Two massive demonstrations brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets of London in solidarity with Palestine on 15 and 22 May, and up and down the country thousands more joined protests and rallies demanding and end to Israeli military attacks, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Meanwhile on 18 May, a general strike showed the power of Palestinian resistance, as workers walked out, shops shut down and protests and rallies defied the Israeli military and police.
Middle East Solidarity spoke to Palestinian documentary film-maker Rawan Damen about the significance of the strike and how a bigger and more effective solidarity movement outside Palestine can make a difference to the Palestinian struggle for justice.
“The big demonstration in London on Saturday has given us Palestinians everywhere a lot of hope,” Rawan told us. “We can see solidarity action that is happening in the streets, in academia, and among political circles.”
This rising solidarity movement is connected with a “new energy” in organised popular resistance to the Israeli occupation, Rawan explained. “There is a grassroots movement organising civil disobedience and demonstrations, there is a new spirit, a new energy, and a new grassroots movement that we need to build on.” One sign of this is the success of the general strike on 18 May. As Rawan noted, the tactic of a general strike has a long history in the Palestinian resistance movement.
“In 1936 there was a big general strike in Palestine against the British colonisation and the Zionist movement between 1936 and 1939. Around 5,000 Palestinians were killed and 15,000 injured. Many people were expelled by the British to other Arab countries including Syria and Iraq.”
The memory of the general strike in 1976 by Palestinians living within Israel is still strong as well, commemorated each year on Land Day. However, the strike last week was a dramatic demonstration of Palestinian unity, said Rawan.
“Palestinians across all historic Palestine, including the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, inside Israel and the Gaza Strip decided to do something together. It is very significant that the strike happened in this unifying way.”
Israeli forces have targeted not only Palestinian activists, but also journalists reporting from Palestine, killing many and destroying media offices, such as the building housing international news agencies destroyed by Israeli missiles in the latest attack on Gaza. [check] This is a deliberate policy, Rawan told us.
“They don’t want the Palestinian narrative to be there, because the Palestinian narrative is the just narrative. It is the narrative that says what is happening on the ground that there is ethnic cleansing happening in all of historic Palestine, and there is continuing resistance to ethnic cleansing. Journalists are among the people who expose the war crimes of Israel and this is something that Israel doesn’t want. So not only Palestinian journalists are targeted but any journalists, even British journalists, foreign journalists.”
That’s why one of the most important forms that solidarity action can take is to tell the story about what is happening in Palestine, argued Rawan. A second step is to acknowledge that Britain has a historic responsibility for the Israeli Occupation. “The British Mandate facilitated Zionist immigration, protected the Zionist movement, empowered them with military forces which made it possible to create Israel but also to banish Palestinians and thus not allowing a Palestinian state to emerge in 1948.” So key goals of the solidarity movement in Britain are to “stop arming Israel unless it adheres to human rights and international law and to stop getting exports from Israel’s settlements which are illegal in international law.”
The ceasefire doesn’t mean that the problems for the Palestinians have gone away, warned Rawan. Although the pause in bombing has temporarily eased the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza they once again face rebuilding shattered infrastructure and devastated health and education systems. “The occupation is still there, the discrimination and the racism, the apartheid system is still there. We need to continue because justice should prevail if we work hard together. It might not be very soon but the solidarity shown during the last few weeks gives us hope that it might be sooner than we thought.”
Rawan Damen is a Palestinian documentary film-maker and media consultant. Watch her documentaries and explore the history of Palestine through the free resources on the Palestine Ambassador e-learning platform here.
What you can do:
- Pass a resolution calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) through your local union branch (go to www.bdsmovement.net and www.palestinecampaign.org for resources)
- Organise a campaign in your university or college against partnerships and investments with companies which a complicit in the Israeli occupation