Dear Ms Cherry
I struggle to express how upset I am at the horrific ongoing events in Israel-Palestine. I was born in Scotland but grew up in erstwhile white-majority-rule Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and apartheid South Africa, and am aware of the mind-set of oppressor regimes (whose children often grow up cocooned in propaganda with little meaningful contact with the people their society oppresses). Israel is clearly a settler-colonial nation in a similar mould, and guilty of at least comparable breaches of human rights.
I have met several courageous Jewish Israelis (and one former one, who chose to shed this identity and now lives in Scotland) who had the courage to stand against what is happening in Israel-Palestine, generally at great personal cost. One of these was Ms Or Ben-David, a young woman who refused to serve in the Israeli army. Like other Shministim (refuseniks), she suffered ostracism and imprisonment.
I have also met Theresa McDermott, a young Scot who was a passenger on the Rachel Corrie (a vessel named after a young American killed by an Israeli bulldozer when she was trying to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home) in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. You may read her disturbing account of what transpired here: https://gilad.online/writings/fear-pain-and-propaganda-an-activists-story.html.
In addition, I have heard many accounts by Palestinians, including detailed testimony presented at the recent ‘From the Ground Up II: Taking Action’ conference (to bring people together in the run-up to COP26 to ensure the latter’s effectiveness) which included, amongst other deeply disturbing information, an account of the land-grabbing activities funded by the Jewish National Fund, which passes itself off, inter alia, as doing environmental work. In reality, their ill-considered activities could be described as ecocide: stripping out food-producing trees and planting ill-adapted exotic pines in an arid environment, partly to hide the demolished homes of displaced Palestinians. Apart from anything else, these trees constitute a fire hazard:
‘But even this expertise – gained through enforcing war crimes – was undeserved. Environmentalists say the dark canopies of trees [the JNF] has planted in arid regions such as the Negev, in Israel’s south, absorb heat unlike the unforested, light-coloured soil. Short of water, the slow-growing trees capture little carbon. Native species of brush and animals, meanwhile, have been harmed.
‘These pine forests – the JNF has planted some 250 million trees – have also turned into a major fire hazard. Most years hundreds of fires break out after summer droughts exacerbated by climate change.
‘Early on, the vulnerability of the JNF’s saplings was used as a pretext to outlaw the herding of native black goats. Recently the goats, which clear undergrowth, had to be reintroduced to prevent the fires. But the goats’ slaughter had already served its purpose, forcing Bedouin Palestinians to abandon their pastoral way of life.’
Read more here and watch a short video: https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/07/24/israelsjewish-national-fund-is-uprooting-palestinians-not-planting-trees/.
More about the goats here: https://mondoweiss.net/2017/12/israels-palestinian-inflicted/.
I am sure I do not need to detail the horrors which have long been suffered by the people of Gaza, many of whom are refugees (displaced victims of ethnic-cleansing) and half of whom are children, and who are effectively in an open-air prison and allowed only the bare minimum resources necessary for survival and far less than required for dignified and fulfilling lives…
The latest escalation of violence by, I repeat, a settler-colonial nation (with overwhelming firepower) against what is effectively an illegally detained/displaced population, with every right to defend itself, turns my stomach. I don’t know what you can do to stop Israel’s ongoing depravity, but I implore you to do whatever you can.
As a final note, to avoid spurious accusations of anti-Semitism, I often reference this excellent Jewish website for information on the Israeli-Palestinian situation: https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/ . (It is not anti-Semitic to support the human rights of Palestinians.) Perhaps you will also find it useful.
I look forward to your response.
Ms Cherry’s response (dated 20 May 2021)
Thank you for writing to me about the appalling situation in Palestine.
Over the last few days, this very serious situation has continued to worsen, with dozens of people, including children, killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza. The international community has a responsibility to stand up for human rights and the rule of law. We must all condemn this violence – the UK included.
Last week, I spoke in the House of Commons about the planned evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Families in Sheikh Jarrah are facing forced transfer and dispossession of their homes, which I reminded the House would constitute a war crime. I also condemned attacks on worshippers at al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, where a dramatic escalation in violence by the Israeli military left hundreds of people injured.
I called on the UK Government to act, including by backing the ongoing International Criminal Court investigation into alleged war crimes in the occupied territory. The UK Government says it stands for human rights and democracy abroad. If that is true, it must defend and support Palestinians subjected to human rights abuses by the Israeli Government and military.
You can watch my contribution here: https://twitter.com/joannaccherry/status/1392439165996916737
In February this year, SNP MPs signed a cross-party letter to the Foreign Secretary which called for action to stop the dispossession of Palestinian families. The UK Government has condemned the illegal occupation and evictions but has done little else, with the Prime Minister even stating he was opposed to an ongoing International Criminal Court investigation into alleged war crimes in the occupied territories. This is unacceptable.
As you may be aware, this is a very important issue for me and one I have raised repeatedly since being elected in 2015. I also visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories in October 2016. There, I saw first-hand the terrible effects that the ongoing conflict is having on the Palestinian people and why a peaceful solution is so important.
Please be assured that I will continue to do everything I can to press the UK Government and the international community into action on the human rights abuses and violence taking place in Palestine.
I trust this is helpful to you, and please do not hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any further assistance.
Joanna Cherry QC
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South West
T: 0131 600 0156