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British MP demands action against Israel as civilian casualties mount in Palestine

British Labour Party MP Richard Burgon in Glasgow, Scotland on 15 February 2020 [Robert Perry/Getty Images]
British Labour Party MP Richard Burgon in Glasgow, Scotland on 15 February 2020 [Robert Perry/Getty Images]

British Labour Party MP Richard Burgon asked the House of Commons yesterday how many more Palestinian civilian casualties it will take before the government takes action to stop Israeli war crimes.

"How many Palestinian children have to be killed, how many more Palestinian homes have to be reduced to rubble, how many more Palestinian schools and hospitals have to be bombed before the British government takes the action necessary to finally force the Israeli government to stop its war on the Palestinian people?" asked the MP for Leeds East.

"Surely now is the time for all UK weapons sales to Israel to be stopped. Surely now is the time for sanctions on the Israeli government for its repeated violations of international law. Surely now is the time — this House voted for it back in 2014 — to recognise the State of Palestine because Palestine has the right to exist."

Since Israel's military offensive began on 10 May, at least 230 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, including 65 children. More than 1,700 others have been wounded. In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces have killed at least 13 Palestinians.

Also in the House of Commons yesterday, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP demanded to know the nature of Britain's "military relationship" with Israel and whether any weapons sold by the UK have been used to bomb Gaza.

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Addressing Middle East Minister James Cleverly, Corbyn asked: "Can he tell the House if any weapons sold by Britain or munitions sold by Britain to Israel have been used to bomb places in Gaza or if any drone equipment supplied or bought by Britain has been used as a surveillance method on either the West Bank or Gaza that has been followed up by destruction of civilian life and the death of many people?"

Cleverly responded by claiming that Britain has a "robust arms export licensing regime and all export licences are assessed in accordance with it."

According to Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Britain has licensed £400 million worth of arms to Israel since 2015. The UK threatened to halt some of its sales to Israel in 2014 after concerns that its army could use British arms if a ceasefire was broken.

Cleverly made only a brief mention about making sure that "all [Israeli] actions are proportionate" and avoid civilian casualties. He saved his condemnation for "acts of terrorism by Hamas" and claimed unconvincingly that Israel was reacting to provocation by Hamas.

"My heart was broken before, it's shattered now," said British-Palestinian MP Layla Moran about the children who have been killed. "We need a ceasefire and the UK shouldn't have left it to France to be the main sponsor of a UN resolution calling for it. This government is shirking its historic responsibility and it's time to step up." She also condemned what she called "acts of terrorism" by Hamas and other "terrorist" groups. "They must permanently end their incitement and rocket fire against Israel. There is no justification for the targeting of civilians."

Commentators have pointed out that in trying to appear to be on side with the pro-Israel lobby, MPs like Moran overlook the fact that the "incitement" is Israel's decades-long military occupation, and that people living under occupation have a legal right to resist that occupation. "As a person of part-Palestinian heritage, you'd think that she'd know that, instead of branding legitimate resistance as 'terrorism'," said one.

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