We will be inviting Labour parliamentarians to sign the five-point plan. It seeks to provide a multifaceted response to the challenges facing Gaza.
The pledge recognises the plight of the people of Gaza and the dire humanitarian situation they face. This is desperate and deeply concerning. Electricity supplies are highly restricted; water and sewage facilities are under strain; and rising unemployment has hit 40 percent, with an estimated six in 10 young people out of work.
For some, this crisis has one cause and one solution: lifting Israel’s so-called “blockade”.
Ever since Hamas’ 2007 coup, Israel and Egypt have imposed strict controls on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza in an attempt to contain the terror group and prevent it acquiring more weapons.
But this is far from the whole story. Hundreds of trucks transporting medicine, food and drink routinely pass each day through the Kerem Shalom checkpoint from Israel into Gaza. Over half a million tons of food entered the Strip through this crossing in 2017, along with 3.3m tons of construction equipment and 12,000 tons of agricultural equipment.
It is thus important to address comprehensively the complex reasons for Gaza’s plight.
The pledge condemns Hamas’ ongoing rearmament, tunnel construction and attempts to launch rocket and terrorist attacks in Israel and urges respect for the Oslo Accords which stipulate the demilitarisation of the Palestinian territories.
Hamas’ repeated and blatant flouting of that stipulation is at the root of the problems Gaza faces.
Bringing Gaza back under the jurisdiction of Palestinian Authority is key, but it is telling that last October’s reconciliation agreement appears to be floundering primarily because of Hamas’ refusal to meet President Abbas’ demand that they disarm.
Hamas is believed by Israeli and Palestinian sources to spend £79m per year – around 20 percent of its budget – on its military wing, with £32m alone spent on digging tunnels.
It has been estimated that the cost of the 32 tunnels uncovered during Operation Protective Edge was £59m. The tunnels required, on average, 350 truckloads of construction supplies. The cement used on the tunnels could have built two hospitals, 20 clinics, 20 schools, or 100 nurseries.
In January Israeli forces discovered a Hamas tunnel designed to destroy the main humanitarian crossing into Gaza. The tunnel, which penetrated both Israeli and Egyptian territory, ran underneath the Kerem Shalom crossing, as well as below major gas and diesel pipelines.
The pledge deplores Hamas’ repeated violation of the human rights of the citizens of Gaza, in particular its treatment of women and LGBT Palestinians.
Hamas’ desire to kill Israeli civilians is mirrored by its callous disregard for the lives of the Palestinian people and their human rights.
In June 2017, the Red Crescent revealed that, during the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas deliberately fired rockets from a position in front of a field hospital. The subsequent Israeli response prevented the Red Crescent from distributing vital humanitarian aid. As the Muslim charity’s secretary-general, Mohamed Ateeq Al-Falahi, put it: “What hurts is that the betrayal came from our own people … This shows [Hamas’] wicked intentions and how they sacrificed us. They always claim the enemy targets humanitarian envoys, but the betrayal came from them.”
Since Hamas took over Gaza, its courts have issued 90 death sentences and 25 people have been executed. Hamas has also summarily executed at least 31 others, 15 of whom had not been sentenced to death, according to the Israeli human rights body B’Tselem.
In October 2017, Defence for Children International – Palestine warned that children detained in Gaza were at “severe risk of rights violations and abuses during detention”, detailing cases of torture, physical abuse and suicide attempts.
Hamas were accused last August by Amnesty International of engaging in a “a repressive clampdown on dissent”, deploying “police state tactics to silence critical media and arbitrarily block people’s access to information”. It also reported instances of activists being tortured and otherwise ill-treated while in custody.
Homosexuality is illegal in Gaza. The social taboo in the Hamas enclave subjects LGBT individuals to persecution by both their families and the authorities. Last year, a high-profile Hamas commander, Mahmoud Ishtiwi, was tortured and shot dead after being accused, among other things, of being gay.
Hamas imposes strict rules on women. They are required to wear veils, especially in offices and on college campuses. In 2013, the UN cancelled a proposed Gaza marathon over Hamas’s ban on women. Abdessalam Siyyam, Hamas cabinet secretary said at the time: “We don’t want men and women running together.” He added: “We don’t want women and men mixing in the same place.”
The pledge calls upon the international community to honour the reconstruction pledges made at the Cairo conference in 2014.
All of the schools, hospitals and water and energy facilities which were damaged or destroyed during the 2014 war, along with two-thirds of homes, have now been repaired.
However, much-needed further reconstruction, suggest international agencies such as UNESCO, is on hold due to a lack of international donor funds.
In October 2014, Egypt, Norway and the Palestinian Authority held a conference in Cairo to raise aid for rebuilding Gaza following Operation Protective Edge. Total pledges secured at the conference amounted to $5bn to the Palestinian territories, of which $3.5bn was intended to support Gaza, over a period of three years.
As of last year, only $1.85bn of the support to Gaza announced at the Cairo Conference had been disbursed, according to the World Bank.
Breaking down the disbursement ratio by donor countries identifies where the shortfall arises from. The UK, USA, Japan, Netherlands, Denmark, France, Finland, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and many others have disbursed 100 percent of pledged support to Gaza, whilst Norway, Switzerland and Sweden actually exceeded their pledged support and have disbursement ratios above 100 percent. Meanwhile, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE have thus far failed to meet their obligations, with disbursement ratios of significantly less than 50 percent.
The pledge urges the Israeli government to assist with the economic revitalisation of Gaza including supporting Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev’s plans for the construction of a seaport.
In February 2018, Israel presented an international conference with a list of infrastructure projects in Gaza – including installing a new high-voltage line that would double the amount of electricity Israel supplies to Gaza, laying a natural gas pipeline from Israel to Gaza and building a sewage purification plant – which it would like to see donors fund, and offered to provide technical support and know-how.
In the wake of the 2014 Gaza war, Labor MK Omar Bar-lev presented a comprehensive strategy to effectively end Gaza’s international isolation. One of its key proposals was for a Gaza seaport. Since then a range of similar plans – including from Israeli government ministers – have been made. These include building a seaport on an artificial island off of the Gaza coast and building an autonomous Palestinian port in Sinai close to the Gazan border.
LFI’s Pledge for Gaza doesn’t fit easily onto a placard. But those who truly care about the situation in Gaza should offer solutions, not slogans.