Ceasefire: No more 'pauses'

IssueApril - May 2024
Jewish demonstrators have formed a ‘Jewish Bloc for Palestine’ on recent Gaza Ceasefire marches in London, including on 17 February. Photo: PN
News by Milan Rai

As PN goes to press, Israel’s war of destruction in Gaza continues, with 32,000 reported deaths, half the people of Gaza on the edge of famine, and a third of the buildings in Gaza destroyed or damaged by the Israeli war machine, according to a UN expert analysis of satellite images.

While the Israeli government continues to threaten an all-out assault on Rafah in the south of Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians have been driven by the Israeli attack, there are signs that the US may force Israel into another ‘humanitarian pause’ in its mass killing.

If there is a ‘pause’, it is more important than ever that a clear ‘ceasefire’ call goes out from the British government, from British political parties and from all parts of British society. 

This must be a call for an immediate, unconditional, permanent ceasefire, something supported by a majority of British people who have an opinion on the Gaza War.

Unfortunately, both the Tory government and the Labour opposition are pretending to be in favour of an immediate ceasefire while attaching conditions that will enable Israel to justify a continuation of its brutal war (after a brief ‘humanitarian pause’).

In January, the Conservatives took up the slogan of a ‘sustainable’ ceasefire (publicly opposing an ‘immediate’ ceasefire). Their argument (echoing the Israeli government’s line) was that Hamas must be ‘eliminated’ militarily and driven from power in Gaza, in order to create a peace that can last ‘days, years, generations’.

On 20 March, foreign secretary David Cameron repeated this justification, telling reporters in Thailand that the world could only ‘turn that pause into a permanent sustainable ceasefire... if a whole lot of conditions are fulfilled... we’ve got to get Hamas leaders out of Gaza, we have to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure’.

The Labour party has effectively taken the same position as the government.

Labour’s con trick

On 21 February, Labour managed to sabotage a Scottish National party (SNP) ceasefire vote in the UK parliament by lobbying the speaker of the House of Commons to call a Labour ‘amendment’ to the SNP ceasefire motion in a breach of long-standing Commons procedures.

What was not noticed in the fierce arguments over procedure were the many problems with Labour’s ‘immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ ‘amendment’ (Labour actually deleted and replaced the whole of the SNP’s text apart from the first three words).

In its ‘amendment’, Labour called for ‘an immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ leading eventually to ‘a lasting ceasefire’. By ‘immediate humanitarian ceasefire’, Labour meant just another Israeli ‘pause’ in its war.

How do we know this? Labour says in the amendment that it has taken the phrase ‘immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ from a joint statement by Australia, Canada and New Zealand on 15 February. 

We know from leaked documents that the Australian government sees ‘little practical difference between a humanitarian ceasefire (as we understand it) and the extended humanitarian pause we saw recently’ in Gaza.

This was the wording of confidential advice given by civil servants in the Australian department for foreign affairs and trade to foreign minister Penny Wong in December. The advice was leaked to Guardian Australia in February.

So, Labour calling for ‘an immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ leading to ‘a lasting ceasefire’ was exactly like the Conservatives calling for a ‘pause’ leading to a ‘sustainable’ ceasefire.

Under pressure from its members and its MPs to call for a ‘ceasefire’, Labour twisted the phrase ‘immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ into the opposite of its original meaning. 

UN agencies and international aid agencies had been calling for months for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza to allow them to do their desperately-needed work. That was what an ‘immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ meant.

This was made crystal clear on 5 November when the heads of 12 major UN agencies including UNICEF, with the leaders of four NGOs, including Save the Children, released an appeal which ended with these words: ‘We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It’s been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now.’

In February, the night before the SNP ceasefire motion was put to the House of Commons, 62 NGOs, including Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children, wrote an open letter to MPs which spelled things out.

The NGOs called on MPs ‘to support the [SNP] motion for an immediate and permanent ceasefire to benefit everyone in Israel and Palestine, facilitate the provision of adequate humanitarian assistance, and the release of hostages, and curtail the risk of regional conflict amid multiple strikes in several countries’ (emphasis added).

To turn ‘immediate [permanent] humanitarian ceasefire’ into ‘temporary pause in Israel’s destruction of Gaza’ was extraordinarily dishonest.

Vote for Genocide, Vote labour bus-stop sign
This poster by Darren Cullen can be downloaded from

Labour’s conditions

In its amendment to the SNP motion, Labour also indicated that there should be devastating conditions attached to creating a ‘lasting ceasefire’ – very similar conditions to the ones set out by David Cameron. 

Labour’s amendment said ‘that Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence and that Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7 October 2023 cannot happen again’.

In the New Statesman, political correspondent Freddie Hayward commented that it was ‘unclear’ whether this language meant that ‘one of the conditions for ceasefire is the elimination of Hamas’s capacity for aggression’.

I think the meaning is pretty clear. 

Labour was suggesting in its amendment that: 

(a) if there is any Hamas violence of any kind, Israel will be justified in continuing its full-scale destruction of Gaza and its people, and 

(b) Israel has the right to continue its war until Hamas has been militarily destroyed – regardless of the human cost to the civilian population of Gaza – because (Israel believes) this is the only way to guarantee that 7 October ‘cannot happen again’.

In other words, Israel must be allowed to ‘dismantle the terrorist infrastructure’, as David Cameron put it, before there can be a permanent ceasefire. Israel must be allowed to finish its war of total destruction.

In the New Statesman, Freddie Hayward also quoted Labour shadow foreign secretary David Lammy: ‘To make matters more ambiguous, Lammy called yesterday for a “lasting and sustainable immediate ceasefire”.’ 

So, in a 20 February BBC News interview, Lammy actually repeated the Conservatives’ ‘sustainable ceasefire’ language (with ‘lasting’ and ‘immediate’ thrown in for good measure). 

This just shows how the Labour and Tory positions have actually merged together: supporting Israel’s war while crying crocodile tears for the tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been murdered in this war and the hundreds of thousands who are on the edge of starvation.

Collective punishment

Some people have suggested that Labour’s main problem with the SNP’s ceasefire resolution was not actually the ‘immediate ceasefire’ language, but the section which called for ‘an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people’. 

Brendan O’Hara, shadow SNP spokesperson on foreign affairs, said to the Westminster parliament on 21 February: ‘No one would deny that Israel has the right to defend itself – every country has that right. What no country has the right to do, however, is lay siege to a civilian population, carpet-bomb densely inhabited areas, drive people from their homes, erase an entire civilian infrastructure, and impose a collective punishment involving the cutting off of water, electricity, food and medicine from civilians.’

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats all deleted this reference to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people in Gaza in their amendments.

The problem for Labour is that ‘collective punishment’ is a war crime, and Labour is not prepared to condemn Israel for breaking international law.

However, many human rights groups and UN officials have been less cowardly.

Days into the war, Amnesty International’s secretary general Agnès Callamard said: ‘The collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population amounts to a war crime – it is cruel and inhumane.’

She continued: ‘An Israeli minister said today [12 October] that the authorities will not restore power or allow water or fuel to enter until Hamas releases hostages. This is an explicit confirmation that these acts have been taken to punish civilians in Gaza for the actions of Palestinian armed groups.’

The UN secretary general, António Guterres has condemned Israel’s ‘collective punishment’ of people in Gaza throughout this war. For example, he said on 18 October that the 7 October ‘attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.’

Guterres has repeated this phrasing throughout the last five months. For example, on 20 March, he said (again): ‘Nothing justifies the abhorrent acts of Hamas on 7 October, and nothing justifies the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.’

In the ceasefire debate on 21 February, seven SNP MPs who spoke after Brendan O’Hara hammered home the message that Israel was engaged in illegal collective punishment of Palestinians: Mhairi Black, Steven Bonnar, Alan Brown, Chris Law, Carol Monaghan, John Nicolson and Alison Thewliss.

Carol Monaghan, a Jewish MP, said: ‘Many in my community lost family and friends in the [7 October] attack. Yet this only strengthens my resolve to end the utterly heartbreaking violence Israel is unleashing against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. This is not a war. I pray for the safety of both Palestinians in Gaza and the hostages in captivity, but only a ceasefire can provide the relief they desperately need. Lives, livelihoods and families are being destroyed; the very fabric of Palestinian society in Gaza is being upended. Such a policy of revenge and collective punishment achieves safety for nobody. The UK government is responsible for ensuring international law is adhered to – yet every moment it fails to advance a ceasefire, it is complicit in the perpetration of war crimes and the killing of civilians.’ 

Just two Labour MPs described Israel’s actions as ‘collective punishment’ in the debate – Richard Burgon and Beth Winter, both from the Socialist Campaign Group – as did one expelled Labour MP, the Independent Claudia Webbe, previously a member of the Campaign Group.