1. The long struggle of the Palestinian people for their national rights and sovereignty and Israel’s ongoing massacre in Gaza has generated a new global movement, as millions of people have taken to the streets to defend the Palestinians, stop the slaughter and prevent a second Nakba. In many countries this is having a profound impact on domestic politics; in Britain this has sent shock waves through the establishment, bringing significant government changes. It has also had a massive impact on the Labour Party, which is facing massive opposition from within its own ranks owing to its refusal to call for a ceasefire. The former Home Secretary attempted to ban the Ceasefire march on 11th November, attacking the police and appealing to the far right to mobilise against the demonstration. This clearly revealed the divisions within the state and establishment, exacerbated by the scale of the developing movement. The result of this conflict between the movement and the most extreme right section of the state was a march of close to a million and the sacking of the Home Secretary,
2. There have been periodic mass protests for Palestine for decades, sustained by the Palestine solidarity movement and its allies. But this time the mobilisation is on a completely different level: because of the unremitting slaughter, because of the stated intent of Israeli politicians to continue the slaughter; and because the British establishment – including the Labour Party – is clearly seen to be supporting that slaughter. And the context for all this is a broad, deep and ideologically sharp grasp of the question of Palestine that has developed organically through successive mobilisations in 2003, 2009 and 2014.
3. The aim of the Israeli state is revenge for the Hamas attack on Israel, and ultimately the destruction of Gaza as it has been constituted – the second Nakba. Ongoing attacks on the West Bank make it clear that the target is not just the destruction of Hamas, as is claimed, but the displacement and destruction of the Palestinian state and people; the genocidal ambitions of Israeli state actions are explicit. It is important to grasp the magnitude of this aim.
4. Worldwide protests are already on a mass scale, crossing all continents; from north America to Latin America, from Africa to Europe, to Asia and beyond – millions are mobilising. Even in countries like Germany and France where attempts have been made to ban pro-Palestinian demonstrations, tens of thousands have taken to the streets. In the Middle East there have been enormous demonstrations, the scale of which have not been seen since the Arab Spring. This is likely to have a wide political impact on those societies. One of the most significant international developments has been the response of trade unionists globally to the appeal from Palestinian trade unions – to stop the Israeli war machine, blocking arms transports and building related forms of solidarity action. Workers directly involved in manufacture and transport of weapons have taken action to block shipments, while supportive trade unionists have also taken action at production and transport sites. The coming together of workers with the wider movement has resulted in significant developments: among many examples – at the ports of Barcelona, Naples and Genoa, of Oakland and Melbourne; India trade unions have called for a refusal to handle Israeli cargo; in Britain, trade unionists have blocked arms factories exporting to Israel. This part of the movement is expanding.
5. The evolving and developing movement in Britain has a number of features. At its heart is the pre-existing alliance of organisations that have worked together for a number of years, in response to regular attacks and incursions into Palestinian lands, and also to mark occasions such as the Nakba. With the Palestine solidarity movement at its heart, Muslim organisations are also central within this alliance, as are the organisations which led the anti-war movement twenty years ago. This alliance has been responsible for mobilising vast numbers across society and has helped create the space in which many diverse protest events organised by both known and unknown small groups have spread rapidly with enormous impact and popularity. A significant factor is that the leadership of many of the protests – such as the train station protests – has been young Jewish activists such as Jews Against Genocide. The spontaneity of many of these events indicates the extent of support for the Palestinian cause in wider society – also demonstrated by opinion polls – and suggests that such support can be widened and deepened. The ‘established’ movement is right to welcome and embrace the diversity and spontaneity of protest across society and should support its development where possible and appropriate, helping to regenerate the wider movement. Key forms of ongoing events – frequently led by young people – include train station occupations, public meetings, vigils, local marches, trade union actions, school student strikes, university student walk-outs, and much more. Many of the grassroots actions have been led by activists who cut their teeth in the student and youth mobilisations of 2010/11, while others have been organised by young people new to political activity.
6. Mainstream politicians and establishment figures largely continue to support Israel’s actions, weaponising false accusations of antisemitism in an attempt to undermine and invalidate calls for a ceasefire, and for justice for Palestine. This in turn is used to obscure the underlying reason for unquestioning support for Israel – namely its role in the Middle East as the US’s chief ally in its attempts at regional domination. In spite of this, calls for a ceasefire stretch far beyond the left to those motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns; mainstream humanitarian organisations and agencies are speaking out about the realities of what is being done to Gaza in a remarkable way, and the role of significant figures in the UN – still a widely respected body in British society – has helped reveal the reality of the crimes that the British government and opposition is supporting and complicit in.
7. This opens up a sharp faultline similar to the one in the run up to the Iraq war where politicians are sharply out of step with public opinion, and there is a significant section of elite civil society opinion – around the questions of war crimes, humanitarian law, and health and aid agency access – that has been won to backing the movement, or at least lending validation. The government persists in attempting to crack down on the movement but is failing given both the scale of the mobilisations and the divisions within the ruling class on the issue. Many far beyond the left believe that protests must be allowed to continue and that there should be a ceasefire.
8. As is so often the case, this faultline runs through the Labour Party, which is seeing resignations over the issue – numerous councillors amongst them, leading to the loss of Oxford and Burnley councils. Many councils have voted to support a ceasefire, and hundreds of councillors who haven’t resigned have written to Starmer asking him to change his position. Numerous MPs, mayors, and councillors, are taking pro-ceasefire positions in defiance of the leadership, including the mayors of London and Manchester. Support for Labour within the Muslim community is plummeting. And while the mainstream media frames this in cynically racialised terms – the possible loss of “the Muslim vote” – the anger at Labour and malaise in its ranks stretches far beyond the Muslim community. Two-thirds of the at least 339 Labour councillors who signed an open letter calling for a ceasefire in Gaza are not Muslim.
9. This has finally ended, for many, the post-Corbyn period of ‘keeping your head down’ to try to stay in Labour. It has also revealed that although Labour itself may be ‘post-Corbyn’, that is very far from the case in the wider movement. Corbyn’s long-standing support for the Palestinian cause has been unwavering and deeply principled – he has refused to abandon the Palestinian people. He has emerged in the current situation as a leader who speaks clearly of peace and justice without compromise, recognised as such by many hundreds of thousands across society. By driving Corbyn out of the Labour Party, together with councillors who have resigned and large numbers of socialist activists, and by doubling down on support for Israel, the Labour leadership has created the conditions for the emergence of a mass political force to the left of Labour. Hundreds of thousands of young people are taking their first political steps, in their support for the Palestinian cause; many of those will want to widen their understanding of war, imperialism and injustice, and continue their engagement with active politics. A new political force to the left of Labour could be a natural political home for many.
10. What comes next politically, for this movement, will be determined by events in Palestine. The priority is to build the scale and impact of this movement to support the Palestinians and ultimately to help secure their victory. Alongside that, to enable the movement to be as effective as possible, and to be sustained beyond the immediate mobilisations, we need to develop a shared Marxist and anti-imperialist analysis and strategy. The possibility exists, in this moment, for the left to overcome many of the historic differences that have dogged its work over decades. Every mass movement has the possibility of putting politics on a new course and creates new forms of activity and new ways of organising and working. We now have the opportunity to build new ways of working together, to strengthen our work for Palestine, against imperialism, and for the working class cause, in Britain and internationally; global coordination should be part of this too.
We believe that we should not waste this opportunity; it is essential that we discuss together how we collectively move forward. We recognise that this is a very dangerous period: there is the possibility of the war being extended and the strengthening of the far right is ongoing in many countries. Collective discussion and collective organisation are both vital if we are to advance and make real the possibilities presented by the new movement, and secure freedom and sovereignty for Palestine.
This document has been prepared by a number of comrades active in the struggle for a ceasefire and a free Palestine. We come from different parts of the left and through our joint work on Palestine we want to find a common path – to end that historic wrong, and to build beyond this struggle for a future free from oppression and violence.
Anindya Bhattacharyya, Andrew Burgin, Suresh Grover, Kate Hudson, Seema Syeda, Tom Unterrainer, Tom Walker.
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
Events and protests from around the movement, and local Left Unity meetings.
Just Stop Oil – Slow Marches
Slow marches are still legal (so LOW RISK of arrest), and are extremely effective. The plan is to keep up the pressure on this ecocidal government to stop all new fossil fuel licences.
Saturday 17th February: national march for Palestine
National demonstration: part of a Global Day of Action for Gaza
Full Ceasefire NOW! Stop the Genocide in Gaza: Assemble 12 noon in central London
Full details to follow
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