Why is it important that we in Britain show solidarity with the Palestinians?
There is a global attempt to put pressure on all of those who are advocating for Palestinian rights.
Our message is that the rights of the Palestinian people—and their ability to discuss those rights—belongs in the public domain. And all those concerned about racism should be standing up for the Palestinian people.
It’s also about acknowledging that Britain has very specific responsibilities. Britain is complicit through its role in establishing the problem when it occupied Palestine during the British mandate.
It has also failed to take action to hold Israel to account, and its continuing support for Israel for example via its continuing arms sales.
And it’s a fundamental issue of universal justice.
Nelson Mandela said our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.
He was making a basic statement that if you are struggling against racist laws and practices anywhere then that struggle is not complete unless that battle is won everywhere. That’s the fundamental message. The struggle for justice in Palestine is part of that universal struggle for justice everywhere.
Why has the Palestine Solidarity Campaign chosen 30 March to begin this campaign?
It’s the anniversary of the beginning of the Great Return March last year. This commemorates that, and acknowledges that demonstrations have continued and that Israel has continued to respond with live fire.
World Health Organisation figures released in January showed over 27,000 people have been injured since the beginning of the demonstrations. More than 220 have been killed.
A report demonstrated that Israel has killed children, medics, journalists and disabled people. These are acts that the report finds constitute war crimes and probably crimes against humanity.
The day also has broader significance.
Land Day is 30 March. This commemorates demonstrations in 1976 when Israel confiscated land from Palestinian citizens of Israel who called a general strike and demonstrated.
Six demonstrators were shot dead and hundreds were injured.
We’ve called the campaign under the banner of Exist, Resist, Return. We want to draw attention to the fact that the Palestinian people are facing the most serious threat to their rights.
Settlement growth is at the highest rate since the start of the occupation.
Israel is moving towards demolishing a Palestinian village—Khan al Ahmar—in an area where the construction of more settlements would complete the encirclement of Jerusalem.Many commentators say if there is any possibility of a two-state solution, construction there would completely remove it.
There’s the Nation State law that was introduced last year. This reinforces the entrenched discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Most seriously there is the attempt to take off the table entirely the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
There are attempts to say that “refugee” should mean someone who was directly expelled or forced to flee in 1948 or 1967, not their descendants.
That effectively removes the collective right to return of millions of people.
Why is the right of return so significant?
The vast majority of Palestinians are those who were expelled or the descendants of those who were expelled in 1948. My grandparents were forced to flee their home in West Jerusalem in 1948.
It is at the heart of the Palestinian struggle. Hundreds of thousands of people were ethnically cleansed. They were removed in order to enable the state of Israel to exist as a state in which the majority of citizens would be Jewish.
The right of return is an inalienable right established in international law.
But it is also a fundamental moral right that ought to be intuitive for most people. If you drive me from my home I have a right to return and only I can choose to forgo that.
There are many Palestinians who are the descendants of those expelled who never lived in Palestine and may not choose to return.
But they have rights that need to be acknowledged.
It’s also about an acknowledgement of the historic injustice.
There can be no solution that does not say “this wrong was done and it has to be righted”.
It is not for a solidarity organisation to determine what the settlement should be.
But we say any settlement has to recognise the inalienable rights of the Palestinians and has to achieve the three fundamental demands—freedom, equality, justice.
That’s an end to the occupation of Palestine, equality for all the citizens of Israel and the recognition and achievement of the right of return.
Why does Israel reject this so forcefully to the extent that it massacres the protesters who demand it?
If Israel allows the right of return, it ceases to be a Jewish majority state.
Israel is trying to achieve the preservation of a state in which the rights of Jewish citizens are privileged. And that is a policy that is not just that of the current Binyamin Netanyahu government.
We often hear that criticisms should be directed solely at the current Israeli government.
But consistent policies of all Israeli governments enshrine within the fundamental laws of the state the rights of Jewish citizens above Palestinians.
The rights of Jews to settle in Israel are privileged above the rights of all others—including the Palestinians who are excluded.
Those who have been expelled do not have a right to return. They have less rights within Israeli law to inhabit the land than any Jew anywhere in the world who may or may not claim an identity with the state of Israel.
That’s part of the fundamental problem that has to be addressed.
It’s not about the right of the state of Israel to exist. It’s not about denying the rights of the citizens of Israel—the Jewish citizens of Israel have rights that should be respected.
It’s saying that nobody has the right to live in a state which privileges their rights above other people on the basis of ethnicity, religion or race.
Palestine National Demo 11 May 12 noon, Portland Place, London W1B 1AA