UK Labour Party Conference: A Day for Palestinian Solidarity
By Hamza Ali Shah
The Palestinian resistance lives on. For the first time in living memory, the issue of Palestine was discussed at the Labour conference, and the cause was met with prodigious support, as members filled the hall with a sea of Palestinian flags and chanted ‘Free Palestine’.
In recent months, the plight of the Palestinians has exacerbated significantly. The US endorsed the Israeli narrative by declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and subsequently moving their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Protests emerged following such events, by enraged Palestinians who saw the US’s actions as a betrayal and a negligence of their ambitions, such as the right to self-determination and the right to return to their homes that they were expelled from 70 years ago.
However, the protestors were met with live ammunition from the Israeli military. Since the protests commenced, at least 174 Palestinians have been killed, including several doctors and innocent children, and a further 18,000 have been injured.
To add to the desolation, Israel recently passed the controversial ‘nation state bill’ that effectively renders Israel’s claim to democracy fruitless. The bill officially defines Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and stipulates that they have an exclusive right to self-determination, in a move that has been castigated by several leaders and institutions as a move bordering on apartheid.
The bill enshrined Jewish supremacy in law and consolidated the notion that Palestinians are considered inferior in Israel, as illustrated by the stripping of Arabic as an official language in the country.
Additionally, the 25-year anniversary of Oslo recently passed. The agreement was supposed to prompt co-existence between the two nations and propel the prospect of a two-state solution.
Fast-forward a quarter of a century, and the Palestinian quest for statehood seems bleak, the symptoms of the broken promises are being felt and Palestinians themselves feel neglected and are despondent regarding a future state.
However, the recent Labour conference demonstrated that the Palestinian subject matter is still very much on the agenda.
Every year Labour hold their conference in a UK city as delegates from local parties debate key issues.
In this year’s votes for topics to be prioritised, Palestine was 4th highest on the list, receiving 188,019 votes, which strikingly, was more than the motions concerning Brexit and the NHS received.
This illustrates that amongst the Labour Party, the issue of Palestine is still considered paramount. Shadow Minister for Peace Fabian Hamilton, who expressed during a Palestine Solidary Meeting at the conference, that the Labour Party would immediately recognise a state of Palestine, as one of its first acts, should it come to power, accentuated this.
The Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, also expressed the need to provide a solution for the Palestinians in a fiery speech. She asserted ‘We all support the Palestinian cause, we are all committed to recognising the Palestinian State, and I stand here with no hesitation when I condemn the Netanyahu government for its racist policies and its criminal actions against the Palestinian people’.
Indeed, it was not just Labour MP’s who were vocal in their support for Palestine. Several delegates contributed to the debate.
Most notably, Colin Monehen from Harlow gave an emotionally charged speech, and even refused to leave the stage when his time had expired, proclaiming that he wont go down without a fight, because ‘East Enders like Palestinian don’t go down easy’.
He postulated that he is speaking on behalf of the Palestinians and the miseries they endure daily, and concluded by contending that ‘We have heard you calling from the darkness and we cannot and we will not ignore you or your tragedy’.
Several other delegates who got on stage to voice their concerns seconded his sentiments. Claire Lees from Unite the Union alluded to the racist nature of Israel’s conduct. She affirmed that Trump has championed Israel’s campaign against the Palestinians and their right to self-determination, which the embassy move emphasised. She reiterated that Trump and Netanyahu’s actions are a flagrant attack on Palestinian rights, especially the refugees of 1948 and 1967, who are being denied the right to return.
She also insisted that Trump’s slashing of the funding to UNRWA, the agency that provides humanitarian assistance to Gaza is a direct attack on the wellbeing of the Palestinians.
She wrapped up her speech by indicating that Britain has a duty to assist the Palestinians because of the role they played in worsening their predicament.
Moreover, the pro-Palestinian discourse did not stop there.
Another delegate, Hilary Wise, from Ealing and Acton Central, declared that the Palestinian subject matter was one that required urgent addressing. However, she went one-step further and lambasted what she maintained was the ‘elephant in the room’, in reference to the orchestrated campaign of anti-Semitism slurs and accusations directed at the Labour leadership, and particularly Corbyn.
She then chastised the media for amplifying the accusations and contributing to the scaremongering.
Indeed, in the past few months, Corbyn and Labour have been on the receiving end of ruthless besmirching and vilification in what appears to be an attempt to silence those who are vocal about Palestinian rights.
However, the efforts of the Israel Lobby and those associated appear to be in vain. After months of trying to undermine Corbyn and those who oppose the stringent occupation the Palestinians are on the receiving end of, rather than comply with Israel’s standpoint, instead, what appears to have emerged is a population even more determined to raise Palestine on the agenda.
No incident highlighted the approach towards Palestine in the Labour Party more than the scores of Palestine national flags that were present, alongside the absence of the established Labour Friends of Israel movement from the conference.
In fact, when a vote was undertaken regarding the immediate suspension of arms sales to Israel, an overwhelming majority voted to stop sales.
Likewise, there was profuse support for a motion calling for an urgent independent investigation into the Israeli slaughter of innocent protestors in Gaza since 30th March.
Thus, indications are that the Palestinian cause still holds weighty significance in Britain, and in particular the Labour Party. By contrast, in the Conservative Party, there is a deafening silence towards Israel’s conduct and a robust relationship between the two states.
But with the Conservatives riddled with internal divisions and disputes, and displaying a nonsensical level of incompetency in delivering what the public wants, particularly concerning Brexit, opportunities are opening for the Labour party to capitalise.
Accordingly, a Labour party in power with what is clearly a more attentive standpoint regarding the Palestinians, and with a leader in Jeremy Corbyn who has historically stood in solidarity with the Palestinians, there may be scope for Britain to magnify the importance of the Palestinian issue and resurrect it on the global agenda.