Article for The Muslim Weekly By Oona King MP: Human Rights in Palestine & Iraq (May 2004)

The torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers shows the terrible consequences of governments breaking UN human rights conventions. Both the American and Israeli Governments have clearly breached the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in occupied territories. I have campaigned for some time now to raise awareness of the critical situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, where a catastrophic humanitarian disaster has followed Israel's policy of ethnic cleansing. I do not make accusations of ethnic cleansing lightly, but what I saw in the Palestinian Occupied Territories is exactly that.

I met Yasser Arafat in Ramallah in 1998, and again last year, in 2003. The situation has deteriorated dramatically. During my last visit, ten minutes after I crossed the border into the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Government launched missiles from helicopter gun-ships to target Rantissi, the Hamas Leader who was subsequently killed. Twenty minutes later, they sealed the border, and for a few days I was locked into the hell that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip suffer every day.

I saw the impact of forced expulsions from homes and land, arbitrary detention and torture, denial of medical and educational facilities, the demeaning bureaucracy required for the smallest task, and the creation of the 'Apartheid' Wall dividing Palestinians from their families, their neighbours, and their land. I visited the town of Qalqilya - entirely surrounded by the wall, except for an 8 meter gap. I got into an argument with an Israeli soldier when he declared that the border was closed (and we would not be allowed to visit the Palestinian mayor), but refused to tell us why. As the argument became more heated, he pulled out a grenade said "Get back into your vehicle, or I will throw this grenade at you". If this is how Israeli soldiers treat British MPs, you can imagine how they treat Palestinians. Even Jewish traders who work in Qalqilya organised a street demonstration, on behalf of their Palestinian neighbours, against what the wall. Completion of the second phase of the wall's construction means that 88% of the West Bank's illegal Jewish settlers will be on the Israeli side of the wall. This might sound like a dry statistic, but it illustrates a desperate reality: Israel is using this "security fence" to drive Palestinians from their land and quicken a programme of ethnic cleansing.

Apart from seeing the destruction of the Occupied Territories - still less than 28% of 'historical Palestine' - I saw something else too: I saw the destruction of a 'viable' Palestinian state. The creation of a viable Palestinian state is the pre-requisite of the current Road Map for peace. I always assumed that this was the most important thing for Palestinians themselves. But I was surprised by the number of Palestinians I spoke to who said that Ariel Sharon had created 'facts on the ground' which doomed a Palestinian state to economic failure. As one Palestinian told me, "we can't feed our children politics. They need to live in a state that exists in reality, and that can feed its own people - not something that just exists on paper." Some Palestinians argue that it's too late for a two-state solution. Just this weekend, during a visit to see the work of Interpal at the East London Mosque, I spoke to a Palestinian who thought there was no long-term prospect of a two-state solution. He argued there should be one state, where Palestinians had full legal, political, social and economic rights. Personally, at this point in time, I myself still prefer a two-state solution, but I realise it will need a miracle to make the Palestinian state viable.

What can be done? First, as I wrote in The Guardian newspaper, I believe we should boycott Israeli goods. Individual British citizens - whether Muslim, Jewish, or of any other faith, should do this (for example, this is the stated position of the organisation "Jews for Justice for Palestinians"). Second, although the EU is the single largest bilateral donor of money to the Palestinian Authority, which is good news, it also gives Israel trade preferences, and this is unacceptable. These trade preferences should be suspended immediately. Third, we should implement a comprehensive arms embargo against Israel. But perhaps the most important area for concern is American Government support for Israel. As I have said in Parliament, the crisis in the Middle East will never be resolved until America stops bankrolling and protecting Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Government. Before Sharon become Prime Minister, an Israeli tribunal found him guilty of war crimes and in my view - again as I have said in Parliament - he employs terrorist tactics. So why, as he continues to destroy Palestinian homes at this very moment, does the American Congress vote for extra money ($1b for the military and $7b loans just last year)? If the American Government's recent statements endorse the continued illegal de facto annexation of Palestinian land, then the Road Map for peace lies in tatters.

This should be of concern to everyone who wants to end the humanitarian disaster that has pushed two-thirds of Palestinian children below the UN poverty line. Without a political solution, there is no prospect of ending either Israeli breaches of UN human rights conventions, or the ethnic cleansing that gathers pace. As I said in the Iraq debate in the House of Commons, it is clear that there are monumental double standards in international relations. Personally, I think it was right to remove Saddam Hussein - after all he is the man responsible for the deaths of more Muslims than anyone else alive today. You will disagree with me on this. But I also think we should uphold UN resolutions wherever they are breeched - not just with Saddam Hussein, but with Israel too. After all, Israel has invaded neighboring territory, flouted UN resolutions, developed nuclear weapons, and yet we do not intervene.

The torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers shows, yet again, the astonishing double standards and hypocrisy that plague this debate. The international community must act to protect Iraqi and Palestinian civilians from the illegal actions of an occupying force. I am currently seeking a debate on this issue in the House of Commons, to make these points once more.