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On the 3rd of February, Friends of Palestine Society met with Luke Pollard MP for Student Lobby Day for Palestine. This was as part of a larger event by Friends of Al-Asqa & Association of Student Activism for Palestine where it was planned for students to meet with their MPs to discuss four key issues:
1) The siege on Gaza. A UN report has stated Gaza is now uninhabitable (2020).
2) Stopping arms trade with Israel in line with international law.
3) Illegal Israeli settlements are illegal but are continuously expanding with no condemnation.
4) Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children violating the UN convention of the rights of the Child.
Since 2007, two million Palestinians have been under a prolonged closure by Israel inside the 365km2 area of the Gaza strip. This has resulted in a near-collapse of Gaza’s regional economy, its isolation from the rest of the world and a real humanitarian catastrophe. A UN report in November 2020 shows that the siege has cost Palestinians approximately £12.4 billion. Unemployment rates are at 50% and more than 50% of the population live below the poverty line. Additionally, 97% of Gaza’s water is undrinkable, electricity is restricted to between 5 and 15 hours per day and there is a dire lack of medical equipment and medicine. As our committee is made up of medical and dentistry students, these statistics hit us very hard as we have an acute awareness of the impact that this can have on a population, especially over a long period of time.
In December 2020, a joint agreement was signed to “formalise and enhance” military cooperation between the UK and Israel. Between 2015 and 2019, the UK licensed over £376 million worth of arms to Israel. This is not a unidirectional trade agreement. Israel sells arms to the UK which have been described as “battle-tested”. In reality, this is a horrendous euphemism for being used against Palestinians. We conveyed to Mr Pollard how the actions shown by the UK government clearly prioritise profit instead of human rights.
The UK government in October 2020 reiterated that:
• It is deeply concerned by the decision taken by the Israeli authorities to advance more than 4,900 settlement building units in the occupied West Bank.
• The expansion of settlements violates international law.
• Settlements are an impediment to the viability of a two-state solution.
• Settlements are counterproductive to bring about a just and lasting peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
• Called for an immediate halt to settlement construction.
Despite these words and sentiments, Israel has continued with its settlement programme. There are currently 646,000 Israeli settlers living in occupied Palestinian land, with over 200 settlements in Palestine. The settlements cause severe hardship on the rights of Palestinians to move freely and work, and to access education and healthcare. Over 60% of the West Bank is inaccessible to Palestinians due to these settlements. Despite settlement buildings violating international law, companies that operate businesses from these settlements can export their goods to the UK.
Our final, and most important point for us, was the treatment of Palestinian children in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinian children are routinely and explicitly denied their safety and security. Their right to education, health, shelter and future prospects are being denied and their right to a childhood is being stolen from them. The UN Convention on the Right of the Child (UNCRC) recognises that all children have the right to be treated with dignity and fairness, to be protected, to develop to their full potential and to participate.
In complete disregard for this, data collected by the UN OCHA show that, in 2020, 10 children were murdered by the Israeli military and settlers. 141 children were displaced from their homes by demolition since January 2020. Children are routinely arrested at night, at times in painful hand ties, denied access to a lawyer and made to sign statements they do not or cannot understand. Finally, as of 30 September, 2020 Military Court Watch documents 157 Palestinian children (12-17 years old) are in Israeli detention facilities. The damage done to children’s mental health, physical wellbeing, relationships and education cannot be overstated and in many cases is irreversible through the treatment they experienced during military detention.
We were able to have a very productive meeting with our local MP, Luke Pollard he was respectful and engaged in thoughtful and interesting conversation regarding these different aspects of Palestine. He shared his own experiences with us of his time in the Palestine society at the University of Exeter when he was a student and his support for the two-state solution to the conflict. He was able to tell us that six years ago parliament passed a motion stating that they recognise Palestine as a state. However, the conservative government refused to recognise this and it is still being challenged to be recognised. Mr Pollard seemed most interested by the point around goods from illegal settlements and how that can be tackled. His main point was that he wanted to be able to give students and others a platform for raising these important issues.
“ The most important thing for me is to give students, like yourselves, the platform to raise these important issues in a meaningful way.”
- Luke Pollard, Plymouth MP
“In what has been a very trying year to start a society, this event was a great success. I am proud of all of our society members who attended and prepared to present to and discuss with Mr Pollard these four key issues. I hope that this is the beginning of more great things to come from this society in the future!”
- Dáire Magorrian, Society President
“It was a really encouraging first meeting with Mr Pollard, he gave us time to raise our concerns and listened carefully, asking for further explanations and our ideas for change. I think we were successful in bringing the Palestinian struggle back to the forefront of his mind”
- Saf Johar, Society Vice-President
Overall, this was a positive experience for us as a new society and it was really good to engage with our politicians to increase our voice, and the voice of supporters of Palestine in Westminster and beyond. We thoroughly look forward to future meetings with our MP and politicians in Plymouth to continue to do this.
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