THE killing of 60 unarmed protestors in Gaza last week, at exactly the same time that Ivanka Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu presided over the glitzy opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, was a contrast too bloody and grotesque to ignore.
The laughing, giggling, self-congratulating crowd at the embassy could not have been more different from the blood-covered demonstrators ferrying the dead and wounded from the battlefield.
The Israeli government, emboldened by the support it has received from Donald Trump, gave orders to shoot at the protests, which the army did — not only killing the 60 but, as on previous occasions, wounding very large numbers often shot in the limbs in order to immobilise them.
The only regret: that the images of the conflict beamed round the world made it harder for Israel to promote the narrative that it is “defending itself” against “terrorism.”
According to the Financial Times, this is acknowledged by the army itself. ‘“The amount of casualties has done us a tremendous disservice, unfortunately, and it has been very difficult to tell our story,” the Israeli army’s spokesman, Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, was taped telling a Jewish-American group, according to Israeli news outlets Ha’aretz and Ynet News. “The ‘winning picture’ overwhelmingly, by a knockout, unfortunately, has been the graphics from the Palestinian side.”’
Outrage flooded in from across the world following the killings, yet less than two weeks later, Israel has been able to continue to “tell our story.” In this, it has been backed by most of the major Western powers, who were wrongfooted 10 days ago but who now repeat the lie that this was a Hamas inspired protest. In fact, it is a long-planned grassroots campaign to press for the right of return of Palestinians to the homes that they were evicted from during the Nakba in 1948.
Despite Israel’s repeated breaches of international law in terms of the occupied territories, the illegal settlements and the treatment of Palestinians, the “international community” closed ranks behind Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing government, as it has done repeatedly.
Calls from the UN for an independent inquiry into the Gaza killings were vetoed by the US, backed up by its allies including the British government.
Emily Thornberry, Labour shadow foreign secretary, has quite rightly demanded such an inquiry, citing previous examples where Israel has investigated its own actions, with predictable results.
However, it is clear that much more than one inquiry is going to deal with the systematic oppression of the Palestinians in Israel today.
Take Gaza. More than two million people are squeezed into a tiny area, half of them unemployed and 40 per cent living in poverty.
They suffer a blockade enforced by Israel for over a decade, which leaves them short of water, food and basic materials.
The blockade is punishment for voting for Hamas and it is also enforced by the Egyptian regime. We may not agree with Hamas’s politics, but it was elected as the government of Gaza. And every organisation which has stood up for the Palestinians in the past has at various times been designated as “terrorist.”
It is nothing short of shocking to see some on the left supporting the Israelis up to the hilt.
Labour Friends of Israel — which put out a statement blaming the deaths on Hamas that it had to rapidly withdraw — is a case in point. Support for killings, pictures of which are reminiscent of Sharpeville or Soweto in apartheid South Africa, should have no place in a left party.
Labour must put support for the Palestinians centre stage in its foreign policy, a view already taken by many trade unions and Labour supporters, and which has long been the policy of its leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The debate in Labour has all too often been confused with that about anti-semitism.
But it should be possible for socialists to distinguish between opposition to racism against Jews, which unfortunately is too widespread and is growing again — as the far right grows across Europe — and the necessity to criticise what Israel is doing. The two are and must be distinct. We should not accept that criticism of Israel is anti-semitic.
Support for the Palestinians takes on a new urgency since the election of Trump, who is Israel’s very close ally. Both support the illegal settlements, both are urging war with Iran.
Since the Oslo agreement in 1993 there has been much talk about a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, but it is clear that both Netanyahu and Trump are not interested. They want one state which is based on the effective exclusion of Palestinians. It is in this context that the right of return has become a more urgent demand.
Any Jew anywhere in the world has the right to settle in Israel, yet Palestinians whose families were driven from their land do not have such a right.
The tragedy of the situation should be obvious. For hundreds of years Jews, Muslims and Christians have lived together in the Middle East in relative harmony and they could do so again, but only in a state which is secular and democratic, and which awards equal rights to all its citizens.
We may be a long way from that at present, but the alternative is grim: the exclusion of the Palestinians, the growth of the right in Israel, and the threat of greater militarism and possible war in the Middle East.
Solidarity means supporting the Palestinians in their campaign for justice and fighting for a very different sort of society in the Middle East.
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