Since Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza began with the full support and active collusion of the US, the UK and other western powers, these and other countries across the world have seen the growth of a powerful movement against the war and in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The scale of protest has been unprecedented since the massive protests against the war on Iraq in 2003 and in many ways surpasses them in scope, breadth as well as the depth of political engagement and growing anti-imperialist consciousness. People continue to pour onto the streets in ever larger numbers in the face of repressive state responses and an entrenched pro-Israel dominant narrative which has long misrepresented and weaponized the notion of antisemitism to suppress all criticism of the Israeli state.
In Britain, despite the pro-Israel bias of the mainstream media, in which Palestinian voices and those of their allies are harassed and sought to be silenced with bullying and dehumanising demands to ‘condemn Hamas’ before they are allowed to speak of the ethnic cleansing underway in Palestine, ordinary people are more than ever before seeing a genocide happening in real time before their eyes, through the direct reports of Gazan journalists which are accessible on social media and also broadcast on more critical channels like Al Jazeera. Further, the bankruptcy of the political leadership has been starkly visible with not only Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the ruling Conservative Party but Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer and those around him defending Israel’s war crimes and refusing to even call for a ceasefire, fuelling anguish and rage among many who are seeing the death toll rising daily as hospitals, schools, and refugee camps are relentlessly bombarded and even those who have left the North of Gaza following Israeli instructions to flee are bombed in their new places of refuge in the South.
The Palestine solidarity movement in Britain is currently taking several forms. Since 14th October, almost every Saturday has seen national demonstrations which have progressively grown in size with 11 November seeing almost a million people taking to the streets to demand a ceasefire. These marches were called by a coalition of organisations, led by the long-established Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Stop the War Coalition formed in 2001, Friends of Al-Aqsa, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and others. At the same time, they were attended by a much broader range of people including many first time protestors, many old and many more very young, from diverse backgrounds. There is a massive presence of young people on these protests, and particularly young people of colour - including but not limited to the many from various Muslim communities. While there are a range of positions and slogans, there is a definite anti-imperialist consciousness which recognises Israel as a settler colonial, Apartheid state and the struggle for a free Palestine as inseparable from, and essential to, those waged in Britain against racism and capitalism. In this context, a resurgent anticolonial politics among communities of colour, especially the youth, in the belly of the beast of imperialism, is increasingly visible.
Protestors have defied the (recently dismissed) far-right Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s attempts to ban the Palestinian flag and the iconic chant ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free!’ by misrepresenting both as antisemitic. In fact, ahead of the 11 November march, Braverman ended up even alienating the notoriously racist and misogynistic Metropolitan Police, when she incredibly accused them of being biased in favour of pro-Palestinian and Black Lives Matter protestors. This was after the police pointed out that they would be legally and practically unable to enforce the ban she had called for on a march of up to a million people on Armistice Day – when there is an official ceremony at the Cenotaph war memorial. Ultimately the demonstration did not pass the Cenotaph or coincide with the ceremony, instead marching to the US Embassy, and fascist thugs responding to Braverman’s calls to defend the Cenotaph ended up in their own brawl with the police guarding it.
In between these weekly marches, there have been a wide range of other protest actions taking place almost continually. Mass occupations of major railway stations during rush hour have often been led by Jewish organisations and activists. Jewish anti-Zionist activists, many of whom have long been at the forefront of analysing and exposing Israel and of Palestine solidarity work, facing extensive harassment from Israel’s supporters, have effectively challenged the dominant narrative around antisemitism. In fact as they point out, the British state’s narrative (adopted from Israel) which equates Jews with Zionism, is itself antisemitic, as is the relentless weaponisation of the Holocaust to justify support for Israeli policy. Many Jewish activists engaged in solidarity work with Palestine also invoke a Jewish left/communist tradition which always rejected the notion of a Jewish homeland in Israel, rather fighting for the right to equal citizenship in Europe.
There have also been numerous local protest in towns and cities across Britain and different areas of London. Most recently after the parliamentary vote on a motion calling for a ceasefire, in which Labour leader Keir Starmer threatened front bench MPs who voted in favour with dismissal, many Labour MPs who failed to vote for a Ceasefire found themselves being held to account by vocal demonstrations in their constituencies, particularly those with significant numbers of Muslim voters. Notably many of these involved school pupils walking out of their schools en masse to join the marches. These students highlighted the fact that they were banned from discussing Palestine in school, or even from expressing solidarity by drawing Palestinian flags on their hands, and could be excluded from school or even reported to the police under the notorious ‘Prevent’ anti-radicalisation programme for doing these things. They pointed out the contrast with the government’s treatment of the war in Ukraine where school pupils were asked to come to school wearing the colours of the Ukrainian flag!
Another significant form of solidarity has been direct action targeting Israeli-owned factories and those supplying Israel, in which activists block entrances, chain or lock themselves to buildings, occupy rooftops, prevent the transport of goods and other similar disruptive strategies. In particular in Britain the targeting of one of the biggest Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems, (which supplies drones which are also bought from Israel by India and used in Kashmir) has been going on for several years, succeeding in forcing one factory in Oldham to shut down and regularly disrupting the operation of another in Leicester. This campaign has been further stepped up against the backdrop of the current genocidal war in Gaza, and has also expanded to mass blockades by trade unions and others, while elsewhere in Europe, for example in Barcelona, dock workers have refused to handle shipments of arms to Israel responding to calls from Palestinian trade unions. All of these forms of protest and solidarity can only be expected to further grow and expand in the coming days.