Gaza Crisis (part I) In at the deep end.

I have never written a blog before, so I was planning to kick off with a bit of background about myself, and offer a flirtatious introduction to some of the themes that I’d like to cover during the year ahead.

The intensifying carnage in Gaza, however, sweeps aside any possibility that I might be able to start with a gentle warm up. The news that reaches us is just too overwhelming, the need too urgent, and our responsibility for solidarity too immediate to permit any postponement.

All I’ll say for now is that this is a yearlong blog that aims to mark the 30th anniversary of the Amnesty UK Trade Union Network by exploring the interfaces, and hinterlands, of trade union human rights activism from the perspective of someone privileged enough to have a full-time Amnesty job supporting such collaboration. More on that, and on me, another day.

We’re nineteen days into the conflict now, Operation Cast Lead as it has been designated by the Israeli Defence Forces, and the situation on the ground has become a humanitarian calamity. Nine hundred and more Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead, plus many thousands, overwhelmingly Palestinians, injured. Amnesty has been active from the outset, as you would expect. Human rights in Palestine, Israel and the Occupied Territories have been a long-term priority concern for us, and we’re not just there when a crisis hits. You can view our Gaza page here,  where you can join thousands of others (and counting) to call on the UK government to do more. There’s plenty of debate too on the Amnesty blogs. . On Monday this week Amnesty USA sponsored a live online question-and-answer session  with Donatella Rovera, one of our International Secretariat team, who is in the region as she responds. One of my responsibilities in my job is to support health professionals within our trade union network. On this  page you can find an action directed at the Israeli authorities and here (scroll down) is a related appeal to the Egyptian government concerning the health emergency.

And our voices are not alone. An article in yesterday’s Guardian Newspaper  reports that UN human rights bodies are talking of a war crimes investigation. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty are amongst the critics cited, joining the International Red Cross’ earlier denunciation of humanitarian law violations. Tuesday’s Newsnight programme on BBC2 also raised the war crimes issue. Let’s hope the Egyptian peace plan gets somewhere; certainly the UN Security Council’s recent resolution has not halted the belligerence on either side. The people of Israel are absolutely and unequivocally entitled to be free from rocket fire, but nothing can justify the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of children and civilians, the targeting of health workers, or the use of Palestinian families as human shields by one of the best armed (with British technology) military forces in the world.

I took part in the London Gaza demonstration on Saturday, and I was well pleased to have been there, though the mood was sombre. Though Amnesty did not field a contingent as such, many colleagues and activists took part and trade unions were prominent and visible both with banners and as platform speakers. Many tens of thousands took part – at least fifty thousand according to the BBC. That’s one heck of a crowd. You can see a photoset by my friend Mac Urata of the International Transport Workers’ Federation here. I am sure that he won’t mind that I have used one of his photos to illustrate this piece. PCS, the civil service and commercial union are long-term supporters of the Palestinian cause, and Deputy General Secretary Hugh Lanning spoke, as did Alison Sheppard of Unison, and Sally Hunt, of the University and College Union, representing the TUC. You can access Sally’s speech here.  I particularly agreed with her sentiment that “The trade unions of this country demand peace for all living through this terror – peace for ordinary people whoever they are, whichever their country, whatever their religion.”

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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