The marches around the world this weekend against the bombardment and invasion of Gaza will be historic. Five reasons to join the mass movement.
David Jamieson is a journalist and editor of Scottish anti-capitalist website Conter.
Cross-posted from Conter
1. Because what we do now counts: For the past week, the leaders of the Israeli state and armed forces have stalled on the brink of a ground invasion of Gaza. The sheer scale of the mobilisation for war, and the stakes now attached to this invasion – declared by the Isreali Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to be the annexation of territory in Gaza – means that stepping back from the brink is not in contemplation. But the pause itself shows that the Israeli state and its international allies are not omnipotent in this situation.
The Israeli armed forces have probably already delayed the assault longer than they wanted to. In the meantime, an international protest movement has already gained momentum, and the first cracks in even western resolve are already clear. This is the case, for instance, with the Spanish minister Ione Belarra, who called for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be brought to book for war crimes. EU member states have forced the EU bureaucracy to backpaddle on its cancellation of aid to the Gaza strip. In Scotland, Humza Yousaf has demanded protection for British citizens in Gaza, including his own family members, ignored by the UK Government. We need to prise these splits in the elite wider, until they have a bearing on western support for Israeli state actions.
Especially since the Iraq War, some have opined that protesting is pointless – politicians do as they please regardless. This was always a needlessly jaundiced view, but it is especially untrue now. The rise of multipolarity and growth of great power competition, the decline of US and western prestige, and the growing fractures within the west all mean that large movements in the population can weigh-in on debates among a confused and disoriented elite.
2. Because our leaders say they speak for us: In the last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Opposition leader Keir Starmer have given unqualified support to Israeli war crimes. Questions from journalists as to whether support for a euphemistic ‘right to self-defence’ by Israel should stop short of collective punishment, were brushed aside. Israel’s ‘right’ to cut off Palestinian water and fuel supplies, with the attendant loss of life, were positively affirmed.
During his visit to Israel, Sunak told a press conference that Israel was taking “every precaution to avoid civilian casualties” knowing that thousands of civilians had been killed queuing for food, in Mosques, hospitals, schools and residential streets by the bombardment.
Naturally, these sentiments were echoed by US President Joe Biden, at the EU level by Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and by Nato. The US has pledged additional military support, which is already arriving in Israel ahead of the planned ground assault. The whole western leadership has signed up to the most appalling crimes – former pretensions to international law be damned.
Marching to assert that all this is ‘not in our name’ isn’t just a moral stance. It asserts the true political dynamics at play. There is an enormous class divide when it comes to western foreign policy, starkly demonstrated on 18 October by a YouGov poll that shows an overwhelming majority opposing Sunak, Starmer and the entire western order and calling for a ceasefire. The tiny elite that supports the bombardment and invasion of Gaza is desperate to stop this gulf in society being manifested.
3. Because we need to resist the campaign of censorship: Precisely because the assault on Gaza is so unpopular, authorities are desperate to stamp-out dissent. Already journalists have been suspended or fired from major outlets – the liberal network MSNBC in the US even pre-emptively sidelined its prominent Muslim anchors in the opening week of the crisis. Articles and cartoons are being spiked all over the place, and contracts discontinued.
Elsewhere, YouTube have censored large numbers of videos offering critical analysis of events. In Scotland, one MSP was subject to police investigation for tweets related to Palestine. Across Europe and elsewhere, protests have been banned and, in some instances, physically attacked by riot police. Newspapers and politicians – including the Home Secretary Suella Braverman – have called for police action against speech in defence of Palestinian rights.
The larger the scale of the movement for Palestine, the harder it is for the authorities to clamp down. We also must pledge now that, should demonstrations be banned in Britian, we will defy these bans and march anyway.
4. Because the Arab street is rising: Of all the huge demonstrations across the world, surely the most important are those in the Middle East and North Africa. Some of the demonstrations in this region now match or exceed those at the onset of the Arab Spring over a decade ago.
Israel could not continue to suppress the Palestinians without the active participation of many of the Arab states. Egypt is needed to control the Rafah crossing and maintain the blockade of Gaza. Already, western backed strongman Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has been persuaded to allow a trickle of aid through. But he is also facing demands by Israel to accept large numbers of forcibly displaced Palestinians and knows how dangerous this would be to the stability of his regime.
During the Arab Spring, Palestine was a high-profile cause for many on the streets, not least in Egypt. Ultimately it is the Arab working class that has the capacity to change the political architecture of the entire region. This is a live process, already disrupting the ‘normalisation’ of Israel, which has seen several states seek deeper integration with Israel and the US since the 1990s. The rapid deterioration of diplomatic relations between Arab states and Israel is not founded in the genuine feelings of the Arab elites, but in their fear of the Arab masses.
5. Because this is only the beginning: No matter what happens next, the coming months are likely to be a period of tension, conflict and protest in the Middle East region and around the world.
An Israeli ground invasion of Gaza will only unleash a greater crisis. It is important that by then the street movements – and attendant organisation through unions and other institutions – are prepared to escalate. The larger the movement now, the more tactical options it has, the more leverage it wields over various power centres.
On a world scale, such an invasion would also ramp-up confrontations around the globe. From Ukraine to the South China Sea to Iran, the west is squaring off with its rivals. We have entered a new phase in international conflict. It requires a new era of politicisation and mass action, so that the rights and interests of social majority, and not just states and elites, can be fought for.