No ifs, not buts: ceasefire now
By Claudia Webbe MP
The scale of the slaughter in Gaza must drive us to make one clear and united demand, despite the prevarications of the Labour leadership, writes CLAUDIA WEBBE MP
THE refusal of Britain’s political class to call for a ceasefire in Israel’s all-out assault on Palestinian civilians is one of the greatest and most shameful episodes in modern British history.
According to Unicef, 420 Palestinian children are being killed every day in Gaza. Around 10,000 people have already been killed, including 5,000 children.
More are trapped under rubble, dying or already dead, but not counted in official totals, as neighbours try and often fail to dig them out by hand, lacking any kind of heavy equipment and still under bombardment.
Many thousands more are suffering life-changing injuries and trauma. As well as life-altering physical injuries, Unicef reported last week that Gazan children are suffering “devastating emotional and psychological harm” with consequences that will “last a lifetime.” The appalling scenes on television and social media barely scrape the surface of the horror.
As well as the crime of depriving more than two million civilians of food, water and medicines and targeting hospitals, schools and refugee camps with bombs, Amnesty International has said it has compelling evidence that Israel is indiscriminately dropping white phosphorus on civilians, a substance that can burn even through bone and is almost impossible to extinguish. This is another clear war crime.
While the taking of civilian hostages by Hamas has rightly been condemned, in Israel 1,450 Gazan labourers were detained without charge just after October 7 and eventually expelled into the bombing zone last week.
Israel also currently has at least 1,300 Palestinians in “administrative detention” without charge and more than 3,000 others in long-term jail.
And in the West Bank, where Hamas is not a factor, Israel has killed dozens of Palestinians — on occasions 10 to 20 people were killed and dozens more injured in a single night, making an even greater mockery of Israel’s claim that it is carrying out this violence only in pursuit of Hamas.
The contempt for human life and international law has also seen a grim toll among those trying to help the people of Gaza and those trying to report on what is happening.
Seventy UN Relief Agency staff have been killed — primarily doctors, teachers and engineers, according to the UN — and many more are missing; the Committee to Protect Journalists says that at least 36 journalists and media workers have been confirmed dead: of these, 31 were Palestinian, four Israeli, and one Lebanese.
Eight other journalists were reported injured and at least three more have been reported missing, with another eight arrested.
At least 135 medics have been killed, at least 25 ambulances targeted and destroyed, and hospitals and refugee camps have been repeatedly bombed in the supposed “safe zone” in the south as well as in the north. There is no safe place in Gaza.
This country’s media have repeated Israeli government claims that these atrocities were committed in pursuit of Hamas figures; the same goes for the claim that mass civilian deaths are happening because they are being “used as human shields.”
But Israeli military spokespeople have said, live on air, that they don’t know whether the targets they were supposedly pursuing were even in the refugee camps that they have bombed — and that they only think that there are tunnels beneath and will confirm when their troops arrive there.
Israel said on Friday that it had killed 10 “Hamas commanders” since its assault on Gaza began. Even if that figure is accurate, it means that it has killed a thousand Palestinian civilians for every Hamas leader.
And international law does not say that the mass killing of civilians is acceptable “if they are being used as human shields.” Knowingly blowing up innocent people to get at one or two “targets” is still a war crime.
This unchecked slaughter is utterly horrific on its own, but it is also threatening to ignite a region-wide conflict: Yemen has declared war on Israel; Bahrain has expelled Israel’s ambassador and cut diplomatic and economic ties; Hezbollah figurehead Hassan Nasrallah has threatened retribution for every Gazan civilian death and the danger of Iran becoming directly involved is ever-present.
Those best placed to see the consequences of the appalling violence and to understand the wider risks have been unequivocal about what is now required. The UN leadership, the World Health Organisation, the World Food Programme, UN Women, UN Children’s Fund, the UN human rights body, Amnesty International and other groups have called for an urgent, immediate and complete ceasefire.
And after two earlier resolutions were torpedoed by the US and Britain, the UN general assembly voted overwhelmingly to call for an “immediate and sustained” ceasefire.
Ordinary people know too that nothing short of a full ceasefire is enough. Every weekend sees larger and larger protests in London and cities around Britain, with more than half a million people marching in London.
Last week Jewish groups led a huge sit-in at London’s Liverpool Street station demanding an immediate ceasefire and thousands of Jewish Voice for Peace activists took over New York’s Grand Central Station, wearing “Not in our name” T-shirts and chanting “No more war” and “Ceasefire now.”
This demand for an immediate halt to the bombing and invasion is not limited to pro-Palestinian activists and left-wing Jewish groups. A recent YouGov poll showed that three out of every four people in Britain want a ceasefire, with only 8 per cent against one.
And in the US, a poll by Data for Progress yielded similar results, with two-thirds of US voters wanting a ceasefire, including a clear majority even of Republican supporters.
Despite the huge, global groundswell of support for an immediate ceasefire, the British political class has united in refusing to support one. Keir Starmer’s excuse amounted to a claim that there would be more violence if Israel stopped bombing. Rather than recognise public demand and work for peace, the Tories have instead attempted to criminalise protest for Palestine and to demonise those who want an end to the killing of innocent civilians.
This determination to ignore both obvious human decency and the global consensus against the slaughter and massacre is inexcusable. The sop of a “humanitarian pause” so that food and medicines can reach civilians before they are bombed again is utterly inadequate.
The excuses given by political leaders for refusing to call for a ceasefire amount to gaslighting the public and are an insult to our intelligence and our compassion. The cycle of violence has to be broken and the idea of continuing to bomb helpless civilians is unconscionable.
It should not be controversial anywhere to say that civilians — innocent children, women and the elderly — must not continue to face such an onslaught for one more minute.
There is no excuse for killing civilians, either Israeli or Palestinian. There is no excuse either for the betrayal of decency and humanity by political leaders who are prepared to allow the murder to continue. There is no time to waste — the cost and consequences of delay and obfuscation are too great. There must be a ceasefire — and it must be now.