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Benjamin Netanyahu visit: UK should urge lifting of Gaza blockade

Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting David Cameron tomorrow © Getty Images, 2013
‘David Cameron should be direct with Benjamin Netanyahu, telling him that Gaza’s suffering is unacceptable and must end now’ - Allan Hogarth
Amnesty International is calling on UK ministers to urge Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lift the blockade on Gaza when the Israeli leader makes a state visit to Britain this week.  
Mr Netanyahu, who is set to meet David Cameron, other senior politicians and diplomats during his two-day visit beginning today, has defended the eight-year-long blockade of Gaza on the grounds that it prevents weapons being smuggled into the Palestinian territory. However, the crippling blockade includes bans - or severe restrictions - on the import and export of fuel, food, building materials and other essential goods into Gaza. 
It also prevents the vast majority of Gaza’s 1.8 million population from travelling to the occupied West Bank or abroad, including those requiring urgent medical treatment. Such restrictions amount to collective punishment and Amnesty is calling for the blockade to be lifted permanently, Last week the United Nations warned that Gaza could become uninhabitable within five years because of “de-development” through the blockade as well as repeated military conflicts. 
During last year’s 50-day Israel/Gaza conflict, some 1,500 civilians in Gaza were killed - including more than 500 children - as well as six civilians in Israel, and Israeli forces inflicted  massive destruction and damage to civilian objects, including homes, businesses and vital infrastructure in Gaza. All parties to the conflict committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, and Amnesty is pressing for justice, truth and reparation for the victims.
Earlier this year the State of Palestine joined the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, despite efforts from Israel to prevent this. Amnesty wishes to see UK ministers publicly supporting the Palestinian move, while also pressing Israel itself to join the Court.
Amnesty International UK’s Head of Policy and Government Affairs Allan Hogarth said:
“Mr Cameron should tell the Israeli PM that Israel’s security concerns shouldn’t be used as an excuse to collectively punish, impoverish and humiliate 1.8 million people in Gaza.
“David Cameron should be direct with Benjamin Netanyahu, telling him that Gaza’s suffering is unacceptable and must end now. Israel has an obligation to end its collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population, and completely lifting the blockade is the right thing to do.
“The UK should be unequivocal about Israel’s settlement policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which is a war crime. The UK must press for an immediate halt to Israel’s construction and expansion of illegal settlements, as a first step towards removing civilians living in them. All those suspected of criminal responsibility for Israel’s settlement policy must be brought to trial.
“The UK has been a staunch supporter of international justice through the International Criminal Court and this should not be compromised when it comes to Israel. Mr Cameron must be unequivocal on this, telling Mr Netanyahu that he must stop opposing the ICC and ensure that accountability and justice are delivered through the Court.” 

UK arms to Israel

On 12 August 2014, after considerable pressure for it to stop exporting arms to Israel, the UK government announced that it had identified 12 export licences for arms and other military equipment to Israel that it said it would suspend if “significant hostilities” resumed. This represented a significant weakening of the UK’s own rules, which stipulate that arms should not be supplied where there is a clear risk they might be used for serious violations of international law. Subsequently it was announced that no licences were ever suspended.  Amnesty was strongly critical of the UK’s stance then and is now calling for it to suspend all arms exports to Israel while there remains a substantial risk of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by Israel and armed groups in Gaza.

Illegal settlements

Benjamin Netanyahu has continued a policy of settling Israeli civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in violation of international law. He has continued to authorise new construction in existing settlements, as well as the expropriation of Palestinian land to build a new settlement near Bethlehem. This is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Additional Protocol I, and the Rome Statute. The presence of settlements has led to mass violations of human rights of the local Palestinian population, including restriction of movement and the destruction of homes. Unlawful transfer of Palestinians and wanton destruction of property not justified by military necessity both constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Such a breach carries specific third-state obligations, as well as individual criminal liability, and is codified as a war crime. 

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