UK Members of Parliament spoke in an Urgent Question on 12 May 2021 on Israel-Palestine, including on recent events in Gaza and in Jerusalem at the Al Aqsa mosque and in Sheikh Jarrah. The Urgent Question was secured by British-Palestinian MP, Layla Moran. You can watch the debate in full here at 11:36:16 and read it here. Many MPs spoke of the fact that hundreds of constituents had been in contact with them, particularly on the storming of Al Aqsa, the violence there and towards the families in Sheikh Jarrah and on the dispossession and forced evictions of Palestinian families there and in other parts of occupied East Jerusalem. It remains incredibly important that people continue to contact their elected representatives. Some suggested calls and demands can be found on this Caabu resource. See also Caabu's statement on forced evictions and dispossessions in occupied East Jerusalem.
Some video of parliamentary contributions are below.
In the debate, Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrats Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Development and MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, began by reading the names of some of the Palestinian children who have been killed in Gaza. She also said:
"We cannot allow this to escalate any further. The Israeli Government pursuing evictions in Sheikh Jarrah that would be illegal under international humanitarian law, including the fourth Geneva convention, and the subsequent overly aggressive reaction of the Israeli authorities, which injured hundreds, has ignited a tinderbox. Hamas then retaliated, and those strikes must be condemned too, because violence only begets more violence. The UN special envoy last night warned that the situation is."
Conservative MP for Gloucester Richard Graham asked the UK government to "ask Israel to cease immediately any further illegal evictions from East Jerusalem and to respect the sanctity of mosques". He said:
"The Minister will know how deeply shocked many of my constituents in Gloucester and across the land are by the extraordinary images this week, during Ramadan, of the Israeli defence force effectively attacking the al-Aqsa mosque, the centre of Islamic worship in Jerusalem for hundreds of years. Although the rocket attacks by Hamas from Gaza are completely indefensible, it is clear that a major cause of the increased discontent is the number of illegal evictions from Sheikh Jarrah. Will my right hon. Friend confirm today that the Government will ask Israel to cease immediately any further illegal evictions from East Jerusalem and to respect the sanctity of mosques, for without both of these steps surely an already fragile situation can only deteriorate further?"
Labour MP for Nottingham South Lilian Greenwood asked for accountability and the proper rule of law for Israel. She said:
"The threat of forcible evictions and demolitions, restrictions on Palestinians entering the city of Jerusalem, and violence against worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque have all inflamed tensions, and we now see a terrifying escalation, with Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes killing and injuring innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians. Both are unacceptable and both must end, but does the Minister agree that, if proper accountability and the rule of law had been followed in the past, we might not be where we are today, and what steps will he take now to ensure that the Israeli Government adhere to international law, end the evictions, end the discriminatory planning laws and end the construction of illegal settlements?"
Former Caabu Chair and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Conservative MP for Reigate Crispin Blunt, spoke of the historic failure to implement international law in the occupied Palestinian Territory. He said:
"If my right hon. Friend examines his statements today and compares them with those made by the Foreign Office 25 years ago in respect of illegal settlements at Har Homa, he will find a remarkable similarity. What has changed is the end of any hope for the Oslo peace process, built out of existence by illegal settlements, and the dominance of factions in both communities of those least committed to justice, security and reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. When will the United Kingdom work to achieve real accountability for those breaching international and humanitarian law, including those indiscriminately mortaring the innocent, the disproportionate response by the occupiers to violence by the occupied, and decades of the violation of the fourth Geneva convention that has made a practical mockery of the British policy commitment to a two-state solution?"
Labour MP for Bradford East Imran Hussain spoke of the deafening silence on the persecution of Palestinians. He said:
"After years of persecution and oppression, indiscriminate attacks, a brutal siege of Gaza, the expansion of illegal settlements and the demolition of Palestinian homes, unfair trials, arbitrary detention and restrictions on the freedom of movement, and now the attack on worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque, tensions in the region are the highest they have ever been. I join others in condemning the escalation of violence and the loss of life, yet the silence of the international community is deafening, even as the Palestinians scream out for help. I have to ask the Minister: how many times will we come back to this House to debate the persecution of the Palestinians, and when will the international community finally wake up?"
Labour MP for Hammersmith Andy Slaughter called on the UK government. to fully support the investigation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). He said:
"If the Foreign Secretary will take action on ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang, why not in Sheikh Jarrah? If the UK Government will impose sanctions for the occupation of Crimea, why do they allow trade with illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories? The Minister rightly condemns the killing of children in Gaza and Israel. Does he recognise that these war crimes spring from an unlawful occupation, and will he now give his full support to the investigation of the International Criminal Court?"
Conservative MP for Burnley, Antony Higginbotham raised both Al Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah. He said:
"In the last few days, I have been contacted by hundreds of constituents who are concerned by the proposed evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, the activities outside the al-Aqsa mosque and the events that we have seen in the last 36 hours. Will the Minister reassure them, me and the whole House that the Government will use the full power of their diplomatic network to de-escalate the immediate issue and then bring both sides back to peace talks, because that is the only way that we can prevent events like this happening again?"
Co-Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group and Labour MP for Sunderland Central Julie Elliott, called for accountability for all sides in Israel-Palestine and for underlying issues to be addressed. She said:
Like others, I condemn the violence, wherever it comes from, and feel very strongly that those responsible for that violence should be held to account. The Minister spoke about bringing an end to hostilities. There have been four wars in Gaza since 2000 and no one has been held to account from any side, so bringing an end to the current hostilities is not enough. The underlying problem of nobody being held to account, the demolition orders in Sheikh Jarrah—these are only the tip of the iceberg. The status quo is not really the status quo. According to the UN, a third of Palestinian homes are probably under threat of demolition orders in the Jerusalem area. These issues need addressing before we can move to a two-state solution. Does the Minister agree that those engaged in violence from any side should know that there will be a day of reckoning and consequences for their actions? What will the British Government do, in line with the international community, to ensure that this happens?
SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North Gavin Newlands called for an end to UK arms sales to Israel. He said:
"The Government’s response to this and every other episode in Palestine is completely inadequate. The Palestinians have lived under brutal oppression and apartheid from Israel with the tacit consent of the west for too long, and we have heard the “plague on both your houses” song too many times. Of course we must condemn all violence on both sides, so in that spirit can the Minister tell me whether he thinks it appropriate that the UK grants arms licences that see UK weapons being used in these indiscriminate Israeli attacks on civilians, including children?"
Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire Andrew Selous raised the issue of Al Aqsa, Sheikh Jarrah and elections. He said:
"While there is never any excuse for firing rockets on civilians, would not the Israelis sleep more soundly at night if access to all the holy sites was maintained as agreed in 1967, if free Palestinian elections were allowed in East Jerusalem, and if Palestinians were not being evicted from their homes in Jerusalem?"
Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East, spoke about human rights abuses and violations of international law in occupied East Jerusalem. She said:
"The extent of the expansion of illegal settlements in East Jerusalem, the forced eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, the brutality against worshippers at the third most holy site in Islam and during Ramadan—this is not a clash between two equal sides. Until we discuss the root issue, we will miss the entire context and fail to recognise that one side is an occupier and the other side is occupied.
Will the Minister demand that the Israelis end all the discriminatory and illegal practices that have actually provoked these current tensions? What specifically will he do to ensure accountability for violations of international law, which have been going on for the past 50 years?"
Conservative MP Steve Baker asked about Al Qqsa and freedom of worship for Muslims.He said:
"Given how hard and fast this conflict has escalated, and as we approach Eid, what will the Government do specifically to encourage Israel to guarantee freedom of worship for Muslims at the al-Aqsa mosque?"
The issue was also raised by SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, Joanna Cherry QC on 11 May 2021 in the Debate on the Address, who called on the UK government to support the ICC investigation. She said:
"Finally, looking at the international aspects of the Queen’s Speech, the Government said that they want to uphold human rights and democracy across the world. If they are really committed to doing that, why do they frequently fail to do it when it comes to the Palestinian people? The inaction from the international community, including from the United Kingdom Government, to properly defend and support Palestinians in the face of Israeli Government and Israeli human rights abuses is not indicative of a country that supposedly stands for human rights and democracy abroad. The excessive force used by Israeli forces on worshippers at al-Aqsa and against families in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem only prompts the mildest of criticism and zero consequences for those responsible. Those families are facing forced transfer and dispossession of their homes, which would constitute a war crime. In the past 24 hours, we have seen a grim escalation, with 24 people, including nine children, killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza. Although we should rightly condemn the rocket attacks coming from Gaza to Jerusalem, we should also condemn and take action against the events that led up to these escalations and the excessive response to them."
Also speaking in the Debate on the Address, former Labour Party Leader and Independent MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn, called for an end to the occupation and an end to the siege on Gaza.
"The news over the last couple of days has been heavily dominated by what is happening in Jerusalem and what is happening now in Gaza. Some years ago, I went to Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, a place of Palestinian homes. It has been a place of Palestinian homes for almost all of my lifetime. Settlers are trying to drive the people out of those homes, and this is emblematic of the way in which settlers all across the west bank have taken over Palestinian land, divided up farms, created settler roads and created the quite correct anger of the Palestinian people against the occupation. Surely the way forward is to end the occupation, end the siege of Gaza and ensure that there is peace in the future. I say that because I believe very strongly in it, and if anyone doubts the horrors of what it is like to live under occupation, I urge them to look at a film called “The Present”, which demonstrates just how difficult life can be for people trying to undertake an ordinary thing like going out to buy a present. I have taken part in many conferences, calls and discussions with people from Israel, from Palestine and from different organisations all over the world. Peace will not be achieved by bombardment or by land-grabbing; peace will be achieved only by the recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people and an end to the occupation."
Liberal Democrats Lords Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Baroness Lindsay Northover, called on the UK government to condemn Israeli actions in East Jerusalem. She said:
"My Lords, this is an extremely dangerous situation, and we condemn violence on all sides, particularly today, as many—including, no doubt, the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad—are celebrating Eid. But rocket boosters must now be put under a peace and justice process, not violent attacks. Will the Government condemn the forced evictions from east Jerusalem, Israeli actions in the al-Aqsa mosque and the bombing and possible ground war in Gaza as clearly as they have rightly condemned rocket attacks from Gaza? It is no one’s interest to escalate conflict here, and all must be held properly to account for any human rights abuses and breaking of international law."
Baroness Tessa Blackstone, an Independent Labour Peer in the House of Lords, called on the UK government to support the ICC investigation in the occupied Palestinian territory, and condemned the ethnic cleansing taking place in occupied East Jerusalem, notably Sheikh Jarrah. She said:
"My Lords, as the Minister says, the first objective must be to de-escalate and stop the terrible violence on both sides. But in working to achieve this, no one should lose sight of the underlying problems that have led to it. Will the Government reconsider their position on a referral to the International Criminal Court? What discussions are the Government having with the US about putting concerted pressure on the Israeli Government to: stop ethnic cleansing in east Jerusalem, in which Palestinians are being forced out of the houses they own; stop the creeping, de facto annexation of the West Bank via further illegal settlements; and, more generally, respect the human rights of Palestinians, both within Israel and the Occupied Territories? These include their right to worship in the al-Aqsa mosque without it being stormed by right-wing thugs and the Israeli police."
Caabu patron, former Middle East Minister and former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Lord Peter Hain, called raises the Human Rights Watch report into Israel committing the crime of apartheid. He said:
"My Lords, everybody should condemn these rocket attacks, but do the Government agree that Israel’s absolute right to exist cannot justify evicting its own Arab citizens from their homes in Jerusalem? As the respected Human Rights Watch reported, the State of Israel is perpetrating international crimes against the Palestinian people, and these practices are at the route of the current tit-for-tat civil war, tragically endangering its own, Jewish citizens as well."