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British Palestinian MP Calls On Government To Scrap 'BDS Bill' And Back Gaza Ceasefire

(Alamy)

5 min read

Liberal Democrat Layla Moran, who is the only British Palestinian MP in parliament, has said the government's so-called 'BDS bill' should be scrapped and UK politicians should show leadership and call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Moran, who has lost family as a result of the war in Gaza, told PoliticsHome she is feeling "completely despondent" about the current situation in the Middle East. 

Over 23,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza according to the Hamas-run health ministry since the war began on the 7 October, with 85 per cent of its 2.2m strong population displaced. 

The latest round of violence began after Hamas, the terror group governing in Gaza, launched a terror attack on southern Israel which left more than 1,200 Israelis dead and hundreds taken hostage. 

"Christmas was a time of personal reflection for all of us who have family there," said Moran, whose family members are Palestinian Christians living in the besieged enclave.

"They are still living hand to mouth in terms of food and water - but as of right now, given that the Israeli army left and didn't come back, they are frankly in a better position than many others.

"What we need desperately is a plan to have an immediate bilateral ceasefire with what happens next, with an eye on two states, and working backwards from there."

Israel claims that Hamas has embedded itself in the civilian population of Gaza, and that Israel is doing all it can to avoid hitting civilians and civilian targets - vowing to "destroy" Hamas in a campaign by land, air, and sea. 

However, women and children continue to be the majority of the death toll in the war and much of Gaza's key infrastructure has been destroyed by Israeli bombs - with health experts warning lack of food and functioning medical facilities could cause the death toll to spiral further. 

The dire situation in Gaza coincides with a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday on the government's controversial Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) bill, also dubbed the 'BDS bill'. 

The government says the bill, which is about to have its third reading, seeks to prevent attempts to "undermine community cohesion" and prevent public authorities being influced by "political or moral dispproval" - largely in response to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel. 

However Moran said legislation, which began its journey through parliament before the war, should be pulled "immediately", describing it as "purposefully divisive". 

"This war just continues to go from bad to worse... [this week] we will the initial hearings of a court case that is being heard at the International Criminal Court (ICJ) on breaches of international law and war crimes - we are now at a really critical point in this war which, as we know, spills out onto the streets of Britain, and this bill is purposefully divisive," said Moran. 

"The way it's spoken about by Ministers and the Tory backbenchers doesn't give the conflict, the nuance, and the compassion and the humanity that it deserves. And they are, in my view, purposefully stoking division when we should be pulling people together.

"So the Liberal Democrats will continue to vote against it and hope very much that the Lord's are able to amend it, at the very least, the clauses that name the occupied territories, Palestinian Territories, and Israel, on the face of the bill need to be removed."

Defenders of the bill argue that boycotting businesses linked to Israel based on nationality is racist and also risks tipping into antisemitism, because many businesses affected are Jewish-owned.

However, many Palestinian human rights advocates say BDS is a legitimate way to pressure Israel to end its occupation in Palestine, and to push for Palestinians to be able to return to properties in Israel they owned before 1948, when Israel was established. 

Other critics of the bill also say that the legislation could make it more difficult for organisations to cut ties with regimes over human rights abuses, such as boycotting goods linked to the genocide of Uyghur Muslims in China. 

On what she would like to see from the UK on Gaza - and Israel-Palestine more broadly - Moran said the UK should not trail behind the US, and that UK politicians should be using the UK's political capital and calling for an immediate ceasefire. 

"I think [Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is now presiding over a war cabinet that is out of control, so it's going to be for the international community to uphold international law," said Moran.

"That's the Liberal Democrat position: to stand full square behind international humanitarian law. And we would like to see the UN work properly, where the majority of countries in the world now appreciate that we need that immediate bilateral ceasefire.

"We are worried that the UK is falling increasingly out of step and should be leading on this, rather than trailing behind America - which seems to be the position it's intent on taking and it's a real shame. It's a real missed opportunity for leadership for the United Kingdom."

Neither the UK government nor Labour are calling for an immediate ceasefire at the moment, with the UK abstaining on a ceasefire vote at the UN in December.

Labour's current position is one for a humanitarian truce in Gaza with a view to achieving a sustainable ceasefire, something PoliticsHome understands has been influenced by the party's discussions with US government figures

"[The Israeli government] have been very clear: when someone tells you who they are, believe them," said Moran referring to remarks made by several Israeli ministers who have expressed a desire to see Palestinians pushed out of Gaza into neighbouring countries like Egypt.

"They've been very clear from the outset about what they want to achieve... I think they should have condemned in the strongest possible terms."

Moran also said the UK has a "historic obligation" to the region due to the key role it played in enabling the state of Israel be established in 1948, and accused the government of "underplaying [the UK's] hand given its historic links to that region". 

"The UK has enormous influence on what the peace process could look like," said Moran.

She added: "The stated aim of the British government, like the Americans - unlike Netanyahu - is a two state solution where both peoples live side by side and peace and security.

"We could lead that. And we are choosing not to - and I think that's a real shame."

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