Labour MP falsely accuses Israel of separating Palestinian babies from their mothers

Writing in Labour List, an independent pro-Labour news site, Bambos Charalambous, MP for Enfield Southgate and shadow minister for the Middle East, penned a piece (“Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is a fundamental barrier to peace”, June 2) based on his recent trip to the region sponsored by anti-Zionist NGOs Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for Arab and British Understanding.

The disinformation and propaganda about Israel peddled by Charalambous is considerable, but we’ll just focus on a few of the more egregious examples:

In explaining his support for a two-state solution, he cites, as one of the obstacles to such an outcome, Israel’s “occupation” of Gaza.

Having just returned from a week’s visit organised by Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for Arab and British Understanding, I have never been clearer in my mind that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is a fundamental obstacle to achieving this vision.

Of course, Israel does not occupy Gaza.  The country unilaterally withdrew all of its citizens and all of its soldiers in 2005.  Tellingly, the MP didn’t write a word about the role played by the antisemitic extremist group controlling Gaza, Hamas, in preventing a peaceful two-state solution from being achieved.

He then alleges that the occupation – and not simply the settlements – are “illegal”.

Of course, the occupation is illegal under international law, and there are many Israelis who strongly oppose it.

Whilst it’s true that most countries (though not the United States) consider Israeli communities built across the Green Line to be illegal, that’s not the case with the occupation (Israel’s control of the disputed territory as a result of the Six Day War) itself.  Note that, in 2015, CAMERA prompted the New York Times to correct an article that initially made that very same claim. In 2017, CAMERA UK prompted a correction at the Independent on the same claim.  And, in 2021, CAMERA prompted the same correction at CNBC.

Now, let’s turn to the MP’s most egregious inaccuracy:

One example, however, sums up the brutal reality of occupation. In Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem, early on the first morning, our delegation was shown into a high dependency neonatal unit containing nine cots. In each, a premature baby lay under glowing heaters, fragile and tiny. All these vulnerable babies were alone. None of them had their mother or another family member with them.

Why were these babies alone? Firstly, the occupied territories are unable to provide the hospitals to treat complex births or premature children – hence the need for some mothers to give birth in Makassed hospital. Secondly, under the rules of the occupation, mothers 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. If their newborns are too tiny or not well enough to go too, mothers must leave them at the hospital.

Worse still, doctors told us 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. One of the babies we saw there had been well enough to be collected four months ago, but the Israeli authorities had denied the necessary collection permit to his mother. This, we were told, is common.

The dehumanising impact of this is deep and profound – mothers and babies denied the chance of bonding, of breastfeeding, of the basic skin to skin contact all babies and new mothers need. Unsurprisingly many mothers of children in Makassed hospital develop debilitating post-natal depression. The developmental damage to children is likely to be equally serious.

We reached out to COGAT (the Israeli authorities responsible for issuing medical permits to Palestinians), asked their spokesperson about the the claim made by Charalambous and they gave us the following response:

The situation as described is divorced from reality. The Civil Administration has permitted and will continue permitting, tens of thousands of residents to leave for various treatments, including hospital treatments in Israel and East Jerusalem.

Throughout our years, even after investigating with all the hospitals in East Jerusalem, we have not encountered a case in which a baby was left without his parents for reasons concerning permits or licenses.

The newborns’ mothers are released from hospitalization only after approval from the attending physician, and with no other regulatory involvement.

The accusation that Israeli separates Palestinian mothers from their babies, consistent with the caricature of Israeli villainy promoted by the two NGOs who arranged his tour, appears to be complete lie, and we contacted the editor of Labour List to ask that COGAT’s contradiction of the MP’s claims be included in the article.

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  1. says: D Cripps

    I thought that the “Mandate for Palestine,” a historical League of Nations document, laid down the Jewish legal right to settle anywhere in western Palestine — i.e between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — and that the entitlement remains unaltered (if overlooked) in international law. If this is the case, the settlements are not illegal in international law. Have I misunderstood?

    1. says: Philip Lewis

      Jews had a legal right to settle anywhere in Eretz Yisrael and that included Eastern Palestine. Under the binding,
      irrevocable terms of international law the Jordanians are occupying sovereign Israeli territory.

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