Foreign AffairsSpeeches

Keir Starmer – 2023 Speech on Israel and Gaza

The speech made by Sir Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 16 October 2023.

I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of his statement and for the updates the Government have provided to Labour Front Benchers over the past few days.

Last Saturday, Israel was the victim of terrorism on an unimaginable scale: the senseless murder of men, women, children and even babies; the horrors of hostage taking; music festivals turned to killing fields; innocent Jews slaughtered within their own kibbutz—an attack with no cause other than bloodshed. I am sure that over the last few days, every Member of the House has seen images from this crisis that will never be unseen: tiny bodies, wrapped in bundles, in Israel and now in Gaza; mothers and fathers grieving—Israeli, Palestinian, Muslim, Jew; the innocent, dead.

As in any time of grave crisis, it is crucial that this House speaks with one voice in condemnation of terror, in support for Israel in its time of agony and for the dignity of all human life, because Hamas do not wish to see peace in the middle east; they just want to see Israel wiped off the map. But Hamas are not the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian people are not Hamas.

Labour stands with Israel. Britain stands with Israel. The attack is ongoing, terrorists are at large and hostages are still being held, some of them British citizens. Israel has the right to bring her people home, to defend herself and to keep her people safe. While Hamas have the capability to carry out attacks on Israeli territory, there can be no safety. As Secretary of State Blinken said last week:

“We democracies distinguish ourselves from terrorists by striving for a different standard—even when it’s difficult”.

He is right.

As the Prime Minister has said, there is an acute humanitarian crisis unfolding. Israel’s defence must be conducted in accordance with international law, civilians must not be targeted and innocent lives must be protected. There must be humanitarian corridors and humanitarian access, including for food, water, electricity and medicines, so that hospitals can keep people alive and so that innocent people do not needlessly die. And there must be proper protection for all those who work selflessly so that aid can be delivered to victims.

There can be no doubt that responsibility for this crisis lies with Hamas. They have no interest in Palestinian rights and no interest in the security of the people of Gaza. They unleash terror and then hide among them—women and children used as human shields; hostages held, who should be released. Hamas are destroyers of lives, of hope and of peace. And we cannot give them what they want.

We must keep striving for a two-state solution: a Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel. We cannot give up on that hope. We cannot let Hamas brutality be a catalyst for conflict in the wider region. Engagement between Israel and Arab nations must be strengthened, not abandoned. International co-operation, the rule of law and a political road to peace—Hamas want us to abandon all three. In defiance, we must be resolute on all of them.

These attacks are having a huge impact on communities across the United Kingdom. Many in this House will have heard devastating stories from people who have lost friends and family, and from people who are deeply worried about the future of those they know in Israel or Palestine—including the First Minister of Scotland, who I spoke to at the weekend. We stand with all of them. We stand against the worrying rise in Islamophobia and against the antisemitic abuse, threats and assaults that we have seen on British streets, because we must never underestimate the burden of history that Jewish people carry with them.

I do not want Britain to be a place where Jewish schools are closed, where Jewish children stay at home out of fear and where Jewish families feel compelled to hide their identity. I do not want Britain to be a place where British Muslims feel they have to apologise for the actions of people who do not act in their name. We cannot allow community cohesion in our country to be destroyed. We all bear a responsibility to do all we can to stamp out hate, and we fully support police action to provide extra assistance for our communities.

The events of the past week have seen horrors beyond our imagination, so let us send a strong message that Westminster is united, and Britain is united: with Israel, against terror, for international law and for the protection of innocent lives. There are difficult days ahead, but our values cannot be compromised. Terror cannot win.

The Prime Minister

I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his remarks. Let me say at the outset that this is an unprecedented and extraordinarily difficult situation. It is likely to remain difficult for all of us in the days and weeks ahead, but we must always have at the forefront of our mind that responsibility for this crisis lies with Hamas, and with Hamas alone. It was a barbaric act of terrorism that has inflicted untold suffering and misery on so many people, and we have felt that acutely here at home.

We have seen the impact on our streets over the past week, and it has sickened all of us. We stand united in saying that antisemitism has no place in our society. Let me be unequivocal that those who incite racial or religious hatred on our streets, or who inflict violence and cause untold suffering to people, will be met with the full force of the law. I know the whole House will join me in making sure that happens: that the police have all the tools, resources and powers they need to bring that about.

In conclusion, let me say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right that this House stands united: united in condemning unequivocally this terrorist attack by Hamas, and united in saying that we will be steadfast in our support for Israel, and steadfast in our support for the Jewish people—not just today, not just tomorrow, but always.