There is no overseas cause that exercises the Western left quite like Palestine. A Gaza border clash can bring thousands onto the streets of London, whereas Assad’s butchery of a Syrian city barely raises a whimper. At the 2018 Labour Party conference it was Palestinian flags, not union jacks, that were waved by hundreds of attendees. For the party’s current leader Palestine has been less an interest, and more a lifelong obsession.
This being the case you might reasonably conclude the western left cares greatly about Palestinian rights. Sadly, you’d only partially be right.
When Palestinian rights are violated by those standing beneath the azure and white standard of the Israeli state, leftists certainly do care a great deal. They march, petition, boycott and demand the Government takes action. But when Palestinians suffer at the hands of other Middle-Eastern powers, or their own leaders, their fury is replaced by an undignified indifference.
Last week the Palestinian Authority announced a ban on all events organised by LGBT groups in the West Bank, with police claiming they “infringe upon the values of Palestinian society”. The reaction of the ‘pro-Palestinian’ movement in the UK was virtually non-existent. There have been no calls for protests or boycotts. Senior Labour Party figures, who have spent much of their political lives fixated by Palestine, maintained their silence. The best I could find was a Facebook post from the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign offering “solidarity” to Palestine’s “LGBTQ+ community”. Most of the comments beneath were hostile, with one man saying he had unfollowed the page as he didn’t want to promote “homosexuality and lesbianism”.
Alas LGBT Palestinians living in the West Bank are, to an extent, the lucky ones. They could be living in Gaza instead. Homosexuality is currently illegal in the territory, ruled since 2007 by the Islamist movement Hamas, with a prison sentence of up to ten years as the usual punishment. In February 2016 Hamas executed one of its own commanders, Mahmoud Ishtiwi, after accusing him of gay sex and theft. The treatment of LGBT Gazans did nothing to stop Jeremy Corbyn referring to members of Hamas as his “friends” in 2009, nor is there any suggestion he raised the issue during any of his meetings with some of the group’s top officials, including leader Khaled Mashal in 2010. You can only imagine Corbyn’s outrage if there was some way of blaming Israel for the persecution of gay Palestinians.
Of course it isn’t just Palestine’s LGBT community which is subject to oppression. Both the West Bank and Gaza are run as de facto dictatorships, by Hamas and the Fatah dominated Palestinian Authority respectively. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, is currently into his fourteenth year of a four year term. The last Palestinian general election took place in 2006 and since then both presidential and parliamentary elections have been repeatedly postponed.
Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas ruthlessly suppress internal opposition in the areas they control. According to Human Rights Watch in 2018 security forces loyal to Abbas “arrested dozens of journalists, activists and opposition members, tortured detainees, and dispersed nonviolent protests”. They also allege the “regular arbitrary arrests of dissidents and torture of those in its custody” by Hamas. According to Amnesty International Hamas used a 2014 conflict with Israel as an excuse to execute 23 Palestinians, including political rivals, under the pretext that they were spying for Israel. All of this has been diligently ignored by self-described ‘friends of Palestine’ on the British left.
Despite the impression given by much of the UK media some of the most brutal assaults on Palestinian targets in recent years have been carried out by Syrian or Lebanese troops, rather than Israelis. Last year Syrian and Russian forces launched a mass assault on the Yarmouk refugee camp in southeast Damascus, which had partly been taken over by Islamist militants including ISIS. According to The Telegraph around 60 percent of the camp, which had housed 160,000 Palestinians, was levelled.
The exact number of civilian fatalities is impossible to verify, but were well into the “dozens” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Right. This massacre, several magnitudes greater than anything Israel has conducted in recent years, didn’t provoke a single leftist demonstration in Britain. Indeed some of the UK left have acted as cheerleaders for the Assad regime, such as the fiercely pro-Corbyn Morning Star which described the fall of Aleppo to Syrian regime forces in 2016 as a “liberation”.
Similarly the western left was largely disinterested when Lebanese troops besieged the Nahr al-Bared and Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camps in 2007, resulting in dozens of civilian deaths. The two camps had become breeding grounds for Islamist terror groups such as Fatah al-Islam, which carried out bombings in other parts of Lebanon. In 2016 the Lebanese Government went on to surround the Ain al-Hilweh camp with a wall and watchtowers, which invariably attracted nothing like the attention received by Israel’s wall in the West Bank.
The brutal truth is that, when it comes to the western left, some Palestinian rights matter a lot more than others. If they’re infringed by Israeli forces there will be an international outcry, almost invariably followed by boycotts and demonstrations across western capital cities. However if the abuses are conducted by other Middle-Eastern powers, or their own leaders, they go largely ignored. From this it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that some leftists hate Israel an awful lot more than they care about Palestinians. Why is a question for another time, but I fear at least part of the answer is deeply ugly.