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Palestinians – aliens in their own land

HUGH LANNING, of Labour and Palestine, explains why now is the time for Labour to take a stand against Israel’s breaches of international law

IT IS difficult for us to conceive the reality of the circumstances, under the military rule of the Israeli regime, in which the Palestinian people are now forced to live. 

Prior to the second world war, Jewish settlers had managed to acquire only 6 per cent of historic Palestine — the land to the west of the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Now Palestinians are confined to 7 per cent of land within Israel — living there as second-class citizens. In the rest of the land, occupied by Israel since 1967, they live under the diktat of military orders, not subject to legal or democratic control but instead the sole prerogative of the Israeli military commander.

As the indigenous population, the Palestinians have seen their land occupied, stolen and then settled on. 

And the process is not finished yet — as a frontier settler state, Israel is still in expansionist mode. 

To quote former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when supporting annexation “not a single Palestinian … [we are] pursuing a policy of maximising land and minimising Palestinians.” 

Not content with expelling and enclaving the Palestinian people, Israel is intent on eliminating them completely — politically, legally, historically, culturally and physically. Literally seeking to make Palestinians aliens in what was their own land. 

In a real-life “catch-22,” they are defined as “infiltrators” if they seek to return to their homes or “absentees” — so their land can be taken away from them — if they don’t.

Britain has been culpable in this process — as occupier from 1917 to 1948, with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 giving away land that was not ours to give, to conniving with the expulsion of over 720,000 Palestinians during the Nakba in 1948 and now turning a blind eye to Israel’s flagrant breaches of international law. 

These are breaches which Labour must support the International Criminal Court investigating, including those that could be covered by the UN crime of apartheid.

This is why Palestine remains a litmus test issue for Labour — if it genuinely wants to be an internationalist party with an ethical foreign policy, to both discuss but also to support action on. 

To ignore the issue or to do nothing about the breaches of international law is in fact condoning the status quo and condemns the Palestinian people to their continuing military suppression by Israel.

It is no use pointing to the ever-growing longer and longer list of international statements condemning Israel. 

A solution requires a decolonisation of the structures of power, control and surveillance that Israel has established, including the wall, the settlements and the prison that is Gaza. 

It requires prisoners to be set free, stolen land to be returned. Refugees to be allowed to return to their homes.

Israel has never recognised the need for a Palestinian state, never defined its own borders — its “solution” is based on it maintaining total control of all the land west of the Jordan River to the sea. 

In contrast, any just solution must be based on recognising the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, a right which Israel’s Nation State Law passed in 2018 seeks to deny. 

It must recognise equality and human rights for all, not just some of the people living across all this territory — including the rights of refugees, who were forcibly driven out of their land, to return.  

The Tory government is committed publicly, in its Queen’s speech, to introduce legislation to try to outlaw boycott, divestment and sanctions by public bodies — a measure it is hoped the Labour Party will stridently oppose.

This measure is not just supporting Israel, it is — as Israel wants — seeking to ostracise all those who express their right to criticise and bring pressure to bear on Israel to comply with international law. 

In a democratic society, why would you seek to ban the main non-violent actions that can be and are used legitimately for people, individuals, organisations and countries to express their views about actions it disagrees with? 

Is it to become compulsory, solely in relation to Israel, that you must stay silent, invest in and buy products, notwithstanding its breaches of international law?

From motions passed at previous conferences and the motions submitted to this year’s conference by constituency Labour parties, it is obvious that there is overwhelming grassroots support within Labour for Palestine. 

This labour movement support was once again demonstrated at the TUC this year, by the unanimous passing of a motion supporting Palestine. 

The challenge for the Labour Party is to ensure that this support from its members and affiliated unions is reflected in the party’s actions, statements and policies. 

It is amazing that the resistance of the Palestinian people continues despite the yo-yo of international support. We condemn when Israel bombs and kills and then walk away until the next time. 

Palestinians watch and follow the solidarity it gets in Britain not without trepidation. In the face of Israel’s campaigns to delegitimise its opponents globally, it would be a significant act for the British Labour Party to wholeheartedly and enduringly commit itself to not just supporting the oppressed Palestinians, but also to action — including sanctions, opposing the oppressive and illegal actions of the Israeli regime. 

There is a simple solution for Israel to stop criticism and to end calls for arms sanctions, ethical divestment and consumer boycotts — to stop breaking international law in its treatment of the indigenous Palestinian people and to recognise that they also have a right to self-determination.

Come to the Labour fringe: Speaking Up For Palestine – A Litmus Test for Labour on Tuesday September 28 at 5.30pm at the Grand Hotel, Brighton. With: Palestinian ambassador HE Husam Zomlot; John McDonnell MP; vice-chair, APPG on Palestine Kim Johnson MP; Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP; Unite AGS Tony Burke and more. Organised by Labour and Palestine. Kindly hosted by Unite the Union and supported by Arise.

Sign the Labour Must Speak Up for Palestine statement at labourandpalestine.eaction.online/speakupforPalestine.

Labour and Palestine is a platform to help build support for Palestinian rights in the Labour Party. Please follow them at www.twitter.com/LabourPalestine and www.facebook.com/labourandpalestine.

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