Just over a decade ago, I was involved in producing an important political pamphlet you have never read. Its title was ‘Unknown Hell’ and it reported on a visit undertaken by several Labour politicians to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
The pamphlet’s title was suggested by Sir Gerald Kaufman, the legendary phrase coiner who dubbed Labour’s 1983 manifesto “the longest suicide note in history.” Along with Kaufman and me, the contributors to the pamphlet were the MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Michael Connarty, reflecting a Labour party that was still a broad church. Kaufman was to the right, Connarty to the left, and Corbyn firmly on the left.
Kaufman’s ‘Unknown Hell’ title captured the fact that, despite them being the world’s largest refugee population, most people in the west are ignorant of the displaced Palestinians’ suffering. Ethnically cleansed in the 1940s and trapped in camps around the region ever since, Palestinian refugees have been re-victimised in every host country. Their legal right to return home under UN Resolution 194 has been reaffirmed by virtually the whole world every year since 1949, but the fulfilment of this right has been blocked by the United States and Israel.
The Unknown Hell pamphlet was to be circulated among Labour members to raise awareness about the world’s longest-running refugee crisis, and hopefully influence party policy. But it was blocked by people (none were Palestinian) inside the Labour party who were convinced that the Palestinian cause was better served by policies focused on supporting the corrupted Palestinian Authority. This thinking was in line with US-Israeli diktats to ignore the main problems facing the Palestinians and focus myopically on bureaucracy. A comfortable position for the faction within Labour that thinks efficient obeyance of power will produce a better world. Coincidently, the smooth advancement of their careers is also better served by taking this stance.
The MPs’ reflections on the hideous conditions in the Beirut and Tripoli camps, and their analysis of meetings with all the key players in Lebanon, were silenced. The Labour hostiles were led by Simon Danczuk, who feigned interest in justice and human rights to pick up Muslim votes in Rochdale before consuming himself with fanatical factional hatred of Corbyn.
Ten years on and politicians and officials with this belligerent mentality have full control of Labour under Keir Starmer. Their creed is the goodness of the British state, giving them much in common with security state officials who appear to be influential in deciding who should stand for the party at general elections, candidates who will ensure that Palestinians’ (and Yemenis’, Ukrainians’…) misery is perpetuated by constant war. In this setup, there is no room for those who talk the language of diplomacy and peace.
A purge of grassroots Labour members is in full effect, but, like the suffering of the Palestinians in Lebanon, it is unknown to most people thanks to the media’s determined silence. An assault on the democracy of the party that is likely to form the next government is taking place in plain sight, but you’d never know it.
Those thrown out by Labour suffer their own personal hell, gaslit with infantile explanations after giving years to grassroots causes. Criticism of NATO is proscribed by party whips, further subduing what remains of socialist resistance to war in parliament. In these perverted circumstances, members are being expelled for possessing the qualities that most people find admirable: loyalty, steadfastness, and a willingness to support the most vulnerable.
There is no hierarchy of suffering that prevents the pain of these ousted Labour members from being discussed alongside the suffering of the 9.5 million Palestinian refugees or Britain’s many other victims. These are not discrete issues, and Keir Starmer’s purge of campaigners for peace and justice means that the UK cannot elect a progressive government at the next election. This has echoes in the refugee camps of Lebanon, and the unknown hell will continue thanks to the pro-war right’s grip on Labour.
by Tom Charles @tomhcharles