Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Andy Slaughter goes to Gaza

I reported here that Andy Slaughter MP had been on a recent trip to Gaza to see the plight of those living in extremely difficult conditions, he's now returned from this three day visit where he and other British MPs from all parties met with local political leaders.  Andy was part of the first delegation to enter Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal last year and returned to see how the situation for the people of Gaza had changed in the past year.  The other members of the delegation were Rt Hon Lord Steel, Karen Buck MP and Stephen Williams MP.

In discussions with Ministers and MPs from the ruling Hamas government, the delegation called for the release of Paul Martin, a British journalist held in custody for the past three weeks after entering Gaza to give evidence in a criminal trial.  They also raised the issues of prisoner exchanges, the Hamas constitution and continuing hostilities. Interestingly Paul Martin has just been released by Hamas - if that has anything to do with their visit it's quite an achievement.

The delegation set out to see the effects on Gaza of the blockade Israel has maintained since the Hamas election victory in 2006 and the invasion in December 2008 which caused 1400 deaths and the destruction of most of the civil infrastructure.   

Andy Slaughter said: ‘The attacks by planes and tanks on 1.6 million people living in an area 25 miles by six and the total blockade that has lasted almost four years have reduced Gaza from first to third world status.  With literacy rates of 95%, a developed economy and strong intellectual life, Palestine should be the showcase of the Arab world.  Instead we found a population totally isolated from outside contact, with no reliable water or electricity supply and dependent for all but basic foodstuffs on what can be smuggled through the 1,200 tunnels dug under the Egyptian border.’

Half the population of Gaza is under 17 and two thirds are refugees driven out of Israel from 1948 onwards. There is 85% unemployment, 95% of the private sector has collapsed and the only work is with the local government or the UN on its food and education programmes, which supports 700,000 people.  There are successes – educational results have soared since the UN introduced a much more rigorous testing and focused on core literacy and numeracy.  This and the human rights programme in schools designed to teach tolerance and democratic values have been borrowed from the UK.

‘But generally this is a people without hope and a generation growing up whose only experience of others is violence and cruelty.  Israel is creating future problems for itself and the world.  If it continues to deny this, effective international pressure has to be brought to bear.  It is time for Britain and the UN to take punitive sanctions against Israel, starting with the ending of the trade agreement.’   

In the interests of balance I should point out that Andy is a leading member of a group called Labour Friends of Palestine. Absolutely no problem with that but I'm not sure his analysis would be shared by those of a more pro-Israeli outlook. Such as Labour Friends of Israel. I always find myself playing devil's advocate with anyone that is arguing strongly for one side or another because it's never that straightforward. But well done for making the effort to go out there.

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