The UK Parliament can have a positive impact on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; Scottish National Party MP Paul Monaghan told a cross-party reception and seminar in London on Tuesday.
The event, entitled "Palestine: Key for stability and peace in the Middle East", was organised by the EuroPal Forum in an effort to build bridges between Palestinian, Arab and European decision makers and to exchange ideas to reach a just solution for the Palestinian cause.
Chairing the meeting, Monaghan said: "The UK parliament can clearly have a positive impact and I think it's important that we all work together to develop strong relationships."
EuroPal Forum chairman, Zaher Birawi, said the Palestinian issue is an international issue that "has an impact on every single society in the world, in one way or another."
Panel member and Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, Grahame Morris MP said: "The key to stability in the Middle East in my view is justice and freedom for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, but this cannot be achieved until the international community puts pressure on Israel to end the occupation."
He highlighted the shift in public opinion regarding Israel's ongoing occupation and consistent violations of international law, and added that he was fascinated by Bernie Sanders' criticism of Israel during the course of the democratic primary race. "It was the first time that the status quo on Israel had been challenged in a mainstream and widely followed political debate."
"I think it's precisely because of the growing strength of Palestinian campaigns and the shift in public opinion in the nations that have traditionally supported Israel unconditionally that the opposition and hostility towards us as advocates for justice, peace and freedom is increasing," he said.
"In the UK, our government should be sticking to its obligations not to wade in activities contrary to international law," he continued, "but instead the government is making it more difficult to challenge Israel's actions and Israel's policies that violate international law and all legal norms and conventions."
Grahame also touched upon the increasing accusations of "anti-Semitism" directed at UK politicians who are critical of Israel.
On the panel:
- Baroness Jenny Tonge, Independent Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords
- Grahame Morris, Labour party Member of Parliament
- Mohamed Rafizi Ramli, Member of the Parliament of Malaysia
- Haneen Zoabi, Palestinian Arab Member of the Israeli Knesset
- Paul Monaghan, Scottish National Party Member of Parliament
Independent Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords, Baroness Jenny Tonge said she was "utterly sick" of these accusations. "It is because I know in my heart of hearts that that is a ploy to shut us up."
"I know in my heart of hearts that I am not anti-Semitic. I have never been anti-Semitic, and I never will be anti-Semitic. What I am anti is injustice," she continued.
Israeli Arab Member of the Knesset Haneen Zoabi added that talking about justice should not only be limited to addressing the Israeli occupation and Israel's abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Palestinian citizens of Israel are also subjected to injustice.
"We must also talk about justice for the 1.2 million Palestinians who are now citizens in Israel who didn't immigrate to Israel. It was Israel, we should remember, that immigrated to them," she said, addressing the definition of Israel as a Jewish state and its incompatibility with democracy.
"We cannot accept the definition of Israel as a Jewish state as long as we talk about justice," she said. "I cannot accept any definition of a state which excludes me from my homeland, which wants to guarantee privileges to the Jews, to the Israelis, at the expense of the Palestinians."
"Let's let Israel speak about itself," she continued, pulling out a list of 83 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel: "Laws of citizenship, laws of family unification, laws of using the land, laws of confiscating the land, laws of political persecution…"
She said that although she, as a Palestinian who was not expelled by Israel in 1948, holds Israeli citizenship, she cannot live within 60 per cent of what constitutes Israel today by law. "I am [forbidden] from living in 574 community villages by law. How can Israel explain this to you?" she continued.
"When we say this is a racist, this is a fascist, apartheid law, they would answer us: but we are a Jewish state," adding that it is an assumption that within a Jewish state, "the land is for the Jew and the Jew must keep the majority."
"So, it is not about equality and not about democracy," she concluded. She went on to say that Palestinian citizens of Israel have a vision of democracy and struggle for democratic rights and equality. "But we know that we cannot do that within a Jewish state," she added.
Zoabi stressed that Israel perceives Palestinian members of the knesset as a threat. "We struggle for a state for all of its citizens, and that's why Israel perceives us as a threat. Democracy is a threat to the Jewish state. Equality is a threat to the Jewish state."
Zoabi and Baroness Tonge also expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact the US and Europe continue to pay for the occupation.
"It is just inconceivable that it would happen," Baroness Tonge added, "and we're doing it, and we've been doing it for 60 years."
"If Israel is occupying, they should pay for the occupation."