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Palestine solidarity: a huge movement is developing rapidly in Britain

Convener of the Stop the War Coalition LINDSEY GERMAN analyses the eruption of demos, sit-ins, walkouts and action over the attack on Gaza, and looks to the next phase

THE crisis over Gaza is shaking and reshaping politics internationally. There are huge protests across the world as Israel’s invasion and bombing of Gaza shows the world the brutality of the occupation and the apartheid state. The number of deaths of Palestinians is growing all the time, with very large numbers of them children.

The bombing of refugee camps and schools, the denial of basic amenities such as electricity and water, and the sight of bodies lying among the rubble, have all been too much for millions of people who feel they must do something to stop this aggression.

Not so our rulers. The US, British and EU governments have united to back Israel and to suggest this bombardment — which can only be described as a war crime — is simply Israel “defending itself.”

But this is a war on the whole Palestinian population. The Western governments know this but refuse to even call for a ceasefire. They have qualms about the aggression coming from Israel, and they are concerned about the brutal repression in the West Bank.

They know that this right-wing Israeli government aims to ethnically cleanse Palestinians in what many have termed a second “nakba” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their land in 1948.

But the long-term support for the state of Israel from the US and its allies — through arms supplies, funding, and political backing — allows Israel to act with impunity.

This follows a pattern. Western imperialism and especially the US see Israel as key to its influence and control in the Middle East. It has repeatedly tried to broker “solutions” to the Palestine question which maintains the levels of inequality and oppression that the Palestinians suffer.

Its support for the Oslo Accords in 1993 has allowed the development of the apartheid state. Israel can ignore UN resolutions, continue its occupation, and now encroach even further onto Palestinian land through illegal settlements across the West Bank, enforced by armed often far-right settlers and the IDF.

Every time the Palestinians resist they are branded terrorists: this is applied to Hamas today, but was also used against the secular PLO and its leader Yasser Arafat. After September 11 2001, Arafat was branded by the Israelis as “our Bin Laden.”

The present conflict has brought the Middle East to boiling point with huge demonstrations across the region. The danger of this spreading to a regional war is substantial. The corrupt pro-western rulers in the region — happy to make their peace with Israel following the 2020 Abraham Accords — have been forced to criticise Netanyahu’s actions. They are terrified that, given the scale of feeling, they could be overthrown.

There is also the prospect of conflict involving Iran and its allies in Hezbollah, among the Iraqi militias who were formed to fight Isis and the Houthis who have been fighting against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and who are already firing missiles at Israel. These developments underline the disastrous consequences of the war on terror which invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and bombed Libya.

But the lessons of that war, waged by Bush and Blair after September 11, have not been learnt by those who perpetrated it. The Western powers are doing it again over supporting Israel.

The parlous state of the two main parties here in Britain is indicative. Sunak told Netanyahu “I hope you win” as he planned his bloody assault. Keir Starmer has been a complete disgrace and is doubling down on his refusal to call a ceasefire.

Last week he suspended Andy McDonald MP for including the phrase “from the river to the sea” in his principled and strong speech at last week’s huge demonstration. Labour councillors and members are resigning daily over the party’s position, which is tearing Labour apart and creating mass disaffection in the Muslim community.

The pressure on trade unions and MPs not to back a ceasefire presumably has the rationale that Starmer will remain in lockstep with the US, but he is paying a high political price for this. And it leads to the most grotesque contortions, as when the lamentable David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, claimed that the bombing of a refugee camp might be legally justifiable.

The levels of repression from the government are growing as Home Secretary Suella Braverman tries to criminalise waving flags, shouting slogans or even just demonstrating full stop. The human rights lawyers populating Labour’s shadow cabinet seem quite content with this denial of freedom of speech and democracy and from the dog whistle racism and Islamophobia that accompanies it.
 
The movement has proved a huge shock to government and opposition leaders alike, and if they can’t defeat it politically, they will try to criminalise and marginalise it. So far they have not succeeded.

This movement is still developing. We are seeing huge demonstrations, daily activity, flashmobs, debates, school student and university walkouts and a fightback inside the trade unions and labour movement.

The Stop the War Coalition was at the centre of opposing the war on terror and we always linked it to Palestine. This current protest wave over Gaza is moving at lightning speed. The key question now is how we develop it and drill down into British society and the working-class movement.

We need days of action at work, including industrial action and workplace activity, walkouts and protests; a widening of school and university strikes; more big demos and mass action everywhere which can pose a political challenge to the mainstream consensus.

As an anti-war movement, we need to challenge the role of imperialism in escalating wars. The danger of a regional and wider conflict is real: already there is a horrendous war in Ukraine which is a proxy between Russia and the West. Russia is already in the Middle East and therefore these conflicts can begin to come together.

Interestingly, the politicians here don’t want a ceasefire in either place because they fear it would give their opponents an advantage. It is in the interests of working-class people everywhere to oppose their wars.

Follow Lindsey on X @LindseyAGerman.

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