It has never been more vital to stand with Palestine

Six thousand bombs dropped on Gaza in six days — six thousand, flattening entire districts; over two thousand Gazans killed in a week — two thousand, with 8700 wounded; Gaza’s two million people — two million — cut off from power, water, medicine, fuel and food. More than a million of them ordered to abandon their homes in an impossible and self-standing humanitarian catastrophe. It has never been more vital to stand in solidarity with Palestine.

Emotions are powerful distractors. In the wake of Hamas’s shock penetration into Israel last weekend and all its sequels, they have been intense. But however strong, emotions must not obscure the fundamental facts: Palestinians are a colonised people enduring one of the most vicious and unshakeable oppressions our times have seen. Israel is a brutal, colonising power, intent on crushing the very possibility of Palestinian life and freedom. The cause of Palestine is the cause of justice and freedom everywhere.

Nothing in the events of the last week can alter those essential truths. Any attempt to come to terms with the current war, and to determine what solidarity in the West means, must be anchored in the basic reality of Palestinian oppression.

Life is intrinsically valuable, whatever creed it espouses or flag it is draped in. All bloodshed is tragic and most is criminal. But if we accept this principle, then a simple reality imposes itself: for generations, the value of life has been violated for Palestinians exponentially, overwhelmingly more than for Israelis.

Decades of colonial oppression have claimed Palestinians’ lives in frightening numbers. And not just their lives: their political freedoms, their freedom of movement, their educational rights have all been indiscriminately ruined as well. Whether they are Muslim, Christian or atheist; whatever the local political forces are that they support, generations of Palestinian lives have been devastated by a powerful first-world coloniser with the unstinting backing of the West.

As the US-based organisation Palestine Legal has said, ‘there is no equivalence — moral or otherwise — between Israel’s nearly eight decades of ceaseless colonial violence, and the resistance that it has engendered.’ The only way that the tragedies of lost lives can be solved, it correctly notes, is by addressing the root causes — the occupation and siege of Palestinian land.

That is exactly the role of the global solidarity movement. The imperviousness to it of the political class has been stunning. Western politicians’ existing record of moral and intellectual negligence is impressive, but over the last week they have outdone themselves. The prospect of natives escaping from their cages has unleashed deep settler paranoia in places like Australia, just as it has in Israel itself. In Australia as everywhere else, politicians in their panic have delivered Israel carte blanche. The West’s blessing on Israel to do what it pleases has authorised the inconceivable evacuation orders the army has issued to Gaza residents and laid the ground for a second Nakba.

The times call for political leaders with cool heads: ones who are not swept up by the immediacy of the moment, but who can see what is happening with objectivity. This is exactly the rational intellectual attitude that European racist fantasies imagine as distinguishing the ‘civilised’ Western world from the savage Islamic one, locked in its animal passions. Yet when faced with the need for rationality and detachment, mainstream Western politicians and media have shown themselves to be entirely incapable of them.

As well as unconditionally supporting Israel, politicians have repressed, vilified, silenced, and threatened deportation against Palestinians and their supporters at home. Has there ever been such casual contempt for democratic freedoms, such servile conformism in the binning of basic rights? The official representatives of democracy, with honourable, rare exceptions, have failed democracy again.

That is just one reason why solidarity with Palestinians is essential for anyone who wants to retain their own fundamental freedoms. Palestine solidarity is not just internationalism or anticolonialism or antiracism or even humanitarianism; it is not just an expression of compassion, or altruism, or basic decency: it is a necessity for the defence of democratic prerogatives against authoritarianism and neo-fascism in Western nations. In cheering on the antidemocratic suppression of protest, Zionists sometimes thought of as ‘liberal’ have let their masks slip. Their support for Israeli apartheid and permanent war against Palestinians can only mean opposition to democracy in their own countries.

Rallies for Palestine in the coming weeks will do the same as rallies for Palestine every time Gaza is being returned to rubble — call for an end to apartheid, ethnic cleansing and endless war, and for freedom, justice, equality and democracy for everyone between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. That is the politics of the Palestine solidarity movement, and it has been asserted unambiguously and repeatedly.

Of course, we will be slandered as antisemites precisely because we make those demands at this moment. Now, ‘unconditional’ support for Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ is the only possible script. Even when we expel actual antisemites from our rallies, as we did last Monday outside the Opera House in Sydney, we are slurred as ‘vile antisemites’. Not only that: we are terrorist sympathisers, Islamists, savages. Nothing can falsify those descriptions, it seems. Condemn Hamas, we’re continually instructed: prove to us you don’t support terrorism.

The onus is not on us to demonstrate our moral credentials. There’s no blood on our hands. There are no grounds to question our morality or our political objectives. We advocate for equality for everyone in the Middle East. We promote boycott, divestment and sanctions — an expressly non-violent tactic, supported by the whole of Palestinian civil society. Many of the forces demanding that we condemn Hamas count BDS as vile antisemitism as well. For them, just telling the truth about Israel — that its existence is predicated on racism — is antisemitism in action.

Condemning a person means abandoning the effort to understand them. After a condemnation, all that is left is absolute rejection and banishment: renouncing the devil and all his works. Condemning is what a judge does when they sentence a prisoner to death. Once someone is condemned, there’s no point in talking about why they might have done what they have done: the final verdict is delivered; no more remains to be said. This is exactly why Zionists demand that we condemn Hamas: to block any move towards understanding it and what might motivate its resistance to Israeli colonisation — to erase the understanding of why Palestinians fight back.

Solidarity means refusing to allow understanding to be blocked. When we come onto the street in collective protest, we are joining an embodied, living force defending two important truths: that Palestinians must not be denied justice and that contesting power is a fundamental democratic right. In a situation where those truths have been discarded as lightly as they have been this last week, committed and embodied reassertion of them is essential. When thousands are on the streets in their defence, the costs of ignoring them are raised. Promoting justice for Palestinians is promoting justice for everyone. It will be vital to join the demonstrations for Palestine in coming days and weeks, whatever obstacles politicians or police commissioners place in their way.


Image: Joe Catron

Nick Riemer

Nick Riemer works in the English and linguistics departments at the University of Sydney. He is currently president of the Sydney University branch of the National Tertiary Education Union.

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