A symbolic vote

With grateful thanks to Arab Digest, we reproduce below its newsletter of 23 Feb 2024 on the plight of the Palestinian people in Gaza and chaos in the Commons.  Arab Digest is a UK media company producing a daily newsletter (available on subscription) about developments in the Middle East. It is independent of any government or sponsor, and highly reputable. Its website is www.arabdigest.org.

Summary: a chaotic scene that saw party politics and personal ambition bury a House of Commons motion for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, abandons Palestinians, dismisses international law and debases our humanity.

While the UK parliament played out a political farce at Westminster, the IDF continued to pound Gaza from the air. On Wednesday, 21 Feb, as MPs fell over themselves to blame the other side for the failure to speak with one voice and call for an immediate ceasefire, Rafah was subjected to what residents called one of the worst nights of bombing they had experienced in the now more than four month old war.

The Gaza Health Authority said that at least 97 were killed and more than 100 wounded in a 24 hour period. Among the buildings hit was a mosque. Casualties are expected to rise once the rubble is cleared from destroyed residences.

Husam Zumlot, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK speaking, on Channel 4 News on Wednesday evening put the parliamentary chaos into the wider perspective where it rightly belongs. It was, he said, “not a good day for the House of Commons, not a good day for the UK, not a good day for humanity.” The ambassador spoke of the 100,000 Palestinians killed and wounded thus far, the health and education sectors destroyed, the destruction of 70 per cent of residential housing, the ICJ decision that a genocide was unfolding: “MPs have shown tonight they are defending and protecting their careers as opposed to protecting children, our humanity and the UK’s responsibilities under international law.”

On Tuesday, the United States vetoed for the fourth time a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.  The UK abstained while the remaining 13 members of the Security Council voted for the resolution brought forward by Algeria. The US ambassador to the UN said that now was not the time and that what counted was to “pressure Hamas to take the hostage deal that is on the table.”

We don’t know the details of that deal but we do know that Hamas has responded with a detailed counter-proposal that Israel dismissed out of hand and that neither our politicians nor the Americans are prepared to consider. (We published the full Hamas response for our members in our 15 Feb newsletter.) Hamas has called for an initial 45-day halt in hostilities that would allow for the release of some of the hostages in return for an unspecified number of prisoners currently held in Israeli detention. That would then be followed by two further 45 day cessations and further releases of hostages and prisoners with the view that after four months of a truce holding, the basis for a longer deal would be laid down.

As we have argued in the past, it is in the interest of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to prolong the conflict. It is clear, too, that Joe Biden sees some political advantage in calling for restraint and urging the Israelis against a ground invasion of Rafah while supplying them with the weapons with which the IDF is committing its genocide. What is not clear in the aftermath of the Wednesday shamble is what our parliamentarians believe. Does the Labour opposition still support the Government in staunchly backing Israel? Do either the Tories in power or Labour in opposition actually care about the slaughter in Gaza? At this point, while Palestinians continue to be killed or maimed, both sides seem more concerned with whether the besieged Speaker of the House should keep his job or be chased out.

One view, that seems to be gaining ascendancy in political circles and is being reinforced by media pundits is that the vote was in any case irrelevant: no one in the Netanyahu Government cares a fig about what Britain has to say about the war. As the prominent Tory backbencher Sir Charles Walker put it on BBC’s The World at One yesterday “It was a symbolic vote at best.”

It was not symbolic for the Palestinian people, who believe the world has abandoned them, nor for millions of UK citizens who abjure violence while calling for justice for Palestine, nor for people across the world who may once have looked to Britain to take a lead in upholding international law and conventions.

The Palestinian diplomat Nada Tarbush in an address she gave to a UN meeting  on Tuesday argues that those countries who are arming Israel, among them of course the US and the UK, have made a “deliberate choice …as Israel’s massacre continues in full view of the world.” Why she asks have they made that choice?

Is it apathy, indifference, a head in the sand, continuation of business as usual? Is it profits? The desire to make more profits no matter the cost, legal, moral or reputational? Or is it ideology, emanating from a racist logic whereby different values are placed on different lives? (Is it that) people of the Global South, or of a certain skin colour or nationality are seen as more disposable, less deserving of life, empathy, outrage or respect for the law?

Tarbush concludes:

If you choose to continue sending weapons to Israel as it annihilates the Palestinians of Gaza, then you do not get to ever pretend again that you support international law, care about human life, or have moral convictions that apply universally.

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