Palestine solidarity enigma

There was a disappointing turnout for the May 17 rally in London, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Jim Blackstock reports

While the PSC estimated that around 6,000 people were in Trafalgar Square, a more accurate figure would be somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 in my opinion.

Although there were coaches from several parts of the country, including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leicester, Bristol and Sheffield, it was clear that there had been no great mobilisation - certainly not from the Socialist Workers Party, which turned out only paper-sellers and stall-attendants. While the SWP advertised the event, it did not exactly put out a three-line whip.

This is because the PSC cannot be counted amongst its ‘united fronts’ - the less well known Campaign for Palestinian Rights holds that franchise. Set up a couple of years back, the CPR wrote to the PSC in 2002 proposing a merger. Not unnaturally, this approach was regarded with suspicion - why had a rival grouping been established in the first place? - and eventually rejected with the suggestion that CPR comrades should simply join the main solidarity organisation.

It is indeed difficult to understand why there should be two such formations, especially as there is an element of dual membership. As it stands, the SWP has far less influence over the Palestine solidarity movement than it would like - it had no speaker last Saturday, the Stop the War Coalition being represented by Andrew Murray.

While the PSC’s policy of giving a platform to those who back Palestinian rights - defined in a very broad way - cannot be faulted, it seems there is no attempt to argue out, either within the campaign or publicly, anything approaching a programme capable not only of delivering meaningful rights, but achieving a democratic solution. As a PSC committee member explained to me, “That’s up to the Palestinians. We support their legal and political rights - we don’t tell them what to do.”

Thus Saturday’s platform featured those who favour a two-state solution and those who clearly believe that the only satisfactory outcome would be a unitary Palestinian state that did not recognise the Israeli Jews’ national rights. What is regrettable is the reluctance on the most part to make this central difference explicit.

For example, the Muslim Association of Britain representative did not openly state what should become of the Israelis, but gave a “special salute” to the two or three ultra-orthodox jews gathered at the foot of the plinth. As a Palestinian speaker remarked, they call for the “dismantling of apartheid Israel”. This is because they regard its very existence as a blasphemy - Israel can be established by god alone at the time of the apocalypse. A very convenient dogma from the point of view of islamists too.

The only other speaker to make the demand for the abolition of Israel specific was Michel Abdumafi, who said: “Palestinians have the right to live in their own country - that means a state in the whole of Palestine.” Another Palestinian community activist stated: “More than ever we are determined to be free - not anywhere, but in our own land, Palestine” - although the question of Israeli statehood is left open in this formulation.

For others, such as Green MEP Caroline Lucas and Tony Benn, the continued existence of Israel is taken as a given, although Benn described Bush’s ‘road map’ as a “fraud”. Whenever the US puts forward such a ‘solution’, he said, it has ulterior motives. In this case, “They want another war.”

The courage of the Palestinian people, who have had to face, and continue to face, the full onslaught of Israeli state terror, is matched by those Israeli Jews who stand full-square against the Zionist propaganda machine. Abe from Just Peace UK, the Jewish campaigning organisation that wants “just peace between Palestinians and Israelis”, described how his co-thinkers in Israel had to put up with accusations of being not only “traitors”, but “self-hating Jews”.

There must be no bantustan, he said, but a viable Palestinian state. What is more, the right of return “must be addressed”. He denounced the “crime of the apartheid wall” around the occupied territories and was clear that it is “Israeli state terrorism that is provoking violence from the Palestinians”.

Richard Cooper, from Jews for Justice for Palestinians, while demanding the dismantling of settlements and support for the army refuseniks, called on those in the solidarity movement not to “turn a blind eye” either to “violence against civilians” or to anti-semitism. Both only serve to drive the Israeli people more firmly into the arms of the ultra-Zionists. Thankfully, there were no attempts by islamist extremists to prevent either of them from speaking, as had occurred on the previous Palestine demonstration.

The biggest cheer of the day came when Andrew Murray called for solidarity with George Galloway. Comrade Murray announced that the STWC had called another anti-war demonstration for September.

Other speakers included John Pilger, Jeremy Corbyn and Sophie Handel, whose brother Tom is now in a coma after being shot by Israeli soldiers for the crime of trying, unarmed, to protect Palestinian children from army bullets.