Political parties won’t free Palestine, we must use our collective power

Political parties won’t free Palestine, we must use our collective power
The Corbyn years were filled with the hope that Britain could sanction Israel for its human rights abuses, but the general election defeat showed the risks of expecting it from political parties. We can’t make that mistake again, writes Huda Ammori.
5 min read
01 Apr, 2022
Many campaigners believed that with Jeremy Corbyn in power, there would finally be an arms embargo between Britain and Israel. [GETTY]

It was early 2016, when I had a call from my mother, insisting that I join the Labour party. Coming from my Iraqi mother, this was quite confusing given that Tony Blair, under the Labour government, led the invasion and destruction of Iraq. Often, as a family we lacked any political home due to the mainstream parties’ support for imperialist projects in the Middle East. However, this time round, the renewal of hope was alive, with Jeremy Corbyn, a committed anti-imperialist activist and politician, elected as leader of the Labour party.

With progressive politics being brought to the forefront, hundreds of thousands signed up, thinking this was the necessary vehicle of change we all needed. For climate campaigners, there was ground to lobby for a potentially lifesaving green new deal. For workers, their rights were being addressed.

For Palestine campaigners, a potential route was created to impose the necessary sanctions on Israel’s apartheid regime. I was hoped that this would happen with an immediate arms embargo between Britain and Israel.

''We had no more time to waste, and we couldn’t afford to waste energy on the political system. The idea that it was a vehicle of change, had died. No government or political party was coming to save us.''

It was both an achievable and highly effective goal that would pressure Israel to end its discriminatory practices, and ultimately, prevent the use of British made components and weapons on the attacks on the Palestinian people.

It was and still is the smallest of requests. Especially given that Britain’s own arms exports laws rule out selling to a state where there is a clear risk that the items might be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law. Surely it isn’t too much for the British government to follow their own legislation and uphold international law?

In reality, there never should have been exports and imports of weapons from an apartheid state which is actively occupying, ethnically cleansing and systematically discriminating against the indigenous population of Palestine.

Nevertheless, the most promising and frankly the only avenue of implementing an embargo through political parties, was the Labour Party under Corbyn. Many of us fought long and hard for this by passing motions, speaking at Labour meetings, lobbying several MPs, and in 2018 the Labour conference voted to sanction and freeze all arms sales to and from Israel.

When the Labour manifesto was issued in 2019, there it was, an unwavering promise to impose an arms embargo between Britain and Israel. It was written in stone. This was the first time in British history, that any political party had issued such a policy on their manifesto.

After years of campaigning, it took just a few weeks for those hopes to be crushed. In the 2019 general election, Corbyn had lost by a massive amount. The fictitious campaign against him and the Labour party had been successful.

And with the downfall of Corbyn, came the rise of Keir Starmer. His bias towards apartheid and imperialism didn’t even enrage me, it was practically expected from such a political figure.

Every successive government since issuing the Balfour Declaration had enabled the colonisation of Palestine, and in the past decades, actively profited from and supported Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people. As a political leader, Starmer’s alliance to Israel isn’t unusual. His disregard for the rights of those on the other end of British policies, are all we’ve ever had as the face of the British establishment.

And with all hopes being dashed so close to the finishing line, and the retraction of progressive politics in parliament, the options for implementing social and environmental justice through the political system were non-existent.

We had no more time to waste, and we couldn’t afford to waste energy on the political system. The idea that it was a vehicle of change, had died. No government or political party was coming to save us.

But from the black hole of politics, a new light through direct action and grassroots mobilisation took its place. Groups such as Extinction Rebellion grew rapidly, and Palestine Action was born.

No longer were many willing to accept scraps of solidarity and futile statements from politicians. At this point, Palestine was occupied for 72 years, and we had no more time to waste. Palestinians, Kashmiris, Iraqis and more deserved for us in the imperial core to act with urgency. And act we did.

Rather than asking and begging for the government to stop assisting the ethnic cleansing, oppression and massacre of the Palestinian people, we decided to stop the arms exports using our own bodies. If Britain refused to sanction an apartheid state, we would impose sanctions ourselves, using the power of the people. To do that, we went to disrupt, destroy and expose the heart of the production of Israel’s weapons, at the numerous sites of Israel’s largest arms company, Elbit Systems.

By taking a fresh, and effective approach at creating change, roads opened for alliances between the new wave of direct action and civil disobedience groups. Together, we were strong and the bureaucracies of the political system were non-existent.

Whilst our siblings across the world suffer under Britain’s imperial polices, do we continue to ask the political parties who have enabled their suffering, for help? Or do we learn from the lessons of the past, and take it upon ourselves, to use our own power, and take direct action to sabotage the manufacture of death and destruction across the world?

For me, the option is clear, my only regret is not seeing it sooner.

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.