Labour’s Left, if that has not become an oxymoron, has been criticised for not being vocal enough in their support of Palestine since the outbreak of the latest set of atrocities. In particular, members of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs which includes John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Richard Burgon amongst others, seems to have been quiet. The only sitting MP who appeared at the pro-Palestine rallies, unsurprisingly, was Jeremy Corbyn.
Obviously wounded by the allegation that they are staying quiet in the face of the immense suffering being inflicted on the population of Gaza, they have finally put pen to paper to write a ‘strongly worded memo’, or as they call them an Early Day Motion (EDM). To date the motion has collected 45 signatures. Most EDMs never get debated and there is no threshold over which these motions are automatically debated. It is the equivalent of me writing to my MP safe in the knowledge that she will not reply.
None the less, it is worth looking at what this EDM says because it shows the absolute political bankruptcy of Labour’s left MPs. This is not to say that they are insincere but that they have one eye on their political careers when they really need to be concentrating solely on the humanitarian crisis unfolding before their eyes. Latest estimates of the deaths (they are rising daily) is that since 7th October 3,300 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks, the vast majority of them children.
Yet, the EDM begins: “This House utterly condemns the massacre of Israeli civilians and taking of hostages by Hamas;” Surely, that is hardly a departure from everything that has gone on since 7th October. It ignores any sense that the Hamas actions were themselves the result of years of Israeli illegal occupation and almost daily murder of Palestinian civilians. This starting point is aimed at the Labour Party and is a clear indication that ‘we stand with Israel’. Any other stance could well result in these “principled” individuals losing the whip. And we can’t have that, can we? Saying this does not condone violence by anybody, but the time for condemnation has surely passed, and we really need to seek to understand what is causing these acts in the first place. Instead, we appear stuck in a “Groundhog Day” situation where the lack of understanding simply means more of the same.
The EDM continues that it, “ agrees with the United Nations Secretary-General that these horrific acts do not justify responding with the collective punishment of the Palestinian people; expresses its deep alarm at the Israeli military bombardment and total siege of Gaza and the resulting deaths and suffering”. Again this prioritises the horror of the Hamas attacks and subliminally blames what follows on those acts. And note that whilst the deaths caused by Hamas are ‘condemned’, the EDM only expresses ‘deep alarm’ at the deaths caused by the Israelis. Whilst it uses the language of ‘collective punishment’, it does not point out that this is against international law. Given it was drafted by Richard Burgon, a lawyer, you might have expected that he would quote chapter and verse.
The EDM continues: “believes that the urgent priority must be to stop the deaths and suffering of any more civilians in Gaza and Israel”. Although on the face of it, this just seems sensible. Is it enough to ‘believe’ should we not be demanding an end to the deaths. It is also not quite clear, to me at least, what this idea of stopping the suffering of civilians in Gaza will amount to. Does it mean a return to how life was prior to 7th October? Because, frankly, that was no picnic for those in Gaza either. It is this failure to address where the Hamas attacks came from that renders the liberal response mute, because if we simply condemn Hamas without any sense of understanding of the suffering of the Palestinian people for the past 16 or so years, they are simply inexplicable acts of violence against innocent civilians.
The EDM: “welcomes the joint statement from 12 leading aid agencies, including Oxfam, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Medical Aid for Palestinians and Islamic Relief, calling for the Government to use its influence to help protect civilians, to ensure adherence to international humanitarian law and to guarantee civilians have access to critical life-saving humanitarian support”. Of course, it would be immoral not to support these calls, but then we might ask, why is it that the government of the UK and the opposition party are not doing more? The other issue here is that this treats the ongoing situation in Gaza as if it is ‘only’ a humanitarian crisis. Natural disasters can create humanitarian crises, but there is nothing natural about what is happening in Gaza. It is the result of a deliberate policy implemented by Israel and supported by, among others, the UK government and now the opposition parties.
It is this failure to recognise that this situation calls for a political solution if it is not to keep reoccurring. That means that the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs show themselves to be no more radical than the average charity. Indeed, probably less so.
Their conclusion “and to this end supports their call for the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to urgently press all parties to agree to an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities, to ensure the immediate, unconditional release of the Israeli hostages, to end the total siege of Gaza and allow for unfettered access of medical supplies, food, fuel, electricity and water, to guarantee that international humanitarian law is upheld and that civilians are protected in accordance with those laws.” This is the very least that can be done. But it is nowhere near enough. Hamas is unlikely to release hostages whilst Israel continues to pound Gaza, so it is imperative that, if this is to stop, then Israel stops the bombing. It is noticeable here that the only use of the word ‘unconditional’ applies to Hamas. Which does rather suggest that they, and they alone, must bear the responsibility for everything that has happened since 7th October, and presumably prior to that too. Nobody wants to give Hamas a green light to do whatever they want, but their demands are fairly simple. Hamas has said that a ceasefire “will not take place unless the siege is lifted and the border crossings are all open”. However, this statement was in July 2014 when Israel spent 3 weeks pounding Gaza. Nine years later and, if anything has changed for the Palestinians, it is only that the situation has got much worse.
Everybody wants a ceasefire. Well, everybody with a moral bone in their body. But to what end? Homes have been destroyed. Where are those people supposed to go? Two million Palestinians are being turned into refugees and driven from their homes. Any solution has to address the political problem of Israel. That a group of would-be leftist MPs simply repeats the claims that this was all sparked by the Hamas attack on 7th October and then, effectively, call for their unconditional surrender shows an amazing lack of clarity on what has been happening in Gaza and the West Bank for the past 16 years. But, of course, any motion proposed by these individuals would have to satisfy the demands of the modern Labour Party which simply reasserts the right of Israel to ‘defend itself’.
Perhaps, rather than writing meaningless, mealy mouthed EDMs, these MPs should give real support to the Palestinians by attending the numerous demonstrations being held which call for precisely what they profess to want, plus a lot more.
Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.