Rishi Sunak’s Response to Gaza Crisis Sparks Controversy Amid Protests across the UK.

In recent months, the Gaza crisis has ignited protests across the UK, with pro-Palestine demonstrators calling for an immediate ceasefire from the British government and a clear condemnation of Israel’s actions. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s response and his government’s handling of the situation have been focal points for civil disobedience and unrest in the relationship between British citizens and the government.

The Gaza crisis began on October 7, 2023, when the Palestinian group Hamas initiated an armed attack against Israel. As a result of decades of occupation and confined living conditions, the United Nations equates to Apartheid. In response, Israeli forces have conducted several air strikes in Gaza, resulting in up to 27,000 Palestinian civilian casualties and deaths. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 85% of Gaza’s 2.2 million population had been displaced, leading to global calls for government condemnation of Israeli attacks, humanitarian aid, and an immediate call for a ceasefire.

The UK’s participation in the international maritime coalition prompted by the United States, namely “Operation Guardian,” has been open to avid criticism in recent weeks from British citizens calling for peace. The operation aimed to protect the Red Sea shipment of Israeli aid and equipment, which has been prone to attacks from the Iran-aligned Houthi group, which controls northern Yemen. The Houthis have publicly stated their aim to attack Israeli-linked ships in defence of Palestine as “Gaza does not receive the food and medicine its people need.”

The British Government’s avid stance against the Houthis has been open to criticism following Rishi Sunak’s pledge during a meeting to provide “diplomatic, intelligence or security support to Israel if requested” following the October Hamas attack, as he states Israel to be “one of the UK’s strongest alliances” therefore Britain must protect its forces. Pro-Palestinian protesters have urged that the Prime Minister spend more time calling for an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian aid for the civilians of Gaza rather than complicitly defending Israeli Red Sea shipments. The focal point of such debates is that Parliament does not accurately reflect British citizens’ attitudes and beliefs in their actions.

Amid the War in Gaza, the UK has supported temporary “humanitarian pauses” but has not openly endorsed an immediate ceasefire. Following a vote in the House of Commons on November 4, 2023, the motion for a close call for a ceasefire was defeated. The final count was 293 to 125 votes. On December 11, International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell explained the action for the UK to call for a ceasefire was essentially “implausible,” stating that “we have two sides that have to be willing to sign up to a ceasefire, and there is absolutely no suggestion … that either side will”. This inaction was condemned by pro-Palestinian protestors on social media, with British protestors urging british citizens to email their local MPs and demand a re-casting of the vote for a ceasefire.

Following the British prime minister’s open statement in October 2023 stating that “Israel has the absolute right to defend itself and to deter further incursions,” Britain has seen consistent pro-Palestinian protests condemning the pro-Israeli actions of Rishi Sunak and other MPs across the country. In a call for peace, British citizens united and took to the streets in various acts of civil disobedience, including blocking bridges outside Parliament with up to 10,000 participants. The protests aim to condemn the British government’s perceived inaction of reflecting the democratic attitudes of the UK’s majority, being the need to call for a ceasefire to mutually benefit both Israel and Palestine by altogether ending the War.

The UN’s International Court of Justice’s recent order for Israel to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza has fuelled current protestors’ determination against the Prime Minister and other MPs. Organizers of these protests have expressed concerns that the Metropolitan Police may have succumbed to the political pressure from the Conservative government to limit their ability to express their dissent of the party’s inaction. This became clear following Rishi Sunak’s public statement against the “violent, wholly unacceptable” far-right and “Hamas sympathisers” following a series of protestors holding signs linking Sunak to the “murder” of Palestinians following his open statement of alliance with Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Further, Social Media has been a focal point of anti-governmental political disobedience, with several chains reposting the need for Conservative and Labour MPs to cut ties with Israel and call for a ceasefire. The most notable chain is the linking of MPs such as Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak with the complicity in Israel’s arguable “genocide.”