Protests may seem futile when government pro-Israel policies remain the same, no matter how many war crimes and atrocities Israel commits. But they are not.

Asa Winstanley

Over the course of 51 bloody and terrible days of Israeli slaughter in the Gaza Strip in July and August, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed by Israel. According to UN figures, the vast majority, some 75 percent, of these were civilians, with some 500 of the dead being children.

Now that an ongoing ceasefire was agreed on 26 August in Cairo, it would be wise to take stock.

Faced with such grim realities of this Israel war, it is hard to feel that the Palestinians “won” anything. And yet, as renowned Palestinian journalist and broadcaster Abdul Bari Atwan put it recently, the resistance in Gaza never waved the white flag. The armed factions did not surrender and, by all accounts, had a vast basis of Palestinian popular support to draw on for their legitimacy.

Meanwhile, global popular support for the Palestinian struggle only increased. The movement to boycott Israel received major boosts. Here in London, the solidarity movement, led by groups like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of al-Aqsa and the Stop the War movement, mobilised tens of thousands onto the streets of London.

Over the course of this latest war on Gaza, these were mobilized every single week, until some of the more recent ceasefires were negotiated. Not only were huge national demonstrations and rallies held in London, but midweek protests against the Israeli embassy and against the BBC’s slanted coverage were also repeated.

There were also more daring direct actions, such as the two-day shut-down by activists of a drone-engine factory in the Midlands belonging to a subsidiary of Elbit – an Israeli arms firm.

The protests never petered out either: they only seemed to get larger and larger. This is a significant achievement in itself.

At times though, protests can seem somewhat futile, like banging one’s head against the walls of the House of Commons. This especially goes when the government’s pro-Israel policies remain the same, no matter how many war crimes and atrocities Israel commits.

It is true that the government, despite a promised “review” of arms export licences to Israel, did not halt the (highly lucrative) arms trade with Israel. It is true that the government made little more than half-hearted grumbles about Israeli conduct while stubbornly speaking up for Israel’s supposed “right to defend itself” (it has no such right on occupied land).

But look again.

I urge campaigners for Palestine to take the longer view. Western governments, who have always been Israel’s mainstay of support, will be the last to move. The struggle for Palestinian rights is a long term struggle: one that will not be won overnight. It will be won by Palestinians themselves – we can make a small contribution towards this with our acts of solidarity here, such as education, protests and boycotts.

And, in the long run, protests can make a difference. It is hard to see that, especially when they seem at the time to have been for nothing.

Our protests did not stop this deadly Israeli war on Gaza; but they almost certainly contributed towards curtailing it. At one point, public disgust with Israeli war crimes in Gaza was so high that even the US State Department had little choice but to grudgingly condemn one particular Israeli bombing (it became impossible to continue to excuse Israeli bombing when it was so openly and deliberately done against Palestinian civilians outside a UN school).

Our protests more than a decade ago against the war on Iraq did not stop that disastrous invasion – a war that has had far-reaching and terrible consequences for the people of the whole region; ripples of death and destruction that are still playing themselves out to this day.

But the protests more than likely stopped the US expansion of war into Syria and Iran. It may be easy to forget now, but at the time, the war-hungry, right-wing head-bangers advising George W. Bush were openly agitating for Syria and Iran to be next in line. Remember the “Axis of Evil” speech?

You can see one legacy of the anti-Iraq-war protests now, with the current media hysteria building up new drums of war for yet another “intervention” in Iraq to “take action” against the so-called “Islamic State”. They are talking about building a coalition against IS, but there is no way they can draw on the example of 2002’s “coalition of the willing” (which was basically just the US and the UK) since that would evoke memories of a disastrous and unpopular war. Instead the supposedly objective media pundits who are right now studiously debating exactly which method is best to (yet again) bomb parts of Iraq to smithereens, have been harking back to the early 1990s and the first Gulf War “coalition” against Saddam Hussein.

Although popular opinion against a war on Syria one year ago played a decisive role in stopped that “intervention” in its tracks, it remains to be see whether or not the same can be said about the current agitation for war in Iraq.

Considering that it was American and British bombs which allowed the formation of the “Islamic State” (formerly known as Al Qaida in Iraq) in the first place, American and British bombs are only likely to encourage support for the group in the medium to long term.

Let us hope that for once, the imperial powers will learn to keep their noses out.

Source: Middle East Monitor

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