Labour and Palestine – not the time to tinker while Gaza burns

By Hugh Lanning

Last Saturday, as hundreds of thousands of people – young and old, Muslim and Jew, black and white, marched in support of Palestine, where was the loud and clear voice of the Labour Party? At the front of the march, leading the fight for peace and justice, for the application of international law?

With a few honourable exceptions, it was not to be seen or heard. It is said – in the wake of disappointing election results – that young people do not vote or care about politics. To anyone present on Saturday, this was demonstrably untrue – tens of thousands of young people came out onto the streets protesting at the horror and injustice of what they see on social media and, if they are lucky, on TV: the one-sided slaughter and militarised violence that is taking place in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The overwhelming might and firepower of Israel, its military, police and armed citizens – means that this is not a conflict, it is the systematic oppression of the indigenous Palestinians by the invasive Israeli colonising settlers. This isn’t about defence or security – it is about elimination.

It is about eliminating Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and East Jerusalem. It is about trying to eliminate Palestinian history and cultures– its names, places and language. It is about eliminating respect for religious sites. It is about eliminating Bedouin villages. It is about eliminating Palestinian freedom of movement and travel.

Israel is literally trying to eliminate Palestine from the global political and geographic map of the world. It is seeking to steal, occupy and colonise as much land as it can with as few Palestinians as possible. This is the classic settler-colonial model – it is about the land. The paused annexation plan makes clear what Israel’s objectives are: the total control of all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, with no Palestine in sight.

In the light of this onslaught and the multiple and continuous breaches of international law by Israel, where should the Labour Party stand? Yes, in favour of cease-fires and peace – but not in some neutral, dis-interested third party way, rather as a committed socialist party on the side of the oppressed.

This is an opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of the younger generation, who do care about inequality, the environment, and justice. The Labour Party’s constitution says that – internationally – we are in favour of “peace, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental protection for all”.

‘Hardwired injustices and inequalities’ do not end when you go abroad or even at the border. The Palestinians are describing this as a once in a generation opportunity for the world to change the rules of the game, to shift the balance of power. Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy has rightly called for a resolution “rooted in international law”. Unfortunately, international law, for the most part, relies on the consent and cooperation of the offending countries.

Experience has taught us that it is a sterile – albeit laudable – approach to try to find common ground. As Frantz Fanon wrote, “History contains no example of a dominant power yielding to the tongue-lashings, however reasonable and moving, of those it crushes”.

The Labour Party needs to be urging the world to come off the fence and support the Palestinian call for effective measures – sanctions – until Israel complies with international law. First of these should be ending the arms trade with Israel – when we buy, supply and fund the weapons and technology that we wring our hands about being used to maim and kill.

You cannot supply arms to a country that has been operating an illegal military occupation for over 50 years, has regularly attacked and killed the occupied civilian population using those weapons and our technology and then act surprised. The prime purpose of Israel’s military might is the suppression of the indigenous population.

Israel’s military machine and the cost of its occupation are funded by the West – primarily by the US, UK and the EU. In the past, Israel has only ever come to the negotiating table or made concessions when its seemingly never-ending and inexhaustible funding is threatened.

A recent opinion poll of Labour Party members showed that an overwhelming majority of Party members supported boycott, divestment and sanctions – no matter which leadership candidate they had supported. Labour & Palestine is urging party members to support this weekend’s demonstration in London, but also to raise the issue in constituencies. A motion for discussion in CLP’s is being circulated – it can also be used as a motion for this year’s Party conference.

The Labour Party should not be tinkering with fence-sitting word formulations, but unequivocally speaking up for justice for Palestine. As Karl Marx said, you can’t preach domestic emancipation “with a foreign policy in pursuit of criminal designs, playing upon national prejudices, squandering in piratical wars”. The best thing most Labour Party members can do is use the Party’s democracy to ensure we are or become true allies of the Palestinian people.

Hugh Lanning is a former Deputy General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union and was the Labour candidate for Canterbury in the 2015 general election.

Take action

  • Call on the UK government to block all arms trades to Israel
  • Email your MP to demand that the UK government stops arming Israel
  • Support the Palestine Motion for Labour Women’s Conference, proposed by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. More here
  • Get resources from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign here
  • DEMONSTRATE in London Saturday May 22nd Victoria Embankment 1pm. More here

Learn more

  • According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, the UK has licensed £400 million worth of arms to Israel since 2015. More here
  • Read the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs Statement here
  • Read a statement signed by Labour & Palestine, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, unions and other civil society organisations that calls on British Government to take action over Israel’s ethnic cleansing of neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem. More here
  • Read the Open letter to the British Medical Journal from We for Gaza here
  • Read the latest updates from Medical Aid for Palestinians here

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