Protests for Gaza

Submitted by cathy n on 13 August, 2014 - 12:49 Author: Gemma Short

Thousands have joined demonstrations in support of Gazan people over the last month. Gemma Short compiled reports from Workers’ Liberty activists.

Sheffield
Gathering at the town hall every Saturday lunch time, protests have been more than in 2009 and 2012 with a larger number of women and children and up to 400 people.
Speeches have highlighted the appalling conditions for those in Gaza, as well as anti-Israel and anti-US rhetoric.

Later protests had a sombre atmosphere and included actions like “die-ins”.
Workers’ Liberty has had a good reception from people not from the organised left; unfortunately other left groups have chosen not engage in debate. We have sold around 20 papers, various pamphlets and books at each demonstration.

Workers’ Liberty Sheffield plan a solidarity film showing of Five Broken Cameras, raising money for WAC-MAAN, the independent trade union centre for Arab and Jewish workers in Israel-Palestine.

London
Tens of thousands of people marched through London protest on 9 August, the biggest yet of regular London protests.

Protesters gathered outside the BBC offices at Portland Place, marching past the US embassy and on to Hyde Park. Workers Liberty members took part in the protest, arguing for an independent Palestine alongside Israel and for Arab-Jewish workers’ unity.

Our politics on the Israel/Palestine are distinctly different from those of many of the leading political forces that organised the protests. Nevertheless, we were able to gain a hearing for our arguments, and the atmosphere has been, on the whole friendly and comradely.

We sold around a hundred copies of Solidarity on 9 August and had many political conversations with other marchers.

Newcastle
Newcastle demonstrations have been some of the biggest mid-week protests the city has seen in many years. They have been called by PSC, Labour Friends of Palestine and Friends of Al Aqsa.

There have been at least four large protests in the city centre with around 500 people. A smaller protest of 200 took place at the BBC and a die-in protest in front of the civic centre had approximately 100.

The majority of protestors have been from the Muslim communities in Newcastle, but have also been quite young.

At the lobby of the BBC, the chants, led by supporters of Counterfire who are central to PSC, were: “Palestine must be free: from the river to the sea.” People joined in with this chant but in discussions it has been clear that many do not consider this to be a slogan for one-state in Israel-Palestine. Indeed the organisers of PSC say they take no position on the debate over one state or two states in the area.

The Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) have regularly focused their anger on Labour councillors and MPs — often deservedly over cuts etc. — but they have now demanded the local MP should not speak at rallies because she is critical of Hamas as well as Israel.
Counterfire and others have criticised the RCG for upsetting unity on this question, they have been less clear on the point about being critical of Hamas.

Selling copies of Solidarity with a headline calling for two states has been relatively easy to do on all demonstrations and public sales; we have sold more than usual.

Manchester
A central focus of Gazan solidarity in Manchester has been around the soap and cosmetics shop Kedem in the city centre.

For two weeks supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign have held daily pickets. They say the resources used to produce some of the shop’s stock has been stolen from Palestinian areas of the Dead Sea.

Counter-protests by members of the local Jewish community and friends of the shop owner have also been held.

In the beginning the two protests were aggressively antagonistic and a police line separated the sides. Over time relations have mellowed and protesters from either side are conversing, albeit uneasily and under the watchful eye of a constant police presence.

Manchester (the city with the second largest Jewish community outside London) has seen anti-semitic behaviour from people supporting the Palestinian cause; men driving cars with Palestinian flags drove through the Jewish area of Leicester Road throwing eggs at passers-by and shouting “Heil Hitler”. Some conduct on the demonstrations has been of this type. Dealing with that hasn’t been helped by the equivocation of the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign. In an email to activists they asked people “not to appear anti-semitic” despite it “being difficult” not to do so.

On Saturday 9 August the local BDS group, heavily influenced by the local Revolutionary Communist Group, organised a small but loud march down Market Street with the intention of “putting pressure on Israeli shops and banks”.

Workers’ Liberty in Manchester is clear that our support and solidarity is with the Palestinians. We encourage participation on the pro-Palestinian marches. However, we are also for challenging head-on the anti-semitic discourse and attacks made in the name of Palestinian solidarity.

BDS tactics, especially if conducted as badly as they have been in Manchester, undermine the positive, internationalist solidarity that will help secure the liberation of the Palestinian people. Our time would be better spent building links with Israeli and Palestinian workers organisations.

Nottingham
Demonstrations have been held every week, called by the local PSC and the initial one attracted 600.

On 5 August we heard Israeli oppositionist Uri Gordon of Anarchists against the Wall as well as Dr Musharraf Hussain of the Karimia Institute who was openly critical of Hamas.

On the other hand rabbis from the reactionary Neturei Karta have also addressed the rallies. Their opposition to Israel is that it is essentially a secular state that does not live up to its claim to be Jewish. These Jobbik-supporting ultra conservatives do damage to the cause of the Palestinians and should not be welcome on the protests.

Broxtowe Labour Party are organising a public meeting on Gaza on Sunday 16 August when their PPC and former MP, Nick Palmer,will speak to his proposal to halt the British supply of arms to the Israeli government.

Also speaking at the meeting directly by Skype from Tel Aviv will be Elizabeth Tsurkov, the director of the Israeli NGO, Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (facebook.com/HotlineForRefugeesAndMigrants).

Leeds
Over 2000 people rallied and marched in Leeds. Protests have also taken place in Wakefield.
Whilst a lot of anger was directed at the BBC’s coverage of the assault on Gaza, the turnout represented a diverse range of opinions. Some chants reflected a perspective that wants Israel and less explicitly, Jews, being “removed” from region. Unfortunately many people join in all the chants without considering their content and this needs much more discussion.

Whilst our views in opposition to BDS are minority ones, support for a two-state settlement is not ruled out by many people protesting.

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