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Global Solidarity for Palestine: Lessons in Resistance

– Firasha Shaikh

For almost two months now, the world has seen unprecedented shows of support for Palestine, from protest gatherings, and solidarity marches in hundreds of thousands (almost a million people marching in London) to social media storms, boycotting companies and brands allied with Israel, fundraising campaigns for Gaza and so much more.

The world has sat up and started taking notice. Even though politicians are still vehemently opposing repeated calls for a ceasefire, public opinion, perhaps for the first time, has shifted towards the pro-Palestine position.

The 2023 Gaza genocide has, what is called in Marxist terminology, a moment of “sharpening of contradictions”. Throughout the world, people are finally waking up to the futility of forums like the United Nations and the hollowness of politicians’ promises of human rights and national security. These institutions claim to function on democratic premises but are elaborate systems for the ruling classes (ruling politicians and capitalists) to maintain their control even if the cost is a genocide of an area where half of the population is less than the age of 18.

For us in India, where numerous rights groups have repeatedly rung the alarm bell on genocidal actions against Indian Muslims in the past few years; there are quite a few important lessons from this critical moment.

This rise in global public awareness is due to the untiring efforts of the Palestinian diaspora and Muslim communities worldwide.

Political pressure
Ever since Israel began its indiscriminate targeting of civilians inside Gaza under the pretext of defeating Hamas, the death toll has been climbing at an alarming pace and now standing at almost 16,000 people in Gaza as of December 5, 2023. Various organizations in the United States (which is Israel’s most important ally nation), have been encouraging people to run incessant email and telephone call campaigns to elected representatives, urging them to call for a ceasefire. While the US establishment is still unwilling to do so, in the United Kingdom, political pressure resulted in a vote for a call to a ceasefire by the UK government in the Parliament. Even though, the House ended up voting “no” in majority; it was an important revelation of the extent to which Western leaders are going to protect Israel for the sake of their vested interests in the Middle East. Politicians, especially in those nations strongly allied with Israel, can no longer ignore the public backlash.

Social media

The Internet showed up for the people of Gaza to publish real-time updates, personal tales, and striking photos that exposed the sheer brutality of Israel to the world. Social media has become an important platform to bypass traditional media propaganda, amplifying eyewitness accounts, documenting evidence from journalists in Gaza, and broadcasting information that would otherwise go unnoticed by mainstream media. The wave of support managed to override social media censorship thanks to the persistent efforts and labour of Palestinian voices.

Heartwarmingly, several Jewish public figures and organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and B’tselem have played an important role in making clear that the majority of Jewish people in the world condemn the Israeli settler state and its atrocities. Their stance forms an important bulwark against the oft-repeated accusation that anti-Zionism is equal to anti-Semitism. The Jewish people’s solidarity is an important lesson for majoritarian groups everywhere.

Boycott

Another major strategy has been the boycott of companies and products that financially support Israel’s economy or military in any way.

The BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) has been working since 2005 to raise awareness among common people to stop supporting companies. Beyond boycotts, the movement emphasizes the importance of divestment (withdrawing funds, investments, and resources from Israel) and for governments to impose economic and military/defence-related sanctions on Israel. BDS is one of the most effective non-violent punitive measures, which if adopted by consumers, can make a major impact on the cause of Palestinian liberation.

Protests/demonstrations/marches

From the vociferous protests outside government buildings to filling up entire streets and neighbourhoods, people around the world, from Morocco to the UK to the USA, showed up to condemn the genocide and demand an end to the occupation.

Unfortunately, in India, any shows of support for Palestine are being unfairly penalized under the garb of security.

Despite critiques on the tangible impact of protests, the coming out on the streets for causes like Palestine serves some important purposes. Most significantly, awareness and media coverage compel both those in power and fellow citizens, to take their demands seriously.

As was the case in social media, globally, Jewish activists, religious leaders, and public intellectuals showed up in large numbers, registering their condemnation in no unclear terms.

Direct action
Direct action strategies are considered to be potentially harmful and threats to law and order which is why they are usually met with police brutality, detainment of protestors, and slapping false charges against them which ends up in their incarceration.

It should be understood by now, that the violence enforced by the state and its various agencies like the army and the police, is far greater than any temporary disturbances caused by protests. Solidarity has to go beyond lip service and condemnation. It has to be tangible and substantial, albeit in ways that do not backfire upon common people.

The most significant instance of such substantial direct action is the case of Elbit factories.

Elbit Systems, Israel’s leading private weapons and security company, gained notoriety for its military drones extensively used in the 2014 Gaza bombardments, resulting in 2,251 Palestinian deaths, including 551 children. Strategically establishing UK factories and subsidiaries by 2020, including one in Oldham, Greater Manchester, Elbit sought British contracts. In 2016, local Pro-Palestinian activists in Oldham began a campaign against the factory, engaging in petitions and forming the Oldham Peace and Justice group.

Frustrated by ongoing Palestinian bombings and political inaction, activists, supported by the local community, resorted to staged disruptions, blocked factory doors, and even sprayed the building with blood-red paint to symbolize the innocent lives being taken due to these weapons.

After 18 months, Elbit announced the closure of its Oldham factory in January 2022, illustrating the impactful outcome of direct action against government indifference. The closure of Elbit Systems in Oldham exemplified the potency of direct action amid government apathy.

All of these resistance strategies are valuable lessons in solidarity, especially for the majority community in our country. Solidarity for Indian Muslims and other marginalized groups, against state violence has to be substantial, tangible, and meaningful. Platitudes and empty promises during election season won’t cut it anymore.

If the Opposition (INDIA) truly wants to be an alternative to the present regime, they will have to take actual measures to help Indian Muslims. This would include repealing preventive detention laws, releasing political prisoners, passing anti-mob lynching laws, overturning Hindu nationalist-influenced laws like beef ban, hijab ban, conversion law, implementing the recommendations of various committees on the socioeconomic conditions of Indian Muslims, and more.

The immense courage of the people of Gaza is an indication to all marginalized peoples everywhere to pursue the cause of justice with determination and dedication.

[The writer holds a postgraduate degree in Political Science and works at Centre for Study and Research (CSR), New Delhi.]

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