The actions taken by Israeli's naval commandos on Tuesday have been rightly condemned. I was personally appalled by the loss of life associated with the attack on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu has argued that his troops were acting in self-defence yet there was nothing on board those ships that constituted a threat to Israel's security. While I also condemn the violence perpetrated on Israeli commandos by the more extreme activists, to call this "pre-planned violence" as Israeli spokespeople have is simply disingenuous; what did Israeli commandos expect after taking a decision to board a ship in international waters that was still in international waters? The simple fact is that Israeli forces should not have been there in the first place. The responsibility for placing themselves in a chaotic situation with a high likelihood of provoking an aggressive response from persons on board was theirs.
The deeper point is, of course, the ongoing tragedy in Gaza. The convoy was carrying construction materials, water purifiers and other aid for Gaza's people; aid that was needed because of the dire lack of reconstruction in the Gaza strip and the desperate needs of the 5,000 families still in tents after the ruin wreaked by Operation Cast Lead.
Having been to Gaza myself twice (most recently for three days at the beginning of March) I can confirm at first hand the appalling impact that the blockade has had on the civilian population. Reconstruction has hardly commenced since the Israeli incursion in early 2009. The effective imprisonment of a population of 1.5 million people (half of them under 21) the majority of whom are dependent on food aid has created a pressure cooker environment.
I have said it before and will again: Israel's blockade has not only prevented Hamas from rearming, it has also imposed a collective punishment on the civilian population in Gaza. Predictably, this has had the opposite of its intended effect with defiance in the strip growing and Hamas reaping the benefits to the detriment of Fatah's position in the territories. The Israeli raid will escalate tensions and is highly likely to provoke some sort of new intifada. All this along with severely damaging relations with Turkey, further fraying already damaged ties with the Obama administration and in all likelihood undermining America's steady rallying of support for a new package of sanctions against Iran.
What is needed now is a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation of this disastrous raid that conforms to international standards, an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza and a redoubling of international efforts to secure a lasting settlement with a secure and independent state of Palestine alongside a secure and independent Israel.
It goes without saying that Israel has the right to security and to self-defence. Hamas and other organisations such as Hezbollah have indeed committed crimes against the civilian population of Israel, which I have always condemned, and Israel has understandable concerns about the actions, intentions and rhetoric of these organisations and their international sponsors. Yet this does not entitled Israel to disregard international law, to act with disproportionate force (whether against the flotilla or during Operation Cast Lead), or to impose collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza. These measures, wrong in themselves, are also counter-productive when it comes to the long term prospects for peace.
As a supporter/member of Labour Friends of Palestine, I will continue to take a very close interest in this critical issue. I attended an all -party meeting of concerned MPs last night to discuss how to continue maintaining pressure within Parliament in the coming days and weeks.
As a start colleagues have tabled a Parliamentary motion on the issue that states:
That this House is appalled by the loss of life associated with Israel's attack on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza; notes that UK and other nationals have been held by Israel despite the attack having taken place in international waters; endorses the call of the United Nations Secretary General for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards; recognises that Israel's blockade which has destroyed the economy of Gaza and deepened poverty still inflicts widespread suffering and, by imposing collective punishment on the people of Gaza, is itself contrary to international law; and calls on the international community to require Israel to end its blockade and to redouble international efforts to secure a lasting settlement with a secure and independent state of Palestine alongside a secure and independent Israel.