Hundreds of Palestinian flags were flown on the main floor of Labour’s Party conference as delegates passed a motion demanding a freeze on arms sales to Israel and an investigation into the deaths of Palestinians on the Gaza border.
Constituency Labour parties earlier this week chose to debate Palestine with 188,000 votes – making it the only international issue to receive a dedicated debate In Liverpool. Yemen was not debated after received 790 votes.
The debate and motion – that was unanimously carried by a show of hands – focused heavily on the Great Return March this summer when more than 160 Palestinians were killed in a series of demonstrations, as Israel used live fire to prevent breaches of the border. On the deadliest day, when 60 died at the border, Hamas admitted that 50 were its members.
The text, put forward by Harlow CLP, demanded an independent international investigation into the “use of force against Palestinian demonstrators”, a freeze on UK arms sales to Israel and an end to the “blockade and closure” of Gaza. Following the total halt to UNRWA funding by America, it called for the development of further UK links with the agency was set up to aid Palestinians after Israel’s creation.
Colin Monehen from Harlow CLP, who moved the motion, asked the packed room to reflect on the different experiences that could be be expected by a Palestinian and a Jewish baby born now in Jerusalem.
“Silence is complicity,” he said. “This tragedy happened on our watch. We cannot close our eyes or turn away. Our movement has a tradition of standing up for the oppressed. Because it’s the easy thing but it’s the right thing to do. The tragedy of the Palestinian people goes on.”
His speech was followed by loud chants of ‘Palestine will be free’, as flags was waved throughout the room. One delegate took to the platform to decry “double standards” after he was asked to take down an EU flag earlier in the day.
Zahid Ali from Wolverhampton, who seconded the motion, described Gaza as “an open air jail” and characterised the border protests as “broad based and popular. They’re will willing to die to be heard. We want to send the message that we hear them.” He claimed the IDF was able to act with immunity and the UK government was “complicit” when it sells arms to Israel.
In common with almost every speaker, he demanded a freeze on arms sales and an end to the blockade of Gaza. Israel was also accused by several speakers of “apartheid” policies.
One delegate decried the living conditions and the infrastructure of Palestinians, and alleged hundreds of people are being killed “regularly”.
No speaker referred to Hamas, terrorism or made any demands of the Palestinian leadership during the debate, which was chaired by Jewish outgoing NEC member Rhea Wolfson. She kicked it off by warning delegates about the importance of language on such an issue and has been praised for intervening after one speaker, Hilary Wise from Ealing Central and Acton, spoke of an “orchestrated” campaign.
She told the conference that she had never seen such a campaign of “slurs and accusations. A few are justified. Most are not. If you want to know how the orchestration works you can watch the al-Jazeera programme called The lobby.”
After Wolfson warned her, she continued: “Watch the programme to see what we’re up against.” She then turned her fire on the media on “amplifying” allegations, saying: “Shame on you. What has happened to investigative journalism?”
Steve Lapsley, a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, condemned the withdrawal of UNRWA funding and described Israel’s allying with “demagogues” like Trump and Hungary’s Viktor Orban as a ‘disgrace’, pandering to nationalism that is a “far greater existential threat than anything Labour can do”.
He said there was “much to support” in the motion but condemned the sole focus on Israel over any other conflict or “right wing regime”. He said the conference should also speak out over the Syrian conflict.
Lapsley, who along with other Jewish delegates wore a kippah to emphasise his pride, condemned his local MP Chris Williamson for sharing platforms with expelled activists.