Jenin following attack by Israeli occupation forces Jenin following attack by Israeli occupation forces. Photo: Marwan Wishahi

As the Israelis murder and maim in Jenin, Labour MPs duck for cover to avoid solidarity with Palestine, reports Michael Lavalette

Over the last 36 hours, Israeli occupation forces have unleashed a ferocious attack on the Jenin refugee camp, on the edge of Jenin city in the Palestinian West Bank. Thousands of troops have entered the camp, drones and planes have bombed the residential areas, roads have been destroyed and water, electricity and other utilities have been turned off.

As I write, ten Palestinians have been murdered, including two children, there are hundreds injured, many seriously so, and the residents of the camp have been forcibly expelled – leaving their homes with whatever few belongings they can carry.

The hospital, which many turned to for refuge, has been tear gassed. Ambulances have been barred from picking up the injured. Journalists have been shot at, and their equipment destroyed.

The camp is officially UN land, and Jenin is in the Palestinian controlled West Bank (in what is termed a ‘zone A’ area under complete Palestinian Authority control). On any grounds, this is an invasion by a hostile force targeting a refugee community.

The events unfolding in Jenin follow months of increasing settler and army attacks on Palestinian communities. Settlers have carried out pogroms against civilians in villages around Ramallah and Nablus and, notably, in the town of Hawara.

According to the UN, before the attack on Jenin, this year there had been five times as many Palestinian deaths from Israeli fire as in the equivalent period last year. Over 4000 Palestinians have been injured, over 3000 arrested and over 500 homes destroyed. This year is likely to be the bloodiest year on the West Bank since the Second Intifada.

Parliamentary cowardice

Ironically, as Jenin burned on Monday night, the British Parliament was discussing the second reading of the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. The Bill was brought forward by the Tory government as part of a clear attempt to attack the pro-Palestine campaign for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS). The Bill aims to stop any ‘public body’ making political or moral decisions over questions of boycott or sanction of any other country.

The Bill will have implications for a number of campaigns – but the focus is clearly on Palestine. This is the Tory Government’s attempt to criminalise pro-Palestinian solidarity.

The Bill is so badly drafted that over seventy Tories voted against it. But disgracefully, the Bill passed the second reading because Labour abstained. If they had voted against, the Bill would have fallen.

The Labour leadership whipped MPs to abstain, claiming they would voted against on the third reading, when they claim they will introduce some amendments. But the Second reading of a Bill is an important stage, and clearly, they could have quashed the Bill on Monday night.

The whip left the left Labour MPs with a decision to make: should they follow the diktat of the Labour leadership or act according to their political principles? Over the years, a number of Campaign Group and Socialist Group MPs have been vocal in their support of the Palestinian cause. But disgracefully, only eleven Labour MPs voted against the Bill (and that number included Jeremy Corbyn who is, of course, currently suspended). Whilst one or two others may have been ‘paired’, the vote Indicated how enfeebled the Labour left in Parliament is.

Over recent months the Labour left have backed away from supporting Stop the War, backed off as friends and comrades have been suspended or expelled from the party, and have now buried their head in the sand on support for BDS and solidarity with Palestine.

Disgracefully, they abstained as Palestinian blood was flowing in Jenin. It makes you think: what is the purpose of the labour left in Parliament if they won’t even speak out and vote against the backdrop of a brutal massacre?

They should hang their heads in shame.

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