The British left must stand in solidarity with Palestinians

Lisa Leak argues for vocal solidarity with Palestinians as the annexation of the West Bank goes ahead.

Today marks the start of the formal annexation of large parts of the Palestinian West Bank by Benyamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government.

The immediate concrete impacts of annexation are difficult to predict. The lands that will be incorporated into Israel by annexation have already long been colonised in practice by Israeli settlers and military forces. Nonetheless, this act of formalisation is likely to confer on those settlers and soldiers even greater impunity for their daily crimes against the indigenous Palestinians, who will be left even more vulnerable, impoverished and dispossessed. With full legal jurisdiction, Israel will also be able to expropriate Palestinian land by applying those clauses in its own domestic law which were instigated in previous decades in order to steal land en masse from the Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948.

The principal response of governments and supra-national institutions around the world has been expressions of concern over the ‘threat’ posed by annexation to the prospects of a ‘two-state solution.’ This is a fantasy: a workable partition has been impossible for many decades due to constant Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land and natural resources. As Palestinian-American scholar Yousef Munayyer writes: ‘You cannot kill something that has long been dead. Rather, annexation is dragging and displaying the two-state solution’s corpse before the world.’ Any sanctions in trade or diplomacy that are put forward by these governments or institutions in the weeks to come will likely be temporary and gestural – corresponding, not to Israel’s infliction of colonial occupation on the Palestinians, but to its infliction of a public embarrassment on its own apologists and enablers around the world.

But these institutions do not form the limit of our political agency. Those around the world who support the Palestinian people in their struggle against colonial rule must now organise direct and explicit solidarity with that struggle. The political basis for that solidarity is clear: We must speak out for full Palestinian self-determination and for a one-state solution – neither an impossible partition nor the current apartheid reality, but a single democratic state in historic Palestine, with equal rights for all its citizens. We must support Palestinian resistance in its many and varied forms, including that of military resistance against the military occupier. We must be vocal opponents of Zionism, the settler-colonial ideology of the Israeli state, in its liberal variants as well as its far-right ones.

Putting these anti-racist principles into action means making a sharp correction to the poor performance of the British left around these questions in recent years. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader in autumn 2015 provoked spurious accusations of antisemitism from the ousted right wing of the party, centred on the pro-Palestinian positions held by Corbyn and many of his supporters. This campaign of slander gathered momentum over time, bolstered by Corbyn’s repeated failure to confront it, and by his refusal to stand up for left-wing activists coming under attack. The resulting mess – including the acceptance by the Labour Party of the discredited IHRA definition of antisemitism, which proscribes any description of Israel as ‘a racist endeavour’ – put a large section of the left into a state of disarray from which it has still not emerged.

A further consequence of this has been to open the door for unprecedented right-wing crackdowns on the Palestinian cause by the Conservative government. The Johnson government has brought forward plans to ban institutions from boycotting Israel, and threatens to defund universities which do not adopt the IHRA definition. The atmosphere of confected hysteria gives a license to outrageous attacks on broader anti-racist movements such as Black Lives Matter, whose participants have been accused of antisemitism for declaring their support for Palestine.

Resisting and defeating this crackdown is the first step towards a resurgent Palestine solidarity movement in Britain. Organising education and information sessions around Palestine can allow us to take our arguments directly to large numbers of people, and we must be diligent at explaining the issues to those around us. As well as the current geopolitical situation, and the complicity of the British state today in Israeli apartheid, we must explain the historic debt that Britain owes to the people of Palestine as the colonial power responsible for the Balfour Declaration, which opened up the province to Zionist settlement. We should take all opportunities to support the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement to hold Israel to account – and should use these campaigns to also rally opposition to the government’s authoritarian crackdown.

It is also crucial that we continue to support the Black Lives Matter movements and campaigns against state racism and Islamophobia. Where the right seeks to punish and suppress solidarity between different strands of dissent, we must positively encourage these connections. We fight confusion tactics and psychological warfare with a determined insistence on solidarity and unity.

We share the grief, fear and sorrow that is being felt today in Palestine as the latest onslaught begins. A new chapter is being opened in a long and cruel history of colonial bloodshed and dispossession. At the same time, we know that the Palestinian people have suffered countless cruelties and setbacks before now in their long struggle for liberation, and have met these with inspirational courage, creativity and fortitude. We must strive to replicate these qualities here in Britain, regaining every inch of ground that has been lost for the Palestinian cause, and overcoming the fear, division and mistrust being sewn by our opponents.


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