London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi on why he believes the siege of Gaza must end

Our trip began in Cairo on the day a new government – with the same limited powers – was sworn in as the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Council came under fire from the revolutionaries who refused to leave Tahrir Square.

The trip ended with news that Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip had executed two men who were convicted of collaboration with Israel, reminding us all that it was as much a war as a siege that had yet to resolved.  

In between, I gathered a number of impressions.

When we first entered the Gaza Strip, it felt like an open prison, which was the description used by David Cameron last year.

The Rafah crossing is the only route into the Gaza Strip on the Egyptian side whilst all the points of entry from Israel are closed off; therefore the Rafah crossing is a vital link to support Gaza’s economy. 

The movement of goods and aid via the crossing is a vital lifeline for the Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip and who desperately rely on this channel for their basic sustenance.

In recent times, most of us around the world were under the impression that the Arab spring would have opened it up but alas, movement through the crossing is at best slow, and if you’re a Palestinian, painfully so.  

Whatever happens, one thing is for certain. That is, Egypt will play a key role in the survival of the Gaza Strip through its management of the Rafah crossing. 
During the high ranking tour, we paid a visit to the Palestinian Legislative Council.

We were greeted by some of their members and were told of the number of times the premises had been bombed by the Israeli forces. 

While Israel may still have some difficulty accepting Hamas as the main political grouping running the Gaza Strip, 
it is nonetheless incomprehensible and inexcusable that the democratic institution that represents Palestinians in Gaza 
was bombed.

Not surprisingly, the resilient character of its citizens has seen it rebuilt so that Palestinians can continue along a democratic road. 

It was harrowing also to learn about the plight of relatives of prisoners in Gaza who have not been able to see their loved ones since their imprisonment in Israeli jails.

There are children who have never seen their fathers and who perhaps never will. 

The siege has meant little if any freedom for Palestinians to move between Gaza or the West Bank, let alone to Israel.

This is where many would have worked, making daily trips, and the curtailment of this movement for the families is clearly isolating prisoners.

The current siege is affecting the delivery of desperately needed medical supplies to hospitals like Al Shifa, where the lack of medicines and supplies to equipment like radiographs has meant that no less than 500 more patients have died since the siege began. 
Some convoys of medical supplies have been allowed in like the “Miles of Smiles” initiative earlier in the month but it is not enough to plug the huge gap of critical care needed in Gaza. 
And finally our last stop back to Cairo was the Al-Asqa University.

Here, the educational apartheid between academic institutions in Israel and Palestine was very apparent.

This does not bode well for the future.

Often links between academic institutions are the only thread of cohesion in countries or states existing within political and military adversaries but alas there were no signs that there is any such exchange of thought and views, often critical in maintaining links between states in difficult times. 

All this and many more impressions made me increasingly aware that the two-state solution has become just a mirage in the desert sands.  
If things are to move forward in the near future, recognition of Palestine is critical.

In this respect moves are afoot to get the UN to recognise Palestine, and let us wish them much success.

In the mean­time, the Arab spring has yet to forge a permanent change in the fortunes of Palestinians but as spring turns into summer, one starting point can be to open up the Rafah crossing – undoubtedly, the life line for citizens living in the Gaza strip. 

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