“The Palestinians deserve justice, peace & a country of their own.’”Andy Slaughter MP
Ben Folley writes on some welcome parliamentary interventions from Labour MPs in support of Palestinian rights.
Despite the growing pressure from some quarters not to speak up regarding the growing abuses of Palestinian rights in recent months and years, numerous Labour MPs spoke up for Palestinians as backbench MPs secured a Commons debate on Human Rights Protections for Palestinians last week.
Contributions focused on the need to recognise the Palestinian state, and the need to back the International Criminal Court investigation into military action, whilst condemning Israeli incursions to support illegal settlements.
Nonetheless, and in line with the recent close agreement signed by the Tory Government and Israel’s current far-right government, Conservative and some Labour MPs endorsed even closer relations with the Israeli Government, whilst the Government contrived to organise a Ministerial statement earlier in the day to precede the debate.
When the Minister made this statement, the recent killings of Palestinians by Israeli security forces were almost absent from the contribution, demonstrating the one-sided approach of the Conservative Government.
Labour’s frontbench contribution by Shadow Minister Bambos Charalambous – known to be one of the most progressive voices on the issue of Palestinian rights who remains on Labour’s front bench teams – highlighted the scale of violence, with 98 Palestinians and 17 Israelis dying in 2023 so far.
He condemned the new Israeli coalition including far-right elements and said ‘there has been a renewed assaults on the rights of Palestinians’.
Later in the discussion on the statement, Palestinian rights advocate Andy Slaughter MP said, ‘It was disappointing that there was no announcement in the Minister’s statement on recognition, on settlement trade and on supporting international law processes in the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice’ and condemned, ‘de facto annexation’ of parts of the West Bank by Israel.
The backbench debate later in the day provided a focus on Palestinian rights, and Bradford MP Naz Shah expressed the view of many Labour members up and down the country when she said, ‘We should support Palestinians by holding their violators accountable for their crimes’ and furthermore, said, ‘We should afford Palestinians the right to self-determination, and recognise the state of Palestine. We should immediately support the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over the situation in the region, instead of maintaining the current obstruction for justice to be done.’
Andy Slaughter too, demanded a British Government expression of support for the ICC investigation into violence in Israel and Palestine, as well as advancing recognition of the Palestinian state, stating, ‘The International Criminal Court investigation, which will investigate the crimes of all combatants not just Israel, and the UN investigation deserve the support of the British Government. They would have had that support in previous years, but now, consistently, this Government are voting against that and blocking independent, international investigations. That is a disgrace. The Palestinians deserve justice, peace and a country of their own. We should recognise Palestine immediately’.
Sam Tarry condemned the IDF’s prevention of Red Crescent ambulance crews assisting stricken Palestinians and asked whether it was, ‘the Government’s view now that the situation in Israel/Palestine should be exempt from international scrutiny and that Israel should be held to a lower standard when it comes to human rights violations against Palestinians.’
Andy McDonald, speaking again, expressed alarm at the increasing powers afforded to far-right Israeli politicians over Palestinian lives, noting, ‘National Security Minister Ben-Gvir, who just 15 years ago was convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization. It appears that Netanyahu is set to hand Ben-Gvir control over his personal militia’, and Finance Minister Smotrich, who describes himself as a “fascist homophobe” and only recently said that “there is no such thing as the Palestinian people […] is the same man who called for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be wiped out”.
He concluded by calling on the Minister to, ‘do the right thing and recognise the state of Palestine with immediate effect. Secondly, he could abide by international law and impose economic sanctions to bring an end to Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied Palestine. Thirdly, he could revoke the Government’s statement on the investigation of Israeli war crimes by the International Criminal Court.’
In the same debate, McDonald’s colleague and Socialist Campaign Group of MPs secretary, Richard Burgon, drew on his own experience of visiting Israel and Palestine, and emphasised colleague’s demands that, ‘the British Government should recognise the state of Palestine, as this Parliament voted to do back in 2014 […] we should end all trade with illegal Israeli settlements, and we should impose an embargo on arms sales to Israel.’
His colleague Imran Hussain, added ‘the need for the UK Government and others to immediately recognise a full and independent state of Palestine’.
John McDonnell, Secretary of the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group, highlighted a specific issue by raising, ‘the harassment, intimidation, physical abuse and, unfortunately, murder of Palestinian journalists by Israeli state forces’ and reported the International Federation of Journalists report of, “a clear attempt by Israel to silence media reporting on the ground”.
Former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said, ‘we are there calling for an end to the occupation and the settlements, and for the recognition of Palestine.’
The debate saw a large number of Labour MPs from across the Parliamentary Labour Party speak up for Palestinian human rights yet contributions on the same side glossed over Israeli human rights abuses. Labour Friends of Israel chair, Steve McCabe, condemned Palestinian Authority authoritarianism and human rights abuses with some abstractly legitimate criticisms but completed his speech with almost no reference to the context of Israeli settler violence or the military repression of the Israeli Defence Force in the West Bank which dominate the lives of Palestinians.
UN resolutions have made clear on numerous occasions that the Israeli occupation – and the accompanying horrendous abuses of Palestinian rights, plus continuing and expanding land-grabs – are illegal under international law, and must end. This must be the starting point for all labour movement activity on this issue.
Whilst some in our movement may want to wish them away, the Labour Party commitment to recognising the state of Palestine and to ending arms sales to Israel remain key conference policies agreed by members and affiliates. This is a strong base from which to build our campaign for solidarity with the Palestinians.