In the largest military operation in Jenin in 20 years at least ten Palestinians have been killed and many more wounded. Israel launched air attacks to support ground raids carried out by hundreds of soldiers. They are targeting the Jenin Brigades, mainly young men who have never known peace and see no hope of peace while the Israeli army continues its occupation of the West Bank. And Israeli settlers, in breach of international law, continue to seize Palestinian land.

Thousands of refugees live in the Jenin Refugee Camp alongside tens of thousands of Palestinians in the city of Jenin. The city is under siege as the Israeli army has blown up roads leading into Jenin and cut telephone lines and supplies of energy and water. It is clear that using drones to target water supplies and the sewage system is a deliberate attempt to destroy the camp’s infrastructure and make it uninhabitable.

The USA has made the usual noises about Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorists. But Israel is not under attack. Palestine is under an illegal occupation and, according to the UN Charter, has the right to resist by any means necessary, including armed struggle. Its poorly armed militias are facing tanks, infantry and air power in an assault that is every bit as egregious as the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These sorts of attacks have long been tolerated by the West when the target was Gaza because Gaza is controlled by Hamas. But the West Bank is run by the Palestinian Authority, and this is the most blatant use of force yet seen on the West Bank, after months of escalation by Israel.

Britain bears some of the responsibility for Israel’s growing aggression in Palestine. Both Labour and Tory have equated opposition to Israel with antisemitism, while operating a hierarchy of racism in which Islamophobia is tolerated and in some cases endorsed. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign condemned a policy paper agreed between Britain and Israel in March this year that made no mention of:

‘Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territory and planned formal annexation of the West Bank, both of which the UK Government ostensibly opposes and recognises as breaches of international law. Reference to Palestinians is limited to one sentence in which the UK promises to cooperate with Israel “in improving Palestinian livelihoods and Palestinian economic development”. Not a single mention is made of addressing Israel’s ongoing denial of Palestinians’ right of self-determination and right of return.’

It is no coincidence that a new bill outlawing Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) that was announced last month was tabled on the day that Israel launched its assault on Jenin. The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, reflects the view that the BDS campaign against Israel is inherently antisemitic. Public bodies like councils and universities will have to get permission from a government minister for any BDS campaign, and Israel is specifically excluded by a special clause which says that no government can give permission to divest from a company because of actions in support of Israel’s rights violations, including within the Occupied Palestinian Territory. 

The bill echoes measures introduced in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government which sought to prevent public bodies from divesting from and boycotting companies complicit in apartheid in South Africa. The Conservative Party was on the wrong side of history then; it’s on the wrong side of history now. And now Labour is set to join them. Starmer ordered Labour MPs to abstain on a bill that has been condemned by Amnesty International for enabling Israeli apartheid. In the end only 10 Labour MPs defied the whip to vote against the government.

The 10 Labour MPs who voted against the Bill

Apsana Begum

Dawn Butler

Barry Gardiner

Ian Lavery

Andy McDonald

John McDonnell

Ian Mearns

Grahame Morris

Mick Whitley

Beth Winter

They were joined by 2 Conservatives

Crispin Blunt

William Wragg

Plus 3 Independents

Jeremy Corbyn

Claudia Webbe

Jonathan Edwards

The SNP, Plaid Cymru, Lib Dems and Greens all voted against the Bill

A protest against the assault on Jenin has been called for Wednesday 5th July outside the Israeli Embassy. How many Labour MPs will have the courage to attend?

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