In recent weeks since the latest escalation in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, I have been left utterly devastated by the reports of the many deaths and the attacks on civilian targets on every side of this conflict. These attacks have endangered civilian lives and resulted in Palestinian and Israeli casualties, including the devastating loss of many children.
I know that for many people in our country, this conflict is deeply personal. I know people across Sheffield will personally know people who are stuck, unaccounted for or have tragically lost their lives in both Israel and Gaza.
Every loss of life is a tragedy and sets back the prospect of peace further.
I unequivocally condemn the attacks conducted by Hamas, a terrorist organisation. Hamas do not want to see peace in the Middle East, they want to see Israel wiped off the map. But Hamas are not the Palestinian people.
I join my Labour colleagues in supporting Israel’s right to defend herself and Israel’s right to rescue their citizens who have been taken hostage. These hostages must be released immediately and unconditionally and returned to their loved ones. The recent release of a few Jewish hostages offers a small glimmer of hope, but we must not rest until all of the hostages are safely returned.
However, it is paramount that in doing so, Israel acts within international law and with proportionality to ensure the safety of civilians on both sides of the conflict.
I and the Labour Party agree with the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken who has said: “Israel has the right, indeed the obligation, to defend itself and to ensure that this never happens again…How Israel does this matters. We democracies distinguish ourselves from terrorists by striving for a different standard…That’s why it is so important to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.”
I am therefore calling for an immediate humanitarian pause to military activity by all parties, in line with the call by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
This will save Palestinian and Israeli lives and will avoid the danger of escalation into a regional and wider conflict.
Along with my fellow Sheffield Labour colleagues, I have written to the Prime Minister to urge Sunak to work with the international community to achieve this objective. You can read our letter in full here: https://www.louisehaigh.org.uk/news/2023/10/26/letter-to-rishi-sunak/
What’s more, it has become blatantly clear that there is a full-blown humanitarian crisis occurring in Gaza, with not enough aid and essential utilities getting into the region to meet the emergency on the ground.
This is an urgent situation and innocent Palestinians need to know the world is not simply watching, but acting, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Hamas may not care for the safety and security of the Palestinian people, but we do. We can not and will not close our eyes to their suffering.
I am standing firm with my Labour colleagues and with Keir Starmer to continue to fight for more aid, fuel, water, electricity and medicines through both the Rafah crossing and through Israel turning back on the supplies it controls. This aid also needs to reach those who need it, therefore I am calling for all deliveries to be regular, fast and safe.
Likewise, given the evacuation has started, there should be safe corridors within Gaza, as the EU and US have said. Labour is speaking to the UN, NGOs and the UK government about how civilians in Gaza can be protected. There was already a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has meant citizens did not have access to basic medical and other essential services.
Likewise, I support my colleagues in pressing the Government to set out a clear plan to ensure the safe return of British nationals in Israel who want to return. I welcome that rescue flights are starting to be chartered and will work with the government on this.
But the Government must do much more to ensure the safe return of British citizens who are trapped in Gaza. There are people who simply cannot leave because neither Egypt nor Israel will allow people through the border.
I have long been an ardent supporter of Palestinian rights and an advocate for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Both Palestine and Israel will pay the price of these attacks, with negotiations for peace surely being compromised. Attacks of violence and terror such as those conducted by Hamas work only to fuel this conflict further.
There must now be a renewed focus on a negotiated, diplomatic settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that ensures a safe and secure Israel, alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. There will not be a just and lasting peace until the occupation is brought to a permanent end and both Palestinians and Israelis enjoy security, dignity and human rights. Our values cannot be compromised, terror will not win.
I stand firmly against the rise of islamophobia and antisemitism in our country following these attacks. We must not allow these tragic events to divide our communities. The Community Security Trust and the Metropolitan Police have reported a steep increase in antisemitic incidents in the last three weeks, including abuse and assaults. Tell Mama has reported a tripling of cases to their services, including reports of Islamophobia threats, abuse and assaults.
Our country is made stronger and richer by the presence and contribution of Jews and Muslims alike. We will have zero tolerance for hatred, no matter whose name or what cause it is committed in.
Labour are in touch with the police, the CST and Tell Mama, who are coordinating the response to such threats. We expect to see a robust response to all incidents of hate associated with the conflict and call on government to support these groups and to play their part in preventing an escalation of tensions.
I stand with everyone impacted by this bloodshed. I do not want to see Britain in a place where anyone lives in fear because of their religion or identity. We all bear the responsibility to stamp out hate.