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Editorial: Politicians may excuse Israel’s crimes, but the public do not

THE huge scale of Palestine solidarity demonstrations in towns and cities across Britain is a warning to politicians.

The connivance of Western leaders at the lie that Israel is “defending itself” by unleashing a devastating air and tank bombardment of Gaza does not wash with the public.

Not only was the rapidly called London demonstration massive, mobilising an estimated 150,000 people, but the ubiquity of actions over the weekend — there was a “demo near you” almost wherever you live in Britain — indicates a level of grassroots solidarity with the oppressed and dispossessed people of Palestine that cannot be ignored.

At the same time it gives the lie to the right-wing saw that global justice causes like Palestine are niche leftie concerns that leave ordinary people, especially outside “metropolitan” London, unmoved. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — for whom renewed conflict might be seen as a means of reasserting control over the Israeli right after trying, and failing, to form a coalition government following the last election — is aware that majority opinion is against him.

As Stop the War Coalition’s Lindsey German has observed, this is why he snarled last week that “we are not beholden to the keyboards of Twitter users.”

It may also explain Israel’s brazen targeting of media outlets — a war crime — with last week’s destruction of a tower block housing multiple local news agencies followed at the weekend by its bombing the offices of international news platforms Al-Jazeera and Associated Press.

But then atrocities like this may simply have become the norm. 

The collapse of rules of engagement under which militaries do not deliberately kill civilians or target journalists is sometimes ascribed to the spread of nihilistic terrorist organisations such as al-Qaida or Isis. 

Actually the process has been equally fuelled by the conduct of Western militaries, from Nato’s 1999 decision to bomb the Radio Television of Serbia offices in Belgrade — killing 16 journalists — onwards. 

After two decades in which US and its allies have periodically incinerated whole wedding parties, and deployed sleights of hand like classifying all “military-age” Afghan men as combatants to excuse mounting civilian deaths, war crimes like this no longer even raise eyebrows. No wonder Israel feels it can flatten broadcasters with impunity, without incurring condemnation from its allies.

Nor are those allies fazed by Israel’s deliberate stoking of the present conflagration, from the violent attacks on Palestinians facing eviction from their homes in Sheikh Jarrar to the outrageous, repeated assaults on worshippers in the al-Aqsa mosque. 

Both US President Joe Biden and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen focus their condemnation on the Gaza rockets, despite the enormously higher death toll among Palestinians. In France and Germany, authorities slandered and banned Palestine solidarity demos as anti-semitic.

But this default support for the hard-right government in Tel Aviv is increasingly problematic given the violent unrest in Israel itself.

Communal violence between Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens obviously reflects anger at Israel’s recent outrages in Jerusalem.

But it is also the fruit of years of domestic extremism by Netanyahu’s governments, most obviously the Nation State Law formalising the second-class status of Israeli Arabs.

At the same time as fuelling resentment among the oppressed, this has empowered the explicitly racist Jewish groups that staged the “death to Arabs” marches last week.

This malign trajectory can no longer be masked with trite phrases about “the only democracy in the Middle East” or backwards narratives that blame besieged Gaza for the Israeli onslaught.

Western leaders might go along with the fiction, but their peoples do not. 

The mass mobilisation for Palestine must continue until our government takes concrete action to stop the slaughter, including by an immediate arms embargo. 

And it should leave ministers in no doubt that their attempts to restrict free speech on Palestine and silence the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement will meet ferocious resistance.

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