Labour left raises Palestinian plight as leadership focuses on Hamas’s bloodshed

Labour was split over raising concerns about Palestinians in the wake of Hamas’s killings of civilians in Israel as the party’s left sought to highlight the treatment of people in Gaza.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said on Monday she had “no time” for pro-Palestinian events on the fringes of the Labour conference being held in Liverpool.

But former frontbencher John McDonnell appeared at a union-led event organised in solidarity with Palestinians to raise fears of the “nightmare situation” for people in Gaza.

Israel’s military has ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip, blockading deliveries of food, fuel and supplies to 2.3 million people.

Labour was largely united in condemning Hamas’s wave of violence that has left hundreds dead in Israel, with deputy leader Angela Rayner leading a moment’s silence.

Ms Reeves told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Israel has “every right to defend itself”, but said it has to “abide by international rules of engagement”.

She hit out at pro-Palestinian fringe events at the conference, telling Times Radio: “I’ve got no time for that.”

Sir Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said there was ‘no justification’ for Hamas’s ‘terrorist attack’ on Israel (Peter Byrne/PA)

“But as a father and a grandfather, my heart also goes out to the parents of the children killed in Gaza,” the former shadow chancellor added at an event chaired by a Unite director.

“There is no justification for the killing of civilians on any side.

“My fear now is with the Israeli bombings and the threat of ground invasion of Gaza and the blockage today of water, electricity and food supplies.

“I fear for the Palestinian parents who now see their children living in a nightmare situation of wondering what will happen next.”

Mr McDonnell said the Government should be “working flat out for de-escalation, to bring about a ceasefire by all sides”.

He urged ministers across the world to work towards a “just peace including the end of the illegal occupation of Palestine”.

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn has not explicitly condemned Hamas (Lucy North/PA)

The diplomat said Israel cutting off water and electricity to Gaza in an act of “sheer vengeance” would be a “war crime”.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who served as a shadow minister under Mr Corbyn, condemned the violence in recent days and said “we should grieve for innocent victims on all sides”.

“But we should be clear. If you are holding a minute’s silence for the dead in this conflict, we would be doing it every year. For the whole of my life there has been killing and bloodshed,” she said.

She called for “proper peace negotiations to begin”, arguing the UK has a particular responsibility because it is the former colonial ruler of Palestine.

Israeli firefighters extinguish fire at a site struck by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, southern Israel, on Monday
Israeli firefighters extinguish fire at a site struck by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, southern Israel, on Monday (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

“In this country, the former colonial power, there is a special responsibility and duty to work towards peace and we should never encourage war.”

Pro-Palestine activist Hugh Lanning told the event that it was “becoming harder and harder” to speak up in support for the cause within the Labour movement.

He said: “In a way, first they came for people who mentioned those three letters BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions).

“Then it was coming for people who mentioned the word apartheid. And now it’s the P word, really you can’t even mention Palestine or peace and I think we need to, in this time, be clear that we are not going to be silenced.”

Mr Khan issued an apology after posing for a photo at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s (PSC) stand at the conference.

The Manchester Gorton MP said: “I want to apologise for any offence caused by stopping by the PSC stall at this time.

“I unequivocally condemn the terrorist actions of Hamas and support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Tory chairman Greg Hands had questioned when Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will “take action” against “those who use the offensive ‘apartheid’ term in relation to Israel”.

Ms Reeves said that Mr Corbyn, who has been expelled from the parliamentary party over his handling of antisemitism, will “absolutely not” be welcomed back as a Labour MP.

Labour’s shadow Middle East minister Wayne David said at a fringe event that the UK should “not turn a blind eye” to the “huge injustices committed against the Palestinian people for many years”.

Mr David said Israeli settlers have also been guilty of “terrorist activity” and urged for Israel’s response to be “proportionate”.

The mother of Israeli Colonel Roi Levy cries during her son's funeral at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on Monday
The mother of Israeli Colonel Roi Levy cries during her son’s funeral at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on Monday (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

But he was later contradicted by shadow international development secretary Lisa Nandy, who said the UK should review aid given to Palestinians following Hamas’ attack.

It came after the European Commission said it was putting all of its development aid for Palestinians under review and suspending all payments.

“We’ll always support the Palestinian people,” Ms Nandy told another fringe event.

“But in light of current events, it’s right that the UK considers how British money is being spent and whether that British money is being used appropriately or whether it’s being used to support acts of terrorism.”

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