Over 100 supporters as well as MPs and Lords attended the event, which was hosted by the new chair of the group, Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale.
Guest speakers included Douglas Alexander MP, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Stephen Twigg MP, the Shadow Minister for the Middle East, Peter Hain MP, and Rushanara Ali MP, the Shadow Minister for International Development who read out a statement from Harriet Harman MP, the deputy leader of the Labour Party.
The event provided a platform to raise the issue of Palestine within Parliament and enable supporters to directly engage with Labour Parliamentarians. As well as hearing speeches, guests enjoyed Palestinian culture with music by renowned oud player, Nizar Al Issa, as well as Middle Eastern food and Palestinian Taybeh beer – which proved very popular.
In his speech, Douglas Alexander MP spoke about his visit to Gaza and the need for full and unrestricted humanitarian access. He made clear that need for a humanitarian response was important but ‘it cannot be a substitute for the political solution, which is ultimately what, is required.’ He said it was too easy to be heavily distracted by the huge events taking place in the Middle East but it was vital that work continue at the political level to ensure that the Israel-Palestine issue does not become an afterthought but remains a central focus of our work. He went on to say that the “the sense of grievance and injustice that so many people feel in relation to this issue and hope for a better future for people in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza requires that we act.” He concluded by saying he was proud of the work the Labour Government had undertaken to assist and facilitate a two state solution and that he and the Labour Party remain dedicated to achieving that outcome.
The Shadow Minister for the Middle East, Stephen Twigg MP, congratulated Simon Danczuk MP on becoming the Chair of LFPME and said that the organisation had a very important and immediate role in the Party, as its shapes it foreign policy as part of the overall policy review. He also spoke of his recent visit to the West Bank and meeting the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and seeing the progress being made as well as the negative impact of the occupation and settlements on the day-to-day life of Palestinians living in the West Bank. He reiterated that the two state solution must not be lost amidst the changes and upheaval-taking place across the Middle East, which instead should serve as a catalyst for achieving a just solution and lasting outcome.
The Palestinian Ambassador Manuel Hassassian also congratulated Simon Danzcuk MP in his new role as the Chair of LFPME. He reminded the audience that while the World watches the events unfolding in the Middle East, Israel is taking the opportunity to continue “its naked aggression on the Palestinian people by sparing no moment in changing the facts on the ground by continuing to build illegal settlements, the Apartheid Wall and making Palestinians homeless in East Jerusalem.”
The Ambassador provided a vivid and personal example when he informed the audience that he was being threatened with losing his Jerusalem identity card. As he is considered a returning resident, he must spend 180 days in Jerusalem each year, or the Israeli Authorities would revoke his Jerusalem ID card. This would mean he would become both homeless and stateless, unless he returns regularly, despite his full time role as the official Palestinian Representative in the UK. Over 45,000 people from East Jerusalem are in a similar situation to the Ambassador.
The Ambassador praised Douglas Alexander MP for the work he did in his role as the Secretary of State for International Development under the last Labour Government and supporting the Palestinian people and institutions with aid and support.
He further urged MPs to not support the changes on universal jurisdiction. In conclusion he thanked the British people for their support and welcomed the Government’s decision to upgrade the Palestinian General Delegation to a Mission, adding “We thank you very much but its not enough. We hope to have a fully fledged Embassy and we hope to have this in September 2011.”
MPs and guests then enjoyed a special musical performance from Nizar Al Issa, a song that he performed for the first time for the LFPME Reception: Ana Insan (I am Human).
Rushnara Ali MP spoke about how important the plight of the Palestinians was to many of her constituents and how they wanted to see Parliamentarians doing all they can to secure a just and peaceful solution in the region. She also congratulated the LFPME for the important work they do and then read out a statement from the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Minister for International Development, Harriet Harman, which called for ‘immediate, unfettered access to Gaza to improve the humanitarian situation and to help give the people of Gaza a better future’. The statement can be read by clicking here.
The former Chair of LFPME Andy Slaughter MP introduced Peter Hain MP, as someone ‘who knows what it is like to fight for a cause where there are so many challenges and when many people tell you to give up as it is too difficult a fight’. Peter Hain MP then spoke and called for the same vigour to be applied with which the campaign against Apartheid was fought to achieve justice for the Palestinians. He spoke of time running out for a two state solution unless progress was made on the key issues including settlements. He concluded by saying that “it was equally important that we begin to recognise as the Labour party, that words alone are not enough, and we must take action, before the next election to achieve justice.”
Richard Burden MP concluded by thanking the Labour MPs who have visited Palestine and said “it was only when you see the situation with your own eyes, only when you see the humiliation at checkpoints, only when you see settlements, only when you see the destruction in Gaza, only when you see land which was once full of olive groves; and its only when you meet Palestinians, meet them in their in their homes and meet them in their villages you grasp what this is all about.”
He said it was important that the work of LFPME continues in Parliament, in constituencies, in the Labour Party, amongst the Trade Unions and in communities, and that it really does matter what we all do. He urged supporters to do all they can to help push the Palestinian cause further up the political agenda and thanked them for their continued support.
Photos from the evening can be viewed by clicking here.