Keir Starmer’s response to a question on LBC last week where he said that Israel had the right to cut power and water to the two million people in Gaza should have caused outrage to many both within and outside the party. As well as showing a serious lack of concern for the humanitarian plight of the two million trapped inside Gaza, this statement made it clear that the Labour Party is hostile to the Palestinian struggle.
Whilst a number of councillors, including Shaista Aziz in Oxford and Amna Abdullatif, the first Arab Muslim woman elected to Manchester City Council have resigned, along with Lubaba Khalid, who worked as a Young Labour BAME (black and minority ethnic) officer, the voices of opposition that would have been expected from such a callous and potentially illegal comment supporting war crimes have been minimal. Labour Friends of Palestine did make a statement that appears to contradict Starmer’s line that Israel’s air strikes, siege and forcible ejection of people in Gaza were self defence, saying that the actions were the “collective punishment of the Palestinian people”. It has also stated clearly that Israel is committing war crimes. Corbyn was the only MP speaking in support of Palestine at the rally in London.
However, all MPs’ comments during the parliamentary debate on the issue were measured, as most people were largely in agreement with the bland statements issued by Sunak and Starmer. These condemned the attack on Israel, but said that a humanitarian disaster must be averted. We can only wonder what a humanitarian disaster looks like if it is not what they have been witnessing in front of their eyes over the past few days. Even Richard Burgon was at pains to call Hamas a terrorist organisation and demand that hostages be released, before suggesting Israel may have committed war crimes.
The absence of overt anger or even compassion may have something to do with the fact that a note was sent to local Labour committees, stating that members could not discuss the Israel-Gaza conflict in their meetings. It can only be assumed that these serious failures of conscience are the result of fear over concerns about losing their privileged positions or a lack of humanitarian empathy. Both are unforgivable. Even in the run-up to Iraq, Tony Blair did not ban local parties from discussing the issue and nor did he ban them from outright opposition.
Confusingly, it was initially left to a Tory MP and co-director of the International Centre of Justice for Palestine, Crispin Blunt, to warn that the UK could be complicit in war crimes in Gaza. The ICJP has announced that it has written a notice of intention to prosecute UK government officials for “aiding and abetting war crimes in Gaza.”
So, whilst the world expressed anger, shock and horror at the deaths and capture of over 1000 Israelis at the hands of Hamas, there has been a noticeably muted response from Western leaders to the revenge attacks on the Gaza Strip, where more than 6000 bombs have been dropped on the densely populated area, turning it into a hell hole where there are no longer any basic life services like water and electricity.
This is incomprehensible in so many ways. Every night we are faced with the most appalling scenes as our news media shows us tens of thousands of Palestinians trying to flee the north of the country on the instructions of the Israelis before their threatened land attack. We see mothers weeping over the bodies of their children and we hear the terror in young children’s voices as they are forced to leave the only homes they have ever known. We also see the anxiety of doctors describing the impossibility of moving the very sick from the hospitals which are in the middle of the war zone. It is being described as genocide, and yet the shock is that many in the West not only remain quiet, but are condoning the Israeli attacks.
Those underlying values supposedly inherent in humanity, which mean that human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found, with particular attention to the most vulnerable, appear to be absent in large numbers of our leaders.
The slow torture and revenge by Israel on the Palestinian people has thrown everything we thought we knew about what it is to be human into serious doubt. It remains difficult to understand that those with the power to intervene have remained silent in the face of state barbarism.
There is also no doubt that, whilst leaders across the world may be willing to turn a blind eye to the genocide taking place in front of their eyes, this is not the case with a significant number of people. The tens and hundreds of thousands who turned out to support Palestine last Saturday in numerous countries is evidence of this. Ordinary people are in despair with growing feelings of helplessness and anger.
In the face of what the Palestinian people are now facing, this may seem like a rather futile debate. But as John Crace said in his article in The Guardian “words are all that British politicians have in the present circumstances. At the very least, words can acknowledge the horror. To recognise its existence, even when powerless to influence the outcome. So that no one’s pain, no one’s loss, no existential threat is covered up or minimised. To stand up and be counted. A message of support at a time of grief. A fury contained.” It is a pity that Starmer’s Labour Party has failed even this very basic test so miserably.