As a British Palestinian I feel let down by the Labour Party

'It is extraordinary and incredibly telling that a supposedly internationalist party headed by a former human rights lawyer could have such a languid attitude to the oppressed.'

Labour Party Rosette

Hamza Ali Shah is a British Palestinian political researcher and writer based in London.

The brutality in Gaza over previous weeks was met with a global chorus of condemnation everywhere but Britain.

Amnesty International, the non-governmental organisation, called Israel’s attacks ‘crimes against humanity’, adding that Israel displayed a ‘shocking disregard’ for the lives of Palestinian civilians. 

Yet across the British political establishment the ground barely shifted. The Conservative government just this week issued its strongest statement yet in support of Israel’s bombardment, resorting to the de-facto robotic recitations that Israel has a ‘legitimate right to defend itself’.

Such sentiments are predictable from the Conservatives, given their historically robust diplomatic support for Israel. This was palpable in April when Prime Minister Boris Johnson opposed an international criminal court investigation into alleged war crimes in the occupied territories. 

The more alarming element is the Labour Party is seemingly operating on the same wavelength in what is a puzzling dereliction of duty. 

Gaza’s health ministry confirmed that at least 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, were killed during the 11 days of relentless Israeli bombing. Another 1,710 were wounded. 

Though a ceasefire came into effect early on Friday morning, the punishing consequences of the war will undoubtedly endure. Israel’s violence has damaged 17 hospitals and clinics in Gaza, wrecked its only coronavirus test laboratory and displaced more than 52,000 Palestinians. The degree of destruction has only compounded a humanitarian catastrophe in the densely populated enclave. 

Over the last fortnight, as the war raged on, the Labour leader Keir Starmer tweeted about the need to ‘de-escalate tensions’. As the ceasefire was announced, Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, responded with a statement equalising the violence on both sides and reiterating the need for a ‘meaningful peace process’.

Such generic and artificially balanced statements do not acknowledge the scale of the atrocities in Gaza and the sheer imbalance of capabilities between the two sides.

It is therefore unsurprising that several Labour Palestinian members recently wrote a strongly- worded letter expressing frustration and accusing the party of “ignoring them”as the party drifts away from its anti-racist principles.

As a British Palestinian, I echo those concerns. I have voted for the Labour Party ever since I was eligible to because I felt the party was always steadfast in its Palestinian solidarity. Ed Miliband, at the height of the Gaza war in 2014, slammed then Prime Minister David Cameron for his “inexplicable silence”as Israel devastated the strip. He even collided with the Board of Deputiesin 2014 as he insisted on the recognition of a Palestinian state.

It was uplifting to know that the in the case of the Palestinians, the voices of the voiceless were being elevated.

The same pattern played out when Starmer’s predecessor was at the helm. Under the leadership of the veteran anti-war activist, Jeremy Corbyn, the party vowed to suspend all UK arms sales to Israel and promised to recognise a Palestinian state, while Corbyn himself pledged his determination to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The sturdy support for the Palestinian cause in the party was demonstrated when during the annual conference in 2018, Labour members filled the hall with a sea of Palestinian flags. 

Such ethical rhetoric has ostensibly been the standard. But now it seems like the conscience to uphold Palestinian rights is swiftly evaporating.

In 2020, Stephen Kinnock, a member of Labour’s foreign affairs frontbench team, in reference to Israel’s settlement expansion, accused Israel of ‘profiting from the proceeds of crime’. Consequently, Starmer gave him a “dressing down” and played down suggestions that the party had hardened its policy towards Israel.

When Starmer was silent on the UN International Day of Solidarity,  an event with the purpose of reminding the world that the question of Palestine remains unresolved, it was a metaphor for the Labour Party’s abandonment of the Palestinian cause. The party’s nonchalance as Israel pummelled Gaza only serves as a painful reminder of the betrayal.

It is extraordinary and incredibly telling that a supposedly internationalist party headed by a former human rights lawyer could have such a languid attitude to the oppressed.

The Labour Party is supposed to be the progressive representative in Britain, but the phrase ‘progressive except for Palestine’ is perhaps a more accurate description. 

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