Labour Friends of Israel continues to whitewash war crimes

551 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli forces last summer


One year on from the tragic events in Gaza last summer, and the British Israel lobby is still trying to distract us from Israel’s crimes by highlighting perceived wrongdoing by other sides.

In her piece for Left Foot Forward, Jennifer Gerber makes a number of claims which require refutation: Hamas’ responsibility for provoking ‘the conflict’; the use of ‘terror tunnels’; Hamas use of human shields; and finally what Gerber laughably calls, ‘Israel’s attempt to avoid civilian casualties’.

But the worst distortion of all is the narrative which Gerber is seeking to peddle from her position as director of Labour Friends of Israel – which is that whatever violence its occupation of the Palestinians metes out, whatever injustice is done, Israel is somehow beyond reproach. It is never Israel’s fault.

Gerber writes that ‘the lives of all those civilians – Palestinian and Israeli – who died during the conflict are of equal value’ but doesn’t care to mention that the numbers of Palestinian and Israeli dead were 2,251 to 72; or that just six of those Israeli casualties were civilian.

Gerber seeks to situate the ‘conflict’ – if that is what one can call such a one-sided massacre – with, ‘the teenagers’ abduction and brutal murder which triggered the war’.

By using what some historians call ‘emplotment’, Gerber creates a narrative that starts not with Israel’s blockade of Gaza in 2007, nor when its occupation of Palestine began in 1967, nor even the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-9. It starts with a Hamas killing in 2014.

Let’s take Gerber’s other claims in turn.

If ‘terror tunnels’ were the main justification for Israel’s attack, then why did tanks operate a no-go zone in 44 per cent of the Gaza strip and shell schools, hospitals and houses?

These tunnels cannot explain the Israeli occupying forces’ murder of Khalil Anati, the 10-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli forces in al-Fawwar refugee camp in the West Bank, or 14-year-old Yousef al-Shawamrah, killed picking plants.

On human shields, Amnesty International have found no evidence of Palestinians using them, but evidence has emerged of Israeli troops forcing groups of up to sixty Palestinians to stay in residences and act as human shields.

In fact, Israel has a well-documented history of systematically using Palestinian civilians as human shields, particularly children.

What Gerber misses out from the report is damning of Israel. Not only did Israel repeatedly deny entry to the Human Rights Council, but they did not reply to any questions from the commission.

It details how the blockade has been ‘strangling the economy in Gaza and imposed severe restrictions on the rights of the Palestinians’.

Of the 2,251 Palestinians killed, 299 were women and 551 children. 18,000 housing units were destroyed in whole or in part; much of the electricity network and of the water and sanitation infrastructure were incapacitated; and 73 medical facilities and many ambulances were damaged.

At one point, 28 per cent of the population of Gaza, around half a million Palestinians, were internally displaced by the bombing.

Most disturbingly, but unsurprising to those acquainted with Israel’s tactics in ‘conflict’, the report, ‘identified patterns of strikes by Israeli forces on residential buildings’, and, ‘found that the fact that precision-guided weapons were used in all cases indicates that they were directed against specific targets and resulted in the total or partial destruction of entire buildings.’

Is it any wonder that Labour Friends of Israel is so keen to draw our attention to the half a dozen Israeli civilians killed by Hamas in the midst of all this death and destruction that was rained down on Gaza?

For too long Labour Friends of Israel has been taken at face value, and been granted platforms which it constantly uses to whitewash the war crimes of Israel. It is a losing battle.

Last year, Labour’s biggest trade union Unite, which represents over a million and a half workers, voted to support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign in solidarity with Palestine, while the National Union of Students has twice voted since the 2014 massacre in Gaza to support BDS.

I wonder whether Labour Friends of Israel will long remain a voice that is taken seriously in debates around the Middle East while its whitewashing is unpicked by countless pages of human rights reports, journalism and documentation of the war crimes of the state they believe can do no wrong.

James Elliott is deputy editor of Left Futures and a member of the NUS National Executive Council. Follow him on Twitter

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32 Responses to “Labour Friends of Israel continues to whitewash war crimes”

  1. swat

    They are apologists for Israel and a disgrace.
    I am proud to say I am not a friend of Israel.

  2. Gaz Lewis

    “551 Palestinian children were killed by *Hamas you idiot.

  3. Rick

    Israel is the shining star of democracy and civilisation in the middle east. We must help them defend themselves against the daily terrorist rocket attacks.

  4. blarg1987

    Both sides are equally culpable in the problems in the middle east.

    And both sides use excessive force and or bend or break rules to their choosing.

    Until both sides stop thumping each other, nothing is going to change.

  5. Gaz Lewis

    “Both sides are equally culpable in the problems in the middle east.”

    No. Just.. no. Israel’s hands aren’t clean, but to say they’re equally as responsible as the PA, Hamas, etc. is ridiculous.

  6. blarg1987

    Take a step back and look at the full history and overall it does balance out.

  7. Gaz Lewis

    I did. I’m extremely familiar with the history. And it really doesn’t.

  8. blarg1987

    It does, as you have admitted Israel is not innocent in the whole affair, but hey are equally as culpable in igniting conflict.

    Do not get me wrong the other side is bad for firing from civilian population centres, but Israel is bad for breaking UN resolutions and starting the whole thing off.

  9. Gaz Lewis

    No, they are not equally culpable. Not even close.
    And Israel did not even start the whole thing off. What are you even talking about? Israel gave Hamas months of warnings and a chance to stop the rockets.

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  11. blarg1987

    So just for clarification, are you saying Israel since its refounding in the 1940’s took no pre emptive strike action against other regional powers to expand its borders?

    That is what I mean by starting the whole thing off, and the full history of the conflict.

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  13. Kropotkin

    There is no justification whatsoever for the existence of a Zionist state. The whole business has been a pack of lies from the outset. This is a 19th century experiment that has gone badly wrong and needs to be dismantled.

  14. Gaz Lewis

    “are you saying Israel since its refounding in the 1940’s took no pre emptive strike action against other regional powers to expand its borders?”

    Are you saying they shouldn’t have done? Do you not knot what PRE-EMPTIVE means? Perhaps you’re simply unaware that troops were amassing on the border in preparation for an attack against Israel? Perhaps you’re unaware that Israel handed Gaza back in 2006?

  15. blarg1987

    I do, and saying they should not have done.

    A defensive war is far better, as the six day war for example is not a pre emptive assault but a land grab using any justification.

    You can’t say the King David Hotel Bombing, was a defensive action can you?

    The wars have been followed by land grabs, which is not a defensive action.

  16. Gaz Lewis

    A land grab, even the the only reason they held on to that land in the first place is because Egypt and Jordan wouldn’t take WB and Gaza back? Okay, sure.

    The King David bombing, commit by a faction group, where they alerted the building to what was going to happen to give them a chance to evacuate because they wanted to destroy records? Okay. Really comparable to 60 years of hiding behind children and blowing up school buses. Nice one, buddy.

    “The wars have been followed by land grabs”

    You keep using that word land grabs. Did I not mention they gave Gaza back..? Oh, look how well that turned out by the way.

    Please get your facts right. I’m tired of correcting the same old nonsense from people over and over again.

  17. blarg1987

    Then what they should have done is given the land back and negotiated a non militarised zone enforced by say the UN?

    And they did not tell everyone that needed to know, so innocent people got killed.

    They only gave Gaza back after pressure that was applied to them, not out of free will.

    And as I have said both sides are culpable in bad acts.

  18. Paul 保羅 باول Billanie

    Yeah a democracy that takes the land of others. Which when other nations do it they are condemned, sanctioned and have war declared (Iraq/Kuwait springs to mind) rightly so I must add. So why not when Israel does it? Oh I forget, don’t want to look anti-Semitic now do we. Maybe this image will put it in context
    Is it any wonder the Palestinians defend themselves? That map is just up to 2000 as well, it has probably changed a hell of a lot since then. Would you take that in your backyard without putting up a fight?

    In a wider context though this whole business has wider implications. The continued support given to Israel is partially what makes countries like the UK and USA among others a target for some terrorist activity, that along with what we did in Iran and other places. Have you seen Argo with the opening sequence? Is it any wonder they hate the west?

  19. damon

    I’m not a fan of Israel particularly, but why do people obsess about this quite small region so much?
    There have been far worse crimes against people in the wider middle East region over the last fifty years, but everyone seems to focus disproportionately on Israel.
    Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Zionist project, many of the people who now live in Israel were from the middle east and north Africa themselves. Jews who were usually second class citizens in those Arab countries.
    Sure there was some ethnic cleansing that went on to create Israel, but why were those people never encouraged to move on with their lives like Germans, Greeks and loads of other ethnically cleansed people have done in the last century?
    It all seems a bit pathetic in the end.

  20. Paul 保羅 باول Billanie

    To be honest it is all a bit pathetic. except for the fact that real people are dying day after day for this scrap of land. it seems ironic that the City of Peace is one of the most contested places on Earth.

    ‘Sure there was some ethnic cleansing’ There should have been none. This is exactly the crime that the Nazi’s started to commit against the Jews among other people in WWII so then to commit it to others is abhorrent, they know the damage it did to them back then so certainly shouldn’t do it themselves.

  21. joelsk44039

    So, what’s the “justification” for the existence of the UK? Hmmm?

  22. damon

    I don’t agree with your analagy about the Nazis. It’s too much of a jump to make.
    By about a thousand times. But there were certainly some atrocities carried out by Israeli or Jewish forces in 1948. Having had huge rows and even been banned one time from the passionately pro Israel site ”Harry’s Place” I’m not going to defend Israel completely, but I just can’t stand the other pro Palestinian side.
    The George Galloway types. Israel did commit war crimes in Gaza last summer in my opinion, but Hamas are an awful fascist enemy to have.
    Even though it is Israel which drops the bombs, Hamas wills the slaughter of their own people to further their fundamentalist cause.
    Israel is responsible for being so block headed that it has made such die-hard enemies, but still, they aren’t quite as bad as the sorounding Arab countries who will happily drop barel bombs on their own civilians. Or encourage genocide like Sudan has done.
    You don’t get too many of the pro Palestinian supporters who go on protests across the world, getting too worked up about what Sudan was doing in its civil war with the south, or in Darfur.

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  24. Paul 保羅 باول Billanie

    OK maybe the Nazi analogy was a bit harsh, but what they are doing to Palestinians is awful. ‘Hamas is an awful Facist enemy’ but you make the same analogy of Hamas, and although they do some very wrong things these could be seen as an attempt at a ‘defence’ against the attacks from Israel that has seen so much land stolen from them. If Israel hadn’t been grabbing so much, Hamas and other groups would never have come to be.

    ‘But there were certainly some atrocities carried out by Israeli or Jewish forces in 1948.’ They still are carrying out these though. The theft of land from Palestinians is shocking and deplorable and nobody is doing anything to stop them and force them to hand the stolen land back.

    I personally am neither pro or against either side in this conflict but when you consider the changing map in the graphic I posted you can see why the Palestinians are fighting so hard. Would you be able to say you wouldn’t if the country you live in faced the same?

  25. damon

    I’m glad to see you can be reasonably open minded about Israel/Palestine.
    Most people it seems are very much for one or the other and are pretty blinkered with the way they view things. I’ve had some big rows (online) with Israel supporters who find it unacceptable that I call Israel quite callous in the way it bombs so hard in areas where civilians are trapped. And that I find the Israeli spokesmen that you see on the news justifying everything the IDF does as being repugnant. As you might guess, for that I have been called an antisemitic.

    However, I have to push back against the other side too in their support for the Palestinian side. They have terrible leadership in Hamas, and in Gaza they are the biggest obstacle to preventing war. They sacrifice their own people as pawns in a sick strategy of making gains by making Israel look so bad. Israel would much rather that Gaza was quiet and peaceful, whoever unjust their overall strategy with Palestine is more generally. They’d rather that the Lebanon border was a tranquil and benign one too, but Hezbollah don’t want that and prefer to keep that a hot border too.
    Why would Israel want to have a hostile situation with Lebanon? It would make no sense at all, as it just makes them vulnerable in that end of the country and costs so much to have the army stationed up their in strength.
    It’s the same with Gaza in the south. Hamas provoke the trouble with their rocket firing in times of peace.
    But Israel’s dilemma is much of it’s own making because it was never able to get beyond the use of force in dealing with Arabs.
    It’s kind of tough on the Israelis because what they do is hardly the worst in the region.
    In 1982 in Syria, the government there killed 20,000 to put down an uprising, and every Arab country from Morocco to Saudi Arabia is quite barbaric.
    But people focus on Israel so closely and ignore the wrongs done by others that it makes me side with Israel a bit.

  26. GhostofJimMorisson

    And if that happened, what of the Jews? Perhaps they should go back to wandering the desert like their ancestors, or seeking refuge in any country that would have them (until that country decides to blame them for all its ills and begins a pogrom)

  27. GhostofJimMorisson

    Hamas is an awful Facist enemy’ but you make the same analogy of Hamas, and although they do some very wrong things these could be seen as an attempt at a ‘defence’

    Article 13 of the Hamas Charter states ‘there is no solution to the Palestine question but jihad’, and that there can be no negotiated settlement. Hardly defensive, is it!

  28. Paul 保羅 باول Billanie

    I hadn’t read that. In which case they are an awful bunch. However that still doesn’t excuse the land grab by Israel!

  29. Gaz Lewis

    Completely fake map. You should be ashamed.

  30. Gaz Lewis

    “people are dying day after day”

    False. Total over exaggeration.

  31. Paul 保羅 باول Billanie

    I will investigate whether it is a fake map as you assert, I will of course apologise if I am wrong. I would like to see your evidence for this as well however and will ask if you deny that any land has been stolen? As to your other comment about it being a total exaggeration as the article itself says 551 children last year, and that is not counting adults. That is around 1.5 per day on average, and that is counting only the children. Although granted not actually ‘daily’ attacks (on either side both are culpable to a degree).

  32. Yoni Higgsmith

    Hi James,

    I believe that your efforts are interesting – I disagree with many of your explanations and think that you have one half of a story. Your telling basically says – “One Pro-Israel writer said a bunch of things that are Anti-Palestine and I can explain it all back as being anti-Israel.”

    In your telling you are white washing Hamas’ rocket fire / use of tunnels –> which start or end somewhere in Gaza / and aggression against Israel.

    In Gerber’s she is white washing Israel’s aggression / blockade and treatment of Palestinians.

    There is little balance here.

    Lets start by accepting that we are looking to a long term solution to the situation in Gaza, West Bank, and Israel.
    Lets also accept that all peoples in those countries and their ancestors, have suffered enough.
    Finally lets accept that the problem with ‘legitimate resistance’, something that pro Palestine groups use to defend Hamas and pro Israel groups use to defend IDF, is that the legitimacy of armed resistance has not been checked with a fine human rights comb.
    Both LFI and LFPME want a viable peaceful 2 state solution.
    Religious Settlers in the West Bank – they want a one state solution with majority Israel. (bad) This means the end of Palestinian Nationality, something people who believe in a 2 state solution have to rally against.
    BDS wants a one state solution based on a right of return for all Palestinians to go to Israel and become a majority there so that Israelies no longer get to self determine. It has no interest in the fact that over a million of the population of Jews in Israel are there because they were refugees, at least 0.8 million of them from nearby Arabic countries who are anti-Israel’s Nationality. (bad)

    We need to end the blockade, we need a 2 state solution and lasting peace.

    The problem I see with BDS is that they are an obstacle to peace.

    I wonder how long they will remain a serious voice in debates around the middle east unless they change their tune.
    Last week BDS managed to get Cardiff council to ban a photo exhibition about peace between Arab and Jew football teams because the teams where both based in Israel. They said it showed a political bias to Israel. So BDS now has the power to silence peace efforts that are of equal importance to Palestine & Israel – of peace between peoples.

    BDS also practice antisemitism. – In Spain they singled out a Jew – who is not an Israeli – and asked him to declare that he had no Political allegiance to Israel before being allowed to perform. He was so upset with the antisemitism he refused to participate and was not allowed to perform. We never ask people who are affiliated with a culture to declare their personal opinions before allowing performance.

    BDS also are anti-Zionist in an oppressive way. They have succeeded in changing the conversation of what Zionism is so that it has come to mean to many a mixture of the following. Ethnic cleansing, racism, apartheid, etc…
    Anti-Zionists say it means one thing, but the majority of people who would say they are zionist dont feel that those terms have anything to do with zionism.
    So Pro Zionists believe in a cultural centre for Jews in Israel – a safe place to seek asylum if you are Jewish, and a country where you can live a Jewish, or secular, or any religious from any background, life.
    And both anti-Zionists and Zionists do unspeakable horrendous things in the name of their identity, like indiscriminate rocket fire at Israeli civilians or blockading Gaza – harming all civilians there.

    If I said I was a socialist and you said “Im anti Socialist because it means lynching the rich”
    I’d respond and explain why it doesnt mean that and why I positively identify with it.

    I am a Zionist pro Palestine Humanist Israeli British Socialist Jew.

    I welcome dialogue on how to solve the problems – not how to point fingers. Both sides have work to do, would you join me in trying to create peace in the middle east?

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