Graphic: Flickr/Palestinian Resistance (detail) by Jacob Anikulapo, 2012 Graphic: Flickr/Palestinian Resistance (detail) by Jacob Anikulapo, 2012

Lindsey German on a bad week for Israel and one of its leading allies, Sir Keir Starmer

The Palestinians have won a victory this week. They have succeeded in beating back Israeli attacks in a show of unity across Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself where they have stood up to ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, the violation of the Al Aqsa mosque, vicious attacks from right wing Zionists in a number of Israeli towns, and the criminal bombing of Gaza which has left over 240 dead.  

Events haven’t turned out the way Israeli prime minister Netanyahu thought. He thought that by doing deals with countries like the UAE to build alliances in the Middle East, while pressing ahead with annexation of large parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem, he would further marginalise the Palestinian struggle and that they would not fight back. Whatever he now claims, the past two weeks have proved him wrong and exposed Israeli weaknesses.

Netanyahu was buoyed by the four-year presidency of Donald Trump. Trump backed him to the hilt and moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in a provocative move which delighted right wing Jewish settlers and their supporters. Joe Biden did nothing to alter this, vetoing a call at the UN for ceasefire in Gaza as recently as a week ago. However just a couple of days later he was saying he was in favour. What changed his mind?

The Palestinian general strike on Tuesday was a huge show of defiance across all the community, as was the continued resistance to attacks. Add to that the wave of international solidarity across the world, including in the US where Biden was met with a large demonstration in Dearborn, Michigan. There was also the beginning of a change in media reporting, as the discrepancy between casualties in Gaza and in Israel became clear.

The ceasefire is of course a tremendous relief to the people of Gaza who have seen their buildings bombed and citizens killed night after night, but on its own does not begin to redress the injustices perpetrated on the Palestinians. There is still the siege of Gaza, the persecution of Palestinians in Jerusalem, the growing illegal settlements, the attacks on al Aqsa and the discriminatory treatment of Palestinians living in Israel.

Something has changed with this latest struggle however – there is far more unity across all Palestinians, which is crucial for developing their struggle, and there is also the rebirth of a solidarity movement across the world. Certainly if the British protests are anything to go by, this includes large numbers of very young people, many of them school students. The huge demonstration on Saturday in London was diverse, young, militant and probably majority women. Many of these people – both here and in Palestine – haven’t experienced previous defeats and are determined to win.

We need to build on this movement – there is already turmoil in many schools as students protest over Palestine and are subject to sanction by heads and the authorities. A mass movement of school students was one of the key components of the Iraq war protests in 2002-3 and it can be key again. There is also an urgent need to turn union policy on paper into action in the workplaces and branches. Bringing together these different elements is crucial to developing a mass movement. Also crucial is the continued alliance of the various Muslim organisations with the left campaigns, which organised recent protests. It has helped us build wider and has avoided some of the divisions between the left and the Muslim community which we see elsewhere. 

If this is a third intifada then it will be international and should focus not just on what Israel is doing but why it is able to get away with its behaviour. That is because it is backed to the hilt by US imperialism and its junior partner here in Britain. We should demand Britain stops arming Israel, imposes sanctions while these abuses continue, and that we adopt a foreign policy based on justice for Palestine. So we in Britain have a particular responsibility to show solidarity given the empire’s historic role and the continuation of its support for Israel in the Middle East.

The position of Britain, the US and the EU is becoming ever more indefensible as it allows Israel to act with impunity. Any honest accounting of the events of the last two weeks would show how its actions cannot be justified – let alone uphold the claims that the Israelis are only ‘defending themselves’ when their policy is based on displacement and attack on the Palestinians. So we tend not to get any honest accounting – the mass media barely mentioned Saturday’s demo, and accusations of isolated incidents of antisemitism tend to dominate in reports.

This is despite the fact that the organisers of the march, the stewards and the Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists who demonstrated all made clear their opposition to equating criticism of Israel with criticism of Jews. But any single instance – often with no direct connection to the demonstration – is used to smear the whole movement.

The coverage is of a piece with recent developments in British politics, particularly the adoption by many organisations of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, to mute criticism of Israel. It is however also a sign of how weak the arguments of Israel’s defenders are. More and more people are linking Israel to an apartheid like system, where the occupied territories are the new South African Bantustans and where the possibility of the ‘two state solution’ looks more and more of a pipe dream.

Palestinians should be able to return to their original homes – at present they have no such right. And while discriminatory laws allow Jewish settlers to force Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, there is no law in Israel allowing the right of return. This means campaigning for their right to do so but also for a solution to the Palestine question which involves the creation of one democratic, secular state where all those who want to live together in equality regardless of race or religion are able to do so.

The present conflict is not based on ancient religious divisions, they are symptoms not causes – just as they are in Northern Ireland. We have to look to partition, occupation and the role of imperialism on shaping the Middle East in order to understand its roots, and how to fight back.

Starmer’s gated community

What is the point of Keir Starmer? Labour’s shadow front bench has remained pathetic on Palestine, its members terrified they will be accused of antisemitism – something which marks them out from the US Democratic party which has taken a much stronger stance in opposition to Israel and given Biden some problems with his totally pro-Israel policy. The poll figures are getting even worse – and part of this must be that few have confidence in Starmer or think that he stands for anything. At least a few platitudes on Palestine might win over some of those who marched yesterday and who clearly would prefer Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

But there’s an issue closer to home that highlights exactly how awful Starmer is. His constituency includes Primrose Hill, a lovely inner-city space with views across London where people gather at night. Or did, until the Royal Parks stuck a huge gate on it and locked them out in the evenings, allegedly because of drug taking and anti-social behaviour. The hill is surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in London but is close to many working-class communities who are suffering a loss of open space, of which there is little enough in London.

Starmer has taken the side of… the Royal Parks and rich residents, something which has enraged many locals who are now campaigning against the closure. It tells you everything you need to know about him and why people are less and less impressed with the idea of voting Labour. Certainly in London we know that Labour figures have all too often supported developments which favour private companies, and which often limit access to once public land. This is an important issue here and I guess in other cities – good to know the opposition are on the wrong side.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

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’.