On Saturday 15 May, as the bombs were raining down over Gaza, 150,000 people shut down the streets of London and laid siege on the Israeli embassy. It was a sight to behold. People of all ages, from all communities came together, united in rage and solidarity. It was one of 77 protests taking place across the UK and marked the biggest Palestine protests since 2014.
Israel has now agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza, but only after killing over 230 Palestinians, almost a third of them children, and only after bombing homes, medical facilities, schools and key infrastructure. The ceasefire had been on the table for a week, but with the backing of Biden vetoing a UN call for a ceasefire thrice, Israel repeatedly rejected it and deliberately chose to escalate its bombardment no matter the civilian casualties.
The ceasefire is welcome. It will wind down the barbarity we have witnessed in the last eleven days. But as the BBC’s Paul Adams admitted,
These episodes follow a familiar pattern: Israel presses home its undoubted military advantage until the international outcry over civilian casualties, and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, demand that the operation end.
Israel is relying on the idea that the global solidarity movement which we have seen spring back to life in the last two weeks will consider this the end. It has routinised the mass killing of Palestinians in high intensity episodes, and then treating a return to the status quo of its continued occupation as peace – and doing it all with complete impunity.
The Tide Is Turning
To paraphrase Martin Luther King, peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice. There can be no justice for the Palestinians while the siege of Gaza continues, while the occupation continues, or while apartheid continues.
The latest upsurge in the Palestinian struggle has come after the evictions of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of illegally annexed East Jerusalem and the violence from the Israeli military and far right settlers. These evictions are still due to go ahead.
The attacks on Palestinians are still continuing – and to remind Palestinians of this fact, just hours after the ceasefire went into effect, the Israeli police raided the Al Aqsa mosque again and attacked peaceful worshippers.
Israel backing down in Gaza has rightly been seen as a victory by Palestinians who were out on the streets in celebration on Thursday night. Netanyahu’s hand was forced in large part by the renewed Palestinian struggle, the scale of which took the Israeli state by surprise.
Protests against the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and later against the bombing of Gaza spread across historic Palestine like wildfire. Palestinians across the West Bank took to the streets in a united effort and, importantly, without waiting for the Palestinian leadership. Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon amassed at the borders and briefly managed to breach them.
Palestinians living inside the ’48 borders (or inside Israel) in Jaffa, Haifa, Akko, Nazareth, Lydd and elsewhere, protested in record numbers. In the face of Israeli lynch mobs pulling Palestinians out of their cars, breaking into their homes and beating them while chanting ‘death to Arabs,’ Palestinian citizens of Israel made their presence known.
On Tuesday 18 May, Palestinians in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Jerusalem and the ’48 cities united in a general strike. Israel has long sought to sever the connection between them and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The last two weeks have shown that far from being separate, there is a level of unity and determination among Palestinians that has reignited the struggle for liberation.
If that isn’t bad enough for the crisis-ridden Israeli establishment, the resurgence of the global solidarity movement is another blow. The defeats of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders and the concessions which have allowed anti-Zionism to be characterised as antisemitism must have made Israel certain it was winning an international propaganda war. But despite these setbacks and despite social media companies censoring criticism of Israel, the global movement showed Israel how deep Palestinian solidarity runs.
The massive demonstrations in the UK took place alongside massive demonstrations in cities across the world. Dockers in Livorno went on strike in opposition to arms being sent to Israel, South African dockers in Durban refused to unload an Israeli ship, and members of the Fire Brigades Union in the UK refused to help police remove activists that occupied an Israeli arms factory in Leicester. Support for the Palestinians became even more mainstream with footballers proudly parading the Palestinian flag on the field and celebrities speaking out.
In the US, left Democrats mounted the most serious challenge to Biden’s presidency since he took office. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian to be elected to Congress, confronted Biden in Detroit, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders have launched a motion to stop the US sending $735 million in precision guided missiles to Israel.
Combined with the protests that followed Biden in Michigan and Connecticut, he was forced to change tack from repeating only that ‘Israel has a right to self-defence’ and blocking the UN to instead backing a ceasefire.
Why Resistance Matters
Palestinians are resisting and it is our duty to do the same. In Britain, our movement is of particular importance given our country’s historic and ongoing role in the dispossession of the Palestinian people. It gets to the heart of an imperialist world order predicated on injustice and is part of the working class struggle that highlights the oppressive state and pushes back against reactionary politics.
That is why the Right has used every means to delegitimise our movement, but we have shown that despite the racist ‘anti-terror’ programme Prevent, despite the smearing of Jeremy Corbyn and the clampdown on university campuses, support for Palestine is very much alive.
The fact that our Palestine movement could be mobilised so quickly is a testament to the power of the anti-war movement and the impact it has had in shaping public opinion. If we can do that, we can do more, and now is the time for more.
That’s why we will still be shutting down the streets of London on the national demonstration on Saturday. And it’s why we will continue to campaign for BDS, for an end to the siege of Gaza and for Palestinian liberation.