“We should be clear. It is illegal under international law to conduct such colonisation in occupied territory or countries. It is a war crime.”
During the Labour Party Conference 2021, Labour & Palestine hosted the fringe meeting “Speaking up for Palestine – a Litmus Test for Labour,” shortly after the conference passed a historic motion in support of the Palestinian struggle. Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP spoke in depth on the motion and what comes next. Read her contribution in full below:
Thank you to Labour and Palestine for inviting me here today. And thank you for coming.
For any journalists in the room, I am going to be reading from a prepared note and I will be recording my contribution, just so there is no scope for misattribution or misunderstanding.
For those of us who have long campaigned for Palestinian rights, yesterday was a truly historic occasion.
The motion passed yesterday in support of rights for Palestinians was genuinely a really significant achievement. I know some opponents will be dismayed by the explicit references both to apartheid and to sanctions. Some will want to describe them as a big blow to supporters of Israel’s actions. Instead, I believe they are a major step forward for the argument for rights for Palestinians.
I want to congratulate all those involved in what was a careful, measured, but very powerful resolution. And congratulations are deserved too for all those who over many years have brought us to this point.
Of course, we cannot sit on our laurels. We need to deploy the resolution to the greatest effect, and to ensure that it is implemented to make it effective in Labour policy. No doubt there will be bumps along the road and opposition to what we are trying to achieve.
The resolution itself it demands a pausing of arms sales until the ICC reports on potential war crimes since 2014. The resolution says, “stopping any arms trade used to violate Palestinian human rights”. We know that many different types of arms are used against Palestinians and many more have that potential.
So, there is very wide scope already contained in the motion as passed. There will also need to be a lot of campaigning to ensure that this part of the policy is maintained and upheld. It is entirely reasonable to wait until the ICC investigation is completed, and what reasonable person could reject the ICC investigation outright?
Secondly, the motion refers to the issue of settlements. This is very important, as the current Bennett/Lapid government in Israel is determined not to pause illegal settlement building.
It is true that the overt annexation of huge swathes of Palestinian land as outlined in the Trump Plan may have been set aside, but the current Israeli government is pursuing it by degrees.
We should be clear. It is illegal under international law to conduct such colonisation in occupied territory or countries. It is a war crime. So again, we have to be vigilant that this aspect of the resolution is upheld in practice. And once again, it is a question that can be posed to any reasonable person: Do you really support the internationally illegal annexation of occupied land? Because only someone who condones or supports committing war crimes could support illegal acts like this. This policy also leads to other practical implications, such as banning the importation of illegal settlement goods.
Thirdly, in a section of the resolution on sanctions it is clearly stated that these are “against actions by the Israeli government that are illegal according to international law”. This is a wholly reasonable clause. Anyone opposing it means that you want to condone or encourage actions that are illegal under international law.
Sanctions are one form of mild response to egregious and persistent law-breaking. Of course, promoting sanctions in any form is a big step forward compared to previous policy.
We should be at the forefront of highlighting it by calling on the party to implement them in practice. This means supporting sanctions against firms supplying to or building on settlements; or sanctions on firms supplying equipment to demolish Palestinian homes and businesses.
Finally, the resolution takes a stand both against the siege of Gaza, and for the right of refugees to return. These are crucial in supporting the most fundamental rights of the Palestinians. These include the right to return home and the right to life. The UN had previously projected that Gaza would be “unliveable”. Yet there is still no easing of the siege.
Using this resolution, Labour should highlight the nature of the “collective punishment” being inflicted on population of Gaza. We must defend the population against illegal acts.
The refugees’ right of return is vital. Nothing highlights the systemic discrimination against the Palestinians as much as the fact that they have no right of return. Palestinians are perhaps the only refugees in the world prevented from returning to their homeland, by force and law.
We know there will be some who oppose all of this. But we have the weight of this settled policy on our side. We have justice on our side.
- Bell Ribeiro-Addy is the MP for Streatham. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
- You can read analysis of Labour Party Conference here, coverage of the motion on Palestine passing here, and Tony Burk, Unite the Union, speaking on Palestine here.
- You can sign the Labour & Palestine statement to the Labour front-bench, outlining the importance of the motion, here.