Charlotte Church: demonised for singing for peaceful co-existence

We are all Palestinians

Despite the smears, hundreds of thousands are determined to continue showing their solidarity. Ian Spencer reports on last Saturday’s demonstration in London - the 10th since the war on Gaza began

Whatever else the Palestine solidarity marches are, they are a reminder - a constant reaffirmation - that the daily horror of genocide and ethnic cleansing is the death-agony of a system.

What will replace it is to be decided. But the fact that “In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians” is at the heart of these events, which assert humanity over barbarism and solidarity with the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Palestine, testifies to at least the possibility of an internationalist movement. March 9 saw some 450,000 march in the 10th national demonstration in London and, coming as it did, after International Working Women’s Day, the crowd heard from an all-female cast of speakers, including Welsh singer Charlotte Church, Zarah Sultana MP and Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition. The death-toll in Gaza is approaching 35,000, with women and children making up two-thirds of those massacred by Israel. Those remaining face starvation.

Charlotte Church is, of course, one of the latest to be accused of anti-Semitism, having led a rendition of ‘From the river to the sea’ at a village hall charity concert in Caerphilly, South Wales. She responded to the slur in a way that Jeremy Corbyn can only dream of, saying: “I am fighting for the liberation of all people. I have a deep heart for all religions and all difference.” She added: “Clearly, if you know the history of it all, [it is] not an anti-Semitic chant calling for the obliteration of Israel. It is not that in any way, shape or form. It is calling for the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians.”1

The state response to the demonstrations has been to constantly try to portray them as full of hatred. The latest contribution to the mad hatter’s tea party of foam-flecked pundits has come from Robin Simcox, who has the ridiculous title of Commissioner for Countering Extremism. He was appointed to this post by the ‘extremely moderate’ Priti Patel, before she was dismissed for breaching the ministerial code by having unauthorised meetings with the government of Israel. Simcox’s background is, unsurprisingly, in the rightwing Henry Jackson Society, and asserts that the Palestine marches are turning London into a ‘no-go zone’ for Jews - apart, of course, from the thousands of Jews marching every week, who are determined to show that Israel and its apologists do not speak for them!

I maintain that the ruling class is afraid. It is afraid that the mask has slipped enough not only to reveal the brutal, inhuman nature of Zionism, but also the complicity of the USA and UK, in particular. They are afraid that the links are now being made between almost perpetual war and the cuts to the workers’ standard of living. The malignant absurdity of dropping aid from air, by countries that have done most to supply the bombs that have created the famine, is lost on nobody. The bizarre and wilfully pointless, if not deeply suspicious, decision to build a ‘pier’ to land aid by sea, which will take two months, when every aid agency in the region has asserted, time after time, that the most efficient and quickest way to get the most aid to the starving is by road, but that this is being prevented by Israel.

The fear in little Rishi Sunak’s eyes was visible when he referred to the election of George Galloway in the February 29 Rochdale by-election as “beyond alarming”. In my experience it is unprecedented that a prime minister should come out of No10 with a lectern to give the public a bit of a telling off for the drubbing they have given to all the bourgeois parties. Maybe it is only a matter of time before he demands the dissolution of the electorate. He is right to be alarmed, as not only is his party facing electoral meltdown, but his likely successor commands no respect either - both are charged with genocide by the marchers.

Talking of respect, Galloway’s picture on the front of last week’s Weekly Worker, which we distributed at the demonstration, solicited more than a few conversations with people as critical of gorgeous George as we are. But most were also in agreement that there was only one real issue in Rochdale on the day - yes, Gaza and UK support for the Israeli genocide. The people acquitted themselves well and are under no more illusions than we are.

It was notable that, as our demonstration of hundreds of thousands reached Victoria Street, there was a pro-Israel counter-demonstration. I counted about six people holding up Israeli flags and about as many more without flags. Even they did not manage to provoke the slightest hostility from the Palestine solidarity marchers that I saw. It is true that I shouted “From the river to the sea” a bit louder at that point, but otherwise the friends of genocide elicited no response at all. I honestly believe that would have been true even without the significant police presence.

An increase in the police numbers has been another feature of the state’s attempt to demonise these totally peaceful marches. As Sunak’s lectern diatribe put it, “This week, I have met with senior police officers and made clear that it is the public’s expectation that they will not merely manage these protests, but police them.”2 So far, at least, the policing has been decidedly low-key. Let us keep it that way and fraternise with the police at every opportunity. Their pay is being cut, just as ours is. As regards the public’s expectations, I believe it is as clear in the opinion polls as it is on the street that the public expects an end to genocide and ethnic cleansing. What remains to be seen is whether that will be expressed at the ballot box nationally. We need to transform the demand for a ceasefire to one for an end to the arming of Israel and ultimately an end to the current Zionist state in favour of a republic of the Middle East with the right of return for all Palestinians.

Supporters of the Palestinian people are wiser than to respond to the actions of provocateurs, and the 10 marches have retained their almost carnival atmosphere - so much so, that they have started to include music and street food. This is even more remarkable, considering what has been occurring in Gaza. If we thought we had heard it all, when the Israel Defence Forces presented a picture of the Al-Shifa Hospital being used as some sort of Hamas control centre, the sight of IDF marksmen targeting starving refugees queuing for the most basic means of subsistence is enough to make almost everyone’s blood boil. We have also witnessed the heroic, tragic self-immolation of US airman Aaron Bushnell outside the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. His final words, livestreamed from his phone, were:

I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest. But, compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonisers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has been decided will be normal.

Then he set himself on fire and screamed, “Free Palestine”. He died nine hours later, aged 25.3 This was not an act of hate, but all-consuming love, which deserves to be remembered forever.

Bushnell was, after all, a professional armed serviceman, so I would suggest: with the uniformed services, fraternise and fraternise again. The revolution to end barbarism depends on winning them to the side of the workers of the world.

  1. The Times February 26.↩︎

  2. The Times and YouTube, March 1.↩︎

  3. The Guardian February 28.↩︎