Palestine – A Turning Point?

As part of a general strike, Palestinians march in Ramallah, 18th May 2021

JVL Introduction

The speech below was delivered to the Whitstable branch Labour Party on 7th June, arguing that Palestine is now the key international issue, the key divide of this generation.

It was given by Graham Bash, Labour Party member for 52 years and Political Officer of JVL, speaking in a personal capacity.

We welcome comment on his assessment of the re-emergence of a united Palestinian people, the shift in public opinion worldwide and what this all signifies for the struggle for Palestinian human rights.

Graham Bash said…

We have reached a turning point on Palestine.

There is a growing shift in world opinion, growing support for the Palestinian struggle, growing isolation of Israel.

Palestine is now the key international issue, the key divide of this generation – just as Vietnam,  the American civil rights struggle and the fight against South African apartheid was in previous generations.

I was at the first large demonstration for Palestine in London 3 weeks ago. It was a magnificent expression of resistance – mainly young, majority women, so diverse.

The voices of the Palestinian people were at last being heard – those voices which give witness to the occupation, the daily assaults, curfews, arbitrary arrests, detentions, house demolitions, travel restrictions, checkpoints, irrigation systems destroyed, exclusion and discrimination in the Israeli state and Occupied Territories.

And now of course the horrific events of the last few weeks. And it is these events that have shifted the tectonic plates. We’re living in a new world. There has been a global uprising of support for Palestine.

The latest escalation ended with a vicious Israeli assault on Gaza that has left hundreds of civilians dead, including at least 67 children, the attempt to ethnically cleanse Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem of its Palestinian residents and the violence meted out to peaceful worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Palestinians all over Palestine were killed by Israeli forces during this period.

Estimates are that damage to the Gaza Strip has already cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars, while damage to power and water infrastructure has obstructed access to water for around 800,000 people.

At least 2,000 housing units were destroyed in Gaza. According to the United Nations, the number of uprooted Gazans – either those whose houses were destroyed or those who have fled them due to the intensive bombardment – has reached 75,000.

About 12,800 housing units were partially damaged. Hundreds of private offices and NGO offices were severely damaged and 33 media offices were completely demolished.

The bombings also badly damaged buildings such as the Al-Rimal clinic, which housed the main laboratory for Covid testing. The laboratory halted work as a result. The Al-Nahda bookstore and publishing house were completely demolished, as well as a pharmacy and the central office of al-Amal Institute for Orphans.

Israeli strikes badly damaged 50 government schools and educational facilities, as well as a vocational training centre and two kindergartens. According to information provided by the United Nations, six hospitals and 11 medical centres were damaged.

After one Sunday morning airstrike, the Doctors Without Borders trauma and burn clinic had to be closed, both because of structural damage and because the road leading to it had been destroyed. Three mosques have been completely wrecked since the war began; another 40 mosques and one church were badly damaged. The damage to religious structures is estimated at $5 million.

Fifteen Palestinian nuclear and extended families lost at least three, and in general more, of their members, in the Israeli shelling of the Gaza Strip during the week from May 10. Parents and children, babies, grandparents, siblings and nephews and nieces died together when Israel bombed their homes, which collapsed over them. Insofar as is known, no advance warning was given so that they could evacuate the targeted houses. Palestinian communities in Israel were facing organised settler colonial violence (police) and non-organised violence carried out by Jewish Israeli citizens who were protected by the state’s security agents.

The damage to roads and to water and sewage infrastructure is estimated at over $27 million. Key traffic arteries have been blocked by the ruins of bombarded roads, which has impeded the arrival of food suppliers, medical teams and other rescue services.. This was a particularly life-threatening situation when it comes to medical, fire and rescue teams, who were called to extricate people from the rubble or to put out blazes.

The limited electricity supply impaired Gaza’s water system. More than 95% of the water drawn from the Gaza aquifer is unfit for drinking, and must be purified and desalinated. These facilities depend on electricity to operate, as do the sewage treatment plants and pumps. According to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Palestinian Water Authority announced that because of the shutdown or limited operation of water, hygiene and sanitation facilities, the water supply plummeted by more than 40%.

The situation worsened when the water and sewage pipelines that serve more than 140,000 people in the area of Khan Yunis and the central Gaza Strip were damaged by airstrikes. In total, over 10,000 meters of underground sewage and water lines were damaged, as well as wastewater networks, sewage evacuation vehicles, wells and a wastewater pumping station.

Due to the lack of power, three main desalination plants providing services for more than 400,000 people had to suspend operations, and more than 100,000 cubic meters of untreated or partially treated wastewater were being discharged to the sea daily.

The ceasefire, the end of the shooting (for now) in Gaza did not mean an end to the Israeli repression, occupation and apartheid. Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah are still under threat of expulsion, and are constantly harassed by Israeli troops and the extremist settlers they enable and protect.

Palestinians are being rounded up in a massive sweep of arrest raids all over communities in present-day Israel, targeting those allegedly involved in the protests and confrontations with Israeli troops that have swept the whole of Palestine.

Eye-witness reports make chilling reading. Read this in Haaretz, the Israeli daily newspaper.

“When an angry Jewish mob stormed a gas station near Caesarea, its Jewish owners had to act fast to save their Arab workers’ lives. Now, they can’t understand why no one is talking about the shocking incident.” 25th May.

After seeing Arabs attacked by vigilantes wearing t-shirts carrying Israeli flags, and having to hide their own Arab workers, the Jewish owner concludes:

“Right now, when I see a person with a black shirt, my heart starts to beat faster and I start to panic,” he says. “And I don’t like to say it but I feel nervous now even when I see the Israeli flag. It really hurts me that the flag of my country has become the symbol of people behaving like – I hate to use the word – Nazis. But that’s how I feel.”

Well, imagine if that was said in a Labour Party meeting. You’d face expulsion.

The Electronic Intifada described how Israeli Jewish vigilantes used instant messaging services to organise armed militias. One WhatsApp group was titled “Death to the Arabs in Haifa – War Group”. Members were instructed to bring Israeli flags and to meet at the entrance of the old city of Acre, masked.

B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, reported that settler groups, including far-right groups, Regavim and My Israel, were forming armed militias to go to mixed cities on 13th May.

But in the midst of this human catastrophe, Palestinians are united in a way they have not been in generations. What began in Jerusalem, quickly spread to Palestinians in Israel — the territories occupied in 1948 — and then to Gaza and the West Bank.

They now have a newly raised consciousness of their unity as one people, no matter whether they are in Gaza, the West Bank, “Israel” or outside of Palestine as refugees of the wider diaspora community.

And the international solidarity demonstrations have been massive. At least 180,000 in London demonstrations in cities all over the UK, in Europe, in the US – in Washington over 100,000 – and all over the world.

It is as if a dam has burst. The last few weeks have seen an unprecedented outpouring of solidarity with Palestinians from artists and cultural organisations around the world. Half a century ago, there was massive support for a cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa.

Now, artists and cultural workers are mobilising on a similar scale against Israel’s system of apartheid, calling variously for boycotts, practical acts of solidarity with Palestinians and, in particular, an end to co-operation with cultural organisations that are complicit with apartheid.

Support for the Palestinians has connected with other struggles, particularly in the United States, and particularly with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Liberal Zionists such as Peter Beinart have now abandoned support for a Jewish state, even supporting the idea of the Palestinian right of return. Even the Guardian’s pro-Israel Jonathan Freedland has conceded this has been a “strategic disaster “ for Israel.

The New York Times printed on its front page pictures of 67 murdered Palestinian children. The heading: “They were just children.”

And the Palestinian general strike of 18th May covered all of historic Palestine – Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem and inside the ’48 borders. There are reports are that it brought the Israeli construction industry to a halt, and likely other sectors as well.

One article explained:

“The strike happened in a context where all communities were engulfed in struggle. It wasn’t just communities engulfed in struggle vis-a-vis the police or representatives of the state. There were normal Israeli citizens, everybody calls them ultranationalists, but they are just normal Israeli citizens, marching into Palestinian neighbourhoods with batons and guns, protected by the police and attacking people in their homes and in their communities. Palestinian homes were marked during the daytime in order for these mobs to come and attack them at night. And so the feeling of being attacked and having to defend yourself was something that was already present, a lot of people were not going to work because of fear for their lives. The fear of being a Palestinian in Israeli establishments was already present and that really pushed a lot of people to call for the strike.“

Many Palestinians have expressed disgust at the leaders of the international community who were silent about the violence inflicted on the Palestinians. These same leaders, including the US President and representatives of the British, French, and German governments, among others, were quick to start their discriminatory clock ticking against the Palestinians when the first rocket flew out of Gaza towards Israel.

Their discourse was simply that Israel has a right to self-defence. No mention of the Palestinian right to self-defence — the legitimate right to resist Israel’s occupation — was made.

And what of Israel? Look what “self-defence” means. Look at the destruction and devastation it has wreaked in Gaza. There is no “self-defence” justification for the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children with what are supposedly smart weapons that cost millions of dollars. There is no excuse to demolish towers that housed hundreds of people, regardless of whether or not the army warned residents that it was about to make them homeless. There is no excuse for blowing up the tower that housed the offices of media outlets such as Al Jazeera which have covered the barbaric bombardment. There is no excuse for destroying banks and other civil society infrastructure. Israel did all of this in “self-defence”.

But the movement from below, the movement in the streets, is having an impact  on these international leaders. Even Biden’s administration, which gave the green light to Israel’s initial attack, was forced to give Netanyahu an ultimatum to agree to the ceasefire.

Through the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism – which conflates and confuses anti-Zionism and opposition to the Israeli state with antisemitism – there have been enormous clampdowns on support for Palestine and criticism of Israel in our universities and in the Labour Party.

But the international movement for justice for Palestine is too strong, too widespread, even too mainstream to be stopped.

We have been told in the Labour Party we cannot say this – so let me say it. Israel is a racist endeavour. It is a state, as Ilan Pappe so graphically put it, born of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

It is, as B’Tselem explains, an apartheid state, a “regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Meditteranean Sea.”

Their report dated January this year explains:

“More than 14 million people, roughly half of them Jews and the other half Palestinians, live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea under a single rule. The common perception in public, political, legal and media discourse is that two separate regimes operate side by side in this area, separated by the Green Line. One regime, inside the borders of the sovereign State of Israel, is a permanent democracy with a population of about nine million, all Israeli citizens. The other regime, in the territories Israel took over in 1967, whose final status is supposed to be determined in future negotiations, is a temporary military occupation imposed on some five million Palestinian subjects.

“Over time, the distinction between the two regimes has grown divorced from reality. This state of affairs has existed for more than 50 years – twice as long as the State of Israel existed without it. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now reside in permanent settlements east of the Green Line, living as though they were west of it. East Jerusalem has been officially annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory, and the West Bank has been annexed in practice. Most importantly, the distinction obfuscates the fact that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. All this leads to the conclusion that these are not two parallel regimes that simply happen to uphold the same principle. There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organising principle.”

The report explains:

  1.  Palestinians in Israel do not enjoy the same rights as Israeli Jews.
  2.  The 350,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem have permanent residency – not citizenship – and this can be revoked at any time.
  3.  Although Israel has not never formally annexed the West Bank it treats the territory as its own. More than 2.6 million Palestinian subjects live in the West Bank, in dozens of disconnected enclaves, under rigid military rule and without political rights. In about 40% of the territory, Israel has transferred some civilian powers to the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, the PA is still subordinate to Israel and can only exercise its limited powers with Israel’s consent.
  4.  The Gaza Strip is home to about two million Palestinians, also denied political rights. In 2005, Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip, dismantled the settlements it built there and abdicated any responsibility for the fate of the Palestinian population. After the Hamas takeover in 2007, Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip that is still in place. Throughout all of these years, Israel has continued to control nearly every aspect of life in Gaza from outside.

The report details four major methods the Israeli regime uses to advance Jewish supremacy. Two are implemented throughout the entire area: restricting migration by non-Jews and taking over Palestinian land to build Jewish-only communities, while relegating Palestinians to small enclaves. Any Jew in the world and his or her children, grandchildren and spouses is entitled to emigrate to Israel at any time and receive Israeli citizenship, with all of its associated rights. They receive this status even if they choose to live in a West Bank settlement not formally annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory.

The other two are implemented primarily in the Occupied Territories: draconian restrictions on the movement of non-citizen Palestinians and denial of their political rights. Control over these aspects of life lies entirely in Israel’s hands: in the entire area, Israel has sole power over the population registry, land allocation, voter rolls and the right (or denial thereof) to travel within, enter or exit any part of the area.

The report concludes: “A regime that uses laws, practices and organised violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another is an apartheid regime … The enactment of the Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People and the declared plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank have shattered the façade.”

For saying just this many of us lifelong anti-racists have been labelled as antisemitic or – if we are Jewish – as self-haters or even ‘kapos’. I have spent the entire lockdown reading book after book on the rise of the Nazis and about the Holocaust. I have spent my whole political life fighting the racists and fascists of the far right. These allegations are so deeply offensive.

And in today’s Labour Party we are banned even from discussing a motion to support a charity bike ride for Palestinian children.

This is like King Canute trying to stop the tide – the tide of history. We cannot stop the tide of history. And our party must not be on the wrong side of history. It is a fight they cannot win!


Comments (11)

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    Let me be first to say it – great speech Graham.

  • Kate Adams says:

    I thank my friend and comrade Graham Bash from the bottom of my heart for this amazing presentation full of solidarity, compassion and revolutionary spirit.He said he only ever aims to speak truth to power and that is exactly what he did. Not only did he speak about the struggle for a free Palestine but also for free speech in and outside the Labour Party. He condemned the suspensions and expulsions which have been triggered by standing up for the rights of the Palestinian people. He urged us not to give up and not to be silenced because the Labour Party must be at the forefront of this struggle, in the right place on the right side in history- always with the oppressed, never with the oppressor.

  • Geoff Rouse says:

    Labour friends of Israel, Starmer, Hodge, Evans. Utterly shameless. The Labour party is dead but fascism lives on. Long live international socialism.

  • Jon K says:

    I hope that this transcript can be sent to Starmer, Nandy et al, as well as our own local M.P. Rosie Duffield

  • John Bowley says:

    Yes, this is a fine account of the horrifying situation for the Palestinians, who are the indigenous inhabitants, who are being racistly displaced by incomers. The hypocrisy within the English establishment is protecting the Israeli racists.

  • Jack T says:

    This speech by Graham Bash hits every button. Many of us have been aware of these appalling facts for years but it has taken the brutal activities of the Israeli government to throw the spotlight upon itself and the depraved concept of Zionism. Will Starmer think again about his support for Zionism? Will he hell, because people such as him have a way of ignoring anything which questions their indoctrination. All the more reason why we should respect and support ex Zionists such as Miko Peled, Gabor Maté and others who were aware and brave enough to go against many of their contemporaries.

  • neil garratt says:

    Great speech. The Labour leadership`s support for Apartheid will forever cast a shadow of shame over the party.

  • Martin Read says:

    Let me be the second- a truly great speech!

  • Brian Joseph McAuley says:

    Thank you Graham, party members need to shake of our shackles and take our party back.

  • Judith Kelman says:

    Wonderful, thank you!

  • Patricia Smith says:

    Ireland’s government has declared that Israel has annexed the West bank. First EU country to do so. Others must follow

Comments are now closed.