In the wake of the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh and further illegal settlements, Ben Jamal says anti-racists must resist Tory complicity
On 11th May, as Israeli forces conducted their latest incursion into Jenin in the occupied West Bank, news emerged of the shooting of prominent Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Eyewitness reports made clear that she was shot by IDF forces, a conclusion subsequently reinforced by investigations by international media outlets and B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights monitoring organisation.
On the same day Shireen Abu Akleh was killed, Israeli bulldozers began to move into Masafer Yatta, a network of villages further south in the West Bank, and demolished buildings, uprooting 45 people including children.
Two days later, on 13th May, the world watched in horror as Israeli police attacked Shireen’s funeral procession in Jerusalem, beating pallbearers to their knees with batons. All of these actions were conducted by Israeli forces robustly confident that, beyond rhetorical condemnation, their actions would provoke no meaningful punitive response from governments worldwide. This confidence, rooted in historical experience, was not misplaced. According to Reporters Without Borders, Shireen Abu Akleh was one of at least 30 journalists – the vast majority Palestinian – killed by Israeli forces since 2000. None of these killings have resulted in prosecutions. B’Tselem has described investigations carried out by Israel as “amounting to an organised cover-up” that aim “not to bring about truth and accountability but, on the contrary, to prevent them”.
The culture of impunity is sustained by a framework of understanding encouraged by Israel that has determined decision-making across western governments for decades, a framework that portrays Israel as a liberal democracy overseeing a problematic but temporary military occupation. It frames the issue within a paradigm of conflict requiring peace-building measures that bring “moderate” Palestinians and Israelis together to achieve mutual understanding.
It is a vision that enabled Keir Starmer, in his speech to Labour Friends of Israel last year, to praise “Israel’s rumbustious democracy, its independent judiciary and its commitment to the rule of law”, and to describe past Israeli leaders like Golda Meir as “comrades in the international struggle for equality, peace and freedom”. Golda Meir, some will recall, once famously declared that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.
Standing opposed to this is a second vision or framework articulated by Palestinian civil society for decades and endorsed over the past year-and-a-half in seismic reports from B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. It is summarised simply in this statement in the B’Tselem report: “The Israeli regime enacts in all the territory it controls (Israeli sovereign territory, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip) an apartheid regime. One organising principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.”
The consensus now being established across international civil society in acknowledging the reality of apartheid is important because from it, consequences flow – legal consequences, but also political consequences. History has taught us that you cannot and do not seek to have normal relations with a state practising apartheid; it is this understanding and these lessons from history that create the moral foundation for the Palestinian call for BDS until Israel ends its violation of Palestinian rights.
As actors in the solidarity movement, responding to this call from Palestinians is our central driving imperative. For us in the UK, what this demands is that we take action to end the complicity of our governments, our public bodies, our companies and corporations in supporting this system of injustice.
Israel is engaged in a global effort to delegitimise this resistance to injustice, including by persuading willing allies to introduce laws designed to suppress the response to the BDS call. The UK Government is falling into line, planning to introduce a law to prevent public bodies from divesting from or not procuring from complicit companies, a bill expected to be introduced in September. PSC has been busy building a broad coalition of organisations opposed to the bill, including many trade unions, Liberty, the Quakers, the Methodist Church, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. They are opposing it because they share our view that it is not only a right of public bodies to decide not to procure from or invest in companies complicit in violations of international law and human rights, no matter where they occur, but it is a responsibility to do so.
But as we defend the space defending the right to boycott, we also commit ourselves to continue to work to enlarge that space. In the aftermath of the huge demonstrations involving more than 200,000 marching in London last May in response to acts of ethnic cleansing in Sheik Jarrah and a renewed assault on Gaza, PSC established more than 14 new branches, taking our total to over 80 – all committed to taking our campaigns for justice to the heart of communities across the UK. Those joining us do so from the foundation of recognising that there is no coherent and continuing anti-racist and anti-colonial struggle that does not have the liberation of Palestinian people at its heart and centre. Our task remains to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinian people until they enjoy what is their fundamental and inalienable right: to live in freedom with justice and equality in their historic homeland.