Labour must now lead the call for a ceasefire to end this nightmare
A protester calling for a ceasefire outside Downing Street (Alamy)
Given the Government’s refusal to join the international call for a ceasefire, my Party should reflect public opinion and now lead the push for a ceasefire.
These are incredibly dark days for humanity. The massacre of Israeli civilians two weeks ago was a heinous act of terrorism. My heart goes out to all the loved ones of those murdered and those still held captive. All the hostages must be released immediately.
As the UN Secretary General rightly warned, "the horrific acts by Hamas do not justify responding with collective punishment of the Palestinian people."
But that is exactly what we are now witnessing. The bombardment of Gaza, an area no larger than the Isle of Wight, has continued almost uninterrupted.
The Israeli Air Force says that, in the first week alone, it dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza where two million people are crammed in, half of whom are children.
Entire neighbourhoods have been turned to rubble. Over 5,000 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 2,000 children. Hundreds more are feared trapped under the rubble.
The urgent priority now for every political leader – including our own – must be to do everything in their power to stop the loss of any more civilian lives, both Palestinian and Israeli.
That means they need to back the growing calls for a ceasefire.
The United Nations General Secretary has called for this. World-leading humanitarian bodies including Oxfam also back a ceasefire.
Brazil, which holds the Presidency of the 15-member UN Security Council, sought to get the Council’s backing for a ceasefire. It was supported by France, Japan, Switzerland, and the UAE as well as China, among other nations. The US vetoed the proposal, while our Government shamefully abstained, along with Russia.
But pressure for a negotiated ceasefire is growing. Both the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and the Spanish Government joining the call.
Our Government’s failure to push for a ceasefire flies in the face of public opinion.
A new poll shows 76% of the UK public back a ceasefire in Israel and Palestine, while just 8% oppose it. The calls are even stronger in my own Party, with 89% of Labour supporters backing a ceasefire and just 3% against.
It is our duty to get our political leaders to urgently change track. With that in mind, I have submitted a motion in Parliament for a ceasefire which is already backed by over 70 MPs from eight parties. More will add their support in the coming days.
Given the Government’s refusal to join the international call for a ceasefire, Labour should reflect public opinion and now lead the push for a ceasefire.
A binding-on-all-parties negotiated ceasefire would put an end to the horrific bombings that threaten so many civilians. It would help to ensure the Israeli hostages are released alive.
It is also the only way we guarantee that the scale of humanitarian aid, needed to save lives, is delivered swiftly to those in the most desperate of situations.
Gaza is a living hell. The Israeli Government has imposed a week-long electricity blackout that has brought vital life-saving services like healthcare, sanitation and water to the brink of collapse.
It is welcome that some trucks carrying limited food and medical supplies are now entering. But the few dozen trucks of aid brokered by Joe Biden do not scratch the surface of what is needed to end the humanitarian crisis. Before this latest conflict, about 450 aid trucks were arriving there daily.
Whatever aid is needed to address this humanitarian nightmare, including the fuel needed to power hospitals, must be given unfettered access.
But the aid cannot properly flow while the bombs drop. That 35 members of the UN’s relief body in Palestine have been killed since the bombing began underlines the dangers for those engaged in humanitarian work.
Securing a ceasefire won't be easy. But it won't happen if Governments do not even bother to try.
What is the alternative? Thousands more deaths. Ever deeper human suffering. More war crimes committed against civilians. And the risk of a wider regional war?
Politicians the world over must start to do more than express sorrow about every civilian death. They need to rise to the scale of this challenge.
Our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary should be straining every sinew and using every diplomatic tool to get as many governments as possible to press all parties to agree to an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities.
Instead, our Government has acted far too passively in the face of Israel's clear breaches of international law, including the collective punishment and forced displacement of so many Palestinians. That will only be interpreted as a green light to Israel to carry on regardless.
In the end, there will be a ceasefire agreed. To save lives and limit the suffering, our politicians need to press for that to be secured right now.
Richard Burgon is the Labour MP for Leeds East.
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