This summer, July 4th is a special Day of Action against the Annexation of the West Bank by the Israeli Government. So why should I, a Welsh woman MP, be thinking about that?
My mother has a saying that “you must learn to walk in their shoes”. I’m Welsh from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, but those feet learnt at an early age how important it was to walk in the shoes of my fellow human beings. We grow stronger as individuals and as a nation when we care about others, and act against injustice wherever we find it.
I imagine myself as a Palestinian woman living in the West Bank. If I’m working, how do I get to work? The journey from Ramallah to Bethlehem only needs to take about 40 minutes, but how many Israeli roadblocks and check points will I have to go through? Will the guards want to empty and search my bag and be difficult about letting me through? A journey to work that should only take 40 minutes can take anything up to 3 or even 7 hours. My husband will have left for work at about 3 am but I can’t do that, because – not unlike the position of many women in Wales – it’s the woman who carries most of the caring responsibility. And when it’s time to go home, will I get home in time for when my children get back from school?
How do I manage the shopping for food for the family? We did have some land which we farmed, but there’s an illegal wall been built between where I now live and that piece of land.
There are settlements built by the Israeli Government near the village where I live, and they have their roads that go through my village. But I can’t use those roads because I am Palestinian. I must travel miles around to get to my destination.
There are over 500 roadblocks in the West Bank, dividing it into 3 regions. Things are hard now under illegal occupation, but if the Israeli Government is allowed to get away with its annexation, life for the Palestinian woman and her family will only get harder.
What if this woman (who is so much like me) needs hospital treatment? What if she is pregnant and the time limit on her permit to travel runs out when she is in labour? Will she be forced to give birth at a checkpoint? Yes, this does happen. How safe will her children be when they go to school past soldiers brandishing their guns. What if this was how we had to live here in Wales?
My good friend Mairead Canavan from Pontypridd said after one of her visits to Palestine as part of an NEU delegation;
“We visited very deprived Palestinian schools where teachers . . . try to keep the outside from coming into their happy classroom. The classrooms are cramped, there are attempts to censor their text books to delete their Palestinian history and the children are harassed on their journey to and from school – but they still smiled, thanked us and asked us to tell the world their truth on our return”
We have a special responsibility to help because we are a nation that cares. We have a history of internationalism – from the anti-apartheid movement which helped free Nelson Mandela to those who in the 1930’s went to join the International Brigade to fight fascism in Spain. Some of those came from Cynon valley. Some of them were my forebears.
I am proud of Welsh Government’s commitment to become a Nation of Sanctuary. Many of us have spoken out in favour of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and Gwynedd Council in January of this year condemned the proposed annexation of the West Bank and called for an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.
So, what do we do now? I am calling on all political and trade union organisations and public representatives in Wales to make it clear to the Israeli Government that its annexation of the West Bank will have consequences. There must be economic sanctions and an end to the sale of arms to Israel. There must be a ban on the import of goods from the illegal settlements. We must recognise the State of Palestine and work for a peaceful two-state solution to this ongoing and damaging situation. We must call for an end to the Israeli occupation.
I’m lucky. I can go to work without passing through countless roadblocks, my children can go to school without me worrying about soldiers with guns pointing at them. I can access good health care and I am not separated from my own land by an illegal wall. The roads I travel are yours and mine.
There is an olive tree in Palestine, a gift from me one Christmas. One day I will sit by that olive tree with my Palestinian and Israeli friends in peace and friendship.