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Political leaders must demand peace and justice in Palestine

Israel's trauma is not a free pass for war crimes, argues CLAUDIA WEBBE MP

IN THE wake of this month’s Hamas attack on Israeli settlements, the British government, along with other Western governments, gave vocal and emphatic backing to Israel’s “right” to “defend itself.”

This support has been undiluted even though Israel has cut off food, water and medical supplies to the civilian population of Gaza and unleashed a mass air assault on this tightly packed residential area — according to media reports, more bombs were dropped on tiny Gaza in 10 days than the US dropped on Afghanistan in its first year of operations there.

Israel has also ordered more than a million Gazan civilians, half of them children, to leave northern Gaza and cram into a tiny area against the Egyptian border.

The United Nations Office for Human Rights has condemned this as “mass ethnic cleansing” that looks set to be on an even worse scale than the 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe, that saw 750,000 innocent civilians violently driven from their homes, the area that is now Israel.

The Palestinian people are now overwhelmingly a refugee population. In a clear sign of what arguably could be described as Israel’s real intent, Israeli ministers have openly called for “another Nakba” to be inflicted on Gazans.

The UN secretary-general and its Human Rights Agency have said emphatically that Israel’s actions toward civilians in Gaza are a war crime, while the UN children’s agency has condemned the appalling physical and psychological impact on children.

Yet the British government has continued to support such actions as part of Israel’s “right to defend herself,” tacking onto its statements a line saying that Israel must follow international law, as if murdering civilians can somehow be done legally.

The government’s stance was mirrored by the decision of opposition leader Keir Starmer who appeared to tell radio broadcaster LBC that Israel has a “right” to impose the cut-off on Gaza, a position which also appeared to be supported by members of Starmer’s front bench during various now-notorious media interviews.

This one-sided response of the British Establishment has also been seen in Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s order to police forces to treat even displays of the Palestinian flag as a potentially criminal act, leading to a number of arrests at Palestinian solidarity demonstrations.

The government has also pledged extensive direct military support for Israel against Gaza, a region in which children represent half of the population.

However, collective punishment is a war crime, under international law, against Gaza’s 2.5 million civilians — as is forced transfer of populations.

Both the blockade and the evacuation order have been condemned as such by an array of human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, as well as by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.

Violence toward civilians is wrong and atrocious in all circumstances, but it is clear that the Israeli government’s decision to blockade approximately 2.5 million Gazan civilians is criminal under international law.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has rightly called for an immediate end to this illegal action and to demand urgent humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza.

Supporters of the war defend Israel’s mass bombing by pointing to the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Gazans to leave the area before the Israeli bombing campaign.

But the brutal reality is that most are unable to leave what has been described as the world’s largest open-air prison, even if they want to, leaving innocent civilians to suffer horrific and indiscriminate violence that has even killed doctors and United Nations personnel. 

The mass killing at the al-Ahli hospital was just one instance of the targeting of hospitals and other civilian buildings.

The Beit Hanoun hospital was destroyed from the air and the attack on the al-Shifaa hospital damaged its neonatal unit and Israel has warned all 22 remaining hospitals to evacuate — a clear breach of Article 8(2)(b)(ix) of the International Criminal Court Statute against the targeting of civilian locations.

The World Health Organisation has said the demand is impossible to carry out and that any attempt to do so will be deadly to critically ill, vulnerable and fragile patients.

The bombing of schools run by the UNWRA  — which provides assistance and protection for Palestine refugees — has killed children, teachers and staff.

These attacks make a tragic mockery of claims that the bombing is targeted only at Hamas infrastructure and personnel.

After Israel’s claim that Hamas was responsible for the al-Ahli atrocity fell flat, Israel published audio supposedly between two Hamas fighters discussing a misfired missile hitting the hospital — but audio analysis by Channel 4 News exposed the “recording” as a fake, with the programme’s chief correspondent Alex Thomson reporting that “several experts confirm” that the audio tape of “Hamas” operatives talking about the missile malfunction “is a fake. They say the tone, syntax, accent and idiom are absurd.”

Many thought the al-Ahli Arab hospital would be a turning point for a ceasefire.

Indeed, it can be argued that Israel was worried about the increasingly negative reaction among ordinary people to its actions — and the potential for the outrage to provoke a reaction from Arab neighbours and a decline in support from Western governments.

But rather than respond to this violence and the ensuing claims and counterclaims in line with public outrage, with condemnation and a call for both sides to end violence, the British government doubled down on its support for Israel and its continued illegal operation, sending ships and spy-planes to the area.

Israel is one of the world’s top 10 military powers and a major pillar of US hegemony in the Middle East. It is arguably the most heavily militarised state in the world.

Israel’s armed forces are among the most technologically sophisticated in the world. It is one of nine countries to have nuclear weapons. Its military power is funded heavily by the US. Indeed, it can be argued that Israel has always had the support of the main imperial powers.

In the aftermath of the air strike on the al-Ahli Arab Hospital, a UN security council resolution that was tabled by Brazil calling for “humanitarian pauses” failed because the US voted against, effectively vetoing a ceasefire. 

Because the US is one of the five permanent members of the UN security council its No vote was enough to stop the resolution.

Britain and Russia abstained, with the other two permanent members China and France voting with 10 others, largely from the global South, in support of the resolution.

Arguably this demonstrates how wars in other places, particularly in the global South, are sustained and maintained, suffering significant civilian killings and which do not even receive media attention.

Like many elsewhere who have been driven from their land and who sustain daily regulation and control, imprisonment, abductions and killings, Palestinians deserve nothing less than liberation.

Solidarity, struggle and working-class rebellion across the Middle East might well be one of the only solutions with the capacity to liberate Palestine.

What happened onOctober 7 2023 was horrific, but Israel’s trauma cannot be a “free pass” for war crimes.

The people of Palestine and the people of Israel alike need peace built on justice — as does the whole region.

This will not be achieved by unequivocally backing the powerful against the powerless.

The British government and international community must demand an immediate ceasefire, release of captives on both sides and urgent talks to achieve a just, binding and sustainable peace.

Claudia Webbe MP is member of Parliament for Leicester East. You can follow her at www.facebook.com/claudiaforLE and twitter.com/ClaudiaWebbe.

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