Hundreds of flags greet Labour’s first-ever debate on Palestine

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For decades Labour Party managers have kept motions about the Israel-Palestine conflict off the floor of its annual conference for fear of the arguments they might cause.  Finally at this year’s conference a motion on the conflict was debated and their fears proved to be unfounded. There was near-unanimity. Every speaker spoke in favour and very nearly every delegate voted in favour. Observers saw only three hands raised against.

The motion called for a ban on arms sales to Israel and an independent inquiry into the deaths of young Palestinians killed by Israeli army snipers on the Gaza border.  It also broke the taboo against referring to the “Nakba”, the Arabic name for the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948 to make way for the state of Israel.

Far from revealing divisions it revealed a very broad consensus in the Labour Party. This was obvious from the hundreds of Palestinian flags that were waved in all parts of the conference hall as Colin Monehen from Harlow and Zahid Ali from Wolverhampton SW spoke to their motion – an emotional moment for many delegates who have been campaigning for years in favour of Palestinian human rights.

“I want us to send a message to Mr Trump,” the Harlow delegate told the conference, “that cutting the funding of UNRWA, the UN humanitarian agency set up to assist these people in exile, born homeless, born stateless, in refugee camps, will not crush their spirit. It will not lessen their resolve to return home.

“I want us to say this to every Palestinian. We have heard you calling from the darkness and we cannot and we will not ignore you or your tragedy.”

Zahid Ali, seconding the motion, held up a picture of the woman paramedic Razan al-Najjar shot dead by Israeli Army snipers while she cared for injured protesters by the Gaza fence.

The motion urged the Government to:

  • increase its level of annual assessed contributions to UNRWA, providing much need reassurance and stability to Palestinian refugees, and to
  • encourage other member states to do the same.

and it called for:

  • an independent international investigation into Israel’s use of force against Palestinian demonstrators;
  • a ban on UK government arms sales to Israel; and
  • an immediate unconditional end to the illegal blockade and closure of Gaza.

According to delegates the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry had asked the movers of the motion to drop a reference to the Nakba, but they refused.

This is what the Harlow delegate referred to when he said: “There are those that are nervous about the word Nakba. But the Nakba did happen and those people were forcibly removed from their homes, and there has to be a recognition of that.”

She also resisted the proposal in the Wolverhampton motion to suspend arms sales to Israel pending the result of an independent inquiry, but in fact the motion ended up calling for a permanent ban on arms sales to Israel.

The debate and the vote to ban arms sales to Israel were widely reported in the Israeli press, but there was almost no mention of it in the mainstream media in Britain, apart from the BBC.

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