenade launchers and more continue to be used in the repression and killing of Palestinians, whether citizens of Israel or occupied subjects.

Israel has also been roundly criticised by human rights organisations, and even the UK government, for violating international human rights laws including within Israeli prisons and detention centres where torture and ill-treatment are rampant. Yet despite this Israel continues to act with impunity. 

In 2005 the Palestinian people made an unprecedented call for the world to support their call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to end the illegal Occupation. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel prize winning South African anti-apartheid hero,

"Those who turn a blind eye to injustice actually perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

He pointed out that "In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime.”

Rather than deepening the UK's relationship with Israel’s human rights abusing government, the next UK government would do well to remind itself of the UK’s obligations under international law and the UK’s own laws: For any government serious about human rights, the choice is simple.

The UK government must hold Israel to account. It is time to stop trading arms with Israel, suspend current trade, and refuse new trade negotiations, until Israel abides by international law. The lives of Palestinians depend on it.

War on Want will not falter in our commitment to the Palestinian people and their right to live free from injustice. I hope you will join us to make that a reality.

By Asad Rehman, Executive Director, War on Want