Front-bencher Andrew Gwynne has responded to criticism of his participation in a Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) delegation to Israel a few weeks after Israeli soldiers massacred over sixty protesters and seriously injured thousands more by posting a defence to his Facebook page. LFI responded to the killings with a despicable, victim-blaming statement that triggered widespread condemnation and caused three Labour MPs to withdraw their support for the group.
Perhaps anticipating the anger the visit would cause, fellow front-bench MP Jonathan Reynolds posted his own defence to his Facebook page at the start of the trip. It is reproduced below in full, without further comment:
Parliament is not sitting this week so I have taken the opportunity to attend a delegation of Labour MPs to Israel and Palestine. The Middle East is a part of the world where British interests, and British history, are acutely felt. You do not walk lightly in the Middle East as a British MP, where a series of British decisions over many years has undoubtedly shaped the region we see today. In my view finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is the most pressing foreign policy issue of our time, and one which directly affects our national security in the U.K.
We will spend the next four days meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders, journalists, and charities, as well as our Ambassador and diplomatic staff. This will be my fourth visit to the region since I first went in 2004. Although the prospects for peace do not look good at present, aided by the recklessness of President Trump, on each visit I have been struck by the incredible co-existence work of grassroots Israeli and Palestinian organisations, including groups like OneVoice, the Parents Circle Families Forum, Israeli Physicians for Human Rights and Breaking the Silence. Wherever you go within Israel itself you see Muslims, Jews and Christians living their daily lives alongside one another.
One thing I will stress from the outset: I strongly reject the binary positions taken by the most extreme partisans on both sides of this debate. Those who claim the ongoing conflict is entirely the fault of the Israelis or entirely the fault of the Palestinians should immediately be rejected. There is much blame and legitimate historical grievance to be found on both sides. I often find myself arguing with correspondence from constituents if it attempts to attribute the blame entirely to one side or the other. This is not a conflict that lends itself to simplistic analysis. If we want Israelis and Palestinians to agree a peace, then we have to be an honest broker and recognise the legitimate concerns of both.
There are many contradictions in the region: Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East, and the only country where minorities have full equality before the law. Israel is renowned for its educational opportunities, strong welfare state, and women’s and LGBT rights. There are Arab Israeli politicians in all major parties in the Knesset (Parliament), and several Arab Israelis have served on the Supreme Court. Israel feels embattled by the hostile threats it faces on nearly every one of its borders, and faces a daily terrorist threat few countries would tolerate: since 2000 1300 people have been killed in terrorist attacks, and between 2001-14 15,200 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel from Gaza (an average of 3 each day).
However, in the West Bank I have seen first hand just how difficult life is for the Palestinians. They face severe restrictions on their civil rights and arbitrary control of their lives by the Israeli army. Illegal Israeli settlement construction within the West Bank is a major problem, forcing Palestinians off their land and undermining the long-term prospects for peace. This ongoing occupation severely damages Israel in the rest of the world. In Gaza, although Israel withdrew all settlements and military forces unilaterally in 2005, it still exercises considerable control through a blockade of the territory. For the last 10 years, Gaza has been run by the terrorist organisation Hamas, who don’t tolerate any dissent and divert a huge proportion of their budget to digging tunnels under the border from which to attack Israel. The result is a truly dire situation for the people of Gaza, as evidenced recently by their willingness to effectively walk into live gunfire in their desperation. The current Israeli Government has done little to try to ease their plight.
The likely solution to this is well-known: a two-state solution offering security and prosperity to both Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians desperately need this, but so too does Israel. Every year this isn’t achieved makes the long-term solution harder: the conflict becomes more bitter, the number of illegal settlements that will have to be evacuated becomes larger, and so to does the number of refugees (the descendants of the Palestinian refugees who fled their homes after the Arab states declared war on Israel in 1948 are legally refugees).
I’m hoping for an insightful few days and looking forward to being able to communicate just how keen people in the U.K. are to see a long-term peace achieved.
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