ISRAEL’S RELENTLESS REPRESSION of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip has accelerated with the brutal attacks on the non-violent March of Return. In the two weeks following the 30th March Land Day protests, Israeli forces killed at least 34 Palestinian civilians and injured thousands more; hundreds have lost limbs as a result. This has been the bloodiest confrontation in Gaza since Israel’s last full-scale attack in 2014.
Land Day is an annual Palestinian protest at the ongoing theft of land by the Israeli state and Zionist organisations. It originated in a 1976 demonstration by Palestinian citizens of Israel against the policy officially known as “Judaisation of the Galilee” (an area of the state which still has an Arab majority population), in which the Israeli police and army killed six citizens and injured scores more. 30th March has since then been marked by large demonstrations in Israel, Palestine and refugee camps elsewhere.
This year, as part of the protests against the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment on 15th May 1948, a coalition of civic groups in Gaza called for a six-week protest camp close to the border with Israel, starting with a symbolic “Great March of Return” on Land Day. The initiative, which was supported by all Palestinian political parties with the exception of Fatah, was explicitly for a non-violent, mass march to demand return to the land and homes from which families had been expelled in 1948.
The Gaza Strip is the third most densely populated region in the world. 75% of the population are refugees, whose lands and homes were seized by the state of Israel in 1948. Although Israel formally withdrew its troops and dismantled its settlements in 2005, the area remains under de facto occupation, with Israel controlling all access by land, sea and air (with the exception of the frequently closed Rafah crossing with Egypt).
Since 2007, Israel - with the support of Egypt and the Palestine Authority - has imposed a strict blockade on Gaza, severely restricting the entry and exit of both goods and people. At the time, an advisor to Israeli PM Ehud Olmert callously justified this as “putting the Palestinians on a diet”. And Israel repeatedly cuts off fresh water supplies to Gaza, where an estimated 95% or more of the water is polluted and undrinkable.
The protest camps and marches attracted mass support from the people of Gaza. The tents were placed 700 metres from the border with Israel, and provided accommodation, food, recreation, entertainment and religious services for protesters, as well as a full field hospital. Israel deployed more than 100 snipers with orders to shoot anyone entering a ‘no-go zone’ reaching 300 metres into Gaza. Several of the Palestinian victims are alleged by Israel to be Hamas members, though none were armed at the time. Some were shot while praying, or while walking back from the ‘no-go zone’. But Israel’s Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told Israel Radio on 8th April that: “There are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip”. Israeli forces have also shot several journalists, killing one clearly wearing a large “Press” vest. These cannot be whitewashed as accidents. In a now-deleted Tweet, an Israel army spokesman stated: “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed”.
Disgracefully, few Labour MPs have condemned Israel’s actions. Jeremy Corbyn is a notable exception. In a statement to the 'solidarity with Gaza' demonstration on 7th April, he described the shootings the previous day as “an outrage”, and called for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. He also called for an end to British arms sales to Israel. In response, Israel’s so-called ‘Labour Party’ broke ties with Corbyn and his office.
Israel has been committing a slow- motion genocide in Gaza as well as committing other war crimes. Labour activists, party branches, CLPs and trade unions must demand an immediate halt to all Israeli offensive action against the people of Palestine, and an end to the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights. We should also call for the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to their lands and homes, and for an end to the racist and apartheid structure of the Israeli state.
The Labour movement must support the Palestinian call for a policy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with its obligations under international law. We should demand that the British government halts all arms and related sales to Israel. And we should call for an official break of all Labour ties with the Israeli Labour Party, and its expulsion from the Socialist International.
We cannot allow the threat of false charges of antisemitism to deter and block support for Palestinian rights. Anti- Zionism is not antisemitism, and any attempt to conflate them damages both Palestinian and Jewish rights. There can be no peace and no justice in the Middle East while Israel maintains its dispossession of the people of Palestine.
Labour Briefing May 2018
Walthamstow CLP, and treasurer of Free Speech on Israel