Shabbir Lakha reflects on the twentieth century imperial imposition that continues to blight global justice
A century ago, British foreign policy created what has become one of the biggest injustices in modern history: the ongoing persecution of the Palestinians. Last year we marked the hundred year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration which set off a spiral of ethnic cleansing, occupation and apartheid.
Later this year will be the ten year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, when Israel mounted a brutal air offensive and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, killing almost 1,500 people, razing whole towns and villages to the ground and indiscriminately using chemical weapons such as white phosphorous. There was global protest at Israel’s crimes against humanity, and here in the UK there was a revival of the Palestine solidarity movement as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to call for an end to the massacre.
Those demonstrations were the first that I ever attended, like many people my age. It was the first time many people in my generation were confronted with the reality of what was being done to the Palestinians and the role of our government in it. The anger I felt watching innocent children being bombed in their homes set me on a path of campaigning for justice for Palestine and against war and imperialism.
And Palestine is still the issue. From the deadly siege on Gaza and the bantustanisation of the West Bank, house demolitions and illegal settlements on annexed Palestinian land, child prisoners and administrative detention based on secret evidence without trial, the 7 million Palestinian refugees to the daily killings of Palestinians even in times of “peace”, Palestine is still the issue.
Last year Donald Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and begin the process of moving the US Embassy there. Functioning as a microcosm of his presidency, his actions were disastrous, as evidenced by the numerous Palestinians killed at ensuing protests and over 600 Palestinians detained since; but they also ripped off the mask of the so-called peace process. Since the Oslo Accords in 1993 (which have caused more harm than benefit for Palestinians) there has been no significant movement towards peace and the two-state solution has long been dead in the water.
And the mainstream outrage at Trump’s announcement was exposed for only being concerned with maintaining the status quo just weeks later when there was resounding silence at the arrest and detention of 16 year old Ahed Tamimi. The truth is that while world leaders lined up to say Trump was wrong and they wouldn’t follow suit with his Embassy move, supporting the oppression of Palestinians is still the norm.
In the UK, at the start of last year Al Jazeera exposed the level of influence Israel exerts on British politics through its Embassy and by the end of the year we found out that Priti Patel, then Minister for International Development was conducting secret meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister and other officials and was trying to divert international aid money to the Israeli army. Both these revelations were shocking, but hardly surprising. The UK has long been a sponsor of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, demonstrated aptly by Netanyahu being one of Theresa May’s first three state visits and Britain’s long history of sustained arms sales – even in the middle of the barbaric offensives in Gaza in 2008/09, 2012 and 2014.
But there is reason to be hopeful. We are in the unique position of having a Leader of the Labour Party who has been a life-long defender of the Palestinians and who 13 million people voted for in last June’s General Election. But Emily Thornberry’s speech at the Balfour celebration dinner, and the ongoing witchunt in the Labour Party of anti-Zionists should serve as a warning for everyone that shares solidarity with Palestine of the kind of foreign policy we can expect from a Labour government even with Jeremy Corbyn at its helm.
If we want a truly anti-war government that works to reverse a century of detrimental foreign policy and for peace and justice for the Palestinians, then as well as campaigning to get Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10, we need to ensure that the issue of Palestine is centre-stage on the agenda. This means supporting pro-Palestine voices in the Labour Party, but it also means strengthening the extra-parliamentary antiwar and Palestine solidarity movements and exercising pressure from below by bringing the masses onto the streets.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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