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Scottish leaders say Israel has ‘ruthlessly exploited’ right to self-defence


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Scottish leaders say Israel has ‘ruthlessly exploited’ right to self-defence

Britain’s opposition parties divided over calls for ceasefire in Gaza, as ongoing parliament debate takes a controversial turn in favour of Keir Starmer’s Labour

Oscar Rickett

A picture taken in Gaza City shows debris from destroyed buildings and smoke billowing in the background during Israeli bombardment on 20 February 2024 (AFP)

Scottish leaders have condemned Israel for “ruthlessly exploiting” the principle of self-defence to “legitimise the slaughter of innocent civilians” in Gaza, as they called for their colleagues in Britain’s parliament to vote for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. 

Speaking at an ongoing debate in the House of Commons on whether the UK should call for a ceasefire, Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Brendan O’Hara said Britain’s parliament had a chance to be on “the right side of history” by voting to end the violence. 

“No-one would deny that Israel has the right to defend itself,” O’Hara said.

“What no country has the right to do is to lay siege to a civilian population, carpet bomb densely inhabited areas, drive people from their homes, erase an entire civilian infrastructure, and impose collective punishment involving cutting off water, electricity, food and medicine from civilians.”

The largest political party in Scotland, the SNP used one of its three “opposition days” to put forward a motion for a debate on Gaza and a potential vote on whether to call for a ceasefire.

A vote on this motion could come later on Wednesday, but has been complicated by differences of position between the SNP and Labour, Britain’s official opposition party, that have become increasingly bitter in recent days.

While polls show that most Britons support backing a ceasefire in Gaza, the UK’s political class has shied away from this, preferring to emphasise Israel’s “right to defend itself”. 

More than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel since 7 October, when a Hamas-led attack on Israel left 1,140 people dead.

Returning from a British parliamentary trip to Sinai, Labour MP Sarah Champion said: “Nothing that has been reported braces you for the true scale of the horror in Gaza. We’re simply not getting accurate information about the levels of destruction and brutality.”

The ceasefire motion put forward by the SNP condemns Israel for its “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people, something that Labour leader Keir Starmer is uncomfortable with. 

Labour has sought to spell out the meaning of the word “ceasefire” by emphasising Hamas’s responsibility for upholding any future truce, proposing an amendment to the SNP’s motion that states that, “Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence”.

“We’ve seen during the course of this conflict that many people have called for Israel to lay down their arms and for Hamas to be able to continue to fight,” Labour shadow minister Lisa Nandy said on Wednesday morning, even though the SNP motion being debated in parliament does no such thing. 

Starmer handed good news

Having got underway on Wednesday afternoon, the debate was immediately marked with controversy after Lindsay Hoyle, the parliament speaker, handed Starmer some good news by saying he would allow a vote to take place on Labour’s amendment before the SNP’s motion. 

“The SNP vote will only be reached if the Labour amendment is defeated,” Labour’s former shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, told MEE.

‘Support for this motion might actually help some of the UK’s political establishment – and those seeking to aspire to that position – locate their moral compass’

– Brendan O’Hara, SNP

“If the government votes to defeat the Labour amendment, then there will be a vote on the SNP motion, which is what is of concern to the Labour frontbench,” McDonnell said, as he confirmed that he would be voting for a ceasefire.

Separate Labour sources told Middle East Eye that Hoyle, who is also a Labour MP and who visited Israel in November, was told by senior figures in his party that if he did not allow a vote on Labour’s amendment, he “wouldn’t be speaker after the general election”, which is this year. 

These allegations have been denied by Labour.

After the Hamas-led attacks of 7 October, the Houses of Parliament were lit up in the colours of the Israeli flag. Hoyle expressed his condolences and support for Israel in a call with his opposite number in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. 

Speaking at the start of the debate, O’Hara said that while David Lammy, Labour’s shadow foreign minister, had “seemed to dismiss the importance of this vote” last week, “the impact and the optics of this parliament – hitherto one of Israel’s staunches allies – saying enough is enough and calling for an immediate ceasefire, would be enormous.” 

The Scottish politician said that if parliament supported the SNP’s motion, it would “further remove that ever-thinning veil of legitimacy that the UK’s support gives to Israel’s merciless war”.

In a swipe at Labour’s leadership, he said voting for a ceasefire “might actually help some of the UK’s political establishment – and those seeking to aspire to that position – locate their moral compass”. 

O’Hara called for the House of Commons to demonstrate the same unity it had shown over Ukraine against Russian President Vladimir Putin, and “stand together for those in Palestine that need our support”. 

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Speaking after him, Labour’s David Lammy said that “the time for a ceasefire has come”, and that the world needed to “salvage the hope of a two-state solution” in Israel and Palestine. 

The shadow foreign minister said that an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, the border area to which more than 1.5 million Palestinians have been displaced, would be “a humanitarian disaster, a moral catastrophe and a strategic mistake”. 

But the ill-feeling over the way in which Britain’s opposition parties had split over their line was clear, as the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who has previously shared details of her family’s harrowing plight in Gaza, bemoaned “a lack of coordination on the opposition benches”.

Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative foreign office minister, said that the government would be putting forward its own amendment, implying – though not saying – that it would vote against Labour’s, leaving the possibility of a vote on the SNP motion alive. 

Talking about how members of parliament would justify their actions to future generations, O’Hara said:  “Some will have to say that they chose to engage in a debate of semantics over sustainable or humanitarian causes, while others will say that they chose to give Netanyahu both the weapons and political cover he required to prosecute his relentless war.”


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