Leaders of some of Britain’s biggest aid charities are urging Rishi Sunak to use his opening speech at a global food summit in London on Monday to condemn Israel’s siege in Gaza, which they say is causing 2 million people to go hungry and taking 1 million children to the brink of starvation.
The charities, including Oxfam, Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians and Islamic Relief, say the UK has an obligation to speak out at the summit since private diplomacy is not working and Britain is the guardian of the key UN resolution that forbids starvation as a “weapon of war”.
The summit, designed to look at improving food productivity and distribution in some of the world’s poorest countries, comes as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza reaches crisis point.
The authors of the joint letter say: “Private diplomacy by Israel’s allies has failed to end its month-long siege of food, fuel, water and other aid. Civilians are suffering as a result, but so too is the UK’s reputation as custodian of UN security council resolution 2417, which forbids the use of starvation as a weapon of war.”
The resolution, passed in 2018, condemns starvation as a method of war. The UK ambassador to the UN at the time, Stephen Hickey, said the resolution’s passage was a major step forward, not in itself, but for the UN. The 12 signatories write: “The world has everything it needs to start saving lives in Gaza today, but unless Israel agrees to an immediate ceasefire and to allow food, fuel and other aid to enter, we will all be relegated to powerless bystanders, forced to watch from the sidelines as scores of civilians die from starvation at the hands of a UK ally.
They add: “Beating world hunger is not just about resources, it’s about political choices: choices about how the world nurtures and sustains the environment and our food systems; choices about how governments shape their societies so the vulnerable are protected; choices about how countries, and their militaries, conduct themselves when civilians are caught up in armed conflict.”
They conclude: “We urge you to use your opening remarks on Monday to call for an immediate ceasefire, condemn Israel’s ongoing siege and insist that food, fuel, water and other aid vital for survival is allowed into Gaza with immediate effect.”
Sunak will be aware that the coincidence of the summit and the Gaza crisis makes it impossible for him to avoid the subject but critics claim the UK is not aware how much the west’s standing is being damaged by its refusal to say Israel is acting unlawfully, and must change course.
Although Arab states are in disagreement about whether to condemn Hamas explicitly, they are unified in believing Israel’s response is disproportionate, morally wrong, self-defeating and likely to breed terrorism, rather than eradicate extremism.
One of the signatories to the letter, Chris Doyle, the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, told the Guardian: “The failure of the international community and particularly western powers to speak out forcefully and condemn what Israel is doing as in breach of international law is shocking.
“It has angered millions across the Middle East and elsewhere that the west is prepared to display such double standards. Israel is clearly breaking international law, yet it is being given a green light to do things in a way that no other country would.”
Speaking on Saturday at a security conference in Manama, Bahrain, Tariq Ahmad, the Middle East minister, said Israel as a nation had obligations to international law, but also said it had a right to self-defence.
“Israel must respect international humanitarian law, and take every possible step to minimise harm to civilians. Israel is a country, is a nation, with obligations to international law. This also includes respecting the sanctity of hospitals, so that doctors – who do an incredible job as we are seeing for ourselves – can continue to care for the ill; the injured; the sick.”
He added that the UN security council last week had called for “urgent extended humanitarian pauses for a sufficient number of days to allow for aid access”. Lord Ahmad added: “We must work towards this end.” The UK abstained on the resolution since it made no criticism of Hamas.
Source: The guardian