David Cameron conferring with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, November 2023. Photo: Flickr/Simon Dawson David Cameron conferring with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, November 2023. Photo: Flickr/Simon Dawson

Lindsey German on war, escalation and resistance

It takes some nerve for the old Etonian failed prime minister who now conducts British foreign policy from his unelected perch in the House of Lords to accuse the Houthis of escalating the war in the Middle East. Yet that was his justification for the bombing of Yemen on Thursday when Britain joined in with the US in launching airstrikes. Ludicrously, the governments argued they were acting in self-defence in protecting international shipping in the Red Sea. They also claimed that this was a totally separate issue from the war in Gaza.

That’s just wrong. The Houthis launched their attacks on ships that are destined for Israel or to countries supportive of Israel in solidarity with the people of Gaza and the Palestinians. They have said that these attacks and disruption will end when there is a ceasefire in Gaza. The British and US governments are in a tiny minority across the world in refusing to call for a ceasefire, a position backed by Keir Starmer’s official ‘opposition’, which also predictably supports the bombing of Yemen.

It is their constant support for Israel which is escalating the conflict, not the actions of the Houthis which has wide support among Yemenis and across the Middle East. People across the world watch horrified as 100 days on the bombing and ethnic cleansing continue. Journalists are targeted by the IDF in Gaza, there is a major health and humanitarian crisis and various representatives of the government make clear their determination to drive the Palestinians out entirely.

Gazans have no air force, no navy or army. Israel has some of the most sophisticated weapons in the world which it is using against innocent people. As the South African government’s case against Israel in the International Court of Justice makes clear, these and previous actions indicate ‘genocidal intent’ and must be stopped.

The US could stop arming Israel, funding it and giving full political support to its murderous government. Secretary of state Anthony Blinken toured the Middle East again last week. At its start he claimed he was seeking peace in the region – by its end his government had bombed Yemen. That was the alternative to calling for a ceasefire and in the process marked an escalation and spreading of the war. That has already happened.

It is very unlikely to deter the Houthis, who have suffered years of bombing from British-armed Saudi Arabia. The war there was largely ignored by the west, despite it killing many thousands and creating famine and humanitarian disaster on a huge scale. No wonder that today many Yemenis identify closely with the plight of the Palestinians.

Yemen is a former colony of Britain, which waged an unsuccessful war there against the national liberation movement in the 1960s. It is a very poor country, which has witnessed ships laden with containers of goods passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait while its people suffered from famine. Its people may have more concerns than the disruption of international trade and commerce.

The history of the Middle East is littered with attempts by the US, Britain and other imperialist powers trying to maintain economic and political control over countries that wanted to be independent. It would be very foolish to assume that this has been forgotten. Add to it the appalling interventions over recent decades: backing Iraq against Iran in the 1980s war between the two countries; the First Gulf War against Iraq in 1990; the war on terror and invasion and occupation of Iraq; the bombing of Libya; the interventions in Syria. And above all, the complicity in the oppression of the Palestinians which has continued since the Nakba in 1948 and which shamefully allows the US and Britain to deny war crimes.

There are 57,000 US military personnel in the Middle East, including 10,000 each in Kuwait and Qatar, and 12,500 in the east Mediterranean. They are not there for the benefit of the ordinary people of the region but to protect their interests and their allies – Israel and the Arab monarchies and dictatorships. Why should the people not resent their presence and demand that they keep out?

As an article by Patrick Wintour in the Guardian recounts:

‘The Houthis were particularly proud when a BBC interviewer asked Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of the Houthi supreme council, why they saw fit to interfere in Palestine “miles and miles away”. He replied: “As for Biden, is he a neighbour of Netanyahu? Do they live in the same flat, and does the French president live on the same floor and the British prime minister in the same building?”’

This exactly encapsulates the arrogance of the former colonial powers and the US in thinking that they can determine what happens in the region.

It’s similar to the opposition to South Africa’s court case in the Hague. Cameron defends Israel and dismisses the case. Yet the South African case is clearly very strong but still western media journalists react with amazement when the country’s ministers assert that there is the case for genocidal intent over Palestine. It is as if a former colony’s government has no right to question the imperialist agenda.

South Africa has a long history of struggle against apartheid and can easily make connections with the Palestinians. It also recognises how Britain in particular did everything it could to support the apartheid regime until the very last, how Margaret Thatcher regarded Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, and how her governments repeatedly vetoed UN resolutions condemning the apartheid regime. Just like the US does now over Israel.

Palestine and Gaza are at the cutting edge of international solidarity today, as the huge global day of action on Saturday demonstrates. But solidarity with the people of the Middle East as a whole is vital. This is an area devastated by imperialism and which will only be really free when it comes to an end. First steps would be to stop arming Israel, hands off Yemen, and US and Britain out of the Middle East.

Cameron has also warned of ‘red lights flashing’ about dangers in the world. It’s his government policies that has helped set these lights flashing – and it’s only movements from below that can stop them.

This week: More meetings – for trade unionists over Palestine on Wednesday, in Newcastle for a public meeting on Thursday, and a London activists’ meeting on Friday night. Plus an east London demo next Saturday.

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’.