Every few years, Israel goes on a killing spree while the world stands by and watches. This time, it’s operation Pillar of Defence, with air strikes in Gaza, a tiny territory isolated and cut off by the Israeli military. Four years ago it was Operation …

Walton Pantland

Every few years, Israel goes on a killing spree while the world stands by and watches. This time, it’s operation Pillar of Defence, with air strikes in Gaza, a tiny territory isolated and cut off by the Israeli military.

Four years ago it was Operation Cast Lead, also an assault on Gaza, which lead to the deaths of 1,400 Palestinians, many of them civilians. In that conflict, Israel committed war crimes, using banned weapons such as white phosphorous, and using Palestinians as human shields. This was followed by the attack on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship attempting to break the blockade of Gaza.

And in 2006, Israel launched a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, which included a major bombing campaign in South Lebanon, resulting in large scale civilian casualties and the destrucition of infrastructure. In all these conflicts, Western governments have provided support and diplomatic cover, and much of the media portrayed Israel as the victim, neglecting to mention Israel’s continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.

There is usually a pretext for Israel’s wars – a few half-hearted attempts to fire simple rockets, usually after Israeli provocation – but the response is out of all proportion. Gaza is, in effect, an open air prison. The prisoners’ only crime is to be demographically inconvenient: to be Palestinian, and to be demanding the right to self determination.

The bombing attacks on Gaza are ongoing, an assault by ground troops is possible, and the death toll is mounting – today it stands at just under a hundred people. Among other horrendous civilian casualties, a whole family, including four children and five women, was wiped out in a horrific bomb attack.

While Israel claims to be defending itself, the real reason appears to be to distract public attention away from austerity ahead of the upcoming Israeli general election in January.

Shockingly, 90% of Israelis support the attack on Gaza. The depravity of the warmongering Israeli right is amply demonstrated by Ariel Sharon’s son, who wrote in the Jerusalem Post that Israel should “flatten” Gaza the way the US flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Why is this important to us?

The West, particularly the US, UK and EU provide diplomatic cover for Israel. The US, of course, finances Israel’s military arsenal to the tune of $3 billion per year, and some of this ordnance is transported through UK and EU airports. We rightly condemn Russia for propping up the corrupt and brutal Assad regime in Syria; yet our governments perform precisely the same role with Israel. These are our elected representatives spending our taxes: we have a duty to speak out. As Rafeef Ziadah of War on Want points out, British foreign secretary William Hague is complicit in the attacks on Gaza by placing the blame of the war on Hamas. The UK also exports arms to Israel.

It’s extremely disheartening to watch this wholesale destruction and killing, and feel powerless to do anything about it. So what can we, as trade union activists do?

1. Contextualise.

The mainstream media has been very bad at presenting a balanced picture of this conflict. The BBC, for example, repeatedly wheeled out a pro-Israeli activist, and presented him as a neutral expert. Israeli spokespeople have been given air time, without challenge, or opposing views being given. The less reputable press has, unsurprisingly, been even worse.

We need to do what we can to get the real story out there. As union activists, many of us have access to distribution networks and ways of communicating that bypass the disinformation propagated by much of the media. We’ve had to develop this to publicise our disputes against a hostile media; we need to use it to support the people of Palestine.

We also need to identify and support Israeli peace activists, who face the difficult task of arguing for peace in a country defined by conflict. Gershon Baskin, for example, who was negotiating a peace treaty with Ahmed al Jabari of Hamas on behalf of Israel, claims that Israel assassinated Jabari – the extrajudicial killing that sparked the current conflict – to undermine the peace process. The Israeli right doesn’t want peace because they know this will involve political compromise. Better to have perpetual war, funded by US tax payers.

The important context that’s missing from most news reports is the nature of the occupation. The South African unions, who should know about these things, have declared unequivocally that Israel is an apartheid state; some have gone as far as to state that the situation is far worse than apartheid in South Africa ever was.

No fight between Israel and Palestinian groups is a fight between equals: it’s a fight between one of the most advanced armies (and propaganda machines) in the world, and an occupied people forced into ever smaller parcels of land, and subject to greater and greater restrictions.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine has a good selection of resources.

2. Campaign

It isn’t enough just to spread information. Using our political experience and the structures we’re so good at building and maintaining, we need to build the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. This needs to be done within our branches, but we also need to take it personally – contact your local supermarket and ask them to stop stocking Israeli produce.

Show your solidarity by affiliating your union branch to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Contact your political representatives and ask them to pressurise the UK government to condemn the Israeli assault.

Supporters of Israel have attempted to smear UK unions as anti-semitic for daring to criticise Israeli foreign policy. This makes as much sense as accusing some one of racism for criticising Obama’s policies, and we need to continue to point this out: no amount of mud slinging will cover the shocking images coming out of Gaza.

The dispossession of the Palestinian people is an historic injustice. Israel is one of the last openly racists states in the world, and it is being propped up by our governments.

We need to say loudly and clearly: “Not in my name.”


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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