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Violence in Israel and Palestine

Joanna Cherry and the SNP condemn the brutal terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas, the murder, hostage-taking and rape against the people of Israel in the strongest possible terms. Innocent people have been once again caught in the cycle of violence that has torn apart so many lives.

"I am deeply concerned about the situation. I visited the West Bank on a cross-party parliamentary delegation with the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) and Human Appeal in October 2016 and was shocked with what I saw there. I have continued to raise my concerns about Palestinian human rights in Parliament and in the media. On Tuesday I helped chair a panel at Westminster with CAABU, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Amnesty UK and Oxfam International where we were briefed on the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Gaza. They are warning that we are in the era of atrocity prevention and currently have a short window of opportunity to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza. 

Israel has the right to defend herself from terror. But the collective punishment of civilian populations is not acceptable and is against international law. It has been disappointing that the UK Government and the Labour party under Keir Starmer has not stated this."

Sunday, 8 October 2023

NGO Briefing

Tuesday, 17 October 2023

On Tuesday Joanna Cherry chaired a briefing from the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu), Amnesty International UK and Oxfam who provided a brief to MPS on the unfolding humanitarian disaseter in Gaza

Urgent question to the Foreign Secretary

Explosion at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza

Wednesday, 18 October 2023

Letter to the Foreign Secretary

Wednesday, 18 October 2023

Joanna Cherry KC in partnership with Amnesty International has written to the Foreign Secretary highlighting analysis by Amnesty and the Red Cross that the evacuation order given to Palestinians living in the north of Gaza is unlawful. 

Foreign Office Questions

Tuesday, 24 October 2023

Joanna Cherry calls for a full independent international inquiry into the recent events in Israel and Gaza. Calls for a proper process of accountability to investigate and prosecute war crimes.

Further Questions raised in House of Commons

Question relating to ceasefire on 8th November 2023

Video edited on Kapwing

Question to Andrew Mitchell, Foreign Office Minister on 14th November 2023.

Video edited on Kapwing

Laws of War

Joanna Cherry read from the laws of war as part of an event organised by the Centre for the Study of Colonialism, Empire and International law at London at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

International lawyers, law students, academics, barristers, judges, politicians, writers, artists, and activists to join them for an unprecedented public reading of the Laws of War. Every weekday lunchtime for 2 hours they will speak law to power by reading out the Laws of War until the conflict stops. You can access more information about the material they are using at the International Committee of the Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Database.

Their objective is to bring public attention to the rules of international humanitarian law applicable to the conflict in Gaza and to the international legal duty of the UK Government to 'do everything reasonably in their power' to ensure that these rules are respected.

National Article

First Published in The National, Thursday 20 October 2023

“The laws of war must guide Israel’s response to Hamas atrocity.” Not my words but those of a group of eminent Jewish lawyers in a letter to the Financial Times earlier this week.  The group included former President of the UK Supreme court, Lord Neuberger, and Philippe Sands KC, one of the world’s foremost experts in international law.   Their measured and scholarly letter is particularly impactful because they write as Jews with family and friends directly affected by the terrible crimes perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October. 

Three important points are made in this letter. First, the crimes of Hamas are crimes against humanity.  The barbarity inflicted by them and the taking of hostages are war crimes. Second, under international law Israel has the right to respond and to defend itself and its citizens. Third, that response must be in accordance with international law and in particular the laws of war.  “These laws apply irrespective of the level of outrageous conduct of an enemy and no exceptions to these rules can be derived from the level of sufferings caused by Hamas actions.” 

The importance of the international community acting to make sure the laws of war are obeyed, and our collective moral and legal responsibility to avoid another genocide has been at the forefront of my mind after I participated in a delegation to Srebrenica earlier this month.  The visit was organised by Remembering Srebrenica Scotland.  I hope to write about it in more detail soon but for now what is important is the message of Srebrencia.  Never again must the world stand aside while innocent civilians are tortured, raped, and murdered, and never again must the world stand aside while populations are deported or forcibly transferred or have imposed upon them deliberately conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part. 

The lessons of Srebrenica demand a humanitarian response to the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.  We must resist the idea that collective punishment should be visited upon the Palestinian people for the crimes of Hamas. Whether that collective punishment consists of seemingly indiscriminate bombing or the restriction of water, food, fuel and electricity to Gaza or the order to 1.1 million Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza to evacuate. 

Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross have both stated that Israel’s evacuation order is not compatible with international humanitarian law. Under international humanitarian law a temporary evacuation of a given area may only be carried out if it is absolutely necessary for civilians’ security or for imperative military reasons. 

For an evacuation to be lawful, Israel is obligated to ensure, to the greatest extent practicable, that the evacuation it is calling for is effected with satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition and that members of the same family are not separated. Evacuees must be returned to their homes as soon as the hostilities cease. 

Israel’s evacuation order, issued in the context of intense bombardment, and a tightening of its siege of Gaza including the cutting-off of electricity, water, and humanitarian assistance, is incompatible with these obligations. Amnesty International has therefore concluded that Gazans are being forcibly displaced. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has similarly stated that the evacuation order ‘combined with the imposition of a “complete siege” on Gaza may not be considered as lawful temporary evacuation and would therefore amount to a forcible transfer of civilians – in breach of international law.’ 

In relation to Israel’s restriction of food, fuel, water and electricity, the UN Human Rights Commissioner has said that ‘The imposition of sieges that endanger the lives of civilians by depriving them of goods essential for their survival is prohibited under international humanitarian law,’. Any restrictions on the movement of people and goods to implement a siege must be justified by military necessity or may otherwise amount to collective punishment. 

Even before these intensified restrictions, Amnesty International identified that Israel’s existing 16 year long illegal blockade of Gaza already amounted to collective punishment, which is a war crime. As the occupying power, Israel has a clear obligation under international law to ensure the basic needs of Gaza’s civilian population are met. The statement of Israel’s Energy Minister Israel Katz, that no ‘electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter [until the] abductees’ are free’ appears to be explicit confirmation that the Israeli authorities are punishing civilians in Gaza for the actions of Hamas, which they took no part in and had no control over. 

At the UN on Wednesday the USA vetoed a security council resolution that would have called for “humanitarian pauses” to deliver lifesaving aid to Gaza. The UK abstained along with Russia. The US veto is in no way off set by the fact that Biden has persuaded the Egyptians to open the Rafa border crossing to aid convoys, access should also be given through the Israeli border and for humanitarian aid it should be unfettered. 

Russia is a strange bedfellow for the UK at the UN. The UK Government needs to remember that it has duties under international law including the obligation to prevent as well as punish acts of genocide under the UN Convention against Genocide. Genocide is defined as certain acts which are committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, racial, or religious group. Acts of genocide include killings, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part, birth prevention, or forcibly transferring children

At Westminster on Tuesday, I chaired a briefing for MPs by representatives of humanitarian aid agencies on the ground. They are warning that we are in the era of atrocity prevention and currently have a short window of opportunity to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza.  Given that Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defence minister has said “Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything.”, this is not an overstated concern.  The agencies also say there must be unfettered humanitarian aid access. Israel must rescind the evacuation order, restore food, water, and power, and there must be a ceasefire. 

Finally, I have deliberately not commented on the deadly strike on the Al- Ahli hospital in this column. The jury is still out on who was responsible and there must be an independent investigation.  Those who assumed at the outset that it was the responsibility of the IDF have come in for a lot of criticism.  However, after days of seemingly indiscriminate bombing of densely populated civilian areas and the bombing of one of the civilian convoys heeding the Israeli warning to evacuate southwards, it is hardly surprising that people jumped to that conclusion.  Moreover, the bombardment meant that about 1,000 people displaced by the Israeli government’s actions were sheltering in the hospital courtyard, hence the extent of the carnage.  We need an immediate ceasefire, and the welfare of all innocent civilians must be the priority going forward.   A land invasion in somewhere so densely populated would be an absolute massacre.

National Article

Frist Published in The National, 27 October 2023

It is extraordinary how difficult the UK Government and the official Labour opposition are finding it to apply the laws of war to what is happening in Gaza. Especially when the Government and those who would replace them are not only required to respect the laws of war but also to ensure they are respected by others. 

Accordingly, it simply will not do for the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to duck the questions posed to him by SNP MP Brendan O’Hara and others this week about the legality of imposing a collective punishment on the civilian people of Gaza. Bombing which seems indiscriminate, the killing and maiming of 1000s and the forcing of civilians from their homes while starving them of water, food, power, and medicines requires his attention. When Cleverly claimed it was not his role “to make an assessment of the interpretation of events that are unfolding as we speak”, he was wrong. That is his job.

Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions 1949 stipulates that all state parties are under a duty to respect and to ensure respect for the Conventions. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, this means that 'State parties not only apply the provisions themselves, but also do everything reasonably in their power to ensure that the provisions are respected universally'. Today, the obligation to ensure respect is generally regarded as extending to the entire body of international humanitarian law. 

Earlier this week I attended a packed meeting of parliamentarians with the Palestinian Ambassador. He pointed to irresponsible statements by Cleverly at the start of the war which could have been misinterpreted as an encouragement to the Israeli Government to proceed as if they were somehow above the laws of war. He also pointed to the failure of the UK Government or the opposition to mention international law until pressurised to do so by public opinion.

A poll this week suggests that 76% of the UK population have been horrified by what they have seen unfold in Gaza and want a ceasefire. I am proud that the SNP, and judging from my emails, the Scottish public, are in the right place on this. How could anyone fail to be moved by the sight of innocent children wailing in pain or in torment beside the bodies of their parents and siblings. How can anyone think this is right or tolerable? Just as we were moved to horror by the murderous barbarity of Hamas on 7 October so now should we be moved to horror by what is happening to the innocent civilians trapped in the tiny area of the Gaza Strip which is smaller than the Isle of Arran, but jam packed with over 2 million people almost half of whom are under the age of 18.

Cleverly has the responsibility to take legal advice and to take a view. So does the leader of the opposition. Keir Starmer and his Attorney General, Emily Thornberry are both senior lawyers so their early and to some extent continuing equivocation is inexcusable.

If the British Government fail to hold the Israelis Government as well as Hamas to account, then a precedent will be set for others who wish to ignore the laws of war.

Politicians also have a duty to hold their government to account. They should not be afraid to do so for fear of being smeared as anti-Semites or terrorist sympathisers. It is very simple really, international law is an objective framework that applies to everyone.

Yesterday I took part in an event in central London designed to remind people about what the rules of stipulate. I was invited to do so by Dr Catriona Drew, lecturer in International Law at the Centre for the Study of Colonialism, Empire and International law at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

Dr Drew and her postgraduate law students are inviting international lawyers, law students, academics, barristers, judges, politicians, writers, artists, and activists to join them for an unprecedented public reading of the Laws of War. Every weekday lunchtime for 2 hours they will speak law to power by reading out the Laws of War until the conflict stops. You can access more information about the material they are using at the International Committee of the Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Database.

Their objective is to bring public attention to the rules of international humanitarian law applicable to the conflict in Gaza and to the international legal duty of the UK Government to 'do everything reasonably in their power' to ensure that these rules are respected,

Yesterday I was the first reader. And as I and others read through the laws, repeatedly, it was not hard to reach the view that both Hamas and the Israeli Government are both in breach.

The prohibition against murder, torture, cruel or inhumane treatment and outrages upon personal dignity in particular humiliating and degrading treatment have clearly been flouted by Hamas. As has the prohibition against rape and other forms of sexual violence. The prohibition against the taking of hostages will continue to be flouted until all of them are freed.

Whilst this is no excuse and should not prevent them from being held to account for their crimes, we expect barbarity and law breaking from terrorists. Our expectations of the governments of democratic countries are and should be different.

The laws of war are very clear that parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks must not be directed at civilians. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian populations are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Collective punishments are prohibited. Launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injuries etc. is prohibited if it would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

Anyone watching footage from Gaza must rightly doubt whether these laws are being obeyed by the Israeli Government.

Likewise, directing an attack against a zone established to shelter the wounded, the sick and civilians from the effects of the hostilities is prohibited. Yet we have seen hospitals, churches and other sites sheltering displaced and injured civilians hit repeatedly.

The use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is prohibited and yet the tiny amount of aid allowed in is a drop in the ocean of what is required. As Stuart McDonald put it at PMQs, 2 million people cannot be sustained from 20 odd aid lorries.

Women, children and the elderly, disabled and infirm are entitled to special respect and protection. And yet we see the lives of pregnant women and babies put in jeopardy. Meanwhile there are little or no painkillers left in Gaza, no palliative care, no kidney dialysis, a lack of antiseptics etc.

There is not enough space in this column to enumerate all the ways in which the laws of war are being breached in this conflict which is now the most pressing and immediate issue facing the world. Dr Catriona Drew is hoping Scottish Universities might join in with her project and I would encourage them to do so and National readers to go along and take part. The organisers hope to build momentum and get some media coverage to pressurise the UK Government to uphold its obligations under International Humanitarian Law.

Early Day Motion 1685 Protecting civilians in Gaza and Israel

Joanna Cherry has signed EDM 1685 calling for the protection of civilians and a cessation of hostilities.

This House utterly condemns the massacre of Israeli civilians and taking of hostages by Hamas; agrees with the United Nations Secretary-General that these horrific acts do not justify responding with the collective punishment of the Palestinian people; expresses its deep alarm at the Israeli military bombardment and total siege of Gaza and the resulting deaths and suffering; believes that the urgent priority must be to stop the deaths and suffering of any more civilians in Gaza and Israel; welcomes the joint statement from 12 leading aid agencies, including Oxfam, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Medical Aid for Palestinians and Islamic Relief, calling for the Government to use its influence to help protect civilians, to ensure adherence to international humanitarian law and to guarantee civilians have access to critical life-saving humanitarian support; and to this end supports their call for the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to urgently press all parties to agree to an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities, to ensure the immediate, unconditional release of the Israeli hostages, to end to the total siege of Gaza and allow for unfettered access of medical supplies, food, fuel electricity and water, to guarantee that international humanitarian law is upheld and that civilians are protected in accordance with those laws.

Early Day Motion 1676 Israel's response to Hamas atrocities and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza

Joanna Cherry has signed EDM 1676 lodged by Brendan O'Hara MP, the SNP spokesperson for Foreign Affairs.

That this House unreservedly condemns Hamas and their appalling act of terrorist violence in which more than 1,400 Israeli civilians were murdered and hundreds more taken hostage; supports Israel’s right to find the perpetrators of those atrocities and hold them accountable for their actions;?believes that any Israeli response to those attacks must be legal, proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law; recognises that the vast majority of Palestinians want nothing to do with Hamas and therefore deeply regrets Israel’s decision to impose a collective punishment, including forced displacement, on the civilian population of Gaza, who as a result of Israel’s actions now have little or no access to water, food, fuel or medicine, and who are living under constant military bombardment; calls on Israel to immediately end its siege and restore power and water supplies and open the Rafah border to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza; urges the Government to work with international allies?to create a humanitarian corridor, one which allows innocent civilians to flee Gaza but which also provides them with a guaranteed right of return; believes that the UK has an obligation to uphold and promote international humanitarian law; and calls on the Government to play its part, along with the rest of the international community, to find a just solution to this ongoing crisis, as without justice, there can be no peace, and this cycle of violence will?continue resulting in even more innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives being lost.