Why Palestine

The Spectator recently carried a blog by Douglas Murray describing those who had gathered in London at the weekend to protest against Israel’s bombing and invasion of Gaza as ‘a disgusting anti-Semitic spectacle.’

This appalling smear serves a number of purposes. Firstly, to discredit everyone involved in the Palestine solidarity movement, secondly to intimidate others who might be considering being involved in these kinds of activities and finally, to deflect attention from Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.

Murray’s ‘evidence’ for anti-Semitism is basically that according to him, the same protestors ‘stayed at home’ during other conflicts such as the Syrian civil war, and did not demonstrate against ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. I personally know lots of people involved in the Palestine solidarity movement who far from ‘staying at home’, were busy raising money for humanitarian organisations to help the victims of many of these conflicts. But the crucial point which Murray and others fail to grasp is that, last time I checked anyway, the British government had not signed a multi-billion pound arms deal to sell weapons to Boko Haram or ISIS. But it has with Israel, and continues to offer Israel its support, which makes our government morally complicit in the crimes committed against the Palestinian people. Again it may be difficult for Murray to grasp (and come as a bit of a shock to him) but even though many of the protestors had brown faces and wore a jilbab or a hijab, they were still British citizens protesting against the actions of the British government.

To claim that everyone criticizing Israel’s actions in the occupied territories or supporting justice for the Palestinian people is motivated by anti-Semitism, means you have to believe (and more importantly prove) that rather than being concerned about human rights violations, the following individuals and organizations are anti-Semitic: Bertrand Russell, Nelson Mandela, Noam Chomsky, Stephen Hawking, Desmond Tutu, Tony Benn, Benjamin Zephaniah, Michael Rosen, Stephen Fry, the UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Trades Union Congress. I know which explanation seems infinitely more credible to me.

Perhaps if Murray stopped living in a fantasy world where Israel is ‘carrying out the most specific and targeted campaign in the history of warfare’ and recognised the appalling reality that 80% of the casualties have been Palestinian civilians, he might understand why so many people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, from all over the world will continue to speak out until the occupation, the siege, the wall, the house demolitions, the torture, the bombing and the invasions all end and the Palestinians are afforded the same rights that all people are entitled to.

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Palestine: Wiped Off The Map

As I write these words, the Israel Defence Forces has begun a ground invasion of Gaza, the inevitable result of which will be yet more Palestinian civilian deaths, in what even David Cameron has described as ‘an open air prison.’ Israel has apparently dropped leaflets and left messages telling Gazans to evacuate –  a cruel gesture when they know full well that with the borders with Israel and Egypt sealed, the people of Gaza have nowhere to go.

The excuses for Israel’s actions which are routinely trotted out simply don’t stand up. One line we often hear is that Israel has a right to defend itself. But as Noam Chomsky has pointed out, bombing and then invading a territory which you have subjected to occupation and an illegal blockade is many things, but it is not defence.

The argument is often made that Israel is simply doing what any state would do if they faced terrorism; some apologists even go so far to say that Israel actually acts with more ‘restraint’ than any nation in a comparable situation. This is patently absurd. When the IRA targeted British civilians in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, the RAF did not respond by bombing West Belfast or Derry. Indeed, Israel even used chemical weapons such as white phosphorus in the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza. In the case of the Palestinians, it seems that this kind of brutal collective punishment is an acceptable response.

Another excuse is to blame the conflict on Hamas. I condemn Hamas’ targeting of Israeli civilians. However, there is no credible evidence to link Hamas to the murder of the three Israeli boys which was supposedly the reason for Israel’s latest bombardment of Gaza. And even if it were to be established, the idea that this somehow justifies Israel’s bombs killing Palestinian boys playing football is simply grotesque.

Some say that Hamas’ refusal to recognise Israel is the real obstacle to a peaceful settlement. But the same was said about the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). In 1988, they took the step to recognise Israel and nothing changed. The Palestinians continued to be denied their right to statehood. And in fact, since 2006 Hamas’ political wing has been moving towards recognition of Israel along its legally recognised borders. The Jerusalem Post reported that the unity government agreement formed between Fatah and Hamas a few weeks ago included the recognition of Israel within its internationally recognised borders. On the other side, Israel has never once recognised the existence of a sovereign Palestinian state and has instead continued to occupy the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, built an illegal wall and continued to build more settlements in total breach of international law.

For all the talk of Israel’s enemies apparently wishing to ‘wipe it off the map’, the fact of the matter is that it is actually Palestine which is being wiped off the map. A Palestinian state, no matter which political group governed it, could never pose an actual threat to the existence of the state of Israel  – a country with the fourth most powerful military in the world, and which possesses nuclear weapons. This alarmist claim just serves to deflect from the real issue which is that Israel continues with its land grabs in an on-going attempt to make any kind of Palestinian state impossible.

Activists in the UK who support the Palestinian people are often asked why they care so much about this issue. The reason is that our government, as a supporter and supplier of arms to Israel makes us morally complicit in its appalling treatment of the Palestinian people. Calling for restraint on both sides, as our government does, is totally inadequate. And even a ceasefire changes nothing. Anyone who calls for these things, but does not also call for the immediate creation of an independent Palestinian state, as has been the Palestinians’ inalienable legal right since 1948, has no moral authority whatsoever.

The conflict is no more complicated than many others which have occurred between an occupying and an occupied nation. There can be no excuse for any individual or any government to remain neutral.

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Alienation

I first came across the Novara Media website when it carried an article about the recent People’s Assembly demo in London. The account was so different to my experience of the day that as I read, I wondered whether the author had actually been on the same demo as I had. As it turned out, he hadn’t.

Checking out the website the other day, I saw some podcasts, one of which was called ‘What happened to the anti-austerity movement?’ As an activist in the movement these kind of conversations interest me, so I decided to give it a listen.

The first thing to say is that the two presenters Aaron and James are clearly two very articulate, intelligent and sincere individuals and it was a thoughtful discussion. But what really stood out was the way in which the conversation provided one of the best examples I’ve ever come across of how a total inability to talk in ordinary language still plagues the left. To give a flavour of the kind of spiel that was used in the course of the show, we had terms and expressions such as: ‘ontology’, ‘socio-economic’, ‘negation’, ‘diffusion of the meme’, ‘protest repertoire’, ‘performativity’, ‘political discursive’, ‘axis’, ‘policy solutions’, ‘flaky horizontalism’, ‘group reproduction’, ‘subscriber base’, ‘existential threat to the rule of capitalism’, ‘formally oppositional’, ‘substitionalism’, ‘media ecology’, ‘revolutionary puritanism’ and so on.

The big problem here is that if you think that society can only changed by collective struggle involving large numbers of people then why would you want to communicate in a way that can only be understood by people who’ve done a degree in sociology?

Of course, I’m not saying that theory should be done away with altogether. I’m simply saying that we all must grasp the very simple but crucial point that if you want to win people to socialist ideas or explain what you think activists should be doing to oppose austerity, you have to talk in a way which doesn’t instantly alienate and exclude most working class people. If we’re unwilling or unable to do that then don’t be surprised if our efforts aren’t met with the kind of success we want.

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