An MP has spoken of her shock at witnessing the “harsh brutality” of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, following a visit to the troubled region.
Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central, spoke to activists at Labour’s Manchester conference within hours of arriving back in the country, after flying back from Tel Aviv.
She urged Labour activists to boycott products produced in Israeli settlements, which are built in land occupied by Israel.
Since 1967 Israel has occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, two areas of land which United Nations resolutions and a number of peace agreements backed by Britain regard as the territory of a future independent Palestinian state.
Israel’s policy of building settlements on the land - or turning a blind eye when Israeli nationalists build their own settlements - has been criticised as making it harder for a viable Palestinian state to exist.
Ms Onwurah did not back a boycott of Israel itself.
She also urged activists to lobby the Government to recognise the Palestinian state.
The MP said: “I wanted to see for myself and twenty comrades from Newcastle did too so we flew out last Monday to visit Israel and Palestine and see for ourselves.
“I had few if any expectations. I do not like to prejudge my journeys.
“But I guess I did expect to be seduced by the beauty of Jerusalem as so many have been, a city venerated by three great religions.
“Well I was not. The great historical testaments to that veneration can be seen – great churches, mosques, synagogues - but the devastating impact of today’s divide renders the city ugly.
“I don’t think anything can prepare you for the harsh brutality of the separation wall snaking over hilltops and valleys through Palestine and Jerusalem itself.”
She added: “On one side rubbish heaps, graffiti, half demolished buildings houses extended hurriedly and dangerously because the Israeli authorities will not let Palestinians build, plastic water butts everywhere because the Israeli authorities will not provide consistent water, unpaved roads, no street lighting, bullet scarred walls.
“And on the other, lush, manicured lawns, flower displays, luxury housing and imposing statues.“The contrast is startlingly brutal. As are the stories of those who have try to pass from one side to the other for family, for work for hospital treatment – not into Israel proper but simply within the Occupied Territories.”
Ms Onwurah said she had met “some amazing people” on the trip, including Palestinian leaders and Israeli left wing politicians, as well as parents of a young Palestinian man shot dead by Israeli soldiers.
But she said she also hoped that peace was possible.
She said: “We returned with a sense of urgent hope. Despite the conflict being decades if not centuries old, the time for peace is now. As the Mayor of Hebron told us, peace cannot wait to the next generation.”
Speaking afterwards, she said: “I also want Israel to have peace and secure borders but the occupation makes that less likely not more likely.
“What the visit bought home to me was what occupation really means - the constant military presence and the oppression.”
During the visit Ms Onwurah met representatives of Labour’s Palestinian sister party Fatah, as well as the Israeli Labour Party. More than 2,000 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed in a recent conflict between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas.