British prime minister Rishi Sunak arrived in Israel today to give his support to Benjamin Netanyahu’s war on the civilian population of Gaza. But huge numbers of people in Britain are defying legal threats to express solidarity with the Palestinian people.
British prime minister Rishi Sunak (R) meets Israeli president Isaac Herzog (L) in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 19, 2023. (Handout-GPO / Anadolu via Getty Images)
As I write this, we are still coming to terms with the news of the bombing of al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City, with hundreds already declared dead, and the number still increasing. The horror of the scenes is indescribable. Journalists on site, even the most seasoned after reporting on so many Israeli attacks in Gaza, are visibly distraught live on air, finding themselves unable to put words to what they are seeing.
All week, as Israeli bombs have rained down on the besieged Gaza Strip, we have been saying, “this is bound to get worse than we’ve ever seen.” Although the scale of violence is unprecedented, we know the wide range of Israel’s destructive capabilities — its powerful arsenal of weapons, some of which are partly manufactured on British soil; the cruel calculations made by Israeli military strategists; the grotesque propaganda that the Israeli government churns out to justify its brutal attacks and to whip up warmongering governments internationally to come to its support.
Israel is responsible for these crimes, but others are complicit. Here in Britain, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak responded to a question about the targeting of civilians and the cutting of fuel, water, and medical supplies to Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants, by insisting “that the responsibility for what is happening here is with Hamas and Hamas alone.” Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer has repeatedly made similar statements. By denying that Israel is responsible even for its own actions, they have given a green light to attacks on civilians, like the one on al-Ahli hospital, to be carried out with impunity.
Sunak arrived in Israel today and held a joint press conference with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where he claimed that Netanyahu’s government was “taking every precaution to avoid harming civilians.” Yet Crispin Blunt, an MP from Sunak’s Conservative Party, told the House of Commons yesterday that Israel was guilty of war crimes.
Able to Breathe
Palestinians in Britain are experiencing the worst distress as they watch their homeland and people under attack, but they are not the only ones outraged. Millions of people in Britain are moved by the horrific scenes on their TV screens.
Some are trade unionists whose local branches have political education sessions as a part of their internationalist tradition and have built connections with Palestinian workers and activists. Some were politicized in the 1970s and ’80s as a part of the global solidarity movement against apartheid in South Africa. Some are compelled by their faith to work against war and militarism. Many people are only beginning to think about these issues now.
These are the 150,000 people who took to the streets of London last Saturday to march against the attacks on Gaza, to demand an immediate cease-fire, and to call for freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. A diverse array, old and young, from a wide array of racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, LGBTQ. As one Palestinian participant wrote:
On Saturday, for a few hours, I was finally able to breathe. Marching alongside tens of thousands of demonstrators in central London was reinvigorating. Like so many Palestinians abroad, I spent the week finding it hard to work or sleep . . .
As one of the organizers of this massive march, I can confess that we were nervous ahead of Saturday because of the unprecedented levels of threat and repression our movement is facing, from the highest levels of government and media. In the days leading up, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly warned supporters of Palestinian rights to “stay and home,” while Home Secretary Suella Braverman suggested that just flying the flag of Palestine could be a criminal offense.
The Labour Party, after its top leaders publicly approved of Israel placing Gaza under siege, instructed its MPs and local councilors not to attend the demonstration, and, furthermore, shut down the long-established right of local party groups to discuss the topic. Our inboxes were flooded with concerned messages: Will I be arrested for holding a Palestinian flag? Can I get in trouble for saying “Stop bombing Gaza”?
“The World Is With Us”
On Friday night, after a long week of intense preparations, urgent responses, and reorganizing all priorities, I had planned to have a quiet night in ahead of a big day. But my mobile phone started buzzing out of control just as I sat down to dinner: the Metropolitan Police had imposed, at the very last minute, a set of restrictions on our march that would give them wide powers to crack down. Most of us found out about it over Twitter/X.
On Saturday, the sea of Palestinian flags in the crowd was heart-swelling. We had stood up for Palestine and, by so doing, asserted our democratic right to protest. Despite the incitement by British political leaders and the media, millions of ordinary people in this country are moved by the universal principles at the heart of the Palestinian struggle. This coming Saturday, after the horrors of what we’ve witnessed in recent days, we expect the numbers to be even higher.
By having so many people in the streets, we are sending a powerful signal to the British government and the world. Given its financial and military dependence on the United States and other Western states, Israel could not continue its massacres of civilians if there was a united demand for a cease-fire from the international community. We are in a global struggle to halt this carnage and every one of us can play our part.
I have a vintage Palestinian political poster hanging in my house, that has a single simple phrase written on it in Arabic: “The world is with us.” I want my Palestinian comrades in Britain to feel this sentiment all the time, but especially in these darkest hours. This Saturday we march again, with our flags held high.Original post