I have been appalled to see the innocent civilian population of Gaza subjected to constant shelling by Israeli forces. In defending itself following the monstrous attack against its own civilians, Israel does not have the right to subject more than two million Palestinians, trapped in Gaza, to collective punishment. Nor does Israel have the right to cut off power and water supplies nor move the civilian population. And I deeply disagreed with the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer when he said that Israel did have this right.
Not only are these actions illegal under international law – they are, as history has shown, entirely counterproductive. Brutalising a civilian population does not build the foundations for peace with future generations of leaders from the community which has been brutalised.
I have been visiting Israel and Palestine for more than thirty years. My first overseas trip as a Member of Parliament was to Israel and Palestine. Previously, as a working journalist I have interviewed many of the leaders on both sides, including the late President Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I have spent a considerable amount of time interviewing the civilian populations in both countries.
It is abundantly clear that there is no military solution to this conflict however much extremists on both sides wish to see one. Peace will only come through negotiation. That will mean, I believe, a two state solution and Israel’s withdrawal from illegally annexed land. I have been deeply disturbed to read some of the overtly racist comments made about the Palestine people by a number of Israeli cabinet ministers recently. I have also been disturbed by the Israeli Prime Minister’s reversal of his country’s long-standing support for a viable, independent Palestinian state.
The United Kingdom, because of our history, has a unique responsibility in Israel and Palestine. I was very moved to have elderly Palestinians, living in refugee camps, show me the keys to their homes and the ‘British Mandate of Palestine’ title deeds to their houses in land that is now Israeli. We owe them a debt of honour.
As a Scottish MP, I am always proud to be able to tell Israeli politicians who ask about our country that Jewish leaders here point out that Scotland is the only European country never to have had an anti-Semitic law on our statute book.
Scotland is a liberal and diverse country. I hope we will all remain united in our support for our Jewish and Muslim communities. Both communities have seen an upturn in racist and anti-Semitic abuse and bigotry directed towards them. I deplore all such thuggery.
I have spoken out in private and public, both in and outwith the Westminster Parliament condemning the horrific violence we have all witnessed. My party leader has raised the Israeli bombing of the people of Gaza on a number of occasions at Prime Minister’s Questions. And we have sponsored a debate at Westminster calling for the UK Government to support an immediate Gaza ceasefire – something the Scottish Government has already done.
I was deeply disappointed to note that both the Conservatives and the Labour Party refused to support that ceasefire motion. Indeed, Sir Keir Starmer sacked Labour MPs who voted with us to support the principle of an immediate truce. I thought that was appalling.
The Conservative Prime Minister and the Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer must now disengage from American foreign policy on Gaza and Israel. Film footage by both the BBC and ITV has now shown, quite clearly, Israel committing war crimes including the shooting of unarmed civilians. Our reaction to this should not be a party political matter.
We should react, as one, with horror and condemn such behaviour without reservation.