Lindsey German: If the US, UK and EU governments allow this to continue it will be to endorse the worst actions of Israel’s most right-wing government ever

Photo: Steve Eason

There can be no greater mark of the of the seriousness of the situation in Palestine than the fact that many people are now arguing that we may be facing a second Nakba, or catastrophe, where Palestinians are driven from their homes and territory. The Israeli government is embarking on a course of action which amounts to collective punishment of a whole population. After a week of intensive bombing, the inhabitants of the northern part of Gaza are being forced out of their homes, driven south by the threat of bombing and invasion.

The justification for this is supposedly to avenge the Hamas attacks last week. But the truth is that the conflict did not begin there – it arises because of the basic injustice of the first Nakba and of the occupations following the 1967 war. It will continue until that injustice is resolved. The loss of life in the Hamas attacks was tragic, but already the number of deaths in Gaza, including more than 400 children, exceeds those killed in those attacks. That number is going to rise much higher in coming days. Hospitals have been targeted, Palestinians in Gaza are denied water and electricity, and hundreds of thousands have already left everything they own in the desperate flight south.

Despite calls by the UN special rapporteur for an immediate ceasefire perhaps the most chilling aspect of this is the way in which the ‘international community’ is turning a blind eye to Israel’s plans for ethnic cleansing and destruction of Gaza, justified in the words of Rishi Sunak, because ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’. This perpetrates a major lie, that Israel only reacts defensively to attacks upon itself. But the whole history of the state of Israel has been one of attacks on Palestinians, starting with the original Nakba in 1948.

Israel is one of the most heavily armed states in the Middle East and its military apparatus is trained on the Palestinians. Its ultimatum to the people of Gaza and what is plans to do there are nothing short of war crimes, yet statements by Sunak and US president Joe Biden have effectively said, you will be exempt from any such charges. Their refusal to judge cutting off humanitarian aid as a war crime, and their quiescence over the demand that people leave their homes, has been grotesquely echoed by Keir Starmer and his shadow cabinet.

Both he and Emily Thornberry have agreed that Israel should abide by international law but refused to say that their actions are in breach of it. Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy has blustered his way across television studios, refusing to answer the UN’s point that these might be war crimes. So the Tories have a free hand to say anything they want to back Netanyahu. Starmer also instructed MPs and council leaders not to attend any protests in support of the Palestinians this week.

The mass movement in solidarity with the Palestinians has never been more broad-based, but never has it been so abandoned by political figures, especially left Labour MPs, who are happy to support Palestine in good times but who cower before Starmer every time there is something difficult to contend with. When they do this, it makes it harder for the young students to demonstrate, harder for those who want their voice to be heard. The only MP present at the London demonstration was Jeremy Corbyn, who has been suspended from the Labour whip.

This absence of Labour MPs is probably also counterproductive electorally, as it’s hard to see why those being politicised over the Palestine question should look to Labour, given its approach to the question being indistinguishable from a right-wing Tory government. But that isn’t the main point. Solidarity with the Palestinians is crucial from public figures; it is also necessary for those of us here.

Suella Braverman has made clear that she would like to criminalise the carrying of Palestinian flags, and the slogan ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’; the Metropolitan Police put a section 12 order on the London demonstration to prohibit it deviating from the route; and politicians repeatedly urged people not to march because to do so would be ‘supporting terrorists’.

It is much harder to face down these threats – as 150,000 of us did in London on Saturday, and thousands more across the country – without those in elected positions speaking out.

The retreat of Labour’s left was marked at the beginning of the Ukraine war when Socialist Campaign Group MPs took their names from a Stop the War statement opposing the war, but to do the same over Palestine suggests this isn’t an aberration but has become a refusal to challenge Labour’s leadership over its foreign policy. This policy is completely in tune with British imperialism – and this unanimity is in danger of spilling over to domestic issues the nearer an election looms, further weakening any left voices.

This week will be devastating for the people of Gaza. The US and British governments, having allowed Netanyahu to commit these crimes with impunity, are now trying to minimise the humanitarian damage – not least by trying to get Egypt to allow Gazans into the Sinai through the Rafah crossing, an arrangement to which the Sisi government may reluctantly agree, despite the risks to its own stability. This will be dressed up as helping those fleeing, but in reality, it will allow the same sort of ethnic cleansing that we saw with the Nakba – and the Palestinians will not be allowed to return to their homeland.

In the West Bank too the illegal settlements have driven Palestinians and Bedouins from their land, and the aim of the settlers is to effectively destroy the territory as an entity, with further ethnic cleansing. In the past week more than 50 Palestinians have been killed there, and they are facing increased attacks from settlers and repression from the IDF.

If the US, UK and EU governments allow this to continue it will be to endorse the worst actions of Israel’s most right-wing government ever. It will potentially unleash a much wider war in the Middle East which can set the whole region on fire. Every attempt by the Palestinians to get justice over three quarters of a century has been denied, and the screw has been tightening on Palestinian lives in both the West Bank and Gaza ever since the Oslo Accords were supposed to bring peace to the region.

That’s why they continue to resist and why our solidarity is so important today. We cannot allow a second Nakba.

16 Oct 2023 by Lindsey German

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