March for Palestine!


As Amnesty’s report framed it “whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights.”

By Ben Jamal, Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Last May, in consecutive weekends ,150k and then 200k marched on the streets of London in solidarity with the Palestinian people. They were joined by thousands more marching in more than 70 towns and cities across the UK. It was a demonstration of the depth of solidarity with the Palestinian people built over many years in the UK, but also a visceral response to the unvarnished face of Israel’s system of oppression manifested in threatened evictions in Sheik Jarrah and a renewed bombardment of Gaza.  When I spoke at the demonstration in Hyde Park on May 22nd, a ceasefire had just been called and the mainstream media were full of narratives of restored calm. I reminded marchers that although the bombs had stopped falling on Gaza, the people there had still woken up that morning to the reality of an ongoing siege, now in its 15th year, that was rendering Gaza in the words of the UN” unfit for human habitation”; that families in  Sheikh Jarrah had woken up still facing the threat of eviction from homes they had lived in for decades; that Palestinians in the West Bank had woken up still living under an occupation in its 55th year that denied them the   right to live  self-determined lives; and that Palestinian citizens of Israel had woken up still living  unequal in a state that defines itself not as state of all of its citizens but of the Jewish people only.

For decades Palestinians have made clear that the system of oppression Israel has established in all of the territory from the river to the sea, meets the definition of apartheid. In the past year this judgment has been affirmed by BTselm, Israel’s leading human rights monitoring body, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and most recently Michael Lynk the UN Special rapporteur for the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since `1967.  As Amnesty’s report framed it “ whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights.”

Th establishment of this system of apartheid in 1948 was foregrounded by the forced expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians, an act required to ensure a Jewish majority in the new state of Israel. On May 15th, Palestinians commemorate this catastrophe, the Nakba and reassert the demands for Freedom, justice and Equality that set the parameters for Palestinian liberation- an end to the military occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, implementation of the right of Palestinian refugees to return, and an end to the unequal treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

In 2005, frustrated by the failure of international governments to act to end Israel’s violation of international law, Palestinian civil society launched a unified call for a programme of boycott divestment and sanctions until the rights of the Palestinians, as defined above, are realised. The ask is simple and follows in a noble tradition of using BDS to place nonviolent pressure on rights abusing states to change conduct. The ask recognises that not to act, not to sever financial, political and cultural support for oppression is to be complicit. As articulated by Desmond Tutu when calling for action to end south African apartheid, it is a moral framework that recognises that to be neutral in a situation of injustice is to be on the side of the oppressor.

This is the foundation of solidarity, to recognise that an injustice to one is an injustice to all and that this requires action to end our complicity in forging the chains that bind others.

AS the UK Government rightly employs sanctions to address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it not only refuses to take action to hold Israel to account, it proposes action to suppress the rights of public bodies to take action to divest from companies complicit in Israel’s system of apartheid, via an anti BDS bill.  Everyone concerned about the application of international law, and the rights of public sector workers not to have their pensions invested unethically, will support the campaign to oppose that bill

So on May 14th, we will be marching again in London, marking the Nakba and calling for an end to the injustice of apartheid. We will be marching to affirm that a consistent antiracism demands opposition to the most egregious forms of institutionalised discrimination, apartheid, wherever it exists; we will be marching to affirm that support for the rule of law internationally must be applied consistently; we will be marching in solidarity to affirm that none of us are free until all of us are free.

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