More constituents have written to me on the current situation in Gaza than on any other issue since Brexit, and so I thought it might be helpful to set out my views and actions on the issue in this special post. 

This page contains information regarding my work on the ongoing conflict in Gaza since the Hamas attack on October 2023. This page will be regularly updated to reflect further actions taken in light of the developing conflict. You can read my previous work on Palestine here and here

You might also like to know that I’m co-ordinating an appeal for the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians with Sheffield’s other Labour MPs and hope that, if you can, you’ll join us in supporting their emergency appeal.  

 

Updated 19th May 2023 

Over my 14 years as an MP, I have been a strong supporter of Palestinian rights and have challenged the Government to press Israel over numerous policies on child detention, evictions, demolitions, illegal settlements, annexation, and Gaza.         

I was appalled by the barbaric Hamas attack, deliberately and systematically killing men, women, children, and babies in their homes – and at a music festival – and taking hostages who have been held captive ever since. It was right that people came together in unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and in solidarity with all those whose lives were torn apart by the attack. 

I joined other local Labour MPs and civic leaders for a service at the Kingfield Synagogue in Nether Edge, in which we remembered the victims of the attack as the rabbi led prayers for all those affected and for peace in the region.       

As Israel’s response to the Hamas attack intensified the following week, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary urging him to work with others in the international community to secure the release of hostages, the opening of a humanitarian corridor, and the de-escalation of the conflict to minimise the loss of life and suffering for all in the region.     

The attack by Hamas was designed to provoke a military response from Israel and the consequences have been devastating. I watched the scenes from Gaza with horror, as thousands were killed and injured – and so many of them children – with families forced to flee their homes and then being bombed in southern Gaza where they had been told to go in order to be safe. Hospitals were soon barely able to function, clean water was in desperately short supply and the UN warned of the risk of starvation.      

All countries have a right to defend themselves under international law but are required to do so within the framework of that law. That means taking all possible measures to protect innocent civilians and no collective punishment.     

As the situation in Gaza worsened, I attended meetings with aid agencies, families of those held hostage by Hamas, a top Israeli human rights lawyer, and the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group. In January I visited the ‘Justice Now’ camp set up by two local Palestinian women – Sahar Awadallah and Lena Mussa – to raise awareness about the war. I have also joined colleagues in meetings with the Palestinian Ambassador, Dr. Husam Zomlot, most recently on 7 May.  

Ceasefire 

In October I co-ordinated a letter to the Prime Minister from Sheffield’s Labour MPs (which you can read here) calling for the UK to work with the international community for:     

  • The unconditional return of hostages to their families      
  • A ceasefire involving all parties to the conflict, to save lives and prevent wider escalation     
  • Israel to act in accordance with international law     
  • Condemnation of all war crimes, whoever is responsible – to show that we are unequivocal in our belief that all lives matter equally.     
  • An end to the blockade of water and power, and access for humanitarian aid     
  • A massive increase in aid for those who need it so desperately.     
  • Renewed efforts the political solution that alone can bring long-term peace – with a sovereign state of Palestine, free of occupation, alongside a safe and secure state of Israel.      

I subsequently signed a  cross-party letter to the Prime Minister, and voted for the SNP amendment to the King’s Speech, calling for a ceasefire. I also voted for Labour’s amendment because it pressed on important issues, some of which had been missed in the SNP amendment, including calling for Israel to protect hospitals and lift the siege of Gaza, for the International Criminal Court to consider actions in contravention of international law,  for those forced out of their homes to have the right of return, for an end to settler violence and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and for a renewed commitment to a lasting peace based on a two-state solution  – as well as a longer humanitarian pause as a step towards a permanent cessation of fighting.    

Whilst voting as I did, I am concerned that the polarised debate around a ceasefire or humanitarian pause didn’t help anyone at that time. There is a difference, but both would stop the fighting, allow essential aid, and create better conditions to start a multilateral dialogue towards a lasting peace. I discussed my concerns with Keir Starmer, who set out his belief that backing a humanitarian pause alongside our allies was the best route to stopping the killing sooner.   

In February I was pleased to add my name to Labour’s amendment because, in a significant change of position, it called for an immediate ceasefire – and strengthened the SNP motion in many ways, calling for an immediate ceasefire and release of hostages, but adding that:  

  • a ground offensive in Rafah risks catastrophic consequences and must not happen  
  • there must be rapid and unimpeded humanitarian relief   
  • Israel must comply with the ruling of International Court of Justice   
  • settlement expansion and settler violence in the West Bank must end   
  • there must be intensified international efforts for a two-state solution, and recognition of a Palestinian state.  

The procedural chaos around those votes shamed Parliament because action to end the horror in Gaza should have been everybody’s only focus and it distracted from the important outcome – that the UK Parliament adopted Labour’s motion for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, along with the other points.  

West Bank  

As well as raising Gaza I have been concerned to ensure that the situation in the West Bank is not overlooked, with the rise in settler attacks on Palestinians since 7th October – following a year in which 189 Palestinians, and 25 Israelis, had been killed according to the UN. The leading Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, also estimate that 10,712 Palestinians and 1,330 Israelis had been killed from 2000 before the start of the current violence.   

In December, I joined 56 parliamentary colleagues from across both Houses of Parliament in writing to the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary calling for the UK government to ban violent Israeli settlers. I was pleased that the Government did take action but think it should go further.  

In January, after Netanyahu’s explicit rejection of a two-state solution, I pressed Ministers for a trade embargo on the illegal settlements in the West Bank in recognition of their purpose in undermining the viability of a Palestinian state.  

I was pleased that Sheffield City Council signed a Friendship Agreement with the West Bank city of Nablus, in part arranged following my discussion with civic leaders there during my visit to the West Bank in 2017.  

International Court of Justice  

I followed South Africa’s application to the ICJ closely and believe that their interim ruling on the situation in Gaza, setting out urgent provisional measures, must be respected. Israel should comply with the orders in full, and Hamas must release all hostages immediately. The Government should accept the ICJ’s authority and agree the ruling should be implemented in full.   

International law must be upheld, the independence of international courts must be respected, and all sides must be accountable for their actions. The Labour Party have called for Israel to comply fully with the ICJ ruling on the war in Gaza – you can watch Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy’s comments here or read his statement here.    

UNRWA funding  

I was appalled by allegations that some UNRWA employees were involved in the 7th October Hamas attacks, and anyone implicated should be held accountable, so it was right that UNRWA responded quickly against the staff allegedly involved and launched an investigation. However, as the US has said, UNRWA has an “absolutely indispensable role” in distributing aid in Gaza.  

The humanitarian emergency in Gaza cannot wait. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has said the “entire population” is suffering “severe levels of acute food insecurity”. 85% of the population is displaced and millions face famine. We are now seeing children dying of malnutrition, while Israel is failing in its responsibility to enable aid supplies at land crossings, as I said in the Commons.   

On 29th March, I joined over 115 parliamentarians in writing to Foreign Secretary David Cameron to demand the restoration of UK funds to UNRWA, and for the UK government to put pressure on Israel as it continues to block full humanitarian access into Gaza, in breach of international law. You can read the full text of the letter here 

Labour’s Shadow Minister for International Development Lisa Nandy has also called for UNRWA funding to be restored so that the supply of aid is undisrupted (watch here)  and said that we must challenge the Israeli government on blocking aid at land borders as the Foreign Secretary has. 

Arms sales  

Many constituents have raised the issue of arms sales to Israel as the conflict continues. As one of its first priorities, the last Labour Government introduced a legal and regulatory framework for arms exports in 1997, putting into law the principle that the UK would not permit the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression or international aggression.  

I was part of the Committee which in 2016 said that the UK must halt the sale of all weapons that could be used in the war between the Saudi-led coalition and rebel forces in Yemen, in which an estimated 380,000 people have died. I think these principles should be applied to arms sales to Israel too – and wrote to the Foreign Secretary making that case in January.  

Ending arms sales is one of the consequences the Israeli Government should face (as I argued in the Commons in March) if they continue to defy the international community on the war, aid supply and a two-state solution. It’s a point my Sheffield Labour colleague Clive Betts made too when we worked together to press constituents’ concerns to the Minister back in January.   

Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy has also been pressing on arms exports to Israel. He has urged the government to publish the legal advice it has received on whether Israel has breached international law in its prosecution of the war in Gaza, because he is concerned that that there has been “a serious breach of international humanitarian law” which would lead mean that export licences would not be granted. You can read more here and here 

Gaza’s hospitals  

Many people have written to me about the impact of the war on Gaza’s hospitals, in particular the Al Aqsa and Al Shifa hospitals, and I wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, in February to press the need to protect Gazan hospitals and all healthcare facilities, as required under international law.   

In November I joined local NHS staff in a vigil to recognise the extraordinary sacrifices of health workers in Gaza.   

The priority now is an immediate ceasefire and release of hostages, as well urgent escalation of aid. As well raising these issues, I’ve continued to press for a lasting peace based on secure and sovereign states of Israel and Palestine, living alongside each other in peace, however remote that seems right now.   

I’ve also been concerned that the appalling events in the region do not undermine community cohesion in our country. I’ve met regularly with representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities to hear their concerns about growing antisemitic and antimuslim hatred since 7th October.  We must have no tolerance of such hatred and ensure nobody uses the war to pursue other political objectives.     

 

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