"Sack Suella". Palestine national demonstration, 11 November. Photo: Oscar Cousins

Lindsey German on a growing movement and crises in the political mainstream

What could be more distasteful on Remembrance Sunday than justifying Israel’s attacks on Gaza by comparing them to the bombing of Dresden in 1945. But that is exactly what Defence Secretary Grant Shapps did. ‘When Britain bombed Dresden, 35,000 people lost their lives,’ he said, remarking that ‘we’ve sort of forgotten that in war, very sadly, people lose their lives’.

Unfortunately for Shapps, the horrific levels of death caused by the saturation bombing of the German city in the closing months of the Second World War is widely regarded as a war crime where civilians were deliberately targeted after the failure of precision bombing raids.

Which brings us to what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. With more than 11,000 dead, thousands of them children, the bombing of hospitals and ambulances, and the forced ethnic cleansing of people in Gaza and the West Bank, this is the deliberate targeting of civilians – a war crime. People who are sick, injured, the old and the young are being driven from their homes and targeted by Israeli air strikes.

The mass march in London on Saturday with close to a million people on it had one very clear demand – ceasefire now. That is the very minimum we should demand but it is too much for either of the main political parties. In this they are way out of line with public opinion. This has been clear from polls but also from the scale of the protest movement in Britain.

The demonstration was by far the largest for Palestine, with many people never reaching the end point because of its size and was as diverse, peaceful and organised as we predicted. That didn’t stop an avalanche of abuse, attempts to ban the march, and a bigoted dog-whistle campaign by the pound shop Enoch Powell, home secretary Suella Braverman, all aimed at preventing a mass democratic protest going on.

Braverman did everything to whip up hatred before the march, encouraging the fascist and far-right mob that rampaged around the Cenotaph. Despite their behaviour and the 126 arrests by police, her criticisms on Sunday were all for the peaceful pro-Palestine march which she again referred to as a hate march with antisemitic slogans. This presumably refers to the slogan ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. Why should supporters of Palestine accept the Zionist definition of this slogan as wanting to ‘drive Jews into the sea’ when it originated and is used today to as meaning that all people in historic Palestine should live equally?

She is doubling down on her anti-Muslim and repressive politics and should be sacked immediately. That Rishi Sunak has so far failed to do so shows his own weakness but also his antipathy towards the marchers, who he has equated with the fascists. He is in a tough place because if he sacks her the loudmouths around her like Lee Anderson will create havoc; if he doesn’t he will have left in place the most divisive wrecking ball of a Home Secretary ever.

Solidarity with Palestine in Britain is now inextricably linked to opposition to our government policies as the US and UK remain the biggest supporters of Israel internationally and are sanctioning what is amounting to increasing signs of genocide. It also involves opposing the Labour leader Keir Starmer who is demanding that Labour MPs oppose an SNP amendment to the King’s Speech calling for a ceasefire.

That the Labour Party should refuse to call for a ceasefire is obscene. The growing opposition to Starmer on this should have caused a rethink but he refuses to budge and will pay electorally. Instead, Labour shadow ministers stress humanitarian ‘pauses’ after which bombing, and attacks will resume which is the most cynical attempt to give cover to the brutal onslaught.

The Palestine movement has caused major turmoil in British politics. It will create a realignment of those politics both on right and left. We can see the dangers of the far right being summoned onto the streets as they were at the weekend. But we can also see the possibilities of a mass democratic politics against imperialism and war.

Last week the right-wing media and politicians did everything they could to stop us expressing our freedom of speech over Gaza. Even now, they try to slur the marchers as violent and antisemitic even though they were exactly the opposite. Michael Gove’s jaunt across Victoria station concourse, accompanied by a Daily Mail photographer, must surely have been a provocation.

We must resist the politics of hatred and division coming from the Tories and the rise in Islamophobia they have helped create. We must also demand the right to march over this issue, as we did last week.

At root they want to do two things: to deny the right to protest which goes higher up the Tory agenda the more they create issues to protest about; and to hide the crimes being committed in Gaza before our eyes every day.

They are nervous because they know the scale of the movement and the scale of the Israeli attacks which are building mass opposition across the world. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said recently that Israel is killing ‘far too many Palestinians’ – aided of course by the heavy bombs, tanks and artillery provided by the US. But they are allowing the onslaught to continue. The opposition to that onslaught must come from us, by marching, boycotting and putting pressure on British political parties to call for a ceasefire, as even French President Macron has done.

That requires even wider mobilisation – at work, in communities, in colleges, on the streets – over the weeks to come, which must demand not just an end to the latest bombing but an end to the apartheid state as well.

The most immediate and pressing task towards this end is to demand that Braverman must go. I see another demonstration coming on.

This week: I will be helping organise more solidarity actions with Palestine, speaking at the Stop the War and CND trade union solidarity day event at City and Islington College on Wednesday, and travelling to Newcastle on Thursday for a Stop the War public meeting. I will also be visiting the Women in Revolt exhibition at Tate Britain.

Before you go

If you liked this article, please consider getting involved. Counterfire is a revolutionary socialist organisation working to build the movements of resistance and socialist ideas. Please join us and help make change happen.

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’.