Gaza Blog, January 2010 – Day 1.  

After flying to Cairo and then going by bus on a four-hour drive through the Sinai desert, we arrived at the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and Gaza at 1 pm today, Friday, and presented our passports.  Although we had been reassured that everything was arranged and we would be allowed into Gaza, most of us were secretly worried that there would be some last-minute hitch and we would be refused entry or at least kept waiting for a long time. 

However it all went very smoothly. It took us no more than half an hour to get through the Egyptian side and onto the bus that takes you across the actual border. I should explain that there are seven crossing points into Gaza, six from Israel – most of which are closed at the moment – and just one from Egypt. And although the nearest point of Israel is some five miles away, the Israelis still claim the right to control the crossing. The Egyptians can only allow passengers through the Rafah crossing.  Under an agreement signed with the Israelis, lorries cannot go through the Rafah crossing – even though there is a road entrance and a lorry park. So we all walked through the Egyptian terminal and then on a bus to the Palestinian terminal.  To our surprise there was a huge reception party for us there. 

The Deputy speaker of the Palestinian National Council and most of Gaza’s MPs were lined up to meet us. We walked along the line, shaking hands with each MPs in turn. There was then a reception ceremony where the Deputy Speaker leader welcomed us and the leader of our delegation Sir Gerald Kaufman, the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, thanked him on behalf of the 35 MPs from 13 European countries who are there with us. There was then a press conference in front of some 12 television cameras – though I think the only British journalist present was from the BBC World Service.

For the Gazans we are clearly the biggest and most important visit they have had since the Israelis imposed their virtual siege on the strip by closing all the crossings to all but the most essential humanitarian supplies and visits in the summer of 2007. The official name of this deputation is the European Campaign to Lift the Siege on Gaza and it includes not only seven members of the British Parliament and three MEPs, but also MPs and MEPs from France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Portugal and Italy. Suitably, for a group of parliamentarians, our first visit was to the Palestine National Council building in Gaza. 

This building was destroyed by Israeli rockets on the 1st January last year for no rational reason. There was nobody there and it had not been used to launch rockets or store ammunition – the only militarily justifiable reasons for targeting a building.  I visited the building in February – immediately after the conflict – and there was devastation in the chamber where the MPs met with many of the desks destroyed though bizarrely a large chandelier remained entirely intact. This time it’s not much different.  The Israelis will not allow cement of any other building materials into Gaza, so reconstruction work cannot begin.  The bomb damaged desks and the debris has been removed and instead tables had been set out for a meal.  Having had nothing to eat all day, we tucked into kebabs and falafels with gusto.

It must be the first time I’ve eaten a kebab in a bombed-out parliament.  There followed a formal discussion with the Gazan MPs – with four visiting MPs and four local MPs speaking in turn. I was first up for the visitors and passed on some of the greetings that people had written for me to take to Gaza from the Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East reception two days earlier. The Gazans were very concerned that we should not change the law on universal jurisdiction as the Israelis have demanded and, while they appreciated all the declarations of sympathy and support from European governments, wanted to see them translated into action.

In the evening we had a discussion with Non-Governmental Organisations in Gaza which allowed us to hear about the needs of the hospitals and schools in Gaza and the most urgent humanitarian needs which are still not being fully met.  I also had a visit from Wasim, a Gazan computer engineer who was one of the founder members of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East while he was studying in Manchester last year and is now back in Gaza working for the Ministry of Education. It was very informative talking to Wasim about the realities of life in Gaza and I was joined by fellow MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Bob Marshall-Andrews in a long and interesting conversation with him.

The Gazans are always very appreciative and pleasantly surprised to hear that people in Britain and other countries have not forgotten n them and are concerned about their plight. I passed the greetings on to a Gazan journalist who was very pleased to have them and wanted me to photocopy every one so he could use them on his channel.

Day 2

Having arrived at the hotel after nightfall, it was only when I opened the curtains of my room in the morning that I made the pleasant discovery that I was only about 30 yards from the Med and, more specifically, the main harbour of Gaza City.  The dining room overlooked an outdoor swimming pool (empty) and then a fence and then the beach, where fishermen were rigging up their boats. The Israeli Navy will only allow the boats to go out a few hundred metres from the shore before they start firing on them, but it’s still an important source of food. Even in winter the sea was tempting, but visitors are warned not to go on the beach – because of the danger of Israeli shelling. A beachside restaurant was abandoned and pockmarked with shell holes. The pier showed signs of heavy shelling.

Gaza has better beaches than anywhere in Israel and it is just about possible to imagine an idyllic holiday at the Commodore Hotel in years to come, sunbathing in the hotel pools and walking a few steps down to the beach for a dip in the warm Mediterranean.  At the moment, however, it would be a nightmare. The beaches are out of bounds, the water is polluted, and the hotels are short of many essentials, though guests are no doubt able to live much more comfortably than most Gazans.

We set off on a bus tour of the areas that were worst hit during the Israeli offensive.  We stopped at Isbet Abd Rabbo, a village that was completely razed to the ground by the Israelis. This was probably the most vivid memory of my last trip to Gaza in February, three weeks after the offensive. At that time each house had been reduced to a pile of rubble and the former occupants of the houses were still standing on their mounds of concrete, not knowing where to go.

If we were coming back to the scene of a natural disaster a year later, we could expect to see reconstruction under way and life returning to normal.  This has not happened in Gaza. Although most of the rubble has been cleared away, people are still living in tents, surviving on United Nations handouts and unable to rebuild their homes and their lives because of the almost total ban on building materials.

Our next stop was Al Fakhura Street in Jabaliya refugee camp just outside Gaza. This was the scene of one of the worst atrocities of the offensive. Mortar shells were fired into a busy shopping street, killing 24 civilians. The Goldstone Report was strongly critical of the commander who ordered his troops to use mortar shells in a crowded street, since he must have known civilians would be killed. Indeed, the shells only just missed a United Nations school where 1,368 civilians were sheltering.

In the words of the report: “The Mission is of the view that the deployment of at least four mortar shells to attempt to kill a small number of specified individuals in a setting where large numbers of civilians were going about their daily business and 1,368 people were sheltering nearby cannot meet the test of what a reasonable commander would have determined to be an acceptable.”

Goldstone considered it a possible violation of violation of: Additional Protocol I, articles 57 (2) (a) (ii) and (iii) of the Geneva Convention article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (depriving civilians arbitrarily of their life).

The army unit that was active in Jabaliya was 35th Paratroops Brigade and its commander was Col. Herzi Halevy.  Newly promoted Brigadier General Herzi Halevy was one of the Israeli army officers who suddenly cancelled a visit to London in January when the Ministry of Defence said they could not guarantee that they would not be arrested.

Our third stop was at Zeytoun, south of Gaza City to meet members of the Al-Samouni family.  This was one of the most notorious incidents during the offensive. Although the family had no known connection with any militant group, 26 members of the family were killed. You can hear the accounts of two of the family’s orphaned daughters on YouTube if you click the link on this page.

Muna, 11, said: “I was completely traumatised and shocked which I watched my father and mother dying in front of my own eyes and they could not do anything for them. Why? Why should I be deprived of my parents? I ask the international community and the people in Europe to stand with us against the Israelis who deprived us of our beloved ones, my father and mother.”

Zeinab, 13, said: “I saw them when they were killed. I saw my father, my mother; they lost half their brains in front of my own eyes. My brother was executed deliberately in front of my own eyes. To see their father and mother being killed in front of your eyes – I don’t believe that any of the children in the world can endure such suffering and I ask you to put pressure on Israel to lift the siege.  We’re still suffering. We call on you to help us to lift this siege.”

Before you tell me that the accounts of young children could be very subjective, I should tell you that the Goldstone Mission took evidence from several members of the Al-Samouni family and regarded them as reliable witnesses.  This is a short extract from their account of the incident: “The soldiers entered Ateya al-Samouni’s house by force, throwing some explosive device, possibly a grenade. In the midst of the smoke, fire and loud noise, Ateya al-Samouni stepped forward, his arms raised, and declared that he was the owner of the house. The soldiers shot him while he was still holding his ID and an Israeli driving licence in his hands.

“The soldiers then opened gunfire inside the room in which all the approximately 20 family members were gathered. Several were injured, Ahmad, a boy of four, particularly seriously. Soldiers with night vision equipment entered the room and closely inspected each of those present. The soldiers then moved to the next room and set fire to it. The smoke from that room soon started to suffocate the family. A witness speaking to the Mission recalled seeing “white stuff” coming out of the mouth of his 17-month-old nephew and helping him to breathe.”

We then visited Gaza’s own War Crimes Commission, set up to record and collate all the evidence of atrocities in the hope that there will be some kind of trial where the evidence can be presented. They summed up the result of the 22-day offensive in a rather chilling list of statistics: 350 children killed, 220 women, 15 paramedics, 13 civil defence workers, seven journalists; 181 schools damaged or destroyed 57 clinics or hospitals, 58 ambulances; 3,169 homes destroyed and 712 water wells.

They were very keen that we should not give in to Israel’s demands on universal jurisdiction, because there had been a lot of war crimes and there were a lot of people to prosecute. They listed the main types of war crime involved:

  1. Random bombardment leading to the death of civilians

  2. Causing panic by saying there would be ‘no safe place’ on the Gaza Strip

  3. Using weapons such as white phosphorous against civilians

  4. Direct targeting of hospitals and ambulances

  5. Threatening civilians with death

  6. Preventing food and humanitarian supplies entering the Gaza Strip

  7. Targeting schools and universities

  8. Preventing evacuation of the wounded

  9. Targeting graves and cemeteries

  10. Targeting homes as revenge

  11. Destroying the environment with banned weapons

In the afternoon we met the “Prime Minister” of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, who is of course a Hamas MP.  The majority of Gaza’s 50 MPs are Hamas, with some smaller parties and independents and a small number of Fatah MPs.

Naturally, since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip and expelled Fatah security forces in June 2008, Fatah will not attend any Hamas events and do not recognise Haniyeh as “Prime Minister”.  He was Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, i.e. the West Bank and Gaza, for about a year after winning the 2006 parliamentary elections, but he had already ceased to be Prime Minister before his party took over control of Gaza.  However he is head of the de facto government in Gaza and no one was going to argue about titles. All the parliamentarians in our delegation were told that this was an ‘optional’ meeting but all 36 came along and our delegation leader, Sir Gerald Kaufman, began by thanking “Prime Minister” Haniyeh for his welcome.

It was clear that Ismail Haniyeh set great store by international visits, especially one as large as ours, and he took care to appear reasonable and moderate. He gave a clear endorsement of the two-state solution: “We are not against declaring an independent state on the boundaries of 1967 and we do support all efforts to do that. We are not an obstacle to that,” he said.

He certainly accepted the need to continue the ceasefire, adding that “we can move to a long-term truce for a long time …”, but he stopped short of saying he would accept this as a permanent solution.

He said unequivocally that he accepted previous agreements. “We did sign the Mecca accords that we do respect all agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation and we respect international law.”

He also did his best to allay fears that Hamas would seize the money or supplies intended for reconstruction. “We do not object to UN supervision of reconstruction or even by non-governmental or European organisations or the Arab League. We don’t want to receive money and donations ourselves.”

Most of the questions cantered on the reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas which have gone on for eight months but still not led to any agreement, even to hold an election. “We are highly interested in ending this split and reaching reconciliation,” he said, but the talks had broken down on the thorny question of who should appoint the election administrator, he said.

The parliamentary elections were due in January 2010 and the presidential election was due in January 2009 so ironically both President Abbas and “Prime Minister” Haniyeh have now lost their democratic mandates and would not be regarded as rightfully in power. The PLO has “extended” the president’s term until an election can be held, but it was hard to detect any impatience for an election in Gaza. Hamas may well fear that they will do worse.

Day 3

We met Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, around the table where the leaders of 27 Arab countries hold their meetings.

He gave us a very fluent analysis of the current state of the Israel-Palestine conflict.  The Israelis. He said, had accepted their there should be a Palestinian state, not not a viable Palestinian state. The Palestinians could not afford to seit down to talks unless (a) there was a timeframe, and (b) settlement building was brought to a half, even temporarily.  If settlement building is not halted, he said, “how can you adjourn negotiations on Friday but when you resume on Tuesday, you have to change the map?”

Demographic changes were taking place on a daily basis.  On the very day of Obama’s speech the Israelis announced another 689 houses in East Jerusalem. It was no use Netanyahu demanding talks without pre-conditions when he was changing conditions on the ground all the time. “We have been played with. We have been fooled with the whole book of diplomatic tricks.”

Palestine Delegation Report

Earlier this year, in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s attack on Gaza, I led a delegation of MPs on a visit to the region to survey the impact of the conflict.

The situation we encountered in Gaza was appalling. Over 1,300 Palestinians had been killed during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ and a further 5,300 injured. Over two hundred schools lay damaged or destroyed, whilst hospitals and the United Nations Gaza City Headquarters had also been attacked.

Today, we have published a report of our findings. It details the scale of the devastation and the human cost paid by the people of Palestine. It also includes a number of recommendations from the delegation’s members, including a call for an end to the blockade of Gaza and for a rigorous international inquiry into accusations of war crimes.

Although in many ways Gaza was the focus of our visit, the delegation also spent time in Israel and the West Bank. We visited Ashkelon, a town in Southern Israel which has been the victim of rocket attacks.

We also visited the West Bank to see the ongoing effects of the occupation, the expansion of settlement activity and the impact of checkpoints and the Separation Wall.

A copy of the report is available online here and you can read our press release below


A group of MPs has called for an immediate end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, in a new report published today (available online here).

A delegation from the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group (BPAPPG) visited Israel, Gaza and the West Bank in the immediate aftermath of “Operation Cast Lead”, to assess the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Territories. Their subsequent findings include a call for crossings into and out of Gaza to be opened and for a rigorous international inquiry into allegations of war crimes. The MPs also note international efforts to prevent the supply of arms into Gaza. The MPs call for this to be supplemented by a prohibition on the sale of arms and military equipment to Israel in response to its own record of attacks on Gaza and elsewhere.

Commenting upon its publication, Chair of the BPAPPG, Richard Burden MP said:

‘Our report details the scale of the devastation and the human cost paid by the people of Palestine – both from the recent conflict in Gaza and the ongoing occupation of both Gaza and the West Bank.

‘The images of our visit remain clear in my mind – an entire village raised to the ground and its many residents now living in tents. Of 1.5 million people imprisoned in their own land and reliant on outside aid for essential food, medical supplies and even the cement they need to rebuild their shattered homes. There has to be accountability for what has happened.

‘The military attacks on Gaza may have now ceased but its people’s suffering continues with a crippling blockade that has been going on for over two years. Common humanity demands we do all we can to bring this to an end.

‘Over the years ordinary Israelis have also suffered from this ongoing conflict. We are convinced that the international community must step up its efforts to achieve the lasting and just peace that both Palestinians and Israelis deserve.’

The delegation’s report makes nine recommendations:

  1. The opening of all the crossing points in and out of Gaza

  2. An independent and impartial inquiry into allegations that war crimes and other offences against humanitarian law were committed by both sides during Israel’s attack on Gaza and the firing of rockets into Israel, and the holding of all relevant parties to account

  3. An international embargo on arms supplies to Israel to accompany the action already being taken by the international community to prevent the supply of arms into Gaza

  4. Concerted action to bring about a complete settlement freeze, including a halt to the E1 Plan and a halt to the removal of residency rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem

  5. The lifting of the closure regime in the West Bank

  6. Conditionality enforced in respect of EU-Israel agreements, with Israel’s trade privileges under those agreements being suspended until it fulfils its own human rights, and other, responsibilities under those agreements

  7. Support for the re-forging of internal Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation

  8. An inclusive approach to international political engagement with all key stakeholders in the region, to achieve an effective peace process towards a sustainable two-state solution

  9. Regular visits to the region for EU and UK politicians to see the situation for themselves and to make appropriate recommendations to their governments.

Over 1,300 Palestinians were killed during Operation Cast Lead, with a further 5,300 injured. Over two hundred schools were damaged or destroyed during the conflict, whilst hospitals and the United Nations’ Gaza City Headquarters were also attacked. The delegation spent three days in the Gaza Strip assessing the damage, meeting with survivors and touring some of the worst affected areas.

The group visited Ashkelon, a town in Southern Israel which has been the victim of rocket attacks. The group also visited the West Bank where they saw evidence of on-going Israeli settlement expansion and the impact of checkpoints and the Separation Wall. The report calls for an end to the growth of settlements and for the international community to pressurise Israel to halt the construction of the barrier.

About the delegation

The delegation was led by Richard Burden MP, Chair of the BPAPPG, and consisted of Ed Davey MP, Tony Lloyd MP, Sarah Teather MP, Martin Linton MP and Andy Slaughter MP. They visited Ashkelon in southern Israel, Gaza and the West Bank and held a range of meetings with officials, diplomats, organisations and individuals, including Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad; Rafiq Husseini (Chief of Staff to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas); the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA); the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA); Palestinian business people, medical staff, teachers, academics and politicians; and residents of Ashkelon, Gaza and the West Bank.

The visit was coordinated and accompanied by the Council for Arab British Understanding (, which acts as the secretariat to the BPAPPG, and sponsored by the Welfare Association (

LFPME Blogging from Israel, Gaza and the West Bank

LFPME Palestine video diary
LFPME Palestine video diary  

part 1 here

part 2 Andrew Slaughter MP talks

part 3 Martin Linton – just inside Gaza

part 4 Martin Linton outside bombed Police Station

part 5 Martin Linton in Kindergarten

part 6 Beit Al’Noon

part 7 Jabaliya camp area – Martin Linton

part 8 Andrew Slaughter

part 9 Emergency shelter – Sara Apps

part 10 Sara outside American School

part 11 Ma’aleh Adumim; another new settlement

Martin Linton’s blog

Sara Apps’ blog

Sara in Gaza, standing in the Viola Room, Music School, Gaza City

Andrew Slaughter MP’s blog

Gaza’s main police station. Over 100 killed here on the first day of Israel’s attack

Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East is calling for urgent action to be taken by the international community to bring about an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. We want to see a ceasefire which brings about the end to the blockade and an end to the humanitarian crisis for Gaza.

· supporting calls for the reintroduction of an arms embargo on Israel
· Urging David Miliband to publicly endorse the statement by the UN Secretary General that the Israeli government’s actions are “excessive”

LFPME has also warned that excessive military force of this kind is bound to be counterproductive and will inevitably sharpen the sense of injustice in the region further tensions are being stoked up by the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem , by the confiscation of Palestinian land, by the proliferation of checkpoints and by other restrictions on Palestinian movement.

What you can ask your MP to do
· ask for an urgent debate in the Commons
· sign the all party Early Day Motion (EDM), to be tabled Monday 12th January, calling for an arms embargo on Israel
· Ask your Labour MP or Labour candidate to become a supporter of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East

European Socialist Group statement on Gaza
This is the latest statement from the Socialist Group in Europe on Gaza. The Socialist Group includes UK Labour MEPs.
8 January 2009
The Group

1. Expresses its deepest outrage at the violence in the Gaza Strip, the consequences of the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army and the military escalation that is causing many hundreds of victims, most of them civilians, including many children. Strongly regrets that civilian and UN targets have been hit. Calls on Israel to fulfil its obligations under international law and international humanitarian law and to allow the international press to be able to follow events on the ground. Calls on Hamas to end rocket attacks and to take its own responsibilities by committing itself to a political process aimed at restoring inter-Palestinian dialogue and at contributing to the ongoing process of negotiations.

2. Calls for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The ceasefire, which should include withdrawal from territory re-occupied in recent days, and a negotiated truce, should be guaranteed by a mechanism to be set up by the international community. This will provide for the dispatching along the borders of the Gaza Strip of a multinational force with the inclusion of Arab and Muslim countries. Invites the EU to endorse any agreement reached by the UN Security Council.

3. Strongly requests the Israeli authorities to allow food, urgent medical aid and fuel to be delivered to the Gaza Strip through the opening of the crossing point and the lifting of the blockade. The announcement of the opening of a humanitarian corridor in Rafah is a first step that must urgently be implemented. Calls on EU Institutions and other international donors, in co-operation with the United Nations and NGOs, to provide adequate aid in view of the increasing needs and asks Israel not to undermine this essential humanitarian effort. This aid could contribute to the gradual resumption of basic economic recovery in the Strip and to restore decent living conditions for Palestinians, in particular young people.

4. Considers that the immediate resumption of the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) and of the Agreed Principles for Rafah Crossing (APRC) concluded in September 2005 by Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority after the unilateral disengagement by Israel of the Gaza Strip must be guaranteed without any restriction. The EU could make an essential contribution to this aim by resuming its Monitoring Mission at Rafah.

5. Reaffirms that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and considers that it is time for a lasting and comprehensive peace agreement on the basis of the negotiations that have been conducted until now by both sides. An International Conference, promoted by the Quartet and with the participation of all regional actors, on the basis of the previous agreement reached between Israelis and Palestinians, and the Arab League initiative, could help to achieve this goal. Considers that renewed efforts for inter-Palestinian reconciliation are an essential step.

6. Stresses again that any upgrading of political relations between the EU and Israel must be strongly conditioned on respect for international humanitarian law, on real commitment to a comprehensive peace settlement, on the end of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and on respect for full implementation of the EC-PLO Interim Association Agreement. As long as the situation remains so critical the Socialist Group shall maintain its negative position on the EP’s vote of assent to further participation of Israel in EC programmes.

7. Is worried by the serious consequences of the resurgence of the conflict on the daily life of the citizens in the region and on hopes for a lasting peace in the whole Middle East. Underlines the risk of harming common understanding and dialogue among all communities in Europe.

8. Urgently calls for a stronger and united political role of the European Union as was the case during the Lebanon crisis of 2006 and the recent crisis between Georgia and Russia. In its action, the EU must take the opportunity to co-operate with the new US administration in order to put an end to the conflict with an agreement based on the two States solution, giving Israelis and Palestinians the possibility to live in peace and security side by side. This will be a huge contribution to the aim of a new peaceful regional security structure in the Middle East.

9. Invites its Members actively to promote a political campaign directed at European public opinion, in cooperation with European Socialist parties and other progressive movements and NGOs, based on a strong call for peace in the Middle East.

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