150 rally in Whitefriars
By Mary Sullivan
In response to the distressing news from Palestine over the last week, on Saturday upwards of 150 people of all ages and nationalities, including Palestinians, rallied in Canterbury for Nakba Day. On May 15 every year, Palestinians commemorate the ethnic cleansing 73 years ago when Zionist forces eradicated over 500 villages and cities in Palestine, displacing over 750,000 Palestinians and taking over 78% of historic Palestine. Known as the Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, this forced displacement was the basis for the foundation of the Israeli state.
The context of the Nakba can be understood in relation to the political ideology of Zionism. The Zionist movement aimed to establish a Jewish State. It gained momentum during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as thousands of Jewish people migrated to Britain, escaping the persecution and pogroms in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, Zionism was never supported by most Jewish people who prefer to live as equal citizens in the countries where they were born or have lived for generations. Zionism was given impetus by anti-Semitic European governments who saw a way to solve ‘the Jewish Question’ while acquiring a compliant colony in the middle of the oil-rich Middle East.
The Balfour Declaration, issued on November 2 1917, gave voice to Zionist aspirations and foreshadowed the foundation of the State of Israel. The declaration was a public pledge by Britain to establish ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine and was included in terms of the British Mandate for Palestine after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. The Allied powers set up the mandate system, a thinly veiled form of colonialism and occupation. It was replaced by a settler-colonial state in 1948 when the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was implemented, and the new Israeli State was born. The plan recommended creating independent Arab and Jewish States with a special international regime for Jerusalem. The Arab nations were against the plan that divided historic Palestine and allocated to it unequal land distribution. Thus the 1947-1949 Palestine war broke out, joined by the Arab nations of Jordan and Egypt in 1948 after the withdrawal of the British Mandate. During this period, the Nakba took place, drenching the foundation of the new State of Israel in the blood of Palestinians and creating hundreds and thousands of Palestinian refugees. In 1967, the Six-Day War between Israel, Jordan and Syria broke out with Israel as the victor. During this war, Israel took control of the Palestinian territories of Gaza, the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem (as well as the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula) which it retains to this day.
During this war, Israel created thousands more Palestinian refugees. None of these refugees has the right to return to their homeland. On the other hand, all Jewish people born outside Israel have a birthright to settle in Israel according to Israeli law.
There have been many diplomatic attempts to bring about a two-state solution with an Independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel. The 1991 Madrid Conference, the 1993 Oslo accords, the 2000 Camp David summit, The 2001 Arab League’s peace initiative, the Taba negotiations and the 2013-2014 peace talks have all failed. Israel used the ‘peace process’ to accelerate settlement building and construct an apartheid wall, larger than the Berlin wall, that snakes through the West Bank, appropriating even more Palestinian land. Thus, Israel denies Palestinians the ability to create a viable state in even a small part of historic Palestine. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 of 2016 states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a ‘flagrant violation’ of International law and has ‘no legal validity’. Human Rights Watch and the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights, B’TSelem, have declared Israel an apartheid state.
Palestinians of Sheik Jarrah in the West Bank are the most recent victims of Israel’s ethnic cleansing. Israel ordered six Palestinian families to move out of their family homes to make way for Jewish settlers, thereby making up to 40 people homeless, including 10 children. Protests erupted, and hundreds were injured and hospitalised when the police raided the Al Aqsa Mosque on the last day of Ramadan. The police used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse worshippers at the mosque.
As tensions increased, the Hamas Government’s military wing in the Gaza Strip responded to Israeli provocation by launching rockets aimed at Israel. Israel retaliated with aerial bombardment. Aided by its powerful allies, the US and the UK, Israel has become a military superpower with a far superior ability to wage war than Gaza, which has few resources to defend itself. Gaza’s rockets, deflected by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system, cause far fewer casualties than Israel’s air strikes. This is an unequal battle, although to listen to news reports from the BBC and other news channels you would not think so! Israel is using its might to destroy a much weaker adversary. At the time of writing, the Palestinian death toll stands at over 200, including 61 children.
In contrast, the death toll of Israel stands at ten deaths, including two children. While this writer regrets the death of anyone from either side killed in the conflict, it is clear that this is not a battle of equal powers. There seem to be no signs of any imminent ceasefire as the Israeli Government resists peace talks and intensifies air strikes on Gaza. Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank who have risen to demand justice for themselves are met with violence from both police and Israeli settlers.
As this conflict continues, the world looks on in horror at the slaughter of innocent civilians, many of them children, and there have been worldwide protests supporting Palestinians. Alongside many others, anti-Zionist Jews, including some Israeli Jews, stand with Palestinians and disassociate themselves from Zionist ideology. The rally in Canterbury, organised by South East Kent Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was one of many local events across the country, including a mass demonstration of over 100,000 in London. Despite the pouring rain, the rally in Canterbury continued for two hours. One of the attendees was Richard Llewellin, former Bishop of Dover. He has long been a supporter of the Palestinian cause. He said, ‘As someone who has visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian West Bank on numerous occasion, I have seen the oppressive nature of the Israeli occupation and the significant suffering of the Palestinian people in every facet of their lives. This grave injustice must be brought to an end.’ David Turner, an academic and Jewish member of Canterbury for Justice for Palestinians spoke powerfully in favour of a one-state solution in which all citizens of historic Palestine would have equal rights regardless of their ethnic origins under a democratically elected Government. Palestinians attending the rally came forward to express their anguish at the current parlous state of Palestine.
Nevertheless, there was tremendous solidarity between everyone. There was a joyful moment when Palestinian music, broadcast from the megaphone, initiated a spontaneous performance of Dabke dancing by young Palestinians! Every speaker was cheered by the crowd, especially when several young children came forward to lead the chants. Organiser, Mary Sullivan, said, ‘It was heartening! So many people turned up to support Palestinians. Despite the inadequate responses from Governments to the Palestine cause, people care deeply about the plight of the Palestinian people. We intend to continue campaigning and protesting until Palestinians win their full human, civil and national rights.’
South East Kent Palestine Solidarity Campaign group is affiliated with the national Palestine Solidarity Campaign. It aims to spread solidarity across the towns and villages in the area, with a network of activists campaigning for Palestinian human, national and civil rights. We hope many will join our Facebook Group and help us to organise cultural and political events about Palestine. We will support other groups that support the Palestine cause, such as Faversham and Whitstable PSC, Medway PSC and Canterbury for Justice for Palestinians. Those on social media can find us on Facebook, here, https://www.facebook.com/groups/357496015590232, or email me at email@example.com to keep abreast of our planned events.
In any case, can you sign this Petition addressed to the Chancellor of the University of Kent asking it to divest from companies that support Israel’s system of institutionalised racist discrimination: https://www.change.org/p/university-of-kent-stop-investing-in-israeli-apartheid
Please watch this video
For more information, please read these articles by Shabbir Lakha:
Mary Sullivan is a retired social worker (Mental Health). She moved from Canterbury to Whitstable in 1991. On retirement, she completed a degree in History and Religious Studies at the University of Kent. https://www.facebook.com/mary.sullivan.792
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