Alex Snowdon explains how the People's Assembly demonstration outside the Tory conference in October presents another opportunity to build solidarity with Palestine
Palestine is still the issue. The upsurge of solidarity protests in May demonstrated that the violence, racism and injustice of Israel’s apartheid regime can still galvanise mass opposition. Two huge demonstrations in London were complemented by dozens of local protests in cities across the UK.
This wave of solidarity was inspired by revulsion at what Israel was doing to the Palestinians: most visibly in its devastating military assault on Gaza, killing over 200 people in 11 days, but also the attempted dispossession of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, the brutal repression of protests in Jerusalem and the violence directed at worshippers at Al Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site.
But it also took inspiration from the Palestinians themselves. Protests spread from Jerusalem to numerous Israeli cities and towns, and to the occupied West Bank, peaking with an extraordinary general strike that was widely observed across historic Palestine. A new sense of Palestinian unity – starting to overcome the fragmentation that has been actively engineered by Israel for decades – was forged. Horizons expanded.
The resistance by Palestinians has not disappeared, but has flowed into new channels. Similarly, the global movement of solidarity is ongoing. The scale of May’s demonstrations may have been exceptional, but there are thousands of people who have been encouraged to stay involved in Palestine solidarity campaigning. The tactics of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) are particularly important.
BDS campaigns recognise that Israel has an exceptional apartheid regime that deserves to be singled out and ostracised. But they also – just as importantly – grasp that Israel depends upon international complicity from business and governments alike. As an international movement, we have a duty to build pressure on corporations and governments to break from Israeli apartheid. That is the most important thing we can do for the Palestinians.
Our own country has a historic record of practical support for Israeli apartheid. It was British colonial sponsorship that fuelled Zionist settlement before Israel was founded in 1948. Since 1948 – the Nakba, or catastrophe, for the Palestinians – successive British governments have traded with Israel, armed Israel and politically supported Israel. They have aided and abetted the dispossession of the Palestinians, the brutal violence inflicted on them, and the continuing denial of basic human rights to them.
We have a special responsibility to sustain a movement of maximum political pressure on Israeli apartheid and the support it receives from the British government. That includes demanding an immediate end to Britain’s arms trade with Israel and calling for sanctions on the Israeli regime. This needs to be twinned with exerting pressure on the Western corporate sponsors of apartheid.
This is why the Tory conference, being held in Manchester in early October, should be treated as an opportunity for demonstrating solidarity with Palestine. The main demonstration on Sunday 3 October is called by an anti-austerity coalition, the People’s Assembly, but it can be a focus for campaigning and organising across a wide range of issues. Palestine is one of them.
We need to maintain the momentum of Palestine solidarity campaigning. There has been a concerted effort in the political mainstream to stigmatise support for Palestine. Demonstrations and campaigning can shift the political debate about Palestine, as well as stepping up the pressure on issues like the arms trade and complicity in settlements.
I will be marching in Manchester on 3 October. I hope that many fellow Palestine solidarity activists join with thousands of others to make it a big, united and diverse demonstration targeting the Tories over their disastrous policies at home and abroad.
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