Oona King, Jewish Labour MP for Bethnal Green and
MP compares Gaza to Warsaw ghetto
June 19, 2003
Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip was today
compared to the Nazis' creation of the Warsaw ghetto by MPs who
recently returned from the region.
The controversial comparison, drawn by Oona King and Jenny Tonge,
will anger the pro-Israel lobby and the visiting Israeli finance
minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, who met Tony Blair at Downing Street
Labour MP Ms King, who is Jewish, said Gaza was "the same
in nature" as the infamous Polish ghetto.
"No government should be behaving like that - least of all
a Jewish government," the Bethnal Green and Bow MP said.
Ms King and Liberal Democrat MP Dr Tonge were holding a Westminster
press conference today following their fact-finding trip.
The pair were caught up in the aftermath of the Israeli gunship
assassination attack on a leading Palestinian extremist. A building
they were in just minutes earlier was hit in retaliation.
The MPs were also confronted by an Israeli soldier armed with a
grenade as they tried to leave the strip.
Speaking ahead of the press conference, Ms King said the visit,
organised by Christian Aid, had opened her eyes.
The MP, a member of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, said:
"I recognise the terror many Israelis live with as a matter
of their daily lives.
"I was more surprised perhaps by the everyday terror that
Palestinians live, the detail and nature of which I had not understood.
"We must support the moderate voices as opposed to strengthening
Referring to Warsaw, scene of the historic uprising by its Jewish
inhabitants, Ms King said: "It is the same in nature but not
She stressed the "very, very big difference" between
Gaza and the infamous ghetto established by the Nazis in Poland's
"Palestinians are not being rounded up and put in gas chambers,"
But the MP said: "What makes it similar is what happened to
the Jewish people in that time which was the seizing of land, being
forced from property, torture and bureaucracy - control used in
a demeaning way over the smallest task.
"On top of that building a wall around them - and that is
precisely what the Israeli government is doing. In doing so it is
building a political ghetto. I don't think it can escape that conclusion."
Ms King also said: "As a Jewish person, I hoped I would never
live to see the day I was ashamed of the actions of the Jewish state."
The situation had worsened considerably since she last visited
with pressure group Labour Friends of Israel in 1998, she added.
Ms Tonge agreed: "You are almost getting a situation like
the Warsaw ghetto - people can't get in or out. They can't work,
they can't sell anything. There is this gradual squeeze."
However, the Richmond Park MP also offered a comparison of her
"I feel it was an apartheid system and it is certainly getting
worse - the area where the Palestinians live is getting smaller."
Ms Tonge wants to see economic sanctions against Israel unless
the situation improves and says EU or UN troops should be sent in
to keep the peace.
"Israel says everything it does is for security but they are
not addressing the cause of terrorism, only terrorism itself,"
At their meeting this morning, Mr Blair and Mr Netanyahu discussed
the Middle East peace process.
Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister reiterated
his commitment to see the road map implemented and his willingness
to do everything that he and the British government can to help."
Later, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy said: "It is
a terrible shame that a British MP could make this comparison. We
were shocked by the ignorance of comparing Gaza to the Warsaw ghetto.
"Such views only encourage extremists elements to become involved
in terror against Israel as we recently faced in the suicide bomb
in Tel Aviv."
can halt this now
Oona King in Gaza
June 12, 2003
The no man's land separating Israel from the Gaza Strip gives way
to what can only be described as desecrated land. Razor wire and
crushed buildings line the route. Torn slabs of concrete look like
tattered cardboard on a rubbish heap. In front of us two Israeli
tanks block our path. Behind us, the border will shortly be sealed
to prevent Palestinian reprisals for the helicopter attack launched
hours earlier against the extremist Hamas leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Rantissi
- who is still alive. A Palestinian woman and her young child, on
their way to hospital, are dead, and 35 are injured.
|Later that afternoon we hurriedly leave the building we are
in when a missile lands nearby. As two British MPs travelling
with Christian Aid, myself and Jenny Tonge are alarmed. For
Gaza residents this is business as usual. More than 1 million
Palestinians live on this tiny piece of land (smaller than the
Isle of Wight) - more than three-quarters of on less than £1.30
a day. Life below the poverty line for these Palestinians contrasts
with the 5,000 Israeli settlers who occupy one-third of the
land and enjoy watered gardens, first world housing and protection
by the Israeli army. This protection means Palestinians wait
for hours - sometimes days - at Israeli checkpoints, trying
to find work or get access to essential services such as medical
"Yes, there are
two sides to every story. But no story should hold within
it the horrors I have witnessed here, so similar in detail
to humiliations suffered by the Jews."
Later that afternoon we hurriedly leave the building we are in
when a missile lands nearby. As two British MPs travelling with
Christian Aid, myself and Jenny Tonge are alarmed. For Gaza residents
this is business as usual. More than 1 million Palestinians live
on this tiny piece of land (smaller than the Isle of Wight) - more
than three-quarters of on less than £1.30 a day. Life below
the poverty line for these Palestinians contrasts with the 5,000
Israeli settlers who occupy one-third of the land and enjoy watered
gardens, first world housing and protection by the Israeli army.
This protection means Palestinians wait for hours - sometimes days
- at Israeli checkpoints, trying to find work or get access to essential
services such as medical care.
The sun is setting on Gaza. From my hotel balcony I hear demonstrations
in the street below. It occurs to me that I can put on a headscarf
and slip into the crowd as a Palestinian. No one will guess I'm
Jewish, still less that I'm a British MP. The sounds lead me to
the hospital where Rantissi is being treated. Cars rush into the
compound, horns blaring, people hanging out of windows. A man carries
an injured girl into the hospital. But most of the Palestinians
just stand waiting. They wait for Israelis to stamp their permits,
and they wait for a Palestinian state. They are no different from
us: deny them human rights and they will respond with unacceptable
|That's what Jews did when they set up the Stern Gang and blew
up the King David Hotel in the 1940s. Ninety-four people died.
The leader of that terrorist group, on Britain's "most
wanted" list, went on to be the Israeli prime minister.
Many Jews revere him, even while they abhor the terrorism that
ruins their lives today. Israelis must be freed from terrorism
- such as yesterday's horrific attack in Jersualem. All terrorism,
not least Palestinian terrorism, is abhorrent. But it is also
predictable. When the Israeli government chose Tuesday to launch
an attack in Gaza (as it did again after yesterday's bombing),
it cannot have been ignorant of its effect on the peace process
and the certainty of Palestinian reprisals.
"I have sadly come
to the conclusion that, given the scale of the atrocities
and collective punishment waged by the Israelis against
the Palestinians, I have no choice but to boycott Israeli
products. On reflection, whether Jewish or not, you might
decide to do the same."
The original founders of the Jewish state could surely not imagine
the irony facing Israel today: in escaping the ashes of the Holocaust,
they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature
- though not its extent - to the Warsaw ghetto.
Any visitor to the Palestinian ghetto can see the signs: residents
are sealed off and live under curfew; the authorities view torture
as acceptable and use collective punishment as a means of control;
soldiers drive families from their homes, confiscate property and
demolish neighbourhoods; unemployment runs in places at 80%, and
utilities such as water are withheld; the economy has "client"
status, and is subservient to the occupiers in every way.
As the more powerful side in the dispute, Israel must break the
cycle of violence, comply with UN resolution 242 and withdraw from
territories occupied in 1967. As the occupying power, Israel must
uphold the fourth Geneva convention and end all collective punishments.
Illegal settlements must be dismantled. Repair of water, sewage,
and other essential infrastructure should take place immediately.
Just under 80% of all water resources in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip are redirected from Palestinians to Israelis. The international
community has to recognise the scale of the humanitarian disaster
facing Palestinians and George Bush must put greater pressure on
Sharon to give meaning to the road map. Yes, there are two sides
to every story. But no story should hold within it the horrors I
have witnessed here, so similar in detail to humiliations suffered
by the Jews.
I have sadly come to the conclusion that, given the scale of the
atrocities and collective punishment waged by the Israelis against
the Palestinians, I have no choice but to boycott Israeli products.
On reflection, whether Jewish or not, you might decide to do the
· Oona King is Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow