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Zarah Sultana: Ceasefire Now

‘There is absolutely no time to waste. The children killed in Gaza today could have been saved by a ceasefire agreed yesterday.’ Zarah Sultana urges MPs to be on the right side of history and vote for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

(Credit: Save the Children)

Yusof and his two older siblings counted themselves lucky. Their dad, a radiographer at the local hospital, had installed solar panels at their house, so even when their neighbourhood lost power, they could still watch their favourite cartoons.

That’s what they were doing when an Israeli airstrike hit. Miraculously, Yusof’s older brother was unhurt. His sister was found in the rubble. She was injured, but alive. But Yusof’s mother desperately searched in vain for her youngest son.

She went to the hospital, asking if anyone had seen her ‘handsome and curly-haired’ boy. But it was Yusof’s dad who found him. His body had been taken to the morgue. Yusof was 7 years old when he was killed. His father had seen him on the doorstep of their house earlier that day as he left for work. ‘Yusof kissed me and said goodbye’, he said.

Yusof is one of the more than 4,600 children — and more than 11,000 Palestinians of all ages — now killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza. When the World Health Organisation says a Palestinian child is being killed every 10 minutes, Yusof was one of those 10 minutes.

Behind every number you read and every horrifying statistic you hear, there were hopes and dreams just as real, just as valuable, as yours or mine. Palestinian lives matter as much as anyone else’s.

Israel’s assault on Gaza has now killed 1 in every 200 Palestinians in the besieged enclave. Hospitals, ambulances, and refugee camps have been targeted. Premature babies in incubators are dying today as hospitals run out of fuel.

In the illegally occupied West Bank — where Hamas is not in power — around 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or armed settlers.

Whilst our political leaders refuse to admit it, there is no doubt that Israel has committed clear and gross violations of international humanitarian law. The United Nations Secretary-General, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch amongst others have said as much.

And the startling truth is, Israeli officials have been open about their intent.

At the beginning of the assault, an Israeli military spokesperson said the emphasis in the bombing was on ‘damage, not accuracy’. A former Head of the National Security Council said the aim was to make Gaza ‘a place where no human being can exist’.  This weekend, an Israeli government minister said the war was to be ‘Gaza’s Nakba’, a reference to the 1948 catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homelands, never allowed to return.

None of this is to downplay Hamas’ appalling killing of Israeli civilians. I have repeatedly condemned that attack in the House of Commons and called for the release of all hostages.

As the UN Secretary-General has said, those crimes in no way excuse what we have witnessed since. And unlike those crimes, Israel’s assault on Gaza has been done with the British government’s unequivocal support; indeed, it is almost certainly happening with British-made arms, as I warned in the House of Commons this week.

So long as our government refuses to support an immediate ceasefire, it is giving Israel the green light to continue the slaughter of innocent Palestinians. In fact, it means our government is refusing to push back against Israeli politicians and policies seeking to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their lands.

This is shameful beyond words. And today in Parliament, MPs can take a stand.

Last week, I put down an amendment to the King’s Speech, calling for an immediate ceasefire. The Scottish National Party has done the same. The Speaker is very likely to pick the SNP’s amendment for a vote this evening.

I will vote for any amendment that calls for an immediate ceasefire, and I urge all MPs to do the same.

The alternative is supporting so-called ‘humanitarian pauses’, but there is nothing humanitarian about allowing children to eat a little today, only to bomb them tomorrow.

That’s why the only humanitarian way forward is an immediate ceasefire and an end to the killing of innocent people.

This has been recognised by figures ranging from the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury to Islamic Relief, Oxfam and countless aid agencies. It is now supported by President Macron of France as well as by the governments of Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Norway and many more. It is even backed by the Financial Times.

And if anyone thought the hundreds of thousands of people who have marched in the streets of London in solidarity with the Palestinian people in recent weeks weren’t representative of the country at large, opinion polls show 76 percent of the public support an immediate ceasefire.

But there is absolutely no time to waste. The children killed in Gaza today could have been saved by a ceasefire agreed yesterday.

So my message to MPs today is this: get on the right side of history and vote for an immediate ceasefire.