MPs witness occupation first-hand in the West Bank  

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is proud to have supported with its partner Caabu another visit of British MPs to the occupied Palestinian territory this week.

Bambos Charalambous (Labour, Enfield and Southgate), Chris Matheson (Labour, Chester) and Tan Dhesi (Labour, Slough) were accompanied on their first visits to the oPt by Neil Sammonds, MAP’s Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, and Joe Willits, Parliamentary and Events Officer at Caabu.

The MPs received solid grounding in legal and political analyses of complex issues relating to the lives, health and wellbeing of Palestinians living under occupation through meetings with UN agencies, British diplomats, Palestinian and Israeli political and judicial representatives, international human rights organisations and Palestinian and Israeli civil society groups.

Worsening physical and administrative barriers to the realisation of Palestinians’ rights, both under occupation and as refugees, were witnessed up-close as the delegation moved around the West Bank.  It was sickening to see the once verdant Jordan Valley agricultural and touristic al-‘Awja area desertifying, robbed of its own natural waters now diverted to serve now flourishing settlements and settlement industries, blatantly illegal under international law.  The visit, led by Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq, clearly demonstrated how the indigenous Palestinian population is becoming impoverished and dwindling due to systematic, discriminatory practices carried out by the occupying power with impunity. 

Elsewhere in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civil control, Palestinian communities suffer crippling restrictions and encroaching settlement expansion. In the South Hebron Hills and with Bedouin communities close to Jerusalem, the MPs were struck by the determination of families and communities – some already having been kicked out of their homes on multiple occasions – to cling on to their lands and means of survival.

In the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan, with Oxfam and Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC), the group met a man whose modest printing shop had that day been demolished by an Israeli bulldozer, destroying the family’s only livelihood. Nearby, they heard from women whose teenage sons had been brutally taken from their homes at night and taken to prison in southern Israel despite, once again, the practise being entirely illegal. “The last time I was able to put my arms around my son was four years ago”, said one mother.  Several people spoke of family members imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial for many months on end; again a common unlawful policy of Israel.  B’tselem, the Israeli human rights group, pointed out the enormous investment in and permanency of appearance of settlements, observing that they look designed and built to remain for ever.

Specifically on health and healthcare, after talking with the Palestine Red Crescent Society in al-Bireh, Ramallah, the group watched a short film showing paramedics trying to treat an injured person but being assaulted with pepper spray sprayed to their faces at point-blank range by Israeli soldiers. In the centre of Hebron, liquid was also repeatedly thrown on the delegation and a representative of Breaking the Silence by settler children, where the MPs commented on Apartheid-like discrimination which forbids Palestinians from walking or driving on certain roads.

Also in Hebron, the delegation visited the MAP-supported Burns Unit in Alia Hospital. One patient there had suffered second-degree burns and other injuries when a gas canister had exploded, and this nearby specialised unit may have saved his life given that the previous best option would have been a three-hour to journey to Nablus where the only other dedicated Burns Unit, also supported by MAP, was set up.

Among other activities, the delegation warmly chatted with members of an UNRWA school parliament in Aida Refugee Camp, and with Palestinians from Gaza who sought to bring to life challenges of daily life there, unreachable as Gaza is due to the blockade and entry procedures.

When the group’s own departure came, MAP was delighted to hear very positive feedback on the value of the visit from each and all of the MPs. We look forward to engaging further with Bambous, Chris and Tan and to conducting many more such trips with our partners at Caabu.

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