12th National Ceasefire Now march at Westminster, April 2024. Photo: Flickr/Steve Eason 12th National Ceasefire Now march at Westminster, April 2024. Photo: Flickr/Steve Eason

Lindsey German on our movement and the warmongers’ attempted crackdown

It is clearly infuriating the ruling class, the Zionists, the right wing, and all those who support Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza: the movement for Palestine is huge and isn’t going away. So they are still continuing their attempts to shut down protest in any way that they can.

The Telegraph reports that the government is planning to amend the Public Order Act to give the police new powers to ‘shut down pro-Palestinian protests’. It accompanies the report this week by Lord Walney (formerly Labour MP John Woodcock and now ‘independent adviser on political violence and disruption’ who wants to ‘clamp down on the activities of hard-Left groups’.

The plan is to amend the Act to refuse permission for marches to go ahead. One thought is to define disruption to include the impact of regular marches on business, tourism and pedestrians as part of ‘the broader disturbance to Londoners’. These focus on the cost of policing and of the supposed threat to the Jewish community.

It’s really quite a thing looked at in the cold light of day: because protests are large and popular and because they keep happening to deal with an ongoing situation they should be – banned! Imagine if that were said about the pro EU marches in Georgia, or indeed the hostage demos against Netanyahu in Israel. Any attempt to do so by government would rightly be seen as an infringement of democracy.

This is a combination of a right wing authoritarian government which has lost any legitimacy or popular support and so can only pass further legislation in the vain hope that it will stop protest and the Zionist pressure on government and police which uses the smear of antisemitism to try to discredit protest against Israel.

This is at a time when polls show only 8% of people in Britain support Israel continuing its war on Gaza. But these are precisely the people who are welcomed into Downing Street and the Home Office to try to force bans on the demonstrations.

We are seeing how this is playing out already. Another huge demonstration for Palestine on Saturday – at least 250,000 with the usual different components – blocs of trade unionists, Jewish people, students; loads of coaches from outside London which were reported to be filling up quickly; large numbers of the Muslim community but also people from every race and nationality.

Yet they were faced with increasing police restrictions often of a ludicrous nature – moving the assembly point round the corner to a much more difficult place; forcing political stalls to abandon pitches in Oxford Street; preventing placards being given out near the tube. This is just low level harassment which clearly our enemies would like to see increased.

The march faced a small counter demonstration of right wing Zionists which was allowed by the police to assemble at the narrowest point of the route and to be right up against the protestors. While these counter protests are small they have two definite purposes: to intimidate those marching and to attempt to create some sort of incident which can then be blamed on ‘hate marches’. They also aim to harden up their support, which has included far right thugs and Iranian monarchists.

Our marches are political in the sense that they are directed against our government’s policy in the Middle East as well as against what Israel is doing directly. And the opposition to them is intensely political as well. It want to silence criticism over Israel, a position becoming ever more indefensible as the offensive in Rafah rolls on. So let’s be clear: banning these marches is political censorship and it will not stand. We will not stop marching and if they try they will face even bigger opposition than they have so far.

‘We are unequivocally failing’

Israel’s war is failing. That’s the stark reality after nearly 8 months. There is heavy fighting in the north, which they claimed was made safe months ago. They are losing far more soldiers than they expected. There is resistance from the Palestinians and from the international solidarity movement. Israel’s biggest backer the US is having to distance itself. The ICC case is continuing. There are big protests over the hostages. In the north 60,000 have been evacuated because of Hizbollah cross border fire. This has created a ‘security zone’ within Israel. All these issues are leading to major internal divisions in Israel. Opposition leader Benny Gantz, who is in Netanyahu’s cabinet, is threatening to leave over who runs Gaza, which includes demilitarisation of the area. An opposition MP who was formerly a Mossad deputy director said in a radio interview,

‘This is a war without aim and we are unequivocally losing it. We are forced to go back and fight again in the same areas, losing soldiers, losing in the international arena, destroying relations with the US, the economy is collapsing.’

A full 62% of Israelis now believe ‘total victory’ is no longer possible, a reversal of a few months ago.

We know that the Zionists are united in their oppression of the Palestinians and defence of the occupation. We also know that the option for Israel’s far right is to keep repressing through every means, including torture of prisoners, settler attacks in the West Bank and continuing war in Gaza. However this does mark a change and one which underlines Netanyahu’s unpopularity.

These divisions highlight the failed strategy in conducting a war which cannot be won. They also demonstrate the continued resilience and resistance of the Palestinians. And the resilience of a solidarity movement which is only growing.

War abroad and war at home

The other major war that the British government is engaged with is also failing. The Ukraine war has dragged on for over 2 years. The much heralded Ukrainian offensive last year never happened and now Russia is advancing. While this is blamed on insufficient supplies of weapons from the West, there are several other factors.

One is the imbalance in terms of population and the consequent shortage of troops, forcing ever more conscription, most recently from prisons. Another is that NATO wants to fight a proxy war with Russia but is reluctant to directly engage with a nuclear power with close relations to China. So it supplies weapons and lavishes Ukraine with promises, expecting its population to bear the brunt of fighting and dying.

The war is such that it is a long drawn out war of attrition with very heavy casualties on both sides. It is in the west’s interests for it to continue rather than grant Putin a victory.  It is clear there will be a settlement at some point. Meanwhile our government uses the war and the supposed Putin threat (let’s face it he can’t even occupy Ukraine let alone Britain) to demand more spending on weapons and war. All the time we’re edging towards greater conflict at huge cost to world peace, but also to our spending here.

A government which grabs money back from carers who have supposedly been ‘overpaid’ in the most vicious manner while earmarking billions for arms is one which has complete contempt for the people it is supposed to protect.

This week: I will be speaking on Palestine at a PCS fringe meeting on Tuesday, in Tower Hamlets on Wednesday, and going to see The Glass Menagerie on Thursday.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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