We are living through a crime of historic proportions.

The horror of Gaza will scream through the ages. History can be a savage judge, but we don’t need to await its verdicts so far as our leading politicians are concerned. They have lined up behind Israel’s murderous assault, even as thousands – many children – have perished under missile bombardment, and an illegal collective punishment has been imposed with the suffocation of access to water, fuel, food and other necessities.

Even as Israeli leaders and officials promise to “eliminate everything”, reduce Gaza to a “city of tents”, with an emphasis on “damage, not accuracy”, and the United Nations warns of ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and even the threat of genocide, politicians have not blinked in their uncritical defence of this onslaught.

Well, not all politicians. I’ve long admired Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf, even though I don’t hail from the Scottish nationalist tradition. We’re of the same generation – he’s eight months younger – and lived through similar political upheavals which shaped our worldviews, even if we didn’t arrive at all the same conclusions.

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Given how endemic and respectable Islamophobia is in our societies, his elevation to the top of Scottish politics was a moving historical moment. Like all Muslims in the public eye, he has faced relentless racist hounding, but he has never deviated from his attachment to an inclusive, civic nationalism. And unlike his opponent in the SNP leadership election, Yousaf offered a passionate defence of LGBT+ rights. His message was clear: All minorities with an experience of oppression and prejudice should stand together, or fall divided.

An international crisis of this magnitude would present a profound challenge to any leader. Yet, in the case of Yousaf, this crisis isn’t simply a calamity which, however grave, has consumed the lives of others. As the partner of Scottish-Palestinian psychotherapist Nadia El-Nakla – who so poignantly spoke at the SNP’s conference – Yousaf’s in-laws are trapped in Gaza as thousands of tons of explosives are dropped by a military superpower on a densely populated strip of land no bigger than Greater Glasgow.

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His brother-in-law there is a doctor who refuses to leave his post, risking his life to save others as an already devastated health service collapses under bombardment and lack of electricity, water and medicine. Their cousins have suffered shrapnel injuries. Their family is running out of water: His mother-in-law has lost hope. Every moment must be burdened with fear about their loved ones’ welfare – it is difficult to imagine a greater emotional exhaustion.

Many would be overwhelmed by anxiety: You would be easily forgiven for taking a leave of absence from work in such circumstances. Instead Yousaf has continued to fulfil his leadership duties, as well as passionately championing the independence cause he is clearly so committed to – all while navigating an appalling international crisis which consumes his own family. That included offering comfort for the mother of Bernard Cowan, a Scotsman murdered in the massacre perpetrated by Hamas on October 7. Standing in a synagogue, declaring “your grief is my grief”, he presented a model of unity in the face of horror. 

In that context, his unequivocal defence of humanity is all the more compelling. He was swift to condemn a policy of collective punishment. This is quite the contrast. We might expect a hard-right Tory government to unapologetically stand by Benjamin Netanyahu’s vicious inhumanity. But Keir Starmer has revived the New Labour tradition which brought us the blood and chaos of the Iraq war, despite promising to “put human rights at the heart of foreign policy” in his leadership campaign. He has defended Israel’s right to cut off water and energy, then shamelessly lied about doing so. Labour councillors have resigned in disgust, but despite overwhelming support for an immediate ceasefire – according to YouGov, just 3% express total opposition – Starmer cannot bring himself to call for the violence to end.

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Real leadership has instead come from Yousaf, who has called on “all parties to commit to a ceasefire for the sake of those innocent children who are suffering so badly,” asking, quite rightly: “How many more children have to die?” The First Minister is right to condemn both main parties for their “infuriating” stance.

In the West, Scotland joins only Spain and Ireland, so far, in calling for a ceasefire. It may – for now – be a lonely demand, but it will be vindicated by history, just as those complicit in this bloodbath will be damned.

There is something else which must be remarked upon. This brutal episode has proved a nauseating spectacle of overt racism. There isn’t even the pretence, amongst most media outlets and politicians, that a Palestinian civilian life has an equal worth to that of an Israeli or Western civilian life – but they do. Yet four million Muslims across the United Kingdom are being told that most of their establishment does not care for innocent civilians unless they are white. That – alongside Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan – we have a prominent Muslim politician affirming the universal worth of all humanity is a desperately needed counter.

This is a bleak moment for those trapped in the killing fields in Gaza, Yousaf’s loved ones amongst them. We must fear the darkest days yet to come. But amidst all the evil and horror, Yousaf has proven a beacon of humanity, and wherever we might live, we owe him an endless gratitude.