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UK government must change course to support peace in Palestine, Israel and the Middle East

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On 7 February, the TUC wrote to Lord Cameron, Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) on the escalating violence in Gaza, Israel and the Middle East. We have long-standing policy in support of Palestinian rights and ending the occupation of Palestinian territory.

This letter follows on from the TUC’s General Council statement unequivocally condemning the shocking attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas, calling for the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages unharmed, and calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

In our letter to Lord Cameron, we’ve expressed disappointment that the UK government has so far failed to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, or support resolutions calling for one at the United Nations. We recognise that a ceasefire must be accompanied by a political process.

Our government has also failed to publicly condemn the siege of Gaza and called for it to end, even though it is causing immense human suffering and international humanitarian law prohibits the use of starvation, including attacking objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and denying or impeding access to humanitarian aid, as a method of warfare.

UNRWA is carrying out lifesaving humanitarian work in Gaza, providing shelter, food and water. We’ve called on the UK government to resume its funding to UNRWA while an investigation into allegations by the Israeli government that several UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October attacks – is carried out. Ten countries have suspended funding to UNRWA, but the organisation’s head has said that if the funding remains suspended, it will most likely have to shut down its operations in Gaza and across the region by the end of February.

We’ve also raised our concerns that reportedly more than 27,000 Palestinians, mainly women and children, have been killed in operations launched by Israeli forces since 7 October, and that more than 66,000 have been injured. Workers are at the forefront of this violence – with at least 330 health workers, 120 journalists and 150 UN staff killed since 7 October. We’re supporting calls by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) for the immediate release of at least 260 Palestinian workers who remain in Israeli detention.

The TUC has called on the UK government and international community to act to ensure that international law is upheld and applied consistently. We’re alarmed that at least 1.7 million civilians, 75 per cent of Gaza’s population, have been forcibly displaced according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and reportedly, that a member of Israel’s security cabinet described Gaza Strip residents evacuating south on IDF orders as, “…rolling out a Gaza Nakba”. We’re also deeply concerned that Prime Minister Netanyahu has rejected the creation of a State of Palestine, and therefore of a two-state solution as a possible path to peace. The TUC has welcomed Lord Cameron’s recent statement that the UK government would consider the swift recognition of a Palestinian State and we’ve urged the government to make this a priority.

In calling for international law to be upheld, we’ve welcomed the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue binding provisional measures in the case of the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel).

Our letter stresses our concern that since 7 October, at least 360 Palestinians have reportedly been killed in attacks involving Israeli forces and/or settlers in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. OCHA has recorded nearly 500 settler attacks, and over 1,200 Palestinians have been displaced in the West Bank amid such settler violence and access restrictions.

We’re worried about the escalation of this violence to the wider Middle East and the impacts this could have, including on workers in the region. The current escalation of violence to the Red Sea, Straits of Hormuz and the eastern Mediterranean is impacting on seafarers’ safety. All parties must respect the safety and welfare of seafarers, including the need for shipping employers to respect the right of seafarers to choose not to work in and around what is now a designated war zone.

We are urging the UK government to do more to bring about an end to this escalating violence and support a just peace by:

  • calling for an immediate and lasting ceasefire to prevent further loss of life and enable prompt and effective access to humanitarian aid
  • taking action alongside the international community to ensure that international law is upheld and applied consistently – this includes ending the occupation of Palestinian territory
  • insisting that Israel complies, in full, with the binding provisional measures issued by the ICJ
  • taking action to ensure that it is not complicit in any war crimes or crimes against humanity that could be found to be committed
  • restoring funding to UNRWA and support the ILO’s Emergency Response Programme
  • ending arms sales and military collaboration with Israel, and ending the UK’s trade in settlement goods
  • withdrawing the Economic Activities of Public Bodies Bill
  • recognising the State of Palestine and support genuine efforts towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace that is consistent with international law, and is based on a two-state solution, which promotes equality, democracy and respect for human and labour rights.

Additional resources TUC hosted delegation on Palestinian rights (2023)

Submission to the Department of International Trade (2022)…

Justice for Palestine briefing paper (2022)…

Justice for Palestine report (2020)

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