Palestinians remind us the right to protest is ours
For too long, reactive campaigning has been the go-to tactic for international organisations acting in solidarity with Palestine. A constant offensive launched by Israel’s apartheid state and its supporters, means organisations are susceptible to limiting their agenda on Palestine to fending off the latest attacks.
Whether it’s placing all efforts into responding to the newest offensive by the Israel lobby or saving key mobilisations for when Palestinians are under the bombs, always acting on the defence is not an effective strategy.
A current example is the latest reaction to the introduction of a new ‘anti-boycott’ bill in the recent Queen’s Speech. With Prince Charles announcing legislation to “prevent public bodies engaging in boycotts that undermine community cohesion”, a renewal of the campaign for the ‘right’ to boycott and to speak up on Palestine began.
The proposed new bill, has dominated the agenda of large non-governmental organisations. Except it won’t be the first attempt by the British government to keep the funds flowing from Britain directly to Israel’s apartheid regime. In 2016, they issued legal guidance to councils which essentially restricted their right to divest from companies on the basis that they were assisting the oppression of the Palestinian people. In response, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) claimed for a judicial review.
''Palestinians do not sit around waiting for the right to protest by Israel, or the right to defend their homes, or the right to fight Israel’s apartheid regime. They act, because their lives and their freedom depend on it. For those of us who live in the imperial core, which is actively enabling Israel’s apartheid regime, who want to show true international solidarity, we must demonstrate the same resilience.''
During my time working at PSC and before the legal battle entered the supreme court, I embarked on a mission to find out how much money Local Government Pension Schemes were funnelling into corporations complicit in Israel’s apartheid regime. After sending off 450 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, it was discovered that over £3billion was invested in corporations maintaining the illegal occupation of Palestine.
Eventually, the legal battle was victorious in 2020, and the Supreme Court upheld the right for councils to pull their billions out of the illegal occupation of Palestine. This was the perfect time to launch an undefeatable offensive grassroots campaign compelling councils to stop their funds entering the pockets of war criminals. Instead, organisations are resorting back to fighting for the ‘right’ to boycott.
But what is the goal? Is it simply to keep ourselves in the same position we are now? Or is it to achieve actual divestment from councils and other institutions? If it’s the latter, then the majority of resources must be ploughed into building grassroots campaign which can be effective in getting councils to pull their money out of complicit corporations.
Following the court victory, the only pension fund to divest, pulled their money from Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest arms company. East Sussex Pension Fund based their reasoning on the increased “environmental, social and governance risk” of Elbit Systems. The Israeli arms firm is the primary target of the direct-action movement, Palestine Action. Through pro-active campaigning, involving occupying, blockading and destroying their sites, activists have dragged Elbit’s name through the mud. With locals building pressure against the pension fund, coupled with the direct-action campaign against the company of which they held investments in, a victory for the Palestinian people was achieved.
Direct action requires no permission from governments. This makes the movement to end Israel’s arms trade in Britain immune to any attempts from the British government to stop them. For they already accept potential arrests, and state repression as part of the course they’ve embarked on. And when the police detain activists, they’re forced to react to Palestine Action’s sustained hits of Elbit’s sites.
On the other hand, NGO’s are in a constant back and forth with the government for the ‘right to boycott’. Their latest tactic involves over 40 organisations opposing any restriction of the ‘right’ to boycott, but many of the signatories are not pushing for corporations and institutions to actually boycott Israel. Simply being granted the ‘right’ to boycott, a right which frankly, we always had, does not require any institutions or corporations to boycott the apartheid state. And they won’t, unless significant pressure through grassroots campaigns forces their hand.
The introduction of similar repressive bills, such as the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill was also met with opposition. The campaign designed to kill the bill, composed of mass mobilisation, awareness building, and lobbying politicians. Unfortunately, the bill was passed, with the government pushing it through regardless of attempts by the grassroots to stop it. Although the mass campaign did lead to the removal of certain repressive clauses, the government is now rushing them through in the new “Public Order” Bill.
Rather than follow in their footsteps, and hope for different results, we must switch the script entirely.
Palestinians do not sit around waiting for the right to protest by Israel, or the right to defend their homes, or the right to fight Israel’s apartheid regime. They act, because their lives and their freedom depend on it. For those of us who live in the imperial core, which is actively enabling Israel’s apartheid regime, who want to show true international solidarity, we must demonstrate the same resilience.
Yes, the British government can introduce a new law with the stroke of a pen, and maybe a well-funded organisation can spend years fighting it, only for it to be overturned through a new piece of legislation or guidance issued by the government.
The constant back and forth ping pong many fall into the trap of playing, just to win the ability to effectively campaign for Palestine, puts us right where they want us, in a constant standstill.
If we want to break the cycle, we must place our collective efforts into striking the corporations, institutions and governments that uphold Israel’s apartheid regime, and force them to react to us, rather than the other way round. No permission is needed to act.
Huda Ammori is a co-founder of the direct action network Palestine Action and has conducted extensive research and campaigns targeting British complicity with Israeli apartheid.
Follow her on Twitter: @HudaAmmori
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.