Palestine – why bother?


Hugh Lanning

Labour & Palestine

“What distinguishes Palestine from many other places? It is our culpability as a country in the creation and continuation of these crimes,” says Hugh Lanning

The 29th November was the UN Day of Solidarity with Palestine. It is often asked why we in Britain should bother – we’ve got enough problems of our own making. What with Boris, Brexit, boats – refugees dying needlessly in the Channel – why give time, attention and energy to Palestine? Supporters of Israel will also say what about China, the Yemen, Iran or Burma? Indeed – why not anywhere but Palestine?

There are plenty of very good reasons, not least the very many breaches of international law committed by Israel on a daily basis for decades. The military occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank since 1967. The over- a-decade long siege of Gaza collectively punishing the whole population to try to bring about subservience. The ever-growing wall enclaving the Palestinians into less and less land. The theft of land using settlements to illegally appropriate Palestinian land.

The list is long, longer and longer lasting than in many other places – but what distinguishes Palestine from many other places? It is our culpability as a country in the creation and continuation of these crimes.

As it is not listed or treated as a British colony, it is often not appreciated that – from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, was under occupation and British military rule from 1917 to 1948. This was part of the carve up, with the French, of the Ottoman Empire following the first world war – under mandate from the League of Nations.

Like in many other countries, this was not a benign British rule. British pacification of the 6-month general strike of 1936 and the revolt of 1937 by 100,000 British troops left 10% of the adult male Palestinian population killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled. Prior to the Second World War, Palestinians owned, occupied and used 93.4% of the land of historic Palestine – with 6.6% owned by Jewish settlers.

Having, whilst rulers of Palestine, given away Palestine rights with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 – we facilitated, stood idly by and then withdrew British troops enabling the Palestinian ‘Nakba’ – the ‘catastrophe’ that saw over 720,000 Palestinians being expelled from their land and homes and the newly formed state of Israel taking military control more than three quarters of Palestine’s land area.

Since then, Britain’s ‘Nelson’s Eye’ approach to Israel’s crimes and misdeeds has continued with the tacit acceptance of the occupation in 1967, the annexation of Jerusalem, the building of the wall and settlements and then the siege and bombing of Gaza. Pious words, but no actions taking responsibility for the systematic destruction of Palestinian self-determination by Israel that we have initiated and – by our actions, condoned. Not just passively, but actively through continuing economic aid, favourable trade agreements and – most tellingly, through an ever-growing two-way arms trade and military and intelligence cooperation with Israel.

This is not just the actions of nasty Tory Governments, for the overwhelming majority of this time these actions have been endorsed and supported by the British Labour Party, from the Balfour Declaration onwards. That is why the vote at this year’s Labour Party conference to support Palestine is so significant. The call for sanctions, for ‘effective measures’ until Israel complies with international law, represents an important step forward in Party policy.

Although global opinion is increasingly on Palestine’s side, there is a huge imbalance between the military and industrial power of Israel and Palestine. Solidarity – through sanctions, ethical trade and consumer boycotts – is one of the non-violent ways we can try to rebalance that equation.

Since conference lots of CLP’s have been debating the motion, treating it as a green light for a democratic discussion on the issue. The day of solidarity was one opportunity for us as individuals to commit to do what we can in our worlds to try to rectify the historic wrong that is being done to the Palestinians – not least as a consequence of the actions of successive British governments. Palestine needs our solidarity not just for a day, but until the historic wrong has been put right.


Hugh Lanning lived in Whitstable for about 10 years and was Labour candidate for the Canterbury constituency in the 2015 election. Before retiring in 2013 he was deputy general secretary of the Public & Commercial Services union (PCS). He chaired the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for 10 years, and in 2017 was, famously, the first British national to be refused entry to Israel under the Knesset’s Amendment No 28 to the Entry Into Israel Law, which allowed boycott, divestment & sanctions (BDS) supporters to be banned.

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