Protestors in Westminster, February 2024. Photo: Flickr/Steve Eason Protestors in Westminster, February 2024. Photo: Flickr/Steve Eason

Lindsey German on the attack on Rafah and the movement

The Israeli IDF, less an army and more an uncontrolled homicidal cult given state of the art weapons by the West, are launching a ground invasion of Rafah – the one supposedly safe place left for the Palestinians in Gaza who are now left in danger of the most appalling war crimes.

Even the US and Britain are getting nervous about what Israel is doing. Cue anguished words from Keir Starmer and from German Green foreign minister Annalena Baerbock as they try to squirm out of their previously unapologetic support for Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’. Even Lord David Cameron has said that he is ‘deeply concerned’ about a military offensive in Rafah – shame he isn’t in a position to do anything, given he is only foreign secretary of a major military power.

As the genocidal bombing of Gaza continues, the horrific intent of Netanyahu and his supporters is ever clearer. The Palestinians are being killed, injured and displaced. Those who survive are meant to be driven out of the Gaza Strip. The denial of food, blocking of aid shipments for UNRWA, and the ground invasion of Rafah, are all part of the plan. Israeli right wingers are blocking aid getting into Gaza and are openly proclaiming that Palestinians will not be allowed to remain in their homeland but driven to other Middle Eastern countries as part of the ethnic cleansing which began in 1948 but is still continuing.

At this point even Joe Biden has raised his game and suggested that Israel will lose US aid if it doesn’t report progress on international law violations in 45 days. But what of Gaza will be left after another 7 weeks of this catastrophe?

We are watching the most appalling humanitarian crisis in real time and yet the governments who could do something about it are allowing it to happen. This is causing huge political turmoil around the world. Whatever Biden’s other troubles, it is generally agreed that he is losing support on the left of the Democratic Party over his support for Israel. The Tories here are deeply complicit but it is Labour which is under the most direct electoral fire. The Muslim vote has slumped for Labour, well over 100 councillors have resigned from the party over the issue and there are a number of independent socialists standing in the general election against the party. George Galloway stands to get a good vote in the Rochdale by-election.

So its policy will be very damaging for Labour. But such is the failure of Labour to break with the dominant narrative of supporting Israel that Starmer and Lammy are tied to Sunak’s policy.

The political damage is entirely deserved. It is simple unconscionable for politicians and governments to do nothing or worse to continue funding and apologising for Israel while it commits these horrendous crimes.

I don’t think most of us involved in the movement worldwide in support of the Palestinians expected it would be so long without a ceasefire in sight. But Netanyahu feels he can carry on without too much damage from his allies – or at least has done so up to now. What is needed to stop him and how can we contribute?

The resilience and resistance of the Palestinian people is astonishing and will continue despite the grave situation they face. But it cannot win alone. It needs two other elements. One is the support of the mass of the Arab populations. This already exists, as witnessed by huge demonstrations, and support for the Houthis in Yemen.

But the Arab rulers are another matter, publicly sympathising with their populations but doing nothing to prevent Israel from its crimes and in some cases helping it. When on Friday protesters tried to block the Allenby Bridge in Jordan to protest at goods passing into Israel to break the blockade in the Red Sea, they were stopped by the Jordanian authorities. Egypt has sent tanks to the border near Rafah but this is not to fight the Israelis, rather to prevent Palestinians getting in.

The second element is the solidarity movement with Palestine internationally. This is on an unprecedented scale. Recent polls show in nearly all countries a growth in negative attitudes among the populations to Israel, and this is in part the result of the movement which has demonstrated, boycotted, occupied, lobbied politicians. It has had a major impact which is still far from being fully played out.

It needs to continue and deepen – through trade union work as took place last week on the day of action, through other forms of local and direct action, and centrally though the mass demonstrations which have been on an unprecedented scale here in London, with hundreds of thousands now planning their ninth national march in four months next weekend. Those who dismiss these as A-B marches or claim they are ineffective are not understanding the political dynamic here.

They are a major source of resistance to the government, the official opposition, the Zionists who demand support for the state of Israel. They continue to have a political impact far beyond the actual events and to be a source of inspiration to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. We can see how seriously the government takes them because new legislation is piling up all the time aimed at aspects of the demonstrations.

Combined with a wider opposition to imperialism, they are a very important political intervention. That opposition to imperialism is also crucial: the imperialists are keeping the war going in Ukraine for no other reason than NATO wanting to save face against Russia; they continue to occupy large parts of the Middle East and to justify the most repressive policies there; they are driving an arms race worldwide but especially focused on the Pacific.

Support for imperialism makes working-class people weaker in confronting their enemy at home – at great cost to us all.

Even some of Starmer’s allies have had enough

Starmer will pay a price for his support for Israel in the coming elections – as he should – but it won’t just be about Gaza. The u-turn on green energy spending under a Labour government is disastrous on two fronts. It means far less investment in making environmental improvements which are so desperately needed in Britain. And that means the response to climate change and accompanying catastrophes will be even weaker than promised. But it also reveals Starmer as a man who has no principles other than winning an election, no commitment to achieving real change and no desire to upset the rich and powerful with whom he feels so comfortable.

It underlines how right people are not to trust him or feel any enthusiasm for him. He will almost certainly win a majority at the general election given how awful the Tories are. But he has no political capital to spend. And he has lost many activists and councillors who might reluctantly have supported him but who are now looking for an alternative.

Even devoted supporters of right-wing Labour like The Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley is worried that Starmer is going too far. But this isn’t simply a question of personal trust: working-class people have suffered cuts in living standards, worsening of services across the board, and a growing sense of despair about public infrastructure. It is this material worsening of conditions of life that is driving opposition. That needs to be built from below. 

This week: I will be speaking at Counterfire’s Revolution! event next Sunday 18th. On that note good luck to Andrew Feinstein who is standing against Starmer in Holborn and St Pancras at the election and who will also be speaking at it. Please join us if you can. And the day before I will be at our next Ceasefire Now demo in London. Keep organising.

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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’.