It’s always been difficult to speak out in support of Palestine. Those who want to do so are confronted by a genocide-denying consensus among the pro-Israeli Western establishment. Those who insist on speaking out against Israel and its imperial backers inevitably get turned into pariahs.
I would know, having had my pay docked for Palestine advocacy and having been arrested along with nineteen others on charges of “trespass in a public place” during Australia’s most successful BDS campaign in 2011. We managed to get those ridiculous charges overturned, but plenty of others haven’t been so lucky, sacrificing their jobs, careers and public reputations for the cause of justice. Many have been cowed by the prospect of such attacks, leaving Palestine as a relatively fringe issue in mainstream discourse.
But things have been different this time. Something special is happening.
In the face of unimaginable Israeli brutality, a mass movement for Palestine has erupted across the Western world. Protests in Germany and Paris have overcome the attempt to ban them out of existence, mobilising thousands despite media slander and threats of police brutality. More than 100,000 people marched in London on consecutive weekends, alongside hundreds of sizable actions in cities and towns across the UK.
Demonstrations in the US have been enormous, despite the challenge of living in the country most committed to defending Israel’s every move. Among the younger generations, the tide has well and truly turned. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that just 32 percent of those aged between 18 and 34 approved of Israel’s response to 7 October, and 65 percent opposed the US sending military aid to the country.
The most inspiring scenes from the US have been generated by young Jewish activists in New York and elsewhere putting their bodies on the line for Palestine. It is incredibly hopeful that a growing number of US Jews, led by Jewish Voice for Peace, are breaking with Israel and Zionism. For better or worse, these activists have a unique position from which to assail the ideological fortifications of Israeli apartheid, most important of which is the lie that opposing Israel is anti-Semitic.
Here in Australia, the weekly demonstrations have been enormous, breaking the attendance record for Palestine solidarity actions in every city. Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane have held demonstrations of more than 5,000 for the first time ever. Sizable protests have taken place in Geelong, Wollongong, Canberra, Newcastle and Hobart. Rallies have probably exceeded 50,000 in Melbourne and Sydney, making them some of the largest anti-war demonstrations in Australia’s history. (These defiant, youthful and principled events stand in contrast to the pathetic turnouts of middle-aged, middle-class warmongers at pro-Israeli events in Bondi and Caulfield.)
Unlike the campaign against the Iraq War, the protests have not been seriously promoted by the student and trade unions or the churches, and are opposed by all wings of the Labor Party. This makes their size even more significant; rarely before have so many people mobilised without the involvement of these kinds of institutions.
Remarkably, the numbers are holding up after a month of protesting, and in some cases are still growing. For many people, this will be the first time they protest for Palestine. This is reflected in the size but also the demographics of the rallies, which are less dominated by Arab and Muslim communities than in the past. This is a big step forward, reflecting that support for Palestine is now becoming an important principle on the left and in broader society.
Yet despite all this, the Western ruling classes remain steadfastly in support of Israel. Nothing exemplifies this more than the media refusing to cover the historic demonstration in Melbourne on Sunday. The Age, for instance, thought a car accident in Daylesford was the most newsworthy event of the weekend. In their desperation to slander our righteous march, news.com.au posted a headline as ingenious as it was disgraceful: “Thousands attend pro-Palestine rally in Melbourne while police investigate Hitler posters in Sydney”.
But the corporate media do not have a stranglehold on the distribution of news and ideas. The challenge for supporters of Palestine is to redouble our efforts to mobilise as many people as possible for as long as the war continues. Whenever we feel tired or overwhelmed, we should remember the words of Nowar Diab, a university student living in Occupied Gaza:
“There is one thing that has recently given me hope in the face of the tragedy that has become our lives here in Gaza. It is the pictures of hundreds of thousands of people standing up for us and protesting in our name.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Hrkac
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