As women speaking up for Palestine… it is important we recognise and pay tribute to the resilience and steadfastness of Palestinian women and the leading role they play in the struggle against Israel’s widespread and systematic human rights violations.Kim Johnson MP
By Kim Johnson
Thank you to Labour & Palestine for inviting me to speak today.
As others have been right to recognise – the terrain on the international stage has shifted massively.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked outpourings of solidarity – in action and feeling – for refugees fleeing violence in their homes, for the assault on territorial sovereignty, and in unconditional support of those fighting to defend their communities and their country.
The scenes we have all witnessed in Ukraine over the past days have most certainly been heart breaking, and we must do everything in our power to bring about a diplomatic solution to this dangerous crisis based on peace, security and human rights – including opening our doors to refugees fleeing the war.
While such expressions of solidarity – especially alongside calls for peace – are without a doubt sincere and welcome, and I have added my own voice multiple times in the chamber and elsewhere, those of us who have championed the cause of the Palestinians, the Yemeni’s, the Kashmiri’s, the Kurds and so many others must now take up the struggle to ensure that these principles are applied unanimously, equally and without discrimination.
While White refugees are being prioritised at the borders, Black residents in Ukraine are left stranded, pushed to the bottom of lists and forced to wait in unendurable cold and fear while others are allowed to pass on ahead. While Black refugees and asylum seekers from Asia and Africa are dying in the English Channel, threatened with having their boats pushed back to sea, Ukrainian refugees are being offered free and safe passage underneath them on the Eurostar.
Where language such as ‘heroic resistance,’ ‘illegal occupation,’ ‘upholding sovereignty and international law,’ and welcoming refugees have been thrown around freely by politicians and news pundits in relation to this conflict, these expressions have been sorely missing when referring to the occupation in Palestine, and in solidarity with Palestinians resisting the expansion of illegal settlements, apartheid and oppression.
All refugees have the right to sanctuary and the right to return home. All peoples have the right to resist oppression, and to live in dignity and freedom. Today, we must take the spotlight shone on these principles by the Ukrainian struggle and make sure it shines strongly on the rest of the world.
Making these comparisons is not to engage in “whataboutery,” or to pit refugees already in desperate need against each other. It is in fact the opposite. We must all work to make this terrible moment a turning point, one which forever changes our treatment of resistance movements and refugees.
Palestine is one of the clearest examples where such language and condemnation is too often avoided on the international stage, including here in the UK.
The recent reports by B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty echo what Palestinian civil society has been saying for decades – a system of apartheid is being implemented across the entirety of historic Palestine – from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
These past couple of years have formed a turning point for the Palestinian struggle. After Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ gave the green light for unhindered Israeli expansion of illegal settlements, we have seen an escalation of the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and the collective punishment of Palestinians living inside the occupied territories.
As vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Palestine, I’ve heard staggering testimonies from Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank, refugee camps and the diaspora.
We’ve heard from human rights groups talking about the distinct two-tier legal systems that push Palestinian children in the West Bank into military court. In the last 20 years, an estimated ten thousand Palestinian children have been held in the Israeli military detention system. That’s about 500 – 700 every single year – these are the only children in the world who are systematically prosecuted in military courts. They consistently lack fair trial rights, particularly by juvenile justice standards.
We know about the annexation of Palestinian lands, the eviction and dispossession of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah and so many other places – a modern day Nakba unfolding right in front of us. In Liverpool – as in many cities across the country – it was incredible to see a new generation take to the streets spontaneously in solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah resisting the illegal seizure of their homes, this is what solidarity is all about, people see what’s going on in Palestine and will not stand for it.
As women speaking up for Palestine, and just after celebrating international women’s day, it is important we recognise and pay tribute to the resilience and steadfastness of Palestinian women and the leading role they play in the struggle against Israel’s widespread and systematic human rights violations.
Since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967, more than 10,000 Palestinian women have been arrested and detained in the West Bank alone by the occupation forces. A total of 31 Palestinian women are currently being held in the Israeli prison system, which permits authorities to detain Palestinians with no charge or trial – with no time limit. From resisting the occupation and home demolitions, to organising political activities, to working and supporting their families – Palestinian women lead the struggle for dignity and freedom and resist the challenges of gender-based oppression as well as the Israeli occupation.
So to sum up – I am really proud to be at this event tonight in solidarity and support with the Palestinian people, I’m proud to be on the panel with these great speakers, I’m proud to be a trade unionist with a long history of internationalism, but more importantly I’m a proud Scouser – proud of our history of solidarity with international freedom struggles. We stood shoulder to shoulder with our South African brothers and sisters fighting the brutal system of racial segregation and white supremacy. We took bold action despite huge pressure – the council boycotted South African goods, dock workers refused to handle imports from South Africa, food workers refused to handle South African goods, Ford Car workers packed anti-Apartheid leaflets into cars shipped to South Africa, university students held sit ins and charities and local coalitions took direct action.
We have so much to learn from this history of solidarity – not least that systems of oppression can and will fall. There is power in solidarity.
These actions taken by trade unions, students and our communities brought down that vicious regime and this is what we all need to do now for Palestine.