The UK’s shadow minister for the Middle East, Bambos Charalambous, has condemned Israel’s cruel policy of separating Palestinian mothers from new-born babies in a recent article describing how the Apartheid State’s illegal occupation “is a fundamental barrier to peace”.
Writing in the Labour List, after returning from a week-long visit to the region organised by Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for Arab and British Understanding, Charalambous, pledged that in government, Labour, “would immediately recognise the state of Palestine”. Predictably, the Enfield Southgate MP also reasserted Labour’s long held policy of supporting the two-state solution but nevertheless acknowledged that such a goal was a long way away because of the “brutal reality of occupation.”
What is less predictable is Charalambous’s shocking description of the daily dehumanisation endured by Palestinians under Israel’s brutal military occupation. “Our delegation saw so many examples of this,” recounts the shadow minister. “Palestinian children undergoing draconian treatment in military courts; demolitions of homes and communities in East Jerusalem; demolition orders on basic infrastructure in the West Bank, including a health clinic partly funded by UK aid.”
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Though Charalambous avoids describing Israel as an Apartheid State, as is the international consensus amongst human right groups, the Labour MP mentioned the racist segregation of Jews and Palestinians in Hebron. He also spoke of the “huge expansion” of Jewish only illegal settlements on Palestinian land; the construction of a barbed wire and concrete barrier that cuts across Palestinian communities.
Noting that it is impossible to document the full extent of the brutal reality of Israel’s occupation, Charalambous cites the example of the suffering of Palestinian mothers separated from their new-born babies in hospitals, to highlight Israel’s cruelty towards Palestinians.
Charalambous described the horror he felt early on the first morning when the delegation was taken to Makassed Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem. They were taken into a high dependency neonatal unit containing nine cots. In each, a premature baby lay under glowing heaters. All the vulnerable babies were alone. None of them had their mother or another family member with them. “Why were these babies alone?” Charalambous asked.
Charalambous explained that, under the rules of the occupation, mothers who give birth in the hospital are allowed a three-day permit to give birth and recover. When the permit runs out, the mothers must return to the West Bank or Gaza. In situations where the new-borns are too tiny or not well enough to leave the hospital, mothers have no choice but to leave the babies in hospital.
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Worse still, doctors informed the delegation how mothers cannot get permits to visit babies after they have been forced to leave them in the hospital. Even collecting babies when they are fully recovered is difficult – permits to do so are often delayed by months. Charalambous described how one of the babies they saw had been well enough to be collected four months ago, but the Israeli authorities had denied the necessary collection permit to his mother. This practice is said to be “common”.
“The dehumanising impact of this is deep and profound,” said Charalambous, while raising concerns over the fact that many mothers of children in Makassed Hospital develop debilitating post-natal depression and the equally serious damage to children caused by the separation of a baby from their mother.
“To secure a path to peace, I believe we must ultimately look to systemic change rather than piecemeal improvements,” says Charalambous, voicing scepticism over the policies of all major Western political parties. Preferring short-term fixes, including failed attempts to make occupation more bearable for the occupied, the likes of the UK Labour party have stubbornly refused to address the racist roots of the Israel’s occupation in a comprehensive manner.
“It is important that we do not shy away from naming the occupation as an obstacle to peace,” Charalambous insists. “We must be robust in asserting international law and defending human rights.”
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