The Gaza strip, October 2023. Photo: Wikimedia/Wafa (Q2915969) The Gaza strip, October 2023. Photo: Wikimedia/Wafa (Q2915969)

Lindsey German on the ever-escalating Palestinian crisis

Is this the week the conflict in the Middle East breaks into a wider war? The signs are ominous. Israel is increasing its bombardment of Gaza in preparation for a ground invasion. In an interview with The Mail on Sunday Nir Barkat, Israel’s Minister of Economy said they would cut off ‘the head of the snake’ and wage war on Iran which would be ‘wiped off the face of the earth’ if there are further attacks from the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

Israel is also bombing Syria, and this weekend hit its two main airports again. It has also hit a mosque in Jenin and continued its assaults elsewhere in the West Bank. And 10,000 assault rifles have been issued to citizens including right-wing settlers. 

In a little-reported event on Thursday, Houthi rebels in Yemen fired four cruise missiles towards Israel which were shot down by USS Carney in the Red Sea, along with multiple drones in a nine-hour operation. Bases where US military are present in Syria and Iraq were targeted by drones on Wednesday and Thursday.

Firing the anger in the Middle East and wider world is the hideous assault on Gaza. Israel is denying water, food and humanitarian aid to the people there at the same time as bombing them daily. The bombing of the Al-Ahli hospital last week brought the disaster into focus and, despite Israel claiming it was the result of an Islamic Jihad rocket, there is serious evidence that it was indeed an Israeli airstrike, with hundreds of casualties. 

All the major western powers have seen their leaders visit Tel Aviv to support Israel in the last week, refusing to condemn the bombing and attacks on civilians. They claim that in private they are urging caution and de-escalation on the Israeli government. If that is so, it isn’t working. Binyamin Netanyahu has every interest in taking a hard line in the conflict because he is already deeply unpopular and any de-escalation would threaten his position.

And while the deliberate targeting or punishment of civilians is regarded as a war crime in international law and stated us such when carried out by Russia in Ukraine, politicians who support Israel have made no such criticism, instead arguing that the country has the right to defend itself. But what Israel is doing is not defence but aggression against the whole of the Palestinian people.

The strategy of the western powers in the Middle East is in tatters. The US and British governments have given Israel a green light for the worst possible assault on Gaza, but now fear the consequences. These include wider Middle East war, which brings in many of the regional countries; the overthrow of some of those governments who support the west; and a new increased threat of terrorism.

The increasingly right-wing governments of Israel have been aided by US support for the Abraham Accords which aimed to ‘normalise’ relations between Israel and its neighbouring Arab states. Particularly prized has been the prospective agreement with Saudi Arabia which is now in abeyance.

The truth is that anger in the Arab world is at boiling point and the repressive governments there know it. The prospects look increasingly like either wider war, with devastation for the people of the region – Jews, Muslims and Christians like. Or the solidarity movements across the Middle East can be channelled towards revolutionary overthrow of their own governments and in the process help reshape the region for the benefit of working people. In the meantime the plight of the people in Gaza will only worsen and our solidarity is more important than ever. Time is running out, and peace with justice and equality will not be achieved by the governments who have led us to this situation in the first place.

We’re not criminals, we’re protesters

The demonstration in London on Saturday was huge – the biggest ever over Palestine in this country and a tremendous show of solidarity with the people of Gaza. It was in the hundreds of thousands – my estimate close to half a million – and central London was overwhelmed with Palestine flags, badges and protesters everywhere. It contained all ages, races and religions, but was notably very young.

The attempts to criminalise this march have been intense. Tory peer Lord Pickles wanted it to be banned. It has been decried by politicians, who seem horrified at the prospect that so many people could march. That horror is based on a couple of lies: that those on the march are Hamas supporters; and that the march itself is antisemitic. The marches have attracted a very wide range of support and have been motivated by two things: solidarity with the Palestinians and a desire to stop even greater conflict.

It could do with still wider support. The trade union bloc was quite small, and while some unions sent representatives – if I recall NEU, UCU and Aslef, who all sent general secretaries, and speakers from FBU and RMT – but none from the big general unions. This has caused an argument certainly within Unite, which will hopefully change its position. This was quite a working-class demo and the trade unions refusal to show their solidarity will only weaken them.

This reluctance is no doubt in part due to closeness to the Labour leadership and the coming election, but also in part a continuation of retreats on foreign policy that we have seen at recent TUC congresses.

Keir Starmer is continuing with his bipartisan policy of backing Israel and refusing to call out war crimes. Labour councillors have been resigning from the party over the past two weeks and the situation is critical for many Labour members – and not just in the Muslim community.

I have been critical of those Labour MPs not speaking out and I still am for those who don’t. But credit to John McDonnell and Apsana Begum who did turn up to address the demo – this could not be more important in helping to strengthen the movement and protect it from attempts to criminalise it.

Just one further point – we are told that the slogan ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ is antisemitic because it is anti-Jewish. To my mind, it is the opposite. It calls for one state where Palestinians can live freely and equally, not in occupation as at present. That would be a state open to all regardless of religion, where all rights could be observed.

As I said when I spoke at the demo; ‘we’re not criminals, we’re not terrorists – we’re protesters’

This week: I will be helping organise another national demonstration for Palestine on Saturday and fixing up a few meetings I’ve been asked about. And the reading continues: this week I’m going back to Tony Cliff’s The International Struggle and the Marxist Tradition (Bookmarks).

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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’.