“The call for a ceasefire, not merely a pause, means much more than demanding a break from violence. It is intended to stop an escalation of indescribable war crimes in the name of self-defence.”Hugh Lanning
By Hugh Lanning
Apparently, the time is not right. In continuing to refuse to call for an immediate ceasefire, Keir Starmer has pronounced that it is not the role of politicians to offer a running commentary and that it’s “extremely unwise” for them to pronounce on which acts are in breach of international law.
He wasted no time in pronouncing Russia’s atrocities against Ukraine as war crimes in February. Yet, this is not possible in relation to Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinian people. So, what is different? When Israeli missiles rain down on the Jabalia camp just hours after the Labour leader’s Chatham House speech, resulting in a scene of utter carnage, why does he continue to meekly tow the US line in refusing to condemn any of Israel’s acts of utter barbarity? To not do so is to be complicit in them.
When most people in this country and in the Labour party support a ceasefire, and hundreds of thousands are marching on our streets and around the world to demand one, he – a human rights lawyer, blatantly obfuscates with talk of solutions being “shrouded in the fog of war”, and ever-darkening clouds of misinformation.
How many thousands more Palestinians in Gaza must be slaughtered before he will do the right thing and support a ceasefire or is Labour’s position now so aligned to US policy that he never will? Labour’s so-called ethical foreign policy, Starmer claimed, supports an independent Palestinian state, but how does that sit with Israel’s complete opposition to it as their military and settler actions demonstrate?
Never has it been so difficult to speak up for Palestine as it is now. The Israeli State sought to get the words Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) outlawed, resulting in the UK government’s anti-boycott bill, and has attempted to suppress the use of the word Apartheid in the same sentence as Israel, despite Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem and others describing Israel’s actions against Palestinians in the operation of its regime as exactly that.
Never have Palestine’s opponents tried to shut down debate with such ferocity.
Now, not only is it necessary to condemn Hamas, as we do, but it is wrong to mention Israel’s crimes, to refer to any context or history. Starmer’s description of the “immediate tragedy” of 7 October implies that this latest round of deaths of thousands of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians started with Hamas’ actions.
When Netanyahu declared war on Gaza in response to those actions, he failed to mention that Israel declared war on all Palestinians in 1948 when, during the Nakba, it expelled three quarters of the population from their homes, land and villages.
Israel declared war again in 1967 when it occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. It has gone on to wage war by building the Wall around the West Bank, with the siege of Gaza, the building of settlements on Palestinian land, incarcerating prisoners and children without trial, and by encouraging and condoning settler violence.
Each of these is an act of war in breach of international law.
This assault on language is part of the process of de-humanising Palestinians – now openly described by Israeli ministers as “animals”. It seeks to create a hierarchy of rights based on the lie that, unlike Palestine, Israel can do no wrong. Israel’s right to “self-defence”, never matched by an equivalent right for those under military occupation, comes to mean giving a green light for the State to use its overwhelming firepower – financed by the West – to slaughter thousands of civilians. In Rwanda, describing people as insects was the precursor to genocide. Israel is on the brink of committing the same crime if it isn’t already.
So, the call for a ceasefire, not merely a pause, means much more than demanding a break from violence. It is intended to stop an escalation of indescribable war crimes in the name of self-defence. Not making that call condones Israel’s onslaughts. Labour’s refusal to do so has only infuriated the Muslim community and councillors – and many other party supporters – further.
The loss of trust of millions of voters won’t be restored by any new formulation of words around “humanitarian pauses to alleviate immediate suffering” or indeed that illegal Israeli settlements have to stop – described by the BBC as a “bit of a corrective”.
International law is indivisible – it is not a pick and mix. It is right to abhor and condemn the loss of civilian life, but not just on one side. Labour members overwhelmingly support Palestine – their betrayal will haunt the party in government. A democratic socialist organisation can and must do better.
Rather than tamely acting as Israel’s ambassador, Starmer must lead Labour in the call for a ceasefire, for an end to the occupation, for peace.
- Hugh Lanning is an officer of Labour and Palestine and also a former Chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign and former Deputy General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union
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