On a cold London evening on 15 January, a packed meeting in Parliament, hosted by Jeremy Corbyn MP, commemorated four years since the ending of Operation Cast Lead.
In a passionate speech, Andy Slaughter MP talked about his visit to Gaza 3 weeks after Operation Cast Lead, which he described as an atrocious act of murder against a civilian population. He highlighted the day-to-day humiliation suffered by Palestinians.
Sarah Teather MP, who had visited Gaza several times, said she would never forget what she saw there – that nothing could have justified the wiping out of 5000 homes during Operation Cast Lead. She urged not to take your eye off what is happening in Gaza. Attention on Gaza is essential for there to be movement on the blockade and siege.
Hugh Lanning, PSC Chair, talked about the importance of marking the anniversary of Cast Lead.
In Gaza, 70 per cent of the population are refugees. Our challenge as solidarity activists is to translate support for Palestinian rights into action. The campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is growing, with companies such as G4s and Veolia feeling the pressure. As with South Africa, boycotts can be used to press for change.
Rania Al-Najjar, a student from Gaza who has just finished studying for an MA in London, lived under the bombing during Operation Cast Lead. She explained how the blockade is a major obstacle to daily life in Gaza. Electricity is only available at certain times; clean water and travel are severely restricted. Studying here has made her more aware of the incredible restrictions that Palestinian students suffer. You have to plan study times according to when you have electricity and light. She talked about how Palestinian students can have so much potential, but aren’t able to fulfil it.
Palestinian Ambassador Manuel Hassassian asked ‘how many more tragedies are we going to have to commemorate’? He pointed out that the international community allows Israel to act with impunity and continue with atrocious crimes. But to get away with it under the banner of democracy is the hypocrisy of all time. Palestinians in Gaza have been suffering for the past 7 years now under this inhumane blockade, and living not just with shortages but also trauma from Israel’s ongoing attacks. He said ‘I can’t visualise what will be the future of such traumatised children’. He referred to the responsibility which should be shouldered by the British government – which was responsible for the Balfour Declaration, and called the British government’s refusal to recognise the Palestinian state at the UN as a ‘disgrace’. He ended his speech on a note of optimism – ‘I believe in my people.
Controlling us and humiliating us will not continue. The slaves will unchain themselves. Triumph and victory is not made by leaders but by people.’
The meeting also heard from a delegation of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who were visiting Britain and Ireland to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinian political prisoners. Hassan Tabaja from the Meezan Centre for Human Rights talked about visiting an imprisoned 13 year old Palestinian child who cried when he saw him, and showed his back which was covered in hand marks. He was crying not from pain but from the feeling of being humiliated – those responsible had been laughing at him whilst carrying out the attack.
Feras Omari from the Yousef Al Sedeeq Institute for Prisoners Protection, spoke of his experience of being imprisoned – for the first time at 18 years old for one year, ‘then for 3 years and the last time was for 8 years.’