Jewish Voice for Peace activists show solidarity with Gaza in New York – By Walton Pantland The news is filled with horror from Gaza. At the time of writing, more than 800 people have been killed, most of them civilians, many of them women and children …
– By Walton Pantland
The news is filled with horror from Gaza.
At the time of writing, more than 800 people have been killed, most of them civilians, many of them women and children. The heartbreaking images of murdered children lying in the ruins of smoking buildings transcends all politics, and leaves us with a simple resolve: we must do everything in our power to stop this terrible suffering.
And so our immediate aim is a ceasefire: we need to stop the slaughter of innocents, captured so viscerally here by Channel 4’s Jon Snow. The international trade union movement, through the ITUC, is calling for an immediate ceasefire.
However, a ceasefire isn’t enough.
There is a terrible sense of déjà vu about the situation in Gaza. We have been here before. In 2008 and 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, Israel killed 1,166 Palestinians. The headlines we are seeing in this conflict, such as the Israeli bombing of a UN school, are virtually identical to the headlines we saw last time around.
And before Cast Lead, in 2006, more than 1,000 Lebanese were killed by Israeli bombings. This disproportionate, unbalanced, conflict stretches back, through the massacres of Sabra and Shatila to the destruction of Arab villages and the expulsion of their inhabitants in 1948.
We need a ceasefire. But halting the killing for a little while is not enough, because sooner or later, Israel will go on another murderous rampage. We cannot keep kicking this can down the road.
We need a just settlement for Palestinians urgently. Key to that is demanding accountability from Israel, and demanding that governments of the West – particularly the US – stop writing blank cheques to Israel. Israel and the West have the power to make peace. They hold the balance of power, with one of the most powerful and sophisticated armies in the world against a marginalised, impoverished people. For Palestinians, the only choice is between resistance and surrender.
We need to start by naming the situation in Israel and Palestine: it is apartheid. And just as the trade union movement and progressive people around the world united to defeat apartheid in South Africa, so we must unite to defeat apartheid in Israel and Palestine.
Is Israel like apartheid South Africa?
I grew up in apartheid South Africa. I was conscripted to the army, and left the country because I wasn’t prepared to take up arms to defend racism. Ironically, I ended up in Israel: the close links between the two regimes made it an easy place to travel to. At the time, the two countries felt very similar: apartheid was in its violent death throes, Israel and the PLO had just signed the Oslo Accords, and I met Israeli war resisters. However, the two countries took very different paths.
It’s not possible to directly compare the situations in different countries. It’s a blunt instrument, as there is too much difference and complexity. But stalwarts of the fight against apartheid – the ANC, the union federation COSATU, Desmond Tutu – have all said the situation in Israel and Palestine is worse than it was in South Africa. The apartheid regime murdered scores of people at places like Sharpeville, but never sent in the army for the kind of mass killing we have come to see in Gaza.
Sharpeville galvanised world opinion against South Africa. It’s time we did the same for Gaza.
Israeli citizens have a right to live in peace and security, free from the fear of Hamas bombs. Palestinians have the right to the same. We cannot demonise all Israelis for what their government is doing – there is a significant Israeli peace movement, which feels increasingly beleaguered and under attack. It is also wrong to assume that Jews support what is being done in their name: as Laurie Penny movingly writes, more and more prominent Jewish Voices for Peace are standing up and saying: “Not in my name”.
Sometimes, white South Africans were subject to horrific and unjustifiable terrorist attacks, such as the St James Church massacre. This doesn’t diminish the overall justice of the fight against apartheid. In the same way, attacks on Israeli civilians, which cannot be justified, don’t undermine the justice of the Palestinian cause.
There is no military solution to this conflict. Neither Israeli bombs nor Hamas rockets will bring us a step closer to peace. What we need is a massive, non-violent campaign to pressure Israel into seeking peace.
Fortunately that campaign exists: it is called the BDS movement, and it is gaining ground. BDS is a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights, and it is supported by more and more trade unions.
The official position of most of the trade union movement, and those involved in the peace process, is to support the “two state solution” – to create two separate countries, Israel and Palestine, along borders recognised internationally since 1967.
However, more and more people think this is unworkable: Israeli occupation and settlement of Palestinian territory is so advanced that there is little territory left for a viable Palestinian state. Creating one would mean dismantling the settlements, and relocating half a million Israeli settlers – something that be would politically very difficult.
Some people conclude that a “one state solution” is needed – a single country, made up of Israel and Palestine, with democracy and equal rights for all.
It’s not my place to call for one or the other, but to stress that we urgently need a settlement. We cannot watch people die every few years, protest, arrange aid convoys, have the same arguments with the same apologists for Israeli aggression.
We need a just peace.
- Support the BDS movement
- Affiliate your union branch to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in your country
- There is are demonstrations across the world this Saturday, including a UK national demonstration in London. Be there!
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