On the tenth national Palestine demonstration (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Britain is unusual, and for once it is exceptional in a good way. Repression or a waning of campaigning calls have stifled the movement for Palestine in some countries—but not here. Probably three million people in Britain have at some point in the last six months joined a local or national demonstration for Palestine. And millions more support the mobilisations.

It’s the biggest social movement for at least 20 years, and it has not gone away. Instead many of those involved feel more determined and more furious with Israel and its Western backers. Every mass movement reaches deep into society.

Activists have immersed themselves in the history and politics of Palestine and imperialism. This is probably one of the best-informed sets of protesters ever. It has caused a deep political crisis for the Tories who can’t intimidate the movement off the streets.

And it has also split Labour whose supporters want to see the backing for Palestine while its leaders refuse to concede. But, as we take to the streets again this Saturday for the 11th national demonstration in London, we know that we have not yet won. Demonstrations, occupations and blockades are not simply to show our solidarity or to witness that we did not stand aside when a genocide was taking place.

We want to make it impossible for the British government to arm, fund and support Israel. We want to be part of the movement that wins Palestine’s ­freedom. To achieve that we need to hit the system harder—and strategise for revolution. Mass mobilisations are ­crucial. Everyone needs to build this Saturday’s demonstration and all the other elements of resistance.

There have to be more national ­mobilisations and neither Ramadan nor Easter should see a slackening of the pace. Let’s have another national demonstration in mid-April. It’s tempting to think that electoral campaigns are the prime way forward to hurt supporters of Israel and Starmer in particular. They can be a focus and have an impact.

But they can also take people off the streets and turn the energy of the movement into parliament and councils—and thereby kill it. In such circumstances, bringing together a bigger revolutionary left is not a distraction from the wider movement. If there were 30,000 socialist revolutionaries at the heart of the Palestine movement they could be building much greater workplace resistance—strikes and walkouts. 

We should fight to build the ­biggest possible action on 1 May, the next day of workplace mobilisations. But the lack of any concrete campaigning or support from union leaders limits their scope. We face a government in its death throes. Extending the marches and other actions and making them more militant can achieve even more than has been achieved since October.

Cops arrest chanting protester in Manchester

Police in Manchester arrested a woman for chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Cops then imposed bail conditions banning her from Manchester city centre or from being in a group of more than three people.

Cops arrested Masa Khawaja outside the offices of BNY Mellon in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, during a demonstration on 29 February. It was against the bank’s investment of more than £10 million in the Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems. Khawaja, who is of Palestinian heritage, said she was on the microphone at the protest when a police officer approached and threatened her with arrest.

She ignored him, telling the Guardian newspaper, “In response, I said on the microphone, ‘We are vilified and demonised for calling for our liberation. When we say from the river to the sea, we are calling for liberation after 75 years of colonisation. 

“How dare you come to us and say that we can’t call for our liberation and try and censor us? We resumed the chanting quite deliberately, as a way of saying, ‘You’re not going to silence us because there’s no basis for you to arrest us.’” She said less than a minute later officers dragged her to a police van.

Khawaja said she was held in custody for about 13 hours before being interviewed for ten minutes at Bury police station. It was another couple of hours before she was released on bail, at around 1am. Khawaja is right. The best response to such repression is to redouble the number and volume of such slogans.

Build, organise and join these mobilisations

National Demonstration: Ceasefire Now—Stop the Genocide in Gaza. This Saturday, 30 March, 12 noon, Russell Square, London WC1B 5LF.
Go to scottishpsc.org.uk for events in Scotland
Palestine and the Unions—The Next Steps for the Movement on Mon 15 April, 6.30pm. Contact office@stopwar.org.uk for details and Zoom link.
Workplace day of action, Wed 1 May. Stop the War says:

Gather outside your workplace for a 30-minute stoppage.
If this is not possible, gather at lunchtime outside your workplace with a Ceasefire Now banner and posters.
Organise a lunchtime protest inside your workplace. Find a room where you can assemble your colleagues to listen to a speaker from Gaza calling for support and after take a photo of all those gathered with posters and banners.
If you don’t work in an industry that has lunch-breaks as such, find out when most are free after work to meet up to protest outside your workplace.

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