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Labour members call on Keir Starmer to speak out on Israeli violence in Jerusalem

Petition launched to lobby the UK opposition leader to denounce Sheikh Jarrah evictions and crackdown on worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque
UK Labour leader Keir Starmer has been urged by party members to speak out against Israeli violence and displacement in Jerusalem (AFP/File photo)

Members of the UK Labour Party have called on its leader, Keir Starmer, to speak out against Israeli authorities' planned evictions of Palestinian families in occupied East Jerusalem and its use of violence against demonstrators and worshippers in the city. 

A petition set up by the Labour Muslim Network, an advocacy group, on Saturday called on Starmer and Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy to speak out against attacks by Israeli forces on worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque and the planned eviction of more than 40 Palestinians in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. 

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The petition received over 1,000 signatures within hours of being launched. 

"We the undersigned, as Labour members and supporters, call on the Labour Party to urgently and unequivocally condemn the violence against and the displacement of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces," it stated. 

On Saturday, Israeli police arrested a number of Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem and wounded at least 90 according to medics, as tens of thousands of worshippers flocked to al-Aqsa for Laylat al-Qadr, the most revered night of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 

A day earlier, more than 200 were injured as Israeli forces used teargas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse thousands who had gathered to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque on the last Friday of Ramadan.

The confrontations came as authorities continue to crack down on growing protests over the imminent eviction of six Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem. 

'Stand up for peace and justice'

The petition called on Starmer and Nandy, who is chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, to "to urgently speak out against this violent escalation by Israeli forces, stand up for the inalienable human rights of Palestinians, and actively support the enforcement of international law".

"Communities across Britain desperately need the Labour Party to set out its vision for the UK and the world. We need to stand up for peace and justice. That must include standing with Palestinian communities in this most urgent moment," it said. 

On Saturday, Labour's shadow foreign minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Wayne David, spoke out against the escalation in Jerusalem. 

"The forced evictions in East Jerusalem must be stopped. Israel must respect international law and end the attempts by Israeli settlers to take control of Palestinian homes," he wrote on Twitter

He called violence at al-Aqsa "totally unacceptable," urging Israel to respect places of worship. 

However, the lack of official word from the leader or shadow foreign secretary has sparked reactions on social media. 

"When we're having to call on our party to take a stand against violence, it's hard not to wonder what the party does stand for," wrote Nabeela Mowlana, Young Labour youth representative, while sharing the petition.

"Can someone explain to me why if Israeli human rights organisations can condemn the human rights abuses of the Israeli [government], why can't the human rights lawyer leading the Labour Party do the same?" another social media user wrote. 

Several individual Labour politicians have voiced concerns about the ongoing situation in Sheikh Jarrah, including former leader Jeremy Corbyn, Zarah Sultana, Richard Burgon and Scottish leader Anas Sarwar

The petition comes weeks after MEE exclusively obtained a letter sent by Palestinian Labour members to Starmer, accusing him of overseeing a "hostile environment" for Palestinians within the party. 

Last month, the leader was further criticised after he withdrew from a Ramadan iftar, or fast-breaking meal, due to one of the organisers supporting a boycott of Israeli dates. 

UK government urged to act

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also yet to comment publicly on the situation in Jerusalem. 

Last week, the British consulate in Jerusalem published a video showing Consul General Philip Hall visiting Sheikh Jarrah and speaking to residents. 

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"The UK's position on this is clear," Hall said. "East Jerusalem is occupied and it's been illegally annexed, the restitution and planning laws here and their implementation are unfair, and they breach Israel's obligations as an occupying power."

Several UK Muslim organisations have called on the British government to act against Israeli aggression and the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.

The Muslim Council of Britain urged the government to "condemn the Israeli violence" and uphold international law regarding the occupation and the building of illegal settlements. 

The Muslim Association of Britain said: "The UK has a responsibility to act, especially given Britain's historical role in the occupation of Palestine. Failure to do so amounts to denying the right of Palestinians to exist and enables apartheid."

The Muslim Council of Scotland, meanwhile, called on the British and Scottish governments to "condemn these violent actions, call for Palestinian human rights to be upheld and the sanctity of Islam's third holiest site to be respected".

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon stood out as a major UK party leader to condemn the violence on Saturday.