We aren’t truly free until Palestine is free

We aren’t truly free until Palestine is free
8 min read

James Schneider

05 December, 2023
The international movement for Palestine liberation may not have the military might of Israel & its allies, but amidst attacks on Gaza it has growing solidarity & organised resistance to the occupying state’s war machine, writes James Schneider.
We no longer live in the 90s and 00s when the phrase “the international community” basically meant whatever the US wanted, perhaps also tempered by the EU’s desires, writes James Schneider. [GETYY]

Why does Israel commit such crimes against the Palestinians? In part, it is because the Israeli state knows what the world knows: rights are on the side of the Palestinians.

They have rights which have been denied for decades.

If a resolution followed established rights, Israel would have to yield much more to the Palestinians than they would like. So, they seek to change “facts on the ground,” “a tactic used by the Zionist movement for over a century in order to obtain control over more and more of Palestine,” to quote historian Rashid Khalidi.

Settlement expansion in the West Bank makes contiguous Palestinian control impossible and so changes the “facts on the ground.”

Normalising relations with Bahrain, UAE, Morocco and Sudan reduces diplomatic pressure in support of the Palestinians and so changes the “facts on the ground.”

The obliteration of Gaza - destroying most of its buildings, its infrastructure and displacing over 80% of the population - and asserting never-ending security control over the strip makes Palestinian sovereignty impossible and so changes the “facts on the ground.”

Here we see the Israeli strategy. Move from rights and responsibilities to the brute fact of military might. Move from the rule of law to rule by violence. Move from universal equality to particularist supremacy.

Israel gets away with its crimes because it has the bombs, bullets and diplomatic support from the US and its key subordinates, including the UK.

Remember when President Joe Biden, then a mere Senator, said on the floor of the Senate in 1986: “If there were no Israel, we’d have to invent an Israel to secure American interests in the region.” This was not an off-the-cuff statement we should ignore. Biden has said it again and again, including this year.

That doesn’t mean that the US and the UK are delighted by all of Israel’s crimes. But when the crazy cousin of imperialism is being violent, the big brother and little brothers of imperialism ultimately side with the family.

This situation sounds depressing. The most powerful state on earth is backstopping horrific crimes.

Nevertheless, we too can change the “facts on the ground.” The movement for Palestinian rights and dignity may not have F16s or high-tech defence systems to do this, but we have three major tools.

First, the balance of moral force in the international community is swinging from the Global North to the Global South. We no longer live in the 90s and 00s when the phrase “the international community” basically meant whatever the US wanted, perhaps also tempered by the EU’s desires.

The South, which is the vast majority of humanity, is no longer so weak and beaten down that it must accept that state of affairs. Added to that, the moral claims of the Global North have been denuded following the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the War on Terror. And now, with the US’ great ally, Israel, killing Palestinian children, journalists and aid workers at rates unprecedented in recent conflicts, the appeals to rights, law and morality ring ever more hollow.

So we see states from across Latin America, Africa and Asia, take a firm line against Israel’s crimes. South Africa is asserting international law, Colombia, Chile and Bolivia have all expelled Israeli ambassadors or withdrawn theirs to Israel.

This movement in the Global South is growing. But it needs steroids.

The recent joint Arabic Islamic Summit of 57 states denounced Israel’s crimes and affirmed support for the Palestinian people, but took no further practical steps. The governments of these states, which includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Indonesia, are under huge pressure from their populations to do much more.

This combined pressure from below across the Global South and leadership from those with the clarity and strength to lead can bring together a powerful bloc of Southern states. Such a bloc should and could take fiercer diplomatic - and also economic - actions against the Israeli regime. That pressure is needed to end this cycle of killing, but then as a powerful weight to lend to the side of rights, law and equality in negotiations for the final liberation of the Palestinian people.

Second, we can throw sand in the wheels of the Israeli war machine. Some of the most inspiring actions taken in recent weeks have focused on just that. Palestine Action in the UK has spawned Palestine Action in the US. These groups and others have targeted Elbit Systems, a major Israeli weapons company, including shutting down its activities in Boston, USA, and at a factory in Kent, England, which makes parts for Israeli fighter jets. At great personal cost - eight are currently on trial for direct action against Elbit -  these brave people risk arrest and worse, to directly intervene. They are showing the way.

As is the Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC) in California, stopping arms ships from leaving port, and activists in Sydney stopping an Israeli arms ship docking by blockading it with jetskis.

There is so much more like this that can be done. Because the Israeli war machine is a globe-spanning enterprise that touches so much. That’s why the Palestinian unions have called on those in the global labour movement to stand with them, to make solidarity more than a slogan.

That means that unions in the weapons industry must take action, including those in logistics unions limiting the flow of arms to Israel, like we’ve seen in Belgium and Italy where unions have refused to handle arms shipments to Israel.

But the war machine isn’t just the obvious things - arms factories and the shipping of arms to Israel - but whole supply chains: parts, technology, cloud computing, offices, fuel, sub-contractors, outsourced cleaners. Every stage of this machine of death can be organised. Every stage can be intervened in.

So if you can research, research this war machine, find out all of its connections, all of its weaknesses and pressure points. And if you are in a union, work within your union to heed the call of your brothers and sisters in the Palestinian movement.

Third, we can raise the political cost of complicity, of involvement in Israel’s crimes here in the Global North. The British media and political class might be in lockstep in support of Israeli war crimes and the continued dispossession of the Palestinian people, but the people aren’t. The people, if you look at the polling, want peace.

According to a YouGov poll, only 8% oppose a ceasefire. This isn’t the peoples’ war. It’s only the elites’ - and it’s fragile. That’s why they work overtime to smear peace marches as hate marches and do whatever they can to delegitimise a basic call for peace and freedom for a people who have known so much violence and oppression.

In carrying water for Israeli crimes, the British media and political class are demonstrating that we aren’t really, truly an independent country. In the major questions of foreign policy, the position of the British government is to tuck in behind the US government.

This conflict also shows that Britain isn’t truly a democracy. Not only are the views of the vast majority not the government’s policy but they aren’t the official opposition’s either. Labour tucks in behind the government, which tucks in behind the Biden administration. The policy of both the Conservative and Labour Parties is written in the US State Department.

You see this when the journalists and commentators provide their analysis of Keir Starmer and the Labour Party. They say it's difficult for Starmer because he has to balance “looking prime ministerial” and the demands from parts of his party. But who is he “looking prime ministerial” for when so few oppose a ceasefire? It’s certainly not for the people. It’s for US power abroad and corporate power at home.

When Nelson Mandela famously said that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” the statement was more than one of solidarity, it was analytical truth. While imperialism can deny the Palestinians, it will continue to limit all those in the Global South.

But it is also true for us here in the Global North, here in Britain. As this latest round of the assault on the Palestinians has shown, Britain is neither fully independent nor democratic. We must learn that imperialism abroad means oligarchy at home.

So yes, all of us here are striving for peace in West Asia. But more than that we are striving for national liberation for the Palestinian people. And through that, we are fighting imperialism abroad and therefore for independence and democracy at home. That’s why we aren’t truly free until Palestine is free.

James Schneider is a political organiser and writer. He serves as the communications director for the Progressive International. He co-founded Momentum, was spokesperson and head of strategic communications for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party when Corbyn was leader, and was editorial director of New African magazine. He is the author of ‘Our Bloc: How We Win’.

Follow him on Twitter: @schneiderhome

This article is an edited speech that was given by the author at an event for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) in London.

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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.