The United Kingdom’s general election offers the potential for some seismic changes to the global political scene.
The Labour Party is putting forward a serious and radical challenge to the Conservative Party which could have far-reaching effects. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has rid us of Tony Blair’s New Labour and taken the party back to a politics that embraces its working-class and socialist roots.
This is an internationalist politics which recognises the solidarities between peoples of colour, women, the working classes, trade unions and others in the struggle against capitalism, neoliberalism, patriarchy and colonialism. It is a politics that should complement the Palestinian struggle.
But still, it cannot obscure that my relationship with the Labour Party is a complicated one.
I moved to the UK from Palestine in 2001, just a couple of years before the Iraq War. As a young teenager, I marched through the streets with hundreds of thousands of others on the eve of the war, calling on the government not to invade Iraq. Having never before seen so many people mobilised on the streets, I distinctly remember feeling the might of people power.
I remember, even more distinctly, the crushing feeling when the British parliament, led by Tony Blair’s New Labour, approved the invasion.
As a Palestinian with a British passport, it was devastating to know that British bombs and soldiers would be descending upon my brothers and sisters in Iraq. Some years later, New Labour would also be at the forefront of arms deals with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, many of the Saudi fighter jets being used to bomb Yemen today were sold to them by the New Labour governments, first under Blair and later under Gordon Brown. Labour certainly does not have clean hands when it comes to British government involvement in the Middle East.
“Involvement” is probably an understatement for Britain’s long and violent history in the region.
As a colonial power, it was instrumental in the carving up of the Middle East. It divided peoples, propped up elites loyal to the colonial powers and repressed independence movements. Most notoriously, in Palestine, it signed and facilitated the takeover of land – already inhabited by indigenous Palestinians – by the Zionist settler-colonial movement. Indeed, the British Labour Party eagerly supported Arthur Balfour and his declaration of support for a Jewish homeland in the land of Palestine. Britain’s continuous support for Zionism and the State of Israel, in the form of diplomatic, intelligence and trade links, as well as arms deals, has had disastrous consequences for the Palestinian people.
It is time now more than ever for Britain to be held accountable for its colonial crimes in Palestine and elsewhere, and it is also time for British complicity in the ongoing violations against the Palestinian people to end. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party could begin to do just that.
Corbyn has frequently talked about addressing colonialism in the British education system and the Labour Manifesto mentions creating an “Emancipation Education Trust” to educate Britain’s youth about colonialism and slavery. Corbyn has also been vocal and outspoken about Palestinian rights; he recently tweeted his support for the right of return.
In its manifesto, Labour also lays out various policies related to the Palestinians. Importantly, it states that a Labour government would immediately suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and Israel. Currently, Israel is the UK’s eighth-largest market for arms, buying a variety of weapons including armoured vehicles, assault rifles, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles and components for sniper rifles. These types of weapons are frequently used in Israel’s military assaults against Gaza – assaults in which scores of Palestinian civilians are often killed. They are also used to shoot Palestinians in the West Bank. Labour’s plans to halt arms sales to Israel is a fundamental step towards ending complicity.
Of course, voting for Labour will not save the Palestinians from Israeli oppression, neither will it right the wrongs of Britain’s colonial past. But with a Corbyn-led Labour government, the Israeli regime is more likely to face consequences for the violations and horrific violence it commits against Palestinians. This could create a domino effect in which other countries also hold Israel accountable.
While I think we should remain cautious in our optimism for Palestine should a Labour government be elected, mostly because of the wider geopolitics and structures of power, Corbyn’s decades-long commitment to justice and freedom means that there will be more room to push for Israeli regime accountability.
Of course, I recognise that Palestine is not the only issue at hand; saving the NHS, protecting the environment and eliminating poverty are among some of the issues that are also crucial in this general election. Nevertheless, my relationship with the British Labour Party and British politics, in general, will always remain a complicated one because of its legacy in the Middle East and around the world. I am hopeful that some of the crimes committed will be addressed including an apology for colonial atrocities and the Iraq War, but I doubt that we will get such an apology for Palestine. Moreover, I am under no illusions that Palestine will be liberated should Corbyn be elected as Prime Minister. There is so much work ahead of us before that day comes but I do think that Corbyn’s Labour government will make it easier for us to get there.