Jonathon Shafi

Jonathon Shafi

Defend Gaza – Oppose Green Lighting War Crimes

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Both the British government and its official opposition have given their full, and unequivocal, backing to the war crimes now unfolding in Gaza, in direct contradiction to the Geneva Conventions on collective punishment. 

Even before the latest assault, and the massive attack both the Israeli government and its British, EU and US allies are preparing, conditions inside Gaza were criminal. In the thin strip of land, with a population of 2.5 million people, the median age is 19. According to the UN Secretary-General the situation is unbearable: “If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza.” Life is reduced to mere survival, under the constant pressure of the kind of systematic oppression which results in the imprisonment of 5200 Palestinians, often without charge or judicial process. 80 percent of Gazans live in poverty, while 95 per cent of the water supply is “unfit for human use,” with the transfer of water from the West Bank to Gaza banned. The blockade has had ruinous effects on the young population who have only known war, insecurity and impoverishment. Four out of every five children in the Gaza strip suffer from depression, sadness and fear, as reported by Save the Children

British Palestinian writer, Hamza Ali Shah, sums up the situation for the youth of Gaza and the dehumanisation of Palestinian life: “A fourteen-year-old child in Gaza has experienced five successive bombing campaigns and lived their entire life under siege. An Israeli member of the Knesset for the Likud Party took to Twitter to call for the use of a nuclear bomb on the Strip. If such sentiments sound ominously similar to the words of Israeli far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich’s call in March to ‘wipe out’ a Palestinian village, it’s because ethnic cleansing of Palestinians has long been the Israeli strategic objective.” 

The blockade, permanently imposed on Gaza since 2007, already constitutes collective punishment, as UN Special Rapporteur, Francesca Albanese articulates. Now, Gaza is under siege. That means no water, no power and no supplies. These actions are immediately punitive. Health officials in Gaza report that the lives of hundreds of children injured by indiscriminate bombing are in jeopardy. Medical Aid for Palestine says, simply: “No electricity in a hospital means death.”  

The Rafah crossing, the only conceivable exit for civilians, has been repeatedly bombed. Israeli officials refer to “human animals” as preparations are made to, in the words of one representative, turn Gaza into a “city of tents.” That is what the siege is laying the foundations for, and the political establishment in this country are united in supporting this policy.

The bombing and potential ground invasion will take place in darkness. Nour Odeh, a Palestinian journalist, says it is “becoming nearly impossible to report form Gaza. Phone and internet services are collapsing. This is a nightmare, not just for the people of Gaza, but for the truth that will be blacked out. Many of the colleagues I am talking to tell me they’re struggling to stay on air.” 

Keir Starmer asked specifically if he backed the totality of the siege, confirmed he does, before going onto mention “international law,” a concept now so debased that it barley retains any meaning or function. As Chris Doyle, director at the Council for Arab British Understanding says, this is tantamount to “condoning a war crime.” In an interview with Kay Burley, Starmer said the Israeli armed forces hold no responsibility for the death of Palestinian civilians. And this is supposed to be the opposition, holding the UK Government to account on foreign policy.

Indeed, the generalised collapse and crisis of political institutions, media standards and the quality of public life as a whole makes this moment especially dangerous. Flagship programmes like Question Time have simply expunged Palestinian voices. Meanwhile, those in power have given up on attempting to provide serious leadership – and it shows. Daniel Levy, a former negotiator with the Palestinians under Ehud Barak laments: “…what we’ve seen is an absolute willingness to tell Israel, on the part of its allies, ‘do your worst,’ and that is going to lead to a further escalation.” It goes without saying the Tories are in lockstep with the Israeli state, and domestically, Suella Braverman overtures the further demonisation of Palestinian solidarity. 

To his credit, Humza Yousaf has opposed a strategy of collective punishment. While much of liberal opinion in countries like Britain and the United States appears to be uncritically behind Netanyahu, this is not the case for many Israeli born citizens. That there can be no solution without an end to the oppression of the Palestinians is reflected on by Alon-Lee Green: “Even if we kill 10,000 innocent Palestinians, what will happen? We cut off their water and electricity, and we will also starve them, and what will happen? We need to find a way of not living in the endless loop of death, hatred and blood. Of no occupation and no wars.” Israeli writer, Gideon Levy, adds further context arguing that the siege of Gaza has been normalised “as if it’s acceptable that 2 million people are living in a cage.” 

It is clear that an alternative to the current trajectory is required. As with the Iraq war and the disastrous approach taken after 9/11 through the “war on terror”, it took an international movement to mount political opposition. That is now required, more than ever, in defence of Palestinian rights, for the emancipation of the Palestinian people and for an end to the apartheid system as the threat of a wider war rises. There is no pathway to peace without these components, which at present are submerged in the debate in this country.

The most effective form of solidarity we can generate is to oppose the UK Government’s present course of action. It is incumbent on us to show there is alternative voice. On Saturday, there will be global demonstrations. These will be attended by people from across the political spectrum and from all backgrounds. In the UK, the official slogans of the rallies are “march for Palestine; end the violence; end apartheid.” Not only do these words resonate with millions of people, they point a way forward. And a far better than anyone in the Western leadership is providing at present. 

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