Israel’s bloody war in Gaza is soon to enter its third month. Three months of horror. Three months of mass killing and destruction. Fourteen thousand Palestinians dead, including at least five thousand children. The destruction of hundreds of thousands of homes, schools, hospitals, mosques and vital, life-sustaining infrastructure.
From everything Israel has done so far, its goal seems clear—to drive the Palestinian population out of the Gaza Strip entirely, or, if that cannot be done, to herd them like cattle into a few square kilometres in the south.
This is genocide, the attempted expunging of an entire population—a population comprising those who have already been driven out of their ancestral homes by Israeli terror and who are now facing a second dispossession, a second Nakba.
Gaza will not be the end of it. Israeli occupation forces, including fascist “settlers”, have already ramped up attacks in the West Bank, killing more than 200 since October as they attempt to seize more land. The Zionist dream, and Palestinian nightmare, of “Greater Israel”, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, with Palestinians driven out or confined to wretched camps, increasingly seems like a real possibility.
And what is the West’s reaction to these horrors? To parrot the sickening line: “Israel has the right to defend itself”. The US continues to flood Israel with weaponry. Britain’s Royal Air Force does the same, flying military equipment to Israel from its base in Cyprus. The US uses the Pine Gap spy base outside Alice Springs to provide the IDF with intelligence. Australia supplies vital components for the F-35 bombers Israel uses to rain down hell on Gaza.
With very few exceptions, the Western political establishment are cheering Israel on. Diplomatically, the US protects Israel from censure at the UN and stations battle fleets in the Mediterranean to enforce its writ.
The media in Australia chime in, regurgitating Israel’s talking points, with the ABC at the forefront. They invite Israeli spokespeople for interviews and let them openly lie without challenge. They invite Palestinian speakers and then interrupt them, insult them and call them liars. They spread lies about “beheaded babies” and Hamas using hospitals as command centres.
The media continue to call it an “Israel-Hamas war”, as if they haven’t noticed that most of Israel’s victims are civilians and as if the Gaza Strip is an independent entity rather than a besieged enclave of terrified people.
And when brave journalists speak up about the disgraceful news coverage of a war in which Israel has killed dozens of their colleagues in Gaza, their editors, several of whom have taken Israeli-funded “study tours” of Israel, threaten them.
If Western warmongers are united in support of Israel, they have not gone unchallenged at home. We are witnessing an unprecedented and inspiring wave of opposition to Israel’s murderous war. Pro-Palestine demonstrations, hundreds of thousands strong, have taken place in London and Washington, and more are coming. In Australia, opposition to Israeli barbarism is driving the biggest and most sustained wave of protest in support of Palestine in history.
In response to previous Israeli wars on Palestine since 2008, impressive demonstrations of several thousand took place but dwindled fairly quickly. Now, it seems, things have changed. We are witnessing one of the most significant anti-war movements ever seen in Australia.
The demonstrations are larger than any previous Palestine protests—between 30,000 and 50,000 strong in Sydney and Melbourne, up to 7,000 in Perth and Brisbane and 3,000 in Adelaide. Then there are the first school strikes for Palestine, attended by more than 1,000 in Melbourne and hundreds in Sydney.
It is not just the size but the number and consistency that are unprecedented. In most cities, marches have taken place every weekend since the war started, and numbers have if anything increased. There has not been a single political issue in Australian history—not climate change, not workers’ rights, not Indigenous rights, not LGBTI rights—that has had such a record of continuous mobilisation.
The demonstrations have been defiant, young and energetic, with loud chanting and street sit-downs. Their demands have been straight to the point: “End the Bombing, end the siege”, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, “Israel, USA, how many kids did you kill today?”, ”Cut ties with Israel”, “Free, free Palestine!” and “Ceasefire now”, the last indicating the demand for an immediate end to the bloodshed, not “humanitarian pauses” that give way to more bombing.
Another indication of the vitality of these demonstrations is that, for many people, this is the first time they have protested for Palestine. Attendance at the rallies stretches beyond the Arab and Muslim communities, reflecting that support for Palestine is now becoming an important principle on the left and in broader society.
There have certainly been bigger anti-war demonstrations in the past, most obviously with the Vietnam moratorium marches in 1970-71, up to 50,000 strong in a much smaller population, and the Iraq war protests in 2003 that mobilised 800,000 nationally. However, unlike the current protests, taking place weekly for seven weeks and counting, the three moratoriums happened over six months, and the monster Iraq demonstrations were one-off affairs.
Just as importantly, the current Palestine protests have taken place without any institutional support from the student and trade unions or the churches and are opposed by all wings of the ALP.
Support from important sections of the ALP and the left-wing unions, particularly in Victoria, was a big factor in the success of the Vietnam moratoriums. These demonstrations were also the culmination of years of protests against the Vietnam War. With the Iraq war protests, the Victorian Trades Hall gave valuable support for the massive march of 250,000 in Melbourne, and the ALP signalled its, albeit half-hearted, support, leader Simon Crean speaking at the Brisbane rally. The Age newspaper gave substantial prior publicity for the Melbourne demonstration.
That the ALP and some media backed the Iraq war protests reflected not just the unpopularity of the war but also divisions in the world’s ruling classes—the French and German governments opposed a US attack on Iraq without UN sanction. Protesting the Iraq war, therefore, seemed in line with important elements of capitalist opinion. The Vietnam moratoriums were similar, coming in the context of peace talks and when troop deployments were already being wound down.
Far from encouragement by sections of the political and media establishment, today’s protests for Palestine have been shunned, if not openly attacked, and have received very little media coverage. Where the media have taken an interest, it is to denigrate them as “anti-Semitic hate marches” or “dangerous” or, in the case of the school strike, to treat participants as dupes.
The politicians, Labor and Coalition, have been the same; in the early stages, state governments and councils tried to prevent marches taking place, while students striking for Palestine have been treated with condescension and, on occasion, as with the protest against Israeli shipping line Zim, police have violently attacked Palestine supporters.
Trade unions have not opposed the protests but have done little to support them beyond sending speakers. Professional organisations in the health sector have only issued “both sides” statements rather than condemning Israel’s war crimes.
The only political force to oppose the bombing is the Greens, but even here, they do not mobilise their supporters to attend the demonstrations or have a visible presence on the marches.
Yet despite all this, supporters of Palestine have repeatedly come out in their thousands. The scale of the horrors of the war and revulsion at the actions of our government are driving people onto the streets, in defiance of our “leaders”.
The war continues nevertheless. But rather than despair, we must keep protesting for Palestine. And we need to do what we can to build a bigger movement that can one day challenge this horror, and that ultimately can bring down the whole system that causes it.
Human Rights Watch, an international investigative and reporting organisation, says that it has “significant human rights concerns” about Australia’s treatment of refugees and Aboriginal people.
To drive a whole people out of their land—to turn it into something akin to the Zionist myth of Palestine, supposedly “a land without a people for a people without a land”—requires many things. Most obviously, it requires the killing and terrorising of Palestinian people on a colossal scale.
What would you do with $1.5 million? You could put down deposits on ten median-priced Sydney houses, or you could buy one outright and spare yourself the crushing mortgage repayments.
The level of suffering in Gaza is more than the human mind can comprehend. As the war enters its twentieth week, it feels increasingly obscene to be going about daily life while an entire people are being systematically destroyed, their lives, histories and culture blown to pieces or buried under rubble.
The Banyule Palestine Action Group has collected more than 600 signatures on a petition calling on Banyule City Council, in Melbourne’s north-east, to pass a motion supporting an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, in line with motions passed in other councils across Australia.
Asked how she stays hopeful as a 63-year-old socialist and Palestinian living in the diaspora, Reem Yunis replies: “I don’t have the luxury not to be inspired. My grandparents died without seeing a liberated Palestine, my parents died and were buried in the diaspora. Most of my people are living in the diaspora, and the ones in Palestine are being robbed of water, resources and every bit of land they have. We need to have hope and fight, because if we won’t fight for a free Palestine, who will?”