Genocide shouldn’t be divisive

A red-brick tower rising from a platform at the top of a building. On the platform is a flagpole with a Ukrainian blue and yellow flag flying from it. Below the platform are the words "Lambeth Town Hall" in golden Roman lettering on the grey stone.
The Ukrainian flag flying outside Lambeth Town Hall, Feb 2023 (source: Lambeth Council).

Last night the Green party group on Lambeth borough council in south London tabled a motion to the full council meeting calling for, according to My London (a website containing stories from local papers owned by Reach, formerly the Mirror Group), “an immediate ceasefire and the end to human rights atrocities in the Israel/Palestine conflict”. Pro-Palestinian protesters in the council’s public gallery unfurled Palestinian flags and were expelled from the gallery shouting “shame on you” as the Labour-dominated council rejected the motion (though two Labour councillors rebelled and voted in favour). Last night the Labour group issued a statement, posted as an image without alt-text on X (Twitter), claiming that the motion regarding “the ongoing tragic conflict in Israel and Gaza” was “divisive” and “sets a false narrative that Lambeth Council — a civic institution — has the power or influence to affect an international conflict”.

This patronising statement (of course councillors know that a local council has no direct influence on an international conflict) stands in contradiction to Lambeth council’s stance during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The council building in Brixton was lit up in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, blue and yellow, in February 2022 and flew the Ukrainian flag outside the building in August that year. In both 2022 and 2023, at the start and on the anniversary of the start of the invasion, Lambeth council issued statements of solidarity with the Ukrainian people. The council also supported residents who allowed Ukrainian refugees to stay in their homes. Local councils have often passed statements regarding conflicts beyond their borders, as have other organisations such as trade and student unions. They are, of course, not binding on the parties involved, but large numbers of such resolutions tell aggressors and oppressors that the eyes of the world are on them and their victims that they are not alone.

Lambeth Labour do, of course, get their views across in this statement, so it’s disingenuous to claim that local councillors have no place taking positions on an international issue. “The attacks on Hamas on 7th October 2023 were horrific and we utterly condemn them”, they proclaim. Why? It’s nothing to do with Lambeth council, right? They then bemoan “the escalation of violence and conflict in the region since [which] has led to a humanitarian crisis which has brought with it an unimaginable loss of life with Palestinian civilians having been killed and displaced, despite the demands the international community made of the Israeli government”. Only one side is identified as having committed an atrocity; the rest is just “an escalation of violence” as if this was just a succession of street fights or indeed a war between equally armed forces, as opposed to a slaughter overwhelmingly aimed at civilians where a third of the victims have been children, or indeed as if there had been no Israeli violence against Palestinians before 7th October.

Nearly 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in the Israeli attacks on Gaza. All of the Gaza Strip’s hospitals have now been destroyed, such that amputations and Caesarian sections have had to be carried out without anaesthesia, as have all of Gaza City’s mosques. We are aware of journalists and doctors and their families having been targeted obviously on purpose. A university was destroyed with mines (which would have been impossible if it was being used by Hamas, the standard Israeli excuse for destroying civilian buildings) after its artefacts were looted. Gaza’s public record office has been destroyed, making it impossible to fully record the genocide’s casualties, and depriving the survivors of the record of their existence as well as such things as their educational qualifications. Aid has been stuck at the border, with Israeli mobs attacking trucks as they try to enter and Palestinian civilians shot at and bombed as they try to access aid. Over the past week we have seen people use animal feed to make bread, picking out maggots from it first. Snipers have targeted obviously unarmed civilians, including women with children and people holding white flags. Scholars of genocide have called this a textbook genocide, based not only on the nature of the attacks but on the statements made by Israeli officials including their prime minister.

There’s nothing divisive, or should be, about demanding an end to genocide, to the slaughter of a population with weapons supplied by western powers, including the UK, in the full knowledge that they will be used to murder civilians. It does not matter if the attitudes fuelling the Israeli slaughter of Palestinian civilians is shared by sections of the community here, or it is considered good for business or geopolitically convenient. Labour’s cowardice on this issue stems from its craving for respectability following the 2019 election defeat, but there is nothing respectable about cheering on mass murder. For Lambeth Labour to condemn the Hamas attacks, the facts of which are disputed, on the basis of merely accepting Israel’s version of events while refusing to condemn the much better documented mass murder of 25 times as many Palestinian men, women and children is not to remain neutral or avoid causing division. It is a show of approval for the genocide of the people of Gaza.

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