A year after the brutal Israeli invasion of Gaza an impressive array of speakers gathered in London this week to draw attention to the fact that the end of the invasion did not see an end to the suffering of the Palestinians. “Gaza One Year On – End the Siege of Gaza and Bring Israeli War Criminals to Justice” was organised by an equally impressive list of organisations and individuals representing a cross-section of society: the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and British Muslim Initiative were joined by Members of Parliament, Trade Unionists, academics and other experts on the Palestine issue.
The speeches were short yet impassioned. One year after Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip leaving a string of atrocities in its wake, the destruction remains, with the immoral siege preventing any building materials from being imported. The Israeli-led siege is as unjust and brutal as ever and it was this outrage that was the main focus of the night.
Kevin Ovenden, the coordinator of Viva Palestina, presented some feedback on the latest Viva Palestina convoy, the members of which returned from Gaza just over a week ago. He drew attention to the overall success of the mission in delivering much-needed aid, while highlighting the difficulties the convoy had faced including, of course, the now notorious attitude and lack of cooperation of the Egyptian government.
A number of speakers, including Dr. Karma Nabulsi of Oxford University and Joseph Healy of the Green Party, praised the efforts of those involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign which was lauded as a principled and non-violent way to demonstrate our abhorrence of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. The issue of universal jurisdiction and the British government’s attempts to change the law to protect Israelis accused of war crimes was given specific mention as a new focus of the campaign for justice for Palestinians.
The high unemployment rate in Gaza was noted by Alison Shepherd, from UNISON, who added health care and education as matters of prime importance to trade unionists. The TUC is, she said, supporting the boycott campaign and calling for an end to arms sales to Israel as well as the dissolution of the EU-Israel Trade Association Agreement.
Anas Altikriti, the Founder and President of the Cordoba Foundation stressed the importance of challenging the current discourse on Palestine and Israel, including the myth that portrays the Israelis as victims and the Palestinians as the fanatical, backward terrorists. He drew attention to the uniqueness of Gaza as a relatively safe zone in an extremely dangerous region. Despite all of the threats it faces from Israel and Egypt, internally it is a stable society. Compared, he said, with the situation in Haiti, where only a few days after the devastating earthquake commentators and politicians are talking about a collapse in security and the fabric of society, Gaza is a beacon of stability. Even compared with New York, where looting and muggings are commonplace during power-cuts, Gaza comes out well. As can be seen by the desire to take humanitarian aid, people are clamouring to get into Gaza, not to get out, he added. Warning of the danger of accepting as truth Israeli propaganda, Mr. Altikriti called for a shift in thinking and a concerted effort to show the world the reality of the Palestinians and expose Israel for what it really is.
The latter point was picked up by Dr Daud Abdullah, Director of the Middle East Monitor, who described Israel as a “racist apartheid state”. This, he said, was now perceived by increasing numbers of people who saw Gaza as a turning point; enough is enough, and people of conscience are starting to express that belief. Despite – or because of – what happened in Gaza, the hypocrisy of Israel and its supporters has been exposed for all to see, which has brought to the fore a new generation of leaders who hold no allegiance to the Zionist state (and won’t be bribed to think otherwise), including Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Calling the siege “a form of warfare”, Dr. Abdullah recalled that 45 mosques were destroyed completely by Israel last year, and 55 were partially destroyed; he asked the audience to imagine the outcry if even one synagogue in London or anywhere else was destroyed. Israel, he added, has gone too far.
In praising the resilience of the Palestinian people, Dr. Abdullah pointed out that no military expert worthy of the name could ever have predicted that the resistance of the Palestinian people would have lasted for so long. There are no valleys and no mountains in Gaza, so how have the Palestinians there survived? There is only one explanation. The government in Gaza has the support of the people and it is this loyalty for which the people of Gaza are being punished by Israel. It is now up to us to stand up for the people of Gaza in their time of need.
Last weekend a delegation of 50 parliamentarians from across Europe visited Gaza, and Jeremy Corbyn MP described the traumatic condition of those living in Gaza. Many are still living in makeshift tents, suffering from the serious injuries inflicted during the Israeli invasion and are still not receiving any medical assistance. Mr. Corbyn re-iterated his previous calls for European sanctions against Israel.
British political activist and rapper Lowkey (aka Kareem Dennis) gave a trademark crowd-pleasing address in which he called the siege “murder on a daily basis”, with Israel playing God and dictating every aspect of Palestinian life. He described the three year siege as being as deadly as the bombs that were dropped on Gaza a year ago and criticised the mainstream media for not reporting the facts; this, he said, is a struggle that we must all work on. He added, to general consensus that the media seem to have the goal of making us fear a Muslim man on a bus with a rucksack and beard more than the Israeli man with control over nuclear weapons and white phosphorus bombs. Lowkey criticised the government for finding the time and inclination to imprison young Muslims who protest against war crimes while having no inclination to arrest the war criminals themselves. Railing against the Israelis’ use of illegal weapons in Gaza which has resulted in a huge increase of birth deformities, he ended by saying that equality must be brought about by any means necessary and possible.
George Galloway’s short walk to the podium was greeted with rapturous applause. He began his speech with criticism of Egypt’s collaboration with Israel in the siege of Gaza. If Egypt would only open their gates at Rafah the entire siege would collapse. However, he is not in favour of sanctions against Egypt as that would only hurt the Egyptian people who should not be held responsible for the actions of their leader. Instead, he argued, President Hosni Mubarak should be brought to justice. Mr. Galloway said that Israel is expressing militarily aggressive rhetoric against Lebanon and Gaza but he warned the Zionist state’s leaders that they should not even think about attacking any of these places again or they would live to regret it. Israel’s population is only 6 million and yet the country endangers the world with one act of aggression after another. Aggression and crimes, he added, to which Britain is, unfortunately, an apparently willing accomplice and co-conspirator, a fact which we must see changed.
Other speakers included a representative from UNITE, the largest Union in the country, Ismail Patel from Friends of Al-Aqsa and a representative from the CND. All in all, the entire event was judged to be a tremendous success. This is planned to be the first of many such programmes during 2010 intended to draw attention to the ongoing plight of the Palestinian people, with peace and justice the key objectives.