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Opposition to Armistice Day march for Gaza is a sign of UK’s moral crisis

In just more than four weeks, Israel’s total siege and indiscriminate bombardment of the Gaza Strip killed more than 10,000 civilians, including some 4000 children, and caused global outrage.

People across the world, from the United Kingdom and France to Turkey and Indonesia, are regularly taking to the streets in large numbers to condemn Israel’s apparent war crimes and demand an immediate ceasefire to save lives.

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Regrettably, these calls – including one from the UN secretary-general himself – appear to be falling on deaf ears. Israel is not only refusing to entertain the possibility of a ceasefire, but also continuing to target hospitals, mosques, churches, schools, UN-run facilities and other civilian infrastructure across the besieged Strip in direct violation of international humanitarian law.

The United States, meanwhile, is supporting this aggressive mass killing campaign unequivocally, and providing Israel with the funds, weapons and the political backing it needs to continue its assault on Gaza. All this despite knowing too well that the civilian casualties are piling up at an incredible rate.

The US is not alone in facilitating the conditions for Israel to break international law and commit war crimes with complete impunity. The UK, France, Germany and many other Western states are firmly rejecting the growing calls for a ceasefire, claiming Israel is “defending itself” and a ceasefire would only “help Hamas”. These governments are also trying to silence voices calling for a ceasefire within their countries, at times going as far as criminalising peaceful expressions of solidarity with the Palestinians.

Leading Western governments’ indifference to the immense suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and vocal support for Israel’s blatant violations of international law have exposed a deep moral crisis they are all suffering from – a crisis that raises important questions about the viability of the Western-led, rules-based world order.

Indeed, it is becoming impossible for Western powers to claim they stand for human rights and international law while failing to demand a ceasefire in a conflict that, in the words of the UN, turned Gaza into a “graveyard for children”. Their silence in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe and undeniable complicity in Israel’s war crimes in Gaza serves to encourage other actors to commit similar atrocities and expect impunity. Their support for Israel and refusal to demand a ceasefire to save innocent lives is a moral failing that will have grave consequences for the entire international community.

Today, this consequential moral failing is perhaps more visible in the UK than anywhere else.

On Saturday, November 11, the country will commemorate Armistice Day, marking the 105th anniversary of the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany. The day is meant to be an opportunity for Britons to pay their respects for fallen soldiers, reflect on the cruelty of war, and remember the importance of ending hostilities and saving lives.

Thousands of people in London will be marching on Armistice Day, like they did every Saturday since the beginning of this war, to demand a ceasefire in Gaza. Armistice Day is, perhaps, the most appropriate day for such a protest, as a call for ceasefire fits perfectly with its spirit and purpose.

The UK’s leaders, however, did not see the coinciding of Armistice Day with a march demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from past wars, and reconsider their support for Israel’s assault on the besieged enclave. Rather, they doubled down on their morally indefensible position and even attempted to accuse protesters demanding a ceasefire in Gaza of not respecting the UK’s war dead and the values they fought for.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, for example, went as far as to claim that “Saturday’s planned protest is not just disrespectful but offends our heartfelt gratitude to the memory of those who gave so much so that we may live in freedom and peace today”.

But how could a protest calling for “ceasefire”, calling for an end to the killing of children, can be offensive to the memory of those who died in past wars? Or how could such an effort, on Armistice Day no less, be branded “a hate march”, as Home Secretary Suella Braverman shockingly tried to do?

British government’s passionate opposition to an Armistice Day march demanding a ceasefire in Gaza not only exposes its abandonment of some core British values, including freedom of speech, but also underlines the disconnect between the country’s rulers and people. Indeed, according to a recent poll conducted by YouGov, some 76 percent of British adults support a ceasefire in the Gaza war.

The UK’s leaders, like many of their Western allies, appear to have lost their moral compass and forgotten all the lessons learned from the devastating world wars of the last century. Their failure to speak against Israel’s war crimes, and support an immediate ceasefire in line with the British public’s wishes, is a moral failing that will have catastrophic consequences for us all.

This is why, this Armistice Day, we should all come together not only to remember the pain and sacrifices of the past wars, but also to communicate to our leaders yet again the importance and urgency of doing everything we can to put an end to the bloodshed in Palestine – for the sake of the millions of innocents suffering in Gaza, and all the rest of us.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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