Speaking up for Palestine

By Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine

As a campaigner, when closely involved with an issue, it is often difficult to see progress. This is especially the case when the issue is Palestine and you see the ongoing bombing of Gaza, the house demolitions and the threats of annexation.

But if we look narrowly at the political landscape in this country, we can see that support for Palestine is still very strong, despite all the obstacles we face.

Two examples illustrate this – the Labour Party statement on Annexation and the TUC motion passed earlier this month.

I remember when I was first getting active on Palestine in the trade union and labour movement, the TUC’s position was one of balance, and Labour’s almost unadulterated support for the Israeli Government.

So Lisa Nandy’s recent statement that Labour would support a ban on settlement goods if annexation took place was a small, but significant step. As action it will not be enough to make a difference if – or when – Israel goes ahead with annexation. But in political terms, it is the first time that I am aware of that the Labour Party has officially called for Government action of this kind in response to actions by Israel.

There might be a reluctance to call this sanctions, but the dictionary describes sanctions as “measures taken by countries to restrict trade and official contact with a country that has broken international law,” so I’m not sure what else you would call it.

The TUC motion, meanwhile, in denouncing the threat of Annexation, describes it as “another significant step in the creation of a system of apartheid.” So, although TUC policy has come a long way in supporting Palestine over the years, this is the first time it has used apartheid in the context of Israel.

Specifically it reads, “Congress stands united in its full opposition to the Israeli government’s declared intention to annex great swathes of the West Bank, a move that is illegal under international law and that makes clear there is no intent on the part of the Israeli government to end the occupation and recognise the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. It will be another significant step in the creation of a system of apartheid.”

Indeed, prominent supporters of Israel have publicly expressed concern that annexation would legitimise talk of sanctions and the use of apartheid to describe the reality Israel is creating.

How right they were. But supporters of Palestinian rights must be under no illusion. However it is described, the threat of annexation has not gone away – the physical annexation of Palestine is taking place at an increasing speed.

It is obvious, but also important, to say that Israel’s Government still has a problem – the Palestinians. It can threaten, bomb and annex, but at the end of the day the Palestinians are still there.

Resistance takes many forms, cultural, political, physical – but in the case of the Palestinians the biggest act of resistance is to still be there. They might be imprisoned in Gaza, encircled by walls and occupied, but the very act of remaining poses Israel with a dilemma, which leaves Israel with inequality as the only viable option.

In practice this means to coral and control the Palestinian population into as small a space as possible whilst denying them equal, human and national rights.

As Rashid Khalidi sets out in his excellent book – The Hundred Years War on Palestine – Israel has an ‘illiberal and discriminatory essence’. Inequality is the hardcore on which Israel is built – this is not a nasty accident, it is in the DNA of the Israeli state. It cannot grant equality whilst remaining determined to block the self-determination of the Palestinian people

It also fatally undermines any lingering pretence it has to being a western liberal democracy – as it craves to be recognised. It is all very well normalising relations with the UAE and Bahrain, but they are undemocratic bedfellows.

Therefore equality and democracy are Israel’s Achilles Heel. We can compare Israel to other nasty regimes and talk of the imbalance of power, but our campaigning should be rigorously focussed on that inequality, the absence of equality and democracy for Palestinians, and the denial of their human and national rights.

As a democratic, socialist party that should be Labour’s agenda on Palestine – there can be no solution that does not include full equality.

With CLP meetings resuming online, we need as many constituencies as possible to discuss Palestine. The aforementioned statement from Lisa Nandy and TUC motion provide a good basis for such discussions and we will be circulating a motion and briefing shortly.

The overwhelming majority of Labour Party members support Palestine – our challenge is to make that silent majority visible and vocal.

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  • EVENT: Justice for Palestine – a conversation between Jeremy Corbyn & Mustafa Barghouti. Thursday October 8, 19.00. Register here – share, invite & RSVP on Facebook here. Jeremy Corbyn & Mustafa Barghouti discuss the need for a progressive response from the global community in the face of the threats faced by Palestine. Organised by Labour & Palestine. Kindly hosted on Zoom & streamed by Arise: A Festival of Labour’s Left ideas.