Saturday, 30 January 2010

Call to end the siege, lift the blockade in Gaza

European Parliamentary Delegation to Gaza
Calls to end the siege, lift the blockade in Gaza

Dr. Mozammel Haque

60 European Parliamentarians from 13 European countries ranging from Ireland in the West to Slovakia under the leadership of Sir Gerald Kaufman left London on Thursday, 14th of January, stayed overnight in Cairo and then left by road on Friday to travel through Rafah crossings into the Gaza Strip. The delegation returned back and gave a press conference at the Jubilee room of the Parliament House on 21st January about their experience.

Sir Gerald Kaufman
“We traveled around Gaza; seen for ourselves the destruction which still is blatantly obvious year after the Israeli attack due to the fact it is almost impossible for Palestinians to rebuild. We saw the schools in which people took refuge and spoke to some of the survivors. We visited the people living in camps now for a year; we visited Alshoumani family, the extended family 29 of whom were killed by the Israeli. We had devastating account from the survivors including the young girl who saw her parents have been shot out in their heads in front of her and mother who saw her husband and small son were killed in front of her. We learnt a very great deal about what had been taking place,” described Sir Gerald Kaufman, the leader of the delegation and added, “no one is untouched in Gaza and that includes people on the farms, for example, we came by Strawberry farm where 10,000 people used to work, were closed down; because it was impossible for them to export their strawberries.”.

Sir Kaufman also said, “We saw, for example, a place hit by the illegal weapon white phosphorous which are still giving out toxic fuels; we heard about the appalling child malnutrition. We heard for ourselves at the breakfast time Israeli gunfire from the sea. I was told that was happening every morning without fail.”

Another member of the delegation was Marshall-Andrews, who is not only a parliamentarian but also a lawyer, a QC and specialized in what is in criminal matters; and he is extremely interested in International Law; in so far as it applies to international crime committed by the governments or individuals.” What I was looking for was to see whether I could see clear Prima facie evidence of the commission of war crimes or war crimes against humanity during the course of Operation Cast Lead or indeed before that,” said Mr. Marshall-Andrews.

He also added, “I very much hoped that I will not find what we found and I hoped that I would come away with reservations about the Goldstone Report. I did not and I don’t think anyone of the 60 odd delegations would have been any difference of what we witnessed with our own eyes in terms of the destruction of civilian infrastructure including two schools, one of which 37 children had died during the course of the onslaught and what we saw in terms of destruction of civilian houses ; what we saw the destruction of the Parliament building itself; which is a democratically elected parliament; whether you like the parliament or not does not matter; they have their parliament building and that have been destroyed. It is extremely difficult to see how that act alone has had anything to do with the defence of Israel.”

The delegation “listened to testimony given by those who had seen their families killed before their very eyes; this, not by accident or error, or the wanton use of mortar fires or artillery or aircraft. These deaths were caused by the soldiers on the ground, in circumstances which are wholly indefensible. And I listened to that testimony. We all did,” said parliamentarian Marshall-Andrews and added,”what we heard provided the strongest possible prime facie evidence of the existence of individual collective war crimes. That is what I went to discover. In addition to that, of course, we all saw the destitution which is clear by the years of blockade.”

Baroness Jerry Tong
Another member of the delegation, Baroness Jerry Tong, who is also from the medical profession background, was concerned particularly t about the health issues in Gaza. She was in Gaza in November 2008. She was extremely concerned then by the nutritional standard and the general unhealthy conditions of the people in Gaza and indeed in the West Bank. Baroness Tong said, “If we look at the children who are in the majority in Gaza population, 60% of those children are suffering from malnutrition , are extremely anemic.,” she said and added, “prolonged anemia indulges in your brain power diminishes your energy and makes you unable to concentrate ; it’s a very debilitating disease. It also stunts your growth.”

The other condition that concerns Baroness Tong greatly among the children in Gaza is “post-traumatic disorder”. She said in the case of the children of Gaza, “this is not post-traumatic; this is ongoing stress disorder and it’s ongoing for three years; it is being far far worse since Operation Cast Lead. The helicopter gun ships are still coming over the Gaza Strip and John Ging told this. The Israeli started torturing by sonic boom which for a little child huge boom huge explosive noise is terrifying when you see what they have gone through,” said Baroness Tong and added, “it makes people unable to concentrate, unable to connect facts and unable to succeed academically at schools., especially if it is ongoing. We are not talking about an event a day or few days.”

Baroness Tong raised a question here, “So what we are doing here? watching the blockade of Gaza, future generation of badly educated, stunted, weak people who are unable to concentrate and also adults in Gaza already full of bitterness and anger but they are also be getting full of bitterness and anger. And now what is that setting up for the future? What is Israel laying in store? It’s a time bomb. I would just like to appeal to the Israeli authorities, if they see any of this; to remember what they are doing and remember that it is not in the interest of Palestinians to lift the siege of Gaza but it is in the interest of Israel and the Israel’s future.”

Lord Ahmed
Lord Ahmed, another member of the delegation, said, “For me seeing is believing. I was also with Baroness Tong and Clare Short in November 2008 when we visited Gaza; but this time when we visited the areas which have been completely demolished with the bombing and with the F16 and helicopter gun ships. And Sir Gerald mentioned that the young girl from the Shimoni family Mona, 13-year-old, who described to us in full details on how the 97 members of their family were taken and anyone of them, did not belong to any political party; they are just farmers, they are just ordinary people of Gaza. And so when the Israelis keep talking about this was being targeted at Hamas or terrorists or others. This family categorically said that they had nothing to do with politics or any political party.”

Lord Ahmed said, “I agree with everything that has been said that this is a collective punishment of 750,000 children of Gaza, half of the Gaza’s 1.5 million is under 18.”

“I think that the war crimes that has been committed have to be pursued and all I can say is that we urge our government and parliamentarians here that there should be no appeasement statement or appeasement policy that we will change our law and Israeli state terrorists will be welcome in the United Kingdom,” Lord Ahmed said and added, “If there is any attempt by the government then I think all parliamentarians have to stand up for international law and we would have to fight the government or any one else on this particular issue.”.

'What kind of world we are living in'
During the Q & A session, Sir Gerald Kaufman said, “Nobody wants 1.5 million people to be supplied by goods coming in through the tunnels; For God’s sake, what kind of world we are living in when the Israelis government is content to see 1.5 million people living on below the bread line. Is that the kind of thing that the Israeli state was founded to impose? That’s not why I supported the foundation of the Israeli state.”

'What time bomb we are creating'
Again during the Q & A session, Baroness Tong said, “John Ging of the UNRWA actually told this that this year he only receives 60 percent of the funding he had last year to do all the things that he has to do. What are we doing to these people and I repeat what time bomb are we creating in Gaza for the future?”

'It’s a strange world we are living'
Sir Kaufman also mentioned in the Q & A session, “There were heart-breaking when we met some of the victims, these people living in tents; sleeping in night in the cold; express sympathy with the victims of Haiti. People in Gaza expressing sympathy and rightly expressing sympathy and the world rightly wanting to do to help the people in Haiti but at the same time the world can stand by and watch what is happening to the people of Gaza; it is a strange world we are living.”

'The whole world can do a lot
but is not doing it'

In reply to a question from Dr. Mozammel Haque, a freelance Journalist, Sir Gerald Kaufman said, “The whole world can do a lot; but the whole world is not doing it. That’s the point. There are great many things we could do if we set our mind to do it; we could for example, impose economic sanction on Israel, for which I have called now for very many years because there are very high standard of living including the very high standard of living of the settlers is based on hand-outs from the United States. The Israeli state economy is an economy which is propping up. We in the European Union could do a very great deal more in pressure and in trade agreement. So yes we can do things. My colleague Philip Stacey has taken a particular initiative with regard to European trade agreement.”

“So yes, there are lots we can do it. But unfortunately not much of it is being done and when we met Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Mousa, in Cairo he said something which is not often said but I think it is about time it was said. That was about President Obama. President Obama went to Cairo and made a fine speech about the need for peace in the Middle East. But President Obama talks a talk. But he, of all the people of the entire world, could actually do something about this in a way that the rest of us can’t do. But he is not doing it,” Sir Gerald added.

Jeremy Corbyn
Another member of the delegation, who was busy in his constituency, came in the middle of the Q & A Session. This is the fourth time that Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington has been to Gaza over the years. Speaking about his quick impression said, “A group of people, 1.5 million people in Cage have physical needs, have medical needs, have social needs, have economic needs and have psychological needs as well and the effect on the population of being unable to travel, unable to work, unable to secure knowledge the medical degree any of the other needs of granted very very serious and the effect on young people even more serious.”

“What came to me after the lengthy meeting in Gaza with the prime minister and with the parliament that they are people who had democratic mandate; they are people who are freely elected; we all observed that elections and nobody found a fault with it. The rest of the world should recognize,” said Parliamentarian Corbyn and added, “I got the very strongest impression from the prime minister that he wanted to be part of that political process, part of the solution and part of the future.”

“So our call to end the siege, so our call is to lift the blockade, our call is for other people to visit Gaza. Why can’t our Foreign Secretary go to Gaza? why can’t European representative go to Gaza? If we are able to go to Gaza, if other people able to go to Gaza, then why it is not for them,” said Mr. Corbyn.

'We need to change'
Parliamentarian Corbyn also mentioned, “The long term implication of keeping 1.5 million people in prison, in poverty and in misery is a greater and greater danger to the whole peace of the entire region. And it does not bring actually peace and security for Israel. What it brings for Israel is a shame national psychosis of the whole situation. So I thought the visit is extremely valuable and we are very determined 60 parliamentarians in 13 countries to pressurize our governments to end the siege of Gaza, to end the blockade of Gaza, give support to those people but above all be serious about a political solution: recognition of Palestinian people and their long-cherished right to live in peace, in freedom, in their place with the rest of the world. That is the message I picked up very strongly from Gaza.”

“Those people need our support, need our help and need our solidarity. We as a historical colonial power, we were part of the problem; we need to change,” added Mr. Corbyn. .

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